Becoming Unstuck for Writers – Two Tools

It happens to most everyone. From time to time, the words just aren’t there. You may have set aside time for writing, you may have a good idea, even a supply of your favorite food and beverages for writing. No matter. You’re just making false starts. It feels bad. You’re stuck.

Becoming unstuck is a topic I’ve given some thought to this year. My book-development clients face down stuckness now and then, as do my fellow BACCA writers, and, oh yeah, I do too. In fact, I’m writing a book about how writers can become unstuck.

Here, I offer you two tools – one larger, and one lower-impact, for your consideration, the next time you feel that stuckness in your vicinity.

The Big Idea

One of the tools I recommend is — dum – ta- dum – dum — The Deadline.

And not a fake deadline that only you need to pay attention to. For this to be effective and more likely to be resistance-proof, you need to set up a deadline where you’re responsible to others. A deliverable to a third party. A date certain. An event. That sort of thing.

Fake deadlines – for instance, putting an event in your Google calendar – can be persuaded to postpone themselves. Don’t ask me how I know this, but it’s super-easy to grab one of those quiet little fake deadlines and slide it over a day or two. Or month. The possibilities are limitless, really.

Courtesy Pixabay

Courtesy Pixabay

To make the deadline strategy work for you, do yourself a real favor. Make a plan with someone else, someone you respect. Make a solid promise to them. Did the odds just increase greatly that you’ll deliver something good, and on time?

Here’s a not-so-random illustration of how this can operate: I’d been planning and drafting this book for a while. And maybe I’d been sliding over my self-imposed soft deadline dates in my online calendar once or twice. No one would know the difference, I told myself….

Now, I’m leading a workshop on the topic next month at Andi Cumbo-Floyd‘s writer’s retreat in Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains. And when I agreed in March to do this, I committed to having in hand a beta version of the book in time for a late-July event. See how that works? It’s simple and powerful. (And check out this retreat!)

The Littler Idea

Sometimes, all it takes is a walk around the block.

Do this for real, on ‘shank’s mare‘ (as my dad used to put it), or more virtually (standing up and stretching, your favorite deep breathing routine, a journaling break, and so on). A simple refreshing change brings you back to the same place, only it’s so barely recognizable that it has become a different place.

Ah, words don’t do justice to the beautiful simplicity of this concept. Check out the illustration to get a clearer idea of how brilliantly this can work.

(Courtesy MediaGiphy.com)

Here’s to becoming unstuck.

May all your stuckness be resolved. May you scratch your right ear and get on with your work.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, helps nonfiction authors develop their books. Her first nonfiction book, FLOAT: Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is forthcoming in 2016.

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BACCA Literary Is At It Again

BACCA Literary just can’t stop organizing these mixers for writers. This time, it’s an evening session at Downtown Charlottesville, VA’s Central Library at 201 East Market Street, one block up from the Downtown Mall. (We’ve done ’em before, at the Virginia Festival of the Book, and the Virginia Writers Club Annual Symposium.)

Free Session! Free Parking!

Local writers are welcome to attend free of charge. Parking is validated for nearby garages, too!

Here’s the flyer that Reference Librarian Hayley Tompkins just sent us. She’ll be there on Wednesday, 7 October, 2015, at 7pm, to welcome participants to our session.

BACCA Literary welcomes area writers to a mixer on Wed 7 Oct 2015 at 7pm in downtown Charlottesville, VA

BACCA Literary welcomes writers to a get-acquainted mixer on Wed 7 Oct 2015 at 7pm in downtown Charlottesville, VA. The Central Library is at 201 East Market Street.

Arrive a few minutes early to get yourself situated!

We hope to see you there.

— Bethany, Carolyn, and Anne

Creativity within Constraints

Bethany, Anne, and Carolyn.... 3/4th of BACCA Literary. Sadly, Claire couldn't make it this year.

Bethany, Anne, and Carolyn…. 3/4th of BACCA Literary. Sadly, Claire couldn’t make it this year.

What a wonderful way to welcome spring!  “Creativity within Constraints” was the theme of our Publishing Day: Meet (or Create) Your own Writing Group presentation on March 21st… and it was FUN!

After introductions, Anne stepped the audience through a hilarious fill-in-the-blanks word game!

A writer group is a partnership between CARS and MOUSTACHES that is designed to help BEAUTIFUL writers reach his or her PUPPY.

It is a step-by-LOLLIPOP process that creates clarity and PINETREE-filled moments.

Here are some of the mental, emotional, and IRRITATING benefits of writer groups:

  • Discovering your inner OVEN and allowing it to play.
  • Celebrating a transformative MEZZO SOPRANO experience.
  • Learning the art of HYPERVENTILATING.
  • Learning how to change CURIOUS thinking.
  • Learning how to express yourself HALTINGLY.

 

The relationship between a writer and their writer group transforms BUZZARDS and enhances the members’ VOLUMES.

True, it takes a commitment of time, and LEPRECHAUN, and BELLYBUTTON. And the writer group doesn’t always turn into friendship — it turns into something more powerful and AROMATIC.

A writer group is a great way to meet WEASELS and learn more about yourself, your DAY, and your WOODPECKERS.

After the laughter died down, Bethany hosted a mixer where attendees could meet each other and take the first steps to a creating a new writing group.

Writers meeting Writers at the Meet (or Create) Your own Writing Group event

Writers meeting Writers at the Meet (or Create) Your own Writing Group event

We’d handed a questionnaire to each participant at the beginning of the event to help shy writers break the ice  I joined in and met writers from all over the world.

I met new writers tiptoeing  into the writing group process and long-time pros who’d just moved to Charlottesville and wanted to make contacts.

Question asked at the end of the event included

How does an existing writing group select a new member?

Where can I meet other writers?

Bethany telling a writer  where to find other writers

Bethany telling a writer where to find other writers

Anne and Bethany did a bang-up job giving thoughtful and meaningful answers.

The only thing more fun than our 2015 Festival of the Book event was planning it!

The members of BACCA Literary

Carolyn O’Neal, AM Carley, Bethany Joy Carlson, Claire Elizabeth Cameron planning BACCA LIterary’s 2015 VaBook session.

Hope to see you next year at the 2016 Virginia Festival of the Book!

BACCA’s Back! Virginia Festival of the Book 2015

BACCA Literary Is Back at VaBook!

Virginia Festival of the Book 2015Yes, we’re presenting again in 2015, and on PubDay – the best day of the entire festival. Uh-huh. (We’re a bit biased.)

Come spend Saturday morning with us in the James Monroe Room at the Omni Hotel in Downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. We start at 10am on Saturday, 21 March 2015. As I write this, there’s snow on the ground, but odds are overwhelmingly in favor of a charming spring day when you visit with us at the Virginia Festival of the Book.

What will we be doing this year?

Glad you asked. We’re coming to talk about writer groups – how to be in one, and how to find or create one.

When we did our session last time, we chatted with the Festival guests before and after our remarks about writer groups. It was a lot of fun, and good ideas came up. But there was something missing: More interaction with the Festival guests.

So, this time, we’re creating opportunities for Festival guests to meet one another and chat briefly, right in the middle of our session. Visitors to our session may possibly meet the future members of their new writer groups. And everyone will definitely have opportunities to learn more about writer groups, and what they can do to hone writerly and analytical skills. And cat-herding skills. Okay, maybe not that last one.

Where is The James Monroe Room at the Omni?

It’s easy to get to. From the hotel’s central atrium, turn toward the ballrooms. Catty-corner to the last ballroom entrance is our room, The James Monroe.

Map showing BACCA session

Shy, Introverted, Both?

Arrgh. So are some of us.

I know, I know. A Festival session with “activities.” The blurb for our session actually includes these words: “BACCA will guide Festival-goers in a fun and educational, hands-on mixer that will break the ice and start the process of building a writing community.”

It’s enough to make you run for the hills, isn’t it? Reconsider, please. Get an extroverted writerly friend to join you, and come join us. We’re gentle, promise. You might enjoy yourself. We look friendly, right?

The members of BACCA Literary

BACCA Literary Founding Members: Carolyn O’Neal, AM Carley, Bethany Joy Carlson, and Claire Elizabeth Cameron, after planning BACCA Literary’s 2015 VaBook session.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, helps nonfiction authors get their books completed, polished, and out into the world.

Proofreading and Editing

Like every reader, I’ve come across typos and small continuity errors in novels and short stories, but few created the world-wide uproar as the error found on page 667 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the First American edition, July 2000.

Voldemort and Harry’s wands had met in battle and the result was Voldemort’s ghostly victims spewing out in the reverse order that he killed them, that is, his last victim coming out of his wand first. When Harry’s parents appeared, his father came out of the wand before his mother.Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

My son was seven years old in the summer of 2000. My husband, my son, and I were reading aloud this fourth book in the beloved Harry Potter series and we immediately realized the mistake. Since it was Lily Potter’s love of her son, Harry, which destroyed Voldemort, she should have come out of Voldemort’s wand before Harry’s father. See http://www.hp-lexicon.org/about/exp-wandorder.html for more details about the wand order problem.

What lessons did I learn?

Primarily, I learned that even one of the bestselling authors of all time makes mistakes! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_fiction_authors).

Secondarily, I learned that writers must utilize many proofreading tools to minimize typos and continuity errors.

Here are a few of my favorite proofreading techniques:

One:  Read what you’ve written and then read it again. And again.  Read it until you can’t find any errors. But don’t submit yet. Your proofing has just begun.

Carolyn at her desk

Carolyn O’Neal. Editing, editing, always editing.

Two: Read it out loud. Hearing your words is like turning on the light in a dim room. Errors shine in the spotlight of the voice. Words should flow off the page. If you stumble as you read your own writing aloud, imagine how it will sound to others.

Three: Record your voice as you read what you’ve written. My favorite way to record my voice is with my I-Pod. Under Extras, I select Voice Memos. I record a piece and listen to it over and over until I catch all the elusive logic and continuity errors.

IPod Shuffle, Nano, Classic, and Touch
IPod Shuffle, Nano, Classic, and Touch

Four: Ask others to read your work. This is when being a member of a great writing group REALLY pays off. Having three or four or five other people read and discuss your work helps you find everything from simple typos to major plot problems. Yes, you can ask your parent or spouse to read your writing, but can they give you objective feedback?  Probably not. For more information on creating a great writing group, go to https://baccaliterary.com/how-to-create-a-writing-group/ the BACCA Literary logo

All of the above works well for small pieces.  Short stories or poems.   But what about novels?   Reading 80,000 words aloud would be exhausting.  The answer:

Five: Text to Voice software. Text to Voice software converts the words you’ve written into a natural sounding voice. This is especially helpful when listening to multiple chapters. I use NaturalReaders. A downloadable free sample of NaturalReaders is available at http://www.naturalreaders.com/download.php.

NaturalReader is a Text to Speech software with natural sounding voices. This easy to use software can convert any written text such as MS Word, Webpage, PDF files, and Emails into spoken words. NaturalReader can also convert any written text into audio files such as MP3 or WAV for your CD player or iPod.

 

 Additional proofreading suggestions

from guest contributor

Constance Renfrow,

courtesy  of DIYMFA

Constance Renfrow

Constance Renfrow is an editor at Three Rooms Press; an editor and publishing consultant at constancerenfrow.com

What to Know Before You Submit Your Novel

 

Check for Dumb Mistakes

It takes the trained eye approximately 0.02 seconds to notice the glaring typo on page one of a submission. And sometimes we editors are so stressed/exhausted/cranky that reading, “The tour-tooted animals” instead of the four-footed ones in the manuscript we’re looking at on our 4 p.m. lunch break is just the dose of hilarity needed to dissolve us into a dripping puddle of laughter-tears.

Read It As An Educated Reader

Now it’s time to read over your manuscript for anything an editor may find problematic enough to make her beg St. Francis de Sales for instant death. Are you making sexist/racist/controversial statements that have absolutely no bearing on the story? Get rid of them. Do you spend an entire chapter claiming your senator eats paint? Prove it with facts or rethink it. Does the book rely on stereotypes? That’s boring. No one wants to be bored and editors have especially short attention spans.

Exterminate all clichés. Even if they’re fairly new to the vernacular, just imagine how many times an acquiring editor sees them. I never want to see a person’s face described as a “mask of” horror/terror/ugliness/anything ever again.

Another thing. Pay attention to how many times you repeat words or phrases. Have you ever said a word so many times in a row that it loses all meaning? That’s what the editor will feel like if you use the phrase “so-and-so snorted” 381 times in a two hundred-page novel. I once had an author who used “shared” instead of “said” every single time, and I still can’t say/hear/read/think the word without wanting to throttle whatever good Samaritan is sharing her fruit platter with the rest of the office.

The Stories We Tell

I loved to make up stories when I was a kid. It seemed a simple, easy thing to do, back then. As I grew up, I stopped writing stories. Later, I committed to other art forms, and when I wrote sentences, I wrote nonfiction, not stories. Not long ago, I began again. I dared myself to try making up stories, by signing up for classes at WriterHouse.

Since then, I have slowly gotten more competent through practice, practice, and practice. My writer group, BACCA Literary, is one reason why. We first met, in fact, in a fiction class at WriterHouse.

This writer group has provided me with a monthly deadline for producing – well, something. We’ve been sharing work with one another for at least thirty months. I’ve emailed a Word document out to the others by the late-Friday deadline, every darn month. Well, there was one exception, when my family life was too chaotic, a couple of years ago. So let’s say I’ve been sharing work for at least 29 months and leave it at that.

Good Enough?

Sure, I recognize that I haven’t always sent my best work to the other three writers in the group. “Best” is relative, measured on a sliding scale. Over time, I raised my standards for what’s good enough to send out to the writer group members. After I allocated more time each month to work on writing, I became dissatisfied with my earlier stories. Now I can predict with confidence that the stories I am pleased with now will one day look a little shabby to me.

Your Best doesn't always look the same

Your Best doesn’t always look the same

Meanwhile, I have become less able to turn off the inner voice whispering, “Go ahead. Send something out and see if it gets published.” It was easy the first couple of years to hush that voice. I knew my work wasn’t ready to travel beyond the writer group.

For new-ish writers like me, hushing that voice gets trickier over time. We want to believe we’re improving. We want to believe there’s going to be an audience one day, however small or particularly quirky that audience may reveal itself to be. We want to nourish the creative spirit that energizes our whole enterprise. We want to begin to send work out to people – strangers – not in our writer group. I considered how to start.

The P-Word

To prepare to send work out into the world, I set up a spreadsheet to track my efforts to get published. Then I let the spreadsheet sit for quite a while, untouched. Later on, I added a tab to my spreadsheet with key facts on the publications that most appealed to me – things like deadlines, formatting preferences, lag time before they decide what to publish, method of submission, categories they favor, contact information, etc. The enhanced spreadsheet sat again, for a long break. More recently, I actually sent a few things out and made entries into the spreadsheet. I’ve heard back with two rejections, which I dutifully entered into the appropriate cells. I’m waiting for replies from the others.

I hesitated to send out my work until I felt satisfied enough with it that it didn’t feel too embarrassing. I chose carefully the places I sent those first few submissions – not too grandiose, and yet consistent with who I am as a writer.

And that just begs the questions, doesn’t it?

Questions

Who am I, as a writer, and why am I doing this? Author Dan Holloway, in his recent essay, What Do You Want from Your Writing in 2014 and Beyond? at Jane Friedman’s blog, says:

“If you don’t know what you want from your writing, what on earth are you doing writing anything? How can you possibly tell whether your words do what you want them to?”

It’s actually not that hard a question. It rests on a more fundamental one. Why do you write?”

Please don’t tell me the answer is “I make art because I must.” To me, that feels lazy and self-aggrandizing in a “poor-me,” humblebrag kind of way. Besides it ignores free will.

the words, Why Write?

Oh. THAT question.

I could tell you I write because I’ve engaged with the challenge to improve my work. The challenge is difficult enough always to involve real effort, yet rewarding enough, because of the progress I am making, to continue to motivate me to get better at it.

I could tell you I write because my life with music was altered when hand surgery made playing instruments too difficult. I could tell you I write because I’ve grown old enough to take a longer and more loving view of life. I could tell you that there’s plenty to love about writing for its own sake. Polishing a story can make my day, even when no one else has seen it yet.

Also, the most fun I’ve had with my writing lately was when some visiting non-literary friends asked me to read them a piece after I cooked them dinner. That was a blast. My fellow BACCA-ite, Claire Elizabeth Cameron, touched on this recently when she wrote,

“People are doing work for free, work for fun, work for creativity all over the place, and it’s making this world a better place. Success [in writing] is making a connection.”

So why am I writing? To get better at it. To see how much I can improve. To see if my embarrassment-meter gives me the green light to send out stories to more publications. To see if I receive a green light in return. And, in the meantime, to keep telling stories.

#amwriting

A M Carley

A M Carley is a co-founder of BACCA Literary. She owns and operates Chenille Books where she works with nonfiction authors.