One Writer’s Journey

October 5, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: Writer’s block

No, I’m not saying that you can get beyond writer’s block in 5 minutes.  But if you spend five minutes figuring out why you have it?  Then you’ll know which of these methods to try.

So far this year, I’ve written 6 contracted books.  I’ve rewritten 4 of them.  I’m about to write #7.  I’ve also written one picture book and am about done with another.  And I’m drafting a novel.

Given this schedule, I know what my problem is when I can’t write.  I’m tired.  Physically and quite likely mentally.  I need to apply technique #2.  I need to do something creative or fun and recharge.

But earlier in the year before I met all these deadlines, I couldn’t get the novel outlined.  It just wasn’t happening.  I finally realized that it was because I was intimidated.  I’m good at nonfiction.  Fiction?  Not so much.  Instead of facing the blank page when it was time to draft a scene, a copied a paragraph from the outline.  Ta-da!  The page is no longer blank!  Goofy?  Yes, but the word started to flow.

Solution #3.  That’s what I need to employ when I’ve been writing but something just feels off.  I take a break and fold laundry or walk.  Exciting things like that.  I think about the project.  And very often it becomes clear that I’ve written myself into a corner.  I need to take a new direction.

When you get blocked, spend a few minutes noodling over your schedule, your project, and your emotions.  Once you know where you stand, you’ll have a better chance of getting past that wall.

–SueBE

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June 21, 2018

Writer’s Block: Take a Walk When the Words Don’t Flow

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:44 am
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I’ve heard of people who go through days and months where they cannot write.  They are utterly and completely blocked.  For the most part, I don’t have complete blocks although I do have slow downs.  When it happens, I do these three things to get the word flowing again.

I get up and burn some calories.  I’m not one of those people who believes that no matter what you should stay at your desk.  Sometimes you need a break.  I used to walk the neighborhood.  I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing that but think I should start again.  More often than not I walk on my treadmill or row.

Experiments show that after taking a walk, people test better both in terms of memory and attention, and that seems reasonable.  When you walk, your heart pumps more blood and oxygen not only to your muscles but also to your brain.  Feed your brain and it’s likely to work better.

Other studies show that we can change the pace of our thoughts by walking faster or slowing down.  Just can’t get a flow going?  A brisk walk will jar those notions loose!

Most of us are fairly good at walking, so our minds wonder.  Yeah, imagine that.  A writer’s mind wandering.  Still other studies connect just this type of mental state with making mental breakthroughs.  One minute, I’m noodling over the grocery list.  The next, I know exactly what scene should come first.

The next time that you’re stuck, maybe forcing yourself to stay at your desk isn’t the best answer.  It might be better to take a walk and get both your blood and your ideas flowing.  You don’t have to go walk for an hour.  Try five minutes out and five minutes back.  That’s a ten minute break that didn’t lead you right to the refrigerator.  Like I said, I’m stuck on the treadmill for now – something about a heat advisory.  But I’m looking forward to getting back out in my neighborhood.  I have a few plot issues to work through.

–SueBE

April 4, 2016

Writer’s Block, Brain Block and Outlining my book

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:26 am
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blockRecently I wrote a post about knowing when to quit writing and put something aside vs when to soldier on.  Sometimes you really do benefit from a break, but sometimes you have a deadline and a break just isn’t an option.

That was the situation I faced last week when I was trying to outline my book on the zika virus.  For an entire work day, I struggled with the outline.  I’d skim a page of notes and then add an item or two to my outline.  Then back to the notes.  Then back to the outline where I erased something or moved something or otherwise didn’t accomplish much.

But my deadline was today.  I had to get moving.

Whenever I’m stuck like this but can’t put something aside for a while, I change-up how I work.  In this case, I was popping between two files — my notes and my outline.  Maybe if I could see both at once?

Now I have to confess.  I know people who can work with split screens but I am not one of those people.  Instead, I decided to go Old School.  I printed off 27 pages of notes.  Then I printed off a header for each chapter idea, 8 in all.  Scooping it all up along with a scissors, pen and tape, I headed into the dining room.

Left to right, I spread out my headers.  Then I started going through the notes.  News about genetic engineering and sterilized bugs went in my last chapter.  Notes on Guillain-Barre went in the French Polynesia chapter.  Brazil got the information on microcephaly.  Some pages had to be cut in half.  Others in thirds, but one page at a time, I sorted them all out.  An hour later and I had information sorted into 8 chapters ready to outline. Yes, it took me hours more but I was finally moving forward.

My lesson?  When what you are doing doesn’t work, try something else.  If you’re used to working high-tech, try workng old school.  It just might be the solution you need.

–SueBE

March 22, 2016

Quit or Write

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:00 am
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Hand, Keep, Gears, Colorful, Clouds, Way Of Thinking

 

When you are struggling to write and things just aren’t coming together, do you take a break or push through?  I tend to push on through but based on what happened last week I still can’t decide if that’s good or bad.
I’ve been working on an article for several weeks now.  The subject is the difference between a nonfiction picture book manuscript and a nonfiction magazine piece. 
Version #1 gave an excellent description of picture books but relegated magazine nonfiction to manuscripts that simply didn’t work as picture books.  Um.  No.
Version #2 did a better job defining magazine nonfiction but the second half of the article felt unfocused. I took version #2 to critique group and Rita suggested a fix.
Version #3 used Rita’s suggestion.  After discussing a quality that makes a manuscript either a good picture book or a good magazine piece, I described a picture book and a magazine piece on the same subject.  These examples would show readers how each suited their category (picture book vs magazine). It was better but it still wasn’t good enough.  I kept pushing my way through the manuscript, but finally I took a break.
On the way back from the bathroom, it hit me.  My format was still too complicated.  I needed to focus on the 3 traits that determine whether an idea is better suited to a picture book or a magazine piece.  The second half of the manuscript, the unfocused section, would then become a tightly focused sidebar.
I still can’t decide if it was wise to push myself to keep working.  Did my organizational epiphany come about because I pushed myself.  Or did it come about because I took a break? I’m still not sure but I am relieved that somehow, someway, it finally came together.
–SueBE

April 24, 2015

Writer’s Block: How to Start Writing when You’re Stuck Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:11 am
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Yesterday, I shared a few tips on how to break a block and get going on your fiction writing.  Today, we’re going to discuss nonfiction.

There are a variety of reasons that I get stuck when I’m writing nonfiction.  Generally, it has something to do with getting overwhelmed by my research.  Either the topic feels unfocused or I just have too many amazing facts to share.  How will I work it all in and get where I need to go?

The first step is focusing on where it is I need to go.  What is my goal in writing this piece?  While I have that goal in mind, I write it out.  Okay, what do I need to do to get there?  I make a quick outline.  Does what I have written correspond to this outline?  It doesn’t have to be exact but I have to be honest enough with myself to see where I am off.  That is, after all, how I will get back on track.  It is a bit like starting at the end but with the goal in sight I can find my way.

Sometimes I have my goal, but I still feel a bit lost. This often happens when there is just too much information.  When that’s the case, I take a moment to consider my goal and my topic.  With both of these things in mind, what is the most important thing for my reader to know?  What is needed for my reader to understand this?  Once I have that in mind, I’m ready to write.

The third and final thing that can bring me to a stop is when I have forgotten to have fun with my topic.  In fact, I’ve probably started to sound a bit like an encyclopedia or a college lecture.  When that happens, I need to consider what I love about the topic.  What is fascinating or surprising?  What is more than a little strange?  Which of these will appeal to my young reader?

Goal, topic and reader.  With these things in sight, I am ready to get back to work on my nonfiction project.  Which reminds me.  I have chapter 9 to finish.

–SueBE

 

April 23, 2015

Writer’s Block: How to Start Writing when You’re Stuck Part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:11 am
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Whether you write fiction or nonfiction or a little bit of both, there are days when the writing just won’t flow.  It might have been going great yesterday or you might be at the beginning of a new piece, but right now nothing is happening.  The words are stuck.  You need to get them going again.  How you do that depends on whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction.

When I get stuck writing fiction, I reread my most recent paragraphs.  Is the voice still on the mark?

If I’ve lost the voice, I go back a few pages and read a section where the voice rang true.  Then I open a new file.  Yes, you read that right.  Open a new file.  This will keep you from rereading the bad bits again.

With the new file open in front of you, try to write that section again.  Sometimes all I need to do to fix the problem is get the sound of the voice in my ear and quit looking at the bad section.  After all, if the voice is wrong, I’m not fixing it, I’m replacing it.

If this fix doesn’t work, then I get out a notebook and leave my desk.  Sitting outside or in the living room, I open the notebook and then address a letter to myself.  What does my main character need to tell me about the story?  What is it that he mosts wants readers to know?  What secret hasn’t he told me?  What am I missing?

I know.  It sounds hokey, but it works for me.  This gives me a feel for my character’s voice and the plot and characters in my story.  Once I have the letter in hand, I’m once again ready to write.

Tomorrow, I’ll share a few tips on how to get going again when you get stuck writing nonfiction.

–SueBE

 

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January 23, 2015

Curing Your Writer’s Block

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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Over Christmas Break, my writing slowed to a near halt.  I was having problems with a back ache and it just didn’t inspire me to sit for any length of time at my desk.  Then my husband asked me a question.  “Have you been planking?”

Ugh.  The reality is that I despise planking and, even when I’m working out, conveniently forget to do it.  And that’s on a good day so, no, with an achy back, I had not been planking.  But this ache had been with me for two weeks so I was willing to try.  And, as long as I was going to plank, I might as well do something I enjoy so I got on my treadmill.  Much to  my utter disgust and my husband’s ability to be a pill, the planking helped.  Immediately.

Feeling much better, my writing started to come together as well, but was it just because my back no longer ached?  I hate to admit this, but I think part of it was the exercise.  Exercise gets the blood flowing and, with it, my thought flow as well.

Author of The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown agrees.  He keeps an hour class on his work table and once an hour sets it to work out for a specific period of time.  He does, ugh, calesthenics.  He also believes in getting the blood flowing directly to his brain, but I’ll let him tell you about that himself.  Just click on the video.

Sad to say, because I’m really not fond of exercise, but it does help me get beyond whatever is keeping my words at bay.  What works for you?

–SueBE

November 14, 2014

Write the wreck

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:00 am
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Caged Graves by Dianne Salerni

My favorite book by Dianne Salerni who recommends that you write your problem scene and use it to learn something more about your story.

Have you ever gotten stuck on your work in progress because you know there are problems with the upcoming scene but you don’t know how to fix them?

Recently I read a post by Dianne Salerni where she recommends writing this place holder scene.  You know it isn’t THE scene that you need to write so it is a placehold until you get things figured out.  She recommends writing this scene because through the act of writing it you will probably work through some of the problems.

I wasn’t sure how seriously I bought into this until I critiqued a chapter for a friend.  Kate is writing a middle grade novel in which a secondary character commits suicide.  She’s mired somewhere in the middle and trying to figure out how to get started again.

Instead of fighting to write a scene that is still nebulous in her mind, she jumped to the climax.  She knows what needs to happen in the climax and this enabled her to start laying out the words.

But a surprising thing happened.  All along, she’s suspected that she needs to add a subplot.  She hadn’t decided what to add or how to do it, but in this scene not only does the main plot climax as the characters find out about the suicide, the subplot also climaxes.  Yep.  She didn’t know exactly what that subplot would be, but now she has it all tied up.  She simply needs to go back to the earlier chapters and lay things into place.

When you’re stuck, pick a scene and start to write.  It might not be the next scene, but if you write you will not only make progress on your word count, you will make progress on the story as your subconscious hands you the solution to your problem.

–SueBE

 

 

 

September 9, 2014

Writer’s Block: Cure it by taking a walk

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:30 am
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walkWhenever I’m working on something and it just won’t come together, I find myself itching to take a walk.  I’ve had experienced writers tell me that NO, I should stay at my desk.  This is just me trying to escape a bump in my writing path.  But I’ve never entirely bought into this.  When I’m really, truly stuck and I take a walk, I often come up with a solution to my writing problem.

During crisp fall weather or whenver there’s new snow, I yearn to walk outside.  It never fails.  When I’m about as far from the house as a plan to go — breakthrough!  In the heat of summer, I opt for the treadmill.  It doesn’t seem to work as well as walking outside, but I’ve always been convinced that it helps.

And apparently there’s science to back these ideas up, according to Ferris Jabr, Why Walking Helps Us Think.

Experiments show that after taking a walk, people test better both in terms of memory and attention, and that seems reasonable.  When you walk, your heart pumps more blood and oxygen not only to your muscles but also to your brain.  Feed your brain and it’s likely to work better.

Other studies show that we can change the pace of our thoughts by walking faster or slowing down.  Just can’t get a flow going?  A brisk walk will jar those notions loose!

Most of us are fairly good at walking, so our minds wander.  Yeah, imagine that.  A writer’s mind wandering.  Still other studies connect just this type of mental state with making mental breakthroughs.  One minute, I’m noodling over the grocery list.  The next, I know exactly what scene should come first.

Not surprisingly, where you walk also matters.  A natural setting seems to be better than a busy urban setting.  While the treadmill isn’t “urban,” it isn’t quiet or outdoors.

The next time that you’re stuck, maybe forcing yourself to stay at your desk isn’t the best answer.  It might be better to take a walk and get both your blood and your ideas flowing.

–SueBE

February 11, 2013

How Do You React to Critique?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:24 am
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The Muffin“Compromise need not mean cowardice.”
John F. Kennedy

Although it has nothing to do with writing, that quote reminded me of how a lot of writers react to critique.  Tell them anything other than “submit it,” and they get their hackles up.  Maybe they can tolerate a few minor changes, but nothing big.

If this describes you, then you do not want to be in my critique group — not that everyone is looking to pick you apart.  In fact, I’ve been told that I’m the biggest pain simply because I have no qualms about pointing out structural problems.  To make it even more fun, often I have no idea how to fix it.  I’ll just know that the pacing is slow, the character motivations aren’t big enough or I don’t feel the setting.  Fixing it is, after all, the writer’s problem.

Some critique groups have the rule that you aren’t allowed to defend yourself.  Just sit there and take it.  Then go home with it and think it over.

That’s not how things work in my group.  We discuss things, not necessarily defending ourselves but explaining what we were trying to do and why we did something a certain way.  That makes me think that this is why our group works so well.   In discussing it, we often figure out why something doesn’t feel right and several different ways to fix it.

While this is hugely helpful, there was something else that helped me even more at our last meeting.  Recently, they told me what was working in my story.  I am doing a re-write from the ground up.  Because my antagonist is all new, much of the original plot doesn’t work.  This is a whole new book and I’m having a heck of a time wrapping my brain around it.  Find out more about how my group helped me out by reading my post, What Every Writer Needs, at the Muffin.

–SueBE

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