Writer’s Block: When your imaginary friends aren’t talking to you.
Writer’s block is no joking matter. We’ve all heard of it and most of us have experienced it at least once in our lives. My writer’s block lasted a couple of years and I worried I’d never write again. It was caused by stress. We lost our home to fire one January and my father died the next January, followed by the loss of my mom’s home due to hurricane flooding and then she fell and broke her hip. That was a really f-ed up couple of years and writing well, it took a backseat. My brain couldn’t even function.
Illness, stress, overloaded with work, family obligations or other things that stretch us too far, can impact our writing. Is this writer’s block? It’s probably a lot more than just writer’s block but for a creative who is unable to create whether it’s writing, painting, or crafting, that feeling of being stopped up and fuzzy, not ourselves is a very real problem. It’s how we express ourselves and when we’re dealing with extra stuff being able to express ourselves is often how we cope. Take away our best coping mechanism and well, shit happens. It’s like being on an infinite loop. We can’t create because we’re stressed, we want to create to relieve stress and become more stressed because we can’t create. Yeah, that’s not an eruption ready to explode.
This type of writer’s block may require more than a few simple steps. If you can’t solve this on your own by taking a break, changing your creative outlet, or asking others to take on some of the work, then you may need to seek professional assistance like a counselor or doctor. There is no shame in asking for help. If you need to see someone for a mental or physical health problem, please do so. I cannot say this enough, you cannot take care of others until you first take care of yourself.
If your writer’s block isn’t health related or due to stress, then it must be about the writing.
If you are just beginning your project and you are having trouble getting started. Have you really thought about your story? As a pantser much of my story is worked out in my head but each story is different. Some I start with a scene in my head, and I need to understand it. Some I have a character and I need to put them in a situation. Other stories I have pieces I need to string together, and some come to me whole cloth and just need to be stitched together. If you are a plotter or planner, perhaps you can’t get started because you’ve not planned enough. If you are a pantser or someone who visualizes their story, perhaps you’ve not thought about it enough and got a complete picture. What can you do to get excited about writing this story? Maybe it’s not the right time to write this story. Maybe you need some more research. Maybe you need a picture of your characters or your setting to jump start your story.
If you’re in the middle of your story and suddenly everything comes to a screeching stop, you may have written yourself into a hole you can’t dig out of. Back up. Read what you wrote before. Go back to the last place you felt was moving along well and read from there on. Usually, once you go back you can see where you’ve gone off the rails and get back on track. If not, ask what needs to happen in order to get to the ending you imagine. How will they have they reach their goal? Or if you want to keep them from achieving their goal, what needs to happen to keep them from getting what they want? Keep asking questions until you find the answers to set your story back on track.
If you are at the end and you’re stalled for how to bring it all to a close. Imagine the final scene. What do you want the reader to feel when they close this book? Are we going to have a happy ending? Or maybe, we’ll have an ambiguous ending. When you decide on the final page of the story. Write it backwards to where you are stuck and then edit. If you’re not sure how you want to end it, try a couple of different ways. Save the other endings for your newsletter or website as alternative endings.
I hope this helps. As we continue to plod our way through NaNoWriMo and other deadlines, remember to stay hydrated, take a few breaks and stretch not only your muscles but your mind as well, and keep on writing. Happy writing, y’all!
Jed suggested taking 5 minutes to answer these questions:
1. What am I going to write today?
2. How does this move the plot?
3. How does this develop my character?
4. Why would this be someone’s favorite scene?
Other authors suggest writing a brief sketch of the scene before you write it. Answer questions like:
1. What does this scene do?
2. Is this information used in another scene?
3. Do I need this scene to make the story work?
My mentor Marni Graff ends her day by writing a note about what she plans for the next scene.
I start my writing day with a scene I’ve imagined in my head. If I can’t get on the computer to write, I will handwrite the scene in a notebook or on my phone.
If I am not sure where this scene will go in the story I might put it in a separate file and add it in when I reach that section.
You do not have to write in a linear fashion. You can start in the middle and sprawl out in both directions or start with the ending and work your way back up to the beginning. The latter works well for mysteries.
Stopping for the day in the middle of the chapter makes picking up where you left off easier.
I don’t outline but fast drafting is similar. You tell yourself the story in the fastest way possible. I do it in simple bullet points. After I have it down I go back in and start adding details.
If you want to know more about my method come join me at The Next Chapter Books and Art store 320 S. Front Street, New Bern, NC Saturday, June 17th, 3-5 pm. Cost is $20 and you must pre-register by emailing email@example.com.
It was so great to meet you at the Writer’s Retreat in Murfreesboro.
I had a wonderful time. Thank you for agreeing to be a part of my Creekside
Café Chats. If I ever win the lottery, I want to build a café on the Pamlico
River where authors, writers of all levels and readers can come and chat, or
sit back and read, or write. So, thank you for joining me, can I get you a
glass of wine or something to drink?
Sonja: Sherri, it was wonderful to
meet you too. There is an old joke about a computer’s cd drive (does anyone
remember those?) being a built in cup holder.
Wouldn’t it be grand if we could order drinks and have them delivered to
that cup holder? If you build your Café,
Sherri: I love your Jazzy books. I bought one for my
youngest grandson and will probably have to buy more, they are adorable. Tell
us about Jazzy and how you started doing Jazzy’s Books.
Sonja: Jazzy is the 9th in a litter of puppies whose mother was saved from death row. All the puppies found homes. When we visited to pick a puppy out of the nine, there were only two left: a black one and Jazzy. I told Dale, “We can’t take the black one because they are hard to photograph!”
Boy did I take a lot of photos. I took so many in the first year I had to do something with them so I created a book on Shutterfly. I added a few cute sentences and gave one to my nieces. They asked for more books. I have not been able to stop writing.
Sherri: Jazzy’s Books are children’s books, do you plan to
write any other types of books, other genres or age groups?
Sonja: When I started creating Jazzy Books, it was an outlet for my photography. The more people wanted them, the more I was referred to as the author. It took almost 9 months for me to think of myself as an author not a photographer.
When I wrote “Jazzy Explores The Library” I used several other books as
backdrops. I wrote to the publishers to
get permission to use the photos in my book.
Several responded with affirmatives but the rest didn’t respond at
all. With those particular books, I had
to reinvent the covers, so to speak. I
made up pretend books called “Monsters Don’t Need Feet,” “How To Be A Witch” and
“The Stick Witch”. After publishing “Jazzy
Explores The Library,” the idea for a real book about “The Stick Witch” stuck
in my brain.
Now I am on a journey to write a “non” picture book. Perhaps a third grade chapter book or middle grade book. I’m not sure how it will turn out yet.
Sherri: You spoke to our group at the writer’s retreat and
one of the things you mentioned was we had to have patience. Would you like to
expand on that statement?
Sonja: Sometimes, writing the book
is the easy part. Yes, you’ve spent a
long time getting your manuscript done but then what? Anyone can be an author but how do you get
your voice to be heard by the rest of the world. That’s the hard part which takes so much
I can’t find any author who was an overnight success when they first started sending books to publishers or agents. Many of them wrote several books before their first became famous. I too sent a few query letters to agents, with no responses. After the twenty sixth attempt, I gave up and moved on to self publish my books. I had no patience. Perhaps if I had persisted I would have found someone and then not have been saddles with a dining room full of Jazzy Books, ha ha ha ha.
As a self publisher, you get
instant gratification, “Yippeee, I have a book, Look!”, while the world around
you is saying, “Who cares?” It’s your job to make them care. It’s your job to get their attention, to
start the conversation, to sell them your book.
After sitting at a table hawking my books to passersby, I’ve realized my
limitations and strengths. I can never
understand a parent who buys a forty
dollar broom but won’t buy a nine dollar book for a child who is looking at it
and laughing at the pictures. Not
everyone will like your work. Being
gracious, saying thank you for stopping by, and have a nice day, takes
Sherri: You talked about your financial plan to get started
and I have to tell you, the number you quoted was way out of my league. Since I
publish through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), granted they do not have
colored photos inside like your Jazzy Books, but I buy about 100 books at a
time, sell them and use that money for more books and marketing. I started with
an initial investment of $500 and I’ve tried to keep that rotating through.
What do you suggest for other authors who are worried about that initial
Sonja: If you have no money to
invest, then traditional publishing is the way to go. Be patient, Google the
best way to write a query, how to find an agent, and send spend your day
writing and sending. It could take a
year and several rejections before someone sees your work as something they
could run with. With traditional
publishing you will get an advance. Once
that advance has been paid by books sales by the publisher, you will get
royalties. It’s a small, teeny amount,
but its income.
The way I did it is not the best but works. I have my books printed by a company in
Timonium, MD, that usually makes company manuals. It only takes a week for my order to be
printed. The more books I order, the
cheaper the price per book. Now I have a bunch of physical books to dispense which
are stored in my dining room.
The same goes for printing in China, however if you print in China you
have to order a large quantity (over 1,000 books or more) to get the price to
about 2.49 per book. You also have to deal with insurance, tariffs, delivery
from the dock where the ship lands and storage.
So, my recommendation is to find a company that will print on demand (no
more books in the dining room) and has a distribution network to book stores
and libraries already in place. For me,
that is Ingram Spark. They charge a
small fee (like $50.00) to set up your book but then it is available worldwide,
I think. Amazon can also print on
demand, but I’m not sure Libraries and Book Stores do wholesale from them. I could be wrong.
Sherri: What do you love about writing? About being an
Sonja: With the Jazzy’s books, it’s
the fun I have taking the pictures and crafting the story. Also, all the great people I meet when I’m out
trying to share my books with the world. With the chapter books I’m writing, it’s the
satisfaction I get when stories, the stories that have been running around in
my head like a dog after a rabbit, get written down and I can finally sleep.
Sherri: What do you find to be the hardest or your least favorite
Sonja: To be successful, you have to
sell your own book. I’m not a
salesperson. It is hard to learn to
engage folks as they walk by my table without coming across as a used car
salesman. “Hello ladies, have I got a
deal for you!” It’s easier around the
Holidays, people are looking for unique, fun things for kids, but in the hot,
summer sun of July at a children’s festival, they would rather eat their cotton
candy and get wet.
Sherri: Any advice you’d like to offer on how to be your own
Sonja: Be consistent on all Social Media.
If you post to Facebook, then post to all your other places at the same
time. (I always forget about Instagram because I’m at my computer not my phone.
I don’t understand Twitter much but it might also work better for me if I’d
remember to do that too. )
time networking. Being with other
authors, people with the same goals, will do two things: It will give you motivation to continue and give
you avenues to move forward.
Enter Contests. My Jazzy’s books
haven’t fit into any contests that I’ve looked at, but I’ve seen authors get
lots of publicity when they win one.
Join professional organizations. This will help you network via conferences
and monthly meetings, they often have contests, you can find people to critique
your work, and it gets you out and about talking about your work.
information at the ready. You never know, the woman in front of you at
the grocery store could be your next biggest customer and you blew it because
you didn’t have a business card or pamphlet to hand over to her.
When someone asks to interview
you, say yes.
Put yourself in the front. Speak at places. Ask questions. Truly, the squeaky wheel will stand out. My husband is a music teacher and he hardly
ever talks about the normal, quiet kids. His stories are always about the loud,
obnoxious ones. Now, don’t be rude, but
don’t fade into the wall paper either.
Write blogs or newsletters. Have raffles or giveaways for people to
sign up, or to get others to sign up.
Give people a reason to come back and read. Be on time.
If you say it will be monthly, make sure it’s monthly. Build trust. Perhaps you write a book about a murder in a
garden, you could give tips on how to prune roses or something.
Sherri: Do you have another project in the works?
Sonja: Yes. “Jazzy’s Halloween” is waiting for all the
costumes to come out on the shelf so I can take the photos which will go along
with a cute song I wrote. This will be
my first “Song” book that will have a downloadable mp4 so kids can sing. Likewise, I am working on “Jazzy’s Got The
Whole World In Her Fangs”
I am also finishing up a book I wrote that is going to be a fundraiser
for the Isle of Wight County Humane Society.
All profits from the book will go to that organization.
I’m working on “The Stick Witch” and another called “Flight From Abigor”
or something like that.
Sherri: Who or what has most influenced your writing?
Sonja: My first thought was Dr.
Seuss since I love to write in simple four-line rhyme ABCB. I feel that what most influences me are my
experiences. I can remember wanting and
hoping to be somewhere else, or someone else, because I thought life really
sucked as who I was at the time.
Sherri: If you could influence a person young or old, who
dreams of being a published author, what would you say to them?
Sonja: Give it a try. Go! Chase your dreams……responsibly.
Sherri: We met at the Writer’s Retreat in Murfreesboro, tell
me, what did you hope to gain when you agreed to do the presentation? And what
did you come away with?
Sonja: It was my first experience
presenting. I am so happy it was in such
a small, informal setting. My worry was
that I would be “preaching” to the choir, but I have to remember that listening
to another author’s experience helps motivate and people do learn new things,
even from little ol’ me.
Sherri: Is there anything else you’d like to add before we
close. I’ve truly enjoyed spending time with you again and hope that soon we
can see each other in person.
Sonja: I’ve enjoyed it as well. It’s not easy to talk about oneself. Even if you think you are nothing special,
you will be surprised at how much you can positively influence another
person. Go out and be kind, spread the
love of reading and write, write, write.
Sherri: Check out my friend Sonja’s books, you can buy them
on her website, but be careful, you will find yourself falling in love with
Jazzy and you may have to make room in your home for a new fur-baby.
My Agent Broke Up With Me
I had no idea breaking up with my agent would feel a lot like breaking up with my high school boyfriend. Like infatuation, my first experience with having my very own agent was exciting and a little frightening. There were times I felt as if I had no clue what was expected of me or where we were heading. Learning to communicate and trust each other is the most important part of any relationship, and like some lovers who don’t stand the test of time, it was miscommunication that caused the demise of our partnership.
Philosophers would say it was all by design. Some people come into our lives for a season, others for a life time. I believe my agent came into my life at a time when I needed her. She gave me confidence and taught me a lot about craft and the business of writing. I appreciate the time we had together and feel stronger for the experience. Like that first love who taught me to French kiss and drive a stick shift, my agent gave me the courage to fight for what I wanted and the knowledge to achieve it.
Being true to the vision for my novel is important. When I first started working with the agent I was too afraid to say anything for fear she’d not want work with me anymore. While some may believe it crazy to rock the boat when you have an agent in your corner, and perhaps it is. But if you are not true to yourself then what happens when you mold yourself or your writing into what they want and it still isn’t enough. I feel that is what I’d done. I’d changed my words to fit what she suggested or what I believed she wanted. In the end it wasn’t and I was left not knowing what I’d done wrong. I believe my agent wanted to help me deliver the best book possible but somewhere along the way communications broke down and the relationship failed.
Like the first bloom of romance, there is the honeymoon period where everything is rosey and perfect. You both try really hard to make the relationship work. It’s a learning period. You do the back and forward dance until, if you are lucky, you get into the same rhythm. If you are lucky your first agent could be your only agent, after all several marriages started out as high school sweethearts. Like that immature relationship with your high school boyfriend, rushing the intimacy could cause the romance to disintegrate. For a strong and lasting relationship with an agent it is important to feel like partners. Having a strong, well balanced relationship built on mutual respect and faith. Believing in your work enough to fight for it and not be intimidated by the agent. Like that first boyfriend who overwhelmed me and made me feel I wasn’t quite experienced enough or pretty enough to keep him interested, I felt inadequate in my relationship with my agent. It is difficult for many first-time authors to believe in ourselves. Finding an agent who understands what you need as a person as well as a writer.
I don’t regret my time with my agent. She taught me so much that I could not have received anywhere else. She put a lot of time into my novel and her effort on my behalf is greatly appreciated. Like that first love, I now feel more confident going into my next relationship or doing things on my own.
I posted this previously on the Pamlico Writers’ website under Word Detective. Finding the right word isn’t always the problem. Sometimes spelling or using it correctly, is the problem. The more I write and the more I participate in writing challenges, the better my writing becomes.
Words not use or over use. Now I’m taking this from my own manuscript. These are words and phrases and things I did too much of. I’ll start with a quote from the illustrious Mark Twain via Jon Winokur @AdviceToWriters, “Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”, your editor will delete it and the writing will be as is should be.”
My first and I kind of caught this myself but my critique partners said, no, it’s no longer cute if everyone is doing it. Rolled his/her eyes, it was bad enough I even had my character comment that her eyes would stick if she kept doing it and then he rolled his eyes. Too much of a good thing.
The next was shaking his/her head, he/she shook their head, a whole lot of shaking going on. I searched for other ways to show it either with dialogue or another action. Example 1: She shook her head, smiling. “Yes, that’s what I want.” Okay, that’s not too bad unless you have a lot of shaking. After a while all the characters resemble bobble-head dolls. Example 2: She nodded, smiling. “Yes, that’s what I want.” Again, not awful but I have even more nods than I do shakes and, yep, that bobble-head thing is still happening. Let’s change it completely. Example 3: “Yes.” Tears filled her eyes as she clapped her hands together bringing them to her lips, she said, “That’s what I want.” No more bobble-head, the emotion is stronger and more visual.
The list continues:
Shrug down saw/see/seen wait inside feel/felt
Glare blinked do/done met glance frown
Sigh check know/knew face grip gaze
Suck like think/thought shift act up
Turn return took/take stare still meet
Look blush sure meet could believe
Change try/tried would/should can will that
Smile started it/it’s/its
I am sure these are only a few of my faux pas in writing. In your rough draft, you will make these mistakes unless you are a disciplined writer. I am not, I just put my fingers to the key board and write. I make up my own contractions even. But as I’m reading over my work afterwards, I look for those mistakes. I also ask my friends and family to read for me and I do a search and destroy. With my Word document, I can go into editing and find words. It will tell me how many times certain words show up. Like “that” 85 times!! That should rarely be included in your manuscript, I know that but because it’s an easy word to use, I used it a lot.
I used “do” 42 times and “like” 51. Some weren’t as bad but “very” 22 times, and as Mark Twain said, shouldn’t be used in writing at all. We each have our fall back words, place holders if you will. Do the editing, have others read and thank goodness for computers that can give us the information we very much need.
Happy hunting, I mean writing.
sherrilhollister.com/Suspense She Writes Bookstore Dismiss