Tag Archives: writer’s block

Don’t Mistake Unpreparedness for Writer’s Block: Know What to Write Before You Write

 

Sometimes when you sit down to write nothing comes to you. You stare at the blank screen and you can’t picture anything. Frustration builds until you shove yourself away from your desk and leave writing for later.

Often, this inability to conjure anything to write is termed writer’s block. However, writer’s block isn’t always the culprit behind the inability to write. More often than not, nothing is coming to you because you’re not ready to write.

5033800896_b63b3f63f9_oWhen writing a novel, preparedness is extremely important. You need to know what you want to write about. This doesn’t mean that you have to plan out every chapter in advance. Often you’ll find that the story changes as you continue to write it. But, there are many steps involved with writing a book.

Take a minute to think of them.

What did you come up with?

Some of mine include:

  • Writing a one sentence summary. This boils your entire novel down to its main premise. It gives your novel direction. For example, “A mute snake-breeder becomes embroiled in the chase for a once-presumed extinct snake after discovering a blood-splattered scroll in a half-dug grave.”
  • Ask a boatload of open-ended questions. When jumping into more of the details, I’ll ask myself, “what if,” “who cares,” “how about,” etc. These types of questions help me flesh out the story, and help me spot any plot holes before I write myself into a dead-end. Also, open-ended questions are great for adding sub-plots and complexity to a story, thus making it more realistic.
  • Explore your characters. I usually don’t know all of my characters at the beginning of my story, but I know my main characters. I know what they look like, their backstories, how they’ll act, and more. Having fully fleshed out characters not only helps you know your characters inside and out, but helps you see where the story is going and, even, how much of a role each character should have in the plot. Sometimes the person you thought should be the main character isn’t the best choice.
  • Research. Many times there’s information already out in the world about what you want to write. Take time to explore this information. You never know what useful tidbits you’ll discover that will enhance your story. For example, if you’re writing historical fiction, you need to do intensive research on the time period you’re writing about. If you don’t, the piece won’t feel authentic. Even if you’re writing a futuristic science fiction novel, it’s still important to know what type of technology is realistic in the future. You have to be able to explain where nanites came from or how instantaneous travel is possible, or, if you’re writing a dystopian that occurs after World War III, you need to know what the consequences of setting off nuclear bombs are, etc.

Once you’ve done your research and exploration that blank screen will seem like less of a mountain. Ideas will come to you. Perhaps not immediately, ideas take time to fully form, and it’s likely you’ll discover that more ideas come as you’re writing; you’ll end up going back and adding those new story strands, creating a fuller, more complex, and intriguing story.

(Photo courtesy of NOAA Photo Library.)

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How to Swap Your Brain For a More Creative One

 

Ever have those moments when no light bulbs are going off in your mind? Maybe you have a project due or an article, or maybe you’re staring at a blank sheet of paper or canvas. You desperately need inspiration, but your muse has decided to take a vacation.7848411730_2042b607b4_o

Here are some suggestions to jumpstart your more creative side:

  1. Stop fretting and exercise.

I once had a professor tell me that if I was stuck, I should get up from my computer and walk backward around my house. She said that walking backward used a different section of the brain than sitting and writing, and that by using a different part of my brain, I might just become unstuck.

People who exercise regularly tend to be more creative than those who lead sedentary lives, a study found. Regular exercise stimulates convergent and divergent thinking, two forms of thinking vital to creativity. Convergent thinking is connected with thinking about a single solution for one issue, while divergent thinking is linked to considering various solutions for one issue.

  1. Be positive.

A good mood enables you to think more creatively. Ruby Nadler, a University of Western Ontario graduate student, said, “Generally, positive mood has been found to enhance creative problem solving and flexible yet careful thinking.”

Mood affects “the way we visually process information.” A positive mood widens how much we see and comprehend. By having a wider visual field, we have a larger pool of ideas to generate content from.

  1. Flip the problem on its head.

Focusing on a problem from a new angle inspires you to see and think about the problem differently.

In Real Simple, the idea of cars is used to describe how problem reversal revolutionized all of industry: “Take Henry Ford. In the beginning, carmakers kept the vehicle stationary and had factory workers congregate around it to install parts. Ford’s idea was to keep the workers stationary and move the car from worker to worker. Thus was born the assembly line.”

By only looking at a problem one way, you limit your ability to generate new concepts. By changing up how you look at a problem, you expand your thinking and may not only find a solution, but start off a string of new, exciting ideas.

How do you bring out your more creative side?

(Photo courtesy of MissTessmacher.)

Staying Creative When Life’s Pulling You in 27 Directions

 

Whether work, school, kids, exercising, a sick grandmother, or something else, it’s challenging to juggle so many responsibilities and move writing goals forward. Writing takes a lot of brain power, and after a long day at the office, it’s tempting to push writing off one more day.

5741700549_087e05aa3c_bHow do you avoid that “one more day” turning into a rut? I’ll share some of my methods for staying creative. Feel free to put yours in the comments.

  1. say no

Socializing is fun. Volunteering is fun. Getting lost in the Web is fun. Helping that friend or coworker out, for the sixteenth time, may not be fun, but you do it anyway. After a while, you’ve got too much on your plate. There’s no time to write!

Make writing a priority. Say no to some of your other activities. There’s only so much time in a day. If you want to get that short story or novel finished, you have to weed out some of your other undertakings.

  1. go outside

If you’re creatively blocked, get out of the house. Go for a walk. Play soccer. Do something outside. You’d be surprised at how many ideas may come to you after you’ve spent some time in the great outdoors.

  1. read

Reading helps stir imagination. Fiction, non-fiction, a magazine article, a graphic novel, get out of your head for a while and enter someone else’s imagination. You never know what creative ideas will spark in you.

If you have plenty of ideas, but not the energy to expand them onto paper, reading can help here too. Read something fantastic. Read a work that fires you up, that stirs your emotions. Take those feelings—that power—and write.

  1. talk it out

Sometimes a different method of communication will revive your creative engines. Call up a friend, family member, or someone else you trust. Talk to them about your ideas. Often, their feedback will get you excited, and help flesh out your ideas.

Or, talk out loud to yourself. Walk around your house and talk, use hand gestures, get in the heads of your characters, pretend you’re being interviewed about your writing on TV. This may sound silly, or slightly crazy, but it works.

  1. eat well

What you put into your body direct impacts how you feel. Eat whole grains, veggies, fruits, healthy sources of protein. Eating well makes you feel good, and when you feel good, you’re more creative.

  1. don’t stress

Stress is the bane of everyone’s lives. While some stress is good, too much is harmful. When you feel overwhelming pressure to write, your creativity drops. Practice stress reduction techniques, whichever ones work for you, so when you start getting too stressed, you’ll be able to calm yourself, or guide your stress into something useful.

What tips do you have for staying creative?

(Photo courtesy of Leszek Lesczynski.)

When There’s Nothing Left to Say

2209664070_045c1d57dd_zSometimes it’s just hard to get started. Whether it’s reading, writing, or doing housework, some days your mind seems to want to remain off. Going back to bed feels like the perfect option, because, on occasion, you just seem to be unable to get yourself motivated.

Why am I talking about this?

To be honest, today was one of those days . I rolled out of bed and started my Monday, getting ready for work, feeding the dog, etc. However, the entire time I was in a trance. Not really present. Which isn’t the best state of mind. But for some reason, everything felt heavy today, even the air.

So, by the time I sat down at my computer to work on my thesis…well, you probably already guessed what happened.

Nothing.

After staring at my computer screen, re-reading words that felt like they were sand slipping through my fingers, I shut my computer and decided that I had to somehow get out of this funk.

What did I do?

I made an edamame chickpea salad with an avocado-lime dressing, which to some may sound disgusting, but it was delicious. And, best of all, easy to make.

Still, after such a tasty dinner, my mind was blank. Even reading a book I’d found enjoyable yesterday held no satisfaction for me today. Playing with my dog, going for a walk (it’s about twenty degrees with snow where I live), doing some yoga, researching for my upcoming trip…nothing pulled me free from the haze I was in.

Which, I realized, was okay. Some days are cloudy. No matter what you do you’re stuck. The important thing to remember is that the daze you’re in is temporary. So, if you have moments, like me, where you find no inspiration coming to you, whether it’s that the main character of your story is refusing to come to life or that you can’t remember what you were doing five minutes ago, this feeling of being unfocused will pass. When it does, you’ll discover a backlog of creativity.

What do you do when you’re in a funk?

(Photo courtesy of tetsu-k.)

Breaking down that Brick Wall: Working through Resistance to Writing

8932033483_187b8a780e_zSo you want to write a novel? That’s fantastic! Writing is a great way to express yourself creatively and to explore new, interesting, and often difficult topics. Sometimes, writing is simply a way to relax and enjoy yourself.

However, writing isn’t easy. Maybe you sit down at your computer or notebook and hash out the first five, ten pages quickly, but then you stall. Or perhaps you’re stuck on the first page, opening sentence, etc. No matter how hard you try the words aren’t coming to you. It feels like there’s a wall blocking your creativity, and anytime you try to scale the wall, go around it, smash it, or plead for it to please move, it refuses.

Maybe the wall knows that you secretly don’t want to be sitting down and writing. Whether you’ve got too much on your plate, or your buddies are all going out to get a drink, sometimes you don’t want to write, even though you know you’ll feel great after you do.

Think about all that homework you had to do during your school years, that work project that’s due on Friday, vacuuming your entire house, exercising, scheduling that doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off (writing a blog post)…most likely you’ve experienced some sort of resistance in your life. (There’s a reason trainers will tell you that once you hop on that treadmill, you stay on it for fifteen minutes before deciding whether you’re going to call it a day.)

How do you overcome resistance?

Don’t wait for inspiration to fly in via a muse. Often that only serves to make resistance to writing stronger because the more time you spend away from writing, the greater the distance becomes between you and your story.

Resistance is a natural feeling. Many times resistance occurs when you’re doing something worthwhile. Why? Because that something is challenging.

You may love writing, but it takes work, uses energy, and can be exhausting.

So, what do you do?

  • Make a list. Create a list of all your writing goals for that day. (or goal, such as write 500 words, or write for 15 minutes) Once that goal is down on paper, tackle it. Many times having your goals written down makes them seem more real, and more doable. Plus, it’s always nice to be able to cross something off your list.
  • Make writing a habit. One of the best ways to shoot yourself in the foot is to write inconsistently. If you write for two hours Saturday, but then don’t write again until a week later, you’ll probably have to go back and reintegrate yourself with your story. By writing consistently, whether it’s every day or three times a week, you’ll remain focused and in your characters’ heads.
  • Don’t let resistance become an overwhelming monster. Ever experienced how putting something off only makes it a bigger challenge? If you’re feeling resistance to write, don’t close your laptop and call it quits, work through the resistance. It may take you fifteen minutes to write one double-spaced page, but you’ll most likely discover that after a bit that resistance fades away and your creativity flows.

There’s a reason why you’re writing. Remind yourself of that reason (hopefully it’s because you love writing for such and such reasons, like you have this story inside of you that’s just bursting to be told). When there’s meaning behind what you’re doing, often there’s less resistance.

How do you work through resistance?

(Photo courtesy of Hans Splinter.)

 

 

 

Discovering Your Voice: What Type of Writer Are You?

13983083088_f4fe7e77b8_zOne of the most important aspects when writing is knowing what type of writer you are. I’m not referring to genre, though that is something you must know before you begin your novel. I’m talking about the voice you as an author portray.

Finding your unique voice as a writer will help you to gain a larger audience. But, in order to find your voice, you must know yourself. This means sorting through your emotions to find the core of what makes you different from other people.

While searching for what makes you unique, take an honest look at yourself and discover if you fear being judged. Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent trilogy, suffered from severe anxiety after the success of her first published novel. She had difficulty starting Insurgent, the second book in the trilogy, because of this anxiety. Ernest Hemingway also suffered from anxiety because of the pressure of readers’ expectations.

Fear of judgment can really harm your writing. It can dry up your creative juices and make you freeze. You may not be able to write at all. You keep thinking about how people may hate your novel, or you want to know what people will think of your book before you’ve finished or even started it.

Overcoming this fear will not only enable you to write, and write what makes you happy, but will allow you to continue searching for your unique voice.

Developing your own voice doesn’t come immediately. It doesn’t come quickly either. There’s a reason why debut novels often aren’t bestsellers. Many times writers are still developing their unique voices after they’ve written their first novel, and so it’s rare to see an author’s first written novel end up being published. Most authors have written at least one novel before the one they got published.

Take your time discovering your unique writer’s voice. Part of the journey to finding your voice is knowing why you write. It would be great to earn money off of writing. You invest so much time and energy in your novel that some recognition would be appreciated, but being a writer is more than earning money and acknowledgement. If those two reasons are the only reasons for why you write, you won’t have the endurance to wade through the murky, judgmental, and often convoluted world of publishing.

Find your internal reasons for writing. Accept that you are a writer, and that writing is a part of your identity.

Ask yourself, if you knew that you’d never make a cent off of your writing, would you still write?

(Photo courtesy of Nilufer Gadgieva.)

Watch Out! Slumps That Could Prevent You Finishing Your Novel

You’ve probably had a lot of ideas for novels. However, how many of them actually became a novel? My guess is not all of them. Most likely, most of them haven’t.

That’s not unusual, or a bad thing.

The problems begin when you find months have passed and you haven’t progressed, none of your ideas became novels, or you realize your novel is a hot mess and just stop.

Here are some things to watch for and how to fix them:

  1. The idea. You’ve got a great premise for a novel, but you don’t do any planning. The Fix: Move forward and set goals. You need to do some planning, even if it’s only a short synopsis (but it would be better to have more than that). Know your characters and the plot. You have to be familiar with what’s going to happen, so you can build up to it.
  2. The roadblock. You hit a wall and get stuck, and end up never getting back to your novel. The Fix: Don’t blindly plow through the problem. Stop writing and work on the problem itself. For example, if you’re unsure how your protagonist will react to a situation, don’t go ahead and jot down something that might be right. Take the time to figure out how your character would react. That way her reaction seems authentic.
  3. The First Draft. Great! You’ve finished your novel! You happily send it off to agents, just knowing the offers of representation are going to come pouring in. The Fix: First off, STOP. What you’ve got is a first draft. It’s not ready to be sent out. Reread, revise, give to beta readers, reread, revise, take a week or two away from it, reread, revise. It feels like a lot of work because it is. However, doing this will significantly up your chances of snagging an agent rather than if you simply sent out your first draft.

What writing slumps have you experienced? How’d you fix them?