Anatomy of A Novel: Part 10: Writer’s Block

I don’t generally suffer from writer’s block. I suffer from writer-not-having-enough-time-to-get-it-all-down. Which, I suppose, is a kind of writer’s block in itself because I’m not writing what I want to write at the moment. But that’s another story…

Why don’t I suffer from traditional Writer’s Block? Maybe it’s because I’ve always been one of those writers who carries a notebook.

My notebook isn’t just for those Eureka moments when I dream up an original “what if” idea for a new novel. It’s for all sorts of bits and pieces that land in my brain from out of the blue somewhere. These can be prompted by everyday things I see around me, spurred on by my wild and crazy imagination, or they can be notes-to-self about something that might be fun to research on Google later, or just interesting quotes or book titles I hear.

Not all of my ideas lead to the germination of a new novel. They could just as easily be unrelated dead-ends, or seeds that might later find their way into a novel. They might suggest something else that will land in a current work-in-progress, or in a completely different work. When I’m in the middle of writing a novel, many of the snippets I scribble in my notebook are ideas or thoughts about my current draft. These come to me when I’m nowhere near my laptop.

For the more technologically minded, there is probably a notes app on your phone that most people would use to make a shopping list. I use mine as a second notebook if my handbag is out of reach and my phone is in my pocket, but I’m old-fashioned enough to prefer the action of actually writing in longhand with a pen.

Novels happen when interesting characters go beyond their comfort zones, on strange journeys, and collide with bizarre obstacles, forcing them to act on their natural instincts.

Writers follow the same path. We too must go beyond our comfort zones, on new journeys where we will collide with obstacles we haven’t yet researched, and we will have to use our creative instincts to solve the puzzles. Writers have the advantage over characters because a notebook can help us to decipher and work around the obstacles.

What if you find yourself blocked in spite of a notebook (or phone) full of ideas?

Try changing your time of writing each day. If you habitually write in the morning, try writing late afternoon or at lunchtime instead. Buy a rhyming dictionary and make up some silly poetry, just to stretch your writing brain in a new direction. Enter short story competitions that are worlds away from the type of stuff you usually write. I have penned some truly dire attempts at science fiction, but they helped me to find a path through to other works.

Diversion is a good thing. If nothing else works for you, then take a break from writing and let other interests stimulate your imagination. Do some cooking, gardening, painting or woodwork. Hike up a nearby mountain to smell some flowers and look at the view. Anything that requires physical labour can put your subconscious mind on the back-burner and let it stew out some ideas. Keep that notebook handy just in case…

The thing to remember about writer’s block is that it’s never permanent. It can be worrying, but only if you let it get bigger than it is. Don’t let it do that. Remember that you are bigger than the block in front of you. Of course you will write again, and probably in floods of words, to the point where you will find it hard to believe that you were once so blocked.

If you are thinking of joining NaNoWriMo in November this year, October is the month to get your ideas flowing, draft an outline and give those characters some motivation. Good luck!

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8 thoughts on “Anatomy of A Novel: Part 10: Writer’s Block

  1. Great post. I’m a big outliner so I don’t tend to get writer’s block, but there are plenty of days I just don’t feel like writing. But then I tell myself to write anything, even if it’s bad. Bad writing can always be edited. A blank page cannot.

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    • Thanks, Carrie. You’re so right about bad writing being able to be edited. I have many pages of that sort in my current work-in-progress, just waiting for me to finish spewing out the rest of it…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I hear you sister! I have a notebook that lives on the couch. I’m catching up on comics lately and as my well-laid out and structured posts only go live Friday’s, I’ve slowed down on the writing as I’m way ahead. Disability advocacy is full time so I’ve been busy fighting the good fight and not writing about it. Sit with a coffee. Set the scene with music or whatever works and single task. Cheers,H

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    • Thank for your comment, Campari Girl. I have a friend who says that taking a shower is the best way to re-energize her writing brain. She always thinks of new ideas and solutions to old problems when the water is running and the notebook just out of reach.

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  3. “I don’t generally suffer from writer’s block. I suffer from writer-not-having-enough-time-to-get-it-all-down.” YES!
    I love that you mention we must leave our comfort zones and explore the exotic and alien. I tend to throw myself into new “territory” that will find me struggling to keep head above water around page 250. Then I feel the weight of all that advice to establish a “brand,” which is economically sound I guess but creatively indefensible for me. Anyway, thanks for this post.

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    • Thanks for your comment, Amy.

      I must admit, I’ve started to ignore a lot of so-called writing advice, including stuff about actively establishing a brand. Since I don’t have an agent or publisher, my path – and my brand – has been my own creation so far (and definitely not economically sound).

      I write the kind of books that I like to read, and if I stay true to that, I trust that I will one day find enough readers who want to read them. Maybe I’m just another ostrich with buried head, but when I want to explore new territory, I’m hoping my brand will expand with me.

      Good luck with your book “The Sticking Place” which is definitely the sort of book I would read, and my latest WIP also involves a protagonist who worked at Bletchley…

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