Looking at Your Writing from a New Perspective (Breaking Writer’s Block)

It has been a while since I’ve written. For a number of reasons, but largely because I have been busy and I have been stuck.

I know, I know. The age-old excuses.

But they plague us all, don’t they?

I work full time and I am a full time graduate student. So time is tight. But everyone’s time is tight. As Stephen King advises, sometimes you just have to sit your @$$ in the chair and just do the work, but sometimes it is a whole lot easier to make yourself get in the chair, let alone accomplish anything in said chair. To be honest, I can usually make time for my writing when I am pumped about a project.

In comes excuse number two, being stuck. For the first time in months I am writing daily and loving it. I wrote a novel a while back and tried to publish it. I got some offers, but nothing I was crazy about. Considered self-publishing, and realized I wasn’t happy enough with the book to put it out there. (Funny how if you think about doing all that editing and marketing on your own, you realize the story might need work,)

So I’ve been in the quagmire of serious re-writing. But I kept getting bogged down with the old story, and as a result, I was never quite happy with any of the new stuff.

I played around with a couple other projects but was bored for the most part. Nothing was really taking off, and I couldn’t quite let go of the last novel.

Finally, I set my butt in the chair again and started brainstorming a totally new novel. It incorporated some ideas from my old novel and some of the ideas from the re-writes, but it was an entirely new story, a new world. I came at the writing from a truly new perspective.

And the story has taken off, I am excited to say. I am waking early to sit my butt in that chair and write. I am staying up late after the homework is done to write.

Sometimes you have to look at things from a new perspective. Try another genre or writing style or whatever it is.

Mix things up.

If what you are writing is not exciting you, perhaps there is a reason, and you’ve got to embrace that reason rather than try to hide from it. If you are having anxiety attacks over sitting your butt in the chair, maybe it’s time for a new project.

Now, everyday is not going to be fun, of course. But if your excitement and joy are gone for weeks or months, maybe it’s time to try something new and different.

This is true for writing, and maybe for life in general.

Sometimes we need a new perspective. Sometimes we need to try something a little different. It might just reignite our passion.

It did for me, anyway.

Overthinking the Little Trouble Spots and Writer’s Block

I am a nerd, and I love world-building. I love coming up with all the little details and why the world is the way it is in my stories. But sometimes it can kill my writing.

inception_2I have been stuck on a scene in my latest WIP for a couple weeks now. The story is a sci-fi space adventure set 250 years in the future, and so there are a lot of details I have been considering as I am going along. I got to a point where I was trying to explain why something was a certain way, but I hadn’t figured it out yet. It didn’t fully make sense in the social structure I’d come up with so far.

I have run into trouble like this before, and I’ve found that getting stumped on world-building in the first draft is a little silly. On my own part. I am still figuring a lot of things out in this draft, like most first drafts I think.

I’ve decided to move forward and deal with those details later, once I’ve discovered more about the story and the novel-world through plot movement.

The thing is, we throw out a ton of stuff from the first draft anyway. Often the setting itself completely changes or evolves over time. Things tend to change significantly during subsequent drafts. Characters get dropped or combined, society gets made darker or less, or technology advances more, or a rural setting suddenly makes for sense than urban. Spend a lot of time aching over it, and it will probably get cut or changed.

Maybe not, you’re right.

writers-block-but-for-memes_o_1064153My point is: don’t waste your time and headaches on the first attack. You don’t need to get it all right and figured out just yet. Keep the plot moving (and the writing moving). The quicker you get the story down, the quicker you can figure out what needs dropped and what needs expanded.

Don’t be afraid to leave a plot hole there to deal with in the second draft, so you can just move forward.

I spent waaaay too much time editing and re-editing and pounding out details as I was writing my first novel. I changed nearly all of it in later drafts. Sure, the experience helped me figure out some things that stayed, but a lot of it was a waste of time. Or at least, poorly executed time. I don’t really think any writing time is a waste entirely.

But there is nothing wrong with learning to be more efficient, right?

Don’t sweat it too much the first go round. Just get that story on paper. A complete story will give you a lot better perspective for dealing with the trouble spots.

Happy writing!

Planning to Write (overcoming block and busyness)

inkFor several years now I have been “actively” writing. That is, upon being struck with a killer idea and taking a class that forced me to produce something on a semi-regular basis, I have now been working on some sort of manuscript ever since. However, those years have been filled with long lulls of inactivity and un-productivity, most commonly known as either writer’s block or just plain ol’ busyness of life (other classes, getting married, graduating, going overseas, paying the bills, hanging with friends, etc.).

At times, the writing comes easy, and I’ve been able to overcome the busyness, and have shelled out large chunks of work in short periods. And then, the newness of the writing gets worn off, or the story itself stands still, or I begin to wonder where things are going, or I’m just overwhelmed by the gravity of a certain pivotal scene in the story, which I want to get just right. Eventually, the writing fades, and as a result I completed the first draft (though there were other partial drafts before it) of THE LINGERING SHADOW over the course of about two years-ish, an abhorrently long period for one draft, even if it does clock in at 100,000 words.

I never wrote with goals or on a schedule before, unless I was taking a writing class with deadlines (in all honesty, that was the only reason I took the classes, so that I would be forced to work on my precious MS). I wrote the first half of the book over the course of maybe six months, when I was motivated and had a critique group (I’ll blog about those soon) keeping me producing regularly, though six months is still slow for half a book. Then, I got stuck. I wasn’t sure how to pull off a big transition in the narrative. And I got busy (don’t the two always come hand in hand? Block and busyness?). I almost completely set it aside for four or five months. Then, I got going again. Though I wasted loads of time editing things I totally threw out in the second draft (I’ll blog about that soon as well), I moved forward again for a few more chapters and got stuck again. I didn’t write for nearly nine months (Planning a wedding is a real time-sucker, let me tell you!).

Then, winter storm ATLAS struck the Midwest, and I was snowed-in for three days with a wife who needed to catch up on homework. And so I, with nothing better to do, all excuses gone, picked the book up again. I decided that, rather than spend time editing to build back into the flow of the story, I would just try jumping right back in. I’d been reading over what I’d written over the previous few weeks, trying to find the time to write again, trying to get the voice and the feel back. But I just went for it. It was a little shaky, but I got it, and I wrote a monumental couple chapters during that blizzard.

I was so excited I set a goal to keep myself going. I had been longing to finish the book for so long, so I could finally see if it went anywhere. Finally, with a third of the book to go, and the end in sight, I vowed to be done by New Year’s Day, two and a half months away. I got real busy again, once the blizzard passed, and I had to go back to work and to life. But the goal suddenly was always somewhere in the back of my mind, haunting me. And I met the goal. I finished on New Year’s Eve (I spent the whole day writing the final chapter).

But finishing, I realized, was only the beginning.

Perhaps you too have struggled to stay consistently productive. I’ve read several books on the process of writing, but they often come from the perspectives of professional writers, who it is their full-time job to write. Most of us don’t yet have that luxury. Here are my suggestions, which helped me finish my completely re-worked and re-written second draft in under three months. This is no formula. Only some suggestions.

Set a Goal for Yourself

Really this applies to anything in life, but certainly for writers, for we seem to have a procrastinate tendency. Set a goal for yourself, make it attainable within your schedule. Tell yourself you want to write 5 or 10 or 20,000 words a month, and make adjustments in your life to meet that goal. The only key is to write. And, I believe, the quicker you can get the story down, the better. Long months or years or writing give you time to forget things in the story, or why you’re even writing it at all. Hold onto the initial fire and excitement, and make yourself keep going. Staying regularly in the story is also very helpful to avoid block (not a cure, but it helps). Things stay much more vivid in your mind.

Rearrange Your Schedule

There are a lot of lazy (and unpublished) writers out there. There are many who consider themselves writers, who dream of publication, or even just of having a completed story, but don’t take the necessary measures to accomplish their goal. You probably have more free time than you realize. Turn off the TV a bit, stay off the Internet, and use that time to write. It may mean saying no to those season tickets, or to going to the bar Friday night, or whatever it is. If you’re not published, you are more than likely working full-time, and/or parenting full-time. I get it. Life is busy. I know. But with your goal set, now you’ve got to take the next step. Don’t give yourself an excuse. Use you time wisely. Wake up earlier. Stay up a little later. You can’t mess around. I look at the beginning of each week and plan the windows I know I can get some writing done, and I do it. I pack that time.

Establish a Distraction-Free Environment

This seems obvious, but since we live in a multi-tasking, technological age, it is always so tempting. Turn the radio off, unless music helps you ( and then more power to you). Resist the Facebook and Twitter temptation to announce to everyone that you are #writing right now as you post. Duh. Go into full-screen mode. Go somewhere alone where it’s quiet. Coffee shops are often not the best for real productivity. Get up before the kids, or stay up after they go to bed. Or set them in front of a movie. Whatever it takes. Get rid of those distractions, and write!

Write, Write, and Keep Reading

The more you write, the better you get. It doesn’t end once you finish a manuscript. There are more drafts and a crap-ton of editing to come. And that’s before you get an editor, and the real work begins. Keep setting writing goals for yourself. Make writing a part of your weekly routine. And keep at it. And just as important, keep reading good books. The best way to know good writing is to read lots of it, and it will start to bleed into your own.

Good luck out there. Leave a comment and let me know what your process is.