The number one thing that gives me writers block is plot. Once I have a general idea of where my characters are going and some of the things that will happen along the way, I can happily chug along for weeks, writing 5 to 10 pages a day until I get to the end of a 250-page novel.
This is what I was doing with my latest novel until I got to page 90 and realized it wasn’t working and I needed to rethink the plot. So I reread parts of John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. I read Chuck Wendig’s awesome post on 25 Ways to Unstick a Stuck Story.
For a few days I sat in front of my computer asking myself over and over again: “What’s her desire? What’s her motivation? How is she going to change in the end?” I wrote the same things over and over. I knew her desire and motivation, and I knew how I wanted her to change. I just didn’t know what should actually happen. You know, the plot.
Finally, when I couldn’t take the frustration any longer, I went outside for a walk.
In all the other places I’ve lived, New Orleans, Virginia, Cape Cod, Seattle, taking a walk was a daily (sometimes twice daily) occurrence because I lived in neighborhoods where I could easily pop outside for a pleasant stroll. But since moving to downtown Minneapolis, I haven’t been walking as much. Partly because I live on the 19th floor. There’s something about having to ride the elevator all the way to the ground level that makes me question whether Ireally need to leave my apartment. And although there’s a nice walking path along the Mississippi River, to get to it means crossing several large roads, and nothing interrupts the flow of a brisk walk more than having to stand on the street corner, breathing in car fumes, waiting for the light to turn green.
But, I was stuck on my novel, and no progress was being made, so I headed outside into the blustery fall day. The wind smacked me in the face, and I looked up, noticing how fast the clouds were moving against the blue backdrop of sky. Without trying, poetry began to form in my mind:
The clouds move fast here. The days whip by. Without any mountains, there is nothing but sky. The wind holds me back, but it wants me fly.
As I looked out at the waters of the Mississippi and the crumbling stone ruins of the old Gold Medal flour mill, I felt more like myself. I’m a writer, but that doesn’t mean I should spend all my time in front of a lap top. Sometimes I need to get out into the world and observe. I need to be alone with my thoughts and listen for any whispering words that might be carried to me on the wind.
By the time I got home, I hadn’t figured out my plotting problems, but I felt invigorated and hopeful. Here was part of the solution to my writer’s block: go on more solitary walks. Creativity comes when I feed my senses and give myself the time and space to breathe.
I don’t know if it was the walk or what, but shortly after arriving home, a brilliant thought popped into my head. It wasn’t the complete answer to my plot problems, but it was an important key that unlocked a vast room of possibilities.
When Paul got home and asked me how my day was, I was excited. “I had a brain idea!” I said. I probably meant to say “brainstorm” or “great idea,” but I decided not to correct myself.
“Oh yeah?” Paul laughed. “What was your brain idea?”
And so I tried to explain to him the plot of my novel and the brilliant idea I’d had.
“But what about…?” Paul asked, pointing out a gaping hole in the plot that hadn’t occurred to me.
“Hmmm….” My brain reached in all directions, trying to find another piece of the puzzle, one that would fit perfectly into that hole and add meaning to the overall picture. Suddenly, I had another brain idea! I explained my thinking to Paul.
“Yeah, that could work,” he said. “But what about…” (The boy’s a mathematician, so he’s always examining my logic.)
For the next half an hour, we brainstormed about the plot, the theme of the book, and how what happens throughout the story could make the main character to grow and change. Paul’s questions helped me flesh out the plot, and our discussion expanded the room of possibilities for the entire novel.
And so here was the other part of the solution to my writer’s block: discuss my ideas with others. Maybe I need to join a writing group, or maybe I’ll just use Paul for awhile. Either way, bouncing ideas off of someone else is a great way to generate more ideas and solidify the ones you already have.
Now I have a pretty good notion of where my characters are going and what’s going to happen to them along the way. I’m content to chug along for a while. But I know writer’s block will strike again. And now I know what I’ll do when it does: go for a walk by myself, then find someone thoughtful to talk to.