Dealing with Writer’s Block

This post is the nineteenth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

For the past few weeks, I have been covering how to write a novel. I have covered opening scenes, foreshadowing, dialogue and more. But there will come a time, no matter how detailed a plan you have for your story when a scene just isn’t working.

Or perhaps you are sailing along writing when the next time you sit down, a blank screen stares back at you. Suddenly, you can’t think of what to write next. You don’t feel like you have a creative bone left in your body. You want to throw in the towel. It happens to all of us at some point.

Tips for both of these situations are often similar but I am going to keep them separate anyway. Hopefully, one of these will help you out if you have these common writing problems.

Stuck on a Scene/Scene isn’t Quite Right

You’ve written a scene and it just didn’t turn out the way you imagined. Maybe it doesn’t flow or have the right amount of urgency or tension. Or perhaps you don’t know what is wrong with the scene other than it feels “off.” Sometimes even though we continue to work on something, it just doesn’t get any better.

So here are some tips for when you reach the point where you are stuck and can’t seem to get pass the scene you are working on.

1.) Step Back – Take a break. Go for a walk. Read a book. Watch a movie or even just listen to some music. Basically, take some time to free your mind up. Now this break could be 30 minutes, or it could be a day or two but don’t step away for too long. There is no use losing all your writing momentum.

2.) Keep Writing – Instead of finishing the scene you are working on, go on to the next one and resolve that you will return to the troubling scene later.

3.) Reread/revisit other areas – It might be time to go back a chapter or two and read what you already have written. Reading what is working might just be enough to get you through the problem area.

4.) Examine for an underlying problem – Maybe you have hit this roadblock because of deeper issues in your novel. Or maybe we are trying to force the action to be what we want rather than let our characters live out their own lives.

5.) Let someone else read it – Perhaps the problem is not as glaring or as big as you think. Give it to a friend or a writers’ group member whose opinion you respect and see if they spot the problem or if they possibly can spark an idea on how to fix it.

Tips for Dealing with Writer’s Block

Sometimes, you just can’t seem to get the creative juices flowing. You are staring at the blank screen (or piece of paper). Here are a few tips to get back in the writing groove. As there is no one cure for writer’s block, you may need to try several of these. And just because one worked last time, doesn’t mean it will work the next. Just keep trying until you are back to writing.

1.) Take a break – Sometimes taking your mind off the problem can help. Get up and do something else for about 30 minutes. Get a drink, read the newspaper, take a walk, clean out the closet. Free up your mind and then give it another try.

2.) Change your location/writing method – If you are sitting at your desk and have a laptop, move outside (assuming the weather is nice) or to another room. If you don’t have a laptop or tablet, you can still move to another location and try writing in a journal. I have found that sometime writing long hand frees up my thinking. And I improve the writing when I transcribe it into the computer.

3.) Just write – Open a new file and began typing. Sometimes getting started writing is half the battle so just write whatever comes to mind even if it is unrelated to your story.

4.) Reread yesterday’s work – Perhaps reading what you worked on yesterday (or the day before) will get you back in the groove and spark your creativity to begin writing the next scene.

5.) Work on a different scene – Pick some other scene on your novel to write. No one said you had to write in chronological order. Of course, if you pick a scene too far advanced in your story, you may not know exactly what is happening and whatever you write may have to be reworked to fit into your story but at least you are writing.

6.) Brainstorm on future scenes – Assuming you aren’t working from an outline you can use your writing time to plan ahead. Think about where your story will be going and what obstacles your protagonist (or perhaps your antagonist) will encounter. (If you are a planner and already have this novel outlined then perhaps you can brainstorm future story ideas.)

7.) Call it a day – Sometimes you just have to stop trying and come back the next day. If you try too hard, you can make things worse.

No matter what you try, just realize that writer’s block doesn’t last forever. Try not to stress over it because the more anxious and frustrated you become, the worse it will be. Free up your mind and the creative juices will be flowing before you know it.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

Pregnant or the start of Menopause?

I stood staring at the boxes lining the top shelf. I hadn’t done this in over ten years, and it seemed odd to be standing in the grocery store once again to buy a pregnancy test.

Oh, I knew the chance of me being pregnant was infinitesimally small, but when your menstrual cycle is off by a week, you need to rule out the possibility.

I say the chance is infinitesimally small because my husband had a vasectomy nine years ago after the birth of our daughter. The chances of getting pregnant after a vasectomy are less than 1% but there are so many stories out there of it happening, I had to rule that out.

Thankfully, the test came back as negative. My kids are 9 and 12. I am happily done with the baby stage and have no desire to have another one. (To be sure, a week later I took another test. By then I was 10 days past due and still negative.)

If I wasn’t pregnant…that would mean…menopause? Wow. Not something I was expecting yet. I just turned 45 in September, so I knew it could be coming, but I hadn’t really considered it. The average age for a woman to hit menopause is 51, so I was thinking my early fifties or at least 48 before this would start.

So, this technically isn’t menopause, which occurs when you go 12 months without a menstrual cycle. This would be perimenopause. Symptoms include irregular periods, hot flashes/night sweats, insomnia/fatigue, decreased sex drive and anxiety/mood swings/depression.

The most obvious symptom was the irregular period or in my case missing period. Thankfully no hot flashes or night sweats. But during the time I expected my period to start, I had been moody which I assumed at the time meant my period would be here soon.

And then there was the depressed feeling that I had been having. It wasn’t too bad, but I had noticed a lack of motivation and a general sadness that I don’t typically have. This had been occurring on and off since October when my menstrual cycle was actually three days early. (Yes, I keep track of this usually so I am not surprised by it while on vacation or something.)

I called my doctor’s office. I had not been to see her in quite a while. Since having Lexie, I have been seeing the nurse practitioner. My former insurance didn’t cover this doctor’s office and since no one loves having a pap smear or to be sent for a mammogram, I put off going back to the doctor when I got new insurance in February.

The next available appointment was four weeks out. Or in other words, it is today.  My period did finally start 15 days after I expected it. I expect because of my age and symptoms, she will tell me what I don’t want to hear – perimenopause is here. In other words, I am officially old.

Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

This post is the eighteenth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

As you write your novel, you will write many different scenes. They may be funny, serious, happy or terrifying. There is no way to tell you how to write each of these scenes because there are too many different factors to consider – writing style, genre, plot.

But here are a few scenes that can happen in any story and some tips or things you may want to consider if you are including them in your novel.

Low light/night scenes

When writing a scene in the day time, it is easy to talk about the color of clothes or facial expression of a fellow character. Your main character will be able to describe the flash of light as the sun reflects off the sword blade or the way the water sloshed in the bucket.

But when you are writing a scene in low light – whether it be at outside at night or just in a darkened room – you need to take into account what can actually be seen.

The first step is to be aware that writing a night scene or one in low light that what you might normally describe – grimaces on faces, color of eyes or shirts – will not happen.

A second step that can help make your descriptions more accurate is to visit a similar area to the scene you are writing. If you are writing a scene between two lovers, grab someone and stand in a darkened room to see how much of the other person you can see. If you are writing a fight scene in a dimly lit bar, visit one. (But I don’t suggest you start a fight to complete your research.)

Even just stepping out into your backyard can give you an idea of what your characters will be able to see for an outside scene.

Spending this extra research time will add to the realism of your story. Your reader may not note these details but including something your character can

obviously not notice in the dark can pull the reader out of the story.

 

Fight scene

Since I write fantasy, I guess it is expected that at some point there will be a sword fight or another type of battle taking place. Here are a few tips I use when developing a fight scene. These hold true whether it is someone using a knife, a sword or their fists.

1.) Visualize – This might not be an easy step for some but a lot of what I write is what I visualize in my head. I can picture what is happening and just describe it as I see it.  However, if you have trouble visualizing a fight (say because you have never been in one – and that would probably be most of us), consider the next tip.

2.) Watch a fight – Pick a movie or TV show with a good fight scene. (For a TV series, my husband suggested Buffy the Vampire Slayer and for movies, his suggestions off the top of his head were Under Siege, Bourne Identity and Batman: The Dark Knight and for sword fights, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But there are many more options out there.)  Of course, since these are TV/movie fights they may not be the most realistic, but you can pick up some good ideas from them.

You also might try looking at videos of sparing in martial arts. I actually used this technique for a knife attack while writing my novel, Destiny. I wanted to see how a person attacking with a knife would move.

3.) Draw a diagram – When I am writing a particularly involved battle scene or one with many participants, I like to draw a map of where everyone is at the beginning of the battle. It helps me keep track of where my characters are and who (or what) they are battling. Pretend you are a basketball coach and draw x’s and o’s on your paper. It really can help you keep track of everything.

 

4.) Act it out – When all else fails, grab a partner and act out the fight scene. This can give you an idea of how each participant would react. For the same knife attack that I mentioned above, one of my characters was going to surprise someone by stepping out of the shadows and stabbing another character in the back. To figure out how she would stab her victim, my husband and I did a little role playing. This let me not only figure out how the attack would happen but what type of injury would occur.

Once you have your fight scene laid out there are a few more things to remember. You need to watch your pacing – fight scenes need to be fast paced. Keep your sentences short. You want to keep the reader’s attention by showing action so don’t include a lot of detail. And remember you don’t have to write every blow that happens.

Humor

No matter what type of novel you are writing, humor can add another layer to the story.

I am not talking about making your story a major laugh-a-minute type affair. I am talking about working in some humor here and there to keep things interesting and realistic. Stories need ups and downs. Humor can help.

But humor is subjective. How many times have you seen a video or heard a joke that you find insanely funny but when you shared it with someone else, you were met with a blank stare or a half-smile?

The trick with humor in your writing is you don’t want to try too hard or make it too obvious that you are trying to be funny. I would suggest having a several people read your “funny” section to see if the majority of them get the humor.

Romance (in a non-romance novel)

Just like with humor, adding romance to a non-romance novel can add realism to your story. But how much you add and how much detail you add will all depend on what you are comfortable with and the overall plot. Whatever amount of romance you add to the story – and any sex scenes – should flow from the events of the story. Remember that every scene needs to advance the story forward or expand the character. So hot, passionate sex just for the sake of adding sex to your story is not a good idea (unless you are writing erotica).

Tips for writing sex scenes

1)      Decide how much you are comfortable writing. Just because others write steamy sex scenes that leave nothing to the imagination doesn’t mean you need to follow suit. Don’t force yourself to write out of your comfort zone. Your discomfort will show in your writing.

2)      Let your characters decide on the level of intimacy. Don’t worry about publisher guidelines or what is popular. There are readers out there who like all sorts of levels of romance and descriptions (or lack thereof) in regards to sex scenes.

3)      However, do give the readers what they expect. When reading a romance novel, you expect romance and at least the hint of something more. If the romance is secondary to your story and doesn’t progress, your reader won’t feel cheated. But if they are expecting a steamy book and there is no steam, then your reader will be upset.

4)      You don’t always have to focus on what is physically happening. Write about what the characters are feeling rather than what they are doing.

No matter the scene you are writing, think it through, act it out or do whatever you need to make it feel real to your reader.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

Recipe of the Month – French Apple Pie

If you are looking for an apple pie recipe for this holiday season, give this one a try. I don’t know where I got this recipe but it is a good one with a couple of twists on the crust. Instead of a rolled traditional crust, this pie features a pat-in-the-pan cookie nut crust. However, the recipe for the crust as written always produces way more crust than needed.

 

Pat in the Nut Cookie Crust

Ingredients

1/2 cup margarine, softened

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 1/4 cup flour

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 t. vanilla

1/4 t. salt

1/4 t. baking soda

Directions

Mix margarine and brown sugar. Stir in remaining ingredients until crumbly. Press against bottom and side of 9″ pie plate.

French Apple Pie Filling & Topping

Ingredients

4-5 large tart apples, pared and thinly sliced

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 T. flour

1/2 t. cinnamon

Topping

1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/4 cup firm margarine

Directions

Prepare crust (above). Heat oven to 425 degrees. Mix apples, granulated sugar, 2 T. flour and 1/2 t. cinnamon. Turn into crust. For topping, mix 1/2 cup flour, brown sugar, and 1/2 t. cinnamon. Cut in margarine until crumbly. Sprinkle over apples. Cover edges with aluminum foil. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake apples until tender, about 25 to 35 minutes. Cool slightly before serving. Cover and refrigerate any remaining pie.

Buying a New Car

When you go down to the store to buy a shirt, pillow or even a carton of milk, you can look at the price on the item or shelf and know how much it costs. You can then weigh whether the item is worth the price, or if you have the amount of money for your purchase.

But there are a few items such as the purchase of a house or car where this ease of knowing your exact price ahead of time just don’t exist. These are major purchases, and for many they don’t happen too often. We have purchased two houses in our 22 years of marriage. In that same time period, we have purchased nine automobiles, including the latest over Thanksgiving weekend.

We are a two-car family. So even this divides out to a car every 2 ½ years, it has been seven since I have had a new car and four since we bought my husband’s Dodge Challenger.

Buying a car has never been one of my favorite activities. Since we only do it every so often, it isn’t something we have a lot of experience with. Buying a car involves haggling, something I don’t do well. I like going down and knowing what I am paying and then paying it. This is what led us to buying a car from a Saturn years ago. (Sadly, that car manufacturer is no longer in business.)

Kia Sorento

My last car purchase was seven years ago when I moved from my Toyota Camry to my Kia Sorento. I wanted a car that could hold more kids. I wanted a vehicle with a third row as my son was in a private preschool where the parents drove the kids to their field trips. Of course, the year after I bought the car, the preschool stopped doing the field trips.

But I have loved my Kia. It has been a great car. And while we only used the third row maybe 10 to 12 times a year, I like having the option for more seating. We like the Sorrento so much that we seriously considered just going with the same car when we bought a new one.

And my son was all for that. He is resistant to change and vowed that we needed to get the same type car in the same color. I, however, wanted to look at a few other cars. I researched them on Consumer Reports. In addition to the Kia Sorento, I wanted to see the Toyota Highlander and the Hyundai Santa Fe. The latter one is what my brother had recently purchased.

Lexie in the 2nd row captain’s seat

Once we went to the dealerships, my kids both declared they liked the Highlander best. Of course, the Highlander they liked wasn’t the base model. They fell in love with the captain seats in the second row. To get those, you had to buy an SE, XLE or the highest model – the Limited. These models were all a little more than we originally planned to spend.

To save us money, and cut down on some of the haggling, we opted to go through Sam’s Club’s car-buying program. This is supposed to get you a couple thousand off your car. Of course that doesn’t mean you don’t have to haggle about the amount they want to give us for our Kia Sorento that we planned to use as a trade-in.

My New Toyota Highlander

Lucky for me, my husband is an attorney and good at negotiating. With the information I had from my research, he got them to go up on the Internet discount and on the trade-in value. Then by putting some additional money down, we got the car payments down to the rate we desired.

And that is how I got my new Toyota Highlander. It had every feature I wanted. The only negative was that it came in black instead of silver. But we are getting over that.