Advice on Overcoming Writer’s Block/ Why Slayers series is taking so long

I didn’t always believe in writer’s block. Not really. Yes, there were bumpy patches in every book and at times I needed a break. But those were always temporary things.

I didn’t really discover what writer’s block was until I started Slayers 3 (Back then I thought it was going to be one book and that it would probably take me 6-9 months to write and about 6 months to edit. Ah, those naive, carefree days.)

I’m pretty sure the writer’s block happened when Feiwel told me they’d decided not to do the third book of the series. Basically, I felt like they were telling me that the series wasn’t good enough–that it hadn’t sold well enough–for them to put out any money into a third book.

I was sad but not devastated. I knew I could write the third book on my own and put it up as an indie book. That’s what I immediately planned to do. I was busy with some other book at the time. I’ve forgotten which. So I didn’t get to it immediately.

But when I did get to Slayers 3, the writing was hard. I wasn’t happy with the first chapter. It all seemed so much worse than the first two books, which I loved. I needed the third book to be just as good.

On a long drive home from a family reunion, I started writing another book that I’d been thinking about for a few years. (I have a large list of those). It was a book to write for fun, one that I didn’t have to concentrate on. (Because who can concentrate with a car full of children and a grandchild?) I loved that book from its first sentence: The demons came again in the night.

I decided to finish it and that manuscript became The Girl Who Heard Demons. I didn’t feel like I had writer’s block for Slayers 3, though. Sometimes one idea becomes irresistible and you have to write it.

With my demons out of the way, I went back to Slayers 3. I think I wrote on it for a week, and then I started writing another book I’d thought about for a while. One in which a German navigator is shot down over England during WWII and ends up hiding out, wounded, in the heroine’s barn. In just a few days, I had about fifty pages done on that book. That’s when I realized I had writer’s block. I wanted to write anything but Slayers.

Well, the way to get through writer’s block is to sit down and write. I told myself I could get back to English farm girls when I was done with Slayers.

It was so hard. And it continued to be hard for the two years I’ve worked on Slayers 3,4 and 5.

With that in mind, here are some things that help with writer’s block.

1. First, check to make sure the issue isn’t being caused by a plot problem in your story. Authors frequently get writers block when their story is going in the wrong direction. Usually the problem is a lack of conflict. The story doesn’t have enough tension and so everything stalls. Look at your previous scenes and ask yourself what the character’s problem and goal are. What is standing in their way? If your character doesn’t have a problem/goal/obstacle, that is usually what needs to be fixed. But if the writer’s block isn’t due to plot trouble, try the next methods.

2. Morning pages: These are three pages of longhand, stream of conscious writing that you do every day. (You can learn more about them from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way.) You’re not allowed to edit or show these pages to anyone. They are written just for the sake of writing and they take away the fear of the blank page. They also give you time to take long looks at the issues you’re dealing with in your life. Good all around.

3. Do housework: No, really. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stuck on something and then while I’ve been mopping the floor the ideas I need come to me. Monotonous work will make the gears in your mind turn. It’s like your brain says, “Hey, I don’t want to clean the fridge. I’ll start spitting out ideas.”

4. Reading novels: Sometimes you just have to remember that you love stories and you want to tell them. Reading a book or two or five is a good way to remember that and rekindle your creative fires.

5. Professional help: In my case I talked with Forrest Wolverton (Dave Farland’s son) Dave mentioned in one of his posts that his son had taken psychology classes (and I’ve forgotten whether Forrest is a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, or what have you) and how his son had helped him overcome writer’s block with one session. I was so mired in writer’s block–hating every day that I wrote–I figured it was worth a try to hire him.

I called him and we set up a time to talk. It was about an hour-ish session. I remember two things about our conversation. He asked me to visualize myself before I had the writer’s block, he asked me what I thought had caused the writer’s block, and then asked me what would I tell that first self.

I also remember that I cried during that phone conversation, which completely surprised me because I hadn’t thought this was a cry-worthy subject. Writer’s block was frustrating but it wasn’t like we were talking about personal things. Sometimes writer’s block becomes a personal thing, though.

6. Give yourself pep talks. I took a class at the Storymakers conference on overcoming writer’s block. (I did mention I had writers block for two years, didn’t I?) And the teacher there did a great job of having you identify a problem, (For example: I’m not a bestseller) then identify the conclusions you draw from the problem (I must not be a good writer) and then have you rethink your conclusions. (A lot of good authors aren’t bestsellers. A lot of bestselling authors didn’t start out that way. etc) You can reshape how you see things and that can make all of the difference.

7. Allow yourself to write the story badly. A main component of my problem has been that I’ve wanted so badly to write an amazing story. It’s a daunting task. I set the bar high for myself and don’t want to disappoint fans. Even though I know that first drafts are always bad, I still expected myself to come up with a perfect story. I finally had to just tell myself to write a bad story and trust in the process–trust that I could fix the manuscript in revisions.

One of my friends has writer’s block right now while she’s trying to write the last few scenes of her book. I told her to write them as dialog only. Most of us can commit to throwing some dialog on a page because we know that a bunch of dialog doesn’t have to be perfect. But once you have something down, you can start revising it. It’s always in the revisions that stories become what they were meant to be.

8. Pray. I know several authors who pray before they write. I’ve become one of them. If you’re not the praying sort, try a few moments of meditating before you write. Do what you need to in order to tap into the creativity inside of you.

With that said, I’m finally, finally doing revisions on Slayers: The Dragon Lords (which is now Slayers 4 and Slayers: Into the Firestorm will be Slayers 5) I’m shooting for a Dec/Jan release date.

Here is a rough idea of the cover. Every time I see the wording, I laugh.

Slayers: Into the Firestorm is 90% done. I need to write a few more scenes in each version. (Yes, I’ve written one ending for Team Jesse fans and one for Team Dirk fans) I don’t have a release date for it but I’m aiming for 3-5 months afterwards, depending on, you know, life.


Comments

Advice on Overcoming Writer’s Block/ Why Slayers series is taking so long — 10 Comments

  1. I think I have editing block. You know, when the edits seem so daunting you don’t even know where to start, so you just open the document only to close it a minute later? Yeah, that.

    I’m glad you’re not being so hard on yourself. Though it’s nice to see that even writers I look up to still struggle. I’m not alone 🙂

    Love the cover concept! Also, team Dirk all the way!

    • Editorial letters are always hard. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve decided to quit being a writer after getting one. But the thing is you can’t quite until you finishing editing and then by the time I’m done, I always un-quit. Here’s my process:

      Read edits. Decide your publisher doesn’t understand your genius. What they’re asking you to do is impossible and will ruin the story. Wait at least two days. Go back to your edits and see which of them you can do. You’ll do those first so that you can legitimately go to your editor with the other ones that you can’t do.

      As you do the edits, you realize they’re not as bad as you first supposed. Some of them are actually good suggestions. By the end there are a very small and manageable list of edits you have problems with. You talk with your editor about those and realize you misinterpreted some of the suggestions and they’re willing to bend on the remainder.

      So, give yourself some time, then just go to work on the issues you agree with. Then see what’s left.

  2. Interesting! When I have “writer’s block” (which I don’t think is the mystical paralysis that most writers act like it is; we are not helpless against it, as you’ve proven through your efforts), it’s because something isn’t working in my story, or because the scene I’m writing is boring. I have to mentally jump ahead to a scene I can’t wait to write and work my way backwards to where I already am to get unstuck, or cut/alter the boring scene to making it interesting. If I don’t want to write it, I doubt anyone will want to read it.

    On a separate note, I hope you don’t mind my asking (feel free not to answer if you’re not interested)…

    I’ve always loved reading fantasy, particularly fairy tales. I assumed it’d be easier for me to write in that genre/category, rather than contemporary (modern era) fiction, since I know the rules of fantasy so well—and because you get to make stuff up. In other words, less research (no one can Google if I got my street names correct), more creativity.

    But now that I’m actually writing fantasy I’m finding that I have to research SO MUCH STUFF, even common, everyday things in addition to the obvious big things, that I’m having a hard time making progress in the story. (E.g., whoops, that scene won’t work because that is not within the capability of a horse/how people cook in a fireplace/how people use that kind of sword/etc.) Not to mention having to refer to my notes constantly since there’s just so much information to keep straight that I can’t remember it all off the top of my head.

    Do you find that your contemporary fiction (like teenagers falling in love in high school) are easier to write since you don’t have to do world building or have research everyday things (like how to use a cellphone)? Or no?

    I’m beginning to wonder if I should try my hand at more current era stories since I’m having such a hard time with the amount of research involved to write ONE fantasy novel. No wonder some authors like to stay in the single world they create; multiple worlds would multiply the research involved!

    PS
    Your blog posts about your experiences for (like skydiving) or things you learn through your research are my favorite posts.

  3. You are absolutely right about writer’s block being caused by a problem in your plot. (So little tension, not even you want to write it.) It’s the first thing I always check and the most easily fixed, so I forgot that other people don’t automatically check that issue when they’re stuck. I’m going to have to go back to my post and add that.

    The easiest books for me to write are the contemporary ones, for the reasons you sited. I don’t go into a lot of details about the Midddle Ages/ Renaissance in my fairy godmother books, but I still read through a shelf full of books about those ages just so I would feel that I hadn’t made any huge mistakes. I also went to England to look at castles. (Although granted, I look for excuses to go to England.) Then when the first book was done, I had a professor who specialized in the Middle Ages read over the manuscript. (And by the way, don’t think this didn’t stop at least one reviewer from insisting that I got everything wrong about the Middle Ages.)

    Right now in my free time I’m watching shows and documentaries about WWII and reading books, both fiction and nonfiction, set there because I want to write a WWII romance. It will undoubtedly be the most research I ever do because there’s so many details to consider and because so many people know about the era I really can’t afford to get anything wrong.

  4. Well now I feel bad for all of my comments of ‘yes, stay up and keep writing!’. Really what I meant is ‘your amazing and your books bring me so much joy that i can not wait any longer for your creative genius to pop out at me through your story’.
    I am definitely someone who is looking forward to these books.
    We had to go to a church training where we discussed the concept of #6. Basically how those doubts are used to hurt us. All about our own perspective and how it is the easiest way to put ourselves down.
    Lastly, I dont think I like Feiwel 😛
    Thanks for the amazing blog and books 🙂

  5. Wait, could you release BOTH versions of book 5? And label them Team Jesse and Team Dirk? That would be amazing. 🙂

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