Writing Advice: Stop Writing

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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: Conquer Self-Doubt

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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

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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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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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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: Foundations

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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

Writing Advice: Plot Strings

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Something that I really admire in fiction is the ability to fully develop several characters’ story arcs and then tangle them together in interesting ways. For example, think of the crew on “Firefly.” When that first episode starts off, you can tell that the main characters each have their own storylines going, even as they’re united by the spaceship and their general mission. Then River and Simon come aboard, and we get to learn their storylines as the other main characters do. Throughout the show, each characters’ personal goals and traits tangle together to create one cohesive story. Each character is so rich and well-developed, and their coming together means the story is also rich and well-developed.

It might be helpful to think of these storylines as strings. In a recent blog post, Chuck Wendig — author and blogger extraordinaire — said, “The story is the string tying a character’s problem to the struggles in fixing that problem. Multiple characters mean multiple strings.” To create a story that makes sense for the characters you’ve included, you must follow that string. In “Firefly,” Mal is steady in the rules he imposes on his ship and the belief that he was on the right side in the war. As long as he follows that string, his story will make sense for him.

Of course, creating a plot string for each character and having them follow it isn’t enough. “Firefly” would not have been quite so interesting if each person had simply kept to their own storyline, following their own singular plot and never mingling with the other characters. Once you have those plot strings, you have to cross them and get them tangled up together to create plot. So, Mal decides to help River and Simon, and then Simon becomes involved with Kaylee, and so on.

Setting the string metaphor aside, the best way to create a compelling and complex plot is to let your characters mingle with each other. Have them help each other, get tied up in each other’s emotions, and create friendships and romantic relationships. Once you do that, your writing will be more engaging for readers and more accurately mirror real life, with all of its intricacies and tangled-up humans.

Good luck with your plot strings, and happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Moving On

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about first drafts and how you should always remember that they are simply step one in a process. After all, they are called first drafts, the implication being that there will be a second draft (and likely several more). But before you get started on that next, better version of your story, there’s something else you must do first. You must move on to something else.

The impulse to scroll back to the beginning of your document and get started right away on reading it, refining it, and rewriting it can be overwhelming. After reaching the end, you may already have ideas of how to get started on that second draft. But I would encourage you to recognize the importance of stepping away for some time. Every story needs some breathing room, and that’s especially important to remember with first drafts. Before you can revise and edit, you have to gain distance from all those words you lovingly crafted, or else you won’t be able to change much.

In this interim time, give the story away to someone whose opinion you trust. Let them read what you’ve written and offer their own suggestions for improvement. Try hard not to even think about the story or your characters. Let the story lie in the way you first imagined it so that you can improve upon it later. Find another project to become immersed in so that you’re not dwelling on that first draft.

Right now, I’m on the cusp of finishing the first draft of the novel I began writing last November. I’ve already sketched out a plan for how it needs to be revised and changed to make more sense, plot-wise. But when I type the words “the end,” I’m going to begin on another writing project the very next day. I’m going to gain some distance and then return, eventually, to start anew. I advise you all to do the same with your first drafts. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: The End

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http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com

This year, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to write five days a week. So far, that resolution is going pretty well. Although there have been a few nights when the latest episode of “Agent Carter” takes precedence over my writing progress, I’ve been continuing to add words to last November’s National Novel Writing Month project. This week, when I sat down to continue writing, I realized that the ending is in sight.

At first, this was a slightly scary thought. It dawned on me that I wasn’t sure how this was all going to wrap up. I just finished writing a climactic and dramatic scene that involved some characters fighting a pretty fierce demon, and I was so focused on finishing it that I wasn’t thinking what might come next. In the outline that I wrote last November, the ending was a sort of vague “everything gets resolved” kind of bullet point, so there wasn’t much guidance to be had there. I knew, though, that I had to think seriously about it now.

Endings can be complicated. Some folks are either a beginnings person or an endings person. Personally, I’m neither. I prefer the middle of a story, when you’re deep in the weeds of what you’re writing and can barely hack your way through the rough underbrush of everything you’re creating. But endings have to happen eventually. If you want to place the “finished” stamp on a project, you need to come to a conclusion. You might consider whether you want your ending to be happy or sad, abrupt or drawn-out, epic or soft-spoken. Do you want everything to be sewn up, or do you want to leave some loose ends?

Lucky for me, I had one of those great shower revelations (revelations that come to you in the shower) about how to round out my own story. This week I plan to follow those roughly scrawled notes of mine straight to the finish line on this first draft. If you’re having trouble coming up with an ending for your story, I suggest studying the endings of some of your favorite stories. Then consider what your characters have been through and where you would like them to end up. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Finding a Flow

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Road trips can be fun, right? If you don’t get carsick, you can use the time to get a lot of reading done. If you do get carsick, you can sing along to your favorite tunes, catch up on podcasts you want to listen to, or just play fun games with your road trip buddies. The beginning of a road trip is amazing — you’re just getting started and the whole idea still has that fresh sheen. But then, ten hours later, you’re just in a cramped car and somehow tired from doing nothing but pressing a gas pedal. At that point, you probably want nothing more than to stop and forget the whole thing. But your destination is waiting for you, so you have to push through and keep on going.

Think of your story as a road trip. At the beginning, everything seems rosy and you’re most likely eager to get started. But soon the rosy glow starts to vanish. Soon you’re feeling the pangs of writer’s block and you’re tired of spending time with your characters day in and day out. Just like the road trip, you may want to bail on your story. It can be so much easier to give into that temptation when it’s just words on a page rather than money spent on a trip. But you have to convince yourself that the stakes are just as high. You have to keep going to reach that destination that you know you’re headed for.

On the topic of forging ahead, Ursula Le Guin had this to say: “A story is, after all, and before everything else, dynamic: it starts Here, because it’s going There. Its life principle is the same as a river: to keep moving. Fast or slow, straight or erratic, headlong or meandering, but going, till it gets There. The ideas it expresses, the research it embodies, the timeless inspirations it may offer, are all subordinate to and part of that onward movement…the onward flow of a story is what carries a writer from the start to the end of it, along with the whole boatload of characters and ideas and knowledge and meaning — and carries the reader in the same boat.”

The important thing is to find your flow. On a road trip, that might mean a great playlist, some friends to keep you company, and the knowledge that you’ll soon be able to stretch your legs. When writing, finding a flow can be more difficult. It can mean constructing an outline that you can stick to, having images around that remind you of your themes, or a creating routine that makes you sit down and write every day. Hey, a playlist and great friends to cheer you on may even be involved.

Whatever you need to do to keep your flow, just remember that you’re doing it all to get somewhere awesome. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan