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Most writers have a secret stash of half-finished short stories, manuscripts, or poems—discarded when the author came to a screeching halt somewhere in the middle of things. If you’ve ever gotten stuck in the middle of a story or can’t find the last line of a poem, Writer’s Relief offers a few steps to help you get moving again.
Step 1: Step back. Take some time away from your project and let your subconscious work on the problem in its own way. You may walk away for a month or 30 minutes, but the break will often bring clarity.
Step 2: Use physical energy to stimulate mental energy. Run around the block, vacuum the house, walk the dog, or chase the neighbor’s kids—then come back to your project refreshed and oxygenated.
Step 3: Examine underlying problems. Perhaps you’ve hit a roadblock in the middle because deeper issues exist overall. Or maybe that last line of your poem isn’t forthcoming because the poem itself needs a new direction. Sometimes we become emotionally attached to a character, scene, or plotline that doesn’t actually work well with the piece as a whole.
When I find myself frozen—whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book—it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place.—Jeffery Deaver
Step 4: Revisit the areas of your work that flow smoothly. Going over the good parts can help unblock the problem in other areas.
Step 5: Don’t try too hard. Cut yourself some slack, stop trying to be perfect, and just start writing. Sometimes genius happens when we least expect it.
Don’t get it right, just get it written. —James Thurber
Step 6: Hand it over. An objective writer friend, professor, or critique group member whose opinion you respect can sometimes spot the problem right away.
Step 7: Read other people’s work. Find inspiration in the classics or a modern poet you admire.
Read a lot. Write a lot. Have fun.—Daniel Pinkwater
Step 8: If all else fails, take out a classified ad: LOST: One Fickle Muse!
Some other tips:
For short stories and novels, write a synopsis to help clarify the plot and theme. You can also create a more detailed outline to sort things out and help you see what you need to do to move the story forward.
If your problem is that you have too many ideas, grab a notebook and jot down everything—later you can sort through and decide what to use, what to scrap, and what might tie everything together.
You can also try writing prompts to get things moving again. If your book or short story falls flat in the middle, ask yourself, “What would happen if my main character did this instead of that?” Or “What is my character’s motivation for ________?”
If you’ve taken all the necessary steps to get “unstuck” and things still aren’t flowing, it may be time to reevaluate the piece in general. Start a new project! You can always go back to your previous work at a later date. For more information on beating writer’s block, read our article on Overcoming Obstacles to Publishing Success.
Looking for the perfect holiday gift for the writers you know (or for yourself)? Check out Writer’s Relief gift certificates for creative writers!