How Do You Get the Words on Paper? Return to Writing

A couple of days ago, I was on the phone with a dear friend. She works in theater and has written her own plays in the past few years that she also directed that were performed at the local theater of which she was a member.

Unfortunately, some serious family health issues came about for her family a few years ago, and it’s been extremely stressful and emotionally draining for her and her family.

She’s not been able to continue the goals she had set for herself since then but is patiently waiting for a time where theater work and going back to school can re-enter her life.

I know how hard it is to go through and cope with a sick family member and the stress and strain it puts on both your mental and physical health.

My friend does need a healthy outlet that gives her a short window of time to herself. It’s important for her own health.

So she texted me yesterday using a voice message, that she’d attended a board meeting at the local theater she is now connected to (don’t know how long and when she started up with this particular one), and they were discussing upcoming events for the summer and short, one-act plays.

She’d actually brought this up to me a few days ago, and I will maybe do another blog post on my own plays, but this post is about picking up writing after serious life events takes up all your free time and energy.

She’d told me in our last conversation that she’d lost her creativity and didn’t know how to regenerate it. She asked me how I do so in my writing.

I told her I hadn’t written from the time I married in 1997 until 2014. A very long hiatus because of family life and health issues of my youngest son replacing any creative writing ideas and even thoughts.

But my writing returned when it was the right time for me in my life. God’s time. And it brought me through a lot of emotional hardships. I began to rediscover who I truly was, found catharsis and healing through these years, and continue to find content and healing in my writing.

My advice to her, using my own method, was to jot down notes of what she was wanting to write about. The characters, plot, and have a beginning and end in mind so that you are more likely to be able to finish your play or story.

Yes, I’ve struggled through the ideas of characters, scenes, etc. for upcoming chapters in a current work-in-progress, as well as on potential stories that swirled in my mind for a couple days that I hadn’t yet written any notes for. And even when I know what I want to say and how the scene will play out, there are times I can’t get anything down on the Word document or paper.

The answer to this is to just start typing whatever comes out in creating your scene and chapter. Eventually, about halfway down the first page, you become engrossed in your characters and what they’re doing in the scene, and you are able to complete at least that scene or even a full chapter.

This has worked for me every single time I’ve done it.

My friend had told me she hasn’t even been able to write down simple little poems she usually can do quite easily.

I told her to think of her writing as an escape from her stressful current reality to a realm where she can immerse herself for a time to find solace, creativity, and contentment for that short period. It will help her feel a sense of joy and a quiet moment to herself.

She’ll be creating as she’s wanted to do, and at the same time, experience relief from stress, which will help her overall health.

I’m sure I’ve written a few blogs already on the difficulties of getting back into writing after short or long dry periods, but I felt compelled to write this today after having the talk with my dear friend.

If you are having troubles writing caused by whatever events or obstacles in your life, remember that you can find a window to that creative side of you.

Try reading material you’ve already written to prime the pump in getting ideas to flow inside your mind and heart that will translate to writing on your computer or paper.

These strategies of mine always work for me. I hope it does for you too.

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Writer Vs. Inner Critic

silencing inner critic

Sweating with anxiety, I stepped into the familiar and dangerous ring of my mind, ready with padded gloves on.  My inner critic had a fast voice that knew how to bob and weave through my brain, punching out negative remarks in all the recesses of my gray matter.  It managed to paralyze the use of my left hand (yes, I’m a leftie), and rendered my pencil useless, until it had me flat out on the cushiony floor of the right side of my brain, gasping for creativity, ideas, any words at all.  But none would formulate in my brain before I was hit by another, “That’s not good enough.”  And this melee continued for several days.

This massive struggle was all over a first draft’s middle chapters.  Oh, those dreaded scenes.  What could be worse than trying to carry on your story twenty chapters in when everything you write looks like and feels like total crap?  The beginning started with such gusto and imagination and flair.  But now, like the plummeting of a meteor to earth, the haunting middle chapters had crushed my creative endeavor.  The last fizzle of ingenuity faded into the realm of unconsciousness.

open written notebook on desk

I came to just before the count of ten and rolled onto my side, huffing as I tried to lift myself.  My body slowly obeyed, as I worked hard to produce words.  The inner critic had the energy of ten people. As soon as I had gotten to my hands and knees, it rammed into me with a triple dose of “Your writing sucks.”  I lurched and collapsed onto my side.

But I wasn’t giving up.

With new clear determination, I decided to read over the pages I’d managed to write before this battle.  The words connected, weaved together in a coherent manner.  I grabbed the pencil next to my body, scrambled to my feet, and with a sharp inhale and swing of my hand wielding the pencil, I erased the words of the inner critic.  The inner critic’s voice attempted again to try and embed more of its toxic language into my brain.  But this time, with gained strength and confidence, I shouted, “Hey!  This is a first draft!” and kicked its foul castigations out of my head.

kicking something away

It scurried away, whimpering and mumbling, but I knew it would be back soon, too soon.  I would have to keep vigilant.  I hung my gloves on the wall of my brain, and with my right hand, grabbed a towel and wiped the sweat from my brow, and with my left hand that still had the pencil in its grasp, I started writing the next chapter, one that would not haunt me but would submit to my writing freely.  At least I hoped so.

 

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How to Keep Writing When You’ve Run Out of Steam in Your Work in Progress

painting of author stuck

There’s the topic of daily writing that is discussed and wrote about often to give us writers encouragement.  This is important because the more you write and read, the better your writing becomes.  But there is another aspect of writing that I’ve run into many times in the past but hadn’t thought about it until yesterday.  It was brought up in a Facebook writing group in which I’m a member.  This pertains to how to continue writing your work in progress without losing steam.

What happens when you write a few chapters and all of a sudden your mind goes blank, even though you know where you want your story to go.  Thinking about it and executing it are two different animals.  My present work in progress is a complex story in my view, as I am writing it from three different characters’ perspectives and they all tie into the main plot that strings their lives together.  Also, I’m writing in third person point of view.  I thought I wrote only in third person point of view in my teens and early twenties, but I didn’t have the knowledge of what that actually meant until my fiction writing course at SNHU and my online critique group over the past couple of years, so my stories were probably more omniscient points of view.  The fiction writing course, which I’m in right now, has helped me to understand it, but I am still in the process of practicing and trying to produce it.

writing scrabble blocks

On to the subject at hand–losing steam while in the midst of writing your novel, novella, or even your short story.  First, I want to add one more piece of information, which won’t really be novel (pun intended) to us writers, but I’m going there anyway!  Creating a story and writing it is a lot more difficult than I thought years ago.  Once you learn the elements of character, plot, setting/place, and structure, you realize it takes a lot more effort and technique and skill to write than you ever thought.  So, as you trudge forward in your chapters, you unexpectedly hit road bumps.  Those road bumps are your creative juices and ideas sputtering to a stop.  What do you do?

What I used to do and still do that sometimes works just on its own is reread the chapter I just wrote to stimulate the thoughts and continuation of the story and where I want it to go.  But I’ve incorporated something else that I believe really helps keep me on the greased tracks of continued creative writing.  I write pages of notes.  I’ve gotten into the habit of doing that.  It was discussed often in John Dufresne’s book I’m reading for my fiction writing workshop class that I mentioned I’m presently in.  So, just yesterday after writing a lot the day before, I hit that road block.  My mind was jumbled with the characters, the plot, like cut-out words from newspaper articles all haphazardly shuffled together in a disorganized heap.  How do I write the next chapter? Who is the next chapter about?  Am I continuing with the same character, or do I move on to the other one?  It needs to move the plot along.  What am I doing?

spiral notebook and pen

I begin writing more notes that turn out to be around four pages in my trusty spiral notebook.  Notes on what the next chapter will be about and who’s in it.  This expands to connected characters and what they are doing and why.  Questions appear in my scribblings, and I need to have answers for the story to make sense and to move forward, so I offer different responses and see which one sticks…which ones are most plausible and most believable.  Sometimes research is needed in this depending on the subject matter.  In any case, the jotting of notes continues until all those words about the characters, their actions, how they move the plot along, and the questions are answered satisfactorily, gives me enough ammunition to create my next chapter.  I will use this strategy/technique for each chapter if the flow of the next sequence of events isn’t happening or the gas tank of creativity is empty.

If you run into these road blocks in your writing, what do you do?  Was my process helpful to you?  Have you tried that already?  Please share your thoughts, fellow writers. 🙂

 

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