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.

A Perfect Fit is released!

For those of you who’re wondering why the fourth Slayers book isn’t out yet–writing this latest novella was partly to blame.
I know, you suddenly feel an intense hatred toward this poor novella, don’t you? But never fear, Slayers 4 (and probably 5… yeah, I think I need to break this book up again) is coming along and in the meantime, you have this 135-page romantic comedy to read. And I promise not to agree to be in any more romance anthologies until it comes out.
Here’s the back blurb: Do you remember your first love? Have you ever wondered what would happen if you had a second chance to follow your heart? In this collection of novellas written by award-winning and bestselling authors, come home to Echo Ridge as summer winds down and hearts once broken and lost are given one more chance, a second chance to love.
(Although if you read my novella My Fair Lacey–this is the story about Lacey’s roommate, Jojo.) You can order it here:

 

Slayers 4 (and other projects) update (sorry I’ve been AWOL)

I haven’t looked at my blog in weeks. This has mostly been because I was in England for 17 days, then had my three out-of-state kids and two grandkids visiting for 3 1/2 weeks, and all last week I had my downstairs floor torn up and tiled. (As I write this, my downstairs toilet and sink are sitting on my back patio, making me look like the white trash house in the neighborhood.) Also, I’ve been helping my sons with their books. Yes, both of my sons–neither of which liked to read growing up–have written books. My daughters who love to read and have actually considered writing books–they haven’t written anything for you.

James’s book already has a publisher, (They contacted him with the idea of writing a book–which never happens to authors.) and will be out in April 2018. It will probably sell more than all of my books combined, but whatever. No one is more proud of his success as a youtuber than I am.

Anyway, you’ll be glad to hear that throughout the renovations, I’ve been busy working on Slayers 4.

It’s now about 500 pages long and I still have a few scenes to add. Plus I haven’t decided whether to leave one of the characters dead or unkill him. I’ve written the ending two different ways–one for Team Jesse and one for Team Dirk. Yes, I am trying to make everyone happy… and I have to say, it’s sort of weird. Like, my brain doesn’t know which ending is the truth. This is probably why more authors don’t use this technique.

My romantic comedy novella A Perfect Fit is done–yay–and will be out in September.

I also am waiting from my Disney editor to get back to me on several projects, and hoping I can finish the Slayers series before putting anything else on my plate.

And I’m avoiding talking to my agent about that WWII romance that I’ve been researching for the last year. It doesn’t need to be written right now…

So that’s the update. Someone create more time and send me some!

Leading a directionally challenged life…

I just came home from an awesome week of teaching at WIFYR. I always take my work-out clothes and tennis shoes when I go to writers’ conferences—which proves that I am an optimist and that I don’t learn from past experiences. Because I never have time to exercise at conferences. I am talking with other authors into the night and then reviewing student’s manuscripts.

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Ten Erasing Time audio books to give away!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erasing Time is now available as an audio book, which means I will soon have some audio codes for reviewers. I thought I would do a giveaway on my blog. Here’s what you’ll need to do for a chance to win one:

  1. Have an Audible.com account or be willing to set one up for a month so I can give you a code. (You can cancel afterwards, although to tell you the truth, you might become addicted to audio books the way I have. It’s so much more fun to clean, drive, or put on makeup while listening to a book.)
  2. Be willing to review the audio book (and you can use the same review to review the regular book on Amazon.)
  3. Leave me a comment telling me where you’d go if you had a time machine.

Here’s info about the book:

When twins Sheridan and Taylor wake up 400 years in the future, they find a changed world: domed cities, no animals, and a language that’s so different, it barely sounds like English. And the worst news: They can’t go back home.

The 25th-century government transported the girls to their city hoping to find a famous scientist to help perfect a devastating new weapon. The same government has implanted tracking devices in the citizens, limiting and examining everything they do. Taylor and Sheridan have to find a way out of the city before the government discovers their secrets. To complicate matters, the mob-like Dakine has interest in getting hold of them, too. The only way for the girls to elude their pursuers is to put their trust in Echo, a guy with secrets of his own. The trio must put their faith in the unknown to make a harrowing escape into the wilds beyond the city.

Full of adrenaline-injected chases and heartbreaking confessions, Erasing Time explores the strength of the bonds between twins, the risks and rewards of trust, and the hard road to finding the courage to fight for what you believe in.

If you already have an audible account and just want to order it (or if you want to set up an account–new accounts earn one free book) here’s the direct link: Order Erasing Time!

The best sort of losers

Another Whitney Awards has come and gone and I know you’re all wondering if I managed to retain my title of: Author with the Most Books Nominated Who Has Never Actually Won a Whitney.

Yes, yes I have.

On the plus side, I’ve got some awesome Loser Cheesecake photos to share.  I love that Julie Wright is wiping her tears with Dan Wells’s tie.

Here are Heather Moore, Dan Wells, and I. All of us were nominated for three Whitneys this year and none of us won. But on the plus side: three desserts. So yeah…there’s always that.

Fitting or not, I feel that my most lasting legacy to the writing world will be the annual Loser Cheesecake photos.

This tradition was born the second year of the Whitney Awards when Julie Wright and I began a photo shoot depicting the effects of losing a Whitney. Mostly, the effects involve eating large amounts of chocolate.

We quickly dragged James Dashner and Jessica Day George into the photo shoot.

I admit that this picture makes me laugh every time I see it.

This year, Tamara Heiner came up to me after the awards and told me she thought I was very gracious and handled losing well. I should have told her that practice makes perfect but I’m not nearly as witty as my characters. Maybe I’ll use that line in a book someday, though.

On the bright side, I did win the James Dashner Shrine that they give away at conference. This consists of a paper James Dashner mask, a framed picture of him and Jeff Savage, and plastic cup and notebook with his movie title misspelled. I proudly posted the picture on Facebook and had about twenty people congratulated me as though it was an actual accomplishment. In actuality, James pulled my name out of a bowl. Still, I’ll take my congratulations where I can.

 

 

Why people wonder about authors

As I’ve been getting the book The Girl Who Heard Demons ready for paperback format, I read over a few of the comments the editor made and the comments I made back to her. During a scene where the main character has been kidnapped and duct tape placed over her mouth, I had her say several lines of dialogue to the villain.

The editor asked how she was talking and how she managed to break the seal of the duct tape. This was my reply to her:

Despite what all of the TV shows portray, duct tape’s seal breaks as soon as you open your mouth. I know this because I duct taped my own mouth to research the scene and see how hard it would be to talk with duct tape. Yes, this is the sort of thing that makes people wonder about writers. I also duct taped my daughter’s hands to see if Levi could get the tape off of Adelle’s hands without scissors. Turns out if you pull up the end of the tape, it’s really easy to unwind it. I’m sure CPS would understand . . . (Hey, one of my mystery writer friends had her husband drive her around in the trunk of her car so she could give accurate details for her book.) If you think it’s a weird visual to have a piece of tape half sticking to her lips, I can take out that piece of tape altogether. It just seemed like a kidnapper would tape someone’s mouth, and unless you’ve done it before, you might not realize it doesn’t work.
Yep, writers are an interesting bunch. Perhaps odd, yes, but interesting.
So anyway, The Girl Who Heard Demons will be available in paperback within a few days.

The unintended consequences of studying WWII

I have a WWII romance in the writing queue. After finishing Slayers 4, an Echo Ridge romance novella, and an upcoming project that I haven’t seen the contract for so I won’t announce yet, I will finish it. And because I know it’s there I’ve been watching WWII documentaries and reading books set in WWII for about a year. Here are some things that will happen to you if you study the subject as well.

  1. You will be hungry. Seriously. I don’t think you can learn about Leningrad or rationing without getting hungry–or looking at your pantry and wondering how long you’d last if war broke our. Or stockpiling food because of the aforementioned question.
  2. You sources won’t always be clear. I watched one documentary yesterday that said Britain had 40 million people living there during the war. One today said 50 million. Ten million is quite a difference when it comes to a place the size of Idaho. Germany and England have different dates for how long they think the Battle of Britain lasted. How can I be accurate when my sources (in this case both documentaries put out by the government during the war) contradicts itself?
  3. You will be dumbfounded. I can’t wrap my mind around the magnitude of this war or the depths to which humanity will sink. I understand madmen exist. It’s so much harder to understand that nations will follow them. And it wasn’t just Hitler. The atrocities from Japan were just as bad. And Stalin was in some ways worst because he committed atrocities against his own people. (And Russia was helping Germany up until the day Germany betrayed Russia and attacked them. I haven’t learned much about Italy but I’m assuming it wasn’t much better. ) How could that many people be so brutal?
  4. For every one question you find an answer for, it will raise two other questions. I finally decided on a bomber for my German character and in doing so learned that they didn’t just take off from Germany and France. They also had air bases in Norway and Belgium. Now I’ve got to figure out which base his squadron  came from on the day of the attack in Chapter one. At the rate I’m going, I will never finish researching.
  5. You will see death. It’s odd to look at the footage of crashing planes or dead soldiers and realize this isn’t Hollywood’s fakery. It’s real death. I’ve seen the moments before someone died captured on film. Over and over again. I’ve seen countless dead bodies that used to be someone’s son, brother, father, husband. These people had plans, goals, and personalities before war came and cut them all short. And it’s horrible to see and know that it’s real. Yet at the same time, I think every person alive should learn about WW2. It’s not just history, it’s the ultimate cautionary tale.

 

To kill or not to kill off a character

I admit I wasn’t planning on killing off any of the slayers in the last book of the series. I  made this decision for two reasons. One, I don’t like books or movies where characters I like die. I still haven’t forgiven George Lucas for killing off Qui-gon Jinn. We will not even discuss Han Solo. As far as I’m concerned, that death never happened. So I’m not one to just randomly kill off a character because death seems like an interesting plot twist. And number two, I want the book to end with mostly happy scenes. I have a scene where all of the slayers are together the day after the climax talking and laughing and feeling like normal teenagers again. That scene wouldn’t really work if they were simultaneously mourning the death of one of their own.

That said, one of my author friends (Randy Lindsey) reminded me that if no one dies during the journey, the journey doesn’t seem like it was that hard or that dangerous. Authors have to kill off someone to show that the struggle was hard. It’s kind of an author rule. (If you don’t like books where characters die, this is your notice that Randy’s books might not be your cup of tea. Just saying.)

Randy has a point. Even though I don’t like this point. I’m considering killing off Tori’s horse. Although people don’t really like books where animals die, and it’s not like she had that close of a relationship with her horse. True, they spent time together in the first book. But since the next books takes place during the school year and not at camp we don’t see Tori with her horse very much after book one.

Of course, this isn’t to say that I didn’t plan on killing anyone. One of the bad guys meets an unfortunate end in the last book. In the Team Jesse version of the book, *spoiler alert* I planned on killing Overdrake. Then in the Team Dirk version of the book, I had to unkill him because I didn’t think that Dirk would care about romance with Tori if he’d just seen his father killed.

So what do you guys think,? Do I need to kill off a good character to make the journey feel like the struggle was hard enough? I could kill off one of the minor slayers but then does that really count? And even though he/she was a minor character, again the slayers would seem heartless if they were laughing and joking around the day afterward.

Several cities in the nation get trashed in the last book is that enough?

Slayers 4 update

I usually try to blog once a week, but as you may have noticed it’s been ten days since I actually posted anything. This is because I am valiantly trying to finish Slayers 4 (111,000 words right now) and I’m also listening to audio files for Erasing Time.

Slayers 4, by the way, feels like it will never end. Nope. Yesterday, I had three scenes until I finished. I wrote most of one scene and then this morning realized I needed to add another scene. So now I have 3 1/2 scenes left to write. See, I’m actually losing ground.