How to Beat Writer’s Block by Catherine Law
Catherine Law is the bestselling author of Map of Stars, a tear-jerking wartime romance for fans of Kathryn Hughes and Leah Fleming. Her latest novel The Secret Letters was just published last week by Zaffre (review to follow). Set in WW2 England and Communist Prague, it promises another heart-breaking story of love, hope, lies and buried secrets.
She’s here to give her tips on how to conquer the formidable beast that is writer’s block…
When the writing stops…
All writers have been there at some time or another. But what do I do when inspiration fails, when I’m wading through the frustrating and scary depths of dreaded writer’s block? I find that half the battle is recognising that I have it. A fog of general dissatisfaction seems to creep up on me. Symptoms include lack of confidence, very lazy writing, and a tendency to find other things to do, such as cleaning the leaves of a houseplant with a wet wipe and checking in to Buzzfeed to divert a few more of my brain cells away from the path that they are supposed to be taking. Hands up, who feels that the pesky distractions of the internet have become such an annoying and common phenomenon?
When I was writing my first novel, A Season of Leaves back in 2008 (to be re-issued as an e-book on 6 October 2016 with the new title The Secret Letters), I did not have to struggle against these disruptions. I’d never heard of Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter or Instagram. I got about one email a day. And I did not have all these icons right there on my computer desktop alongside my Word document – I still had dial-up, for goodness sake!
Was my head clearer then? Was writing easier? Did inspiration strike more often? When I think back, I was at a different, much earlier place on my learning curve, my long journey as a writer. And I hope that, over the years, the more I have written, the better I have become, developing my skills all the time. So, despite the interference of the modern digital-age, my creative process remains the same.
But if I realise that I’m plunging into a well of non-creativity, while trying not to panic, I do something else creative, something else that will feed my imagination, often in an unlikely way. Here’s a mini check list that works for me:
- Read books outside of your genre.
- Listen to music – comforting favourites or something fresh and new.
- Watch films, really good stirring modern classics, such as The English Patient or Atonement, or something fun like Bridesmaids or Bridget Jonesand laugh that block away.
- Do a practical – and quite mindless – task, such as clearing out cupboards or something more creative like the decorating.
- Go for long walks and if you can, reconnect with nature. Stand in a wood or on a beach and just listen.
- Stay away from your lap top and try to let your mind drift to allow your imagination to click back in to gear.
- And, still avoiding the lap top, sit down with pen and paper and force yourself to work through the problem, whether it is that there is something wrong with the plot or the characters.
- Finally, treat yourself. Sometimes all it needs is a nice cup of tea and a bar of chocolate.
It goes without saying that social media is the killer of creativity, so I do try to resist the urge to constantly check it. My best time for writing is very early in the morning, so I set aside a portion of the end of the day for all the emails, posts and tweets that demand my attention, and help to get my work out there.
By the way, I recently downloaded an app that was supposed to block the internet from my computer as and when I wanted it to. But I found it too tricky and time-consuming to use, which was not part of the plan at all. I got so annoyed with it for constantly sending me emails, that it had to go! I’ll just have to stick with good old-fashioned discipline and self-control.
CATHERINE LAW was born in Harrow, Middlesex in 1965 and has been a journalist for twenty-two years, having trained first as a secretary at the BBC and then attending the London College of Printing. She now works on a glossy interiors magazine and lives in Buckinghamshire.
5 Top Tips For Writing Historical Romance and Getting Published by Valerie Bowman
Valerie Bowman, St Martin’s Press bestselling author of The Irresistible Rogue, The Untamed Earl, The Unforgettable Hero and coming soon The Legendary Lord, shares her top tips for getting published in romance…
1.Join Romance Writers of America. RWA is a nonprofit trade association whose mission is to advance the professional and common business interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy and by increasing public awareness of the romance genre. This group taught me everything I know and I’ve made some of my very best friends there. I cannot recommend it enough! www.RWA.org
2. Read. Read. And read some more. If you aspire to be published in historical romance, read a lot of historical romance, especially the newest historical romance being published. Find debuts and see what sort of stories they’re writing.
3. Browse the internet. Some of my favorite sites for writers include agent Kristin Nelson’s archived blog http://nelsonagency.com/pub-rants/. It is one of the best sources of information for writers out there. Some other sites I love are: http://writerunboxed.com/, http://pred-ed.com/, and http://queryshark.blogspot.com/. But the fact is there there are hundreds of fantastic sites for writers and they’re all at your fingertips. Find, read, and learn.
4. Did I mention reading? You not only need to read historical romance, but I also highly recommend that you read books on the craft of writing. My favorites include: Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies by Leslie Wainger, Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain, and Story Genius by Lisa Cron. I spent a summer several years back reading every single craft book I could get my hands on. It did wonders for my writing. In addition to reading books, if you can swing it, I highly recommend writing workshops by Michael Hague, Bob Mayer, Margie Lawson, and Donald Maas.
5. My biggest tip for writing and publishing historical romance, however, is: sit down and write. There’s no substitute for actually writing the words on the page. In fact, I’d argue that finishing a book is probably more important than how good it is…at least at first. When I started writing, I finished two manuscripts from beginning to end before I did any of the other things I mentioned above. Why? Because i wanted to prove to myself that I had the stick-to-it-ive-ness to actually finish. Don’t let research or perfectionism slow you down, either, just type (or handwrite) and FINISH!
VALERIE BOWMAN grew up in Illinois with six sisters (she’s number seven) and a huge supply of historical romance novels. After a cold and snowy stint earning a degree in English with a minor in history at Smith College, she moved to Florida the first chance she got. Valerie now lives in Jacksonville with her family including her two rascally dogs. When she’s not writing, she keeps busy reading, traveling, or vacillating between watching crazy reality TV and PBS. She is also the author of the Secret Brides series, starting with Secrets of a Wedding Night, Secrets of a Runaway Bride, and Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage.
“The story that unfolds is filled with humor, a twisting plot and the vibrant characters that have become Bowman’s hallmark… exactly what readers want.”
−The Washington Post on The Irresistible Rogue
“With its lively plot, heated sexual tension, surprising twists, engaging characters and laugh-out-loud humor, Bowman’s latest is another winner.”
−RT Book Reviews on The Irresistible Rouge
“With a romance novel as good as this one, it’s difficult to accept anything less from other Regency romance novels.”
−City Book Review on The Untamed Earl
Kathryn Taylor, Author of Colours of Love
Tips for Successful Romance Writing
I have just discovered this fantastic digital publisher called Bastei and a new romancer on the block called Kathryn Taylor, whose trilogy left me with steam blowing out my ears. Read my review here.
Bio: Kathryn Taylor has been a writer since childhood – publishing her first story when she was eleven years old. From then on, she knew that she wanted to be a professional author one day. After a few career detours and a happy ending in her personal life, her dream has finally come true: UNBOUND – COLOURS OF LOVE is her first novel.
She has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her writing and how the heck she creates an amazing love story.
So many fellow bloggers have been comparing ‘Colours of Love’ with ’50 Shades’, what is your response to this comparison? Did ’50 Shades’ inspire you, or did you want to put out something completely different?
Oh, I definitely was inspired by ‘50 Shades’ to some extend but as you know when you read it, ‘Colours of Love’ does go into a completely different direction. Jonathan and Christian do not have much in common apart from both being filthy rich and determined and successful at their jobs. Jonathan is a British aristocrat and has to deal with a whole different set of problems that have turned him into the man he is now. He is not looking for love and it takes him a long time to finally admit to his feelings for Grace. She’s a lot more than he has bargained for and I really liked to write how he gradually gives in, how she gains ground with him and never gives up fighting because she – like me – feels that he’s worth saving. So what my story does have in common with ‘Fifty Shades’ is the strong love story. I really go for that, it’s what I love to write about.
Your steamy scenes would make any reader weak at the knees! What is it like writing them?
It’s hard work. I try to write them like I would like to read them but there’s a fine line between very erotic or rather gross and embarrassing. I try to keep it erotic at all times and I’m happy to hear that it worked. And very important while writing: do not think about you mother or imagine her reading it.
What was your route to becoming an author, do you have any tips for aspiring romance writers?
I knew fairly early on that my future job should have something to do with writing because I’ve always loved it. So I first became a journalist, then I edited and translated novels for a while and in the end I started writing them myself. My advice for aspiring romance writers would be: read as much as you can, because you need inspiration and you need to see how others make a story work. Write as much as you can, because practice is everything. You’ll learn even from the stories that never get published and you must often try again and again until things finally work out. And finally: love what you do, especially when you write romance. People can tell whether you are in love with your heroes and heroines yourself and they will only believe your story if you do.
After a few pages in, I felt like I knew Grace so well, how do you make your characters so realistic and how do you find inspiration for them?
Again most of it is hard work. It takes me a long time to create a scene with which I am truly satisfied. I rewrite them a lot and sometimes I throw them away altogether and start anew because they just didn’t work out like I wanted them to. Or the characters just don’t do what they’re supposed to do. I know it sounds weird but they start living after a while when you write them and then it’s as if they get stubborn and just refuse to say or do certain things. That’s probably when they really are complete as a person and won’t act out of character, that’s when they start ‘coming off the page’ and get real. I always try to make them that way, I ask myself again and again whether they make sense. They have to stay true to the way I thought them up – I guess that’s the secret, when you want people to be able to bond with them.
Which romance authors do you like reading?
I like the more passionate ones like Linda Howard or Nora Roberts. And I admire Sylvia Day for her ability to set pages truly on fire.
I adore that last description- we should all strive to light our pages on fire (metaphorically that is).
Mila Gray (Sarah Alderson) Talks Romance!