Friday, September 8, 2023

Getting Unstuck

Getting stuck. It happens. I hate it. There's a lot of fear and angst in getting stuck. What if you never get unstuck? What if this is it? You're just done? Finished. It's possible. It's just not likely. So you have to try to get unstuck. The common advice goes 'what worked before?' I don't know if repeating past patterns helps anyone else out there, but for me, if my brain sees the trick, it's not going to work the second time around. Frustrating. So then it becomes a question of why I'm stuck.

There are as many reasons to be stuck as there are people on the planet. Probably multiples of that, actually. Regardless. It's on the stuck author to start asking questions. Only, there's one question that will not help. That question is: Why am I stuck. Isn't that funny? There's a secret, though, from brain science. Brains are literal chucks of goo. Asking yourself why you're stuck just perpetuates a list of reasons justifying your stuckness. That list only reinforces being stuck. Instead, you want a list of your own. Behold. A list that should be a flowchart but I am NOT logging into Visio to build one tonight:

1. Is this a story problem? If yes, dissect the story problem. Ask for help, if need be, from an outside source who can help bounce ideas around. I like FFS Media.  Clare talks about theme and breaks it down in a useful, comprehensible way that your high school English teacher only dreamed of doing. Based on her information, I've been able to look at a story I've been stuck on for years and realize like a bolt from the blue that the story I thought was about revenge, is actually about family. No wonder I was stuck. IF you're stuck on story, you can get unstuck by engaging with a mentor or by doing some digging in the story to see where things went off the rails. If it's NOT a story problem, then:

2. Is this a you problem? You problems: burned out, too little time, not enough energy, depressed, anxious, sick, etc.  These are almost always matters of deferred self-care and I'm going to be mean here and point out that writing is the least of your worries right now. Failing to take care of your mental, emotional, and physical health isn't something that can be made up for over a long weekend. Burn out can take a very long time to recover from. Energy is a function of nutrition, exercise, and sleep efficiency. They can all be addressed. Too little time? Social media fast. Seriously. Break up with your phone for a few days. If your mental health is suffering, you must speak to a physician and ask for help in resolving the danger to yourself as soon as possible. Writing takes a number and stands in line until you are well and feeling like you again. Yes, there are chronic illnesses that sometimes must be pushed through. They exact their own price. Those of us experienced with the push/pull of chronic issues have learned how to balance it. Most of the time. You can't push through burn out. Or depression. Not without making things much, much worse. So practice some steely-eyed honesty with yourself here. Assess. Treat. Recover. THEN write.  If this is NOT a you problem, then:

3. Is this a values shift? What matters to you in this world? Don't look at the things you just scribbled on the pad in front of you. Those are what you THINK you should value. We're looking at what you truly value - not in word, but in deed. Where do you spend the bulk of your time? What commands your attention each day without fail? What and who would you die or kill for? There's a financial guru in the world who likes to say that people will fall all over themselves to tell you what they value, but he's only interested in looking at their calendars and their bank statements - values are actions. Where you spend your time and your money - those are your values. Sometimes in this life, values change as we change. Maybe writing and creation were a part of your value system at one time. Maybe your values have shifted. Do you hear a voice in the back of your head whispering "We've been here and done this already, enough." It's legitimate to look that thought square in the eyes and follow it through. What if you don't write? What then? What DO you want to create in this world? Who do you want to be? You have permission to keep going. You have permission to put down the keyboard and say, "I don't need to do this anymore." The world doesn't end. And you're free. You're free to walk away to a new life. You're free to turn right back around and commit to trying yet again to write through the fear and uncertainty. There are no right answers and no one will give you a gold star here. Not for anything. If it's NOT a values shift, then: 

4. Other thing known only to you.

Reasons for being stuck are personal. So are the solutions to them. We all share some commonalities - writers get stuck from time to time. Human beings flail. There's nothing inherently bad about it. In fact, half the time, I feel like the judgement of 'being stuck' is 90% of the problem. There is no part of the writing process that recrimination and rising anxiety can't make bleaker and more problematic. The key to getting unstuck is being willing to change. Adapt or die. If you're stuck but cannot give up then you have to batter yourself against the wall of your stuckness until you know every aspect of it. Then you have to transform yourself to slip through, slam through, dig under, or fly over stuckness.

Those are the only options. To quote Yoda. Do. Or do not. There is no try.