Saturday, January 26, 2013

Create a Routine

A version of this entry appeared on January 19, 2013 at "Wonderings & Wanderings," my blog about living the writer's life. 

A regular writing routine sets a career in motion. Finding time is tough at first, so once you've set a schedule, it’s frustrating when life messes with it. It’s okay if the schedule is sporadic from time to time. It will settle back into place when the timing is right. Until then, try to write everyday – for at least 20 minutes. For several years this was the only way I accomplished any writing. I call it "writing in snippets of time." The time adds up. So does the writing. In six days you’ll have 2 hours’ worth of work. You’ll be amazed what you might accomplish. 

If family interruptions stifle your writing plans, it’s even more important to set a regular writing schedule. Not only will it help your family realize you're serious about your writing (and if you want to receive payment, it is at least a part-time job) but it helps you take your writing seriously. 

One woman I know posted “office hours” to help family get the point. Another made a “mailbox” by taping a file folder to the door. If the kids wanted to ask her something, they wrote it on a slip and put it in the mailbox, which she checked several times a day. Only emergencies warranted interrupting. 

If you have small children, they won’t understand that you’re “working” so you may have to focus on adding up paragraphs instead of minutes. Target writing one paragraph during nap time. They’ll build to a story or article in a few days. Every little bit helps. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Recharging Stalled Writing

I don't often have trouble with writers block. As a big talker it's rare for me to have nothing to say. During deadlines, though, I might freeze; sometimes because I'm working with a new editor and wonder whether I'm on target or not. Sometimes I even get stalled on projects without deadlines, such as my short stories and novel projects. When this happens, I use a variety of techniques to get the words flowing and rev the writing engine. 

1)   Listen to music. I've often used different types of music to get into the "mood" of a project. While writing The New Deal and the Great Depression (Enslow Publishers, 2000), I listened to Swing. When I wrote several Native American biographies for several specialty encyclopedias for The Gale Group, I listened to Native American flute music. I have a variety of favorite artists across a range of musical tastes and select whichever I feel will help me concentrate. 

2)   Journal of use a blank computer document. I'll focus on writing anything that comes to might just to get the thoughts rolling. Even if it's, "I have an article due on Friday and I need to focus on getting it done. I want to write about . . ." I keep typing until the words naturally flow into the begin writing the article, which is usually what happens. I then cut and paste the article or story verbiage into a new document (or my original project file) and continue writing. 

3)   Focus on one part of the project. Try thinking about a character. What is his or her problem? I'll make a list of events that will happen in the story (or points I want to convey in an article). Once I write something on the screen, I usually feel scenes and words coming to mind. Then I switch to a new document and write the story, or turn my list into paragraphs. 

4)   Switch "media." If I'm writing at the computer, I'll grab a legal pad and write longhand until the words flow. If I'm working on fiction, I might switch to nonfiction until those thoughts flow, then switch back. A few times I've focused on writing poetry which tapped into a different creative part of my brain or something. Focusing on the words, their sounds and syllables recharged my thoughts and I was able to return to the original writing task. 

5)   Switch "location." A change of scenery recharges. If I'm working in my office I might head to the lanai or living room. If that doesn't help, I might grab my laptop and head to a coffee shop or cafe. Sometimes I've even taken my digital recorder and "dictated" during a long walk. (Dragon Speak quickly transcribes which saves time.) 

I've been under deadlines on nonfiction projects when nothing was coming to mind and these methods worked. My mind recharged and before I knew it hours had passed and I'd written twice the amount needed. Try a few of these techniques yourself and create your own to recharge stalled writing. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Breaking Writer's Block

So, have your created goals for the year? I encourage my workshop students to, complete with action steps toward achieving them. Many who are in my workshops view the class as an action toward a goal. Perhaps you're doing the same, or perhaps you're reading some books on writing craft. If you're like a few of my workshop students, you may be facing a new problem -- freezing up or struggling to actually write. 

I rarely suffer from writer's block (the inability to write), but I have witnessed my students getting blocked. Often, keeping all the details they're learning about in mind causes new writers to freeze up. Writers block is often caused by fear or anxiety. Do I have what it takes? Am I making sense? Will editors post my manuscript on the “When we need a really good laugh” wall? What am I exposing about myself – either about my (un)creativity or my (lack of) communication skills?  What if my idea is no good? 

First, remember that all the craft details are for guidance. Don't worry about them as you put words onto paper; worry about them as you revise.  Think of your draft as your clay which you'll shape and add detail to later. Second, find a topic to write about that matters to you. Third, have faith in your skills and creativity! 

The following exercises should help you find a topic you are motivated to write about:  

1) Make a list of high points, low points, and turning points in your life. (What’s the best thing that ever happened to you? The worst? What events made a difference in your life?)

2) Think about specific incidents related to each event and assess what you learned from that encounter.

3) How might you turn the truth of each experience into the theme for a story or article? What events will you use to illustrate that theme? How will the main character grow or change by the end of the story (to realize that truth?)

Good ideas, passion for a topic, a desire to share, and faith in your skills are key to breaking the block. In the end, focus on having fun writing!