What’s Your Novel Really About?

Howdy, howdy!  Have you ever run into one of those people who asks what your novel-in-progress is about, but after you explain it to them, they’re all like “no, what is it really about…”?  They’re usually English majors or something along that line: people who can’t accept that sometimes, in writing, blue curtains are just blue curtains.  These are the deep thinkers, the over-analyzers.  And they’re usually pretty cool people.  But if you aren’t prepared for the question, it can be annoying and frustrating.  Especially if you’re like me and don’t consciously build underlying themes into your work.  So, I thought I would take a minute to ramble about hidden meanings and all that fun stuff.

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It’s the controversial meme of (writerly) doom!

Like I said, I don’t go into a writing session with the purpose of bringing a particular lesson to the page.  I don’t know many people who do.  The few I know who have tried doing this come across as preachy and, in all honesty, more than a little douchenozzly.  (This was a long time ago and in no way reflects my current circles.)  I like to let things happen naturally, especially in a first draft.  If the story is good, themes and hidden meanings will bury themselves into the story and eventually make themselves known.

How do I know this?  Because when I was doing exercises from Sandra Scofield’s The Last Draft: A Novelist’s Guide to Revision, one of the things I had to do was state the main vision of the novel I was preparing to revise.  I had no idea what LR was about in any deep sense.  I didn’t really care.  The story and characters were fun, so why did it need to be about anything other than dragons and war?  Then, I started reading through it and noticed a weird trend.  When everyone listened to each other and thought things through, there was forward momentum.  When everyone just argued and ignored things, everything stalled out.  So, I ended up with a sticky note on my computer that says “Vision: Looking at conflict from multiple angles (including the enemy’s) allows one greater access to the Truth and the ability to make difficult decisions.”

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At least he’s honest.

It turns out that listening and understanding are things I write about a lot.  I don’t know why.  It’s kind of like when Nancy Holder told me that young people getting dragged into new worlds was “classic Shawna.”  I had no idea.  Apparently, it’s what I gravitate towards without realizing it.  Granted, listening isn’t the only thing hidden in my stories, but I think it’s a lesson we all need to consider getting into the habit of, especially right now.  Maybe that’s why I notice it cropping up more and more in my stuff.

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Surprises are… fun?

Anyway, I suppose all of this just boils down to the fact that I think it’s kind of neat to see things I never intended to write about pop up in my stories.  So, while I may not know what my novel is about when you ask, I’ll eventually figure it out during revision.  What about you?  What themes pop up in your work?  Feel free to share your comments or thoughts here or on my social media pages!

Writing Stints: I Should Get Back to Those

Howdy, howdy!  How is everyone’s year going so far?  I’ve been fairly productive in getting ready to dive back into revisions in a serious manner.  I read through the revisions thus far, made sure I knew where I was going with things, and reviewed the plot to come.  But I admit that it’s a daunting task to sit down and seriously work on the story.  That’s why I’ve been looking into different variations of writing stints/time management methods.  I thought I would ramble on about a few of my options today, since I have nothing else to write about.

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This is not wrong.

For a while, a friend and I did a couple of hour long stints a day (or when we were both writing at the same time).  In other words, we’d check in with each other with our goals for our stints that day, write (or revise or blog or whatever we needed to do) for an hour, take a short break to check in and rest, then repeat the last two steps until we met our goals or were exhausted.  That method worked for me.  It helped me concentrate and reporting in with said friend helped hold me accountable.  Unfortunately, life gets in the way of these things and makes it impossible for us to do this at the moment.  And, honestly, I don’t know if I could keep up that kind of momentum on my own.  An hour is a long time.  That’s why I’ve been looking at other options.

One of the most popular options for time management seems to be the Pomodoro Technique.  Yes, it means tomato.  Supposedly, the guy who started it used a tomato shaped timer.  In this one, you select a task and work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, and repeat 4 times, after which you take a 15 minute break then start all over again until you’re done.  It sounds useful and there are tons of apps to use that will help with my accountability issues.  I might try this.

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Apparently this is a thing.

Some of my other friends have recently started doing a 15 minute stint followed by two half hour stints and another 15 minute stint to finish up.  They take short breaks between each stint to check in with each other as well.  It’s a method they found on Twitter through Leigh Bardugo.  Our writing schedules just don’t mesh, so I haven’t been able to join them, but it seems like a helpful style.  Maybe live tweeting progress during breaks could even work for me.  Or at least posting progress on my private Facebook page.  I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to publicly announce how slow I am.

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Because cunning is better than speed.

Anyway, this is all to say that I need to start doing stints again.  I’ll probably try my old way on my own for a while.  If that fails, I’ll try the Pomodoro Technique.  What about you?  Do you have any time management tips?  What do you do to get yourself on track?  Feel free to share your thoughts, methods, or comments here or on my social media pages!

Going With The Flow

Howdy, howdy!  How is October almost over?  Next week is book review time and I have no idea what I’m going to review.  I thought I was more organized than that, but surprise!  I’m not.  I’m also super behind on a lot of my goals for the year.  It has just been really hard to find a balance between writing and life that doesn’t make me sick of either one.  When I hit those points of burnout, it throws off my schedule and everything gets stressful.  So, I thought I would ramble a bit about being organized vs. being flexible.

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Most of the time, I’m in mood number one.

I’m actually a super organized person, even though it doesn’t really look like it.  And by organized, I mean that I verge on the obsessive, especially when it comes to my routines.  I like plans.  I build my writing and slushing (I’m a first reader for PseudoPod) schedule around plans.  In fact, I keep goal lists for the week, month, and year.  Daily goal lists are something I make most days upon getting up.  Knowing what I’m supposed to get done each day eases my anxiety.  It also makes it easier for me to say yes or no to random errands (like when Dad asks if I want to go to the grocery store or Home Depot or out for dinner last minute).  Being organized is great because it even lets me build flexibility into my schedule.

On the other hand, shit happens.  People flake on you.  Allergies attack.  Computers randomly die or the Internet goes out.  Or a million other stupid little things that can’t be controlled happen.  Sometimes, I can foresee that my plans are going to be shot for the day (like when I have a doctor’s appointment that should only take 10 minutes, but I know I’ll be there at least an hour), so I make that a “do whatever” day.  Other times, I get burnt out by my routine and end up procrastinating for weeks.  But usually, life just gets in the way and I have to accept that.  Going with the flow isn’t my strong suit, but I’m trying to get better at it.

616498_1I’m trying to be more flexible, to just go with the flow.  I’ve come to the point where I can acknowledge that I won’t finish all my goals some of the time.  I even push less important things back a week (or month or year).  It’s not a huge step toward being flexible, but I’m making progress.  Building flexibility into my schedules is probably the closest I’ll ever get to being the type who rolls with whatever.  As long as I get my main goals done each day, I think I’ll be fine with the flow.

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Go with the Flow by Amanda Cass.

What about you?  Are you super organized?  Do things messing up your plans freak you out or tick you off?  Or are you the flexible kind who can shrug things off and follow the new path with ease?  Feel free to share your thoughts or questions here or on my social media pages!

New Draft, New File

Howdy, howdy!  Another week gone by in the blink of an eye.  It seems like the only way I can keep up with the days is by the difficulty of the crossword, and that’s not a reliable measure.  Maybe I’m just being over-dramatic.  Anyway, this week, I wanted to talk about another new-to-me revision technique that I’ve been trying.  It’s another suggestion from the same book I mentioned last week, The Last Draft by Sandra Scofield.  Basically, you type up the new draft in a blank file.

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Yes, get into it.

In pre-word processor days, writers had to type up each new draft with their trusty typewriter (or write them out by hand if you want to go back that far).  There was no copying and pasting.  No saving the source file under a new name and making changes in the text you’ve already written.  Sure, they had the hardcopy next to them, but still… it sounds like a long and tedious process.  But it’s worth a shot when you’re having trouble getting into the revision flow.

I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t followed Scofield’s advice as thoroughly as I could.  She suggests printing two copies your first draft and doing a bunch of exercises and making notes on the hardcopies and all of that, then revising into a new document from there.  That’s too much work for me.  I’m not being lazy, just mobility-impaired.  Why struggle with shuffling a bunch of papers around when I can use track changes in Word to make notes and achieve similar results?  Technology makes my life easier and more independent, so I try to make use of it when I can.  If I get stuck in the revision process, then I’ll back up and try it another way.

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That’s when we try something new.  Also, panda butt!

However, I did decide to follow her advice about typing the new draft up from scratch.  I open the first draft, highlight the next 1,000ish words (because it gives me a visual of how much I want to get through that day), then open my current draft file and get to typing.  Even though I was skeptical at first, it has been super helpful.  It allows me to focus on the voice of the narrator, which was shaky early in the first draft, and to fix things in my head as I type up the new version.  I’ve added stuff and taken stuff away.  I play with paragraph breaks and punctuation.  It just feels more acceptable to change things around on a blank page than it does on a completed draft.  I’m not disrespecting what I’ve already written, I’m making it better.   Even the stuff that I’ve sworn I was going to type up verbatim ended up getting tweaked to fit the new flow.  It’s been a freeing experience.

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Okay, it’s not as cool of an experience as this, but it’s pretty close.

I, personally, like starting at the beginning and working through things paragraph by paragraph.  But even if you like to jump around and work on different scenes in different orders, typing everything up in a new file could be helpful.  I know people who write their first drafts by hand and type their second draft from that.  There are so many ways to do this whole writing thing.  I’m constantly tweaking my own method, in case you haven’t noticed.  So, if you’re stuck or just haven’t found a way that consistently works for you, don’t be afraid to try a new process.

As always, feel free to share your own methods, comments, or questions here or on my social media pages!

Making Timelines

Howdy, howdy!  How is everyone’s August going?  I’m still on track with the goals I posted last week.  Writing and revision are slow, but I’m doing something every day.  As far as books go, I’m currently reading Sandra Scofield’s The Last Draft: A Novelist’s Guide to Revision.  I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it as a craft book.  It’s not bad, but half the time she seems really into genre fiction and the other half it seems like she’s looking down on it.  I’m just getting mixed messages from it.  However, I have found many of the exercises in the book useful!  I wanted to talk about one of those today: making timelines.

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It’s not bad as far as craft books go.  I’d recommend trying it.

In all of the fiction writing classes I’ve taken, there’s always been at least one hardcore plotter (sometimes, it’s even the teacher).  These are the people who swear by creating outlines and timelines of every little thing before they even begin writing.  I’m not one of them.  Sure, I plot things out in my head, but writing it down feels constrictive.  I like to let my first drafts form organically.  There’s no theme in my mind, no worry about subplots, none of that.  I know point A and point B.  Getting from one to the other should be an adventure.  That’s just how I like it.

I admit that my approach makes revision difficult.  I have nothing but the manuscript to work with, so trying to rework it into something readable can be a daunting task.  That’s why, when someone in my writing group suggested the above-mentioned book, I decided to give it a shot.  And you know what?  It offered suggestions that I had never thought about before.  Did you know that you could write your first draft with no guidelines and then make timelines and outlines and all of that plotter stuff after you have that shitty draft finished?  Because I had never really thought about it.  And now I feel like a complete idiot for not thinking of it sooner.

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Me. Stupid face and all.

So, guess what I did!  I bought a bunch of sticky notes and wrote out the main plotline, filling in stuff and taking stuff away as needed.  In other colors, I took certain characters/groups of characters and wrote out what they were doing and important tidbits that needed to show up in the novel.  Dad stuck them up all over my mirrors and now they taunt me every day until I do my work.  I can’t say I did it correctly.  I didn’t give each little plot point its own Post-It (only the major ones got that honor).  I’m sure I could’ve used different colored pens for different plots and all that crap.  But for my first time, I’m happy with it and it’s working for me so far.

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Why?  Why is this so true?  Timelines as well.  So hard.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that just because you’re not a plotter doesn’t mean you can’t try their techniques during the revision process.  The book offers a lot of different suggestions, some of which I skipped in favor of others.  I’ll read about the ones that I know don’t work for me, but it doesn’t mean I have to do them.  If you’re having trouble finding a toehold in the revision process, pick up a craft book and try something new.  Make timelines.  Use sticky notes or index cards.  Have fun.  See what kind of pretty pictures your story makes.  Or keep it simple like I did.  Whatever works for you.

Speaking of things that work for you (or don’t), how do you go about revision?  Do you make timelines before or after the first draft or not at all?  Feel free to share your thoughts, comments, and techniques here or on my social media pages!

August Goals!

Howdy, howdy!  Can you believe it’s already August?  I feel like I’m still stuck in June.  Time just keeps getting faster and faster.  Am I alone in this feeling?  Yeah?  Well, okay then.  I don’t really have much to talk about at the moment, though I am trying my hand at some revision techniques that are new to me.  If they work out, I’ll probably talk about them more next week.  Anyway, since this Wednesday actually falls on the first, I decided to simply share my August goals with you.

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It’s a pretty picture.  That’s all.

So, without further ado and in no particular order, I present to you…

August Goals:

1. Submit stuff 8 times (2 every Monday) to semi-pro markets or higher.  This is one of my goals for the year (submitting two stories to magazines or anthologies every Monday) and I’ve been doing really well with it.  I haven’t missed a week yet, though I do believe I submitted stuff on Tuesday a couple of times.  Sometimes, I’ve dreaded submitting or felt like I’ve submitted everywhere I possibly could, but I pushed through it and found new places anyway.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep it up!

2. Write 50+ words OR revise 1+ pages EVERY DAY.  I’m back to the small goals every single day thing.  It’s just really helpful to me when I feel like I’m between projects.  In my head, I know I’m prepping for in-depth revisions on LR, but if I don’t keep track of words or pages, I don’t feel productive.  This goal might change once I find my rhythm with LR.  For now, though, it’s good for me.

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George R. R. Martin

3. Read 2 books.  This is another one of my goals for every month this year.  Honestly, I’ve kind of lost track of how many books I tend to read in a month because some overlap months and others I deliberately read over a longer period of time (almost always craft books).  But I do know I’m up to 18 books this year (thanks to GoodReads tracking feature), so I’m ahead of schedule.

4. Make time for people.  I’ve been a bit reclusive recently, though I still try to answer every message I get.  I just don’t initiate as many conversations as I should.  This is nothing new.  It’s something I struggle with all the time (as you know if you’ve read earlier posts).  I’m just far too comfortable not talking to people and stalking them on Facebook instead.  Yes, I’m creepy like that.  My friends know this and many of them do the same.  But I really do want to be better about socializing.  I swear.

5. Finish timeline for LR.  This is one of those new-to-me techniques I mentioned earlier.  There’s about one more day’s worth of plotting before I have a timeline that I can work with (I’m plotting it on the computer before I write anything out).  I even bought a bunch of Post-It notes in pretty colors to make everything easy to differentiate.  I just have to figure out where to stick them that’s easy to see.  Then, I have to recruit Dad to do the sticking.  I bet he never thought my novel writing would include work for him.

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That’s a lot of Post-It notes.

6. Work on revisions of LR.  Hopefully the timeline will make revisions go more smoothly than usual.  It’s already given me ideas for new scenes and how to rework some old ones, so I’m cautiously optimistic.  I should have some updates on this in the next couple of weeks.  Wish me luck!

Those are my goals for the month.  What about you?  What are you hoping to accomplish before September?  Feel free to share your goals or thoughts here or on my social media pages!

Revision Prep: The Initial Read-Through

Howdy, howdy!  I recently started the initial read-through of LR (code name for novel attempt 2, draft 1) in preparation for beginning the editing process.  Yes, I know I should’ve done that a couple of months ago, but I didn’t.  So, here we are.  This is the part of revision where I haven’t looked at the story in a while (about six months for this one), so I’m reading it mostly in reader mode.  I have to remind myself that this is not the time for my inner editor to nag at every little thing, it’s time to just enjoy the story and see how it goes.  However, there are things I keep on the look out for in the back of my mind while I’m reading.  That’s what I want to ramble about today: the five things I look for during this read-through.

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The sooner I acknowledge it’s shitty, the easier it is to tune out my inner editor until I need her.

1. Gut reactions.  What makes me laugh?  What makes me want to cry?  What do I glance over?  I’m looking to see what parts of the story elicit emotional reactions and which parts are blah.  I want to keep the former (if possible) and tweak or get rid of the latter.  Also, I want to know if I still enjoy the story as much as I did when I wrote it.  I’m only like six chapters into LR as a reader, but I’m actually super surprised at how much I love it.  Yeah, it’s a shitty first draft, but the characters and story still really amuse me.  It makes me think I’m doing something wrong, because I feel like I’m supposed to hate it at this point.

2. Continuity errors.  Have I randomly changed someone’s name?  Did I move an entire building somewhere else halfway through?  Was someone right handed and suddenly they’re left handed?  Stupid things like that.  Some are glaringly obvious while others will only be noticed by a really close reading.  I already know my main character randomly goes from fourteen to seventeen (because fourteen was too creepily young for this particular story).  One of my “bad guys” changes her race halfway through because I originally couldn’t decide what group of shifters she belonged to, but then decided on one that was completely different from how I imagined her in the beginning.  And of course there are a bunch of little things as well.

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I feel like I’ve used this before, but it’s appropriate.

3. Plot holes.  Have I left any threads undone?  Did I randomly start something in the middle with no lead up to it?  Is what the character’s doing feasible in the world I created?  Is it something they actually would do?  These are definitely things I have to make notes about so I can fix them or change them or remove them entirely.  There’s this thing with a fox in the first chapter of LR and by chapter two, it’s been completely forgotten.  I have no idea where that was going, but if I don’t figure it out by the end of this read-through, I either need to cut it or make something up.  These are important changes for me to consider as I read.

4. Useless characters.  Do I have any characters who are just there to do one thing and then they disappear?  Can someone more pertinent to the story do the thing?  Could that character become someone important?  I know most books have at least a couple of superfluous characters, but I like to weed them out if I can.  In LR, there’s the principal’s secretary whose sole job seems to be giving my main character his late slips for class.  I’m debating whether or not to combine her with another character or just giving her a bigger role in the next book.  Then again, I might keep her as she is because that’s life.  Someone has to pass out the tardy slips.

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Went looking for typo demon pictures and got distracted by manga demons.  It’s Lucifer from Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary.

5. Blatant typos and grammatical errors.  These aren’t things I actually look for in this read-through, but if they pop out at me, I either make a note or fix them.  I try to save this stuff for later read-throughs, though.

What about you?  Do you have anything you look for when you’re getting reacquainted with stories you want to revise?  Feel free to share your thoughts and comments here or on my social media pages!

Types of Real Life People I Kill Off in Stories

Howdy, howdy!  I’d like to take a second to thank Joseph Carro once more for his super helpful guest post last week.  I hope everyone enjoyed it.  And now, for today’s post, I want to talk about some of the different types of people who make their way into my stories.  I’ve actually been a little aggravated lately (I try not to be easily annoyed, but it happens).  So, the different types of people I’m planning to talk about are usually the ones who die in my books and stories.  Painfully.  But don’t worry.  It’s just a cathartic type thing.  I’m not a sociopath.  I promise.

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See?  It’s on a mug.  I’m not the only writer who does it.

Type the first: people who flake on me.  These include, but are not limited to, the people who make plans then “forget” even though you talked to them that morning, the salespeople who make appointments with you then call two hours before they’re supposed to meet you to reschedule because of “conflicts,” and the people who offer to do you a favor then ghost you for six months in the hopes you’ll forget instead of just saying “hey, I can’t follow through, sorry.”  I know, in the grand scheme of things, none of this is really important, but it’s still super annoying.  And I will smile and pretend it doesn’t bother me, but rest assured… I’ve killed far too many people (some multiple times) for doing this stuff.

Type the second: people who insist on treating me like I’m mentally challenged (or whatever the proper terminology is today).  I admit, after it’s pointed out that I’m perfectly capable of thinking and speaking for myself, most people treat me like a human being.  But there’s always that one waiter/waitress who tries to walk away without taking my dinner order despite the fact that I ordered my drink perfectly well five minutes before that.  I even had a professor in my community college who would always act super surprised when I answered his questions correctly even though he didn’t act that way with everyone else.  To be fair, he was a nice guy and I loved his class, but it was a little annoying.  It always is when people underestimate your intelligence.  I don’t kill off this type of person very often, but sometimes it just builds up and I have to release my aggravation somehow.

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This face applies to everything here.

Type the third: people who assume I have no life.  These are the ones who call up or text and want to make plans for that afternoon/night.  It’s not so much my friends who annoy me with this crap as it is companies.  And it’s always medical supply companies.  In the past couple of weeks, we’ve gotten two calls from people wanting to come out that afternoon or the next morning.  I don’t wake up until the afternoon.  And it’s a little insulting when they act like I should be home waiting for them.  I have a life.  Okay, I’m usually at home, but that doesn’t mean I’m not busy.  Don’t just assume I’ll be here unless you make an appointment a few days in advance.  And then, don’t flake on me.  If you do multiple annoying things, torture will precede your death.

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The Interwebz gets me.

I think that’s enough ranting about the types of people who die in my writing.  Of course, there are many other categories, but these are the ones that spring readily to mind when I think about this stuff.  What about you?  Do you use death in your work as a way to deal with people who annoy you?  What types of people make it into your work most often?  Feel free to share your thoughts or comments here or on my social media pages!

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!