Writer’s block

Aug 18, 2014 | Writing

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block!”
Is that what you’ve been told? Every aspiring writer runs into Writer’s Block at some point, because they’ve run out of ideas or steam or confidence – or all three.
Even the most famous writers have suffered from it, some so badly that it’s taken them – as in the case of American novelist Henry Roth – a very long time to produce that Difficult Second Novel. (In Roth’s case, about 60 years!)

When you start out on a new novel, you’re fired up, full of enthusiasm. The plot is a green field of possibilities, the characters eager and willing to be knocked into shape by your confident pen.
And then you take a break, take stock, look back – and you hate most of what you’ve written so far.

Who will ever want to READ this, let alone PUBLISH it? With any luck, before you press the Delete key, you’ll take your work-in-progress along to a writers’ group, or a friend who isn’t afraid to tell you that the plot stinks and the characters are not only implausible but also boring. Let’s hope your fellow writers and your friend (if you’re still speaking to each other) can offer you constructive criticism to make things better.

You get your second wind, and off you go again, full of ambition once more, working towards that goal of a climax, a setback a few chapters from the end and then resolution. The End.

Except it’s rarely that easy. And once more you grind to a halt…

Some writers prefer to move away from their work-in-progress and tackle Something Completely Different. I have a different strategy which I’ve found helpful over the last couple of years, while I’ve been writing my crime novel, “The Shame of Innocence”.

If you’ve run out of steam, choose one of your characters – preferably one with a reasonably-sized role in your novel – and find out more about them. Let’s say your main character Jake has a sister called Jan who makes a few brief appearances. What was she up to the day before your novel begins? Or the week before? Suppose she went to call on Jake but he was out? Or he was there with another friend, George, and all three went out for coffee. What did they talk about? What are you learning about Jake that you didn’t already know? You’ll probably never meet George again (and neither will your readers) but what light does he throw on Jake’s relationship with Jan? How does Jake behave towards him?

And no, treating your characters to a latte a week before your story opens isn’t necessarily going to solve that tricky plot poser you discovered when you were checking your novel’s timeline.

BUT you are getting to know Jake better, you’re staying IN your novel, and you’re exercising your writing brain. Something George said as they were all tucking into blueberry muffins may even have given you an idea for a chapter you hadn’t even thought about yet.

Good luck!