Dealing With a Mental Jam When Writing

Here’s a neat trick I learned from a pro that can help to figure out what’s going on when a story jams (I’m pretty sure it was David Morrell’s trick, but it might have been Lawrence Block).

1.) Open up Notepad or TextFile on the computer.

2.) Call a meeting of the characters. Imagine sitting down with them.

3.) Now type in “What’s wrong? Why are things jamming up?”

4.) Write everyone’s responses down, including your own. Keep going until the characters and you run out of things to say.

5.) Now type in “What do I need to do to get this story moving again? What do you need?”

6.) Write down everyone’s responses.

I’ve been surprised at how well it works. Sometimes the problem turns out to be a missing scene, or that I need to throw the entire draft out and start over, or that the story isn’t ready to be written, or that I’ve simply got a bad case of self-doubt and need to plow onwards.

It’s weird to have imaginary characters bitching at me in my head during the “meeting” as I transcribe stuff down, but so far it’s always been a help to do the exercise (if only to nail down what the problem is).

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