The Writing Slump

Well folks, I’ve hit it, the dubious “writing slump”. Granted, I’ve had a lot going on, but if you’ve been following this blog for a while, I think it’s rather clear that I don’t accept that as a valid excuse. Now don’t get me wrong, a break is good for the soul every now and again, but I look at my past month and the workaholic in me sees all the things I didn’t do. It’s a character flaw I need to work on, but in the eternal words of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “I’m cookie dough. I’m not done baking.”

Yes, that was a Buffy reference. Get over it.

Anyhoo, back to Vesuvius the writing slump (because I name things that make me angry after things that go “BOOM”), it’s not that I can’t write or won’t write, more over my brain is too caught up in what’s going on around me to focus on a new novel. Vesuvius just came in, scraped his rusted fold-out chair across the varnished hardwood floors of my brain, set up shop at the intersection of creativity and productivity and heckled me until I gave up and jumped into the next episode of Veronica Mars.

So yes, I had plans for this past month while book 1 was with beta readers. I was going to rewrite book 2 and map out book 3, along with publishing weekly posts here. The reality of this past month is as follows:

  1. 3 blog posts – skipped a week because I was coming back from a writing retreat with Raw Dog Screaming Press. It was a lot of fun and exactly what I needed.
  2. Read through book 2, made a lot of notes for changes to plot/character and such, spent the rest of the month mauling over whether or not to just start from scratch completely. I’ve rewritten the first paragraph in my head many, many, MANY times before going to sleep the past few weeks.
  3. Wrote the first chapter (that will be scrapped) of book 3. I don’t regret writing it, because of that scrap chapter, I was able to finally let go of a setting that was only half-cocked anyway. I did map out the book, but only got as far as the midpoint. Hint: Time Travel is not easy to plot.
  4. I also put together a 53-page digital magazine and put my sister-in-law and her puppy on a plane to Germany (for any of your who’ve ever flown internationally with pets through the military, you know that this is a HIGH-STRESS event).

I promise there is a reason why I chose to list out what I’ve accomplished this month. I wanted to show that just because we writers tend to fall on the side of “I haven’t accomplished anything,” doesn’t mean that what we’re feeling is the reality. So if you’re in a writing slump, take the time to make a list of the things you have accomplished during that time, it may take some of the pressure off.

Using Music for Inspiration & Motivation

“To me, movies and music go hand in hand. When I’m writing a script, one of the first things I do is find the music I’m going to play for the opening sequence.” — Quentin Tarantino

Anyone who’s seen a Tarantino movie knows that for the weeks following, at least one song from that soundtrack is playing on repeat in your head. For me, it was “Twisted Nerve” by Bernard Hermann (aka. The whistle song from the hospital scene in Kill Bill: Vol. 1). I may have re-watched Kill Bill over the weekend . . .

I have a couple theories why this happens (some more scientific than others), but that’s not quite the reason for this post.

When it comes to music, people listen to different things for different reasons. The runner listens to music that keeps them motivated. The late-night driver uses music to stay awake. The insomniac uses it to attempt to fall asleep.

But as creative’s, we use music in a different way. For me, music works as inspiration, motivation and reprieve.

When I’m working on a particular scene or chapter, like Mr. Tarantino, one of the first things I do is find a song that suits what I’m writing. (Granted, not exactly like Tarantino — I’m devoted to the print art form of writing novels.)

I create a play list for a couple of different reasons:

  1. When you get stuck at 400 words, music can help inspire the next sentence to get you onto your next writing spurt.
  2. When I’m transitioning from one thought to the next, music helps me take a step back to formulate a proper transition.
  3. Depending on the scene you’re writing, music can help you pull more emotion from your characters than you initially anticipated.

So if you’re getting stuck or feeling uninspired, take a minute to look at your iTunes (or whatever you use to store your music) and create a play list to help motivate you.

Happy Writing!

Inspiration vs. Dedication

As writers, we constantly struggle with productivity. We fret over our projects, sacrificing time, energy and sanity for them, but when we sit down to actually get work done, all of our notes and thoughts don’t translate to print. It’s like the muse just got up, left and took all the files with him.

For years, when I hit this brick wall of “writer’s block,” I would stare at the screen, write a sentence, rewrite said sentence, delete sentence then walk away. After all, why force it? If I force it, the writing will sound forced. Right?

But let’s be honest for a quick minute. “Writer’s Block” is really just a term we’ve put in place of procrastination to make us feel better. I know I’m guilty of it (see above “forced writing” excuse), but if there’s anything I’ve learned this past year, it’s:

  2. Polished manuscripts take numerous drafts, so you might as well pump out a vomit draft then make it gorgeous in revision.
  3. Sometimes looking at the big picture makes it difficult to identify individual small pieces. So don’t worry so much about the end product, focus on the individual plot points and eventually, your rough draft will start to look like a novel.

Basically, what I’m saying is writing a novel is a marathon. You just have to put one foot in front of the other.

A couple weeks [months] ago, Chuck Sambuchino, an editor at Writer’s Digest, tweeted the below quote:

“Don’t waste time waiting for inspiration. Begin, and inspiration will find you.” ― H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

I’m pretty sure this tweet was the revelation that motivated me through National Novel Writing Month. There were days where I stared at my screen and tried to find the right words to write.

The day that really sticks out to me of that entire month was the moment I made the transition from linear writing to non-linear.

I was sitting in Starbucks on November 5th attempting to write a scene between my MC and her [eventual] love interest. It was supposed to be the very first time the two characters communicated and the words just weren’t coming. I knew who both my characters were. I knew their intertwining story arches, but the words just weren’t coming.

Then Mr. Sambuchino tweeted that remarkable quote.

So I pulled out my outline and looked for a scene to write. This scene just happened to be the pinnacle of the characters’ relationship arch, which helped me write the evolution of their relationship in a more natural way. It also provided me with insight into both characters that I hadn’t quite had before.

In short, keep writing. Even if the words are awful and bland, just keep writing. Your first draft isn’t supposed to be perfect, plus your characters always find a way to throw a wrench in your perfect outline.

So stop fretting, don’t give up, and WRITE!

And follow @ChuckSambuchino on Twitter. Seriously, huge wealth of knowledge!

Happy writing, everyone!

My First NaNoWriMo: Pitfalls & How to Overcome Them

Holy crap, Batman! November’s almost over!

So for the last 26 days, I’ve been punch away at the 50k word challenge that is National Novel Writing Month. Being that this was my first time taking on the crazy challenge, I figured I’d share some tricks that I did to help me succeed as well as pitfalls I definitely ran into.

Before the month, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I mean I had some idea (after all, I am a research junkie), but I had a million and one insecurities and doubts running through my head. “Should I take this on?” “What if I get writer’s block?” “What if I come down with an epic case of laziness?” “What if I procrastinate until the last week, then have to sacrifice all sleep for the sake of meeting the goal?”

And my favorite insecurity leading up to NaNo: “What if I forget how to write?”

Well after I successfully validated my 50k words this morning (at 2 a.m. **cough cough**), I’m here to tell you that NaNoWriMo is totally doable.

What’s the trick? Just keep writing.

I know, I know. That’s what EVERYONE says, but there’s a reason for that: it works. Not going to lie to you, there were days I didn’t put one word to paper. I started off really well, knocking out 26k in the first week, but then I hit a dry spell where for nearly five days, I couldn’t (didn’t) open my laptop and get typing.

What got me out of that slump? A local Write-in with other NaNo participants in my area. Honestly, if it weren’t for those meet-ups with other writers, I probably would have lost a lot of motivation. I never put more words to paper than those nights I sat at a café and word-warred with other WriMo’s.

So for those of you who struggled with NaNoWriMo2014 or are contemplating participating in the future, next November, make time to participate in those Write-In’s.

Moving onto one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from other WriMo’s: Losing interest in your NaNo project.

Granted, it kind of depends on how far in you are with your word count, but if you’re halfway though or more, please please PLEASE don’t just throw in the towel.

Odds are you’ve just hit a wall in the story. So instead of giving up, I suggest you take some time to get to know your characters. Write a scene where your character shares their back-story or a scene where they’re pushed beyond their limits. It doesn’t matter if this scene doesn’t make it into the final draft, but count in toward your 50k regardless. Revision is for December. November is for writing.

This trick got me over many a [what I thought was] writer’s block. So instead of giving up, take a step back from the plot and get to know your characters.

Hope this helps you move forward with your writing project, whether or not it’s NaNoWriMo.

Happy Writing, Everyone!