The Dreaded In-Betweens

One of the most frustrating things I deal with as a writer (this is in terms of writing and editing, not the process of actually getting our work published) is the ominous in-between stage. It’s that moment (or seemingly endless period of subsequent moments) after I am done with a book (all the way done) and I need to start work on the next project. I must write new material sometimes because I go a little batty and become something of a monster to live with if I don’t. I mean REALLY batty.

However, I also have four completed novels waiting for additional editing (not including the three that are sequels to books my agent already has), eight novels that are partially written and placed on hold for assorted reasons (two of these are also sequels), a novella awaiting editing and numerous rough outlines for other novel ideas. These are all books I want to bring to completion and send out into the world. The problem is deciding which one’s next?


The process goes something like this: I’ll start to work on one, then something in that book or in my daily life will make me thing of a different one and I suddenly find myself yearning to finish that one next. It’s almost as if my characters are in my head battling for my attention. It’s a cerebral Thunderdome and THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!

Yeah guys, I just did that.

Do I force the issue or wait until someone wins? Writers, do you suffer this problem? If so, how do you deal with it?

The Writing Group Misnomer

Writing is lonely work. Its long hours spent writing, researching, editing, building craft and questioning yourself. Is the plot good? Can people relate to this character? Did I use that word right? Does this story suck? When the work isn’t going well and the questions start building up in your mind, you can find yourself sinking in a spiral of self-doubt and frustration. It’s a destructive state of mind that can make it impossible to write and getting out of it alone can be challenging. Finding like-minded people to talk to and spend time around can be the key to keeping yourself sane as an author.

But where do you find these like-minded people?

A writing group of course and in these days of social media and endless online resources finding a writing group is the easy part. The problem comes when you realize not all writing groups are created equal. In fact, many writing groups aren’t actually writing groups at all. There are many different types of groups that claim that title.

mkcheezThe Critique Group – Groups that read and give feedback on each other’s work.

PROS: These groups are handy for writers who don’t have their own band of beta readers cultivated. They can also be useful simply to get the input of other writers, which is often a little different from the input you get from readers who don’t write. A good critique group can help you make your story great.

CONS: Can be sabotaged by writers only interested in getting feedback on their own work who don’t really care enough to give good feedback on anyone else’s work. Feedback also needs to be considered carefully. Not all writers in these groups are going to have the same skill level, genre, or understanding of different styles. Those variables need to be taken into account when determining what feedback is and isn’t worthwhile.

LOL KMThe Discussion Group – Groups that gather to discuss the craft of writing.

PROS: These groups can be great for any author looking to develop their skill. Some groups may discuss writing samples and even bring in guest speakers to discuss different aspects of the writing process. This can be a great way to improve your overall writing ability and the quality of your work.

CONS: Like with critique groups, the skill, genre, and styles of the attendees and speakers will vary. It’s important to take everything you learn and apply it only as appropriate to your work. Every author is a little different and that’s part of what makes books interesting.

h227EE3ACThe Social Group – Groups that simply gather to commiserate and support one another.

PROS: This group isn’t about writing or improving craft, it’s about sanity. We all need support in our writing. Sometimes, even when they support us, our loved ones and friends just don’t completely get what we go through as writers. That’s where a group like this is extremely useful.

CONS: Like with the critique group, self-focused individuals who really aren’t interested in anything but their own struggles can sabotage this well-meaning group. It’s important to find a balanced group that is willing to support one another. This group can also degrade quickly to random social chatter, but that isn’t necessarily bad. It's a social group after all.

hA800A963The Writing Group – This group gets together to write. Really.

PROS: Writing for a predetermined amount of time outside of your normal environment can be a great way to get the creative juices flowing. There is also something about being around others who are writing that forces you to focus on your work because, at the very least, you feel guilty interrupting them. A good writing group is really a great way to get a lot of writing done.

CONS: Some writers don’t actually feel guilty about interrupting you. It can be hard to focus if some of the people begin to engage in social chatter while you’re trying to write. A disciplined writing group can be hard to find.

My office away from home.

Many groups may combine elements. For me, the dedicated writing group is the most useful. I can learn craft on my own time and I’m fortunate to have a great selection of beta readers vetting my work. I get a ton of writing done when I go somewhere else and sit down to work with other dedicated writers doing the same thing. We set an amount of time to work and, when that time is up, we go have our social group at the pub.

The phrase ‘writing group’ can be a big misnomer. The important thing is to figure out what kind of group you need and try out some different ones. Don’t feel guilty about dropping out if a group isn’t meeting your needs. Somewhere there will be one that does and, if you can’t find it, gather some people and build your own. With all the social media, it’s easier than ever to find like-minded folks.

Now back to my crazy awesome work in progress! Happy writing!

Writing Conferences: Why go?

The PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) annual conference is almost here again. The first year I attended the conference I mostly fumbled about in an overwhelmed stupor (probably with my mouth hanging open most of the time). There were so many agents, editors and other publishing guru’s present, and I could barely fathom how many writers had come out of the woodwork in my region. That many crazy people all gathered in one place can be a shock to the system. (We are all crazy, right? It isn’t just me? I mean, they even have mugs making fun of us. We have arrived.)

What really amazed me were all the opportunities to learn, to network, and to put my writing in front of other people, whether for a peer critique of my pitch or for the attempted wooing of an agent/publisher. By the time it was over, I understood that I wasn’t ready and neither was the book I was pitching, but it opened my eyes to many things I had been missing. There's a whole world of author networking opportunities out there, both in person and via social media. Unexpectedly, while I was attending that first conference, some of the discussions also opened the door for a new book idea to sneak up and bludgeon me over the head (but that’s a different blog post).

By year two, I was ready (or at least much more so than before). I had a new book (see above) ready to pitch to agents. I was prepared to start talking, not just to the people I was pitching to, but to other attendees and anyone else who would let me chat them up. This led to some fantastic conversations with people in the book world and at least one great new friend.

I also knew going in how much information I could glean from attending the right sessions. As authors, we should always be looking to learn more about our industry and, more importantly, about improving our craft (you can never be too good at what you do). Many presenters are wellsprings of information. Be willing to ask questions (preferably questions that benefit everyone in the session). Gather the information. Compile it. Find the gems that will serve you best.

This year will be different for me. My agent will be there, so I’ll get to meet her in person, which is very cool. I’m looking forward to this new experience without the stress of pitching where I can really focus on networking and soaking up knowledge.

Conferences can be expensive, but they are an investment in your writing career regardless of what route you plan to take to publishing. Meeting agents and editors in person can also get you past the dreaded slush pile if that's your chosen path. If you can swing it, take advantage of the opportunities and give yourself a little boost. In my honest opinion, it's worth it.

Have you attended any conferences? Why or why not? What are some of the things that made it worthwhile (or not) for you?

Writer’s Block: On the Value of Manure

Yes, manure. I’m not being funny. (Well, maybe a little.)

Before I go into that, however, a quick update on my status. My YA steampunk novel, The Girl and the Clockwork Cat, is back to the agent, so I am trying to focus on other projects (like brainstorming through some of the plot details for the series and editing my urban fantasy). This week it will be easy as I am attending the PNWA writers conference. My focus is on perfecting my pitch, which I will then change seven or eight times before I actually get to my agent and editor pitch appointments. I am pitching the YA steampunk. In case the current agent decides not to take it, I hope to have a few more agents interested by the end of this week.

Anyway, back to the manure.

Many things can cause that irritating phenomenon we call writer’s block -- when you just can’t seem to make any forward progress on your writing. I’ll list just a few here.

1.       You’re ready to start a new project and haven’t figured out what you want to do.

2.       You’re not clear how to progress from one scene to the next or how you want the current scene, chapter, subplot, overall plot, etc. to work out.

3.       Lack of confidence in your own ability.

4.       External influences (relationship problems, etc.).

One of the best things you can do when you hit a block, in my experience, is just sit down somewhere and start writing. It doesn’t matter what you write, just do it. Let your subconscious have the wheel and run with it. But that solution doesn’t always work. Sometimes you need something more. Sometimes your subconscious unwilling to step in while your conscious mind is blathering on about it’s many woes. That is where the manure comes in.

I have horses.


I love my horses, but they are a lot of work and they make a lot of manure. It turns out, however, that during the tedious process of shoveling manure each day is when I do some of my best brainstorming. Cleaning a horse stall doesn’t require deep thought. When I go out to clean stalls, my conscious mind goes into autopilot, scooping along to the music I put on the stereo. Scoop, dump, scoop, dump, and so on. Whatever I was working on before I went out ruminates in my subconscious without the hindrance of my conscious. Then… revelation! At some point during the process of picking little balls of compacted, chewed up grass out of the bedding, I get bombarded with ideas from the backseat driver. My conscious mind wakes up and the two parts of me bounce ideas around. Before I know it, I’m eager to get back to my desk and return to work.

What if you don’t have horses?

Not a problem. Find something else you do or can do that turns off that pesky conscious, because that is what usually permeates a block and escalates it. Find some process that puts your body to work and your conscious to sleep. I do think putting your body to work is important to the process. There is a lot of energy in your physical self that needs an output and letting it become too pent up can lead to distraction, making it harder and harder for your subconscious to get through, especially when it is already fighting your conscious.

A few ideas for those not fortunate enough to have manure flinging in their daily schedule:

·         Take a walk or bike ride

·         Exercise on a treadmill or similar workout equipment

·         Garden

·         Dig a moat around the house (Who doesn’t want a moat?)

Do whatever works for you. I have found certain things don’t work well for me, such as kayaking, horseback riding, and caving. All of these activities are great for later inspiration, but while I am doing them, my subconscious and conscious mind are busy keeping track of my environment because of the risks involved in those sports. When writer’s block is the issue, it is better to do something that isn’t going to draw on all your resources.

Next time writer’s block has you in a stranglehold, think about manure. Try something that doesn’t require deep thought, but that does get you moving. Go into it when you have your work in mind, then forget about it and see what happens.


Happy writing!