RHYS BOWEN: When I give a talk I can guarantee that someone will always ask, "How do you handle writer's block?"
And I am always tempted to tell Robert B Parker's story. He said, "If you call a plumber to your house and he takes the pipes apart, he doesn't then look at them and say 'Sorry I can't put these back together today. I've got plumber's block!."
The point is that if you want to succeed you have to see yourself as a professional writer. We all have good days when words flow easily and bad days when it's like squeezing blood from a stone. After 28 mysteries it doesn't really get much easier. I'm always in panic mode for the first half of every book.
But I have certain rules. I make myself start at page one and go through a whole first draft to page 350. No jumping over the hard parts or boring bits. I make myself write at least 5 pages a day. Cannot leave that chair until those pages are done. I always start by editing what I wrote the day before and that way I never have to stare at a blank screen and I get into the characters' voices easily.
If your story gets stuck I have a couple of suggestions:
1. You may be trying to make your characters do something that is not in their nature and they are digging their heel s in. Remember once you have created a character it is his or her story, not yours. Don't ever try to mould the character to your plot!
2. Maybe you came up with a great premise that did not turn out to be a great story. Maybe the premise has no good resolution. It was a good way to sell a book but has no satisfying outcome. Again let your characters live their lives, not your storyline.
3. Sometimes I drive around in my car, talking through scenes out loud until the dialog seems just right. Thank God for Bluetooth. Now people no longer give me funny looks!
LUCY BURDETTE:Yes, Rhys, butt to chair and hands to keyboard. And the writing comes better if I stay very very regular. Word count every day. On the other hand, a writer needs some time off too! Interesting that Rhys thinks jumping around is cheating. I'm writing the second food critic mystery right now and the deadline is coming very fast. And I have some tricky parts involving motives that are still fuzzy in my head. So to keep things moving, I jumped ahead and wrote the last three chapters--or roughed them out anyway. I'm hoping>this gives my brain time to solve the problems while I still makeg progress.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Lucy, I know of a wonderful author, Jennifer Cruise, who famously writes her books as a bunch of scenes in the first draft and then>stitches them together as seems best. I think we all know the only no-fail piece of writing advice is, "If it works for you, do it." That being said, my favorite technique for overcoming writers block is to give myself permission to write crap. Just get the word count up on the page, no matter how banal, meaningless and awful. I promise myself I can go back tomorrow and toss it all out Surprisingly, when I reopen the manuscript the next day, I often discover what I thought was dreck isn't half bad. A little tweak here, clean up the language there...and I'm off and running on today's writing.
HALLIE EPHRON: Where I am most likely to get stuck is on the connective tissue. Getting from point A to point B (or T to U) gracefully and seamlessly. I'm going to try to Jennifer Cruise approach and skip over the between parts and add them in later. Great idea.Otherwise, every day I try the JUST WRITE approach. Even if it's drek, some of it always turns out to be salvageable.
RHYS: If I only did the fun parts and skipped over the connective tissue, I'd lose interest, I know. For me it's like a long hike up a mountain. Sometimes you have to cross the boring part before you get the spectuacular views, but the boring part has to be crossed in order. And I can never tell in advance which scenes will be exciting and significant and which I'll just gloss over.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: There is no writers block. As a reporter, I have to be ready at 6pm with my piece, right? I can't say--oh, could I go on the air at ten after six instead? SO I just--know my word count for the day, and do it. And Julia, I so agree. What seems horrible, derivative, clunky and wrong on Monday may marinate into being not half bad after some tweaking on Tuesday. And it's not because you're rationalizing--it's just because you were too cranky to see the potential in what was there. Secret to keeping going? One, I ask myself--what would really happen? If this were real life, because it is, of course, what would he/she really do or say? And sometimes, a wonderful answer emerges.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I try to keep Nora Roberts's "Bad pages are better than no pages," quote stamped on my forehead. Even if a day's pages are horrible, you have something to work with the next morning. Or before bed. I can struggle with something all day and suddenly see how to fix it when I'm getting ready for bed. But I have to do it THEN, not later. I start out writing sequentially, but don't consider skipping around;cheating. Because I tend to outline in chunks, I often get complete parts of scenes while outlining and so stick them in. I'm trying Scrivener for the first time with the w-in-p, which I think will be>great for having a place to put out-of-sequence stuff
JAN BROGAN - I think those really rotten days of writing do some subconscious grunt work and allow/lead up to those wonderful days of writing. When I'm stuck, I just write the dialogue, which always comes easy to me. That generally gets right to the conflict. The connective tissue - and it is such a pain, Hallie -- eventually comes.
RHYS: So You see how very differently we tackle our work. It's a question of what works for one doesn't work for another. But just because we've sold books and become moderately successful, don't think for a moment that we've found the magic formula and now breeze through our books. It's still hard work. It's still butt on the chair and not moving until something is fixed.
Anyone out there have a great tip for overcoming writer's block (If there is such a thing?)