Tag Archives: writer’s block

Story Prompt Monday: Sometimes Your Closest Confidant is a Stranger

“I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.”

I love this quote from John Steinbeck. While emulation of our literary heroes may prove worthy practice when starting out, our goal as writers is to sharpen and develop our own voices. We look to the masters as teachers–why not look to them also for inspiration?

steinbeckIf you’re familiar with this quote, let go, if you will, of what Steinbeck intended. Make it your own. If you are experiencing writer’s block, or looking for a hook for your next short story, I invite you take this one sentence for a creative walk through your own imagination.Who do you envision is speaking? And about whom?

1. Do you feel this sentence reveals wisdom and experience? Is it an older person looking across the table at a relative or loved one while having a revelation about something they may have just said or did to cause the narrator to wonder whether they’ve ever really known them?

2. Does this voice sound like a dramatic teen to you? Someone who questions whether anyone see him or her for what or who they are, below their own wel–crafted albeit misguided facade?

3. Is the narrator a disappointed or heart-broken spouse?

4. How about a life-altering experience? An unexpected request for divorce, the untimely death of an innocent, a devastating fire–extreme, uncontrollable forces can ravage one’s point-of-view irrevocably, making everything one might have believed become questionable, fallible, broken.

Where does this quote take you? Please share in the comments below. Include a link to YOUR creative writing, please! Or, chat with me on Twitter @TheRJLacko (#storypromptmonday)

Leave a comment

Filed under For the love of writing, Writing Prompt

Kill Writer’s Block Now: The Fast Track to Creativity Starts Here

Staring at a blank page?

No me, my friend; I’m already off and writing this blog post, charmed by the prolific Charles Bukowski, “Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” (The Last Night of the Earth Poems)

Garnering the wisdom of two of my favorite writing instructors, I’m here to solve your blank-page-trauma in only five minutes. Yes, you can be power-typing a brand new story before a fresh pot of tea is ready. Here are my tried-and-true, never-fail rules for copious creativity:

Know what a story is. If you haven’t already (why haven’t you?) get yourself over to WiredForStory.com, home of famed storycraft maven Lisa Cron. You must learn, internalize and copy/paste at the top of your page Lisa’s mantra:
A story is HOW and WHY what happens (the plot) affects (the protagonist) who is in pursuit of a deceptively difficult goal (the story question) and how he or she changes as a result (what the story is about).

If your idea is “Mom makes a peanut butter sandwich,” then apply Lisa’s guideline as follows: Why does she make it?  Does she have a child who will order a burger and fries in the school cafeteria if no PB&J is offered? Slow down the action and tell us HOW she makes it. Make her think about the pattern on the plate, the weight of knife, and whether she’ll choose Tupperware or a ziplock and WHY. How does she feel about all this? When the sandwich is complete, how has she changed by the experience?  Satisfied in her parenting skills, or comforted after concern from pediatrician about high fat and cholesterol in child’s diet? Is she thinking about her own mother, or suffering any symptoms as a result of a nut allergy?)

Writing Prompt Helpers. That peanut butter sandwich prompt was genius Rebecca, but where can I get ideas so shiny and bright? Generally, I have a character or situation to begin with–especially when I’m starting a new chapter in an existing fiction piece. If I’m at ground zero, I Google “writing prompts,” like a trained chimp, ahem. The silliest prompt can elicit some profound thoughts, so don’t be afraid to grab the first one and go.

Brainstorm without borders. For no-nonsense writing advice from an accomplished writer and busy mom, you can’t go wrong with Author Jody Hedlund. I love her brainstorming plan, and I think it’s a must-do at the beginning of every creative venture. Jody says, “Before writing, I come up with pages of ‘what if’ possibilities for my story. I make long lists of all kinds of wild and crazy ideas that I could include in the story. I don’t limit myself. No idea is too stupid. I write down everything and anything… Usually the first few ideas we have are somewhat boring and cliched. So if we stop there, we’ll find ourselves frustrated. But if we list a hundred (or more ideas), then finally we’ll start digging deep enough into the creative well to pull out fresh ideas that excite us.”

This is solid advice, but one HUNDRED? (Yes!)
My next tip will save you from spending the entire weekend on that list…

The 5 Minute Miracle This is my own, personal, golden ticket. I set my phone or kitchen alarm for 5 minutes and I type as fast as my little fingers can. I don’t care about spelling, punctuation, capitalization–nada. I don’t stop to sip my coffee or pet the cat. I type without censure. You may call it stream of consciousness, but it isn’t. Why? Because of Lisa Cron’s mantra at the top of my page. I start with who, and I steer myself toward how, and that leads me to why, and then aha! Even I didn’t see coming the natural progression to the change experienced by my protag as a result. I type these scenarios as fast as I can, and when the alarm goes off, I have several ideas, a bunch of junk to be edited or cut, and some real, solid, satisfying fiction leads I may have taken HOURS to arrive at, without these tools.

Same goes for dialogue. If I’m working a scene and I don’t know exactly what my characters ought to say, I five-minute the heck out of them, and when the buzzer goes I’m surprised to learn what they “really” wanted to say all along.

Set your alarm, find a prompt, and let the five-minute-miracle unfold.

Oh, then tweet me about your adventure @TheRJLacko –or comment below, of course!

Leave a comment

Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Your highest potential

Self-doubt and writing: amicable partners?

It’s Monday morning, and I am dragging myself through the mud. Am I making any progress?  Is what I’m writing any good, any good whatsoever? Over the weekend, my husband and I had the rare opportunity to enjoy a date night. It was a beautiful evening, so we sat outdoors at one of our favorite places (the incomparable Watermarc in Laguna Beach) and over dinner, my husband inquired about my fiction novel, Radiohead.  He asked if I come sum it up, so I gave him my elevator pitch.

His response? Utter indifference. Struck by his impassibility, I found myself rambling, determined to convince him of how exciting the details of my story are proving to be, but the conversation continued its radical nosedive. While the storyline seemed promising and dynamic to him, in truth he really didn’t want to talk about the details of my process. Nonetheless the exchange aggravated deep-seated self-doubt I’d been struggling to quash.

“Every one of us experiences self-doubt, even the most well-established writer,” says Joan Dempsey of Literary Living. “Dean Koontz, for instance, an author who has sold more than 400 million books and is one of the most highly paid writers in the world, says ‘I have more self-doubt than any writer I know.’”

Dempsey also points to Alice Munro, the celebrated Canadian writer who’s been called our Chekhov, and how she worries every time she finishes writing a book that she’ll never write again.

“Let’s agree, then, that self-doubt is an ordinary part of every writer’s experience, even yours,” says Dempsey. “You’ll never be without it. The question is, what can you learn from it?”

Here are Joan Dempsey’s four reasons to appreciate your self-doubt.

1. Self-Doubt is a Protective Instinct

Self-doubt arises out of your own instinctive desire to protect yourself, which is actually a nice impulse that you probably don’t often acknowledge. We usually bemoan or bludgeon our self-doubt; we believe what writer Sylvia Plath famously claimed, that “the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

I beg to differ!

You can be more creative if you welcome and examine your self-doubts.

It’s true, though, that we writers allow our doubts to keep us away from our work. Why? To protect ourselves from pain. Author James Baldwin says we’re good at fooling ourselves because we don’t want to get hurt. “We don’t want to have our certainty disturbed,” he said.

Psychologists call this self-handicapping . If you stay away from your work you’ll never have to face the pain of writing poorly, or you can fool yourself into thinking you’ll be a great writer if you do get down to work.

The problem with that, though, is that you’ll never really be a writer. Baldwin believed that the trick is to know when you’re fooling yourself.

The best writers live an examined and therefore honest life, and that includes scrutinizing your self-doubt.

2. Self-Doubt Sounds an Alarm

Not unlike a smoke detector, self-doubt alerts us to the presence of fear, the typical cause of our doubts.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a well-known Buddhist teacher (and celebrated author), advises us that because fear is a natural and constant presence in our lives, we’d do well to welcome it rather than fight it:

It is best not to say, “Go away, Fear. I don’t like you. You are not me.” It is much more effective to say, “Hello Fear. How are you today?”

The next time you feel self-doubt, don’t despair or fight – look around to see what might be smoldering; be grateful for the alarm.

3. Self-Doubt is a Call to Action

Dean Koontz is notorious for obsessively polishing his paragraphs. “I began this ceaseless polishing out of self-doubt,” says Koontz, “as a way of preventing self-doubt from turning into writer’s block: by doing something with the unsatisfactory page, I wasn’t just sitting there brooding about it.”

In Koontz’s case, feeling uncertain about his abilities actually motivated him to take an action he might otherwise not have pursued.

4. Self-Doubt Provides Fresh Perspective

If you keep your doubts to yourself you’re missing a valuable opportunity. By sharing your doubts with friends and writing colleagues you’re bound to get a fresh perspective. Others often don’t see your failings or uncertainties in the same way you do.

By sharing your doubts you’ll likely learn something new about yourself, feel companioned, hear a helpful cheer, or receive a much-needed boost to your self-esteem.

James Baldwin, in discussing why he writes, says he does so to describe. What he means is that by describing something in detail you come to understand it intimately. Describe your doubts in writing, or through dialogue – either way, your new understanding can help disarm your doubts.

The next time self-doubt keeps you away from your writing, try this:

  • Review these four reasons to appreciate your doubts;
  • Say “Hello, self-doubt, how are you today”; and
  • Get to work.

What have you learned from your self-doubts?

Joan Dempsey is a writer and the founder of Literary Living, an online program for serious, aspiring writers who want to overcome resistance and self-doubt to create a unique writing life. Sign-up for more information, a free audio interview with Leo Babauta, and a free e-book, The Power of Deliberate Thinking: 5 Strategies for Staying at the Writing Desk (Despite Your Self-Doubts)

5 Comments

Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts