Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: how to break writer’s block

If you’ve been writing fiction any length of time, you’ve probably experienced getting stuck. There are authors who firmly believe there is no such thing as writer’s block, that it is lack of discipline and I agree that can often be the case.

Often…but not always.

I feel our subconscious is an excellent writing partner if we can learn to listen and stay in tune with it. Frequently, when something is very wrong, our subconscious will simply slam the breaks and not let us move forward because it is warning us there is something that needs to be fixed.

But, if we are unaware of the role the subconscious can play in story creation, we don’t recognize what is going on and do one of three things: 1) Shelve the project 2) Start a new project 3) Keep writing ourselves deeper into that hole by sheer force of will.

Thus, today I want to give you some tricks that might help you when you find yourself stuck.

Change POV

Different stories require different POVs. And I would love to give you some step-by-step explanation but I don’t have one. They just DO. Take a plot problem and seriously, POV changes the whole thing. Lord of the Rings written in first-person present-tense would be a very different ride.

Often we get a story idea and we just take off writing in the POV we find most comfortable…but it simply doesn’t work with the story. I had this happen with my debut novel The Devil’s Dance. I started writing in third limited and it was just….meh. I had never written fiction in first-person so to get unstuck? I changed POV and? It worked!

And the thing is, maybe you don’t stay in that POV. Sometimes just taking a scene and shifting POV is enough to nudge the subconscious over the hump.

Change Perspective

Also, if a scene is bugging you, literally change POV. Not the third person to first-person way I just mentioned. But switch heads. Tell what is happening from another character’s perspective. Again, probably not something you will keep because not every character is a POV character, but this can help get the mojo flowing again.

Recast

Sorry I am mentioning my debut novel a lot, but it was a hell of a learning curve. Again, this happened with The Devil’s Dance. I had my plot idea, which was pretty cool *gets cramp patting self on back*. I knew I wanted a small town in Texas and people dying and it had to do with the town’s newfound prosperity and Mexican drug cartels. My imaginary town, Bisby, was a wide space in the road that suddenly went BOOM. Instead of trailer parks, there were wine bars and million-dollar homes.

Why? How?

But originally I cast a resident of this small town and she was an Army veteran home from Afghanistan who was working at her uncle’s gun range. Nothing per se wrong with it, but she just kept falling flat. She was a former soldier and all badass and…boring as hell. So, I kept the plot idea and went the complete opposite direction.

Instead of some female action hero, I cast a protagonist who would be completely out of her depth. She was a disgraced software salesperson who’d done everything to escape Bisby and the trailer park where she grew up…who was then forced to go home to her crazy-as-a-bag-of-cats family and becomes the only one who can save the town she’d spent most of her life running from. I patterned her character off Elle Woods from Legally Blonde.

And it ROCKED! The story flowed because the idea just worked better with an unlikely hero.

Skip Scenes

Again, our subconscious is our friend so let it work its magic. Recently I got onto my coauthor Cait about locking in her teeth and not letting go. We are writing a Western Horror and she’d had this scene she had been futzing with for weeks trying to get it perfect.

So first of all, perfect is the enemy of the good. On a first draft there is NO sense in perfecting anything because there is almost some hidden law that states the scenes most likely to be cut or completely rewritten are all the ones we spent far too much time fiddling with.

Sometimes, it helps to just write (in caps) what happens then move on.

Cait was tasked with killing a goat and apparently that was way tougher than either of us imagined it would be when plotting this goat’s demise. In our defense it is no average goat. It is a goat risen from the dead with a taste for human instead of petticoats. Now Cait messed with it and messed with it and finally got it to work but in fairness, if it had been my scene?

I would have written as much as I could then put AND THEY KILL GOAT IN SUPER SPECTACULAR WAY and then moved on and let my subconscious chew on it.

As you are writing, trust me, your subconscious is working on how to kill that goat D-E-A-D and often will come up with something FAR cooler than if we gut through it.

So my writing advice?

Sometimes the best way to kill a goat is to jump the goat.

Write Your Ending

A lot of writers cringe when we instructors mention doing this. You may be yelling, But I am not a plotter! I don’t outline! I am a pantser! And I will say, that is still no excuse. All stories must have a core story problem in need of being resolved. We should be able to say what our book is about in ONE sentence. Especially the pantsers. If all you know is the core problem in need of being solved? That is enough. And if you don’t know this, then prepare to spend months or years fixing a mess (if it can even be fixed).

As complex a story as Lord of the Rings is, I can fit it into ONE sentence.

A naive and innocent race of homebodies must traverse a dangerous realm to toss an evil ring in a particular volcano before a power-hungry necromancer takes over and destroys all they love.

How does this story end?

With a VOLCANO.

Say Tolkein got stuck somewhere in Rivendell. He could have theoretically skipped ahead to Mt. Doom and wrote that and then what is left are two defined points and a missing middle. It is often FAR easier to connect two defined points than to start from point A and keep going into infinity with no idea where it will end.

And again, you don’t have to keep that particular ending. It can be rewritten, but again, it gives the subconscious something to work with.

Ask yourself, How do I know when my story is over? And that is your ending. If you want help smooshing your tome into a single-sentence, I have a class coming up on that and I will help you do it and show you how you can do it yourself in the future (Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-line).

What are your thoughts? And make sure to check out the upcoming classes below! Especially the Book Bootcamp! The bootcamp has all the instruction you need to write your novel AND to learn to plot and write QUICKLY. They key to making money in this business (even in legacy) is lots of titles.

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

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Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

SIGN UP NOW FOR UPCOMING CLASSES!!! 

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! All you need is an internet connection!

Be a Better Hooker (How to Write a Compelling Newsletter)

April 29th $45

In this class, learn how to compose a newsletter that is entertaining and compelling—and all without stealing most of your writing time. Learn how to get your hooks in your readers and keep them until the end.

With a mailing list of over 15K subscribers, mystery/thriller author Jack Patterson will share some of his tips that will spice up your newsletter and get your subscribers opening it up every time you send one out.

BUNDLE DEALS!!! 

Book Bootcamp  $99 ($130 VALUE)

Book Bootcamp GOLD $269 ($430 VALUE) This includes the log-line class, antagonist class, the character class AND a three-hour time slot working personally with ME. We will either plot your idea or, if your novel isn’t working? Fix it! Appointments are scheduled by email. Consults done by phone or in virtual classroom.

Individual Classes with MOI!!! 

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter and Synopsis that SELLS! $45 May 25th, 2017

Blogging for Authors $50 April 27th, 2017

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-line $35 May 4th, 2017

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist $50/$200 (Gold) May11th, 2017

The Art of Character $45 May 18th, 2017

NEW CLASSES/INSTRUCTORS!!! 

Growing an Organic Platform on Facebook $40 May 6th, 2017 Lisa Hall-Wilson is BACK! She is an expert on Facebook so check out her class!

Method Acting for Writers: How to Write in Deep POV $85 for this TWO WEEK intensive workshop with editor and writing instructor Lisa Hall Wilson.

Shift Your Shifter Romance into HIGH Gear $35 May 19th with powerhouse editor Cait Reynolds.

Researching for Historical Romance (How to NOT Lose 6 Hours of Your Life on Pinterest) $35 May 20th

 

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.
Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month—November) is just around the corner. Many new writers take this as an opportunity to test if they can do this professional writing thing “fer realz.” Some of us dust off an old story and see if we can toss it in the crucible of peer pressure and FINALLY finish. This is a good plan…most of the time.

We have to be careful. Never giving up might keep us from ever succeeding.

Want to know the secret to success? Quitting. Yes, you read correctly. And, if you’re a creative professional, it is in your interest to learn to get really good at quitting. Maybe you’ve felt like a loser or a failure, that your dream to make a living with your art was a fool’s errand.

Ignore that junk and understand…

Winners Quit All the Time

I posit this thought; if we ever hope to achieve anything remarkable, we must learn to quit. In fact, I’ll take this another step. I venture to say that most aspiring writers will not succeed simply because they aren’t skilled at quitting.

Ooooohhhh.

Learning Discernment

One problem many artists have is we lack discernment. It’s easy to get trapped in all-or-nothing thinking. If we defy family in pursuit of our art and something stops working properly, out of pride often we will persist even when the very thing we are attempting is the largest reason we will fail.

We keep reworking that first novel over and over. We keep querying the first novel and won’t move on until we get an agent. We keep writing in the same genre even though it might not be the best fit for our voice. We keep marketing the first self-published book and don’t move forward and keep writing more books and better books.

If you are tangled in a book that isn’t working, never ends, keeps getting rejected, ask for help. Sometimes the story (plot) is there only we can’t see it. We’re too vested and emotionally blinded.

This is why I do consulting. Yes, it’s $160 for three hours, but I’ve yet to meet a book I couldn’t wrangle and make behave. A skilled outside perspective is priceless and will save time and money (and good content editors are NOT cheap). People like me can help you quit the book that isn’t working and start writing the book you originally had in mind.

(***If you need help, e-mail me at kristen at wana intl dot com)

Learning to Quit is the Surest Insurance Against Failure

I like to say, “Persistence looks a lot like stupid.” The act of never giving up is noble, but never giving up on the wrong things is a formula to fail. We have to learn to detect the difference between quitting a tactic and quitting a dream.

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons
Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

If I am trying to climb Mt. Everest, but I am repeatedly failing at climbing the one side, which is a sheer rock face with no way to get a footing, then it is suicide to keep trying the same thing. If, however, I regroup, hike back to the bottom and take another way up the mountain, I am a quitter…but I am NOT a failure.

In fact, in order to “win” I must “quit.”

Learn to Quit from the Best

Most of us are lousy at knowing how and when to quit. This is one of the reasons it is a good idea to surround ourselves with successful people, because successful people are expert quitters. When I started out, I had all the wrong mentors. I had writer pals who quit writing when it was boring or who quit querying after a handful of rejections. They quit attending critique because they got their feelings hurt when people didn’t rave their book was the best thing since kitten calendars.

All this wrong kind of quitting is easy to fall into. Excuses are free, but they cost us everything.

My Life Changed When I Changed the Quitters in My Company

It all started with the DFW Writer’s Workshop. I attended and met people living the life I wanted to have…the life of a professional writer. They were the same as me, and yet very different. When I attended my first conference, I found myself being pushed to yet a higher level.

I met and stalked Candy Havens. Candy is an excellent quitter. She wrote her first bad book and didn’t spend the next six years trying to resurrect it. She sought training and experts and moved forward. She quit outside hobbies and friends that took away from her goal of becoming a professional author.

Theresa Ragan was rejected by traditional publishers for over twenty years. She finally self-published and has now sold hundreds of thousands of books. NY tried to offer her a contract and she turned them down. 

I turned in a hundred page proposal for Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World in the summer of 2011 to a premiere agent, a DREAM agent. But, after NY ignoring it for over two years? I thanked my agent for his efforts and published it myself. We need to always be moving forward, and sometimes pressing on requires letting go. We can’t grab hold of the new if we are hanging on to the old.

If something isn’t working QUIT. Move on! If we have to defend and justify what we are doing there’s something wrong.

Everything is Our Enemy

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It’s hard to know when to quit. I’m a loyal person. I’m loyal to a fault and I struggle every day with this lesson. But I’ve recently come to a conclusion. People who reach their dreams don’t get there by doing EVERYTHING. Everything is dead weight. Everything will keep us from focusing. Everything gets us distracted.

Everything is the enemy.

Sometimes we need to let go of inefficiencies or false trails, and if we don’t let go, then failure is just a matter of time.

Artists Actually Need More Quitting

Quit your day job. Today. This moment. Now, by quitting, I don’t mean you should throw your laptop in a waste can and take a bat to that copy machine that’s eaten every presentation you’ve tried to photocopy since the day you were hired….though that might be fun.

No, I mean mentally QUIT, then hire yourself to the dream. Screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. It takes guts to be a writer. It takes guts to be any kind of creative professional. Hire yourself to the job you dream about. TODAY.

No aspiring writers, only pre-published writers. If you want to be a professional author, you must quit to win. The day job is no longer the ends, but rather the means. The day job is just venture capital funding the successful art-making business…YOU.

You are a pre-published author…who happens to also be a stay-at-home-mom, a computer programmer, a salesperson, a whatever.

Learn to Quit Being “Everything”

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Again, Everything is the enemy. Friends and family will want you to keep being the maid and the taxi and the babysitter and the buddy who can spend all day shoe-shopping. Many of us will try to keep being Everything to everyone and we’ll just try to “fit in” writing, but that is the lie that will kill the dream. We can’t be Everything!

A new quote I have etched in my brain is, I can be respected or popular. I can’t be both.

We must learn when to quit and to be firm in quitting. Others have the right to be disappointed, but they’ll get over it. And, if they really love us they will get over it quickly and be happy for our resolve to reach our dreams. If they don’t? They’re dead weight and it’s better to cull them out of our life sooner than later.

Yes, this is hard stuff. Reaching our dreams is simple, but it will never be easy ;).

So what are some of your quitting stories? Did it work? Were you better off? Tell us your quit to win story! Do you need help sticking to your guns? Hey, your family doesn’t get you, but we do! Do you have a problem and you don’t know if you should stick or quit? Put it in the comments section and let us play armchair psychiatrist!

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook