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.