How I deal with writer’s block + “Million Eyes” updates

Wikipedia calls writer’s block a “condition” and an “affliction” and the Wiki gods are absolutely right. Writer’s block is an illness that only writers suffer from. To recover from an illness, you either need to ride it out or combat it with various treatments and remedies. It’s a perfectly curable illness, but some writers are more successful at beating it (Stephen King) than others (George R. R. Martin).

This month I wanted to write an article about how I cope with writer’s block, something that affects me a lot more now that I’m a full-time professional copywriter as well as an author. Next month I’ll be writing a sequel article about some of the best/weirdest/funniest writer’s block cures that are available to poorly wordsmiths.

But before all that, let me share with you a handful of Million Eyes updates…

Million Eyes is complete! Currently being proofread…

The final edit of Million Eyes is complete and being proofread in its entirety by two of the writers at Rushmoor Writers, and by my bookworm girlfriend. One has already come back to me with a ton of positive comments and a handful of minor changes to have a think about. Another has very helpfully pointed out a few minor historical inaccuracies (with all the research I’ve had to do for this novel, it’s very difficult to catch them all, so I’m very grateful to her for spotting them).

One of my proofers has also pointed out that because further changes will be required, I shouldn’t be calling this the final edit. However, the reason I’m calling it that — and still calling it that — is because I am at a point where I am happy with the plot, the characters, and the style. I have asked my proofreaders for error-spotting, sense-checking, and overall impressions, but I’m not planning to make any fundamental changes to the characters or plot at this point. That’s what the final edit was for. Taking all the feedback I’ve received over the last 2-3 years and producing a new draft.

At the end of the day, an author can edit the same novel forever. When I started the final edit at South House Retreat in February, owner Tracy Willoughby made a very good point: at some point you have to stop. Otherwise you’ll just never finish, and no one will ever publish it. She’s right.

So this is me stopping. Once my proofers have finished, I’m expecting to have a slew of corrections to make and minor changes to think about. And yes, if there’s a whopping time travel-related continuity error or logistical problem that I’ve missed and has a major overarching effect on the plot or character arcs, it’s something I will need to work on. I’m just hoping I’ve caught most of those!

In short, Million Eyes is nearly there. Nearly ready to be pumped out to literary agents, with fingers, toes and tongues tightly crossed that one of them recognises Million Eyes as a book people want to read.

Million Eyes Short Stories

Probably the most exciting thing to report about the Million Eyes Short Stories is that Storgy Magazine, the online magazine that published Paul in November last year, have agreed to publish Who is Rudolph Fentz? This story was previously published in print by Scribble Magazine, winning 3rd prize in their quarterly competition, but the issue it was published in is now out of print. Storgy will be publishing the story for the first time online, so lots of readers who weren’t able to read it in Scribble will soon be able to.

Storgy haven’t given me a date yet for when the story will be published, but I will let you know when I do.

In other news, The Chronos Chronicles is scheduled to be published by Indie Authors Press in September/October of this year. This time travel-themed anthology will feature my story, The Babushka Lady.

And finally, my newest Million Eyes Short Story has been accepted into the final round of consideration at New Myths, an online speculative fiction magazine. This story is called The Home Secretary is safe. Earlier this year, New Myths accepted my story, The Quiet Invasion, into their final round of consideration but ultimately ended up rejecting it. Here’s hoping The Home Secretary is safe has better luck!

How I deal with writer’s block

It’s stressful and horrible when the words just don’t come, when you’re at your desk staring at a blank page and a blinking cursor. Now that I’m a full-time copywriter, this happens to me a lot more often than it used to. Sometimes it’s because it’s a tricky topic. Sometimes it’s because I feel uninspired/unmotivated/bored/low/distracted. Sometimes it’s because I’m tired and haven’t slept enough. And sometimes it’s… just because.

There’s not necessarily any rhyme or reason to writer’s block. It can strike at any time for any number of reasons.

When it does, there are several things I do to fight it. The first and simplest one is this: I get up, leave my desk, and I go make a coffee. Sometimes it helps just to get away from my desk and not look at the words I’m trying to form. And sometimes those words will come to me while I’m pouring the hot water.

This, I’d say, is for a ‘light’ block. A very minor case. The sort of block that happens virtually every day, but for just a few minutes. A ‘heavier’ block, like the one that happened to me the other day, will require more time away from my desk and computer and often involves leaving my flat and going for a walk. I currently live right in the centre of one of Hampshire’s ugliest towns, Aldershot, so no, these walks aren’t the most inspiring. But just getting out, getting some fresh air, clearing my head, and thinking about something else for a few minutes helps.

Whether this works depends on the nature of the block. With copywriting, the above is normally enough. Sometimes it’ll take a lunch break, getting on with a different piece of work and coming back to it, or a chat with my housemate or my girlfriend. But writer’s block in copywriting is usually a very temporary affliction.

Fiction can be a different kettle of fish. I have some blocks right now that have been going on for years. One is to do with the third book in the Million Eyes trilogy. The other is to do what comes after the Million Eyes trilogy. I have various half-baked ideas for other novels, but nothing I’m completely happy with because the ideas just won’t form, or they end up morphing into a story that just isn’t original or interesting enough.

For now, that’s okay because the first Million Eyes novel is my focus. The question is, how am I going to tackle these blocks when the time comes?

Well, I will probably start by going back to the things that inspire me in the first place. What I often do when I have a major plot/story block is I watch films and TV series in the genres I write in. Sometimes I read, but because I’m so slow at reading, watching sci-fi/fantasy/thriller films and TV series is a much better way for me to digest other people’s ideas. Sometimes this is enough to spark a breakthrough.

I will also spend a lot of time in Wikipedia holes, reading about other people’s stories and ideas, whatever medium they may be in — book, film, TV, theatre, video game. This is even quicker than watching something, and certainly quicker, for me, than reading a novel.

I find that doing this sort of thing — exposing myself to other people’s ideas — will revive and bolster my own creativity. As a kid, for instance, I would go to the cinema, watch a film and feel so inspired afterwards that I would plan out its sequel, or another story in a similar vein. I once did a whole plot outline for an Alien film that follows on from Alien Resurrection, and I remember planning out a whole first season of my own Star Trek series — with episode synopses and everything. (Yes, they were mostly crap, but I was only about 12!)

My other big remedy for writer’s block, and the one I’ve found most helpful working on Million Eyes, is talking to people. While working on Million Eyes, one of my closest friends effectively became my muse. At a point where I’d given up on it and was ready to move onto something else, she convinced me that the plot had real promise and told me to carry on, and then she helped me streamline the story into something workable. Whenever I’ve had major blocks, I’ve gone to her, talked it over with her, and batted ideas off her. I can say with absolute certainty that Million Eyes only exists because of her.

So, there you are. A few of my own personal remedies for writer’s block. Still, as I said earlier, there’s no rhyme or reason to it, which means there’s no rhyme or reason to curing it. And admittedly, while my remedies generally work for me, they don’t always. Next month I’ll look at other people’s recommendations for curing writer’s block in a bid to find some of the weirdest/most unique so I can try them myself.

Next week: Avril Lavigne is dead — and has been since 2003

The photo on this page is by Drew Hoffman

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