3 Causes for Writer’s Block

The last two days, writing has felt like a slog through treacle. What? I’ve been listening to a book set in London, by a British author. Why do you ask? Fine.

To work through writer’s block you need to discover the cause.
Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

The last two days, writing has felt like a slog through molasses. Better?

I’ve made some progress on my outline. I’m up to beat 4 out of 15. I’ve outlined approximately 7 scenes. I’ve written an entire sentence. I’m not a firm believer in writer’s block as in I don’t believe that for some mysterious reason I just




How can I say that after two days with very little progress? Because I don’t think the cause is mysterious. I just need to figure out what it is and for me personally it tends to be one of these three things.

I’m Not Ready to Write

Sometimes I just can’t get going because I’m not ready to write yet. I want to write. Writing, after all, is a lot more fun than organizing and outlining, but I’m just not ready to go. Sometimes it means that I need to do more research. Other times I need to get to know a character better. Still other times I need to noodle things over and decide where this piece is going.

This time? I suspect I need to spend more time with my character. I’m getting to know her as I work on the outline. By the time I get that done, I should be ready to write.

Wrong Way

Sometimes I try to take a piece in the wrong direction. It may be the direction shown in the outline. Or I may have decided that I have a brillian new idea. The problem is that it really isn’t brilliant and really isn’t working. I’ve written myself into a corner and need to back out and try again.

Recharge Needed

Last but not least, the project may not be the problem. It may simply be that I’ve been pushing my writing limits or my physical limits and need to recharge.

This time? I do think this may be part of my problem. It isn’t my writing limits but I haven’t slept well the last two days. I good nights sleep will likely make a great deal of difference.

If you are having troubles writing, don’t just throw up your hands in surrender to writer’s block. Instead try to figure out what is causing it so that you can get moving again.


What I Did when My Outline Wasn’t Working

Beats on individual index cards.
Next come the scenes on Post-It Notes.

Step One in creating the outline for my middle grade novel was to write up the story spine, 9 critical points in my story ala Kenn Adams. Step 2 was to expand this into a Beat Sheet ala Save the Cat Writes a Novel. A Beat Sheet is an outline that helps you position fifteen vital scenes/moments in your novel. There’s the opening scene (normal world), fun and games (the first half of the 2nd act) and 13 more.

I’ve been trying to get myself to do this for just over a week. I hate outlining fiction. Really, really hate it. And when I do force myself to do it, I tend to cut things short. I tell myself I’ve hit all the important markers, but when I start writing I realize that I’ve outlined maybe 1/3 of my novel.

What gives?

After noodling this over for about a week, I finally realized that things go really well until I need to scroll down the page. I’m a highly visual thinker and it drives me nuts that I can’t see everything out once. So now I’m creating a set of BEAT SHEET Index Cards.

Each beat as well as the pertinent details (approx number of scenes, position in manuscript, what needs to happen in this beat) goes on an index card. I can then write a few sentences about each scene on a post-it note and affix it to the index card. 1 scene? That will be 1 post-it. 8 scenes? A ribbon of 8 post-its. But I will also be able to stand back from the table and see all 15 beats at once.

Is Act 1 roughly 1/4 of the whole? I’ll be able to look and see. Does the middle really occur in the middle? Count the scenes before and after and I’ll have the answer.

It may seem like a strange way to pull together an outline but I already know that anything that helps me visual balance and position is helpful. Try it and see if it works for you.


9 Steps to Outline Your Story

Check out this graphic by Jono Hey that explains the Story Spine

Although I sometimes write fiction, I loathe outlining a fictional story. Unless we are talking picture books. I get picture book structure. When the time comes to outline a picture book, I get out fourteen post-it notes and my story board and get to work.

But a novel? It just feels so big.

Today while watching a Pixar in a Box video from their Story Structure series, I learned about creating a story spine, an outline form created by Kenn Adams, a professional in improv theater. Here are the 9 elements needed to create a story spine.

Once Upon a Time . . .

This is the beginning of your story. “Once upon a time there were three little pigs.”

Everyday . . .

Mark the routine in your world. “The three little pigs each built a home, one of straw, one of sticks and, the most industrious pig, built a brick house.”

But One Day . . .

Think of this as your inciting incident. What happened that brought about change? “But one day along came the big, bad wolf and said ‘Little Pig, Little Pig, let me in.”

Because of That . . .

The inciting incident leads your characters to take action which leads to the next action. “Pig One runs inside, the wolf blows down the house of straw, and Pig One runs to Pig Two’s house.”

Because of That . . .

Your characters are led to another action. “The wolf blows down the house of sticks. Pig One and Pig Two run to Pig Three’s house.”

Because of That . . .

This is the last step leading to another big change. “The wolf tries and tries to blow down the brick house.”

Until Finally . . .

This is your climax. “Until finally he realizes this house is too strong and climbs onto the roof. But Pig Three had built a fire and the wolf fails to climb down the chimney.”

Ever Since Then . . .

This is the ending or denouement. “The Three Little Pigs live happy ever after having learned their lesson that . . .”

The Moral of the Story Is . . .

“. . . hard work pays off.”

I like this idea a lot. Now that I’ve managed to see how it works ala The Three Pigs, it is time to try it out with Air Stream. That’s the working title for my middle grade science fiction novel. Wish me luck!