Stuck in a Corner

Photo by Keith Lyndaker Schlabach

There’s a kind of fear most writers have that can inspire a clammy feeling even faster than waiting to hear if a book’s been accepted by an agent or a publisher. It’s the blank mind, particularly when there’s a deadline looming just ahead. Some people call it writer’s block, as if there’s something sitting in our heads that stands between our keyboard and creative brilliance.

It happens to all of us, no matter how long we’ve been writing or how successful we’ve become in our writing careers. However, I have learned a few tricks to remove the blocks and get going so that I don’t go sliding past a deadline and just make myself, and everyone else, feel worse. Even better, occasionally a reader will point out that very spot in a book as their favorite, and I marvel, once again, at how important it is to just keep going without expectations or attachments.

First Tip: Be gentle with yourself. Berating, digging around in your past for reasons, imagining a bleak future, or even waiting for the muse are not helpful. A walk might be, though. Also follow the HALT rule. Are you hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Take care of those first and then get back to work.

Second Tip: Pull out your character descriptions you hopefully wrote out before you started the book, whether it’s fiction, nonfiction or a memoir. Reintroduce yourself to all the idiosyncrasies, some of which you’re not even using on paper, and even add a few if you feel so moved. If you haven’t done this, do it now. We’re the driver on this literary trip, and we need to know all of the passengers in order to see where it’s going.

Third Tip: This one has gotten me out of more than one corner. Write the words, “Once upon a time,” and then let your imagination go. Write whatever comes up and follow the trail. You can delete those four little words later along with anything else you needed in order to get the left side of your brain going again. Most of us were read a fairy tale or two as a child, and those words can often create a sense of wonderful anticipation of what might be coming next. Our brain recognizes that too.

Fourth Tip: Pull out the description you have, however brief, for the arc in the story. That’s the place that’s most climatic, where everything changes. Is the arc still satisfying? Does it need beefing up, more research, more details? Is everything still pointing to that arc? That may be why you’re stuck. You’ve gone a little off course and need to delete some, add some more, so that you’re once again heading toward a big moment. Stories usually have several smaller arcs on both sides that can be used as places to aim toward as well till you’re driving for the ending.

Fifth Tip: Read the last portion you got down on paper to a trusted friend, preferably another writer that you respect. Hearing it out loud may help you hear what comes next. A brief conversation about what you’re writing and where it’s headed next may do the same. If you have to call more than one or two friends, though, you’re serial dialing as a distraction and not to help the writing. That usually leaves me overwhelmed.

Keep in mind that every job has its down days, and even though we love being writers, some days we’re bored or anxious or frustrated. That’s okay, but we have to also keep going because this is a business as well as an art form and someone’s made plans with that deadline in mind. So do your best, hammer out what you can and come back tomorrow. This too shall pass.

Q: What do you do to get out of a literary corner?


Let's all celebrate! (Pic by Photobunny)

Today is both my birthday and my agent, Rachelle Gardner’s birthday. Reason enough to start a party!

As if that weren’t enough, as a bonus to really get in the mood to celebrate I have a few words of wisdom from Rachelle about building a career rather than just selling a book.

I was one of Rachelle’s first clients and right from the start I knew there was the potential for something special. It started with the way Rachelle chooses her clients, the writers.

Rachelle has never been afraid to take on a new author. She now has about 50 clients, 90 percent of whom are new authors, which says something wonderful about her approach to the publishing business. Her intention is to build a strong roster of credible writers rather than make the quick sale. That takes time and talent on both the author and the agent’s part and can be just as rare in an agent as it is in a writer.

“It’s great for me because as agents go, I’m still one of the newer agents, coming up on four years, and it’s kind of neat for me to help build writers from the ground up,” said Rachelle. “Now, keep in mind, I’m making very intentional decisions,” she added, as she looks for writers who have something to say and are willing to work with her.

I’ve had agents before, good agents who quickly sold my work but I’d never had anyone speak to me in terms of a career. Not only in general terms but specific steps I could take if I was interested in making a decent living. Rachelle was doing that from the start even while we were talking about the project at hand. She was taking the long view of me as a writer.

That approach was going to take more work and a lot more patience but has the potential to payoff with steadily rising book sales.

That’s like gold in this business. Continue reading “Celebrate!”

Writing Bible Studies: Feeling the Nudge?

Writing Bible studies is my passion, but it used to scare my freckles white. How are we supposed to improve on the inerrant Word? Thankfully, that’s not our goal. Whew! A good Bible study provides practical, 21st-century application to timeless truths filtered through the author’s life experiences.

So where do we begin? Some writers start with a theme such as comfort or joy. I love to start with a few passages of Scripture that resonate in my heart and mind that I’ve read during my morning quiet time, or heard in a sermon or Bible class. Both approaches work well because they provide a solid starting point.

Whether you’re writing a full-length Bible study, an abbreviated study for a magazine, or teaching a Bible class, I’ve learned there are five basic steps that seldom change. Begin by asking God for His wisdom and guidance, then:

1. Immerse yourself in the scene.

Writing Bible studies involves telling a story, so don’t neglect the scenery, human interaction, or history. Who wrote the passages? Where do they take place? What season is it? What’s the emotional temperature? Is there conflict? Who’s involved? From whose POV is the story told? How is God revealed? What’s the overarching lesson? Incorporating some or all of these elements invites readers to relate on a personal level.

2.  Look up the passages in their original language.

Whether Greek (New Testament) or Hebrew (Old Testament), it’s crucial to understand the accurate meaning of the words used. The Hebrew language contains no vowels, so English translators added them so we could understand the text. But sometimes the interpretations fall short of capturing the original connotation. For example, Psalm 23:3 promises, “He restores my soul.” In the Hebrew, “restores” means “to reset.” In other words, God reboots us! The rich meanings that I learn during this step often alter the trajectory of an entire study.

3. Research the culture of that time period.

For example, it’s hard to understand the depth of love that drove the prodigal son‘s father to run and welcome his son home until we learn that it was utterly disgraceful in that culture for a man of the father’s stature to lift his robes, run, and reveal his hairy knees. (Yes, really!) That cultural detail allows us to grasp on a deeper level God’s passionate pursuit of us when we go astray. Researching the cultural background provides vivid history and valuable insight.

4. Read Biblical commentaries.

Scholars use their theological expertise to point out nuances in the original languages and cultural idiosyncrasies that help you parallel today’s trends. They often cross-reference words, verses, and similar scenarios throughout Scripture that aid your writing perspective. Also, several commentators lived in the 19-20th centuries, so that really cool, old-school writing style lights up my imagination!

5. Use reference books and resources.

Just like the Chicago Manual of Style represents a must-have for fiction writers, Bible study writers need particular resources readily available. I find these indispensable:

Last, but by no means least, every Bible study writer needs to be a faithful student of Scripture. Here’s a handy Bible Reading Checklist to download and tuck in your Bible. It’s a useful tool to check off the books and chapters as you read them.

Regardless of how you approach writing Bible studies, keep writing. Relentlessly ask God to guide you. Your freckles will return, I promise! This process enriches your spiritual journey and provides that same opportunity for others. This may be a tedious process, but you’re not just writing about any story. It’s THE story.

Let’s chat:  If you write Bible studies, what works for you?  If you’ve never written one, what did you find most helpful?

How A Plot-First Writer Builds Character(s)

Don't be put off by the Jim Morrison/The Doors album cover look of this book. It's really great, I promise!

I am a plot-first writer. My story ideas emerge when considering events, real and imagined, and only after all the events are in place do I try to figure characters. While my mind races happily along forming the plot, my brain comes to a standstill when it’s time to zero in on a character to carry the story.

That is, until I found this handy-dandy little book: The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders.

There are dozens of books on character-creation out there and lots of helpful resources online to aid in creating the perfect characters. I know because I’ve tried many of them. Most of these methods involve making endless lists and exploring everything in the character’s past from shoe-size to perfume preference. For some authors this is vital to the writing process, but for me, it is tedious, boring, and keeps me from writing the story.

So I was happy to find a resource that was different. Here are a few of the things from Sixteen Master Archetypes that I found helpful:

  • With only 8 Hero types and 8 Heroine types, this book narrowed my initial character questions to only a few possible answers. Yet the types are broad enough to encompass lots of individual quirks while being distinct enough that your character will fall into a category quite easily.
  • There are multiple examples from books, tv, and movies to illustrate the different archetypes. I’m a visual person, and I love being able to pinpoint who my character is like from a pool of characters I already know. (Example, is your character a Free Spirit? Think Dharma from Dharma & Greg or Phoebe Buffay from Friends. Is your character a Professor-type? Think Sherlock Holmes or Columbo.)
  • This book gives examples of possible professions for each of the character types, as well as what in their history might’ve contributed to the people they’ve become.
  • And most valuable of all to a romance writer, this book gives examples of how the various heroes and heroines both clash and mesh, their points of conflict and their points of commonality, as well as how the characters change when forced to be together.

You might be worried that the choices are so narrow as to make all characters in that category seem the same, but consider this: Harry Potter and Mr. Spock are in the same category (Professor.) Thelma Dickenson from Thelma and Louise is in the same category as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz (Waif.) Plenty of room to maneuver there.

If you’re like me, a plot-first novelist who has a rollicking story to tell but searches for just the right person to inflict all this conflict and disaster on, I encourage you to check out The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes.

You can find the book on by clicking the title above.

How do you feel about character worksheets? Love ’em or hate ’em?

Post Author: Erica Vetsch

Erica Vetsch is a transplanted Kansan now residing in Minnesota. She loves history and reading, and is blessed to be able to combine the two by writing historical fiction set in the American West. Whenever she’s not following flights of fancy in her fictional world, she’s the company bookkeeper for the family lumber business, mother of two terrific teens, wife to a man who is her total opposite and soul-mate, and avid museum patron.


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