Beat Writers Block – Beat it with a STICK!

Beat Writers Block- Now!

Follow these simple steps to get through that wall of endless misery and doom.

  1. Be Kind – be kind to yourself.
  2. Small achievable goals.
  3. A crappy first draft is great!
  4. No editing
  5. Free exercises for you – from me.

I’m going to explain this all some more, I promise.

This was originally going to be a VLOG – but after a few attempts at filming, well I decided that writing is more my thing that speaking.

Step One: So, lets get back to step one. Be kind. Did you hear that?  BE KIND TO YOURSELF!

I know what it feels to have writers block, or writers procrastination. You wake up, and you’re already carrying around that heavy weight in your chest. There’s already a little voice whispering ‘you didn’t write yesterday…’ or ‘you haven’t hit your word target,’ or even, ‘everything you write is absolute rubbish.’ You know what you have? Writer’s guilt.

Stop it. Stop that right now and take the pressure off of yourself. Especially at the moment when many people are in lockdown, this seems like an incredible opportunity to learn a new language, finish up old projects and pour time and investment into your dreams. For the people for whom this is a reality, that is amazing!

For me, I’m struggling between working from home and childcare. Despite barely leaving my house, I actually have less time and feel more pressured to be getting my WIP finished. More Writer’s Guilt added onto your usual pile.

Let it go. (There’s a whole song about this…)

elsea

Let it go, or you will wake up tomorrow and that nagging feeling will be back.

It’s hard to get into a positive headspace to write if you have to wade through the river of Writer’s Guilt first. We have to get out of this habit. So be kind. So what, you missed a deadline, a day, a week, a year… You won’t meet that 90k target in six months, blah, blah, blah… Let it go. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes if you like. Acknowledge it and let it go. I didn’t write yesterday or whatever. I WILL write today.

Step Two: Small achievable goals.

You WILL write today. Open up that WIP. Get to the last thing you did, the latest chapter and just write. Write 100 words. That’s it. Just 100 words. Have you done it? Here is the best part.  Save it. Close the computer. Walk away happy – you did it! Now the most important part – REWARD yourself. Go for a walk, have a soda, read a book watch your favourite TV show. Do something that gives you a mental woo and makes you feel good.

You know what you’re doing? You’re training your brain into a positive response when you do your writing. You’ll be amazed at how much easier and better you’ll feel tomorrow when you carve out just a few minutes to write again.

Tomorrow? Open up that WIP. Write 200 words. Save it. Put it away. REWARD!

The day after: Write 300 words, save it, put it away – REWARD!

Repeat until the process becomes easier and you’re able to write freely.

Now here is the final trick – Always end before you run out of steam for the day. If you’ve written 2000 words and you’re in the middle of a juicy scene, then stop before the scene ends and you’ll be excited to get back to it. Most of all, always give yourself that little reward for getting it done.

Step Three: A crappy first draft is great!

NO ONE HAS TO SEE IT.

When you’ve sat down to write your 100, 200, 300+ words and it’s hard, then just remember that it doesn’t matter what you put down on the page. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. It’ll be 100 more words than you had before and that it what matters. You can’t edit a blank page but once you’re WIP is done you can go back and completely rewrite it. Delete that stuff out if you need to. But maybe there will be something worth keeping?

fry

Step Four: Don’t edit as you go.

This will be maximum leech for your momentum. If you realise a huge plot point then write it down. Adjust where your story is heading and write forward. Always write forward. Don’t go back and start tampering with threads and arcs until you’ve got that first draft down – otherwise you’re always going to be buried in the first part of the book.

You’ve got to keep moving forward. One step and one word at a time.

Step Five: Some exercises for you!

I thought I would share some writing exercises that can also help.

Free writing: First of all, free writing is brilliant. If you really, really do not to put the words into your WIP when you’re struggling, then just sit down with pen and paper. Set a timer for 10 minutes and just write. Write EVERYTHING that comes into your mind. Even if it’s just ‘I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just going to write and blah, blah this is so ridiculous-’ you get the idea. Just write. Write for ten minutes and then set it aside. It’s a bit like a mental ‘unclogging.’

Microfiction: Now something I’m also really keen on is microfiction. Using 100 words or less to tell a story or construct something lyrical. There’s a whole bunch here on the blog if you want to read. Now I’m not going to tell you that it’s any good – I’m not sure that it is! But it entertains me, and the people who give me the prompts. Melodramatic Dinosaurs, Romantic Zombies, Tyrants and Penguins (romance was a big theme)…So that’s something.

I’m going to be running a #microfictionchallenge if you want to join in. Everyone is welcome! I’ll put up a prompt of a word, and a genre that the story is meant to resemble. You have 100 words or less to construct something around it. I would love to see some responses, or you can even set me a challenge.

My challenge to you, for today would be the word: Television in the genre of Action.

Now go write!

Better yet! Give me the 100 words you get done today! I expect it to be brilliantly random and make very little sense.

baby

We bring you this programme today, sponsored by: The Lewis.

Hello.

My name is Lewislewis I have taken the decision that you, female human whom I tolerate with some affection, will be privileged to stare at me instead of that black box with the moving pictures and squeaking voices.

I have some minor requests. Please can we have some better food? I prefer fresh chicken over anything else. I also would like some more shiny spherical objects. Last month there were a lot on that tree you insisted on bringing inside. I hid as many as I could under the sofa along with tin foil and other shiny objects. However, I don’t have any thumbs and so it was difficult for me to unhook them and you did seem determined to tie them securely on.

You may pamper me because I am gorgeous. But don’t think that you can tickle my belly. This is very undignified and you know what happened last time. I may soon grow bored of demanding your attention. Please warn the male human whom I also tolerate with some affection, that I intend to walk purposefully under his feet so he’ll have a split second decision to make. To stand on me, or to seriously injure himself. I hope he chooses wisely. I’m sure I’ll make him feel incredibly guilty no matter the outcome.

Thank you for your attention.

Now, please let me outside and then inside. And then outside. Then inside…

 

(A response to the Daily Prompt. This was the last picture on my phone…)

Horsing Around

Combining my thoughts for today with the Daily Prompt:

My random photo for the word horse, is this beautiful one.

horseThe reason I’m thinking about horses was because I found this article about George R R Martin never seeing a horse before writing the Song of Ice and Fire is satirical and quite funny. It nudged my into thinking about the horses in my own work. Now, horses do tend to feature in fantasy. They’re a large means of transport for people and for goods, but frequently I feel that they’re very underwritten.

Robin Mckinley in the Hero and the Crown does an excellent job in describing how Aerin learns how to ride bareback on a wounded horse, Talat. She describes the process that horse and rider go through together. Tamora Pierce also gives very good descriptions of who the horses ridden by Alanna and Keladry are and how the riders build bonds with them. With Daine, the bond with animal kind is explored more directly.

So what have I been doing to make sure that the horses in my manuscript behave realistically, as well as look the part? Well, as with most things I believe the best way to write accurately and believably is try whatever it is out. The manuscript features a lot of snow and so I took an opportunity to live in Canada a few years back. Horses are important to me, and so I’ve spent a lot of time with my Aunt (who fortunately for me, owns horses and isn’t averse to her crazy niece riding around on a pony pretending to be a knight…) I have to say that the hours I’ve spent at the farm have been invaluable and I learn something new every day.

Below is me on said pony – having a Black Beauty moment!

33Speaking to my Aunt she despairs at how in films and books (not just in the fantasy genre) the hero will jump on the nearest horse and canter off into the distance. For anyone who has ever ridden, we know that this is a virtual impossibility. Yes in alternate universes and fantasy worlds the horses could have reached a point of training where they will follow whomever happens to be riding them over the hills and far away. But in reality, what herd animal is ever going to be happy running off into danger with a stranger? There’s no build of trust, no relationship. So is the horse simply submitting to the demands of the rider? If that’s the case there is only so far that you’ll be able to push it before it explodes (not literally) but has an almighty hissy fit in which endangers itself, it’s rider and anyone within a near radius, particularly other riders. Presumably, if you still have the horse on the end of the reins after this hissy fit, you’ll be feeling a bit shaken up.

Now all of these things of animal behaviour could be interesting plot point. Added problems in  it the journey from A to Z. I’ll admit that I’m not exploiting the antics of the horses in my manuscript, but I’m making a concentrated effort not to make it look easy. My heroine needs to learn how to ride and she’s not going to be an expert after a day. She’s not been bought up in a stable and so she’s uncertain and she’s worried about riding, but she has to do it. The horse is nervous because she’s nervous and they have very little trust between them. But they’ll get there with time and patience. I only hope my reader joins them with an open heart. Because if there is one thing I definitely do know about the magnificent equine – is that they’ll find a way into your heart if you let them, and then it’s very hard to let them go.

Further research I’ve done into riding, other than riding, is to look through various websites of how far a horse could travel in a day. For anyone else for whom this information would be valuable one good website could be found here.

Last year I rode cross country for a day (man did that hurt) and a detailed account of my exploits can be found here: Day Two: Team Horse joins the Adventure. My current horsebound plan for this year, along with said Aunty – is to ride from the South Coast of England to Scotland. We anticipate this could take a few years…

What are you researching for your writing? How do you do it?

To me!

Audience of One: Daily Prompt

Picture the one person in the world you really wish were reading your blog. Write her or him a letter.

Dear Fibi,

If you’re reading this then you’ve probably gone a bit mad – because you’ve only just written it. Seek medical assistance immediately.

But I want you to remember how you feel right now. That fizz of excitement from laying tracks in front of a moving train. The MS is moving forward, track by track, week by week. Every time you come back to it, you’re amazed that you can keep moving forward. Well I’m going to tell you something important, something that you tell other people all the time. Have a little faith in yourself.

Yes, you might feel like you’ve been running uphill for far too long. But at least you’re halfway up now. Not only that, but this is the easier part. The home stretch. Continue the journey and then wrap it up. The giddiness growing day by day as the word count keeps creeping up. Not only are the words going down on screen – but they’re pretty good too. One day soon, you’ll take that next step of sending it all out again. Maybe you’ll even print out a full hardcopy to share with your mum.

Remember that at all times that the ‘Spelling’ is not your friend. It will deceive you. The computer, also with occasionally shut down and magically lose your work. So back it up with an obsessiveness created by the fear of impending doom. Delete all inclusions of the phrase ‘a little’ or ‘for a moment’ because these are pointless.

Pay attention to dialogue. No one ever says what they’re really thinking, so the characters should either. And how many times do you call someone by their name in one conversation? There is never a good reason to have a flat, uninteresting chapter. Invite tension and wibbly wobbly plot lines and at the same time, cut out anything unessential that is doing less than two things to the story. Either developing the world, adding depth, providing information, momentum or joy. But nothing that is only one.

Most of all, you must never give up (even if you run out of coffee.)

Love me.

What would you want to tell yourself?

Escape

I’ve been struggling for a while to get back into my manuscript for the much needed re write. There is a lot going on at the moment that keeps invading. Scottish referendum (please don’t leave us), problems in Gaza, Iraq, Syria and the ebola outbreak.

So I felt it was time to creatively escape and this flashed into my mind. escape

And here is the text laid out in a more readable way:

Free words from trappings and uniform. Mind is drifting in an ever outwards dance with dainty steps. Desire to put ink to paper but not, no never at the moment to include those phrases thoughts to screen. But, but but- it needs to be done. Need to finish, finish and perfect the overall manuscript. They’re waiting for it and then I’ll be onto something new! But would I just be breaking free from discipline? Dreams in jeopardy against that too-fast ticking of the clock.  Time for a little escape and some clearer headspace to EXPAND thoughts into SPACES and ideas. New stories have to come from somewhere and the mind is too full of the must do, must finish,  must think this, must feel this and the guilt is an ANCHOR. NO ONE CAN FLY WHEN THEY ARE TIED TO THE GROUND. Yet here I go around and around and around. There is this pause though. This breath of air. We breathe. Shoulders lift with the shadows taken off. It has all been for something. And to remember remember always not just the 5th, but… for the words to run without FILTER. It is time for a little escape.

Fibi xx

Fortunately this ties in quite nicely with todays Daily Prompt. Hooray!

Edit out the habits: How to Improve Work

There are certainly a few recurring ‘snags’ as it were in the cloth of my carefully constructed words. By editing and work-shopping I’ve been lucky to identify the trends in my work that make it less accessible to the reader. If you have to work hard to read something, then you’re more inclined to give up part-way though. For my rambling thoughts on what puts me off reading a story, there is a post here: Scared of Reading – actually funny story. I started writing this blog post and it originally turned into that one. So I decided to split it into two complete and hopefully coherent articles! Fingers are crossed.

But here are the trends that I learnt to look out for in my work.

  1. Passive verbs passive verbs.

My characters had many limbs that did things for them, but instead I needed to just write, that the characters –did-the-thing- much simpler, much clearer. So for example: Her hand reached out toward the glowing embers. – Passive. What would be better is: She reached toward the glowing embers. – Active. It’s just easier to imagine what the protagonist is doing.

  1. Did uh…did that just happen?

A lot tends to happen to my heroine as she goes about her journey. But I was informed, and then realised that although she reacts physically to the things around her and says things, the reader was being cut out of her thoughts. This was causing a second problem in that my reader felt disconnected from her and therefore my storytelling was less effective. The manuscript I’m working on, was supposed to have a close-third person narration, but too often it was just narration and I wasn’t as close in the third-person as I thought I was. Cue thoughts and responses! It sounds very juvenile but I listed a number of responses such as:

‘She was surprised’, ‘shocked, Sarah turned,’ ‘torn between’, ‘relieved’ etc and then used them as a prompt sheet to include things more in my writing. The result has so far been successful and feedback very positive. Hooray!

  1. Too many wonderful, amazing, blue, sparkling adjectives.

Description is a beautiful thing. However, going through everything with a cut-happy pixie on my shoulder I realised something else that I’d been previously told. I have a tendency to repeat myself. With repetition and a build-up of adjectives, some of the writing was getting lost in itself. Cut, cut, cut! And the work made more impact. I kept the best phrases and descriptions or reworked the ones I really loved and couldn’t bring myself to part with.

  1. For a moment she was a little afraid.

In a final bid to avoid unnecessary repetition in the manuscript I did a ctrl-f word search for a few phrases such as ‘For a moment’ and ‘a little’. I’ll tell you something, I use those tags far too often! I think within 30,000 words I ended up deleting them over 50 times. They didn’t add anything to the story, the plot, the description. They were filler! All they did was water down the writing and stop the protagonist committing to any particular emotion. If she was ‘A little afraid’ why is she just not afraid? If ‘she paused for a moment,’ why doesn’t she just ‘pause.’ Cut!

Everyone has different version of these phrases that they fall back on. My nemesis as I’ve started to refer to them. They’re things I don’t even remember writing! Maybe I don’t, maybe they just appear… That must be it. Those and spelling/grammar errors.

It may be worth going through any work under editing and seeing if you can find one or two and then doing a word search to find out just how many times they sneak in, pesky little things. I definitely go through additional phases of ‘word of the day’ that will sneak in over and again in a chapter if I took a shine to a certain sound when the chapter was in construction. Thank goodness for editing!

The best thing about recognising (the latest) failing of you work, is that when you go on to write new things, you are aware of them and so you make them less often. This does open up the path to making shiny new mistakes, but I like to believe that by slowly eliminating bad habits and trends I’m improving every time I do a thorough edit.

I’m sure there is even evidence to support this as whenever I write I feel it’s better than what I was able to write 6 months ago. I still need to edit the draft, but the process is less painful. I know what I’m looking for, what needs to be edited for clarity what is actually my style. Maybe I still use too many adjectives- but that is because I like long and rambling description. That is a choice, it’s not just the adjectives sneaking in a little.

What are the writing habits you have learnt to look out for? Let me know 🙂

Fibi xx

Scared of Reading?

As a writer I believe it is important that the words are clear and the meaning, vision of what I am saying is easy for the reader to picture. I’m not saying I would like to spoon feed plot because it is also important that ye old brain-cogs get a work out sometimes as well, and if you have to work and remember and think about the story, then you do get more from it.

But in terms of making the writing clear, for me I’m likely to turn away if the writing is too much like hard work and I think the same applies to a storyline that starts to seriously disappoint or concern me. I have to admit that I’ve become a terrible reader and so scared about the emotional impact of what I’m reading that I really have to take a mental run up to books. Luckily in all of this I have discovered Robin Hobb, and she is amazing.

What am I afraid of reading? Well, as an aspiring writer I’m terrified of finding my book already published. The story I’ve been slaving over, written by someone else (better) and in the bookshops. This has turned into something of a recurring nightmare.

Secondly, I worry too much about the characters. There has to be a happy ending for me to enjoy reading the book. I have to feel confident that the author will provide me with a sense of resolution. The first book I really put down half-way through the Juliet Marriliers Blade of Fortriu. I was so invested in the narrative that when it reached a mid-way point, and it would not be possible for resolution to be complete, I had to put it down. It took me over a year to re-gather my courage and return to the story and I couldn’t start at the beginning in case it was too much! (Such a reading wimp!)

But although this sense of ‘happy ever after’ is I demand from a story I’m not convinced if I would necessarily agree from a theoretical stand point. Shouldn’t ‘Happy ever after’ also be complicated, realistic, aspirational? Should I be a more emotionally mature and complex person and encourage that in my reader? I’m not promising anything.

Thirdly, a sure way to put me off a story is to falsely advertise.

I LOVED Trudi Canavans The Black Magicians Trilogy. I bought all three books because they were on offer and devoured them in two days back in 2005. I was therefore delighted when the first of the Age of Five was published and acquired it as a pre-order hardback. For the first chapter I was enchanted, enthralled and delighted that I would get to read the story of this amazing girl growing up to be a member of the white and the trials and challenges that would entail. Then the second chapter happened. Did anyone else feel utterly cheated? She was grown up. This was not the story of the girl growing into a woman. It may be petty by I felt so frustrated by the 360 of expected narrative that after struggling through the first third of the text, I put it down and haven’t picked it up again. I do plan to revisit it and hopefully connect with a series that I appreciate is loved by so many, but it’s at the bottom of my ‘to-read’ pile. I don’t forgive betrayal easily. Sorry book.

Finally, I tend not to read spooky stories, horror, crime or ‘true-life’ I know this narrows my field of literature and good writing but I realised a few years ago that my imagination doesn’t need help coming up with dream or nightmare material. I am usually very invested in what I’m reading and if I read for too long, I emerge a bit google-eyed and hazy on what is real and what is still the narrative replaying. When I read it is not so much imagining characters, it is experiencing their stories in 3d. It is amazing to go on so many adventures, but I certainly don’t want to provide my imagination with concrete horror to explore in my sleep! *shudder*

What would put you off a story? Should it have a happy ever after?

Off off off the hook! Daily Prompt

A second #RoyalBaby will soon be joining the Windsors in England. Given the choice, would you rather be heir to the throne, or the (probably) off-the-hook sibling?

This is my response to the Daily Prompt above:

Well baby news is something close to my heart at the moment. We’re currently anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new baby nephew. I am so excited to meet him. I’m a very lucky Aunt to have three nieces and a nephew and every day I can’t help but miss the little monkeys and wish I could see them more often. Every baby is so special and as my nieces and nephews have grown into such cheeky individual I can’t help but be reminded of how privileged I am to share in their lives.

I feel a bit young to have children of my own but delight in creating things for them, making them water-colour story books to treasure with the hope that, maybe one day, in years to come they’ll be worth something. Who knows, if I become a successful novelist people will be dead keen to get their hands on my early little cartoons and miniature books.

But back to the prompt. Which would I rather be? Power is something I explore in Burning Embers and the sequels. Can you ever feel prepared to rule over a country or does power always corrupt? Is it best to watch from the side-lines and enjoy the ‘freedom’ the comes from this. Or does being a sibling automatically open you to a more negative commentary in comparison to an older sibling? Will you never be as good, where as your sibling is considered charming as appropriate to a prince, will you automatically always be seen as verbose. Are you defined by the need to create a clear distinction between the favourable and unfavourable candidate for King or Queen?

I think being heir to the throne would be far too responsible a job for me. It would probably be best if I were far further down the list of possibilities. A castle would be nice though, and a sword…and a dragon……..please? (Just a tiny one????)

Happy lunch everyone,

Fibi xx

Everything is going to plan – Panic!

So this is an update. Hello world! I feel as though I’m emerging out of a cocoon of books, writing, endless of paper with red, purple, blue scribbled notes.

I’ve finished and submitted my MA thesis. Party!!!!

So excited!

And yet…

Scared.

I remember handing in my undergraduate dissertation. I spent the week before it was due scrambling to pull 8000 words together in library. I would swipe in at midday and force myself to write at least 1000 words and then as I inevitably didn’t get that done, by the end of the week I was locked in a private study room until I’d finished the entire thing!

Then I was sat in the library with loads of time to spare the morning the assignment was due. It was beautifully formatted and I had two hours to print, bind and swipe it through the electronic system. I decided to casually browse through the requirements one last time. 8000 words to be handed in, including footnotes. What? Including footnotes. What?! PANIC! Suddenly I have just under two hours to remove 2000 words from my carefully crafted, painstakingly edited dissertation. 2000 words of content and footnotes to remove. Editing, re-formatting, re-reading and hoping that I find all the now half-words and cuts and manage to make everything into a proper sentence again once I’ve gone through with a brutal delete key! 30 minutes to print, dash around the library to find someone from the ‘unhelpful-desk’ to help me use the weird spiral binding machines. Which no-one knew how to use. They were like a dusty alien lifeform, left over from the 1970’s.

I had to run up six flights of stairs to swipe my student card in time. I managed it- just!

The ultimate lesson in how not to finish writing your dissertation.

Much beer was had in celebration.

And then I came back for an MA.

Hand – in this time was not traumatic. It was quite lovely. I was given a cookie by my tutor.

I’d managed to finish writing up a few days early. I spent three mornings re-writing an accompanying critical piece (I have never, never written a draft essay before this! I have to admit, they’re not wrong when they advise you to go back with fresh eyes after a few weeks. Especially if, like me, feedback consists of: ‘needed proof-reading’. Followed by my red-faced realisation that some of the sentences are not sentences and the odd word is missing. Just missing. Not miss-spelled or grammatically incorrect (my undergrad suffered from that) – missing. Anyway, essay was re-done commas’ were moved, reading aloud completed.

And I had a whole day and a half before going to print.

It was printed.

It was bound.

It was handed in.

Where is the panic.

WHAT HAVE I MISSED?!

Nothing. So far, honestly – I think all my hard work has just paid off.

Now I can return to my blog. Hooray!

*dusts shelves & generally spruces up the place*

Just as a further update. My cousin Alex is fast approaching his 8th adventure!!!!!

Good luck to him and the rest of the adventure crew.

Especially the little pony who would. Daisy. She’s going along for this one. I can’t wait for the posters.

I now go to celebrate with a more sophisticated beverage than my undergrad allowed.

I can’t stay mad at you – Occupational Hazard!!

My cousin Alex is doing ten amazing challenges in ten months to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis and the Fire-Fighters trust to mark ten years since his sister passed away due to this destructive disease. In the past four months he must have walked, cycled, horse ridden and kayaked more than 300 miles! Not to mention the miles put down by everyone joining in with the cause. So, to help him I decided to pull together a collection of poems, short stories, flash fiction and art work from friends, family and fellow creative people and create a book that we will be able to sell; all profits donated to charity.
I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the submissions I’ve received and they’re still coming in! The theme is You Mean the World to Me. Now, this post is supposed to be forgiveness based and I’ve named it Occupation Hazard. I’ve come a long way around, but I’m finding it hard to read the submissions. They’re so beautiful and so many of them are raw. I’ll be honest; the first reading of each submission is tending to leave me in tears.
I’m not usually an emotional person. It takes a lot to choke me up and I’m certainly not one to wear my hearty on my sleeve – well, that’s what I like to think anyway! But I keep choking on the words that other people have sent to me, in honour of this amazing cause. Don’t get me wrong by any means. I am LOVING pulling everything together and working on something physical which will both help the charity’s and act as a kind of record for what my cousin Alex is undertaking. I didn’t expect to need a box of tissues when reading through though.
Luckily, after the initial waterfall-inducing whammy of the pieces, I’m able to step back a little bit. Or at least, I know enough of what they each are to put them into a cohesive order for the book. Make me cry once, shame on me, make it happen twice – well…well done your creative geniuses for creating such moving pieces.
I forgive you all though.
Thank you.
Fibi xx