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Backing away from writer’s block

I’m finally learning that if I get writer’s block, it’s probably because I took a wrong turn with my book along the way. I’m not sure why I’d forgotten this, but sadly, I’ve done this with every book so far. It usually happens somewhere around the midpoint, and when I look back I realize that about a third of the way through I started forcing things to happen because I wanted a certain outcome.

I sometimes forget to ask what actions each character would take in response to what happened—What would my villain do next? My hero? My heroine?—and instead start deciding what I want to happen.

Sure, I might want them to finally give in to their attraction, thus complicating everything, but it has to serve the story. It has to make sense based on who the characters are and what they’re going through at that moment.

I’m trying to learn from my mistakes, but when the story’s not working, it’s sometimes hard to remember that I’ve been here before. I don’t want to admit that I might have written days and days of prose that needs to be cut.

But I’m doing it with my current WIP. I’m moving the last 15,000 words or so—ouch, I really liked some of those scenes!—into my Unused Scenes folder for possible pilfering later, and thinking about how my characters would actually move forward to tackle the threat.

I put a little sticky flag on my computer: How will each react? It’s supposed to remind me to stop at the end of each scene and think about how each major character would respond. Not how I want them to respond, but what a person like him or her in that given situation would do.

My propensity to move them around like chess pieces is one of the reasons I quit trying to plot it all out in advance. I guess I’m a discovery draft kind of writer.

Maybe someday I’ll remember to check with my characters all the way through and I won’t have to stop and back up. But for now, I’m just happy that the ideas are flowing again.

What blocks you?

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  1. Reply

    Discovery Draft, what a great description. I’m working on an entirely different (for me) sort of story and want to get first draft done before the fantasy series knocks this book out of my head. Haven’t been into town to pick up Scrivener for Dummies, darnit. I think that’s one I want to have in hand instead of on Kindle. I overloaded myself with outside projects and have to dump those soon!

    • Reply

      Thanks, Mona. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make that up, but I think it describes my writing pretty well. A little pre-planning, but mostly figuring out the story as I go. Good luck with the totally different kind of story! 🙂

  2. Reply

    So, is “discovery draft writer” a euphemism for “seat of the pants writer”? 🙂 If so, then call me a discovery draft writer. Personally, I start with a germ of an idea, think about it a bit, then dive in. It’s a lot of fun to just create. However, I can appreciate the problem of allowing things to go in directions that ultimately cause a “blockage” of sorts. I have the same problem. Fortunately, at least so far, I’ve been successful in navigating my way (back) out of those corners. Like your suggestion, though, on paying attention to characters and how they would respond as you go through each scene.

    • Reply

      Yep, Dave. I’m a pantser. I think it was Larry Brooks who talks about every writer needing to know the story in advance, but some use a draft to discover it first. That seemed to apply to me, as much as I’ve fought the idea over the years. Good to know we’re not alone, right?

      • Reply

        Most definitely. I must confess that, in the past, I felt quite inadequate when I read of all these people who do tremendous amounts of pre-planning and planning and outlining. Not so much anymore. I’ve come to accept the pantser in me 🙂

  3. Reply

    If you’re the author why can’t you drive the characters? What I’m saying is, you are basically the characters. What’s the difference? I can understand if the story is going the wrong direction but I’m sure that happens in all treatments at some point. You blaming yourself for forcing the story on the characters just seems a bit wierd to me since you are God and the holy ghost of your story’s universe. Just having a hard time separating your head, thoughts and words as totally separate from your own made up characters. Did I make any sense? Just a novice asking questions ~Rich

    • Reply

      I know it sounds weird, Rich. Good question. Let me try to give an example. Let’s say I want my heroine to go into the dark basement where she thinks there’s an intruder because I want her to find our hero who’s hiding down there. If she’s a cop, this might work. She has skills, knows how to use a weapon, etc. If she’s a normal woman–or one who’s been attacked–she’d get out of the house and call the police. If I made the second woman go into the basement, the reader would be pissed. She’d be called too stupid to live (TSTL), and even if I didn’t notice I’d done this right away, I probably would later.

      That may not be the best example, but it kind of shows what I mean about forcing a character to do something, well, out of character to try to serve my story. When I read a book where one of the characters does something and it’s not well-motivated I get annoyed. I could make it work with the 2nd woman if I wrote it so she thought her cat was trapped, or that her grandfather had fallen, rather than that she had an intruder. I just need to think it through. Make sense?

      • Reply

        I’ve had many sculptor friends (mainly bronze) quite surprised when I tell them the characters “won’t do what I tell them to do” The idea of an independent character is beyond them. Me, I’m happy when they do take on enough personality to take over the story

          • Reply

            Yeah, sometimes mine let me fool around for far too long before they take off on their own. For a long time I had to “write myself” into the story, and I tossed away pages and pages. Literal pages, it was the days of typewriters!

  4. carokinkead


    In a long work, it feels like writing that first draft (and it is so a discovery draft) start to end is what blocks me. The project I’m working on now, I started with the scene that was burning fire in my head the most and grew from there. I’m getting close to the end of that draft and I know there are big holes, but I’ve also learned a number of things about my characters and the situation they’re in. When I go back through everything, then I’ll be focused on “how did they get here” and “why this, not that?” and tightening everything up. The fact that I’ll reach the end of the writing day, but keep wanting to add “just a little bit more” before I shut off the computer for the night is a good sign something’s working in there, even if it just looks like a pile of index cards on the screen at the moment.

  5. Reply

    Carokinkead: Even when our processes seem odd and haphazard to us, it’s nice to understand how we work, isn’t it? I’ve definitely had to give over to the idea that I can fix the manuscript in revision and that the first draft is how I get to know the story and the characters. I love that feeling of “just a little bit more”! That’s what makes it worthwhile. 🙂

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