Writer’s Block: “It’s Artificial.”

Movie Cover or Non-Movie Cover?

One of Parini’s books. Movie Cover or Non-Movie Cover? (Photo credit: Robert Burdock)

That quote comes from Jay Parini, poet, novelist, biographer, and teacher at Middlebury College in Vermont. In an interview from the fall about his experiences with writing, Parini talks about overcoming writer’s block (which he’s never had, by the way!), and gives some advice to new writers.

Here’s some more of his thoughts on writer’s block:

If you’re blocked, you shouldn’t be writing. You should be fishing. Or mowing the lawn. Or fixing things. Or anything.

Check out the rest of the interview at Jon Winokur’s blog, Advice To Writers, and then come back and let me know what you think! I’m sharing my thoughts below (that’s my version of a “spoiler alert”).

Some of the most poignant advice came from Parini’s advice to new writers. He says the trick is to find a time where you can write, uninterrupted, and guard it with your life. He also said that if you spend that time reading, it’s okay. He makes a great point about the connection between an author’s reading habits and writing habits that I wholly agree with. If I can’t find anything good to read, I’m kind of indifferent to my writing, which isn’t good for productivity!

I can also connect with his thoughts on writer’s block. It’s true that whenever I really feel like my writing is just not coming to me, it’s usually because I have school work, errands, or other things on my mind that are making it hard to be creative. Some of my best writing came during my holiday from school – I got three solid, ready-for-the-editor chapters finished in six weeks!

What are your thoughts? Do you feel that your writing is connected to your reading? Do you believe in writer’s block?

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Pinterest in Writing

Happy Monday everyone!

I wanted to let you in on something I just started up last week as I was stalling on my current WIP.

I created a private board on Pinterest to post inspirational photos related to my characters, setting, and themes. At first I thought it would just be a distraction and an excuse for me not to work on my manuscript, but it was actually beneficial. Pinterest_Favicon

For those who aren’t already clued in, Pinterest is basically like having all the corkboards you could possibly want, each devoted to its own topic, and then having access to all the pictures/articles/media in the world to tack on the boards. Popular boards revolve around planning one’s wedding, or finding photos of outfits or work clothes you love, places you want to visit, ways to decorate your home, craft ideas… I could go on and on. I love Pinterest, but the idea of using it as inspiration for my story had not occurred to me before.

I highly recommend this to anyone just starting out on their stories. There are LOADS of photos on Pinterest, and it’s easy to find things that match the description in your head of your character, or their home or school or workplace. It makes writing so much easier when you’re blocked!

Does any of you guys already use Pinterest to kickstart your writing? Does it sound like something you might try, or are you too easily distracted by the interwebz? Let me know!

Separating author from story

One of my goals for this year is to finish my work-in-progress by the end of the summer. By finish, I mean publication ready, whether that means marketing to agents or self publishing it.

Exciting, I know!

However, I am finding it difficult to tell my story in a way that will be appealing to all readers, and I think it’s because it’s such a personal story. I don’t want to give away too many details just yet, but the plotline involves my main character overcoming grief and demons regarding her grandmother’s passing which resurface with the failing health of her grandfather. She thought she’d dealt with all her problems and overcome her emotions, but now she realizes that all she did was shut them out. Cue philosophical, life-changing emotional growth!

That’s only one story arc of two or three that I’m currently playing with, but the story is so personal to me that I am getting in my own way of telling it. I plan to make this an homage to my grandparents who have passed, and as a result I have given my MC’s grandparents many of their qualities and sometimes deviate into unnecessary vignettes, etc. that don’t contribute to my plot or move my story ahead. BUT THEY’RE IMPORTANT TO ME! Just not the reader! 🙂 (Side note: See my “Words to Write By” in the upper right — I picked that quote because I feel it’s very fitting to my issue right now!)

So my challenge is finding a way to stay true to what I’ve set out to do in a way that I can live with and still tell a compelling story.

Anyone experienced this or have tips for getting over it? They’d be much appreciated!

“Writing is thinking.”

“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly.”

-David McCullough, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner from Pittsburgh, PA
This is the quote that I put on my students’ journal writing guidelines. I wanted them to keep response journals during our reading of “To Kill A Mockingbird” (one of my favorite books!) and they were less than enthused about the writing aspect. I stuck this quote on the sheet that went inside their journals, and we had a discussion about it. Eventually the kids got to the point that if you’re a smart, clear thinker, you should be able to express those thoughts out loud and on ink and paper. I was quite proud of them.

I like this quote because for us established writers, about 50-75% of our thoughts probably revolve around our current writing projects (at least for me). If we’re making substantial progress, it means we’ve got clear minds and nothing is clogging those creative channels. However, on the days where we hit the wall or ride the “struggle bus,” it’s a sign that we need to stop and take a breath, clear our heads, and try to get rid of whatever is blocking us from that free flow of writing that we all strive for.

Good luck and happy writing!

Some Inspiration for Fiction Writers

During my undergrad, one of my creative writing classes required this really awesome “textbook.”

What If? - Bernays & Painter

It’s called “What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers” by Anne Bernays & Pamela Painter (like the picture of the book says!).

The entire thing is filled with a bunch of prompts and scenarios to work out your brain’s creative muscles. What I love about the prompts is that they’re reusable. The book asks you to come up with scenarios and create pieces that evoke specific feelings, so you can revisit the prompts and look at them from different angles the second time.

What we did during my class was keep a journal, and each week we had to choose two prompts from this book and write our responses in our journals (my teacher also made us hand write the responses – but that’s a post for another day). He collected them randomly throughout the semester to check them, of course, but I enjoyed the exercises.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book for anyone who is looking for the perfect cure for that writer’s block! Here’s the link for both Amazon and Barnes & Noble if you’d like to check it out! There are older editions available, too.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/What-Writing-Exercises-Fiction-Writers/dp/0205616887/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1341453510&sr=1-1&keywords=what+if+bernays

Barnes & Noble: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/What-If-Writing-Exercises-for-Fiction-Writers/Anne-Bernays/e/9780205616886

Getting Started

During one of many long internet surfing sessions, I discovered this blog by author K.M. Weiland. I love it! She’s “helping writers become authors” with tons and tons of blog posts about various elements of writing. In keeping with the theme of beginnings, I wanted to share this gem from Weiland’s blog about writing good opening lines that will hook readers and make them keep reading.

The entire post can be found at http://wordplay-kmweiland.blogspot.com/2011/09/5-elements-of-riveting-first-line.html, but here’s an excerpt:

“The opening line of your book is your first (and, if you don’t take advantage of it, last) opportunity to grab your reader’s attention and give him a reason to read your story. That’s a gargantuan job for a single sentence. But if we break down opening lines, we discover a number of interesting things. One of the most surprising discoveries is that very few opening lines are memorable.”

At first, I thought, “What?” But Weiland goes on to ask the reader to recall the opening lines of the last five books you’ve read, and she’s right. Even my very top favorites, like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series or any of Emily Giffin’s novels, aren’t engraved in my memory!

The opening sentence, a notorious labor for many of us, really isn’t all that memorable to those who will eventually read our work! Check out Weiland’s post for her “5 Elements of Riveting First Lines” and stop fretting over those first sentences!