With fiction, however, it's different. Back in 2010 I wrote a novel in the space of about 12 weeks. Then in 2011 I wrote a collection of short stories over the course of a couple of months. I started writing a new novel in 2012, and I'm maybe halfway through with it, and haven't the foggiest notion when I might finish writing it.
Now, some of that I can blame on life happening. It's been a busy year-and-a-half, work-wise. For that I am grateful, because I haven't had to pinch every penny until it screams the way I did just a couple of years ago. Also, my family has changed significantly, and I have no reason to think it will be different over the next few years. After all, I have a brand new little grandson living a block away, and infants are the living embodiment of change.
But part of it is, I'm stuck. I have thought seriously about the plot of this novel for a couple of years now. Something inside me tells me that I need to tell this story. Problem is, just because I need to tell this story doesn't mean anyone else in the world will need to read it. I will admit, my heart is very bound up in it, and if I finish and everyone hates it or worse, is indifferent to it, I will feel a real sense of failure. Nevertheless, I fully intend to finish it because it means something to me.
Here are some tips I have used in the past to get unstuck. As with most things in life, your mileage may vary, but maybe one or two of these will help when you're stuck.
1. What is my main character good at? What is s/he comfortable with? Don't play nice: put him or her in a situation that hurls him/her out of the comfort zone.
2. What are the stakes for the main character? What happens if s/he doesn't succeed? Don't be afraid to write it out and make it as horrible as possible, up to and including the end of the world.
3. Maybe you've mapped out your novel and know how the plot progresses, but that doesn't mean you know every little sequence of events before it pours out of your fingers. Ask yourself this: what's something that definitely would NOT happen next? Sometimes thinking about this can dislodge some ideas from the corners of your mind.
4. Get it on paper. At that point it may be horribly imperfect, awkward, or downright stupid. Congratulations: you may now go and fix it.
I have to tell myself that if I wait for the perfect moment, hour, or day to sit down and finish writing my novel, I will be waiting forever. Finishing it may require that I work on it while something is boiling on the stove, someone's at the door, and the roof is leaking. That's just how life is.
Getting yourself unstuck is largely a matter of putting your fingers on the keyboard and firing that mental starter's pistol. Maybe you didn't tie your shoes yet, and you know there's a good chance you'll come in last, but on the way, you're free to look around at the faces, wonder why the ground feels springy, and notice that doe and fawn you wouldn't have noticed if you hadn't made it to the second turn in the track.
Photo Credit: me