May 17, 2016

What to do When You’ve Run Out of Things to Say

Here I am facing another Wednesday and time to publish a new post. I’ve written about writing fiction and nonfiction. I’ve looked at the way authors develop their characters and come up with character names. I’ve examined the pros and cons for pantser styles and outliner styles. I’ve looked at grammar issues and non issues.Snooze

As for readers, I’ve explored reader styles and habits. We’ve looked at the pros and cons for reading paper books or e-books, the value of writing reviews and the way we find our reading material. I’ve posted reviews of the books I’ve read to give my readers a clue about what I like and dislike.

And here it is Wednesday again and I’ve got to think of some new angle that might engage my readers. Here are some tips for what to do when you run out of things to say.

Look at the different angles they take and see if that sparks something for you. Comment on their posts to get you started on developing ideas for your post.

Imagine what they want to read about today. What do the current tensions in the world suggest? Once you put yourself in their skin, start writing. You could even try to do so from the point of view of your reader.

If you posted on the value of writing outlines, post a new article of how to write without outlines. If you posted on the importance of showing and not telling, write a new article of the value of telling. Guess what, there is value in telling–just not too much of it. For example, at some point I can turn this post upside down and write one on what to do when you’ve got too much to say.

. The next time you go to your book club, ask members some questions. Develop a short questionnaire ahead of time with things like, 1) When do you find time to read 2) How much time a day do you read for pleasure 3) What’s your favorite format for pleasure reading 4) What types of books to you tend to enjoy the most 5) What hooks you in a book 6) What makes you stop reading a book. These are some examples, but from the responses, you could blog for decades!

Put questions out there on Twitter and Facebook. See what kind of answers you get. You may have to beg them to respond, but the responses will set you up for lots of new posts.

Maybe it’s time for a break. Take that break. Let your readers know you’re on a short holiday and when you’re rested, come on back.

What tips do you have when you’ve run out of things to say?

Check out my exciting #booktrailer for The Clock Strikes Midnight.


What in the World is Writer’s Block?

Sleeping At WorkI recently heard experts talking about the difficulties in finishing creative projects. Basically they were discussing the effects of writer’s block. On the program, hosted by Studio 360, psychiatrists and psychologists and people who study the brain explored whether or not writer’s block is real.

. Either way, the term has been around long enough to have some merit. As I listened to the program, I wondered about my own creative process. Clearly, in the right conditions everything works. But, when conditions are not right, I cannot write.

All this depends of style.

It seems that when people go into the “zone” as it was described in the show, the judging parts of their brains shut down. In other words, the inner critic quiets and the voice of your mom telling you not to write about that person in the neighborhood or not to use that color paint disappears. During that time, the writer is free to explore and create without boundaries. I’ve known those episodes. Usually I describe them as allowing my characters to take over. It’s a wonderful, freeing feeling and one I want to repeat all the time.

What I also learned from this episode of Studio 360, is that the more you try to get in the zone, the less likely you will get there. In other words, when our judging, critical brain works harder to get us there, we can’t enter. The doors remained bolted. For some writers, turning on classical music helps. For others getting in a quiet spot with no distractions helps. For others leaving the project and taking a nice walk helps.

The point is that there really isn’t ‘writer’s block’ per se. Instead, creative people experience a freeing of their minds whereby they can soar. It’s an honor to get there. Runners, by the way, experience this when they get the runners high. It doesn’t happen on every run, but when it does, it’s beautiful.

My advice to writers, to runners and to other creative people, is keep working at it. But, don’t try and force it.

That’s why runners keep running.

What tricks do you use to enter the zone? Tell us about your experiences with writer’s block.


Tips for Starting a New Novel

7b033ab7cd4f0b30d178fdfd27205bdcI recently started a new novel. I began with a germ of an idea and it has grown and emerged since. Because we all write in different ways, I thought I’d share some of my tips for starting a new novel and ask my writer friends to add a few of theirs. Working on a completed novel is a lot easier than starting from that first blank page. Yet the challenge and excitement of seeing a new creation come to life cannot be measured. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Here are some tips on how to start a new novel.

Allow the idea to grow and mature. If your idea were a seed, you’d plant it, water it, tend to it, but you wouldn’t push it or drown it. Give it time and space to grow.

I know when I get to a point in my writing where I feel bored or not sure where to go next, usually a new character jumps up. The fun about new characters is they bring a whole new perspective on the goings on. Allow those new characters to emerge and grow like the seed you planted.

Open it up, read what you wrote the day before and plow forward. If you think, well, I’ll skip today and do something else, like surf Facebook. That kind of thinking will leave the new project to die in your computer. Just a little attention every day will nurture your new project.

Just writing the bare bones–plot does not create the world where your characters exist. Granted things have to happen, but they don’t happen in a vacuum. Mood, weather, place are almost as important as character.

In other words, make a note to yourself and then do the research later. Come back the next day and fill in what you’ve learned. If you stop and research the name of a place or the date something happened, you’ll lose your hold on your creative mind.

Don’t get wedded to anything you’ve written. Something else may emerge making what you wrote the day before irrelevant. Let go of the meaningless as new developments spring forth.

Once you start writing, you have something to build on. Go for it!

These are a few of my tips for starting to write a new novel. What are some of yours?

Check out the book trailer for The Clock Strikes Midnight, a book that won the Royal Palm Literary Award, first place in mainstream/literary fiction for 2015.


Tips on How Not to Let Others Squelch Your Creativity

Recently I heard someone say, “I tried to write a novel, but when my wife read it, she said…”

Quicker than my foot will squelch a bug. As artists, whether literary artists or visual artists, we must avoid allowing others to squelch our creativity. If we don’t, imagine how much would be lost. Imagine if someone had said to Steve Jobs, “Oh, you can’t have a phone without an on-off switch.” Imagine!

One real example happened when I was the squelcher. Years ago my husband considered trying his hand at art. He’d made some sketches on a pad. I looked at them and said, “Those are great trees.” He grimaced and replied, “Those aren’t trees. They are people.” He never picked up his artist pen again. Ugh!

Here are some tips to keep those squelchers away from you:

Do not show the early stages of a project to anyone else, even your spouse. You might say, but what if what I’m doing is totally crap and a waste of time. Who cares? Keep going. If you don’t want to keep going, then stop and do something else. But, if you do want to push ahead, keep your work to yourself until it’s finished.

If you’ve created something that’s never been created before, it’s no wonder people don’t get it. Here’s another example. Someone told me they were reading their mystery manuscript to their partner. When they got to Chapter 5, the partner said, “But you killed that character in Chapter 2.” Under normal circumstances the writer wouldn’t bring back a character they had killed off, but maybe this wasn’t a normal circumstance. Maybe this writer was creating a paranormal mystery or even a story where what we thought happened in Chapter 2 didn’t really happen.

Maybe you began by writing a romance, but something happens in the writing, something that changes the entire character of your book. Do you fight that or let it flow? I say let it flow. You’ll be amazed at what happens.

All artists struggle with not allowing others to squelch their creativity.  Visual artists never show the portrait to the person sitting for them until it’s finished. All that person would have to say is, “That doesn’t look anything like me.” Then, it’s all over. Keep your work to yourself until you are done and allow that creative self of yours to flourish!

Here’s my latest creative endeavor. Take a look at this book trail that showcases the e-Murderer

Tips Josephine Tey Teaches #Mystery Writers

She wrote in the 1930’s and 1950’s. Her books followed no set formula, and I’d say she might have been one of the first pantser writers. Those outliners who put us pantsers down might take a long look at a writer like Tey. Josephine_Tey_april_1934_6

While Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers stuck to tried and true formulas–dead bodies in the library and other successful plots–Tey deviated from the norm. She wrote stand-alone stories each with its own mystery. The rules of the time included 1) no divine revelation 2) no feminine intuition, accidental discoveries, unaccountable hunches and 3) no undeclared clues. Tey didn’t always abide by these rules.

She began writing plays and had a stage pen name as well as a novelist pen name. Her real name, Elizabeth MacKintosh, was unknown to most of her fans. She kept her personal life very private. When reading about her, I wondered if she might have been agoraphobic. Her reluctance to venture out, meet people and make friends was classic. Most of the people who knew her knew very little about her. One friend said, “She never spoke to me of her youth or her ambitions. It was hard to draw her out…”

Nonetheless she took up the pen and created stories that take us to wonderful places with interesting people.

You may find you like mysteries whose lack of formula creates even more suspense.


What Does A Writer’s Day Look Like?

BloggingThe image of a writer getting up in the morning with a cup of coffee and spending the early hours at his or her computer is what most of us imagine. We see Jane Austen at her desk in the vicarage with an ink pen and paper while watching the sun rise from her two-story window. We might imagine Charles Dickens in a gloomy study with candlelight and a glass of sherry. He has his pen in hand and it about to finish a scene.

Or, maybe it’s Stephen King you envision at his laptop, tapping away scene after scene as their flow from his creative mind?

They have different stimuli that enable them to put the words on paper. Some write outlines; others write in circles; others simple sit down and let it flow. For me, I like to write in the morning, but not too early. When I first wake up, my mind is lazy. It’s not ready for the somersault of writing. I need thirty-minutes to an hour . After that, I’m ready to roll. With the coffee drunk and the computer warmed up, my work begins. Sometimes, I’ll take an exercise class before I write. That really wakes me up and gets the old adrenaline going. Either way, once I begin, I can go on for 30 to 40 minutes without interruption. And, then I’m done. I can’t write for 4-6 hours a day. Some writers can, but not me.

When I finish the creative spurt, I can work on editing or writing blog posts or creating tweets.

I must be awake, alert, ready with all functions going. I take off for a short period of time. Then, I’m done. That’s basically what my writer’s day looks like.

What Brahms Teaches Us About Creativity


I attended an incredible concert in which Joshua Bell played the solo violin in the Johannes Brahms Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 77. You might ask, what was so wonderful or different about this concert? Little did I know that when Brahms created this piece, this was the first time a violin was so heavily featured in an orchestra. Usually there are violins, of course, but not where the violin soloist actually takes the stage front and center and literally outplays all the other instruments. One reviewer wrote right after the first performance in 1878, “The Brahms Concerto was for violin against orchestra–and the violin wins!”

When Brahms wrote this concerto, he didn’t have as much confidence in it as we might imagine. In fact, he wrote to his friend, Joseph Joachim:

“I really don’t know what you will make of the solo part alone.” He then asked Joachim to mark the parts that were difficult, awkward or impossible to play.

After that the two geniuses worked on the composition back and forth. Brahms took to his friend’s “editorial” advice and tweaked the composition as needed.

As a writer I was impressed by this collaboration. So often we write alone and wonder if what we wrote works. Although we doubt ourselves, we don’t always abide criticism.

when we allow others to see our work, and when we listen to their thoughts. This is exactly what Brahms did, thank goodness for all of us.

Now, years later we can enjoy one of the most magnificent pieces of music ever written played by many of

portrait by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

portrait by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

the world’s top performers.


What does this teach me about my own writing?


. Do not doubt yourself in the creative process. Brahms wrote the first draft, knowing it might need some work.


. Do not send it to someone who will simply say, “I think it’s great.” Send it to someone who can give it a critical eye and lend good advice for making it better.

3) Revise what you’ve written based on the input you get. Then send it again for more critical review.



When writers tell me they never have to revise or that they can write a perfect first draft one time and one time only, I have serious doubts. Even Brahms doubted himself and listened to the excellent advice of another. That suggests that we can do the same thing.

What are your thoughts?

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Where Do Your Creative Ideas Come From?

IMG_2300As I was swimming laps this morning, I was struck with the thought: Where do creative ideas come from? Not simply themes for a book but various creative plot points. For me a lot of those ideas do not come when I’m poised in front of my computer screen. Here are some of my experiences with creativity:

1) The ideas flow when I’m in the midst of writing. In other words, when I allow my fingers to fly across the keyboard without worrying about grammar or “if I said that before,” the ideas pour out. Often this happens in the midst of dialogue between and among the characters.

2) Another place where I get ideas is where I least expect it. When I’ve been stuck–not sure what to do next or where the story is going, I move away from the computer. I go for a walk or a swim. My mind wanders to other things. The idea often comes in those innocuous places. In fact, I have had creative insights when I was stirring the sugar with the egg yolks over a double boiler for an endless period of time or when I’m on lap fifty in the pool. I don’t try and force myself to think about the stumbling block, instead my mind wanders freely and then it happens. Eureka! The idea emerges and I’m unstuck.

These thoughts about creativity led me to reflect on how I work crossword puzzles. I tend to study the puzzle for a period of time, filling in the blanks that come easily. When I get stuck (as I invariably do), I move away from the puzzle. I put it down and go do something else. Again, as if a light goes off in my head, the answer to that pesky puzzle appears. I love the clues that require my mind to do a little flip. Here’s one of my favorites: The clue was “breaking and entering.” The answer was a six-letter word. Can you give it a go? If you are stuck, go take a walk or a swim and see if the answer will come.

I’ll share the answer in my next post. Meantime, take a break from your computer and let your creativity flow.

How have you experienced creative insights in your writing?

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Can You Guess it?

An important component for any fiction writer is the ability to tap into his or her creativity.  I ran across an interesting item in my kitchen. See the photos below. Imagine you’re a young woman who received this item as a wedding gift. How might you respond in a thank you note:

2014-05-17 14.27.382014-05-17 14.38.04


Dear. . .Thank you for the, uh. . . I’m sure we will enjoy using it for. .  .

Any ideas? How creative are you? Can you guess it?



Creativity in Fiction and Nonfiction

Picture1As both a fiction and a nonfiction writer, I’ve given the two kinds of writing much thought. For some writers who create memoirs there is a murky line between writing fiction and nonfiction. For me, the writer of mysteries (pure fiction) and business books (pure nonfiction), the line is clearer. Indeed, as a nonfiction writer, I found opportunities to create scenarios for my books. That means I created scenes that gave examples of the particular nonfiction information I was sharing. Nonetheless, the majority of my nonfiction writing dealt with sharing particular tips and research data. It did not require me to tap into the full range of my creativity. That’s the difference between writing the kind of nonfiction I write in which I put ideas and facts together, perhaps in a creative way, but I did not create characters or scenes or events or settings. Recently someone told me he could not write fiction because he didn’t have a creative bone in his body. Nonfiction writing requires some creativity (a different way of looking at something) but not the kind of raw creativity that fiction writers rely on.

sticky situations small photoFor example, in my book Managing Sticky Situations at Work  I created a method of communicating in difficult situations. I wanted an acronym that would describe the communication process that my readers would remember.  I came up with the Say It Just Right (SIJR) method of communication.  Coming up with that name, Say It Just Right, was Hire Smart and Keep Them - slider 1creative. In my business book, Hire Smart and Keep ‘Em, I wanted the same kind of acronym to describe the strategic interviewing process. I developed the POINT process. Each letter of POINT stands for a part of the process. That, too, was creative.

Indeed, no writer can leave creativity at the door. Nonetheless, the fiction writer has the luxury to allow his or her creativity to expand and reach new (sometimes endless) bounds. Those who write science fiction and fantasy not only create characters they also create worlds and they often people those worlds with uniquely creative creatures.

If you are a fiction writer, you can indeed write nonfiction and vice versa. Good writers appear in all genres.

What are your experiences with creativity? Is it easier to write fiction or nonfiction? Which do you prefer?


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