First, let me tell you what can induce such a madness.
Currently, my kids and husband are out for the summer. Yep, so all day, I’m fielding questions, breaking up arguments, getting onto my kids to stay out of the refrigerator between meals, etc. You name it. That’s not a problem, it’s just life. However, sometimes–about twice a week–I like to leave my husband to deal with the petty squabbles and go to the food court or a restaurant in the city to work. Unfortunately, as of late this has been counter-productive.
In December, I wrote a post about my magnetic personality and how this guy came and sat next to me and wanted to talk about illegally downloading things and his bathroom habits. That was bad enough, but since then, I’ve borne witness to the following:
- At my all-time favorite coffee shop/sandwich joint, the staff sat at the table next to me and discussed just how bad chicken got served the week before that resulted in several cases of salmonella… Needless to say, I haven’t returned.
- Found a little corner of a food court that’s in a little alcove only to be disturbed by this lady who wanted to share a table with me because it was the closest table to the hall that lead to the bathroom. Before I could just offer to leave, she sat down and proceeded to explain to me she needed to be close to the bathroom due to her irritable bowel syndrome and her frequent trips. Seriously, lady? Nobody needs to know this.
- So I found another coffee house/sandwich joint in another part of town only to find out the hard way that a guy I used to date works there…preparing the sandwiches. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a peach and I know it. Everybody just loves me. So I know I’m being paranoid to think he might add an extra ingredient or two to my sandwich, but still… The way he chuckled when he called my name left me very uncomfortable and I have yet to return.
- Thus, I had to go clear across the city to the other mall’s food court where I had to bear witness to the most uncomfortable breakup of all time. Which, of course, banned all romantic thoughts from my mind and made me wonder why a woman in her upper 20s would choose to take her boyfriend to the food court to buy him an ice cream, sit down at the table next to one of the only other patrons in the food court and break up with him? If she thought to avoid a scene, she was wrong. I was stunned into silence as his sobs echoed the room, then just totally creeped out when she left to go to the bathroom and after about 30 minutes, he tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to go speak to her. That’s where I draw the line.
- You’d think by this point, I’d have learned my lesson and stayed away from public places. But I didn’t. A few weeks later, I went again. And I swear to you this is absolutely true, I actually met a pimp! I was standing in line to get a sub sandwich and this guy dressed in perfectly pleated black trousers wearing a black shirt that had two large white diamond-shaped squares on it and a row of diamond encrusted buttons, a large black top hat, perfectly polished black and white leather shoes, a walking stick and dark sunglasses, and some purple and gold wrap around his neck. And to confirm it all, a scantily clad woman was hanging on his arm, discussing customers… There was no denying it, he was a pimp. Even better, he tried to strike up a conversation with me.
After the pimp encounter, I’ve been terrified to go out. Who knows what will happen next.
Now of course these are extremes that just zap the mood and make it difficult to write. But there are other things, too:
- Distracting noises–loud TV/radio, telephone, people talking loudly
- Uncooperative characters–characters who you want to do something, but they don’t want to follow your outline.
- Tough scenes–sometimes, it’s an argument scene or an intimate scene, but while writing it, you get uncomfortable, that’s a quick way to stall a book. Another tough area to write is during the book when you’re introducing characters or explaining things. Sometimes that kind of hits a “dull spot” and feels overwhelming to write.
- Physical distractions–like many others I know, the internet is a huge distraction. Checking emails, chatting on FB, reading blog posts, etc, it eats up time and makes it very easy to become disinterested in what you’re writing.
- Going too long without writing–this one is HUGE for me. As I’m finishing one book, I have a 1,000 ideas for my next book, but after taking several weeks off to edit, those 1,000 ideas have dwindled down to one or two and they’re hard to spark.
- Pressure–whether it be from anxious fans or critics, the pressure to make this book as good as the last can stall the creativity. And so can deadlines. When you know it needs to be done by a certain time and that time is creeping close, it becomes overwhelming and can make it hard to write.
- The feeling of being overwhelmed–*most* of my books range in the 90-100K range. I do have one that’s shorter, but it doesn’t matter, the feeling was the same: look at how many words I still have to go! Or peering at the outline: look at how many more plot points I have to cover? Feeling overwhelmed at times is part of the game and can severely put a cramp on writing.
- Book performance–there was a time when I’d have never thought this would be a factor, but it’s huge. In today’s digital world, sales numbers and rankings can be seen in very close to realtime. So as a writer, when we see our book isn’t (or is) doing well, it can very easily effect writing. “Oh no, my ranking has fallen. Everyone who’s going to buy my book already has. If I don’t get one out and soon, I’ll have to revert back to a diet of ramen noodles.” Or just the opposite, “Look! My book is #1 on the Regency bestseller charts at Amazon or #18 in all of Barnes & Noble.” Then, it becomes like an obsession to go back and check this standing every hour, just to see that it’s still there, and when it drops–even by a number–that other type of panic sets in. Both of these are distractions that can put a tight vice on creativity and productiveness.
- The scene or story stalls–sometimes, everything is going along great and you have points A, B, C, D, E, F perfectly, and you know where you want the rest of the book to go, but for some reason cannot think of how to connect F to G.
So what do writer’s do to combat this?
Anything that works.
For me personally, my most effective tools are:
- Do a creative writing exercise–most of these are cheesy as can be, but that’s why I love them.
- Go for a walk–fresh air and a change in scenery can help give a new perspective, not to mention that exercise in any form is good for the body both physically and mentally and can help you “see” what you’ve been missing in the story
- Read a book or watch one episode of a favorite show–believe it or not, this helps. You get out of your own character’s minds and into that of others.
- Start over and go in the opposite direction–not necessarily with the whole book, but with that chapter or scene. I have an entire folder full of “outtakes”, so to speak, where I’d started a chapter a certain way, then when it was obvious that wasn’t working, I copied and pasted it in this file just in case, then started that chapter over, having the character do just the opposite of what they’d done before. It works.
- Headphones work wonders for eliminating outside noises.
- Set it down and work on something else. On here, I only discuss the book that I plan to have out next, but the truth is, I have words and scenes written for the following books in addition to His Yankee Bride: His Jilted Bride, His Brother’s Bride, The Officer and the Bostoner, The Officer and the Southerner, Her Sister’s Intended, Trapping the Viscount, and Snaring the Earl. Now, of course, I’ve never mentioned a third of those titles on here, and there’s a reason for that, but sometimes, when a current story becomes impossible to write, it helps to work on one of the others.
- Re-read what’s already there. Stop writing, and go back to the first page and start reading through what you already have and see what you’ve already covered, or what you said in an earlier chapter that you could bring up again to help your storyline where you’re at.
- Take small breaks. Just getting out of your chair and taking a shower, looking through the mail or playing a game with your kids can help get over the tedium of writing and help start things fresh.
- Skip ahead. If you’ve hit a dull spot, but you know what’s coming just after it, write that part, then later go back and connect them. Sometimes what seems impossible at the time, really isn’t and while you’re sitting there staring at the blank screen, it can seem daunting, but if you have two scenes that just need a connection, it’s much easier to tackle.
- Push through it! The scene might be awful and need a lot of correction later, but you know what, if you didn’t get anything down, there wouldn’t be anything to fix. One really fun and easy way to do this is make it a challenge: Okay, it’s 7:30, I’m going to write 1,000 words before 8:30. Believe it or not, that is a very achievable goal and the idea that it’s a challenge (if you’re a challenge-driven person) can make the block fade.
I didn’t realize how many writers I had who followed me until so many of you started speaking up, so I did gear this one a little more for writers, but hopefully it’ll give some of you avid readers a little insight. Anyone here who does write (even if it’s just for fun) want to add to my lists in the comment section, please do!