Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Is your writer’s block actually indecision?

From Jane Friedman’s blog: Is Your Writer’s Block Really Writer’s Indecision?

My instant reaction: Absolutely.

I’ve been stuck at 80,000 words or so for a particular SF novel for, I don’t know, it seems like practically forever and is certainly more than a year. Two years, maybe. I’ve written five to ten thousands more words several times, then deleted them. I have … six? … different versions that go in those different ways, all of which are wrong. I know they are wrong because I kept getting stuck. I’m not sure what the heck to do. This is the definition of “indecision.”

I do plan to get unstuck eventually because it’s driving me mad to have this much of a manuscript and then lock up and not finish it. I will most likely try to do that by leaping forward and writing a cool scene or three from the ending and then coming up with anything at all that will let me connect the the ending with the middle, then smoothing it out after I have SOMETHING. This would be easier if I knew what the ending was supposed to be in anything but the very broadest, vaguest terms.

A good many things are opaque to me, unfortunately, including not only the specifics of the ending but also the details of the secret plan of the pov protagonist AND the details of the secret plan of the other protagonist. I do know everybody has a secret plan; that part is quite definitely true.

Wow, am I stuck.

Anyway, let me see what this post says …

Now I am convinced that two things can hold me back (for years on some projects) and they are:

–not knowing the answers to crucial questions, and

–not knowing which questions were which in the first place.

Yep, this is sounding familiar. Lotta crucial questions I need to answer. Pretty sure I know which questions these are in my case. Like: What is he actually trying to achieve, and why? And, What are they trying to achieve, and why? Those are obviously pretty crucial questions.

Unless I can answer this, I can’t make progress. This question is like a wall I can’t get over without a ladder. If you are similarly stuck with your manuscript, attempt to identify these unanswered crucial questions.

Good advice for sure! I totally need to do that!

Okay, back to the linked post. Lots of different kinds of questions are delineated:

Crucial questions — I would say these are the ones that have to do with big motivations and intentions and conflicts.

Questions about consistency — “These questions shouldn’t hold you back because you can sort it out in the revision” — quite true, and that is why I boldface for continuity as I get close to the end of a manuscript. I don’t want to pause and do any checking or fixing; at that point, my whole attention is on finishing the draft as quickly as possible, after which I will scan back through for boldfaced words and phrases and fix this sort of thing.

Decisions disguised as questions — “Should I use Character B’s point of view in this scene? This translates into: I want to write some scenes from Character B’s point of view so I need to look again at my plan with this in mind, but it’s going to take me several days and I’d rather avoid it.”

Oh yeah, I’m very familiar with that one as well. “Should I replace this minor character with this other minor character?” Yes, but it’s going to be a pain and I’d rather avoid it.

Yes, this is very common. I nearly always leave this sort of thing until after the first draft is finished, but sometimes a particular thing I KNOW I need to fix bugs me so much I quit with forward progress and fix it.

Indecision masquerading as decisions — things like, whose viewpoint should this scene be in? Or where should this scene be set? This post says “just decide already.” I think that’s true. If you make a mistake, you can fix it later, but it’s probably better to risk making a mistake than let yourself get bogged down.

Problem questions — she means, how to get the plot to work out the way you want it to work out. I outline for this purpose. “Outline” is probably not the right term. I brainstorm/outline for this purpose. I rapidly type notes about “He does this because of that, and then this other thing, or maybe he does this because of that other reason.” Generally (not always) a couple paragraphs of this will help me sort out a minor plotting question. Big plotting questions are harder.

Sometimes I take the dogs for a walk, barring terrible weather. An hour of walking dogs while thinking about plotting problems usually helps. I worked out how to do the battle near the end of Tuyo while walking the dogs. I remember that because I was quite stuck when I started walking them and then I knew pretty much how to handle that scene by the time I finished walking the last set of dogs. I actually had no idea what any of the twists in that battle scene were going to be until I got there.

A couple other kinds of questions, plus more discussion, at the link. Click through if you’re interested! It’s quite a good post, though I really did pretty much know exactly why I was stuck on that one SF novel already. USUALLY all that big-scale stuff about plans and intentions and motivations is clear to me long before I get to this point. I think the real problem is that everybody’s plans are in fact secret and no one is talking about them, so I could put off figuring that out way, way too successfully.

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5 Comments Is your writer’s block actually indecision?

  1. Mary Catelli

    My first writers’ blocks were incompetence. I would hit a scene and lose interest in the story. One day I sat down and read my half-finished stories and realized that I lost interest whenever I didn’t know how to write the next part. (True, I was twelve at the time.)

    Since then, however, as skills pick up, it tends to be “I am heading down the wrong path.”

  2. E.C.

    Your topic is painfully apropos. It’s stared at me accusingly from my computer screen for 3 days now, as I check your blog to avoid looking at the empty page that I should be spending time with.
    Yes, my writer’s block is actually indecision. Perhaps I ought to start thinking of ways around it.

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