Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In Case of Emergency

            Stuck, stuck stuck.

It's that part of your story. You know, the part where you know what needs to happen. You know what leads up to that part, and what comes after that part, but for whatever reason the scene, or paragraph, or even sentence, when it's down on paper, has all the tension and allure of a teenager's smelly sock.

What do you do? Well, if you're me you stare at it incessantly, moan, bury your head in a pillow, and announce to the world that you'll never - never, you hear me - make it as a writer. Then your blow your nose and maybe dig into that stash of clearance Easter candy you swore would last till summer break (at least). But more than anything, you get on with things.

So, the most important piece of advice about getting unstuck that I've learned as a fledgling writer? Does it come from a literary genius? From some secret cabal of writers? Did I pull a genie out of a bottle to give me the ultimate answer?
Well, yeah, the last one, sort of. The most important advice I've found to get past that part of a story comes from Disney's Alladin. It's a shame I couldn't find a clip on Youtube, so you'll just have to pretend along with me. Remember when Alladin is snookered by Jafar into going into the Cave of Wonders and gets stranded there? It looks pretty bad for him and poor Abu. He's about as stuck as you can get. But then the genie comes, and after the song and dance number and some witty dialogue, he plops Alladin on the magic carpet and gives this fabulous advice:

"In case of emergency, the exits are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here anywhere! Keep your hand and arms inside the carpet! We're outta here!"

How does this relate to writing? Well...

Here: There's not just one way a story has to be. Your exit to get past that part may be to write the scene the way it wants to come out instead of how you think it should. Some things might need to be tweaked later, but the whole of it might be better in the end.

Here: Talk it over. A spouse, a trusted friend, a writer's group. I was sorta hurt when a few people (including my hubby) said they didn't buy a scene of my WIP. But, after a good stint of pouting, I rewrote it and it's better than it ever could have been on my own.

Here: Sleep on it. Or daydream on it. Give your subconscious leeway to stew, simmer or deep fry your problem. Sooner or later the solution will boil over into your consciousness.

Here: Rearrange the furniture. Okay, don't tell my kids I said that - I'm forever moving stuff around and it bugs them to death. Sometimes great writing is in the wrong place. Cut and paste is your friend - no pain, no long term damage. How would that scene, paragraph or sentence work out somewhere else?

Here: Take out the trash. Maybe that part really isn't supposed to be in your story at all. Be open to the possibility of dumping it altogether, no matter how much you love it.

Here: Write poetry to that part. (see here and here). Yes, I'm serious. A limerick, haiku, a ballad. Get those creative juices flowing in a different direction and see if the phrases you use can't also inspire the work itself.

Here: Move on. Like a boyfriend who won't commit, sometimes you just have to let go. As the days pass, you might find a new and better guy, er, scene. Or, you might also reconnect with that old flame and see it in a brand new light (maybe it's ready to change a little, too).

Here: Lastly, relax. You can do this.

We're outta here!

~ Susan


  1. LOL, great analogy. I really needed this since I'm stuck right now. My avoidance isn't solving the problem, so I'm going to try some of your suggestions. :)

  2. Love the ideas! I had that on my last WIP and ended up working in the garden, going swimming... doing anything I could to get my mind off of it. Did it work? Nope. I just wrote 'something' that wasn't great and went back to the spot later.

  3. I love this. I think it's so easy to get stuck in a rigid interpretation of what the story has to be, but really I'm free to do whatever I want. I'm the author! Which means I'm the boss! Which means I'm in control!

    [evil giggling]

    (What did you just do, Susan?)

  4. Excellent metaphor indeed. Sometimes, my exit is to give it a week and focus on a different part of the story. Sometimes, what seemed so unbeatable at one time can seem resoundingly obvious a week later. Another exit for me is to just sit down and write the scene eight different ways. They might all be terrible, but it gets my mind flowing in the right direction, puts the scene at the center of my thoughts.

    And I do happen to be stuck on a couple of scenes at the moment, so this is very timely advice. :)


Got an opinion? Use it! Remember... be silly, be honest, and be nice/proofread.