Yesterday I had the pleasure of chatting with a group of teen readers/writers about my journey to publication. One of the teens asked a question during the Q&A portion of the session that's one I hear a lot, and one I struggle even myself with finding the answer to. When you're writing a book and you get stuck, how the heck do you move past it? How do you push the story forward?
This question is always tough for me to answer because, to be honest, I'm terrible at overcoming writer's block in my own work. I've published three novels at this point, and written numerous others, yet I still get stuck writing the beginning...the middle...the ending. I get into a routine of writing the same chapter over and over and ripping my hair out because it's still not good enough. It's a combination of wanting the writing to be perfect the first time (when of course it never is!) and simply knowing that I've reached a point where the book is no longer moving in the right direction, but I can't quite figure out where I messed up or how to fix it. Finding my way around these blocks can take days or as long as many weeks. Even months.
But I do always find my way out. No matter how long it takes, the important thing is to keep going--don't give up on reaching "The End." Grit your teeth and keep writing words
Here are my 4 quick tips for you, if you're a writer who often gets stuck:
1. Shut the Laptop. Close the Notebook. Put Some Headphones in and Take a Walk.
This is honestly the advice that always helps me the most...and the one I always put off for way too long because of life's business and plenty of other excuses. But seriously, shutting off the actual "writing" part of the work and just going for a walk with a cinematic music playlist blasting in your ears is one of the best ways to get your creative mind moving again. You don't even have to focus on a specific problem with your book at this stage--just imagine the world, the characters, and see what kind of ideas pop into your head. Remember why you love writing the story so much in the first place. Let those creative juices flow.
2. List Out the Questions You Need to Answer.
In my experience, writer's block happens most often when you reach a point where you either don't know what happens next in the story, or where you've made a wrong decision along the trail and you need to go back and correct the course in order to keep going. Maybe you've tried to force a character to make a choice they wouldn't normally make in order to get them into a situation you've been planning all along that...isn't actually right for the story anymore. Maybe there's not enough conflict in the part of the story you're in. Or maybe you're simply bored with the scene you're writing. Whatever the problem(s) is/are, the best way to solve them is to list them out in the form of questions. Here are some examples I've found myself asking when I get stuck:
-Why am I not happy with the chapter I'm writing?
-How can I make the scene more interesting?
Jot down any questions you can think of and the next time you go for a walk with your headphones in, ponder those questions and start coming up with some solutions for them. Remember, they don't have to perfect yet! You might have to slog through some crappy ideas before the better ones will come, but getting your mind thinking about your questions is the important first step.
3. Let Yourself Write Badly.
Once you've come up with some questions and some ideas, start writing a new scene! Set a timer for any amount of time, even 20 minutes, and just write, write, write, even if you aren't totally happy with the words. Trust me, some of the sentences will end up being amazing, and they'll give you a jumping off point for where to go next. If you have problems with perfectionism, like me, give yourself permission to write a crappy draft by opening a brand new document and then just copy-paste the parts you like into your manuscript document when you're finished!
You don't have to write in order, either--sometimes I've found myself stuck in a particular scene, and what helped me the best was to jump ahead to the next chapter first, which I felt much more confident about, to see where the story needed to go next before I jumped back to the boring part. Write whatever makes you excited about the story again.
4. Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Page.
Lastly, remember that everyone has their own individual writing process. Some people are cray-cray and can somehow crank out a full novel draft in two weeks (I'm looking at you, Kiersten White), while others take years (*cough* George R.R. Martin). We all have our own pace, our own journey, our own stories to create. It's SO, SO important not to get caught up in feelings of jealousy and get angry with yourself that you aren't finishing your book as fast as someone else. Sure, if it helps you push yourself to keep writing more, then great, but if it's making you get too caught up in your head, try logging off Twitter for a few days and
No matter what, know that if you are stuck in a block writing in your book, you are not alone--even published authors who've written tons of books still struggle with writer's block. It's a never-ending battle, but one all of us can conquer so long as we persevere.