Writer’s block is a hot topic among those of us who write for love or a living.
I’m certainly no stranger to the problem. I’ve written more than fifty novels, novellas, e-books and short stories, and I’ve had writer’s block at least once with every damn one of them.
I’ve discovered a couple of tricks I use to break through blocks, though I’ll admit it’s never easy. Often busting a block involved a lot of cursing, frustration, and guilt. Particularly the guilt.
Some writers swear only the lazy get blocked. “Put your butt in the chair anyway!” they insist.
I see their point. Writing is work, and it can be frustrating. There are days when folding a pile of laundry seems more attractive.
Now I’m going to suggest doing something scandalous that has always worked for me: when you have those days, go fold the laundry.
Now, obviously you won’t get that book written by not writing it. But writing is like every other form of recording. If the emotion you’re feeling is, “Oh, God, I don’t want to do this,” that’s exactly the emotion the reader will feel when reading that scene. She’ll go off to fold her laundry. You don’t want that, because chances are good she’s not going to come back.
Your objective is to come up with a scene so fascinating and intense, you can’t wait to sit down and write it. That emotion will come through on the page, and your reader will be just as entranced reading it as you were when you wrote it.
The Secret Ingredient
If you’re having a lot of trouble writing a scene, chances are good it’s missing the secret ingredient: conflict.
Nothing is easier to write than a scene between two characters who are deeply pissed at each other. That includes not just brawls and arguments, but love scenes and lunches.
The conflict can be anything. Maybe the villain wants to kill the hero, who isn’t crazy about him either. Maybe the hero thinks the feminist heroine needs protection when she knows she doesn’t. Give the characters good reason to want incompatible things, put them together, and let them go at it.
Ideally, every single scene you write needs a conflict of some kind. If it doesn’t have one, figure out how to add it. Maybe two good friends agree on the goal they want to achieve, but argue bitterly about how to accomplish it. (That’s also an excellent way to add life to what would otherwise be boring exposition.)
Walk Your Way Around the Block
However, sometimes I’ve found myself blocked even when the conflict is strong. Some of my most maddening blocks have been with scenes I should be able to write in my sleep.
In cases like that, I’ve learned a block means that what I’ve got planned isn’t going to work. The trick is to figure out why.
Much of the writing process happens in nonverbal parts of the brain we’re not consciously aware of. Classical Greek poets believed this to be a goddess called the Muse they thought whispered inspiration in their ears.
I’ve discovered when my subconscious muse goes on strike, she’s trying to get my attention. I just emerged from one such muse-driven dry spell that lasted two frustrating weeks.
I realized on Friday it was because the climax I’d planned wouldn’t work. It dawned on me that the scene I had originally planned for the three-quarter point made a much better climax. The scene – a riot – was much more exciting than what I’d had in mind. Using the riot at the three-quarter point would turn the original climax into a let-down for the reader. My muse had gone on strike to keep me from making that mistake.
I came to this realization by walking around the block — literally.
Writing is a sedentary profession: you must do it sitting at a desk. Yet exercise pumps oxygenated blood through the brain, making it easier to think and solve problems.
This isn’t just my experience.
For the past several years, I’ve been going out every morning with a wired headset and my cell phone. I spend an hour walking around my neighborhood, dictating the day’s scene into a recording app. Then I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking 15 to transcribe the resulting audio file.
It’s not a perfect solution. Dragon has a 99% accuracy rate, but it still makes mistakes transcribing recordings that you must then clean up. Dragon works best when you look at the computer screen as you dictate, correcting errors as you go.
The advantage of this is that most people talk much faster than they can type. It normally takes me six hours to write 2,000 words on a keyboard, but I can dictate the same word count in three hours. Dictating is also much easier on my hands and arms, letting me avoid the carpal tunnel problems that had started to bother me.
I now use the audio transcription from my morning walk to brainstorm the day’s scene. Then I refer to those notes while dictating my daily word count.
This technique has allowed me to write a novel, a novella, a short story, and most of another novel over the past year. Prior to this, it took me nine months to write one novel, so that’s quite an improvement.
What’s more, brand-new ideas often occur to me during my walks that weren’t in my original plan. I also find my dictated stuff often has greater fluidity and energy.
Even if you can’t afford a transcription program, recording notes to yourself lets your muse feed you new ideas. This technique breaks the creative part of the process out from the work of putting it down on paper. Then you can take those notes and flesh out the ideas on the page.
Now obviously, your mileage may vary. I know writers who say they couldn’t work this way because they’d feel too self-conscious.
Still, I think it’s worth a try.
Whatever technique you use, stressing out isn’t the way to get the book done. Be patient with your creative process. Some people can sit at a desk and force themselves to work. Some people can’t. Try it both ways and use the method that works for you.
Most of all, if you don’t want to write a scene, try to figure out why. See if you can find a way to add conflict to a problem scene.
Yes, much of the writing process is work — particularly editing, when you must pull sentences apart and put them back together to achieve a smooth flow.
But work is one thing. Drudgery is something else. Drudgery serves neither you, the book, or the reader who buys it.
Show your reader a good time while having one yourself, and she’ll put you on her coveted auto-buy list.
Both of you will live happily ever after.
Angela Knight is the New York Times bestselling author of the Mageverse paranormal series for Penguin Putnam’s Berkley imprint. She started out as a comic book writer in 1988, but was first published in erotic romance in 1996 in Red Sage’s Secrets anthology series. Since then, she has written 50 books, including 18 novels and more than 30 novellas and ebooks.
She has also won a Career Achievement Award in Paranormal Romance from Romantic Times Bookclub Magazine, along with two RT Critics Choice awards for Best Erotic Romance and Best Werewolf Romance.
[box] New Release
Return to New York Times bestselling author Angela Knight’s Mageverse in this never-before-published novella about a man with mysterious abilities and a hidden past—and the woman who must help him decipher his secrets.
Olivia Flynn finds herself on the brink of death, unable to call upon her Sidhe magic, when a handsome stranger rescues her. But this male is no ordinary human, and Olivia wants nothing to do with him. The foreign magic boiling around him is far beyond the power of even the Sidhe.
Rhys Kincade has never been able to explain his magical abilities. Olivia is the first person he’s encountered who shares his gifts. But before he can ask her about them, they find themselves under attack by a pack of werewolf assassins. An even deadlier threat follows, and the pair is forced to rely on each other as they fight unknown enemies—and an ever-growing attraction between them.
Here’s an Excerpt.
You find the book for sale here:
Amazon, Barnesand Noble, Kobo