Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tip O'Day #435 - To Wallow or Not?

Guest blogger Connie Travisano Colón on writing through grief.

I was honored when Dixon asked if I would write a guest blog, and told him I would as soon as I figured out a topic. Like any good writer, I spent a good deal of that time procrast…um…proactively researching and formulating ideas. Then I hit a major stumbling block – life got in the way. Actually, it was death.

My mom had passed away in April of 2012. After “going through the motions” during the funeral week, I was hit more and more by her absence during the subsequent weeks and months.

Not only did I neglect to write this guest blog post, but I also shoved aside my magazine assignments and let my newest manuscript take a rest. A long rest. Matter of fact, I was avoiding my office. I had gone back to my part time job but couldn’t get myself to sit at my desk and do any writing when I was home. I still read books. I answered email from my iPad or phone. Of course, as many of you know, I still spent many hours on Facebook – but not in my office.

Then it dawned on me that the phone call about mom had come when I was sitting at my computer working on my manuscript – on a scene that took place in a funeral parlor. I now knew the reason for my paralysis, yet couldn’t park my butt at the computer to write.

Okay, now what?

I emailed my agent, Jill Corcoran (jillcorcoran.blogspot.com). Surely she would give me that “kick-in-the-pants-tough love” advice that I needed, right? Wrong. Her answer surprised the pants off of me instead. In her infinite wisdom, Jill said I should wallow in it. She told me that if I rushed back into it before I was ready, then that would show up in my writing.

So there I was with my bona fide Permission to Procrastinate. I did just that for a while but knew I couldn’t continue indefinitely. Change was in order. First came a complete office makeover. My husband helped me switch around the furniture and reposition everything. While I was at it, I even cleaned and organized. (In some parts of the universe, I’m sure that could be considered a form of procrastination.) I did manage to slowly squeeze out a few more pages of that particular manuscript but it wasn’t a happy reunion. Being a writer of humor, I needed happy.

Figuring that more change was in order, I tried some new things. My friend and fellow creative soul, Art Fyvolent (www.SquirrelVentures.com), was developing a fabulous concept for a pet rescue website. I helped him tweak some of the writing and did a bit of proofreading and editing. It was for all those sweet, innocent dogs after all – I couldn’t say no. So yes, that is why you see lots of dog rescue posts on my FB page now, as a way to thank the pups for helping me get back into writing. This wasn’t my usual shtick, but hey – I was writing again. My paws were stepping in the right direction.

I also joined an in-person critique group in my area with several children’s writers I had met through NJSCBWI. Yay – deadlines, since my goal was to bring new pages to each of our meetings.

The next big change was taking a TV Scriptwriting class taught by Alan Kingsberg (www.alankingsberg.com). Yay – more deadlines! But this was totally out of my comfort zone. I had never done any writing for TV. So I was spending money to schlep into NYC each week to undoubtedly make a fool of myself in front of people who knew what they were doing. Or as my teenage son pointed out: “Mom, you’re the ‘scrub’ of the class.”

Long story short - I loved the class. The ‘scrub’ did quite well, and signed up for another session. I now have a fun pilot episode based on one of my chapter book manuscripts and I intend on writing more TV scripts. The course helped me punch up the humor, along with making every word count since there are strict time constraints for television. Everything I learned is now helping me strengthen my book manuscripts as well.

Bravo to all of those people able to continue their normal writing routines even when life’s big problems get in the way, but if you just can’t, don’t beat yourself up over it. Perhaps taking a slow detour will lead you up a path that is the perfect place for you.

Have I finished that manuscript with the funeral parlor scene, you ask? Nope. But there’s no expiration date on that one and I’m having a blast with other projects. I’m happy and productive with my new critique group. I love the way my office is set up now, and couldn’t be happier with my newfound love of writing TV scripts. (Okay, I lied. I’ll be happier when I actually start making money at it.) I’m grateful that I had the time to help with some behind the scenes animal rescue, and grateful that it helped me get a jumpstart back into my writing chair at the computer. Lastly, I finally managed to get this blog post written for Dixon - phew!

No doubt, Mom would be proud.

Connie has sold over 60 articles and 100 photos to publications including Highlights, Fun For Kidz, AppleSeeds, and Faces. She is currently developing a TV pilot script for an animated kids series.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Saying for Writers #158 - Samuel Johnso

A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.” – Samuel Johnson

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tip O'Day #434 - A Stumbling Block

Guest blogger Eve Paludan on Ten Ways to Bust Writer's Block...by Writing!

Writer's block is a stumbling block to productivity. Once in a while, it hits almost all writers, even the ones who are passionate about the craft. Since writers are introspective, emotional creatures, external forces, such as financial worries, illness, conflict with another person, or lack of sleep can stall the best writers and cause their motivation to go AWOL. Here are some tried-and-true methods that I use to break through a serious halt in my productivity.

1. Ensure that you always have more than one project in progress. If you get tired of working on one project, switch to another one for a day or so until you find yourself longing for the project that got stalled. Then go back to it with a fresh eye and a renewed passion.

2. If you are itchy, cold, hungry or annoyed, take your laptop to someplace where you don't usually write. Make yourself comfortable and write in that new place, whether it's McDonalds or the kitchen table, until you are tired of it and want to get back to your usual writing location. Sit in a different chair, take your laptop to the couch, go hide under a shady tree, or sit in a recliner chair. Move your office for a little while and write something. Then, when you get antsy again, return to the usual place where you write.

3. If you are stalled in a fiction project, then write a little nonfiction to get your hands moving on the keyboard again. Some examples are guest blogs, twitter tweets about your books or a friend's books, book announcements on Facebook, or book review for someone else's book on Amazon. The idea is to go through the motions of word creation, even if you are in a different head space about your novel manuscript.

4. If a particular scene of your work-in-progress is the cause of halting and scratching your head because you don't yet know how to handle the scene, write a note to yourself in the manuscript, such as insert love scene here and then go onto the next scene where you DO know what you want to write. You can always return to write the hard parts later. Keep your writing productivity in motion!

5. If you usually write without music, put on some music, especially something instrumental, and let it inspire you. I do not suggest turning on the television as it seems to engage all of the senses, instead of just the ears. I think TV is too distracting, but that's just me.

6. If you know where the keys are without looking, type for a few minutes with the lights off or with your eyes closed. Just channel the words and let your automatic writing take over. Wild things can happen on your pages! Peek every so often to make sure that your fingers are on the right keys.

7. If you usually type and hit writer's block, try using pen and paper for an hour or so. My favorite place to write longhand is at the beach or on my front steps. Or if you usually write longhand, try using your computer. The idea is to write something using a different physical process.

8. If you hit a plot wall, then work on writing quick character sketches of the hero's or heroine's physical, emotional and intellectual traits.

9. Write your Amazon catalog description of your book or what you would put on the back of a print book. Without giving away whodunnit or howdunnit, write five to seven sentences that describe the characters, main conflict, and obstacles that your hero or heroine must overcome. Jazz it up with some excerpts of book reviews from readers.

10. Read your characters' dialogue out loud, without any dialogue tags, and expand their conversation by typing it while you talk. Keep it going as long as you can until the scene plot points are resolved or lead into more questions or another chapter.

Oh, and about number 10 – I once had my front door open and was reading dialogue aloud, not realizing my landlord was kneeling in the flower bed out front, listening. I got up to go check on my laundry and he was startled when I found him right outside my front door. Apparently, my characters' dialogue brought him to his knees.

Good luck with these writer's block busting tips. I hope they work for you, too. Feel free to add some of your own tips in the comments below.

You can check out Eve’s novels and stories here and her newest novel is Finding Jessie: A Mystery Romance. You can also connect with Eve on Facebook or Twitter.