Top Tips for Conquering Writer’s Block – Part I: Make a Plan

 

Top Tips for Conquering Writer's Block - by Diana Tyler

 

I conducted a poll on my Instagram Story yesterday to see if my writer friends would like me to blog about either a.) Resources for Writers or b.) Writer’s Block. As today’s title shows, Writer’s Block received the most votes! (But for those of you who voted for the former choice, not to worry! I’m going to tackle it soon!)

Earlier I had a peek into my blog archives and discovered that I actually wrote on this topic about a year ago. (I encourage you to check it out here.)

To summarize that four-page post…

Writer’s block is a hotly debated topic in the writing world. Some people, like Terry Pratchett, think it’s a bunch of hooey, that it’s just an excuse made by people who really aren’t serious about writing at all. And yet, history is filled with examples of writers who definitely have encountered certain…“creative blockages,” shall we say? Authors like Ralph Ellison, Harper Lee, Truman Capote, and Stephen King are all recorded as occasionally (sometimes chronically) struggling to reach the coveted flow state that creates pleasurable, seemingly effortless writing.

 

“There may be a stretch of weeks or months when it doesn’t come at all; this is called writer’s block. Some writers in the throes of writer’s block think their muses have died, but I don’t think that happens often; I think what happens is that the writers themselves sow the edges of their clearing with poison bait to keep their muses away, often without knowing they are doing it.” – Stephen King[1]

 

I personally equate writer’s block with “lack of motivation.” Just like with working out, it’s frequently good old-fashioned habit that carries me from Point A (“I don’t want to write!”) to Point B (“One thousand words are done! Yippee!) A commitment to go through the motions, to begin the process, to stubbornly  plant my butt in the chair and leave it there ‘til I’ve written, is an important key to routing writer’s block.

In the blog post, I wrote that when we face writer’s block, we should “put our gangsta rap on and deal with it.” (Sage advice, right?) I went on to explain what this meant, namely that we shouldn’t roll over and wave our white flag when writer’s blog rears its ugly head. Rather, we should roll up our sleeves, dig in our heels (make a fresh pot of coffee…), and fight back! In this series, I’m going to share effective ways on how to do just that, starting with…

Make a Plan

From my experience, one of the main causes of writer’s block is simply not having a roadmap to guide me where I want to go. This problem is especially common among discovery writers, a.k.a. panters, who prefer to work out the plot as they go. Pantsing is thrilling and incredibly rewarding when it’s going well, but when it’s going poorly it can be a Poean-level nightmare.

I am not a huge plotter. I have a general, three-act-structure-inspired outline which includes major beats and plot points, but I don’t know how every single scene is going to go down, nor do I have all the characters’ favorite colors and ice cream flavors memorized. I like surprises and love it when the story takes on a life of its own. However, before I write a particular scene, I jot down:

  1. A one-sentence line about what’s going on in the scene (e.g., “Sally goes to the mall to meet her friend”)
  2. A conflict or problem that will arise (e.g., “Sally spots her fiancé making out with another woman in the food court”)
  3. A resolution (e.g., “Sally throws her engagement ring in his face”) Note that the resolution doesn’t necessarily mean the character resolves anything. It just means he or she has taken action, or made a conscious choice not to.
  4. Polarity shift. The polarity shift is simply shorthand for the value valence change from +/- or -/+. Scenes should move from good to bad, good to great, bad to good, or bad to worse. Bottom line: The end of the scene should be different in tone than the beginning.

It’s quite possible that I won’t stick to the game plan (characters have a way of darting off in different directions, and new ideas crop up all the time), but at least I have a starting point. That way, when I sit down to write, I’m actually sitting down to write and not stare at the blinking cursor for 45 minutes before scrolling through Instagram for another 30.

Pro Tip: When you’re editing your completed first draft, make sure each scene contains the above elements: Conflict, Resolution, and Polarity Shift. This will ensure that every scene has a purpose and that the story is moving forward with natural ebbs and flows.

 

Shawn Coyne Writing Quote via Diana Anderson-Tyler

 

I’ll be back next week with Tip #2! I hope you’ve found this tip helpful. As always, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @dandersontyler or via email at contact@dianaandersontyler.com. I would love to hear from you!

 

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/28/AR2006092801398.html (accessed October 5, 2017)

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