Dianne Salerni author Dianne Salerni author Dianne Salerni books Dianne Salerni blog Dianne Salerni Appearances Dianne Salerni contact Dianne Salerni teachers
Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | 7 Things to Do When You’re STUCK

7 Things to Do When You’re STUCK

Gabbey stuck


If it’s crossing your mind that I’m writing this post because I’m stuck … then, you’re right. Or at least, it feels like I’m stuck because the answers aren’t coming to me as fast as I’d like.

And yes, that IS my daughter in the picture (16 years ago). And yes, I did extricate her –AFTER I took the picture.

When you are stuck – on a first draft, during revisions, or even in the planning stages – here are 7 things you can do that have helped me get unstuck:

1. Open up Twitter and/or Facebook and stare at the feed. Refresh lots of times. This is not procrastination. It’s surfing for ideas. Sometimes the most random comments, links, or videos suggest something to you. One night a couple years ago, someone posted a video of a flooded stream busting across a two-lane road, breaking the road into chunks that are swept away in the flood — in less than a minute. You’ll be reading a scene just like that in The Morrigan’s Curse.

2. Write a long email to one of your critique partner explaining the dilemma – what you need to do but can’t do and why you can’t do it this way and why it won’t work that way. Then delete the email when your lengthy explanation of the problem produces its own answer. Be sure and send thanks to your CP, because without him/her, you wouldn’t have written the email.

3. Draw a flow chart of possibilities. If you take the story in THIS direction, what will be the consequences? The positive benefits to plot development? The roadblocks to making it all work out? Now try a different direction? What will be the consequences, benefits, and roadblocks to doing it this other way? Which path serves your story?

4. Lie on a pool float staring at the sky and let the randomness of your journey around the pool jar ideas loose from your mind. A hammock or a swing also might work, although it’s not quite as random a movement and doesn’t have the same effect (for me).

5. Ask a CP who’s read your manuscript to write questions for the character most responsible for your state of stuck-ness. Answer the questions from that character’s POV and find out what’s going on in his head. Yes, you could write the questions yourself, but you’re stuck, so how will that help? The point is to get an outside person’s perspective on your plot, your character, and your problem.

6. Seriously consider that you’ve made a mistake – not at this point in the manuscript, but earlier. Back up to the last point where you were really sure about the plot and look at where you went from there. Did you take the wrong path? Present things in the wrong order? Have your character behave in a way that doesn’t make sense? Your DELETE key may be your solution.

7. Go read a book in a different genre and audience from the one you’re writing. If you’re struggling with a MG contemporary fantasy, go read about an adult book about an assassin in a steam-powered society on an alien world – or zombies on the Titanic. If the book holds your attention (in spite of your preoccupation with your own stuck-ness), figure out WHY, then figure out how you can do something similar in your own genre and for your audience.

And please don’t judge me for taking that picture. It was the third or fourth time she had inserted her head through those bars and gotten it stuck there. Really, was she expecting a different outcome this time?

20 Responses to 7 Things to Do When You’re STUCK

  1. Hilary says:

    Hi Dianne – how funny – poor kid … and did she do it again? I got my elbows stuck over the hand rail round a swimming pool – and no-one realised I was somewhat stressed! I did eventually extricate myself … but am not sure if I grew by standing on tiptoes for so long.

    Doing something different brings ideas … or as you say reading or seeing something totally unusual – that triggers one’s imagination.

    Great thoughts here for becoming UNSTUCK .. cheers Hilary

  2. I think the picture is hilarious! I don’t blame you for taking it.
    I have one critique partner I bounce ideas off of, especially during the outline phase. He’s helped me fix so many problems that had me stuck.

  3. Tiana Smith says:

    I love that picture 🙂 These are all great things for when you’re stuck, though I probably use Twitter as an excuse… What are you working on now?

  4. Joanne Fritz says:

    Pictures like that are perfect for tormenting the teen when she does something that irks you. Having said that, I got stuck on the schoolyard wire fence in first grade because I tried to follow some kids who were climbing over it. They made it over. I got stuck. Never again!

    Thanks for these tips. I suggest staring at photos on Pinterest. Helps me! If I had a pool, I would try the floating one. Sounds lovely. I find a long walk and a long shower help me come up with ideas. But I get stuck on every book I write. Usually I simply put it away and work on something else and eventually my brain works out the problems subconsciously.

  5. What a picture. I bet you were freaked out a bit. And great tips when you get stuck.

  6. How can kids get into such predicaments? Heck how can we– in our advanced age– do that? I’m stuck a lot these days for one reason or another. I like your idea of floating in a pool and staring up at the sky. That works as well as anything to unstick me. Here’s to unstuckedness.

  7. J E Oneil says:

    The flow chart idea is an interesting one. I never thought of something like that for writing. I might just squirrel away that tidbit for later.

    Third or fourth time? Maybe she was checking for consistency 🙂

  8. Haha… you’re like me, or I’m like you… ‘cos EVERYTIME when I know there’s no (real) pain, I’m like get the camera, QUICK!!

    Treasured family memories, I’m telling you (and great extortion tools when our three boys grow older (happy sigh!)

    Great tips!! I never realized I was already doing the Twitter one 🙂

    And I had to laugh… I like the idea of laying in the pool… but then I was thinking, “Oh and I have to get me one of those Pool Jars Dianne was talking about…”

    Then I read the sentence again….


  9. Chuck Robertson says:

    I like the predicament picture too. I also like your idea of staring into the stars the best. I do that a lot too. Since one of the genres I write is Science Fiction, it’s good inspiration.

  10. I love so much that you took a photo first!

    I also love that you’ve made my Facebook addiction okay. My current problem is I keep rewriting the opening chapter – each one will take the book in a slightly different direction, and I don’t know which I prefer. It’s the curse of a pantser 🙁

  11. Anna says:

    I love the flowchart idea. It would work for brainstorming twists as well. 🙂

    Anna from Elements of Writing

  12. salarsen says:

    I think it’s time for me to venture through #2 or #3. I sat down just over a month ago to start working on the sequel to my YA. Found over 90 pages I’d written more than a year ago, which could be a potential sequel. Great, yes! Well, I’m not sure. With so much time passing and the actual novel to-be-published so different from the original, this road might not be the best one for the sequel. Ultimately what finding this work has done is buried me in quicksand. I’m stuck. So I’ve been reading through book I and taking notes. I did finally find some inspiration yesterday. Now to map out what I want to write and then get typing. But I still think I need to hash over this idea with a writing bud.

  13. I find exercising followed by a hot shower helps me clear my mind and write again.

  14. Lydia Kang says:

    The #4 one works for me. Letting my mind wander really helps a lot!

  15. When I’m stuck, I call my content editor or primary critique partner. Oh, and I exercise. And sometimes read a book. Or go work on a different project until I no longer feel the pressure. I did have one piece that no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get through it. FINALLY it came together the day before it was due. Mama said there’d be days like this, eh?

  16. Oog, thank you. I’m nearly done with revisions on my book, which means I’ll be back to plotting soon, and I know I’m going to end up stuck on something. Most likely it’ll be with the same stories I’ve been trying to figure out for years. So I’ll be coming back to this post and trying out these methods. Hopefully one will work. …I don’t have a pool or hammock, though. >_<

    Also: if I wrote historical anything, it would totally be zombies on the Titanic. Just because.

  17. Lexa Cain says:

    This is terrific advice. For some very odd reason, I generally have breakthroughs when I do the dishes. So I do the dishes a lot, but rarely any other chores! lol

  18. Oh, poor kid! But you do think after the 2nd, 3rd or 4th time, they’d figure it out. Glad you have the memory.

    I love the write a CP and then erase the email tip. Lol! I do this all of the time and thought I was strange for it. And the backtrack for doing something wrong is good too…except this time I’m stuck in the 2nd/3rd chapter already, which would mean my mistake is from the beginning on. Oh my.

  19. Robin says:

    I WAS good about reading when I was stuck. Funny, but I always chose YA (which I’m not writing). And, yes, I’d pick apart what I liked and see if it helped MY book in some way. Often, it did. Lately I’ve been stuck and not reading. Nothing.

    TY for these most excellent ideas!