Guest Post: Joseph Carro On Writer’s Block

Howdy, howdy!  Welcome to another guest post.  This time, we have my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum, Joseph Carro.  He’s got some super helpful tips for working around writer’s block, which I struggle with a lot.  So, read on!

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Joe and I at the Harraseeket Inn.  Pretty sure that was January ’15.

On Writer’s Block

By Joseph Carro

Writing can be an extremely frustrating and hopelessly solitary artistic endeavor, and as writers we know and understand this when we choose it as our lifestyle. Yet it doesn’t make it any easier when we’re holed up in the basement, writing the next big thing on our minds. Whether you’re trying to write a blog post, a poem, a screenplay, or a novel – Writer’s Block afflicts us all. I know that personally, real life usually gets in the way and saps my creative juices with its constant demands, but to keep writing I have acquired several techniques which I use in order to get my brain jumpstarted again. My hope is to share a couple of my own techniques with you. I know that many of you have your own techniques, but as a writer – I usually appreciate any new ways in which I can defeat this annoying affliction. Feel free to chime in with your own methods below in the comments section.


WALK OR DRIVE: Walking, to me, is a lost pastime. And I’m not the only one to think so. If you’re stuck on a certain spot in your manuscript or post or what have you, get OUT of that space for a little while. If you don’t like walking, then just sit outside or maybe take a drive. Anything to get yourself out of your stagnant state. Maybe you’ll see or experience something that will ignite that spark. You just have to step outside your comfort zone for a bit. Fresh air does wonders for the mind and the thought process needed for writing.

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READ SOMETHING: As Stephen King once said; “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Writing is a skill in which you absorb technique and inspiration from reading other writers. To do so, you need to actually read. Sometimes, reading someone else’s work is the perfect way to jumpstart your own. In my case, I will sometimes put aside my writing for one day and try to finish the book I was already reading or start another one. By the time I’m through a few chapters, I’m usually chomping at the bit to get back into my writing project. Obviously, it’s “dangerous” to put aside the writing to do something else (because you can get too much into the habit of doing that), but in moderation I think it works. Just really pay attention to what the authors are doing; their prose, the construction of the novel or short story or poem or whatever, and the way in which the strongest parts of it make you feel as a reader. Try to infuse your writing with some of that magic, without trying to ape their style. Be you.

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LISTEN TO MUSIC: This one is very divisive within the writing community. In one camp, you have people who absolutely cannot listen to music while writing. Or, they at least must listen to very quiet, ambient music rather than anything heady with lyrics. That’s okay, this technique may not be for you either. However – when I’m trying to write a certain scene or a certain tone to my short story or screenplay, I sometimes pick an appropriate piece of music. For a tone, I will generally choose a playlist I’ve created on Spotify or find a playlist on YouTube – for example, if I’m looking for a melancholy tone I will choose a playlist that’s labeled as “sad songs” or “bittersweet songs”. Generally, the mood conveyed through these songs, and the emotions they bring out enhance my writing. It’s all about knowing your tolerance for this kind of distraction while you’re trying to write. This also works if you just need to listen to a song or two BEFORE you write, rather than listening to entire tracks during your actual writing. Just make sure to fire up another song here and there to renew your creative juices and emotions, because sometimes sitting in a chair and writing prose does not automatically generate emotions until you really get into the meat of the story. Writing is both a technical skill and an art, and art comes from emotion. Sometimes, we wade too far into the technical aspects and lose the emotional momentum.

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USE WRITING EXERCISES AND PROMPTS: This method is actually my favorite, and thanks to the internet, there are countless online sources for finding writing ideas. These aren’t necessarily meant to replace the project you’re working on, but are more for trying to write something in general when you’re stuck. However, if you need some distance from your novel, it’s okay to take a brief respite and write something else. A few of my favorite sources for writing prompts are from books I’ve found or have been given. My wife gifted me a sort of “activity book” called 400 Writing Prompts by Piccadilly Inc and that one has given me quite a few ideas. A couple of other books I’ve found to be pretty useful are The Writer’s Book of Matches: 1,001 Prompts To Ignite Your Fiction from Writer’s Digest Books, What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, and The Pocket Muse: Ideas & Inspirations for Writing by Monica Wood. There are also lots of online sources out there as I mentioned above, and some of my favorites are Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, tumblr, and even reddit. Various bloggers like myself also dedicate entire sections of their blog to writing prompts. My own blog, Away With Words, has just such a section that you can find HERE. I try to do at least one weekly prompt, but sometimes I do more.

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These are just some tools for trying to get back into the swing of things, and my hope is that by using these techniques and resources, you can dig yourself out of whatever funk you’re in and get back to writing. Remember – try not to be too hard on yourself. Writing is hard work, it’s thirsty work, and your brain can quickly become parched when it’s dealing with the same tedious task over and over. Give it some variety and keep yourself from getting mired. Good luck!

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My name is Joseph Carro, and I am a Maine-based freelance writer and editor trying to make it in the big world of letters and semi-colons. I work currently as a barista to (barely) pay the bills, and in the meantime, I’m working on a YA novel, currently untitled, as well as various other works like screenplays, comic scripts, short stories, and flash fiction. Heck, you may as well toss in some comic books with that, too.

I live in Portland, here in Maine – with my beautiful wife and our five-pound chihuahua, Brewtus.

Above photo courtesy of Helen Peppe.

Pseudonyms: Yes, No, Maybe So?

Howdy, howdy!  When exactly did June get here?  This year is flying by, isn’t it?  Or maybe it’s just me.  In the past week, a friend and I started talking about pen names and whether using one for certain genres is smart/acceptable.  She’s worried that her name leans a little too much toward romance and the other things she currently writes, and if it would even attract attention if she branches out into other genres.  Then, we talked about the process of actually picking a pseudonym (which is surprisingly difficult sometimes).  It wasn’t something I had really thought much about or talked about before, so she was a little stunned that I already have one picked out.  Anyway!  Today, I thought I’d ramble a little about pen names and get other opinions on them.

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I chuckled.  Leave me alone.

Personally, I’m all for pseudonyms.  I know a lot of authors who use them and a lot who don’t.  The most common reason I hear in favor of them is that they conceal people’s identities when they aren’t comfortable being in the public eye.  I think that’s a load of crap in this day and age (it’s far too easy to find information on people), but if they believe it works, more power to them.  Mostly, I like the idea of pen names because there are some genres I feel more at home in than others.  Those are the ones I want my real name associated with.  Fantasy and horror are what my heart gravitates toward.  Even though Shawna Borman doesn’t particularly evoke either of those things, I still want my name on anything I publish in those genres.

On the other hand, I also enjoy writing cozy mysteries (with a supernatural twist), but I’m not as comfortable in that realm.  When I’m working on cozies or sci-fi or romance, I don’t feel like myself.  So, my plan has always been to publish anything in those genres under a different name should I ever have the chance.  It’s not that I’ll want to hide who I really am (any chance I get to be published, no matter the name, you guys will know).  It’s just that using a pen name for those types of genres feels natural.

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A pseudonym is basically just an author slipping into (or out of) a different skin.

As far as choosing the name goes, the process is different for everyone.  Mine came pretty naturally.  I went through that weird phase as a kid where I named my non-existent children and, since I’m not having any, decided to put the girl’s initials to use.  Then, I came across a last name that just felt right thanks to someone I used to know.  Luckily, it doesn’t seem to be in use yet.  Hopefully it’ll stay free until I need it (which is why I’m not sharing it yet).  I think the hardest part of picking a pen name is finding one that doesn’t have too many other people attached to it on Google and social media sites.  When I came up with my name, I wasn’t worried about marketing and all that, but it is something we have to think about as we explore our options.

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Or you could use weird name generators.  I’m Dame Dorcas Wraithbottom.

What are your thoughts on pseudonyms?  As an artist, are you for or against them?  Do you use one?  How’d you choose it?  What about as a reader?  Do you think people who use pen names are hiding something?  Does it bother you?  Feel free to share your thoughts here or on my social media pages!

Thoughts On THE ODDLING PRINCE

Hello, hello!  It’s the last Wednesday in May, which means it’s time for another book review.  This time, I decided to get into a fantasy novel to mix things up a bit.  Cozies and thrillers are great, but sometimes you just need a break.  So, I requested a copy of The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer from NetGalley.  It came out earlier this month from Tachyon Publications.  As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for sending me an advanced copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  With that out of the way, let’s get on with it!

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It has such a pretty cover!

The Oddling Prince opens with Aric’s father, the king of Calidon, on his deathbed.  A ring of unknown origins is sucking the life from him, and no one can figure out how to remove it short of cutting off the appendage, which no one dares to do.  At least not until a stranger arrives on a horse that disappears when he dismounts.  The stranger saves the king without mutilating him and reveals a secret that only Aric immediately accepts as true.  This leads to adventure and arguments and secrets and a level of brotherly love that verges on the incestuous at times.

I fully admit that this book caused my inner yaoi fangirl to come out.  If you don’t know what yaoi is, the best way I’ve heard it described is that it’s beautiful boys kissing beautiful boys.  Granted, it tends to go much farther than that, but I won’t go there because the book doesn’t.  So, if you’re reading it and get some strange vibes that make you want to put it down, don’t worry.  It’s really just creepy levels of brotherly love.  For the yaoi fanpeople, you will be slightly disappointed.  But hey!  At least Aric and Albaric came together in the end.  *winkwinknudgenudge*  Just in a completely different, but equally satisfying way.

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But seriously, I found this story quite enjoyable.  The characters were relatable despite being royalty.  The plot was fun and had a lot of twists.  My only complaint with this one is that the pacing is awkward.  It feels like everything happens over the course of a few days, maybe weeks, but there are lines that suggest months have passed by.  Honestly, I wouldn’t be able make a timeline for it even after finishing it, because I’m still not entirely sure whether days or weeks or months passed.  That issue screws with a couple of other things, such as the relationship arc between Aric and Marissa.  There wasn’t a sense of love at first sight, so when it seemed like they randomly fell in love after a couple of days, it felt like an afterthought.  But if months passed, it makes a bit more sense.

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There were definitely no heart eyes when they first met!

As far as the writing goes, be prepared for older language and a rhythm reminiscent of fairy tales.  It’s a little jarring at first, but it’s interesting.  I learned things like a believable difference between calling a king “Sire,” “Liege,” and other things.  Whether the information is entirely correct, I don’t know.  I haven’t researched it yet.  But it made sense in the story.  And the author made the information feel like a natural part of the story instead of an infodump.  It was really interesting

Ultimately, The Oddling Prince was a fun read.  It seems like it’s going to be a standalone, but on the off chance there are more, I’ll pick them up.  I also plan on looking for other books by Springer.

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Overall, I’d give it four out of five stars.  It’s a quick and amusing read.  If you’re into fantasy or fairy tales or just looking for something light to read between things, I’d definitely suggest giving it a shot.

The Charmed Reboot Is Apparently A Thing

Howdy, howdy!  A few days ago, a friend of mine posted a link to the CW’s new Charmed trailer (view it here).  I admit that I vaguely remember talks of rebooting this show, but I never thought they actually would, so I didn’t keep up with the news on it.  When I found out they were going through with it, I was wary and a little excited.  In my experience, reboots tend to suck and when you’re dealing with content that was already pretty corny at times, it’s even more difficult to do it justice.  The trailer did nothing to ease my fears.

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Maggie (Sarah Jeffrey), Macy (Madeleine Mantock), and Mel (Melonie Diaz) are the new sisters.

Based on the trailer, the premise is basically the same as the original.  Three sisters find out they’re witches after their mother dies , and they have to fight evil!  Okay, it’s Mom instead of Grams who dies and the long lost sister (Macy) shows up in the first episode instead of after killing off one of the others to bring her in, so I suppose it’s not entirely the same.  Also, their Giles (wait, wrong show)… I mean their Leo (I’m just guessing that’s who the dude who ties them up is supposed to be) appears and explains that they’re witches, which is kind of new.  Then, there’s a glimpse of a baddie who looks like an emo whose eyeliner is running.  That’s not new at all.  And I’m entirely okay with all of this.

That being said, after I looked into some of the advertising for the reboot, I became less enthusiastic.  The CW’s description reads:

This fierce, funny, feminist reboot of the original series centers on three sisters in a college town who discover they are witches.  Between vanquishing supernatural demons, tearing down the patriarchy, and maintaining familial bonds, a witch’s work is never done.

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I made this exact face when I read that!

I’m sorry, but if you have to use “feminist” and “tearing down the patriarchy” in your description, you’re trying too hard.  I get that advertising is all about pandering to your target audience, but the original Charmed taught us all about sisterhood and the power of female bonds and that women were as powerful (if not moreso) as men and all that jazz.  And they did it through the characters and the story, not by telling us that’s what we were supposed to get from it.  The phrasing just feels like a cheap trick to draw in viewers and, honestly, it’s going to work.  But it’s also going to drive other people away.  Blending this stuff into the show with context and emotion and sarcasm then letting your fanbase decide it’s a “fierce, funny, feminist reboot” is great.  Flat out saying it in the advertisements is presumptuous and kind of annoying.

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See?  Sarcasm works wonders.

In all honesty, I’ll probably give the show a shot, but I don’t have high hopes for it.  What are your thoughts?  Looking forward to it or dreading it?  Feel free to share your opinions here or on my social media pages!

Push Through The Pain… Or Don’t

Hello, hello!  For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been having some issues with pain brought about by adjusting my seat cushion.  Needless to say, it’s been interfering with my writing.  For three days, it was so bad that I didn’t do anything productive.  Since then, I’ve been able to focus on doing most of the stuff I needed to do.  But I wanted to take today to talk about pain and when to suck it up vs. when to take a break because of it.

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I try.  Sometimes, I fail.

When you’re cripple, pain is pretty much a guarantee.  Every doctor I visit inevitably asks if I’m in any pain, and my go-to response is “no more than usual.”  It’s a given that my neck/left shoulder always hurt, along with my back and hips.  It’s more a matter of how bad I’m hurting.  Low-level (about a three) aches that randomly spike to about a seven on a scale of one to ten are my norm.  Those are the pains I’m used to, and yes, you eventually get used to hurting.  They’re the pains that I can ignore and go about my day with.

But what about the days those random spikes linger?  What about the days when the pain is so different (not necessarily bad, just unusual) that it distracts me from the things I need to focus on?  Honestly, most of the time, I pop some Aspirin and goof around until it kicks in, then get back to work.  As long as everything eventually returns to normal, I don’t worry about it too much.  Granted, sometimes I waste a lot of time trying to figure out why I’m feeling the way I do, but that could just be another form of procrastination for me.

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Occasionally, there are days when the pain is higher than normal and doesn’t go away even with Aspirin.  If I can figure out why I’m in pain, I try to figure out how to stop it, which can be a trial and error bit that lasts a couple of days (like with my seat).  I know I’ll never be able to focus on those days.  When I have pain like that, I usually move around a lot and have to sit in positions that make working at the computer impossible.  Not to mention, pain makes it really hard to focus.  My mind gets all jittery.  Those are the days that I say screw writing and everything else I need to do.  And that’s okay.  We all deserve a little time off when we’re in pain.

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Stare blankly at the wall until the pain goes away.

So, if you’re not already aware of what kind of pain is normal for you, try to learn.  It makes the decision to push through or take a break much easier.  What do you do when you’re hurting?  Do you pop a couple of pills and wait for them to kick in?  Do you do yoga or tai chi or some other exercise in the hopes of working the pain out?  Perhaps you meditate.  Whatever your method of dealing with aches and unusual pains, feel free to share your tips and tricks here or on my social media pages!

The Bottle Above My Door

Hello, hello!  I have nothing writerly to talk about this week, so I thought I would share the (boring) story behind one of my weirder decorations.  Hanging above my door, alongside my collection of drumsticks and guitar picks, is a crumpled up plastic water bottle.  Whenever I’m hurting and need to lay back in the chair to shift my weight (or I get stuck on something while writing and just need a break), I usually end up staring at that bottle for a few minutes.  It has this weird ability to make me smile, despite being a piece of junk to everyone else.  I guess it’s because I get to think about that December night back 2011 when I got it.

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Yes, I’m one of those weird people who keep things like this 

That year was a year for concerts.  Miyavi came around in November (pretty sure one of the drumsticks is from that one), which was a no-brainer for me.  I was definitely going to that show.  Then, I found out that Dir en grey was coming through that December.  I admit that I struggled a bit with the decision to go to that show.  I knew Dad wasn’t a fan (screamy Japanese metal just isn’t his thing, though I knew he wouldn’t say no if I asked to go) and it was a little expensive, but I had never seen them live before.  And you never really know if Japanese bands are going to come back through Texas, so it’s best to catch them when you can.  Ultimately, I decided to go.

Dad, the Minion (yes, I call my friend a minion, except I think he still had the title of Puppet back then), and I piled in the van and headed down to Trees in Deep Ellum.  It’s one of my favorite venues down there, though we haven’t been in a while.  The owners were super nice.  I heard they’ve reopened two other venues since the last time I went to a concert out there, which is neat.  But I digress.

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The Minion!  And yes, I wore a Mudvayne hat to a Dir en grey concert.

The concert was awesome.  Sat by the stage, right in front of Toshiya, the bassist.  At one point, Dad leaned over and said that he had just realized that that guy (Toshiya) was wearing a skirt.  Given other bands I listen to, it wasn’t a surprise as much as an observation, but it was still funny.  Then, when the concert was over and the band members were leaving the stage, Kyo (the singer) stopped and gave me his crumpled up water bottle.  Still high on the live music buzz, it was the most awesome thing EVER!  A little later, when asked what I planned on doing with his garbage, I vaguely remember a plan to harvest his DNA and clone him.  That never came to fruition, but I did use it as a wall decoration.

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Kyo!

And that’s how one man’s literal trash became my treasure.  What’s something weird that you keep around?  Do you have anything other people would look at and automatically think it’s trash?  Share your story here or on my social media pages!

May Is Here!

Howdy, howdy!  Apparently, May decided to arrive when I wasn’t looking.  I don’t really have anything worth talking about this week (feel free to send me suggestions for topics), so I’ve decided to make my goals for the month public again.  Motivation has been really hard to find lately.  I have no idea why.  But, hopefully this will help!

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Because Snoopy and Woodstock!

Here are my May goals, in no particular order:

1. Submit stuff 8 times (2 every Monday).  This is the one goal that I haven’t failed at yet this year.  I’ve gotten a bunch of rejections.  One of my stories has been shortlisted, so I’ve got my fingers crossed for that one.  And I have a bunch still floating in the slush pile limbo.  Hopefully, I can keep up the submissions this month!

2. Write 1 flash piece OR short story.  I’m super behind on this one.  So far this year, I’ve only written one short story and revised a couple of flash pieces.  I was hoping to have at least three new pieces to shop around by this point, but I don’t.  Soon, though.  I hope.

3. Read 2 books.  I’m currently reading an ARC of The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer to review this month.  The book club I’m in will be reading The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, so I’ll probably also read that.  If I have time, I also want to read the third book in the Howl’s Moving Castle trilogy, but I don’t know if I will or not.

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It looks pretty interesting!

4. Make time for people.  My recluse skills have been on point lately.  I avoid chatting on Facebook.  I only text one person regularly.  Can’t remember the last time I talked to someone on the phone.  And I really shouldn’t be that way.  I should randomly message people and try to make new friends.  The problem is, I’m comfortable not bothering people.  That’s a hard habit to break.  I’m trying, though.  I sent a few messages out yesterday.  I’ll try to send out a few each week.  We’ll see how it goes.

5. Finish revising short story.  I’m still working on fleshing out and revising the short story I wrote a couple of months ago.  It’s a bit more sci-fi than I’m comfortable writing, but I’m enjoying it.  I actually took a character from a novel I haven’t finished and threw her in a new world as a younger version of herself.  I think this world might be the key to all the problems that made me quit that novel.  But that’ll have to wait until I finish everything else I want to do this year.  For now, the short story comes first.

6. Submit story to critique group.  It’s been a while since I’ve submitted anything to my critique group, so hopefully some of them will be up to checking the story out when I finish revising it.

7. Begin revisions on LR.  I decided to go back to the second novel attempt and work on revising it first.  I miss my dragons and shifters and everyone else in that book.  It’ll be nice to get back to them.

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A pretty sea dragon by Carlos Herrera.

Those are my goals for the month!  What about you?  Feel free to share your goals here or on my social media pages!