Slaying the Dragon of Writer’s Block

Okay, so I thought it would be a good time to touch on every author’s most feared enemy (other than having their laptop break down). Writer’s block. This fearsome beast has been known to strike cold fear into the hearts of even the most experienced wordsmiths and can wreak utter havoc on both works in progress and those to be written. However, in the hopes of aiding you in slaying this dragon, I will now talk about a few things that I find are helpful in my own struggles.

  1. Take a break

Okay, so I know this can definitely sound trite, but sometimes you just have to take a rest. Put aside the story you are working on for a few days and work on something else – or even just don’t write at all. It’s easy to get started on a book and be filled with burning passion at the beginning, only to face burnout midway because you pushed too hard. Taking a break gives your brain space to breathe and time to re-orient so that it can begin coming up with new creative ideas. And, as a precautionary measure for future reference, it’s always a good idea to pace yourself. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have days when the golden light of inspiration is shining on you and you churn out thousands of words. Rather, embrace those days, but don’t try to make them happen every day. You aren’t a sprinter, you’re a distance runner, and you need to plan accordingly.

  1. Read a book

Usually about the time you get writer’s block, the last thing you want to be doing is reading someone else’s work. It feels like having your problem rubbed in your face while a smug-and-published author looks on. However, reading someone else’s work and simply taking the time to relax and enjoy it can lead to the spark you need for rekindling the flames. Sometimes reading another book, looking at another character, hearing a bit if dialogue can trigger the thought “Hey, what if…” And then you’re off. Now, to be clear, I’m not saying you should steal another author’s ideas or words but looking at how other people have done things can often provide a good personal reference. I myself have five authors in particular who have been very influential on my writing style, simply because I read them so much growing up and I write in the same genre. They’re my literary role models – my inspirations, and I think that’s a good thing for everyone to have. It’s kind of like having a mentor, except you never have to actually talk to them. Instead, you just pick up one of their books.

  1. Get someone else to look at it

There’s nothing for writer’s block like a fresh pair of eyes. Having someone else look at your work is like opening a window and letting a fresh breeze in – just make sure you ask someone who is going to give valuable input. Now, you might get some positives, you might get some negatives, but it’s always worth it. For one thing, it makes you get out of your own head and look at things with someone else’s eyes. For another, your friend might have some suggestions on where you could take the story – especially if they are another writer. Even if you don’t end up using the ideas, they still have the potential to inspire you with new directions to take the characters or plot.

Wrapping it up

In the end, there’s lots of ways to battle writer’s block and slay it for the monstrous dragon that it is. There are just three ways that I have found effective in my own experience. Sometimes I might listen to music, or watch a movie, or go on a walk. However, it’s not so much what you do and how you battle the beast, it’s that you don’t let it win. So, pick up your swords and go bravely to the battle, for, in the end, you will win this.

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Characters? What Characters?

So, I’m sure you’ve all seen many articles expounding the necessity of building a good character. What’s more, I’m sure you’ve also seen thousands of “Build your character” questionnaires and worksheets. Now, these are all great resources, so please don’t think I’m putting down the people who make or use them. As a matter of fact, they can be very helpful. But at the end of the day, no matter how many worksheets you fill out, no matter how many facts you know about your characters, it still takes something more to make them pop out on the page and come alive. It takes an identity.

As a writer, I’ve figured out over the scribbled/typed forms of many drafts that if you aren’t feeling something when you write, the reader isn’t going to feel it when they read. Novels, rather like babies, are tricky things. They pick up on your emotions and copy them. When you’re holding a crying baby, getting stressed out is just going to make the baby get stressed out and cry louder. I speak of this, having the experience of caring for multiple younger siblings. So, if you feel tired or frustrated or just plain done when you’re writing a scene, that feeling is going to tint your words. I can’t even begin to tell you how many chapters I have written that were supposed to be emotionally moving, but because I wrote them without being in the proper mood, flopped over like wet cardboard when I went back and read them.

Story characters operate off much the same principle – though not quite. With scenes and chapters, you have to get into the right mood. With people, you have to get into their heads. It’s less about understating fears or motivations, and more about knowing what its like to be them – what makes them tick – because you thoroughly understand what it is like to be them. You have to reach deep inside yourself, even to places you thought were lost or hidden away and find the part of you that matches up with who the character is. In short, it isn’t just you creating a different person anymore; it’s you displaying on paper a new facet of your own identity.

When we read books, we get to live someone else’s life. Maybe that’s why books are so appealing. When you write a story, you get to live on the pages and reveal who you are more fully than ever. You become the person who’s life is being lived by the readers; because every character, no matter how big or small, is part of who you are.
So don’t be afraid to dive into your characters, to fill out a thousand-and-one questionnaires, to explore every side of their personality. Just remember, this is not some distant person whose essence you are trying to capture like fireflies in a jar – this is you. Looking far away or reaching for the stars isn’t necessary. Everything you need is already inside you.

Ten Stages of Writing a Rough Draft

Across time, people have felt the urge to write, to create – out of nothing – a universe of their own. Today, more individuals than ever will be called to make their way in the written world. And for those who are lucky enough to be chosen by a muse of creativity, here are ten stages that every writer can expect to experience when writing a rough draft.

1. Enlightenment
The world is new, thousand of ideas are flooding into the brain, splashing against one another, creating a mad cacophony of inspiration. The possibilities are literally endless at this point, as whatever an aspiring author intends to create exists only in their mind.

2. Bravado
This is also sometimes known as the “Time of Innocence”. How hard can writing be? One draft, and fans will be breaking down the door to see it. The computer is opened, a document adjusted with preferential font and spacing, and the author sits down to begin their masterpiece. Note: cups of coffee, gel pens, scribbled half-pages of notes, and other accessories usually accompany this stage.

3. Brain Freeze
Occurring within second of stage two, this is the second-most devastating period of a writer’s existence. Victims of this stage have been known to stare blankly at screens for hours at a time, attempting to comprehend what exactly words are. Young writers are particularly susceptible, and should take precautions to insure safety. Popular solutions are setting a timer to buzz every ten minutes, thus awakening the victim from their wordless haze, or using this period to create an outline for future efforts.

4. Caterpillar
Now progress is beginning to be made. Struggling every second, the writer begins typing words at a speed estimated to be between ten and twenty words a minute. Sentences are completed, paragraphs swell, and visions of future, completed, chapters may be experienced.

5. Interruption
This is the knock on the door, the call from a friend, the inevitable break into the writer’s consciousness by the outside world. In this moment, everything screeches to a halt. Inspiration flees and, with it, any forthcoming words that might have been about to be written down. Once again, the author’s mind becomes a total blank, sending them into a shock-like state. Entire trains of thought are known to have been wrecked through this event.

6. Traffic Zone
Often, in an attempt at recovery from either stages three or five, writers turn to music, online quizzes, and social media. While surfing though endless posts, under the title of “Research” any time set aside for actual writing is quickly sucked away. Contrary to popular belief, such a course of action only makes the writer’s return to their labor more difficult, as it enables a stream of separate thought to infiltrate their mind and create distraction.

7. Geyser
The writer is up and running. Thousands of words at a time spill forth from their fingertips, painting life and imagery across the printed pages. In this stage, it is extremely difficult to disengage from the “Writing Zone”. This results in late nights spent at the keyboard and long days spent mumbling plot points and bits of dialogue to oneself. It is considered inadvisable to approach a writer for any reason during this stage, unless an offering of food or chocolate is brought.

8. Wastelands
This is the day of reckoning, also known as “Writer’s Block”. Much more severe than Brain-Freeze, Interruptions, or Traffic Zone, this is the most devastating period in a writer’s existence. This stage usually occurs midway through the book and is caused by a loss of vision. The author finds themselves at a complete standstill, unable to remember where they were going with a particular character, plot, or section of dialogue. Symptoms include, but are not limited to: banging one’s head on the keyboard, questioning the choice of writing as a profession, the fear of never being as talented as Dostoyevsky, and typing nonsense words in the hopes of generating inspiration. Such a standstill may last anywhere from mere moments, to months, to years. However, by regaining the lost vision, the writer will once again be re-enabled to push forwards. Other solutions also include taking a break and working on another piece, so the writer may return with a fresh mind.

9. Last Mile
Not to be confused with Wastelands, this is when the author has reached the final chapter of their book. It is tempting to become bored with the project at this point and give it up completely. Not resulting from a lack of vision, this generally occurs because the vision has grown stale. Keeping the idea of the finished product in mind is essential at this point. Considering what one will say to the press when their book becomes a bestseller has also been found to be helpful.

10. Summit
This is the climax, the grand finale, the most majestic moment in a writer’s existence. This is the moment when the first draft has finally been finished. Glorious music has been known to come out of nowhere, as ethereal light shines down from the heavens, bathing the writer in its glow. Few moments will ever feel as spectacular as this one. However, the Summit is extremely temporary. Lasting from 3.6 minutes to 2 hours, it will be followed by feelings of shock as one turns through the pages of their draft. Writers, through writing, constantly grow better at their craft. There will be a significant difference in quality between the beginning and the end of one’s work. Also, as new skills and ideas come into play, the desire to go back and rewrite the entire piece will be overwhelming. Twenty-four hours will find the author once again seated at their computer, starting over.

Is it worth it? It is worth going through this arduous process, only to repeat it again? Make no mistake, writing isn’t exactly for the faint of heart. However, the rewards are beyond calculation. To change a heart, to put a smile on someone’s face, to be a shining light to the world – this is what true writers work for. It’s our goal, our dream, and our destiny. So, when challenges arise, when interruptions come, when life tries to drag you down, don’t sigh and give in. Just pick up a pen and write.

Music and Words

Music and Writing?
I love music. Aside from writing, it makes up one of the bigger obsessions in my life. Classical, Broadway, jazz, even Gregorian choir all have their place in my affections. Of course, you’re probably wondering, what does music have to do with writing? Well, that’s what this article is going to be about.

Writing in silence
Some days, I need to get away from the clutter of sight and sound in the world around me. So, I’ll take my laptop to a quiet spot and just write – the only sound that of the clicking keys. The silence helps me focus, clears my head and opens the floodgates for new ideas to come pouring in. These can be my most productive moments, when I am able to type out chapters at a time and often spend multiple hours on a writing binge. However, after awhile it’s easy to feel unmotivated. And when you’ve been writing for over and hour and a headache is beginning to creep into the back of your head it can be difficult to write the impactful, emotionally-gripping sections that every book deserves. This is where music comes in.

Words as a melody
I’m not naturally an extremely expressive person. Like many writers, I’m a bit more introverted and reserved. So when it comes time to write a scene that is supposed to have people weeping, or fill the hearts of readers with unspeakable joy, it can be a struggle to project those emotions onto a page for the reader to experience. This is where music helps me; I mean really helps me. Sometimes, I’ll create a soundtrack reflecting the mood of a scene I’m trying to write – happy or heartbreaking or inspiring. Or I might look for a song that musically describes a character-in-the-works. Broadway Show tunes are great for individual scenes, Classical or Jazz without lyrics are wonderful for overall mood. Having background music gets me into the mood I am trying to convey, and that shows up on paper. Instead of feeling like cardboard statues, I am able to get into the heads of my characters and bring them alive, to give them a real emotional voice.

Rhythm
Rhythm is a term typically applied to music, referring to the cadence and beat of a song. A writer’s life has a beat and rhythm all its own; the sound of clicking computer keys, the moment when you’re completely in sync with the words inside you and they pour out onto the pages, feeling the story take off. However, being writers, we all know how easy it is to get thrown out of sync. A brief interruption or breakoff in the middle of a section can send a train of thought off the tracks. And once you are out of step with the story, it’s not always easy to get back in. So, when you are struggling with mood or setting, pull up some fitting music, take a deep breath, and plunge in. Having the noise in the background may be a little distracting at first, but soon enough it will fade away, leaving only the shadows of its mood to creep into your writing and enrich it.

Writing Advice

Writing advice makes up a large part of the content for any author blog. So, before I begin spewing out recommendations on what to do and what not to do, I thought I should write an article about all those blogger writing posts you see on the internet (like this one). Thus, without further ado…

Writing Advice: To Take or Not to Take?

Writing a novel is both difficult and time-consuming. At times, you don’t know where to start, or even where you will end up. Because writing is such a fluid craft, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the endless parade of articles, blog posts, and advice from friends on the internet. Some of the most important decisions you make as a writer will be whether or not to listen to this advice. Mastering your own voice and being able to make wise choices is a crucial part of your development. So here are some positives and negatives of the information flood.

Positives:
As a beginning writer, I struggled a lot with how exactly to structure dialogue and create setting. At this time, the internet was my best friend. I skimmed hundreds of blog posts and researched article after article, finding something in each to help me. Because there is so much information out there, one of the positives of looking for writing advice on the internet is that, no matter what you are looking for, you can probably find it with a google search. Having a variety of authors to listen to is also very helpful, as it gives you input from a plethora of different backgrounds and styles. No matter what your writing level is, or what you are writing, there is someone out there who has walked where you are and is willing to share their experiences. Being able to trace other’s patterns and see what works for them can give a writer inspiration for their own style and guidance in their efforts.

Negatives:
There are hundreds of websites, blogs, and forums where writing advice can be found. However, this often leads to a single question getting several different answers, each with a different take on how things should be done. For instance, some writers think you should never use adverbs, others say adverbs are fabulous for setting the mood and should be used often. As a beginning writer, it was easy to get discouraged when I looked at “real” authors who wrote several-thousand-word novels and were avid bloggers with hundreds of followers. There was also the other end of the spectrum: writers who said they had the best advice and posted long articles, yet their stories were severely lacking in the kind of quality and content they claimed to be experts on. It became a chore, sifting through website after website, blog after blog, trying to find someone who I could trust to give good input. Then, when I did find them, I might disagree with their viewpoint or find their method didn’t work for me. After all, different techniques work for different writers. That’s one of the reasons why our craft holds so much variety.

What to do?
When it comes right down to it, you have to decide for yourself. Finding your own voice and style really helps with this, since it gives you a firm foundation and a solid idea of what works for you. Of course, the only way to really establish your writer voice is – surprise! – writing. So write whenever you can, experiment with dialogue and setting and outline and technique, browse blogs and websites galore, drink in all the information you can get your hands on. Then, at the end of the day, look down at your work, keep what fits for you and throw out what doesn’t. After all, despite what the everyone around you may say, you are the writer, and the world you create is in your hands.

 

Beginnings

Well, hello everyone! Today begins the saga of the Scribbling Scrivener. On this blog you will (eventually) find articles on everything from writing tips to humor to ancient history to random-things-I-am-researching-for-a-story. There will be days of laughter and days of serious contemplation, times when I am on a writing roll and can’t be stopped and times when I am in the throes of the deadly disease called “writer’s block.”

In short, I am inviting you to step on a roller coaster with me, to leap out into the unknown and see what we find there.

I’ve never written a blog before, and I know I’m bound to make mistakes. But then, that’s how we learn. If you never fall, you’ll never know what it’s like to stand back up again and see the world brand-new. I know that, with all the successes and mistakes it will bring, this is a journey I wouldn’t exchange for the world.

Today is my birthday, the beginning of the 19th year of my life. It’s a time for new dreams, new projects, new beginnings. As I embark on this blogging quest, I invite you to go with me. Together we will face dragons, turn kingdoms upside down, and find new adventures in the world around us.