Writers’ Block

I’ve just come out on the other side of a dreadful case of writer’s block. For the longest time, if I actually sat down to write, I would stare at the screen, watching the cursor, waiting for inspiration. The experience was so frustrating, I wouldn’t make time to write again for a while.

It was easy enough to avoid. I have my regular work to do, the stuff I get paid for. Working at home can offer lots of opportunities for distraction if I let it. Then there’s just real life. I am the family administrator by default; I’m the one with more flexibility.Writers block

Recently, though, when I sat down to write, I had a revelation. My problem was writers’ block, but it wasn’t due to lack of inspiration. It was due to lack of knowledge. The section of the book I am working on now is the section that requires a lot of experience or information I don’t have.

In this section of the book, Jake is sailing. I don’t know much about sailing a boat. He’s sailing in geographic areas I don’t know. These are things I can’t make up. If I do and I get it wrong, I’ll lose credibility with readers who do know those things. Once that happens, I’ll lose those readers.

So, I’m back at work on research. I’m surfing the web, I’m looking up all sorts of things on Wikipedia, and I’m reading books. I’m reading travel guides and I’m reading memoirs of people who have sailed on adventures similar to Jake’s.

How long does it take to sail from Point A to Point B? What might you see? What could go wrong? Knowing the answers to these questions and more is helping me move my story forward.

I’m working on Section 7 of the book. I haven’t decided if these are chapters, parts, or books, but there are eight altogether. When I am through the eighth, I’ll make another pass through. Then I expect to have a cohesive first draft. I’m pretty sure they say the first draft is the hardest. I hope so.

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Research

A while ago, I committed to my writing groups that I would write 4,000 words per week. Sometimes I make it and sometimes I don’t. Regardless, it is a worthy goal.

Recently, though, I have been struggling. It’s not writer’s block. It’s research.
The part of the book I’m working on now includes topics I know little about. I don’t mean to be vague, but I don’t want to give away too much of the story. possible cover pixThe point is that I have to do research as I write. I know how the story goes, but I need to include background information about what’s happening. 

For example, if I were writing a book that took place in a candy factory, I would need to know something about what happens in a candy factory. I’d need to know how the people there dress, what the temperature there would be, if it is noisy, and more.

Google and Wikipedia are great resources for me right now. I use Wikipedia so much that when they run their fundraising drive, I feel obligated to contribute. I have a vested interest in Wikipedia’s existence.

I also turn to people I know. When I needed to learn about different communities, I was lucky to have colleagues in those cities. Having ‘feet on the ground’ enabled me to add interest to my locales and avoid mistakes that could be obvious and distracting to readers.

I have family members who know about boats and sailing. I turn to them for advice and suggestions. “How long would it take to sail from PLACE to PLACE?” “What would you have to do if THIS happened?”

All this takes time. It slows down my writing. When I did my first draft, I wasn’t particularly concerned about accuracy. I was too busy creating the story. Now I’m filling in the blanks, correcting inaccuracies, and adding details.

4,000 words a week is still my goal, but there are days when I only end up with a few hundred words by the time I do the research and make the necessary changes. Fortunately, my software tracks my daily word count which I record in my planner. Sometimes it gives me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment and other times it frustrates me. But I keep going . . .

 

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In a Different Direction

I’ve been away for a while, missing in action. First, there was the week I had family in town and six house guests. Before they arrived, I cleaned the house, refreshed linens, planned menus and shopped.

Our guests left on Monday and we departed for vacation a couple hours later. My characters danced in my head while we were gone, but I never sat down to write. We golfed, we hiked, we played and I worked on my coloring book, a blessedly mindless activity.

When we returned, it was a typical first week back from vacation. Plus I did laundry and all the tasks you do after guests leave. And besides that, my calendar was full of commitments. (This post is not just excuses, really.)

When I sat down in the coffee shop yesterday to write, I was stuck. I didn’t know where to begin. I stared at the blank screen, considering what needed to be done. I decided to read back a few scenes, just to get my feet wet.

Doing so, I got reconnected  with my characters and caught up on what they were up to. It’s like when you get together with a friend you haven’t seen for a long time. In the beginning, it’s a little awkward until you get back into sync. And then before long, you’re finishing each other’s sentences.

Fork in the roadOnce I started, the scene flowed smoothly. It did go a different way than I expected. Sometimes characters do that, they take the story or scene in a new direction.

That’s what happened yesterday. Maybe they took over because they knew I was having trouble getting started. Then again, maybe they would have done it anyway.

I’m happy with where they went. At least it’s consistent with my bigger plan so I don’t need to re-work other parts of the story. Considerate of them!
Thanks for following the journey! I welcome feedback and suggestions.

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Writing at the Coffee Shop

Ugh! I’ve recently joined the legions of people who work in coffee shops. Most afternoon now, you’ll find me at my favorite shop typing away on my laptop, enjoying a cup of herbal tea. The barista knows me by name, what kind of tea I drink and that I like a couple ice cubes to cool it off a little. After every nine cups of tea, I get a free one.

This isn’t the closest coffee shop to my house. When I decided to try moving my writing, I searched on Yelp for nearby shops. There are three Starbucks in my town, one I can walk to. Instead, I drive fifteen minutes to get to the one I write.

coffee shop 2I chose The Mug Coffee because it is bright and cheery inside. Most of the time, it’s pretty quiet. Electrical outlets are abundant and the people are nice.

Being at home is not a problem for me when I’m working, but when I’m writing, it’s different.I’ll go downstairs to make some tea and often I get distracted as I wait for the water to heat and the tea to brew. The counter needs to be wiped down, I’ll wash the pan from breakfast and, oh look, the dishwasher is ready to be emptied. Did I mention my husband has been working from home recently?

Twenty minutes later when I get back to my desk, I’ve lost my train of thought. It’s easy to pick up where I left off if I’m working. But not when I’m writing. Then it takes another ten or fifteen minutes to regain my momentum. No employer would stand for a 30-35 minute tea break and neither can I. Granted I lose the time when I’m driving, but I’m so much more productive when I’m there that it’s worth it.

So, if you’re ever at The Mug and see me writing, stop by and say hello. But don’t stay long!

 

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Point of View

Do you remember this from English class? Stories are almost always told from a first person or third person perspective. In a first person story, it would be about what I did, my experience. “I went to the store.” A third person story would say, “She went to the store.” Second person would be you, “You went to the store.” Second person is hardly ever used in novels.

When I first wrote my novel, I wrote in third person, mostly from Jake’s point of view (POV), but sometimes from the POV of other characters. As I’ve been working on enhancing, clarifying and editing the story, I began to wonder whether this was the most effective way to tell the story.

Maybe I needed to change so everything was from Jake’s POV? If I did use the POV of other characters, did I need it to be balanced among the characters or would it be OK if it was mostly from Jake’s POV?

I brought this question to my writing group. After reviewing several scenes, they came up with a different suggestion. Perhaps Jake’s scenes should be first person and the others should be third person. Wow! I’d never considered first person. Could Jake tell the story himself?

POVThe next day, I decided to try it out. I re-wrote the first scene in the book. I liked it. First person gave me a better way to share information. It started out as an exercise of changing pronouns, but before long, the characters had more to say.

Six days later (SIX!), I realized I had a problem. The story cannot be told by Jake unless he survives at the end. I’m not saying whether he does or not, but haven’t you ever read a book where at first you don’t know at first if the storyteller will survive until you realize he had to in order to write the story? I have; it kind of takes all the fun out of it.
Another six days later and the story is back to third person. I’m still deciding how many characters’ Points of view I will use, but that will not be hard to change if I decide to do so. In the meantime, those scenes are better for what I learned from the characters when they were talking. I’ll carry that forward as I move through the rest of the book.

 

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What Ending?

Coin TossSince I started my book, I wondered what the ending should be. It was approaching hurricane season. There were pirates in the area. The boat was a large one to sail alone. He could have faked his disappearance.

During my NaNoWriMo, I decided on an ending. Recently, I changed it. I decided my first ending was too predictable. I did some research to check credibility and then I changed the ending. (Oh, that we could do that in real life!)

Have you read Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes? I just finished it and loved it. CAUTION: SPOILER ALERT HERE. It doesn’t end the way you’d want it to. I thought she’d figure out a way to make the happy ending believable, but she doesn’t. The story is better for it. I’m sure it would make for a lively book club meeting.

I continue to change the novel and add depth. I don’t imagine I’ll make another change this significant. Or maybe I will. If I think the story will be better for it.

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Writing Group

large writing groupA few years ago, I joined a local writing group at the library. There were probably 25 people in the group and I think we met twice a month. After a few visits, I gave up. There were just too many people. We only shared our writing every three or four meeting because there were so many of us. Also, I think it made the members less invested in one another’s work. Lots of criticism, little support.

A couple months ago, I decided to try again. What I really wanted was a writing partner or two or three; no more. I wanted to be part of a small group of people who would work together to support one another in our writing projects. I looked online to see if such a group existed nearby, but found nothing.

I posted inquiries to the Facebook groups for the Chicago Writers Association and the Chicago NaNoWriMo group. I heard from several people, but most wanted to meet at times inconvenient for me. Before long, though, I heard from two people, one from each group, who were interested in the same type of group I was.

small writing groupWe started meeting late last year and I believe we will really hit our stride in the next few months. We are at different points in our books, but we seem to be helpful to one another anyway. We also write from a couple different genres and that’s OK, too.
Being part of a group helps keep me on track. Also, I turn to them for general feedback or help with specific questions. I’m also gaining new resources and learning about marketing.

These people are the first people who have read any part of my book. Sharing it was scary. I know the book needs work. It’s like a skeleton that still needs muscles, organs and skin. I worried they wouldn’t recognize that I know this and think what I had written was lame. However, they were very helpful, generous with suggestions, constructive criticism and praise.

Our next meeting is a week from Wednesday. I’m working now on strengthening another section of the book for their feedback. It still makes me nervous to share, but I know it’s good for me and good for my book.

Thanks for following the journey! I welcome feedback and suggestions.

 

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Status Update

A friend asked me recently how far along I am in my story. I told her the same thing I’ve been telling others. I figure it’s going to take me a good year to get to a passable draft.

Then she asked me how much of the story I know. I told her I know the whole story. I know how it starts, how it ends and pretty much of what happens in the middle.

I don’t know everything about all my characters. I don’t know where everyone came from, what their family is like or even how all of them look. I know how some of them talk, but some I don’t, yet. If they have back stories worth exploring, I haven’t identified them right now.

I’m not sure where all the different parts of the story take place. Some settings I have figured out and some I haven’t. I’ve spent a lot of time on Goggle Maps and Wikipedia researching possibilities.

I’ll need to add some more challenges for my characters to overcome, but, at this point, I’m not sure what they are. Subplots need to be added. I spend a lot of time studying and refining the narrative arc to make sure the story stays interesting enough to engage a reader and then keep them engaged. There will need to be high points, low points and time to rest built into the flow of the story.

xmas tree1After our conversation (thanks, Nan), I figured out how to describe my progress. Right now, my story is like a freshly cut Christmas tree. It’d been chosen and claimed and is standing, bare naked, in my world. Now it needs lights, all our special ornaments and a star at the top to be the best Christmas tree I know it can be.

Have I mentioned how particular I am decorating our Christmas tree? It’s going to take some time.

xmas tree2Thanks for following the journey! I welcome feedback and suggestions.

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Back from Camp

Camp-Winner-2015-Twitter-ProfileCamp ended last night at midnight. Organizers describe Camp NaNoWriMo as “An Idyllic Writers’ Retreat, Smack-Dab in the Middle of Your Crazy Life.” I met the camp goal I set for April which was editing everyday and that makes me a winner! Everyone who meets his or her goal is considered a winner.

This time, the actual work was a little less onerous because the goal was readily achievable. I could do it while living my everyday life. When I was writing 50,000 words last November during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), writing became my life.

My next goal is to prepare for a new adventure: Revise Your Novel in 31 Days. The program was created by Janice Hardy as part of her Fiction University, a great web resource for writers.

She created the program for the month of March, but I didn’t learn of it until later in April. That’s OK; I wasn’t ready for it in March. In fact, I’m not ready yet. My goal is to start in mid-July.

The program is designed for novels that are farther along than mine. Fortunately, it will be available until the end of the year. I checked.

Odd, isn’t it? I have a lot of work to do to get my story to the point where I can consider a program to revise it? But I get it.

I read that if I finished 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo, I probably wouldn’t even have a first draft for a novel; I’d have a zero draft. Maybe that would be less true for an experienced writer, but it was absolutely the case for me. I want my novel to be 80,000 to 100,000 words. But I don’t need to just add more words; I need to add more story, to craft my zero draft into something other people (besides my mother) will want to read.

My next checkpoint is July 13.

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Progress

progressWell, I finally feel like I made significant progress yesterday! I moved around a bunch of scenes to create a flow I think works better. I’ve been concerned about the sequence and timing of events and felt the story could drag and readers would lose interest. I was also worried if there was sufficient character motivation.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a whole lot of writing and re-writing left to do. With the changes, I need to modify a lot of transitions and create some new ones. Characters and settings need to be more fully developed. I want to add more sub-plots. In the original draft, I only had one sub-plot, and it was really more character back story than sub-plot.

Still, I’m glowing in the success I have from yesterday. This morning, I reorganized my printed copy to reflect the changes. It feels like progress. Progress is good.

Now, back to the grindstone!

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