I was just curious what you do when you get stuck. Partially I'm on a "just give up" kick (but I'll come out of that in a few days, I'm sure. I always do!) The other trouble I'm having is complicated, but can be summed up as this: I listen to music when I write and for the moment, that's not an option. So what do other people do? Am I the only person that needs to be in a specific setting to write? Is there a way to get around this?
Go for a walk. Go dig weeds out of the garden. Basically get away from the computer and do something that does not require much brain power so my mind can wander off and hopefully come back with the solution. It's worked more times than not.
Posts: 4633 | Registered: Dec 2008
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I'm assuming what you mean is: What do you do when you get stuck?
If so, my answer is simple: I write something. Usually, when I write, I back up a paragraph to a page to get in the rhythm (or in character) and when I get to the white sea, I'm already on a tragectory--so to speak. But, if not, I write a sentence. One sentence always leads to two, and then a paragraph. I just keep in mind I may have to slice it out later, when I'm back on track.
I just start asking questions. What would my character do next? Why would he do that? What's the point for him to go there? Etc. If that doesn't jar anything loose, I'll do some research by reading something from one of the countless websites I have bookmarked, or I'll read from one of my 'How to Write' binders.
Yes, what do you do when you get stuck, but also, what is your process? Do you sit down at a certain time and write? Do you keep lists of ideas and notes? Is there something in particular you have to do to get going? Which is why I asked, what is your process? Maybe I need a new process. A new way of going about working on my stuff. Not so much how to get unstuck, because that will either happen or it won't. But I know everyone writes differently (I've got a friend that writes in little bursts of five minutes here, ten there while she's at work, but she doesn't do anything at home because she doesn't have time.) How do you edit your own work? When do you write? Where do you write? I've got two kids. I usually write after everyone goes to bed, sitting on my couch with my music going through my headphones and sometimes I'm up until two in the morning. This isn't cutting it right now. So maybe a new setting will help. That was what I was trying to ask.
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I usually get stuck when my plot has nowhere else to go. It means I usually made a mistake, or need to expand and elaborate something earlier on. Usually it means giving my characters better motives (which means adding scenes to give them opportunities to act).
Sometimes my plot stalls because while I know where I want to end, I don't know what comes next to get there. I am a writer who has to have the whole thing mentally mapped out before I can write well. When I ignore this rule, I usually write very well... until I get stuck. And I usually have to trash all the writing and start over.
Anyways, when I get stuck I usually move on to something else. A short story or whatever. But in the meantime I keep writing ideas down for my stuck-ness. I carry note cards around and have a file on my computer where I add random ideas. Its my idea bucket where I can go for specific aspects of a story, or when I need a new story to write.
Usually, after stewing on a problem for a few weeks and tossing new solutions around, I come up with something I am willing to try.
I have way too many kids for my own good, and I've tried to mix it up and write whenever I get a few minutes, but I can't. I'm just like you and need things particular. I've tried Starbucks and the porch and in the car while a wait, but I'm too distracted. And I can't tolerate any interruptions at all or I get bitchy. Really bitchy.
I get up two hours before everyone else and write from five to seven. I have my coffee, my favorite chair, my notes open whether I need them or not, my shoes off, and my playlist going (never shuffled or I get bitchy). I check my email first, or I can't concentrate. The window has to be open or I get antsy. If I'm out of cigarettes, the entire neighborhood will know about it.
I fully realize how stupid that is. It makes me sound all artsy and lame, but it is what it is. I'd like to break the habits, but when I try, I don't get any work done. Once the baby is a bit older I'll try again, but, for now, I'm happy being lame.
Trish, I am like you except no music. I usually write after the kids go to bed, and I can stay up until 2 in the morning although I pay for it big time the next day. But I can't write with music; it's too distracting.
I used to take one day a week and run away to the library and write there for a few hours with my husband tending the kids. I need to do that again. It worked really well.
When I get stuck, I usually do some mundane house keeping stuff while I think about the story, or I just force myself to keep writing until I get through it.
I have three kids (one with special needs), a new business, a heart condition, and my wife's father just passed on. The end result is a huge ripple effect, which hasn't yet settled. BUT, I write every night when my kids go to bed (even if only a paragraph or two), and any time I have free during the day. I can only write with instrumental music or none at all. But, if someone is playing lyric-filled music, I CAN edit (if it doesn't require creation).
My writing process is constantly refining itself, but here'show I get my best productivity, to date:
Pre-Write: Think about my characters, setting, problem. Find possible problems between the characters. Look for places I can add tension.
Loosely Plot: Lay out the major events, and try to put them in order.
Tighten Plot: Adding in smaller events/plot points. Here is where I plan the chapters, but I try to allow room for characters to change some of the threads of the plot.
Write by Chapter: Start with the chapter outline and progress toward the chapter's end--Chapter-by-chapter until the first draft's finished.
Let it Cool: I try to focus on a flash piece, short story, novella or pre-write on my next project.
Editing Pass 1: Hunt typos and inconsistencies. Clarify sentences.
Alpha Readers: I used to do this on the first draft only, but after the first Editing Pass the prose is much cleaner (not to say perfect). Once I get the critiques back, I read through them, and then let myself cool on them. (It generally take me a few days to let the wisdom sink in and the sting wear off.)
Employ Critiques: Use what I believe is good advice--or what helps me achieve what I want to to get the scene across.
Editing Pass 2: Repeat Editing Pass 1, plus look for weak dialogue.
Editing Pass 3: Add needed scenes, cut unecessary characters, look for weaknesses in plotlines.
Editing Pass 4: Sweep for typos and new inconsistencies.
Abandon it to Submission.
I hope this helps.
[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited April 27, 2010).]
Betsy, you sound like me, except I quit smoking about 5 years ago. (But back in those wonderful, pre-children days, I'd lock myself in the garage with a carton of Marlboros and write until my lungs couldn't take it. Thankfully that's behind me or I'd have a perpetual case of pneumonia.) And I tried to shuffel my playlist once but that didn't work out at all.
MAP, I'm usually up until close to 2. I've got an infant that gets up around 1 for a feeding, so I guess I figure since I have to get up anyway, what the heck. And like you, I pay heavily for it the next day. It sucks. And I usually do dishes when I need to think. My son leaves me alone, my husband watches our baby (so he doesn't get roped into helping) and I get some (reletively) quiet time to myself.
And thank you InarticulateBabbler. That does help. I guess I'm on the third edit. I'm cutting (cringe) and re-writing and cutting some more. It's painful. It's also the first time I've ever made it to a third (and hopefully final) edit. I guess I'm just scared this book will end up in the "past projects" file like the rest of the manuscripst I can't bring myself to finish editing.
I sit down at the keyboard, play a game of Spider Solitaire to loosen up a little, then start typing out whatever I'm choosing to work on.
Oh, the thinking? Well, that goes on all the time, in the back of my head, and sometimes moving to the front. It competes a lot with the other stuff I'm thinking about...like the music that runs through my head whether I'm playing any of it or not...or current or historical events or whatever I've read recently...or just about anything, really. It goes on while I'm doing the mundane things that take up the day. (In my fanfic days, once, on Halloween, I was washing out some shirts in the sink and had an idea come fully formed---for a Christmas story. I wrote it out then and there, once I finished with the shirts.)
I come with an idea---most likely, some SF-y scene, something that's happening, that's got people in it already, but sometimes just a simple idea, without characters. Sometimes that's enough to start writing, sometimes not. If not, I spend some time fitting things together and seeing what I can make of the story, if it's a story at all (sometimes I lose things at this point). Sometimes I'll write down the basic idea and leave it at that, sometimes returning to it years later.
I do spend some time as I'm trying to sleep running some ideas through my head...usually I fall asleep before they get too far along, and almost never do they pop up in my dreams. (Sometimes my dreams become the idea.) (Also, the stories I run through my head tend to be on the lurid side---I take that into account when I consider whether to write them down or not.)
As for the story itself...usually I try to have it in my head where I want it to start, to go, and to finish by the time I actually start writing it down. Not always, but usually. (Sometimes it dies before I get to the finish, but that's a different thing.) Only rarely do I not know what's going to happen---I just have trouble putting it down, that's all.
I was discussing my novel-writing process last night at a FTF writer group and came up with a new analogy.
Think of a novel as a large island. It has mountains and valleys - the mountains are the high points, key transitions, moments of reveal, etc. The valleys are the body of the story on which those peaks reside. Now imagine the Great Flood. Island completely covered in water. As the water recedes, slowly, the first thing to be revealed are the mountain-tops. And those tend to be what I write first. If I have an overview of my island novel, then I know what, and roughly where, those peaks need to be. So I write these sections, and they sometimes give me more information about what else needs to happen within the novel. Then, the water lowers a bit further. Some of the peaks expand. Other high ground appears, as well. Slowly, more and more of the island is revealed, and slowly the higher peaks may join together into larger sections of the island. Evenually, the water is back down to where it should be and the whole island/novel is there, ready to be inspected closely and landscaped (i.e. edited) where appropriate.
Now, how does that relate to "what do I do when I get stuck?". Well, just let the water level drop a bit. Find a new piece of land emerging. Write that section. There's always some other part of the island to reveal, something you might find interesting when another mountain seems unscaleable. Certainly I find this to be a far better way to work on a novel than the (seemingly more common) alternative of, if you like, starting to walk at one end of the island and going n a straight line until you reach the other. Doing that, you may find yourself facing a sheer cliff, when all you want to do is stroll down a valley. And in my experience, when people are "blocked", that's usually why.
Wow, this whole thread is really interesting. I like the fact that no two people have exactly the same process. Lots of good ideas here for me, because when I get stuck there doesn't seem to be any tried and true method that always works. Here are techniques I use for those cases when I can identify why I am stuck:
1) No desire to write on. Usually means I need to back up, find a place where I do want to write on, and throw away whatever work I've done past that point. I save it in a 'trash folder' until I'm sure I don't want it. It used to be hard to throw away days or weeks worth of work, but now, not so much. I know I can finish things. I would not recommend this unless you have proven to yourself you can finish your work.
2) Think my writing sucks. Read something boring and bad. When I find I'm more interested in continuing my own work than reading on, I usually can't wait to get to the keyboard. I could be delusional, but who cares? I'm writing.
3) Don't know what happens next, or feel like my characters are wandering around without direction. Consult my outline and see if it still fits. If it doesn't back up until it does, or, more likely, revise the outline. I'm still trying to discover the right level of outlining that makes me an efficient writer. I've tried no outline (doesn't work for me at novel length), scene-by-scene outline (doesn't work for me at any length), and many levels in between. I have to know roughly how the story ends, but other than that? I'm still experimenting. Right now I'm testing writing _a_ synopsis first, even if it ends up not being _the_ synopsis that I will use to sell the book.
I love the 'flooded island' method tchernabyelo described; I will have to try that. Usually I write in sequential order, beginning at the beginning. I _feel like_ I don't know my characters well enough when I start to be able to jump around in time, and I'd do more redrafting than I do now. Just because I feel that way though, doesn't mean it is true. I'll try it out to see if it will work for me.
4) More interested in posting on Hatrack than writing. Usually means I'm at an important part of the latest story, and afraid of screwing it up. No known solution except gutting it out and unplugging the Internet connection in 5...4...3...2...
[This message has been edited by posulliv (edited April 28, 2010).]
My "flooded island" approach may work well for me becaue I am generally writing with characters, or in milieux, that I know very well, so I feel comfortable with the background. It might work differently if I were creating a new world from scratch - been a while since I've done that. Should it happen any time soon, I'll report on how it goes.
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