When the Words Won’t Come

Okay, I’m gonna try to get through this post without using the phrase writer’s block… You know, except for the once. What I want to talk about here are my own solutions for when I can’t come up with any words to fill that darn blank page. What works and what doesn’t—for me, at least.

Allow me to start with what works. I used to have all sorts of problems with writing and not knowing where to go next, back when I started novels with an ending already in mind. I would say that was probably the cause for ninety percent of my problems, reaching a point where the narrative seemed to be headed for a different ending than the one I’d envisioned. I’d get all twisted over how to reconcile where the story was headed and what I envisioned, and end up giving up on finding a solution.

The solution wasn’t to make my story have a certain ending. The answer, as I’ve since discovered, was and is to let the narrative go where it will. Trying to force a certain ending just makes things a lot more difficult, and sometimes even impossible. So I don’t do it anymore; I write the story and stay true to it until the conclusion comes naturally.

Another problem that can make writing hard is having no clue where the story would/should go next. How can tension be increased? How can the different strings of the plot be woven into a fabric? This one still trips me up, more often than I’d like to admit. It occurs quite often when I haven’t figured out a specific antagonist, because there’s no one to make direct moves to make the protagonist’s struggle harder. That’s why I tend to avoid general villains any more (in fact, I wrote a post on that a while ago).

So what’s the answer to this one? I’m not sure there’s a single answer… Sometimes the question causing problems has to be given time, until it resolves itself of its own accord. More often, I prefer to write about the question and possible answers, until I come up with a good one. Even if I can’t write the chapter, I can write about the chapter. I explained more about the way I do that, and give an example, in my post “The Self-Brainstorm.”

What Doesn’t Work

Walking away. Unless I make a conscious effort to think about the novel I’m writing, or if I’m absolutely too exhausted to think about writing, walking away has never helped me.

Looking back at what I’ve already written. Often as not all that I get from rereading is a reminder of how terrible first drafts are, and a question of whether it’s even worth finishing the novel.

Asking other people for the answers. I only tried this when I was first starting out, and it did help… At first. I guess I just wasn’t sure how to handle the alien ideas running amok in my novel, and as an added bonus everyone I asked for this kind of help expected to give that kind of feedback for every chapter. The resulting novel felt like a patchwork quilt of ideas and plots that weren’t mine, and weren’t very well executed.

Can you think of any other solutions to writer’s block (aww, I used it again. Darn!) that have either worked for you or not? Want to register an opinion on one of the strategies I talked about here? Please leave a comment down below.

4 thoughts on “When the Words Won’t Come

  1. I’ve had the proverbial WB (writer’s block) for 3 months now. My blog has fired up, the memoir I’m writing has been pushed to the side, all in favor of finding other things to do like sleeping. What I’m learning is I need to write, even if it’s just babble, just write. So, the last week has found me writing a bunch of babble, but while I’m writing the not so good stuff, ideas pop into my head for my memoir, and find myself writing pages in it instead of my babble. My blog is still a rusty anchor I need to pay attention to, but I feel energized and more importantly, creative! Hey – you are writing, your post is thought provoking and I’m just guessing more than just you and I have problems in the WB arena once in a while.

    1. Haha, it definitely seems like we aren’t alone 🙂 I’ve only ever talked to one author who claimed not to experience writer’s block, and he went on to describe a situation that I would define as a perfect case of writer’s block… He just called it something else.
      You have my envy, writing nonfiction. I’ve never been able to do it, no matter how hard I’ve tried. Out of curiosity, what’s your memoir about?

  2. It’s comforting to know one is not alone, right? My memoir explores how “messages” from my Mother dictated the first 5 decades of my life, my self perception, what I thought I was deserving of, and decisions I made throughout that put me on the path of a very traumatic experience that dramatically changed my path. When I started writing, it was to be one novel, and now it has morphed into a trilogy! This one is the hardest to write, with the greatest challenge presented is how to make it different from similar memoirs and engaging – identifying the twists and turns that keeps my reader turning the pages. Thanks so much for asking!

    1. Any time 🙂 I’m always interested in memoirs, and yours sounds especially interesting. I’ve never heard of a trilogy memoir before! It could be really cool, although I’m not sure I’d personally have enough to fill even one… Ah well, maybe in a few years. Are you planning to release them one at a time, or hold off until you have all three?

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