Most of us have probably experienced writer’s block at one time or another, that frustrating inability to make the words come. As a beginning writer, I faced it often, but as I learned more and more, the problem arose less and less, and eventually disappeared altogether. And that has led me to the belief that writer’s block is, perhaps, simply a state of unpreparedness.
As a beginner, I was a panster. I made it up as I went along. I got an idea, played it out in my mind a bit, and started writing. There was no plotting for me, no outlines, and while I finished several novels, they were long, hard hauls because, sooner or later, I always hit the point where I didn’t know what came next. I would go for months unable to write a word. At the time, I didn’t know why. I knew where I wanted the story to go. Why couldn’t I make it go there?
Well, now I know. I didn’t prepare. I didn’t make the map that would take me from the beginning of my novel to the end, so I had to sit there for days, weeks, months, until I figured out the next part of my story. Once I did that, the writing came easy again until I got to the next part of my story that I hadn’t figured out. I wrote five novels that way, and they’re decent, but they’re not good enough to sell. I call them my learning novels.
And then I wrote novel number six, which I still didn’t plot or outline on paper, but I did have it all in my head. I wrote 50,000 words in four days. No writer’s block. And it was a much better novel than any I had previously written.
Now, I still don’t do outlines because it’s my nature to add way more than I really need, and my outlines turn out almost as long as the novel, but I do plot. On paper. It’s not one event after another. It’s the opening, the inciting incident that gets the ball rolling, and then the major events along the way, until I reach the climax and ending. Then I flip the paper over and do the same thing for the internal plot. It’s generally only 7-10 lines each, and when I’m done, I throw it away because it stays in my head. It takes me from beginning to end, and I have never had writer’s block since I started doing that.
It seems a no-brainer now. Plan ahead. But when you’re just starting out and you think you’re doing the right thing, you’re not looking for a different way. What I did worked for me. Sure, I had those bouts of writer’s block to deal with, but I was completing novels. Why would I do anything differently? I thought that was just a normal part of writing.
What I’ve since learned is that it doesn’t have to be. It’s like driving from Boston to L.A. If you have a map, whether on paper or in your head, and you’re aware of all the detours and construction along the way, you’re going to get to your destination quicker and easier than someone who doesn’t. They’ll eventually get there, too, but it won’t be as easily or as fast.
So take the time to make the map. It doesn’t have to be my way or someone else’s way. Maybe a synopsis will work for you, or a chapter by chapter outline. Whatever it is that works best for you, do it. Yes, it’s tedious, especially when you want to just dive into the writing, but in the end, it pays off. You’ll always know where you’re going, and you’ll eliminate all the logic problems and dead ends before you start. And it’ll be a much smoother ride.