At last night’s Writing Race, speculative fiction author Peter M. Ball gave us some great insights into his writing process and some tips for getting past those pesky writing road blocks.

Author Peter M. Ball with Spokesbear

Finding inspiration

I usually find inspiration at the intersection of two or three ideas that don’t really seem like they mesh.


The rest is just figuring out how stories work and trying to do something unexpected with the combination. My first novella, Horn, largely came out of the combining unicorns with autopsy results, which led pretty naturally towards writing a hardboiled detective story or police procedural.

World building and research

I usually do most of my research after I’ve got the first draft down, once I’ve got a better idea of what I need to know. At the moment my world building is limited to a handful of scribbled notes like ‘cyborg Minotaur’ and ‘girl in a pin-striped suit and a gas-mask’.

Some tips for working past writing road blocks:

I often find it’s useful to be porlocked from time to time. I rather like revisiting half-written stories a few months later, figuring out how to take the story in a different direction as I head towards the end.

I tend to think the balance is largely a matter of practice, and being willing to stick with things no matter how weird they get. One of the advantages of writing SF and Fantasy is the ability to get pretty strange and still find a market for your work.

I tend to focus on two things when I hit a road block.

  • The first is forgetting the rest of the story and focusing on the next hundred words or so – something short enough and unimportant enough that I don’t have to worry about messing it up. I mean, if I end up throwing out a hundred words, or two hundred, what’s it matter? It’s the fear of having to throw out thousands of words, or tens of thousands, that usually stops me from moving forward.
  • If that doesn’t work I tend to fall back on a trick I read about on a SF writer Nancy Kress’s blog – go back to the last point where I remember being excited about the story and choose a different plot direction for the next scene. The theory is that getting really, really, unable-to-move-forward kinds of stuck is usually a case of the subconscious balking at a narrative decision it recognises as being wrong.

I also work on a lot of different things at once when there’s no looming deadlines, so I’ll chop-and-change to give myself time to think on a particular project when I need.

Thanks for an inspiring Race, Peter!

Writers, you can join us for another great race at AWMonline next Tuesday, 8pm AEST – all welcome.

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