Friday, February 28, 2014

Getting Started Again: Writers' Tips for When You're Stuck

I get stuck with my writing regularly.  Don't you?  I stop for day or two or six, and I have a terrible time getting started again. 

Over the years, despite thinking I was the only one, I've learned that almost everyone who writes, professional or not, faces this stall-out occasionally. 

What a relief!  I was convinced I lacked self-discipline, my story was a poor excuse for literature and contained no inspiration to keep me going, I was insane to think I had time to waste with spec writing, or I didn't have the emotional or spiritual stamina to write deep stuff.

Actually, stall-outs are just time-outs, and lots of good processing happens.  You think about your story, whether it's going where you want.  Whether it's rushed or bloated and where.  You mull over how to solve certain problems in the chapters.  Time-outs are because you ARE working on your writing.

But getting started again--that's another story.

Once you learn that time-outs can be OK, you still have to know when to get back to work.  Otherwise, it becomes procrastination.  And we all know all about that.

Tip #1:  Making a Good Habit
Most pros say, "Just start."  It's true, that's the solution.  Sit down, open the document, type something.  Or pick up the pen and begin describing what you see.

But most of us don't believe it's that simple.  We have a thousand reasons we're not ready to start again.  Truthfully, we dread opening that document because of what horrors (bad writing) it could reveal.

A routine helps this.  Just like going to the gym.  Or yoga class.  How many bound eagerly toward those, day after day?  I thought so.  Me neither.  But once I'm there, I love it.  So, having a yoga class to get to by a certain time helps me bypass the excuses.  Writing routines do the same thing. 

In my online classes, students post every Monday morning.  If they buy into the beauty of this simple requirement, the routine aids them.  Even if they don't remember until Sunday night, they still do some writing.  Peer pressure from their small group--and me.  It becomes a positive habit and the brain and body cooperate.  It's almost as if we fall into a happy groove.

When there's no outside reason to write, nobody to be accountable to, it's harder.  I've set up artificial deadlines for myself.  An email agreement with another writer or group.  That works.  As long as someone cares, I am more likely to overcome my own resistance and get my own writing engine cranking again.

I write more, and more often, when I have a routine.

Tip #2:  Linkage
There's a cool technique to get started fast.  It's called linkage.  Many pro writers use it.  It's astonishingly simple but it works.

It goes like this:  stop in the middle of a sentence.  When you are finished writing for that day, be sure to stop in the middle of a sentence.

This causes great discomfort for the linear mind.  It loves to finish things (at least mine does) and will do everything to get you to complete that sentence.  Because you are trying linkage, you won't.  So the next morning, the linear mind will be very itchy and beg you to get back to the writing, just to finish that link.  So you do, and of course you write more.

Good trick.  Works every time.

Tip #3:  Brainstorming List
In my online book-writing classes, we use a brainstorming list.  We create this list early in the twelve-week course.  It's simply a list of possible prompts, possible "islands" or scenes, possible ideas for the book. 

Each writing session, you pick one.  You tell yourself you'll write for 10 minutes, that's all, about anything to do with that item on the list.

Tip #4:  Questions List
This works in a similar way to the Brainstorming List but it's especially great when you're deep in deconstruction mode and feel stumped about new ideas.  Use your creative imagination by making a list of 10-15 questions about your book.  Any question is fair game.  Silly or serious.

I usually have big ones--"How can I solve the unbelievable ending?"--as well as small ones--"What's the real significance of Molly's necklace?"  Make your list without censoring anything.

Like with the Brainstorming List, pick a question.  But instead of writing, let it roll around inside for a few hours.  Especially overnight.  Seems like we can dream the answer, the new ideas.  You may wake up with great ones.  I often do!

Important:  form the questions as actual questions.  Not "I need to know how to end this $%#& book."  But "What's a way I can end this book?" or "Book, how do you want to end?"

The form of an actual question makes this tip work.

An additional tip:  Some pros end their daily writing session by jotting down 3-4 questions about the day's writing or the next day's concerns.  They use the overnight to let the questions percolate. 

Tip #5:  Take a VERY Small Step
For years I used Anne Lamott's idea of the small empty photo frame on my desk.  The opening was only 2 inches wide.  I told myself I only had to write as many words as would fit inside.  About 25 words.  Lamott gives this idea in her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird.

It really worked.  What's 25 words?  About 5 minutes of scribbling.  And just enough to trick myself into writing more.  I'd look up, an hour had gone by.  Woo-hoo.  

I was back in the saddle.  Unstuck and into my book again!  One small step to fool the Inner Critic, one giant step back into my writing life. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Winter Doldrums? Ten Fun Exercises to Get Going on Your Writing Again!

If you have the book blahs this week, if the Inner Critic is loud in your ear and heavy on your shoulder, try one of these favorite jump-starters.  
They all work.  
Most take ten minutes or less--about the time it takes to walk into Starbucks and order a latte. 

Ten Fun Exercises
1.  Write down your book's working title.  Play with this, have fun.  For inspiration, browse a bookstore or your home library shelves.  You'll begin to feel more focused.

2.  Write five reasons you're writing this book.   You'll remember your passion for the topic, place, characters, or plot.

3.  Write down your chapter titles--even if you're not sure you'll have chapter titles.  You'll tap into the vision of the bigger project.

4.  Make up three blurbs for your back cover.  Imagine asking one of your favorite reviewers or writers to do this--and they say yes.  What might they say?  You'll start realizing this book is worth praise!

5.  Design your book cover.  Use a pen and paper, a graphics program, or go for it with Photoshop.  What colors, designs, images best express your book?  Seeing your book cover mock-up will inspire you.

6.   Get out file folders or open Scrivener or another organizing software.  Create sections for your book--start with the three acts, or major divisions.  Then move into chapters, then into scenes or islands.  Gather your research, ideas, and writing into these sections.  You'll feel very organized! 

7.  Write down three ways your book might affect someone's life.  Would it get them moving on a change?  Would it inspire them or help them know they're not alone?  Would it present new ideas and education?  Would it carry them into a wonderful story?  You'll get more in touch with your reader, who can support you through the journey of writing a book.

8.  Write your premise statement.  See the post below from February 7 for how to.  You'll have an instant "elevator speech" or agent pitch.

9.  If you've been working on this for a while, print out everything you have so far.  You'll be amazed at how much there is--and how far you've come since you started.

10.  Email three writing friends.  Ask them to each tell you one thing they absolutely love about your writing.  Print these out and post them on your writing wall.  You'll remind yourself that you have support and you'll keep going!

Friday, February 14, 2014

What Do You Love about Your Book? A Simple Writing Exercise to Fall in Love with Your Creativity Again

I recently received a wealth of feedback on my novel revision.  I sought this, from other published writers and good readers.  I'd worked hard to get to the point where my manuscript was ready for another round.

The comments came in, and they were excellent.  My readers took time to really think about the story, especially its complicated structure.  Where did they fall into the "dream" of the book?  Where did they fall out, get distracted or confused?  I took all the pages, the emails, and I made a master list.  These were the areas to look at more closely.  Where I hadn't quite delivered what I wanted.

Of course, with feedback, especially feedback in quantity, there are some rules to keep your sanity.  Extreme likes or dislikes are suspect.  Opposing views cancel each other out.  You look for repeating comments.  What many people noticed is often worth your notice.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Writing a Premise Statement for Your Book: Inner and Outer Story Synopsis and Why It Helps Get You Published

Imagine receiving 300-400 manuscript queries--each week!  Flooding your inbox.  Some weeks, even more.   

Welcome to the life of agents.  And their hired assistants who sort through queries to find the lucky few that stand out.  Maybe you'd like it to be yours?  What would you have to do, to make that a possibility?

Writers working on their first book may not even know what a query is.  It's a short, one-page letter (via email, often) that presents your book in the most engaging way.  It goes like this:  one paragraph about your book, one about your credentials for writing it, one about why you chose to solicit this particular agent.  It's brief, it's punchy, it's eye-catching. 

At least, that's the plan.

How do you start writing a good query? 

With a premise statement, also called a tag line or pitch or elevator speech.  A quick synopsis of your book's inner and outer story.