Edible Writer’s Blocks?

Posted: August 24, 2016 in Not Writing
Tags: , ,

Gummy LEGOs

Today I’m taking a break from my endless font of writing wisdom to share a fun project I did for my kids while they were on summer vacation. In a previous post I spoke about taking on another creative project as a way to deal with writer’s block.  Here’s what I did:

Home-made gummy LEGOs.

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I started by building a custom form in which to pour liquid silicone, which in turn became my candy mold.  This frame is just perfect for a standard one pound liquid silicone kit, available at hobby shops or on the Internet.

The individual LEGOs inside the frame represent the pieces of candy the mold will eventually make. Make sure you press down firmly on all the LEGOS to reduce gaps.

 

 

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The liquid silicon kit consists of two parts you mix right before you pour.  One part is white and the other part is blue, so you can see when everything is fully mixed.  If you see streaks, the silicon won’t harden properly.

TIPS: You only have about 30 minutes before the mix starts to set, so mix quickly.  I recommend using a bowl with  a round bottom and no corners, then transfer the mix to a second bowl to make sure it is completely streak-free.  It will have the consistence of spun honey.  I suggest you pour slowly from about a foot high to reduce bubbles.  Just pour into the center of the form and it will slowly spread out to fill the whole thing.

IMG_7322Once the silicon is in the form, tap it around the edges to dislodge any bubbles that may have formed.  Don’t worry about any bubbles on the surface; they won’t affect your mold. Let it dry for 24 hours.

IMG_7323When the mold is dry it will look exactly the same, but will be hard and rubbery to the touch.  Now it’s time to remove the LEGOs.

You will probably see some “flash” or thin little flaps where the silicon seeped between the LEGOs; you can just tear those off with your fingers.

 

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The silicon is food safe and very flexible, so you can bend it quite a lot to get the LEGOs out of the mold.  You’ll need to do this to get the candy out, too.  Notice that the mold is so perfect you can actually see the word “LEGO” stamped on each of the little studs.

 

 

5116d71e40a34aea4af05689e7ac03d5Now the candy.  I use one large (6 oz.) package of Jello, any flavor (not sugar-free), plus two of the small packets of unflavored gelatin (these typically come four to a box).  I also include corn syrup, like Karo (clear, not dark). Here’s the recipe:

In a half cup of COLD water, stir in a quarter cup of corn syrup until it is completely dissolved.  In a sauce pan add all of the gelatin and Jello to the water, and mix with a spatula until it is completely dissolved.  This make take some time.  If you don’t so this, the candy won’t come out clear.  Next, heat the mix on medium low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning.  You will probably have some foam on the top, which you can skim off if you’re REALLY patient.  But here’s another way to get rid of it:

Pour the mix into a tall glass and let it sit over night.  Once hard, you can wiggle the giant gummy glob out of the glass and cut off the foamy part with a knife.

Now you can reheat this mixture either in a saucepan on medium low or in the microwave (about 30-45 seconds).  To get it into the mold, you may have suIMG_7328ccess pouring it (if you have the right kind of container to pour from). I ended up making a mess.  I tried using a straw with my finger blocking the top end and dribbling it in, but in the end I used an eye-dropper.  Try to fill just exactly to the top.  You take use the flat LEGO base-plate you used to build the form, and brush on a little bit of vegetable oil.  Then you can use it as a cover (the studs will fit perfectly in the mold’s holes).  This will make the candy “functional” so they can be stacked just like real LEGOs.  Be aware that if you over-fill, you will get over-spill, like I did.

Let this sit for a few hours — I found putting it in the refrigerator made it way easier to get the candy out.

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Enjoy the blocky fruits of your labor.  Now you have something fun to munch on (and play with) while you go back to your writing!

 

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In just the last few hundred words of our work in progress, THE LAST FAERIE GODMOTHER, my daughter and I moved our heroes and our story from modern day America (with fairy-tale creatures) to Northern Ireland in 1507 (chock full of faeries).

From a writer’s standpoint, this is like waking up on Mars.  Without a spacesuit.

How did people talk?  I don’t mean just how to write an Irish accent, but what words do they use?  Many, many turns of phrase we take for granted when writing modern dialogue didn’t exist 500 years ago.  And things had different names.  Not to mention, they had an entire vocabulary of words for objects and activities that no longer exist today.  They had different greetings, different common expressions, different superstitions.  And they surely talked about other things than we do today.

What did people wear?  Believe it or not, there are not a great deal of books with pictures or descriptions of what average people wore in Ireland in the 16th century.  I know; I’ve looked.  I can tell you what nobility or soldiers wore in England in the early 16th century, but that doesn’t quite work, does it?  I’ve read that the Irish of that time wore yellow, since the association of green with Ireland is a much more modern occurrence.  But I need slightly more detail to describe what my characters are wearing than “yellow.”

What did they eat?  What was their daily routine?  How did they travel?  Where did they sleep?  How did they treat strangers?  What did a house look like?  A castle?  A dungeon?  What did they buy and what did they make themselves?  Where did they get money?  What did a market look like?

I was so excited when we finally got to this much-anticipated point in our book.  This is the “inciting incident” that sets up the whole rest of the book, in which our heroes must pass for natives and figure out a way to get home to the present.  But as my fingers hovered over the keys, itching to write the next scene, I found I could not make them type.  I don’t know where I am!  I can’t describe anything, write any dialogue, or even understand what my characters should see upon waking up.

Gah!  It’s like being a virgin writer all over again, except without the benefit of that cocky naivete that lets you just bully your way through a story despite your utter ignorance.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: virginity [in a writer] is overrated.

 

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There’s been a be it of a debate over at my critique group.  This isn’t the first time this has happened.  Our long-standing debate has been a kind of a glass-half full/glass half-empty philosophical conundrum for as long as I have been a member (three years).

The feature in question is the Hook Queue, in which members can enter the first 1,000 words of their story and get feedback.  This sounds great on paper, and in practice many, many members like it.  I don’t happen to be one of them.

See, here’s the thing.  The whole critique group is based on a credit system; you have to critique the work of others to earn the credits you need to spend in order to submit your own work.  It creates motivation and an atmosphere where giving critiques is as valuable or more valuable than receiving them.  Which is actually true.

The Hook Queue is a little different.  Entering into the Hook Queue costs you 3 credits, but you can earn them back by critting 10 other hook submissions.  Here’s how the queue is described:

This queue is a little bit special. Here the critter is playing the role of an underpaid editor searching for that special perfect snowflake of a manuscript amongst a pile of hopefuls.

Anyone can post into this queue but you must have extremely thick skin. The queue is meant to give you an indication of how good your hook is and where editors might stop reading, and more importantly, why.

The theory is that you should run though these quickly (you are timed) and when you feel like stopping, make a short note explaining why at that spot.  It is quite a contrast to the regular story queues we use for chapters, in which additional points are awarded to critters for making more verbose critiques.

The Hook Queue is only open one week per month.  And after each one the debates roll out anew.  Some people (myself included) want more detailed comments on these all-important opening pages of our story, not a cold brush-off.  We want to know what is working so we can make more of that.  But the entire concept of the Hook Queue is that members are asked to pretend they are editors or agents, when mostly likely none of them actually are.  Critters are only guessing at what an editor is looking for.  These people are writers themselves — an entirely different breed.

The people in favor of this method like to point out (according to everything they “know” to be true about slush readers) that they are all just looking for reasons to reject your manuscript.  One member went so far as to suggest they already have all the clients they need and the slush pile is their lowest priority, so in order to get home to their families they slam through it — just like the Hook Queue is designed.

I’m here to tell you it just ain’t so.

The editors, agents, and slush readers I’ve spoken to (quite a few) express their love of their work.  They can’t wait to find the next great book that takes their breath away, and they invite anybody with an Internet machine to send them their manuscript. But don’t take my word for it.  The other day I ran across an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) on Reddit, being conducted by a slush reader for a New York literary agent.  He answered questions for hours revealing, among other things, that he does it for no pay because he simply loves books, and would rather read a good story than watch television.  Here are a few of his comments/answers:

Most agents will read nearly 100% of all queries and probably something close to that in full requests. What the readers like me are doing is helping to level them out. We’re making sure that good stuff gets noticed quick, because the agent is racing to find new talent before someone else scoops them up. And we’re leveling the agent out when they fall in love with a book that may have some serious flaws. Trust me when I say this – Agents and readers alike want desperately to be in love with your writing and your story. We live for it. Look at it less as gate-keeping and more as trying to find the gold nuggets in the sifting pan faster because there’s only one giant pan and a thousand gold-hungry sharks swimming in it. More eyes is better than less.

 

A good slush reader has to be aligned with the agents interests. The agent wants to find great writing and great/talented authors to sign. Slush readers that are just looking for reasons to hate things last about as long as critique partners who like to tell you how horrible you are at writing (maybe a week?). Now, we sure may get a bad rep for pointing out things that we feel are flaws (especially when the writer doesn’t agree) but I can tell you that what we present is opinion and sometimes Agents ignore their slush readers completely and go with their gut and sign authors they simply love.

 

Anytime a [slush] reader likes a work, it’s good for the author and the agent alike. A reader helps the agent have a pulse on what the “average joe” reads and likes. It gives the agent a more rounded opinion of the work. It can help the agent overcome a gut reaction or objection, and it can point out a flaw that the agent didn’t see.

So, if you are in the query trenches right now, desparing because you think the keepers of the keys to your publishing kingdom only have eyes for your mistakes, buck up.  The people you’re querying want to love your book.  As this slush reader said, “There are exactly 1000 things pulling the attention of an agent at any one moment. If you can keep them from caring about anything but reading the next sentence, you’ll have an agent by tomorrow morning.”

Now, I just need to wade back into the debate and convince everyone that our Hook Queue has got it’s head on backwards.

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This is the big one, kids.  The gold standard of pitch contests, and one of the longest-running. There are something like 130 mentor teams participating this year, broken into four age categories: Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult and Adult. The contest runs from today through November 9.

But what is it?

Oh! I didn’t see you there, under that rock.  Okay.  PitchWars is a contest for writers with complete manuscripts and a polished query letter. You choose four mentors or mentor teams (a lot of those this year) and submit your first chapter, query, and contact info. Over the course of the next three weeks, those mentors will review all of their entries and request additional materials from those writers whose manuscripts they like. And by “like” I mean they feel like they can connect to the story and the author, and can offer concrete advice for revising the entire manuscript to agent readiness. These are experienced people — slush readers, professional editors, published authors. Many of them are past PitchWars winners.

Then, for the next two months, the chosen mentees will be in constant communication with their mentors, frantically revising their manuscripts and query letters according to their mentors’ advice.  Then, during the first week of November, these revised pitches and manuscripts will be showcased for participating agents.  There are over 60 of those, this year.  The goal, of course, is for an agent to sign you.  That happened to over 50 people last year, and over 200 in the 4-year history of PitchWars.

Do you have a manuscript you are ready to query?  If so, and you want to enter, the details are here.  When you are ready, the entry form is here.

Good luck!

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People will tell you writing is work, you must treat writing like a job, no serious writing ever came from treating it as a hobby. Basically, you have to commit.

Okay, sure. There are merits to those viewpoints. But never forget writing is an art, an act of creativity, a process of love and tears. You can’t force it. For many people (myself included) the secret to good writing is like the secret to catching a soap bubble: you can’t pluck it out of the air, you have to let it land.

To be sure, you can learn how to judge the falling bubble, note the prevailing wind, and know when and where to place your hand for the best chance to capture the bubble intact.  You’re still going to miss occasionally, and some days it’s too windy or there are no bubbles at all.  But you will eventually learn to catch more bubbles and keep them alive longer before they pop.

Here’s the thing about that: you can’t consider yourself a failure if there are no bubbles, or if they don’t blow your way for a period of time.  Everyone has dry spells — fishermen, farmers, actors, lawyers.  We writers think ourselves special and give it our own name; WRITER’S BLOCK.

Made you cringe, didn’t it?  Like a cat just walked over your grave.  Yeah, I know.  It’s how we’re trained.  Like avoiding walking in the woods alone in the dark.  It becomes ingrained on a subconscious level.  But I think pauses are an integral and vital part of the writing process. Since it is a creative endeavor, it is naturally tied to your mood or your state of mind, and sometimes your state of mind is like a turbulent wind sending all of the bubbles away.  Don’t panic.  You’re not failing.

Writer’s block is like a forest fire.  Sometimes it’s best to let the fire burn itself out.  In places like Yosemite people went to a lot of trouble to put out naturally-occurring forest fires to “save” them, but we have since realized that naturally-occurring forest fires have been burning unchecked for precisely as long as there have been nature, forests, and fire.  Nature adapts; fires are part of the process, letting new growth access to sunlight and other arboreal sciencey things.  It’s the whole Circle of Life jazz.  Interfering with it just futzes it up.

Same with writer’s block.  It will pass, and in most cases take with it whatever was gumming up the works.  I talked about forcing yourself to write in an earlier post.  Unless you are a journalist or you make your whole living from putting words on paper, just let the forest burn.  New growth will come.  Trust it.  If you put out the fire every time, you will do long-lasting damage to the forest.

I got to a rough patch in chapter two of my second book, and ended up not writing anything meaningful for about three months.  It felt like I would never write again, like the whole forest was burning down.  And then I started writing again, and started happily churning out pages again, working late into the night instead of turning in early, and even pulling up my manuscript at work during my lunch hour.  The new growth was lush and inviting, and has a real chance to grow into a might forest since all of that old wood is gone.

So, if you are experiencing writer’s block, do what I do: embrace it and let it happen; find some other outlet for awhile and don’t beat yourself up. The desire to write will come back to you in its own time. You can’t nab it out of the air, you have to let it land.

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You’ve either gotten them or you are working hard to be able to get them.  Rejections.  From agents, from publishers, from contest judges.

But there is a huge stigma attached to the word “rejection” out in the world.  I mean, sure, rejection actually means that you have been rejected, y’know, the opposite of accepted.  But it is nowhere near that cut-and-dried in the publishing world.

Rejection doesn’t mean “Failure.”  At worst it just means “No.”  It might also mean “Not for me,” “Not quite,” or “Not yet.”

We’ve received quite a few rejection letters, my daughter and I.  A good portion of them were form letters.  Usually those form letters included an apology for sending a form letter.  I get it; reading and evaluating hundreds of queries a week is hard.  Time-consuming.  Emotionally draining.  An agent can’t be expected to give back as much heart and soul as each hopeful writer has poured into their query (not to mention novel).  And nearly all of these form rejections include some version of the same comment: “This is not a reflection of your writing … this business is very subjective … we hope you continue querying.”  Those are all positive, comforting, friendly sentiments.  And they are all true.  They mean it every single time.

Okay, fine, agents undoubtedly receive and reject abysmal writing samples they wouldn’t wish on any fellow agent, let alone future reader.  Maybe in those cases some agents eschew the form rejection and say it like it is.  But I bet even then, the agent advises those writers to dig in, improve their craft, and try again.

Here’s my point.  These aren’t failures.  These aren’t the end.  They are more like when a door-to-door salesman goes to the next door.  Each time you knock on a door is an opportunity to hone your schpiel and greet the next prospective customer with a slightly better pitch.

Most of the time its a “No.”  Some people don’t even want to hear how great your cookies are.  But that’s no reflection on the cookies, is it?  There’s a sweet tooth on every street, but you have to knock on a lot of doors to find it.  So it is with querying.  For sure, if an agent takes the time to advise you in their rejection on how to improve your presentation, you should consider that advice.  If you do and you steadily improve, and you keep trying, there is every reason to believe you will eventually find a home for your manuscript.  You certainly have a better chance than if you don’t.

 

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I’ve been writing this blog for a bit over two years, now, and I’ve seen the steady trickle of viewers and followers.  Some weeks the trickle grows to as much as a minor stream for a day.  Over the years I’ve studied the analytics, and one thing has stood out.  Almost every single day a good portion of visitors to this site visit one particular post.  So since I am camping this week, I am going to repost this popular topic.  Enjoy!


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When my daughter and I were writing our first novel, THE LAST PRINCESS, I had already written a novel on my own.  I started it in High school and didn’t type “The End” until over 20 years later.  182,000 words later.  I learned a great deal about writing in those 20 years – how to write natural dialogue, how to build tension, how to show instead of tell, how to vary sentence structure, how to foreshadow and deliver on a promise, and hundreds of other little things that eventually become second nature to a writer who writes.  But one thing, possibly the key thing, I neglected to learn was how to plot a novel.

I realized this long after I had put my first book in the drawer.  I knew it was un-marketable, but not precisely why.  Other than the length, of course.  So when I started on my second novel with my daughter I knew I needed to learn how to structure a plot.  I bought several books, but none of them really helped.  There was all of this talk about the difference between a plot and a story, and lists of the classic plots, and so forth.  None of it stuck.

Then I started listening to Writing Excuses, a weekly podcast hosted by authors Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler.  The podcast referenced Dan Wells’ 7-Point Story Structure on YouTube.  Five short ten-minute clips of a single lecture, and I beheld the elusive mystery of Plot!

We were already three or four chapters into THE LAST PRINCESS at this point, having written by the seat of our pants (aka “pantsing”) until we figured out where the characters wanted to go.  But we had reached the point where we couldn’t go any further until we had the rest of the book plotted.  So overnight I went from a pantser to a plotter and created a chapter-by-chapter outline for the rest of our book.

Now we are querying THE LAST PRINCESS and we’ve started working on the sequel, THE LAST FAERIE GODMOTHER.  This time we started with an outline. So we revisited Dan Wells and his Magic Story Structure, and I thought I would share it with you.  Because I’m nice like that.

Here are the seven plot points, defined.  I also include where these points fall in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a common example most of you will be able to see (because most of you have read it):

(1) HOOK “Establish characters and starting state.”

This fairly self-explanatory; this is the point when your main character or characters and their situation are described.  This may or may not be the first chapter.  Usually is.  [In Harry Potter, this is where we meet Harry and see him living under the stairs.]

(2) PLOT TURN 1“Call to action.”

Also known as the “inciting incident.”  This is when the primary conflict is revealed: what the hero must do and what is at stake if he/she fails.  [In Harry Potter, this is when Harry learns he’s a wizard and goes to Hogwarts.]

(3) PINCH 1 “Put pressure on characters; force action.”

Sometimes your hero needs a nudge.  Characters are often reluctant to undertake what they must do, or are somehow prevented from starting.  This is the point when you build the pressure and make it clear the problem isn’t going to go away on its own.  This is often a good place to double down on what is at stake if the hero fails, or just demonstrate that the problem is real.  [In Harry Potter, this is when the troll attacks and Harry and his companions realize only they can stop it.]

(4) MIDPOINT“Move from reaction to action.”

This is a key moment in the story – and despite the name, it does not necessarily need to occur in the exact middle of your book.  This is the point when your hero stops stalling or overcomes what’s blocking them from acting, and gets busy.  [In Harry Potter, this is when Harry learns the Sorcerer’s Stone is at Hogwarts and Volermort is after it.  Harry and his companions decide to find the stone themselves to protect it.]

(5) PINCH 2 “Really lay on the pressure; hero on his/her own.”

Applies pressure to the story and the hero, usually through a great loss.  Also known as the Dark Night of the Soul or the Jaws of Defeat.  This is often represented by the loss of a mentor.  [In Harry Potter, this is when Harry loses his companions on the way to finding the Sorcerer”s Stone and is on his own with the scary bad guy.]

(6) PLOT TURN 2“Get the last piece of puzzle.”

This is where the hero finally learns they have the power to solve the problem at hand.  [In Harry Potter, this is when the mirror reveals Harry’s motives are pure and gives him the Sorcerer’s Stone.]

(7) RESOLUTION“Winning!”

Obviously, the resolution of your story.  This does not mean your hero succeeds.  Many books are about heroes that fail and then exploring the consequences of failure.  [In Harry Potter, this is when Harry defeats Voldermort.]

Points 1, 4 & 7 are meant to work together – Hook, Midpoint and Resolution.  This is the heart of your story.  Knowing your Resolution in advance, you work backwards to your where your story begins (Hook) and the determine the journey (Midpoint).  The two Plot Turns (2 & 6) are where your characters are spurred into motion; they carry you from Hook to Midpoint, and Midpoint to Resolution.  And the two Pinches (3 & 5) are where you apply pressure to your hero.

This structure will work with virtually any genre or style of book – romance, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery, and so on, and any age group, too (excluding very short children’s books and picture books).  An excellent exercise is to take a favorite or popular book and find where these plot points occur in them.  Dan Wells does this in his lecture, breaking down Pride and Prejudice, Othello, The Tell-Tale Heart, and others.  If you’re especially brave, you can put your own finished books to the test.

With this nif try crib sheet in-hand I was able to plot out THE LAST PRINCESS fairly easily.  I defined the action that would represent each of these events in the story, and then filled in the action between, roughly breaking the whole up into chapters.  By the time we were finished very little had changed from our initial outline.  We did decide to move the death of her mentor after her triumph, because we wanted her motivation to be her own breakthrough of character, rather than a knee-jerk reaction to the death of a loved-one.  So we replaced Pinch 2 with a different motivation and scene.

Now, we hope we’ve pulled that same rabbit out the hat again when we plotted THE LAST FAERIE GODMOTHER.  Because, unlike with our first book, I am not comfortable diving in blind this time.  We know the characters, now.  We know the world and our characters’ relation to it, and we have very specific ideas about what needs to happen in this book.  And we’re in good company; many writers I have talked to started as Pantsers and turned into Plotters.

I hope you find this information useful.

Voice

What is “voice?”

Yeah … hard to define, isn’t it.  And yet virtually every agent with a wishlist or contest with judges insist that “voice” is the most important thing about your manuscript.  You gotta have some.  And if you ain’t got it, you ain’t goin’ nowhere in this bidness.

Voice is like seasoning in a recipe.  You’re supposed to add it “to taste,” which basically means, fiddle with it until you like it.  But the thing about seasoning and voice — everybody has different taste. You know that thing where they say publishing is subjective?  This is exactly why.  Your book may be fantastic, but if the agent who happens to be looking at it isn’t a fan of, say, “peppy” you get rejected.  Lot’s of agents rejected Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone before J.K Rowling got a book deal.

Voice isn’t the only thing, of course, that is judged in a manuscript.  In fact, there are about a thousand things you have to get right. Spelling, commas, formatting, the agent’s name, dialogue, white space, the first sentence, setting, the font….  But most of those things you can figure out.  Spelling and punctuation are either right or wrong.  Dialogue sounds natural or it doesn’t.  There are guidelines on how to format your manuscript and what font to use.  You research your agent.  But voice….

How do you know when it’s right?  It’s like that joke by E.E. Kenyon, “Do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall?” Same answer: Practice!

Fine, but what is it, exactly?  Well, it isn’t anything “exactly.” It’s the personality of your book.  It’s the tone, the pace, the word choice, the flavor.  Voice is where you get to play with the rules a little.  Maybe your voice is a tiny bit irreverent, so you blithely begin sentences with “And.”  Maybe you’re voice is stern and no-nonsense, so you eschew contractions and use clipped sentences.  Maybe your voice is poetic, so you sprinkle in a few purple words here and there to highlight a feeling.

Voice is where you bring the funny.  Or the scary.  Or the poignant.  It’s where you show your style.  It’s where you choose certain turns of phrase and reject others because of how they affect the “mood” of your story.  Voice is what makes you stare at the page for 45 minutes trying to decide if you should use “challenge” or “difficulty” because meaning is everything and every word counts.

To a large degree, voice is why I chose to write THE LAST PRINCESS in first person.  Because the voice I wanted for the book was Cat’s voice — the main character.  So where somebody else might have written:

I was no longer hungry and, in fact, I began to feel rather sick.

 

In Cat’s voice I wrote:

I squeezed my eyes shut as my stomach rumbled again, only this time it wasn’t a pleasant, oh-please-feed-me kind of rumble. It was more of a get-me-outta-here-before-I-hurl sort of rumble.

This is the voice of a twelve-year-old girl looking at a menu in a French restaurant, staring at pictures of escargots and pressed duck.  The sentence above is not.  Yet they both say the same thing.

That’s voice.

Most of the voice I used when writing THE LAST PRINCESS came from listening to my daughter and reading lots of middle grade books featuring girls with attitude.  If you haven’t found your voice yet, don’t panic.  You will.  It takes time.  It takes practice.  And it takes patience.

Go ye forth and get some.

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Those of you who are my regular readers may have noticed that I haven’t actually written about writing for awhile. That’s because I have been concentrating on querying and contests these last two months, and have not done much writing.

Apparantly it is too much to expect of myself to manage two jobs, family time, chores, sleep, tweeking Twitter pitches, polishing my query letter, researching agents, writing this blog, plotting a second middle grade book series, and making headway on my work-in-progress.

Sounds like a perfectly valid excuse, doesn’t it?

In fact, I hit a wall. The wall was made up of all different kinds of bricks.  Many of the bricks were rejections letters from agents.  A rather big one was failure to advance in a contest where things looked very positive for several days. One brick was a snag in the plot that I just couldn’t seem to get past. Another was simple burnout after forcing myself to write something — anything — every single day for a month, when that was not my regular process.

I pulled my manuscript out or called up the file on my iPad any number of times, only to put it away again. I just wasn’t feeling it.  This happens to everybody, I imagine. If you’re a writer and this has never happened to you, I’d prefer you keep that little nugget of sunshine to yourself.

So how do you get out of it?  Well, there are many ways, each of them appropriate for different reasons, and one of which may work for you.  Here are a few:

  • Leave it alone.  Forget about it.  Give yourself permission to take a writing vacation and figure out what thing you do get excited about, then do that for awhile.   At some point you will find yourself missing writing.  That’s the time to pick it up again.
  • Write something else.  Career writers need to be versatile in any case, and this is as good a time as any to branch out.  Try a short story, some flash fiction, that screenplay you’ve had in the back of your mind since high school.  You’ll gain valuable experience and maybe by getting out of your box you’ll see something that will revitalize that stalled project.
  • Write anyway, knowing you may throw it away.  Or write a different scene.  Jump ahead to later, or write the ending, or create a prologue you’ll never use.  Write a character sketch.  Invent a scene that will never appear in your book and see what your characters do.
  • Find some writing exercises or writing prompts and do them. Experiment with scenes you’ve already written as a way to learn a new technique or concept: reverse the gender roles of all of your characters and see what happens; rewrite the scene from a completely different POV; change the setting or time and write the scene that way.
  • Take this time of not writing to read some books in your genre.  I tend to avoid reading when I’m in the middle of a project, because 1) I am easily distracted and 2) I have limited time to write already.  But writers are supposed to read widely, and if you’re not getting anywhere on your book, at least use the time to explore other authors who wrote similar stuff.

There are doubtless many other techniques for finding your mojo, but these are all that I could come up with at the moment … and I am eager to get back to working on my own WIP. That hasn’t happened in a while and it feels great.

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There is certainly no shortage of resources for writers if you go looking for them.  There are books on how to write books, online classes on how to write books, you can purchase lectures and listen to them, or attend one in person at your local college. There are critique groups and writers’ blogs and online writers’ forums for every possible genre and age group, and you can find links to most of them on Twitter.

What is lacking, of course, is time.  If you’re like me, you already have a full-time job (and maybe one on the side), as well as a family and extra-curricular activities and any number of time-consuming responsibilities.  Just finding the time to actually sit down and write without interruptions is a challenge. Who has time to take classes, too?

If only there were classes that came in tiny bite-sized chunks that you could consume on the go, like a breakfast sandwich or a fruit smoothie.

Well, there are. They come in podcast form, in 15-20 minute slices, and they can be downloaded right to your smartphone and listened to while you drive to work or go for a run. Let me tell you about four in particular that I find especially useful.

Grammar Girl.  Not only does she (Mignonette Fogarty) have a website, but she has an archive of over 500 brief podcasts you can download or stream, and you can subscribe to have new ‘casts download automatically. Examples of her most popular podcasts include “Is ‘Funnest’ a word?” And “How to use semicolons.”

The Odyssey Writing Workshop.  The Odyssey Workshop is an intensive six-week course for writers of fantasy, sci-if and horror who’s work is approaching publications quality, held in New Hampshire. They only can accommodate a couple of dozen writers each year and it is rather expensive (because it includes room and board).  However they regularly post excerpts from their guests lecturers in podcast form.

Writing Excuses. This is a long-running podcast (in it’s eleventh year), hosted by authors Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Taylor, and Dan Wells. While they focus mainly on fantasy, sci-if, and horror, they cover everything from inception of an idea to how to snag a publisher, and they frequently have guest experts. Complete with weekly writing prompts, the podcast is perfect for writers on the go; their tag line is “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart.”

Writing for Children by Katie Davis is the most recent (and possibly my favorite) addition to my podcast lineup. By subscribing, you can get a free copy of Katie’s excellent book, How to Write a Children’s Book.  Katie is also the director of The Instisute of Children’s Literature and the author of over a dozen traditionally-published children’s books. And she’s a blast to listen to.  In addition to the podcast itself, you can sign up to receive each episode’s show notes, which include the complete transcript of the episode, as well as many topic-specific links and other resources.

The great thing about these is that they are all free. Well, one of the great things. Also great is how much you can learn by listening to these experts enthuse about their craft.