Overcoming Writer’s Block

Most writers at some point struggle with writer’s block. Overcoming the block can take many forms.

For screenwriter Ramona Taylor, writer’s block is a sign that she doesn’t have a strong enough story. For Mary Burton, writer’s block means she has a problem with her character.


Don’t let cupcakes distract you from writing. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Fortunately for these writers and Greer McAllister, they have developed ways to overcome writer’s block, and they shared their tips at a James River Writers’ Writing Show.

Burton, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling suspense author, said every book “hits a stage where the authors thinks she can’t write and is a fraud.” Burton’s approach is to not focus on the first draft, which she called her “sloppy copy.” The real story, she said, happens in the editing.

McAllister’s novel The Magician — a USA Today bestseller, Indie Next pick, and Target Book Club selection — has been optioned for film by Jessica Chastain. She finds it helpful to write a synopsis first. “I discover what the heck is going on in my book,” she said.

Taylor, whose films have screened in festivals across the country, said she visualizes her screenplay and writes the bullet points. As she is writing, she places asterisks where she is stuck and needs to come back and rewrite. By leaving the writing for a bit, she said she will be inspired later and is able to clean up the bad spots.

All the authors stressed that research is not writing. “Research is fun,” Burton said, “But research is not writing!”

Added McAllister, “Research and writing can really be frenemies.”

When they are truly stuck, she said she will write the copy for the back cover, write social media posts or write to other authors. Her writing continues but not on the book.

Burton recommended creating something or exercising to reset the brain.

One author noted, “You can tell how the writing is going by the number of cupcakes on the counter!”

If all else fails, Burton recommended a “plot nap.”

Write Start 21-Day Challenge

Sometimes you need a push to get started.

Fortunately, I found the encouragement I needed with Javacia Harris Bowser, whom I met at an NFPW conference in Alabama. She recently led the “Write Start 21-Day Challenge,” which was designed to help participants uncover confidence, commitment and creativity to develop a daily writing habit.

I confess that there were a few days in which I did not get to the challenge on the day it happened. I would catch up the next day. And that’s okay because sometimes things don’t work as planned. The key is to keep moving forward.


I generated plenty of ideas following Javacia’s writing prompts. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Javacia encouraged us to create a morning ritual that would include writing. That didn’t work for me because I already have a morning routine that helps me set my intentions for the day. I elected to complete her challenges in the evening.

I had always thought that writing at the end of a full work day would not be possible. Instead, I discovered the time was ideal for me. I did more writing in the 21 days than I had in the previous three months. And I’m still writing! (This post was written in the evening.)

Writing requires a commitment and, if it’s important, Javacia said, “You have to make the time to do it.” In a blog post Why Writers Should Write Every Day she offers reasons to write every day.

She also stressed that being a professional writer means writing even when you don’t feel like it. I set daily and weekly writing goals. I also appreciated Javacia pointing out that we can’t wait for inspiration to hit us. She cited early American author Jack London, who said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

As a result of the Write Start 21-Day Challenge I

  • Developed a habit of writing daily.
  • Created a long list of potential topics.
  • Identified prompts to inspire me.

I know this was a lot of work on Javacia’s part. Thank you Javacia for the inspiration, the creativity and the confidence!

Preparing for Vacation


With careful planning, you can enjoy a vacation. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

I recently returned from an almost two-week vacation and was disconnected from work the entire time. How was that possible given the following news?

In a May 2018 report by CBS News roughly 56 percent of workers surveyed that year said they touch base with work when they’re supposed to be taking a vacation break — up from 41 percent of workers in 2016. The survey included more than 2,800 workers from 28 U.S. markets.

Equally telling is that American workers forfeited nearly 50 percent of their paid vacation in 2017. And, nearly 10 percent take no vacation days at all. According to a study by Glassdoor, the fear of falling behind is the number one reason people aren’t using their vacation time.

For me it was all about pre- and post-planning. My pre-planning included limiting meetings in the two days prior to my departure. I also compiled a list of major projects with their status. I shared this with my team and boss so everyone knew where critical pieces stood. Colleagues agreed to keep two of the projects moving.

I also asked my team to send me an email each Friday with a summation of the week. This included updates on my projects as well as their work. They also included some fun details, which made me feel more connected.

This summation enabled me to delete lots of emails because I already knew the requests had been handled.

Upon my return, I blocked my calendar for my first morning back to the office. This allowed me to focus on my projects that needed action. In the remaining hour, I scheduled follow-up meetings and responded to emails. I also held a team meeting for quick updates.

By day’s end, I was back in the thick of things — feeling good about work and still reveling in my vacation respite.

Summer Plans

Tomorrow is the first day of summer. Are you ready?

I fondly recall the lazy, unstructured days of summer as a child when we played outside until long past the streetlights came on. Usually, we were called in when the lightning bugs lit the night. Those unstructured days, though, were book ended by vacation and summer camps. A bit of structure made the other days that much more enjoyable.


A book is best read poolside in the summer. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

As an adult, I tend to follow a similar pattern. It’s a good summer when I visit my pool frequently. Once poolside, I relax with a book and a stack of magazines. When the sun beats down and the gentle breeze stops, it’s time to plunge into the water. I repeat frequently.

But I also like having some goals for the summer so I don’t feel as if I’ve frittered the summer away. Here are a few of my goals —

Conquer my book pile. As a child I always participated in the summer reading program at my library. As an adult, I have my own program — finish the books I own and don’t check too many out from the library. My goal is to read five to 10 books each month. I seldom turn my TV on during the summer and with all my pool time, this is a doable goal.

Explore. I’m planning to attend an exhibition on Pompeii at the science museum. At the art museum, I will learn about a Tibetan Buddhist’s journey toward enlightenment. I also have a list of new restaurants to check out.

Learn. I’m taking two online classes. One is about podcasting and the other is on workplace communication. I may also spring for a cooking class or two.

Do you have summer goals? If so, would you share them in the comments section?

Plotting and Writing a Mystery with Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written more than 30 mysteries in four bestselling series and she generously shared writing tips with a bunch of mystery writers.

Her tips included:

  1. Writing is an art, and it’s also a business. Know your competition! This could be a challenge given there are 1,400 mysteries published traditionally each year.
  2. Know your genre. Are you writing a cozy (no violence or sex), psychological suspense (the character is tested to the limit), hard-boiled (tough view of the world) or soft-boiled, which is also called a traditional mystery (think Sue Grafton)?
  3. The first chapter needs plot movement. Something has to happen – and quickly. If you want to learn to plot, she recommends creating a chapter by chapter plot summary.
  4. What is your point of view? She said writing with a third-person narrator is the most popular view in mysteries.
  5. Are you writing a stand-alone mystery or a series? She noted that thrillers tend to be stand-alone books. Whatever you write, Elaine recommends not killing off popular characters. She said, “Murder with restraint.”
  6. The middle is the most dangerous part of the book. “You need to have surprises,” Viets said. “You have to keep the plot moving with plot twists and red herrings.”
  7. Each chapter should end with an unanswered question or with a cliffhanger so the reader will want to go to the next chapter.
  8. The main character has to have a private life and a flaw. “Wounded people look for answers,” Viets said.