What to do when you have writer’s block

First of all, I believe writer’s block is much more common than we think. There were many moments where I suddenly blocked while writing When Colour Became Grey and I was staring at the last sentence I had written, reading it over and over again, unable to come up with the next part.

For me, writer’s block most typically comes after I’ve finished writing a scene and I don’t know what should happen next. I usually know what should happen further down the line, but I can’t seem to formulate the bridge in my mind bringing me from point A to point B. I will usually start to get the creative juices flowing by re-reading the last pages I’ve written, or jump to a different section of the book I’ve already written.

If reading parts of the story I’ve written doesn’t work, then I’ll imagine a completely new scene, unrelated to where I’m stuck, and start writing it. I love writing fight scenes so I will start thinking of a way a character would enter a fight, or maybe they are hiding from someone but they get discovered, or maybe it’s set right after a battle and the character is wounded.

If I’m still stuck, I will read what I call “The Red Thread”. When I write a book, I have a separate document where I make bullet points of the overall plot line and where I want the story to go (i.e. the Red Thread). I also write down ideas for characters, plot development, scenes I want to include, as well as plot holes I haven’t figured out yet or things I still need to develop or that currently don’t make sense but I want to keep in the book.

If that still doesn’t work, I then take a break for a few days and don’t think about the story at all. Sometimes disconnecting from your written work and looking at it with fresh eyes can give you a completely new perspective and brand new ideas.

To avoid getting stuck in writer’s block, I write out the scene in a few sentences before writing the scene in full. I have that short description below the rest of the text I’m working on, so I can always re-read what my idea was. That way I can keep track of where I want to go. When I stop writing, I try to not stop right at the end of a scene, but rather keep writing and lead into a new situation. Once I’m done I will also write a couple of sentences where I think the story should go next so I can pick my idea back up.

I used to often forget what I was leading up to or why I had started writing a particular scene. Now I write down all my ideas, even ideas I later discard I will leave in my Red Thread document as they can always inspire other ideas, or can be used in another story.

How long does it take to write a book?

Depends.

That’s the short answer. Some write very quickly, some writing genres come more easily than others. I would argue that fantasy writing is harder than some other categories and can take significantly more time. The reason for this is because you have to invent a lot of what you take for granted in other types of writings such as crime or thrillers, depending on how much you make up in the story.

In fantasy you have to invent a whole new world and you will inevitably come across massive plot holes simply because you forget things that aren’t possible. You have to re-write the Laws of Physics about the sun, gravity, time travelling, magic, nourishment, social norms, etc. It can be incredibly time consuming and you will often realize half-way into writing something that suddenly something doesn’t make sense anymore or is impossible because they don’t adhere to the rules you have defined.

In my case it took me 7 years to write When Colour Became Grey. As I advanced in the plot I wanted to include more characters or change the way the story evolved, the tone of the story, what the focus should be on, etc.

You should always have a rough time frame in mind and work towards it, but you should also not beat yourself up if you don’t meet your deadline. In my case my book became so much better because I took the time to re-write it, and re-write it, and re-write, and then re-write it some more, touch-up and check common plot hole mistakes, and finalize.

I have only written in various fantasy sub-genres so far (urban fantasy, epic fantasy, low fantasy) so my opinion is solely based on writing that type of story.

What was your experience? How long did it take you to write your first book? Did it take you more or less time to write afterwards? Drop a comment in the comment section below.

Self-publishing: Why should I pay for an editor?

You may think this is unnecessary. I certainly thought so. But if you’re self-publishing (and if you intend to take your writing seriously), you cannot skip the most essential part; your written work! In my opinion, if you’re self-publishing and you want to spend the least amount possible on your launch, then pay for an editor, and do the rest yourself. You are about to click that button and make your work visible to the whole world. Your name will be on this work, even if it’s your pen name. Why not make sure that the script is the best possible version it can be?
Working with my editor has been hugely beneficial.

He saw plot holes that I was sure I had explained, but turned out to only exist in my head. A good editor is just a guide, you’re still the one writing it. And you’re not obliged to agree to all of his proposed changes, but it may give you a healthy perspective on your writing. It’s hard enough to get people to buy/download your book when you’re a nobody, but if on top of that you have gross errors in the manuscript that could have been avoided (they’re vs their), or your main character switches name from Peter to Pete, with plot holes dotted everywhere (Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, wink wink), the reviews will tank your book before it has even taken off. And your name will be associated with poor writing. And then it will be even harder to sell books. If you’re self-publishing, define the budget you’re willing to spend and prioritize where you want to spend your money.

If you publish on print: Don’t forget to include ISBN/barcode purchase on your list. You don’t always need one, but it helps libraries and bookshops to find your book, so don’t overlook this.

Why you should be grateful for criticism

Finally. The day is here. You’ve been writing for a while and you’re now ready to tell your friends and family that you’re writing. And this is not just a hobby to you. You have a connection with your craft. This means something to you. This is possibly your destiny.

And then your enthusiasm falls on deaf ears. Or worse; people start discouraging you.

Do you know how unlikely it is to make it as a writer nowadays?

You didn’t study creative writing/Literature, what makes you think you can write?

People don’t read books anymore! You’re wasting your time!

It’s disheartening to hear people’s negative comments. But that’s because most people set themselves limits to not disappoint anyone, including themselves. It seems to be some sort of societal norm engraned in all of us; the moment someone wants to do something else, earn money differently, live differently, pursue something out of the ordinary, suddenly we all frown and shake our heads. Daydreamers. They will fall flat on their faces.

I choose to draw strength from those that doubt me. There is no point in trying to convert people that clearly don’t think you can make it. Maybe they don’t want to see you fail, or get your hopes up. I understand that. It’s a survival instinct. Standing out is lonely and difficult. But I would rather fail, than never have taken a shot. Failure is part of the journey. There is no major success, no man or woman that is praised for their accomplishments, that has never failed.

You will always come across people that don’t like what you do, that don’t think you’re talented, or that simply want to break you down because they feel bad about their own lives. But most people also just live within the confines of their boxes. Go to school, get a job, get married, buy a house, have children, retire, die. It can be hard to understand if you’re pursuing something completely out of the ordinary.

I have learned that often when people trample on your dreams, it’s mostly a reflection of their own ambitions and life, and has little to do with you. So when people try to discourage me just for the sake of discouraging me, I don’t listen. I take in constructive criticism, but become deaf to the serial negativists. No one will discourage me from pursuing something that makes me happy. And neither should you. Keep working on your craft and perfect it!