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  • Writer's pictureGreg Moriarty

Knock your block off – the secret to overcoming writing obstacles

Updated: Mar 29

Questioning non-medical conditions

The more I learn about writing, the more I suspect there’s no such thing as writer’s block. A quick search online reveals I’m not alone. Wikipedia tells me writer’s block is a ‘non-medical condition’. I thought as much. Made up! It’s not a real thing.

At my age, I have a list of similarly unofficial ailments as long as my handstander’s arm.

‘What’s that?’ you ask.

It’s a condition – non-medical – that I’ve had ever since I started training to do handstands. The arm buckles under the weight of the student handstander. And like handstander’s arm, writer’s block is not a thing. A non-medical not-a-thing.

However, that doesn’t mean fiction writers don’t face writing obstacles and handstanders don’t fall down. They do indeed. But there’s something else going on.

Turning to a practical solution

A lot of guidance on this topic comes at it from the angle of writing. By that, I mean crafting sentences and paragraphs of prose and dialogue. Writing often gets presented as key to the solution. Most advice is either around stopping writing or doing more of it.

But here’s the truth. The solution to all writing obstacles comes down to one thing. Structure.

People will give you all sorts of tips – rest, walk, eat, drink, develop habits, break habits. But if you find yourself constantly staring at the blank screen and not typing, I guarantee the best way forward is turning – or returning – to good old structural elements.

The last thing you want to do is burden yourself with the label ‘writer’s block’.

Perhaps you’ve already heard of 2 common writer types. Those that plan and those that don’t. I’m in the first group – plotters. So what I’m about to explain might apply to my gang more. Maybe structure and plans never appeal to non-planners?

Sure – from time to time, you may feel demotivated about writing. That’s fine. It’s all part of this very challenging task of writing novels. But what needs to happen when the writing doesn’t flow and the content dries up?

Knowing how structure creates content

In the diagram below, I show the elements that go into a novel. The top blue rows are structural segments. The bottom white rows are your unique content.

A novel typically has 3 acts, 6 stages and various chapters, which can have subsections or scenes. These in turn consist of paragraphs and sentences. For content, you have your plot, subplots, themes and characters to include.

Substructures and content elements in a novel

If you find yourself stuck at chapter 18, for example, the best solution is to remind yourself which act and stage that chapter sits in. You can also check on the themes and character motivations. Are they coming through clearly enough? Does the dialogue need to convey any subtext? There is so much content to fill each chapter and scene!

This will always be my answer. Work out where you are in the grand scheme of things in your plot and add all the content layers into that specific scene. Simple. Ish.

What you need to include at that point in the plot is dictated by the act and the stage.

You have to convey the theme that corresponds to that stage and reveal the protagonist’s character that relates to that specific stage. For example, are they gaining power or losing it, in connection with the antagonist?

You have to show the character’s hidden motivations as well and that depends on whether they are, for example, set in their ways, experiencing a change, succeeding, failing and so on.

When you take into account that you have to include the stage within the act, the theme, the character motivations and description, there’s no room for a non-medical condition to play out.

Accepting gaps in the structure

And if you truly have a gap in the content, where you don’t know what will happen, jump over that chapter and come back to it. Thoroughly understanding the structure of your novel will help reveal the role of any specific chapter, which is key to overcoming any blocks.

I suspect problems for writers appear when they mistakenly assume that writing is all about crafting beautiful sentences.

That’s not the case. Writing a novel is all about structuring. And editing. :)

The solution to a writing obstacle is always structural.

I must give a massive nod to author Michael Hauge for his incredible ideas on writing. Read his work or watch his videos, and discover the beauty in his ability to describe what's going on structurally.


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