Writer’s Block & Burnout

Writer’s Block – Guest Post

Today I have a great guest post from Terry Compton (a fellow Ink Slinger’s Anthology author – look for that to be released October first).


Writer’s Block

Or maybe just a slight impediment

writer’s block can feel like a brick wall

That blank computer screen just sits there and stares back at you.  Words flit through your brain but not words that will make your next scene come alive.  What do you do to break this?  I’d like to share a couple of ideas that work for me and then see what others do.

I usually have two sorts of blocks; too many possibilities or the transition from the scene I’ve just finished to the new one in my head.  I should tell you that I’m a seat of the pants writer.  You know, the one who has an opening scene and a vague idea of where you want the story to go.  The characters then drag you around in their big adventure.  I don’t know if these techniques will help those who outline their story but anything is worth a shot if you’re not getting words down.

I’d like start off by saying that I learned these tricks at the local authors’ group.  I don’t know a dangling participle from a dangling worm.  Oh, wait, one of them has to do with fishing.  I do know about that, but back to the subject.  One of the members of the group has been involved in screen writing and other types of writing for over twenty-five years.  He says there is only one cardinal rule in writing:  DON’T BORE YOUR READER.  Now let’s look at my two problems with that in mind.

How can too many possibilities be a block?  Sometimes after your protagonist (or even your antagonist) has finished a task in your latest scene, it will seem like they stand at a crossroads with five or six different paths ahead.  Which path do you choose?  Should they go to the beautiful beach to improve their sun tan?  Maybe press ahead to the next task in their adventure, or do they need to meet the latest heart throb?  And so on and so on.

What I’ve learned is to go back to your storyline.  Where is your character going?  What is their driving goal?  Are they too exhausted and beat up to continue?  Do they need to go to that beach to recuperate?  I’m trying to look through the DBYR filter more.  My sub-conscious sometimes quits throwing ideas out and I suddenly realize its saying, “Ho hummm.  Borrrring.”  Consequency, it’s time to go back and move your character in the most direct route along the storyline to the end goal.

Unless you’re adding a twist.  Then maybe they need to go to that beach to get such a bad sunburn that they will be handicapped in the next part of their adventure.  Or step on that poisonous jelly fish that will leave them hopping on one leg as they continue.

Go back a few pages and look at where they have been and what they were doing.  Come up with something that threatens or impedes them but keep them striving for the goal they need to reach.  Look through the DBYR filter and follow what your sub-conscious is saying.

But what about that transition scene between completing the dangerous task and getting to the character’s big wedding two days from now?  How do you bridge scenes like that which are so completely different?

Look at your character.  What have they been doing?  What is their state of mind?  Are they totally exhausted and beat six ways from Sunday.  Maybe they need the rest but maybe not all they’ll need.  Maybe they find out there’s a general transportation strike that will keep them from their destination.  How can they make it?  Or go back to the jelly fish and sunburn.  How will they ever be able to function at the wedding without being able to wear clothes or hopping on one foot?

Are they exuberant and ready to go?  Then it’s time to add trials and tribulation to their lives.  Readers want to worry about your characters.  Can they make the wedding or is the former suiter going to lock the church so your character can’t get in?  During the transition, keep your character under duress and stress.  If they aren’t, put them there.  A reader (or your sub-conscious) worrying about your character won’t get bored.

DBYR can be a great filter for any sort of block.  Look at how many obstacles your antagonist, weather, outside forces or even character flaws can put in the way.  Make sure the character is trying their best to go in the most direct route to their goal.  Unless they need a side trip to add a twist to the plot, then make sure there is a logical cause for these things to happen.  If the character is going to the beach after stopping the bank robbery, why?  Did their boss send them away?  Did they get a reward?

If you’re blocked, think of a list of obstacles.  Keep adding to them each day and then put your character through the wringer.  Good-bye block, hello happy reader and sub-conscious.

What do you do to overcome your block?


Terry Compton has raced stock cars, rode horses across the Scapegoat Wilderness, fished and hunted most of his adult life while working at several different jobs. He is an Air Force veteran and served in the Air National Guard for several years. He is currently the owner, chief welder and installer for an ornamental iron business where he has made several award winning metal creations and is now turning this creativity to writing.

Terry loves to read science fiction, westerns and mystery stories. Some of his favorite authors are Clive Cussler, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Andre Norton, Poul Anderson, Robert Heinlein, Louie L’Amour, Zane Grey and Anne McCaffery. He is currently learning about ‘indie’ authors who are publishing e-books.

Terry currently lives in Montana with his wife and a dog who thinks she is a short furry people.

Categories: Writer's Block & Burnout | Tags: , ,

Tips for Avoiding Burnout

I’m sure you’ve heard it said over and over again how important it is to get the next book out.  One of the most effective marketing techniques out there is to publish the next book.  Ideally, this will be a compelling story, but in order to create a compelling story, you need to be energized.  If you’re facing burnout, your work (and other areas of your life) will suffer.

A couple of quick indicators that you might be facing burnout are trouble sleeping, lack of energy/excitement, trouble focusing, headaches, increased illness (ex. you get a head cold easier),  irritability, and anxiety.  Having any of these once in a while isn’t cause for alarm.  But when you notice this is an ongoing thing, you’re probably facing burnout.

What are some causes of burnout?  Doing too much, lack of sales, lack of social support, doing work you’re not passionate about, and negative feedback.

The good news is you can take measures to avoid burnout (or, if you’re currently in the middle of it, pull yourself out).  This is something you have control over.

Here are some tips to avoid burnout.

1.   Take breaks.

This was a hard one for me to do because I used to believe if I wasn’t writing every single day, I was failing as a writer.  After all, you hear over and over how important it is to do this if you’re serious about writing. I’ve found it’s best to take planned breaks.  My new philosophy this year is to write five days a week and take two off.  It doesn’t matter which two are my days off.  I just need to make sure it’s at least two a week.

Ever since I started doing this, I have found it so much easier to write when it comes time to sit and write. I feel renewed and energetic.  When I was making myself write every day, it took me about fifteen to twenty minutes before I could get into the story, and there were days when I felt like I was pulling teeth to get my word count in.  But when I gave myself permission to take days off, I can get into the story in five minutes and I’m able to write more with less effort.

I believe when you take breaks and you’re giving our mind a rest, your subconscious thinks over the story and works things on its own.  Now, I do find it helpful to keep a notebook nearby to mark down ideas if they pop up, but I don’t do any writing.

2.  Take vacations.

It’s okay to take vacations.  These are extended breaks.  If you had a job outside the home, you get days off.  There’s no reason why you shouldn’t use this same principle if you work at home.

Your vacation length will vary depending on your situation.  It can be a week, two weeks, a month, or more if you need it.  I find it helpful to take at least one vacation a year, though I do three because I have kids and realize I need to spend these times with them while they’re still young.   So my husband and I will pick somewhere to visit and spend a few days there.

This time should be dedicated to nonwriting/nonbusiness stuff.  Take time to play, spend time with family, or check out something new.

A word of warning: the longer the vacation, the harder it might be to get back into the writing routine.  It takes me about a week before I’m back in the flow of things.  The most I can manage at first is 500 words. Each day, I can get more in.  On an average day, I write about 1500 to 2000 words.   I know some authors can do more in a day, but that is where I settle on the word count spectrum.  And this brings me to my next tip…

3.  Adjust Your Word Count or Time Goal for Your Comfort Level

Not everyone can write 5,000 words a day.  I know some authors who do, and they do it very well.  I’m not one of them.  As I said above in the five days I write, I average 1500-2000 words.  Some authors prefer to sit down and write for a certain amount of time, like 30 minutes to an hour on their writing days.  Some break up their writing throughout the day.  They might write an hour in the morning and another hour in the afternoon.  Another might break up their writing by word count.  Five hundred words in the morning and a thousand in the afternoon.

Whatever method you choose, pick the one that is most comfortable for you.   If you don’t know where your comfort level is, I suggest taking a couple weeks to monitor how you feel while you’re writing.  When you start to run out of ideas or start feeling like you’re winding down, this in an indication that you’ve reached your limit for the day.  If you ignore this indicator, you could overdo it and risk burnout.  (I’ve done this and learned my lesson the hard way.  Yes, it’s hard to stop, but sometimes you need to stop before you exhaust yourself.)

4.  Do Not Dwell on Sales (or Lack Thereof) or Reviews

I know this is hard.  It is probably the hardest thing we need to do, but focusing on sales (whether good or bad) can hinder the creative energy that makes it exciting to write.  I don’t know how often you can track sales without it affecting your ability to write with as much enthusiasm as possible.  I’ve found I can’t look at my sales report any more than once a month.  I do this at the very end of the month to plan out my budget, so I pretty much have to check them at this point.  But doing more than that will make it difficult for me to write because then my mind is on sales and rankings instead of the story.

Sales go up and down.  The highs can inflate the ego and the lows can bring on depression.  I don’t like this roller coaster ride.  I like to keep things as level as possible in my emotions, and I found I’m actually a lot happier when I ignore what is going on with my sales.

The same is true for reviews.  Reviews are for readers, not the writers.  The time to get feedback on your story is before you publish.  This is why a good editing team (which includes beta readers and critique groups) is so important.  The input you get at this stage is what you need to make your story the best it can be.  Once you publish, that part is over.  Reviews are for potential readers.  They are to help readers decide whether or not to read the book.  It’s okay if some people don’t like your book.  Look at the reviews on your favorite books and movies.  Scroll down to the 1 and 2-star reviews.  See how subjective the reviews are.  Embrace the fact that some people will hate your story.  You can’t please everyone.

This is why the most important thing you can do as a writer is to write the story you are most passionate about.  The one person who should love your work is you.

5.  Embrace Stories You’re Excited About

Some of you might be tired of hearing me tell you to focus on what you’re passionate about, but seriously, the best way to avoid burnout is by doing work you love.  If you’re working on things you don’t enjoy, sooner or later, it’s going to drain you of your energy.  You might be able to sustain momentum for a while.  And for a while, it may seem like it’s working great for you.  But creativity is best fueled by passion.  If you focus on work you truly love, it will be easier to write for a the long haul.

Categories: The Writer & Author, Writer's Block & Burnout

New Year Changes

I stepped into the New Year with trepidation as I awaited the installer of our new television and Internet provider to arrive. Is it not funny how these small-life changes can throw us for a loop?

Well, it did for me. Change was in the air and was it really going to be better as the new carrier suggested? I was apprehensive. We had used our previous providers for many years and were happy with both until recently.

I awoke at 5 a.m. to a blistering-cold morning of one degree. Would he come as promised on this chilly day?

But he arrived and got right to work. A pleasant man who knew his business. Within a couple of hours, I looked at my living room, where wires had stretched for years beside my couch and now I could clean behind it. Besides that, I no longer had to lock our downstairs-bedroom door to keep the cat from playing with the wires in there.

I also no longer had to fret over the modem. Would I have to restart the computer or unplug it today? Relief swept over me. I never realized how all these years these items gave me such anxiety. Now, I felt liberated and in the process I have better television with the program I missed and a faster Internet.

As the man said as he grasped the wires: “What I have in my hand is old technology.” He was right. I needed a change.

This also is true of authors. We get into our grooves and routines and forget to try new things. Last year, I tried something new – the anthology, Bride by Arrangement, with Ruth Ann Nordin. This endeavor allowed me to reach a different audience through my story, She Came by Train. Ruth Ann Nordin and I plan another anthology – a follow-up on last year’s – and my goal is to write book two – a follow-up on Courtships and Carriages – in the Great Plains series.

In addition, I am excited about writing again. I renewed that interest after the busy Christmas activity. I needed a break. Winter also puts you in the mood to write and sit by a fireplace, if you have one. I have one close but not near enough to curl up on a sofa and write. However, it does keep me cozy and keeps my fingers warm enough to type even if my work is gibberish at times. Ha! Ha!

It also makes for a great time to clean up your office and get rid of old files and rearrange your office. Without that modem sitting next to my computer, I was able to wipe away the dust where it used to lie and even that small step gave me pleasure.

When you throw away your old calendar, make sure you replace it with something inspirational to keep you excited about writing. I replaced my office-wall calendar with a calendar portraying a variety of paintings, including January’s winter scene with gray skies, cardinal birds perched on a white fence with a church in the background. The scene fills me with peace and awe in the Creator’s majesty.

Well to wrap up, remember to embrace the future and the change it brings, and I wish you the best in your 2015 writing career. God bless.

Categories: General Writing, Writer's Block & Burnout | Tags: , ,

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