There are so many times during the course of writing a novel that we can spiral into self-doubt, lose the plot so-to-speak, and find ourselves with a bad case of writer’s block. I’m there at least once during the drafting process, and then again during my first round of developmental edits. If you are suddenly staring at your document with a deer-in-the-headlights type of panic, or you feel like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole, have no fear! There are many tricks of the trade to help you break the paralysis.
When I’m facing writer’s block, it isn’t because I’ve run out of ideas. Usually, I’m stuck somewhere in my story and can’t see my way to a solution. If this happens to you too, here are some tried and true methods to help you get back on track.
Clear your head.
This definitely means step away from your project. Not for months – especially if you’re on a deadline, but maybe just for a few hours, or even a whole day. Take a walk, work in the garden, go to a yoga class. Even when you aren’t putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, your story is still on your mind. Sometimes it takes a little space to let your thoughts percolate. Sometimes if you sleep on it, a fresh idea presents itself in the morning.
Go back to your outline.
You don’t have an outline? Here are some thoughts on why you might want to consider using one: The Case for Plotters. I’m definitely an outliner, but just for the basics, so when I’m really stuck, I take a step back and work through the plot tangle. I spend time thinking and playing with ideas, and when I have a satisfying solution, I create a more detailed outline for that particular section. When I come back to my draft, the new notes provide a scaffolding over which I can continue to build.
Feed your imagination with other stories.
When my own ideas feel stale, I will sometimes binge watch a new television series or read. I pay attention to what’s working in those storylines, how the characters are evolving, or what clever way the writers have resolved a plot tangle. Often, I’m able to see my story from a fresh angle, or consider solutions for a problem that I might not have thought of otherwise. Other stories can provide creative inspiration.
Talk it out.
Writer friends are great sounding boards. Sometimes an outside perspective is just what you need to help stop your mind from spinning or stalling. When I wrote my last book, I actually turned the draft into my editor with a section I knew was pretty weak. I told her I was open to ideas. While it was in her hands, I had a conversation over lunch with one of my kids who’s a screenwriter. I explained the scenario, and he said simply, “Money moves. Have the characters follow the money trail.” When I reworked that section of the story, everything fell into place creating a much more compelling scene. It took him all of five minutes to see a simple solution I was missing because I’d been staring at the problem for too long.
Write something else.
This one is similar to watching or reading someone else’s work, except you are using your own stories as inspiration. When you are in a creative space, the ideas tend to flow more easily. That muscle is working – so to speak. Let the ideas flow on another project for a little while, and maybe your original story will get the nudge it needs.
Whenever you hit a wall, or fall headfirst down the writer’s rabbit hole of doubt and dismay, remember you aren’t alone. We’ve all been there. It’s a normal part of the creative process. Don’t give up! Once you’ve made it through to the other side, you’ll know you can do it, and those moments won’t be so intimidating the next time.