Writer’s Block: Things to Help You Get By

We all get it some time. The dreaded Writer’s Block. It’s like a disease no one wants to talk about. Or it gets all the blame when we can’t produce.

Many times writer’s block is just an obstacle like my cat…img_8717

Moonlight often decides when I have been at the keyboard long enough, and plops herself down in the most obtrusive way possible. Usually its lunchtime. I don’t mind this kind of block so much. If not for her, I’d forget to eat. So this kind of writer’s block can be good even if it comes with claws and hair.

However…

There are other kinds of writer’s block. Kinds that are insidious and often devastating to us poor creative folk. Not just writers but any kind of creative occupation. Art, music, writing, they all come with their own blocks.

First there is Waffling…

I can do this! Well, maybe not.

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This kind of block comes from fear. Fear of failure or fear of success. Our society measures us by our successes and no one wants to come up short. We worry so much about what others will think about our writing or painting or song that we never actually get to the work. Creating something from nothing is hard enough without worrying about what everyone will think of it. We pour our souls into our work and that is a hard thing to just hand off to a stranger and let them judge it. So we block ourselves in an effort to keep our souls safe.

How so you  get past this block?

Well there is an adage in the writing world….Write drunk and edit sober. Now I’m not advocating alcoholism but sometimes just that bit of liquid courage will do it. Do I drink and write? No. I unfortunately have to stay sober. I have kids. But it might work for you.

What works for me?

Stop thinking! Just sit down and write. I don’t care if it is a list of reasons why you should be writing or just nonsense. The only way to get past this kind of writer’s block is to just sit down and do it. You can’t worry about whether it will be a best seller or not. You can’t worry about how it will feel to get your thousandth rejection letter. None of that has happened and it will never happen unless you actually produce something. There is no sense in worrying about things that haven’t happened and may never happen.

SO HOW TO GET PAST WAFFLING WRITER’S BLOCK…JUST DO IT! JUST WRITE!

Second kind of block is Originality…

Once upon a time… nope, been there, done that.

img_8720So much of the writing world is based on “SHOW ME A NEW TAKE ON AN OLD THEME” If you think about it, every story has been told in one form or another. You think you have an idea then you find out it’s already been done. So you get blocked. Look at the vampire genre! Holy Cannelloni! You wanna talk about been there done that! And now we have sparkles and nano bugs from Atlantis mixed in. Discouragement is so easy to let in the door when you are faced with trying to come up with a new idea.

Then you get the industry itself making our lives complicated. “We want description, but don’t use adverbs!”, “We don’t want to see conversation tags, but tell us who is talking.”, “Never start slow, but never start fast.”  What is a poor author to think?

How do you get past this block?

First, relax a bit. You already have a new take. It’s called your voice. You have a unique voice already. It is a culmination of all your experiences, thoughts, and feelings. There is no one that will write your story like you will. It’s like taking a writing prompt and giving it to ten different people. There will be ten different stories. Our preconceptions built by our lives will give us each a different story.

If you need a new idea, look around. There is always something going on. Take a walk. Talk to someone. You never know when an idea will pop into your head.

How do I get past this block?

Sometimes it is a matter of telling the story from a different point of view. For example, telling Sleeping Beauty from Maleficent’s POV. (Hey it worked for Disney!)  Try changing the tone of the story. Make it a comedy with a tragic heart or make what should be funny slightly evil. Or my personal favorite, play the worst case scenario game with your idea. What would be the worst possible thing that could happen right now? It doesn’t have to be horrific just farthest from the norm. For example, I had a writing prompt “He Never Saw it Coming” It was about a kid in a fast food restaurant. He sees a lizard that is going to climb up a man’s leg. From there just think about what is the worst that could happen? I can see your writer’s block moving out of the way already…

SO HOW TO GET PAST THE ORIGINALITY BLOCK…RELAX, TAKE A WALK, LOOK AROUND, GET A NEW PERSPECTIVE.

Third is the hard one…Uncertainty.

Um…I guess so…?img_8721

This nasty little form of writer’s block comes from the black hole that is uncertainty. We don’t know what is happening in our story. Why did Bubba Joe drive to the shack in the woods? What are my villains doing while my heroes are trekking across the continent? Who the Hell is my character?

Readers don’t realize that we authors not only have to know the story, but we have to know every bit of history and every thought of the characters we create. Sometimes the character profiles and histories end up twice as big as the actual book!  It’s all backstory and we have to know it. Otherwise we won’t know how our character will act or react.

It is often hard to know someone you just created out of the thin air between your ears. Some authors write our interviews with their characters, some will list out every trait and every event in their timeline. If they are real enough then they will be easier to write what they would do in whatever situation  you put them in. Then you can ask WWBJD? (What would Bubba Joe do?)

Sometimes just talking to someone and getting their perspective will jog something loose in your own head.  They give you food for thoughT and then you are on your way again, the block is moved.

How do I get out of the uncertainty block? I often work backwards. I know where I want my characters to get to, so I plot out a sequence of events that will get them there. I often write tons of backstory material including maps and plans of buildings. Anything to give my characters a solid place to cavort. I also play the worst case scenario game with them. It’s not always pretty, but the story keeps moving on.

SO HOW DO WE GET PAST THE UNCERTAINTY BLOCK…PLOT, PLAN, AND TALK TO SOMEBODY!

Fourth is the all devastating Procrastination…

 Oh, tea sounds lovely!

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This one just plain nasty. It can be terminal. It is so easy to fall victim to procrastination because any of the other forms of writer’s block are in play. It’s hard to get past the block so why not go and vacuum or sort the magazines on the table. Everyone knows that organizing last years taxes is a way better occupation than facing the dreaded blank page or worse the half written one. Suddenly half your life is gone and you haven’t worked on anything in years!

DON’T DO IT! DON’T FALL VICTIM TO IT!

You must learn to sit down and do the work even if it is hard. You can’t dig a hole without picking up a shovel. Organize your life and set aside time to work. Turn off the internet. Facebook and Twitter will live without you. It’s ok.

Now, I’m not saying that all time away is bad. It can be really helpful. Writers often need to ruminate on the idea and suddenly it’s all there ready to go. So taking a walk once in a while or going to get some coffee is fine, just don’t make a career out of it. You can take time for other things.  I am sitting here writing a blog when I want to be writing my novel, but I’m still writing so it’s ok.

How do I get past this one? Practice and organization. I try to treat my writing like a job. I work at it on most of the days my kiddos are in school but there are sometimes when I have to do my mom responsibilities. I try to keep them separate. There is a time for everything. Am I always successful? No. Sometimes I suck at it, but that is where the practice comes in. I have to remind myself that it is time to write not to look up songs on YouTube.

SO HOW DO YOU GET PAST PROCRASTINATION BLOCK…WORK AND DISCIPLINE AND LOTS OF PRACTICE.

In short writer’s block is not a fatal disease, it’s just creativity that is stuck.  Sometimes the obstacles that stop us from creating are just big fuzzy things that plop right down on our lap. Sometimes it’s us avoiding what we don’t want to do for whatever reason. Either way it is something we can all get past. No block will stay forever.

Maybe offer it a ham sandwich…it might move.
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Flathead Writers Conference 2016

Just attended the Flathead Writers’ Conference in beautiful Kalispell, MT this weekend. There was a great turn out. Got to see a lot of old friends and made some new ones. 
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It felt a little different this year, maybe because a lot of the presenters were so laid back and relaxed. The presentations were very informative but also informal and funny. Author of The Riddle in Ruby, Kent Davis even pulled his agent, Susanna Einstein, in on his presentation to do a little play acting with him. img_8495

The meet and greet held at the Hampton Inn gave everyone a chance to get up and socialize. Drinks and finger foods kept normally introverted writers from sneaking back to their rooms and hiding. Instead we laughed and talked about anything that came up.
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As a writer of Fantasy and Science Fiction, I often feel a bit out of tune with other writers. Most I meet are either non-fiction, mystery, or romance writers. I don’t often get to meet writers of my own genre. However this time…

Monica Poole, author of the Science Fiction book Fourth Son, was one of the presenters. She was an absolute kick to listen too. Her topic was World Building for All Genres and I am pleased to say that I realized that I know a lot more about world building than I thought. So yay me!
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But when all is said and done it was time to head home and apply all my new knowledge to my current works. I look forward to attending again next year, who knows I might even be published by then…

Writing Prompt: 5 Tornadoes in 5 Days

tornado

5 Tornadoes in 5 days

Day six dawned with clear skies and no wind. Maybe we would be lucky today.

Not that there was much of the town left.

Five tornadoes in five days all in the same town, all at 5 o’clock.

Wind had turned the buildings to debris then to rubble then to complete devastation by day five. There was hardly enough dirt left to blow.

We watched the white clad team of scientists swarming like ants around the magic weather machine. It was going to save us.

Ha! They acted so smart flooding the town with their shiny government trucks. Unnatural phenomenon, they called it.  Five tornadoes, five days, 5 o’clock .

“Maybe its aliens,” Fred hawked and spat.

It ain’t aliens,” Joe sneered. “This is Oklahoma. Aliens stick to New Mexico.”

“Maybe God don’t like our new mayor.”  Fred eagerly looked to Joe.

“God don’t care about our mayor,” Joe smacked Fred on the arm, “preachers, yeah, but not mayors”

“Well then, what do you think it is?” Fred rubbed his arm.

“Jehovah witnesses.” Joe said with complete surety.

“It ain’t Johovah witnesses.” I scoffed. “They use pamphlets and they’d blow away in the wind.”

“Well, you’re so smart what do you think it is?” Joe crossed his arms and stared me down.

“Maybe it’s the Democrats!” Fred interrupted.

Joe smacked Fred on the back of the head, “Shut up, stupid.”

“You’re stupid.” Fred mumbled.

I shook my head thinking it was probably just Mother Nature trying to rid the world of stupid people like Fred and Joe.

Writing Prompt: The Camera Adds…

camera

The writing prompt this week was…

I play back the recording but what I saw on the screen wasn’t what I remembered.

Once again 15 minutes of writing. Let’s see what you get. Leave a link or paste it in the comments.

Here’s is what I wrote.

The Camera Adds…

I play back the recording but what I saw on the screen wasn’t what I remembered.

It was just her and I when we filmed the interview. She had sat in the chair under the lights and I had sat just out of camera view. The interview had been a simple Q&A nothing fancy. I was getting the lowdown on the new research facility. So many people in the community were against the opening of the Cross Corp that my producer wanted a comprehensive info spot just to settle the rumors.

Betty Miles was an ordinary research scientist but she had a face the camera would love. So Cross Corp had sent her over. The interview had been quick and professional but now as I review the tape I am disturbed.

I watch Betty nod and answer questions but something seems to be there with her. I lean closer squinting at the screen doubting my eyes. I wasn’t sure if it was a trick of the light or maybe a bad placement of the camera. I was about to stop and call Betty back to reshoot when the shadow moved.

I shake my head. I had to be seeing things. I rewind the tape squinting at the shadow.

Just as Betty smiles it moves. I jump. This is impossible! I watch it again: same smile-same shadow movement.

I slow the tape to watch it again. I pause it just as Betty smiles. There it is, a shadow shifting behind her right shoulder. It is human shaped. A distinct head and shoulders are visible. I zoom in on the image but it becomes too distorted. I zoom back out and punch play again letting the interview play out. I keep my eyes on the shadow.  It hovers just over her right shoulder for most of the interview but as we bring the Q&A to a close the shadow starts shifting closer to the camera. I lean forward curiously. Suddenly the shadow rushes forward at the camera. I jump back reflexively.

Then it is gone. I move forward and stretch out a shaking hand feeling silly. I push the rewind button. I had to be hallucinating. I press play and watch the slow-motion movement of the shadow as it reaches the camera.

There is a face. My heart pumps as if I’d been running for my life. A face. There’s a face. What the Hell did the camera catch that Betty and I hadn’t even know was there?

A Writer’s Platform.

I have been working on this blog for a while now. I started because “writers must have an online presence” and a blog is something that is top on the suggestions. It was supposed to create a habit of writing and allow a place for readers to get to know me. Well…

I’m not really sure what I thought was going to happen. I know that a lot of people use blogs to promote work or to advocate for something in particular or just to vent the unfairness of life in general. I had no idea what I was going to write about, just that I was supposed to do something.

Well, write what you know. I know a lot about nothing. I am a mom with an outdated theatre degree. The only thing I’m good at is making do with what I’ve got. So I have been blogging for two years this month. I started out with a quote. “Not all those who wander are lost.”  I hate to admit it, but after two years. I’m still lost in the blogging world.

I have had some success with a few posts, but mostly I think the only people who see my posts are family. lol

I want this blog to be something else. Something more.

I have been getting closer and closer to getting published. I have written three books and I’m still trying to get someone to take them. I have hundreds of stories circulating through my head. I feel like I’m spending too much time trying to figure out what to write for my blog than actually writing. If I have to keep a blog rolling I want it to be more writing-centric.

I want to try something different. Our writing group has a little free writing session every meeting. We pick a writing prompt and write for fifteen minutes. So far I’m digging what I’ve come up with. I’ve never really bothered with writing prompts. I always had enough story ideas that I didn’t think I needed them, but they are kind of fun. So starting in March I will be doing a little something different.

I intend to post the results of any writing prompts that I work on. I hope that this will help my actual writing career goals. I know some bloggers who have segued into books just from their fiction pieces in their blog. I hope this will also start a readership of my brand of storytelling.

I can’t promise great works but I will guarantee that they will be from the ridiculous and crazy land called my head. From time to time I might still post about my family or other pressing bits of inspiration. I hope you will all stick with my on this new adventure.

Thanks to all of you for reading so far.

Authors of the Flathead Writer’s Conference 2015

Once again it is September and I got the chance to sneak away from the house and attend the Authors of the Flathead Writer’s Conference in Kallispell MT. It is my one and only getaway each year. This is the third year that I have been able to attend and it happened to be the 25th Anniversary for the conference. Awesome huh? 25 years of writer’s helping writers learn and hone their craft.

Luckily the first day started at 8am with registration and beverages.

Thank goodness for the beverages part because alarm hadn’t worked and I didn’t get up on time. My cell phone had decided to become a doorstop for no apparent reason. It was fully charged and yet decided to lock up so I couldn’t even get the screen to come up. So after rushing around with my heart pounding in that “I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!” way I finally got my phone reset and headed to the conference to finally meet up with some coffee.

IMG_6428Dennis Foley, Novelist, Screenwriter and Lecturer, opened the conference and then introduced Les Standiford.  Lovely man. He spoke twice once on Saturday and once on Sunday about narrative and putting your character in charge of your story.

He Spoke about focusing on the efforts of one person trying to do something significant against escalating problems. He recommended the movie “The Bicycle Thief” as a great example of how your story can be really simple but so far reaching. He also managed to make a connection about narrative in non-fiction that was one of those foundation shaking revelations for me. The reader is the protagonist of the self-help book. For example, the 30 lbs in 30 days diet book. The reader is trying to accomplish something significant (losing 30 lbs) and comes against escalating problems at they try to reach the ultimate goal of losing the weight. I had never been able to understand narrative and non-fiction until that comment. Maybe I’m slow but I thought it was new and pretty cool.

There were sessions with Agent Annie Hwang about the role of agents in the new marketplace and about self-publishing. Editor Kerri Buckley spoke about Carina Press and about being your own publicist. Some authors were able to meet with them one on one about their individual pieces. Those meetings were based on first come first serve registration earlier in the year. I’m was unable to take advantage of these sessions because I’m unable to plan out my life that far in advance.

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Lavonne Mueller, playwright and author offered information on winning grants and
fellowships for writers all over the world. She described the beautiful villas and cottages all over the world in which writers, artists, and poets could spend anywhere from a month the nearly a year living in these exotic locations for the sole purpose of uninterrupted work.

 Cathy Scott, journalist and author spoke about movie IMG_6427deals and media and also how to brand yourself in this online culture we inhabit.

She also spoke about how her life has been affected by her published works on such famous true crime events.

IMG_6433B.J. Daniels, A New York Times and USA Today bestseller who writes for both Harlequin Intrigue and HQN, spoke about writing series. She gave many good reasons why writing a series is so effective, including the possibility of multiple book deals and fan base growth. She also pointed out that they author can save time by writing a series based on a world that was already created for the first book and can write subsequent books quicker and in much richer detail because the world is already established. It also allows room for the characters to grow with a longer story arch.

She had a  workshop about writing sex scenes. She had the whole room giggling and steaming up the windows as we all attempted to write a kiss scene. Even the guys were getting into that one!

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Adam Pitman and David Blair of BadFritter Films gave a workshop on horror screenwriting. They were a lot of fun. I had met them last year and I was glad to see them again. My daughter is a major fan and now thinks I’m the coolest mom ever because I know some of her heroes.

We had a great time discussing things that scare us and why they scare others as well as picking apart movies to find the secret of horror success. Afterward I chatted with David a little about our favorite scary movies and the possibility of trying to bring back the classic B Sci-Fi comdey creature feature like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or Black Sheep.

Other workshops on Sunday afternoon included Ina Albert:  Presenting Yourself Professionally at Signings and Other Appearances and Debbie Burke: 17 Tips for Effective self-Editing. I wan’t able to attend these two because I had chosen to attend B.J. Daniels’ lecture and Adam Pitman and David Blair’ workshop. I heard that they were also very informative.

IMG_6437The last event of the day is First Impressions. It is the most informative and the most traumatic event of the entire conference. Some of us brave souls brought copies of our first page from our manuscripts and submitted them to the panel anonymously for review. The panel then listens and reads along while the piece is read out loud to the room. As each member comes to the place on the page where they would have stopped reading for whatever reason they raise their hand. Once several hands go up they stop reading. The panel then explains why they wanted to stop.

It is a great way to understand how your writing is perceived and what can be done to change it for they better. Some pieces were stopped after a few sentences and other were stopped half way through. A couple made it all the way through. It is said that the first page must be worked and reworked more than any other chapter in your book because if the reader isn’t snared and interested by the first page then they will never read the rest.  First Impressions shows the truth of that belief.

I nearly died from heart failure waiting to see if they would read mine.  My heart was pounding so hard that I started to feel faint. It’s a very scary thing to put yourself out there so publicly knowing that the whole point is to invite criticism. However, I am happy to say that they read nearly half my page. I know that doesn’t sound great but their advice on why will help me craft it into a better piece. And it was only a first draft anyway.

I highly recommend attending a conference if you are serious about writing or even if you are not serious. Conferences are the best way to get your feet wet. It is a wonderful experience and it really opens your eyes to how things really work for the authors of your favorite books. They struggle just like you do. It is also a great place to make connections and start that networking that is so vital to the survival of authors in today’s literary world. No man (or woman) can write alone. I’m glad I have made so many great connections and I look forward to seeing them again next year.

Great Falls Library Festival of the Book, Diverse Reads

During the month of April the Great Falls Montana Library celebrates the Festival of the Book.  There are many events but I only made it to one this year, Diverse Reads. Three amazing authors came to speak about their experiences and their writing. I was privileged to know two of them already and was happy to meet the third.

My good friend and partner in crime (or writing, which ever you prefer) Lisa Schmidt was one of the authors. Her daughter Abby (my son’s best friend) came along to hang out with my son while her mom “did her thing.” Lisa spoke about her experiences on the Graham Ranch and her adventures in writing. Her ranch is all about sustainability and  living WITH the land. She was a kick to listen too. Her book Prairie Ponderings is a collection of adventures on her ranch and I do mean adventures!

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 New York Times Bestselling Author B.J.Daniels  spoke about her love of writing and how she found her way to Harlequin Intrigue novels. She also gave a short reading from one of her latest works which happened to have been printed without a page. She took it in stride and filled in the missing bits storyteller style. She’s a really fun lady!

Arlene Blessing, author of a travel book called We Were There But Where? Her humor shone through as she answered questions about her travels with candid answers bringing laughs from the whole room. She also read excerpts from her book.

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The crowd was not massive but we were all happy to be there and the program dissolved into a group discussion with all three authors about what it’s like in the world of writing and publishing. Even the authors ended up trading information about what has worked for them and what they are trying to learn. All in all it was a very fun and very informative afternoon. I feel privileged to know these remarkable ladies. They are all down to earth, fun, personable, open women. Montana is truly a blessed place to have them amongst the populace.

Half is better than nothing, right?

I feel like I’m only getting half the use out of everything.

At these new apps and websites for authors are amazing and awesome but I just don’t think I’m getting the full use of them that I should. I don’t know if it’s just lack of time on my part. I can’t dedicate enough time to learn all the intricacies of each program on top of a full family life and job. I know there are plenty you out there that are doing just that and somehow I’m just falling short of the mark.

Perhaps it is a failing in my life. I don’t think I get full use out if any tool in my shed so to speak.

Tip of the ice berg that’s me! Skim the surface and move on!

I wonder a lot if going back to school would help or if it would just serve to add more to my plate so I can use even less of everything than I do now. Maybe it would be just what I need to focus and cut to the chase. But then again school could be nothing more than another way to procrastinate and distract me from my goals. The info you get in school is often outdated and superfluous. Technology changes so fast that no one can keep up especially not an educational institution.

It’s so hard to know which way to turn to achieve the goals we set especially as we grow older. Life starts moving faster and we start processing slower. Too many decisions need our attention for us to have the luxury of learning at our own speed or even to give our full attention to anything.

So now using only half of the potential of any given tool I am fighting tooth and claw for what I want. I want to be an author. There’s nothing in this world that I want to do so much as write and have my works read and appreciated. By hook or by crook in isolation and confusion somehow I will have it.