May 28 – June 3: “How do you deal with writer’s block?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5It’s something we’ve all had to deal with at one time or another: writer’s block. This week we’re joined by ITW Members Rob Leininger, Bob Mayer, Judy Penz Sheluk, Jon Land, Paul D. Marks and R.G. Belsky to discuss how they deal with writer’s block? Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along – you won’t want to miss this!

 

R.G. Belsky is an author of crime fiction and a journalist in New York City. His upcoming suspense thriller YESTERDAY’S NEWS will be published by Oceanview in May. It’s the beginning of a new series featuring TV journalist Clare Carlson. Two of Belsky’s thrillers from the ‘90s – LOVERBOY and PLAYING DEAD – are also being re-released by HarperCollins in December and January 2018. His most recent book BLONDE ICE (Atria- 2016), part of the Gil Malloy series – featuring a New York City newspaper reporter, was a Finalist for the David Award and a Silver Falchion nominee this past year. Belsky himself is a former managing editor at the Daily News and writes about the media from an extensive background in newspapers, magazines and TV/digital news. He was metropolitan editor of the New York Post; news editor at Star magazine; and most recently managing editor at NBCNews.com.

 

Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of 43 books, including ine titles in the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series, the most recent of which, STRONG TO THE BONE, won the 2017 American Book Fest Award for Mystery/Suspense. He recently published A DATE WITH MURDER, his first entry in the MURDER, SHE WROTE series that he’s taken over. And last year he also teamed with ThrillerMaster Heather Graham on THE RISING, the first in a groundbreaking sci-fi series.

 

Paul D. Marks has written three novels, co-edited two anthologies and written countless short stories. He’s won a Shamus Award, was voted #1 in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’s 2016 Reader’s Choice Award and been nominated for Anthony and Macavity Awards. His story “Windward” was chosen for The Best American Mysteries of 2018. His short fiction has been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Akashic’s Noir series (St. Louis), Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Crimestalker Casebook, Hardluck Stories, Hardboiled, and many others.

 

Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries (THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE and A HOLE IN ONE) and The Marketville Mysteries (SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC). Her short crime fiction appears is several collections. In addition to ITW, Judy is member of Sisters in Crime, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves on the Board of Directors as the Regional Representative for Toronto/Southern Ontario.

 

Rob Leininger is the author of the “Gumshoe” series featuring the P.I., Mortimer “Mort” Angel. GUMSHOE was nominated for a Shamus Award by the Private Eye Writers of America for Best P.I. Novel of 2015. Other novels in that series include: GUMSHOE FOR TWO and GUMSHOE ON THE LOOSE. GUMSHOE ROCK will be published in August of 2019. Other standalone novels include RICHTER TEN, SUNSPOT, JANUARY COLD KILL, MAXWELL’S DEMON, and KILLING SUKI FLOOD (optioned by Warner Bros. for a movie).

 

NY Times Bestselling author of over 70 books including the #1 series Green Berets, Area 51 and Time Patrol. Bob Mayer is a West Point graduate, former Green Beret and feeder of Cool Gus. Born in the Bronx, having traveled the world, he lives peacefully with his wife (who collaborates with him).

 

 

 

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.

Interested in becoming a member of the International Thriller Writers? ITW offers Active and Associate memberships.
20 Comments
  1. Here’s what I do when I get writer’s block:

    I Write.

    And when I have no more to say, here’s what I do then:

    I Write.

    And when I hit that wall again, this is what I do:

    I Write.

    I don’t really get writer’s block. And if I get something approaching it I have several things to try to get me over the hump. Long drives up the coast, music blasting. Walking the dogs. Even taking a shower seems to loosen up the brain matter. And sometimes, per my opening here, just sitting at the computer and typing (writing?) stream of consciousness. It doesn’t really matter what comes out and I might not use much of it, but it does help get the juices flowing.

    The one time I really did hit a wall was when working on a script. I don’t know if you’d call it writers block, since I don’t much get writer’s block, but I had a good concept going and a draft that just didn’t work. I tried all of my usual tricks to get past it: taking some time off, driving up the coast listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival and other bands at full blast. Having a drink or two. Nothing helped. Finally, I packed up the car, drove down to Palm Desert (near Palm Springs) by myself. I spent my days hanging out by the pool, reading, or going out to eat. At night I worked on the script. And then I did the old standby trick with index cards, something I’m normally too lazy to do. But I put every scene on color-coded index cards and shuffled them around and around. And eventually it all came together. And that script ended up getting optioned several times, though never produced (my perpetual plight).

    I also might take a day or a week off from that particular project and work on something else. Or play. And even though I might not be thinking about it in the forefront of my mind, my brain is working in the background so that when I do sit down later I will probably be able to get on with it.

    The bottom line is that writing is a job. And just like any other job or a job where you punch a time clock you just have to be there. You have to sit yourself down in a chair, stare at the screen and let your fingers do the walking. Eventually something worthwhile (well, hopefully worthwhile) will come out.

  2. I believe that writer’s block is my inner muse telling me that I’m going in the wrong direction. Sometimes, I’ll go for a walk and try to mull over other options. Sometimes I’ll write around the scene that is blocking me by highlighting it and starting the next chapter. Sometimes, I’ll do some research. What I won’t do is give up. Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. Works every time.

    1. I like your idea of writing around the scene that’s blocking you, Judy. Sometimes you just have to keep moving forward and then go back and fix any issues.

  3. I should say right up front that I have never experienced this thing people call “writer’s block.”

    Not bragging. That’s just a fact. Oh, I run into various problems with my writing – but writer’s block has never been one of them.

    Let me repeat what Paul said in his post. There is one solution for writer’s block: WRITE!

    I talk about this a lot with friends of mine who say they want to write a novel or a short story or a screenplay or whatever – but they’re still waiting for the inspiration to begin. Let me tell you right now. If you wait for inspiration, you’ll never write. The trick – and this is something I’ve done my whole career, through 12 published books – is to write every day, whether I feel inspired or not. Just put something down. That’s the best way to find inspiration. And amazingly enough, the words you forced yourself to write – even though you didn’t think they were any good – frequently turn out to be better than you thought. Or at the very least they open the door for you to write something better.

    My favorite answer to the question of writer’s block came from Raymond Chandler. He said that a writer simply needed to set aside a certain amount of time each day (an hour, two hours or whatever) to sit at his writing desk. He doesn’t HAVE to write during this time. But he’s not allowed to do anything else. He has to either write or just sit there. In the end, Chandler said, he’ll write something.

    So one more time: the cure for writer’s block is very simple.

    Write.

    Just write.

    Doesn’t have to be good.

    But keep writing anyway.

    If you can do that, you’ll never have to worry about writer’ block again!

    1. As you say, RG, it doesn’t have to be good, you just have to write and get something down. It can all be fixed later. — And I also have a lot of friends or people I come across who have the greatest idea for a novel or screenplay. But they never do anything about it. Talk is cheap. Writing is hard, but people don’t seem to realize that.

  4. I don’t believe in writer’s block. We’re professionals, it’s what we do. Lawyers don’t get “lawyers block,” teachers “teachers block,” or doctors “doctors block.” That said there are things I do to keep the momentum of writing going. First off, I try never to leave off a session at the end of a scene or a chapter. I always like to leave off in the middle of something, so I have a running start the next day. I also always have a few titles by my favorite authors set aside and, prior to starting in, I’ll often read maybe 15-20 pages to find the right mindset, kind of remind myself that I’m doing this to write something as good as what I’m reading. That works like a charm, though I sincerely doubt there are any writers out there who are using my books for inspiration the same way! Ha-ha!

    1. I don’t do it quite the same way you do, Jon. (leaving off in the middle of a chapter). But I think a lot about what I’m going to be writing beforehand as I do other stuff throughout the day. So I usually don’t sit down to a total blank slate. I have an idea of what I want to say. I think that really helps. Probably just a different way of doing what you talked about…..

    2. Jon, your comment made me laugh. Love the idea of lawyer’s block or teacher’s block. I guess we all have our little tricks that we use so we can keep the momentum going from day to day. It’s interesting to see how others do it.

  5. Great comments all here, which leads to repeat a comment I made in last week’s forum. That being that there are no wrong or right answers here. Every writer has his or her own process and his or hers own way, in this case, of combating the notion of writer’s block. It doesn’t matter how you get to the end of writing a book; it matters only that you get there!

  6. Sometimes, I might add, the term “writer’s block” is used to refer to being stuck not so much creatively in general as to where to go next in specific. We think it’s us that’s blocked when, in fact, it’s the story itself. So I think a natural remedy for writer’s block is a writing process that helps advance structure. Some of us, like Lee Child, are seat of the pants writers. Others, like Steve Berry, are veracious outliners. Which are you, perhaps even some combination of the two? I fall squarely into the seat of the pants category, but I’m normally about a hundred pages ahead in my thinking of where I’m going. I have a sense that most people who don’t finish marathons start thinking of mile 26 when they’re in mile 1. By the same token, when writing a book, there’s no reason to think about page 500 when you’re on page 1. So I think, to some extent, writer’s block happens because we’re trying to see too much instead of what’s more immediately ahead.

    1. Completely agree, Jon. I’m a seat of the pants writer too. If I’m stuck on a specific scene, I just plow ahead with whatever I can – and see where it takes me. I don’t sit and dwell on it. Or think endlessly about what comes next. You can always go back and rewrite that scene later, depending on where the rest of the story takes you. I’m not sure how that works for an outliner author. But then I’ve never really done an outline before any book I’m writing…

  7. Bryce Courtney, the #1 all time selling author in Australia in his time told me something at the Maui Writers Conference: bum glue.

    He said there are times you just have to put your bum in the chair, glue it there, and do it.

    I find that my mood doesn’t affect my writing. I write the same regardless.

    Those who wait for inspiration will never finish a book.

  8. I believe part of the key to avoiding writer’s block, as Bob Mayer suggests above in his quote from Bryce Courtney, is not being afraid to surprise ourselves. That’s where the spontaneity of storytelling comes in. Maybe somebody dies you weren’t expecting or planning. Maybe a character turns out to be someone else entirely than we originally thought. So maybe the advice would be something like, if you’re blocked, do something that surprises even you to turn the story in a fresh direction.

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