Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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What to Do When Writer’s Block Shifts Shapes

by Stefan Emunds

Note: To avoid confusing readers, the author of these articles avoided the alternation of she and her and he and him. Instead, he uses the nonexclusive she and her to mean writer and reader.

This is the sixth and last article of the article series The Yin and Yang Relationship Between Psychology and StorytellingThe first article is about reader investment and reader engagement. The second article explains how to create story experiences that feel real to life. The third article shows how to tap into your readers' subconsciousness and engage them in your story. The fourth article dives into characters’ goals, motivations, wants, needs, and objects of desires. The fifth article covers psychological engineering, aka characterization.

This article has a closer look at the writer’s block, which can haunt writers in different shapes and forms.

A Shapeshifting Block

The writer’s block can appear in different shapes and forms. Often, it feels like a wall that blocks the author’s creative pursuit. That’s where it got its name from. But it is also the void of a blank page that grins at the author. Or a cul-de-sac — when an author wrote herself into a tight corner. Or a scarecrow.

This article covers the following shapes of writer’s block:

  • Lack of inspiration
  • The resistance of the writing crafts
  • Lack of energy
  • Inner demons
  • Distractions

A) How to Deal with a Lack of Inspiration

Does the Muse sometimes ignore your pleas for inspiration? First thing: Don’t panic. Sometimes, the Muse plays hard to get.

The thing is, we can’t hunt down inspirations. It’s a fishing business. So, cast your creative fishing rod into the deep sea of your mind, sit back, relax, have a tea, and wait.

Cultivating the Muse

Inspirations like to appear at odd times, e.g., during a walk or under the shower. That’s because our mind relaxes at such times, our thoughts calm down, and the Muse has a chance to voice herself.

Did you know that the ancient Greek worshipped nine Muses? The most famous Muse is Calliope, the oldest and wisest. She presides over eloquence and epic poetry. She is the Muse of the eighth writing craft: Prose.

On Mount Helicon in Boeotia, the Greek worshiped three Muses: Melete (meditation), Mneme (memory) and Aoede (lyrics).

We need to relax and wait for inspirations, but there are a few helpful fishing techniques. Inspirations come more frequently, if we write every day, read and research, go for a walk, and meditate.

Finding Ways to Meditate

The common purpose of meditation is to fish for spiritual revelations, but we can use it for writing too.

Here is the formula for creative meditation:

Creative meditation = relaxation + focus + receptivity.

Simultaneous focus on a writing task and receptivity to the Muse is a skill. Why don’t you try this out? Sit comfortably, relax, breathe deeply, and close your eyes. Focus on your writing task at hand and ask the Muse to inspire you.

The more poignant the focus, the better. A question is a poignant focus, like What hook should I put at the end of this chapter?

The longer you work with Melete and practice creative meditation, the easier and more frequent ideas will come to you. A great time to fish for inspirations is the morning — between waking up and breakfast.

Other Ways to Get to a Meditative State of Mind

Walking can put the mind into a semi-meditative state, but depending on the environment, it may be difficult to focus on a particular question. In this case, it’s easier to just let thoughts and images stream in. Bring a smartphone to make notes, inspirations can be as fleeting as dreams.

Try this too: Write for thirty minutes and walk up and down your office. Your mind will continue to come up with ideas, images, and thoughts related to your writing session.

Reading and research can open the mind to inspirations too. That’s where the Muse Mneme (memory) comes in.

Last but not least, writing every day appeals to the Muse. Steven Pressfield said, “This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”

Do you want to try out a meditation that gets you into the writing flow? Check out this YouTube video.

B) How to Deal With the Resistance of the Writing Crafts

We just dealt with the creative block, now we deal with the craft block.

Crafting is not creativity, crafting is formation. Musicians are craftsmen, composer are creators. Only composers bring something new into this world.

You’re both a creator (an author) and a craftsman (a writer).

Crafting is tedious, for example, outlining a story, designing a climax, profiling a character, and inventing a magic system. If you struggle with a particular writing craft, why don’t you practice that craft? Read how-to books, take courses, and plough through novels that excel at the writing craft you wish to hone.

Part of crafting is to make decisions, e.g., what genre and narrative frame to choose. We don’t like to make decisions. Decisions make us accountable. But unmade decisions can turn into writing blocks. Take your time to make decisions, but make them.

Advanced writer tip: When you struggle to craft a scene, change irrelevant items, such as the setting, the time, the location, or the weather. Or add a character and see if she adds conflict or other dynamics.

C) Why Authors Need to be Physically and Mentally Fit

The mind is a muscle. Writing is a muscle.

  • We build muscles through habitual actions. For instance, we build up biceps by lifting weights.
  • Habits are fly wheels. Once established, they get a life on their own. That’s why many writers swear by writing a set number of hours a day at the same time.
  • The eyes and the visual cortex are the writer's Achilles’ heel. We use them for many things, to write, read, watch TV, and do other activities that require the visual sense. What about unburdening your eyes? For instance, you can use a text-to-speech app to read a text to you, rather than reading it yourself.  

The Importance of a Healthy Mind-Body Connection

Mens sana in corpore sano. — A Roman saying

This saying means healthy mind in a healthy body. It does not imply a causality. Mind and body have their own energies, and we need to keep them fit on their own terms.

We all know how to keep our bodies fit, but what about our minds? Meditation takes the mind to the gym, in particular, focus meditation.

Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to treat our minds like professional marathon runners treat their bodies.

And we need to give our minds time to relax and regenerate. Five to ten-minute mindful meditations scattered throughout the day work wonders.

D) The Writers’ Inner Demons

Emotions can block writers. Fear is the most common blocker, the fear of failure, the fear of critique, and, the worst of all: the fear of mediocrity.

Tips for Reading Reviews

To overcome the fear of critique, we better grow a thick skin and/or avoid reading reviews.

What about finding friendly reviewers? They will point out your manuscript’s weaknesses without putting you down. You can get such hedged feedbackfrom other writers, beta readers, and editors.

Tips for Your Inner Critic

Do you have that critical voice in your head, which is in the business of belittling you? Many writers suffer from that inner demon. And according to famous writers, success doesn’t silence that jerk.

Confidence defeats the critical voice. We gain confidence through accomplishments. Why don’t you become a hunter and gatherer of accomplishments? Every accomplishment, however small — like completing a scene — grows confidence and pacifies that critical voice.

E) Distractions

The enemies of the Muses are the Sirens. Sirens are humanlike beings with charming voices, who lure travelers into their deaths.

The sirens of writers are distractions, which they encounter on the long journeys of their minds. A writer’s death is procrastination.

Mind distraction is the opposite of focus, which we gain through the practice of creating meditation. Practicing creative meditation keeps the Sirens away. 

The Eight Crafts of Writing

This article is written with the eight writing crafts in mind. The eight writing crafts are:

  • Big Idea (aka theme)
  • Genre
  • Narrative
  • Story Outline (aka plotting)
  • Characterization
  • World Building
  • Scene Structure
  • Prose (aka line-by-line writing)

I hope you enjoyed this article about the shapeshifting writer’s block. Please share the ways and shapes that describe how writer’s block appeared to you?

About Stephan

Stefan Emunds is the author of The Eight Crafts of Writing. He writes inspirational non-fiction and visionary fiction stories and runs an online inspiration and enlightenment workshop. Stefan was born in Germany and enjoyed two years backpacking in Australia, New Zealand, and South-East Asia in his early twenties. Prior to becoming a writer, he worked as a business development manager in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. At the moment, he lives with his son in the Philippines.

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The Varied Paths of Traditional vs Self-Publishing

by Laura Vanarendonk Baugh

Two publishing roads diverge in an industry wood and…you can take either one. Or both. Or a third road that circles around and intersects repeatedly.

So often people worry about which way to publish, whether traditionally (submit to a publishing house which first pays you for your work and then pays to publish it for a greater share of the profits), or independently (publish at your own effort and expense, and reap the whole profit). Here’s the thing: You don’t need to stress so hard about this Life And Career Decision, because it’s not a Life And Career Decision. You do not make a single choice and then get locked into it. You can change your mind. Or do many things at once.

I thought today I’d walk through some of the many ways these separate paths intersect for me, to illustrate how you too can move between them.

side note:

Writers usually won't switch publishing methods for a single title. Despite common misconception, once you’ve self-published a book, you’re probably not able to sell that same book to a traditional publisher. Exceptions exist, but they are outliers with exceptional situations. But you might sell your next book to a traditional publisher.

Example One: Short Stories

Very generally, I sell short stories traditionally and publish novels independently. The short stories help new readers to discover me, and then they—or publishers—can follow my name back to other work. Readers who like my work will also buy anthologies I’m in, benefiting those publishers and helping other writers to be discovered.

Everybody wins.

Currently, I am simultaneously walking both the traditional and independent paths.

Example Two: Publishing Various Book Editions

I self-published a book which did quite well. I knew I needed an audio edition, but I had not allotted the time to organize that project and get it done. A publisher contacted me to ask about purchasing audio rights, which I decided to sell.

Now I publish the paperback and ebook editions, and the publisher publishes the audio edition. I have earned out my advance and am now earning royalties on audio sales.

The downside is, I could have earned more in total if I had self-published the audiobook as well. The upside is, I didn’t have to put time, money, and other resources into publishing the audiobook, and I got an advance—and sometimes, or for some people, money up front is more valuable than royalties in the future.

Example Three: Diversifying Your Selling Platforms

I sell some work traditionally. I self-publish some work to retailer platforms. Some work I self-publish only directly to readers.

At this time, I am experimenting with selling exclusive content directly to readers. I do this on my website and on Patreon. The disadvantage is increased difficulty for discoverability; the advantage is profit with no middleman taking a cut.

Is this a viable option long term? I don’t know! And I’m certainly not going 100% that route. But walking many publishing paths, I have the freedom to experiment and find out how it might be useful.

Example Four:

My self-published work has led to inquiries and invitations from traditional publishers. Getting more work out into the market lets them see the quality of my work better than a query, and they contacted me, not the other way around. Some of these went nowhere, some are still in progress, and some have already resulted in payments, token rates to pro rates. Self-publishing does not inherently reduce your chances of selling traditionally.

Side Note:

Beware of “we saw your work and we’re interested” scams and vanity press sweeps, both of which are unfortunately common. Legitimate publishers offer money before publication, full stop. And no legitimate publishers make offers to authors who don’t yet have a verifiable track record, but scammers and vanity presses love to prey on aspiring authors too eager to be cautious. Be cautious.

The Benefits of Blending Your Publishing Platforms

Because I have experience in multiple publishing areas, I have some additional advantages as a career writer.

The first is knowing what I am capable of, business-wise. Once, a traditional publishing house showed interest in my work, but when I checked out the house and their other projects, I saw that I could do better with covers and marketing. I will not sign away profit unless they’re going to do more for my book’s success than I can (that is the publisher’s whole job, to publish and sell).

Another time, my research and questions indicated that a small publisher’s sales goals were about 300 copies. I know that on my own I can sell more than 300 copies, so again, I knew to decline this offer.

Side note:

To be clear, a small press might be a great option for a writer with less publishing skill or interest, or with more modest sales goals, and both of those situations are fine. This post is all about finding the right options for you.

Self-publishing experience gives me better business savvy when working with traditional publishers. I now have experience with rights, periods of exclusivity, etc., plus editors like me because I turn in clean manuscripts ready for easy layout! Traditional publishing experience gives me street cred (“oh, she’s REALLY published” /eye roll/) in places where that matters. Traditionally published work may be eligible for more awards or other recognition.

I have an informal offer from a publisher for a story I have not yet written, based on other work I have written. If I write that (not yet committed!), I will be in a better place for negotiations, because the acquiring editor who asked knows I am successfully self-publishing and I won’t be desperate for just any old contract.

The more you do, the more you know, and the more options you have.

Disadvantages and Warnings

The only path that merits a warning sign is vanity publishing. In vanity publishing, the writer pays a company to publish a book, sometimes after a nominal “submission” process. The company profits off the writer, not off book sales, so the product is often subpar and is rarely, despite gilded promises, marketed outside of “will appear in our exclusive listings available to thousands online!!!”

This path rarely intersects with another path. This path has an expensive toll gate at the trailhead and runs only uphill. At the end, there’s no scenic vista, no connections to other paths, and frequently another toll gate to get out.

Outside of vanity publishing, you have a lot of options and flexibility. However, be aware that success is more beneficial than failure. Sounds obvious, right? but it merits repeating.


Professional work and professional effort are required on all professional paths. A writer who has successfully self-published and sold well will have an advantage when approaching a traditional publisher, but one who sold poorly will have no advantage or may even have a disadvantage. It may be better not to self-publish than to do it sloppily if you intend to approach traditional publishing houses in the future.

Quality Work

The attractive danger lies in self-publishing work that cannot sell. Self-publishing is not for dumping material that couldn’t make it elsewhere. Obviously there are exceptions, such as highly niche projects—I help to publish local histories that would never be sustainable on the general market but make sense for a small local audience. Don’t nitpick at exceptions; you know what I mean here! Be cautious and assess your reasons for self-publishing which should be related to business preferences, not rejection letters, so that your best work is out there representing you.

Find Your Path

Know yourself! If you are a driven go-getter who loves handling details and crunching numbers, and you also know your weaknesses and how to get skilled professional help to cover them, then go hit self-publishing hard. If you cringe at the idea of organizing many moving parts (and paying for the privilege), then good news, a traditional publisher will do that for you! The payment for their professional work comes out of the profits.

Final Thoughts

Both traditional and self-publishing are valid choices, and you can change your mind as you gain experience and perspective. I spoke with a writer who had previously self-published and realized she loved the final product but absolutely hated the process of contracting and organizing and paying, so we talked about how she can best bring her next project to a traditional house for consideration. Make the business decision that will give you the best business success, even if that is knowing you personally want someone else to handle a lot of the business!

The question is not whether you want to be a self-published author or a traditionally published author. The question is which is the more practical and beneficial route for this particular project, with an eye on your long-term goals as well.

Happy writing!

Discussion: Does the thought of business tasks for your writing excite you or fill you with dread? Have you considered which venue of publishing might be better for reaching your target audience?

About Laura

Laura VanArendonk Baugh

Laura VanArendonk Baugh writes fantasy of many flavors as well as non-fiction. She has summited extinct, dormant, and active volcanoes, but none has yet accepted her sacrifice. She lives in Indiana where she enjoys Dobermans, travel, fair-trade chocolate, and making her imaginary friends fight one another for her own amusement. Find her award-winning work at http://LauraVAB.com.

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How to Talk Publicly About Writing

by James R. Preston

Once upon a time as a barely-eighteen-year-old freshman I walked into the Long Beach State bookstore and saw this little old man sitting at a table behind stacks of books, looking lost and alone. I stopped in my tracks. A writer? Yes! And I could just go up and talk to him! It was wonderful. That writer never knew how much talking to him meant to an eighteen-year-old kid who only knew he wanted to write.

That’s why you need to not only talk about your work, but to do it well. Hopefully this essay can help. Perhaps you will be standing in front of other writers, offering support. This essay can help you find a way to do that.

When I first started selling science fiction short stories, I was a kid, in grad school, and, uh, somewhat full of myself. I did not want to talk about the stories. I said — and if you think this is embarrassing, just wait — The stories are what’s important. They will stand or fall on their own.” Guess what? The stories ARE what’s important and now more than ever you have to help them as much as you can.

Since writing is your main job, talking about writing is a separate skill that may require some work, but it’s worth the effort. These rules are a good start.

We live in a world of fiction over-choice.

During the time it takes you to read this essay, mysteries, thrillers, and romances will be released; you have to compete to get noticed and talking to groups large and small will help. And it can be fun. It gets you out from behind the keyboard. And there’s one more reason that might surprise you. I’ll save that one for later.

I have three suggestions that will make it easier and illustrate my points with some true-life adventures about standing up in front of groups and trying to sound reasonably coherent. And I have tips about what you should not talk about, too.

Where writers get their gigs and their edge

Let’s start by listing where you can do this talking.

Book clubs.

There are thousands of them; the members are avid readers by definition and not only do they buy books and read books they also talk about books to people outside the club. And they don’t have to be local -- you can “appear” via Zoom these days.

A techie I worked with knew I was a writer and said his wife’s book club wanted me to talk to them. 

The very first question they asked was “If Mac’s wife had lived, would he and Kandi gotten together anyway?”

I almost blurted, “They’re made up! They have no existence beyond what you see on the page.” But I stopped and thought. It dawned on me that these ladies treated my characters as if they were real. It was an eye-opening moment, and that’s another benefit of interacting with your audience: you learn. You learn about how readers see your work.

Writing conventions, like left coast crime.

You might be surprised at how organizers sometimes struggle to fill panel discussions. Register for the event well in advance, then send the organizers an email describing your book and saying if they have a spot on a panel you’d love to participate.

Professional organizations.

Writing is an important skill, one that needs work. In this case you may not talk about your book very much, but putting together a coherent report is something many non-writers struggle with. You can help, and your name will be out there.

Social organizations.

Clubs of all kinds are always looking for programs. You have writing tips to offer, in part because you are studying this blog.

So, how do you get that all-important first gig? Through your friends. I know a woman, a retired teacher, who is a member of a national women’s honor society. They are always looking for speakers. Be shameless! Just say, “I’m available if you need a program.” It may not work all the time, but it will get you started. Remember —- the characters in your story deserve it.

So now you have your talking gig. What’s next?

Standing up in front of groups and trying to sound reasonably coherent

Rule one 

Practice — or not. If it’s a stand-up speech, yes, absolutely rehearse. On the other hand, if you are asked to host a table at an event, all you need to do is plan out some conversation starters, questions you can ask, like “Have you enjoyed the event so far?” Do I need to say that you should avoid, “So, have you read my new book?”

Rule two

Assess and modify. Watch your audience! If half of them are looking down at their cell phones, you need to speed it up. This relates back to Rule One. You need to have an idea of what you can cut. I was once asked to talk about grammar, a subject near and dear to my heart, and at the break the man who had invited me said quietly “You’re losing them.” I found it hard to believe, but not everybody is as interested in commas and semicolons as I am.

Rule three

Know your audience, know your time limit, and if at all possible know your venue. If the organizers want five minutes, make sure that’s how long you talk. No longer! Use the stopwatch on your phone to time your rehearsals.

“Venue” includes the actual place you will stand. Is there a podium? Microphone? Here’s a horror story from my past. At Cal State Long Beach I was in student government— Associated Students Chief Justice — and at the end of my Senior year I was to hand out awards to the other Justices.

I stepped up to the podium and could not be seen. Ok, I’m short. Fortunately, my speech teacher had trained me to think on my feet. l just stepped around the stupid thing and said, “Due to technical difficulties the use of the podium will be discontinued.” The audience erupted in laughter. The Dean, who followed me, said she was laughing so hard she forgot to give me my award. I got it as we were all leaving.

Not a rule, exactly, but beware of overconfidence. It can and will bite you. Years ago the Huntington Beach Sanitation Department — right, they process what you flush — asked two of us to come and talk about electronic document creation. Well, the lady and I had years of experience and we’d done this gig before, so we got our overheads ready, met a couple of times to decide who would do what, and in we went.

Everything went wrong. I set the overheads down in front of a fan and they flew everywhere; the audience had no interest in what we were telling them, and that was before the sewage smell crept in. I’m not making this up. We were so sure we had it wired that we neglected finding out about the audience and their needs, and we didn’t rehearse. So we paid. It’s still painful to talk about. 

What NOT to talk about - one opinion

Now, in my opinion what not to talk about. Ideas. If you are thinking about a terrific love story between a vampire cheerleader and a shape-shifting alien prince, keep it under wraps at least until you have a draft. If you tell people about it before you write it, two things can, and probably will, happen. First, you can lose your edge, your enthusiasm, because after all, you have told the story. Second, the way you have described it will be locked in, settled, when in truth the tale will grow and change, evolve during the writing process. Either way the story can be damaged or even killed. 

Final thoughts

So that’s it. By the way, that writer behind the books was Erskine Caldwell of Tobacco Road fame and the book was his novel Jenny by Nature. I still have the signed copy.

Now I’m the little old man behind the stacks of books, but I’m not lost and alone. I have you, gentle readers of WITS. Thanks for listening once again.

And now it’s your turn. Do you have presentation stories you are willing to share? Suggestions? C’mon, we’re all in this together.

Until next time, this is James, signing off.

About James

James R. Preston is the author of the multiple-award-winning Surf City Mysteries. He is currently at work on the sixth, called Remains To Be Seen. His most recent works are Crashpad and Buzzkill, two historical novellas set in the 1960’s at Cal State Long Beach. Kirkus Reviews called Buzzkill “A historical thriller enriched by characters who sparkle and refuse to be forgotten.” His books are collected as part of the California Detective Fiction collection at the University of California Berkeley. 

Find out more about James at his website.

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