I’m in the middle of a book right now, happily writing away, getting (on average) 2000 to 2500 words a day, and all is well. And then yesterday I realized it was 4:00 already, and I need to get my son from karate at 5:00, and I still only had about 300 ords. That’s a very good time to sit down and analyze what’s going on.
Almost every writer in the world will tell you something different about writer’s block: some say it doesn’t exist, or that it’s just an excuse, or that it’s a sign of a lazy writer; others say that it’s real and there’s not much you can do about it. I’m of the opinion that when you can’t think of anything to write, or you hate everything you write, or you just flat-out can’t write at all, it’s a sign that there’s a problem you need to identify and solve. There are real factors that can impede your writing, and telling people they’re lazy is not going to help them solve the problem. So, what was the problem for me?
I looked first at my physical situation: I wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t cold. Many times when I can’t focus on writing I’ll realize that my body just wants a snack, so I get something to eat or drink and my body shuts up and I can get back to writing. That wasn’t the case yesterday, so I loved on: I wasn’t bored with my story, and I was in fact very interested in what was going on–it was the first section of a big, tent-pole sequence in the book, and I’d been building up to it for a while, and I was excited to finally write it. Was that the problem? Was I expecting too much? Possibly, I needed more information.
I looked at my outline, which said simply “The executives talk to the reporter.” While I also outline my books, chapter by chapter and often section by section, I very often leave the outline notes vague like this, because it lets me stay spontaneous while I write. Characters can say things I didn’t plan, and events can happen in new ways, if I keep things loose and write a lot of my book off-the-cuff. I write in order, so I already knew how we got to this point in the story, and where the characters were, and what they wanted. In the chapter I’d just finished, the executives had talked about why they wanted to meet the reporter and what they wanted to say to her. So I knew what to write, and it should have been easy enough to flesh it out, but every time I tried I’d either delete it all or find myself surfing the net without realizing I was doing it.
If I can’t find any problems with the scene itself, the next thing I look at is the outline. I think about what the book needs, and which parts of it I’m excited about, and in this instance I realized something interesting: I was excited about, and had cool ideas for, every scene in that sequence except the one I was currently working on. Every other sequence had cool moments, or funny moments, or something I could sink my teeth into, but that one scene with the executives and the reporter was just…filler. Worse than filler, actually, it was set-up, and it was a retread of set-up I’d already done in the previous chapter. I knew what they wanted to say to her, and I’d have chances in later chapters to show the results of their meeting, so the meeting itself was redundant. When I really got down and studied it, that scene didn’t need to exist at all.
So I tossed it out. I deleted it from my outline, moved on to the next scene, and wrote about 1000 words in the half-hour that remained. The book continues to excite me, and I’m progressing at a good pace, and my writer’s block was overcome. I just wish I’d had the sense to see it for what it was and solve the problem earlier in the day.