17 February 2011

Writer's Block:
I Don't Know What Happens Next

Writers Block Is a Real Problem for Writers
Writer's block can ruin your day, your week or many months of writing at a time. If writer's block is real to you, then read on.

Writer's block isn't just one problem, it is many problems that all have the same result. They all bring your writing to a halt. This is my second essay on writer's block. You can read my first one here.

Two Sources for Writers Block
Today I am addressing the problem of not knowing where the story is headed or; not knowing what happens next. This problem can have two sources.

Outlines Can Help You With Writers Block
Source #1:  You do not have an outline or your outline isn't written well enough.

It can be fun to write as you go. I have done it and gotten some good results. However, when you have stopped because you do not know where the story is going, you need an outline.

In reality, you should always have an outline. My writing coach, Shirley Schirz, has drilled this into me well. You should have an idea from the beginning what your characters are going to do. You should know what problems your characters will experience, what their personal journeys will be, how they will grow and who they will be when they are done growing. Most of all, you should know the ending. If someone asks you, "how does it end?", you should have an answer ready to deliver. If you cannot answer the question without hesitation, your ending might need more planning.

Get an outline written down that includes an ending. If this was the problem holding you back, you should now be able to move ahead.

Good Control Can Help Fight Writers Block
Source #2:  Your characters have taken on a life of their own and the story has veered off course.

This is a tough problem. Characters do take on a life of their own, it seems. They will do things you did not expect. They will pull the plot to the side any chance they get.

Should you let them? I will cover the answer to that question in a different post. For now, we are talking about writer's block. If your character has veered your story so far off course that you cannot figure out what to do next, then you have a problem. It is time to roll up your sleeves and do some work. Decide if the course your character has taken can work within the current plot. If it cannot, then you will have to rewrite that part of the story and get your character back in line.

This can be hard sometimes. Your character's new direction can make a very enticing storyline. If it is too good to let go of, you will then have to change our entire story to match it. This can be a lot of work and can pull in confusion and land some inconsistent events in your lap. Be sure this is the route you want to take. It is the most labor intensive of the choices.

The other choice is to crack the whip and get your character back in line. Scratch out the misdirection your character took and rewrite that section so that the story follows the intended plot line. This can be disappointing at first but you might find the re-write is also appealing to you. When you've finished it, you will likely find your writer's block is gone. Your characters are on their intended course and the next action falls into place easily.

If the direction your character took is appealing to you, be sure to cut and paste it into an appropriately named file before you make your changes. I have heard plenty of stories about writers who run out of ideas. If you have a folder full of this type of file, then you have a ready-made package of fresh writing ideas.

Writers Block Overview
Overview: Write an outline. Stick to it. Let your characters explore but only so long as they stay on-plot. Be ready to do a little extra work to dig out of this one.

I hope this has helped.
I will be writing more on writer's block so be sure to come back for more tips.

Good luck!


  1. This is good Brad as writers block can be a plague. I do know from my own perspective that I have experienced it at times. I think that much of the problem with me is that I am usually writing more than one story at a time and that can be confusing.

    I will say though that I do allow my characters some autonomy in their actions as, in many instances, that helps me kick start a story line. Often a plot can benefit from such 'accidental' occurrences.

    I also avoid outlines that are too narrow and focused. Many times I will find that a story can benefit if it is not confined within a limiting structure.

    Admittedly, perhaps not the best method for everyone, but I have completed four novels using it. It just works for me. RT

    Find this fellow 'Pinellas County Writer' (Clearwater) at http://raymondterry.blogspot.com or on Authonomy web site.

  2. Thanks for the comment Raymond. I'm not totally opposed to letting characters have their way. I have watched writing friends allow their characters too much freedom, however, which took the stories off plot. I give my characters breathing room but don't let them change my plot. Letting things fall where they may does create some interesting twists sometimes.