Monday, August 16, 2010

Guest Blogger: Brenda Novak . . . What Writer's Block?

We're in an unusually busy period of time at our house. Our oldest granddaughter just graduated from law school. Her new firm has offered her a 2-year stint in London, so her start date has suddenly moved up from November to September. We'll miss her at our vow renewal ceremony in September (also taking a huge amount of planning), but want to plug in as much time with her as possible. We also just moved my mother-in-law to a new home (that doesn't involve stairs, but does involve time and window coverings) as well as my Palisade Peach project for the Wild Animal Sanctuary and my Citizen's Police Academy training that begins tomorrow night. We have friend get-togethers planned (that we wouldn't miss for the world) and one special event (an artist's reception) for the Significant Other of a special long-term friend we haven't seen in years.

This is not a 'down' period. I'm just sayin'.

Brenda Novak has graciously offered a guest post, and I've taken her up on it. Brenda is a best-selling novelist who is also a tireless advocate for diabetes research.

Please join me in (thankfully) welcoming Brenda to Suspense Novelist.

Oh . . . and she has a special giveaway to one lucky person who places a comment. An autographed copy of one of her books, a special gift bag, and a wonderful lip gloss. So if ever there was a reason to comment, this is it. If you have something to say about writer's block, this would be the time.

One question I get asked more than any other is whether or not I ever get writer's block. That dread inability to produce so often depicted (comedically and otherwise) in the media strikes fear into the heart of any writer at the mere mention of it. But I don’t believe in writer’s block as something that can inexplicably steal my muse and thwart all my efforts to turn out a good book. There are days when I get stuck, however, when my scenes seem to be turning to drivel or I can’t get them to hold any emotional tension. That’s when I know something is wrong. I’ve taken the story where it wasn’t meant to go, for lack of a better way to describe it. Fortunately, there are methods I can use to get myself “unstuck.” Experience has taught me to mentally step away from the manuscript and examine it from a macro perspective, always asking myself, “Where did you go wrong?”

I start from the beginning and check the story as a plumber might check a series of pipes for leaks. I feel my way along, testing each scene to see if it’s “holding water.” I read, consider, read, consider and read some more until I find the “break” or part that isn’t in harmony with my intuition. Sometimes I do this by reading the manuscript aloud to my husband and asking for his input. Then we both look at the reasons my story isn’t coming together and hash it out between us. Maybe I’m forcing my characters to do or say things these types of characters would never do or say. Maybe I’m ascribing a certain trait or pathology to my villain that just isn’t ringing true. Maybe I’ve veered too far away from my “core story.” It’s a bit of a hassle to go back, and definitely risks some unraveling and rewriting, but if I take the time to do this I almost always find the point that’s troubling my subconscious and interrupting my ability to proceed. And once I find the break, I can fix it simply by figuring out WHY is isn't working.

Sometimes my production will fall not because the story isn’t coming together but because I’m too distracted to concentrate properly, or I’m emotionally exhausted. At these times, I need to “fill the well” by reading for pleasure, listening to music I find deeply stirring and emotional, or reading quotes or poems that resonate with me. The musical score from Les Miserables fires me up every time. Same with Phantom of the Opera. Watching a good movie will also jumpstart my muse. My favorite is Last of the Mohicans. That emotional scene where the hero (played by Daniel-Day Lewis) is forced to leave the heroine (played by Madelyn Stowe) behind at the waterfall never fails to rejuvenate me. Taking a break to be with people helps, too. Laughter is a general cure-all.

The most important thing I can do when I run into a glitch in my story is to give myself time to work with it instead of overreacting. Panicking only makes it more difficult to fight through the rough patch. Occasionally, all I need to do is sleep. Somehow, my subconscious continues to mull over the problem--and when I get up in the morning, the path is once again clear.

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Brenda Novak has three novels out this summer—WHITE HEAT, BODY HEAT & KILLER HEAT. She also runs an annual on-line auction for diabetes research every May at To date, she’s raised over $1 million. Brenda considers herself lucky to be a mother of five and married to the love of her life.

CR: Shadow Dance by Julie Garwood.

It's all better with friends.


  1. The ways you try and find your muse again is something a lot of writers do such as watching a film, being with people etc. I'm learning not to feel guilty about doing things like that as it's not 'writing'.

    You're very lucky to have the love of your life there to give you some input.

    Thanks for the post,Brenda.

  2. Thank you for your words of wisdom. Inspirational.

  3. Great post, and something most of those who write eventually face.

    I love your ideas on 'fixing the plumbing.' That and stepping back to do something else for a little while also works for me.

    Congratulations on your new release!

  4. Mary Jane FredericksonAugust 17, 2010 at 10:30 AM

    I'm not a writer but I find that when I need a break from what I am doing I too play Phantom of the Opera and that puts me in a better mood to finish what I've been doing.

  5. I guess it's all about balance, isn't it? Funny how I keep coming back to that, especially because true balance is so hard to maintain. It's much easier to gravitate toward one pole or another and cling on for dear life. LOL

    Thanks for your comments!

  6. First of all, I didn't realize you were so dang beautiful!!!
    Isn't it wonderful, the power of music?
    Great post offering pause for thought, Brenda. I would add, for me, sometimes it's not so much the story going wrong as a failed attempt at depth. Maybe it's a character development or an entire scene. For me, there is no such thing as writer's block when I get myself in public and watch [ok...eavesdrop] the people. Starbucks, a crowded beach, and especially the airports.
    Thanks again for the post.

  7. Great post. I use reading as my break from what I'm doing. I have to read every night before I go to sleep no matter how late it is. Thanks for writing such wonderful stories that I love to read!

  8. i always figure writing something is bettr than nothing even if i know it sucks whil i am writing it. i can always go back and edit it but at least having words on the paper is a place to start.

    meaghan_koci (at) yahoo (dot) com

  9. Brenda, indightful post. Thanks for sharing. I hopeI win your new book.

  10. I keep losing my comment. Hope it doesn't show up multiple times. :/

    Just want to say this post was great and I love your books. Sure wish I could live inside your head while you plot a series.

  11. Thanks! A timely discussion for me.

    Brenda W.

  12. The one thing you left out is just avoiding your writing. All the things you said are happening and instead of fixing it, you just ignore the book for a while.


  13. LoML pulled a name this afternoon.

    Drum roll ....................................

    Would HEATHER SPIVA please contact Brenda at and let her know your snail mail address?