The Writing Process. Ideas for getting unstuck.

There are times when writers feel stuck. Things had been going well but suddenly the writing comes to a halt.  Either you keep taking too many breaks, or find yourself re-doing the same section or you sit staring at the screen knowing you’re not getting the narrative right.

The problem is that your ideas are going round and round the same path. You need different mental associations to move things along. Your brain needs oxygen, your body needs movement.

Here is a suggested ploy for unsticking yourself. If the points below don’t resonate with you, read my example.



1.  Take a mental refresher, not a writing break. Read any non-fiction article on any subject. Pick out one item or aspect of interest.  Let it run through your thoughts.

2.  Refresh your creative intake. You can’t give out all of the time, you have to take in as well. Look at any piece of art work.  You can do this online. Not many people have a gallery conveniently around the corner. Look at the work carefully. Focus on one detail. Let that stay in your immediate visual memory.

3.  Writers spend too much time sitting still. Take some form of exercise straight away. You don’t need to get in the car to visit the gym; a swim or brisk walk of half an hour may be sufficient.  During exercise,  think about both the recent visual stimulus and the intellectual ideas.

4.  Ignore the sticking point in your story. Try to put it out of your mind for the moment. Think of how the idea that resonated with you in the non-fiction article could bear upon some aspect of your narrative.

5.  Return to your desk. Take one of your characters and think how you might write about that detail in the art work, how it might illuminate his/her appearance or behaviour.

6.  Wherever the section of your story comes that can utilise the above visual and intellectual stimuli, be it a finished passage,  a piece you haven’t yet started, or a piece you hadn’t even thought about, write a quick first draft while the ideas are fresh.

7.   If this drafting activity has taken over an hour, have your next meal and then go back to the part where you were stuck.

Cynical? Try it. Here’s an example for illustration only.

Attractive Woman with Her Books


Reading: Alain de Boton –  What is a beautiful building? How does someone think about his home, streets or business building? (The Architecture of Happiness). Possible ideas coming from this: the effect of certain buildings in upon one or more of your characters; how the choice of furnishings increases the tensions between two characters;  how the architecture in your town setting help set the tone of your novel.


Art:         A painting.  (Georges de la Tour) Detail – one hand of one figure. The delicate way that hand describes an emotion. Use that description for ‘painting’ one of your characters in a dramatic scene. i.e. one character, under duresse, notices the hand of another and that description shows the reader some of the emotion present.

Exercise:  Brisk walk, private exercises or swim, i.e. minus the distraction of someone’s music in the gym, or instructor’s voice.

Whatever else, the above will be more productive than staring miserably at the screen or chatting on the phone about how you are stuck.

Good luck and keep writing.


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