Archive for the ‘Writer’s Block’ Category


When Writing Leaves You Feeling Vulnerable

June 4, 2015

pub1Sometimes I shout inwardly:




I have a pen name all picked out. Many years ago, when I volunteered at the GLBT bookstore in Vancouver, one of my co-volunteers misunderstood my name Julie as Jubilee when we were introduced.

I was very excited by this miscommunication. JUBILEE! I excitedly responded. That’s awesome!

Isn’t that a great name? Jubilee sounds fun loving and sassy and bright. Jubilee is happy go lucky and doesn’t care what anyone thinks, so there.

But I have not been able to embrace this cool pen name. I have decided to be boringly ‘authentic’ and ‘claim my writing life’ as who I am naturally: Julie Johnson.

Also, I have been so keen to claim my writing identity, I have not been able to shut up about it. Everyone knows. Every one, near and far, in the Twitter-verse and down the road.

This leads to moments of horrible paralysis.

Moments of a very particular writing brain-freeze that is akin to stage fright.

Watch, as I enter the twilight realm of ‘what if’…

What if someone I know reads my finished work. What if, while publicly congratulating me on email, FB and Twitter, they secretly feel it’s terrible, scandalous, badly written and probably half of it is autobiographical…they are trying to work out what parts reveal my dirty secrets…is that Mr. Rutherford character based on a high-school boyfriend, for instance?

The worst will be people I interact with face to face. There we’ll stand, chatting about the weather, both of us keenly aware of page 119. Yes, I wrote that scene. Yes, I know you know I wrote that scene and I know you know I know, you know?


So very awkward.

This can be such a stomach churning sensation in my imagination that all further writing dries up.

What if my parents read this? What if my friends read this? What if my co workers read this? What if my neighbours read this? What if my kids, when they are all grown up, read this? What about my in laws? My extended family? The students I’ve worked with over the years?

The bus driver? The contractor who put in our front door? My chiropractor? The dentist?

What will they think?


In moments like these, I have to talk myself back into a better head space. 

I have to tell myself:

  • most people you know will not read your book, Regency mysteries not being their cup of tea
  • most people you know will just be happy for you that you got published and reached your goal
  • most people you know are polite, they won’t openly admit if they disliked it
  • and if they disliked it, then they did, so what?

It’s easier to think of strangers reading my books. So sometimes I try take the personal element out of it.

Sometimes I channel my feelings into the book. Guess what, main character, you are about to experience a cringe inducing moment of vulnerability in front of your worst enemy…

Because, it’s true, fiction can be autobiographical, though not in the way most people think…

Like most things in life, here’s how you handle it: you take a deep breath, and keep on going as you were, right towards your goal, right on through.

Write even though you feel vulnerable. Write until you feel strong in your voice again. And if you feel vulnerable again, here’s the plan:

Keep writing.


Dealing with Writer’s Block

May 1, 2015

blankjpgAs legend has it, Mark Twain (may have) set aside Huck Finn for seven years because he didn’t know what was going to happen to his characters next. That’s some serious writer’s block, wouldn’t you say?

So whenever I hit a bit of writing turbulence, I’ll wonder: Uh oh. Is this my Huck Finn moment?

Am I going to have writer’s block for seven years?

This might be why I cultivate a variety of creative projects…because then I’ll have something else to fall back on in case my main project completely jams up…though I really don’t want it to come to that!

I’d rather get myself past the bumpy bits and keep moving onward.

offering1jpgWhen I wrote Regency Mystery #1, it took a long time for me to finish (ie: years) because I built in the editing process. If I hit a wall or knew a section was shaky, plot wise, I paused and figured out a solution. Or researched the heck out of it.

Like I was some kind of NASA engineer.

One time, I went back and re-wrote the entire first third. I wasn’t moving forward unless the structure was sound.

Solid, like a brick outhouse.

No way was I going to finish it only to find the floor was crooked and the door fell off as soon as you sat down…

So when writer’s block happened, it was a big ordeal. I had to find a solution or the project couldn’t go. No lift off.

That involved a lot of strain and struggle. 

It took time, but I always found a solution. Luckily, I never had to wait seven years…

With Regency mystery #2, I’m trying a different approach. Sort of the #nanowrimo approach.

Word count matters. I just want to reach the finish line, FAST.

(80,000 words of gibberish? I’ll take it!)

And I figure if the structure’s a little wobbly, I can shore up the roof and fix the door when I’m finished…

This requires a different approach to writers block because, basically…

there is no writers block!

If something doesn’t feel right, no matter, ignore it, just keep MAKING IT UP!

blockedSo far, I have refrained from using alien abductions or time travel as plot explanations. (And no, I haven’t used: ‘it was all a dream’).

But the temptation is certainly there to free-fall into nonsense just so I can have a first draft finished.

This is a new approach for me, and not one I am totally comfortable with.

But I am making an effort, hoping maybe it’ll take less time to fix a first draft after the fact rather than doing a million drafts and edits as I crawl my way along.

We shall see.

In the meantime, I still use these strategies when ever I’m up against those wiggly, panic-inducing ‘I don’t know’s’:

  • use parentheses to mark the small bits I need to add to later (see the posting ‘Frame It To Keep The Writing Flowing’ for more info on how this works)
  • go for a walk or go for a ride or do yoga or clean house or go kayaking….clear your mind; take a break; stop thinking about it
  • approach it as play, just goof around, make it an improv scene, see what happens…you don’t have to keep it if it doesn’t work out…but, then again, you might surprise yourself and stumble upon awesomeness…
  • stay open! stay receptive! You never know what might show up!
  • maintain a consistent writing practice, even if it’s only 10-15 minutes, set the timer if need be
  • work on something else for a little while, but do come back and try again…

I think the key is to…not panic!

Remember, Mark Twain finished Huck Finn… eventually.


Never Give Up as a Writer

April 17, 2015

never give upSometimes I sit down at the computer and think:


I’m too tired, too unfocused, too preoccupied.

I am not feeling it. Not feeling the writer love.

I’m just sitting there with a sneer.

Even though I know about writing’s transformative power, having experienced it many times, I’m certain that this–this time, I’m sure–it will NOT happen.

Do you hear that Writing Gods? It’s not going to happen! *sneer*

Then guess what?

It happens.

My crotchety mind-set starts to soften. Slowly, I relax into the story again. It wins me over. It wines and dines me.

Time blurs: a montage of me studious and intent at the key board. Clickity-clack.

Next thing I know, I’ve written 1000 words and my story has entered this new, fresh, sphere of existence. My main character is giving a speech, for gods sake! A speech I just wrote for her! How the heck did that happen?

This is why, my fellow writers, you must never, ever talk yourself into giving up.

Sit down and see what happens. Give yourself time to see what happens.

You never know what might happen!


Choosing the Title of Your Novel: It’s Time to Name the Baby!

April 24, 2014

naming the babyI usually have no trouble choosing a title for a piece of work. The title typically comes before the work, or concurrently, and when it does, it seems right.

You can feel when a title is right. It sits in the gut in just the right way.

Not so my current novel. My opus of numerous years has remained title-less. When speaking of it I call it ‘my novel’ or ‘my regency romp’ or ‘my regency soap opera’.

It has no official name–yet.

I need to rectify that. I am nearing THE END, starting to cast my eye towards publishing, and I can’t keep calling it ‘my novel’, certainly not in my query letters to agents.

It’s time to name the baby!

But what do I name the baby?

I have no idea. Nothing from the novel itself leaps up. No particular saying or place.

I’m stumped.

I decided to try random associations, something I like to do when I’m stuck/have writer’s block.

I turned first to the tarot, randomly selecting a card. I got the card ‘judgement’. Reading through the meaning of Judgement,  this phrase stood out:


Ooooo, I thought. That might work! It fits with the story (several of my characters have their pasts rise up and bite them in the bum).

Plus, my novel is the first in a series and think of all the ways I could play around with ‘shadows’!

Shadows of the Past, Shadows of the Heart, Deep Shadows, etc.

But does this exemplify the quirkiness of my regency romp? Is it too common a turn of phrase? Does it stand out? Is it too hokey? Does it sound too ‘Harloquin Romance’?

So I kept hunting.

This time I plucked a few of my favourite era-ish themed books off the shelf, closed my eyes and chose a page.


Here are some of the phrases I found that could conceivably be turned into titles to fit my  novel:

From Gothic by Fred Botting (pg. 48):

  • Let Fancy Roam
  • A Certain Distance

From Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (pg.148):

  • Feeling Haunted
  • Impulses of the Moment

From Glenarvon by Lady Caroline Lamb (pg. 142):

  • The Meaning of That Glance
  • Jests of Fancy

From The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker by Tobias Smollett (pg. 70):

  • Uncommon Regard
  • Turned Tipsy Turvy (which has the benefit of alliteration! Always welcome in a title!)

I even tried randomly selecting a page from my own novel.

  • A Peculiar Message
  • Sitting in Solitude (more alliteration!)

None leap out at me as the one, I’m afraid.

I guess the next step is to write them all up on slips of paper, stick them in a hat and pull one out with my eyes closed?



When Plots Go Wild! (a.k.a Have I Inadvertently Written a Series?)

April 2, 2014

when plots go wildI started my novel using Scriverner, which, if you are not familiar with it, allows you to write scenes within chapters as separate segments. It’s great for focusing on writing little bit by little bit, rearranging your scenes as need be (with a quick click/drag of the mouse), and looking at the parts of your whole.

Recently, I decided to put each ‘scene’ from Scrivener into a word document, so I could see how it read in a continuos flow.

I also wanted my word count.

Are you ready for this?

139, 918

And I’m not done yet!

Now, a typical novel is meant to be between 80, 000 and 100, 000 words.

Web sites dedicated to novel lengths will tell you: do NOT go over 100, 000 words, especially if you are a ‘new writer’ (i.e.: not JK Rowling, Stephen King or Geroge R. R. Martin).

In fact, you are better off leaving it at 99, 999 words because it seems that once that tally clicks over into the one hundred thoughsandths column, any agent you are submitting your work to is going to react with a facial tick–and a big fat NO WAY, FORGET IT!

Or so the web sites say.

Which leaves me wondering…am I looking forward to a drastic edit? As in shave off, oh, 40, 000 words (ha!) or…am I somehow in the process of writing TWO novels and just didn’t realize it?

Have I inadvertently written a series?

I will admit it, in writing my novel, plot has been my arch nemesis, the aspect with which I’ve struggled with most.

As I’ve discussed in previous posts (like Determining Plot: Time for a Coin Toss?), I’ve tried outlining the plot events (oh believe me, I’ve tried) but can’t seem to be that specific. I tend to thrive on the process of discovering the finer details of plot by plodding my way, step by step, through it…deliciously surprising myself in the process.

I have a general guideline in my head of how events are going to play out but I also love putting my characters in situations and then seeing ‘what developes’. This is fun and rewarding–and also maddening. It has lead to bouts of back tracking,  rethinking, grasping at straws…

I believe the technical term is called ‘painting myself into a corner with no idea how to get out (yet).’

(Oh, the hours I’ve spent ruminating on plot problems. Ha Ha good times.)

I tend to be one of those go-with-the flow writers…but ‘my flow’ runneth over, it seems.


Or, if I turns out I’m writing two books, I don’t have enough plot yet.

In either case, yet another plot pause and a rethink may be required.




The Benefit of A Consistent Writing Practice

March 13, 2014

quit sulkingIf you’ve followed my blog recently, you’ll know I suffered a setback…a month’s worth of novel writing ‘disappeared’ due to a corrupted computer file.

I have tried to rally from this loss but to be honest: it hasn’t been easy.

I don’t wanna, has been my grumpy attitude towards having to re-write scenes already written. I said it better before, I’ll grouch as try to recollect a particular turn of phrase from those deleted sections.

Nothing is good enough. The material feels boring. I’ve tread this path before and I resent having to tread it again with less verve and inspiration.

Never before has writing felt like such a grind. It is PRIME TIME for procrastination. I don’t wanna. I’ll do it later. Another time. When I feel like it. *sticks out tongue at computer*

But I know it needs to get done. I want to finish this story, it needs to be told, its been a process of many years and its so close to the end, I can taste it. I don’t want to wait until inspiration strikes. I need to make the inspiration happen now whether it wants to or not…

So I’ve finally adhered to that old adage: WRITE EVERYDAY.

I used to write when I could break away from daily life. My ideal writing time was when I was jazzed by an idea or had set aside the luxury of ‘a few hours’. Those two combined was a heady mix of ‘writer’s bliss’. When I was jazzed and really had the time to tap into it and cause it to manifest…man, those were the best writer times EVER.

Looking back, my writing practice was a mix of turbo writing madness followed by an infuriating barren block, followed by a trickle allowed by circumstance, followed by a block, then a trickle, then a turbo…it was an inconstant pattern, actually: rush, stop, lurch, stop, rush, lurch. I felt at the whim of the Writing Gods. They seemed to be having a good laugh at my expense, those rascals.

But I’ve decided now I cannot wait for ‘inconsistent whims’. Otherwise, I’ll never get over this hump. So I’ve decided to drop the bar of expectation low. My reasoning: a low bar is better than no bar at all.

I’ll actually put on the stove timer. I started with ten minutes. Moved to fifteen minutes. Surely I can spare a mere fifteen minutes everyday? (If I turn of Netflix, I can.)


Setting the timer allows me to enter my novel with minimal expectations. From this vantage point, the only way to go is UP. And so…I go UP.

Interestingly, I have found myself exceeding the timer on occasions. The timer will ring and I’ll look up from the screen: huh? what? I’ve been too involved in writing to notice the passing of time.

This method is helping me deal with my grumpy writer attitude. By the end of my session, I am typically transformed, regaining confidence–and bit by bit, my writing is growing. I am slowly recapturing what I’ve lost and my novel is growing. Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes at a time.

Such is the benefit of a consistent writing practice.

PS Don’t have a timer, you say? Try this one on line!

writer decisions


Breaking Thru Writers Block: “Honey, where’s the kayak?”

August 11, 2011

I spent two weeks at the family cottage up north and was able to break through some serious plot points. KERPOW! I had been struggling with these various knotted, tangled plot nubs for some time, trying to massage and release them, and all of a sudden, they literally unfurled in my hands like rose buds. I got it!

And what was my secret, you ask?

Well, I simply hopped in the kayak, and paddled around the island to the marsh. There I would float, looking at all the water lilies bobbing on the water, listening to the wind in the trees, watching dragonflies land here and there (most of them copulating, one on top of the other) and slapping away the occasional horse fly…

The family cottage is quite remote and on a lake with only a few cottages. In the middle of the week, it’s dead quiet. Quiet enough that you can float in the water, hear nothing but nature, and think nothing but…plot.

The question is…now that I’m back in the big, bad city, how do I recapture that sense of stillness so that I can focus and work through the writing issues I need to work through?

Sure, there’s nature around here. I have a garden. The city has parks. But its just not the same. For one thing, it’s…noisy.

I know I am able to tune the noise out. In the past, I’ve proven myself an excellent mutli-tasker. If you need someone to cook, clean, come up with a character for a scene in 19th century Bath, while simultaneously writing an entry on Facebook & Twitter, reading a library book about a crime in ancient Rome, stopping a fight between a 4 & 6 year old over an old Happy Meal toy that neither really wants and asking the hubby what colour to paint the bathroom…then I’m your woman! I have done it. I CAN do it.

But sometimes I can’t. And locking myself in the bathroom with my laptop while shouting at everyone to BE QUIET just isn’t the way to solve the problem.

If only the kayak would fit in the bathtub…?

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