Category Archives: Forum

It’s Never Too Late

Getting Your Writing Groove Back

Photo by Mike Vondran

When it comes to writing after time away, it’s never too late to be on time. Take it from someone who took a fifteen year hiatus from writing: getting started again is like coming home and finding your bed made with your favorite linens, freshly washed. It’s been there all along, patiently waiting for you to notice. It doesn’t take a long hiatus for you to lose steam, though.

Routines are important. Did you carve out a specific time for writing? Maybe it’s early mornings or late nights, when the world is quiet and you can hear your muse think. Your lunch hour at the dayjob or time at the coffeehouse each day? Crises of all sizes come up at times, ones which can knock you off your game.

Perhaps you’re so busy with life / work / family, your routine consists of random spare moments when no one is tugging on your sleeve and demanding attention. Writing in that case requires a special sort of commitment. There are naturally going to be days which provide zero spare moments. By the same token, you may need the few available so you can be quiet and sew together the shredded edges of your sanity.

Even if you’ve just been away a few days or a few weeks, getting back into the swing of things can be difficult. I tend to place too high a standard on my return, one I can’t possibly accomplish. I end up walking away, shaking my head in disgust, putting off getting back into my routine even longer. Many of us have ways of sabotaging ourselves. I finally came to recognize this stumbling block and try to go around it. Sometimes it even works.

How do you turn your stumbling blocks into stepping stones? I can only tell you what works for me. I start small. Hanging out with other writers on Twitter, that lovely timesuck, puts me in the right mind for writing. Keeping an open doc on my computer so I can track ideas, phrases or bits of dialogue is helpful. They often grow into a blog post (like this one), a flash or – if I’m lucky – a part of the novel I’m writing or revising. Other writers turn to pen and paper or notecards at times like this, finding motivation in seeing the inked lines accumulate.

If necessary, start small with the amount of time you devote, too. Grab what time you can in whatever fashion gives you joy. Small amounts add up. They get the writing body into motion. A body in motion is more likely to stay in motion and all that. Momentum is everything when it comes to writing. Get your motor purring and become the Little Engine That Could, having faith in yourself: I think I can, I think I can. Chugga chugga chug.

Still can’t get started? Remember, writing isn’t just about art. Writing is also a job. That means sometimes you just have to make yourself show up. “Butt in chair,” as they say. Grab a little time, sigh elaborately, roll your eyes. Make your fingers cooperate on the keyboard or pen by writing whatever comes to mind, even if it’s just how useless it is because you can’t think of anything to write. Free write, get it all out there, let it be what starts the ball rolling. Momentum!

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Do something goofy and fun, try something ultra structured instead or just go clear off the reservation and try fingerpainting a scene from your story. Anything which kicks you in the creative butt and gets you going.

Stick to it! You’ll ride your momentum back into a writing routine.

“Never give up! Never surrender!” – Galaxy Quest

This post originally appeared on the #amwriting site.

Writer’s Block, Pervasive Myth

Writer’s block? I do not think these words mean what you think they mean.

Our heroine will accept that there is Writer’s Pause, dear Reader. A short period during which the writer is overwhelmed with “what happens next” or “how do I get out of THIS one?” But Writer’s Block? Not a chance.

Writing begets writing. Build some momentum. Get in there, perhaps not even on your project, and write something, anything, ridiculous things, what you ate that day and why, whether an elephant would look better in fishnet stockings and who’d try to get them on him in the first place. Okay, maybe not that last one. The again, that might be fun.

Remember first drafts are always lousy. Repeat it out loud. Repeat it every time you stall in your writing. Push yourself to write, even if it’s something you know will need a revision when you get to the second draft/edit/revision. (No, they’re not the same thing.) Just get the bones of the story down.

I’ve been known to leave notes about a scene in my first draft and move on to the next scene or chapter. The more notes, the better, but sometimes one line is enough.

Just remember: writing begets writing and momentum is a trump card. Play with words which have nothing to do with your project or  put notes as to the next scene. Just keep going.  You’ll find you really do have something to say.

After all, you’re a writer.

Forum: Rebuild Routine

It’s been some time since our heroine posted a Forum, Dear Reader. For that, I apologize and thank you for your continuing support and well wishes. At the risk of jinxing things, I seem to be back on track in regards to both physical and computer health.

It’s said that a writer writes. No matter the mood, no matter if the writer doesn’t feel like it, the writer writes. That’s all well and good – and I agree with it – but I’m also realistic enough to know that Life Happens. It can come along and knock one off the tracks hard and fast. I had a crash course in that over the last few months. While I yearned to be able to write, it was beyond possibility.

Did that mean I was no longer a writer? No, it meant I was taking an enforced break. As soon as I realistically could, I returned to the fold. I optimistically thought I could pick up right where I left off. I quickly discovered this was not the case. Conversations with others who were blown off the tracks for a while showed me I wasn’t alone.

The obvious step to me was to rebuild a routine. Easy to say, less easy to do. I’ve heard it takes six weeks to form a habit and only two to break it. Daunting facts if that’s true. It also means there’s no time like the present to get to work on the renewed habit of a writing routine.

Debra Marrs once told me that clearing up my writing space could help the creative process. I found that’s true, especially with the level of clutter I create here. Zoë Westhof wrote an article on her blog Essential Prose titled Unclogging Your Creative Space. It’s largely an interview with Lisa Baldwin of Divine Order. It’s a great look at how clutter can impact your internal balance and therefore your creativity. There’s even an e-course available to help.

I am a spiritual chickie, so the title of another article on the subject drew me in. Do You Have a Sacred Writing Space? is found on Storytellers Unplugged and was written by Jeanie Franz Ransom. Inspired by a book, she delved into the creation of a special place to do her writing. Knowing it would take time to convert that space, she came up with a delightful solution.

Okay, you’re ready to sit down and do some writing. Right? It may be difficult to get a routine going, especially if Life is still Happening. Ever onward, though. It’s time to get some words on the page. Time? Always an issue.

We move on to How to Find Time for Writing, an article by Patty Jansen on her blog, Beyond Infinity. She addresses all the typical excuses. Moreover, she gives good solutions and ideas to help prioritize things. It’s more than a pep talk, so do take a look please.

My writing routine always began in the early morning. I posted this link once before, but it applies here as well. If mornings aren’t your best time, you can still glean ideas from it. The article is titled Create a Morning Routine. It’s by Leo Babauta and is on the blog Freelance Switch.

Now what? Are you staring at the blank page or the Blinking Cursor of Death? It can be difficult, even with all that preparation, to get the creative juices flowing. I often begin with a few writing prompts posted to #storystarters on Twitter during my morning coffee and Twitter writing prep. There’s an article on the great blog Write It Sideways by Suzannah titled What Should I Write About? Finding Inspiration. In addition to some worthy suggestions, she offers a list of links on the subject. Something is bound to strike your fancy, so be sure to check it out.

Getting back on track is easier for some than others. The hurdles I faced over the last few months threw me so far off track, I couldn’t hear the train’s whistle. I’ve come to believe that both dedication and desire must be present to put yourself back in the writing mindset.

Having the support of friends and family – support, mind, not pressure – cannot be underestimated. If you’re on Twitter, check into #amwriting. There’s a terrific group of writers just waiting to offer support and a cheering section.

You can do this. We both can.

Forum: Twitter

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know our heroine refers to Twitter often, dear Reader. Names are linked to their Twitter pages and #hashtags are mentioned often. Chances are excellent you found your way to this article via Twitter, in fact.

This article is for those new to Twitter, but it holds information worthwhile for veterans as well. Are you getting all you can out of it?

Perhaps you’re a Twitter newbie. Have you heard that Twitter’s made up of people announcing what they had for lunch? Perhaps when you sign in, you feel like you’re at a party full of people you don’t know? Fair enough. If you’re following the wrong people or don’t know how to find the right ones, Twitter’s going to seem like an epic fail.

There are a number of shared interest groups on Twitter. One of the most popular ones for writers is the hashtag #amwriting. Give and get support from fellow writers of all formats, all genres. Begun by @johannaharness, it’s been a constant source of information and inspiration for me. I suggest you find a hashtag such as #amwriting, put it in your Search and read what’s being posted. Like what someone’s got to say? Follow that person and maybe you’ll get to learn more than just what he or she had for lunch. (You might want to start with @johannaharness, in fact.) To join in, just put #amwriting (including the #) anywhere in your tweet.

Looking for inspiration or need a little kick in the pants for your muse? #storystarters offers prompts written by many different writers. Add your own if you like. This hashtag was begun by @Selorian, another worthy follow. There are so many more. Here are a few off the top of my head: #FridayFlash, #ss500, #vss, #amwritingparty, #WIPfire, #writechat, #litchat, #yalitchat, #thrillerchat. This list really never ends. My advice: choose a few and concentrate on them, dabbling in others as needed.

With social media sites as part of your platform, you’ll want to be sure you’re playing nicely. There is such a thing as Twitter etiquette. You’ll get more out of Twitter by using it. One of the best guides I found for this is by Chris Brogan. Titled A Brief and Informal Twitter Etiquette Guide, it covers the field pretty well. You’ll see Chris mentioned in a number of “Must Follow” articles.

Here’s another article titled Twitter Tips for Writers + 25 Good Follows. It’s on Editor Unleashed, Maria Schneider‘s terrific blog. Take a look at this article for help diving into Twitter. The follows suggested are top-notch.

Want some more people to follow? How about you choose among the ones on Literary Tweets: 100+ of the Best Authors on Twitter. (No, I’m not listed. [sniffle] Yet.) It’s on Mashable’s site, Mashable: The Social Media Guide. Mashable itself is a fantastic resource, so you’ll want to keep an eye on it, too.

Problogger has an article titled 9 Benefits of Twitter for Bloggers that is eye opening. It makes a strong case for why writers should be using Twitter and blogs in a coordinated manner. Moreover, it shows how to do it. You can follow Problogger as well.

Quips and Tips for Successful Writers has a spiffy article, too. Don’t dismiss it if you’re not a freelancer. There’s great info here for all writers. Titled How Twitter Helps Freelance Writers – Tips for Successful Writing, it lists 13 of the best things about Twitter for writers. Look closely and you may find some people to follow within the article.

Twitter can be nothing but GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) if you’re not using it well. For those who use it properly, it can be a gold mine of information, support and networking. Don’t be shy, reach out and send a message to someone. Don’t stalk, though. That’s just bad form. (I refer you again to Chris Brogan’s etiquette guide above.)

One word of warning for the newbies: Twitter can become a tremendous time-sink. I’ve heard that it entertains our lizard brain because there’s never an end. Whatever the reason, pay attention to the time you start and give yourself a time to pull your head back out. It’s supposed to be a helpful tool, not a hindrance.

What are your favorite Twitter tips, follows or moments? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Forum: Revisions

Our heroine completed the Monster Revision from Hell on Book 1 this weekend, dear Reader. I thought it had me beat for a while, but I prevailed after all. Books 2 and 3 should be far easier. By the time I wrote them, I had a clue what I was doing. Not so with Book 1. It required a dramatic overhaul. I’m sure my beta readers will find many items that need to be addressed. (Eeek!) Still, I take heart in knowing it’s a far better novel.

Revising can be hard work. It is ultimately gratifying, though. For the most part, I love the revising process. I get to take the raw materials of the rough draft and sculpt it into the novel it’s meant to be. Further passes through, especially after good critiques, only serve to polish the piece until it shines. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?

I find when I’m revising I can get too close to the words and lose track of the storyline or timeline. That’s when I take a break. A terrific way to take time away from revisions is to read inspiring articles. Check out a few which may give you a fresh approach when you return to your manuscript.

The talented Teresa Frohock has an article in her helluo librorum blog I found interesting. Writing Fiction with the 1-3-1 Method refers to the time-honored method of writing an essay and applies it to chapter structure. I think it’s a great idea. I’m reviewing my chapters for the 1-3-1 points.

In her Screenwriting Tricks for Authors blog, Alexandra Sokoloff wrote about Thematic Image Systems. This is a remarkable look at not just how to identify your theme, but to weave it throughout your novel. I found this fascinating and was eager to employ some of the techniques during my revisions. Do set aside the time to give this a full read.

The reader must be interested enough to keep reading the book, right? Doesn’t matter what genre you’re writing, your plot must move the reader into eagerly turning the pages. The Kill Zone‘s Clare Langley-Hawthorne addresses this issue in Propelling the Plot. There are lessons here for writers of all genres. Keep that storyline moving.

Part of the revision process is getting fresh eyes to look at it and offer what should be constructive criticism. We addressed the idea of beta readers a few weeks back, but this article contains some great advice. David Sheppard‘s Novelsmithing has an article called Getting Your Novel Critiqued. You’ll note that it is Part III of a series called, as luck would have it, Writing, Rewriting, Editing. It’s worth reading each section.

Take the break when needed. Get the inspiration you need to dive back in. Don’t be dismayed if you come across advice which inspires you, but makes you cringe at revising all over again. The goal is to make the novel the best you can. The process may take several passes.

As always: “Re-examine all you have been told… dismiss that which insults your soul.” (Walt Whitman) Not everyone’s advice fits all. Look for what sets your imagination on fire. Use what compels you to get back to the manuscript with your sculpting tools.

Forum: Conquer the First Draft

Our heroine noticed a number of people discovering problems letting themselves write first drafts, dear Reader. I say “letting themselves” because that’s really what it is: getting away from the inner editor and just getting the story down on the page. You cannot edit a blank page. Making it pretty is revision work.

There are some simple techniques which can help you get that first draft down. They can help clarify mind and purpose – or give you a quick kick to the seat of the pants, as needed. (I usually need the latter when I get stuck.)

First of all, you must Trust Yourself. This is an article by Jessica Faust on Bookends, LLC’s blog. It’s more than just a pep talk. It’s a dose of perspective every writer needs once in a while. Go back to it occasionally, especially when you’re doubting your ability to write.

Should you outline? If so, what type of outline? Phase drafting, snowflake method… So many possibilities. The Art vs. Craft Gap – A Writer’s Paradox is found on Write to Done. This guest post by Larry Brooks addresses the old question of where art is taken over by craft and vice versa. I enjoyed this article for its description of how the two work together to create a proper novel. (If you want more info on things like outlines, phase drafting, etc., check out Plotting.)

Here are some ideas to help you make writing come more easily:

Debra Marrs (of Your Write Life) once told me that cleaning up writing space helps one become more productive. I followed her advice and she was right. (And as I look around, I can see what I’ll be doing this afternoon.) Unclogging Your Creative Space on Essential Prose includes an interview with Lisa Baldwin. The article identifies problem areas and details they whys and the ways of clearing things out. Trust me, this may sound fundamental but it’s some powerful stuff.

Leo Babauta wrote a great article on Freelance Switch titled Create a Morning Writing Ritual. Bet you can guess what it covers. Give this one a look, though. You may think you know what he’s going to write, but there is some good advice and even better ideas. He doesn’t just explain why it can help, he details how to go about creating it.

And now, finally, we come down to the heart of the doubt and frustration: Do I have any idea what I’m doing writing this first draft? Holly Lisle‘s article How to Start a Novel is an extensive instruction manual on exactly how to do that. Use it as a checklist for what you’re already doing or a plan of action as you dive in. Hey, use it as both. I like to go back to it and review her points even while I’m revising. It helps me make sure I’m hitting all the necessary notes.

There are plenty of hurdles on the track when writing. I’ve found that most if not all of them are there because I put them there. “Stay out of your own way, woman,” I mutter to myself on occasion. It may not be the sweetest affirmation out there, but it works for me. Find out what works for you. Stick with it and stick with your writing.

Forum: The Hook and Pitch

You’ve got a good story. No, a great story. You’ve polished it until it gleams and all your readers have patted you on the back for a job well done. If only it were that easy.

Now comes the shift from creative process to business process. Submissions, synopses, queries, platforms, social media. It can be overwhelming. Our heroine is approaching it inch by inch, trying to make it easier to swallow as a necessity, dear Reader.

Today we’re looking at the combination of hook and pitch, inextricably entwined. Can you boil your story down far enough to pitch it to an agent without losing its voice and individual flavor? Sure you can. It may just take some advice and a lot of practice. Here’s some advice:

Joseph Finder shares his initial experiences with pitching in his newsletter article What’s a Hook? The Art of the Pitch. Informative and engaging, Joe explains why being able to pitch is important for writers. What’s your story about? Your answer shouldn’t be “Um, er, well…”

I like this little article in Fiction City, Lisa Katzenberger‘s blog. The Pitch is about what she’s facing as she prepares for a writing conference. She gives some good advice and some good links as well. Take a look at both.

Gary Smailes of BubbleCow has an article titled How to Pitch Your Book with a Single Email. His style is direct and easy to follow. What’s his secret for a new writer? “Fight dirty.” He shows some ways to do that.

Always a great resource, The Book Deal‘s Alan Rinzler wrote Insider Tips for Preparing and Delivering a Winning Pitch. Absolutely terrific information and advice here. Read this one, bookmark it and use it.

There’s some remarkable advice on the net from people who are on either side of the pitching every day. The trick is in taking it, applying it and believing in both yourself and your book. You can do this. We both can.