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I Got Unstuck!, Or, How A Novelist Breaks Through Writer’s Block

How does a novelist overcome writer’s block? By the post I recently published about how I got stuck with my latest novel, you might have thought that it was just going to sit on my desktop for the rest of my computer’s life, unrevised and unpublished.

But…good news! I got unstuck two days after publishing that post. How did this happen? First, you need to understand…

My dilemma

Usually when I get stuck while writing a novel, it happens somewhere in the middle when trying to figure out the next plot twist. This time, I actually finished the story, then sat back and realized that it hadn’t ended the way I’d intended. And when I looked at the manuscript and did some more thinking, I realized that somewhere way back in the middle is where it had gotten off track.

I tried to rethink the plot for a few days, but nothing would come to me.

How to overcome writer’s block when you’re writing a novel

So, how did I get unstuck? I think it was a combination of two things:

#1. Time.

#2. Working on a different project.

Whether you get to the end of a novel and decide you don’t like the last part of it, or whether you hit a block somewhere in the middle and just can’t figure out how to continue the story – no matter how many knots you twist your brain into – I believe the above two steps are your best solution. Why?

Your muse needs time. You know the muse, that nebulous part of your mind that does all your creative thinking. Sometimes your muse only needs a day or three to come up with the answer. Sometimes – as what happened to me this time – it needs several months.

And not several days or several months or sitting around, crying every day with frustration because your brain won’t show you which direction to take. In the interim, you move to the second step: work on a different project.

For me, it was a combination of focusing on short stories for a time along with setting up and starting a new blog. For you, it might be playing around in the kitchen and developing new recipes, or teaching yourself a new language, or watching a movie every night.

What NOT to do when you have writer’s block

The worst thing you could do when you have writer’s block is to try to consciously solve the problem. You will either come up dry, or you will come up with something that is inferior to what your muse would have developed, had you just given it enough time.

I’m not sure why this is. But years ago I read a book that was about solving problems in general, and the author’s method worked in just this way. He wrote that the best solutions only ever pop into your head after you’ve looked at the problem from all angles, then intentionally decided to let it go, and then “slept on it.”

Our subconscious does interesting things – most of them, I’m sure, unknown – while we sleep. And I’m not just talking about dreams. Somehow, it’s a more powerful part of the mind than the conscious one. Maybe because of all the connections and images stored in our brain from way back in babyhood. Maybe there’s something spiritual there, too – when we’re not actively thinking about something, God has a chance to insinuate His voice into our minds and whisper the missing piece of the puzzle.

A sneak peek at my upcoming novel

You might engender my back-in-progress novel, Call Me Isabel, as supernatural women’s fiction. It’s a story of faith and possibilities, the restoration of a broken marriage, and true love (not romance, but the agape kind…although the story is not devoid of romance). It’s a story of hope, and making peace with the past. There is even elements of thriller/suspense and action/adventure. They aren’t there on purpose; they just sort of came along for the ride!

Just for you, to whet your whistle, here is part of the first chapter:

Chapter One

A soft whisper floats through me like a summer breeze, brushing against the edge of my consciousness.

Get up.

The words penetrate my deep sleep, urging me to wakefulness. I stretch. Then I still my body to listen again, to make sure of what I think I heard.

Get up.

The whisper is more forceful this time, a gust. Warmer, like the increasing heat you feel when a friend squeezes your arm to get your attention.

The next moment, I am sitting straight up, my legs moving to push my body up from the pallet on the floor. I did not imagine the voice, the words; I now understand that He has something for me to do, and that I need to be prepared. My feet sink into the beige carpet as I cross the room to where my clothes lay in an old chest of drawers.

As I pull on my long, white muslin skirt, I begin to hear shouting. And screaming. A man is shouting and a woman is screaming. Their fury carries along with their voices.

Years ago, I would have had to pray to maintain a calm spirit, to keep fear away. But I have long since learned what it means, that He lives in me. My soul and body have nothing to fear as long as The Holy One is in command.

I continue dressing, wondering where the couple might be. The voices are not loud or clear enough for them to be right outside the building where I have lived for the past two months. Perhaps across the parking lot, near the apartment office? My wondering is pure idleness, because I know He will lead me to the exact right place, at the exact right time.

I have my clothes on, and am just pulling my long, black tresses into a ponytail, when an explosion rips through the early morning air, threatening to shatter the peace within me.

***********

Lynda Daniels bolts upright in the king-sized bed. “Randy, did you hear that?” she asks her husband in a fierce whisper.

His only response is a grunt and slight shifting of his legs.

She looks toward the apartment door, ears strained, heart pounding. Did she hear something, or has it come from her dreams? That would explain why Randy didn’t hear it. Then again, lately he doesn’t seem to hear much of what she says even when they are both wide awake.

The thought makes her gut tighten. But before she can take the usual mental downward spiral that inevitably accompanies it, she hears a car door slam at almost the same time that an engine roars to life. The sound is close, too close. For ten full seconds she sits frozen in her bed. Tires squeal against the parking lot pavement, the sound grating against her eardrums.

Then, silence. On the outside, anyway. Inside, a dozen thoughts careen into her mind at once. The sound hadn’t been a gunshot, just the sound of another car door slamming. She needs to quit reading thrillers. Some guy’s pregnant wife is about to give birth, and they are in a hurry to get to the hospital.

The sound was a shot, and the car roaring away carries the person with the gun.

The reporter in her lands on that idea, and won’t let it go.

Lynda throws off the sheet and hops onto the floor, not worrying about waking Randy. He deserves to be awakened early, but it doesn’t matter what he deserves. He will keep on sleeping. Only the persistent, annoying buzz of an alarm clock right by his ear can ever wake him before eight o’clock.

Two minutes later, she has pulled on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, and grabbed her purse that contains her concealed weapon. You don’t work as an undercover reporter in Dallas, Texas, without protection. Not that she has worked undercover all that much, but the first of the handful of times she had, she learned quickly that her editor hadn’t been kidding when he’d advised her to get a gun and learn how to use it. This upcoming assignment will be interesting, as she will not be allowed to have it on her person. And she’s not exactly going to be in a safe place.

Slipping on her flip-flops, she noiselessly releases the chain midway between the doorknob and the top of the door. She turns the deadbolt and the doorknob with painstaking deliberation. She shakes her head and smirks at herself. If a gunshot and a car engine gunning practically right outside their door doesn’t wake Randy, her leaving the house will not.

Actually, several times in the past year she has considered leaving in the middle of the night, for that very reason. But if she ever does work up the nerve to tell him that she no longer wants to be with him, she will refuse to be the one to tear up her roots. She is not the one who has become uncommunicative. She is not the one who has let herself go physically. She is not the one who turned cold five years into their seven-year marriage.

Pulling open the door, she swipes a hot tear from her eye with the back of her hand. Good thing she hasn’t put on any make up yet.

She shakes her head to get her mind to focus on the task at hand: to find out if there are any bodies lying in the apartment complex parking lot.

**********

Go now, the whisper assures me as soon as the echoes of the shot die away.

I drop my hair from my fist, letting it cascade down my back. Then I slip on the pair of flats waiting by the apartment door, open the door, and step outside. My feet do not hesitate; they lead me with quick steps in the direction of the shot. But I don’t make it far before I see the silhouette of a man holding the gun, running.

Straight toward me.

No, not toward me. He makes a sharp turn to his left and yanks open the door of a pickup truck. I stand still, hidden in the shadows of the live oak tree towering above me, as he tosses the gun onto the seat, swings himself up into the cab, and starts the engine. With a squeal of tires, he is gone in a few seconds.

I glance around me. No one else has come out of their apartment. I do not want to believe it is that no one else cares, that the world has become that apathetic. But I am not so naïve as to think that fear and deep sleep are the only reasons that have kept my fellow residents from responding.

I cannot be upset by my solitude in this moment, however. I never have liked having an audience – it has always complicated things, even brought me great trials – so the abandoned, dark, silent parking lot is a blessing to me.

The early September morning air is still, so that the only sounds I hear are the rustling of my skirt and the scraping of my shoes against the blacktop as I make my journey across it. I would go barefoot – it has always been my preferred way of walking – but in my experience, cities have never been a safe place to tread without shoes. And so I risk making more noise than I would like to reach my target.

In less than a minute, I find her. She is lying in an empty space between two parked cars. Her dark head lies in the spotlight of the lamp above, and I can see a trickle of blood coming from her mouth.

I hope to be launching the book by August, if not sooner. No guarantees, but that’s what I’m aiming for. I will keep you updated as I meet significant milestones during the novel’s completion. If you want to make sure not to miss any updates, be sure to click on the envelope icon at the top of the sidebar. When you do, you receive each and every one of my blog posts in your inbox, as soon as I hit the publish button.

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