Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Temptation Tuesday - The Dreaded BLOCK

This Tuesday at The Pink Heart Society editor Trish Wylie talks to us about the occupational hazard of ALL writers - be they published or not. The dreaded WRITER'S BLOCK...So have you ever been tempted to give up???

Really feel like I should go Duh-Duh-DAAAA after mentioning those two dreaded words.

This year hasn't been an easy one for me. There - I've said it. I feel cleansed already. And it all started back in January when I began my new book for the Romance line. Everything started well... characters cast and studied - collage made - setting researched - soundtrack done - proposal okayed with lovely editor - word doc opened - supplies of coffee and chocolate brought in - and off we went at a nice steady pace. All was well. Then SOMETHING went wrong. And suddenly I couldn't write anymore.

Now I've had times when I've been stuck before, don't get me wrong. But this? THIS was different. This was a big wall of nothingness. An empty pit. A black hole. A screaming dark - well you get where I'm going, don't you? So the first thing I wondered while trawling blogs and watching Youtube was - am I just procrastinating? Well in an interesting article I found online I found a quote where someone says:

"A blocked writer has the discipline to stay at the desk but cannot write. A procrastinator, on the other hand, cannot bring himself to sit down at the desk; yet if something forces him to sit down he may write quite fluently."

So nope - it wasn't procrastination. I WAS sitting down at the *desk*. It was just when I got there I had NOTHING - NADA - ZIP. And I'll admit it - I got SCARED. Had I burned out ALREADY? I did five books last year, but big deal - loads of authors write prolifically, don't they? And apart from the infamous Gabe I had quite a good year all told. Heck - I ended it with the bestest darn story I'd ever written IMHO. So what was wrong??!!

Now this is the point at which I should say we ALL suffer from this. And if we haven't WE WILL. I know this now. The thing is, when you're published and on a tight deadline, the option of giving up and starting another book just isn't there for you. Not that unpublished authors should make it a regular habit either! Finishing a book AT ALL is a MAJOR STEP in the road to publication.

So what can we do to get through it?
(you know me - go get coffee and pull up a chair as usual...)

Because writers have as many methods of writing as they have personalities, a variety of things can cause us to experience the kind of angst that leads to writer's block. Often a solution can be found by talking to other writers, or a critique partner if you have one or an editor/agent if you have one of those… And there are some common causes of writer's block I’ve discovered. So if you’re blocked perhaps some of these causes they’ve listed on a site I found (that I’ve adapted to our cause) may help:

The Problem:

You have attempted to begin a manuscript without doing the preliminary work you needed to in order to know your characters well enough for them to lead you through their story... so there’s a sudden deafening silence…

Possible Solutions:

• Tough as it is – go back a step and reintroduce yourself to them. Make up a character sheet, ‘interview them’, maybe make a family tree so you can understand things that might have happened in their childhood to influence their personality. And remember the more rounded they are the more real they’ll become to you. The more real they become the more likely they are to tell you what they’d do next…
• Think about the things that will hold your characters back from each other and the reasons why they are drawn together regardless. Otherwise your story is just two nice people holding nice conversations who then fall in love – THE END. Short story material, yes – but not what you’re looking for…

The Problem:

You have chosen a specific line or a topic you think a line is looking for that you’re having difficulty with – so the words have dried up....

Possible Solutions:

• Remember a well told story will always sell before a story that isn’t as well told but fits the specifics of a line. Hey, no-one said it would be easy did they? The one thing completely individual to you is your voice and that will never come through if you force it into a story you don’t believe in. Square peg round hole. If in doubt; tell the story you would read – that way you’re more likely to enjoy it and your voice will SHINE!
• Lines develop. They have to to survive. So while some of the ‘hooks’ will remain solid, the way in which a story is told will develop with each new generation of writers. (it’s that voice thing again) The only people who truly know what will work inside a specific line are the editors. (Just ask how many of our PHS authors started out by pitching for one line only to be bought for another) - and editors buy across the lines so if they find a great voice they’ll decide where it fits best. Remove that fear of fitting in from your brain, read new authors as they hit the shelves to see what they did if it helps – yes, read the lines to understand the ‘hooks’ – but after that see the first possible solution…

The Problem:

You’re reluctant to spend time writing or you tell yourself you can’t find time to write...

Possible Solutions:

• Resign yourself to the fact you have to write cos either a) You’ve agreed to a deadline or b) your ultimate goal is to get published
• If you’re published find out what’s expected of you (sometimes just by explaining you’re struggling you may discover there’s a little ‘wriggle room’ in there – and at the end of the day your editor wants the best book possible so believe me, she’ll work with you)
• If unpublished look into finding a critique partner or ‘beta reader’ – someone who will encourage you to keep producing chapter after chapter because they can’t wait to see what happens next! Think of them as your surrogate editor ;)
• Whether published or unpublished your writing time has to be sacred. PROTECT IT. Tell your friends and family what you’re doing and garner their support. Set aside a specific time of the day where you’ll unplug the internet and turn off the TV and the radio and close the door and just WRITE. And no looking at the wordcount every five minutes either – you may possibly be pleasantly surprised by the end…
• Look at some of the strategies for writing anxiety listed below

The Problem:

You are anxious about writing...

Possible Solutions:

• Focus your energy by rehearsing the scene in your head over and over again – speak the dialogue out loud if it helps or maybe even take on the role of one of your characters and think about how they would react to whats happening.
• Consciously stop the non-productive comments running through your head by replacing them with productive ones. So stop thinking ‘this isn’t working’ and start thinking ‘I can fix this’. Stop banging your head against a brick wall to make something work when it really, really isn’t – instead hit that delete key or cut and paste to another file and replace with something new that can get you out of the hole. Be brave! And remember the more times you read and re-read and tweak what you’ve already done the more your brain will freeze. You won’t be able to see the wood for the trees. TRUST ME.
• If you have some 'rituals' (soundtracks, collages, glass of wine, pot of coffee, etc.), use every single one of them or try something COMPLETELY NEW to break the cycle you've got stuck in. After the book from hell I tried storyboarding for the first time and it had an AMAZING effect!

The Problem:

You're so stressed out you can't seem to put a word on the page...

Possible Solutions:

• If you can't stand up, stretch as many muscle groups as possible while staying seated. (see next point) If you can take a break go outside!!! Stretch your legs, clear your head, go sit outside with a cup of coffee if that’s all you can manage. It really works. After months in the cave it took one afternoon walking dogs and I felt so rejuvenated it was silly…
• Try tensing and releasing various muscle groups if your time at the keyboard is already limited. Starting from your toes, tense up for perhaps five to ten seconds and then let go. Relax and then go on to another muscle group.
• Breathe deeply. Close your eyes; then fill your chest cavity slowly by taking four of five short deep breaths. Hold each breath until it hurts, and then let it out slowly. If all else fails try a cup of camomile tea…
• Use a calming word or mental image to focus on while relaxing or try scented candles or soft music – you’re writing romance after all so why not create a romantic atmosphere!

The Problem:

You're self-conscious or too critical about your writing.

Possible Solutions:

• Remember the first draft doesn't have to be a work of genius, it is something to work with. That old can’t edit a blank page adage…
• So force yourself to write something, however bad it may be when you read through at the end (you can revise or delete it as needs be so long as it got you through the hump, right?) and just get the damn thing finished! That’s the most important thing!
• Break it down into steps. Write scene by scene with the basic elements if you need to and then flesh out/layer the more specific aspects later when you know where the story has ended up. Think of it as a finger painting with the fine detail turning it into a masterpiece…

OR you could try one of my patented strategies to get you out of the slump:

Begin in the Middle

Start writing wherever you like. If a scene is really clear in your mind then write it first and then think about how your characters got there and what might happen next… so if you want to begin in the middle, do – no-one will shoot you. The reader will never know that you wrote the book all higgilty piggilty….

Talk It Out

Talk it over with a friend or your editor – brainstorm – toss ideas around. Sometimes a different perspective can open avenues you would never have thought of alone! Your friend/editor can ask questions as you speak, and you'll be more likely to think outside the box or say something unpredictable in conversation than if that you were sitting and forcing yourself to write. (I’m a huge fan of MSN Messenger for this!)

Ask the big ‘what if?’

Pretend you’ve not already decided everything for a minute and ask yourself the questions like – what if he did this instead? What would she do? How would that change it? Where could it go? Remember nothing is set in stone until you’re holding the book in your hand… then it’s too late… but a ‘what if’ at that point might even set you off on another story so never say never I say ;) Think how someone else who might disagree with how you did a scene might have done it in their head in the same way you might see a movie and re-write the ending… BE FLEXIBLE.

Play the Role

Yes – you could be the heroine!!! Remember it’s all about fantasy fulfilment and escapism. So allow yourself to DAYDREAM. Talk to that gorgeous male you’ve created in your head the way your heroine would or the way your reader might through your heroine. Then add your own natural reactions so that a little of your personality aka YOUR VOICE comes through on the page. Did he say something completely outrageous or unfounded? Would you call him on it or quietly stew? If you call him on it then you have your dialogue. If you stew then you have inner POV. Both-of-which = WORDS ON THE PAGE. Then try a little role reversal and put yourself in HIS shoes…

So there you go – Trish’s tips for overcoming the Dreaded Block. All of them learned THE HARD WAY. If you have a few tips of your own then please feel free to share them!!! If you have tales of woe – remember YOU’RE NOT ALONE.

But whatever you do DON’T be TEMPTED to GIVE UP!
(Many of these ideas are adapted from Peter Elbow's Writing with Power, [Ch. 8; 59-77] and Mack Skjei's Overcoming Writing Blocks.)

H’s & K’s Trish

Trish’s next release is in Australia and New Zealand where GABE is making a bid for world wide recognition in Claimed By The Billionaire Bad Boy… The book is available from eharlequin Australia RIGHT NOW and will be on the shelves in July.

To find out more about Trish and her books you can visit her Website or Her Blog


  1. All of the above! Sometimes I think it's just the wrong story, even if it's a great one, and you have to let it go. For now.

    You know, I love that cover, Trish.

  2. Love this...but Trish left out one of her personal ways to cope with writerly issues...she fixes someone else's story! Hey, whatever gets the words flowing (besides, it works out well for me!)

  3. Great posting Trish! Copy/pasted it (complete with images) into my help file for those moments when I am facing that brick wall myself! Thanks!

  4. I have copied and pasted it also, will go in my folder of great advice in desperate times.
    Glad to hear you're working through it. What about another trick, book a wild weekend away with a hot hunk (or just your hubby) and practice the action scenes? Hey it could work.

  5. I linked to in in my blog. Now if only I can somehow link to it in my brain....