Fighting Writer’s Block

Coming to the close of the first draft of my new novel, Son of God, I am writing in response to the two questions I am most frequently asked: How do you keep going? What about writer’s block?

They are two valid questions and I suspect that most authors would have similar responses. Although both connected to continuity, they are distinct questions, so I will treat them as such.

How do you keep going? The key to continuity in this instance is structure. Really, I never would have guessed! I hear you cry. It sounds a little obvious, I know, but when you are your own boss and work from home, the temptation to vegetate in front of day time television, awful though it is, is very real. So what form does the structure take? For me, the structure begins in recreating an office environment, so I feel that I am ‘going to work’ in a very real sense. As such, I have a desk and a laptop, a printer and a telephone, and I arrive in ‘the office’ at eight o’clock each morning, take a break to walk the dogs at ten and have a one-hour lunch break each day. I then write my books following a loosely Agile development process. When I have a basic goal (a story and a plan in place) I have a rough idea of size, and I know the scheduled issue date, so I can divide the writing into weekly sprints, each with a target number of words, which is then broken down into working hours in the week. There are buffers and unforeseen contingencies, and I am yet to miss a release deadline following that structure. As Tommy Cooper would have said: Just Like That!

What about writer’s block. Ah, the Arch-Nemesis of every writer. When the brain freezes over, and the words are stuck on the tips of the fingers, what can one do to guarantee continuity? I am not aware what other writers do when they are frozen in space and time, hovering over their keyboard, lost for words, but for me it falls to alternatives. Always have something else you can be doing. Again, it sounds a little obvious, but I have spoken to writers who write sequentially and only have one project active at a time. This might sound like structure, but what it means is, when writer’s block looms, the writer must wait for the brain to thaw before they can continue. I always have at least two projects active and I create a book skeleton that is basically complete before I begin to write. In this way, I can switch to an alternative when I meet the arch nemesis, whether that alternative is another chapter or a different book entirely, it works. This invariably helps the thaw, too, because when I am not staring at the white space where the freeze began an answer usually presents itself.

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