Writing Advice: Stop Writing

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http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com

Hello, readers! I’m going to be honest with you this week. I have not been writing. In fact, after a week in which I became disillusioned with my most recent project idea and decided to scrap everything I’d been working on for a month, I made the decision to stop writing for a while. It was not coming easily to me at all and, when I tried to get myself in the mood to write, it just caused me intellectual angst. I thought: why go through all of this if I don’t even have a project to work on?

Of course, making the decision to stop writing has made me feel guilty. Writing is one of those hobbies that I use to introduce myself to people in real life and online. If I wasn’t working toward writing something, was I losing part of my identity? Making this choice to stop writing is already causing me to renege on a New Year’s resolution to write 5 days a week, and now it’s making me question my own interests.

Feeling uneasy about both writing and not writing, I took to the internet to search for some wisdom. My searching brought me to a blog post from editor Emily Wenstrom on The Write Practice website. In her post, Emily details what she believes are the three time you should stop writing. These include when you finish a draft, when you get stuck and forcing it doesn’t work, and when you receive feedback from someone.

Personally, I fit into both the first and second categories. In early March, I finished the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel from November 2015. Having finished that, I thought I could turn to other projects. But perhaps I need some more space from the act of creation. And, of course, I’m feeling blocked and nothing seems to be helping.

So, I’m simply going to stop writing in the hopes that it causes a creative well to open in my brain and help me get some new ideas. In her post, Emily says, “Relaxing lets your subconscious try things your conscious brain can’t.” I hope this is true for me as well.

Are you experiencing writer’s block right now? If so, how are you coping with the feeling of being blocked? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

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Writing Advice: Conquer Self-Doubt

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http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com

I’m going to be straight-up honest with you guys today. The advice in today’s post comes from someone other than me, and it’s advice that I, myself, need.

Last week, I wrote about finding the inspiration in what others create. I think this is really important, and I think that “filling your creative tank” is something that you have to periodically do. However, there is also a downside to this practice. Constantly exposing yourself to fabulous, well-done fiction can make you doubt yourself. For example, delving into behind-the-scenes information about a show like Breaking Bad can make you wonder if you’ll ever write something half as decent as that tightly-written masterpiece.

Over the past week, I have tried my hardest to get back into the swing of things with my writing. It has been difficult, though, because I’ve been overwhelmed with doubt about my own abilities. I’ve never been very good at plotting, so I’m obsessing over the fact that I can’t effectively plot out my most recent project idea. That’s stopping me from getting anything done, unfortunately. If I want to get back into writing, I have to somehow leap over the self-doubt hump that’s blocking my way.

When in doubt, Hermione Granger might go to the library. When in doubt, I surf the Internet and see what others have written. In my web-surfing, I found an article on the website Write to Done, in which writer Jon Bard offers the following advice:

“Write for yourself. Write because it’s fun. Write because it’s an area of your life you can control utterly and completely. Don’t judge your writing, and don’t ask others to judge it for you. Don’t worry whether anyone else will ever see what you write. Just be a writer.”

So, I’m going to try to take this particular advice to heart and put it into practice in my own writing life. I hope that you do the same. If you’re struggling with self-doubt concerning your writing, leave a comment here with something that helps you overcome that doubt. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Finding Inspiration in Others

http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com
http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com

In my writing life, I’ve found that I have “input” days and “output” days. I’ve written about this before on the blog. Basically, I’m having an “input” day when I’m feeling more interested in reading or watching shows than I am in writing. Conversely, of course, “output” days mean that I’m feeling more inspired and ready to actually output my ideas onto the page. These different types of days often come in bursts, meaning that I sometimes have an “input” week, when I simply don’t feel inspired to write.

Well, folks, I’ve been having one of those weeks. But I wanted to write about this because I feel like it’s coming to an end, and I wanted to discuss why that is. Over the past week, my “input” mode has mostly revolved around the television show Better Call Saul. As some of you may know, this is the prequel to Breaking Bad, and its second season just finished up. I’m really enjoying the show and I think it has the same overall feeling of Breaking Bad, which is thrilling.

In conjunction with watching the episodes, I’ve been listening to the Better Call Saul Insider Podcast. Each episode of the show has a corresponding episode of the podcast, in which the creators, writers, editors, and sometimes actors from the show discuss the process of putting together that episode. Aside from further fueling my obsession with the show, this podcast has also become a source of inspiration for me.

That’s not to say that it’s inspiring me to write a Better Call Saul-esque story. Rather, hearing about the process of creating a rich and expansive story is inspiring me to do the same. Personally, I think Vince Gilligan is a visionary, and hearing him discuss character motivation, backstory development, and worldbuilding (it’s not just for fantasy/sci-fi) is truly awesome. This man has already created 5 superb seasons of a television show that is so unique and compelling, and now he’s moving on to a whole new show in that same rich environment. Hearing about that level of success is, to me, inspiring. It makes me want to create my own stuff.

I have a tendency to feel guilty about my “input” days or weeks. No matter how many times I hear other creators say that feeding your brain with new creative information helps to build your own bank of ideas, I still feel bad if I’m not actively creating. However, it’s important to remember that sometimes you need to take a break from your own stuff and hear about what other creative people are doing. Even if it’s just talking to friends who also create things, this can get you back on track and excited once again about creating. So, go forth! And find inspiration in others!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Don’t Fear the Outline

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http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com

We each have our own view of writing as a practice and a craft. If writing is your job, for example, you’re likely to see it in a much different way than someone who simply writes for fun. If you are a writer of any variety, and if you have experienced writer’s block, you may have some superstitions as well. You might believe that writing on the weekends messes with your mojo. Writing in the morning may feel more productive for you than writing in the evenings. Or, perhaps, you believe that creating an outline will kill your muse.

To an extent, I understand this belief. The outline is an effort to turn writing from an art into a science, something that appeals to me. Of course, writing is an artistic pursuit no matter how you prepare for it or execute it, but some may see the outline as a regimented intrusion into their muse-fueled world. But perhaps you are placing undue power and blame on the outline. Here’s a quote from Chuck Wendig, overlord of all things writing-related:

“The myth isn’t about the magic; the myth is that the magic is so fickle that something so instrumental as an outline will somehow diminish it. If after outlining a story you think the thunder has been stolen and you don’t want to write it anymore, that’s a problem with you or your story, not with the loss of its presumed magic.”

Don’t blame the outline, writer friends! The outline has your best interests at heart, the outline wants to shepherd you along the path to your story’s perfect ending, the outline only wants to help. I think Chuck makes a good point here — if you outline your story and find that something feels “off,” you should revisit your original plot ideas and re-tool.

If, after reading this post, you are still wary of outlines and believe that they will rob you of any writing magic you possess, I’m afraid I cannot help you. We’ll have to agree to disagree! I, for one, am going to continue using outlines to keep my crazy thoughts and plot ideas in check so that they make sense in the final product. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Plotting

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http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com

Plotting can be a tricky thing. When you start a writing project, you might have an ending in mind and you might vaguely know what you want to happen. But, unless you’re someone who prefers to discover your story as you write, you might need a more concrete and fleshed-out plot or outline to start with.

The good news is that there are about a gazillion ways to plot your story. You can use the Snowflake Method, which I’ve used in the past. You can use a straight-up, simple outline format to document your rising and falling action. You could even simply write out Roman numerals on a piece of paper and create a story outline the same way you might have created an outline of notes in school.

Perhaps none of these methods apply to you. If you’re looking for something that is specifically character-driven and which focuses more on your characters’ intentions, you might want to try this fill-in-the-blank method of plotting that I discovered not too long ago. On her blog, Janice Hardy wrote about this method in detail. Janice lays it out very plainly — there are just a few items you need to determine when plotting. These include, trying to, when, but, therefore, and so.

If you set up a document with those words written down one side, you should be able to fill them all in to create your story. According to Janice, the resulting synopsis or scene description would look something like this: “Protagonist is trying to [goal of scene] when [what happens in the scene to create conflict], but [why the protagonist doesn’t want that], so [result of what happens in the scene].”

It’s so rare, in writing, that you can find a formula that will work well for you. I really like what Janice has laid out here and I’m going to try it when I plot my next story. I encourage you to try it as well, if you’re looking for something that will help you zero in on your characters’ motivations in a story or even just a scene. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Theme

http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com
http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com

Theme has always been a tricky thing for me to nail down in my writing. Sure, I studied English in college and examined the themes of many books. But when it comes to my own writing, I’m usually so focused on determining what happens in the plot and who the essential characters are that I neglect things like theme. But I think I’ve found a way to include theme in my next writing project.

According to a literary devices website, theme is “the base that acts as a foundation for the entire literary piece…[it] links all aspects of the literary work with one another and is basically the main subject.” Theme can be found in just about everything you read or watch. One theme found in Harry Potter is the enduring power of love. You might say the theme of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is balancing one’s responsibilities with one’s personal desires.

Recently, I read something on Jane Friedman’s blog that made the idea of theme a bit less murky for me. In her post about plot and outline, Jane talks about being able to describe your story’s theme in one sentence. She says, “You don’t have to worry about whether that one sentence is a cliché. Better to spend your time worrying about whether you believe that one sentence.” In other words, choose a theme that comes from your core, and which you can write about truthfully.

What I found interesting is that she goes on to emphasize the importance of originality and detail in describing your theme. Rather than saying your theme is about “finding love,” say that your theme is about “how a jilted woman finds love in her female friendships.” The more specific you can be, the easier it’ll be to describe your story to other people and to yourself. You might even consider writing down your theme and keeping it somewhere to remind you of your story’s main focus.

Thinking about theme in this new way, as something that can be described as “how X became X,” or some variation on that, has really helped me. I hope it helps you, and I hope you can find the theme of your next writing project. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Foundations

http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com
http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com

Although plotting a story can be a fun process, I sometimes struggle with it. At times, my plotting process begins with a mess of words, typed quickly and with no punctuation marks into a blank document. I have a hard time moving on from that initial step. I’ve tried out character questionnaires, in which you answer questions in the guise of your characters to better understand them. I’ve also tried the Snowflake Method, which can sometimes be helpful. But, for the most part, I’ve tried to create my own plotting methods.

But I’m always on the lookout for more techniques I can fold into my own process, as I’m sure you are. On the Pretentious Title blog (yes, that’s its name), author Rachel Aaron wrote about some methods that she uses for planning a writing project. I found this post really helpful, particularly the section in which she talked about creating a foundation. Rachel writes:

” …I’ve discovered that taking a day to do one extra step of refinement can save you weeks of trouble down the line. At this stage I’ve got my plot, I know my characters, my world has its history, rules, and feel, so now it’s time to start pouring the concrete details that will support my novel through the writing and edits to come.”

I like that Rachel likens this process to pouring concrete and connects that to making a foundation for your story. Once you have the general bits of information, which can be like tent poles or other foundational pillars, you need to fill in the rest of the space with richness and details to make your story more complete. As she says, having these details nailed down ahead of time will support your novel when you enter the actual writing phase of your project.

If you are plotting a new story right now, as I am, I wish you the best of luck! And if you’re already in the middle of the writing process, happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan