Tuesday, November 30, 2010

About writing journals and writer's block

Anna at Anna's Obsession asked how people get over their writer's blocks. 
This is what I answered:

Writer's block is when you sit there in front of the computer or an empty paper and just stare at it. You come up with nothing to write. Absolutely nothing.

I thought it was just words, couldn't imagine it ever happening, but then came NaNoWriMo, and I was there. Staring at the empty screen.

I got over it.

1. I have a writing journal. It isn't very organized, it would be better if it was.

2. I write down my ideas. Where do I get the ideas?

Just like you, I too have interesting dreams. I remember my dreams when I don't try to remember them. I have written down several. Sometimes it's just words, or images, something associations.

I like to fantasize a lot. I fantasize when I walk the dog, when I take the bus, when I wait in line, when I do the dishes and especially when I try to fall asleep. I have written down some of these too.

I write fan fiction. I like taking existing story lines, characters, ideas, and play with them. Most often the fan fiction is unrecognizable, if you just change the most glaring bits, like names and descriptions.

I like reading. I read everything. From newspapers to books, contemporary novels, classics, children's books, any genre. I like watching television. I like movies. I like music. Every now and then I read, hear or see something, just a line, that makes me think. When I search for books at book store, I read the synopsis, and sometimes that makes me think.

The life itself is inspiring. Perhaps a couple of words heard in a bus, an usually beautiful day... things happen. Writers are artists painting with words.

Then there are those book, you know, that make you say "I could have written this better..."
Do it.

If nothing else works, there are several writing prompts around.

3. Then it's just to sit down and write. Even if it is "I am a writer. Writers write, so I write. I write mighty kingdoms and people of flesh and blood, and it is possible that somewhere, somehow, sometime, they live. In another galaxy, far far away from here... there was a little boy who dreamed about flying like his father. His father was an angel, but his mother was a mortal woman, prude and pious, and she was horrified to find out how an angel could desire what by the wicked, lusty people is called love, and she hated what became of this..."

And there you go.

Also, a habit of writing - every day, 2000 words or 10 pages (or what ever goal you have) - makes it hard for you not to write.
"If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."
-- Toni Morrison
Dean R. Koontz says in "Writing Popular Fiction" this: "A writer's block is most often caused by one of five things: overwork, boredom, self-doubt, financial worries, or emotional problems between the writer and those close to him.
If overwork is the cause, stop writing for a couple of days or weeks; when you're ready to start again, you'll know, because the typewriter will no longer appear to be a formidable opponent, but a delightful toy.
If boredom with the piece in progress has slowed you to a standstill, put it aside and begin something new, no matter how close to the end of the piece you may be; chances are, if it bores you, it will bore editors and readers also.
The simplest way to cure a case of self-doubt is to shame yourself without restraint for your lack of confidence and start something new which may, by its freshness, restore your confidence. Don't worry if you go through a dozen ideas before you hit something that gets you going again.
Financial worries must be solved before you can write again, even if that means you-the full-time freelancer-must take a job, temporarily, to keep above water, or you-the part-time writer-must take a part-time job and temporarily forsake writing until your financial position is less
If emotional entanglements occupy your mind and keep you from producing, sit down with your boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, and talk out the things that are bothering you. Not only will such sessions improve your love life, they will improve your writing as well.
No writer's block need be more than a few days long if he is determined to break it."

Then I wrote this as base for an article to write, about Writer's Journal:

"A writer's notebook gives you a place to live like a writer, wherever you are, at any time of day."
-- From A Writer's Notebook, Unlocking the Writer Within You, by Ralph Fletcher
A writer's notebook is an idea storage and a resource bank.

You will need:

- a journal
  • Your journal should be such that you like to write in it. You have to like its looks. Choose covers that give you the feeling you are a professional writer, or inspirational covers.
  • I write on anything, but some people want their paper white, others prefer cream or pastels or other colors. Some prefer paper with lines, some unlined. The paper comes in different weights, surfaces and textures. Ordinary printer paper is white, light, smooth and dense. Choose the paper of your journal so that you enjoy writing on it.
  • Also, choose the size and bind so that you feel comfortable to write on it anywhere and carry it everywhere with you. A larger, spiral bound journal with soft covers might not be a good choice, but choose that, if you like writing in such. You can always get it loose hard covers.
  • Also, you should not feel afraid to tear off pages, draw lines over everything and get it dirty. It is supposed to follow with you until you have filled it, in every weather and environment, you are supposed to feel good to write in it in crowded places, in rain, in a coffee house - everywhere. Don't choose an expensive book you want to keep tidy. The writer's journal is not meant to be used with a ruler, nor is it meant to be graded. You are the only one who is supposed to see and read it.
- a pen
  •  Choose a pen that you like to write with, and that is easily used. I use a mechanic pencil with 0,5 mm HB lead. I like to both write and draw with it. Don't choose something romantic like a quill and ink. It is hard to take it up in a bus to jot down a conversation you happen to hear, that inspires you.
- if you have a pencil, you need an eraser too. If your pencil is not mechanical, you need a sharpener.
- scissors, tape, glue, stapler, paper clips
- post-its
- perhaps highlighters or markers

What to write in it?

It is a good idea to start with a table of contents. It helps you later to find what you are looking for.

- write down quotes you like
- write down passages from books you like
- write down poems you like
- write down words you like
- write down interesting names - for characters and novels
- write down interesting snippets of discussions you hear, from real life or television
- write down comparisons, parables, descriptions, everything like this you like
- write down how other writers have described sounds, smells, sensations, taste, in a way that you like
- paste articles and newspaper and magazine clippings in it
- paste inspiring images, pictures, artwork, doodles in it or draw straight into it
- paste interesting comics in it
- paste into it inspiring scraps you find, like discarded score boards, lists, tickets, flat things rescued from the street or garbage, ephemera, stickers, stamps...
- add pressed flowers or leaves
- add samplers to it
- put brochures and programs between the pages. Fasten with a piece of tape or a paper clip.
- save inspiring letters and post cards in it
- draw maps, charts, diagrams, templates, webs, tables, pedigrees etc. in it
- write down lists in it - places to visit, professions, likes and dislikes, phobias...
- write down interesting characters you have met, read about or seen in television or movies
- write down your dreams and fantasies in it
- write down your questions in it
- write down your ideas and thoughts in it
- write down interesting snippets of information
- add post-its and notes
- cut inspiring covers and synopsis from book magazines and catalogs and paste into your writing journal
- write the research notes in it
- write ideas for good leads and endings in it
- write down interesting writing prompts in it
- write down themes, plots, scenes and storylines in it
- write down single emotions, memories, happenings, but not as in a "normal" journal, in which you register your everyday life, feelings and thoughts. A Writer's journal or a notebook is an idea bank, not a diary.

- write down the ideas, thoughts, dreams these words inspire

And then I read this:
Keeping a journal or notebook fosters the journal-writing skill, not the fiction-writing skill.
-- Caro Clarke; the writer's notebook, or let's not really write

But then I remember the Renaissance method. Several authors manage to write fiction even though they have a writer's journal :-D Go ahead and do what ever you like. It's not that your ideas get stale or die because you write them down in a journal.

P.S. A note to female writers, age 13-22 - it's time for Cleopatra Award
The competition is open for all young women, who write in English. It's international, so not only for those living in USA, Canada and UK, like so many other possibilities.
You can submit a short story, an essay, a poem or an excerpt (not more than 2000 words) from a novel or novella (or novelet ;-)) and your entry should be about the themes explored in "The Lily of Nile", a historical novel about Cleopatra's daughter, written by Stephanie Dray, who established and sponsors this literary competition for young women.


Helena said...

I've found that whenever I create a character and talk through him or her in the first person, that character takes over and starts telling the story for me. It's kinda schizophrenic, but it works. But this also entails creating some kind of background and different world from mine, one that's so much more interesting I get jealous.

I also know just what you mean about fantasizing as you walk around and just go through life. This is why I think Thurber's short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is such a masterpiece. I am Mitty!

Ketutar said...

Hm. Haven't read that one.

I have published an interview with a werepanther somewhere in the blog... I think... I at least interviewed one of my characters (who happens to be a werepanther), and he told me things I didn't have any knowledge of. :-D

Ketutar said...

Here's the interview:

and here's Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Henric C. Jensen said...

I really don't like that you get no track backs from my blog when I spin off from your blog.

The Horse and The Cart


Dawn Herring said...

This what quite a thorough answer to the question of how you deal with writer's block.

You truly give an inside view of your journal writing life as a writer; the specifics are helpful and inspiring.

The Dean Koontz section is also helpful in giving instruction on dealing with life issues that can affect your writing.

I have chosen your post, About Writing Journals and Writer's Block, as the #JournalChat Pick of the Day for all things journaling on Twitter.

I will post it on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and my blog, Refresh with Dawn Herring.

You are welcome to follow my @JournalChat account on Twitter for all things journaling.

Thanks for such a thorough and helpful post. :)

Be refreshed,
Dawn Herring
JournalWriter Freelance
@JournalChat on Twitter

Ketutar said...

Oh! Nice, thank you :-)