ROW80 Check-In 7: Tamora Pierce on finding ideas & dealing with writer’s block


Hello gentle reader,

It is already time for another ROW80 check-in! My goals for this fourth round are as follows: Write or edit every day 4/7

This week I finished my current round of editing for The Last Queen. Unfortunately I didn’t do this every day but I did get a lot more done than last week. I’m hoping to get back to writing every day next week. Also this week my blog reached 200 followers and I have a giveaway to celebrate. Feel free to enter to win YA books!

Now, on to an inspiring story to keep us going this coming week. Today I’m sharing Tamora Pierce’s tips to find ideas and fight writer’s block. When it comes to YA fantasy, one doesn’t really get more successful than Tamora Pierce. She has been writing since the 1980s and she is most famous for her Song of the Lioness quartet.

“Where do you get your ideas?

Some I stumble across: watching his nature programs, I decided British naturalist Sir David Attenborough would make a cool bio-mage. Watching my mother and sister produce blankets from balls of yarn and crochet hooks, I thought of it as a kind of magic, and wondered what all could be done with thread magic. Wrestling with my best friend’s dove gave me the ideas for Kel’s relationship with the baby griffin in SQUIRE. Pictures in magazines also give me ideas, as do stories in the news.

Other ideas come from my past obsessions. From the time I was six or seven until I was ten, I read anything and everything I could find about knights, the Crusades, and the Middle Ages. My next area of interest in knighthood was in the fantasy novels and Arthurian legends I read in middle school.

Another way I get ideas is from people: my Random House editor, Mallory Loehr, my agent Craig Tenney, my husband Tim, my friend Raquel…

Current events and history are also fertile ground for ideas. Keep a file of events and figures that interest you; it might prove useful one day.

The best way to prepare to have ideas when you need them is to listen to and encourage your obsessions. Watch and re-watch all the TV programs and movies you have a need to; read and re-read all the books, magazines and comic books; visit all the museums, zoos, galleries, concerts and wilderness areas; and listen to all the kinds of music that interest you. If you get a sudden passion for anything and everything to do with, say, gang warfare, starling behavior, painting frescoes, or jousting, go with the urge. Find out all you can. Even if you can’t use it right away, it’ll go into some holding zone deep in your brain, and surface when you need it. All creative people–not just writers!–expose themselves to as much information, in as many forms, as possible, in the hopes that it will be useful down the road, or even right now. You never know what will spark something new!


How do you deal with writer’s block? Here are some fixes I use when I get stuck:

  • Introduce a new character, a strong one with an individual style in speech, dress and behavior–one who will cause the other characters to review their own actions and motives to decide where they stand with regard to the new character.
  • Have something dramatic happen. As Raymond Chandler put it, “Have someone come through the door with a gun in his hand.” (My husband translates this as “Have a troll come through the door with a spear in his hand.”) Machinery or vehicles (cars, wagons, horses, camels) can break down; your characters can be attacked by robbers or pirates; a flood or tornado sweeps through. Stage a war or an elopement or a financial crash. New, hard circumstances force characters to sink or swim, and the way you show how they do either will move things along.
  • Change the point of view from which you tell the story. If you’re doing it from inside one character’s head, try switching to another character’s point of view. If you’re telling the story from an all-seeing, third person (“he/she thought”) point of view, try narrowing your focus down to one character telling the story in first person. If down the road in the world you’ve created someone has written a book or encyclopedia about these events, insert a nonfiction-like segment (that doesn’t give the important stuff away) as a change of pace. Try telling it as a poem, or a play (you can convert it to story form later).
  • Put this story aside, and start something else: letters, an article, a poem, a play, an art project. Look at the story in a day, or a week, or a couple of months. It may be fresh for you then; it may spark new ideas.
  • If you have an intelligent friend who’s into the things you’re writing about, talk it out with him/her. My husband often supplies wonderful new ideas so I can get past whatever hangs me up, and my family and friends are used to mysterious phone calls asking about things seemingly out of the blue, like what gems would you wear with a scarlet gown, or how tall are pole beans in late June?
  • Most important of all, know when it’s time to quit. Sometimes you take an idea as far as it will go, then run out of steam. This is completely normal. When I began to write, I must have started 25 things for each one I completed. Whether you finish something or not, you’ll still have learned as you wrote. The things you learn and ideas you developed, even in a project you don’t finish, can be brought to your next project, and the next, and the next. Sooner or later you’ll have a story which you can carry to a finish.”

How are other ROWers doing? Here is the Linky to support each other!

7 thoughts on “ROW80 Check-In 7: Tamora Pierce on finding ideas & dealing with writer’s block

  1. S. J. Maylee says:

    Congratulations on finishing a round of edits on your WIP and 200 followers, very nice. Tamora gives great advice and it’s exactly what I needed to read today, thanks. Hope you have a great week.

  2. katecopeseeley says:

    That is some great advice about writer’s block. I’ll be sure to remember that. I get most of my ideas from dreams, so as long as I keep dreaming, I think I’ll be fine. 🙂

  3. Great advice. Congrats with your edits, EM.

  4. Lena Corazon says:

    EM, you’ve given us so much good stuff this week–Tamora Pierce and tons of great ideas (which I will be filing away, ’cause they’re going to come in handy).

    Congrats on reaching 200 followers!

  5. Gene Lempp says:

    Excellent advice there. Congrats on completing the latest round of edits, great accomplishment. Have a fantastic week and Thanksgiving 🙂

  6. Yay for finishing edits!
    And thanks for sharing this piece of advice!

  7. Loved this – very timely… And like Juliana says Yay! for end of editing.

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