Week of Writers’ Block: Day 3

In case you missed it, this week we are talking about writers’ block. We have talked about two types already: having nowhere to go and dealing with distractions. Today we are talking about what to do if you have too many ideas and don’t know which one to pick.

Day 3: Crossroads

Sometimes you have a character that is standing at a crossroads and you’re not sure which path to take. Sometimes there’s two options or three or four or forty. Having an abundance of ideas is just as crippling as having none. What happens if you pick option A and you hate it? What happens if option B is the most interesting, but is a pain in the butt to write? What happens if two or more of the options could lead to equally satisfying endings? Or what if none of them do?

This visual is pretty obvious. Think of yourself standing on a sidewalk and it forks into many different paths. There’s a sign in front of you that points to each direction, but you’re not entirely sure which destination you’re looking for. What do you do?

1. Pick One at Random

Sometimes you just have to put on a blindfold, spin around, and follow the path you end up staring at. This is a great option for problem solvers and people who like spontaneity. Maybe this direction isn’t the obvious choice and now you deal with problems that you didn’t anticipate–and neither did your readers. This can invigorate your story… Or it can cause you to hate what you’re doing and scrap the whole project. There is definite risk in this option. You might also pick a route that’s uninspired and can bore your readers or you as the writer. And, trust me, if you’re bored, your readers will know it. If you choose this method, I’d advice placing some kind of marker in your work to show where the block started so if you end up unhappy with the direction, you know where to start from. My favorite way of marking is to change the font colour (from black to navy or something subtle like that so you’re not staring at fuchsia for days and days on end).

2. Make a Map

For all of you out there that hate to plan, this is not the method for you. This method involves those outlines that I don’t think a single person likes. Start with where you are in a circle in the middle of the page. Then draw a line and start plotting one of the directions your story can take. Follow it as far as you want, which could be to the book’s end or just a couple of chapters. If another crossroads presents itself, feel free to make multiple directions here as well. Once you’ve finished with one direction, go back to the starting point and make a new line for another direction you could take.

Everyone loves outlines.
Everyone loves outlines.

You can make it as intricate as you want. You can make scene lists or plot points or whatever will inspire you. There are programs that can help with this or you can simply do it in Microsoft Paint like I did. Keep adding to your map until you find a direction that satisfies you.

3. Ask a Local

This goes against what a lot of other writers say, but it’s still an option: get a second opinion. I have a couple of people that are my “first readers.” They read my drafts and let me know what they think. If I’m stuck, I usually ask them what parts of the book they want to know more about or, conversely, what does not interest them at all. For this to work, you have to have people you trust to 1. not steal your work and 2. give you honest opinions. It helps if they’re in your target reader demographic.

Sometimes asking for an opinion gets you no where, but sometimes it prompts a discussion that helps you decide where you’d like to end up. It’s the same principle as when you don’t know what to choose so you flip a coin and while the coin is in the air, you realize which way you hope it lands. I find that discussing my story with those trusted “first readers” gets me going on whatever path I’m most excited about, even if I didn’t know that I was most excited about that path to begin with.

Do you ever have too many directions and are unsure of which to take? What do you do in that situation? Then return tomorrow for day 4 of our writers’ block week where we talk about the fear block!

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