Writer’s block is often compared to a brick wall. You’re writing along at a steady pace and suddenly BAM. You slam face-first into a brick wall. Maybe your nose gets breaks, you lose a couple teeth. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that your story has come to a halt. Your mind is a blank, your characters stop talking to you — you simply have no idea how to continue the story.
Now, I’ve always said that writer’s block isn’t the absolute obstacle it pretends to be. When you hit a wall, it’s because your subconscious knows that you’re headed down the wrong road. (Seeing those two metaphors together, I guess it makes sense to picture it like a map. Your subconscious knows where you need to go, even if you don’t, and is setting up roadblocks to prevent you going the wrong way. Of course, it doesn’t always catch your wrong turns, but that’s another problem entirely.)
With that in mind, I like to view writer’s block as an opportunity. If my subconscious doesn’t like where the story is going, chances are my readers won’t like it either. So this is my chance to improve on my original plan.
Let’s see, a good example would be…the current stretch I’m working on, actually! We’re just after the quarter mark, and I had to get the main characters away from the military group they were traveling with. In the previous draft, Eustace accidentally started a magical fire that burned down an inn. Calder saved a couple of people from the fire, and then he hitched a ride from some minstrels.
And I immediately hit a wall.
I wanted to keep the minstrels because I liked the idea of exploring how stories were told in Calder’s world. So I tried to make them interesting to my subconscious by making them spies from a rival nation.
I hit a wall.
I tried to add some emotional impact for Calder by making him think Saydie was dead when the inn collapsed from the fire.
So I did what I normally do when I get writer’s block. I did a series of menial tasks: solitaire on my phone, crossword puzzles, knitting Harry Potter scarves…those types of brainless activities can help to unlock the next step. I also used my commute to run through new scenarios in my head. That’s probably the most helpful, because I can try out different things until something clicks.
I don’t remember which strategy solved the problem in the end, but I found a new road to take. One that didn’t involve the inn fire or the minstrels. The minstrels, much as I liked the idea of them, just weren’t working out and had to go. And the inn fire actually got re-purposed for one of the short stories I use as a bonus for the people who sign up for my email newsletter.
But wait, you ask, is this new road an actual improvement? Or is it just another wrong turn?
I have no idea — guess we’ll find out!
Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.