Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Wall: facing an absent muse

What do you do when your WIP comes to a standstill?

I'm not talking about impromptu dances in the rain. Or national holidays. Or laziness, refusing to put Butt in Chair (BIC). I am not talking about the days you march your muse to the wall, blindfold her, and pummel her body with rubber bullets.

I'm talking about the days when you've done your research. When you've completed your outline and plumped out your character sketches. You've followed the Snowflake Method. You've read your Vogler and drafted the hero's journey and found your shapeshifters, tricksters, mentors, and more.

And the blank screen stares back.

What do you do?


  1. Ken Kiser once said writers block is a indication of lack. It could be lack of will, lack of direction, lack of something.

    I found that very insightful.

    I've had this happen to me. The best way was to keep on writing. When I could not write on that particular work in progress, I worked on something different.

    But in no matter what I was working on, I wrote at least 300 words a day. Another Ken suggestion. One day that 300 words turned into 600. Then 900. Then 1200.

    And that was that.

    I like to say there is a thin red line between self-examination and self-loathing. Sometimes thinking about the problem causes the problem. Those magical 300 words a day, however, can fix that. Because it's writing, and that is the cure for all writer's ills.

  2. Ditto what Aimee said! Step away from the writing and enjoy the day.

    Now, if you're in the middle of a chapter when this happens, I normally set the chapter aside for the day, come back the next day with fresh eyes . . . and a) totally rewrite the chapter or b) figure out what went wrong, correct that teeny-weeny error, and then start writing again.

    Best of luck.


  3. I've just gone through this. Now, I'm writing the overhaul of my novel, which had been the cause of the block. I gave the story a rest, wrote other things, wrote about my struggle on my blog, got cool answers, did some fun stuff and, one day, I woke up ready to write.
    Music sometimes breaks a logjam, as well.

  4. When this happens to me, it's usually because I've taken too much time away from writing. I try to avoid that by making myself write a little every day or every other day. Sometimes even a few days can go by and I'll be okay. But if I stop for too long, even if I just finished an entire manuscript and am ready to start a new one, it feels like I've forgotten how to write.

    Then I usually have to read another book, or read something I've written to get back in the "zone" and then I force myself to write something. Even if it's bad and I delete it later, it's still something to get me going. From there I can usually get enough inspiration to get back on track.

  5. I'll start writing anyway, just words and lines and sentences until something comes together and I find the path I want to take. Sometimes it takes half a page, sometimes pages of stuff that will never be used, but leads me to where I should be.

    I firmly believe that words on the page is the only way to get through this. That, and the threat of housework.

  6. Woops, just put a comment on the wrong thread. This is what happens when you get up at 4am to get on a plane. Here's where I wanted to put it.

    I never thought it would happen to me, because I spend so much time beforehand thinking about the plot, the characters, the technology, but on this last one I got stuck.

    When Steven King got stuck in The Stand, he put a bomb in the closet.

    Yeah, I'm not doing that. Or maybe....

    No, I worked it out another way.

  7. You sit down and plunk out whatever you can.
    You do cluster brainstorming to get some ideas.
    You have a glass of wine.
    You talk about it with a trusted person.
    You just make sure to do something!

  8. Sometimes I'll take a walk, write something different, meditate, or just do something else and try coming back to it later.

  9. Ignore it. Utterly ignore the writing. Like a loose dog that thinks its oh so cute to go running off while you chase it like a silly human who has only two legs instead of four, your writing will come back if you ignore it. Sometimes, you just have to let it be what it is, even if that means ignoring it. It won't go away for good. If that was going to happen, you wouldn't be in the middle of a WIP worrying about what happens when you've hit a wall writing afore mentioned WIP. Just ignore it and let yourself be. When you think you're ready to have another go at it, wait a couple of more days and then consider giving it a try. Just remember, writing is like wine. You can rush it, but you'll just get vinigar in the end. :)

  10. I find I can't force it. If the thoughts won't come, I take a walk or go shopping and try again later.

  11. Julia Cameron suggests that when this happens your "well" has run dry. Her cure is to do things to replenish your soul, and keep writing 'morning pages' (free write of 3 pages every morning without any censoring or structure). This has helped me in the past. Sometimes, when I hit the wall, it means I've taken a wrong path, and it is best not to work on this project anymore until I figure out where I went wrong. Sometimes taking a day off writing is actually the right thing to do. By taking a day off, I mean step away from the page, do other things, and let your subconscious work things out. And then there's that sudden moment of "aha!", usually in the shower, and I can't wait to get back to it.


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