Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Surviving A Block - Part 1

I don’t like using the term writer’s block (mostly because of the stigma attached to it), but I’m going to use it here, with an explanation of what it means to me.  A block is when you get somewhere with the story that you’re stuck and you can’t figure out how to continue.

Here is a guide to surviving in such a situation, inspired by the U.S. Army Field Manual 3-05.70 Survival, but changed to fit this situation.

Size Up the Situation
When you first encounter a block, you need to figure out what is causing it.  Orson Scott Card said that writer’s block is your mind’s way of letting you know there is something wrong with your story.  First, you must identify the problem.  If you don’t know what your protagonist should do next, your character doesn’t have a clear enough goal for the story/chapter/scene.  If you don’t know how your protagonist will escape the boiling tar pit, you might have put him in the wrong situation (or you just need to think more).  Figure out what the problem is so that you can address it.  If it is a problem that will need you to change something to fix it, continue with the rest of the steps.

Use All Your Senses, Undue Haste Makes Waste
When you’ve identified the problem, don’t take the easy way out just to get on with the story.  This could simply lead to more problems in the future.  Most blocks will be the result of a problem earlier on in the story, so you can’t fix only the one problem and expect things to go smoothly.  Don’t rush into it and make sure you think everything through.  The same applies to Sizing the Situation Up in the first place.  Don’t jump to conclusions, rather make certain.

Remember Where You Are
Ensure that you are aware of your location in the story when you want to make changes.  Know what has happened and what still has to happen.  Figure out what things will need to change in your previous pages/notes/flashcards in order to accommodate these new developments.  If the new changes severs a thread that would have led to a plot point further on, you either need a new solution or you need to change that point as well.  (Note: It is advised that (unless you’re still in the planning stages) you should make only notes of the changes that need to occur in earlier parts and only fix them later.)

Vanquish Fear and Panic
It is important that you do not cling to certain aspects that are hindering your story.  Don’t be afraid to change things or cut out great moments.  In most cases, your story will turn out better.  If not, you can always add it back in.  (Make a file with all the parts that you cut, instead of just deleting them.)  Fear of changing things can also make you procrastinate, which will push your target of finishing a story on by some time.  Set fear aside and do what needs to be done.

(This came out longer than I expected, so I’m splitting it up into two parts.)


  1. Great advice! It is so important to not fear change and revision. Revision is the most important part of writing (though some may argue that).

    I also have trouble with the term "writer's block." I use it, though, since it's a familiar term. Maybe we should create a new term! Thanks for this post.

    -Miss GOP

  2. Thanks for reading.

    I always used to stay fixed on certain parts of my stories which was why I could never get past certain points. Only when I started loosening up my constraints could I carry on and finish it.

    A new term would be an interesting development, heh.

  3. I dig this. As you've probably gathered, I'm all about analogies and bringing in outside knowledge. We use acronyms like this in emergency medicine all the time, so this is clicking with me.


  4. Glad you liked it. :D

    And I had no idea you have a connection with emergency medicine.

  5. Yep, I'm a certified EMT and volunteer with the local county ambulance. :)