The Elusiveness of Inspiration

We’ve all been there. You sit down to write and the words just won’t come. Maybe you’re just exhausted from working all day. You’re too tired to think straight, let alone write a coherent sentence. Or maybe you just can’t think of what to write. The muse may be singing, but you surely can’t hear it.

Every writer has felt this way, more than once. What separates the writers who make it from the writers who don’t, is that the latter quit trying.

But if I’m being honest, there are days I just don’t even want to write. It’s not necessarily that I don’t have something to say, I’m just being lazy or stubborn and I want some me time (read, I want some time to sit on the couch and stare at the wall and pretend to be productive).

There’s really no way to squash the elusiveness of inspiration. You’re either going to feel it or you’re not. Some days writing is like performing surgery on yourself. It’s painful. You don’t want to do it. The stuff coming out of you is pretty sickening. But you know if you don’t do it, it’ll only be worse the next day.

And that, my friends, is the key.

Writing through the tough times will bring you to the good times. Getting through the tough times is, well, tough, but there are ways to make it easier on yourself. Here are some tricks I’ve learned over the course of the last year and a half I’ve been in grad school.

Hide.

There’s nothing worse than trying to do something you don’t want to do while your significant other is watching Modern Family in the other room. Granted, my hubs wouldn’t dare do that without me, but you know what I mean. Anything can be a distraction when you’re doing something you don’t feel like doing. The only way to combat this is to hide. Find a secret place you can go to and get away from whatever might tempt you.

Write the easy/fun parts first.

People usually say this the other way around. If you do the hard stuff first then the rest will be smooth sailing. Well, pardon me if I’d rather dip my toes in the hot tub before I jump in and scald my skin off. In research paper-type writing, I found it better to start with the parts I was genuinely interested in, rather than the parts that would require me to find a billion sources that don’t exist. I’ve nearly broken my Mac ten times in my anger when I’ve tried to do it any other way.

The same goes for creative writing. I do prefer to write in a linear fashion, but it is okay to glaze over some parts if you intend to go back and rewrite them. Granted, if the parts aren’t interesting, then maybe they shouldn’t be there in the first place. BUT, if you want to wait until you’re in a better from of mind to write the heavier stuff, then do it. There’s no set rules on how you have to write. As long as the elements of the craft are in place, you could have written it backwards for all I care.

Make yourself a playlist.

Be prepared to switch this playlist up, otherwise you’ll make yourself sick of the songs. I have different playlists for different writing moods. If I’m working on an edgier piece I tend to listen to something like Halsey. If I need to get in a solid groove then I go for Explosions in the Sky. Whatever you know will work for you without getting you distracted.

Reward yourself.

Shoutout to my last blog post. Place rewards for yourself along the way, and pretty soon you won’t need them anymore. If I need to write 4,000 words for a class, I’ll give myself a Facebook break for ten minutes at every 1,000 words. UNLESS I’m in a groove. Then I keep going. The wisdom of giving yourself a reward is knowing when you know you don’t need it.

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Think like Faulkner. People don’t become masters in their chosen field because they’re talented. They become masters because they trained themselves to be.

~Liz

Follow me @liz_tampa on Twitter and @wethewriters on Instagram.

How to Make Goals (That You’ll Actually Stick With)

I think most of us know how to make a realistic and achievable goal. Just in case you don’t, here’s a quick run down:

  • Break your goal down into a series of steps.
    • Each step will propel you onward, because you have mini-victories to cheer you along.
  • Give yourself deadlines.
    • But make sure they’re reasonable. If you aren’t writing full time, chances are you can’t write a full length manuscript in one week, let alone plan and edit it.
  • Prioritize your goals.
    • Figure out what’s most important and make sure those get done first. Most important can mean what you care about the most or what needs to be done in a timely manner. You’re smart, you can figure it out.

But here’s the problem. If you’re anything like me and take issue with authority (it’s a problem, I’m working on it), then even giving yourself a set of rules makes you want to rebel. I write to do list after to do list, and you know what I end up doing with them half the time? Throwing them away, telling myself I’m not the boss of me. It’s kind of ridiculous, but that’s beside the point.

I’ve discovered a handy trick to help achieve my goals, and the second I say it you’re going to smack yourself in the face. Just, before you x out of this tab, give me a second to explain. Pretty please?

The trick to actually achieving your goals is *drum roll please* reward yourself!

Seriously, that’s it.

Rewarding yourself can be literally anything from going on a shopping spree (I suggest leaving this to the big goals, like getting published and being given a huge advance) to taking a bubble bath with a glass of wine and your current book. I promise it will change your life.

I typically reward myself with a Starbucks latte or a book from my favorite local bookstore (I try to find used copies so I don’t break the bank). If it’s a huge goal I just accomplished, I’ll splurge on dinner out.

Your rewards don’t have to be insane or innovative to work. By rewarding yourself you’re doing more than telling yourself good job. You’re telling yourself that you value your hard work, you deserve recognition for whatever you’ve done (even if the recognition is just from you), and that you care about what you’re doing.

When we put goals on a piece of paper they sometimes become disconnected from our dreams. They become items on a list we want to cross off and get out of the way. If your goals are your dreams, then you shouldn’t want to move on from them. You should want to live in them, soak up the feeling of accomplishment, and allow yourself a little treat to recognize how much of a bada** you are!

So make those goals, but don’t forget to treat yoself!

~Liz

Follow me @liz_tampa on Twitter and @wethewriters on Instagram.

Stop Talking to Yourself

On Monday I gave some tips for staying in third person with limited perspective. Today, I want to help you decide whether first person is right for you.

Staying it first person is a smidge easier than third. You’re obviously going to be limited to what your character can see, touch, smell, taste, hear, and suspect. You can’t jump heads unless you start a new chapter (or there is an obvious page break within the same chapter, but that’s still pretty jolting and not recommended). And if you do decide to have more than one character’s perspective, you need to decide early on in the novel.

I really don’t think there’s anything worse than getting part or all the way through your book when you realize it could have been written better in another point of view. So how can you avoid that? How do you know if first person is right for you? Here are some suggestions.

If the story cannot be told by anyone else.

This isn’t to say that a first person story is more personable than a third person story. It simply means that the introduction of a narrator, who can be seen as another character entirely, would stand in the way of your message. This is one of those questions that only you as the writer can answer. You have to be self-aware *gasp* enough to know how you can tell this story best.

If you want to keep your audience in the dark.

Of course any good story is going to have a certain amount of intrigue or surprises. But how much surprise do you want to have? And how do you want to deliver it? Yes, you can achieve something similar through a limited third person perspective, but if you want to truly get into your character’s head to deliver the impact to your reader, you may want to consider first person.

If something doesn’t feel write when you try to write any other way.

I promise this isn’t a cop out reason. Have you written a couple test chapters of your novel? If you haven’t go try it out now. Try it with a limited and omniscient third person narrator, and if that just doesn’t feel right, try first person. You’ll know it when you have it because your narrator will feel like an extension of you. You’re inhabiting another being, but there’s a bit of you in it, whether you like it or not (so hopefully it’s not a villain talking). Look at it from the reader’s perspective. Would they want to be in this character’s mind, or would it be better to have a buffer?

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Overall, the best advice I can give is to remember that third person is going to have more freedom, whether they’re limited or omniscient, so decide early on if you need that freedom, or if the restrictions of first person will actually benefit you in the long run.

~Liz

Follow me @liz_tampa on Twitter and @wethewriters on Instagram.

To Write or Not to Write

Last Friday I wrote a blog post about making the decision to go to grad school for writing. I realize now I probably should have preceded it with a post one making the decision to become a writer in the first place, because believe me, you have to make the decision to become a writer.

Writing is no easy task and many people give up the dream of finishing a novel or getting published because it seems impossible. Words are hard, let’s acknowledge that.

So what is a writer exactly? How do you classify someone as a writer? The answer is simple. If you write then you’re a writer. Yes, it’s true. Anyone can be a writer, but not everyone can stay a writer. Because you see, writing is not a one time thing. Writing is wrapped up into the essence of who you are. A true writer can not stray from writing for long. The buildup of words in a writer’s chest is too much to keep inside. They must release them, good or bad.

But how do you decide whether the writing profession is for you? There are plenty of talented writers out there who choose another path. How do you know this is the right one for you?

If you’ve tried to leave it but kept coming back.

Sign #1. You tried not to write. You willed yourself not to do it. But reading just wasn’t enough for you. You couldn’t bear to just be in someone else’s world. You had to create your own.

If you know you’re in it for the long haul.

There is no such thing as instant success in the writing world. It is a long and arduous path. You will be exhausted, you will feel disappointed, you will want to quit. But your vision is long-term and you can handle the waiting game.

If you’ve looked writer’s block in the eye and made it your b****.

Yup, I went there. Writer’s block can take you down and keep you down. You have to choose not to let it win. You have to fight for every word you write. If you can do that, you’re a writer.

If you’re willing to make sacrifices.

Writers make all kinds of sacrifices, whether it’s their social life, having a secure job, income, etc. You don’t have to quit your day job to become a writer (definitely pay your bills, people), but you may have to cancel your evening plans in order to stay true to your scheduled writing time. Or maybe instead of that lavish vacation you’ve been wanting, you should look up writing conferences instead. Writers make sacrifices, but they know it will be worth it.

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Writers are magicians. And like any good magician, a writer must practice their craft. This profession is not for the faint of heart. Do you think you can do it? (I think so.)

~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter.

Show Me What You’ve Got

Show and tell. I remember getting so hyped in kindergarten to show off whatever pet rock I currently owned or my latest horrific drawing.

But let’s be real for a minute. In kindergarten you can barely string two sentences together without losing your entire audience. The glory of show and tell had nothing to do with the telling, it was all about the show.

When you read a book, a good book mind you, you’re often so engrossed in the story that you miss the fact that the author is describing to you the richness of their world. When you write a book, a good book mind you, it’s easy to get caught up in wanting the reader to know the story as fast as possible. You’re excited, it makes sense. Unfortunately, too much telling ends up looking a bit like word vomit.

But, that doesn’t mean we show off all our goodies too. There’s a balance, but yes, the scales do tip more toward the show side. Sorry friends, Lady Justice isn’t completely impartial.

So what does that mean for you?

It means that when you write and edit you need to look out for opportunities to give your story some flavor. Instead of giving your audience their usual mac and cheese (which they love), you might want to change things up with a new dish or two. Maybe some stir fry or a juicy burger.

How do you switch gears from telling to showing? Here are some simple ideas to get your brain in the right gear:

Classical Rewrite

This is currently my favorite exercise in grad school right now. Choose a classic, any classic, and rewrite a scene. Focus on showing the story through action, thoughts, and emotions. Instead of writing “It was cold.” try “His skin prickled as the goosebumps trailed up his arms. He pulled his coat tighter against the chill.” It’s a little dramatic, but you get the picture. Go as big as you want, knowing you may have to tone it down when you get to the final draft.

From Script to Screen

Find a product you love around the house. Anything from your clothes to your couch to your favorite candle. If you had to advertise this product on TV, what would you want to show. For example, I have a White Barn scented candle lit next to me. It supposedly smells like Cactus Blossom, which unfortunately I can’t verify. But that doesn’t matter. How would I market this product? How would I show on screen that it smells delicious?

I could show someone relaxing in the tub with this candle lit nearby. I can show the flames reflecting off something personal, like a family photo to suggest it’s good for everyone. I can show someone freaking out about not finding a lighter, because using this candle is obviously life or death.

Try to think about objects and people (note: not the same thing) in terms you aren’t used to. When you think in ways you aren’t comfortable with you tend to stumble across gold.

From Stage to Script

Take straight dialogue and turn it into straight action. No spoken or thought words. None. Only action. It’s similar to the first exercise except that you’re using a play, which are notoriously dialogue heavy. How would you take a song from Cats and rewrite it into an alley scene between two strays? Or how would you take the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet (gag me) and show it without either of them speaking? Kinda fun, right?

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Listen to my friend Anton Chekhov. He knows what’s good for you (and me). Take the time to flesh out the details of your writing, letting your reader experience the story with your characters. It will engage your audience and keep them coming back for more.

~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter.

How to Keep Your Creative Muscles Strong

Like anyone with a physical hobby who needs to work out to stay on top of their game, writers need to exercise their brain to keep their creative muscles from going dormant. Aside from a pen a paper, what you need most is time and solitude.

A few ideas wouldn’t hurt, either.

But how do you get those ideas? How do you stretch and grow the muscles in your brain to make your writing better?

The answer is simple: practice.

Here are a couple ways you can practice your writing that will help kindle your imagination (Some of them may seem familiar from a previous blog post. They’re worth repeating.):

Freewriting

Freewriting is an easy way to open up your mind to new ideas that may be stuck there in the clutter. To freewrite, just grab a pen and paper and set yourself a timer for 30 minutes. During that time just let the words flow. It doesn’t have to make sense. You can have a disjointed stream of consciousness or the beginning of a story.

But make sure you keep going for the duration of whatever time you choose to write. This exercise isn’t just to free up your ideas; it’s also to help your writing endurance. You don’t just run a 5k without first running a mile, then two miles, then three, building up your lung and leg strength.

Try to do this at least once a week, if not more.

Find a Photo and Tell a Story

Ever heard of Ransom Riggs? He’s the author of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It’s this little best-seller turned major motion picture inspired from a set of vintage photographs. I don’t think I need to make a further case here for why this method is worth a try.

It’s as simple as this: find a photo and write a story centered on it. Your characters can be in the photo, own the photo, have been to the place in the photo. Try to be creative with it. I once wrote a short story based off a picture of a cardboard box about a soldier getting a care package from home.

Don’t just choose pictures that are easy to write about. Choose the difficult ones, too. This will help your creativity muscles when you found you’ve written yourself into a corner and need a way out.

Rewrite a Story from a Different Point of View

This can be something you’re already working on or a piece of a story written by someone else. If it’s written in 1st person, change the character. If it’s in the 3rd, try writing it in the 1st. If you really want to have some fun, incorporate 2nd person. If this is done well, it can be a really interesting twist.

Rewrite Dialogue into Action

This was a project we just did in one of my grad school courses and I loved it! Take a dialogue heavy scene and rewrite it with pure action. Use character’s expressions, body language/movements, and sounds to express what they’re thinking.

It’s a really fun and unique exercise that will have you pushing the boundaries. It also makes you appreciate dialogue that can be straight to the point and tell exactly what the character is thinking and how they feel. But it will also open your eyes to the possibility of choosing a different form of expression. You may just find yourself rewriting your own dialogue heavy scene into something more vivid for the reader.

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Most importantly, don’t let the moments of frustration cause you to quit. Every single writer has felt the urge to give up and try another day (or not at all). There are times you may have to lay an idea or manuscript to rest, and that’s okay. What you do after that is what makes you a writer.

~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter!