Weekend Workout: Unsticking the Stuck

At some point during a rewrite I always get stuck. Some momentous *thing* must happen, some important mystery revealed, some great payoff has to come for the set up and it’s got to be just right. It’s got to be satisfying.

Having notes from the publisher and a deadline (woosh – there it goes!) does not mean the answers come any faster, but through my rewrite of The Ruins of Noe, I’ve developed a little trick and, so far, it’s worked every time. But it takes discipline.

In the past, getting nervous about my story meant procrastinating to the page. Sometimes I’d end in a stuck place and resist coming back to it the next day.

In the last few months, though, I have become much more disciplined with my writing routine. I write first thing in the morning (well, after a little coffee and personal time), and if I’m in a stuck place (and sometimes even when I’m not), I start with a pre-writing brain dump.

When I free-write like this, there’s no commitment to what comes out. If I don’t like the idea, it stays in my notebook. But exploring all the ideas is what leads to the answer.

I keep a big blank spiral notebook on my desk and at the point of stuckness, I turn to the next page and write the person, magical item, plot point, whatever it is I need to figure out at the top of the page and put a box around it. (Later, after I’ve finished my draft, I’ll go through this notebook and add any pertinent information into my World Book)

For example, this is the one I did today. Sometimes it takes two or three pages until I get there. Today, it came pretty quickly, which was extra super.

(NOTE 1: this won’t make much sense to anyone but me, but you’ll get the idea)

(NOTE 2: a little spoiler alert for anyone who doesn’t want to know anything about Book Two)

The Whisper Light

Narine’s energy was dispersed into the 5 whisper lights. The one that appears @ Mabbe’s is the one to open the purview in Noe. It now speaks to Brigitta – but what does it say? Somehow she realizes Mabbe is an Ancient b/c of it. Dos she have a vision instead of hear a voice? Does it have a message for Mabbe? Does Mabbe recognize Narine’s energy? Do they both exclaim “Narine!” (is Narine mentioned before? This could definitely startle Mabbe) Does Narine speak through the whisper light? What would she say? The Ancients have not abandonded you. Gather your energy my faerie kin. Narine has not abandoned you. Narine has come. Narine is back. “I’m back” Brigitta says, not realizing. “We’re back”? Strange voice. Mabbe trembles. “Narine?” She asks. “Impossible!” There was something else – something that belonged and didn’t belong.

You’ll notice I ask a lot of questions. That’s extremely helpful. I also use shorthand and run everything together, not even worrying about paragraphs. Whatever emerges, emerges as it does.

If you ever have trouble starting, a “What if…” list is a perfect place to begin.

Write until the answer comes. Don’t stop, don’t cross out, don’t edit.

Circle what works. Get back to your edit and go for it!


Pick a number of days you want to commit to writing IN A ROW. Let’s say 10. For 10 days in a row, when it’s writing time, start with a new blank notebook page, put the “scene” you are working on at the top of the page. (I always use the term “scene” for whatever is happening in a certain place during a certain timeframe)

Then write: In this scene… and simply free write (no stopping, no crossing out, no editing) about it, asking as many questions as  you need to get what you want to know. Throw in some “What if’s…” if you are unsure what’s about to happen. Keep writing until the AHA light comes on. DING!


  1. KLY
    Oct 3, 2011

    Thanks so much for posting this. It’s exactly what I needed this morning.

    I’m an “accidental writer” who finally accepted it in the last year or so. I just finished the first draft of my first novel and I’m so intimidated by the idea of self-editing – well – I’ve found that procrastination is an excellent weapon.

    Your post reminded me of an article I read a while back about “tricking the muse.” http://storymind.com/content/41.htm

    No more procrastinating. I’m grabbing my notebook and heading to my desk….now.

    Thanks again!

  2. Hi KLY – thanks for stopping by. Congrats on finishing a draft of your novel. Be sure to properly celebrate that – it’s a big deal!

    Editing sounds tedious sometimes, but it’s really great fun. Every pass you make at your story makes it stronger. I know for me there is great satisfaction in seeing the story transform. You can do it!

  3. meeshelleneal
    Jan 5, 2012

    Your writing tips often come in handy when I’m feeling stuck or alone. I’m gonna remember this one for future use 🙂

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