Writer’s Block?

Imagine yourself with a clean sheet of paper in front of you. You have to write a short story about something, but no matter how long you stare at that crisp white piece of paper you have nothing. Zip. Ziltch. Not one word comes to mind.  What do you do? How do you get over the initial panic that comes with every new moment that a story won’t come to mind? You could throw your computer out the window and swear off writing, or maybe just get comfortable with yourself and do some brainstorming.

This morning, I met with several fellow writers and we talked about brainstorming and the techniques we each use to get or mojo flowing.  It was interesting that each of the five people had their own unique way to brainstorm.  Therefore, you too should look at each of these as an idea for you to mull over and in the end come up with a formula that works for you.

  • Look for intense moments from your life (or someone else’s): This can be a tough one depending on the situation. Some events in life are better left in the past, but some of them can make for a great scene, short story, or book.
  • Ask questions: Get out a sheet of paper and a pencil. I like pencils because they seem to be more connected with the paper. Plus, pens are too permanent – you can erase pencil. Getting back to your paper…. When a question pops into your mind write it down. Don’t take the time to answer it, yet. Keep writing them down until your mind feels empty of them. Now, go back and answer them.
  • Play with your attractions: What sort of things attract you? Do you love wine, bookstores, plants, hiking, rock climbing, or knitting? Any one of these are potential subjects.
  • Use pre-printed idea cards: Let’s say you are listening to the news and you hear a n odd story that you think would be interesting to write about. Jot it down on a note pad or an index card. These will become your idea cards.
  • Online themes: there are plenty of websites and social media that provide writing prompts, contests, and games. Writers Digest, Penguin Random House, and Creative Writing Prompts are just a few that I use when I’m stuck.
  • Word dumps: sit down and just write nonsense words. Keep writing them until you feel the flood gates open. Put them on index cards. This turns your word dumps into idea cards.

One of the keys to be successful in these exercises is to stay away from your computer. Handwritten words are powerful. There is a connection between your hand and your brain that isn’t present between the computer and your brain. According to an article in Time, “… creative people have greater connectivity between these brain networks that tend to work in opposition in most people. This messiness of creativity at the neurological level mirrors its real-life complexity.”

Creative minds like a little bit of disorganization. Handwriting is one way to provide it. Scribbling up the margins, scratching out mistakes, flipping the page over to write upside-down all contribute to a wonderfully, messy, creative mind. Next time you’re stumped for words, grab a piece of paper, napkin, or the palm of your hand and start writing. Your mind will do the rest.

T is for Tourist Trophy Races

My main character in The Manx, Kaitlin Manning, and her father, Charles, are on the Isle of Man to photograph the TT races when Kaitlin stumbles across the first piece of a puzzle that takes her far from the races. I became fascinated by these races when looking for a reason for Kaitlin to visit the island. I thought about having her on vacation or just visiting family, but that was almost too simple of an idea. I came across these races and knew I had my reason for her to go to the Isle of Man. Here is what I learned about the races.

The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races, commonly referred to as TT, are time trial motorcycle races that take place on the public roads around the Isle of Man.  It is a 200 MPH street race over treacherous twists, turns, hills, and bumps. To race on this course is to put your life on the line; a very thin line.

The races started back in 1907. Rem Fowler won in the twin-cylinder class with speeds averaging 36 MPH. Today, the races have expanded to five classes of bikes that can average upwards of 130 MPH. The fastest average speed was set in 2016 by Michael Dunlop at nearly 134 MPH. The race record for the Sidecar TT was set in 2017 by Ben and Tom Birchall. They completed the 37 mile twisting course an average race speed at just over 116 mph.

Racers have nerves of steel to drive in what is known as one of the most dangerous races in the world. It is not just the roads themselves, but the obstacles alongside them. Some of roadways on the Isle of Man are narrow with brick walls and buildings that will come right to the edge of the road. A driver can come out of a tight turn heading headlong toward the side of a building. Fans sit just feet away from the riders who are screaming by at 200 MPH. One tiny error, any small unseen obstacle can turn deadly for both drivers and fans alike.

After reading so much about the TT I am looking forward to attending my first motorcycle race. I am a fan of quiet walks on the beach and hikes to astounding vistas (like to top of Mt Snaefell), but I am sure I’ll take time to see these monster bikes fly across the roads of Isle of Man.

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This post inspired by – T

J is for Jabot

I have really enjoyed doing the A to Z Blog Challenge so far. It has been fun, up until the letter ‘J’. I have been wracking my brain trying to think of a J-something to write about as it might relate to the Isle of Man or The Manx, but no. My mind has been a blank on this letter (I’m having trouble with ‘Y’ too).

For brain food I cracked open my 1934 edition of 20,000 Words (this is a second edition published by The Gregg Publishing Company). Turning to the letter J I found the first word listed, JABOT. I have never heard this word before so the next step was to break out my dictionary. This book is a more modern version called, “the internet”.

The word originates from the French word jabot: a bird’s crop. What is a jabot, you ask? Wiktionary defines it as, “…is a decorative clothing accessory consisting of lace or other fabric falling from the throat, suspended from or attached to a neckband or collar; or simply pinned at the throat.”

Here is a picture of Mozart wearing one.

Is a jabot relevant to my book? Not specifically, but I think I may just throw the word in there somewhere just because it is a great word. I will leave it to you, my reading friends, to find it.

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Today’s post was inspired by — J (and the French)

K is for Kaitlin

A to Z April Challenge

I was trolling around on Facebook and found an interesting blog writing challenge. A to Z April Challenge is designed for bloggers to post every day during the month of April (except Sunday….but include April Fools Day which is a Sunday….and it’s Easter Sunday too). Each post uses the letters of the alphabet thematically. April 1st post is the letter A, then the next is B, and so on until the last post is the letter Z.

a-to-z-badge

The best part? Each post will be relevant to my debut novel The Manx. You will be introduced to the characters, the Isle of Man, and snippets from the book. I hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I will enjoy writing them.

A-for-a-to-z    A —  April Fools Day! 

 

 

Karen Emanuelson

Sword fighting at Viking Festival

Karen demonstrates her sword fighting skills at a Viking festival.

KJ~~ Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Karen~~ I’m a Viking re-enactor and do era correct sword-fighting.  My bird, Xanadu, a Peach-faced African Lovebird, is my oldest animal at 15 1/2.  She detests my cats and is happiest if she can get them in trouble.  I have two Pugs, Jera and her brother, Lahi, three cats, Li Po, my oldest boy at nine and the “kittens” Isaz and her brother, Wunjo.  I also have three horses, the mares Misty (Queen of the Universe!) who is a registered Spotted Saddle Horse (a gaited breed) plus my APHA registered Paints, Denver, my big dressage horse, as well as my filly, Fehu.  I used to be a horse breeder and trainer.  Sometimes I give riding lessons in dressage.  I’m a musician and although I play a variety of instruments:  Irish Bouzouki, Mountain Dulcimer, Ukulele, NAF (Native American Flute) and Bodhran (the Celtic frame drum) I have studied the recorder for the past 2 1/2 years so I can play Renaissance & Baroque music as well as Celtic music on that instrument.  Water is my element and I love to swim–almost as much as I love horseback riding.  I was a high adventure sports specialist, taught rock-climbing and cross-country skiing and worked as a whitewater raft guide all summer.  I’m a veteran and was in the Army for 9 1/2 years.
KJ~~ I understand that you are a Beowulf Scholar. Would you tell us more about this?
Karen~~  I present on Beowulf at academic conferences.  I always show up in period garb and often with a collection of weapons.  One year I did a sword-fighting demonstration as part of my talk which is not something most academics do I suppose, so I’ve attracted a bit of a following.
KJ~~ You are presently working on a series of books. What are they about?
Karen~~  They are all a look at Beowulf’s world which was early 6th century Scandinavia.  We know that Beowulf’s uncle, King Hygelac was killed in 521 CE during an act of piracy against his neighbors the Frisians.  Due to that documentation we can date the other events that happen during the Beowulf saga.  The poem that we are all familiar with was written down by a couple of monks over in England more than 200 years after the events occurred.  The stories had to get past the church censors, so the writers layered on a heavy Christian gloss that would not have existed in Scandinavian society during the saga’s time.  I have removed that Christian gloss and re-situated the story back into the proper culture.  Although Beowulf himself is an important character in my books, the thrust of the narrative focuses upon women of his world.  Norse women had a lot of power until the Scandinavian lands were Christianized at the end of the much later Viking era and their professions were quite diverse.  They were traders, farmers, healers, ship captains, warriors and leaders, among other things.
KJ~~ Where did you get your inspiration?
Karen~~ When I was going to college over in Germany–my last duty station while in the Army–I wound up being an English major by default.  At the time I wanted to be an Ethologist (animal behavior scientist) but the University of Maryland, European Division, Frankfurt, didn’t have much of a program in natural science, although of course I took all the classes they did offer as electives.  As I finished up my course work for my degree we had a “drive by class” that covered both “Beowulf” and “Gilgamesh” in one evening.  Something like, “These are both heroic epics.  The End.”  I studied “Beowulf” on my own.  Instead of anything Germanic in university, we spent loads of time–entire courses in fact–on the Greeks.  I asked one of my professors if anyone had ever written a novel based upon “Beowulf” that was empowering to women & she said not as far as she knew.  Years later I decided to present on Grendel’s mother at an academic conference.  As I did my research, I was amazed by what I learned–several key words in the original manuscript had been mistranslated because of the Christian attitude toward women in the late 19th century.  Rather than a monster, I learned that Grendel’s mother was a noblewoman and a mighty warrior.  I read about the graves of Norse women warriors who were mislabeled “men” because of the warrior artifacts buried with the remains until scientists were able to extract DNA to prove otherwise just recently.  Approximately 10% of the warriors were women.  My novels follow the life of one of them, a woman who starts life as a wife, mother and simple farmer until catastrophe strikes her farmstead.  As she travels in her quest of retribution, she meets many characters from the “Beowulf” saga.
KJ~~ What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Karen~~ The last thing I do every night before I go drain my brain into the idiot box and cuddle with my pets is write.  I write absolutely every single night, no excuses.
KJ~~ Do you have strategies for getting past those days that are hard to write?
Karen~~ My rule is that I write every night–even if it’s only one line.  Some nights I have indeed, only written one line.  Other nights I write pages.  It’s all a matter of discipline.
KJ~~ Is there a lesson you have learned in your writing that you would like to share with us?
Karen~~ Force yourself to write.  No excuses, no blaming “the muse” or whining about writers block.  If you plan to write something long, you must write every day regardless of what is going on in your life or you will never ever finish.
KJ~~ What books or authors have influenced you the most and why?
Karen~~ I’ve read many translations of “Beowulf” and although the late Seamus Heaney’s version is the most celebrated, I enjoy the beauty of the language in the Howell D, Chickering, Jr’s version the most.  Tolkien is a huge hero of mine and I can’t wait to get my hands on his “Beowulf” translation and hope the book includes his essays.  He was a famous Oxford professor and his scholarship is admirable.  His LOTR series of books was his way of giving the English people back their own mythology–instead of all the Greeks and Romans.  All Germanic mythology is related, so it’s relevant to me.  Plus, he was the first serious “Beowulf” scholar.  When I went to England with the university to finish up my thesis in graduate school, I walked to Tolkien’s favorite hang-out, “The Eagle & Child” to enjoy a pint, soak up his energy and write.  That night and the day I visited Stonehenge were the only times it rained–and it poured both times.  I love what Diana Galbaldon has done with Scottish history.  Any time an author does his or her research and is accurate without winding up with a novel that reads like a history text book and tells a good story, it makes me happy.  I plan to be to Beowulf’s time/place what Phillipa Gregory is to her era of British history.  Although I don’t find JK Rowling’s writing style to be especially “clean” I absolutely adore her Harry Potter books.  I believe that being a great storyteller is more important than anything else when one writes novels.
KJ~~ If you took a two-week vacation in any book or story, where would you go and who would you be?
Karen~~ I often dream about what it might have felt like to have a good childhood, so I think it would be awesome to be someone like Fern in “Charlotte’s Web.”  When I was a kid, authors didn’t tend to write books with interesting female protagonists.  I wanted to be Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn in Twain’s books–the female characters were a bore to me.  Of course most of the books I read were about horses or dogs.  I read all of Walter Farley’s “Black Stallion” novels and all of Marguerite Henry’s books.  She was a Wisconsinite like me, so I really admired her when I was a kid.  But again, both of these favorite authors had boys as the protagonists.  Girls were dull.
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Coming September 1st: Award winning author Donnell Bell.