Some writers get stuck coming up with a book idea, a title or any other major part of their masterpiece. My major issue is getting stuck writing a scene. Here’s a simple technique I use to stop writer’s block and keep the work flowing.
First and most importantly: don’t stop writing.
I use a free-for-all writing technique where I simply write up a problem scene, no matter how flat, silly or relevant it is. I write and then make notes at the bottom as to what the purpose of the scene should be.
Then I take a break, get a snack or do something different for a half hour or so (use your discretion in the amount of time away-just don’t leave it for more than a day or you’re more likely to give up). I don’t think about the scene at all. When I come back, I read the chapter before the problem scene, then the problem scene and my notes.
Ninety percent of the time I’ll come up with a much better way to write the scene or edit it so it reads as it should. It works for me and it’s much better than simply giving up and shelving your work.
In the last scene of my book The Wife of a Lesser Man, I wanted to give the reader an important message: that the main character had forgiven his wife and whatever happened in the course of the book; all that mattered was that she was okay and that they could move on. I wanted to show the unconditional love he still had for her.
This placed way too much importance on the scene, making it too difficult to write. Instead, I reflected the main character’s feelings throughout the last part of the book. Meaningful dialogue was added to different scenes in the latter half of the story. The message was delivered much better in the end and it made the scene almost like the last word; like the icing on the cake.
Writing a scene involves so many elements, but once you’ve written hundreds of them, you’ll realize that with practice, naturally you’ll get better. Just keep writing those scenes; never give up and always believe that you’ll get it perfect with a little perseverance, faith and of course, patience.
What do you do when you’re stuck on a scene? Do you have any special techniques or tips to share?
I stood and listened, waiting to hear anything that would tell me he was alive. I was standing in the vestibule between the waiting room and the emergency room. My ear was pressed up against the metal doors, which left only a small opening so that I could eavesdrop. My hands supported my weight; fingers spread out, knuckles white. My heart was racing, I felt like I would throw up at any second, and an incessant shiver coursed through my body. Yes, people were staring at me. But I was sure no one had just arrived with their husband showing no vital signs.
“Nurse! Get the paddles! We’re losing him again!”
A bang and a strange noise, then silence.
“Again!” “Clear!” The same strange noise and more silence.
My tears began to flow. More people stared at me.
“Excuse me, Ma’am? Maybe you would be more comfortable waiting in the private room?” I heard her voice off in the distance, but I ignored it. I was waiting for the next words from the doctor.
“Ma’am? Mrs. Tame?” I looked at her but her words didn’t register.
She put her arm around my shoulder, like we were old high school chums. Her voice was comforting but firm, like when my mother used to know that I was sick and insisted I take my medicine. “Come with me, Mrs. Tame; you’ll be more comfortable in another room”. She took one step but I didn’t follow. My feet stayed firmly planted on the floor.
“Please Ma’am, you shouldn’t be here. You need to come with me.” Her voice was unrelenting. Her hand grasped my side but I broke free.
“No! You cannot take me away! I need to know!” I was yelling.
“We will update you as soon as we hear anything Ma’am, I promise.” Her words became comforting again.
“No! I’m staying right here! My husband is right in there! I’m not leaving this spot until I know!” I yelled, pointing at my feet. My tears and blubbering barely made my words understandable.
The nurse’s name tag read “Lilly”. She was plump and looked like she could restrain me if I made trouble. Lilly looked around the room, duly noting all the faces staring at me. Her point proven, she attempted once more to remove me from the door. I relented.
As we walked to the ‘private room’, Lilly picked up a tissue out of a nearby box and handed it to me. The one-ply tissue came apart the second I dabbed my eyes. Thank god I didn’t wipe my nose with it. I used the cuff of my jacket for that. The corridor that she led us down was a comforting reminder of the hospital where our kids were born. Jessica was born nineteen years ago, when I was just twenty years old. She was unexpected, or a ‘surprise’ as everyone called it. Mark and I were not engaged but we were living together and so in love.
Jennifer, our baby, was another ‘surprise’, born just a year later. The hospital where I gave birth had a unique weave pattern on the wall covering, just like this one. I ran my fingers down it as I walked, feeling the texture. It brought me back to a place where we were all healthy and celebrating new beginnings. I realized just then how much I missed my kids; they were off at college. I was alone. The thought of being alone the rest of my life was terrifying.
I willed myself not to think about it. Mark was still alive; he had to be. He was being pushed too hard down at the station; he was the police chief for his precinct over the last fifteen years and it was finally too much. The doctor had repeatedly warned him that his blood pressure and cholesterol were really high. The cardiologist put him on a strict diet and exercise program and insisted that he reduce his work hours. That was six months ago. But Mark has always been very devoted and loyal, and most of the time he spread himself too thin.
Lilly opened the door to the private room, switched on the light and gestured I should take a seat. There was a comfortable looking three seated couch on one wall, and several other waiting room style chairs along the other walls. Right in the middle of the room stood a large coffee table lined with various magazines ranging from tabloids to medical journals. There was also a phone at the end of the table. Lilly indicated that I was welcome to use that phone if I needed to do so.
I sat on the couch and immediately began chewing my nails.
“Can I get you anything Mrs. Tame?” she asked, taking a small pad and pen out of her pocket.
“Shelley,” I offered.
“Sure. Can I call anyone for you Shelley?” She asked, leaning over me, placing her hand on my shoulder.
I whispered “Um….no, I, I’m going to call my kids.”
She nodded and was about to leave when I quickly raised my head “Just please let me know the minute you have any news of my husband,” I begged, unable to stop the tears.
She nodded and closed the door behind her.
For a moment I wished Lilly would return, so I wouldn’t be alone. I slowly rubbed my face and ran my fingers through my hair. I found a box of two-ply tissues underneath the coffee table. They give the better tissues to the people who really needed it, I thought to myself. I wiped my face and blew my nose then picked up the phone. My memory failed me; I couldn’t remember Jessica’s dorm room number. She had just received a new one the other day and I hadn’t recorded it in my cell phone. I knew Jennifer couldn’t handle what was happening to her father; she had just broken up with her first boyfriend, so I thought it best to wait.
The one number I could recall was Sarah’s; my best friend since high school. She introduced Mark and me, and owned a small costume jewellery store downtown. Since it was only eight o’clock and I knew she would still be at the store, I tried her there.
“Good evening Sarah’s,” she greeted cheerfully.
“It’s me,” I said, trying to stifle a sniffle.
Sarah’s voice turned serious “Hey….is everything okay?”
“No, it’s Mark.” I began to cry again.
I could hear keys jiggling in the background “Where are you?”
“The hospital….in the private room.”
“Jesus Christ. Sit tight, I’m on my way.”
If only Mark had used our home library more in the past year, instead of cooping himself up in that office. Speaking from experience, I know that he could never get a moment’s peace in there. So many times I would call or even stop by on my way home from work, and he would be bombarded by handfuls of people constantly. It came to a point where I had to stop myself from visiting because it was unfair to him with all the pressure that he was under. He was considered a man of integrity and respect at the station, so nobody ever second guessed him and they always looked to him for direction. Mark was a strong leader at his precinct long before he made chief of police. The look on everyone’s faces told me that title was just a formality. He earned his loyalty after the shootout.
God, I’d almost forgotten about that. Mark is such a modest man that he never mentions it. It happened about ten years ago. His name was James Gruber, and he was a convicted rapist and murderer who had served his time and was free on parole. He escaped his parole officer’s watch one night and attacked an entire family. It was all over the news. Gruber was in the area of Mark’s precinct and so all hands were on deck to catch this monster. The 911 call came from a neighbour who heard screaming at 2am. Based on Gruber’s past, Mark knew he would go for the wife first. He was no pedophile, so rather than play Gruber’s game; Mark created a diversion and got the wife out first. As the rest of the team got in to free the remaining family, Mark took Gruber head on. Gruber was shot and Mark earned his rightful place shortly after as Chief of Police.
He always took his role very seriously. Sometimes I wonder how he did it. Up until a year ago, Mark had no trouble balancing family and work. Myself, well, my teaching job quickly became permanent part time after the girls were born. My balancing act was never much of a challenge. Our children have always been such a blessing; they never gave us any trouble. There was the expected teenage drama but nothing else. It was easy for me to work part time and still look after the house and the kids. Mark’s salary and mine combined led us into what most would call a charmed life.
Was this what my life would be now? Sitting alone in a room without my kids or my husband? My tears began to flow again when the door opened. It was Lilly, with Sarah in tow. Sarah came to me as Lily closed the door and left the room.
I tried to stand but it was more of a stumble since my knees had turned to jelly.
“Oh my god! What happened?” Sarah asked as she hugged me.
“I don’t know. I was just on my way home from yoga when he called me.” I said, wiping my nose with my hand.
“He sounded weird and said I better come home, that he wasn’t feeling well. And you know Mark, he never complains, so I knew it was bad.”
“So did you make it home before the ambulance came?”
“Well yeah. I mean I was already almost on our street. He hadn’t even called the ambulance yet. When I walked in he was on the floor”
Sarah embraced me tenderly.
“He wanted to call me first before the ambulance. I don’t know why. I guess he didn’t want me to worry if I got home and saw the scene without knowing. God! Why didn’t he just call the ambulance instead of waiting for me?” I stomped my foot in frustation as I let out a large sob.
“Oh sweetie, if he wasn’t well, then he probably wasn’t thinking clearly. Was he fine when you left for yoga?”
“Well, I didn’t see him before that. We spoke earlier and he said he had to work late again so I went straight to yoga after dinner. I didn’t wait to see him.” I said, thinking how selfish I was. I should have waited to see him before leaving. But how was I to know it might be the last time I would see him coherent?
“Oh honey, honey, don’t blame yourself.” Sarah rubbed my back and shook her head.
“You are not psychic. You had no idea this was going to happen. You said yourself; Mark never complains.”
“So what do the doctors say?”
“I’ve no idea, I’m still waiting. I…I….kn..know his heart stop-“My sobbing wouldn’t allow me to finish my sentence. Sarah took me in her arms once again.
“Do you need to call anyone?” Sarah asked.
I sniffled and dabbed my eyes “Oh God, how am I going to tell the kids?”
“You don’t have to do that. That’s why I’m here.”
“Oh, I can’t let you do that. They should hear it from me.”
“Well, let’s at least wait until we hear something. I mean, either way, you don’t want to spread panic.”
“You’re right. I need some time to compose myself.”
Suddenly, Lilly walked in with a blank expression on her face. My heart sank and I felt everything in my body let go. Sarah grabbed my arm before I hit the ground. The world went black.