8 Tips For When You’ve Hit A Wall

Photo by Fares Hamouche

Writers get writer’s block for all sorts of reasons. There is but one cause, however.

Fear.

That tricky little bastard doesn’t always show up with that face. It can disguise itself as all sorts of problems, and sometimes you don’t even view its disguise as a problem. Take for example family. It doesn’t exactly seem like a problem because you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Taking care of the people you love. The problem with this is you usually forget to take care of yourself.

Don’t get me wrong–there are times life gets in the way. Emergencies happen. New babies happen. Finals in school happen. You should forgive yourself for literally not having the time to write on some occasions. I didn’t pick up a pen for the first 6 months of my son’s life. Single moming to a new baby was time consuming, and my sleep-deprived brain couldn’t possibly handle the effort it would take to write.

Falling off the wagon is easy, and honestly, it’s normal. What’s not normal is forever giving up your passion because life is happening because news flash: life is always going to happen.

Fear is primal. It’s instinctual. It’s a part of our evolution. It’s supposed to be there, and everyone feels it. The trick is to recognize it for what it is and not let it hold you back.

Tip # 1. Describe your proverbial wall.

Photo by Dave Webb

No, seriously. Describe it. Is it brick? Cement? Stone blocks? Does it have a pattern? Is it made of sheep’s wool? (it’s safe to say I’ve been playing too much Minecraft with my boy.) The point here is to get your creative juices flowing. Describe that wall in detail, down to the cracks and discoloring. I’m assuming it’s been erected for a bit now if you’re here.

Envision what it’s going to take to break it down. Try out a couple tools. Write how hammering it with a pillow does nothing, but you’re seeing some damage with the pickax.

That didn’t work? Okay, tip # 2.

Tip # 2: Dig deep.

Sometimes the only way around a wall is to go under it. Forget about describing the wall. This next exercise involves journaling. Start with the sentence “Why can’t I write?” then state your reasons. Next, think of ways to solve those problems. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family or friends you trust to help carve out time for something equally as important.

These solutions still seem daunting? Write about the worst thing that could happen if you took time to write. Now write about the best thing that could happen if you took time to write. Compare results with a keen eye and see where the probability lies. Chances are, the world will not fall apart if you take the time.

Journaling is therapeutic. It’s listening to yourself as you would listen to the problems of your friends. A lot of people don’t do it, and they are honestly missing out. It’s easy for your mind to go to the worst thing that could happen when you faced your fear, but I recently read a book that talked about taking it to the next level. Deciding what the best thing that could happen if you faced your fear. It was game-changing.

Didn’t help kick start you? Next.

Tip # 3: Edit

Open up your manuscript and go to your favorite or least favorite scene. Read the one before that to know where you are, and then edit that next scene. Don’t worry about how good it is. The point here is to get you back to the story.

Nope, not yet?

Tip # 4: Inspiriation.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🇬🇧 

You started that story because something about it interested you. It set your soul on fire. Write a paragraph summary. If you want to keep going, do it. Let your inspiration take you. If your muse doesn’t show up, move on for now.

Tip # 5: Research

Every good story needs some level of research. This ties into tip 4. Your muse may visit again if you do some research on your topic. Read the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let yourself feel as you read. You’ll probably pick up some other ideas for your story, and that is the point. As soon as you feel it, write a small scene around that piece of research. Look at pictures, too. Pictures invoke our creativity and you never know. You could end up using that scene as one in your story. In fact, try writing a scene with that picture.

If that didn’t work, well…you know what I’m about to say.

Tip # 6: Practice stories.

Many people call them fan fiction, but I like to call them practice stories. Pick your favorite book and put yourself in it. Just start writing. The author did the hard work for you, and remember there is no pressure. No one ever has to read it (in fact, I keep my practice stories in a file labeled as top secret. I don’t want those babies getting out!)

Tip # 7: Rest

Photo by Kate Stone Matheson 

Every night as I’m trying to fall asleep, I think about my characters and my story. This sets my writer brain up for incoming ideas. Go over stuff you’ve already written or you already know. Let scenes play in your head. Something big pops up, write it down, otherwise, see what you come up with the next morning. This works for naps, too, if you can fit that sort of thing in.

A study done in 2010 found that deep REM sleep improved creativity and memory. Sleep improves our abilities to make connections. I don’t know about you, but when I have one of those “aha” moments during writing, I’ll do anything to have it again. Best. Material. Ever.

Tip # 8: Read

Reading is probably what inspired you to write. Sometimes I felt as if I’d waste my writing time by reading, so I changed my perspective of it. Reading is another way of practicing. It’s now part of my product time. Not all writers read (astonishingly) but chances are, you’re a reader.

The important thing isn’t how you get back to writing, but that you do. My main tip is to be careful with yourself. Be forgiving. You are only human. Writing isn’t a job, but it is hard. Even the best writers hit walls. I seem to hit a wall around the 75% mark without fail. Know that the one thing standing in your way is you. Thank your fear, but tell it it’s time for it to get in the back seat and let your creativity have the passenger. You’ve got places to go.

Check out my Writer’s Block Series for additional help.

Let us know in the comments below what you do when you hit a wall!

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.



Subplots

Photo by Aziz Acharki

One of my favorite parts of storytelling is subplots. A lot of writers refer to them as “strands” of a story, but I like to think of them as one with the story. I don’t separate them, and sometimes I don’t even plan them. That’s not to say I don’t plot them. I let them develop naturally within my story world and tweak when needed. Of course, some subplots do need to be brainstormed and plotted carefully.

Many writers are intimated by subplots. Writing the main plot is enough work, and now we, here in the literary world, are asking you to do more work. I’m telling you though–great stories require great subplots. Don’t think of throwing in your hat quite yet, though. I’ve got great news regarding subplots.

You’ve probably done half the work already.

Subplots are ingrained in our stories so deeply that sometimes we can’t see that we already have them, that we already started writing one. You have in-depth characters? In-depth world building? Then you already have enough material for subplots. That conflict you’re writing with a romantic interest or best friend is a subplot. The war raging outside the main plot is a subplot. The envy a character feels for another character is a subplot.

We have subplots in our own lives by having relationships with other people. We have family subplots, friend subplots, romantic subplots. We all have a main goal we are trying to achieve, but just like in novels, our lives are not a straight shot.

Where we have community, we have subplots.

Note: If your story relies on pacing, you’ll likely not have subplots. Pieces such as thrillers are fast-paced, and there’s no room for them.

Photo by Toa Heftiba 

What are subplots?

Subplots can run the entire length of the novel, half of it, or for only a short time. They often involve the secondary characters but can be about your protagonist. No matter who you choose for the subplot, they should, at some point, involve your main character. Subplots are simple to write if you know your characters. Characters who you’ve spent time on will be complex, and there is often opposition between them. Subplots add depth to your story and can evoke empathy in your reader. They can give your readers a break from the main story-line to explore your character’s world. This could be relationships with each other, problems arising in your world, or internal conflict.

Keep in mind that your subplots don’t have to appear to connect at first, but by the end of your piece, your reader will see the connection.

So, how do you write better subplots?

Brainstorming

Photo by Jo Szczepanska

The first step to writing a subplot is to brainstorm them. I like to use a whiteboard for brainstorming, but you can do whatever is most comfortable for you. To brainstorm, you must first know what your central theme or main plot is. You also have to know your characters. The more complex characters you develop, the better subplots you’ll come up with.

Subplots show different angles of your theme, plot, or characters. For instance, the theme of love can be shown with the protagonist who is trying to find love or has a love interest. Secondary characters can already have found their true love, or are struggling with their partner, or detest love. It shows choices, and choices show conflict.

Increasing Conflict:

Photo by Chris Sabor

Out of your list of possible subplots, look at the ones that will increase conflict. The trick here is to choose ones that relate to the central theme or main plot. As stated, they don’t have to make sense to your reader right away. Even a romantic subplot can end up influencing your main plot. There’s no greater incentive to save the world if it means saving the romantic interest or family.

Subplots can stem from your main plot, too. Two important characters don’t agree with a plan and their always at odds over what the next step should be. Conflict happens even if you’re on the same side.

Showing how characters handle smaller conflicts can foreshadow coming bigger conflicts. Your readers see how your characters dealt with the less important ones, and it makes them unsure if your character is doomed to repeat the not so graceful ones. On the flip side, it shows their strengths.

Using Subplots For Back Story

Photo by Aman Shrivastava

If you’ve ever read Pride and Prejudice, you know that Darcy and Wickham knew each other. Not only was Wickham used as a subplot with Lydia, but it also gave readers information on both Darcy and Wickham creatively. It showed us their character without telling us.

Austin is certainly not the only one to use this type of subplot to further develop our understanding of her characters. We see it in some of the best novels and movies out there, and you can use this technique, too. Snape hated Harry, but we didn’t quite understand why until Rowling used a subplot between Lily, James, and Snape during their younger years.

What’s the right number of subplots?

Photo by Paul Bergmeir

There is no formula for the right number of subplots. A lot of writers say stick to one for every 15,000 words or so. I say that’s too limiting for what subplots can do. My only rule is this: if the subplot outshines the story, either change your story or delete the subplot from it (to use it as the main plot in another story).

Every point of view in your story will add a subplot because every character is different. Even your antagonist can be a subplot and have subplots if you wish it.

How to write a subplot.

Photo by Green Chameleon

The good thing is that writing a subplot mimics how you would write the main plot.

You give your character a problem, have them try to solve the problem, throw conflict in and opposition, and bring about the resolution.

The resolution will depend on your preferences. You can have them achieve their goal or not. Depending on the length of your subplot will depend on how many plot points it gets. They always get a beginning, middle, and end, though.

That’s the jist of subplots. Go forth and write!

Leave comment below to tell us what you’re favorite subplots are.

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.



Setting: Invoking Responses

Photo by Ivana Cajina

One of the best tools in a writer’s arsenal is setting. Setting is so much more than where the story takes place.

How come? Why should we waste so much time on where the story takes place? It’s just their home, their city, their farm, their childhood home. Right?

Wrong.

Setting is more important than just for visualization (which is huge in itself. Try getting immersed in a book where you feel like you’re floating in air with nothingness). Setting, to me and many other writers, is classified as character.

What is setting?

Setting consists of a number of factors. Weather, place, mood, time, season, and the characters. The characters react to all factors of setting. My main character would not act the same if the place of time happened three hundred years before the twenty first century. Everything would be different. Winter would cause different challenges than Summer. It would incite a different mood. A snow storm would incite a different mood than a hurricane would. The dangers would be different. Characters would react differently to those dangers. Even something as simple as night and day is important.

Setting used as theme.

Most stories have themes. Most of those most have a few. The last thing we want to do is hit the reader over the head with moral speeches or writer interference (we’ve all done it in that first draft. We preach.) Setting is another way to hit themes subtly.

Let’s take a look at an example.

In my WIP, one of the themes is prejudice, incited by fear. One way I show this is through action. There’s a scene where groups gather to celebrate a peace treaty between two different races that share Earth (werewolves and humans). Many don’t agree with the peace treaty, as both sides are still reeling from the bloody 5-year war that ended in a cease-fire. Humans hate werewolves because they don’t understand them. They have no tolerance for things they don’t understand. A sort of riot ensues, kicking off the key event for the story. Bam. Action.

Let’s break it down a bit more. In this scene, it takes place in the MC’s home town. It’s an old town, complete with a historical section. This is a prideful town. It’s also the center seat of the county. It’s not huge, but big enough. Advanced enough. The feelings are mixed because the openness of people’s minds are mixed. This is not a town that consists of farmers who never leave their farms (forgive the blanket generality).

As stated, setting also consists of weather and mood. When the scene first opens, our MC takes note of the wind kicking up. There’s a storm brewing on the other side of the mountain. She dislikes storms with a fierceness, but it’s not clear yet whether this storm will reach the celebrations happening here. It’s foreshadowing (which is another post for another time.) That foreshadowing mixed with her fear of storms invokes feelings. Uncertainty. Will the storm reach them and rain on their parade? Anxiety. We’re all afraid of something and we empathize with the MC.

You miss the opportunity to invoke memory when you don’t use setting. Invoking memory takes the reader deeper into your story through their own feelings. It creates empathy, it creates that connection. They are invested because they understand.

Less subtle is another scene in the opening of the second act of my WIP. My point of this scene is to move Plot B forward, but I’d miss that opportunity to increase theme through setting if I’d chosen just anywhere for my MC to go.

Instead of the mixing pot of her home town where there is more tolerance, she travels to a Native American Reservation to meet with some people, one who happens to be a known werewolf. When they arrive, they find said werewolf cleaning off graffiti from the side of his trailer. It’s a brief conversation about where this graffiti came from, because here the intolerance is as known as the werewolf. Here is a superstitious town full of fear. Here is theme through setting in a subtle way.

This scene also sets up a later scene where MC returns to the Reservation to help the werewolf, whose family member was murdered by an unknown person. Someone who lives on the Reservation? Possibly. Possibly it’s not as “simple” as that.

Setting as mood.

Depending on mood, one could see the left picture as a haunted house, and one could see the right as the same house, only what it could be with a little TLC.

No matter what genre you’re writing, the setting of your story is another way to portray mood. You don’t want to spend a paragraph describing the smell of a robust brew and the new cinnamon bun in a coffee shop if the story is of the horror genre (unless that’s important to the “sanity” of your murderer or something like that. Cinnamon makes me unhappy, too, when it’s combined with apple and spice.)

Don’t set the wrong mood with your setting by accident. Details matter, but they must be true to the type of story you’re writing. The way your character reacts to the setting is just as important as the details. A man who just lost his family will notice different things compared to someone who just was promoted to her dream job.

A lot of writers forget that they have five senses (6, depending on the type of story you’re writing) and largely depend on sight and hearing. What about touch, smell, and taste?

In one of the opening scenes in my WIP, my MC has never experienced fireworks, so when she smells that powder, the charcoal, and sulfur, it excites her. We, as readers, are taken back to our own experiences watching the fireworks. We feel the explosions in our chest, we smell the same thing she’s smelling. We’re right with her seeing those colorful bombs going off against the night sky. We’re tasting the food from vendors, remembering the joy of spending time with loved ones, the awe of the beauty of the entire moment.

Then, just as quickly as real life, she’s brought back to the current state of affairs as thunder claps. There’s arguing not far from her. The awe of the moment fades away as another clap of thunder is felt in her bones. Lightening strikes the sky, adding to the color against the black. Do you smell the rain? Feel the charge in the air? Are you thinking about your own experiences with powerful storms? Do you have that same rude awakening as she’s feeling now?

That is mood.

The moral of the setting story.

Don’t overlook something as powerful as setting. Use it. Spend time thinking about it. Develop it as you would develop any other main character in your story.

What are some of your favorite settings in stories, including your own works?

Stay tuned for characters part 2!