What do you do with the blank screen? How do you get around the….blankness of it all? Well, here’s a whole slew of artists from different walks of life sharing their secrets on how to get past this stumbling block.
I apologize if this is a repost for those of you who receive blog posts by email or view them via a blog feed reader. We did some reshuffling last week to ensure you don’t miss out an inspiring guest post but we are back to regular scheduling now.
I spend painful tiny writing sessions at the crack of dawn adding 50 words to my story then another 50 and another 50 until maybe I hit 500-800 before it’s time for me to get to my day job, and I wonder, why on earth do I do that?
Do you ever get that feeling?
I question myself over and over, realist to the possibility that this manuscript is perhaps just practice. That no matter how I submit it down the ladder of agents, trad-publishers and small publisher, it might never be good enough to actually be read.
And that the 250 hrs I spent are just gone from my life.
I just sit there at times in front of the blank page or staring at lines of unedited work wondering, why continue to do this if there are no guarantees?
It’s really hard to find the answer to that question, isn’t it?
Because there are easier ways to spend our extra time, easier ways to earn a living, or be creative and certainly not something to do in a quest for fame. So why?
There are so so many people we meet who confess they have a book in them. Is it a way to express ourselves to the world? To put some order to our jumbled thoughts, inner voices and dreams.
Maybe I am wasting my time, I truly don’t know. But I could also waste it on mindless TV, Facebook addiction, hours of Angry Birds or snarky gossip with so-so friends.
At least I’ll have something out of it at the end, right? Even if its unfit for public reading!
And at least those voices inside my head will finally have found a home.
On my Kindle: Blood Brothers: The Sign of Seven by Nora Roberts
Talk Back – Tell us how you write!
We had this meme from Chuck Wendig (and the associated blog post) circulating around the internet last week and it did get me thinking.
I can’t seem to find moments when I am truly happy with writing anymore. I remember the excitement I had when I finally told myself it was ok to try to write, and when I had, oh I don’t know 3 chapters written or so, I felt soooo happy.
I had spent most of my life dreaming of being a writer and believing that, because I never went to school to study writing, I could never get a book published, see a real book with my name on it in a big bookstore.
And I wish I could say that I was completely happy when it happened (and yes I was happy) but by that time I was so wrapped up in the crazies of the business side of it, that I was not as happy as when I sat down to write those words the very first time.
It took me quite a while to find my happy writing place again. It meant a lot of pulling out from writing groups, a lot of time thinking about what writing means to me and a total different mind-set where happiness comes from accomplishing my allocated daily writing time and spending time in a woken dream with my characters and none thinking about selling, reviews and money.
How about you? When was the last time writing made you truly happy? What do you need from your writing to find that bliss?
There are many things that I enjoy about writing, but staring at the empty computer screen isn’t one of them. That white page surrounded by a sea of blue is intimidating and the “page 1 of 1 with the word count at the bottom left bellows my lack of words.
All that being said, I am in good company. Some of the best loved writers throughout history have been plagued by this affliction. What makes Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf different from other writers? They didn’t let the Block paralyze them for any length of time. They figured a way around whatever it was keeping them from producing pages of writing. If they can do it, so can you. So can I.
What is this mysterious thing called Writer’s Block? I found a working definition on Wikipedia:
“Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some “blocked” writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers. It can manifest as the affected writer viewing their work as inferior or unsuitable, when in fact it could be the opposite. The condition was first described in 1947 by psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler.”
Here’s a definition, but that still doesn’t help me with what to do while I’m lost. Why does this happen?
A grammar website named it the “Censor” that resides in our brain. Little voices inside our head tell us that we have absolutely nothing worthwhile to say, nothing that we’ve experienced would be interesting enough for others to read. The Censor skillfully takes these voices and tears them down only to build them back up brick by brick until we have a wall so tall and so wide that we couldn’t possible find a way around it. Maybe the Censor was created because an English teacher told you that your poem was drivel in 7th grade, maybe an agent told you that what you were working on wasn’t politically correct or maybe you just had a traumatic potty training episode- it doesn’t matter why it’s in existence- it just is.
An American poet, William Stafford, states, “There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.” WHAT?!? Are we supposed to create crap? Are we to be satisfied with the mediocre?
What the man is trying to tell us is that we need to lighten up. Stop taking ourselves so seriously. If you sit down with the sole intention of writing the best thriller, the most profound poem, the scariest horror novel, then you’re screwed. (Pardon my vulgarity-but it sums it up so succinctly.) Give yourself permission to write whatever flies from your fingertips. The point is to not write another great novel right off the bat, the point is to simply write. I highly doubt William Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet in a single take.
Joanna Penn (The Creative Penn) has a wonderful list of suggestions to push back the Censor creating Writer’s Block in your head.
- Rid yourself of the genius curse– everything that comes from our brain does not have to be brilliant!
- Don’t be married to results– most folks have to write pages and pages of “stuff” before something good bubbles to the top.
- Don’t compare yourself to other writers– your talents are unique. We don’t need another Stephen King, we need you!
- Remember rejection letters are made of paper– they can be disposed of quite easily.
- Write ahead of yourself– we’re all walled in by our own habits- break out!
- Cannibalize your older writing– don’t be afraid to chop your words, but keep them in a separate folder. There might be glimmers of brilliance.
- Break old habits of voice and style– if it’s stale to you, it will be stale to your readers.
- Break your assumptions– If you are writing a light hearted comedy and get stuck, bring in a killer and see what happens. You can always change tone in a revision.
- Write every single day– we all know this rule.
- Join or start a writing group– I get by with a little help from my friends.
- Combine all of these approaches– nuff said!
A little while ago I answered the following questions on my writing process for a writer’s blog and I thought I’d share it with you, so that you could in turn share yours with us!
Please describe your current writing process from story idea to final draft in as much detail as possible.
I usually start with my hero and heroine and try to find a couple that would be a good match in terms of both conflict and attraction.
I try to be as clear as I can on both characters goals, motivations and conflicts (external and internal). My style of writing focuses more on the characters internal conflicts due their background and how they come together to resolve the external conflict which comes in the form of a threat to their world, usually a villain. My general writing theme is that unity conquers.
I try to lay out the main story in a classical 3 acts set-up.
Once I have the core of the story, I daydream scenes that fit my writing style: gritty, sensual and mystical and that arise from the conflicts between all the characters. I use music a lot to brainstorm.I also like to fill up Donald Maass workbook to think up more intense scenes.
Once I have a good list of scenes (maybe 20), I write them one at a time longhand in first person for each POV character. Meanwhile I list all the plots and plot layers to make sure I advance at least one or more plot in each scene. I come up with new scenes as I write for a total of around 75.
Typing all the scenes in the appropriate third person gives me my first draft. I don’t pause to edit during that phase but write real fast and fill the blanks later.
The second stage is when I do the deep editing. I use my own version of Margie Lawson’s method to add the missing bits such as settings and emotions and research accuracy and I also look at a balance in my scenes between emotions, inner thoughts, dialog, action and setting. I add about 20% more material at this stage. Sometimes, I see that I need to add or cut scenes.
This draft goes to my writing partners (i.e. Mustrackers John, Candi and Jenn)
If I can, I leave this draft aside for a while and later do a one sitting read as a reader to see what is missing.
In the third draft, I start by fixing my own comment and my writing partners comments. I may again add or cut scenes then do a style edit, scene by scene, which is a 10-15 checklist I use to look at such as word overuse, tension on every page, using 5 senses, varying length sentences, using active strong verbs, hooks, ect. I also like to read each scenes 3 times with different fonts. Then I cut into chapters where natural breaks occur.
What do you feel are the pros & cons of your current writing process?
The only problem I can see with my writing process is that it takes time to type my work. Almost the same time to type as it take to write. I wish I was faster, but I need the deep connection I feel by writing longhand. Somehow, I can’t do it straight to the computer.
What details can you share about the process of writing your very first published work? How has it changed from then to now?
The process I described was for my first published work which was my first manuscript (ANCIENT WHISPERS) and I still use this now that I am writing my fifth. I tried before to fill characters charts and index cards but I found it was pretty useless.
What advice would you give newly aspiring authors on finding their process?
Just try to find your own process by listening to what works for you but do learn different technique. I am a very obsessive plotter but I have been trying to learn how pansters do it. Never feel like you are stuck into one way of doing thing and try to work extra hard on your weaknesses.
It’s your turn now! If you have a minute, please share your process with us. I love learning new tricks from others!
A writer friend was asking me that just that last week and I shared with her what I do. I thought I’d share it here in case it might give someone some ideas.
Now everyone has their own way to write a book, and frankly there are no “right” ways. But here is mine. This is what I told her.
Have you tried Save the Cat to plot your book?
A fake victory half way through your story.
At mid-point, I have a fake victory. A place in the story where the characters feel they won but it’s an illusion (a love scene there works well).
Find your way from mid-point to climax
So for the last part I need to go from fake victory to the Climax in Act 3. I start with a bad event, something coming out as a consequence of previous decision. Blade Snyder talks about the “bad guys closing in”. I bring in my “really bad guys” in this oart, maybe escalading from one bad thing to the next.
How bad can it get! Escalate the bad in the second half!
Donald Maass talks about the “how bad can it get!” In my current WIP, a contemporary romance, it starts after my heroine finally gets together with the hero, with first her car breaking down, then her ex moves in town, then she lose her job (because of a stupid decision on her part), then she breaks-up with the hero (tied to the job loss), then she gets into a huge fight with her mom.
As far as the bad stuff happening, I try to have the bad events tied to the characters worst fear as defined in the GMC! And make it a consequence of their actions (in my story, it’s her fault she gets fired, then the firing leads to a break-up, she fears being dependant on a man). You have to torture your characters the whole time! Make them suffer!
Tension and conflict! Lots of it. 🙂
After all that bad stuff, we need “the dark night of the soul.”
This leads me to the real bottom and a “dark night of the soul”, where the heroine is all alone and is really really low. Then I come up with some epiphany where she decides to take action towards solving her problem. The decision to take action is what leads to Act 3 and the beginning of “lead into victory” and to the climax.
Tie all loose ends in the climax
And then, as I heard Jane Porter say, it’s just a matter of closing all the doors to make sure all is resolved (in this WIP, my heroine makes-up with mom, get back with the hero and takes action that leads to a new job and dealing with issues with her ex.)
Story boards: See the story in one picture!
I really like the Save the Cat story boards. I made 3 so far for 3 WIP and it helped a lot. Basically, the first part is all about the “fun and game” promise of your book (say for me in a small town family romance, I have sexy kisses and some cute scenes with family, kids and engaging with the hero) and the last part is the meat and bone serious “how bad can it get” sort of thing. I like to make things deeper and deeper in emotions and/or action (for my paranormals) to escalade the pace, than finish with a bang in the climax.
Have fun with your middle. If all fails, also have a read of Jim Butcher’s The Great Swampy Middle! His writing advice his priceless.
What are your tricks?
How do you keep track of your word counts and keep yourself motivated.
A writer friend on Facebook asked me this question this week so I though it’d be best to write a blog post on the topic. I have a few trick to get me going. In fact, I used the following since Oct 5 and wrote a total of 63,000 words so far. I am a slow writer, so this is a huge word count for me. But hey, it adds up. I could make it to around 250,000 words in one year if I keep this pace!
(1) I write longhand. So I calculated that I write about 200 words for each page of my notebook. This is actually a bit of an underestimate so in fact my 63,ooo words is probably closer to 70,000 words. I tally my word count for every session I write by counting how many pages I fill in my spiral notebook.
(2) I use a calendar. I got this trick from Liza Palmer at a writer’s conference. I have a large calendar posted on the wall (I use the awesome calendar put out by artist Tony Mauro who designs Yasmine Galenorn book covers. I write a scene a day, first thing in the morning, anywhere between 500 to 1500 words a day. I just write down the number for the day on the calendar. It sounds simple but it is a powerful tool. If I miss one day, I have to stare at an empy space for a whole month, so this really motivate me to get that day done.
(3) I got my second trick from Megan Crane at a writer’s conference. I started a page for my novel in progress where for each session I write the date, the scene number, the word count and a word count tally.
- 10/19 — 1 — 900 — 900
- 10/20 — 2 – 1500 — 2400
- 10/21 — 3 — 700 — 3100
(4) I also record my word count in a app I have for my iPhone called WriMoDemon which tally my word counts for the month. I usually make my target 20,000 words for the month so this app tells me what I need to do to stay on track. I write my total word counts for the month on my big wall calendar at the end of the month.
(5) I also record my word in another app called WriteChain from the How Not to Write website. It’s based on the idea that you need to write everyday and never “break the chain” to stay motivated. (see how Jerry Seinfeld use a similar idea) I keep my minimun goal at 500 words a day.
(6) I also have a group of romance writer friends from the Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America. We started as a motivational group last year where we report our word counts each day and the leader post a spreadsheet with everyone’s progress once a week or so.
(9) I also post my word counts of the day on my Facebook and Twitter status. A little for fun and a little for keeping me accountable. So all of 9 tricks that keeps me in check. It sounds like a lot but really it takes me about 5 minutes a day and an extra 5-10 minutes on Sunday. Little steps get you there!
“And each book has to receive your best effort every single time. No slacking. ”