Sunday, August 3, 2008

Getting Started—Keeping Going: Finding Time and the Words to Write

by Darlene Ryan

More winners! Congratulations to Susan E. who wins The Writers' Book of Matches and a Laura Secord frosted mint chocolate bar. And congrats as well to David Cranmer winner of copies of Twilight Falls, The Watchman, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and a Laura Secord dark chocolate almond bar. Please send your snail mail address to me at darlene at (change the "at" to @ of course)

Thank you everyone for joining us this weekend.

When I wrote my first book the munchkin was a baby, her father was working out of town, and I had to walk everywhere. Up hill. In waist high snow. In my bare feet.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little. My point is I didn’t have a lot of time—or a lot of adult company which probably explains why,for a short time, Luis on Sesame Street started looking pretty darn cute. But I finished the book and it was published. I was tired all the time. I was either with the munchkin, doing laundry, or writing. But I finished the book and it was published. The key for me was setting a goal and working toward it every day.

I wanted to write that book more than I wanted to do just about anything else. More than I wanted to watch Law & Order—and I have a deep and abiding adoration for Jesse L. Martin—more than I wanted sleep. Every day I did something that got me a little closer to that goal. I wrote at least a page, even if I was sitting at the computer literally holding my eyelids up with one hand and typing with the other. I checked out publishers’ websites and prowled the bookstores and the library for books similar to mine, while the munchkin sat in her stroller and tried to launch her teddy bear over the shelves like some furry Evel Knievel.

If you have little people in your life—or maybe it’s aging parents—grab every chance you have to write. Carry a small notebook and pencil and scribble down ideas, lines of dialogue, scene descriptions everything, as soon as you think of it. Because with little people clamouring for your attention ideas disappear faster than Cheerios®. When you have more time, expand your ideas, write those scenes—either when everyone’s gone to bed or before they get up. I found that if you wait until you have time you’ll never get that book written.

Take a hard look at your week. Spouses and kids can bake potatoes, steam veggies and sprinkle some cheese over it all for a great supper giving you half an hour to write. You won’t really pine away to nothing if you don’t see the delectable Wolf and the next episode of American Gladiators. (Does anyone know if he has a poster, by the way?) And be honest: how much time do you really spend checking email? A few minutes here, a few minutes there can add up to enough time to write a page or maybe two. And in a year that’s an entire book.

But what happens if you find the time to write, but you can’t find the words? What do you do when you’re stuck. Call it writer’s block. Call it fear of failing or fear of succeeding. Doesn’t matter. You’re frozen in front of the keyboard. Now what?

Having a detailed outline is one way to keep from feeling stuck when you’re writing. But not everyone likes to use an outline and even those of us who do, can write ourselves into a hole.

The best way I know to get unstuck is to write myself out of the hole, after all, I wrote myself in. I know some writers who can think themselves unstuck. I have to do it with words. Sometimes lots of words. Most of what I write under those circumstances I don’t use. That’s not the point. If it’s your writing time you write. Even if everything you create is dreck. Pretty soon it won’t be. (And if it is, there’s always editing. See yesterday's post.) I keep writing, no matter how awful what I’m writing seems, until I figure out what my problem is and how to fix it. At one time or another I’ve used all of the following to get myself unstuck:

1. Decide what the next logical thing to happen should be and write the opposite.

2. Reveal a deep, dark secret about a character.

3. Change the point of view character. Or change POV all together—from third person to first, or from close third to omniscient third.

4. Put two characters together who have no connection and have them fight, share information, or get lusty.

5. Turn the main character’s best friend into her enemy.

6. Turn the main character’s enemy into a friend.

7. Kill someone—the main character’s source of information, his best friend, his mother.

And if none of these ideas work for you, there’s always chocolate. Just keep writing. Probably the best writing advice I ever heard came from Billy Crystal’s character in Throw Momma From the Train: A writer writes.

There are two giveaways today. One for inspiration and one for entertainment.

To inspire you: The Writers’ Book of Matches—1001 writing prompts and a Laura Secord frosted mint chocolate bar.

To entertain you: Twilight Falls by Lynn Viehl, The Watchman by Robert Crais, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and a Laura Secord dark chocolate almond bar

(Disclaimer: Lynn Viehl is a writing friend. Lynn gave me an advance copy of Twilight Falls. It's terrific. If I had problems with the book I'd say so. I received an advance copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from the publisher. I couldn't put it down. Again, if I didn't like the book, no matter where it came from, I'd say so.)

If you'd like a chance to win one of these two giveaways, make a comment on this workshop (or just say “Hello” in comments) before eight PM eastern time today, August 3, 2008. The munchkin—who like Elliot Ness cannot be bribed—will draw two names from everyone who comments. The draw is open to anyone, anywhere, even if you’ve won something here before. Good luck.

For a list of more workshops to inspire you visit: Paperback Writer


Helen said...

Good suggestions. Thank you.

This will sound nutty, but sometimes when I'm stuck, I lie down on the couch and let my mind drift. Usually, just before I drift completely to sleep, I'll see the scene play out in my head. Most times I'll wake up and either jot down notes or write the scene. Sometimes I fall asleep and then have trouble remembering the fabulous idea I came up with.

It's not a perfect system.

Jen said...

Again, my writing is limited to what I do on my blog, but sometimes I find myself very stuck when I'm trying to put together a review. I may feel like I have a million things to say about a particular book, but just can't figure out how to say them. That's one of the reasons I like to include excerpts from the books. They are often my launching pad to get the ideas rolling and out of my head!!

David Cranmer said...

A great post with some wonderful ideas. Thanks...Sometimes when I hit that mental roadblock or I don't seem to have the time because of my day job (and this sounds simple) but I just write. Get it down no matter how bad it is and I'm always amazed that something good comes from it.

Dave said...

Darlene, both of your weekend posts on writing are terrific. I've never written a book, but as a Baltimore journalist who's been around long enough to remember Jim Palmer, I've written and edited enough sentences to fill several copies of War and Peace. As a writer, whenever I was stuck, I took a walk and tried to get back to the essential elements of my story's theme, a "nut graph." Then I would try to direct the story's flow back in that direction. I also found that in self-editing, it often helped to read out loud. That allowed me to avoid getting caught up in jargon or other stilted language. Write like you talk is generally sound advice.

Darlene Ryan said...

Helen, I like your idea. Do you think I could convince everyone that I can't make supper tonight because I need to lay on the sofa for an hour and figure out how to fix the plot hole in Chapter 12? It wouldn't be a real nap, it would be a working nap. This has potential.

Dave, I remember Jim Palmer too. Of course I was a very young child when he was still playing. :) I'm realizing that I do write the same way as I talk. I forget the commas in both cases.

Anonymous said...

I carry a tape recorder...because I can't take notes when I'm driving--and that tends to be when some of my best 'revelations' surface.

Susan E said...

Thanks for sharing your list of unsticking strategies, espicially doing the opposite of what is logical. It seems most techniques for unsticking ourselves involve relaxing and turning off the infernal editor, as you called it yesterday. I find a bath works. Ten minutes in the tub and I have a eureka moment.

Lori said...

I realize my problem is I keep getting sidetracked by all the things I think I should be doing instead of doing the thing I'd like to be doing--writing. So tonight instead of watching a rerun of 60 Minutes I'm going to write.

Anonymous said...

Somebody said something like: if you have writer's block, lower your expectations.

Funny, but true, too. If I'm stuck, it usually means I'm going in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, I never seem to remember this....

Janet K.