Thursday, June 4, 2015 | By: The Write Way Cafe

Regan Walker: What to do when you’re stuck and the words won’t come…

The Write Way Café welcomes Regan Walker, who shares her tips for busting writer's block.

As writers, we’ve all experienced that unfortunate time when the well of words dries up and we sit staring at our computer in desperation. To me it typically comes midway though the story, as it did in my latest novel, To Tame the Wind. It’s a seafaring romance set in Europe in the last year of the American Revolution—and the prequel to my Agents of the Crown trilogy.

So what to do when I hit the wall and nothing is coming to me? First, I should tell you I’m a pantser—I do not have an elaborate plot all drawn up when I begin. (I envy those people.) I like to let the history lead me and see where my characters take me. Usually I have an idea for the characters and the beginning. Sometimes the end. But the rest is magic.

So, I thought to share what I do to help me get writing again. Perhaps you will find one of these helpful. And I’d love to know what you do!

1. Since I’m an author of historical romance, I might dive into the history a little deeper to see if any ideas come to me. My stories are driven by history and real historic figures so more research might give me an idea of a new scene or a new character. In To Tame the Wind, it was the idea of a man living in 18th century Paris who might have a secret to hide and would need a marriage to provide him cover. I found him living among the young lawyers there. Of course, I then had to research the tavern he might hang out at.

2. I might go back and edit the last few chapters, sometimes I go all the way back to the beginning. Along the way, I pick up new ideas, so when I hit the end of what I’ve written, the next words sometimes just flow, along with the next scenes.

3. If I’m feeling particularly determined, I just force myself to stay at my computer and put words on the page, saying to myself I will come back and fix whatever is wrong tomorrow. Surprisingly, I find I have less to fix than I’d thought I would. It doesn’t work all the time, but when it does, I pat myself on the back for being willing to slog through the difficult parts.

4. When I can, I might skip to later scenes, maybe even the end if I have a thought of how I want to bring the threads together. Often those out of place scenes fit in just fine when I get to them.

5. When I am really worried, I go to lunch with one of my critique partners and tell her where I’m stuck. She may suggest an idea that has me saying, “Yes! Great idea. I can use that.” Then, when I get home, I can’t wait to begin writing again. I always take pen and paper to those luncheons so I can capture the idea as we are discussing it.

6. I might read a book. Somehow diving into an absorbing romance written by someone else takes me out of the stuck place. It works like greasing the skids. But I don’t reach for this too often as it takes me farther away from my own story.

7. Lastly, when all else fails, I take a break. I take a walk with my Golden Retriever, go shopping, listen to music (which often inspires scenes), or I bake (yes, I love to bake; you can see a few of my recipes on my website). There’s always Facebook, and email too, but I do those most days so they aren’t much of a break. In fact, that can be just another sort of work.

The point is to do whatever you can to move past the blank page—past that place where nothing is coming to you.

I would love to know what you do when you hit those rough places, so do share!

The Agents of the Crown trilogy of Regency romances now has a prequel, To Tame the Wind, a Georgian romance set in England and France in 1782. It's the story of Capt. Simon Powell, an English privateer, and the wild Claire Donet, a French pirate's daughter, who became the parents of Sir Martin and Capt. Jean Nicholas Powell, heroes in books 2 & 3. To Tame the Wind is also book 1 in the Donet duology. Echo in the Wind, the  story of Claire's dashing pirate father, is planned for 2016.

About Regan:  Bestselling author Regan Walker loved to write stories as a child, particularly those about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits were encouraged. One of her professors suggested a career in law, and she took that path. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown.” Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding sovereign who taps his subjects for “special assignments.” Each of her novels features real history and real historic figures. And, of course, adventure and love. Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, who she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.


Regan said...

Hi, HiDee! Thanks so much for having me as your guest on The Write Way Cafe. Very exciting to be sharing my thoughts to help other writers when they are stuck. Perhaps they have an idea I missed. I would love to hear it!

HiDee said...

Great tips, Regan! I try not to sit and stare at the screen when I'm stuck because it just frustrates me. Sometimes I turn to writing longhand because that helps ideas flow again. Reading, editing, and taking a break all help, too. Thanks for sharing and for being with us today!

Regan said...

I often get ideas and write them down longhand but I never thought of writing my story that way. Might try that!

Angela Adams said...

Critique partners are a gift -- and, I appreciate mine every day! Great post, Regan. Thanks.

Regan said...

Thanks for stopping by, Angela. I do agree with you. My critique partners have made my work better, I know.

Judith said...

Thanks for the post, Regan. There were some good ideas there that I'd like to try. I've never yet not gotten stuck (in other words, I always get stuck!), usually somewhere between 1/3-1/2 way through the book. Sometimes, when I'm writing a scene and I can't think how to approach it, I skip over it with a note. On my current book, I skipped a big section and jumped to the big dark moment scene. I had a pretty clear idea of what was going to happen there, and the writing just flowed. In one colossal fail a couple of years ago, I took a wrong turn early in the story, made myself slog through the book all the same, and I have a very rough draft of a novel (that's put aside for a couple of other books) of which I need to simply throw most of it out and start all over again. So, getting stuck can be a sign that you've gone left when you should have gone right (or whichever), and if you find this happening, it's good to stop altogether and reevaluate. I wasted a couple of years on an unusable mess!

Regan said...

You are right, Judith... getting stuck can be a place to stop and consider. But, like you, I get stuck in every book and must ponder what comes next. Now I expect it and try not to let it shake me.

N.J. Qualls said...

Funny you should address this particular malady just now. I have been standing at that wall for a few weeks now. I had a perfectly fine female lead. I started from the beginning and suddenly my secondary female lead decided she is going to be the main character AND she has taken me from writing in third person to first person with she as narrator. Sometimes a chat with the characters helps. I never thought they actually spoke. It is an awesome feeling.

Regan said...

That is so cool, N.J. Hadn't tried that before but Jean Donet in To Tame the Wind insisted on having his own book and so he shall when I write Echo in the Wind. Ha!

Freya West said...

Interesting story, I love to read it.
Thank you,
Freya, UK

Regan Walker said...

So glad you found it interesting, Freya.