Tag Archives | memoir writing

When You Don’t Know How to Write

Painter_sidewalk_easel_596182_hYears ago, as a freelance writer, I wrote a lot of articles about art.  One of them was about the Makk family of artists, who lived in Hawaii.  The big thing I remember from this article happened while I interviewed the Eva, the matriarch of the family. She told me how when she was a young artist she had images in her head that she wanted to paint–but it took her a long time to figure out how to get those images onto canvas.

I could relate.  As a fledgling fiction writer, I often had trouble translating the stories in my head onto the page.  And even now, after writing fiction a gazillion years, sometimes I just can't quite get what I'm writing to work right.   I have the idea in my head.  I can see it.  But when I put it on the page, it is dead and lifeless.  Something about it doesn't work, and I moan and groan and wring my hands and decide I'm going to sell yarn for a living.  Or get a job in a restaurant.  Or something, anything, other than writing. At times like these, I need to remind myself how to write all over again.  

But the great thing about writing for so many years is that I've figured out a few things about how to get myself out of these situations.  And so I offer them to you.

1. Write a scene.  Often, deadly boring prose is written in narrative summary, which is, as the name implies, words written in summary.  She spent the afternoon reading on the couch, is an example.  Or, six months later, the baby was born.  You glide over a short or long amount of time or compactly explain some information.  Narrative summary most definitely has its place–it is a useful technique for all manner of things–but when it is used too often it results in big yawns.  Writing a scene, which incorporates dialogue, description, action, and interiority, will be much livelier and it may be just what the writing doctor ordered.

2. Try a line of dialogue.   Have one of your characters say something.  This can often lead you into a full-blown scene, or a half-scene, which is a bit of narrative summary with a line of dialogue as its anchor.  This link has great definitions of half-scene, scene, and narrative summary.

3. Copy exactly.   Take out your favorite novel or memoir, prop it next to your computer, and copy a scene word for word.  You know, of course, that I offer this as an exercise only and you aren't going to use this plagiarizing for anything but your own learning purposes.  This is kind of an amazing way to get the cadence of writing into your brain and heart and is a great learning tool.  Try it.  You'll be amazed at how much you glean from it.

4. Copy and rewrite.  A variation of the above.  First complete #3, then take the scene or paragraph and rewrite it in your own words, maintaining the same idea and actions as the original.  Another surprisingly fabulous learning tool.

5. Read.  Take a break from your struggles and go read a book.  Nine times out of ten, this sends me running back to the computer.  Its as if I just need to refill myself with words.  Note: reading blog posts, gossip sites, news articles, or anything on the internet DOES NOT COUNT.

6. Take a class.  If you are a true rank beginner, a class is going to be your best starting point.  If you are an introvert or don't have time for an in-person class, there's a ton of great offerings online, and many of them are self-paced.

7. Hire a coach.  Like me.  This would sound incredibly self-serving but for the fact that I'm not taking on new clients for the time being–unless you call and beg me on bending knee, in which case I'll consider it.  But whether it is me or someone else you work with, a coach can point out your strengths and weaknesses and help you learn to implement more of the latter.

So there you have it.  Oh, by the way, you might also be interested in my post on What to Do When You Don't Know What to Write, which inspired this one.

What do you do when you don't know what to write?

Photo by moriza.

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How To Not Get Writing Done

Frustration_cranesbeach_ipswich_1173445_hThe other day I was looking for something on my computer.  (I spend a fair amount of time doing this.  I probably need to get my files a bit better organized.)  And I ran across an old guest post I wrote a few years ago, the title of which was something to the effect of, Taking Responsibility For Your Creativity.

Back then, I thought that was quite the concept–that we have a responsibility to our creativity.  And I still do, because it’s true.  If you’re a creative person–if you have a book or painting or song or movie inside you longing to burst out–you have a responsibility to bring that creative project to the world.

And yet so many of us don’t.  We just don’t.  Because….well, just because.

Because it’s hard.

Because it takes thought.

Because we’re scared.

Because we’re lazy.

Because we’d rather watch TV.  Or drink wine. Or do something, anything, other than writing. 

So for all of us you, today I have a handy-dandy guide about how not to get writing done.    I think you’ll find it very helpful.

1.  Fill your day with meaningless activities like surfing the internet.  Or watching a reality TV show.  Or getting drunk. Or arguing with your spouse.  The choice of activity is yours–just make sure it is not fulfilling, wastes time, or damages your self-esteem or health.

2. Multi-task.  Whatever you do, do not focus on one task at a time!  C’mon, we all know that’s the best way to get your writing done.  So do not do it.  Open as many tabs on your browser as you possibly can, make sure your phone is always near by and turned on, and while you’re at, turn the TV or radio on, too.

3. Expect perfection.  Whatever you do, do not allow yourself to splash words on the page in wild abandon.  No, far better to agonize over every word.  To second guess every word choice.  To circle back around and edit everything one more time before moving on.  And let’s face it, working this way you won’t ever get to move anyway.

4.  Judge your work. This is especially important to do while you are in the process of writing. It will shut you down faster than anything, and that’s what we’re after here!  Be sure to tell yourself how awful your writing is, and also mock and jeer at the way you put words together.  Bonus points if this is done in the voice of your highly critical third-grade teacher.

5.  Do not worry about studying your craft.  Don’t read books about writing. Don’t visit other blogs on writing, and never, ever hire a coach.  This means no reading, either.  Don’t read books similar to what your writing (novels if you are writing a novel, memoirs if writing a memoir) because reading is a fabulous way to teach yourself to write.  And we wouldn’t want that to happen.

6.  Talk about your project as much as possible.  Tell everyone you know all about your project.  Relate every single aspect of it, over and over again.  This is helpful because talking a book out almost certainly makes it impossible to write it out–you’ve taken all the air out of it.  Good on you!

7.  Whatever you do, don’t meditate, pray, do yoga or walk.  Or any other baseline activity that might calm and center you and thus enable writing flow.  Instead when you get frustrated, just get more frustrated.  When you’re depressed about your work, don’t even attempt to take a few deep breaths or change your mindset in any way.  Uh-uh.  That might get the words flowing again, and we can’t have that!

Those are my sure-fire ways for not getting any writing done.  I bet you have some good ones, also.  Care to share?

Photo by sandcastleMatt.  

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Tips on Writing: Building Momentum

I often tell people that writing every day is an excellent way to build momentum.

Cars-brio-train-113301-h

And then they look at me blankly and wonder why in the hell they need momentum, since they are writers, not rocket engineers.

I tell them (and I'm telling you now) that momentum is what gets the novel (or memoir, or article, or any writing project) done.

So, what exactly is momentum?

From dictionary.com:

1. the product of a body's mass and its velocity

2. the impetus of a body resulting from its motion

3. giving power or strength

Since we don't happen to be rocket scientists, its #2 and #3 we're after.  Power and strength derived from the impetus of a body's motion.  Or, sustained energy to complete a writing project.

Momentum is what carries us forward with excitement to the end.  Without it, nothing happens.

But what, exactly, am I talking about when I talk about momentum?  Here are some examples:

  • Yesterday, I was working on other writing projects, but my novel called to me and I took time away from what I was supposed to be working on to complete a scene in my story.  Momentum is a sense of excitement that beckons you to work on your piece no matter what, even if it means you'll have to stay up late to finish everything else.
  • A friend reports she is so excited about her memoir that she wakes in the middle of the night with ideas for it.  Momentum is your subconscious so engaged with your story that it feeds you material at all hours of the day and night.
  • A student says that working on her novel is no longer a struggle, and that she writes some every day.  Momemtum makes writing a pleasure because you're so engaged with the work.

Building Momentum

So, how, you may ask, does one achieve this wondrous state called momentum?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Write every day.  Nothing builds momentum like writing every day.
  • If you can't write every day, at least look at your work.  Glance over it, read the last scene that you wrote.  This gets it in your brain and gets your subconscious chewing on it.
  • Make notes and lists.  The subconscious mind loves this kind of tinkering with ideas and will feed you more.
  • Read.  Often when I read a book on the writing craft, I get so inspired I can't get through the book because I keep putting it down to write.  But don't just read books (or blogs) on writing, read everything.
  • Think about your novel.  My new favorite thing to do is think about the plot and characters of my novel while I'm rocking my newborn grandson, Henry.  Something about the motion of it jars loose new ideas.  Which leads me to:
  • Move.  Walk.  Many people have reported on these very pages that walking makes their brains into a veritable idea factory.  And, just in case you didn't get it the first time:
  • Write every day.  Truly try your hardest to connect with your work in writing every day, even if its one word (and make no mistake about it, writing one word counts).

How do you maintain momentum on a project?  Any tips or tricks you'd like to share? 

PS.  I'm trying to make my posts easier to navigate, so do you think the bolded words are helpful or a distraction?

PPS.  (Or is it PSS?) Don't forget to sign up for my bi-weekly free newsletter, and get yourself a copy of my Ebook, How to Jumpstart Your Book With a Vision Board.  It'll help you with momentum to get the book going. 

 

Photos by Woodleywonderworks.

 

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