Friday, February 28, 2020

Writer's Block

It happens to all of us. We're going along just fine on a story -- the characters are talking, doing, reacting -- and then, BAM! They shut up. They freeze in position like a photograph in time. Everything screeches to a halt. Including you.

Writer's Block.

It happens so often, we've given it a name.

I don't get it often, but when I do -- I can sit on a story for years. Yes, you read that right. Years before I can get it to move again. The order in which books are released has nothing to do with the order in which they were begun.

I'm just coming off a several-year hiatus on my current work-in-progress (wip - an apt name for how I feel about it sometimes). The Companion is a book I started back in the '90's. I wrote several parts of it, changing the name of the main character, changing the setting, changing her attitude - but it wouldn't get off the ground. If I didn't like the story so much, I probably would've abandoned it all together, but the concept really had a hold of me.

But then I got published in the genre of erotic romance and I figured, "You don't want to cooperate? Fine, I'll go write something else."

So I did. Oh, I returned to it several times. Found a new place to start the story and wrote thousands of words on that draft. Even pitched it at a conference to an editor from Avon. She liked the concept enough to ask for the first three chapters (which I had) and a synopsis (which I didn't). I wrote the second and sent it off and she. quite rightfully, rejected it. It wasn't ready. I was still stuck on those early pieces I'd written, trying to work them in so I wouldn't have wasted my time.

Of course, that time wasn't wasted. I know the main character's backstory now and that informs much of what she's planning to do in the rest of the book. Perhaps someday those scenes will get published in a "deleted scenes" type book. That means, however, that I have to finish the main story.

Except that the characters of The Companion had stopped talking. I'd switched points of view (there are three main characters and switching between and among them helped move the story forward when I got stuck in the past. I'd ask myself, "Well, what does Kiera think about all this?" or I'd move to Martin's story and let him take the lead for a while.

That worked for a long time. For 145,000 words, in fact (about 450 pages). I played with format, I played with story arcs, I played with other parts of the story and each time I did, I managed to avoid getting stuck for too long a time. I'd leave one set of characters in their photograph and visit those who wanted to show me what was happening in their lives. Then, when they got tired and froze, I'd go back to the others and (usually) they'd be ready to talk.

And, to be honest, some of the writer's block is BIC problems. BIC = Butt In Chair. Having time dedicated to writing is part of it, but then again, the pressure is on to create. Creativity doesn't always come when you say, "Okay, I'm here. The computer file is open and I'm ready to go. Let's write!" So procrastination kicks in and I clean the house (see this post for more on that), I go grocery shopping, I scrapbook -- I have lots of procrastination tools. The key is not using them and forcing myself to stick my rump in the chair and write. Even if what I write is terrible. It can be fixed later. Just get words on paper.

Neil Gaiman, in his Masterclass, said, "You cannot fix a blank piece of paper," and that has become my mantra. Get the words down and fix them in the next draft. Taking several of the Masterclasses has helped me with the BIC and with the mental challenge of writing such a large story (this is an epic fantasy - and I'm about halfway through the first of what I suspect will be two books).

Yesterday, I went back to a tried-and-true method. I'd been stuck for several days. I knew what had to happen, but I couldn't figure out how to get to that point. I had snippets in my head but no string to hang them on.

So, I printed out the last two pages, pulled out a spiral notebook, made sure I had plenty of sharpened pencils, and got myself comfy in my overstuffed recliner and worked the old-fashioned way - in longhand. I teach my composition students that the brain works differently when holding a pen or pencil than it does when typing. Yesterday, I put that into practice - and wrote over a thousand good words before I was done for the day. Sometimes you just have to go old school.

So, have writer's block? Here are several ways to work around it:

  •    Set the story aside and work on something else. If it isn't working, stop beating your head against it. You'll only get a headache.
  •    Believe in your concept. That will prevent you from abandoning altogether.
  •    Try starting the story (or scene) in a different place or time. Take the character(s) someplace else and see what happens.
  •    Change the point of view. Either choose a different character or a different voice (switch from first to third person or vice-versa to get them talking again).
  •    Stick your Butt in Chair.. Get the words down, no matter how bad they are. That's what the next draft is for. Keep writing.
  •    Know your procrastination tools and don't give into them. They will lead you astray!
  •    Go old-fashioned and get out the paper and pen (or pencil). Use a different part of your brain.

So, go write!

Thursday, February 27, 2020


Wouldn't it be wonderful if there were a place a writer could go where all her needs were tended to and all she had to do was write? Where her time would be uninterrupted by phone calls, doctor appointments, the need to buy groceries or to fill the gas tank? Where food magically appeared and she didn't have to prepare it?

What if I told you not only does such a place exist, but that I am lucky enough to be visiting it this summer?

Yep. Storyknife, a writer's retreat in Homer, Alaska, is opening this year for it's first year of in-house authors - and I'm going to be one of them. Six cabins, six authors at a time. I go in July and I am excited, thrilled...and just a wee bit nervous. Okay, a lot bit nervous, and I'll tell you why.

Because now the pressure is on to produce. Every single one of my excuses is gone. There are no rooms that need cleaning, no errands to run. I get my own breakfast, but lunch is delivered to my cabin and dinner is provided in the main house, prepared by a chef hired specifically to feed us. Internet service is spotty, so no games or emails, no Facebook or world news. My procrastination tools will all be stripped away.

I'm also a little nervous because this is the farthest away from home I've ever been by myself. I've flown to Alaska before, but was with family. This time I'm making all my connections myself with no extra set of eyes to help me navigate. Not terrifying, but a bit scary. And exciting. If I can do this, I can do anything!

Of course, Homer is in the Ring of Fire and there are several volcanoes in the vicinity. In fact, our welcome packet includes information on what to do when an earthquake hits, so I'm pretty sure those pretty snow-covered mountains are quite active. But those of you who know me, know that volcanoes and I have a history. This does not make me nervous, however, because I am resolute!!!! No broken bones this time!

I have to say, I love the name of this place. Storyknife. Stories both cut away at the human condition, exposing truths non-fiction cannot express, and we, as authors, cut away at our writing, crafting sentences that sing, and stories that soar. Excellent metaphor for a place where writers gather and work.

Expect to hear more as we get closer to July,

Play safe,

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Books for 2020 - part 1

Each year I start out with the best of intention: I'm going to keep track of all the books I read. Each year I get exactly the same result: 'round about summer, I get busy and forget to write down what I read while at the cabin or on vacation and then September comes and I start teaching and the whole list falls apart. I still read, I just forget to write them down.

What will make this year any different? Who knows? But I'm gonna give it my best shot - again.

So far this year I've been revisiting previously-read books. My son and I got into a really deep discussion about Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archives series and he (my son) ran circles around me. I just couldn't remember the details. So, that massive three-book (so far) series, was first on my list. My husband began with Warbreaker, a different Sanderson book, so I re-read that one, too, so we could talk about it. Then he started the Mistborn series - he prefers listening to books, so it takes him longer than it takes me, but I started that series again as well.

To date, I've read (all by Brandon Sanderson)

The Way of Kings
Words of Radience
Mistborn; the Final Empire
The Well of Ascension
The Hero of the Ages
The Alloy of Law

...and several short stories out of Arcanum Unbounded (these are short pieces that didn't fit in the novels or were written for other purposes -sort of like deleted or extra scenes).

I am currently reading Shadows of Self and will be finishing with The Bands of Mourning, the rest of the Alloy of Law series.

And that brings me up-to-date. Not bad. 'Course, it's only Februrary...

Play safe!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Finally re-released!

It has taken some time, but I finally have the last of my Ellora's Cave titles reformatted and available! Yay!!!

Services Rendered features Lauren and John, two veterans of the United States military, both of whom are adjusting to civilian life. A Civil War re-enactment introduces them and the sparks start to fly as the two discover love. One of my favorite books to write, I'm so glad this is finally available again!

Services Rendered takes place in the same world as Secret Submission, Submission Revealed, and Diamond Submission and features some of the same characters. One doesn't need to read the previous books, however, as Services Rendered can be read independently.

On a totally different note, I've been very remiss in keeping this blog up-to-date. Last year was a hard year for me. My mom passed away in January 2019 and that really set me back. While she'd been ill for quite some time, one is never ready when Death comes claim someone you love.

Different people handle grief different ways. How did I handle myself this past year? By cleaning.

Yep, you read that right. Cleaning.

First I helped my Dad clean out Mom's closets. Then I helped him move to a different assisted care place (and a much better one than where he was before!). That entailed a LOT more cleaning and winnowing. During both of these activities, I scrapbooked a lot of the documents my mom had saved over the years and created a notebook that tells the story of her life. Not sure what I'm going to do with it yet, but it helped me come to grips with not having her around. We used to talk for an hour (or more) on the phone once a week or so - more often for less time in the last few months of her life - and creating the notebook helped me with that.

Of course, I also taught classes, went on a glorious vacation with my daughter, spent a lot of time at the cabin with my husband, and learned a new video game from my son (Destiny 2, anyone?), so I lived my life as well as grieved my mom's passing.

What I did not do much of, was write. I needed to find my equilibrium - and took the year to do it.

Now, however, we have a new year, and a bunch of new news. If you haven't read my newsletter, I'll post an update here in a few days. So much to tell!

In the meantime, play safe!