A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
We’ve all been there. You’re happily writing away, when suddenly you have no idea what words come next. Your once-buzzing synapses fall quiet, and your brain feels as much use as an over-cooked potato. If you’re drafting, maybe your plot’s dried up. If you’re editing, maybe you have no idea how to fix what your gut tells you is wrong. After a few minutes (or seconds) of staring blankly at your computer screen, a couple of clicks and, oops, you’re on Twitter, because 140 characters is so much easier to get your head around than the black hole that has become your story.
It happens to me with every novel. A couple of times, I’ve found the action-packed plan that was meant to take me to the end of the story only gets me half-way. Other times, I can tell something’s not quite right with my finished draft, but am unsure how to fix it. Here are a few strategies I’ve found can really help.
Is writer’s block a sign of deeper problems with your story?
If something about your story feels wrong, it can stop it flowing naturally. In those cases, instead of forcing yourself to churn out rubbish-words, double-check nothing major has gone wrong, e.g. a not-very-believable plot twist a few chapters back. Re-reading from the start to see if and when things have gone iffy can help — plus I find it reminds me what the heart of my story’s about, since it might have been months since I wrote the beginning!
Fresh eyes on your story can help kick-start your imagination. Whether you’re drafting or editing, it can help to hash out your story problems with someone else — ideally a fellow writer, but anyone really will do, as long as they’re willing to critique and not just tell you everything’s perfect! In my case, even if I don’t end up using their suggestions, I’ll often have an ‘aha!’ moment while chatting.
Are you just procrastinating?
Be honest — are you genuinely stuck, or do you have an inkling what to write next and are just too daunted / lazy to tackle it? Jackson Pearce (whose YA fairytale retellings I LOVE) made a cute video about it (procrastinators, this one’s for you…).
Or maybe you simply need to…
Rest your brain
Constantly coming up with new characters and plot twists can be exhausting on your imagination. You are not a novel-writing machine (if you are, can I be you?). Unless you have a looming deadline, it’s totally fine to take time off. Feed your grey cells with other things, like music, books and films. Go for a walk, or spend time with real-life people (real-life people? What…?). It feels like the opposite of work, but it does your brain good. Plus, I sometimes find my sub-conscious is working on my story when I’m not, and the solution to problems comes to me when I’m nowhere near my laptop.
If you know any other solutions to writer’s block, I’d love to know! Now, I think I’m due a little time on Twitter…
Kendra Leighton is a YA author represented by Lutyens & Rubinstein Literary Agency. Glimpse, her debut novel, was inspired by Alfred Noyes’ poem ‘The Highwayman’. It’s out now.