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3 Ways to Use Questions to Revolutionize Your Writing

3 Ways to Use Questions to Revolutionize Your Writing

October 20, 202311 min read

Discover in this post …

  • how curiosity can serve you as a writer.

  • three ways to ask deeper questions to enhance your writing and writing habits.

  • sample questions you can ask yourself in each of the three areas.

Curiosity Saved the Writer

On a scale of 1 to 10, how curious are you by nature?

Do you tend to annoy others with a constant barrage of questions (10), or would it never cross your mind to speak to a stranger in passing (1)?

Generally, as writers, we’re curious people. We seek to process and understand the world around us. We like to explore new characters and fictional settings—we find this approach both natural and exciting.

So what if we took that same curiosity and applied it to our writing habits and lives? What if we were curious not just about our characters and story, but about the writing process itself?

Let’s examine three ways we can use questions to dive deep into the process and get optimal results in our writing.

1 - Ask Questions in Your Brainstorming & Plotting

Nicole Whisler Writing Coach

How often do our writer brains want to focus on how stuck we are? Do you ever find yourself thinking, “I don’t know what to do with this character” or “I don’t know where to go in my story from here”?

Although it’s normal for us to have these types of thoughts, focusing on the “I don’t knows” doesn’t serve us. All it does is keep us feeling stuck. Instead, give your brain permission to work, and let it do its job.

So instead of thinking, “I don’t know how to transport my protagonist from Point A to Point B,” ask yourself a specific question related to the perceived problem. Let’s say you’re trying to get your hero from their home to the nearest capital city, but you feel that nothing exciting will happen until they get to the city, and you don’t want to bore your readers.

Rather than staying stuck in “I don’t know” mode, choose a question to ask yourself, perhaps something like the following:

  • How can my protagonist’s journey to the city be essential to both their character and story arcs?

  • What can I reveal about my protagonist’s personality?

  • In what way(s) can I surprise the reader?

  • What are the craziest, most unexpected ways my protagonist can arrive in the city?

  • How can I use this travel scene to introduce a secondary character in a fun and fitting way?

Once you’ve chosen a question or two and given your brain something to focus on, trust it to get to work. Come up with a variety of answers. Don’t be a perfectionist—there’s no risk in jotting down your ideas because later you can discard the ones that don’t work.

Of course, you might decide in the end that showing the journey on the page might not be necessary at all. Perhaps you decide to jump straight into the city scene because nothing important happened during the transition. The beauty of writing is that it’s up to you!

Here’s another way to view this “staying stuck” phenomenon, and it’s a bit blunt. I have three young girls, and two of them share a room (my seven- and four-year-old). They get along well (let’s be honest—most of the time!), which I usually love, but it creates one problem: they never want to go to sleep at night. They want to stay up and play with toys, sing each other songs, tell each other stories—anything but sleep.

Yet several times a week, they come out of their room at night to inform me, “Mommy, we can’t sleep.” And that’s when I call upon my powers of patience (growing stronger by the day, I like to think) and respond, “Well, are you trying?”

Because if I were talking, laughing, and playing with toys, I’d have a hard time falling asleep too.

So as kindly as you can, when you run across a story roadblock in your novel, ask yourself what you’re thinking about the issue. Are you focusing on how frustrating it is that you don’t know the answer in the moment? Or are you already brainstorming multiple ways you might approach the issue and find a solution? Quieting your mind and letting your brain work is the best way to move forward in your story. So never let yourself stay stuck. Trust that you have the answer, and all you need to do is uncover it.

Let’s move on to a second way you can use questions to revolutionize your writing.

2 - Ask Questions When Addressing Mindset Issues

Nicole Whisler Writing Coach

What do you do when something keeps you from writing? Do you have a go-to strategy, a proven system that gives you results? Or are you more likely to get swept up in your emotions around common issues like writer’s block and imposter syndrome?

Writers often get up in arms about common problems that cross their paths. In Facebook groups, for example, I’ve seen people passionately defend or deny the existence of writer’s block. But is that a productive question? Or is it better to focus on the results you’re seeking as a writer?

Do you sometimes come to a screeching halt in your writing and feel like you lack ideas? Of course—this happens to almost everyone. You can’t argue with someone’s feeling.

But I can argue that it doesn’t matter what you label it—writer’s block or something else. Instead of focusing on the technicalities (is it writer’s block or isn’t it?), look at the results you’re getting and figure out what’s going on behind the problem. Figure out the why.

If you’re experiencing a block of sorts, don’t ask yourself, “What should I do?” or “Why is this happening to me?” Instead, prioritize the question, “What am I feeling that’s making my brain think I don’t know the answer?”

When you label something (such as writer’s block), you give it power over you, making it seem impossible to overcome and generalizing it, as if the same solution will work for everyone. I commonly hear writers say, “I have writer’s block, so I can’t work on my novel right now.” The implication is that they can’t work on it until they feel better—until they have suddenly and magically found the means to combat this evil entity.

Get to the root of the issue before trying to solve it, and reflect on what’s going on behind the perceived problem. If you’re experiencing a block, ask yourself why. Maybe you’ve been cooped up too long in your basement, and your brain wants a break. Maybe something was wrong with the scene you just wrote, and your subconscious knows it. Maybe you’re doubting the direction of your story. Maybe there isn’t a problem at all, and your brain has tricked you into thinking something is wrong.

Take imposter syndrome as another example. Instead of sinking into your emotions and dwelling on them for hours (although processing them initially is healthy), ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way? Is it an off day for me? Is what I’m feeling reasonable, or am I spiraling? Is there a reason that particular author can publish successfully but I can’t?”

If it’s an off day, reassure yourself that this sometimes happens, and you’ll likely feel better tomorrow. If imposter syndrome is surging because you’re comparing yourself to another author on social media, consider taking a social media break and returning to what you love: the simplicity of you and the page.

Always ask yourself questions to determine what’s really going on. Ask yourself why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling. After all, you can’t solve a problem without understanding its root cause.

Time to dive into a third way you can use questions to get results in your writing!

3 - Ask Questions When You Receive Feedback

Nicole Whisler Writing Coach

How often do you receive specific feedback about your writing? Are you in a writing group, or have you had a critique partner? Do you know your own strengths and weaknesses so you can celebrate and address them?

Also, how open-minded are you when you receive feedback? It’s not always easy to listen to others talk about our story, and neither is it easy to process what they’re saying in the moment. As writers, our egos tend to become enmeshed with our work.

Do you ever miss what someone is actually saying to you because your mind is too busy thinking, “They’re telling me a lot of things. I must suck as a writer”? Or on the opposite end of the spectrum, have you ever thought, “I’m disregarding all of this. This person clearly doesn’t understand my story”?

Sometimes the person providing feedback truly isn’t your target reader, and you can disregard some (or all) of their comments. But be careful not to assume that from the start. Don’t use it as an excuse not to listen. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to dig deeper and understand what they’re saying.

On a related note, do you rely on written or verbal comments? It’s easy to misunderstand written comments, but at the same time, it’s easy to forget verbal comments.

That’s why I recommend asking questions in both cases, either in the moment (if you’re receiving live feedback) or after you’ve had a chance to process. Ask your critique partner to clarify their meaning. If they say, “I personally don’t like your protagonist,” don’t leave it at that. Ask them why!

Is it because your critique partner is nineteen years old and claims they don’t connect with protagonists over age thirty? (This is a preference, and you may be able to disregard it.) Or is it because they don’t understand your protagonist’s motivation behind their actions? (This is valid, and you’ll want to pay close attention to it.)

But you won’t know unless you ask! Allow yourself to be bold and get to the bottom of the issue. That’s how you’ll determine whether it really is an issue. Don’t internalize the feedback to the point that it lowers your opinion of yourself as a writer. Instead, get curious and learn as much as you can. Celebrate the opportunity for self-improvement!

Does this resonate with you? Have you ever written someone off because they don’t seem to understand your genre, or because you don’t want to face what they’re telling you? Or because you couldn’t make sense of their written feedback and would prefer to forget about it instead of asking them to clarify?

If you’d like to level up your writing and throw yourself into constant self-improvement, make a commitment right now to ask more questions in at least one of the three areas we discussed today. Here they are again, along with some sample questions you can ask yourself in each category:

  • Brainstorming & Plotting

  • How many different ways can my protagonist achieve their goal in this scene? Which is the most unexpected?

  • How can I surprise readers in this scene?

  • How can I make this scene essential to my hero’s character and story arcs?

  • What can this scene reveal about my protagonist’s personality, and how many ways can I achieve that?

  • How can I use this scene to introduce a secondary character in a fun and fitting way?

  • Mindset

  • Why is my brain telling me I’m stuck in this scene? Am I feeling overwhelmed and in need of a break? Am I having an off day? Am I comparing myself to other writers and succumbing to imposter syndrome? Is my subconscious trying to tell me there’s something wrong with my previous scene?

  • What am I thinking about myself as a writer that is leading to my undesired writing results today?

  • Feedback

  • What is going on behind my critique partner’s suggestion? Are they inserting their personal preference, or were they genuinely confused or dissatisfied with this character or section? Are they my target reader?

  • Why is my writing group member suggesting I include an action scene here? Were they bored, or did I set their expectations in this direction?

  • What further information can my critique partner give me about their reaction to my novel’s ending? They said it didn’t seem fully satisfying, but what did they feel was missing?

Questions bring clarity for writers, and clarity creates momentum! Ask yourself and your fellow writers and readers more questions, and you’ll gain insights into yourself and your writing habits, which will push you into a pattern of consistent growth as a writer. Don’t be content to stay at surface level or in your comfort zone; dig deeper to get the results you’re looking for, and you’ll be grateful you challenged yourself to become the writer you’re meant to be.

Do you want to learn how to write a story that makes your target readers stand up and cheer? If you’d like support from A to Z (from brainstorming to drafting to revising to publication), book a Discovery Call with me to see if you’re a good fit to join my book coaching program, Fantasy Footsteps: Road to Publication. And if you haven’t done so already, grab your Free Guide on how to hook readers from your story’s start!

Nicole Whisler Edits

Nicole Whisler is a developmental editor and book coach who specializes in working with writers of fantasy novels. Prior to editing, she taught English and creative writing full-time for six years. She is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, a member of the Professional Editors Network, and a leading book coach for the Coach Foundation. She lives with her husband and three daughters in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she leads an in-person writing critique group at her local library.

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