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.

The Pale Freak of the Moon

Hello, hello! Today hasn’t been a very pleasant day and I have no idea what to write about, so I decided to have some fun with this post. Earlier, I ran across one of those things where you use your initials to make a random phrase from their options (this one was “your nerd identity”). I really liked mine for once, so I decided to use it as a prompt for a quick flash piece specially written for my blog. It’s a first draft, so sorry if I ramble. As always, feedback and thoughts are welcome!

The initial thing in case you’re interested.

The Pale Freak of the Moon

The dust cascades ahead of me as I slide down the side of the crater, no doubt signaling my arrival like ripples on a pond. At least, that’s what I imagine when the Freak tells me about the motion of the water on Earth.  Nothing like it exists up here, so it’s hard to follow her stories sometimes.

I slip through the shadows, avoiding prying eyes, as I make my way to her cave.  No one else dares to follow me down here for fear of her, but they have no qualms about throwing rocks from above when they see me out in the open.  According to the Freak, bullies are the same whether they’re here or on Earth.  Difference makes you an easy target until you prove yourself otherwise.  But no matter what I do, they still come after me.

“You’re late, child.”  Her voice, strong and deep, rings out from the depths of her home before I even cross the threshold.  “Did you bring it?”

I skitter into the belly of the cave without answering.  A soft glow tells me she’s by the shrine in a corridor off to the left.  She sits by the altar with her legs crossed and her arms stretched out to welcome me.  Her features are that of an Earthling, but her skin is so pale it emits a gentle white light.  Taking me in her arms, she performs the welcoming ritual of a hug.  I struggle with the gesture every time, my tentacles tangling around themselves as I attempt to reciprocate.

“Well?” she asks.

Pulling a vial from my pouch, I hold it out to her.  Inside, a single seed floats in a viscous purple fluid.  Blood.  Namely, the blood of my mother.  The seed, a pulsing green orb, is her life force.  She left it to me when she passed into the nether realm less than a week ago.  Normally, I would be expected to plant it in the ground and raise the resulting child with my life partner in order to keep my mother’s bloodline flowing, but I have no partner.  No one here wants to spend their life with someone whose eyes are as bright as the stars.  Not in a place where darkness reigns supreme.

That’s why I have to do this.

Mother understood my decision to interrupt her eternal cycle, even condoned it.  She knew how miserable I was here.  Still, guilt pulls at my hearts when the Freak takes the vial from me.

“It’s beautiful,” she says.  “Are you sure you want to do this?  You can’t come back if you’re unhappy there.”

My tentacles raise in an involuntary shrug.  “I know I’ll never be happy here, so what’s the point in staying?”

The Freak nods and turns to the altar.  It’s covered in things from Earth: leaves, stones, flowers.  I wonder, not for the first time, how she keeps these items alive, but don’t voice the question.  She chants in a language I have never heard.  It sounds older than time itself and lulls me into that place between waking and sleep.

When I’m finally pulled back into consciousness, I can’t tell how much time has passed.  I wipe the sleep from my eyes, but instead of the usual tentacle, I have a hand.  The flesh is a rich tawny beige that I always imagine when the Freak speaks of sandy beaches.  My entire body now appears to be that of an Earthling.  I rush to the reflective glass she has hanging on the wall in the main room as fast as I can on legs I’m unaccustomed to, falling countless times before I get the hang of it.  My eyes are still the pale blue, almost white,  I’ve always been scorned for, but they somehow seem natural in my new face.

“Amazing,” I say.  “You’re a miracle worker.”

“It was all you.”  She touches my shoulder and turns me toward her.  “I only allowed your human form to come out.  Everything else was already a part of you.  I told you you were beautiful inside.  We’re not done yet, though.  Are you ready to make the journey?”

I swallow hard and nod.  Words refuse to form on my tongue.

The Freak opens the vial I had given her.  My mother’s scent fills the room and tears prickle at the corners of my eyes.  Pouring the seed into her palm, the Freak makes a fist.  She chants more unknown words until the fabric of space and time rips open.  Past the ragged hole is a beach unfolding into the ocean.  It’s just as I always imagined.

“It’s now or never,” the Freak says.

The seed in her now open palm is withering.  The opening to Earth begins to shrink.  Hesitating, I take a shaky breath.  The scent of saltwater hits me for the first time and a calm comes over me.  Yes, I can be happy as long as I have this view and this aroma to get lost in.  I step through the portal and into a place where no one knows me, where I’m not yet hated.  I start my life anew.

The End

Writing Prompts: Useful or a Time Suck?

Hello there!  In my attempts to get back to a steady writing schedule, I’ve been lurking (and occasionally conversing) in some writing forums.  I figured the advice from the writers I’m normally in touch with wasn’t working, so why not see if I could find different advice in new places?  Unfortunately, I haven’t found much in the way of new tricks to try, but one constant I noticed was the encouragement to use writing prompts.  So, today I want to chat about how useful writing prompts actually are in the grand scheme of things.  Feel free to chime in at any time!

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My favorite prompts tend to have a visual aspect.

 

In all honesty, I don’t have much luck with prompts.  Of the hundreds I’ve tried over the years (everything from the ones at the end of each chapter in pretty much every craft book to random ones I find online), I’ve produced something readable from maybe three of them.  I’ve written a lot of crap I’ve never looked at again because of them!  But overall, I’m not entirely sure prompts are worth it for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy them immensely, especially when I just want to get words on the page, but the majority of them never go beyond a rough sketch.

My favorites always seem to have images attached or encourage you to go forth and find an image to write about.  It’s actually kind of weird.  I think in words and I’ve never really considered myself a visual type of person, but over the years I’ve come to accept that photos and paintings and all kinds of sights inspire me (even more than eavesdropping on conversations does).  On the other hand, the writing prompt that I had the most success with was a poetry prompt encouraging a conversation with God.  It was pretty much the most angry thing I’ve ever written and I still secretly love it to this day.  So, I guess I gravitate toward anything visual or encouraging a dialogue.

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This one saved a project I had planned on never looking at again!

 

Sometimes, I’ll look at a prompt (like the one above) and never actually do anything about it, but it’ll get me thinking about something I haven’t thought about in years.  For instance, I had a story about a host club (please don’t make me explain what that is), but it honestly sucked and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it three years ago, so I scrapped it.  But this prompt made me think about it and now I know how to fix it!  I just have to decide if I want to keep it as a novella or if I want to try my hand at a graphic novel.

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It’s kind of like that.

 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that writing prompts are mostly a time suck for me, but they’re fun and randomly useful.  I definitely encourage trying them, especially if you just want to get some words out.  You never know when they’ll lead to something good.  However, don’t rely on them because (if you are anything like me) the good can be rare.  What’s your stance on prompts?  Have they been a valuable asset to you, something for fun, completely useless, or something else?  Leave me a comment on here or hit me up on social media!