One of the most important lessons I have learned about novel writing is that the worst thing you can do when you’re stuck is to sit and stare at a flashing cursor on a blank page. In my experience, when I have done this in the past, the longer I stared at that cursor, the more stuck I became. Instead, I have learned that the only way to get unstuck is to write through it.
This may sound like a crazy idea.
“I’m stuck,” you’re thinking. “How do I write through it when I can’t think of anything to write?”
I have been stuck the past several days. My word count has fluctuated from 28,000 to 29,000, and then back to 28,000. It’s not because I’m not working. It’s not because I’m not trying. It’s not because I haven’t written anything. It’s because I have some things to figure out, and I can only do that by writing about them.
So, here I sit, several paragraphs into my current chapter, and I’m not quite sure how to go about getting my characters from where they are now to where I need them to be. Of course, the easiest thing would be to have them walk from where they are now to where I want them to be. What could be simpler? You’re right here. I need you over there. So, move over there, okay?
But of course, we all know it’s not that simple. For one thing, one of my characters has just been shot. It’s not a fatal wound, but she needs to be taken care of before we do much else. But I don’t want the characters to get held up in a boring moment of tending to the wounds of a relatively minor character. Honestly, she’s not so much a person as a tool. I need her injury to spark a reaction from a mob that will be forming soon.
Secondly, two of my main characters were left behind a chapter ago while the main character and one of her potential love interests went to scout ahead and make sure the town is safe. These two already know that they are immune to the plague that recently ripped through town, and they need to make sure it’s okay for the other two to proceed with them. We have found that it is safe for them; however, for our protag and love interest #1 to go get them will take the story out of its way and will slow the pace. I don’t want to do that.
I also don’t want to not bring those two characters back into the action because my readers will start to get the idea that I am building up to having the protagonist fall in love with love interest #1. (Don’t worry, this isn’t your typical love triangle. She might decide she’s not interested in any of them!)
At any rate, what I am writing in this blog post are the same things that I am writing in my WIP to get unstuck. I am thinking out loud (typing out loud?) in an effort to figure out what I need to do next. Of course, none of this will end up in my final draft. But all of it is writing that needs to happen in order for me to get unstuck.
When you sit there and stare at your cursor, all of your story problems will whirl around in your head and demand to be solved at the same time. When you force yourself to write it out, you are forced to tackle one problem at a time. This helps you focus on the individual problem and come up with solutions to each of them rather than attempting to fix everything at once with one fell swoop of the keyboard. Sometimes you just have to write through a writing problem to figure it out.
As Flannery O’Connor would tell you, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”