WRITER’S BLOCK, WAYS TO DEAL

Writer’s block, the bane of a writer’s life. The only way to overcome it is to just write something down. Don’t think about whether it’s good or bad, wonderful or horrible, just write it. You can fix it later, but don’t even think about that now.

#You can’t edit what you haven’t written. You do have thoughts in your head. They maybe buried deep, but they’re there. Let them out.

First a don’t, then a lot of dos:

  • Don’t self-censor when writing the first draft. At this point you don’t know what’s good or bad, and you also don’t know exactly where the story will take you and what your characters are going to do, even if you are a plotter. Just go with it.
  • Do lower your standards. You don’t have to find the perfect word right now—you can do that when you edit. Get the thought down. First drafts have no standards. Anything goes.
  • Do keep a notebook handy when you’re writing, and if you think of something that needs to go in later or earlier, just jot it done quickly, and continue on with what you were doing. You can go back during your next session and put those things in. Or you can refer to it later to jog your memory about something you thought would be good later on.
  • Do start anywhere in the narrative, wherever the mood strikes. You can put it in the right spot later on. You can use a program like Scrivener to help you.
  • Do ask yourself what could happen next. List at least five things. Pick the strangest/funniest/most unexpected.
  • Do ask yourself what-if. What-if the main character did such and such? What if so-and-so arrived unexpectedly. What if a bomb went off?
  • If all else fails, ask for help from a writing buddy or someone else you know who often has good ideas.

Here are some famous writers who had writer’s block: Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Joseph Conrad, and Ernest Hemingway.

Anyone have other ideas that have helped you out of a writer’s block?

THE 10% SOLUTION

For editing.

My system, and I know from hearing it from lots of other writers, is to just write. No planning, or not much of one.

But even with an outline, a lot of fluff is going to go into the manuscript that is unnecessary, boring, unclear, or for some other reason needs a good edit.

I learned about cutting ten percent when doing lots of short stories. I like the idea because it’s a straightforward way to edit. And it works.

First, you finish the piece and type “the end” at the end. Then you read through it and cut out every single word that isn’t needed.

They lurk around as modifiers where a stronger noun or verb would work better. They hang out at the end of sentences in trailing prepositional phrases. Sometimes they’re completely unnecessary sentences. Or even paragraphs.

Sometimes you just need to change the phrasing so it’s cleaner and clearer. I find this true when listing action taken. I might start with one action and tack on a phrase like “after she did such and so.” Such and so would have been better at the beginning of the sentence. And might help eliminate a few words such as “after she did.”

I admit, this becomes harder to do the more you write because you begin to edit yourself as you go. But this is a good thing. You will write faster, have to edit less, and have a much better story to show for it with less effort.

So, take a short story, old or new, or a chapter from a novel you’ve written or are writing. Write down the word count, go at it, and then see what the count is after your first pass-through. Not ten percent? You aren’t working hard enough. Go through it again. It’s taken me, sometimes, three or four passes to hit the ten percent mark. But when I do, the story or chapter is always better. Every time.

KEYBOARD SHORTCUTS

Here are what I’ve found to be the best keyboard shortcuts. Do you have a favorite that’s not listed?

Control-S = Save. Recommend you do that at least after every page you type or about every five minutes. Make it a habit.

Control-A = Select the whole document to make changes or copy it.

Control-Z – Undo, undoes the last character you typed or other actions taken, such as hitting the tab key.

Control-Y = In case you do too many undoes in a row, you can get whatever it was back again.

Control-C = Copy and Control-P = Paste

Control+ = Zoom in—you can hit the + sign several times to make the font as large as you need. This works in your browser and probably in your email program—you know, when you get one of those emails with a tiny, tiny font. To make the text smaller again, hit Control- (minus) as many times as needed.

Then there’s Control-B for Bold, Control-I for Italics, and Control-U for Underline. (After you’ve highlighted the text you want formatted or before you start typing new characters.)

For many more that most people won’t use, but where you might find one that you’d use a lot, go here:

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/126449

Have fun clicking!

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WRITER’S LISTS DON’TS

Seen on writer’s lists I’ve been on online and am still on. Yes, this is sort of a rant. Or maybe more than sort of.

  • Your signature line is longer than any of the emails you send to the list.
  • You only come on to announce that you’ve been published.  And you also have a long signature line. Or none at all (see below).
  • You’re a writer, but you don’t sign your emails.  How is anyone supposed to remember you?  Your email address may give us a hint, but not always.
  • How does this work exactly?  You’re trying to email someone privately who is on a list you’re on, but your email won’t go through.  So, you go on the list and ask the other person to contact you.  If you couldn’t get through before, how on earth do you think you’re going to after they contact you? 
  • Or, you lost all your addresses when you had a computer crash.  You didn’t back up your address book, of course, so now you go to the lists every time you need an address. 
  • Your emails are usually full of typos and spelling/grammar errors.  Why would you think this was okay? (I admit I make mistakes on lists—everyone does– but certainly my posts are not full of them.)
  • You use two names, and you use them indiscriminately.  No one is sure who you really are, and most don’t care.
  • You only come on to rant and complain about the list.  You hardly ever contribute, but you know best how it should run.
  • You’re the king or queen of one-liners.  You never have much to say, and it really, really shows.

And you may be wondering why you’re not getting very far in this writing biz.  Any of these hit their mark? Too harsh? Maybe, but apparently no one has told some of the writers who are doing these things that there’s a better way. I hope this helps.

 

 

WAYS TO KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS BEFORE YOU BEGIN WRITING

I write “by the seat of my pants.” If I outline, which I dislike doing in the first place, I lose interest in writing the story–it’s like reading a book for the second time immediately after you just read it for the first time.

Boring!

But I’ve found out after writing several novels, that there are some tricks that can help me with both character AND plot.

So, what I do now is think of several characters and start writing. After one or two chapters, I probably know what they do for a living, what they look like and some tiny bit about their personalities.

But I need more. I need to know their secrets. The sooner I know their secrets, the more I can ratchet up the conflict and tension for them. Because of course, they don’t want anyone else to know their secrets, so they’ll often do things than are unreasonable to keep them.

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Each character also needs to be motivated by something. And then I have the fun of putting obstacles in her way to creative tension and conflict here, too.

So, two important ways to help yourself have interesting characters your readers will care about is to give each one (even many of the minor characters) a secret or two, and something they want badly.  If could be that what they want badly is to hide their secret.

It’s up to you when to divulge the secrets. Often it’s best to wait awhile to do that, but other times it’s good for the reader to know almost right away because it explains why the character acts as she does. And it’s always delicious, isn’t it, to be in on other people’s secrets?

I’M NOT HERE BECAUSE I’M SOMEWHERE ELSE

Since I have a guest blog up this week about writing and time management for writers, and an article in a newsletter about blogging, I thought it best to direct everyone to those instead of posting yet another article here.

I’m delighted to be at lovely Patricia Stoltey’s blog today, and as a bonus, giving away a copy of Organized to Death to someone who comments:

http://bit.ly/17HcCyf

Patricia Stoltey

And I’m featured in this month’s SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) newsletter where I talk about blogging—scroll about halfway down this page to read it:

http://www.spawn.org/blog/?p=2625

So, get outa here and go read elsewhere! Thank you.

HOW TO SAVE TIME WHEN YOU WRITE

It’s a fact: you can save a lot of time by becoming better at what you do. In general, I believe this applies as much to writing as to most other things.

Think about it—you’ve probably spent a few years writing a shopping list, no? Aren’t you a bit faster than you were when you wrote your very first one? I bet so.

I’ll give you some examples for writing.

Learning from others:

1.     When I first joined a writer’s group after writing a full-length novel and a few short stories, they quickly pointed out three ways I could improve. One was no head-hopping in scenes—stay in point of view. Next up was learn to use active voice instead of passive voice. I began searching for “wases” like crazy. And third, search and destroy most (some say all) modifiers. If I hadn’t joined the group, who knows how long I would have gone on making those same mistakes?

2.     I have also read quite a few books about writing and the writing life. I can’t list all the things I’ve learned from them, but I know it’s stored in my brain and peeks out to help me when needed lots of times.

3.     Reading other people’s work, both fiction and nonfiction (since I write both). How does he do such great descriptions? How does she make her points so succinctly? Things like that.

Learned by myself:

Then there’s the actual writing. This is the best way to learn, of course. Almost everyone will get better as they write. I hope I’m better after having written probably around a million words than I was when I first put pencil to paper.

1.     How to write on a schedule. Seat in chair, brain on fire. Same time every day works best for me, and for lots of other writers I know.

2.     How to write to length. Tell me to write a 50-word story, and I can do it almost at once, give or take a word or two. Then I can fix it so I hit it exactly. Tell me you want between 2,000 and 5,000 words, I can hit that even better, without going under or over. Give me a novel length, again, I can hit it. This did not happen in the beginning. It took a while, and an awareness of word counts. It probably helped that I wrote a lot of short stories—for a few years I was writing one or two a month of different lengths.

3.     How to handle different aspects of writing—do better descriptions, for example. I still don’t think I’m great with descriptions, but I have learned a few tricks to make it easier for me to write them. You may have a different weakness that with time and effort will lessen.

Bottom line? You get better and faster the more you write. So, to save time later on, write a lot now. The more you write every day, the quicker you’ll improve.

WRITING FIRST DRAFTS

The first draft is for you, the writer. You put in everything that comes into your head. Throw it in there. You never know where it might lead. Describe everything. Talk boringly about the weather. Have your characters move from point A to point B to point C in excruciating detail. All this helps you see in your mind what’s going on and helps you make sure that things are possible

Draft Business Stamp 1 by Merlin2525 - A slanted solid orange business stamp, with the words,

When working on the second draft, it’s time to think about your reader. She doesn’t want to know every detail, every play-by-play, or read paragraphs about the weather. Or what roads your character took to get from home to his favorite restaurant (a favorite peeve of mine).  Sure, leave in the weather if it pertains to the story–the bad weather is making it hard for your protag to do something she desperately wants to do. Sure, leave in some play-by-play to up the tension in an action scene and to enable the reader to “see” it happening. Leave in a main road in a major city that everyone’s heard of–it helps the reader “be” there with the character.

Yes, it’s a fine line. And some readers like more description than others. If you’re writing a historical romance, you can leave in more than if you’re writing a hardboiled detective story. But you may still have to take out some in that historical romance so the reader isn’t bogged down in the details. And you will want to leave some in that hardboiled story to ground the reader, to help him see what’s going on.

Be sure to save your first draft in several places such as a thumb drive, CD, “off-site,” and/or in the cloud away from where you write. Then save it as a second draft and whittle away. Then if you think you’ve cut something you should have kept, you still have it. Do the same for the next draft, and the next.

Nothing is more exciting or more excruciating sometimes than writing a first draft. But the sense of satisfaction when you type “the end” is always exhilarating, too. Go for it! Now, I’m off to work on my first draft for the second in my series about Tina, the professional organizer. She’s having a time of it, and so am I.

WRITING AS A BUSINESS

“They” say writing is a business. Writers have to write, of course, but they also have to spend about an equal amount of time promoting.  Especially if they self-publish. How do most writers feel about this? From reading blogs and speaking to other writers, I’d say most aren’t too thrilled with marketing their work and themselves.

Let’s think about this a moment: the common wisdom now is that the entrepreneur needs to spend most of her time working on her business, not in it. For writers, this would be writing for publication. Without doing that, there is no business. Working in the business is doing things that almost always can be delegated. No, you can’t send someone else to do a signing unless you want to be called a fraud later on. But you can hire/bribe/coerce a friend/relative to set up that signing for you. And make the brochures, posters, order the books, solicit reviews, etc., etc. If you are self-publishing, you can get someone to make your cover, format the final versions, upload them and use a distribution service. Self-publishing or not, you can hire someone to set up your website, maintain it, and set up your blog.

Yes, this takes money. Over the years, I’ve noticed that the people who have made it good as self-published writers, most of them, spent quite a bit of money promoting themselves. Now, even those who are published by the big New York companies are also finding out they have to do a lot of their own marketing and pay for it themselves. Some even use up their entire advances doing exactly that.

Here are some hard questions:

  • How serious are you about your writing career?
  • If you were starting any other business, how much would you invest the first year in the start-up? What is holding you back from investing that same amount in your writing career?
  • How much do you enjoy marketing your work?
  • If money were no object, what would you delegate to others?
  • How much of a control freak are you?
  • How much time do you have to do it all yourself?
  • How much energy do you have to do it all yourself?
  • How good would you be at teaching someone else to do what is needed and letting them handle it after that?
  • And again: How serious are you about your writing career?
  • Do you think you are good enough?
  • If you’re a woman, are you thinking that you can’t invest family money in your career? Would this be a good time to think more like a man?
  • Has anyone you don’t know personally ever offered to publish anything by you, and even paid you for it? If not, how do you know you’re a good writer?

I’m not going to suggest any answers to these questions. No two writers are the same, and we all have to find our own paths. But some deep thinking is needed, I believe, about this subject. Because I see a lot of us (yes, me included) struggling with the business aspect of a writing career. Most of us would rather just write and let someone else handle everything else.  Is it even possible to make that happen in today’s world? Again, I don’t have the answer. I just know we need to think about it.

Would love to read your thoughts in the comments!

DO WRITERS STILL NEED PRINOUTS?

In the age of the computer, do we still need to print stuff out? Well, maybe. If you have a good memory and back up often, maybe not. However, if your memory is iffy and you go for months without backing up, probably.

Two things I always print out and keep on my computer, too: contracts and anything to do with finances.

Contracts because even those of us with good memories may forget where the heck we stored a particular contract on our computers. I don’t have many contracts, so I simply have a file folder labeled, you guessed it, “contracts.” On the computer, though, I store the contract with everything else I have about the story or book, such as the actual document in different formats, a notes file, etc. Also with contracts, I like to read them over in printed form and mark them up.

Financial records because I keep them by year in a folder. I make copies for my accountant at tax time, and they are available if Uncle Sam ever comes calling. So, this is a convenience. And of course, some stuff still just comes in snail mail format, so it’s not on the computer to begin with.

Manuscripts, I  used to print them all out and had a physical file for each one. When we moved to the motorhome, with several 80,000-word manuscripts and about eighty short stories written, having everything in print simply took up too much room. What I had already printed out, I put in our storage unit. But I had a laptop with plenty of memory, so I stopped most of the printing and physical filing and worked out a good system on the computer.

transfer cabinet by johnny_automatic - clip art, clipart, externalsource, file, file, furniture, furniture, image, media, office, office, paper, paper, png, public domain, storage, storage, svg,

Notes and Research are also now kept on the computer.

Submission Trackers used to be kept in two different places. One submission tracker was in each physical file folder for the work. And a notebook had printed-out submission guidelines in alphabetical order with a tracker of what was sent to that publication. At the front of the notebook I had a form for each story sent out, date, and response. Now all this info is kept in my computer.

Are you still printing everything out? Some things out; some not? Do you have good systems in place or just wing it?