January 26 – February 1: “What is the best cure for writer’s block?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5We’ve all felt it at one time or another: the dreaded writer’s block. This week, ITW Members Joan Hall Hovey, E.M. Powell, Bob Reiss, Bill Loehfelm, Victoria Griffith, Elizabeth Goddard, L.T. Graham, Lisa Von Biela, Annie Rose Alexander, Jerry Hatchett and Jean Heller will discuss the best cure.

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hellerMost of Jean Heller’s career was as an investigative and projects reporter and editor in New York City, Washington, D.C. and St. Petersburg Florida. Her career as a novelist began in the 1990s with the publication of the thrillers, “Maximum Impact” and “Handyman” by St. Martin’s Press. Then life intervened and postponed her new book, “The Someday File,” to publication in late 2014. Jean has won the Worth Bingham Prize, the Polk Award, and is an eight-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.

SPACE-1MB-COVERJerry Hatchett grew up in the creatively fertile Mississippi Delta, and loves to craft thrilling tales that the reader can’t put down. He writes from near Houston, Texas.

 

 

 

retributionmockupdraft2Annie Rose Alexander is the author of two published novels, Retribution, and, Evil In High Places, Both are mystery/thrillers. Annie attended Erie Community College in Buffalo, New York, where she received an academic scholarship to any four year university of her choice. She attended and earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Howard University, and a Juris Doctorate Degree from Howard University School of Law. She is admitted to the Bar in Maryland and the District of Columbia. She won the National Trial Lawyers Moot Court Competition (NITA) held at Georgetown Law School. She also earned the highest grade in Civil Procedure in law School and received an award. She has over fifteen years of experience litigating criminal and civil cases in Maryland and the District of Columbia. She was a writer for local magazines in the DC area, and an editor for an international E-magazine. She loves spending time with her children and grandchildren. Her passion is reading and writing mysteries and thrillers.

Blockbuster coverLisa von Biela worked in Information Technology for 25 years, then dropped out to attend the University of Minnesota Law School, graduating magna cum laude in 2009. She now practices law in Seattle, Washington. Lisa began writing short, dark fiction just after the turn of the century. Her first publication appeared in The Edge in 2002. She went on to publish a number of short works in various small press venues, including Gothic.net, Twilight Times, Dark Animus, AfterburnSF, and more. She is the author of the novels The Genesis Code and The Janus Legacy, as well as the novella Ash and Bone.

Blue Journal_coverL. T. Graham is the pen name of a New England-based suspense writer who is the author of several novels. Graham is currently at work on the next Detective Anthony Walker novel.

 

BURIED coverElizabeth Goddard is the award-winning author of more than twenty romance and romantic suspense novels and novellas, including the romantic mystery, THE CAMERA NEVER LIES–a 2011 Carol Award winner. A 7th generation Texan, Elizabeth graduated from North Texas State University (now University of North Texas) with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and worked in high-level software sales for several years before retiring to home school her children and fulfill her dreams of becoming an author. She lives in East Texas with her husband and children.

devils workBill Loehfelm is the author of five novels, including The Devil in Her Way, and The Devil She Knows, the first two books in the Maureen Coughlin crime fiction series, as well as the stand-alones, Bloodroot, and Fresh Kills. He lives in New Orleans with his wife, the writer AC Lambeth, and plays drums in a rock-and-roll cover band. Look for Doing the Devil’s Work, the newest Maureen Coughlin novel, in January 2015.

 

Powell_Knight_Cover_Template_UK.inddE.M. Powell’s medieval thrillers The Fifth Knight and The Blood of the Fifth Knight have been #1 Amazon bestsellers. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she lives in northwest England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. She blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors, reviews for the Historical Novel Society and contributes to The Big Thrill.

SONY DSCIn addition to her critically acclaimed novels, Joan Hall Hovey’s articles and short stories have appeared in such diverse publications as The Toronto Star, Atlantic Advocate, Seek, Home Life Magazine, Mystery Scene, The New Brunswick Reader, Fredericton Gleaner, New Freeman and Kings County Record. Her short story Dark Reunion was selected for the anthology investigating Women, Published by Simon & Pierre. Ms. Hovey has held workshops and given talks at various schools and libraries in her area, including New Brunswick Community College, and taught a course in creative writing at the University of New Brunswick. For a number of years, she has been a tutor with Winghill School, a distance education school in Ottawa for aspiring writers. She is a member of the Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick, past regional Vice-President of Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime.

amazonVictoria Griffith is the author of the award winning non-fiction picture book The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont (Abrams, 2011), which won numerous awards, including the prestigious Parents’ Choice. The book was recently translated into Portuguese for the Brazilian market and was also released in audio book version.

 

The Last Spy by Bob ReissBob Reiss is the best selling author of 20 books. He divides his time between New York City and western Massachusetts. His fiction is often based on his experiences as a journalist covering stories in Washington, Africa, the Arctic and South America. He has appeared on Morning Joe, Today Show, Good Morning America, Charlie Rose, Nightline, Al Jazeera, CNN and Dan Rather Reports. His next novel, “White Plague,”  under the name of James Abel, was released this month (January, 2015).

ITW

International Thriller Writers Inc represents professional authors from around the world. Learn more about them, their work, and the sources from which they draw their inspiration at the Official ITW Organization Website.

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37 Comments
  1. I challenge my fellow roundtable members to confess to a weirder antidote to writer’s block than mine!

    I’m not making this up. I have a medium-sized spiral notebook and an assortment of different-colored gel pens (often glittery, even). When I get stuck, I pick a color, and I start writing in the notebook. It’s like a conversation with myself. I sort of “talk through” the problem with myself, in my horrid-to-read longhand. It seems to unlock something, the physicality of handwriting. And there’s something about the smoothness and color of the ink–I don’t think a plain ol’ black or blue ballpoint would do it for me. It may take a few pages, depending on how tough the problem, but it never fails to get me past the block.

    When I’m not blocked, but just want to be maximally productive, I make a cup of tea with one bag each of chamomile and peppermint. I’m not really a tea person, but I like this, and for some reason, the words flow much more freely when I have a cup. I have no clue why!

    Sometimes I just need a little time away thinking of something else, or to sleep on it. Many, many times the answer to a blockage appears in my brain at 3am, no kidding. Tough on sleep, but very useful. I call this “percolation.”

    Sometimes a hot shower works. Now this has a physiological basis. I read somewhere once that if the brain is made just a little bit warmer than normal, it functions a bit better.

    So there you have it. Glittery gel pens.

    1. Loved the idea of a thriller writer with glittery gel pens, Lisa!

      I too have experienced the percolation phenomenon. It’s often as I’m almost asleep that I get an ‘Oh!’ moment. Pity my poor spouse but it’s great that my sub-concious is kindly doing a whole load of work. For that reason, I always keep a notepad and pen with me, including on the bedside locker.

    2. I like your glittery gel pens too, Lisa. Also your two kinds of tea. It’s a ritual that carries a little magic dust for you. I think there are as many approaches to novel-writing as there are novelists. Little variations on a theme. Whatever works for you is the way to go.

      All the best.

      Joan

  2. Even the most prolific authors experience writer’s block from time to time. Not surprising when you’re attempting to create something that hasn’t existed before. Even if it’s just being stumped as to where to go next in the novel. I’ve been there. So I tell myself: Don’t think – imagine. I keep writing. Anything. Writing concentrates the mind most wondrously.
    Instead of trying to force the story, I let it come to me. I’m Kind of a medium at this stage. To paraphrase Stephen King, (to the max) I make a welcome place for ‘The Boys in the Basement’ – the muses – to visit. I want them to take me seriously, so I show up for work every day. (Mostly). I don’t do a formal outline, but I do make copious notes.

    As my consciousness works on a plot issue, my subconscious will also be working, and will offer up a gem just when I need it. What a joy that is! Something I wouldn’t have come up with if I’d mulled over it for a week.

    If the dilemma hangs around too long, I might ask myself, ‘What if?’ Nothing original about that, but it can work wonders to get your fingers or pen moving again, to break through that wall or let you back out of the corner you’ve written yourself into. Sometimes leaving the thing alone for a day or two works. But it’s also risky. The novel, unwritten, is like a daydream, mere smoke that easily dissipates until we breathe life into it.

    Writers’ Block can also come from fear of not being good enough. There are so many wonderful writers out there, many of them right here on ITW. But I’m never going to write like those folks, and the truth is, I really just want to tell my own stories, in my own way. So I try not to fret if I don’t get it exactly right first time around. That’s what the second draft is for. And the third if needed.

    These are a few things that work for me.

    1. Interesting and helpful, Joan. I do agree that just writing (anything) often gets the creative juices flowing again. During those times when the writer’s block lasts and I decide taking a break is the way to go, mostly due to lack of knowing what else to do, I read a good book or watch a good movie. Listening to music also helps.

      Thanks for writing such great mystery/suspense books!

      1. Thanks, Betty Ann, so nice of you to weigh in. Thank you. And thanks for your kind remarks about my books. I like your idea of listening to music, it’s a good one. I often write with soft music in the background.

        Keep writing!

        Joan.

    2. Joan, I completely agree that self-doubt can be a major crippling factor when it comes to writing. It’s a tough one to tackle because it’s an inner demon- and I of course have one too! But you hit the nail on the head- comparing oneself to other writers is a waste of creative and emotional energy.

      Self-doubt is very prevalent, though. I’ve run a number of writing workshops. I always start by establishing what people are working on. And almost without fail, people will say what their project is, followed (or even preceded by!) ‘It’s not very good/it’s rubbish/of course I’m not really a writer’ and variations on that theme.

      I point these qualifiers out to people and how self-sabotaging they can become. If any writer sits down every time with the idea in their head that they’re not ‘really’ doing it, then it becomes a damaging, self-fulfilling prophesy. As if this game wasn’t hard enough!

      1. That last line in your comment really makes a good point. You are absolutely right. It’s important to gear your mind to making positive statements. To write a book others are eager to read is not easy, but there must be joy in it too. Years ago, I bought a tape by Dean Koontz that was a series of positive statements, and it really helped. Whatever works.

        I’m very familiar with that demon on the shoulder, but it’s surprising how every little achievement can send him scurrying. He becomes the frightened one, instead of you. He doesn’t show up nearly as often now. And when he does, he’s not as loud. 🙂

        Joan

  3. Posted on behalf of author Bob Reiss a.k.a James Abel

    WRITER’S BLOCK
    James Abel

    I believe that the popular conception of “writers block” – the notion that a writer sits staring into space, unable to think what to do next – is wrong. When a writer hits a wall, I think it is because of one of two reasons. Either the writer can’t think of what happens next in a story, or the writer needs to revise what has already happened, in order to move forward. The answer is in the past, or the future, not the present.
    Two techniques I’ve stumbled upon over the years help me when I hit this point. The first involves immersion. You get out of the chair and physically visit a place, person or situation you are writing about. One time I was in New York, on a deadline writing a film script, and I hit the wall. The script took place in Washington. The little voice in my head, the one we all hear and wish we didn’t, told me the answer lay in DC, and I needed to go there, something I didn’t want to do.
    I cancelled a date with a beautiful woman, drove 5 hours to DC, and began aimlessly driving and walking around, hoping that something I saw would break the writers block. Nothing happened, but the next morning when I woke up, I had the answer. I’d envisioned a scene wrong in the past. I revised it, and could move forward with the script, although moving forward with the beautiful woman became impossible. Can’t win them all.
    The second technique is exactly the opposite. You are too close to the story and you need to get away. Once I had a writing student at a University where I was writer in residence. The student was slavishly working on a book, non-stop. He was dedicated and being driven crazy because he had not published yet. Unlike all the other students in the class, I ordered him to do nothing over the next two weeks. Don’t write. Don’t think about the story. Work on anything else except the story.
    At the end of the two weeks I told the student to visit his girlfriend in his home town (which was where his book took place, but I didn’t say that) I told him to have a great Friday night with his girlfriend and then set the alarm for 3AM (which is when the crime in his book took place, but I didn’t say that). I assigned him to wake at 3am, get in his car, just drive around, and then permit himself to start thinking about his book.
    On Monday that student came back from his visit thrilled because after the time-off, and the quick immersion into his plot, he thought of an entirely new, and much better beginning, and his book reshaped itself.
    So! Immersion or distance! I think that helps get an answer! What do you think?

  4. I don’t often have writer’s block during the actual writing of a story because I mostly have it outlined before I start. It’s the getting started that I struggle with. It’s which story do I need to write, and then once that is decided, I spend too much time deciding where to start.

    I use many different methods to break through writer’s block and it all depends on my mood and the particular kind of block. I’ve grabbed the colored pencils or markers and tried mind-mapping scenes or thoughts about the story. Or I’ve tried switching my point of view character. Sometimes I simply keep writing, I keep pushing through even though the words feel wrong. But usually new ideas, new details start flooding my mind. Most of the time if I’ve spent all day working, scenes will just keep coming even after I’ve stopped writing. So for me, getting the momentum up and keeping it going is best.

    Another technique that really works is to walk away from the computer, from the story. Do something completely different for the day, and then out of nowhere that next scene will come to mind.

    Then my personal favorite is to watch a movie or two. Ideas will start flowing as the movie and story world inspire me to create. Inspiration fuels the story and will propel me past writer’s block.

  5. JAN 26 – FEB 01: WHAT IS THE BEST CURE AGAINST WRITER’S BLOCK?
    by Annie Rose Alexander

    I think the best cure against writer’s block is reading the newspaper, reading novels from the New York Times Best Sellers’s List, and checking out amazon.com/books for inspiration. You’ll find out what’s selling in the market and what’s making headlines in major newspaper crime sections. These avenues will give you ideals for writing fiction. Most mysteries and thrillers are based on reality enhanced by creativity.

    In my second novel, Retribution, people questioned my having a character commit a murder with a car. But I actually got the idea from a real crime I read about in the newspaper, in which a person was intentionally run over and killed with a car. In my first novel, Evil In High Places, an African American FBI Agent was murdered in Southeast, Washington, DC, around 1967. I got the idea from an FBI Agent, friend of mine, when he mentioned a black FBI agent who was shot and killed in Southeast Washington, DC. I did the research and was fascinated enough by the events to use the idea in my first novel.

    Thus, I think the best cure for writer’s block for mysteries or thrillers is to be aware of what’s going on in the world, whether it’s from friends, family, enemies, newspapers, television, movies, or other novels. Then, ask yourself, but what if… and let your imagination do the rest. It works.

  6. The only thing that has ever gotten me past it is plain old determined discipline: No matter how un-writerly I feel, no matter how uninspired, no matter how how little of the story future I’m able to see, I have to put my butt in the chair and start typing. (I see some of my fellow authors talking about things like pen and paper, but trust me, absolutely no good could come from my picking up a sharp instrument and pointing it at paper.)

    It does happen, and the longer it’s been since I wrote, the more painful the recovery. That first session or two is sometimes ugly, and it may even require me to go back and trash it completely later. But then something magical happens: I sit down in my writing chair, put my fingers on the keyboard, and my mind starts seeing the story again.

    As you might expect, discipline is also the greatest measure I know of to prevent the blockage in the first place. The more regularly I write, the faster it comes, the better it is, and the less chance I’ll face Mr. WB in the near future.

  7. I’m going to attract the wrath of any pantsers out there, but prevention trumps cure. That means getting a detailed outline/synopsis down before you ever start that novel. (I would also argue that writing said dreaded outline/synopsis IS writing your novel.)

    Yes, I’m declaring as a card-carrying plotter. I used to be a pantser. My first one and a half novels were written like that. Neither will ever see the light of day, due in the main part to their sheer awfulness.

    I scraped by with the first, telling myself that not being able to put words on the page on many, many occasions was due to waiting for inspiration to strike, which was part of being a novelist. It was actually because I had no idea what should happen next. Book #2 was even worse. I got about 15k words in and I got totally, absolutely and completely stuck. I had nothing. And that was because I had no idea of what was going to happen next and who was going to do it.

    So I resorted to what I had scoffed at up until that point. I began an outline. What had happened up to that point. What was my ending. Crucially, how were the characters going to get there. It worked. the plot started to move again, because I knew where I was going.

    From then on, every novel gets the outline treatment before I ever start. Yes, I still struggle, make wrong decisions, end up deleting lots of words.

    But in the middle of a 100,000 word novel, I’m not trying to remember all that’s gone before and keeping in my head all that is to come. That takes an enormous amount of my head’s (very limited) capacity. And if I don’t have to worry about that, then I have more grey cells to devote to putting words on the page.

    Works for me!

  8. There’s nothing like a deadline to cure writer’s block for me. When I worked for daily newspapers, I sometimes had to come up with articles in less than one hour. I’ve been lucky enough in my literary career, as well, to have had agents and publishers breathing down my neck at various moments.

    When you begin writing, it can be daunting to have an open-ended deadline. But self-imposed deadlines can be effective as well. It could be the deadline of a contest you want to enter, or simply getting things done before a specific holiday. But writers also need to see deadlines as somewhat flexible. You don’t want to rush something to an agent or publisher that you don’t believe is up to par.

    Another thing I find helpful for writer’s block is to not obsess over wording in the first draft. Get your story down. There will be time later to re-word, refine and tweak.

    1. I agree, Victoria. Deadlines can be very helpful in helping to cure writing blocks. It’s like being in school and having a deadline for a term paper. You don’t have a choice. You have to write the paper and turn it in on time. I also agree that you shouldn’t worry about an imperfect first draft. You will correct it later.

      Good advice.

      1. Definitely: deadlines can really concentrate the mind, especially if attached to a contract!

        Being able to say ‘I’m on a deadline’ is also incredibly useful for protecting writing time with your nearest and dearest. It seems to work much better than ‘I’m writing a novel.’

  9. These are all wonderful insights into a difficult subject. And I agree with Lisa, her antidote is unusual, to say the least.

    As has already been pointed out, there are different types of writer’s block. The garden variety, I believe, is when you simply cannot get started with a story. Then, as James describes the situation, there is the moment when we are deep into telling a tale and get lost along the way. In between those are any number of other dilemmas that bring us up short and force us to confront the blank page.

    For me, the best advice came from two sources. One is from the novelist George Higgins who, in his book ON WRITING, simply said, “Writers write.” I quote that all the time when asked by people what they should do with their ideas. In the end, we all have stories to tell. What sets apart those who create on the page is that they actually take the time and make the effort to just do it (sorry Nike). When I get stuck, I “write for the garbage can”. What that means to me is that I don’t worry if what I’m doing doesn’t fit or won’t make it past my first round of edits. By simply tapping into the act of relating an anecdote on the page I generally get my momentum up again.

    The second source of inspiration–when real inspiration is not coming–is from Julia Cameron’s wonderful book THE ARTIST’S WAY. I recommend it to anyone, regardless of your level of interest in the act of writing. One of the key elements she espouses is the act of authoring “morning pages”. When you are stuck, when you think you have nowhere to go or don’t know what to say next, just get to your desk in the morning, sit down with a pad and pen–no computer here!–and write whatever comes to mind. Speak to yourself. Observe the weather or recount what you did the day before. It doesn’t matter, just commit to yourself that you will let it flow for three full, non-stop pages and I promise you, like magic you will be onto something by the end of page 2. If not, it’s more effective and certainly cheaper than most therapy sessions.

    1. I like that suggestion a lot, L.T. A bit like an athlete doing a warm-up. It makes perfect sense as often the writing becomes easier as I get going. So, presumably, getting going on something that you don’t have to think about too hard warms those writing muscles up!

  10. I’m with E.M.! I don’t think I’m even capable of pantsing it, for several reasons:

    1. I’m not made that way. I outline everything I write.

    2. I’m compulsive about continuity and related matters. For my thrillers, it’s crucial certain things happen in a certain sequence, that certain things happen far enough apart. In THE JANUS LEGACY, I very deliberately tied events to the calendar/Minnesota seasons and weather to underscore the birth/death/rebirth theme of the plot. Without an outline, how could I ever make sure I have that structure right and that the time flows correctly?

    3. My work schedule. My work and commute during the week leave little quality time for writing, so it falls to the weekends. With an outline, I don’t have to waste a lot of time remembering where I left off and where I need to go next. I can sit down and go to it!

    My outline includes basics of what’s supposed to happen, which character’s POV, which characters should be there, the “point” of the chapter, and basic setting. But there are 1,000 how’s left in how to write it–if I get stuck at that level, it helps me to picture the scene vividly in my mind, like a movie. If I can get it “playing” like that, my fingers can fly on that keyboard!

  11. I agree that “writers write,” and that the cure for an alleged block is writing. But “writing” can mean other things than typing or making outlines or writing physically in any way. For someone starting out, with little time, demands from family or friends, economic woes and a host of other concerns, it’s important, I think, to know that “writing” includes, at times, laying on a couch and planning, taking a trip and doing research, finding the right consultants and chewing the fat with them about the makeup of a character, a plot point, a basic premise, anything really that is on your mind. In other words, you need to feel completely legitimate as a writer when you do things that look to others like wasting time, but that in reality are informing the actual physical writing you will do later. Especially if you are a disciplined person, you need to know it is okay to discipline yourself sometimes to just think.

    That being said, it seems happily clear at this point that we all have different ways of doing things, which is good news since there’s no formula for this stuff, just individual trial and error to see which of these suggestions might work for you.
    Sometimes taking a trip. Sometimes making the outline. Sometimes writing whatever comes into your head. Trial and error to figure out your best individual way.

    1. Excellent point, James.

      Also, I do a LOT of staring into space when I’m writing. So, yes, there may not be anything going down on the keyboard but my head is in my story and I’m usually trying to figure stuff out. I will often mull things over and over when I’m doing other tasks like domestic chores.

      I also swear a lot when things aren’t going right on the page. Though I’m not sure how much it helps- at the least the dog doesn’t mind!

      1. LOL, when I’m really cookin’, as I mentioned, I start “seeing” it play out like a movie. Fortunately, no one witnesses me doing this, because I will also–to get things super clear in my mind–begin gesturing and moving like the POV character as I go.

        Good point, James. For the disciplined, it can be hard sometimes to pull back and *not* write while working something out.

  12. A lot of writers I know get blocked when they’ve written their characters into a corner and don’t know how to extract them. My suggestion: go back and cut out all the material that shoved them into that corner to begin with.

    I don’t often get blocked. The worst case I remember was during the writing of my first book, “Maximum Impact.” I did to myself exactly what I described in the first paragraph of this post. And I kept writing test solutions, scene after scene of ways to get the characters free of their corner trap. When I finished the manuscript, it was 947 pages. The problem, you see, was that I had found a way to unblock myself and free my characters, but I never went back and cut all those test scenes (though an editor did).

    Today, if I’m having problems and the weather is good, I go for a hike and sit by a lake or a stream and relax. Or I walk along the shore of Lake Michigan. If the weather’s not so great, I go for a drive into the country, somewhere I’ve never been before. New locations used for relaxing, thinking, and plotting generally jar the logjam loose.

    If none of this works, I jump off a building.
    j

  13. Annie, I tried to use an outline for “Maximum Impact,” but I found it too confining. Stories sometimes take off in unanticipated directions, and I find if I try to rein them in to conform to an outline, I lose some really good stuff.

    When my right brain takes over and throws my left brain out of the room, I just go along. The process has produced some of my best work.
    j

    1. You’re right, Jean. Outlines can be confining at times, but the outline is there just to give a writer direction. Like a guidebook you take along on a tour. It can get you from A to Z, but you can take a detour along the way, if you see something that interests you. In other words, you don’t have to stick to that outline, if you don’t want too.

      You can put the outline aside and wing it, but if you get stuck, then, you can pull out the outline to see how to get back on track.

      Not a sermon, just a thought.

      It’s been fun being part of this Roundtable. You all have some very good points, and I have enjoyed reading them all.

      I hope to meet up with all of you, soon.

      Keep writing.

  14. I work in much the same way, Jean. Although as mentioned above, I take copious notes and do a lot of cerebral outlining. Trying to lay down a solid outline freezes my creativity, it just doesn’t work for me. I follow my characters a lot. But I suspect my creative mind, along with being inventive, is quite orderly, and I think that’s happened over seven novels. 🙂 Not that I don’t throw out quite a bit of stuff. I do. But that’s part of the adventure.

    Joan

  15. This is a particularly interesting thread for me — though I fear I might have steered it a bit off the course. I’m in the process of reading back a new transcript of my second novel, “Handyman,” in preparation for posting it as the beginning of my backlist behind the new one, “The Someday File.” Even though I thought I learned my lesson with the first book, I’m finding a lot of stuff I want out of “Handyman” because it doesn’t advance the story. When I finish, I suspect it will be a lot better than the version published initially by an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, not because the story is better but because it moves faster. And thrillers need to move.

  16. I’m not sure if what I’m about to say counts as Writer’s Block. I prefer to call it the Desertion of the Muse.

    In December 2005 I got a surprise diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Looking at the calendar, you can deduce all is now well, for which I am eternally grateful. Indeed, all (miraculously) was well by mid-2006. So I got back to my computer, switched it on, and… nothing. Not a word. Not a syllable. Not any anything.

    My Muse hadn’t just deserted me. My Muse was in a motel with a young, blonde Muse, smoking cigarettes while empty Scotch bottles and used Muse condoms littered the floor. He was not coming back. Ever.

    Truth was, all I had was a conciousness that was completely shattered by my cancer. I had come up against my very own private serial killer, and while I had managed to get out of the basement, he still had his hold on me. His tag-line was ‘And what if I come back?’ So, when I sat down in front of the computer, the first port of call was always the search engine. Not good.

    I was on the point of abandoning my writing altogether. But step forward a real hero: Pat Sider, my online critique partner, who lives in Canada and whom I have never met. She was aware of my illness and spent the first months sending supportive e-mails and messages.

    Then she started to pester (gently!). When was I going to send a chapter? What was going to happen next in the story? Nudge, nudge, nudge. In the end, to keep her quiet, I sent something. She replied. with a nudge. Before I knew it, I was writing again.

    The Muse came back, shame-faced and smelling of perfume. The Serial Killer sloped off into the dark. And all thanks to Pat, the person who had held my writing flame alight for me, tending to it when it threatened to flicker out.

    So what I’m trying to say is, that for some of the big stuff, like illness, bereavement, redundancy, divorce, your Muse might desert you too. You might be facing that blank page and find that you have nothing.

    And no-one get this crisis like other writers. Don’t be afraid to seek out their support. They understand.

    1. Thanks for the good wishes, Joan! And that’s the wonderful thing about writers. Yes, we’re all doing our own solo thing but it’s the support networks that can really help us get past the obstacles in our writing.

  17. E.M. the same thing happened to me in 2003 when my husband was killed in a freak accident. My world ended, and so did my writing. That’s the main reason so much time passed between novel No. 2 and novel No. 3. That, and the fact that when I did get back to writing “The Someday File,” I decided to turn the male protagonist into a female, which as you know entails much more than simply changing “he said” to “she said.”

    After that monumental rewrite, I moved from Florida to Chicago and realized Chicago, a city with which I’ve had a life-long love affair, made a much better backdrop for “The Someday File” than Central Florida ever could. So, another complete rewrite.

    I was only able to do this because, once I felt up to writing again after my husband died, I tried to do a story about grief, figuring if I wrote about it I could exorcize the demon holding me back. But I was still too close to the event, and it didn’t work. It did, however, launch me on the road to writing recovery and back to “The Someday File.”

    So perhaps that’s a way to overcome writer’s block. Leave the project you’re working on that’s got you stuck and try something entirely new. It might kick the first block lose and even lead to a whole new novel you never thought to write before.
    j

    1. Many thanks for sharing your experience, Jean. It is truly inspirational that you could come back from such a huge personal tragedy and find your writing voice again.

  18. Posted on behalf of author Lee Weeks:

    Cure for writers block

    For me there are two types of block – I only get the one kind – the other kind is for people who have way too long on their hands to write a book.
    The type I get is about a panic that sets in and stops you moving forward. Hitting a blockade may be your mind’s way of pointing out a problem with your story. To cure it I take myself away from the office and into a gym or on a walk or bike and think – I ask myself a hundred questions about the story: how would he know that? Why does he go there in the first place? What would she really feel about that? Etc
    Asking questions is the cure for writer’s block – that and paying the mortgage.

  19. Yes, I do that all through the writing of my book, Josh – Get away from it, ask questions; that’s the sort of cerebral outlining I lean to. That, and lots of note-taking. Your great advice really works. But needing to pay the mortgage would have the opposite effect on me, I’m afraid. I’ve always had a day job to help pay the bills, at least part time, which frees me from worry about money while I write my stories.

    Joan.

    1. HI Joan
      Note taking is the thing isn’t it? I sketch in my notebooks as well. i don’t understand people who don’t have notebooks by the bed too. There’s that rule about if you cant remember it in the morning, its not worth remembering?!! I would have failed to write most of my books if I had to apply that rule.
      Notebooks are so helpful when you’re hitting a crisis in your story then you can go back through your notes and not only become inspired but also remember what you really wanted to achieve.
      Agatha Christie’s notebooks are full of things like her shopping lists as well as great ideas!
      Yes – some of us thrive on panic don’t we? i guess thats me. I need to have the last month of madness, trying to deliver the book on time in order to secure payment. When I get into the mad zone I can keep the whole story in my head at once – like juggling a hundred balls in the air. As soon as the books in, usually after a few all-nighters at the end, I can drop all the balls and sleep for a week. That panic gives me the pace in my book too, so its useful to me. My books would be very different if I had more time to write them.

      1. Every author approaches the novel a little differently, but the main thing is that you’re doing what works for you. Thanks for your wise words, Lee. How great that we learn from each other. I’m going to look up your books now. 🙂 All the best.

        Joan.

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