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.