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Finding Your Vein As A Writer -- by David Neilson

“My plot is stuck.”

“I don’t know what the characters do next.”

“What’s the point in writing?”

That slough of despond is familiar to many writers. So familiar that one of its comforts is the fund of advice from those who’ve overcome this nuanced form of writer’s block.

Their counsel usually comes down to fooling your inner critic: that thin-blooded, purse-lipped creature who sneers at every word you scribble. You have to scare them off, wall them up, silence them, so that your words can flow again. It’s not bad thinking. Time enough, when your first draft is finished, for that blend of carping English teacher and the Wicked Witch of the West to do their stuff.

Listen To Your Inner Critic - Selectively

But wait. Suppose, for a second, that your critic isn’t insinuating that you can’t write. What if they’re whispering that you could write fine… if only you were writing the real thing, the thing that you and you alone were meant to write?

And what would that feel like?

For me, it’s like a secret rapture — an experience we hear little about. A love of which I’d no notion through long years when just finishing a story seemed impossible.

I remember how each work would start in a burst of energy, only to end with half-baked themes, stunted characters and a style that seemed trite and passé. Sooner or later (mostly sooner) the text would end up in a filing box.

Waiting for the Right Thing

I was like someone whose belief in an ideal partner has crumbled. But today I know that it’s in these conditions, when you’re bereft of any fun in writing, that the vein can appear. (It doesn’t work like that for dating agencies, but that’s another story.)

Like giving up smoking, the tipping point is different for everyone. In my case the feeling of stasis vanished in an instant. I had always wanted to write something noirish, some kind of PI story, but I liked the ones with female leads better, like V. I. Warshawski or Sharon McCone. Quite independently, I loved central European culture and its history.

My eureka moment came in putting these two together: a crime series set in Mozart’s Vienna. Fortunately, Mozart didn’t apply for the post of MC. Sophie Rathenau did: a woman who wanted to narrate her own adventures.

My first reaction was that I couldn’t do that. And here’s my central point: in the seconds following my next thought - Oh yes I can — she came into my head almost fully formed. Anything I didn’t know about her emerged in the course of the stories. She brought with her a detailed world and a host of characters, and a voice which a number of readers have found striking.

For you the revelation might be a mix of steampunk, Central American cuisine, and modern dance. The only thing that matters is that you truly love each of these elements.

How Do You Know It’s Right?

Being in love, all too often, means not being able to see what everyone around you can — that you’re deceiving yourself about the beloved. So what are the signs you’re in the right vein?

The leap ahead in productivity will be unmistakable. This time the flow won’t dry up. It’s based not on your character, with all its hesitancy, but on those you’re writing. Suddenly there are more story leads than you can follow.

Your habits will change. Scribbled notes on public transport, a stranger’s face appearing on a minor character, snippets of overheard conversation spliced into your dialog. You’ll think about series and know it’s more than a dream.

So How Do You Get Into The Vein?

Not by hanging around for it to show up. The stuff you’re doing now is what you should be doing, even if you’re not happy with it. You’re honing skills that will be vital when the real thing comes along.

I’ll Be Successful And My Problems Will Be Over?

Well, editing will still be tough. Self-doubt will always lour. There’s no guarantee that anyone will like what you write when you’re in the vein. But I do believe that the authenticity that comes from working on the right stuff, stuff that’s been cooking deep inside, will be recognised sooner or later.

So if you feel life is too short to write stuff you’re indifferent to, keep plugging away but admit the feeling. Then see what happens…


David Neilson is the author of The Prussian Dispatch. For more information about the series, visit

This blog originally appeared on Book Marketing Tools

Posted by David Neilson 26 Dec 2016 at 01:13
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Responses to this blog

Lultwriter 26 Dec 2016 at 16:14  
I do believe I feel somewhat like this. At the moment I am writing THE book. The one that I have ached to read since my early teens. The one that combines everything I want from a good story in one. The vague beginnings of this idea have been brewing in my head for years before I realized that I could try to bring them to paper. It is a magical feeling.
Vandrelyst 26 Dec 2016 at 19:05  
This post resonated with me, too. I finally decided to just write the story I most wanted to tell, with everything I wanted in it (within reason ).
Sherryh 27 Dec 2016 at 14:33  
This really resonates for me right now, too.

I've been in the vein. Deep in. More story ideas than I can keep up with. Characters who spring to mind fully formed, or reveal bits of themselves that suddenly bring elements of the story into crystal-clear focus. Dialogue that cracks. Twists that zing.

But over the past year, the vein has petered out. I can come up with characters, settings, beginnings - but there's no story. I don't know where they go. I can polish and refine older stuff, but there's nothing new to write.

Maybe that's where I'm supposed to be right now, what I'm supposed to be doing. But I know there's more out there. I just don't know how to get to it.

You've very neatly articulated what's going on in my writing life. Maybe there's hope for a solution yet.
Clcurrie 27 Dec 2016 at 16:40  
I needed to read this and I'd like to add to it. I think part of it is that you can "lose" your book. Somewhere in the process of editing, somewhere in the commas and cliches, after the opinions and being told what will sell, the book is no longer yours. There's a line between who you're writing it for and the story being told...and it's thin. A comedian who can't handle the heckler or the flat joke is not much different than the writer who can't handle opinion. I say this, not only from personal experience but also from seeing a good story turn mediocre after editing. A writer should write. Good or bad, liked or not liked, sells or doesn't sell. Get it written, finish it. They all die in the end or they don't, finish it. Then go on to the next one and so forth. Love to write. Enjoy it. Have fun. It will reflect in your story. This is my opinion but it helps me get it done.
Spaulding 27 Dec 2016 at 18:10  
Thank you. I think you just cleared up some of my computer memory that was filled with novels that never got anywhere. I'm on "It." The story that hit the vein.
Vienna 28 Dec 2016 at 11:12  
Best of luck with your projects to everyone here!
James_dash 10 Jan 2017 at 01:34  
Very interesting! Thanks for sharing this. I believe that is my goal, all in all. Currently I see elements of it coming together, but I have yet to see it manifest into a singular entity. I'll keep plugging away at it.

Vienna 10 Jan 2017 at 09:29  

Vienna 10 Jan 2017 at 09:30  
Thanks, and I hope you do get there!
Glennlandy 24 Jan 2017 at 18:57  
I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened - Mark Twain
Grimmig 25 Mar 2017 at 14:59  
Great post, mate! Just what I went through trying and failing to write several novels until I found my vein. After that, the problem was getting my words out perfectly instead of just getting them out.


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