How To Get Past The Tricky Spot In Your Story

Remember when writing was fun?
Remember when writing was fun?

We all occasionally reach a spot in the story where we don’t know what to do, how to get the characters past a certain obstacle.

If it lasts a while, people call it writer’s block. So don’t let it last.

In Poggibonsi, the tricky spot was trying to think up a way for Mike’s wife to take him back after he cheated on her. I was stuck for a long time on that. There was no rational reason for her to do it, and yet I know lots of spouses forgive a cheating husband or wife. But I couldn’t think of what that conversation went like or how he’d earn her trust back.

In The Water castle, we have a big confrontation with several characters and a resolution need to be created. Gina’s mom finally goes to help Gina and… what, exactly?

Something will come to me.
Something will come to me.

Beats me!

Similarly, Jenny was stuck on her big battle scene, so I rolled out these two examples for her, as I am for you, because she thought she had to solve the problem alone and that nobody else has these issues. Certainly not real authors with actual books being sold.

Ha!

But, okay, we all have those issues on occasion. What do we do about them?

Usually by telling somebody – in this case Jenny, one of my critique partners – about the problem, I have to clarify things so they can understand. That helps me clarify things for myself. So, simply by explaining the problem to another person, it unravels the mystery to my own brain.

I have a hundred ideas and they all suck!
I have a hundred ideas and they all suck!

And by doing that, I almost always have a few ideas of where things might head, and why they can’t head that way.

Then, lo and behold, as I walk them through my dilemmas, usually one answer remains as the only plausible path. And my dilemma is no more.

Other times, I am hearing the problem from a fellow author and I’m providing suggestions. They may not take any of my ideas, but the sheer act of rejecting solutions kind of implies to their own brain that they have something better. Certainly they have a better feel for their story. And just as often, an answer is derived.

It always does!
It always does!

It’s like in Shakespeare In Love, when Geoffrey Rush’s character (Philip Henslowe) spoke with Hugh Fennyman, the money lender for the play. The sponsor asked how all the issues would be surmounted and the play could open, and Henslowe basically said, “I don’t know, but it always does.”

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?

Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.

Hugh Fennyman: How?

Philip Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

That’s my answer.

Talk the problem out with another author. An answer will present itself.

I don’t know how, but it always does.

.

Your humble host.
Your humble host.

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.

Endurance: Don’t Quit =/= Never Take Breaks

Your humble host.
Your humble host.

A critique partner and friend recently noted that I’m looking even more prolific the past few days, putting out a few chapters of my story for inquiring eyes at the critique website.

Kinda sorta.

Now, you know I am a BIG advocate of WRITE EVERY DAY, but I recognized something that you need to know as the holidays approach (you’ll finish the big battle scene over Christmas break, right Jenny?) or as you transition into a new job (several of you) where you’ll have more writing time.

Currently, I am in the middle of a two week span where my wife is traveling for work Monday through Friday, and since our young daughter can’t tell time yet and has been fighting a minor cold… I can stick the little one in bed as soon as the sun goes down (6:30pm) and I have LOTS of time to write! Zero family time requirements!

Stop looking at me.

Gone, just like that.
Gone, just like that.

Also, since my wife vetoed the inclusion of the witch in my current WIP turning into a dragon and escaping, I saved about 30,000 words (maybe) about a big dragon hunt.

I do miss my dragon, but that deletion allowed me to realize that… MY STORY WAS ALMOST DONE!

I’m like, wait, if there’s no dragon hunt, then this comes next, and that, and that, and… I’m finished!

I was like, I might be able to finish this story during the two weeks my wife is gone!

(Love you, honey! Miss you! XOXO!)

And what are markers? Not felt pens? Where is all this explained???
And what are markers? Not felt pens? Where is all this explained???

Of course, I’m midway through that fourteen day span now, and I’m not sure the whole “finish the story in two weeks” thing will happen at all, but a few days ago it seemed possible. Because getting the kid up and dressed and fed and to school on time – and oh, homework (what is with this Common Core shit? I am totally lost. Add the objects and put the markers in the five frame? What the fuck is a five frame???), pick her up after school and eat dinner (I won’t lie there, it was ALL fast food and junk. Cheetos for breakfast. Stop looking at me. I’m usually the one forcing her to eat the carrots and green beans, okay? Just, you know… not this week.)

I was actually thinking about this yesterday, saying if I had 5 straight hours a day, or possibly six, times at least 10 days, plus my usual writing time on weekends (thank you, dance class) would I be able to get the book finished? That’s a lot of uninterrupted writing time, and as the end of the story nears, I get excited and want to write more anyway.

or a big mug of beer since I didn't have a picture of a bucket
or a big mug of beer since I didn’t have a picture of a bucket

And at first I thought yes, but as I went along each day I thought maybe not, but I couldn’t understand why. It was like a bucket got dumped out and needed time to fill back up.

To be crude, I actually thought it was like sex. Feel free to skip down a paragraph to protect your sensibilities. Every guy can certainly have an “O” once a day every day for a week, no problem; but trying to have seven in a row, more or less back to back, while certainly possible and with the right partner and stimulation I am willing to try, after about number three he just wouldn’t be, you know… delivering much, and by number seven maybe not anything at all. Certainly not like the first one. Most of you readers are ladies; feel free to sympathize with this dilemma.

Okay, it’s safe to start reading again, you innocent ones. And I thought the bucket analogy would be better than the sex analogy, but the sex one actually came to me first.

Must... finish... story!
Must… finish… story!

Now, that doesn’t mean I can’t still knock out my story, but I ended up pacing myself a little more, or actually allowing myself to recuperate more between writing sessions. But like working out and building a muscle (or having sex, I guess) if it’s fun and you enjoy it, you can build up your writing endurance. That… actually sounds like I’m still talking about sex stuff. I’m not, honest.

Probably the discipline analogy applies more to building muscles, but the sex analogy applies to the fun of doing the writing. The more you do, the more you are capable of doing. The longer you go, the longer you are able to go. Yeah, it all sounds like sex stuff now doesn’t it? Sorry. I shouldn’t have gone there. Try to keep your filthy mind out of the gutter.

These are probably habits that can be developed like anything else, and I’m not sure I realized that until this week.

Maybe not this much, but you get the idea.
Maybe not this much, but you get the idea.

First, realize that writing drains you! Emotionally, creatively, maybe physically. I mean, typing isn’t super exerting, but thinking and rereading and hovering over the keyboard, you might get a sore back or a headache. But when you run through an amazingly creative idea and pursue it to its end, you may need time to think up and develop the next idea for the story, or to properly smooth out the transitions, even when you’re “in the zone.”

Which is kinda DUH, of course, but I hadn’t thought about it because my writing time, like yours, is usually limited.

BUT!

Like muscles or habits, we can build them up over time. Monday, I wrote for about six hours. Six glorious, uninterrupted, creative hours. It was pure genius, flowing from my brain through my fingertips to the computer. Tuesday, I wrote a little less, but I was like: Do it! You may never get a chance like this again! They’ll teach her how to tell time in school eventually, and daylight savings time will rear its ugly head again one day! Write! Wriiiiiiiite!!!

Um, where was I?

Oh yeah, habits and endurance.

Well, maybe that last one...
I get up at 4am to write. All my author friends hate me.

So while we have all probably created some cute little writer-ey habits, like you always squeeze in an hour for your blog after dinner on Thursdays, or how you get up an hour early to work on your novel, or how each night before bedtime I read by the fireplace to my adoring daughter (it could happen), we have to realize we can add to that writing muscles and increase our endurance.

Just as breaks are necessary for the body to rebuild the fatigued muscles, increasing the weight we’re lifting allows us to eventually add more weight. So writing a little more each day will allow us to be capable of writing more each day.

To find the time for that, check out my other posts where we discuss how to find time to write, HERE and HERE.

But when you have that time, use it, and be prepared to increase the endurance. Because after lifting 20 lbs all week, lifting 10 is easy-peasy. So you can lift your 10 faster, get more reps in, whatever.

or going crazy because relatives visit and the kids are out of school
or going crazy because relatives visit and the kids are out of school

If you get the time to write more, which a lot of us do over the holidays or as we change jobs to a more writing-friendly scenario – and you’re all trying to do that, I know – realize there will be a lag time, a learning curve, to your new situation. Allow yourself time to adjust to the new schedule and don’t expect to go at it 8 hours a day every day from the jump. It may take a week or more to build your endurance up to being able to write four or eight hours every day.

And it may be incredibly hard not feeling guilty while you don’t write each hour of your new schedule. Don’t! No guilt!

Give yourself the time to build up to it. If you were trying to run a mile and hadn’t ever run further than to the fridge during a commercial TV break, your spouse wouldn’t expect the Boston Marathon on Friday. You won’t run a mile today and again tomorrow and again the next day. You have to build up to it, so run a half mile or a quarter mile or maybe just 100 yards today, and probably not even that much tomorrow, but as you stay after it, you’ll be hitting a mile or more soon enough.

I wrote all these over Christmas break. Oh, you gained 5 lbs and made cookies? YOU ROCK!
I wrote all these over Christmas break. Oh, you gained 5 lbs and made cookies? YOU ROCK!

Only you can tell what’s enough, so give yourself what you need as the holidays or new job approach, and don’t set unrealistic expectations, but as you reach success with your goals, brag about it! To us and everyone who’ll listen – which won’t be your family and friends because they have no idea if 3000 words in a day is good or not. So tell us. We get it.

I wrote this for you because I needed to grieve for my deleted dragon, and also because I needed a break from my awesome WIP. Now I’m warmed up and ready to bang out another marathon session. And we finally got past it sounding like weird sex talk… right until that last line. Darn. So close.

.

Your humble host.
Your humble host.

REBLOG me! Or SHARE this post on Facebook and Twitter! See those little buttons down below? Put on your glasses. There they are. Click them. The FOLLOW button is now in the lower right hand corner.

Got a QUESTION? ASK IT! Hit the Contact Me button and I’ll see what I can do. (I have lots of smart friends.)

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.