Finish Your Novel: 15 books, 11 Tips, and expert quotes

Every writer gets stalled, derailed, distracted or discouraged, but it’s a topic most of us like to hide under the rug.

At the June 2019 California Crime Writers Conference we focused a bright light on the dark subject of writer’s block. And we had fun with it.

I moderated the discussion as panelists Elaine Ash, Wrona Gall, Nadine Nettmann and Dennis Palumbo (who emailed his contributions) discussed techniques for powering through the roadblocks and nurturing the muse. Dennis even addressed reasons to celebrate the dreaded writer’s block. 

Here’s a list of our go-to guides to writing and the writing life:

·      Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

·      How to Fix Your Novel, Steve Alcorn

·      If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland

·      On Writing, Stephen King

·      Revising Fiction: Making Sense of the Madness, Kirt Hickman

·      Save the Cat, Blake Snyder

·      Save the Cat Writes a Novel, Jessica Brody

·      Screenwriting Tricks for Authors: Stealing Hollywood, Alexandra Sokoloff

·      Self-editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King

·      Stein On Writing, Sol Stein

·      Structuring Your Novel, K.M. Weiland

·      The Emotion Thesaurus, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

·     Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg

·      Writing from the Inside Out, Dennis Palumbo

·      Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass


And here are our favorite tricks and tips:

·      Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard

·      Write as long as you can, even if it’s 15 minutes. Write longer tomorrow.

·      Take your muse for a walk. Regular exercise is more important than you think.

·      Join a professional writing association and get involved.

·      Outline – no matter what an outline looks like to you.

·      Utilize the skills of librarians, particularly children’s librarians, in your research.

·      Write first thing in the morning

·      15-minute sprints (Moonlight Sonata is 15-minutes long)

·      Critique Groups

·      Fit writing in whenever you can, wherever you can.

·      Something, even something awful, is better than nothing.


And here’s Dennis Palumbo’s valuable analysis of writer’s block:

In a nutshell, I think writers block can be good for writers because it usually augers a growth spurt on the part of the writer, usually because what the writer is working on is more difficult than usual. And that sometimes leads to blocks. Maybe he/she is writing something personal for the first time, or trying a novel after usually doing short stories. Or trying to write in a different medium or genre. Whatever it is, most writers try to stretch and grow as storytellers, and that process always involves narrative and/or stylistic struggle.


Moreover, I think writers block is an important and necessary developmental step in the growth of a writer. Like a toddler has to struggle to stand and walk, until he/she masters the developmental step of walking, so too a writer has to struggle to navigate a block. The reason I think blocks are important developmental steps for a writer is because every writer I know who's navigated and worked through a block invariably believes he or she is a better writer on the other side of it. They've made a move forward in their development.


Remember, writing is hard: blocks are common. Where they really damage a writer on the psychological level is when the writer gives the block a particular, self-recriminating meaning. For example, "If I'm blocked, it means I'm not a good writer." Or "If I'm blocked, it means the story is bad." Or "I bet Michael Connelly never gets blocked." Or "I guess my parents were right and I should have gone to med school. I obviously don't have what it takes."

If those tips don’t do the trick, here’s what some of the experts have to say:

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Mary Feliz