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My Methods For Dealing With Writer’s Block

On different writing websites I visit I’ll often see others talking about how they’re stuck. Even with an outline, a few have hit a speed bump they didn’t foresee. This happened to me on a number of occasions. It can be the most frustrating part of writing. You want to keep going forward, but that one bit is keeping you back. If only you could get past it! You’d probably finish your novel that very night if it weren’t for that one missing bit!

/shakes fist into the air

Luckily, I’ve been able to use three methods to help me with all that. One I shamelessly stole from Anne Greenwood, while the other two are methods I used to blast through the road blocks.

The first method I mentioned, I employed very recently. On the surface it’s very simple, but becomes very powerful and liberating. I was writing a big fight scene and had hit a point that I needed my main character to come out on top, but in a very interesting way. Needless to say I slammed into that wall of muck.

I waded through it. Fighting for a week and half on what I could do. Finally–reaching frustration–I did what I should have done at the very beginning. I applied Anne Greenwood’s suggestion of placing two ‘@’ symbols down, writing a small description of what I wanted to accomplish, and then moving on.  The reason for using the ‘at’ symbol is because it will rarely be used in your work, so it will be easy to do a CTRL+F to find your place later.

It worked great. I slapped down a few sentences that basically go, “This guy does something cool which makes this outcome.” And then I rolled along and was able to finish out the book. There is plenty of time to write that scene later. For a first draft–in my opinion–it is your goal to finish. Above all else, finish it.

The second method comes down to changing up your style. There was a point that I was really having a hard time. I was slogging through and my inner critic was having a field day on my writing. That’s when I decided to change it up. Instead of writing in clean prose, I just went for a more conversational tone. I skipped writing dialogue tags and kept things loose.

What that means is I would write in very simple, descriptive terms.

“OK, Mary goes to the store to get some ham. What she doesn’t know is that pig meat around the world has been magicked up and so the store is over run with Ham-Zombies. She dodges evil Ham-Zombies and runs through the store where she finds herself stuck in the walk-in freezer.”

Now, all of that would probably be two, to four pages worth of writing. But I was able to knock out a good chunk of the thought process. Get my main points down and I will just go back to it later to fill in the gaps. It’s easy and frees you up creatively.

My last helper is one I like to employ often. Say you’re writing a scene and it just isn’t flowing. Nothing is coming together and–if you’re honest with yourself–it’s coming off a bit forced. That means it’s time to step back, go back a few pages and begin to ask yourself, “Can my characters make different choices?” or, “What can happen differently?”

These types of questions will open up so many possibilities. And you must be willing to follow the outcome to wherever it takes you. Sometimes it may not be where you planned, but it may be better. For example, early in my novel I had the main character setup to ride the school bus home with his brother. It was boring, and I was having a hard time figuring out what to do with it.

So I stepped back and asked a simple question to myself. “What would happen if his brother didn’t show up for the bus?” And BAM! the scene took off. Opening up new scenes that dove tailed nicely into my themes of the book. It was a relief.

Are there methods you employ that have helped you? I’m all ears. It’s always nice to find new methods to beat the dreaded inner critic and massive writer’s block.



The Single Best Advice For New Writers

As some of my regular readers know, I have finally finished the first draft of my first book. It took me just under a year to complete. I must say, it has been a great ride and a wonderful experience. Because of that, I wanted to talk about the experience in depth. In hopes that I can help those that are either on the brink of starting their first book, or are in the middle of it.

With that said, the first thing I want to talk about is the single best advice I can give. A thing that was the biggest influence on my ability to finish. So here it is.

Get thee to a writing group.

Seriously, it was the one action I did that has propelled me to the point that I am at. Having a group of authors that you meet with on a regular basis is incredible. Their eyes on your early work will be an invaluable resource.

My particular group are all SciFi/Fantasy authors and readers. We meet every two weeks to critique up to four pieces of work from inside the group. There are several benefits to this:

  • You are given a deadline. The Sunday between each meeting is deadline. Those who sign up to submit are required to have their work in by the following Sunday at midnight. For most people, a deadline will be the difference of noodling and getting it done.
  • Hearing several opinions on your work–in person–gives you perspective. Too often we can become laser focused on our story that we miss some big issues. And when you hear several people say they have a problem with the same issue, then you really have a problem. These are your peers and your audience, listen to them.
  • They provide motivation. Not only with the deadline, but through encouragement. Sure, not everything they say is going to be praise, and for some people negative criticism can feel like a boot to the face. Just keep in mind that they’re there to help you. Your writing group wants you to be as successful as you do. Take what they say and learn from it. Its never meant to hold you back.

So get out there and find a group. Or start one if you must. I found my group through meetup.com and they are an incredible group that I wouldn’t change for the world.

And I want to stress this: An online group is OK, but no real substitute for real human interaction. Being able to ask questions and watch their body language is important to the process. In addition to that, make sure everyone writes in your, or close to your genre. I was part of a group where everyone was writing Literary Fiction aside from me. Needless to say, none of us could really help each other.

Go forth. Find ye a writing group and flourish!

Good news, everyone!

At 2:15 on October 19th, I finished my first draft. What’s more, is this is my first book. I must say, it feels great to have finished the story completely. I started the book the day after Christmas in 2011. This was after one false start and many pages and pages of development. I wrote the book by hand and overall it took me 3 1/2 100 page notebooks and two dead pens.

Over the next several posts I’ll recount the experience of working on the novel. From my expectations going in, to how things changed during the writing process.

I do want to give a shout out to my writing group. Without their feedback and support, I’m not sure I would have been able to complete even the first draft. Thanks guys.

But, more on writing groups later.

For now, I’m taking a breather!

Selling Out

In my writing groups we often talk about “Selling Out.” Which for us means pandering to a particular audience just because it’s selling well. Especially if its a genre that you actively hate. I think every person at the critique table has a paranormal romance sitting in their back pocket at the moment. We all tinker with it from time to time. In the back of our mind we are constantly wondering what it would be like to put our entire effort into it.

My older brother is a screen writer. And we’ve had this type of conversation often. It generally hovers around the term “artistic integrity.” He has a humorous anecdote about a professor of his who had a chance to write an episode of “The Love Boat.” His prof skipped the chance because it was against his artistic integrity.

N-years later, the man regrets the decision. As the show has been in syndication across the country and he’d still be receiving royalties. For him, he had been held back by that integrity. If he had done that one thing, he could be free to pursue whatever else he wanted.

For me, I still struggle with that idea. When Michael Bay’s concept for TMNT was floating around I was outraged. How could you change their very concept from being mutants to aliens. It didn’t make any sense. When I talked with my brother, I fully expected him to be on my side. I mean, we grew up on these guys. They are apart of our childhood.

I was thrown a curve-ball.

My brother said he’d write whatever Michael would want. It didn’t matter to him. The film would pull in a load of money–if Transformers is any indication of those sales. And with my brother’s name attached to the script, it would give him more work.

And I get it. I see where he’s coming from. But man–as a fan–it hurt my little Teenage Mutant heart. I know I couldn’t do that. Because I’m a fan. And I know what the fans would want to see on the screen. For me, I would want to give them–and thus myself–a screen adaptation that fits with what we all would want.

But there is something to be said for getting recognized first, to free yourself up for whatever else you want to do.

So in part that’s where I stand. Do I write the schlock in order to give myself some freedom–though there is no guarantee that will happen. Or do I focus on my passion, the one book I really have my heart set on?

Can I really sell out for the quick buck? Can you?



“Looper” and the Antagonist

This weekend–like a lot of people–I went and saw “Looper” by Rian JohnsonInstead of doing a movie review, I want to talk about an aspect of the movie that I was blown away by. Something that many films–sci-fi, fantasy, or what-have-you–fail at many times over.

No, not time-travel.

Creating a sympathetic Antagonist.

<!– Spoilers Ahead and if you haven’t seen the movie, this post won’t make much sense –>

The movie begins setting up Jeff Daneils’ character and the organization he works for as the Antagonists. Which was fine. We learn that the “Rainmaker” from the future is starting to close Loops at an alarming rate. This gets Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis (from here out known as Young Joe and Old Joe respectively) into a lot of trouble.

For me, Rian sets up Old Joe as our intrepid hero. All he wants to do is remove the threat to himself and his wife. With the added benefit of saving the future from the Rainmaker. If only Young Joe would step aside and let him do his job.

But Y-Joe is too focused on himself to see the big picture. He’s hot headed and too quick to act. If only he would think things through.

At least that’s how O-Joe feels. As a friend of mine pointed out, O-Joe is just as self-centered and hot headed. Looks like not much changes as we grow older.

And with that, we get to watch as these two characters switch sides. Or perhaps it is revealed to us the true side they’ve always been on. Either way, I was taken in at how I sympathized with O-Joe. I was with him and the struggles he went through having to (in his mind) kill the kids that could possibly be the Rainmaker. It was destroying him on the inside, but for him the ends justified the means.

Very powerful to me. I was with my Protagonist all the way. I was pulling for him to succeed!

So when we get to the final scene–where Y-Joe is faced with trying to stop his older self–that Protag/Antag makes a sudden shift. Y-Joe sees what O-Joe’s actions really bring and that the future he’s trying to prevent will still happen. That the loop will continue. And there is only one way to stop it. To close his own loop.

When Y-Joe kills himself, I was thrown. And I loved it. I felt remorse for both characters. I made a connection with both despite their adversarial relationship. That’s tricky and fantastic writing right there.

I wish more writers took that kind of time, and care, to make me understand the motivations of the Antagonist. And not just understand them, but care for their goal. Sure, it wouldn’t work for all movies/stories. Sometimes you just need a rotten villain. But at the very least, make sure his goal is something we can connect with.

I’ve rambled enough about “Looper.” Needless to say I think it was strong. The Time-Travel aspect is a bit wonky. But–like the movie says–don’t think about it to hard. It’ll scramble your brain.

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