I used to think Writer’s Block was simply being unable to put words to a page. I imagined writers sitting at their desks with their fingers perched above the keyboard and not being able to think of a word to type. A form of paralysis. Or maybe it was more like you could write but each word you wrote sucked. Everything came out as cliche and boring and without voice.
But the thing about the problem mentioned above is that it doesn’t matter if the writing is crappy because that can always been fixed in revisions. What matters is when you don’t know what to write. And that’s the real writer’s block.
I’m not talking about not knowing what comes next when you’re deep into a story because even that, too, is fixable. Usually when you don’t know what comes next, it’s because you wrote yourself into a corner. There are ways to fix this form of writer’s block. You can backtrack and erase the latest scene, chapter, plot direction until you get back to a point where you can move forward again. You can map out different options on where to take the plot until you figure out where to go next.
The real issue with writer’s block is not knowing where to even start.
During August, I was between projects. I’d sent off my sci-fi YA to crit partners and I wanted to outline and then draft a MG while I waited for their feedback. I had a MG idea I loved with really fun characters…but no plot. I only had a catalyst but I had no idea what came next or what the characters really wanted. I tried to outline but I kept getting stuck in the same place, basically I could never get past the inciting incident despite trying all different plot routes and character motivations.
It was frustrating because all my critique partners loved the MG idea, I loved it, I was excited about the characters, but…I was stuck. And everything I tried couldn’t get me unstuck.
This was a strange new concept to me since the YA sci-fi I just wrote basically fell out of me when I wasn’t looking for it. I was revising a different book and the scenes just kept coming to me so I kept jotting them down and when it came time to start that project, I had a full outline already without even meaning to.
That’s the thing though, isn’t it? Book ideas always come when you’re not looking for them. And I was staring at this MG idea head on.
I took my conundrum to my critique partner Chandler Baker to see if she had any thoughts as to why the book wasn’t working. And she suggested I look at it from an entirely new angle. Turn the premise on its head.
Best advice ever! Suddenly I realized why I couldn’t figure out what came after the catalyst because the catalyst itself was wrong. Not only that, but my POV character was wrong too. I had to reverse the story completely so it wasn’t from the girl’s POV but the boy’s. Because the boy had the real story to tell and switching to his POV literally opened up a new world of possibilities. The plot fell into place. He had a clear goal and obstacles in his way. The stakes were higher with him as the POV character because he had more to lose than the girl did. Not only that, but the initial high-concept premise actually became even higher concept when it switched to his POV.
Same characters but different catalyst and an inverted premise. And it works!
So next time you don’t know what comes next in your story, it might be because you’re trying to tell the wrong story entirely!