What holds writers back?

In my experience, there is only one thing that holds writers back. That’s it. Just one measily little thing.

It’s NOT:
– lack of time
– lack of drive
– cramped writing space
– absense of support from others
– poor schooling
– the day job
– responsibilities…..[more…]

Those things can deter us and keep us from working at our best. They can certaintly hinder us and keep us from writing 10 books a year as many of us seem to have so many ideas to get down! But they do not hold us back.

What holds us back is DOUBT pure and simple. “Doubt is what keeps one from taking action” as Dr. Masters says. If you are not living up to your goals and finishing projects, even if it takes years, take a look and see if doubt is at the core of what’s hindering you. Explore why you might have doubts about your work? Where do those doubts come from? How did you get them? Can you let them go? Can you work in spite of them?

How do you overcome doubt?
As you go about writing your ‘idea’ don’t think of it as your idea but instead think of it as your muse’s idea. Know that s/he will follow up with all the subsequent ideas need to bring a piece to completion. That s/he believes in it and in you or s/he never would’ve inspired you in the first place. Know that as far as s/he is concerned, that idea is already completed and s/he’s just waiting for you to write it down.

If you don’t have any doubt about yourself, your ability, or your project then there really is nothing to hinder you from finishing it – even if you don’t have tons of time and the perfect conditions to write. You just won’t feel you need those things all that much.

Fallow Time

Many writers have commented on how they are having a tough time getting one page of writing done lately. They berate themselves with tons of ‘shoulds’ and ‘have tos’ all the while wondering if they really are a writer at all.

What we all tend to forget, in any area of life, is that fallow (inactive) periods are a normal part of life. Everything has a natural energy cycle – spring, summer, fall, winter – so to speak, including writing or creativity.

You need time each year, or maybe even each month depending on how demanding your other jobs may be, to clear room and make space for new projects or make space for new ideas on old projects.[more…]

Fallow times provide this opportunity to clear out the old and make way for the new. Very often writers hang on with dear life to every idea they have ever had, filling the back of their minds with the clutter of many ‘have-to-writes’.

Where does that leave the space for the muse to come in? There’s no room for inspiration.

If you still have that idea from childhood to write a certain mystery, rolling around in your brain perhaps it is time to let it go? Or at least write it down and file it away in a separate box to get it out of your mind?

The key to getting through a fallow period is in allowing it to just ‘be’. Accept it and go with it. Enjoy the time off. Maybe pick up a hobby that has nothing to do with writing, catch up on how-to books about writing, assess what interests you, figure out where your creativity is taking you. Are you on the right path?

Fallow periods can be frightening and depressing unless you look at them as an opportunity to clear out the old ‘junk’ and make way for something new.

Clean out your closets, your files, your computer files and get rid of old goals that no longer serve your current path.

Trust that you are still in creative flow and the muse is just asking for more space to grow.

Mystery

Growing up I was a huge fan of Agatha Christie and Nancy Drew novels. Solving a mystery always added an interactive element to reading these books that I really enjoyed. Lately many bestselling novels have elements of mystery within them regardless of genre. Mystery seems to really be selling again (not like it ever really stopped).

Now as a writer I have gone back to the mystery story and started exploring it from a writer’s perspective. What I find interesting is that most books and classes on writing a mystery are all about murder. “First you must come up with a murderer and victim and then you can build the mystery around it…”[more…]

Now this is certaintly true, as was the case for Agatha Christie novels, but what about Nancy Drew? She rarely (as far as I can remember) ever dealt with murder. Of course the audience for these novels were much younger but just because you are writing for adults does that mean you need to make your mystery about a murder?

I think not – the new hit show LOST is an example of a new type of mystery for adults that does not directly deal with murder. Sure there may be a mysterious death or two but that is not the main thrust of the mystery. Instead there is a mysterious group of numbers that keeps popping up over and over again throughout the series.

These numbers are played in the lotto bringing good fortune and bad fortune to the player. They are found on a mysterious hatch buried underground in the middle of a mysterious island. They are repeated over and over again as part of a decades old distress call…. Every episode leaves one dying to know what the connection is.

Then there are these weird creatures running around – a polar bear on a tropical island? The audience is left wondering Where did he come from and how the heck did he get here?

Personally I enjoy this type of mystery much more than the traditional ‘Who dunnit’ or ‘How dunnit’ murder mysteries we are all so used to. It will be interesting to see how much of an effect this show LOST has on the mystery genre.

Perhaps you have a story that could use a little mysterious twist to it?

Writing Can Heal

What purpose can writers serve during times of disaster? It is true that stories can change the world. In fact some of the greatest writing came out of times filled with war and conflict.

Writing not only can heal the writer as she expresses her inner feelings, despair and hopefully ‘hope’ but it can also heal the reader of such a piece as he identifies with what is written and knows he is not alone in his struggle. But if a writer gets overly emotional or antagonistic this connection can be hard to make.[more…]

What makes great writing so transcendent? It is being objective while writing subjectively. Okay – what the heck does that mean!

When a writer does not take a strong stance on one side or the other but can be somewhat objective about a disaster or situation, s/he is able to write in a universal way. Stepping back allows you to see a bigger picture and in some cases come up with a third option when everyone else only sees two opposing forces such as war is bad / war is good. It is moving beyond dualistic thinking.

The next step is to get in touch with your emotions and opinions and see what it is you personally feel inside. Take the hurricane disaster – you could get swept up in all the blame going on and write an opinion piece like many other journalists out there or you can toss all that aside and dig deep for your personal feelings about it. From here you would find a personal metaphor to use in your writing.

Was there a look on a stranded dog’s face that touched you? Reminded you of something? Was there a smiling baby in the midst of chaos that touched you? Why? How can you relate that to the bigger picture of what is going on?

Writing can heal, writing can inform, writing can spark change and writing can entertain. It’s nice every once in a while to write to heal. You may find a deeper connection in your ‘writing to entertain’ work afterward….

Slice of Life – Foreign Stories

For centuries now we have been told that one must have a clear cut beginning middle and end to a story and that to ignore basic Westernized structure (per Aristotle) is the kiss of death… But where does this leave non Westernized writers? Where does this leave other cultures who value different types of stories and expressions?

I write about this briefly in my new book Story Structure Architect because while it is important to dissect plot structure from a mainstream perspective (as 90% of the book does) it can also be helpful to dissect plot from a purely creative analysis of what ‘story’ is. Yes a bestseller will have a very Westernized structure to it, but as far as craft is that all there is? With over 6 billion people on the planet I would hope there is lots of room for many types of stories![more…]

Introducing the Slice of Life plot structure. This structure is defined as a momentary glimpse of reality, rather than a carefully composed, formal imitation of it. By its’’ very nature it rejects the traditional 3-act structure and is therefore more open to multi-cultural types of storytelling.

Since the eighteenth century, the French have had what is called the Anti-novel, where novelists free fiction from the expectations of conventional ideas about plot and characterization.

Slice of Life stories are very stream of consciousness. Some Slice of Life writers set out to challenge our expectations regarding literature and entertainment. (Many Native American writers make no distinction between prose and poetry)

This is not to say that those who write without plotting are writing a Slice of Life piece. On the contrary many who write this way will see they still have the traditional plot structure in their work because it has become so ingrained. It is almost impossible for most Westerners to write without traditional structure unless one has never seen a TV show, watched a movie or read a book.

Many people, including writing instructors, judge Slice of Life stories as bad, wrong, boring career killers and try to force students into the traditional 3-Act structure. In many ways this is a shame, as they are not honoring the differences in writers and the differences in storytelling, as they should.

Some successful Slice of Life stories include the following:
-• The film Before Sunrise, which is a great example of a Slice of Life story, did so well they have released a sequel to it titled Before Sunset.
-• Spike Lee’s protage Lee Davis, has created a Slice of Life piece titled 3 AM where he takes the viewer into the world of taxi drivers.
-• Daughters of the Dust is a fairly famous Slice of Life film used in many Western universities.
-• English director Jamie Thraves created The Low Down which follows a twenty-something Londoner through that difficult time in life when you realize your youth is ending and your not sure you want to grow up.
-• And Anton Chekhove’s An Upheaval is a great example for a novelist. It is an observation of life within an upper class household where the reader is left without a resolution. It is a sort of right of passage.

Many argue that if you want to make money as a writer you should stay away from this type of story structure. This may be true but then again there have been many ways of writing, once thought to be ‘un-commercial’, that are now the latest ‘hot thing’. It just takes one success.

Try viewing a slice of life film or better yet try to write one yourself. Take a moment in time for a character and see what happens. With slice of life it truly is the journey, not the destination, that is important.

Personally I have trouble watching slice of life films but I still see their value toward the craft of writing – even if only to understand western structure better by understanding its’ opposite!