Avoiding Writers’ Block

Today, we’re going to discuss some tips and tricks for ensuring that you always know what comes next when you sit down to write.

I don’t love the term “writers’ block”, partly because it sounds insurmountable. Like so many things, being “stuck” can be overcome with a little preparation and several little steps. You could think of these as good practices.

• Review what you wrote the day before
This is a tried and true strategy used by many writers I know. Job one of any new day of writing is to edit what was written the day before. This is a neat trick because you polish your work so that it’s clean behind you, and it also fills your mind with the story again. You might even see details or directions to explore which you missed the first time around.

• Leave a hook for the next scene
When you stop for the day, choose a deliberate point for stopping. I find that if I write everything I know about the story, the next day I might come up dry. I also find that I see two scenes very clearly and often a third one a bit less so. So, I write those two scenes, then hold back on the third. I’ll write the first sentence of that scene, to pull me back into the moment, but then let that scene stew in the back of my mind for the remainder of the day. Combined with the review suggested above, this is a surefire way to get me writing again each day.

• Retrace your steps
Most authors write a story in a linear sequence. This means that if the next scene isn’t clear to you, you’re stuck, as if you encountered a closed road on your map to the big finish. For me, this often indicates that I’ve taken a wrong turn or painted myself into a corner. The first thing I do in this situation is delete the hook on the end of the last scene I wrote. I then go make a fresh pot of tea, thinking about what else that hook could be. Often that sets me straight on the path again.

• Write out of sequence
Sometimes another scene than the one I know comes next is clear in my thoughts when I sit down to write. This might be the ending, which is a useful thing to write in advance of getting to the end of the book. Many authors find that writing the ending gives them a more clear sense of their destination and the feel of the end of the book, and that helps with the pages in between. You might feel compelled to write the big finish, or the dark moment, or a comparatively minor scene between secondary characters. As a general rule of thumb, if something is burning in your thoughts, write it down, whether it comes next in the story or not.

• Write a synopsis
The most obvious way to ensure that you know where the story is doing (and how it’s going to get there) is to write a synopsis. I’ve yet to meet a writer who loved creating a synopsis. It can be a painful process. But the fact is that once you have one, you have a map of your book. It’s very easy to put your finger on your location in the synopsis then read on to see where the story needs to go next.

• Stock your well
Julia Cameron talks about this in The Artist’s Way. It’s a strategy for ensuring that you always have new images and ideas to draw upon, so that your work continues to evolve and stay fresh. For me, this kind of creative thinking is completely opposite to the kind of planning I do as a publisher. Stocking my well is dreamy and irrational, meandering, and often seems like daydreaming or “wasting” time. The less free time I have, the more critical I am of the kind of play that stocks the well—but if I don’t do it, I get stuck.

I suspect that part of the reason I’ve been less productive creatively this year isn’t just a lack of time to write; it’s a failure to leave time to play and dream. I play with textiles and color to let my imagination wander off and explore the next part of the story I’m writing. I knit and quilt and bead and garden and cook, and this review has reminded me that I need to defend the time to do that, as well as the time to write.

So, the final tweak that comes out of this entire review is to protect the time I spend mucking about with creative endeavors. When I protect my writing time and my source of ideas, the routine of publishing must be pushed out to occur last in the day instead of first.

This is an intriguing idea and one I’ve already started to put into action. I’ve already seen an improvement in my productivity: in October, I wrote 54,000 words, which blasts me past my high count in May of 43,000. Now I just need to make these changes into habits. I’m curious to see if my word count increases in the next six months – I’m curious to see if it will help me succeed in NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words this month would be a victory!

Do you have any tips or practices that help you avoid writers’ block?

NaNoWriMo 2018

NaNoWriMo logoIt’s that time again. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) launches tomorrow. Participants aim to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Participation is free.

As usual, I’m participating, and (as usual!) I have more than one project to get done this month. If you want a writing buddy, you can friend me at NaNo right here.

If you want to learn more about NaNoWriMo, check out their website.

Writer Resources

Once upon a time, I wrote a lot of blog posts about writing and publishing. When I went indie in 2012, though, I wasn’t sure how applicable those posts would be to our new world (which felt a little wild for a few years there.) This past weekend at my local writers’ group, though, we started talking about resources and I realized that a great deal of that information would still be useful to writers.

I’m sifting through it in my spare time (ha) and making it live again.

I will also be doing more teaching next year, and have started to muster my support materials. I use Excel spreadsheets a lot to track results, and I don’t want to spend workshop time walking through the set-up of each one. So, I’m creating some tutorials here on the site. These aren’t the only way to do things: they’re just my way, and might be useful to other writers.

All of this lives under a new tab called Author Resources, which you can find on the menu bar. You can also search in the blog for posts in the categories Wild West Thursday, Indie Publishing, Publishing, and Writing. There is also an archive here of the blog posts I did for the writer-in-residence program at the Toronto Public Library in 2012. You can find those in the Writer-in-Residence category.

NaNoWriMo 2016

For the past couple of years, I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. Participants cheer each other on to write 50,000 words on their book manuscript during the month of November. It’s a fun event and a great way to connect with other writers. Some people find it motivating and get more work done, but for me, it’s a typical month. I usually write at least 50K words in a month. I join for the fun and the chatter.

Wyvern's Warrior, #3 of the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeI’m all set up for this year again. My project of choice is Wyvern’s Warrior, book #3 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances – due for publication on December 27.

If you’re participating, feel free to claim me as a writing buddy. You’ll find me on NaNoWriMo as DeborahCooke. (Big surprise, isn’t it?)

It’s November 1 and we’re off! Happy writing!

On Resonance

Spellbound, a Regency romance anthology by Claire Delacroix, Jane Charles and Claudia DainHave you ever struck a crystal glass and heard it chime? That resonance lets you know that the glass was well-made. A book has a resonance, too, if it’s well-crafted. Over the years, I’ve developed an inner ear for my own books and their resonance. I don’t always know what’s missing from a work-in-progress, but when it’s right, I have no doubt of it. I can hear its resonance and know the book is done. Once upon a time, I never delivered a book to an editor until it had that resonance—now, I don’t publish one without it.

There are a lot of variables that influence the resonance of a book. The characters need to be fully dimensional and the story has to have a crisp pace. It goes deeper than that, though. Since I write romance, each book has two protagonists—each one has to have inner and outer conflicts, and best of all, each one has to help the other along his or her character arc. They have to become partners and be good for each other in order for their romance to be compelling, in my opinion. All the loose ends have to be resolved, and the bad guys have to get their due. When all of this is done and I review the story and its telling, I can ‘hear’ its resonance. *ping*

Wyvern's Prince, #2 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeThere are also factors that challenge resonance. A book that contains too many elements can be difficult to build into coherence, let alone resonance. A book that is a step onto a new path for the author can fight its resonance. For me, though, the biggest factor influencing resonance is my own health and welfare. If I’m sick with a cold, I don’t write well. If you took Psych 101, you’ll remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (You can read the Wiki on it right here.) According to this theory by Abraham Maslow, human capabilities are made possible in a hierarchy by the satisfaction of needs. For example, the base of his pyramid of needs is Physiological—if you’re hungry, cold, and/or naked in the dark, you’ll be focused on solving those issues to the exclusion of all others. Once your basic survival is assured, you begin to concern yourself with Safety. After you’re safe and fed and sheltered, you become concerned with love and social connections, and so the pyramid builds higher. Creative processes are in the very top bit of the pyramid, as part of Self-Actualization. Essentially, artists function best when all other needs are covered. Maybe that makes creativity a luxury in this theory. We could debate that, but I’d agree that if any of those lower levels of the pyramid are in jeopardy, then creativity is challenged. Resonance, at least for me, becomes harder to achieve.

The Crusader's Handfast, #5 in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixA good example of this is that I’m seldom very creative in the summer. This used to frustrate some of my New York editions, but it’s a matter of physiology. When it becomes very hot in my little corner of the world, it also becomes humid and there’s an increased chance of thunderstorms. Thunderstorms cause changes in barometric pressure and I—like many hundreds of thousands of other people—get migraines from shifts in barometric pressure. I can tell Mr. Math when it’s going to rain, no matter what the weather forecasters say, if the storm is going to be violent. Nothing helps my migraines much, except the ultimate leveling out of the barometric pressure. These kinds of pressure changes are more frequent in the summer, and I build more time into my seasonal schedule to allow for the downtime.

Arista's Legacy, #2.5 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeThis year, we had heat for almost three months instead of a couple of weeks here and a couple of weeks there. We had a lot of shifts in barometric pressure, but not very many thunderstorms resulted. Resonance in my writing proved to be a little more elusive as a result. (I’m including all of the covers in this post of the books I did write this summer which found resonance!) I wrote Something Wicked four times before I was happy with it, and the story changed radically from the outset. I just made deadline on that one. Wyvern’s Prince had something keeping it from resonance until what seemed like the very last minute—then I figured out what it was, and made the change in time for the pre-order deadline. Phew! Arista’s Legacy is in final edits, so it’ll be good to go for November. I’ve finished the edits for The Crusader’s Handfast, which was a great review of the Champions series to date, so it’s all set up for October.

The Crusader's Vow by Claire Delacroix, book #4 in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series of medieval romances.The issue is that I’m not happy with this current telling of The Crusader’s Vow. It’s written but not resonant. I need to take the story apart and re-envision it—I have a list of new avenues to explore and research to do—because Leila’s story currently isn’t adding enough to the book. Trust me. 🙂 I want the story to be resonant, and that can’t be rushed. I also don’t want to have the various portals pinging me with reminders of the final book file being due.

So, as you might have guessed, I’ve moved the publication date on The Crusader’s Vow out to March. That leaves lots of time to make sure the book is resonant and that you love Fergus (and his HEA) as much as I do. Currently, there are only pre-orders available at Kobo and iBooks—the others will go live when the book is done and off to be formatted. I’m hoping that giving the story some space will ensure that it’s ready for publication earlier than that.

Thanks for your patience and understanding! Next year, I’ll be sure to cut my summer writing schedule back even more. I should be able to take care of things like website maintenance instead.

The Day After

The Crusader's Heart by Claire Delacroix, a medieval romance and #2 in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series.Yesterday, I sent Wulfe and Christina’s book, The Crusader’s Heart, to my editor. Phew! I like this book a lot. This pair surprised me a few times and their story made me cry a couple of times. This is all good and I can’t wait to hear back from my editor on her thoughts.

Today, however, is The Day After. The day after I deliver a book is the day that I look around and remember that I don’t live in the world of that book. I will clean my desk and do my filing. I will make a list of some things I’ve inevitably forgotten in the story (there are always a few details that slip). I’ll put reference books and maps away. I’ll catch up on emails and odd jobs and my publisher To Do list. It’s possible that I will vacuum, and/or weed the garden. I’ll go grocery shopping and might even cook something special for dinner. 🙂 I also have the audio edition of The Highlander’s Curse to listen to for the first time.

It’s healthy to take a break between books, but it won’t last long this time. I can already hear the beginning of Bartholomew’s story…

Summer Writing 8

The big finish. After seven weeks of writing full out, where do I stand?

Last week, my tally was 73K words written in six weeks. This past week was insanely productive. As is so often the case with a book, Wulfe and Christina’s book poured from my fingertips as it came to its conclusion. I wrote more than 40K words on that book (phew!) and after one last tweak, it’s off to my editor. I think the ending writes quickly because I have it in my mind while wrestling through the middle bit. Once I begin to write the last third of the book, the story just flies.

Here are my seven week totals:

Project One: 25,866 words

Project Two: 96,700 words

Project Three: 21,233 words

That’s 115K in seven weeks, AND in the summer! I’m very pleased.

Interestingly, there’s another seven weeks before November and NaNoWriMo. I’ll take a couple of days to clean my office and catch up on other things, but by the end of the week, I may be off again. Project One and Three still need to be finished, plus Project Four (Bartholomew’s book) has been added to the queue.

Summer Writing 7

What a crazy week I had. It’s a summer thing, I think. There are so many distractions. Plus, this past Saturday was the date of a Writers Making Connections workshop on marketing that I hosted. We had a terrific presentation from Kobo, then a panel discussion with three authors – myself, Jessica E. Subject and the dynamo Zoe York. It was an awesome day.

The Crusader's Heart by Claire Delacroix, a medieval romance and #2 in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series.

I’m still working on Wulfe and Christina’s book. I spent more time researching details this week—what bits of Venice were there in 1187, for example—and also made a chronology of events in the series. This book’s timeline overlaps that of The Crusader’s Bride, and some scenes are presented from the point-of-view of different characters. This is interesting and I like the dimensionality it adds to the story a lot, but I was getting confused. Could Christina have seen that? Did Wulfe know that? So, the chronology that I should have done in the first place was done this week. I’ll update it as I go from this point onward. In addition to the chronology, the workshop prep and working in the garden, I had added 11,000 words in the book. I wrote more than that, but I cut too, so that’s my net gain. I also learned another of Wulfe’s secrets. From here, it should be a hard run to the finish line. I’m still optimistic that I’ll finish this book in my last week of my summer writing challenge.

How about you? Did you have a productive week?

Summer Writing 6

The Crusader's Heart by Claire Delacroix, a medieval romance and #2 in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series.Last week, I made good progress with my writing. I added about 12,000 new words to Wulfe and Christina’s story, The Crusader’s Heart, but this word count is deceptive. I was at the ugly bit, which happens with each book, when I have to scrub through everything I’ve written so far and ensure it’s consistent. A lot of words go away in this process, even as some are added. I probably wrote 20,000 new words, but I also edited and chucked out a lot. So my net gain is 12,000 words, which is fine by me. Sometimes this phase results in no gain in word count at all. It’s a necessary step, though, because it makes the book so much stronger. It’s no fun to do, but I’m always glad when it’s done. Now, the word count will really add up quickly!

There were other things going on last week, as well. I’m hoping to have some interesting news for you soon, and be able to share one of those things. My monthly newsletter went out last week, and The Rogue was (and is) on sale. I also canned my peaches, an annual job that makes a sticky mess of the kitchen but is totally worth it in the winter. Some new swag arrived, which I’ll show you later this week, and I made my time travel romances exclusive at Amazon so they could be available through Kindle Unlimited. I’m also participating in a big promotion at iBooks, and will tell you more about that on Thursday.

And now, I have writing to do!

Summer Writing 5

I’m past the halfway mark on this seven week sprint and have written almost 50,000 new words on my various works-in-progress. (It’s actually 48,000 words.) I wrote 12,000 words on Project 2 (The Crusader’s Heart) this past week, because Wulfe and Christina wrestled me for every one of them.

The Crusader's Heart by Claire Delacroix, a medieval romance and #2 in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series.This is a typical working pattern for me: a project starts with a burst of enthusiasm and word count. Then it stalls because I need to do more research. After that, progress is slow because I need to deepen the characterizations, which means figuring out their pasts and getting them to talk to me, and then to each other. Once all of that is resolved, things usually fly to the conclusion, picking up speed as I go. Now that Wulfe and Christina are talking to me and each other, and I know more about Venetian courtesans, and I know their respective histories, my list of what comes next keeps getting longer. Christina woke me up last night to confide a very interesting detail in me. I’m excited by the repercussions of this and how it will reshape the story. This flurry of ideas and energy is characteristic of the phase of writing the book which will carry me through to the end. I expect this to be a very productive week.

50K in four weeks in the summer is also an excellent accomplishment. I’m pleased about that. Those of you who are joining me in this writing challenge, how was your progress this week?

And now, onward!