I am routinely asked by fellow authors how to get over “writer’s block.”
Here are my thoughts, as well as my technique.
First off, there is no writer’s block, at least as far as I can tell. There’s a lack of motivation to do the work, or there’s a problem with the story/pacing/plotting.
If there’s a lack of motivation to write, I’ve shared ideas in the past on how to overcome that. Ask yourself empowering questions, a la “how do I make this the most amazing chapter I’ve ever written, and have a blast doing so?” You’ll get a way different answer than if you ask yourself lousy questions, like “what’s the point?” or “how am I ever going to get this done?”
If there’s a story/pacing/plotting problem, and you’re procrastinating writing because you sense that, solve the problem. I use my outlining technique, where I can see if the arc is right, whether all the characters reconcile, and determine whether the beats and the denouement are suitably cathartic/exciting. Most often when I hear “I have writer’s block” or “I can’t seem to get through this” it’s from someone who claims they dislike outlining because it robs the story of spontaneity. That spontaneity can also result in hitting an impasse, or having a crap story that goes nowhere. I recommend outlining, obviously, because then even if you aren’t all that motivated due to external factors, at least you know where the story is going and what the next chapters should be.
I’m not going to debate pantsing vs. outlining, having written numerous blogs on the topic. Suffice it to say I’ve done my share of both, and have found outlining superior in terms of efficiency. If you wish to hear more of my thoughts on the topic, search this blog for outlining and pantsing and writing a page turner.
There’s my brief note on how to handle writer’s block. Force yourself to think through the story until it’s compelling and demands to be written, and you’ll solve any pacing/plotting issues. Ask yourself empowering questions and you’ll turn your attitude around if you’re feeling blase or unmotivated.
And finally, if all this fails, there’s always tequila. And buying my crap to provide inspiration. Let’s not forget that!
I get asked a lot about my background, and how I arrived at my present circumstance – living in Baja for 15 years, being a full time author of some notoriety after having achieved a degree of financial independence that allowed me to pursue my passion with single-minded determination.
So here’s my story, in sanitized form: I worked for others from my early twenties to my early thirties, and wound up with about what I had when I started, saving little, working at things I was mostly ambivalent about to pay the bills. Along the way I pursued some interests like music, but as with most garage band hopefuls, nothing panned out with anything but chicks, beer, and hazy memories I wouldn’t trade for anything.
In my early thirties, I was between jobs – careers, actually, having dropped out of the computer business after burning out in sales and marketing products about which I knew little and cared less – when it occurred to me that I could well spend most of my life existing as I had rather than crafting a life I wanted. I became determined to break the patterns I’d been in, and researched until I came up with an idea that I thought could make for a nice lifestyle business. I risked everything with only a couple grand in the bank, hung out a shingle, and put the contacts and skills I’d developed to use, leveraging relationships until within a couple of years the business was turning a handsome profit, and I had three other people working for me.
Fast forward eight years, and I sold the company at forty and retired to Baja to engage in navel gazing (code for binge drinking on the beach). That got old after a couple of years, and I started a custom home design and build business in Mexico that still operates today, and which I’m extraordinarily proud of – I still love designing dream homes and seeing a patch of dirt become something that I imagined in my mind’s eye, and created from nothing. That’s key with what inspires me: I love to create new things, whatever they may be – businesses, designs, stories, whatever. It’s the act of creation that makes me feel alive.
During the period I was doing the design/build thing full time, I also started a wine company, and made vino in Argentina with one of the country’s largest producers. After a couple of seasons of commuting on ten hour flights and importing some to Mexico and the U.S., I decided I preferred drinking it to making it, and shelved that company.
When the 2008 financial crisis hit, the construction business softened in Baja around 2010, and I found myself looking for other ways to keep busy. A friend of mine had seen some articles about kindle sensations finding fame and fortune as self-pubbed authors, and having read some of my earlier scribblings, suggested I should give it a whirl – I was entrepreneurial, had a good imagination, didn’t mind working hard, and certainly had time to kill. June, 2011, I released my first book, and I never looked back.
I’ve started five businesses from scratch, and three have done well. Two didn’t, mainly because I was unwilling to put in the time necessary to make them hits. I learned my lesson – being engaged and involved in the business is the necessary ingredient for success. I’ve been an angel investor in another dozen companies over the years, and noted the same thing with the winners – the founders driving the company were hell bent on making them succeed at all costs. Some that failed also had the same type of management, but all that taught me is that you have to expect strikes if you want to hit home runs. Goes with the territory. And you need a leader with real passion for what they’re doing, or you’re screwed.
What does all this have to do with anything? As Jan. 1 approaches I was waxing nostalgic about years gone by, and I realized that the turning point in my life was when I was between jobs and decided I would create a future I wanted, that was compelling, instead of trying to deal with what life threw at me – that I was responsible if I didn’t like the ride I was on, not my parents, or circumstance, or the market, or a fickle universe. I got comfortable with the idea that it was better to fail at something I wanted to do than to never try it and go to my grave with regrets.
I’ve lived like that ever since. That decision to live unconventionally if it took me in a direction I felt interesting led me to expatriate to Mexico at a relatively tender age – I’ve now lived outside the U.S. for almost a third of my life, and I don’t regret a moment of it. I’ve taught myself architecture and building, wine making, writing and publishing, and am convinced I can do anything I set my mind to if I want it badly enough and I’m realistic about my abilities. That’s enormously freeing, but the first step comes from making the mental leap of refusing to lead a life of quiet desperation. I realized that in order to have a life I wanted I needed to imagine it first, and then figure out how to get it, not wait for it to come to me.
Along the way I’ve made countless mistakes, made and lost fortunes, had them stolen and frittered them away. I’ve realized there’s more to everything than money. But I learned lessons each time I won, or lost, so I view it as an expensive education rather than anything else – as the saying goes, I’ve never seen a U-Haul at a funeral, and those experiences resulted in who I am today. They inform my world view, and my writing, and I like to think they result in a certain veracity to the stories – there’s a lot of truth and hard won experience in them.
There are parts of my life I don’t discuss – my personal life, some of my pursuits when I was working for others. Let’s just say I got to travel a ton, and live in some really interesting places, if only for short periods. I’ve seen misery and boundless joy, and witnessed both incredible cruelty and the most tender of mercy, and been involved in matters I’m ashamed of, and others I’m proud of but will never mention. Guy’s got to have some secrets, after all, and I have more than a few.
What’s the takeaway? Cliche, I know, but you have to take responsibility for your life, and your future, and work to craft one that’s compelling, that is uniquely yours, and that makes you happy regardless of what others think. You need to find your muse at whatever pursuit you’ve decided upon, and follow it fearlessly. That doesn’t mean foolhardily or delusionally. It means you have to accept the fact that failure is an integral part of success, and find a way to sing on the way to the fields each day to toil at whatever you’ve decided gives your life meaning.
If I know anything, that’s the lesson. Your time on the earth is an adventure, and how you spend it is up to you. Sure, everyone has different challenges and abilities, but ultimately you need to become the captain of your vessel, or accept whatever the tide brings you, which is often flotsam. Even if nothing changes but your attitude, that’s a start – the most important one, I’d argue. So when considering resolutions for the new year, you might want to try that one on, and pursue a passion that makes you feel alive every day, whether it pays, or not. I knew the odds were a million to one when I launched into publishing, but I did it anyway, because I believed my stories were decent, and more importantly, I would have never forgiven myself if I hadn’t. I hold myself accountable for my own happiness, and I’d rather have spent a couple years trying and failing at something that was really important to me, than never doing it at all.
The other thing I’ve realized is that it’s lonely at the top if you don’t help others get there (not that I’m there, but I can sort of make out the pinnacle through the clouds now, which is progress), which is why I still offer advice to other authors, and chime in with opinions, informed or otherwise. Being gracious and compassionate costs nothing, and nobody ever went broke giving someone else a hand when they needed it.
So that’s my deal, and pretty much all I have for you as thoughts at year end. Have a safe and prosperous New Year. I’m going walkabout and will be gone for a week or two, and then will be back at the grindstone, doing what I love.
As always, thanks for the continued support. Maybe tell a friend. Never hurts…
I just typed The End on my 51st book written since mid-2011, titled A Girl Apart. Very different from my prior work. I rather like it. We’ll see what the world thinks soon enough.
As I close out the year, outlining and starting my 52nd book, it occurs to me that I haven’t blogged a whole lot over the last couple of months, so I’ll make up for lost time and share a few things I’ve learned during my little publishing journey, although there is much I don’t know.
My thoughts and advice to aspiring authors follow in no particular order:
I’m not sure how much of this ramble will help anyone aspiring to be a working author, but after a few million books sold and some amazing windfalls, some astounding paydays and some whipsaw changes in the biz which continue unabated, what I can offer is that being an author is a fantastic career if you can handle the giddy highs and crushing lows, and power through it all, with near constant adversity making you stronger. Write stuff you can be proud of, and enjoy doing so, and then type The End, and go on to the next one.
The rest is up to the universe, luck, and retail marketing/promotions. And Amazon’s algos, of course.
Happy holidays, and make 2017 your breakthrough year. Make it, don’t hope for it.
How you do that is up to you.
And as always, go buy my crap.
JET – Forsaken has gone live wherever fine, or even not so fine, ebooks are sold. In this installment our heroine is forced to make an impossible choice that puts her directly in harm’s way, in order to spare her family more trauma.
This is a fun one that has current events mixed in with the plot. The European refugee crisis, political back room scheming, regime change machinations, you name it. One might say I took reality and tamed it down to make it more believable for chunks of the book.
As with all JET novels, this one barrels along like a runaway train until we reach a conclusion that’s as unexpected as an upset election win (see what I did there? Topical. I know. Genius.). It was a hoot to write, and I hope you enjoy reading it – a fitting new chapter in what has become my bestselling series.
If you haven’t already ordered it, nobody’s getting any younger, so go click or swipe or whatever and do so now. Papa needs a new pair of flip flops.
My friend, fellow novelist Nicholas Sansbury Smith, asked me to write a novella for his Extinction Cycle Kindle World, which launches today. After much guilt tripping from Amazon and playing on my renowned good nature, I agreed, because that’s just the kind of guy I am.
I set it in 1972, during the Vietnam war, when Hal’s called in by a friend to investigate a string of murders in Pattaya, Thailand. Someone’s been butchering American servicemen from the nearby air base, and Hal’s chartered with getting to the bottom of it.
It’s fun, quick read, and I’m delighted with how it turned out. Fans of The Day After Never will enjoy it, and I hope fans of Nicholas’ bestselling series like the direction I took it as well. The Extinction Cycle novels revolve around a nightmare agent, VX-99, which the military developed to create the ultimate warrior. When it went badly awry, that’s where things get interesting.
Anyhow, that’s what’s up for October. November sees the new JET – Forsaken release, and I’ll be working hard on my 2017 novels, the first of which is a new series that features a female investigative journalist who gets in way over her head in a conspiracy that stretches from Mexico to the White House. That’s about all I have for it so far, but I’m sure it will gel as I outline it.
The Day After Never – Retribution is now live on Amazon! In the fourth installment in the series, Lucas must travel into the mouth of hell to keep a promise to the woman he’s fallen for, while the world collapses around him.
This is the final book in the original story arc. Depending on how it’s received, I may do another trilogy that takes Lucas into yet more disastrous predicaments, where he has to risk everything to defeat an enemy that’s determined to rule the emerging world.
But for now, this is the end of the series, and I hope everyone who’s enjoyed the first three has a hell of a time with Retribution. There are worse ways to pass a few hours of one’s time. If you think it sucks, try tequila. Tequila fixes everything.
Or so I hear.
In a post on Hugh Howey’s FB page, in answer to a suggestion we list the top three things we would want the U.S. government to do if we ran the country, I offered the following as my necessary changes that would result in a complete turnaround to the U.S.’ sinking prospects and fortunes.
Let’s preface this with the observation that the country is currently borrowing about a trillion more per year than it takes in, and has done so to the tune of $20 trillion – a sum so vast it can never be paid back unless the value of the currency drops to nothing from printing it. The U.S. has gone, since it abandoned the gold standard, from the largest creditor in history, to the largest debtor, in a matter of a couple of generations.
With that fact in place, here are my suggestions, two of which involve how to climb out of the debt hole and fund necessary infrastructure repairs and investments in the nation’s future, and one in how to ensure that future isn’t populated by mouth-breathing morons.
I’ll start with where the money would come from to fund things, and finish with how to ensure lasting prosperity versus moving deck chairs around on the Titanic:
1) Close all military bases in foreign countries, end all wars of aggression, slash the military budget by 90% so it’s more in line with what every other nation on the planet spends for defense (as opposed to waging war), and limit our military to defending the geographical U.S., not acting as the aggressive, warmongering police force for the rest of the world. That would simultaneously free up a massive amount of money, and reduce terrorism by at least that 90%, as most won’t give up their lives to attack a state that isn’t murdering its demographic.
2) Free college to all citizens if they can pass an aptitude test. Why? Because it’s an investment in our future, and an educated citizenry is one that can make more informed decisions and build a better future.
3) End the Federal Reserve. Why? A privately owned bank that creates money from thin air and charges the nation to use it via usury is the single largest drain of prosperity ever conceived, and ensures that wealth isn’t evenly divided, but rather, becomes unevenly concentrated in a few hands – hands that do nothing but create money from thin air while everyone else must labor to get it. Also, the inflation effect of unsound money ensures that the masses lose buying power of their savings and so are always behind, and that those who labor for pay are constantly losing, as the scrip they’re paid in loses value. It’s servitude, and the basis of most of the nation’s inequality and problems. Solve that, and you don’t need to rejigger the tax system, which is simply trying to use confiscation to right a social ill whose basis lies in the form of currency used, and the lack of prosperity it inherently creates. Unsound money always favors those who issue it at the expense of the rest, and enables society’s parasites to corrupt every institution with the currency they print from thin air.
Do those three things, and the prosperity of the nation would skyrocket within less than a generation.
To my last point, most don’t realize how currency is now created in the U.S., or that it’s in violation of the Constitution. The Constitution establishes only two forms of lawful money: silver and gold coin. The framers were more than conversant with fiat, paper currency issued by private banks – they’d seen it drain the prosperity from England, and when imposed on the colonies by the King’s insistence they use Bank of England notes instead of colonial scrip, drain the prosperity from the land of plenty. They wanted none of it, for good reason.
In 1913, the Federal Reserve act was passed, which created both the Fed, and the IRS. Why the latter? Because if you’re going to create money from thin air, you need a mechanism to suck it back out of the market so you don’t create runaway price inflation from all the new money chasing the same goods and services, and the IRS was that mechanism. Of course, an unapportioned tax on labor was unconstitutional, which it was then and is now, but the IRS got around that when it lost in court prior to WW2, by establishing a voluntary 4% tax during WW2, and the citizenry became so used to this voluntary tax, most kept on sending in their 1040 and check even after the war ended. That monster morphed since into an authoritarian bully that demands you pay a tax you aren’t liable for, at gunpoint, and refuses to furnish any proof there’s a law requiring you to pay it – there isn’t – preferring to point to court decisions that back it in legalese that’s impossible to decipher for the average person, as opposed to a law.
That tangent aside, most don’t understand how U.S. currency is created, so I’ll explain it in abridged form. For every dollar on deposit in a bank, the bank is allowed to create $9 from thin air when it makes loans. You get a mortgage, for which you’re going to pay the bank 2-3 times what you borrowed over the 30 year term, and it did nothing to get that currency but tap a few keys. That’s it. Poof, new currency, which it collects the interest on for 30 years and did zero to earn, and for which it will confiscate your house if you fail to make the payments. If that seems like it’s fraud that stacks everything in favor of the currency creators, you’re correct, but the Congress sold you down the river, and made fraud the national monetary system in 1913, when it delegated the right to issue the nation’s currency to the Fed (which the Constitution doesn’t allow, incidentally – nowhere in it does it grant the Congress the ability to delegate its duties, and currency creation is the job of the Treasury), giving this privately owned cartel of private banks control over the nation’s currency. The nation’s prosperity was a foregone conclusion from there.
So end that scam, and suddenly you have a tremendous amount of wealth retained in the country instead of paid to a privately owned collection agency (the IRS, owned by the IMF) for the Fed.
As to terminating the perpetual war machine that is the military industrial complex Eisenhower warned about in his final presidential address, that’s a simple one. Stop fighting wars for oil, heroin, and to destabilize nations that don’t want to go along with your empire building, dismantle the war department, and focus on defending yourself against direct attacks. That’s it. Defending the country, not waging endless wars using “defending our interests” or “freeing the people” or “bringing democracy” as the excuse to allow war profiteers from looting the treasury year after year. None of the wars fought since I was born are to defend anything but the privilege of elite corporate interests, and the children of the poor die to do it. It’s unjust, wasteful, and extremely expensive, and we need to stop this insanity before it kills us all.
With the additional prosperity those two steps would create, you could fund free education, effectively end poverty within a generation due to the massive boom that would ensue, and enrich everyone except the very small clique at the top that currently amasses all the wealth while creating nothing of value.
Or continue as we are, and watch the wealth continue to concentrate at the very top, leaving the nation, and the world, living on a planet it no longer owns, slaving just to make ends meet, working for masters for whom you are nothing more than ants, pawns in a game you don’t even understand, whose lives matter not in the slightest.
So far my new one, The Goddess Legacy, is getting stellar reviews, for which I’m heartened, because I honestly believe it’s a great book. I know I’m not supposed to say that, but it’s how I feel. Anyone, especially any authors, who want a textbook example of pacing, twists, reversals, action, and plotting, and especially how outlining can add to story complexity rather than dampen creativity, are encouraged to read it. If I only wrote one book as a sample of my approach, this would be the one.
On other matters, I’m halfway through JET – Forsaken, and it’s turning out well. This will be the eleventh, or thirteenth, JET tome in the series, depending on how you count them, and I’m happy so say that the character and premise haven’t grown stale. I think fans of the series will enjoy it, and am looking forward to its release in November.
After that, I write a novella for a friend’s Kindle World, and that’s it for this year. Then I have to sit down and figure out what to release next year, because if I’m going to have a release in January or so, I have to write it in October so the editor and proofreader can work their magic. So perhaps a month off, and then whatever that is begins, keeping me out of trouble for the foreseeable future.
I’m toying with a trilogy in the DAN world, and probably another JET, another Ramsey’s, and a BLACK. If no trilogy, I have two ideas for stand-alones, one that might get me killed so I am reluctant to write, the other of which is an interesting premise, and would be the start of a new series featuring an investigative journalist in the southwest. That one’s percolating and seems likely to happen. I’m also still toying with my WATER trilogy idea, but I kind of want to co-author that one for more breadth in the world and story than I currently have.
So that’s what I’m up to. If you haven’t picked up Goddess, you could do worse. It’s a hell of a yarn, and one I’m proud of. Now off to conjure up more JET excitement. Idle hands being the devil’s…you know.
The newest novel in the Drake Ramsey series, The Goddess Legacy, is now live, and if you’ve never read any of my work this would be the book I’d recommend. It represents the apex of my approach to pacing, plot, and story development, and there isn’t a wasted scene in the nearly 100K words.
It’s rare as an author when you feel you got it completely right. I would have to say the first novel in my post-apocalyptic series, The Day After Never, feels that way, but it’s a relatively short work at 75K words, and was setting the stage for the development of characters that would have to carry multiple books, so there were some practical constraints in terms of how fast it could move. The Goddess Legacy takes established characters that are fully formed, and plunges them headlong into mayhem that escalates at every turn, so it can barrel along with joyful abandon with the reader along for the ride.
To say it’s a fun read is an understatement, in my opinion. I’m rather proud of this one. It moves like a runaway train, and just keeps accelerating through to the denouement. Almost every chapter has a twist, a turn, a reversal, or an unexpected surprise, and many have all of those and then some.
That’s the pitch. If you enjoy books in the tradition of Clive Cussler, James Rollins, and Dan Brown, and movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, you should be in heaven with The Goddess Legacy. Best of all, even though it’s the third book in the series it’s written so it can be read as a standalone, so you can pick it up even if you’ve never read the first two, just as you could enjoy Da Vinci even if you hadn’t read Angels and Demons, or Raise the Titanic if you hadn’t read Clive’s earlier books.
Try it. If you don’t like it, refund it. That’s a zero risk proposition. My hope is it gets widely read. I haven’t been this excited by a release in a long time, and this one really feels like it’s hit all the right notes. Hope you think so, too.
Guess we’ll know soon enough.
I’m penning the latest installment in the JET series, titled JET – Forsaken, and wanted to share the cover, as well as the news that it’s available for pre-order at Amazon. I’ll have it up at iTunes and B&N shortly, so wherever fine, or not so fine, ebooks are sold.
Here’s the cover. I don’t want to give too much about the story away, except to say asses will be kicked, and the fecal material will smite fans.