Monday, May 16, 2011

On Writer’s Block

There are two kinds of writer’s block and both suck. Suckage #1: You have no work-in-progress and you can’t figure out what to write. Suckage #2: You’re stuck in your current work-in-progress.

Maybe the same methods can help both types of writer’s block, but I’m going to focus today on the second kind.

So you’re in the middle of your novel and…you have no idea what happens next. *gulp* Or you’re editing and you realized a giant supermassive plot hole exists in your story and you have no idea how to fix it.

First, take a deep breath. Don’t freak out. You’re a smart dude/dudess and you will figure this out. And—good news—I have the cure!

The cure is…a quiet mind.

When you’re sitting, staring at the page on your computer screen, pounding your forehead, yelling WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT…the answer is not going to come to you.

Have you ever had this happen? You spend all day squeezing out a measly 200 words. You must have written and rewritten the same paragraph ten times. You can’t figure out how to fix this scene. You go to bed frustrated and feeling kind of hopeless. You spent eight hours with Microsoft Word open and got nothing done. Then…while you’re lying there drifting off, almost asleep…BAM. The answer comes.

Why is it that you couldn’t figure out the scene while you were working on it, but your mind came up with the answer while you were lying in bed not even consciously thinking about the book? Because your mind was quiet. It does interesting work while quiet.

I asked my pal Sarah Fine about it. She is both a YA writer and a psychologist who writes this awesomely awesome blog. She said, "It's possible to get 'stuck' in a kind of cognitive loop that prevents you from thinking outside the box. If you're staring at that ms--all the words you've already written, all the thoughts you've already gotten out--it might be harder to think outside that frame you've built for yourself. When you feel stuck like that, getting away and doing something that's fairly 'empty' of intensive cognitive demands could give your brain the space to get the ideas flowing again."

But Sarah warns, "Even mindless activities won't help if you fill them up with anxious thoughts--so you really have to turn it off."

So what if you don’t want to wait until bedtime to fix this scene? Is there any way to get into that quiet mind state now? Glad you asked! There is!

Here are some examples that have worked for me:

- Mindless exercise. Not chatting with people at the gym. Not watching TV while on the treadmill. Go outside and walk for 20-30 minutes. Leave your iPod at home. Your mind doesn’t need to be singing along with a song. It needs to be set free. Walk at a swift pace and let your mind wander. Let it go where it wants to go.

- Shower/bath. I don’t know what it is about the shower, but I get my best ideas in there! I think it’s because it’s an automatic activity. I don’t need to use much brain power since it’s something I do every day and I’m used to it. My mind is not focused on anything. It’s free.

- Take a drive. Alone. Radio off. Not a stressful city drive or a scenic pretty route. Something monotonous like a highway. This one has worked for me so many times. Once I even pulled over to take notes on a Panera napkin I picked up off the car floor. (It was all I had!)

These are just a few examples on how to get your mind into that open, quiet state. YMMV. You may find other methods that work for you. Please share in the comments!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

NECRWA Recap (kind of)

I spent the last four days in Salem, MA for the NECRWA conference. I met up with fellow YA authors Sonia Gensler and Maurissa Guibord. We didn't have much fun because we're Serious Writers who take ourselves Very Seriously.

Or not.

Yeah. So that happened.

We had a blast! On Friday we had lovely weather so we walked around Salem and took in some of the historic sites, including the Witch Trials Memorial and the Old Burying Point Cemetery. This may sound morbid, but I found them very inspirational.

This headstone from 1688 is for a young man who "had seen but Nineteen Winters in the World." Kind of a sad and haunting way to put it. It was also apparently in fashion to have those creepy angel skeletons on your headstones in the 17th century because most stones had them.

We stayed in a "haunted" hotel but none of us had any uninvited visitors. It's actually a historic home built in 1834 that was restored and turned into a hotel. Very cool.
My non-haunted room.

Sonia and Maurissa were lovely company and we shared some great talks over meals. And, yeah, it was a conference, so we attended many panels. (I didn't take pictures of those so that's why this is only a "kind of" recap.) And when I got the crazy idea that we should go into a vintage photo shop and dress up in witch costumes, they were great sports about it. We were laughing so hard, you probably heard us...wherever you are.

But I'm back now. All good things...

...must come to an end.

For more pictures of us being ridiculous, check out my Facebook page.