When You Hit a Brick Wall

Hi SE Readers! Joan here today to talk about the dreaded “writer’s block.” Okay, some writers say it doesn’t exist. Others will swear it does. I’m not here to debate the issue, although of late, I tend to believe writer’s block is often an excuse to procrastinate. At least that’s the case for me.

However, even when I’m in the middle of a project and being diligent with my writing time, I’ve hit brick walls. Ideas stop flowing. Scenes that I’ve written aren’t working. I don’t know where to take the next step. No matter how I try, I can’t seem to break through this annoying obstacle.

If you’re a plotter, you probably don’t have to worry about getting stuck. However, if you’re a panster, or somewhere in between (like me), you may have had this problem.

There are ways out of this conundrum. Today I’m going to give two examples that have worked for me.

I’m currently writing the third novel of a three-book series. I began book one, Unseen Motives, in April 2014, after having “thought” about it for a long time. I didn’t outline at all, but I knew how I wanted the book to begin and how I wanted it to end.

I set a goal to write 25K words that month, and I easily made it. However, I took several weeks off, wrote another 20K in July of that year, wrote a few thousand more words in November, and finally finished the first draft the following April.

During the weeks between those marathon sessions, I grew frustrated. Instead of a story that followed a timeline, I had a convoluted mess. Frustrated, I sat down one day with a legal pad and started brainstorming.

I made four lists. (1) What I like about this book. (2) What I hate about this book. (3) Uncertainties. (4) Questions. The uncertainties and question sections are similar, so I could have easily combined them into one list.

After getting my thoughts on paper, I started focusing on a few select characters that were giving me problems. As you can see in the photo, I listed a character name in the center of the page, drew a circle around the name, and then drew a series of spokes (or lines) off the circle.

At the end of each line, I wrote other ideas or questions related to that particular character. (Some refer to this as the bubble method, and draw circles around each corresponding idea or question.)

I was amazed at how these two brainstorming techniques helped me over the hump. The book went through several changes, including character names. (I had four characters with names beginning with the letter “s.”)

With book two, Unknown Reasons, I wrote a brief outline. This allowed the story and characters to take on a life of their own. I had a better idea of where I wanted to take the second book. With the brief outline, both the writing and editing went much faster.

Then came book three, Unclear Purposes. I’m currently writing the first draft, and it’s been a prolonged process. There are times when I wanted to scrap the entire idea, but I had already committed to writing the story.

Why the problems? First, I didn’t do an outline. I had my main characters, Christine and Vince (both are minor characters in the first two books). However, I didn’t have a clue as to where I would take the story. I had the basic idea—a crime would be committed, and it would somehow involve both main characters.

The second issue stemmed from the fact that a character revealed something in Unknown Reasons. (Yes, my characters talk to me.) I had planned to use his secret for another character in Unclear Purposes. That one little thing changed the entire plot.

After several months of agonizing, writing, and rewriting the opening scenes, I finally came up with a workable plot. However, four chapters in, I ran into a problem with the role of a minor character. Rather than taking out the legal pad, I sat down with my laptop, created a Word document, closed my eyes, and began what I call free writing.

I had incomplete sentences, grammar and spelling mistakes, and random thoughts. Although I focused on the problem character, I allowed my imagination to run free.

Within a half-hour, I had the answer to my problem, was able to finish the chapter, and move on to the next one. I don’t expect to hit any major roadblocks with the rest of the story, but if I do, I’ll use one of the methods I described.

Have you ever hit a brick wall? What methods do you use to break through?

22 thoughts on “When You Hit a Brick Wall

  1. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links | Staci Troilo

  2. I work from an outline, so I always know where I’m going as I write. Sometimes I veer off the beaten path, but it doesn’t take me long to make my way back to the main road. (I only detour if I’m sure I won’t get lost.)

    But your way of getting through a writing block is similar to what I do when I’m stuck in the outlining stage. (Bet that doesn’t surprise you.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When I hit a block with a scene or character, I tend to walk away and CONSTANTLY pick at the problems in my head no matter what else I’m doing. Usually several days of of doing that will allow me to figure out a way to move ahead. I like your idea of using the legal tablet and creating a page for the character and issues or questions related to them. I have book three of Hode’s Hill pretty much plotted and outlined (new for me), but I’m starting to kick around ideas for a new series and might try using one of your methods to get some ideas down. Enjoyable post, Joan!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Charles beat me to it, but if I have that block it’s while making my storyboard. I like this phase, because everything is possible and it doesn’t feel as important as the actual draft. Eventually, I get my index cards in order and that commitment helps me focus on the next steps. When I start drafting, most of those roadblocks have already been dealt with.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I used to hit mountains. If I was stuck for a few days I’d eventually forget about the story. Now that I’ve returned to writing I work with outlines. They’re not always the most detailed but they get me from one point to the next and I haven’t had a block while writing since I made the change.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great post, Joan! I agree with your description of writer’s block … we can write but not always on the current WIP, and free-flow always produces words, no matter what they’re about. I too have hit problems such as the ones you talk about here, and the free-flow has worked well for me in the past, as well as what Charles mentions in his comment … sometimes walking away for a while brings the break-through. Like you, I’m more a pantser, and only do the briefest of outlines if any. I have tried to do detailed plans and outlines, but that method just does not work for me. Good luck with the third novel in the series; it sounds like you’ve cracked it now! 🙂

    Pressed This: http://harmonykent.co.uk/when-you-hit-a-brick-wall/

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m a planner, so I hit my brick walls in the outlining stage. Typically, I walk away to do something else and let the subconscious work out the issues. Listening to music and daydreaming help a lot since the answer is somewhere in my head.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good point, Charles. Sometimes we need to walk away. I enjoy being outdoors, so I used to grab my camera and take nature walks. Always refreshed my mind and I generally came home with new ideas. And music? Oh yes, music inspires me!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I need music or some kind of controllable sound whenever I’m working. People talking doesn’t help, but anything I can mute or adjust the volume of seems to help put me at ease. It probably stems from me always playing music when I did homework or read books as a kid.

        Liked by 2 people

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