Friday, January 15, 2010

Fighting Writers Block

Today let's talk about writer's block.  First, what is writer's block?  We hear about it all the time, but everyone seems to have a different definition.  One writer friend says she becomes paralyzed with fear that her writing is so awful she shouldn't even be trying to write, and when that happens, she can't.  Others say that when they come up with an idea that they think could be turned into a story, once they sit down to start wrting, nothing comes.  Still others can get halfway through a project, and suddenly they've run out of ideas, inspiration or whatever you want to call it.  They are dead in the water.

I think we all can agree that nothing is more frustrating than having that idea in your head, sitting down to put it in paper or, more likely, into the computer, and then, WHAMO!  nothing comes!  Your mind is a pristine white, perfectly blank piece of paper.

Well, don't feel bad, it happens to all of us.  So what can we do about it?  Have you heard that old saying, "Put you butt into the chair and write?"  And have you replied, at least in your head, "That's what I'm trying to do"?  But how are you trying to do it?

If you have a schedule for writing, and you keep faithfully to that schedule, you can write.  Oh, maybe not get down that perfect idea you woke up with , but write something. A character sketch. A query letter.  A poem.  Try a bit of haiku, the Japanese poetry with three lines of five syllables, seven syllables, and five syllables.  Anything you write is going to keep your mind active, and the more you write, the more you CAN write.  Umm, yeah, a bit of a cliche' but I've heard it so often it must be true.

So, okay, you've got your schedule...and it doesn't matter if it's 15 minutes a day or 3 hours a day, as long as it is a set time that you stick sit down and the ideas don't flow.  You sit and stare at the computer.  You check your email.  You go to your literary boards and see what's happening there.  You get a snack.  The computer screen is still blank.  What's wrong?

Maybe your ideas are not flowing because you've not done the planning and/or the research you need to do.  You've got the idea, maybe even the plot, but what else?  Do you know who your characters are?  Do you know them so well you know how they think, what they are going to say, and how they are going to carry this story to the end?  Do you even know how the story is going to end?  Do you know what subplots you should have, and how these will interrelate with the main plot?  Is the time frame the correct one for the story?  You don't want to have teens texting each other on cell phones if your story takes place in the 1960s.  What about dress, vocabulary, colloquialisms and so on?  Are they all appropriate for the time and setting?

If' you say 'no' to any of these questions, then your problem is probably not 'writers block', but instead, not having done the research and planning ahead of time so the story flows smoothly in your mind, and therefore out your fingers.
Check it out, and make sure you've done all the necessary "scut" work before you sit down to actually write it.

Another thing to try is to not let the page in front of you remain blank.  Even if it is a computer page. I remember one of the exercises I had in my first ICL course.  There was a list of words and I was supposed to use at least 3 of those words in my next assignment.  I was also supposed to take the words I chose and extend them out to add more words that each single word brought to mind.  Example:  take the word "whisper."  what words does that bring to mind?  For me, it was: breeze, girl talk, rumors, leaves on a tree, mystery.  Can you write a story around those words?  I tried, and did.  Keep that in mind when you face a blank page.  Write a word, any word, even a nonsensical one.  Then write all the words that one brings to mind.  Then write a short story, or even just a couple of paragraphs using those words.  That's a good way to get the mind back in gear, and the writing juices flowing.

Take a break.  Seriously.  Take a deep breath, and step away from whatever you're blocking on.  Go for a walk, take a nap, do some gardening, play with the dog, or bake some cookies.  Go to the gym or start taking a daily walk. Anything to get completely away from the project.  Sometimes it helps to work on another project, either something you've already started, or maybe something totally new, that has nothing to do with the story you've blocked on.  I did that once...started a non-fiction article that had a deadline for the query, and just before I finished the article, I had a break through and suddenly knew exactly what I should be doing with the plot that I had blocked on.  Incidentally, I never did get that query out in time.

Sometimes reading can help bring our creativity back into working order.  Read some of the classics, a good mystery or some of the children's books "just for fun."  Don't try to analyze them, or figure out what the writer meant by that last phrase.  Just read.  Lose yourself in the story.  Let yourself get carried away into another imaginary world that you had no part of creating.  By the time you've finished that book, I would bet that you're just itching to get to the computer and get all those fresh ideas down!

The main thing is, don't give up.  Don't let depression set in, or that mean ole' inner editor say, "See, I told you you couldn't write."  Of course you can write!
Not everyone can, but YOU CAN.  Sometimes it's necessary to let our muse go on vacation.  After all, even she can get tired.  But there are all kinds of ways to entice her out of hiding.  Stay healthy, keep to a schedule, keep mentally and emotionally strong, do some of the things you love that have nothing to do with writing, read some good books, listen to some beautiful music, and before you know it, that muse is going to be begging you to come back.

Try it.  It works.  I know from experience.  Let me know how you do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A New Contest

Contests! We all love them, right?  Hmm, well, a lot of writers do.  I must admit I've never entered very many.  There is one I enter every year at the writers' conference I go to in October, but the most I've done there is to get an Honorable Mention.  I get excited about contests, then get wrapped up in my writing or ICL assignments, or life in general, and forget about them until the due day is past.

But there is a new contest that I am absolutely going to enter.  I don't care what comes up, I AM going to enter.  It's on which is a really neat blog by Mary Kole, associate agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Anyway, this contest doesn't have money as a prize or a promised contract with an editor or agent.  What it does have is exposure to an agent and to a professional critique of your work.  How cool is that?  It is a contest for MG and YA novels, and they HAVE TO BE FINISHED!

I"m not going to tell you all the rules or what the prizes are, you have to go to the site to find that out.  Again, the site is  I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

About writing contests:  how many of you do actually enter them?  What do you think of them...are they helpful, do they make you think, do you gain anything from entering even if you don't win?  Since I haven't entered but just a few, I'm seriously wondering about them.  Oh, I know the main objective is to win, or at least place.  After all, that looks good on your bio when you send off a query.  But what else does entering a contest do?

If you don't win...or even place or get an Honorable you come away feeling like you are a loser, that you'll never be published, that you should just stop writing you come away feeling renewed, more determined than ever to continuing writing, to get that story down in such a way that the editor who reads it will wonder why it took you so long to get it into their hands?  The latter is the optimum feeling, but is it the most prevalent one?  I don't know, so this is not a rhetorical question...I really want to know how you feel.

Regardless...I AM going to enter the kidlit contest.  I may come away with bruised feelings, but at least I will be able to say I tried.

I have a friend who enters every writing contest she can find.  It doesn't matter if it is for a novel, a story, Non-fiction, crafts, puzzles, poetry or what.  It is a contest, she enters it.  Sometimes she wins, sometimes she places or gets an Honorable Mention, and sometimes it proves to be a waste of time.  But she is consistent in her trying.

I wish I could be like that.  How about you?

Truth in Imagination

It's been a week since I last posted.  With my husband still in a wheel chair, and another 3-4 weeks to go, I haven't had much time to even think about writing, much less do it.

Today, however, I started thinking about something one of my friends asked me.  She asked me if having been a teacher was what gave me the impetus to write.  I had to think about that for awhile.  I know a lot of writers who are or have been teachers.  So is there something about teaching that leads so many of us to write?

I'm not sure.  With the exception of a year and a half where I taught physically and sexually abused children, all my teaching experience has been with adults.  Hmm...well, chonologically adults, any way.  University students, juniors, seniors and graduate students.  I can see where teaching children from elementary to high school would be good experience, and offer good "fodder" for writing...but college kids?  I don't know about that.

When I started writing, I wanted to create a world of imagination for kids, but one in which they could each find some small measure of truth, something that would ring true just for them.  Truth in Imagination.  Okay, so that's a difficult concept to explain, probably because that's just my concept, or at least, what I call my feelings about writing.  I want to write a story that sparks the imagination of a child, and yet one in which that child can find a truth.  A truth about friendships or relationships, about nature and the environment, about most anything that is real.  Even a truth about her/himself.  Does that make sense to you?

Okay, let's try it a different way.  Do you remember when you were reading as a kid, and you got lost in the story?  Your imagination took off, and for a short, wondrous while, you were not you, but the heroine or hero in the story.  Think about it...did any of those stories you read make you realize something that was true in real life?  If so, isn't that kinda like "truth in imagination?"

One of the stories I had published was about a young boy who went to live with his father on a ranch.  The boy hated horses because he was afraid of them.  One night in a storm, his father had to leave to find a vet for a newborn foal, and he told the boy that he was relying on him to go out to the pasture and keep the foal alive until the vet could get there.  To the child reading this story, wouldn't he put himself into the story and imagine what he would do?  Would he refuse to go out in the  storm with an upset mare and a newborn foal?  If he did, how would or could he help keep the foal alive?  If he didn't, how would he feel about betraying the trust his father had put in him?  As he reads on, he finds out what the boy did, and he can ask himself "Is this what I would have done?"

The story sparks the imagination but leaves a measure of truth for the reader to figure out for himself.  Is the reader learning something about himself, or about what can happen in real life by this story?  I think so.  I hope so.  Not because I intended to "teach" anything, but because I hope I put a grain of truth into an imaginative story.

Truth in Imagination: think about it.  Isn't that something that all teachers try to do in the class room?  I did.  At the university, I taught mostly Statistics and Research Methodolgy.  I know, I know...UGH!  Most of my students thought the same way.  So I tried to make a very dry subject interesting and relevant to daily life.  Statistics don't lie...a very tired cliche' but its the truth, no matter what.  So where did 'imagination' come in?  I brought real life into the class, by asking the students to use their imaginations to come up with real life situations that could be resolved by using statistics.  The point need logic to learn statistics, therefore you can apply the laws of statistics by using logic in real life situations even if they are imaginary ones.

When I started writing 'for real,' I tried to keep the concept of truth in imagination alive and well in my writing.  Hopefully, I have been able to do that.  The stories I've published, I think, have exemplified that concept.  I believe that I was able to do that in my last novel, as well.  We'll see about this next's an historical novel, so I think it's going to be a little more difficult to use that concept.

Think about it: whether you've ever been a teacher or not, don't you try to put truth into the imaginative stories that you write?  I don't mean "truth' as in facts.  We'll leave those for non-fiction writers.  But unless you write only Science Fiction or Fantasy, I'll bet you've used the concept of Truth in Imagination again and again...but you've just never thought of it in those terms.

Think about it...Let me know...