A reply I gave on the Books and Writers group on Linked In, about writer’s block got me thinking… My own advice when you hit a block is to pare it right down to the scene you’re writing now, asking yourself three questions:
1. What does my character want in this scene?
2 Who or what is my character’s opposition to getting what she wants? And if the opposition is another character, what does that character want?
3. What is the outcome? Will my character get what she wants or not?
In a way, if you are having any major plot headache, paring it down to those three questions should, at least, clear your head and get you concentrating back on the story you are telling.
Anyway, who am I to give advice? I have only one book published and one on the way (like a new baby). I’ve trawled the net for some writer’s block advice from my favourite writers, so here are my top five:
1. John Steinbeck
“Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and just write one page every day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.”
2. Anne Enright
“Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.”
3. Hilary Mantel
“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”
4. Sarah Waters
“Don’t panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends’ embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce . . . Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Talking the problem through can help me recall what I was trying to achieve before I got stuck. Going for a long walk almost always gets me thinking about my manuscript in a slightly new way. And if all else fails, there’s prayer. St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, has often helped me out in a crisis. If you want to spread your net more widely, you could try appealing to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, too.”
5. Margaret Atwood
“Think of your book-in-progress as a maze. You’ve hit a wall. Go back to where you made the wrong turn. Start anew from there.”