The first and best tip to bust through writer’s block is to write. But how does one even start? That’s what this post is about, ideas to get you rolling.
First let me give you some background:
My debut novel, Waking Up in the Land of Glitter, took me a year to even get started on the first page. I outlined that thing backwards and forwards, consulted friends and family on what I should name my characters – what their personality or stumbling block should be. I even drew pictures of my characters. For a YEAR. Not one word written. I thought I was planning and prepping, when really I was just stalling. I had this vision in my mind that I would write one draft and it would be perfect, so I better know what I was going to write. It wasn’t until I joined a writer’s group that I actually wrote my first three chapters.
That experience ignited my motivation! We each took a turn having our work read by others in the group. It forced me to produce something. We started in the summer and by the time October came around I found out about National Novel Writing Month (November). I joined that right away, I’m really good with deadlines and having that structure really helped. I finished with the skeleton of the book by the end of November. Overall, it took a year-and-a-half! Our writing group disbanded, but my ambition didn’t.
My second novel? Different story. You’ll find that each book is like a baby, they each have their own personality and the way they come into the world. By the time Miss Scarlet’s School of Patternless Sewing came about, I already had a book deal and a deadline. I wrote my first draft within six months. That book just poured out of me, and it really is my favorite of the two. I think I only had less than five edits on that book, whereas Waking Up in the Land of Glitter had about 25+ total!
My last book published in 2011, and both novels have since went on to not only be sold as paperbacks, but also ebooks and audiobooks. This week I received my first official royalty check, as well as a foreign rights check because my books are going to be published in other languages in Europe!
This brings me to my third novel, Miracle of the Sacred Cupcake. It’s been my problem child, but I have a feeling it will be the most special. The publishing landscape has changed a lot since I wrote and sold my first two books. My editor moved on from her job, I’m soon to get a new book agent, and there are so many other options for producing a book these days. I let all of this mess with my head while putting together my next novel. I wrote two different treatments of the same theme of a book in the hopes of scoring a contract. One editor wanted women’s fiction, another wanted a romantic tale. I found myself not writing what I wanted, but what I thought they would want to buy. I let it deflate my confidence.
I found myself, with this third book, repeating my mistakes from my first book – over outlining, thinking too much about each and every decision and fact of my characters, then I’d sit down to write and second-guess everything! Then I’d put it off and keep myself busy with other things. Truth is, no mater what – our book projects have to be genuine. They have to come from our hearts and be original to each of us.
Adding even more stress – being a full-time novelist of inspirational women’s fiction has always been my dream and life goal. I always imagined I’d get everything else out of the way and morph into a author. Poof! just like that, right? I wish! A lot of hard work is ahead of me, but I can feel it and see it and believe it, but I just have to do it!
When those checks arrived last week (and another amazing opportunity that I can’t mention just yet!), I took it as a sign that it was time for me to get moving on turning this goal into action. I told myself that there is no paycheck attached, no one to please, all I have to do is write and enjoy the process. The rest will unfold…
This weekend I chose my favorite of the two outline treatments for Miracle of the Sacred Cupcake and wasted no time. I scrolled down to the first chapter and realized it really had no place, so I deleted all the text I’d so cautiously written last year. The second chapter had a great hook for a beginning. I picked up from there and took off typing!
All I can say is that writing is like magic. The plans I had for my main character totally changed as she came to life on on the computer screen. The more I wrote, the questions I had for my outline were answered. By the time I climbed into bed last night, I had written 4,200 words! This book is finally off and running in 100% fresh fashion. Will it need editing? Heck yah, but that will come after my first draft is done.
Now, about busting through writer’s block, here are my personal tips that have worked for me:
1. Have a general outline. Your novel has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Think of it as a play with three acts. If anything, break up your outline into those three sections. For me, this makes it easier to manage and digest. Even if it changes as you write, have a path to keep you on track!
2. Keep a reverse outline. This is where you create your path as you write, but make sure to keep a journal noting each chapter to help you remember key plot points.
3. Know the basics of your characters (where they start and how they will end up the opposite by the end of the book). That way you can weave in scenes and decisions that build on their respective personalities.
4. Plan to devote a regular schedule to writing. Don’t “wait until I have time” or “as soon as I finish this…” START NOW, clear something out of your way to make room (TV, Netflix, knitting class). I work best in the evening, so I’m planning 10 p.m.-midnight to write.
5. Set a word count goal. This is a great way to hold you to task. Pretend it is for your day job. Hold yourself accountable. Your word count can be 500 words a day/week, choose what works for you. I’m shooting for 1,500-2,000 a night!
TOP POINT!: Know that you can write anywhere, in any situation. No excuses of finding the right spot, the right music, the right drink, vibe, energy level, blah, blah, blah. Just. Freaking. Write! Once you get going, you won’t even notice anything around you, trust me!
Second Top Point!: Turn off the Internet while you write. Put your phone on silent. Remove all distractions so you don’t get sucked into Facebook or whatever. This is your time, make it count!
1. Go! Go! Go! You have to start somewhere, don’t put a lot of thought into editing right now. Know that a lot of what you write will end up changed, cut, or trimmed. Therefore, just write and embellish away. Nothing is too crazy or over the top! You’re not being charged by the word, writing is free, take advantage of that! I always feel like it is better to have too much than not enough.
2. Keep a chapter log to note key points you add (outside of your outline), and to remind you of things you need to change or research.
3. What you do write, make sure every word, sentence, paragraph, chapter, even a character moves the story forward. This is the problem I had with my first book and why I had so many rewrites. I wrote in a lot of funny, colorful scenes, but after my manuscript sold and my editor redlined all of those because they didn’t support the story. An easy way to decide if a scene fits is to say, “If I remove this scene, what change will it have on the outcome of the story?” If the answer is nothing, don’t put it in, or give it a purpose. However, sometimes we need to write those scenes to get us warmed up, so if you have them, don’t despair! Cut and save them in a separate document, maybe you can use them in another book or a sequel!
3. Don’t dwell on names, finding better words. Add these tasks to your chapter log so you can fill them in later. You can also just highlight them so you can go back to them later. This also goes for pivotal scenes, know you can always go back and rework once your manuscript is done. Bottom line, just keep writing! Set aside a time later to review all your notes and go in and make the changes.
4. About three chapters in, read it all aloud. This is a great way to pick on on habits or missed opportunities – when you read your work out loud you can catch when you use repetitive words, or if you need to add more smells and sounds, etc. Another idea is to have a friend read your first three chapters for you. Just have them check for writing pattern, not so much for context because your story will morph into something else by the time you are done!
5. Give your characters things to do, get them out of their routine setting. Put them in odd situations that will either shine the light on their personality flaws/strengths or give a twist to the plot.
6. Don’t “start all over.” There will be many times when you think your work is crap and it’s not coming together, etc. These are the times you need to push through and finish. No one is going to see it, just finish your book, you can always go back and adjust it later. Wanting to quit and giving up is a cop out. Do you really want to start all over? I didn’t think so, keep going.
7. Through it all, imagine the moment when you can type, THE END! That is always the best motivation!
OK, that’s all, I’m getting back to my writing. Good luck to all of you! Share your tips or questions below!