Tips n’ Trix #1: Writer’s Block

More often lately, I get emails and messages from new writers asking for advice and/or for me to read their first novel. And while I rarely have the time to read, I don’t want to turn anyone away either, because who doesn’t remember being new and uncertain about how the industry works?

As an avid list-maker, I can think of no better assistance than compiling lists of my own go-to advice for when things go south one way or another. Writer’s block is one of those things, so I thought I’d start with that.

I have a handful projects that’ve left me completely stumped. I can’t write a single word on those stories. Some projects aren’t meant to be; some are meant to wait until I’m in a different mental space or period of my life. Those characters simply have to be patient. But most of the time, really, I can shatter that block. Because sometimes I have to admit to myself that the reason I have a writer’s block is because I’m lazy and have half-assed something in the writing process, like character development or a plot point. Therefore, a writer’s block is a good indicator for me to go back and see what I can do different. Like a built-in radar saying hold up, this doesn’t pass the test.

1.) Give your character a personality test. Sometimes I haven’t taken enough to time to get to know my character, and if I’m struggling to write them, I go to www.16personalities.com and answer as the person I’m writing. Is he a leader type? Is she introverted? Does he work with his hands? Will she cancel on that party because she’s drained after a long day? Is she the kind of woman who will lose three hours doing Buzzfeed quizzes? (If the answer is yes, I go to Buzzfeed too.) Giving my character more layers kick-start the writing more often than not.

2.) Music is a big part of writing for me, as it is for many authors. If I fail to connect with my character, I make sure I’m listening to the right music. The book isn’t about me, so I shouldn’t be listening to music I like. I should go for the music my character enjoys. Sometimes the Sadist comes home and finds me blasting some obscure metal band, and he’ll just stare at me like I’ve lost my mind. And I’ll yell, it’s not for me! It’s for a character. And the funny thing is, that makes sense to him. He’s so used to my writer quirks by now. 🙂 Either way, it’s another helpful way to become one with whoever I’m writing, and it doesn’t stop at music. If you gotta walk a mile in your character’s shoes, go ahead. Cook their favorite food, watch their favorite TV shows, etc.

3.) Time to go back. Many times when I can’t seem to type another word in a story, it’s that radar going off. I’ve done something wrong. Something is messed up with the story. So I go back and figure out what part I’m not completely satisfied with. If my characters are alive and kicking in my brain, chances are they will let me know. Hey, woman, what you wrote here is out of character for me.

4.) No, I mean it, the book isn’t about me. Occasionally, that block gets slammed into place when I realize I’ve inserted myself into the story. I go back and reread my words and see that they’re my opinions, my views, not my character’s. That’s a big no-no. Casey as a secondary character in Path of Destruction is one of them. I loved writing that guy; he was so sweet and funny and equally insecure and ballsy, and it sort of swept me away. I began writing musings that reflected my own person, and then I stopped. I couldn’t write more. I also couldn’t figure out why because I liked this dude! I could relate to him. And of course I could. As I went back, it was clear as day. He’d taken over the story that wasn’t even about him, and the words he spoke were mine. I rewrote every word in the scenes he was in. I was mildly freaked out too, and felt the need to distance myself from him. That’s why I made him a Pepsi lover. #TeamCokeZero.

5.) Push it. A story has to flow naturally to be good, but it’s important to see the difference between the story and the writing. Being an author is still a job, and no job is 100% “go with the flow.” Sometimes I have to push myself to write. Some scenes and chapters are less fun but necessary, and if I always followed the “only write when you want to” rule, I’d never finish a book. Imagine telling a businessman to only do what’s fun. Imagine telling a factory worker to only work when he felt like it. It doesn’t work that way. A cocky wiseguy pops up in my head and goes, nah, motherfucker, get outta hea’ wid’at shit. (His name is Dominic, and he is loud.)

6.) …but sometimes, you gotta walk away. Take a break. Watch TV, go shopping, head out for a long walk. Clear your head. Staring at a document all day, without the ability to add more words, will only make us blind and pissed off. This is how certain items get chucked at the wall. So spare your phone or the nearby remote control and step away. Sometimes a few hours are enough, sometimes you need a week or more. Come back with a fresh perspective and perhaps new impressions and events to add to the story.

7.) Which brings us to…PLOT TWIST. This is sort of a final resort for me, and it has to make sense; it has to be what was missing. But every now and then, a plot twist is the right answer and will bring the writing back to life.

Last but not least, I have some advice on how to prevent a writer’s block. As everything else here, the advice is highly individual, and what works for me might not work for you.

1.) If you find yourself staring up the hill of Mt. Writer’s block frequently, it might be a good idea to change your writing process/strategy. Speaking from my own experience, I used to have the entire story mapped out in my head. And I got bored. I got so freaking bored because I already knew what was going to happen, and I need the writing to surprise me with twists and turns too. So I stopped mind-mapping and figuring it all out before I started. Now, before I begin, I know the gist. I know the beginning, I know the ending, and I know the major plot points. The rest…I let the characters lead the way. This is why my two closest, Lisa and Eliza, laugh their asses off whenever I claim, I’m gonna write a short novella! Let’s just say, Dirty Chef was supposed to be a short story. Their Boy(!) was supposed to be a novella. Same with We Have Till Dawn, We Have Till Monday, and The Job. Safe to say, my head bitches in charge don’t trust me for shit.

1.5.) Or you could need the opposite. If you get stuck because your mind is a chaotic mess and you can’t untangle the web you’re weaving, perhaps you’d do better with a mind map or a list. A quick summary of each chapter could help you stay on track.

2.) Is writing your full-time job? Do you have kids running around you all day? Is life busy? My rule of thumb is to finish a first draft fairly quickly. That way, the story is the only thing that exists in my head, and I don’t sidestep or forget what I’ve written. It stays fresh in my memory, from start to finish. But with this approach, I have to adjust my writing to fit my personal life. If life is busy and I’m juggling one too many projects, I’ll write a shorter and simpler story. I save the monster projects that require months of research for when I have the time to sit down and really get into it. No book deserves to be half-assed, amirite?

There you have it! I hope at least some of it was helpful and that you can crush that writer’s block.

Until next time,

-Cara

I finished another book, and I’m tired

Typing “the end” in a book brings an insane amount of satisfaction. I get to ship it off to my editor and be done with it for a while. Then a few weeks of editing back and forth follow, not to mention I get sucked into the whole PR part of publishing books. It’s a busy time that keeps my mind occupied; I spend more time with readers, I take part in online festivities, and I host giveaways and etcetera.

Then it’s all over.

I sit back, a little unsettled, a little frazzled, a little numb, and I read some reviews. I play games on my phone. I sleep and eat. I’m a little quieter than usual.

The reviews for both Auctioned and Stranded have been humbling, and I crack a tired but genuine grin when a handful readers–on the actual release day–binge read and then ask me when the next book is out.

It’s flattering, exciting, and encouraging.

It’s also nuts! And I say that fondly.

Truth is, when it’s all over, it’s my turn to process. Without giving away any significant spoilers, I can say that this is when I’m sucked back into the book I just published. I’m on that island with Darius and Gray, or in the hospital with them, or on that small, chartered  plane toward new challenges. I can still feel the sand between my toes, the sweat trickling down my neck, and the sticky papaya juices on my fingers. I know what thunder smells like in the tropics and the pressure anxiety puts on my chest. Darius is still speaking in my head, and he’s worried about Gray. He’s also planning and strategizing; his mind is going a mile a minute, which means mine is too.

Writing a series poses new issues as well. Because Gray and Darius are far from done, and leaving things unfinished goes against my nature. Goddammit, feelings are being developed, and these two need each other.

But other books demand attention, and I have to walk away for a bit. I can’t let myself get invested in the next book yet, even though Darius and Gray have already set the course and told me the gist of what’s going to happen. Philly will be interesting, as will the developments in the human trafficking case that take Darius and Gray on a cross-country road trip to Joshua Tree in California.

The next book is called Deserted, and I shouldn’t be thinking about it. Or the characters that will be involved, most from Camassia, a couple from this place called Bakersfield, and of course we need more of Ryan. Maybe. Hmm. Fuck! No. I have other books to focus on now.

*grips hair in frustration*

I’m tired. I’m itching to write more, to take a break, to move on, and yeah, it does take a generous dose of insanity to be a writer, thank you for asking.

So I’m going to play games on my phone tonight, and then tomorrow…tomorrow I write other characters. Lani and Jax are about to get it on in the Alaskan wilderness or something.

Being able to write full-time and make a good living on it is a dream come true.

But damn, I’m tired.

And happy.

Oh, and the shameless plug part. If you like MM romance with action, with sweet-hurty angst, with suspense, and with two men who are balls deep in PTSD–and sometimes Darius in Gray–you should check out the Auctioned series. Auctioned, book 1, is on sale until tomorrow. Stranded, the second book, was released this week and is also on sale until tomorrow.

Classic black and white fine art portrait of a handsome tough gu

Until next time,

Cara

 

As I write my book, I think some crazy shit

I’m going to focus. Concentrate. Hard. I’m going to write this bitch so good. I see the scene in my head, the one that will end up somewhere in the middle of the book where the hero shoves the heroine up against the wall and growls “I’m done pretending” before kissing her until her panties are ruined. Y’all know that scene. I see it, so I’m going to focus. Concentrate. Hard. I wonder how different the scene would look if I wrote heroin instead of heroine…

Focus!

*puts on headphones and stares at empty document.*

A familiar sight. New chapter. I should upgrade from Office 2003, but I hate change so much that… I just don’t like change. To some, it’s a regular personality trait. To some, it’s autism. It’s been a while since I went on Pinterest to look for Aspie memes…

Fuck, now I lost concentration. I’ll just play Blossom Blast on my phone for ten minutes, and then I’ll be ready to write this bitch. So. Good.

Ten minutes is silly, though. I have five lives; I might as well stick it through until I can’t. I’m no quitter!

*plays Blossom Blast.*

A human interrupts me. “You hungry?”

I glare at him. Can’t he see I’m busy? “I’m working! How many times do I have to tell you that when I’m wearing my headphones, I’m busy–”

He points to my phone. “It doesn’t look like work.”

I suppress a sigh. He wouldn’t understand. Muggle.

“I’m not hungry,” I say, returning to my Blossom Blast game.

I run out of lives and rub my hands together. Then I lose track of time as I write my next masterpiece. Oh it’s going to be so good. My hero’s past is tragic. He doesn’t have any parents. They died because I don’t want to write them. Boring. Now I don’t have to include them. I don’t have to think about them. There won’t be any in-between takes where he goes to visit his folks, no boring phone calls from his mother. It’s really easy to kill off parents in books.

*tilts head.*

I wonder how many orphans there are in fiction. Many. Do other writers kill them off for the same reason? Or just to build up the hero’s tragic past? Ugh. This is not original. Maybe mine will simply be a bitter bastard, not because he lost his folks but because…um. Oy, this is getting complicated.

*kills off parents.*

There. Done.

“How was work, hon?”

“Good, I killed some people.”

I have five lives on Blossom Blast again!

I get to the next level before I’m out of lives. It was a good break. I check the time and wonder where the time went. Shit. Well, I did refill the lives a couple times… A two hour break is perfectly fine, because now I’m ready to write this bitch so good.

Two paragraphs later, I’m hungry like whoa. I’m also stuck, so it’s best to take a break again. I cook dinner and get my fill of human interaction. I do human things, and it gets me thinking on realism. I like that in my books. My characters get hungry. They go to the bathroom. You rarely see that in the fluffier romance novels. Even rarer in BDSM books. They can go out for a Mexican bean fest for dinner and then they hit the lavish playroom for some good ‘ol anal sex and maybe even a fisting. Or a bondage session. And I’m sitting there, wondering if the sub never has to pee.

“What’re you thinking about?”

I snap out of my thoughts. “Um…realism?” I raise a solidarity fist. “Buttsex before burrito.”

He’s looking at me funny. “Right… I’m not sure if you’re asking for anal or if you’re still hungry.”

“I’m full.”

“So you wanna…?”

I forget to answer, already getting back into work mode. I make sure my character goes to the bathroom before he gets on his flight, because really, he’s six foot two and airplane bathrooms were built for…children. I don’t know the PC protocol. Is it okay to say midget? Dwarf? Little person? I’m useless about that. When I’m around people I’m comfortable with, I use the r-word and justify it with a diagnosis. I’m entitled to use the word like some black comedians can’t crack a joke without that other word. You know the one.

Another word many seem to dislike so much in books is cunt. I think it’s about exposure. I used to think it was too crass, or best used as an insult. But I’ve changed my mind after reading smut where it was all cunt, cunt, cunt.

It can be hot when used right.

I snicker. That’s what she said.

I’m such a fucking dork.

Focus!

Right. It’s been a while since I played Blossom Blast…

Then I realize it’s late, so I might as well call it a day. I got little to fuck-all done, but I’ll write this bitch so good tomorrow instead. Grammatically, I know it’s write this bitch so well. I’m not completely r-worded.

I’m asked how work went today.

I answer, “I put on my headphones but forgot to push play. How was yours?”

The next day, I’m unreachable. Everything just clicks, and I write forty pages in no time at all. I don’t understand it sometimes, how motivation and determination work, but I’m thankful it does work on occasion. Otherwise I’d have to get a normal-person job.

Gross.

 

Keep your fanfiction to yourself.

“You might want to keep your fanfiction writing to yourself. It’s sort of a curse word, you know? You don’t want to be labeled as a fanfiction writer.”

This is a message I received today. Friendly advice from someone who also wrote to tell me she loved Northland, my last novel.

Hey. Lady. First of all, mind ya neck. What I do in my spare time is none of your business. I’m stoked that you loved Northland, but you know where it all started for me? Fanfiction. Without it, there would be no Northland.

Second of all, telling an author she should keep her fanfiction to herself is like telling a chef not to advertise the fact that she cooks at home. Because the thing is, fanfiction is a hobby. We’re all entitled to those. And just because a chef makes mac and cheese at home doesn’t mean she’s gonna charge for it in a restaurant. Same applies to me; I might take a few more liberties in my fanfiction, but that doesn’t mean I’ll do the same in original fiction. I know there’s a difference between the two.

One is a part of a fandom. One is an industry.

I take my work seriously because I love it. It’s my dream job, and I’m lucky enough to be able to live off of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s research or editing or character development or marketing or formatting or sentence structure, everything I’ve learned started with fanfiction and the people I’ve gotten to know in my fandom.

My writing has changed a lot over the years, but no matter how hard you work, if you erase the beginning, you still end up with nothing.

I know there are writers who start with fanfiction and move over to original fiction way before they’re ready, hence the bad rep fanfiction has earned. But to assume we’re all like that is insulting.

If I were ashamed of writing fanfiction, it’d be like saying fuck you to every single reader who’ve encouraged me to publish in the first place. If it weren’t for them, I don’t even know what I’d be doing today.

I write what I want to read, and I will continue to do so, whether it’s original fiction or mac and cheese.

Speaking of blogs, I need a spreadsheet, Wright?

I know, I know, I have a spankin’ new website now and don’t need a blog anymore, but I want a second playground. I’ve been thinking about what to do with this page for a while now. It’s a work in progress, so I left it vague in the banner. But anyway, spreadsheets, be my friends. Pwease?

I’d finally decided to pimp the page a bit, and I thought, hey, I could use some quotes from my books in the background. So I started scanning my novels and found a few I wanted. Then it was Public Display of Everything’s turn, and I freeze at the sight of Flynn Wright.

Wright.

Friggin’ names. Wright happens to be the last name of another character of mine. You’ll meet him in Breaking Free, which I’m releasing in June. It means there’s still time to change his name, but you spend four hundred pages with a man and then try to change his name. I can’t do it!

Naturally, I turned to my person. Lisa.

IMG_4690I know that now. I’ll spend one of these days writing down all the names I’ve used. Can’t wait!

In the meantime, we have a problem Wright this moment, but trust my editor to fix it.

IMG_4693 There you go.

Cause and effect, peeps. If I hadn’t decided to use this WordPress, I wouldn’t have gone through my books in search for quotes, and Cory and Flynn from Public Display of Everything wouldn’t be doing a cameo in With Brave Wings, Breaking Free’s sequel.

And now that I’ve pressed publish on this post, I can’t act like I’d thought of this all along.

Oops.