Tag Archives: writer’s block

From the Dreaded One’s Desk: The Dusty Lair

ardythava3“Your evilness?” The Productivity Head Minion poked its head into the Dreaded Lair. Cob-webs hung low from the ceiling and dust was everywhere. Papers, dirty clothing and dishes, leftover Christmas decorations, and snack wrappings littered the floor. The desk was piled so high with junk even the window behind it was obscured.

“Most Dreaded One!” yelled the minion, picking its way through the room.

“Go away, I’m busy,” snarled the Dreaded Author from behind her book. Her feet were propped up against the windowsil and she was just in the exciting part of the novel she’d gotten for Christmas.

“But your dreadfulness! You’ve neglected not only the lair this time but your work as well. Do you realize it’s been thirty six days since you last wrote anything new?”

The Dreaded Author glared, purposely not notifying the minion that a dirty candy wrapper had gotten stuck to its leg. “I’ve been productive! My goal last month was to edit! In fact, just two days ago I was at my writer’s group to read ten freshly edited pages!”

“Freshly as in you stayed up the night before and they were full of typos which embarrassed you horribly,” the minion said. “You’ve lost your muse!”

“It’s somewhere in here,” said the Dreaded Author. “Under all the junk.”

“Exactly! Lost! It’s time to get productive! Clean this up, find the muse, and get cracking.” The minion puffed up its chest. “We’ve decided it’s high time you stopped lazing around and got going again.”

The Dreaded Author growled and hurled the book at the minion. It ducked. The book hit a pile of boxes which fell down with a crash sending a cloud of dust into the air. Only then did the Dreaded One realize she’d lost not only her place, but probably the book as well. “Look what you’ve made me do!” She got to her feet, flexing her claws.

“And your awfulness, the worst of it is, it has be six months since you last did any marketing.” The Productivity Minion shook a claw at the Dreaded One. “Shame on you!”

“I was busy!” roared the Dreaded Author, incensed. “I was camping with friends in August! Visiting Korea in September! Writing a brand new novel in November! Christmas obligations in December! All perfectly good excuses!”

“And during October?” The minion smirked.

“Something very important, I’m sure.” The Dreaded One swiped at the minion, but it dodged and she knocked over a teapot spilling moldy water across the floor. Snarling, the Dreaded One jumped back only to land a sticky candy wrapper and knock over a pile of papers with her elbow sending them across the floor. “I can’t work in this mess! And I certainly can’t market in this mess!” she roared.

“So which is easier? Dishes or a blog post?” the Productivity Minion asked with a wicked grin.

“Eating you for dinner is what I’d call easier!” The Dreaded One attacked again, furious that the minion had a good point. Getting mold out of a teapot or packing away the Halloween decorations from last year were all considerably more bother than a simple blog post. Unfortunately the junk was too thick to get anywhere near the little minion. It raced across the room and out the door before the Dreaded Author could even begin to untangle herself from the mess.

“Bother those minions, they’re useless anyway,” she growled sulkily. At least the last pile to fall over revealed the book she’d been reading earlier. Wiping the tea slime off on a stray sweatshirt, the Dreaded One settled back down to read. Productivity could just wait a little longer.

“You missed October,” said the

Your lair isn’t just messy, it’s covered in dust. Your lair has been neglected while you’ve been off gallivanting around!”

The Writing Life: What Nine Years of Nano has Taught Me

2013-WinnerOkay, so I didn’t mean to disappear on the blog for a month, but as many of you know, I do Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) every November. The challenge, for any of you who have yet to hear about Nanowrimo, is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  Some people worry that it produces a lot of bad, haphazard writing, which I can’t deny, but it’s also produced a lot of brilliant writing as well. The best part is the camaraderie and meeting up with people during the month for word sprints, parties, and generally having lots of people to discuss the joys and frustrations of writing with. I always enjoy ending off the year with Nanowrimo. My first year I’d never finished a book before. I wanted to find the courage and willpower to write a complete finished novel. I found all that and more. However, writing my ninth Nanowrimo was vastly different than writing my first. I’ve learned a lot these nine years, and I keep learning new things. Here’s a few of them:

I really can do it.

I was unsure of myself the first couple of years, afraid I wouldn’t make it. After nine years it’s pretty obvious I can write 50k in a month. It’s even pretty obvious I can write 100k in a month as I did two novels some years. 150k however was a fail. I think my best has been 120k. Knowing I can make it, that when I’m really motivated I can crank out words, means that now I focus on what kind of writing I want to get. Do I want a solid first draft of something? Do I want to have a bunch of fun writing a silly or personal project? Do I want to freewrite my way through exploring and fleshing out a new idea for development? My third nano novel sold after only minor revisions, while my sixth was a completely mess of fragmented scenes that kept contradicting each other as I tried to figure out where the story was headed. Self doubts plague me when submitting a novel places that it isn’t ready or as good as I believe it is, but drafting a novel isn’t about the doubts. It’s about sitting down and doing the hard work of writing.

Resistance has meaning.

This little saying was something I first read in “Writing on Both Sides of the Brain” and Nano has taught me it’s very true. Every year is different in how “easy” or “hard” Nanowrimo is. There doesn’t seem to be any way to tell ahead of time which books will practically write themselves and which will be like pulling teeth. Sometimes I breeze through it. Sometimes every word is written in blood. Sometimes a few scenes flow and others are awful. Sometimes it’s so bad I have to give up and switch projects. The first couple times the novel turned out hard I got angry and tried to force it out. I almost no prewriting on my second Nano book and the idea was only a month old, and yet it wrote itself rather quickly (never mind I thought it was awful by the time I got through it). So why weren’t these other ideas moving?

Fighting resistance never worked though. I had to learn to read it. Sometimes it meant the event I was trying to make happen wasn’t right, or that something earlier in the book needed restructuring. Sometimes it meant I was too stressed about real life, and needed to solve other problems before I could clear up my mind to be creative. Sometimes it meant I needed to delve deeper into world building or characterization that needed further development. And yes, sometimes it meant I was writing the wrong project entirely and needed to switch. Each novel has to be taken where its at when it comes to a screeching halt and the question asked, why? What’s stopping me from writing the next scene? Once I find the answer to that, things will flow again.

Distance provides perspective.

When writing slowly it’s tempting to keep agonizing over each bit of a story and worry about how good or bad it is. During Nano, when every word is needed for that word count there’s nothing to do but keep onward. Or if I rewrite a scene, I keep both versions in the document rather than take the hit to my word count. Every year about the fourth week of Nano, like clockwork, I detest the project. I decide it’s truly awful and nothing I’ve written is worth anything, but force myself to get quota anyway. Then as soon as I win, I drop it and swear I’m never looking at that piece of garbage again.

Later when I reread it, a month or two or even a year after Nano, I’m surprised to discover each time I was overly harsh. That while its not perfect, there’s some good stuff in there. Because of Nano I’ve written several books I was convinced were horrible, books I might have otherwise left unfinished or unwritten. My second Nano book which I think I hated the most is the book my critique partners tend to mention the most as their favorite of my books. I’ve learned to be fond of it and certainly would never call it awful now, even if I still do think its a bit sentimental of a story.

Interacting with other writers is important to me.

Writing is often a very solitary pursuit.  I had a couple small critique groups online before I tried Nanowrimo (that’s where I heard about it) but I’d never had the pleasure of meeting other writers in person. I was the only person I knew at that time in my regular life who was trying to be a writer.  My first time at a Nano gathering, I met a whole room full of writers. We talk about our ideas, our love of writing, and I was totally hooked. Meeting other writers is fantastic. I didn’t keep in touch with any of them, but I have gone to Nano meet-ups ever since and enjoyed them fully. I’ve also expanded how I interact with other writers online, and now most of the year writing is a community activity for me. I race with writing partners almost daily, while I have other critique partners that I exchange books with several times a year. Many of my real life friends I made through writing and we get together to either brainstorm plot trade work. There’s a real synergy that happens when working with other people that brings everyone’s projects, no matter what stage they’re in, to a higher level. I can’t imagine to going back to writing and editing alone.

So, as Nanowrimo has drawn to a close, with yet another year, I’ve locked up my “awful” attempt at something new and creative to incubate, plan my party with the great group of writers I’ve met this month in Salem, and lay out my list of project for the new year with renewed vigor. I think editing last year’s nano (Much Ado About Villains) moves to the top of the list. After all, there’s a lot of good stuff in here.

The Writing Life: Just the Right Idea

YoungSimbaOften as a writer I find myself slowed up on a project because I’m looking for just the right idea to fill it out.  The thing is, I don’t want just any old idea, I have plenty of ideas for the sake of having ideas. I’m never short on overall ideas for novels or other projects I might do.  But when it comes to writing the particular project right in front of me, while I might have a general sense of it, I find I’m looking for not just any idea to bring it together but the perfect idea–one that will bring together logic, theme, and the mood of the piece, that will not just fill it out but take the project to a whole new level.

It’s not that I have no ideas, but that none of the ones I have quite fit.  Sometimes there’s clear reasons why it’s not really right for the project, but lots of times the problem is more nebulous. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t excite me or inspire me. It seems a little cliche or lackluster. Usually when other writers tell me they’re stuck or have writer’s block, this is what they’re looking for as well–the perfect, stunning, shiny solution to whatever snag the project has.

I have a few strategies for trying to find that illusive bit of inspiration.

Ruminating

Sitting and thinking, picturing each idea I have for solving the problem in my head, or each direction for the project, I can delve into my creative reserve and search for a connection and angle that will make the project shine.  Note, this is NOT surfing the net or watching a show or playing a video game.  All those just postpone searching for the solution.  Ruminating is just thinking, more like meditating, on the project, using the mind and imagination.

Long Walks

This is my favorite solution, because I tend to be too restless and distracted just ruminating.   I slip into surfing the net or reading a book or some other procrastination task.  When walking the body is working, but the mind is relatively free to mull over the project, especially at a natural park with a long hiking trail.  I prefer trails that are challenging but not too steep (it’s distracting to be out of breath) and away from traffic.  The physical activity keeps me focused while not interfering with mulling over the project. I get my best ideas while walking.

Driving or showering can work the same way, but I find waiting in line or in a waiting room for appointments is more difficult.  There’s more distractions and usually I’m impatient to get to whatever I’m waiting for.

Trying the Wrong Idea

Since writing itself also stimulates creativity, sometimes I can freewrite myself out of my situation.  I usually open a new document making this version of the project unofficial and lower pressure.  It’s not “real.”  Then I pick an idea/direction that is interesting but that I’m not satisfied with, and try writing it anyway as the unofficial draft version.  Sometimes after a couple hundred words I’ll find the idea has morphed into something I like a lot better than the original concept.

Tap the Synergy of Others

If none of the rest of this works, sometimes I’ll bring other people into my creative debate.  Talking over the idea in a group or with a close friend who enjoys talking about story ideas can kick loose new ideas.  Sometimes just the process of articulating the story to someone else will clarify what it is I need or want out of it and why it’s not flowing.  I make sure when using other people to respectfully thank them for all their ideas, even when most of them are not ones I’m interested in using, and to remember to have a good time and let the discussion turn to joking. Later, I can mull over what they’ve said and decide if it’s worth trying or not.

Work on Another Project

Sometimes the only course is to give a project space until that perfect idea comes along, but the trouble with procrastination activities like reading, internet, or movies is they rarely bring me a solution, more postpone and distract me.  It gets harder to work if my habit of working/writing is disrupted. By picking another project that’s also important, I’m keeping my creativity active.  Sometimes while working on the other project, I’ll sudden have something occur to me that will be pretty close to that perfect idea to fix the first one.

What makes a book ready to write?

It’s been an interesting first week of Nanowrimo for me.  One reason I didn’t make a blog post last week, because between getting “A School for Villains” out on Amazon and starting my novel, I was too overloaded.  However, three days in, I got stuck.  That’s happened before but not quite this way, or with quite this result.

See, I spent a lot more time outlining the book than I have in the past, partly to prevent getting stuck, but despite that, I was hitting a wall that seemed more about a lack of getting into the character’s heads properly or the spirit of the world.  Because the work was connected with my new release I found the stress was too high, and ended up realizing the book just wasn’t ready to be written for several reasons.  I set aside the project at my husband’s suggestion, set my word count to zero, and started another novel instead.  While I’m still tragically behind, the book is far easier to write despite no planning at all.

This has gotten me pondering when a novel is ready to be written.  You would think after having drafted twelve novels in full and publishing two of them I’d already have an idea of when  new idea is ready to be written, but this year’s progress (and the first time I’ve ditched all my word count instead of sticking it out) has made me realize I actually don’t know the perfect magic that means some books get written and others get stalled.

See, those twelve novels have at least that many or more that got started and never finished.  I’m just one of those disgustingly prolific writers and to be fair I’ve done this over eight years, so it was a rather long period of time.  So, I thought I’d do a bit of self examination and try to figure out what makes a book ready to write for me.

The problem is, it doesn’t seem consistent.

My first novel took five years to write (not counted in my tally for the other novels) and that was understandable.  I was learning the craft.  That also gave me plenty of time to ruminate on other ideas because I’d vowed not to start a new project until I’d finally finished the book.  It was my way of making myself finish something.  So, when I made myself finish in time for Nanowrimo, it didn’t surprise me that the idea I picked for my second novel was easy to write, it’d been sitting in my head for 5 years.  The same with the third book I finished, a  sequel.  It’d had a long incubation period.

But then, the next two Nanowrimos I picked brand new ideas instead of the ones that had been sitting around in my head.  They just insisted they were more interesting and so despite being new and unplanned I went for them.  I wrote two very tight and well-plotted novels with them, one of which was my first published book.  In both cases I had a strong premise and a concrete climax and little else, yet they flowed easily.  Meanwhile better plotted and researched projects languished.

Thinking that perhaps an idea being new and energetic was the answer, I tried just going with it and discovered over the following few years it didn’t work reliably. I had a lot of false starts and painfully long battles to finish a number of following novels.  I had about three Nanowrimos in a row that the final product was basically unfinished and unreadable and the only progress on finishing novels that I made was on slower written projects during the rest of the year.  It made me feel like being better researched and plotted would help the novels come out better.  Thus my attempt to prepare better this year.

And yet here I find that my well plotted and researched project wasn’t ready, while an idea I’ve had kicking around in my head that’s indistinct and vague seems to be ready to go.  Apparently I’m not very good at knowing myself.  My only consolation is that this time I realized what was wrong was I didn’t feel ready to write the book and that I was better off setting it aside and writing something else than getting  a mangled draft out of all my work like in some of

This leads me to think that perhaps the only way for me to know if a book is ready to be written is to try it and see if it flows or if it flops.