Talk Yourself Unstuck

This past week, my work came to a screeching halt as I realized I'd written myself into a corner at the 3/4 point of my book. For once, rereading the synopsis was no help at all, since my characters had taken a detour and fallen off the edge. Rereading the completed chunk of manuscript did nothing either, except for convince me that yep, I had well and truly fallen down the well on this one.

Not knowing what else to do, I decided to whine - I mean talk it out - with my online critique partner, who reads and comments on every chapter of the evolving draft as it's completed (as I do for her.) Since she knows the story more intimately than anyone else to this point, I thought she might have some insight to pull me out of the well.

Turns out she didn't have to. During the process of clearly and methodically explaining both the problem and my ultimate story goals to a knowledgeable and willing listener, the solution popped into my head and out of my mouth within a very few minutes.

This has happened to me on numerous occasions, and I have no idea why it works after I've beat my head against the bricks for days (or sometimes weeks) to figure out how to write an ending. It almost feels like those times you're trying so hard to think of a word that you can't possibly access it but the moment you stop struggling, it pops back into your head. Perhaps because I'd admitted my inability to solve the problem and turned it over to someone else's expertise, it took the pressure off my brain and allowed the subconscious to do its work.

So today, I'm sharing this suggestion. The next time you're hopelessly, irredeemably stuck, call a friend and make a lunch date or schedule time for a conversation (the phone works fine, but not so much e-mail, since the give and take really helps) about a story problem you're having. Then explain it, answer any questions, ask for advice, and listen carefully. Don't be surprised if you end up piggybacking off one of your friend's bright ideas and coming up with something even better of your own.

Something you never could have accessed by continually spinning in circles on your own.

Good luck!


Edana said…
It's like therapy for a book! I like it...talking things out always gives me far better results in my personal life, but I probably never would have considered doing it with writing. (Though it might have just happened, since it's what I'm used to.) Great idea, thanks!
You're so welcome. It never occurred to me for the longest time either. Nor did brainstorming with my agent about the direction of an incipient project. That can save an author tons of time.
Suzan Harden said…
LOL The talk method has worked in every industry I've been in. The real trick was training my husband to just sit and listen because you know how guys want to "fix" the problem for you.

"No, honey, Mr. Lucas would be very upset if my Amish vampire used a lightsabre."
LOL, Suzan! How I would've loved to be a fly on the wall during that conversation!

And my husband has the fix-it issue, too. It's clearly embedded on the Y chromosome.
Mylène said…
Same for my husband!

This is an interesting post to pair with Kathryn's earlier one on asking someone to read your work: it gives a sense of the intimacy, intensity, trust and mutual help required and expected. This is why asking a writer who is a stranger to you, but who happens to be in front of you in the grocery check-out line, to please read your manuscript and deal with your blocks, doesn't fly. The circles are smaller and tighter (and much more familiar) than that.

Great post!
Thanks, Mylene!
Ugh. I'm there right now, and it did help to talk to Mark about it. But you've encouraged me to talk to one of my writer friends whom I'm meeting for lunch and explain the problem I'm having to her--if I haven't worked it out myself (or with Mark, god help him) by then.
Best of luck, Kathryn. I hope you'll find it helps.

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