Tag Archives: writer’s block

Knowing When to Take a Break

20 Jun

by Susan Dennard

~~

As some of you may know, I took a break from the internet for 1.5 weeks. No, I didn’t completely leave the internet behind, I just stopped tweeting and only answered emails of Absolute Importance (e.g. from my editor or agent! Okay…and my mom).

I needed that time off–like desperately needed it. My brain was at a breaking point from using precious time each day to answer emails, to answer blog comments, to write blogs, to maintain twitter conversations, etc. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE doing these things. In fact, I’d way rather do all that instead of my work…

And therein lies the problem. My heart wasn’t in my writing.

GASP!

You read that right: my heart wasn’t in my writing! But it took me a week long internet break to even figure that out. You see, it wasn’t the Internet and all you amazing online friends that were keeping me from my work.

It was ME keeping me from my work. So during my internet break and without the usual culprits to distract me, I still wasn’t getting any work done!

Now, I’ve talked about when forcing your story is bad or when the solution to a writing slump is BICHOK, but this was different.  I wasn’t forcing SCREECHERS or SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY–I adore both those stories!  And no matter how much I sat down and BICHOKed each day, I wasn’t making a whole lot of progress…  As you can imagine, I was really scared I’d lost my writing mojo forever.

And then I decided to take a drastic measure: stop working.  For two full days, I was going to give myself the luxury of not doing any work.  I read, took bubble baths, watched crap TV, and read some more.

You know what?  It totally worked. At the end of the two days, I came back to my computer completely revitalized.  Or, at least, I was able to focus… My heart, though, still wasn’t in the work–which was, at this point, SCREECHERS.

And so now I’ve decided to take another drastic measure: work on something completely different.  I don’t like not finishing what I start–not when I still adore the story.  But at the same time, the quality of what I’m trying to force onto the page…well, considering I wrote one scene, rewrote it, and then rewrote again and am still unhappy with it, I’m kind of wasting my time.

So for the next two weeks, I’ll focus on other important things–other books, my blog, etc.–and after that, I’ll try BICHOKing SCREECHERS again.

And who knows?  Maybe inspiration will strike again during that time.  Either way, just the prospect of this other-stuff-break has lifted my mood enormously! 😀

What about you? Do you ever need a break from a particular story or your work?

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

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Got Writing Prompts?

4 May

by Julie Eshbaugh

~~~

There seems to be an on-going debate about the existence of writer’s block. Whether you believe in writer’s block as a full-blown phenomenon or see it as another way of describing “writer’s fatigue” or “writer’s fear” or even “writer’s laziness,” there are a few established methods of treating it. One of those methods is writing from prompts.
Prompts give you a chance to write based on an assignment, so you can worry less about getting it “wrong.” With a prompt, you just write. At the very least, it gets you putting words on paper in a very non-threatening way. And if everything comes together and magic is in the air, the right prompt might stimulate the right ideas, and you might find the seed of your next novel hidden in that free-write.
So here are some fun prompts. Each one combines an image and a scenario. You can stick with the suggested situation, (if you want to become a more disciplined writer, perhaps,) or you can just let your imagination run wild. It’s up to you. Have fun. Stretch your creative muscles.  And if you feel particularly inspired, please share your ideas in the comments.

Ready? Set… write!

You drive home. The day has been uneventful. But when you reach your neighborhood, you find everyone outside, and they are all looking at something. Look at the photo below and tell the story.


(Photo from http://www.danheller.com)

You have just signed up for a cooking class. You arrive at your first lesson, only to find the teacher being taken away by police. Inside, you learn that during his arrest, the police failed to find some contraband that they were looking for. A classmate presents a small container the teacher entrusted to him just as the police arrived. Tell the story.

(Photo still from the Korean drama KING OF BAKING)

It is present day, 2011. A note is left in your front door from your new neighbor, inviting you to stop over and introduce yourself. You go to the house next door and enter the scene below. Tell the woman’s story.

(Photo by the Los Angeles Times)

And I’ll leave you with this one…

You are driving to the airport when your GPS begins to malfunction. After a few turns that are clearly wrong, you begin to try to find your way home, but the road grows narrower and narrower. Eventually, you find yourself in the scene below. What happens next?

(photo from http://www.berro.com)

~~~

Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Bradford Literary Agency. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

Doubtlessly, there is doubt.

20 Apr

by Biljana Likic

~~~

I have to brag a little bit; I’m surrounded by some amazing writers. Not just here at LTWF, but at school, on Twitter, blogs, people who I hardly even know aside from the random and tentative internet hello. And it can be intimidating. Friends left and right of me are getting agents and book deals, and while I am extremely happy for them, screaming like an excited fool over long-distance Skype conversations, there are times where impatience sets in; impatience with myself, with how much time school is taking up, and with how I know I lack a lot of the discipline needed to balance my studies with revising my manuscript. But it’s important to remember that I’m still young, and that everybody has their stages of development, and I’ll get to where I get to in my own time.

It’s also important to remember that the fear of being inadequate is hard to get rid of. We all have our moments of doubt, and right now I’m seeing more in my friends who have agents and books deals than in those who don’t. What if my book never gets sold? What if I’m not satisfied with the final revisions and the book I publish embarrasses me? What if I’m unable to fix it? What if, after this book, I can never write again?

To this I say, yes, it’s possible. You might never sell your book. The story you love might get so twisted and warped that it’s published into a story you hate. You might lose all inspiration after your first book because you’ve simply exhausted all your ideas. Each one of these is possible. It’s why they exist as doubts. If everything were guaranteed there’d be no stress or drama in the world. There’d be no stories to tell.

Things like these are hard to swallow. To make things worse, we’re all so caught up in how others perceive us that half the time we don’t even voice our problems. That would be whining, and nobody likes a whiner. So we bottle things up within ourselves and turn to Internet for guidance.

The Internet is a place of self-diagnosis, not only for your flu symptoms, but for the worries you have about your novel. Blog upon blog is filled with the do’s and don’ts writing, LTWF included, and the information is so overwhelming that suddenly you don’t just have the flu anymore; you have pneumonia, or an ulcer, or you’re in the early stages of sepsis. You start going through the symptoms until they blur into a mass that seems unmanageable. You don’t think have a stomach ache, but now you see it’s possible, you feel one coming on. You get to the final few things listed, about fast heart-rate and high fever, and suddenly your heart is pounding in your throat and you’re burning up. You have to go to the hospital. You have to get cured. Because the next symptom is a little harder to get rid of: death.

It isn’t until you get there that you realize you’re making yourself sick.

There are so many rules about writing. Rules about tension, plot-building, characterization, word count… There are so many things that you can read and start panicking that you’re doing exactly what they’re telling you not to. Sometimes, it is a real problem, but a lot of the times it’s simply paranoia caused by that unshakeable feeling of inadequacy.

So here is my piece of advice, coming at you from an un-agented, book-deal-less, anxious girl who knows the doubts will follow her long after she has her break, if she even gets one:

Have faith in your writing. You know your plot, you know your story, you know what you’re doing. If you’re in a place where you’re out of questions, and you truly believe there’s nothing more you can do till you get word back from your critique partner, or your agent, or your editor, then stop looking for answers. Illnesses only get worse after a trip to Dr. Google. Let the hiccoughs pass, and have patience. Worst thing that happens, you get your feedback and you’re re-inspired.

Most importantly, voice your doubts. It’s amazing how much lighter you feel when you share that weight with somebody. Talk to people. And if they accuse you of whining, tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She is in her first year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here and follow her on Twitter here.

BICHOK: Draino for your Writing Clog

14 Mar

by Susan Dennard

~~

Note: this post is (sort of) a continuation of If It Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Force It, and When the Glass Isn’t Half-Full.

A few people have asked how I managed to get my writing “swing” back, and I gave a brief rundown in the comments last week.  I thought I’d go into a tad more detail here.

First off: writing has something of an ebb and flow to it—for everyone, I believe.

For me, the “ebb” is like the really steep incline on a rollercoaster.  And then the “flow” is all the free-falling, loop-dee-loop, high-speed ACTION!

Fortunately, the high-energy, high-productivity bits last longer than the crap (usually), and I can ride a “flow” for a few months before the “ebb” hits.  (Not always, of course.  It’s definitely related to stress and other parts of my life.  A period of nail-biting, hair-pulling stress or a week of mind-numbing melancholy can pretty much stop any writing rollercoaster dead in its tracks.)

When the “ebb” hits, I am miserable and reluctant for at least a week, and I usually let myself wallow in laziness.

Which of course, only makes me feel guilty because I should be working, which then feeds the glum mood, which then feeds the guilt… On and on and on.  Sometimes, with enough sour gummy worms (or a looming deadline—those can be very effective), my productivity will return on its own.

But not always.  And that’s when I have to resort to BICHOK—a veritable plunger for your clogged brain.

Butt

In

Chair

Hands

On

Keyboard


I MAKE myself sit at the computer.  I disconnect the internet.  I set a timer for 30 minutes.

And I write.  My goal is 500 words, which I know I can write (under pressure) in 15 minutes.  So 30 minutes gives me a comfortable buffer.  I write until I hit 500 words or the alarm sounds.

If I feel good, I set the alarm for another 30 minutes and keep going, but usually, if it’s my first few days back, I jump from the chair and do something else before sitting again.

I start with 1000 words per day—two sessions.  Then, as my comfort grows and my feel for the story increases, I move to 2000 words in 2 1-hour sessions.  Then 3000 in 3 1-hour sessions.  Finally, 4000 in 4 1-hour sessions (remember, I write full-time, so I have a bit more time to devote to it each day).

After a good week or two, the rollercoaster is back in high gear and I’m getting in 20 pages or so a day.  Best of all, I’m back in the “flow”, back in the story, and back to feeling good.

BICHOK For Your Life

After my last rather rough patch of blues, I decided it was time for a Full Life Make-Over.  This was something I did when I suffered from real depression during my undergrad.  I had discovered that though the medication helped stabilize my moods, it also shattering my creativity.

Kind of like with BICHOK, I broke my life up into a very strict schedule.  And, no matter how I felt, I made myself stick to it.  For a week, then two weeks, and then until it became routine and my contentment returned.

I broke my day into strict chunks, making sure there was

  1. at least thirty minutes devoted to being outside
  2. at least thirty minutes devoted to exercise
  3. stretch breaks every 1.5 hours
  4. healthy eating
  5. sleep

Sounds silly and obvious, I know, but bear with me…

In undergrad, I stopped taking the bus to class, and I walked (okay, not on rainy days).  It got me outside and my heartbeat up.   Now, I take my dog for a thirty minute walk/jog in the woods after lunch.  No matter what (even in the rain and snow!), I’ve done this everyday now for 2 weeks.

Do I enjoy it?  To be honest, not really…I get bored easily, so I try to keep my mind focused on my plot and the characters while I walk.

But have I noticed a difference?  Yes.  In my energy.  In my mood.  And I’m really proud I haven’t missed a day.

You tell me: Is there some time in your day you can add a walk outside?  Or is there some way you can add 20-30 minutes of exercise?

During undergrad, I spent a lot of time studying, sitting in class, or working in labs.  To keep my mind and body refreshed, I started stretching in between classes.  Or during study/lab sessions, I’d take a five minute break to move (maybe just jog to the bathroom or roll my shoulders/touch my toes).

I’m not that into yoga (I get so darn boooored), but I’ve taken it before and love a good sun salutation.  When I write, I stop every 1.5 hours to do two sun salutations, refresh my coffee (so walk upstairs and move a little), and stop staring at the computer screen.

When the timer dings beside my computer it means 1) I should have reached my 1000 word goal, and 2) time to salute the sun!

You tell me: Is there any time during your work day or writing time that you can pause to refresh your body and your eyes?  Is there some way you can set a timer and get up for just a minute or two when that timer goes off?

Finally, diet and sleep.  DUH, right?  Everyone tells you this.  All. The. Time.  Eat healthy, you feel better. Get a good night’s sleep, you feel better.

But seriously, if you make a really HUGE effort to go to bed 30 minutes or an hour earlier, you’ll feel the difference the next day!

If you make an effort to plan your meals and have a good, solid breakfast (oh man, breakfast makes all the difference in the world for me!), you’ll really feel a difference.  I was eating crap food for lunches (pasta, pasta, soup, instant rice, pasta), but I’ve been devoted for a few weeks now to eating salads and sandwiches (or, I like to make extra food for dinner and have left-overs).

Two more things I added to my life: a full-spectrum light and plants in my office and vitamin D. If I’m in the office, the light comes on and I water all the plants. When I check my emails (I get 30 minutes in the morning to do this according to the new Super Strict Schedule), I drink my vitamin D.

Does It Really Make a Difference?

I don’t know.  Honestly, I can’t say if my strict schedule and BICHOK are what make the difference in my productivity and happiness, or if it’s something else.

It could be just the EFFORT—the attempt to turn my life around—is what changes my mood. Commitment can feel good.  Getting excited about a new life is a great way to boost your happiness.

What I do know is that this method works for me.  It might not work for you, or you might need more, you might need less.

BUT, it’s something you can try.

Do you do any of these things in your life?  Have you ever tried strict schedules to turn your writing or life around?  Do you have other tips to share?

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

If It Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Force It

23 Feb

by Susan Dennard

~~

In Germany, there is a saying:

It it doesn’t fit, it can be made to fit.

While this phrase is appropriate for suitcases, skinny jeans, and dishwashers, it does not work for your novel, memoir, short stories, etc.  In fact, I have recently learned that the opposite is true when it comes to creativity:

If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it.

I did NaNoWriMo last year (2010). I wrote 52,000 words in a YA dystopian called Screechers.  Of those 52,000 word, about 20,000 have been revised into Something of Moderate Quality.

But I hate it — hate Screechers, I mean.  I hate the story; I hate the main character; I hate the stupid world building; and I hate the fact that it’s a dystopian and high concept when neither of those things interest me.  It’s just one big BLEH.

So after two months of knowing I should get back to Screechers but not wanting to; knowing that if I just made a butt-in-chair for a few months, I’d finish; and knowing that my agents would be very happy if I handed them my high concept MS all polished and pretty,

I am letting it go.

Sometimes I think writers (read: ME) are reluctant to throw out manuscripts (um, raise your hand if you insisted your first novel would be publishable…only to realize much later that it wasn’t even close).  Heck, no one wants to throw out anything they’ve worked hard on — be it a novel, a painting, or a crooked bookshelf.

It’s like when you’re making a cake but you royally screw up the recipe (maybe you added 3 egg yolks instead of 4 egg whites), and the only solution for you is to START OVER.  (Well, there is another option: eat a wretched cake. But no one wants to eat wretched cake.  No one normal, anyway. ;))

Sometimes we really just gotta let it go. You know, in one fell swoop like an awkwardly placed band-aid (wait — aren’t all band-aids in bad spots?), hit delete, toss it in the trash, and say “good-bye”.

I realized (like 4 days ago) with Screechers that no matter what, I will never like the story as it currently is.  And the only way to turn it into a story I love is to start over. And this time, I’m not going to do the stupid things I did with the first draft.

What were those stupid things?  And how do you know if you’re committing them too?  Answer these questions and let’s find out.

Are you:

  • Writing in a style that is popular, but isn’t your own?
    • I wrote in first-person present.  While I think some people can pull this off really well, I am NOT one of those people. I struggled (read: was clawing my eyes out and screaming) to make first person present work. Present tense just isn’t natural to me, so it never felt natural on the page.
    • Plus, I had MAJOR problems with too much narrative distance (1st-person present ≠ immediacy, contrary to popular belief) and filter words.
  • Writing something high concept?
    • Screechers is high concept premise — complete with action, irony, an instantly sympathetic heroine, and more.
    • BUT, I had so many problems trying to hard to fit into my high concept logline that I just couldn’t tell a good story anymore (high concept ≠ good story, contrary to popular belief).
  • Writing it FAST?
    • A lot of the speed was because of NaNoWriMo, but the speed-revising had more to do with my own insane determination to finish revising Screechers by April 2011.
    • Sometimes, taking it slow works better — especially when the story isn’t coming naturally and you need time to think.
  • Writing in a popular genre?
    • Dystopian ≠ automatic WIN, contrary to popular belief.  Some people handle it really well (Suzanne Collins, George Orwell, John Wyndham, etc.), but again, I am NOT one of those people.
    • I like fantasy more thank I like dystopian. I like sci-fi more than I like dystopian.  I like paranormal more than I like dystopian. SO WHY THE HECK WASN’T I TRYING TO WRITE THOSE GENRES?
  • Writing an MC with whom you can’t connect?
    • I could not find my MC’s voice — partly because of the first-person present thing and partly because I didn’t like her (even if she was immediately sympathetic).
    • She was a Tough Girl, and some people write Tough Girls well (Suzanne Collins, Holly Lisle, Cherie Priest).  I don’t.  My Tough Girls just come across 2-dimensional.
    • Plus, I just didn’t want to tell a dystopian story, so I found I couldn’t care about my dystopian heroine.

Are you running into any of these?  If so, you’ve got a problem, and more importantly, you have to decide:

Is the manuscript worth it?  Should you try to salvage this cake or just bake a new one?

For me, starting over is definitely worth it because somewhere in the premise for Screechers is the story I originally wanted to tell.  If I get rid of all the crap I don’t like about it and add all the story-telling sparkles I love, then I’m going to wind up with a better book.

So if any of the above questions above apply to you, then take a long hard look at you MS (or your cake…or your leaning bookshelf).  And if it doesn’t fit, don’t force it.

Have you ever had this happen?  Is there something you’re working on now that just isn’t clicking for you?

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.

The 51 Steps to Editing

15 Dec
by Kat Zhang
~~~
Having critiqued a number of manuscripts and received critiques in return, I think I’ve gotten the Critique Email Response down to a science. Here, in exactly 51 steps, is how the average writer* reacts. 

*in this case study, “the average writer” is a compilation of exactly 1 writer. Me.

1. Send out manuscript
2. Wait
3. Wait some more
4. Get very friendly with your inbox
5. Have mini heart attacks every time you see “Inbox (1)” (man, that right there just ramped up my heartbeat a few bpm…and I typed it myself)
6. Convince yourself that nobody loves you
7. Realize how dumb that is
8. Bug other writing friends until *they* tell you how dumb that is
9. Wait some more
10. Receive notes
11. Cheer!
12. Actually open notes
13. Read
14. Read again
15. OMG
16. How did I not think of that??/That’s the coolest idea EVER/WHAT, how did that not come across??/Eeeeek/That DEFINITELY needs to go in the story. Likerightnow
17. Brainsplode
18. Recovery mode
19. Read notes a couple more times, taking notes on the notes
20. Organize notes on notes under a select few headlines, like “Improve characterization for character A” and “Give more hints that Agent Kazoooski is a mole from outer space”
21. Cut “mole from outer space” subplot entirely
22. …add it back in
23. Brainstorm in trusty moleskine, telling yourself that there are no stupid ideas
24. Prove yourself wrong
25. Very wrong
26. Coffee/chocolate/carbs/other forms of comfort
27. Read through manuscript, despairing of ever changing anything without screwing up what’s already there
28. Read through notes again
29. Read through notes on notes
30. Save manuscript under a new document name (Manuscript_version97833283)
31. Take a deep breath and—
32. Ooh, lookie who’s on skype!
33. Spend the next three hours talking about anything and everything but the editing you should be doing.
34. Distract thyself from the task at hand
35. Repeat
36. Repeat
37. Repeat
38. Break something small and insignificant
39. Open manuscript doc again.
40. Have a staring contest with your own words
41. Damn.
42. They beat you.
43. Delete a couple out of spite. Hey, that felt kinda good.
44. Delete some more.
45. Hmm, might need something to replace those words…
46. Type a little something. That’s not half bad, right? Try a little more.
47. Freak out and stop.
48. Fiddle with what you already have on the page until it feels right. With regained confidence, revise deeper.
49. Emerge from editing cave 36 hours later realizing you have a test the next day and you can’t even remember what chapter you were supposed to study…or which subject.
50. Ah well.
51. At least you got some editing done!

What does YOUR list look like?
~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.


The Mid-Write Crisis

7 Dec

By Sammy Bina

~~~

You know what sucks?

Writing. Not all the time, but some of the time. And do you know why writing sucks some of the time?

Mid-write crises.

Imagine this: You’ve been working on your latest WIP for months when you suddenly realize you don’t like it. Not even a little bit. In fact, you’d be perfectly happy to print it off and organize a bonfire, just so you could burn it. Staring at the screen, fingers frozen above the keys, you realize you have no idea why you’re writing this story, and you have no idea what’s going to happen next. In fact, you don’t even care. You consider killing everyone off right then and there and ending the whole painful process. Throwing in the towel sounds like a great idea. Except for one itty bitty problem: your conscience. In the back of your head, that stubborn little bugger is telling you to finish. Heck, you’ve gotten this far, you might as well write to the end, right? How big of a failure would you be if you just gave up now, thousands of words in?

If you’ve ever been in this situation, raise your hand. (For the record, my hand is right up there with you.)

During our last live chat, one of our readers posed a very interesting question that I thought deserved some more consideration: how do you know when to give up on a project and move on to bigger and better things? While we all offered our thoughts during the chat, I wanted to expand on this idea, or what I like to call the mid-write crisis. How does one decide when to give up on a story? And how do you do it without being wracked with guilt? How do you know you’re making the right decision?

I can tell you this now, there are no strict rules for deciding when to abandon a project. There is no checklist you can fill out, no creepy fortune teller who is going to predict the sixth book you write is going to be the one that makes you famous. It’s all up to you and what feels right to you. However, as someone who’s had to deal with my fair share of mid-write crises, I thought I’d try to explain my thought process, and how I’ve learned to shelve projects without feeling like a total failure.

When I first began branching out from fan fiction back in the day, I had no trouble starting a project and never finishing it. Mostly because what I was writing was crap, but that’s beside the point. Really, I just didn’t care. I was happy to be writing. Between trying to write a full-length novel, I probably started at least twenty, and still wrote short snippets of fanfic to keep myself going. Writing was fun. I didn’t care what I wrote. I was content to sit at my computer and pound on the keys and hope something good came out. If it didn’t, I tried something else.

Then I actually got serious about it. I came up with an idea for a novel, and when I finished that first draft, I was ecstatic. I’d done it! I’d finally written something completely my own! I submitted it to contests and did fairly well. But it never went anywhere, and then vampires flooded the market and I immediately lost interest. I didn’t want the first thing the world saw of my writing to be another vampire novel (Nothing against vampires! Just personal taste). So I decided to shelve it. Back then, I didn’t even know what a literary agent was, so I thought I’d done as much as I could.

That’s my first suggestion. If you’ve written a book, submitted it to as many places as you can think of, and didn’t get much of a bite, maybe it’s time to work on something else. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for perseverance! Sometimes you have to query a couple hundred agents, and that’s fine! Look at JKR, Judy Bloom, and countless others. But for those of you who’d rather not put up with hundreds of rejection letters, feel free to try something else for a while. If you’ve got another idea brewing, run with it! Shelving a project isn’t the same as burying it, and no one can say you didn’t try.

It gets harder when you have a complete first draft but lack the will to revise it. I’ve been in this situation as well, and you know what? It blows. Because you spent all that time writing the darn draft, but now that it’s done, you think it stinks. And hey, maybe it does. But is it fixable? Do you like it enough to try to fix it? If not, maybe it’s time to work on something else. Who knows? Maybe you’ll feel like coming back to it in a few months, and revising it won’t seem so daunting or impossible. And if you don’t? Well, that’s one more story you’ve written, and another opportunity you’ve had to improve your craft. Your next book will be better for it.

Some of you may be like me and start way more stories than you finish. You know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. For me, it’s a tried and true way to see which of my ideas are worth pursuing. Sometimes I’ll write half a book, then abandon it for months, even years. But then, one day, I’ll start thinking about that lonely, unfinished manuscript and I’ll go back to it. And sometimes I never do, and they get moved to my Graveyard Folder. I used to see that folder as a symbol of failure; Oh, look at how many stories you started, Sammy, and never finished. Look at how many books you could’ve written. Look at all the time you wasted. God, you’re such a failure. Nowadays I see things a bit differently. That folder reminds me that I’m a writer. That even when things didn’t turn out the way I wanted, I was still writing. I was still honing my craft. I was learning. I still am.

And that’s how you shelve a project and not feet bad about it. You have to remember that, no matter what, each piece is a learning experience. Writing takes practice, and it takes time. So what if you don’t get published until you’re 50? In the meantime, you’ve honed your craft, you’ve gained priceless experience, and that first book you sell? It’ll all be worth it. People are always going to tell you not to give up. And while it’s good to push through difficult situations, I think it’s impractical to tell a person to never give up. Especially when it comes to writing. You’re going to write things you won’t finish, and you shouldn’t feel bad about it. Because even if you give up and toss it aside, you learned something. And really, that’s far more important, don’t you think?

~~~

Sammy Bina is in her last year of college, majoring in Creative Writing. Currently an intern with the Elaine P. English Literary Agency, she is querying THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, an adult dystopian romance, and revising DON’T MAKE A SCENE, a contemporary YA. You can find her on twitter, or check out her blog.

The Write Way to…

2 Dec

I used to have a Way I Write, and I was more or less proud of it. I was not a plotter, I wouldn’t touch an outline with a ten foot pole, and I never separated my story into chapters until the entire thing was finished. I also wrote my stories out of order, writing the scenes I could picture perfectly at the moment and then going back later to connect them and flesh things out.

Well, the last bit is still true, anyway. The others have slowly but surely changed over the last few months.

I’ve seen posts encouraging people to find their own way of writing and to not ever let someone else telling them they’re doing it wrong. In many ways, I agree. If it works for you, go ahead and do it. I love hearing about different people’s ways of planning and executing a story simply because they are often so very different.

But I think we need to remember, too, that just because you have a Way to Write now doesn’t mean it can’t change. I know I got so caught up in defining the ways that I write that I didn’t let myself explore other people’s methods as much as I could have. Who knows? You might find a new way of writing, one that works even better than the last.

Here are some methods I’ve encountered. I don’t use all of them, but I’ve tried most of them!

Outlining:

  • Outlining using flash cards, one scene per card
  • Outlining using colored sticky notes, one scene per note. One color for plot events, one color for character development milestones, etc.
  • Outlining chapter by chapter in summary form
  • Outlining like an ADHD goldfish with a love for shiny things (scribble down a three page outline. Realize three pages into story that you are going to be diverging from your outline. A lot. A lot a lot.) …in other words, how I do it 😀

Character development:

  • Fill out character forms (Adventures in Children’s Publishing has some great, very detailed ones) <— I love the idea of this, but have NO patience for it…
  • Write up tons and tons of backstory that fills up entire binders and is longer than the book itself
  • Interview your characters (I would do this, but my MC for HYBRID would clam up and my MC for the wip would look at me like I was crazy and then just…leave)
  • Write 1st POV snippets from all your character’s POVs, even the minor ones (I do this for characters who don’t have the POV but need to have their voices fleshed out)
  • Write present tense biographies for all your characters and read them in your head with all the solemnity of those History Channel guys with the deep voices (guilty)

Brainstorming:

  • Stare at a blank page and write down, stream of consciousness, whatever comes to mind that’s even vaguely related to the story (it works, too!)
  • Read other books in your genre until you’re inspired (done and done)
  • Bug your CPs on gchat until they agree to brainstorm with you. You’d be surprised how the ideas start flowing more easily once you’re talking to someone else about it (*raises hand*)
  • Write where in the story you are at the top of a blank page, write where you need to get at the bottom of the page, and try to build a bridge of events from one point to the other (works even better if you get fancy and start doodling actual bridges)
  • Watch TV and vegetate (heck, I’ve done just about every kind of brainstorming there is to do!)

Well, I think that’s enough for now. Hope some of these ideas catch your eye and help next time you need a new way to tackle a problem. Any other issues you’d like me to write up a list of methods for? 🙂

Any methods for tackling the above that work for you?

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She has recently signed with literary agent Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

 

Writer’s Block

26 Jul

by Kat Zhang

Today, folks, we’re going to talk about this.

Yes, that’s right, the dreaded Writer’s Block (yes, it’s important enough to be capitalized). I always thought its name didn’t accurate describe its…well, blockishness. Blocks are cute. They remind me of the primary colored wooden building blocks I had as a kid (no legos for me!). Instead of Writer’s Block, it should be…oh, I don’t know. Writer’s Great Wall of China. Except, you know, less culturally significant.

Some days, you just sit down and nothing happens. You write a sentence or two. You stop. You read over those sentences again. You sigh. You write another word. You pause. Hm…I think I’m hungry. Oh, look, a dust bunny. Have I gotten to the mail yet today?

No, no, focus. Okay. Let’s try again. You write another sentence. Oh, man, this sucks!

You erase everything.

Writer’s block can hit at the beginning of a project, in the middle, or at the very end. All are equally frustrating. So what do you do? First, let’s see what some more famous writers have to say on the subject…

Mark Twain: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Okay, so my takeaway from this is: focus on what you’re doing right this moment. You’re writing. You’re not querying (this project). You’re not selling, and you’re certainly not editing. I know marketability is important, but if worrying about whether or not this project will ever sell or get you an agent or reach the best sellers list is preventing you from even writing the piece in the first place…Well, then don’t think about any of those things. Remember, you can’t fix something that hasn’t been written yet.

Jeffery Deaver: “I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen–whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book–it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place.”

Are you stuck on a certain scene? Or maybe your characters need to overcome/get around a certain obstacle, and you just can’t figure out how they’re going to do it. Maybe you’re thinking about it the wrong way. I once spent days re-writing a certain passage, never quite getting it right. Finally, I realized I was doing the literary equivalent of forcing my characters over a mountain when there was a clear path going around it. I’d simply been too bent on doing it this way to see the other possibilities. So if one particular part is giving you trouble, try rethinking it entirely. Talk with your CP. Brainstorm.

J.G. Ballard: “All through my career I’ve written 1,000 words a day–even if I’ve got a hangover. You’ve got to discipline yourself if you’re professional. There’s no other way.”

Nicholas Sparks“I write 2,000 words a day when I write. It sometimes takes three hours, it sometimes takes five.”

Set yourself a word count goal for each day–a reasonable one. Then MEET it! No matter what. Once you miss one day, it’s so much easier to miss another, and then another, and another… So try not to break your streak at all. Brag to your friends (the writer ones. the other ones might not care…) about how you’re gone a whole month now with 2000 or 1000 or 500 words a day.

And finally, my own advice? What helps me the most when absolutely nothing wants to stick to the paper? Here it is in list form (because you guys know I love lists).

1. Read an awesome book, preferably in the genre you’re trying to write. This works for me every time. Unfortunately, I’ve been on a YA literary contemp. kick lately, and my WIP is fantasy, but hey, it just means I’m racking up a whole lot of YA literary contemp. short stories…

2. Refocus on why you’re writing. Hopefully, you’re writing because you love to write. Forget about the whole darn publishing business for a while. Reclaim your happy place 😉 Just write. Write whatever you love. Write for yourself. Something is better than nothing. And something, unlike nothing, can edited later.

3. Surround yourself with other writers. If you don’t know many in real life, meet some online! This is yet another reason why critique partners are awesome. Hearing about other people’s writing successes–especially those of people I know personally–always inspires me.

Now get writing!

…you can start by telling us in the comments how YOU overcome Writer’s Block 😀

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She spends most of her free time either querying HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–or pounding out the first draft of her work in progress. Both are YA novels. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

Finding the Hate–I mean Conflict!

2 Jun

by Kat Zhang

~~~

A little while ago, Biljana wrote a great article on how a writer needs to “Find the Love” in each scene. I totally agree. But maybe because I’m a cynical, sarcastic, loveless little creature :D, I tend to think less about finding the Love and more about finding the Hate.

Or…maybe I should just call it finding the Conflict. That makes me sound like less of a misanthrope, right?

But think about it—conflict is what drives every story. Just about every plot can be boiled down to this essential ingredient. The hero wants something. For whatever reason, he can’t get it–Conflict!

Let’s try out a few:

Harry Potter: boy wants to live normal life (emphasis on live)

Obstacle: Voldemort

Conflict!

Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship wants to destroy the Ring

Obstacle: Sauron has other ideas…

Conflict!

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: the Pevensie kids want to all go home safe and sound

Obstacle: the White Witch has Edmund

Conflict!

Twilight: Bella wants to stare at Edward’s perfect chest for all of eternity

Obstacle: Pre-marital sex is a no-no

Contraception!

…just kidding. Kinda.

But you get the point, right? You need to know the central conflict in all your stories, not only because it helps you write, but also because this is exactly what agents want to know when you query. And the larger the conflict, the more gripping the story tends to be. Say the conflict is: man at a drive-through wants sandwich with mayo; deli ran out of mayo.

Unless that man really wants his mayo, there’s not much of a story going there. But make it so that the conflict is: man wants sandwich with mayo because his car just got hijacked and a man’s sitting in the backseat with a gun to his child’s head, hissing—you get me that mayo or else—then we have a story.

Okay, so now that we’ve covered conflict on a macro scale, let’s tackle the micro. Not only should conflict drive your overall plot, it should be the motor behind every scene. Conflict makes things interesting. What holds your attention better, a regular conversation or an argument? Two people standing calmly next to one another, or a fist fight?

Of course, your characters can’t spend every moment of the story screaming their heads off or attacking one another (trust me, I’ve tried), just like how every story can’t be about a life or death situation. Conflict can be more subtle as well. It can even be internal.

Conflict in character relationships is also important. Literary fiction lives off this, but commercial fiction can fall flat without it as well. People simply don’t always get along—their ideas don’t always mesh—their goals are different. Bringing this sort of conflict to the forefront in your stories will give them another layer of authenticity, plus add some excitement!

So to sum everything up: Love may make the world go round, but Conflict does the job just as sound—at least in storyland. Are you stuck writing your current manuscript? Found a dull part while revising? Add a pinch (or a dash—or a whole heaping tablespoon!) of Conflict and watch the gears start turning!

~~~

Kat Zhang is an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing. She spends most of her free time either preparing to query HYBRID or pounding out the first draft of her work in progress. Both are YA novels. You can read about her writing process and thoughts at her blog.