You want to write. You have an impulse, an idea, a story. You sit down. You start. It feels marvelous. It's pouring out of you! You're so happy. You can't stop. You let it out, all of it. You're in the middle of a glorious flow, inspiration, whatever. You keep going. Then it gets slower. Hey, no biggie, you're a trooper, you will work through it. It gets slower still. You start chewing on your pen (or chewing on your fingers, or on you cat's tail, or on a bottle of vodka). You sort of forgot how your story started, so you go back and reread the beginning. Or you organize it on cards, or on cats, or you use Scrivener or sticky Post-It notes or whatever method, but the problem now is that you want to change things. You're tempted to edit. However your writing process looks, you get to that fenland point. That sticky sucky place where someone poured molasses over your machinery and you shake a fist at the sky and wonder where the hell your inspiration went and what the hell you're supposed to do now. We've all been there. I've been there.
OH MY GOD, AM I BLOCKED???
Well, yes and no. Some people do call this writer's block, other people call it the middle-of-the-book drag (I actually don't know what people call it, making shit up on the fly). What it is, though, is very simple. It's none of the things you think (unless, of course, you know what I'm talking about, so then, SHHH!!!). It's very very simple. Oh, as soon as I tell you, you will want to shoot me! Don't shoot me! Don't shoot me! I want to live! To write books! To read books! Anyway. Here is what happens. Actually, this happens to both experienced and inexperienced writers.
YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY.
That's the beast. Get it? It's horrible, terrible. The only difference between those who wrote 20 novels and those whose wrote 2, is those who wrote 20 know how to get out of this. They know it's part of work, part of writing work. But newbies? Newbies freak out! Ahhh! On no! What do I do! How do I move on! If I thought I'd give you an answer, you can go somewhere else now and get drunk on cognac. Or pet some hedgehogs. They're soft and fluffy. Or go shoot your TV. Out of a pistol. Really makes you feel better. Seriously. Listen. There is no solution to this except to keep writing. But. Here is the light at the end of the tunnel.
THE WAY TO GET OUT OF BEING STUCK IS TO KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO WRITE.
Ah! That's it! How simple. Yeah, right. It isn't. If it was that simple, everyone would've been writing books by the bookcases, by the whole libraries. The good part in this is... are you ready? The more you write, the more you read, the more you will know exactly what you want to say. There are different levels to it. Let's examine them one by one.
Vocabulary. How bit is your vocabulary? Do you know what words really mean? Those you put down on paper? I recently started checking such simple words as "devour" and "tremble". I noticed I use them a lot. I now pay close attention to specific words I use, because the nuances of their meanings can steer what I want to say one way or another. There is a history behind each word, a culture, a million of subtleties. I can't ignore them. Neither should you. As writers, it's our job to know exactly what we want to write, and then write it. So. How to build your vocabulary? Forget about Thesaurus. Thesaurus is a cheat. Read. When you come across a new word, write it down, in context, a whole phrase. Try to grasp the meaning from this, without looking it up, then look it up and read about the word. Make a list of them, and use them. Keep adding to the list, and keep deleting from the list the words you learned, to keep the list fresh. Okay, fine. FINE. I get lazy too. I confess. I use Thesaurus once in a while. So, its okay. Just don't indulge in it.
This is the fabric of your story, the threads that are woven into one whole. What are you trying to say with your sentences? If you were to pick one sentence at random from your book (or manuscript, or draft, or whatever), that sentence should be able to stand on its own. Do a little exercise. Pick one sentence at random and write it on a piece of paper, smack in the middle. Read it. Does it make sense? Do you know what it says? Are you sure? Does it stand on its own? If it doesn't, it needs to be rewritten. Now imagine that your book is FULL of these little bastards. They shape it. This idea that the book carries some divine enlightenment that will hit you be end of reading it is bullshit. You should be able to open up any book on any page and read any sentence and marvel at it and love it. Because that is what keeps your reader reading, the sentences! You don't want your reader to put your book down. Well then, make sure every sentence is saying exactly what you want it to say. I know, it's tough. Only by writing a whole lot of them will you learn.
Whatever it is you're writing, consists of scenes. Each scene is like a mini-snippet flash thing that happens. A bird eats a cat. A cat eats a hippo. A hippo steps on a hedgehog. A fridge eats your dog. Whatever. It can be one paragraph long (hell, maybe even a couple sentences), it can be a whole page long, or it can be a half a chapter. With each scene you're saying something. What is it you're trying to say? Do you know? If you don't know, guess what happens. YOUR READER WON'T KNOW EITHER. I have done this before. I'm guilty of this. I've written scenes with my eyes closed (metaphorically speaking, okay?) and I have cheated. I didn't quite know why I wrote them, they sort of felt good, or interesting. Guess what happens to these scenes when you edit? Exactly. You cut them. The more you write, the cleaner your writing gets, the less of these you let to creep in. But that's not the point I'm trying to make. It's okay to write these off-the-wall weird scenes, if they act as a bridge between those scenes that are relevant to the story. You can always ditch them later. But, think. Is this scene advancing my story? The overall story? No? If not, it needs to die.
Some writers don't use chapters as breaking points. Like Terry Pratchett in his Discworld series, he never uses chapters (he jokes about it in the introductions, how his editors have to twist his arm to make him do breaks). So. You might. You might not. If you do, each chapter is like a short story. It's a whole short story that advances the overall story. If a scene is a flash of an occurrence, a snippet of something happening, a chapter has a clear beginning, middle, and end. You can structure it this way too, to help you know where you're going. As long as you keep this in mind, you can string your scenes together in a way that forms a coherent story. Again, if you picked a chapter at random from your book, does it form a story? A complete story? Is it saying something? Is it saying what YOU want it to say? Yes? No? How do you know? Oh, here comes the best part. The hardest part. The sauce of the writing. The essence. The guts. The WHY YOU WRITE thing. Here you go.
Okay. Can you tell me why the fuck you're writing your book in the first place? WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY??? Some people call this, THEME. Some other people call this, I don't know what some other people call this. It all comes down to... *drumroll* ...unless you know what exactly you want to say with your book, your reader won't know it either. They will get lost. They won't know what to take away from it. Also. It's not a pitch. Don't confuse it. You can't say, I love vampires and that's why I'm writing a book about vampires. Or, wombats are popular now and that's why I'm writing a book about wombats. Or, I'm writing a book about vampire wombats, or wombat vampires, because I love both and I can't fucking decide between the two! Well, you're wrong. if you set out to write a book ABOUT something simply for the sake of writing it, not because you want to say something, something that doesn't let you sleep at night, chances are people won't be that invested in your book. They'll still read it, but it won't smash their hearts into this sobbing mush, into this ache that will make them tell their friends: "Oh my God, have you read The Munificent Uxoricide Forfeits His Penultimate Play? It's so awesome, you should read it." Gee, I can't even pronounce this title on the first try. Anyway. It's why you write your book. It's something you want to see happen in the world. Something that's missing. Or you want to see more of. Like this. GOOD WILL CONQUER EVIL. Okay, this one has been used a lot. How about this one. POODLES WILL SAVE THE WORLD. A little better. Or something like, THE POWER OF BACON. Whatever it is, you have to know it.
UNTIL YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO WRITE, YOU WILL STRUGGLE.
Hey, don't look at me like this. Accept it. I struggle too. If you stop thinking that writing is somehow supposed to pour out of you, if you accept that writing is very very hard work, like picking the right words, right sentences, scenes, chapters, knowing what your whole book is about, you will feel better. You will stop beating yourself up. You will show up every day, get ready for hard work, and do hard work. Only, remember, it's also fun. You know when it gets to be fun? When you know what you're doing. And how do you get to that place? By writing a lot. Why? Because it's like any other skill! Think of a violinist. Did it take him to be a virtuoso from the first time? Nope. Behind it are years and years of focused practice. That's it. Part of writing is meandering inside your own head, searching for that thing you want to say. That's why it takes so many drafts and such a long time to write a book. That's why every book is different, because with every book you want to say a different thing. But. Hopefully, after reading this, you will know how to get unstuck. And it is this. Go smaller when big shit gives you trouble. Don't know what the book is about? Focus on the chapter. Don't know what the chapter is about? Focus on the scene. Don't know what the scene is about? Focus on the sentence. Don't know what the sentence is about? Focus on the word! Because that's how books are written.