Writers’ cul-de-sacs

Lately, I feel that no matter what I do, I can’t tell a story to save my life. I have what I think are good ideas, I make good starts, and then the stories get stuck in dead-ends. When this has happened in the past, I’ve felt that it is because I am not yet ready to write the story–meaning I don’t yet have the skill to identify what the problem is and how to fix it. I’d like to think, however, that I am learning with each story I write. Certainly there are some stories that seem more effortless than other. “Take One For the Road”, after one or two false starts, virtually wrote itself. So did the story I wrote after that one. But since then, I’ve been stuck in a rut and it is frustrating for a number of reasons:

  1. It makes writing less fun and I end up finding excuses to avoid it.
  2. It is a reminder that I’m really not a pro at this yet; a professional writer would find a way to break through the rut
  3. I have the ideas, but I just can’t get the stories down in a way that I think are interesting to the reader.

Sometimes, I suspect I am over-thinking things, and that may be part of the problem. I need to allow the story to evolve more organically, but for me that is easier said than done.

I mention all this because I think my frustration reached a pinnacle last night. While thinking about how I was going to work my way out of the latest cul-de-sac, I had the following through slip through my mental filters: Maybe I should take a break from writing for a little while–the rest of the month perhaps.

This was not only a terrifying thought, but I suspect is the absolute wrong thing to do at a time like this. What I need more than anything is to figure out why my stories aren’t working, and fix it. Also easier said than done, but certainly more productive than giving up, especially if I want to continue to grow in this field that I love so much.

Sometimes, a little encouragement goes a long way, and the unending stream of recent rejections can be discouraging, even to someone who likes to think he has a thick skin–not because I feel rejected (I know better than that) but because I like to think I’m learning and improving with each new story.

So this post is me, queuing up Gonna Fly Now and attempting to encourage myself to keep at it, keep plugging away, don’t give up. I’ve done it three times before, certainly I can do it again. I just have to be patient. I have to learn not to try so hard–like a pitcher who is overthrowing the ball, I need a lighter touch. These are all vague things. What I really need is to find that lost enthusiasm and turn out a kick-ass science fiction story.

That would go a long way to quenching these self-pitying ruminations.


  1. Hang in there. “a professional writer would find a way to break through the rut” – sure they would. Eventually, just like you will.

    1. Thanks, Joanna. To that end, I just uploaded a story to the group for review. Only the second time I’ve done that since I joined. Hopefully they can help figure out why it has been rejected several times now.

  2. I agree with Joanna. Keep working at it and you will break through. But, perhaps this will help:

    A little known fact about me. I like to consider myself a fantasy fiction writer, while in fact, the only things I have ever published were either Creative Non Fiction, or Poetry. Whenever I get stuck on a story I switch genres and write something completly different. It amazes me how often writing something in a different genere seems to offer insites to what I am stuck on…and writing is writing, right?

    Keep going, you will break out of this rut.

    1. Thanks, Sara. I’ve been doing a lot of nonfiction writing what with the new column and blogging and that helps keep me writing. It is the fiction I’ve struggled with and I suppose it is just a slump, like a hitter’s slump, but it is frustrating. But I’m going to try to push through. As I said above, I’ve submitted a story for critique in the group. Maybe you guys can figure out what I am doing wrong. 🙂

  3. You know what’s interesting? I tried taking a break. I had a lot going on outside of writing and, like you said, I just was in that writing cul-de-sac without feeling like there was anyway to get out of those story ruts. So I thought let me step away, get a fresh perspective, etc.

    But the funny thing was that I couldn’t step away. After a few days (and I had though my break would be a few weeks), all I could think about was my story. I had to sit down and write all the different ideas I had out. I wouldn’t recommend taking a break, but I found it amusing that when I tried, I couldn’t. 🙂

    Good luck!

    1. Patricia, I doubt I could actually take a break from writing, but that fresh perspective is what I think I need. That said, the encouraging comments here have been a morale-booster and some thoughts about how to better approach the stuff I’ve been working on have begun to take shape.

  4. I get cranky when I take a break or don’t write for extended periods of time. (Or so I’m told.) Anyways, I think you’re being too hard on yourself Jamie. Everybody has ruts, even if you’re a prof writer. What makes you a prof writer is that you keep going and try to look for ways to fix it. Just hang in there, and I’m sure a breakthrough will come at some point. I agree with Sara… sometimes when I’m frustrated with my project, I work on something completely different and it helps.

    1. Jess, thanks. Of course, there is plenty of non-fiction stuff for me to write, blog, columns, etc., but I find myself doing more of that because I’m kind of afraid of what will happen when I return to fiction. But as I said to Patricia, I’ve now started to form some ideas on how to work my way out of the cul-de-sac on at least one piece I’m working on–and I’ve submitted a recent story to the group that’s been rejected a bunch of times to see if you guys can help me parse out what isn’t working. Part of this may simply stem from the fact that I’m in a lot of pain–something that will hopefully be remedied today.


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