29 December 2011

Ancient Paper

A discussion came up during a session of my writing group, a while back, debating types of ancient paper. One of us had written about ancient writing surfaces and symbols. We briefly discussed which words described ancient papers and I told them I would look into it further. Here is what a brief study of the subject turned up.

Egyptians made papyrus paper from the papyrus plant, a reed that grew along rivers. According to Fitz Museum, the ancient peoples also used the papyrus plant to make small, boats, sandals, mats and baskets. Because of the dry climate of Egypt, a number of examples of papyrus paper have survived from ancient times. ScienceBuddies.org describes how the paper was made from pulpy insides of the papyrus stalks. Mediterranean paper-makers laid long slices of the pulp on top of one another in opposite directions. Compressing them while drying created a fairly smooth writing surface. The modern word paper derives from the word papyrus.

Parchment is ancient “paper” fashioned from animal skins. Evidence of this form of writing surface dates back over 4000 years.  According to one article, the first true, two-sided parchment was called vellum. Pergamena.net relates that King Pergamon, of modern day Turkey, brought parchment production up to a level where it could rival Egyptian papyrus, circa 150 BC. The word parchment is derived from Pergamon’s name.

Codices, Scrolls and Books
A codex, in ancient times, was as stack of papyrus papers, often bound together. Scrolls were simply longer pieces of parchment, rolled up for storage. Later, when leathers became more refined, they were used to protect codices, creating what we now know as a book cover. As binding techniques improved, the forerunner of the modern book was born.

22 August 2011

Writer's Block: Burnout

Writer’s Block Caused by Burnout
One of the worst types of writer’s block to face is writer’s burnout. Burnout can occur when writing is a paid task or a task assigned by a senior, such as a teacher. The writing is mandatory, which can introduce elements that make writing spontaneously difficult. This can be one of the most difficult types of writer’s block to overcome.

Writer’s Block for Professional writers
Professional writers can experience writer’s block very easily. It is the job of the professional writer to churn out content for paper and digital pages. The work is assigned and often does not reflect the personal interests of the writer. This can occur with copywriters, web content writers, professional bloggers, professional social media writers, reporters, technical writers and more. When the work is not your own passion, creativity can jam. Since any type of writing is a work of creation, this is a problem.

Anatomy of Writer’s Block From Burnout
Looking at the causes can provide some solutions:
  • It is not your own
  • It is the is the idea of another
  • The end product is the product of another
  • You are rehashing an old subject
  • It is a spin of other writing  
  • It is done under duress or orders
  • Your creativity is muzzled by strict guidelines
  • It does not allow you to share your own thoughts and opinions

Why Burnout Causes Writer’s Block
Looking at the above causes, a solutions seem to drop into sight. All of the above reasons have one element in common. The thoughts are not necessarily your own. You do add a piece of yourself to the writing, but for the most part, it is not your thought. You are putting the ideas of a second party onto the page for the reader to see. Your own thoughts occur, but they must be held back. That is the block.

The Cure for Professional Writer’s Burnout
If the cause of the burnout is not being able to share your thoughts, the solution is quite simple. Share them. Get the ideas out of your head that you have had to push aside. If it is not legal for you to criticize your competition, criticize them. If you are not allowed to share your own opinions, write them down. If you see errors in the system, describe them. Write down those thoughts that you are not allowed to voice. Describe every last detail and withheld thought. Get those thoughts out of your head and onto paper or a computer screen.

It should go without saying that publishing these backstage works might not be a good idea. If the writing you have withheld will get you fired or sued, don’t share it with those who will fire or sue you. Don’t put it online. Don’t write it on the office computer system.

It will often suffice simply to write it down. It is no longer locked away in your head. Sharing it with a spouse or trusted friend can help. The source of the jammed up thought process is loosened or set free by voicing these prohibited ideas. Writing down the forbidden thoughts can set you free to write with more ease. Who knows, you may be able to use what you have written later on.

Freedom from Writer’s Block from Burnout
Unblocking the stuck ideas can get you moving again. You may be stopped because you have withheld too much. Get those ideas out so that the flow of words can continue uninhibited. You may find your professional writing gets easier.

29 July 2011

Writer’s Block: High School and College Assignments

Writer’s Block and the Pressure of an Assignment
One of the hardest writer’s blocks to overcome is one that develops under pressure. A writing assignment from a high school teacher or a college professor can definitely become an issue when writer’s block becomes involved.

Writer’s Block for Non-Writers
For someone born to write, a writing assignment might be a pleasure. These individuals sit down, pound out the words and only have the burden of editing left to worry about. For others, it is usually not so simple. The technical aspects of writing can get in the way. The desire to write may also be missing. The difficulty of the subject matter of the writing piece may also be involved. With all of these factors combined, student writer’s block can often follow.

Tackling the Subject Is the First Cure to Writer’s Block
Before you can write about a subject, you must understand it. Unless it is an English or journalism class, the entire purpose of the assignment is to prove you understand the subject matter. Writing about a subject cannot be done from a stance of ignorance. The writing assignment forces the student to find out enough to be able to repeat it back for the teacher. A student trying to avoid studying is not going to do well with the writing assignment. Teachers know this, which is why they create writing assignments. To get the writing assignment done, the student needs to roll up his or her sleeves and learn. This may be frustrating to some, but really, that is what school is all about. A student should study as though the future depends on it, because it does.

Handling the Technical Aspects of Writing to Overcome Writer’s Block
Not knowing how to write well can undermine the willingness to write. For high school students the task is a bit easier. School at this level should be designed to teach writing skills. Do not pass up the opportunity to learn while at the high school level, especially if no plans for college exist. Being able to express oneself clearly goes a long, long way in the real world. If the skill is not there, write anyway. Good teachers will help students to improve writing skills.

For college students, the task of becoming a good writer is hopefully based on a good education in high school. If not, do not shy away from extra study to find out how it is done. With the Internet available, it is quite easy to find a site that describes how an essay is written, how a term paper is written and so on. Students should use these resources and model their work after them. This is a learning exercise in itself. Making good use of such resources early on in college enables students to write without them in the following college years.

Coming Up with Content to Overcome Writer’s Block
Coming up with enough to say can be a problem even with an assignment as short as one page. In college, a much longer piece may be expected. For one to five pages of content, start by writing a paragraph about the basic ideas that need to be covered. Then, take each sentence and change it into a title for a new paragraph. Some shifting of words might be necessary to make titles, but that’s not the point. The point is to lay the subject matter out. For a longer writing assignment covering many pages, write out a one page essay covering the entire subject. Pull this one-page essay apart to find all the different subjects touched upon and use them to write paragraphs or even entire pages of material.

Basics of Overcoming Student Writer’s Block
These are basic strategies to overcome student writer’s block. More reasons may exist for having trouble writing and other solutions may need to be applied to those. Hopefully, the above points cover what a student needs to get back to writing so that the assignment can be completed.

28 July 2011

Writer's Block: Bouncing Back from Failure

Failure Can Bring on Writer’s Block
One of the most devastating ways to wind up with writer’s block is for a published work to fail. This can be as simple as an unpopular blog post or as major as a book that did not sell. Whatever the size of the piece, learning that the writing was not popular can ruin the desire to write more.

Writer’s Block from Simple Sources
Even a one-page article can draw in unwanted criticism. An idea that seemed good upon writing may draw in comments that surprise the writer. With today’s social media commentary available on blogs, a writer can hear some intensely negative statements. Some writing can even start online feuds.

Failure of a Pet Manuscript Can Cause Writer’s Block
Most writers have a favorite story they are passionate about. The story is at their core and they long to share it. If this work is shot down, a writer can feel as though his or her entire career has failed. Pet projects, favorite subjects, core beliefs or any deep-seated subject the author chooses to share may cause a negative effect if it is not well accepted. Coming back from such a blow is difficult, but it is not impossible.

Coming Back from a Failure as a Writer
The real secret to coming back from such a failure is to properly define what a writer is. A writer is someone who writes. Is a writer someone who writes just one book? Perhaps, but, truly, if one book is possible, then so are others. Writing is not something that can be capped or have limits set to it. It is endless. It can be produced continuously. To believe that one book is all a writer is worth is not true. Writers write. Coming back from failure as a writer is simply a matter of volume. If the one mere piece of writing fails, write more. With diligence, the failed book or project will be dwarfed by other writings produced.

Become a Better Writer While Overcoming Writer’s Block
Often times, the failed work is an early work. Beginning writers are rarely great writers. Writing is a skill that takes practice. Each new work is usually better than the last. The lessons learned carry forward, making each new effort an improved product. This is why continuing to write is essential. If you have failed as a writer, the solution is to keep writing, not to quit. Continuing on will hone the skills needed to be a better writer. Stopping will leave you at the skill level at which you quit. If you truly dream of being a writer, continuing onward is the only option.

How to Become a Better Writer
Not all advice is bad advice. Make no mistake; writers get a lot of bad advice about their craft. It falls in the lap of every writer to differentiate between good advice and destructive advice. If your work has failed, your technical skill as a writer may need improvement. Don’t be too prideful to accept instruction. Joining a writing group that gives constructive, positive advice is a good idea. A good writing group will improve the skills of a writer and will make the writer want to write more. If the group does not inspire both, move on to one that does.

The Solution to Writer’s Block Brought on by Failure
The solution is an easy one. Don’t stop. Do not quit because of a failure. Even if the failure is central to your dream of being a writer, realize that writer’s write for their entire lives. A book is just one step along the way. Writing continuously and in volume will have the effect of overcoming any failure of a past work. Bury that failure with a mountain of other works. You can only improve by doing so. While you are burying it, you’ll be writing.

23 July 2011

Writer's Block: Bouncing Back from Rejection

Rejection Can Induce Writer’s Block
Few things can douse the fires of creativity more than rejection. Creating a written work that does not please the intended audience can be crushing. Knowing how to bounce back from such a blow is important. It can be done and it should be done.

A Rejection Letter Is No Excuse to Quit
Receiving rejection letters is hardest for beginners. The writer pours his or her soul into the manuscript and the editor sends a response back saying it is not what the publication needs. Published authors seem to pay little attention to one rejection letter. Those who succeed at getting published apparently don’t pay any attention to a stack of rejections. If the first ten editors don’t want it, one of the next ten might.

Writer’s Block Can Follow Criticism from Colleagues
Rejection from colleagues can also hurt self-esteem. Writers who have created a piece that their fellows don’t admire can feel as though they have failed. Further, this group will likely add comments and suggestions to the their lukewarm reactions.

Lukewarm Response from Loved Ones
Less than enthusiastic responses from loved ones or friends can hurt the most. Some expect this group to enjoy the work as much as they do. This rarely ever happens. Familiarity tends to mute the responses to written works. A certain distance, or personal unfamiliarity with the author apparently lends to desirability of the work.

Writer’s Block Can Follow Perceived Rejection
Writers block can ensue after any of these so-called rejections. The truth is that these are not failures. Editors are overrun by manuscripts and often do not have the time to look at all of them. A single glance might be all you get. Colleagues, friends and family may be too familiar with the writer. The closeness or familiarity lets these readers too far into the zone of the writer. The public, apparently, enjoys reading the works of those distant from them, rather than those close. Fighting this will likely be impossible and may lead to further disappointment.

The Solution to Writer’s Block
The solution to this form of writer’s block is not hard to describe. Don’t let it bother you.

Editors Want to Help Writers
To deal with the rejection from editors realize that you are not dealing with an issue of acceptance or non-acceptance. It is purely a matter of business. The solution is to find out what writing techniques catch the eye of an editor in those first few seconds. Lists of do’s and don’t’s are strewn far and wide across the Internet. Use them. Writing techniques can and do make a difference. Read advice from editors. They seem more than happy to tell writers what they want and don’t want. Read these articles and do what they ask.

Avoid Rejection from Loved Ones
To deal with the rejection from colleagues, friends and family, the solution is very simple. Don’t show them your work. Or, if you must show it to them, do so with absolutely no expectations for their response. Believing that they must like it for it to be good is just plain wrong. People close to the writer may very well give a poor response to the written product even if it is quite good. Put no stock whatsoever into what people close to you think of your work.

Join a Group of Like-Minded Writers
A great way to overcome the issue of rejection is to join a writer’s group with a positive attitude. Shop around. Groups exist that will tear writers to pieces so watch out for those. When looking for a group, the writer should consider that he or she is shopping. If a group heartlessly tears the work apart, that group really isn’t good for writers, or at least for beginning writers. If a group makes the writer want to quit, it is not a good group. Good groups will make writers want to write more.

Be Ready for Rejection
Putting on a good set of emotional armor isn’t a bad idea either. Be ready for some criticism. Some of it will be of no value, some of it will, but if a writer puts his or her work out there, evaluation will surely follow. Be ready for it.

Becoming a Better Writer
A writer who uses criticism to his or her advantage will become a better writer. The critique that tells the writer to hang it up should be tossed in the garbage. Advice that builds good writing skills and corrects obvious errors is usable advice. Dividing these two types of criticism into the appropriate category may be what is needed.

End Writer’s Block by Choice
Lastly, if a person wants to be a writer, advice to the contrary should be ignored. No writer starts out will all the skills needed to achieve his or her goals. Comments from others should be used as tools. These tools should be distanced from emotional response. For those who has stopped writing because of negative criticism, the best advice is to simply brush off the dust and get back on the horse. Writers who haven’t reached their goals aren’t finished yet.

15 July 2011

Writers Block: When You Have Too Much to Say

A Writer with a Lot to Say Can Develop Writers Block
One of the most peculiar types of writer’s block a person can encounter is having too much to say. A host of reasons exist to want to get writing out there. A person could have a long story to tell in book form while another could be bristling with blog posts yet unwritten. These are not the only reason a person could wind up with a lot to say. Plenty of people have large “mental stores” of information they want to share.

Handle the Writers Block
When having too much to say leads to writer’s block, it is usually a matter of organization. Writers can have a lot to say while not knowing what to put down first. A couple of methods exist to handle this.

Outline to Prevent Writers Block
If a writer is not organized, he or she probably does not have an outline. Outlines solve most organization problems for writers. Outlines force writers to organize their thoughts. Writing an outline will show where the flaws are in the overall plan. It will also solidify a writing plan that is easy to follow.

Organize Your Writing Tasks
Outlines solve problems for a single piece of work but they do not always help the writer with multiple projects. For this a writer needs a strategy. To achieve this a writer should:
  • List what needs to be written
  • Organize the list per personal priorities 
  • Outline each piece to be written 
  • Decide when they will be written 
  • If a deadline is looming, set targets for completion 
  • Get busy writing!
Keep Going Until You Have Solved Your Writers Block
If this does not solve the problem, the writer’s block may have a different cause, so feel free to look back over the other sections in this series on writer’s block.

For those with a lot to say, organization can go a long way.

I hope this has been helpful.

09 July 2011

Writer's Block: Targets

Set Targets to overcome writer’s block

Discipline is one of the best ways to overcome writer’s block. But how does one apply discipline? Scolding yourself will only go so far, especially if it is at the end of the day. Getting down on yourself for not producing does nothing toward getting the piece of writing done. Regret and blame are what you are trying to avoid!

One of the best ways of getting through a writing piece from beginning to end is to set targets. If you intend to write 1000 words, set yourself a target for each one hundred segment. Trying to beat the clock by timing each paragraph might pull you through.

Increase your writing speed by setting targets specific to your genre

Being target-oriented might work better with technical writing than with fiction, of course. Technical writing usually has the details known but is not all that inspirational. Fictional writing is generally more inspired but requires a working imagination. Still, fictional writing sometimes works well with a clock to watch. You will probably have to give yourself more time per paragraph fiction. The idea is to overcome your writer’s block. Using the clock to push you along may help. If it seems your writing isn’t as good when it is timed, refer back to my earlier post on not knowing how to get where you are going. Getting it written is the goal. Use the all the writer’s block tools to get past it, including setting targets.

I hope this has been helpful.

07 March 2011

Writers' Block:
The Crouching Tiger

The Crouching Tiger of Writer's Block

Writers' block is something we writers hear about often. It can affect us even if we think it hasn't. It's not always so subtle, however. We usually know when we get stopped cold. It's good to know how to get started writing again.

I have covered quite a few topics in this series on writer's block. You can visit any of them from the following links.

These cover some technical reasons your writing might have come to a stop. This next one is not so technical, and frankly, it's kind of sad.

Stephen King On Writing
We all want to be writers in one form or another. I wrote volumes before I ever took myself seriously as a writer. I was reading a Stephen King compendium and in it he had an excerpt from his "On Writing" series. He told us that many people had approached him saying they wanted to be writers. When he asked them what they had written, many of them said they had written nothing. King made a point of saying that a person who is truly a writer will write regardless of an audience. They will write just to write, because they enjoy it. This revelation made me take my writing more seriously. I began writing my first novel a few days later. My friends smiled and told me they hoped I did well. I smiled back at their encouragement and got busy.

Writers Block from Lack of Support
I was fortunate. I said I wanted to be a writer and everyone I knew cheered me on. Today I am the writer I wanted to be. Not all of us are so lucky. Some of us are surrounded by people who are not so supportive. They might laugh or insult us when the subject is brought up. Are they jealous; critical; bitter? It doesn't really matter? If their criticism and lack of approval strikes home, a writer can set aside the task of writing and not come back.

I consider this very sad. What if these squashed writers had something fantastic to share? What if they had something important to say?

Writers Block and Blocked Communication
During conversations, we sometimes hope to add our opinions but someone else speaks first. We politely let them continue and the thing we wanted to say gets passed by. We don't get to say it. It's a small thing but it doesn't feel very good. It usually turns out OK. We get to add our opinion somewhere else and we go off with a smile despite having never given that one particular opinion. This unspoken communication sits in some dark corner of our mind until we forget about it while life goes on around us.

A story is a communication. When we write, we get to share this communication. It's no mere sentence or two like we would relate during a conversation. A novel or even a short story is a big communication. It's BIG. People can get squashed by unsympathetic or inconsiderate associates who tell them they aren't up to it or they aren't any good. We get stuck with this giant communication left unsaid. That's not good. It can be depressing -beyond the initial insult.

Prevent Writers Block by Ignoring Criticism 
My goal isn't to change the world. I cannot make all the critical people see the errors of their ways. I can tell you, however, that if someone has told you that you are not a good writer or that you don't have what it takes to be a writer, you should not listen. I was awful when I started. I'm still not perfect; ask my writing coach. Each time I take out one of my old writings, I wince as I read it. Heck, sometimes I wince when I look at the stuff I wrote yesterday. However, it is all that writing that got me to where I am now. The only way for you to become a good writer is to practice -and practice a lot.

It actually doesn't make sense to tell a beginning writer they're no good. I'd bet if you asked Stephen King if he was good when he started, he'd say no. Ask anyone who is a professional writer. You might find they are your best advocates. I certainly hope you have not been given discouraging advice from a professional writer, either. They should know better.

If you have a story to tell, write it down. Don't worry about how good a job you do. My friends and I write and re-write our stories over and over again to get them right. It's just the nature of the game. Each time we re-work our stories, our writing gets better. We learn as we go -and learn and learn and learn.

Tell Your Story!
Don't let some sour-puss shut you down. Your story deserves to be told. More importantly, you deserve the chance to tell it.

Writers Block Overview
Overview: You are free to communicate and writing is communication.

May your writings bring you all the happiness it has brought to me and my friends.

05 March 2011

Writer's Block:
The Hidden Dragon

The Hidden Dragon of Writers Block

Writer's block has many causes and cures. It is a symptom that can have multiple sources. In this series on writer's block, I have tried to cover all of them. Now, however, it is time to cover less popular subjects. In this essay on writer's block, we will face off with one our dragons. Slaying this dragon can be maddening and, often times, extremely difficult. It takes diligence, courage and even humility.

I have labeled this writer's block essay The Hidden Dragon so that the real title would not drive you away. Some would run away scared. Some might put their chins up and say "not me!" I am sorry to say that this hidden dragon has burned us all, to the last man (and woman.) No one is immune to this debilitating monster. No one.

I must emphasize this point very clearly because people so desperately want this ugly truth to not be true. Give it a chance and read on, because this might just save your writing.

Deadly Writers Block
One of the deadliest forms of writers block is: You don't know what you are talking about. That is the title that I chose not to put up at the top. What do I mean when I say you don't know what you're talking about? It's actually quite simple. So very often we hear things in speech or read them in print and we believe we have it down when we don't. We think we understand. Unfortunately, it is not always true. It is not only possible to misunderstand a concept you think you know, it is staggeringly common. That's right, you think you know what you are talking about but you don't. This is truly a hidden dragon. How do you uncover what it is you don't know if you don't know what it is you don't know? These little landmines exist throughout our writing lives and we walk right past them; most of the time, that is. Sometimes we step right on them. Caboom.

It can be quite embarrassing to be called out on something you don't know. The other day I put an est ending on a word when I should have used more. I felt foolish. That is the nature of the trap. We do not want to admit that we don't know. We're supposed to know everything, right? I write every day to earn my living and yet there I was using a word that made me look stupid. Should I go off to live with the mountain-folk? No, I just had a blind spot.

The first step of the cure is humility. Admit it. There are things you don't know everything about. Don't fight it. It's true. The only way to overcome this one to face it head on. Shying away means never solving the problem. Remember; smart people ask questions. If you don't fix what you don't know, you remain ignorant. So fix it.

Put your face in a simple dictionary or research book and educate yourself. I pulled out a dictionary and looked up my word from the other day. The dictionary said I was wrong too. Curse you, Merriam-Webster. But the next time I use that word, it will be used correctly. I cured my blind spot.

So what in the heck does all this have to do with writer's block?

Not understanding a concept you added to your own writing can clog your creative flow. Let's say you give your character a gun. Do you own and shoot a gun? I don't. Don't break into my house, however, because I have a really terrible ghetto sword I found out back of a rental I was painting back in 95. But about this gun. Are you using words specific to gun parts or gun use? Do you really know what they mean? Did you pick a specific style of gun for your character? Do you really know what that gun is about and what makes it unique? You stand an excellent chance of not knowing what you are talking about. You laid your own landmine.

These poorly understood little devils can weary our pace and bring our writing to a stop. Do an about-face and look your hidden dragon in the eye. Yes, yes, this can create a lot of work. But really, why are you adding things to your writing that you don't really know about? Your readers will bust you. Don't think they won't.

Do Research to Fight Writers Block
Do your research. Find out what you need to know to dispel the confusion you have. If not, then don't explain the gun -or whatever it is you mentioned- to the reader. I don't recommend this lesser path. Get on-line or go down to the book store and find out what you need to know. It can be a lot of fun. Personally, I'll use any excuse to go to the book store and buy a new book. This is a good one.

Once you have applied humility to get past your ego, used courage to face a research book, and worked with diligence to get through your studies, your writer's block should be handled. You can now surge forward an educated writer. Your writing will sound much better after this. Your reader will  be able to tell that you know what you're talking about -and you will.

Writers Block Overview
Overview: Discover the poorly researched hidden dragons in your writing and purge them.

I hope this helps. Come back again soon for the next essay on writer's block.

03 March 2011

Writer's Block:
When You've Run Out of Time

Writers Block: Running Out of Time

Writer's block can hang up writers at any stage of their writing careers, from absolute beginners to seasoned experts. In this series I have discussed many types of writers block, such as; the story's action has come to a stop, not knowing what happens next in your story, lacking interest in what comes next, not knowing how to make the next part fit, and not knowing how to get to the next part of the story. All of these can trip up a writer; these and more.

In this essay on writer's block, we will discuss what to do when your writers block has pushed you too near a deadline. Truly, to escape this dangerous trap, you have to be prepared ahead of time. Read the other articles in this series to see if one of the problems named fits your personal situation. Hopefully that will be all you need. Apply what you find in those articles quickly, and push past your writers block as quickly as you can.

Writer's Block and Discipline

Did I use the "D" word? I'm afraid I did. When you have a deadline, it's time for discipline. With a deadline approaching it is no time for phone chats, texting, shopping, preparing snacks or even cleaning. If you find that you are out of your chair, put yourself back in it. I have had the personal experience of nearing a deadline and finding myself out of my office chair repeatedly. Each time, I go back and sit down. There is only one way to meet your deadline and that is to write. Sit in your chair and put your hands on your key board. Consider the next part of your writing piece and just start writing.

Writer's Block and Stress

Stress itself can create writer's block. Knowing you are under the gun can freeze up your creative juices. Is there a solution? Personally, I use several versions of the same trick. I do a swift writing exercise to get me past the "frozen" stage.

In one version of this exercise, I use is humor. I quickly write one to three paragraphs mocking the subject I need to write about. This is actually a lot of fun and it definitely melts through the stress. I have made fun of the thing that is holding me back. This usually unblocks my writer's block in a matter of three or four minutes. I then throw out the mockery-or sometimes save it. After that, I usually forget all about my writer's block and get to work.

The other version of this same exercise is to write more seriously on the subject. My personal favorite is to mock up imaginary interviews with my fictional characters. This can be a lot of fun because I can drag them out of their normal setting for the interview. The character "talks" about his or her opinions and viewpoints more candidly than the story setting usually allows. This is handy for more than just writer's block too. Save these writings in a file labeled something like Character Traits. When you need to remind yourself what your character is about, pull these out and reread them. They can prove very useful. I have used this technique at the beginning of two different books. Once I finished with the "interviews," I was eager to start.

Writer's Block: The Deadline Approaches

Whichever technique you use, one from above or one from a different article in this series, do it quickly. Apply the technique you need within the time frame you have. In the end, it may be discipline that saves you no matter what trick you use to overcome writers block. If you are a professional writer, remind yourself that you are a pro, and get busy. If you are not, then tell yourself that you need to act like a professional writer -at least for the moment. Most key of all, write. The one thing I can guarantee you is that you will never meet a writing deadline if you are not writing.

Overview: 1. Use discipline to get yourself moving. 2. Try writing exercises loosely related to your topic to get yourself writing and relieve stress. 3. Write!

I hope this has been helpful. In the following essays on writer's block, I will be delving even deeper into the subject, so be sure to come back soon.

22 February 2011

Writer's Block:
I Know Where I Want To Go But Don't Know How To Get There

Discover Where You Are Going to Prevent Writers Block
Writer's block is troubling for many writers. It can be very frustrating to arrive midway through a piece of writing only to loose momentum and stop. Here we will discuss a specific roadblock; not knowing how to get where you are going.

Again, let's cover the most basic step. You need an outline to overcome many of the causes of writer's block. This is no exception. If you know where you are going, you already have some sort of outline, even if it is just inside you head. Please don't leave it there. Write down you outline so that you have clear concept of your story.

To be honest, I could stop right here. If you don't have a well written outline, it is likely the cause of not knowing how to get there. Writing coach Shirley Schirz has posted an essay about how to formulate your outline step by step. Her essay should help you through the steps of creating a valid and useful outline.

Battle Writers Block with Good Transitions
But let's say you have your outline and still don't know how to bridge from one part to the next. This can happen because of lapses of time in your story, such as several years passing for the characters. It could be a location change. Perhaps a character needs to grow or change from one viewpoint to another, or from evil to good.

Things such as a time or location change are easy. These can be handled with a single introductory sentence or by starting a new chapter.

Character development and other plotted course changes might need more work. If you find that a mere sentence or new chapter don't handle the problem then your work probably needs a new chapter. If it is a smaller work, then this might be only a paragraph. If you simply can't jump from one place to another, then you need to take your reader by the hand and explain the evolution from one scenario to another. Your work will certainly not suffer from this added information.

A Little Goes a Long Way to Fight Writers Block
This can especially be a problem for beginning writers. It can seem that all this extra writing should not be necessary. Sorry to say that it is. A book or an article is an explanation. You are taking the idea from your head and laying it out to the reader. If you leave something out, readers are not going to fill in the blank. It is tempting to think they will but it rarely happens that way. One has to be a very seasoned writer to succeed at that task. And really, the seasoned writer is giving enough information, not leaving it out.

Brainstorming these "missing chapters" can be fun. You get to explore your characters, the setting, the action or the plot line. The piece you are working on can only improve.

If you don't know how to proceed into this new chapter or section, write it down sloppily. Create two or three version without taking too much time doing it. You are not writing your new chapter, you are stimulating your imagination. One of these hastily written version will appeal to you. If not, write a few more. You'll get the one you want eventually.

Splurge on Words to Prevent Writers Block
Never believe that words are precious commodities that you can only produce in small numbers. Splurge. Write, write write. It can only improve your skills. Don't hold back. As always, feel free to create a folder to store these scribblings and label it anything you like. I'd label it "Brainstorming for (title)." Believe me when I say that I have massive amounts of digital "garbage" stored inside my computer. I am certain these unused writings have strengthened my abilities over the years.

Writers Block Overview
Overview: 1. Create a well-made outline. 2. Don't be afraid to add new information or even a new chapter to bridge the gap. 3. Brainstorm with lots of writing to stimulate your imagination.

I'll be back soon with more advice on writer's block.
I hope this has helped.

21 February 2011

Writer's Block:
The Next Part Doesn't Fit

Recognize the Reason for Writers Block
Writer's block comes in many forms. If you have stopped writing, it may take some work to recognize why. This is my fourth essay on the reasons we set our writing aside or just can't seem to continue. Here we will tackle those moments when the next part of your story or article doesn't seem to fit.

An Outline Can Help Prevent Writers Block
This can occur with our without an outline. With an outline it is easy to recognize. You have left the plot line. Without an outline you can still sometimes find you have veered from you original purpose. Again, as my writing coach, Shirley Schirz, insists, you should always have an outline. Outlines can solve many of the problems that create writer's block. After all, how can you get back on course if you don't know what course you are on?

This problem can occur even when you are not off course. We'll start there. The last section and the next section do not match. Fortunately, this is an easy one. You can solve this with as little as a sentence. Introduce the new section by simply stating why it is different. "Ten years later...", "I will now discuss..." "In Washington..." Introduce the reader to what comes next.

The larger version of this is a transitional paragraph. What you want to say next requires more than a sentence. Don't hold back. Tell you reader why the change has happened and introduce them to the new situation, time period, or sub-plot. 

Really, this is just standard writing. The trick is to recognize it as the cause of your writer's block.

Bridge Gaps to Get Past Writers Block
Now let's look at the times when you really have gone off course. Maybe you took time to explain something to support your story and it took the plot off to the side. Maybe your characters took control and began to do things you didn't expect. Oddly enough, characters do seem to take on a life of their own sometimes.

For times when your sideline took you away, again, use the transitional sentence or paragraph. You also might find this is a good time to end the chapter. A new chapter is a transition. By starting a new chapter you tell your reader that you are starting something new.

Control Your Storyline to Fight Writers Block
Now we come to the part where I veer away from my writing colleagues. It involves the characters to who take control of the plot. These sneaky little characters seem to do what they please. They say things you didn't intend. They come up with their own reactions to things. They take the plot and walk off with it. Often a side-character steps forward and threatens to steal the show.

This is a matter of control. No, I don't mean that your characters have control of you. I mean just the opposite. You must control yourself. You are the one writing, after all. The truth is that you have imagined it all. It's you taking your story off on new courses, not them. You are the one typing and you are the one imagining. Kudos to the human mind and its remarkable imagination; truly.

I don't believe characters need this much leash. When my characters try to walk off with the plot, I give them a literary slap and put them right back on it. In contrast to this advice, I do let them roam. So long as they are on-plot, I don't mind what they do. They can "create their own personality", say what they like, and take actions I did not plan. All this is fair game so long as they do not leave the intended overall plan. In fact, letting this peculiarity of human imagination work its magic can be a lot of fun.

Just keep in mind; it's you, not them. You are the craftsman of you writing.

This philosophy can create disappointment. Your characters can do things that are genuinely interesting or even exciting. If so, I offer two solutions. 1. Change the story enough to include the unintended part. Just keep in mind this can create clashing themes and a lot of work. 2. Remove the section that veered away from the plot but first copy and paste it into its own document. Save it in a folder and add to the folder each time this happens. Pretty soon, you will have a host of great ideas for other stories.

Look at the Big Picture When Fighting Writers Block
The best way to avoid disappointment when scrapping these altered plot lines is to tell yourself that you are a writer. You are not going to write one great work and be done. You are going to finish the work you are on and then do another, and another and another. You can splurge. These ideas are not gone, they are just waiting for their time. Few things are better written than those we spend time imagining before we write them. These abandoned story lines percolate in the mind. When you get back to them, you might find they are better conceived than when you laid them aside.

Writers Block Overview
Overview: 1. Make and use an outline. 2.Miss-matched sections of writing might just need a transition or a new chapter. 3. You are in control. Your story will ultimately go where you guide it.

That is all for now. I hope this helps.
Feel free to leave comments or describe your own writer's block.

20 February 2011

Writer's Block:
The Next Part Isn't That Interesting to Me

Writer's block is one problem with an assortment of causes. If you have stopped writing, it could be one of several things.

Lack of Interest Can Create Writers Block
A writer can stop because he or she is not that interested in writing the next part of the story. In this scenario, you know what you need to write. You know the topic or action that has to be covered, you just aren't that interested in writing it down.

This should set off red flags. If you think it's boring, it won't stand much of a chance for your reader either.

It's time to brainstorm. You have written continuously up to this point (hopefully) so you must have an interest in the subject overall. Something has gone wrong.

Fight Writers Block by Remembering Your Inspiration
Pull out your outline and look at several of the items that follow. At least some of the following points will catch your interest. The outline should remind you why you are writing the piece in the first place. You can do one of two things to pull out of this writer's block.

The first solution is to skip ahead. You might not need the boring part of the story anyway. If it is essential, shorten it to its details. If you can, put it into dialogue. Your characters might be able to paraphrase it for you.

Overcoming Writers Block Can Take Work
The second handling is a little more work. You will need to brainstorm a new path for your story. This does not mean you change the ending or any of the following parts. Invent a new way to arrive at the next interesting part of the story. Add something clever for your characters to do during this less dynamic section. Find something to include that makes it more exciting or makes it move along to the next part easily. When I take on this challenge, I play a game of making the new part even more exciting than the others. It raises my interest in the story to a point that I cannot wait to start writing again.

Writers Block Overview
Overview: If the section you are writing is not that interesting to you, skip ahead or brainstorm a more interesting storyline for that section of your work.

That is all for now. Writer's block has many causes, only one of which is covered here. Come back again to read the others in this series.

17 February 2011

Writer's Block:
I Don't Know What Happens Next

Writers Block Is a Real Problem for Writers
Writer's block can ruin your day, your week or many months of writing at a time. If writer's block is real to you, then read on.

Writer's block isn't just one problem, it is many problems that all have the same result. They all bring your writing to a halt. This is my second essay on writer's block. You can read my first one here.

Two Sources for Writers Block
Today I am addressing the problem of not knowing where the story is headed or; not knowing what happens next. This problem can have two sources.

Outlines Can Help You With Writers Block
Source #1:  You do not have an outline or your outline isn't written well enough.

It can be fun to write as you go. I have done it and gotten some good results. However, when you have stopped because you do not know where the story is going, you need an outline.

In reality, you should always have an outline. My writing coach, Shirley Schirz, has drilled this into me well. You should have an idea from the beginning what your characters are going to do. You should know what problems your characters will experience, what their personal journeys will be, how they will grow and who they will be when they are done growing. Most of all, you should know the ending. If someone asks you, "how does it end?", you should have an answer ready to deliver. If you cannot answer the question without hesitation, your ending might need more planning.

Get an outline written down that includes an ending. If this was the problem holding you back, you should now be able to move ahead.

Good Control Can Help Fight Writers Block
Source #2:  Your characters have taken on a life of their own and the story has veered off course.

This is a tough problem. Characters do take on a life of their own, it seems. They will do things you did not expect. They will pull the plot to the side any chance they get.

Should you let them? I will cover the answer to that question in a different post. For now, we are talking about writer's block. If your character has veered your story so far off course that you cannot figure out what to do next, then you have a problem. It is time to roll up your sleeves and do some work. Decide if the course your character has taken can work within the current plot. If it cannot, then you will have to rewrite that part of the story and get your character back in line.

This can be hard sometimes. Your character's new direction can make a very enticing storyline. If it is too good to let go of, you will then have to change our entire story to match it. This can be a lot of work and can pull in confusion and land some inconsistent events in your lap. Be sure this is the route you want to take. It is the most labor intensive of the choices.

The other choice is to crack the whip and get your character back in line. Scratch out the misdirection your character took and rewrite that section so that the story follows the intended plot line. This can be disappointing at first but you might find the re-write is also appealing to you. When you've finished it, you will likely find your writer's block is gone. Your characters are on their intended course and the next action falls into place easily.

If the direction your character took is appealing to you, be sure to cut and paste it into an appropriately named file before you make your changes. I have heard plenty of stories about writers who run out of ideas. If you have a folder full of this type of file, then you have a ready-made package of fresh writing ideas.

Writers Block Overview
Overview: Write an outline. Stick to it. Let your characters explore but only so long as they stay on-plot. Be ready to do a little extra work to dig out of this one.

I hope this has helped.
I will be writing more on writer's block so be sure to come back for more tips.

Good luck!

16 February 2011

Borders Bookstore Closings

News of Borders Bookstore Closing
I heard the news tonight about the Borders bookstores closings. They are filing for bankruptcy and closing nearly a third of their bookstores, starting with the super stores. They plan to close my favorite bookstore in the county at 2683 Gulf to Bay Blvd., Clearwater, FL.

This news is very sad. One of my favorite past times is to browse the bookshelves at local bookstores. I have a few favorites; Borders, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. Although they all have similarities, the Borders store on Gulf to Bay was my favorite. It had the largest interior space, largest selection and the best coffee shop. I have purchased more books from this store than any other in the area. It is a pity to see it go.

Is the Economy the Reason for Borders Bookstore Closings?
I have to admit that my book buying has suffered from our down-turned economy. I continue to buy books despite a tightened budget but the length of time between purchases has increased. Evidently, I am not alone.

When the free hours of the day or night arrive, I will sometimes head off to the bookstores. With or without a purchase, it is a satisfying exercise. Browsing with a coffee in hand is a treat. The Borders on Gulf to Bay has the best atmosphere for such an outing.

I will miss the store and feel as though something I owned a part of has been taken away.

Are Digital Books the Reason for Borders Bookstore Closings?
It will be a sad day indeed if books are no longer sold in paper form. Digital reading delivers information. Owning a book that you can hold in your hand offers a far greater experience. It is something not only to read but to have and to own. That is something digital media cannot deliver.

I will go to Borders tomorrow for my official farewell visit. I will have my final coffee and offer a toast to the store. I will also toast to a future where our economy recovers and we will not see a city filled with empty storefronts. Lastly, I will toast to the paper book, offering my wishes that we are not the last generation to see it.

What Tampa Bay On-Line had to say about the closings.

Writer's Block:
When the Action Stops

Methods to Fight Writers Block
I am always curious when people talk about writer's block. I haven't had much of a struggle with this and that is why I would like to share my methods. Despite my love for the craft of writing, I have come to stalemates with my story progression that I have labeled writer's block.

This occurs when I reach a finite goal within the writing project. The characters arrive at certain geographic location or a minor sub-villain is killed off, etc. The writing has reached a recognizable stopping point and that's just what happens, it stops. In order to continue, the story has to be "restarted."

Outlines Help Fight Writers Block
Getting through this is as simple as recognizing what has happened. You have completed an action. You are not in the middle of something anymore. The characters and the storyline need a push. They need a reason to take the next step or they simply need to take it. If you have done an outline -and I certainly hope you have- then you know where you want them to wind up later on in the work.

If you have not done an outline then you might already have the answer to your writer's block. More on that in another post.

Move Forward to Fight Writers Block
Take a look at where the characters, the action or the plot line needs to go next. Do the characters pick up their bags and continue walking? Can you now skip ahead in time and describe them arriving at the next city? Is it time to move to the next day or the next important event? Such places in your manuscript/piece are good places to skip ahead. No transition is needed. Simply describe where they are next. Of course, this works best as the start of a new chapter. It also avoids writing that lacks relevant action, which editors might ask you to drop anyway.

I will write more on writer's block later. For now the tip is; recognize why you have stopped. Did you complete a finite action? It's likely.

Take a look at where the characters need to be next in the plot. What's the next interesting interaction? What is the next location? If they are in the same location, then move them forward in time to the next event. Put them there and tell your reader what they're doing. It should be something you intended to tell your reader anyway. The desire to describe this next event to your audience should pull you right out of your writer's block.

Writers Block Overview
Overview: Recognize that you have completed a finite action. Move to the next event in your plot.

I hope this has been helpful. I will write more on writer's block later.
I will cover these points:
  • I don't know what happens next
  • The next action is not that interesting to me
  • The story has changed and the next part doesn't fit
  • I know where I want to go but don't know how to get there
  • I'm running out of time (dangerous writer's block terrain)
  • I don't feel like writing

You can always visit www.write4writers.com for more writing advice from the team at Palm Harbor School of the Novel.

Feel free to post comments on your personal writer's block.

15 February 2011

Palm Harbor School of the Novel

Pinellas County Writing Group
Palm Harbor School of the Novel (PHSN) is a writing group based in Palm Harbor, Florida on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, where we enjoy warm summers and mild winters. Our purpose is to help new authors and writers to climb higher in the practice and profession of writing.

Our non-local members can access us by visiting www.write4writers.com.

A Pinellas County Club for Writers
Many of the tips written on this blog are gleaned from lessons learned at Palm Harbor School of the Novel. Pinellas County Writer, Brad Beard, is a member and supporter of the group. My professional writing career sprang to life after joining the group. Other writers have also grown into professional careers from within the group and we enjoy the company of many working career writers at our meetings.

Pinellas County Writers Group Web Site
You can find writers' advice and other tools at www.write4writers.com.  We will be debuting with a round of articles regarding How to Write an Essay in the very near future.

Be sure to return here for my own take on the craft of essay writing which will also be featured on our website alongside other articles on the same subject.

Good luck with your writing.