What I Learned From Finishing The First Draft Of My Novel

Manilla Church Title

So I did it. Yeah yeah, it’s finished. It was painful, hilarious, testing, stressful, simple, complicated, disastrous and most importantly; fun!

Regardless of whether it goes on to be published or not, there’s a lot of lessons to take from the experience (some of them expected, some of them surprising).

It’s Easier Than I Thought

So when I started out on this journey, I didn’t know whether I’d actually be able to get to the end. I’ve started many a story before, and normally one of three things happens:

1. I didn’t have a large enough idea, and it turns into a short story / novella.

2. I have another idea half way through, and then switch all my attention to that one.

3. I lose interest / grow intimidated by my own idea, and give up.

The struggle is real. And yet, with this little nasty, I managed to keep going and finish it. I started it on the 5th of March, and it was finished by the 2nd of June. It sits at 102,508 words, so it needs work. But getting there was a lot easier than I had anticipated. How I got there was simple.

"It's not rocket science, honestly"

“It’s not rocket science, honestly”

Setting Targets Pushed Through My Procrastination

I started out small, forcing myself to write 500 words a day. Easy peasy, lemons are squeezy. Then, once my brain and fingers were on side, tricked by my awesome scheme into seeing how easy 500 words was, I upped the count to 700. ‘You call that a challenge’ they cried, drunk on word counts and punctuation.

I ended up banging out 1,000 words a day, averaging 1,150 words a day in April and May. I know this, because I made a spreadsheet that I could log my totals into every night. This seems geeky, I know. But hear me out. I’m a child of sandbox computer games, so my brain responds to simple stimuli like upgrades, xp, and stats. If I can develop this real world data to reflect the effort I’m putting into myself and one of my hobbies, it gives me personally, an extra level of satisfaction. Gone are the wasted days of thinking about wanting to write. In their place, a tangible, real-time record of every word I’ve written.

It might not be everyone’s flavour, but it certainly worked for me.

Nerd Alert

Nerd Alert

Write It, Warts and All

The only way I could realistically squeeze a thousand words into my day (taking me anywhere from 30-60 minutes) was to just write them out, knowing I’d be back at a later date to edit. Unrestricted word slamming, churning word-chunder onto the page without stopping to wipe it up. Groovy.

For the purists out there, I know this might sound like a nightmare. A friend of mine prefers to write the detail now, rather than know it will need to be returned to later. For me, this was too much of a start / stop approach, and I’d quickly be demotivated as the mammoth task facing me would seem like an overbearing mountain. Hence by doing it my way, each day felt like a tangible step in the right direction, even if I knew what I’d written might be dogshit.

Also, this gives you the chance to rant out key facts, feelings, scene setting or monologue and know it will be returned to and tidied up later.

Sure, if a single scene feels like it needs attention, or the desire to edit is so strong you can’t fight it, then there’s nothing to say you can’t do that. It’s flexible.

Just remember, a thousand words a day gets you to a novel in about three months. That’s decent. Then you’ve got three months to edit. At that pace, you could write 20 novels in your twenties alone!

It also helps break the story down into sections, instead of one long road. First draft done? OK. Now, on to draft two. Instead of stopping every few paces to check your laces are tied, you’re sprinting to the end and worrying about it then. Sure, you might have more blisters, and the laces will probably be frayed, but you got there. You did it.

"Wooo"

“Wooo”

Fail to Prepare and Prepare to Fail

I read a post recently on the wonderful Terrible Minds (Chuck Wendig’s personal writing blog) about the need to plan your story. The post is actually by another writer named Rob Hart, and he uses the analogy of building a house when talking about constructing a story. In his own words:

It was like if you’re building a house, but the blueprints are constantly getting changed, and the builders aren’t communicating, and suddenly there’s a toilet next to the fridge. And you have to figure out how to move it, but once you do, it screws with the plumbing lines… (read the original post here)

I can’t think of a more lovely way to put it; once you’ve set stuff up, moving characters, threads, plots, pivots, all of it can be disastrous if not thought about and juggled with sense and purpose. And both of these things come from a solid plan. Though it’s tempting to plan as you go, and write on the coat-tails of inspiration, you’ll hit trouble if you haven’t set out in advance, clearly, the threads and pathways your story will take.

When I started out writing the story, I had a brief idea, and a few characters in mind. I wrote these out in a notebook, then left them there. I then took a long train ride and pondered the greater story (with no writing) – my thinking being that I’d work through the gunk in the filter and get to the good stuff.

Then I slept on it, and thought over it some more. The gutsy stuff I’d come up with didn’t seem so necessary in the cold of the following morning. So I erased a few random details, and looked to string together the rest in a different way. Then again. And again.

I tried to explain the story to a friend, and realised it had no purpose, and no overall meaning. Ultimately, you should be able to sum up your story in one sentence. I went away again and pondered this, simplifying and removing and adding until I had it.

I ended up with a story that had a start, a middle, and an end. I planned this out by hand, then on my PC.

Finally, I was ready to start writing, and the rest took care of itself. It changed (a lot), but having a base, and an idea of what was going to happen, when, and why, meant I had the minerals to concoct and adapt. The elements were the story components, and once identified, it made this particular method of word alchemy that much easier. And crucially, the toilet never ended up in the kitchen!

There were other complications though...

There were other complications though…

90,000 Isn’t So Big

In fact, it’ll creep up on you in no time. I planned the story to fall into three clearly identified sections of 30,000 words each. Each of these sections was divided further into three 10,000 word portions. This really helped with the planning and staging, and mean’t I had clear signposts to measure my progress, and make sure I didn’t waffle on in certain parts.

In the end, this total disappeared into the rear-view mirror, and I know for sure I’ll need to cut it down once the editing begins.

Still, it’s nice to have too much and not enough.

"OK, no need to show off"

“OK, no need to show off”

It Came to Life

It really did. I’d sleep and dream about the characters, and wake up in the middle of the night with great ideas. I’d scramble through my bedside table finding my pens and paper to jot down these ideas, only to wake in the morning and realise it didn’t fit, or that I’d already written it out like that.

The ideas grew, and the story started to tell me what was happening. Ideas came to me seemingly from nowhere, ideas that slotted in perfectly and tied up loose ends I didn’t realise I had.

Once the ball was rolling, and I was regularly checking in with my characters, everything just seemed to gather its own head of steam.

Once you get going, you won't be able to stop

Once you get going, you won’t be able to stop

It’s Possible to Hate a Wordfile

By the end, I was dog tired, and completely and utterly ready to finish. It took more will power than at any other moment to finally finish it. I knew the ending, and knew exactly how I wanted it to end. So creativity wasn’t the issue. It was the effort. The effort of knowing that it needed finishing, even after all the energy and time I’d put into it. Like it was a spoiled child or something. I was just desperate to be able to say the words; I’ve finished. It’s done. It’s over.

The funny thing is, now it is over, I realise in reality it is actually only just beginning. Following the advice of Stephen King, it sits in a desk drawer at the moment, maturing and hopefully not stagnating and fermenting. My hope is I’ll open the draw in August and find a novel waiting for me that I can be proud of, and one I can work on through the next few months and finish.

I guess we’ll wait and see…

surasakiStock

I’d love to hear about your experiences writing, and the struggles, stories, or surprises you have encountered. Please comment below.

Special thanks to Anamwong, Marco Torresin, Marin, Stockimages, surasakiStock, and tiverylucky @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

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The End Is NighTier Than The Words: A Few Ways To End Your Story

Sunset Title

All good things must come to an end. We learn that as kids. Whether it was your Summer Holidays, a massive bucket of ice cream, or living in a house and not having to pay rent; all of these wonderful things, at some point, have to finish.

Stories are no different. How many times have you been getting lost in a book, turning each page in desperate anticipation, only to find yourself die a little inside as you feel the pages in your right hand get thinner and thinner. It creeps up on you, and eventually you’ll start to ask yourself “how’s it going to end? It can’t end like that! Not to them! I must know. I muuust!”

Equally, how frustrating is it to get to the end of a story you’ve really enjoyed, and invested hard earned money and time into, only to find out that ‘it was all a dream’ or that the hero never actually went to the moon after all.

Bloody Off Pissing. That’s what!

And yet as writers, so many of us don’t give our stories the endings they deserve. This could be from ‘writer’s fatigue’, where we’re so desperate to just be finished with the damn thing that we’ll write any old dot-connector if it will mean we can go back to procrastinating. It might also be down to a feeling that the story only really needs to be finished, not completed. And that is another missed opportunity!

The ending is the grand finale, and as such is the culmination of everything that’s happened. Imagine if Lord of the Rings stopped when Frodo throws the ring in the lava of Mordor. OK, fine, he’s finished the quest. But where’s the sense of finality? Where’s the closure?

So what can be done about it? Fear not! There are myriad ways, and they’re all outside your window, trying to help you…

graur codrin

“Come Eeeeeen”

The Ol’ Switchemaroo

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading – Lao Tzu

Some stories make use of tropes and cliches to make a story easy to follow. Though these will achieve that (a real selling point for casual readers who may want to read and unwind, not face confusing or non-conforming alternative texts) it can also make them predictable or repetitive. So why not confound your genre and throw a twist or two in ther?

Books to check out for inspiration: The Other Hand by Chris Cleave or The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez (we hope you like crying, ‘cos this book’ll give you a bout of the ol’ face leaks). I’d love to recommend Fight Club too but, by this point if you haven’t already heard about this one, then chances are you’ve been frozen at the North Pole since the end of WW2. And in that case, welcome back Captain America. I’m still team Stark, but whatevs…

artur84

We don’t have a budget for pictures of Hollywood films. So instead, enjoy this postbox. It’s made of iron, man! (and it’s red)

The Sequel Setter-Upper

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end – Seneca

Of course, closure isn’t for everyone (we’re looking at you Hollywood), and sometimes it’s nice to leave a story open, at a point we can always revisit later on; whether this be done as a cliffhanger, or more of the feeling of the end of a chapter setting us up with a taster of what’s coming next.

Maybe you’ve already thought about the next installment in your head, and want to establish a story but haven’t got the time / word count left to put it all into this story. No problemo! It may end up spawning a multi-book story (such as Harry Potter) or even a whole universe of linked stories (such as the Discworld series).

Books to check out for inspiration: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, or A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin are all a good start. For our younger readers, I recommend the Hunger Games trilogy.

photostock

Not those kinds of hunger games you pervert!

The Character Piece

Some people like you, some people don’t. In the end you just have to be yourself – Andres Iniesta

Often we’ll read a story where we just fall in love with the character. Perhaps we see ourselves in them, or perhaps we admire that they do what we wish we could do ourselves. Whatever the reason for our adoration or enjoyment, we connect with these characters. And more times than not, seeing them reach a conclusion that befits their personality or personal growth feels like the only way to end.

Books to check out for inspiration: Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Fancy something a little deeper? Give Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig a go.

vectorolie

Like your own children, some characters are easier to love than others…

The ‘Giving the Reader What They Want’

I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end – Margaret Thatcher

Like Ramsey Bolton (formerly Snow) getting his face chewed off by his own hunting dogs (oh wait, umm, I meant to say SPOILERS there but, if we’re honest, anyone who cared about that GoT fact would already have seen it, right?), sometimes getting what we want from our books and stories is that much more delicious because we’ve had to wait for it, even if we saw it coming a mile off. This covers the ‘classic stories’ such as The Odyssey, but also more contemporary tales too.

Books to check out for inspiration: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. For something from the canon, the subtlety of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë has stood the test of time.

Graphics Mouse

How readers probably want to feel after a book. Or something…

The Journey

I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be – Douglas Adams

Concluding a story isn’t always about the characters, or even the plot, but sometimes it’s about the journey; both spiritual and physical. Whether it be from boy to man, border to border, or escaping Samsara, there’s plenty of places for our characters to end up.

Books to check out for inspiration: On The Road by Jack Kerouac is a classic for a reason, or The Alchemist gives you a taste of both the body and the mind’s journey through life.

For something a little different try Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Written in 1922, this books was ahead of it’s time and still rings true to this day. It’s a book I’ve read over and over when travelling through South East Asia.

khunaspix

Lead the way little man…

The Darkness

A real failure does not need an excuse. It is an end in itself – Gertrude Stein

All this talk of happy endings and completion has averted from the elephant in the room; the sad or at least the unhappy ending. Sometimes the emotional weight we carry through a story can overwhelm us when we reach its completion. And like life, it won’t always end with rainbows and butterflies, no matter how much we want it to.

I have a secret hunch that some people enjoy this feeling of loss and or emotional dejection. Me? Hell no. I’ve dated enough banshees to get my fill of emotional heaves and hos from the real world. But if this is your flavour, fill yourself up. There’s plenty of these particular barracuda in the literary sea…

Books to check out for inspiration: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next by Ken Kesey, or A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

Theeradech Sanin

Lip up Fatty. It’s only a story (about real life. The long, painful, lonely, depressing march from the freedom of youth to the painful, aching loss of death). *sigh*

The Payoff

The end crowneth the work – Elizabeth I

This is no depressing novel, so let’s end on something a little more upbeat. That’s the stories that finish with a main character getting their just desserts! Whether it’s all the pieces of their plan falling into place at the right time, them figuring everything out and seeing the results, or just them getting what they’ve spent the whole story working so hard to achieve, these stories tend to leave a long lasting glow in the reader.

Books to check out for inspiration: Any of the Philip Marlowe books by Raymond Chandler (or a lot of other detective / private eye novels, for that matter). Alternatively, give Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts a look. Though this book falls into many of the categories mentioned above, I feel it’s ultimately seeing the main character get to a point where it all pays off that is one of my favourite things about the story.

 

kittijaroon

“Who’s a good boy?”

 

Something missing from this list? Let me know your favourite type of ending in the comments below. Got a story to recommend too? I’m all ears!

 

Special thanks to artur 84, Graphics Mouse, graur codrin, khunaspix, kittijaroon, photostock, Theeradich Sanin and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog. Also, an extra special thanks to PC Chen for her photo too.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

NaNoWriMo Now; Tips for Success in November’s Novel Writing Month

quill for logo black700 copy

Ok guys, I know. It’s been too long.

Where have we been?

It’s been one of those months.

But, look around the corner. NaNoWriMo is nearly upon us!

“Hey there”

NaNoWri… What?!

Some of you know it, some of you don’t. For those unfamiliar with this wonderful portmanteau, it stands for

NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth.

It started out in the July of 1999 in the San Francisco Bay Area; a friendly challenge amongst 21 pals. By the following year, it had grown to be a (partially) international event, with its own website! It was during this second year that most of the current rules were formed, based largely on the editing experience of the founder, Chris Baty.

By the third year, those running the event had assumed it was going to draw a healthy 150 participants, when in reality around 5,000 showed up! You can read the account of events by one journalist, Kara Platoni of the East Bay Express, here.

After a bumpy year adjusting to increased site traffic and a new found popularity, the fourth year brought harmonious relief in the shape of a more automated and therefore swifter system ready to accommodate the ever increasing number of participants. Of course, that wouldn’t last for long…

Since then it has grown year on year into the mighty beast it is today; represented in nearly every part of the world, from Estonia to Australia, and Seattle to Beijing. It’s had its fair share of challenges, trials and tribulations, but the result is a wonderful annual event for the professional and amateur writer.

The journey from its humble beginnings is one worth a read if you have the time, and demonstrates the power of one man’s dream. See the story in the words of the founder here.

“Dreamy”

OK, but how does that help me?

Whether you’ve heard of it or not, it cannot be denied that an event such as this will:

  • help you focus your writing by forcing you to regularly sit down and knock out some wordthings
  • enable you to see from within what the writing process involves, both the euphoric and disastrous
  • give you a sense of achievement if you actually finish the damned thing

So what’s stopping you?

“You know, besides the obvious”

But I don’t have the time

Which is kind of the point. A lot of people say they’ve got a great novel inside them, but they just don’t have the time to knock one out. NaNoWriMo forces you to engage with your inner word beast, and wrestle the behemoth onto the page. Knowing you only have to keep it going for 30 days means you are much more likely to give it your all; if you really don’t like it, you can count down the days until it’s over. In the meantime, you’ll be writing and writing, and barely have a chance to think about anything else.

Consider how many stories were written in the early hours before work, or late at night after the kids had gone to sleep. So many authors have to juggle full time work, marriage, children and other commitments with their writing. NaNoWriMo is a chance to try out re-adjusting your scheduling, and also a chance to see what you’re capable of if you put your mind to it.

On that note, it doesn’t just have to be for writers. The challenge itself could be for anyone.

“Anyone, you say?”

Sounds great! How do I get started?

Let’s imagine the fundamental elements of a story:

  • An outline = A beginning, a middle, and an end, including the key event that sets up the journey, and the final destination the story is building towards (the climax)
  • Some characters = A hero and a villain (in the classic set up)
  • Setting = The Nile river? London? Palau? Basque Country? The Moon? Once you decide the what and who, start to think about the where
  • The other bits = These can come organically, or prepared, but what will really grab people’s interest into your story is the how (things are going to happen) and the why (should the reader care).
i.e. Make sure it doesn't suck

i.e. Make sure it doesn’t suck

Let’s do it

Grab a pen, sketch out some ideas, and run with it. The goal here isn’t to write the best story of all time, or even of your generation. It’s about finishing something and being able to say “I did it!”

Those who hit the target word count of around 50,000 words are known as ‘winners’, and there’s all kind of memorabilia you can get to symbolize your wonderful achievement, from t-shirts to mugs!

That aside, it’s the personal feeling of completion that rocks hardest. How cool would it be to say ‘I wrote a novel’!?

Visit the NaNoWriMo website today and take a look around. You can set up an account in minutes, find your local writing community, and make a go of it. And the best part is it’s all completely FREE OF CHARGE!!

“Wahoo!”

Tips for Success

  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
  • Think about it in terms of daily goals of around 1666 words, not as one big daunting mountain of 50,000 words, to keep from becoming demotivated.
  • Write first thing when your will power is at it’s highest and your brain hasn’t been depleted by a day of work and life.
  • Don’t lost sight of where you want to end up. The story can take a million twists and turns, so long as it ends up at an ending that satisfies the questions that were raised on the way.
  • Try and have fun!

 

We at IQ will be taking part, and we’ll be updating our progress on this blog. If you are also taking part, let us know in the comments. Come along and join us on the journey!

Useful Links

The NaNoWriMo website

Writer’s-World writing tips

Writer’s Digest tips for writing a book in 30 days

The Storyist NaNoWriMo preparation help

Special thanks to Ambro, David Castillo Dominici, marin, stockimages and Stuart Miles,  @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

15 Websites for Writers

Writers Logo

What is writing?

Some say, it’s merely the act of putting information into a textual format so as to be understood by another. Do you agree? I’ve always wondered, could it be more? Is it not the coming together of two minds, one active and one passive, as ideas and images are exchanged through the power of words?

It could be time travel, as claimed by Stephen King. Words are bridges from one mind to another, and their power is locked in books in a suspended animation, a lexical and semantic cryogenics that spans the ages.

What of the thoughts of writing as an art form? Tapping the human condition, are those lucky enough to tap the multi-verse of enlightened wit, pomp and vernacular; our writer-come-guides.

But are writers travellers, hiking through the jungle of their imagination? Or are they more wizards, conjuring from nothing? Some might even argue they are alchemists, forging golden words from seemingly worthless parts.

At the moment, the jury is out.

Regardless of your opinion of what makes a writer, do you believe it is possible for anyone to access the vastness of the creative mind and reproduce it in words on a page? I’m an idealist, and a believer in the idea we all originate from one great consciousness. Why shouldn’t artistic ability be a shared trait? Sure, some can alienate their natural talent with distractions and different motivations, but we all ultimately emerged from the same awareness of reality. Why can’t we all be scribes, scribblers and scratchers of the itch?

Whether you write for fun, write for profit, or write because to not write would be akin to stopping breathing or quitting eating, here’s some websites and blogs guaranteed to give you help on your creative journey, from inspiration to tips, grammar help and guides on how to get published!

broad focus

The Write Life

As the tagline of the site itself says “Helping writers create, connect and earn”. Providing a ton of aid to any writer lost in the vastness of the written world, you can expect to find a veritable Santa’s sack of useful information covering literally every aspect of the life of a writer.

Writing.com

A website with 15 years of experience bringing writers together. It’s packed to bursting with tools and opportunities for writers of all levels, from amateur to pro. It acts as a place for established writers to hawk their wares, and for avid readers to seek out the next big thing too, giving it an extra edge on similar help based websites.

Writer’s Digest

Speaking of experience, these folks bring over 90 years of experience creating tools for writers. This website offers a wide range of tools and help for writers of all levels, and is especially useful as the tips are industry specific, with tips and short cuts on all aspects of the publishing and writing world from those who know.

Daily Writing Tips

A great site that offers daily inspiration for all your writing needs, from spelling to punctuation, and from vocabulary to grammar. It also boasts its fair share of prompts and stimuli too.

fiction

Chuck Wendig

TerribleMinds.com is one of my favourite fiction writer websites. The author himself has various published books, and offers some free short stories on his site for you to check out. In terms of tips, his regular blog has many alternative approaches to common writerly questions, but it is the community and flash fiction challenges that really set him apart.

Fiction Notes

Experienced author, publisher and writing coach Darcy Pattison offers a wonderful platform for fiction writers giving extremely helpful blog posts aimed specifically at those putting together their writing. I find her approach to writing both meticulous and methodical, and she does not disappoint either with her approach to writing structure and the drafting process. Offering a very focused and direct view of writing with clear, concise models for you to emulate on your creative journey, it can help you to re-evaluate finished writing, or start off new projects with a much clearer idea in your head. Check out this post on Finding Your Novel Opening and then take it from there.

industry experience

The Renegade Writer

The whole ethos of this website, established by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell, is to empower you to live the freelance writer lifestyle on your terms, offering tips and tricks from inside the game.

Jane Friedman

Having over 15 years of experience in the publishing industry, Jane Friedman brings a wealth of expertise to her website, which boasts a blog offering veritable tit-bits of insider knowledge and industry know-how. If you’re trying to get published, or are new to the writer’s life, she’s a great starting point.

published

Writer’s Relief

A great site offering you help with how to submit to publishers. This covers the whole process, from start to finish, and for all levels from short poems and prose to 1,000 page epics. There is also a handy section on book design and e-books, both very useful for those looking to self-publish.

NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (1st-30th of November) is an annual opportunity for writers from all walks of life to come together and try to bash out a first draft of a novel in a short space of time.

As well as daily motivation and a supportive community of other writers, you will find a wealth of inspiration and information for your writing in their blog. There are also links to help you with what to do after you’ve finished your story, such as publishing and editing help.

prompts and practice

The Write Practice

The emphasis here is on guided practice making perfect. Posts from an assortment of different regular and guest contributors keep the content interesting and varied, and you’ll be hard pressed not to find something here that you can take away with you. Each post is followed by a relevant prompt focused on a sustained writing practice of about 10-15 minutes, with a thriving comments section for scribblers to share their work.

Write To Done

A wonderful site giving budding writers myriad posts to help you learn new skills in writing, and then relevant tasks to help you practice what you’ve learned.

As the Chief Writer Mary Jaksch puts it, “Write to Done is about learning to write better.

grammar

Grammarly

One of my favourite sites to use for checking niggling grammar queries and vocabulary expansion, but also offering a citation suggestion tool, all from it’s rather unique text checker. I discovered it while looking for a plagiarism checking service while marking my students’; another great feature!

Grammar Girl

If you’ve ever found yourself longing for a user friendly website that can cater for all your grammar, word use and punctuation queries, this is it. Chocka-block with helpful info presented in a captivating and concise layout, I thoroughly recommend this site for the budding grammarian!

online

Copyblogger

As Copyblogger says of itself:

“Since January 2006, Copyblogger has been teaching people how to create killer online content. Not bland corporate crap created to fill up a company webpage. Valuable information that attracts attention, drives traffic, and builds your business.”

If your writing needs are of a digital nature, and popularity/traffic/content are your buzzwords, you’d be hard pressed to top this site.

stock images

Not found anything you like? Check out this post on TheWriteLife.com that offers the 100 best websites for writers. If there is a site you know of that is just dying to be on this list, please let us know in the comments below!

Special thanks to stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

13 Tips for Smashing Writer’s Block

Writer's Block title

You know those moments when you finally get to sit down at your laptop/writing pad/typewriter/chisel and tablet, and you’re so excited to start writing. I mean, it’s coursing through your veins while you try so hard to put it on the page, but then…. nothing.

It’s stressful. The emptiness seems so barren and devoid of life and so empty – purgatory of the page!

It can happen to anyone. Hell, it does happen to everyone! Writer’s or not, we all find ourselves stuck for creativity sometimes. Whether you’re Jones trying to close the Wang account, or the city council trying to think of new ways to encourage recycling, creativity can be a cruel mistress.

That said, it doesn’t have to control you. Blocks are often formed from fears; the fear of failure, of not being good enough, or of not knowing where you are going. Well I say smite that fear! Smite it until it is smitten! Or rather, harness that energy and flip it into something else.

Like any obstacle, it can be beaten, nay destroyed!

I smite thee!

I smite thee!

Switch Subjects

Changing tac is a great way to take some pressure off of you and give your brain a chance to switch gears. Are you a fan of ancient Greek History? Why not summarise a favourite passage of text regarding an aspect of that part of history. If you’re struggling to write a sci-fi story, why not try writing a quick horror piece instead?

The idea is to trick your brain. It will either see how hard something else is and settle into your original topic much easier, or by getting a start on writing something else, you can switch back to the original topic and watch the words flow!

Behold the power of my words!

Behold; the power of my words!

Flex

This can be anything from taking a walk to 100 stomach crunches. The trick is to do something that gets the blood pumping and forces you to focus on something else for a while. Kurt Vonnegut liked to do exercises like push ups and sit ups during his writing time so as to keep himself disciplined. Many authors preach the benefits of yoga on focusing the mind and getting the blood flowing.

According to TheTelegraph.com, Dan Brown likes to hang himself upside down from gravity boots! Go ahead, try it. We’ll wait.

In the end, you just want to find something that gets you moving. Anything. Fencing, amateur gymnastic, pole vault or even sex, find a way of getting your heart rate up.

“Writing really takes it out of you”

Do Something Dull

Wash the dishes, brush your hair, feed the cat, clean the fan, polish your shoes… it could be anything, so long as it’s dull and it’s easy. Some of the best ideas seem to come when you’re in the shower, as that is when your brain runs on autopilot and you can focus on being a little creative, just like the above tasks!

Obviously, don't over do it and bore yourself!

“This is how I get all my best ideas”

Get Your Hobby On

You must find something to do that isn’t linked to writing or reading. I know, I know. What else is there, right? You might enjoy carpentry (or simple whittling), kazoo, lion taming or LARPing. Whatever brings you joy outside of the world of words offers you a great break from your writing, and you should come back refreshed and revitalised, perhaps even with a fresh perspective and a ton of new ideas.

“As long as it’s gnarly, bro”

Change the Timings

Sometimes, it can be a simple matter of trying to write at the wrong time. I am a personal fan of the morning write, and many great authors were too. Hemingway used to believe that writing was the most important task of the day, and should therefore be done first, often rising as early as 5am. Of course, maybe your schedule requires a late night write, or afternoon scribbles. Change it up, check the results.

Harness your early morning energy to reach your peak! (pun intended, lolz)

Harness your early morning energy to reach your peak! (pun intended, lolz)

Freestyle

Literally, write anything. Write new words, structure sentences so they become nonsense, hit the keyboard with different parts of your body and see what words are formed. This is a great way to give you a feeling of comfort and familiarity at the keys, but also so you can see an empty page fill up (and remember that feeling of progress).

I normally sit and write out everything in my head for fifteen minutes straight, and then delete it. Once I’ve cleared the pipes of the mould and mildew, I’m ready for the good stuff to flow!

Plumb the depths of your creativity... (ok, no more puns)

Plumb the depths of your creativity… (ok, no more puns)

Get Superstitious, Baby!

Now, I’m not talking about blood sacrifice or chanting (though, by all means, I’m open to creative approaches to superstition too), but something a little smaller, such as wearing your lucky shorts or drinking a certain drink. According to TheTelegraph.com:

“Some writers find that they can only write in particular circumstances. Philip Pullman needs a ballpoint pen and lined A4 paper with two holes in it. Two. Not Four. Stephen King on the other hand starts his day with vitamins and tea before sitting down to write at exactly 8am. He needs to have the papers on his desk arranged in precisely the same way.”

Sometimes we can train ourselves to be most productive by giving ourselves certain mental cues. It can’t hurt to try.

Whatever gets you in the zone

Whatever gets you in the zone

Read, read, read (and read)

Like an apprentice sculptor watching a master at work, you will get better just by being around such greats. Bury your nose in some classics, or churn through some schlock rubbish; it all matters. Read what you love, read what you hate. Read books by men, by women and by children. Read books about cats and books about dragons. Read in your genre and outside it. Read fiction and non-fiction. Everything will make you a batter writer. Everything. Whether it’s the instinct inside you to try to emulate the legends, or just an annoyance at a story written so poorly it hurts, you will find some form of fuel in there that will help your writing grow.

“See Emma, Gandalf does die”

Copywork

Why stop at reading, when you can full on plagiarise! We wrote before (here) about the benefits of using copywork as a warm up exercise before writing, but it can also be a fruitful way of battling writer’s block.

Essentially, you just copy parts of other’s work (making it gradually more difficult by forcing yourself to remember greater and greater amounts) and see how your remembered sentences compare to that of the original author. Some say it’s outdated, some say it’s fantastic. Whatever the case, it definitely gets you writing! Just don’t actually use other people’s work in your writing as that is stealing!

“Huh?”

Try Short Prompts

Sometimes, writer’s block comes from a place of intimidation at the overwhelming size of a task ahead of you. So start small. Give yourself little prompts that shouldn’t take you more than five minutes. You should write solidly for a short period of time, and then read back through. Some ideas:

  • What went through your mother’s head when she found out she was pregnant with you
  • Explain the colour red to an alien
  • Describe a photograph you have
  • Talk about a time you did something scary
  • Describe the ending of your favourite film

There are lots for you to choose from. WordPress has it’s own Daily Prompt site here, or even this one at Writer’s Digest. For those on Twitter, a simple search will bring up hundreds (literally) of writing prompt accounts to follow.

“I’ll give you writer’s block!”

Look Back

That’s right, stand on the precipice of writer’s block and turn back to look for work from your past. Stare into the eyes of old characters you have and immerse yourself in old scenes you’ve written. Sometimes it can be a cringefest to rummage through writing from your younger years, but sometimes this writing can give you a wealth of stimulus for new scratching. If you’re anything like me, you’ll start editing as you go and voila – you’re writing again! You never know what you’ll find…

“Monsters, Magic and Twinkies”

Change the Setting

I have a writing area set up in my apartment, while some writers prefer the company of others and so set up shop in a cafe or library. Wherever you write, perhaps experiment with writing in an unfamiliar location that has many aspects that are opposite to where you sit now. In fact, just simply not sitting might do you the world of good. You could try converting your desk into a standing desk, as sitting is actually really bad for us. The Art of Manliness has a great post here on how to set this up properly.

“I always stand when I create!”

Wander in Wonderment

This could be in a bookshop, in a library, a museum or even just your local community centre. They key is, you want to go somewhere that has an energy and also a little ambiance, and can give you the chance to occupy your mind with casual browsing.

After you’ve wandered for a time, you should start to feel ideas coming back to you. If this doesn’t happen, perhaps be a little more forceful with yourself and start to look for ideas. The bad ones may come thick and fast at first, but wading through these you will always lead to something better that you can build on. Challenge yourself to have five to ten new ideas before you are allowed to leave. If you really enjoy yourself, perhaps flesh them out with more detail (a character’s appearance, a hero’s monologue, a villain’s trait).

“How many good ideas I’ve had this week”

There are myriad things to try of course, so above is not supposed to be a definitive list of them all. What do you try? I have a friend who is obsessed with silence, and so uses ‘pink noise’ (like white noise but a lower frequency) recordings on YouTube to block her ears. I have another friend who believes in caffeine as the paramount stimulus, and so doesn’t even think about writing before having three cups of coffee…

Special thanks to Ambro, Apolonia, Chaiwat, criminalatt, David Castillo Dominici, imagerymajestic, khunaspix, phasinphoto, photostock, porbital, Serge Bertasius Photography, stockimages and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015