Making Writer’s Block Work For You

Greetings fellow writers!

Relatively new to the craft myself, coming up on the 1-year mark for my first novel, and got to thinking about my own blocks and how I’ve gotten around them.

The most difficult block for me is I have significant difficulties writing out of linear order. I must finish writing chapter 1 before I can write chapter 2. I have several ideas in my head, some that came to me years ago, that I’ve been unable to start simply because I’m unable to answer a very important question in chapter 1: What is this character doing in the middle of nowhere to allow this chance encounter to take place? Because of this, there are novels I’ve gotten a page or two in on and can’t bring myself to continue because I’m unable to answer such a basic question. In one case, I’ve tried writing the first chapter about a dozen times from scratch over the years, scrapping it every time.

My current novel has a completed first draft at 180k words that I’ve begun to revise, but getting to this point has taught me a few things about what works best for my writing and most importantly, making my blocks work for me instead of against me. With my first novel idea, the entire story became complete start to finish in my head back in 2015. I knew exactly how it would begin and how it would end. I had a pretty good idea of what events would happen to get from start to finish. I even knew that it would be a three-part series with the possibility of a story afterwards. What I didn’t know was how hard it would be to skip over a tiny detail at the beginning of the story. I found myself staring at a blank page for hours trying to answer this tiny question instead of moving on. Afterall, it was a first draft.

Eventually, I gave up on writing the novel at the time and a few years went by. Then, almost a year ago, I got the inspiration for my current novel by idly asking myself a very simple question: What would the world look like if this tiny detail were different? In that moment, the entire story formed in my mind from start to finish. I knew the beginning and the ending and roughly how to get there. Knowing about my block, I decided I was just going to write. Regardless of how terrible it sounded or how little events made any sense, I was going to write from start to finish and see where it got me. Lo and behold, I have a completed first draft. Not only that, but in writing later sections I came up with answers to those tiny detail questions at the start. I gained more inspiration for improving certain sections, learnt how some scenes play out good on paper but aren’t really necessary to the story, and realized that my block makes very little sense because I can write flashbacks without issue. But most importantly, I’ve found a method of writing that works best for me. I take a concept in its most basic form knowing my destination and discover the path one step at a time.

In short, sometimes the best thing you can do is write. No matter what it is, how bad it sounds, how little it makes sense, just write something. You never know where or how you’ll find inspiration. Writing is as much a journey for the writer as it is for the reader.

What kinds of blocks do you have, and have you managed to work around them?

I’ve been lucky enough never to have had a block that’s made me give up a draft. Most of my blocks come from not fully understanding a character’s motivation for a particular action. I usually spot it during read through, wondering why he/she did that. It’s usually easy to fix, but sometimes, if it’s a major character, causes ripple effects throughout the draft - cue many days of head scratching.

When I do really get stumped, I speak to or email a friend, describing the story problem. It’s not the feedback that helps, as much as putting the problem into words - more often than not, the solution comes up to my mind soon after pressing send.

Congratulations! I had a similar break-through when I started, because plotting was a bear. But running across the concept of “organic plotting,” where I just grabbed a random scene I knew had to be in there, and worked back and forth from that, unlocked things for me. The difference between my first novel and my later ones, and my experiences writing them, was dramatically improved.

I recommend listening to Seth Godin’s podcast about Writer’s Block.

In the meantime, here is his remedy: … ers-block/

This is really good advice. Your friend may not give you an answer you are looking for, but as you said “putting the problem into words” will help you to find a solution. I’m actually writing an article for Dr.Mental website about how to overcome the writer’s block and your advice can be really effective. So I will include it in my article.

If you don’t mind.

foraging for mushrooms

the rational for being in the location doesn’t need to be plot related if the only plot requirement is that they be in a certain place. a hobby is a perfectly sensible reason to be somewhere.

such things tend to come across as contrived if they,re done after the need emerges. so it will feel all deus ex machina if a character needs to get into a locked shed and we find out he carries a set of lock picks with him at all times because it,s something he does to relax. but if someone has a hobby and they,re doing a hobby and stumble on something — eg they,re foraging for mushrooms in a wood when they stumble across a dead body lying in a patch of deadly toadstools — then the contrivance to put them in the scene is perfectly fine.

when writing, don’t let details stop you advancing the writing. just add a note to yourself that you need to come up with something later and crack on. even better advice - put as bland and boring an answer in as you can think of— one you think won,t make the final draft — as a placeholder. you,d be surprised how often the ,bad, idea turns out to be just what the chapter needs.