Top 5 Ways to Move Your Writing Forward
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!
Nursery Rhymes You Didn’t Learn
For all of you struggling with your writing projects! Here are the rhymes you didn’t learn in school to help you. Enjoy!
Hickory dickory dock,
the mouse ran off with my plot!
The clock struck one,
the writer was done!
Hickory dickory dock.
Hickory dickory dock.
The bird pooped on my plot!
The clock struck two
What’s a writer to do?
Hickory dickory dock.
Hickory dickory dock
The dog chewed through my plot!
The clock struck three
Guess it wasn’t to be.
Hickory dickory dock.
Jack and Jill went up the hill
to fetch another chapter.
Jack fell down
bringing the pages ’round
and Jill came scribbling faster.
Old Mother Hubbard
went to the cupboard
to give the poor dog a pen.
When she came there
the cupboard was bare
and so the poor pup wrote no end.
- Watch a Jane Austen movie. I am currently watching the newest BBC version of Emma since I’m reading that book and enjoying picking up on all the little things that bring the quirks of the townspeople to life.
- Cleaning my room of clutter. Not yet, too busy coughing on everything and carrying kleenex in my arms everywhere I go. Still on my to do list.
- Journaling for my own enjoyment. Yes. And still recounting five things to be grateful for each day.
- Finish writing the icy mausoleum scene in my story. Not yet, but I at least reread what I have so far and found some great things to edit. To inspire more graveyard goodness, I’ll share with you one of my favorite true life ghost stories below.
- Blog ahead at least 2 posts. When did I agree to do that? My readers love my pantser style. Ok, on the to do list.
You can believe in ghosts if you want to, you can choose to call me crazy too. I’m not sharing this story to change anyone’s opinion of the afterlife, I’m just sharing what happened to me as I recall it.
When I was in high school, I worked in a video store for several years. I had my suspicions at night that someone was in the building. I would hear the sound of tapes (yes, it was all VHS then) being picked off the shelves and put back down down. We had all metal racks in the store. The other clerks I worked with said they heard the same noises when they were alone in the store too, but our manager always denied hearing anything.
I would disregard the noises like the rest of us do when we hear creaks and cracks in our own home. But, there was more creepy happenings. My then neighbor worked out of town and enlisted me to take her dog for walks after school and I would often walk her up to the video store. Our store was family and pet friendly; we kept dog treats behind the counter for when people would come in with their pets. So little me would walk this giant white dog into the video store and head back to the comedy and drama racks or pick up my paycheck from the back office. The thing was this dog, who any other time would run up to people, chase squirrels, lick you to death, would get close to the back door of the office and would just sit down and halt to an abrupt stop. She would not budge. She’d stare at that door and I’d be pulling and pulling her leash to round the corner with me, and she’d be dragged across the carpet, and eventually bolt past the door and halfway down the next aisle before calming down. I’ve never seen her do this anywhere else.
My friends at the time were obsessed with ghost stories. And one night when I was closing, and it was quiet in the store, my two best friends and a coworker came over with a ouija board. I will tell you right now I will never use a ouija board again in my life. I agree with those of you who think it’s a scam and not real, and I agree with those of you who think it’s a doorway to the spirit world. Why both? I really believe it depends on the person using the board, and when we had just any friend use the board we would get gibberish answers, but when my best friend and I used the board, we who could finish each other’s sentences, we would get creepy real answers.
So, my two friends and coworker planted themselves in a back corner of the store in the action movies and asked the ouija board some questions about who worked in the store, what film title someone who wasn’t touching the board was looking at, and eventually who was it that lived in the video store. Amazed, they ran up to me at the counter and told me there was most certainly a ghost in the store, and he was 13 years old. He knew all the initials of the people that worked in the store. They had learned his family died in a fire years ago.
I had had enough. This was not appropriate at work, and I told them to pack up and get going. I walked home, went about my evening, got ready for bed as normal. My routine at night consisted of looping headphones over my bedpost and listening to one of the mixtapes I made while I fell asleep. That night, I remember waking up and thinking I had only been asleep a short while, but the music wasn’t playing. I reached up to my dresser top and picked up the tape player. I hit play. Nothing. I hit rewind, fast forward, play again. Nothing. “Huh, guess the tape player died. Weird. Normally I wake up cause it makes that slooooow, drooooning battery noise. Oh well, back to sleep.”
The next morning, I awoke and got ready for the day. On a whim, while waiting for my mom, I picked up the tape player and hit play. Billie Holiday crooned, “But I’ll be seeing you…” and the whole rest of the tape was erased.
I assure you I cannot explain how this happened. There is no record button on my player, so I didn’t accidentally tape over it. It was not placed next to anything electronic. Whatever, or whoever, it was, from then on, I closed the store very quickly. And my store manager, admitted to me after I left the store years later that she did think the store was haunted.
I think I have a healthy curiousity but a great respect for the spirit world. Have you ever worked or lived somewhere you thought was haunted?
Room for Rent: Give your writing some space, for the love of God!
I’m stuffing lettuce in my face right now. Guilt tripped after a weekend with the family, I devoured bite size bits of chocolate, ate french toast for supper, and cheesy potatoes for breakfast. But I was leaving soon, and if I didn’t eat them for breakfast, I wouldn’t get any more!
Penitence: a light green salad, smidge of a smidge of a drizzle of caesar dressing, and Morning Star chicken nuggets with barbecue sauce and pomegranate juice. It’s sort of like a kids meal at a fast food restaurant isn’t it, which tells you how well I prepared for this week’s resolution to eat healthier.
I swear to you, come morning, it’s back to Luna Bars and orange juice for breakfast.
Ok, Jess, distract the readers from your failings, what did you accomplish this week?
Let’s see, I relaxed. Sure that may not sound like an accomplishment, but for me, it’s not an easy thing to do. And I bet many of you find it difficult too. We writers can procrastinate to no end, but that’s not the same thing. Say it with me, it’s not the same thing! Procrastinating requires you to be doing other things when you should be doing something else more important. But I had no immediate task to undertake. I was free for three days to lay on the couch, watch movies with my parents, color with my niece, and read 100 pages of Jane Austen’s Emma while either in bed or in the tub. That’s right, I took baths! To some, the notion of a bath is disgusting, as you’re sitting in the same water for so long, but I freaking love them!!! And we have no tub at our house. Well, we do, but it’s in my roommate’s bathroom, and I wouldn’t step a toe in that tub; it’s full of man hair and year old mold. ylech!
I just got to hang out for a few days with my best friend, the red fleece blanket my parents call “Bette.” Don’t ask. I saw my dad attempt to latin dance, and my mother repeatedly fall asleep during every movie we watched. I had my two year old niece pretending to be a monster crawl all over me growling and tell me what I thought was her monster name, “GaGaGooGi.” Turns out, she wanted to recite “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.” *shrug*
I also attended a church service for the first time in maybe four years, Christmas excluded. My dad recently transferred, if you can use that verb while talking about religion, to a new church and my mom still goes to Catholic mass. I decided to appease him and go to his service on Sunday morning. I was a little out of my realm. Half an hour before the service started was pure parish singing, and there were a decent number of raised arms about me. I’m not comfortable with that. I ventured down that path once before, and the more I got into it, the more I found out my beliefs differed from everyone elses. Still, I admit, it was moving. The pastor had a very moving lesson to teach us, and I applied it as fittingly as I could with my current endeavors. The lesson essentially taught us, “God is a filler, not a forcer.” God will never force us to do anything, but if we give him SPACE he will fill it with all his goodness.
Ok, stay with me. I’m not about to change platforms and write about religion. But I can appreciate situations where I feel uncomfortable. And I can learn from them, and from those around me. Even though my religious views don’t match my fathers, it seemed more meaningful that I go with him, and when he held my hand in prayer, I felt it shake. So, I listened to the sermon, and I said, “Self, how can you make SPACE for your writing? What will you allow your SPACE to be filled with? Who will you show off your new SPACE to? And before you can do that, what must you clear away first?”
When I opened my thoughts to my writing, and how a silly thing like SPACE could impact it, I was sort of stunned. I think it does apply that for us to be creative and embracing of criticism and feedback, we have to open and give ourselves SPACE to hear those things. For us to try a new idea, a new genre, a new publishing venture, we have to give ourselves SPACE to show those things.
How are you giving yourself SPACE this week?
The Butt-in-the-Chair Approach
Oh, Library Card, how do I love you? You are by far the best invention ever made. That and croutons (“Dry bread, yes, please! On lettuce I think”). I have a whole stack of books on writing and blogging that I’ve picked up from the library recently. I’m on a first name basis with several of the librarians there now. Hello Lois, Jeff, and Cindy! Today’s favorite is entitled, The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron. It’s filled with hundreds of writing prompts that provoke the author to search inside yourself and journal about various milestones, small moments, emotions and draw from that to use it in your work. There are also lots of practices on describing places or characters or objects.
One of the first things he discusses is the Butt-in-the-Chair Approach, because as so many of you other writers have said out there, showing up is half the battle. You’ve got to make time to write and to get good at it. But, if you’re worried, he’s got prompts in the book for that too!
My favorite new prompt from the book so far is this: Pick a time frame, sit down. You don’t have to write, but you can’t do anything else.
Wow, people. I must have been running on hyperdrive, because the notion of sitting down and just thinking hadn’t occurred to me! I am a
horrendous ever punctual multi-tasker. I can never just sit for lunch, I must fill out reports/reply to email/correct associate clocking mistakes. I can’t just watch a movie, I must sew coat buttons back on, make the grocery list, also try to write a novel. Ah ha!
Diagnosis: extreme time management overdose
Cure: forced thinking cap retreats
If you give yourself, say 30 minutes, to just sit down and not do anything but write, if you want to, I’ll think you’ll find it helpful. I was worried I would hate it. But that’s what I do anyway! Only I would be doing it while watching a movie, while making a sandwich, while talking to someone in the other room! If I give myself the time to think about my writing, and not allow myself to do anything else, I inevitably pick up the pen and start jotting things down.
Here’s one more prompt I really liked. Maybe it will spark a story, or a poem, or a blog entry of your own.
Prompt: Mona Simpson begins her story “Lawns” with the sentence “I steal.” Begin a story or essay or poem or journal entry with the line “I _______.” Push forward from there. If you can think of one action that speaks to who you are, what would it be? Write at least a few paragraphs. Try this experiment a few times, using different actions.
What do you think your one action line would be? (Right now, I’m thinking…”I eat,” because it’s dinner time ;))
Or what “writer epiphany” moments have you had recently?
Also, check out Kristen Lamb‘s new blog post. It’s exactly what you need if you’re having problems prioritizing like me. Trust me, you’ll love this!
Everyone is Given a Box of Crayons in Kindergarten
So my wonderful blogging network of new friends has given me so many words of wisdom and helpful sites for writers to go to. One of which included reading the book “Ignore Everybody and 39 other keys to creativity” by Hugh MacLeod. I won’t re-tell you about the book, you should check out the blog post I read or the author’s site. But one of his chapters is a reminder that everyone is born creative.
“Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and repace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.'” -Hugh MacLeod
The book is full of wacky cartoon drawings and keen combinations of hysterical no nonsense advice. It talks inspirational process along with business necessities. Mostly what I appreciate is the author’s honest voice that creativity is work. The ideas that come to you can shoot out like fireworks, but somebody’s got to measure out the gunpowder, safely and securely measure out the display base, and strike the match. He reminds us that good ideas are worth fighting for, and you’ve got to show up for the battle.
So this week, my quest was to practice writing prompts every day. Today I went onto www.writeordie.com which is a site many other bloggers, writers, NaNoWriMo’s have all suggested, and I thought what better week to try? The site offers a timed space for writing to measure word count, and if the author fails to complete so many words after a short period of time, subtle hints are given on the screen. First off, I think write or die will be my mental undoing. Always a bit of a competitor in the language field, I went straight to kamikaze mode on a grace period level of “strict.” At first the sudden color change made me jump a little, I wasn’t expecting that. In amusement, I watched as the screen went from a happy-go-lucky pink into a dip-dye evil red. I was hoping there would be another color, but suddenly multiple words were deleted from my story. Scrambling to put them back together I barely had time to think about what my character would see next before the pink background began it’s bloody dripping down my screen again. I lasted only 12 minutes. Write or die is not a place to do the brainstorming for your story. Write or die is a place to take your brainstorming and crank it out on page. Duly noted. I should tell you the next level up is called Electric Shock Mode on a grace period of “evil.”
The one fantastic thing write or die did for me was illustrate just how much I need to brainstorm the next plan of action for my short story. I’ve recently dumped my protagonist, Lydia, into a labyrinthian underworld through which she must walk a series of strange parallel worlds. In order to bring her to life again I have to plan what will happen to her, who she’ll meet, what she’ll find.
And that brings me to next week’s writing resolution. I will create a storyboard. I’m an immensely visual learner, so trying to brainstorm while using write or die only distracted me more watching the color of my screen change, so my brainstorming needs to occur beforehand. Crawl, then walk, Jess! Duh! Using photos and language that inspire me, I’ll make a storyboard of Lydia’s journey. I also plan to read before bed each night. I have a hard time “turning my head off” as I call it, I lay awake thinking about the day, about work, the laundry list of things to do (which reminds me I need to change my laundry), so I plan to read before bed and hope I think about my story as I fall asleep. Better keep a pen and paper handy too, just in case inspiration sparks! Good luck to all of you on your writing endeavors!
The Six Word Memoir is fun.
Ok, Christmas is over, and it’s time to stop lollygagging about the house in my pajamas and supersoft socks with rubber grips on the bottom. Yep, that zombie with a cold and mug of green tea you’ve been seeing around your house is me. Sorry for wiping snot on your sofa.
To jumpstart my writing goals for the new year I wanted to come up with some action plans and creativity projects that will help my writing. After reading through a new post on creative writing prompts by Michelle Locke I decided what better way to feel renewed than some good old fashioned word games! Hold on, I need to shove another kleenex up my nose. *blow*
Where was I? To date, I’ve successfully begun one of the books I picked up on writing. It’s a book on journaling, which I already do, but I thought it would contain some prompts. To go back to my original resolution, I’d like to try a new goal for writing each week and record its helpfulness in this blog, starting with writing prompts. This week, every day I will do a different writing prompt and record how long I was able to do it and what writing tools I felt it strengthened. I have a few prompt ideas in mind, but send me some of your favorites, I’ll try really hard not to get vicks vapor rub on them. *blow*
I’ve been brainstorming some ideas on what to try. Here is what I have come up with: changing my workspace, changing the times I write, timed writing, making picture boards, only writing on my lunch hour, playing scrabble for a week, only eating foods that begin with the letter ‘W’ (water chestnuts? watermelon? worchestshore sauce? hmm, take that off my list). I’ll keep brainstorming and let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what your favorite writing routines or prompts are.
And today’s game is: The Six Word Memoir! This is a new favorite of mine, and if you’re unfamiliar with the story of Ernest Hemingway’s said memoir it goes like this. Guy walks into a bar, bets Ernest Hemingway he can’t write a story in only 6 words, Hemingway accepts the challenge. Scribbles for a bit, then reads, “For Sale, Baby shoes. Never worn.”
Here are the memoirs I came up with today.
Boyfriend hates hairy legs. Big deal!
Seriously, playing badminton gave me tendonitis.
Coffee? Check. Body in basement? Check.
“Cookies at bedtime? Again, Mr. Clause?!”
Tomorrow. The transplant would be tomorrow.
I should probably learn to swim.
The car driving away. He’d left.
Cake batter for breakfast. My roommate.
Three hours making cookies. Never again.
I saw you in the cemetery.
The best invention ever made: kleenex.