Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Writer's Block Is No Excuse

I have writer's block and a cold. My throat hurts, my head hurts, I can't stop sneezing. My brain is foggy and I can't string together two coherent thoughts for anything. I also have several writing projects that I'm working on and I've attempted all of them today, just hoping to find my groove. Unfortunately, my groove must have packed up and gone to Disney World for a vacation, because I can't find it anywhere.

So what is a writer to do when writer's block strikes? My initial reaction was to power through it and write anyway. After all, the editing process is there for a reason.  But sitting and staring at my manuscript for forty minutes only served to make me feel like a failure. My next reaction was to throw up my hands and say, "Fine then! I'm taking the day off!" But hiding under the covers and reading Stephen King isn't going to get me any closer to finishing my book.

I realize that the words aren't going to flow from my fingertips today, but that's okay. Today I give myself permission to lay the story aside, but not to take the day off. Instead, I'll work on other things that will help me achieve my end result:
  • Write a blog post about what to do if you have writer's block
  • Browse through The Writer's Market, online and book forms, and read helpful articles
  • Use The Writer's Market to identify potential agents to query
  • Actively participate in social media to engage in discussions with other writers, offer love and support
  • Curate a list of blogs I'd like to follow and possibly guest blog on
  • Curate a list of bloggers I'd like to invite to guest blog here
What do you do when the words just won't come?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Confessions Of A NaNoWriMo Dropout

It's November. The leaves are turning, and in some cases, falling from the trees here in the high desert. The days are still warm but the nights are cool, and the smell of fireplace smoke tickles my nostrils every time I take a walk with my dog. November, time for pie and turkey and way too much dairy. Time to put away the Halloween decorations and pull out the sweaters.

It's also time for NaNoWriMo. Huh? NaNoWriMo. It's a crazy, fun, intense, caffeine and Cheetos filled whirlwind of a month that is dedicated to writing a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days. This strange name is short for National Novel Writing Month. It's a time to give yourself permission to lock yourself up in your room or hide in a coffee shop and just indulge in your wildest literary fantasies. It's insane. It's fun. It's free. And best of all, there is a ton of support and wacky goings on. I love Nano and I sign up every year.

And every year I drop out.

Like all writers, I have an entire Rolodex full of excuses not to write (though my husband has recently launched a campaign to get me to dump the Rolodex and use Google Spreadsheets instead), and they are all so reasonable: The baseboards need scrubbing, the cat needs brushing, I have to try on every piece of clothing I own so I can send a bag to Goodwill. I'm sure you get the idea and don't need me to list all four thousand eight-hundred seventy-two reasons.

I always start out fully intending to write fifty--no, seventy thousand words! No, wait! In my best Dr. Evil voice, I burst into the living room and declare that I will easily write  "One hundred thousand words! Bwwahahahaha!" My husband usually just looks up at me and offers a supportive "Wow. That's great, Dannie. How much have you written so far?" My answer to that is typically of the I haven't actually started yet. I have to make a crust for that potpie we're having for dinner, so I'll start pounding out the words tonight variety. 

At some point, I always do sit down and write, but by the time I find my writing groove, I am so far behind my daily word count goal to reach 50k words, that I start to feel panicky and resentful. Resentful of myself for having a hard time. Resentful of all the household duties that are distracting me, resentful of all the amazing, beautiful, talented writers who can easily blow right past their goal and actually succeed in finishing NaNo. So I pour myself a glass of three dollar wine and hope that loosens me up enough to be productive. Unfortunately, it only distracts me and I end up wasting an inordinate amount of time on Facebook. Most years, I just give up entirely around the third week of November, feeling guilt and shame over my pathetic 4,000 words.

So this year, I didn't sign up. This year, I am aware that it's National Novel Writing Month, and I'm genuinely happy for all those writers out there who are participating in the write-ins and camaraderie, but I'm just not playing. Instead, I'm plugging away, every day, on my novel. I have a reasonable word count goal, but I don't have a hard and fast deadline. This year, I'm giving myself permission to lock myself in my office and write, but I'm also giving myself permission to watch Mythbusters with my kid or to work on a blog post or short story if I'm not feeling the novel love during any particular writing session.

I think the main difference is that this year, I've officially given myself permission to be a writer full time, not just for a month. I don't feel like I have to pound out 2,000 words every day. Some days I do and some days I barely hit 700. But that's okay. For me, writing isn't a race, it's a way of life. The story will ebb and flow, the hours in the day will work with me or against me, and sometimes things will pop up. And that's okay.

The first draft of my novel is far, far, far from where I want it to be. I wish I had three times as many words written as I do, but I'm not stressing out about that. It's coming along day by day. And this year, as NaNoWriMo happens all around me, I feel proud of myself for accomplishing what I have. On the days where I'm not a productive as I hoped to be, I gently remind myself that there is always tomorrow.

When it comes to writing, what do you have to confess?

Monday, November 5, 2012

How to Write When Your Characters Won't Cooperate

It's been a busy few days and I've hardly gotten any writing done. Sometimes it's hard to find the time, even with a supportive husband to pick up more than his fair share of household responsibilities. Sometimes (okay a lot of the time) I have plenty of time, I just find it hard to make myself get the words out of my head and onto my screen. This whole gonna write a novel adventure has reminded me of something I've always known: writing is damn hard.

When I'm in my zone, the words flow like liquid gold from my brain to my fingertips. My characters are active, vibrant and complex, my dialogue is snappy and intelligent, and all I really have to do to hit my word count goal is close my eyes and type what's going on in my imagination. It's like I don't even have to try all that hard to come up with the actions, my characters just take on a life of their own and do what they need to do.

Unfortunately, sometimes what they need to do is hide in a dark closet and pretend they're not home when I knock on the door. Sometimes what they need to do is eat cookies when I tell them they need to go paint the tree house. And most infuriating of all, sometimes they need to tie me up to the tree house tree and dance around me like little Lord of the Flies heathens while blowing into their conch shells and throwing sticks at me. Even the adults. Needless to say, it's danged near impossible to type what I see when I'm tied up to a tree in the middle of a forest.


So what's an author to do?

If you're this author, you do one of several things:

1. You try to rationalize with your characters and assure them that you have their best interests at heart and that you'd never, ever  kill one of them off, even if you fully intend to.

2. You start to cry like an overstimulated two-year-old and hope they take pity on you.

3. You write their stubborn rears into terrifying situations that only you can save them from. I've found that dangling them over a steep cliff with a stormy sea below brings about an amazing change in attitude. The same can be said of locking them in a dark room with a bunch of hungry rats. Really, the struggling author is only limited by his or her own imagination. And since the characters are fictional, you don't even have to worry about jail time!

4. You try to write them in the way you think they should be written but end up failing miserably and falling back to option #2.

5. You just throw your hands up and shout "FINE! If that's how you want it, you just go ahead and goof off forever in your little world and nobody will ever hear about you and your amazing adventures. I'm going to go read a book that's filled with good characters who behave and do what they're told." Of course, this option does have the inherent danger of the actual living people who are near you thinking your a mad woman (or man), so I would suggest  not taking this track if you are writing at a coffee shop or the public library.

6. Last but not least is one of my favorite options. Write a bunch of smack about what to do if your characters won't listen to you, make yourself a drink and settle in on the couch for an evening of The Muppet Show.

What do you do when your characters won't cooperate?