Saturday, 11 October 2014

Getting round the block, by Jenny Harper

Sharing a joke with Eileen Ramsay.
It's been a great week. Not only did I have a terrific launch at Waterstones of my new book, Maximum Exposure, but I have also discovered that my writing, which had been well and truly stuck, is flowing again.

I wasn't sure that the two events were linked, but on reflection, I realised that feeling good about what you're doing – and knowing that readers are enjoying your book – are a great stimulus.

All year I have been struggling with my work-in-progress. The block stemmed in part from taking time out to publish two novels independently, a process that proved a major distractor (interesting though it was).  Another part of it was that I felt I was writing into a vacuum. I was getting reviews, most of them favourable, but I didn't feel as if I was getting validation. On top of that, my writing felt clogged up. I over complicated the plot lines for my new book.

We need to keep readers turning the page, but I'd allowed plot to outweigh character, so much so that I stopped being able to hear my characters talking to me. When I finally realised this, I printed out what I'd written so far and rewrote the first chapter to get the two main characters together more quickly. That felt as though it was starting to move the book in the right direction. Then I turned my attention to the hero and heroine and sorted out their drivers and motivations. I ruthlessly stripped away superfluous characters and plot lines and lost about 8000 words – and, finally, I began to see where the novel should be going. More importantly, I took time to get better acquainted with my characters. Instead of trying to fire ahead with the plot, I slowed down and got inside their heads more. There's a tricky balance to be found here, but I have come to realise that slowing my writing down to let the characters speak more for themselves doesn't necessarily mean slowing the book down too, because if the reader is truly engaged with the character, he or she wants to know what's going to happen to them.

I've cleared my head, got rid of the excess fat and focused on the muscle of the book – and I am rediscovering why I like to write. I'm getting that sense of fulfilment and excitement that only really comes when everything is working well.

Stepping back from the book, being objective and focusing on what's core have all helped. But most of all, I think I'm beginning to enjoy writing because I know that readers are now beginning to enjoy my books.

How do others get around the dreaded writers' block?


  1. I enjoyed your post, Jenny, and I agree on the need to have a balance between characters and plot. If I'm struggling on a writing project, I do some other kind of writing to give my brain a break. Often when I return to the original project, something has shifted and I can move on.
    Love the photo of you and Eileen at your book launch - looks like you were both having a wonderful time.

  2. It's interesting how things swim around somewhere in the subconscious, isn't it? I've been doing displacement activity all morning to try to sort out what happens next in my book! Now I'm running out of excuses... The book launch was fab, thanks. I've just blogged about it on

  3. Congratulations on your achievement, Jenny - I know how hard you have been working, and I hope that success will breed success for you - which I'm sure it will.
    Interesting what you say about plot getting the upper-hand over character as I've just had a reviewer say just that thing about one of my books - not saying which!
    Writers' block? Well, I was advised many moons ago to never leave a piece of work at a full stop unless you have written THE END, then you have something to be going on with...always. Works for me!

  4. I find so many things to put me off. Thankfully, I'm currently motoring with the wip...

    I must try the 'no full stop' technique - but somehow I don't think it would completely be the answer for me.

  5. Scarily true, Jenny - that writer's block can get in the way even when you have all the imprtant parts of the story there. I've found that stripping away the excess isn't easy, but so important.

    I do find that doing something totally different (like taking a holiday in Umbria - unfortunately not always possible) can do wonders for bringing new ideas to the fore.

  6. ooh, Umbria... now there's an idea!