Hey, sometimes Writer’s Block’s just there, and no amount of tips will help, that day, that month, that very long year. Depressing. What helps is knowing that other writers, even the most fabulous ones, especially the most fabulous ones, understand that Writer’s Block is a Real Thing. This knowledge may not help your Block at that moment, but it makes you feel better. Nothing’s wrong with a little bit of feel better. Read Amy Goldman Koss’s blog.
Here is a wonderful, intuitive, comforting tip from Rhonda Hayter, author of THE WITCHY WORRIES OF ABBIE ADAMS. Thanks, Rhonda!
“When my characters get obstinant, stick out their bottom lips and refuse to say another word, I tend to go back and reread some of the chapters where we still enjoyed each other’s company. There are no expectations on us there, you see, so we’re free to get to know each other again, fall back in love, and renew our commitment. When we return to the stuck place, it can be a little awkward at first, so somebody has to say something…just anything, to get the conversation started again. But it isn’t long before the hurt feelings get forgotten, ruffled feathers are smoothed and we all start yakking away.”
Even though I write mostly realistic children’s fiction, I do keep a “magic” structural formula in my mind as I write, especially when I revise. I call them my magic story-builders, and I actually use them as a writing exercise to help kids create their own stories. Here they are, and you can fill in your own story:
ONCE UPON A TIME
ONE DAY (the day that is different–see Tip 40!)
BECAUSE OF THAT
TO HIS (HER) SURPRISE
FROM THEN ON
Rudimentary, but very helpful. Kids love them because they work!
I have no stock in the Nite Note company but this little gadget has cured both insomnia and writer’s block!
Ideas often float into my mind during that state between waking and sleeping. To prevent them from floating right out again, I lie in bed ruminating, repeating and rehearsing what I’ll write at my next writing session. This is fine if it’s 7 a.m. and the dog’s begging for breakfast and it’s time to get up anyway. But if the ruminating begins at 2 a.m., I’m in trouble. Nite Note, (and it’s sold by several companies by different names), is a plastic shell holding a small little writing pad, but the genius part is the light that’s turned on when you pull out the pen at the top. You’re supposed to scribble down your idea in the dark, the soft little light doesn’t wake anyone up (even the scribbler, really), and the ruminations of insomnia are averted. Often the ideas scribbled are good ones. That place between waking and sleeping is forgiving and fruitful. Sometimes the ideas aren’t that good, but oh well. It’s a start, and bad ideas often lead to good ones, once I start writing.
READ: Of course this is a general precept for life! However, when I am between projects, I REALLY read, almost constantly, especially children’s literature. I immerse myself in words, themes, voices, humor, multiple settings, multiple genres, and let the words wash over me like a warm bath. It actually feels like that, especially because baths were part of my childhood, as was the feel and smell of the library on a rainy day, endless reading hours on our couch, and gobbling Oreos as I gobbled words (as many as I wanted, in those days…) The point of it all is to recapture the sheer wonder and fun of reading! This reading binge inspires me and translates, very, very often, into a writing project, as used to happen when I was a young person, wanting to extend the reading experience a bit longer.
Here’s a great tip from Sheila Bender, prolific author of Creative Writing Demystified and the founder of Writing It Real, an online community for writers.
Thanks, Sheila!”Writing happens in short amounts of time–just a lot of them strung together! But when we feel blocked, a quick way to get unblocked is to remember how much you can write in ten minutes. Try an exercise like this one:
Describe what you see from where you sit using words that appeal to the five senses: what do you see, hear, taste (or remember the taste of), touch and smell. The senses are always bringing us huge amounts of information we often don’t stop to describe and include in our writing. If you are stuck on what a character is thinking or doing, do this exercise from their point of view. If you don’t know what you want to write about, do the exercise and then imagine someone you can no longer speak with because of loss or growing distances has enter your view. What do you have to say to this person from this place you both are right now? They to you? And you can always do this exercise allowing your character to be the person who drifts in to the scene. You’ll be unstuck and writing in no time. The trick to unblocking, I think, is to return to sensory information–when you are describing what the senses are bringing in ,you make associations and this unfreezes the writer within.”
‘FESS UP! Another terrific piece of advice was something I learned from the late Sid Fleischman at a talk he gave at SCBWI a long time ago. Sid’s words on craft were always simple, yet brilliant. If your work comes to a screeching halt because of a plot difficulty you just can’t get past, or can’t solve logically—draw attention to it! Actually mention the piece of illogic to your readers, and almost magically, it solves the problem. I was working on the copyedit of my new book THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK, and couldn’t decide whether my main character used italics or quote marks around words she found interesting. I wanted to use both, and this seemingly minor problem was driving me nuts. The solution was right in front of me, once I drew attention to it: my main character does use both, and gives us an interesting description why.
Thank you, Sid. You and your magic tricks are missed, and your books will always bring joy and laughter.
Courage relates closely to Ego Strength and Faith, characteristics needed by any writer, as discussed in previous tip posts. Often, just telling yourself that yes, you possess courage, almost magically allows it to emerge.
I believe that the courage to express yourself in your own inimitable way is a prime requisite for the development of an original Voice. Once you find your Voice, your writing becomes more enjoyable and fluent, in my experience. I capitalize “Voice” to distinguish it from the concrete voices of your characters; I am referring to something a bit more ephemeral, i.e. your own personal style of expression.
Let go of the other voices in your head–of critics, parents, other characters in someone else’s books, and let your own Voice shine forth. It takes courage and confidence and faith and ego strength to allow that to happen.
I converse on her blog with Uma Krishnaswami, the author of THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING, about Voice, middle grade, courage, and this crazy writer’s life we lead.
FIND WAYS TO SURPRISE YOURSELF
I have found the element of surprise to be the most enjoyable part of the writing process. I have great faith that I will eventually be surprised by something totally unplanned and tinged, almost, with a whiff of magic. This knowledge helps get me through those periods when I feel I having nothing of worth to say–I write towards the surprise I know is coming. Certain techniques help instigate surprises. One of these techniques is the use of the omniscient voice, which I used liberally in my novel ONE DAY AND ONE AMAZING MORNING ON ORANGE STREET. It’s as if I were being guided by a friendly puppeteer, moving me in unexpected ways. Uma Krishnaswami also uses voice creatively and experimentally in her wonderful novel THE GRAND PLAN TO CHANGE EVERYTHING. Together she and I have a grand time discussing the surprises of the writing process on her blog, Writing with a Broken Tusk.
When I was teaching my classes on writing for children at UCLA Extension, I noticed that the best writers thought their work was terrible, and those with much less potential and knowledge of craft were more interested in finding an agent and editor than improving their manuscripts. My theory is that true writers are lifelong readers–their standards are exceedingly high, having read the best work published.
Monika Schroeder, whose novel, MY BROTHER’S SHADOW, set in Berlin 1918, will be published by Farrar in September, addresses this issue with the following tip. And as they say, “Awareness is all.”
“I read a lot of books by other authors,” Monika says, “but when I am not feeling good about my own writing, the comparisons I draw lead to a complete shut-down of my own ability to write. Then I sit in front of the screen, paralyzed in ‘writer’s block’, convinced that I will never be as good as author xyz and I might as well give it up right now. In order to “unblock” myself when reading (and comparing my own work with) other authors, I need to remind myself that what I am reading is the polished, finished product. Their manuscripts most likely went through many revisions and may have looked pretty dismal in an earlier stage. It helps me to remember that simple fact. Sigh!”