I spoke briefly in a previous post about why my plotting sometimes doesn’t go well. But, while writing downswings are one of the most common reasons I struggle with my writing, they aren’t the only reason I do.
The other major reason why I have difficulty with plotting is because I simply haven’t thought something through well or deeply enough to see what else is possible in the story. Frequently, I’ll get so far in the outline and hit a block point where I come across something I haven’t given adequate thought to. Well, not conscious thought; frequently, in scenes I’ve written up to this point, I’ll later find I’ve set up the plot point I’m now working out.
This situation requires a little more effort than stepping away from the writing for a while. What I frequently discover when I hit a block like this, is that I want to read another story, either complete or not, set in the same world. I think this is my subconscious wanting to do two things: 1. take a break from the main WIP; and 2. refresh itself on what I’ve written previously. This is good for a few reasons, but one of the primary ones is that often I’ll come up with worldbuilding “facts” about the world or plotting ideas for other stories, including my current main project, while doing this. It’s a break from things, but one which pushes the current project forward in some way.
Then, once I’m done reading other WIPs, I’ll return to the current main project and read through it. This may or may not spark any fresh ideas, and I don’t always get them as I’m reading through what I have written already. After I read to the point where I stopped writing, I’ll do a little something else—say play a simple mind-numbing game, or devote some time to chatting with a friend on the phone or online. The key here is to keep myself busy, but not so much so I’m filling my mind with other information. Too much other information, even if it’s in my conscious mind, tends to interfere with my realizations of what the plot can do.
Once I’ve backbrained things for a bit, I read through the plot cards I have with an eye for pulling out subplots and emphasizing the main plot. Sometimes, when I get to the point where I’ve stopped the story’s outline, I have ideas for a plot card or two. Most of the times, it’s not so easy. I’ll go through this process several times before I try other tactics, because this usually eventually works, even if I have to repeat the process more than a couple times.
So I go do something mindless again while things percolate. I’ll go for a walk, do housework. If that doesn’t work, I’ll do something which totally occupies my mind at the same time it leaves it open for inspiration. Best thing for this is showering. I’m so busy thinking about what body part I need to scrub next and singing along with the radio, it gives my conscious mind a total break from the writing. I never come up with ideas while in the shower, but I’ve come back to my desk plenty of times after one, settled down in my after-shower robe, and inspiration will strike while I’m clipping my nails or mindlessly chatting with friends online.
If none of this works—and sometimes it doesn’t—I read a book I’m very familiar with. Old books I know well leave the mental door open for ideas for my writing, and sometimes even spark ideas. Books I’ve not read before aren’t so good for that. Also, I’ll try watching a movie I’ve seen many times before—for the same reason. It inspires and leaves the creative door open. Generally speaking, though, I’m much too focused on my writing to step away from the computer to watch a movie, so I don’t do that much.
But usually, I’ll figure out a plot card long before I have to resort to the movie-watching method of creative inspiration. I wrote it “Real Writers’ Block” because I don’t think there’s such a thing as writers’ block. I think we can all work our way past the difficulties we’ve written into our stories if we remain focused and determined and go seeking the inspiration we need—which is why most of my efforts involve remaining at the computer and actively concentrating on my work somehow. The other methods generally don’t work quite as well, and I when I return to the computer, I end up going through my WIPs and outlines a number of times again before inspiration does strike.
I firmly believe you have to hunt down inspiration and beat it on the head before it’ll work in a habitual manner, which is why I think having a regular writing schedule and habits around the writing process is a great help. Frequently, even when I’m doing something mindless—I’m doing that so I have a portion of my conscious mind free to devote to working out the plot issue that’s stopped me.
(WIP = Work In Progress)