Just Keep Writing: How to Get Unstuck (Without Falling Asleep)

Today’s post is coming late because, to be honest, I lost track of the days!

But I have been writing a lot this summer now that I don’t have in-person class that I’m teaching. My goal is to write the draft of a novel before August. We’ll see how that goes! (By the way, if you’re interested in seeing what I’m working on, you can go here)

As I’m writing and trying to keep up momentum, I sometimes run into problems in the story that halt everything. I will put my characters into an impossible situation and won’t know how to get them out, or I’ll need to brainstorm more world elements, etc.

From my experience, if I continue to sit at my computer and stare at the screen until I have an idea, I will fall asleep. Every time.

That may just be me, and I am doing better about drinking small amounts of caffeine at the right times, but the issue isn’t just falling asleep. Most of the time, this process doesn’t help me come up with ideas anyway.

The best way to come up with ideas it to utilize my right brain. I wrote a little about this in my last post, “Where Ideas Come From.” There are a few things I can do besides just staring at the screen that help me do this.

Listen to music

Sometimes I’ll find a playlist that works well with my story and imagine it as background music for the scene I’m writing. This conjures up cool stuff I never would have thought of on my own. You can try this while you’re writing or while you’re just walking or doing chores.

Ask someone else

I recently asked some friends about a problem I was having, and it’s fun to hear what others come up with. Even if they don’t have ideas, it’s good to talk about the issue out loud. I don’t know why, but sometimes this unlocks something that helps me get unstuck.

Use pen and paper

Sometimes the tactile nature of pen and paper helps me stay focused. I can scribble down random ideas or words until something stands out.

Just keep writing

Sometimes to get unstuck you have to keep writing. Put the characters through the situation and see what happens, or maybe describe that world building element a few times until it feels right. The hard part for me here is that this can feel like a waste of time if I have to scrap everything I wrote, but that is an important part of writing in general. Sometimes we have to let things play out one way just to find out what doesn’t work.

Move

Go for a walk, do some chores, or anything other than sitting down at your computer. When I was a teenager, I would swing in the backyard or bike in circles while I came up with ideas. The movement kept me mentally alert, while the repetition kept me from focusing too much on the activity itself, leaving my mind free to wander.

Explore

Recently, I was trying to come up with a sea monster for my book. I was having trouble thinking of something on my own, so I got online and looked up existing sea creatures to get ideas.

Depending on the issue making you stuck, it may be good to do some outside research. For instance, since I’m writing about people at sea, I listened to an episode of Stuff You Should Know about drowning, and I learned some things that triggered new ideas for the story.

I hope these ideas are helpful! Let me know in the comments if you have any other tips for getting unstuck!

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