Pulling Out of a Deep Stall by Elizabeth Mitchell


Lena Corazon’s New Year’s post tolled the midnight bells for me, counting fear and doubt and perfectionism. Lena tells her doubt monster to take a flying leap, an attractive option, but mine often flings its paralyzing venom deep in my soul, sinking me into negative self-talk, doubt, second-guessing, and seclusion. In addition to the strength of character such negativity has fostered in me, I’ve learned some tricks to fight the paralysis.

When life, fear, perfectionism, or doubt, stalls us, what can we do? I’ve found that sitting in one place on the ice, gunning the engine, only wastes gas and carves the ruts deeper.

Shake things up. Try something different. Go outside your comfort zone.

Do you always write in a linear fashion?  Try a scene that calls you without worrying where it fits in your outline. Sink your teeth into the fight scene that doesn’t happen for a few chapters–go on, no one will know.

Are you a pantser who can’t figure out where a character is going? Throw your character into any situation and see what happens. I had great fun with a character reacting to being stranded in a bad cell phone coverage area.  Did it matter that my character lives in 1945? I learned his pressure points, even if the story had to give him something else infuriating.

Are you a plotter who can’t make the next plot point gel? Have a conversation with a character. Find out what food she likes, or ask her about her first prom date.  She might give you a scene or subplot that makes the story sing.

Is the length of a scene paralyzing you?  Write a piece as flash fiction. I had a scene that kept getting maudlin; focussing on the smallest moment of the heartbreak made the scene better.

Are none of these hints working? Perhaps you need more of a break. Relax. Read a book; let yourself analyse it if you want to, or let yourself be pure reader.  There’s a lot of brain function simmering in the background–don’t underestimate what you see as “wasted time.”

Pay it forward.  Offer to beta read, or line edit, or be the sounding board of a fellow writer. The ROW80 community offers these ways to pay it forward, and more.  Drop an encouraging word to a few of the participants.  Be a mentor, a cheerleader, or a sympathetic ear.

If you can’t stand the thought of doing something writing-related, just reach out.  Most of us are toiling away in our physical or mental writers’ garrets, and would delight in another’s company.
I cherish the friends I have met through this challenge, and have received far more than I have given.

~*~

Elizabeth Mitchell

12 comments

  1. Excellent and, for me, timely post. I’ve been slogging through one section of my current WIP, unable to get my characters to move forward. I keep reminding myself it’s first draft, it can be horrendous. But that perfectionist part of my brain objects. I should just write, “Move along.” then come back to it at the edits! Thanks for the push I needed right now.

  2. Elizabeth, this is the second post I’ve read today that speaks of getting out of your comfort zone (the first had nothing to do with writing) is the Universe trying to tell me something?🙂
    All great advice, thanks.

    1. Thank you, Andi. I got so hung up on “it must progress the story,” until I realized, as you put it so well, I was creating a world, and the parts that don’t show in the finished work still shore up the parts that do. And, even better, they sometimes prime the pump and get things rolling again.

  3. I’m trying to get back into blogging after a long hiatus. This is a good reminder that even if we don’t have the energy to do much on our own goals, we can root on our friends. And also love the reminder to just start slapping paint on the canvas in the form of words, try things out, see what happens.

    1. I’m glad it was helpful, Jaleh. There are many things that don’t call on the amount of energy that writing/blogging does, but help us stay thinking about the things that matter.

      I also love your image of slapping paint on canvas. It’s exactly what I meant, to let things flow and bubble and run together. Sometimes wonderful pieces result.

  4. Love your post, Elizabeth. With all the noise of self-promotion that seems to dominate the writing scene, it’s good to read something honest, heartfelt, and sincere.

    It’s like stepping off a city street and into a quiet wood. Good for the soul, this.

    Keep writing. And thanks for the good words.

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