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It must be every writer’s second worst nightmare (the worst being total IT failure and having no backups) – to have the words dry up. I’m not talking about a day where you just can’t find the right turn of phrase, or one of those moments where you think everything you’ve written is awful. No – every writer gets those and they are frustrating, but they pass.

I’m talking about everything that makes you a writer abandoning you: ideas, affinity with your characters, turn of phrase, motivation… the lot. You know you should be trying to push through it – that, surely, if you just get a few sentences down, the words will flow once more. Yet, even opening the file (or looking at the pages, if you write by hand) fills you with a kind of despair.

It happened to me, with Balance of Betrayal. That’s why it took me so long to finish it. I simply couldn’t excite myself about it enough to work at it. I did try – believe me, I tried all sorts of things to get me going again. I booked time in my diary, setting aside writing time (2010, that was); I went on writing holidays – going somewhere right away from home and different to inspire me (2011 and 2012); I re-read all the books in an attempt to get excited about the next one (2012 and 2013]) ; I set myself fictional deadlines for myself (“I will publish the book by Christmas – 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014… ). It worked a bit but it only took me so far and still, I couldn’t get excited about writing.

I know why. Balance of Betrayal was a book that needed to be written, rather than one I wanted to write. I had clear ideas about Age of Oppression and how that was going to play out but having completed Line of Duty I needed to bridge the gap – in terms of timeline and plot.

It started off fine as I picked up from where Line of Duty left off but I soon realised it was taking me far too long to get to the main plot. Too much needed to be explained and positioned before I could get to dealing with Staval and his crimes. So, I split the story in two, published Twelve Moon-cycles as a book on its own, and pressed on. I still had too much content and progress was too slow – so Bremmand Lives was used to capture some of the sub-plots I had been vainly trying to weave into Balance of Betrayal. And still I wasn’t enthused.

At one point, I contemplated abandoning the whole thing, and completing Age of Oppression instead. No-one needed to know there was a book missing, did they? That felt like a cheat to me so I pressed on.

Looking back over it, I realise that my biggest blocker in it all, was the failure to plan – not to plan writing time, you understand, but planning the book itself. I knew the main plot and I’d sketched out the principal characters but I didn’t KNOW them – not like I had for the other books. I knew Pholem had to be seditious but I didn’t know HOW or WHY. I knew Wochal needed to keep sneaking off but his motives were vague. I knew Tonnat needed to be a drunkard, but not what he was up to. I didn’t even really know why Staval had betrayed the King in the first place and, in truth, I STILL don’t know what drives Afrial (I think there is a short story that could be written all about her if I ever decided to write More Bremmand Lives).

For me, writing is all about characters. They are what inspire me and excite me. With my earlier books I was so attached to them that writing was a labour of love – I wanted to tell their stories. With Balance of Betrayal, however, I spent years trying to weave a story around a room full of strangers and it sapped my energy to write.

When, eventually, I understood what they were about, the writing came quickly. It only took about six weeks from the point when I made that breakthrough – not counting the editing time (which took longer because I needed to retro-fit the characters back into the storyline I’d already written).

So, I suppose the moral of the story (and my advice for any writer who is feeling similarly blocked) is that you always need to find the aspect of writing that gives you most joy and motivation. Once you know what that is, invest time in developing that for the book. Don’t try to write – just try to create the interest in the one thing that gives you the springboard for everything else. Then, hopefully, the dam will break and your writing will return.

Cate Caruth is the author of the Bremmand Chronicles. Balance of Betrayal will be released in April 2016. To buy her books or learn more about them, go to www.bremmandchronicles.co.uk

You can follow Cate on Twitter at www.twitter.com/catec23

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