Getting Unstuck


Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative hosts an online forum for contributors to weigh in on the question of the month. October’s topic was the ever-timely (or ever-untimely, depending on how you look at it) problem of writer’s block: How Do You Get Unstuck?  Some words of wisdom I found especially useful:


Arlene L. Mandell: “Hereʼs a radical idea: Perhaps itʼs all right to be stuck sometimes, not to be a busy little writing bee frantic for that next fuzzy morsel of pollen. Badly mixed metaphors like this one often come from the need to put something, anything, on the page.”


Harriet Gleeson: “The problem was possibly triggered when a respected mentor suggested that I could aim at a (first) chapbook using the theme Flight, the metaphor which has been winging its way into my work recently with no particular effort. The thought of publication was maybe too exciting — I started to WORK towards the chapbook perhaps — WORK the metaphor into my current piece, when what I needed to do was quit flapping and trust the thermals.

This time the problem hatched I realized that I had been trying to strangle words and images into the shape of the metaphor – deliberately setting out to write the content in terms of birds, flight, and other avian qualities. Sanity was further reinstated when I remembered that I do not need to pin every detail of the poem to the metaphor (indeed it would then be a poem about birds, I think). With this thought came relief. Immediately ways to proceed with the poem began to move in my consciousness.

The resulting feeling of relief led me to reflect on the experience and I remembered a quote from Jane Hirshfield: ‘A work of art defines itself into being, when we awaken into it and by it, when we are moved, altered, stirred. It feels as if we have done nothing, only given it a little time, a little space; some hairline narrow crack opens in the self, and there it is.'”


Susan Bono:
“[N]o piece of writing is worth finishing if you already know what you want to say. Why pursue the obvious unless you’re convinced you’re God’s sacred messenger, bound to deliver your message under threat of torment and damnation? Writing demands a state of confusion, which leads to groping, which in turn leads to dead ends and getting stuck, time and time again. The whole point is finding your way out.”


Tamara Sellman:
“[A] change of scenery and pace can unlock a lot of previously stuck doors. While digging dandelions out from underneath the arborvitae, a word might come to mind and spin off associations that lead to the solution I need to correct my plot’s course. If I were to drive across town, an image might suggest a new dimension for my setting. An overheard conversation at the market might reveal something about my character that I didn’t know before, something that would explain why he’s behaving oddly. The trick is to be open to possibilities for your story writing during all times of the day, not just during your writing time. This way, you are more likely to find that skeleton key that fits all your problem-solving needs. “


How have I gotten unstuck, at various points during the writing of my novel?

*Attended the Three-County Fair
*Watched inane movies about teenagers
*Listened to music that my characters enjoy, but I don’t
*Marched in a gay parade
*Read fashion magazines
*Spent the weekend in New York City
*Asked my characters what I should do next (the answer is usually “Please don’t kill me!”)

I doubt that this will be helpful to anyone else, but if you get any good advice from my characters, please let me know. Keep in mind that Prue is the only one with any sense.

4 comments on “Getting Unstuck

  1. Nathan says:

    Great post; thanks for picking out the best of the forum! It’s probably true about needing to be stuck sometimes. My problem lately has been just as much about being stuck in mediocrity, unable to write prose which feels like it’s soaring.

  2. Jendi Reiter says:

    I know the feeling — it seems that with each thing I achieve in my writing, I set the bar higher, leading to dissatisfaction when I should make time for gratitude. Maybe those “stuck” times are opportunities to step back from perfectionism and remember grace. “Be still and know that I am God.”

  3. Susan Bono says:

    Great to see Tiny Lights finding a wider audience! Thanks for spreading the word, and I hope anyone reading your article will consider submitting responses for “Searchlights & Signal Flares” questions at Lights Online.

  4. Harriet Gleeson says:

    Reading current Poets & Writers – first article – the author speaking of Googleing himself. So I thought ‘why not?’

    And I found me on your blog. This, my debut entry into blogs, was a happy one. I like your content and will return.

    Thanks, Harriet Gleeson

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