4 Practical Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

4 Practical Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

Introduction

“Every writer I know has trouble writing.” – Joseph Heller

Ever sit down in front of your computer in full preparation to do some serious writing, and then draw a blank? Yeah, me too. I think it happens to all of us. It can be frustrating and disheartening, especially in this day and age where everyone is constantly on-the-go and in-a-hurry. This article will offer some practical, easy-to-apply advice to help overcome writer’s block. With any luck, you’ll be tickling those keys and filling pages in no time.

Keep a Journal

Keeping a journal has gained a very 90s-teenage-girl connotation, but can serve as a helpful tool. My mind gets cluttered with day-to-day life. The dishes in the sink. The laundry in the basket. The bills needing paid. Dinner to be prepared. The list goes on and on. Taking the time to write out what’s on my mind, what I’ve done, what I have yet to do, and when I plan to do it helps me to process and clear my thoughts.

Another tactic is free writing. Open a notebook and write everything you’re thinking until all your thoughts are hashed out. Once you run out of things to write, set it aside and put your focus into your work. You might find this kind of clarity extremely helpful in the creative process.

Read as Much as You Write

This one is a tough one for me because I write all the time. I try to devote every spare moment to my work, but I find if I’m not pouring into myself, my work suffers. My primary project is Tales of Espiria, a fantasy series, so I try to read in the same genre. I recommend you do the same; read what you write. I discovered quickly that I have developed quite the critical eye when it comes to my genre. When reading work by renown others (Sanderson, Martin, Jordan, Tolkien, etc.), I take the time to appreciate it more. I take note of the authors’ methods, make notes of the things I like and the things I don’t like to better improve my work.

You don’t have to read the same genre you write. Sometimes it’s good to pick up a feel-good or self-help novel for motivation. Topics like organization or time management help encourage me to stay on the ball and keep working. Regardless, make sure you’re taking the time to take some creativity in so the creativity you’re putting out stays fresh.

Write Something for Fun

If you’re a writer, I hope you’re not doing it for the money—or at least just for the money. It’s a long, hard road and takes a lot of time and dedication before the payoff arrives (in most cases). For me, I get so caught up in Tales of Espiria, I forget that I’m allowed to write other things. To break up the monotony, I take the time to write short stories, poetry, blog articles, book/movie reviews, or fan fiction. Writing is fun and fulfilling for me. Sometimes finishing a few small projects keeps me driven to continue the big ones.

Fan fiction is so much fun. I have written a couple of them and plan to continue. You can create a free account and post on Fan Fiction. Write about your favorite TV series or comic book universe. It doesn’t have to be long, there are no deadlines, there’s no pressure to market it since you’ll never get paid for it, and you will probably have a lot of fun doing it.

Story Cubes

My husband bought me a gift one year for Christmas. I opened a set of dice to find a random assortment of pictures and words printed on them. They might be the best gift he’s ever given me. When I’m itching to write something but find difficulty focusing on the project I want to work on, I give these dice a whirl and build an impromptu story based on the random assortment provided. They’re short, sweet, and to-the-point stories, typically less than 100 words, but sometimes that’s all it takes to get the creative juices flowing.

There are several varieties available online. I recommend Rory’s Story Cubes. They are marketed as children’s toys but do not be dismayed; these things are awesome and worth every penny.

Conclusion

The best advice I can give is to mix it up and find something that works for you. Each individual has his or her own process and way of thinking. Take these tips and cater them to your methods. Whatever you do, don’t just sit there staring at your screen for an hour and expect your work to write itself. I’ve been there, done that, and know nothing makes me feel worse than feeling like I’ve wasted valuable time.

I hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. Please let me know and feel free to share with others. If you have any advice on what you do to overcome writer’s block, feel free to contact me so I can feature it in a future blog. Thanks for reading!

How to Improve Your Manuscript

How to Improve Your Manuscript

Introduction

This article will give you some practical, easy-to-apply writing and editing tips guaranteed to improve the quality of your work and reduce your word count. While it is more geared towards long manuscripts (novels and novellas) most of it will apply to short stories, essays, and blogs too. Publishing is a competitive market and roping in readers sometimes proves as difficult as nailing Jell-O to the wall. By shaping your words in a format more easily read and bringing your word count down, you give your work a much better chance of catching attention.

Adverbs

Adverbs clutter up your narrative with unnecessary description. These words end in L-Y most of the time and writers tend to overuse them. A good test as to whether a word belongs or not is to strike it out of the sentence. If it still makes sense, leave it out. Let me show you what I mean.

Damiar crept silently down the hallway, hoping and praying his footsteps did not catch the attention of the guards roaming the castle.

Read that sentence without the underlined word. See? It still makes sense. The part about him hoping and praying not to catch the guards’ attention implies he’s trying to remain silent. Never assume your readers are dumb. That sounds basic, but it’s the truth. If you get in the habit of overstating your action, your narrative gets wordy and annoying. Here’s another example.

“Would you like me to show you the right way to do that?” Damiar asked.

“I don’t need any help from you,” Farrina snapped icily. She continued assembling the weapons vigorously, intent on doing her share without the assistance of others.

With a few exceptions, it is not necessary to say how a character says something. Using ‘icily’ to define a cold tone is overstated here. In the previous sentence, we glean Damiar’s condescension from his word choice. Context tells us she does not reply with a cheery tone. The same can be said of using the word ‘vigorously.’ Her intent is stated in the phrase afterwards, the sentences still make sense, and the same picture is painted.

Here you see a sample of sixty-three words, but you see how easy adverbs find their way into narration. Using some basic math, let’s assume a writer uses 3 adverbs per 63 words in a 100,000 word manuscript, or 1 adverb every 21 words (and this is a conservative estimation). Rounding down, that’s 4,761 words, an entire chapter’s worth, most of which do not belong. By minimizing your use of adverbs, you can cut thousands of words out of your manuscript.

Use of the word ‘That’

We love this word and I have no idea why. Perhaps it adds a bridge or transition while speaking on some subconscious level. I’ve seen writers use this word when they should use a comma instead. Just like adverbs, ‘that’ is an unnecessary word 99% of the time. Let me show you what I mean.

“I just wanted to say that I love you and that you mean the world to me,” Farrina said. Gazing into Razael’s eyes that turned blue after the incident on the waterfall. She knew that she loved him more than anything that she ever loved before.

I admit I overdid it here, but I want to paint a clear picture of just how little this words serves a narrative. I’ll let the story speak for itself here; read this excerpt with the word eliminated. Better yet, read both of them aloud. Remember, whatever it sounds like out loud is how it will sound in your readers’ heads.

I just wanted to say I love you and you mean the world to me,” Farrina said. Gazing into Razael’s eyes, turned blue after the incident on the waterfall. She knew she loved him more than anything she ever loved before.

The proof is in the pudding. In this case, every single use of the word ‘that’ proved unnecessary, serving no other purpose than to cluster up the words and upset the flow. But as I stated before, we love this word for some reason and use it all the time in everyday speech. Regardless, this should not reflect in our work. You see how easy it is to use ‘that’ in just a 46-word sample. Let’s do some math again using the same hypothetical 100,000-word manuscript. So, 5 uses of the word ‘that’ for every 45 words (rounded down for easy math), or 1 use for every 9 brings us to a whopping 11,111 words! Here’s some free professional advice you can take to the bank: any time the opportunity to cut more than ten thousand words from your manuscript presents itself, do it!

Use of ‘To Be’ Verbs

This piece of advice is less about word count, and more about the quality of your narrative. Our job as writers is to paint a picture in the minds of our readers. Free-flowing description can accomplish this far better than the use of ‘to be’ verbs: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, do, does, did, has, have, had, can, may, might, must, will, shall, would, should, and could. These words are lazy—plain and simple. Let me give you an example.

Lorrick and Damiar inched closer to the oasis. Through the trees, they could see there was a waterfall. Standing at the top of the rock face, there were several guards standing at attention, on the lookout for anyone who would intrude. With guards before them and behind them, danger was on both sides.

Writing this caused me pain, but for the sake of learning, I endured. Here’s the problem with using ‘to be’ verbs too liberally: instead of painting a picture, it reads like a list. He was six feet tall. He had brown hair. He was dressed in nice clothes. He did carry weapons with him. As a writer, our jobs are to show, not tell. ‘To be’ verbs only tell. Let me show you a better way to write the same passage and watch it come to life.

Lorrick and Damiar inched closer to the oasis. Through the trees, a waterfall cascaded over the rocks into a flowing river below. Standing at the top of the rock face, several guards stood at attention, on the lookout for intruders. With guards before them and behind them, danger lurked on both sides.

Without meaning to, and using more sensory details, I managed to rewrite this excerpt and use 1 fewer word (the first is 53; the second is 52). This tactic will increase your word count most of the time, but the good news is if you applied the other tips given so far, you’ll have plenty of room to fill your novel with rich description instead of monotonous lists and unnecessary words.

Verb Tenses

This is a tricky one as there are twelve tenses any verb can take in the English language. Past, present, and future, and then the simple, continuous, perfect, and perfect continuous of each one. Most writers write from a third-person limited perspective, and in a past tense. Since this is the most common style used, my examples will reflect as such. Let me note, if you write your narration in the present tense, this will not apply to you as much.

The tendency to utilize a past-perfect or past-perfect-continuous form of a verb when the past-simple form of the verb conveys the same message is hard to overcome. This is the area in which I struggle the most with the tips mentioned so far, and for several reasons. Both versions of the examples are grammatically correct and both versions convey a similar message. However, only of them is technically correct and is much more efficient.

Coralyn had been to the council chamber once when she was young. It had scared her then to stand before the elders, and it scared her now. Trembling with anticipation, her imagination ran wild as to why she had been summoned. She could hear her brother’s voice in her head. If he had said it once he had said it a thousand times. “You need to think about the consequences before you speak or act.”

Once again, I overdid it for the sake of illustrating a point. This excerpt is rife with past-perfect verbs and most of them unnecessary. The urge to distinguish one timeline from another prompts the writer to change the tenses of the verbs, but here’s the catch: all of the things described above happened in the past and can all be described with past-simple tense. Let me show you.

Coralyn went to the council chamber when she was young. It scared her then to stand before the elders and it scared her now. Trembling with anticipation, her imagination ran wild as to why she had been summoned. She heard her brother’s voice in her head. If he said it once, he said it a thousand times. “You need to think about the consequences before you speak or act.”

Do you see how both passages convey the same message, but one uses fewer words (9 to be exact)? You’ll notice I left one of them unchanged to serve as an example for when using a tense other than past-simple is necessary. Even still, personally, I would change “…why she had been summoned,” to, “why her father summoned her,” because it eliminates the words and gives the reader more of a story. Now they know who summoned her to the council chamber with the same amount of words used and no change in the verb tenses.

It’s math time again! The first example is 75 words, and the second is only 69. Using the same hypothetical 100,000-word manuscript, let’s assume using this tip will allow us to eliminate 6 words for every 75, or 1 word for every 12 (rounding down again). That’s 8,333 words less by applying the principle to its entirety. The best way to catch these is to read your manuscript aloud, take note of your verb tenses, and change them to past-simple tense if it still makes sense and conveys the same message.

Conclusion

As you can see, the best thing you can do for your work is to say as much as you can with as few words as possible. Fill your story with sensory details, not boring ‘to be’ verbs. Show your readers something they’ve never seen before, don’t tell them. For those of you are numbers people like me, the running tally of words reduced in our ongoing hypothetical is 24,205. That is almost 25%! Let me tell you, it’s much easier to sell 75,000 words to a publisher than 100,000—especially if every words counts.

Let me know what you thought of this article and if it helped you with your writing and editing process. Thank you for reading!

What Writers Are Really Like

What Writers Are Really Like

Writers Are Weird

Writers are the weirdest people you’ll ever meet. Well, perhaps not the weirdest, but nowhere near what society would call ‘normal.’ Their minds are seldom in the here and now; they might look calm and collected on the outside, but behind their eyes, their imaginations are always running wild. Writers come in all varieties of personality types, but one thing you’ll find unites them all is this: they never stopped playing make-believe. That childlike sense of wonder about the world around us stood the test of time against the odds of our society’s tendency to encourage people to ‘outgrow’ their imagination. It’s why I like meeting other writers. Regardless of our differences, be they race, religion, income, or any other arbitrary categorization we use to define human beings, our souls are going to connect on a similar wavelength.

In high school, my Expository Writing teacher said to the class, quoting E. L. Doctorow, “Writing is a socially-acceptable form of schizophrenia.” I think every writer at some point in his or her life has questioned their own sanity. I know I have. People make jokes about hearing voices in their head not being normal, and I would think to myself, “I hear voices in my head all the time.” Don’t be alarmed, however. These voices come in the forms of personalities and characters who might one day find themselves on the pages of a future novel. While not true of all writers, you’ll find that most of us tend to talk aloud to ourselves, and not just when we’re working.

Writers Are Artists

In twenty-first century America, we find, heartbreakingly so, that fewer and fewer people read. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “I’m just not much of a reader,” I wouldn’t need to write to make money anymore. Living in a digital age, with a buffet of streaming media at the tips of our fingers, more people prefer television and film. So why produce art fewer people will appreciate? Well, have you ever heard someone say, “The book was even better than the movie,”? There’s a reason for that: visual entertainment, no matter how crammed-packed with special effects, will never—I repeat, never—compete with the human imagination. You see, especially for those of us who write fiction, it is the part of the human mind to which we appeal.

When someone says they are an ‘artist,’ we typically think painter, sculptor, dancer, or musician. When someone says they are a ‘writer,’ we have a tendency to put them in a separate compartment. But that’s what we are: artists. Our canvas is a blank piece of paper or computer screen, our paintbrush, a pen or keyboard, and our finished product, an experience. It may come in the form of a story, a poem, an essay, or a blog. We use words to paint a picture in the minds of our readers in hopes to take them to another place, perhaps another time, and see through the eyes and ears of someone who doesn’t even exist. And why? Because we want other people to read our work and enjoy it? Sure. That’s a part of it. But real writers do it because they love it more than anything else in the world. Just ask one.

Writers Understand People

Writers are a scary judge of character and it’s rare to find one gullible or easily-duped. We spend so much time trying to understand people in order to make our characters as believable and relatable as possible. We don’t force our characters say or do anything, we invent them, and let them loose. We constantly ask ourselves, “What would he say?” or “What would she do?” and develop a honed skill at reading people as a result. After studying human behavior for so long, trying to not only understand it, but essentially replicate it, writers can usually deduce the motivation behind people’s words or actions. Long-story-short, I wouldn’t recommend trying to bullshit a writer, though you’re welcome to try. You’ll just give them the opportunity to call out what you’re doing and why.

On the flipside of this, oftentimes you’ll find writers make great friends. We pay attention to what people respond to, positive and negative, and for those we love: we aim to please. For this reason, you’ll notice writers sometimes wear different hats depending on who they are around. It’s not faking or insincere, but another representation of who they are—one they think you’ll respond to best. What can I say? We’re a complicated lot, rich with layers and complexities, and sometimes downright ridiculous. But as Marilyn Monroe once said, “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius, and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

Writers Work Hard

If you’re familiar with ‘Family Guy,’ you have probably seen the bit where Stewie heckles Brian about writing a novel. If don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ve included the entire quote here for your pleasure.

“How you uh, how you comin’ on that novel you’re working on? Huh? Gotta a big, uh, big stack of papers there? Gotta, gotta nice litte story you’re working on there? Your big novel you’ve been working on for 3 years? Huh? Gotta, gotta compelling protaganist? Yeah? Gotta obstacle for him to overcome? Huh? Gotta story brewing there? Working on, working on that for quite some time? Huh? (voice getting higher pitched) Yea, talking about that 3 years ago. Been working on that the whole time? Nice little narrative? Beginning, middle, and end? Some friends become enemies, some enemies become friends? At the end your main character is richer from the experience? Yeah? Yeah? (voice returns to normal) No, no, you deserve some time off.”

People love to say this to me for some reason. I suppose they think it’s funny and I suppose it is; I laughed when I saw it—the first time. There’s a terrible misconception concerning writers: that they sit around doing nothing, but nothing could be further from the truth. Writers work hard. Really hard. Don’t believe me? Sit down at your computer, shell out 80,000 words that make sense, comb through it to make sure it’s as free from grammatical and spelling errors as possible, and then try to talk someone else into paying you for the opportunity to read it. After you’re done, let me know how long it took you to do it.

The truth is we pour our heart and soul into our work. We are just as passionate as any other artist about our work. Blood, sweat, tears, countless hours, and cups of coffee go into transforming ideas for others to understand and enjoy. Another misconception is that all writers are ‘starving artists.’ Some of us are pretty darn good at what we do and make a decent living doing so. Next time you hear someone say they are a writer, remember that just like any person with any profession, they take great pains to produce quality work, and are proud of the accomplishments like anyone would be.

To My Fellow Ink-Slingers

If you’ve stayed with me until this point, hopefully you’re reading this saying, “Yes! Yes!” I know what it’s like being a writer. Every challenge, every insecurity, every snarky comment from every hater who thinks our craft obsolete or irrelevant, I’ve faced it all, and I’m sure you have too. Being a writer isn’t easy. The work is hard, the pay sucks, and the label comes with all kinds of disheartening stigma. But chances are though, you’re like me and you don’t do it for the money or the approval of others; you do it because you love it and you can’t imagine doing anything else. To that I say, “More power to you!”

Our craft is not obsolete and it is not irrelevant. While fewer people read nowadays, the global population is larger today than ever before, and a great many of them still read. Your efforts are not in vain and under no circumstances should you let discouragement of any kind dissuade you from pursuing your dreams. You will find success if you make the decision to never quit and possess the three necessary ingredients: talent, skill, and determination.

Conclusion

For those of you who took the time to read, thank you. Readers are a writer’s best friend. I appreciate you more than I could adequately articulate with words alone. I hope this has given you some insight into what writers, as people, are really like. For my fellow writers, remember this if nothing else: you can’t lose if you refuse to quit. Oh! And one more thing: don’t ever stop listening to the voices in your head.