It happens to most serious writers at one time or another. You have plotted out the story line. You have developed most of your major characters and you may have even completed half of your novel. Then one day you open up your word processor, or note book, and you can’t, for the life of you, think what to write next.
Writer’s block descends like a paralysing fog that seizes up the brain and sends the new writer into panic mode. When it’s the first time it’s happened it really does seem like the end of a promising career. The flow of words that have been bubbling along like a fast-running stream have suddenly dried up and you are left staring at a blank page with no idea where your cherished writing is to go next.
It could be a short term problem that is easily fixed, a bit like a computer that refuses to work properly when you switch it on. The guru’s solution then is to switch it off, leave for a few minutes and restart. This usually works, and it’s a good idea to use the same technique with the brain. Get up from your screen, or put away your notepad and pen, and do something else for a short while. Make some coffee, go into the garden and de-head something…above all don’t sit staring at a blank screen or page. It will just make matters worse. While the coffee ‘percs’ let some ideas mull around in your head. If it’s a minor hitch, like how to start a new chapter, or even a new paragraph, just relaxing for a few moments will probably do the trick. You’ll be able to go back to your writing refreshed and ready to run again.
If it’s a major block (you’ve painted yourself into a corner with the plot, or you just can’t think of a convincing piece of dialogue that’s going to be vital to the ‘show not tell’ rule you’re trying so hard to stick to) it’s even more important to get as far away from your work as possible.
The golden rule is …don’t start to fret about it. It’s not the end of your career, it’s just a blip and you will recover from it. So try and distance yourself from this particular piece of writing. That doesn’t mean give up all together. Still try to write something every day. It’s like going to the gym, but involves a brain work-out rather than a session on the treadmill. Forget the novel for the time being and start a short story, or if you’ve never written poetry before, experiment with rhyming couplets…limerick writing can be fun and relaxing. It requires word skills and a sense of humour. Something you’re probably a bit short of under the circumstances.
Don’t become obsessive about writing though. Try not to let it be the first thing you think of in the morning. You could become depressed, and that won’t help anybody, least of all yourself. Did you have a hobby before the urge to write took over your life? If so, retrieve it from the cupboard, the shed, or the last known sighting of it and take it up again (temporarily of course, just until the ‘block’ has cleared).Whilst you’re concentrating on sticking the millionth matchstick onto that almost completed model of the Eiffel Tower the solution to the tricky problem of how to dispose of the body, or how your hero is going to escape from the locked room will probably come to you.
If you really can’t bear the thought of leaving your ‘baby’ all on it’s own try skipping the part of the story that’s giving you trouble and have a go at writing the last chapter or two. Yes, you may have the ending totally worked out, but you may also find yourself going off on a slightly different track, and this in itself could provide you with the necessary route to fixing the stalling point of your plot.
The brain is a complex organ and the answer you’ve anguished over for so long can have a strange habit of popping up when you least expect it. That’s when you need to be prepared. During this ‘fallow’ period of creativity keep writing materials everywhere. In the car, by the sink,and especially on your bedside table. Three o’clock in the morning, when you’re drifting between wakefulness and sleep, is a favourite time for a piece of scintillating dialogue to spring into your mind. It’s an absolute cracker…it will set the page on fire. You roll over and go back to sleep, and by the morning you can’t remember a word of it. Oh dear, oh dear! But think about it…you wouldn’t commit a length of prose to your word processor without saving it, would you? Unfortunately the human brain doesn’t come equipped with a ‘Save As’ facility so keep that pen and paper handy at all times. A lot of very successful writers advocate a ‘jot it down before you forget it’ policy for their writing at all times and it’s sound advice.
Lastly, try sharing your woes. You need a sympathetic shoulder right now. Don’t burden your family with it. Unless they are writers themselves they won’t understand why you are making such a big deal of not knowing how your protagonist is going to get out of the mess you’ve got him into, or how your heroine is going to respond to the good-looking guy you just wrote into her life. Close, but non-writing friends will profess an interest and then quickly become bored as you chew over every possibility. You will notice this when their eyes glaze over and they suggest a sudden trip to the shops or the pub.
Hopefully, in your personal phone book you will have the numbers of a few fellow writers you can call on in times of need. Writers groups are great for this, so make sure you’ve swapped numbers with some friendly members. If you’re a writer in isolation this can be more of a problem, so it’s a good idea to go online and check out some writer’s web sites. A quick engine search will bring up hundreds….some good, some not so, but there’s bound to be one or two that you like the look of. Register, and hey presto, you’re in a virtual writer’s circle. Post your problem on their forum…offer advice yourself if you’ve experienced something similar, and suddenly that feeling of being the only writer out there will evaporate. You’ll get a wealth of advice and feedback. And who knows? Someone’s suggestion may be just the help you need.
You may develop a few pen-friendships from these forums into the bargain . These are great too. You can email off all your troubles, and even if they haven’t a solution, at least you’ll feel better having unburdened yourself to a fellow sympathiser. It’s highly probable that he or she has suffered from writer’s block as well and just being told you are not a complete failure will do your morale no end of good.
Anyone author who says they have never suffered from an attack of creative meltdown is either a genius or a fibber, so don’t succumb to the notion that you haven’t got it in you to write that book. You have, and writer’s block is all part of the process of developing your skills and completing your work. And when you’ve finally written those magic words THE END the real work (of finding a publisher) will just be beginning. And when you acheive that you’ll need to start the whole darned process off again with your next novel!