FLOAT: Becoming Unstuck for Writers

As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once opined about obscenity, you know stuckness when you see it. And feel it.

And, possibly, fear it.

book cover for FLOAT: Becoming Unstuck for Writers

First look at the first draft of my book cover!

I just wrote a book about stuckness – well, how to free yourself from stuckness, and become unstuck.

FLOAT: Becoming Unstuck for Writers is going to be published this fall!

UPDATE – It’s now available on Amazon in the US; in Canada; and in the UK.

Feeling stuck doesn’t need to be a permanent condition.

In fact, sometimes, the stuckness itself can send an important message, a key to understanding your next step. The FLOAT Approach to becoming unstuck is a gentle, stepwise invitation to your inner wisdom.

Because on a bad day, we can be uncertain what to believe.

Through my work with authors, and with my own writing, I’ve put together an approach to becoming unstuck, along with a host of tools to apply, depending on how you’re feeling and how much bandwidth you’ve got at the moment.

Find your way beyond the stuckness, by working with, not against, yourself. That’s the gist. Want to learn more? Send me a comment here. And thank you!

— Anne


Jane Austen’s Desk

This is Jane Austen’s desk

small wooden octagonal desk and caned-seat chair by window

Jane Austen’s Desk

From 1809 to 1817, while working here, Jane Austen revised her first three novels — Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) — and wrote three more — Emma (1815),  Northanger Abbey (1818), and Persuasion (1818). A seventh, Sanditon, was unfinished at her death in 1817. She was 41. Her mother and sister stayed in the house until Cassandra’s death in 1845.

Jane Austen’s Desk Haunts Me

Let me count the ways:

  • It’s tiny.
  • It’s shiny.
  • It has twelve sides.
  • A quill pen is involved.
  • As if a quill pen isn’t enough to trip you up, in those days you probably weren’t even allowed to write with your left hand. With that quill pen.
  • There’s no drawer. And yet, paradoxically, the area is tidy.
  • I’d last ten minutes – fifteen max – in that chair.

Ideal Writing Conditions

When I advise my book-coaching clients how to approach their writing tasks with more ease and comfort, I have never once suggested they write at a tiny, shiny, twelve-sided desk with a quill pen.

And when I sit down to work on an article or a piece of fiction, I greatly prefer an upholstered seating device. Also, it’s nice to put my feet up and to use my laptop, you know, on my lap. That way, my left hand doesn’t smear the ink all over the page. (And hey, thanks, Fifth-Grade Teacher Who Shall Remain Nameless, for that permanent trauma.)

Actually, it’s the photo of Jane Austen’s desk that haunts me. I’ve never visited the museum in the Hampshire countryside Southwest of London.

Map showing Chawton, England.

Jane Austen’s House is between Southampton and London

Something tells me that if and when I do stop in for a visit (ideally on her birthday, 16 December, when the museum offers free admission, tea, coffee, and mince pies) I’ll want to stand as close to this desk as the plexiglass partition permits, to soak up the vibe. I’ll want to look out that window, imagining what the author saw as she sat there at her tiny, shiny, twelve-sided desk.

Extra: For Young Writers in the UK

By the way, entries for the Jane Austen’s House Museum Young Writers’ Competition are now open. The contest is for young people living in the UK aged 11-17. You can enter short poems or short stories, on the topic “An Interesting Remembrance.” The rules do not specify where you should sit, or what writing implements you must use. Deadline: 31 December 2014.

Naming Your College-Age Characters

I like to keep lists of names handy, for when inspiration takes a holiday and a character needs to be named – NOW. If you are giving your character a name – whether in fiction or creative nonfiction (with appropriate disclosure in the front matter) – here’s a way to look at some choices, especially if your person is in their late teens or early 20s.

Yale Admissions

Photo of historic buildings at Yale

Yale University

Ivy League colossus Yale University admitted students with first names that only overlap somewhat with the most popular ones in the US for the birth year 1994.

An article with Venn diagrams for Yale student admissions compared to most popular names appears at this link.

Yale Says Yes

Girls named Elizabeth, Sarah, and Victoria, and boys named Charles, Peter, and Samuel are hanging out in New Haven, even though their names were not very popular in general US baby-naming circles in 1994.

Popular but Not at Yale

On the other hand, you could be super popular as Alexis, Amber, or Ashley; Brandon, Cody, or Kyle, and still be lining up for Pepe’s Pizza if you happened to be in New Haven.

pizza parlor storefront

Pepe’s Pizza, New Haven, CT

Conflict, Schmonflict – meet Kishōtenketsu

I was so excited to come across an essay from StillEatingOranges putting the Western notion of plot in a larger, more balanced context. Not all stories, it turns out, require a conflict.

At StillEatingOranges, an anonymous writer from that collective reminds us that there are more ways to write a satisfying story. You don’t have to have conflict for a story to work. Using the story structure known in Japan as Kishōtenketsu, you just need to introduce a shift, of some kind. A surprise. It doesn’t have to be in opposition to what came before. And then, at the end, you write a reconciliation, so that the story – pre-shift and post-shift – ends up making some kind of larger sense.

In case that’s too abstract, check out the 4-panel manga sketches illustrating the two alternatives – Western plot with conflict comes second. I like the first one better:

The Kishōtenketsu shift comes in the third panel. From stilleatingoranges.tumblr.com

The Kishōtenketsu shift comes in the third panel. Courtesy stilleatingoranges.tumblr.com

As the author explains,

Kishōtenketsu contains four acts: introduction, development, twist and reconciliation. The basics of the story—characters, setting, etc.—are established in the first act and developed in the second. No major changes occur until the third act, in which a new, often surprising element is introduced. The third act is the core of the plot, and it may be thought of as a kind of structural non sequitur. The fourth act draws a conclusion from the contrast between the first two “straight” acts and the disconnected third, thereby reconciling them into a coherent whole.


The author goes on to critique Derrida, question how philosophy is written, and suggest there is hope for the world in Kishōtenketsu.

Applying Kishōtenketsu to more traditionally Western stories can be a useful exercise. I like the way this Australian author frames the change that can happen:

I think an answer lies in Kishōtenketsu which by default paints a different picture of reality. It says the world is sometimes surprising, and that in those complex moments, what you thought you knew has changed. It builds narrative interest not on showing you the bad guy that has to be killed, nor the hero who you hope will win, but by revealing that true resolution is not in conquering, but in enlightenment.

– Travis McKenzie in Magickless

Then someone else thought about the contrast some more, and got all subtle with it. Maybe there’s still a kind of conflict in Kishōtenketsu, without the confrontation.

If something moves you emotionally outside of the three-act structure, does that mean it has no plot? No, it means it has a kind of plot you’ve not seen before. A lack of confrontation does not mean there is not conflict.

– TK Dalton at tkdalton.com

I am so happy to have read about Kishōtenketsu! For me, it’s a keeper.