The Block and the Shock

Update: The Bone Season has sold in French!

This week has been fairly slow. Writing, tea and music. Has everyone seen The Publishing Process in GIF form? (If not, click that link. It's amazing.) I'm at that stage, where the book doesn't come out for another year.

I'm trying to get back into the uni state of mind by working on my summer Shakespeare essay, which I should have done weeks ago but got too involved in The Bone Season 2 . . . which will have a more inspiring title once it's finished. I'm hoping to hit my target of 60K words, which should represent just under half the finished product, before I go back to Oxford in early October. There's a meeting at Bloomsbury tomorrow, so hopefully I'll be bringing back some news from London.

So this week, while the publishing news remains slow, I'm going to discuss two different but closely linked issues: writer's block and writer's shock. (I might have made that second one up.) I have a couple of nifty tricks to beat them both. They won't work for everyone, but give them a shot.

Writer's block

The block is every writer's worst nightmare. Its basic definition is an inability for a writer, professional or otherwise, to produce new work. It can be caused by a number of factors, but most often it's down to a simple lack of inspiration.

1. Stop writing. Some people would advise the opposite, but I like to take breaks if I get the dreaded block. Have a cup of tea. Go for a walk. Sit outside and watch the world go by. When you go back to whatever you're working on, your brain will feel refreshed – and, hopefully, inspired. It will also give your eyes and hands a break.

2. Make a mind map. Old school, but it works. I started making mind maps when I was planning The Bone Season's sequel. I had a lot of good ideas, but couldn't quite work out how they'd fit together. The mental gridlock gave me writer's block for about two weeks, during which I was anxious and frustrated. When I linked the ideas together on paper, however, I got the most delicious urge to write them down. I'm now racing through the manuscript.

3. Breathe. Deep breaths. You are still a writer. You will be able to write again. Anxiety will only make the block worse, so tell yourself it will go in time. Even the best get it.

4. Refresh your eyes. If you've been working on a novel or another big project, tuck the manuscript away for a while. Work on something else. Go on holiday. Imagine that you've been in a long relationship with your manuscript, and you're now taking a mutual break. When you get back together, you'll fall in love all over again. While you're on your break, get inspired. Get outside your normal writing space. Write while looking out over a field or a lake or a cityscape. You'll be surprised how many little things can suddenly give you that longed-for mental boom.

5. Treat yourself. I like feeling like a writer. If I treat myself to a new notebook, or a sign that says 'Keep calm and write something', or a new pen, or something from the Literary Gift Company, I feel like a creative ninja. I am in Writer Mode. I want to write so I can use my new tools.

6. Shower. Seriously, it's like drinking from the well of inspiration. And you'll be clean, which you're probably not if you've been sitting at your desk agonising over your writing for days. Singing may or may not be helpful.

7. Sleep. As above. If you're like me and take about an hour to get to sleep, let your mind wander while you're trying to doze off. The dark room and the silence will soon be full of little plot bunnies. Most of my really good ideas come just before I go to sleep, which is why I keep a notebook and pen by my bed. I can't count the number of times I've had this massive zing just as I'm about to check out for the night. Plus, you know, writers are human. We need sleep, too.

Writer's shock

You've been a writer for a long time – maybe you wrote fanfiction, maybe you were working on a novel or a screenplay – but then you stopped. Lost interest, got the block, couldn't think of any ideas, or your personal life got in the way. Now you've been inspired to write again, but you can't seem to get started. This is what I call writer's shock. Instead of there being a block in the road, you've got an endless road to travel. How do you get started?

1. Start writing. I know, completely opposite to my advice for block. The difference is that block tends to come when you've been writing too much, while shock is from writing too little. It's as if you're trying to run a marathon with no training. To overcome shock, you're going to have to start walking. Write something. And when I say something, I mean anything. Write in your diary, on a piece of toilet paper, on your new shirt, on your face – just write. Then try to make it coherent. There are some great writing activities here to get you started.

2. Work out what you want to do. You want to write, but why? Do you want to be published, self-published, or just to have your work read by other people? Have a goal in mind.

3. Make a plan. Good, you want to write a novel. Let's go. Start designing some characters and researching some settings. Get yourself excited about this project. Make it so your fingers itch to get on that keyboard.

4. Set deadlines. Get some goals. Write a few pages every day. Don't beat yourself up if you can't, but keep your goal in mind, and know that you'll only reach that goal if you start running towards it. It can be downright terrifying to look at a blank document and know you've got to fill it up, but don't let fear freeze you. That empty document is a challenge. Kill it with words.

5. Get some readers. This doesn't work for everyone, but it's often helpful to go on a site like FanFiction.Net or and get yourself some reviews. Having a base of dedicated readers who are waiting for you to update your story will give you the impetus to pump out those chapters. If you write on FictionPress and get published, you can just take your work back down (Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas started on the site). You'll also get some feedback on your writing. There are tonnes of other sites on which you can do this, so throw something out there and see what happens.

6. Listen to music. As above. While you're listening to the music, imagine the story behind it. Work some characters in. You'll have a decent story in no time. That's why I tend to listen to music without lyrics when I get into Writing Mode. There's no other story in there but what I'm imagining.

I hope that's been at least a tiny bit helpful if you're struggling to get your words out there. Tell that block where to go.


  1. I just (as in 15 minutes ago) showed that link of GIFs to my class of high school juniors (mostly 16 and 17 year olds). They went wild; a lot of aspiring writers in my classes really related well to it. Good link.

    1. It is amazing. As soon as I saw it I just went YES.

  2. Also, if you inexplicably project this and zoom in until it is 5 feet tall during a quiz they all lose it.

  3. Congratulations on becoming French!

    I love, love, love your writer's shock. So true!

    Thanks for sharing your tips!

  4. That Publishing process in GIF form was awesome ! xD I laughed a lot!

  5. I am so excited to read The Bone Season. Is there anything else you can tell us about it? I've read all the interviews but is there somethng new that you could share to us? please please :)

    1. I'm so glad you're excited! I would love to share more with you, I really would, but I'm not allowed to give away much more than I already have. Stick with the blog next month and there will be some announcements, I promise. As soon as I can tell you more it will be up here. S x

  6. ok guess i have to wait for a year. LOL can't wait to see the cover. I have never been so excited like this for a book before (after the harry potter series ended). Especially for a debut novel. Guess the tag line "the next harry potter" or "the next jk rowling" helped stir curiosity and anticipation. But from what i read in your past blogs, it is very different from the harry potter series. The pressure must be overwhelming. You can do it. You're gonna make a name for yourself. really looking forward to your book. Best wishes. :)

    1. Thank you so much for the support! Your comment made my day. I'm not finding the JK tag as much pressure as I used to — most comments I've read from people show that they're ready to judge my books in their own right. Thanks again for your support, I hope 'The Bone Season' lives up to your expectations...! Sx


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