I feel so lame; why can’t I finish my book?

What gives? I get on a roll, and then totally lose my momentum!

Is there something I can do because I’m STUCK?!

Ah, welcome to planet earth, location No-Man’s Land—a gray landscape of wandering, glassy-eyed zombie writer gals and guys, coffee mugs in hand, shuffling around in sorry old slippers and bed head. Just like you, these poor souls were humming right along, tapping their feet to their prose, when something went awry. Life happened. Writer’s block happened. S#&T happened!

Take heart, in this realm you’re zombyin’ with the best of them. Samuel Langhorne Clemens—Mark Twain’s real name—wrote a lot about this state. In the book, Mark Twain, On Writing and Publishing, he talks about what to do when a book “gets tired,” and therefore stalled…

Twain: “It was by accident that I found out that a book is pretty sure to get tired, along about the middle, and refuse to go on with its work until its powers and its interest should have been refreshed by a rest and its depleted stock of raw materials reinforced by a lapse of time…” At around page 400 of Tom Sawyer, Mark says, “the story made a sudden and determined halt and refused to proceed another step. Day after day it still refused. I was disappointed, distressed and immeasurably astonished, for I knew quite well that the tale was not finished and I could not understand why I was not able to go on with it.”

Maybe you’ve been there. I certainly have! Twain continues: “It was empty; the stock of materials in it was exhausted; the story could not go on without materials; it could not be wrought out of nothing.” After two years of letting it sit, Twain pulled out the manuscript and read the last chapter he’d written to discover this gem: “… When the tank runs dry you’ve only to leave it alone while you are at work at other things and are quite unaware that this unconscious and profitable cerebration is going on. There was plenty of material now, and the book went on and finished itself without any trouble.”

I call this letting a book “cook.” Just like a favorite recipe, some stories need to simmer. Or bake. You can try taking that turkey out in the first hour, but only your dog will benefit. Twain says that some books refuse to be written and will stand their ground year after year. It’s not because a book isn’t worthy when this happens, but instead because the “form” of the book has yet to be found. “There is only one right form for a story, and if you fail to find that form, the story will not tell itself.”

I find this point fascinating. Which begs the question: What can you do to find your form? I have a few suggestions—things that help me in a pinch. Try taking two aspirins (not really), keeping an open mind (really), and see if they work for you…

  1. Pray. You think I’m kidding? Not. Where do you think those ideas come from, anyway? Beg, if you have to. On your knees, even.
  2. Ask your dreams. Yep. For reals. This one’s incredibly helpful! Before bed, I ask to have a dream I’ll remember (this is key) about what the book or article wants. Invariably, I wake up with whole pages of text, and literally take dictation as fast as my fingers will fly—with a grateful smile on my face.
  3. Enlist support. Go with humility and sincerity to people you trust, and tell them what you need—specifically their eyes, ears, and CONSTRUCTIVE feedback. You just might be amazed by what they see that helps you break through that creative logjam once and for all.

Let me know what you do to find your form. And until next time, make it a great week!


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