If you’ve been writing for a while, chances are you’ve gotten stuck at some point. It’s like walking to the edge of a cliff, and being unable to take the next step. You’re stuck, and there’s nothing to do but walk away—perhaps to the sofa, to spend time with a good book. A book that is already written, by someone else.
Most writers face writer’s block at times. Even famous, successful and prolific writers struggle with writer’s block. They have just figured out how to get past it more quickly. Writers block can hit in different ways and for different reasons. I’m going to talk about one problem that can cause writers block, and how you might deal with it.
Trouble Moving Forward.
Let’s say you’ve written your first paragraph, or page, or scene. Perhaps you’ve even gotten pretty far in the story. But then you get stuck. For me, this usually means that I don’t know what happens next. I may know where the story is going in the long term, but I’m not sure about the next piece.
If this happens, here’s a trick that might help.
What will your character do in the next five minutes? That’s right, just five minutes. It’s easy enough to figure out that. Of course, sometimes the character doesn’t do anything interesting in the next five minutes. Keep looking ahead. What happens after that? And after that?
Here’s an example from my children’s novel, The Well of Sacrifice. The heroine, a Mayan girl named Eveningstar, has been captured by the evil priest and sentenced to death by sacrifice. What does she do? Well, she’ll try to escape, of course. How? There’s not much she can do during the day, with guards and other people all around. I’ll skip ahead.
Now it’s night time. Does she quietly go to sleep? Of course not! She’ll be thrown into the well of sacrifice in the morning, so she’s too anxious to sleep. She’ll sit up, listening to the guards outside her door. She’ll wait for her opportunity.
What opportunity? What if one of the guards leaves for a few minutes, perhaps to go to the bathroom. With only one guard outside, she has a chance. She’ll look around for a weapon....
And my character is off and running, on the next part of her adventure.
Don’t Forget Your Villain
You can also try looking at the action from another point of view—that of the villain. If you have a human antagonist, what is that person doing to foil your hero? Whether it’s an a bully at school, an evil sorcerer, or parents who “only want the best” for their child, keep them active in the story, causing trouble.
I used this technique for my romantic suspense novel, Rattled, where the main characters were trying to stay a step ahead of the bad guys while searching for a long-lost cave full of treasure. They managed to ditch the villains and get out into the New Mexico wilderness. Now they’re searching for the cave, but is that dramatic enough? It certainly won’t be if they just find the treasure and live happily ever after. The story could start to drag.
Then I checked in with my villain. Was he just sitting around waiting for the heroes to act? No! He had plans of his own, plans to set a trap... and then I knew what would happen next.
Taking the Right Kind of Break
Many of these tricks require thinking first, before you start writing. You might find it easier to do that away from your desk. If the computer is starting to feel like an enemy, step away from it for awhile. Try jotting your notes longhand on a piece of paper, or even just thinking about your story while you fold laundry or ride your exercise bike. I find that taking a walk helps me sort out my thoughts. I often take a tape recorder along and dictate into it, but even just thinking about the problem can help.
You may need to experiment to find your own techniques for overcoming writer’s block. Some writers go to a library, café or park to write. Some find that ideas come to them in the shower. (You can get a waterproof tablet and pen or shower crayons to write on the walls so you don’t lose ideas.) Or perhaps if you fall asleep thinking about a story problem, you’ll have the answer in the morning. (Keep a notebook and pen by the bed.)
Maybe you need to talk about the problem with a friend. Even people who don’t write can have fun brainstorming story ideas. When I was writing a middle grade mystery set in ancient Egypt, The Eyes of Pharaoh, I got my young main characters into a trap and didn’t know how they could escape. I asked a dozen people—including an engineer and a former military commando—for ideas. They came up with an amazing variety of possibilities. I didn’t wind up using any of them, but they got my own mind thinking creatively.
So is there a cure for writer’s block? Not a cure, perhaps, but a variety of treatments. Try these suggestions, and experiment to find new tricks that work for you. You may still get stuck, but hopefully you’ll get those fingers flying soon, and fill up that blank white page with nice black words.
(This post was first published on Karen Elliott's blog, The Word Shark.)
Chris Eboch’s book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Use the Plot Outline Exercise to identify and fix plot weaknesses, then learn how to get off to a fast start, prop up a sagging middle, build to a climax, improve your pacing, and more. Read excerpts at http://chriseboch.blogspot.com/.
Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com. As Kris Bock, she writes action-packed romantic suspense, often involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. To learn more about her latest work, visit www.krisbock.com.