Updated: Mar 29, 2020
Writing a book, unfortunately, is not the kind of thing that happens by magic. Even the greatest authors struggle with writer’s block, and it’s difficult to give universal advice on how to get past those mental hurdles. This being said, here’s what I do when I need to get my brain machine ticking:
Step One: Stay up really late.
For me, there’s a magical time around one in the morning where the words just pour. At that hour, I’m relaxed enough for my mind to break from the mold, and the reason is this: During the day, there are all sorts of things that need to get done. Especially when writing isn’t the day job--which, for most aspiring/new authors, it’s not--responsibilities, schedules, and structures take up mental shelf space for most of the waking hours. I found a time where I could forget about all that, and that let me just write.
Step Two: Write what I know.
This is classic advice, and it’s very true. The problem is that ‘writing what you know’ can be difficult when it comes to fantasy, because so much is unknowable: does the world you’re creating have the same plant life as the real world? Does the sun still rise in the east and set in the west? What are the customs of the people? For me, I find something that’s similar between the world of the story and the real world, and then I learn everything I can about that link. For example, since I based aspects of The Hidden King loosely in Irish/ancient Irish traditions, I read all about Beltane (on which I based parts of the Festival of Fire), and I only used Irish and ancient Celtic names.
Step Three: Get to know even more!
When it comes to writing what you know in fiction, you can only get so far with research. When I have the ‘link’ between the story-world and the real world set in stone, then I have to make a cartload of other decisions about characters, story arcs, and worldbuilding. Here, I draw the settings, paint the characters, and do my best not to be deterred by my inexpertise at drawing or painting. The important part is getting the information out of my head and onto some kind of real medium--this takes the concepts out of the abstract. I even imagine myself engaged in conversation with the characters so that I know their voices as thoroughly as my own. In this step, I increase my understanding of the people and the places so that they feel real; that way, I can write them with certainty and consistency.
Step Four: Build confidence.
Writing can be hard, and it can be pretty discouraging, too. Besides, with the sheer number of awesome books on the shelves, it’s hard to imagine that any story will make it anywhere. Personally, I cope with this in a couple ways. First, I make sure to remind myself that I’m writing because I like it, and that it can be a very rewarding experience if I stick with it long enough. Secondly, I completely ignore the adage that ‘the first draft is always bad’. The fact is, believing that what you’re writing is bad by definition is not only a great way to get disillusioned, it’s also simply not true. The first draft can actually be pretty sweet, and sometimes I end up keeping a lot of it in the final copy. What I do tell myself, though, is that there’s no shame in needing to edit, and even the stupidest mistakes are fine.