Monthly Archives: April 2011

Write Right

or Overcoming Writer’s Block or Maintaining Motivation

What does write right mean? And how will it help you overcome writer’s block? First, it means write the right way for you. Every writer has to find their own best way of achieving what they want to achieve. However, there are steps all writers need to take to make it all work. Second, understanding your own best method of writing will help you get it down without so many ‘stand stills’.

The first point, the right way for you to write, needs to be done in the context of ‘There is no right way.’ Sounds like a contradiction, I know, but it isn’t. Of course, I’m not referring to understanding and following form and structure of both story telling, non-fiction construction or, especially, grammar. What I’m talking about is method.

It is surprising how many writers have no method or don’t know their method.

What do I mean by method? Quite simply, how do you go about writing in order to be successful at it? There are some basic questions behind that question:

1. What does successful writing mean to you?
2. How important is it to your life?
3. What are you prepared to give up or reduce in order to write?
4. How do you feel whilst you are writing?
5. How intensely are you inside your writing?

Answering these questions will help you recognise the part writing plays in your life, and how much your life allows for writing. I’m not referring to all the procrastinations and excuses you can come up with. We all know there are more than enough for ten lifetimes for all of us regardless of what our responsibilities, ambitions or goals are.

Question one is very important to know about yourself. Do you want to be a published writer, one who earns part or all of their income from writing, or is it purely for your own interest or the family’s interest, or for another reason altogether? Answering the second and third questions will help define the answer.

The other two questions are fairly self explanatory. For example, if you have no emotional investment in what you are writing, neither will anyone else and you will quickly become bored and find it hard to stay with. And, by intensity I’m referring to actually ‘being there’ in each scene as you write it. You need to hear, smell, feel, touch, see, interpret, colour, extrapolate, etc., and then put it into a word picture for your reader so they will be there too.

The mechanics of method is how you go about achieving these things. You need to create good practices about writing. This means when you do it, where you do it, what you bring to it, what you intend to achieve, how you do it, i.e. pen and paper, typewriter or computer. It doesn’t necessarily mean you must only do it that way, at the same time and the same amount. It is better to write one page a day than the usual ten if that is what you can manage that day because of other responsibilities. What you really need to avoid though, is deciding that because you can’t write the usual ten pages today, you won’t write any.

Writing a paragraph on a scrap of paper, or a few ideas on the back of an envelope is better than doing nothing. If you really want to write, then you will make time on a regular basis, and find time every time.

Most writers are driven to write, but we all need to find the discipline and tenacity. We also have to accept that it isn’t always fun and it definitely isn’t always easy, of even often. I’m sure the Olympic swimmer doesn’t find every lap of the pool fun, but if they don’t do it, they don’t have a chance of making selection to the team let alone hope for a medal.

We all know the truth of: The only way to success is through determination and hard work.

So, work out the answers to the questions I’ve posed, develop a method of writing, keep distractions to a minimum and really put yourself in the writing so you are describing what is actually happening around you and what you are sensing. Even if it takes some time to work out what all this means to and for you, take the time. It’s worth it.

And, remember, even though it isn’t always fun, if you never enjoy it, maybe you will be better off doing something else.

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Well, staying motivated can be a challenge all right. It doesn’t matter what you do, have to do or want to do, motivation is often the elusive factor. Really, the only way to get motivated is to DO IT.

Whatever IT is.

I tell my children, and especially tell myself, ACTION LEADS TO MOTIVATION. Other things can, such as an idea, something that moves you emotionally, a goal. But how often do we have these motivations yet still never do or achieve? Too often. The world is littered with tired, bored, aborted and broken motivations. They lie around everywhere with every intention of tripping us up and stealing our edge, our purpose, our ability to reach whatever pinnacle we have placed in the distance.

There are many books written on motivation. Whether you want to finish a novel or a vegetable garden, or perhaps get out and exercise in the sunlight: whether want you want to achieve is lofty or just down here at grass roots level, it is all the same thing.

It goes without saying that success breeds motivation, and the confidence to act -which leads to motivation …

But, motivation has to come before success of any type, big or small, and therein lies the rub. So, as we are focusing primarily on writing, that’s where I’ll address this from my point of view. Please feel free to apply it to any area of your life if you find it works for you.

Whether you want to write a short story, a novel, an article or an essay for school makes no difference. The question I am asked most often, however, is how do you finish a novel without getting lost or bored or a hundred other reasons to stop. There are as many answers as there are questioners, and we each have to find what works for us individually, usually by trial and error.

That old adage grandmothers (in my day) used to give: we learn by our mistakes, is very true. All those failed drafts are errors you can learn from.

One of the most common reasons for not finishing a first draft, though, is that the writer doesn’t know what it is they are writing about or because they aren’t really interested either.

So, let’s break that down somewhat. You’ll often hear the advice: write what you know. I consider this both true and nonsense. How so, I hear you ask. I admit one is oppositional to the other, but it is, all the same, true.

The nonsense side of it comes from lack of knowledge on a subject, and making assumptions rather than learning how something works in real life. It also comes from not knowing how to create believable dialogue.

The truth side of it comes from the fact that we are all human and share a commonality of emotional reactions. This is where the universal element comes from which makes for good writing.

Let’s look at this more closely.

If you are writing a novel on being an international pilot, then you need to know something about piloting. If you are writing about a character, i.e. person who is an international pilot, then you need to know something about that character.

The truth of writing is in knowing your characters and making them believable, accessible and real. And you do this by knowing your own emotional reactions and understanding about others emotional reactions.

If you cast your story with a polyglot of characters who you want to spend time with in real life, or have known in real life, and some who drive you crazy to some degree or a large degree, then you are creating something which you will enjoy writing.

No one enjoys reading something which the writer doesn’t enjoy writing.

This is true of genre fiction as well. You might know the world of spies, or doctors, or forensic psychology, but if your characters aren’t real and interesting to you, then they won’t be to anyone else either.

Does this mean they have to be only likeable? Or have no annoying foibles? Be popular? Beautiful? Successful? Or a hundred other positive adjectives? No, definitely not. There is one thing they must be above anything else, and that’s human. We all have less than perfect personalities, often they are what make us interesting and welcome in others’ lives. Who wants to spend time with someone who is perfect? Who is perfect?

No, make your characters real, show us who they really are and what they are grappling with within themselves – often exposed and developed by what they are grappling with in the everyday or with those they must interact with – and you will not only stay interested in what you are writing but will then develop something others will be interested in.

All that said, don’t take your first draft as anything but a guideline for the real novel; and don’t think your first novel completed is the next big seller. It more likely is a practice novel to allow you to hone your skills towards writing the next big seller. It’s an achievement in itself and should prepare you to make a like achievement, and then another.

Remember, many successful writers would cringe if anyone saw their first novel or first several novels. Some destroy them. One very popular writer I know made a paper Mache ball for her desk out of her first draft of her first novel. Others keep them to remind them of the hard work of the writing apprenticeship, and sometimes to rewrite them in the future. Some even do rewrite and go on to sell them.

Forget about reviewing or editing anything in that first draft. You are just getting the bones down to be worked on. Complexities, development, scene expansion, consistency, dénouement aspects can be sorted out later.

Finally, find the time – and discipline – to write every day. Set a minimum, even if it is as little as 300 words, approximately a page, even scribble in a notebook if you can’t sit down to actually write. Focus on characters and how they feel in any given situation and imagine what they are thinking, will react, or what they do about it. To complete a novel, you must spend the mental time and energy to think about it every moment you can.

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Filed under ON WRITING

Writing is a Funny Thing

Writing is addictive. Seductive even. It drives you mad and makes you hate it. It caresses you with the most beautiful words and makes you do almost anything to have it, to take part in it. It seduces you and wants to capture you forever, caressing you with words and ideas and images and powers and people you can only dream of. Oh, hang on, that’s right. You are dreaming it, i.e. making it up.

Still, it is absorbing, consuming, real. It is ambivalent in how it treats you, taking over your life, tossing you around. Tossing you away. Reeling you back in, usually without resistance. Then, it bounces you over the rough waves, rolls you up and dumps you in the wet sand. Sometimes, scraping you over rocks on the way in and, if it’s going to be any good, stripping you bare in the process.

At night you lie awake, the best ideas, the best openings, the richest sentences rolling off your sleepy tongue. You get up and grab pen and paper and … nothing. It, writing, has toyed with you again. The creative juices are lying there, snoring its head off in your warm bed.

But, you’re awake now. Your mind is buzzing with worker bees that haven’t quite found their way home from the bounty and are searching hard. If only they would search together. Unified. Deliberate. They just drone, filling your head with noise and aggravation. And they drown out the mosquitoes that take full advantage of the fact that you are no longer hiding under the covers.

Around five a.m., the cohesion begins, the words start to coalesce and a picture forms. That’s when you yawn, oxygenating your ideas. Again, pen to paper, but there’s only a blur. It is time to lie down, let the mind focus, bring back the abundance. Then the alarm goes off, high pitched and feverish. Time to shower and get ready for work.

But, even if you could, you’d never give it up.

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Filed under ON WRITING