I'm learning to embrace stuckness these days. This isn't the first time I've felt this way in my life so instead of panicking this time I have tried to look back on those periods of my life and be honest about what I did to get unstuck.
Here are some of those things:
1. Read a self-help book. I love a good self-help book. I have ever since I was a teenager and discovered How to Survive the Loss of a Love: 58 Things To Do When There Is Nothing To Be Done. The book became my bible at age 15 when I was re-buffed by my big crush. Yes, I know the book was meant for people who were grieving a loved-one's death, or a divorce, but teenage love and angst was very real for me. The bullet-point instructions and the accompanying poem for each step really spoke to my teenage-self:
far better than
i ever loved you
BTW: I think I had talked to my crush once on the phone after the horrible "break-up." Ah, teenage self, I wish I could have whispered in your ear: get over it!
Anyway, I digress, I still love self-help books. My go to now is any book by Pema Chodron. I have downloaded them all from Audible and have listened to the books and lectures dozens of times. Check out Pema Chodron's Getting Unstuck; it's one of my favorites. I also love Wishcraft by Barbara Sher; The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. (Maybe I'll do a post with the whole long list soon.)
2. Exercise, exercise, exercise. I was really stuck back in 2002 and struggling to figure out what the story of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky really was. I decided to start running. I hate running. But I thought if I could run a marathon it would help me with my confidence and therefore would help me with my writing. It worked. I went from running a quarter of a mile to running 8 to 10 miles per day. I did a run-walk interval: 3 minutes running, 1 minute walking. When I was tired I would always think: "Well, I know I can run for 3 minutes. Let me just do that." I ended up running 3 marathons in three years. And I finally finished a first draft of my book! What made it work? Well, I could see how clearly that having a dedicated plan for running I was able to become a marathon runner (scratch that) --I became a marathon finisher in just a few months. I started to apply the same principles to my writing. I also needed that time to meditate while I ran. I spent time with my characters while I ran in a way that I never did if I was on an elliptical trainer catching up on The Bachelor or Project Runway (and yes, I still watch terrible reality TV!).
3. Lower your standards. This is so antithetical to my core way of being. I'm usually an unrelenting perfectionist. But I read this advice from one of my favorite poets William Stafford and it really changed my world. So when I'm stuck with my writing I write bad haiku until I can get back to the project I'm working on. Or I write bad poetry "on spec" using poetry exercises from one of my favorite writing books. The only requirement is that I make the poetry BAD. It's amazing. It's really hard to make something that really totally sucks. That always helps me to recognize that sometimes I have to go through the awful bad sentences and paragraphs and even drafts before I can get to the good stuff.
4. Recognize that maybe you're not ready. This was advice from Toni Morrison I took to heart after I read it. This is what she said about writer's block in a 1994 interview:
"There are times when you don't
know what you're doing or when you don't have access to
the language or the event. So if you're sensitive, you
can't do it. When I wrote Beloved, I thought about it
for three years. I started writing the manuscript after
thinking about it, and getting to know the people and
getting over the fear of entering that arena, and it
took me three more years to write it. But those other
three years I was still at work, though I hadn't put a
So I've learned that even if I'm not involved in the "output" that I want (words on the page during butt-in-chair time), there is always a piece of me that is working and if I pay full attention to myself the answers will become clear to me.
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So what do you do when you feel stuck? And is it the same thing as feeling sad? Or is it worse?