It was so easy at first; now it's like wading through treacle
You started in a burst of energy. Words flowed. You may have wondered why people make such a fuss about the simple action of putting words on a computer screen or sheet of paper. Two thousand of the little beauties a day: what's the problem?
Then perhaps something happened. It may have been an external event, such as a public holiday or break in routine. Or you were ill. Or perhaps it was something much more worrying, the ailment known to some as Writer's Block, or to others as Why-did-I-think-I-could-write-a-novel,-I'm-so-stupid.
My fourth novel is soon to be published by a traditional publisher in Britain and I am an old friend to the second of these, known as WDITICWANISS, for short; WDIT, for even shorter and for the purposes of this article. WDIT or Writer's Block is an insidious little monster. It insinuates itself into the synapses of your brain and poisons them.
Some authors will try and tell you that WDIT doesn't exist. That's fine; it probably doesn't, for them.
Others have a more useful take on it. They say that WDIT is your friend. That's right, it's on your side. It is the brake your subconscious applies when it sees that something isn't right, something in your novel isn't working. Or you've got ahead of yourself in some way.
Writing a novel can be like a military advance. If the frontline gets too far ahead of the supplies there's trouble. No matter how far it's got it is doomed because soldiers march on their stomaches. Your writer's mind marches on many things. Here are some of them:
- Fully-developed characters
- Some idea of where the story is going
- A notion of the bigger premise encapsulating the storyline
Let's look at each of these in turn.
Characters matter enormously, regardless of the genre you are writing in. If you're stalled with a novel perhaps it's a sign that you don't know your characters properly? Close that laptop lid. Find a piece of paper. Doodle on it. Scribble anything down that comes to mind when you think of your protagonist. Find the weekend newspaper supplements. Flick through them and cut out photos of people or objects or places that remind you of your book. Sometimes an expression on a face or a picture of a location can trip a switch in the subconscious.
When you started the novel, did you write a synopsis or very rough outline? I'm a bit of a 'pantser', preferring to see where my writing and characters lead me but I always start with a short synopsis. If you've got one of these, go back to it. Perhaps there are clues there? Did you forget to put something in? WDIT thrives on forgotten sub-plots or supplementary characters who round out the book.
Conflict matters. It's probably the most important thing on the list. No matter how wonderful your characters and your writing if there's no conflict there's nothing to read--or write--for. If you're stuck somewhere around the middle of the book you need to ask yourself this question: What does my character want and what is stopping him/her from getting it?
As far as premise is concerned, this is the question you can sometimes only ask yourself when you get stuck. Premise means what the book is really about, as opposed to the story outline. A love story might really be an examination of two different approaches to dealing with life and its challenges, as with Marianne and Elinor in Sense and Sensibility.
Try sitting somewhere away from your work in progress with a pad and paper and working on some of these questions. WDIT is best fought when you are relaxed; it thrives on anxiety. Better still, try this exercise somewhere away from your usual workplace. I recommend a bathtub full of bubbles. Water is known for stimulating the creative waves that artistic people crave. Walking is also known and several of my author friends swear by long car journeys.