What To Do When You Don’t Know What to Write Next

 It’s a classic writing problem: you’re going along, minding your own business and writing the hell out of a scene that eventually finishes. You pat yourself on the back for a scene well done, but then realize in terror that you must do the impossible – keep writing and answer the dreaded question “What happens next?”
writing notesIt sounds like a simple question, really. At its most basic, writing a story is answering that question over and over again. But I found myself at this particular block last week. I had just hit 10,000 words in my fourth book and was riding high on getting to that crucial point.
But I didn’t know what to write next. I knew how the story was going to play out (vaguely, anyway), and I had ideas for scenes in between, but I was stuck in the middle of Chapter Two with not a whiff of what to write next.
So here are the things I did to combat writer’s block mid-chapter:
  • Walk away for a few days. It’s not my particular favorite thing to do, but it does help me remember why I’m excited about a story (or not. Both are equally important revelations).
  • Write anyway. Yes, it’s forcing a story, but sometimes I need to force a few sentences in order to get things flowing. It’s like towing a car in the snow. Eventually, you’ll get that thing out of the snowbank and back onto the road.
  • Start with a scene that you know and are excited about. Sometimes if I don’t know what happens exactly next, but I can’t wait to write about a scene that’s happening later in the book, I’ll write that scene.
  • Read. This is actually one of my favorite motivations. When I read something amazing, it makes me want to write something amazing.
  • Eat something. Really, this is my cure for just about anything.
  • Watch a random makeup tutorial on YouTube. This is probably not helpful at all.
  • Go back to my notes and write down details about the scene. Try to go back and plot out parts of the novel or the whole thing (if this has not been done).
  • Question whether or not this is a viable project. See first bullet.
Eventually, I found my story again through a combination of these tips. I know you will, too.

How to Know When To Stop Writing

I know what you’re thinking. Here I am, blogging about writing, and now I’ve got you reading a post about how to stop writing. Hold on now, that’s not exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ve spent the past five weeks plotting out Book #4 in the Dugan Siblings series. It’s Kieran’s story, and it’s one I want to tell. But no matter how much I tried to follow Rachel Aaron’s steps and write out characters, I just wasn’t excited about where the story was going. The conflict didn’t seem conflict-y enough, the plot seemed forced, and I found myself staring at the pitiful 3000 words I’d written, not excited about writing more.

So I stopped writing.
Here’s the thing: sometimes when you’re writing a novel, you sometimes have to force yourself to write, but you shouldn’t force the story along. Sitting your butt in a chair and writing is hard – but at the end of the day, you should be proud of what you’ve written and excited to write more.
What you should NOT feel like is dread. Dread of having to write another chapter. Dread of the crux of the conflict to your story. Dread that you just don’t like what you’re writing. Because if YOU, the creator of the novel, don’t like it, I can guarantee your writers won’t either!
I was feeling this dread when I even thought about writing Book #4. So I stopped, set it aside and immediately felt a sense of relief. No one is forcing me to write this book. And the good (and sometimes frustrating) part about being a writer is there’s always an understudy book waiting in the wings to be written. I came up with an idea a few months ago for my next book, and once I gave myself the chance to write it, I was excited again, thrilled even to be telling a story that I wanted to tell.
I promise I’ll tell Kieran’s story someday. But for now I’m really excited about the story I’m working on, and more importantly I’m excited to be excited about writing again. Because that’s what it should feel like.
publishing, writing

Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Writing

I almost called this post “The Business of Publishing a Book,” but changed it. There are smarter bloggers and writers than me who have written extensively on the ins and outs of independent publishing. But there were a few lessons I learned the hard way that I kept thinking to myself, I should really warn other would-be writers about that. I always knew this writing and publishing journey I’m currently on would be a learning experience. I also knew the hardest part about the whole thing would be the writing bit. It’s not easy to sit down and answer the question “What happens next?” over and over again.
But the writing side is only part of the story. If you’re going to publish a book independently, you’ll have to navigate actually publishing your book – or as I like to refer to it, the not so pretty side of being an independed author. It’s the side with tax numbers and Excel sheets and accounting (shudder). It’s far from glamorous – there’s nothing like filling out an expense report months after the fact and trying to track down what exactly you paid each editor/proofreader/cover designer.
Don’t do it that way. It sucks.
Here are some of the things I wish I knew before I published my first book.
Save Your Money  
Some people may argue this step is optional, and I suppose it technically is. You could edit your own book and design your own cover. Nothing is stopping you from being a one-woman (or one-man) show. But I don’t recommend it. First of all, I don’t care how good of a writer you are – everyone needs an editor (I paid for an editor and a proofreader). Whether you find a professional or pay a friend, invest in someone who can find all those stupid mistakes you don’t want your readers to find.
And while the budget is up to you, there are a lot of little expenses that add up fast. Before you even finish your book, set some money aside – and then try to triple it. Seriously, even independent publishing can be expensive.
Once you’re done writing, decide what is worth spending that money on. For me, it was having a really beautiful cover and a talented editor. Those are investments in my work, and I’d spend that money again in a heartbeat.
Look At Publishing Like Starting Your Own Business
Because surprise – you actually will!
For tax purposes, you probably want to have your book expenses and subsequent profits separate from your personal accounts. This means you need a bank account that’s just for your writing, which means you need a tax ID number (known as an EIN number), and to get one, you need to start an LLC.
Yep, 2015 was the year of the LLC for me. I am CEO of Cate Dashwood LLC, and doesn’t it feel good.
Every state is a little different, so it’s probably a good idea to check with someone who knows what they’re talking about re: finances on this.
Slow Down and Keep Editing
This was probably the hardest lesson for me. After so many weeks of work, I just wanted my book to run away and never return. I couldn’t bear reading it again – but I really wished I would have embraced the journey and taken my time. It’s your book – and one of the best things about being an independent publisher is you can take as long as you need to make it perfect – before sending it to an editor and letting them help you make it even more perfect.
This is definitely not an exhaustive list, and I’m sure as I continue this journey, I’ll have more lessons to pass along.

Getting Back on the Horse

It’s a new year, and that means new books. Two new ones, if my plan works out right, which means I need to get to writing something more than a blog post.
view lately
I finished my third book on August 30 last year. Since then, my concentration has been editing, re-editing, proofreading, formatting and releasing three books – and that’s all before marketing and promoting them once they’ve been released. It’s an exhausting process, but one of the benefits was that it gave me a moment to breathe. Writing is hard work, and taking months off from that, even if I was still very, very busy, was exactly what I needed.
Except now I’m on the other side of that process. My books are out there, and I need to start working on books 4 and 5 to complete my first series. I want to tell Kieran and Finn’s stories, and I also want to try plotting or even outlining a book before I write it, something I’ve never done before.  I just forgot how hard the actual writing process is!
New year, new books – and a new set of readers I treasure. Thank you for giving my work a chance!
characters, writing

What’s in a (character’s) name?

Scarlett O’Hara is one of the most famous characters of all time – but would she have had the same impact on the world of fiction (and film) if she didn’t have her fabulous name? Author Margaret Mitchell almost called her heroine Pansy – and let’s face it, Pansy O’Hara just does NOT have the same ring to it. So why are character names so important?


I have always been big on the importance of good names. I love discussing and dissecting them, and nothing makes me happier than hearing of a beautiful baby name. (Likewise, nothing makes me more annoyed than hearing a name I don’t like).

The same goes for character names. I cannot start a story until I have the perfect name for each of my characters. Names should be memorable and true to the time period that the story is set in. I instantly can tell whether or not the author has researched name popularity by what she names her characters – it’s pretty obvious that hasn’t been done when a contemporary romance has popular names from the 1960s in it.

So what about the books you read?

Image via Wikipedia