Ach, my armpits smell – getting unstuck

Ok, I don’t necessarily say that my armpits smell when I hit a snag in my writing, but it’s darned close. I’ve been hung up on chapter three of my novel, and I’ve managed to call myself every naughty word in the book – and a few that even curled the beagle’s ears.

I know getting stuck is a fact of life for writers. If I hear of any writer whose words flow forth with the fresh scent of daisies and lilacs, be wary of a roving band of Rottweilers wearing leather and chains; the beagle and I will have joined forces to quiet your quill. Yes, out of pure, unadulterated jealousy. I’m petty and small, dontcha know?

Bookshelves and blogs are jammed with advice on how to unstick an author. Walk away from it for a while, they say – which really does work, btw.

Just bang it out anyway, others insist. I’m not opposed to that idea. HOWEVER, what if it’s a pivotal chapter? If I just speed-write through it, I may have to do drastic rewrites downstream. I have no problem with rewrites, but a total restructure chafes my Vickie Secrets something awful.

So back to my misbehaving chapter 3. Veddy pivotal. Must rock. What to do? I’d decided to put the chapter in one POV, and that’s where the brakes screeched. It seemed so logical at the time, but every time I sat down to write it, the works smelled as badly as…well, my armpits after a ten-mile bike ride. I was convinced that my future as a novelist had just imploded and that I suck stale Twinkie cream.

Stubborn is as stubborn does

Is there anything worse than dealing with a Stubborn Suzie? That no matter what you suggest, Suzie shakes her head and tells you to go blow. “I know what I’m doing,” she insists.

And this is what happens when writers know too much. Or know enough to be dangerous. They grow blinders as to what simply flows out of their brains and try, instead, to force a square peg to fit into a round hole. Yet no matter how hard we try, it just doesn’t fit.

Shaddap and listen

Somewhere deep inside your firing synapses the answer is lurking oh-so quietly. Like an Army Ranger, it’s laying in wait, ready to spring out and blast its ordinance the minute you get close. So shaddap and listen. Put aside all the doubt – “Will this fit in the marketplace?” or “will an agent/editor think this story is overwritten?”

This is not the time to be asking those questions. This is the time to talk to your writer’s groups or your beta readers. Sometimes talking it out helps to figure out where that Army Ranger is hiding.

As for my elusive, naughty chapter 3, it turned out that I was writing it in the wrong POV. Sure helps when I take a shower, yanno?

15 Responses to Ach, my armpits smell – getting unstuck

  1. Pelotard says:

    When I get stuck, this is normally a sign I’ve started at the wrong place in the story. Or – related to this – that the bit I’m writing doesn’t have anything at all to do with the story, but can be skipped. Works the same way it does for you: my subconscious is trying to tell me I’m doing something wrong 🙂

  2. Voidwalker says:

    So you iz stuck? Well, if chapter 3 is supposed to be so pivitol, like you mentioned, then I’d assume you already know what you want it to say? Are you just having a hard time figuring out how to say it, or are you debating in what direction you want to take the story?

    Have you tried doubling up on the umbrella drinks and seeing what comes to mind? 😛

  3. I was stuck. I am now unstuck. I knew exactly what I wanted the chap to say, but I was lacking in the emotional one-two punch. When I changed POVs, I discovered a lot more emotional fodder that exposes the reader to the depths of my main characters’ relationship. Ah…good stuff. Hope agents will feel the same way.

  4. Allen Parker says:

    This may sound stupid, but it works for me. I just jump into my character, hop in a car and drive for a while. This allows me to think what the character thinks, and experience what the character does.

    The real drawback is that one of my characters is an axe murderer. I have to stop myself once I enter the hardware store.

  5. Allen, knowing me, if I started driving while under the influence of either of my MCs, I’d end up in Michigan. Seeing that I live in S. California, this could put a crimp in my style and make me late for dinner.

  6. Scott says:

    Congrats on getting unstuck! I’ve discovered, through much hair pulling and margarita drinking, that most times when I get stuck it’s because I’m writing the wrong thing. I normally step away from the writing and come back the next day and . . . totally rewrite the frakkin’ chapter in the way I should have written it the first place!

    Okay, kidding about all of the above. My prose always flows forth with the scent of lilacs and daisies. It’s a talent, I tell you, a talent. Okay, not kidding, first paragraph is true!


  7. Good thinking you’re kidding, ‘cos the beagle was pulling on her her leathers and packing some serious heat.

  8. Allen Parker says:

    Hey, Lynn, if you get that far, come all the way to Virginia. I know a great place for crab cakes and lobster bisque. Come hungry, though. And don’t pay any attention to that axe behind the seat.

  9. NinjaFingers says:

    I don’t get stuck.

    However, I do occasionally have to throw out an entire short story because it just doesn’t work. I’ve also thrown out several half-finished novels.

    Well, okay, not *thrown out*, as I never delete anything, but abandoned with little likelihood of return.

  10. jordan says:

    I know what you mean about getting stuck. My first book, which took me three years to write, I kept getting stuck after each chapter. It started at 250,000 words, but I whittled it down to 180,000 words. I found myself using a lot of adverbs. My co-editot told me that too many adverbs can make you stuck. That’s why I try not to use too many adverbs for my next novel in my trilogy series.

  11. Lauren says:

    I have to say that I have a special affection for Allen’s posts.

    Allen, I have followed your publishing journey for a long time now, and I am pleased you are coming along so well. You always make me laugh.

  12. CatWake says:

    “Somewhere deep inside your firing synapses the answer is lurking oh-so quietly. Like an Army Ranger, it’s laying in wait, ready to spring out and blast its ordinance the minute you get close. So shaddap and listen. Put aside all the doubt – “Will this fit in the marketplace?” or “will an agent/editor think this story is overwritten?””

    Thanks for this. I’m going to print out a banner that says “Shaddup and Listen” and tape it to the wall over my computer.

  13. CarolRose says:

    “Shaddup and Listen” … I love it!! And it’s so true. Perfect advice, as always.

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