Tag Archives: Writer’s Block

Find a New Angle

I’ve been trying to write a short story on a specific subject and struggling. I found it easier to not write than try to keep moving the story forward. That should have been my first warning sign that something was wrong. Unfortunately it took me a couple more days before it dawned on me: I didn’t like the story I was trying to tell.

At first I considered moving on to some other project altogether. But then I stepped back and looked at the idea I’d been trying to write. If I didn’t want to write the story then I clearly didn’t like the story I was trying to tell. The trouble is, I’ve been trying to come up with a decent idea for some time, and I really didn’t want to go back to the drawing board.

Then I had an idea: could I tell the same story, only from another angle–one that could be more interesting? My original idea was about someone trying to escape from the repercussions of something they had done. What if I instead told the story of someone who ends up apprehending that person? Suddenly the story got a lot more interesting. Now I’m writing a new draft, and I’m enjoying it much more.

Sometimes we forget that there is more than one way to tell a story. If we’re struggling to get a story out, perhaps it’s because we are telling the story from the wrong perspective. Is there someone else related to the story who would have a more interesting take on events?

Such thinking is the driving force behind many of the “re-imagined fairy tale” novels that are popular these days. Orson Scott Card sold a book that turned into a series covering much the same events as one of his earlier best sellers from the perspective of one of the minor characters. It’s not a new concept, certainly, but it can give new life to your story.

It’s easy to get into the rut of thinking there is only one way to tell a story. So long as that one way is sufficiently interesting, that’s not necessarily a problem. But sometimes the rut is also a dead-end. That’s when it can be helpful to step back and look for a new angle.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

Unsticking the Stuck

This week I nearly threw in the towel. Writing is just so hard! I just can’t do it any more! There are so many other things I could be doing! It’s not like I’m ever going to be good at this!

And then I took a deep breath and filed it away to deal with later. I did end up skipping my writing session that day, until I could figure out what was driving my sudden loss of desire. Later that day I had some time to think, so I looked at all the reasons I might not want to write. It wasn’t hard to identify most of them. I’ve fought them off before.

For one, I’d just started listening to Brandon Sanderson’s “Words of Radiance” on audiobook again. That’s a guaranteed double-whammy. For one it’s very hard not to devote every moment of free time with my headphones in, catching just another moment or two. Having read it before doesn’t help. It’s simply too big a book to remember everything that happened, so in many ways it’s like reading it for the first time all over again.

The other problem is that Sanderson intimidates the daylights out of me. I’ll never write as well as he does. I’ll never write half as well as he does. I’ll never even write as well as his laundry. I may as well give up. Not many writers make me want to give up, but he’s one.

But I’ve managed to overcome both of those issues before. There had to be something more.

And there was. I’d just returned from a family trip, during which I’d done no writing at all. There hadn’t been any time. I was out of the habit. But that wasn’t all of it. It couldn’t be.

No, I was also really tired from that trip. That alone is not enough to stop me from writing, but when added to the mix…? Yup. But there still had to be more.

Was it because of where I was in the story and the scene I was about to write? Well, actually… I was dreading the next scene. I knew what I needed to do, and I didn’t want to have to do it. But why? Then I realized that my outline was getting in my way again. Though I’m a somewhat sparse outliner, I sometimes still feel obligated to follow it exactly whenever there is a signpost to guide me. I had to remind myself that the outline is still just a suggestion, not a retaining wall. If I don’t like it I can do something else.

All those factors, I realized, were contributing to a major internal rebellion against writing. But having identified and, to some degree, dealt with each one in turn I found I had cleared the log jam. My very next writing session I not only wrote, but I wrote more in a single sitting than I’d written in weeks. And I still wanted to write some more that night. And the next day. Not only was I unstuck, but it was as if I had a backlog of writing propelling me forward. It’s been a great couple of days.

I think we all get like this from time to time. We may call it writer’s block–and it may be–but often it could just as easily be a bunch of factors all ganging up on us at once. Sitting down and identifying them, then sorting through them and resolving them may be all it takes to get the creative juices flowing again.

It helps to know ourselves as writers, to understand what things can sap our creative energy, what dead ends we can let ourselves slip down. The more we understand who we are, what motivates us, and what stops us cold, the more we can unstick ourselves. Which can be a big relief. I really didn’t want to have to put away my Brandon Sanderson while I finish this novel.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

The tyranny of the blank page

screamPaperWhat’s white, white, and so terrifyingly white that your mind goes completely blank just looking at it?

The first blank page of a project.

Few things can strike terror in the heart of a writer like an empty page. It just sits there, staring back at you expectantly, even a little mockingly: “What could you possibly write on me that would be an improvement on my pristine whiteness?” it seems to say. If you think the moon is a harsh mistress, it’s got nothing on that soul-sucking first page of a manuscript.

How do you get past that blank first page and into the business of telling a story? Here’s a few thoughts:

  1. Give yourself permission to stink. Few first chapters, let alone first pages, ever survive intact. Remind yourself that you don’t have to be brilliant on your first page. No story springs, fully-formed and perfect, into existence on the first try, so just start writing and worry about whether it’s any good later. It would probably even be a good idea to humble that annoying, tyrannical first page by purposely writing something atrocious on it–just to show it who’s boss.
  2. Just start! Or, as my kids say all too often for some reason, “Just DO it!” (Usually spoken with a Jersey accent–also for some inexplicable reason.) Write the text of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” if you have to, but start filling up that page with something. When you get bored, start writing what comes to mind for your story. And then keep going. Don’t allow yourself to go back and fix anything, or even stop and reread. Just write. Write until you’re at least several pages in and don’t want to stop. Pretend it’s NaNoWriMo all over again and you don’t want to delete a single word lest you not achieve your word count for the day!
  3. Pretend you’ve already started. Rather than worry about creating a suitable introduction, just pretend you already did that and just skip to the good stuff. Start off at the action, or at the dialogue without having to explain the setting, the characters, or anything that would normally come before it. You can always go back and add that in later. Just go! Write!
  4. Write (Title Goes Here) and move on! How many of us think we have to have a title before we can start? I do! Or did. I’m slowly forcing myself to overcome that foolish notion. If you simply must have a title, come up with a code name instead. Call it something random in true CIA fashion, like “Project Vinaigrette Rototiller.” Chances are you’d throw out your original title idea anyway. Refuse to let it get in your way!
  5. Use a bribe. Put some chocolate or some other reward on a plate next to your monitor. Don’t let yourself eat it until you’ve completely filled that first, offensive blank page, even if you have to write entirely about how wonderful that piece of chocolate would taste right now.

There are a few ideas. How do you deal with the fear of starting, or it’s more famous cousin, writers block?

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

I’m tired and I can’t think

tired
I woke up this morning to eight inches of snow on the ground. Normally as a kid I would get excited about the prospect of a snow day, but I’m an adult now. I had to go to work, like it or not. No matter how miserable the commute might be, I had to go. I was scheduled to be in online training today, too, so being late was not an option. The instructor was in Philadelphia, which wasn’t having trouble with snow.

And so I went, and then spend eight hours in a small, stuffy room watching someone present stuff I barely understood. Fortunately, being online, no one could see me pace the room in order to stay awake. I’ve got three more days of this.

The roads were better on the way home, but still not great. And when I got home I found a great deal of shoveling waiting for me. The snow plows had come through and blocked most of my driveway and in front of the mailbox. The postman gets grouchy when he can’t drive up to my mailbox. I’ve got Christmas orders coming, so we don’t want to risk making the mailman grouchy. And so I shoveled snow for about an hour.

And now I’m trying to write a post for Think Tank. Nothing is coming. My brain won’t think. The obvious thing would be to make some sort of analogy of heavy snows and writing, but…I’ve got nothing. I just stare at the wall and try to force my brain to think. But tonight that’s like pushing a rope.

There are two schools of thought on writing when you just can’t write. One says “write anyway, even if you end up throwing it all away and starting over tomorrow.” The other says “go and do something that will rejuvenate your mind and soul so you’ll be ready to write tomorrow.

Which is right? That really does depend. Are you on deadline? If so, you’d better just get in there and write, and hope you don’t have to throw away everything you write. Just like with my class today, sometimes you just have to put on your big-kid pants and do what’s got to be done.

But otherwise, you may be better off doing something different to stimulate your brain and/or reduce the fatigue in your body. Do something different for half an hour. And then come back and write. If you have something you can do for a short period of time that serves as a “mental palate-cleanser”, then do it! Reset your busy, tired brain for a while, then get back in there and write something, even if it’s only a few paragraphs.

Or a Think Tank post that puts people to sleep.

Michaelbrent Collings, horror writer and occasional Think Tank Facebook luminary, says it’s perfectly okay to deal with writer’s block by going to a movie, reading a book, or listening to music. It puts something new in the brain, helps refill the “creativity tank”, and can still be considered “writing.”

So am I really telling you it’s okay to not write? I suppose so. It’s now the next morning and I discarded the last several paragraphs that I wrote last night as incoherent rambling. My brain had already shut down, in spite of my best efforts to make it keep writing. Something it’s better to use that time for something that will help get the next day off to a good start.

So write! But if you can’t, do something that will help you get through whatever it is that’s making it so hard to write!

 

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

6 Reasons for Writer’s Block

I had a follower ask me, “So when you get writer’s block, how do you deal with it?”

This post is a response to that question.  I’ve found six reasons for writer’s block.

A Lack of Brainstorming
Usually when I get writer’s block, it’s because I haven’t brainstormed enough. I’m stuck because I don’t know what to do next. That’s when I stop and have a few brainstorming sessions to get the ideas flowing. If you’re having a hard time with your brainstorming, you could try brainstorming with someone, another friend or writer. He or she may have different ideas than you and one of them might spark. You might need to brainstorm more plot, a new character, or a new setting, depending on what you’re stuck on.

When brainstorming I find it very helpful to look at what I have in play. What is each character bringing to the scene that I can draw from? What is the setting bringing that is interesting? What is in motion that I can use to my advantage?

The Wrong Turn
I’ve heard other writers say that if you get writer’s block, it means you’ve taken a “wrong turn” with your story, and you need to go back a few pages to figure out where you strayed. Maybe you got writers’ block because you sent your character to a Vegas hotel, so you go back and realize she really needs to go to a circus instead, or maybe you realize she fell in love with the wrong person, and she really needs to fall in love with the cowboy, not the policeman.

Writing into a Corner
Sometimes you can get writer’s block because you’ve written into a corner. Maybe you’ve had a kidnapper tie your character up and you can literally think of no way she can get out of the situation. In that case, you may need to go back and rewrite the story so she doesn’t get that stuck.

Writing yourself into a corner can be manifested in other ways too. You might be trying to accomplish something that just doesn’t work. Once I struggled and struggled with a scene only to realize I was trying to make a scene out of something that really needed to be summary. I really wanted it to be a scene so that it had a stronger emotional impact, but no matter how much I rewrote it, it was never as strong as I wanted it to be. I eventually realized that the story wasn’t set up for that part to be a full scene. It was set up for a summary.

Writing as a Chore
Some writers get writer’s block simply because writing is hard. The story might be fun at first, but eventually, they hit a point where writing is difficult. It becomes a chore. The writer can’t figure out how to make it fun again, so she just lets the story sit there. And sit there. I just want to say that for me, I have to go find the answers to my writing problems; I can’t just sit there and expect them to come to me. Taking an extended break hardly ever helps me. For other writers, it might be different. But sometimes you just need to apply your butt to the chair and shoulder your way through it.

A Loss of Motivation
Sometimes it’s not really writer’s block, but the writer losing his drive to write. He might just need a break, but in my opinion that break should include watching or reading other fiction–particularly fiction he loves, because it can refuel his writing drive. I know that for me, if I’m continuously reading or watching fiction that I love, I feel motivated to work on my own, even when it’s difficult.

Perfectionism
Sometimes I get writer’s block when I’m trying to be too perfect with my writing. It’s like I want to get everything right all at once. In that case, I just need to give myself permission to mess up or overlook problems–I can fix them later. It helps if I fix only a handful of problems with each pass. If I try to fix all of my story’s problems at once, I find that I can’t really fix anything.

 

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

The Call of the Creative

Creators

About Chas Hathaway

Chas is an author, musician, husband, dad, and X-grave digger. He's always enjoyed writing. He started keeping a daily journal when he was 13, and that started a pattern of regular writing that has continued to this day.

His first book, Giraffe Tracks, a memoir of his missionary experiences in South Africa, was published in 2010, and in July 2011, Cedar Fort published his book, Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with DATING?!

Chas has been playing piano since 1994, and actively writing New Age piano compositions since 1996. He has long felt that the greatest factor in the influence of a piece of music is the intent of its author. He has also written numerous LDS Hymn arrangements, many of which are available in sheet music, including the favorite hymns, If You Could Hie to Kolob and Come Thou Fount.

So far, Chas has 4 albums out:

Tune My Heart, Released 2012
Anthem of Hope, 2010
The Ancestor, 2009
Dayspring, 2007

While music and writing are his most time-consuming work, he also enjoys gardening, inventing games, and most of all, spending time with his beautiful wife and adorable little kids.

Helpful Creative Side Hobbies

Photo by Bre Pettis on Flickr

As writers, we are deeply creative. In our work, we expend so much creative energy that it’s easy to get in a tangle, where we have too many ideas bunched up, and can’t seem to write fast enough. If you’re the kind of writer who can devote many hours a day to your writing/revising/submitting without experiencing the tangle, you’re fortunate indeed. For the rest of us, sometimes a good trick to working through the tangle is to have other creative endeavors to work on.

My theory is that the creative mind can be both burned out OR reenergized by creative effort. If you’re feeling a burnout coming on, put away your book for a day and do something else creative. You may find when you come back to your book, your creative juices are fresh and ready for another go.

Here are a few creative outlets I’ve found quite satisfying:

  • Music (especially try creating your own)
  • Fine Art (drawing, painting, sculpting)
  • Crafts (just glance at your Pinterest account and you’ll have more ideas than I can suggest)
  • DIY projects (Those shelves you’ve been meaning to build, or the greenhouse, etc)
  • Storytelling (just improvise a story for your kids, nieces and nephews, or grandkids)
  • Dance (especially freestyle–don’t worry about feeling stupid, you can close your doors and windows, it’s really quite fun)
  • Landscaping (If you don’t have a yard, sculpt your indoor plants into fairy gardens. If you don’t know what that is, search the term on Pinterest)
  • Calligraphy (and no, you really don’t need specialized pens for it if you’re not doing it professionally)
  • Cooking (invent your own recipe)
  • Scrap booking (Okay, so I haven’t done much of this, but some people really dig it)

What other creative fields have you dabbled in that help renew your creative juices?

 

About Chas Hathaway

Chas is an author, musician, husband, dad, and X-grave digger. He's always enjoyed writing. He started keeping a daily journal when he was 13, and that started a pattern of regular writing that has continued to this day.

His first book, Giraffe Tracks, a memoir of his missionary experiences in South Africa, was published in 2010, and in July 2011, Cedar Fort published his book, Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with DATING?!

Chas has been playing piano since 1994, and actively writing New Age piano compositions since 1996. He has long felt that the greatest factor in the influence of a piece of music is the intent of its author. He has also written numerous LDS Hymn arrangements, many of which are available in sheet music, including the favorite hymns, If You Could Hie to Kolob and Come Thou Fount.

So far, Chas has 4 albums out:

Tune My Heart, Released 2012
Anthem of Hope, 2010
The Ancestor, 2009
Dayspring, 2007

While music and writing are his most time-consuming work, he also enjoys gardening, inventing games, and most of all, spending time with his beautiful wife and adorable little kids.