Favorite Writing Tips: #5 – Stuck? Switch things up!

Favorite Writing Tip: #5 - If you're stuck, switch things up.

Every one of us faces it at some point. We need to get unstuck in writing. I’m going to tell you exactly what works for me.

I want you to try a little exercise.

Open up Notepad, Word, or some other typing application to a new document and look at it for 10 seconds.

What happened?

That little cursor kept blinking at you, didn’t it? It’s relentless. It keeps flashing impatiently. It doesn’t care that you need to think about what you want to write, it just wants you to type something. Now.

If you’re having a steady flow of ideas for your manuscript, that’s fine. The cursor won’t have much time to sit idly just blinking. Chances are, you’ll be giving it a good workout, making all those letters as you write down all those ideas you have for great scenes.

But what happens when you’re stuck?

When you're stuck, that little blinking cursor is not your friend.
When you’re stuck, that little blinking cursor is not your friend.

There he is blinking, virtually mocking you, as you struggle to figure out what to write next. It’s tolerable for a short time, but if you’re really stuck, it’s not going to help you think of what to write. To the contrary, it’s probably just going to make you feel anxious and discouraged that your screen isn’t filling up with more words.

Time to switch things up

Close your writing software. I use Scrivener. You might use Word. Whatever it is, just save your work and close it. You can come back to it later.

Now, get yourself some form of paper and some form of writing instrument — ideally a pen.

Sometimes I use index cards, but for trying to get over a hump in crafting a scene, I’ll usually pull out my trusty composition book.

I don’t bother with the little wire spiral-bound notebooks. Those wires always get caught on things and they’re messy to store in drawers or cabinets.

I love the good ol' tape-bound, saddle-stitched composition books.
I love the good ol’ tape-bound, saddle-stitched composition books.

I use a pen. A pencil is out of the question for writing unless there is no pen available. 

Why? Because a pen is more consistent and reliable when you’re ideas are flowing. You can write and write and write, and unless the pen is out of ink, the text will look consistent, dark and easy to read.

Pencils aren’t as dark, and if you’re not using a mechanical pencil, you also have to contend with sharpening the thing frequently to keep it writing nicely.

Imagine a scene is pouring out of you onto paper when you have to suddenly stop, break your concentration, and sharpen your pencil. Not fun.

Move away from the computer

I’ve found that to get my creativity unstuck, I sometimes I have to have a total change of scene. Sometimes it’s enough to just put down the laptop, but sometimes I need to go sit someplace else, someplace where I can be comfortable with my pen and notebook in hand.

And that’s another thing… Something about a notebook is just comforting… welcoming… not like that little cursor in my writing software.

I can doodle, I can sketch, I can make lists, I can write snippets of dialogue — whatever it takes to get that breakthrough for the ideas to start flowing again.

And even when I get over that initial point of being stuck, I don’t go back to the computer right away. Usually, I’ll write as much as I can stand to write in my composition book. I can always transfer that over into my writing software later.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find you put a lot more thought into the words you write on a piece of paper than you would when you type. You’ll be more selective about the words you use, and you’ll take time to really think about what you want to say.

What works for you when you’re stuck? Have you found the writing experience to be different with pen and paper than using writing software on a computer? I’d love to read your comments below!

(This article was originally published 14 October 2014. It was last updated 17 February 2021.)