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My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Writing With Depression (Mailbox)

Any advice for writing with depression? 

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will try to answer a couple each week. I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  I'm going to do a quickie today since I really need an "admin weekend" to get control of my mailbox and all the emails for W.A.W. that I'm behind on..]  

Laura asks (paraphrased question–full question below):

I am working on my dissertation, and am wondering if you have any advice about writing with depression. I have imposter syndrome and it is always worse when my anxiety and depression come up. I realize that a lot of people who will themselves to success aren't facing the kind of mind-altering depression and anxiety that I am. When it is really bad, I don't just question my writing, but my value at all, and I can't just snap out of it. Any advice about writing with depression?

My reply:

Trollbrains sometimes fucking suck, don't they.

Hi Laura. I paraphrased your question so that it could fit into the "top of the fold" and a facebook preview, but the full version is down below.

Izzy sounds like a real turdbucket. You can tell her I said so.

One of the things I've learned over the years is that labels are, at best, the beginning points for understanding the deep nuance and individual-expressions of neurodivergence. When some armchair psychologist tries to make the beginning and end of the conversation "DIAGNOSIS-BAM, now you fit into a box" they are usually not demonstrating anything beyond a wicked lack of understanding and real knowledge.  So I think you have the right idea asking for lots of input, and I'll put out the question to our readers.

My two cents: I've never been diagnosed with anything other than "you were abused and it has messed with your everything," but I go through some pretty wild ups and and some pretty severe downs from time to time, and I have several friends (many writers) who struggle with depression and way that anxiety and depression can do a wicked combo move with imposter syndrome. Most of the advice I've picked up is pretty basic stuff: keep up on self care, if it's possible to have therapy and meds, keep up on those. Be kind to yourself about your regimen on the days that it's really bad.

But to this I would add some particular insight because, like the subject of the Fleetwood Mac song, I am given to going my own way.

First off, establish a daily routine and stick to that regimen....at least as much as you possibly can. For every day you scrape through that writing it no matter how much you really don't want to, the slog is that much easier when you're less overwhelmed. Sometimes people stop brushing their teeth or taking care of themselves when they're depressed because they're that depressed, and I don't want to trivialize the situation or depression for the people who reach that point. It's absolutely not about sloth and it's absolutely not something they can just "get over." However, for many in their day-to-day struggles, something like teeth brushing might one of the last things to fall away (or that it does is a sign things are really bad) because it is an established habit that is much more rote and routine than, say, hanging out with friends or doing that activity one loves. Getting writing to tooth-brushingly habitual can help you be able to do it in spite of brain weasels. It's not panacea because even basic self-care falls away sometimes during bad illnesses, but it can help to have that routine firmly entrenched and push yourself to maintain it. Be honest about that assessment. (But if you really can't, then be as kind to yourself about that as possible. It happens. It's okay. Think about what you'd say to someone else.)

The other is to honor the moments where things are going well. Hitting your stride with no Izzy in sight? Clear a few hours from the schedule and try to write for a little longer that day.

But how about everyone out in readerville? How do those of you with depression cope and keep writing, or get back to writing as fast as possible? I will set the comments to a lower security setting for a couple of days and deal with the deluge of spam, so please feel free to contribute for Laura some tried and true techniques you've found over the years.

Laura, you also might want to check the Facebook post for this article. A lot of my FB followers steadfastly refuse to write comments on the blog instead of on the comments FB post itself, and something worthwhile might turn up there.

Just don't read the comments.

Oh shit, I guess you have to. Well keep a picture of a cute bunny or something on standby.



Full question: 

Hi Chris,

I love your blog and fb posts and it has been really helpful and
encouraging! It gives me a sense of community despite the seeming
black hole void nestled in an isolated universe that is writing a
dissertation.

I wanted to ask if you have anything in the archives or know of any
mentors or role models that talk openly about writing with depression.
I have absolutely evil Impostor Syndrome, I've even named it as a way
to manage it, but Izzy is a cold-hearted bitch. And her existence and
power is manifold when coupled with high anxiety and clinical
depression (which is delightfully exacerbated by the soul-crushing
rite of passage that is finishing a dissertation).

I recently realized that the people around me, that I see powering
through and succeeding don't have the kind of hateful mind-altering
depression and anxiety that can render me useless in the space of just
a few minutes. And the people that I know that do have severe
depression, really struggle.

I know more of us deal with this, I know it's not just me.
Intellectually, I know I'm doing the work and what needs to be done,
and I recognize when Izzy has made an appearance. But it's not just
Izzy. Eviscerating my Impostor Syndrome requires that I first wade
through the seemingly endless quagmires of shit that is Depression -
and let me tell you, that combination is a very very scary one,
because when you're depressed, Impostor Syndrome doesn't just tell you
you're a bad writer, or scholar, it gets much more personal, much more
quickly, using those activities as leverage to convince you that not
just your writing but perhaps your entire life is worthless. It can be
terrifying. One well-meaning colleague recently, probably in her own
frustration with my dissimilar experience, suggested that I try "just
not letting it get to" me. Not helpful. Alienating, actually. But it
made me realize that she doesn't understand this particular obstacle
and that I could use support and encouragement from a writer or
writers that do get it. (I promise I have a good support network and a
great therapist! I just want to convey that my query is about
Depression, and only tangentially Impostor Syndrome, and finding a
writer or writers out there who can genuinely understand this
experience and offer support, encouragement, or even understanding
solidarity that isn't, essentially, "snap out of it.")

So, it would be helpful to hear from some established writer, or even
writers who also identify in this way. Even if we do all of the good
writing habits and the self-encouraging positive things we're supposed
to do, we are still struggling. Perhaps knowing of others' experiences
with this, I (we who live with this reality) can chart a way forward
for myself. Honest to goodness, somedays I feel like Frodo battling
just to get to Mordor (not even just the task itself but the trudging
through), or Brienne of Tarth who is/was also trying not to die while
trying to fulfill her duties.

Thanks so much for your work and for the community you've built!

Best,

Laura

Thursday, June 29, 2017

I Can't Do This All On My Own

It's up to you!
Hi everyone. Today marks the second of six Thursdays where I'm going to try to do something a little like a pledge drive. (Minus the fuzzy sweater and the thinking everything is "terribly interesting.") I bug you for money in a real soft, but smart sounding voice and if you haven't already donated, you either sit and shift awkwardly in your chair and hope it doesn't last too long, or [better] remember that this was totally something you were going to do because Writing About Writing has brought you hours of entertainment, and you are super grateful for the reminder.

If you're just joining us, it might seem like there's a lot of asking for money and not so much content, but for those of you who've been with us for months or years, you know that I'm working hard to bring this blog good content as often as possible and that a lull in my ability to write for six weeks out of the year is a good time to remind everyone that I need your help.

That's because my ability to keep on writing (about writing) largely depends on all of you. And that we've come this far is because of the generosity of so many (and a particular amazing few).

This is a screenshot from MY PATREON.  I'm currently 67% to my third goal, which will keep me from having to drive for Lyft or something once I run out of Kickstarter funds allotted for the novel and keep me writing instead.

Up 2% from last week.
Chug! Chug! Chug!

Only 33% to go!!!

I may be able to shoestring my budget currently as long as I cut down on the book splurges....and luxuries like brand name peanut butter, but one of my jobs is on a long, slow phase out. If I can't make up the income I will eventually lose there, I'm going to have to find a clock to punch in order to not starve.

The goal I'm 67% to is not enough to cover the loss of said job, but I have a bit more time until that job is completely gone, and if I can reach just that goal by the end of this six weeks*, then I'll consider myself reasonably safe for what's coming in the next couple of years. Every dollar I make now will mean that much longer before I have to start hitting my Kickstarter money, and the longer it will last.

There are many more goals. Some because the funds allotted through Kickstarter are finite and will be used up. Some to remove the need for jobs that take me away from writing, like teaching summer school (though it's great pay so it's probably going last). Some, as I said, because one source of income is eventually going away. Some because my current living situation won't last forever. Some because I can only keep not contributing to some kind of retirement fund for so long before I have to do the responsible adult thing. But at least hitting this ONE goal before my drive is over will be a step in the right direction enough to give me hope that the rest can be done given time.

(*Or shhhhh, a big chunk of it, but don't tell the producers I asked for anything less than the whole enchilada or they won't let me drive the dolphin shaped jet ski around the olympic pool.)

Since this blog's inception, due to the breathtaking generosity of patrons and donations from readers like you, we have been able to:
  • Quit teaching during the regular year and write instead
  • Bring you more content
  • Remove the annoying ads
  • Up the number of high quality posts each week. 
  • (Not to put too fine a point on it, but we've been able to keep bringing you content through what would otherwise have been some completely devastating life transitions that would have put most bloggers on hiatus.) 
  • Gone from five posts a week to six. 
  • And we've been able to take far fewer random days off. 

Here are some things I'd like to add if we continue to get more support:
  • Even more posts, and more high-quality posts (less jazz hands)
  • A seventh post each week
  • A greater number of carefully (perhaps even professionally) edited and revised posts
  • More fiction
  • Always and ever free longer fiction (books)
  • An always, forever, ad free experience on Writing About Writing


If I can't reach this goal by the end of the six weeks, I may have to return to hosting ads on Writing About Writing and I may have to consider other ways to monetize my work and/or some kind of day job that'll take me away from writing more content for you. It's not something I want to do, and it will actually limit the rage of certain kinds of content I can post, but I'll need to shore up that gap somehow and eating Raman for every meal only sounds like it is delightfully Bohemian.

Remember just twelve dollars a year–just ONE DOLLAR a month–gets you in on backchannel conversations with other patrons, polls, and conversations about future projects including sometimes even me trying to get your input. But perhaps, most importantly, you'll be supporting an artist to continue making art that will always be free for everyone to enjoy.

So if you like what I do and want to see me do more of it, not have to do less of it, and continue to do it without ads and for free, please consider a small pledge. We wouldn't have gotten this far without our patrons, and we can't do more without you.

Again here is that link:  https://www.patreon.com/chrisbrecheen

And of course if committing to a monthly amount isn't feasible, you can always make a one-time donation through my Paypal (at the top left of the screen).

[Note: I'll add to the bells and the whistles and the jazz hands to this appeal post each week as this six weeks of summer school goes on.]

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Real Talk and Guest Bloggers (A Post in Bullet Points)


  • Well, it's eleven o'clock on a Tuesday night and this is the first moment I've had to sit down and write that wasn't lesson plans. 
  • And I get to do it all again in the morning!
  • I've known (since that first year) that summer school is going to be a rough time, but I never quite GET it until the second week starts.
  • Oh my God, what the hell am I thinking?
  • At least after the first three weeks I'll have the lesson plans and curriculum written for session two. That's probably about ten hours a week right now.
  • It has become apparent to me that I will not be able to really get guest posts up until I take an admin weekend to dig through and clean out my mailbox of current posts, pending requests, written posts that I've said "Absolutely I'll psot this," but have literally put into a folder and need to go through, and statements of interest. 
  • So I'm going to do that this weekend.
  • Oh yes. 
  • Boy howdy.
  • Thus, it's not too late to get in on this round of guest blogging submissions, but read the guidelines very, very, very carefully. I'll know if you don't, and I won't be able to hold your hand through the process this time round.
  • INCOHERENT SCREAMING!
  • Seriously if you're going to submit your writing, you have to follow directions. I can be nice about this and hold your hand and send you back messages like "Oh, you seem to have drifted away from the topic of writing a bit," when I'm not working an extra 25-30 hours a week, but right now I have to just ignore folks who send me stuff that isn't playing by the rules. I apologize for that, but it's where I am right now.
  • MOAR INCOHERENT SCREAMING!!
  • If you've blogged for me before in any capacity, you might consider a second pass. I'm now making more like 5000-10,000 page views per day and about 1200 minimum on an article (for more self promotion) and make JUUUUUUUUST enough money to be able to pay writers a little bit per article (and a bit more if their article does well). 
  • Am I seriously trying to get a blog post up at 11:30? It's time to question my life choices.

Monday, June 26, 2017

March's Best (and a Quick Personal Update)

I woke up this morning at 11:30 after having slept about 30 hours in the last two days. No you read that right....and I might even be lowballing it. Sleeping in. Bed early. Even naps. I'm not sure what (specifically) kicked my ass so hard. I didn't get a sunburn or catch a cold or have hours of group sex or anything. Though in general I'm sure it's trying to add 15 hours a week of summer school to an impacted schedule, but when I woke up, I sure felt a hell of a lot better.

I usually wake up before 8am to get started on writing.  I don't know what happened, but I managed to sleep through two separate alarms. I guess I had just burnt the candle at both ends a little too long, but maybe incrementally instead of all at once, so I didn't realize it was happening. It's actually a pretty common experience for me, happening maybe once every couple of months especially when I'm really overdoing it and not QUITE getting enough me time. And I hear it's pretty ubiquitous among artists. We tend to just go until we fall over when we're on a tear.

Anyway, all that by way of saying that the ass kicking I was sure was coming has indeed arrived mightily.

Here are the three best of March's posts (and this weekend I will start up a new entry for this year's greatest hits):


Beginning Writers and Submission Guidelines-  When I put out the word, I notice that most submissions have not read the directions. This is a dreadful idea for anyone submitting to any gatekeeper. Ever.

Paying the Bills With Writing (A personal update from five years into this journey.)

Dialects Idioms and Intelligence(Mailbox) We got a question from a second language speaker about an idiom that is primarily used within AAVE.


Honorable(?) Mention- The Writer is Sick I was really sick in March, and I mean fever and bed-ridden sick. I had to take a couple of days off and for some reason that post did really, really well. It actually did better than all the others, but....it's not actually content.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Novels or Short Stories (Mailbox)

Should I write write novels or stick with short stories?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will try to answer a couple each week. I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I am not Jonah Jameson by a long shot.]  

Hamish asks:

Hello,

I'm new to writing seriously, and at the moment I've only been writing short stories. Whether this will change as I get more experienced I'm not sure, but it's telling that some of my favourite authors  (Edgar Allen Poe being my absolute favourite, along with HP Lovecraft when he wasn't being uncomfortably racist) mainly worked in this form. 

My question is in two parts: 

A. Should I be looking to expand my horizons and focus on longer works, or is working primarily in short stories still something other writers do in this day and age? 

B. Are there any differences in the way I should be approaching "The Process" - not that I think any of the steps will change, more a question of scale. Should I be using the same number of rewrites, should I be taking long gaps between each draft, etc?

Thank you very much.

My reply:

But really, was there any time Lovecraft wasn't being uncomfortably racist?

So let's take the first question because there's something very important that I think you're getting at here and it matters, but it also maybe shouldn't. Or maybe it shouldn't until later, when it's good to know, but might help you but then you may have to......

Um......

You know what. Why don't I just actually answer it.

Let's start simple. The answer to "What should I write" is, for the most part, always the same: Life is short. Death is forever. It's later than you think. Write what your soul burns to write and fuck the haters. Take what you can; give nothing back!

No wait...that last part is the pirate code.

The chances of some commercial breakthrough in this industry are shockingly small, but the number of people who put some idea of commercial viability over their personal enjoyment and passions are phenomenal. I'm teaching a class of middle schoolers creative writing. MIDDLE. SCHOOLERS. The oldest of them are going into 9th grade next year. When I tell them to write whatever they want, they ask me what I think will sell. Settle down turbo, you've got at least ten years yet before you need to sell out and have hipsters who liked your old shit better.

If ever there were a cart placed inauspiciously in front of a horse (where said horse would find it maximally inconvenient to move) this would be such a situation.

If you're enjoying writing short stories, write short stories. If you enjoy writing novels, write novels. Also Hamish if you get to the point where you need to change up what you write to reach a wider audience, you're going to see that coming miles away and have years to adjust to it. All KINDS of people will send you hate mail about how you went corporate and became a slave of "The Man." It'll be great!

This advice is especially true if you're not publishing. Writers will write for years churning out work that has no destiny greater than their own memory box under the Star Wars birthday cards and smutty handwritten letters from their first love interest as well as being a small piece of the "years of practice" they needed to develop the skills they needed to go forth. So really there's absolutely no reason to be writing any goddamned thing that doesn't bring you bliss.

Now the caveats:

If your goal is to "make it" as a writer–as soon as you figure out what that even means to you–you may want to be aware of industry trends. First of all, as you are foraging your writing skill in the fires of Mt. Doom, you should know that it's really good to write in a form you don't like, especially if that form is shorter than you're used to. It's good for writers to try their hand at all KINDS of writing they don't normally like to do, but boy fuck do most writers need to learn how to keep it short. I don't mean just Robert Jordan either.

(Bro, your slow sections are longer than War and Peace. Not cool, bro.)

Cut that scene. Get rid of that paragraph. That sentence isn't NEARLY as clever as you think it is, and if it's not doing something for your story, it's just masterbatory. You don't need four chapters to do the same thing. Practicing writing with more brevity and precision is great for writers who typically write longer. So you're off to a great start.

[One of the best exercises I ever did was to have a teacher give us a 6,000 word story prompt, and then when we were all super happy with our revised and completed stories that barely fit in the 6,000 word prompt (of which every single word was super-duper important, of course, and could never be cut in a gagillion years), they told us to trim it to 5,000 words for our final. I learned more about what is vital and what isn't in two days than in years prior.]

Does it go the other way?  Sure it does!

Long term character arcs, lots of minor characters, subplots, complications, these things aren't in your typical short story because there just isn't time, so it can be practice to kind of learn to slow down and take your time with the craft. Obviously if you're wrapping up your plot lines and your protagonist is dead by the end of chapter one, something has gone very wrong. Plus if you want to take a crack at a novel just to see what it feels like to develop the long term project chops, and get up and hack away at something every day for months, that might be a real learning experience. Kind of like going and deciding to build a house on a lark when what you usually build are sheds.

A lot like that actually. I might have to steal that one. Hashtag shedtohouse. Someone call the patent office. I want a quarter every time someone uses this. *puffs cigar*

Secondly there's this really weird paradox in the industry. Novels sell. Novels make money. Publishers want novels. You can make some sideline cash selling short stories, but if you want the big advances and the royalty checks, you probably have to write novels. HOWEVER, you will almost never ever EVER see someone get a book deal without a portfolio of short stories first. That's how writers get their name out and generate the accolades for a cover letter that an agent won't ignore.

You might also want to try a novella as a bridge between the two, but just know that those are an even harder sell in terms of industry demand. They're too long to fit in a periodical and too short to make money off of. Writers don't tend to make money with novellas until they are very well known.

So your proclivity for short stories is likely to not only be the bliss you should follow, but also to serve you well if you're trying to break into the publishing industry. Right up until you start to reach the point when someone's going to want to see a book from you. And believe me, Hamish, when that train pulls into the station, you will absolutely know it. It'll be subtle like a brick.

Here see if you can decode this subtext: "Hey, I'm an agent. When you're ready to start writing novels, give me a call. I'd love to represent you."  How was that? Did you catch that meaning beneath the layers of meaning?  Okay well then you'll know when it's time to shift to writing novels.

As far as scaling up for writing novels vs. writing short stories, it is a bit different. While a very well written novel will have loving time and meticulous attention given to its revision, it will probably not have the painstaking revision process of a short story. Short stories are dense and they are crafted with amazing precision. Some authors agonize over literally every single word choice. You can probably wait a little less time for that first short story revision than you would with a novel (a few days instead of a few weeks) but you might actually want to jack up the number of revisions.

Good luck Hamish!  Don't forget me when you're big-time. Especially if you use that shed thing.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Best YA for Young Women (Reminder to Vote)

What is the best book (or series) marketed to young women?  

Tomorrow I'm going to dig into this backlog of Mailbox questions and start rocking the kasbah, and last night I was up until 11:30 creating the post I'm going to be using for the next handful of Thursdays, so today I'm just going to remind everyone that there's only a little over a week left to vote for your favorite book or series marketed to young women. Come July, we will begin gathering nominations for a new poll and post results forthwith.

From your nominations and through quarter and semifinals, it all comes down to this last week.

Everyone has (3) votes, but remember that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better. 

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Future of Writing About Writing

https://www.patreon.com/chrisbrecheen
Hi everyone. Today marks the first of six Thursdays where I'm going to try to do something a little like a pledge drive. (You know like those two weeks where NPR spends a few minutes between each show trying to convince you to donate? Like that....except six weeks.........and only on Thursdays.) Since I'm unable to maintain my current posting schedule because of teaching summer school, I thought that this would be a good time to do a sustained reminder that my ability to keep on writing (about writing) largely depends on all of you.

This is a screen shot from MY PATREON.  I'm currently 65% to my third goal, which will keep me from having to drive for Lyft or something once I run out of Kickstarter funds allotted for the novel and keep me writing instead.

So really the awesome part is we just started and we only have 35% to go.

If I can reach just that goal by the end of this six weeks, then I'll consider myself set up for what's coming. There are many more goals. Some because the funds allotted through Kickstarter are finite and will be used up. Some because part of my current income will eventually go away. (The kid I'm nannying needs less care each year.) Some to remove the need for jobs that take me away from writing, like teaching summer school. Some because my current living situation won't last forever. Some because I can only keep not contributing to some kind of retirement fund for so long before I have to do the responsible adult thing.

Since this blog's inception we have been able to quit teaching during the regular year, bring you more content, and up the number of high quality posts each week. (And not to put too fine a point on it, but we've been able to keep bringing you content through what would otherwise have been some completely devastating life transitions that would have put most bloggers on hiatus.) We've been able to go from five posts a week to six. And we've been able to take far fewer random days off. Here are some things I'd like to add if we continue to get more support.

  • Even more posts, and more high-quality posts (less jazz hands)
  • A seventh post each week
  • A greater number of carefully (perhaps even professionally) edited and revised posts
  • More fiction
  • Always free longer fiction (books)
  • An always, forever, ad free experience on Writing About Writing

If I can't reach this goal by the end of the six weeks, I may have to return to hosting ads on Writing About Writing and I may have to consider other ways to monetize my work. It's not something I want to do, and it will actually limit the rage of certain kinds of content I can post, but I'll need to shore up that gap somehow.

Remember just twelve dollars a year–just ONE DOLLAR a month–gets you in on backchannel conversations with other patrons, polls, and conversations about future projects including sometimes even me trying to get your input. But perhaps, most importantly, you'll be supporting an artist who to continue making art that will always be free for everyone to enjoy.

So if you like what I do and want to see me do more of it, not do less of it, and continue to do it without ads and for free, please consider a small pledge.

Again here is that link:  https://www.patreon.com/chrisbrecheen

And of course if committing to a monthly amount isn't feasible, you can always make a one-time donation through my Paypal (at the top left of the screen).

[Note: I'll add to the bells and the whistles and the jazz hands to this appeal post each week as this six weeks of summer school goes on.]

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Feeling Stuck? Join the Club, and Try These Tips to Get Writing Again (R.S. Williams)

Feeling Stuck? Join the Club, and Try These Tips to Get Writing Again
R.S. Williams

For almost 20 years, I taught college writing. These days, I work as a freelance writer. Even though I’m no longer teaching, people still confide in me about their writing woes. They ask a lot of worried questions, the very same questions that my college students used to ask. One of the most frequent worries writers of all backgrounds have is what to do when they feel stuck.

And wow, do ever I know that awful, sinking “stuck” feeling. It’s horrible. It also happens to me regularly—several times a week, on average. Really bleak periods have found me stuck for months on end, making zero progress on my novel. It can be extremely disheartening, and even deeply depressing.

But a while back, I realized that I’d managed to survive all those psyche-wrenching times where I just couldn’t get the ideas to come to me. I’d shared pieces of this advice with my former students. Why not share my advice with a lot of people, in one long post? Even though I’ve reassured literally thousands of worried writers with this same advice, I don’t mind doing so over and over. People will meet the right solution when they’re ready, and when the time is finally right. As Ernest J. Gaines once wrote, “Everything’s been said, but it needs saying again.”

All that said: Take what you need from this list. I hope you’ll find something in here that helps you free yourself from feeling as if you’ll never write again.

1) Remember: You are NOT alone! Feeling stuck is common, and even normal. As Catch-22 author Joseph Heller once noted, “Every writer I know has trouble writing.” Many writers will tell you that when the material flows easily from the start, it winds up being crap. So if you’re having trouble writing and getting into your “flow” space, know that you’re in good company. 

2) Try not to beat yourself up. You’ll get past this stuck feeling. Really, you will. The fact that you’re reading this means that you’ve managed to keep writing through and around all your other “stuck” points over the previous weeks and months and years. (If you hadn’t, you’d be off doing something else instead of reading this post.)

The blocked feeling may seem extra-strong right now. (To me, it nearly always feels that way.)  Just keep being kind to yourself. Keep taking your writing in small steps. You’ll eventually move past the stopping place you feel right now. It may not be instant, but it’ll happen.

3) Let yourself write utter crap. Even the most experienced writers sometimes fall into the old lie of feeling like the words have to come out perfectly on the first try. This is what stops so many people from ever setting a single word on the page. 

I saw this all the time with my college writing students. Many of them were in a perpetual perfectionism deep-freeze. To get around this, I gave them a low-stakes (small grade) assignment with a challenge: “I want you to complete this assignment as badly as you can. Follow the instructions, but make it your goal to write badly. Write garbage. Don’t focus on making it perfect. On Monday, I want to see who’s written the worst draft possible.” 

When we returned to class the next week, my students were in much better moods. They were even ragging one another as to who had the worst paper. Sure enough, as I walked around the classroom checking assignments, I saw some atrocious grammar and spelling (which students could always fix later). What struck me most was the amount of strong thinking on those sloppy, “badly written” pages. I saw a lot of 12-point Times New Roman griping turn into thoughtful insights. Once they felt free of that it’s gotta be perfect the first time I type it feeling—once they knew I’d given them permission to “write poorly”—the ideas came more easily.

Let yourself write badly, for as many pages as you need. Chances are that the good stuff will come along once you feel free to write a bad draft.

4) Write in small, short bursts. For me, this removes some of the pressure of sitting at the keyboard for long periods. Try keeping a few sheets of paper and a pen (or a cheap memo pad) in the places you spend the most time: by the sofa, in your car’s glovebox, by the toilet, and so on. Keep the paper inexpensive; you don’t want to have such a pretty notepad that you’re afraid to use it. When a tiny idea fragment comes to you, write it down. If there’s more coming behind it, write that down, too. Otherwise, stop and come back to it later—when your next piece of an idea comes along. Before you know it, you’ll have committed to paper a bunch of small snippets that can help break up that block. 

5) Try writing longhand. (Note: If you have dysgraphia, you can skip to the next item.) 
This advice came to me from Natalie Goldberg’s classic “self-help for writers” book Writing Down the Bones. Goldberg suggests writing by hand, in a notebook with pen or pencil, as a direct way to access one’s creativity and memory. That’s how she writes every day, and how she’s drafted all of her books. It’s also how Alice Walker composes her drafts—and if writing by hand is good enough for both Goldberg and Walker, then by God it’s good enough for me. 

When I read Bones a couple years ago, I was desperate. I’d been stuck in one place with my novel, and hadn’t written anything new in months. Sitting in front of my computer keyboard got me nowhere. So I figured, why not try it? I bought a cheap spiral-bound notebook, grabbed a fresh pen, and began writing whatever junk came to mind, by and. Before I really knew what was happening, I had 20 handwritten pages of quality material. Since then, I’ve used longhand about half the time, when I’m getting new material onto the page. It helps a lot when I’m trying to write emotional scenes or deal with painful memories. 

6) Change the font color. That’s right—change your font color to white, so you can’t see what you’re putting onto the page. Then start typing. When you’re done, press CTRL + A (highlight All), or COMMAND + A on a Mac, and then change the font back to your usual color. I’m not sure why this works, but it does seem to free me up from looking at and worrying about what’s going on the page. If I can’t see it, I can’t do my usual perfectionist overcorrection thing. Ha!

7) Change your physical location. Maybe you’re stuck because you’ve been sitting in one place, and in one position, for far too long. Try moving your writing spot somewhere else: to another chair, another table, looking in a different direction, looking out the window. Move to another room, if you can.   

Or get out of the house altogether, and write for a while at the public library, a coffee shop, or a diner. (Note: You’ll want to buy a little something and tip your servers, if you go to a retail establishment.) Writing outdoors, while I sit on the front steps of my house, or on a large rock on a local hiking trail, also helps jolt my mind into action. Even half an hour in a new location can dissolve a writing block.

8) Read through old literature textbooks. Maybe it’s all the years I spent teaching from them, but reading back through old “Intro to Lit” anthologies often helps me work around feeling stuck. Most old lit anthologies are available at used bookstores, and don’t cost anywhere near as much as their latest-edition counterparts. (I’ve found some great ones, such as the early-2000s editions of the Norton Intro to Lit and the Bedford Intro to Lit, for $5 to $10.) These textbooks also often include discussion questions. I like trying to answer those questions once I’ve read a selection; often, I’ll just open the book to a random page, and go from there, whether it’s poetry, drama, or short fiction. The ideas often come flowing back to me after an hour or two of this.

9) Read your favorite authors’ work—out loud. Reading aloud forces us to read and then hear exactly what’s on the page. (If you can’t read aloud, try listening to an audiobook.) Hearing the words we’ve grown to love can help dissolve a writing block. 

10) Work on another writing project. Often, I forget that my mind needs a break from these same words. That’s when I know it’s time to look over my friend’s screenplay draft, or look at the poem I wanted to revise for another journal. This way, I’m still writing, but I’m also letting this particular creative story rest a while. Even if I don’t have a “Eureka” moment while adding a little more to that album review due next week, I’m still getting some distance on this piece before I look at it again. 

11) Set up a “work day” with a friend. Knowing that I’m meeting my friend on a specific day to sit down and work together often helps. Having another person holding me accountable for showing up, just being present, and working quietly does wonders when I’m feeling stuck. 

12) Do something that doesn’t involve writing. It doesn’t have to be fancy or exciting—just make sure it’s not writing. Cleaning is my go-to solution. Ancient Buddhist monks were on to something when they came up with the phrase “Chop wood, carry water.” It’s in the humdrum everyday activities that our lives happen one small task at a time.

So when I’m feeling extra-stuck, I know it’s time to clean out that dirty litter box, scrub those greasy roasting pans, or mop the kitchen floor. I also have some great ideas while I’m in the shower, washing my hair. No, I don’t know how this works. Somehow, though, it does. 

13) Play an instrument. You don’t have to be “good” at it—the secret is to do it. I’m barely a beginner at guitar, but playing for even half an hour uses the non-writing creative areas of my brain. It lets my “serious writer” side relax and wander off, only to return later feeling better and having a couple new ideas.

14) Listen to music. If I’m having difficulty with a scene, or if I feel as if my words have all abandoned me, listening to music often jolts me into a new frame of mind. This works for many people I know, and not just for writing problems. When I finally feel the need to turn down the volume, or turn off the music altogether, I know I’m making progress past my mental block.   

15) Draw (or paint/make other art). As with #13, you don’t have to be “good” at it. Suspend all self-judgment, and then draw (by hand or electronically). Don’t worry about what you’re drawing; reassure yourself that you’re the only person who’s going to see it. Use the non-writing parts of your brain for a while. You may notice that, before long, ideas begin sneaking back into your imagination.

If you have PTSD, like I do, this technique may help when your symptoms seem to have put your words into a deep freeze. Sometimes, when I’m having a particularly bad day, I’ll draw what a crucial scene, or the end of a story, feels like for the main character. Or I’ll draw what finishing my book would feel like. This helps me for reasons I don’t yet fully understand—but, hey, I’ll take whatever I can get.  

16) Play like a little kid. I have a box of Legos that I keep around for times like this. All the pieces are mismatched, and they’re at least 30 years old. When I start snapping Legos together, I remember the great ongoing stories that my sister and I used to tell when we were kids. Being a writer is a lot like telling those little-kid stories for a living! Before I know it, I’ve come up with a new paragraph or two in the back of my mind. Playing by myself, with a few old kids’ toys, is often fun and refreshing.

17) Get ideas and wild prompts from unexpected places. You may have one of those old Magnetic Poetry sets floating around somewhere. Maybe you know someone who’ll let you use theirs (or sell you theirs for cheap). I like shaking the plastic box and then seeing what kinds of weird prose poems I can make with the handful of words I pull out. 

Pinterest and Tumblr also have great boards and accounts to follow. Just search “writing prompts” and see what turns up. If you’re on Twitter, try following some popular storytelling bots. Here are a few of my favorites:
@MagicRealismBot (“generate[s] a magical story every 2 hours”) 
@horse_bluegrass (random, bittersweet, and sometimes inadvertently risqué snippets of old bluegrass and country song standards)
@rewrittenbible (if you’re in the market for Biblical hilarity and heresy)
@poem_exe (random yet beautiful and occasionally funny short poems)
@str_voyage (“a bot forever voyaging [...] endless nautical story generator”)
@fairytaletext (mashups of lines from classic fairy tales)

Prompts from these accounts have led me in surprising new directions. A few have turned into stories of their own. Some have been flat-out corny. No matter the weird, random prompt, this little exercise often gets me putting words on the page again.

18) If none of the tips above work, it may be wise to leave your project alone for a while. Sometimes, the story just isn’t ready. We feel stuck because we’re trying to force ideas before they’ve percolated long enough in our subconscious. Return to the story in a couple weeks, or a month. Let it simmer on your creative mind’s back burner. 


Note that not all of these tips will work for everyone. Feel free to combine two or three. Experiment with them as you see fit. The most important thing is that you’re trying something new. The fact you’re reading this—that you’re making an effort to move past your writing difficulties—means there’s hope.



R.S. Williams taught college writing for 19 years before starting a new career as a freelance writer-artist-editor. She lives in LaGrange, Georgia, where she’s completing her debut novel, Songs My Father Barely Knew. Find more of her work at http://rswilliamswrite.com/ 




If you would like to guest blog for Writing About Writing we would love to have an excuse to take a day off a wonderful diaspora of voices. Take a look at our guest post guidelines, and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Once More Unto The Breach Dear Friends, Once More (Personal Update)

The countdown begins now.

Six weeks.

Six weeks, three days a week, five hours a day (including commute).

The wibbly wobbly updaty watey ball of schedule weirdosity kicks off now. And having worked last night and today (and tomorrow through Thursday if you're keeping score) we're already in weird mode. Plus for at least the first three of the six weeks, I'm going to be writing lesson plans and plotting out curriculum every night. I'll do my best.

Just a reminder:
  • There's going to be some major jazz hands
  • I might miss a post and they're certainly likely to go up late
  • Look toward the weekend for what would usually have gone up on Fridays and Mondays ("meaty posts")
  • Thursdays for the duration will involve an appeal
  • Yes, I'm making money writing, but this is a $37/hr gig that will float me into October, so there's just no way I'm giving it up right now. My many supporters are just going to have to accept there is a small, six-week lull in what I can do each year.
Also, I could use some more guest blogs and/or guest bloggers (the hopper's getting kind of low), but I will be extra persnickety about accepting submissions. Why? Because when I have time to email 100+ people back who didn't read all the directions, it (only) takes me longer per guest blog than just writing the damn things myself.  (Only repeat bloggers make putting out a call like this "worth it" over time.)  But given what I'm going through in my real life, I really won't be able to put up with that this time around. Either read all the directions (in the above link) very, very carefully, or wait until I can hold your hand a little more. Trust me; I'll be able to tell.

Remember submitting to an actual gatekeeper/publisher type is going to involve even more little rules including bullshit like hard copies and self addressed stamped envelopes, and they will just trash your submission and never tell you if you decide you don't need to pay attention, so consider it practice if you need to get over the feeling that I'm being a megalomaniac. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Best YA for Young Women (Final Round)

What's the best book (or series) that is marketed to young women?    

In a reflection of the (lack of) value that our society places upon young women in general, the trends and tastes marketed to young women are often under the the greatest amount of scorn. The way young women talk is "not really English." The music young women listen to is "bubble gum nonsense." The movies marketed to them are "teeniebop." The literature marketed is argued to be Mary Sue or emo. Of course, the interests of young men are rarely described with such vitriol and are often folded into nostalgia markets or given more mainstream markets.

This poll is about those books (and series).

Our final round is live! Through a tumultuous nomination process, four quarterfinals and two semifinals we are now down to our last eight titles.

Don't forget you get three (3) votes, but that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better. This poll will be up until the end of June and drift into July until we start getting nominations on our next poll. Also, don't forget that that since I can't stop shenanigans like voting twice from different computers, or voting after the cookies expire in a week, I encourage as much shenanigans as possible. Vote early. Vote often.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Best YA for Young Women (Poll Results 2nd Semifinal)

What is the best book (or series) marketed to young women?

Thank you to everyone who participated in the second semifinal round for our poll.  The final round will go up tomorrow.

There's not much fanfare to this. The cut off gulf was huge, and it doesn't look lik ethere's going to be an untenable amount of redundant authors.

Results in text form below.

Old Kingdom Series - G. Nix 54 17.94%
The Finishing School series - G. Carriger 53 17.61%
Alanna - Tamora Pierce 46 15.28%
The Ruby in the Smoke - P. Pullman 42 13.95%
A Wrinkle in Time - M L'Engle 24 7.97%
Wee Free Men - T. Pratchett 22 7.31%
Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery 21 6.98%
The Will of the Empress - T. Pierce 19 6.31%
Lunar Chronicles - M. Meyer 14 4.65%
A Ring of Endless Light - M. L'Engle. 6 1.99%