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Sandra Schwab | Battling Writer’s Block

April 8, 2008

Most writers know – and dread – it: the horrid mid-book blues. That point when the sizzle disappears from your story and it becomes the most awful thing written in the history of mankind. No, indeed, the most awful thing written in the history of the whole wide world! Really, if dinosaurs would have been able to write, even they would have produced so much better stories than you! You are a fraud! And should you ever manage to finish the book and to hand it in, your poor editor and agent will most certainly drop dead because of the awfulness of it. And it will be all your fault!

As you might have guessed, I am intimately acquainted with the aforementioned horrid mid-book blues. Only in my case, it’s doesn’t happen when I reach the middle of a book, no, it usually happens when I reach the end of chapter 3. I happily scribble away for the first 50-75 pages and then, all of a sudden, I’m stuck, my characters are stuck, my Muse has vanished, and the story has screeched to a perfect standstill. What is a poor writer to do?

1) Phone a friend and whine.

2) Eat chocolate. (Lots of chocolate.)

3) Stare at the blinking cursor on your monitor until you’ve become raving mad and start banging your head on the keyboard.

The effectiveness of such measures, however, is dubious (especially if you manage to damage your notebook or AlphaSmart in the course of the head-banging-on-keyboard). More drastic methods are called for!

4) Kill your characters off in an interesting way (e.g. drop a mountain or meteor onto them; let a vulcano erupt; they even might become the victims of an awful – and deadly – alien attack!) Unfortunately, this wonderful way of battling writer’s block isn’t unproblematic as most editors don’t seem to think the death of the protagonists in the middle of a romance novel is such a good idea. (Duh.) So this brings us to:

5) Skip ahead in the story and write the love scene.

Tried and tested method, which I successfully applied while writing Castle of the Wolf after my poor heroine had been stuck on a steamboat on the Rhine for months on end. (I even thought about letting her fall into the river and find a watery grave in the muddy waters of the old stream, but see notes on #4.) With Bewitched, my next novel, though, things were not that easy: a love scene was not to be found (only the aftermath of a love scene) and the story flowed along sluggishly at best – in other words: the Muse kept pouting. Obviously she wanted to be entertained.

6) Entertain your Muse by giving your characters fictitious books to read

Which is why the heroine of Bewitched gets to read a lovely shilling romance (= the 19th-century equivalent of massmarket paperbacks): “The Horrible Histories of the Rhine” is a gripping story full of daring knights and hapless damsels in distress, ghastly monsters, glorious adventures and true love (of course), and whenever I got stuck in the story proper I simply worked on another snippet from “The Horrible Histories.” And why was this so effective and wonderfully entertaining? Because the daring knights and hapless damsels are, in fact, my colleagues from university. *ggg* For example, the beautiful Alexandie, who is kidnapped by the awful Green Man in “The Horrible Histories” is in real life Alexandra, whose PhD project deals with the motif of the Green Man in literature.

Naturally, even though I had successfully battled writer’s block while writing Bewitched, I still thought the reading of the manuscript might prove fatal for my poor agent and editor (luckily, it didn’t). And so I had to apply method #1 and #2 anyway, only this time after I had handed in the book.


Thanks for having me here at the Fresh Fiction blog!

Best wishes from Germany,
Sandra Schwab

To learn more about Sandra and her stories, please visit her website at, where you can also read an excerpt from Bewitched. Or listen to Sandra reading from the novel.

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