“When I’m working, I’m always monitoring my momentum, always asking ‘Is this piece moving forward or staying in place? Am I in a rut or a groove?’ A rut is when you’re spinning your wheels and staying in place; the only progress you make is digging yourself into a deeper rut. A groove is different: The wheels turn effortlessly.”
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
Ruts and grooves: we all know the difference. When we’re in a groove, everything is humming along, we’re in the zone. There’s no friction, only forward momentum. When we’re in a rut, well, we feel like there’s motion, but no real movement. Our wheels are spinning in place and we’re feeling frustrated and dissatisfied with our results.
What to do? What to do?
Here’s what Twyla says: “When you’re in a rut, you have to question everything except your ability to get out of it. Dealing with ruts is a three-step process of seeing, believing, and repairing.” Here’s how she lays it out:
Step 1 Recognize the rut: You have to realize that you’re not progressing, not moving in the right direction. Monitoring your work regularly is critical.
Step 2 Admit you’re stuck: This can be tough to do. You may have to bite the bullet and admit to yourself that the last few chapters you wrote really don’t work or that your plot is weak. It’s often easier to keep plugging away than it is to step back and be honest enough with yourself to say, “This isn’t working.”
Step 3 Get out of the rut: This is the real challenge. Once you’ve figured out you’re in a rut, you have to come up with a solution, which can be tricky. “But executing a solution is also the fun part,” says Twyla, “because the solution saves you and gets you moving again.”
When your car gets stuck in a rut, usually the first thing you do is to put it in reverse and see if you can blast your way out.
“Why not do the same to a stalled concept?” asks Twyla.
Here’s the approach she suggests: identify what isn’t working, put down on paper your assumptions about it, challenge those assumptions, then act on the challenge and see what you come up with.
Sometime soon your writing project may stall — it happens to us all. When it does, try applying Twyla’s recipe for rut relief. And write on!