Writer’s Block

Q&A Sunday: Motivation and Being Stuck

It’s time for another question. An interesting one from Sheila…

Are you an artist/illustrator/teacher/caricature artist? What motivates you to be creative?  What do you do when you’re stuck?

A lot of writers talk about writer’s block. I think it goes so much deeper than that. I really like this question because it’s not just how do you avoid writer’s block, or any kind of creative block, but what pushes me to do all this in the first place. Very interesting!

First, no. I am not a creative person by nature. I was a nerd growing up. I excelled in math and always loved reading, but ask me to do an art project and you wouldn’t be able to tell which one was mine and which came from a child. I never thought I was creative because I didn’t have talent for art. My sister is an artist, a very talented one, and I was never nearly as good as she was.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that creativity is different than art. I am creative, but I don’t have the talent to put that into a work of art, such as a painting or a sculpture or a light display like my sister does. I do have the talent to put my creativity into a written form, and I do enjoy art on the computer. I design my own books covers and I love doing it. It’s a different outlet for me that I’ve really enjoyed learning.

Do I consider myself an artist? I guess I could be stretched to say yes. I’m an artist of the written word, and I think I’d enjoy graphic design, but I have no training. Just don’t hand me paint brushes. Seriously, I think my kids’ artwork, at six and eight, is better than mine!

Motivation… That’s a tough one. I’m a big believer in intrinsic motivation – motivation that comes from within – and extrinsic motivation – motivation driven by outside forces. I love my job, that’s my intrinsic motivation. I’m very fortunate that I have a career that is so enjoyable for me. I do have days where I want to read or watch Netflix all day. And there are days I do exactly that.

Bulky & BeauteousWhen I was going through chemo, I had a huge issue getting Bulky & Beauteous written. I started writing it shortly before I was diagnosed, and I couldn’t finish it until after I’d finished treatment. I tried to write, and constantly told myself I was busy, but I know there was a part of me that figured there was no point if I wasn’t going to be around to finish it. I knew I wanted to write, but there was something stopping me.

I’m in remission now, and I’m ready to work. I want to get the stories in my head out onto my computer so I can share them. That’s the extrinsic part of my motivation. My readers. I save comments from readers. If you send me an email that says how much you loved my book, or how excited you are to read what’s coming, or how something I wrote really connected with you, I save it. If I’m really feeling down and struggling to get moving again, I read those emails. I remind myself of my readers, the people who keep coming back for my books, the people who love my characters as much as I do, and it helps motivate me to get back into it.

Once the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators start to work their magic, the task before me can seem daunting. A 90,000 word novel is huge when I’m staring at a blank page. That’s when I get stuck. But forty-five minutes to write while my daughter is in gymnastics is manageable. Even ten minutes, or five, can get me started. Usually I find myself getting sucked in and I want to do more, but that can only happen if I start with those five or ten minutes. I’m always working on something, but if the scene I’m writing isn’t fleshed out enough that I feel confident writing it, I’ll write a scene that has already played in my head. It’s about getting something done, even if it gets scrapped later. I’ve learned to start small and accept it, because small parts add up in a hurry!

Now tell me, where do you find your motivation?

Thanks so much, Sheila, for your question! If you have a question, send me an email (mary (at) maryethompson (dot) com) with Q&A in the subject, or post it in the comments below, and I’ll answer your question right here on the blog!

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Chirp by Ann Everett

Oh. My. God. Ann Everett is right on target sharing her thoughts on writer’s block with us today. Please say hi!

WRITER’S BLOCK—FACT OR FABRICATION???

Writer’s block, (noun) the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.

Frustrated young writer having writer's block
Frustrated young writer having writer’s block

There are authors who refuse to acknowledge Writer’s Block calling it instead fear, self-doubt, distraction, or procrastination.

You say tomato. I say toe-mot-o!! Call it what you like, every author experiences it at some point in their career.

I recently recovered from a serious bout that lasted six-weeks! That’s not to say I wrote nothing during that time because I did…. just not what I needed to write, which was the final chapter in my current book. Bummer. Yeah, I’d written over 90,000 words of a good story and couldn’t end it!

I’d heard that if you can’t end a story, you probably didn’t know where the story was headed from the beginning. Okay. Sounds logical. But the problem with that is, even when I work from a rough outline, I’m not always sure where the plot will take me!

This was my first attempt at writing multiple POVs so I had a lot of threads to tie up. I have two main characters and their love story. A secondary romance which involves a brother and girlfriend. Also, a private investigator’s story line as he searches for the main character.

After a few weeks of obsessing, where it was on my mind 24-7, I decided to just write… something… anything… total crap. I had to start somewhere, or I’d never finish it.

I belong to an online writing site, which I recommend to all authors, so I knew if I posted even ca-ca, I’d get help. After my readers there weighed in on what they liked and didn’t like, I rewrote, reposted and rewrote again. Now it was only semi-poop, so I was making progress.

Two more rewrites, and six beta readers later, I’m happy with the ending. So let me share what the problem was and how I fixed it.

The wrong POV. I’d started in my heroine’s point of view and it didn’t work. I didn’t know why, I just knew it didn’t. So, I switched to the hero. Still not right. And me, still clueless as to why it felt wrong. Finally, I opened with the stepmother’s POV because this chapter is the big showdown where her search for the heroine comes to resolution.

Why didn’t I think of that from the beginning? Because I’d only been in her POV two times during the story and for me she didn’t seem the natural choice. But those betas’ got me on the right track! They wanted to know what was in her head before the confrontation took place… and it worked! Dang! I am so lucky to have such good betas’ willing to be brutally honest in telling me when something stinks.

There are many tricks you can use to overcome writer’s block. Walk away from the computer. Exercise. Listen to music. Brainstorm with fellow authors. Change your writing habit.

Many times I get stuck with the first line of a chapter. If I can get an opening, I can go from there. So when that happens, I randomly flip through novels stopping here and there to read a few sentences.

Here’s an example of what I mean. After doing the flipping pages exercise, I came across a line about a dog thumping his tail against the floor. That sparked my brain, and I started my chapter with… By now, all over town, tongues were wagging.

Another trick I use to break the stress is to look at my email spam folder and take words from there and write about them. Usually a stupid or silly paragraph or two. What else can I write with choices like Christian Mingle, male enhancement free trial, free lobster, vaginal mesh patch recall, power bills, and burn fat?

Boy, if using those words can’t lighten a mood, then nothing can!

Whatever you do, don’t wallow in self-pity. Just put words on a page. Even if they are stinky!

Remember:

Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all. ~~Charles Bukowski

Man, why didn’t I think of that weeks ago?

Here’s a short excerpt from Chirp, the book that gave me the case of writer’s block. It is due for release in December.

Nothing seemed disturbed. Actually, the place appeared neater than he’d ever seen. Housekeeping wasn’t one of Dessie’s strong suits. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he noticed more changes. When did his grandmother get a big screen TV? And computer?

A sappy love song played from the other end of the house. He grabbed the baseball bat Gran kept in an antique milk can by the hutch, then edged down the short hallway and stepped to the open bathroom door.

A girl who didn’t look more than fifteen lay in the tub with her eyes closed. Mostly nipples and areolas, her small breasts flattened against her chest. Bubble clouds floated over her spindle-thin body.

Shame thickened in his throat. He shouldn’t be staring at her, but he couldn’t turn away. He didn’t know if it was the shock of seeing a stranger here, or that the intruder was a teenager. Whatever it was, he found his voice.

“Who the hell are you?”

*****

Blaze recognized Rance Keller from the stack of pictures Miss Dessie kept in a leather box on the mantle. But he looked different in the flesh. An unkempt beard and mustache surrounded full lips. Long dark hair fringed beneath the edge of a knit beanie. Menacing blue eyes stared back.

Blaze rose from the water, reached for the towel hanging on the rack, and wrapped herself, tucking in the corner to secure it.

“Did you escape?”

He blinked like it was a stupid question, but it wasn’t. Letters she’d read said he’d been denied parole twice because he wouldn’t admit guilt.

“I’m asking the questions. Who are you?”

“Blaze Bledsoe.”

He half-grinned as if her answer was a punch line, then snarled. “Blaze? I don’t think so.”

“Well, I don’t care what you think. That’s my name and I live here because Miss Dessie said I could.”

“New owner. New rules. Get your shit and get out.”

His lips barely moved, and she thought of all the villains she’d seen on Perfect Crime, but despite his demeanor, he didn’t scare her because Dessie had shared plenty of stories about him.

She dried off, folded the towel and laid it on the commode, then pushed past him into the bedroom where she took panties from the dresser and stepped into them. Next, she pulled a faded Madonna tee-shirt over her head. “No.”

“This is my house and you’re trespassing.”

His voice was low-pitched, and when she faced him, his mouth clamped into a thin line. A muscle in his jaw worked. She reminded herself this was a man just out of prison, yet she still didn’t feel threatened. Not after Dessie’s tales of how he’d cared for injured animals, and his eagerness to help with any chore. Blaze folded her arms under her breasts. “It’s almost one o’clock. I have work tomorrow. We can talk in the morning.”

At first, he said nothing, just scanned the full length of her body, and she felt more naked than she’d been minutes ago. He locked his eyes on hers, and his gaze darkened. “I’m twice your size. I can throw your scrawny ass out the front door and you can’t do anything about it.”

“I know. But you won’t.” Turning down the covers, she switched off the lamp, and crawled into bed.

ann-everett-photo-and-covers

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