What To Do When You’re Stuck – Practical Tips for Writers by Rachel Ward
Beginnings are exciting. Endings are a blessed relief sometimes accompanied by a sense of accomplishment. But in between there is … the soggy middle. You stare at the screen. You scroll up and down. You type a few lines, then delete them. This has been going on for hours, days, even. You’ve got stuck in a rut. Your self-confidence is flagging. You can’t remember why you started this in the first place. We’ve all been there, so what can do when you get stuck?
- Stop writing – if you’ve been staring at your screen for too long, switch it off. Go for a walk, run or swim. Get out in the garden. Chop some vegetables and make soup. Have a bath. While your body is busy doing something else, quite often your mind consciously or unconsciously, will be solving your writing problems.
- Think big! My favourite writing accessory is not a particular pen or notebook, it’s an enormous pad of sticky flip chart paper. There’s something about a really BIG piece of paper that encourages you to write, scrawl or draw more freely.
- Start with a central idea in the middle of the page and let ideas sprout out in all directions.
- Put two alternative scenarios at the top of the paper and plot how each might work out vertically down the page.
- Take bits of existing text/plot ideas on paper or sticky notes and move them around the page until they start to make sense or form a pattern.
- Make a big chapter plan for the whole book or the next section.
- Use numbers, bullet points, arrows, different colours, post-its.
- Have fun. No-one else will see this (unless you use it in a blog, lol) – it’s just for you.
- Use an old-fashioned cork board to pin up ideas/plans. Again, this allows you to move things around. A writer friend (Sharon Treganza – check out her books, they’re brilliant) has covered some of the walls in her study with cork and has her latest work in progress mapped out there – it’s a thing of wonder.
- Read your work out loud. If you are not sure if a piece of writing is working or not, or if you know it isn’t but can’t work out why, one trick is to read it aloud. If you’re shy, lock yourself in the bathroom and speak quietly, otherwise stand up and read it loud and proud to the cat, dog or an empty room. Often difficulties in dialogue, the flow of a scene or particular phrases stand out when spoken.
- Send your work to your kindle (other reading devices are available) and try reading it on there. It may help you to see it as others might. (It’s also rather thrilling to see your work on screen.)
- If you are stuck in one part of the story but have a particular scene or bit of dialogue already in your head, jump ahead to that. Writing it may free up your brain and help you start to understand how you can get from ‘here’ to ‘there’.
- If you’re brave, share your writing problems with someone else – another writer or a trusted friend. Another perspective may be just what’s needed.
- If you are *really* stuck with a current work in progress, it may be time to take a step back and write a couple of lists. Ask yourself ‘What do I like about this book?’ and ‘What don’t I like about this book?’ It’s the equivalent of an artist stepping away from the canvas to try and see the bigger picture.
If you’ve tried all of these and you are still stuck, I recommend falling back on the writer’s staple comforts – chocolate and boxsets. You can throw in a bit of sulking too, but not for long.
(Mostly problems with your book can be solved. But sometimes they can’t. Sometimes it’s okay to admit that it just doesn’t work and can’t be fixed. That’s really for another time, another blog, but if that’s you, take comfort from the fact that it happens to all of us. If everything worked all the time, writing (and life) would be too easy.)
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Rachel Ward grew up in Bookham, Surrey. After school she studied Geography at Durham University and combined working for a number of local authorities with raising a family. She began writing in her 30’s, starting out with short stories. One of these short stories formed the first chapter of NUMBERS, which has been published in 26 countries and was the winner of several awards including the Flemish Children and Youth Literature Prize 2011, Angus Book Awards 2010 and the Salisbury Schools Book Award 2012, as well as being shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2009, the Branford Boase Award 2010 and the Deutscher Jugendliteraturepreis 2011.
The sequel to NUMBERS 2: THE CHAOS was released in June 2010 and the third and final book in the series, NUMBERS 3: INFINITY was released in June 2011.
THE DROWNING, the first book in a new series of gritty, paranormal thrillers was published in May.
Both NUMBERS and THE DROWNING have been optioned by film companies.
Rachel lives in Bath, Somerset with her husband, two children, dog and four chickens.