Posts Tagged writing struggles

WRITING CHRONICLE #26: out of the funk, into the writing!

Via: Pamper & Planet

Last week, my post was quite academically dense. So this week, I thought I would write about something lighter – a home subject if you will.

I thought I would discuss writer’s block and procrastination. Yup, I’m airing out my most intimate limitations here. And let me just read out the disclaimer now because not everything I claim in the following paragraphs will resonate with every one of you. I’m writing about what has been my challenges (self-made or enforced upon) and how I manage to handle them.

Here goes…

Writer’s Blocks? Myth or Reality?

Very real. But not always without influence from yours truly.

If you have followed my blog from the beginning, you will remember that my longest absence from the creative writing outlet was four years. I started posting the first-draft chapters of my novel I’ll Be True on this blog and then halfway through, I disappeared. I knew the ending of the novel but the approach to the climax was ever elusive and I just couldn’t get through to the other side. Nor did I have the time or energy to work on it given how all-consuming my full-time career was. That was a REAL writer’s block.

More often than not, I suffer from self-induced writer’s block. What the hell is a self-induced writer’s block, you say? Well, it’s that uncomfortably comfortable zone that blends the line between a real writer’s block and procrastination. Let me give you an example. There are often times when I have the next chapter/scene – characters, dialogues, actions, etc. – at the ready but because I’m not fully convinced I laze about to give myself more time to percolate. Self-doubt and second-guessing prevent me from putting the scene in my head into my hard drive. Meanwhile, I do other things, anything on Planet Earth really. What’s stopping me? Not just laziness but laziness brought on by a subconscious notion that if I do document the words into a chapter and then it’s just all wrong, I’d be wasting my time and energy. That’s self-induced. That’s sabotage. I work mostly on MS Word. Easily erasable if the scene turns out to be rubbish. But I do not want to commit. I don’t write until I’m well and ready even though I know not-writing is the real waste of time.

What makes this procrastination is the fact that I hide behind less taxing more entertaining tasks such as binge-watching the old seasons of The Big Bang Theory before the new one airs. What makes this a writer’s block is that the fear that I’ll write a less-than-satisfactory scene is real and it’s crippling. Obviously, I have not perfected the art of draft-first-edit-later. And so on…

Swimming Out of a Cesspool of My Own Making

Fortunately, there are exercises that help me get out of my procrasti-blocks. Sometimes they work individually and sometimes I combine them when one doesn’t get me out of my funk immediately. They require, what I like to call, a “balanced indulgence” from the perseverer. If your problems are anything like mine, you can give these a try:

WRITE INCOMPLETE

When – and only if – I can convince myself to really put my scene/chapter onto the pages, I will give myself a Free Pass ahead of time that I’ll not try to write the passage perfectly; it will be just gibberish that flows through my head. I tell myself this is just notes for so and so chapter, an outline, a short tête-à-tête between my characters that I may or may not use. I take away the pressure and put the proverbial wool over my mind. Now I know this method sounds like so much nonsense but sometimes it works. Keep in mind that such an occasion when this works is rare and a favor from fortune when it does.

DAILY ROUTINE

Boring but it works. When I manage to whip myself into some form of discipline and commit myself to a particular time slot in the day to write, guess what, I get more writing done! This routine doesn’t stick for long periods – maybe a couple of weeks at a time or at most a month before I lose all concentration and go back to procrastinating – but while it lasts, I can really get ahead in my drafting and editing. The rules are simple. I will write for at least 30 minutes every day at so-and-so time (preferably early so that if my writing takes off I can clock in longer hours). And, again, there is no pressure to use this time to absolutely add chapters to my novel. I could be outlining, brainstorming, or writing just about anything as long as I’m writing at that time of the day. What happens, eventually, is my body and mind clocks in at that hour of the day to write. I itch to get to my laptop or notebook and get some work done. And ultimately, my novel does benefit from it greatly.

FREEWRITING MEETS WRITING PROMPTS

Freewriting – a term that was all the rage during my junior high years (a favorite activity of my eighth grade Language Arts teacher Mrs. Anger) but I have recently adopted this method to free up my head of the clutter. I have combined this with writing prompts because I feel there should be some guideline otherwise where is the challenge? Sometimes, if my mind is already free and receptive to suggestions, I just use the prompts (I use the Daily Prompts by WordPress) and hop to it. Other times, if my mind is already full of an idea, such as when I’m outside and something I see is inspiring, I try to develop that idea around the word prompt of the day, which is often more challenging. Some might call it cheating but I get some really creative work done this way and my writing skill continues to improve in the process. Also, doing this exercise in lieu of working on my novel helps me to loosen up and not resent my novel-writing goals. Oh! And one last thing. This exercise should be a timed thing, i.e. there should be a time limit like 30-40 minutes dedicated to this so as to not let freewriting occupy all your time and energy. Trust me on this, I got addicted to writing prompts really fast earlier this year, which ended up distracting me from writing my novel instead. You don’t want that to happen.

PHYSICAL EXERCISE

I don’t know about you but I hate sweating. Shortness of breath, heart ready to crash out of my chest, not so much – but soiling my clothes (yes, sweating feels every bit as unhygienic as that sounds) and the mottled red my skin turns to (I think the fact that there are people who get a “healthy sheen” and “golden glow” at the gym and look even more vibrant after a workout is completely unfair) is what keeps me from physical exercises. In the summer, I shower 2-3 times a day just to ensure there isn’t any sweaty residue stuck to my skin or clothes. I’m just schizo like that. And despite that, I must advocate that physical exercise is good for my writing. On days that I do work out, my body feels lighter and my mind more active. I want to do something, I need to write. And you know, getting that itch is half the battle won.

SAY WHAT NEEDS WRITING

On the off chance that there is no writer’s block and the only thing keeping me from putting my ideas to paper is my very lazy behind, I use a voice recorder. That way, a really good idea, or a fledgling idea that could turn into a really good idea, isn’t lost because I didn’t grab the opportunity to jot it down. If my laptop is on hand, I use the Windows Speech Recognition app to directly transcribe everything I’m saying (the app needs to calibrate for voice and pronunciations first so that one doesn’t really end up with sentences that make no sense), or else I just record into my phone for later transcription.

CHANGE OF SETTING AND TOOLS

I don’t always write comfortably on my laptop although since I’m a super lazy person and everything I write will eventually need to be on my hard drive, my laptop is the preferred equipment for writing these days. But my longest writer’s block (you know those four bleak years) was demolished by the resourcing of this really cool notebook and the perfect pen. Really, the smoothness of the pages to allow the pen to glide over, the width, height, and thickness of the binding perfect to rest my hand on, the sharp nib of my pen to get that scratchy sound that tells me I’m writing (!) all sort of brought me out my ennui. Also, I was on my first real vacation out of contact range from my office in over five years, sitting in a transit restaurant at Changi Airport, waiting for my secondary school friends to rescue me from years of monotony. The change of pace and space and the magic notebook-pen combo all were conducive to working on my novel again, Alhamdulillah! Yes, it was liberating enough to thank my maker.

DRINK COFFEE

All of the above exercises are my healthy go-to to start writing consistently again. However, sometimes all you need is a just a rich, smooth, foamy cup of joe. I don’t drink coffee every day just to keep this wonderful drug potent. But when I do, I fully allow myself to enjoy the sweet-bitter aroma to relax my eyes and mind, the effervescent sensation tingling behind the bridge of my nose and across my temples, curling up at the nape of my neck, from first sip to last. Mmm… I think I’ll have coffee today. Move my workstation to Crimson Cup. I feel a productive day coming on already J

VACATION

Sometimes you just need to chuck everything and go on a trip. Like I always say, writing is a career like any other and it’s good to take breaks. Return refreshed and with things to write about. The problem with procrastinating is that even when I’m having a freakishly good time not getting anything done, it’s not satisfying. The guilt niggles so at the end of the day, I have neither done any work nor is the entertainment anything but fleeting. So I make sure to just give myself off-days in the week or block vacation time each season to keep from burning out.

 

I said the material for today’s post was going to be light. I didn’t say anything about it not being lengthy.

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WRITING CHRONICLES #19: nitty-gritty to watch out for when publishing

When writing fiction with the intention of reaping glory or sale, it is very important not to become overly simplistic about one’s passion for the act of writing. So you have a great story to tell, so it’s all you can think about, so the high will not be tamped until you have flushed the words onto some surface for later reading. But if you want others to feel even nearly as passionately about your work as you do, it is important to keep your eye on some of these following rules:

  1. Write a story that your audience wants to read not just the one you want to tell. A little compromise can take you a long way. You have built up your writing voice by reading up on a particular genre and know what you enjoy. Well, since the books you are reading sell, there are others with similar needs as yours. Invest in a little research to see what this audience is actually looking for when they pick up the same books as you do instead of relying on guesswork, imagining that your customers are just more of you. Hard data is a trouble worth the results they will get you.
  2. Be honest about what you are writing. I know, it seems to contradict the previous rule, because if you are writing to market to an audience, then how are you also writing the truth? Simple, if you don’t believe in it, don’t dish it. Writing exists on a truth-enhancement continuum. Find your place on this spectrum and go with it. One way to do this is by drafting your ideas, outlines, cluster passages/chapters before going into the research part. You have gotten the passionate bits recorded so now you may calm down and employ some cool calculation. Remember, if fiction writing was not a professional career, it wouldn’t have a whole gamut of systematic rules to getting published.
  3. Hit the nail with a strong opening. When readers are shopping for new books, whether at a brick-and-mortar or at a dot-com, a lot of them will flip the first few pages to see if they can connect with the content. This means they will go through the first chapter, poem, or what have you. Most online book retails also provide a “Look Inside” or similar preview tools to entice shoppers. Your opening scene can be a powerful marketing tool and you should make the most of it. I posted a blog on creating great First Impressions previously that you may wish to check out 🙂
  4. Add viable conflict. Interestingly, this is a point that requires mentioning because a lot of novel (as in, new) writers forget while in the throes of writing that even though the conflict must tempt the readers to turn pages, it must also match your character and plot personality. It’s all good when James Bond is flying through Bangkok in an airborne tuk-tuk but will this the way the good reverend would travel to deliver his Sunday sermons?
  5. Length does matter so it’s best not to prolong the conflict unnecessarily. Despite the fact that I hate when a good book comes to an end, I can appreciate that all good things must be enjoyed in moderation. Adding conflict after conflict, dishy scenes after dishy scenes might be enjoyable to you but will probably diminish the value of your book. When outlining your story, make sure you always keep the scenes and chapters you add remain true to why you are telling that particular story. Nip anything irrelevant when you edit. This is especially true with today’s readers who have endless TBRs to get to.
  6. Don’t info dump on your readers. Again, just because you put in all that effort into your research, doesn’t mean you keep looking for ways to pass on all that you learned while writing. The entire chronicles of Queen Mary’s rivalry with Queen Elizabeth I is probably irrelevant in a historical romance novel about a lowly girl marrying a duke just because the setting is 16th century England.
  7. Finally, write a good blurb. No one knows the story better than you – yet, most authors have a difficult time arranging a summary that emotively allures readers to their novels while not giving away the end. Authors, by nature, tend to bounce back and forth between a state of self-importance and diffidence. Even before reading the first chapter, your audience will judge you by the synopsis on the back of your book jacket. It doesn’t matter how epic your story is, before the word-of-mouth goes viral, you will have to rely on those first few readers. And unless you are able to convince them with a blaring announcement selling them why your story is worth spending a day of their life on, your book will probably languish on their shelves for eternity. When writing the blurb, put yourself in a book reviewer’s shoes and make sure you remember to add that very valuable conflict that makes the story important. It took me only about a hundred try to get my blurb for Bad Daughter to satisfy me, and let me tell you, it looks a lot different from the original blurb I had posted on Amazon. It currently reads like this:

BAD DAUGHTERWhat would you do if you were taught that the price of safety is silence?
At the age of six years, Obaira Osman was sexually abused by her uncle, the memory of which she manages to keep buried for a decade. At sixteen, she is a dedicated daughter, loving sister, and an ideal student. When she wins a national essay writing competition and finds herself wooed by the most handsome and intelligent boy in school, life seems like it couldn’t get any better – even if cultural constraints demand she keeps her love affair a secret. However, after a planned rendezvous, which should have been a simple rite of passage, goes awry, Obaira’s memory of a terrifying past comes crashing around her and she realizes she has been far from being the perfect daughter. Her response is to shackle herself to the rules and regulations of her home environment in order to reclaim the safety she once knew to be true.

What if you one day realized that the cost of silence is freedom?
Over the next two decades, she finds herself atoning for the burden of shame that is her legacy. She attempts to earn back her parents’ faith even while trying to find peace by lending a voice to women who have been crushed by similar forms of abuse – much to her conservative parents’ chagrin. But she is kinder to the women she helps than to herself, as she remains unwilling to accept a second chance when fate takes her across the world to the doorstep of the man who just may be the one to emancipate her tortured soul.

I’m sure there are about a thousand other rules to keep on the lookout when writing fictions to sell, but these seem to be some common mistakes authors make. I know, I am guilty of at least half of them 😐

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WRITING CHRONICLES #16: Finding Focus

Via: Daily Prompt – Root & Blanket

I have decided that procrastination might be the primary vice of my writing career. I used to think I was too preoccupied with my corporate responsibilities but. now that I have switched to writing full-time, I realize the problem is that I can find ways to become preoccupied with just about anything. The burning question is how can a person who loves writing as much as I do be so out of sorts with the writing itself.

Well, I know how. Fear is at the root of my problem. I keep stalling because becoming a novelist is something I always wanted to excel in. Even with my multiple fallback plans, I have stored all my eggs in this basket. Honestly? I don’t want to have to resort to those fallback plans. The pressure is real. Hence, even though I can, in theory, believe in my writing capabilities, living by that faith is a whole other ballgame. Even when what I write seems to satisfy me, I keep wondering what if it’s not good enough.

Resulting in all the bottlenecking of my creative endeavors.

There are some ground rules I try to follow to jar me out of my whack. Mostly, it is to keep me from lulling myself into the fear sinkhole. They work too. Often enough to share the list of precautions with my fellow writers:

Read the rest of this entry »

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An Absence of Passion

Via: Daily Prompt – Symptom

bones passion

Should a slump be considered an absence of passion? I was watching Bones earlier. Episode 10 of Season 12, The Radioactive Panthers in the Party. While the main story revolves around the panthers, the secondary plot shows Bones regressing into deep reflection over the “passion for work” after meeting one of her senior colleagues who has retired upon “waking up one morning and feeling that her heart was no longer in it”. Throughout the program, I was thinking Bones must be considering quitting for good. It is the final season and she is plenty stable, so, yeah. [With a show of hands, how many of you think you might go into withdrawal when the show ends?]

Turns out it’s not her future she’s reassessing but her intern Wendell’s. It was all really well done. I was so sure that Bones was going to make an announcement at the end of the episode. Instead, she ends up advising Wendell that maybe he was having so much trouble choosing a topic for his dissertation because it wasn’t his calling to be a forensic anthropologist, maybe he is not passionate enough about the subject.

It got me thinking about how I left my work to start a new career path. I, like Wendell, was good at what I did but I always wanted to do something else. So now, when I hit a writer’s block, I panic twice as much. I never hit blocks in my old work, I just tackled each problem with my sheer force of logic. But my desperation to be a successful author has me questioning every piece I compose.  Read the rest of this entry »

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WRITING CHRONICLES #11: Character Independence

Via: Daily Prompt – Abstract & Pattern

I recently came to learn that most of my fellow writers pick characters off real life. They sit around in coffee shops and roadside bistros, watching their neighbors and making up stories about them. This practice is, apparently, more common than when you watch TV on mute and try to feed dialogues to the people on the screen. Mind blowing, right? I always wondered how writers felt so comfortable tapping away at the keyboard in coffee shops. Turns out, they are really just describing their surroundings. Not a bad writing tip, I thought. Should speed up the process of character creation some.

My characters come completely out of my head – just as my stories come to me when a real life situation strikes me as though it didn’t pan out the way they should have. So I try to “fix” things, albeit in fiction, where my muddled heroes and heroines stumble around until they learn “the right way” of living. I’m a big fan of justice, and when justice is not to be found in the real world, I make up worlds of my own. I’m really a very balanced person.

The problem is if my characters come right out of my head, how do I allow them to become independent of who I am? When I already know the way I want my characters to behave at the end (to serve the moral I wish to convey), how do I let their journey become independent of mine? Also, it would be a terrible bore if every character turned out to be an extension of me.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Just Add Salt

Via: Daily Prompt – Nuance

There’s a loaded word. I always felt that nuances exist on the precipice of stereotypes. You take the expectations cultural dogmas have conditioned in you and add a little something-something. Voila! You have nuanced characters for your stories. Personally, I use the following template to guide me when creating my characters. This should help a few writers.

 

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Image: Someone on Tumblr

 

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Dreaming in Technicolor

Via: Daily Prompt – Doubt

When reading a truly spectacular story told with an awe-inspiring writing voice, I often become nervous. I wonder how will I ever measure up to the likes of these writers that I admire? I am not ashamed to say I am envious of all of my favorite authors’ storytelling capabilities (i.e. with the exception of the Goddess Jane Austen). But do I allow my moments of uncertainty stop me from journeying on the path to greatness? No.

Doubt is the death of dreams. Or rather, it has all the necessary elements to snuff the life out of your desires – if you allow it to. Instead, why not use that doubt to strive to improve? Challenge your fears and come out on top. Laugh at it. Quit dreaming in grayscale and infuse your subconscious with all the hues necessary to pursue a reality of your choosing. Defeat doubt. Extinguish it before it extinguishes you.

Become immortal by gifting the world a piece of yourself to cherish through eternity.

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WRITING CHRONICLES #09: Five

Via: Daily Prompt – Arid

Some five years ago, an interview with a college consultant motivated me to start blogging. A brief meeting with him informed me of the budding world of independent publication when he questioned me why I’m letting a delay in studying creative writing keep me from becoming a novelist. He showed me his friend’s WordPress blog and how this friend had set up an enterprise for himself online, already with a few novels published beyond the traditional channel. This consultant had practically chastised me for not taking the initiative on my own and I am so grateful to him. I don’t remember his name or his friend’s blog site, and I wasn’t yet convinced about self-publishing a “book”, but I was ready to start focusing on building a career as a novelist.

So I opened this blog on February 25, 2012, with the hope that having a live audience would shame me into finally finish writing a full novel. In the end, I did sort of self-publish a novel on this site with serialized posts of the chapters. And even though procrastination ensued now and again, and for long periods at a stretch, I so appreciate the habit working on this blog instilled in me. I started the blog with the objective “It’s a site to make sure I write” and it made sure I wrote.

The career path I was on, tough I enjoyed, did not harbor an everlasting appeal for me. Life seemed barren, my dreams left to dry without nourishment. Now? I live, I thrive.

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Image: Vinegar and Brown Paper

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WRITING CHRONICLES #08: The Writing Voice

Via: Daily Prompt – Translate

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Image: Wikimedia

The changing larynx is not a burden only for the pubescent teenager to bear; from time to time, the writer may have to deal with it too. I know I have been feeling a transformation in my writing voice ever since I began the fiction writing course in January.

When I started writing my first novel, I believe I was greatly mimicking the voice of Sandra Brown, whose romance novels were the first I ever read in the genre and was inspired by. Over time, as I began reading the works of other romance novelists, ranging from contemporary to historic to even paranormal, my voice began to blend and develop its own personality. A cross between somber and sarcastic, furthered by my ornate sentence structures.

But before I move on to explaining my latest writing dilemma, let me try defining what the writing voice is. It is the unique blend of attitude, tone, and style that showcases your personality when you write [or use any medium of creativity, really]. It also reflects your beliefs, emotions, and values, usually with an attempt to present them in a way you find acceptable, or rather, in the way you think readers will be able to relate. Sounds pretty complicated, right? It isn’t once you get into the throes of your creative passion but it can be lost in the translation. But the following may help to break it down:  Read the rest of this entry »

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INSTRUMENTAL LOVE (04 min read)

Via: Daily Prompt – Seriousness

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Image: Zaireen Lupa

I’ve been using my laptop since January 2011. Upon becoming a corporate lady, it was the first piece of machinery I had bought by saving up paycheck by paycheck. I had put in almost a year’s wait while searching for the ideal laptop and, once I found it, for it to receive its tech reviews. I had a friend bring it in from Singapore and it has been my companion these six years.

Oh, Dell Studio XPS 1647, how I love you!

It hasn’t been the smoothest of relationships. Immediately, it started showing speed adjustment issues. If I would even turn on Google Chrome while running my media player, it would throttle for a few seconds. Of course, I was not tech-savvy or laptop-savvy enough at the time to get what was happening. I would hear the sound break, get stuck, and panic until it went away. I looked it up online but not knowing what keywords to search for, I didn’t find any solution. I comforted myself that it was just a temporary break in time so it should be fine. It wasn’t.  Read the rest of this entry »

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