by Sarah Sundin @SarahSundin
Chapter four nearly did me in.
Chapters one through three flew as planned, and I knew chapters five and six were going to be exciting. But chapter four took me a full week to write.
I’m a plotter, an outliner. Before I start my rough draft, I know what needs to happen in each scene. This chapter was meant to contain quiet scenes for character development, with a little humor and some tension, a dip in pacing necessary at this point in the story.
When I was writing it, the characters played well off each other, and the conversations unrolled as in my head. Yet I struggled to get it down, and I finished with a mutter of “Finally.”
But something felt wrong.
Authors and writing teachers debate the existence of writer’s block. Many solutions have been proposed, such as…
- “Just do it”—discipline to overcome procrastination
- “Start writing and your muse will catch up”
- Running start—review your previous chapters or your notes to regain the feel of the story
- Take a short break to clear your head—go for a walk, play with the kids, do some housework
- Allow yourself to write badly—you can edit later
For chapter four, I’d done all of those, especially “write badly.” But my muse hadn’t caught up. The chapter felt flat.
Part of me wanted to keep powering ahead. Surely my readers would excuse one boring chapter, right? After all, they’ll learn something about what makes my hero tick. That’s enough, isn’t it?
After having written sixteen novels, I’ve learned not to ignore that gut feeling—yes, outliners have gut feelings too!
Here’s my addition to the list above:
- It can’t be right when it feels so wrong (sing to the tune of “You Light up My Life” if you’re old enough to remember it)
Sometimes the block is there for a reason. Like Balaam’s donkey, the block is trying to keep you away from disaster. Or a disastrous chapter anyway.
That gut feeling told me I had a serious problem with that chapter. That evening and the next morning I mulled it over as I cooked and walked the dog.Sometimes writer’s block is there for a reason. What to do when your gut says, “It can’t be right when it feels so wrong.” @sarahsundin #ACFW #writingtips #writing #writersblock Click To Tweet
I reviewed the chapter—my hero has a chat with his best friend about romance and family, revealing details about my hero—vital to understand his reactions in chapters five and six.
Then my hero gives a new character an overview of the setting as they make plans for the coming week.
That was the problem. My characters talked about doing things but did absolutely nothing. I was telling, not showing.
Sixteen books, and I still mess up the basics. There you go.
That afternoon I rewrote the whole chapter, copying, pasting, deleting, rewriting. I scooted the scene to later, when the characters were enacting those plans. The same conversations occur. The same information is relayed. It’s still a quiet chapter, but something is happening.
So, next time you feel stuck, listen to your gut. Interrogate your gut. Why are you stuck? Because you’re procrastinating? Because you’re overworked and need a break? Because you need a spur to get back into the mood of the story?
Or because something is wrong? If that’s the case, analyze the scene or section that’s frustrating you. Ask critique partners for feedback if you don’t see it. What’s missing? What’s wrong? How can you fix it?
Then get back to work! And this time, it’ll feel right.
Sarah Sundin is a bestselling author of World War II novels, including The Sound of Light. Her novels have received the Christy Award and the Carol Award. Sarah lives in Southern California, where she loves walking her rescue dogs. She serves as co-director of the West Coast Christian Writers Conference.