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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, September 28, 2014

BLOCK-BUSTING: 14 Never-Fail Tricks Every Writer Needs to Know

by Ruth Harris


Can’t get there from here?

Something’s wrong but you don’t know what.

You’re chasing your tail in an endless loop with no off-ramps in sight.

You’re stalled out at a dead end in a dark, scary forest.

Happens to every writer and no one knows why, but your book—and you—have come to a screeching halt. You’re out of ideas, out of gas, and you and your manuscript are stranded in a dead zone.

The (boring) characters zombie-walk through the plot. Oh! There’s a plot? What plot? You can’t make sense of what you’ve created or, if you can, you wonder why you thought having your MC fall into a cootie-infested tar pit on the far side of the Planet Ding-Dong was a good idea in the first place.

You look in the mirror and ask yourself Now what? but you have no answer. Despair and panic set in. Self doubt gnaws. Maybe like Stephen King throwing away the manuscript for Carrie, you’re poised to Select All and hit the delete button.

Get a grip.

The book is your book. The characters are your characters. The plot is your plot. You created this mess—which means that you have the answer. You just don’t know it. At least not right now.

Whether it’s a glitch or a gully, here are are fourteen ways to get that book—and yourself—going again. Some are quick and easy. Others take time and effort. Some are probably familiar. Others might be new to you.

In my (long) experience, at least one of them will help get you going again so think of this as a punch list. If one strategy doesn’t work, try another. And then another. Don’t give up until you find the one that gets you moving again.

1. A body in motion is a mind in motion. 

Get up, move around and do something physical. Almost anything. Old advice but, time and time again, movement jolts the fatigued brain and gets it moving again.

  • Take a walk.
  • Fold laundry.
  • Pull weeds.
  • Hit the gym.
  • Walk the dog.
  • Do the dinner prep.
  • Get on your bike.
  • Run a few errands.

Lots of writers including me find that mild diversion combined with a physical component that gets you out of your chair and away from the computer screen allows that blocked thought or idea to emerge from the dark pool of the unconscious.

2. Brainstorm. 

With a trusted friend/colleague/partner. On the phone. Via email or even twitter. Over dinner. With a glass of wine or a verboten calorie-dense dessert.

Chances are in the course of conversation, either you or your friend, cyber or otherwise, will come up with a clue or maybe even the answer and at least nudge you closer to making forward progress.

3. Begin at the beginning. Again. 

 The beginning is often where the problem resides. Perhaps you’ve told too much (often my own problem)—or not enough. Re-read carefully, more than once if necessary, question everything as you read, make notes, and the solution that was out of reach might reveal itself.

Maybe you need to move a scene, a paragraph or delete some dialogue if, like me, you’ve told too much and have left yourself nowhere to go.

If, on the other hand, you’ve skimped on the set up, you might need to add material that you know but your reader doesn’t.

4. Reverse Outline. 

 Steve Jobs said that you can only make sense of thing when you look back. SJ was right about a lot of things (Gee. Really?) and his observation certainly applies to writers and manuscripts-in-trouble.

The online writing lab at Purdue University offers a useful guide to reverse outlining which will help you clarify the weedy tangle in which you’re enmeshed yourself.

5. Mini changes-big results. 

Maybe all you need to do is see your book in a different font or on a different screen or in a different place.

If you’ve been working on your laptop, read your manuscript on a tablet. Or vice versa.

Work at home? Go to a coffee shop and take another look at that ms. Work in a coffee shop? Go to the park and give it another shot.

Write in Times Roman? Switch to Helvetica or even Comic Sans. Increase the font size or decrease it because sometimes the simplest change up makes all the difference and will let you see the stumbling block in a way you didn’t before.

6. Analyze your characters. 

You don’t need to be Dr. Freud, but perhaps there are too many and some of them need to be combined. Or maybe there are too few or too sketchily presented and require expansion and amplification. Do you need new characters or do the existing ones require a makeover?

Do you need an antagonist? A buddy? A helper? A mentor? A liar? A betrayer? A shape-shifter? A dog, a cat, a robot, a refugee from another century?

Does the good guy suddenly do a switcheroo? The bad guy turn out to have a heart of gold? Maybe a male character should be female (or vice versa)? (That particular trick bailed me out of a big-ass mess in Brainwashed.)

We’re talking fiction here so you are free to invent whatever/whoever you need to energize your book and yourself.

7. Plot Rehab. 

If too much happens, you have a clutter problem that will confuse your readers (and maybe yourself) and needs to be streamlined and clarified.

Not enough happens? Add incidents and possibilities. Don’t worry about going too far because you can always modify later. The point is to get from not enough to just right.

A mind-mapping app like Scapple (Mac only, $15, 30-day free trial) or FreeMind (FREE and available for Windows/Mac/Linux) can be useful and help you see connections you might have missed. For more choices, LifeHacker lists the five best mind-mapping apps.

To take another, more structured approach, a beat sheet like Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat can help you bring order to the chaos. The ever-inspiring Jami Gold lists solutions to plotting dilemmas that will help whether you’re a plotter or pantser.

8. Take a second look at the setting. 

Is your setting, real or invented, working for you? Victorian London, contemporary Shanghai, a remote planet in alternate galaxy all have their place in fiction and should be thoughtfully exploited. 

If your setting is meh, your book will be, too.

Downton Abbey wasn’t a raging success just because of the plot and characters. Mad Men didn’t hook viewers only because of the booze, cigs and sex. Ditto Game of Thrones and Scandal.

In all of these super successes, the setting is as important as the characters and, in a way, becomes a character itself. Make sure your setting is doing some of the heavy lifting for you.

9. Do some more research. 

Some writers hate research, others (like me) love it. I couldn’t have written A Kiss At Kihali without the Internet. Newspaper articles about poaching and the near-extinction of rhinos and elephants initially triggered my interest but I needed much, much more info to write the book.

Thanks to Google, I got the scoop about African animal orphanages, criminal poaching gangs, wildlife conservation, Kenyan weddings, elephant and rhino veterinary, animal psychology and communication.

Whatever you want to research, odds are the Internet can come to your rescue. No more trudging to the library—everything available in the comfort of your own computer.

Live sources are invaluable. People love to talk about what they do. All you have to do is ask. Tap your network, pick up the phone and introduce yourself, send an email.

Research is a goldmine of info and inspiration, often invaluable when you find yourself stuck. Use it.

10. Rethink genre. 

The book you started as a romance has somehow veered off into darker territory and all of a sudden you’ve run out of gas. Or else you began what you thought was going to be a mystery but suddenly it’s giggles and guffaws and you’re lost and have no idea what to do next.

No wonder you’re stuck. Lots of times writers don’t know what they’re doing until they do it and books have a way of taking on a life of their own no matter what the clueless, lowly writer might have in mind.

If you step back and reconsider, you might realize your romance is really Gothic Romance or Romantic Suspense. If that’s the case (and it’s entirely possible), the book will come into sharp focus again and you will have a route out of the doldrums.

If your mystery turns into a giggle-fest, you might have a comedy-mystery instead of the complicated puzzle you originally had in mind.

Be flexible. A rose is a rose is a rose until, all of a sudden, it’s an orchid. Or even poison ivy. For a writer, roses, orchids and poison ivy all come brimming with possibility.

11. Write the blurb and/or log line. 

Both require concentration and, at least IME, need to be constantly reviewed, rethought and rewritten. The blurb and log line will strip your book down to essentials. In the process, you will gain a clear focus and perhaps even a renewed perspective on your work.

At minimum, you will come away with an elevator pitch. (For more on how to write loglines and blurbs, check Anne's post on Hooks Loglines and Pitches and Ruth's Tips for Writing that Killer Blurb.)

12. Writing prompts. 

They’re all over the net, they’re free and they can jolt you out of your doldrums. Just the right word or push in a new direction can make the difference. Choose from random subjects, first lines, random dialogue and quick plot generators.

Writer’s Digest lists hundreds of prompts to help get you out of your funk.

For an irreverent approach, there are writing prompts “that don’t totally suck” to help you get moving again.

13. Sleep Perchance To Dream. 

If you’re stuck, chances are you’re preoccupied or even obsessed with your dilemma. You’re running in circles and getting nowhere except frustrated. Why not let your unconscious do the work while you sleep?

I’m still surprised at how often I wake up with the answer to a block that’s been bugging me. I’m also often surprised by how shockingly obvious the solution is in retrospect.


How come I didn’t figure it out a week ago? How come the answer came to me when I was asleep? Maybe a psychiatrist could explain it but my own conclusion is that’s just the way the unconscious works.

Take advantage!

14. Run A Spell Check. 

 I know this might sound weird, but sometimes seeing words—your own words—in isolation and out of context can trigger new ideas. 

I have no idea how or why this works. 

Perhaps it’s the repetitive aspect or maybe the alternate suggestions spell check kicks up but the simple act of going through your manuscript in this disjointed way can give you a new perspective and a new idea.

What about you, Scriveners? Have you tried any of these tricks to get a book's momentum going again? I've done the spell-check thing and it works for me too! ( I thought I'd invented it myself.) And getting outside for a walk always helps. I think I do most of my writing when I'm walking around Los Osos. People see me chanting the stuff to myself so I won't forget, and I'm sure my neighbors think I'm totally nuts. What works for you when your WIP is stalling out?....Anne 


Based on secret, real-life psychiatric experiments conducted by the CIA. Zeb Marlowe, a scarred survivor of the experiment, and Jai Jai Leland, the beautiful widow of a man who didn’t survive, must stop a nuclear threat that puts the world's security at risk. 

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With a plot that hurtles forward at electric speed, BRAINWASHED takes place on the beautiful islands of the Caribbean, in Damascus and Ireland, the Philippines, Canada, Washington, DC--and in an underground torture chamber located on Victor Ressid's secluded private estate.

"BRAINWASHED delivers the goods: thrills, gut-churning suspense, nightmarish terror. Ruth and Michael Harris have delivered another great read and sure bestseller. I dare you to put it down!" --Bob Mayer, former Green Beret and million-copy bestselling author of AREA 51


SCHNEIDER FAMILY BOOK AWARDS: NO ENTRY FEE. These awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Three awards of $5000 each will be given annually in each of the following categories: birth through grade school (age 0-10), middle school (age 11-13) and teens (age 13-18). May be fiction, biography, or other form of nonfiction. Deadline December 1, 2014. 

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS LITERARY FESTIVAL SHORT FICTION CONTEST $25 ENTRY FEE. Submit a short story, up to 7000 words. Grand Prize: $1,500, plus airfare (up to $500) and accommodations for the next Festival in New Orleans, VIP All-Access Festival pass for the next Festival ($500 value), plus publication in Louisiana Cultural Vistas magazine. Contest is open only to writers who have not yet published a book of fiction. Deadline November 16th.

For NEW WRITERS! THE FICTION DESK NEWCOMER'S PRIZE ENTRY FEE £8. First prize £500, second prize £250. Short fiction from 1,000 - 5,000 words. Writers should not have been previously published by The Fiction Desk, and should not have published a novel or collection of short stories in printed form. Deadline October 31st.

GLIMMER TRAIN VERY SHORT FICTION AWARD $15 fee. Maximum length: 3,000 words. 1st place wins $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of that issue. 2nd place wins $500 (or, if accepted for publication, $700 and 10 copies). 3rd place wins $300 (or, if accepted for publication, $700 and 10 copies). Deadline October 31.

Writer's Digest Popular Fiction Awards. Choose from Romance, Thriller, Crime, Horror, Science-Fiction and Young Adult. 4,000 words or less. The $25 entry fee is steep, but the grand prize is $2500 plus a trip to the annual conference, and the prestige is awesome. Deadline October 15th.

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Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Save the Cat's beat sheet is a great way to put a story on track.
Hit the gym, people! Your body will also thank you.\
I've always started with the ending. That's the first thing I see for every story and I just work my way backwards - how did the characters get to that point? I might stumble around with the plot and outline a bit, but once I start writing, I just plow straight ahead with no road blocks.

September 28, 2014 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger Patricia Lynne said...

My hubby is a true believer of number 13. He does computer programming and when he gets stuck there, he does something else and sleeps on it. He thinks it's just your mind still working on the problem in the background, while you focus on something new.

September 28, 2014 at 10:22 AM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

Excellent list. I am particularly intrigued by the font-changing & spellchecking tips. The mind is a fascinating & unsearchable thing, isn't it? Just recently at the Central Coast Writers' Conference I heard the suggestion that we might understand our story & characters better by administering a Myers-Briggs personality test to each one as food for thought.

September 28, 2014 at 10:24 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Alex—You start with the ending???? Not moi. I never have the faintest idea of the ending. Just another indication of how unique the process is. A book is a hand-made product, unique to each author. Something wonderful in a mass-produced culture!

September 28, 2014 at 10:30 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Patricia—I'm sure he's right—your mind is still working on the problem even tho you don't know it. Smart man!

I didn't know that computer programming works the same way, tho. Fascinating!

September 28, 2014 at 10:32 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

CS—Thanks for a great idea! Put them on the couch, plumb their inner depths & you will certainly come up with interesting, dimensional characters.

September 28, 2014 at 10:34 AM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

I have to say I don't agree with #3 at all. Just because the book has ground to a halt does not mean the beginning is broken, or even that there is even an actual problem. Writers are also the worst at judging their own books, and they will declare it's broken when it may in fact just be fear. When I did my first novel, I hit the 1/3 point and ground to a complete halt. I thought the story was broken, so I went back to the beginning and revised it, as the advice suggests. And hit the same point again, and revised again, and again, and again. I never got past that 1/3 point.

I hit that 1/3 point in my current novel, and my left brain went into panic mode. It's run all over the place screaming that the world is coming to end and that I really needed to revise the beginning. I know the beginning is solid. The problem was where I was at, and it wasn't because the story was broken. It was a natural point in the story where it shifted.

I ended up writing the same scene probably 5 times. Left brain kept jumping in and would try to rush the scene through because it wanted to fix the problem so badly. What it wasn't doing was letting the natural development of the story happen. It was so bad, I stopped tracking word count for about two weeks to keep left brain from going crazy because it kept saying I was wasting time redrafting the scenes so many times.

I finally decided do just a setting and character and leave the plot out entirely, and that came up with two amazing scenes of powerful character development. Sometimes the best thing is to simply write the next sentence, even if you have no idea where it's going to go.

September 28, 2014 at 12:08 PM  
OpenID pillsandpillowtalk.com said...

Thank you for some great ideas, Anne. I didn't know all of these, and now I long to put some into practice. Will not procrastinate - definitely getting started tomorrow!

September 28, 2014 at 12:08 PM  
OpenID paulfahey said...

Hi, Ruth, what a great post. I've often used the tip of going back to the beginning, hoping that's where the emotion lurks that sparked the story. And you know what? It's usually there. Helps me get back on track when I get stuck. Loved what you said too about rethinking the genre. My current WIP began as contemporary lesbian fiction, but since I added a romance element and also focused on a sixteen year old narrator it's become more than a little confusing. YA, lesbian romantic fiction. And this epiphany of sorts is really going to help me in the long run and get me thru to the finish. Thank you again for another wonderful and helpful post.

September 28, 2014 at 12:19 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Linda—Sorry you went through that. My point was that the beginning *can be* where the problem is and is a good place to look when you think something is off-track. The beginning is just one of the "usual suspects"—at least in my experience.

September 28, 2014 at 12:29 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Paul—Thanks for the kind words! Genre can be confusing, especially now that writers are expanding genre boundaries and getting very creative with mashups. Glad to hear that rethinking genre helped. :-)

September 28, 2014 at 12:33 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Pills--Actually this post is written 100% by Ruth Harris. I just wrote the questions at the bottom. When Ruth takes over it lets me get some of the writing done that I've been procrastinating! :-)

September 28, 2014 at 12:40 PM  
Blogger ryan field said...

All excellent points. And I think #2 is so important. I've been lucky enough to have publishers willing to do this with me. There's just something about it that sets off all the creative instincts.

September 28, 2014 at 12:53 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Ryan—Thanks! You are lucky. Back in the day, helping writers through the rough spots was one of things editors were there for. Nowadays? Not so much.

September 28, 2014 at 1:24 PM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

I think the better choice is to keep writing from where you're at, even if it is one sentence at a time if needed. It is very easy to break the book trying to a problem.

September 28, 2014 at 1:40 PM  
Blogger Eve Kotyk said...

Excellent blog post. Thank you especially for the plot generator. They have an app!! My first plot: "Your main character is a sensitive 55 year-old woman. The story begins on a farm. Someone thought dead is discovered alive. The theme of the story is loss of innocence." Hmmm, but maybe not a farm, and maybe not sensitive...but first a walk.

September 28, 2014 at 2:11 PM  
Blogger Eileen Goudge said...

Great advice, Ruth! My remedy for writer fatigue (I refuse to use the "B" word!) is to exercise. My latest passion is the pistachio-green, one-speed bike I bought that takes me back to my childhood whenever I hop on. Back then, I didn't worry about what I was writing or how it would be received, I just wrote for the fun of it. It's good to be reminded of why I became a writer in the first place.

September 28, 2014 at 2:23 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Eve—Thanks for the kind words. Yeah, maybe a city. Maybe in another country/planet. Maybe a guy. Maybe a little older/younger. Anything to get going again makes a big difference.

September 28, 2014 at 2:38 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Eileen—thanks! You're right about the "B" word. Maybe the "S" word: Not Stuck. Searching.

Your bike reminds me of mine: a blue Raleigh one-speed. Haven't thought about it in years. I lovedlovedloved my bike! I'm too chicken, tho, to ride a bike in the city. Too many scary stories.

September 28, 2014 at 2:42 PM  
OpenID paulfahey said...

It really did, Ruth. I'll be talking with my publisher about this soon. My work doesn't always fit into tight little niches. Helped me a ton.

September 28, 2014 at 3:19 PM  
Blogger Eileen Goudge said...

I'm too chicken to ride a bike in the city. That's why I keep mine in the country. You should try it, if only for a day trip. Total reboot.

September 28, 2014 at 3:30 PM  
OpenID liebjabberings said...

So far, I always find that I haven't dug deep enough, and my mind is resisting the writing because I have to do a lot of digging first. In words (my auxiliary files tend to have at least ten times as many words as the finished scene).

Donal Maass says scenes are sometime put into place because the author knows instinctively that something belongs there - but hasn't figured it out yet.

I'm an extreme plotter - beginning and end are and have stayed solid for years (yeah, I'm also slow). So I know exactly where I'm going. What I have found so far is that there is a crucial point in each scene that is necessary to get from the beginning to the end, and when I don't have the crucial point of a scene figured out, it's like walking across a raging river on slightly submerged stepping stones: I need to find the next foothold.

It's a crazy way to write - but we're all different, and it works for me.

So my unblocking always comes from hours spent at the keyboard, ideas picked up during naps, and digging, digging, into the subconscious.

I keep hoping I'll discover a way to do the same process faster. Meanwhile, at least it's fun. And very satisfying when finally unlocked.


September 28, 2014 at 3:53 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Report back, OK? Curious to hear your pub's read.

September 28, 2014 at 4:25 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Bonne idée! :-)

September 28, 2014 at 4:25 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Alicia—Thank you, you've brought up a crucial point. So much of our work takes place in the subconscious and the subc doesn't always work on the schedule we expect/demand. Patience is a quality we need to develop.

September 28, 2014 at 4:28 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Paul, dopey autocorrect! I wrote reax, not "read". Hope it goes thru this time around.

September 28, 2014 at 4:32 PM  
OpenID liebjabberings said...

Lawrence Block counts back to his birth when asked how long he's been writing a particular book. He has a point.

Maybe that's why writers write: we have to get all that stuff out of there.


September 28, 2014 at 4:36 PM  
Blogger G. B. Miller said...

I've done #1 quite extensively. Most recently I had a problem with an ending for a novella that I had completed. I finished the last scene and I couldn't figure out how to end it. Eventually came up with a few throwaway paragraphs that sort of completed the story, printed out the pages for editing, and figured I was done with it.

Problem was, the more I thought about it, the less I liked the ending I came up with. So after spending a week just thinking about it, jotting down a note here and there, the proper ending came to me while I was taking my morning shower.

Hacked out those two pages in about an hour, and with it, I tied everything all together from the beginning to the end.

Father Nature's Corner

September 28, 2014 at 4:57 PM  
Blogger Dean K Miller said...

Score me under #'s 1-2-6-8 as often occurrences.Haven't yet changed the gender of a character but did find a hero disguised as a villain, which I hope to exploit. Great list. thanks.

September 28, 2014 at 6:57 PM  
Blogger Rosi said...

Thanks, Anne. I really needed this right now. I will be posting the link to this on my blog.

September 28, 2014 at 8:36 PM  
Blogger Julie Musil said...

Ruth, it's as if you're in my (scary) brain, knowing exactly what I'm going through! My issue is definitely the beginning AND useless characters. I was so frustrated trying to figure out what I needed to fix. But I walked away from it for a couple of days and BAM! I knew what I needed to do. I'm sort of procrastinating right now. There's a lot of work ahead and I'm being a sissy and not getting started. Bad me. Bad, bad, me.

September 28, 2014 at 8:37 PM  
Blogger John Wiswell said...

I'm also not at all opposed to someone writing every bad idea they have. Sometimes authors get stuck because they're afraid to write something that they anticipate will be bad. But if you have five terrible ideas for how to get from Point A to Point C, write all five. Even if they are all actually terrible when you're done, the composition can jog your mind into coming up with a better idea, or of remixing the existing ideas into something stronger.

September 28, 2014 at 9:28 PM  
Blogger Tam Francis said...

What a GREAT blog. I love learning new things and had NEVER heard of a reverse outline! Thank you for this gift! I'm sure this applies to short stories as well? I had a few blocks when putting together my vintage romantic ghost story compilation, the same goes for my sequel, even WITH a loose outline!

This blog post is spectacular! Love you blog and will share with my writer's group and more! Thank you, thank you!

~ Tam Francis ~

September 29, 2014 at 5:13 AM  
Blogger Sue Coletta said...

I am actually dealing with this problem now. The book is written, I thought. But the feedback I received was less than favorable. Apparently, unlike book one, the reader couldn't connect to my protagonist (easy fix). The real trouble happened when the book felt like it was going somewhere and then didn't. I can't remember what my original idea was, so time away is what's needed. I started writing another book. Once I've completed the first draft I will return to the "Frankenstein" and hopefully will be able to view it with clear eyes. Sometimes a little distance is all we need. Don't you agree?

September 29, 2014 at 6:42 AM  
Blogger Jan Ryder said...

Thank you, Ruth. You and Anne always seem to come up with ideas to solve my plot problems at the very moment I need them. I've just deleted one character and have cut a meandering plot detour. Now I need to get my MC from here to there without the detour. I've been worrying at it for a week now...

September 29, 2014 at 6:48 AM  
Blogger Julie Valerie said...

I love Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat beats and was so grateful that Jami Gold took those beats and turned them into a useful tool for writers. Thanks Blake and Jami! And thank you, Ruth, for writing this very informative post. I'm very curious about the reverse outlining... going to check that out for sure!

September 29, 2014 at 7:18 AM  
Blogger Roger Castle said...

Great Blog! I've done at lest the first nine and am a great believer in doing something else and letting the subconscious do the work.

September 29, 2014 at 7:35 AM  
Blogger Lexa Cain said...

Yes, those cootie-infested tar pits are never good ideas... After completing a speedy draft, I had a ton of plot rehab and serious character analysis to do to fix the mess. It's working out pretty well. Thanks for all the great tips!

September 29, 2014 at 9:34 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

G.B.—Thanks for a great comment. Yes! Showers are good and it's amazing, isn't it, that once we know what we're doing, how fast it all comes together! Of course, until then we do tend to flail around but that's all part of the process. Thanks for describing it so well!

September 29, 2014 at 11:08 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Dean—Thank *you* Love heroes in disguise…adds lots of mystery and suspense & keeps the pages turning.

September 29, 2014 at 11:09 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Rosi—Thanks! Anne and I love links!

September 29, 2014 at 11:10 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Julie—You're being awfully hard on yourself. Sometimes what we call procrastination is just our subconscious beavering away in secret until we're ready to write. We need time to process our thoughts we need to let the process happen. Meanwhile, stay away from "sissy" and "bad." Not productive.

OK, lecture over.

September 29, 2014 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

John—You're soooo right! Lousy ideas can turn into good ideas and part of a writer's work is learning not to censor. As you say, the jog or the remix can be very productive. Thanks!

September 29, 2014 at 11:17 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Tam—Thank you! Glad to introduce you to the reverse outline. A RO can be a major help especially when you're lost in your own book and I see no reason the RO can't help sort out a short story. Thanks for the shares. Hope the post helps others, too.

September 29, 2014 at 11:21 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Sue—Totally agree. Distance aka perspective is essential. Sometimes when you can't remember the original idea, it's because, in the process of writing, the book has changed. That's when re-thinking genre can be a big help.

Also a vacation from "Frankenstein" is never a bad idea. ;-)

September 29, 2014 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Jan—Thanks for the flattering words. Anne and I try! :-)

Sounds like you're making progress. Cutting and deleting are a writer's best friend. Gardens need to be weeded regularly and so do books!

September 29, 2014 at 11:30 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Julie—Thank *you* Hope reverse outlining works for you. I find it indispensable as a book goes along and I need to keep track of what I'm doing (or trying to do).

September 29, 2014 at 11:31 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Roger—Thanks! Taking a break and putting the subconscious on the job is amazingly effective. Call me a believer, too!

September 29, 2014 at 11:33 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Lexa—Fixing our own messes is part of the job. Sort of like housekeeping without the vacuum cleaner. And those never work well on cootie-infested tar pits anyway. What *is* it with cooties?????

September 29, 2014 at 11:34 AM  
Blogger Sarah Allen said...

Oh I love this! I have been stuck for a few weeks because the ending I'd had planned for this novel completely lost its umph and totally didn't work. In other words, it was back to the drawing board and trying to figure out how to make this new ending I need work has been causing me a lot of headaches. I'm going to use every single one of these tricks to get this thing unstuck :)

September 29, 2014 at 1:17 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Sarah—Glad my timing was good! Sometimes "the answer" comes after hard work and diligence. Other times, seemingly from out of left field. We never know which approach will solve our dilemma so we have to try everything.

Stick with it. You know the answer. You just need to find it!

September 29, 2014 at 3:02 PM  
Blogger Julie Musil said...

You are AWESOME! Thanks for the lecture. Message received :)

September 29, 2014 at 9:46 PM  
Blogger Jami Gold said...

Thanks for the link to my worksheets, Ruth! I'm happy to help. :)

September 29, 2014 at 11:14 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Jami—Thank *you* for sharing such a constructive approach. We need you!

September 30, 2014 at 4:28 AM  
Blogger Patrice said...

Great stuff! I was referred to this blog post not once but twice today on Facebook.

For me, the loose "beats" help me find that sweet spot between plotter and pantser where I seem to do best. And I'm constantly amazed at the way my subconscious works--often I come up with something better as I'm writing through a book, and usually it's a lightbulb moment where I realize that I've already got the setup going--so PART of my brain knew it, even if I wasn't aware.

Thanks, Ruth and Anne, for giving back to writers so generously.

September 30, 2014 at 5:01 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Patrice—Thank you. Anne and I love to share our own mistakes/discoveries so others don't have to make the mistakes or can use the discoveries we find helpful!

You're nailed it—Our subconscious is sooooo much smarter than we are. Our job is to keep up with it. Not always easy but oh-so-rewarding.

October 1, 2014 at 4:13 AM  
Blogger Linda Thorne said...

Lots of interesting material here. I don't pay much attention to reviews when I'm looking to buy a book except for children's books for my grandkids. I study the reviews carefully, looking for what ages of kids enjoy reading them. I'm only looking for whether the book is written for their age group. I make the decision on which one to buy after reading the synopsis or book cover.

I do look for reviews sometimes out of curiosity about what readers are saying about certain authors. I don't take the 5-stars that seriously or the 1-stars as I know some people will overrate a book or underrate it, sometimes badly like the "meanies" you describe here. I have found myself really annoyed when I read a bad review on a book I loved and I sent an argument review back hoping to negate it. I could not understand anyone taking away such a different viewpoint from a book I truly enjoyed.

My debut novel is in stage one - under a publishing contract, but not at the publication stage. I loved your advice about having wine or chocolate nearby with fingertips off the keyboard when reading our book reviews. I'll need to remember that after it's published. Thank you for this information.

October 9, 2014 at 1:50 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Linda--I think you meant this to go on my review post, so I copied and pasted it there. I have my reply there as well.

October 9, 2014 at 2:08 PM  

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