Monday, March 28, 2011

Writers Block: Or How I Learned to Stop Whining and Embrace the Pain

It happens to every writer at some point or another. And those writers who allege they've never had it are LIARS! (Well, maybe they're not liars, but I hate them anyways.)

If you've ever suffered, or are currently suffering from the horrifying affliction known as writers block, read on. And don't you fret little monkeys because I am offering you a list of things that may (or may not) help you break out of those chains that bind us and release the creativity monster!

This is a big one. For me, anyways. After I've been pondering or writing a particular concept for awhile, I start to think it's really awful. Even though when I first envisioned the idea, I thought it was great. Why does this happen? First off, when you are actually faced with the daunting task of laying your idea down on paper and developing it...well, it's just that. It's daunting. It's hard. Not all of us can dream about a sparkly vampire and have a six figure book deal within a year. Most of us have to work for our ideas, and that's okay. The idea you once thought was fantastic still is fantastic, it's just your perception that has changed. Try a little visualization technique: when you start to get down on yourself and your creativity monster has turned into a gremlin (did you feed that thing after midnight, or what?) and he's whispering negative words in your ear, brush the creature off your shoulder. No really, do it. You might look weird, but get ridding of the gremlin is worth it. Or, trap the little bugger in a imaginary bubble in the palm of your hand and blow his ass away. Go on, I dare ya.

I hate to break it to you, but nothing is perfect. Ever. And first drafts of novels? Uh, so far from perfect they can be considered defective. But that's okay. A very wise person (I don't know who it was and I don't feel like googling it to find out) said, "First get it written, then get it right." So maybe the scene you are working on isn't panning out as excellently as it did in your head. That's okay. Turn off your internal editor. You can go back later and add tension or change things around a bit if you need to. A first draft is all about getting the basics out. Some writers like to think about their first draft as more of an outline or giant synopsis, rather than have the pressure of writing an actual novel. Just get it out there and move on.

Sometimes the best thing to do is stop staring listlessly at the computer screen and go do something. Go bowling. Go fishing. Try something new. Hang out with family or friends. Distract your mind from what you are working on. You might find inspiration somewhere you never expected. Or, you might find inspiration from other art. Listen to music you don't normally listen to, go see live music, go see an art exhibit, watch a dance recital, or whatever is available in your area. Exercise. A healthy body is a healthy mind. Plus you might stimulate blood flow to your brain and break the blockage.

Yes, yes, I realize I am completely going against the grain on this one. And if you're an ex-CIA operative penning the next Bourne Identity type novel, feel free to stop reading now. However, if you are like me and really haven't had that many exciting things happen in your life (okay, so I have kids and a job and blah de blah they're exciting in their own way, but I read and write to ESCAPE from the constrains of my normal life, hello), then this rule applies to you. The whole point of writing is to use your creativity to imagine things that don't exist: the What If scenario's that you know you have in your head just waiting to burst out. Imagine the impossible. Then make it happen. Don't let other people make you think you have to always "write what you know."

Check out my link at the top for recommended reading. Read in the genre you want to write. A lot. Read things that are bad, (they make you feel better about your own writing. I know, it sounds terrible but it's true) and read things that are good so you have something to aspire to (or surpass). Read things outside of your genre. If you have a romantic subplot, read some romance novels. Read some chic lit. Read my blog (on a daily basis and leave comments telling me how wonderful I am). Read books about the craft of writing by editors, writers, agents. They sometimes know what they're talking about.

Talking to other writers helps is a good idea for a LOT of reasons. They can help you when you are stuck with plot points, offer critiques and criticisms, and positive feedback to help keep you motivated. And unlike other friends you might have who are supportive, but have never sat down to write a novel, writers understand what you are going through on a deeper level. If you don't have friends in your community who write, connect with other writers online. There's a tremendous community of wonderful people on the internet. Try the Verla Kay Blueboards, the Writers Digest forum, and I'm sure hundreds of other places I don't know about. Go to writers conferences (if you can, I'm lucky that there have been some cheapish ones in my area). There's nothing more affirming than meeting other people struggling with the same things you are and listening to people in the biz share their wealth of knowledge.

This doesn't work for everyone, but if you are having trouble with the scene you're writing right now, try writing the next one and then go back to fill in the gap. Some people even start with the ending (Stephenie Meyer did). Maybe there's a scene somewhere down the road that you are really looking forward to writing, for whatever reason. Write it, and recapture the joy that possessed you when you first started out.

Good luck my friends!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Review in Three Q's - E. Lockhart's Dramarama!

Hey lookie here! New feature: Book reviews!

Disclaimer: I'm only going to blog about books I like. I'm choosing to focus on positive reviews and here's my somewhat rational rationale:
a) Just because I don't like something, doesn't mean it isn't good. I have my own taste and preferences and would feel really, really, really, (REALLY), bad if a writer was googling themselves (it happens) and came across something negative that I posted. I don't always know what I'm talking about after all (don't tell my husband).
b) I'm a positive person. I would rather broadcast happy thoughts into the blogosphere than negative. That's just how I roll. (side bar: sometimes I do just wanna talk smack, but it's always in good fun and about fictional things. Like Dora...curse her and her crazy boot monkey!).
c) if I'm posting a book review, you know it's good because otherwise, it wouldn't be here. So you know what to expect when you see the blog title.

Which leads us to....

This weekend I read a FABULOUS contemporary YA book by E. Lockhart called Dramarama.

Here's the sitch:
Two theater-mad, self-invented
fabulositon Ohio teenagers.
One boy, one girl.
One gay, one straight.
One black, one white.
It's a season of hormones,
gold lame,
hissy fits,
jazz hands,
song and dance,
true love,
and unitards
that will determine their future
--and test their friendship.
(from Amazon product description)

Best thing about this book?
So many things. The voice, the characters that jump off the page (and sing - badly or not - in your face), the relationship between the MC and the best friend, and the dialogue is incredibly well done (which is difficult when you have a cast of characters.) And, since I did some drama in high school and minored in dance in college, it totally brought me back to my performing days.

Favorite line:
"In Brenton, Ohio, where I'm from, committing suicide would be redundant."

Why you should read this book (especially if you are a YA writer):
The dialogue (which I already mentioned, but it's important enough to mention again). The characters sound like teenagers without being forced to use a ton of cliches or slang. They even make up their own slang. The MC is a flawed, but likeable character that makes mistakes. The mistakes are understandable and she learns from them and by the end of the book, you can tell that she's changed/grown (HELLO character arc!)

Stay tuned because sometime in the near future I'm going to be waxing intellectual about an element of fiction writing I still have a hard time with: transitions!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What kind of writer are you, anyways?

Are you a good writer, or a bad writer?

Oh, I'm not a writer at all! (Is what I feel like saying most days when my daughter has been sick and not sleeping, my day job is crazy and driving me to drink, and I'm pretty sure that every word I have ever written is complete and utter crap. Ahem. Anyways).

Seriously, I'm not really talking about being a good or bad writer (we're all here to learn!), I'm talking about how you approach the craft. Every writer does this differently. The most common types of writers are:

Pantsers: Fly by the seat of your pants! Pantsers sit down with not much in mind and just start to write, letting the idea's come to them as they go.

Plotters: Like to know where they are going. Sit down and complete an outline, synopsis, or other type of pathway detailing (either in great detail or not) the major points of their plot and the ending.

Inbetweeners: (hehe, that says weeners! Yes, I'm part of the Beavis and Butthead generation, thanks for asking). Fall somewhere in between a plotter and a pantser. Maybe they have a vague notion of where they want to go with their stories and rely on the muse to get them there when they sit down to write. Maybe they just know part of the big picture and still need to fill in the blanks. Either way, they aren't entirely pantsing it, and they haven't really plotted in great detail either.

Me? I started as a pantser and the more I write, the more I start leaning towards plotting first. It does help to know where you are going when you sit down to write a scene, even if where you are going is something simple like "Main character discovers dead body". That way, you haven't detailed how they find the body (you can leave that part to the muse) but you know where you are heading.

So, what kind of writer are you? Does it work for you? Are you thinking about moving in another direction or adapting the way you write? 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What I'm Doing Right Now

Scene cards. Yes, I finally got sick of throwing away thousands of words because they weren't working, and decided to plot out the nitty gritty of my WiP in hopes of not increasing my "Trash" word doc.

I already had my main plot points figured out, and I have a vague notion of the ending, so this puts some of the smaller pieces together and paves the way to the major plot points and climax.

So here they are. Each one has a goal and a disaster for the main plot arc. I'm not finished yet. I just reached the climax and need to figure out how to take out the bad guy. And there's not much in here in the way of character arc or sub plot. Just the big stuff.

The cool thing about scene cards is this: linking scenes using cause and effect (I'm going to talk about this more in the next episode of Ten Commandments). But for now, let me tell you something neat I figured out about plotting: the hard part is motivating your character to exhibit the behavior you want (i.e. going outside to investigate a strange noise when CLEARLY that's an idiotic thing to do in ANY situation).

Once you've created sufficient motivation to make the action believable (maybe her cat's been missing and she thinks the noise might be her long lost kitten), and the character has followed through with the action, the next part is easy: if this happens, what's the logical next step? What are the consequences? How is this character going to deal with those consequences? And that leads you to the next scene.

Fun, huh?