Hi friends. I received a question from Rhema Joy recently on writer’s block. I replied to her directly, but it seems a lot of the aspiring writers who read my blah-g struggle with this so I’m elaborating to pass on what I know about getting the ball rolling and words flowing when you’re feeling stuck.
Here’s what Rhema said:
I’ve been reading your books since I was eight or nine. I’m now fourteen and I love writing. I have a question though… more like a problem. I’ll have these amazing characters and plots and ideas; I’ll write bit, get writers block &and never finish it! It’s a sick cycle I’ve been on since I first started writing at age seven! Any ideas as to what’s my problem and how to fix it? Thank you x
1) The truth about writer’s block
Okay, Rhema, here goes: First, I don’t believe in writer’s block. There. I said. People give a lot of power to this term, but what I believe happens when they say they have writer’s block is that they simply are not interested enough in what they’re writing, or they haven’t given enough thought to where they want the story to go. I’m a huge supporter of OUTLINING first, as I’ve mentioned here on the blah-g. The outline can and will change, but you’ve got to give yourself a route to travel while writing, otherwise you’ll never make it to the final act. Some writers say they simply sit down and let it all flow out naturally, then edit later. It’s a very small percentage of writers who can successfully do that, and while you’re honing your craft I suggest you try to work from outlines first. Practice. Then be among that small percentage when you’ve developed the writing chops.
2) Give yourself a break
Got an outline and you’re still feeling stumped? Take a hike. Or a walk. Or just step away from your story for an afternoon and get some fresh air and eyes for the next time you sit down in front of your draft. Sometimes we think we have to dedicate every waking moment to our novel in order to get it done, but that isn’t always realistic or helpful to everyone’s process. Sitting in front of your story day after day can make it feel stale and cause you to lose inspiration and steam. Keep your perspective sharp by giving your draft some space when needed.
3) Don’t get too attached
Maybe that scene you had your heart set on writing simply doesn’t advance the plot. Cut it. Try something new. Don’t get bogged down by events or details that don’t drive the story forward. Remember, you are the ultimate creator of your fictional world. Your characters will tell you where they want to go, but you decide their fate.
4) Be imperfect
Avoid perfecting your early drafts. Your first, second, third, etc. drafts aren’t there to be pristine. They’re there to get down the story in all its gruesome form. Get the words down on paper and give yourself something to come back to and edit. You’ll never make it to the end if you keep stopping to fix details along the way. Trust me, I know this one from experience. Get the story down first, then polish it to perfection in your final drafting stage.
Rhema and all the other young writers reading this, I hope those tips help! If you have any advice to add, let us know in the comments section.
Hi friends. I’m on a kick to answer more of your writing questions this week. The lovely Alicia Rivera has asked for some tips on blah-ging. Here’s what she said:
Do you think there’s a way to spice up my blah-g writing? I’m not really sure where exactly I should go with it.
Alicia, I’m certainly no expert blah-ger, but I have committed to posting every week for my readers, no matter the circumstance (OK there has been the rare exception), so I’ve picked up a few tips along the way and learned what it means to be blah-g worthy. Here’s what works for me and what might help you with your own blah-g writing.
DECIDE WHAT KIND OF BLAH-G YOU WANT TO WRITE
What is your blah-g about? Is it based on sharing information or sharing more personal aspects about your life each week? Are you talking about fashion or hobbies or everything under the sun? There are all different kinds of blah-gs so this tip doesn’t need to be so narrow, but readers will want to come to your site and within a few moments understand what your blah-g is all about. Can they either learn something from it or be entertained or both? Find your blah-g “type” or brand, if you will, and be consistent. Which reminds me…
BE CONSISTENT WITH YOUR POSTS!
A major part of developing a blah-g audience is to deliver when readers expect you to post. This allows people to keep your blah-g in mind and return each week for new content, and it’s a great way to develop your blah-g community. I’ve read blah-gers should set one day a week to put up new posts. Mine’s Wednesday. Yours could be Tuesday, or Thursday, or whichever day you choose so long as you post on that day each week. Don’t post more frequently than that unless you can truly commit to a few quality articles.
WRITE FOR YOURSELF FIRST
Choose topics that interest you, ones you can enthusiastically write about and genuinely want to explore or share with your readers. Don’t worry about whether or not anyone else reads your posts; eventually they will. But it takes time to grow your audience. Write about what excites you and that will translate into excited readers who care about your words. Be true to your voice. If you don’t know what that is just yet, you’ll be developing it each week the more you blah-g.
STAY ON THE PULSE OF NEW POST IDEAS
This is where things get tricky. I brainstorm each week with my office elf to decide what the next blah-g post will be. Sometimes it feels like I’ve already blah-ged about everything worth blah-ging about. It’s not true. There’s always a fresh way to look at a topic and it’s your job as the blah-ger to find it. A great way to write compelling posts is to engage with your social media network, keep tabs on any comments or tweets you’re getting, and pull out of those places topics your readers are interested in. They’ll let you know.
HEADLINES ARE EVERYTHING
They’re the first words people read, and often they’re the only words people will even see when sharing your posts on social media. So make your headlines catchy and intriguing. Make them click-worthy and readers will know you’re blah-g worthy.
Lastly, KEEP GOING! Building a strong blah-g takes time and practice. Don’t give up because your follower count isn’t where you expect it to be. Be good to the readers you have and give them blah-g love whenever possible. More will come.
Hope that helps!
Hi friends. I had an entirely different blah-g post in mind for today, and then I got Taylor’s message. I couldn’t help myself. I had to respond.
Here’s what she said:
I’ll try not to take up too much of your time and bore you with one of those “your book really changed my life” stories because those are so cliché. I just wanted to tell you that I started reading The Clique in sixth grade and I fell in love instantly. After I read your books I began to read different kinds of literature and then I began to write. I finished The Clique series my sophomore year of high school and literally felt like I’d lost five of my best friends. I honestly felt as if I had grown up with these girls and shared their struggles and triumphs. I am now a freshman in college pursuing a career in English, and, hopefully soon, journalism too. Without you and your amazing books, I don’t think I would be writing today. I just wanted to thank you for inspiring me to do this and giving me five of the most amazing best friends a girl could ask for, even if it was only for a few years. Though they were fictional, they’ll always be in a special place in my heart, and so will you!
That seriously brings a tear to my eye. The left one. The right one is throbbing from staring at a computer for the last five hours. Those girls were as much a part of my life as they were yours. They lived inside my head for years and took 30 years to form. Writing fiction is like getting a golden ticket to travel to a new universe. One that plays by your rules and is inhabited by the creatures you create. It’s also a really cheap form of therapy. I get to work out all of my angst and issues and you get to read about them. Hmmm, maybe that’s not therapy. Maybe that’s more of a perversion–some form of mental flashing. Whatever you want to call it I am grateful. Grateful as a reader, a compulsive writer, and a pale California girl who has found a way to connect with people like you.
Thank you for the kind words Taylor! So proud to have you in the Clique.
Hi friends. I promised I’d read you an excerpt from Judy Blume’s Forever…, my favorite banned book in continued celebration of Banned Books Week, but I’m holding off on that until next blah-g post. One of your comments on writing caught my eye and I’m addressing it today since I’m also neck deep in my own process finishing the Dirty Book Club.
Here’s what Lydia said:
Lisi you always give the best advice…
I’ve been writing a book since March and I’m only on Chapter 4. My process is pretty slow, but I want to get it moving a least a little bit. If I can’t think of anything for my current chapter, I write little bits and pieces in my notes. I also feel like my writing style is inconsistent. I try to use descriptive words here and there, but it seems too sporadic. Plus my witty retorts and personalities for the characters remind me of “The Fault In Our Stars” and feel too dated. How can I find my own style of writing without letting the books I read influence it too much?
Lydia, I feel your pain here. Based on what you explained is happening it sounds like you may not have started with an outline. WRITE AN OUTLINE FIRST. Is there a specific message or idea you want to explore? Is the book plot or character driven? Have you thought about how you want the story to resolve? Characters and some plot lines will probably end up changing along the way, but get down the basic skeleton of where you want the story to go. It’s a must. It will save you days if not months of agonizing over the turns you want to take in your book.
As for your descriptive words feeling a little sporadic, are you peppering in adjectives or are you fleshing out a scene based on the senses? Show, don’t tell. Give your reader a feel for the scene by describing the taste of air on a muggy day, the smell of a character’s home, or the texture of the worn-in hoodie she always wears.
Develop your characters as much as possible. Get to know their dark secrets, their driving motivations, their quirks, worries and fears. If it helps your mind to stay organized, create a doc for each character and include everything about him/her down to their favorite snacks, sayings and what nervous ticks they have. All of this will inform you while you’re fleshing them out. It will also make it easier to imagine what your characters might do in the situations you’re creating for them, which will help with your momentum.
I’d usually say to read as many books as possible by your favorite authors to get familiar with the tone and structure of stories you like, but you’ve mentioned you might be too closely mimicking another writer’s voice. While you’re honing your craft and finding your voice, this isn’t the worst thing in the world to do. You come with an entirely unique set of experiences and will approach TFIOS diferently than John Green did writing it. Even if you’re basing some characters’ personalities off of the ones he’s created, you’ll naturally insert your own twists, which will engender new variations. Play around with that. See which parts of them you like, which parts can be edited back and try to develop what will make your characters complex and memorable.
With all that said… four chapters since March? You’re doing great! Keep it up and let us know how the book is coming along soon.