First off, I want to specify first that there are many kinds of writer’s block in my experience. There’s blocks that happen when you’re writing a draft or even revising. There’s walls I hit when I’m plotting and brainstorming. Some days, all of it seems impossible. (We’ve all been there, I promise!)
No matter where I am in the process, I usually have one go-to fix when I hit those walls and can’t seem to move forward. It’s a pretty simple solution in my opinion.
I’ve gotten stuck at every stage of the book writing process. I’ve been stuck when drafting, when revising and editing prose on a line level, when brainstorming—all of it!
(Sometimes, it’s related to my mental state, and I’ve learned to recognize when I’m hitting a wall that is actually a message from my subconscious telling me to take a break.)
But what about the other times—the times when I’m ready and excited to write, but nothing appears in my brain? Those times when I stare at the blank page and think “Wow, I have no idea what happens here.”
Susan Dennard often says in her writing advice, that when she’s stuck, it’s because something, somewhere is wrong. This is usually somewhat true in my experience. It could be that something I’ve plotted out previously isn’t quite right and needs to be redone. But more likely in my case, it’s not the plot that’s convoluted.
It’s the character.
The number one reason why I get stuck is because I’ve gotten too focused on what’s happening around the character when I should be focusing on their character arc.
Character arcs are my weakest link as a writer. I get easily distracted and forget about them in plotting. Then I’ll get stuck and ponder my own writing ability for a week or so before I remember that I’m supposed to be writing a story ABOUT a character, not just what happens TO them.
When I get to this stage, my number one trick to getting unstuck is pretty simple. I look at where my character started and where they’re supposed to end up. Then I imagine them climbing a staircase to get to that end. What would push them upwards on the staircase toward that goal? And that is what the plot should revolve around.
I’ll use Wolves as an example.
In the beginning of Wolves, Sena is a loner who’s only focused on her own plight and not interested in any real connection with people (or animals.) That’s her default state after losing her mothers. But, her story is about her building a bond with a wolf, which means that by the end of the book, she needs to be willing to sacrifice her own needs for the needs of that wolf. So, I had a beginning and end for Sena.
Now, I already knew that the midpoint of the book would be the start of the race, where Sena would willingly throw herself into an irreversible situation with Iska, the wolf.
But what about the part after the beginning and before the race?
Well, if I was stuck and not sure how to plot that part, I would think of the character midpoint as the top of the staircase. In this example, the midpoint goal is Sena willingly jumping into the race with Iska. So I have to think of plot events that push Sena up that staircase toward that goal.
I would brainstorm all the various ways that Sena and Iska could get closer: Sena would have to see Iska in a different light, not as a threat but as an ally. It would be helpful if Sena had someone who reached out to her despite her prickly demeanor so she would have an example of a budding friendship. And she should have some moments with Iska that bond them together.
Once I have those ideas, I put them in an order that makes sense, so that they build on top of each other, much like a staircase. If I know what Sena’s character arc needs to move forward and up, then I’m not stuck anymore because I can build a plot that creates those moments for her.
And that’s it. My simple solution to getting stuck: forget about all the plot stuff—focus on your character arc and build a staircase for them to climb.
A version of this post appeared in Wolves and Wonder, my monthly newsletter that includes no-nonsense writing advice along with book updates and sci-fi inspiration. Get it in your inbox; you'll love it.