Why was my submission rejected?

So, you’ve done the hard work of writing your short story, editing it to the best of your abilities and sending it out to a publisher.  Then, a few weeks later an e-mail pops up in your inbox: thanks but no thanks.  “So what went wrong?” you may be asking yourself. Why was my submission rejected?

First off, you’re in good company.  This year was one of my best in terms of output with 45 submissions and 4 acceptances, but you’ll notice that even then I’m only at a 10% acceptance rate.  That’s a lot of ‘no’s.  So many that I default assume that a submission e-mail is a rejection before I open it.  (And statistically I’m right.)

But anyway, we’re not here to sulk or boast, we’re here to talk about what you can control and how to improve.  So let’s look at three reasons why submissions are commonly rejected and how to keep yourself in good standing.

It Wasn’t a Good Fit

Ooh, tough break, kid.  Probably the highest tier rejection; your piece was good, but not quite good enough to make the cut.  This can be for a number of reasons:

  • Your story might not have worked well with the others that were already selected
  • Your story might’ve been similar to another one, and they chose that one instead
  • If this isn’t for an anthology, it could just be a timing issue – I got a rejection once because my story featured a unicorn in the opening scene and “we’ve just seen too many unicorns as of late.”  (For the record: the unicorn only appeared in that one scene but hey, their fault for not reading past the first page.)

How do I know if this is me:  Sometimes a publisher will be kind enough to offer feedback or tell you how close you got it.  Maybe you got a second-round confirmation but didn’t make the final cut.  You can also check out the anthology to see what did make it in and see if your piece might not have worked well with the other content.

How do I fix this:  Check out other publishers.  Your best bet with a good story that didn’t make the cut is to send it somewhere else, preferably somewhere where your style and voice fits right in.  Be sure to give it a cursory read-through when you get it back to see if it has any glaring errors or if you need to revise the content for the next publisher.  Then, send it back out there and try, try again.  At any rate, don’t despair.  Most stories will get rejected a few times before someone picks it up.  In the meantime, make sure you’re reading the publications you submit to.  It will give you a better sense of what styles they like and which pieces you should send them in the future.

It Needs Work

So your story has been out to a few publishers and hasn’t gotten any takers.  It might be time to swallow your pride and admit that this one might need a serious revision before you send it back out there.  If you want to explore what might not be working, I suggest going back to the Content Checklist and make sure that your story doesn’t have any major issues with any of the three core story components:

  • Pacing: does it drag?  Is it confusing?
  • Characters: are they interesting?  Do I care what happens to them?
  • Conflict: did anything meaningful happen?  Was it a satisfying conclusion?

How do I know if this is me:  Publishers will rarely tell you why a piece isn’t working for them, but if you go awhile without any notes whatsoever it might be time to solicit some feedback.  Do you have over five rejections?  Over ten?  When was the last time you revised it?  Read the stories the publisher selected and compare them to the story you sent them.  Are you writing on the same level as the competition?  Check that above link for more details on common content issues if you think this might be you.

Another note: it’s possible that if you have an objectively good story and you’re just aiming too high to compete.  Are you submitting to only pro-rated publishers that pay $0.05 per word or more?  Are they the kind of publisher who only prints established authors, winning Hugos and Nebulas year after year?  I’m not saying don’t submit to them, aim as high as you please, but maybe curb your expectations a little.  The competition is that much fiercer at the pro level.

How do I fix this:  Revise.  Start there.  You know that nagging feeling in the back of your head that says this flash fiction piece really ought to be expanded but you don’t want to because that’s a lot of work?  Listen to that feeling.  Same thing if you have a 10,000 word epic that drags in the middle.  Learn to kill your darlings.  You’re going to have to learn how to make those hard edits if you want to be published.

If you’re having trouble figuring out what’s wrong with the story, make friends with some writers on Twitter.  Join a writer’s group through MeetUp, or even ask someone who knows something about what makes a good story.  If I have a story that I know is good but has problems, I will send it to a publisher who routinely gives out feedback just so I can get their professional opinion.  And no matter what kind of feedback you get, be open minded.  Sometimes the best thing for a story is a complete re-write.  It can be tedious, but you have to put your ego aside and do the real work to whip it into shape.

Lastly, if you’re aiming for the big leagues, you might want to try a less competitive publisher with semi-pro pay rates.  Build your skills in the minor leagues while you work up some credits and keep trying for those pro-rated markets.  They’re tough to get into, and there’s no shame in missing the mark.  Even successful authors get rejected; it’s a numbers game.  That said, keep revising.  You’ll never consistently get into the pro markets if you don’t sharpen your skills.

You Done Goofed

I really debated skipping this one, but it shows up so often on the list of publisher’s pet peeves that I figured it was worth a nod as one of the top three reasons for rejection.  To recap, this is for all those submissions where you messed up:

  • Sent in content that didn’t fit the submission call
  • Didn’t follow the word count limits
  • Ignored the formatting (either on purpose or because they stuck it somewhere obscure on their website)
  • Either did not read or assumed that the rules did not apply to you

How do I know if this is me:  Did the rejection come back so fast you wonder if they read past the first paragraph?  They might not have if you didn’t follow the rules.  To be fair, maybe you missed some rules on accident, but this is more of a problem with carelessness than content.  And if you deliberately ignored the rules in order to stand out from the crowd?  Hoo boy.  Sit down, we need to take you back to square one to explain basic etiquette and how not to get yourself blacklisted among publishers.

How do I fix it:  Read the directions.  This is an easy fix, guys.  If you thought you could get away with being careless, you can’t.  If you thought ignoring the rules is clever, you’re probably going into the reject pile before they even open your file.  We all make mistakes, but you’re only going to improve your acceptance count if you learn from them.


So there you go!  Got any tips on how you improved your own rate of acceptance?  Questions about how to revise?  Post ’em in the comments and share with the class!

Happy submitting!

Advertisements

What’s the difference between Suspense, Thriller and Action Adventure?

Hi guys, this is going to be another NYC Midnight genre primer post.  In the past we’ve discussed the different flavors of the comedy genres, particularly political satire, but this is another common issue that vexes NYC Midnight contestants.

Every year I see the same flurry of panicked tweets and forum posts asking if anyone knows the difference between thriller and suspense.  I’ve had my own issues with it in the past, but after some diligent research I think I can help shine a light on where the categories overlap – and where they differ.

To start with, let’s take a look at NYC Midnight’s official genre definitions before we break this down a bit further (I’ve edited them down to their core components for brevity’s sake, but the full definitions are linked above.  Emphasis mine.)

Summary of Genre Definitions

Suspense: A story that slowly generates feelings of anxiety, anticipation and uncertainty in the audience. Common elements: slower pace, heightened anticipation, audience knows more than main character, dramatic music.

Thriller: A fast-paced, gripping, plot-centered story…usually the protagonist is in danger from the outset. These fast-paced stories typically involve major threats…and the attempts to prevent something from occurring. Common elements: faster pace, action scenes, plot twists, prominent villain, “ticking clock” timing.

Action-Adventure: A suspenseful story in which a mission involving risk and danger forms the primary story line…Action sequences are frequently featured, especially those involving chases, explosions, and attacks. Common elements: likeable hero, unlikeable antagonist, physical action, fast pace, violence, changeable setting.

Ok, so now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the three areas that best define these genres as a group: Pacing, Plot, and Dramatic Tension.

Pacing

Pacing is the most obvious way to define these genres, which is why I grouped them together initially.  Think of it as a sliding scale, with Suspense on the low side, Action-Adventure on the high side, and Thriller somewhere in the middle.

Pacing scale

Suspense has the slowest pace, with tension gradually building to a climax. Thriller is more fast paced, and centers around what happens after the danger has been established.  If suspense is waiting for the shoe to drop, thriller is the sequence that follows the reveal.  Action-adventure is also typically fast paced, but the scenes more often involve direct conflicts such as fight scenes or escape from imminent danger, whereas a thriller can have more of a psychological element that’s common in suspense.

Plot

Like pacing, plot drives the story for these three genres.  Don’t think of plot as how complicated the story is (it’s flash, you won’t have room for complex twists) but rather, what is the conflict and how does it play out? 

Suspense, with its focus on anxiety and building tension, can have a much more mundane set of external events while focusing on the internal conflicts or employing dramatic tension (see below.)  Action-adventure is on the other end of the spectrum with more overt conflicts between two opposing forces, be it a conflict with a nefarious villain or the natural environment as in disaster movies.

Thrillers fall in-between by having a more action-oriented plot than suspense, while still digging into the complex psychological aspects that make suspense so engaging for the reader.  You want to capture that edge-of-your seat feeling here more than either of the other two genres.  In terms of content, thrillers are one of the hardest genres to define because they blend so well with other genres:

Thrillers provide such a rich literary feast. There are all kinds. The legal thriller, spy thriller, action-adventure thriller, medical thriller, police thriller, romantic thriller, historical thriller, political thriller, religious thriller, high-tech thriller, military thriller. The list goes on and on, with new variations constantly being invented. In fact, this openness to expansion is one of the genre’s most enduring characteristics.

But what gives the variety of thrillers a common ground is the intensity of emotions they create, particularly those of apprehension and exhilaration, of excitement and breathlessness, all designed to generate that all-important thrill. By definition, if a thriller doesn’t thrill, it’s not doing its job.

— 45px, 45px, James Patterson, June 2006

For all three genres, you want to make sure that the stakes are high.  Tension is a major factor in these genres, and you can’t have that if the outcome doesn’t make a impact on the protagonist in a meaningful way.  The conflict can be a perilous situation, a threat of impending disaster, or even something that is important to the protagonist on a personal level.  Stakes need not be world-ending cataclysms, but they still need to be high enough that engage your reader throughout the full narrative.

Dramatic Tension

Here we come to the part where the genres branch out most distinctly. Dramatic tension asks: who knows about the conflict, and how is it conveyed through the story?  The biggest difference comes from how the tension engages the reader.  A key point in the above suspense description is that the characters don’t know about the danger, but the readers do.  Alfred Hitchcock said it best:

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence.

Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one.

In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”

Alfred Hitchcock (full quote available here.)

This is what makes suspense distinct.  In a thriller or action-adventure, the protagonists are often aware of their predicament and are fighting to resolve the conflict.  To continue Hitchcock’s analogy, a thriller would involve the characters attempting to defuse the bomb and engaging the readers with the tension of their actions, whereas suspense draws its tension from the dramatic irony of knowing something the characters do not.

It’s important to note that suspense, like thrillers, can also blend with other genres, most notably horror.  Thrillers can also overlap with horror, but as noted above, that type of horror is the kind you’d find in 80’s slashers, whereas suspenseful horror is more likely found in gothic stories and weird, Lovecraftian tales.  For more on the creeping dread-like qualities of the suspense in horror, check out this video below:

Conclusion

The most important thing to note when comparing and contrasting these genres is that they exist on a spectrum.  They often share many traits with each other and the variance is mostly due to the intensity of their story components.  You should feel free to explore different flavors of these genres as well: try a suspense that doubles as a mystery.  Make your action-adventure a swashbuckling historical fiction piece.  Spy thriller?  Absolutely.  These genres are limitless in their possibilities, so don’t freak out too much about what is and what is not allowed, so long as you engage your readers with a tension-filled narrative.

Want a typical example of each you can read right now?  Check out:


Got any tips to share with the class?  Questions about what may or may not qualify?  Leave a comment and let’s brainstorm some examples together!

 

Publisher’s Spotlight: Bards and Sages Annual Writing Competition

So, y’all may remember last year, when my short story, Confessions of a Modern Galatea, took first place in the Bards and Sages Annual Writing Competition.  Well, I have two pieces of follow up good news: the first is that you can find my winning entry in this year’s Bardic Tales and Sage Advice: Volume X (also available in hard back) and the second is that the 2018 Competition is open for submissions!

Ready to win big?  Check out the below summary for submission guidelines:

  • Summary of the contest: Dating back to 2002, the Bards and Sages Annual Writing Competition originally started as a stand-alone event to benefit the International Women’s Writing Guild.  Following their subsequent successes, in 2009, Bards and Sages decided to showcase contest winners in an annual publication.

“This year’s competition will benefit local animal shelters. The winners of this year’s writing competition will be able to direct the charity portion of their prize to their own local animal shelter.”

  • Genres they accept: This year’s competition is open to all fiction genres except romance, erotica, young adult, and children’s literature.”
  • Word count limit: Up to 25,000 words.
  • Entry Fee:  One Entry: $5, Two Entries: $9, Three Entries: $12
  • Prizes Awarded
    • Grand Prize
      • $250 Donation to the winner’s local animal shelter
        • or animal charity of choice
      • $250 cash prize
    • 2nd Place
      • $100 Donation to the winner’s local animal shelter
        • or animal charity of choice
      • $100 cash prize
    • 3rd Place
      • $50 Donation to the winner’s local animal shelter
        • or animal charity of choice
      • $50 cash prize
  • Simultaneous Submissions: “Simultaneous submissions are fine with us. No need to point it out. Just let us know if it is accepted elsewhere so we can remove the story from the queue if needed.”*
  • Multiple Submissions: You can send up to three stories. “If sending multiple entries, please attach all entries at once. Do not send multiple emails for each entry.”
  • Reprints: “Stories that are previously published but not currently available for sale are eligible, but you must specify where the story was previously published when submitting.”
  • Schedule: Open for submissions now through October 31, 2018.  Winners are announced in January, 2019.
*Note: I read this on their general submission guidelines page, so I think it still applies.  Double check my work and think real hard about if you want to be in the position of turning down prize money because someone else accepted your piece before January.

Additional information:

Read the publication:  This is where I’d normally point out what a good idea it is to read the publication and see what kind of stories they enjoy.  You can check out my winning entry from last year as well as the other stories in Bardic Tales and Sage Advice: Volume X.  You can also check out what they publish in Bards and Sages Quarterly by signing up for their newsletter.

Read the guidelines: Please, please, please read both pages for comprehensive guidelines to enter.  I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  They have guidelines specific to the contest, but you should also click on the second link for formatting requirements.  (Read them well in advance of the deadline; they’re not standard manuscript and they are very specific.)

Good luck and happy submitting!

“Wolf Daughter” now available to read on NewMyths.com!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but the end of summer has been crazy around here.  I almost caught my breath and then hurricane Florence came through, so my posting schedule has gone to the dogs.  …Or, well, wolves in this case.

At any rate, I’m excited to share my latest publication, Wolf Daughter with you today, which was published over at NewMyths.com earlier this month.  It’s a take on Red Riding Hood that I’m especially proud of, and I’m so happy that it finally found a home!

Wolf Daughter went through a series of rejections and rewrites for the better part of 2017, and made the short list in early January before it was accepted in April.  I don’t normally share this kind of info, but sometimes it’s helpful to know just how long the publication process takes, even for shorts that are published online.

The story is free to read online so be sure to check it out.  You can read the whole issue for free as well, and if you like what you see, you can send over a donation at the bottom of the page, or donate to their Kickstarter to support their upcoming Best of NewMyths anthology.

Want to see your work published by NewMyths.com?  Check out their submission guidelines and be sure to mark your calendar for January, when their next submission window opens.  (I haven’t made a Publisher’s Spotlight entry for them yet, but I likely will when they’re open for submissions again.)

Thanks for reading!

 

Video Essay Spotlight: Just Write

Time for another Video Essay Spotlight.  One of my absolute favorites is the YouTube Channel Just Write by Sage Hyden.  Each video is akin to a mini-lecture on various writing techniques and how they work when applied to a particular movie or TV show.

“But Liz, we write fiction not – ugh – scripts.

Well, first off, slow your roll, imaginary strawman reader, or you’re really going to lose your mind by the time I get to Lessons from the Screenplay.

Anyway, what I love about Just Write is how Hyden breaks down writing concepts and gives a clear example of how to use them, and why they work.  Take a look at last week’s upload for a primer on flat characters and characters arcs, for example.  In it, he discusses where we break the rule of character arcs and why it works – specifically in terms of Paddington, with nods to Back to the Future and The Hunger Games.

If I had to level a criticism, it would be that the earlier videos are titled by the media that they’re dissecting and not the lesson we’re supposed to be learning.  So if you click on the Wonder Woman video, for example, you won’t know until you start watching that the subject is “bathos” and where sincerity fits in a culture that’s oversaturated with irony and anti-heroes.  This naming convention makes it harder to remember the lessons he’s already covered, or circle back to get a refresher on areas where your own writing is lacking.  On the other hand, it does help you avoid spoilers for media you haven’t seen yet.

Further reading:

If you love this video, check out more Just Write content on YouTube. (And sorry, one more plug for their Game of Thrones video on everything that was wrong with Season Seven’s writing.  It was really cathartic, guys.)

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

Special plug: if you pledge at the $10 level: “You’ll get my email where you can send me a sample of your work-in-progress, whether it’s a novel, screenplay, or a short story, and I’ll give you notes on possible improvements. ” (I’m not sponsored by him or anything I just thought that was a pretty cool option.  Who doesn’t love feedback?)

Lastly, check out the website for blogs and other content.  The reading list is pretty cool, I see those books quoted fairly often in writing craft videos.

Publisher’s Spotlight: “Release the Virgins!” Anthology

By now y’all should have figured out that I have a wicked sense of humor, so when I read about this publication call I HAD to share it.  It’s an anthology entitled Release the Virgins! after all.  So let’s take a closer look:

  • In their own words: “Submissions are open for short stories that include, somewhere in the story, the phrase “Release the Virgins.”  An email proposal is required to make sure you are not duplicating an idea already reserved by one of the accepted authors. “
  • Genres they accept: Humor, obviously.  Anything else isn’t specified one way or the other.
  • Submission tips from the editor:
    • Avoid unicorns. I’ve already had a bunch of proposals about unicorns and even if the submitted stories are all good, I’m not going to want to have more than one or two unicorn stories in the anthology. We want variety.
    • Be creative. If it looks like you just took a story you already had and found a way to work the phrase into the story in such a way that I could remove the phrase completely and it wouldn’t hurt the story, then I will probably not accept it. The phrase should be relevant and necessary to the story.
    • Don’t send me a proposal with spelling and grammatical errors. I mean, duh.
  • Word count limit: 5,000 words.  “A good but padded story may get rejected over a concise, fast-moving one, because we want to fit in as many stories as possible.”
  • Payment: 5¢/word
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: Not specified, but you have to send a proposal first, so why would you send it anywhere else?
  • Multiple Submissions**: Same thing; I doubt they’ll accept more than one proposal idea.
  • Reprints: Doubt it, but you can ask when you query.
  • Deadline: September 1, 2018

Reminders when submitting:

I’m going to skip my usual spiel since this is a one-time call.  Here’s what you need to know:

  • An email proposal is required to make sure you are not duplicating an idea already reserved by one of the accepted authors. Send to michael.ventrella@gmail.comDo this first.
  • Want more info?  Click here for full guidelines, updates and formatting preferences.

One final reminder: Read their guidelines, follow their rules.

Good luck, and happy submitting!

“Quality Protection Guaranteed” now available in HAVOK!

I’m so excited to announce that my short story Quality Protection Guaranteed(TM) took first place in HAVOK’s Rampage! Monsters vs. Robots contest issue!  This is the second of my stories to make it into HAVOK, but the first placing in one of their contests.  More details on the issue below!

Monsters vs Robots
God I love this genre.

Do you love giant monsters battling insanely oversized, impractical battle mechs?  Of course you do.  And why wouldn’t you?  From Pacific Rim to Voltron, Power Rangers, Evangelion and Godzilla this genre kicks some giant ass.

You can get your hands on a copy by clicking here to order print copies or getting the Kindle edition through Amazon.com.  Have Kindle Unlimited?  Download it for free!

Speaking of free, did you know that you can get a FREE digital subscription to Splickety’s flash fiction magazines just by joining their mailing list?  Click that link to check it out and never miss an upcoming issue!

If you’re eager to see your own fiction in print you can check out their Upcoming Themes and Deadlines page – there’s a Halloween issue coming up and the deadline is July 27.  Want to know more about the other Splickety imprints?  They were featured in this Publisher’s Spotlight post.  Be sure to check the updated guidelines in case any details have changed.

Thanks for checking it out and happy reading!

Publisher’s Spotlight: Factor Four Magazine

I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but recently Shimmer announced that it will be closing down.  Any time a long-time publisher closes is a sad day for authors and readers alike, but I wanted to jump in and say that hope is not lost.  Even though we’ve lost some of the greats, new publishers with new opportunities are coming online every day.  Today’s publisher premiered just four months ago, and released their second issue this past Sunday.  Let’s welcome Factor Four Magazine to the party, shall we?

  • In their own words: “We publish flash fiction in the genres of speculative fiction, specifically science fiction, fantasy, supernatural, super hero, or any combination of these. We are looking for stories that are engaging to our readers in such a short word count. Please take note of these factors (pun intended) when submitting stories to us..”
  • Content limitations: We are okay with foul language and sexual activity within a story, provided it fits the story well. We do not publish erotica.
  • Word count limit: 1,500.  According to their notes, under 1,000 is preferred and 750-1,250 words is the “sweet spot.”
  • Payment: 8¢/word U.S. based on their word processor’s word count and excludes title, author information, etc. “The minimum payment for a story is sixty (60) U.S. dollars. Payment is made no later than the date of publication via PayPal.”
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: No
  • Multiple Submissions**: No
  • Special Note: You will be required to submit through their HeyPublisher portal on their website.  You must create an account; doing so is free.  (It’s not a huge obstacle, the whole process took me about two minutes when I made my account.)

*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.

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  You’ll need to subscribe to see what content they publish, but it’s $4 for the year, which is less than a single issue of most magazines.  Reading the magazine will help you get an idea of what their style preferences are, so you’ll be able to tell if you’re a good fit.  (Or, if you’re like me and you writing varies, it will help you narrow down which submission to send.)  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar to a recently published story.

Also – and I feel like I need to point this out, especially considering Shimmer’s closing – support your publishers.  Buy their content.  Read your contemporaries and follow them on social media if you’re so inclined.  Writing is a small community, and it’s important that we contribute to its future.

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!

Video Essay Spotlight: Terrible Writing Advice

Man, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I could really use something funny right about now.  Sometimes real life gets in the way of writing even small things (like blog posts) and I fall off the radar for a couple of weeks months.  So, with that in mind, let’s check out something lighthearted and dripping with sarcasm.

This is Terrible Writing Advice by J.P. Beaubien.  It comes exactly as advertised: tongue-in-cheek advice on what-not-to-do relayed through clever little animated videos deconstructing story tropes.  I’ve posted the Chosen Ones video below, but you should definitely check out the many, many other videos here.  They are equally hilarious and a good way to poke fun at ourselves as writers.

I’m a big fan of the phrase “write harder,” which is my go-to piece of advice whenever I think a fellow writer is leaning on lazy cliches or predictable plot points.  Watching these might make you a little self-conscious about your own writing habits, but it’s good to recognize where our own writing falls short by relying on trends.  Once you realize it, you can revise with that in mind and try to deconstruct the tropes – I promise both you as a writer and your stories will be better off for it.

While you’re at it, I recommend taking a look at Beaubien’s website, where he goes into full detail on what he actually thinks of the tropes he’s dissecting.  I’ve linked the page on Chosen Ones, so you can read the full analysis on why we love – and hate – that trope.

Got any of your own terrible writing advice?  Have an opinion on a video series that’s a must-see I need to cover?  Drop it down in the comments!

Happy writing!

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!