I often get asked questions about writer’s block, and I always have the same answer: I don’t believe in it. I believe in being so emotionally overwhelmed due to circumstances in life where it is too hard to suspend reality and focus on fictional characters and events (try writing romance while you’re going through a divorce. It can be tough). I believe in being so physically, mentally or emotionally drained that creativity is sparse or non-existent and every word feels like it’s being dragged out of you with rusty pliers. I believe in not wanting to put in the work because it feels too hard. I believe in letting writing come in last on the priority list. I believe that there are many reasons for not writing, but I don’t believe in writer’s block because it’s too vague of a concept to be useful.
If you cannot bring yourself to sit down in front of a computer or a notebook and put words on the page, there is always a reason you feel that way. To get beyond this phase in your journey, you have to figure out what that reason is and deal with it so you can get back to work. Maybe you’re paralyzed by the fear of what other people will think. Maybe you have a family that demands every waking moment of your attention and thinking about writing your book seems like a pipe dream. Maybe you have a spouse that’s not supportive of your dream. Maybe you don’t know how to write a book or you’re afraid your book is stupid. There are a million different reasons not to write, and in general, they can each be overcome with time, effort, and desire. Get specific with your reason for not writing. If you leave it as something as vague as “writer’s block”, it may seem so insurmountable that you don’t even try to overcome it. Don’t let that happen. If you want to write and finish a book, prepare to work your ass off. It’s not easy. It never will be easy. But you’ll be a hell of a lot further along if you dig into your reasons for avoiding your story, deal with them (and this could take months or even longer, depending on the complexity of the emotions, events, or issues you’re dealing with in your life), and get back to business. But don’t blame it on writer’s block.
- The most popular question I’m ever asked: How do you come up with ideas for your books? What inspires your stories?
- The second most popular question I’m asked: I have so many ideas for writing a book. How do I start?
How do you come up with ideas for your books? What inspires your stories?
This is definitely the question I’ve gotten asked most often during the course of my publishing career, and it’s one of the weirdest to answer, because here’s the truth: I don’t know where my ideas come from exactly. They’re like tiny meteors that come crashing into my brain and I jerk up and look around wondering what just happened. Inspiration can literally strike anywhere. For instance, the other day, I was out on the lake kayaking and I heard a man yell. Then another man. Forty minutes later, I have a new series halfway plotted and I’m explaining it to Jake on the way up to the house (he’s a kick ass plotting partner). If, someday, this series is published, someone will ask me where the idea came from and I’ll have to explain that I was kayaking and I heard a guy yell and that’s where it came from. I know, it sounds crazy, but that’s how my brain works. It could be a single lyric in a song (if you’ve listened to Marry Me by Thomas Rhett, that’s where The Sin Trilogy came from!) or from a bumper sticker on a truck in the lane next to me. Long story short, inspiration is literally everywhere. But the question I don’t get asked as often is this—how do you turn inspiration into a story? That’s the tricky part. I don’t know if there’s a rule book about this, but since I’ve never read any rules (they may exist, but I’m happy to be living in ignorant bliss), I’ll tell you what I do. ASK A LOT OF QUESTIONS. If you remember the 5-Ws from journalism unit in language arts, you’re in luck because that’s where I go next. I ask myself who – who is this person who is suddenly a character in my brain? What do they want? What do they do? Where are they? How did he or she get into this particular predicament that he or she is now in? Why are they in it? This is where the heart of the story starts to unfold and also how I like to develop characters. Ask questions. See what your brain comes up with. Ask more questions. Write it down. Refine it. Now, if your inspiration is right, you just might have the beginnings of a story that needs to be told!
I have so many ideas for writing a book. How do I start?
This is another great question! If you’re full of ideas and inspiration, you’re in a great place! I think it’s so awesome to be surrounded by possibilities upon possibilities—and definitely better than the alternative (no ideas at all). Step one—write all your ideas down. I hop on my computer (although you can use a notebook) and open a new document for each idea and I just brain dump. Every single one of those questions I told you to ask above? I answer those plus a dozen more. It doesn’t have to be a structured process though, hence the description brain dump. Just get it out. All the details. If you’ve got a setting in your head, describe it. Add all the details about the main characters, side characters, back story, etc. Put it all on paper. Repeat this with every idea. After you’ve successfully dumped the contents of your head on paper (at least as far as your book ideas go), I would suggest stepping back from those genius ideas and… you might have guessed it, ASK SOME QUESTIONS! (This is also why I say I spend a lot of time in my head—because I do. I have a lot of shit to sort out up there and it’s not always an easy process.) What kind of questions should you be asking yourself now? Well, for starters, when you look at the three documents (print them out if it helps), which one do you feel the most passion for or drawn to the most? Writing a book, especially your first book, is quite a feat and you need to be really excited and passionate about the subject matter. Trust me, there will probably come a point in the writing process when you aren’t so jazzed about your book, so you need to reallllllllllly freaking love the idea and be reallllllllly freaking excited about it in order to have the best possible outcome. If I absolutely love all the ideas the exact same amount, then I ask myself another question—which story can I see more vividly in my brain? Which one has characters that already feel real to me? In general, this is my tie-breaker question because one idea is always more vivid and real in my brain. It doesn’t mean the other idea is bad, it just means it hasn’t quite finished simmering yet. For me, simmering is a massively important part of the writing process. I need the idea to very well developed in my brain before I can write it. That’s not true for all writers, but you’ll figure out how your brain works once you’ve got a few—or twenty—books under your belt.
More next time! Feel free to email in reply to the newsletter with your questions on writing or publishing for a chance to have them answered in a future edition!