Showing posts with label writers block. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writers block. Show all posts

Sunday, July 2

Writer's Block and How to Beat it

Writer's Block and How to Beat it

I've been trying to write this blog post all day but the words wouldn't come.

I know all writers have experienced writer's block and know what a horrible feeling it is.

I know some folks deny there's any such thing as writer's block, that professional writers can't afford it. And they DO have a point.

But sometimes the words hover just out of reach. They peek around the corner then run screaming.

An hour ago I realized what was wrong: I had writer's block because I wanted to write something else! My muse wanted to work on the murder mystery I'm writing, but I NEEDED to write nonfiction.

The Secret to Curing Writer's Block: Compromise

Living with one's creative self, one's muse, is a bit like any serious long-term relationship: the key is compromise. I worked on my murder mystery for an hour (I set a timer!).

After the hour passed I sat down to write this blog post and the words (finally!) flowed.

Another thing that works is to write—or to TRY to write—for half an hour (or whatever span of time) and then, after half an hour, give yourself permission to do something else for ten minutes.

I find that, often, I end up working past thirty minutes because I've found inspiration. But it's important I know I have the very real option of stopping after half an hour.

Writing is about truth (at least, IMHO), and in order to write truth one has to be true to oneself. If your muse is leading you in a certain direction, try it out!

Do Something Else Creative

Take a break from writing and do something else creative: paint, draw, or cook. Do anything creative that strikes your fancy!

Chicken Noodle Soup: A Recipe

My favorite creative activity is cooking. I cook and I write. Today I made chicken soup. Here's my recipe:


4 large mushrooms
1 zucchini, cubed
1 crown of broccoli
1 stalk of celery
1 bunch of spinach
1 sweet onion
1 head of garlic, crushed and cut up
5 medium tomatoes
4 or 5 chicken drumsticks or thighs
chile flakes
civicha sauce (optional)


- Cut up the vegetables into bite sized cubes, including the mushrooms.
- Sauté the onions until almost translucent.
- Add garlic and sauté for 5 minutes or so.
- Add chicken and brown. I don't bother deboning the chicken, but it's up to you.
- Add enough water to cover everything, plus an inch or so.
- Add chile flakes.
- Cut stalk off broccoli and cut into cubes. Add to pot.
- Add celery.
- Add salt and pepper.
- Add cubed tomatoes.
- Simmer for 15 minutes or so or until the chicken is cooked.
- Add zucchini and mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes or until the zucchini has reached desired doneness.
- Taste the soup and add salt and pepper as needed. If it's not spicy enough (I love mine spicy!) I had a teaspoon or so of civicha.


Put a handful of spinach in a large serving bowl and ladel the soup on top. Stir the soup, making sure the spinach is limp.

That's it! Add whatever vegetables you'd like, I sometimes roast them first (especially root veges) and add them at the same time as the zucchini.

If you try the recipe, let me know I'd love to find out what you've created. :-)

Every post I pick something I believe in and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I like with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, they put a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I'm recommending a reference book I have on my bookshelf, one I consult all the time. Next to Stephen King's On Writing, It's one of the most useful books I own. I'm speaking of Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark.

From the blurb:

"Ten years ago, Roy Peter Clark, America's most influential writing teacher, whittled down almost thirty years of experience in journalism, writing, and teaching into a series of fifty short essays on different aspects of writing. In the past decade, Writing Tools has become a classic guidebook for novices and experts alike and remains one of the best loved books on writing available."

Monday, July 25

Write Now: Let Go of Perfectionism

We want certain people to be perfectionists. We want them not to rest until their work is exactly right. Brain surgeons, chemists, geneticists, movie projectionists and, of course, accountants.

Writers, though, not so much. For a writer, perfectionism leads to missed deadlines and ulcers. Which isn’t to say that we don’t want our prose to sparkle. But perfectionism leads to second-guessing oneself and that’s poison to a writer’s muse.

Perfectionism Can Kill A Writing Career

Professional writers can’t miss deadlines. (Well, I’m pretty sure that writers like Stephen King or George R.R. Martin could miss a deadline or three, but most of us are light years away from being anywhere even remotely close to that particular ballpark.) 

If I contracted to write an article of a certain length by a certain date and then didn’t turn my work in on time or if it wasn’t to spec, then not only am I not getting paid, but I’m probably not getting another job from that person. If that happens enough times, it can kill a career.

Accept That You See Your Writing Differently Than Anyone Else

I’m often surprised by readers’ comments on my work. Especially on the first draft, what a reader will say they read and what I thought I wrote can be very different things.

But of course that’s the case! These are my thoughts and ideas. As Stephen King wrote in On Writing, this thing we do is really an odd sort of telepathy. Let me demonstrate:

There is a cat on a mat.

Simply by virtue of you reading, “There is a cat on a mat,” you thought of a cat on a mat. (Here’s my favorite: Don’t think of a white bear. But I can’t help it! To read and understand the sentence I inevitably think of a white bear.) So just by virtue of you reading those words I’ve transmitted my thought, my idea, to you.

Of course the idea of a cat on a mat is a general idea. Many of the details, the specifics, are going to differ between my cat and yours. As it happens, my cat is a tabby cat and it’s laying on an oblong, white, braided mat. Your cat might be a Siamese, or Persian, or perhaps a sleek Russian Blue.

And let’s not forget about the place in which the cat lies indolently upon the mat. I pictured my tabby curled lazily in front of a lit fireplace in a rustic cabin out in the woods. Where is your cat? In a building? Outdoors? Is it grooming itself, sleeping, or perhaps it’s looking intently at something you can’t quite make out just to the right of you, a space which seemed empty a moment ago. (mmmmmwwwwahahahahahaha)

In any case, I hope I have convinced you that, although there are differences in the specifics of the thought I wrote down (“There is a cat on the mat”) and the thought that you had after reading what I wrote, I successfully transmitted my thought to you.

How cool is that!

Anyway, my point is that no matter how obsessively you craft your writing—words that go together to create a sentence, a unit, a thought—you will never have full control of how your reader fills out the thought, how they complete it. 

I try to write with an awareness that I don’t have anything like complete control over how my thoughts fit into the teeming ecosystem of a reader’s mind, of the nuances that they bring to any text, nuances that subtly—or not so subtly—shade the meanings of my words.

How To Beat Perfectionism AND Defeat Writer’s Block

1. The Trial By Fire Method

I’ve done this. Write a blog post a day for a month, giving yourself a strict time limit. Say, two hours. After two hours, publish what you’ve written, even if it is incomplete. (Though if it is incomplete I would add an explanatory note about the 31 day challenge you’re on so your readers understand what’s going on.)

Toward the end of the month, you’ll get a feeling for where you are in the creation of a blog post. You’ll have a sense for how much more time it will take you to finish and so will be able to judge whether you need to narrow the scope (or perhaps expand the scope) of the article. Also, you will have to—you will be forced to—let go of any thought of being perfect and focus on whether what you have written accomplishes what you set out to do. If it does, and it’s spell checked and there are no grammatical mistakes, then click the publish button!

2. Freewriting

I don’t do this exercise often, but the times I have it has been very effective. Set a timer for five minutes (it can be any fairly short period of time) and begin writing. When the timer goes off you don’t have to stop that very second. Finish your thought and then read what you have. Chances are it’s a decent (though very short) rough draft.

You Have To Write A Rough Draft Before You Can Write the Finished Product

For myself, writer’s block comes from wanting to skip all the rough drafts and just write the finished perfect draft the first time through. While I’m sure there are writers who can do that, the overwhelming majority of professional writers can’t. Most writers need to vomit out a rough draft—several rough drafts—first. 

When I have a rough draft, even one that makes me cringe, I have something I can make better.

That’s it! I hope you’ve found something here that inspired you or helped you in some way. I’d love to hear your thoughts on perfectionism. Have you ever had writer’s block? What happened? How did you get over it? Please take a moment to share your tips and experiences, I’d love to read about them.

Until Thursday, good writing!

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Thursday, June 25

Write That Story! Don’t Let Fear Win

Write That Story! Don’t Let Fear Win

It’s said that, at the end of life, what haunts us ISN’T the things we did but the things we didn’t do. 

We can’t do everything in the time allotted to us, but we can do the important things. We can pursue our passions.

I think this is something that we, as writers, need to take to heart. (And by “writer” I mean just that--people who write. One does not need to be published to be a writer.)

For the past while I have deeply regretted letting fear rule me and NOT writing a particular story.

But please don’t misunderstand. There are many reasons to NOT write a story. (Stephen King talks about a few of these in “On Writing.”) Perhaps you’ve only got hold of a part of the story so you need to wait for the rest, for a complete idea. After all, it took Stephen King a few decades to finish the story we now know as “Under The Dome.” And so on.

There are good reasons to delay setting pen to paper. Fear, though, is NEVER a good reason. (Remember: just because you write a story doesn’t mean you have to publish it!)

My Story

Back at the beginning of my journey as a writer, back before I published anything, I had this idea for a story: From the first person perspective, have each of three characters tell the reader about an event that happened to all of them at the end of grade seven. They had been camping in the woods, camping with a fourth person, a person who died that night. Each of the first person accounts would differ and, through those differences, the reader would come to know the characters.

By the three-quarter point I wanted the reader to have formed certain conclusions about what happened that night. 

The last quarter of the story would be written in objective third person (fly on the wall perspective) and would be a recounting of the event itself. Further, the ending would introduce a twist, something that would shatter one of the reader’s fundamental assumptions, but in a way that made sense. 

At least, that was the plan!

Now, I’m not saying this story would have been any good, but I would have enjoyed writing it and, at the very least, it would have been good writing practice.

What Happened

I ended up never writing the story. Here’s what happened: 

A friend asked what the story was about. These days I have a rule: Never EVER discuss a WIP before the first draft is complete. At that time my story was still in the idea stage. Anyway, I told her. 

She said, “Oh no! You can’t do that. You can’t switch the POV from first to third at the end and you absolutely can’t have three different first person accounts.” 

And then she gave me a look that seemed to question my sanity!

Please don’t misunderstand. I now think my friend was correct, having three different first person narrators would have been extremely off-putting for readers (to say the least!). But that was in the days before I knew about free indirect voice. If I had written the story and put it away in a drawer I could have gone back to it as a more experienced writer and turned the first person accounts into third person accounts but without losing the sense of intimacy the story required.

As it was, my fear made me rethink the entire story. Where before I was excited and eager to begin now I questioned the whole enterprise. I spent so much time rethinking the story that I decided I wasn’t mature enough as a writer to attempt the project and put it to the side.

Here’s my advice: Even if you’ve gotten hold of an idea for a story you think you’ll never be able to publish, if it’s in your heart to write it, if you’re passionate about it, then go for it! Write it. 

Nowhere is it written, there is no commandment scrawled on stone tablets, that you have to publish every story you write.

Granted, you might NOT want to take months, or even years, out of your life writing a book length work you don’t think will be publishable. Point taken. But I believe that every longform story--the main plot line at least--can be condensed into a shortish story. Or at least a novella. 

Changing POV

The other day Adam Savage interviewed Andy Weir, author of runaway bestseller “The Martian,” for his podcast. It’s fascinating and I urge you to listen. Anyway, Adam mentions the book has a POV shift from first to third person halfway through!

When I heard that I sat in stunned silence. Now, I’m not saying that just because Andy Weir was able to pull off switching from first person to third that I would have been able to pull it off. I’m only saying that I should have tried. I should have written the story and THEN made the judgement call: Did it work?

As Stephen King says: It’s all on the table. Everything. Try it out. If it doesn’t work then don’t send the story out into the world. That one will just be for you. I’ve got a few stories like that and, honestly, they’re some of my favorites!

In Conclusion

The lesson I’ve learnt (or at least I hope I have!) is: Don’t let fear stop you from writing the story that’s in your heart to write.

I’ve decided I AM going to write that story and, in tandem with writing this blog post, have completed a (very rough!) first draft. Even if the story never sees the light of day, I’m putting this in the win column because I conquered my fear. And fear can lead to writers block--or at least it can if you’re me. (grin)

Don’t let fear get the upper hand. Write the story!

Talk to you again next week. In the meantime, good (fearless) writing!

Saturday, December 1

Writing Prompts: Defeat Writer's Block And Generate Ideas

Writing Prompts: Defeat Writers Block And Generate Ideas

Writing Prompts

Writing prompts are a great way to begin a writing session; I think of it a bit like a vocal artist warming up her voice by singing scales.

And, unlike the improvisations of a vocalist, the result of our intellectual calisthenics persists, whether in a digital file or scribbled in a notebook ready to be mined later.

I just finished reading a great article about writing prompts written by Simon Kewin called Writing Prompts 101.

Simon notes that one of the wonderful things about prompts is that what you write in response to a prompt can be entirely unstructured.

You can jot down ideas in point form--or even words--and use the prompt to begin free associating.

The prompt is there to give your writing a place to start, an initial focus.

Simon writes:
You may just come up with rough, disjointed notes or you may end up with something more polished and complete, a scene or even a complete story. The point is to simply start writing without being held back by any inhibitions or doubts.
So, why use writing prompts? Simon writes (I'm paraphrasing):

1. Defeat Writer's Block

Imagine you're hard at work on a murder mystery and, for some reason, the words have stopped flowing. This happens to me sometimes when I reach the "and stuff happens here" part of my outline.

Simon writes that a way to re-prime your idea pump (as it were) is sometimes to do a short and entirely unrelated piece of writing.

Set your alarm for 5 or 10 minutes and write to a prompt. Afterward, go back to your story. Keep in mind that if, suddenly, you start getting ideas for your story you can just go with it! You just have to write for 5 or 10 minutes, it can be unrelated to the prompt. The prompt is just there to start you writing, to give you that initial idea.

2. Gives You NEW Ideas

Ever had an idea just out of reach? Sometimes taking a break and allowing ourselves to do unstructured writing lets these sort of ideas connect with our conscious mind.

3. Helps Get You Into The Habit Of Writing

Simon suggests we think of our daily writing as an excersize regime to help build our writing 'muscles'. After a couple of weeks you'll find writing easier and you'll be able to write longer.

4. Community Involvement

Various websites publish a daily writing prompt and provide space for writers to show what they wrote or just chat with other writers.

This can be a great way to meet folks interested in the same things you are. Simon suggests these sites:

Developing Your Own Writing Prompts

- Read news stories. Sometimes I think: Oh, this would have been a great story if only ...
- Visit Flickr and look at images. What just happened? What will happen?
- Cloud gazing. What do you see? (By the way, cloud gazing works with any random phenomena.)
- Listen to a song. What was the song about? What was the theme?

If you have a writing prompt you'd like to share, please do! :-)

Other articles you might like:
- NaNoWriMo Ends. Editing Begins!
- Amazon Sweetens the KDP Select Pot For The Holiday Shopping Season
- Crowdfunding: Cutting Out The Middleman

Photo credit: "Four Storms And A Twister" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.