Among the most common pieces of advice given to aspiring authors is “Outline your book!” I give the same advice and even follow it myself. An outline always gives my manuscript focus. It forces me to think about what I want to say so that when I do begin writing the sessions are productive. So long as the outline is treated as a flexible document, it can save you time by eliminating a lot of rewriting.
Having said that, I also know that not all writers think like that or could even work that way. And that’s okay. We’re all different, and a variety of approaches can lead to the same result, which is a completed, successful book. So if you don’t like to write outlines, that’s fine.
But what happens if you hit a block and can’t think of what to write next? A few things then may be happening.
You may have run out of gas. Writing is a mentally exhausting activity, and when your brain is tired so probably will you be physically. You then need to rejuvenate yourself. Take a break. A walk in nature does wonders for many people. Listen to some loud music while you do some housecleaning. Allow your brain to relax and then get back to the writing.
Of course, running out of gas presumes you’ve spent at least a few hours writing. If you’re hitting a block after writing only a couple of paragraphs, then the issue might be that you don’t know enough about the craft of writing to keep going. You see, modern stories – regardless of genre and literary quality – essentially unfold the same way: the main character must solve a problem, but various conflicts prevent him from achieving his goal until the story’s climax. Once you understand the intricacies of plot structure and characterization, writing the story is easy. So, read up on your craft.
If you can academically cite what should come next but still stall after a couple of paragraphs, then you probably haven’t thought enough about your story. And that’s when you need to devise an outline, even if you don’t like doing so. After all, you probably already are creating an outline and draft in your head as you write. So consider combining the two approaches – start writing an outline but as soon as a scene or description comes to you switch gears and write it. When your creative gas tank hits empty, go back to outline, fill up on thoughts about the story, and then step on the accelerator by drafting a scene or two.
My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.