Breaking Through Writer’s Block

You can’t think yourself out of a writing block, you have to write yourself out of a thinking block. — John Rogers, Kung Fu Monkey, 06-25-11

Are you stuck on a particular passage in your writing? Don’t worry—it happens to all of us. There are many ways to tackle the problem. As usual, some are more productive than others. Some hints:

  • DON’T throw up your hands and quit.
  • DON’T beat your head against it until blood drips off your chin. You could short out your keyboard.
  • DO take a short break. Get a snack or a cup of hot tea while listening to music. Take a walk outside. Call a friend to chat about good things—not to complain about your problems.
  • DO try to get a fresh perspective. 
    • Stand in front of the mirror and explain what you want to write to yourself. Record what you say on your phone. If you don’t know how to do this, do a search for “how to record a voice memo.” Make two or three recordings and listen to yourself. Where does it break down? How can you fix it?
    • If you’re writing fiction, write the scene from another character’s point of view. Try using a character who has opposing views. Describe it from the POV of a stranger looking through an open door. Have the character tell about it five years later. 
    • Write the passage as fast as you can in five different ways. Read them aloud and highlight the good parts of each.
  • DO let it simmer in the back of your mind if the above suggestions don’t work. Work on another project today and think about it again when you turn off the light tonight. Oddly enough, you can sometimes untie the tangles while you sleep. When you wake up in the morning, try thinking it through before you open your eyes and let the new day chase your dream thoughts away.
  • DO skip the passage and pick up the narrative in the next chapter. My first drafts often have a couple of blank lines with a note to self: Bridge Out – need connecting paragraph. When you forget it for weeks or months until your first revision, it’s amazing how much easier it is. You already know what comes on either side of it.

Do you have a trick to jump start your writing? Please share in the comments. 

Posted in Writing Tips | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Do I Need An Editor? The answer is YES!

My friends love it.

I finished my book and all my friends love it. My mom says it’s the best thing she’s ever read. I followed advice and hired an editor, even though I didn’t think I needed it. Now a publisher says I should have my manuscript edited before resubmitting. Was I scammed?

In all likelihood the writer was not scammed. Although scammers do exist, this writer probably started with the wrong type of editor.

Editing is a step-by-step process with grammar, punctuation, and proofreading as the very last step. Yet that is what immediately comes to mind when a new writer finishes the self-editing phase and, often reluctantly, begins to look for an editor.

The writer may know a retired English teacher who would love a few extra dollars, or perhaps has a friend who knows something about writing. After all, friends and family love it and have found a few typos.

That is not what is meant by editing. Editing is a specialized skill that can turn a decent book into a good book, a good book into a great book. But there is more than one skill needed in the editing process. You must know where to begin, and you must be willing to learn from the advice you are given.

Before hiring an editor, you must first decide what level of editing is needed. What is your goal? What is your measure of success? If you are writing a story to amuse your friends, or writing a memoir for your grandchildren, then an editor who cleans up the typos and fixes the misplaced commas is perfect.

If you want to sell books to an increasingly impatient yet sophisticated modern reader, you need to make sure you present a book that is professional in appearance and substance. Writing at this level is a business, and every business needs an initial investment. You need to hone your craft over years, and one of the best ways to do that is to learn by working with a good editor. Choose wisely.

Developmental editor, Content editor, or Substantive editor is the person concerned with the basic structure of the book. Structure is the most fundamental level of editing. Is the story sound? Does it flow smoothly for the reader? Is anything missing in the plot? Or side roads that lead nowhere? Are the characters well developed? Are they distinct and consistent in their actions and motivations? Following the advice of a content editor may result in the need for extensive rewrites. Writers just starting on their path might be wise to find someone earlier in the process.

Book doctors, book coaches deal with the author on the same structural level as development editors, but they are usually engaged while the book is still a work in progress. The book doctor or book coach can provide instruction and guide the writing process, which may save extensive rewrites.

Line editor works on the manuscript on a different level. The line editor helps with awkward sentences or paragraphs, changes passive voice to active prose to add punch and drive. The line editor points out static sluggish dialogue and helps transform it into active scenes with life-like conversation. Line editing requires a skill that is hard to find. A good line editor can transform good writing into great writing without losing the voice of the author.

Copy editor, proofreader is what most people think of when they hear the word editor. This is the person who corrects grammatical mistakes, finds typos, makes sure commas are in the right places, and makes sure the usage and spelling is consistent throughout the manuscript. Unfortunately, a poorly constructed story will still be a poorly constructed story after the copy editor has done his or her work. Any rewrites will probably introduce more typos and grammatical errors, thus making another copy edit necessary.

Every writer, no matter how experienced, needs an editor. Research the types of editors, ask for references, listen to advice, and persevere. You’ll love the result.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

After You Type “THE END”

You’ve spent months or maybe years working on your book. You’ve organized it and reorganized it. You’ve read it and re-read it. You’ve given up on it at least once and come back. It’s become so much a part of your life that you don’t know what you’ll do without it.

Don’t worry. Just like a favorite son at his high school graduation, this is a major milestone, but the book is not ready to leave the nest. Enjoy the moment. Raise a glass to your accomplishment. Celebrate. Let the book rest while you revel in your feeling of satisfaction.

At least a week later, it is time to begin the long and often daunting task of editing. Edit is such a short word for the complexity of the process. It comes in steps and levels. The first level is self-editing. The first step of self-editing is to put your manuscript in whatever form you prefer to read for your own entertainment. Do you prefer paper? Then print your manuscript and read it on paper. Do you prefer ebooks? Send your document to your kindle or other ebook reader and read it there.

On your first step of reading, do not try to fix the mistakes. That will slow your reading and get you back into writer mode. Just highlight the problem. You might want a piece of paper or notebook nearby to jot down thoughts. Make your notes as short as you can.

Some basic things to notice:

  • Physical characteristics of your characters. Do you introduce them with blue eyes? Then, make sure they still have blue eyes when they reappear in the last chapter.
  • Time line. Make a rough time line and make sure you are consistent. If you back track in time, be careful to take the reader with you. If you have a skip forward, again, keep the reader with you. Have scene breaks whenever you move in time or place, and make sure your reader knows where and when you want him to land.
  • Spelling and grammar. Run spell check and maybe even use a grammar checking software. Word has its own, Grammarly has a lot of fans, and ProWritingAid is also good. WARNING: None of these are perfect. You must check the recommendations and make sure you agree.
  • Dialogue. It is ALWAYS a good idea to read your dialogue out loud. Does it flow naturally? Does the speaking style agree with the character who is saying it? Is it clear who is speaking? Make sure your attributions are correct and necessary.
    • Don’t burden the reader with extra dialogue attributions.
    • Don’t assume the reader can follow a three-way conversation just because you know who is talking.
    • Don’t get fancy. This is not the place to show off your vocabulary or work out the thesaurus. “Said” becomes invisible to the reader. As much as it sounds repetitive to you, the reader virtually skips over the word and grabs the intent.

This is just the beginning. Each writer has his or her own order and process of self-editing, but every successful writer knows the first draft is just that—the first of many. Consult websites and books for other lists of things to check.

Always send the best manuscript you can to the next person to read it. If your editor is busy looking for the many typos and grammar errors, they won’t be seeing the big picture. Your carefully crafted plot and beloved characters won’t get the attention they deserve.

For a list of my favorite books on self-editing, see

The next few blogs will focus on what happens next. Hope to see you soon.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Be a Winner with your writing

I did it! I won the Wordscape tournament. No, I didn’t get a gold trophy for the mantle, nor did I get a purse of cold coins. I got a lot of points, which I will never use. The point is not what I won, but why I won and what that has to do with writing.

Learn new words. My life-long reading habit has given me a love of words. Sometimes I love the feel of them as they fill my mouth; sometimes I like the sound of them The tintinnabulation of the bells, bells, bells has always felt and sounded like word candy. Over the years, I have amassed a large vocabulary and seldom come across words I’ve never seen or heard before. It’s always fun to find a new one.
If Wordscape accepts a word that I’ve never seen, I can tap the word and the definition pops up on my screen. Of course, if I don’t see or use it again, I will not remember it, but the word itself is a discovery—even if ephemeral. If I do manage to make the word part of my vocabulary, my writing will be the richer for it.

Gain a new skill. The ability to see words in a set of jumbled letters is a skill that helps with other things. My Scrabble skills have increased as well, even though I seldom play. My crossword puzzle skills have benefitted, too. I can see a partial word and my brain automatically starts filling in reasonable letters for the blanks. 
No, I don’t sit around playing word games all day, but it is another way of keeping my brain active. Keeping your mental game sharp and exercised is always a winning strategy.

Strengthen your Self-Discipline. I spent the final day of the tournament alternately writing, editing, and confidently playing short bursts of my game. I was Number 1 until two hours before the tournament ended. As I watched the screen, my standing dropped to Number 2! Oh, no!
It was nearly time to sleep, and I could always try again next weekend. But that would be quitting, wouldn’t it? How far behind could I be? I turned off the TV and concentrated. The Game Was On! It took me an hour to regain first place, and then I couldn’t stop because I pictured the now-number-2 player hunched over his own screen, gritting his or her teeth and working furiously to unseat me once again. I was tired and sleepy, but I persevered. I played on, keeping my Number One seat until the tournament ended.
That is how books are written. It’s not all fun, especially the proofreading, but that’s what makes a story shine. The discipline to stick with the research, the editing, smiling through the critiques, staying at the computer when your favorite show beckons from the other room…writing needs self-discipline.

Consistent effort. I play Wordscape every day. Sometimes just ten minutes, the equivalent of stretching exercise for my brain, sometimes for a half an hour through a not-very-inspiring TV program, and once for two hours at top speed to make it to the finish line first.

All of this is relevant to writing. Read voluminously, absorb new ideas, learn new words, pay attention to the craft as you read. Stephen King says, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

Writing is hard work. Form good habits, be consistent, be self-disciplined, keep your mind alert.
You, too, can be a winner!
Posted in Productivity, Writing Tips | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Starting the new decade


It’s the fifth of January already. We are almost one week into the new year…you know, the one that fired up all our latent ambition and resolve. There’s something about a new decade that is more challenging than “just” another journey around the sun. Mind you, I’m not making light of the annual journey. Believe me, I’ve been around that fiery ball enough times to be truly grateful for one more trip. But there’s something about changing two digits on the calendar that stirs up the internal fires.

So today I looked at my still-new goals to take stock and perhaps even do some planning. Planning is not my forte, but I wanted to change my goals into actual tasks that I could arrange in a reasonable order and get to work ticking them off the list.

I smiled at my lofty list of goals, and they stared back at me, unmoved. I did the oh-so-satisfying stretching exercise of patting myself on the back for actually writing down my goals for the year. I picked up one of my favorite pens and the writer’s nemesis—a blank sheet of paper. 

Tick tock. My paper filled with doodles and crossed out phrases. My smile changed to a frown, then back to a smile, and finally a small chuckle. All my goals boiled down to a single statement:


Unfortunately, we cannot add sand to the hour glass. Once a day has passed, it is gone forever regardless of whether we used the time wisely or not. It is our responsibility to make the most of the time given to us.

That being said, we cannot always measure good use of time by the number of words we added to the manuscript. Word count is important, but it should not rule your world. Good writing requires good thinking. Exhausted writers are neither brilliant nor overly productive. Sometimes we need to stop and recharge our batteries. Then we can begin anew with fresh ideas and more energy.

I’ll work on that—right after I win the Wordscape tournament of the weekend. I’ve never been higher than #5 but I’ve been #1 since Saturday morning. Wordscape is my procrastination method of choice for today.

Posted in Productivity, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment