Ways to Keep Writing Despite Your Obstacles

by Leanna Renee Hieber

Hello! I’m thrilled to be here at the Confessional to share a few of my tricks and trials. I love discussing this incredible yet difficult journey that is writing and publishing. There are many important topics that you cover here on this lovely blog. I’m going to discuss two in relation to my newest release in digital / eBook form; “A Christmas Carroll” a novella featured in A MIDWINTER FANTASY that continues my “Strangely Beautiful” series of Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels.

My first issue to cover: A particular struggle or obstacle in the latest work.

I’m a series writer. My love of epic fantasy fiction and the deep characterization and relationship stories found in romance novels has me thinking in trilogies or quartets of novels, where I dive into both extensive world-building and characterization. The trick with this is introducing new ideas into the world-building and also shifting the focus onto different characters. My world is a Gothic one, using many tenets of the Gothic novel but also relying on the Paranormal; ghost stories, the monsters of mythology and forces of light and darkness, all amidst an atmospheric Victorian London (my favourite time period and a particular field of expertise). What I found difficult about this novella is that it puts two of my secondary characters in the leading roles and while I love them and I adore the camaraderie of The Guard, this was an adjustment considering the first two books in the series had another continuing hero and heroine. So I found that the scenes between Alexi and Percy (stars of the first two books) threatened to take over the rest of the novella from those who were meant to be the stars, Rebecca and Michael. I had to keep those secondary scenes brief and supported, but not to overshadow this story. When certain characters are your default, you have to work a little harder to honour the characters you simply don’t know as intimately, but must once you put the spotlight on them.

Aside from the actual work itself, it’s another struggle when changes in the publishing industry directly affect you. For example, due to the changes at Dorchester Publishing, who is phasing from Mass Market Paperbacks into Trade Paperback and expanding their digital initiatives, this anthology will actually only be available digitally as an eBook, because the new Trade Paperback volumes aren’t yet in effect; making this anthology a bit caught in that transition. There’s nothing an author can do about a publisher taking measures in these shifting times, and all you and your agent can do is keep your eyes open, be aware of how to keep your rights safe, and keep writing. The fear of a changing publishing industry will defeat you sooner than any actual changes ever will. You simply can’t submit to that fear, you have to make a changing industry work to your advantage and accept that certain things are out of your control. And keep writing.

Which leads into the second issue: Getting the Work Done, or, Keeping One’s Butt in the Chair.

Again, I return to the simple yet difficult truth: keep writing. You can’t be a career author without this singular ability. When on deadline you can’t afford to wait for ‘the muse’ to strike, for your characters to cooperate, for the perfect synergy- you simply have to keep writing. Good news is, there are plenty of tricks. What’s important to ascertain is your own best practice. Writing is intensely intimate, an author’s process is entirely individual, so what works for me likely won’t work for you. But the more time you spend writing, the sooner you figure out your best practices and patterns. Juggling two freelance jobs in the film and television industry- I’m a proud member of the actors’ unions AEA, SAG, AFTRA- and being under contract for series books doesn’t leave room for lollygagging. I’ve had to establish some “Okay, it’s Go Time” buttons.

One of these is setting up my space, if I’m at home (I’m sometimes in a coffee shop and there, the most important thing is simply caffeine). The space around my laptop must be relatively clear. My favourite stained-glass lamp must be on (lighting is important for me, it sets mood), and some classical music playing. Once that’s set up, it’s time to take a shower. It’s a partial sensory deprivation chamber; the one place where there’s simply nothing but white walls, white noise and water. It’s a blank canvass for my mind to play. I’ll pick the scene I want to work on (or need to work on) and just let it roll around in my head like a movie, toying with some dialogue, then I go write that movie I just watched, or something like it. If you like the bathroom idea, make sure there are dry-erase markers for the mirror when you come up with a really awesome line of dialogue. I speak from experience with the dry-erase markers. When I’m on deadline I’m really clean.

Then get to work. Perhaps with your favourite beverage, light a favourite candle, incense, etc. Each series I write has a different Tea associated with it so when I sit down to work, I brew that particular tea. My “Strangely Beautiful” series: Clove Tea (it smells like my hero Professor Alexi Rychman) and for My “Magic Most Foul” saga: Earl Grey Tea (favourite tea of hero Lord Jonathon Denbury. Scent is so closely tied to physical memory. Writing is a muscle, if you can associate a scent with working on your book, then that becomes muscle memory and you’re psychically / physically tapped into all those hours, emotions and psychological focus you’ve put into your book.

Now, when it comes to words on page: You don’t have to be linear if you don’t want to. (I NEVER write linear). If one scene is kicking your butt, skip it, move ahead, go back and write later. If you’re the type of writer who must work in a linear fashion, then when you hit a wall, change one major thing in the scene: change setting, change into a different character’s POV, add a new element; character, problem, item, etc. Have a separate notebook for each book – where all your notes / thoughts / ideas / dreams / hopes / fears for the book all get jotted down into. It helps when you don’t have time to open up your computer, keeps it in one location, and can be great to look through when you’re stuck and you need to restart yourself, you’re reminded of the notes you’ve taken along the way. And oh, yeah, did I mention keep writing?

Every blessing and best wish,

Leanna Renee Hieber
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Leanna Renee Hieber is the 2010 RWA NYC Author of the Year; Barnes & Noble Bestseller, 2010 Prism Winner; Best Fantasy, Best First Book: THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER. The ghostly, Gothic Victorian fantasy continues: THE DARKLY LUMINOUS FIGHT FOR PERSEPHONE PARKER available in 10/10.