Video Review of Mervyn vs. Dennis

I’m still at the stage in my writing career where every review is special to me. I’ve recently had a couple of great ones from talented bloggers Shaun Green and Sadie Forsythe , who both wrote insightful and witty critiques of Mervyn vs. Dennis. Alongside these, something new and exciting has just happened: my first ever video review. It’s by J. Cassidy (or perhaps Faye Kename) who runs a great blog called 6twistedbiscuits specialising in comedy and book reviews. She’s also a talented writer and game developer herself, so be sure to check out her site and work too. Here it is:

Don’t forget to like and subscribe to her channel!

Interview: A Friend We Later Regretted

Here’s a quick interview with me about Mervyn vs. Dennis:

The Hungry Monster Book Review

Niels Saunders Author Interview Niels Saunders Author Interview

Mervyn vs. Dennis is one of the funnest books I’ve read this year. Mervyn struggles with keeping his strange and intrusive boss out of his personal life. What was the inspiration for the relationship between Mervyn and Dennis?

Most of us have made a friend that we later regretted. I wanted to take that idea to its furthest extreme. Likewise, unless you’ve never worked or been extremely lucky, you’ve probably had a boss who made your life a living hell. Both of these situations are familiar comedy tropes but I wanted to combine them into something fresh. In both personality and outlook, Mervyn and Dennis couldn’t be more different. Mervyn is liberal and open-minded whereas Dennis is bigoted and mean-spirited. I wanted to explore whether two such disparate men could ever reconcile their differences or if they’d clash until the bitter end. During the writing process…

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Writing Tips: The Author as God

The Author as God by Niels Saunders

Don’t mess with Zeus

As an author, you are god to your characters. No matter their religious beliefs, when your characters pray to their own gods, they are really praying to an empty sky. You, as god, decide which prayers to answer and which to ignore. Likewise, if your characters are atheists, you choose whether to fulfil or crush their irreligious hopes and dreams. As authors, we play god, and we have to choose what kind of god we’ll be. Will we be a vengeful and interventionist Old Testament style deity? Or will we be a caring and peaceful god who loves their characters like their own children? The choice you make will make a huge impact on the style, tone and content of your story, so it’s wise to consider what kind of god you’ll be before you start writing.

Playing God by the Rules

First off, you need ground rules. In my writing, as god, I have control over luck, the weather and coincidences. This means if a character goes to a casino, it’s entirely up to me whether they win or lose. Likewise, I decide if it’s sunny or rainy. This is where John Ruskin’s pathetic fallacy comes into play. We can use the weather to mirror a character’s emotions or we can use it ironically as a contrast. It’s something of a cliché to have a broken-hearted character walk through rainy streets but it doesn’t have to be so dramatic. A depressed character, for example, is more likely to notice the grey clouds in the sky than the warm and pleasant breeze on their face.

Don’t Reveal Yourself

As god, you have a responsibility not to reveal yourself. Imagine having a character who won the lottery ten weeks in a row. Both your character and your reader wouldn’t believe it. By fixing the odds irresponsibly, you’ve broken the reader’s suspension of disbelief and also likely driven your character insane. They might, understandably, start to believe they’ve been blessed by a higher power. This would cause them to act irrationally and doubt the very order of the universe itself. This could make a good starting off point for a story but you’d have to balance all that good luck with something else to satisfy the reader’s desire for order. If a character prays, they are actually praying to you. If you choose to answer back, you’ll have to accept the consequences.

Telling a Good Story

What does a good story typically need? Conflict. As god, it’s your job to engineer situations whereby characters will find themselves entrenched in conflict. This is where it starts getting tricky to be a benevolent god. If you grant all your characters’ wishes, your story will be over. Therefore, you have to take a step back and allow your characters to achieve them on their own. Unfortunately, happiness is rarely interesting for long. To tell a compelling story, we need our characters to struggle and suffer. For the greater good of your story, you have to be cruel to be kind. As always, though, it’s a balance. Be too cruel and the reader may become so depressed they can’t even finish your book.

The Power of Free Will

As a god, you have a lot of power, but you also have your limits. Never force your characters to do things they don’t want to. It’s tempting to do this if you have a great idea and want the character to fulfil it, but I can guarantee one thing: if you allow your characters to make their own decisions, they’ll do something more interesting than what you had planned. If you force your godly will upon your characters, there’s a good chance your characters will revolt and you’ll suffer from writer’s block. Throw as many obstacles in their path as you want but never influence their will. If you want to change their mind, try doing it obliquely through metaphors and coincidences. In this way, your characters’ interaction with their god (you) may well mirror your own interaction with God (if you’re a believer).

Do You Believe in Fate?

If you’ve sketched out your story in a plan, you may have plotted the deaths of certain characters. In my experience, these rarely change. This might contradict what I said above about free will but if you’ve decided a certain character is fated to die, it’s likely you’ve foreshadowed that death and made it such an integral part of the story that they simply have to die. This is one place where, as an author, you can make death mean more than it does in real life. Whereas death in our own world often seems random, pointless and cruel, in our stories, death is a narrative device to drive or resolve conflict. Have fun killing your characters but make sure it means something.

Authors Work in Mysterious Ways

As writers we are bound to the conventions of storytelling. Readers expect mysteries to be revealed and conflicts to be resolved. As the author, it’s up to you choose if you’re a fickle god or not. Will you punish the good guy and reward the bad? Will the wishes you grant be double-edged swords? A lot of it is guided by the kind of story we want to tell, whether moralistic or nihilistic. For the sake of a good story, I tend to put my characters through the wringer. On more than one occasion, I’ve had characters directly curse me, as their god, for the situations I’ve engineered. The weird thing is, I adore them all. My characters are like my kids. Even though I love them, I want them to have compelling stories, so I make bad things happen to them (which I wouldn’t wish upon my real life kids).

What Kind of God Are You?

Are you benevolent? Malevolent? An interventionist? Do you agree that characters should have their own free will? Let me know in the comments!

Update: Here’s a great  piece of flash fiction from mythicalmusingsblog that was inspired by this post!

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20 Questions ~ Chapter 3

Here’s 20 questions about me via the very talented Evie Gaughan’s blog.

Evie Gaughan

book_nerd1

Next up for the quick-fire round of 20 questions is newcomer Niels Saunders.  The most important thing you need to know about Niels? Do Not Challenge This Man To A Chili Eating Competition!  You will lose.  And if you want to find out why he’s holding a pineapple, you’ll have to read his book.  Take it away Niels!

Niels Saunders, Author of Mervyn vs. Dennis ‘God I love a good pineapple’

1. Hemingway famously said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Where the hell do you find the motivation to stick at it?
Once I invent a character, they’re extremely pushy. They demand to have their story told and won’t let me rest. Writing is the only way I can get them to shut up. Stories are like secrets : they demand to be told. As storytellers, it’s our duty to tell them the best we…

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Mervyn Vs Dennis – Books

Here’s quite possibly the most heart-warming review of Mervyn vs. Dennis so far.

6twistedbiscuits

* * * * * * * * * * 10/10

Niels Saunders

I have no idea how to begin this review. I can say that it became one of my new favourites. Like, ever. It’s going on the Top Shelf. Only three other authors have a place on the Top Shelf.

There’s a lot of humour, and a lot of darkness hiding away under it. It’s like a person. A charming, funny person that you love to be around but spend a lot of time thinking about because there’s something about them that isn’t quite sunshine.

Mervyn is in need of a job so he pretends to be racist. So his tale of woe begins, brought entirely on himself. His ultra-racist and super-allergic new boss is a grade-A tosspot who somehow manages to wriggle his way into Mervyn’s life deeper and deeper like the slimy worm that he is.

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My First Month of Book Promotion: What I’ve Learned

First Month of Self Promotion

I’ve been a busy bee

Just over a month ago, I self-published my novel Mervyn vs. Dennis on Amazon. A lot’s happened since then and I’ve been much busier than I expected. Here’s a fairly self-congratulatory list of the things I’ve managed to do in 5 weeks:

  • Design my cover
  • Buy a pineapple
  • Buy a larger pineapple from a different supermarket because the first one looked a bit pathetic and not bristly enough
  • Take a load of profile pictures
  • Eat both pineapples
  • Format my manuscript for Kindle and other devices
  • Write a new blurb (this actually took hours)
  • Completely redo my cover because I’d done the whole thing in the wrong size
  • Write a bio
  • Create an author site for Amazon
  • Buy a domain name and create my own website
  • Revamp my personal Twitter account into a more authory one
  • Write my first 4 blogs
  • Feed the cat
  • Start a Goodreads account and make an author profile
  • Make some business cards with AR codes on the back
  • Redo the cover again for my paperback copies
  • Design the spine and back cover for my paperbacks
  • Get the paperbacks printed
  • Create a Facebook author page
  • Organise a Goodreads giveaway
  • Start a Mailchimp newsletter
  • Pick my nose
  • Start Pinterest, Tumblr, Stumbleupon and scoop.it accounts
  • Write personalised emails to every relevant book review blogger on the internet, offering them review copies (this took days)
  • Contact many of Amazon’s top 100 reviewers, offering review copies
  • Organise a Librarything giveaway
  • Change some nappies
  • Promote an Amazon giveaway
  • Run Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads advertisements
  • Send out paperbacks to interested reviewers
  • Write this massive list of things I’ve done

Self-Promotion and Advertising

So how has it all gone? Well, I haven’t exactly stormed the bestseller charts and I’m not writing my Pulitzer acceptance speech yet, but it’s gone as well as I could’ve realistically hoped. I announced the launch on Facebook to friends and family and many were kind enough to buy a copy. From there, of course, sales died down. I paid for a promotion package at Awesome Book Promotion to coincide with the launch and for the following weeks. I’m not sure how effective this was. All those initial sales I can largely trace to friends and family. The ads may have given me some good exposure and customer awareness but I’m not convinced they directly led to any sales. It may have worked better if timed with a giveaway rather than a launch.

I ran a few Amazon advertisements, using the pay-per-click method. So far I’ve manged to sell a grand total of 3 books through this method and have spent more than I’ve earned. I do get a lot of impressions but there’s no way of knowing how many people have actually seen the ad. I’ve cancelled the more expensive campaign and kept the cheaper ones running for now. I also did some Facebook and Twitter advertising and got quite a lot of clicks from my call to action but no actual sales I can account for. The way they sell their advertising packages is extremely tempting. The more you’re willing to spend, the more clicks you get. You can actually buy your way to success (and bankruptcy). Twitter was the most expensive and probably the least effective method.

What I’ve Learned About Self-Publishing

Start as early as you can

This was the best advice I read many times before I self-published, and it’s also the best advice I ignored. This is typical of me, however, and I’m not sure how else I would’ve got anything done. To get sufficiently excited about promoting a book, I needed a book already sat there on the internet. The sensible thing to do, of course, is start promoting your book before you actually publish it. Get some early reviews in, drum up some excitement, organise a giveaway, get your paperbacks printed–that sort of thing. For me, the pressure of having a book already out there gave me kick up the butt to start promoting. If you can, you really should start early. Don’t be like me. Please.

Bookbub is king

I’ve done a lot of research on all the different promotion sites and Bookbub is definitely the promo don. If you can get your novel on Bookbub, don’t think twice about the cost, just bite their hand off. Mervyn vs. Dennis was rejected for a promo, most likely because of my lack of Amazon.com reviews. I’m working on this, though, and have a few reviews coming in from bloggers that should help my chances next time. Getting Mervyn vs. Dennis included in a Bookbub sale is one of my next main targets. Wish me luck!

People want your money

There are a lot of books out there and every author wants to be read. The vultures have realised this, too, and there are many dodgy places that will take your money in exchange for competitions, reviews or promotions. I’ve seen competitions that cost £100 to enter and what do you get for winning? A badge to stick on your site or book cover that you have to pay to download. I’m not even kidding. There are also countless Twitter-based promotion sites that will tweet about your book to their thousands of followers in exchange for cash. I’m still undecided about these. Some do have a lot of followers but many just seem to follow each other. They’re also, of course, followed by the authors who’ve used their services and not, more importantly, by people who want to read good books.

Free promotions work

I ran a free promotion for Mervyn vs. Dennis over one weekend and took out a Books Butterfly promo to advertise it. This went really well, with over 1500 downloads. I’d also done a lot of promotion off my own back including emailing countless sites who kindly agreed to add my sale to their newsletters and feeds. The very next morning after the giveaway, I received the following wonderful 5 star review on Amazon.com:

By Kindle Customer on July 31, 2016

This book was actually fascinating; although set ten years ago there was so much concerning racism and homophobia it could have been written in 2016. Besides all that it was often hilarious and totally lol funny:) I was mildly surprised that I read it all in one go. Although there were other things to do, I couldn’t put it down. The relationships between Mervyn and Dennis, Mervyn and Clyde, Cecil, Sara, Adam were all totally enthralling. If you enjoy well written stories with quirky characters and interesting plots, this book is for you.

Whoever you are, Kindle Customer, thank you! Just this one review made all my self-promotion and the giveaway worthwhile. There are also a few people currently reading Mervyn vs. Dennis on Goodreads and I’ve had some more newsletter subscribers. It’s easy to think that I gave away 1500 copies of my book and lost potentially a thousand pounds in royalties, but most of those downloads were in America where there are still plenty of sales to be had.

The free promotion also sent me to the top of the charts in my genres at Amazon.com. Mervyn vs. Dennis was the number one most downloaded title in both satire and comedy. Getting to the top, largely thanks to the Books Butterfly promotion, must have also resulted in people simply downloading it because it was number 1. It’s the opposite of a vicious circle, which pretty much sums up self-promotion: you’re either in a vicious circle or a positive one. It’s hard to break out of the vicious one and you’ve got the make the most of the positive one while it lasts. Overall sales have increased since the promo so perhaps I’m getting some good word-of-mouth as well.

People are really nice

The most surprising thing of all, especially considering that this is the internet, is how nice people have been. I’ve had many complete strangers, and old friends I thought I’d lost contact with, contact me about my book and how much they enjoyed it. Instead of the depressing slog I imagined it would be (it’s been a slog for sure, just not a depressing one), the whole process has been rather heartwarming. I got my paperbacks printed mainly as promotional items for reviewers and prizes but holding the first one in my hands was a lovely moment. They look a lot better than I expected and kudos to BookPrintingUK for the fantastic job they did on them.

It’s time consuming and addictive

Right now there are several things I’d like to work on for my next phase in self-promotion. Writing this blog is one of them. After this, there’s an interview I need to do. There really is no limit to the amount of work you can put in. It’s an all-consuming activity. I’m constantly checking my emails for news from reviewers and checking the Amazon kdp site for my updated sales figures. It’s great to wake up in the morning and see I’ve sold some more copies or that someone’s read the whole book in one day through the Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) tracking. To my profound shame, I’m rapidly becoming one of those people who check their phone every 5 seconds.

Reviews are hard to get

Getting good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads is one of the most important factors in the success of an ebook. The problem is that many friends are worried about writing something that comes across as dumb or trite. Meanwhile, with random people, they understandably can’t be bothered. I’m just as bad myself–I rarely write reviews for products on Amazon, so I totally understand when people don’t do them either. The problem is, I suppose, people underestimate just how important they are. Even just a two line review makes a world of difference. So if you’ve read my book but haven’t reviewed it yet, please do! It doesn’t have to be an Ebert-style analysis, just something short is absolutely dandy. It really makes a massive impact on sales and my chances of getting a Bookbub slot. I have actually added a grovelling request at the end of my book asking for reviews but, silly me, I didn’t do it before my free promotion, so most people only got the newsletter request. Hey ho!

Pinterest and Tumblr are weird

I still don’t understand them. Can someone explain them to me?

Should You Self Publish?

In my opinion, yes! I decided to self publish as something of a last resort and I’ve found it much more enjoyable and exciting than I imagined. I’ve got a clear plan for the future and I’m currently editing my next novel Grand Theft Octo which will hopefully be out in a few months. The only problem I’ve faced is never having enough time. Striking a balance between writing and promotion (let alone home and social life) is really difficult. It’s always appealing to write something new but there’s always the temptation to do a bit more promo in case you find a brand evangelist who’ll recommend your novel to the whole of the internet.

Check Out These Great Blogs:

Here are some great blogs with more invaluable tips and advice on self-promotion:

A really useful and interesting guide on advertising

Some great tips and warnings about self-publishing

Getting your self-published book into high street bookstores

Self publishing and the fear of marketing

Making peace with self-promotion

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Overcoming Writer’s Block: Which Type Do You Have?

How to deal with writer's block

The first step in overcoming writer’s block is knowing what type you’re suffering from. That’s right: there are many kinds of writer’s block and they all need different remedies. The classic image of an author scowling at their typewriter with a blank sheet of paper is a common enough problem but writers are just as likely to get blocked in the middle of a story as they are at the beginning. So let’s go over all the different types and how to overcome them.

Starting a New Chapter

This one can be a real pain. It might be the very first scene in a book, a chapter from the middle or even the epilogue. You know what’s meant to happen but, for some maddening reason, you can’t start the chapter. So you try to write regardless but it feels awkward and trite. Then you start to wonder if you’ve got the whole story wrong. Self-doubt overwhelms you and you question why the hell you chose to write a novel in the first place. Don’t give in to despair, though. When you’re suffering from writer’s block at the start of the chapter, it’s not the story that’s the problem but the storytelling.

The chances are you’ve started the scene at the wrong point in time. Your location and choice of characters are probably already spot on, you’ve just picked the wrong moment to get the action going. My advice: arrive late. If you’re having trouble, try starting the chapter in the middle of the action. You can easily explain how you got there through exposition or even a mini flashback. In all the times I’ve had writer’s block at the start of a chapter, I’ve never once resolved it by starting the scene earlier.

I actually used this technique in Mervyn vs. Dennis. The narrative begins in the middle of an awkward job interview. I could’ve started much earlier, when Mervyn (our narrator) was eating his breakfast or printing out his CV. This would’ve been effective to build anticipation before the interview began and to also get a clearer first impression of Dennis. Instead, I followed my instincts. This is simply how the story wanted to be told. Although the reader is thrown in the deep end, it’s into a scene that anyone can relate to. We’ve all endured job interviews. They’re easy to imagine and the reader understands the power dynamic without any explanation.

One word of warning with this method. If you arrive too late in a scene, especially in the first chapter where none of your characters are established, you might end up resorting to an infodump to explain how you got there. Infodumps, by their nature, are more interesting later in a novel when the reader is already invested in a character and wants to learn more about their history. Just think about Snape’s massive infodump in the final Harry Potter. Rowling actually paused the climactic battle to have an infodump flashback and completely got away with it. They can work in the first chapter but they have to be entertaining. Faulkner’s great at infodumps simply because his characters’ histories are so fascinating that you want to know as much about them as possible.

William Faulkner, Master of the Infodump

William Cuthbert Faulkner – Master of the Infodump

Stuck in the Middle

I’ve suffered from this form of writer’s block too many times to count. It happens when you’re in the middle of a story or novel and suddenly the words dry up. Everything you write feels clichéd, futile and wrong. For me it tends to manifest as encroaching despair. I dread the thought of writing and, when I’m working on the scene in question, I’m overwhelmed with pointlessness. I used to misinterpret it as self-doubt but I eventually realised it was my mind’s indirect way of telling me I’d done something wrong in the story.

My most common mistake is forcing a character to do something they don’t want to. That makes them sound petulant. And in a way, they are. Characters have free will (to an extent) and they don’t take kindly to being ordered about. That’s exactly why everything you write feels pointless when you’re suffering from writer’s block. The characters are no longer authentic–they’re doing what you want, not what they want.

This is both a good and bad thing. If you’ve carefully planned your narrative and suddenly a character no longer wants to follow it, what the hell’s going to happen to the rest of the story? In my experience, however, they rarely wander far astray. And the greatest thing of all is this: if you let them choose their own direction, they always take you somewhere much more interesting than where you’d already planned. In a way, they’re helping you discover what your narrative is really meant to be. Often, your characters understand your own story better than you do.

Finding a Solution

So how do you figure out the problem? To be honest, it’s tricky. The first thing you have to do is pinpoint where the writing starts to feel wrong. You may have to backtrack 100, 1000 or even 10,000 words. Find the last place in your text that you’re completely happy with. The chances are that your mistake is somewhere around there. Once you’ve figured out the area, it’s time to work out what’s wrong. This is the hardest part of all. In the past I’ve spent entire weeks mulling over a certain scene that felt off. They’ve typically been solved by light bulb moments just before I fall asleep or while I’m taking a dump shower. The best thing to do is imagine the scene in your mind. Play it over and over and experiment. Try as many variations as you can. Think about what’s happening from your characters’ perspectives, even those that have no narrative viewpoint in your story. Imagine what they’re thinking and feeling and how they could react.

These problems often arise when characters are being reticent. In one scene from The Papyrus Empire, two characters are trying to get information off each other while pretending not to. They both know too much and are trying to drop hints without fully showing their hands. It was an utter nightmare to write and I got seriously blocked several times in a row. Because the characters were being so evasive and ironic, it was difficult to imagine what exactly they should say and do. In the end it just took time and experimentation. If you want to make things easy on yourself, you can always just have straightforward characters who always speak their mind.

Over-complicating

Because we know our characters so well, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of their feelings and motivations. As such, you’ll sometimes find yourself utterly overwhelmed by the scale of the task in hand. This can paralyse you and lead to a writer’s block it’s hard to escape from. When I say complicated, I don’t mean the labyrinthine plot of a neo-noir mystery. The emotions of a married couple can be just as complex as a twisty-turny thriller. If you know your characters well enough, and you’re prepared to look deep into their hearts, you’ll know exactly what makes them tick, both consciously and unconsciously. All this is great for building believable and interesting characters, but bearing so much information in mind can be a burden for the writer.

How best to resolve it? In short: simplify. If you’re ever tangled up in knots, you don’t have to explain your way out with clunky exposition. There’s always a simple solution if you’re prepared to look. Don’t settle for deus ex machinas–your reader might not forgive you. The trick is to find the easy solution while also avoiding plotholes. In Mervyn vs. Dennis, I always knew I wanted Dennis to gatecrash Mervyn’s party. That alone would’ve been easy enough but I needed Dennis to arrive at a certain time. No matter how hard I thought, I couldn’t come up with a believable way that Dennis would arrive on cue. The more I tried to explain his lateness, the more it sounded like I was trying to dig myself out of a plothole.

But then I had a brainwave. I was thinking too much about Dennis. The answer, in fact, was in the secondary characters. Suffering from the fear, Mervyn’s brother Cecil invites Dennis’s ‘sister’ Glenda to cheer himself up. Being the busybody that he is, Dennis intercepts the message and arrives in her place. This way, everyone acts naturally. Additionally, we learn that Dennis sleeps in the same bed as Glenda, giving the reader an extra glimpse into his creepy private life. It’s natural to focus on your main characters but if you ever get caught up in over-complications, think about your secondary characters and how they might be able to help.

A Lack of Ideas

Thankfully, this is one form of writer’s block I’ve almost never struggled with. Right now, I’ve got at least five novels planned out that I could be working on. I’ve never suffered from a lack of ideas, just a lack of time. But if you’re sitting at your computer sighing at that blinking cursor, the best thing you can do is something else. Writers have their own way of looking at the world. We tend to notice things that other people don’t. So if you’ve run out of ideas, it’s time to go out and get noticing. You don’t have to go skydiving or visit a gallery. Even a trip to the supermarket is a potential goldmine of ideas. The most important thing is to look. Steal ideas from the world. You might even have some fun!

It’s easy to blame mobile phones. All in all, I think they’re rather useful, but they’ve also stopped us from having contemplative moments. These days, when people are waiting for the bus, they no longer stare into space. Instead, they whip out their mobile and check Facebook or Twitter for ten minutes. Although waiting for the bus is tedious and painful, those quiet moments when you’re alone with your thoughts are invaluable for solving writing problems. It’s why so many people have great ideas in the shower. It’s a form of meditation where your body acts out a routine, allowing your mind to wander, contemplate life’s disappointments and invent bestselling consumer products.

Instead of sitting down and trying to write a scene from scratch, a great way to come up with ideas is to make up synopses. It’s a challenge I set myself after I finished The Papyrus Empire: writing the synopses for five entirely new novels. They were super cheesy blurbs, full of portentous clichés and dramatic tropes, but one of them ended up becoming Mervyn vs. Dennis. A couple of the others aren’t so bad as well and might even blossom into real novels one day.

Other Writer’s Block Solutions

If you’re suffering from writer’s block and none of my suggestions have helped, it’s not time to abandon all hope just yet. When I’m faced with a baffling scene where nothing seems to work, I print out the section and rewrite it in pen onto a fresh sheet of paper. It’s amazing how often this works. Word processors are great because you can write so quickly–almost at the speed your mind is working at–but sometimes your mind works better when it takes its time. The slower and more deliberate technique of writing by hand allows you to consider each word carefully. Through writing by hand, you’re more connected to the words in a tactile way. Away from the constant distractions and reminders of a computer, all you’ve got is your pen and your mind. It’s you vs. the words, and it works better than you’d think.

Do you have someone to talk to? Even if they don’t understand the details of your story, often just by explaining the scene to someone else, you’ll see it from another angle and realise what the problem is. Thinking to yourself too long can become an echo chamber. All you hear are your own thoughts and anxieties repeated back. By explaining the situation to somebody else, however, you have to reword it in a way so they can get a handle on the plot and the scene. This summarising allows you to see its component parts and spot the weak link.

Other people might tell you to go and write something else. If that words for you, then great. For me, though, it’s impossible. Once I’ve started writing something, I can’t work on something else (unless it’s just editing). They might also tell you to go and take a break. There’s truth in this, of course, but you have to make sure you’ve taking the right kind of break. Try to immerse yourself in as much culture as possible. Highbrow or lowbrow, it doesn’t matter. Your mind will make connections no matter what its consuming. You’re just as likely to find your answer by watching a game show as you are at the opera.

Overcoming Writer’s Block

While some authors never get writer’s block at all, others suffer from it pathologically. In my opinion, the more you care about a story and the characters, the more likely you are to experience writer’s block. If you’re in the business of churning out cheesy thrillers full of plotholes and cardboard characters, writer’s block won’t even slow you down. If you’re suffering from writer’s block, quite simply it means you care. You want to write something exceptional that makes perfect sense, both in terms of emotion and the narrative. Good for you!

Do you have any tips for dealing with writer’s block? Has this blog helped you to overcome a problem? Let me know in the comments below.

George R R Martin Writer's Block

Good luck with The Winds of Winter, George. Take all the time you need!

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