I get stuck quite often in my writing, but I don’t really like to think of it as ‘writer’s block’ – that sounds so much like something insurmountable, or something that you have no choice but to slowly grind down. All block-like and impenetrable.
Fortunately, brambles are much easier to think and wriggle my way out of than proper, solid blocks are to break through.
Sometimes my first solution to writer’s bramble is to . . . well, walk away, if I can. To work on something else for a little while – a different scene, a different story, a different world. Whatever I think I can make progress on.
(It can definitely be a relief to move forward on something when I’ve been particularly stuck on a project for a while, too.)
Sometimes I can’t do that, though, whether because of a deadline or goal, or just because I simply have to work out this particular story. Sometimes the bramble has me too snared to think about any other stories, and this one just won’t wait.
So, if the story won’t wait, if it is demanding to be written now then, well . . . it’s time for me to face the thorns tangling it – and me – up, I suppose.
Assessing how very stuck I have gotten can be disheartening, but it tends to be the best place for me to start when I’ve realised that I am really in the middle of my bramble bush.
Just the first figurative look around at the story, and what is tangling up my progress, can lead to finding even a small thread of an idea that hasn’t gotten wound up in ‘how can I keep the story going’, which can get me started again.
Once I’ve got started again, of course, there’s a chance that was the extent of the bramble’s thorns, and I’ve gotten my story unstuck – or there’s a chance that I’ve only wandered deeper into the tangles. The only way out is through, so to speak.
In any case, it usually takes a bit of poking at a snarled up story, and sometimes even a bit of backtracking and some false starts before I figure out the way through a thick bramble. A very valuable tool is to have a friend – or several – on the outside who can look at me, stuck in the middle, and point out details I am entirely too close to notice.
Call it the equivalent of seeing a path through the thorns that I can’t, or even pulling branches out of my way so I can continue.
If I don’t have someone handy to talk out my stuck to, and ask for advice – sometimes there just isn’t anyone around, say, at four in the morning, for some reason – I actually find it can be very helpful in a different way to . . . explain to my cat. (Fortunately I came to terms with my habit of talking to animals reasonably years ago, so this is fairly comfortable for me.)
Granted, his suggestions are all in a language I don’t speak well enough to put into practise in writing, but talking out the problem as though explaining it to someone who has no idea what is going on really helps me to look at things from another angle, even if that someone cannot offer any particularly helpful advice themselves.
Asking someone for help on a story, especially when it’s stuck and I can’t figure it out, can be really nerve-wracking, but getting past that to ask really is worth it, every time.
The best thing I’ve learned for defeating writer’s bramble can also be scary – trying something utterly mad with the story.
Sometimes it fits and sometimes it doesn’t – and those oddities can be a surprisingly apt mesh for my stories – but giving a sticking point an entirely new angle, or hitting it with a new development, usually helps me to flounder my way out of my nastiest brambles. Even if I change things again later.
Of course, I try to flounder gracefully, but the important thing is to work my way loose of those snarling thorns and clinging branches.
After all, as long as you’re writing, you’re making progress, and everything else can be fixed later.
So, as I get ready to set aside this post and continue working on my current project, waiting for the next snag to catch me – and I know there will be one coming – I just strap on my hiking boots, do a few stretches to prepare for working my way out, and tuck my map in my pocket.
And I always make sure I have my whistle to call for help if I need it.