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.

IMG_1035.JPG

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?

img_0905

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.

FullSizeRender.jpg

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?

fullsizerender

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.

Grad School: Yay or Nay?

I’ve mentioned once or twice (or more, who’s counting?) that I’m living that grad school life. You’ve definitely seen my ups and downs if you follow me on Twitter. (Oh, you don’t? Well, you should!)

Grad school is a pretty big decision for us writers, because it doesn’t guarantee getting published. There aren’t tons of lit agents standing in line at graduation, handing out offers instead of diplomas. While I’d be totally down for this, that’s just not the way life works. Grad school is an amazing stepping stone, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not going to suddenly make you the most desired writer out there.

Okay, now that I’ve effectively crushed your spirit, let me explain why¬†I¬†chose to go to grad school. And please note right now, this is¬†not for everyone. Grad school is like being in a lit circle with people you didn’t ask to get to know, and you have to listen to them dissect your raw works of art. It’s rough, it’s hard, but for me it’s worth it.

So without further ado, I should go to grad school if…

I’m financially prepared to handle the burdens.

Grad school is¬†expensive. No matter where you go. At Southern New Hampshire University it’s probably more affordable than most and it’s still in the $20 grand range. Yes you can get government funding, but you need to be mentally and physically prepared to start paying them back 6 months after you graduate. You have to decide, is the financial stress you¬†will feel worth the degree?

I want to get more than just a critique.

Your work is going to be critiqued by a lot of people with varying qualifications. I always defer to my professors suggestions first and my peers second. But grad school is about more than just getting critiques on your writing. You can pay people $100 for that without having to go through 1.5+ years of non-stop schooling. You’re not just going to take creative writing courses. You’re going to take literature courses that you may love or hate. English courses that will make you¬†second guess everything you know about formulating a sentence. Honestly, I didn’t start actually writing my books until my second to last term, at least a year through the course. Are you willing to wait that long?

I can handle criticism and people who don’t have tact.

This is my nice way of saying that not everyone in grad school is going to care about you. You will find the random gems (I have one in my thesis course right now who is so gentle but effective with her critiques and I love her for that), and you’ll find the ones you’d like to punch in the face (but my school is online soooo…). Writers have to have a thick skin, because even after you’re published, not everyone will like your work. You have to be ready to hear “no,” “change this/cut this,” “show don’t tell,” and “rewrite everything you’ve ever written in your entire life.”

Okay, that last one is a stretch, but I have had to rewrite page after page when my professors have shown me how what I’m currently turning in could be¬†better.¬†Are you willing to have someone tell you your good writing could be better writing?

I am able to prioritize and put my grad school life above my social life.

Let me say this first and foremost, if you have a family, your family should¬†always come first. You can afford to get a B in a class, but you can’t afford to lose the people you love over your career (and yes, as much as writing is a passion, it is also a career).¬†You¬†will spend countless Friday nights trying to reach your word count, writing 18+ page papers on things you may not care about (here’s looking at you, lit classes), and reading books and novellas you may hate.

Grad school is not going to be sitting in a circle with your notebooks in hand, people watching and drinking coffee and laughing with your other artsy hipster friends. It’s sitting on the couch with your laptop, everyone else asleep and you trying to maintain your 20 tabs on the internet while keeping up with the ever changing MLA format (you guys, I had just memorized how to site EVERYTHING and they changed it…this feels personal). Are you prepared to give up having a social life for the better part of your time in grad school?

IMG_0762.JPG

I chose to go to grad school because I wanted a degree where I could teach at a college (preferably online) while I work on finding a lit agent. I am not under the delusion that things are going to fall perfectly into place after I graduate in January. Do I hope they will? Hell yes I do. Do I expect them to? Not at all.

I chose to go to grad school for me. I knew that this would be the best route to achieve my dreams of being a published writer, and I am willing and prepared to take on the consequences of money, time, and stress. If you think this may be the route for you, I suggest you take the time to really research and understand what each school can offer you.

  • Would you like to do an online program with or without a residency (mine is without)? Or would you rather be in a physical classroom with people sitting directly next to you?
  • What are you willing to spend?
  • Should it be accredited (always, yes!)?
  • Which schools turn out success stories?
  • How involved is the school in your success?
  • What classes does the program require?

I think you get the idea.

I, personally, am really glad I chose to go back to school to get my master’s degree in English and Creative Writing – Fiction from SNHU. It was a big, scary step for me, and I’m grateful for the support system I have to encourage me along the way. But the biggest thing is to make sure you are doing this for¬†you. Not to wave your diploma in someone’s face or because you think you¬†have to get published now that you have a degree.

JK Rowling didn’t have a degree, Veronica Roth did.

So to summarize my entire post: there is no wrong way to become a writer.

~Liz

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

PS, SNHU did not pay me to write this post. I’m just really proud to be a Penman.