Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Curing Writer's Block

In the past few weeks, numerous writing friends have told me they are stuck in their stories. Either they are unable to get into their characters or they've reached a plot point they can't overcome or the novel idea just isn't gripping them anymore. Every writer reaches this point at one time or another, but hopefully, I can offer a cure.

The Problem: Unsure of what happens next. You're plugging away, and all of a sudden, you realize you don't know what happens next. Your characters have reached a fork in the road and you don't know which path they should take. You've tried a few different options, but none of them seem to work. Your plot is at a standstill.
The Fix: Dennis Lehane said that if he's blocked, it's usually because of a problem a hundred pages back. I tend to agree. Step back from your story and look at it as a whole. Write major plot points on post-it notes or a dry erase board. Rearrange, add, or take away plot points and see how it affects the overall story. Do you need to add a subplot or take one away? Are the characters' internal struggles being addressed? Stepping back and looking at the plot structure is the only way to find the kinks. Once those are addressed, the story should speed right along.

The Problem: The Inner Censor. Every writer has one. We all have a little beep, bell, or voice inside our heads that sounds off when we're writing. It can be caused by self-criticism, fear of what readers will think, lack of confidence, etc. Some of the most poignant scenes are the most difficult to write and can easily trip you up.
The Fix: Journaling or stream of consciousness writing is the quickest way I know to overcome the inner censor. Write without audience in mind. No one is going to read it. Let your voice go. Don't stop writing, even if you have nothing to say. Attempt to write continuously for five minutes. See what comes out of it. You may be surprised how much you can overcome when you're not thinking about audience.
Alternative: Sometimes the inner censor goes off due to lack of confidence. I often get stuck writing police procedural scenes, because I know very little about the subject. If you are having difficulty writing a scene due to lack of confidence, research is the quickest fix. Read cop blogs, call your local precinct, read one of the hundreds of books about police procedures. Having the knowledge will give you the confidence to write the scene and move forward.

The Problem: Sick of the story. This is bound to happen. You work on a novel for a year, sometimes two, and eventually, you don't want to even think about your story anymore. You're getting ideas for other novels that sound more exciting, and finishing your current project is like pulling teeth.
The Fix: If you're not excited about your story, readers won't be either. You need to figure out a way to renew the magic. Think back to when you first formulated the idea. What made you want to write about these characters? What intrigued you about this story? If you don't know the answers to these questions, then you may want to abandon this project for a while, because something isn't working. Otherwise, try to bring back the passion and need to tell this particular story. Write a few more character sketches or explore new plot possibilities. Hopefully this will rekindle the excitement you felt when you first began writing. Also, you can take a break from the manuscript and work on your two-line elevator pitch. Finding a way to intrigue potential readers using minimal words can renew your own passion for the story.

The Problem: Writing Stinks. You've reread what you've written and it all seems flat, unexciting and uninteresting.
The Fix: Thinking outside the box and trying new writing methods is a great way to liven up a drab manuscript. Try writing a scene from a different character's viewpoint. Write the scene as a letter, or as a script. Write a character's dream or childhood memory. These exercises often bring out new ideas and give the writing new depth.

If you're currently blocked, hopefully I've offered a possible fix. Feel free to offer up your own writing problems, as long as you include the cure!

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