Writer’s Block? It’s A Sign.

I’ve had a kind of writer’s block recently, but I think I’ve identified the cause – and the solution.
I spent a long time plotting out The Duke’s Disguise, so when it came to the actual writing part of things, I was already thinking about my next book under the Sara Barlow name. I knew I wanted to set it in Lancashire around 1860, and I knew I wanted to feature the Whisky-Spinners – the inhabitants of a now-desolate area who were famed for their illicit stills. I had my characters sorted, and I even had the plot all marked out with post-it notes. I took a break after The Duke’s Disguise, then sat myself down to begin this new story, tentatively called A Rich Man’s Redemption.
I couldn’t. I knew what the first chapter would be – the setting, the emotion, the story. But nothing grabbed me about it.
I’m not one to sit around and whinge, so I turned to my erotica penname and set about a full-length novel exploring cuckoldry and love triangles. Within days, I had 20,000 words, and I was amazed at my flying start.
Why has one story flowed from me, and the other has not?
I have spent a few weeks trying to work it out and I’ve finally come to this conclusion: I knew the theme of the erotica story, but the sweet historical only had plot.
Plot is what happens. Both of these stories have a detailed plot. Both stories have a character arc, with development and resolution. But only the erotica story had a theme that was definite in my mind: “love conquers all” perhaps. It was exploring issues around control, women’s careers and home lives, aspirations and secrets. It was giving me room to bounce around these kinds of ideas.
On the other hand, the sweet historical was just a series of events that were happening to characters. Without a theme, without something to explore, without some “meat” to it, it was just a story and ultimately quite unsatisfying to write – and clearly, would be pretty dull to read.
Themes don’t have to be explicitly stated. In many cases, you’ll read a book and never be aware of the theme the writer intended. But I do believe that it’s that extra something that marks a good book from an uninspiring one, even if you can’t put your finger on it.
Now I’ve identified the weak spot, I’m thinking about the characters and their situation, and what that makes me feel. It’s led me to consider how we develop our sense of right and wrong – and how that changes depending on circumstance, especially under family pressure. Stealing, for example – always wrong? What about if your kids are starving? What about a neighbour’s kids? Where do you stop… I think I’ve found my theme, and it’s making me much keener to get on with the writing.
I’m no expert on writer’s block and I wouldn’t presume to say I’ve found a cure. I would suggest, though, that if the story won’t come, maybe your subconscious is telling you something about the story…

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  1. #1 by Nimue Brown on June 15, 2013 - 5:06 am

    I find it I plot a book out too much in advance I get bored when writing it. I prefer to figure out the main characters, the setting, and, as you suggest, the themes. Then I can make i up as I go, with strong enough underpinnings to hold it all together. I tend to get blocked when there’s more going out of my head than there is coming into it… music in a pub being a most excellent antidote to this.

    • #2 by autumnbarlow on June 24, 2013 - 7:51 am

      Strong underpinnings! The corsetry of a novel. A well fitted corset does not, contrary to popular belief, restrict the breathing… there’s a metaphor here I am labouring to reveal, honest.

  2. #3 by ophelia on June 14, 2013 - 11:10 am

    I think I write to find out what happens in the end!

    • #4 by autumnbarlow on June 24, 2013 - 7:49 am

      Ahhh that is one way – I have tried that, but if I don’t know the ending, I cannot write it. I think perhaps it might depend on genre, though. In a traditional romance, I know that the main characters must be Happy Ever After. I don’t know the details – I’m always surprised by details in the resolution – but I need to know that they are going to be together, or whatever.

      • #5 by ophelia on June 24, 2013 - 10:35 am

        That’s fascinating! Love hearing about writers’ different approaches.

  3. #6 by kathils on June 14, 2013 - 10:15 am

    A very interesting take on writer’s block. So many little things can jam up the works. At least when we can figure out what they are we can — hopefully — move forward.

    • #7 by autumnbarlow on June 24, 2013 - 7:51 am

      It’s going to be different for everyone. Outside stresses can devastate one novelist yet spur another on. But yeah, for some people – for me – this was what was holding me back.

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