Wednesday Writing Tip: Writer's Block is a Red Flag for 3 Problems

This tip is from 30 Day Novel

 Writer’s block is almost always a red flag warning you about some problem with the novel. (The only other cause for writer’s block is severe personal stress, which may be negative, like a divorce, or positive, like a move, but either way absorbs all your mental energy. However, that’s outside the scope of these Tips. If you are in such a situation, give yourself a break and take care of the issue first.)

One of these red flags, and one that I’ve faced many times, is Ignorance. You sit down ready to write a scene…it’s right there in your outline… it should be no problem. You lift your fingers, like a piano prodigy, to wrest sweet story music from your keyboard, and…


The scene is not working because there’s something that’s stumping you. For me, it’s often something like the place and time of the scene. Sometimes it’s a deeper problem though. Occasionally, it’s something god-awful like a Plot Abyss At The Heart of the Whole Damn Book. (Shudder.)

Here are a couple of typical problems waiting to ambush you:

1. Logistical Problems

Logistical issues trip me up all the time. This should have been ironed out a long time ago thanks to prepping my Map and Calendar, but I may have (1) neglected to do that, or (2) changed some critical thing in the plot that makes the map or calendar obsolete or (3) realize as I sit down to write the scene that what I planned so carefully was completely idiotic. It makes no sense, but I’ve already written the previous scenes that way, and now how am I going to make sense of it? Are they on the West slope or the East slope? Is it day or night? Is she wearing pants or a skirt? Are there five or seven goblins, and are they armed with spears or swords?

It’s amazing how much trivial crap like this can mess me up.

2. Character Issues

A worse problem occurs when I’m about to write a scene and realize that I have no idea why my character is doing X. Usually that’s because I don’t know my character well enough—he’s a minor character, usually, there for plot purposes, who is still a cipher to me—or because I do know my character, and know he wouldn’t do X. Yet X he must.

Deep inside, the Three Laws of Wribotics won’t allow me to harm, or by inaction, allow harm to come to the basic integrity of my Character’s character, so if I command myself to do so, my head implodes.

3. Plot Holes

A third kind of problem is the inverse of the above. I have some marvelous scene in which my characters have an exciting and dramatic conflict…and no logical way to include it. My plotroad has more plotholes than a country lane.

The absolute worst case scenario—and I have weathered it and lived to tell the tale—is if I realize that the entire premise of my book makes no sense at all.  Now, it’s in order to spare you this Horror From Beyond that I’ve suggested outlining your novel a thousand different ways before writing it, to discover any such Abysmal threats long before you’ve written 35,000 words. But. Maybe you didn’t listen to that, or maybe you somehow overlooked the Gaping Chasm of Logic until now by sheer blind stubbornness.

If any of these situations has befallen you, first let me pat you on the back and reassure you.

There, there. It’s all going to be okay. 

It can be fixed. All you have to do is apply the Universal Remedy for all Writing Problems. Okay, chocolate, but that’s not where I was going.

For solutions to each of these issues, check out "Red Flags" in 30 Day Novel.