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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Breaking Through the Blocks

The other day (okay more like for days) I was having some major “issues” with my current wip. I had an idea of where I wanted to go but the plot was causing me problems. It was frustrating because unlike some writers who are blessed with the ability to just sit down and write, I need some kind of outline. It doesn’t have to be very detailed but it does have to give me a plot point breakdown so I know where I’m going. I didn’t have that for this particular wip and every time I sat down to write I’d eventually hit a roadblock. It was not good.

So in total hair-pulling frustration, while I was sitting fretting about making my word quota for the week, I suddenly had an idea. I decided to list the problems I was having with the plot. In point form, some phrases, some questions, I listed all of the “issues” that were preventing me from moving forward. It looked something like this: But if he does that, what about this…and this character doesn’t have a purpose but needs to, and why did you mention that if you’re not going to use it?

It was a start and it felt awesome to purge. Once I got the problems down I started to brainstorm using a kind of stream of consciousness approach – you know, just rambling on with whatever came to mind as I worked through the problem. Well, in a matter of minutes I had a series of plot points worked out from the roadblock all the way to the end! It was marvelous!

In the past, when I’ve had a problem with a ms, I sleep on it and let my unconscious mind work it out…this time that wasn’t happening –I think the issues were too complicated to sort through in my sleep. This technique worked really well and I’ll definitely use it again. Keep in mind, I’ve only used it once and had success, who knows what may happen next time. Either way, I got through the blockage and have been pounding out the words ever since!

I've got another e-copy of Going the Distance to give away! All you have to do is comment here (and leave a way for me to contact you) and you'll be entered to win! I'll randomly draw a winner next week.


  1. Congrats on getting through Angie. They can be pesky and you know how determined that damned Writing Policeman is to stop you.

    Sometimes characters don't like to play nice so you have to find a way to get them involved in such a way that you're not leaving a breadcrumb trail that forces them into a tricky situation. After all you need the right bait. (Think Homer chasing Donuts for example. LOL)

    Congrats on the storm and look forward to other posts from you.

  2. Hi Angie,

    I'm glad you found a way past your road blocks. Now is probably not the time to start picking fluff out of our navels as we discuss the differences between a roadblock and writer's block,because I know you never get writer's block. ;-)

    from what you have written it is obvious that you are a plotter, and yet the technique you used is classic pantzer... Welcome to my world... :-)

    (Now if only it didn't take me at least as long to tie up all the frayed ends of my mad plots after brainstorming through the writing as a pantzer... Perhaps a slightly more methodical approach to plotting would benefit me when I write :-) ).

  3. That's a really good and insightful look at a process I think many people go through, in one way or another. Whether they jot it down as thoughts or revelations occur to them, or even have a talk-out-loud with someone else to sort through questions, I think we tend to gain a better understanding of anything when we write or vocalize it. When ideas are confined only in our heads, they're in a tighter, more compact form that presents the early essence but perhaps not all the answers. When they're released onto paper or aloud, the ideas expand for us and we see them in a way we hadn't before.

    And as you said, it's important to ask the questions and discover what really makes sense. The characters will know what it is they can or should do, and they'll let you know when you listen as you did.

    I tend to jot down revelations as they occur to me once I understand characters' motivations and how they form intricacies within the plot. And I also write down questions that I'll ponder - the kind of what-why-when questions you mentioned. Characters are not transparent to one another, but they offer the author insights into what they really want to do and their plans with one another. I think you end up having to keep a lot of secrets from the characters because they've all shared with you.

    And when I'm revising if I run across a section that doesn't feel right, I ask what I'm really trying to do with it. Each scene or chapter or character has its own purpose - as you noted in your post. Although sometimes those purposes aren't readily obvious or easy to uncover without thinking about it - on paper or out loud.

    Also - I just bought your new book Ghost Bride after glancing over your site. Nice cover, nice prose. And what I really like is the willingness to write in third-person. Almost everything in urban fantasy and paranormal today is in first-person - other than a few authors. Eileen Wilks comes to mind. Ilona Andrews, also, and some of Patricia Briggs's work (like Alpha and Omega). There really isn't very much third-person around, which I think is sort of a shame. I don't believe one form is better than the other, but they both have facets that bring a story out in different ways, and it's nice to have the other perspective.

    Added: Just finished Ghost Bride and posted a review on Amazon (now back to reading Whitley Streiber's The Wolfen)

  4. That's definitely a great way to work through writer's block. Thanks for the tip!

  5. Angie, this method works for me too. I never sleep on it, it never comes to me like that. I have to have a pen in my hand and talk it through. Sometimes I even draw stick figures :)

  6. Yes! That trick works for me, too. Yay for angie!

  7. Thanks, everyone, for the comments.

    TJ --you're such a smart ass ;-) I had an outline but it wasn't working...I needed something new.

    Matthew --thank you so much for the insightful comment and review!

  8. That sounds a little like something I make my students do, called "freewriting." They have to write for a certain period of time (usually 3-4 minutes) non-stop, no matter what. It starts off like rambling, but eventually real ideas begin to flow. Clears the blockages.

  9. Thanks for sharing what works for you Angie. Never know when we'll hit a roadblock and your blog will give us an idea of one way to get through the rough patch. Nicely done. :)

  10. Angie - thanks for sharing a clever way to bust through roadblocks. Now I'm off to apply your technique to my WIP, which has been languishing in a plot quagmire for months.

  11. This is a good tactic that I've used quite often. I tend to do this either during a first draft or when reviewing an outline. If my outline isn't quite working out, I always list the questions -- I think there is something going on in the brain when you write out the problems; it seems to kick into a problem-solving function of the brain.

    But I also tend to have a lot of subconscious revelations, just depends on the type of problem.