Posts tagged "writer’s block"

Having a Hard Time Writing? Try This

So you clicked here, did you? Well, good…sort of.

Let me start by getting some things out in the open. First, this post is a little long. Second, you may not agree with or like everything I’m about to say. Third, I’m writing this because I actually care about writers like you, or at least that’s my honest-to-goodness reason for hammering out this post. Fourth, I probably need to hear it as much, if not more than, you. So hopefully what I’m about to say will help hammer it into my brain (and yours, should you benefit as well).worker-with-a-hammer_1048-1733Okay, enough of the preliminaries. I thought I might grab your attention with my catchy title (you often have to pat yourself on the back, because your publisher, editor, agent, and readers aren’t always up for the task). Then I figured I’d offer my insights into what you should really do when you’re having a hard time writing, whether it be from writer’s block, fatigue, lack of inspiration, or the itty bitty shitty committee that lives inside your head and tells you that your writing sucks 🙁

But wait! you might protest. Why take advice from a guy who’s only had two books published? If I told you I was almost finished with the third, would that help? No, probably not. Okay, well, let me say a few things in my defense. First, there are thousands of writers out there (a rather conservative estimate) who give advice and/or publish how-to books on what to do when you’re stuck in your writing who haven’t many published books to their credit. So let’s just say I’m in ___________company (I’ll let you fill in the blank).

In fact, I’ve read so much of this advice and so many of these books (in case you’re keeping track, this is the second point in my defense), that I feel warranted—no, I’d go with darn near compelled—to say something on the topic. Yes, friends, from Aristotle’s Poetics, E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel (rewind if you missed the quantum leap) and Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write, to more modern folks like Dwight Swain (Techniques of the Selling Writer), Larry Brooks (Story Engineering), James Scott Bell (Plot & Structure), Nancy Peacock (A Broom of One’s Own), Ann Lamott (Bird by Bird), Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) and a slew of others, I’ve read the gamut of writing books. So maybe that puts me in a place where what I have to say on the topic at least qualifies me to…well, at least not to say anything too stupid.

I know, I know. You’re saying, “Well hell, Matthew, you’ve already done that,” to which I’d heartily concur and slap my head in Homer Simpson fashion (“Doh”!). Nonetheless, I remain undaunted in my effort to (eventually) get to the point. Now I hear your chorus of, “Oh, please, God, soon!” so I’ll make this a little shorter than I’d intended.

 

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The third part of my defense (that I have something useful to say on writing despite having only two novels published) consists of the very fact that, after many years of hard work, I’ve only had two novels published. Now, how can I use such a point as a justification for the very same point? That, my wordsmith friend, is an excellent point. I’m going to try my hardest not to use the word “point” for the remainder of this paragraph.

There, I’ve succeeded. My point is this: If you’re having a hard time writing, the best solution I can offer (after years of reading about writing much more than I’ve actually written) is to write. I’ve discovered via that long and winding road (and strawberry fields forever, man) that when you’re a writer, the answer to most questions/issues concerning writing can be found by doing one thing: writing. Now, if you’re completely burned out (and only you can tell if you are), or forcibly restrained, this does not hold, I repeat: this does not hold. But short of these exceptions, the general rule seems to be that, when in doubt, write. In fact, when you’re not in doubt, write. Actually, I think there are only two times when you should write: when you feel like it, and when you don’t. Even if you don’t actually use what you write in your work in progress (WIP), having something on paper, to me at least, sure beats having nothing on paper.

green-fountain-pen-and-ink-bottle_2750795

So what am I saying? Am I telling you not to read books on writing? No. I would never tell you to do or not to do anything. There are certain books out there I have found absolutely essential to keep me sane as a writer and a human being, and to prime the pump when my creative juices freeze into a popsicle. If you’re wondering what those books are, please see all the books I mentioned earlier—with the exception of E.M. Forster’s book (I just couldn’t get that one to work). Are there other good books out there on writing? Certainly. I just mentioned the ones that I can’t do without—your choices may well be different. But I also know that writing books on writing is to some people a lucrative business, one that preys on our insecurities. So I think we need to be selective in the books we choose to help develop our craft, and to realize that, once we’ve got the fundamentals of writing down, often the solution to our writing problems is to keep on writing.

There are a million excuses not to write, but the creativity we use in coming up with such justifications and rationalizations would be better served furthering our WIPs. So the stark naked realization I’ve come to is that 99 out of 100 times, writing is the best solution to my writing problems. The boldness, starkness, and simplicity of this statement may catch some unaware or cause others to say, “Well, of course”! It’s kind of like saying the answer to your smoking addiction is to stop smoking, and the solution to your drinking problem is to quit drinking. But ultimately, these ARE the answers, and, however simple and painful they are, they exist whether we want to acknowledge them or not. It’s taken me a long time to realize this, and a longer time to implement it, so I needed to put it out there. I hope it helps someone.

I’ll sign off with the words of Brenda Ueland. They’ve often provided me with inspiration to keep on writing and to help me remember that writing can be joyous. “[Y]ou should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten—happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.”

Peace and love, my friends.

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Posted by Matthew Peters - September 30, 2016 at 11:09 am

Categories: Writing   Tags: , ,

Why I Write with One Eye Closed

squinting-eye_2555352I think we can all agree on one thing: Writer’s block sucks. I know some people say they’ve never experienced it, but I’m a little suspicious of them. Maybe I shouldn’t be, but I am.

Anyway, for the rest of us, writer’s block, or what I’ve called writer’s blahs, happens, and I’m always trying to find a way to break through.

Now, there are plenty of books on this, some of which don’t even cost money.

What I offer here is simply my own experience, and I share it freely, with the hope that you might benefit from it.

When I have writer’s block/blahs I usually find that it results from some form of negative thinking. As Henri Junttila wrote in a helpful blog post, these negative thoughts can take the form of all-or-nothing thinking, a bad case of the should/have-to’s/musts, or dwelling on the negative, among other things.

Regardless of the thoughts, the source of the negativity is pretty clear. And that is the editor or the internal critic in all of us, the part of ourselves that rears its ugly head on a regular basis and sets up road blocks to our writing. So persistent and recurrent is the voice of this critic in the writer’s psyche, that I’d rank it along with death and taxes as permanent features of life.

Sometimes it seems that whatever you do, you can’t silence the voice of the internal critic. It just keeps ranting, telling you what a charlatan you are, that you have no talent, that what you are writing is tripe, and that you should just quit now before you fully embarrass yourself.

Does any of this sound familiar?

If it does, you might wish to try the following:

When you first wake-up tomorrow morning, head straight for the computer and start writing whatever comes next in your current work in progress (WIP).

I recommend this for the following reason: this is the time when your internal critic is the most silent, and this will allow you the freedom to write. Think of it this way: this is when your subconscious is still active, when the defenses of your conscious are at their lowest point.

The other time when your subconscious is very active is when you dream. And you know the freedom of dreams. When you dream, there is no critic telling you, well THAT doesn’t make sense, there is no way your ex would live in a flying cabin over Katmandu.

By the time you are fully awake, you might just find yourself in the writing swing.

If you try this, please let me know how it works out.

Keep writing,

Matt

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Posted by Matthew Peters - August 26, 2014 at 7:03 am

Categories: Writing   Tags: , ,

Writing & Procrastination

sky_21018610I want to talk about procrastination and writing because it’s been a problem for me and probably countless others.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary to procrastinate means: to be slow or late about doing something that should be done; to delay doing something until a later time because you do not want to do it, because you are lazy, etc.

Ouch to the latter definition, but is there some truth to it?

I think there are two main ways to think about our job as writers.

One is to think of ourselves as literary artistes: we sit around waiting for the muse to hit, and write only when the inspiration moves us.

The second way is to think of ourselves as auto mechanics: we show up for our job, diagnose what needs to be done, and then go about doing it. Two things I would bet money on:

  1. Those writers who think of themselves as mechanics are less likely to procrastinate than those who think of themselves as artistes.
  1. Those who think of themselves as mechanics are less susceptible to writer’s block.

Why?

Because writing is a job, just like any other. You have to suit up and show up in order for it to happen, and that often means getting your butt in a chair and staring at a blank screen for some indeterminate amount of time, but sitting in the chair and staring nonetheless.

Now I want to offer a strategy to those of you (like me) who sometimes suffer from procrastination. I call it the 1-word goal strategy. It’s simple, and it goes like this: The next time you are stuck, or procrastinating, or have writer’s block, or whatever you want to call it that keeps you from writing, try this. Force yourself to sit in your chair with your WIP on the screen. Next, simply type one word that comes next, the first word of a new sentence or the next word in the sentence if you’ve left off in mid-air. Like Lays potato chips you probably won’t be able to limit yourself to just one (word).

Give this a shot the next time you get stuck, and please let me know how it works.

Last, but not least, I pose this question: Is writer’s block simply nothing more than procrastination by another name?

As always, I’m eager to hear your thoughts on this matter.

auto-mechanics_2373333Best wishes and keep writing.

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Posted by Matthew Peters - April 21, 2014 at 6:35 am

Categories: Writing   Tags: , ,

Writer’s Block

brick-texture--strong_19-117552I posted this a few months ago under a different title (“The State of Stuck”). I’m doing so again because I want to get more of your valuable insights.

We’ve all been there. It can happen at the start of a project, at the beginning of a chapter, or in the middle of a sentence. You stare blankly at the computer screen; sweat breaks out on your brow and your heart beats a rapid tattoo. It is the terrifying feeling of not knowing what comes next in the story.

My writer friends have helped me get past writer’s block on numerous occasions. Here are some of the valuable things they’ve suggested I do when I get stuck. I pass them along in the hope that they may help you, and I ask that you please share your experiences of what helps you break on through to the other side. (Why do I suddenly feel like listening to The Doors?)

 

1.  Don’t panic

Relax. Take deep breaths. Getting stuck happens to everyone. Treat writing like you would a               seventh grade science project. Try to feel curious about the very process of putting words to               paper, stringing them along to form sentences, convey images, and communicate feelings and             ideas. It is truly a wondrous process. And it can also be fun. Remembering this can save your               “writerly” bacon.

 

2.  Put it into perspective

If you find yourself stuck it may be because you are taking yourself or your writing too seriously.         Remember, that what we are doing is not rocket science; nor does the universe rise or fall on             whether we write another word. Also, if we make a mistake as writers, we get to hit the delete           key. Neurosurgeons aren’t so lucky—that’s why they get paid the big bucks.

 

3.  Listen to music

As Plato once wrote, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the                       imagination and life to everything.”  Do not underestimate what music can do for you. Try                     listening to music that somehow relates to what you are writing. For example, if you’re writing a         religious mystery/thriller, Gregorian chants might be helpful. Choose music that reflects your                 writing.

 

4.  Backtrack

Another strategy suggested to me is to read the few paragraphs or pages that precede the                 sticking point. Often the next word, sentence, and paragraph start to flow logically from what               came previously. Before you know it, you are unstuck, and the story is back in motion.

 

5.  Practice write

As described by Natalie Goldberg in her bestseller Writing Down the Bones, this involves letting             your mind relax and writing about whatever you want for some specified period of time—ten               minutes, twenty minutes, a half hour. The thing is to keep your hand moving all through the                 practice writing. Be sure and time yourself and don’t stop to edit. This has a way of freeing you           up, and is a little like stretching before you exercise.

 

6.  Fall in love with writing again

We write because we love to write. Get back in touch with the love that originally motivated your         writing. Just like any relationship, love of the written word takes work, and you have to put                 something in to get something back. One way to do this is to read books on writing. Here are             some great ones: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg; Wild Mind, also by Natalie                       Goldberg; Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; The Writing Life by Annie Dillard.

 

7.  Take a break

Sometimes it’s just the weekend, sometimes its weeks. Recharging the writing batteries is half            the struggle of writing well. This is the time to give the unconscious a chance to work. It’s                    amazing how many problems work themselves out when you’re not thinking about them.

 

8.  Set a minimum word count

If you are going through a stuck period, try setting a minimum word count. This serves as a                  finish line toward which you can sprint in an effort to keep the story moving forward. Because              sometimes the best way to get unstuck is to keep pushing until you reach the other side.

 

9.  Fan the flames of your passion

Chances are you are pretty passionate about some element of your writing project. Maybe you            touch on a social, religious, or political issue close to your heart. Rekindling this fire can help get          you unstuck. Reading an article and watching a documentary on your topic are good ways to fan          the flames of your passion.

 

10. Get out of the way and let the story tell itself

Jerry Garcia used to say it’s not the band that plays the music, but the music that plays the                  band. Similarly, it’s not the writer who tells the story, but the story that uses the writer to tell              itself. If you find yourself stuck, try getting out of your own way and letting the story tell itself.            You may not be as important to the story as you think. Let the characters have their say and let          them do what they do. You may find yourself simply taking dictation rather than manhandling              words onto the page.

 

What do you do when writer’s block hits?

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Posted by Matthew Peters - April 7, 2014 at 6:25 am

Categories: Writing   Tags: ,

The State of Stuck

 

 

73239We’ve all been there. It can happen at the start of a project, at the beginning of a chapter, or in the middle of a sentence. You stare blankly at the computer screen; sweat breaks out on your brow and your heart beats a rapid tattoo. It is the terrifying feeling of not knowing what comes next in the story.

My writer friends have helped me out of the dreaded state of stuck on numerous occasions. Here are some of the valuable things they’ve suggested I do when I get stuck. I pass them along in the hope that they may help you too.

 

  1. Don’t panic

Relax. Take deep breaths. Getting stuck happens to everyone. Treat writing like you would a               seventh grade science project. Try to feel curious about the very process of putting words to               paper, stringing them along to form sentences, convey images, and communicate feelings and             ideas. It is truly a wondrous process. And it can also be fun. Remembering this can save your               “writerly” bacon.

 

2.  Put it into perspective

If you find yourself stuck it may be because you are taking yourself or your writing too seriously.         Remember, that what we are doing is not rocket science; nor does the universe rise or fall on             whether we write another word. Also, if we make a mistake as writers, we get to hit the delete key. Neurosurgeons aren’t so lucky—that’s why they get paid the big bucks.

 

3.  Listen to music

As Plato once wrote, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the                       imagination and life to everything.”  Do not underestimate what music can do for you. Try                     listening to music that somehow relates to what you are writing. For example, if you’re writing a         religious mystery/thriller, Gregorian chants might be helpful. Choose music that reflects your                 writing.

 

4.  Backtrack

Another strategy suggested to me is to read the few paragraphs or pages that precede the                 sticking point. Often the next word, sentence, and paragraph start to flow logically from what               came previously. Before you know it, you are unstuck, and the story is back in motion.

 

5.  Practice write

As described by Natalie Goldberg in her bestseller Writing Down the Bones, this involves letting your mind relax and writing about whatever you want for some specified period of time—ten minutes, twenty minutes, a half hour. The thing is to keep your hand moving all through the practice writing. Be sure and time yourself and don’t stop to edit. This has a way of freeing you up, and is a little like stretching before you exercise.

 

6.  Fall in love with writing again

We write because we love to write. Get back in touch with the love that originally motivated your         writing. Just like any relationship, love of the written word takes work, and you have to put                 something in to get something back. One way to do this is to read books on writing. Here are some great ones: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg; Wild Mind, also by Natalie Goldberg; Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; The Writing Life by Annie Dillard.

 

7.  Take a break

Sometimes it’s just the weekend, sometimes its weeks. Recharging the writing batteries is half the struggle of writing well. This is the time to give the unconscious a chance to work. It’s amazing how many problems work themselves out when you’re not thinking about them.

 

8.  Set a minimum word count

If you are going through a stuck period, try setting a minimum word count. This serves as a                  finish line toward which you can sprint in an effort to keep the story moving forward. Because              sometimes the best way to get unstuck is to keep pushing until you reach the other side.

 

9.  Fan the flames of your passion

Chances are you are pretty passionate about some element of your writing project. Maybe you            touch on a social, religious, or political issue close to your heart. Rekindling this fire can help get you unstuck. Reading an article and watching a documentary on your topic are good ways to fan the flames of your passion.

 

10. Get out of the way and let the story tell itself

Jerry Garcia used to say it’s not the band that plays the music, but the music that plays the                  band. Similarly, it’s not the writer who tells the story, but the story that uses the writer to tell              itself. If you find yourself stuck, try getting out of your own way and letting the story tell itself. You may not be as important to the story as you think. Let the characters have their say and let  them do what they do. You may find yourself simply taking dictation rather than manhandling words onto the page.

 

What do you do when you get stuck?

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Posted by Matthew Peters - December 26, 2013 at 5:51 am

Categories: Writing   Tags: ,

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