Writer's Block? How to Get Your Novel Unstuck
We’ve all been there. When we started off with this brilliant story idea we just simply knew this was the one. This story we would finish. This time would be different.
*insert screeching breaks* (pun intended)
Then we hit a wall. We simply can’t seem to move forward no matter how hard we try. We might even go through the Kubler-Ross Stages of Death and Dying.
Oh it isn’t that bad. I just haven’t had enough caffeine.
What the hell was I thinking? A romance? No one wants to read about love. Love is dead. Readers want diet books and recipes with kale.
Maybe if I just go add in some super clever metaphors it will all improve. Can one use emojis in fiction? I find smilie faces spice up my Facebook posts. Brilliant!
Tiffany was thrilled Dane asked her to dinner 😀 😀 😀 <3 <3 <3 😀 😀 😀
Okay, not brilliant. Note to self. Tell NO ONE you thought this might be a good idea.
I suuuuuuuuuck. I suck I suck I suck. I’m never going to finish a novel. I am just a pretender, a fake. A “real” writer wouldn’t have this problem.
Yes. Something is definitely wrong. Back to the drawing board.
I’ve been working with plot for going on ten years and not only do I have experience with countless writers who’ve hit a wall, but been there, done that and got the t-shirt. In fact, being a person who is obsessed with patterns, my own stalling was part of why I became so fixated on understanding plotting.
It seemed like I’d always go through the same process. First, caffeine. Duh.
I am a frigging GENIUS. THIS, THIS was the idea I’ve been looking for. What was I thinking with all those story ideas?
The words just come pouring out. In fact family members might have to knock you away from your keyboard using a broomstick or a board or some other nonconductive material (similar to rescuing someone who’s grabbed hold of a live power line).
All, right. It’s a bit slower, but that is to be expected.
The words are no longer gushing forth with the force of Old Faithful, but
water word pressure is still decent enough.
Wow, this is getting tough. But, persistence prevails when all else fails. Is that a plot bunny?
Hello, little fellow. Aren’t you cute? Where are you off to?
How the hell did an alien invasion end up in my women’s fiction. Right, the plot bunny. Damn.
Skip writing and go straight to drinking. And this idea had SO much promise. Maybe that plot bunny was onto something. Perhaps I’m a sci-fi writer. What was I thinking writing women’s fiction?
Begins watching episodes of Ancient Aliens on YouTube.
It’s okay. It happens to the best of us, even if you happen to be a plotter. Characters misbehave, the story veers off course and now you’re so lost you have no idea what to do.
With a novel? It is tempting to just start something new, but before you give up understand there are some common reasons you might be stuck and some tricks to get unstuck.
I don’t like it when pros claim writer’s block isn’t real. It is real. Yes often laziness is mistaken for writer’s block, but sometimes it is our subconscious slamming on the brakes because it knows there is something fundamentally wrong that needs to be repaired. It is keeping us from digging ourselves in deeper by making us stall out.
It’s a Check Engine light and ignore it at your peril.
I also don’t like it when seasoned writers or teachers give the advice to just keep writing. Yes, we need to keep writing, but sometimes that alone isn’t enough.
It’s like the time was tired and accidentally got on the tollway in Oklahoma going north instead of south. If my goal was to eventually get from Tulsa to OKC, then to keep driving north was a ridiculous plan.
Granted it sucked when I snapped to in Joplin, Missouri and I felt more than a little stupid. But the best course was simply to turn around and get going in the proper direction.
Sure if I kept driving, in theory, I could have reached OKC, but maybe I didn’t want to traverse the north and south poles and come up through South and Central America.
Why You Are Stuck
The biggest reason you might be stuck is you are being a perfectionist. Stop it. Go find your favorite authors on Amazon and read all the one and two star reviews and then you will realize there is no such thing as a perfect book.
Perfect is the enemy of the good.
But, beyond this? Some practical advice:
The Seed Idea
The good news is it might not be your idea. You idea might be perfectly fine, it just maybe was not robust enough to support the story you want to tell. Or maybe it was confusing. It needed more focus. Maybe it was too broad or even too narrow.
This is why I strongly recommend writers creating a log-line. Tell what your story is about in ONE sentence (For more go HERE).
I.e. A fraidy cat romance author must travel to the jungles of South America to rescue her sister from murderous jewel thieves before they chop up her sister and feed her to the alligators.
You guessed it. Romancing the Stone.
When I do my log-line class (one coming up) I can simply look at a log-line and not only tell if a writer is going to have problems, but can also predict what those problems will be.
If you didn’t do one ahead of time, that’s all right. Go back and make yourself create one and then instead of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, you will actually have an actionable plan.
If you have a log-line, go BACK to it. Revisit the story you were wanting to tell in the first place.
It might be you’ve miscast your protagonist. Maybe at first it seemed like a good idea, sort of like when the second season of True Detective cast Vince Vaughn as a hard core gangster. Was a nice try, but yeah.
Maybe go swap out some of the major players with a different type of character and see if that helps.
My first attempts at The Devil’s Dance (at publisher now) were a train wreck. No one liked the female protagonist no matter how many times I rewrote it. So? I switched from third limited to first person and the change in voice alone was enough to solve the problem.
The plot might not be the issue, rather you’ve chosen the wrong POV to tell it in. OR maybe it is the correct POV but just rewriting a chapter or two in a different POV is enough to get you unstuck.
In the end, yes keep writing. No half-finished novel even became a NYT best-seller but a lot of finished sucky ones have. But sometimes, the key to finishing is working smarter not harder 😉 .
What are your thoughts? Are you stuck? Do you have other tips for getting unstuck you’d like to share? Did you see yourself in any of this? Do you hit the same benchmarks? It’s kind of spooky isn’t it? I’ve found that it takes about 30K for plot flaws to become a game changer. If the plot is flawed we just won’t see it in only 20 pages.
If my tips aren’t enough, Icy Sedgewick has some different tips in her post How Do You Restart Your Stuck Novel?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter!
All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.
You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.
Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?
***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.
Good question. We will cover that and more!
But sometimes the query is not enough.
Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.
Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!
Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 16th
All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.
This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.
Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold
This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.
Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.
As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.
If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.
In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.
The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.
Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.
The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.
The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.