Writing process

The mid-novel writer’s block

It’s the perennial question asked of writers … “Where do you get your ideas?” and most writers I know go totally blank on that question. I know I find it hard to answer. Ideas are everywhere. A news item can give you an idea, a dream, an overheard conversation. Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere.

It’s not the initial story idea that causes problems, however. It’s the ideas you need three-quarters of the way through a story, where the white hot excitement of telling the tale has abated, when you’re so deep into the story you think it, dream it, eat it, day and night.

Then suddenly you get stuck. You know, roughly at least, where the story is going, but you haven’t the foggiest idea how to get to the end from where you are. Your writing stops. Your mind goes around in circles, day after day. I know what I want my character to do, but how does he do it? How can I get him from here to there and remain faithful to the story?

You write pages. Dozens and dozens of pages. Hundreds, even thousands of words, and erase them all.

The writing stops. You sit at the keyboard and nothing comes.

You try to force yourself to write. You can’t. Type and delete, again and again.

You find yourself writing the same thing over and over. Mostly it’s notes about what has to happen, rather than the writing itself.

You try to skip the section for the moment and go on to write a later part of the story. You can’t, because what happens in this section is pivotal to how the rest of the story works out. Every time you change your mind about what happens in this ‘blocked’ section you have to rewrite the following sections.

Finally, you get some tortured words down on paper. It’s messy, it’s rough, and it’s a relief.

Sometimes the whole process takes as long as it took to write the first three-quarters of the story, but it’s done, and you can finally carry on with the story.

Later, when the story is completed, and polished for the umpteenth time, you re-read the novel again. That section you agonised over, that section you stumbled on and couldn’t get the ideas for, often turns out to be insignificant in the story (relatively speaking).

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