Why You Get Stuck When Writing (And How to Unstick Yourself)

Spoiler alert: editing sucks. Especially if you’re editing a 90,000 word novel that tends to get a little bit lost around the midway point.

That’s when you end up having to re-write the main portion of your book.

I’m stuck around Chapter 10 of 25 at the moment, and I can’t seem to push through it. Everytime I open up the document I just stare at what I’ve written and wonder whether to delete it, or try and push past it.

Where have I gone wrong?

It can be disheartening to feel like you’re not making any progress, and usually it’s this point where you ask yourself: am I just not meant to write this? Maybe it’s not good enough? Maybe I’m not a good enough writer?

Well – you are and you can get past this.

So let’s take it step by step.

1. Figure out why you are stuck


There’s a whole bunch of reasons why you might be stuck, but usually it amounts to the fact you either:

a) Don’t know what’s going to happen next


b) Know what’s going to happen next but don’t know how to get your characters there

This is more likely to happen to you if (like me) you don’t tend to plan things in advance (read my next post on how I very quickly changed my tune on that front…)

Here are some things you can do to get past this point:

  • If you know the ending of your story, write down a mind-map sketch of all the weird and wonderful things that could (feasibly) happen to your characters
  • Then pick the one that’s least expected (and yet fits with your plot… no magical wizards appearing halfway through a realist rom-com please…) and start to develop it
  • See whether that’ll get you past the ‘stuck’ phase.

2. Take a break from the project and go and work on something else


All writing is practice, and all practice makes perfect, so taking a break from your main project isn’t cheating and it isn’t procrastinating, it’s training.

Have a look for some free short story competitions to enter, check which journals are accepting submissions or maybe start working up the backstory of one of your characters.

If you’re feeling really brave, try your hand at some poetry!

(Or to the poets amongst us, try your hand at some fiction!)

I gave creative non-fiction a go, a genre which makes me intensely uncomfortable… but it certainly gave me some practice.

3. Rally around your midpoint


Your midpoint is the middle of your novel. It’s the point at which your character turns from reactive to proactive, and it marks the top of the curve for his or her character development.

From the midpoint onwards, conflicts and disasters are going to be raining down on your character thicker and faster until we hit the climax, so use this as your jumping off point.

Is there anything that your characters needs to learn, or know, in order to overcome the conflict at your story’s climax?

How can you teach your character this? What sorts of situations might this put them in? How might they react?

For example, let’s say you’re writing a swashbuckling action novel. You know at the end of your novel your character needs to be able to run the antagonist through with a sword. But you’re a third of the way through and your character has never seen a sword in her life. So sit down and start putting some ideas onto paper about how you’re going to get her (or him) from these two points.

4. Check your sequel to action ratio


We know that stories need to pack a punch, we’ve got to be able to keep someone reading, which means we need to keep them hooked.

That means action!  I hear you say.

Well, yes.

But it also means reaction.

One of the issues I discovered was that whilst I’d dedicated a lot of time to action, I hadn’t dedicated much time at all to reaction. So giving my characters time to solve whatever problem the conflicts had created, discuss them, and come up with a plan.

The main reason for this was because I didn’t realise how important sequel scenes were. I was fully subscribed to the view that action was king.

Well… I was wrong. And when I went back and started checking, I found that adding reaction scenes actually pushed my story forward in new and different ways.

Another reason why I’ve decided pants-ing is probably best reserved for short stories….

5. Give your other characters some screen time


You’ve got your protagonist, you’ve got your antagonist, and then you have your supporting cast. Have you developed these characters enough? Do they have their own goals? Their own mini (or indeed full if they’re a big enough personality) character arcs? Does the reader care about them?

If the answer to any of those questions is no: you have your starting point. Go back and start to spend more time with your supporting cast.


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