We’ve all heard the term “writer’s block” to mean being unable to write. It usually ranges from not being able to come up with any ideas at all to not being able to move forward on a particular piece. Some say that there is no such thing as writer’s block, but what is true is that many writers can and do get stuck. An article by Kris Rusch talked about some of the possible reasons, although she takes the problem a bit further and delves into the possibility that maybe it’s time for you to stop writing altogether and pursue something else.
If you find you can’t write, you need to examine what’s going on in your life that’s preventing you from doing so. Certainly there’s a chance it’s time for you to stop writing if you no longer find it enjoyable to do so. You’re the only one who can know for sure. But more likely, something in your life has simply gotten in the way.
I’ve found that writing is like a lot of things you have to develop skills for: playing a musical instrument, sports activities, exercise regimens, even crafts. The longer you don’t do them, the longer it takes to get back to your previous level of skill. It’s also easy to lose motivation. This is why we hear that we should write every day, even just a little, to keep in practice and to stay motivated, to keep a bit of forward momentum. Even seasoned writers are subject to this, as Kris points out.
I know from experience that it’s the same with me. Many nights before I go to sleep, I’ll think about something I’m writing (or want to write) and run plot points through my mind. As I’ve said before, mostly I’m a pantser in that I rarely formally outline, but I do outline in my head. Here’s a link to my recent post on that subject.
So, how do we get ourselves moving again after whatever caused us to stop? How do we get unstuck and figure out how to move ahead.
I read another article recently on this subject. While the article is aimed at pantsers, it applies to all situations—even to outliners—whenever you get stuck.
Why do I say it applies to everyone? Because even outliners can go wrong. Just because you’ve outlined your whole novel doesn’t mean you’ve gotten it right the first time. Many authors will run into problems along the way. Maybe that outline wasn’t as solid as they thought. Maybe they decided to change something. The change might be a seemingly minor one, but it could throw off everything that follows.
For example, if you’re writing a murder mystery and decide to change whodunnit, that could mean a potential rewrite. The neat outline is now in shambles and all that hard work on preparing it is mostly lost and you have to rethink the story. Yep, been there, done that.
I’m in such a situation at the moment. I’ve made some changes to the plot that ripple through the novel. So far, it doesn’t change the ending or the beginning. The novel is a sequel, so the beginning is somewhat fixed, based on how the previous one ended. And the ending isn’t the issue. The problem is how the story progresses from that beginning to that ending. The article on tips to get pantsers moving again doesn’t provide a solution except the “Backtrack and start again” part. But that’s only a partial help because I’ve already done that. The beginning is fine, the ending is fine. It’s the middle that’s in a bit of a jumble.
That said, here are a few more things you might want to consider if/when you’re stuck:
(1) Do you have the right POV(s) for telling the story? (Changing or adding a POV might open up new possibilities.)
(2) Do you have the right main character(s)? (This goes along with the POV. Also consider that if you have a bad guy, do you have the right one? Maybe you can add one and two work with or against each other to add drama.)
(3) Can you add an element or something in the background of a character that can add mystery, drama, or interest?
(4) And don’t forget the powerful “what if” questions you can ask about the story line. All of the above three points could be made by asking “what if.” What if I change the POV? What if I add a character (or what if I take out a character)? What if such and such happened? What if I add something to a character’s background?
Anything can be fixed. How much fixing it requires is for you to decide based on how much effort is needed. You’ll have to decide if the story concept is good enough to be worth fixing. But take solace in the fact that many famous authors before you have gone back to the drawing board: To Kill a Mockingbird is one notable example.