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

Writing Advice: Talk it Out

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http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com

People often say, when you’re experiencing problems in your life, you should talk them through with someone else. Having the perspective of a third party often gives you a new outlook on what you’re facing. That third party can also give you advice for possibly solving those problems. When we bounce ideas around inside the echo chambers of our own minds, we may not find a solution so easily. Talking to other people can bring a problem out into the open and make it seem more conquerable. If this works for everyday problems, why shouldn’t it work for writing as well?

In her post about being in a writing slump, Sarah Perlmutter discusses this very topic. She says, “Talk about why you’re in a slump with someone. There may be more to it…talking to people you trust really helps. It may take you a few conversations, but eventually you’ll get there. Realizing what your roadblocks are helps you drive past them and get back to where you really want to be.”

Just as you might work out relationship problems by talking about them with a friend, you might work past a writing slump by discussing it with someone. Although it might help to discuss a slump with a fellow writer, it’s not completely necessary. In fact, talking to someone who reads books rather than writes them might give you an interesting perspective. If you have a difficult scene to write, a reader might be able to provide you with suggestions that wouldn’t have occurred to you otherwise.

In addition to providing suggestions, sometimes people are just a good sounding board. If you find someone who’s a good listener, you could even solve your problems just by giving voice to them. As you tell a friend about your inability to write, you might realize that what’s really holding you back is stress in another part of your life or the fact that you haven’t read any good books lately. Just by talking about your writing slump, you might discover its root and be able to get past it.

If you’re going through a writing slump right now, try discussing it with a friend. And if you aren’t in a slump, happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Taking Breaks

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

So, I haven’t written a single word in the month of August. And no, blog posts do not count.

In fact, writing has been very spotty for me in 2015. In the beginning half of the year, I managed to finish my 2014 NaNoWriMo novel, even if I did start to hate it near the end. Since then I’ve worked on small projects, all leading up to the latest novel idea I’ve come up with. I like this idea and I do feel good about it, but that hasn’t been enough to get my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. Somehow, other things have continued to take precedence all month. These are mostly silly things that take the form of entertainment rather than responsibilities, but I’ve been more interested in them than I have been in writing.

This writer’s block has gotten so bad in the past month that I’ve found it difficult to sit down each week and write these advice posts. After all, if I’m not actually writing, then what kind of advice can I possibly impart to you?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the only advice I can offer you at the moment is to sometimes take a break from writing. Read things, watch things, go on vacation, have weekend outings, play games on your smartphone. That’s what I’ve been doing! And yes, I do feel immensely guilty, but I’ve been fighting against that feeling and I suggest that you do as well. Sometimes we deserve a break, even it’s from the thing we claim to love the most. When you’ve finished all these frivolous or not-so-frivolous activities, your writing will be here waiting for you. Writing is good at waiting.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Write Garbage

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http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com

Let’s face it, folks. Writing is not always easy. You might have weeks during which your writing flows easily, but you will likely have an equal number of weeks during which you simply can’t write. The worst part is that those writing slump weeks are contagious. You might reach the end of a week, realize you haven’t gotten any writing done, and simply continue that trend. That week easily becomes two, then three, and so on. Eventually (I hope), you will come back to your writing. Sometimes you return in triumph, with a new bit of inspiration bugging your brain, and sometimes you return with your tail between your legs. When you’re crawling back to your writing project to beg its forgiveness, there’s something you can do to lessen the blow.

According to a post that Sarah Perlmutter wrote on her blog, you should allow yourself to write garbage after a writing slump. Sarah says, “After a writing slump, you will probably be at least a little bit rusty. Allow yourself to write crap, it’s okay. You can edit once you’re back in the right mindset. What’s important now is that you’re trying without pressuring yourself, and that will likely mean that you are writing garbage. That’s okay. At least you’re writing something.”

I like this idea because it takes off the pressure you might feel when returning to a project. After some time away, you’re probably feeling bad for not writing and want to do well right out of the gate. But that pressure can turn you off from the writing process even more. So, no pressure! Just get back into the swing of writing by putting down one word after another. Just get the words down. When you’re ready, you can return to that garbage and polish it up.

Right now, I’m not technically in a writing slump. I’ve only neglected my writing for a couple of days, but I can feel a slump coming on. The initial inspiration I felt with my current project has slid away and I’m beginning a chapter that I’m not especially excited about. When I get back to writing, I’m going to take Sarah’s advice. How about you?

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Discuss: What Works for You?

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http://www.nprberlin.de/

Yesterday I wrote about the unfortunate occurrence of forgetting how to write. This means that you sit down to write and simply can’t find the typical flow that you normally fall into. This may cause you to experience writer’s block and feel like you have no more good ideas left. This is one of the worst feelings you might experience as a writer and I think we’ve all been there.

For the past few months, I’ve been “forgetting how to write” on a pretty regular basis. I don’t know if this is due to a lack of inspiration or simple laziness. I do think there’s a tendency among writers who have day jobs to come home and want to use their evening time for things other than writing. It can be difficult to sit down and really force yourself to do the writing if you’ve been busy all day. But I’ve found that when you do force yourself to write, you feel pretty great. If you can stay in a regular routine, you might just get something done.

We all have our own ways of dealing with “forgetting how to write.” In yesterday’s post, I quoted author Jory MacKay, who said you have to repent for your writerly sins. You have to admit that you’ve been lacking in inspiration, or haven’t been writing as well, or have simply been slacking off. Once you’ve done that, you can move past the forgetfulness and actually write.

For me, shaking myself out of the writer’s forgetfulness either takes something very big or very small. That is to say, I either need a huge anvil of inspiration to hit me square on the head, or I need to just tell myself to suck it up and get some writing done.

What works best for you? Have you experienced “forgetting how to write”? If so, how did you deal with it? What are your strategies? Please leave them in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Discuss: Not Getting Bogged Down

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http://on-writing-a-book.com

Yesterday I wrote about writing while you still have a day job, and how we should all be enjoying the writing process. Unfortunately, you may sometimes have trouble enjoying the writing process or your current project. There will certainly be days when you sit down at your computer or notebook and the words simply won’t come, or you keep feeling like you would rather be doing something else. There will also probably be days when you feel bogged down by the project you’re working on.

Back at the beginning of the summer, I was working on a novel-length project that is still in the editing stage. I had written the first draft as part of National Novel Writing Month in November of 2013, and was working on editing and re-writing. For some reason, when the seasons changed and it was summertime, I felt completely annoyed by my project. I no longer liked the story, I felt I wasn’t using my time very well, and I felt like I was simply going through the motions each evening rather than enjoying the process of working on this story.

In this situation, my solution was to switch writing projects and work on something that had lower stakes. The novel-length project was something I’d put a lot of pressure on myself to finish, and that took some of the fun out of it. I still have a finished first draft waiting for me, and the beginnings of re-writes, but right now I need to work on something else. For now, I’m enjoying working on something that’s a little more “frivolous.”

So, what do you do when you’re feeling overwhelmed or uninspired by a project? When you find that you’re no longer enjoying the writing project you’re working on, what do you do? Do you stick with it, trusting that you’ll enjoy it again soon, or do you switch over to something new? Do you have any secret techniques for reawakening that enjoyment? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Novel Approach

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

Are you experiencing writer’s block right now? Even if you’re not, you know — in the back of your head — that eventually writer’s block will come calling again. It might come along because you’re not interested in the story you’re working on, or because your inspiration has left you, or because you simply don’t have the time to work on your project in long stretches of time.

That last one can be especially frustrating during the summer, when you feel like you should have time to be writing. But you may be working a summer job, or you may be on vacation with your family where it’s difficult to pull out your laptop and work on some writing. If you’re working on a novel, or another type of long-form writing project, the key is to chop it into smaller pieces that you can work on more easily.

In a recent post on Writer Unboxed, Tracy Hahn-Burkett talked about writing outside of your typical box. This could be any time that you’re not writing in your most comfortable environment. For those of us who are generally novel writers, this can be when we’re forced to work in very short bursts of time. This can make it difficult to work on something long-form and keep everything fresh in our minds. In her post, Tracy offers a solution — treat each scene that you write like a short story.

Tracey writes, “if I found myself freaking out over the amount of work I had to do, I should try taking it one scene at a time and telling myself that scene is a story. This approach made sense: I could define specific goals for that dinner-party scene in chapter six, and revise away with those goals in mind. When finished, I could reward myself by going for a walk, having a drink or eating a giant bar of chocolate. Repeat.”

I think this is a great way to deal with an abbreviated work time, and to keep yourself from being freaked out by how long a novel is when stretched out in front of you. I know that I often plot a story to the gills and then get overwhelmed by how much I still need to write and cover. If you treat each important scene in your story as short story of its own, it’ll help you feel more accomplished when you’ve gotten some writing done and it may also force you make some discoveries that you wouldn’t have otherwise made.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: The Rough Days

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http://38pitches.com

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? You sit down in front of your computer or your notebook, and the words just won’t come. Or, you may avoid your computer/notebook all day until it’s time for bed and it’s too late to work on your writing. Either way, these are some rough days and we all experience them. Whether you’re just beginning to get into writing, or have been doing this for a while, there will be days when you can’t seem to write.

I have certainly experienced my fair share of these rough writing days. I’m often the one who avoids her blank document for ages and then suddenly finds the day has ended and there’s no room for writing. This is a dreadful habit to get into, and you really shouldn’t let it get out of hand. Even when you’re feeling like there are no more thoughts in your head, you should sit down and force yourself to do some writing for the day.

For some extra reinforcement, I’ve got two really helpful quotes from Chuck Wendig over at the Terrible Minds blog. He recently wrote a post about The Days When You Don’t Feel Like Writing, and he had some great things to say.

On the topic of forcing yourself to write, Wendig says, “Even if it’s nothing, even if it’s crap, you’ve got to carve the words onto the page. Even if it’s only a hundred words, even if you only get to move the mountain by a half-an-inch, you’re still nudging the needle, still keeping that story-heart beating, still proving to yourself and to the world that this is who you are and what you do.”

I love that Wendig says “you’re still nudging the needle” no matter what words you put down. Even if you can’t make your prose flow well or sound beautiful, as long as you’re producing more words then you’re adding to the piece. If you’re writing a story, then adding more words may push you into a section of the plot that you’re more interested in, and that’ll get you excited about writing again.

Wendig also has something to say about forming bad habits. “The lack of act has its own momentum, too,” he says. “Don’t write today, and tomorrow you wonder if this is really who you are, if this is what you’re meant to do, and so the next day you think it’s just not happening, the Muse isn’t there…”

Again, I love this quote. If you allow yourself to avoid writing for one day, your brain will translate that into making it “okay” to skip writing. Keep to the routine and you’ll keep yourself trained to get words down every day. Even if it’s not very good, and even it’s not very many words.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Unsticking

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We’ve all been there, haven’t we? You’re about halfway through a story and find yourself mired in the plot and unable to pull yourself out. You can’t seem to get that perspective you need to unstick your story and turn it in a new direction. For those of us who are novel writers, I think this tends to happen around the 30,000 word mark. There’s something about that point where you’re so deep in the story that you’re not sure where to turn next. Well that moment, my friends, is when you need some advice on unsticking that story.

Chuck Wendig’s blog is an awesome and entertaining resource for advice on writing. On this particular subject, Chuck has written a post of 25 Ways to Unstick a Story. His myriad suggestions include outlining retroactively to see how you ended up in this sticky situation, adding more characters to change up the scenery (and hopefully the plot), fixing up the gaps in your story’s plotline, throwing in some flashbacks, and even deleting a block of text and just starting off from the last word that’s left. Yikes! All of these suggestions are really amazing and I’d suggest reading through the entire list — it’s worth it, trust me.

The item on this list that stands out the most to me, personally, is the tried and true method of adding more conflict. I once had a story of mine critiqued by some writing group members and they told me that I needed more conflict. They were absolutely right. My characters were standing around and discussing a lot of things, but not much was getting done and it was because nothing was in their way. Ever since then, I’ve taken that advice to heart. And adding conflict will definitely move your characters or your plot from the sticky mess they’re stuck in.

But perhaps the best piece of advice on this list is the final one, number 25. It basically tells you to suck it up. And sometimes that’s what we all need to hear. And, well, I’ll let Chuck say the rest: “So: you’re stuck? Fu*k it. Fu*k you. You’re not the horse. You’re the rider. The one with the spurs, the buggy whip, the carrot at the end of a stick. Make it move. Get it done. Your words are a battering ram: knock the door down and walk on through.”

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan