How To Keep Going When Your Story Gets Stuck

When you first get a solid idea for a story, it feels exciting, like anything could happen. You write it down, start building on it and thinking about it. You start crafting character bios and researching locations. You put the work in and hope that when the time comes to start, the words will just be there, waiting to flow. Starting the story is sometimes the trickiest and scariest part of writing. There are so many things to figure out, for example. What point of view to tell it in, what tense to use, how to structure the plot, how to keep up the pace and so on. Once you get past the start, it feels easier. You have a great idea, you’ve put the work in and you’ve worked out how and where to start it. Then, you get stuck. Inevitably, you run out of steam, or get lost, or run out of energy or get some form of writer’s block…

Don’t worry if this happens to you – it’s very common! This is the really tricky part, you see, the part where the whole thing could get derailed and fade to nothing. This is the danger zone, potentially at least. So many stories never get past this point and so many writers of all ages and abilities give up when this happens and move on to something new. Because new is exciting right? And chances are, there is another great idea knocking around inside your head! I see this all the time with young writers and it was a trap I fell into too at that age. So, what can we do to avoid it? How can we get a stuck story unstuck? Here are a few ideas that have worked for me over the years.

  • talk it out – find a willing friend, family member or even a fellow writer to talk to about it. This has helped me numerous times over the years. As the writer, you are so connected to the story it can be hard to separate yourself enough to stand back and figure things out. Sometimes just talking to someone else about your story can be enough to get it going again. They might suggest a way out of a plot hole if you are lucky, but even so, sometimes just relaying the story to another person can be enough to get you inspired again.
  • go back to the start – You might not be sure why you are stuck but going back to the start can be really helpful. Read it through, edit, get invigorated by what you’ve already written and hopefully inspiration will hit you again
  • try to figure out what the problem is – It is important to try to figure out why are you stuck, because there are so many potential answers. Are you bored of the story, if so, why? Are the characters flat? Do you need to do more research? Has the plot unravelled? Or is your attention being stolen by a new idea?
  • be honest with yourself – it’s vital to be honest with yourself if you want to get this story going again. Does the story flow? Is the pace fast enough for the genre? Are your characters fully fleshed or do they need a bit more work? Being honest with yourself at this stage is difficult because acknowledging that something is wrong with the story means you are going to have to redo things! But it will be worth it.
  • experiment – If you have been honest with yourself, you may now have figured out what is wrong with the story, or what is stopping you from writing it. Perhaps you need to change something, for example, the narrative point of view or the tense it’s written in. This means more work but experimenting could be the answer to getting unstuck so it is worth exploring.
  • go for a long walk and try to figure it out – This always works well for me. Long walks alone or with my dogs tend to get my brain whirring again. It’s definitely preferable to sitting in front of a blank screen for too long. Go for a walk and see what happens.
  • have a break and write something else – If your story is stuck, rather than giving up and writing a new one, why not try tackling a different form of writing, like poetry or non-fiction? This way you are still writing, and it will feel fresh to try something new, but you won’t be fully abandoning your story. You will just be having a little break from it while you try something else creative.
  • remember why you started it in the first place – Ask yourself what made you start this story in the first place, why was it important to write? What were you trying to say and why? Sometimes reminding ourselves of why we started can give us the push to carry on.
  • write a bit each day – When writing gets tough we can either give up and walk away or we can keep battling through it. The best way to do this is just to write a little bit of it each day. Even if it is just a paragraph, even if it is just a sentence! Even if it doesn’t really move the story on and doesn’t solve why you are stuck – just try writing a tiny bit, a few words each day to move it forward. It is possible to write our way through a hump or a block.
  • remember it doesn’t have to be good yet – sometimes we get stuck because our first draft feels so clumsy and ugly. It doesn’t feel as if it is going well. But remind yourself that it is just a first draft! It can be messy and chaotic, it can have notes and bullet points and question marks all over it. It doesn’t matter. The first draft is just you telling the story to yourself. Getting it out of your head. Getting it done so that you can start to polish it up in the second draft.

These are all things that have helped me get unstuck in the past. I hope it keeps you going too! Feel free to leave a comment. What helps you when you are stuck with a story?

The Old Friend – A Collection of Tales and Poems is out today!!

It’s always exciting when months, if not years of hard work, revisions, edits, proofreads and more edits lead finally to the release of a brand new book. The Old Friend – A Collection of Tales and Poems is released today in ebook and paperback on Amazon. It will be on other platforms very soon. Here is the short link if you feel like checking it out! mybook.to/TheOldFriend

This book in particular was a long time coming. Some of the short stories in here go back at least a decade whereas some are very recent. The same goes for the poetry and the blog-style musings you will find scattered throughout the book. I don’t write poetry very often, for example, sometimes only a few times a year, so you can imagine why it took so long to get enough content for this collection.

I am really pleased with it though. It’s a dark, gritty little thing full of musings on life, death, birth, motherhood, nature, society and more. It’s probably the most personal thing I have ever released, particularly the poems, and some of the musings are about real people in my life, real experiences, thoughts and fears and so on.

Of course, many of the short stories are pure fiction. Before release, I wrangled with the idea of adding a page in the book where I explain the background or inspiration for each piece. In the end, I decided to leave it up to the reader’s imagination. But just for fun and to celebrate release day, here is a list of the pieces in the work along with the stories and inspiration behind them;

Murder – This was a poem that climbed intside my head about 5 or 6 years ago when I was jogging down my lane. The crows were absolutely furious. So noisy it was deafening. Quite eerie, and I really did wonder what was wrong with them. Then I thought about how the local gamekeeper shoots them to protect the pheasants they raise for people to shoot for fun and thought yeah, probably that.

The Old Friend – At one point, I thought my book The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was complete. It was a large book in two parts and had a sequel. Then I started getting new ideas. New ideas that meant moving the ending further back and slotting in a load of new content. The only way to do this was to make it into a series, dividing the big book into two, adding a brand new book three, using the sequel as book four and then inevitably that led to a brand new book five. This short story was written around the time I was writing book three. In book three the main character Danny goes through an even harder time than he had previously and I couldn’t help feeling guilty, almost as if I were doing it to a real person! So, I explored this guilt in this story.

A Mother’s Story – essentially a prelude or teaser to my upcoming YA series The Day The Earth Turned, I wrote this from the point of view of Mother Nature.

Leaf – an old story I wrote years ago about a boy and his imaginary friend. This was based on some truth; my nephew had an imaginary friend called Leaf when he was little!

The Writer Woman – A Cautionary Tale – This also goes back a few years and just popped in my head one day. It might even have appeared on this blog at the time. It’s a little nod to the years I spent not writing because I didn’t think I had time and because so many people try to deter you from following creative pursuits. It’s a bit of an over-exaggeration of what could happen if those ideas aren’t let out regularly!

Child’s Eye – Another old story, I can’t quite remember where this idea came from!

Who Turned Out The Lights? – I wrote this one a few years ago after our writing group were talking about horror stories for Halloween. I wrote it around that time and possibly shared it to Wattpad or this blog. We are prone to power cuts where we live and sometimes when the lights go out suddenly, you automatically reach for the nearest hand…

Snotgoblin – This piece appeared on my blog about 8 years ago when my youngest child was approaching his first birthday. Someone on Facebook joked about calling children of this age snotgoblins and I thought it was brilliant. He was a little sticky mess at that age and the piece just flowed from that. It’s a little nostalgic piece about the untamed wildness of very young children.

Reuben’s Race – I wrote this as a short story or possible chapter for my YA series The Day The Earth Turned. At the time I was busy with other books, but if I got a really strong idea I would write a bit for this series. This story eventually ended up as a chapter in the book!

The Puddle -This is another old one and it comes from the memory of my oldest daughter being quite obsessed with puddles as a young child. She would often say there were other worlds inside them…

Stan – A piece that appeared on this blog a long time ago about my late step-grandfather, Stan. He was a very tall, very quiet man who I didn’t feel I ever got to know. But I have so many good memories of him.

Getting There – A few years back I was going through a low period and most of the poetry in this collection comes from that time. For some reason, I can only write poems when I’m feeling really dark! This one is a reference to what me and my husband often say to each other. You Ok? Yeah, you ok? Getting there. It just kind of means we are hanging on.

7 Minutes – Wrote a few years ago after a chat with my eldest daughter. She had read somewhere that after death your brain is still alive for 7 minutes. I started wondering what those 7 minutes might be like.

Slug – Quite an old one written about my ridiculous but genuine fear of slugs!

Crushed By A Number – Another one written during a dark time. I have always struggled with my body image.

The Rubbish Man – wrote a few years ago. I got the idea when feeling really angry about the amount of litter and fly-tipping that goes on where I live.

Fine Wine – I do like to reward myself with a glass of wine on a Friday after a busy week!

Monday Morning – wrote a few years ago after watching my older kids leave home and try to cross the road to their school bus stop. It was a miserable Monday and none of us wanted it.

Outside – I wrote this after the first lockdown, when restrictions were starting to lift. During the strict early days, it was so quiet everywhere, it almost felt like the world had ended. This is from the point of view of a woman who doesn’t want the world to go back to normal…

Nothing – another fairly dark poem from a dark time

Grief – This one is fairly recent. I was feeling so sad about the state of the world, climate change, the decimation and extinction of wildlife…

Moonlit Shadow – This has a story behind it. I got up one morning about two summer ago and walked blearily into the bathroom. I was sure I saw a shadow move across the floor and when I sat on the loo I got a really strong feeling of loss accompanied with lyrics to a song I couldn’t recall the name of. I associated it with my sister, though I still have no idea why! I ended up googling the lyrics until I found the song. It was Moonlit Shadow by Mike Oldfield. I still have no clue why it made me think about my sister!

Bug – small, strange poem about me accidentally killing a bug. I hate accidentally killing things.

Smokey Sneak – a little poem about the stresses and strains of modern life

Zombies – a poem I wrote during a recent election.

The Shed – This story was my son’s idea! It was during the first lockdown when he was 12 and he told me he had a story idea but didn’t want to write it, so I did.

Dark Little Girl – another dark poem from a darker time!

What If… – a poem that expresses concern about the point of life

Friends List – a poem about Facebook!

Mother Pt 1 – just a little one I wrote one day when tired. I remembered my mum always saying there was no point her sitting down, and I felt the same!

Fried Eggs For Breakfast – The idea for this came when I was cooking eggs and wondering what I would do if something unexpected came out of one…

Tired – a poem that crept in my head when I was still dog-walking for a job as well as running writing clubs. I was really, really tired!

All These Thoughts of Dying – a bit of a grim one, but I find it really hard not to think about death when I am driving!

The Forest – a recent poem I wrote after a walk in my favourite woods. I wondered what it would be like to just lie down and sink into the earth.

Things You Don’t Want To Do – A poem I wrote a while back when feeling a bit overwhelmed. Sometimes life is just full of things you don’t want to do….

Driving The Bends – this one evolved in my head during my constant journeys up a certain narrow, twisty road where I live. It’s one of those roads that is just begging for an accident to happen and it only takes one idiot…

Dylan’s Dream – another idea from my teenage son. He had a bizarre dream and described it to us in great detail. I said that sounds like a weird story. He didn’t want to write it down, so I did.

Read Now, Die Later – I got the idea for this one when dog-walking. I was on a narrow, gravelled path and I kept thinking I could hear footsteps behind me, crunching the gravel. Whenever I turned, no one was there. I soon realised it was the loose gravel flying out behind me when I walked and scattering further back. But by the time I felt safe, I had devised this whole story in my head!

The Universe – I like this one, it’s one of my favourites. For a long time, my husband had to start work at 4am and as we only have one car, I’d wake up too and drop him there. Sometimes on the drive back, the sun would just be rising and everything would seem very peaceful and calm, and if a perfect song came on the radio and if all the traffic lights stayed green, I would cruise safely home feeling that the universe was on my side.

The Death of You – another poem about death. I often get fearful about driving especially when I see the remains of animals on the roads, but then I started thinking about all the other ways you could easily die at any time…

2020 – one I wrote during the first lockdown! 2020 was certainly a memorable year.

The Black Van – This short story arrived unexpectedly when I was driving home one day. The lights were red and a black van was in front of me. Just then an identical black van pulled up behind me and I was sandwiched between them. It was early morning with no other cars about. The lights seemed to take forever to change and I started imagining what would happen if the vans contained bad people with sinister intentions! By the time I got home I had the story idea and wrote it later that day. It just flowed! It then became a novel idea which I intend to co-write with Sim Sansford soon, now that we have finished our trilogy together!

Mother Pt 2 – I think a lot about motherhood. Being a mother makes you realise things about your own mother. I think it gives you a clearer idea of what she did for you and what she sacrificed. Thinking about how much kids are attached to you as little ones but then leave home and don’t look back made me think about my own mother and my experiences as a mother.

A Woman Of A certain age – I wrote this in the kitchen one Friday night after a stressful week when my perimenopausal hormones had really battered me. I had a drink on the go and music from my youth playing.

My Golden Son – I wrote this quite a few years ago when my oldest son was about ten or so. We were walking down the lane which is very beautiful, sheltered by oak trees and enjoying the wildflowers and the hedgerows full of birds, and then I got suddenly very depressed by the litter and the prospect of climate change and I just felt awful for him, having to grow up in such uncertain times

These Streets – Another one that popped into my head during an early morning drive home after dropping my husband at work. He works in a fairly run down area and it was these details I was noticing as I drove.

Black Hare Valley – A few years ago I had a vague idea to write a horror story about a group of kids living in a very sinister town. I started a few character bios and loose ideas and then created a huge map for the fictional town of Black Hare Valley. It was a lot of fun and my son helped me. I couldn’t write the book at that point but I wrote this prologue or teaser for it instead. I am now writing the book!

We Write – The newest poem in the collection. I am obsessed with writing, as you probably know. I love it so much. I think it is pure magic and these are just some of the reasons we feel compelled to write.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these brief stories behind the pieces in this new collection!

Where Do Ideas Come From?

I think one of the questions you get asked the most as a writer is; where do you get your ideas from? I always feel a little bit sad when I get asked this, because in my mind I kind of expect everyone to have a head full of ideas and this question reminds me that is not always the case. And then I feel a little bit sorry for the person asking because I don’t know what it feels like not to have millions of ideas and characters running around inside my head.

But where do ideas come from? It really is a good question if you think about it. Our minds are amazing! Pick up any book in your house or think about a recent read that had a real impact on you…it can boggle your brain to wonder how the author came up with it! Here are some of the ways writers get new ideas…

Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay
  1. Out of nowhere… Sometimes ideas just come out of nowhere. You can’t trace them back to anything you saw, or heard or felt, or anything that inspired you. They just jump into your brain and they are there, taking up space. With me this is usually because the character invades my mind, sets up camp and then starts chatting. Before long they’ve suggested a back story and a possible plot.
  2. Musical inspiration... Writers will sometimes find an idea growing after listening to music. It could be that the song reminds them of a certain time and place and brings back memories that inspire a storyline. Or it could be the lyrics of the song itself that entice the writer to create a story. While driving, I once heard a song on the radio that instantly transported me back to a certain time in my life and by the time I reached my destination I had a short story in my head. I later evolved it into a novel which is in the first draft stage.
  3. TV/Film/book inspiration… Sometimes the young writers I work with worry that their story ideas are too similar to TV shows or films or books they’ve enjoyed. They’ve fallen in love with something and naturally want to emulate it in their own writing because it’s fun to do so. But they feel self-conscious, like they have stolen an idea or copied a character. I always tell them there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and that a lot of ideas are inspired by things we have enjoyed culturally. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series was originally inspired by me watching The Lost Boys at aged 12! My series has zero vampires in it but the scene when the mother realises her new boyfriend is the head vampire, got me thinking about real life monsters that hide among us, and the story grew from there. Writers ‘magpie’ ideas, taking little bits from here and there to create something new and this is totally fine.
  4. Real life people/places/events… Often writers will feel inspired to write about real life people, places or events. This could be in terms of historical or political fiction, or it could be someone they have known or come across sparks off an idea in their head. Writers people watch a lot and they tend to soak up whatever is around them, so the chances are real life people and events do sneak into their writing, sometimes without them even realising it.
  5. Anxieties and fears… I think this happens to me a lot! Quite a few of my personal fears and anxieties have evolved into novels. I think this is my way of working through what upsets and worries me. I never realise it until later though! For example, another reason The Boy With The Thorn In His Side story came about was my fear at 12 years old that my recently divorced parents would meet new partners I would hate. The Mess Of Me grew out of my own body image issues. This Is Nowhere is essentially about a non-religious character trying to find meaning in life, which is something I was thinking about a lot at the time. The Tree Of Rebels and my current work-in-progress confront my fears around climate change and the destruction of wildlife. Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature contains characters who sort of represent an internal fight I have with myself – one is open-minded, open-hearted and wants to see the best in people and view the future with hope, while the other hates people so much she basically becomes agoraphobic. I don’t think writers always realise it at the time, but I do think our personal fears weave their way into our work.
  6. Long walks… Or long showers! Either way, I find doing something relaxing that you don’t really need to think about for a long time, really allows the ideas to flow. I always get good ideas for stories or plotlines when I am walking my dogs alone. Any time I have had a block or got stuck, it has become unravelled on a walk. Ideas for endings have popped into my head out of nowhere while walking. Dialogue often starts to flow too, so I’ll write it down into my phone or record myself saying it so I don’t forget. If you are ever out of ideas, I would strongly recommend a long walk on your own!

So, that covers some of the places ideas come from and some of the things that spark off stories, but I am sure there must be more. What about you? Where do your ideas come from? Feel free to comment and share!

5 Ways This Crazy World Helps My Writing

I could also have titled this post; ‘5 Ways Writing Helps Me Deal With This Crazy World’, because it works both ways. Writing helps me cope with this world and everything going on in it, and the world helps my writing by providing so much inspiration and material! Win win, if you want to put a positive spin on it. I could also have called this post; ‘How The Hell Do Non-Writers Even Survive?’, because seriously, I have no idea. If I didn’t have writing, I don’t know how would I cope. Anyway, here goes. The world is a messed up place but I don’t let any of it go to waste;

  1. Anxiety– I use the mess in my stomach and pretend I’m one of my characters. I play out the scene. I feel the churn and the dread weighing me down. That tightness in my chest. Like it’s hard to breathe. Like you don’t want to think about anything for too long or you might start crying and never stop. I take all that and put it into my characters. I become them. I play act. I change my worries and fears to theirs. I make use of it.
  2. I explore darkness – through my characters. Their stories are nearly all ones I have stood on the edge of. I’ve stood there and peered into the darkness. I’ve wondered about it and thought about it and been tempted by so many things inside the dark. But I have my characters and I explore it through them. I don’t have to go into the darkness, because I do it through them instead.
  3. I leave behind a legacy – For someone who is not religious, I’m not particularly scared of dying, but I do think about death a lot. Because the world is so messed up, and humans so delightfully flawed, I sometimes like to think of my books as my legacy. I’m leaving my thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears and hopes inside my books and these will live on after I do. My response to this world and this life is my writing. All my books, all my stories, my characters are all little bits of me, all part of me and who I am and when I die, my ancestors will be able to know me better than anyone, by reading it all.
  4. I weave the craziness into my stories – I make sense of the world and politics and social issues by writing about them. Anything that angers, upsets or confuses me is woven into my stories. My books all deal with social issues and I love delving into gritty subjects in this way. It gives me a chance to sort through my own thoughts and beliefs, and this dying world gives me a lot of material.
  5. People watching for material -It’s weird being a writer because on the one side you are naturally introverted and shy, but on the other, you are constantly baring your fragile soul to the world. You often distrust people and try to avoid them, yet they are endlessly fascinating to you and provide juicy material for characters and stories. It’s great though because you can go out into the world, soak up all the messy people then come home and expel it all through words.

So, there you have it. I don’t like this world or the people in it a lot of the time. I’m terrified of where we are all heading. But at least I’m getting the constant urge to write! What do you think, folks? Please feel free to comment and/or share. Does writing help you deal with the state of the world right now, or the worries in your own life? Or is the world happily providing you with enough material for a lifetime?