Tuesday 24 August 2021

Writers’ Questions: How can I beat writer’s block?

In my Writers’ Questions series, I’ve been tackling need-to-know topics about the craft and business of writing, but in today’s post it’s time to get a little more emotional. If you’re a writer you know how great it feels when you’re in the zone. The words flow. Time passes quickly. You meet your word count goals with ease. But what about when you’re just not feeling it? How can you become unblocked, so you’re not just staring at an empty page?

I’ve blogged before about motivation, including making and finding time to write, so I’m going to skip over that here and presume you have all the resources at your fingertips and the desire to write inside you. But it’s just not happening. Now what?


Maybe you’re stuck because you don’t know what happens next in your book. If so, perhaps it’s time to try plotting vs. pantsing (i.e. flying by the seat of your pants). I’ve written a full post on the pros and cons of outlining novels and how to go about this approach.

Switch formats

If you have a day job that involves staring at a computer screen (or if you’re just a twenty-first-century human with a phone!) you might not want to stare at blue light in your evenings too. So, if your head is pounding as the white document blinks at you, close that laptop and pick up old-fashioned pen and paper. You might find that it helps to spill real ink.

Try a different location

I feel most creative while sitting on the floor. Why? I’m not sure, but try working in different places and see what makes sense for you. In previous years I would have advised you to try writing in a coffee shop or on a plane, but in our current reality, perhaps it’s time to discover new and unusual writing spots at home…

Jump to a scene you’re excited about

There shouldn’t be a single scene in your novel that’s boring. If there is, why is in your book? And I’m normally a proponent of writing in a linear way. But if you’re really struggling and there’s a pivotal moment in your novel (e.g. the climax, a first kiss, a dramatic fight scene) that you can picture clearly, skip to that part to get your writing mojo back.

Move your body

Have you been hunched over a computer for hours? Days? Weeks?! Maybe it’s time to move and leave your writing alone. Inspiration often strikes me while I’m on a walk or mid-exercise class, so get your blood pumping.

Reward yourself

If all else fails, bribery is the answer. You can have your favorite food for dinner. You can watch the next episode of that binge-worthy show. But if—and only if—you get those damn words on the page.

What other strategies do you have for beating writer’s block? I’d love to hear them! Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

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Friday 13 August 2021

Neo-Victorian Voices: The Arctic Fury, Greer Macallister (2020)

The novels I’ve reviewed as part of my Neo-Victorian Voices series, on books written in the twenty-first century but set in the nineteenth, have run the gamut in terms of “historical accuracy”. Some writers were inspired by a real person’s biography, as I was in my debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress. Others continued or expanded the stories of nineteenth-century fictional characters or imagined entirely original stories within historic settings. In her latest novel, The Arctic Fury, Greer Macallister dreams up an all-female expedition to the Arctic in search of the lost Franklin expedition. Did this really happen? No. Does it make for an entertaining story? You bet.

Virginia Reeve is employed by Franklin’s wife, under mysterious circumstances, to lead an all-female party in search of the missing men, but only some of the women return. She finds herself on trial for the murder of one of those who followed her North. The novel progresses in a dual timeline as we learn if Virginia will face conviction and potentially punishment by death, as well as what really happened on the women’s hazardous journey.

I appreciated the novel’s great pacing and Macallister’s ability to keep the trial storyline and the flashbacks equally engaging. I also loved how many of the women were inspired by real historical figures. An all-woman team mightn’t have gone to the Arctic in the 1800s, but there were plenty of intrepid female explorers, cartographers and mountaineers, whose exploits find new life in these pages. 

Macallister also makes the brave choice to give every member of the expedition her own point of view section, though Virginia is without doubt our main character. This means we get to hear a diverse array of voices and helps us form emotional connections with what could have been an unwieldy cast.

While a protagonist withholding information from us is a personal bugbear, the revelations of the ending are well done. This is a book that will appeal to those who love courtroom drama, as much as those intrigued by a story of women battling the elements.

Which recently published, nineteenth century set novel would you like me to review next as part of my Neo-Victorian Voices series? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist

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