Writer’s Block is Really Your Friend (and you should listen to it)

Writer’s block is a horrible term I don’t even like to use. I think most writers hate the term and loathe the reality. We dread getting writer’s block but what does writer’s block even mean? How does it feel to be ‘blocked’ and what, if anything, is the ‘block’ trying to tell us?

I am very fortunate because writer’s block is not something I usually suffer from. I tend to have too many ideas, and too many projects on the go and my main problem is not enough time to do it all in! But recently the dreaded writer’s block struck and in fact I now realise it was with me for some time.

So, what is writer’s block? I think it can manifest itself in different ways. There is a block to ideas, when a writer quite simply can’t think of anything to write about. These writers tend to have big gaps between writing projects while they wait for the muse to show up again. There are blocks that happen mid-flow – one minute you are tapping away at the keyboard and then suddenly it all runs out. Your mind goes blank and you cannot conjure up the next words. There is also what I call plot blocks. Basically, you get stuck. You don’t know what to do next with the plot. Maybe you had it all planned out but now can’t figure out how to do it, or maybe you were winging it from the start and just ran out of steam. I’m not sure what type of block is the worst but I am more than familiar with the dread of sitting down and staring at a blank Word document.

Image by Steve Johnson from Pixabay

The block I’ve been suffering from was none of the above, not really. My current work in progress is a four book YA post-apocalyptic series. I had the idea a few years ago and it had to wait its turn. During that time I started a little notebook of themes, ideas and character bios. I always knew this one was going to be a challenge. I love the post-apocalyptic genre as you might already know from my post here: https://chantelleatkins.com/2021/07/02/post-apocalyptic-fascination/. From the start, I had this feeling that the series was a good idea but someone else would be able to do a better job with it than me. I don’t normally feel like that about my book ideas. I’m usually hugely protective and obsessed with them so I would never consider offering or suggesting the idea to someone else. But this one niggled from the start.

I started book one about a year ago but had to keep stopping to get other books finished and published. I was initially quite surprised with how well it went. The first chapters flew out of me effortlessly and were exactly what I wanted. I genuinely think the first few chapters of book one are excellent and I’m proud of them. It got harder after that. It became a slog!

And that’s the difference between these books and my others. Aside from my YA dystopian The Tree Of Rebels, all of my books follow a familiar pattern. I get the character first, they suggest the plot, back story, dilemma and so on. It builds in my head and everything flows from the characters until my head gets so noisy it feels like it will explode. By the time I get around to writing it it almost writes itself because I know it all so well. It’s not hard. It’s fun. It’s addictive and exciting. I normally cannot wait to sit down at my desk and tap away. Sure, I get stuck here and there and some parts are trickier than others, and first drafts are always a clumsy affair, but I still love it and believe in it.

With these books it has been hard work. I’ve forced myself to write a chapter a night most nights and with that work ethic I have managed to write the first two books and even get them to fourth draft stage. I am now nearing the end of the first draft of book three. I know what will happen in book four so it is all getting there. But it is so painful! When I say I force myself, I really do. I stare at the screen for ages. I nearly always get distracted by my phone, checking social media or emails or playing a game. Because it’s hard and I don’t like it being hard!

The trouble has been not understanding why it has been so hard and the other day I finally worked it out. As I mentioned earlier the only other book I had this trouble with was The Tree of Rebels. And there are similarities with this series – The Tree Of Rebels came from a concept first. I had the idea and then built the characters around it. The other similarity I only just realised was that I started writing that book and this series with an audience in mind. I knew The Tree Of Rebels would be a YA dystopian. It was great knowing that because then I’d know who to market it towards. Normally it’s a struggle to figure out what genre my books are! With this series, I knew it would be YA post-apocalyptic and with both The Tree Of Rebels and this series I wanted to aim them at 12-14 year olds. That’s the younger YA age bracket to my other books. I have some books aimed at adults and some aimed at 14 years and up. With The Tree Of Rebels I wanted to write a book my children could read at the time and with this current series I wanted to write a book the children who attend my writing clubs could maybe enjoy…

And that was the trouble! That was the block! When I realised it was like this light bulb eureka moment! Now I can’t believe it took me so long to figure it out!

Having the idea before the characters was a problem but the main problem was deciding who to aim it at before I even started writing. It’s like having someone watch over your shoulder the whole time and it totally changes the experience for me. I start thinking about what elements are expected in that genre and what things are suitable or appropriate for the age group. It ruins the process. I feel like I am writing a book to order, writing for someone else, and that just doesn’t work for me.

I realised that the age group was a real problem. There is a big difference between books aimed at ‘tweens’ and books aimed at older teenagers. I didn’t feel I could swear in this series and it’s just not as gritty or hard hitting as my other books. It’s just not me.

But all that is going to change. Once I figured out what was causing the writer’s block I made a decision. I’m now going to aim the series at the older YA audience and I am going to do what I normally do. Let rip, let them swear, go as dark and gritty and edgy as I like! I am going to write these books for me and no one else because that is the only way it works for me.

It’s amazing but since I realised all this, the chapters have started flowing again. It feels different. It feels exciting and a bit naughty! I have already wandered into darker territory. I am going to finish book three in this vein and carry on into book four. Of course, then I need to go back and rewrite everything I have done so far. I do think that was partly what prevented me from admitting what was wrong – knowing how much work I’d have to do to correct it! But I’m looking forward to it now. There will be more character development, some extra chapters and lots of rewriting in each book but I think it will all be worth it. And I will keep one thing in mind the entire time until these books are ready to publish – I am writing this series for ME. I am writing the books I want to read.

That should work!

And I suppose the moral of the story is always listen to writer’s block because it’s just trying to tell you something. For that reason, writer’s block is actually your friend. You just need to figure out what it’s telling you.

Do you ever suffer from writers’ block? If so, what kind? And what do you do to push through it?

Interview with Mark Gillespie; Author Of Black Storm

Last month I picked Black Storm by Mark Gillespie as my indie book of the month. Mark is an extremely proficient author, with a terriific work ethic. He kindly agreed to an interview and here it is!

  1. For those who are not familiar with your work, how would you best describe your genre?

I call it Apocalyptic Pulp Fiction. But Post-Apocalyptic fiction is the most recognisable term for my kind of thing. There’s dystopian and horror elements in there too. I’ve dabbled previously with other genres (Alternate History) but if someone were to pin me to the wall, brandish a knife in my face and demand a straightforward answer (it could happen!), I’d look them in the eye and tell them that post-apocalyptic fiction is what I do.

  1. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always enjoyed writing but it was very much a background thing until I reached my early thirties. Stories and song – that’s been my thing in this life. Between the ages of 15 and about 30, I dedicated my life to song and to working as a musician in the UK and Ireland. I had a great time but the music thing fizzled out for me about 2010/2011. Work dried up. I fell out of love with the business of being a musician.

It was time for a change.

Later on, I went to uni as a mature student, studying English and History. When I picked up a book called The Heath Introduction to Fiction and read some of the short stories in there, a light bulb went on in my head. I felt the buzz again.

Real job? Forget it…I was going to be a writer!

  1. Can you tell us about your publishing experiences and journey so far?

I’m indie published. I’ve never submitted a manuscript to an agent or publisher because by the time I was ready to do so (2015), I felt that indie publishing was the best model for me. I wanted to make a living from my writing and I felt that indie was my best chance of doing so.

I’m not interested in sitting in anyone’s electronic slush pile.

Having said that, I accept that indie publishing isn’t for everyone. It’s so much work! I would encourage new authors to research their publishing options and figure out what’s the best model for them. Knowledge is power. Know what you’re getting into and why. If it’s indie, be prepared for a very steep learning curve and always remember to bring your creative and business hats to the table. And make sure it’s you’re A-game.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way but I think I’m getting better at this.

  1. Tell us about Black Storm, what inspired this book?

The initial trigger for Black Storm was something I read online a couple of years ago. I can’t quite remember if it was in a news article or on a forum or whatever – but I read something about a woman in America who’d been spotted walking through a town or a suburb dressed in old-fashioned mourning clothes. It sounded like she was doing an epic solo trek or something like that.

It was just so random and it struck me as noteworthy. I wonder sometimes if I imagined this because I can’t find any trace of it online (Yep, I just Googled it again!)

Whatever it was, that was the seed for the character of the Black Widow. I took note and it stuck. That was the beginning of Black Storm – it all began with the Black Widow.

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  1. You are a remarkably proficient indie writer, can you tell us how you manage to publish books so quickly? What is your process?

I’m lucky that I have the time to dedicate to writing. But I also make good use of that time. A regular working day is between 10-15 hours, which includes both creative and business stuff (creative early, business later).

I get up at 5.30am most mornings and go to bed about 11ish on average. Apart from walking the dog, exercising (super important for authors!) and eating, the work takes up most of my time.

I always have an A project (a book in the later stages of editing) and a B project (ideas, brainstorming) on the go. That’s important for moving onto the next thing. I would hate to finish a book and have nothing but a blank page waiting. That would probably floor me.

In order to be prolific, you have to make sacrifices. What’s eating up your writing time? What can you give up? Nobody said it was all fun and games.

Working long hours is a habit for me now. That’s probably how I get the books out so fast – I try to release something every two months. I also write shorter books at about 50,000 words average. I know that I can’t keep that pace up for the rest of my life however. And I wouldn’t want to. There’s more to life than just work. Much more!

  1. What usually comes first for you? The character or the plot?

I start with a situation that intrigues me. More often than not, it revolves around a ‘what if?’ question.

With Black Storm, that question is what if human beings had been targeted for extermination by an unknown power? We exterminate other species all the time, but what if the tables were turned. What if it happened to us?

With the Future of London books, it’s what if the London riots hadn’t stopped?

Answering the questions is fun.

Character and plot come later. But it’s that initial idea, that question that hopefully will get the juices flowing. If I’m excited there’s a good chance that someone else will be too.

  1. Do you write your books with a particular theme or message in mind and if so, what is it?

I never start with a message or theme. It’s only somewhere within the writing process that it becomes clear to me what that message might be. And there always is one, at least from my perspective. From another person’s point of view, there might be a different message altogether. That’s the joy of individual interpretation. We take the text, soak it up with all our baggage and find a meaning that’s unique to us.

I discover what I’m writing about by writing about it. But it always starts from an entertainment perspective. Is this fun? Is this worth reading about? Can I stay with this from start to finish?

Themes, messages, and the deep stuff – they come from the unconscious. They take care of themselves and appear when they’re good and ready.

  1. Do you have a day job and if so does it help your writing in any way?

My day job is writing.

I’ve done a few jobs now (worked in hardware, written freelance sports articles, been a bouncer). But I’ve never worked so hard in all my life as I do now. Music was tough. Writing is tough. Anything creative is brutal and yet some people look in from the outside and assume it’s a breeze because it’s a passion and it’s associated with leisure/entertainment.

A few years back I was amused to see that the readers of a major newspaper had voted being an author as their ideal job. No doubt they had visions of sitting in a log cabin surrounded by gorgeous scenery. They saw themselves sitting in front of a typewriter, a turtleneck sweater on, a pipe hanging out of their mouths, and a Che Guevara beret on their heads. And the words would pour out of their minds fast and easy. And that’s all there is to it – another masterpiece in the bag.

They haven’t got a clue.

  1. Tell us about your next release

Black Fever is the next release. It’s the second of the Black Storm books, which follows the fortunes of father and daughter, Cody and Rachel MacLeod, as they try to navigate their way through a mysterious apocalyptic event, the Black Storm, which has plunged the world into darkness and despair.

Fingers crossed, Black Fever will be out on May 15th.

  1. What is the most valuable thing you have learned as an indie writer so far?

The number one lesson is perseverance.

It’s so hard at times being an indie author and you’ll feel like giving up a thousand times. And that’s just in one morning! Too often, it feels like a mountain of work with only a crumb of reward in return.

But keep going. If you truly believe you’re on the right path, keep grinding it out. Work hard, but work smart. Learn from others. Join Facebook groups like 20Books to 50K. Read books on indie publishing, writing and story craft, marketing etc…

Absorb the wisdom of others. You’ll find it if you look for it. And if you have any to share, then share it. The indie author community is a friendly one and we’re willing to help those in need. This is how we all grow.

You can find out more about Mark and his books here;

Website

Instagram

Facebook

Twitter

March Indie Book Of The Month; Black Storm by Mark Gillespie

Each month I highlight the best indie book I read, and for March, let me introduce to you the tension-packed first book in a highly promising post-apocalyptic series. Black Storm by Mark Gillespie. 

I’m working my way through Mark’s Future of London series, so I knew I would not be disappointed by this survival thriller, and I wasn’t. It ticked every box for me as a reader; a fast-paced story with a believably flawed and likable protagonist, tension that clings to every page, action, drama, and emotion. I was hooked on the dangerous journey Cody chooses to take in order to get his young daughter out of a world gone crazy. I’ve posted the blurb and my review of Black Storm below. Look out for an interview with Mark in the next few weeks!

Blurb;

“A wild ride…Reminiscent of Stephen King.” 

These are the last days. The Black Storm – a permanent state of darkness has engulfed the Earth, plunging the world into eternal night.

Out of the Black Storm comes the Black Widow. A ghostly figure, she walks the Earth triggering an epidemic of despair – suicides, mass murders and arson attacks. Nobody knows why it’s happening. But it is happening.

Ex Hollywood actor, Cody MacLeod, is a burned out recluse living in Texas. He’s got one chance to protect his young daughter Rachel from the Black Storm.

A plane is taking off at San Antonio International Airport, piloted by Cody’s friend. But to get there in time, Cody and Rachel must drive through the darkness together. But the road is a dangerous place where desperate people are lurking in wait.

And the Black Widow is always close by.

Black Storm is a post-apocalyptic survival thriller about a father trying to save his child from the end of the world. What would you do to protect your child in exceptional circumstances? Grab a copy of Black Storm if you love apocalyptic, dystopian, horror and supernatural thrillers!

My Review;

I’m already a fan of this author’s fast-paced and tension-packed novels, so I knew I would not be disappointed by the first book in a new series. I am working my way through the Future of London series, so had an idea of what to expect from Black Storm. A flawed yet believable and likable protagonist, twists and turns, jump out of your seat drama, and tension that clings to every page. The drama starts on page one, no hanging around. Cody, a faded Hollywood star is about to leave his house with his 10-year-old daughter Rachel. We learn quite a lot in the first few pages. Rachel’s mother, also a former star, is dead, and a deadly black storm has enveloped the world. The black storm has wrapped the world in darkness and from this darkness, the mysterious black widow emerges. People are going crazy. Killing themselves and each other. Cody has a chance to escape the madness, and a plane waiting at the airport if he can only get there in time and in one piece. What follows is a race against time and a risky jump into the unknown. Cody and Rachel face numerous dangers on the road trying to get to safety. This story is a brilliant and energetic introduction to what promises to be a nail-biting series. I was really pulled into Cody’s dilemma, as a parent trying to decide what risks to take in order to protect his child. Brilliant stuff!

Character Interview- Mack Walker

Morning folks! With Christmas just around the corner, many of you lovely bookish types might be thinking about buying books for your loved ones. With this in mind, myself and my friend indie author Kate Rigby are holding a little Christmasssy event today over on Facebook. The Christmas Pop-Up Book Shop will be full of links to paperbacks by fantastic authors. Authors, feel free to add your links throughout the day, and readers, please come in and browse the shelves. We will be leaving the event up for a few days so that you can pop in and out and not have to worry about missing anything. We will also be posting some other things of interest, such as giveaways, competitions, and character interviews. Here is one such thing. Indie author Mark Gillespie is an incredibly talented and prolific writer. I can’t keep up with the number of books he releases! This character interview is with Mack Walker, the main protagonist in his dystopian/post-apocalyptic/speculative fiction style trilogy, The Future Of London. (I’ve read two books in the series so far, and it is brilliant!) Enjoy!

Mack Walker (The Future of London Series)

1. Do you have any negative character traits and if so, what would you say they are?

I suffer from obsessive tendencies. But I don’t know, are those negative traits? To wake up in the morning knowing that only one thing matters above all else? That sounds like clarity to me. I’m looking for someone you see – that’s my thing. You could call it hunting rather than looking, because when I find him, well…

2. What are your most positive personality traits?

Obsessive tendencies.

3. Tell us what your current most pressing ambition or dream is?

To kill a man called Hatchet. In 2011, he did a terrible thing, something that changed all our lives for the worse. Someone has to make him pay and only a few people know what he did back then.

4. What are you most afraid of?

I still don’t know what happened to my parents. Nine years after they locked us up in London I don’t know what happened to them. Did they stay behind to look for me or did they make a run for it and try to get out before it was too late? I’m afraid I’ll never know the answer to that question. Most of all, I’m afraid they stayed behind.

5. Do you have a best friend? If so, why this person?

Friends don’t last long in this city.

6. Have you ever been in love?

I was only 16 when they locked us up in here. I never had much time for all that stuff back then. I’ve got even less time for it now.

7. Have you ever committed a crime?

Yes, but not without good reason. I don’t even know what counts as a ‘crime’ anymore in here. We do what we do to survive. Things like stealing and murder, they don’t mean what they used to.

8. Do you have any secrets?

I have a big secret. I know why no one is a hurry to let us out of London even though it’s been nine years since they sealed off the city. I’m certain they could find a way to bring us all back into society if they really wanted to. Only one other person in the city knows what I know. They’re using us – they’ve installed hundreds of thousands of micro-cameras everywhere, all over the city and they’re filming us. Not only that, we’re part of a reality TV show called The Future of London. Apparently it’s very popular and people pay a lot of money to watch us in here. They gain nothing from letting us out but they stand to lose a lot of money.

9. Do you have any regrets?

I wish I’d never moved to London in 2011.

10. How would you like to be remembered?

There haven’t been any new headstones in London for a long time. But it doesn’t matter if no one remembers me. Not as long as I find him.

Thanks so much to Mark (and Mack!) for this interview! You can find out more about Mark’s books on the link below;

Mark Gillespie books