Writing a novel belongs to that category of thing – like surviving the Hunger Games, and eating an entire large pizza by yourself – that appears to be impossible but actually isn’t….Being a novelist is a matter of keeping at it, day after day, just putting words after other words. It’s a war of inches, where the hardest part is keeping your nerve. ~ Lev Grossman
Sometimes we writers slam into a wall and can’t figure out how to scale it and keep running and dodging through the rest of the obstacle course to reach the final scene. Sometimes the ideas stop coming. Or the words that find their way onto the page shrivel up and die before the ink is dry. Maybe we don’t know the characters well enough. Somewhere between the lines, we’ve lost the passion for the story. Whatever the reason is, it’s a real thing. And it happens to most writers sooner or later.
Whether you’re trying to finish a first draft on your own or are involved in a large-scale endeavor like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where word count is paramount, you’ve got to find a way to keep going.
There are a lot of techniques that can be used to bust through writer’s block but many of them involve not writing, like taking a break to draw a map of your setting or design your book’s cover, or hashing out your problems with a writer friend or group. Or switching to a different project altogether. These are all good ideas, but the following list of tips is focused on keeping you writing on your current work in progress – the one that’s actually giving you grief.
- Write a scene in long hand – it means transcribing it onto a computer file later, but it could be just enough of a change to help break through the wall.
- Write a scene from a different point of view character, even one you haven’t used yet or thought to use at all – a secondary character, a love interest, the antagonist, the protagonist’s dog, the biggest maple in the forest.
- Write flashbacks – here’s a way to dig deeper into your characters, where they came from and what shaped their lives.
- If you’ve written yourself into a corner, determine where that errant branch began to grow and start writing again from that point. But don’t throw the old stuff away, it may be useful in the future.
- Switch your point of view style and rewrite a scene or two – first person instead of third, third person instead of first.
- If you can’t decide how a scene should play out or your story should end – pick one way and write it, then go back and write another, decide later which one works the best.
- Write out of order – who says you have to write chronologically? If you’ve got a scene in your head that’s vivid, write that one no matter where in the storyline it’s supposed to happen.
- Play with a scene that doesn’t feel quite right, and you may just find the perfect way to move forward. As they say, sometimes the best way to move forward is to rewrite the past! ~ Rochelle Melander
- Write an entire monologue with your main character if you have to. Spend a chapter just exploring the life story of an antagonist. Write a scene with nothing but dialogue between your hero and your villain. Write a steamy love scene between your favorite couple. They don’t have to be scenes in chronological order. They don’t even have to end up in your book. But they will help you to keep going. ~ Marie Lu, NaNo Pep Talk, Nov. 21, 2013
- Switch into a telling mode if you need to. This allows you to “tell” the story. You can then go back in and convert it to showing/action based scenes later but being able to “tell” helps you keep moving forward. ~ Robin LaFevers
- Without stopping, give your characters a reason to change. Incite them into action. ….you’ve got to keep them moving and the tension must be taut, so drop bombs. Problem after problem. Anything and everything….Nothing short of potential death. And then, you and your characters must have a way to get out of the story. Solve their dilemma logically. Sure, twists and turns to ramp up tension, but aliens can’t land out of the blue with an antidote. ~ Susan Arden
- Pull out that book of writing exercises – and do them with your cast of NaNo characters. Who knows, maybe you’ll find the secret ingredient your story was missing? ~ Rochelle Melander
If any of these suggestions can help you break through the wall or help you understand a character better or where the story should really be going, it will be worth the time spent deviating from “the plan.” And if you’re participating in NaNo, it gives you the benefit of adding to that golden goal of writing 50 K words towards the first draft of a novel.
What techniques help you bust through the dreaded writer’s block?