Archives for October 2017

Writing On Your Blocks – Part Two on Writer’s Block

What we learned from our five year podcastThis blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest. 

There is nothing more daunting than a work in progress.  Works in progress (sometimes called the WIP, as if we needed more acronyms) often knock at your door loaded with baggage:  Great expectations, Fame, Money, The Futility of It All.

Our  first impulse is to take  in the bags.  Drag them into the house.  Spend the afternoon unpacking all the cases and finding the correct places in which to store all the emotions and thoughts neatly away. Only after it’s all tidy do you think to converse with the visitor who delivered all  that luggage.   

Stop.  Don’t unpack.  Leave the bags at the door, let the Work in Progress inside.  Talk to him or her.  Ignore the bags.  Even if it starts to rain.  Leave  them.

What do you say to your WIP guest?  Nothing until you manage to think differently about the whole damn thing.  In other words – re frame the project.

Instead of sitting down before the big, blank glowing computer screen (and thinking, hey, I need a better screen photo for the background, where did I store that great sunset photo I took on our last vacation?  It should be in this iPhoto album . . .)

Instead of thinking, Okay, I am WRITING THE BOOK. RIGHT NOW. TODAY.

Instead, think:

For ten minutes I will organize my material.  Trick your monkey mind.  Unearth all the  speeches, presentations, sketches and ideas you’ve created over the years and place them into a brand new file on the desk top.  That’s it.  It’s a perfect, low impact way to start THE BOOK.

Tell the Muse you aren’t really writing, you are just sketching out a couple of  memories.   Memoirs can be difficult to start.  Maybe you have already begun yours with your birth date  and the weather.    After that portentous event, there wasn’t much to say about the first 12 years or so. Re think the approach. Start again simply by writing down random stories as they come to mind – one story a day.

Claim to your subconscious (and the flying monkeys of distraction) that you are simply recording a few impressions.

Transcribe that popular story you always tell your friends or audience – I start many of my non-fiction writers this way.  Are you working on your nonfiction work?  Either as a very expensive (and effective) business card or back of the room sales, what sells most business books are the examples and stories.  The best way to start a business or nonfiction book is to capture those stories first.  That’s all, just write down your favorite client examples and stories.

Outline two or three features critical to the overall project. What would you say if – say – you wrote a book?  It sounds twisted, but it works because it takes the pressure off.  Your Muse is more likely to help you out if you are just noodling around.

Convince your Muse that you are doing little more than just filling in some character motivation.  For fiction writers that dreaded middle, the word count between 50,000 and 80,000 can be overwhelming and induce serious blockage.  Instead of thinking, I’m dragging my sorry ass through the sloppy middle of this novel, think instead of telling the reader more about each character. Check in and make sure your favorite characters have been adequately described. Can the reader visualize them?  Can you?    Once you start describing your characters, they have a chance to speak, as well as move forward.  They may surprise you.

Reframing the activity can trick your brain and that monkey mind, into thinking you aren’t really doing anything amazing at all, just working a bit here, jotting down some ideas over there.  Nothing to see here, move on.

The less portentous the project, the easier it is to approach. And even a half hour of work in the face of paralysis is a win.

Breaking down that block can be as simple as naming the project something else. Something smaller. Work on what you can work on and continue to ignore what’s packed in all those bags of expectations.  Don’t focus on the outcome, or the imagined consequences or accolades the finished project will bring.  Stay with writing the next paragraph. You’ll get more done and as a result, will have conquered both boredom and the block.

Newbie

I don’t care what anyone says, writers’ block exists. Maybe we can focus that term down a bit. Writer’s block for the current story exists. As I write this, I am stuck on my medieval fantasy story. It sits on the virtual shelf for a few reasons out of my control, but one is also that I’m stuck. I can re-read the 20 odd thousand words and am happy with it, but I can get to the end of the half sentence I left and literally just shrug. One cannot explain why I am stuck where I am. Perhaps I need to sit and sort out another part of the story first and join the dots to make it convincing.

Also, my brain refuses to just write anything down. It needs to be correct in my head first before the words can flow.

There are many tasks/tips on how to break writers’ block and many involve writing something else, writing anything, but in the end, that is writing something else and not your story. Perhaps the best way to overcome it is to spend some time writing around your story, follow another character, or develop some back story. You can keep this in a separate folder later, but maybe, just maybe you’ll hit that connecting dot and run with your imagination until you hit the next block.

Or drink a lot. I know I do.

Prompt

Listen to your favorite song – take the lyrics and turn them into a story.

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

Playing with Unhappy Blocks – What we Believe About Writer’s Block

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest. 

There are some authors who do not believe in Writer’s Block and some do.  And most believe that if you believe in Writer’s Block the condition will immediately manifest in your life evidenced by the blank screen before you.

Writer’s block can be very real.  But there are ways to understand it and conquer it.  Because at Newbie Writers,  we are all about conquering fear. Advice for Writers

There are three categories of non-writing:  thinking about, blocked by it, unhappy about it.   Thinking is self-evident, you must spend time thinking about the writing in order for more ideas to emerge and insights to come to light. We aren’t discussing that here. We are talking about unhappiness and  blocks.

I came across the idea of unhappiness after reading the Seven steps on the Writer’s Path by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott.    And if I could have hunted these two fine ladies down, I would have booked them as guests on the show. No luck.  Surprising there are some authors who don’t want to be found.

They write that the seven steps to writers block are:  Unhappiness, Wanting, Commitment, Wavering, Letting Go, Immersion, Fulfillment.

I will not belabor the points here; you can read the book yourself.  But I do want to point out that the authors cover something that is sometimes over looked and misunderstood:  unhappiness.  I think this unhappiness or restlessness is a critical step and key to the writing process.   I appreciate  Pickard and Lott for addressing it.

Newbie Writers interpret unhappiness as failure. Other writers and creatives consider this unhappiness as an inadequacy or worse, a sign they should quit creative work and take up insurance sales, just like their father told them to do.  I even lost a client because she wanted me to fix her unhappiness right now, rather than work through the steps that would have taken her from unhappiness with her creative project back to writing (or commitment if you like to follow your steps in chronological order).

“Unhappiness, to one degree or another, is where all creativity begins.”  And the even more interesting observation:  “Boredom is a dead giveaway to the probability that creative is lurking in your psyche.”

What does unhappiness look like?  You aren’t crying, you aren’t tearing your clothes and lamenting, tossing ash into the air and spilling your guts out during a book club meeting.

Unhappiness does often look like alcohol in inadvisable amounts.  Or chocolate in Ben & Jerry’s amounts, or the family size pizza for one.  But none of those options will really do the trick – sorry.

Unhappiness isn’t quite like Writer’s Block, although it can develop into a block fairly easily, which should be prevented at all possible. And unhappiness isn’t exactly the problem we have with our internal editor – those flying monkeys of our conscious mind.

Unhappiness, in the writing world, is closely associated with boredom.  You hate the book; you hate the project.  You hate your hero, he is boring and does nothing but fight in a pub all night and never steps out for  a breath of fresh air.  You are bored with your own mind –  that is why you are unhappy.

But the trough of despair doesn’t have to become a permanent, deep, rut.  It can be just a brief resting place.

So how to manage this?

Crawl  out of the trough, and jump right back onto the same path.

Step away from the project.

Boredom and unhappiness is your brain revving up, about to launch again, it’s closely aligned to creative  thinking.   Your brain, (I say this from experience) is on the verge of delivering a break through.  Your Muse is hovering, ready to descend.  It’s about to happen, which, ironically, is why you are so upset and yes, unhappy.

Denial is not just a river in Egypt, for my Scandinavian family, it’s a contact sport, but knowing that will not help you here.  Don’t deny you are unhappy, admit it.  If you don’t, you will stare at that computer screen for hours, picking away at a plot you hate – one tiny letter at a time.  You will most certainly feel dry and used up. You most certainly feel like a failure.   

Walk away.  Like writer’s block, like the internal editor, unhappiness is best managed off the court.  Go find another creative outlet that is different – sometimes very different, then what you are trying to create.  Just the inattention will sometimes do the trick and reduce the unhappiness time and lead you to the solution.

So if you write, dance, sing, collage, paint.  If you dance, write your memoirs. If you paint, write poems.   Walk instead of write.  Sports are even good – run, kayak, play a game involving any number and shapes of balls. Do something that makes you happy again.  The release will not only make you feel immediately better, but when you show up to work the next day, you’ll be surprised to discover that the work you hated yesterday afternoon looks pretty okay in the morning light.  You forgive, you forget, you will write again.

Look at your unhappiness and restlessness as outwards manifestations of your inner turmoil. Once you see it and feel it, and after you indulge in an activity that takes you out of yourself, you will feel better.  After a few days consciously avoiding the page, you will be able to return and say what you really want to say – take your heroine where she really needs to go, and do it all faster and more easily.

Okay, that will help with unhappiness.  What about Writer’s Block?  Real?  Imagined?  Well, if you can’t write, if you are stuck, then it’s real.  More on Writer’s Block in the next blog.

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon