Summers are for writers (and lovers, too).

Thursday, June 4th 2015 • Advice, Goals

I am writing this with a calendar full of dates spread out in front of me. The calendar’s covered in four different pen colors from all the dates that I’ve circled and crossed out and written on. The calendar’s full up on trainings, conferences, weddings, planning, appointments, and more. In fact, I can’t remember a summer this packed full of things to do.

If you know me, you know that my summers are for writing. They’re for hiding away in coffee shops and finishing a book. That will be me this summer, too, but I’ll admit that it’s a bit more daunting this year than usual.

But that doesn’t mean that I won’t be writing!

At a time like this, I remind myself of the strategies that I’ve used before to break through busy periods. I like to give myself notecards with scenes to write on and an outline to follow. I know that I will need all the structure in the world to finish this book, but I also know that I can do it. I also know that every book needs a little life, so I also know that I want to enjoy all that this summer has to offer.

So, wish me luck, wonderful readers. Next time I check in, I hope to be telling you about another finished summer novel.

Until next time,

V

These four myths about writer’s block are holding you back.

Monday, July 7th 2014 • Advice, Goals, Writing

People talk a lot about this mysterious affliction that many writers “suffer” from. I’m not kidding. This thing has been called a “condition” and it’s apparently quite contagious. If you look it up on Wikipedia (never to be trusted completely), you’ll find what appears to be a WebMD type posting about it.

Seriously, have a look at Wikipedia’s definition of writer’s block here: “Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work.” Doesn’t that sound positively scientific? And horrifying?

But I’m here to tell you that, whatever you have been told, writer’s block as we know it simply doesn’t exist.

Why? Because, as a professional writer, you cannot allow it to exist. You do not magically “lose the ability to produce new work” as a writer because you do not have the luxury of being blocked from writing. You must produce writing because that is your livelihood, and rarely do we apply the idea of this “block” to any other profession. I’m not talking about a sick day here. I’m talking about the days, weeks, and months that writers blame on “writer’s block.” That just would not fly in any other profession.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that writers have been told these myths about writer’s block, but they haven’t been told what’s actually going on. Here are the four myths about writer’s block and the real diagnosis that’s holding you back.

You don’t have writer’s block, but you don’t know what happens next in your story.
Stop thinking of writer’s block as some huge, overwhelming thing that you simply cannot get past. Start realizing that what is probably really happening is that you haven’t outlined or developed the scene/character/world enough, and as a result, you don’t know where to go next.

This summer, I told myself that I needed to finish my new book in about a month from outline to finish. I did a paper outline (according to The Writer’s Journey) and dug out the two sample chapters that I had written a few months ago. I got through maybe three more chapters before I was stuck, and it hit me that my direction was still unclear.

So, I went back to the drawing board.

Thankfully, Auggie was there to supervise.

Thankfully, Auggie was there to supervise.

I had never used notecards before, but I figured that trying something new might help me visualize the story. So, on each notecard, I put the motion that I needed in the story (“Ordinary World,” for example) and then I described the scene or chapter. I did a few cards for every motion, and I even color-coordinated based on the character that would be narrating that chapter. Then, when I sat down to write each day, I would pull a card and write that scene. If I was stuck on that scene, I would grab another card. It worked, and it made sure that I was producing work every single day. Find the method that works for you. Maybe you need to write a diary entry from a character or switch the perspective. Maybe you need to interview your setting and find out what’s going on in the world. Figure out what’s missing and address it so you can move forward.

You don’t have writer’s block, but you are distracted.

For me, it is incredibly challenging to write at home. Sometimes, I sit on my couch and churn out 1,000 words. Most times, though, I start to write and then get distracted by the pillows on the couch or the dishwasher or how nice it looks outside. I’m the kind of person that likes to “clock in” to writing, and for me, that means that I often need a change of scenery. To make that happen this past month, I would make it a point to migrate to a coffee shop at least once a day so that I could focus. The coffee shop made me feel like I was going to work, and I got a lot done in only an hour or so. Then, when I went home, I usually still felt inspired and got even more work done. Dishwasher be damned!

Thanks for the chai-fueled inspiration, M Street Coffee!

Thanks for the chai-fueled inspiration, M Street Coffee!

Go to the park. Go to the library. Get out of the house and find your “office” where the writing will happen. Plus, if you buy a $4 chai tea latte and don’t do any writing, you are going to feel miserable. Stay at that coffee shop until you’ve written 1,000 words (or whatever your goal for the day is). Chances are, you will at least produce something!

You don’t have writer’s block, but you are in need of some guidance.

As I mentioned above, a lot of “stuck” places come because you don’t know what is going to happen next. A lot of writers hate outlines (I love them) and choose to write without them. That’s fine, and if it works for you, I’m happy for you. But here’s the problem with writing without a map: writers end up writing the same story for years because they have no idea where it ends or how it ends.

My number one advice is to find a style of outlining that works for you and try it. I like the mythic structure outlined in The Writer’s Journey because it’s so pliable. I’m not a write-by-numbers kind of writer, but I like the basic structure of the hero’s journey. I deviate from the outline quite often, but it’s a good place to start and makes me answer serious questions about my characters’ hopes, dreams, desires, obstacles, and more.

Also, when I find a rough patch of the story, it’s really helpful to open up The Writer’s Journey and read about what other stories do at that point. Is there usually a face-off with the villain? Should I try that? Is there a mentor in my story? Do I need that? The answer won’t always be “yes,” and sometimes I’ll try something and it won’t work. But it usually shakes up my writing and gives me ideas, and that’s essentially to producing work.

Master writers.

Master writers.

If you find that you are struggling with a scene, pack up some writing books (three of my favorites are pictured here), go to your office, and read up. Flip to random chapters or, if you’re like me, reread parts that you’ve bookmarked as helpful in the past. There are ideas waiting for you in those pages if you’re willing to use them.

You don’t have writer’s block, but you do need a break.

This past month, I’ve been writing 4,000+ words a day on average. That is way more than I normally write, but I was able to do it thanks to the strategies above. However, I would not have been able to do it if I didn’t give myself moments to just enjoy the summer. In addition to writing this summer, I’ve met up with old friends, gone to the beach, gotten ice cream, gone shopping, and more. Writing needs life in order to flourish. If your writing has hit a wall, consider calling up someone to go get coffee or go to a museum. Talk to people and enjoy your life, and then come home and try to look at that blank Word document in a new way.

Do not miss out on beautiful days like this. They will make your writing so much better.

Do not miss out on beautiful days like this. They will make your writing so much better.

It’s okay if you only write 40 words on one day. If you’re stuck, go walk your dog or make a salad or something. Listen to some new music while you drive into a new town. Try a new restaurant. Then, go to your office the next day and make things happen.

Remember, believing in writer’s block is essentially telling yourself that you cannot write for whatever reason. Take a good look at what is actually holding you back, address it, and get back to producing. You are a writer, and as long as you keep the pen (or the keys) moving, there is nothing that can hold you back.

Summer goals!

Tuesday, June 10th 2014 • Advice, Goals

Books!

Are you all as excited about summer as I am? Time for writing and reading at coffee shops, parks, the beach, the pool. The list really goes on.

So how do you make the most of summer? Here are my quick tips for making it happen.

Read at least one book a week. Dig around your bookshelves and find books that you forgot you even bought, and then read them. You can also reread some summer favorites. For example, I always reread To Kill a Mockingbird and the Harry Potter series. They put me in the mood for summer.

Read different kinds of books. Stick to your favorite genre for a majority of your picks, but explore some new genres, too. Choose a memoir, a collection of nonfiction essays, a graphic novel, hard sci-fi, or anything else. Expand those horizons!

Set a word count that’s higher than you would normally hit. I like to do the math at the beginning of summer: if I want to write 35,000 words, I choose a due date and then divide by the number of days. It’s usually higher than I would normally shoot for, but it’s summer, and I can handle getting up a little bit earlier to make it happen.

Relocate. During summer, it can be hard to sit down at your desk and write. So get out of the house! Find a coffee shop to be your writing home-away-from-home, or head to the pool for some reading.

Have notebook, will travel.

Monday, April 21st 2014 • Advice, Goals

Hello everyone! I come to you today fresh off of a mini-vacation/road trip. My boyfriend, dog, and I traveled up to San Francisco. On the way there, we stopped in Cambria, Big Sur, and any other town that caught our fancy on the drive up from Los Angeles. The trip inspired me to write a post about how to write while traveling. So, without further ado, here are my tips accompanied by photos of my trip (taken by Brendan Mitchell).

Photo by Brendan Mitchell.

View from our room in Cambria.

Tip #1: Bring a notebook.
I know, I know. It’s my go-to tip. However, this is especially important on a trip. Whether you’re driving or flying, having a notebook handy makes it easy to jot down details or plot sketches. See a waterfall that reminds you of glass as it shatters? Write it down! It’s easy to think that you’ll remember it when you get home, but after hours of travel, you’ll want a shower, not your computer. Get those details down and deal with them later.

Photo by Brendan Mitchell.

Beautiful Big Sur.

Tip #2: Bring a (physical) book.
There can be a lot of unexpected downtime during travel. Sometimes, you get to the airport with an hour to spare. Or, maybe, your travel partner needs a nap when you’ve got excess energy. I also highly advocate that you bring a physical book because traveling for hours can do a number on your eyesight. I bring my Kindle, too, but I just know I can fall back on a physical book. Novellas are helpful in this instance, too, because they’re smaller and easier to pack.

Photo by Brendan Mitchell.

Golden Gate Bridge.

Tip #3: Use the time to write anything.
I left on this trip working on a novel, but I didn’t limit myself to writing just that story. With a change of scenery can come a change in story, and that’s okay. It’s important when you’re writing a story to focus on that story, but that doesn’t mean you shut yourself off to new ideas–especially on vacation. If the start of a short story or a nonsensical idea flits into your mind, indulge it. Write it down in your notebook and look at it when you get home. This doesn’t mean that you should abandon your current project. It just means allow yourself to experience new inspiration, and then save the development for later when you finish your current project.

Photo by Brendan Mitchell.

Alcatrez.

Tip #4: It’s okay if you don’t write during the trip.
You read that correctly. It’s okay if, while on vacation, you don’t write. If you don’t sit down on the steps of some famous building and get cracking on a new novel, it’s okay. If you spend your vacation eating chocolate and swimming in the pool, it’s more than fine. Sometimes a mental break can produce the most focused writing when you get home. However, you must promise me one thing: take lots and lots of pictures. Use these when you get home. Take pictures of old brick buildings, diners, gas stations, empty deserts, and more. Use them for inspiration when you hit a slow writing day as writing prompts.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for a long overdue nap. Happy writing, world.

V

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