Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Confessions of a Sophomore Author – Part II – Writer’s Block – Or is it?

Welcome back to Confessions of a Sophomore Author. When I was thinking of what to write about in this second instalment, I was inspired by my work on my current manuscript. Or rather the backtracking I’ve recently been doing…

It all began as, deeply in love with my manuscript, I’m working away, flying through the pages, and suddenly I can’t seem to make a scene work. It’s like pulling teeth. That awful phenomenon called writer’s block enters your head. And you think maybe I’m just having a bad writing day. I’ll just get something down and work it out tomorrow. Tomorrow comes, you attack the story with renewed vigour and.. the same thing happens. Progress grinds to a halt.

This is when I know I don’t have writer’s block. That instead, there is something inherently wrong with my story and I need to fix it. For me it’s often the two biggies. Either I haven’t built the story out properly and my key turning points aren’t working. Or, more often, my characters have done something out of character. They aren’t acting true to who they are or they aren’t acting according to the GMC – the goal, motivation and conflict - I’ve built for them. When this happens nothing feels right. You have to go back, figure out where they took a wrong turn, did something out of character, and fix it. Revisiting those core GMC building blocks and making sure my characters are acting according to them in every scene generally gives me that light bulb moment.

Or, as with my manuscript this past week, it can work in reverse. I had my story built, my characters had very clear identities and GMCs, but when I actually set a key secondary character loose in the middle of the book, one who would drive a crucial aspect of the external plot for my hero and heroine to act within, he took the story places I didn’t want it to go. He set a tone I didn’t want for my romance. When I finally figured out what was happening, I had to change his backstory, change his GMC to fit the story, the romance I wanted to tell. Yes this meant backtracking and rewriting, but once I had done this, the story worked and that scene moved along. The block was gone.

Cue relieved husband. 

This isn’t the first time this has happened. As I work on my fifth book, I’m learning that some books are that glorious experience where they seem to write themselves. Others you have to work harder at to make them sing. But I’m generally pretty prolific. So if I’m struggling to put words down, it’s usually time to go back to basics and figure out what isn’t working.

In saying all this, I’m not sure Writer’s Block is actually this blank phenomenon so many of us envision—this black hole in our heads. I think it’s a sign we need to look deeper at our story, at the core of who our characters are to resolve it.

What do you think? I’m interested in your perspective. Do you get Writer’s Block? Do you think it exists? And how do you get rid of it?

If you'd like to read an excerpt of my current release, book two of my Delicious De Campos, An Exquisite Challenge, you can find it here!  Have a great month!


  1. I get stuck all the time--but I don't get writer's block. The best thing for me to do when I get stuck is to reread and think about what isn't working for me in a scene. At least, that's what's working now. I used to abandon all hope and move on. Now that I've actually finished something and am finishing the revision process, I see things differently.

    I was procrastinating on writing a scene that I initially skipped in the first draft because I knew I'd get stuck on it. I allowed myself to play around with it in my head for a few days, imagining all the possible ways it could play out and still arrive at the conclusion I needed it to in order for it to mesh with the rest of the story. I eventually landed on the right way to do it.

    Getting stuck for me is my cue to SLOW DOWN and really make sure the section I'm writing moves the plot or the romance forward, and not straight to a dead end.

    I love your perspective and will add this to my checklist of things to look at when I hit writer's detour (my name for it).

  2. Hi Mz. ZeyZey! I totally agree! Slowing down and going through what you've written and really thinking it through is so key. And Writer's Detour is a brilliant description! Thanks for dropping by!

  3. This is so helpful! I start to panic when the "block" hits but your suggestions mean there are productive things I can do before I let the panic hit! You're amazing, thanks.

  4. I find when I really hit a wall it is because my mind is on overdrive. So I need to do something completely unrelated to re-engage. A walk, coffee with a friend, read a celebrity magazine. Anything that can let my mind calm down and focus somewhere else for a bit.

  5. Hey Jen! Fab to see you back here and great post :) For me, when I hit a brick wall, it is one of three things. 1) I am too close and as Anon said, I need to take a step back and let the story breathe for a while. Give myself time to think instead of spending hours tweaking words (that will probably get the chop in the long run) and making zero progress. And you can bet the answer will flash up in neon lights the moment I'm sat behind the wheel or in the middle of a football field, because there is no pen or paper in sight and that's just sod's law! 2) I'm not in the characters heads. Somehow I've lost their voice and what I have on the page is me. Not them. I am making their decisions for them and a few thousand words later, I am slamming up against that brick wall. Key delete and a boat load of self-annoyance and frustration. How did I get myself into that mess? Generally I am over-tired, in which case I order myself to sleep because I’m not thinking clearly. Or I have concocted some amazingly brilliant scene that I am bouncing in my seat over because it is going to be just fabulous – the best piece of writing I ever created! – without giving a thought to if it will work for either my characters or the plot or the over-arching theme of the book. Next thing I know, I'm depressing that sucker of a delete key (again) and it's like 'killings your darlings.' It's heartbreaking, truly. And I don't know about you Jen, but I tend to heap them in a folder marked 'cuts' first, fully intending to use that stupendously good idea one day in the near future. I don't think I've even peeked in there once! I've found that characters are so fascinating they tend to have their own ideas about what a really good scene is – because it's personal to them :) Aaaand 3) I have used a plot device or introduced another story thread to mix things up because I think my tension is dragging and it's all getting rather boring (at least to me because I’ve read the rotten thing a billion times) and I get myself into a right old panic. Problem is, 7 times out of 10, that very device or sparkly new thread makes the story messy and I'm suddenly juggling too many balls and...slam. Brick wall. I have that many directions to go in, I have no idea which way to turn. I have lost my focus. My story has lost its focus. So I have to take a step back and ask myself, ‘Do I really need this?’
    I suppose this is a good time to mention I am a pure pantser. Doesn’t matter how many times I plot out a story, by chapter three when I have my H&H nailed, they are flipping me the bird and are off on their merry way, without giving a thought to their creator. That’s gratitude for you ☺ But what it does mean is that without a guide showing me the way, I can wander off the beaten track very easily.
    The thing I always try to remember is to not panic and take a step back. The answer will come eventually. Even if you are on a tight deadline, that couple of hours or even days is worth its weight in gold. And after a moment of self-reproach I refuse to beat myself up about it. Because to me, every mistake we make teaches us a new lesson and makes us better writers.
    Congratulations on another awesome book Jen! Gabe is simply delicious ☺
    Victoria xx

  6. Thanks guys for dropping by! Great suggestions. I too find the minute I walk away from my WIP, things just come to me. A walk, just turning the mind in a different direction! The shower is also brilliant for me :)

    Victoria awesome, awesome thoughts. So glad you dropped in. You've touched on some really key things for me too - by 6 pm or 2 am if I'm pulling a night session - it can feel like everything I've written is crap. I'm so creatively drained that I've learned, or am much better anyway, at just walking away, because fresh eyes are invariably much different.

    And yes I have a folder of my 'inspired' scenes that I've taken out of books that I swear I will use, but as you say, my new characters simply take over with their own :)

    Great chat!