5 Ways to Unlock Writer’s Block

Ever find yourself . . .

Reading and rereading a scene and not knowing where to go next.

Staring at your computer and letting your focus go in and out, in and out.

Typing anything, just to get the momentum going.

Playing a mental tennis match where no idea seems right.  Even your eyes bounce left to right as you discard bad idea after bad idea.

These are symptoms of . . . dum dum dum . .. WRITER’S BLOCK.

Road_Block,_

You are not getting through here!

Yes, it’s NaNoWriMo and you have no time for waste on writer’s block.  So here are five quick fixes to get the engine going again.

  1. Rewrite (but do not erase) the previous scene.  Perhaps that is the culprit. Perhaps the story needs to go a different direction and your muse refuses to work until you realize you made a wrong turn.  Try a completely different path in your last scene and see if that feels better and opens up where the story needs to go next.
  2. Turn off your computer. (after reading this brilliant article of course). and
    1. Go for a drive
    2. Walk the dog
    3. Fold the laundry
    4. Take a shower
  3. Talk it out with someone.  Anyone.  They might not even have to contribute.  Thinking out loud may be all you need.  I find my dogs to be quite attentive listeners sometimes. If you have a writing buddy, they may offer suggestions.  They may offer one that you like.  Or more likely, that argumentative side of your brain will negate their idea and come up with what you were looking for.  Healthy debate gets brain juices flowing.
  4. Draw it out.  I’m a terrible artist.  But my oldest sister who is a talented artist recently told me, “When writers are stuck, visual creating can help unstick. And verbal helps to unstick the visual creative.” Doodle.  Get out your kids’ crayons.    Even more fun: Finger Paint! Don’t consciously think about your story.
  5. Play! Jigsaw puzzles.  Legos! Scrabble.  Have some fun.  You have gotten yourself all worked up with the stress from writing, the pressure to be perfect, to get your word count in.  Play!

Writing a story is world building and magical.  If it has stopped being that, take a break for a while.  It’s going to be okay.

Fast and Furious Bonus 5:

  • Dance
  • Read
  • Pour a drink
  • Change your playlist
  • Write a blog!

Got a tip? Leave it here!

Random Brain Babble during NaNoWriMo

You’re cute and your sweet, but your not getting my meat.  (Words spoken to my begging dog. Yep, I’ve been dabbling in rhyme during NaNoWriMo).

Which led to this thought:

What was it like to live with Dr. Seuss? Could he just not help himself but to speak in rhythm and rhyme?

This stuff is crap!

If my dog has to go out one more time and not do anything . . .! thinking brain

Wow! I think that was actually pretty good!

I really need a dictaphone that’s waterproof.

I might have to ask a person to switch tables at the cafe.  I was really in the groove at their table.

Can’t forget the Flintstone vitamins for the kids because they better not get sick during NaNoWriMo.

I wonder how much a personal chef costs.

I can’t let my mom read this.  I don’t want to make her cry.

Please let the school bus be ten minutes late today.  I just need ten more minutes!

This is getting really serious.  It needs levity.  How do I be funny again? Crap, I’ll have to go back and add humor and levity.  Right now my brain is stuck in emotional.  Where’s the chocolate?

I’ve been sitting a long time, but I can’t stop now.  Better do some butt clenches.  It’s exercise, right?

Fellow writer,

Keep at it!  It’s only the tenth.  It is the tenth right?  I’m not even sure what day of the week it is.

It’s OK, I’m behind too.  Just keep writing, writing, writing. (Can you hear Dory singing?) I love to write! but . . . NO EDITING!  Resist! Resist! Resist!

I’d love to hear your random thoughts.  Unless I’m the only who whose brain seems to be splitting into several personalities as I write.  Maybe it’s just me. Or me. 😉

OK – quit procrastinating.  That was a good brain break.  Yep, absolutely nothing of substance here today.

Bookmark These Pages

Whether you are participating in NaNoWriMo or not, these sites will make helpful resources for your writing. bookmark

  • Got a grammatical question? Try Daily Writing Tips.
  • Ever use a word cloud? It can be a great way to keep a visual reminder of your character’s traits or a fast way to see if you over use a word.  Word Clouds for Kids worked best for me.
  • You know about thesaurus.com, but sometimes a rhyme is what you need instead.  Try Rhyme Brain.
  • An app that identifies what age range you’ve written to and offers suggestions on how to tighten.  A great little editor for the cost of a couple cups of coffee: The Hemingway Editor
  • If you just want to make sure you are writing appropriately for your target age, Readability-Score is free, but doesn’t offer the editorial options available in Hemingway.

Bonus: If you are looking for good reading about writing, Kristen Lamb’s blog always offers something worth reading.

I received some of these from fellow writers in my critique group, Six Pens.  If you’re not in a critique group, find one ASAP.  Nothing sharpens your writing better.

If you have any websites to bookmark, please share!

Now, back to NaNoWriMo

Five Bizarre Medical Practices

From my research log: Five Bizarre Nineteenth Century Medical Practices*

19th century medicine

Does a child have a bloody nose? Try dropping a key down his back between his clothes and skin.  It should swiftly remedy the problem.  It does not, however, have the same effect on adults.

Got a cold? Dip some flannel in boiling water, sprinkle it with turpentine, and lay it on your chest.

Do not visit a sick person if you are sweating or hungry.  These both leave you more susceptible to contracting the illness.

For Concussions: Call for the surgeon who may apply leeches if the brain gets inflamed. Antibilious pills (strong laxatives) may be given to clear the liver and promote better blood circulation. If the patient is unable to keep food down, an injection of equal parts milk and whiskey can be injected into the rectum.

And lastly, for a drowning victim, rub the body dry, clear the mouth, raise the head, and place in a warm bath.  Tickle the nose with a feather or use smelling salts.  When the victim starts to come to, give him a little wine or brandy. And whatever you do, do not hang the victim upside down by his ankles.

*obvious no-duh statement: do not try these at home, or anywhere else for that matter!

Sources:

19th Century Historical Tidbits

Discovering Lewis and Clark

The Book of Household Management

Medical Home Remedies: As Treated by 19th and 20th Century Doctors

Jane Austen’s World

Twelve Days and Twelve Ways to Brainstorm that Novel

countdown

NaNoWriMo starts in twelve short days.  Here are twelve ways to get ready to write that novel.

Keep in mind that even with elaborate planning, your novel will likely morph into a completely different beast than what you initially set out to write.  That’s ok.  Roll with it.

Day 1: Most novels are character driven.  Spend some time getting to know your main character (MC) better.  Take the Myers Briggs Test as your character.  This one is only four questions, so it is not the most thorough, but it is quick.  There are sixteen personality types based on those four questions. Find out what your character’s personality type is like.  This gives you a baseline perception of your MC.

Day 2: Create your character’s photo album. Include selfies, friends, home, school, places that are special.

Day 3: Write your main character’s diary.  Complete a few entries.  Try to find your character’s personality, likes, dislikes, what her friends are like, what she thinks and feels about things.  You could also complete a character questionnaire ( a lot available online, including the NaNoWriMo site), but the diary gets you writing, starts the flow, gets you thinking as your character.

Day 4: Setting: If you are writing in contemporary times in a place like where you live, than you have it easiest.  The further you deviate from the here and now, the more research you’re going to have to do.  Spend an hour researching your setting.  It won’t be much time.  Generate two lists: important info and questions I need to answer.  I keep my questions on index cards, hole punch them, and use a binder ring to keep them together.  But that’s just what I do.

Day 5: Setting: Pop culture – learn the music, books, and movies of the time.  Check out some of the books and movies from the library.  Make a playlist of the music your MC would listen to.  Surround yourself with things of the setting.

Day 6: The Antagonist: I wish I could remember where I once heard that the antagonist in your story, is the hero in his.  Head back to Myers Briggs and get to know your antagonist really well too.

Day 7: Write the scene where the MC and antagonist met.  This does not have to be used in your story, it could have happened before your story started.  If they do meet in your story, this will give you something to play with once November rolls around.

Day 8: Let the MC and antag write to each other – text, email, letters.  What are they going to say to each other? It will be interesting to see what comes out of the conversation.

Day 9: Conflict: The worst thing that can happen has to happen, and then the stakes have to be raised.  Try to come up with at least three ripple effects, what-if situations that is 5 layers deep.  Start with a small problem, how might your character handle it? What would happen next that raises the stakes? Repeat until there are at least five steps, making it harder and more uncomfortable for your MC.  You’ll learn more about your MC by putting her through conflict than from any character development chart.

Day 10: Research: It’s gotta be done.  You started a list of questions on day 4.  Find the answers to your key questions that must be answered before writing can commence.

Day 11: Cram day.  Hang out on the NaNoWriMo website.  Under the Inspiration tab, you’ll find NaNo prep.  A lot of good resources here.  Keep your brainstorming journal nearby.  Who knows what will pop in your mind.

Day 12: The most important day.  It is the day before life gets turned upside down.  And it is likely the day those movies you checked out from the library on day 5 are due.  Grab a loved one and watch one or two.  Then apologize to your loved one for what may occur over the next month.  Promise you will practice good hygiene and that you will try to visit this world as much as possible. Over the next month you will be living in the time and place you are creating and, though your ramblings may not always be coherent, they are writer’s code for “I love you!! Thank you for hanging in there with me through the worst draft.”

A good, long while

Patience. Dear, sweet patience..

I dated my boyfriend for a good, long while before we got married.

We were married for a good, long while before we decided it was time to have children.

I waited a good, long while before my oldest was ready to potty train.

I researched my first novel for a good, long while before I dared to write.

I worked on my first novel for a good, long while before it was worthy of submissions.

Now I’m sitting tight a good, long while to find that agent or publisher.

The editor said, “You’ll hear back from us within six months.”

Keeping watch over that ever loving inbox.

Umpteen squared rejections later.

I still have patience.

NaNoWriMo – no, no not Nanu Nanu

It’s lurking.  I can see it lingering over there.  Ready to pounce.  I’m tempted.  But I’m also scared!  Maybe I’m just crazy!!! It’s not a greeting from Mork from Ork, although it is kinda insane, it’s NaNoWriMo! (For Millenials and younger catch the nanu nanu reference here.)

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo starts in two and a half weeks and I might just be out of my mind enough to do it this year.

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month! The challenge is to write a novel from beginning to finish in one month’s time.  While you could do this challenge any month (I would chose October over February!), the official NaNoWriMo is November.  Yes, I hear you saying, “There’s so much going on in November with Thanksgiving and Christmas at its heels.”  I know!  That’s why it calls for a healthy portion of insanity to do this.

So Why do this?

Writing a novel is intimidating.  Period!  When I wrote my first novel I got stuck after completing the first act with rewrite after rewrite.  The best thing that happened to me was signing up for a conference in which I had to submit the LAST twenty pages.  There’s nothing like a deadline!  I know that awful feeling of having a story to write, but petrified to start. There is also the “I don’t have the time to write” excuse.  Clear your schedule for one month.  It’s just one month.  After 30 days of writing you will have a completed novel. Publishable? Highly unlikely.  But draft one is done. And done it time to take the next month off to let the story marinate while you hang the mistletoe and deck the halls.

I may be crazy enough to give this a whirl, so how do I do this?

The goal that NaNoWriMo sets forth is to write a fifty thousand novel.  Depending on your story this may not be enough, so you may have to adjust your daily word goal.  Take your word goal and divide by 29 because let’s face it, who’s going to write while in a turkey coma?

35,000 (a middle grade novel) = 1,206 words per day (wpd)

50,000 (NaNoWriMo goal) = 1,724 wpd

75,000 (YA novel) = 2,586 wpd

160,000 (the next Harry Potter – average length) = 5,517 wpd (yikes!)

Besides word count, what else should you keep in mind?

  • Spend these next two weeks planning.  Research settings, history, foods.  Get to know your characters.  Especially your MC and antagonist.  Consider story lines. Are you the outlining type? Do that now.
  • Also over these next two weeks, surround yourself with things of the genre you want to write.  Does that mean wearing 18th century garb?  Hey, if it helps you get into the mind of your story about Ben Franklin (yes, I mean you!) then I say go for it.  It’s October after all.  Halloween is not that far away, you can get away with it!
  • Once November starts, write fast and furiously.  Somedays those 1,724 words will fly out of your fingers.  Other days you will bang your head against the keyboard and hope something miraculous occurs.
  • Acknowledge that it may be crap.  In fact, it probably will.  You won’t really know your story, what your characters are made of, until you start writing it and putting them in impossible situations.
  • DO NOT REWRITE!  In fact, avoid rereading!  Just read the paragraph or sentence you left off with.
  • Tune into this blog.  I’m going to be in the trenches with you.

Who’s in?

Are you a NaNoWriMo veteran?  Leave a tip in the comment box.

For more tips, check out these pages:

Brown Girl Dreaming Review

Brown Girl Dreaming is the autobiographical memoir of Jacqueline Woodson’s childhood.  It has racked up an astounding four awards!!! National Book Award, Coretta Scott King Award, Newbery Honor Book, and Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award.  Not too shabby! This review, unfortunately, does put a few smudges on all those beautiful accolades.

brown-girl-dreaming

Written in verse, we travel with Jackie from her early childhood in Columbus, Ohio, to live with her grandparents in the Nicholtown neighborhood in Greenville, South Carolina, to her final home in Brooklyn, New York.  Young Jacqueline is keenly aware that she is unlike others in her family and searches for the thing that fits her just right.

What children will like about it:

This is a story that young girls will be drawn to.  They will identify with Jackie as she struggles with knowing her place in her family and overcoming the challenges she faced with reading.  Though the book is thick, there is a lot of white space on the pages making it friendly to reluctant readers. Jackie also faces very difficult events in her life that children will either relate to from their own histories, or draw closer to Jackie as they sympathize with her. The historical backdrop is a character in itself.  While set against intense civil right battles, the personal perspective was a safe distance from some of the pivotal events, but the reader sits on edge knowing that something could happen.  The young reader will feel anger, sadness, satisfaction, worry, pride, and strength while turning these pages.

Through a writer’s eyes

The language was a cozy blanket on a rainy day.  Vivid word pictures, deep emotion, tight and succinct, only wordy on purpose and on occasion.  The house in Nicholtown felt like home to me and I melted into Grandma Georgiana’s kitchen. Daddy’s song as he sauntered home and his breath being squeezed away by emphysema, or the like, made him the most concrete character to me.  It made me want to be a child sitting on the porch with him, listening to him sing.

The story is subtle.  Jackie’s journey as she finds her way through her struggle as a reader to grow into a writer is very relatable.  However, the story took a back seat to the poetry.  Keeping in mind this is a memoir, the plot was not thick with turns and twists, but it was deeply personal.  The voice sounds like an adult remembering her youth, which is what it is, but it would be stronger if it sounded like a young girl.  This is tricky when writing in verse.  Poetry is inherently more mature, to turn the voice youthful is challenging.

Nonetheless, I was mesmerized by this story and glad it was one that was written.  I will leave you with one of my favorite parts of the book, it comes from the poem “The Ghosts of the Nelsonville House.”

Look closely. There I am

in the furrow of Jack’s brow,

in the slyness of Alicia’s smile,

in the bend of Grace’s hand . . .

There I am . . .

Beginning

Visit Ms. Woodson here to learn more about her.

Taking a Tip from Forrester

Finding_forrester

Didn’t you love it when your teacher said, “Tonight for homework I would like for you to watch on tv . . .” but then hoped the next words weren’t, “The State of the Union Address?”  Well, if you are looking for a little kick start to your writing, I encourage you to watch a movie that inspires you to write.  Some of my favorites are Finding Forrester, Stranger than Fiction, and You’ve Got Mail.

Though I haven’t watched it in a bit, I am finding myself taking advice from William Forrester, played by Sean Connery, to his young prodigy. . . .

A few years back I read Inside Out and Back Again. (my post about it)  That did it!  I was hooked on stories in verse.  I ached to write one myself, but was knee deep in the Chicago Fire at the time.  I knew it couldn’t be any ol’ story that I chose to write in verse.  It took a long time to come up with the right idea.  And now that I have it, I’M REALLY STUCK!

I’m so intimidated to follow in the steps of Thanhha Lai, Jaqueline Woodson, Karen Hess, Katherine Applegate, Alexander Kwame to name a few of the seriously polished and amazing writers who have fashioned beautiful treasure boxes of powerful language in as few as ten words on a page!  Seriously?  My word pictures lack color and clarity.  I am wordy, not succinct.  I go wide, not deep.  I am in WAY OVER MY HEAD!

books in verse

Which brings me back to Finding Forrester.  William Forrester, an acclaimed author turned hermit, offers this piece of advice to his charge, and to us.  (Paraphrased or altered by my memory). . . Starting is the worst part.  If you don’t know where to start, borrow someone else’s words and before you know it, they will turn into yours.  (No duh side bar: Keep in mind, however, the high school student did get into great trouble for plagiarism when he entered his essay into a competition.  I, nor William Forrester, are encouraging you to take someone else’s words and claim them for your own.)

With this in mind, I am studying some of my favorite novels in verse and recording bits that stand out to me.  Writing the rhythm, feeling the strength of the words, getting a sense of siphoning a scene down to its bare truth.  As I immerse myself into Jacqueline’s Brooklyn, Billie Jo’s dust covered world, Kek’s first taste of America, Ha’s trip on the ship, and Filthy McNasty’s court time, I am slowly feeling my story churning, bits of it jumping into mind and immediately onto my journal.  Line by line and moment by moment this new story will come.

What inspires you to write?

What helps you get started?