By Suzanne Bratcher
WRITER’S BLOCK: Anything that stops our writing.
My high school English teacher would hate that definition. I can almost hear her snap, “What do you mean by anything? For that matter, what do you mean by writing?” To appease her, let’s try a simile. Writer’s block is like a horse that stops dead in the road and refuses to pull your buggy one step farther. Now, with just a hint of sarcasm, she’d say, “We don’t ride in horse-drawn buggies, do we?”
Point taken. But remember Black Beauty? Remember the scene with Merrylegs pulling the dogcart? It’s night and raining hard. John is on his way home when suddenly the reliable little pony stops. John tells her to walk on, but she doesn’t move. He cajoles her and offers her warm bran mash when she gets to the stable. He gets angry. Still she refuses to budge. Frustrated and puzzled, John gets out of the dogcart and walks down the road. A few yards ahead he finds the bridge out. The pony’s instincts saved them from drowning.
Continuing to play with our simile, we get “WRITER’S BLOCK can save our writing from going off the road into a river at flood stage.”
I first began to suspect this truth in 2013 when my novel The Copper Box won first place in romantic suspense in the Genesis contest. Winning may sound like an odd experience to prompt reflection on writer’s block, but that success came after three failed entries and many negative critiques from judges. Only after I read books on craft, attended conference workshops, and found a good critique partner did I learn how to write in third-person limited point-of-view and tell a story from more than one character’s perspective. When The Copper Box, a brand-new story, succeeded after Blood Ruins Piano Wire (yes, that really was the title) failed repeatedly, I was deeply grateful for the writing blocks the Genesis judges placed in my path.
Fast forward through a few blocks finding an agent and then a publisher for The Copper Box to my second novel The Silver Lode, its sequel. I was about two-thirds of the way through the first draft, when the flow of my writing suddenly stopped. I couldn’t understand it. I’d plotted out the three-act structure, complete with escalating disasters. I had thorough character backstories and a scene list to work from. Continuing to write should have been easy, but my story stopped dead in the road and refused to move.
I tried all sorts of ways to cajole that stubborn block to take another step, just one more paragraph. I closed my eyes and imagined the scene in living color. No movement. I took a walk. No good. I munched on peanuts, listened to music, and made a mind-map. Nothing worked. Finally I gave up and went out on the deck. Stretching out in my chaise lounge, I prayed for guidance. While I waited for an answer, I soaked up the warm spring sunshine on my face and arms, listened to the birds sing, and—went to sleep. Yes, I should have knelt on the hard wood deck to pray. But God is good, and when I woke up, I saw the bridge out ahead. I had tagged the wrong murderer!
On the heels of that realization came the name of the actual villain. A lot of work I hadn’t anticipated loomed ahead (revising most of my plan for Act 3 and rewriting sections of Acts 1 and 2 to fill in backstory and introduce clues for the reader) but the story began to flow again. When my critique partner, my editor, and my publisher all agreed The Silver Lode was ready to go, I knew I had to thank that pesky writer’s block. That’s when I came up with my new definition.
WRITER’S BLOCK: a stubborn critique partner whose instincts can save a story from disaster.My friend writer’s block. How can writer’s block save a story from disaster? @AuthorBratcher #ACFWblogs #writingtips #amwriting #amrevising Click To Tweet
Suzanne Bratcher writes a fusion of mystery and romantic suspense set in her heartland, the magical Southwest. The Silver Lode is the second book in her Jerome, Arizona mystery trilogy. Read her blog , subscribe to her quarterly newsletter , or follow her on Facebook.