The Writing Process 2015: Writer’s Block

A day late here. Blogger writer’s block? Quite possibly. Why not my blog along with everything else?

Writer's BlockI’ll confess I’m not a big fan of the phrase “writer’s block.” For a long time I’ve believed that it might be shorthand for: “I’m interested in other things right now.” Or possibly: “The story’s not coming easily anymore so it wasn’t meant to be.” Or even: “Writing is a lot harder than I expected, so I think I’ll work on my quilt.”

Don’t worry, I’m not poking fun at my fellow writers. I’ve said all those things myself and meant them. Luckily I’ve always had deadlines and the knowledge that my income as a writer is important to my family. So those “other things” often had to wait, and I had to tough out the story that wasn’t “coming easily” and tuck that quilt away for another time.

Am I better than anybody else because I finished the occasional book-from-hell? Definitely not. Each writer is different. Some of us can perform when the whip is snapping over our heads and some just can’t. Some of us can slog toward an ending through muck and mire, and for some of us writing is such a delicate process that the slightest jolt shakes our confidence, creativity and fortitude, and we are suddenly so far off course we can’t move forward.

Frankly, I think this is more the luck of the draw than anything else. We sloggers aren’t better writers, or even more determined. We are just lucky to be able to write when the writing gets tough. We can ignore the voices of doom, the sands falling through the hourglass, the many other temptations that life offers, and get the job done. Somehow we stay on the path. Muck and all.

In my personal life story this week can be filed neatly under “Emilie Struggled with Writer’s Block.” In my last Writing Process 2015 I told you how I was nearing the ending of When We Were Sisters, and asked how many happily-ever-afters you needed as a reader. After I posted that entry I received a very lovely comment about the ending of The Color of Light. The reader was unhappy at a choice one of my characters, Isaiah, makes at the end. I remember writer’s block at nearly the same time last year when I was writing that very ending. The reason? I had planned to end the novel differently, but I couldn’t make myself do it. Just couldn’t. The characters I had portrayed, the scenes I had set up? Both demanded something different. With every word I wrote, I had changed the outcome of the novel. Even knowing that my new ending would make some readers unhappy.

This time the problem is a bit different. Once again I know I must change my ending. But this time I need to figure out a complicated scenario to make the new ending happen. New ending+complicated scenario=Writer’s Block. I have been stuck all week.

Through seventy-something novels and thirty years of writing, I have developed a fallback strategy when this happens. So let me share. It’s quite possible these can help solve different kinds of blocks in your life.

  • Remember the block is temporary and it will pass.
  • Take a rest and do something else so the unconscious can take over.
  • Break the problem into steps–in this case scenes.
  • Brainstorm different outcomes for each step (scene) and write them down. Sometimes the curve in the road that seems strangest will be, on second glance, the best route.
  • Write down the problems that might be encountered with every possibility, then see if solutions exist.
  • Go for the simplest solution whenever possible.
  • And finally, once again because it’s so important, have faith the problem will resolve itself with work and reflection.

Yesterday I think I found the missing key to my story. I knew it was always right there–and it was–but first I had to clear the landscape to see it. The more complex I made things and the more I worried, the more tangled my story became and the more unlikely. Simplicity won the day.

My job now will be to finish the book using the ideas I came up when my writer’s block gave way. I may experience more.But it’s important to understand that this is part of the writing process. We start, we stop, we rest, we move forward. There’s nothing to fear.

Have you experienced a creative block? Not just as a writer, but as an artist, a quilter, a crafter, a needleworker, a musician? Do you have a secret to share about how you moved forward?


  1. Martha O'Quinn on August 26, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    Emilie, I just finished “The Color of Light” and my emotions are all over the place. After reading each of the GA books, I’ve declared each as being my favorite. True for this one also. I wasn’t quite finished when I read today’s blog and that threw me a curve because I really wanted Ana and Ethan to end up together. Am I weird or what? When you described your angst at deciding how to end it I thought that’s the way it would end. Not to be, you have a true, happy-ever-after ending. I secretly had a crush on Ethan. When reading the last book I thought it might end up with Ethan and Jan together, but I didn’t want it to happen after beginning “Light.”
    I can think of no more difficult calling that that of a minister or a minister’s spouse. I have a first cousin who is a retired minister and two female cousins who were/are wives of retired ministers. One of those ended in divorce. Thanks for such a wonderful read. I’m eagerly looking ahead to “sisters.”

    • Emilie Richards on August 26, 2015 at 3:18 pm

      I love Ethan, too. By the time this book was nearly done I realized every single ending was going to be a win-lose of some sort for every character. Truly an interesting book to finish.

      • Martha O'Quinn on August 26, 2015 at 4:04 pm

        I forgot to mention the pencil in the bloc(k) of ice. Clever!

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