Writer’s Block… Thoughts by Author Kristen Illarmo

QUESTION: Do You Believe in Writer’s Block?

Do you believe in writer’s block?

Writer’s block. The fear of staring at a blank page and the words just won’t come. I once abandoned an entire novel due to writer’s block. I put it aside for years, but I never stopped thinking about it and wondering what it could become. I was able to pick it back up when I realized I had been scared of where the book might be going instead of just writing each scene. I eventually finished a 90,000 word first draft for that book, and when I finish the Kirasu Rising series, I can’t wait to plow into drafts 2 through 1 million. Here are a few lessons I learned through that journey that may help you through your writer’s block. 

  1. Your first draft will be messy and rough, but your job is to get it written. 
  2. You may not be a pantser. 
  3. You don’t have to start with a blank page. 

Just get it written 

You’ve heard you need to buckle down and get the first draft written, but do you believe it? If you find yourself editing previous scenes before writing the next scene, you are likely stopping yourself from just getting it written (i.e., completing the first draft). If you stop yourself from writing a scene because you think it might not be the right scene for the finished product but don’t know what other scene is better, you are definitely stopping yourself from finishing the first draft (and this is what I did in spades). You have to put aside the notion that any human besides you will read this draft and write through the rough spots. The second draft is for working out the plot details and plugging the holes. The first draft is for laying out a complete (and likely messy) draft. Drafts 3 through 15 (or more) are for polishing and getting it perfect. 

You may not be a pantser

I thought I was a pantser, or discovery writer if you prefer, a writer who does not use an outline and lets the story grow on the page with no idea of what will happen at the end. It sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Twenty thousand words into Without A World, I had no more story, and I needed a new plan. Through much research into other people’s writing methods, I learned that I am a hybrid discovery and outline writer. Now I write an outline at the beginning of a new project that includes as much detail as I can, and I map out the overarching details for each scene, like who is it in it and the high-level gist of what happens. In this scene map, I pay special attention to the rise and fall of emotions, ensuring that the beginning of the scene has a different feeling for the main character than the end. Once I have the scene map and sketch of each act, I give myself permission to change it as much as I like or to ignore pieces as the real writing begins. Having that sketch of the entire story is essential to keep me moving along through that first draft. I don’t have to stick to the script, but the fact that I have an outline (or detailed sketch) helps take some pressure off. 

You don’t have to start with a blank page 

I write in Scrivener, and I start each scene as a new page (new text) as they recommend. That can result in staring at a blank screen, but I have a shortcut way to ensure that never happens because, for all the reasons listed above, I don’t like to start with a blank screen. When I finish a scene, I start the new text doc right away and add two or three sentences telling me what to write in the next scene. If the upcoming scene is tricky, I will also paste in the last sentence from my previous scene. I may get the upcoming scene idea from my scene map, or, if I’ve gone off-script, I’ll still write a few lines about what needs to come next. When I next sit down to write, I start from the document that includes these scene notes. If I still can’t get the scene started, I will write a few trash lines or stage directions (this would not be in a final novel, of course) to better let me visualize where the characters are and what is happening. 

I hope some of these ideas help you get past the blank page fear and into the messy first draft.

Until next time-

Kristen Illarmo (Kristenillarmo.com)

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