5 Ways to Start Writing Instead of Sitting Around Twiddling Your Thumbs

writersblockornot2

Above: Writing. Below: Your word processor right now.

Sometimes, writing sucks. No, I don’t mean the end result, because that’s glorious—O so glorious blah blah—and it feels like you’re on top of a mountain. I don’t mean the act of writing itself when you’re in the zone, letting out your inner Stephen King, pounding text to the pavement a million miles a second like a jumbled cliche. I don’t mean the hustle and bustle of creativity that runs through your mind, plotting characters, creating universes, sending said characters out on dire missions and destroying their carefully-crafted lives. Those are all awesome.

I mean writing slumps. Not to be confused with writer’s block, which is just a brief old moment of exhaustion and a lack of putting words to the page for only a few hours, or a few days. A writing slump is different. It’s more like a writing dead end. A no-go zone. Where, sure, you can put pen to the paper, or text to the .docx, but the enjoyment, the love that got you into this thing…well, it’s gone. I mean, sometimes it makes brief appearances, spurts of excitement that make you realise why you do this, and then…poof!

So, how do you get this, for lack of a better word, mojo back? How do you find your passion again? Do you just uninstall all your word-processing documents—Word and Scrivener and the Apple equivalents? Deleting word-processing programs is an incredibly stupid idea—no, don’t delete them. If you own Writing the Next Bestseller Abuse Erotica/16 Year Old Teen Girl Dystopian/Vampire Teen Romance/Suspicious [Ex] Partner Crime Novel a la ‘Gone Girl’ or ‘Girl on the Train’ or ‘The Widow’ or ‘The Missing Wife’ or Whatever, just throw that bullcrap away anyway. It’s not doing you any good. You can’t just “learn” to write. You can improve a little, like what Stephen King says in On Writing, but those books aren’t doing you any good, other than wasting space for better books in your bookshelf/bookshelves. So, what do you do? Well, like me, you Google your problem and see what other people have to say to help solve your crippling writer’s blank.

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2014 and the Art of New Year’s Resolutions

http://creativity103.com/collections/Water/water_surface.JPG (edited)

New take on an old saying: “With new year comes new resolutions.”

It’s that time of year again, when the clock strikes 12:00 and millions of people pledge to change their lives.

2014 has descended upon us all with its mighty swift force, and it’s that time of year where writers churn out their New Year’s Resolutions across the blogosphere. It’s a common practice, and one I haven’t participated in until now.

92% of people completely fail at their resolutions and then forget about them until the next December 31 rolls around. Well, I know it’s not time yet, but it will be in the blink of an eye. Whoops, sorry about the cliché; some people never learn! In any case, most people have the same resolutions or goals every year: lose ten kilograms, have a sea change, travel around your country in a Kombi van, write a novel, start an R.E.M cover band…the list just goes on, and most of the time they’re never fulfilled.

That’s why I propose delaying making a New Year’s Resolution. When that clock strikes midnight, and the twentysomethings are chugging more beers than they can handle, make a resolution you know you’ll fail at. Say you’ll do one of those clichéd things I mentioned in the previous paragraph. It’s a well–known fact, if you think you’ll suddenly wake up on January 1st with a new outlook on life, you’re kidding yourself. Make a faux–rez instead. Start that ’90s rock cover band. Open a store that specialises in feline paraphernalia. Laugh about it with your friends or family, and then forget about it just like everyone else does.

    "Cat? Tchotchke? Geddit? Okay, maybe I'll just do away with the whole idea and stick to just getting fit."

“Cat? Tchotchke? Geddit? Okay, maybe I’ll just do away with the whole idea and stick to just getting fit.”

New Years isn’t the best time to make resolutions, but it’s stupid not to plan for the future. We all need them, even if I’m not following my own advice at the moment. And while I’m probably not going to be a rejuvenated I–am–a–new–man/woman when I wake up on Wednesday morning, I’ll still be making plans for 2014. Looking back on 2013, I know I can make some improvements.

It’s not about making 2014 Year of the Perfectionist, but about actually trying to make a difference, no matter how hackneyed the phrase ‘making a difference’ is. I’m going to start following my own advice now, not by publishing a set of Writers’ New Year’s Resolutions (even though they probably are just that), but a list of what I hope to accomplish in the not too distant future—more likely, sooner rather than later.

  1. Start blogging more: Yes, I know I’ve had a dismal posting rate this year. That feeling after writing a post and pressing the ‘Publish’ button, and seeing people view your stuff is pretty damn awesome.
  2. Finish my novella: Self explanatory, but I think of that oft-quoted “there’s a novel hidden in my closet; I’ll write it one day” phrase 99% of people use. I look forward to showing people more of my work.
  3. Write more: With a stressful late–2013, I hope to be able to get back to basics, clear my chaotic mind, and get back to what makes me happy—writing. Whether it be blogging, editing my novella, or starting new works—most definitely all three—I’ll be putting my all into it.
  4. Quit my respective addictions to Smallville, Daria, King of the Hill, The Walking Dead and Dexter: Heh, who am I kidding?

See you in 2014!

Time to be Inspired!

Fresh off a busy August/September – chock-filled with a delightful internship, a landmark birthday, a huge pile of final trimester assignments to research and write including an especially difficult creative nonfiction piece – here I am, back and gearing into action to write my 10th blog post.

Lookie

Busy writing, or something like that. Note: I still can’t draw hands.

I know people usually prepare something like their 100th blog post in glorious Technicolor for all the world to see (well, probably not, but you get the picture) but here I am, glad to see Gut Instinct is going well after just over a year after I beat the twin evils of writer’s block and procrastination to create it.

So, onto the topic of the month: what make a writer tick?

No, this is not Yet Another Blog Post on Writer’s Block, because I wrote about that in July, and that blank Word document is slightly less the enemy than it used to be.

No. What actually makes you want to write?

What inspires you?

Is the sound of your neighbour mowing their lawn, mixed with the calming sounds of Mahler or Yiruma stirring you into contemplative action? Do the wub-wubs of dubsteptechnopop force you to your laptop and start writing a 65,000 word action thriller during NaNoWriMo? Everyone’s different, but one thing is certain.

Even if you don’t know exactly what makes you inspired, learning so will help you become a better writer.

Is it just a spur of the moment thing, when your best friend Debbie comes over with her three-year-old son, and suddenly you think, ‘Danny may be howling right now, but this is exactly how I should start Revenge of the Red Cordial Toddler Attackers’?

Turns out you don’t act on Danny’s toddler tantrum by writing ROTCTA, but at least you’re inspired.

Just please, please don’t leave those ideas languishing in a cupboard for twenty years until they go mouldy, or you’ve hidden that great idea from 2003 on a floppy disk, and realise most computers don’t have floppy disk slots anymore.

Don’t just think your mood to write will disappear when Danny leaves the house, though. Quickly get the ideas down on paper or in a notepad app on your phone, so you can check those ideas over later to see if they’re still good.

Even if you don’t know what inspires you, please don’t just ignore writing if that’s what you really love.

Please don’t leave your masterpiece languishing in that cupboard for two decades. It’s such a cliché, after all.

Instead of lounging around watching Saturday night movies while kids/annoying younger brother/everyone is asleep or busy, please do what inspires you to write. Call it your pre-writer’s ritual.

PWR is important.

It breaks that writer’s block I mentioned last time – as if writer’s block needs to be mentioned yet again – plus it gets you in the mood to write.

And not just writing; if you’ve accidentally stumbled upon my blog and you’re not a writer (Welcome!), you can paint a portrait of Mr Buzz and Fluffy before they pass away and you don’t get the chance. Start your own blog. Stop procrastinating. Maybe your PWR consists of watching Bold and the Beautiful reruns, or David Attenborough’s specials on Tanzanian meerkat phoenix bears. If so, disregard what I said about using TV as an excuse to lounge (or hours on the internet, or a quick nap). Unless you’re lying to me and pretending you watch TV to be inspired. In that case… pfft, nobody on the internet lies!

I’ll end this post by saying what I’ve already stated; if you know what inspires you, or what makes you happy (like eating six kilos of chocolate), then you’re on your way to being more inspired, more often.

Mmm

Not exactly six kilos of chocolate, still, I don’t think it’s a good idea to be inspired by chocolate.

Or you can just force yourself to write without inspiration.

Ehh, too hard,” the faux-you says. “I’ll go sit and watch Dexter for a few hours. Oh, crap Debra just… Wow, that just made me think of how the Red Cordial Monster reacts when he accidentally drinks soda water and starts to deflate and…”

And thus you start writing. At least I hope so. Good luck!

Yet Another Blog Post on Writer’s Block

Document 1

You open up a new Word document, stare at the ‘Document 1 – Microsoft Word’ at the top, and perhaps grumble that the font is set to Calibri, when no sane person would accept your document in Calibri.

Perhaps you’re on WordPress, like me, and you’re thinking of writing a blog post, and you focus in on the ‘Add New Post,’ when suddenly the font increases in size, larger and larger, until you start having a panic attack and believe you’re hallucinating, before finally giving up and checking Facebook.

“Maybe tomorrow,” you say to yourself. “I’ll finally be in the mood to write.”

No, this isn’t procrastinating, not by a long shot. Well, maybe by a short shot…

There are about a million and one pages on the internet talking about writer’s block, and every single person who has ever had to write a novel, a short story, an essay, a business report, a 60,000 word thesis; they’ve all been here at one point or another.

So, let me cut straight to the chase, stop using clichés to illustrate a point, and start talking.

I could give you a list of ways to beat writer’s block, but no doubt you’ve read countless web pages, books and more on the topic.

  • Listen to inspiring music
  • Take a 15 minute break
  • Contact Stephen King for a list of ways to beat writer’s block
  • Write whatever crap comes out anyway, even if it’s just writing I can’t write damn it in Comic Sans down the page
  • Deal with it and keep persisting

You have to ask yourself: why can’t I write?

Maybe you just don’t feel like it. You’ve worked a ten hour day and, even though you enjoy writing, you’re completely exhausted. Don’t give yourself the excuse of, “But it’s NaNoWriMo and I have to write 2,000 words a day!” Of course you’re going to have writer’s block if you’re busy. Your mind’s elsewhere.

Maybe you’ve got 23 tabs open on your browser, so of course your mind is definitely elsewhere. If you’ve got your Twitter account open and ready to stay connected with other writers, plus the latest Cracked article, several TV Tropes pages, and a Facebook conversation with your friend from Tokyo, then you’re not going to write. Close all the tabs.

Now

Chronic insomnia coupled with an internet addiction does not bode well for writing

These probably sound obvious, but when you have writer’s block, you probably don’t notice. We’re always connected to the internet, so we probably don’t take notice of the fact we’re always multitasking. Unless you don’t care about your work, you really shouldn’t be multitasking like a hyperactive two year old who’s just found your spare supply of red cordial. Ignore me if you’re going for a very fast paced, hyperactive-two-year-old action thriller.

On the other hand, there are some people (maybe you), that go, “Pfft, writer’s block, that’s an excuse for the weak willed. I’ve made myself write 2,000 words a day for six years now.”

If that’s you, good job! Though I’m not sure why you’re reading this post, unless you’re here to have a chuckle. Maybe you’re making a tally of how many “How to beat writer’s block” posts there are on the internet.

However, there are a few simple – well, maybe not that simple – ways to force yourself to write at will. I’ve known people who have forced themselves to write a thousand or so words a day in order to complete a novel. There’s also NaNoWriMo if you need the motivation – I’ve never done this before, but lots of other writers have, and they’ve succeeded.

First and foremost, if I give you a list of tips to beat writer’s block – which I’ve done earlier in this post – you probably won’t follow it. If finishing your goals was as simple as reading a dot point list on them, then I wouldn’t be writing this.

If you want to beat writer’s block: finish reading this blog post and close the tab, and shut down everything else except the Word document, WordPress page or whatever it is you’re using to write.

Turn on some music if you’d like, as long as it’s not something as catchy as Footloose or Gangnam Style, because as catchy as they are, catchy is distracting. Get some nice, non-distracting music or relative silence if you’d prefer.

Stare at that white page. Stare at the ‘Document 13 – Microsoft Word,’ change the font out of Calibri, and beat that evil white page. Persist. Write a few lines of meaningless gibberish. Turn it into something meaningful. Think of something you heard someone say on your train trip this morning, or what your kid said to you at the dinner table. Be inspired.

Maybe you could even write something on the multitude of ‘beating writer’s block’ blog posts there are on the internet.

But, now, go forth and write!

Captivate Your Readers: 5 Tips for Unique Fiction Writing

I know it’s been a while since I last blogged, but that supposedly mythical Real World has grabbed me by my ears and dragged me up into the air and out of this supposed Fantasy World in which I write.

I’m just kidding. Writing isn’t just something that people living in a so-called ivory tower can do.

Look at moi

Speaking of ivory towers, this one doesn’t look that bad to live in.

Especially with the advent of the internet and a multitude of blogs – just like this one – anyone can write. It means that there’s a hell of a lot more novels floating around, but that doesn’t mean you should give up.

Of course, you can still write for fun, which I love to do. There are so many pieces that I’ve written in the heat of the moment, instead of focusing on editing my novella, and then discarded into the recycle bin on my laptop the very next day.

So how do you write something unique? Something so captivating, so full of utter fascination and…

First things first: Nothing is truly unique.

I suppose you’ve been told that before.

You’ve probably also been told; “Nothing’s unique, [insert your name here]. You’ve just got to take an old idea and make it your own.”

“But I’ve already got a unique idea,” you respond furiously. “My story about the Vibrating Lizard Man, and the captivating story of the war veteran forced to stop aliens from taking over earth (and it’s not set in the United States), has never been written about before.”

I’m sure you’re correct about the Vibrating Lizard Man. Still, there’s probably googol amount of aliens-invading-earth stories, and at least a quarter would involve a war veteran.

aliens

However, that’s not to say ‘War Vet: UFO Confessions’ can’t be published and, within the month, have a movie deal and a huge fan base.

It’s how you make the story unique.

Yeah, yeah, I probably should stop saying the U word.

“So, what do I do now?” I hear you inquire. “I may be procrastinating right now, but I want to hear what your tips are!”

Sadly, there probably isn’t one specific way to make your stories unique. There’s always the gamble of creating an entirely new genre or whatnot – such as J. R. R. Tolkien and science fiction, and Stephen King with modern horror – but you always have the risk of failing spectacularly.

What do you do then?

  1. Read tips from authors who have made it big. Look up your favourite authors, but don’t take them too seriously. Some say they just wrote their piece and an elf suddenly appeared and BAM! the book was internationally acclaimed.
  2. Keep writing. Unless the piece is set to harm lives of innocent people, then keep on going. The worst thing that could happen is that your book isn’t an international bestseller.
  3. Can’t think of how to make your dull story have more oomph? Look around for inspiration – Read more. Stop saying your piece is dull. Writers are always so damn pessimistic.
  4. Relax! If all else fails, and you still think your fiction is duller than striped pyjamas, don’t despair and throw it out. Read more – I know I said it before, but it bears repeating.
  5. Finally, some people like sweet and simple. A lot of bestsellers aren’t new or ground-breaking. Remember that most people are afraid of change. A good ol’ fashioned romance or whatnot. Everything has its market.

Whether you want to stand out or blend in, or whether you’re full of crazy new ideas or not, keep on writing.

Read more and write more.

As long as you don’t post advertisements for your unique new ★★★★★ novel every six seconds on Twitter, good luck!

[Title Undecided. Current Title Needs To Be Edited]

So, you’ve finished what you expect will be the world’s next literary masterpiece. The piece, by the way, that you think will definitely sell as many copies as Harry Potter and Nineteen Eighty Four and all of Stephen King’s novels combined.

So…you’ve finished writing. What next?

Well, maybe you haven’t even finished yet.

I’ve talked a fair bit about procrastination on this blog, so one more mention and you’ll probably be starting a drinking game that involves taking a drink every time I mention the word “procrastination”. Maybe you should check out this old post.

So, enough of that.

Finishing a book takes time and effort, unless you’re Stephen King or R.L Stine. This doesn’t necessarily mean anything. A few years ago, when I was in the middle of my final high school exams (and somewhat into my first year at university), I finished an approximate 100,000 word novel. It was so terrible that nowadays I look at it as a guide of what not to write.

Whether or not your book is excellent or average, congratulations, you’ve written a novel.

That’s the easy part over.

Now, you can’t just submit to publishers, query to agents or even just slap your book up on Amazon. It’s time to edit!

Didn’t I say writing the novel was the easy part?

First of all, take a break from your work. Perhaps a week or two, not a year or two. That’s procrastinating.

Maybe I do use the P word too much…

Each time you read through it, you’ll probably find something new to correct. Whether it’s the wrong use of “too”, commas being used where a semicolon should be, making someone from the 1750s say “y’all”, or calling a character by the wrong name, it’s all there. Maybe you’ve decided you absolutely hate the protagonist being called “Colin”, and think “Frank” sounds better.

Don’t keep doing this for too long. Even well-known books have mistakes.

Now you’ve edited it to actually sound like a respectable book. Or maybe you’ve just gone “eff this,” deleted the document and are planning on completely rewriting it. At least take a moment before you delete your hard work. Take a break from editing and come back. If you still hate its guts, decide then. Whether it actually is terrible or excellent is a different question. Many writers think their work is horrible and, after their death, it becomes internationally acclaimed.

Note, this doesn’t apply to everyone.

Writers spend an awful lot of time complaining about how horrible their work is. Or maybe you’re the opposite like MDickie and think your work is the greatest on the planet. It doesn’t matter. You haven’t given up on this novel yet. You like it. You think the characters are awesome. What happens to them is pretty interesting. Now you’re hoping someone else – the Big Six or the small presses, and most importantly, readers – will enjoy it.

A lot of people have spoken about their publishing journey. I’ll most likely be talking about the journey after editing in a future blog post. Sites such as http://drobertgrixti.com/2012/06/21/getting-published-for-newbies/ and http://myperfectpitch.com/ as well as the tips on sites of book publishers are helpful in any case.

That’s it for this week. By the way, neither Colin nor Frank are ideal character names in my opinion, but at least they’re better than Janimaiix or Vhonda-Yvette.