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!