5 Ways to Break your Writer’s Block

Few things are as disappointing as sitting down to write and finding that you have nothing to say.  Maybe you have an idea of what to write but you just can’t get the words to come out right.  Maybe you’re looking for fresh inspiration.  Whatever your situation, here are five ways to kick start your muse.

1.) Create a Playlist

This is my go-to tactic to get in the mood.  Some people have favorite bands who inspire the imagination.  My favorites are usually Pink Floyd, Vast, Radiohead and (appropriately) Muse.  Another tactic is to use specific songs that fit the atmosphere or tone of what you’re writing.  For example, my ghost story set in Louisiana had me listening to “House of the Rising Sun” and “Hotel California” on repeat.

Want something without lyrics that you can use for a specific scene?  Go on YouTube or Google “D&D background music” to find the sounds of taverns, towns, chases or whatever fits the scene.  (Movie soundtracks are great for this too.)

2.) Pick a Writing Prompt

Ok, but what if you’re completely out of ideas with no idea where to start?  Try looking up some writing prompts.  Set a timer and force yourself to free write for an hour to whatever the prompt is, and see what spills out.  Here’s some sites to get you started:

There are tons of these out there, so if that doesn’t do it for you, get over to Google and do some digging.

3.) Get to Know Your Characters

A big cause of writer’s block is that you’re dealing with characters you don’t know very well.  If you know who your characters are – their wants and needs, how they’ll react when you put them in a dire situation – then you can work on giving them conflicts that will enhance the story and build towards their arcs.

Great!  So how do I get to know someone who doesn’t exist, Liz?  Well, short answer: personality quizzes.  (Don’t laugh.)  Try some of these and fill them out like you’re answering for a particular character.  The quizzes themselves might be dumb, but it’ll rewire your brain to start thinking like them, and treating them like a real person.

Want a deep dive that’s more than just the usual Myer’s Briggs?  Check out the Enneagram personality test.  I did a cursory search for that link but there are a few of these sites out there that can go pretty in-depth.  Even better, some sites explore how the types interact with one another, so you can see how your characters might get along – or not.  Try it out and see what insights it unearths.

4.)  Transcribe Passages from Published Works

This is more for when I know what I want to say but the words aren’t coming out in the right order.  If I’m having trouble just forming sentences, I’ll pull out a favorite book and skip to a scene I like, or one whose voice or word choice I envy.  Then I’ll physically type or write out the passage word for word.  Not just read it, but actually transcribe it.

There’s something about the act of manually putting one word in front of the other that reminds me what writing is supposed to feel like, and what a complete sentence looks like.  It sounds dumb, but honest to god, it really helps to mimic polished writing until I can take the training wheels off and go wobbling off on my own again.

5.)  Don’t Write

This sounds counter-productive, but sometimes the best way to write is to not write.  Has it been a long day/week and you’re completely spent?  Have you slept well lately?  How are are your eating habits?  When was the last time you got out in the sunshine?  If you’re not taking care of yourself, then writing is probably going to be a struggle for you.  Well, more than usual.

Make sure you take time for some self-care.  Turn off social media, go take a walk and let your mind wander.  Go get bored.  Boredom is a great way to break writer’s block, but you can’t get bored if you’re on Twitter all night or binge-watching Netflix.  You’d be surprised what comes to you when you’re able to decompress and let your mind wander.

Anyway, those are my go-to solutions for writer’s block.  Did I miss any of your favorites?  Got a writing prompt site that’s the best thing since shredded cheese?  Post it in the comments and help each other out!  Until next time, happy writing!



I just checked on the Kickstarter this morning and we are FUNDED for Welcome to Miskatonic University!  Whooooooo!


If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can click here to check out my previous blog post where I talk in detail about the anthology project.

There’s still time to back the Kickstarter if you want to be sure to reserve your copy in advance, and just a reminder that they’ve also got a stretch goal to fund the second volume, It Came from Miskatonic University which has even more awesome Lovecraftian stories.  Here’s more info about that:

“In the second, It Came from Miskatonic University, the setting and mood shift slightly as some of the barriers to that unknown are stripped away. So either the main character (or the whole setting) already knows some of the secrets to the unknown or the protagonist is themself part of the “unknown,” being a part of that secret world—whether a Deep One trying to save her human girlfriend or a powerful sorcerer on a mission—and thereby becoming a direct window to that unknown for the reader. These are the narratives where weird fiction blends with fantasy and science fiction. When the unknown has been revealed, accepted, and possibly even incorporated into the setting, we are flitting across weird fiction’s borders with other speculative fiction. It’s almost as if you’ve been learning a thing or two during your stay at MU.”

You can read more about it in this third interview with Scott Gable, which no lie, posted about an hour after my blog post went live on Wednesday.

Thanks, and stay tuned for updates as this project goes to print!

Welcome to Miskatonic University Kickstarter

Hi all!  I have some pending news I wanted to highlight today, which is a little different from my usual M.O.  Those who stop by will note that I like to announce whenever one of my stories is available to read, either online or when the publication drops.  Consider this something like a pre-announcement.

My Lovecraft-inspired short story, Through Cryptic Caverns, the Shoggoths Come at Night has been selected for inclusion in the upcoming anthology, Welcome to Miskatonic University brought to you by the fine folks at Broken Eye Books!  I had a lot of fun writing for this one; here’s what to expect from the anthology in their own words:

Welcome to Miskatonic University brings you modern tales of good ol’ MU. Each story shows a slice of college life at this storied and magical institution, steeped in the occult and part of the strange town of Arkham. Come visit this fascinating New England university—where science and magic, tradition and experimentation go hand in hand—and the quiet, secretive town on which it relies.”

My own contribution is the story of Bernice Jackson, a closeted southerner looking to get as far from home as her mother will allow.  She takes up residence in Waite Hall, where the campus – and her classmates – are not always what they appear to be…

Unfortunately you can’t read it yet, since this story’s publication is pending funding from their Kickstarter.  I’m a firm believer in advertising a product rather than soliciting donations, but if you back the Kickstarter for at least $7 you get a copy of the digital anthology, so this is more like reserving a pre-sale copy.  And hey, if you want to spring for a hard copy ($20 – $35) I’d be happy to sign it if you send it my way!

They’re funding two anthologies, with my story appearing in the first volume.  I read over the bios of my fellow contributors and their stories looks pretty cool as well.  Here’s a little more regarding what types of stories are in the two volumes:

“The first, Welcome to Miskatonic University, represents the first half of that spectrum. These are the tales with the unknown at their core, where relatively normal people in a relatively normal world come face to face with the unknown, and we get to see what happens. These are the stories most tightly anchored to our reality, to what we now. In the second, It Came from Miskatonic University, the setting and mood change a bit. And this isn’t a binary—not an either-or; it’s a spectrum with gradation in how these elements change. In these tales, that next layer of secrets have been stripped away. (It makes perfect sense that, after a century of uncovering secrets, a college might not be the same as it was.)”

If you want to know more about the project you can check out the Kickstarter page, or read up on the publisher’s interviews with A.C. Wise and Hellnotes.  Thanks for checking it out, and if it sounds like your cup of tea then I’d encourage you to contribute to the Kickstarter to make sure you get a chance to read it.

Thanks in advance!

Publisher’s Spotlight: Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores

I’m usually looking for somewhere to send speculative stories with a fairy tale bent, so today I’m happy to share submission information from Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores.  They open for subs in two weeks, so mark their next submission window on your calendar and take a look and what they’re interested in below!

  • In their own words: [Author’s note: this is where I normally copy/paste their description but they disabled that function on their website.  So the following is a paraphrase instead of the usual quotes.]  Well written speculative fiction in various forms from around the world.  Accepts serious and humor.  “If you use real existing science, please get it right.”
  • Genres they accept: Science Fiction, fantasy, myth, legend, fairy tales, and eldritch.  Also interested in fact-based articles and artwork.
  • What NOT to send:
    • Hard sells:
      • Vampires
      • Werewolves
      • Monsters in general
      • Anthro
      • Robots with feelings
    • Don’t send:
      • Horror
      • Hate
      • Blood and guts
      • Explicit language
      • Excessive violence
      • Angsty romance
      • Fan fiction
      • Sex
      • Axe-grinding
      • Downers (“Stories that leave readers feeling they’ve had the energy and joy sucked out of them.”)
  • Word count limit: 1,000 words or more, with shorter works preferred.
  • Payment: $0.06 per word for new fiction, $0.02 for reprints.  (See website for fact-based work rates.)
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: No.
  • Multiple Submissions**: No multiple subs to the same genre.
  • Reprints: Yes.
  • Schedule: Next window to submit: March 21 – 28, midnight EST to midnight EST.  Other submission windows are June 21 – 28, September 21 – 28 and December 21 – 28.

Also, they offer feedback upon request: “We don’t offer a comprehensive critique and will only mention the points that were most essential in our decision.  Please remember this is only our view, but you may find it helpful in potential rewrites.”  Interested?  Submit here!

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  Their published stories are freely accessible on the site.   You have no excuse not to do your research and see what kind of style gets their attention.  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.  “But Liz, I–” Nope!  No, no, no.  If you do not follow the rules you risk being a pariah to that magazine – and worse, editors can exchange notes on who’s being a pain.

Happy submitting!

  • *This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.
  • **This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.

Video Essay Spotlight: Storytellers

If you’ve been hanging around here, you’ll know that I have a recurring series where I highlight short story publishers and give you the low down on what they accept and how to submit.  Today I’m proud to introduce a new series highlighting video essayists.

Why video essayists?  Well I, like many others, binge-watch an awful lot of YouTube.  Lately, my favorite content has involved some sort of meaningful dissection on the art of writing which helps me better understand myself, my process, and how to improve as a writer.  I’ve learned a lot from these channels, and I wanted to share some of their work with you.

First up is a channel called StorytellersThe following essay on how to write like a professional is what first drew me to their site.  I go back to this video time and time again for a pep talk when I feel like I’m not generating the content I want to at the rate I’d prefer.  It reminds me that yes, writing is hard, and lots of other writers feel this way too.  But it’s not an insurmountable problem, if you can overcome that resistance.

Highlights from this video:

“The professional knows that the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work sets in motion a mysterious process that produces inspiration.  The amateur waits for inspiration.  The professional knows that it will come after he starts.”

“Playing for money is the device he uses to adopt a working man mentality. As Pressfield states, the muse of inspiration loves a blue collar work ethic.  She loves the working stiff and hates prima donnas.”

Further reading:

If you love this video, check out more Storytellers content on YouTube.

If you love this video and want to pay them money to produce more content, consider supporting them on Patreon.

Want to know more about Steven Pressfield’s thoughts on professionalism?  Here’s the book that’s quoted on Amazon.com.  Feel free to pick out your favorite quote on Good Reads and tack it to your writing inspiration board.

Bards and Sages 2017 Writing Competition

I am over-the-moon excited to announce that I placed first (!) in the 2017 Bards and Sages Annual Writing Competition!  I got the news a couple days before we crossed over into 2018 but couldn’t share until the official announcement went out this week.  Suffice it to say that I needed those days to collect my thoughts, lest my post on the matter be a series of excitedly jumping gifs.

(As opposed to just the one.)

Anyway, I’m really excited about this one because in addition to being my first win, the piece I wrote, Confessions of a Post-Modern Galatea, was one of my very first completed stories.  The original version wasn’t much more than a flash piece, but over the years it was revised and revised and revised until about a year ago, when it settled into its own at just over 6k.  I’m very proud of all the work I put into it, and extremely excited to share it with the world.

You should be able to read it as part of the Bardic Tales and Sage Advice X Anthology, set to premiere in August of 2018, most likely.  (I’m guessing based on past release dates.)  And if you want to get in on the action yourself you should check out information about next year’s competition, due to post in about April.

I’m really glad I kept working on this one for as long as I did, and I’m incredibly thankful for my writing group for giving me advice, edits and support over the last few years as I worked on this and many, many other submissions.

A strong start to 2018; here’s hoping it continues.


The 7 Deadly (Submission) Sins

It has been quite a year.  I admit that I had a rough…oh…six months or so…. when it came to submitting my stories, but I’m slowly getting myself back together after falling off the wagon.  I haven’t been out of the game that long, but some recent experiences prompted a conversation on best submission practices.  Today we’re going to look at some of the most common problems from both authors and publishers.

Not Following the Guidelines

Let’s start off with the number one frustration from publishers: not following their guidelines.  Literally every publication has guidelines for what they’re looking for.  Guidelines usually encompass the following specifications: genre, content, length, and manuscript formatting.  They will let you know who to send it to, what to include, how to include it, and some will even let you know when to expect an answer and how much you’ll get paid.  Every publication is a little bit different, and even ones you’ve submitted to before might update their preferences.  Read the guidelines, follow the guidelines.

Not Posting the Guidelines

I’m a proponent for equal opportunity bitching, so let me take a moment to address the publishers.  Dear editors: how are we supposed to follow your guidelines when you hide them, or worse, scatter them across multiple pages?  I don’t know who got the bright idea that formatting instructions should be separated from content guidelines but apparently that’s a thing lately.  If you must do this, such as in the event of a limited-time content call that’s separate from your usual slush pile, at least link the pages to each other.  The harder the authors have to work to research your guidelines the more likely they are to screw it up.

Too Many Guidelines

This goes with the above point, but suffice it to say that if your guidelines ramble on for longer than your max accepted word count, you’re doing it wrong.  Authors don’t have time to wade through a wall of text trying to figure out what you want and don’t want.  I don’t care why you think Courier is the devil; you do you.  And frankly, you don’t owe me an explanation.  But if you ramble on about it for three paragraphs I’m going to miss your note about single spacing and headers and then we’ll both be pissed.  If your formatting is really that specific just ask for a plain text file and copy/paste it into your preferred style.  Or learn to love Shunn, your choice.

Improper Sim-Sub Etiquette

When I first started submitting, simultaneous submissions were a huge no-no.  For those who haven’t heard this term, a simultaneous submission is a story that you’ve sent to multiple publishers.  At the time, most publishers wanted to be the only one taking your story under consideration.  If they rejected it, you were free to send it somewhere else and await their answer.  As an author, this was frustrating because the wait times could be arduous.

Nowadays most publishers (but not all – again, read your guidelines) are okay with sim-subs if—IF—you let them know if it’s been accepted elsewhere so they can remove it from their list.  That said, you know what’s coming, right?  You have to keep track of where you sent the story and let them know if it’s off the table.  And don’t be shady – if a publisher says no sim-subs, don’t try to get away with it anyway.  You’ll just piss them off if you have to withdraw it.


Don’t we all.
Arguing with the Publisher

Just… just don’t.  The publishers don’t owe you an explanation regarding their inner workings.  If they say “no pdfs” assume they have a good reason for it and move on.  If they reject your story without telling you why, accept it and move on.  Most won’t give anything more than a standard rejection anyway – they don’t have time to give you notes and doing so will only mean you’re more likely to argue with them.  Rejections are non-negotiable.

Note: Arguing is not the same as asking for clarification.  In the case of unclear (or, ahem, missing) guidelines it’s acceptable to send a quick note to the appropriate contact e-mail address, although commenting on a post or tweeting at them might be faster.  Don’t pester.  Please God don’t threaten.  What are you, an asshole?  You want to get blacklisted by that editor and everyone she talks to?  No, no you don’t.  Stop it.

form rejection
I could post these comics all day.
Poor Communication Skills

Publishers, answer your email.  Update your site.  Tweet once in awhile so we know you’re still out there.  It doesn’t bode well when there’s a long period of radio silence.  Did the magazine fold?  Are they behind schedule?  Why haven’t they updated their slush pile queue list since 2013?  We get it, you’re busy.  We’re all busy.  But if queries go unanswered we’re pulling our subs and going elsewhere.  You’re only hurting potential business by not having an active presence.

Same goes for terse, rude communication.  Most publishers are professional enough that if they don’t have anything nice to say about your writing, they won’t say anything at all.  As a writer, that can be frustrating, because you don’t know if you were close to hitting the mark or whether your sub was passed around the office for a good laugh.  Still, rude rejections are not the same as constructive criticism, and as a publisher it makes you look unprofessional, not helpful.  Writers compare notes too, you know, and you don’t want the good ones walking away because you trashed-talked a newcomer.

Thinking that You’re Special

This goes for both authors and publishers.  Neither of you has time to bullshit around.  Publishers have thick slush piles to wade through, and authors want to find a home for their piece so they can get paid.  Authors, don’t ask for special treatment.  Don’t expect special treatment, especially if you willfully ignore the guidelines that the publishers have posted.  You get precious little time to make yourself stand out and you don’t want any of that attention to be negative.

Publishers, hate to break it to you, but you’re not all that special either.  If you make things difficult or put excessive burdens on your authors to do all the layout formatting (or market your publication for you…) then they will go somewhere else.  Authors have more opportunity than ever before to self-publish, or to find another market.  If you’re going to compete with the various online publications and $0.99 kindle downloads it’s important to attract and retain quality content.  Try to meet them in the middle and you’ll get better submissions – you know, ones from people who actually read and follow your rules.


All right folks, there you go.  Did I miss any irritating habits?  (Probably.)  Have I ruined my chances for ever getting published again?  (Depends on if publishers have a sense of humor about themselves.  …So yeah, this was probably a terrible career move.)  Are we sick of rhetorical questions now?  (Most certainly.)

Anyway, if you feel like getting in on the action feel free to post your own pet peeves and guilty confessions in the comments, and let me know what habits REALLY needs to be corrected.


Phobos: Deep Black Sea now available!

I’m pleased to announce that my latest short story, “The Shipwrecked Sole Survivor” has been published in Phobos Issue Four: Deep Black Sea! This issue is now available in print on Amazon.com and should be available later on for Kindle.

If you’re interested in dark tales of what lies beneath a calm sea then you will love this issue!  It contains thirteen short stories, flash fiction and poetry including one by yours truly.  Check it out and be sure to leave a review so others know what you thought!


You may remember Phobos from the Publisher’s Spotlight  feature for this issue nearly a year ago.  They are currently closed for submissions but be sure to check out their website and follow them on twitter for updates on their next theme.

3 Virtues of a Successful Writer

I’ve seen a number of articles discussing what not to do when it comes to writing, but when it comes to habits to emulate the advice seems to dry up.  After all, every writer is different – what works for some may not work for all.  So rather than habits, let’s talk about three virtues that all successful writers seem to have and how to translate those into success for yourself.

A Diligent Work Ethic

“I don’t like to write, but I love having written.”

It’s a common sentiment among writers to prefer accomplishment to the work that goes into actually writing something.  But if you’re ever going to be successful you have to learn how to finish what you start.  “Finishing” can mean any number of things from polishing a not-quite-there piece to actually sitting down to write in the first place.

It takes self-discipline to practice your craft, and not just the writing part.  You need to read your contemporaries as well as the classics.  You should have an idea of the history of your genre and be aware of where it’s headed with new publications.  You have to market yourself and engage in writing communities.  You have to research possible publishers and polish your work until it’s ready to submit.  Successful writers put in the work.


Successful writers acknowledge their flaws and want to improve their craft. You can’t do that without a dose of humility.  It can be tempting to write off publishers because they don’t understand your genius, but is it really helpful to tune out legitimate criticism?  When publishers tell you “No,” respect their decisions and use it as an opportunity to reflect and improve.  Listen to your editor, your beta readers, and anyone who is willing to read your work and offer helpful suggestions.  You don’t have to take every piece of advice you get, but humility means accepting that your work may not be perfect as it is.

In the same vein, humility can mean respect for fellow authors.  Sure, we’ve all read something we didn’t like and secretly wondered “How on earth did this get published?  My stuff’s better than that!” But with some humility you can take a long, hard look at what it is that made them successful and learn from it.  That will translate into success for yourself, rather than jealousy.   And as you get more experience, respect the up-and-coming authors who are trying to break into the market.  Successful writers pass on what they’ve learned to those who share their aspirations, rather than viewing everyone as competition.

A Resilient Spirit

This is sort of the opposite of humility.  It takes a lot of self-confidence to stare down a contest and say “Yeah, my story could win that.”  Submitting is an act of bravery, and perseverance in the face of rejection is the most important of all virtues.  Success does not come easy. As I said above, you have to put in the work.  You finish what you start.  You revise.  You take advice where you can get it.  Sometimes you do it all over again and the answer is still “No.”

Successful writers don’t give up, even after all that.  The great thing about writing is that you can do it for your entire life.  You never stop learning.  You never stop improving, so there’s no reason to get impatient with a lack of success.  The submission you send out today is bound to be better than the one yesterday because you’re always improving and evolving.  And if you put in the work and are humble enough to actively seek to improve yourself it’s really only a matter of time before that effort is rewarded.  But you can’t give up before that happens – not if you want to be successful.

What say you, readers?  Is there anything I’ve missed?  Anything you disagree with?  Leave your suggestions below in the comments so we can all learn from each other!