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When Your Writing Needs A Shot of Something by Chris Kincaid

Two years ago in April, a co-worker thought we should run in a 5K on the Fourth of July. I had never run before in my life, but for some odd reason, I decided to add that to my bucket list. I bought a pair of shoes and took off running down my road each evening after work. Within a few weeks my left ankle was burning. I looked it up on-line and diagnosed myself with Achilles tendinitis. I bought some heel orthotics for my shoes, started doing some stretches and the pain settled down.

 

I took a year off, but as soon as I started running this past spring, that Achilles tendon started aching again. I bought not only new orthotics, but new shoes. That offered no relief. I asked a doctor who had a few more suggestions but I still got no relief. I kept running though; the ankle didn’t hurt when I was on it only when I tried to sleep at night.

 

Then one morning a month and a half ago, my right hip locked up on me. I could barely walk on it, much less run. I got some more exercises and started icing it. No relief. I talked to the doctor again as well as the physical therapist. I did what they said but still got no relief.

 

Do I accept my body telling me that I will never run again and that much of the time it will hurt just to walk? Or do I continue to fight it?

 

What do you do when you have writer’s block? Or no publishers will even look at your work? Or all you get is bad reviews? Or your computer crashes and you lose all of your work?

 

You take a break. You find a writing partner. You sign up for a course. You read something for fun. You write something for you and no one else. You invest in a new computer. You remember to back everything up when you are done for the day. You don’t quit.

 

The only thing I haven’t tried for the bursitis in my hip is a steroid injection. I’m not afraid of needles. I just don’t want to bother my doctor about this anymore. I don’t want to take that five minutes out of my work day. I want to give it just a little more time.

 

What about you and your writing? Have you really tried everything to give it a boast? Does it need a shot of something? Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And don’t be afraid to turn to the professionals.

 

Maybe today is the day I ask for help from the professionals.

~*~

Chris Kincaid

The 3 Biggest Stumbling Blocks for Writers by Kristen Brockmeyer

We’re all writers here, right? We adore the printed word, devour books and bleed ink. It is a privilege and an pleasure to sit down at our computers every day and create fantastic stories out of thin air. In fact, it’s downright magical. So why the hell does it sometimes feel like performing a DIY root canal minus painkillers and actual dentistry experience would be easier and more painless than facing down a blank page?

Call it writer’s block. Performance anxiety. Verbal constipation. There are several reasons we writers can freeze up at any given time. Here are a three of the biggest stumbling blocks (hence the ALL CAPS) and some ways to get around them:

1. PERFECTIONISM.

Don’t feel bad. Writers often battle perfectionism. But even the most complex, beautiful and bestselling works of literature all started from a first draft and, chances are, those drafts didn’t pop out on the page fully formed in brilliant perfection. If you grapple endlessly with sentence structure, imagery and spot-on characterization, it might take you a year to past that first paragraph. By scrutinizing every word that formulates on the page for strokes of genius, you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. As the bajillion-time bestselling romance author Nora Roberts said to me just last week when we met for decaf mochas at Starbucks, you can’t edit a blank page. Okay, fine, I read that on Google somewhere. But Nora’s right. Just focus on pounding out a first draft. That’s the most important thing.

2. FEAR OF SUCKING.

This is a common first-time writer’s problem. You compare every word you write to every other writer’s work you’ve ever read and often find yours lacking in a big way. But the fear of sucking is also a second- (and third-and fiftyith-) time writer’s problem. You achieved a miracle and created an awesome story once that some people liked and now you’re afraid you can’t do it again. Or you’re writing the third book in a trilogy and are scared it won’t measure up to the first two. When you start a new book, any previous successes become flukes. The solution? Embrace that fear. Your vulnerability will actually make you a better writer. Also, buy an inspirational cat poster to drive the point home if you must, but know that your voice is worthy of being heard and work through that fear to get to that all important first draft.

3. BRAIN EMPTY. WORDS ALL GONE.

Maybe this case of writer’s block is so severe that it feels like you used up your lifetime quota of words already, but, I promise, there are lots more in there. To jiggle them loose, try the oft-touted technique of just typing gibberish until something meaningful comes out. Sometimes the very act of putting stuff on paper or screen will jumpstart the creative process. Or, go do something different. Take a 15 minute walk. Fix yourself a snack. Go to the mall and people-watch, with a notebook to jot down impressions. Watch a movie. Read a couple chapters out of a non-fiction book or fiction outside your genre. Crochet dog sweaters for your local Hairless Chihuahua Rescue, if that’s your thing. But keep your inspirational side trips on a time limit and always come back to the page.

In summary? Every case of writer’s block is treatable. Just don’t strive for perfectly perfect perfectness yet (unless you’re in editing purgatory, but that’s a worry for another day). Always remember that you’re good enough, smart enough and, gosh darn it, people will like your books. Just keep that creative well full, repeatedly apply butt to chair, fingers to keys, pen to paper, and the words will come back.

~*~

Kristen Brockmeyer

Here’s To Writing and Your Your Brain! Cheers! by Amy Kennedy

Why does suckitude set in when we have a goal? It’s almost as if one part of our brain says, Yay! I’m going to be a best-selling author! As another part reacts with: that sounds scary and risky and riddled with failure, and failure is bad and so is sticking out your neck, remember that one time? Let’s look at Facebook instead.

 

I was at a writer’s event recently where I heard Roseanne Bane speak on brain science and writing–wow, it turns out one part of your brain wants to write, whereas another part sees it as a literal threat. And the part that wants to write doesn’t know the other part has Shut. It. Down.  The part that wants to write, the cortex, thinks it’s a loser and lazy and a procrastinator–the two parts do not talk to each other because the part that sees it as a threat, the limbic, has no LANGUAGE.

 

What?!

 

So…the side with no language the limbic or lizard brain (yeah, like anyone should listen to a lizard brain…okay, well, you should listen to the lizard brain if you’re actually in danger–then it’s the boss) puts the kibosh on it. Then, the part with language gets  to make up all kinds of stories as to why you’re a lazy stupid lump. Yay!

 

Here’s. The. Thing. Are you going to let a lizard tell you what to do? I think not!

 

Here are some of Bane’s suggestions, with my comments:

Downtime: “The brain requires rest to retain what it’s learned.” Yup. Whatcha doin? Nothin. Perfect. I have one of my downtimes (nearly) every morning; #onegoodcup project is my peaceful time. It’s awesome for ideas…or just daydreaming.

Sleep: “A sleep deprived brain cannot be creative” We all know we need sleep, we know it and we laugh at it. Okay, I really do try to get 7-8 hours every night, my brain and my face appreciate it, but sometimes one more episode of Game of Thrones, Hell on Wheels, Daredevil, or Gilmore Girls is calling your name soooo sweetly. And honestly, once in a while, we all need a little binge watching…at least, I think we do.

Exercise: “exercise doesn’t just improve your body; it improves brain function” Oy! I know this! I feel amazing when I move my body. And when I move my body I tend to get really good ideas too, gosh-darnit!

Focus: “Writing requires a special kind of focus”  I swear, the word “focus” will be my next tattoo. I’ve written about this, I’ve read about this. I’m working on this.

Meditation: “rewires your brain” I know! Right?! Again, I always feel so in the now when I’ve meditated, but there’s always so much to dooooooooooo. I have been able to squeeze in an occasional mini meditation after my one good cup,

Play: “makes your brain more powerful” One of my favorite things that I think I’m doing, but I’m not actually doing, I’m only thinking about doing. Got that?

 

I know that some folks have a few of these added to their ROW80 goals–that is fantastic. What I didn’t realize was how much they really have to do with our creativity. So, by the time you read this, I will have added these into my ROW80 goals. This was meant as an inspiration piece for all of you — but, it turns out, all of you have inspired me. Thanks!

~*~

Amy Kennedy

Writing As Coping by Fallon Brown

This is something I’ve had rolling around in my head for close to a year now. Every time I think I’ll write it, another idea always seems to pop up instead. Also, it leans more to the personal side, and I don’t know if it’s all that inspirational, so I’ve avoided writing it. But, I could be wrong about that, and the timing feels right for it now.

We often hear the advice to write what we know. Taking that at face value, there would be a lot of socially anxious thirty-year-olds who would rather have their nose in a book and not leave the house than ever have a conversation, in person or on the phone, with another person in my books. Doesn’t exactly make for a very exciting story. Also the reason why, though there may be pieces of me in the characters I write, none of them are me.

Digging a little deeper, though, there is more that I know. I know what it’s like to be a child when your parents go through a divorce and feel like you’re the one left behind. I know what it is to lose a friend to cancer. To lose a man who instantly accepted you as family just before officially joining his family. These exact situations may never come up in my stories but often the emotions do.

I’ve always had high emotions, and one way I used to deal with them was poetry. Writing has been my way of coping since I was about eight. From dealing with confused feelings to guilt even years later over how a friendship was left before losing it permanently. All the way to dealing with the grief of my father-in-law’s death two weeks before the wedding.

“Don’t make a writer mad, or you might be written into the story.” is another thing we sometimes hear. And it can certainly be true. I sometimes have to steer clear of a WiP if I’m in a particular mood. Then again, sometimes it’s the mood the story needs. The very first version of my first novel, Duty to Protect, had that happen, and it fit for the story. I think that’s the important thing. And it was rather cathartic at the time.

Last August and into September, as I was writing Flames of Retribution this subplot was working its way in, something I hadn’t planned for. At first, I didn’t realize where it was coming from. I tried to derail it, but this was the first time a story has flowed so easily. So, I decided to go with it, and I could always cut it out later. Except as I was finishing that draft, I felt like it did fit. We’ll see if others agree when my critique partner and beta readers get their hands on it. I also realized it was an upcoming anniversary that had brought out that story line.

Using writing to cope can be a good thing, but again, it has to fit in with the story. It can be therapeutic to get it all down on paper(or the screen), or to put those emotions into someone else’s perspective. But, like with a lot of things in writing, getting other eyes on it is important. To make sure it doesn’t come out of nowhere, that it really does fit with the story and your characters, that you haven’t completely lost track of the point in the midst of it. But, if all that works, then maybe that was just what the story needed anyway.

~*~

Fallon Brown

How Do You Feel? By Shan Jeniah Burton

I‘m going to start this inspirational post with a video. Those who know me probably won’t be surprised to see that it’s a Star Trek clip. If you’re not into that kind of thing, don’t worry. You don’t need to watch it; I’ll give a summary after the fact, so you don’t miss the pertinent details.

I can still remember the first time I saw this scene, and how potent it was to me. There’s Spock, katra and body finally more or less reunited, clearly at the end of a marathon of Vulcan retraining, mastering every question put to him by three rapid-fire computer screens with ease and agility, until –

How do you feel?” ask all three computer monitors, at once. 

And Spock becomes immobile, unable, at first, to form any response at all, and then, hesitantly, after a repetition or two, he answers, simply and truthfully, “I do not understand the question.”

At which point his human mother walks in, and informs him that the computers know his dirty little half-human secret, and no amount of Vulcan mind retraining can prepare him for the emotions that go with that Terran DNA he got from her (yes, I’m paraphrasing.). And then she goes on to tell him that emotions are inevitable.

Even if Spock doesn’t know how he feels, he is going to feel. Until he learns to identify and cope with his evolving emotional state, his learning will be incomplete. His mother and the computer diagnostics are preparing him for his re-entry into the world of human emotion – the kind that tends to defy even Vulcan logic. 

By the resolution of the movie, when Spock asks his Vulcan father to tell his human mother that he ‘feels fine’, we see that he has come to some level of peace with the emotional realities of his existence.

You might be asking yourself, by now, if this really is a ROW80 sponsor post. Don’t worry; you’ve come to the right spot.

I’ve been asking myself Spock’s perplexing test question frequently this month, and I expect I will keep on asking. July is tricky for me. Births and deaths come close together, and span a good deal of the month.

How do I feel?

Last week, my daughter had a birthday. It was a lovely day. We’re car-sharing with my Accomplice, and, while dropping him off at work, we decided to walk a little ways to a thrift shop we’d passed. That led to a walk to the bank to break a bill too large for a small business, and to my daughter finding money on the street, then to a used bookstore.

We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, came home with some new treasures, and laughed a lot. It was happy, fun, and fulfilling, to have that time just with her, to celebrate her growing up, and the way the curtain is slowly peeling away to reveal traces of the woman she’ll be, in another few years.

A few hours later, I was crying. Not tears of joy, or even sadness at the fact that she’s not little anymore – honestly, while I love little children, these big ones are amazing, and I don’t want to go backwards in time.

I was crying for the child I gave birth to, and who never had the chance to grow up, cry, nurse, or even leave the NICU of the hospital where he was born. I was crying for him, and for myself, because today – Monday, July 13 – might have been his twelfth birthday – but instead, he lived only twelve days, the majority of that in a coma.

How do I feel?

It shifts. I suppose that’s always true, for all of us, but, in this month of highs and lows, it’s more noticeable to me. 

How I feel matters. It matters in the way I approach my day, how much energy and focus I have to give to anything, whether writing or not, my level of tolerance for change and frustration – even what projects I’m emotionally able to work on. 

Certain things are too triggering this month, and, because I live with people and can’t just crawl under my covers and hide with my grief, I tend to avoid them until I feel I’m on more stable emotional footing.

It matters, too, in my fiction. There’s deep value in paying attention to our characters’ emotions – so often, they drive motivations, introduce conflict or resolution, make the reader care about some characters, while wanting others to get just what they deserve…

And they add texture, depth, and breadth to the story. Emotions can be the blood in the veins and the breath in the lungs that makes characters more than paper dolls the writer is playing with…like theVelveteen Rabbit, they become Real when they feel…

So, this round, my round of reflection, I’ll be asking myself, often, “How do you feel?”

And I’ll use the answers to become a better, truer writer.

There’s no trick involved, other than being pressent and open to your own emotional state. You can do it, too.

So, now, once again, I ask you –

“How do you feel?”

~*~

Shan Jeniah Burton

 

Finding Your Passion by Cindy Scott

What do you want to do? It’s a very open-ended question. Do you mean right now? Or next week? Next year? Something that involves writing maybe? Give me something to work with here. No? Okay, I guess I can’t make this intro write itself. What do I want to do? Find my passion. I decided to be a sponsor for this Round of A Round of Words in 80 Days because I want to be able to inspire others to find their passion, as I was inspired to do. Right now I want your attention for the duration of this post. Hear me out, Dear Readers, it will be worth it!

How many times have you said you wanted to write a novel or publish said novel (or anything)? I know there were a good many times that I tried to write, but would lose interest with what I was doing or just get busy. It wasn’t until later that I realized I wasn’t inspired and lacked passion. I was doing the things that I enjoyed, but I didn’t realize what I really wanted. It can be really easy to lose sight of dreams if you don’t know what it is you want.

So, how did I find it?

It started with one person. Me! It started with me, because I chose to take a path and that path came via my friend Vickie. Maybe it during some of those late night Facebook chats about wanting to be a writer? She saw something, I think. She sent me a book and told me to read it. Thinking maybe it could help, she told me to give it a read and see if it could help me figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I am not one for self-help books, but I took this little 100 page e-book. It was a story of a writer/artist and how he had learned that the secret (one of many to come) to finding your (his) passion was easy.

He found out what was standing in his way.

 

“If you really want to do something, no one can stop you. But if you really don’t want to do something, no one can help you.” 

 

Those words, they hit me pretty hard, truthfully, because I suddenly knew what was missing and standing in my way. ME!  There was a period where I tried figure it out what it was. It was me and my missing passion. Sometime later I started my blog. I had also just finish directing a show and the post show crash was hitting my hard and I need something (think therapeutic). Here I started to write…

Something else, when someone tells you that they believe in you, it makes you feel good, right? The person who gave me the book said it; the author of that book also said it. Suddenly I started to believe it. I could be a writer. I am a writer.

 

“Live deliberately. Decide: are you the kind of person things happen to, or the kind of person who makes things happen?”

 

That author, James Owen, said a lot of things in that little book, Drawing Out the Dragons. Then I realized I wanted to be that person. I wanted to live and to write deliberately. When you see it, you want it, and thus you need to good for it. Don’t let the little voices stop you, especially if those voices come from you stop you. I think I spent too much time listening to those voices; those little what-ifs are nasty little creatures. Powerful too!

Do you want it? I know I do.

It’s not always easy. It’s a battle. Sometimes you will find obstacles and speed bumps. Some days you may not want to write a single word and that’s okay. You want to know why? Because some days are not going to yield a high word count, or your muse goes on vacation, or sometimes you haven’t decided what you want yet. And you know what, that’s okay too! There really is no set plan to when you do anything. It’s just when you decide to do it, you just do it.

James had plenty of those days. Me too. But you know what?

 

“Sometimes a catastrophe is simply a course correction.” 

 

Even when there are those days when the worst happens, the catastrophe, you can still say, “I didn’t write today. It was a bad day, but tomorrow I will write.” That’s right! Every day is new and a blank canvas to create a new poem, a new story, a new painting, whatever you choose. I have had many a false start, a dead end, and half fulfilled promises. But, since finding my passion, I try to live deliberately. And it works! That catastrophe is often when the good rises from the bad. That course correction sometimes allows you to meet a publisher in your favourite coffee shop and strike up a conversation, meet your soul mate, or maybe inspiration for the novel that has been dancing around your head for forever.

Also, it is never too late. NEVER!

See, I wrote my first poem when I was about sevenish. I don’t have that poem anymore, but later in 8th grade I wrote two poems for a class project. From there I wrote in high school and college. I did spend plenty of time not writing, but that is okay too. I found out things about myself, made mistakes, and got a little dirty in the process. I then tried new things, like writing for the college paper for one semester and wrote my first one act play in 2011. I made choices. Sometimes they weren’t the right ones, but they did make me into who I am. And eventually I found my passion.

If I can give you any advise, Dear Readers, it is this: choose to live with a purpose, find your passion and go for it. It might take some time, but the key is, don’t give up. James didn’t. I didn’t either.

Finally I leave you with some words…I believe in you.

~*~

Cindy Scott

Taking Inspiration from the Beginning: How to Move Past a Stalled Draft by Beth Camp

Thank you, Beth, for pinch hitting this round!

StartWhereYouAre

Photo of Bay View, Lake Pond Oreille, Idaho (Camp 2015).

 

Back when I taught a class or two of literature, I read somewhere that a truly great writer sets the theme of the whole story in the very first paragraph. My students didn’t believe me. So we tried analyzing a few opening paragraphs. There to our surprise, the writers had laid out the theme, subtly, of course, but in a few phrases, the basic conflict, mood, and genre of the story was implied.

Since then, I’ve discovered setting this not-quite-hook applies to even my own ugliest of drafts.

So why am I thinking about theme, conflict, character arc, and that opening hook today? Because my current novel — 90,000 words on paper — languishes. The appropriate ending escapes me. So I’m deep in revision, as Adrienne Rich said so poignantly, “Re-vision-the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction . . . .”

Where did I go wrong? I used those 3×5 cards to front-end engineer the overall structure, wrote character studies for all main characters, had a blast writing the chapters, letting the words flow more or less in line with those plotting cards, and revised to my heart’s content so that each scene would sing true to the story.

But, somehow caught up in chronicling what happened next, I lost sight of my characters’ motivations, their hopes and dreams, their flaws.

The last chapters found my two main characters facing each other across an abyss of irreconcilable differences at a time (mid-19th Century), when friendly divorce was unheard of. I hoped for a happy resolution. Alas, not even a great heart would forgive a man for taking another wife and fathering children, all of whom yet lived. And I didn’t want to maim the male character as a cosmic excuse for seeking comfort, or kill him off to create a wound my female character would necessarily need to heal.

So setting aside the drama, I’ve begun re-vision. Surprisingly, my process has led right back to the beginning, that opening chapter, that opening scene, those first few words that paint the essential conflict between my two main characters. I offer my process here in the hopes you may find it useful.

Draft a theme and blurb – without looking at your stalled draft. Name the key characters and the key conflict that underpins the whole story.

Rewrite the synopsis of each chapter as it is – so the whole story as it unfolds is absolutely clear and on ‘paper’.

Read through the chapter synopsis once to get a sense of the ‘big picture.’ Underline main characters and key conflicts so you can see where they appear, what they’re doing (and maybe why). Think again about their relationships, inner motivations, and flaws. Note: I was surprised to “see” that the main conflicts between my main characters didn’t emerge right away at all. Yet all through the drafting stage, I had thought these conflicts were obvious.

Make notes (pencil, pen, or virtual CAPS on that word-processed page) for anything that’s missing or seems a bit off. Add a brief description of what needs to be in this section, this chapter, this scene.

Write a synopsis of each section. Analyze how all fits together to support that theme you drafted at the beginning. OK, revise the theme if it no longer fits the story (or plan to revise the story so it supports the theme).

Ruthlessly chop away any chapter or scene that doesn’t belong. Note: I’m a chicken at this stage. I have a separate file named “scenes not used” that’s organized by chapter. In reality, I’ve never used any scene once moved to this file, but it serves as a kind of safety net, reassuring me that my work is not lost.

Write those new scenes. Refine the opening once again. Edit, edit, edit!

 

Once you are satisfied the opening, the story overall, and the ending are all cohesive, and the writing at this stage is the best you can create, send the whole draft out to your beta readers and look forward to another revision or two or three. Then, celebrate the ending of this story with another beginning – your next book.

Following this process (steps 1-5) has taken me about three weeks. I’m feeling better about my characters, the story I want to tell, and how it all fits together. Would it have been easier to have planned the story ahead of time? I still wonder. Since I’m currently writing historical fiction, the facts of a particular time shape the story. Maybe next time, though, I’ll write more productively. Or, maybe this is just how I work, slowly, very slowly.

Maybe you’ve never experienced a draft that simply stalled – rather like the sun not rising in the east or the snow geese not returning at winter. But just maybe my comments will help you to move past plot holes with aplomb.  That’s my hope.

A final note: I do subscribe to a few of those inspiring writerly newsletters (see links below for a few of my favorites). This week, Roz Morris suggested that our characters – at the very beginning of the story – need to appear “off balance.” Her post “How to add jeopardy to your story BEFORE the main conflict starts” says that by beginning with a sense of unease or instability, readers connect more intensely with our characters and identify with their conflicts. Her article gave me another layer to add to writing about my characters and helped me understand that elusive deep point of view.

Meanwhile, we each tell our stories from the heart, revising and learning the craft of writing as we persevere. May your writing go well!

A few blogs to check out:

 ~*~

Beth Camp