​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!

Two Tips to Get Past “I Can’t Write”

I’m on deadline.

What that means is,  writing is mandatory for me. I have a title for my manuscript. A word count. Most importantly, I have a due date. And yes, barring some unforseen catastrophe such as an alien invasion or Godzilla rampaging through Colorado Springs, I will meet my deadline. (I am not thinking about any real disasters that can happen to writers everywhere.)

But let me honest with you: there are days I don’t feel like writing.

I write anyway.

And there are days I got nothing.

I write anyway.

And then there was last Sunday.

I woke up facing my deadline, just like I had so many other days.

And I ignored my manuscript. All. Day. Long.

Why? I needed a break from the story. I’d written hard, day after day, getting up early and staying up late.

But taking a break didn’t mean I wasn’t writing. Even on those “I can’t write days,” there is always something to write.

When you can’t write big , write small.

Sometimes you need a short break from your manuscript: an hour or part of a day. Write something else. On “I can’t write” days,  I write my regularly scheduled blog posts for In Others’ Words. Or my upcoming My Book Therapy posts (like this one). Or posts for the inspirational contemporary romance group blog, Inspy Romance. Or requested guest posts.

When you can’t write, rewrite.

I love fast-drafting: write forward, write fast. Fall in love with your story. Discover things about your characters by the end of the story that you didn’t know at the beginniing of the story — and then weave those elements back through the story. 

But . . . if I have a day when I stall out on my novel, I will reignite my spark by going back just for a few dedicated hours. I print out my manuscript and I reread what I’ve written. And yes, I allow myself to pick up a red pen — or maybe a fun purple one — and mark up the scenes. I’ll ask myself questions like:

  • What’s my Story Question?
  • What’s the the main emotion for this scene?
  • Have I used all five senses? Where’s the spiritual truth?

Before I dive back into my manuscript, I weave the new developments back into the story — the Aha! spiritual truth moments or the fun pins I might have found on Pinterest when I spent a little bit of time developng my character by figuring out oh, yeah, she’s into boots! Taking time away from the a full length manuscript refreshes me so that I’m ready to write again.

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Idea Sparking: Getting Out of Writer’s Block Strategy #1

Every now and again that dreaded moment for every writer descends over your manuscript. You can’t shake it, no matter how hard you try. You’ve got writer’s block. There are no words appearing on the page and your brain is experiencing dead air.

Writer’s block can paralyze you and leave you stranded in a particular dilemma in your manuscript unless you put some strategies in place a head of time to stave off writer’s block.

Idea Sparking Your Way Out of Writer’s Block Strategy #1:  Research

Wait just one minute, you say. I did all of my research at the beginning of the story. Now, I’m writing.

True you WERE writing, but since that has ground to a halt, doing a bit more research could get you back in print. Researching any part of your story might help, but here are a few basic research areas to consider to dislodge brain dust and snap you out of writer’s block:

  1. Research the Point of View Character’s Occupation. Sometimes we know what we as an author need to have happen in the scene, but we don’t really even know what the character is up to. Putting our author goals into an environment where our character will have their own goals can help move the scene along and jumpstart ideas for content.
  1. Research the setting where the scene is taking place. Looking for obstacles to your characters goals and rich story world become so much easier when we understand the setting completely. The setting could bring in additional characters as well to create conflict for my hero/heroine.
  1. Research the weather in your setting’s location at that time of year. This may seem silly, but building the scene in your mind will help you to get it on the page. Is there a breeze, wind, cold, heat, etc. All of these things can help you set the mood for your scene. This may also help you to find a metaphor for your scene.
  1. Research the psychology of the scene. Determine the emotions that your characters are facing in this scene and research those emotions with the physical responses some might have to that emotion. It can begin to help you build believable actions for your characters. For example, if the heroine feels panic what might she do? Every individual is different. If her panic stems from riding a Ferris wheel while she is afraid of heights, what would that emotion cause her to do.

The next time you struggle with writer’s block, throw in a bit of research to get yourself back into your writing flow.

Huddle Coach, Michelle Lim

Michelle Lim blog pix Our Huddle Coach, Michelle Lim semi-finaled in the 2011 Genesis with Death’s Apprentice and received Bronze Medal Recognition in the 2010 Frasier contest with Singed. She is the vice president of MN N.I.C.E., a local chapter of ACFW. At My Book Therapy she coordinates the e-zine’s Genre Java Column and is the Brainstorm and Huddle Coach,our program for local craft groups. Michelle taught elementary school for eleven years. She lives in Minnesota with her husband Hui Hong and four rambunctious kids that keep her life full of laughter and suspense. Contact her at: huddles@mybooktherapy.com.