What to Write When You Don’t Know What to Write

This week, I’m taking a break from The Psych Writer to discuss writing.

Writing is my bread and butter. I have some posts I’ve written about writer’s block, and facing the terror of the blank page. In fact, I’ve written about the blank page twice, at least. But writer’s block still seems to be one of the biggest complaints I’ve seen among young writers or writers who are just starting out.

Recently, I got this in the form of a question. “What am I supposed to write when I don’t know what to write?”

Since I am trained as a therapist, I tend to want to pick apart problems and either reframe them or otherwise deconstruct them in order to help.

So when you don’t know what to write, it could be for a variety of reasons.

  • You may be afraid of failing and not completing a project.
  • You may be afraid of succeeding and not knowing what to do next.
  • You may think your writing will never be good enough, so part of you feels it’s not even worth starting.

There are obviously many more reasons for keeping that page blank, but for this post, let’s just focus on these three. If you have one or two you’d like me to address, please shoot me a message on Facebook if you’d like, and I’ll address them in future posts.

  1. You’re afraid of failing and not completing a project.
    It happens. I have a few manuscripts I’ve abandoned about 3/4 of the way through because the idea wasn’t panning out, I couldn’t write the characters in a way that satisfied me, or a variety of other reasons. It happens to everyone. Think of your favorite writer, living or dead, and I could almost guarantee you they have abandoned and unfinished work.

    The best way to get around this is the “fuck it” philosophy. Say to yourself that you’re going to start a project and if it doesn’t pan out, fuck it. Start over, change direction, whatever. You can also just keep going even if you know it sucks, because the first draft of everything sucks. So go until you’re finished. Write until there’s no story left. You can revise it later.

  2. You may be afraid of succeeding and not knowing what to do next.
    This is one I’ve heard a few times now, so it’s not terribly uncommon. In this case, you’re fortune-telling. Can you really see the future and know you’ll be devoid of further ideas? Well, so what? One book that’s finished beats the hell out of one half-finished story that never got off the ground. Preventing yourself from succeeding because of what might be next cheats you out of the satisfaction of a finished project.
  3. You may think your writing will never be good enough, so part of you feels it’s not even worth starting.
    There’s one thing I’ve learned, and I’ve said it above–the first draft of everything is a steaming pile of crap. Some of it has potential, but every first draft needs to be reworked. You will learn to kill your darling manuscript with a hatchet at first, then come back with fine, surgical editing tools to improve it. Tell the part of you that tells you it’s not worth starting to shut up,  because that part of you cannot know what it feels like to finish a project. You have to get to the end to know what that’s like.

When you sit down to the keyboard, or sit with a pen and paper, block out the future. Block out expectations. Block out everything but you and that page, and tell it your passions, your fears, your world.

Get writing.

I am Anne Hogue-Boucher, and I write books. You can read them here.


The Psych Writer on Major Depressive Disorder, Part Three – MDD with Psychotic Features

This is the final installment of The Psych Writer series on Major Depressive Disorder. This week, we turn our focus on MDD with Psychotic Features.

Of course, when writing any disorder, focus on showing rather than telling, and remember, your character is human. Give them more dimensions than their disorder.

What’s tricky about writing MDD with psychotic features is not making it look like schizophrenia or bipolar with psychotic features. You will need to make sure that the depressive features are most prominent, otherwise the reader isn’t going to get it.

Naturally our writings are always open to interpretation by the reader–that’s what makes it such an enriching experience. It’s not the focus on the symptoms that makes the writing interesting, anyway. It’s the expression of the character and their life that makes the reading compelling.

So, we’ve already reviewed what MDD is all about, but what about psychotic features? Psychotic is a word that’s used in lay terms that tends to get confused with other terms (hell, even I’ve confused the terms when I was exhausted at one point). Psychotic is a term for losing touch with external reality.

The patient who is psychotic can experience any of the following, with some examples for illustrative purposes:

  • delusions – believing someone has bugged their home, is being gang stalked, they have a terrible disease, or that they’re the Archduke Ferdinand.
  • hallucinations – seeing, hearing, tasting, or smelling things that aren’t there, such as seeing a person that no one else can see.
  • anxiety – the person may seem anxious and restless.
  • withdrawal from family and friends – sometimes due to the delusions and hallucinations, the patient withdraws from social interactions. This is not just an “oh, I don’t want to go to the mall.” This is more like they don’t answer any of their phone calls and they stop talking to people entirely. Think the most extreme form of withdrawal possible.
  • suicidal ideation and actions – they may attempt to kill themselves or think about it all the time.
  • disorganized speech – this isn’t your average non-sequitur. Disorganized speech is often completely incoherent. There are several types of DS:
    • word salad – seemingly random words put together in a sentence. “My pants raisin toggle the burp slurped in a cat.”
    • derailment – completely unrelated or tenuously related ideas put together as if they were related. “I have to pick up my dry cleaning. There’s a bar in the street that keeps me from walking to the park.”
    • neologisms – words that are made up. “I took my wife to the helgistahooven for a new haircut.”
    • perseveration – a response repeated uncontrollably (this can be verbal or gestural). “Did you pack a pair of socks?” “Socks, socks, socks, socks, socks, socks, socks…”
    • thought blocking – when a person stops talking abruptly in the middle of a sentence without any explanation. “I went to the store and-” *silence*
    • pressured speech – rapid speech that sometimes is incoherent.
  • difficulty concentrating – this is pretty self-explanatory.
  • hypersomnia or insomnia – sleeping too much or not enough.
  • suspicion of others and situations – this is usually due to delusions.

Keep in mind that the person with psychosis is typically unaware of these symptoms and signs. They are often so out of touch with external reality that they have no idea that their delusions or hallucinations aren’t real, and that their behavior has changed to be out of the ordinary.

Here you see there are some things that crossover with depression, such as suicidal thoughts or actions, anxiety, and withdrawal. Knowing this, it’s easy to understand how difficult differential diagnosis can be.

The standard treatment for MDD with psychotic features is antidepressants and antipsychotics. If that doesn’t bring relief, ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) is another common method.

Overall, when writing a character with this disorder, there’s an opportunity to do a little reality bending. Just don’t make it too much of a trope.

Coming up for The Psych Writer, we’ll tackle some of the following subjects (not necessarily in this order):

  • Bipolar Disorder I and II
  • Munchausen Syndrome
  • Munchausen-By-Proxy Syndrome
  • Anxiety Disorders – Generalized Anxiety Disorders, Panic Disorder, PTSD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Personality Disorders: Exploring the three clusters of the ten disorders.

I also take requests. Any disorder you’d like me to explore? Contact me via Facebook.

Anne is a former supervised therapist at the Master’s level who abandoned it all to become a writer. Visit her shiny Author Page to learn more about her and read some of her more macabre thoughts on paper (or eBook).

The Psych Writer on Major Depressive Disorder, Part One

Disclaimer: This is not a substitute for medical advice and is for educational purposes only. If you read this and any of the below sounds like you, seek the help of a licensed professional in your area.

Depression is a big topic. There are different types of depressive disorders, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), which affects about 6.7% of the US population. That’s around 15 million adults.

Last week, we reviewed an introduction to MDD, and I still didn’t even get into all of it. So I’ll do that here, briefly. Because of the many sufferers of MDD, there get to be a whole slew of levels of severity and specifiers. While you’re writing about these characters who have these disorders, don’t forget they are a person and they are not their pathology.

Nothing is worse than a character whose only interesting thing about them is their disorder. Remember Forgetful Jones from Sesame Street? Even he had more than one dimension. He was a cowboy. So if a cowboy Muppet with amnestic disorder can be more than just a one-dimensional character, Depressive Jones can, too.

When you decide to write from a place where your character has MDD, decide what type they have. This can be mild, moderate, or severe. They can have psychotic features (delusions, hallucinations, etc.). They can have partial or full remission as well. (Partial remission is having some of the symptoms but not meeting the full criteria for MDD for a period of less than two months. Full remission is an absence of symptoms for more than two months.)

MDD also can come with certain specifiers, such as with anxious distress or with catatonia, but there are too many specifiers to go into without scaring you away from the subject forever. I could likely write a book on each of the specifiers. So, in the interest of time and space constraints (which I will now call space-time constraints to either irritate or amuse mathematicians and physicists), I won’t list them all here. You may wish to skip over certain specifiers, but with psychotic features you can often cross it over with supernatural fiction. This should be handled carefully, though, because otherwise you risk it becoming a trope.

Another important thing to remember is that MDD distorts a person’s perceptions. I used to tell patients that their brains were trolling them. This troll brain is part of the illness. It is best expressed through Beck’s cognitive triad. The person with depression has a negative view of themselves, of the future, and of the world. They often don’t believe they’ll ever get better, this is the way it is, and that there is no one or nothing that can help them. This triad does not necessarily apply to all people with depression all of the time, but there tends to be more leaning towards negative and pessimism during the course of a depressive episode.

When writing from a therapist’s point of view, your character would see the person as ill. They would note things such as poor attention to personal hygiene, being tearful, and a depressed affect (they look “sad” or “down”). It’s an ethical therapist’s job to help a patient process their thoughts and reframe things that happen to them–to teach them how to rethink things. They also do things such as medication education and other interventions. Treatment often consists of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

An unethical therapist would do things such as foster dependency, and interventions that keep the patient depressed and vulnerable to manipulate them into doing things the patient would not normally do. People with depression can be quite vulnerable, and so open to suggestion in order to find relief, a therapist without ethics could possibly ruin the patient’s life further.

I’m not sure if it’s as interesting to write about a therapist treating someone with depression as it is to write about someone who has depression, but even then, it’s important to give your characters full dimensions.

No matter what, though, write your character as a person first, and their condition second. Otherwise, you risk making a flat character that’s nothing more than a stereotype.

If you came here looking for help with depression, please seek the help of a licensed professional in your area. Depression is a horrible, soul-sucking disorder that takes your life piece-by-piece. Don’t let it take control over you. Call for help. It’s out there.

There is little more horrific than what lies in our own imaginations. If you love reading about nightmare worlds and strange happenings, check out my author page. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

Who is a writer? Jen Jones on the Full-Time Writer

When I recently read an article by Jen Jones called Writing Is My Job, her voice resonated with me. As a full-time writer and editor, I know those struggles. Of people belittling and demeaning your work because you don’t have a standard 9-to-5.

Well, for the holidays, I took a temp job in October for three months so I could make extra money. So currently I do this second job, come home, write, sleep, and start over all over again the next day. For me, it’s a second job that might last six months instead of three, but we’ll see. My writing comes first.

For those of you who are writers, I just wanted to let you know that it’s okay to consider your current 9-to-5 as your second job. Because that’s what it is. You may not make enough to quit the second job and devote full-time to writing, or you may not be able to stretch the budget to get used to being paid quarterly.

It doesn’t matter. Your reasons are private and what you make is no one’s business.

And for those of you who don’t write and look down on those who do say they’re writers, sit your judgmental asses on the side for a second and listen up: if someone tells you they’re a writer, don’t make your first question “are you published?” It may seem like an innocent enough question and seem like you’re just inquiring where to buy their work, but to a writer who is struggling to publish or finish a manuscript, it can be a painful question. Plus I know some people do it to be dinks and belittle the person’s profession or make them feel small. That’s not any of my readers, though, I’m sure.

Just because they aren’t published yet doesn’t make them any less of a writer. I’ve published 5200 articles–all of them ghost-written. I’ve published a short story in an anthology, and I’ve published a one-shot short story on Amazon. I have a full composite novel coming out just in time for Halloween. Yes, I’m a writer. Even before I published my first short story.

Be nice to us indie authors. We’re just here to tell stories and be entertaining.

So what do you ask, then? A better question is, “what are you working on?” Okay, while it’s a grammatically incorrect question, it gives the writer a chance to tell you about their newest project or something they have already published. It increases your likelihood that you won’t be killed off in their next chapter, too. So side benefit.

“What are you working on?” is the question that a writer asks another writer, unless we’re being dicks on purpose. Sometimes I’ll ask, “where are you at with publishing?” because I want to be helpful. It’s a different question than “are you published” because I don’t presuppose that you have to be published to be a writer. It also gives the other writer a chance to brag about their new deal with Random House, or tell me they’re braving the waters of self-publishing and are in need of an editor.

Whether you’re a full-time writer or you have a second job to support your writing career, if you work hard day in and day out writing on your manuscript and you know what it means when I say the phrase “elevator pitch” without using Google, then congratulations, you’re a writer.

My name is Anne, and I write stuff. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook. I also answer questions on Quora.

The Psych Writer: Grief – Phase Six: Depression

This has been a dreary series for some, I’m sure, so thank you to all the readers who are stubborn enough to get through it with me. For others, you understand that death and grief are part of the human condition. It’s worth closer examination. Sometimes it even helps.

Last week as part of The Psych Writer series, we took a look at the fifth phase of grief: anger. This week, we examine depression.

Remember (and for regular readers, say it with me): these phases are organized for the benefit of the clinician. They are not set in stone and the patient will likely not feel these things in order, or one at a time. They might, but they might not. Grief is individualized.

As clinicians we have a bit of a conundrum on the use of the term “depression” here, because depression is a clinical diagnosis. It’s more than just feeling sad. Depression is an illness that is typically long-term, can be lifelong, and can be hazardous to the patient. Yet we use the term here because depression not only means feelings of sadness, but a patient can develop Major Depressive Disorder in this phase. Not only that, those who already have MDD can face a downturn in mood or behavior. In other words, grief can push them further down the spiral.

Basically, you’ve got a lot of shit to do in this phase, too.

Depression from the Patient’s POV
Life is empty and pointless without X, where X is the source of loss. This is the phase most commonly associated with grief, so chances are, you’re familiar with it. Life is colorless. Bland. Some of the things I’ve heard from people in this phase have been soul-sucking. The depths of despair when facing a loss can be, well, depressing.

“I cannot live without them.”

“Not even food tastes the same.”

“I’ll never be able to listen to jazz again. It reminds me too much of my [loved one].”

“We used to go for walks together every day. Now I can’t even get out of bed. Without X, it’s just not worth it.”

“If I’m dead, then I can join them.”

Anything you can imagine that reflects the loss that’s depressing as hell can be found in this phase. It is utter disaster for a patient. Some believe they will never recover.

Sadly, some won’t recover. Some will spiral into MDD, and some will get worse if they already have MDD.

Depression from the Therapist’s POV
It is up to you to help the patient move away from this phase. It is not done quickly, and there is no efficient magic trick to make them better. Sometimes, you have to call in a psychiatrist’s consultation, particularly if the patient is already on medication for MDD, or they really should be on something for MDD. No, you’re not giving them a magic pill that will take away their pain of loss; nothing will do that. When you suggest medication, it’s because you are using a tool that may help pull them back from the abyss and give grief clarity.

In other words, you are helping them to just grieve, rather than get sucked down into the horrific abyss of MDD.

Remember some of the things I mentioned that I’ve heard from people in the depression phase? Let’s look at them through the lens of an ethical therapist.

“I cannot live without them.” (Silent warning bells. Find out if the patient is suicidal. Find out if they have the plans, and means. You may have to hospitalize.)

“Not even food tastes the same.” (Anhedonia is possible. Discuss what this means for the patient. Find out if they’ve had any unexpected weight loss. Note it. If patient has history of an eating disorder, consult with treatment team. Work with them and the patient. Work with the patient to help them find a way to remember their loved one through food, but in a healthy way.)

“I’ll never be able to listen to jazz again. It reminds me too much of my [loved one].” (Anhedonia is possible. Discuss the reasons. Let the patient talk and tell you a story about their loved one’s favored music. Help them remember this is a process and that over time it may become a positive way to remember the loved one.)

“We used to go for walks together every day. Now I can’t even get out of bed. Without X, it’s just not worth it.” (Loss of a physical activity can make depression worse. Discuss and explore alternatives, or how to get back to walking, etc.)

“If I’m dead, then I can join them.” (MAJOR ALARM BELLS BETTER BE GOING OFF IN YOUR HEAD. Patient has suicidal ideation. Check for plans and means. Hospitalization may be necessary.)

What this Means for You, The Writer
Of course it depends on where you’re going with the story. Usually when a writer examines grief in fiction, this is the phase that they start at because it’s the most recognizable and seemingly the one that gets the point across. Your character may have stopped eating. They may overeat. They stopped showering and grooming.

But consider writing from one of the different phases or combining a few instead of starting at depression. If and when you do choose to write this part, don’t forget the impact of show over tell. Show me the uneaten dinner in the fridge. Show me the ashtray full of cigarettes and the character lying in bed with a red face puffy from crying. Show me the dirty hair and stench of two-week’s worth of unwashed laundry, piled up in the corner and threatening to grow legs and walk off. Show me the guitar in the other corner just gathering dust. The darkened room. The unmade bed. The broken mirror.

Remember, it’s not the grief itself that’s interesting, it’s how the character faces it, doesn’t face it, or makes matters worse that is interesting to the reader.

If you came here looking for psychological assistance, please contact your local crisis line. Dial 2-1-1 in the US for the United Way, or contact the Samaritans in the UK. For a list of international crisis lines, click here.

Now go write. Go for a walk, too. Get a little fresh air.

Wow, just one more topic and you can breathe easier. We’ll move onto other subjects too, and I do take requests (you can ask via Facebook or Twitter). If you’re in need of some lighthearted diversions, check out my Facebook and Twitter. Or for some entertaining fiction that touches on grief and loss, grab a copy of Exit 1042.

The Psych Writer: Grief – Phase Five: Anger

Last week, we explored the guilt phase of grief as part of The Psych Writer series. Thanks for sticking with me thus far, as we’re almost finished with grief, and it’s a difficult topic to face. But after this, there are only two more left in the series, so hang in with me.

So after guilt, the anger phase often follows. Keep in mind the codicil that you can pretty much repeat with me now: these phases are organized for the benefit of the clinician. They are not set in stone and the patient will likely not feel these things in order, or one at a time. They might, but they might not. Grief is individualized.

Now back to anger. The person who is experiencing the anger phase may lash out in a variety of ways. That will depend on the person, the source of loss, and their current circumstances. They get angry with a person for dying, they get angry with the doctors or medical team for “not doing enough” or making a mistake (whether there was a mistake or not doesn’t matter), or they get angry with people for tangential reasons.

While the anger is a natural reaction and completely expected, it is vital that the person doesn’t get stuck in this phase, and it’s probably one of the most addictive phases to get into. You may already know this, but emotions are handled by the amygdala in the brain, and judgment is handled by the prefrontal cortex, and the left prefrontal cortex can shut down emotions. (This is basic information for the sake of brevity: if you want to read more, about anger, check out this article.) When a person is angry, there are a number of hormones released, including adrenaline and noradrenaline. Because those are “pump you up” hormones to get the body ready for a fight, anger can be addictive. It’s like runner’s high without all the knee blowout from running.

Anger from the Patient’s POV
The patient is pissed off royally. How dare X happen? How could grandma do that to you? How dare she die at a time like this?! How dare Phyllis divorce you?! Who does she think she is? Those fucking doctors don’t know anything! They couldn’t save Uncle Phillip and they’re all just money-grubbing bastards. What were they thinking?

There is a touch of the indignant to this type of anger. Remember, the focus of the anger can be anywhere, even at themselves. Grief is necessarily selfish, so the anger is most likely due to the fact that this person has been left alone, holding the bag as they say. There are underlying feelings that are feeding this phase.

Anger from the Therapist’s POV
As the therapist, it is your job to dig with the patient and find out which feelings are feeding the beast. Sometimes it’s fear. Fear of being alone. Fear of loss. Fear of mortality. Sometimes it’s feelings of helplessness. They were abandoned. They lost their sense of control. Or all of the above, plus ones you can’t fathom at the moment.

All of these feelings, and more, are normal and expected. When someone dies, and the patient is angry, it’s important to let them explore those feelings in a safe environment.

Here, you monitor for homicidal ideation even more (although you always monitor for suicidal as well, homicidal should not be forgotten) than before, because people who are angry may not be able to switch on the prefrontal cortex’s ability to stop them from doing something that could ruin even more lives.

Other things you have to watch for is increased substance abuse and self-harm.

What this Means for You, the Writer
This is the perfect opportunity to get your character set up for starting their revenge against whomever caused their loss. It can also be a good opportunity to write about their anger turned inward, and how they fell into a pit of depression, struggled with addiction, or committed acts of self-harm.

If you’re writing an unethical therapist, keeping the patient in this phase can help them orchestrate a murder, create chaos, or other unsavory ends via unsavory means.

Remember, it’s not the grief itself that’s interesting, it’s how the character faces it, doesn’t face it, or makes matters worse that is interesting to the reader.

If you came here looking for psychological assistance, please contact your local crisis line. Dial 2-1-1 in the US for the United Way, or contact the Samaritans in the UK. For a list of international crisis lines, click here.

Good luck, and get writing.

Just two more to go and then we’ll move on to other mental health topics. You’re almost at the end of the grief series, can you believe it? If you’re in need of some lighthearted diversions, check out my Facebook and Twitter. Or for some entertaining fiction that touches on grief and loss, grab a copy of Exit 1042.

The Psych Writer: Grief – Phase Four: Guilt

I want to take a moment to thank my blog followers for sticking with me through these heavy topics. We’re more than halfway through now, and soon, I’ll be moving on to how to write other aspects of mental illness accurately. While it doesn’t mean you can’t take liberties and poetic license, I’ve seen writers bumble through having no idea what they’re writing about. (One of the most woeful examples I can recall is calling a person on the Autism Spectrum a “psychopath.”) The stories are still popular, but for people with the disorders they’re maligning, and the therapists who treat them, it’s cringe-worthy and ruins the story.

Last week, we explored the phase of bargaining in The Psych Writer series. This week, we’ll look at the next one: Guilt.

All together now, say it with me: these phases are organized for the benefit of the clinician. They are not set in stone and the patient will likely not feel these things in order, or one at a time. They might, but they might not. Grief is individualized.

Nearly everyone on earth has experienced guilt and knows how it feels. When it happens in the guilt phase of grief, it manifests in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most common statements I’ve heard from patients in this phase:

“I wish I had spent more time with X before s/he died.”

“I should have been there to take away his car keys.”

“The last thing I said was ‘I wish you were dead,’ and now look what happened!”

“This is all my fault. I had to sign the papers to pull the plug. I killed my X.”

“If I had just noticed sooner, I could have urged them to go to the hospital earlier.”

See a common thread here? The guilt doesn’t typically surround the deceased or the object of loss, rather what the person perceives or feels about their own actions. This is often where the person feels a tremendous burden, a wish to go back in time. Regret. Remorse. As if there was one thing they could have said/not said, done/not done and it would magically change everything.

It won’t.

Guilt from the Patient’s POV
The person feeling guilt has turned inward, usually after bargaining and getting nowhere. Unsuccessful in finding an outward solution, s/he turns inward. There must be something she could have done to change the outcome, right? He will play the scenario over and over in his mind. She will ruminate on what the one thing is she should have changed to prevent “this event” (death, loss, etc.) from happening.

Guilt from the Therapist’s POV
As the therapist, your job is to remind the patient (gently) that loss is not something a person can prevent (unless they actually murdered a person). If there is some reasoning that the person could have prevented it, then it’s your job to bring the patient’s attention back to the present. What is done cannot be undone, as the saying goes. There are no time machines and even if there were, the action the patient believes might fix something may not fix it or even make it worse.

Understand that guilt is selfish, and it’s 100% okay to be selfish in this case. This is also a necessary part of grief as a person recognizes that s/he too is mortal, and not capable of stopping all death from happening.

People are self-centered in the guilt stage, and it becomes about what happened to them or what they could have done to stop the loss. Self-centered attitudes are not necessarily a bad thing as they ensure human survival, and when it comes to guilt, the focus on self is a necessary part of it. If you don’t care for the terms “self-centered” or “selfish,” think of it as “focusing inward.”

What this Means for You, The Writer
This is going to depend on quite a few factors when  you write a character’s guilt over a situation. Did they cause the loss? Do they feel remorse? Are they capable of remorse? Are they traumatized? What level is their involvement in the loss?

As you answer these questions, keep in mind that the character will be focused inward. Keep it to what they believe they “should have” or “could have” done to prevent the loss from happening.

If you came here looking for psychological assistance, please contact your local crisis line. Dial 2-1-1 in the US for the United Way, or contact the Samaritans in the UK. For a list of international crisis lines, click here.

Good luck, and get writing.

All right, just three more of these to go, and then we can get into other wild topics. Hang tough, dear readers! If you’re in need of some lighthearted diversions, check out my Facebook and Twitter. Or for some entertaining fiction that touches on this subject, grab a copy of Exit 1042.


Join a Bookclub – In Vivo or Online

Ruth O’Niel, via » Why Every Writer Should Belong to a Book Club, makes a great point. Your best feedback as a writer comes from readers, and you can learn a lot from how they feel about certain books. It’s a valuable resource that can help you grow as a writer.

If you can’t find a book club locally, don’t like the genres your local groups are reading, or are too introverted to be a joiner (yes, that happens, and it’s okay), join one online. Start with Goodreads. There are loads of groups there that will fit your niche and favored genres. It’s another great way to get feedback on books from voracious readers and will help you grow as a writer.

How’s That Novel Comin’?

In October of 2015, I shared Left In The Cold – A Short Story with my faithful and wonderful readers and followers, who are, as I’ve said, faithful and wonderful.

Right now, I have included this short story in a novel I’m working on, which describes what happened to Jane and Livingston after their incident with this strange creature.

I’m almost 57,000 words in, and it’s not one of my typical horror stories. Oh, rest assured it’s weird fiction, all right, but it’s more character-driven than plot-driven. I thought for sure it would be plot-driven throughout, but Jane’s voice is too strong for that.

So yes, this novel is coming along, and I’m in the final third of the tale.

As for Silver Hollow, the editing process hit a technical hiccup today, but I’m working on fixing that. I hope to be on track soon, because I’d like to have it published in time for Halloween. I’m almost finished editing chapter two now, and it’s fun. I look forward to having people read it and (fingers crossed) enjoy it.

Silver Hollow takes place in my own private universe, as do all of my stories. In my universe, the world is just a tad different. I’m hopeful the differences will serve as a reminder that you, dear reader, are no longer home, and the world you’re visiting is not one of sunshine and rainbows. And in the rare times the sun shines, it scorches the visitor’s neck and the rainbows are solid and capable of strangling him or her. Ha ha.

Actually, the sun shines a lot in my universe, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something sinister slithering just beneath the surface, ready to break through any minute and leave the world in ruins.

I discovered the same thing is happening with the novel, Left in the Cold. There are good things that happen in it, but when I reread the work, I notice an underpinning of dread that seems to just lie there in wait. It’s like a metaphor for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Everything is going well but the person is just waiting for that moment where everything goes wrong.

And in my stories, it will. Just give it time.

I am a writer. You can get some cheap entertainment by reading one of my short stories for under a buck. I also hang around Twitter and Facebook sometimes. Come follow me and we’ll be weird together. Or not. I respect your non-weirdness.

Is your end sagging? More on Fixing Pacing Problems

Last week, I mentioned Janice Hardy’s article on fixing pacing problems. But there’s one issue that really gets to me on a personal level as a writer, and when I read other people’s work. And that’s writing a good ending.

In that post, I mentioned what to do when an ending seems rushed, as that’s my own personal demon. But what if your problem is the opposite?

If you’ve ever read a book or watched a movie and, with respects to Kevin Murphy, said, “this thing just keeps on ending,” then you’ve faced a pacing problem. The end is dragging on and on and it seems like twenty-thousand loose ends are being tied up to the point where you’re ready to throw the book across the room or get up and walk out on the movie.

The worst part is when it’s your work that just keeps on ending, and rather than being satisfying and digestible, the work is on life support and tying your stomach in knots. You know your reader will scream, “just pull the plug already!”

If that’s happening to you, here are a few things you can do to fix them:

  • Are you over-explaining the end? Not every detail needs to be wrapped up and spoon-fed to the reader.  Give a satisfactory climax to the ending and your reader can use their imaginations about what happens to the others involved, as long as it’s mostly wrapped up.
  • Start your ending for some characters in the previous chapter. This is a good way to kill off or send a character out of town without having to explain it at the end.
  • Leave the reader hanging. Not only does that give you a chance to write a new novel later, it allows the reader to stretch their imaginations and decide for themselves how it ends.
  • Stop at the climax or shortly after. This ties in with over-explaining. Rather than continuing with an epilogue or another chapter, end just after the climax and don’t concentrate on the aftermath.
  • Start over. Make your character learn absolutely nothing from his or her experience, or go back to the start and begin again. This is a good one for dark-themes and noir novels, or for plot-driven science fiction and fantasy.

Sometimes I will write three different endings and let my beta readers and editor look at them. I take all their feedback, and then pick the best one or the one I like the most and fix it accordingly. Remember, anything and everything can be fixed in edits.

No matter what ending you choose, if you notice it’s sagging, be your own cosmetic surgeon. Try out one or all of these endings and see if it doctors your story just right.