September 16, 2013

Three Lessons from "Ender's Game"

I think they're making a movie...
It's been a while since I found a new fiction book I really like, and last month I finished one that literally blew me away. Ask my sister, who was in the hotel room with me as I was reading the climax--I was gasping and exclaiming aloud, which I almost NEVER do.

The book? Well sheesh, it's in the title... Ender's Game. Yeah, I know, I'm behind. Anyway, written in 1985 by Orson Scott Card, the book is a military science fiction novel that touches on some interesting themes. I enjoyed every second of it, not just because it was a great read, but because I learned some powerful lessons from it.

Lesson #1. Surprise the Reader

Three-fourths of the way through the book, I thought it was good. Then in the last quarter, I realized it wasn't good at all. It was stunning, flabbergasting, shocking, glorious, and brilliant.

Why? Because it surprised me.

If you haven't read the book, I won't give the plot twist away. But go read it. Seriously. Now. And once you pick it up, forget I told you there was a surprise coming, because I want you to relish it. (Though in all honestly, I realized what was happening before I technically was supposed to. But it was still awesome.)

Have you finished it now? Good. Wasn't that cool? When I finished reading that, I automatically loved the book, not necessarily because I liked the twist, but because the author managed to surprise me. To do something I didn't expect.

Now, I'm not recommending you go out and like add some insane twist at the end of your book that will shock your readers and make them go "wait, what"? Because that's not what Ender did. The moment I got the twist, it changed the meaning of what happened in the rest of the book. I realized he had, in fact, been leading up to this, dropping hints here and there that suddenly all made sense. He gave some explanation after the first shock of the twist, but what made it work was that it didn't need the explanation to make sense. It was nice, but it wasn't necessary, because it made sense.

I know I'll enjoy reading Ender a second time through, even though the surprise won't be there anymore, because I will read everything in the first 3/4 with new eyes. I'll be looking for the signs that anticipate the climax.

 So surprise your reader. Find the balance between a pleasant surprise and unbelieving shock by leading up to it-- without giving too much away. Hard? Yeah. Hint: The key to the riddle should not be backstory.

Tips for Implementing Lesson #1:

--Study the art of successful plot twists. Take a book with a powerful plot twist that shocked you (in a good way) and study how they anticipated the great event. Did they write scenes with double meanings- that meant one thing before, and another after? Was there an object, phrase, person, or type of event that kept popping consistently, but had no real explanation until after the revelation? Did the author disguise character motivations?

--Brainstorm ways you can surprise your reader, even if it's not in the climax or a part of the central story line. Can you reveal an astonishing trait or motive in a character? What about an unknown relationship? Can you throw in some kind of Chekhov's gun?

Lesson #2. Be Aware of Your Message

It wasn't until after my initial impression of the book faded away that I really began to register what I had just read. I really, truly enjoyed the book-- but there were moral arguments being made in it that I just don't agree with. But at the same time, they were ingeniously engineered. The guy almost literally had a formula that he used to impress his argument in the reader's mind.

The first thing I did when I began comparing Ender to my own novel was to consider the message *I* would be sending. What actions were my characters condoning? What kind of behavior was I rewarding in my novel-- was it violence that lead to success, or was it nobility? I realized that some my characters were engaging in pretty awful behavior, and unwittingly I was allowing them to get away with it as if it were nothing unusual.

While moral ambiguity is "in" right now, I believe in something a little more defined. I want to be a part of the solution to the ills our world is facing, not the problems. Every novel contains a dilemma, and shows how it is solved or not solved by the characters within it. The morality of the solution may not be something you emphasize, but even the subtlest message will leave an imprint on someone. Make sure it's the one you want. Ender's Game showed me very clearly that I need to be aware of what message my novel will be sending people.

Novels can accidentally send the wrong message. So how do you send the one you want? As much as I disagree with Orson Scott Card, I have to say he did his work like a pro. If you read the Dramatica theory that I mentioned in an earlier post, you will have learned that even in books, arguments are based on premises and proof. This link here breaks down the specific method that Card used to convince the readers of Ender's Game of his arguments. The breakdown is about 1/4 of the way through the page. Use the "find" tool and input "These sequences" and it will take you right to it.

So. Know your message and how you're going to persuade your audience of it.

Tips for Implementing Lesson #2:

--Analyze your favorite movies/books and determine the moral message implied within it. What type of actions are shown to lead to success? What mindset is encouraged?

--Decide something you want your readers to come away with when they finish your book. Is it a certain method of solving a problem? Is it a worldview? Is it a stance on an issue? Then find a way to convince your readers of this idea within your novel.

Lesson 3-- Use Foils

I wouldn't say Ender's Game did the best job I've ever seen with using foils, but combined with all the other techniques Card used, this tool was still impactful. Card compared many characters with each other, both directly and indirectly, to set off each other's traits. Towards the beginning, he compared Alai and Bernard, who seemed to be similiar, to show that they were different. Towards the end, he compared Bean and Ender to show that they were similar. And of course, he compared Peter, Valentine, and Ender to each other constantly.

Using characters as foils basically works this way: you place two characters under similar situations and force them to react. In the past, I've used the analogy of chemicals when speaking of characters, and the analogy applies here, too. Many chemicals look very similar. Baking soda and powdered sugar, for instance. Put them in vinegar-- one explodes, one doesn't. Clean your counters with them-- one will make the sink sparkle, the other will attract flies.

Similar characters will show their differences if you put them in hard situations. Dissimilar characters can be shown to be even more disparate, or they can be shown to have unexpected similarities (like applesauce and butter-- they can be interchangeable in baking recipes. ;P)


--What traits do you really want to make the readers notice in your character? Which character is the opposite of them in that trait? Which is similar? How can you put them in situations that will bring out these similarities and differences?

--Do the characters see each other as foils? Make things interesting by having your characters in conflict over these traits. Are they jealous or proud that they are not like their foil? Are they pleased or upset that they are similar to them?

Your Turn!

Have you read Ender's Game? What did you think of it? Was there anything else you learned from this book?

September 9, 2013

Kill Your Blank Pages: Resolve

No quitting. 

The final post in our series.

If you read through all the other series articles and thought, "Yeah, so I know all that. Those aren't my problems!" then this article is definitely for you.

You see, there comes a point when you can't prepare any more. You have your storyline and cast. You have good writing skills, experience, and inspiration. You know exactly how to adapt your trade to the way you think.

So sit down and write!

Really. That's all this post is about. Alan Foster once said that “The thing all writers do best is find ways to avoid writing," and he's completely right. If you feel stuck in your writing and can't write, the reason may very well be that you just WON'T WRITE!

How to Know if You are Your Muse's Worst Enemy

As a former procrastinator myself, I know there are few things harder than to force yourself to write. Strangely enough, we writers seem to fear it more than anything else about our trade and hobby. Whether it's because we doubt our abilities, or because the unknown scares us, or because we're just plain lazy, we often just WON'T. 

This is an especially big problem for writers who have never completed anything before. Last spring I completed my first novel, and it completely changed my perspective on writer's block. I realized that all those times before that I thought I had to do this or that before I was ready to write, I was actually just inventing roadblocks for myself.

It may be to same case for you. In fact, I'm guessing it's pretty likely that it is. Deep in your heart of hearts, ask yourself why you're holding back.

How to Buck Up and Do It

Okay, so you've admitted to the greatest sin that a writer can commit. So how do you move past it?

--Practice! Keep a Journal. In the previous post I described how to keep a writing journal to enhance your understanding of yourself. It's also the best strategy I can think of to discipline yourself to just write, even when you don't want to. I'll post a great article on exactly how to do this best later (it happens to be in a notebook about 1400 miles away from me right now)

--Moodify yourself. Keep track of what puts you in the mood to write-- whether its a certain location (my bed <3), a yummy drink, a time of day, wearing that one t-shirt, a cat, a soundtrack, thinking about your favorite character or scene in your novel, a movie, etc. Then use that to put yourself in the mood!

--Write with a friend. Or not. Back to the idea of self-analysis from last post, figure out whether you write better with a friend to keep you accountable (or not!) Do you like getting together with a group of friends at the local coffee shop to write together, or do you need absolute silence in some holy sanctum? Be there.

--Um. Write. Pen to the paper, nose to the grind. That's all.

Well, that's it! We've made it through KILL YOUR BLANK PAGES: A TEN-PART SERIES ON WRITER'S BLOCK! Here's to hoping you found a tool to help you kill your blank pages-- but if you think I've left out some powerful tool, let me know! Share your wisdom!

In the meantime... That's all for now, folks. :) Good luck on your writing journey, and may the best word always win.

August 29, 2013

I Seeee Youuuu...

I know you exist!
Now for a bit of shameless self-advertising. ;)

Writing is the passion of my life-- from novel writing, to speech writing, to everything in between. I especially love to share what I've learned and the advice I've heard. If you've enjoyed my blog thus far, please share it with your writing friends or your writing group! Also, feel free to comment and/or ask questions by emailing me. The more I hear from you, the more you'll hear from me on this blog!

In short, if you let me know what writing topics you would like to see addressed, it will be much easier for me to provide relevant blog articles. :)

To contact me and my blog, feel free to email me at bloodytypewriter[at]gmail[dot com].

August 28, 2013

Kill Your Blank Pages: Self-Analysis

"Know Thyself"
Hey, sorry I'm a couple days late. College and all that. :) But here's part nine!

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It's a natural tool that we humans use to improve ourselves-- from the time that we're babies, attempting to echo the words our mothers coo to us, through adolescence as we mold our behavior or style of dress after our idols and role models, to adulthood, where we read books on business or parenting or whatever to try to succeed the same way as others have.

But there comes a point where imitation must end and true living must begin. Though it inevitably requires trial and failure, we'll never truly succeed by copying other people. You are you, not them. 

Throughout this series on writer's block, I have often encouraged you to find a way to write that works for you. Today I'm going to focus on this a bit more. I'll explain why you shouldn't outline exactly as the Snowflake method demands; why you shouldn't mimic Rowling's (or anyone else's!) prose; why you shouldn't limit yourself to recycling overused plot and character tropes.

In short, I'm going to tell you that you are YOU.

How to Know if Imitation is Stifling Your Muse

Stilted. Awkard. Fake. Tiresome. These are some words that you may feel apply to your writing if you don't know your own writing style very well. Whether it's cuz you're trying to copy someone else's techniques, or just plain don't know how to string a sentence together in a comfortable way, your muse will undoubtedly be stifled if you don't know how to capture it on the page.

How to Break Free and Find Your Voice

Here are some methods I've used to find my own writing style. Not all of them will work for you, but hopefully some will.


-Stop reading your favorite author. In fact, stop reading at all for a month or two, or even longer if this is a chronic problem for you! If you can't see something, you can't imitate it. So detox yourself from all that influence and take a break from books. (If you can't manage that, then just read a wide variety of different genres and/or authors with wildly different styles. Get your idol out of your head.)

-Experiment! If you write in the same genre as whatever author/style you tend to imitate, then take a break and try writing in a completely different one. If you write historical romance in omniscient 3rd person, then write a dystopian science fiction in first person. If you write fantasy, write an autobiography! It doesn't have to be long. Just write something that REQUIRES you to take a completely different approach to how you write.

-Go back and read something you wrote a long time ago, maybe before you fell under the influence of whatever you're imitating. What did you do a good job at? A dramatic murder scene that was just totally gripping? A unique turn of phrase when it comes to description? Find a way to take what you did there and apply it to your entire writing style. Maybe that humorous secondary character had awesome, original, charming dialogue, but you've been writing in third person. So try writing in first person or deep third with a similar character that allows you to add that natural voice to everything! Don't be afraid to be different.

-Journal. Yeah, if you're anything like me you wanna stab the screen with a pencil at the very thought. I certainly don't journal right now. But I did. Once. For two weeks, I took 15 minutes a day EVERY DAY to just write whatever came to mind! The events of the day, embarrassing stories from the past (I should probably burn it), weird dreams, why I was bothering to write the dumb thing, etc. It was hard. Sometimes I ran out of things to think about (I'll talk about this more next week). But by the end, I had gained a lot of experience writing in my own natural voice. In fact, those last two and a half minutes where I felt like I had nothing to say brought it out very strongly, since I would not allow myself to put the pen down. Do it. That's all.


-Stop reading. Again, mental detox! You read to gain inspiration. You stop reading to lose it, and in this case, that's what you want.

-Switch genres. Sometimes you don't need to stop reading, but rather need to start thinking outside the box. If your plot lines are stale and cliche, it may be because you're only reading books or watching films that all follow the same basic structure. Broaden your horizons and discover what's possible by exploring a different genre or style! THEN stop reading and stop trying to plot for a long time (say, a few months). That way when you go back to plotting, you'll have plenty of options at your disposal, and yet no fresh impressions to influence you. Hopefully this will help you to adopt a technique or structure that feels most natural to you.

-Broaden your experience. Sometimes just experiencing more of life helps you to understand yourself better. It also exposes you to more of the craziness that life can throw at you. This should not only inspire you, but give you a better feel for the kind of craziness you find most interesting and would like to write about.


-Stop reading. You get the picture.

-Analyze people you've met. So, unless you live in Plato's metaphorical cave, you probably know people. Which of your friends, family and acquaintances just fascinate you? Which frustrate you? Which make you feel bad about yourself, or want to be more heroic? What is it about them that makes you feel this way? The better you understand how human personalities and problems affect you, the easier it will be for you to capture these in your own characters. You can use the traits that impact you most powerfully to have the same impact on your readers!

-Meet new people. Along the same lines as above. Talk to the awkward wonks, the quirky extroverts, the stuffy intellectuals, the passionate activists, the loving parents, the bored teenagers. Better yet, talk to the unusual people. The broader your people experience, the more character traits at your disposal.

-Mix 'n' Match! Take all these traits you've identified and juxtapose them until you find something that really intrigues you. Create a character YOU'D like to read about. Every so often I wish someone else had thought of my characters, because I'd rather read about them than record their adventures. ;p

Motivational writer David Schwartz said it best. "It is well to respect the leader. Learn from him. Observe him. Study him. But don't worship him. Believe you can surpass. Believe you can go beyond. Those who harbor the second-best attitude are invariably second-best doers."

You are you. So write like it.

Join me next week (hopefully) for the final installment of KILL YOUR BLANK PAGES: A TEN-PART SERIES ON WRITER'S BLOCK! In the meantime, tell me about you! Have you tried any of these strategies before? What are some methods that you use to find your inner voice?

August 19, 2013

Kill Your Blank Pages: Fitness

Walking on water is sooo old. Biking on water = IN!
Warning: I was really tired when I wrote this… maybe it will help highlight my point where I talk about the necessity of proper sleep. :)

Hey there, you lazy bum on the computer. Get off. You need to exercise.

There. I said it. Do you hate me?

There's a reason we're writers and not Olympians (or maybe you're both, in which case, pardon me.) Most of us writers don't especially love to spend time bodybuilding. Our trade requires long hours of hammering on keys or dribbling ink over paper, which usually means lots of sitting. Which means if we're not careful, we get kinda squishy. 

But there's a more dangerous result to not keeping fit than simply our appearance. Unhealthy body means unhealthy brain. Unhealthy brain means unhealthy mind means unhealthy writing habits. So it's time we talk about that dreaded yet vital component of life (at least, to most writers I know).


Is Your Body Dragging You Down?

If you’re experiencing severe or persistent writer’s block, I’ll wager you my non-existent beard that it’s because you’re not fit. Unfit doesn’t mean fat, by the way. You can have a model’s body and still be unfit.

If you’re on my blog RIGHT NOW because you’re desperately trying to find a solution to your painful predicament, sit back from the screen for a second. How do you feel? Do you have a slight headache or does your brain feel sluggish? Are you tired, or unable to concentrate? Just generally unwell or not right?

Unless you have some kind of real medical problem that you can attribute these symptoms to, it’s likely the result of being unfit. You may not be getting enough water or sleep. Maybe you’re not eating right, or not exercising enough.

Well, my dear friend, your mind has gotten enough attention for now, don’t you think? Let’s focus on your poor body for a little bit. It seems a little neglected.

How to Physically Find Inspiration

Here are some recommendations on improving your fitness. Obviously, you aren’t going to hear anything really new from me that you haven’t heard before, especially because talking about health and exercise truly bores me to tears. See? Tears. But we gotta talk about this. Understand it, and your writing will never be the same.

--Drinkwater. You didn’t think I meant something else, did you? No, you have to stay hydrated! This link talks discusses the necessity of water to those who need to concentrate. Nowadays, I don’t even start writing unless I have a big glass of cold tea or water (or, y’know, something without sugar) beside my desk so I can stay hydrated without having to get up to go to the kitchen. It pays. My writing isn’t dry anymore! (Hahahah! I’m so funny… I love puns…)

--Eat right. Same article as above. If you’re eating junk all the time, you’ll feel gross. When you feel gross, your writing feels gross. So don’t eat junk. Also, I recommend not eating a really big meal before you sit down to write. Less is more! Your brain directs all your body’s energy towards digestion if you eat a lot, so that’s all energy that’s not going to your writing. You’ll get sleepy. Speaking of which…

--Sleep! Sometimes, all you really need to get your brain back is a little sleep. Or, if you’re truly fatigued from your schedule, take a few days simply to rest! Let your brain relax. Here I will note that there is a difference between resting and “vegging.” If you’re going to rest, I don’t recommend having any kind of technology at your fingertips. Or at least, don’t be on the TV/computer for more than two hours a day. I haven’t really researched it, but I know from personal experience that bright screens + stimulation = stressful to a tired brain.

--Don't sit when you write. Try finding or making a standing desk! Mine is simply a bookshelf in the TV room that has nothing atop it. It looks out on my lovely neighborhood, too, so bonus!

--Ok…You knew it was coming…EXERCISE. I can’t stress how valuable this is! Some reason many writers think that the nature of this profession means we are exempted from the law of nature that says “don’t sit on your butt all day.” I challenge you to spend at least 30 minutes a day in real exercise (not like 10 pushups or walking…). Jog or run! Hike uphill! Bike at a swift pace. Seriously, get your heart pumping. There is so much research out there on why it’s so important for all parts of you to exercise. But I’m sure you’ve heard all that before.

Don’t diss it ‘til you try it. Take a week where you exercise at least once a day for a good period of time. Exercise hard. See the effect it has on your writing. You’ll notice that taking breaks to stay fit will allow your ideas to subconsciously reassemble themselves in delightful ways! You’ll be sharper and feel soooo much better. I hate exercise, but it’s the first thing I turn to when my creativity hits a wall. It’s the only thing that can take my mind off my writing while still letting it mull in the depths of my mind.

If you want, find a physical activity that develops a new skill for you, too! Fencing, or martial arts, or swimming, or discus-throwing… hey, you never know how your sports may inspire your writing. :D

So. Drink water, eat like a human, sleep well, and if your ability to sit down and write doesn’t improve dramatically, post here and I’ll do a chicken dance and put it up on YouTube. Really.

So, take a week to improve your fitness, and when you get back, it’ll be time for the penultimate chapter of KILL YOUR BLANK PAGES: A TEN-PART SERIES ON DEFEATING WRITER’S BLOCK. T-t-t-that’s all for now, fffolks!

August 12, 2013

Kill Your Blank Pages: Inspiration

Gru: "Liiiiiigh bulllb..."
Hey everyone, I'm back! Sorry about the long wait (although I probably have like one reader, so it doesn't really matter, does it?). Here's part six of my series, KILL YOUR BLANK PAGES: A TEN-PART SERIES ON WRITER'S BLOCK.

Have you ever perused the “Books and Authors” section of the Yahoo Answers website? The amount of questions begging for inspiration help is almost unbelievable! “What should I write a story about?” “Help me come up with ideas for my story!” “Help! I’m stuck! What should happen next?”

Without a doubt, lack of inspiration is one of the leading causes of writer’s block. After all, if you don’t know what to write about or you don’t feel like writing, how can you even begin to fill a page?

There seem to be two kinds of inspiration. There is the kind of inspiration necessary to story invention, which I’ll call “brainstorming.” This involves coming up with plots, characters, story elements, etcetera. There is also the kind of inspiration that motivates us to write. I will call it “passion,” the desire to create, leading us to actually sit down and pound the keyboard.

Since it’s pretty obvious whether you’re struggling with brainstorming or passion, I’ll get right to business and show you some methods for tackling each problem.

Unleash Your Creativity

--Experience new things. Learn. Take in fresh information! What comes in must come out, and vice versa. Read a new book, watch a new movie. Travel to a place you’ve never been before, even if it’s just that hiking trail down the road you haven’t walked before.

--Be creative in other ways. Try painting or drawing your characters or a scene. Build a model of some important item in your book. Or make something totally unrelated, like DIY decorations for your room. What about reconstructing an old piece of clothing?

--Don’t be afraid of developing a new skill/hobby. The mind loves a challenge, and maybe what you learn will inspire you in your story. So you just learned martial arts, huh? Maybe your MC is good at hand-to-hand like you, and his skills are the key to that impossible scene you’ve been working on for weeks.

--Analyze analyze analyze! I can’t tell you how useful it is to know what is going on in the world and why things happen the way they do. Absorb the news of the day, from local to international, and study it in-depth. Try BBC news online—their reporting is usually unbiased, and full of fascinating facts and analysis. I will eventually write a post on this, so stay tuned for more reasons that being a good news reader à being a good writer (ESPECIALLY if you write fiction).

Awaken Your Passion

--Arouse your emotions. Dig up that frustrating memory you haven’t thought about in a while. Recall that horribly embarrassing situation that you tried to forget. Watch that movie that always makes you cry! Then study why you feel the way you feel. This can inspire your novel as you attempt to recreate those same feelings for your own readers.

--Get in touch with your priorities and find something you care about. What principal or idea or person or thing do you care about more than anything else in the world? What would you die without? Put it in your story. Now.

Inspiratorial Tutorial

--Listen to music while you write! Create a playlist for each type of scene in your book—the anxious ones, the romantic ones, the adventurous ones, the terrifying ones. Even if you play the music so softly you can barely hear it, it will definitely help you to focus on your story and inspire you to write like the music sounds. Personally, I like movie soundtracks because the mood-setting is built in. :)

--Stay healthy, in mind, body, and spirit. I’ll be talking about each of these later, but depression, sickness, stress, unfitness, exhaustion and other negative conditions can greatly affect your ability to be inspired. These problems steal energy away from the creative parts of your brain. Whenever I feel my energy draining away, I stop forcing myself to write and focus on solving my ailment.

--Give it time. As I have mentioned before and will certainly mention again, writer’s block isn’t always something you can get rid of instantly. It may take time. Don’t waste energy being frustrated by it. Give your muse a break. It will come when it’s ready, and, like a relative you haven’t seen in a while, it will surprise you with the amount of gifts it brings. :)

Hopefully, some of these suggestions will help you. I could have listed dozens more, but most are covered in the more specific topics of this series. If you know which specific aspect of your novel you are having trouble being inspired about (plot? setting? character?) check out the relevant post.

Next week we’ll move on to talk about a powerful but underestimated tool for defeating writer’s block. Don’t miss part eight of KILL YOUR BLANK PAGES: A TEN-PART SERIES ON WRITER’S BLOCK.

July 15, 2013

Blog Break!

I'm sleep-writing this...really.
Hi everyone,

The end-of-the-summer panic has begun.

I'm so busy with work and getting ready for college to start back up that I'm gonna have to take a one- or two-week break on this blog. Hopefully I'll be 'back' sooner than later and can continue on with our series on writer's block! In the meantime, if there are any other topics you would like me to cover (from picking character names to punctuation to anything in between!) post a comment below and I'll add it to my schedule. :)

July 8, 2013

Kill Your Blank Pages: Experience

This week, we begin the second part of my series on writer’s block. Here I’ll be focusing on some creativity-killers that don’t stem from your story: instead, they are problems that come from an unhealthy writing life. Not all of these will apply to each of you, and some take longer than others to achieve, but please read through them as they are important to be able to identify and counter for the long-term health of your writing career! 

In 1851, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

Honestly, I think there are few words that writers need to hear more. So often, our passion for writing consumes our lives, stifling our relationships, work life, school life, and everything else. We sit for hours each day at our computers or writing pads, the blinds pulled down and the phone line unplugged.

But this is silly of us. After all, our muse doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Even if we don’t realize it, our creativity is unleashed by drawing in our experiences and pouring them out in a new medium. If we don’t live life, how are we to write about life? If we don’t develop our own emotions and relationships, how are we to create believable ones on paper? How can we write about triumph if we never triumph, or about suffering if we never suffer?

This section of my ten-part series on writer’s block may be the most discouraging, because I’m going to urge many of you to stop writing for a while. Obviously, this advice will not apply to all of you. But don’t dismiss it off-hand: if you experience writer’s block on a constant basis, it’s all too likely that you really need to hear this.

Is Lack of Experience Stifling Your Muse?

If you’ve read through all of the first five sections on writer’s block and nothing seems to get rid of your writer’s block, it’s entirely possible that your creativity simply isn’t ready to be unleashed. Have you ever done anything so hard, you thought it would be impossible? Have you been through the blackest night and come out alive? Have you ever conquered your biggest fear? Have you faced crippling criticism or hatred? Have you ever been forced to completely re-evaluated your priorities or worldview? Have you been forced you give up your biggest dream?

Have you made friends with a freak, or been betrayed by your best friend? Have you been humiliated beyond what you thought possible? Have you lost something dear to you that you could never replace? Have you been pushed to work so hard you ached every night? Have you ever cried yourself to sleep? Have you ever been speechless at the hugeness and complexity and beauty of the world?

If you’ve never experienced any of this, then you are not ready to write.

How Do You Get More Experience?

Let me begin by talking to my fellow youths. As a young writer myself, I know what it’s like to be told “you just need to wait until you’re older.” It’s not advice I appreciated. But I accepted it. I never gave up writing—I wrote children’s stories, and essays, and poems, and even some plot outlines—but I never attempted to write a full-length novel until I was eighteen years (still young by many standards.)

In the meantime, I dedicated myself to growing up. I joined a speech and debate club so I could expose myself to a wide variety of worldviews, and to learn the big issues in this big world. I learned about the rise and fall of countries by studying history and current events. I joined 4-H so I could learn practical skills (from cooking to consumer decision making to sewing to wildlife studies). I learned the sciences and mastered many art skills. I studied writing craft and grammar and other authors’ novels as hard as I could. Most importantly, I forced myself to survive the hundreds of difficulties, sufferings, and setbacks that faced me constantly. In short, I matured.

My patience paid off. The January after I turned 18, I sat down to write my first-ever full-length novel, and to my complete shock and amazement, I completed it in less than four months. Not only that, but my writing was infinitely better than I ever would have expected of myself. To all the young writers out there: please don’t feel like you have to give up writing while you are young—on the contrary, hone your skills! But in the meanwhile, challenge yourself to mature and grow up. If you want your writing to be mature and meaningful, make your life mature and meaningful.

Now. Despite all this special counsel to young writers, they aren’t the only ones who might be facing experience-based troubles. Anyone can be unprepared to write. So here is some advice for those of you who feel like they might just need to do more…


As any truly wise person will tell you, sometimes you need to simply do hard things. No matter what your goals are in life, whether they have to do with writing or not, to be a complete human being you need to develop all sides of you—mind, body, and spirit.

Develop your mind by studying a broad range of material. You’d be surprised at all the ways seemingly random fields of study can enhance not just your writing, but all areas of your life. Study politics and social studies, history, science, mathematics and literature. Learn about other cultures. Follow news and current events. Analyze events, both tragic and triumphant-- what mindsets/actions caused them to occur? Let your knowledge base grow deep like tree roots and broad like tree branches, and when you sit down to write, you will have an unlimited sea of ideas for your muse to draw from.

You also need to challenge your body. Use your muscles—make them strain and hurt and ache with exertion! Run a marathon for an important cause, canoe across your local lake, climb a mountain, hike a forest. Eat strange foods. Learn new physical and practical skills. For your writing to come alive, you need to experience physical sensations and be able to write about them.

Finally, have a healthy emotional life. Understand people and how they tick, and how to handle different personalities. Be kind to people you don’t like. Be compassionate—go out of your way to help someone every day! Forgive the ones you hate. Forgive yourself when you fail, and always, always, always try again no matter how many times you don’t reach your goal. At the same time, make sure your priorities in life are properly aligned. Discover whether God exists! Fight for an important cause, save a life, save a soul.

Your novel is an extension of your soul. It’s a re-translation of your experience. If you don’t breathe deeply of this life, your story will never breathe life. Remember Thoreau’s words! Challenge yourself to do hard things, and writing will become easy.

This is the hardest, longest step to defeating writer’s block, but it’s also how you overcome the most tenacious form of writer’s block. Hang on tight until next week with part seven of KILL YOUR BLANK PAGES: A TEN-PART SERIES ON WRITER’S BLOCK.

July 1, 2013

Kill Your Blank Pages: Research

No wonder Tolkien took 14 years to write
his book...there was no internet!
During high school, I was forced to write dozens and dozens of speeches and essays for various academic and scholarship competitions. The beginning of the writing process was always miserable for me, because I had no idea where to start.

I quickly learned that my apparent inability to write didn't stem from any problem with my brain or my creativity. Quite simply, I didn't know where to start because I didn't know what to fill the middle with. Until I thoroughly researched the topic I was writing on, I wouldn't be able to find the motivation I needed. Passion, I learned, stems from knowledge and understanding.

The same concept applies to story writing as well! While knowing your plot and characters and setting goes a long way towards freeing your creativity, there are still a lot of holes left to fill unless you do enough research. How can you convincingly write that combat scene if you know nothing about martial arts or weapons? How can you describe your character's struggles with a legal system if you know nothing about the legal system?

Clearly, unless you know what you are writing, it can be really hard to write. Thus, today we will be talking about how to identify problems related to lack of research and how to effectively solve them.

Is Lack of Research Slowing You Down?

A lot of writers don't even realize it when lack of research is the hang-up, because the only way to really describe the feeling is as “stuck”. If you answer “yes” to any of the following, however, you might need to do some more research:

Are you unable to find a good solution to a problem your characters are trying to solve? Are you having trouble thinking up a plotline for a character who is a professional? Is it difficult to imagine or describe a setting, location, or country? Do you know your character’s culture and its expectations?

How Do You to Research Properly?

Learn how to use spreadsheets, and compile lists and maps of details about your characters: their school schedules, birthdays, maps of important locations and rooms, places they were born in or have traveled to, and even lists of their relatives and friends, and their professions.

These details not only serve to keep your story consistent, but whenever your reach a roadblock in your mind, you can refer to these lists for inspiration. “Oh, this guy’s dad was a fisherman? He probably knows a lot about saltwater ecology… maybe I could have a plot device where all the fish are dying randomly and he helps the MC figure out why…” A stupid example, but you get my point. ;)

Story details aren’t the only research you need to do, however. A common writing admonition is to write what you know. I think the best advice comes when you reverse the saying: know what you write! If you have a farm in your story, know which crops grow in which climates and conditions! If your characters take a boat out on the water, use a boat that makes sense for what they’re doing.

Take advantage of the internet and social media as you research. Your friends and relations may know a surprising amount of information, and can answer your questions if you call them up or post a question on facebook or twitter. Wikipedia (while obviously not 100% accurate) can get you started on your search, and there are thousands of forums out there if you want to find a good answer to technical, scientific, or really any kind of information. This should help keep your story realistic, and unplug your creativity all that’s left becomes explaining what you know.

As one example, my own novel was stuck because I needed my character to be able to make a quick getaway over the water without his enemies catching up—a problem hard to solve, since his enemies enjoyed a better understanding and availability of transportation than my MC. Then I realized that the only water to travel for both of them would be by motorboat. So, the best idea would be for my MC to disable all the motorboats at the dock excepting his own. I researched motorboats on a help forum, and learned that the simplest way to disable the motorboats (using my MC’s unique ability to move water) would be to let water into the engines. Voila! I wouldn’t have figured that out without researching common motorboat problems.

Know Your World
While your story may be focused on a small, localized problem or scenario, you should think big about your story.

If you’ve ever been out of the country, you will definitely have noticed how different foreign cultures are from each other. Countries value different attributes—Italians enjoy family and friendship, while Germans appreciate hard work and honesty. I’ve been all over the United States, and learned that no two states or towns are the same: Dallas, Texas is different from St. Paul, Minnesota is different from San Diego, California is different from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania is different from St. Augustine, Florida. Even NYC and Washington D.C. have extremely different atmospheres.

These differences come from many factors: the prominent industries in that region, the landscape and resources, the history, the population, the religion and values, the education level, the wealth of the people, and how connected the location is to outside business and trade. Whether your story’s town/country/world is real or imaginary, you need to how these factors influence and affect the location in question.

Sometimes the easiest thing to do is find a community or country that resembles the one in your story, and learn as much about it as possible. While obviously you don’t want to mimic it exactly, learning why a culture is the way it is will contribute some valuable information and possibilities for your own story world.

As a writer, your job is to transport your reader into another world. So make sure you truly know the world you are writing! By researching it and understanding it as fully as possible, you do all the left-side-brain work that allows your creative right side to flow freely over the page.

Next week we begin the second half of this series. Rather than discussing story elements that might be slowing your writing down, we’ll discuss some lifestyle changes that you may need to make if you’re having serious, long-term writer’s block. Figure out if any of the five causes of writer’s block already discussed are at the root of your problem, and if they’re not, get ready for part six of KILL YOUR BLANK PAGES: A TEN-PART SERIES ON WRITER’S BLOCK. Cheers!

More Links:
Questions you can ask to make sure you know your world, real or fictional:

June 25, 2013

Kill Your Blank Pages: Description

Yes, heath is pretty. No, it is NOT exciting, Mr. Hardy.

 NOTE: Sorry this post is a day late! I was in Oklahoma competing in a national debate tournament all last week, and spent most of yesterday sleeping. ;)

Anyone who's read a book before has experienced the frustration that comes with setting or character descriptions. Sometimes authors go on for pages about irrelevant details (like Hardy's description of Egdon Heath in Return of the Native, which is a running joke in my family) or don't provide enough to paint a good picture in the reader's mind. 

Thus, when we get down to writing ourselves, describing stuff can be scary. How much detail is too much? Will the reader get bored of all the detail I'm putting down? What if we're not putting enough-- do they have no idea where our characters are? This fear or confusion can stifle our creative processes, so it's important that we address it.

Is Description Slowing You Down?

It’s possible that an inability to describe a setting is slowing your writing down if you’re having a hard time mentally envisioning your scene. When you imagine your characters, do you see them talking in a blank white room, or do you see them walking beside the road, with the smell of hot asphalt stinging their nostrils as they sweat in the midday sun?

Do your characters have all their important conversations while sitting at a table—in the kitchen, or the cafeteria, or at a restaurant, or at the park? If so, it’s time to think outside the box and take a realistic view of setting.

What about when you try to describe your characters’ appearance’? Do you always fall back on their hair, their eye color, their facial expressions?  

How Do You Find the Words to Describe?

There are three quick steps to being able to describe a setting/character appearance.

1- Identify It
Obviously, before you can describe something you have to know what you are describing, but many writers actually forget this step—hence the blank rooms and the repetitive appearances.

As far as settings go, challenge yourself to find a backdrop for your scenes that will provoke an emotion in your characters or provide something new for them to interact with. Many writers encourage seeing your setting as another character—is it hostile, or friendly, or deceptive? Does it provide a strong contrast to the mood your character is in, or does it reinforce their perceptions? For example, in one of my stories the character is being interrogated by another character, and as he is asked questions, he watches a spider ensnare a moth under the interrogator’s desk—this reinforces his feelings that he is trapped.

Don’t be afraid to mix and match contradicting ideas, either. In fact, having a depressed character walk through a fun carnival may be more impactful than having them sit in the rain.

In sum, identify where your character needs to be for maximum effect on the scene, and then go with it.

The same idea applies to describing characters. Identify something you want to convey about them—do you want them to appear stern, or silly, or nervous? Once you know what you want to portray, you can move on to the next step.

2- Envision It
In this step, in order to describe a setting, you need to imagine what it would be like to BE in that setting with all of your five senses. What would you see, feel, hear, smell, and taste if you were there? Many writings stop at the first sense—vision—but it’s the other details that make a scene truly come alive.

Imagine yourself at the beach. Yes, you might see the white-capped waves, the golden sun, the bright sand. But close your eyes and experience all of that through your other senses! The waves crash against the shore with a calming beat. They smell salty but fresh. The sun warms your neck like an embrace, and your toes dig into the soft, silky sand. Gulls wheel overhead, their cries echoing in your ears like a distant memory.

Or maybe it’s a different kind of beach! Maybe there is an odor of rotting fish hanging heavy in the cold, damp air. Maybe rocks and broken shells crush under your feet and pierce your flimsy shoe soles. Maybe you have to pick your way around piles of sour-smelling sea weed, and the beach is silent but for the grumble of waves on the rocks. The sun is suffocated by the clouds, and little raindrops prickle your skin.

See? Immerse yourself in your setting, and imagine ALL of it. This website has an awesome list of settings that you can use to fill out all the details of a scene, but remember, the most powerful images will come from your own imagination.

As far as character descriptions go, think about the last time you were at Walmart on a Saturday afternoon. I guarantee you, that people’s hair and eye colors were not the biggest thing you noticed about them. Their clothing choices, piercings, tattoos, level of cleanliness, told you a lot about them (or you thought so, anyway).

To describe a character, completely envision what they look like. Not only the everyday things like what they wear and how fit they are, but also the little changes that people undergo depending on their mood. Are their muscles tense with frustration, is their chin titled back with contempt, are they straining forward with eagerness?

Also, check out the above mentioned website as well. It goes through all of body parts to help you learn how each part of the body can tell you something about a character: their feelings, lifestyles, etc.

3- Make a Selection
Once you’ve completely imagined your character or setting, pick the important details that convey what you want to convey. You can’t completely described how every location effects each of your character’s five senses, so pick the ones you think they would notice based on what is occurring in your scene.

For example, if your character is sad and they are walking through a carnival (as mentioned before), they might not notice the sweet smells of cotton candy or caramel apples like a happy person would. They might only see the trash and food wrappers and soggy fliers littering the ground, since they are staring at their feet as they walk. They will barely feel as they bump into other people, not watching where they are going. Every once in a while, their thoughts might be interrupted by a shouting child (like the character, they’re not getting what they want) or a ringing bell (their time is up!) Focus on the details that effect their mood, and let the rest go.

As far as characters go, just pick the details that express the desired trait about the character. Maybe there is a woman who is not pretty, but she has perfect knees that catch your male character’s attention (hidden beauty or goodness). Maybe your female meets a guy for the first time at the office, and his tie is off-centered and hands won’t stay still, so she gets the impression he is nervous and unreliable.

In sum, once you start consciously thinking about the stuff you would notice about a setting or person in real life, you can use that information to describe a scene in a meaningful way. Identify what you want the audience to learn or see, envision a character or scene in its entirety, and then pick the elements that express/contrast with what you want the audience to see.

Next week is the last section of the series discussing specific story elements that might be slowing down your writing, as the next half will discuss lifestyle changes you may need to make to overcome long-term writer's block. Adieu until next week, with part five of KILL YOUR BLANK PAGES: A TEN-PART SERIES ON WRITER’S BLOCK. 

June 17, 2013

Kill Your Blank Pages: Dialogue

Tony Stark... now there's some dialogue!
Most people only have to learn how to have a good conversation once in their lives. Writers have to learn twice: what sounds good on paper often sounds terrible aloud, and what sounds good aloud looks terrible on paper. Finding a balance can appear to be an insurmountable challenge that makes writers’ creative juices dry up on the spot.

Never fear—I’ve got some ideas to make your brain salivate at the thought of writing dialogue. :) Let’s dive right in!

Is Dialogue Slowing You Down?

If dialogue is preventing you from writing, you probably already know this without having to do too much self-psychoanalysis. Whenever you throw two characters in the room and open their mouths to talk, you suddenly feel like an awkward preteen trying to talk to his crush. Everything you write sounds so stilted and artificial, you feel like throwing your computer (or writing pad) at the wall!

How to Get Talking

I really, really, REALLY love writing dialogue in my stories, and when a book has good dialogue, it’s often the best part to read. The key to character conversation that flows naturally is—quite simply—not to over-think things, just like in real life. There are only a few basic elements to consider when writing, beyond which you just need to relax and write.

The first question you need to ask yourself when characters begin talking is “What is the purpose of the dialogue?” When it comes to writing conversations, LESS = MORE. While in real life, people often take pleasure in talking just for the sake of it, no one enjoys reading pointless discussions. You shouldn’t make characters talk just to make them talk.

So what should the goals of your dialogue be? Really, it comes down just to two things: advancing the story, or revealing something about the character.

Using dialogue to reveal the story could include things like characters asking questions to find information from other characters, or to invite them to an event that impacts the story (like to a party where the protag’s boyfriend will be killed), or to confront them about a problem. Dialogue that reveals character traits might be a scenario where the protag asks his best friend to come to his wedding, and the friend says he’s busy (when the protag knows he’s not, thus revealing that the best friend isn’t much of a friend).

Always know what you want to prove or establish with the conversation, then work backwards from there.

Once you've established that your conversation will be worthwhile, there are a few tips and pointers to spice it up:

            •Skip or condense all the boring introductions like “Hi, how are you?” “Oh good, how are you…?” Cut right to the chase: you’ll notice in your favorite movies and books, they don’t include almost any fillers.

            •Really know the characters that are having the conversation and their speaking styles. There’s a world of difference between “John, could you please wipe up the milk you spilled?” and “Johnny, clean that mess up or you’re gonna lick it off the floor with your tongue.” Know whether your characters have direct or indirect speaking styles, whether they’re long-winded or terse, how good their vocabulary is, and even their favorite filler words, slang, and expletives.

            •Use humor! Dialogue is the best place to make your readers laugh. This also ties into knowing your characters well, as different people use different kinds of humor (sarcasm, puns, jokes, hyperbole, insults and subtleties). (NOTE: Write me a comment and maybe I’ll do a post on humor in writing later!)

            •Study the experts: take lots of notes when you watch your favorite movies and read your favorite books. See if you can identify the goal of each conversation: whether to advance the story, or reveal the characters, or both!

Dialogue should be fun to write, not a brain-killer. Let your characters do the talking—all you have to do is write it down!

Next week is part four of KILL YOUR BLANK PAGES: A TEN-PART SERIES ON WRITER’S BLOCK. See you soon!

June 10, 2013

Kill Your Blank Pages: Character

Meeting new people for the first time can be really awkward and uncomfortable, especially if you're supposed to work on a project together. You're on unfamiliar turf, trying to figure out what kind of people you're dealing with without offending anyone or making a bad impression.

Writing can have all the awkwardness of introductions if you don't know your characters well. This can totally kill your inspiration, making it hard to plot your story (or if you're past that stage) even to write.

Today we're going to explore how to identify whether your imaginary friends are your creativity's enemies, and how to put them in their place! 

Are Your Characters Slowing You Down?
It’s possible that your characters are at the root of your troubles if any of the following apply to you:

•You can’t explain in a sentence how your characters change by the end of the book.
•The problems your characters face only come from events they have no control over instead of from personal choices.
•You don’t know what your characters think of other characters.
•You don’t know what your characters imagine their perfect life would be like, or what they would do anything to avoid.
•You don’t know how their past has had an effect on them.

Many stories take a plot-first kind of approach, where the characters are only secondary—kind of like sticking a bunch of mice in a maze, where the mice are the characters and the plot is the maze. If your story is this kind, you still need to know your characters well because they will determine how the mice get out of the maze and how fast.

In character-based stories that follow the adventures of a specific person or set of people, it’s even more important to know your characters. Otherwise, trying to write will be like being forced to chat with a bunch of people you don’t know—awkward, forced, uncomfortable. It’s way more fun and inspiring when, every time you sit down to your computer or writing pad, it’s like getting together with your best friends (and enemies!)

How Do You Get to Know Your Characters?

By the time I get around to writing, I know my characters better than I know my best friend. I know how they would react in any given situation, and what their opinions would be of people and events. I know why they act the way they do, and what it would take to make them change their lifestyles.

This first step I often take in getting to know my characters is to find a picture of someone who resembles them or to draw one myself. It’s much easier to visualize a person and get to know them when you can see them, especially if you’re a visual person like me!

Next, I set out to fill in the information I listed above. How does my character solve problems at the beginning of the story, and how does that change by the end? How does my character’s initial outlook on life compare to their final outlook on life? (NOTE: if you use the Dramatica theory I mentioned in the last post, it will ask you whether your character is a steadfast character or a change character.)

Does your character recognize how they are causing problems for themselves? Does your character like/dislike certain kinds of people more? What kind of person really gets under their skin? Has your character been raised in hardship—are they tough, or bitter, or wise because of this? Or have they been raised in comfort, so they are naïve and/or struggle more to adapt? What is the best/worst life they can imagine for themselves, and are they trying to achieve it/run from it?

Asking all of these questions (and more!) about all of your characters will help a LOT to kill your writers block. Once you know all of this about your characters, you can play off of what you now know about them to come up with cool conflict ideas or to fill in plot holes, like so:

•Character A hates bossy people like Character B—what if they had to work together?
•Character C and Character D are enemies and need to be friends by the end: what goals/attitudes/experience/problem-solving styles do they have in common that they can base a friendship off of? What scenarios would help them to see this common trait in each other:?

Brainstorming becomes a science experiment: what if we throw all these chemicals in a vial—will they explode, or change color, or stink, or create a cure for cancer?

Final note: Discovering your characters has practical application in life, too. Once you learn how mindsets affect actions, it’s easier to understand why people do what they do.

If you have a hard time getting inside your character’s heads, start with personality typing, which attempts to help people learn about other people’s thought-processes. MBTI and socionics are the most useful theories—many businesses use them. Read the type descriptions to find the one that sounds the most like your character, and then learn about it to see how that type attempts to solve problems, and what they tend to like/dislike.

Make writing fun again-- make your characters people you want to spend time with and enjoy writing about! See you next week for part three of KILL YOUR BLANK PAGES: A TEN-PART SERIES ON WRITER’S BLOCK.

More Links:
More questions to ask about your characters:

June 3, 2013

Kill Your Blank Pages: Plot

"Your lipstick stains..."
You’ve been working on your story idea for weeks—or maybe days, it doesn’t matter—and you are ready to write. Your fingertips are on the keyboard and a steaming cup of coffee rests at your elbow to keep your energy up—but somehow, it drains out of you anyways as you stare at the blank page in front of you.

My experience (gathered by talking to other writers, and through my own writing life) has convinced me that the number one cause of writer’s block is a weak story premise and poor outlining. Take an analogy—drawing. Some artists can grab a paintbrush and just start flinging paint around without an idea of where they’re going with the piece. Sometimes that works, but more often then that, the audience ends up just as lost about its direction as the painter. Most painters like to plan out their painting so they know exactly where they’re going, and do when they sit down to the project, their creative process comes out in the details—like color and expression. The outline is already there.

I think it works the same way in writing. After all, can you really expect your muse to function properly if it has to think “what’s going to happen next?” AND keep track of your characters AND pick the best way to phrase the next sentence AND come up with good dialogue AND visualize the setting all at the same time?

So the first key to freeing your muse and killing those blank pages is outlining your story in a logical, interesting manner. Use the left side of your brain to plot your novel so the right side can write your novel.

Is Your Plot Slowing You Down?

This is a fairly easy question to answer. When you sit down to write, is trying to figure out “what happens next” the first thing you do? For the most part, when you sit down to right, you should have (at least) a pretty good idea of what you’re about to write.

How Much Should You Plot Out?

Once you’ve decided to plot it, the next question becomes, “how detailed does my plot need to be before I am ready to write?” The answer to this question depends on you. Different writers feel comfortable plotting to different levels of detail—but there are some hints and tips I can give you.

First off, be wary that “over-analysis leads to paralysis.” If you plot out EVERY SINGLE MOMENT of the book, you’re likely to burn yourself out. Don’t use your left-side brain to do what you should leave to your muse. When you sit down to write, there should still be some exciting element of “unknown” and “adventure” left to explore.

Next is another caveat. Some writers do write better with less preparation. Some write better with more. I’ve tried both, and my suggestion is that you start with more, and once you’ve got the hang of successful novel structure, you can begin downsizing how much you prepare beforehand.

So now you’re thinking, “Ok, you’ve told me to start more, but not too much. HOW MUCH IS THAT?!?” Keep your shirt on, I’m getting there.

I’ve tried hundreds of plot outlines over the years, and the one with the MOST detail in my opinion would be the “snowflake” method. Unless you’re like a super control freak (no offense, Randy), this is way too much detail. I tried it once, and died—or well, the story did. It’s been sitting on a shelf deep within my computer files for a couple years while I recover from the attempt. If you like this approach, I recommend only doing steps 1-5, or at most 1-7. I also like step 8 (even if you don’t do steps 6 and 7)—but I’ll get back to that later.

Another setup I thought was brilliant comes from Dramatica. It’s a very technical and BRILLIANT look at how to layer theme, plot, and character—if you think you’re in the writing business for the long haul, I recommend you read the entire book. The chapters on story-forming and story-encoding are the best, but the most useful tool out of the entire (free!!) book is this. I used almost the entire book to plan out my first novel, but the thoroughline concept was pretty much all I needed to plot out the second novel (along with some stuff on “thematic variation,” found towards the bottom of the chapter on story-forming). If you use Dramatica, you may need their dictionary because the terms can be hard to understand.

If you browse the web you can find a lot of “6 step plots” or “7 step plots”—but the above mentioned tools are, in my opinion, the best way to set up your story to the point where it’s writable. Using steps 1-5 of the snowflake method will help you get your story started. Follow it up with a few tools out of the Dramatica toolbox, and if you’re REALLY smart you’ll finish out with step 8 of the snowflake method.

It may seem like a lot of work at first, but trust me—it’s totally worth the effort, especially as it becomes subconscious and you no longer need to do all the steps. Don't feel limited to what I suggested here, though! Research other ways to plot if you find this doesn't work for you. The important part is having a logical, meaningful outline to follow. The better you know where you’re going with your story, the more depth and direction it will have. You will immediately stand out from the crowd because your story will no longer be a one-dimensional mess of random events, and your writing will be better because your muse can focus on creating art instead of building structure.

Best of all, you can kill the blank pages and get to writing, which is really what you want to do. Stay tuned ‘til next week for part two of KILL YOUR BLANK PAGES: A TEN-PART SERIES ON WRITER’S BLOCK.

May 26, 2013

Kill Your Blank Pages

Why can't writer's block be like a dessert,
instead of a desert?
When the country goes into recession, you don’t put stock in gold or guns—you buy trees, so you don’t have to worry about running out of paper.

When your sister steps on a pencil, you feel like crying—IT STILL HAD AN ERASER!

When the rest of your family is huddled under blankets in pillows in the middle of an electric storm, you’re cursing the lack of computers and lighting candles so you can keep writing.

You are a WRITER. But... you’re a writer with a secret.

The search history on your laptop is full of articles with titles like, “How to Defeat Writer’s Block” and “How to Unleash Your Muse.” Because the truth is, you’ve never written more than three chapters of a novel in your life. You just can’t seem to get past the first few pages before you realize you’re stumped—the words just won’t come out! For you, writer’s block is a permanent condition. You are, in short, in WRITER’S HELL. And the worst part is, you don’t know why you’re still there.

Now you can find out. I wandered in that desert of stagnation for nearly six years myself, unable to produce more than a few kid’s stories—and then suddenly, in the space of four months, finished a 70,000 word novel and started on a second. To help you get out of your personal desert, I’d like to introduce “Kill Your Blank Pages: A Ten Part Series on Writer's Block.”

Each part in the series should help you to identify what’s clogging up your creative process and show you exactly how eliminate it. Young writers, feel free to do a happy dance--this series will be geared especially towards you!

 The first five parts will look at story-building—oftentimes, you get stuck quite simply because your story isn’t ready to be written, and your muse knows it. The last five parts will look at freeing your creativity through lifestyle and mental adjustments.

Hopefully, by the end of the series, you will always know how to clear away writer’s block because you will always know exactly how you got there in the first place. To solve a problem, you have to know it’s there, and you have to know how to solve it.

Let’s kill some blank pages.

May 25, 2013

“What’s This,” You Say?

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the greatest—no wait, that’s wrong. I promised myself I've left the circus for good. *smacks self on cheek*

Um. Hi?

Welcome to my blog, I guess. Like millions of other writers, I have created a page specifically dedicated to me, whose only purpose is to clog up cyberspace and slow down computers. ;) Really, though, I created it to share my experiences as I embark on the treacherous ship through the waters of professional authorship. If you’re interested in writing and learning how to get your book published, join me for the ride!

Feel free to send me any comments or questions you might have—who knows, I might write a post about it! :)

If you're too mean I'll make a voodoo doll of you and flush you down the toilet in effigy, so be nice. See ya later!