Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hitting a Road Block

Every week, at the request of the guy who leads our bible study, I choose a song that I think relates in some way to the theme to start off the study which is held in our home. Sometimes it is not easy thinking of and locating song that fits a particular study. But this week I had the ideal song, so I thought. If only I could remember what it was!
What I had was a couple of lines and a snippet of tune. That for me is usually ample to recall the rest of the song, as I’m a person who has a good recall of song lyrics. Not so this time. All week I have had the same few words going round in my head like a mouse on a treadmill and yet getting no further. I prayed God would help me remember more of the song. Still nothing.

In desperation I emailed the music leader from our church, quoting what little bit I could remember. Sadly she couldn’t place the song either. Then I texted my daughter who helps with music in her church and often knows the more recent songs. She too came up blank. Of course all this was after I’d Googled the couple of lines I could vaguely remember and it turned up nothing. I’ve been through the music at church and at home and still cannot locate it. I’m beginning to think I’ve imagined this song. Except I know I haven’t.  I went for a walk and tried to put it out of my mind, to no success. Those lines were still there.
In the end, I thought if I chose another song and stopped stressing about finding that one, it might suddenly come to me - the way a name does when you stop thinking about it. It didn’t.  I had no option but to choice a different song for this week.

It made me think though about how often things like that happen in our writing.  We come to a roadblock in our story where we can’t think what comes next.
When this happens we have several options. One is to pray about it and ask God’s help.  Another is to re-read and go over what we have until some ideas start to flow. Perhaps even make a list of possibilities that might happen. This is where the what if question is good to ask. Think what if this happened what effect would that have on my character, on my story? We can always ask for help if we get stuck and try out a few ideas on a trusted writerly friend. We can stop thinking about it and go for walk and enjoy God’s creation. Exercise often starts the brain ticking over.  We can work on another unrelated piece of work. I usually have more than one thing going at a time, so if something is not working on one project I can switch to the other. In this case I find it helpful to ensure they are not similar types of work, so not two fiction manuscripts but one may be fiction and the other poetry or a nonfiction project. What I find is one then inspires and gives an idea for the other and suddenly the roadblock is gone and the story starts to move again.

It might help to work on a different scene in the same project.  We don’t always have to work chronologically. Sometimes working on a scene from later in the story if you have an idea, might be a helpful thing to do. You can always slot it in the right place later
Sometimes it could mean we have started the story without enough information. In this case it a good idea is to go back to our main character and fill in the blanks. Write out a character chart or dossier about them their likes, dislikes, hobbies, family, background, what they would most like to do to relax, what they most what out of life, where they went to school, any peculiar expressions or mannerisms they have, who their friends are and what is it about those friends that attracts them to them, their favourite colour or flower. It doesn’t matter what the questions are so long as it reveals more of the person to you. Then think about how their character traits and how they would react in a crisis, if they fall in love, if they can’t get what they want, if they have an argument with a loved one, if they lose a long term marriage partner or friend or parent or sibling. The reality is we’re all different and different personalities will handle a situation in different ways. Use those differences to define your character.

If it comes to that, some of you may have had different ideas about the song I was hunting for. Some of you may have given up a lot earlier than I did, instead of wasting time hinting through umpteen music books expecting it to jump out and reveal itself to me, instead of having a few words and snippet of tune running around in my head for days on end and getting no further. No doubt that shows certain stubbornness in my character that I was so determined to get it and persisted when I could have, and probably should have, been doing other things. But sometimes even the most stubborn person has to admit defeat. Think of one of the characters in your story? To what lengths will they go to achieve what they want?
So, no, I didn’t find my song. But at least I hope from the experience I’ve written something that will make us think and help us with our writing.  Since we are all different you may have better or different ideas to those I have suggested. How about sharing what you do when you are blocked with a project so we can learn from each other?

Streets on a Map, Dale’s latest novel was published by Ark House Press. Prior to that, Dale has had seven children’s books and Kaleidoscope a collection of poetry published. Many poems in Kaleidoscope have been previously published in Australia’s literary magazines. She has also written bible studies and Sunday school lessons.More information about Dale can be found at or on her Write and Read with Dale blog



  1. Thanks for sharing Dale. Sometimes I find going back and doing more research on a time period or setting area helps trigger new ideas. All the other things you mentioned help as well. :)

  2. Thanks for that suggestion Amanda.

  3. I usually think and pray about it for a couple of days and if nothing comes to me i then move onto a different storyline.

    1. Thanks Jennifer Ann. That could mean it's the wrong idea or just the wrong time.Doesn't mean it gets discarded forever though. I have come back to things later and then reworked them. That has happened quite a bit with poems that didn't seem to be going right at the time, yet were later published.

  4. I mainly write non fiction so at present my problem is not getting stuck but never having sufficient time to write all I want to. I've got many ideas notebooks crammed with ideas but no time to explore them all. No doubt it will be different when or if I wrote more fiction.

    Thanks for sharing those tips. Am sure they will come in handy. :)

    Road blocks for a Christian writer sometimes are blessings I think because it forces us to lean on God - or we can sometimes do it our way - or forget the Source of our inspiration. Don't you think?

    Thanks for sharing Dale. Love the picture of yourself.

  5. I have crammed notebooks too Anusha. With fiction and non fiction including poetry ideas.You're right, whatever we are writing we need to lean on the Lord and seek his guidance.
    Thanks for you comments on the post and the pic. It's one my daughter too in our son's backyard and it's a favourite of mine.