September 22, 2005

Getting Unstuck

Lately, after a longish and very irritating bout with writer's block--or writer's demotivation--I thought about how I got un-blocked and moving again. There are probably just as many ways to get unstuck as there are writers, but I thought I'd share a few in case my experiences can be of help to anyone out there who's having trouble facing their computer or notebook or even canvas.

One thing that worked for me recently was trying something new and unusual. I was revising a short story and didn't like the way a particular section was flowing. I liked lots of individual parts, but it just wasn't coming together in a way I was satisfied with. I didn't really know how to continue. Should I trash and rewrite? Should I just leave it alone and hope I'd done enough to make it passable? What I decided was to print out a copy of that section, take out my scissors, and chop it up into those little parts or scenes that I saw as the building blocks. Then I moved them all around to see if a new chronology could solve the problem. And you know what? It really helped. I saw what I'd already written in a fresh way, and was able to fill in some gaps I hadn't been able to see before because I just couldn't see the forest for the trees after staring at it for so long. So next time you're at a sticking point, don't be afraid to be drastic--just keep a copy of your original draft in case you decide it's okay after all...

Of course, having an encouraging and productive writing group is also an excellent way to keep from being unstuck. I can speak from experience here--your group, even if it's just a few of you, can be cheerleaders for each other, critics, and even idea-generators. A related un-sticking factor is guilt. If you have something you're supposed to submit that week to your writing group, and by hook or by crook, you're determined to do it, that can give you a little extra motivation to power through anything from writer's block to pure laziness. Again, that's my personal experience talking. Many times over the past year, it's only been my writing group that has kept me going--the mini-deadlines, the regular dialogue on what we're all writing and the process itself.

Lastly, for getting unstuck--don't forget good old-fashionedinspiration. And don't forget to look for inspiration in unexpected places. I try to let myself get inspired by anything and everything, mining the world around me for ideas. Even books and television (what's that famous quote? Supposedly Lionel Trilling said "Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal.") can spark things in your brain, as long as you go on to develop those ideas into something of your own. So, go get unstuck!

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