Career Authors

Writer’s Block Has No Chance When You Ask These 5 Questions

So. There you sit at your computer. Stumped. Stumped!

That gorgeous novel you had in your head—the perfect characters, the brilliant plot, the wonderful setting, the ingenious hook—you know you had it all.

Where did it go?

Suddenly, you’re empty.

The characters have stuck out their tongues at you and fled, the plot is derivative and boring, your writing is silly, redundant and repetitive (a little redundancy joke) and as for your confidence—it’s vanished.

Writer’s block? Now what?

I’ve been a television reporter for 40 years. I’m still on the air at Boston’s Channel 7 as an investigative reporter. When I added fiction to my resume, and entered the writing world—eleven years ago?—I was chatting with a fellow author. And she was complaining like mad.

Oh, gosh, she wailed, I’m so behind! I just can’t write, I know I have writer’s block and now I have to ask my editor for a two-month extension.

I thought: a two-month extension? Are you KIDDING?

And then I thought: Honey, my news stories are on at 6pm. On the dot. I imagined myself telling my news director, with a toss of my hair and a fluttering hand to my brow, “Oh, the muse has deserted me and I’m having trouble writing my story. May I be on at 10 after 6? Or, perhaps, tomorrow?”

Well. Can you imagine? I’d be tossed out of my job faster than you can say “not ready for prime time.” I would never miss a deadline. And I could not let some “lack of inspiration” get in my way.

“I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”

That’s how Peter DeVries balanced art and craft. So how do I do it?

I ask myself 5 questions:

And one of them might be just the thing to get you jump-started out of any writing corner and beyond any notion of writer’s block.

1. Why do I care?

If your scene isn’t working, ask yourself—why do I care about his? That’ll help you explore the purpose of the scene. If there isn’t one, hmmm. This may be the most important question you could ask!

2. Am I in the right place?

You might be having a “place in time” problem. A scene should usually start as close to the END of the action as possible. No yapping lead-in, no mucky back-story, no blathering hellos and explanations. Maybe just skip forward a bit in the action?

Or it might be a “place in geography” problem. Does this scene take place somewhere interesting? If you put the characters somewhere exciting, or suspenseful, or difficult—might that make it work?

3. Whose story is this?

This is a point of view question. Have you chosen the correct person to tell this part of the story? Maybe if you had a different character take the lead, the relationships would change, the goals and motivations would change, and your scene could take off.

4. What’s the problem?

Every scene—every line!—should include a conflict for someone. A conflict as deadly as being held at gunpoint, or as quotidian as being hungry. If what you’re writing contains no conflict—why not? And if you give someone trouble—what would happen to the scene?

5. What do I leave out?

Maybe your solution is simply to delete. If you skipped forward to the next part of the story, would you miss what you’re struggling with right now?

Now: Give yourself a break

Stand up. Have a cup of tea. But make an appointment with yourself to try again in ten minutes. One of my favorite quotations is from Thomas Edison. He said: “When you think you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this. You haven’t.” So first—relax. There’s an answer. You just haven’t discovered it yet.

Writing is difficult. I don’t have to tell you that. But when you have a moment of insecurity, or difficulty, or find yourself in a quandary, pat yourself on the back. You’re working hard.

You’re a writer.

Now, write!

Have you ever felt stumped by writer’s block? What do you do when you’re just baffled? (As Pogo said: “What do I do when I don’t know where to turn? I don’t turn!”) Come chat with me on Facebook.