Cure Writer’s Block with the Drastic

1 08 2013

Suffering from writer’s block is all part and parcel of the business. One day the words flow too fast for you to type or jot in your own gibberish. One day you see the layout ahead of you and are watching the possibilities play out. Then there are days when you draw such a complete blank you are sure you must be as talentless as you always, secretly, thought. Let’s put aside our damaging thoughts and try something drastic. I am going to ask you to attempt the impossible, do the unthinkable, and… well, it really is not as bad as that gasp you are prepared to release.

What genre are you partial too? What reality is your book born from? Put it all aside and choose a different view. Writing a love story? Try writing your main character/s into a mystery. Flying through fictional history? Take those same characters and place them in the world of science fiction. Writing for adults? Transform your characters into a child’s world. You are not looking at a rewrite, simply expanding your views to other possibilities should the circumstance change. Imagine your characters in another situation, another place, another reality. Play around with their environment and allow yourself to laugh at any absurdities.

Giving your characters a situation completely different from the direction in which the story is intended can release your mind from its current rut and open ideas previously unconsidered. Ever been in a conversation that feels more like a bee zipping from flower to flower vs the bird building a solid nest? You start with one subject, but one word, one joke, one minor detail sends your discussion down a side road. This can happen so quickly and so often you may have found yourself trying to remember how you started out talking about your work situation and how will you ever make your boss see sense to talking about the impossibility of eating brownies without sighing. Don’t laugh, I am sure we have all been there at least once. Suddenly, in the middle of discussing the oddities of the color cerulean the answer to your problem hits you.

Writer’s block is (among other things) the inability to see the way forward logically and smoothly. Since you think you are only sitting in front of a brick wall with no way through, over, or around try changing direction and only then can you see the passage that is hidden from direct view (David Bowe in the Labyrinth a must see!worm).

 

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Saying Goodbye to a Bad Story

30 07 2013

If you want to know what makes a best seller, you have to understand the workings of a bad one. Writing is about placing your thoughts to paper, making a difference, telling a story, changing the way others think. All this is fine and dandy until you want to sell it. When money is not exchanging hands and the size of the audience is not a concern it is perfectly fine to write whatever you want. Writing can be a great stress relief or a way to remember a thought, dream, or story you heard. The minute you decide you want to have everyone read it or (and lets admit it is a driving factor) get paid for it you cross the line between writing for yourself and writing for others.  This time it matters what your audience wants and less about what you want. What do they want? It differs for everyone, but the best way to find out if your book stinks is to have others proof read it; unless you already have a publisher don’t think they will cover your bases.

If your friends, neighbors, acquaintances are counting the pages to the end of the chapter or (heaven forbid!) the end of the book you have failed. Time to either rewrite or toss it entirely. When you find your readers arguing with your narrator you have lost the magic and soon they will be counting the pages. You want your narrator to keep their interest, not drive them away. Be prepared to cry if you find your readers are more in league with your minor characters against your main. Hint- they should be rooting for your main character (pssst- even if he/she is the villain)! Beware the reader that skips pages to get to the good stuff. Steer clear from too complicated. Yes, there is such a thing. Some complication will keep your readers intrigued, while insanely complicated loses their interest.

Stay away from impossible rebirths. Vampires are okay as are werewolves or angels and the like, magic also has its potential, and science experiments carry some possibilities. But all these still have their limitations. Readers need limits or the story runs flat. What good is a main character that only wins because there is no means for failure? Put yourself in the place of your readers. You may think it is an incredible story, but remember all the volumes to which you gave your precious time only to put them aside in disgust. If you want it to sell the opinions of your readers are king and you need to be writing for them as much as for yourself.review

 





Cleaning House

21 06 2013

Company’s coming! Run the vacuum. Pass the mop. Polish the furniture.

Editing a manuscript is a lot like cleaning house–remove the clutter, rearrange if necessary, and tweak until it shines. The greatest tool in the world comes to you courtesy of “Edit” and “Find”. Find what needs changing. Start with your last sentence. Is So really necessary? It’s easy to let useless words clutter your manuscript. May I suggest? Words such as: so, very, that, although, yet, rather, just, nearly, even, almost, perhaps, quite, then, and suddenly may very well be gumming up your flow of thought. 

Avoid the use of redundant words and phrases and cut out the obvious. “Down at his feet”. The very same goes for punctuation, no need to over explain the use of a question mark or exclamation point. Review your adjectives and your reasons for including them. You want to manipulate the senses of your readers, not lose their interest before you have shown your best room in the house. Don’t just use words such as cold, hot, mean, or kind in passing. Use the opportunity to direct your readers emotions in preparation for the next reveal. manuscript

Sometimes the use of a metaphor will give the reader an even better sense of description. You want to show not tell your reader what a character is experiencing. You can do that by giving the reader a vibrant description about a particular instance. Substitute robust, concrete adjectives, throw in a few metaphors, and the reader becomes an active participant in that particular scene–feeling, seeing, tasting, smelling what the character is experiencing. In this you’ll kept the text active.

Watch any tendencies to recycle some choice words a little too often. Do you tend to use the same words over and over? BORING! If I may use a cliché, variety is the spice of life. Check for those words that occur frequently throughout the manuscript and substitute another similar word. Check for words such as felt, knew, figured, and heard. Omit these words by explaining how the character felt and what he heard or saw. You don’t need to indicate a character looked at someone before speaking. That’s assumed. 

Spell check only checks for spelling, not usage. When in doubt, check the dictionary. What else should you look for when editing? White space – make sure you don’t have lengthy segments of narrative. Dialog helps to keep up the pacing. Remember, cleaning up your manuscript is just a matter of taking out the trash.





Musically Inspired

11 06 2013

More times than you can, probably, count you may have heard a song on the radio, on a commercial, during a movie and found yourself transported to another place and time. Reminded of a moment you’ve experienced, a memory, and then feel everything you felt back then.

Music has the ability to move us—our memories and our imaginations.

Turn on music that you love. Listen carefully. Start writing. How does the song make you feel? Focus on the feelings—joy, sadness, triumph, love, regret. Write a piece that conveys the same emotion. What do you think about? Some lyrics tell a story; expand on that story and take it further. The song may give you a portrait of a character; fill in the blanks to create your own scene or imagine a reason or environment in which this character would develop these traits. The lyrics may take you back to a time in your past; relive that memory for inspiration and write your own experience. Writers are always encouraged to write what they know. What story would feature this music as the soundtrack? Imagine your story into a movie (we can dream, right?) and this song will be on the soundtrack. Use the song to dream up a movie-worthy plot or envision a new setting or character.

Start with the song of your choice, maybe one you have not heard in awhile, or one that always gets you singing and moving. Listen to it start-to-finish, while keeping the questions above in mind. Write whatever the song inspires, whatever you imagine while you listen (you may need to channel Disney on this one!). And let creation take over without judgement and criticism.music





Lies of the Unpublished Writer

17 05 2013

Writers tend to be creative in many areas of life, so it’s no surprise that we can get creative with the truth. Or, as my mother said, “You lie a lot.” This is especially tempting when we are debating why we aren’t published. Before I was a published author, I embraced a few cherished lies because they blunted the pain of rejection. But the road to publication required discarding these lies and facing reality. Here are five lies I believed before I was published:

1. THE RULES DON’T APPLY TO ME.editing

I write amazing first drafts. If there were a contest for first drafts, mine would win every time. So I told myself, “Writing is not rewriting.” Other people might have to do multiple drafts, but my first drafts are so solid I could publish them as-is. For years I believed this.

One day I did three drafts of an article, and it became my first published article. A solid first draft is not good enough to be published. All those “rules of writing” that you read in Writer’s Digest, on blogs, and in creative writings classes are rules because they are true most of the time. So if there are some rules that you think don’t apply to you, think again. It might be the rule preventing you from getting published.

2. AGENTS AND EDITORS HAVE IT IN FOR ME.

Ah, those blood-sucking agents and editors. I’m pretty sure they have meetings in a secret underground lair where they talk about how jealous they are of my writing skills and how they should team up to keep me from being published.

This is a lie that is so prevalent among unpublished writers that editors and agents have to go to psychologists so they can feel good about themselves again. I know one editor who calls herself “Dream Crusher” to assuage her pain. Here’s the truth: Editors and agents desperately want you to be good enough. They make a living by writers being publishable. If you’re getting rejected it’s because you still have work to do. either as a writer or as a marketer.

3. I’M NOT A MARKETER, I’M A WRITER!

Which is exactly why you aren’t published yet. You have to do the hard work of writing a spectacular query and proposal. Notice that you have to “write” the query and proposal. You’re not being asked to do an interpretive dance or draft blueprints to a rocket ship. It might not be your style, and it might be hard work, but being a published author is hard work, complete with e-mails you don’t want to answer, deadlines, accounting and marketing!

Matt Mikalatos





Tips from Ernest Hemingway

27 04 2013

 

Before he was a big game hunter, before he was a deep-sea fisherman, Ernest Hemingway was a craftsman who would rise very early in the morning and write. His best stories are masterpieces of the modern era, and his prose style is one of the most influential of the 20th century.

Hemingway never wrote a treatise on the art of writing fiction.  He did, however, leave behind a great many passages in letters, articles and books with opinions and advice on writing. Some of the best of those were assembled in 1984 by Larry W. Phillips into a book, Ernest Hemingway on Writing. We’ve selected seven of our favorite quotations from the book and placed them, along with our own commentary, on this page. We hope you will all–writers and readers alike–find them fascinating.

1: To get started, write one true sentence.

Hemingway had a simple trick for overcoming writer’s block. In a memorable passage in A Moveable Feast, he writes:

Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

2: Always stop for the day while you still know what will happen next.

There is a difference between stopping and foundering. To make steady progress, having a daily word-count quota was far less important to Hemingway than making sure he never emptied the well of his imagination. In an October 1935 article in Esquire “Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter”) Hemingway offers this advice to a young writer:

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.

3: Never think about the story when you’re not working.

Building on his previous advice, Hemingway says never to think about a story you are working on before you begin again the next day. “That way your subconscious will work on it all the time,” he writes in theEsquire piece. “But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” He goes into more detail in A Moveable Feast:

When I was writing, it was necessary for me to read after I had written. If you kept thinking about it, you would lose the thing you were writing before you could go on with it the next day. It was necessary to get exercise, to be tired in the body, and it was very good to make love with whom you loved. That was better than anything. But afterwards, when you were empty, it was necessary to read in order not to think or worry about your work until you could do it again. I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

4: When it’s time to work again, always start by reading what you’ve written so far.

T0 maintain continuity, Hemingway made a habit of reading over what he had already written before going further. In the 1935 Esquire article, he writes:

The best way is to read it all every day from the start, correcting as you go along, then go on from where you stopped the day before. When it gets so long that you can’t do this every day read back two or three chapters each day; then each week read it all from the start. That’s how you make it all of one piece.

5: Don’t describe an emotion–make it.

Close observation of life is critical to good writing, said Hemingway. The key is to not only watch and listen closely to external events, but to also notice any emotion stirred in you by the events and then trace back and identify precisely what it was that caused the emotion. If you can identify the concrete action or sensation that caused the emotion and present it accurately and fully rounded in your story, your readers should feel the same emotion. In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway writes about his early struggle to master this:

I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced. In writing for a newspaper you told what happened and, with one trick and another, you communicated the emotion aided by the element of timeliness which gives a certain emotion to any account of something that has happened on that day; but the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always, was beyond me and I was working very hard to get it.

6: Use a pencil.

Hemingway often used a typewriter when composing letters or magazine pieces, but for serious work he preferred a pencil. In the Esquire article (which shows signs of having been written on a typewriter) Hemingway says:

When you start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none. So you might as well use a typewriter because it is that much easier and you enjoy it that much more. After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it. That is .333 which is a damned good average for a hitter. It also keeps it fluid longer so you can better it easier.

7: Be Brief.

Hemingway was contemptuous of writers who, as he put it, “never learned how to say no to a typewriter.” In a 1945 letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, Hemingway writes:

It wasn’t by accident that the Gettysburg address was so short. The laws of prose writing are as immutable as those of flight, of mathematics, of physics. 

– Open Cultureernesthemingway








marykoster

Independent Consultant, Rodan and Fields Dermatologists

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