“The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out.” Dee Hock, Founder of Visa
Getting old thoughts out of our mind so new ones can flow in — who among us hasn’t struggled at some point with this dilemma in our writing? We get stuck in a rut and can’t figure out how to write ourselves out of it. New ideas may be hovering around in our brains, just waiting to be born and to help us along, but we are so fixated, so wedded to, so enamored of an old idea that we can’t let it go and make room for a fresh new one to surface and make its appearance.
What to do, what to do? When this happens, here are a few strategies that might help:
Brainstorm by yourself: When I’m stuck in this way, I take a small pad of paper or a 5 x 8 inch index card and force, yes, literally force myself to come up with at least five or six alternatives. I jot them down from off he top of my head without thinking much about them. It doesn’t matter how wacky they are, I get them out of my head and down on paper where I can see them. Sometimes this jogs something loose. Then I pick what looks like the most promising one and just start playing with it, and see if I come up with something I like better than my old approach. I use a pad or index card because staring at a full-size piece of paper when I’m stuck is too intimidating.
Have a hot-chocolate chat: If brainstorming with myself doesn’t prove productive, I call my sister Steph or get together with her, and we brainstorm as a team — often over hot chocolate. Sometimes Steph, who’s a fabulous editor, throws out a word or a phrase that excites or challenges me — and suddenly, I see a new way out of my dilemma. I’ve also done this with another writer friend. I simply lay the problem I’m facing out before her, admit that I’m totally stuck, and then ask for her suggestions. She starts getting creative on my behalf and spinning out ideas and sometimes one sticks. I’ve done the same for her. It can be a lot easier to dream up a new idea for someone else than it can be for yourself. Try it and see!
Let it go: Sometimes when we’re stuck, we can try too hard to get unstuck –and things get tighter instead of loser. When my brainstorming techniques don’t work for me, I sometimes find that easing off, just letting the problem sit for a while without fussing over it allows a new idea to surface. So I’ll work on another part of the same story or even a different piece of writing or just do something relaxing, and suddenly, a fresh possibility will pop into my head. A relaxed mind is a creative mind — so this simple strategy of letting go and releasing the tension about it often gets results.
What strategies do you use if you’re stuck? I’d love to share them as we all write on.