If you’re struggling to start writing, or struggling to continue, here are a few things you can try to get unstuck.
- Expose yourself to bad work. Get some examples of terrible work in your genre, and read them. Here’s a video I made describing why this works.
- Be playful. If you’re stuck in the middle of a piece, save your draft, then try throwing out all the rules for a while. You can pretend that you’ve stumbled on someone else’s work, and want to be devious as you continue. Kill off darling characters, throw in a crazy twist… the point isn’t to find a path forward, but instead to loosen you up.
- Set your bar at “existence”. Do the words exist on the page? Success. Are they in the ether of your mind? Failure. We tend to get paralyzed when we compare our current state (nothing/blocked) with what we imagine (some perfect, or even “good enough” finished piece)… and the gap between now and then is overwhelming. But really, we should be comparing “non-existence”, which is the default state of everything, to “existence”, which isn’t too hard to achieve.
- Forget ordering. This is why writing in index cards, or software like Gingko is so effective. You can write without worrying too much about structure.
- Work at a different level. If you’re stuck with a scene or description, jump up to writing rough overviews of entire chunks of your book. If you’re stuck on the overall structure, zoom in to one part and write out all the details.
- Cut off all input. Being stuck comes from unrealistic expectations, which comes from repeated exposure to Quality. If exposing yourself to bad work (point 1.) isn’t enough, then cut off your exposure completely for a week or so. Don’t read, watch, or listen to anything related to what you’re hoping to write.
These strategies aren’t meant to help you find the correct path forward. The more you try to do that, the more stuck you’ll be. These techniques are meant to allow you to discover for yourself that there is no one true path.
As an example, take the art of sculpture. It’s good to have an idea of what you’re aiming for, but the process hasn’t started until you have clay in your hands, and are molding it into shape.
Writing in your head is like sculpting without clay. You need some words in front of you (any words), in order to start shaping the story you want to tell.