The Cure for Writer’s Block?

I’ve known for several days what I wanted to write about this week, but this is the fourth time I’ve begun the blog post. Each time I wrote something, it stunk and I deleted it and started again. How fitting, then, that my idea for this week is to talk about Writer’s Block.

Have you ever seen a baseball game in which the pitcher is going through a bad stretch and just can’t throw a decent pitch? Or a golf tournament in which the golfer who was just recently at the top of his or her game now can’t seem to make even one good shot? That’s what I imagine to be the athlete’s equivalent of Writer’s Block.

Writer’s Block is something that lots of writers fear, and that a few actually embrace. Why would anyone embrace the temporary inability to write?

I can’t really answer that, because I’m one of the writers that fears it. But I know I’ve read stories (I like to call them “legends”) about authors who don’t mind Writer’s Block…they know that they’ll come out on the other side a better writer.

The way I see it, there are two different approaches to Writer’s Block. The first is to keep writing and the second is to stop writing. I have tried both approaches, and I’ve actually had success with both.

Keep Writing

The advice I’ve heard many times is to keep writing no matter how awful your words are. Eventually the words will straighten themselves out and you’ll find a thread to latch onto that isn’t totally terrible. You’ll then be able to write your way out of your funk. This really works…sometimes. Once I’ve picked up that thread and I’m back on track, I find that I like to copy the bad stuff I’ve written, delete it from the main document, and put it in a separate document. I refer to the bad stuff occasionally because (once in a while) I can go back and resurrect ideas from it and transform them into ideas that actually work.

My advice? Keep writing until you can’t stand it anymore, then try a different approach.

Stop Writing

This can be broken down further: either stop writing permanently, or stop writing temporarily. I can’t in good conscience recommend that any writer stop writing permanently because in my opinion this is a rather drastic way of dealing with the problem.

So that brings us to a temporary break in your writing. A “temporary break” can mean different things to different people. For a writer with a deadline looming, the break is going to have to be short, maybe an hour or two. For someone who has a little more time, the break may be a little longer, perhaps a few weeks or more.

The important thing to remember is that during the break, do something that’s going to help you with your writing.

This may mean reading a book outside your preferred genre or a book within your preferred genre (whichever is better for you personally).

Or it can mean getting outdoors for some fresh air and a little while away from the computer.

It can mean writing something else, maybe a short story if you’re a novelist or an essay if you’re a poet.

It can mean taking a nap, if you’re so tired that the words on the screen in front of you have stopped making sense.

It can mean getting up and having lunch if you’ve forgotten to eat. Again.

The point is, you have to find out what works for you and then get out there and do it. It may take a while to figure out what works, but keep trying. Something will work.

I’ve now rewritten this post several times and it’s taken much longer than usual to write. That’s okay, because my deadline (which is self-imposed) isn’t until tomorrow morning at four o’clock. What do you do to combat Writer’s Block? I’d love to hear your solutions.

Until next week,

Amy

Cover Reveal

This week I am very pleased to be able to show everyone the cover for my upcoming novel, Secrets of Hallstead House. I’d like to thank the Art Department of Kensington Publishing for nailing the look of an island in the Saint Lawrence River…

Secrets Of Hallstead House (eBook)

The story is set in the Thousand Islands region of upstate New York in the fall. The cover art depicts the colors of an island autumn perfectly. I hope the book inspires readers to visit the area to appreciate it for themselves.

What do you think? Do you like the cover? I’d love to hear your opinion.

Until next week,

Amy

What’s Your Favorite Descriptive Word?

As I write this, the Mid-Atlantic (and particularly my neck of the woods, in Southern New Jersey) is preparing for a foot of snow. When I went to the grocery store this morning to return my movie (“Captain Phillips,” which I highly recommend) to Redbox, I couldn’t find a place to park. I didn’t go into the grocery store, but if I had, I suspect I wouldn’t have been able to find milk, bread, toilet paper, or fresh fruit.

My daughter and I took our dog, Orly, for a walk earlier this afternoon because the dog may be home-bound for the next couple of days. It was already raining when we left the house. We walked in the woods near our neighborhood. The woods are my favorite place to walk Orly; it is quiet and peaceful there, and I love going when it’s raining or snowing because I love to hear the raindrops- and even the snowflakes- falling on the trees and the pine needles underfoot. And when it’s wet outside, that’s when the woods smell the best.

Days like this remind me of the importance of descriptive words in writing. When I’m writing, I sometimes forget that a story is more than plot. It’s also feeling. It’s also lots of other things, but I’m going to talk about feeling in this post. In the rush to get words down on paper (or on a computer screen) it’s easy to hurry past the words that help a reader feel what’s going on in the story. A reader’s reaction to a particular book is not just about the action in the story. It’s about the five senses, too. It’s important for writers to remember to involve at least one or more of the senses in a given scene…seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching.

What does the air feel like? Is it moist? Dry? What does the ocean look like? Is it frigid? Warm like bathwater? Is it cyan or gray, like the color of slate? Is a particular food sour and puckery? Buttery? What does the air smell like in the summer? Freshly-cut grass? Hot asphalt? And what does it sound like when snow falls in the woods? I would describe it as an almost-silent “shush.”

Ernest Hemingway was a master at using words beautifully and descriptively, even when he was describing something that wasn’t beautiful. He described a rhino as a “dangerous practical joke let loose by nature.” And this is how he began a piece for The Toronto Daily Star in 1922: “We were sitting in the cheapest of all the cheap restaurants that cheapen that very cheap and noisy street, the Rue des Petits Champs in Paris.” You probably wouldn’t read a sentence like that in a newspaper in 2014, but his description has a wonderful quality that allows the reader to imagine exactly what the Rue des Petits Champs looks like.

In my first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, the story is set on one of the Thousand Islands in the Saint Lawrence River. That setting is rich with opportunities for description, and my hope is that people will read my book and want to visit that area of New York to see its beauty for themselves. My second novel, with a working title of Low Country Twilight, is set on a plantation outside Charleston, South Carolina. That’s another place that lends itself to lavish indoor and outdoor settings. Will it inspire people to visit and learn about the history of the area? I hope so. And my third novel, as yet unwritten and untitled, will be set in Hawaii, a place with a name that conjures up lush tropical scenes and settings. I don’t really think anyone needs a novel to inspire them to want to visit Hawaii, but the very existence of Hawaii inspired me to write a novel about it.

I’d like to hear your favorite descriptive word. Mine is “capacious.” It practically makes fun of itself.

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. The school district just called a snow day for tomorrow. Maybe I should write that novel about Hawaii right now.

Orly (2)

Orly, the snow lover