Stuck in the Middle

When I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a vintage MG Midget as my graduation gift. The bright red convertible with knock-off wire spoke wheels, dual carbs and a much-after-market killer cassette stereo system was a dream. Except for when it wasn’t.

An early 1970s British car with Lucas electrical system did not score high on the reliability chart. And even though my pre-drivers license requirement from my father was to rebuild a car engine, there was only so much a girl could do with the rubber mallet I always carried in the car (to unstick the points on the fuel pump  and to remove the wheels to change a tire). So, I got stuck more than once.

Usually, I knew what had happened and I would be up and running again in the time it took to get the parts and get dad to work on it with me. But once, I got stuck and had no idea what had happened.

I was in the middle of an intersection and my car stopped moving. Not stopped running. Just stopped moving. I knew it wasn’t the clutch, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. It was dark. I wasn’t near home and had no idea what was happening. I pushed the car to the side of the road and then walked back to the friend’s house I had left earlier. It wasn’t a short walk and I was distraught by the time I got there. When I called dad and explained the situation he said, “Oh, you broke your axle.” And, that was the answer. So easy.

But, identifying the problem is only half the solution. You must do what it takes to fix the problem to move forward.

With my car, we had to tow it to dad’s shop, search for and buy an axle and then spend the time fixing it. Even if we hadn’t done it ourselves, we would have needed to call a shop, get it to them and pay the cost for the fix. Some form of initiative and follow-through was required.

Now, here I am years later in the middle of a couple of big projects in my life. One is writing a novel. The other is a remodel/reconstruction project on my house. And I am stuck in the middle of both of them. Fortunately for my house project, I have a general contractor who can keep the project moving along even while I am mired in the daily decisions that need to be made whenever you tear into an 80-year-old home.

I’m not so lucky to have a contractor for my novel. I have spent time analyzing how I got stuck. Where I am stuck and possibly why. I know, or at least think I know, what I need to do to move the story forward, but I haven’t done it. I’ve  been stalling. It seems that the longer I am away from writing, the harder it is to go back to it. I just know that the thorny issues of plot and character I need to untangle are growing in my absence and I fear returning to the page.

So, I do the next best thing. I read about writing. I read through my favorite blogs, pick up tips and study the craft. In my search for answers last week, I stumbled upon a gem of a book that has inspired me to get back into the muck and pull myself out of the middle. It’s called Do The Work and is by Steven Pressfield. You can find it on his website.

He describes his book as “an action guide that gets down and dirty in the trenches. Say you’ve got a book, a screenplay or a startup in your head but you’re stuck or scared or just don’t know how to begin, how to break through or how to finish. Do The Work takes you step-by-step from the project’s inception to its ship date, hitting each predictable “Resistance point” along the way and giving techniques and drills for overcoming each obstacle.”

And it does. After reading it, I put the first chink in the wall of Resistance and went back to the page. I used an old technique where I set a timer for 10 minutes and write. As soon as it goes off, I set it for two minutes and do something completely different, not related to writing, like watering the plants. Then, back to 10 minutes, then two and so on. I do this for about four cycles, at which time I’m usually fed up with having to break from my writing and I ditch the timer and spend as much time as I need focused on my task. By doing this, I wrote out a new scene that I think will help me find my way out of the middle. And even it it doesn’t, I’m still writing my way through.

In the end, the only way to get unstuck is to do the work.

Have you been stuck? What tips or tricks do you have for getting in there and doing the work?

9 comments on “Stuck in the Middle

  1. curiocat says:

    I’m like you, when I get stuck I end up reading about writing instead of actually doing it. I think I’ll try your little exercise of writing for ten minutes and so on. That’s a good idea. Do the Work sounds like a good book, I’ll look it over. Thanks.

  2. Sherron says:

    I remember that car – and all its excentricities! And driving down the road with the top down singing “Meltdown at Madame Tussauds” at the top of our lungs. :-)

    When I get stuck – which happens all the dang time – I avoid, avoid, avoid. And being the degreed professional procrastinator that I am, this takes on many forms. Eventually, I notice that I’m avoiding writing and I have started asking myself questions to figure out why. It may sound silly, but knowing why I’m avoiding moving forward is an important part of actually moving forward for me.

    Also, this writing thing involves a lot of thinking and planning, two things that don’t look very productive. And not looking very productive could be bad for the job outlook, dontcha know! So, I often look “busy” when I’m not. And then I come home and color or cross-stitch or do some other meditative thing (which those two things are, for me). Thinking about it without thinking about it, if you will. That invariably helps me figure out where to start. Once I know where to start, everything falls into place pretty quickly. Which is nice, because getting to the place where everything falls into place is often a painful process, fraught with angst and frustration and stomach upset from eating an entire bag of Doritos in one evening.

    • Michele Blaker says:

      I don’t even buy Doritos anymore! The temptation is just too great. Plus, they get my keyboard all messy. :)

      Michele

  3. I think that car is so cute, sorry to hear it stuck you in the middle of an intersection! I too get stuck writing, I think we all do. I’ve found that working on a plot outline (or arc for me courtesy of Candace Havens’ plotting class at DFWcon) helps the most – I brainstorm away and then the writing flows. Of course, I make changes to that arc all the time….Happy Friday! Like Kristen says – We Are Not Alone!

  4. So cool! Unreliable cars are a must for young drivers…I’m sure they build character! I drove a VW Golf that had a hole in the floor, so you could see the road whizzing by. Ah, youth!

    Very impressed with “Do the Work”, it sounds like a book worth reading. I have a couple of stalled scripts where I know where I want to be but can’t get there, or have got there too soon and have nowhere else to go. I don’t need a contractor for my writing, I need a sat-nav…

  5. Margie says:

    Michele,
    You are so motivated, I’m proud of you. When I get stuck I just channel my inner sloth and enjoy the break. Of course, you won’t see any novels from me, either.

  6. […] Blaker Skip to content HomeAbout ← Stuck in the Middle May 5, 2011 · 9:00 am ↓ Jump to […]

  7. […] is these half-finished projects nag at me and deplete me of energy and probably add to my being Stuck in the Middle of my writing. I simply have run out of […]

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