​Five ways to get the elephant moving (or overcome writer’s block!)

This morning, I dragged an elephant around my neighborhood for roughly 2.3 miles.

Aka, I went on my morning walk. But it felt that way because I’d taken three (yes!) weeks off during the cold snap of the century (read: year). And it was Christmas.

I left the house brimming with vim. Five minutes later, as I tackled the first hill, I slowed to a crawl, my legs burning, huffing breath hard into my lungs. Not so pretty. But I kept going, despite the elephant I felt like I was dragging and finished my walk.

Tomorrow, it will be easier.

Then I sat down to write. Alas, the elephant was back! Because I’d also taken a hiatus from writing, and my writing muscles had atrophied too. Each word seemed laborious, as if an elephant had sat on my brain.

Maybe you’re there too. Sitting at the computer, trying to get back into the discipline and flow of writing only to feel like an elephant has sat on your brain. Wrenching words, and often bad ones, from your frozen creativity.

Keep going. See I know your writing muscles are stiff, but tomorrow will be easier. And eventually, the elephant will get up and start moving.

One day, it’ll nearly run you over with the energy to be set free.

But until then, here are five tips to get the elephant off its duff and at least ambling.

  1. Read for inspiration. When I’m stuck, I turn to stories that get my storytelling and wordsmithing juices simmering. It might be a favorite author, or someone new, but someone whose voice is intriguing, beautiful and inspires you. Just one chapter every morning…(but don’t forget to put the book DOWN and write your own book!)
  2. Give your characters a problem! Ask your POV: what is the worst thing that could happen to you, next? Often, we’re stuck because we’re bored. We’ve solved all the problems, and our characters are busy napping. Wake them up! Give them a new problem—make their worst fear happen. Or at least a piece of those fears. If you’re characters are sleeping, the you and your reader will too. Sleeping is bad.
  3. Give your characters an urgent need! Besides asking what they fear, ask them how they feel about what happened in the previous scene, and what they want right now. Their immediate need/desire. This sets up your goal. Then, grab their greatest fear from above and create an obstacle to that goal that produces that fear. Whalla—you have the basic ingredients for scene tension!
  4. Talk out your scene. I like to call my writing partner, but I’ve been known to talk to my dog, a nearby child, even bribe my husband with a cup of coffee (or dinner…) Just discussing the events of the scene helps spark ideas of dialogue and action.
  5. Use SHARP – or our Scene Starter trick to get the first line. Gather up your ingredients: What’s at Stake in the scene, your Hero/Heroine’s emotional state, the storyworld (or Anchoring) and finally, the problem they need to solve (and the problem they will end the scene with!) Once you figure these elements out, ask: What is my POV thinking right now? Could you use that thought, or some variation of it as the first line of the scene?

Now, you’re in POV, armed with inspiration and with a loose blueprint of what needs to happen, and you’re ready to write.

Let the words be bad. And if you’re slow, just keep wrestling them out. You’ll eventually pick up speed.

And tomorrow, like I said, it’ll be easier.

Have a great writing week! Your story matters—write something brilliant!

Susie May


P.S. If you missed the Brilliant Year peptalk on how to create and plan a year that sets you free to write with joy,then you can watch the replay, for a limited time, here. And if you are looking for the planner we talked about, it’s on Amazon.

(And for those who want just the PDF)


P.P.S. Struggling to get the story on the page? Need help shaping it? Want to polish your wordsmithing? Need career help? We’ll be talking about all these things, and more, at our annual Deep Thinker’s Retreat, Feb 23-27, in Destin, Florida. 5 spots left! Check it out here!

Start your book right–keep them up all night!

I’m up at my writing retreat in northern Minnesota this week working hard on the final edits and proofing a book due Friday. (It’s book #5 in my Montana Rescue series. Book #3—A Matter of Trust hits the shelves in a week!)

The first thing I always do in my final pass is make sure the first chapter has done its work. Writing a first chapter is soooo challenging because it must do the work of launching your external plot, creating a connection between your reader and your character, attracting the attention of the reader, igniting the internal plot and wooing the reader with your voice. (and, you must make the reader worry enough about the problem raised in chapter one to turn to chapter two!)

That’s a TON of work for poor chapter one. But if you do it right, you’ll create a book that keeps readers up all night.

Unfortunately, we often write chapter one first—before we really know our character, our plot, and before our voice has had a chance to warm up. That’s why I always go back and rewrite it last, after the book is finished. It might end up very much the same as when I started…or I might scrap it and rewrite it knowing what I know now.

Last week, and for the next two weeks, we’re taking first scenes in our weekly Novel.Academy peptalk. We’re going through a series entitled Extreme Book Makeover, where we learn how to root out problems, and then learn tools to fix them. We then follow up with a couple weeks of feedback on submitted scenes.

What are some symptoms of weak first scenes?

  • The scene doesn’t raise interest…there’s no danger or intrigue that arrests our emotional interest or adrenaline)
  • The lead character isn’t likable—meaning he/she isn’t heroic or sympathetic
  • There is no hint at long term trouble, and therefore, no reason to keep reading (in other words; Stakes)
  • We don’t know where we are…lack of storyworld (really, this is important!)
  • Too much pipe…Meaning, we are taking WAY too long to get into the scene (this is usually a backstory dump problem).

I find it easier, as I’m editing, and rewriting, to start by asking myself big questions. I’ll dig down into the words later. Here are some of the questions I ask myself:

  • Does my first line pique a reader’s interest?
  • Do I have a mental picture of the character and what he/she does?
  • Would I want to spend time with this person, or at least learn more about them?
  • Can I relate to their current problem?
  • Do I know where I am? (and when?)
  • Do I have enough dialogue for my character to come to life for the reader?
  • Am I worried about my character when the scene ends?

Are you working on first scene today? Remember, how well our reader connects with and cares about your character determines the success of a story.

Your story matters. Go! Write something brilliant.

Susie May


P.S If you’re struggling with how to overhaul your story, you might want to check out our Extreme Book Makeover series in Novel.Academy. Along with overhauling your plot, characters and scenes, we also have classes on how to get that book published (along with over a 100 hours of classes on craft, industry, indie publishing and much much more.) Learn more at Novel.Academy.

Who’s on your team?

The longer we sat on the tarmac at the Destin, Florida airport, the great the possibility I’d be doing a sprint through the Atlanta airport to catch my next flight. The sun hung high in the clear blue sky, not a hint of disaster, no need to ice the wings, or avoid a snowstorm…I can admit to a grumble in my soul by the time we took off, 40 minutes late.

I’m sorry, but a 30 minute layover just isn’t long enough when you hit the Detroit, Atlanta or Chicago airports, right? When we touched down in Atlanta, my next flight was already boarding.

According to my app, I had to go from gate D42 to A20 in less than ten minutes. Or, I had the lovely option to take a different flight, route through Eau Claire, or Milwaukee and arrive home at midnight.

I made a pact in my soul that I’d make that next flight.

But Someone Upstairs knew I’d need a little help.

Some passenger in First Class decided the rest of the plane could just wait for them, and ambled up the gangway like they might be strolling through Luxembourg Gardens.

By the time I hit the terminal, my window had whittled down to seven minutes.

If you’ve ever been in the ATL airport, you know running through the terminal is like trying to cross traffic in a game of Frogger. I took off at a sprint, but every time I worked up a good pace, some defensive lineman in flip-flops came out of nowhere to take me out.

That’s when the Guy from Row 14 appeared. A guy from my flight ran up next to me possessing the same lofty goal of getting on his next flight, also in the A terminal, come hell or high water. We chatted even as we jogged past gates A36-A20. It was when he legged out in front of me that I realized my good fortune.

I had a blocker.

I settled in behind him, decided to pretend we were together and simply kept up. He parted traffic like Gronk, and I was his happy tailwind. “Excuse me, Excuse me,” he said as he whipped past people going down the escalator. I smiled as followed his trail. Yeah, I’m with him.

I sneaked onto the tram through a different door, not wanting my stalking to be obvious, hovering near the exit. When we hit the A gates, I was out like lightning, falling in behind him as he sprinted up the escalator. “Excuse me, Excuse me.” (I don’t think anyone had ever seen people trying to pass them going UP. For my part, I determined I would Not Be Left Behind. It became a sort of Olympic stair-climbing event.)

Row 14 parted traffic all the way until I cut away at my gate. “Now boarding all rows, all flights.”

I got in line, breathing hard (yes, I need to work out more) and handed my ticket over. I was one of the last ones on.

But I made it. (Sadly my luggage didn’t, but that’s another story.)


Having a blocker, someone going before me made all the difference. I am not the kind of person to push my way through a crowd—but I’m super willing to follow in the wake of someone else.

In publishing, I’ve had some awesome mentors—Dee Henderson, Karen Kingsbury, Ted Dekker. Friends, yes, but authors who’ve made me into a better writer, better person. Better mentor.

People who’ve cleared the way.

We all need mentors in our lives—whether it’s in our publishing race, or in healthy habits, financial goals, parenting, even spiritual coaches. And, your character needs one too—someone who has been there, done that, whether they succeeded or failed. Someone your hero can either pattern their journey after, or use a cautionary tale. Hello, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Henry Jones, Sr. Even, Haymitch Abernathy.

Someone who can answer questions, give advice.


And someone who can offer truths, dispense with lies and assist your character on his journey.

That’s one of the reasons we started Novel.Academy. Not only so you could have an arsenal of great classes, but so we could help you on the journey. We get together every Thursday night for a Peptalk. Yes, it’s a lesson, but it’s also a Q & A time for authors to get the help they need.

Like this week. We’re having amazing, long-time industry giant, agent Steve Laube on for chat about trends, author mistakes, industry insights and general questions.

He’s been there, done that, and is still going strong.

If you’re considering adding expert teaching to your writing journey, if you’re ready to go deep, ask questions, get published and build that writing career, you might want to stop in and check out this week’s Peptalk.

At the very least, look around you, show up at writer’s events, go to conferences, meet people and ask for help. There might be a mentor in Row 14 who is ready to show you the way.

Your story matters! Go, write something brilliant!

PS. You can start with a FREE class, the 10 Common Mistakes of Aspiring Authors! Click here to watch it!


I ain’t gonna quit yet…

Happy Monday morning! It’s going to be a great writing week!

So there we were sitting in the bleachers for the first home game of the season. The sun arched high, hot on our skin, the fans ignited by the thrill of a new season of football, the smell of the tailgate grills stirring our need for a burger…

And our boys on the field were falling apart. After a fantastic first half, they’d come out and handed the game away to our rather nasty opponents until the moment, with 1:35 left in the game, we fell behind by six points.

I mentioned that we had 1.35 left in the game, right? We got the ball on the 25 yard line and a thread of despair filtered through the crowd.

You know what happened next. Like any great football story, the team rallied. They threw a 25 yard pass. Ran the ball, threw another pass and made a quick dash for the end zone.

We were on our feet for the extra point, already cheering our win.


Except, to our horror, a defender got a hand on it and our dreams died as the ball alley-ooped wide of the goalpost.

We lost in overtime.

Crushing, after our rally. And, our second defeat of the season. The sun suddenly seemed a scorcher, and we become well aware of our sunburns and empty stomachs, defeat bitter in our gut.

It feels a little like that moment when you hear a publisher is bringing your book to committee, trying to decide if they want to buy it only to hear that they passed. Or worse, rejected it with “some revisions” and you work furiously with the wild hope you might get picked up next time.

Only to have them say no.

Or maybe you’ve worked hard on a novel only to have it panned by reviewers even though your beta readers loved it.

Or you’ve written an entire story for the first time in your life—only to have an editor say, “it needs more work.”

Whatchya gonna do?

Do you want it? Enough to let your bruises heal, get your head back in the game and go to work again? Because that’s when you look inside and say…WHY? Why do I want this?

Hopefully its because you know your story matters. Remember, getting published isn’t magic—it’s hard work.

But here are some truths the might help you get back up.

  1. No one can write the story that you’ve been given. Only you see the unique view, only you can tell from the truths you’ve learned.
  2. If you don’t get back up and keep fighting, you’ll never discover the truth you’re meant to learn in the journey. And you’ll never realize the feeling of knowing you did something that your heart called you to do.
  3. And, if your story is destined to be published and you never find the strength to give it to the world, the truths in it will never find a home in a reader’s heart. They will never be changed. Or blessed.

Your story matters. And the journey to writing your story matters.

Get back up. Get your head in the game. Don’t give up.

Because next time, you just might win.

Go write something brilliant!

smw sig without background




Susie May

P.S. This week in Novel.Academy, we’re going to be talking about how to take your dreams and put them into a workable plan for true impactvitiy. Join us for Fall enrollment for only $20/mo. ($20/month or $200/year) Check out Novel.Academy and get the tools to write a brilliant novel!