writer’s block


The day I got The Call, I started writing the second book in my series. I knew they would want more—no one wants to be a one-hit wonder, after all. So I plotted, I planned, I pounded out 73,000 words in 5 months. I wrote a synopsis. I pitched. I submitted.

The proposal (and the third book, which I had already started) was rejected.

I stared gut-wrenching, pizza-and-whiskey-binge-style failure in the face once more. How could this be? I'd just sold a book. Surely all those lessons I learned the first time around could only make me better! Surely I was destined to write something even more brilliant!

I wallowed. I put my completed MS aside and put the kibbosh on my third book. There was no point in continuing—it wasn't going to sell as it was. I had to purge the ideas, scrub the stories completely from my brain. (Whiskey and Red Dead Redemption helped a lot in this stage). I had to come up with something new. I was terrified.

Once I'd gotten over the despair, I went back and read my lovely and brilliant editor's extensive notes. The thoroughness and articulation of her thoughts reminded me of why she is a damn good editor. She wasn't wrong in her assessment: there were some rough spots, some contrivances, some areas where the story became predictable and, frankly, boring. I was trying too hard to give the reader what they want. I wasn't being true.

But once I understood this, how could I go about writing something new? Something not predictable? Something that would capture the imagination?

Hell, if I had the answers, I'd already be doing it instead of blogging right now...

If I have any iota of wisdom to share out of thie SYWTBAW bit, it's this: don't get complacent. Don't despair. I've said it before, I'll say it again—Keep moving forward. Just keep swimming.

Now, back to the idea cave...


Writing is easy:  All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.

~Gene Fowler





I recently reinstalled an old PC game I used to love and have since decimated my word count and productivity.

The game is Emperor, by Impression Games, a division of the now-defunct Sierra Games, which, back in the day, was the company that produced several series of third-person adventure tales that got me into the whole world of gaming. Such titles included Space Quest, King's Quest, Hero's Quest, Police Quest and the illicit and far-too-mature Leisure Suit Larry.

The Impression Games roster, however, consisted of an entirely different collection of games from the linear storytelling point-and-clicks (or type and enter, as the case may be). I bought their first title, Pharaoh, in the late nineties. The ancient Egyptian city-building game was all about civil engineering, laying down roads and buildings, farms, infrastructure, temples, entertainment districts, military strongholds, monuments and more. It required a infinite amount of patience and a fine sense of control. It was all about micromanaging the lives on the hapless citizen from beyond--just the kind of game a control-freak writer might enjoy.

Impression followed the success of Pharaoh with similar city-building games: Caesar, set in ancient Rome; Zeus, set in ancient Greece, and finally Emperor, set in ancient China. (I own 3 of these four games, plus the expansion packs.)

Emperor is by far my favorite, not only because it resonated with my cultural background, but because of the spectacular graphics and colors. Don't get me wrong, I love Roman and Greek architecture, but gray, cream and white buildings get boring after a while.

I'm not sure how long this game-playing jag will last--evidently, with my self-imposed NaNoExMo, I'm finding the need to relax and let my brain rest now and again. I'm still polishing my YA novel, and I'm plodding on at a slower pace with my next "Five Elements" book (my MMA fighting series). Next week I'm on vacation, which, if history has served as any indication, means I'm going to get a whole lot of writing done.

For now, however, I am going to keep building China one city at a time...

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My eyes droop. My head feels swollen and numb, like I've been stung by a giant bee. I've been staring at my WIP and realize I've spent the past week stuck on the same sentence, unable to push forward.

Writer's block is the bane of all professional and wannabe professional (i.e. paid) writers. You've probably had those days where you're staring at a blank screen, willing the words to magically appear even though you feel more like you're ready to regurgitate word salad all over your monitor.

The Block might come in a different form: you come to a stage in your writing where you just don't know what else to say. Your characters stare blankly back at you, stuck in plot limbo, waiting, picking their noses, or otherwise trudging through the monotony of a regular day in their world. Your writing becomes a laundry list of things they did that day.

Or perhaps you've been obsessing over one particular scene; something's not right; something sounds off; you don't like this scene, but it needs to be there and AUUUUUGHHHHH!!!!

Pretty much all of these scenarios end with that last drawn-out cry of frustration.

So here's the cure:

Stop writing. Just for a while. Take a break. A hiatus. If you've been pounding the keyboard for weeks with no real forward momentum, it's time to find your muse, relax, recharge, and start fresh when you're ready to tackle the challenge.

Things to do to inspire you:

1. Read something fun. If you're already doing this, and have ten bookmarks in ten different books, you might want to shift your focus and find something you WANT to read. Try to read it purely for enjoyment--don't go looking for things you're not doing, or find ways to make what you're writing more like the book. Just lose yourself in the text.

2. Watch a movie you've always wanted to see. Even if no one else will watch it with you, grab the DVD or get those movie tickets and buy yourself a nice big tub of popcorn and indulge yourself. TV is also an excellent way to rest your brain and passively receive information and entertainment. And video games count!

3. Go for a walk/run/jog/bike ride/public transit adventure/etc. I find that forward motion always gets my creative juices going, which is why I end up writing on the bus so frequently.

4. Go somewhere you haven't been before or want to revisit and look for new things about these places. Look around, and especially look up: new perspectives get your brain into gear. Go into that store you pass all the time but never enter. Sit on that bench you always pass on the way home.

There are innumerable ways to recharge, but the important thing about getting around writer's block is to 1) assess the situation and come back to it when you're up to the challenge; and 2) More important, CONFRONT THE BLOCK AND PUSH THROUGH WHEN YOU HAVE THE STRENGTH.

Give yourself time to rest, a vacation from your WIP, and sometimes the Block will disappear on its own.