Writer’s Block AKA Stubborn Procrastination

Hello, hello!  I hope everyone has a wonderful Valentine’s Day or Singles Awareness Day or Excuse for Chocolate Day or whatever you want to call Thursday.  I have no plans, but I do have chocolate.  Huzzah!  Anyway, that’s tomorrow.  Today is about confessions of a writerly nature.  Namely, I haven’t done anything productive since January 20th (the day before the sickness of doom took over).  Yeah, I can blame the illness for about two weeks worth of laziness, but what about the last week and a half?  I had no excuse for vegging out.  So, I thought I would talk a little about what some people call writer’s block and my plan to deal with it.

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This is true.

First off, I want to say that I don’t particularly like the term “writer’s block.”  It sounds like something that just happens, something you have no control over.  For some people, that might be true.  Other people might enjoy having the excuse, being able to say that their lack of writing time is out of their control.  Not me.  I fully acknowledge that when I’m not writing, I’m usually procrastinating.  It’s rare for me to run out of words, at least on fictional things.  Motivation is my biggest issue.  And sometimes, I admit that the procrastination bug digs deep and stubbornly refuses to let go.  It’s what’s happening right now.  My motivation is low due to an influx of rejections I’ve been expecting (because of my year-end submissions that are just now being looked at).  It’s hard to want to write and revise when you keep getting told “it’s not for us, but good luck elsewhere.”  So, when the opportunity to procrastinate presented itself, I didn’t bother fighting it.

However, it’s about time for me to get over myself and get back to writing regularly.  Before the sickness decided to knock out all my will to work, I was actually struggling back into a decent rhythm.  How?  I joined a sprint group and one of the leaders happens to write around the same time I do during the week (early evening).  So, I have the support of checking in after each sprint and being held accountable.  Even if the leaders aren’t doing sprints, I can still create my own sprints and see if anyone wants to join me.  It’s a super helpful group for me and I plan to get back into it this week.

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I feel this on a deep level.

Aside from the sprint group, I need to find other forms of motivation as well, otherwise I know I’ll eventually fall back into the procrastination pit.  The problem is that I don’t respond well to self-appointed rewards.  Mostly because I usually forgo the rewards.  I promise myself anime or manga and by the time I get everything done, I’m either too lazy to find something to watch/read or it’s time for dinner and TV with Dad.  I guess all I can do is keep trying different things until I find something that works for me.

What about you?  How do you battle writer’s block or the procrastination bug?  Feel free to share your thoughts and 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.

Five Gifts For Your Writers

Hello, hello!  It’s December.  That means everyone who didn’t put up their decorations right after Thanksgiving (or even before it) will soon be scrambling to catch up with their holiday check-lists (unless you’re like me and don’t really celebrate anything, then you have nothing to worry about!).  Those check-lists will undoubtedly include doing some gift shopping.  So, I thought I would take a minute to give you a few gift ideas for the writers in your life.

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1. Journals.  Yes, your writer probably has a bunch of empty or half-empty journals and spirals scattered around their writing room.  Don’t be fooled.  It’s never enough.  They are always on the lookout for a new place to jot down ideas and notes.  And it’s easy enough to see what kind they prefer by taking a quick peek in their writing room (if you’re allowed in there).  Some writers prefer simple spirals, some prefer eye catching covers, and others prefer leather-bound journals.  If you know your writer well enough, you’ll find one that speaks to them.

2. A good pair of headphones or earbuds.  Preferably noise cancelling.  Because, even though your writer loves you, sometimes it’s just easier to write when they can drown out the rest of the world.  Plus, if they’re the type who listens to the same playlist on repeat while writing, headphones will give you a break from having to listen to the same song for the hundredth time through the wall.  It’s a twofer!

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3. For your writers who drink, there’s always Writers’ Tears from Walsh Whiskey Distillery.  It’s an Irish whiskey and comes in three varieties.  You can also find the cute little book version pictured above.  I’ve never tried it and I’ve heard varying reviews of the stuff, so I can’t vouch for the taste.  But even if your writer isn’t a whiskey drinker, who wouldn’t want a bottle of this stuff to sit on their desk?  We all need the reminder that our writerly tears are not the only ones being shed.  Because writing is hard.  Plus, we’re always told to write drunk and edit sober!

4. Fancy pens.  Like the journals, your writer probably has a few of these sitting around their workspace unused, but don’t let that deter you.  Writers tend to love pens and quills and all the fancy writing equipment from days of old.  Granted, they probably won’t use them because there’s nothing that writes quite like a cheap BiC, but they sure are pretty to look at.  And those pretty pens help keep the impostor syndrome at bay.  That’s always a plus.

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5. Soap or candles from Whiskey River Soap Co.  Aside from the writer’s block soap, there’s also grammar police soap and soap for introverts.  With such a wide variety sold in a number of places, you’re bound to find the perfect match for your writer.  Also, sometimes your writer needs a reminder to take a break and shower.  After the shower, give them food before they wander back into their own little world.

So, there are a few ideas of gifts for your writers.  Feel free to add your own list here or on my social media pages!

Shaking Off The Rust

Howdy, howdy!  Yesterday was Dad’s birthday, so I want to say another quick happy (belated) birthday to him!  Feel free to leave him a greeting here or on my social media pages and I’ll pass it on to him.  Anyway, this week, I want to ramble a bit about figuring out when to switch projects and when to power through the slow points, which is something I really struggle with.  I was always encouraged to finish a project before moving on to the next one.  But what happens when you try to push through the mental wall blocking you from the story and three months later you’ve only managed to move forward thirty pages?  When is enough enough?

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It’s kind of like when your EVA goes berserk and tries to smash through the wall, but there’s just more wall behind that wall, until it finally it runs out of energy and you, the pilot, are left a bleeding and broken mess.  Yeah, like that.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a little (okay, extremely) stagnant when it comes to my writing.  I fully admit that I haven’t been working on that front as much as I should, even though I have no excuse not to be writing.  But the words refuse to come.  I know the storyline and everything, but the novel doesn’t excite me at the moment.  In fact, it doesn’t instill any emotions in me.  That’s not to say that I’ve given up on it.  Not at all.  I know exactly why I’m lacking any emotional investment in this book (it’s the second book in my Demonic Jewels series, the first of which I’m querying agents with and I can only take so many rejections before I start questioning the entire concept of the series, but that feeling will eventually pass, I hope).  And I’ve been trying to push through all of this for the better part of three months, but it’s proving impossible.

I’ve tried a number of tactics to get past the wall.  I wrote some short stories then tried to go back to the novel.  Didn’t help.  I worked on revisions to a different novel then tried once again to get back to Bailey and her crew.  No luck.  I even tried just plotting everything out in my head so I’d know exactly where I was going when I sat down to write (a method that has worked well in the past), and still nothing.  What else can I do?  Seriously, I’m open to suggestions.

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I don’t think dropping an anvil on me will work, but you can try!

However, over the past two weeks, some characters who have lived in my head for many years (at least 12) have been pushing their way to the front of my mind.  Normally, they only bring vague story ideas with them, but this time they have something concrete that I’m actually super in love with.  It’s well outside of my wheelhouse, combining fantasy (I can do that) with a cozy-esque mystery (not so sure I can pull that part off) and a dash of romance (will probably fail miserably at that part).  But I’m excited just thinking about it, and the last thing I felt this way about I finished in record time.  So, I’ve decided to put Bailey on the back burner again while I revise my other novel-in-progress and write this new one.  Is that a stupid decision?  Maybe.  But if it gets me writing, who cares?

wish+me+luckWhat about you?  What do you do when you can’t get past a block on a project?  How do you know when it’s time to set things aside and try something else?  Leave your thoughts or comments or questions here or on my social media pages!

I Might’ve Broken The Rules

Happy March!  How was your Leap Day?  Mine was actually pretty productive.  It was the first day in a long time that I met my “this is acceptable” word count (1000+ words).  I broke one of my golden rules to do it, but the writing is what’s important, right?  Rules are made to be broken and all that.  Or maybe I’m just nuts.  Or trying to rationalize things that don’t really matter.  I mean, it’s not like anyone’s going to punish me for breaking my own rule, right?  It’s just the voices in my head that complain about it.  They’ll deal eventually.  Do you have rules you stick to when writing?  Or is that just something crazy people do?

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Nancy Holder!  Blame her for the rules thing.

 

I suppose the whole “rules” thing started during my first semester at Stonecoast.  Up until then, I had no rules, no discipline, and all I was writing was short stories.  I wrote when I felt like it or when something was due.  Deadline induced panic was an essential part of my process.  Then Stonecoast happened.

I was actually pretty terrified at the prospect of writing a novel, but I wanted to do it.  My mentor at the time was Nancy Holder, and she’s a super supportive type, so she encouraged me to do it.  There was no “try,” there was just “do it.”  Of course, I asked “how?”  Her response was “keep writing!”  Yeah, it wasn’t helpful at the time, but she was right (as mentors tend to be).  So I wrote, got past twenty pages (my usual stopping point), and kept writing.  Around page fifty, I wanted to stop and work on something else.  Nancy said no.

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It was kind of like that.

 

She explained that starting a new project was a form of procrastination that all writers are tempted by.  If you’re constantly stopping one thing to start something else, you’ll never finish anything.  It made a lot of sense, especially for something as large as a novel.  And thus, my first rule (the one I broke) was born.  I’d never start a new novel while one was sitting half-finished and waiting on me (aka one I haven’t given up on).  I’d wait until I at least had a first draft.  It only applied to novels, so I admit to writing flash fiction, short stories, poetry, etc.  Basically anything to give me a break here and there, but that could be finished in a few days was acceptable procrastination.

But, since I’ve been in a slump, I finally decided to say “screw it!” and started a new WIP.  It doesn’t mean that I love the old one any less, it just means I can’t get into that world right now.  Same goes for the screenplay.  I love it, but my heart just isn’t in it.  Hopefully that will change as I get back to a normal rhythm, but for now, I needed something new that no one has seen or heard about.  Something strictly mine.  Something that doesn’t have any expectations to live up to.  It can fail completely, I can trash it, and no one will ever be able to ask “what happened to that novel about that thing?”  Does that even make sense?

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I still have a bunch of other rules that I haven’t broken, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s okay to break a rule once in a while if nothing else is working for you.  So, what are your rules?  Have you ever broken them?  Did it help?  Or am I just crazy?

Bridging the Gap: Moving from Piece to Piece

Hello there!  I was going to do another food blog this week, but I think I’ll save it for next week.  Since I recently sent my novel out to readers for feedback, I’ve forbidden myself from even looking at it (it’s not fair to my readers if I change things before they have a chance to critique what I’ve sent), so I’m trying to work on a collection of fairytale retellings.  Trying being the operative word.  So, I want to talk a little about shifting gears for new pieces.

Back when all I wrote were short stories, I had very little problem switching to a new project, but things have changed.  I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve spent so long in my novel’s world or what, but this is basically the most terrifying thing in my world right now.

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A wild blank page appeared!

Yes, a blank page.  I have ideas galore, but when I see this, they all up and run away on me.  I can’t be the only one with this problem, right?  So, how do you deal with it?  (Legit asking because I’m still trying to figure it out.)  Also, why is it so scary when you have a plethora of ideas to work on?  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t sit down and let the ideas duke it out as I stare at the page (that’s even scarier), I pick one and sit down with the intention of focusing on it.  It’s a very confusing time for me.

I’ve tried a couple of tactics to combat the blank mind as well as the blank page.  The first thing was to take a day away from writing.  Normally, a day without writing is enough to recharge and start building new stories in my head, but the blank page prevailed.  My second go-to plan is to suck it up and push through it.  So far, this has gotten me 1500 words over three days (no, that’s not good!).  It’s like pulling teeth to get the words out, and it’s getting harder instead of easier.

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Them feels, though.

Don’t worry.  I didn’t come here just to complain, I came to share tactics for moving on.  The ones above just didn’t work for me this time.  Next up, after I force my way through the current story of doom, if I’m still having issues, I’ll revert to free writing and using writing prompts until jumping around feels natural again (plus, I’ll get new story ideas if I’m lucky).  The only reason I didn’t try this first is because I’m not a fan of aimless writing.  It feels like I’m wasting time, even though I know that’s not the case.  In other words, even if you’re like me and think everything should work towards something, but you’re struggling, try the aimless course.  No pressure words tend to flow easier.  Use it to your advantage.  And bonus: you get new story ideas!

Another thing…  Part of me wonders if it would be easier to start something new if it was in the same world as the last, like a sequel or something.  I suppose I’ll find out one day.  Enough about me, what about you?  What are your tactics for switching between projects?  Feel free to share!