Posted in Writing, Writing rituals

Don’t cure writer’s block: Avoid it!

So, what is writer’s block? Is it a real thing? Damned if I know. I’ve never had it. No, really. I. Have. Never. Had. Writer’s. Block. I’ve been writing for thirty-plus years and cannot ever say I’ve been blocked.  Stuck from time to time, maybe. But it only lasts for a nanosecond, and I find myself able t move forward. I think it’s because (a) I don’t buy into the notion that it’s a thing for all writers, and (b) I have some habits that seem to help me void the dreaded block.

We all get stuck once in a while. We just get unstuck. Being blocked is being paralyzed by an inability to continue a project you’re working on. This paralysis is a problem and a problem that sits squarely inside a writer’s head. Does that make it real? Only if you want it to be.

I’m not the only writer who doesn’t think writer’s block is a real thing. Or at least we can avoid it.

“I don’t believe in writer’s block. For me, there’s no such thing as writer’s block―don’t even say writer’s block.” ~ Judy Blume

“Writer’s block doesn’t exist…lack of imagination does.” ~ Cyrese Covelli

“Writer’s block is just an excuse by people who don’t write for not writing.” ~ Giando Sigurani

“Writer’s block is just a fancy way of saying ‘I don’t feel like doing any work today.’” ~ Meagan Spooner

Here are the ways I avoid writer’s block.

1 – At the first sign of being stuck in a project or when the characters seem to have stopped talking, I change my environment. I get up and go for a walk. I do the laundry. I make a sandwich. I don’t’ just take my writing to a different space―I put my head into a different space.

2 – To avoid falling into the trap of seeing only the problem―or even letting the situation arise in the first place―I do some writing practice every day. I have notebooks of all types and will write something. Sometimes, I write a script. Other times a blog post for the travel blog I write with my husband. Sometimes, it’s just a few paragraphs.

3 – I always have at least two projects on the go at the same time. I am always writing a novel―always. That’s a given. But I also write scripts for my YouTube Channel and often have another book at some stage of gestation. For many years, I always had a fiction and a nonfiction project on at the same time. My newest novel (out next month) was written while I was also writing How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal that Sells. Stuck in one project? Move to the other, then come back.

4 – I have a writing ritual. Before I begin writing, I always have a cup of coffee. Always. Sometimes, I add a yoga session before the coffee, but the coffee is a ritual that gets me moving. It’s not about the caffeine. It’s about sipping the coffee mindfully. This means that you’re not thinking about your writing during the ritual―you’re thinking about the coffee. Or the yoga. Or the Chopin Nocturne you’re playing on the piano. Then you write.

5 – I have a second creative outlet. I design clothing and create garments. This is a major creative outlet for me that often feeds my primary passion: writing. You might take up sketching, playing music, ballet, oil painting, singing, making Kumihimo jewellery or whatever other creative passions ignite you. You’ll be amazed at how this creative outlet can get your writing muse on the ball.

I’m going to give Erica Jong the last word (you know her, of course??)

“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.” ~Erica Jong

So, if you’re afraid of being judged, just write for yourself. Writer’s block will dry up.

I can almost guarantee it. Almost.

Posted in Journals, Writing, Writing craft

5 tips to make better use of your journals and notebooks

You have journals, right? Writers have journals.

The authors of an interesting article in The Guardian newspaper in 2018 about the inner workings of writers’ journals said this: “Note-taking is not just a method for remembering. It is a way a writer tells himself, or herself, a story―and this becomes a process of life, a mode of being.”[1]

But this story-to-self is unpublishable. And that’s where we begin.

Your notebooks and journals serve several purposes, but one of them is NOT to be published. Ever. They are for your eyes only. That’s the beauty of them. They are probably also the only time you write long-hand these days. I know a few writers write without a computer, but that’s not who I’m talking to here. I believe that a writer needs a pen-and-paper journal or two (or three).

I have five tips to help you make better use of your notebooks and journals. (Skip to the bottom to see me talk about these tips).

1 – Choose your writing instrument carefully.

Your pen (or pencil if you prefer) should glide across the paper. If it doesn’t, you won’t write as much or as often. There should be no scratching at all.

2 – Use it every day.

I mean it. Every day. Without fail. (well, almost veery day) Write something. Try Natalie Goldberg’s approach from her wonderful book Writing Down the Bones for writing practice. Start with “I remember…” and keep your hand moving for 10 minutes.

3 – Turn it into your artistic ritual.

Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit (which I’ve mentioner before) has a wonderful section on artist’s rituals. For example, composer Igor Stravinsky had to sit at his piano and play a Bach fugue every morning before he began work. Julia Cameron, author of the now-classic The Artist’s Way, talks about “morning pages” for writers: a ritual that gets the creative mind in the mood. Make your daily journal writing your own personal ritual.  

4 – Have more than one.

This is my approach. I have one for gathering snippets. One for each project I’m working on or thinking about. A “big-idea” book. I reach for one or the other several times of day as I sit at my computer when I see, hear or think of ideas don’t belong in that particular manuscript.

5 – Regularly review your journals to mine them for inspiration.

Your jotted notes that capture your thoughts and observations are a treasure trove of ideas. Think of them as a treasure chest you can open whenever you want, whenever you’re suffering from writer’s block, whenever you’re looking for new ideas. Remember that you were impressed enough by the thought to write it down. Why did it impress you? Go back and figure it out.

Is your notebook a diary? It can be, but for most writers, it doesn’t seem to be. Use it to try things and remember things. But just never publish it. And remember, it is the one piece of writing you’ll do that is unhackable!


[1]

‘Messy attics of the mind’: what’s inside a writer’s notebook? https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/06/tales-masters-notebooks-stories-henry-james

Posted in Writing, Writing craft

5 tips for writers to make better use of their blogs

You have a blog, don’t you? If you don’t, you might consider starting one―but probably not for the reasons you think.

I can’t remember what I was thinking when I started this writing blog in 2011―ten years ago. My writing life was at a different point then, and the objectives I had at the time no longer make sense. Yet, I continue to write. I took a hiatus for a while when my career and life didn’t give me much extra time, but I always come back to it. I use it for lots of things, although lately, I seem to be focusing on giving writing advice. This focus is merely an evolution reflecting both me and my career.

My first blog post was called A book’s backstory…or a writer’s backstory? And this is, of course, the reason why this blog is called Backstory. In that post, I considered whether I’d focus on my own backstory (a slice of the writer’s life kind of thing) or my books’ backstories (my process and plans). In the end, I didn’t have to make a decision. It simply evolved. And you don’t have to make a decision either. You just need to blog.

There’s a tendency for writers to feel one of two ways about a blog. Either they think a blog is simply a tool for selling books, or they think it’s a waste of time. I believe that it is neither and that there are good reasons for you to consider blogging.  Chief among them is that a blog is a space where you can build your reputation as a writer while connecting with readers through a feedback loop. Lots of great ideas come from readers, you know.

Consider spending five minutes watching the video linked below for my details on the tips.

  1. I suggest that you begin with an objective or two. Even if you’ve been blogging for a while, are you really sure why you’re doing it? Are you sure about what you’re trying to accomplish? This is where you begin. Then it can evolve.
  2. Consider using your blog for writing practice. We all need to practice our writing, and not all our writing belongs in long-form material.
  3. Use your blog to write about interesting finds from your research that didn’t make it into a book or article. You might even find, through writing, this becomes the basis for a new piece.
  4. Conduct an annual review of your blog. This is something I should have done from the beginning. I do it now. I answer a couple of questions: Am I still focused on my objectives, or have I steered off into another territory? Is that where I really want to be?
  5. Do not turn your blog into a selling tool. Like your website in general, avoid, at all costs, the temptation to use your blog to bludgeon readers with a sales pitch for your books. Of course, you can mention your books. After all, that’s why many of your blog readers are following you. But don’t’ short-change them by promoting your books in every blog post.

Obviously, there’s a downside to blogging: it takes time. However, I think this is time well spent if your blog is focused and stays on point. You need to write something every day, and it doesn’t have to be on a major project. Perhaps your blog is a way for you to get in that writing, even between projects. Keep in mind that a blog can also be a good way to grow your audience, but it will be time better spent if you focus on what it can do for your writing rather than your sales.

Oh, and make sure it’s well-written and looks professional.