Friday, October 18, 2019

How to Hurdle Your Writer’s Block

By Nick Wisseman, @NickWisseman

Part of The Writer’s Life Series

JH: Getting stuck happens to us all, and sometimes we need a little help in shaking our muse free. Nick Wisseman takes the podium today to share tips n how he gets over his writer's block.

Nick Wisseman lives in the woods of Michigan with his wife and daughter, ten dogs, sixty cats, and forty horses. (The true number of pets is an order of magnitude smaller, but most days it feels like more.) He's not quite sure why he loves writing twisted fiction, but there's no stopping the weirdness once he's in front of a computer. You can find the complete list of oddities on his website.

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Take it away Nick…

I’ve never really had long-term writer’s block. But short-term? Far too often. The daily race to pen at least a page or two is almost always littered with obstacles, some of which trip me up on a regular basis.

Here’s how I get over them.

Reconsider Motivation

A lot of times I’m stuck because my characters are acting against type, and I just haven’t realized it yet. Or worse, I haven’t realized what a character’s type is yet. So when my writing stumbles in a particular scene, one of the first things I do is interrogate each of the principals’ motivations.

The first question is always What? Specifically, What is his/her goal in this scene? 

Ideally, this scene goal will tie into the character’s larger story goal, but I’m looking for something more granular here. (Yes, I know Amadi wants to help Isaura get her son back, but that’s Point Z. We’re only at Point M. What does he want to do at this particular moment to get him to Point N? Acquire a boat? Nautical!)

The second question is How? That is, How is he/she planning to achieve this goal? 

The plan should fit the character. (Because while Chase might weave—and then tangle—an elaborate scheme to con some fisherman out of his boat, Amadi would probably just punch Chase, steal the boat back, and pay the fisherman for it.) If you’re not sure what a fit would be, try a few things on until one feels right. 

A bullet point or two for each question is about all you need (and often all it takes to learn something about your characters). Next, now that you’ve got those goals and plans, look for ways they conflict. Injecting tension into a scene is a great way to get things moving.

(Here's more on The Perils of Not Knowing What Happens Next in Your Story)

Hack Your Process

Nick Wisseman
But it’s not foolproof. Sometimes I know exactly what my characters are trying to accomplish and how, but I still can’t get the scene across the finish line. This is when I start coming at my writing sideways.

Basically, I shake stuff up until something breaks loose.

If I’m fiddling with my commas and adjectives and self-editing away my momentum, I’ll shotgun the entire chapter (by which I mean spraying out words without touching the Delete key … but that sounds violent, and this is an extended running metaphor, so let’s pretend I said “sprint for the entire chapter”).

The results will largely be junk, but I’ll at least have an idea of what works and what doesn’t. 

Then I’ll rewrite the chapter from scratch. This second draft usually flows much more smoothly.

If it doesn’t, I might start counting my steps (more running talk!) and switch back to outlining, but get really detailed, stacking bullet point upon bullet point until I’ve essentially planned my way into prose.

If that’s still not enough, I’ll occasionally toggle my medium (ahem, “change my shoes”) and whip out a notebook and pen—but not a pencil; no erasing! This should be slower than typing, but sometimes it’s easier to write longhand, and it’s certainly faster than staring at a blank screen.

If all that fails, I might call it quits … for an hour or two, not the day. 

I tend to write better at certain times—like midmorning and early evening—but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Every so often, late afternoon gets it done.

(Here's more on Never Suffer Writer’s Block Again)


Generally, one of these tricks gets me over the hump. But if I keep falling on my face no matter what, it’s usually time to admit that I sabotaged myself the night before by staying up too late. (That book was so good, though! I had to keep reading. And those episodes of Mindhunter weren’t going to watch themselves … Nope. Shut it down. You’re a slug of a writer when you’re tired.) The solution is obvious: go to bed earlier.

And then run it all back tomorrow. 

About The Black Resurrection

Isaura’s son has been kidnapped.

Worse, his kidnappers are taking him to Huancavelica, a Peruvian mercury mine so dangerous it’s known as the “Mine of Death.” Her only ally is Amadi, a runaway slave haunted by guilt he refuses to explain. Her only choice is to beat the kidnappers to Huancavelica and lay a trap … assuming she can survive the mine herself.

The Black Resurrection is a standalone sequel to The Red Wraith, a historical fantasy set in Early America. The Ascenders, one of two prequels to The Red Wraith, includes Isaura and Amadi’s backstories.

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