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Breaking through the wall

512px-Wall_climbing_plantWhat do you do when you hit a wall in your writing?

I’m under a tight—self-imposed—deadline to get Blind Justice to my editor and I was absolutely stuck on how to approach the climactic scene. I only work with loose outlines and don’t usually have a solid idea for the ending until I’m more than halfway through the book.

That held true with this one. I had some thematic ideas and snippets of scenes that I knew I wanted in there, but not the whole showdown. I know for a fact that if I stop writing to think, nothing comes. I’ve talked about it before. But what to do in this case?

I finally decided to create a new document outside of my Draft folder (that’s Scrivener-speak for opening a blank page in my project that won’t be included when I print) and call it “Showdown ramble.” Then I proceeded to type out all of the questions I had about what the characters wanted, what they could or should do, and so on.

At first it was a list of unanswered questions, but as I wrote I started coming up with ideas for how to answer them. I also asked questions like the following:

– What if X wasn’t the villain? Who would it be?
– What if the final showdown takes place somewhere besides Z? (I had a location picked out, but it changed based on this exercise.)
– What other places might have significance to the involved characters that would work for this scene? (This is how I found the new location and it surprised me.)

The words started flowing and after an hour I had 750 words of questions, some answers, and some new ideas, as well as a pretty good idea of what needs to happen.

So, I’m back on track and working on the climactic scene this week. Yay!

What do you do when you hit a wall in your writing?

Image credit: By Wilfredor (Own work) (CC0), via Wikimedia Commons

How to lose your muse in 10 days

Did your muse go on vacation?

Did your muse go on vacation?

1. Don’t write regularly.

2. See #1.

Seriously, that’s it. In my experience, your muse doesn’t show up for work unless you do.

All the other stuff about setting aside the time, figuring out your goals, avoiding distractions…those are just tactics for getting your body in front of the keyboard. To write regularly.

Only you can decide what “regularly” means. For me, it's almost every day. I try to write every weekday and at least review or do something with my story on one day over the weekend.

When I’m struggling with my manuscript, a bit of time away from it can be good, but if I spend days thinking and plotting and agonizing over it, I usually get zip. If I’m writing almost every day, I get into that zone where everything I do brings me ideas. Driving, sleeping, running, walking the dog, watching a movie.

If I’m stuck, I make a note of what’s bothering me and keep writing. I have to stay immersed in the world of those characters if I want them to talk to me.

Something about my current manuscript wasn’t working for me this week, so I revisited the characters’ GMC, did a quick pass of early revisions to align the story with my new understanding of the characters, and started toying with the next scene.

I still felt blocked, but I have (finally) learned to trust that staying in it—keeping my momentum—is the only way I’ll ever get the book written.

And this morning—unfortunately at 4 a.m., but I’ll take it—I was rewarded. I woke with not just one, but four ideas for how to strengthen the story. And I understand why I was blocked: I wasn’t being true to the characters and how they’d react in the situation I have them. (Which, I’ve found, is almost always the problem.)

Your muse wants to work on your story, but if she senses that you’re not committed, she’ll take a vacay to warmer climes.

The only way to get her back is to write.

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?

Photo credit: (public domain)

Knocking down blocks

Yesterday I hit a block. I tried repeatedly to start a scene, and just couldn't make it happen. My people (characters) thought the scene was boring and they wanted nothing to do with it. They were right.

What finally pulled me out of my state of stumped was Shirley Jump‘s Rule of Six. I'm taking her course right now, and I highly recommend it. Basically, making a list of six ideas for a scene forces you to dig deeper than the easy (read: uninspired) ideas that come off the top of your head. You can apply the rule of six to any part of your manuscript (e.g. scene goals, character motivation, book title, you name it).

So, instead of stewing in my head, I finally sat down, made a list of six goals for the scene, and came up with something totally unexpected. The new scene is not only more interesting (my people cheered), but it set up several future scenes where I'll introduce a new character, and begin weaving in background for turning the book into a series.

Such a simple tool, yet so powerful. The key is sitting down to do it.

What tools do you use to overcome writer's block?

P.S. For more of Shirley's wisdom, join her Just Write It group.

The Daily Squirrel: shoes

Jenna slid her foot into the spiky heels and stood up. The world looked different from her new height. She towered over the saleswoman and looked down upon the peons rummaging through the sale racks. In these shoes, she could do anything, be anyone. Her confidence soared.

Chin up, she strode forward with the grace and dignity of a princess, flipped her long hair back, and smiled at a cute guy as she…wobbled on the miniscule heel and landed on her ass between the sneakers and the baby shoes. So much for grace and dignity.