Goodreads asked David Alan Armstrong:

How do you deal with writer’s block?

David Alan Armstrong I define "writer's block" as either a lack of ideas or an inability to articulate an idea in a way that flows with the rest of the narrative. I may come to a point in a story where I simply do not know what a character will do or say next. I may not have thought out that part of the story well enough, or what I had outlined no longer seems plausible, or perhaps it doesn't fit in the story line any longer because the story has taken an unexpected turn. I just do not know what should happen next.

Other times I am stumped by how to describe an action or carry on with a dialog. I know what I want to have happen and its impact on the story, but the right words just won't come. My writing feels awkward, forced, or contrived. This often happens when I am not fully immersed in the character or the scene. I have lost the rhythm of my writing. Because I am a part-time writer, I do not have the luxury of devoting many continuous hours to pumping out prose. A fair amount of my writing time in any given session is spent in getting my head back into the story before I can pick up where I left off. In some ways I feel blocked every time I sit down to write, so I have had lots of experience with overcoming writer's block.

My most potent weapon against writer's block is routine. I try to write five days a week and always at the same time. When I know my writing session will be starting soon, my mind goes to work in the background. I start thinking about where I left off and what comes next in the story before I ever open the lid to my laptop. Then when I actually put my hands on the keyboard, I am already geared up to write. Occasionally life happens and my regular writing session gets overridden by other priorities. Missing one session is not disastrous. Missing several days in a row, however, can pose serious problems. This is when I most often run into writer's block.

My first step is always to analyze the source of my block. Am I stuck on plot, action, dialog, character, or words. Depending on what I think is the source of my problem, I will take one of several actions outlined below.

Go back and pick up the thread again. Because I write in spurts, I often get blocked because I cannot remember what comes next. I know I was leading up to some important point in my last writing session, but now I cannot remember exactly what that point is. I may have to go back several paragraphs or even several pages and refresh myself on the narrative that brought me to the point in the story where I am stuck. Reading again the previous events, actions, and dialog will usually bring me back to that pivotal moment, which was eluding me at the beginning of my session. I restore my train of thought, and I can move on.

Reread my character dictionary. A character dictionary is essential for me. When the story contains more than a handful of characters, it is hard for me to keep the details and nuances of all the characters in my head all the time. I can become blocked when I try to write about a character whom I haven't thought about in a while or whom I cannot picture in my head at the moment. I may be trying to write dialog or an action for a character , and my subconscious is telling me that something is wrong. The subconscious is excellent at general warnings but not so good at details. When I sense that something I am trying to write about a character is wrong, I go back to my dictionary and immerse myself in the character's description, backstory, goals, motivations, and voice. I may also have to backtrack in my writing to other places where this character has appeared. When the character is fully in my head and I am fully in his or her heart, the mistakes I was making in the current point in the story are easily recognizable, and the words start to flow again.

Go back to the critical divergence from my outline and see if it was perhaps a wrong turn. Most writers will attest that stories tend to write themselves. No matter how thorough their outline may be, once they start writing, unexpected things happen. The logic of the outline is overtaken by the commotion of events and the unanticipated development of the characters. Sometimes, however, these unplanned twists and turns can send me down a blind alley. I may have to backtrack through my story, reading it backwards, until I find that critical moment where I let a character or action take my story off track. Though the writing may have been brilliant, I may have to discard pages of exciting text because they simply led down a path of no return. (I don't just delete them, however. I save them in case I get inspired to write a different story someday into which my magnificent but misguided prose will fit perfectly.)

Do something else and let my subconscious work on the problem. When I have pondered and puzzled over a problem in my writing until I become frustrated or tired, I will put my writing aside and do something totally different for a while, such as work in the yard or go for a bike ride. The subconscious mind is a magnificent machine, which works best when it is not under duress and when it is not distracted by conscious thoughts. When I put my mind to an entirely different path, my subconscious works magic. It slaves away happily on my problem until it hits on a solution. It will then tap lightly on the door of my conscious thoughts. I will be in the middle of something totally unrelated when suddenly a burst of inspiration from my subconscious will surface, and I will have an exciting Ah Ha! moment. My head will be filled with ideas, and I can return to my writing refreshed and ready to plow ahead.

Just keep writing until the rhythm returns. The words can be flowing freely from my head through my hands and onto the screen in perfect clarity, and then suddenly clouds form in my mind and obscure the clarity. A film develops over my thoughts, and the formation of words becomes like trying to push my hard through stubborn celophane. At these times I just keep pushing through. Though the words feel awkward and unnatural, I just keep writing. I know, however, that what I am writing will not survive. I'm going to throw it away. But I just keep moving, however slowly and haltingly, however useless and unsatisfying the effort may feel. For I have faith that on the other side of the cellophane is freedom. The sun is still shining on the other side of the clouds. I just have to push through them. If I am patient and persistent, the rhythmic flow returns. I can plunge ahead again, knowing that I will have to go back and fix the mess I just made. On another day, when the sun is bright again, I will return to that cloudy spot and brighten it up

Jump ahead to a part I know better and then return and see if I can build a better bridge. I may reach a point in the narrative where I just do not know which way to turn. Nothing feels right about the character, the scene, the dialog, or the action. I am stuck in the weeds in an unfamiliar section of the swamp. When this happens, I may choose to skip ahead to a part of the story where I am confident in my outline, my characters, and the intended outcome. I can profitably spend my time in another scene or even another chapter and make satisfactory progress there. As I work on a later episode in the story, ideas will come about what I should do in the earlier part of the story to allow the narrative to flow into this later section. I have an easier time untangling the weeds around my knees and making my out of the swamp when I know the shore to which I am headed.

Write something else. I may get blocked simply because I am tired of working on the same thing for a long period of time. The mind, like the body, needs a break from time to time. I need to stretch my muscles in different ways. I need a diversion to let my mind relax and recharge. I do not necessarily need to abandon my writing session, but I may be able to profitably use my time to write something different for a change. This might be a good time to write a blog article, develop an essay idea, write in my journal, or compose a letter to a friend. The change of pace brings refreshment. After a little side trip, I am ready to get back on the main path again and climb the next hill with renewed vigor

Read something else. I try to find where another author has dealt with the situation I am trying to solve and see how she did it. I do not plagiarize, obviously, but I look for inspiration. I may look for a different way to say something, a new way to present dialog, or perhaps just hear a new voice. It is good sometimes just to hear someone else's words. Reading can change my mood and lift my spirits. Usually it simply inspires me to keep going, knowing that every author has run into the same kinds of problems I am facing, and somehow they got through them. If they could do it, so can I.

Finally, I counsel with myself to never give up. I may have to take a break and come back later, bur I will always come back. Even a bad idea needs to be seen through to the end. Giving up can become a habit, and once I start giving up on bad ideas, it becomes easier to give up on good ideas, and eventually I won't have the discipline to finish that one great idea that will become my best seller.

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