How to Beat Writer’s Block

Writer’s Block is built up in the mind of every writer, kind of like the monster under the bed. It scares us. It hinders us. It saps our productivity.

Except I don’t really believe in Writer’s Block. Like the monster under the bed, I think it’s a story. Hype. Meant to scare writers like you and me. I’ve certainly struggled while writing. Some scenes have been agony to write, but never impossible. And it’s usually an indication that a scene is broken.

So if I don’t think it’s real, why write about it? Well, I recently experienced something close to what I think most people would call Writer’s Block, and I’m here to share a bit of what helped me. This is not scientific, or even organized, because my experience quickly morphed from a story problem to an emotional problem. I still think of it more as Writer’s Traffic Jam than Writer’s Block. Let me explain.

Writer’s Traffic Jam

I’ve been trying to plot Book 4 of my series. It’s the final book in the series, and I feel a lot of pressure to give it a satisfying end for my readers. At the same time, I made a change in my storyline that has produced some serious plot ripples. My original plan for Book 4 no longer worked. I had to work from scratch. I knew the main story problem, but then there were so many different variations and directions I could take, I got overwhelmed. I’m a plotter, and I start with stripped down structural outlines (think hook, inciting incident, plot point #1, pinch #1, etc). They are short but involve a lot of thinking, so I’d come out of an hour of “writing time” with a few hundred words or half a minimal outline.

I wrote out five different short outlines and they still felt wrong. Normally things click by the third version, and then the changes are small. I started to panic. What if I settled for the wrong story and my readers hated it?

Troubleshooting

So, my first step was to figure out why it didn’t work. Easier said than done, but the gist of it was that my teen characters were being put into situations where teens wouldn’t actually have any say or power. Sure, I’ve read a lot of books that require a bit of suspension of disbelief regarding teens’ participation in important events in YA books, but this was the big issue I was having. I had to adjust my setting and sequence of events to give my teen characters more autonomy. Think about what the tropes and expectations are for your genre, and make sure that you are employing them.

This helped, but I was still a little stuck. I’d just gotten “Take Off Your Pants” by Libbie Hawker on outlining, and I figured it might give me a bit of inspiration. It did. I didn’t use the book as a proper guide for my outline, but it encouraged me to think about my outline in a different way than I normally do and to ask some new questions. It helped me put a few more pieces into place. I had been focusing on plot, but this book reminded me to think about my characters, their flaws, and the conflict that can naturally arise from those things.

Now I’ve got a short outline. This is the seventh iteration, and I feel pretty confident in it. I’m working through all the scenes and really starting to visualize my story.
So, how to beat Writer’s Traffic Jam? Based on the past few weeks, here’s the short version of what helped me:

1. Check that your story is hitting those tropes, obligatory scenes, genre conventions, etc. This might be why it feels wrong.

2. Read a book on outlining, whether it’s new or already in your library, if it has a different take, format, or tone, it can help you think in a different way.

Sometimes you just need to take those few steps back in order to get a better view of the whole picture.

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