Getting Unstuck

By Premee Mohamed
Jun 27, 2018 · 594 words · 3 minutes


When I get stuck on longer works, it's usually because I've gotten to a point where something needs to happen but I can't think of what, or I know what needs to happen later but I can't figure out how to get to that point. (Sometimes, I just deke around this by writing something like "Three days later, they arrived at the harbour." Of course, this presupposes that the story will still make sense later if I elide those days, and that it will not look noticeably lazy because I've skipped over events that needed to happen to get them to the harbour. I am not always the best judge of what events need to be there for later events to occur, and often end up going back and patch-welding them in.)

Anyway, here's a list of the ways I get myself unstuck or jiggle an idea loose!

  • Try to find a poem that 'goes with' the work
  • Read it aloud, and loudly, whilst walking around the room
  • Figure out a couple of comp titles and what they're comparable to. Plot? Setting? Voice?
  • Look for some photos that might fit in the work's world. Save them to a folder. I can't do Pinterest.
  • Draw a map! Get out the felt pens and figure out where people need to be. (This works great for countries, cities, castles, even houses.)
  • Draw some characters. Stick-figures, faces, expressions, outfits, hands
  • Roleplay one or more of the characters for a few minutes
  • Fancast the non-existent movie of the work (this can be good fun, though if I have a lot of plain characters it can be difficult; why are celebrities always so unhelpfully symmetrical and attractive?)
  • Write a journal entry as one of the characters ("Dear diary, why are we still on this frigging quest")
  • Force one of the characters to write a newspaper article about what they're up to and why people are opposing it ("Sauron spoke to the media this morning, stating that --")
  • Invent an animal. Just straight-up invent one. Have one of the characters mention it offhandedly. Ditto for towns, customs, charms, spells, planets, insects, machines, technology, and food. The weirder the better!
  • Switch to longhand if typing, typing if longhand. No idea why this works but it's awesome when I'm traveling.
  • Start or add songs related to the work to a playlist on my music service provider 
  • Write a super nice review of the book and talk up all the things that are great about it
  • Have the characters literally discuss their options as to what could happen next. (I do this all the time and delete the conversation about 90% of the time.) Make sure they don't all agree, and that they all have valid reasons for 'their' option.
  • Dump the characters into another setting and see what they do. How would the cast fare in, say, Pride & Prejudice? Or 1984?
  • Force all the characters to write job descriptions based on what they've been doing up to this point. Tell them to justify their continued existence in the story.
  • Write a Twitter pitch (280 characters) for the work that explains what's happening and why it's a good yarn without giving away the ending. (I love this one. Surprisingly hard.)
  • Write a synopsis for the work. This really helps make clunky or unnecessary things stand out (which I often keep, because I am terrible, but it does make them stand out).
  • Sacrifice a couple of marshmallows over the Holy Fire of The Muses. Make s'mores.