Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Writer's Block by Sandra Orchard

Sandra Orchard on the scene of her book, "Perilous Waters"
Angie invited me to talk about how to persevere through writer’s block, which I unhappily have TOO much experience in.

Oh, it didn’t used to be this way. In bygone days when I was blithely oblivious to such things as character arcs, pacing, romantic conflict, and a myriad of other editor expectations, stories flowed unhindered from my fingertips to the computer screen.

Now…my creativity is cursed by my analytical mind. And trust me, I’ve tried to turn it off, to write those “fast drafts” people like to talk about, and every two or three books, it almost works!

But typically I face a bout of writer’s block halfway through every book. I usually have the story well outlined before I start, but somewhere along the way, the characters lead me astray, and I merrily follow ... only to find I’ve written myself into a corner and don’t know how to get out.

Can you relate?

Have you stomped around the house, ranted about unruly characters and devoured chocolate—God’s most story-inspiring food group—without effect?

Then try these tips:

  1. Pray. Get into God’s Word and listen to what He’s telling you. He is our ultimate source of inspiration, the well that will never run dry. And honestly, sometimes we get stuck because God needs to deal with our character flaws before we can help our characters overcome theirs.

  2. After step one, by far the most useful exercise I’ve found to help me break through writer’s block is cluster mapping. The key to figuring out what happens next is asking good questions then letting the answers generate more questions and answers and see where they lead.

    So, for example, in the center of the page, I might start with the question, What happens next? From it, I’ll radiate off all sorts of possibilities from various characters’ points of view then ask, Why does that matter? Why would the reader care? This helps me eradicate the mundane and discover the extraordinary, and best of all, to surprise myself. Hopefully, if I’m surprising myself, my reader will be surprised, too! Here’s a pic to help you see what I mean.
    An Example of Cluster Mapping

    I did this one while writing Fatal Inheritance when that voice in my head told me the villain wasn’t who I thought he was. I mean that the villain was literally a different person than I had in my synopsis (which has turned out to be the case for every book I’ve written since!) I did this map to help me figure out who was really the villain. Oh, and did I mention that this voice in my head didn’t start hounding me until a month before the manuscript was due?!

    As you can see this is a messy process. Ideas come a mile a minute. But the exercise is an incredibly energizing creativity boost as it encourages me to think outside of the box.

  3. If clustering doesn’t boot you out of your block, get together with a couple of writing buddies (online if need be) and talk out your story, what’s working, what’s not. More often than not, one of my friends will spot what’s paralyzed me and we’re able to brainstorm fixes. Admittedly, the fixes are never as easy to write as they make it sound, because I first have to divorce myself from what I’ve already written. But it is precisely because my friends aren’t married to my writing that they gave a clearer perspective.

  4. Another strategy that’s worked for me is skipping ahead to a scene I know how to write. Oftentimes the bridging scenes will reveal themselves as I write this later scene.

  5. When all else fails, take a day off. Do something you enjoy, something that inspires you. The solutions to story problems often come when you give your mind time to work on them subconsciously, so be sure to keep a pen and notebook handy. But don’t stay away from your novel too long or you’ll never finish it!
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Writer's block? Pray. Get into God’s Word and listen to what He’s telling you.
The key to figuring out what happens next is asking good questions.
Skip ahead to a scene that you know how to write.
Solutions for Writer's Block? Share them with us!
      About the Author
      Sandra Orchard is the award-winning author of several inspirational romantic suspense/mysteries, including Deadly Devotion and Blind Trust. Her Love Inspired Suspense titles have garnered two Canadian Christian Writing Awards and a Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award. Sandra has also received a Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. In addition to her busy writing schedule, Sandra enjoys speaking at events and teaching writing workshops. She lives in Ontario, Canada. Learn more about Sandra’s books and check out the special bonus features, such as deleted scenes and location pics, at http://sandraorchard.com.

      Perilous Waters
      Perilous Waters
      by Sandra Orchard

      UNDER SUSPICION

      For FBI agent Sam Steele, there’s no room for error or emotions on his latest undercover assignment. Getting close to gallery owner Jennifer Robbins while on an Alaskan cruise is the only way to catch her dealing stolen art. Out on the icy seas, Jen suddenly goes from suspect to victim when she’s targeted by a deadly enemy. And Sam’s mission goes from investigating an art crime to protecting the woman who’s begun to melt his heart. As danger looms closer, he’ll do anything to save her life—even if it costs him his own.

      What others are saying about PW:

      “Levelheaded characters, beautiful description and strong action abound. Clinging to God as our “ship” is a nicely woven ideal for the inspirational arc.” 4 stars RT Book Reviews

      “Perilous Waters kept me on the edge of my loveseat as I followed twin sisters Jennifer and Cassandra in and out of danger and love on an Alaskan cruise. With enough plot twists to keep me guessing and enough romance to keep me smiling, I sailed through this lovely, nail-biting story in record time.” Jeanette Levellie

      Connect on Facebook ~ http://www.Facebook.com/SandraOrchard
      Subscribe to newsletter ~ http://bit.ly/OrchardNews
      Explore Bonus Features ~ http://sandraorchard.com/extras/bonus-book-features/
      Buy Links For Perilous Waters ~ http://sandraorchard.com/books/perilous-waters/

      11 comments:

      1. Awesome tips, Sandra. Thanks for sharing.
        And Perilous Waters looks and sounds delicious!

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        1. You're welcome, Dora. Perilous Waters was a "delicious" book to research. :)

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      2. I love the cluster mapping idea! It's a great way to brainstorm without getting too far off topic. Thanks so much for visiting with us today!

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        1. Yes, and visually, it's easy to reference as you write.

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      3. I like all your ideas, Sandra, especially the cluster map. That middle can be a real trouble spot. It's just so doggone long! :) I also will move on to scenes I know I want to write and build the bridges later. Thanks!

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        1. Yes, middles are a writer's nemesis. :) I think mystery writers have the best solution. Kill someone. ;)

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      4. Well said, Sandra! I used to have my students do the clusters...and I remember learning early on in RWA sessions: no finished book will look like the synopsis You gotta go with the creative flow. I remember the first time a character "spoke" to me.(yes, it was about killing someone LOL.) It's a terrific feeling. Oh, those sagging middles...both literally and physically. I so enjoyed your post today.

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        1. I saw a great bumper sticker that you'd love. "You're just jealous because the voices don't talk to you." I saw it when vacationing in Florida and sooo wish now that I'd picked it up. :)

          Glad you enjoyed the post.

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      5. Sandra, I always enjoy reading your posts. Love the cluster idea. And I love reading all your books.

        Tanya, you cracked me up with the sagging middle comment. Does that mean our stories need Spanx?

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        Replies
        1. Thank you, Terri! It's always nice to hear you enjoy a book. :)

          I had to look up Spanx, and wow, I don't think I'm going to look at a sagging middle ever the same again...those images are going to keep popping into my head! LOL

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      6. A great follow up on my agent's blog to this post:
        http://stevelaube.com/when-you-have-one-of-those-days/

        Enjoy!

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