Tag Archives: writer’s block

Writer’s Block? Surely you jest!

By Terri Benson

Terri Benson1Who’s Shirley? But seriously, folks (OK, not really seriously, but kinda), have you ever suffered from Writer’s Block? I hear about it all the time, but I think I’m immune. Even if I wrote 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, I don’t think I could empty out the ideas and words writhing around in my head. And on top of that, every day I add more ideas and words. One of these days my head might explode (I can see it now – Exploding Head at Library: Story at eleven!).

If you find yourself stuck, and I think this applies to just about every fiction genre, go to the mall. Listen to the kids talk to each other—you’ll get YA ideas, sci-fi (you can’t get more alien than teenagers!), dialect, swear words, current clothing, technology, and lots more. Or how about wandering down Main Street and observing the architecture – don’t you wonder what went/goes on behind those covered windows on the upper floors over the stores? Who might be looking out at you right now, and why?

Unless, or even if, it creeps you out, wander through the cemetery – you’ll find tons of names to file away, see interesting art, and read some great epitaphs. Like that Masonic symbol over there. Was he one of the secret society who held the key to great riches or knowledge, or did his poor wife have to take the only headstone she could afford, one that had been “returned” by another wife who decided instead of a formal burial, she’d just flush her old hubby and call it good?

Once in a while the newspaper will run an article about some obscure crime, location, or person that you can use as inspiration in your story. The Nobel Laureate who recently died could be your character’s college roommate who invented time travel in the alternate universe your story is set in, or the little old lady found dead after begging on the streets for years who was worth millions – maybe she was a famous cat burglar, or the character’s long lost mother, sister, or even your character in later years.

Benson_monkey flowerTake a hike – literally. Check out the flora (that’s flowers and green stuff to most of us) – look close – you can see creepy faces in those things sometimes. I saw a story today on a vegetarian spider (REALLY!). I don’t think I could convince anyone spiders come with stripes of red, blue, yellow and checkerboard – unless they saw a photo of that spider. In an alternate world the spider could be the good guy for a change, up against human-eating, fluffy, sweet looking, killer gerbils.

Benson_spiderPay attention to the temperature and how it makes you feel. Remember the feeling of sweat rolling down your back and wetting your waistband – it could be blood. Goo squishing up between your toes on the riverbank? Maybe not mud.

TV, bane of our existence, can offer up a host of inspirations as well. With the History, Science, Discovery, Military and other specialty channels, you can get all kinds of ideas to research – just don’t let the research suck you down the Rabbit Hole (hey, I resemble that blog!).

Even the stupid shows might help. How about Bar Rescue? You see weird people screaming, crying, and insulting each other. Let’s see: a story about the owner of a bar being renovated who kills the reality host and tries to pin it on the sex offender posted on the city website that lives in the scary old mansion-turned-flophouse down the road, who is actually the father of the highest ranking senator in the state, and the murder weapon was a 3D printed candy cane sharpened to a point with an electric pencil sharpener located in the office of the local Clerk & Recorder under investigation for fraud and involved in an affair with the bar owner’s wife (and If I see this in print, I’d better be in the credits. Seriously. No, really!)

Writer’s Block? Not me, and not you, if you just get out there and let yourself be inspired.

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Benson_Unsinkable finalA life-long writer, Terri Benson is published in historic romance, has written award winning short stories and over a hundred newspaper, magazine and e-zine articles – many award winning.

She has been a member of RWA for decades, and RMFW for the last several years. She promotes Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelts RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogs.

An Unsinkable Love (with a gorgeous new cover), is available from Amazon.

No Need to Bleed: Painless Ways to Breach the Blank Page

By Lori DeBoer

“It is easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest Hemingway likely wasn’t recommending that one literally open a vein. I think.  Besides being dark and witty, this quote keeps coming back in different forms, attributed to disparate authors, because for most of us wordsmiths, it speaks a truth.

I’d rarely had to search for that vein in my 20 years as a journalist, because the fear my editors inspired made me able to compose leads in my head during the drive home from an interview or an event.  By the time I hit my computer, I already had a few full paragraphs ready to tumble to the page.

That was until I sat down to write my first piece of fiction. I pulled up a blank page and blanked. It was sheer, imposing and seemed to offer no toeholds.

I breached that blank page, with a bit of determination and a fair amount of bloodshed. Since blood, metaphorical or not, makes me faint, I’ve developed some easier ways to get into story, ones that don’t require stocking up on iron supplements.

Here goes:

Write nonsense–Type any old thing until your brain stops its bitching and gets engaged in the story.  You may have to write nonsense for a few pages, but keep going.  If you fail to gain some traction midway through your allotted daily word count or writing time, then shift to revising, research or sending stuff out.

Write a shitty first draft–I wish this were my advice, but it’s Anne Lamott’s.  If you aspire to write, you must read her book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. She talks openly about her own fits and starts and has this to say:  “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”

Give it your worst shot–I teach for a living and found that my students not only loved examples of crappy writing, but they learned from trying to improve them. Since I am a do-it-yourself kinda gal, I rose to the challenge of writing some of the crappiest crap around for my advanced writing classes. There wasn’t a cliché I didn’t borrow, a run-on sentence I didn’t elongate to a ridiculous end. Writing crap turned out to be fun and liberating.  Often, crap turns into keepers. For inspiration (and a spot for your own terrible writing), please visit the website for the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest, organized by the English Department at San Jose State University, which invites entrants  to write the worst opening sentence to the worst possible novels.  (www.bulwer-lytton.com)

Pen a gossipy letter–This strategy confuses your internal critic because it doesn’t know whether to bark, bite or wag its tale. That’s because writing a letter–dripping with juicy details that only someone in the know would know—is rather a quaint endeavor, don’t you think?  In that letter, which you may or may not send, indulge in the latest scandal about your characters.  What is up with your main character’s latest choice in lovers?  What is your antagonist hiding, anyway?  You love to dish.  Indulge.

Borrow a line–Your English teacher would call this plagiarizing, but I prefer to think of it as priming your pump.  Just remember to delete this line from your story at some point during the revision process.   For bonus points, don’t pick a line you love; pick one at random. For extra bonus points, jump genres.  Caveat:  don’t spend all day picking out a line, please. If procrastinating’s your game, go scrub your tub.

Cut to the exciting part–Instead of walking in circles, trying to figure out where you are supposed to start story, try fast  forwarding to the exciting part.  Chances are, that’s your real beginning, anyway.

Prompt yourself–If you find yourself staring down a blank page, having someone tell you what to do can help.  Lucky for you, there are a kazillion tried-and-true writing prompts.

Throw in some mystery–If the main point of view character encounters some sort of mystery to puzzle over or an intriguing problem to solve, chances are your fuzzy little writing brain will start puzzling over it, too.  You’ll find yourself several pages in just because you want to figure out what’s going on

Come out swinging–You don’t need to have your characters taking physical punches at each other like mad monkey ninjas, unless that sort of scene suits your genre. Simply starting a story with two characters at odds with each other will send a thrill up your storyline and have you coming back for more.

Picture it–Break up a blank page by slapping some pictures on that sucker and you’ll be closer to starting your story.  Many writers take this to extreme, creating whole Pinterest boards with photos of their story’s characters, settings, costumes and the ilk.  If you do this, I not only approve, but am a teensy bit jealous.

Start with the ending–I like writing the ending of a story before I start the beginning because I can trick myself into feeling like the heavy lifting is done.  Plus, I have a better chance of starting a story if I know where it’s going to end up, just like I have a better chance of having a successful road trip if I know if I am driving to Santa Fe or San Francisco

Well, that’s a sampling from my bag of tools for breeching the blank page.  What are some of yours?

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Lori DeBoerLori DeBoer is an author, freelance journalist and writing coach whose work has appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, The New York Times, Pithead Chapel, Arizona Highways, Gloom Cupboard and more. She has contributed essays on writing to Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts, Keep It Real: Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About Research and Writing Creative Nonfiction and A Million Little Choices: The ABCs of CNF. She founded the Boulder Writers’ Workshop, is a contributing editor for Short Story Writer and is a homeschooling mom. She and her husband Michael and son Max live in Boulder.

For more about Lori, please visit her website and blog.

Achieving Your Writing Resolutions

By Kris Neri

Neri_Revenge cover artSure, January 1st is just a date on the calendar. Still, there’s something about a new year that makes us want to reboot our hopes and dreams, and bring a new determination to achieving them. For us writers, often resolutions include taking our craft to new levels, or finally finishing that WIP that’s dragged on too long.

But with determination comes pressure, and too much pressure can make writing sputter to a halt. To help you to achieve 2014 writing resolutions, I’d like to take a look at writer’s block.

First of all, if you find yourself stalled, don’t panic. You’re not the first writer this has happened to. Writers practically invented procrastination. Many of us would rather perform the most dreaded household chore, instead of writing a paragraph or two. Whether your writing has sputtered to a halt, or if you simply can’t begin, the inertia you’re experiencing can be overcome. Here are some things to consider:

•  Identify the cause: Perhaps the problem isn’t with you, it’s with the material. Maybe your mind is trying to tell you that the way you’ve planned to write the next scene isn’t working. See if taking the book in a new direction eliminates the problem.

•  Perfectionism: Sometimes the problem isn’t that you can’t write — it’s that you refuse to accept the level you’re writing at. Writing is a craft that develops with effort over time. If you’ve shut down the flow of your creativity with your own unreasonable demands, you must allow yourself to write a flawed first draft. Remember that cliché: All writing is re-writing. You’ll perfect it later; for now, get it down.

•  Fears: If anxiety is hobbling you, you need look at what you’re afraid of. Loads of writers before you have let fears overcome them: fear of success, fear of failure, fear of telling the truth, and so many others. The thing to remember is that all of those fears involve something you may have to deal with in the future. Can you put them aside for now and just concentrate on the work before you?

Here are some tips to get the process started again:

•  Write something: Even if you throw it away later, at least you’ll have begun. Sometimes even copying something you’ve written before can help.

•  Start small: set yourself a goal as modest as just writing a paragraph. If you can comfortably expand on that, do it—but continue to keep your goals manageable, until you’re past your discomfort.

•  Start from a strength: every writer has some area that come especially easy, be it dialogue or action scenes, etc. Start writing in the area where your confidence is strongest, even if it’s a scene that will never make it into your manuscript. If you’re able to successfully write something unrelated to your WIP, that might demonstrate a hidden fear.

Here are some other hints that might prevent blocking in the first place:

•  Establish a routine: Set aside a time to write, and treat this period with the importance it deserves. You’ll feel more prepared when you start.

•  Reward yourself: Promise to reward yourself with some treat when you manage to write. No cheating! And no denying yourself the reward once you’ve earned it, either.

•  Turn off your critical editor: If you know perfectionism is a problem, be alert to the presence of that overly critical voice in your head. Shut it down the instant you hear it. And don’t say you can’t—you turned it on, and only you can turn it off. Try giving your critical editor a stupid name and poke fun at it.

•  Use your sleep hours to prepare yourself for the next day: Many writers have discovered the unconscious hours spent in sleep can be used to ignite their creativity. Before falling sleep give yourself commands for the next day, or ask the questions for which you need answers.

•  Keep a journal: While it’s true that journaling will eat up some of your writing time, your daily musings, if you’re honest about your feelings, often prevents blocking or dramatically shortens its stay.

•  Gaining strength from support: Don’t hide your block as if were a secret shame. Turn to your writer friends for help. Odds are some of them have suffered the same fate, and they might have good ideas for overcoming it.

Mostly, take the long view. You know this block will pass. Besides, for all you know this little respite might provide the insights needed to make your lagging WIP spectacular.

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Kris NeriKris Neri writes the Tracy Eaton mysteries, the latest of which is Revenge on Route 66, a New Mexico-Arizona Book Award finalist, and the Samantha Brennan & Annabelle Haggerty magical mysteries, the most recent of which, Magical Alienation, is a New Mexico-Arizona Book Award winner and a Lefty Award nominee. Kris teaches writing online for the prestigious Writers’ Program of the UCLA Extension School, as well as working as a freelance editor with many writers. She and her husband own The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, AZ.