Monday, November 23, 2020

What to do When a Writer Gets Stuck

by Ane Mulligan @AneMulligan

I read a post I'd written for TWC in February 2019 about letting go. I had the location. I had the story. But the setting had a strange effect on my writing. The tale turned into something I don’t write—dark fiction. I write uplifting stories. I write about friendships. And I write with humor-colored glasses. 

How did I go off track? Apparently, it was a combination of my knowledge of the characters’ backstory and the location. And I was stuck in a bog, unable to move forward. The story was kicking my derriere. 

I finally came to the realization I wasn’t just on the wrong track; I was going in a direction my readers wouldn’t follow. Hold onto your hats, boys—I tossed out 33,506 words. One third of a novel was gone in one mighty stroke of the delete key.

Once I got past that hyperventilating event, the next thing I had to do was start over. 

On Goose Island becomes On Sugar Hill. 

I liked the original what-if of this story. So, I kept that, but I changed the setting. I moved it away from the low country, where superstition and drama flourish to Sugar Hill where superstition and drama flourish. Yes, it still contained some superstition and drama. But it wasn't dark but a little humorous.

Names are important.

I also changed the characters’ names. Names produce images and feelings. Only one original name remained, and that one I could change her personality without any problems.

She's what?

Next, I had to give up the dark secret to a secondary character’s affliction. I liked the affliction, so I kept it, deciding that it simply was—a fact. I never give a reason for it. After all, the story opens in 1929. That character, a quirky aunt, was born in 1885. They didn’t have the medical knowledge to know the cause of many disorders, nor the expertise to fix them.

Ready, set, go

I began to write. I discovered the changes I made were the right ones. The characters revealed their stories to me, and I found some new threads to weave through. Was it easy now? No. Nothing worth reading is written easily. It takes brainstorming, rewriting, rethinking. It takes sweat and tears. And if you kick a cabinet in frustration, it even takes a little blood.

A new problem

But now I have a research conundrum. My setting is Sugar Hill, Georgia. Sugar Hill was a militia district from the Civil War. It was not a town or city. It didn’t incorporate until 1939. All official town history begins then. There’s not a lot written about it prior to that. I had to go to another nearby town, Buford, GA, that includes some of the early Sugar Hill history. But most of my research has been talking to long-time residents.

I usually write fictional towns for that very reason. I can place a building where I want it, and no one can tell me it wasn’t there. This time, I can’t. In some cases, history isn’t clear about who owned a certain store at that time or what it was called. A book on Buford history has a long list of who bought the drug store when, but for some reason the years I’m looking for are missing. 

After finding most of the people who were over the age of ten in 1929 and might remember the local history I need (like was there a general store within five miles) have passed away or are too ill to talk with me. And so, I’ve had to take literary license and mention it in my author’s note. 

Finally, COVID-19 hit town and we were on self-imposed quarantines. I wrote this story in twelve weeks, no longer bogged down. It goes to show what happens when you have the right setting. 

Sometimes you do what you gotta do. 

In High Cotton, now available
On Sugar Hill, releases June 1, 2021 
By the Sweet Gum is almost completed


Ane Mulligan has been a voracious reader ever since her mom instilled within her a love of reading at age three, escaping into worlds otherwise unknown. But when Ane saw PETER PAN on stage, she was struck with a fever from which she never recovered—stage fever. She submerged herself in drama through high school and college. One day, her two loves collided, and a bestselling, award-winning novelist emerged. She lives in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a rascally Rottweiler. Find Ane on her website, Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and The Write Conversation.


  1. You are so brave, Ane.
    I would be so discouraged if I had to erase a third of my novel.

    1. Well, I was so stuck, I couldn't go forward. lol After a few novels, it gets easier. The real story wanted to come out, but it took time to realize what was wrong. The funny part was, once I did that, it flowed like honey on a warm biscuit.

  2. Wow. Isn't it amazing the way God turns our paths now and then!

  3. I can’t imagine throwing away that many words, but I admire your efforts to stay true to your eriting

    1. Thank you, Sherri. It wasn’t easy, but I love what the book became. It releases next June.

  4. Oh, Ane, I'm so glad you got through your 'stuck' mode. I'm still there and can't figure out why. I write panster and the story frame is written, but some of the skeleton has changed and my characters aren't standing up and waving. In the first book (published June 1, 2020) I filled in a name for a hometown (thinking I'd find a better name later) only to find out by the second book there is an actual town in that area by that name... I could laugh—or not. Still I'm hopeful if one of us can do it maybe I can too. Take care and God bless. Donevy

    1. Oh, Donevy, I'm so sorry about that. It's not a fun place to be. If you have a couple of critique partners, maybe you could brainstorm with them. Sometimes, when I get stuck, it's because I'm not sure of a character's motivation. I'll pray for clarity for you.

  5. What a scary prospect! I've let stories waste away in their folders but have never deleted something that massive. My favorite line in your post: "Nothing worth reading is written easily." So very true! Thanks for showing us how to be bold.

  6. Thank you, Ane. Prayers are always welcome. ;) Donevy