#BreakTheBlock - I'm Still Standing

I haven't published a book in 4.5 years.

Last month, I typed the end on a 90,000 messy disaster of a first draft.  The joy I felt at finally, after 10 months of baby steps, well - I can't even find the right words to describe the thrill and the relief.

Here's the rub.  The logical conclusion would be - yes, I've finished a book. I can do it again. But if anything, the anxiety sits there waiting to grab me when I think about producing a new one. Will I or won't I? So I'm not gonna say that the block is broken or that I'll churn out six books in the next six months.  I'm facing a monster edit that will take some considerable time.  I still stumble over all this subconscious BS because let's face it - creative energy is emotional energy and there is only a finite amount to work with.

What I am is a storyteller.  It doesn't matter whether it plays in my head, comes out my fingers into a story, or gets published.

For those who feel like your life is dominated by writer's block - the struggle is real.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

#BreakTheBlock - Action

As Gandhi said, “Action expresses priority.” If it matters to you, you’ll find a way.

What matters the most shouldn't be at the mercy of what matters the least.

it’s far better to have your system be something that helps you work the way you work. If you know that you need two full hours to fully engage in something, you can allocate two full hours instead of thinking you can do it in four 30-minute chunks. The equal quantities of minutes in those two scenarios do not translate to an equal quality of minutes.

#BreaktheBlock - Five Thoughts and a Map

Every writer I know has trouble writing.  --Joseph Heller

How did Week 1 go? Did you hold to your 5 minutes? Did you find a groove spot where you knew you'd accomplish it? Did you achieve 80%, 40%?  It all counts.  Even 1/7 counts because the goal is progress, not a nitpick of what you didn't do. Any progress from 0 counts. If you didn't get there for whatever reason, try again this week.  Add keeping a log of how much you accomplished or what you didn't accomplish and why. Sometimes sick child trumps everything and those things are understandable. But if you don't write it down, concrete reasons stay nebulous and, therefore, not actionable. If you met the goal, increase your time. Fifteen minutes, 500 words - your choice.

This week we're going to talk about how writers mess with our head especially when we're blocked. I have this thing. I wanna be like Nora or Stephen (as in Roberts and King.) Stephen King has said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that he tells people he writes every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and his birthday, but the truth is he writes every day. (If you haven't read his book On Writing, go, do, and absorb.) Nora does the same thing. EVERY day - thousands of words! That idea sits there and sits there working on me. It's my job. I should be like Nora. Right?

Truth is I would kill for that kind of consistency. I've been writing for 28 years and have never met that challenge. Even though I have 10 books published, several took me years to write. Me thinks it's probably time for a new challenge. My muse doesn't respond to that goal. What's the fastest I've written a novel? 5 weeks. 65,000 words. How did I do that? I'm rolling on the floor laughing at the moment because that was 3 years ago and I have no earthly idea. I'm at a point where connecting with what I used to do is not a useful exercise. Things have changed for me. Have they changed for you?  Maybe it's time for a new goal, a new standard. One that fits a delicate psyche (meaning fragile, not weak!) and a complicated life.

Remember writing is a process and most of it goes on in your head. Extreme writer self-care is important here, and I don't mean the snacking at your desk or the playing spider solitaire to relax - neither will help you write. Put a protective shell on like a turtle.

First, if someone asks you if you're writing, stay away from the complicated answers and just say yes. If they want details, say "It's too early to discuss, but I'm having fun with it." Always frame the positive. Why? Because part of self-care is to be nice to yourself.  More on this in a minute.

Second, don't solicit comments from any writing friends, family, or your bestie on how to break this thing. Don't share the depth of your despair because trust me with this. All their advice will be based on little experience, a pop-psychology orientation, or worse still, a need for you to take their advice because it'll make them feel better. Not helpful. Few people understand creativity and motivation, and even fewer have helpful advice.

Third, count everything you do in your writing process as writing. The time you spend doodling to figure out your plot?  It counts. The time you spend trying to find pictures of your scenery or your characters? It counts. The time you spend in the car talking to yourself about dialogue? It counts. The time you sit at the park observing the scenery and human activity? Count it all. Make time to do these things because these tidbits come into imaginative play when you write your book.

"Vision is always ahead of execution."  David Bayles/Ted Orland, Art and Fear

Fourth, what about the time you spend before going to sleep? Are you silently berating yourself about not writing? Stop. It. Negativity hurts. It hurts your thought process. It hurts your motivation. It hurts your heart. Just don't. We get inundated with have a positive attitude and all that, and I bet I'm not the only one that wants to say to those telling me to be positive to go bugger off. That's not what this is. Negative framing and negative words affect your subconscious. I'm not going into an in-depth explanation here because there's a very good book that will totally explain it better than I can. Go to the library, the used bookstore or Amazon and find Yvonne Oswald's book - Your Every Word Has Power.  Stop for a minute and say "I didn't" to yourself and see how you feel.  Then say "I tried" and see how you feel. Break the "I didn't" terminology and make it "I tried."

Fifth, search all sorts of places for ideas to fight writer's block, but be very careful of those that are full of quick fixes or the opposite - detailed criticism. Now I have no objection to constructive criticism, but one author I read this week suggested that writer's block isn't real - that if you have work strategies in place, you can fight the blank page by just relying on what you've always done. Hmmm. I can't tell you how vehemently I disagree. The stories are definitely in my head, and they aren't coming out my fingers by relying on what I usually did. Because my normal world was shifted by a divorce and a grandchild with autism. Falling back on what I used to do before isn't helping me because my whole life has changed. My priorities have changed. Have yours been changed by illness, depression, or the death of significant person in your life?  Are you caught up with a new relationship, a new job, moving, planning a wedding, having a baby, or getting a degree? Be kind to yourself! Constructively deal with what IS.


Mind Mapping.  Click on the mind mapping link and follow his procedure.

"It's not about making yourself get unstuck; it's about letting yourself get unstuck." Productivity Flourishing 

I would also add that it's about being emotionally ready to be unstuck. 

This block we all experience at one point or another isn't about writing, it's about feelings. Get specific about what IS - put it on paper and look at it, then cut yourself some slack. Some would say: "Isn't cutting myself some slack part of the problem?" No, it isn't the problem at all.  We'll be talking more about that next week.

I'm not going to blow good fortune your way and say there's no problems here. There are. Forward progress when you've been stopped dead is not an easy thing. I'm relearning everything I thought I knew. Analyze the messages you're sending yourself.  Is it time for change? Try this week. It's all I ask of myself, and it's all I'm asking of you.

Week One:  #BreakTheBlock - Ready, Set, Go

#BreakTheBlock - Ready, Set, Go

Do you ever look at your word count and stress?  Are you stalled in the middle of the book? Do you keep walking away from your desk because the words won't come?  Has it been so long since you've written than you're afraid you don't know how to put a good story on paper anymore?  

That's me.  Right this moment, I'm struggling out of a world of can't.  Can't make the words come, can't get an original idea if I cut open my brain, can't follow the tons of advice on writers block because it just makes me feel more lame and helpless.  If this is you too, join me for a adventure.  You know the kind.  Camping with the s'mores, the great bonfire, and the snorer in the next tent.  Let's not make this drudgery, but together we can explore and find the thrill of writing again.  It's called the #BreakTheBlock Challenge, and it starts today.  

You can take a moment if you'd like to analyze why you're suffering from Writer's Block.  For me, it's not a block of words, but a block on producing fiction words.  I took on freelance writing 4 years ago to support myself, and the necessity to make money made me put those dollar words first.  After 2 years of struggle, I realized what a horrible impact it was having on fiction writing and quit the content mill process.  Then I took on academic writing to support myself and, although I find it easier, the same thing happened. I consistently produce those words, but to my chagrin, I exhaust my supply of want to and fiction writing leaves me staring at the page. Add a few years where deaths, divorce, and drama mixed with a crazy routine and tons of responsibilities and here I sit.  Sound familiar?

write romances, and during my divorce, I found it impossible to write happily-ever-after books. WRITERS BLOCK lives.  I went back to school to earn a graphic design degree, changed to art history, owned and closed a digital publishing company that took 5 years of attention to run properly, and now I'm wanting to revive a dead fiction-writing career.  Eight books published, and I'm like a babe in the woods again.  How did I write a full novel eight different times? I don't know.  It seems like a dream except Amazon shows the results of that labor.  So, if you find my how-to sheet bring it to the campfire and show me. 

But here's one thing I did figure out during that time:

You live what you put first. Patti Ann Colt

Everybody has priorities.  There is nothing wrong if your family or your job comes first, just figure out where writing is in your priority and keep it there. Going back to school wasn't a simple decision for me.  I knew it would impact every aspect of my life, but at that moment I needed a serious change and something, gads anything, that would spark my passion. I never expected to find a different creative side, but I did, and I never expected that hands on creativity to spark my fiction writing again. What did I learned from finishing two years of school? Doing what you love is really important, and nobody else can make the changes necessary to put you where you need to be. 

You may hear other writers say "Oh, writer's block isn't real. Those are all just excuses." If you avoid saying anything about your writing career because you fear someone will say "Suck it up, cupcake," then I'm glad you are here.  I will never say those words to you. There's nothing worse than wanting to write and not being able to. We're going to talk about this more in coming lectures, but I say that this is my life and my choices are my choices.  What feels real to me, is therefore, well, real. Don't beat yourself up over how you chose to live. You don't owe anyone any explanations. If you're like me, you beat yourself up more than anyone else can anyway.  Fighting against the pileup of guilt when goals go unmet is about as non-productive as it comes. 

One caveat that's important here:  Don't come here to complain about your life.  If you're looking for real solutions, are willing to analyze the problems and are willing to try new things to figure out how to get out of what's happening with your writing, then you're in the right place.  I'm here to help, here to advise, and here to try things with you.  Explore for Solutions - that's #BreaktheBlock. 

Second caveat: I can write anything, but I don't love freelance or academic writing.  I can do it, but it doesn't spark any creativity. It's just a means to eat.  Important, yes.  I'm not arguing that, and if you're in that situation, by all means keep plowing forward.  If you have a day job and have to work hard there to keep the bills paid, kudos to you. Financial stability is important.  If you're like me, though, your next novel (or 5) is stuck in your head and you need a tweak to your lifestyle to make your novel a reality. This challenge is for you.  Don't expect massive goals and demanding changes. As I've discovered, they won't work.  
So here it is - simple and straightforward.  

This week:  

1) Write for 5 minutes every day. 

 I don't care how you accomplish this.  But don't make a big deal out of setting aside the right space and the right time.  You'll fail.  Use your computer on the sofa or in bed, put your show on pause and use your iPad, grab your iPhone at the next really long light (Please don't type while you're driving!), or pull into Sonic or your favorite coffee shop, grab a receipt off the floor, and write for five minutes in the parking lot!  Five minutes is only five minutes. It doesn't give any time for fear to build or for your internal editor to click on, and most things can be ignored for 5 minutes.  BUT you can accomplish 100-200 words in that 5 minutes. Don't believe me?  Time yourself.  I have, that's how I know.  If you can't get 100-200 words, you're thinking too hard.  Work on your novel, write about the car next to you, write a note to your spouse, or take a random word and see where it takes you.  There's hundreds of creative writing prompt choices. Find one.  

Now I know, 5 minutes seems like a really low goal.  If you're a seasoned writer, you're thinking "I can do more than that."  Yes, I'm living in your head.  Don't listen to yourself. I think that to myself all the time and it's not helpful. I also think - I can do it later.  Then later comes, and presto, the goal hasn't happened.  So set your time.  Can you meet a 5 minute promise to yourself?  I think I can.  And so can you.  

I write better first thing in the morning, but I also spend a lot of time in my car driving - another commitment I won't explain.  But if I adjust my timing and take my iPad or a CAN notebook (see how I worked CAN into a CAN'T situation), a pen, and my story notes (which are printed from a nifty program called yWriter), I can pull over a couple places along my route and set my iPhone to time a 5 minute write.  Heck, I've been stuck in DFW traffic longer than that.  Analyze your day and find those 5 minutes.  No excuses.

A habit takes a few days to settle in, so don't give up.  1400 words a week writes a full novel in 42 weeks.  If you snorted to that, tell me how long it's been since you produced a full novel and just do it!

You numbered that, you say.  Where's the #2?  


Find a book, any book and read - whether lunch hour, cooking dinner, or bedtime, spend some time with a favorite. Pay attention to the flow, the thrills of following a story again, and keep it going.  If you have to cut out a few television shows, just do it.  With Netflix, Hulu, On Demand, etc. etc., you shouldn't be a slave to sitting there. Pick your 2-3 have-to-watch-now shows and cut the rest..... and I'm saying that with The Voice just starting, Walking Dead ready to explode, and March Madness in full swing so I feel the same pain.  I love television too, but it cuts off your connection to the written word.  Find it again.

"Just write every day of your life.  Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very successful careers."  Ray Bradbury

That's all.  Take some steps today to #BreakTheBlock.  Feel free to introduce yourself and/or leave your successes or problems in the comments!

"Simply Don't," Patti Said.

Good morning, writers! Patti here.  Getting back to writing after a couple years break. Well, not a break per se because it wasn't like I planned it that way.  College, grandkids, and life's chaos had me in a complicated loop there for a bit, but I'm back! While I was out, I still kept up on writing issues around the internet sphere and dealt with a bit of writer's block of my own and the mental challenge of breaking bad procrastination and overscheduling habits - but more about that in another post.

My topic for today is a pet peeve of mine, please pardon the brief rant but take the advice to heart.  My peeve is the substitutes for the word said.

Put simply it pushes my buttons to see credible bloggers pushing the idea that there is a substitute for "said." CHECK OUT THIS LIST OF SUBSTITUTES FOR SAID pops up all the time on my feed on Pinterest and backtracking those and reading what these writers want you to substitute makes me pull out my hair. I just ran into a writing book on Amazon where an author published all those words with this same directive - use these to substitute.

No, no, just no. Don't.

One of the main reasons is this:  Anything that pulls your readers attention to your writing instead of being utterly absorbed in the good stuff of your story is bad news.  But let's put some more punch behind that.

Remember back in first, second, third grade when you were learning to read?  It's a simple fact that through practice your subconscious learns to recognize the meaning of certain words but skim them without actually reading them.  Words in this category include: is, it, that, the, when, said, etc.  When your brain skips over these words, what happens?  It falls on more important parts of your story. Subbing words like exclaimed and explained for "said" tangles your reader up in your words because they have to stop and process the meaning of those words, and in some cases, they put an emotion behind them you don't intend. If you want another look at reader statistics to help you shape the how of reading, pick up The Writer's Little Helper Book by James V. Smith here.  It's full of all sorts of gems to help you get out of the way of your reader.

Second, have you read this book: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King? If you haven't, go here and get yourself a copy.  I wish someone had given me this book before I started writing.  I could have avoided a few dozen rookie mistakes, and the pain of undoing the bad habits. Pay attention to their comments on absolutely only using said for the reasons listed above and because it makes you look like a freaking rookie writer.

After I read this book (which was years and years ago), I wrote 3 chapters of a book as a test for myself.  I didn't use said once.  Why?  Because those spots are a perfect opportunity to make your characters real.  People don't sit still when they talk.  They twirl a coffee cup, toy with their food, tap the foot or fingers, rub a nose, stare around the room, flush with embarassment or anger.  Make your story real.  It's a good habit to develop, one I cultivated years ago and now it's a writing habit.  Try it. Always assess "said" in your edit process and see if you missed opportunities to bring forth some motion or feeling. Use said sparingly when you have a dialogue section that needs the "said" attached to help keep straight who is saying what. And then it's, "Shane said." And it is "Shane said" not "said Shane." Period. End of rant.