Writing Roadblocks: How to Get Unstuck

cats-in-chargeA good critique can open your mind to creative solutions and set your writer-self on fire. But not-so-helpful feedback can stall your project or even discourage you from writing at all.

Writing Tip for Today: I don’t believe in “writer’s block,” but I know how it feels to be stalled or so discouraged you start questioning your writing life. How can you reclaim your writing passion and make forward progress once again?

Too Many Cooks

Getting stuck with your writing can result from different situations, but a common reason for “stuckness” is getting too many conflicting suggestions for change. Feedback from your peers can be freeing, but everybody has an opinion. It’s up to you to decide which revision suggestions you take and which you (politely) ignore. One illustration of this might be the following: You belong to a great group but there are one or more members who pride themselves on grammar and usage. One stickler condemns all sentence fragments, another can’t abide a single “ly” word. Or you envision a realistic portrayal of your story while you receive feedback insisting on a happy ending. These are only a few ways your peers can erode your writerly self-confidence. And when some members of a group are experienced or extensively published, it can be harder to evaluate their advice. Are they “right” because of their expertise? Or is the feedback an example of extreme bias? Whatever your position in the writing food chain, take all suggestions and then sift through them later. Use the ones which make sense to you. Read extensively in your genre, looking for examples of both the advice and your way of writing a passage. When you see published books galore using the method your peers just shot down, you can decide for yourself whether or not the feedback was appropriate for your work.

The Personal Jab

A second way writers get stuck is after a rejection or negative critique that’s taken personally. When the feedback says, “This scene doesn’t work because of xxx,” some writers hear, “Your writing stinks.” Or, writers become convinced that only they know what they’re doing and that the publishing game is “rigged.” Writers who feel this way undermine their own creativity and hinder the ability to learn. Remember, writing is a craft. You can learn a craft. And your critique group, while a test audience of sorts, is trained to look for mistakes. Stuff readers wouldn’t notice are regularly called out by other writers. The fix for the “I give up” or “I’m better than everybody” ways of getting stuck is simple: Stop taking your feedback personally. Yes, there are some who use critique as a personal people’s court, judging you from all angles. But your responsibility is to 1) grow a thick skin 2) be gracious about hearing criticism and 3) wait until your emotions aren’t raw to make informed decisions about the feedback.

From Screaming to Dreaming

Any time you get stuck or discouraged about your writing is time lost to productivity. You dream of becoming a published writer—a successful published writer. However you define success is your dream. Some writers take longer than others to achieve their dreams but if you stop writing, you’re pretty much doomed right where you stopped. Learn to think of your drafts as clay you will ultimately shape into a sculpture. Drafts have rough edges, they meander off topic, lack tension, omit important stuff and pad the paragraphs with fluff. Anne Lamott’s s****y first draft is a good rule to write by—you know your initial efforts will need refining. We tend to think of famous writings as having magically appeared on the page, but even famous writers go through the revision process, sometimes many rewrites are necessary. One good way to get around a writing roadblock is to commit to daily writing—even if your entry is a rant about how unfairly you were critiqued. Write every day. Read as much as you can—both resource books as well as works in your genre. Let go if you’re a grammar police type and tune out peers who seem to have a personal stake in YOUR work. They can do what they will with their own work, but you’re in charge of what you write. By determining to write despite the challenges, you’re far more likely to achieve your writing dreams.

What are Some ways you’ve been stuck and how did you get unstuck?

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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