How to Break Writer’s Block

cameraOnce you admit that you listen to the voices in your head and write out what they’re saying (aka that you’re a writer), the inevitable question is: where do you get your ideas?

Most writers will facetiously-yet-sincerely reply, “Everything.”

Because getting ideas isn’t the hard part. Not the initial ones you’re thinking of, anyway. The hard part is when you’re mired in the middle of your novel, with no idea how to get your characters out of the mess you made for them. When you go to write and your mind is a complete blank.

Now, there are tons of ways to get the juices flowing again. You’ll find advice everywhere, from amateur and experienced alike. It really just comes down to the individual author. The method that usually works for me is a stream-of-consciousness brainstorm. I basically write out a conversation with my Muse, tossing ideas back and forth. Alternatively, I do the whole “do a rote activity and let your brain churn in the background.”

But sometimes, like over the last few weeks, neither of those methods work.

Now, you probably don’t remember, unless you creepily remember everything I post on social media, but several weeks ago I had a really cool Supernatural-inspired dream. And I woke up before I found out what happened next. So, being the cool person I am, I decided to find out by continuing the story. Ever since that dream, I’ve been running the story in my head, creating new monsters of the week and even establishing a season-long arc. (Over-achiever, much?)

It’s been pretty great, watching the story unfold. Even better, I found that it’s a fun way to pass the time during otherwise boring activities, like my commute or daily walk. I throw different situations at the characters and let them react however they want — and since the characters are so well defined, it’s pretty easy to set on auto-pilot. Everything just flows so seamlessly.

The other day, I realized I should try this with Narrator.

I had one troublesome scene where I only vaguely knew what I wanted to happen. I’d managed to figure out things up to a certain point, but anything past that was just wide brushstrokes. So I started at that point and encouraged Calder and the others to play it out like they were in a movie. No delving into thoughts or anything, they just needed to be actors for a while.

That immediately made the action flow better, and I just let the story unfold the same way I let my Supernatural fanfic unfold. I did have to “rewind” a couple of times to fix some logic or increase the tension, but that wasn’t too difficult.

And it worked!

I was able to see how the situation played out, in a way that made sense, and I got some great ideas. And I mean some great ideas. I wanted to take a picture of my notes in triumph, but if you managed to read my chicken scratch you’d unwittingly see spoilers. (Sucks to be you, I guess.)

Anyway, this particular writer’s block seems to have broken. The next hurdle is going to be trying to write everything down and hope the Muse doesn’t make a sharp left turn and throw all of this under the bus. *crosses fingers*


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.

The Opportunity in Writer’s Block

brick-wall-1341045947ul4Writer’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.

Wall.

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.