Last Tuesday I shared the five causes of writer’s block. This week, I am sharing the five tools or techniques to become free of that malady once and for all.
These techniques include brainstorming, brain dumping, creating order out of chaos, writing what I know and letting the rest go for now, and journaling my demons.
Brainstorming-Discovering What You Need to Know
Sometimes we get stuck because we don’t know what to write. Often the problem is that we don’t have a problem for the characters to fix in other words, perhaps we don’t have enough conflict in our plot. In fiction, you need drama. In order to create drama in our fiction, we want a lot of such walls or roadblocks in our stories. In other words, we want to create a problem that has to be fixed during the course of the story. Without drama, there is no story, we might have a decent sent of characters or a nice little pastoral scene, but without drama, you have no story. When we get stuck, we need to first ask “do I need more drama?”. Let’s say that we are writing along and we come to a wall in the middle of our story’s journey. It is a big brick wall and we need to get beyond it in order to continue on our journey. We first start to look for a solution to our problem by looking at the obvious answers, however, we don’t want these obvious answers to be THE answer to our problem. The wall has to be too high for any one of the characters in the story to climb over. We can’t just go around it either. The ground under it is so hard that it is impossible to dig under the wall either. Staying on this side of the wall is not an option that we want to take either. There’s a man-eating lion after us and if we don’t get to the other side, we will die. So that means we have to get a little more creative. Perhaps we can get on another character’s shoulders and climb over it. No, the wall goes all the way to the ceiling. Perhaps we can dig the mortar out around the bricks and make a hole that we can go through. We don’t have time for that. There’s a lion coming to eat us. Our shovel isn’t strong enough to dig through it either. (Where did we get the shovel? I don’t know, but we tried to use it to dig under the wall and the ground was too hard). We look again at the ceiling, no, there is no vent to use to climb over the wall, but we can take our shovel and break through the ceiling. We break through the ceiling near the wall and discover that we can use the shovel to break the ceiling over the wall so that we can get onto the shoulders of the strongest person climb over the wall. As the next to the last person goes over the wall, the strongest person is fending off the lion with the shovel. We can then pull the strongest person over the wall or that person could be eaten by the lion, whichever way we plan it, but only after all this conflict can we continue on our journey.
Brainstorming can be done in a number of ways. Brainstorming should begin with a question that you want to answer. One of the dilemmas in Soldiers Don’t Cry was figuring out how I was going to end the book. Elizabeth was a Patriot and spy in the American Revolution, but the love of her life Phillip Randolph was a British officer who was devoted to the Crown. I didn’t want her to give up her ideals, but at the same time, I really couldn’t see how Phillip was going to give up his ideals and stay in America with her.
I brainstormed several ideas off the top of my head. She could go back to England with him. No, I couldn’t do that to her (I don’t think that I would not like the story if it ended that way nor would Elizabeth allow the story to end that way.) I could have him die in battle. (I couldn’t have that! The girl and the man need to be together in the end. It is after all a romance, not a tragedy.) He could determine during the battle that he wanted to be with her and stay in Boston. (He was too strong a character just to let go of his entire life and his family just to be with her.) None of those ideas seemed right, so what was I going to do?
None of those answers seemed right so I decided to get away from the writing for a while and take care of a few other projects around the house. Suddenly, when I least expected it, the answer came to me. The answer was right there at the beginning of the book and the ending practically wrote itself after that.
Doing a Brain Dump
Having too much to write about, can be just as debilitating as not knowing what to write. In this case, we have a lot of ideas about what could be done, but we don’t know which path to take so in the process we become stuck. This problem requires that we get everything that is in our heads out so that we can process the best course of action. This therefore requires a tool known as a brain dump.
To do a brain dump, try doing it in several ways. One way is to open a computer document and simply start writing (This is what I do most of the time.) If however, typing is still a chore for you, you could try writing out everything that is in your head longhand. If you would rather talk out what is in your head, try speaking into a recorder or use a software program like Dictation Naturally Speaking.
Next, just start writing and write until everything you can think of is out of your brain both things that you’re writing about in this story and perhaps ideas you have for a future stories. In addition, writing down other projects and chores that you need to do that you might have cluttering your brain. Perhaps you have bits and pieces of dialogue or ideas for an action scene. Get it all out on paper. If you have several different scenarios you might want to follow, write those down as well, even if the scenario seems ridiculous. Get it out of your head and onto paper. Once everything is on paper, you’ll move to the next tool which is prioritizing-creating order.
This is related to doing your brain dump. Here you will be taking what you dumped from your brain and prioritizing things that you need to do as well as organizing aspects that you want to include in your story. Look over what you have dumped from your brain and decide what you will do with it. Take your chores and tasks that are unrelated to writing and put them aside. Decide which ones you can do today and which ones you can’t and then just leave them to handle after your writing session. Take the stuff that you thought about for other projects and put them aside on another document deal with later. What are left should be ideas that you have only for this writing project. Organize the material that you have in front of you into your manuscript. If you have several ways that you could take a scene, look all of your options and decide which ones are the most genuine to the characters but at the same time create the most conflict. Combine ideas to create additional drama when possible. Now pop the information that you organized from your brainstorming into your story outline.
If you don’t have one, create a simple outline of your story. I usually use Chapter numbers as my outline number and then describe what is happening in each chapter. I write the first draft of my novels during NaNoWriMo, so at the beginning of that month I write the chapter numbers up to 30. Next, I determine and describe what I think I will be writing in each chapter every day. Then the theory is that I will write the number of words that I need to write in the chapter that day (1667 average). Don’t worry that you don’t know what could happen at every juncture of the book. Just write what you know.
What I really like about using the chapter system that I use is that I don’t have to write exactly what happens next in the story. I can write what I know about the story instead. This way I don’t have to stop. I can keep writing and keep the story going. This also gives my subconscious something to work on while I am not sitting at my desk and putting words to digital memory. I am confident knowing that my mind cannot stand having something that is not completely connected. My mind will continue to work on connecting the dots until it has all of the pieces put together.
Journaling your Demons
Another tool that I use to break though writer’s block is journaling my hurts, fears, sorrow, and anger. If something happens that has me so emotionally disconnected to the story that I can’t write another word about this silly story, I sit down and write about what is bothering me. I just spill my guts of the word vomit onto the page. I say exactly how I am feeling and what I want done about it. I allow my emotions to take control and I let it all out. Later, after I have calmed down, I look at what I have written and try to find a way to incorporate that burst of emotion into my book. In my first book, an emotional issue related to my husband and I losing our jobs, our car, and our house became fodder for what I call Drusilla’s “to be or not to be” scene in When God Turned His Head. From the incident, I created some great internal drama. Why waste good conflict?
Now It Is Your Turn
Having these tools in my writer tool box maintains my ability to write day in day out. How about you? Do you have other tools that help you keep your writing momentum?
Donna Brown is pastor at Faith in God Church 1 1/2 miles south of Brandsville, Missouri on Hwy 63. Sunday services are at 10 am and Wednesday night Bible Study at 6:30 pm. As Author Cygnet Brown, she has recently published her first nonfiction book: Simply Vegetable Gardening: Simple Organic Gardening Tips for the Beginning Gardener
She is also the author of historical fiction series The Locket Saga. which includes When God Turned His Head and Soldiers Don’t Cry, the Locket Saga Continues, and most recently, A Coward’s Solace, Book III of the Locket Saga