It happens to the best of us. We’re cruising along, writing something, and you hit the queen bitch of all potholes. It’s not writer’s block; you can write quite well. But you find that one scene, that one conversation, that one moment, that you just can’t write for love or money or some combination of the two.
And you sit there, staring at the cursor, and think: What now?
1. Turn it around. Sometimes those scenes are like puzzle pieces or non-standard genitalia*: you have to turn them around and try them a few different ways before you figure out how it all fits together.
Maybe you’re starting in the wrong place. Maybe the scene should have come earlier, or later. Maybe it has the wrong characters. Try a few things and see if anything moves.
2. Give it a rest. Try not to hammer your head against the wall on this too long. Trust me, you will become mired in the frustration that it creates, which just makes it harder to dig your way out. Take a break. Go for a walk. Re-grout the bathroom. Whatever. Just do something else and see if your hindbrain can shake it loose.
3. Drink. No. Wait. *Checks piece of paper* Sorry, that’s my to do list for the day.
4. Switch it up. Sometimes I storyboard things. Or comic-book things, depending. Draw them out in a series of panels just to see how it goes. What expressions go where, what the body language should be. Or I write what doesn’t happen. Sounds ass-backwards, but think of it like Sherlock Holmes’ method: eliminate the impossible and what remains, however improbable, is the truth. Or as close as we need it to be for fiction, anyway.
5. Drop it like it’s hot. Put in a couple of asterisks and fill in the bare bones of what needs to happen. Then move on. For example, I came across this gem in my editing:
***SCENE WHERE CAS REALIZES LORD T. IS ONE OF THE DEBTS***
Solid gold writing, there.
But it was enough. I couldn’t get the scene right, so I figure out the basics and moved on. Otherwise I might still be stuck there and the manuscript would remain unfinished. As it is, I have a much better idea of how that scene will go in the rewrite.
And occasionally, upon a re-read, something else happens. Listen to John Steinbeck:
If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.**
And then aren’t you glad that you didn’t let that section sink the book?
*Which begs the question: is there such a thing as standard genitalia? Quick, someone Google it. I’ll wait here.
**From his interview in The Paris Review in 1975. For more tips, check out this article (via Brain Pickings).