Are Your Blocks Preventing You From Achieving Your Goal?


Blank paper with pen



Today I want to talk about the things that may hold you back from your writing and how you can overcome them leading to articulating your own writing goals. Let me do this by sharing my story. I don’t know if your blocks began early on, but mine sure did.

I have wanted to write since I was about six years old. I loved to make up stories and tell them to my dolls and to my cat, Wednesday. When it came to writing them down I grew frustrated. I could not write as fast as my mind thought nor could I spell half the words that were in my vocabulary and my writing was horrible. I was always getting in trouble by my teacher for my bad handwriting. It did not help she made fun of it as well and called me stupid. Yeah, wonderful teacher. NOT. I think we have all one of those teachers.

As a teen, I told stories to the children I babysat for. When I got my first job as a live-in nanny my little charges turned down their books from the library in favor of my stories. Their parents stood below the vent that led to the kitchen to listen. They too looked forward to my mystery adventures.

Many years later, in college, I would learn that I was dyslexic, ADHD, and was dysgraphic. These things did not bode well for someone whose dream was to become an accomplished writer. Feeling stupid and like a failure, I put my dream on the back burner. I would pull it out every now and then only to retreat back into myself, filled with shame and embarrassment over my handwriting and spelling. How could I ever be a writer with such a mess? I was so hard on myself, unforgiving. The sharp intolerant voice of my sister and brother invading my head.

Every now and then I would write something (well, more like- compelled to write) and read it aloud friends, the family-my family was a good source for feedback as my father wrote He was a professor of theater arts and directing at Brandies University. He knew good writing and how to critique well. In fact, I grew up learning how to give constructive criticism. When my dad had reached a certain point with a script or short story; the family was called together to offer our feedback on what he had written. Okay, to get back on track; I was met with favorable comments on my stories. I began to get feedback that I had a lot of talent. And still, I withheld writing every day and submitting my work. Even after graduating from Hunter College with a BA in English & Creative Writing and had had my poetry published! It would take several more years before something clicked and I grew a pair.


I started to surround myself more with other writers and wannabe writers. I signed up for workshops and joined meetup groups. I took notes and listened a lot. That is where the change began. Listening to other writers express their own self-doubts with their writing, hearing about their daily struggles and how they came to find, no not find, but take. They began to take the time to write every day. Whether that meant getting up in the wee hours of the morning or burning the midnight oil. They took it, time. Mothers began to inform their children and their husbands that from such and such a time, they were off limits. Mom was having her writing time. No interruptions permitted unless they involved profuse bleeding or projectile vomiting.

A memory stirred in me as I listened to these stories. When my father was in his study, no one was permitted to disturb him, unless, you know, profuse bleeding, projectile vomiting or fire. In fact, when the babysitter arrived to take care of us on those rare occasions my parents went out; the instructions were to, “make sure you take the script!”. The “script” was kept on the antique washstand next to the door, wrapped up tight, sealed in a new garbage bag. I wondered, “take the script, but what about us?”granted, that was extreme but now I understood. How many times had I put my manuscript before the welfare of my kids? There were those times had I been writing and forgotten to feed them until they came wandering in complaining how hungry they were at 8:00 at night, um, their bedtime. Thank goodness they are teens now and will just go help themselves when hungry. Another reason my writing was so sporadic over the years. Guilt.

After hearing about these writers taking their time that they had to have in order to write, started to hit home. What made me think I was not worthy of this? I had had tremendous guilt over my kids waiting so long to eat which did not happen often, of taking any time at all to write. I didn’t feel worthy of owning my time. These writers felt the same fears I had and they didn’t have dyslexia or dysgraphia to contend with. It occurred to me that dyslexia and all of that just slowed me down but it didn’t have to block me from my dream. Especially now with the wonders of technology. I even heard of writers using dictation programs who didn’t have any kind of learning disability. It never occurred to me, to use something just because it was made things easier. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, that is a smart thing to do.

I continued going to meetups and workshops. I joined my local chapter of Sinc (Sister’s in Crime, mostly women who write mysteries) and TAF (Triangle Area Freelancers) I heard more and people share their personal writing experiences. I even met a successfully published writer who was dyslexic! If she could do it, that meant I could too.

When I heard well-known published authors share their fears about their own writing, I was transfixed. They have been accomplished authors with big publishing houses. Some of them had movies and TV series made from their books. Yet, they still face these same fears I had about writing. The one constant they had that I did not,t they wrote, daily. I wrote hap-hazardly.

I began to think over my life. When I was dancing, I made sure I never missed a class even when it was blizzarding like mad outside. I went. No one else did, but my teacher was there and gave me a private class! I let nothing get in my way back then. I used to walk into the American Ballet Theater School of Ballet and take the scholarship class. No, I was not on scholarship or even enrolled in the school. I did the same kind of thing when studying to become a pastry chef. Why did I let things get in the way of my writing? I realized it came down to my fear and my priorities. I was not making writing a priority the way I did my dancing or in becoming a pastry chef. If I were going to be serious about my writing then I needed to go ahead and feel my feel and do it anyway. I needed to treat writing as a number one priority.

Okay, I understand that part now, but I still want a group of some kind. I had tried critique groups in the past and they ended in disaster. Most people do not know how to constructively critique a piece. Saying,”that was really good,” or “I liked it” or “I didn’t get it, it is awful,” are not helpful. I knew if I wanted a critique group I would have to facilitate it and it will be by invitation only. But, I am not ready for that yet. Yet, I wanted something a place where I can help others get going. A place where we share our fears, concerns, and triumphs. Then it hit me. A Facebook Group. I had been wanting to do some kind of group and a writing group was perfect. I realized after going to all of these meetups, workshops, and conferences that there are tons of writers out there who want to get started, to develop better writing habits, or want to get back to their writing. They too have the same fears, same concerns about their work. With the training I have had as a writing teacher, reading teacher, my training in the AWA (Amherst Writer’s and Artist’s) method by Patricia Schneider in facilitating professional writing workshops, I am qualified to do this.

Part of my dream is to have a safe supportive community for writers. An online group is perfect. A place where we can be there for one another. In addition to my closed Facebook group, I decided to do this podcast, Pen Wize and have my website, and there will be Youtube videos as well. All meant to be interactive. The FB group a real meat and potatoes group to share as much as people are comfortable with about their writing process and their writing life. The podcast as an instructional tool and sharing about the writing life. Down the road, I will have guest authors, guest teachers of creative writing, and shows on publishing. My website, a central location of my blogs, shows, and videos, as well as place for resources for writers and a calendar of events. Visiter’s can leave comments, email me or even call leaving a voicemail. Each of these interacting with the other keeping the connection going.


Pantser or Plotter?







It is a good idea to decide how you will prepare to write before you get going. Nothing like setting yourself up with excellent writing habits from the get-go.  You can save yourself a lot of heartache.

As I settle into steady writing, I need to make a change myself. I am going to find the middle way. I will plot out my manuscript, leaving room for some free reign.  My nature is as a pantser. Let me tell you how it worked out for me.

It didn’t.

It was like free falling from space. Ever watch those youtube videos of skydivers!? At first, they fall straight down, then veer off in one direction, maybe spin around for a while, straighten out only to veer off in another direction. Granted, they at least, knew where they intend to land. I too could see the end of my story, but I couldn’t tell you how I would arrive. As a result, and like the good ADHD woman I am, I veered off in all kinds of directions with my writing ending up in a land far far away–quite lost. When I read back what I had written I was so bummed! I realized I had taken off on a tangent that leads down a road to a different story or stories. “How do I salvage this?” I would ask myself again and again.

Remember the definition of insanity? Keep doing the same thing over again expecting a different outcome? Mmm hmmm ‘nough said.

Now you know why I need to change up how I proceed with my own writing. That is how the middle way was born into my writing life. No more writing by the seat of my pants.

Hmm, due to my ADHD I can get overly focused on the outline. Sigh. What to do? Find a combination of both or learn how to outline better for creative writing.

I am so impatient. Are you? l am the type that just wants to get to the good part. I want to dive into my writing. Dr. Phil would ask, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” It’s not, it hasn’t…I remind myself of that insanity definition again.  I just need to suck it up and outline. It can’t be that bad.

Back in my teaching days, I had to teach outlining to my students. If I taught my students how to outline, surely I can figure it out for my fiction. Remember those traditional outlines we had to learn in school?  That great big Roman numeral one followed by the thesis statement, drop down a line, indent four spaces and write the letter “a” ) followed by a supporting idea or fact, drop down/hit enter indent four spaces again and write your next supporting idea/fact? Well, in creative writing, creative non-fiction, sy-fi, etc. you can outline the very same way. The old numeral one can be the theme of your story, the drop down and indented sections can be the actions for that scene or chapter, the next one down the conflict and so on. Not bad right?

Well, the first time I tried this I got stuck after completing about three chapters. By breaking the book down into chapters, I got lost when I looked down at my outline. Um, how do I show the beginning, middle, and ending? Did I tell you I am dyslexic too? Let me tell you; that doesn’t help. However, I am determined to figure it out. I should mention being dyslexic isn’t mandatory for getting lost in your outline.

Okay here is a way to sketch out (I like that phrase as lets me know my outline is not carved in stone) a workable outline for those of you who struggle like I do. I get impatient and want to get to the writing! But, it makes the writing life much easier to have a good plan. In fact, generally speaking, there is nothing like a good plan, with backup plans, of course.

I think I have discovered a way to outline that work for me. I will sketch out the whole story. Below is fictional an example.

1. The Initial Exposition

   The story takes place in a family owned restaurant in Western MA.

a) Xavier is introduced-owner and chef.

b) Ylana is introduced-manager of the front of the house.

c) Zayle is introduced-. He is the sous chef.

2. Inciting Action

  a) Xavier is found dead in the freezer.

b) Zayle is arrested for his murder.

c) Ylania must prove Zayles innocence.

3. Rising Action    

  a) Ylania is stone-walled by the cop in charge.

b) Zayle gets moved to a maximum security prison by a paperwork mix up.

4. Climax

Ylania must fight the system to find justice for Zayle.

a) Zayle must find a way to find to Ylania and keep himself alive at the same time.

b) An old friend of Zayles turns up who just happens to have worked for the courts. 

5. Falling Action

a) Zayle discovers a childhood friend is in the cell next to his; he knows all the ins and outs of the prison system.

b) Ylania makes headway and discovers who the real murderer is.

6. Resolution

a) Ylania solves the murder; the Garde Mange Chef! did it! 

b) Through the assistance of his friend, Zayle meets with the Warden just after the Warden received a call about the screw-up.

c) Ylania and Zayle marry and buy out the restaurant.

d) All live happily ever after.    

Okay, not the greatest plot but you get the gist. Now I have sketched out the outline and write another that will break down these sections further into chapters.

If you don’t like the method above don’t worry, there are other methods. There is one called “Flashlight Outlining” because it illuminates a small but important part. For example, try writing a brief paragraph on what will happen in your first three chapters. In this way, you are flushing out a little at a time as you progress through your story.

You can use another free write to help explore your story in a bit more detail. This one allows you to ask yourself questions as you go along and add in as much detail as you like. If you are a hardcore pantser, you may want to try out this one first.

Another exercise you can do is start your writing time with a conversation with yourself. I learned this one from David Morrell, author of First Blood (which became Rambo in the film series) Every day when he sits down to write he asks him how he’s doing, how’s the writing going? If he is having trouble, he will ask himself questions that help get him going. He will ask, “What do you think would happen if…?” or How about if such and such happened?” He asks several “What if” questions which are perfect for unlocking your brain, waking up your imagination.

Try using one these techniques or some combination and let me know how it went. You can email, leave a voicemail, or leave a comment in the comment section of my blog. Let me know if I can share yours in my podcast.


The Writing Process, A Refresher

Here is a description of the writing process for those of you who may be new to writing. Let it help guide you through your writing from germination to birth.

brainstorming concept - arrows representing ideas, inputs and feedbacks sketch on a napkin with a cup of coffee on table


             May your journey be more joyous than laborious.    

The process of writing has a defined order designed to help you write in a way that will lead to productive writing sessions.

1. The Pre-Writing Stage.  Percolating, Brainstorming, Mind mapping/clustering, Free Writing, and  Outlining.

Percolating is my necessary addition to the writing process. Before I write anything I go through this stage. (When something percolates it is gradually moving through something like  the decadent juices of ground coffee beans effusing through the hot water turning it deliciously dark and flavorful). I take time, need time to let my thoughts percolate. It may take minutes, days or even weeks for the idea/ideas to gel before I am ready to write them down. One of my favorite places to let this happen is while swimming, walking, or doing housework. Soaking in the tub is an ideal place as well.  Brainstorming happens when you have an idea, jot it down and then write whatever comes to mind surrounding that idea. You may write words, phrases or short paragraphs. Brainstorming often leads to mind mapping or clustering.


Mind mapping of different shape template

Mind mapping or clustering taking what you have written and put it into a visual form by diagramming and linking your like ideas together. It starts with creating a circle in the middle of the paper that holds your main idea. Then, you draw lines, like spokes on a bicycle wheel, outward that will lead to your other broad categories. Continue the process of drawing out more lines leading to sub-categories. You can keep going until all of your ideas are laid out in these circles. The goal is to reveal how your ideas are linked. (I don’t use this one at; it has never worked for me. I end up taking pictures)

    Free-writing is simply, to write.  Put pen, pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard and write, continuously. It is important that you keep going! No stopping to see what have or worry about spelling! That defeats the purpose. In free writing, you want to let yourself go so that your unconscious will unleash itself upon your page, free of harsh judgment and criticism from your inner critic. It takes some practice but once you get going this can be a lot of fun. You write whatever comes to mind. It is a good activity to do as a warm up to your regular writing schedule.

Outlining. By the time you get here, you will have a good idea of where you are going with your story, memoir, etc. It is in a linear form. Remember your school days? You start with a Roman numeral one and state the main fact/idea, go to the next line, indenting and beginning that with a) followed by a sub idea or fact and so on until you are ready for Roman numeral two, which may be your second chapter, scene, or event. You continue until you have the whole thing planned out on paper.

Two terms you may or may not be familiar with, pantsers and planners. Pantsers fly or write, by the seat of their pants. They don’t plan anything, they just write. Planners, on the other hand, use outlines; they plan. There is something to be said for both styles. A good goal is to be a little of both. Find the middle way between pantsing and planning.


2. The Writing Stage AKA ROUGH DRAFT. You have done your pre-writing, percolating, brainstorming, mind mapping, and outlining. Now you are ready to settle down and WRITE.  Before you panic, let yourself off of the hook. This is your Rough Draft you are about to begin. That means no worries about spelling, grammar, or word count. Here you want to get the work down! That is what matters. Nothing else. Sit down, have your notes and outline out and write.

3. The Revision Stage. Your Rough Draft is finished! Yay! Take a moment to celebrate, have some chocolate, a glass of wine whatever you prefer to celebrate this moment. Okay, back to work! Now you can check your word count. Do you have the required amount for your book, story, script, or memoir?

        Your average Novel requires about 60,000-100,000 words.

        Science Fiction runs 90,000-150,00

        Romance Novels run 50,000-100,000

        Historical Fiction run 100,000

        Crime, Mystery, Thriller run 70,000-90,000

        Young Adult Novels run  50,000-80,000

        Short Stories run 1,000-5,000 but there are those that run         5,000-10,000

        Flash Fiction runs 500 words

        Novellas run 10,000-40,000

    (For your non-fiction categories you really need to study your particular area as they can vary quite a bit).

    Okay, now you have your word counts down, get back to revising. Look over your manuscript, taking your time. Does it flow well? Are things the way they should be sequential? How is the pacing? Do you have all of your elements? (Check the story ARC). Re-work what needs to be re-worked. Cut out and add what you need to fix.

4. The Editing Stage.  Once your piece has been revised to your satisfaction, it is time to Edit. Check spelling, grammar, usage.

    Once you think it is finished, set it aside for a few days, maybe even a week. Then pull it out and go through it again. When you have it as good as you can get it, get send it out to be edited by another person. Someone you can trust. My suggestion for this piece is to have them check spelling, grammar, and usage. You don’t want it going to a publisher or to be self-published without at the very least checking these basics. When all is good here, move on to your final stage.

5. Publish It! Send it out to a traditional house or self-publish.

Ready to get published
Ready to get published