Posts Tagged ‘writer’s block’

Two crucial skills for the writing life.

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Each day, we are bombarded by the tasks we must do, by the things we want to accomplish, and by the demands of tasks and people upon our time. There is only so much time, and so often too many things to do. We necessarily must master the skill of multitasking, of doing more than one thing at a time: answering the phone and emails, scheduling meetings and signings, managing children and pets, managing a household, making time for love, tracking our books and our word count.

Writing & publishing have become a multi-skill career, especially for writers, where we must write, have a business plan, set goals, design covers, write a blog, maintain a website, and market our books. Some of us do all of these things, some of us out-source some of it. And most of us do have other demands placed on our time, like family, friends, favorite past-times, other jobs.

And all of this demands that we multitask, and that is necessary. It’s almost a survival skill.

Lost in all of this multitasking, all of this busyness, is the equally crucial skill of … focus. Being able to focus fully, for long periods, is very important. Lost too is perhaps our best work, our richest and most engaging writing, and our real potential as writers. Without focus, our work suffers, our creativity isn’t as great or as deep. The constant interruptions and distractions mean we not only do not get as much done of what is really important for our dreams (writing, for example), but what we do during those crucial hours isn’t of the quality that we could want.

What can we do to more fully apply that skill of mental focus to our work, our writing. On my blog post about writer’s block (filed under Writer’s Life), I recommend using a timer and freeing up the mind from other things that might intrude. It’s kind of like beginning to practice meditation, where other thoughts and distractions must be kept to a minimum, and where mental discipline must be continually exercised. Once you’ve decided that it is more important that you become more deeply focused when you write, then you will probably think of other ways to accomplish this.

Here are some tips on focusing from that previous blogpost:

1) Before ending the day’s writing time, write a few lines of the next scene or a few ideas for that scene, so that it’s easier to pick up at the next session.

2) As you sit there, take the first 10 to 15 minutes to read a section of a book on craft or articles on craft, to switch your mind from the daily grind to writing and craft.

3) Set up your writing time so that all you have to think about is writing. Since you have other pressing things to do in your day, perhaps schedule your day on the evening before, so that when you begin to write, all of those other things are settled, done, and you’re not thinking about all the other things you have to do that day. Instead you’re thinking about and focused on writing. (see No. 5 & 6)

4) Write in a Journal before you begin your writing time, to dump all the things that are bothering you or distracting you. Assign a maximum time for this (5 minutes), otherwise it could take over much of your writing time.

5) Set a timer for the length of time you want to write and then think of nothing else during that time–that is the time you have for writing–until the timer goes off. This allows you to fully focus on your writing, and to set everything else aside for that hour or for whatever time you’ve allocated.

6) When you sit down to write, if other things occur to you that must be done or that are competing with focusing on writing, then quickly create a list of those things you need to do or think about. And then put it aside, so that they’re all written down and will be less likely to distract you.

7) Plan–an outline or variation of one, but at least a general idea of where you’re going with the novel, whether it’s a general statement, a synopsis with the main plot points, or an outline.

And a quote on the subject:  “…when you are completely open, when on all levels you are in complete communication, completely integrated, then there is joy and you begin to create … creativeness is a sense of total self-forgetfulness, when there is no turmoil, when one is wholly unaware of the movement of thought.” — Krishnamurti.

How do you see yourself applying & balancing these skills in your life?

 

 

The Artist Date–creative renewal

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

Julie Cameron wrote a book called The Artist’s Way.  In the book, she advocates for what she calls “The Artist Date.”  This is something I’ve tried to incorporate into my weeks. Her idea: a 2-hour (or so) block of time that an artist–writer, designer, painter, musician–sets aside to spend time alone for nurturing their creativity, their inner creative child. (See the book for more information.) Julie Cameron talks about “replenishing our creative resources.”  She also writes that resistance to one’s artist dates is “a fear of intimacy–self-intimacy.”

(Note: According to psychologists, the self is made up of 3 entities: the adult, the parent, and the child. And of course the conscious and subconscious.)

As a past (and present) student of psychology (literally having taken a lot of coursework), I believe these are the kinds of things that help keep an artist fresh, keep the creative wheels turning, and each person is different as to what will be their creative fountain of renewal and ideas. But this need for renewal–for living life so that you as an artist have a full reservoir of creative raw material, and thus more to apply in your creative field–is nothing new. It also helps with writer’s block.

Here are some of my artist’s dates ( which can also serve as research for a book):

A new experience, a new possibility for a setting in a novel.

A walk or run on the beach or along the river, in the woods or mountains.

A visit to the bookstore (or library), to gather magazines (at least some that I don’t usually read) and books for perusal, with hot tea at hand

A visit to the local Art Museum, gallery, historical landmark, or other interesting places.

A drive into the country or elsewhere to visit somewhere that’s loved, somewhere that’s new.

Playing music or doing something else that exercises another talent or creative activity.

                                       *    *     *

Do you like the idea of artist dates? Do you use artist dates in your life? What kinds of things renew you as an artist/writer?

“The most potent muse of all is our own inner child.” — Stephen Nachmanovitch.

What to write… ?

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Coming up with a “novel” idea…but more than that…

Someone(s) once said that what you write is more important that how you write it.  But also what kind of books and what kinds of themes do you *want* to write. What themes truly resonate with you?

Here are some questions that might be worth exploring in pursuit of that answer:

First, when I wrote personal statements to apply to grad school, I was asked who had influenced me the most during my life and how had they influenced me?  Applying that to publishing…

Since what you write and your career in publishing is as important as getting into grad school, let’s apply that to writing — your writing percolates up from your life, from what you’ve experienced, from who you’ve become and therefore who and how you’ve been influenced, what you’re interested in, and how you’ve come to think about things.

So, in the interests of discovering what you should be writing, or more about what you should be writing–a game of nines:

What 9 people have influenced you the most during your life–not just the writing years or your adult years–and how did they influence you?

On those same lines, what are the 9 key things that have happened in your life that have influenced you…the most?

What are the 9 top books that you *absolutely* love (or scenes), and why? And movies, the same.

What 9 books or plots or kinds of stories or scenes would you like to see written or made into a film or have always wanted to write?

What are your top 9 interests and, of those, which are the interests that you devote the most time to?

What are your top 9 favorite characters in fiction and/or in history, and why? What do you like about them? Strong personality or character, place in history, approach to life, romantic adventures, ability to do the right thing, part of a legend, wisdom, and so on…

What are your  top 9 favorite TV shows in the past and currently, and why?

And finally, the last question (no nines), What do you like to read and what do you actually spend time reading? This is always a good question, except that many people love to read some kinds of books, say romance, but love to write and are best at writing, a different type of book, say mainstream, or thrillers, or young adult.

This is kind of a journey in self-discovery, of yourself and of you as a writer. So, I’d suggest letting the answers percolate, and then just see where this takes you. ;-D

The New Year of Writing

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

It’s the New Year, a time for resolutions, a time for renewal, and a time for renewed commitment to writing.

Here are some books that have inspired me or helped me:

One of the first books in my writing life that inspired me is Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. Chapters that may be particularly good are “Interlude: On Taking Advice,” “The Critic at Work on Himself,” and “The Source of Originality.”

Another great book for writing, for setting goals and for achieving successful  as a writer in the publishing world, is Write it Forward: From Writer to Successful Author by Bob Mayer, NY Times best-selling author of over 50 books.  This is an excellent book. It takes you through a unique process of setting goals, a process he adapted to writers and writing from his experiences at West Point and in Special Forces as an A-Team leader, and then as a best-selling author.  He is also one of the top indie published authors in the country, and speaks at workshops and conferences around the world. This process works. His website is: www.bobmayer.org

A more general book about setting goals, but one that is also excellent is Work With Passion in Midlife and Beyond: Reach Your Full Potential & Make the Money You Need by Nancy Anderson. Nancy cofounded two career counseling firms and then established her private practice. She has hosted her own radio show, appeared in numerous television and radio programs, and spoken to civic, business and professional organizations.  Her website is: www.workwithpassion.com

One more very good book on creativity is Freeing Your Creativity: a Writer’s Guide by Marshall J. Cook.  Some especially very good chapters for getting yourself motivated are: “What’s Getting in Your Way?” “Creative Procrastination” and “Keeping That Writing Appointment.”

And of course, there’s Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for artists of all kinds.

Are there books that have helped you as a writer or inspired you?

Writer’s Block: Shift into Writing Mode

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Avoiding the writing roadblocks…

But not by taking a detour. Since Writer’s Block IS a detour. 🙂 Too much time, too much mileage. Instead, I try (emphasis, sometimes, on “try”) to plan the approach and then crash through that barrier.

We know that if we want to write, we must apply that “bum glue,” or as author Judith Ashley has described it, “keeping my tush in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard.”

However, there are 2 basic problems: the first is getting ourselves to that chair; the second is “applying that glue”–staying there and being productive. And even after we have established a writing schedule, we often need to prioritize again as we face new challenges in our non-writing  life:  family, friends, other work.

Feeling a sense of resistance about getting started writing, or about moving ahead with your writing? What is this resistance, exactly, and what can be done about it?

First, it’s important to have goals, to know what you want and why you want it. Having just a general idea that we want to write doesn’t always get results–if we’re not writing or not writing enough. Knowing why you want something ( to write) will help to keep you motivated. Knowing why will help you stay motivated about what you want. The same things that kept us from starting to write, from getting ourselves in front of the computer, may keep us from actually writing when we’re there. So, this is another reason why it’s important to know what you want and why you want it.

Whether we’ve established the habit of writing or we’re in the process of establishing it, once we’re in that chair (applying that bum glue), we need triggers–things that will shift us into writing mode, from real world to narrative world. Once we’re in that seat, we just need to be able to shift into high gear.

Below are ten (10)  ways to beat writer’s block, to clear or crash through those roadblocks to writing.  If you want, keep the list near your writing space or in a notebook that you use for inspiration.

1) Before ending the day’s writing time, write a few lines of the next scene or a few ideas for that scene, so that it’s easier to pick up at the next session.

2) As you sit there, take the first 10 to 15 minutes to read a section of a book on craft or articles on craft, to switch your mind from the daily grind to writing and craft.

3) Set up your writing time so that all you have to think about is writing. Since you have other pressing things to do in your day, perhaps schedule your day on the evening before, so that when you begin to write, all of those other things are settled, done, and you’re not thinking about all the other things you have to do that day. Instead you’re thinking about and focused on writing. (see No. 5 & 6)

4) Write in a Journal before you begin your writing time, to dump all the things that are bothering you or distracting you. Assign a maximum time for this (5 minutes), otherwise it could take over much of your writing time.

5) Set a timer for the length of time you want to write and then think of nothing else during that time–that is the time you have for writing–until the timer goes off. This allows you to fully focus on your writing, and to set everything else aside for that hour or for whatever time you’ve allocated.

6) When you sit down to write, if other things occur to you that must be done or that are competing with focusing on writing, then quickly create a list of those things you need to do or think about. And then put it aside, so that they’re all written down and will be less likely to distract you.

7) Plan–an outline or variation of one, but at least a general idea of where you’re going with the novel, whether it’s a general statement, a synopsis with the main plot points, or an outline.

8 ) Read about or listen to artists/writers talking about their own creative process–this could be on blogs or TV programs, like Charlie Rose, or at conferences–and develop your own library of inspiration, listing the most intriguing elements about how other artists describe their creative process.

9) Write an entirely different scene from the one that is next–perhaps a sex scene or action scene or put the hero or heroine into a scene in someone else’s book, plot or scene and write that character’s reaction to it. Or write dialogue with another character from someone else’s book, or with a famous person, or the character’s reaction to something–a news story, an event in your own life.  Of course, this will also help to develop your characters.

10) Renew yourself as an artist/writer. Give yourself a new space to write in or a new experience: Spend some time in a place that you haven’t visited, or that you know has inspired you in the past, and/or spend some time with people who are creative or who inspire you.

Basically though, for me, it comes down to focusing on writing and putting everything else from my mind…or  “Just Do It,”  though I use many of the above suggestions and they’ve helped me. Who was it that said, “Do or Do Not…There is no try.” 🙂  A hard approach, but a good motivator.

So what do you do when you’re facing writer’s block?