Thursday, January 27, 2011

To-do Lists, Writer's Block, and Letting Characters Lead

by Leisha Maw

Today's to-do list:

1. Wake up: check.
2. Actually get up: check--and yes, I do have to have a separate line for this. Getting up is hard.
3. Get kids up: check, check, check, and check.
4. Get kids up again because they fell back to sleep: check.
5. Repeat steps 3 and four several times: check.
6. Beg/bribe/force some of them to get dressed: check.
7. Remember it's Kid D's birthday: check.
8. Pat self on back for remembering, because yes, I've forgotten a kid's birthday before: check.
9. Start laundry: check.
10. Make beds: check.
11. Make birthday breakfast of blueberry pancakes from scratch: check. I even ground the wheat. Extra check.
12. Get kids to school: check, check, check, and almost check.
13. Write blog: checking as we speak.
14. Write 2000 words in WIP: ummmmmm

Do you ever have those moments when it seems you've run out of words? When the flow just stops? What do you do?

I used to try to force the story and make my characters do what came next in the outline. It never worked well. Ever. (Kind of like number three on my to-do list.) So now I take a step back and consult my writing checklist before I start yelling at my characters to behave.

1. Setting: is it developed? Check.
2. Plot: do I have one? Check.
3. Characters: what would they do? Oh flub.

There's my problem. I'm reacting to the scene, instead of letting them react and act for themselves. What's the difference? It's kind of like my morning checklist. If I had my way, I'd never need numbers four, five, and six. Umm, okay, and eight. Oh heck, I'd never need number two. And someone else would make me pancakes. In bed.

But there's a reason I have those numbers in my checklist. Because my children drive the list. They drive my morning story. It's the same with a book. The characters, if they are fleshed out enough, have strong personalities and develop a life of their own. They won't do certain things. You can make them try, but no one will believe it. They won't. The reader won't. Even the writer won't.

Most of the time when I get stumped in my writing I just need to take a step back and ask myself, what would this character do in this situation? Then I smack myself in the forehead and let the character tell his own story while I write it all down.

What do you do when you hit a writing wall?

Leisha Maw


  1. Usually, I run headlong into it and fall backward. Then, while the stars are still swirling, the ideas come. Sometimes. If that doesn't work, I call someone with a great imagination and bounce ideas off them. Reading a book never hurts either. It's all good!

  2. Jonene, I've crashed back and watched the stars swirl, too. LOL. :)

  3. Your first check list has some striking similarities with mine!! I usually hide under my covers for a day or two and then I feel better. :-)

  4. I get between my characters and the story too, sometimes, or more often than that, I've done something stupid with the plot. It's got a contrivance in it that doesn't work with the personalities of my characters, so I need to go back and restructure it so that my characters have a believable reason to react as I need them too.

  5. Shannon, I would hide under the blankets too if the bus didn't come and honk in the driveway. Honking is hard on hiding. :)

    Emily, that's what I'm doing today, revising my plot so my charactes don't glare at me. Sigh. One of these days I'll get it right. :)

  6. Wonderful post, Leisha!

    I used to be a total discovery writer and let my characters have their way all the time. Usually that meant they stood around and traded witty banter incessantly. Nothing got anywhere. I had to take charge.

    Now I outline, and it irks me no end when I get to a scene that I've played out in my head, something integral to the rest of the story, and the characters just don't want to do what I thought they would!

    But one thing I've learned:I can't tell if a scene is going to work or not until it's on paper. So I go ahead and walk through walls. And sometimes, when I look back, it isn't as much of a train wreck as I thought.

  7. And I want some pancakes. If I buy the blueberries, will you make them when you come to Hawaii?

  8. I used to shove my stories in the bottom of my desk drawer when I hit a wall. Then I'd find them ten months later, realize they were brilliant, cross out a few pages, and write the rest of the story.

    But now, I know that when I hit a wall, it means I'm doing something wrong, and my story has lost its direction. So, I put it away for a few days. Then, I re-read my work, get rid of my last three pages or so, and press forward again.

  9. Rebecca, first off, heck yeah! I'll make you pancakes anytime I'm in Hawaii. Second, I'm really hoping my train wreck won't be too bad. :)

  10. Amber, I did put it away for a while. Now I'm ready to press forward. I'm excited to make it work. :) This is like a drug. Got to get my fix.

  11. Thanks for this post! I've forced myself to try to get past it. I make it a point to read my scriptures before I write or edit. If I still am stumped, then I whip out the big guns with prayer.

    I ponder the plot, characters and problem, and then I take it a step further by other spiritual means. ;)

    More often than not, it works!

    ♥.•*¨ Elizabeth ¨*•.♥

  12. Yep Elizabeth is so right.

    Give us this day our daily wordcount...


  13. Elizabeth and Amber, you are both so right! ;)


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