Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Motivation’

How to Deal with Writer’s Block

In Writer's Block, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on April 2, 2017 at 11:00 am

Journals4

Keeping a journal or two is a way to add discipline to your writing routine and to get past writer’s block.

When writer’s block occurs, does that mean you’re no longer motivated to write, or is it that you want to write but can’t access the words?

I find writer’s block to be trying and a chore and more difficult to deal with than having the words pour out, even though a writing session where I’m blocked lasts a few minutes and a productive session can last two to three hours.

What Causes Writer’s Block?

Is it fear, laziness or lots of excuses? Or is it not having anything new to think about or ways to describe things? Is it a matter of being stuck at the place you’re at as a writer, not knowing where to go next?

Writer’s block is a state of insecurity where the mind plays tricks on you. When it occurs, you tell yourself you can’t get started writing, you have nothing to write or you need inspiration to write, but the motivation is lacking. It’s a way to avoid digging too deep, especially if there is pain to be faced, such as anger, hurt, sadness or frustration, though facing the pain can help you discover the truth about yourself and your experiences.

Writer’s block is like hitting the snooze button, a way to avoid waking up to what’s really there that, with some work, can come to the surface.

How Do You Combat Writer’s Block?

Realize that writing requires organization skills, time management, discipline and motivation. Keep a routine and don’t wait for the muse or some form of inspiration to begin writing. Inspiration can occur as you start writing, losing yourself in the process instead of worrying about the outcome.

To beat writer’s block, here are a few ways to get engaged in the process of writing:

  • Write daily, or at least a couple of times a week, scheduling a specific time or place to write; i.e. keep office hours.
  • Treat writing like a job and clock in the hours you write, both for accountability and to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished.
  • Find a special writing spot, such as a coffee shop, the park during the warmer months or a place where there’s lots of activity or no activity.
  • Stick to a schedule, but allow breaks, so that writing remains fun.
  • Write a writing action plan or goals for the year and check in every few weeks to mark your progress.
  • Take a writer’s retreat, even if it’s in your hometown, setting aside a weekend to focus on writing.

Other Advice

While working on a writing project, end mid-chapter or mid-paragraph, or jot down a few notes to start the next chapter to avoid facing the blank page the next time you write.

Write continuously, marking any places where additional research is needed or cause a sticking point, so that you don’t get sidetracked.

And write one word after the next, even if you don’t like what you produce, because at least you are writing. Once you get started, it’s easier to keep going. And it’s easier to come back to it again the next day with the words already there, offering an anchor for your next spilling out of sentences, paragraphs and hopefully stories.

Coming back to incomplete stories

In Getting Unstuck in Writing, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing Discipline on July 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

Writers can get those thorns in the side, or what I call incomplete works that have potential coupled with a big black lack.

The lack, or “lack” because it’s temporary, is like a flaw that through some thought can be worked out.

Maybe the lack is from a dip in motivation to return to the starter idea, because it’s moved from a small rip to a hole.

Maybe it’s from not knowing where to go next, or from stitching that’s uneven from not seeing the thread to move it along.

Or, maybe it’s from having too many ideas that cannot be sorted out in immediate thought but needs some subconscious work, achieved by getting in front of the story and doing some pantsing, freewriting and exploring. It’s from too much thread covering up the hole, so that the material becomes tough, needing some of the stitches let loose.

It also can be, instead of from a lack of direction, the result of trying to be too perfect, trying to come up with the whole product without seeing the small steps, or stitches, needed to get to the seam.

That’s because it’s hard to hold the whole story in the head.

What I’ve found is that it’s okay to not know where the story is headed.

Earlier this week, I returned to a short story hanging out with the gap of a middle and the lack of an ending. My story only had a beginning. It had a protagonist who made me uncomfortable—he was male, not my usual point-of-view, and he had a rough, sardonic voice.

I’d wanted to fix and find the rest of what I’d started.  I decided, I’m just going to finish this thing.

To do so, I had to let go of my planning, controlling thoughts and go deeper into the mind where raw stories can emerge. I had to let the characters take over, setting aside plotting and planning, and also my ego, so I could immerse in the story.

I filtered out the rest of the noise, outside and inside, thus increasing my focus.

And I allowed my mind to go free, so the subconscious could solve the plot and characterization problems I’d launched into that left me temporarily directionless. I took the material that I had and found that as I let my mind go, I was solving problems and coming up with new material.

I found that my writing became about risk taking, surprises, making it up and letting go. I found, too, that I hadn’t wanted to leave the story for too long, abandoned, because it would become unfamiliar and not me.

I came back for my middle and The End.

What writers need to survive writing

In Writing Goals, Writing Processes, Writing Tips on March 6, 2016 at 11:00 am

Writing can be many things: a profession, a hobby, a necessity, a companion to reading.

But whatever form it takes in your life, it requires discipline.

Writing can feel like a friend, or not so much a friend, especially during the infamous, dreaded writer’s block.

So, here are a few tools to survive writing (and keep it fun):

  • Develop a writing routine, but not so strict that you can’t take breaks. (I like to write one to two times a week, or every day when I take on the National Novel Writing Month challenge in November to write 50,000 words in a month, a hard schedule to follow year round.)
  • Keep track of when and how long you write, such as in a spreadsheet, so that you know you’re committed and are making progress.
  • Vary your writing by trying something new, like writing a personal essay or taking on a setting or type of character that you normally wouldn’t choose.
  • Share your writing with friends who also write and will give you compliments, like “Great job!” while also giving you some constructive feedback. They can be your coach and cheerleader.
  • Congratulate yourself when you write.
  • Don’t berate yourself when you experience writer’s block. It’s natural and may mean you have something to work out with a character, plot string or personally. Or, it may be you need to gather up more experiences to have something to write about.
  • Get those experiences. Eavesdrop. Observe. Hang out in unfamiliar places to gather up dialog bits, new descriptions and different ways of observing.

Lastly, eat some chocolate. Or caffeine. Pair your writing routine with your favorite treat, so that when you write, you get your treat.

Getting behind on NaNoWriMo (but still feeling good about it!)

In NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Shelley Widhalm on November 8, 2015 at 11:00 am

I actually hadn’t planned to do NaNoWriMo in 2015, but enough friends asked me if I was doing it I felt like I should at least try.

In 2013, I attempted NaNoWriMo for the first time, writing 51,004 words during the month of November, but in 2014, I didn’t have an idea for a project, so I decided to skip—plus achieving the writing of 50,000 words during National Novel Writing Month is a big commitment, requiring lots of time and energy.

This time around, on Nov. 1 during the first day of the month-long endeavor, I had other plans that didn’t involve writing—excuses, excuses—but on Nov. 2, I procrastinated but by 5:30 p.m., I was ready to go and wrote 2,182 words in one-and-a-half hours, making up for a few words from the day before (the idea is to write 1,667 words a day). It felt good to write, especially since I hadn’t touched my novel since mid-October while working on editing another novel.

On Nov. 3, I planned to put in another day of writing, but I worked nine hours and got off at 6 p.m. when it was dark. I was so tired all I could think about was going to the gym and to bed. Then on Nov. 4, I returned to writing, feeling way behind. By that day, I should have been at 5,001 words and by the end of the day at 6,668 words.

Instead, I was at 2,043 words by the time I finished my one-hour, 15-minute writing session, bringing my total to 4,225 words, short by 2,443 words. But I knew I’d catch up soon.

By day 5, the on-track count would have been 8,335 words. I wrote 1,904 words in one-and-a-half hours, bringing my total to 6,129 words. On day 6, I wrote 1,058 words, and on day 7, 1,053 words, almost the same as the day before.

My writing for the first week totaled 8,240 words. To be on track at the same daily word rate, the number of words would be 11,669 words, so I’m short 3,429 words (though it’s the work and sense of accomplishment that really counts).

With each day, I found the writing becoming easier and easier. Maybe because I allow myself to make up whatever comes along, not worried about the outcome.

Writing daily and fast turns off the editor, causing me to get lost in the story, almost as if my fingers aren’t typing. By writing daily, I become immersed in the story, not having to go back and review what I wrote the day before or in earlier chapters.

The flow becomes more immediate by taking on consistency from the continual input, instead of from a scattered, occasional approach. I’m more cognizant of my story and the story details, so I don’t mix up names and places, even though I do write them in a separate notebook. And I take on a more consistent tone, pace and voice.

Though it’s a lot of work, NaNoWriMo helps the writer get into the story quickly from the focus on word count, instead of thinking of excuses or getting that separation of time and space from a work drawn out over months or years.

Writing During the Holidays

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on December 14, 2014 at 11:00 am

Fitting in writing when you’re busy, such as during the holidays, takes discipline, motivation and a willingness to write at odd times.

I find myself caught up in the excitement of attending holiday parties, spending time with family and friends, and eating lots of food. So to get serious about writing, I have to treat it like a job.

Here are some ways to get writing and keep going:

  • Buy a planner (even in old-fashioned paper form) and a new calendar to mark out goals for the year and schedule in specific writing days.
  • Write daily, or at least a couple of times a week, selecting a specific time or place to write; i.e. keep office hours.
  • Clock in the hours you write, both for accountability and to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished.
  • Write for five or 10 minutes, using a notebook that you always have with you. Those minutes will add up.
  • Stick to a schedule, but allow for risk and freedom and for imagination and play, so that writing remains fun.
  • Write a writing action plan or goals for the year and check in every few weeks to mark your progress.
  • Take a writer’s retreat, even if it’s in your hometown, setting aside a weekend to focus on writing (maybe as a reward for surviving the holidays or just before everything gets busy).

Writing can be a reward once you get started as you see what you’ve accomplished from getting words down, while also being able to engage in the holiday fun.

Top 12 Writing Tips

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on December 7, 2014 at 11:00 am

With the year drawing to a close, this is a good time to reflect on the best writing advice to get motivated and inspired to do the hard work of sitting down to write.

I’ve collected notes about writing habits and the process of writing from magazine articles and books on writing, writing conferences and workshops I’ve attended and my own personal experience.

Here are my top 12 writing tips:

  • Write as much as you can, but not necessarily every day, especially if writing isn’t your full-time job. Set a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three to four times a week for two hours or until you reach 1,000 words.
  • Get rid of distractions in your life while you’re writing, and don’t invite in the critic. Both can keep you from writing by serving as excuses to not write or to invite in writer’s block.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration. It can come to you when you’re already working. The more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.
  • Have more awareness, using all the senses when making observations to add detail to your scenes. Take notes when something strikes you to use later on in your descriptions of the setting or in dialog.
  • Write when you’re not writing by describing what you see, hear and feel as a running mental description. Write down whatever seems compelling.
  • Figure out what is most essential, most loved for you to write about. Write about what interests you, what you want to learn about and, of course, what you know.
  • Cherish silence even in noisy environments to let the words come.
  • Think about where your writing wants to go, realizing that, with fiction and poetry, you’re not in total control of it. Trust your subconscious to make connections your conscious mind isn’t ready to or won’t necessarily be able to make.
  • Realize that rough or first drafts aren’t perfection on the first try. As you write, let the story unfold because it isn’t readily formed until it’s written. Get the story down, then fine tune it with details, nuances and deepening of the plot, character and setting. Revise and revise again.
  • Accept that writing is supposed to be hard.
  • Focus on the process instead of the results. Enjoy that process.
  • And, last but not least, read. Reading makes you a better writer.

NaNoWriMo Loser

In NaNoWriMo, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Processes on November 9, 2014 at 11:00 am

I planned on doing NaNoWriMo this month, but the word No got in the way. My problem this past week was my excuses, so instead of blogging to encourage fast, furious writing, I’m commiserating with those of us who bailed.

Last year, I participated for the first time in National Novel Writing Month, an international challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or 1,667 words a day.

I wanted to take part again this year, but I wasn’t prepared to write a novel I prepped for based on a true-life experience. I realized I was still too close to what had happened and wasn’t ready to write. I wasn’t being realistic giving enough time, thought and distance to process what had happened.

And yet I didn’t come up with another idea, so yet another excuse.

Here are my excuses for not trying a new writing project (I even considered doing a bunch of short stories): I am tired. I’m not disciplined enough to write daily (though I did it last year, so what’s my problem?). And I don’t know how to do pantser writing, or start in on the writing without a plan.

I know that the idea of NaNoWriMo is to do fast writing, not actually to write something perfect. I know that I can give myself permission to write a crappy first draft and just let go without the self-editor getting in the way.

But here I am blogging about avoiding National Novel Writing Month. As I do this, I wonder if other NaNoWriMo bloggers (or non-NaNos like me) are questioning their non-participation and avoidance tendencies. Is that like negating what’s supposed to get you writing in the first place?