Writer’s block. Some say it exists. Some say it doesn’t; it’s all in your head. Pointedly, both sides are right. Everything about story writing is in your head. Until it moves to your fingers to the rhythm of a swishing pen, or the clickety-clack of keys on a keyboard.
Author Peggy Lantz posted about her struggle and her solutions in a Florida Writers Association (FWA) blog post here.
As both a long-time writer and a developmental editor who is often called upon to help an author finish, restructure, or finish, a story (like Peggy’s professor), I’d like to offer some strategies that I’ve found help break blocks and get your story on the page.
If you are a pantser – and even if you’re a plotter – you’ll have thought your way through a story’s main points. But if you write just that, you’d have a short story. You need more, but what more? And your lightning speed-as-fast-as-you-think grinds to a depressing halt. “I know what should happen! Why can’t I write it?” you cry into the void (or Twitter, fwiw). This is also the situation with “I know the beginning and I know the ending I want, but how do I get there?”
The best solution I have is to remind writers that a story, just like life, is a series of moments driven by cause and effect, and picking yourself up to try again. So often, we push an effect from a cause when we haven’t actually created the right situation to cause that particular effect. And your brain, naturally raised on the story form, rebels – “this isn’t logical!” and you stall out.
The solution is to write the actual effect. And then have your character who wanted something better to happen, makes plans to get that better/preferred outcome in a different situation. That’s going to be two scenes. In an outline you started like this:
- The Prince dances with a mysterious gorgeous beauty, and as the night goes on, he plans to ask to court her for marriage, but midnight strikes and she runs away before he can get her name.
To get to the romantic happy ending, he’s got to find her. And you have that wonderful reunion mapped in your head. He kisses her, kicks her mean nasty step-relatives to the curb and they both live happily ever after. You intend to switch to Cinderella’s point of view for the next scene, following her rush home in the carriage that rapidly turns back into mice and a busted pumpkin, it’s a fantasy. She’s the heroine, and your main character. But you’re not sure how to get the prince to find her since she’ll no longer look as delightfully ravishing as she did that night.
How is he going to find her? The prince could rush around and ask who, who? But no one else knew… Knew… what can he do? The prince needs a clue, a clue… what kind of clue? — ooh, a shoe!
So you revise the end of the last scene having her stumble and lose a shoe, providing the clue for him. You can write her disastrous ride home the way you wanted.
But you now also have another scene to write: the prince goes to the King (his father) saying he won’t marry just anyone – only the woman who fits this shoe!
Now, yet another scene occurs, as an effect: When the announcement goes out, Cinderella hides the glass slipper because she’s terrified her stepmother and stepsisters will act more cruel if they know she was out at the ball. (How does she know that? Her friends overhear a plan to find the girl and expose her for a fraud. Yet another scene you can write.)
This points out another thing that often blocks writers. If you only stay in one character’s point of view, you may miss opportunities to develop the surrounding characters fully, and provide information at the right time to the reader. Also if a scene is in the wrong character’s point of view, switching to write it from a different character’s point of view may show you another thing that was stalling your writing.
While not every scene written from following a strict cause-effect-cause-effect chain will be ultimately useful in your final story, it does get you writing again, and it keeps you with the characters, close by their desires, wants, and goals. Since every story is ultimately a character’s pursuit of their goals, that’s where the best progress can ultimately be found.
PS – If you’re truly struggling with a middle, a coaching session may help with that. An hour helping you brainstorm and look over your plot for possible paths forward may be just the thing for you to achieve a roaring finish that leaves you ecstatic instead of frustrated.