Today I will be sharing the last bit of writing advice from author Lily Velez. If you missed the other posts make sure to check them out. Day #1 she shared getting over your fear and how fear pertains to writer’s block, Day #2 she shared resistance and how that interferes with writer’s block (there’s a giveaway), and today we’ll learn about lack of planning. Again make sure to check out her debut novel, The Secrets We Kept which came out earlier this week.
How to Deal with Writer’s Block [Lack of Planning] by Lily Velez
This is the “I feel stuck” part of writer’s block. It’s when you claim you have no inspiration to work with and/or no creativity to fall back on. You had some fuel in your engine for a while, and you were doing pretty good. Maybe you’ve even completed one third or one half of a whole novel. But suddenly, it’s all come to a halt. You just don’t know what should happen next. And so you call it a day, claiming ‘writer’s block’—except the blockage ends up lasting for days, weeks, or months…and before you know it, you’ve abandoned the story altogether.
Now, I will say this: some stories aren’t meant to be finished. As we learn and grow as writers, there are dozens—perhaps hundreds—of stories that we will start. Along the way, we’ll learn about dialogue, plot development, characterization, voice, and more. Our stories in a way become little classrooms where we play with new techniques and sharpen our skills. It’s okay that we don’t finish these stories because they’re mostly for our own enjoyment and edification.
However, when you decide that you want to take your writing seriously and become a published author one day, you don’t have the time, energy, or brainpower to play around with unfinished stories. After all, in the publishing world, there are deadlines to meet, and citing ‘writer’s block’ isn’t going to win you a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ pass.
So planning has to play a role in your writing life, and it needs to do so in two ways:
1) Your writing routine.
Do you have a writing routine? Having one in place can save your sanity. Examine your days to determine when you’re at your most energetic and creative. For me, it’s the mornings and early afternoons. By 4PM, I’m already mentally fatigued, so I know better than to write in the evenings.
What blocks of time work for you? When you figure it out, set your writing appointment within that time frame and keep it like it’s sacred. Over time, you’ll mentally program it as a normal part of your day right along with brushing your teeth.
One thing you might consider doing is setting a timer for 20-30 minutes, and then racing against the time to fill the blank pages with words. Don’t edit as you write – just get the story down. Shannon Hale has this great quote: “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” I love this! Sometimes, we become so obsessed with sounding poetic and captivating our first go-around that we turn writing into this overwhelming stressor, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Don’t compare your rough draft to someone’s final polished book – remember it took them countless revisions to get there. Just write!
Then remember to take breaks after every 20-30 minute segment. Within moments of stepping away from your writing, the wheels in your brain will start to turn, generating new ideas for the piece. This always happens to me without fail. So get some fresh air, change your scenery for inspiration, look through inspiring images on Pinterest, or do some exercises so that your body will release endorphins, causing you to feel refreshed and rejuvenated.
2) Your writing outline.
I know, I know. The big plotters versus pantsers debate. Basically, plotters outline their books in advance and pantsers write on the fly. I used to be a pantser…but I never finished a novel being one. So then I decided to give outlining a try. The results? I finished a novel in 90 days.
I think one of the biggest arguments against plotting is that you lose creativity that way, that there’s no room for surprises. In my own experience, however, this has never been the case.
Think of it like this: an outline is simply the directions that you printed out from MapQuest (or the instructions your GPS is feeding you). It tells you how you’re going to get from point A to point B.
But just because you have those directions doesn’t mean you can’t stop at a roadside souvenir shop you see, right? It doesn’t mean you can’t take a detour off a highway exit to grab something to eat. It doesn’t mean you can’t stop midway through and board up at a hotel. You’re still getting to your destination in time, but you’re leaving room for other things to happen along the way.
I’ll admit, when I was a pantser, I thought that outlines would only suppress my creativity too. But once I started using outlines, I saw that this was so far from the case. Like my example above, an outline only helped me to develop a clearer journey (character arc) for my protagonists, and helped me to stay on track with where I wanted to go. But I could still run with new ideas for scenes or subplots as they came to me. And surprises still greeted me quite often. In response, I would simply restructure my outline to accommodate these changes. So you see, having an outline isn’t a death sentence, and it’s not akin to locking a ball and chain around your ankle. It’s not as if your outline sets your story in stone.
If anything, an outline can very well mean the difference between you finishing a story or tucking yet another unfinished manuscript into your desk drawer. I say give it a try if nothing else. You may find that you love creating outlines. But even if it doesn’t stick for whatever reasons, here’s one final piece of advice for you: always end your daily writing quota ‘mid-scene’, so to speak. That way, when you return to your writing the next day, you can pick up right where you left off and you don’t have to deal with the ‘what comes next?’ struggle ever again.
Planning your writing routine and planning your writing in general can truly make a world of difference…and best of all, ‘writer’s block’ will finally be a thing of the past.
Lily’s debut novel, The Secrets We Kept, is available now!