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My Methods For Dealing With Writer’s Block

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On different writing websites I visit I’ll often see others talking about how they’re stuck. Even with an outline, a few have hit a speed bump they didn’t foresee. This happened to me on a number of occasions. It can be the most frustrating part of writing. You want to keep going forward, but that one bit is keeping you back. If only you could get past it! You’d probably finish your novel that very night if it weren’t for that one missing bit!

/shakes fist into the air

Luckily, I’ve been able to use three methods to help me with all that. One I shamelessly stole from Anne Greenwood, while the other two are methods I used to blast through the road blocks.

The first method I mentioned, I employed very recently. On the surface it’s very simple, but becomes very powerful and liberating. I was writing a big fight scene and had hit a point that I needed my main character to come out on top, but in a very interesting way. Needless to say I slammed into that wall of muck.

I waded through it. Fighting for a week and half on what I could do. Finally–reaching frustration–I did what I should have done at the very beginning. I applied Anne Greenwood’s suggestion of placing two ‘@’ symbols down, writing a small description of what I wanted to accomplish, and then moving on.  The reason for using the ‘at’ symbol is because it will rarely be used in your work, so it will be easy to do a CTRL+F to find your place later.

It worked great. I slapped down a few sentences that basically go, “This guy does something cool which makes this outcome.” And then I rolled along and was able to finish out the book. There is plenty of time to write that scene later. For a first draft–in my opinion–it is your goal to finish. Above all else, finish it.

The second method comes down to changing up your style. There was a point that I was really having a hard time. I was slogging through and my inner critic was having a field day on my writing. That’s when I decided to change it up. Instead of writing in clean prose, I just went for a more conversational tone. I skipped writing dialogue tags and kept things loose.

What that means is I would write in very simple, descriptive terms.

“OK, Mary goes to the store to get some ham. What she doesn’t know is that pig meat around the world has been magicked up and so the store is over run with Ham-Zombies. She dodges evil Ham-Zombies and runs through the store where she finds herself stuck in the walk-in freezer.”

Now, all of that would probably be two, to four pages worth of writing. But I was able to knock out a good chunk of the thought process. Get my main points down and I will just go back to it later to fill in the gaps. It’s easy and frees you up creatively.

My last helper is one I like to employ often. Say you’re writing a scene and it just isn’t flowing. Nothing is coming together and–if you’re honest with yourself–it’s coming off a bit forced. That means it’s time to step back, go back a few pages and begin to ask yourself, “Can my characters make different choices?” or, “What can happen differently?”

These types of questions will open up so many possibilities. And you must be willing to follow the outcome to wherever it takes you. Sometimes it may not be where you planned, but it may be better. For example, early in my novel I had the main character setup to ride the school bus home with his brother. It was boring, and I was having a hard time figuring out what to do with it.

So I stepped back and asked a simple question to myself. “What would happen if his brother didn’t show up for the bus?” And BAM! the scene took off. Opening up new scenes that dove tailed nicely into my themes of the book. It was a relief.

Are there methods you employ that have helped you? I’m all ears. It’s always nice to find new methods to beat the dreaded inner critic and massive writer’s block.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Those are all good. I generally go with a combination of the first and second methods. “[Fred says something to Mary here that REALLY annoys her.]” “So then Mary goes completely berserk and slaps him so hard he gets a nosebleed. Look up nosebleeds and include some stuff about them.”

    That kind of thing. :)

    Mike Stackpole often says that if you get to a place where you’re blocked, it’s because you made an error a few hundred words back, and if you go back and re-examine that, you may find that you, the writer, forced your character to do something s/he didn’t “want” to do, or that was out of character.

    So yeah. [Some witty comment as a closing.]

  2. This was a great article for me to read before beginning my NaNoWriMo adventure. I’m still working out how to get past my own writer’s block, so I’ll keep this list handy as I trudge through it next month.

    You hit the mark when you said: “There is plenty of time to write that scene later. For a first draft–in my opinion–it is your goal to finish. Above all else, finish it.”

    It’s such a true statement but one that has been the most difficult for me when writing. It’s part of my slight OCD… I beat myself up for skipping a section, thinking that “I’m just not working hard enough” to get it nailed down.

    Thanks for posting this Jeffrey.

    • Glad you can get some use out of these tips! And believe me, I still struggled with implementing them myself. I get too far into the struggle before I reach for these tools. So, shame on me for that.

      Good luck next month. I’m excited to see what you come out with by the end.

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