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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Editing Through Writers Block

MEGS writes:
Ah.... what about editing when the writing runs into a block?

Because that's what I did with my present WIP (work in progress) formerly known at WIP (work in pieces).

I was a chapter away from the ending, but realized that there was no point in writing that ending, because it wasn't right. Or it was the wrong door. And I couldn't stand to waste my time opening the wrong door.

In order to find the right door, I had to backtrack to the last spot where I truly felt like I was on the right path. That - unfortunately - was Chapter 1.

I kept most of the material I had, but revised it, gently steering towards the right door. That meant cutting scenes, adding scenes, fleshing out characters, cutting characters, adding depth and 'emphasis points'.

Yes, I imagined the right door to be just a bit left and above that first horrible Wrong-Wrong-Wrong door. :]

And I wanted to respond in a full post so no one missed out on this discussion.

Writer's block is one of two things, either it's an apparition of a fevered mind or a deadly illness that we all fear catching. Authors either believe in writer's block to the point of hypochondria or they refuse to acknowledge that this might happen.

Personally, I don't believe in writer's block as much as I believe that sometimes you hit a brick wall. And when you hit the wall it means you have gone the wrong way.

Megs: What you did is exactly the right thing.

You went back, analyzed what worked and what didn't, and kept writing. You could have tried piecing new endings on until it fit, but you would have landed yourself back in Rewrite-and-Edit-land anyway.

The worst thing you can do when you have writer's block is quit.

It's okay to take a step back and give yourself distance. It's not a bad idea to take a day off from your WIP to fiddle with another project or let your brain relax. But to throw your hands up and storm off never to return to writing is criminal.

For those of you lost in the mires and stuck between the barbed wire of brick walls and writer's block here's the quick way out of the quagmire:


Step 1: Print out a copy... or resign yourself to sitting at the computer for 4-5 hours
Grab a pen and paper, a copy of your maunscript, and some quiet time without distractions. Some different colored highlighters work too.

Step 2:
Set the Manuscript Aside
You need it, just not yet.

Step 3: Write Down Your Theme
Go ahead, in under 20 words describe the book. "Lost waif saves day." Something like that. Quick and easy.

Step 4: Write Down Minor Themes
The themes for the lesser story arcs and the minor character's story lines.

Step 5: Write Down the Story Arc
One quick paragraph that sums up the whole book.

Step 6: Write the Conclusion
If you haven't found your ending yet, or are blocked on the ending, try looking HERE for advice.

Step 7: Read Through your Manuscript
Now that you know what you want, see what you have. Take notes on your notepad. And if you hit a part you love, highlight it in one color (pink with hearts maybe?). If your eyes glaze over highlight that part too (maybe in black... hey... if you don't miss it you can cut the whole section!)

Step 8: Walk Away
After you're done with what you have let your brain digest everything. Go get some excercise. Get some fresh air. Hit the pool. Cook some dinner. Go on a date.

Step 9:
Try Again
You have the notes for later editing so when you go back to your computer do you start over? No!

Start where you stopped and continue writing the scene the way it needs to go.

The only exception is if you are at the bitter end of your story. At that point it's feasible to go back and rewrite or edit the whole novel in one go rather than having an ending chapter that obviously doesn't fit the leading chapters.

But don't try that unless you are near the end. As tempting as it is to edit (and, yes Glam, I am looking at you) it can be very dangerous unless you have the self-discipline to not pull a Perfectionist and insist chapter one must be flawless before you move to chapter two.


  1. Actually, this is more along the lines of how I was planning on editing my currently completed WIP. Even though I don't have to worry about getting over writer's block, I think a big problem many writers--or at least me--have is that they lose focus. Doing something like this helps you edit for focus.

  2. Right now my wip and I are seeing other people.

    But I expect we'll get back together and work out our issues.

  3. Great set of posts, Liana. ;)

    One thing on the full rewrite, as in starting from square one and writing everything fresh - it isn't a good idea unless you messed everything up.


    That's when you wind up having multiple versions of the same ms, and mondo-confusion over which one you like more. <- I still have ten versions of one unfinished novel. They are came to a screeching stop at the same 'blocking point'.

    The revisions I did were just very light edits. Merely coaxing that main plot-thread back to life so it could show me the way to the 'right door' or ending.

    I wrote a full outline (quick summaries of each and every chapter, including the yet unwritten ending chapters) midway through when I started getting an inkling of what else I wanted to happen before the end of the book.

    Something else that helps when trying to get a hold of a project that's getting gangly on you - remember that every single story has a formula or follows the three steps -

    1. Beginning: Premise
    2. Middle: Problem emerges
    3. Ending: Resolution of problem

    Or maybe there are variations or reordering depending on your writing style.


    1. Beginning: Problem emerges during meet and greet and intro to premise.

    2. Middle: How it all comes together and reaches realization of what must happen before ending - all while suffering a severe setback.

    3. Ending: Get back on your feet and fight to the finish - whatever the finish is.

    3.5 Epilogue: Ending scene where everyone claps selves on back.

  4. Excellent advice here, L. I do edit as I go along. I've tried getting around it. There's no way around it. It's just how I work. But I keep working my through as I do it. It's like moving in mini circles as the big circle gets completed little by little. And I've finished three complete novels, so I know I'm capable of finishing. In theory, my first drafts are more like third or fourth drafts. But considering the fact that I believe it'll take me about 25 drafts to get somewhere I'm happy, that's not very far. I'm still learning and figuring it all out. Maybe when I've written five or six books I'll be a little more efficient.