How to Deal with Writer’s Block [Lack of Planning]
This is probably one of the most popular questions an author receives, and I’m happy to share my insights about writer’s block in hopes that more aspiring writers will know the truth, which is that writer’s block does not exist.
What we refer to as ‘writer’s block’ is instead typically one of three things: fear, resistance, or lack of planning. In this guest post, I want to discuss lack of planning because I believe that many an unfinished story has met its early demise simply because there was no plan in place for its completion.
This is the “I feel stuck” part of writer’s block. It’s when you claim you have no inspiration to work with and/or no creativity to fall back on. You had some fuel in your engine for a while, and you were doing pretty good. Maybe you’ve even completed one third or one half of a whole novel. But suddenly, it’s all come to a halt. You just don’t know what should happen next. And so you call it a day, claiming ‘writer’s block’—except the blockage ends up lasting for days, weeks, or months…and before you know it, you’ve abandoned the story altogether.
Now, I will say this: some stories aren’t meant to be finished. As we learn and grow as writers, there are dozens—perhaps hundreds—of stories that we will start. Along the way, we’ll learn about dialogue, plot development, characterization, voice, and more. Our stories in a way become little classrooms where we play with new techniques and sharpen our skills. It’s okay that we don’t finish these stories because they’re mostly for our own enjoyment and edification.
However, when you decide that you want to take your writing seriously and become a published author one day, you don’t have the time, energy, or brainpower to play around with unfinished stories. After all, in the publishing world, there are deadlines to meet, and citing ‘writer’s block’ isn’t going to win you a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ pass.
So planning has to play a role in your writing life, and it needs to do so in two ways:
1) Your writing routine.
Do you have a writing routine? Having one in place can save your sanity. Examine your days to determine when you’re at your most energetic and creative. For me, it’s the mornings and early afternoons. By 4PM, I’m already mentally fatigued, so I know better than to write in the evenings.
What blocks of time work for you? When you figure it out, set your writing appointment within that time frame and keep it like it’s sacred. Over time, you’ll mentally program it as a normal part of your day right along with brushing your teeth.
One thing you might consider doing is setting a timer for 20-30 minutes, and then racing against the time to fill the blank pages with words. Don’t edit as you write – just get the story down. Shannon Hale has this great quote: “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” I love this! Sometimes, we become so obsessed with sounding poetic and captivating our first go-around that we turn writing into this overwhelming stressor, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Don’t compare your rough draft to someone’s final polished book – remember it took them countless revisions to get there. Just write!
Then remember to take breaks after every 20-30 minute segment. Within moments of stepping away from your writing, the wheels in your brain will start to turn, generating new ideas for the piece. This always happens to me without fail. So get some fresh air, change your scenery for inspiration, look through inspiring images on Pinterest, or do some exercises so that your body will release endorphins, causing you to feel refreshed and rejuvenated.
2) Your writing outline.
I know, I know. The big plotters versus pantsers debate. Basically, plotters outline their books in advance and pantsers write on the fly. I used to be a pantser…but I never finished a novel being one. So then I decided to give outlining a try. The results? I finished a novel in 90 days.
I think one of the biggest arguments against plotting is that you lose creativity that way, that there’s no room for surprises. In my own experience, however, this has never been the case.
Think of it like this: an outline is simply the directions that you printed out from MapQuest (or the instructions your GPS is feeding you). It tells you how you’re going to get from point A to point B.
But just because you have those directions doesn’t mean you can’t stop at a roadside souvenir shop you see, right? It doesn’t mean you can’t take a detour off a highway exit to grab something to eat. It doesn’t mean you can’t stop midway through and board up at a hotel. You’re still getting to your destination in time, but you’re leaving room for other things to happen along the way.
I’ll admit, when I was a pantser, I thought that outlines would only suppress my creativity too. But once I started using outlines, I saw that this was so far from the case. Like my example above, an outline only helped me to develop a clearer journey (character arc) for my protagonists, and helped me to stay on track with where I wanted to go. But I could still run with new ideas for scenes or subplots as they came to me. And surprises still greeted me quite often. In response, I would simply restructure my outline to accommodate these changes. So you see, having an outline isn’t a death sentence, and it’s not akin to locking a ball and chain around your ankle. It’s not as if your outline sets your story in stone.
If anything, an outline can very well mean the difference between you finishing a story or tucking yet another unfinished manuscript into your desk drawer. I say give it a try if nothing else. You may find that you love creating outlines. But even if it doesn’t stick for whatever reasons, here’s one final piece of advice for you: always end your daily writing quota ‘mid-scene’, so to speak. That way, when you return to your writing the next day, you can pick up right where you left off and you don’t have to deal with the ‘what comes next?’ struggle ever again.
Planning your writing routine and planning your writing in general can truly make a world of difference…and best of all, ‘writer’s block’ will finally be a thing of the past.
Lily Velez has been writing stories since she was six years old. Not much has changed since then. She still prefers the written word and her overactive imagination over the ‘real world’ (though to be fair, her stories no longer feature talking dinosaurs). A graduate of Rollins College and a Florida native, when she’s not reading or writing, she spends most of her days wrangling up her pit bulls Noah and Luna, planning exciting travel adventures, and nursing her addiction to cheese. All this when she isn’t participating in the extreme sport known as napping. You can learn more about Lily and her books at www.lilyvelezbooks.com.
Lily’s debut novel, The Secrets We Kept, comes out November 8, 2015.
The Secrets We Kept
Publication date: November 8th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
One year. That’s how long it’s been since childhood sweethearts Sully Graham and Cadence Gilbertson broke up, since one adoption and one out-of-state move turned their worlds upside down.
Suddenly, Cadence is back in New York City, but something’s different about her. The light in her eyes, the music in her laughter, the warmth in her smile—all of those things have entirely vanished. In their place stand the makings of a girl Sully can’t even begin to recognize, much less understand.
Still, despite the collective history of heartbreak between them, he’s convinced he can win her trust again, and he’s committed to proving the invincibility of their love no matter what it takes.
But Cadence is quietly harboring secrets of her own. Dark secrets. Ugly secrets. Secrets that could break a person. And though broken herself and unbearably lonely, she’s determined to protect Sully from her terrible, biting truths. Even if it means locking him out of her life forever.
The only problem is it seems her heart hasn’t quite received the memo. One glimpse of him is all it takes for her to trip into familiar (and, she’ll admit, addictive) feelings that threaten to all but consume her. Now her biggest fear is that her secrets will begin to slowly unravel one by one…long before Sully’s resolve ever does.
The Secrets We Kept is a moving story about first love, friendship, and forgiveness, and the enduring bonds that forever connect us and give us our strength.
Sully still remembered the first time that he saw Cadence. It was a sweltering summer that year. Push-cart ice cream vendors roamed the neighborhood blocks like soldiers on patrol, circling playgrounds and community swimming pools. It was common to see people pop open fire hydrants like champagne bottles, children dancing in the shoots of water as miniature rainbows reflected off the asphalt.
Sully and his brother, twelve and ten years old at the time, were living with the Petersons back then along with a tribe of foster siblings. Ol’ Man Peterson was a Vietnam vet with PTSD and a short-fuse temper that exploded so quickly, it was like his personality had a gas leak. Usually, maintaining a thirty-foot distance from the man at all times was insurance against his drunken rampages. His military pedigree had bred in him a no-nonsense adherence to hard work and, where appropriate, hard discipline—both of which were far less easy to escape.
The hard work in particular manifested in the Peterson prison as an endless checklist of chores (otherwise known as “slave labor” in the Spencer Graham lexicon), the completion or lack thereof of which determined whether or not you ate dinner that night. Additionally, each child had to fulfill their assigned task in accordance with certain standards, and as Ol’ Man Peterson was an uncompromising perfectionist, one chore could go through three to five rounds before the man extended a grunt of approval.
The afternoon Cadence arrived, Sully and Spencer were attached to yard work. While the Peterson walk-up sat only a few yards from the curb, which meant there barely existed a lawn between the chain-link fence and the front door, Ol’ Man Peterson preferred his grass cut to an exact height. It was taking painstaking precision to perfect his science.
Spencer lay on his stomach with a see-through ruler to measure the blades of grass. “I think you cut this side of the walkway too short.”
Sully rested a broom atop his shoulders, arms draping over it like a scarecrow. “It’s way too hot to even care, dude.”
“I care because I want to see the new Adam Sandler, movie and I’m not about to get grounded for another weekend.”
“How many times have I been grounded because of you?”
Spencer stood. “Whatever. I’m taking over sweeping duty.” He stretched out a hand to receive the broom, but Sully’s gaze had already shifted to a royal blue SUV parking alongside the curb. A woman emerged from the driver’s side. She came around to open the backseat door closest to the Peterson home. Two ballet flats appeared from under the door, reaching for the street. When the woman closed the door, a girl who looked to be Sully’s age or slightly younger stood with her, hands bracketed to the straps of her backpack and her bottom lip caught softly under her front teeth.
Spencer snapped in Sully’s face. “Hellooo? Earth to Sully.” Sully nodded toward the two, and when Spencer turned and saw them, he said, “Uh oh. Another casualty.”
The woman, clearly the girl’s caseworker, greeted the boys with a cheery “working hard?” before continuing up the walkway with her charge. Sully waited for the girl to look his way, and when she finally did, he offered her a soft, barely-there smile by way of hello. Part greeting, part commiseration. She instantly looked away.
They discovered her name only because she was sharing a bunk-bed with their friend Novah. “Cadence Livingston,” she told them. “She’s been in the system for a few years. She doesn’t talk much. Or at all. Those are the only things I was able to get from her. She’s probably halfway to being a mute.”
“I wish Spencer was a mute,” Sully muttered.
“Ha ha,” Spencer said. “You’re so funny. Absolutely hilarious. How did I get so lucky to have a brother like you?” Then he excused himself to see about fixing the eyesore Sully had made of the front lawn and left Sully fixated on the enigma of the quiet and elusive Cadence Livingston.
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