Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Getting unstuck when the muse lets you down

In the massive multiplayer online game Star Wars: The Old Republic, if you maneuver your character between boulders or buildings or something and get stuck, you can type in /stuck, and the game will magically transport you to a space where you can move your character freely again.

Writing? Sadly lacks that feature.

This week, our SFFseven topic is the one thing that helps us get unstuck in a story, but I'm going to adjust that topic a little. (Forgive me.) See, once I get going in a story, with a deadline in my pocket and a character arc in my head, I rarely get stuck. That point in the adventure is the sweet spot, the roller coaster at full speed. It's the between-story living that sticks me really hard. I'm talking about especially that stickiest of things: the will to write. Some folks call this the muse.

I've said I write because I can't not. Because I am a thing that writes. Because it's what I love to do. But, true confession: sometimes I'm not, and I don't. Sometimes I get stuck. Here are some things that have helped me, to varying degrees:

  • Find the thing you love that isn't writing and do the crap out of it. Dance. Cook. Play games. Walk the dog. Reupholster your dining room chairs. 
  • Read something other than the genre you write. When I read excellent books in my own subgenre, I inevitably get the "I can't do it this as well so why even try" blues. But if I read excellent books in another genre, like thriller or horror or literary meandering, I get energized and thoughts like, "This would be really cool if it also had robots. And kissing. Hey! I can make that happen!" And then ideas--and more importantly, enthusiasm--pour in.
  • Develop go-to unsticking resources. A very wise and talented writer, Skyler White, has developed a game for getting unstuck. It involves identifying the sticky thing, turning it into a goal-positive, and coming up with ways you would be able to tell if it was getting less sticky. The preliminary documentation for this process is on her Facebook page, The Narrow Shed. I recommend it. A lot.
  • Write fanfiction. I'm not even kidding. If you disdain the hobby, consider getting over that, because fic is the single best way to practice your art without the weight of "oh crap, I have to get this manuscript done and shop it and sell it and promote it and build a career with it." In fic you have no pressure. You can just make words. It is incredibly liberating.
  • Find a friend who you trust, and who can handle this, and whine. Let that person whine back when they get stuck. Writing can be incredibly lonely, and most of us get low from time to time. But, quick protip: that trusted friend is not social media. Don't whine on social media. :)
  • Be kind to you. You are worthy beyond the manuscript. Daily word count, reviews, sales, social media followers--these are not reflections on who you are as a person or, in many cases, as a writer. The pit of stuckness is easy enough to fall down without letting those outside things give you a push.

Hugs, you guys. We can get through all the stuck.