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Bob Nailor

Writer's Block

Every writer considers this the ultimate writing bane. Even if they don't want to admit to the truth, at some point in time, each writer has some form of writer's block. Some writers completely freeze up at this moment.

In the beginning, writer’s block can start with a simple "I don't know what to write" and plummet through the work-in-progress to a "What the hell was I thinking when I wrote this crap? And where do I go from here?"

Writer's Block. It stops an author dead in his tracks and leads to some serious issues. But, first, what causes writer's block?

There are many reasons a writer gets stuck during the process...

The list certainly isn't complete by any means, but let's examine those listed above.

Story juncture and lost direction are opposite ends of the same candle many author’s are accused of burning all night long. A writer may reach a point and must decide one of several different options. In one instance, for me, it was trying to decide how to approach a series that had wiggled itself into a story I was writing. The story, as I wrote it, kept expanding from a simple one book to a notorious possibility of five books. My dilemma was which way to approach telling the story. Book one was a given but it was the next segment that had me at wit's end. Do I do book 2 from my hero's Point of View (POV) and book 3 from the wizard's POV — each book telling the same basic tale but from different perspectives? That is, in the hero's POV there is a scuffle and a farmer's hay wagon catches fire. In the wizard's POV, he is headed to the castle when he notices a commotion up the street and suddenly sees a flaming hay wagon careening toward him. He ducks into a building, missing the hero. While back in the other book, the hero chases the wagon down the street, yelling for the people to stand clear. He misses seeing the wizard. In both books, there would be scenes that overlap each other. Of course, book 4 would once more blend back to two POVs within the stories, as would book 5. I finally decided to just 'bite the bullet' and do a sequential telling and having two POVs — similar to how Tolkein handled the split of the fellowship in “Lord of the Rings” where Frodo and Sam go their way in their quest to rid the world of the ring and the rest of the group handle the other issues assaulting Middle Earth. It will make more sense, be easier to read, and won’t cause as many dèjá vu moments.

Still, juncture can fall inside the story where the author must decide if it would be better to (a) kill the character, (b) just maim the character, (c) let the character fret over a small scratch, or (d) have nothing happen. I believe this might be the source of how “which-way” books came into existence.

Sometimes while writing, novelists will stumble into the abyss and feel they will continue to fall for all eternity. This is what happens when a story abruptly ends within the imagination, but not on paper. It is a major stumbling block: How to continue? Where will the story go? I’m done, but the story isn’t. Trust me, breathe. All is not lost.

Of course, outside events: life, depression, stress and other issues can also have an effect on the writing process. Kids or a spouse screaming for attention, feeling down in the dumps because you feel nobody will ever read this manuscript, or even just the stress of feeling guilty that you're ignoring your spouse so you can write — Yes, all of these can lead to writer's block.

So, now, how do we, as writers, avoid this abominable creature? The list is in no way complete but here are some valuable suggestions.

Sometimes an author just needs to let the brain relax, to wander freely. This allows the festering pool of writer's block to slowly seep away. By reading a book, maybe of a different genre than the current work in progress, the writer can unwind and perhaps even smile. If you, the writer, can distract yourself with another interest — a sporting event, movie, time with the spouse and/or children, going out with friends, gardening, painting, knitting — this allows you to not think about the problem at hand which is confounding you.

Perhaps you may only need to step away for an hour or so; maybe more. BUT, suddenly, the light will go on and you'll realize that problem wasn't a problem but is a simple fix with a little bit of editing of the last few pages. The solution could be as simple as the story not being told in the proper manner or even in the correct point of view.

Whatever the cause of writer's block, there is always a solution. Worst case scenario, consider an idea generating exercise. Let me explain.

Sometimes your mind will go numb and you can't think of anything to write. You've called on your Muse but she (or he) just hasn't answered the request. You sit at your desk and struggle. Beating your head against a wall serves absolutely no purpose.

Step back! It is time to go on an adventure.

This will be a multi-step process, so grab your trusty notepad and a good writing instrument. Yes, this is going to be a rustic adventure. You're actually going to write by hand. With paper and pen in hand, take yourself to the local bookstore.

Step One:
Pick any section of the bookstore with novels. Stay out of the do-it-yourself, how-to, and biography sections. Try the best-sellers, fantasy, romance, science fiction, horror, poetry or even young adult or children's sections. Looking at the spine -- no cheating, no looking at any covers -- read the title of the book. Now, did it conjure up an image? Maybe more? If so, write it down including, if it happened, a little of the image within your mind. Now, here’s the catch. Write the title down on one sheet, the image conceived on another page. It will make sense later. Make a list of maybe 30 or 40 titles that caught your attention and gave you a tease of possibility for a story.
Step Two:
Move to another section of the bookstore. Select random books and read the first sentence of chapter one. Did it grab you? Better yet, did it suddenly expand your mind with a possible story line? If so, write it down including any image details. Again, jot the lines on one page, the images on another sheet. Do about 30 or 40, not more than 50 of these.
Step Three:
Go home.
Step Four:
Slowly go over the titles and opening lines you wrote down. Now, this is why the images had to be separated. Which ones make you laugh? Which ones make you see a vision? Which ones excite you? Try to analyze the why?
Step Five:
Now write some opening lines of your own — just a single line. They don't have to be anything you're going to use but do put some thought into them. Sit back and evaluate your line against those you wrote down from the bookstore. Which is better? Did you figure out why?
Step Six:
Take one of the best of the lines you wrote and see if you can expand on it. Give it a full paragraph. Now, push the boundary and go for a full page. Is the image 'clicking' and can you expand to either make it a story or perhaps chapter one of a novel?
Step Seven:
Place the lists you created in a safe location where you can easily put your fingers on them at a later date. Allow a few days, weeks or even months to pass then pull the lists out and repeat steps four through six. This time, check to see if the lines match your previous thoughts. Which ones make you see more than just a quick thought?

Doing this exercise will wake up the Muse in you and get the juices flowing.

I read just the first paragraph (a total of four lines) of a novel about a Viking. Between the title of another book and that paragraph, I was able to expand and begin a new work-in-progress. The imagery was amazing and exploded in my mind as I wrote my first sentence. I continued with the paragraph and then wrote the complete outline for the novel which I may or may not use for a NaNoWriMo event — National Novel Writing Month which is held each November.

Bottom line, these ideas have been saved not only to a directory where I already have a couple of other outlines for future projects, but also to a file cabinet folder. I know this exercise works.

Are you ready for the Mystique #8 crack? Writing block is a bunch of bull. If you read between the lines, you should have noticed the simplicity of the crack.

Writing block is usually caused by the story going in the wrong direction and you, the writer, losing focus. It will cause stress and, like a snowball rolling downhill, more and more gets collected into the ball, blowing it out of proportion.

If your imagination goes stale, give it an injection. If you’ve reached a wall in your imagination, it is like the universe, there is no end — crawl over the wall and see the great expanse beyond.

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Lisa M. Collins
I rarely find myself where I don't know what to write, but after I have a particularly long session of writing, like NaNoWriMo, I burn out. So I read books and play video games. They help me reboot and refocus on the story at hand.
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Diane Rapp
I once got blocked and realized I couldn't move forward because I had not explored the character's back story. I needed to know what happened to get them to this spot before I could move them forward. That meant I needed to write the first book in my trilogy. I started the book and suddenly found myself writing books one and three at the same time. What a crazy idea! It unlocked all the stories I needed to tell and eventually got me to the end. I believe in changing the WIP to open the floodgates.
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Elyse Salpeter
Honestly, when this happens to me, I just walk away or work on something else... it could be days, it's been as long as weeks I've left something. For me, I sometimes just don't know where I want the story to go and so I just "think" about it all day long and just never put words to paper until I'm ready. Maybe it's because I don't have the stress of doing this for a living. I can't imagine what will happen if or when I get a big contract and I MUST come up with content. That might be a whole other problem then.
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Scott Bury
Great advice, as usual, Bob. I love these step-by-step examples. I am going to try it for my blog. I never have trouble thinking of stories, but blogs, well, that's sometimes a challenge.
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Tamie Dearen
I usually just need to mull the story over in my mind for a while. Then, I'm good to go.
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James Prescott
Useful tips as ever Bob, thanks!!
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