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Sunday, June 3, 2018

Double, Double Toil & Trouble - #2 Writer's Block

Writer's block is a myth.

That's right I said it! It's a totally made up, non-existent excuse that some people use to give themselves permission to stop writing.

And why do they use this excuse? Because typically we don't like examining ourselves in a way that brings out the demons...and getting to the bottom of why you are not currently writing is typically all about those demons you're refusing to acknowledge.

So we call it writer's block because it's a safe excuse...everyone will say...awwww you poor writer...suffering from writer's block, how will you cope?

I'll tell you how you'll cope. You'll stop writing. And you'll do other things that make you feel better. And you'll say, but I have writer's block so it's okay to slack off tonight and play video games, watch TV, go shopping, talk to friends, etc. (As singular events, none of things mentioned things are bad...but when they replace writing time on a consistent basis, then they do become a bad habit keeping you from your job...of writing.)

Here's the thing...until you get down to the real issue you'll never beat writer's block. (I'm not talking about burn out...burn out is a very different beast and it's totally real...but it's also preventable.)

So, how do you beat writer's block?

First, stop calling it that. As soon as you say the words, in your head or out loud, you block yourself. It is a mental full stop. The words won't flow. You've incapacitated yourself. That's how powerful those two words are. And it has a history of being that powerful. I've seen writers, really good, really promising writers full stop for years...and then when they finally get around to sorting their demons out it's even harder to start writing again.

If there's one thing I know for a fact about writing, if you're not practicing your craft consistently, daily if necessary, then it gets harder and harder to pace yourself later.

Have you ever seen those strong man competitions? You know, the huge dudes who try to pull a plane or a tank or something? At first they have to dig in...really, really push to get going...and once they get going they use that momentum to keep going. But if they stop, getting going again is almost impossible.

I'm not saying you have to work all the time, but I am saying that you need to sort out the problem that's causing you to not write as quickly as possible so that you can regain your momentum and keep the words flowing. And to figure out what the problem really is you have to describe it honestly and as accurately as possible.

I don't feel like writing today because I'm depressed.
I don't feel like writing today because I'm really tired.
I don't feel like writing today because I got my hundredth rejection...or a bad review...or my kids won't be quiet...or I hate my story...or I don't know how to move my Act 2 forward...you get the idea.

Call it what it is first because then you know what the problem really is and you can deal with it. There are books and podcasts on how to move your act 2 forward, there are critique partners who will talk you off that "I hate my writing" ledge, there are noise cancelling headphones (really a must buy if you have kids.) There are ways to fix problems if you want to fix problems.

Sometimes the problem is too big for you to deal with alone...or in a certain time period, so you do what you need to do, you get the help you need to get, and you write when you can write, but you take care of yourself first...because once you start dealing with the real issue, the writing will come.

It still takes work though. Writing doesn't always come easy. I would argue that it hardly ever is easy. But if you're using the writer's block excuse, I guarantee, it's going to make your writing life a lot harder.

Take ownership of your writing...don't let your writing take ownership of you.

What do you folks think? Do you have a different way of looking at writer's block? Do you have tried and true methods of beating it?

I'm going to be talking about inspiration for the next post...where does it come from? How do you use it? And why I hate the muse.

Double, Double Toil & Trouble - #1 Intro and Best Practice

Recently I've been talking to a lot of aspiring writers and in those talks I've had some off handed requests made for some writing advice...which got me thinking...maybe it's time for me to start blogging about what I know...specifically what I know about writing, my experiences in publishing, and learning the craft (very witchy, I know!)

I come to you as a creative writing teacher of fourteen years and as an ever aspiring, published author of nearly ten.

In my Double, Double Toil & Trouble series, I will go through best practice, candid experiences and maybe, down the road, some opportunity for critique.

So, if you're interested...keep reading...if you're not...well, go buy one of my books instead and have a wicked little read.

Where to start? Well...with writing, of course.

You want to be a writer...to see your name on a book cover...to feel the excitement of holding your first book in your hands...and then to put pen to paper and sign it. Ahhh, the dream.

It's possible...absolutely, 100% (and I'll get to available options in another post) but not unless you actually do some writing.

And doing some writing means not making excuses about why you're not doing some writing...like right now (or as soon as you finish reading this post.)

In my Writer's Craft course, I always set the tone by starting class with ten minutes of mandatory writing time. We use prompts from a prompt book I picked up at Chapters a while back but no one has to use the prompt that I write on the board. Sometimes those just don't speak to everyone...the point isn't WHAT you're writing, the point is THAT you're writing. You can use any form, write about anything, just as long as you're writing.

I have three rules:

1) You write/type for the entire ten minutes. (Quietly, no interruptions!)
2) You do not edit...let the spelling mistakes and grammar errors run rampant!
3) You do this every day that we have class.

And I model this every day as well...even when I'm not feeling it...I still write while they're writing. Why? Well, because I'm the professional and I'm the teacher and if I'm not willing to do it then why should they?

It's good practice for beginners who are on a journey toward publication and good practice for me because sometimes I need a reminder of the power of daily writing exercises. Like any habit, routine is the key to sustaining it and that works for writing just as well as it works for flossing. You do it consistently and it becomes the norm. Make writing everyday your norm and it will help you in other ways later. (Like meeting deadlines and hitting word targets.)

Ultimately, you will have to be the master of your writing time...and making time for writing is your primary responsibility. No one will really force you to finish that novel...or that short story...or whatever it is. I mean, editors might, but really, you need to motivate yourself. And writing is hard work...and sometimes it's a tough chore. If I'm going to be totally honest, sometimes I absolutely hate it.

But, how can I say that! My dream is to be a writer!

Because it takes a lot of energy...and a lot of discipline...and I'd rather be watching a show or reading a book...but I wanna be a writer...so I have to write.

So let's start there...my challenge to you is to write every day for ten minutes starting today.

Later, I'll do a post about how to finish things...but let's just start with getting started, okay?

Get writing and don't make any excuses!
(I do not believe in writer's block...which will be the topic of my next post...so if you feel that excuse popping up in your head, stay tuned...I'll set you straight.)

And report back here later, let me know how it's going.