I was so energized by the comments and support in my previous post depicting my struggle with outlining that I compiled a list of various ways writers can propel their work in progress forward. All of us have battles each day to face. Mine typically include: getting out of bed without hitting snooze 1-6 times, eating a healthy breakfast, trying to coach people with 20 years of bad habits under their belts, and getting home and not immediately grabbing a bag of chips and falling asleep on the couch missing the ending of yet another movie, and oh yah…writing consistently. I never used to live like this. Yah, right.
So, I started thinking about the different kinds of work writers do. It’s more complicated than ‘writers write.’ We write different genres, we write fiction or non-fiction. We build worlds and set construction, we develop characters for readers to fall in love with, and often, if we are successful, we’ve somehow infused real life into our work. It could be using an image we saw, a place we grew up, a person we knew. We transform the real world around us into great writing and reading. The process to do those things differs for every person. And what kind of Perseverance Expert would I be if I couldn’t help us all find ways to move forward when we’re stuck in one place.
1. Take a Walk Sounds too simple, right? No really. Try it. Sometimes we’re too close to our story to think openly about it. Taking a walk clears our head. We’re able to focus on new tasks, such as crossing the street safely (I look both ways to left and right, left and right, left and right, I look both ways to left and right before I cross the street). I was a Safety City Instructor for 2 years! **crickets** Ok, back to the point, honestly taking a walk could lead you in a thousand directions! Duh, Witkins, we’re walking! No, no, I mean writing directions. You could overhear a conversation that would spark up your own dialogue and give you insight into your characters. You could take a camera with you and snap photos of things that interest you along the way. Maybe an image will help spark a next scene you could jump to or assist you with world building.
2. Brainstorm/Free Write/Scene Build This was a difficult lesson for me. Back in November when I did my own version of NaNoWriMo, it killed me to stare at the cursor on my computer screen and think THINK THIIIIIINK what would come next. It didn’t occur to me I could write non-chronologically and piece the scenes together during editing. If you’re stuck in one place, or writing a particular scene has become daunting or less than fun, move to another scene you’re excited about and sketch it out. It keeps you writing your story and should help keep you passionate for it too.
3. Outline, Character Development If you like structure and that helps you focus, take a time out to list qualities about your characters or plot turning points in your story. Spend time asking yourself about the mask your protagonist/antagonist wears, what do they fear, what is their strength, motto, what characteristics do they admire in others (supporting characters), do they have a dark side, what is their core need and what will make them their best self? There’s lots of character development outlines available online, find one that piques your interest and spend time getting to know your characters.
4. Journal I had a big aha moment this weekend after reading the Freshly Pressed post by Jamie Lee Wallace. She wrote about the top 10 ways journaling can make you a better writer. I highly recommend checking out her post if you haven’t already because all the reasons are great. My favorite two are: it gets rid of the crappy writing by allowing you to get your ideas out on page and it makes it clear to you what you’re really struggling with because it’s a way to record your progress, good and bad. Just start journaling already! I love it. You might too, and there are no rules, the more you do it, the more beneficial, but whatever you choose to enter inside it is what’s right for you.
5. Share If none of the above seem to be helping, bring in another set of eyes. I used to think I couldn’t share my work with anyone until it was completely finished, thereby revealing the proverbial masterpiece that came from my mind alone! Muahahaha! But frankly, that’s stupid. It’s ok, I admit it. I was young and naive, and still am at times, but I’m moving forward and making smarter decisions. 😀 If you read the thank yous published authors write in their books, a lot of them thank the readers who read their work before it was on the shelf. Also, when I was at the Writers Institute Conference, all the agents said you should absolutely submit your work to a critique group before pitching/publication. So unless you’re the next Emily Dickinson or John Kennedy Toole, you should let others give you feedback, good and bad, about your work. Somehow, I don’t think most of us want the hidden papers in a mattress/shoebox approach anyway.
These are the strategies that have been the most helpful to me, because they cover whatever aspect you’re struggling with each day. If I need more structure, outline. If I’m feeling lackluster about a certain part, jump to a new one! Need to set it down for a minute? Ok, go walk or journal. And advice from other writers has always been eye opening to me, both in form and story development.
Many of you have been posting recently about the changes you’re making in your writing lives. Maybe it’s putting your name on your blog! Woohoo, welcome! Some have been blogging about their character developing strategies and what inspires them. And several of my pals are taking writing retreats and attending conferences this weekend. (Even though I just got back from one, I’m still jealous; they’re just so much fun!) So chat with me. What strategies are you focusing on right now with your writing? What changes or steps have you taken to be more successful? Do you have a critique group? How has that input from other writers helped you? How has blogging helped you? I know my community here means the world to me! *bats eyelashes at you all* Can’t wait to hear from you, and happy writing!
“I’ve been journaling since I was 15. It’s a wonder that I’ve managed to be a successful human being considering how pathetic I appeared in many of my daily musings.” –Oprah, in Oprah Magazine April 2011
I caved. I was standing in line at the grocery store waiting to check out and glancing over the magazines they strategically place right near the counter when I read the cover for Oprah’s newest issue. In the magazine, she shows you pages of her journals from 1970-1985. I had to read it. And wouldn’t you know, most every page had to do with some boy. She’s been keeping a journal since she was 15, and I’ve been journaling since I was 13. I’m sure a fair amount of my “daily musings” were about boys, in fact I’m positive they were. But, I also changed the purpose of my journaling just like Oprah did. At some point in her life, she began to use her journal as a place for gratitude and blessings in her life rather than recounting all the bad stuff. By allowing herself that positive space she allowed good things to enter her life. I’m not going to tell you it’s easy. It isn’t. Despite all the advice I get from Oprah, or from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, which I read last year and which prompted the beginning of this wayward blog, I by no means have it all figured out. But, I’m getting there.
I’ve also been reading the book Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. It’s a young adult novel about a 10 year old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder that makes it difficult to understand and express emotion. Despite her disorder, I find Caitlin extremely delightful as she practices naming emotions on the playground, making friends, and celebrating the things she’s good at like finesse. Here’s an excerpt that made me laugh, because I know exactly how she feels. The scene is Caitlin is in the school office talking to her counselor on the phone.
She says I have to be patient and keep trying. Sometimes things don’t work the first time but then eventually they do.
And making friends?
Even for me?
Absolutely. I have confidence in you. You just have to keep trying.
Josh is walking into the principal’s office when I get off the phone.
He turns his head to me and whispers, Loser.
I know, I tell him, but I’m going to keep trying.
To put it in Caitlin’s terms. “I Get It.” I know how she feels. Because I feel that way too. What does Oprah and a 10 year old with Asperger’s have to do with your blog, Jess, you ask? I guess they represent where my head is at in this writing journey of mine. I know I’ve come a long way, but I have to keep trying.
Case in point, an excerpt from my April 1, 2000 journal ( I was in 8th grade):
In the future I want…
- to be a famous, or at least published authoress
- to travel all over the world
- to happily marry a wonderful, handsome, God-loving man
- to some distant day have a baby girl and a baby boy
- to maybe direct or write or act in a good movie
- to meet my penpal, Andrea
- to be rid of this dreadful retainer!
Lylas (love you like a sister),
What do you think? What parts of your writing journey do you have to keep working at? What about your happiness journey? Do you have goals from childhood you’re still working on? Ever pull out your old journals and try to name the emotions in them? lol.
Spent the day working at home, cleaning and organizing my desk and closet. In the midst of the dust upheaval, I unearthed my bin full of old journals and literary magazines. Thought I’d share a poem of mine published in Spires Literary Magazine, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, Spring 2005. The summer before I returned to school my mother’s father moved in with us due to his decreasing health. I wrote this while sitting in the kitchen at home one night.
When Grandpa Came to Live With Us
When Grandpa came to live with us–
it was because he needed oxygen
think with rainwater,
similar to the
which stewed outside
Strange enough, Wisconsin summer,
humidity so thick I couldn’t breathe
In the house
a whole woods full
a cowbird’s call
in Grandpa’s cough
seven june bugs
like pill bottles
The stir of leaves
cracks of sticks–
an oxygen machine
The long blowing
of the grasses
and tree branches,
steady hum of a sleeping