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!
Author Sunday, Interview with Sarah by Sherri Lupton Hollister
I am so excited to be a part of Sarah Maury Swan’s author friends’ group. We are getting ready for our next Author Sunday, October 29th at the New Bern Farmers Market 1 to 4 pm.
If you have been around New Bern, you may have seen a little lady on a trike or one of those rolling walkers. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is your average little old lady. Sarah Maury Swan is timeless. She is an adventurous soul from her days in the Peace Corps to raising horses, Sarah doesn’t balk at any challenge. I want to be her when I grow up.
Sarah, how many of these Author Sundays have you put together at the New Bern Farmers Market so far?
Sarah: This is my third.
How did you come up with the idea for this local author event?
Sarah: Julie McKeon, who runs the New Bern Farmers’ Market asked me if I would organize a semi-annual “Authors’ Sunday” similar to the one that was held years ago before the market was open every Saturday. Seemed like a good idea to me.
Sunday, October 29th we’re expecting close to forty authors from all over eastern North Carolina. How did you meet all of these authors?
Sarah: Some I knew through local events, but most of them I met thanks to Michelle Garren Flye and her store, Next Chapter Books and Art. When I mentioned the possibility of doing this, she sent out the notice to the authors who sell their books at her store. But I also sent out notices to Carteret Writers, Pamlico Writers and North Carolina Writers Network. We limited the area to eastern Carolina writers as those who live anywhere on the Eastern Raleigh edge. It’s been fun to get to know so many talented people in this area.
You’ve been writing for a number of years, but you’ve only been published a few, tell us a little of your journey to being a published author and why you chose to be indie published.
Sarah: I come from a long line of writers and book readers. So, any chance I had to write, I did. But I didn’t start writing for publication until I was in my sixties. I’m pleased to say I almost immediately got published in magazines. And when I submitted my middle-grade novel, Emily’s Ride to Courage, to the Dutton imprint of what is now part of Penguin/Putnam, the editor I sent it to liked it well enough to send it along the chain of editors until it reached the marketers who said they wouldn’t buy it because they already had a horse series in the works. So I sent it down to Peachtree in Atlanta. The editor there wrote back to me saying she liked my writing and the premise of the story, but didn’t connect with my main character, Emily. She asked me to rewrite the book and send it her again. Well, when an editor says that, by gum you rewrite the story. The second time I submitted everybody says it was a good book, but the marketers said they had another horse book in the works. I put Emily aside and wrote Terror’s Identity, which I published through Sable Books. By that time, I was in my mid seventies and decided I didn’t have the time to wait around for my books to be published through trade publishers.
What is your latest book about?
Sarah: Little Bits: A collection of short stories is a collection of short stories that had previously been published in Michelle Garren Flyes’ Next Chapter Literary Magazine. It came out this past summer. My latest novel, Earthquakes, came out just in time for COVID-19 to shut the world down.
What are you working on next?
Sarah: My first ever early reader book, Space Junk, is at my editor’s and I am finishing up another young adult novel, Bad Hair Day, about a sixteen-year-old girl who learns that her idea of having things go wrong is nothing compared to what her cousin’s bad hair day means. I am also in the beginning stages of writing a murder mystery, Serendipity’s Conundrum. Since the main character is a 82-year-old woman who rides a purple tricycle named Gertrude, the story is more a cozy mystery than Sherri’s spicy mysteries.
We will have a couple of food trucks and coupons for a local restaurant and Next Chapter Books, so come on out and choose a few books for yourself, family and friends, grab a bite to eat and support local businesses.
Sipping Sunshine Lemonade and Tea Truck will be there, along with The Burger Bus a new addition to the food truck scene from Swansboro that is US Veteran owned.
We will have live readings throughout the day by various authors.
Sarah will also be speaking at the Pamlico Writers luncheon, Tuesday, October 31st, 11 am to 1 pm at the China Bay Buffet Restaurant Chocowinity, NC. You won’t want to miss either of these events.
Welcome Jessica to my Creekside Café. I am excited to get to know you better! From your bio I learned you were a tattoo artist in New York and then backpacked your way around Europe, now that sounds like a few interesting stories right there.
Jessica: Hello Sherri! Thanks for having me on.
I tattooed for three years, working my way from an apprenticeship to becoming a full-fledged tattoo artist. Ultimately the industry was a bit rough for me, but it was a good learning experience. As for stories, I do have a silly anecdote. One coworker’s young daughter named their dogs Chaos and Discord. They got out occasionally, so passersby would see this big biker guy running down the street shouting, “Chaos! Discord!” which was probably alarming for those not in the know.
As for backpacking through Europe, that was a lot of fun. I saved for two years to afford the travel expenses and time off work, but it was worth every penny. If you ever want to backpack on a budget, I highly suggest finding opportunities to work for room and board. The WorkAway app connects volunteers with hosts. For half of the trip, my homebase was a hostel in Budapest, where I ran the front desk part time. From there, I could travel to other countries whenever I had a couple of days off.
Sherri: Your debut novel, Stem & Stone was released in September, and you have another book coming out in January but it’s not a sequel, is that correct? Will you have a sequel to Stem & Stone?
Jessica: You’re right that Light Step, the January 16, 2024 release, is not a sequel to Stem & Stone. They do take place in the same universe though, and I have another novel I’m working on that ties them together. I also have a sequel for Stem & Stoneoutlined but it’s not a project I’m working on at the moment. There are some other manuscripts I’d like to finish revising first.
Sherri: What inspired this unique story? Tell our audience how this idea came about and why you chose to write young adult fantasy versus adult fiction. Your upcoming novel is adult fiction, we’ll talk about it in a few minutes, but tell us about Stem & Stone.
Jessica: I was reading about J.R.R. Tolkien when I first began conceptualizing the plot of Stem & Stone. He’d set out to write a fable, and that sounded like an interesting project. Stem & Stoneis more my contemporary fairy tale, than a fable though.
The first draft was for me, and while I researched a great deal to flesh out the characters and setting, I didn’t give any thought to how the story would be marketed, once published. It was several drafts later when I began seriously thinking about getting the story out to a wider audience. While learning about the querying process, and what defines the age brackets novels are marketed to, I realized my story didn’t cleanly fit into any age category. Petra, the protagonist, is eleven, which would indicate this as a middle grade story. However, there were some scenes that parents might deem inappropriate for today’s children.
I altered the story to better fit the middle grade market, but those changes understated the themes. Finally, I ran in the other direction, leaning heavily into the darkness. Due to the inclusion of violence and gore, Stem & Stone is for young adults or older readers. I prefer writing fiction for adults because nothing needs to be softened.
Sherri: Now, your upcoming novel, Light Step is a bit different, an adult fabulism, (I had to think about the meaning of that for a minute.) Why the change in genres? What are you hoping readers get from Light Step and how does this differ from Stem & Stone other than the reader’s age?
Jessica: I’ve found I don’t have strong preferences regarding the genres I write. I keep a running list of potential plots and delve into whichever seems most promising, until that draft is complete. I have many manuscripts on the backburner, awaiting revisions, and they include paranormal fiction, epistolary horror, an attempt at a family saga, etc.
Fabulism and magical realism are my favorite genres to read though, and I’ve found that my adult protagonists often have a more contemporary, grounded, setting than my younger protagonists. I read a lot of fantasy when I was growing up so that’s probably a factor.
Haruki Murakami’s novels have a dreamlike quality and that’s what I hoped to achieve with Light Step, whereas Stem & Stoneshould be unsettling.
Sherri: You are a graphics artist and I see that you and Victoria Moxley worked together to design the cover of Stem & Stone. How was it working with a partner to create your cover? What does the cover convey? How does it help a reader find your book in a sea of other YA dark fantasy books?
Jessica: I went to college for graphic design, and while I enjoy the more illustrative aspects of the industry, I found that the majority of graphic design jobs provide less creative freedom than I desire from a workplace. So I’m more of a commercial artist, and sometimes a fine artist, than a graphics artist nowadays.
When Victoria and I first discussed the book cover for Stem & Stone, I explained how, because digitally illustrated covers have flooded the marketplace, I have a preference for tangible illustrations. I love paper craft, and provided an inspiration Pinterest folder showcasing book covers using this medium, but stated that I was open to other mediums. I sent her a picture of a paper craft illustration I’d made of the St’Avgull, a magical flower that serves as a portal in Stem & Stone. She found the craft to be of quality and suggested we use it in the cover design.
Sherri: Have you been to Iceland? What was your experience like? Or why did you choose Iceland for the setting of the beginning of your story?
Jessica: I haven’t been to Iceland yet but it is absolutely a goal! Culturally, they allow for the possibility that elves exist, so it seemed like the perfect setting for a fairy tale. Their government protects sites of supernatural significance so when I eventually visit, I plan to tour some of those.
Sherri: You published your book with Tea With Coffee Media, what was your experience like? If another writer came up to you and asked about publishing with Tea With Coffee, what would you say to them?
Jessica: I’ve had a very positive experience publishing with Tea With Coffee Media. Aside from how (very) professionally they conduct all official business, they also host monthly marketing lessons for authors, which I’ve greatly benefited from. Whenever a writer mentions they’re looking to publish, I suggest they check out Tea With Coffee Media.
Sherri: You are a fantastic artist. Do you design covers for other authors? Does your art factor into your writing? Is there a connecting theme between your writing and your visual art?
Jessica: Thank you! I haven’t designed book covers for other authors but I would be open to the idea, if an author contacted me proposing a project. My art background has factored into some of my writing. One of the back-burnered manuscripts has an artist as the protagonist, but I’ve also found that I tend to be precise when describing colors and textures. And, of course, I enjoy making illustrations to accompany my writing.
Sherri: How long have you been writing and when did you know you wanted to be a published author?
Jessica: I always wanted to be part of the literary world, but growing up, I didn’t think I had the stamina to finish writing a book. With a passion for art, I went into graphic design planning to become a book cover designer after graduating—which didn’t exactlypan out. I was living in Albany NY, which isn’t quite a publishing hotspot, and as a non-driver, I was very limited in where I could work.
I wrote my first novel in the summer of 2012, when I was working at a resort, right before entering my senior year at the College of Saint Rose. The story was a mess but it proved to me I could at least meet the word count. From then on, I had the idea that I might one day publish but I wasn’t actively looking into how to go about doing that. I wrote Stem & Stone in 2018, as my NaNoWriMo project, and I began seriously querying it in 2020. It was the third novel I’d written.
Sherri: What are you working on now? Do you have anything else planned?
Jessica: Right now I’m about to jump back into revising Soul Walker, my paranormal fiction. It’s the story that ties Stem & Stone to Light Step and it’s been in the works since 2016. I’d like to see it completed and out in the world.
Sherri: If you enjoyed my chat with Jessica then you can follow her on social media, the links are below and check out her debut novel, Stem & Stone. If you are looking to publish, promote or for book editors or formatters, check out Tea With Coffee Media. https://teawithcoffee.media/
When the steam engine first appeared on the scene it was met with both excitement and trepidation. The steam engine opened up new places, new opportunities, offered new and different jobs, but it also took away from existing jobs. The mail, once delivered by Pony Express could now arrive more quickly and safely by the railroad. Packages, cargo and travelers could also arrive via steam powered trains opening up the need for more coal mines and miners. The sewing machine made it faster to create dresses and suits at home. It even allowed ready-made clothes to be more accessible. But the seamstress and tailors who sewed by hand either had to learn to use the new machines, if they could afford it or compete for the fancy, detail work only handwork could do. Each generation faces challenges in the name of progress from the invention of the automobile and electric lights, to talking films replacing the silent movies, to frozen foods making meat and produce available around the world all year long. Not all of the changes have been bad, some have created new jobs, allowed farmers to sell more product, opened new opportunities.
But with every change there have been challenges and naysayers. The most recent change in our world is AI, artificial intelligence. Now, I’m not a computer geek. I don’t have the latest gadgets, but just like the air fryer and microwave, I appreciate anything that makes my life easier. I believe AI such as Chat GBT has its place. For me, AI is a tool to help me with those things I have trouble doing myself, like marketing. I feed it my ideas and it spits out something usually not something I can use, so I give it more information. The more I tell it, the better it does in giving me what I’m looking for. After a few tries I usually get something that sounds close to what I want. I might take ten suggestions from Chat and kick out two or three to start with, combine two or three deleting anything over the top, and by editing and piecing together come up with something that will work for a blurb, description, or tagline. As far as writing a story, I can’t see using AI to write because that is what I love to do. To give my ideas to Chat and let it do the writing, takes all the fun out of it. But if I’m looking for something that happened at a certain point in history, or fashion information, or even foreign names, this would be a tool I think would save me some time.
How do you feel about AI? Have you tried it? While I still feel we need to be careful about using AI in an ethical manor, I believe it is here to stay. Like the SAG-AFRA strikes in Hollywood, I support the authors and artist who wish to get paid for the use of their works in the creating of AI. I also believe that any whose works were used who choose to not be a part of it should be allowed to have their works and influence pulled from AI’s learning. I am sure that is not easily done and if the bots can search the web on their own (I’m not sure if that’s possible), they can find it and learn it without our knowledge. We need a new way of copyrighting our work and protecting the original creators. It’s a conundrum progress versus ethics, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that the outcome doesn’t justify the means.
If you are interested in learning more about AI and Writing, check out the Heart of Carolina’s online program coming Saturday, August 12th from 1-3 pm via Zoom with author, Elizabeth Ann West.
This workshop is designed to provide authors with a comprehensive understanding of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its potential applications in the realm of creative writing. Led by renowned indie author and AI enthusiast Elizabeth Ann West, this workshop will equip participants with basic knowledge and tools to leverage AI as a valuable assistant in their writing journey.During the workshop, participants will delve into the fundamental concepts of AI and explore its capabilities in aiding various aspects of the writing process. Through a combination of a presentation and an interactive Q&A discussion, attendees will gain practical insights into harnessing AI technologies to enhance their creativity, productivity, and storytelling prowess.General Topics Covered:
Introduction to AI: Understanding the basic principles and terminology of Artificial Intelligence.
AI in Writing: Exploring the intersection of AI and creative writing and how it can benefit authors.
Natural Language Processing (NLP): Explaining the concept of NLP and its relevance to AI-based writing applications.
Text Generation Models: Exploring state-of-the-art language models such as GPT-3 and its applications in generating story ideas, character development, and dialogue.
Ethical Considerations: Discuss the ethical implications of using AI in writing and understand the limitations of AI-generated content.
Incorporating AI into Workflow: Practical tips and strategies for seamlessly integrating AI tools into an author’s writing process and workflow.
By the end of the workshop, participants will have an excellent beginner’s understanding of AI, its applications in the field of writing, and how to effectively utilize AI tools as assistants in their own creative endeavors. Join Elizabeth Ann West for this enlightening workshop and unlock the potential of AI in transforming your writing journey. This event is online only. A handout will be provided, and a recording will be available for one week. Chapter members: Free. No registration required. Nonmembers: $12.50. Register: https://hcrw-2023-08.eventbrite.com
Speaker bio: Elizabeth Ann West is an author of over 20 novels and novellas and CEO of Future Fiction Academy. She has used generative AI as part of her writing process since November of 2021, helped create the prompting structure for Sudo write’s Story Engine, and now works as an AI Author educator, advocate, prompt engineer, and consultant to AI software startups. Her chief concern is making sure AI is not only something big publishers have access to and understand how to harness, but that every writer has access to these incredible advancements on technologies we’ve been using for over a decade in other applications. Plus, it’s so much fun to play with, she loses sleep over it regularly. She holds a Bachelor’s in Political Science, Leadership Studies, of all things, so she is a firm believer that if she can figure out the technology, she can help others, too.
I have just returned from family vacation. We went to see my second grandson’s graduate from high school. It was a lovely time but as a writer, I could help making notes of possible story ideas, character traits and jobs, settings, and more. Do you find yourself seeing the world around you in different ways? Does a new environment or a new adventure inspire new ideas?
I think if you are creative, whether you are an artist, writer or entrepreneur, you see new things and get inspired.
I asked my grandchildren about a story idea for a reunion short story I’m writing, and they came up with an awesome idea: a reunion concert tour. I’ve been playing with a couple of ideas. The kids suggested a love triangle where the person chose the wrong person and wants a second chance with the right one. I’ve written a few hundred words but it’s not gelling yet.
I’d like to explore a character who works for the aquarium. What kind of education would they need? How did they apply and get the job? What are their duties and job titles? What goes on behind the scenes?
Southport inspires many story ideas from a new business starting up in a tourist town. I can see a restaurant owner befriending an artist who is opening their first business. Maybe he allows her to display her artwork in his restaurant and makes sweets for her to sell at her shop. He could introduce her to some seasoned business owners who help her and maybe one who wants to see her fail because she has her sights on the restaurant owner.
The rental house we stayed at was really nice. It also inspired a few ideas. Perhaps the vacationer and the owner have been emailing back and forth in preparation of her vacation, and they develop a sort of friendship. When they meet in person, it becomes more but because she is only visiting a short while, they think it isn’t feasible to start a romance.
Do you get inspired on vacation? Did you find something interesting on vacation you wanted to do at your own house? Did your vacation inspire a new poem, painting or even a new outfit? I’d love to hear what inspired you and how you used it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
In order to write faster you must first turn off your inner critic. It is difficult to write and edit at the same time. Turn off your editor and just create. Enjoy the process. Be free! Write as if no one is going to read it. Pour everything you think and feel into it with no censor.
You might surprise yourself. You might even frighten yourself. It’s good to be a little bit afraid. Fear shows passion. If you are not a little afraid then what risk have you taken?
Writing in 10-15 minute increments is another way to write faster. Set a timer and write for 10 minutes. How many words did you write? Try it for fifteen or twenty minutes. Is your average word count better or worse? Some people write better for longer periods but others do more during the shorter times. I do a variety of times taking breaks in between to keep fresh.
Join writing sprints with fellow writers and enjoy the community of writing with others. There are online events and even in person ones. If you can’t find a group, start one.