Breaking Through Writer’s Block
We’ve all experienced it: you get to the end of a line of narrative, or the end of a dialogue passage, and your mind is blank. You have no idea what comes next, and hard as you try, you just can’t seem to type that next word. You have the whole novel in your head: the beginning, the ending—all the plot points in-between that you need to touch on. But that next sentence eludes you.
I will show you three simple ways to break that writer’s block. These have all worked for me, either by themselves, or in combination. We’ll start with the easiest and work toward the more esoteric. It all begins with a theory that I concocted to make me feel better about myself when this happens.
The Theory of Increasing Complexity: The more complex a situation becomes, the easier it is to lose sight of the edges and get lost in the soup of mediocrity.
What I mean by the edges, is those story-lines you keep in your mind, those overarching plots and the subplots that drive them. As authors, we have this path in our heads: we want to take the reader from point A to point B, but we want to run them by point C and D on the way to point E, where it all comes together. As you get into that thought process, you are increasing the complexity; you add points and ideas that you hadn’t thought of, and you modify ideas that you had, to fit into the overall framework. All this adding and modifying changes things in your brain, and your mind responds with, nothing…
But that’s only because your subconscious (where the story is really written) is falling behind, and your subconscious will not let you fall back on mediocre writing (at least I hope not), so it stops… and it waits. It’s patient, your subconscious. What it wants is clarification, because you changed something that it believed it knew. Your job is to stimulate it, kick-start it, show it the new (modified) path.
Method number one – Eliminate the complexity.
Forget the story. Stop thinking about the whole thing and concentrate on that last line. I know, if you’ve been writing this epic in your mind for the last month this will be hard, but you have to do it to break past that barrier, and it’s much easier than you think.
When you focus on a single point in time, you free your subconscious brain to do what it does best, which is be creative. Focusing on that last line you wrote, imagine all the possibilities that could flow from it. What are the potential responses to that line of dialogue? What’s the next line in the narrative? Don’t think about how this fits into the whole, In fact, that’s detrimental to this method. Just see the present situation and figure that out.
This is basically a what’s next approach, but you are only concerned with one sentence, and your conscious brain can come up with one sentence, easy. It might suck, but hey, you can delete it later when your subconscious catches up, if you need to. What you don’t want to lose is momentum. Push through it. Simplify it. Write one more line until your brain kicks in, even if you don’t end up keeping it. You never know, it might send your story in a direction you hadn’t thought of.
Method number two – Skip ahead.
We’re all guilty of foreshadowing ourselves. I know you have future scenes in mind. Well, write them now! Find a vivid scene (the more detailed the better) you have planned for later in the story and write it now. It doesn’t even matter if you change the story in-between now and then, you can change that too. I always have an idea for a future scene that’s well formed in my mind; I know you do too. Stop what you’re doing and write what you know. Leave that lingering scene for when your brain comes back from its vacation, and it will. Writing future scenes sometimes gives you a deeper glimpse into what’s going on right now. That’s your subconscious at work, and it’s a good kick in the butt for it.
Method number three – Immersion.
Maybe I should have said re-immersion. There’s no shame in taking a break and reading what you wrote. Go back several pages (I usually do twenty, and I combine it with an editing session, so I don’t feel bad about being lazy and not writing words) and read your story up to this point. I find when I do this that it refocuses me on the plot, and suddenly my mind is filled with additional what-ifs, which could be a bad thing according to the Theory of Increasing Complexity, but it works to get you past the boulder of writer’s block.
In summary: remember, it’s not a disease, it will pass, and no one but you will ever know that it happened, so don’t sweat it.
Just tell your publisher you got kidnapped by Mexican drug-lords and it took a while to break free. They can’t hold that against you…