Writer’s Block? How to Get Your Novel Unstuck

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We’ve all been there. When we started off with this brilliant story idea we just simply knew this was the one. This story we would finish. This time would be different.

*insert screeching breaks* (pun intended)

Then we hit a wall. We simply can’t seem to move forward no matter how hard we try. We might even go through the Kubler-Ross Stages of Death and Dying.

Denial

Oh it isn’t that bad. I just haven’t had enough caffeine.

Anger

What the hell was I thinking? A romance? No one wants to read about love. Love is dead. Readers want diet books and recipes with kale.

Bargaining

Maybe if I just go add in some super clever metaphors it will all improve. Can one use emojis in fiction? I find smilie faces spice up my Facebook posts. Brilliant!

Tiffany was thrilled Dane asked her to dinner😀😀😀❤❤❤😀😀😀

Okay, not brilliant. Note to self. Tell NO ONE you thought this might be a good idea.

Depression

I suuuuuuuuuck. I suck I suck I suck. I’m never going to finish a novel. I am just a pretender, a fake. A “real” writer wouldn’t have this problem.

Acceptance

Yes. Something is definitely wrong. Back to the drawing board.

I’ve been working with plot for going on ten years and not only do I have experience with countless writers who’ve hit a wall, but been there, done that and got the t-shirt. In fact, being a person who is obsessed with patterns, my own stalling was part of why I became so fixated on understanding plotting.

It seemed like I’d always go through the same process. First, caffeine. Duh.

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Then….

0-10K Words

I am a frigging GENIUS. THIS, THIS was the idea I’ve been looking for. What was I thinking with all those story ideas?

The words just come pouring out. In fact family members might have to knock you away from your keyboard using a broomstick or a board or some other nonconductive material (similar to rescuing someone who’s grabbed hold of a live power line).

10K-20K Words

All, right. It’s a bit slower, but that is to be expected.

The words are no longer gushing forth with the force of Old Faithful, but water word pressure is still decent enough.

20K-30K Words

Wow, this is getting tough. But, persistence prevails when all else fails. Is that a plot bunny?

Hello, little fellow. Aren’t you cute? Where are you off to?

31K Words

How the hell did an alien invasion end up in my women’s fiction. Right, the plot bunny. Damn.

35K Words

Skip writing and go straight to drinking. And this idea had SO much promise. Maybe that plot bunny was onto something. Perhaps I’m a sci-fi writer. What was I thinking writing women’s fiction?

Begins watching episodes of Ancient Aliens on YouTube.

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It’s okay. It happens to the best of us, even if you happen to be a plotter. Characters misbehave, the story veers off course and now you’re so lost you have no idea what to do.

With a novel? It is tempting to just start something new, but before you give up understand there are some common reasons you might be stuck and some tricks to get unstuck.

Yay!

I don’t like it when pros claim writer’s block isn’t real. It is real. Yes often laziness is mistaken for writer’s block, but sometimes it is our subconscious slamming on the brakes because it knows there is something fundamentally wrong that needs to be repaired. It is keeping us from digging ourselves in deeper by making us stall out.

It’s a Check Engine light and ignore it at your peril.

I also don’t like it when seasoned writers or teachers give the advice to just keep writing. Yes, we need to keep writing, but sometimes that alone isn’t enough.

It’s like the time was tired and accidentally got on the tollway in Oklahoma going north instead of south. If my goal was to eventually get from Tulsa to OKC, then to keep driving north was a ridiculous plan.

Granted it sucked when I snapped to in Joplin, Missouri and I felt more than a little stupid. But the best course was simply to turn around and get going in the proper direction.

Sure if I kept driving, in theory, I could have reached OKC, but maybe I didn’t want to traverse the north and south poles and come up through South and Central America.

Why You Are Stuck

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The biggest reason you might be stuck is you are being a perfectionist. Stop it. Go find your favorite authors on Amazon and read all the one and two star reviews and then you will realize there is no such thing as a perfect book.

Perfect is the enemy of the good.

But, beyond this? Some practical advice:

The Seed Idea

The good news is it might not be your idea. You idea might be perfectly fine, it just maybe was not robust enough to support the story you want to tell. Or maybe it was confusing. It needed more focus. Maybe it was too broad or even too narrow.

This is why I strongly recommend writers creating a log-line. Tell what your story is about in ONE sentence (For more go HERE).

I.e. A fraidy cat romance author must travel to the jungles of South America to rescue her sister from murderous jewel thieves before they chop up her sister and feed her to the alligators.

You guessed it. Romancing the Stone.

When I do my log-line class (one coming up) I can simply look at a log-line and not only tell if a writer is going to have problems, but can also predict what those problems will be.

If you didn’t do one ahead of time, that’s all right. Go back and make yourself create one and then instead of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, you will actually have an actionable plan.

If you have a log-line, go BACK to it. Revisit the story you were wanting to tell in the first place.

The Cast

It might be you’ve miscast your protagonist. Maybe at first it seemed like a good idea, sort of like when the second season of True Detective cast Vince Vaughn as a hard core gangster. Was a nice try, but yeah.

Maybe go swap out some of the major players with a different type of character and see if that helps.

The POV

My first attempts at The Devil’s Dance (at publisher now) were a train wreck. No one liked the female protagonist no matter how many times I rewrote it. So? I switched from third limited to first person and the change in voice alone was enough to solve the problem.

The plot might not be the issue, rather you’ve chosen the wrong POV to tell it in. OR maybe it is the correct POV but just rewriting a chapter or two in a different POV is enough to get you unstuck.

In the end, yes keep writing. No half-finished novel even became a NYT best-seller but a lot of finished sucky ones have. But sometimes, the key to finishing is working smarter not harder😉 .

What are your thoughts? Are you stuck? Do you have other tips for getting unstuck you’d like to share? Did you see yourself in any of this? Do you hit the same benchmarks? It’s kind of spooky isn’t it? I’ve found that it takes about 30K for plot flaws to become a game changer. If the plot is flawed we just won’t see it in only 20 pages.

If my tips aren’t enough, Icy Sedgewick has some different tips in her post How Do You Restart Your Stuck Novel?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 16th

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

Blogging for Authors

September 17th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

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  1. #1 by willmacmillanjones on September 2, 2016 - 7:02 am

    One piece of advice i often give is to go and write some flash fiction. A different short story a day for a week. Sometimes I suspect the block comes because we concentrate on the minutiae of the WIP and forget to exercise our imaginations enough, a bit of flash gets it working again.

  2. #2 by suzannebowditch on September 2, 2016 - 7:30 am

    Yes, good advice🙂

  3. #3 by Icy Sedgwick on September 2, 2016 - 7:35 am

    Thanks for the shout out ^_^

  4. #4 by ddominikwickles on September 2, 2016 - 7:45 am

    Reblogged this on Diane T. Wickles and commented:
    If you’ve never read Kristen Lamb’s blog, you are missed lots of great information and advice.

  5. #5 by suzannebowditch on September 2, 2016 - 7:55 am

  6. #6 by Kathryn on September 2, 2016 - 8:07 am

    I kept slowing down and getting stuck exactly as you describe, and and I knew exactly why: was seeking a way to tell a well-known old story as it might have REALLY happened, but kept sliding down into the ancient plot already known to millions. The solution? Read an armload of books only way-out-there peripherally related to the place, the age, and the people who are there now. Suddenly bam! Got it! And, as a super-special bonus, the log line came instantly and is perfect. So for others who are equally stuck, I can only suggest to try throwing rocks in totally random directions. Eventually you’ll hit (gold, the target, a bunny…)

  7. #7 by Ellen Hawley on September 2, 2016 - 9:43 am

    If I read that correctly, the six stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, coffee. If I substitute tea, will it still work?

    • #8 by ratherearnestpainter on September 4, 2016 - 7:49 pm

      As you like, but there’s no guarantee.

    • #9 by Deborah Makarios on September 5, 2016 - 8:55 pm

      It works for me, but then, I include tea at all stages. Except for the depression stage, naturally. That requires chocolate.

  8. #10 by Botanist on September 2, 2016 - 10:22 am

    “I also don’t like it when seasoned writers or teachers give the advice to just keep writing. Yes, we need to keep writing, but sometimes that alone isn’t enough.”

    Heck, Kristen, you must have been reading my blog (Just Keep Writing). I despaired of finding another writer out there who dared to question this universal advice, and the importance instead of digging into why you are stuck. I ran through a list of similar thoughts – characters, plot, setting, etc.

  9. #11 by Bridgett Morigna on September 2, 2016 - 10:24 am

    Reblogged this on Writing and Musing and commented:
    This post is amazing. Having methods to combat writer’s block helps so much.

  10. #12 by Tonya Lippert on September 2, 2016 - 10:32 am

    Hi, Kristen,

    I want to sign up for your blogging class. The schedule says Saturday the 16th, and Sat. is the 17th. Could you clarify whether the class is on Friday or on Saturday?

    Thanks,

    Tonya

    • #13 by Author Kristen Lamb on September 2, 2016 - 11:17 am

      Oh good catch! I changed my mind at the last moment and decided to do a Saturday class (instead of Friday) since I have been getting people from Europe and Australia and God help them trying to do hours in an American time zone. The class is on a Saturday afternoon if you are in the States.

      Yes, I am blonde *hangs head*.

  11. #14 by Chris Graham on September 2, 2016 - 11:14 am

    Maybe I’m lucky… or maybe it’s just the way I work… but I’ve never suffered from writer’s block.
    If I’m writing, then I’m writing. If there’s nothing to write… I don’t write. It’s as simple as that. There’s no suffering involved.

    At present, I’m between books. The last one has been sent to the publisher to join the queue of my own and others. The paperback edition of the last book to be released has just been ‘put to bed’… so I’m done with poring over the PDF of the printer’s edit, and then the printer’s proof… and taking on the task of condensing various blurbs and synopses into a terse inviting ‘back cover blurb’ (surprisingly difficult this time.) – e-books don’t have that problem – so I’ve now got the chance to do some reading.

    I know that at some point an idea will pop into my head for a theme for another novel in the series. When it does, I’ll write a scene or two based on that theme.
    Then another theme will occur to me and I’ll do the same for that one. These sometimes enter my mind when riding my motorbike, or driving, or watching TV… or quite often when I’m in bed.

    Once I’ve got two or three themes, with scenes written involving some of my ‘regular’ characters… or ideas about how my regulars can get involved… I’ll sort them into some kind of order, and then ‘I’m off’. (I like my novels to have at least a couple of themes. The last one had identity fraud, and ‘honour killing’ as its two main themes, with a bus hijack thrown in for seasoning.)

    Sometimes I’ll get straight on the keyboard when I wake up (sometimes unfeasibly early) and at around nine o’clock I’ll think about breakfast… only to find it’s nine at night. Other times, the same thing will happen as I’m going to bed. Then there’s times when I’m not so productive. I’ll only visit the keyboard occasionally throughout the day, as the mood takes me.

    That’s just the way it works for me. Some days I’ll write nothing… apart from the odd Faceache post, or forum comment. Other times, I’m working on an editing job for someone else, while I’m working on my own book. There’s always something.

    I let my characters lead me, and I just see where they’re going to take me. (I’m a ‘pantser.) Eventually, (usually about 30 to 50 thousand words in) I’ll see a possible ‘end game’, and I’ll write it… then I’ll begin to steer the threads of the story towards that end game.
    It can be messy. In the last book, I had to kill off a nice character, a dear sweet girl who was madly in love, just to make the final end game have meaning. I felt a little guilty about that, but hey… this is crime fiction.

  12. #15 by Hannah Kubiak on September 2, 2016 - 11:18 am

    Depression and Acceptance battle each other quite consistently. With a little bit of Bargaining standing in the middle, holding the other two apart, saying, “Come on, guys, you’ve been fighting for so long! If you just worked together?!”

    Kristin, I know I’ve got no right to ask this, but do you think you could do me a favor? I’ve already decided that my plot is the problem. Every time I have writer’s block, it’s the plot that blocks me or the bunny that leads me astray. Could I give you my log line here in this comment? I long to know what’s wrong with it! Here it is: An officer in a Roman-esque military discovers that his Commander is controlling him via brainwashing, and in the process of escaping his influence, discovers that he himself is not as innocent as he thought.

    I read your post about log lines, and I don’t see the picture in my brain like the Jurassic Park example you shared. Any thoughts?

    • #16 by Author Kristen Lamb on September 2, 2016 - 11:47 am

      Log-line is Protagonist + Antagonistic Force + Stakes/Ticking Clock. My question would be, “What is the CORE STORY PROBLEM in need of resolution by the end?” “What are the stakes (what happens if he fails?” “What gives the ticking clock?” Your protagonist should not have infinite time to solve the problem.

      If this doesn’t help, I strongly recommend the class. You will walk away with a solid log-line. Part of the benefit😀

      • #17 by Hannah Kubiak on September 2, 2016 - 1:50 pm

        Thank you so much for taking the time to reply! This is very helpful and I’m definitely getting some ideas!

  13. #18 by Jan Flynn on September 2, 2016 - 11:19 am

    I’m busy incubating an idea for my next NaNoWriMo project (because seeing that little graph of my daily word count every day has a ridiculous power to make me producing), and now you have convinced me to come up with a log line. Gonna do it. Thanks!

  14. #19 by ellenchauvet on September 2, 2016 - 12:29 pm

    Reblogged this on Erotic Vampire and commented:
    Brilliant and hit home.

  15. #20 by Anthony Mays on September 2, 2016 - 12:39 pm

    All this was good, most appropriate to myself – stuck at 10,000 for a few weeks. But in defense of myself, I wrote four short stories that totaled 10,000 words. So am I stuck, or just distracted? I’m hoping the latter.

  16. #21 by Nichole McGhie on September 2, 2016 - 1:21 pm

    This was a good post for me today. I particularly liked what you had to say about point of view. I wanted to try something new and write from only one point of view in my current WIP. The result? My character is kind of boring and I don’t feel excited about writing his story. So thus is definitely something for me to work on.

  17. #22 by Jo-Ann Carson on September 2, 2016 - 1:57 pm

    Reblogged this on Jo-Ann Carson and commented:
    Ooh this post fits me like a well-worn mocassin.

  18. #23 by Sarah Rosinski on September 2, 2016 - 6:20 pm

    The LOGLINE! Thanks for the reminder!

  19. #24 by Cronin Detzz on September 3, 2016 - 7:49 am

    Shared on cdetzz/WordPress. Great post.

  20. #25 by Don Massenzio on September 3, 2016 - 9:10 am

    Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog.

  21. #26 by saralitchfield on September 3, 2016 - 11:46 am

    Lol that is such a good point – there’s no use keeping going if you’re going in the wrong direction… Interesting idea to switch POV and see what happens – I’ll try it next time I struggle.

  22. #27 by bardotbarbiturate on September 3, 2016 - 5:13 pm

    Reblogged this on Bardotbarbiturate and commented:
    Read, digest, repeat.

  23. #28 by cleemckenzie on September 5, 2016 - 10:57 am

    As I read this, I was identifying with the stages of my so-called “creative process” on a passionate level. Having just started a new project, I’m now at the 1-10K word stage with a touch of terror creeping in. Soon this thing’s going to slow, and if I’m not careful it’s going to die before I hit the 25K word mark.

    Thanks for giving me hope that at 35K I can open the wine and guzzle.

  24. #29 by ratherearnestpainter on September 5, 2016 - 2:44 pm

    Log Lines, Another class I need to take.

  25. #30 by 1authorcygnetbrown on September 7, 2016 - 10:01 am

    Hate me if you want (it doesn’t hurt me), but I have never had writer’s block. I may have had times when writing was a little difficult, but writing for me really is Soo much fun and I always have new ideas. I am one of those writers who knows how the book will end before I ever start and after a day or two of writing, I always have an outline of what will happen in the story. Not that the characters don’t surprise me from time to time because they do. It is all part of the adventure.

    • #31 by Author Kristen Lamb on September 7, 2016 - 11:23 am

      No I would only hate you if you ALSO had skinny thighs and could eat all the carbs you want. Then? YOU ARE DEAD TO ME.

      • #32 by 1authorcygnetbrown on September 7, 2016 - 12:54 pm

        LOL, I do have ‘normal’ thighs, but if it is any consolation, my butt and belly need a lot of work and I had to adjust the lie about how much I weigh on my driver’s license.

  26. #33 by Tracey-anne on September 11, 2016 - 12:24 pm

    Great post. Could relate and had me giggling. Thank you. :o)

  27. #34 by aurorajeanalexander on October 10, 2016 - 5:59 pm

    Reblogged this on Writer's Treasure Chest and commented:
    Kristen Lamb published a blog post about “How to get your novel unstuck”… It’s a great post about ‘writer’s block’, an experience that makes me goose bumps.

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