Writer's Block

  • Defeating Writer’s Block: Mind Mapping

    mind-mapA few weeks ago, my husband walked into our office and found me sprawled out on the floor.  Our conversation went something like this:

    “Honey, why are you on the floor?”

    I threw one arm over my eyes (I may have a flair for the dramatic) and groaned, “I’m so stuck with this story. I know what has to happen next, but I just can’t write the words.”

    “You solve your problems from the floor?”

    “Yes!  This is the Rug of Many Sorrows,” I said, giving the floor a hard slap.  “And today I have many sorrows.”

    He stepped over me and arranged his work laptop, work laptop No. 2, IPad, and phone on the desk.  “Do you think it might be more productive to map out where your story is supposed to go?”

    “No! Outlining is the devil!”

    “Well…” he paused, and I could hear him shuffling around a bit.  “I didn’t mean an outline, per se.  I meant a Mind Map.  We have this really cool software at work and…”

    When he reached the word ‘software,’ I stopped listening, rolled onto my stomach, and continued my pout.

    Two days later, I was still stuck and feeling desperate.  So I finally hit him up for a few more details about this magical Mind Map that solves his problems.

    Here’s the crazy thing: His idea totally worked.  Mind mapping got me unstuck!

    If you’re like me and you don’t know what mind-mapping is, think of it like a glorified flow chart.  There is super fancy software that has some amazing functions (like collapsing fields, colored boxes for different themes etc.), but I am not that cool.  My mind-mapping is a lot less techno (but maybe as effective?).  Here’s what works for me:

    1. Know where you want to go

    For THE STORYSPINNER’s sequel, I had to write a really complicated scene with a billion (or six) different characters whose success or failure depended on the other characters. It was one of the trickiest things I’ve ever had to write.  I’d love to show you my mind map, but that would spoiler central.  So, instead I’m using the well loved A Christmas Carol, by the fabulous Charles Dickens — who I’m certain never got writer’s block — to illustrate how mind mapping works.

    Let’s pretend that Mr. Dickens knew he had a miserly character, and he wanted this character to learn his lesson, but the details between those elements were little hazy.  He’d write the beginning and end on a sheet of paper like this:

    Becky’s Super Awful Mind-Mapping Drawing No. 1

    2. Work backward or forward or whatever feels like it’s going to unstick you

    Mr. Dickens realized that the best way to scare any person into sainthood is to show them their own death.  So he adds that element with a little box.

    Becky’s Super Awful Mind-Mapping Drawing No. 2

    I am not one of those people who can write scenes/stories out of order, but I know a lot of people who successfully beat writer’s block by jumping to a different scene.  If you can write that little bit before THE END, then go for it!  For me I have to add more elements to my map.

    3. Identify the HOW.

    If Mr. Dickens was stuck, he’d have to make a list of all the hows. How would he show Scrooge his own death? Where is it going to take place? What is the scenery going to look like? How is Scrooge going to feel? Then you add the sub questions like: how is Scrooge going to get to the graveyard?

    Your little mind-map starts to look more like a porcupine with idea bubbles bristling all over the place.

    Becky’s Super Awful Mind-Map Drawing No. 3

    4.  Fill in the blanks

    Use your map to flesh out scenes and connect sub-plots.

    Becky”s Super Awful Mind-Map Drawing No. 4 


    You can call it outlining if you want to, but I don’t!  Since there is so little on the page (and so little at stake if you decided to ditch your map completely), this process gave me the direction I needed, but still left room for my characters and plot to develop organically.

    I’m sure there are other people out there who mind-map better than I do, but this was a new concept for me.  I hope that if any of you are struggling with writer’s block, that this might help you along!

    Good luck, friends!


  • Lies We Tell Ourselves

    By “we” I actually mean me.

    • Lie:  I can totally do (insert tremendous list of time consuming activities) in two hours.  Truth:  Unless I can bend the laws of science, grow two arms, or have a secret team of helpers hiding in the garage, then no. I can not do a tremendous list of things in that amount of time.
    • Lie:  It’s okay if I didn’t hit my word goal today. I’ll make it up tomorrow.  Truth:  No, I won’t.  Sometimes — like maybe a  tenth of the time that I say this — it actually happens.  Usually I push the “make up work” off till the end of the week and then am oddly surprised when I have 7,ooo words to write on Saturday.
    • Lie:  I’m not going to let it bother me.  Truth:  It’s totally going to drive me crazy, but I’m going to suffer in silence, holding the rotten thing inside until it bursts out of me with some ugly rage when I’m actually mad about something else.
    • Lie:  It’s not for me to judge.  Truth:  I already have.
    • Lie:  I’m so tired. I’ll do the dishes/laundry/blog post/important email in the morning.  Truth:  I will do those things in the morning, but only after I’ve laid awake all night fretting about them.
    • Lie:  I’ll only have a bite.  Truth:  I’m going to eat the whole thing and probably lick the plate.  Self-control…I have none of it.
    • Lie:  I can not start this new book I’ve been desperately waiting for until I finish my draft/finish my edits/paint this piece of furniture.  Truth:  I read the whole book while sitting in front of my computer while I was pretending to be writing.
    • Lie:  My kids will never do that. Truth:  They already have.
    • Lie:  I’m crafty! I can totally paint this piece of furniture/create artwork for that niche above my fireplace/hang those curtains.  Truth:  I might be able to do those things, but it will take me months to do them because I always have a dozen more important things (another lie) than this self-assigned project.  In all actuality, I’ll put off these projects until the day before my parents come to visit then resort to the first lie on this list.

    I’d like to thank my husband for providing the inspiration for this post.  He says to me all the time, “Keep telling yourself that and it might actually happen.”

    And I totally plan to.  🙂

  • There’s Nothing To Writing

    “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down and at typewriter and open a vein.”
    -Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

    I’ve seen this quote on a couple of authors’ blogs, and it always makes be frustrated.  It’s not that I disagree.  Am I spilling my heart and soul all over my laptop for hours everyday?  Yes.  Is there a transfusion for that?  Um, no. Do I feel washed out and exhausted from my writerly efforts?  Every single day. 

    But sometimes I just can’t get a darn vein to open. In fact, most of the time it’s like those stupid little heel pricks pediatricians do to babies.  They poke a tiny hole and then have to milk it, squeeze it, bruise it, just to get enough blood to fill a tiny vial.

    The worst part is that for me, it’s not necessarily writers block. I know where the plot has to go, I just can’t find the right words or descriptions to take it there.

    Maybe I’ve got super-high writer’s cholesterol.  My veins are all plugged up.

    What do you guys do when you want to write but can’t get the words to flow?