There’s no reason to say you’re stuck!

I’m always surprised when writers (of all levels) complain about being stuck with writer’s block. How is this possible?

Sure, I get bogged down thinking while I write- how do I best approach this conflict, what should my character say in this situation, etc. but I rarely- if ever- have nothing at all to write. Am I lucky? Lying? Or just plain old full of great ideas all the time?

I’d say it’s more accurate that I try to keep my eyes on the prize and remind myself that the process of writing is kind of like a roller coaster– there are highs and lows and sometimes it goes fast and other times, well, it drags a bit.

A good thing to remember is that with the internet we have a lot of inspiration at our fingertips. Whether it’s pictures, music, or lists of writing prompts, there really is no excuse for not writing.

Today’s inspiration comes in the form of a list of prompts to stimulate those creative juices. Now, get writing!!

365 Creative Writing Prompts

How to Beat Writer’s Block

Please enjoy this blog post by guest blogger Brooke Stoltzfus!

Writer’s block is something everybody suffers through regardless of who you are. It is an “illness” that no one can escape, but there are definitely remedies for this common plague. As a college student, I have learned what to do when I find myself suffering from writer’s block. Here are 5 quick easy steps for beating writer’s block:

  1. Dedicate a Certain Amount of Time to write
  • Each person may write a different way, but I do not write well when I write a paper over the course of a couple days. I find it most helpful to write my paper in one sitting, depending on how long it is. That is not to say that writing a paper the night before is a smart idea, but getting into a writing mindset and staying there is helpful to me.
  1. Find a Space Dedicated to Work
  • I often find myself not being productive in my room as opposed to a space such as a library. My mind works better when it knows that it’s in a space it associates with work, such as a classroom or library.
  1. Limit the Distractions Around You
  • This seems like a simple one, but it is so important! Putting my phone across the room so I can’t see the notifications is helpful because I am not tempted to respond. Keeping my work area neat also helps so that I am not stressed out by the amount of clutter around me.
  1. Don’t Listen to Music with Words
  • I am one of those people who likes to have background noise, but music with lyrics distract me from what I am writing. My mind wants to sing along to the song instead of putting thoughts down on a page. I often listen to study playlists made by Spotify. The playlists are great background noise, and they eliminate the dead silence in the room.
  1. Be Knowledgeable About Your Subject
  • Knowing the subject you are writing about is important so that you don’t keep writing down the same thought over and over with different wording. The more knowledge you have access to, the more information you can write about.

Each person is different so these tips may not work for everyone. Writer’s block does plague the best of us, so sometimes gaining insight from outside sources is beneficial.

Happy Writing!

Brooke Stoltzfus

Creating your perfect writing space

Writing is a solo endeavor but it doesn’t have to be a painful one.

Creating the perfect writing space is essential to a writer’s productivity. Although my current office space at home is functional, I am considering ways to spice things up and improve the inspiration that surrounds me.

Below are some things I recommend you consider as you work on your own writing space. Maybe when mine is finished I’ll post some pics, but for now, I hope my work and insight can be helpful to you.

Desk:

The right desk will give you a place to create, write, and do what writers do best—dream. My desk is over a hundred years old and has many drawers and a roll top I rarely pull down for fear it will break. But I love it! If you’re a fan of vintage pieces, I suggest looking at consignment shops, antique stores, auctions, or even yard sales. I found my desk at a consignment shop. If you’re a fan of new furniture, but you’re on a budget, local discount stores or even Ikea might be the best bets for you.

Schedule:

Are you writing in the early morning or in the evening? Adding the right lights or curtains to your space will allow better illumination as you read, write, edit, or market your work. My overhead light is functional (and I have a large window on my office at home) but I added a lamp to my desk for those days when it’s gray or I just feel the need for a brighter workspace.

Color:

Selecting a carpet or area rug that features bright colors will inspire you. Then, you can pull from the carpet to bring accents to the room through curtains, pillows, paint color, and even wall hangings. Have fun with color to make your writing room feel focused and creative.

Shelves:

As writers it goes without saying that we have a lot of books. A. Lot. Of. Books. Proper storage is critical to making the resources you use often available and those you don’t handy enough that they are there when needed. Get creative and use your space well, but don’t be afraid to get rid of books you haven’t opened in a while (pssst! This just makes room for you to buy more books! Win-win!)

Chairs:

A comfortable seat is critical to writing well. Try out several that not only appeal to your sense of aesthetic in the room but also to your body make-up. Lumbar support and the ability to raise and lower the seat, as well as change positions as needed will be some factors to look for in choosing the right chair for you. But don’t limit yourself! Also consider having additional seating if the room allows so that you can get away from your desk and maybe put your feet up as you read, write, research, or edit your work.

Change:

Even if you settle on a color scheme, design concept, or organization tactic, you aren’t tied to it. Know that you can change what doesn’t work—and be open to new ideas that, thanks to the internet, will surely come up right as you complete the office overhaul.

And finally…

Pinterest:

Pinterest has been an invaluable tool to getting ideas for my oddly-shaped (but pretty cool) writing space. When it’s done, I promise to share some pics but right now it’s still a work in progress. Search as many different ideas as you can and create boards for your thoughts. Pull from these as you can and create the room of your dreams!

And check out my pinterest board for inspiration if you like:

Happy writing!

Mix tapes: the perfect writing playlist

Writing comes easily for me when I’mixtapesve got music that matches or enhances what I’m writing about. But I can’t just put on a radio station that plays some of my favorite tunes. While this may work for a time, I find when I’m more deliberate in my music selections, the writing is better overall.

How do I choose what music will work for each project?

There was a time when I actually made mix tapes, which then became CDs, and now has become playlists using an online program. While I still use CDs sometimes (like when I’m in the car for instance and don’t want to lose the inspiration), the online program works well since I’m usually at my computer anyway.

Here are some tips to help you create your own amazing writing playlist:

  • Genre
    • Select a genre you like and are familiar with anyway. This will make it easier to choose music you like and can sing along with, but because of your writing, you may also hear this piece in a new and interesting way
  • Tone, emotion
    • What is your piece about? Even if you haven’t written a word yet, you likely have some idea of character, goals/ motivations, scenes, and even dialogue that will appear in your story.
      • What songs enhance or support these areas? Do other songs by this artist work as well? Will this song reflect earlier or later emotion or tone of your work?
    • Character
      • What kinds of character development will happen in your story? Even the sweetest, best-behaved characters make stupid mistakes- so let the music reflect what they might have been thinking in those moments
    • Order counts
      • I don’t always do a great job with this, but I try to consider what songs would fit at the beginning, middle, and end. While you don’t want to take a large amount of time stewing over these areas, a little thought goes a long way.

Music is essential to my writing process. I have written several novels and screenplays, all of which have a soundtrack attached to them that I listened to pretty religiously as I wrote. This was sometimes to the annoyance of those around me, but as a writer, I can be a bit eccentric sometimes, right?

How do you use music (or art, poetry, or anything else) to encourage and inspire your work? Comment below!

Shh… listening to learn dialogue

It’s tremendously frustrating to be in the thick of reading a great novel only to become stuck when the dialogue doesn’t ring true. Bad dialogue can ruin the emotional impact of a great scene and draw attention to itself that means your reader is no longer invested in the story, but instead is concerned with the way your writing has strayed from reality.

Today, I’d like to give you a few tips for writing effective, natural, excellent dialogue:

  • Listen to the way people actually speak-
    • This doesn’t mean you have to write with all the fillers like ‘uh, um, well,’ etc. What it means is that you should pay attention to the word choices people make. For instance, how often do people actually refer to one another by name? If you listen to conversations in real life, you may notice it isn’t that often- therefore, it shouldn’t happen all that often in your dialogue, either.
  • Word choice matters
    • Some words are easy and natural to read, but are not often used in dialogue or actual speech because they’re cumbersome—or more likely, there’s an easier, more natural word to use. During the editing process, ask yourself if each word is one you’d hear someone say, or if you’ve included it because you thought it sounded more intelligent.
  • Cheap words are better
    • The previous point leads to this one- people usually speak with economy. We’re more inclined to use an easy word over a more difficult one in conversation. There are some caveats to this, of course, but consider the nudge anyway
  • Reveal what you need in that moment only
    • A writer can use dialogue to reveal things like a character’s education, economic status, what is important to them/ motivation, and a host of other things as well. But, you don’t need to smack your reader upside the skull to let them know your character is smart. Be subtle. Conversation usually is.
  • Less is more
    • Readers usually prefer to read snappy dialogue that moves things along. Use your dialogue well to do this- but don’t overdo it. Some writers rely too heavily on dialogue when the novel, for instance, gives you a chance to get inside the character’s mind too. As example, I usually use the first draft to ‘get it all out’ then I cut and cut (and cut some more) and end up with the dialogue that actually words
  • Be smart in editing
    • In addition to the above points, use your editing time well. Read the dialogue out loud to hear how it sounds (and if it’s a screenplay you’re working on, you should do this anyway to make sure the words are easy to say together). You might also consider during editing whether each dialogue exchange is necessary or if it would be more effective if handled another way.

While I certainly haven’t exhausted the many ways to write better conversations into your work, these are some of the main methods that work for me. You, too, can use these tips to write (and edit) your dialogue more effectively.

Please comment below if any of these ideas worked for you, or with your own dialogue tips/ tricks.

Am I really a writer now?

In recent weeks, I’ve seen my first novel, Picking Daisy, come to publication on Amazon.com through my publisher. I’ve been offered a contract on my second novel (that is finished) and today I submitted a novella per my publisher’s request. As a full-time professor, I have almost no time to write during the school year, so I’m hitting the writing life hard this summer, knowing it will soon be at an end.

But now people are asking questions like, ‘how did you come up with the story?’ and ‘how long did it take you to write the novel?’ While they may be aware of my other writing endeavors, the only one that really shines for them, like the tip of an iceberg with all the real weight of the thing below, is the novel they can hold in their hands or read on their Kindle. The rest is a mystery they don’t need or want to solve.

The sheer fascination in their voices tells me something clearly. Since my goal has been to see my novel published, I was under the false assumption that I’d come full circle. And more importantly, I was in real danger of losing the awe regarding my craft.

In other words, writing is never done– and even when you’ve completed a stage of it like research or character creation, you will likely return to these stages later when your writing is open for others to see (a whole other frightening area I should probably unpack in another blog post).  At this point, people will want to know the ‘behind the scenes’ work you did months or even years earlier. It’s fun, and humbling, to go back.

But at the same time you’ll be moving forward. In my case, I had the novel published, was working to prepare a novel for submission, and in the back of my mind I was thinking about the edits I needed to make to the other novel that’s been finished but waiting for me for about two years.

My conclusion?

merry go round

Maybe because I never reached this stage before (except with academic writing, which is a whole other area of work), I didn’t realize that writing is cyclical. We get on the merry-go-round and won’t get off until we stop writing.

So strike up the music and hop on your horse (you know the kind that moves up and down while you hang onto the useless strap?)- and get writing!

 

Editing 101: Sharpen your story

With a little tweaking to your editing process, you might find significant improvement in the outcome of your story/ novel/ screenplay or other writing.

Below are some ideas from my writing and teaching experiences, as well as thoughts from a professional editor.

  1. Get the story finished! – Feel free to make minor edits as you write but the best practice is to finish the story so the structure is already in place. Overall this makes the editing process more effective (and easier!)
    • And take time away from it
      • This will allow even the best editor to see clearly what is not working in the story, characters, dialogue, and so much more
  1. Replace some of the following words where appropriate
    • Feel/felt, have/ had, hear, knew/ know, see/saw, just, then, than, maybe, look, watch/notice/observe, so and very
      • You may be shocked at how often these words (and others) appear in your work
  1. Does your timeline make sense?
    • If ‘three days pass’ between one event and the next, is it possible for your character to do what you say she/ he is doing? (like going to the bank, for instance, which may be closed on a Sunday)
  2. Read your story in print
    • Different than reading on a computer or on a Kindle
    • You might catch mistakes that otherwise could be missed
  3. Share it with a friend and get his/ her insights
    • Fresh eyes can be incredibly helpful in the process
      • May help you to see where logic problems, typos, or other questions are apparent
  1. Cut yourself slack
    • No one is perfect. You may not catch every mistake
      • This.
  1. Fight for your story
    • You don’t have to make all of the recommended changes from a friend or your editor
      • Some will be preference issues
    • You know your story better than anyone
  2. Have fun!
    • Editing is making your story stronger and better!
    • I mean it. Really.

What are your keys to editing success? Share them in the comments!