Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hitting My Mental Block

So, thirty-odd thousand words into the yet-as-untitled YA spec fic thingy that I’m writing with my sister, and I’ve hit a mental block. I say I, because Kath doesn’t write on weekends - apparently at some point children ought to come first. Who knew?

Anyhoo, I have hit a mental block. It looks like this:

My mental block smells like petrol and desperation.
Also, it is screaming these things at me:

This is a stupid idea!

You should go back and start again and completely change the setting! And the characters! And the plot! 

No, you should print this whole thing out and symbolically burn it page by page under the light of the full moon!

You should go and work on something else, something fresh, something shiny and exciting! Because that would be fun! Can't we do something fun? C'mon, you know you want to!

Stuff it! Go and watch TV!

And, as a pantser, this is the point where I would shove this manuscript in my Too Hard Basket, and start something else. But I am trying to become a reformed pantser, and I am trying to work out what this mental block is actually saying. I think it might be this:

You have stalled. Don’t panic. Back it up, and try again.

Something in this scene is not working, but that does not invalidate everything you’ve already written.

If you can’t get over this block, go around it. Then come back later and reinvestigate. This is only a first draft.

Do not use this as an excuse to quit.

Baby. Bathwater. Know the difference.

Note to self: do not throw out the shiny pink thing.

This time I will not go with my first instincts. This time I will try something different -- actually attempting to solve the problem. And who knows, it might even work! 

What do you do when you hit a mental block? 


  1. I'd high five you, but you're too far north. I'm a total pantser too, but I don't have the luxury of being able to move on - even to another scene! If I'm stuck, I'm stuck, and it will sometimes take me two weeks to get past a block. Which is pretty sad, considering I've finished this manuscript about twenty times over (even sadder is that I'm happy with the ending - it's just the bridging chapters in the middle that suck arse right now).

    If ONLY revisions didn't mean multiple rewrites!!!

    But I've recently learnt the best way to get over these blocks is to go back and re-read. To which point were you happy with the story? Was it a few chapters ago? Was it awesome up until that chapter? Then go way back there and start writing again, because the scene you're currently stuck on didn't get there on its own.

    Think of it as a Choose Your Own Adventure story - even if this avenue leads you to a cliff, you've had some fun along the way, right? Maybe you've written things you'll use later, too. :)

    Just keep going, because although your first instinct told you to shelf it, your gut also told you to soldier on! You'd have shelved it if you truly wanted to. ;)

  2. Thanks, Jaime! I'd high five you as well, but it's so cold down there my fingers might get snap frozen.

    I think that if I let myself get stuck, then I'd never come back to it. That's why I have to remind myself that it's only a first draft, and everything can wait until editing.

    I am currently re-reading and might just take things off in a wild tangent to see what happens. (I think I'll always be a pantser at heart!)

  3. EEEK!! Hang in there, my dear reformed panster! (see, proof of why you're reforming yourself :D )

    It'll ALL work out! I love that photo, BTW. I absolutely abhor mental blocks. When I hit one, I spend a few hours listening to movie themes (sometimes it adds creativity fodder) or read a few books. You may get some ideas. Also, read John Truby's Anatomy of Story! He's AWESOME, dissecting stories. YOu'll be sure to glean some ideas from him. Or, spend some time outlining the rest of your story before getting back to it.

    I'm sorry, I KNOW it's frustrating! The "bad guy" in your story has a habit of crawling out of the page and messing with your confidence. DO NOT LET HIM WIN!!! (threaten to erase him?? lol)

  4. I usually keep going blithely on, never aware of the problem until I'm so firmly entrenched in it that backing away is impossible. Unfortunately, so is going forward.

    But I love your take on this. And don't despair - you still have six weeks until the next Full Moon.

  5. Sorry about your block. Try writing the ending. Just go with it. Write how you imagine it to end and that usually fixes the middle-muddle-mess.

    Let me know if it works!

  6. Thanks, Barbara! I will keep erasure in mind!

  7. MC, that's how I feel at the moment! Can;t go forward, cant go back, but hey, this is my universe. I make the rules here! I'll do what Robyn suggests, and write the end first!

  8. Hi Robyn! I will head to the end and then double back later!

    My mental block isn't all bad though. Today I actually cleaned my house, organised all of my tax papers, and sorted out my new bookshelf. I know it's procrastination, but if I never procrastinated I'd have featured on Hoarders by now. That's what my back cupboard looked like before I started.

  9. Jen, your caption to the baby pic absolutely made me giggle. :) You are correct, keep the shiny pink thing...

    When I hit a mental block, I usually grab a blank piece of lined notebook paper and start mapping out where I want the scene to go, or what I need to have happen. Top of the page: current place. Bottom of the page: where I need to be. In the middle of the page: all sorts of crazy, random brainstorms on how to get there. Usually, something comes together. But don't trash the project. The concept is likely still very sound!

  10. My standard answer as a plotter is do more character work, but I say that without knowing how much plotting you've tried to do already.

  11. I sit and ignore my project. I don't start something else, just ignore the project and go running. If I listen to the WIP's playlist long enough while symbolically "killing" myself the scene comes to me. It's all very Greek sacrifice when I see it in print like this.

  12. Jen, here's what I do when I hit the wall:
    1) I vent, usually on my blog, to get the damn thing off my chest.
    2) I try writing a chapter that will never go in the book. I write in a different POV, or maybe a scene with secondary characters. This chapter won't move the story along but it will help me change focus while at the same time letting me understand those characters better. Think Rosencrantz & Guildenstern.
    3) I draw something from my wip. Again, this isn't supposed to be published in anyway, it's just trying to use other kinds of creativity to get the words flowing again.

    Hope that's helpful. Do not, under any circumstances, stop writing.
    And don't drink the bath water unless it's laced with gin ;)

  13. TL, that's a great strategy. I will give that a try for sure!

  14. Hi Margo! You know me, I have't done much plotting at all! I'm trying to reform myself, but it's a process! And it's times like these that I remind myself of why I should have plotted more!

  15. Magpie,
    Yep, I've vented! You all saw it!

    I like your idea of writing a chapter I will never use. I really like it! I like it more than your suggestion about gin -- ugh, I've never been able to drink gin. But I'll get right on your advice if I can use vodka instead...

  16. Hello! I have stumbled upon your very witty and pleasant blog through Hektor Karl. I will say that it is very, very brave to consider writing a chapter you will never use! I seem to write so little that every word is an achievement!
    Maybe gin (or vodka) would make me take a different stance.

    The fact that you are writing, and still CARE about what you are writing, is a sign you are on the right path! *Notice I did not succumb to the urge to use a pun here...*

  17. Hi Maggie, thanks for following! At the moment I love Magpie's idea about writing a chapter I will never use. It's better than staying stalled!

    Also, you should never be afraid to use puns on my blog! :)



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