Tag Archives: psychology of writing

Solving the Puzzle.


Do you have “writer’s block”?

Maybe you need to look at the pieces of your story in a different way.

Perhaps you have a strong urge to write, but you have no idea what to write. Staring at a blank page and trying to make sentences come without words is like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with the backs of the pieces facing up.

Words are the bits of the patterns on the fronts of the puzzle pieces. The pieces have to be turned over before you can work with them, but they have to turn themselves over. Until they do that, you’re best off leaving that blank page alone and doing something else. (Always carry a pocket-sized notebook and a writing instrument, so you don’t lose a great idea while you’re busy pruning trees.)

Don’t strain your brain: the ideas are there, but they have to assemble themselves from bits and pieces of your life experiences. In other words, if you arbitrarily decide, “I’ll fictionalize the time when (fill in the blank) happened to (fill in someone’s name),” it won’t work well, and sooner or later you’ll get blocked again. It’s like trying to force a jigsaw puzzle into a shape it wasn’t designed to fit. This is one of the hazards of trying to plan or outline everything.

Try writing by the seat of your pants: Let ideas flow, and commit them to the page, just as they come to you. You don’t have to begin at the beginning: middles and ends will do; and you don’t have to finish one chapter before beginning another, nor even one scene before starting another. This is because your subconscious mind needs time to find bits of ideas and start hooking them together, like matching the patterns, tabs and slots of puzzle pieces.

The best help you can give your subconscious is to do research on your story: learning new things helps stock your mind with information that your brain will later disassemble, sort and match, and reassemble into the false memories that constitute fiction. When each fictional memory comes to you, no matter where it belongs, write it down. Periodically comb through what you’ve written, to do basic proofreading, reorganize sections, and get inspiration for filling in blanks. Eventually, all of the holes in your chapters and scenes will hook themselves together, and you’ll have a complete story.

This is the way I wrote Irish Firebrands: all 196,000-plus words of it. I never experienced “writer’s block,” and I had so much enjoyment in writing the novel, that every time I pick up the book and read a bit of it, I can still feel the way I did when I wrote the passage that I’m reading.

Think about how good it feels to find a puzzle piece that fits. Writing should feel good. As long as we’re having fun, we’re doing it right.





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Social Media: Help or Hindrance?

With my interest in the psychology of writing, I found this article to be thought-provoking: What might a constant striving to establish a “personal brand” do to the ability to create the writing which it’s thought that the “branding” will benefit?

What do you think? Share your thoughts below, in the “Light a Fire Here” box.



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Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Block? (Part 2)

no-dead-endsA road barricade rarely means that drivers have reached a dead end: There’s always at least one detour option available.

We’ve been examining how this applies to writers who think that they’ve run out of road with their novels: There’s always a way to keep moving.

More writing detours you can take include:

  1. Proofread and revise what you’ve already written.
  2. Do more research, and review prior research notes.
  3. Design the cover of your book.
  4. Draw maps of terrain, floor plans of buildings, and elevations of rooms in your setting.
  5. Compose calendars of your characters’ activities, to check for continuity, and add variables like the weather.
  6. Write brief summaries of scenes for which you don’t yet know sufficient detail.
  7. Write some expository passages.
  8. Write dialogue without the other scene details.
  9. Comb through your current work-in-progress for material that belongs in a different manuscript (such as a prelude novel or a sequel), and remove that writing to another folder of notes.
  10. Work on writing something other than your current novel.

Your detour can be to take a holiday from writing, but be sure that your daily routine still includes an equivalent block of time dedicated to the creative use of words: meaning, read other authors’ fiction, especially old favorites. Also, engage in some other form of creative endeavor: performing music, creating art, making a craft, sewing, cooking, rearranging furniture or redecorating, gardening.

If, even after a vacation from the keyboard, you are at your wits’ end, don’t despair! The impasse may indicate a fundamental flaw in your story’s structure. This is by no means a fatal error, and by answering a few tough questions, you’ll find the solution to your dilemma. Here are three possibilities:

  1. Are you using the wrong point-of-view character? Some characters have a better POV than others who are in the same scene. Determine who has the most at stake, and write for that person.
  2. Are you trying to be inappropriately omniscient? You are if you have too many point-of-view characters in a 3rd-person narrative, or you feel compelled to indiscriminately “head hop” in a 1st-person narrative. In a 3rd-person limited story, cut down your POV characters to only two-to-four (including the anonymous narrator), and in a 1st-person story, there should be only one (although in special circumstances you can have more), but you cannot have an additional anonymous narrator. To see how the 3rd-person limited approach worked for me, read Irish Firebrands; to find out one way to fix a 1st-person problem, read Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, and another is Laura, by Vera Caspary.
  3. Have you set the wrong goal for this particular piece of work? In other words, you may have a collection of short stories instead of a novel. If each of your chapters seems to be too self-contained to lead to the next chapter or follow an overall dramatic arc, this could be the case. Read all of the Mowgli stories in the first and second Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling, to see how you can fashion your tales into unified stand-alone segments of a whole.

Above all, remember:

As long as you’re creating something, you’re not blocked!


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