Another month, another writing post about writer’s block. On my Twitter Feed the other day, there was a question posed to discuss with young writers about our methods of combating writer’s block. My friend Bryan Young – who is amazing and has written every day for the past two years (seriously, I hate you right now) – talked about making yourself write every day.
This. Yes, I've written every day for 2 years, but sometimes the words dribble from me like I'm a broken faucet. Other days it's a firehose https://t.co/YTnX8z7o7u
I think there’s a kink in my hose, and I’ve yet to find it.
I say this as I have a manuscript open in front of me on my other screen. I’ve been staring at it for two hours. I don’t have a deadline – this is only book 2 of 5 in a series I’m writing and I want to get more in it before I start shopping it out. I have on my playlist that my muse response; I just added two songs to it because my muse was like “bitch, those are my songs add them”.
Sorry, the muse has a potty mouth. Much like his master!
It’s not just this manuscript. I open one I already have finished and just need to update to modernize the text and I can’t focus. I open a just started project and I can’t find that excitement I had just two weeks ago to play with it. Hell, the fact this blog post is probably more words that I’ve written in a week!
That’s when my brain points to this blog post and says “but look, at least you’re still writing!!!!”.
Alexander Hamilton – hated by all writers since this song was released.
Am I, though? Do I get to count these words to my word count goal of the day/week/month? What about the online written RPG game that I am in – do those written dialogue and action cues count as writing since it’s technically a group story we’re creating for ourselves? What am I allowed to count? What level of “creativity” or “related to my writing career” is the guideline on counting words to determine if I am indeed eligible for the #amwriting hashtag victory on twitter?
And just who sets these arbitrary rules that we all strive to complete as a writer so that we don’t feel like a failure and beat ourselves up for not making those goals?
It’s the downward spiral of shame and guilt I think we’re all familiar with, and for me, when I recognize I’m on it, that’s when I say I have writer’s block. Not because my muse isn’t talking to me – he’s awake and adding another song to his 90 song playlist – but that something else in the back of my head is distracting me from getting his ADHD and my ADHD to focus at the same time to get his words onto my computer screen.
So what do I say to those with writer’s block, those who struggle with meeting the self-imposed writing standards that some unattributed figure on high put into the first author’s head about daily goals and the ‘you’re not a writer if you don’t write’ party line?
Put down the whip and forgive yourself. We’re not Alexander Hamilton, and we don’t need to write like we’re running out of time. We’re human beings, and we have real life that happens when we least expect it to – even when you’re one of the lucky few who get to write for a living. Sometimes to beat the writer’s block, it’s not about figuring out what’s wrong with the muse, or with you… but it’s figuring out the things in your life that are out of control elsewhere and are nibbling at the back of your subconscious, creating the kink in the hose that won’t let the juices flow.
Take a few minutes to call that bill collector and straighten out the account. Visit your mother in the hospital and make sure she is doing okay and knows you love her even if you can’t help her beat the disease that’s taking her away from you. Take a nap to catch up on the rest you’ve missed because you had a few long days at work and know Monday will be another one.
I watched an amazing movie on July 4th called “The Way” by Emilio Estevez (yes I’m a fan girl shut up). There was an amazing quote in it that I took away that sometimes we all need a reminder of: You don’t choose a life, dad. You live one.There’s also a writer in it, Jack from Ireland, who is suffering from writer’s block and well – I’m not going to spoil the story. Stream it on Netflix and see.
Anyway, the point of it is this: Don’t forget to live your life – it’s where your inspiration comes from. Don’t punish yourself for not writing for a day or two. Don’t beat yourself up for letting the stress and anxiety of life when it’s tilting in the wrong direction take your words from you. Adding more guilt to the scale is only going to make it harder on yourself to get back.
Instead, just remember to take a notebook with you while you live life. When inspiration hits, when you feel that hose start to trickle again, you grab a seat and get those words down. Bring it back to the computer and expand on it later. Try to do it again the next day, and the next while you get that life balance back and the hose will unkink on it’s own. Those words will come back, I promise.
You’re not a bad writer, or a failure, just because the bad days steal away your ability to focus the words. You’re just human, and the life you’re living at this very moment doesn’t give you the spoons to write. Don’t let this take the joy you find in writing from you. Don’t let it take away your plans for making a living at it. Just live your life, and if it’s the life of a writer, your path will bring you back to the words. It always does.
That’s just over 1K in a writer’s block rant. Did I write today? For me, this counts. #amwriting.
It’s that wonderful time of the year where fandoms collide with each other in hotels across the nation. As always, I’ll be out there giving my lectures and wanting to meet all of you. This year, you can find me at the following locations:
As of June 7th, the schedule for lectures has not been released. I am confirmed to debut my new writing workshop Realism in Writing Action Scenes. I’ll be discussing how to look at action within a novel and use it to expand on characterization, plot, and making sure you ALWAYS count the bullets. I will also be doing a book signing during the weekend. Check in with me on Facebook and Twitter for more details when the schedule is out.
I really have lost track of how many years now we have been running the Hourly Writing Workshop track, but we’re back! The schedule of workshops is available here, and remember you get a discount if you pre-register! I will be responsible for the following workshops:
Friday, September 1, 7 PM-9PM: After Hours Writing Sprints – First day of workshops are over, and you’re probably brimming with new ideas. Let’s get them out on paper before the weekend hits. Hosted by Alison Richards, this is a chance to bring your notebook or laptop and meet in Hanover A-B for two hours of writing sprints. Get some work done, as well as take time to mingle, meet your fellow workshoppers, and have some fun brainstorming ideas with a bunch of other writers. Go snag supper to go, and get some words down.
Saturday, September 2, 10AM-11AM: Like, Love and Lust: We’ve said it over and over again – it is essential that all stories have some form of romance in them. The percentage of the story depends on your plot, but writing it is not as easy at it seems. Join novelist Alison Richards to learn the basics of how to build different kinds of relationships between characters, and the dos and don’ts on writing those passionate love scenes.
Sunday, September 3, 1PM-2PM: Social Media 101 for Creative People: You’ve heard of Facebook and Twitter, but did you know beyond checking on the lives of your friends and stalking celebrities, you can use these, and many other social websites, to help support your career? Novelist and social media expert Alison Richards will take you through the tangled jungle of dot.com networking. Learn all about the basics on how to set up professional accounts on these sites, as well as at least another dozen to showcase your work, interact with followers, and create a loyal fan base eager to know all about your next project!
When I am not serving as the peanut gallery for the rest of the workshop team, I will be around the convention and hopefully pulled onto panels with other tracks that have borrowed my fandom brain over the years.
This is my second year attending Imaginarium, and if it’s anything like last year, I can’t wait for October to get here. This convention is a must for any author in the southeast region to network with fellow authors, editors, and game designers in three days of lectures and workshops on the art of writing. The schedule won’t be out for awhile, so check back for the list of panals I will be on soon.
People ask me when I stopped writing, and I say I haven’t. The reality is that no, I haven’t “stopped” writing, but I’m not getting the output of words like I used to in my twenties and early thirties. There is no lack of ideas – they still flow through my brain like a freight train in the middle of the night refusing to stop until the story is shown in flashes in my dreams. There’s a desk drawer filled with ideas and a pushpin board filled with titles of novels that are ready to be started, outlines, or completed.
There are three full first drafts of three different series book 1’s waiting for editing. I’m anywhere between 20K – 60K on four more novels. I have one “How to…” pamphlet half written to go along with my DragonCon lecture. So the lack of projects is not the problem. I know where all the series are going in the book 2’s – for the most part – so the plot is not the problem. I only work for 4 days a week, so there are three fulls days I can put time to writing, so time is not the problem.
Part of me puts blame on a lack of discipline, which in some ways is correct. It’s the same lack of discipline that keeps me from putting away my clothes when the laundry is done, from doing my exercises and physical therapy on a daily basis, and even from cooking real food for dinner. But even then, I’m still sitting on my recliner with my laptop and just talking on AIM and bouncing between the same three windows for the 3 hours I have between getting home from work and going to bed – not the mention the 3 full days at home.
Another part of my wants to blame my role-playing, but to be honest I procrastinate on that as well and there are days I don’t even touch the game responses I need to send out to the various journal based RPG’s I’m a member of. In a way, it’s a relief too because I enjoy the games and the friends I have made due to them, and I would hate to lose that part of my life to focus more on my writing.
No, it’s a hard thing to admit, but I finally talked to my doctor a few months ago about depression. I’m normally very happy-go-lucky when I’m in my right mind, but for the last few years I’ve noticed that I had lost that part of myself. I was becoming irritable and coarse, my patience was thin and my blood pressure was high. Weight gain started, as did pain in my left lower region. In 2013 I was diagnosed with a pulled groin muscle – a misdiagnose that’s symptoms would continue to come back and haunt me on and off until spring of 2015 when I changed doctors and was properly diagnosed with a bulging disc that would then rupture in October and require surgery in November.
On top of that, stress from a job that was compared to me being a domestic abuse survivor in relation to my supervisor… and then add into there the death of Aaron Allston who was my mentor and dear friend for almost half my life… and it was a recipe for the final straw that broke my back. Literally.
I hate not writing. Thinking about not being able to focus on my worlds and words hurts me in ways I never imagined I could be. The stress of sitting at the computer and not being able to focus on getting the words out of my head and onto the page just compounded everything more. What happened to my muse? Where did my drive disappear to?
Then the voices chime in: You’re a failure. What kind of writer are you? You weren’t meant for this. This is why no one asks you to join their anthologies. You shouldn’t be allowed to teach anymore. Who cares about your stories anyway – not like they are selling like hotcakes on Amazon.
Down and down the well I fell until finally, the arrows in my soul that I had put there had pierced it so much that I could feel anxiety coming anytime I tried to carve out time to write. And it was there, sitting in my bedroom crying because my back was starting to hurt again, I was still trapped in my job and I hadn’t written more than a few words here or there in over a year that I debated on what was it worth anymore.
Now I’m not suicidal. The one time I had gotten THAT far was already 17 years past and left on the windowsill of my dorm as my best friend wrapped me in a blanket and brought me back from the brink. But for me, giving up was giving into the voices and leaving my creative life behind and becoming the person who only cared about money and advancement and leaving creativity behind to pursue things that didn’t matter in the long run. It was just the same as killing myself, only from the inside. It was the reason I left NY, the reason I came to Nashville, and a struggle I constantly go through inside of my own head as I try to balance the whole “being an adult” with being a writer (not to mention other personal struggles that I’m not ready to publicly talk about).
My doctor noticed it when he saw me in late October. My body was broken, but he knew that walking in since he had the ER report from two weeks ago about my back. Instead he looked at me and saw my spirit broken and how even bringing up the idea of depression brought me to tears. We talked about what was happening, and what would be the best past for me. He felt at that point that, knowing me and how I was, that it was just too much stress and pain for me to handle and that medication may help give me just that boost I needed to make it through the days to come with recovery. We’d reevaluate in six months and see if I needed more help in the form of physiologists or stronger meds.
I saw him again last month and let’s just say I was much happier and the way he knew I should be. I was in a new job, with a chiropractor who was helping me manage my pain post-surgery, and things were looking a lot brighter in my life. But we didn’t stop the drug, and it was an agreement on both ends. I was afraid that I was still recovering and that going through the withdrawal would bring me back to where I was when the drug started. He was thinking the same thing, and was happy to see the game plan I had to recover and wanted to keep me going on the drug to give me the mental boost to help keep me positive.
In a way it’s still helping, which is good. I’m no longer a tiny little rain cloud of doom trapped in a recliner and in an immense amount of pain and I’m able to come up with a game plan to start weight loss, exercise, and come up with schedules for writing and rebuilding my failed two years of social media push on my author life.
Yet words are still not coming in the way they used to. Spurts, which are becoming more frequent thank god, are not a daily occurrence. My writing day is more of a finding an excuse to do other things and not sit at the computer day. Looking at the word count for this article – this is actually the most I have written this month that wasn’t work related. So where is the disconnect that is refusing to let me get back into a groove on the things I want to and am looking forward to doing?
Depression is a disease. The pill isn’t a cure for me, but a bridge. A stopgap that gets me through the day. I’m no where near as bad as many people who live with depression every day, and I can’t speak for them and their coping methods. I can sympathize, however, in their struggles and have an understanding that up to a year ago I refused to admit I had. But like a disease, it attacks people in different ways.
For me, it’s going after my ability to care about myself. The caring for other people is back to an all time high, but the caring for myself is low. Part of me is used to the routine from when I was nice and drugged for three months (October, November, December) and then with B’s parents here until April just letting me sit and rest and heal. I needed it, because I don’t like to sit still. But now I’m used to it – it’s my routine and it’s all the harder to get out of it. I keep trying, and I get maybe a week into a new routine and just slip out of it again. Then the voices start up again, and I’m stuck not knowing what to do and feeling like a failure all over again.
So here I sit now, trying to decide on what to do with my writing. I want to keep going. I want to keep writing and I know I have all the resources to do it. I just need to find a way to get my mind wrapped back around it again. Maybe if I can figure out how to get my writing going again, other things I’m having issues with will fall back into place. Maybe if I can find a way to create a writing routine that will work, I will be able to break out of this old routine and find my way back to the writer I was who could churn out a few thousand words a night. Maybe.
If you have any suggestions – I would love to hear them.
Using Twitter as a writer to be able to promote yourself is probably the easiest of the social media’s to learn, but at the same time it’s the easiest to make mistakes on. There is an entire language you need to learn, and how you craft your promotion to fit in the 140 character limit can sometimes make your inner editor scream in outrage. But with some practice and watching how other professionals do it, you’ll be able to get the hang of it quickly.
In my Social Media 101 section of my website, I have put up a new section devoted entirely to understanding the language of twitter, hashtags, and a few tips on what to do to start a following. If you have no idea how to even approach Twitter as a professional, you will want to click here and use this as a beginner’s guide.
In the coming weeks, I plan to update the Facebook entry – again – as well as looking into GoodReads and then when to use the other kinds of social media sites to support your main places of interaction.
If there are any other sites you would like to know about how to use as a professional writer, let me know and I will add them to the list of what needs to be reviewed still.
When A Fine Line: Herrick’s Tale was released, it was done as a self-published book through CreateSpace. Boy, was that a crazy journey, let me tell you!
The one thing I’ve learned in this process is that the most valuable thing I ever taught myself was learning how to use Microsoft Word. When you decide to self-pub, you will need to know how to do your own formatting to bring the double spaced 8 1/2 by 11 page into a single spaced document of your own industry sized choice. Took me 8 hours just to do the physical book, and another two for the ebook.
And I thought that the editing was the hard part!
But the best thing is that now that I know what I’m doing, next time the formatting should hopefully only take half the time. This article was the most helpful thing I had to guide me along the way. Here are a few things you can do to help yourself before you set about starting your own formatting:
– decide what size you want your manuscript to be. You can do this before you upload the file to your self-pub platform, or hopefully see if they will do the resizing of your current doc for you. Make sure you do these first though.
– remove all tabs. Your first line indent should be done through paragraph formatting, not tabs. Tabs will only mess your pages up.
– remove all double spaces after periods in your sentences. Word can do this for you! Just do a find with the double space, and replace it with a single space. this will save you pages later and make it look better.
– switch your documents from being double spaced to single spaced. Real books are single spaced. Double spacing is industry for us to be able to send it off to publishing houses so that they can write all over it with red ink. Since you’re not sending it out, set it back to single spaced.
– any clip-art or graphics must be bigger than 300 dpi or it will get error messages. This is the program warning you to keep from having the images get pixilized. If you don’t know how to do it on your own, ask a friend who knows Photoshop to help you with it.
– use section breaks at the end of each chapter and start your page numbers per sections. This will allow you to be able to blank out page numbers on blank pages.
– when you think you’re done, order the physical proof of your book before you hit the button that puts your book up for sale. When you get it, give it to someone you know and have them flip through it and check all the formatting: page numbers, chapter headings, etc. Only when someone who isn’t looking at your baby with your eyes says it’s ready to go, then you can hit that button and celebrate.
I hope these hints help you along on your way to getting your own work up for sale. Good Luck!