Q&A Monday #1: Motivation, Worldbuilding, and Writer’s Block

So I get a lot of writing-related questions on Tumblr, and I’ve decided to archive three of them here every Monday! Here we go:

What do you suggest for someone who has a plot for a short story but can’t put the words on paper?(Anonymous)

I think a major reason for this sort of problem is fear. When an idea is in your head, or even just an outline, it’s pure. Beginning to write it means you can mess it up, or that you might not do it justice, or that it won’t come together the way you want it to, or that you’ll realize you can’t write and you’re not a writer and you’re never writing again goodbye world.

At least that’s what goes through my head when I feel like that. In the past, I spent a lot of time procrastinating by working on the idea itself – plotting it out, etc – instead of writing, because writing meant the possibility of failure.

But the thing is: writing contains only the possibility of failure. Not writing is 100% failure, because it means your story will never get out there. And if anything is not doing justice to an idea, it’s that.

And writing, really, is a success in and of itself, because it means you’re getting better, and your story is taking shape in the only way it can.

And you’re brave! As writers, we are brave. So you are capable of this. The main thing is not to wait another day, because there is always another day to wait. Your whole life will go by while you’re waiting for the story to write itself. But it won’t. Only you can write it!

Which is kind of awesome.

I wish you the best of luck!

Hey there! I’m just starting to plan out my ideas for NaNoWriMo. I was wondering if you had any tips on planing in the earlier stages, also maybe some tips on world building? It’s for a dystopic futuristic setting. (dragonspyre)

Ahhh, I’m so excited for NaNo! Let’s see, planning in the earlier stages…

1. Brainstorm. The outlining process doesn’t have to be organized in every way. Brainstorming is just to get all your ideas out, and in the process, hopefully coming up with some new ones. I write on a laptop, but I brainstorm in a notebook because I feel like I think differently with a pen than with my fingers. 

You can also bounce ideas off a critique partner – whichever method works for you. The important thing is that you keep it open. Write down bad ideas to get them out of the way. At the end, you can read it over and pick out what you want.

2. Figure out the structure of your world. Now this is organized. Write down the different settings, whether it’s multiple countries or multiple cities or multiple districts. (Or, if your world is very focused in one place, don’t use different headers.) Underneath each header, write down answers to these questions: Do the people have similar physical traits here (if so, what are they?) If there is a religion, what is it? How is the society structured in terms of government? (And you don’t need to figure out every minor official; broad strokes work here.) What is the main cuisine? (Again, broad strokes.) What are the obvious physical characteristics of the landscape? Are families structured differently than in real life? You can write down whatever other details you want to have secure in your mind before you write the book.

3. Figure out your main characters (to an extent.) I write here about getting to know your characters before you start the book. Don’t spend a TON of time doing this – your characters will always surprise you when you’re writing, and you can’t be too attached to who you think they are, or you might stifle their natural growth. I usually do a one-page character sheet for each of my major characters, and a few writing exercises for my point-of-view character.

4. Outline (unless that’s not your style.) Some people don’t plot their books out in advance, but if you like to, now’s a good time for it. Here are some tips for your outline.

5. Still got time before NaNo? Read great books in your genre. This is a good way to prepare yourself for the kind of book you want to write, and it’s also important to know what works (and what’s been done before) in your genre. There are some awesome dystopians out there – my personal favorite is the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness.

I hope that helps a bit!

Thanks for the follow 🙂 You have great advice on your blog. Do you have any tips for overcoming writer’s block – even temporarily? (zarniwoop-vannharl)


1. Read some writing by an author whose style you love. It’s important not to copy, but spending time reading fresh, creative work can help you write fresh, creative work.

2. Go to the movies. There’s something about being bombarded by the experience of a story in a theater that stirs my creative juices, personally. Movie tickets can be expensive, though, so (alternatively) nestle in the dark with your TV/laptop and pick a movie in your genre that’s supposed to be really good.

3. Mix up your physical writing habits. If you write inside, try writing outside. If you write on your laptop, try using a notebook. If you write in a secluded place, try writing in a cafe…and so on.

4. Mix up your writing itself. If you’re having a lot of trouble with a particular story, try deviating wildly from your plot, or switching viewpoints or even tense. Newness can shock your writing brain into a reset. (this is science)

5. Listen to new music. If you always write while listening to a particular band or song, or you write in silence, try finding new music that really inspires you and writing to it.

5. Remember that work is way, way more important than inspiration when it comes to writing. There are lots of writing teachers who act like mystics, who will treat writing like magic, who will say it comes when it wants to and there’s nothing you can do about it. They’re wrong. Writing is work. Really fun awesome work, but work. And the best way to get work done…is to do the work.

Basically what I mean is that I never really get into “writing mode” until I’m writing. Sometimes it takes me one sentence before I hit my stride. Sometimes it takes pages. Either way, it’s your brain and you are meant to write, so sometimes just forcing yourself to do it can be better than going outside and looking at the clouds or whatever, you know?

Good luck!

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