What do you do when you’re stuck?

Like all writers, I occasionally reach a point in a story where I stop moving. I won’t call it writer’s block because I know people who have suffered from the real thing, and this is nothing like as severe. For one thing, I rarely come to a complete stop, I just slow down a lot. For another, the duration is usually pretty short, somewhere between an afternoon and a week. It generally depends on how long it takes me to notice that I’m really not getting anywhere and figure out why. For me, it’s always the same reason—I don’t know what happens next.

Once I’ve identified the problem, my traditional method for solving it is to lie on the couch on my back porch and stare out the window and daydream while occasionally mumbling to myself. (May I just note that I love that part of my job involves daydreaming and talking to myself) A particularly vexing problem might involve me wandering around the house, pacing and talking aloud to whichever cat I happen to pick up.

Then, when I know what’s coming, I write it all down in mental shorthand and start moving again. Or, if it’s a really big issue, I write it all down, call up another writer friend and rant about what happens next for a while, and then start moving again. Usually Lyda is the person who hears these rants, but occasionally it’s Sean or Shari (S.N. Arly). It’s always someone who has read at least some of the story to date.

So, I have a system that works well for me, but lately I’ve been trying out a new variation. My friend and fellow writer, Philip Lees (we were at Writers of the Future together) often goes for a long walk when he’s stuck, refusing to turn around and come home until he’s got it. This is a twofer–not only does he get good exercise, but he puts himself in a position where he has plenty of time to think past the immediate issues as he’s walking back. And he usually arrives at the keyboard not just ready to write, but eager to do so.

So, lately I’ve been adopting Philip’s method, which is really quite close to mine, and it’s been fabulous. Yesterday I got a four mile walk in along the beautiful Red Cedar river, solved my immediate writing problems, arrived home eager to work, and didn’t have to feel in the least bit bad about dessert.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Aug 31, 2006. Reposted as part of the reblogging project )

The original post also included this question, but, as I’ve elected not to enable comments at kellymccullough.com, I’m separating it below and people’s answers can be found at the Wyrdsmiths version:

What about you? What do you do when you’re stuck?

Oh, and seven years later this is still pretty much what I do when I’m stuck, although I’ve added a voice recorder to my tools so I can mumble to myself as I walk out the plot.