I’ve never really had to deal with writer’s block before now. I’ve written a lot of non-fiction. I’ve had challenges and struggles with organization. The most frustrating thing in the world is trying to take a bunch of material and rework it all to make sense again. It takes dozens of rewrites and drafts.
Even worse than that, is when you’ve written a chapter of something and it gets deleted somehow, and you know you’ll never be able to write it again the exact same way, and the book feels ruined to you. That’s a setback that’s destroyed a few projects.
But classic writer’s block is, I think something else. It’s when you don’t know what happens next. For non-fiction, you really just have a motivation problem. You research, you organize, you map out your content, but then you just go through writing each sections. It’s hard to be blocked if you’ve started it the right way.
But for fiction… even with a good idea, even if you’ve made a good map and kind of know what happens, you’re going to face problems. Insurmountable problems.
if character X does Y, then how will she D when Henry…
In other words, you have to make choices about how much each character knows at each moment of time; and that knowledge must spur them to take actions which direct influence the plot (without it all being over too quickly).
So they have to know just enough to move them to the next step, but not enough to skip ahead to the final step (otherwise you have no book). It has to build, stage by stage.
During all of that, you’ll be inventing new scenes, new allies and antagonists, new plot twists and revelations… it’s easy to get messy. Of course you could skip all the bullshit by cramming it full of ACTION and SEX and leave out complicated stuff like character motivation or plot development. Maybe I should have started with that. In fact I am also working on some simple shorts and erotica for just that reason – you can focus on tension, chemistry, and pacing/excitement without worrying about the big picture messy stuff that’s much harder.
If you do so… you won’t have as much problem with writer’s block.
For me, I think writer’s block is when you don’t know what happens next. It’s a plotting problem. You don’t see how to get from point A to the Grand Finale.
But that’s OK
Sometimes you have to write it out anyway, even if you don’t know where you’re going. Sometime you have to get started on the journey, before you see the path.
For the past few days I’ve been writing 5000+ words a day. That’s been fun. I love seeing things develop. But then I hit a scene where I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen. I wrote over 10,000 words. Most of it are conversations that gave away too much, too early (and ruin the plotting). So I got stuck. And I watched Tomorrowland. And Terminator Genisys. And discussed Time Travel plots with friends (Time Traveler’s Wife; Back to the Future; About us).
After all of that, I had to go through my plot map again, and seriously revise almost everything that happens. And I’m not quite sure how it ends yet. But now I have enough info to go back and write the next scene, and maybe a few more after that. There will be another point I come to soon, where I get stuck again. And the process will repeat itself.
Writing a novel is a lot like Time Travel, actually… you change something somewhere in the middle, and it ripples throughout the book, then you keep moving forward until you need to fix something else, so you go back to the beginning, fix something, and then need to revise it all again. But eventually if you press through it all, you’ll have a basic rough draft where the core sequence of events is satisfactory and logical.
Then you can finally go back and actually write it well, fleshing out the scenes and characters, improving the word choice and sentence structure, adding description and sensation and emotion.
And finally, when you’re done with all that, you can edit and proofread. That whole process should take about a year. I’m trying to get it all down to a month.
But I’ll allow myself more time for my first few novels (I plan to publish 100 in the next 5 years).