Getting the Words Out.

Last Thursday, I told you that I was in a complete writing slump, and that I would be spending the rest of the week testing out various different “cheats” for getting words on paper. Not with the view of producing great literature, but simply to shake myself out of the doldrums. Well, I made good on my promise, and now I can share the techniques I tried, and tell you what worked and what didn’t.

Get ready for a long list, people. With bullet points.

  • Start a freakin’ blog. I’m serious. There have been so many days when I didn’t want to write at all, but then I thought, “Wait though, you’ll have to BLOG tomorrow. You have to have SOMETHING to write about!” Guilt-tripping works, people.
  • Free write. This was the first thing I tried, and I’ll be honest, it didn’t really work all that well. But don’t write it off just because I said that. I think the problem this time was that I tried just writing down whatever came into my head, rather than having a direction I wanted to head. Whenever I have done free writing on a specific topic, it has worked like a charm.
  • Try some guided journaling. I have several guided journals, one of which is specifically for generating inspiration, with a different thought-provoking quote on each page. I love them, and while they aren’t always exactly what I need, they can provide my mind with a nudge in an unexpected direction.
  • Experiment with different forms. Usually write poetry? Try writing a how-to article. More of a high-fantasy writer? Write a contemporary romance short story. This can be hugely refreshing. I tend to be a bit of a dry, “this-happened-then-this-happened” writer, so every once in a while I feel the need to gush out some bad poetry in order to get out of my rut.
  • Change your tools. I kid you not. This simple little change can actually put your brain into a different mode. I typically write either directly on my laptop, or in a typical student notebook with a pencil or ballpoint pen. A couple of days ago I decided to haul out my calligraphy pens and try some lettering. Well, it ended up turning into an imaginary correspondence between a young man from the early 1800s and his father, parts of which I have grown quite fond of.
  • Draw. Really. Even if you “can’t.” As some of you may know, if you’ve read my blog before, I’m an artist, as well as a writer. One evening, I was doodling a face. It started out as a teenage boy, but one of the eyes became extremely slanted, and his whole face took on a mischievous, elfin aspect. I drew him some pointed ears, and he suddenly became Puck in a tee-shirt. Well, that was certainly interesting… Two hours later I found myself with a new plot line and a host of wonderful new people running around in my brain.
  • Try a FanFic. I know, I know. I thought I was “above” them, too. I thought, “Really, if you’re going to spend your time on a story, it might as well be original.” How snobbish of me. I’m ashamed. On one of my dry days, I realized that all I wanted to do was sit around and obsess over one of my many fandoms, but I had this blog post hovering over me (See first bullet point), so I grabbed one of my notebooks and a couple of minor characters and started writing. It was such a blast, people, you have no idea. Plus it gave me a chance to practice quite a few of the skills I’ve been learning, all without any of the pressure that comes with original work.
  • If all else fails, read good books. Sometimes, nothing works, and the words just won’t come. And that’s okay. That’s how life works. If you’re really in one of those nasty spaces, read the work of an author you admire. Really read it, don’t just surf over the story. Pay attention to the things the author does. Analyze what makes it great. This practice is immensely fun, for me anyway. It’s like being allowed to attend a masterclass free of charge, but you can sit in a pile of pillows with a cup of tea if you want to. (Welcome to my life, people. Piles of blankets and cups of tea make up a significant percentage of it.)

So there you have it. Some of my recommendations for getting words down on paper when nothing else seems to be working. Let me know if you try any of these, or if you have any sure-fire methods for snapping yourself out of your own writing doldrums. I’d love to hear about it!

To Be Nobody but Yourself.

Well, in the vein of being honest, as I burbled about in my last post, I have this lovely quote to share with you:

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
e.e. cummings

It’s so true, isn’t it? The world will never stop fighting to stifle us, to stuff us into the mold of what they think we should be. Life is a battle; life is confusing. That’s why I’m so grateful that my God has my best in mind and at heart. He shows me every day how to better become my true self; the self that I was created to be, before the world shoved in to try and warp me, twist me, and cover me in scars. As long as I’m listening, that is. Yet He is also infinitely patient, never giving up on me, even when I allow the world to get to me.

On a different note, where do you stand on the capitalization question of cummings’s name? I’m always insecure about it, because I’ve heard arguments on both sides of the question. Do you capitalize it, or not?

Let’s Be Honest.

Well folks, I’m just going to tell it to you straight: I’ve hardly done any writing at all in longer than I like to think about, let alone any good writing. I let myself get into a bad head-space, and lacked the drive even to remind myself of why I push myself in any endeavor. When I sat down to write today’s blog, I tried to dredge up a topic in my mind, so that it would look like I had been working and learning and being productive. But as I scrambled to think of a nugget of wisdom to share with you all, an unbidden thought drifted into my mind and stuck there: “Don’t you want to be honest with your life?”

My first answer, quite frankly, was “No, not really.” I would much rather project an image to my followers of a highly dedicated, intrinsically motivated power woman who never has bad days.

Insert unladylike snort here. I am none of those things. What I am is a basic twenty-something who doesn’t have a clue about anything; but who is on a journey to accept myself and my circumstances for what they are, rather than trying to force them to be what I think they ought to be. And while it may not be comfortable at first, a big part of that acceptance lies in being honest, with myself and with others, because covering up certain aspects of myself is the opposite of accepting them. Until we accept our flaws and stop trying to pretend they don’t exist, none of us have a hope of moving beyond them. When I think of honesty in those terms, my answer to the original question becomes, “Yes, I absolutely DO want to be honest!” Honesty may not be easy, especially public honesty, but it is always good.

So there you have it. I’m being honest with you today. And now that I’ve accepted the fact that I foolishly allowed myself to get into a bad head-space, I can find in myself the ability to move beyond it by buckling down and putting words on paper. I’m going to be trying out a number of different strategies for getting out of the creative doldrums, and next week I will share with you the strategies that worked. I’m looking forward to it.

Perfectionism vs. Communication.

Today I’m sharing a quote that was initially stated about visual art, but, as I have observed before, art quotes are astonishingly cross-platform things. For writing purposes, simply replace the word “color” with “word”, “phrase”, or whatever other aspect of writing you wish.

“…art is not something that is learned and then practiced, it is a form of communication and one is always trying to say something clearer. To love and to be honest, maybe one does not exist without the other and a desire to communicate that, this is what it takes to make art.

Start by putting down the one color that excites you the most, then the next, relating it to the first. This is the relationship that excites you the most. Then the third color, relating it to the whole. You are emphasizing what interests you and minimizing other things by putting them in the service of your true passion and leaving out altogether what distracts. Keep it simple.”

-Ken Kewley

One of my common struggles, and probably one many beginning writers share, is knowing exactly what to emphasize in a story. Life tends to be one big ball of confusing tangents, and sometimes it’s impossible to see the “plot” until you reach a sort of “scenic viewpoint” and can look back at the road you have already traveled.

If that was how we approached our writing, it would take a lifetime to get any story written, and they would all be so full of rabbit trails and unimportant characters that readers would give up before they had read more than the first few chapters. But if we follow Ken Kewley’s advice, and simply strive to get the thing that most interests us down first, and then make sure everything else relates to that point, everything should fall into place. That way, we can keep it simple, and make sure we’re communicating clearly.

The other aspect of this quote that I enjoy is when he says that “art is not something that is learned and then practiced”. For perfectionists like me, there is a constant feeling that we should be able to learn the technique, and then get it right on the first try every time.

Ha. Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha HA HA HAAAA!

As if.

In spite of my little shoulder demon of perfectionism, I have a little shoulder angel that loves a challenge.

shoulderdemon

That shoulder angel thinks the challenge of communicating an idea in the simplest, clearest way possible is the best thing ever.

So I think I’m going to listen to the angel this time.

 

 

Different Thoughts.

“It is remarkable that different people will have different thoughts when they look at the same thing.”

-Lemony Snicket, The Reptile Room

I love Lemony Snicket, don’t you?

Here’s an interesting exercise to try, based on this quote (I just thought it up, and I’m quite proud of myself.):

Write a scene based on two or more people looking at a single object. They each have different thoughts about it based on their upbringing and personality. What kind of communication mishaps come about through the characters’ assumptions about how other people see the object?

Un-primed Poetry Primer.

Oh, dear. This has been quite a distracting week for me, and I don’t really have anything brilliant to share with you about my writing journey.

So guess what that means?

In this post on The Ode Less Travelled, I said that if I ever felt brave, I would share some of my execrable poetry attempts with you all. Well, I don’t feel brave, but I literally HAVE NOTHING ELSE TO SHARE.

All my humblest apologies for what follows.


About halfway through the book, Stephen Fry required his readers to write verse in each of six different forms we had been studying. The “poems” had to describe their own form. It was a pretty challenging exercise, and I was happy just to get through it, honestly. Here’s what came of it:

Terza Rima

In Terza Rima rhyming is the scheme
Which binds together every other line.
This linking form makes every stanza seem

Continued from the last, and this is fine.
But when your thought is full, about to pop,
And in your verse there’s nothing to refine,
An extra “C” rhyme brings it to a stop.

The Quatrain

The Quatrain is a standard English verse
Whose use is varied, and the options wide.
As poets, we could really all do worse
Than keep the Quatrain firmly by our side.

The Rubai

The Rubai’s an exotic kind of way
To write the things you think of day by day.
You may say “How’s it different from the last?”
Look close; you’ll see the scheme’s “aaba.”

Rhyme Royal

This verse, you know, was good enough for Geoff,
And some say it was used by Henry Four.
If with iambic feet we can be deft,
(And if our rhyming skills are not too poor)
On Royal form, why would we shut the door?
Add one last couplet to cement the thought;
Our rhyme is ended, and our poem caught.

Ottava Rima

This form is not unlike the Royal Rhyme
Which from old Chaucer has been handed down.
Though both these forms have stood the test of time,
And may be found in shops in every town,
Preferring this one’s surely not a crime:
The Royal’s double couplet makes me frown.
Plus, Byron used this Rima for Don Juan!
So surely that fact lends the form some brawn.

Spencerian Stanza

Oh Spencer, why did you invent this form
Just to write your stupid Faerie Queen?*
You must have known it couldn’t be the norm;
Its lines are snaky. Only the greats could lean
On verse like this. The rest must find you mean;
And they, like me, refusing to be led
Along your garden path, or up your bean-
Stalk, must (if not already) wish you dead.
Don’t take offense, but I must say I hate you, Ed.


So there you have it. My gosh-awful self-referential verses. While they are inexcusably terrible, they DO meet all the requirements of the forms. For someone like me, who doesn’t profess to have the foggiest clue about the musicality of words, that’s not half bad.

*The Faerie Queen is probably not stupid. I wouldn’t know, I haven’t read it. That descriptor was merely inspired by my exasperation with Spencer for creating this obnoxiously twisty form. The rhyme scheme is “ababbcbcc.” Well, I ask you!

 

 

Music for Adventures.

For writers, there are many uphill struggles, wearying battles, and forlorn hopes. Not the least of these is the pitiful attempt to find the right playlist for your story-writing endeavors.

Well.

I can help with that.

Adam Young, of Owl City fame, has a new side project: Writing sound tracks for hypothetical movies. He will be releasing one on the first of every month for an indefinite period. His first soundtrack, based on the Apollo 11 mission, was released yesterday. You can find it on his website, http://www.ayoungscores.com/, where you can listen to it and find links to download it on iTunes. You can also stream it on Spotify.

This is a great album for writing those heroic adventure scenes. It has just the right amount of epic.

Enjoy.