Getting Unstuck

By Gloria Reichert

Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all. ~ Charles Rutkowski

Every writer has been there. You sit down to write – and not one idea pops into your head. Your creative juices are not flowing. Your brain has turned to mush. You cannot focus. Your muse has deserted you. Writer’s block has you in its grips. What is a writer to do?

All writers need to have an arsenal of ways to overcome writer’s block, so perhaps the following may prove helpful. 

1.  Writing prompts are a splendid way to fight writer’s block and spur creative thinking. Easily found in books or on line, writing prompts can take on a life of their own and become a new piece or poem. An added bonus is that while you are doing them, you are honing your writing skills. Prompts can be as simple as writing from the viewpoint of an inanimate object, such as a tennis shoe, a baseball bat, or a glue stick. Or they can be more complex and lead to character sketches.    

2.  Change your location. If you are at the computer, get up and go outside. Go to a park, a coffee shop, or other venue.

3.  Exercise or move around. Do some jumping jacks or your favorite workout routine. Put on some music and dance. Getting the blood flowing in our bodies also gets it flowing in our brains.

4.  Try a new writing instrument. If you are using the computer, pick up a pad of paper and a pen or pencil. Write in your favorite color of ink.

5.  Read inspirational quotes about writing.

6.  Make a Word Web. Write a word in the center of a sheet of paper (perhaps one from the piece you are writing.) and draw a circle around it. Brainstorm about the word and add lines upon which to write your thoughts. Don’t stop after the first few thoughts. Press on and keep thinking. Our best, creative thoughts come later on. 

7.  Look at pictures. Get out your family album. Peruse a magazine from cover to cover. Or sketch a picture and then write about it – even if it is only stick figures.

8.  Keep a collection of strange, meaningful, interesting news clippings that can be pulled out for inspiration – like the one I read about a rubber band contest.

9.  Develop a “writer’s morphological matrix” and use it as a tool for generating ideas. Draw a grid that is four blocks wide and ten blocks long. Label the top four blocks: CHARACTER, SETTING, GOALS, AND OBSTACLES. Number the ten vertical blocks 1 through 10, top to bottom. Fill in ten characters, ten settings, etc. This will provide many possible combinations of ideas about which to write.

10.  Keep a journal of funny things people say or humorous incidents. I remember once baking potatoes and seasoning them with herbes de provence. When they were served to a young child, she looked at the potatoes. Then she looked at me and said, “Why did you put grass on my potatoes?” That could be fleshed into an interesting story!

What are other ways of banishing writer’s block? What has worked for you? Please share your comments. We all need help sometimes! Happy writing!     

Plotting Along...

By Gloria G. Adams

If you Google “plots,” “how to plot a story,” “plot templates,” or other variations of the same, you will get thousands or even millions of hits. But there are some basics that always apply, especially for children’s books.

Here is a one-sentence plotline that can be used as a skeletal structure:

The main character has lost or wants a fundamental need and in trying to obtain it, he/she grows or changes.

Fundamental needs can be survival, love, nurture, protection, freedom, belonging to a group, self-esteem, finding one’s identity, creating/building something, solving a problem, etc.

Author Charlie Colman recommends identifying the controlling belief that drives the action of the main character in your story to obtain the want or need.

For example, in Hatchet, Brian is stranded in the Alaskan wilderness and his fundamental need is to survive. He believes he will be rescued if he can survive long enough. All the actions he takes in trying to survive, the things he learns in the process, change him into a stronger, more self-reliant young man.

When thinking of the story you want to write (or have written), ask yourself these questions:

1.    What is the main character’s fundamental need?

2.    What is his/her controlling belief that will drive his/her actions to obtain that need?

3.    What actions will he/she take?

4.    What will he/she attain? (The original fundamental need or one or two others in addition or instead?)

5.    How will the main character change?

Pick some favorite books you have read and ask those same questions. Learn from successful authors how they have answered those questions and found publishing success. Then apply them as you create your own stories.

My Kind of Writer's Block

By Kate Carroll

"Writers’ Block is when your imaginary friend stops talking to you."

Although I cannot credit the originator of this quote, I give kudos to my fellow writer and friend, Janie Reinart, for sharing it with me.

I suffer from writer’s block as most writers do from time to time.  But I think my issue is greater than a lack of creativity or imagination.  When my mind is barren of ideas, I get frustrated. Then I can’t think. Then I get stymied. And then… drumroll please… I lose confidence…

My worst enemy is my refusal to believe in myself.  Deep down, I know I have some talent with words. I know I have what it takes to write. But beyond tenacity and talent must be the belief that you can share something of yourself with the great big world out there.

I won’t trivialize writing because it’s not trivial!  Writing takes guts. Wait. No. Writing doesn’t take guts - putting one’s writing “out there” takes guts.  Personally, I hate that kind of exposure, and yet, it’s a necessity if I want to share my work with others. I’m a wimp when I feel judged by others.  Attaching my name to a piece of writing and hitting “send,” raises my respirations and sets my foot a-tapping.

 But thanks to the WRITERS on my BLOCK, I’ve developed new skills and new confidence. Even more importantly, I have acquired a thicker skin – a long overdue growth process.

The most useful tool I have in my writing drawer is my critique group(s) – in my case more than one. I require extra work. :)  They are free – so go get one and embrace your Writers Block.

Finish What You've Started

By Lana Wayne Koehler

To succeed in life in today’s world, you must have the will and tenacity to finish the job.          ~Chin-Ning Chu                                

Do you suffer from “Neverfinishitis”? It’s recognized by inappropriate musings about new and more exciting projects.
I had a really bad case of it for over a year. I continually found reasons to stop in the middle, or even the precious beginning, of a book or magazine article. The hardest part was always seeing a better story just around the corner.

The recovery process can be painful. The first thing that I did was to join a support group (okay, it’s really a critique group, but they have been very supportive). Second, I committed to send them FINISHED projects that have been already started. Nothing new. NOTHING. No matter how tempting.

So far, I have finished a much need synopsis of a book that I started a few years ago. I’m also working hard to finish an article that I excitedly began last fall but let writing the transcript terrorize me, and a middle grade novel that had been delayed due to my newfound obsession with poetry.  

One of the biggest breakthroughs, I think for me, was reading Robert A. Heinlein’s four rules of writing, one of which was ‘You must finish what you write.’ I never had any problem with the first one, ‘You must write’. I was writing since I was a kid. But I never finished what (sic) writing.                                                      ~ George R R Martin
Robert Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein’s Rules for writing (There are actually five):
1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold

Relapsing is a real concern, especially in the summer, fall, winter, or spring.  The seasons make it especially difficult if you: have a job or are retired; are a parent or grandparent; are married, single, widowed, or divorced; are young, middle aged, or “senior”; are male, or female. I have re-lapsed many times, but fortunately, it’s not fatal.

The opportunities for re-infection are many. It usually occurs after an inspiring talk at a conference, webinar, or discussion over coffee. Be especially wary of talking to other writers. Many of them are carriers and don’t even realize that they have the disease.

There is also a corresponding syndrome called “Rewrite/Editland”.  It’s especially prevalent among critique groups. Sometimes I change my manuscript so much that it no longer has my “voice”. If that happens, you may need to put it away and work on something else until you recover completely (See #3 above).

Don’t worry too much about rewriting and editing. It’s usually saved for interactions with editors and agents, where it can actually improve your manuscript. With my first book, the editor said that she loved it, but then proceeded to change almost every line! I have to say that it’s a better book with her changes (Thanks, Zaneta Jung).

It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.     ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

JRR Tolkien

How long did it take Tolkien to finish “The Lord of the Rings”?

“Tolkien began working on the story in late 1937. He completed a semi-final draft of the main narrative in 1948 but by 1950 J.R.R. Tolkien had begun working on the Appendices. He paused his work to make changes to the background material that would be compatible with the published 2nd edition of The Hobbit. When The Lord of the Rings was finally accepted for publication Tolkien made numerous changes on the galley proofs, even rewriting many paragraphs. The final galley proofs were sent to the publisher in 1954 or 1955.

It would thus be more accurate to suggest that it took about 17 years (allowing for some breaks) from start to finish for J.R.R. Tolkien to write The Lord of the Rings. And yet, even after the book was published he continued to make changes. There was only one formally announced 2nd edition of The Lord of the Rings, which was published in 1965, but it would not be until 1987 that nearly all of Tolkien’s textual changes would be incorporated into a new edition edited by Douglas Anderson (the so-called “white edition”). And yet in 1994 HarperCollins issued even more complete edition incorporating further corrections.”

Notice that the bulk of his changes occurred after it was accepted for publication. (I never knew that he sang!).

If you want to conquer this disease, it’s important to send out your material, even though improvements need to be made. I know how hard it is to finally pronounce your book “DONE,” but if you never send it out, it will never get published and it will never be truly done.

The ultimate cure for “Neverfinishitis” is to pick a project, write until it’s finished (with some editing, of course), and send it out to editors and agents until it’s sold. Then you get to repeat with every project. What a liberating process!

As a writer, I will do my best to stop the spread of this terrible disease. Will you do your part?

If you have a writing project that seems to be stuck and would like to take the “End Neverfinishitis” pledge, please let us know so we can post your goal and make this a community event. Sign up now!

Stereotype Shuffle

By Gloria Adams

I recently attended a lecture by award-winning author Celeste Ng in which she talked about “upending” your characters. What she meant was that if your character is a stereotype, have them do things or say things that are in strong contrast to the perceived stereotypical view.

Her example was a main character in her book, Everything I Never Told You. The father in the story is Asian American, but he is a professor of American History with a specialty in Cowboys. Very unexpected.

This really hit home with me as a wonderful new tactic to make characters more interesting.

Start by doing a series of “What if’s.”

What if your character is a tiny, 5’2” blonde woman who seems very frail, but actually holds a black belt in karate and works in gym teaching boxing?

What if an ex-con covered in tattoos and piercings holds a Master’s Degree in storytelling and has a passion for cake decorating?

Try it with animals, too. What if your main character is a giraffe who is a wizard? Or a wolf that likes to wear hats and moos instead of howls?

The possibilities are endless, and any character who can change the perception of a stereotype should prove intriguing to your readers and leave them wondering what on earth you are planning in your next book.