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Writers Block: Writing a Novel Part 2

If you're a writer, you've been there. You open the document/manuscript/assignment ready to craft the most masterful thing you've ever crafted, and then your brain freezes. Nothing. No thoughts, head empty. It's writers block. The good news is that it happens to literally everyone. The bad news is that it happens a lot more frequently than anyone who writes wishes it would. How do you deal with it? What can you do to prevent it? Is there a secret trick that makes writers block a thing of the past?

Spoiler alert: no, there's not.

However, there are ways to deal with it, to push through the block and get back on track of whatever it is you're working on. So I thought I would talk about that today, seeing as how I've recently had a small bout with it and I'm breaking through it now.

First off, what causes writers block? There's no easy answer to this, it's different for everyone. Personally, I find that I get the worst cases of writers block when either:

  • I'm super stressed about something, be it work or life or money or whatever.

  • The story has taken a turn that I wasn't expecting

  • The story just isn't good.

One downside to being an "exploration writer" or "discovery writer" or "pantser" or "plantser" or whatever term you want to use for someone who doesn't plot and plan out their stories is that sometimes you'll write yourself up against a wall, or down a dark hole that you don't know how to escape from. It happens. It's a fact of the process. Learning to get past those points is a skill that takes time to develop, otherwise you end up with three or four unfinished works because you're stuck in the muck.

The good news is there are ways around it. One way is just to push through by sheer force. Sit down, open up the document that you're stuck at, and just make it go. Throw words at it. They don't have to be good words, they don't even have to be decent words, they just need to appear on the page. A weird thing about writing is that it's really hard to get started but once it starts it wants to keep going. Your brain will tell you, "I have no ideas, the muse isn't here today, we should probably just pack it up and take a nap." Don't listen to it. Make words happen. Eventually, your brain will start finding ideas from nowhere. Sure, you'll probably have to edit the hell out of whatever it is that you threw at the page, but it's progress and that's what matters.

I do this sometimes, but also I've realized during this journey of writing that there's usually a deeper problem if writers block shows up. If it's life or work stress, I can manage that by taking a short break, either a day off from writing or work or whatever it is that's causing the stress. That gives me time to get past whatever is eating away at my brain and clear it up so we can continue on the journey. The thing I've realized, though, is that if writers block shows up and everything else in life seems to be fine, it's the story. I've either boxed myself into a place I can't get out of without major rewrites, or the story itself is just...bad.

These types of blocks are harder to deal with, and take a bit more effort to get through. Usually what I'll do is re-read the story up to the point that I'm stuck at and see where I went wrong. More often than not, it's the last section that I've written that I realize has taken what the vision in my head is and smudged it up, made it blurry. In those cases, you just get rid of those words until you're back at the last place that made sense to the story in your head, and start anew. Other times, it's that I literally have no idea where to go from my last section.

This happened somewhat recently with the new novel I'm working on. After four glorious chapters of discovering my main character and jumping into the plot of the story, I needed to break it up and jump to another character. Except, beyond the very vague vision I had for this character, I knew nothing about him. Where he lives, how he speaks, what he thinks, nothing. I started that chapter three different times, and each time, within two or three paragraphs, I was at another wall. It didn't sound right, it didn't feel right, something wasn't working. So I let it simmer in my head for a while - while also being very stressed with life which wasn't helping but was giving me the excuse to take a break - and eventually, things started to happen. Two nights in a row, as I was laying down to go to sleep, ideas for the start of the chapter appeared in my head. Then it was up to me to try them. The first one didn't stick and ended me up in the same situation I was in, but the second one seemed to work. Expecting to only get about 200 words into the chapter before feeling lost again as I'd done the last few times I'd tried to write it, I ended up finishing the chapter with around 1100 words. They were even halfway decent ones.

I know this started as a post about how to combat writers block and turned into not really giving advice and more just musing on the concept of it all, but I like to think there are a few ideas in there that might help someone. If it does help, let me know because I'd be interested. Or if you have any other ideas, I'm all ears and always looking for new advice. Until then, I'll just keep chugging along.


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