Friday, March 28, 2014

Dealing with Writer's Block - Suggestions for Writers

Dear Everyone,

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm penning a series of suggestions for writers.  Also, I'll be answering some of your writing questions.

Many people have written to me asking about writer's block. Writer's block refers to the phenomenon of not being able to write. For a writer, this can be frustrating as well as alarming.

I have some suggestions for how to deal with writer's block.

First, recognize that all writers suffer from writer's block at some point.

Don't view writer's block as a personal literary failing. We all encounter it at some point. The important thing is to address it and not to accept it as insurmountable.

Second, determine the scope of the block.

Are you having trouble with a particular scene or chapter? Or are you unable to write anything in your manuscript?

If you're having trouble with a particular scene or chapter, my short term advice is to move on to another scene or chapter. You don't have to write your novel in chronological order. If there's another scene or chapter that captures your imagination, write it. You can go back to the scene that was causing trouble later.

If you're having trouble writing anything in your manuscript, my advice is to ask yourself why.  Perhaps you've written yourself (or your characters) into a corner and you can't see your way out. Perhaps you're unhappy with the turn the story has taken. In these cases, the solution to your problem may be a revision or a rewrite. Attempt to do that and see if the words flow.

If you just can't seem to write anything, my advice is to take a break. Stress and pressure are poor motivators, especially for creative works like writing. Go outside. Get some fresh air and some physical activity. Have sex. Give your mind and your Muse a break from writing and allow your mind to focus on something else. Then come back to your writing. It's possible your activities will have loosened up your imagination and you'll be able to write more easily.

Third, write your way out of the block.

As I suggested above, the way to combat writer's block is to write. Sometimes you need to write something else and then come back to your problem passage. Sometimes you need to give your mind and body a break and then come back.

Sometimes you need to write something completely different to "cleanse the palate."  If you're writing prose, try writing a poem. If you're writing in first person, try writing in third. I'm not suggesting you spend a great deal of time on this secondary project. But sometimes you can motivate your imagination to be more cooperative if you begin listening to a different Muse entirely. And sometimes you discover that you have a very interesting secondary project that you'd like to explore at a later date.

Fourth, be open to change.

If writer's block continues to plague you after you've gone through these suggestions, it's possible you need a change either in your schedule, your environment, or even your story.  Perhaps the timing is off and you need to write in the evenings rather than the mornings. Perhaps your writing space is cluttered with people, pets, and/or paper and what you really need is a monastery.  Perhaps the reason why you can't finish that chapter is because you're trying to write something that is out of character for your protagonist or won't work with your story.

Try making small changes in these three areas (one at at time) and see if that helps.

Fifth, recognize that there's no magical cure for writer's block.

I'm hoping you find these suggestions helpful. Perhaps you'll find that something else entirely solves the problem. Please let me and others know what your strategies are for dealing with writer's block in the comments below. I welcome the suggestions.

Good luck and don't give up,

Friday, March 21, 2014

Suggestions for Writers - Part I

Dear Everyone,

A number of readers have contacted me, asking if I have any suggestions for aspiring writers. I'm putting together a series of posts in order to do this and I invite your questions in the comments below.

But to begin, I have four suggestions for writers.

First, write daily.
Second, find someone you trust who will offer constructive criticism of your writing.
Third, be organized.
Fourth, save the space.

1.  Write daily

Whether writing is your hobby or your job, it's important to write daily.  Writing daily enables you to develop the habit of writing. It also encourages discipline, perseverance, and time management.

Writer's block can be a serious problem for this discipline and so I'll address that in a subsequent post. But my first piece of advice to aspiring writers is to write and to write something every day.

2.  Find someone you trust who will offer constructive criticism of your writing

Every writer needs an editor. Every writer can improve. If you disagree with these two statements, I think you'll find the practice of writing (and having your words read) difficult. But if you can accept the fact that we're all human and we can all improve our writing, then hopefully, you'll be open to receiving constructive criticism.

It's important that you choose someone who you respect and trust to give you criticism. Then you'll be more likely to accept their advice.

When you receive feedback on your writing, you will hear things you don't want to hear. It's possible you'll disagree with your reader.  But if your goal is to be the best writer you can be, then you have to be open to suggestions for improvement. You may have to make changes in your writing - such as getting rid of bad habits, learning proper grammar, spelling, and style, and avoiding cliches. You may have to adjust the way you write in order to make things clearer for your reader. Over time, if you're open to criticism, I think you'll find that your writing will improve.

3.  Be organized

Writing a book is a large project. For any large project, you need to be organized.  Start a file or a series of files in which you can put your notes, outlines, research, and character descriptions.  Then when you need to look something up, you'll know where to find it.

Be sure to back up your work consistently. Some writers do this by printing a hard copy of the manuscript and storing it off site, or by saving the files to a flash drive and storing it somewhere else. No matter how you do it, you want to be sure to have an extra copy of your manuscript somewhere safe. If something happens to your computer or your home, you'll still have your manuscript.

4.  Save the space

Depending on your situation, you might not be able to have a space that is designated solely for writing. But even if you're writing at the kitchen table, try to make your space as comfortable as possible. Keep the area organized and tidy so that you aren't distracted.  If listening to music helps you shut out noise and interruptions, do it. Keep your research and notes in your writing space so that if you need them, they're available. Don't forget to include inspirational items such as paintings or artwork in your space. It's amazing how beauty breeds beauty.

In the next few posts, I'll answer some of your writing related questions. You can post those in the comments below.

In closing, I wish you all the best in your writing and good luck.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine's Festivus - A Valentine for the Rest of Us, by Richard Clark

Guest blog post for Valentine’s Day
by Richard Clark of The Gabriel Series.

St. Valentine’s Day approaches.  If you look at how the holiday is presented, you’d likely conclude that love is identical with sex, and that the entirety of civilization is already paired up, like the animals waiting to enter Noah’s Ark.

But not everyone is part of a pair. Some of us are single, or single again. Some of us are waiting for that one great love of our life. Some of us had that love, and tragically lost it.

I lost my wife to cancer a couple of years ago. Although I am convinced she is still with me, my life will never be the same. Valentine’s Day will never be the same.

In reflecting on this, I began to notice things about the holiday I’d never seen before. As I said, it seems to be a holiday directed toward sexual partners and not to any other kind of love, and certainly not to those who are single.

So I took it up on myself, with the encouragement of my son, Gabriel, to pen a short post on Valentine’s Day for (as he puts it) the rest of us.  A sort of Valentine’s Festivus, if you will. (Hat tip to Seinfeld)

1          - St. Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love. But love isn’t identical with sex.  If you reduce love to sex then you are missing out on other important kinds of love.  Think of Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to celebrate your love for others – friends, family, co-workers, fellow citizens, the homeless, and those in need.

2     -      You can’t celebrate love of others without having love for yourself.  It’s important to care for yourself and to treat yourself with kindness. We all have internal monologues that whisper doubts and nasty words in our ears. Silence them. Speak to yourself and others with compassion and charity.

3     -      Do something.  Love is a verb, as well as a noun. Be practical. You can show love for your friends by being thoughtful. You can show love for humanity by being generous and patient.

4     -      Reject the lie that says that only couples are happy. Being part of a couple can contribute to happiness, but it brings with it a host of challenges.  The same can be said for a single life.  You don’t need another person to make you happy, and more importantly, you shouldn’t look to another person to seal your happiness. This will only lead to disappointment. Focus on other meaningful things – living a good life, being charitable and generous, developing your faith and spirituality, becoming a peacemaker, etc.

I wish you all a very happy St. Valentine’s Day and I hope that you will be kind to yourself and others today and throughout the year.

With every good wish,

Richard Clark.


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