Friday, February 15, 2013

Romance Authors' guide for Independently Published books: Dealing with Writer's Block

For me, writing isn’t a 9-5 gig, where I can just sit down and type nonstop until quitting time.  There’s an ebb and flow of creative highs and “I give up” lows.  Some days the characters are “talking” and sometimes they’re not.  This post is mostly about the days when they’re not.

Usually, when I’m supposed to be cleaning the garage or walking the dogs or doing something un-book related, I know exactly what should happen in a story.  The characters are chattering away in my mind faster than I can type.  I don’t feel like I’m writing, at all.  I’m just typing out the conversations as they happen.  These are the Good Days, when I am all “Yay!  Everything is rainbows and unicorns and sparkly happiness with all my sparkly happy characters.”  At times like this, I can’t image why I don’t write fifty pages a day!  I could put out a book every week!  I could retire next year!  Everything seems easy and perfect.
Then there are the Bad Days, when the characters aren’t talking, and I’m just staring at the glowing blue screen of my laptop for hours.  I listlessly search the internet for the etymology of my cat’s name… Become suddenly and deeply interested in some random TV cooking show, even though I don’t cook… Paint each of my nails a different shade of pink… You know, all sorts of vital activities that will absolutely help pay my rent.  At times like this, the act of stringing words together in a sentence seems impossible.  Even when I try, I end up erasing it everything in disgust.  All life seems hopeless.
I guess you would call this “writer’s block,” although as the poor innocent writer, I find myself more likely to blame the uncooperative characters.  Why don’t they just do something interesting I can write about?  Why are they being so quiet?  Why do they hate me?  Why is Kitchen Nightmares so compelling that I must watch it -right now- rather than work?  Clearly, none of that is my fault.  I’m the victim!
Still, there are only so many years you can be stuck on a book before your sister begins to mock you for it.  (True story: Book four of the Elemental Phases series had at least 12 drafts, spanning all sorts of different plots, characters, and ideas.  Liz would just start laughing when I told her I’d started a new version.)  So, in order to jolt myself out of my Bad Day ruts, I’ve come up with a few simple things to try to beat writer’s block:

1)      Read someone else’s book- Reading a great book reminds me of why I love to write.  Or maybe it just reminds me how to write.  Either way, seeing a beautiful finished product inspires me.  “See?”  I tell myself.  “It can be done!”

2)      Write something else-I usually have two or three book ideas in my head, at any given time.  If one of them gets stuck, I move onto another for a while.  I wrote Not Another Vampire Book and Warrior from the Shadowland at the same time.  When Cross was being difficult, I’d go hang out with Damien for a while.  It’s not that I’m giving up on the first book, I’m just taking a break to regroup.  If you don’t have another book percolating, try writing a different chapter of the book you’re currently working on.  No one says it has to be written in order, so try writing the epilogue or a love scene or something.

3)      Erase the last page-  I know this one will hurt, but hear me out.  Sometimes, when I’m not sure what happens next in a story, it’s because what’s already happened is “wrong.”  If I erase the last page and go at it another way, sometimes it surprises me what the characters come up with.  (For all those interested, this is why there are dragons in Not Another Vampire Book.)  When I’m feeling uninspired, I do something unexpected and then write the fallout.  Even if it doesn’t stay in your finished work, it’ll get you typing again.

4)      Try a different character-  Obviously, this depends on your personal style, but I usually write books from various POVs.  Sometimes, I start a chapter from one person’s POV and can’t get anywhere.  When I flip it to another character’s perspective, though, the writing flows better.  Sullivan in my Elemental’s Phases series is a life saver during these times.  His “outsiders” voice changes the way I have to set-up chapters and that sparks some creativity. 

5)      Don’t give up!- It’s important to remember that writing is a creative process.  There will be days where it’s all clicking together like magic and days when you have to erase ten thousand words in a fit of despair.  You can’t force your way through a block, but you can work through it.  Believe in yourself and know that, pretty soon, the characters will once again be talking so loudly you’ll wish they’d just shut-up and let you clean that garage.
- Cassandra Gannon


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