Monday, December 22, 2014

Hitting the Writing Wall

This post first ran here on March 9, 2009.

“You just can’t get there from here.”

How many times have you heard that direction-giving joke? But often that line describes a type of writer’s block. You’ve written up to a certain point. You know where you want to go up ahead. But what do you write in between? Personally, I have wasted hours, days, even weeks, trying to figure out what to write next, so I can get to that future scene I already have in my head.

But wait. Who says you have to write in a linear fashion? What if you write out of sequence? Aha! Now, you’ve given yourself permission to write the scene from your head and it flows wonderfully. Another Aha! Questions and solutions actually appear about how the character might have arrived here from there. You’re not stuck any more.

As a writing instructor once explained, to build a bridge, one first needs to erect a scaffold. It’s not a lot different in writing. You have several important scaffold scenes in your story or novel that have to take place (there will probably be more than one of each of these scenes in your book):

1. The Introductory Scene where the reader meets your main character.
2. A Meeting Scene, where the main character meets another character (maybe the love interest or maybe his nemesis) This is another form of Introductory Scene.
3. A Conflict Scene where two characters battle it out, whether physically, verbally, or in a match of wits. Or where the character battles himself.
4. A Realization Scene—the moment the character realizes something about herself that is a turning point. Or realizes her “enemy” is really her friend.
5. A Resolution Scene, where a problem is resolved (not necessarily the main one, but a problem nonetheless).
6. A Final Scene, which may or may not be your actual ending. An interesting exercise is to write a scene in which your main character(s) are old and looking back at what happened, what he/she/they learned, how they’ve changed, what they would've done differently, etc. That can give you an insight to “fill in the blanks.”

Another interesting exercise is to write a letter from your main character to yourself, as if this person has just learned you are writing a book about her, how she feels about that, any advice she might have for you, etc. This can be quite revealing. Sometimes you learn that you have a reluctant character, one who doesn’t want her story told. So you have to figure out how to win her over.

A recent article in The Writer magazine talked about writing out of order. The author made similar suggestions to the ones above, such as:

1. Write a scene in which the main character enters a new place.
2. Take a minor character you’ve introduced and write a scene where he/she appears later in the story.
3. Choose a character other than the main character—someone you’d like to know more about, and write a monologue in which she explores or explains herself.
4. Write a scene where your main character has a dream that advances the story.
5. Make a list of at least five crucial scenes that you think will be important for the story/novel (see “scaffold scenes above.)

Any one or all of these scenes may or may not appear in your final draft, but they will help you keep writing and develop ideas.

Have fun, write on and defeat that Writer’s Block! (Now, I just have to take my own advice.)

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, was published in 2014. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.


  1. Interesting idea, Heidi. I've never used this technique, but I can see how it could give you insights into characters and even plot.

  2. Heidi- Excellent advice. I once had a short story that wasn't really working. I just cut out a big scene and threw it at the front, another from the middle to almost the end and that mix-up of time made the story so much better. It is now one of my favourites!

    Lots of excellent advice in here. Thanks.

  3. I tend to always write scenes out of order anyways. I just write what I feel like writing.

    It can cause problems later with consistency, so just be careful. :)

  4. Excellent advice! Off to share it with others, :-)

  5. I did this "accidentally" with my first novel, and it drove me crazy later trying to fill in all the plotholes while maintaining the same flow as the chapters following and previous. I vowed never to do it again.

    While I try to write in order these days, I do sometimes get so overwhelmed that the flow stops completely. The only way to unclog the writing pipes is to jump ahead to a part of the story I can really get into. That seems to get things flowing again. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. Good advice, Heidi. Welcome to The Blood Red Pencil. Hope to see lots more of your writing here.


  7. Great post, Heidi. I have to tell you, for years I wrote rigidly, never thinking about going out of sequence until about five years ago. Then it hit me... I could always come back and fill in the blank later.

    Jenny Bean

  8. Thanks Heidi! I have always written out of order. I work from an outline, so it is easy to skip around. It's also easy to spend the day hopping from one scene to another and get nothing accomplished. (The hopping hides the truth about being blocked, for a while.)

    You've provided some ideas that can both take the pressure off and relieve the block - write something connected to the story that I don't actually expect to include. I will give this a shot the next time I hit the wall.

  9. I had this realization about writing while lying in bed. Actually, I wanted to read a certain book about a certain topic. Nothing! No book out there like it. No mention of it in google. I lied in bed thinking--well, I guess I have to write it. I started off writing a synopsis...15 pages turned into, 30, then 80, then 300!! I started to flesh out the ideas. I wrote whatever scenes I felt like, completely out of order. I read once Margaret Mitchell wrote "Gone with the Wind" from back to front. It actually works!
    The hard part of course it having the self confidence to leave well enough alone and move on.

  10. I love the analogy of a scaffolding to bridge the scenes in a book. This is a great post, Heidi.

  11. Thank you, Linda. It can be very helpful!

  12. This works, Heidi. I can attest. That is one of the wonders of writing on a computer: that you can start anywhere, skip around, and thread it all together. Through seven novels, I have never known a moment of writer's block because there was always someplace else to go in the story. I have particularly found inspiration in writing a climactic or pivotal scene and then going back and writing up to that. On my WIP, at one slow-down, I skipped beyond the end to write an epilogue that added a nice twist and led me back to writing the setup for it.

  13. This sage writing advice is as relevant today as it was the first time I read it. Thanks, for reposting, Heidi.

    Larry, I second your comment about the value of writing on a computer in a program that is cut-and-paste-friendly. And this comes from a lady who uses technology out of necessity, not because of any love of it. :-)


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.