Letters to a Young Writer: Getting Stuck

In earlier letters I talked about what to do if you want to write but you don’t know how to get started or what to write about. Sometimes (and for some writers, all the time) that’s not a problem. You know what you want to write and you don’t have any trouble getting started. The ideas and images and words just flow out onto the page, and it’s great.

Then you hit the Swamp.

That’s what I call the place that you come to as a writer where you get bogged down and stuck. You stop. You don’t how to go on, or you don’t feel like it. Trying to write feels like trying to walk through waist deep concrete that’s quickly hardening.

You give up.

 As a young writer I spent a lot of time in the Swamp. As a teenager I already knew I wanted to be a writer, but the problem was I couldn’t seem to finish anything I wrote. I’d have an idea and start off on a wonderful wave of writing energy but soon the energy would run out and the story would sit there, unfinished.

So how do you keep going? How do you get out of the Swamp?

First thing is to figure out what it is that’s stopped you. Sometimes the problem is that you can’t see where to go from here. You’ve come to a blank in the plot. Or sometimes you do know the ending, but you lose interest in the story as a result (if you know how it’s going to turn out, why bother writing it?). Or maybe you stop simply because writing is such hard work and you’re sick and tired of it.

The good news is that you can make use of the Swamp. Getting stuck and blocked and stopped are all natural parts of the writing process. Sometimes they happen because we really need to take a break. We need to stop and step back and take a wider look at what we’re doing.

So if you can’t keep working on a particular story for whatever reason, then let it sit for a while. That’s fine.

The key is to keep writing something. It took me a long time to learn this, but making a daily habit of writing is crucial.  

Write every day. Even if you only have the time for a few sentences. Even if you feel like the worst writer that ever lived. The story you're working on may be stuck, but that doesn't mean you are. Work on something else and you won't stay in the Swamp very long.
I’ll offer some more thoughts and strategies on getting stuck and how to get unstuck in the next post.

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