So You Want to Write Part 11 – How to AVOID Writer’s Block

Pages and pages of suggested cures and tips for overcoming writer’s block are easily accessible to the afflicted all across the Web. With a quick Google search there’s no end of  advice for overcoming the author’s worst enemy.

Jon-Acuff(A good page I came across recently is on Jon Acuff’s page – he often gives sound advice.)

But rest assured, I’m not going to add to the potpourri of suggested writer’s block cures.

Read on.

 

I appreciate when my GPS warns me of potential roadside construction, traffic jams, and tumblr_mz0tciaEZ11t35jb8o1_400large bodies of water that might obstruct or delay my end goal of reaching my destination.

So instead of giving you some cures for writer’s block, I’m going to give you a few tips on how to avoid it in the first place. But keep in mind, nothing is a guarantee – and the absolute best tool you can put to use is your own ambition, which is something no one can give you but yourself.

 

HOW TO AVOID WRITER’S BLOCK

1. Keep your story interesting

I’ve found that most of the time I run out of something to writer or get stuck, is not because I’ve lost momentum, but because I’ve lost interest. The book (or story) might still be a great concept, but somewhere along the way I took a wrong turn, or I’ve lingered too long on an anticlimactic scene. Avoid this by always having an ending point in mind for each particular scene. If you’re writing at point A, know the steps you need to take to get to point B, and take them. Remember, if you lose interest, your readers will certainly give up reading.

2. Write different

In X-Men: The Last Stand, there’s a scene where big, tough Wolverine gives this super-Joey-dave-coulier-30111015-300-225cheesy speech about how “we’re X-Men; we stand together.” I mean, seriously? Look kids, it’s Joey Gladstone with claws and sideburns! It’s a painful scene to watch. We’ve all heard the “We are united” speech a million times. Blah, blah, blah. Avoid stuff like that. If you don’t, you’ll read over your work in a week, realize how bad it is, and lose stamina and fall into a permanent writer’s block. Stop copying templates; write your own template.

3. Don’t read too much

e0fc57b64b14ce730c828ca088394c1b_answer_4_xlargeI cannot agree enough with all of the advice for curing writer’s block which says, “Read great books.” Yes, read books of your book’s genre. Read award-winning books. Read! But don’t read, read, read. I struggle with this more than anything else. First off, reading takes time away from writing. Secondly, you might end up with more good ideas or ah-ha moments than you know what to do with. And though that’s better than having no ideas, it can become overwhelming and next thing you know, a block has been dropped in your writing groove.

4. Always, always, ALWAYS have something unpredictable in mind

Whether your outlining your book or writing by the seat of your pants (plotter or pantser), tumblr_m8fcinfzZT1r76lino1_400you should always have some major plot point in the distant future that’s so unpredictable, so unthinkable, so surprising that you just can’t wait to get to that scene and shock the life out of your readers. This makes for great storytelling and plot twists, but it also provides gallons of stamina to keep those fingers flying over your keyboard at 230 wpm. (Tip: resist the urge to write that scene ahead of time; work up to it. It’ll be like a reward when you finally reach it. If it’s shocking enough, you won’t even need to take note of it.)

5. Write multiple books at once

This might not be feasible for most people, since everyone has a good book in them, not “books.” But since my end goal is to be a bestselling author, I’m working on three books right now (all very different genres). If I need a change, I simply switch over to another book just to help keep things fresh.

6. Observe the world as though it’s your book

alien-invasionOne of my books is about a world-wide alien invasion. Quite often I stop and look up at the sky and wonder what the guy walking his dog would do if he were being shot at from an invisible spaceship. Or when I’m watching The Office with my wife, I’ll catch myself wondering what we’d do if everything just went black and things started blowing up around us. This helps me add scenes or thoughts or feelings that otherwise would not have been in the book, thus more material to write.

Follow these steps, and you’ll be that much closer to that coveted “The end.” Happy writing! And remember, it’s the weekend; not the work-end.

Write “Mississippilessly”

Spray-Tan-02Do you remember that scene in Friends where Ross keeps getting 2’s sprayed on his face in the tanning booth? It’s probably one of my favorite scenarios in the series.

In the scene, Ross goes to a tanning salon where he is told to count to five after his front has been sprayed, then turn around so his back can get sprayed.

Once the first spray goes off, he begins counting:

“One-Mississippi. Two-Mississippi. Three-Miss-“

And the spray goes off again before he turns around.

The result is Chandler sarcastically suggesting he went to the sun to get his tan.

We’re like that sometimes with our writing, aren’t we? We get stuck in a system, or what we think is our “groove.” We think the only way to count is “Mississippily.”

When really, all we need to do is let go of some of our inhibitions or habits and let the story (or blog post or essay or article) tell itself. We just need to be there to dictate the words.

I’ll sometimes follow an outline when I write, but then when the story starts taking its own course, I get nervous thinking that I shouldn’t be straying from the outline. But I’ve got to be willing to go with the flow and see where the story is taking me.

Think about the steps you can take today to write “Mississippilessly” and let your story take on a life of its own, without you getting in the way.

 

So You Wanna Write Part 10 – “Take That Step”

5If you’ve ever been to church in your life, chances are you’ve seen this movie clip.

It’s probably the most overused clip in all churches ever.

And if it happens to be a church that doesn’t have a movie screen or projectors, then the youth pastor or the hip young intern has referenced the scene on stage at some point.

And the funny thing is, all these years later, these guys still get behind the pulpit and reference this movie scene as though they’re the first ones to draw in a biblical connection to it.

Cracks me up every time.

You know the scene.

Indy’s father is dying of a gun wound and he, Indiana Jones, must retrieve the holy grail. But IndyAbyssone of the last tests is for him to make a leap of faith.

He takes that step into a deep chasm, and behold! His foot lands on an invisible stone bridge!

Well, I’m not going to make the obvious (though unintentional) connection to Christian faith (lest we forget that The Last Crusade was directed by a Jew?). But I’m going to make the connection between that scene and writing.

When I was younger and my mind wasn’t carrying the weight of bills, mortgages, and 2 A.M. feedings, I was able to shower, drive, or just fall asleep dreaming up my stories. I would watch them play out in my head like a movie, and the next day I’d get to work and write what I had played in my head.

I worry a lot now, so I’ve lost the luxury to be able to let my mind play out in that way.

The bigger problem is that it’s another excuse to not write. Well, I didn’t come up with anything for a new scene, so I guess there’s nothing to write today.

Well, if that’s you, you need to stop thinking that way. So do I.

Instead, we need to approach that blank Word document like a cliff that we must hurdle. The words are already there; we just can’t see them yet. We just need to take a step, and write.

The words will come whether we think they will or not.

A Little Treat For You Writers

Volusion_Blog_StorytellingTips

I hope you’ll pardon my long absence from blogging. Baby A. and Sarabeth have been in Florida and my book editing has picked up steam. I’ve also been hard at work on my next book, a young readers historical novel about a dachshund named Oskar, living in Nazi-ruled Germany.

Keep checking back for updates.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to post some of the all-time greatest writing advice I’ve ever found. Below are 22 rules of storytelling generously given to us by somebody inside Pixar Animations Studios.

I swear by these rules. Enjoy.

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

How to Decide What to Read

BookstoreProbably the most common cry from bookworms is, “There’s not enough time to read all the books I want to read.”

It is certainly part of the curse to not be able to enjoy all the knowledge and creativity books have to offer. Let’s face it, life just sort of gets in the way.

A while back I wrote about how to find time to read, which you can take a look at here.

So let’s say you’ve figured out how to carve out time to read. But how do you go about choosing what to invest your time in?

I take book searching very seriously, and because of that, very few books I read disappoint me. Allow me to share my tips on choosing the right books to read.

1. Reviews, reviews, reviews

If I see a book that looks rather interesting, I don’t buy it right away. Instead, I go on Goodreads and Amazon and read the reviews to get a general idea of what people thought about the book. More often than not you’ll find recurring praises or complaints, which you’ll likely share. This way, you’ll at least have an idea what you’re getting into.

2. Branch Out

I don’t know how many people I’ve read about or talked to that’s said, “I read such-and-such genre, but it’s getting kind of old and repetitive.” Well, yeah! You spend your efforts reading every Harry Potter knock-off, you’re going to grow sick of young readers fantasy books real fast. Be brave and try reading a book on a subject or from a genre you don’t have much experience in. I don’t particularly care for sports in the least, but one of my all-time favorite books is a sports book.

3. Another note on Branching Out

Don’t limit yourself to just books that appeal to you as a target audience. You say, “But I’m a 50-year-old woman, so I’m best just sticking with Agatha Christie mysteries.” If I remained a target-audience statistic, my shelves would be full of Stephen King and James Patterson novels. And honestly, King isn’t that thrilling to me and Patterson doesn’t even write his own books any more than my dogs pay the bills. No thank you. I’ll stick with more unconventional books for guys my age, like Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables.

Share some tips about how you go about finding new and exciting books to read!

So You Wanna Write Part Part 9 – The “M” Word

Momentum-smallThere is one thing, in all the world of writing that makes all writing possible.

In fact, it makes nearly everything possible – but especially writing.

It jolts things out of stagnation. It forces forward movement. It propels. It ignites.

I’m talkin’ about a little thing called, “momentum.”

Momentum is something every writer needs.

We may have all the greatest ideas in the world for the greatest books ever to be written, but without momentum, we have nothing. And those thoughts, or ideas, don’t mean squat.

“Dear Publisher, I have some great ideas for a book…”

And do you want the know the number one killer of momentum? I have no facts to back this up, but from my own experience, the number one killer of momentum is the Internet.

The Internet, though useful for boundless things, actually holds creative people back. The Internet is a hinderance to those who might otherwise have been leaders and visionaries and great authors.

So the best way I’ve found to gain momentum and to actually write is by powering down the computer (yes, even Word), grabbing what’s called a journal and a pen (or pencil), and write. Free from distraction, free from the demands of games and Youtube videos and iTunes, and free from the tedious task of researching and spellchecking and free to just write. 

That way, when I go back to dictate my words from page to screen, that momentum is already flowing by the time I type that last sentence, the creative juices are flowing, and I just keep on writing.

Power down = Momentum

Now turn this computer off and go write.

So You Wanna Write Part 8: Knowing When to Stop

 

bone

Ever read the Bone saga by Jeff Smith? You should no matter who you are.

Years ago I was reading an article by Mr. Smith and he said something that changed my writing habits for life.

He was talking about his writing process while developing Bone. He said something like, “You’ve just got to know when to stop and skip a scene and come back to it later.”

That tip has done wonders for my writing. And, it’s a great tool to combat writer’s block. If you’re willing to skip a difficult scene and move on ahead of the story to construct something further down the timeline, then your book or story isn’t just sitting in limbo.

Be willing to skip scenes. Heck, on your first draft, be willing to be sloppy! I’m in the process of writing a young readers historical novel and it’s very sloppy right now – the facts are all wrong, the setting’s a mess – but that’s why I’m going to go back and fix all that.

When you buy a building for your business you don’t start adding up your funds right away or upgrading your product line. You’re focused on one thing initially, and that’s location.

The same with writing. Don’t worry about the details on your first draft. Worry about one thing only – story, story, story!

John Lasseter, CCO of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios says, “Every single Pixar film, at one time or another, has been the worst movie ever put on film.”

In fact, no animated movie has ever been filmed chronologically. They may even start with the third act, and the opening scene may be the last thing they work on. For my historical novel, I have the entire ending drafted already, and I’m not even in the second act!

Be willing to skip around, get messy, get scattered, and in the end, it’ll all come together.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 13,288 other followers