What’s in a Novel Part 3: Things that KILL motivation and lead to writer’s block

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!

17 thoughts on “What’s in a Novel Part 3: Things that KILL motivation and lead to writer’s block”

  1. Have you checked out the library? I like to go there because it’s already quiet and you can hide in a corner, far away from others. You must be an approachable person in real life if people keep coming up to like that. LOL Major ick on the IBS lady. Why would people share that kind of thing with a stranger?

    1. Sadly, my closest library is really noisy. Wait. That’s not true. My absolute closest one is actually in a surrounding town and it’s probably very quiet, but since I’m not a resident, I can’t get a library card for them, nor do they like it if I try to come in and use their tables.

      Then in my city, there are several libraries, but they’re not as quiet as I’d like as they all have vaulted ceilings and tile floors. At the majority of them, they put the tables with the computers in an area right next to the children’s books. During the summer that is exceptionally noisy. Then, they have the wi-fi computer area that’s away from the children’s section, but they three large tables with eight “stations” divided only by paper-thin dividers. In this area, they have computers at each station, but I don’t want to use their computer, I want to use my own. Plus, they have a 30 minute time limit… So sadly, I don’t go to the library. I’ve tried coffee shops and food courts. I did consider renting a furnished office, but I have a hard time there, too, because most of them that are for rent are in a little storefront complex or retail plaza and have a large glass door for “customers”–but since my customers are online, I don’t need that, nor would I like to be watched through large glass doors and windows while I work (pants optional Thursdays, you know). I did find an office building that had interior or window offices for rent, but I didn’t like the smell. Yes, the smell. I think there’d been a leaky pipe in the building at some point that got water everywhere so it smelled very musty and moldy. I couldn’t concentrate in that.

      My kids go back to school in a month. I’ll survive!

  2. Rose I think you must be like me and have tell me your life story stamped to your forehead. I won’t go into the weird things people have told me but to make it worse for me, I was on the job and these were my customers so it wasn’t like I could move away from them.

    So I know I”m the geek who loves the behind the scene stuff but I think a blog post of some of you outtakes would be funny.

    1. The thing about the outtakes is that usually, they’re VERY short. Just a couple hundred words. Most times that’s all it takes to realize something is in need of a rewrite.

      Another thing I didn’t mention that a lot of times, if I have a really good line or idea in the deleted part, I’ll use it somewhere else, so really most of the outtakes really aren’t completely deleted, I just put them somewhere else.

  3. I am with Ruth Ann, try the library. At least there people have to be quiet.

    Kids would have to be the biggest deterrent for me. Especially when school is not in session.

    1. It’s funny because I wrote my first four books with my kids running around wild. Now though I feel more of a crunch and for some reason it’s harder to write with them underfoot. Weird.

  4. Mental discipline is not a strong suit for me… I have tried the push through method and it is always a mess, but inspiration strikes me at the strangest times so I keep a ‘brain drain’ notebook with me at all times. I’ve written entire plot outlines while waiting in the car for my husband to run an errand that was only supposed to take a “second”… I also have multiple pages of historical names and titles that I like. They have come in handy for everything from a hero to a housekeeper.

    Thanks for this info, Rose. I’m going to keep this post handy and read it over the next time I want to get something done and my brain won’t cooperate. Very informative and super useful.

    1. The push-through method doesn’t always work for me, either, but sometimes it does. It’s always easier to go back later and delete the crap you wrote at that point later. And while doing that, sometimes you might find a line or idea within the bad part that you can use later. But it doesn’t work for everyone.

      Hilarious about writing plot outlines while in the car for a “second”. Names for a housekeeper? You’re not thinking to steal Mrs. Cleansweep, are you? That name has put me on the map! At least three reviewers have taken time to mention it, it’s made its rounds on all sorts of discussion boards and even made an appearance on Twitter! I’m rather flattered if I do say so myself! But my flattery is not what we’re discussing, it’s your name for a housekeeper, and my gentle warning not to steal mine–it’s what makes me memorable to some. LOL (I think I had too much soda at dinner. I’m in a weird mood. LOL But if I didn’t “know” you already in the sense of you being a long-time follower/reader of mine, I wouldn’t harass you this way.)

      I hope one my suggestions work for you at some point. Two I forgot to add to the list are: 1. work on the outline–either write one if you haven’t already or review and/or revise the one you have. Looking over where you want to go with the book might help you get over the hurdle that’s keeping you from getting there. 2. Do a logic puzzle. Stretch your brain. I do crosswords or sudoko. Thinking hard, but not about what you’re writing really helps to engage the brain but not get burned out.

      1. Lol on your soda overload… Rest easy… Mrs. Cleansweep is undeniably yours,. The cleansweep on the back of my phone with your name on it is as good as a copywrite. :o) btw: I love that thing! I use it at least once a day and my phone screen is always squeaky clean.

      2. It’s so funny you mention the cleansweep (phone cleaner). I give those away ALL THE TIME and people love them. I think on my next batch, I’ll nix the “historical romance with a humorous twist” line and put, “The mastermind behind the infamous Mrs. Cleansweep” or something like that.

        I love mine, too, and use it nearly every day.

      3. You had me laughing at your warning. There is nothing like thinking you have the perfect name for a character and then reading a book where that same name shows up. I am not talking about just the first name but first and last name. That has happened to me on more than one occasion, which I guess okay because I never finished my books and I will probably never publish one.
        I love names and have since I was in junior high and first started writing. My friends all teased me because I bought a baby name book and practically had the whole thing memorized. It was highlighted in different colors, each color representing a story I was writing or the names I liked for my future kids. I have notebooks full of complete names dating back to the the early 90’s.
        After my best friend got married and then got pregnant she would call me for my name advice and to tell her the meaning of names. I used to think it would be a cool job to get to name people. At least I got to name four people, well actually only 2. My husband had a named picked out for his first born son that I actually liked so we went with that and then I got to name the other twin. He named our 7 year old on the way to the hospital because I was so frustrated with trying to come up with a name that we both liked and then I picked out our fourth son’s name even though I tricked my husband in to picking it out. He didn’t like it for our seven year old.

        Anyway, that was a big tangent. Sorry to ramble on.

      4. Sadly, all the attention I’ve seen directed at poor Mrs. Cleansweep hasn’t been very…uh…flattering. To me it’s just a name and the woman has like two pages of “screen time”, but if that’s the biggest fault someone can find with the book, then I’m doing all right.

        My husband and I agreed on our oldest son’s name right from the start. We argued about or second son’s name until three days before he was born, when at that point, just to please the other we both agreed on a name that was the main character’s first name in a movie we watched that night.

        Some of my name suggestions were: Andrew, Benjamin, Alex, Marcus, Henry and Elijah. Bob’s suggestions were: Theodore, Archer, Thatcher and a few others that are slipping my mind at the moment.

      5. Now where in the world did you come up with those names???
        The twin I named shares his first name with one of the heroes from one of the books I had been writing. I had a list of names I had to throw out because of our last name. I figured good old fashioned boys names would work best with our long last name, although my mother in-law just about threw a fit with my pick for the Twins because it was “Way too long” for a little baby. Oh well, can’t please everyone. I also had always planned on using Rose for a girls middle name and that had to get tossed out the window because our last name starts with Rose. But then we only had boys and I never got to use my girls name, so I might have to just use it in a story.
        My husband had a very short list of names. One name he really wanted before we had kids was Wesley Aaron because he wanted the initials to be WAR. Crazy. Then with each pregnancy he wanted a junior and I refused every time. The Twins have his first and middle name for their middle names. My husband’s middle name is also his Father’s first name so we got Grandpa in there as well. The other two names on his list we used.

      6. I didn’t start writing books until my kids were two and three. So while “dreaming up names” for the characters, I decided to use the ones my husband wouldn’t allow for our kids. LOL

        After having two boys were weren’t named for any members of our family, I can tell you better than anyone that I understand the not pleasing everyone with a name. No juniors here, either. My husband likes his name but there really aren’t any viable shorter variations or nicknames for it.

        By the way, I like the name Wes. I don’t think I liked it at the time we were naming our kids though, but I do like it.

  5. So I am sitting here watching some of the Olympics with my husband and laughing at some of these names and it reminded me of our conversation on names and I was thinking if you really need some name ideas you just need to watch some Olympic competition for some great ones.

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