A big welcome to Sarah Beth Durst who is here counting down the Top 10 Top Ten Tricks for Fighting Writer’s Block and celebrating the release of Conjured, (published on September 3, 2013 by Bloomsbury/Walker).
Sarah Beth Durst’s Top 10 Top Ten Tricks for Fighting Writer’s Block
Last week, my new YA novel CONJURED came out. (Yay!!!!!) It’s about a girl in the paranormal witness protection program, who, haunted by visions of carnival tents and tarot cards, must remember her past and why she has strange abilities before a magic-wielding serial killer hunts her down.
And it’s my seventh novel.
This surprises me in the same way I’m surprised that I’m not twenty anymore. Or that it’s not still June. (Seriously, it’s September? Exactly when did that happen? I feel like stores are going to be playing holiday music soon and I’m not ready to give up wearing sandals…) Anyway, one thing I’ve learned both through being a writer and by talking with other writers is that every single writer for nearly every single novel encounters a moment where they feel doomed and the project feels hopeless and awful.
This is completely normal. And it’s not permanent. Everyone has tricks for getting through this “doomed” stage without succumbing to writer’s block. Different tricks works for different people, and different ones work for different projects at different times. With that caveat in mind, here are my top ten tricks for fighting off writer’s block:
I’m a huge believer that the cure to all writing problems is more writing. Keep showing up at the desk and eventually the muse will show up too. You can win the muse over by attrition.
Give yourself permission to write horribly. Ignore punctuation. Leave our verbs. Forget descriptions. Whatever it takes, just keep stringing words together… and eventually some good ones will come with all the bad. You can then take those good ones and run with them.
It’s okay to take a break. I’ve solved some of my worst writing problems by taking a shower or taking a walk. Some writing problems require a longer break, like going to the movies or doing something that forces you to not think about your story. It’s okay to not write for a little while. And if it’s truly making you unhappy, it’s okay to stop completely. (But if you discover that you’re more unhappy NOT writing, then remember to come back to it!)
Get more sleep
Sometimes you’re just tired. GO TO SLEEP. Sadly, elves won’t come and fix your scenes while you sleep, but you may feel better able to tackle them in the morning. The scenes, I mean. Not the elves. Don’t tackle elves.
Skip over the hard parts
You don’t have to write linearly. Really, you don’t. If you’re stuck on a part, you can skip it and come back later. I’ve written drafts with whole missing sections that say “something cool happens here.”
Sometimes you’re stuck because your subconscious is telling you that you messed up and went in the wrong direction. And the best cure is to just backtrack to the point at which you still liked the story and start over fresh from there.
Write fake scenes
Tell yourself that what you’re writing will never, ever appear in the book. Write a scene that doesn’t fit. Send your characters someplace they’d never go. Write a letter to them… or from them. Do random writing exercises. Anything to keep the words flowing.
Break it into manageable chunks
One of the surest ways to cause writer’s block is to say to yourself, “Today I will write a novel!” Or “Today I will make this novel great!” It’s just too large an undertaking. You’ll freeze. But if you can break up the project into small tasks, like “Today I will make the dialogue in this scene better,” then it’s suddenly doable again. Kind of like eating an elephant. You do it one bite at a time. (Note: please don’t eat elephants.)
Or whatever makes you happy. (Except elephants.) Use it as a bribe, if that works for you. Finish this scene and you get chocolate. Or a new book. Or a new puppy. Whatever. Bribery can work wonders on two-year-olds and writers.
Be kind to yourself
Stop beating yourself up because your first draft isn’t as lovely as so-and-so’s final draft. While your creative side is working, tell your critical side to shush. Play it 80s music to distract it. Or feed it chocolate. Your story needs time to grow. Like a carrot. If you yank a carrot out of the ground to see how well it’s growing, it will stop growing. So give yourself some space to grow. Give yourself pep talks, or find someone who will give you pep talks. Treat yourself like you would a good friend who is trying to do something scary and difficult. Be kind!
Sarah Beth Durst is the author of young adult novels Vessel, Drink, Slay, Love, Enchanted Ivy, and Ice, as well as middle grade novels Into the Wild and Out of the Wild. Her next book for teens, Conjured, comes out in September 2013 from Bloomsbury/Walker. Her first book for adults, The Lost, comes out in June 2014 from Harlequin/Mira. She won the 2013 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award and has been a finalist for SFWA’s Andre Norton Award three times. Visit her at sarahbethdurst.com.
Available on September 3, 2013 by Bloomsbury/Walker
Eve has a new home, a new face, and a new name—but no memories of her past. She’s been told that she’s in a witness protection program. That she escaped a dangerous magic-wielding serial killer who still hunts her. The only thing she knows for sure is that there is something horrifying in her memories the people hiding her want to access—and there is nothing they won’t say—or do—to her to get her to remember.
At night she dreams of a tattered carnival tent and buttons being sewn into her skin. But during the day, she shelves books at the local library, trying to not let anyone know that she can do things—things like change the color of her eyes or walk through walls. When she does use her strange powers, she blacks out and is drawn into terrifying visions, returning to find that days or weeks have passed—and she’s lost all short-term memories. Eve must find out who and what she really is before the killer finds her—but the truth may be more dangerous than anyone could have ever imagined.
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