How to Break Writer’s Block

cameraOnce you admit that you listen to the voices in your head and write out what they’re saying (aka that you’re a writer), the inevitable question is: where do you get your ideas?

Most writers will facetiously-yet-sincerely reply, “Everything.”

Because getting ideas isn’t the hard part. Not the initial ones you’re thinking of, anyway. The hard part is when you’re mired in the middle of your novel, with no idea how to get your characters out of the mess you made for them. When you go to write and your mind is a complete blank.

Now, there are tons of ways to get the juices flowing again. You’ll find advice everywhere, from amateur and experienced alike. It really just comes down to the individual author. The method that usually works for me is a stream-of-consciousness brainstorm. I basically write out a conversation with my Muse, tossing ideas back and forth. Alternatively, I do the whole “do a rote activity and let your brain churn in the background.”

But sometimes, like over the last few weeks, neither of those methods work.

Now, you probably don’t remember, unless you creepily remember everything I post on social media, but several weeks ago I had a really cool Supernatural-inspired dream. And I woke up before I found out what happened next. So, being the cool person I am, I decided to find out by continuing the story. Ever since that dream, I’ve been running the story in my head, creating new monsters of the week and even establishing a season-long arc. (Over-achiever, much?)

It’s been pretty great, watching the story unfold. Even better, I found that it’s a fun way to pass the time during otherwise boring activities, like my commute or daily walk. I throw different situations at the characters and let them react however they want — and since the characters are so well defined, it’s pretty easy to set on auto-pilot. Everything just flows so seamlessly.

The other day, I realized I should try this with Narrator.

I had one troublesome scene where I only vaguely knew what I wanted to happen. I’d managed to figure out things up to a certain point, but anything past that was just wide brushstrokes. So I started at that point and encouraged Calder and the others to play it out like they were in a movie. No delving into thoughts or anything, they just needed to be actors for a while.

That immediately made the action flow better, and I just let the story unfold the same way I let my Supernatural fanfic unfold. I did have to “rewind” a couple of times to fix some logic or increase the tension, but that wasn’t too difficult.

And it worked!

I was able to see how the situation played out, in a way that made sense, and I got some great ideas. And I mean some great ideas. I wanted to take a picture of my notes in triumph, but if you managed to read my chicken scratch you’d unwittingly see spoilers. (Sucks to be you, I guess.)

Anyway, this particular writer’s block seems to have broken. The next hurdle is going to be trying to write everything down and hope the Muse doesn’t make a sharp left turn and throw all of this under the bus. *crosses fingers*

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Meet Calder #2

Calder 2In my massive rewrite of The Narrator, I’ve just passed the midpoint. I was pretty worried about the scene, and kept putting it off and putting it off. But when I finally dove in, it was actually pretty fun.

And I owe it all to Calder #2.

There are two Calders in Narrator: the original, and the one the Narrator tried to make by changing his backstory. At the midpoint, the second Calder manifests (because of an enchanted forest) and the two Calders have a bit of a chat.

And that second Calder was a treat to “work with.” He was very talkative and came up with some great stuff, all without really trying.

(I know that to non-writers this kind of talk sounds crazy, but characters usually take on a life of their own. They can be complete chatterboxes, like Calder #2, or they can refuse to give up any information on themselves and frustrate the crap out of you.)

So this scene was going better than I expected, but still with a lot of false starts and backtracking. And suddenly Calder #2 was dragging his feet, and refusing to cooperate, and giving me a really crappy performance — until I put back some paragraphs I had removed. Once they were back in place, he was more than happy to talk again.

Things slowed down again as we neared the end of the scene, because Calder #2 knew this was going to be his only scene, and he was reluctant to “leave.” I could tell he was trying to stretch out his time. I felt bad for him, too, since he was (for the most part) so great to work with. But alas, I don’t think I’ll be able to justify bringing him back.

Even if it would be fun.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

How I Broke My Novel (and then fixed it)

Broken Book

When I tell people I broke my novel, the most common reaction I get is: Huh? How do you break a novel?

Easily, it turns out. One of my characters was kind of cool. She was from Eustace’s past, and she had the power to see a person’s destiny. But when she looked at Calder, his destiny was muddled because of the fight between the narrator and the author. And I thought that was just awesome.

But then I started following her down paths I hadn’t anticipated. Saydie was (understandably) jealous of her — which set up a character arc I didn’t find interesting in the slightest. Eustace had trouble dealing with her because of that past issue I mentioned — I didn’t want to give that secret away yet, but Eustace was too angry and frightened to make holding his tongue believable.

Calder was the worst of the three. He started acting like Jack from Lost — and every single fan of Lost I know hates Jack with a fiery passion. You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. When he started yelling for the cool character to tell him his destiny (just like Jack did in one terrible episode), I realized something was very very wrong.

But this was the story, darn it! I pushed forward. I made it as far as the next scene, when the minstrels showed up. (Yup, I saw a chance to throw them in for a short cameo. I really should stop doing that.)

I decided this cool character had to go. She was dragging down my characters and my plot. She could keep her interaction with Eustace in the past, but she wouldn’t be allowed anywhere in the current story. Then I spent an unexpected snow day rewinding the story until right before that character showed up, and figuring out where to take the plot instead.

(If you’re curious, that involved writing down where my characters were emotionally/mentally and then brainstorming how to get them from Point A to Point B. Literally, I mean, since I needed to get them from an inn to a castle.)

Anyway, I’d lost almost a full weekend of writing, unfortunately, but I managed to make up most of that in a day because the words practically flew off the page. Er, screen. I think I came up with a decent replacement for the cool character’s arc, but only time will tell.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

The Writing Process

The most common questions writers get: Where do you get your ideas? Do you write on a computer, or do you still use pen and paper? Where do you write best? Do you write chronologically, or do you jump around in the story? Are you a planner or a pantser?

This week, I bombard you with answers to all of these questions!

IMG_0476Idea Generation
I get my ideas from all over the place. Helpful, I know. But it’s true. I could get inspired by something I read or watch, or what someone says. The last interesting story idea I got was on a ghost tour in New Orleans (see left), about ghosts from different time periods living in the same building. Probably won’t write it, but I think it’d be fun to read.
unnamedTools of the Trade
I go through phases on this one. Right now I’m on a computer phase. A few weeks ago I was on a handwriting phase. Sometimes I actually prefer pen and paper, because typing it up is like a free pass at editing. Software-wise, I use Scrivener. It’s a program specifically designed for writers and it’s pretty much the greatest thing since sliced bread. (People say that about a lot of things, but they haven’t tried Scrivener so they’re wrong.) I’ve had Scrivener for several years and I’ve never looked back.
IMG_0553Location, Location, Location
I generally write on the couch. Heck, I’m writing this blog post on the couch! My desk is always a complete mess, and even if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to write there. Too formal, I suppose. Or maybe I just need a comfier chair. More important than location is sound: I need music playing in the background, or people talking, or something. Otherwise it’s too quiet and I can’t think.
scrivenerTelling the Story
I have to write chronologically. I’ll get ideas for scenes from all over the story timeline, but I can’t write them out of order. My characters tend to surprise me and take me in new and better directions — which tends to disrupt my plans further down the line. And I don’t want to waste time and energy writing scenes I might never use!
unnamed-1The Age Old Question
If you’re familiar with writers, you’ve probably heard about the life-long debate between planners (who plan the crap out of their stories) and pantsers (who write by the seat of their pants). Like most people, I fall somewhere in between on the spectrum. I plan the structure of the story, using the three act structure and scene outlines on index cards. But when actually writing a scene, I like to let my right brain call the shots.

So, did I answer your questions? Feel free to ask more in the comments!

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.