When I get stuck on a writing project, it feels exactly like driving through fog—I can’t see far enough ahead to feel comfortable where I am, the clear road behind is as shrouded as the way forward, and there’s no telling when some swift insight will blow through so I can go back to “normal.” So, with the weather forcing my thoughts along this line, here are four ways I’ve found to write through the fog.
1. Wait It Out
I almost did this today when I saw the road, lol. “Ten more minutes,” I told myself, “then the sun will break this up.” Unfortunately, deadlines (this time imposed by my middle child’s early choral practice) don’t always like this option.
Similarly, when I recently ran into a fog with a manuscript revision—I was too close, too attached, to see the “fix” around the corner—I chose this method. For me, “waiting” on a project does not mean putting off the work. Instead, I “wait” by recharging my creative batteries which usually breaks up the fog in a matter of hours. I daydream in nature, rest, and return to whatever original inspiration sparked the story in the first place. This often means rereading stories, rewatching Star Trek (because everything comes back to Star Trek for me), or returning to my story board.
When the fog was at its worst on the highway, my GPS kept trying to push me toward side roads, where the traffic was lighter. In the same way, when I’m stuck on a project, I find my creative thoughts straying to new (and old) ideas.
I used to fight that process, but why bother? Why not cut out 10 minutes to brainstorm a new project or revisit an old idea? If that’s what gets the creative juices flowing easier, take that side road!
3. Lean on Support
I was nearly to my destination when the impenetrable fog got even thicker, and the only thing visible was the taillights ahead of me. Was it foolish to follow? Maybe, but it got me where I needed to go. Sometimes, that’s all that’s needed to get unstuck.
Times like that remind me why I’m so grateful for my writing community. Being able to turn to my critique partners and support groups for direction, motivation, clarity, or just to share an exasperated laugh-cry has made the biggest impact on how often I get stuck in a fog. I used to be alone in those moments, but now I’m not. Now I have others’ passion, grit, and wisdom to follow when I can’t find my way. With them, I can bounce ideas, vent, or even learn about new resources and experts. And, while they may not be “my” community, leaning on those resources provided by experts (writing podcasts and videos, editors’ blogs, craft books) are the brightest lights to follow. Isn’t it better to spend an hour building craft, strengthening plot or diving deeper into character than merely “not writing?”
4. Inch Forward
In the end, if the other methods don’t do the trick and there’s no one left to follow, inching forward is ultimately all one can do. So, go on, inch forward at a snail’s pace and plunk one word after another on the page. So what if you delete it all in editing? Who cares if it didn’t feel like flow?
Once the pages are written, revised, and edited, nobody will know but you that those specific words felt like a root canal. Set yourself a short goal, like Shaunta Grimes’ 10 minute plan, and just write for that 10 minutes, if it’s all you’ve got to give today. Maybe the fog will clear as you go, or maybe it will tomorrow. Just don’t give up now!
What are some ways you’ve conquered the fog in your writing journey? Tell me in the comments–I’d love to learn from your experiences!
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Great use of analogy to draw out solutions for a complicated and very relevant problem. I mostly take a vacation from my project to catch up on other pursuits (just as I would in any career). It is important to allow one’s brain some breathing space. However, during these “vacation” periods, I also participate in other writing exercises. There’s my blog and I write using prompts, I take notes on ideas that everyday life throw at me, and I even do a bit of freelance copywriting/editing work. But if I need a break from the project, I certainly don’t push myself to barrel through it. Writing, even novel writing to feed my cat, is a matter of pleasure for me. I do not wish to add vinegar to this love affair.
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Thanks! I like your way of looking at it: taking a vacation. 😀 I don’t ever *stop writing* though I do let myself wander toward other projects ro study/practice craft in other ways besides creating. It’s all part of the same family of “writing” for me, too!
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This is such an important post. I really don’t believe in writer’s block and I wish we didn’t have that term. But, I think we all get stuck. Stuck and block are two very different things. We can get unstuck by giving ourselves a break. For me, exercise does it, either swimming or a walk in the woods. During those exercise moments, often a place where I’m stuck resolves itself as if by magic.
I like that you talk about putting the work aside. It reminds me of when I’m working the crossword. I will struggle and think and come up with nothing. Then, I leave it to go do something else. When I come back, suddenly everything falls into place. It’s amazing. The mind is a wonderful, complicated thing. We need to trust it will come through and stop trying to force it.
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Yes! Thank you, Joan 😊Just like that.
Thanks for this. I’m sooo guilty of finding other things to do when I should be writing. Even if I only wrote (or usually edited) a few pages a day, it would be much better off than I am waiting until I’m in the mood.
Thank you, Michelle!I habe to remind myself that Writing (as a concept/activity) involves a lot more than laying words into a sentence. Editing, revising, studying, reading, even critiquing or daydreaming are “writing” too.
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I go with get the words down and fix it later. For me the fog is always there to some degree.
Feedback: I hope this is okay. *shrugs and barrels on* I found the landing page very confusing and almost left. Some random clicking got me here.
Anna from elements of emaginette
Such a great post. I think I’ve tried all of these methods, including the root canal. When I have a particularly good writing day, like a few thousand words, that’s when I’m in need of recharging, or at the end of Nanowrimo or a big editing month, I need at least a few days off. Wonderfully insightful stuff!
Great post on finding the way to move forward when things get tough. It really struck a chord. Redirecting was one of the hardest methods for me to embrace because I like to tenacious pursue things until they are done, but I think it has really helped my writing process. (Hopefully, I don’t go too far the other way and redirect so much I lose focus. 😉 )
Thanks,Erika! That’s always my concern too, which is why I find it so helpful to designate only a pocket of time to pursue redirected attention. Plus, having my return to normal scheduled that way puts my brain in deadline mode (I perform best under pressure for some reason). Lol, it’s like a playdate for my creativity to “let myself wander”–short, focused imaginative play w/a new idea–and I return changed. 😊😊
Great way to describe a down period in writing! I wrote something similar this month, but more about time instead.
There’s a fine line between being lost in the fog and procrastination. When I can’t motivate myself to write, I either use the 10 minute method or try something else creative to jump start the process.
After much trial and error, I’ve found my best method to write is similar to NaNo—get it down fast, as messy as possible, before the spark extinguishes. I think knowing your strengths and weaknesses and playing to them is the key to productivity.
I go for a run, go skiing, go hiking, anything that focusses me on something fun and gives me exercise. That always gets me through the fog.
These are all great techniques, and I like the fact that you choose to regard it as fog, something that can be navigated, instead of “writer’s block”, which often conjures images of a wall or barrier that cannot be overcome. Sometimes the way we regard something changes its nature.
thank you for sharing.
Hi! Great ideas here! I agree about resetting by daydreaming or returning to the inspiration!