Writer’s Block & Building Blocks, Part II


, ,

Part 2 in my series about writer’s block and how to overcome it. Part one, regarding internal blocks can be found here.

Last time we discussed how to handle blocks when the writer is the problem–all of the little mental issues that can keep a story from progressing. This time around, let’s look at problems that originate with the story itself–frequently, these are much easier to tackle, but can be harder to identify!

My first draft of The Spider’s Web bore very little resemblance to the final, published work, and I won’t lie–it was a nightmare to write. Every scene was written out of order. I literally sat on the floor with tape, scissors, and sticky notes, cutting up pages, taping them back together, and rearranging everything chronologically. I used sticky notes and a red pen to mark anything that needed changing, and then created a flowchart to map everything I’d written and the parts that were still missing, the bridges between scenes.

Dramatization of that first editing session.

That book was re-written so many times. It had a lot of issues. But I learned so much writing it–both about writing in general, and myself as an author. I learned what works for me, and what doesn’t.

Plotting along

So, you have your draft. Your first draft, to be specific. And it has stalled out around 40,000 words, and you’ve got no idea what needs to happen next.

First, take a look at what you’ve got so far. What needs to happen in the story? Create an outline. Summarize every scene that needs to happen in a single sentence. Break things down by chapter. How are you going to get your main character to their happily ever after?

But Sophie, I already have an outline!

Good. That’s a great place to start. If you know what the next step is, and just aren’t sure how to take it, then it means we need to look a little deeper.

A sense of place

There are two big lessons I learned from The Spider’s Web. The first is that I need to work with an existing location, be it historical or contemporary. I took a writing class my freshman year of college that I absolutely hated–the teacher and I butted heads on everything. I’m a dedicated genre fiction girl, and he was all about literary fiction. Genre fiction, in his view, was so far inferior as to be completely unworthy of study or consideration.

There was one lesson, however, that really stuck with me. I don’t remember what the reading was, or the specific assignment, but it was all about a sense of place in writing; knowing exactly where your story is set and how it will affect the outcome.

I realized then that most of my favorite books, television shows, and movies all had settings that almost became supporting characters in the action. In the movie Practical Magic, the small town where the story takes place adds such atmosphere to the story, it couldn’t possibly take place anywhere else.

I’d grown up on media meant to take place in Anywhere, USA, but was continually drawn to stories that broke away from that trope.

Once I started using specific locations–Montreal, Quebec. Dublin, Ohio. Buffalo, New York–then my stories started to fall into place much more readily. The added benefit is instead of keeping track of what street a character lives on and how far they have to travel to work, and what direction I said it was in in chapter 2, and does that make sense in chapter 7, I can concentrate on plot threads and character development.

I don’t write high fantasy, or sci-fi set in other worlds. But, if that is what your working on, I still have a few tips:

You can base a fantastical setting on a real place. How many fantasy novels have you picked up and been able to identify the non-existent city as an alternate version of London, or New York, or a mashup or Tokyo and Cairo, or the wild west, but with zombies and clockwork automatons? For a good example, try reading the Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer.

If you’re building a world from scratch, then the best advice I can give is to do as much research as possible–weather patterns, ecosystems. What kind of pack animals do they use? What is the political structure? How has the landscape affected building techniques and materials? For this type of world building, I highly recommend A Curse on the Mountain by Missouri Dalton.

Sharp Left Turns

Despite best laid plans, it is not uncommon for my characters, or my stories, to make sudden turns I didn’t plan for. Sometimes a story stalls because of one of these events.

Other times, you have to add in a sharp left in order to get a stalled plot moving again. For example, in writing the third Evie book, I struggled to keep my characters moving forward. The setting was a haunted house, and all of my characters, intelligent creatures that they are, took one look around and said…”Nope. Bad idea. We should get out of here.”

It didn’t matter that leaving effectively ended the book, or the number of reasons I gave them to stay. They basically sat around looking at me with raised eyebrows going, “You expect us to go in there? You’re crazy, right?” (Considering I regularly have conversations with them like this in my head, they may have a point.)

I had to find a way of changing the status quo. They needed some kind of curve ball. Even after trapping them in the house, they were more bent on escape than solving the mystery at hand.

I talked it over with Missouri. Her suggestion was to have them find a body. “Just drop one in there,” she said. Since I didn’t have any other ideas, I decided to take it literally. After the dead body crashed through the ceiling, taking about fifty years off their lives collectively, the story started to move forward again.

On the other hand, sometimes, as writers, we like too add in extra bits that don’t do anything to progress the plot. They seem important at the time, but really aren’t in the long run. If you catch yourself writing a scene like this, think twice (and then maybe three or four times) before finishing it. More often than not, though, these are the scenes which get cut in revisions.

So, to sum up: Know where you are, know where you’re going, and take the scenic route whenever possible–just to too scenic.

Next week, we’ll wrap up by talking characters.


Nano Training Camp: Week 2


, ,

Only two weeks to go. How do you feel? Are you pumped? Are you prepped?

  • How’s the outline look? Did you finish it last week? If not, now is your chance!
  • What about that research? Any facts you need to check? Books you still need? Where’s your list of sources?

Writing goal: 1200 words on a single project, every day.


Writer’s Block & Building Blocks Part I


, , , ,

While I was on hiatus, someone on Twitter asked for suggestions for overcoming writing blocks. While I answered her in tweet form (a very long tweet chain) I though I would expand on it here. This is the first in a 3 part series.

I used to be one of those people who started stories and never finished them. I still have dozens of story starts on my computer that have never developed past the first 25 pages. Openings are easy–they’re the part we practice most as writers. The rest? Not so much.

So how did I overcome consistent writer’s block? I usually write 1-2 novels a year now, and revise/edit 2-3 others. How?

First of all, let me say that your mileage may vary. These are the techniques and approaches that worked for me. They may not work for everyone.

What causes it?

I’ll be honest. All of those posts and articles saying writer’s block doesn’t exist, or that it’s only an excuse for not writing, piss me off. In my experience, there are two main causes of writer’s block. Either there is a problem with the writer’s mental state, or there is a problem somewhere in the story. The story is trying to tell you, and that is why it refuses to move forward.

So yes, writer’s block does exist. The good news? It’s completely within your power to fix it, if you’re willing to put in the work.

It’s all in your head.

Sometimes, the problem is the author. There really is a mental block of some kind. For me, this comes in three forms: mental health, head space, and physical health.

Mental health blocks, for me, are usually directly tied to either depression or self confidence issues. Neither of these are easy to shake, especially when they decided to piggyback off each other.

Depending on how severe the issue is, I’ll usually take a break for a few days until my moods level out again. Instead of working on the story, I’ll journal or blog. I tend to pull inward and circle my mental wagons; my energy is concentrated on recovering and getting back to an even keel. If you have severe mental health issues, or it lasts more than a few days, I would recommend seeking help.

When it comes to my self confidence, one thing that really helped was some advice I got my very first Nano: Your first draft is allowed to suck. In fact, it is encouraged to suck with all the force of a supernova as it collapses in on itself and becomes a black hole. The important thing for first drafts is just getting the words onto the page. The rest can be dealt with later.

Not tonight, darling. I’m not in the mood.

Sometimes, you’re just not in the mood for a story. Sometimes, you’re not in the right place mentally or emotionally to work on a particular character, and that’s okay. It’s okay to walk away. I’ve had stories that sat around collecting dust for years (yes, YEARS) before I was mentally in the right state to finish them. Sometimes the idea needs to mature. Sometimes you do. But as long as you don’t forget about that story, it still has hope.

That being said, there are little things called deadlines which sometimes get in the way. Sometimes, you just can’t walk away for one reason or another.

To help get in the mood, I usually line up a stack of DVDs with a similar mood or feel to my WIP. When I started struggling with the third Evie book back in August, I set up my queue with Supernatural, The Covenant, Penny Dreadful, and other dark fantasy tales to help get myself in the mood. I altered my reading list to try to capture the feeling. Once I got into that mindset (and out of the one from my last WIP, a historical murder mystery) it was much easier to find Evie’s voice again and get the story moving.

Warning: Crazy writer talk ahead

Another thing that helps set the tone for my writing is to change mediums. I have one character, a reporter from the 1920s, who has to be written either on a typewriter or using a Courier font. Evie frequently has to start out long hand, and then once I get a page or so down I can start using the computer. Ironically, the main character for my 1860s mystery insists on using the computer. She usually has so much to say I can’t keep up if I use anything else. Changing your method can sometimes make the pieces fall into place.

Get a move on

The last way I impeded the story as an author is when I neglect my physical health. If I’m tired or don’t feel good, it’s a lot harder to write. I make sure to take my vitamins every day, and I try to take a walk every afternoon after work. In the winter, I like to go to the gym and use the elliptical machines (okay, we all know I’m not very good about working out, but seriously. If you are blocked, take twenty minutes to do some cardio. Increased blood flow to the brain is a huge help).

Nano Training Camp: Week 3


, ,

We’re getting close, now!

  • This week, work on getting your outline on paper. Get at least the first three chapters down.
  • Double check all of your writing tools and supplies. Did you miss anything at the start of training?
  • Do you have your backup? Make sure you have a flash drive handy, dropbox is in order, etc.

Writing goal: 1200 words



Knitting Break



I’ve been down for the count this week. A bad cold turned into bronchitis. Sometimes, it seems like I can’t catch a break. So instead, I’ve been doing a lot of knitting.

I’m experimenting with using my Kindle to take pictures. Not sure how I feel about the image quality.

Wait, that doesn’t look much different, does it?

Okay, there we go. That’s better.

I’ve got about 5 more pattern repeats left on the leg before I can do the heel flap, but I think it’s plausible for me to finish these socks within the next week. We’ll see if the expectation meets reality.

I’m also still plugging away at the vest. It looks about the same, just longer. It’s not that impressive to look at right now, but I’ll share a picture once it’s something worth looking at.

Here’s a query for you: I know most of my tiny readership is here for the books/writing content (and the typewriters…Yes, I’m lapsing with the typewriter content). I’m already doing book reviews, so would anyone be interested in seeing knitting book reviews? I’ve got a couple I’ve been looking at lately, and wasn’t sure if anyone here would be interested in seeing them.

Leave a comment below to tell me what you think!

The Witching Hour


, ,

witchinghourcover_smNow available on Amazon.com

Dr. Jacob Thompson is a respectable member of his Puritan community, if a little odd. He’s kept to himself since the last member of his family died.

But his sister, Sarah, still lingers, bearing a warning from beyond the grave: if he doesn’t complete the yearly protection ritual, Maple Valley will fall into the same chaos that tore through Salem Village just months earlier.

He may not get the chance, however, when Marcus Swan, an inquisitor fresh from the trials at Salem, passes through the village. Suddenly, the Elders are looking on Jacob’s eccentricities with suspicion.

But there’s more to Inquisitor Swan than meets the eye. Jacob has been dreaming about him for months. Still, the question remains–is Marcus Swan his doom, or something else altogether?

Originally published in 2012, this edition is fully revised and features new cover art by Ash K. Alexander.

Nano Training Camp: Week 4


, ,

This week, we’re going to work on player stats:

  • Create a cheat sheet listing your themes, setting, important names, and one sentence bios for your main characters.
  • Write up a one page summary of the story
  • I you haven’t already, start working on your research. compile a list of all your sources so you can come back to them later if necessary.

Writing goal: 1000 words total each day, on any project or combination of projects.




August & September Wrap Up


The Goals

  1. Be active for 30 minutes 5x per week.
    Still not doing great on this, but I’m doing better. If you’ve been following my Twitter feed, then you probably know I caved and started playing Pokemon Go. I’m not a gamer. I’m not even a Pokemon fan. But it’s amazing how much having tiny goals (walk X distance to hatch an egg; go to Y location to refill your bag) and getting some kind of reward at the end–even just a digital one–is.
  2. Polish 3 manuscripts
  3. Pay off 2 debts
    Completed the first in July! Working on the next one.

The Books 

Books Read:

Asylum by Madeline Roux
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
How to start conversations & make friends Don Gabor
The Victorian Guide to Sex by Fern Riddell
The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston
Women, Work, and the Art of Savoire Faire Mireille Guiliano
And Unlikely Friendship Anne Rinaldi
Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer
North and South by Elisabeth Gaskel
The Bungalow Mystery Carolyne Keene
Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Strangely Beautiful Leanna Renee Hieber
The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum
The Silvered by Tanya Huff
The Sign of the Twisted Candles Carolyn Keene

My self-help/business kick continued in August before finally petering off and turning into a bit of a book slump in September. My writing and my reading didn’t go much of anywhere, but did pick up again near the end of the month, when I read 5 books in very quick succession. The highlights were The Silvered and Cinder, but I was less thrilled with my nonfiction reads in general.

Book News:

indefenseofmushrooms1400Both The Night Wars Collection and the Evie Cappelli prequel novella In Defense of Mushrooms are out now. Want more info? You can find the Q&A posts for both books here and here, and as always, I updated the books tab above with all the latest news and updates.


Nano Training Camp 2016: Week 5


, ,

Your mission this week is to take stock:

  • Decide what method you’ll be using. Typewriter? Computer? Long hand?
  • Is everything in working order? Does your carriage need oiled? Laptop need updates? Have you downloaded Scrivener, or your chosen word processor?
  • Do you have all of your supplies? Paper, typewriter ribbons, fountain pen ink?
  • What still needs researched? Reserve any books from the library you may need, or set aside time for in-person visits for items that can’t be checked out.

Writing goal: 750 words per day, on any project or combination of projects.

Randomly, from the internet

Ever wondered about the Canadian accent and what it’s all “aboot?”

A how-to guide for writing a story every week.

A look at a 19th century sailor’s uniform, embroidered by the man himself.

Tips on how to select a critique partner for your writing.

The absolute cutest kitten video I have ever seen