Let’s talk about the word stuck for a moment.
What, exactly, does stuck mean to you?
Are you stuck like a commuting driver, temporarily stalled in rush hour traffic, or seriously stuck, like the tragic character in an old classic Western movie–tied to the tracks in front of an oncoming train or sinking in a pit of quicksand?
In either case, stuck is a bad place. And if you don’t develop some solid strategies, this lack of movement can turn into stagnation, something more permanent and damaging to your writing career.
Now, I could tell you to suck it up, take a deep breath, and get back to work, but that wouldn’t be productive, would it?
Stay with me for a moment.
I hate all those bootstrapping platitudes as much as you do. Often, those well-meaning jabs just make you more miserable. Nose-to-the grindstone advice works best when you least need it, when you’re chugging along, making stellar progress.
Despite your best intentions, you drifted off course, and you’ll need to know exactly how to keep it from happening again.
Standing still is unacceptable, especially when you dream of so much more, of expressing yourself and forging connections, of making a difference in the lives of your readers.
To move on from this stuck place, you need to figure out how you got there in the first place, how your hard work and desire took you away from your goals.To move on from this stuck place, you need to figure out how you got there in the first place, how your hard work and desire took you away from your goals. Click To Tweet
So how do you get stuck and stay stuck?
Let’s take a look.
You Settle for Less
Somewhere along the line, you decided to settle for a routine that doesn’t work.
Sure, it’s familiar, but it’s ineffective.
Think about it: we love our routines. We move through our days, never thinking about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. And this feels good because it’s easy. And that good feeling might be all that’s standing between you and your true potential.
Take a look at your daily goals. Do you have a daily word count you adhere to, a prescribed amount of time you sit butt-in-chair, hammering your heart out on the keyboard?
How well is that working for you? How do you know?
Have you taken the time to measure the results you’re getting from this familiar, daily routine? What does the data show? What’s missing?
By blindly following this routine, it’ll be hard to produce the results you want. You may need to increase or decrease your word count. Document your goals and your progress over the course of a week.
Document your preparation time, your writing time, and the quality and quantity of your results. Do you work from an outline, or are you winging it?
If you’re a pantser, how well is that working for you? Are you willing to trade the excitement of never knowing what’s around the corner with a substantial boost in productivity? You may need to follow an outline.If you’re a pantser, how well is that working for you? Are you willing to trade the excitement of never knowing what’s around the corner with a substantial boost in productivity? You may need to follow an outline. Click To Tweet
You might find that you can achieve more in less time. For example, right now I’m using dictation software to draft this blog post. Dictating allows me to double my productivity. I’m not kidding. Assessing your routine provides insight that might not be readily available.
We settle in other ways as well.
Many of us decide our work is good enough as it is–not because we believe this, but because we want to believe it in order to perpetuate this good, comfortable feeling. After all, we’re showing up and doing the work. Shouldn’t that be enough? Self-assessment can be painful, so we avoid it altogether.
No one wants to believe their work is mediocre. This good-enough mantra manifests itself in multiple ways. We write without proper revision or editing. We don’t spend enough time researching before writing. We focus too much on word count rather than quality.
So what can we do to overcome this?
We look at our routines, and we insert proper time for revision, time for editing, time for any necessary tasks to evaluate our work honestly.
If we can’t be honest with ourselves, we bring in fresh eyes to evaluate our progress. We find a trusted peer, a teacher or a mentor who will tell us the truth. We can also turn to software programs to evaluate grammar, punctuation, and style.
The third way we settle is by subtly giving in, or giving up.
We decide writing is too hard, or perhaps not worth the effort.
Often we’ve given up without allowing ourselves to realize it. We go through the motions. We show up at the page, but we don’t really complete our work. We put in the time, halfheartedly writing and revising, but deep down inside, we’ve already checked out.
We put in the work to satisfy the ego, but were not truly invested.
You Take a Passive Stance
We wait for someone to discover our work.
We reassure ourselves, telling ourselves we’re on the right path, while secretly hoping someone will come in and save the day.
Realize that no one is coming in to save us, that we must learn to help ourselves. We must create the work, and we must deliver it to the marketplace.
We take a passive stance by avoiding the hard work of networking with other writers. Successful writers have a network of supporters, friends, mentors, and cheerleaders, other writers in the trenches going through the same issues.
We hurt ourselves by not reaching out, by dismissing all the available support out there. Entire communities are built around writing, around peer reviewing, around finding inspiration, beating writer’s block, etc.
It’s up to us to go out there and find the resources and support we need. Often, it’s just a few clicks away.
Another way we remain passive, keeping ourselves stuck, is by avoiding marketing.
We tell ourselves that marketing is pushy, sleazy, or something worse. It’s our job to learn marketing. We’re readers and writers after all, so we can find and assimilate new concepts and ideas better than most.
Often, we’re afraid to put ourselves out there, to find out that no one cares about our work.
We remain stuck when we stop growing. When was the last time you read a book about the art and craft of writing? When was the last time you took an online course? When was the last time you took a face-to-face class on writing?
We need to stretch, and to stretch, we need to challenge ourselves.
We need to assess our present level of skills, and our present level of understanding. We need to be realistic about where we are and where we’d like to go in the future. This takes guts. But, it’s essential for our continued progress.
We stop growing when we write in the same genre every day.
To level up our game, we need to explore, to experiment with different genres, with different strategies for writing. For example, writing terrible poetry helps us focus on the sentence level. We begin to look at word combinations, at syntax, at the way everything changes with the addition or removal of a single word. Word order becomes revelatory.
When was the last time you read a new book? When was the last time you analyzed the plot or the prose of a favorite writer. When was the last time you allowed yourself the luxury of falling in love with a new writer, a new novel?
We keep ourselves stuck when we stop seeking our muse, when we stop reading. Creativity relies on constant fuel, and this fuel can dry up if writing is our only channel. We can turn to music, to nature, to drawing and painting, to cooking a gourmet meal. Creativity requires a certain amount of unpredictability: surprise, variety, challenges, a change of scenery.
You Stop Taking Risks
When was the last time you submitted your work for publication? Whether your goal is self-publishing or traditional publishing, you need to put yourself out there. This means completing your work; it means sending it out for evaluation and consumption.
But we fear negative feedback, don’t we? And we’d rather remain comfortable where we are, avoiding the wide-open spaces where we feel vulnerable.
When was the last time you entered a writing contest? Putting yourself out there requires risk. In the end it’s about soliciting feedback, finding out how others receive your work.
This can be terrifying, but it’s an integral part of the process. Self-assessment has limits. We risk rejection to enjoy growth. We invite it, in fact.
We remain stuck when we don’t push ourselves beyond our current capabilities.
Sure, we accept our limitations because we understand the requirements for growth. And those requirements beg us to expand us our limits.
Nevertheless, we learn to push, don’t we? A part of us knows it’s essential.
So how do we rise to “the push?”
We dig into the hard stuff: the pivotal scene in our novel, the all-important first page, any and every opportunity to grab our reader’s attention. And we dive into those cliffhanger moments, embracing each challenging plot sequence.
We do what it takes—whatever “it” happens to be.
We find the best way to honor that still, small voice whispering, “more.”
How do you avoid getting stuck?
How have you overcome stagnation in the past?
Share your experiences in the comments below.