5 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

Writer's Block

If you have been sitting in front of a computer staring at the empty white screen, you are not alone. We all have felt stuck before. Here are 5 things that I have done that have helped me get the creativity flowing.

1. Get Away to Write

When I am beginning a new project, I like to get away for a week to begin the writing process. I have an 80-year-old mother who has helped provide a place for me to “hide-out.” She goes to Clear Water, Florida every fall for a couple of months. I have taken a week to go and write. I take my computer bag and sit looking at the ocean and let my fingers fly. I don’t worry about perfection, I just write and devote myself to the process.

2. Set A Schedule to Write

If you are going to complete a writing project, a schedule can help you stay the course. I set a goal of how many words I am going to write a day before I stop. Often, I am going to write 1500 words. At first it can be slow, but as I allow my mind to wrap around the page it helps. I like to write in the mornings while my mind is fresh (but others like to write in the evenings when the kids go to bed). You know what time works for you, so put it on your calendar. When I was writing my first book, I made a commitment not to take any appointments before noon. There were people who were frustrated with me and didn’t see what the big deal was. For me, I needed to prioritize writing or it wouldn’t get done.

3. Take the Pressure Off

One of the most difficult times of writer’s block that I experienced was with my newly released book, Women Who Move Mountains, Praying with Confidence, Boldness, and Grace. I had already signed the contract with Baker Publishing Group and had negotiated a date that I thought would work on the calendar. However, as we got closer, the date to launch our new church was changed and it conflicted with my writing deadline. I simply had too much on my plate and I couldn’t do it all. When we renegotiated the due date, it took the pressure off.

4. Just Do It

I was dealing with a great deal of spiritual warfare in the form of negative thoughts: You are in over your head. You can’t write this. You don’t know what you aClick here to Download the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Women Who Move Mountains.re doing. Who are you kidding? Have you ever had some version of negative thoughts? I tried praying (after all the book is about prayer). However, I didn’t have a breakthrough in terms of peace, until I forced myself to just do it. In prayer, God gave me a picture of an acorn that I was holding in my hand, but if I would plant that acorn in good soil, and provide nurture, it would grow to be a strong a mighty tree whose leaves would provide healing for all who read it. After writing these words down in a journal, I took my computer and I sat in my 80-year-old mother’s room and I began to type. (If you read chapter 1 of Women Who Move Mountains, you will learn that my mom has been my main role model for prayer.) (Click the Picture of the book to immediately download the Introduction and Chapter 1).

5. Pray, Believe, Write

Little by little, you will accomplish what God has called you to do. Begin each writing session with this rhythm: pray, believe, write. When you know that God hears your prayers, you can set aside the worries of the day, believe God, and write. Take frequent breaks, look up at the sky, smile, and believe that the ONE who has called you to write will inspire you to do it. As you follow his guidance, little by little, the written words will bring life and hope to those who read it.

I Prepared A Gift for You

Yes, a gift. Maybe you are like me. I tend to drift away from fully believing who I am in Christ. Somehow, unbelief comes into my mindset. I get discouraged and battle worn and I need to find a way to calibrate my soul. Sometimes it’s the sin that is hidden from me that I need to confess. I may be hurt by someone, and I need to choose to forgive them. Other times, it’s just the uncleanness of the world we live in. All of these things can cause you to get stuck and have writer’s block!

5 Steps of Grace will help bring healing and deliverance to your life. You and I are cleansed by God’s Word. We need His Word to wash our minds of the unclean things in the world. These things become like a weight to us and they drag down our joy-filled love life with God. Set aside a time for you to pray through this guide to freedom. You can pray on your own, or invite a prayer partner or spiritual mentor to pray with you. Download your copy here!

Advertisements

Enjoying Variety in Writing

Mixed fruits and vegetables at organic fair

Mixed fruits and vegetables at organic fair

Just as a wide selection of fruits and vegetables makes for a nutritionally balanced diet that promotes good health, variety in writing can improve the quality of prose a person produces. While specializing in one type of writing allows a person to focus, I believe a writer can benefit from tackling different lengths and styles of writing assignments. Here are three ways that writing articles helps an author of a book:

  1. Article writing teaches clarity. The limited word count of an article trains an author to think clearly and write concisely. While an author of a book can define and develop his or her message across many chapters, a writer preparing an article must get the job done in less than a few pages. I found that article writing for journals and magazines helped me winnow my words and learn to support my key ideas with only the strongest illustrations from the most reliable sources. Article writing also honed my ability to write an outline – a skill useful for writing book proposals.
  2. Article writing permits creativity. If you want to test an idea or a style, find a suitable publication and write a query to the editor. If you succeed, you will probably have between 1000 and 2500 words to try out your concept. If you discover a great new topic that deserves further exploration, you can follow up by writing a book proposal. If you find that you can express all your thoughts on the topic within an article or two, you have broadened your horizons without the long commitment that book writing entails. Move on and try another topic until you find your niche. Working with a variety of editors will improve your writing career. You will gain insights and learn new techniques from each editor.
  3. Article writing expands an author’s audience. To be granted the privilege of publishing a book, you need a platform. To maintain book sales, you need to connect with readers. Article writing creates the platform a novice writer needs in order to obtain that first book contract. Article writing also helps a seasoned author keep in touch with readers. Choose publications most likely to interest your potential readers, but, remember, if you write for new publications, you will expand your audience. Online publications or print publications with an online presence create opportunities to share your work across social media, a bonus for an author trying to reach more people.

I have learned to enjoy variety in writing, appreciating the different approaches to communicating to the specific audience for a given publication. Article writing gives me the opportunity to address a wider variety of issues than I could cover through book writing alone. What types of writing have shaped your writing career? What have you learned from writing beyond the pages of a book?

Closing The Creative Gap Between What You Imagine and What You Write

The Gap Between What You Imagine and What You WriteTrying to play the piano can be humbling. You dream of executing a Bach fugue in perfect timing, but when you sit down it’s chopsticks or nothing. Writing is a lot like that, too. An amazing scene plays out in your mind, but after your critique group reviews your rendition, you wonder how you ever thought you could write.

Welcome to the imperfect world of creative artistry. Check your ego at the door. It can’t help and may hinder your efforts to bridge the gap between what you imagine and what you can create.

Let’s go back to that piano. Even when you love playing and have a natural affinity for music, to play well you’ll probably need lessons. In the same way, studying the craft is one of the surest ways to advance your writing skills.

But studying itself won’t teach you to write any more than watching the teacher play improves a musician’s abilities. Long, laborious, tedious practice is required. Yes, there are a (very) few musical and literary geniuses in the world, but for most of us practice is what it takes to become a master. Could that be why an art is called a discipline?

At times you’ll want to bang your head against the keyboard in frustration. It becomes easier to make excuses not to practice than to face that tell-tale gap between what you can imagine and what you actually write. Are these dues of time, money, effort, and disillusionment worth paying?

Only you can decide.

Thankfully, the gap narrows with time and effort, but it never completely goes away. Living with that reality is a cost every writer continues to pay. It is also a gift that helps keep us humble.

If you persevere you may reach a comfortable level of proficiency with the pain of your early efforts only an unpleasant memory. This may result in you having less patience with beginning writers and even a feeling of superiority. The temptation to skimp on improving your abilities will be stronger. If the gap will never close, why not save your time, money, and effort and settle for doing an adequate job?

Having a good work ethic can see you through those times when you lose your desire to write with excellence. Is it worth the trouble? That’s up to you to decide, too. However, in a crowded literary marketplace, it isn’t hard to be lost in the shuffle.

It helps to be clear on why and for whom you’re writing. Whether you’re writing to make your mark, to reach a particular audience, or to glorify God, close enough is never good enough.

Writing with excellence is a self-taught skill that, oddly enough, requires you to face and accept your imperfections.

It’s All in the Details

scotland-13584Creativity isn’t just a good idea but mandatory if you want to be a writer worth your gold (way more valuable than salt nowadays). The thing about creativity, though, is that you must be careful with the details. Why?

Because there’s a fine line between creativity and believability.

Recently I received an email from a cyber buddy that read:

“I’m writing this with great grievance. I’m presently in Scotland, United Kingdom, with my family for a short vacation and we’re stuck. And really it was unannounced. We were attacked by four armed robbers on our way back to the hotel where we lodged. Not only were we robbed, but are completely embarrassed.

All our cash, credit cards, and cellphones were stolen. We’ve reported the incident to the embassy and the police, but to my dismay, they seem not bothered…their response was just too casual. Our flight leaves in a few hours but we’ve got to settle our bills before we’re allowed to leave. Now I’m freaked out.

Please, I need you to loan me some money. I promise to refund you as soon as I’m back home. All I need is $1,650. Please let me know what you can do. Write me back so I can tell you how to get it to me.”

Now then, as you’ve likely figured out, this is indeed a scam—but a scam that might’ve worked a whole lot better had they paid attention to minor details. Let’s pick it apart, shall we?

From a creative standpoint, I’ll give this a 3 out of 5 stars, mostly because whoever wrote it upped the ante by adding in the ‘armed’ in front of robbers. Nice touch. I also like how the author included a ‘ticking time bomb.’ The plane leaves in a few hours and their bills must be paid or else. Will they make it out of the country? Cue dramatic background music.

So those details totally work. What threw the story off was a single believability factor toward the beginning that instantly set off the needle on my are-you-kidding-me radar.  She’s presently in Scotland? Sheesh! Scotland implies rolling hills and kilts, not roaming bands of AK47 toting thugs. Maybe if the author had said they’d been threatened with bagpipes I’d have bought it. Nah. Even that wouldn’t have worked.

The creativity was there, but the details didn’t match. Why? Because Scotland doesn’t fit the connotation of a lawless land where desperadoes rob innocent tourists.

Next time you’re in creative mode, crafting an intense scene, make sure your details enhance the story instead of pull your reader out of the action. Losing a wallet is one thing…you can always earn more money. Regaining a disappointed reader is harder than learning the bagpipes.

The 15-Minute Writer, Part 4: Brain “Rules” for Writers

file0001052648856 (1)Busy authors and authors-in-training need all the brainpower we can get. (Especially us writer-moms; I’m convinced that some of my brain came out with each of my two children!)

Therefore, I listened VERY closely during a recent writers retreat as John Medina, author of Brain Rules, spoke about brain science, and how it can help writers become more productive.

Before we begin, we need to realize that there are no real “brain rules” for creatives. “I’m guessing as to what will help your creativity and output, according to the brain research that’s out there,” Medina told us. With that caveat in mind (pun intended), here are a few practical lessons I gleaned from the two hour-long sessions he led.

First, our ability to be creative is directly related to feeling safe. Our minds are instinctual; therefore, we need to find a place to write where we don’t feel threatened emotionally, creatively, or physically. Maybe it’s a coffee shop where the server knows our favorite drink, or a corner of our home where we can thoroughly relax.

Try this: ask yourself: where can I create without someone interrupting and/or discouraging me? Journal for fifteen minutes about this, or spend that time setting up a more nurturing space.

Second, we need to sleep to learn. Medina says, “We not only rehearse what we’ve learned as we sleep; we also rehearse what we don’t know, and try to solve it.”

Try this: do you have writer’s block? Work on your problem manuscript two hours before bed. Need to finish something within a few hours? Set a timer, and take a refreshing 15-minute nap.

Third, we all have times of the day when we’re most productive. Medina calls these natural body rhythms “chrono-types,” and he encourages authors to pay close attention to them.

Try this: work when you’re most creative. Are you a lark (morning person)? Set your alarm to write before work or school. Are you a might owl (night person)? Write after the kids are in bed. Maybe you’re a hummingbird (afternoon person). If so, try to write during your break at work, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes.

Fourth, exercise boosts cognition and buffers against the negative effects of stress. Medina cited a study which looked at two groups of people as they transitioned through the aging process. The active group suffered less depression and dementia, retired later in life, surrounded themselves by family and friends, and aged beautifully. The sedentary group aged “terribly,” according to Medina. “They endured depression, anxiety, medical problems, loneliness–and they looked old.”

He then mentioned a study in which soldiers exercised before and after Chinese language lessons. “There was a one hundred percent change in cognitive function when the soldiers exercised before trying to learn Chinese,” he said. “Other studies show that if you keep up regular exercise for three years, you actually improve memory!”

Try this: Medina vows that five aerobic sessions of 30 minutes per week is all it takes to get the massive brain benefits from exercise. Those sessions can also be two smaller ones (say, 15 minutes). He also says that your mental “sweet spot” will occur right after you exercise. So schedule a short exercise session right before your writing time. Your brain–and your body–will thank you!

Read part one, two, or three of this series.

How to Captivate Readers

Small Child Reading

Wonderment

Children’s eyes

See marvels,

Creation

Born anew,

Wonderment

In each small

Everything.

Give me, Lord,

A child’s view.

©Janalyn Voigt

The cup of tea at your elbow grows cold.The dryer buzzes, but you hardly notice. The clock ticks past the time to make dinner, but you turn the page and read on, captured by the author’s creative world.

When they can make readers forget they’re reading, books rank high on purchase lists. Figuring out how this happens is well worth the effort. Can such a thing be identified? Bringing the reader so fully into a story would seem to take an elusive blend of mastery and pixie dust. Besides, don’t readers’ preferences dictate which books will draw them in?

I would have agreed to this idea a week ago, but not any longer. You see, the book I’m currently reading for a literary contest is a young adult story. With my teen years forever behind me, I am not a target reader for this book. In fact, when I first picked it up, I groaned inwardly. While being required as a literary judge to read a slew of books might seem an envious pursuit, the bare truth is that sometimes I wind up stuck with a book I’d otherwise never open. It would be arrogant of me to judge another author’s writing without actually reading it, and so in a fit of fortitude I slog doggedly onward until the merciful end.

If that had been the case with this particular book, I wouldn’t be writing this post. It wasn’t. I did have to push past a slow start, but then the story enveloped me like a warm shawl on a chilly evening. I read late into the night, turning pages in a way that would have gratified the author. As I mentioned, I am not this author’s target audience, so I may never crack one of her books, but the next day I found her Goodreads page and became a fan. Why? Because her writing transported me in a way few books have. And I read a lot of books. If my experience is anything to go by, preference has little to do with captivating a reader.

What does, then? I asked myself this question with an interest not in the least academic. I want to apply this writer’s secret sauce to my own writing. I read the rest of the book with that goal in mind. What I discovered rocked me to the core.

Apart from the necessities of craft and mastery, two distinct factors elevated the story: a unique writing voice empowered by a vivid imagination. The author’s strong sense of self expressed without reserve resonated within her fully imagined story.

In these days of rapid writing, let’s not forget to add art to craft. The demands on you to produce and promote can steal the soul from your writing, if you let it. Feeding your inner artist is the only way to tap the wellspring of creative life within and produce enduring works. That will look different for each of us, but one thing remains true for all. The way forward is backward. At least mentally, let yourself step backward into childhood and discover the world with fresh eyes.

What books have you read lately that have surprised you? Transported you back to your childhood?

Keeping the Ideas Coming

The writing life is a sedentary one, requiring hour upon hour of sitting in front of a computer screen—not good for the eyes or the metabolism or that almost forgotten New Year’s resolution to lose ten pounds. Desk-bound inactivity is also not good, I’ve lately read, for the brain—particularly those portions of the brain that support a capacity of supreme importance to the writer: creativity. To keep the brain in good shape and new ideas flowing in, say scientists who study creativity, you need to change things up a bit. Do something active. Think about something else.

The solution for me is running. I run twenty-one miles a week on the back roads around my house. Because of my work schedule, I run in seven to ten mile chunks, which is a bit hard for a nonathletic person like me, so I’ve come up with various strategies to take my mind off of what I’m doing. In addition to thinking about my current writing dilemmas and planning new books, I count the different kinds of birds or flowers or grasses or trees. I carry binoculars for locating birds and have trained myself to recognize their voices and habits. I phone distant family members and friends whom I rarely get around to talking to otherwise. I pray.

On especially long runs, though, even these distractions get boring, so this winter I started playing a sick, depressing game of building alphabets from the roadside trash.

I made up rules for myself. I had to follow the alphabet’s order. I had to actually see a letter—not guess or surmise it from the visible part of the trash—for it to count. No slowing or stopping to look more closely. No stopping to turn a piece of trash over to see the other side. No touching at all! I had to read on the fly.

It was, as I say, a sick, sad game. So much trash. I fantasized about returning after my run with a box of trash bags and picking it all up but never found time.

Then spring came, burying the trash in weeds. That made the game harder and longer. I was on J one day—Js and Vs were always the hardest letters to find—and had been jogging along for miles without seeing even the Juicy Fruit wrapper I’d seen the last time I’d run there. Up ahead, a square of paper stuck up like a tombstone out of the freshly graded borrow ditch. On it was one word: TIME.

It occurred to me that it would be much more fun to collect whole words than single letters, so I wrote down TIME in my little bird notebook and jogged on. Soon I had grand, subway, rub, natural, ice, aqua, buried, cable, light, wet, ones, bud, sonic, key, stone, mountain, and dew and decided to make a poem.

It has always bothered me how advertising and brand names undo words. Light doesn’t mean light. Mountain has no real connection to a mountain nor dew to actual dew. My poem, I decided, would reclaim these words’ real meaning. I would redeem the trash words.

My rules were few. What linguists call structure-class words (pronouns, helping verbs, articles, conjunctions, etc.) and inflections (verb forms, plural forms, etc.) were allowed. So was divvying a word into its parts: keystone offered key and stone. Homophones—such as bush from Busch—were off limits. Once my poem got going, though, I threw out all my rules and just concentrated on making the poem work as a poem, importing non-trash words as I saw fit.

Writing that first poem made me cry. Don’t know why, exactly, except that it felt holy. I decided, in any case, to collect trash words and make poems routinely when I ran. I even started a blog of the poems that have resulted. I find the project profoundly satisfying, from collecting words to redeeming them as poems to posting them for others to read.

I don’t have much of a message here, except this: Get serious—and creative—about your creativity. Every moment, every event, all the minutiae of your life, even the worst things—even running!—can be re-purposed for something good.

In what ways will you choose to redeem your creativity this week?