How to Break Out of Writer's Block

Writer’s block is a problem that most writer’s will encounter. They want to write, but they don’t know what to write next. Or, and this is usually my situation, they know what to write but they don’t know how to word it. How do you get out of those situations? I’m no expert but these are the top five things that help me with writer’s block.

Get away from the screen

Don’t just sit at the computer screen and expect the words to come to you. They won’t, no matter how hard you push. Get up. Take a walk. It’ll be good for your body to stretch a bit, get the blood flowing.

You aren’t in the Matrix, Neo. You ARE the Matrix.

You aren’t in the Matrix, Neo. You ARE the Matrix.

Play a video game

Yeah, I know I just said get away from the screen. But I didn’t say the television screen. Yeah, I play PC games but I find consoles to be more helpful in getting past writer’s block. Lately, I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed: Origins. It takes place in ancient Egypt and while I love the setting and the characters…it’s not the best game.


A few days ago, I was escorting an NPC, Phanos the Greek poet, to a party. A simple party. No big deal. But he just kept shoving into people he could have easily avoided. What a dick. Then he took off in a dead sprint and hopped on a random horse. “Damn Phanos, how far away do you live?” I thought as I summoned up my camel. He answered by getting off of that horse, hopping on a different horse, and went tearing off down the street, only to inexplicably stop. Some bad guys attacked us and the NPC (who, remember, was a poet) went into beast mode and killed most of them. We finally get to his house. In a cutscene, he very seriously turns to me and says “We’ve been followed.” So we have to go outside, kill the guys we just killed, and I get a quest to leave the city.

There was never any party.

Anyway, I’m trying to say that you need some kind of a distraction to make you forget that you don’t know what to write. Sort of like how the best cure for hiccups is forgetting you have the hiccups.

Phanos, I swear to Horus, that’s the last rager I follow you to.

Phanos, I swear to Horus, that’s the last rager I follow you to.

Get lunch

Okay, so taking a walk and engaging in some virtual murder therapy hasn’t done the trick. What you need to do is get your goofy ass out of the house. Get some lunch with friends or something. Go visit your Grandma. She’d love it, and you’d be better for it. When you come back, you’ll feel better. Or at least full. Grandma lunches are best lunches.

Ain’t no party like Nana’s tea party

Ain’t no party like Nana’s tea party

Exercise

Similar to going for a walk, getting your blood pumping is good for your brain. If you don’t come up with any good ideas, at least you’ve done something good for your body and you’ve gotten away from the computer. Strength training, yoga, running…it’s all good.

Just don’t overdo it like Brad. Brad is boring and only talks about his ‘gainz’.

Just don’t overdo it like Brad. Brad is boring and only talks about his ‘gainz’.

Talk to someone about what you’re writing

Sometimes, talking to someone about your writing is the best help for writer’s block. It’s not because they’re there to give you their thoughts and insights. It just helps to say your thoughts out loud. But if you’ve got a creative friend, great! I’m sure they’re helpful. But so is this good girl. She knows exactly how Venomous is going to end.

No spoilers, land seal.

No spoilers, land seal.

So there you have it. My tips on breaking past writer’s block. Do you have any secret techniques that work for you? Let me know in the comments. Lord knows I could use all the help I can get.

The Ultimate Compliment

I am not a football fan.

Not to say that I hate it. It just does nothing for me. And yet, during this year’s Super Bowl, I went to my father’s bar to watch the Big Game. I was told there would be hot wings.

There were no hot wings.

While I lamented the lack of hot wings, a very tall blond woman dashed up to me. Her face was full of an intense emotion that I couldn’t identify in the gloom of the bar.

I thought she wanted to kick my ass or at least make me step aside because I was in the way somehow.

“Are you the author?” she asked.

I told her, yes, I was the author. She must have heard of me because my dad, a lover of gritty crime novels, won’t shut up about me.

Instead of challenging me to a duel, she hugged me. She told me she had read my book and it was just what she needed during a really hard time in her life recently. She teared up. I teared up. There were more hugs.

After the game, all I could think of was that I need to finish the sequel. If there were any doubts in my mind about the series, or writing in general, they’re gone now.

That encounter meant a lot to me and got me fired up about writing again. I just want to take time out and ask you, if you enjoyed a book, to take time out to contact the author. Tell them how it made you feel. Maybe they’ll read it. Maybe they won’t. But there’s a chance you’ll make their day and light a fire in their heart.

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6 Tips on Editing Your Manuscript

typewriter

NaNo is over and now I have to edit all the words I churned out during November. I’m not just agonizing over word choice or fiddling with punctuation. I’m keeping an eye out for specific problems in my writing. I’ve noticed six frequent weaknesses in my work. Maybe you have them too.

Like:

1. Passive Voice

For some reason, I write in the passive voice too much to be acceptable. The subject should be doing something instead of just being affected. Passive voice isn’t engaging or interesting while active voice makes for a more exciting, immersive narrative.

For example:

(Passive) Jeremy was scared of the skeleton.

OR

(Active) The skeleton scared Jeremy.

why do you fear what’s inside you, jeremy?

why do you fear what’s inside you, jeremy?

Both sentences essentially say the same thing, but you can automatically tell which is better.


2. Overused Words or Phrases

Everyone is guilty of using the same words or phrases over and over. In everyday speech, it’s absolutely fine. No one is going to turn to you and say “Hey buddy, you’ve said ‘so to speak’ in every third sentence and you’re starting to piss me off!”

In a novel, it’s a different story. I’ve found I use ‘almost like’ too much. Like when I’m describing a location. ‘The tower rose into the sky, almost like a needle ready to inject insulin into the diabetic clouds’. ‘Almost like’ is weak writing. It should always definitely be something.


3. Adverbs and Modifiers

Let’s take a look. Which is stronger?

Jeremy walked quickly away from the skeleton.

OR

Jeremy fled from the skeleton.

what the hell, jeremy? i thought we were cool.

what the hell, jeremy? i thought we were cool.

The first sentence had more words, but that doesn’t mean anything. ‘Fled’ is a stronger, more dynamic word than ‘walked quickly’. It conveys panic and fear. ‘Walk quickly’ is the thing you do when you’re looking for a restroom.

Don’t use more words to build up the verb you chose. Pick a stronger verb.

And don’t say ‘really’ or ‘very’. Find a better word. Instead of ‘very dark’, say ‘black as the uncountable miles between stars’. Or, you know, however dark it was.

4. Italics

I’m trying to wean myself off of using italics to emphasize a certain word in my writing. I don’t need to tell my reader exactly how I want them to interpret a sentence.

For example, I found this in my manuscript:

“Dude, I’m not ancient,” Tom said. “I made it to, like, seventy during my last life.”

I have to  have faith that the reader will get it. He’s not ancient. That’s obvious. The stress is not important or needed.

5. Show, Don’t Tell

In my current manuscript, I’ve got a huge, meaty paragraph full of details about two characters’ first meeting when they were in high school. All of it was written in the past tense and it just served to tell the reader about an important event. I needed to show the recollection.

I ended up scrapping the whole paragraph. While reading Stephen King’s It I saw a way to show what happened to a character without just giving a description of it. It’s perfectly okay to write out a memory, throw it in italics (which is okay in this situation; italics aren’t always bad), and use powerful transitions before and after to help guide the reader along the way.

That leads me to my last point:

6. Changing EVERYTHING about Your Writing

I’ve got a bad habit of reading an author and jiving with their writing style. Jiving so hard that I view my own writing as garbage and I read over my work with an unhealthy lens. “I enjoyed their work so hard. My work looks nothing like that. Therefore, my work should look like theirs!”

Don’t be like me. Sure, learn what you can from more experienced writers, but don’t go and completely change your voice. I mentioned reading It and learning a method of showing, not telling, but I’m not going to rewrite my whole manuscript to match that of Stephen King, circa 1986. I noticed all sorts of adverbs being used, as well as dialogue tags other than ‘said’ or ‘asked’. An editor nowadays would suggest a lot of changes in his manuscript. My point is, writing goes through fads, trends, and fashions just like anything else. Writing changes and mutates over the years. Learn the current rules, find your voice, and just keep writing.

Images: Pixabay.com

5 NaNoWriMo Takeaways

Today is November 30th and that means the end of National Novel Writers Month. I'm pleased to say that I'm a winner, coming in at just under  65000 words. I finished my manuscript for Venomous, the sequel to Vessels, and I'm glad to say that it's finally done.

says so right here

says so right here

Well,  at least the first draft is done. Don’t make me think about the future. I've got a lot of editing to do, but I want to share some takeaways from Nano with you before I look at my work and despair.


1. Community

I'm one of those first generation Millennials so I can remember a time completely without internet. I never  grew up constantly connected and I don't feel compelled to share anything online. I have to make a conscious decision to make any sort of post. So when I joined up with the NaNo group, I felt my heels digging in.

Why are we bothering being in a chat room while we're riding instead of just writing? Why are we constantly talking about our progress? What’s this about plot bunnies?

Being a old fuddy-duddy, I didn't quite get it. After forcing myself to interact in the chat rooms and on Facebook I realized it's not about constantly having an outlet to talk about yourself, it's about having a place to go if you need to talk. If you need encouragement. If you need advice. Or even if you just need to bitch.

2. Pressure

Community is a big part of Nano and with that comes pressure. I'm not talking about soul-crushing nerve-wracking pressure that comes from a very risky endeavor or a very dangerous job. Pressure can be a good thing. The pressure that the community of NaNo provides is one of support, cheer, and the desire to be able to stand alongside your peers. Get behind on your word count? You'll work even harder and have a whole group of people cheering you on. The fact they can see how you're slacking is a strong motivator.

3. Routine

In order to not fall behind everybody else you've got to get those words out. Whether you have a full-time job, small children, little babies,  or really any adult responsibilities you have to carve out time if you really want to succeed. You are forced to figure out what works for you. Is it waking up early in the morning before work? Is it finally trying  dictation? Do you do your best work when you're outside of the house? You have to figure out your routine in order to win.


4. Turning off the Inner Editor

I know other writers struggle with their inner editor. That terrible little voice that constantly questions whether or not that was the right word to use, if that word means what you think it means, should you use a comma instead of a semicolon. It also lets you know what you're writing right now doesn't exactly make sense with what you've previously written. You'd better go back and fix that, it insists. With the heavy time crunch of NaNo you don't have time to listen to that shitty little voice inside your head. You have to learn to ignore it until November is all done and only then can you look back and start editing. But only then.

5. Tracking

look at the graphics!

look at the graphics!

So I found some good people to write with, embraced the pressure of being in a community, figured out a routine, and managed to throw my inner editor in the garbage. There is one last thing I liked about NaNo and it was the ease of tracking. At the end of each day, you paste what you've written and get your daily word count. Not only does it track your daily goal, but also your goal for NaNo, your daily word count average and how soon you'll be done if you keep it up.

That which gets measured gets done,” is the old saying and even though being prolific doesn't ensure a good manuscript, it helps. George RR Martin is said to only write 300 words a day. His work is good but as a new writer, I can't afford to be like him. I'm still figuring things out. I'm throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks and the fastest way I can do that it's a crank out those words and let the editor sort them out.


So there you have it. The Wonders and Terrors of NaNo. Did I learn a lot from it? I think I did. Will I do it again next year? Maybe not. It depends where I'm at with my projects. But I'm glad I finally tried it.

Voice Writing

National Novel Writer’s Month is all about maintaining a word count EVERY DAY until the end of the month. The pressure to not only find time for writing but also produce the volume of words gets heavier and heavier as the month wears on.

It’s brutal out there.

To write, I have to sit. When I sit for too long, my lower back starts to ache, even if I get up and stretch regularly. ‘Sitting is the new smoking’, I keep hearing. I decided I wanted a standing desk. Specifically, an adjustable sitting/standing desk because standing all the time isn’t good either.

Talkin’ about one of these bad boys right here. Image source: varidesk.com

Talkin’ about one of these bad boys right here. Image source: varidesk.com

Back at my old office job, I had a very bizarre setup. Plastic totes and cardboard boxes were arranged so that I could stand and work an hour and then take it all apart so I could sit and work for an hour. Only to put it all back together again after another hour.

I’m not mad at you, StandiDesk. It’s not your fault you’re garbage.

I’m not mad at you, StandiDesk. It’s not your fault you’re garbage.

It was cumbersome to say the least and I eventually abandoned my Standi-Desk Deluxe™ and just dealt with the back pain.

I’m writing now more than ever and I still face the same problem. Adjustable desks are just so expensive but I resolved to save up for one. My back counted on it.

Then I heard about dictation. Honestly, my Facebook feed wouldn’t shut up about it. From Joanna Penn (her blog is pretty cool) to sneaky little internet ads letting you know that you’re constantly being listened to through your phone, the idea was presented to me.

”I can’t dictate,” I thought. “I need to see the words as I’m writing them or else I’ll sound stupid. And I’ve got too many unique words in my novel. No app will know how to handle them.”

But I gave it a try. I downloaded the free Voice Notebook for my phone.

And now I’m not going back.

That FIRST DAY, I tripled my required word count and I’ve only gotten faster with practice. Saying ‘period’ after a sentence doesn’t feel so weird anymore.

After joking about it online, a fellow author gave me the idea to just substitute words and do a Find and Replace to swap them out when I’m all done. So Ashira is now Amy for the time being.

I made the app crash when I tried to get it to type Mwarthes though. Good job, you snakey bastard. You killed some software.

Also, I walk about when I’m dictating, just like whenever I’m talking to someone on the phone. Not only am I not sitting, I’m getting a little more exercise too.

Plus, my dogs follow me around because they’re trying to figure out why I’m shouting at my phone.

Pictured: Me. Not Pictured: Two confused dogs who really are in it just for the snacks. source: Pixabay, user zazu70

Pictured: Me. Not Pictured: Two confused dogs who really are in it just for the snacks.
source: Pixabay, user zazu70

I recommend giving it a try if you’re looking to increase your word count or to decrease your back pain.

NaNoWriMo 2018

It’s that time of year again.

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November is National Novel Writing Month. Every day of November, a certain word quota MUST be met in order to reach the goal, which is to have an actual factual novel at the end of the month.

People have different daily word counts depending on what they want to do and how long they want their final product to be. The most common goal is to end up with a novel that is 50,000 words long, which is a decent sized novel, I suppose. But that means sitting down and writing 1,776 words.

Every. Day.

For a month.

The previous month, October, is known as Inktober. All month long, artists strive to create a piece of art every day. On social media, you get treated to a wondrous display of beautiful art or attempts at art and it’s all very positive. You get a glimpse into the creative process and dedication of friends. Inktober is colorful and joyous.

NaNoWriMo is where all your writer friends go radio silent except for vague posts like ‘not gonna make it’ and ‘send help. Or coffee.’ NaNoWriMo is a dark time for folks already prone to melancholy.

Ya think?

Ya think?

I’ve never participated before. I have a really hard time writing in a straight line. I’m one of those people who writes half a book, decides it’s garbage, goes through a harsh editing process, calls it junk, restarts the whole thing, then writes an outline, starts a third time, it burns down, and sinks into the swamp.

It’s a horrible messy process and I don’t much care for it. I’m curious to see how quick I can be if there’s ABSOLUTELY NO TIME to dither off and edit. There is only one direction to go, so don’t stop for nothing.

But let’s get real. At the end of the month, you won’t wind up with a finished product. It will be a mishmash of gibberish that you need to edit, edit, and then edit some more. Then you send it off to someone else, and then you’ll edit some more after that. But damn it, you’ll have something, and that’s more than what most people ever get. Because they never start.

That’s the beauty of NaNo. It’s a push to get started. It’s a chance to practice your writing. It’s also a chance to maybe make some new friends.

I’m going to do my best. And I’ve encountered a bunch of people who say they’re curious to try too. So if you feel like you’ve got a story in you, sign up. We can be writing buddies.

You can do it!
I can do it too!


Bring coffee.

Inspirational Music: Karl Sanders

When I was a teenager, I couldn’t do anything without listening to music.

Me, age 16, doing yard work. The hair hides the walkman playing Cradle of Filth. it’s not a phase dad!

Me, age 16, doing yard work. The hair hides the walkman playing Cradle of Filth. it’s not a phase dad!

I’m 33 now and I can’t write while listening to music. There’s something about the lyrics that just messes me up. If I listen to anything, it has to be wordless ambient sounds. It can be very effective when I find something that fits what I’m writing at the time.

When I was writing Vessels, it was hard to find music that fit my pseudo-Egyptian setting that wasn’t a movie soundtrack. A solution appeared in the guise of someone I already listened to.

Karl Sanders is the creator of the technical death metal band Nile. While already ancient Egyptian-themed, their sound was so heavy that, while excellent, did not help me get into the writing groove. Then I found out he had a couple of solo projects, Saurian Meditations and Saurian Exorcisms and they were just what I needed.

Karl Sanders himself said that he “got sick of hearing big loud death metal every day after touring” so he wrote those quieter albums to relax. When he’s performing his regular music for Nile, he shreds on the guitar with a blazing technical fury, but while he recorded his solo albums, he played all sorts of instruments like the saz and bouzoki as well as various percussion instruments. It resulted in a savage, eerie, primordial sound and it was just what I needed.

Check out Saurian Exorcisms on Spotify. I’ve got a sequel to Vessels to work on so I’ll still be listening to that chilling brutal ambient album.

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Quote:
Metalship (2013, March 02) “Interview with Karl Sanders” retrieved from http://en.metalship.org/interviews/258-Nile

Image:
Pixabay, Model: InvisibleGirl