How I Beat Writer’s Block

At the Peace Arch border crossing, entering the U.S. from Canada, the border patrol person asked me what I did for a living. He seemed very interested when I told him I was a writer and offered me a cure for writer’s block.

“You know what you have to do to overcome writer’s block?”

Of course I wanted to hear what he had to say.

“You have to travel. That’s what will get you over writer’s block.”

He sounded so confident, I decided to take his advice to heart.

I travel to a park or the beach, and sit in my car and write. I travel to a local tourist area and walk around for half a day. I travel to home decor stores to see their enticing displays. I visit the ocean, or the mountains. Since I live in the Pacific Northwest I have access to numerous places to get inspiration for writing, places like Granville Island, Fort Langley, White Rock, Crescent Beach, Deep Cove, Belcarra Regional Park, Stanley Park. I could go on.


Granville Island, British Columbia

My budget constricts me a little, but I have still managed several longer vacations in the past year or so, traveling to the Okanagan Valley, to Manitoba to attend two weddings, to Ontario to visit family I hadn’t seen for decades, to New England to do research for my novel, and most recently to Portland, Oregon to attend a writers’ conference.


Red Lion Hotel on the River-Jantzen Beach, Portland, OR


I’ve read a lot of advice on how to overcome writer’s block. If I am blocked, it is for a reason. Usually it is the pressure of the urgent. The sense that something is more important than writing.

I am also an artist and a musician and the answer to why I don’t paint, or play piano or guitar is the same. The mundane duties of life supersede my artistic ambitions. If I am not writing or painting or making music, it is because I have not placed a high enough importance on these activities.

I recently visited the website of an author and agent I met at a writers’ conference and saw that his last writing post was dated June 28. My natural response was one of sadness. Why is this skilled writer not writing regularly?

Maybe it is because we writers are not machines. Yes, we can seat ourselves at our desks and determine not to get up for four hours. This will produce results of sorts. Some writers are able to adhere to a self-imposed writing deadline and I expect their email as consistently as Saturday, or a full moon. But we are not all like that.

The greatest hindrance to good writing is a depressed spirit. Traveling, getting into a new space and making new encounters, works very well to lift one’s spirits.

One weekend I travelled down to Lynden, WA to help my son and his wife paint the interior of their house. My husband took a separate car and came later, after work. When I returned back home, my husband went through the border first and I followed after him. The border guard greeted me and I told him I had been visiting my children.

“I heard you ‘Tom Sawyered’ your husband into painting a house.”

I laughed, and thought to myself, border guards read too. Once again my little journey proved to be inspiring.

Maybe traveling isn’t your way of getting over writer’s block. Find out what works for you and do whatever it takes to get your thoughts out there for people to read. Somebody is waiting to hear from you.


Posted in Creating, Inspiration, Priorities, publishing, Purpose, Writing, Writing Helps | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

My Writers’ Conference Experience

Last week I attended the Oregon Christian Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon. The conference began on Monday and ended Thursday afternoon. For any writer who has never attended a conference, I highly recommend it.

One of the reasons to attend a writers’ conference is that writers have access to agents and editors in a way that doesn’t happen by simply sending in a query. Editors and agents pay more attention to writers who attend conferences because they can tell that these writers are serious about their craft and willing to invest time and money to improve their writing skills.

If you are planning to attend a writers’ conference it is important to thoroughly familiarize yourself with who will be at the conference and know what you want to accomplish. This will help you to prioritize and make the most of your time. My priorities were 1) to help out with morning worship by playing the guitar, 2) gain a better knowledge of the craft of writing women’s fiction, 3) talk with a mentor about writing as a career, 4) build relationships with agents, editors and authors, 5) get an understanding of the place of my writing, 6) volunteer, and 7) spend time in the pool. I managed all of the above.

Before the conference I selected a coach and signed up for a Coaching Class–seven hours of in-depth teaching in three morning sessions. My class was taught by Angela Hunt. Angela has written contemporary fiction, historical fiction, children’s fiction and several books on the craft of writing. It was inspiring to hear her tell about her writing journey and her technique, which she covers in her book, Writing Lessons From the Front: The First Ten Books.

I also selected a Mentor for a half hour appointment. Poppy Smith–an author, international speaker and life coach gave me some helpful input as we discussed writing as a career path.

At the conference I signed up for 15 Minute Appointments with Editors and Agents, based on their availability. If I could not get an appointment I waited for mealtime and sat at the Tables of Editors or Agents I needed to meet. I also had a conversation with two agents during the Thursday afternoon one hour Autograph Party.

There were twenty-six Afternoon Workshops. We could only choose four. Since we were not committed to particular classes ahead of time I was able to change my plan at the last minute and attend the class of an agent I was encouraged to see, based on my other meetings. Thankfully I managed to spend time with every person I planned to talk to.

At the end of the day, after the Keynote Speaker, I felt too tired to attend the final Night-Owl Workshop. I went to my room to rest and my roomie almost dragged me to the Night-Owl. She knew I needed to go and she was right.

One of the things I discovered in speaking with several agents about my book is that it may not be suitable for Christian publishers. The Surrey International Writers’ Conference is a renowned conference held in my hometown every October, so I’m thinking of attending it next year and hearing more on the subject.

The hope of every writer is to get a publishing contract but, realistically, the chance of this happening at a conference is still pretty slim. As you may have noted in an earlier post, I participated in the Manuscript Submission Program by submitting my first ten pages, cover letter and synopsis to two agents and an editor a couple of months before the conference. The response was that my novel has “promise” and “potential” and needs more editing.

In summary, I got much more than I expected out of the conference. If you are going to a conference I suggest you read Chip MacGregor’s post, Ask the Agent: How Do I Get the Most Out of a Writers’ Conference. I heeded his suggestion to plan which sessions to miss in order to have time to spend with friends and added my own version–remember to include time at the pool too!

Posted in Agent, Editor, Focus, Priorities, Purpose, Time management, writers' conference, Writing, Writing Career, Writing Helps | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Orienting Your Reader

I am currently on holidays in Manitoba for a month, visiting family and attending two weddings, as well as my mother’s eightieth birthday celebration.

While I am here I am also trying to carve out some daily time for writing. This is more easily said than done. I don’t have an internet connection so doing research presents a challenge. But the library is not far away.

Recently a friend loaned me a book I wish I had known about years ago. It is Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. If I had studied this book early on, it would have saved me countless hours of editing I am now required to do on my novel.

Techniques of the Selling Writer was published in 1965 and reads like a college textbook, so you have to be prepared to plod through it, but it is well worth it. It has more practical advice than any other book I have found. I would say it is a must read for every beginning novel writer.

Like the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” We all have gaps in our knowledge and we don’t know what they are. As I read Techniques of the Selling Writer I recognized many of my gaps. It was thrilling for me to learn why some things I was doing were not working and to find out what I could do to improve my story. I am not yet finished the book and every time I pick it up I learn something new.

One thing I learned was that with every scene, and particularly in the beginning of the story, it is important to orient your reader. Give your readers a sense of time and place. It sounds simple, and maybe you have always done this. But I looked at my story and went, at what point does my reader realize that the story happens in Portland, ME? It was way too long before this became evident.

Also ask yourself, what time of day is this incident happening, and then slip in a clue. Sometimes you make a clear statement like, It was six o’clock, on Friday, March 6. But more often you’ll probably say something like, Sally dried the last of the dinner dishes. Or, The sun was sinking behind the trees as he turned into the driveway and saw Jayne sitting on the front step with the twins. Earlier you have clued the reader in to the fact that your lead character looks after the twins every other weekend.

Think about seasons too. Is it cold or hot with humidity? You could state, It was January in Chicago. Or, maybe the month isn’t that important and you simply want to give your readers a sense of the weather by saying, He wrapped his woolen scarf around his neck as he bent his head against the wind and blowing snow. Here is another example, Dark clouds loomed in the sky. Maria slapped a mosquito on her arm as she sat down on the grass and opened her lunch bag. The reader knows it is noon, there is the threat of rain and it is warm enough to sit outside on the grass without a coat.

Our readers will appreciate this small consideration. It will help them to relax and get into the story. If we tell them early on, then they will not feel jolted by information that came too late and didn’t match their assumptions. After you do this for awhile it becomes second nature.

If you are serious about writing, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Techniques of the Selling Writer. I’m sure you will make some surprising and helpful discoveries.

Posted in Critique, Editing, Novel, Writing, Writing Helps | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is Your Writing Worth?

My writing is important to me, but lately I’ve had to take an honest look at what it is I want and need to do with my life. I’ve concluded I want to write. As a result, I am setting aside time to write.

And, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and investing in resources. Connecting with people who write, buying books, attending conferences.

As part of my honest analysis, I admitted to myself that I also need to make money.

This week I came across some very timely advice that I plan to apply to my writing and you might find it useful as well.

I went to Chip MacGregor‘s website because he will be at the Oregon Christian Writers Conference I plan to attend in August. Before a conference it’s a good idea to do some homework and read up on the agents and editors who will be there. Chip is a sought after agent, and the owner of MacGregor Literary. I have also submitted the first ten pages of my manuscript to him under the OCW Manuscript Submission Program.

In his article, Ask the Agent: Is it Realistic to Think of Making My Living at Writing, he caught my attention with this statement:

Set a financial goal, start to work toward it, and look for opportunities to generate some income from your writing skill.

Writers, Chip says, are pathetically underpaid and we seem to think we just have to accept that, but this is not the case. Chip’s idea is we need to take charge of our careers and make sure we are getting paid.

Here are a couple of suggestions from Ask the Agent: What’s the One Piece of Advice You’d Give a Career Writer:

Develop a writing calendar….a document that details what you’re going to write each day.

To figure out what you put into each day, you look at your “to do” list and do some prioritizing. What needs to get written today? What will pay off? What will push your career forward?

…you don’t just write down the goal for each day and stop. You then go back and add in a dollar figure, so each project is seen as contributing to your budget.

Figuring out your writing value isn’t hard — if your goal is to make $36,000 per year at writing, you’re trying to make $3000 per month, or $750 per week, or an average of $150 pr day.

“Write in a dollar figure.” Have you ever thought of your writing in this way? I hadn’t.

This becomes important when you are considering a writing assignment. You estimate how many hours/weeks the job will take you to finish, and then you calculate how much it will bring in and consider if it fits within your overall budget plan. He gives an example:

You’re expecting to sell that book for about $5000, so each chapter has a monetary value of roughly $250.

Let’s do the math. If you are only making $5000 on a book, or another assignment, then, to stay within a $36,000 budget, you need to complete this project in less than two months. That’s probably unrealistic for a book.

If you know it will take you six months of steady writing to complete the work, you need to make $18,000 when it is finished.

Our writing has intrinsic value as it educates, informs, entertains and inspires our readers. But from a practical standpoint, if we want to survive as writers, we may have to become strategic and place a dollar value on our writing.

Thanks Chip MacGregor for the heads up!

Posted in Agent, Marketing, publishing, Time management, Writing, Writing Career, Writing Helps | Leave a comment

Getting Past the Fear

Last night, at 4:00 a.m. I finally pressed ‘Send’ and submitted my first ten pages to the Oregon Christian Writes Manuscript Submission program. For $5.00 you can have an editor or agent look at your first ten pages when you attend the conference. They may or may not want to meet with you and possibly ask for your complete manuscript.

Before I go on, I’ll just give you a brief summary of what has happened since I dropped off the scene for awhile. I hope we can be the kind of friends who can pick up where we left off because that’s the kind of friends I mostly have. We are in this for the long haul and know there will be interruptions for various reasons.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the direction of my life and during the last three years I took two different admin assistant jobs. Previously when I was blogging regularly (2012) I was between jobs and very focused on moving ahead with my writing.

Working at these jobs made me realize that I have a very strong admin gift, as I have been told, but that my passion is not so much in the area of keeping a machine running as it is in connecting with people and finding ways to make meaningful contributions. I like to contribute in many ways. Hosting a meal, planning a birthday party, interacting with children and seniors, finding and sharing significant information, decorating my home, creating beautiful paintings, taking photos, building memories with loved ones, problem solving, and enriching my marriage.

While I was working I kept thinking that I was wasting my time. I know I wasn’t actually wasting my time, but maybe I was missing opportunities. I felt I was missing the things that only I could do. However, I had to counter-balance this with the fact that I was helping others on my job reach their goals and that is very significant to me. I love to help others in this way.

But now I feel the time has come for me to start my own business, in a sense. This is the second go I am having at building a writing career and to tell the truth it scares me. I could have pressed ‘Send’ at 10:00 p.m.yesterday but I had a fear of putting my work out there. When you are younger, I think, your mind doesn’t go so many places and consider so many possibilities before making a decision. In other words, you basically just think, if I mail this, then I might get a publishing contract. What could be more exciting?

But me, I was sitting in bed thinking, is this really how I want to be perceived? Is my novel saying what I want it to say? Am I being true to my characters? Would I be embarrassed if so and so read this? If so, why?

I have a lovely friend, a published author, who is nudging me along with my writing. She even came over this week and helped me sort out my first ten pages. I was completely stuck. I have spent a very long time trying to find out where my novel starts, how much is back story. After sending her several different chapters, because my book is mostly complete, she finally said, “That’s it! That’s where your book starts!” I was so relieved, until I tried to figure out how to move ahead from there and suddenly it looked like none of the rest of the book fit. Thankfully she was able to help me out with that too.

It’s an understatement to say I’ve learned a lot in this process. But one thing I do know. I keep getting excited about sharing what I have learned with my readers, right here, on this blog. It is what I have finally discovered to be one of the things I love the most. As I said before, I love sharing significant information. So, I am keeping this thought in the back of my mind and trying to figure out the best way to do this.

Back to last night. With those questions rolling around in my mind I took another look at my writing, and specifically my last page, because I felt uncomfortable with it. My friend, Gail Sattler (check out her novels-she writes humor), had helped with my edits on these ten pages and really improved my writing. She has a lot of experience and knows how to put the feeling on the page, unlike me. But, as I looked at the last page I saw it wasn’t me. I had to take out the things I loved that she had suggested and turn it into my writing. When I finally did that, then I was able to press ‘Send.’ Incidentally, she is also the kind of friend who says, “I’ll mail yours with mine.” I wonder why?

Writers can relate to the fear of putting ourselves out there. There are so many ways to fail. My plot might be weak, my middle story might lose the reader’s interest, my writing style might be boring, or I realize I can never write like so and so.

Nobody in my family is a writer. I am breaking new territory. I admit I am afraid of what people will think of me, of my writing. I want to be seen as a thoughtful intellectual, but maybe I am just a hopeless romantic. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and that is confirmed by book sales. I am just trying to find the courage to put myself out there, whatever it is.

I read something helpful today in Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight V. Swain.

Don’t try to be all things to all men. Universality of appeal is a myth….Quit wasting your time pretending that it doesn’t exist, or that there’s some esoteric way around it….You can’t change yourself at will to suit a given public. You must accept yourself the way you are. Then, seek out an audience that sees the world the same way you do. Can you be sure that such an audience exists? You can. Individual you are indeed; and different. But not that different, for you’re human also (p.117-118).

“You must accept yourself the way you are.” Haven’t we all heard that a million times before.

I didn’t want to hurt Gail’s feelings by taking out those really good bits, or re-wording them. But the writing process is about helping the writer become the best they can be and that means the best THEY can be. Gail gets this. She’s awesome.

I truly hope that I will be able to write here with some consistency over the next months. But, one of the best things that I have learned this past year is that this is a dialogue. It may look like the conversation has ended when bloggers stop posting for awhile. Maybe for some it is. But others just need to re-group, decide what they want, figure out the best way to move forward, and trust the timing. The break may be exactly what was needed.


Posted in Blog, Creating, Fiction, Focus, Inspiration, Novel, Priorities, Purpose, Voice | Leave a comment

Why do you write?

Recently I had someone ask me why people blog. I explored a few blogs to see what other writers are saying. If I were to sum it all up I would say we write for two reasons: ourselves and others–we want to give something to others and we want them to give something back to us.

We want to share ourselves and have others do the same. You tell me your story. I’ll tell you mine. We are looking for subjects that resonate with us and we are looking for people who get it, or get us.

I enjoy creating and discovering meaningful dialogue. I feel rewarded and even excited when I read a blog where someone expresses a thought succinctly or uses language in a way I would never have thought to express myself.

It happens in comments too. I don’t think we give comments enough credit, not only from the reader’s perspective, but also as writers who comment. A good comment can be as skillfully crafted and insightful as the blog itself. Comments are reflective responses that allow us to see how readers received what the author of the blog wrote. They are also an opportunity for creative dialogue.

I guess I am just plain fascinated by how people think and communicate. Some are all compassion and understanding; others are aloof and intellectual; still others are agitated and insulting. Why? What is it in their experience that makes them react this way?

I was facilitating a discussion group this weekend and had an amazing opportunity to watch in person how people interact with each other. One of the participants started out by clarifying that she is a “thinker” and not “emotional.” She didn’t like to be “told”…. Another participant immediately revealed something very personal, hurt from the past, and shared how he was willing to risk being vulnerable. I appreciated both of their openness. But I noticed that the other people in the group were more responsive to a third person, a song writer and performing artist. I think years of experience had taught her how to anticipate the kind of response her words would generate.

In blogging we are looking for a response. How do we get people to talk about what matters to them? Of course, we want to talk about what matters to us, but if we are not tuned in to others we can actually impede communication, as happened with the two examples I gave.

Some bloggers are naturals. They have discovered not only what others want to talk about, but how to get them talking. We love to read their blogs. They are the writers that tend to get picked up by publishers.

I love this writing journey. I love the blend of experience and thought and communication that makes each blogger unique. I think this joy of discovery is the reason I blog. Why do you blog?

Posted in Blog, Creating, Giving, Inspiration, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

6 Things You Can Do to Keep From Getting the Flu

6 Things You Can Do to Keep From Getting the Flu.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment