From Stuck to Unstuck in One Easy Step

By guest blogger Deonne Kahler

Feeling stuck with your writing? Join the club. Despite the fact that Joyce Carol Oates seems to crank out a new book every, oh, 73 seconds, the rest of us struggle with the occasional writing quagmire.

Here are a few of the reasons I’ve been stuck in the past, and what I’ve done about them:

Problem: You’ve got no good ideas.

The Fix: First off, that’s simply not true. You have a ton of good ideas, you’re just feeling insecure. What you need is to find an assignment to focus your brilliant mind. Offer to write a post for a friend’s blog, volunteer to write an article for a local nonprofit’s newsletter, or find an online writing contest and submit a poem or short story. Assignments give you accountability – someone is waiting for the work – and might even give you a deadline, which puts some (good) pressure on you.

Problem: You’ve got too many ideas.

The Fix: Go for the low hanging fruit, and pick the idea that seems easiest for you to write about. “How to raise hedgehogs? I could write that one in my sleep!” (Note: This is just a suggestion. The author actually has no clue how to raise adorable prickly creatures.) There’s nothing wrong with putting the more difficult idea off until later. Writing something now is the most important thing.

Problem: You’re losing steam on a project.

The Fix: This often happens with long-form work, like a novel or memoir. If you can’t seem to move forward, put it down for a while and go where the energy is. What are you most excited about, right now? Have an idea for a travelogue? Or a video series on YouTube? Write about that. Start small – draft page one, or sketch out episode ideas – and see how it feels. Feels good? Keep going! (Note: Be careful with this. If you find yourself repeatedly abandoning one project for another, you may have commitment-phobia. That’s a different problem.)

Problem: Writing well is hard.

The Fix: Hoo boy, is it ever. But you know what? Feel free to write badly. Take a cue from Anne Lamott and write that “shitty first draft.” Get that terrible writing out of the way now, knowing that you can (and will) revise and make it better later. It doesn’t have to be perfect out of the gate, and I’m pretty sure even Joyce Carol Oates writes some truly awful first drafts. Or at least we can pretend she does.

How have you escaped being stuck? Share your thoughts below!

Deonne Kahler

Deonne Kahler


DEONNE KAHLER is a writer, photographer, road tripper, and mom to Sam the Wonder Pup. Her work has been published in anthologies, online, and in print. She also owns a business,, and is obsessed with paper products, National Parks, small towns, and quirk. She blogs about living an unconventional life at

Please leave a comment for my guest writer

20 Responses to From Stuck to Unstuck in One Easy Step
  1. Stefanie Lipsey
    February 7, 2012 | 1:26 PM

    So happy to read Deonne’s post here and discover this blog! As always, she gives great advice with humor and brevity. Each year I start off with a big plan as a writer, but now I’m learning to take smaller steps and focus on one project at a time. I’m going for the “low hanging fruit.” I also began imagining my days at the writer’s desk to be more like a day at the spa. I’ve dragged others in with me too. Sounds funny, but by feeling less stressed, the writing flows. (most of the time.)

  2. j
    February 7, 2012 | 5:55 PM

    Love this practical, real-world, I-can-do-these list. That said, I admit to being a tiny bit disappointed when you admitted to not knowing how to raise hedgehogs.

  3. Terri
    February 7, 2012 | 8:49 PM

    Going for the low hanging fruit helps me get started. I seem to be able to finish simple stories; more complex and longer stories are difficult for me to finish. I can get lost in detail of my stories, lose track of where I am and what I want to say.
    I am glad you suggested there might be another problem when losing steam. I will investigate and see if I can get to the bottom of it. Sure would be nice to complete some of the many long stories I have started!


  4. Deonne Kahler
    February 7, 2012 | 9:17 PM

    Stefanie – Thanks for the kind words! Totally with you on the idea that lower stress = more creativity. Stress in any form – chronic busy-ness, personal drama, addiction – is never good for making art, no matter what one believes about Hemingway or Fitzgerald or Plath or Woolf. (P.S. for everyone but Stefanie – check out her Sound Cliff Writing Spa. She’s got a ton of inspiring content, including writing prompts, and is simply an excellent poet/writer.)

    J – Thanks! And, I’m sorry. So far all I seem capable of raising is one smallish, tailless pup, but a girl can dream.

    Terri – I’m glad it’ll help get you started. That’s half the battle, isn’t it? Sounds like you’re worried you might be suffering from commitment-phobia, and I do think that’s something many of us struggle with. It’s a tricky issue, but maybe Milli wants to dedicate a blog post to it?

  5. Lois
    February 8, 2012 | 10:48 AM

    A few years ago, when I was struggling through writer’s block, prompts were what got me through–from Fear of Writing and a friend of mine. Between the two of them, I started gathering all kinds of ideas.

    Problem is, I’m commitment-phobic! Or maybe it’s edit-phobic. I’m not sure. I’m addicted to the stories themselves, but once the first drafts are written, I have a hard time dropping the other story ideas I’m interested in so I can edit the ones I’ve just finished! 😛

    • Deonne Kahler
      February 8, 2012 | 11:06 AM

      Lois – Prompts are fun and useful, and I’m glad they worked for you. I’m not sure what the phobia is (ha), but I do know there’s definitely a bridge to be crossed from that first draft to a polished piece of work. Is it that way we don’t want to do the hard work that’s required to get it there? Is it that we’re in love with idea creation, but not the actual writing and revision? I’m not sure.

      • Lois
        February 8, 2012 | 11:49 AM

        I don’t believe I’m afraid of the hard work (even if I’m not sure how to edit–and I have books!). But I can definitely see myself being addicted to idea creation!

        • Deonne Kahler
          February 8, 2012 | 2:13 PM

          Lois – Too bad we can’t just publish a book of ideas! Ha.

  6. Marina
    February 8, 2012 | 11:00 AM

    Thank you for the post. Yes, I do feel often insecure with my writing. I am a shy beginner in writing, and the problem I often face is using prepositions, articles, etc. I’ve read many books on a subject but I feel I have to go to a third grade. I have many ideas in my head, ready to be narrated. The moment I take a pen or touch a keyboard, I am stuck. Sometimes I even loose a train of my thoughts while thinking which article to use in this case, or what preposition is appropriate here. I was a professional writer for several years in my native language. It would make me happy to use some of the skills again. Do you have an advice for someone like me? Thank you.

    • Deonne Kahler
      February 8, 2012 | 11:10 AM

      Marina – Is there a reason you can’t continue to write and publish in your native language? And if you want to write in English but your skills aren’t where you want them, I’d say go ahead and write the first draft without worrying about grammar or spelling. Get the story out in all its messy glory, then figure out how to revise it into something more polished. Maybe you could work with a native-English speaking friend to help edit? Which I’m guessing would also improve your English skills along the way. Good luck, and just keep writing!

      • Marina
        February 14, 2012 | 11:59 AM

        Thank you Deonne. Unfortunately, yes, there is a reason for me not to write in my own language. I blog with a hope to develop so much needed language skills. My dream is to be able to write a juicy paragraph with an artful details for everyone to enjoy. Slowly, I move into the desired direction. And it gives me joy, and fills my heart with bits of happiness when words come out the way I want it. Thank you for supporting me, it means a lot to me.

        • Deonne Kahler
          February 14, 2012 | 2:10 PM

          Marina – Your English is pretty good now (love the phrase “juicy paragraph”), and if you continue to practice and go after what you want, you’ll get it. I have no doubt. Best of luck!

  7. Lois
    February 8, 2012 | 2:39 PM

    LOL Yeah, that would be pretty cool! 😀

  8. Estrella Azul
    February 10, 2012 | 8:32 AM

    Love your easy to follow steps and their natural flow (I could understand everything even during toothache, so you know you’re good), thank you for sharing!

    So far I’m perfect at procrastinating, and I’ve found that to work well in cases when I can get myself to switch things around and work on something else, but not for too long though. That’s when bad things happen, like missing deadlines. All is best in moderation.

    • Deonne Kahler
      February 10, 2012 | 9:58 AM

      Estrella – Glad they helped! I’m with you on moderation, and I don’t even think moderate procrastination is a bad thing. Sure, that drawer or closet may not need organizing, but it’s as if I have to do that – clear the physical clutter – before I can clear the mental clutter to prepare for the creative work. Or sometimes I’ll finish reading that novel and *then* get to work on my own writing. I wish I was a person who could save all that for after, but I’m not. And I still get tons done.

      • Estrella Azul
        February 12, 2012 | 5:31 AM

        Funny how writers think alike. Yes, moderation is key!
        I’ve even written a blog post about clearing physical clutter to clear my mind and then be able to get to the creative work I need to finish.

        Another alternative is something I just read about on Gretchen Rubin’s site and tried it last night. The “doing nothing” alternative: sit down to write and while you don’t *have to* write, don’t do anything else either. Just sit there if you have to, don’t allow yourself to read e-mails, check FB, fix that stack of books in the corner.
        I got three blog posts done, one of them already up on my blog. I did try this with small things, short blog posts, and it probably works well with the big stuff too 🙂

        • Deonne Kahler
          February 13, 2012 | 11:50 AM

          Estrella – Wow, three blog posts! How long did you make yourself sit there before anything happened? I’ll have to try that technique, thanks for sharing.

          • Estrella Azul
            February 13, 2012 | 3:59 PM

            It wasn’t too long, about twenty minutes I guess. I did have some links to add to my text, so it wasn’t completely “nothing” like it was supposed to, but I quickly got the links copied and went back to my blog post writing and/or staring and doing nothing.
            There wasn’t too much nothing doing though, once I convinced myself that NO, I won’t be doing anything else, everything I wanted to say (well, type) came out relatively quickly.

            Let me know how this works for you if you try it out. Like I said, it probably works better with small projects, but could be good for longer ones too that are broken down into several writing sessions.
            Oh, and it was after 12am. I’m sure that fact also helped, as I couldn’t exactly start rearranging furniture or anything like that to procrastinate so I only really had the shiny internet and reading books distraction to keep myself from.

            • Deonne Kahler
              February 13, 2012 | 4:29 PM

              Estrella – I can do anything for 20 minutes! I’ll definitely try this when I’m stuck. In lieu of rearranging furniture (ha).

              • Estrella Azul
                February 13, 2012 | 5:12 PM

                Ha, Deonne, you made me laugh aloud with that last comment!
                Yes, in lieu of rearranging furniture this is definitely the better way to go 😉

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