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Writer's Library


Drawing a Blank

I've heard successful writers proclaim they don't get writer's block because they won't allow themselves to get writer's block. Others have said that writer's block is related to motivation, or lack of. All I know are my own painful experiences of starting a new book and eventually drawing a blank. I've learned some techniques to help me work through my own writer's block and maybe they'll work for you:

1) Revisit the Synopsis

If you haven't written the synopsis, do it now. You'll be making needed progress on the book (you have to have a synopsis to sell) and focusing your thinking. If you've written the synopsis, read it aloud and see if you find it compelling. If not, rethink your plot and motivation.

2) Write a Brief Outline

Break the plot into brief chapter outlines, highlighting turning points, mid points, dark moments, etc. You can easily check character motivation with key plot elements, making sure emotional and sexual tension are in line with internal and external conflict.

3) Do Character Sketches

Sometimes I draw a blank when I don't really know a character. I need to understand my characters' history to help them make the appropriate choices for this book, in this given scene. Those choices impact both dialogue and action. By going back and doing more extensive character sketches I can often recapture a missing ingredient in conflict and tension and give the story fresh momentum.

4) Write Backstory

Writing backstory is similar to character sketches, except that I actually write scenes that could have happened in a character's life ( i.e. The divorce of the heroine's parents. The death of a first child. The foreclosure on the family house. The humiliating science class project, etc.). Flesh these events out, allow the character to live the experience, internalize the joy or pain. Save these scenes as creative fuel for the book itself.

5) Brainstorm 20 Scenarios

If you know your characters and you've nailed down the plot but the story still doesn't seem compelling, write up a list of "what ifs". These can be outlandish, or reasonable. "What if the divorce wasn't final? What if he hadn't ever forgiven her? What if there was a flood?" These possibilities might inspire a new plot twist.

6) Tally Up Pluses/Minuses

If you've tried everything and the book still isn't working, reexamine why you started this book. Make two columns, positive and negative. What are the strengths of this story? What are the weaknesses? What do you like? Dislike? Are you bored with it or just fatigued? Use the list to make a decision about the book: should you forge ahead or set it aside and start something new?

7) Write Longhand/Change Your Environment

If just turning on your computer makes you ill, don't do it. Take a pad of paper and a pen and go somewhere else. Write your scenes by hand. Brainstorm with a great felt-tip pen. People watch. Journal.

Perhaps that successful writer who said that she never allows herself to get writer's block is right. We can work through our troubling blanks with patience and perseverance. Next time you hit that wall, don't panic. Instead, savor your creativity, appreciate your gift, nurture your drive.

Sometimes writing is hard because writers are complicated people. Let yourself be complicated, cut yourself some slack, and the writing will return. It always does.

About Jane Porter

Jane Porter

Born in Visalia, California, I’m a small town girl at heart. I love central California’s golden foothills, oak trees, and the miles of farmland. In my mind, there’s nothing sweeter in the world than the heady fragrance of orange blossoms on a sultry summer night.

As a little girl I spent hours on my bed, staring out the window, dreaming of far off places, fearless knights, and happy-ever-after endings. In my imagination I was never the geeky bookworm with the thick coke-bottle glasses, but a princess, a magical fairy, a Joan-of-Arc crusader.

After my years of traveling and studying I had to settle down and earn a living. With my Bachelors degree from UCLA in American Studies, a program that combines American literature and American history, I’ve worked in sales and marketing, as well as a director of a non-profit foundation. Later I earned my Masters in Writing from the University of San Francisco and taught jr. high and high school English. I now live in rugged Seattle, Washington with my two young sons. I never mind a rainy day, either, because that’s when I sit at my desk and write stories about far-away places, fascinating people, and most importantly of all, love. I like a story with a happy ending. We all do.