If you’ve ever experienced the heaviness of writer’s block, you know you’ll never want to stare at a blank page, without an idea, ever again, period.
Let’s learn from the bad times and turn them into something good. Here are a few tips I use to build an idea factory, when writer’s block may hit again.
Collect ideas as they flow. You may be on vacation, at a restaurant, in bed at 2 a.m., and plot ideas, conversations, scenes, and characters are falling at your feet. Write them down right away! Grab a pad of paper, record thoughts on your voicemail, send yourself an email or text. Don’t let those great ideas slip away. You’re a writer, those ideas are interesting to you, they will be interesting to your readers.
For example, I was filling my soda cup at a fast food restaurant when a young girl stepped up next to me. The way she moved with grace and confidence reminded me of the main character of a story I was working on. I went back to my table and recorded my observations, her hair color, the way she moved, how she dressed.
Here’s another example. I was at an art museum and a strange exhibit captured my attention. The folk-art I studied that day became the background of a story. I hurried to the museum coffee shop to write down the essence of the exhibit. What attracted me to it. How I felt about it. How it looked. Then I searched websites for more information. I still have those notes and refer to them as I edit.
Eavesdrop. When you hear an interesting conversation, tune your ear to the cadence of the discussion. Everyone knows that one person who uses unique turns of phrase, or thinks differently than anyone else. Channel them the next time you are stuck in a rut and need to add new patterns to your dialog.
Seek your characters in magazines, newspapers, or the internet as you move through your day. Cut pictures of your characters out of department store ads when you find them. Download photos. Hang them on a wall where you write, along with their bios. When you need inspiration, take a good long look at the pictures again.
Watch for situations that are stranger than fiction. What happened to your co-worker, neighbor, children? Does your friend have a litany of stories about her bad dates? Ask her if you can borrow some for your next book.
Immerse yourself in research. Search websites for more information about the setting of your story. If it’s set in a Victorian era home, tour one near you. Record your impressions.
Ask questions. When you find someone knowledgeable about the subject of your book, like that historic home, talk to them. When they go on a tangent, follow it by asking questions. They’ll likely bring up a tidbit of information no one knows about, but it would be perfect for your story. Maybe there was a secret tunnel that used to connect a barn to the home’s cellar. Is that the way your main character snuck into the home on that fateful night?
Now that you’ve got raw material to work with, peel back the onion. While your ideas are still fresh, ask yourself why the person in the ad captivates you? Is it his stormy eyes, his wavy hair? What part of the old house interested you most? The hand carved furniture? The exquisite fireplace mantel? The patterned wallpaper? What would it be like to crawl though the secret tunnel?
Take time to write down details as they appear in your life. Don’t let them go. Save them so that the next time you experience writer’s block, pat yourself on the back. You now have an idea factory ready to propel you forward.
by: Laura Dritlein
Laura Dritlein is a former freelance reporter for local newspapers and magazines. She is currently working on editing two novels with the goal of publishing them. She is constantly in search of new characters and story ideas.
As the new year begins, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. One of the toughest things about becoming a writer is discipline. We all know a book doesn’t write itself and no matter how much praying we do, the words don’t always come. I have been writing a long time…well, sort of. I spent the first five years of my writing career talking about writing, researching, taking classes, attending conferences, perfecting my first three chapters and a synopsis, but I never finished a book.
I used to blame my lack of productivity on my day job, my family, my dog, the neighbor’s dog, anyone and anything, instead of myself. Slowly, but surely all the writers in my critique group became published authors, while I kept on pretending that someday I would write a great book. Even after publishing seven books and having others manuscripts looking for a publisher, I still struggle with sitting down to write.
Often what keeps me back from writing is fear of failure. I’m a sensitive sort and every time someone gives me a bad review or a rejection letter lands in my inbox, I crawl in my closet (literally) with my favorite candy (right now it’s peanut M & M’s), but the key is: I always crawl back out. And that’s the answer.
God says in the Bible we should not fear anything. (I write Christian fiction, so yeah, you’re going to get some God from me.) Not everybody is going to love me or embrace what I write, but that’s okay. If you put yourself out there you will be rewarded. Maybe it’s becoming a contest finalist, an email from a fan, a publishing contract or a hug from your hubby or the kids. Whatever it is, remember your talent is a gift. So use it!
Tips on how to finish a book:
So stop reading this post and go write!
P.S. I’d love to hear your favorite writing strategy, email me at Oliviarae.firstname.lastname@example.org
Olivia Rae is an award-winning author of historical and contemporary inspirational romance. She spent her school days dreaming of knights, princesses and far away kingdoms; it made those long, boring days in the classroom go by much faster. Nobody was more shocked than her when she decided to become a teacher. Besides getting her Master’s degree, marrying her own prince, and raising a couple of kids, Olivia decided to breathe a little more life into her childhood stories by adding in what she’s learned as an adult living in a small town on the edge of a big city. When not writing, she loves to travel, dragging her family to old castles and forts all across the world.
Olivia is the winner of the New England Readers’ Choice Award, the Golden Quill Award, and the American Fiction Awards. She has also been a finalist in many other writing contests, including the National Readers’ Choice Awards and the National Excellence in Romance.
Co-writing is not for everyone. Char Chaffin and I have been friends since 2011, when we both came on board Soul Mate Publishing with our debut novels. We got to know each other virtually, and by the time we met in person at our first romance conference—Atlanta in 2013—it was as if we’d known each other forever. Soon, we both became acquiring editors with Soul Mate, cementing an already strong friendship.
During RWA Atlanta, we’d tossed around writing something together, and after one frenetic brainstorming evening came up with our first co-written book, Rodeo King, which debuted in 2014. We were thrilled when Rodeo King finaled in the 2016 Heart of Excellence Readers’ Choice Awards.
We had so much fun writing together, we decided to keep doing it, and agreed a pen name was in order. CiCi’s first name was easy, since both our names start with ‘C.’ All we needed was a last name. Eventually, we came up with ‘Cordelia’ which means ‘heart,’ and our tagline is ‘Writing From The Heart.’
Co-writing is an exciting adventure, but it also comes with challenges, and is not for the weak at heart. Mutual respect and compromise is the key to a successful co-writing partnership.
Char and I talk on the phone frequently; everyday if we’re working on a project. I’ll bring Char in here and we’ll discuss our writing processes and how they combine seamlessly into our works as CiCi Cordelia.
We’ll answer some of the questions we routinely receive regarding our partnership:
How do you combine your voices?
Since Char’s a heavy plotter, and I’m a total fly by the seat Pantser, it works really well. I’m able to continue with my usual creative process while Char keeps us focused. Plus, I’ve learned to at least outline each chapter which has improved my writing. I just can’t plot too far in advance or I lose the spontaneity of the story.
Char: Writing with someone else opens up a whole new world of compromise. ::grin:: For me, I had to write more on the fly than ever, and Cheryl found herself dealing with my incessant need for outlining. Part of why CiCi succeeds is our ability to meet each other halfway.
Cheryl: True dat. Since I started writing with Char, I’ve learned to plot, just a bit. We do a general outline,so we can stay on track. But the stories never turn out the way we originally plotted them, so there’s still a lot of pantsing going on.
Who writes what chapter?
One of us writes a chapter, then sends it to the other for edits. We usually have two or three editing rounds before the chapter is polished enough to move on. Then the other one writes a chapter and we repeat the process.
How do you work out disagreements?
Char: We are both strong writers with strong opinions, so obviously we sometimes come at our basic plot incompletely different ways, whether or not we’ve already set down an outline. We’ve never not been able to talk it out and find common ground we can both accept. I think that’s because we do know each other very well and consequently know when it’s better to cede rather than argue. Also, we understand when a project won’t work for us, the same as we instinctively know when we have picked a winner that will benefit from what we both bring to its creation.
Cheryl: This is where compromise comes into play. Char and I are fortunate that we love the same type of books and don’t often have disagreements. But, we’ve had a few. It’s a delicate balance because usually we are both right, it’s just that we’re having a difference in where we see the story leading. So, we carefully and respectfully work through it, until we agree upon the chapter, and where it’s heading. The best thing about co-writing is that this process leads to a better read, in my opinion.
How do you both settle on genre? Characters? Titles?
Char: It depends on whether one or both of us have an idea that won’t leave us alone, or whether we’re just chatting on the phone and brainstorming occurs. We both get so excited when we start talking plotting and characters, that often the genre and our hero/heroine creates themselves.As for titles, those can be toughies, but again if we just talk it out together, we find what’s right for our work.
Cheryl: Yeah, what she said . . . ::smile::
Do you use an outside editor and cover art services for your co-written works?
Char: Since we’re both editors, we usually edit each other during the creative process. Cheryl is a great developmental editor, and I’m punctuation-crazed and grammatically anal. Both of us are strong characterization editors. Cheryl handles all the cover artwork, either creating it herself or working with a cover artist to come up with a selling cover.
Cheryl: We edit each other and that seems to work well. I do have a handful of critique partners I run my work through, and they catch a lot of stuff. By the time we finish our stories, they are pretty clean.
Does your writing partnership affect your working relationship as acquiring editors at Soul Mate Publishing?
Cheryl & Char: That would be a yes . . .but only in a good way. Sometime in the fall of 2015, we were chatting as usual, and started toying with the idea of a long-range book/series project we could develop together as editors, written by thirteen different Soul Mate authors. When we presented the idea to Soul Mate Owner and Senior Editor Debby Gilbert, she fell in love with the premise and gave it her professional blessing, and The Soul Mate Tree Series was born. The first book was written by us, under our pen-name, CiCi Cordelia. So, we not only co-write together, we co-edit.
We are currently working on a three-book historical western series, and our co-writing grows stronger with each book.
What advice do you have for those thinking of co-writing?
Char: First and foremost, you need to trust your co-writer. And it helps if you work with an author whose writing is similar to yours. I believe you should go at co-writing for the right reasons. Cheryl and I co-write because we love writing together and we believe the books we create together combine the best of both of us. As mentioned before, compromise is key. You’ll have to find common ground through every aspect of the process and you’ll need to leave your ego at the door, too.
Cheryl: As Char mentioned above,make sure you like and trust your writing partner. That’s key. Then look for someone who complements your work. It’s important to find a writer who makes your own writing stronger.
I do believe Char mentioned she’s anal . . .lol. True. I, on the other hand, am not. So I’m always rushing, wanting to get to the exciting part. That sometimes means leaving out details that would make the scene stronger. And Char sometimes writes with so much detail I find my mind wandering. So I edit her down, and she edits me up, and the pacing of our stories is the better for it. So don’t just look for someone who writes ‘just like you.’ Look for someone who melds with your own writing style to make a great story even greater.
But most of all, have fun!
Cheryl Yeko is an award-winning author and writes Steamy Romantic Suspense with protective alpha men and strong heroines. She also co-writes Sexy Historical Westerns and Hot Paranormal with her BFF, Char Chaffin.
She lives in Wisconsin with her husband Patrick. She loves to read, play piano, and spend time with family and friends. She belongs to several writing groups, including Romance Writers of America (RWA), Wisconsin Writers Association, Wisconsin Screenwriter Forum, and Sisters in Crime.
Ever have a deadline and have no clue how you’re going to meet it? That painful moment that seems to last ten years where your brain refuses to engage in thought and you’re left idea-less. I was there just minutes ago when I realized it was my turn to post and I had no topic and no clue what I’d write, so…
I decided to look for help. I googled ways to inspire creativity. Here are 13 ideas to jump start creative thoughts.
by: Mia Jo Celeste
Mia Jo Celeste comes from a family of writers and English teachers, so it was no surprise when she chose to pursue both careers. You can find out more about her on her website or on Twitter.
No, I’m talking about a real burnout where everything seems to have run into a solid brick wall. You see, I’ve been writing constantly from the mid-nineties, and crafted some interesting stories, if I do say so myself. This time, even the characters were complaining. Nothing was working in the plot, and it didn’t make sense. I was trying to force it to get another book finished.
I took a deep breath, and decided to give writing a rest for a while. Taking the summer off seems to have rejuvenated me a bit. I was getting ideas on how I could rework the manuscript.
I hope this isn’t a permanent thing, but just a glitch of some sort. After all, I’m a few months away from seventy. Nothing on my body is working the way it’s supposed to.
If this happens to you, I would go with the flow. Maybe it’s your brain saying, “I need a vacation.” Ship your thoughts off to someplace else, like a good book, and kick back and relax.
by: Ilona Fridl
Ilona Fridl has eight books out with The Wild Rose Press. She is a member of RWA since 2002, and is active in the local chapter. Also a former student of All Writers in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She lives in Southeastern Wisconsin with her husband, Mark.
Many years ago, when I had published just one book, I attended an RWA conference for the first time. Of course I was awed by the many writers with long lists of books and awards, with the appropriate fame to go along. You know, the fan girl persona so many of us get at RWA events.
One of these star authors, a woman I admired for her novels and promotional accomplishments, spoke at an informal session, where several panelists were trying to define the ingredients of a good love story. Let’s call my celebrated star Fiona, in case she’d want anonymity. The conversation snagged on the lack of romances made into films.
“I know why,” Fiona said. “Because love happens in your brain. It’s no action movie theme.”
Then she broke into laughter. “Let me tell you a story,” she went on. “A few weeks ago, I needed to have a new computer connection installed in my office. The workman arrived and started crawling around on the floor under my desk. Then the phone rang, and it was an interviewer from a major newspaper. I didn’t dare ask her to call back. So I sat near my desk and answered her questions, all about the emotional side of love stories and how the brain is the primary sex organ. I finished the interview and hung up about the time the workman crawled out from under the desk, his tasks completed.
“’Listen, lady,’ he exclaimed, “I don’t know about you, but my brain is definitely not my primary sex organ!’”
The entire room of romance writers erupted in raucous hilarity. You can be sure I have continued to read almost every book Fiona publishes.
But this topic is still worth considering for every story we try to write. How does an author express her characters steps along the way toward that goal we all seek, a meaningful and reciprocal relationship? The inner dialogue, the outward evidences of passion, the evocative looks of concern…we must make them come alive in the mind of the reader. And it all happens in the brain! And must be related in words and reflected in conflicts that force those characters apart…to make life-changing choices that enable their love. And how are those choices made? Why, in the brain of course.
A few years ago, I read five or six novels in a row that used the word frisson (French for shiver, usually a thrilling one) to describe “that” feeling. By the third or fourth time I read it, the word just irritated me. But I think I used it once too, and I hope my readers didn’t have the same reaction.
I wonder if Fiona’s computer installer would describe the reaction of his primary sex organ as a frisson?
What do you think? Is the brain the primary sex organ in your WIP?
Victoria Hinshaw has been published since 1983. Her latest short story will be released soon in From Florida With Love: Moonlight and Steamy Nights, an anthology produced by the Southwest Florida Romance Writers, Vicky’s winter chapter. Visit Victoria at her website, at her blog or on Pinterest or Facebook at Victoria Hinshaw – Author.
Write what you know, right? Then it’s only natural I’d choose psychic phenomena to weave into a plot line.
I’m fascinated by weird stuff—those who foresee the future, life after death, reincarnation. I’ve savored several psychic reading appointments in my lifetime. I’ve experienced the ‘awe’ of Long Island Medium Theresa Caputto up close at Treasure Island Casino. I’m glued to her reality television show and take copious notes. On top of this, two friends in my immediate locale actually have a psychic gift. How lucky is this, huh?
I submitted the first fifty pages and the synopsis of Roll Over, Play Dead to a publisher for a critique that I’d won at auction at the Milwaukee WisRWA conference. She liked it. Really liked it, but commented from what she’d read, I had not written a romantic suspense but more of a cozy mystery. Would I be interested in reformulating my manuscript into a cozy?
With that nibble, I said yes! And then said to myself (and others in my Chippewa Falls chapter), exactly what is a cozy mystery?
From a little research, I found it’s similar to the old Columbo television show, or to Murder She Wrote. One main character (amateur) solves the crime. Clean language for the most part. No sex.’
Ack! What? No boy meets girl with interest in his eyes? Or a psychic medium that is attracted to a hunky male cop, but her life and her goal don’t work with his? No fun under the sheets? A cop who can’t say much more than ‘darn, we lost him?’ Not realistic in my mind. Not what I enjoy reading. Not what published author Ann Simas writes. Her books are the best.
Re-writes, Peggy. Back to editing this manuscript to hone in on the growing love relationship, adding more conflict and characters, more herrings and a little sex.
There’s gotta be a fuzzy genre publisher somewhere—or a market that offers the reader an amateur sleuth who gets entangled in romance along the way.
Maybe I should ask a psychic.
A former reporter/editor-now retired-Peggy Strand is editing her completed romantic suspense featuring a psychic medium, a detective, and a ghost dog who gives clues like treats for humans.
I generally have a good handle on my characters before I begin their stories. But there comes a point during my writing and/or plotting that I’m looking for details about the character, something to help me focus their personalities or flesh them out. That’s when I turn to Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs and Love Signs.
Yes, they are astrological signs books. But, this article is not about creating characters based on their astrological signs. I simply find Linda Goodman’s descriptions inspiring. Often times, I even get physical features from her writings.
EXAMPLE: Linda describes Librans as being “full of curves, rather than angles.” Or they have a “bright lilting laugh” and “that Venus smile has enough candle power to transfigure even plain or downright homely features—literally, not figuratively.”
Descriptions like that inspire me. How about if you got a plain-Jane heroine? Now you have an idea how to make her beautiful.
Pisces she describes as having eyes that are “liquid, heavy-lidded, and full of strange lights” and “you’ll usually find more dimples than wrinkles.”
She writes that Scorpios have “husky voices” and Aquarians have a “marked nobility of profile”.
LOOKING FOR SOME CHARACTER TRAITS?
How’s this for a common romantic hero whatever his zodiac sign? “Don’t expect this man to bare his soul when he first meets you. Cancerians never confide in strangers, and there are certain things even their best friends don’t know.” Sound like a mysterious hero to you?
Check out a few more.
There’s an “inner core that belongs only to him.” “Love is not a strictly physical relationship with this man. He hears more, sees more, and feels more through his senses than others do. This man uses the word “if” like a smoke screen. “If I loved you, we could….” Your heroine will have to learn to “blot out the word if.” I don’t know about you, but I think I just fell in love with this guy.
Anybody got a character who goes around patching things up between others? Check out a Libra for details.
Is your heroine strong and independent? Might she have a secret regret that she wasn’t born a man? Don’t let that secret desire fool you. This girl has a slow seductive walk. She looks “seductive in jeans, jodpurs or baseball shoes. And she’s the one with the husky voice.”
BLEND CLASHING PERSONALITY TYPES?
Take a lesson from the Scorpion female who “can’t excuse weakness in a man.” She looks for “ambition and courage.” She “wants a mate who can dominate her and make her proud.” Pit her against a Pisces male sign who never “recognizes that the tide is at its flood even when it sloshes over [his] feet” and you’ve got trouble. It isn’t that he’s weak. “He may just linger too long on a fading, silver star, and miss the bright sunlight of success.” Yet, Goodman’s Love Signs book lists these two signs as a successful mating.
Why? The powerful attraction of opposites. They’re both generous to a fault, but he with everyone and she with only family and friends. She talks everything out. He’s not about to reveal anything until he’s got it all worked out.
Even though it will be hard for these two to be completely honest with each other, they will quickly guess each other’s games then pretend they haven’t guessed. Leaving something unspoken adds a mystical quality to their lovemaking.
NEED A PLOT POINT?
Surprise. The scorpion may come on strong, believing she can swallow this poor little fish…but whether in a contest of wills or one of surprise, the fish will spring the last surprise. Could this be a black moment?
Above all, these two characters are “infinitely aware of each other,” even when onlookers would swear the two didn’t notice each other. I consider that infinitely aware part the key to a sensual romance.
This is just a sample of how I use Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs and Love Signs to inspire me in my creation of characters I hope my readers will fall in love with.
Now, I encourage you to go forth and search out your own odd resources for fleshing out your characters.
Blessed with a vivid imagination, award-winning author Barbara Raffin creates stories and adventures where she can explore her love of words and the human psyche. Whether a romantic romp or gothic-flavored suspense, her books have one common denominator: characters who are wounded, passionate, and searching for love. Her current work is a contemporary/contemporary suspense series about the St. John Siblings and their friends.
Two years ago I got a great gift from a friend. Robyn Peterman had struck it big with a series of wacky supernatural romances and had her own Amazon Kindle World—Magic and Mayhem—and invited me to write a series of spinoff novellas “in” that world.
It was a privilege to be associated with the authors in her world—and a blast to participate in it. The only time I’ve ever had more fun as a writer than when I was writing the first three Incompetent Witch books was when I was writing the fourth and fifth.
And then, Amazon announced it was ending Kindle Worlds.
Amazon was technically the publisher, but Kindle Worlds books could not be sold outside the U.S., and authors could not run promotions or offer print and audio book versions. Robyn generously returned all rights to her authors, though, which means I can now do all of those.
The catch? I had to remove all traces of her wonderful settings and characters. I’d only incorporated a few of her characters, opting to rely on my own in a neighboring village of my own creation. Think of how folks from Hooterville might run into the ladies of Petticoat Junction while shopping in Bug Tussle. Easy-peasy, right?
I made a “scrub list” and found that there was more to change than I had first anticipated. Where would my heroine Prudenzia get the advice she’d gleaned from Robyn’s Zelda? How could I rethink Robyn’s notion that bright red hair signifies a witch whose special power is to heal shapeshifters?
Since Prudenzia is The Incompetent Witch—and a failure at healing arts—I’d given her mostly jet-black locks, with strands of red here and there. I did some research and was delighted to learn that in many societies, people with red hair have long been associated with witchcraft—in general. So fixing references to red hair required only minor tweaks.
Still, there was more to do than fire up the ol’ search tool and make spot changes. I started at page 1 of Book 1 and tackled issues as they arose…and found myself doing things that should be part of any effective rewrite, such as:
I was surprised at some of the “mistakes” I found, since my books are professionally copy edited and proofread. Of course, I have been known to replace mistakes my editor and proofreader find with new ones. Sigh. As an indie author, of course, I’m free to make changes whenever I want to. But in the world of indie publishing, it almost always makes sense to stay focused on the future, especially if your books are selling and getting good reviews
In this case, though, Robyn—and Amazon—have given me a second gift. The chance to rewrite has reinforced familiar lessons that I’ll carry over into Book 6.
Dave Thome has written the Fast Lane contemporary romance series, The Incompetent Witch comedic supernatural romances and stand-alone books including My Fairy Dogmother (coming soon) and See You in Hell under the name DC Thome. He’s also been a newspaper reporter for a long time, had four screenplays optioned, been a presenter at the Writers Institute in Madison and a journalism instructor at Marquette University.
Image source: pxhere.com
I don’t know about you, but I read fiction for the characters and the adventure those characters go through. Like most readers, I want vivid heroes who draw me into their situations and, often when I don’t get into the main character, I put the book aside. But how do writers create those attention-grabbing heroes?
Here’s what some of my favorite writing experts have to say.
I love reading stories that feature intriguing characters and I hope these tips will help you when you write your next tale. Also, if you’ve found the suggestions useful, I hope you’ll consider checking out the resources quoted in this article for further study.
Mia Jo Celeste comes from a family of writers and English teachers, so it was no surprise when she chose to pursue both careers. Recently, her novel Other Than became a double finalist in the 2018 Prism Contest in the Historical/ Steampunk and Best First Book Categories.