What To Do When You Don’t Know What to Write Next

 It’s a classic writing problem: you’re going along, minding your own business and writing the hell out of a scene that eventually finishes. You pat yourself on the back for a scene well done, but then realize in terror that you must do the impossible – keep writing and answer the dreaded question “What happens next?”
writing notesIt sounds like a simple question, really. At its most basic, writing a story is answering that question over and over again. But I found myself at this particular block last week. I had just hit 10,000 words in my fourth book and was riding high on getting to that crucial point.
But I didn’t know what to write next. I knew how the story was going to play out (vaguely, anyway), and I had ideas for scenes in between, but I was stuck in the middle of Chapter Two with not a whiff of what to write next.
So here are the things I did to combat writer’s block mid-chapter:
  • Walk away for a few days. It’s not my particular favorite thing to do, but it does help me remember why I’m excited about a story (or not. Both are equally important revelations).
  • Write anyway. Yes, it’s forcing a story, but sometimes I need to force a few sentences in order to get things flowing. It’s like towing a car in the snow. Eventually, you’ll get that thing out of the snowbank and back onto the road.
  • Start with a scene that you know and are excited about. Sometimes if I don’t know what happens exactly next, but I can’t wait to write about a scene that’s happening later in the book, I’ll write that scene.
  • Read. This is actually one of my favorite motivations. When I read something amazing, it makes me want to write something amazing.
  • Eat something. Really, this is my cure for just about anything.
  • Watch a random makeup tutorial on YouTube. This is probably not helpful at all.
  • Go back to my notes and write down details about the scene. Try to go back and plot out parts of the novel or the whole thing (if this has not been done).
  • Question whether or not this is a viable project. See first bullet.
Eventually, I found my story again through a combination of these tips. I know you will, too.

How to Know When To Stop Writing

I know what you’re thinking. Here I am, blogging about writing, and now I’ve got you reading a post about how to stop writing. Hold on now, that’s not exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ve spent the past five weeks plotting out Book #4 in the Dugan Siblings series. It’s Kieran’s story, and it’s one I want to tell. But no matter how much I tried to follow Rachel Aaron’s steps and write out characters, I just wasn’t excited about where the story was going. The conflict didn’t seem conflict-y enough, the plot seemed forced, and I found myself staring at the pitiful 3000 words I’d written, not excited about writing more.

So I stopped writing.
Here’s the thing: sometimes when you’re writing a novel, you sometimes have to force yourself to write, but you shouldn’t force the story along. Sitting your butt in a chair and writing is hard – but at the end of the day, you should be proud of what you’ve written and excited to write more.
What you should NOT feel like is dread. Dread of having to write another chapter. Dread of the crux of the conflict to your story. Dread that you just don’t like what you’re writing. Because if YOU, the creator of the novel, don’t like it, I can guarantee your writers won’t either!
I was feeling this dread when I even thought about writing Book #4. So I stopped, set it aside and immediately felt a sense of relief. No one is forcing me to write this book. And the good (and sometimes frustrating) part about being a writer is there’s always an understudy book waiting in the wings to be written. I came up with an idea a few months ago for my next book, and once I gave myself the chance to write it, I was excited again, thrilled even to be telling a story that I wanted to tell.
I promise I’ll tell Kieran’s story someday. But for now I’m really excited about the story I’m working on, and more importantly I’m excited to be excited about writing again. Because that’s what it should feel like.