Musings of Jessica Spotswood



Tackling Writers’ Block
by Jessica Spotswood


The more books I write, the more I love revising. That magical click when I get feedback that helps me unravel a plot snarl? That amazing puzzle piece that snaps into place when I figure out a character’s motivation? The new world-building details I can add to help a reader feel more centered in the time and place of my story? I love that.

But drafting – drafting has become harder, because the ideal book in my head and the messy, imperfect words on the screen feel so far apart. I only feel what’s lacking.

I’m working on my second contemporary novel for Sourcebooks now. Sometimes I get into the zone and my outspoken, opinionated heroine runs away with the story. But sometimes…sometimes I get stuck.

And when I get stuck, the first thing I do is determine which type of writers’ block I have. For me, there are three varieties:

Writers’ Block #1: I feel like I can’t.

Explanation #1: Sometimes I just feel…stuck. I don’t wanna write. It’s hard. Writing is my career and my dream, bur that doesn’t mean that I always feel like doing it. I’ve never been an absolutely every day writer. However, the more I write, the easier it is to stay connected to my characters and my story. When I take long breaks away from it, there’s always a resistance to coming back to it, even if part of me desperately misses it.

Explanation #2: As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, this happens kind of a lot. A big project like writing a whole novel by X date can feel overwhelming.

Solution # 1: Breaking it down into manageable goals helps. Instead of “I’ll write 2000 words today,” make it “I’ll write 500 words today.” Instead of “I’ll write a new chapter,” make it “I’ll write a scene between Character A and Character B.” Once I accomplish that tiny goal, I almost always feel more empowered to continue on.

Solution #2: In addition to tiny goals, it’s really just: butt in chair.  Sometimes the act of showing up – just opening the document – is the hardest part! Jotting down notes on the upcoming scene, or handwriting some dialogue, can also make the blank screen less intimidating.


Writers’ Block #2I’m being a perfectionist and I’m afraid I suck.

Explanation: I want everything I write to be perfect – preferably right away, in the first draft. That is not how it works. That is never how it works.

Solution: Stop editing as I go. I can perfect the voice and layer in more descriptions later, once I know if the bones are right. Set a timer (or use an app like Forest or Freedom) to block the internet and just write. Do a word sprint on twitter with friends. (This doesn’t always work for me, because I get competitive and feel even worse if I write 500 words in half an hour and my friends write twice or thrice that.) In extreme situations, I have been known to use Write or Die in kamikaze mode, which starts erasing words if I stop typing for more than a few seconds. It’s highly motivational!


Writers’ Block #3: I’ve made a wrong turn.

Explanation: Sometimes I think I know where the story’s going. Sometimes I’m right; sometimes I’m not and by clinging to my outline, I’m closing myself off from other possible choices. My favorite thing about drafting is when the characters take over and surprise me with their choices. If I’m not allowing that, I get stuck.

Solution: Go back to the last time I felt really energized and excited about the story, then have the characters make a different choice. Usually, the problem is that I’m trying to force something for the sake of plot or my outline and that choice is contrived; it’s not really what the character would say or do.


What about you? Do you ever get stuck? What’s your favorite method for getting out of it?


About Jessica

Jessica Spotswood is the author of the contemporary novel WILD SWANS and the historical fantasy trilogy The Cahill Witch Chronicles. She’s also the editor of the feminist historical anthology A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS. Jess grew up in a tiny, one-stoplight town in Pennsylvania, where she could be found swimming, playing clarinet, memorizing lines for the school play, or—most often—with her nose in a book. Now she lives in Washington, DC, where she can be found working as a children’s library associate for the DC Public Library, seeing theatre with her playwright husband, or—most often—with her nose in a book. Some things never change.

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Wild Swans

The summer before Ivy’s senior year is going to be golden; all bonfires, barbeques, and spending time with her best friends. For once, she will just get to be. No summer classes, none of Granddad’s intense expectations to live up to the family name. For generations, the Milbourn women have lead extraordinary lives—and died young and tragically. Granddad calls it a legacy, but Ivy considers it a curse. Why else would her mother have run off and abandoned her as a child?

But when her mother unexpectedly returns home with two young daughters in tow, all of the stories Ivy wove to protect her heart start to unravel. The very people she once trusted now speak in lies. And all of Ivy’s ambition and determination cannot defend her against the secrets of the Milbourn past…

Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Indiebound | Books-A-Million

A Tyranny of Petticoats

From an impressive sisterhood of YA writers comes an edge-of-your-seat anthology of historical fiction and fantasy featuring a diverse array of daring heroines.

Criss-cross America — on dogsleds and ships, stagecoaches and trains — from pirate ships off the coast of the Carolinas to the peace, love, and protests of 1960s Chicago. Join fifteen of today’s most talented writers of young adult literature on a thrill ride through history with American girls charting their own course. They are monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They’re making their own way in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals. And they all have a story to tell.

With stories by:
J. Anderson Coats, Andrea Cremer, Y. S. Lee, Katherine Longshore, Marie Lu
Kekla Magoon, Marissa Meyer, Saundra Mitchell, Beth Revis, Caroline Tung Richmond
Lindsay Smith, Jessica Spotswood, Robin Talley, Leslye Walton, Elizabeth Wein

Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Indiebound | Books-A-Million

Many thanks to Jessica for being such an awesome author and providing future writers with such wonderful advice on how push past the metal block. We truly appreciate your time and effort put into telling your story.

As always, a huge thank you to all publishing/writing professionals who have, will be, and are participating in this feature. Thank you for helping our future writers.

We hope you all have a wonderful rest of your week, and a safe and happy weekend!


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