A long time ago, I had to write the NEED sequel, CAPTIVATE, on deadline and I was pretty terrified the entire time. I knew I had to get it done but I was full of doubts the entire time. So much doubt.
And when I finally turned it in, I was still terrified and stuck.
Is there a phobia name for FEAR YOUR EDITOR WILL SCREAM THAT YOU ST
There should be.
Maybe we should just make a list of writer phobias. But anyway, that time really made me think a lot about what makes me feel stuck and how I will possibly do anything in the world to avoid that feeling. This is what I’ve learned.
So here is my:
Five Things To Do When You Are Stuck As A Writer
KILL YOUR INTERNAL EDITOR
With my students, I talk a lot about how there are these internal critics or editors inside our heads, and this critic basically tells us everything that we could do wrong, all the ways we can fail, all the ways we might suck.
And it tells it to us with authority. A lot of authority.
Mine basically is John Wayne. He’s always squinting at me and telling me how much I fail. This voice? It’s a strong voice, but it’s full of lies. And when we listen to it too much, we get stuck. We can’t write our story. We can’t live our life, because that voice is so strong in our head telling us how much we fail.
So how do you fight that?
I imagine an internal cheerleader. Mine is – cough – Grover, the Muppet from Sesame Street. Every time my inner critic derides me, Grover counterbalances it.
Like today, inner critic said, “The circulation librarian can never remember your last name even though you live in a tiny town and she hates you because you are stupid.”
And Grover was like, “You aren’t stupid, Carrie! Your IQ is actually high. Remember you got it tested?”
It’s good to fight your inner critic with facts when you have them.
With writing, it’s more like:
Inner Critic John Wayne, “Dear god, little missy. Why would you possibly try to write a time travel story? Stick to your little pixie books.”
Grover the Awesome Inner Cheerleader would say, “Do not listen to him, Cawwie. He thought writing about pixies was a terrible idea, too! He thinks everything is terrible.”
Don’t let your doubt stop you from writing. Just bundle up and do it.
THINK ABOUT WHY YOU ARE WRITING THE STORY YOU ARE WRITING
If you are writing a nonfiction book about the history of guinea pigs in North America and you don’t actually care about guinea pigs in North America? Well, yeah, you’re going to probably get stuck.
What books do you love?
What stories make you happy?
Write that kind of story. To heck with the guinea pigs.
DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE
Sometimes, when writers are stuck, it’s because we’ve been sitting too long and focused on our story. Our mind is giving us a hint that we actually are not cats and we need to move.
So, I clean something when I am vaguely stuck. I think of it as a sign that my subconscious is giving me that if I sit at the laptop any longer, I will turn to salt.
When you step away, you give yourself space to grow and move. When you step away, you give yourself some space and your story some space to percolate.
LOOK AT WHAT YOU HAVE DONE AND TAKE STOCK OF YOUR GOALS
Sometimes (cough – all the time) I feel like I’m not getting anything accomplished or a lot of my students feel like writing an entire novel is too huge a goal.
So, what I do is I set small incremental goals. If a story feels stuck, I tell myself to write 250 words four times a day to make a 1,000 word-count for the day. I also write the starting number of my word count and mark it off in 250-word increments as I go along. This helps make me realize that:
- I am writing
- I am not really as stuck as I thought.
- Makes the writing feel really manageable.
TRY WRITING SOMETHING DIFFERENT
I know! I know! All the writing advice people tell you to stick to your story. Don’t ever give up on your story. They say, “you will never get a book done if you don’t do the following things:”
- Write one book at a time.
- Write one book until it’s done.
That’s crap, honestly. Sorry for my language, but it’s just not true. Yes, there are people who will hop from project to project and in 20 years never finish a story. But whatever. Those people are rare. They are even more rare when it comes to people who want to be published. Everyone knows that to get a novel published, you have to write an entire story. That ‘write one book until it’s done’ edict irritates me. A lot.
Here’s the truth:
- You can work on as many projects as your brain can handle.
- You can put down a story that you are working on and finish it years later when you are ready.
But the biggest truth is this:
There is no one way to be a writer. There is no one process that will always work for you or for everyone. Part of the adventure is finding things that work, triumphing in the moments when you stop being stuck.
Let’s say you’re reading this and you aren’t an author. How does this work for you as a non writing person who feels stuck in their life?
It’s like this:
- There is no one way to succeed, no one path. If you feel stuck, try something else.
- If you hate everything in your life, try to remember something you once loved. Do that again.
- Be proud of the things you’ve done and make small goals. Reward yourself for forward motion – any forward motion.
- Simplify and organize your life. Press pause with intention. If you feel stuck, organize your thoughts, your desk, your kitchen, your closet. Getting rid of the clutter can help you understand what you need to do to move forward.
- Don’t fill yourself with negative thoughts if you can help it. Sometimes we can’t, honestly. But every time that inner critic berates you, consciously work to counter it with something positive.
When my dog Scotty couldn’t open the door by hitting the bottom of it over and over again with his paw, he didn’t give up. He came and got me to open the door for him. When that didn’t work because I was kneading dough and didn’t want to stop, you know what he did? He grabbed the doorknob in his mouth and turned. I’ve never seen anything like it. But the thing isn’t how awesome he was. The thing is that he found a way to succeed. He tried a new way.
When Sparty feels sad because it’s raining too hard to take a walk, he will go cuddle up with a stuffed animal. He finds something else he loves to make him feel less stuck.
We can learn a lot from dogs.
Random Marketing and Book Things
My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy, is still coming out March 1 and I’m still super psyched about it. You can preorder it.
Kirkus Review says: Jones gives readers the sketchy details of Berg’s life and exploits in carefully selected anecdotes, employing accessible, straightforward syntax.
And also says: A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.
Booklist says it’s: An appealing picture-book biography. . . Written in concise sentences, the narrative moves along at a steady pace.
This is lovely of them to say.
I’ll be in Exeter, New Hampshire, on a panel for the release of THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID.
And the podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, is still real. I’m still terrified.
There are new podcasts every Tuesday and our handle on the tech gets better as you go along. I promise.
We talk about love, marriage, living in Maine with dogs and also give writing and life tips with linked content back on the blog. It’s um – cough – different.