Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Fighting Writer's Block

Yesterday I was tearful. My writing, in particular, the re-drafting of my second novel, just wasn't flowing. I had the house to myself for days - more peace and quiet than I've had in ages - and yet I couldn't write.

Months ago I thought I could put down the pen and call my second novel finished. But feedback from beta readers told me otherwise. Following rejections from 12 literary agents, I sent the manuscript to beta readers for feedback. A few agents told me my work was good but not quite right for them. The beta readers helped me see where I'd gone wrong and I set about starting another 'final' draft.

Trying to re-work a manuscript you thought was finished is hard but I was sure I could do it. Feedback was positive and from the comments from betas and my critique group, I was confident about the story.

I had been putting off the this draft for a while, preferring to read fiction rather than write it. Last night, after reaching just page two of the final draft, I had had enough. I could hardly string a sentence together and I didn't know why.

I went off to bed and picked up a novel which was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award. It's a great read and wondered what it was about this book that got it shortlisted. Previous to reading this book I'd read a short novel that was set in the same era and part of London as my story. It had been recommended for the tone. And just before that book I'd read another great book in which the writer expressed the emotions of the characters beautifully, something a few people from my critique group said my story lacked.

At the beginning of my writing career I was always told that to be a good writer you must read a lot. Then it occurred to me that the two books I'd just read and the current book could potentially be the answer to my re-drafting prayers and the cure to my writer's block. All I had to do was analyse the style of these writers, absorb what they were saying and how they said it.

What was it about these books that made them so good, so readable and successful? What did they have that mine didn't? The answer to those questions haunted me as I drifted into a fitful sleep, woke several times through the night and rose with a revelation. I knew the answer. I knew what these writers had done and I knew how to apply their expertise to my own story.

This morning I beat writer's block. I re-drafted those first two pages and I have way forward - at last! So what were the books that helped? Here they are:

Helped me improve on how I was putting across the emotions and feelings of my characters

Gave me a better flavour for the period I was trying to capture
Showed me the standard of quality of writing that gets a book shortlisted for a prestigious prize

Being a reader doesn't mean copying. You can't copy someone else's style and expect to be as good as someone else. So if you are blocked, look at what you've been reading and unravel the reason it has you turning the pages. Apply it to your work and cook until golden!


  1. Thank you for sharing, Fran. I'm really pleased the light is now shining brightly and things are moving again.

    1. Thanks Nicola and nice of you to drop by!