We’ve all been there: Things are perking along with your story and you’re feeling pretty good about it — and then it turns out, that unbeknownst to you, your fuel gauge was dipping past empty — and you stall. Everything stops. You can’t seem to get your motor going again. When this happens, it’s tempting to 1) throw in the towel and let your project slowly unravel or languish somewhere, or 2) start something entirely different in the hopes that a change of subject and pace will help rev up your creative engine.
In the interests of writing dangerously, we need to dump number one: Quitting just isn’t an option. And while number two sounds inviting and probably works admirably well for some people, I like to stay focused on one main project at a time. I might play with something else for a bit, but seem to need to put all my energy into one major endeavor.
So, are there more direct ways to handle a stalled story? Here are a few approaches that have helped me:
Make a decision to stay with it: Quietly and confidently recommit to whatever you’re working on. Treat it like a wayward puppy: Let it know that you love it no matter what and that you won’t abandon it. Just signaling this intention to yourself can take a little pressure off and help you relax about your apparent lack of progress.
Recognize that you may be consolidating: Sometimes, we aren’t really stalled at all: we’re just integrating new ideas or material and that takes time. Instead of hitting the panic button, see if you can get a loose fix on what’s bubbling up and then just let it percolate.
Take a mental-health break: Even as you recommit, recognize that stepping away for a short time, say a few days, might give you renewed energy and fresher eyes. Doing something entirely different — going on a weekend retreat or to a flower show or to the beach — can be restorative. Activities that engage your senses and plunge you into the moment can go a long way toward shaking out your mental cobwebs.
Be optimistic: Beware of falling into the old Slough of Despond just because you’ve hit a bump in the road. Rough patches happen to everyone and you probably have examples of successful stall-survival situations that you’ve weathered. So comfort yourself instead of castigating yourself. Think of times when you hit a rough patch and really bounced back. Then push ahead, knowing that you’ve got yourself on your side. And write on!