Are you stuck in a writing rut?
Does the following scenario apply to you? You sit down at your desk. You’re all geared up to write, pen in hand or fingers poised over your keyboard, and the only thought that comes to mind is: I have no fucking clue what I want to say. Or better yet: What the fuck is the point of this story?
It applies to me. A lot more than I’d care to admit. In fact, right now I’m struggling with this very issue. For months, I’ve been flip flopping between whether I want to write a romance novel or a mystery. I started the romance, hated it, so I switched gears and started working on a mystery idea that I’d outlined a while back. Now, I’m questioning whether I want to write this story. I’m not feeling it and I don’t know why. What I do know is that my gut is sending signals to my brain telling me to step away from this project.
If you find yourself stuck in rut like me, the following questions might help you get unstuck.
1. What are you most passionate about? Your passion could be anything from how to solve the global warming crisis to baking the perfect French macaron. Whatever floats your boat will also fuel your writing. Make a list of the causes, interests and hobbies you care most about and use that list as a springboard.
2. What scares you? Heights. Cockroaches. Nuclear war. The consequences of having an incompetent and unstable president. These are just a few of my fears. Make a list of anything and everything that scares the shit out of you.
3. What makes you angry? Set a timer for ten minutes and free write about everything that makes you mad. When you’re done, read over what you’ve written. List each thing that pisses you off and go into further detail of why these things make you angry.
4. What answers are you searching for right now? Enlightenment. Reinvention. A new career. The meaning of life. How to make your ass look great in jeans. Whether it’s superficial or existential, whatever you’re searching for might just propel you into a story.
5. What unresolved issues do you have? This is where you go deep and get personal. Just about everyone on the planet has some unfinished business. This could be something from childhood that you haven’t had the courage to face or it could be something that happened last week at work. No matter what that unresolved business is, see if you can infuse that into your writing somehow. Create a character with a similar issue and figure out if he or she can resolve the problem.
6. What if? The writer’s go-to question. What if your best friend is responsible for the death of your child? What if you find out your fiance is already married? What if you’re told you have 6 months to live? What if you’re accused of murdering your spouse? Playing the what if game is a fun way to come up with ideas.
7. Does what I’m writing matter to me? This is probably the most important question, and the answer should always be yes. If your answer is no, odds are the writing will be flat, the characters two-dimensional, and the story a boring piece of crap. In other words, a colossal waste of time for both you the writer and anyone who reads your work. Whether you’re writing romance, mystery, young adult, horror, etc., there needs to be a reason for the story. This could be a theme you’re passionate about, something that pisses you off, something that scares you, or an unresolved issue that you want to explore. If the story matters to you, then it will mean something to your readers.
The next time you find yourself in a rut, take a deep breath, grab your computer or a pen and your notebook and start answering some questions. You’ll eventually figure out what you want to write about and learn a few things about yourself in the process.