by Robin Spano
Q: We all hit writers’ block at some point in time. What do you do to get out of it and move the story forward?
A: I do exercises.
Partly that means physical exercise—get myself up and away from my computer, go for a swim at the beach or snowboarding at one of the local ski hills, weather depending. I live in a rural area that's great for outdoor activity.
But at my desk (to which I eventually return, usually religiously each morning), it means writing exercises. Some good ones are:
CHARACTER INTERVIEWS – You can either use a character interview template someone else has devised, or you can be the interviewer and the interviewee, just hammer out some dialogue that helps you get to know one of your characters. I love writing dialogue, so this always gets my fingers flying. Without the pressure to write material that might one day be published, I can poke and prod and learn interesting things that will almost certainly flesh out the character being grilled when I return to the “actual” story.
STORY SOFTWARE DOWNLOADS – I'm a junkie for trial versions of novel writing software. Usually I play with a trial for a couple of days, and that's enough to get my juices flowing to get me back on track with my work in progress. But if I fall in love, I buy the full version of the software. Two that I like a lot are StoryWeaver (which is great at the idea stage) and Novel Factory (brilliant for organizing). Last month, Novel Factory helped me take a jumbled mess of a first draft and organize it into acts and scenes that (I'm hoping) tell a complete story. I still have to go write many of those acts and scenes, and there are big plot gaps I'll have to work out as I go, but now when I show up at my desk in the morning, I have a series of tasks that I've already pre-defined for myself. Much easier than the jumbled mess or the blank page.
SETTING EXPLORATION – AKA, Google Maps. I like to wander the streets in the city where my characters are, turn left and right and see what's there. Just this week, I walked Manhattan's East 86th Street through my POV character's eyes, and it helped answer a plot question that had been nagging at me, stopping the forward motion.
And when I'm truly blocked and I can't come up with an exercise on my own, I pull one of my dog-eared writing craft books down from the shelf beside my desk. I find Donald Maass books particularly full of goodies that I can use to improve a scene or fine tune a plot twist or deepen the setting.
It almost doesn't matter what you're doing with your work in progress. As long as you're working with it, in a focused, thoughtful way, any hours you spend will be hours well-spent.