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Troubleshooting Techniques for Overcoming Writer's Block

Victoria A. Witkewitz

27 September 2023

Person Using Laptop

You begin to type at a good pace of nearly 70 words per minute.  The pages add up.  Chapters one and two cruise by.  Suddenly chapter three sets in, and you find yourself coming to a screeching halt.  The creative edge begins to dwindle.  What happened?  A mild case of writer's block sets in.  

This article will address one of the main cornerstone issues authors face at some point with steps to take to troubleshoot and work on a plan of action to proceed with completing your first novel or writing endeavor.

Let's explore the steps to take to diagnosis the sudden halt in your progress.


What is writer's block?

According to the definition per Merriam-Webster, writer's block is defined as the psychological condition that prevents a writer from proceeding with a piece.

Why does writer's block occur?

There may be many reasons why writer's block occurs including but not limited to:

1. Inability to organize ideas.  Too many, too few?  
2. Problems with expanding on an idea and well-organized outline or plan.
3. Self-criticism/negative jugdment.
4. Comparison to others.
5. Have not fully fleshed out the ending, answering the question for the reader-what is your book about?
6. Frustration.
7. Inability to focus.
8. Time commitment.

Below we will discuss some troubleshooting techniques for overcoming writer's block.  In addition, this article regarding goal setting may assist you as well.


The 4 R's

Troubleshooting Techniques to overcome writer's block

I created a process called the 4 R's.  This process is a cyclical pattern to achieve the results of finishing your novel with a sense of satisfaction.  
The 4 R's include:

​- Rewrite
- Rework
- Rest
- Review



The 4 Rs.jpg

The rework phase is to go back to your intial outline or idea.  Working in new ideas to determine how this shifts the direction of your story.  Rewriting that piece.  Take some time away from this by resting.  I would suggest at least one or two days or more to not get too close.  Then take some time to review.  Once you have reached a level of satisfaction ensuring the pieces fit, you know you have finished.  


Step one-The outline

Though outlines are not a mandatory requirement for writing, they can offer some visual insight.  If you started writing without an outline and you find yourself unable to plan for the remainder of the novel, take a step back and try an outline to give you a template.  

Authors' Notes article will provide you with some options.


Step two-revisit the storyline

If you have prepared an outline and you find yourself pausing because you don't know where to take the next course of action with your novel, revisit the main storyline.  Ask yourself:  What is the main question I want to answer in my novel?  Does it answer the question for the reader by the end of it?

If you haven't fully fleshed out the details to answer this question yourself then you can't answer it for readers either.  Devise a brainstorming session to write the main objective of the storyline.  It is okay to come up with multiple endings but you will need to work backward to determine the path of how your characters and plot reach that point. 

Determine the pace of each chapter and set goals for each chapter on what you want the reader to comprehend by the completion of it.  For example, chapter one introduce the main character and their dilemma.  Check.  Chapter two, build a picture of the main character's childhood.  Check. 

In addition, if you are maintaining supporting/ancillary storylines are they addressed equally?  If multiple storylines are not balanced, this can potentially distract or confuse the reader.  Ensure all storylines have substance that enhances your story.  If they do not, determine if the supporting/ancillary storyline is needed.  


Step Three-revisit the characters

There are times I have written characters only to scrap them at a later time.  What is the reason for this? 

Characters that do not have a sense of purpose in your novel do not add value to the content of the story.  In some cases, they can actually be a distraction.  If you are writing a novel that will have a sequel or follow-up then introducing the characters is fine as long as you are giving the reader an understanding of how they fit into the main theme of the book.  

Sometimes I will go back and create specific traits for characters to help build a solid foundation for why they are in the novel.  Think of your characters as part of an orchestra ensemble.  Each character has a particular part to play in the composition.  The percussion keeps the timing and beat, the woodwinds provide the melody and somehow all these pieces interconnect to create one beautiful piece.  Think of what part your character plays in your novel and how they contribute to the main piece.  What purpose do they have?  Sometimes characters are introduced to throw the reader off guard.  Go back and revisit your characters to construct additional details about them which may help you to figure out the next course of action. 


Step four-read and re-read what you've written

Step Five-analyze the pace

This may seem like an obvious point but it is important to read what brought you up to the point of where you halted.  Perhaps an important detail was overlooked.  Sometimes it has to do with an element that is not fully supported may be out of place.  This is particularly important if you are writing a novel that makes time jumps.  Ensure the time frame is correct for the plot.

Some key questions to ask as you read?
-Are the chapters building with additional information or are there unnecessary elements of the plot unfolding?
-How is the pace?  
-How does this sound to me?  If this was written by another author, would I find this interesting?  

If you are stuck on multiple endings, write both of them out.  Then come back at a later time and read both.  Which sounds better to you and why?


The pacing of novels can be a challenge at times.  Is your pace too slow?  Is your pace too fast?  The reader should be able to comprehend your main objective at a comfortable pace in that the storyline is not rushed.

Think of your novel as a roller coaster.  With each chain lift the roller coaster climbs provides the energy needed for when the roller coaster reaches the top of the hill.  This is when the ride takes off.  Similarly, think of each chapter climbing the hill to provide additional details and interest until you deliver the answer to the question your reader wants to know.

After you have read what you have written, perhaps you need to rework a few sections to provide a more consistent flow. 

Step six-shelf it...momentarily

If you have found yourself frustrated then take some time to digest what you have written.  As we get too close to our work at times, we may sometimes lose perspective or have "tunnel vision."  Take a few days or longer to come back to your story.  After you have re-read your story determine if you have come to the same conclusion of where you want to take it.

Also try not to overthink it.  Don't be too hard on yourself.  It is easy to get lost in a myriad of thoughts on how to make your novel more enticing and interesting.  Sometimes we are just not in the mood to write.  By forcing yourself through writer's block you may end up wanting to re-work what you have written, so taking a momentary break from your work is good.  You may even come back with something better than you originally intended.


Step seven-Pick up something else to read

Sometimes it is a matter of inspiration that may pull us back from continuing our writing project.  When I find myself in a case of writer's block I like to pick up something else to read in my genre.  Sometimes reading other sources will help create the lightbulb effect in your mind.  Perhaps it is a certain way the author writes, or descriptive words they use, and their style that can help us work through this pause.


Final punctuation

Writing a novel or creative piece requires patience and careful planning.  One question I always ask myself at the end of every creative piece is: can I do any better?  If I cannot, then I know I have done my best and I'm officially done with my work.

The story continues on...

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