I love going to author panels. Seeing a favorite author and learning about his or her writing process is always fun. Most authors seem to enjoy appearing on panels, too, though I am starting to realize that writers on panels often are asked the same questions. "Where do you get your ideas?" "How did you start?" “How do I get published?”
Last week I attended a panel with four Agatha-nominated and -winning authors at the Kings Park Library in Burke, Virginia. Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, Sandra Parshall, and Art Taylor answered these questions and more with aplomb.
Then one aspiring author in the audience asked two questions that struck a chord with the panelists: "What do you do when you’re writing and you get stuck? How do you get unstuck?" The conversation that followed was full of useful advice.
Sandra started the conversation by getting to the essence of the problem. She said that writers get stuck because the subconscious mind is telling you that something is not right in your story. Listen to that feeling, she said, go back and you'll find where you've taken the wrong turn. This feeling is telling you you've gotten off track, and you can only proceed when you figure out how to fix the troublesome story element.
Art shared that he was stuck on one story and struggled to put it right but he couldn’t figure out where he had taken that wrong turn. He put the story aside and started on his walk to work at the university. By the time he got to his class he had figured out what the problem was and how to fix it. When he had stepped – literally - away from the manuscript, his unconscious mind was freed to find the problem.
Barb mentioned that a good night's sleep gives her unconscious the chance to formulate ideas and fix sticky problems. She often reviews work before bedtime because she knows that the morning will often bring solutions. Also, she said, time in the shower works wonders for coming up with writing ideas!
Donna had an unusual suggestion. She talked about the often-unrealistic demands of a copywriting job she had once held. She was expected to jam dozens of brochures worth of information into one brochure. How could she even start? Donna said she wrote whining memos to herself about her sticky writing problem, complaining about what was wrong with the project. In that way she gained insights into what was wrong, what approaches she could take, and solutions that could work.Voila! Writing complaints and questions about the work helped her discover ways to get unstuck and finish her project.
What do you do when you get stuck?