Write This Way Wednesday: Help! I’ve Written Myself Into a Corner and I Can’t Get Out!

I think this is something that we’ve all done at one time or another. You’re banging away at the keyboard, having finally found your momentum for that day’s writing session, and you’re feeling great about where the story is heading. Everything is moving along swimmingly then suddenly, BAM! You hit a brick wall. It could be that you just don’t know where else to go from that point, or it could be that you reach a point where you begin considering the scenes that you’re currently writing in relation to previous scenes and realize that there are about two dozen plot holes now that you’ve gone chasing after that crazy plot bunny that decided to toy with you today. Just recently I dealt with this very same issue while working on Sunstone 2. I’d written this real jewel of a scene and it was taking me to a great place in the story, a place I just knew I really wanted to go. Then I began thinking about where the story was going in relation to where it has already been and I realized that with this amazing scene I’d written, I’d created two very large plot holes. Not to worry, though. I mused and mused, fussed and mussed, worried and fretted over those two big plot holes for a few days and the solution finally came to me. Crisis averted. For now.
I recently read an article in Writer’s Digest, “Creative Under Pressure: How to Write Yourself Out of a Corer,” regarding this very issue and what to do to fix it. The author, Steven James, looks at writing himself into a corner as an opportunity. He feels it’s an opportunity to “allow for twists that the readers never see coming, stretch you as a writer, increase reader engagement” and one of my personal favorites, “help you avoid cookie-cutter stories” (of which make my eye twitch). However, he does remind us to keep them believable. One thing he suggests to help get you out of that corner is to narrow your focus. Instead of looking at the story as one big picture, he says to focus on one thing at a time, beginning with the timing of the plot events and the effects that each has on the following events. Then go back and look at how it fits within the bigger picture.
Next he suggests finding the twist in what you’ve already written. This is where he reminds us to keep things plausible, informing us that twists are completely different from gimmicks and games. I love how he explains to do this, telling us to “point their expectations in one direction and then reveal that you’ve really been taking them in another, entirely different direction.” The four points he gives for creating a good twist are making it believable, surprising, inevitable, and escalating, moving the story forward.
I love that he was so adamant that we keep it believable, and I know exactly what he means. I think we’ve all read that ONE book that has that ONE plot twist that completely makes the reader shake their head and say “No way.” I don’t know if it stems from my years in college and having to analyze every single thing I read, but I am now such a critical reader, that sometimes I have to remind myself to just stop and enjoy a story for what it is.
I guess, in a nutshell, in order to beat the dreaded corner we need to look at it with a different perspective. Rather than being a travesty out to ruin our beloved masterpiece, we need to see it as an opportunity to make our work even better. If you’d like to read the article in it’s entirety, you can find it in the July/August 2015 issue of Writer’s Digest.
I hope these tips help you get out of that corner. Now off you go!! Make words!!

(Source: James, Steven. “Creative Under Pressure: How To Write Yourself Out of a Corner.” Writer’s Digest. July/August 2015.)

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Write This Way Wednesday: Finding (i.e. making) Time to Write and Procrastination

I think this is something that all writers struggle with. At least those writers whose writing careers don’t quite support them yet. This is actually something I’m becoming quite nervous about in light of me taking on a second job that I begin on Monday. My first thoughts are of how I’m going to be able to carve out that all too precious writing time. I really won’t know until I get started and see how that schedule is going to line up with my the schedule of my current job at the library. Needless to say, it’s going to vary by the day. But this is when the part about me MAKING time to write comes in.

Notice that I say making rather than finding, because really, if you’re just trying to find time, all you’re going to find is a million different other things to prevent you from writing. This is where the procrastination comes in, and I’ll be totally honest, today it has had it’s claws all in me. I have had absolutely nothing to do all day today, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. Nothing. This could have been an amazing day for writing, but no, at this point I’ve squandered it doing nada. But I digress. When people try to find time to write, they make up excuses. How many times have we all said, “Well, those dishes aren’t going to wash themselves” or “The laundry is really getting piled up”? Rather than make ourselves sit down and do work, we find a million other household chores to take its place. The damn dishes and laundry aren’t going anywhere. I promise they’ll still be there an hour or two later after you’ve gotten the day’s work in.

If you begin looking at it like that, or from the stand point that it is your work, I guarantee your productivity will begin to turn around. I’ll be sitting at my desk in the kitchen and my husband will come in for a drink or some other nonsense. He’ll ask me what I’m doing. I absentmindedly inform him that I’m working, without breaking my stride, and carry on. He gets whatever it was he came in for and leaves, knowing that this is my time and I’m best left to it. It’s hard to train the other inhabitants of your household to respect your work time, but it can be done. Think of it this way. If you were at work at your 9-5er, would they come in there asking you where the remote control is or trouble you with some other ridiculousness that can wait? No, of course not. They need to be taught to look at your writing time this way as well. Aside from changing the way you look at your writing time and training other members of your household to do so as well, I read an article recently in Writer’s Digest, “Making More Room For Writing,” that offered some other ideas on making time.

One of the first suggestions offered by the author, Amy Sue Nathan, was to think outside the box and have a special space for your work. Mine would be the kitchen. We no longer have a table and chairs in there, as we never used it anyway (we’re totally not the sit down at the table and at type of family), so I created my own little writing space in the corner. You have to make do with what you have, but this is a really good idea that has actually worked for me.

She also suggests giving yourself a break and not setting ourselves to such high standards of word counts and rigid schedules. Allow yourself to be flexible, as long as you’re getting the work done. Who knows? You may discover that writing early in the morning works better for you than in the evening. Experiment and try new things, just like with the writing space.

Finally, she suggests giving something up. All of the authors that she interviewed had something different that they sacrificed in order to make more time for their work. She herself gave up seeing friends or running errands during the day. Others gave up blogs that they did, sleep, and *gasp* reading! (Sorry, that’s one thing I will not sacrifice. I already feel I don’t have nearly enough time for it.) She doesn’t mean you have to give them up indefinitely, but at least until whatever project it is you’re working on is complete.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s little dose of writerly wisdom/encouragement. Until next week, keep those pens moving and the creativity flowing.

Write This Way Wednesday: Get Away From It All

As most of you will recall, about a month ago my cousin and fellow writer-in-arms, Marsha Blevins, attended the WV Writers Conference. In my blog post about it I gushed about how much fun it was, but also how scenic and beautiful the place was, as well as the abundance of writing spots. We both discussed returning to Cedar Lakes sometime in the Fall for our own little writer’s retreat. Coincidentally, I was looking through one of my recent issues of Writer’s Digest and came across an article about doing that very thing. In the article, “Take Your Writing Away,” by Steve Holt, he gives some excellent tips on how to make the most of your time away. They are as follows…

1) Set specific goals! You must have more of a clear purpose for going other than “to write.” Holt suggests setting goals like writing four chapters, complete edits on finished novel, etc.

2) Choose the location carefully. For some, the more remote the better. However, if one is in need of wifi for research purposes, then consider a place that offers wifi or one that is fairly close to a library or coffee shop with access to wifi. Holt warns, however, that if you go the bustling coffee shop type route, be aware of how you’re spending your time and don’t get caught up in the midst of it all.

3) Sketch out a daily schedule! If you were on a group retreat, you’d receive an itinerary to keep you on task. Make one for yourself!

4) Make it a reading retreat as well. Holt says,”You can’t write every second of every day. Reading writing that inspires you is the next best thing.”

5) Be healthful! While you might be tempted to hole up with bags of junk food and bottles of wine, don’t. He suggests that even though this is a writing retreat, you can also use it to focus some on your own wellness. Your creativity will thank you for it.

6) Leave your other work at home! ‘Nuff said!

7) Finally, he suggests reflecting on your routine. Take note of the different times of day when you write when you are most productive. Then consider how you could incorporate that into your routine at home.

These really are some great tips and I’ll definitely implement them when and if I do manage to make that retreat this Fall. Is there anything you think you would add to the do’s and don’ts of your own writing retreat?

Write This Way Wednesday: The Dreaded Burnout

Most recently I’ve been working on the second installment of my Sunstone Covens series. Or, should I say, I’ve recommitted myself to finishing it. The first in the series was published in April of 2014, and I’ve been working on it off and on since then. I could sit here and come up with excuse after excuse as to why it still isn’t finished, but the plain and simple truth is I’m tired of it. It’s honestly to the point now that I just want to get it finished to get it off my back. It’s like a dark cloud hanging over my head, and writing shouldn’t be that way. But alas, it very much is. Honestly, there are days that I seriously consider not writing another damn word, but then I admit to myself that that option just isn’t possible. I’m a writer, if nothing else. It’s what I do.

So CampNano rolled around this month and I determined myself that the first draft will absolutely be completed no later than July 31st. The problem is, I’m losing so much steam on it. I’m tired of living in this world at the moment, but I’m so afraid to visit another one for a while because I just might not come back. And that just can’t happen. Now here we are, seven days into CampNano, and I’m barely trudging along. So I decided to try and find ways to keep me moving forward, instead of coming to another two or three month stop.

The first technique I’m going to try is something that I’d heard suggested before, then reiterated by John Van Kirk at the WV Writers Conference I attended last month. He had suggested, no advised, that we not write our stories in order. Write it in scenes, write it backwards, etc. Just don’t write the beginning first, because you don’t really know what the first line or chapter should be until you’ve written the end. I’ve actually found this to be somewhat true, in my personal experience. The original beginning to the first Sunstone Covens book was not the one it was eventually published with. I let a trusted friend and co-worker read it once the first draft was finished and he suggested that I add more of a lead in to the novel. I did and it actually worked out perfectly I think. Great advice from someone who doesn’t even write. However, he’s an avid reader and sometimes, they can be just as savvy about things like that as writers themselves are. So I’m going to try this method and see how it goes.

For further ideas and inspiration, I headed to my stockpile of articles on the craft, collected from the different writing magazines I’ve subscribed to over the years. I actually found a fairly recent one that addresses the exact issue I’m having. The article, Why So Many Writers Give Up Mid-Novel (& How Not To Be One of Them) by Tracey Barnes Priestly, begins by giving reasons as to why writing can stall, then asking the writer to identify what’s really holding them back. After these to integral parts of getting over the slump, she lists seven steps to keep the creative juices flowing and your fingers flying on the keyboard, a couple of which I already engage in. These would be getting together with other writers and taking a break. Yeah, I’m quite talented at that taking a break exercise. Other things she suggests are to set smaller goals, understand what really motivates you, and to be realistic when trying to change your writing habits and attitudes. It takes time to adapt.

So I’m going to take all of this advice, because it all really is sound advice, and see if I can end this month with a finished first draft. I’ll have an update on how it’s all working out next week.

Write This Way Wednesday: “You Talkin’ To Me?”

Today’s topic is dialogue! Dialogue is actually one of my most favorite things to write and I like to think I do it fairly well. That’s not to say I don’t struggle with it sometimes. I think the key to doing dialogue well is to understand the many things that it can be used for in your work. Dialogue is definitely a tool that can help you set pace in your story, first of all. If it’s a fast paced or intense scene, using more dialogue rather than description will help set the hurried tone. Another great way to use dialogue is to provide information or backstory. Rather than have your narrator explain everything, have your characters discuss the information you feel is integral to your story’s plot. Dialogue can also be used to describe setting. Rather than have the narrator describe the setting, break that up with the characters making mentions of it.

When writing dialogue for your character, one important thing to keep in mind is that it must suit your character. This kind of goes along with characterization. Dialogue can either develop your character or make him inconsistent. When I say this, I mean that you want your dialogue to be something that whatever particular character you’re writing would say. Let’s say you’re writing a scene where one of the characters is a southern cowboy, well known for their manners. This particular character might use the word “ma’am” a bit when speaking to the ladies.

In regards to suiting up your character with their dialogue, please, please, PLEASE realize that people don’t speak without contractions. For that matter, they don’t always use proper grammar when they’re speaking. Unless your character is an OCD English professor, seriously try to avoid making your characters sound like they’re reading a term paper.

Finally, while dialogue can really add to your story, try not to over do it. First, cut the small talk. If there is a need for the characters to have a moment or two of small talk, but it’s not integral to your scene or the plot, just sum it up in the narrative, then jump into the dialogue. Also, don’t go crazy with the dialogue tags, especially if you’re writing an intense or fast paced scene. It will totally defeat the purpose. If there are only two characters in your scene, it should be fairly easy for the reader to keep them straight with just a reminder dialogue tag here and there throughout the conversation or sentence or two of narrative after every few lines.

One of my favorite ways to get ideas for dialogue is to watch television. I mean think about it. Before it hits the screen, the dialogue the characters are exchanging was first written down. It actually helps to imagine the characters acting out the scene in your mind. One of my favorite shows for brilliantly written dialogue is The West Wing. I can honestly say that there isn’t a single word of dialogue spoken that is unnecessary. Another way to get an idea for conversations and dialogue are the people around you. Subtly eavesdrop on conversations at the mall or the restaurant. Who knows? You might hear a conversation that sparks a plot bunny to take your work in a direction you hadn’t intended, and I think we all know that sometimes those little epiphanies can be Godsends.

Write This Way Wednesday: WV Writers Conference 2015

Today, I’m going to give a barrage of writing tips and advice that I acquired while at the WV Writers Conference this past weekend with my cousin and writer buddy, Marsha Blevins. It was a wonderful little writing getaway and it felt more like writing camp than it did a conference, which I thought was wonderful. I always love going away to conferences and festivals as it seems to recharge the muse and I always learn something.

First I’ll begin by giving an over all report of the conference. The location, Cedar Lakes in Ripley, WV, was kinda perfect. When you weren’t attending the workshops, there were plenty of beautiful, quiet spots to go relax and write. Or even take a swim as the place has a really nice swimming pool. The food did leave much to be desired, but hey, it’s camp. This kind of goes for the rooms as well, unless you pay a little more and stay in the nicer lodge. Honestly, though, they were clean and provided a place to sleep and a shower, so what more do you need? The classrooms were just off the main assembly hall, where they kept snacks and drinks available all day long, which was pretty convenient. There were pop machines around, but you would have had to walk a significant distance to get to them and there wouldn’t have been time in between workshops. The swag bags were pretty awesome too. Lots of goodies in there!

Friday, we arrived and picked up our registration packets. The ladies working the registration table were sweethearts and very helpful. Once we dropped our stuff off to our room and got settled, we headed back over for the first workshop, which for us was Frank Larnerd’s “Building a Better Monster.” We went over the different types of monsters, your basic zombie, werewolf, vampire, etc. and discussed ways to make them our own. One thing he said, that I’ve believed all along, is that you can take any of the monsters and make them your own. After a short break, Marsha and I remained in the Assembly Hall for a panel on social media. Jennifer Deitz Weingardt and Sheila Redling were a part of this panel. It wasn’t what we were expecting it to be and was geared more toward beginners, but there were a few helpful tips given, such as to make a good connection with your followers, you need to be equal parts promoting yourself, promoting others, and then a little bit of you, personally. Once that panel wrapped up, it was time for a quick break, then the next workshop. We had planned on attending Robert Tinnell’s “Make Your Screenplay Salable,” but unfortunately he wasn’t able to make it. So we sat in on Carter Taylor Seaton’s “Getting the Facts.” For her workshop, she offered information and tips on how to gather information to make your writing more believable. She was coming from a nonfiction angle, but in a way, her tips could be used in fiction as well if you’re writing a historical piece. We ended the evening with a presentation in the Assenbly Hall by Bil Lepp, on “The Lie, Tall Tale and Trust.” It was more entertaining than anything, but he did offer some ideas on how to make your readers believe you, even if your story is completely outrageous. You just have to make it so entertaining that the listener won’t even think to question anything about it.

Marsha and I began Saturday morning with another workshop by Frank Larnerd, called “Magic Writing.” In this workshop he taught us a cool way to use tarot cards to help plot your story or even come up with an idea. I’d actually thought about doing this before, but could never really figure out how to do it. This was probably my favorite workshop out of all of them. There’s a certain spread that you use, and just depending on the position of the cards, you interpret the meaning to come up with characters and plot points. After “Magic Writing,” we grabbed a snack and a drink and headed to John Van Kirk’s “The First 50 Pages.” He was actually a previous college professor of Marsha’s, so she was really excited to go to his workshop. It didn’t disappoint either. What I really identified with and took away form this workshop was to think of your piece in terms of scenes. You don’t always have to start from the very beginning of the story and write your way straight through. For that matter, you could even write the story backwards. Just write the scenes, then piece them together. Once that is done, it will actually give you a better idea of what that first chapter should be. After lunch, we sat in on Sheila Redling’s workshop “Writing IS My Job.” She had some really great tips on how to force the creativity out when it’s just not wanting to come, like asking yourself questions like “What is the worst thing that could happen to someone? And if that happened, what would they do? What would happen after that?” She also had some good ideas about getting your finances and stuff in order and how to actually make writing your job. After Sheila’s class, we headed to Marie Manilla for “Monster Theory.” This was another one that wasn’t really what we thought it was going to be, but we sat and listened and tried to take away something. Monsters for her were the ones you read about in gothic fiction. Despicable, violent, evil people.

We ended Saturday with the WV Writers banquet where there was entertainment provided by Bil Lepp (once again, a pleasure!) and they announced the winners of the writing contests that they sponsor. Lo and behold, Marsha and I were pleasantly surprised when our cousin Sara Blevins’s name was called for fourth honorable mention in Appalachian writing. I was so proud! Yeah, writing. It kind of runs in our family. 🙂

Sadly, Sunday came all too soon. We only had two workshops left before it was time to head back to the real world. Our first was Fran Simone’s “Scene and Summary” for memoir writers. She basically went over how to have that balance of scene and summary and how it is different from the showing and telling rule in fiction. She split us up into groups and had us write a scene. I was actually able to write a scene for the memoir piece I’ve been wracking my brain on how to begin. Thanks to her workshop, it is now begun. We ended our weekend with another workshop by Van Kirk, only this one was on “Novel Endings.” He shared with us some last lines of famous works and we discussed what makes a good last line and how you know when you’re at the end. After that, we stayed for the quick round-up and farewell in the Assembly Hall where the President of the WV Writers, Susan Nicholas, asked the attendees for ideas for future conferences. After that, it was time to hit the road.

On our way out we had to stop by the front office and there was a Little Free Library stationed outside. Marsha had the awesome idea to autograph and donate a copy of W3’s anthology, Wicked Words for visitors to read.
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This conference was definitely a great time and I really feel like I took away some great ideas. I’m actually even considering just going up for a few days in the fall for my own little writer’s retreat, as the place is just beautiful and I can only imagine how gorgeous it would be when the leaves are turning.

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If you’d like more information about the WV Writers Conference, you can go to wvwriters.org or feel free to message me or leave a comment.

Write This Way Wednesday: Finding Markets to Submit Your Work

I sometimes wonder if this isn’t harder than the writing; however, it is a necessary evil if one wants to become a successful, published author. There are many things to take into consideration when finding a market to submit your work, the first being what your piece is categorized as, such as novel, short story, etc. Depending on that, you then need to research your markets. One of the biggest mistakes a new writer can make is submitting to the wrong market. For example, you wouldn’t submit your novel length piece to a literary magazine, or vice versa. You also need to keep in mind your genre. Certain book publishers and magazines only accept certain genres. This holds true for agents as well. I’ve actually found that agents are more particular about what they accept than the publishers they market your work to.

I have found that one of the most useful tools for a writer looking to submit their work is the yearly edition of Writer’s Market. For those of you who may not be familiar with this, it is a compilation of book publishers, magazines, agents, etc. and information about submitting to them. It is updated yearly, but I’ve found that you can usually use one for at least two years. It tells you what they are looking for, how much they pay (or even if they pay), and guidelines on submitting to them. There is somewhat of a digital extension of this with their website, WritersMarket.com. If you get the deluxe edition of the book, it usually has a code in it for a free year to the website. And of course, the website is going to be more up to date than the book. As far as the website goes, it’s a little tricky at first, but after some exploring it becomes more user friendly.

Aside from this source, there are an abundance of places online that offer submission info. Many have newsletters that you can sign up for and they will send the listings right to your inbox. Some of the better ones are Daily Writing Tips (dailywritingtips.com), Freelance Writing Organization-Int’l (fwointl.com), Funds For Writers (fundsforwriters.com), and a personal favorite, The Market List (marketlist.com). Keep in mind, this is only a handful of the resources available on the web.

Finally, there are several magazines available on your local bookstore’s newsstand to aid in your search. My all time favorite writing magazine remains Writer’s Digest. Not only do they include information about submitting your work, but they have interviews with other authors, information on the craft, and other good things. Another good one is The Writer. While it doesn’t usually have as much as Writer’s Digest, every month it includes a section just for markets that are currently accepting submissions. However, each month is usually geared toward a specific genre. Poets and Writers magazine, while not very useful to me, is an invaluable resource for those writing in the literary genre. It includes interviews with many well-know literary authors as well as a section on upcoming submission deadlines and writer’s conferences.

One final note, as you begin this part of your literary journey. Please be aware of the shady peoples! Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but apparently in the writing business there are those who would take advantage of the new writer, still wet behind the ears. You can protect yourself (and your work!) by simply doing a little research on any publisher, agent, etc. that is interested in making a deal with you. A very helpful resource for this is the website Preditors & Editors (pred-ed.com).

I hope you find the information I’ve provided here useful. I’m happy to answer any questions and provide any further information I might have. Now go write something!!! 🙂