One of my new year’s resolutions when 2014 began was to follow the “Don’t Break the Chain” productivity method to get more writing done. I’ve had this calendar pinned up next to my desk all year. There have been some missed days, naturally. Here and there I have evenings where I am uninspired, or simply too tired to get any writing done. But this past month has been an all-time high in terms of missed days. So far, I’ve failed to write a single word on 11 days out of July. Every week this month there has been at least one day missed. That’s a bit disappointing, if I’m being honest. But this post is not going to ramp you up to write every single day. Instead, this post is going to talk about forgiving yourself when you fail to write.

I enjoy the “Don’t Break the Chain” method and I’ve read many quotes from authors who encourage us to “write every day.” But sometimes that’s simply not possible. Sure, in the past, I’ve said that if you don’t have time to write then you’re just not making time. But for the past few weeks I’ve been working on moving, and let me tell you that it can easily eat up every second you have in your day.

You don’t even have to be moving or doing something else huge in your life. You might just have a long, exhausting day at work. When those days come around, I think we owe it to ourselves to sit down and watch some television when we get home.

And, of course, there are others days when the words simply won’t come. There may be nights when you end up sitting in front of your computer thinking about how much you aren’t getting done. That’s okay! Sometimes you can’t force the words to come. Sometimes you shouldn’t even try to force them because the writing that results from it will be so bad.

So, today’s advice is to forgive yourself when you find the need to take a little break. We all need to give our brains a rest, and sometimes you need to fill the creative tank when it has been depleted. Writing every day is all well and good, but if it’s not possible for you at times, don’t beat yourself up about it.

– Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

One of the things that I struggle with when writing is exposition. Exposition is the description of a scene, character, or situation that is sometimes necessary to explain what’s going on to your readers. It can be hard, though, to strike a balance between helpful exposition and what some people refer to as an info dump. An info dump happens when you supply your readers with a very large amount of information all at once. A good example of this might be when a detective takes several pages of a book to explain to someone (and the readers) how she discovered he was the murderer. The general consensus is that info dumps should be avoided. But then how should we handle exposition in our writing?

As I mentioned, exposition can be necessary to a story. I’ve read a few stories that I think could use some more exposition. Sometimes writers appear to be trying as hard as they can to avoid using exposition. These writers will hint at aspects of the world they’re creating and only suggest what might be going on behind the scenes with their characters. I think a healthy balance can be found between the info dump and the cagey, hinting descriptions.

In a recent post about 25 Ways to Write a Real Page-Turner of a Book, the mighty and powerful Chuck Wendig touched on the topic of exposition. Here’s what Chuck has to say about handling exposition. “Treat it like a dirty, grim necessity,” he says. “It’s like an old, gummy Band-Aid: you have to rip it off fast. This is combat landing time: get in, deliver exposition, and get the hell out again in as short a time as you can muster.”

This is a great mindset to have when writing exposition. It’s something that you have to do, yes, but you shouldn’t get bogged down by it and you shouldn’t let it rule your story. If you know that you have an issue with exposition, that you often spend too much time writing exposition, set a timer for yourself as you head into a scene that requires some description. Make it a quick timer — maybe 2 minutes — and when that timer goes off, you know you have to stop writing description. Then, go back over what you’ve written and prune where needed.

I hope that helps you! Happy writing!

– Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Good morning, blog readers! Welcome to another installment of our featured poem post. If you’re looking to discover some new poetry, or a new poet, then keep on reading! As always, this featured poem comes courtesy of Poetry Daily, which is a website that gives you  a new poem every day. This week we feature Shark’s Tooth by Joshua Mehigan.

According to his bio page on Poetry Daily, Joshua Mehigan published his first collection of poetry in 2005, and it was a finalist for the 2005 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. His poetry has been published in The New Republic, The Paris Review, and Poetry. His writing has also appeared in The Writer’s Almanac. He received Poetry magazine’s 2013 Levinson Prize as well as a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Shark’s Tooth, by Joshua Mehigan

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Characters are the most important asset that your story has. Characters are likely what will draw you into a writing project the most, they’re what readers will engage with the most, and they are the people who are going to be occupying your brain-space while you’re working on a given writing project. Of course, because characters are so important, that means they also require a lot of work. Once you have the idea for your plot, and have created a world for the plot to take place in, you’ll probably be looking to populate that world with some characters. It’s important to take time to develop these characters and to understand what will make them interesting and well-rounded.

A recent post on Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds, addressed three things that characters need: motivation, action, and consequence (or, MAC). All three of these are pretty simple principles, and Chuck does a great job of explaining them all in his post.

First, your character needs a motivation that’s driving him or her to act. Chuck says, “This isn’t just a small-time yeah, maybe I want that. This is something they are motivated to achieve. Motivated as in: moved to act.” This is pretty simple — if your character has no real motivation, you’ll probably end up writing pages and pages of him or her walking around the neighborhood or sitting in a chair at home whiling away the hours. Your characters need to want something so they can interact with the world and the plot that you’ve created.

Next up is action. Your character needs to do something or you’ll be writing in circles. What your character wants has to force him or her to act in some way that will propel the plot of your story forward. This can be difficult to do sometimes, and I think it’s good to remember what Chuck says here: “[Your characters] are forced by their want/need/desire to do something. Not talk about it. Not just turd around and ruminate upon it. They are pushed to drastic, compelling, fascinating action.” Try not to write about your character thinking about doing something. Just have them do it!

Finally, consequence. If your character can sail through life with no consequences coming upon him or her, that’s not very realistic. There will be consequences to actions, even in fantastical, magical, fictional worlds. If your character gets everything that he or she wants right off the bat, the story will be over really quickly and readers will likely get bored. Throw wrenches in your characters’ plans, place obstacles in their way, and interesting things will begin to happen in your story.

Keep the MAC principles in mind when getting started, and your story should get off on the right foot. Happy writing!

– Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Hello, blog readers, and welcome to another Pick-a-Poem Wednesday! If you’re looking for some new poetry to check out, then you’ve come to the right place. Each week we feature a poem from Poetry Daily, which is a great site that profiles a new poet each day. So if you’re looking for something even more frequent than our weekly posts here, definitely check out their website. This week we are featuring a poem called The Girls Are Sleeping, which is written by Antonina Palisano.

According to her bio page on the Poetry Daily website, Antonina Palisano “is the 2013 recipient of the Sandol Milliken Stoddard Award and was recently named a finalist for the Amherst Writers & Artists Pat Schneider Poetry Contest. Her research interests include death culture, hagiography, and Victorian medicine. She is currently at work on a poetry manuscript about George Mallory’s 1924 ascent of Mount Everest, and will begin an MFA in Poetry at Boston University in the fall of 2014.”

The Girls Are Sleeping, by Antonina Palisano

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Photo credit: Robert Dawson Exterior, Willard Library, Evansville, Indiana, 2011.

Photo credit: Robert Dawson
Willard Library, Evansville, Indiana, 2011

Libraries

Last week we discussed your dream home library, but that can be a difficult thing to attain. You need money and space, and most of us don’t have either of those things on hand. But public libraries are always there for you. Libraries are amazing resources in your community and I think you should utilize them at every chance you get, especially in the summer! To me, the summers were always a time to get involved with libraries’ summer reading programs and stock up on books for weeks of exciting reading. Libraries can be meeting places, sources of adventure, ways to educate yourself, and so much more.

In honor of libraries, I want to link to this Flavorwire article that profiles many interesting libraries across America. There are some really amazing libraries on this list. There is the adorable Willard Library in Evansville, Indiana; there is the Queens Library bookmobile in New York that was in operation following Hurricane Sandy; and there is even a combination Super Bingo, Family Dollar, and Mockingbird Branch Library in Abilene, Texas. If anything, this list shows us how America is keeping the library alive in more and more creative ways.

But what about your library? What was your library like when you were growing up? What is the library that you now hold allegiance to? What role does the library play in your life?

I’ve always had small libraries in my life. Growing up, the public library was not too far from my house and sometimes we would bike there when the weather was nice. It didn’t matter that it was small because I was small, too, and I honestly had so much fun reading through the stacks at that library. After grade school, we moved and I had another small, cozy library to check out. Although it didn’t always have the books I wanted, the library was part of an expansive network and I could have plenty of books transferred in for me to read.

Let us know in the comments what libraries mean to you, and which library you love.

– Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

There are many qualities that help you out if you’re thinking of becoming a writer, or if you simply feel called to write. I’ve talked about many of these qualities in the past, but today I would like to focus on optimism. When we’re talking about writing, optimism is a day-to-day choice that you must make to feel good about what you’re working on and the progress that you’ve made. It can be fairly easy to lose perspective when receiving rejection letters or failing to meet personal writing goals. But optimism is a great tool to remember when facing any writing-related challenges.

In a guest post on Writer Unboxed, author Nina Amir talked about the topic of optimism for writers. In her post, Nina said that osptimism “means a rejection from an agent presents an opportunity to improve your query letter or your book proposal. A negative review of your manuscript by a book doctor at a conference presents a chance to rethink your plot or your content—or even to hone your craft. A session with a proposal consultant who tells you your platform section needs strengthening offers the opportunity to rethink your pre-promotion activity level.”

I love what Nina says here — a big part of optimism is seeing the opportunity in every situation. When something doesn’t go as planned for you, you should be able to spin it to your advantage. Every bad review or bit of disappointing news can be turned around to mean further opportunities for improvement. You can learn from all of your mistakes and take in what critical people around you say. Use all of that information to your advantage and for your own, more optimistic ends!

Now, does this mean that you can never have a bad day? Can you never take a day to wallow in misery and feel bad about your situation? Absolutely not! We all need days like those. But, in the long run, it’s important to remain positive and optimistic about where you’re headed.

Happy writing, and stay optimistic!

– Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan