Nobody can write all the time. Most of us would like to, but in the real world we have jobs, families, and bills to pay. Given our obligations, few of us can devote the time to writing that we’d like, and finishing a project often takes us much longer than we prefer. Writing a novel entails several things: coming up with a story idea, identifying the characters, plotting the story, and writing it. All those things take time, and many things get in the way-work, family, social events, reading, watching TV…and writer’s block.
Writer’s block is a beast. It most often hits new writers who aren’t quite sure where their story is going, but it affects everyone at one time or another. You may be halfway through your novel, or right down to the final few chapters, and there it is-you’re staring at a blank computer screen with no idea what to write. Even if you outlined your book in advance, writer’s block can stare back at you from a blank page, baring its yellow fangs and snarling at you. And it’s frustrating.
What Do You Do?
A lot of people have come up with a lot of different solutions to writer’s block, and you can read them in various books and articles on the subject of writing. The most common solution that I remember is to write something, even if it has nothing to do with your project. Don’t let the beast stop you from writing, even if it stands squarely in your path and won’t let you finish your book. Write around it, write something else. Describe a day at the beach, a fishing trip, or a bank robbery. Imagine a conversation between a priest and an atheist, and have fun with it. Chances are you’ll delete all that stuff and never use it, but the fact that you actually wrote it is all that matters-you didn’t let the beast win.
And like a batter coming out of a slump, you will start to hit again, and your book will be back on track.
What Works for Me
I’ve used that tactic, and it works. But I’ve found something else that works even better, at least for me. And that is, be a writer all the time, even at work. Immerse yourself in your story, even when you aren’t at the keyboard. Don’t let it out of your mind for a single hour of the day, until it’s finished. Be thinking about it, plotting it, planning it, letting ideas filter into your head. You’ll be amazed how creative your mind is when you turn it loose.
In my case, I never outline a novel, because outlines are too restrictive. I have a general idea where the story should go, who the main characters are, and five or six major events I want to take place. Beyond that, nothing. I sit down and start writing, and keeping those few goals in sight, let the story navigate itself. The downside of doing that is that sometimes I get to a place where I’m not sure what to do next. I haven’t planned thoroughly enough to avoid writer’s block, and sometimes I have to step away from it.
A Case Study
My novel, Sirian Summer, began in 1995 (as Nick Walker, U.F. Marshal), right after I finished the first draft of what was to become A Vow to Sophia. At that time I had been reading a lot of Louis L’Amour westerns and was intrigued with the idea of a “western in space”. I had already created a universe in the earlier novel, so I used it, but in an earlier time period.
The setting was a planet orbiting one of the Sirian binaries, and a dusty frontier settlement called Kline’s Corners. Nick Walker was a youthful lawman, a United Federation Marshal, sent to investigate the murder of another U.F. Marshal.
I sat down and started writing. I finished eight or ten chapters and that was it–I had no idea where to go next. So I put that project on hold and began writing The Fighter King. The next few years I concentrated on the Fighter Queen saga, and Nick Walker was forgotten.
Fast forward to January 2010. Four Fighter Queen novels (now 5) were published, or about to be, and I needed a new project. I had one more novel idea for the saga but I needed a change of pace. I dug out Nick Walker again and looked it over, decided the basic idea was good but most of what I had already written was worthless. I kept the first three chapters and deleted the rest. I now knew a lot more about Sirius 1 than I had back in 1995. I knew how the Sirian Confederacy was born and how it died. I could still use the same universe, and now I had a lot more to work with.
Over the next six or eight weeks I lived and breathed Nick Walker. The major characters had already been defined, I knew who they were and what they were about, and Nick hit the ground running, a Federation lawman with a laser pistol in one holster and a .44 magnum revolver in the other. When I wasn’t writing I was thinking. The plot was by no means complete and I made it up as I went. I didn’t even know who had committed the murder Nick was sent to investigate, but I discovered that, the same time Nick did. The characters themselves told me, and until that moment I didn’t have a clue.
The point is, once I started Nick the second time, I never slowed down. Writer’s block never had a chance, because it was on my mind day and night. Working, driving, watching TV…I even dreamed about the damn thing. And on March 14, 2010, I wrote the final paragraph.
It Might Work for You, Too
Give it a try. Immerse yourself in your project. Keep it in your mind at all times, no matter what you’re doing. Let your imagination flow. Be willing to discard previously written material that doesn’t work (but keep a copy, just in case–sometimes you change your mind). Don’t wait to sit down at your keyboard to put on your creative hat. Be a writer all the time.
John Bowers is a very prolific science fiction author. His first published science fiction novel, A Vow to Sophia, became a 5-story series called The Fighter Queen Saga. He then published the 3-book Nick Walker, UF Marshal series followed by the 5-part Starport series.
He’s also published a mid-grade novel, Joseph Lexxus and the Drug Runners of Altair.
All of his works are available on Amazon.com