Rain on Your Writing?

It wasn’t too long ago that my life made an unexpected left turn, the wrong way, down a one way street. It started a few years ago and, today, there are vestiges of life’s crap still creeping around in the background. I won’t go into the grim details here, but trust me when I say, “It really, really, really sucked.” Life was dumping a torrential downpour on me, and my writing.

Shortly before everything went off track, I had started to write seriously. My mind was filled with stories that needed to be told. I went to writer’s conferences to learn the nuts and bolts of the writing business, and, furiously, I got to work. Then the sky opened up. I was sent awash down an overflowing river without a paddle (and I fell out of the boat a few times too).

What is a writer to do when they get hit by life’s “little” floods? How do you drag yourself through the quagmire to get back into writing? My biggest suggestion; don’t stop in the first place. Unless you are comatose, there isn’t a reason not to write. At some point my creative juices shriveled up into a grey clump of rotten raisins. I couldn’t think a thought that ran in a straight line. They jumped from one anxiety attack to another. Writing? HA! Sometimes I could only write a paragraph. Sometimes just a few stray thoughts. No matter what, I wrote something.

If you are trying to navigate through one of your life’s rainstorms here are a few suggestions to keep going:

  • Write as much as you can manage.
  • Attend your critique group whether you have written anything or not.
  • Stay in touch with your writing friends (and friends at large).
  • Attend writer’s conferences – (I’ll be at, PPWC2018, and RMFW2018 – I hope to teach a class at the latter of the two).
  • Write about your struggles. It is cheaper than a therapist! *grins*
  • Visit your therapist – they are amazing.

DON’T QUIT! There will be days that you sit at your computer and think, “I’m a fraud! I can’t do this! I quit!” After a brief pity party, get back at it, one word at a time. The flood waters will recede. You will once again be on a safe shore to write how you were meant to; BEAUTIFULLY.

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This post is inspired by Insecure Writer’s Group’s April 4th question: When your writing life is a bit cloudy or filled with rain, what do you do to dig down and keep on writing?

The awesome co-hosts for the April 4 posting of the IWSG are Olga Godim,Chemist Ken, Renee Scattergood, and Tamara Narayan!

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Writing on a Schedule

Schedules are funny things. We have them for so many aspects of our lives: work, deadlines, appointments, school, etc. We keep our lives orderly by keeping a schedule, but does keeping a schedule keep us happy? For some people a schedule is a heavy weight hanging on a thin thread ready to crash down. For others, it is a salvation that steers the ship through each day.

I was recently asked, “What steps have you taken, or plan to take, to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?” My reply every time is, “Nothing.”  I hate schedules so when someone asks if I have one for my writing I really cringe at the thought of making one.

It isn’t that I can’t meet deadlines. Give me one and I’m there. Need a story tomorrow about widgets in the 20th Century? I’ll have to you early. Want a blog post about modern kitchens by January 30th? You’ll have it by the 25th. Ask me to creatively write on a schedule? Well, that’s a different animal indeed.

Writing creatively, on a schedule, is like asking a painter to have their masterpiece done by Tuesday. And, by the way, they have to paint on Wednesday from 6:00 am to noon and Friday 5:00 pm to midnight. Final touch-ups have to happen on Sunday, leaving Monday to let it dry. Really?

Creativity doesn’t happen on a schedule. It is more like a flow of energy that comes in waves and currents like the rapids and eddies along a river. It trickles through pebbles during dry spells and when the rains come it turns into a raging force that can’t be stopped just because it’s not on the schedule.

No. I won’t be making a writing schedule for 2018, but I do have some deadlines I want to keep. The Manx is long overdue for completion, and I have too many other projects zinging around in my head that are dying to get onto paper. So, my plan is to get The Manx finished, submitted, and published, without a schedule (dare I say this?) by the close of 2018.

BAM!

 

Many thanks to the Insecure Writers Support Group for their continued inspiration and support. You all keep me writing!!

Another thank you to our wonderful co-hosts for the January 3 posting of the IWSG who are Tyrean Martinson, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Megan Morgan, Jennifer Lane, and Rachna Chhabria!

99 Questions to Ask Your Character

Characters need to live and breathe through your story which, in turn, brings your story to life. If they don’t have odd quirks, a childhood, a family, nor any fears, hopes and dreams, then they are just letters on a page. Even with a well-developed protagonist your words will fall flat if your supporting cast is weak.

Recently I ran into a rough patch that I had struggled to get past. In my mind’s eye I had all my characters figured out. I could picture them in my head, yet when they landed on the page their form lost color and dimension. A fellow author suggested I sit and do a full character study of the four largest characters in the story.

As soon as I sat down to do this I was at a loss for the questions that needed to be answered. Thank goodness for the internet. I did several searches under “character traits” to see what came up. I found quite a few sites that listed many questions I could ask my character, and each site had some main themes as well. As I dug deeper I found that there was also great social media questionnaires that took my questioning to interesting places.

After a while it became quite overwhelming and I ended up with well over 200 questions that could be asked of my book characters. Some questions were the same, just phrased differently, and some were edging on TMI so I edited the list down to 99 of my favorites.

How does this work? Just put yourself in the mind, and body of your character then answer them as your character would. The questions are not in any particular order. I found that this randomness helps to generate new ideas and new ways to look at a character. Of course, not all characters need such in-depth exploration, but as a writer, you get to choose which questions need to be answered to bring each of your characters to life. Have fun!!

1. Describe yourself. Hair color, height, weight, eye color, scars, marks, figure, etc.
2. Where were you born and raised? Where did you go to school?
3. Who are the members of your family?
4. If you could meet anyone on this earth, who would it be?
5. What are you obsessed with?
6. What do you think about most?
7. What does your latest text message from someone else say?
8. Do you sleep with or without clothes on?
9. What’s your strangest talent?
10. Girls______________. (finish the sentence); Boys____________. (finish the sentence)
11. Ever had a poem or song written about you?
12. Do you have any strange phobias?
13. Ever stuck a foreign object up your nose?
14. What’s your religion?
15. If you are outside, what are you most likely doing?
16. What was the last lie you told?
17. Do you believe in karma?
18. What is your biggest fear?
19. What is your greatest weakness; your greatest strength?
20. Who is your celebrity crush?
21. Have you ever gone skinny dipping?
22. How do you vent your anger?
23. Do you have a collection of anything?
24. Do you have a secret? What is it?
25. What was your childhood like?
26. Do you prefer talking on the phone or video chatting online?
27. Are you happy with the person you’ve become?
28. What’s a sound you hate; sound you love?
29. What’s your biggest “what if”?
30. Do you believe in ghosts? How about aliens?
31. Do you have a phobia/fear? What is it? Where did it come from?
32. Stick your right arm out; what do you touch first? Do the same with your left arm.
33. Smell the air. What do you smell?
34. What’s the worst place you have ever been to?
35. Choose East Coast or West Coast?
36. Most attractive singer of your opposite gender?
37. To you, what is the meaning of life?
38. Define Art.
39. Do you believe in luck?
40. Do you drive? If so, have you ever crashed?
41. What is your happiest memory? Saddest?
42. What does your house look like?
43. What was the last book you read?
44. What is your favorite scent/smell?
45. Do you have any nicknames?
46. What was the last movie you saw?
47. What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had?
48. Have you ever caught a butterfly?
49. What does your bedroom look like?
50. Do you have any obsessions right now?
51. What’s your sexual orientation?
52. Ever had a rumor spread about you?
53. Do you believe in magic?
54. Do you tend to hold grudges against people who have done you wrong?
55. Do you save money or spend it?
56. What’s the last thing you purchased?
57. Love or lust?
58. Greatest regret?
59. What is your most treasured thing?
60. In a relationship?
61. How many relationships have you had?
62. Does anyone hate you? Why?
63. Can you touch your nose with your tongue?
64. Where were you yesterday?
65. Is there anything pink within 10 feet of you?
66. Favorites: places, meals, things to do, outfits, animal?
67. What is your secret weapon to get someone to like you?
68. Who is your best friend?
69. What did you do last week?
70. What are your friends like? What are their best qualities?
71. What is your heritage?
72. If you could change yourself in any way, what would you change?
73. What were you doing last night at 12 AM?
74. What are you most passionate about?
75. Are you the kind of friend you would want to have as a friend?
76. You can only have one of these things; trust or love.
77. What’s a song that always makes you happy when you hear it?
78. In your opinion, what makes a great relationship?
79. How can I win your heart?
80. What are you most afraid of?
81. What is the single best decision you have made in your life so far?
82. What size shoes do you wear?
83. What would you want written on your tombstone?
84. What is your favorite word?
85. Give me the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word; heart.
86. What is a saying you say a lot?
87. What’s the last song you listened to?
88. Basic question; what’s your favorite color/colors?
89. What is your current desktop picture?
90. If you could press a button and make anyone in the world instantaneously explode, who would it be?
91. What would be a question you’d be afraid to tell the truth on?
92. You accidentally eat some radioactive vegetables. They were good, and what’s even cooler is that they endow you with the super-power of your choice! What is that power?
93. You can re-live any point of time in your life. The time-span can only be a half-hour, though. What half-hour of your past would you like to experience again?
94. You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?
95. You have the opportunity to sleep with the music-celebrity of your choice. Who would it be?
96. You just got a free plane ticket to anywhere. You have to depart right now. Where are you gonna go?
97. Do you have any relatives in jail?
98. Have you ever thrown up in the car?
99. If the whole world were listening to you right now, what would you say?

Chris Mandeville

Chris Mandeville

Author Chris Mandeville joins us today for a quick chat.

KJ ~Tell us a little bit about yourself.
CHRIS ~ I’m a UC Berkeley grad, wife of a retired Air Force officer, and mom of three boys. I grew up in California, moved around a bit with the military (including a stint in Canada), then settled in Colorado where I’m more than happy to stay. Once upon a time I worked in advertising (most notably on the Lexus launch and Iams Pet Food) and also taught preschool. Since leaving the paid workforce to raise my children, I’ve always kept busy doing some kind of volunteer work or other, including working with the Red Cross, Project Sanctuary (www.projectsanctuary.org), and Pikes Peak Writers (www.pikespeakwriters.com) where I served for more than ten years on their Board of Directors. Now I’m a full-time writer and president of Delve Writing, an online community providing boot camps for writers (www.delvewriting.com). I love to teach writing and spend time with other writers, so look for me at writing events in Colorado and online, or contact me if you’d like me to present a writing workshop for your group: Chris@delvewriting.com

KJ ~ What are you working on right now?
CHRIS ~ I write New Adult speculative fiction and currently have a post-apocalyptic under consideration at several publishers and literary agencies. While that manuscript is making the rounds, I’m trying my hand at something new: this week I began working on a mystery novel. I love reading mysteries but this is my first time writing one. I’m also putting together an ebook for writers: 52 Ways to Name a Character which is due out later this year.

KJ ~Of the books you have written, which one would you like to tell us about?
CHRIS ~ 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block
http://www.amazon.com/author/chrismandeville
This is a comprehensive guide to overcoming writer’s block, including suggestions for how to prevent it from occurring. It includes innovative exercises, anecdotes, and advice from dozens of authors.

KJ ~ What was the hardest part about getting this book from the first ideas to publication?
CHRIS ~ There was nothing hard about the project itself—it was a dream to write. The only slight difficulty was that occasionally during the writing process I missed working on fiction because the nonfiction process keeps me in my own life rather than transporting me to “somewhere else.”

KJ ~Where did you get your inspiration for this book?
CHRIS ~ Several years ago the Pikes Peak Writers Conference was in need of a workshop on writer’s block and asked if I could put together something on that topic. I did and “52 Ways to Get Unstuck” was born. The workshop was so well received, I immediately began making plans to put it into book form, but it took me awhile to wrap up some fiction projects before turning my focus to nonfiction.

KJ ~ What books or authors have influenced you the most and why?
CHRIS ~ In terms of nonfiction books for writers, several have been very influential in both my fiction and nonfiction writing. In particular, GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon and Writing the Fiction Synopsis by Pam McCutcheon have been invaluable. As far as fiction, I’ve been influenced, inspired, and instructed (as well as entertained) in countless ways by hundreds of books over the course of my life. If I had to choose just one, I’d say Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman stands out as being the most influential because it was only in reading this book that I learned to embrace my own voice as a writer.

KJ ~What are your favorite books that you have read simply for pleasure?
CHRIS ~ Iron House by John Hart, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Midwives by Chris Bohjalian, Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldie the Caterer series, Faye Kellerman’s Decker series, everything by Jeffery Deaver, and I just finished –and loved– The Breakup Doctor by Phoebe Fox.

KJ ~What does a typical writing day look like for you?
CHRIS ~ I like to write in “binges” rather than for a set amount each day, so a typical writing day for me is to tank up on coffee at breakfast, then write all day until something forces me to stop (sometimes that’s making dinner or sometimes I’ll write into the evening). It’s not uncommon for me to put in 8-10 hours on a good writing day. If I’m on a deadline I’ll sneak an hour or two of writing into a busy non-writing day, but I usually plan my week so that I have the opportunity for a couple of binges. The only essentials—besides time—are coffee and my laptop. I can write anywhere, but my usual spot is in a comfy leather chair in the pub at my house. There I have a great view of the woods, it’s quiet except for the wind in the trees, and I have an espresso maker within reach. Heaven.

KJ ~Do you have strategies for getting past those days that are hard to write?
CHRIS ~ Yes! The specific strategy depends on the type of difficulty I’m having. Often when it’s “hard to write” that simply means I’m having trouble getting my butt in the chair and I need to clear the decks and put my nose to the grindstone. I seldom have difficulty being productive once my butt is in the chair and my hands are on the keyboard. If I’m stuck on something related to story/character, or if I’m having difficulty turning my focus away from my non-writing life, I turn to one of the strategies in my book, 52 Ways to Get Unstuck. My top strategies are to take a shower or take a drive.

KJ ~If you took a two-week vacation in any book or story, where would you go and who would you be?
CHRIS ~ Most of what I read is mystery/suspense/thriller, and I don’t want to take a vacation amidst killers, corpses, and danger! So I think I’d choose to go to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, and I’d want to be myself. I’ve already seen how the characters in the Narnia stories interact with their world; I’d want to experience that magical place for myself as myself.

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Coming July 31: Anthonette Klinkerman (2 time winner of the Reader’s Choice Award) is the author of “Battle of the Grandmas” and she shares some of her thoughts about writing this children’s book.

Word, Word, Word, Word…..

STUCK. Ever have one of those days that you feel so stuck you could scream? Artists of every kind have at one time or another. The painter stares at a blank canvas, a photographer stares at an empty lens, and a writer stares at a blank sheet of paper. Stuck. Nothing. Nada. Ziltch. It is a frustrating experience isn’t it?

How do you go about getting unstuck? A few ideas that may work for you: run,swim, meditate, walk, or jump up and down. Some people find it helpful to do an artistic exercise of a different kind. If you are a writer then scribble a doodle. If you are a painter then write a poem, and if you are a photographer….well, I used to turn the camera upside down just for a new perspective. For writing I like to consult my Delve Writers group who can always come up with a new tip or trick. The latest comes from the top in the unstuckedness class of writers, Chris Mandeville (author of 52 Ways to Get Unstuck). Her advice for today: write the word, ‘word’ over and over again and see what comes out.

I was so inspired by this I ended up with two blog posts. So, in honor of getting unstuck I want you to have some fun too. In the comments please write ‘word’ over and over again and see what comes of it. You can see mine at arbitrarydustbunnies.

….and begin….Word, Word, Word, Word…..

52 Ways to Get Unstuck

52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer's Block (52-Ways Book #1)52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block by Chris Mandeville

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a fun, easy, and non-frustrating way to get un-stuck! I purchased Mandeville’s book only a month ago and it has already helped me out of several sticky spots. It is filled with tips and tricks that will help authors through those dry spells. Mandeville utilizes simple exercises that fit the needs of the novice to the seasoned writer. With chapter headings like, “Write Crap”, “Group Dating”, Nick a Name” and “Road Trip!” it is easy to see how fun can be put into a frustrating situation that many writers face. 52 Ways really gets the creative juices flowing again. It is a must for every writer’s toolbox.

View all my reviews

Happy Writing

Today I sat at my keyboard trying to decide what to write. I reached deep into my creative mind and I looked straight into a pure blank wall that reached far beyond my peripheral vision. I actually have been looking at this wall for days now and today I came to the conclusion that I am really tired of looking at it, but I had no idea how to get it knocked out of the way. What was this thing anyway? Why can’t I pull even a simple sentence out of my head?

I sat at my desk a good portion of the morning wondering what the heck was wrong with me. As I have shared with all of you before I am REALLY good at procrastinating and a talent for finding things to do other than writing. This huge grey wall is the problem. It is a wall that quietly sits at the tip of my nose and is expansive. The grey is the color of a day that is cold, dull, cloudy, and not quite snowing. You know those days. There are no leaves on the trees and the grass is brown and, if you live in the burbs, all of the houses are tan. This is my wall. It covers the whole of my mind.

After plowing through an entire bag of M&M Peanuts I had a break through…..I built this ugly gray wall in response to frustrations I have been facing in my writing. Enough is enough. I needed some help so I reached out to my wonderful writing friends at Delve Writers and posted this:

Some advice please….
Whenever I “finish” writing something I don’t really like it and it makes for motivational problems to write something more. I am in a constant state of frustration and this leads to not writing. I’m sure I’m not the only one with this issue….if you too have this problem what do you do to move past it?

I want to emphasis that I know I’m not alone in being stuck like this and I am sure there are a vast number of writers (if not all) that are in a constant state of frustration at some level or another. There were many responses to my post with many words of wisdom, but there were two links in particular that really rung true for me.

Ira Glass on Storytelling is a quick video giving advice to anyone who is embarking on a creative future. This particular piece struck a cord for me in that I need to be reminded, on a daily basis, that I’m at the beginning. I know what is good and what sounds good in a story and right now I hear a lot of bad coming from my creations so I have to keep plugging away to get to that point if being good.

“Why Writers are Procrastinators” is a fun piece by Mary McArdle that describes me to a tee. At times I feel like I am the Queen of Procrastinators and it is great to finally know why. I want to be at the end of the creative race without doing all the training and I figure that if I sit around long enough I will magically get there. HA!

Tonight I sit at my keyboard with a happy set of fingers itching to get back to it. If you are anything like me then take my advice….don’t sit staring at a blank wall. Not only is it boring, but it really doesn’t do much to get the creative flow going. If you don’t already, find a group of amazingly talented writers to share your burdens and successes with. There is no one else that will really get it like another writer. If all else fails, paint that wall a different color. Yellow might be a good color to start with then add some green, blue, and just a hint of red to give the scene some tension.