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  • Writer's pictureGuy Gourley

Title: "Overcoming Writer's Block: Blank screen to a 90,000 Word Novel."

Updated: May 15

1. Start with Inspiration:

It all started when I was in graduate school and wrote a short story for my intern. She was a writer, and when she told me I had a gift, I was skeptical but encouraged. I didn’t write much for years after that since my children were young, and there wasn’t much time with a full-time counseling practice. Then, one day, a friend invited me to DiAnn Mills writing critique group. It was fun and hard. I hadn’t ever received constructive criticism on my writing and learned I’d have to develop some tough skin to keep going. But DiAnn kept encouraging me and invited me to Jerry Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Masters Fiction class in Colorado. 

As I sat with other authors, I felt camaraderie I hadn’t experienced before and became even more inspired. That is when my idea for Return With Honor started to take shape. I began meeting regularly with DiAnn; she edited every chapter and sent it back. There were days I was discouraged, thinking I was never going to get this right, but over time, she sharpened my skills, and the dream of writing a novel came to life. Had I not had Jerry and DiAnn’s encouragement, I would have fallen prey to the “wanna-be writer.” 

So, find a critique group, a writing coach, or a group of authors and jump. It’s well worth the risk. 

2. Are you a “Pantser" or an Outliner?”

When I started writing, I had an idea but didn’t know where to start. I’d heard most writers are “Pantsers,” writing by the seat of their pants, or an “Outliners” with a detailed map of where I was going. I tried both, but my creativity took a hit when I put all the various characters, plots, and subplots together. 

I also didn’t enjoy writing as much when I tried to analyze everything. I was always surprised when I felt an impression on my heart and mind from the Lord to go in a certain direction. I was even surprised sometimes at the twists and turns. So, start writing and find out how you process information and write. There are great writers in each category. 

3. Set Realistic Goals and Deadlines, but remember to surrender.

When I started writing, my children were young, and I needed to be a good father and husband first. Most of the time, when I got home from counseling all day, I was whipped and did my best to put the kids to bed and be a loving father and husband. Then, there was a season when one of my sons went through a hard time, and we had to make hard decisions about his prodigal journey. It was hard for all of us, and I didn’t write very much during those years. 

I remember being frustrated and finally surrendering my writing to the Lord. If the novel were ever written, it would be in the Lord’s time, not mine. I was committed to following Jesus and loving well. 

It wasn’t until now, in this “Empty Nest” season of life, that I was able to devote the time and energy to finishing it. So, set your goals and deadlines, but remember what is important: your relationship with Christ and your family.

4. Embrace Freewriting to turn off your inner critic 

Whenever frustrated and stuck, I set a timer on my iPhone and wrote as fast as possible to see what would come out. Some days were good, and some were a mess, but it helped me turn off my inner critic, especially my perfectionistic tendency. 

On other days, I set a writing goal of 500-1000 words for a scene. Many scenes were trashed, but it gave me freedom and creativity and toned my writing muscles. So, if you get discouraged, set a timer or a word count goal and hit it hard. Tell your internal critic to get lost and just wing it. See what bubbles up.

5. Find Your Writing Ritual:

If you’re a writer, you probably already have your ritual, but if not, create one. My peak energy is at night. I’m not a morning person. Ask my wife. I have a saying in the morning when she asks questions before coffee, “I’m not online.” I’m thankful to be blessed with a patient and loving wife. At night I come alive. It is quiet, and everyone is asleep, so I can go into the “zone” where I get lost in my story. 

Second, I have a blue leather recliner that was my dad’s. It doesn’t look the best, but it is comfortable and fits me just right. I throw my blanket over me, and I’m ready to rock my laptop. I have everything at my fingertips, but I don’t have anything that is going to distract me in plain view. Yes, I have written into the night and lost some sleep, but it is my time, and I love it. So, find your place and your ritual. You may have to play with timing and comfort, but make it happen. 

6. Silence Your Self Doubt and use procrastination to swirl your story

Every writer I’ve known or heard of has told me they have self-doubt even after publishing many books and being a best seller. Most writers doubt if their work is good enough and whether people will like it. Here’s the trick: Catch yourself in the negative story you’re making up and flip it. If you’re doing “What if negative, " replace it with " What if positive.” “What if I spend all this time writing, and it never gets published.” What if you write it, it becomes a best-seller, and you’ve achieved a lifelong goal.” 

I used to worry about procrastination until I realized some great creativity came from doing something else and letting ideas about your novel surface. I always hear from other people how their best thinking is often in the shower. So, stop beating yourself up and give grace. Go out and have fun and let your mind do the walking. You’d be amazed at what happens if you take the pressure off. 

7. Find ideas from the things you love

I love movies. I mean, I really love movies. I watch them not only for enjoyment but for ideas. I watch how the characters move the story along and how the screenwriter creates tension and conflict. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Good Will Hunting and other movies that moved me emotionally. Find what moves you and pursue it with everything you’ve got. 


Overcoming writer's block and writing a 90,000-word novel from a blank screen may seem daunting, but it is entirely within your reach. By finding inspiration, creating a plan, setting goals, embracing freewriting, establishing rituals, silencing your inner critic, and pursuing ideas from the things you love, you can conquer writer's block and bring your novel to life. Remember, the journey of writing a novel is as important as the destination, so enjoy the process and embrace the creativity that flows from your fingertips. Happy writing!

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