Hi SE Readers! Joan here today to talk about the dreaded “writer’s block.” Okay, some writers say it doesn’t exist. Others will swear it does. I’m not here to debate the issue, although of late, I tend to believe writer’s block is often an excuse to procrastinate. At least that’s the case for me.
However, even when I’m in the middle of a project and being diligent with my writing time, I’ve hit brick walls. Ideas stop flowing. Scenes that I’ve written aren’t working. I don’t know where to take the next step. No matter how I try, I can’t seem to break through this annoying obstacle.
If you’re a plotter, you probably don’t have to worry about getting stuck. However, if you’re a panster, or somewhere in between (like me), you may have had this problem.
There are ways out of this conundrum. Today I’m going to give two examples that have worked for me.
I’m currently writing the third novel of a three-book series. I began book one, Unseen Motives, in April 2014, after having “thought” about it for a long time. I didn’t outline at all, but I knew how I wanted the book to begin and how I wanted it to end.
I set a goal to write 25K words that month, and I easily made it. However, I took several weeks off, wrote another 20K in July of that year, wrote a few thousand more words in November, and finally finished the first draft the following April.
During the weeks between those marathon sessions, I grew frustrated. Instead of a story that followed a timeline, I had a convoluted mess. Frustrated, I sat down one day with a legal pad and started brainstorming.
I made four lists. (1) What I like about this book. (2) What I hate about this book. (3) Uncertainties. (4) Questions. The uncertainties and question sections are similar, so I could have easily combined them into one list.
After getting my thoughts on paper, I started focusing on a few select characters that were giving me problems. As you can see in the photo, I listed a character name in the center of the page, drew a circle around the name, and then drew a series of spokes (or lines) off the circle.
At the end of each line, I wrote other ideas or questions related to that particular character. (Some refer to this as the bubble method, and draw circles around each corresponding idea or question.)
I was amazed at how these two brainstorming techniques helped me over the hump. The book went through several changes, including character names. (I had four characters with names beginning with the letter “s.”)
With book two, Unknown Reasons, I wrote a brief outline. This allowed the story and characters to take on a life of their own. I had a better idea of where I wanted to take the second book. With the brief outline, both the writing and editing went much faster.
Then came book three, Unclear Purposes. I’m currently writing the first draft, and it’s been a prolonged process. There are times when I wanted to scrap the entire idea, but I had already committed to writing the story.
Why the problems? First, I didn’t do an outline. I had my main characters, Christine and Vince (both are minor characters in the first two books). However, I didn’t have a clue as to where I would take the story. I had the basic idea—a crime would be committed, and it would somehow involve both main characters.
The second issue stemmed from the fact that a character revealed something in Unknown Reasons. (Yes, my characters talk to me.) I had planned to use his secret for another character in Unclear Purposes. That one little thing changed the entire plot.
After several months of agonizing, writing, and rewriting the opening scenes, I finally came up with a workable plot. However, four chapters in, I ran into a problem with the role of a minor character. Rather than taking out the legal pad, I sat down with my laptop, created a Word document, closed my eyes, and began what I call free writing.
I had incomplete sentences, grammar and spelling mistakes, and random thoughts. Although I focused on the problem character, I allowed my imagination to run free.
Within a half-hour, I had the answer to my problem, was able to finish the chapter, and move on to the next one. I don’t expect to hit any major roadblocks with the rest of the story, but if I do, I’ll use one of the methods I described.
Have you ever hit a brick wall? What methods do you use to break through?