Resisting the Urge

As writers, we constantly have inspiration and ideas floating around. Most of the time, they’re just fragments of ideas that we jot down for later and then forget about. But sometimes, we are struck like a bolt of lightning with an idea we can’t ignore. What happens when  you’re struck in the middle of another project?

I already wrote this post about the struggles of working on two manuscripts at once, and the difficulty of keeping the voices and stories distinct from one another. Of course, now I’ve been struck with an idea for an entirely new story, and though I’ve tried my best I can’t ignore it.

I already scribbled a brief outline of all my ideas, just to get them on paper in the hopes that it would make them leave me alone and I could still save them for later. Of course, nothing is ever that easy. This morning I had some words rolling around in my head and I couldn’t get them out, so I decided to jot them down. That turned into the opening scene, which turned into culture research, which turned into more ideas, which turned into character development, which turned into characters. Now I have two more voices, shouting for my attention.

When we’re faced with a competing idea, we either have the choice to ignore it or give in. At this point, with two current projects–one manuscript, Ember, I am preparing for publication, and the other, Nightfire, I am so close to the end of the first draft, with three more books to write in the series–I can’t possibly start another.

I’ll admit, it’s exciting. I am starting to see the bare bones of this story come together, and I love it. I’m excited about this idea, and this world, and all the possibilities. But I can’t get excited over a new story when I need to stay excited and devoted to this one in order to make it through three more books.

I tried ignoring it, but that didn’t work, so I wrote what I can to save it for later. Now it feels like I’ve opened the floodgates, but I’m still trying to plug the holes.

How do you resist the urge, when a new story is tugging at you? Do you give in, or do you stop the holes and hope that is enough?

Split Personality

I wrote a post a while ago called The Voices in My Head, about how characters are the heart of a story, and how to create characters that are truly alive.

Now the negative of that is if you bring characters to life, they stay that way. In your head. All the time.

Besides the obvious problem with your sanity, this can be a problem with your writing. As you know, I’ve been writing my WIP Nightfire. Meanwhile, I’ve been querying my MS Ember, but in the process have received feedback and started with some more edits and tweaks. Before, I’ve never had an issue with multiple characters, because I’ve only really worked on one manuscript at a time.

Now that’s changed, and I have two voices in my head–a split personality.

How do I navigate this, when characters are the heart of the story? It is hard not to lose the exact pitch of their voices, when they are both talking at once. Normally, I am engulfed in one world, one story, one voice. I know exactly how they think, how they would react, what they would do, because that is what I am surrounded by. I am lost in it. But how do I lose myself, in two places at once?

I have never seriously written two works at once, and have always heard of authors who can, and do. Some have written up to four books in a year! Maybe it is possible, but I am not sure how they stay true to each story, and distinct from the others.

When I go back for edits, I have to read through a scene or two, and re-ground myself in the world. Remember the exact tone of Falcon’s voice, the heartbeat of her world. Then when I reach a block in edits, I go back to Nightfire. I have to read through again, find Kera’s voice, the pulse of her story. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes I get lost in between, or with both at once. Sometimes I think I’ve found it, and a trace of Falcon will slip through, or vice versa.

This is a problem because Kera and Falcon, though they are similar in many ways, are also very different. They have entirely different ways of reacting and dealing with situations. I’ve found that in some scenes, Kera will snap or lash out–when that is not her character, but Falcon’s. I have to step back and re-evaluate. Focus on her voice, and feel her emotions.

It’s not perfect, but neither is writing. I think the key is truly knowing both Kera and Falcon, and being able to recognize when one is not being true to her character.

Have you ever worked on two stories at once, maybe even more? How did you handle it, and keep them both separate and true? Even if you haven’t worked on more than one story, how do you separate voices when it comes to a new story?

Why You Shouldn’t Be Writing

We are constantly told: “You should be writing.” Especially from our fellow writer friends. It’s meant as a sort of tough love encouragement, a call to action, or push to get us going. Which is great, if the only thing stopping you is your own procrastination, or the ever-present self-doubt.

But sometimes, all this does is add to guilt us writers already struggle with every day. Every free moment we get, a little voice in our head is taunting, “You can’t relax. You’re being lazy. You should be writing.”

I’m here to tell you that little voice is wrong.

As far as little voices go, they’re usually wrong, and it’s a good idea not to listen to them anyways. But that one I am sure you are familiar with that constantly nags at the back of your mind with guilt the longer you go between words, is hard not to listen to. Especially when our fellow comrades in writing are saying the same thing.

Yes, sometimes we just need a little push. But sometimes, there is more than that going on. Maybe you’re a parent (a full-time job) or have a full-time job (maybe both). Maybe when you get home you’re just so exhausted you can’t stand, or mentally drained, and all you want to do is veg out on the couch and watch some brain-numbing TV. Or if you’re like me, a full-time student with so much going on, it feels like you’re just trying to keep your head above water most of the time.

When I’ve finished studying for hours, or come home from a four hour lecture, the last thing I want to do is sit down and force out some words with brain power that I don’t have left. I’d much rather binge watch Once Upon A Time until I pass out and have dreams of Captain Hook (it’s happened, no judgement), or spend some quality time with boyfriend, or have an old-fashioned girls night, or I don’t know, sleep for the first time in a week.

We are writers. The words are a part of us, and they always will be. That doesn’t mean that the longer we go without writing, we become lesser writers. Yes, we are writers, but we are also human beings. With lives, and families, and responsibilities, and memories to be made.

Let yourself off the hook.

I know this can be hard for us writers, but seriously. If you need me to give you permission: You shouldn’t be writing right now. You have absolutely nothing hanging over your head, pressing at the back of your mind. You shouldn’t feel guilty. Go outside, read a book, spend time with your family, go out, take a nap. There are a hundred other things you can and should be doing instead of feeling guilty for not writing.

Again, we are writers but we are also humans. You do not stop being a writer if you’re not writing, or if you don’t think of writing every hour every day. The words will always be there. Go out and live your life, enjoy it. Maybe you’ll even get inspiration out of it, or come up with the next great American novel.

Trust me, letting go of that guilt feels amazing. When I stopped listening to that little voice, it felt like being freed from shackles.

So the next time you feel that familiar, gnawing guilt in the pit of your stomach, and hear that voice in the back of your mind, saying “You should be writing”?

Kindly tell him to leave you the hell alone.

Breaking Writer’s Block

We’ve all been there. Staring at the blank page, that stupid blinking cursor, taunting us. We search for inspiration–from earlier scenes, from coffee, from the ceiling, but alas there are no words to be had. Writer’s block has set in like a guest who has decided to stay much past their welcome.

Writer’s block is something we’ve all dealt with, myself included. Lately, I’ve been struggling with a lack of words. Mostly, because I haven’t had time or energy to sit and write. But the few times I have, the words were nowhere to be found. Anything I did manage to eek out, was plain awful. Had I suddenly forgotten how to write? In the past couple weeks, had I somehow become a terrible writer?

Some people say writer’s block doesn’t exist. I think it absolutely does–but only in our own minds. We really are our own worst enemies when it comes to writing. I think writer’s block can come from all different places (busy lives, lack of energy, no motivation), but tends to stem from an unconscious fear that what we write won’t be good enough. The idea that writer’s block is a lack of inspiration is slightly ridiculous, because if we always waited to write until we were inspired, we wouldn’t get much of anything done at all.

But for me, writer’s block is absolutely real. It can happen to the best of us, and strike without warning. These are some things I’ve found to help with my own writer’s block:

1. Read. Read. Read.

Even when I don’t feel like writing, it still feels good to spend time among words. Reading doesn’t always make me want to write afterward, and it doesn’t always lead to words of my own, but reading is the fastest way to get me “in the mood”. Something about getting caught up in another world makes me want to be lost in my own. Even if it doesn’t, reading is always a great source for inspiration and learning as a writer.

2. Be Stubborn

This is something I’m good at, to a fault. If the words aren’t cooperating with me, I make them cooperate. I force them out, one by one, no matter how awful or boring they may be. Think of it as steering into the skid–face it head on, gun it, and the rest will right itself. For most times I’m stumped, this works. Usually it’s just a matter of getting past that stump, of breaking through the block. Once you break through, the words flow again. Sometimes, I find something beautiful by accident.

3. Get In The Mood

Bow-chicka-wow-ow. Whatever it is that gets you into that writing spot, do it. Light some candles. Play your favorite music. Make a really great cup of coffee. Sometimes it’s as easy as getting yourself in the “write” mentality (see what I did there?). Sit down, in your special writing place, with no distractions. Just you and the words. And wait for the magic to happen.

4. Quality Time

This can be one people forget about. The words may not be cooperating right now, but they were at some point (I hope so, at least). Go back to those and read through them. Spend time in your world, with your characters, and remember everything you love about your story. Maybe work on some edits, or something old will inspire you for something new. And even if I’m not writing anything new, spending time with my characters always makes my heart happy.

5. Let It Go

Really, writers need to do this more often. If I encounter writer’s block that I can’t overcome with any of my usual stubbornness, I let it go. That’s right, I let it go, let it goo (It’s stuck in your head now, isn’t it? Sorry not sorry). Don’t worry about it. The words will come. Sitting and stressing about it is only going to make it worse. Go do something else, set foot in the real world, enjoy this life. The words will be there when they are ready.

To Build A Story: The Feels

I think emotion is probably the hardest thing we face as writers. We all know emotion done well when we read it. That moment of gut-wrenching, swooning, heart-pounding emotion–otherwise known as the feels. 

But how do we create that? How do we effectively translate emotion to the page, and make our reader truly feel? There is a delicate balance between emotion and melodrama, or emotion falling flat altogether. 

This is partly because emotion is such a complex, abstract thing. Human beings have such an amazing capacity for emotion–both high and low, and everywhere in between. How is a writer supposed to capture something like that into words?

I think the first key to making emotion effective is remembering that characters are people. I have said this before, but I will say it again. When you remember that characters are human beings, emotion becomes a lot easier. This makes it easier to avoid both flat emotion and melodrama. 

For instance, you might overplay emotion for dramatic effect. But when you examine the person who is experiencing that emotion and their situation, you might rethink that. Instead of bursting into tears or collapsing from shock, they might experience denial, or show their emotion in more subtle ways, such as a wavering voice or a clenched hand. 

How would that person really feel in that moment? 

On the other hand, you might downplay or even forget emotion in lieu of plot and action, or throw it in as an afterthought, and the emotion falls flat completely.

I think that is the second key, matching every instance of action with proper reaction–and emotion. I think emotion is the true heart of action and climax, but in order for it to truly be effective, there also needs to be the effect of that. 

This is something I have to be conscious of. Sometimes, it can seem like there is emotion in the action, and that that is enough, but it is still not in order to be effective. For example, in Nightfire, when Kera sees her mother ripped, she becomes very emotional and lashes out. But after that, she doesn’t have a personal reaction. She goes right into searching for her sister. Yes, there are scenes later where she considers her mom and feels sad and everything, but she never really grieves, and never initially deals with it.

So, I added a scene after the attack where she is laying with her mother while the others are asleep, and she tries to process and come to terms with this new reality she has been thrust into. Though her mother is still alive, her mind is not there, and whoever she was is gone. So Kera has to grieve for that. And this is also the first time she realizes the ramifications of not having her mother–things as small as not hearing her sing all the time, or as big as her not being there to help look for Hana, when Kera needs her most. 

I realized how much more powerful her mother’s loss is when the emotion goes further and deeper than the initial reaction and scattered sad scenes. There had to be that first reaction. The girl holding her mother against her and pleading with her to wake up, to come back, though she knows she can’t. A girl who has been surviving her whole life but for the first time faces the world on her own, and is scared and uncertain. That is what makes the loss powerful, not her initial scream and shock. 

So, which side do you lean towards–melodrama, or flat–or have you achieved a balance? How do you best capture emotion in your story? How do you make readers feel?

Writers’ Blog Tour

Hey all! So in typical fashion, I am late in posting this. But a huge thank you to Janna Kaixer for nominating me! This is a great opportunity to share a little more about my writing, and nominate two awesome writers. 🙂

What am I working on?

My main project right now is my YA fantasy novel titled Nightfire. I am about two-thirds of the way finished, but I have plans to make it into a four book series. You can track my progress in the word count sidebar or under posts tagged To Build A Story. I am also in the querying process for my original manuscript, Ember. You can read more details and blurbs about my books here.

How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

Genre-bending. I don’t set out to break the rules, it just happens. 🙂 For instance, Ember had both magic and advanced, almost futuristic technology. Nightfire is similar, in that is has magical elements such as monsters, spirit guides, and powers, but is also set in a post-apocalyptic world with machines and guns. I love the unexpected, and fantasy gives me the freedom to put these unusual elements together in a way that works.

Why do I write what I do?

I think my favorite is fantasy–both to read and write. I just love being immersed in a completely different world with no boundaries or rules. The possibilities are quite literally endless. I love the freedom and escapism fantasy offers, and I think it challenges me creatively. Somehow, though, fantasy feels like home. I have the hardest time writing contemporary, which is slightly ironic, but when I’m writing fantasy, the words come easy.

How does my writing process work?

This is a hard question to answer. I don’t have a set routine or process, really. Each story, and each day is a little bit different. Like I said, I let the story tell itself. Sometimes that involves a lot of planning, sometimes none at all. Usually I start with a concept or inspiration, and then write as much as I possibly can–major characters, main ideas, etc. Then I sit down to write, and just let the words flow. I take this abstract idea, kind of a mound of clay, and let it form and shape itself into something more concrete. If I fall in love, I keep writing. Usually I can tell by about the 15k mark, if an idea is novel-ready. If it’s not, I store it for later (I have dozens of these, waiting to be written). If it is, I keep letting the story tell itself, see where it goes. Usually this freedom leads to the best results.

I also tend to have a heavy editing phase, but I actually enjoy this part almost as much. This is where I get to take that half-formed stone and chip away, bit by bit, to reveal the masterpiece inside. 🙂 Don’t underestimate the importance and power of editing!

I wish I had some great advice, but I really don’t. Everyone is different. I’ve been writing my entire life, and the stories tell themselves for me. I’ve kind of learned through years of trial-and-error what works for me and what doesn’t. While I think it is important to learn the craft, I think you will improve most through just plain writing, and figuring out what works for you.

And now I’d like to introduce you to two amazing writers,  Pema Donyo and Kathryn St. John-Shin.

Image of Pema Donyo

Pema Donyo is the eighteen-year-old author of The Innocent Assassins and One Last Letter. She is also a coffee-fueled college student by day and a creative writer by night. She currently lives in sunny Southern California, where any temperature less than 70 degrees is freezing and flip-flops never go out of season. As a rising sophomore at Claremont McKenna, she’s still working on mastering that delicate balance between finishing homework, meeting publisher deadlines, and… college.

She’s a firm believer in the healing power of endless cups of coffee and espresso shots, staying up until 3AM, cheesy British period dramas, and the Beyonce Voters Tumblr page. Find her rambles/rants about writing, reading, and life in general on her website’s blog.

Website: http://pemadonyo.wordpress.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/pemadonyo
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8337726.Pema_Donyo

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Kathryn St. John-Shin is a mother, writer, and all-around crazy person. She spends her days writing, taking care of her 5-year-old, exercising, and filling in the gaps with whatever fad has momentarily caught her attention. Her favorite genres are horror and fantasy. If the two are combined, even better!

Website: http://katistjshin.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kstjshin

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/28918247-katie-st-john-shin