3 Tricks for Overcoming Writer’s Block

writersblockWhether you’re poised to write the next Great American Novel or need to do a company report (that is, by the way, due this Friday), it’s bound to strike you at one point or another. It’s been called the Terror of the Blank Page. It’s been called Writer’s Block. It’s horrible.

So what can you do about it?

1) Outline, outline, outline!

Outlines impose discipline on the writing process, and they prevent losing sight of where you’re going. Keeping an image of where you’re coming from and where you’re going will always help you get to that destination a little (or a lot) faster.

Decide right off what are your top five or ten points and write them down as bullet items. That’s it! That’s your outline! Now all you need to do is look at the flow of the outline and move your bulleted items around until you like the logic. Combine or split bullets if that works better.

letter writing vintage photoSo now, start writing: a 100-word summary for each bullet point.

Next, expand each summary by listing bullets under each one, thus creating a second outline level.

Now turn each of these secondary points into one or two full sentences. Try to ignore the points on either side, concentrate just on that one point you are making. Once you’ve done this for each point, you’re very close to being finished.

All you have to do now is insert an introduction, a conclusion, and the missing transitions between your points. Try not to endlessly revise as you go; save that for the second time looking at your text. When you do manage to get sidetracked, your outline will help you get back on track more quickly and easily.

2) Talk, talk, talk!

It’s often helpful to talk to somebody about what you’re trying to write. I’ve always found that talking about what I’m writing reveals just how muddled my thinking is, and gives me greater confidence in what I do have down. If there’s no one to talk to, draft your ideas as an email or letter to someone else, even if you never send it. The act of explaining something to another person often clarifies it for you.

3) Start new writing habits

Here’s something you probably don’t know: people who keep journals often find themselves experiencing writer’s block less frequently than the rest of us. In that vein of thought, you might want to consider practicing the exercises from one or more of the following:

Finally, many people say that in order to write, you have to – well, write. Write other things. Turn off your inner editor and write for fun. (Surely you remember what that is like!)

What are you waiting for? Do it, and you’ll find yourself… beyond The Elements of Style!

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8 Ways to Make Sure Your Writing Stays a Hobby

still life with old typewriterWhether or not we like it, writing is a business. Of course we’d all prefer to sit and gaze dramatically into the distance, scratch down a few words, then gaze again. We’d rather write (which is, after all, what we’re good at) rather than study, or do marketing, or create proposals. But if you want your writing to become your profession, you have to do a lot of the things you may well feel are beneath you.

Or not. Maybe that really isn’t what you want, after all. Maybe you should keep selling insurance, or tending shop, or doing bookkeeping, and write as a hobby. That way you don’t have to get your hands dirty, and your beautiful muse can remain pure.

So if that’s what you want, I have eight suggestions for making sure your writing stays a hobby, rather than a profession:

  1. man at photocopierDecide that you’re an artiste, not a businessperson. After all, you’re the one the muse inspires. Let those other money-grubbing business/salespeople go out there and make money for you: your job is done.
  2. Don’t keep records. Gets in the way of the muse.
  3. Accept that you know everything you need to know (see #1: you’re an artiste, after all).
  4. Don’t put your writing through a workshop or—God forbid!—an editor. It’s just the way you like it right now.
  5. Don’t consider following the rules for submission to a traditional publisher. Everyone else is putting their own work online, and once people know yours is up, you’ll make millions.
  6. Don’t learn the business: don’t make a business plan, don’t join a professional organization or network, don’t understand the dos and don’ts of contracts, don’t learn the minimums and how-to’s of pay for writing, don’t learn to target the markets, don’t refine your marketing skills and query writing.
  7. Think short term, not long term: don’t see what selling out (that is, writing for “portfolio purposes” or for very low money).will do to your bottom line and those of your colleagues.
  8. Be sure to see other writers as your competition, and don’t share anything with them. If someone else’s book is published, it’s a black eye for you.

Think about it. If you want to keep your hobby, it’s a worthwhile goal. If you want to improve your writing and perhaps even make it into a profession, then talk to me. And then you’ll be … beyond The Elements of Style!


Plot or Character? How About Both?

Use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker—because once really is enough!

atticusSome people see the world in binary terms: either/or, black/white, right/wrong. Some novelists work that way, as well: there are novels, for example that are clearly character-driven. The author develops characters and allows them to guide the storyline. These authors rarely if ever know in advance how their novel will end: they’re waiting for the characters to lead them.

Other novels are just as clearly plot-driven, with a storyline weaving its way through the book and the characters working to advance that storyline. In these books, the novelist can plot out the entire story and have a decent chance of ending up where they thought they would.

And I don’t mean to be mocking of either approach. Each approach has its readers, many of them quite passionate, and why else do we write other than to be read?

review-catch-22-963_214924c-540x360I’ve always counted myself in the first camp. I’m fascinated by individuals, their quirks and dreams, their backstories and their secrets. But my literary life has taken an unexpected turn and over the past few years I’ve been writing more mystery novels—which are, to a large extent, plot-driven. Oh, I’m sure there are novelists who are desperately approaching the end of their novels and still don’t know who killed off the hardware store clerk, but they must be few and far between! So I’ve been studying how to move more into the plotting end of things, and while there are obviously variations on a theme, there are certain elements that enable a plot to move forward.

Here is one possible progression through a plot-driven novel:

  • state an obvious problem
  • discover a hidden need of the main character
  • create an inciting situation
  • introduce complications
  • bring characters to a bleak moment of no hope
  • enable the protagonist to reach a decision
  • bring the situation to some kind of resolution

Neither approach—plotting or leaning on personalities—represents the “right” way to write a novel, of course; there is no such thing. And perhaps the best novels really do come down in the middle, offering both exciting storylines and memorable characters. It is up to you to discover your areas of comfort and how to make the writing process work for you. And then you’ll be… beyond The Elements of Style!