Beating Writer’s Block

Hey all, Dani here.

So, I recently came across this article from Writer’s Circle: 10 Tricks, Tips, and Techniques to Beat Writer’s Block. With Camp NaNoWriMo literally just around the corner, I decided it would be a good topic to discuss right now, because hey, we have all faced writer’s block at one point or another.

I actually like all the tips mentioned in the article, and they can be quite useful when you find yourself stuck.

Another huge tip that I have used in the past is to work on a different project. Sometimes the block is with the story you’ve been working on for a while and so writing on some random side project can actually get those creative juices flowing again and get you back on track.

This is something I have done the past few years with NaNoWriMo, having a secondary project for if the words just aren’t flowing. Most of the time I end up writing anywhere from 2,000 to 15,000 words on the side project over the course of the month. It saves me from having a number of days where I write very few words because I just can’t get my characters to cooperate.

I especially enjoy the Writer’s Circle tip of unplugging for a while. It is even more effective during the sessions of Camp NaNoWriMo, where I find that it can be fun to get out of the house, library, or coffee shop, and go to a park or the beach or a campground, just me and my notebook…and sometimes my iPod because I like to write while listening to music. Looking at that article again I guess I totally just combined two tips: unplug and change your surroundings. Seriously, it is super helpful. Being somewhere different from usual helps you to see things in a different light and to think about events from another perspective. Plus you break up the monotony of your routine just a bit.

I’ve also broken out of my writer’s block by talking to my fellow writers. Not only do we discuss books we love, the shows and movies we’ve been watching, and whatever else we can think of, but we also talk about where we are with our writing. Talking through whatever issues you have with a fellow writer who can listen and then fire off some suggestions can be a great way to get out of that writing slump. It is a technique I have used many times before and has led to wonderfully elevated daily word counts.

I suppose this leads to my next tip: word wars. Whether you set up writing sprints for just yourself or participate in timed challenges with other writers, having that pressure of a deadline plus the drive of competition really works…or at least it does for me. When I can’t find a fellow writer to write with, I just open up my Write or Die app and set the timer for 15-30 minutes and just write as much as I can during that time.

Now is the time to mention that I keep myself motivated on these solo challenges by rewarding myself once I’m done. So, I’ll write for 30 minutes which usually gets me about 1500 words. To celebrate I allow myself to watch an episode of something from my DVR list, or I let myself have 30 minutes of reading time. This also allows my fingers some time to rest and recharges my mind with the creative output of other individuals.

One of the biggest tips I have for beating writer’s block is that it is okay to step away from writing for a couple of days to focus on your own well-being. Readers and fans will understand that you aren’t a machine, and if you take the time to keep yourself well-rested and healthy then you will be in a much better shape to get back to writing. It’s fine to be selfish every once-in-a-while. The story will still be there after you’ve taken a weekend off to rejuvenate.

Thanks for reading everyone. I’m really hoping to keep going with my one post a week through April, but that really depends on how my writing is going with Camp NaNoWriMo. Then again, if I’m really lucky I’ll be able to write up a couple posts in the next couple days so I’m ahead of the game.

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Proud Bibliophile

Hey all, Dani again.

So, I consider myself a huge bibliophile. Seriously. What is a bibliophile? Well, for those that don’t know, here’s the definition:

1.

a person who loves or collects books, especially as examples of fine or unusual printing, binding, or the like.

I am a total and complete book addict and I am not at all ashamed of it. In the past I’ve had friends joke that I would starve myself to buy books, and that’s partially true. I did spend a few months completely unemployed but I still found a way to buy the newest Richelle Mead book at the time. Of course I also signed up for an account on NetGalley so I could read a bunch of free ARCs in exchange for just writing up book reviews.

If I didn’t desperately need to have a thorough spring cleaning event in my room I would share my shelfies with you all right now. I’ll try to get everything organized and do that at some point in the future.

So, I guess instead I’ll just show you my latest book haul:

 

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I already have so many more books on my TBR list and yet I can’t resist that siren call of the book store. I’ve tried to limit myself as much as possible lately, writing down a list of my must-buy books and then only every couple months going out and just browsing in a bookstore for whatever sounds good. Sometimes, though, it is really hard to do. I mean you guys have seen how many awesome books seem to come out each month. What is a book addict supposed to do in that sort of situation?

You should see what it’s like when I go to Comic Con. I spend a lot of time walking up and down the rows in Artists’ Alley looking for all of the author stands and I buy a good number of them. Bonus with those books: they’re signed by the authors, which is always so freaking awesome. I treasure those memories and those books. Who am I kidding, I treasure all of my books, but still, the signed ones are special.

And I just want to read all of my books, but then I have my full-time job, where I work at least 44 hours a week, but sometimes I work up to 60 hours a week. Then I have my other big job, which definitely doesn’t pay the bills, but does fulfill that creative part of my soul, being an author. And I try to put a lot of work into it. There’s so much to do with writing, editing, figuring out schedules and goals, social media, keeping up with the blog, and this year I’m planning two convention appearances. It takes a lot of time and energy to do all of that.

Oh, and I did mention earlier that I do need to clean my room, and my writing office. I don’t think the clutter is helping with my creativity at all. Lately I haven’t even been going into my office much, which has a side effect of me constantly being surrounded by my six bookcases. It’s like I can hear the books calling out to me, begging to be read.

Of course, that is probably why I so often procrastinate on the writing so I can read. That only leads to me feeling guilty about putting off something I need to do. Over the years I have realized that I find it difficult to write when I’m in certain moods. Some of the how-to writing books say that writing needs to be treated like any other full-time job, where you sit down and do the work even when you don’t feel like doing it, but I find that leads to a lot more work down the road when I’m editing because it all sounds horribly forced.

I’m dealing with that issue right now. I really need to finish my writing for Project Death: Revelation, and I’d really like to finish my work so I can have the book out to my beta readers by the end of March. That way, I can spend April and Camp NaNoWriMo focused on writing the third book in the series, Project Death: Redemption.

Yet, I have this lovely stack of books that I really want to read. Plus the books that I’ve been trying to finish for a while despite being preoccupied by a dozen other things.

Then today I got a lovely package in the mail. I decided to try this monthly book lovers’ subscription service, LitCube. I had watched a few LitCube unboxing videos when comparing it with other book related subscription offerings and settled on LitCube because there actually is a book included in the box, not just theme related items. It’s a pretty cool variety of items in the box, including a t-shirt and a book, plus this one had a journal, a candle, a Time Turner necklace, and a fruit bar. The March theme was Time Travel, and I have to say that the book (Loop by Karen Akins) sounds pretty interesting. I’ve already ordered the April box, which is themed the Anniversary of the Dragon. Plus, they have a special limited edition Gilmore Girls box too, so I had to get that as well.

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Anyway, I’m pretty pleased with it, and I kind of want to start reading the book, but I have all those other books to read, and the writing I really should be doing.

I guess this is a problem to face when you have an obsession with buying and collecting books. I’m sure if I was a bit better at time management I could fit more reading and writing into my schedule. I should work on being more disciplined.

So yeah, I really love books, and I will never feel like I own too many of them. I think my personal library contains at least 2,000 books, and all I can do is think about where my next bookcase will go when I run out of room again. Answer: I’ll either have to reorganize my closet and install shelves there, or downsize my king sized waterbed so I can add more bookcases around the room. When I finally manage to move, I’m going to get a serious workout carrying all the books out.

And again, I will try to get my room cleaned up enough so I can take pictures of my bookcases soon. I’ve been wanting to clear out the clutter for a few months now. Maybe I’ll try to do that this weekend. That will prepare me for Camp NaNoWriMo and will give me a better idea of where my next bookcase can go.

After all, more excellent books will be arriving in bookstores soon enough, and I have a list of what to buy. I love being a bibliophile.

Author vs Social Media

Hey all, Dani here for my regularly scheduled post. If you have the time, please check out my post from yesterday. I’m trying something new and your comments will be very helpful.

Today though, I want to talk about something that is likely an issue with a number of us writer types out there…the giant time suck of social media.

Now look, I know that social media is important for reaching out to fans, old and new, and it helps to get all that important info of your books and blogs and everything out there, but I also know (because I’m very guilty of it) that social media is a major procrastinator tool as well.

We spend a lot of time posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, our blogs, etc. Granted, yes, there are some authors who have friends or personal assistants or whatever who can take on some of the social media presence burden, but for us little self-published people, all the work falls on our shoulders.

Let’s not forget that some people actually can keep focused and just log on for a couple minutes to respond to comments, write up a post or two, and then log off and hole up in the writing cave. Sadly, I am not one of those people, though I wish I could be. It’s something to work on. Maybe I’ll get there someday. Anyway, I mean to get on, post and respond to comments, and then if I’m lucky 10-15 minutes later I can close the windows and open up my manuscript and get to work.

Instead, I log in and then get distracted by the news feed, and posts from friends, and news articles with catchy headlines, or hey, oooh videos…and the next thing I know I’ve been online for over an hour and have accomplished next to nothing.

So, how can we find a balance between our work writing novels/stories/poems and being present online?

Back in college I used to set little goals for myself…basically, write that 3 page paper and then you can watch that episode of your show you missed last night, or answer those ten forensic science homework questions and you can log into Facebook for a while. Mostly it worked, but I know there would be times where I’m writing a paper and after about a page my mind would wander and I would have to take a few minutes to scroll through my news feed before I could focus again.

Maybe that could work for you. Set a word count goal or a time goal and write until you have reached that goal. Then, allow yourself 10-15 minutes to check social media. There are some helpful tools if this method is your style too: WriteorDie, Written? Kitten!,  750words, and 4thewords just to name a few.

Write or Die is a fun app that is available online for free, or you can buy the desktop version. You can set a time goal or a word goal and then if you hesitate too long in your writing you will be motivated by a pop up screen, or your screen can turn an angry red color, or it will play an annoying sound until you start writing again, or if you’re feeling sadistic then you can set it to start removing the vowels from your writing until you start up again. I have used Write or Die for a number of NaNoWriMo sessions and one time I actually managed to write 10,000 words in a day.

If Write or Die seems a bit too consequence filled for you, then maybe try Written? Kitten! This handy tool rewards you for writing. You can set it for kittens, puppies, or bunnies, or you can edit the URL so you can insert any sort of cute image you’d like. Then you can set it so you’re rewarded every 100, 200, 500, or 1000 words. When you reach that goal word count (like 200) then you’ll get a cute picture of a kitten or a bunny or a puppy, whatever. Then after the next 200 you’ll get a new picture. Written? Kitten! is also a very minimalist site so you won’t get distracted by other things (hopefully).

Then there’s 750words. I used this for a while during grad school and it was pretty cool. After you sign up, you are encouraged to write at least 750 words every day. Your results are marked in a scoreboard–sort of. It’s kind of like bowling scores…if you don’t reach 750 words you earn a spare, but if you do reach 750 words you get a strike. Do this for several days in a row and you can earn an achievement badge. There are even badges for being an early bird or night owl writer, and for writing your 750 words in just one setting.

Finally, last year during NaNoWriMo I learned about 4thewords. It’s kind of like 750 words, but if instead of bowling scores, it was like a D&D adventure. Writing words earns you experience points and coins. But you can choose to go on a “quest” and hunt monsters. Each monster has a certain health number; you defeat the monster by writing a number of words equal to their health number in a certain amount of time. Now, unlike the other options listed above, 4thewords is subscription based. You can get a 30 day free trial to check it out, but after that it’ll cost between $10-20, depending on which subscription length you’d like.

Of course…the other option for writing is to just avoid social media and the internet in general. Here’s where I’ll mention a cool app called Freedom. You can choose to block yourself from certain social media sites or the internet in general for a certain amount of time, and Freedom will not allow you to load any pages. Now, I know that Freedom can be worked around, whether that is using another device to access the internet, or by actually restarting your computer, but if you don’t try to cheat, Freedom can be helpful. And since you can choose to just block stuff like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, you’ll still be able to hop online to do research if necessary, or you know, if you’re one of those people who writes using GoogleDocs or something.

Freedom has a free plan that allows you to use Freedom on one device, with limited sites for individual blocking and it can block all of the internet. Then they have two paid options, one for $2/month and one for $3.75/month, but both are billed once a year (so $24 or $45). The cheaper one allows Freedom on three devices, while the more expensive is unlimited devices. They both allow you to schedule Freedom session in advance, utilize lockout mode, and assign different schedules for each device. The more expensive option also allows you to use mobile blocking, and to have access to discounted productivity courses from the partners of Freedom.

I probably need to get back to using Write or Die again…though I did enjoy my free trial of 4thewords, so I might just buy a subscription. When I trialed Freedom it didn’t have as many options as it does now, so it might be worth looking into again. Anyway, I hope that you find some of these productivity tools helpful. And if you know of any other ones, please let me know.

Now, I should probably log out of my blog and get back to writing.

Writing Challenge – Gideon Holycross

Hey all, Dani here. Yes, I know that it’s not Tuesday yet (my normal posting day), but I’m challenging myself to a new story, and I need your help with planning it. I also posted this on my Facebook page.

Several months ago after learning the last name of one of my co-workers, I told him that it was a cool name and I was going to use it in a story someday. Since then I hadn’t thought too much about it, but a few days ago the full name of the character finally came to me: Gideon Holycross.

Normally in my writing process this is when I’d start asking him about himself, hoping to learn enough to figure out his story so I can start plotting and drafting. However, part of me wants to try something different this time and see how it works out.

So I’m turning to my readers for some of the important details and events. I will put certain things to a vote and then the story will evolve based on the results.

What I know about this story already: it will be urban fantasy, though I haven’t decided on the exact location yet, and it will be set in the present, so 2016 and so on. I know most of you know what urban fantasy is, but for those who don’t it’s a story with fantasy elements such as magic or creatures, etc and it takes place somewhere (real or made-up) but the setting is just as important as the story. Think of stuff like the Dresden Files (Chicago), Charmed (San Francisco), or even the Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep set in a fiction city in Tennessee that feels very real to the readers.

I obviously also know that the main character of this story is Gideon Holycross. His appearance and personality will be determined partly by his occupation, so let’s start there. The other day I posted a question on my Facebook page, asking for suggestions for Gideon’s occupation. The options are: paladin, exorcist, knight, monster hunter, or member of a powerful religious family who runs an antique shop. Please vote for your favorite in the comments.

It’s also clear to me that Gideon Holycross does not work alone. Depending on his occupation he’ll have a squire, an assistant, a partner, or an acolyte. But, is that person male or female? Is this person a friend, a sibling, a romantic interest? Again, please vote in the comments.

Finally, if the partner is NOT a romantic interest, who is? Male or female? What is this person’s occupation?

My plan is to post a chapter of this story up each month, and sometimes I’ll take suggestions or have a vote for upcoming story events. That way I can’t plan too far ahead. If all goes well then I will edit the finished story and release a printed copy, and each person who has voted and commented throughout the writing process will be thanked and mentioned in the acknowledgments.

Who knows, maybe after this story has ended, Gideon Holycross will set out on another adventure. I’m trying to do something interesting that will also challenge me a bit.
So thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, and I hope you all enjoy the tale of Gideon Holycross. Depending on how many votes come in, I may be able to write up the first chapter by the end of March.

Packing for Camp (NaNoWriMo)

Hey all, Dani again.

I am always up for talking about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) any time of year, but especially in November, or in April or July –when Camp NaNoWriMo is held. I have written so many words and so many novels since I first tried NaNo back in November 2006. Since then it has become a huge part of my life.

In fact this year will mark my 9th year as a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo. I love planning meet-ups and write-ins and being available to talk to the Wrimos of my area and help them with their own writing projects.

NaNoWriMo in November is a writing challenge wherein participants attempt to write at least 50,000 words on a new novel during the 30 days of the month. And if you think of NaNoWriMo as the rule-abiding strict older sibling, then Camp NaNoWriMo is definitely the wild and free younger sibling who makes their own rules. For Camp you can write poetry, novels, short stories, screenplays, whatever. You can even work on editing for one of your writing projects. Camp NaNoWriMo allows you to set your own word count goal, anything from 30 words and up to a million (and they do have guidelines for how many “words” go into an hour of editing, etc.)

I treat Camp about the same way as I do NaNo, planning events in my area and being available in my cabin and in my region’s Facebook page. There’s even themes for each year of Camp, and this year it is the NaNoWriMo Garden of Creativity. So, the shirt looks like this:

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Mine arrived in the mail yesterday and I can’t wait to wear it. But now I’m reaching that period where I have to start preparing for the upcoming month of writing. That is the main focus of this post, to tell you about some of the ways I prepare for Camp NaNoWriMo, complete with some of my must-have items to assist in the writing process.

Obviously, having the new shirt is a must-have item for me. I feel like it is filled with creative energy and helps keep me motivated and focused on the task of writing a novel.

Other must-haves: a fresh notebook and a variety of writing utensils. I’m not always able to write at a computer or a desk, so having a notebook around really helps me to add to my word count. The variety of pencils and pens is helpful because I use a different type/color/etc depending on my mood or the mood of the scene. It’s possible that I’m just addicted to buying writing utensils.

Panera and Starbucks gift cards…these are helpful for when I schedule write-ins, especially since Panera is my regions go-to place. By stocking up on gift cards now, I don’t have to worry as much about having the money for food and caffeine when I should be worrying about my next scene or chapter.

New music playlist. I customize a soundtrack for each of my writing projects, and so I find it helpful in the days and weeks before Camp NaNoWriMo to select the songs I think will go along with the characters, the setting, the plot, or the mood of the story.

Finally, three or four books to read for pleasure. Now, I know this seems like an odd thing to include in a list for someone planning to spend the month writing, but sometimes when I’m stuck on a scene, I find it very useful to take a step back and let my mind wander somewhere else. Reading some other fantastical tale or epic adventure helps to restore my creative energies. Plus, I do have a goal to read at least 75 books this year and it feels wrong to skip a month (or technically three months since I participate in both Camp sessions as well as NaNoWriMo).

Some other people will include snacks on their list but not me. And another important must-have tool is a way to save your writing. I save mine in Scrivener, in my Dropbox, in Google Docs, and I even e-mail a copy of each chapter to myself, plus I print out a copy of each completed chapter. After a massive failure from my computer, my thumb drive, and my external hard drive all in the span of 48 hours, I do not take chances with my writing. I cannot stress enough how important it is to save your work regularly.

On the other end of my Camp preparation is gathering my cabin mates and then planning write-ins for my local region. For Camp NaNoWriMo you can be randomly organized into 12-member cabins, you can select a few friends who you might be placed with, or you can create a private cabin. I go the private cabin route and invite a few of the other Wrimos I’ve met along the way, as well as a few people from my local region. I find it helpful to be around other writers who I can trust to participate the whole month and who have been around to make the experience fun.

After all of that it’s just a matter of spending a lot of time thinking about the writing project I’ll be working on and trying to figure out what will happen. I will jot down brief vague notes about scenes that should happen or details about the characters, but I try not to be too specific because then it makes it more difficult for me to actually write the scene and the story.

Well, there you go…a bit about my preparations for Camp NaNoWriMo. I will possibly have writing updates through the month of April, so stay tuned. And if you would like more information, check out their web site here.

Studying the Craft

Hey everyone, Dani again. Wow, it’s March already. 2016 is flying already and it’s time for me to get serious about my writing again. It has been a difficult year for trying to write so far. January 5th my paternal grandmother died at the glorious age of 89; she was just one month away from her 90th birthday. It was the first major family member death that I’ve experienced. I mean, I’ve lost a few great-grandparents who I didn’t know all that well, and I’ve lost several great-aunts and great-uncles, but my grandma had been living with us the last 5 years of her life, so I spent a lot of time with her.

I thought because she had lived so long that it would be easier to let her go because she had lived a great and fulfilled life. But I spent the few days leading up to the funeral in a sad daze, not really doing much, just mindlessly watching television that I don’t quite remember. I wasn’t invested in what I was doing.

Since then I have been struggling to get those creative juices flowing again. It’s quite possible that some of my problem is because my narrator for Project Death: Revelation is Death himself. It was hard spending so much time unable to draft any words on the page.

My goal for 2016 really is to keep progressing myself as an author, by writing, promoting, publishing, etc. And I finally told myself that the best thing to do was to find something writing-adjacent I could work on until the drive to write returned. So I started picking up more writing guides, on worldbuilding, science fiction and fantasy, weapons, character traits, editing, publishing, language…and then I started reading them

This is a good idea for writers in general. Yes, there are a number of people who are talented at storytelling, but the craft of writing is not just about talent. Telling a story orally is much different from a written story. There are a number of elements that are similar, so I guess what I’m saying is that the delivery is different. And learning about how to plot and think of characterization and description will actually help to develop your own style and voice, which is great.

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This is the top shelf of my “Reference Library.” Most everything below this shelf are textbooks from college that I kept because they might be useful for my writing: books on psychology, forensic science, photography, languages, history, mythology, dreams, etc. But these books on top of the reference bookcase are about writing and editing and they are very useful tools to have.

Let me highlight a few of my favorites:

No Plot? No Problem! 2nd edition by Chris Baty. If I haven’t mentioned it before, I love National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and this book is by NaNo’s founder, Chris Baty. It highlights tips, tricks, and inspiration to get you through the chaos of the month, and I think it’s helpful any time of year, not just in November.

On Writing by Stephen King. This is probably the book I most highly recommend for studying the craft of writing. This is part Stephen King journal detailing his story of becoming an author, and part guide to help other writers/authors. If you are a writer and don’t have this book, get it.

The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding. Technically this book is aimed at Game Masters/Dungeon Masters for creating an RPG world, but it works just as well for writers of the fantasy/sci-fi genres. I have found it to be immensely useful for the high fantasy series I am planning and would recommend it if you need some help with creating your own world.

The Art of Language InventionThe Writer’s Guide to Weapons, and Writer’s Guide to Character Traits. I will place all three of these books together. Language Invention is written very much like a textbook, so be warned, but if you are serious about creating your own language it will be massively helpful. The Guide to Weapons has an index of all kinds of weapons and details certain weapon fallacies that are abundant in television, movies, and books; definitely helpful if you want to add authenticity to your writing. And of course, Character Traits can help you to flesh out the people within your story and give them more depth, which is always good.

I haven’t read Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror but I have flipped through it and it has a plethora of short page or two chapters that highlight an element from the aforementioned genres, and then each chapter wraps up with a writing exercise, which I think is pretty neat.

And not pictured here because I own it as an e-book is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It is required reading in a number of college writing courses, and is filled with tips and little anecdotes and revelations, and it’s really a great inspiration for those of us who want to make a career as a writer. I put this up there with Stephen King’s On Writing as a must-have book for writers

So there we go…a brief introduction to some writing guide books, and it’s honestly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to studying the craft of writing. But I can honestly say that reading some of these books (and talking to fellow author friends) has helped me find my desire to write again, and that is a beautiful thing.