Ambit Creative

Adele Annesi

Adele Annesi is an award-winning editor and writer for global Web content and print publications. She worked as a development editor for Scholastic Publishing, and is a fiction and nonfiction book editor, specializing in nonfiction and memoir. As a press correspondent and columnist, Adele writes for newspapers, magazines, blogs and literary journals. Her stories have appeared in The Circle, The Fairfield Review, Hotmetalpress, Miranda Literary Magazine,,The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Trillium, the Italian-American literary journal Pyramid and an anthology for Fairfield University. She won Poetic Voices of America's editor's choice award, and presents the editing and writing workshops for libraries and other venues. She is a nominated member of Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America and Who's Who in American Women. She's also working on a new novel. Visit her website at: Adele Annesi, Facebook, LinkedIn, Redroom, Twitter, and Word For Words.

Writer's Block

The most searching, most revealing, most important question you ask yourself as a writer, maybe even as an individual, is “why?” Three keys unlock the power of this question to help writers in editing mode make the most of the answers.

The obvious question to ask is: Why is the question so important? See, it’s already begun, the desire to know. But why is it so important? Because asking and answering the question in a particular way can break writer’s block, untangle a scene or chapter, and help you work through peer reviews and critiques. Here’s the essence of the Q&A process.

First, let’s tackle writer’s block. Ask yourself why you’re stymied, why you feel you can’t write. What’s holding you back? Answer these questions in detail, with honesty and in writing. These three keys unlock the power of the question, and if you follow the advice, you’ve begun writing.

Besides asking why, it’s important to ask other questions (the who, what, where, when, and how of journalism) until no more questions remain unanswered. Reaching this stage usually means you’ve arrived at the underlying reasons you were stuck.

Next, return to the manuscript, but before revising, review your responses to the questions above. How do your answers relate to what you’ve been working on? What aspect of the work do your responses address, and how? With honesty, drill down to the core in your line of reasoning, then go back to that difficult part of the piece and continue the process.

Now let’s tackle that tough paragraph, scene, or story. The principle is the same, the approach similar. Before junking what’s not working, stop and consider the piece. Why are you having trouble with it, and what made you stop trying to improve it? Why did you resist cutting it entirely if you believe it’s not working? Apparently, it still seems important, even though it’s not quite right.

To get at what’s really happening, follow the same process of answering the queries in detail, with honesty and in writing. Your initial response may beget more questions, but continue until you reach that “aha” moment. It may shine like a xenon spotlight or dawn like the sun on a cloudy day. Whatever the candle power, the answers reveal why this aspect of the work, or the work itself, is ineffectual.

One way to approach the Q&A process, maybe the best way, is within the manuscript. You can always remove the section and save it for future use, but addressing the problem at the source makes the cause more readily apparently. Once you see it for what it is, you can start revising again.

Last, how can asking “why” help when your critique group, mentor, or inner critic has recommended changes—maybe extensive changes? The critique may be accurate. You may have to change the scene or delete it, but until you address the reason you wrote it as you did and not another way, don’t let it go—not yet. First, review what you’ve written; start by asking yourself why you wrote the scene this way and why you’re resisting doing as others suggest.

After answering these questions, go on to consider what changes are required to make the scene better or more relevant. What exactly is involved in making the changes? How extensive should they be?

Clearly, “why” is a breeder question. It yields other questions, many of which are important to answer to make the most of your writing. When you start wondering whether you’re going too far afield, you probably are, but you’ll find in this process that the power of why is a catalyst for improving your writing. You’ll more easily recognize problem areas, be better prepared to address them, and be less afraid of the outcome.

Most writers (and editors) fear questions because they fear the answers, the most terrifying of which is: Does this mean I’m not cut out to be a writer? Before dumping your work, consider what this writer once said. “A book comes in fits and jerks. . . . It made very good progress for quite a long time, in fact until last Thursday. . . . The next three days I went into a depression that was devastating. Now it is Monday . . . I am forced to lift myself out of the despondency by the bootstraps.” That was John Steinbeck, in John Steinbeck, Journal of a Novel, The East of Eden Letters. His journal is worth reading for the comfort of finding that writers aren’t alone in their fears.

Editing Prompt: Select a piece you’ve put aside because it’s not working, regardless of the reason. Follow the Q&A steps before revising. Also see my Word for Words blog.