Kay: Getting Unstuck

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Father Tim Pelc of St Ambrose Church in Detroit, Michigan, blesses parishioners by shooting holy water into their car windows. He’s been a little concerned about how the Vatican might react if these photos reach the Pope, but so far, no word from the pontiff.

Things are tough all over, but I’ve been happy to see that the Catholic Church seems to be doing a good job at improvising during the pandemic.

In other news, the folks at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) have nagged me relentlessly the last couple of weeks, begging, exhorting, cajoling, and threatening me to join JuNoWriMo, the summer version of Novel Writers Torture Month. I have easily resisted this call, because I tried the November version once.

But when I was thinking about what to post today, I bumped into the blog of author Sarah Wynde, who talks about participating in this event. I’m sure otherwise she is a sane person. I’ve seen her comment on Jenny’s blog, and she always strikes me as intelligent and thoughtful, as well as amusing and kind.

(Note to sharp-eyed readers: The date of the post is October 31, 2018, so I have no idea how NaNo turned out for her.)

In any event, to meet her NaNo goals, Sarah made a list of things she could do to stimulate her thinking when she ran into a wall. She said that she thinks writers block can be fixed only by writing more, rather than, say, taking a walk, which a lot of other people advise. This is a concept I agree with, so because I’m having trouble meeting my word counts, too, I read her suggestions with interest. Here’s her list of 20 things to do to get out of a writing stall.

  1. Switch the point-of-view to another character
  2. Write an unexpected sound and the characters’ reactions to it. How does it change the scene?
  3. How can the POV character say “yes, and…”? Write that.
  4. Immediately make the challenge facing the POV character more difficult. (The challenge can either be the overall story challenge or something in the current scene.)
  5. Write an Aha! moment for any character, a moment of discovery or inspiration, within the current scene.
  6. Some detail of a character’s past is important in how they’re perceiving the current situation: fill in the details.
  7. What does the POV character believe a non-POV character thinks/feels/believes in this moment, and how are they reading it/perceiving it? (Body language, voice, actions?). Write it.
  8. Give the POV character a reason to laugh. (What might make the POV character laugh in the current moment?)
  9. The POV character smells something: what is it and what does it mean to her?
  10. An object in the setting matters: what is it, what does it look like, how did it get there, why is it important?
  11. Reveal a clue to someone’s secret without giving the secret away. Might require giving your characters some secrets.
  12. An animal enters the scene. Plot bunny!**
  13. Add a physical detail (or two or three) to make the setting more vivid.
  14. A character has a question: what is it?
  15. Delete the last three paragraphs and take the story in a different direction.
  16. Write one line to end the scene, add a break, start again in a new setting/time.
  17. Give the character a physical want or need — hunger, sore feet, thirst, need to pee, aches and pains, oncoming cold, allergies, tired, etc. — and help them resolve it.
  18. Go to chaoticshiny.com and use a random generator to create something story-appropriate and add it to the story. (A monster, an artifact, a character, a setting… whatever would help with the stuck-ness.)
  19. Ninjas hop out of the closet — probably not literal ones. But write something that forces your characters to move. Bonus point if the movement includes a fight.
  20. Go eat some chocolate. If necessary, go to the store and buy the chocolate first. Then give your POV character an equivalent treat, whatever would make her as happy as that chocolate is going to make you.

**I must mention here that you try suggestion number 12 only at your peril. Four years ago when I had really bad writers block, I wrote in a dog. And then I was stuck with that pooch for three books, and every single month, my critique partners would say, “Where’s the dog?” until I was ready to rip their heads off.**

So, if you’re having trouble writing in these times of stress and upheaval, maybe Sarah’s ideas will help you. They sure helped me. What do you do when you don’t know what to write next?

And now, because we don’t have enough fun in our lives, this is how we baptize babies during a pandemic.




11 thoughts on “Kay: Getting Unstuck

  1. First, I saw some pics like that of baptism and Really? That’s just wrong.

    And secondly, I had great success with NaNo in 2018. Obviously I’m not doing JuNo because I’m wedded to my work computer right now (crazy busy work from home schedule – way busier than in the office). But I’m going to print this list and post it on my writing bulletin board. If I ever get back to it this list looks fabulous!

    • I’m not sure the baptism shots were fully gags in the sense that the baptism didn’t “count,” but I’ve read that at least with the family in church where the woman is holding the baby, they thought it would be fun to do it that way. So…it’s kind of a set up. But I thought they were funny photos, so I’m passing them along, like so many others did. 🙂

      I remember that you did NaNo! My hat’s off to you. I can’t believe that the organizers thought November would be a good month. Maybe because it’s gray and lifeless and everybody’s depressed and staying at home? (Not like any other time period I can think of…) But I always travel during November for Thanksgiving, although probably not this year, so I typically lose about 10 days in there, which makes it all but certain I won’t be able to finish. And even for those who don’t travel, the holiday can take a pretty good bite out of the month. So I bow down to those who finish.

      Well, if I’m around this year, maybe I’ll give it another shot.

  2. The best way for me to get unstuck is to whip out my notebook and start writing by hand. It almost always works. And I completely agree with the “push through it” mentality. I just knocked out 20K works in my new book in less than a month (remember my first book? EIGHT YEARS, so believe me, no one is more shocked than me). I’d think the evening before about what had to happen in the story, I’d write it out by long-hand sometimes if it was complicated or I needed nuanced details, and then I just put my butt in the chair. And instead of giving myself a few hours in the morning, declaring “my writing time is over,” and calling it a day, I’d circle back later that day/evening to wherever I left off to see if I couldn’t squeeze out more words. Invariably, I could. Again, shocker to me.

    I swear, this epidemic has sucked in so many ways, but one bright spot is that it’s definitely taught (ahem, forced) me how to write with chaos, noise, and interruption around me. Jeanne once posted about chunky and not-chunky writers. I used to be a chunky writer, but I’m getting less chunky as time goes by.

    • Congratulations on making so much progress, Justine! That is awesome about your word counts. Sometimes it just takes a while to figure out what process works for you, so if the epidemic has helped your productivity, at least there’s a silver lining.

      Interesting how different techniques work for different people. My handwriting is so bad, and my hands get cramped so quickly, that I scarcely write anything longhand anymore, except for the occasional note or check, something like that. I think writing longhand helps to focus one’s mind, because it takes a bit to push the pen across the paper. But I also like to think about what has to happen next the night before. Knowing what you have to do the next day can really save time and, I think, get better results, too.

  3. (-: I don’t think I’d seen the drive-by holy water blessings. This could mean interesting things for the vampire sub-genre! Although, it’s probably already out there in fiction; I believe Crowley in Good Omens had a plant mister that was supposed to be full of holy water.

    I like the list! The thing about NaNo (or first drafts in general? At least for me?) is that they don’t really have stakes as far as needing to stick to a plot line — nor do they need to end up at point Z. I don’t know where they are going, so I’m willing to throw in anything to move the action forward, and it often works. It’s harder when I think I know where I’m going — maybe that’s how I need to get unstuck. Let go of pre-conceived notions of where my thing is going, and just let it develop as it needs to.

    • I think that’s true for most first drafts—you just throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. For myself, I need something of a roadmap, or I can’t go forward. I don’t necessarily have to see far in advance, but I need to have a general idea of where I want to end up. That can change as I go along. But when I start, I need to have at least an initial idea of where I’ll end up, or I can’t get going.

  4. Pingback: Elizabeth: Creativity Challenged – Eight Ladies Writing

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