This post is the nineteenth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.
For the past few weeks, I have been covering how to write a novel. I have covered opening scenes, foreshadowing, dialogue and more. But there will come a time, no matter how detailed a plan you have for your story when a scene just isn’t working.
Or perhaps you are sailing along writing when the next time you sit down, a blank screen stares back at you. Suddenly, you can’t think of what to write next. You don’t feel like you have a creative bone left in your body. You want to throw in the towel. It happens to all of us at some point.
Tips for both of these situations are often similar but I am going to keep them separate anyway. Hopefully, one of these will help you out if you have these common writing problems.
Stuck on a Scene/Scene isn’t Quite Right
You’ve written a scene and it just didn’t turn out the way you imagined. Maybe it doesn’t flow or have the right amount of urgency or tension. Or perhaps you don’t know what is wrong with the scene other than it feels “off.” Sometimes even though we continue to work on something, it just doesn’t get any better.
So here are some tips for when you reach the point where you are stuck and can’t seem to get pass the scene you are working on.
1.) Step Back – Take a break. Go for a walk. Read a book. Watch a movie or even just listen to some music. Basically, take some time to free your mind up. Now this break could be 30 minutes, or it could be a day or two but don’t step away for too long. There is no use losing all your writing momentum.
2.) Keep Writing – Instead of finishing the scene you are working on, go on to the next one and resolve that you will return to the troubling scene later.
3.) Reread/revisit other areas – It might be time to go back a chapter or two and read what you already have written. Reading what is working might just be enough to get you through the problem area.
4.) Examine for an underlying problem – Maybe you have hit this roadblock because of deeper issues in your novel. Or maybe we are trying to force the action to be what we want rather than let our characters live out their own lives.
5.) Let someone else read it – Perhaps the problem is not as glaring or as big as you think. Give it to a friend or a writers’ group member whose opinion you respect and see if they spot the problem or if they possibly can spark an idea on how to fix it.
Tips for Dealing with Writer’s Block
Sometimes, you just can’t seem to get the creative juices flowing. You are staring at the blank screen (or piece of paper). Here are a few tips to get back in the writing groove. As there is no one cure for writer’s block, you may need to try several of these. And just because one worked last time, doesn’t mean it will work the next. Just keep trying until you are back to writing.
1.) Take a break – Sometimes taking your mind off the problem can help. Get up and do something else for about 30 minutes. Get a drink, read the newspaper, take a walk, clean out the closet. Free up your mind and then give it another try.
2.) Change your location/writing method – If you are sitting at your desk and have a laptop, move outside (assuming the weather is nice) or to another room. If you don’t have a laptop or tablet, you can still move to another location and try writing in a journal. I have found that sometime writing long hand frees up my thinking. And I improve the writing when I transcribe it into the computer.
3.) Just write – Open a new file and began typing. Sometimes getting started writing is half the battle so just write whatever comes to mind even if it is unrelated to your story.
4.) Reread yesterday’s work – Perhaps reading what you worked on yesterday (or the day before) will get you back in the groove and spark your creativity to begin writing the next scene.
5.) Work on a different scene – Pick some other scene on your novel to write. No one said you had to write in chronological order. Of course, if you pick a scene too far advanced in your story, you may not know exactly what is happening and whatever you write may have to be reworked to fit into your story but at least you are writing.
6.) Brainstorm on future scenes – Assuming you aren’t working from an outline you can use your writing time to plan ahead. Think about where your story will be going and what obstacles your protagonist (or perhaps your antagonist) will encounter. (If you are a planner and already have this novel outlined then perhaps you can brainstorm future story ideas.)
7.) Call it a day – Sometimes you just have to stop trying and come back the next day. If you try too hard, you can make things worse.
No matter what you try, just realize that writer’s block doesn’t last forever. Try not to stress over it because the more anxious and frustrated you become, the worse it will be. Free up your mind and the creative juices will be flowing before you know it.