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(Editor’s Note: Articles on this page are from various internet sites. They've been selected because they may offer good information to help in your creative endeavors.  The Shine Journal takes no responsibility for the content of these articles or any other sites whose links we share with you. ) 

 

 

Turning Writer's Blocks Into Stepping Stones

by
 
Steven Barnes

Years ago at a presentation at the UCLA Extension Writer's Program, I promised to help my students  conquer writer's block once and for all. Afterward, another instructor approached me and said "Why did you tell people you could cure writer's block?   It s not possible."

Poor woman. What she really meant was that SHE cannot break writer s block, which told me all I need to know about her career. In all likelihood that career began with great promise,  perhaps garnering an award-winning poem or book followed by diminished production, and emotional anguish.

This needn't have happened.  Regardless of what you may now think, with the correct tools and perspective you can not only end writer s block forever, but  actually use its psychological mechanisms to your advantage!

First, let us define our problem in a useful fashion. Writer s block is the inability to:

1) Produce new text.
2) Edit and polish existing text
3) Finish projects on a reasonable schedule
4) Send those projects out for editorial judgment.
5) Continue sending them out until they are sold or published.

If we can accept these definitions, I'll continue by offering a perspective that  can actually help you in every arena of your life.

"Writer s Block is merely a confusion of two different states of mind: The Flow state, where you produce new text, and the Editing state, where you evaluate and polish what you have written."

WB can be a career-killer simply because most of us have spent far more time reading than we have writing.  We are more familiar with the finished  work of the masters than with the messy reality of our own  early drafts. As a result, when we sit down to create text, we measure our fledgling efforts against the polished, edited, published efforts of the world s great writers. Immediately, that "This is garbage!" voice goes off in your head, and Voila!  A block is born.

It is said that a novice writer  must produce a million words of garbage before finding her true voice. How in the world will you ever create such volume  if you constantly judge every word? If only  you could learn to turn that voice off, you might not only accelerate your growth as a writer, but learn a critical  lesson about the structure of the human psyche.

The answer begins with the concept of "Flow." Flow is the psychological state where time seems to vanish, where you "fall into the page,"  where the rest of the world floats away as you concentrate. This is similar to the "hypnogogic" state experienced just prior to sleep, and during the first minutes of awakening.  It is experienced in distance running, yoga, dancing (remember the lyrics to "Flashdance"? "She s moved into the danger zone, where the dancer becomes the dance") and, to be perfectly frank, it is experienced during sexual relations in the moments immediately  prior to orgasm. Flow is the dissolution of the subject-object relationship sought by numerous esoteric schools of martial art and meditation.

Here are some suggestions to help cultivate this precious gift.

1) Alternate days (or work sessions) between flow and editing. If necessary, wear different hats, or sit in different chairs for each. NEVER DO BOTH IN THE SAME SESSION.

2) Set yourself a daily output that will carry  you to your goal of one million words in less than 5 years. 1000 words a day will do it in three years,  roughly comparable to the effort of earning an AA degree. Not too shabby!

3) Explore and specifically study flow state  as a discipline. Do your internet searches and find a physical or mental activity (running, dancing, meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, etc.) to  open a doorway to this inner world.

4) Listen to largo rhythm, sixty beat per minute string music. Vivaldi is perfect for this, and induces "Alpha" (flow) state rapidly and effectively. Stay away from music with lyrics, but soft jazz is also terrific.

5) Practice making mental pictures and writing down those images  WITHOUT judging the quality of your descriptions. You want to enhance the connection between your deep consciousness and your typing or writing.

6) If you can t find a good meditation technique, just sit and "listen" to your own heartbeat for 15-30 minutes a day.

There are many other ideas, but these will get you started.   The most important point is to learn to  "turn off" or ignore the negative voices in your head. An artist who learns to do this on demand is on the way to integration of the deep levels of the unconscious and greater joy in the act of creation.
 


About the Author
NY Times Best-selling author Steven Barnes has published over three million words of fiction, been nominated for Hugo and Nebula Awards, and wrote the Emmy-winning "A Stitch In Time" episode of the Outer Limits. He is the creator of the Lifewriting high performance system for writers. Get a free daily Lifewriting tip at:
www.lifewriting.biz

 

 

Short Story Writing - Ten Endings to Avoid

by

William Meikle

 

A logical, satisfying ending is always required in a short story, but how do you ensure that yours is fresh and new? One of the ways is to avoid the obvious. Here are some common endings seen by editors: use them at your peril.

And then I woke up.
The 'Dallas' gambit. This approach is nothing more than a cop-out for people with no imagination. Stories should reach a logical conclusion that satisfies the reader and resolves any conflicts. This method does neither.

And then I died.
The 'Weird Tales' gambit. This one turned up regularly in horror tales during the early part of last century, until it was overplayed by HP Lovecraft, among others. A diary which ends in a string of nonsense words as a crawling terror from beyond comes for the author was fine the first time out, but most editors have seen it too many times.

And I found out I'd been dead all along.
The 'Sixth Sense' gambit. This is an old one, which is why people who were well read in the genre spotted the twist very early in M Night Shyamalan's film. An overused variation is to have someone breaking out of a coffin after a supposedly premature burial. Don't do it; the editor will see it coming from a mile away.

And they called them Adam and Eve.
The 'Bible' gambit or, as Michael Moorcock puts it, Shaggy God stories. If you start with a nuclear holocaust or human colonists on a new planet, make sure you don't use this ending or the story will be bounced back to you straight away. The other trap to avoid is having a computer become a god. That avenue was new in the '40s, but these days an editor will laugh himself out of his chair.

And then I saw the fangs, just before he bit me
The 'singles bar pick-up' gambit. With this worn-out ending, a person visits a bar and is seduced by a pale, interesting stranger who turns out to be a vampire, a ghost, a werewolf or an alien. There are several variations seen nowadays, such as same-gender meetings and graphic sex scenes before the revelation, but the stories are all the same and editors know it.

And then I caught up with the '@!* who'd done me wrong and shot the @'!** out of them.
The 'Death Wish' gambit is the beloved technique of Michael Winner fanatics and gun-nuts. It makes for a very dull story unless you can bring style, energy and a unique vision to it, in which case you'd probably be better off trying to sell it as a film treatment. There's a long tradition of revenge movies, but in the written word they all come across as being very similar. A variant on this handling is the Charles Atlas gambit, where the weedy nerd becomes a kung-fu expert to wreak revenge on his tormentors. Don't be tempted to use this angle. Editors will know what's coming.

And the next day I read in the paper that he'd died.
The 'I talked to a ghost' gambit. This practice turned up frequently in Victorian literature. It's usually no more than an anecdote turned into a story. Variations include talking to someone who is later discovered to be the victim of a plane crash, an automobile wreck or a major catastrophe. Editors see a slew of these after a natural disaster, but whatever caused the person's death, the stories are all the same.

And it was a man in a mask all along.
The 'Scooby-Doo' gambit. Pretend spooks are a cliché. The whole story builds up a sense of supernatural menace, only to reveal a human agency behind it all. It won't usually get past an editor but if it does, readers will feel disappointed and let down.

And it was my evil twin; we were separated at birth.
The 'doppelganger' gambit. Stephen King got away with this in The Dark Half and Dean Koontz pulled off a variation by making both twins evil in Shivers, but unless you have their style and wit, you shouldn't attempt it. Another variation, beloved of the romantics among us, is to have the protagonist find out they're really the son, daughter or sibling of a rich family. This mode is really just wishful thinking on behalf of the writer. You shouldn't be sharing your daydreams with editors.

I'm really a dog/cat/demon/alien.
The 'non-human storyteller' gambit is tried and tested. That's the problem. If you don't leave any clues to the fact, the reader will feel the ending is a cop-out. If you do leave clues, the reader and your editor will spot the ending coming unless you're very good at disguising the fact.

Remember, people have been writing stories for a very long time. If you've read a similar ending in a story or seen it in a film, you can bet the editor will be aware of it, too. There are only so many original endings to go around; make sure yours is one of them. 


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About the Author

William Meikle is a Scottish writer, with seven novels published in the States. He is available for all freelance writing work. Contact him and read some free fiction at his web site http://www.williammeikle.com


Becoming a Better Writer: A Gentle Approach

By

 Denise Menchaca

 

Writing is a joy for me, but that wasn’t always the case. I used to suffer from debilitating writer’s anxiety. With the help of wise teachers (both live and in print), I was able to overcome (most) of my writer’s anxiety. I am forever grateful for their gentle wisdom. What follows are a few of the tools and attitudes that helped me to reshape my outlook on writing, so that I could develop into the writer I’ve always wanted to be.

Writer, Know Thyself

Who are you? As a writer, I mean. What do you like most about writing? What do you like least? What is your favorite genre? Why? What are your favorite memories about writing? What are your least favorite? Are you a procrastinator where writing is concerned? Why? Do you prefer to write by hand? Or, do you prefer to write using a keyboard? Do you journal? If not, why not? Who was your favorite writing teacher, live or in print? What did he or she do that made you respond the way you have? Do you prefer to write in the quiet, with no errant sounds distracting you or breaking your concentration? What are your favorite places to write? Have you tried writing in a coffee house or coffee shop? What about writing in a park (charge your laptop’s battery if you do), or in the public library? What about writing on your front porch, where a light breeze caresses the wind chimes into song?

Reflect on who you are as a writer. Allow the above questions to guide you. Discover your needs and allow those discoveries to guide your choices for developing a gentler writing practice.

Write by Hand

Write by hand. Everything. Outline, draft, and edit by hand. Writing by hand slows you down long enough to think, to mull over your ideas, and to give you time to decide whether things will work out. Writing by hand allows you to feel your pen or pencil scratch along the surface of what you’re writing on. There is an immediate sensual connection to your writing when you write by hand. Feel the pen in your hand. Is it hard? Or, does it have a soft rubberized barrel? How does your writing instrument feel? What does the paper feel like as your pen moves along its surface? Is your paper smooth, lined loose leaf? Or, is it recycled newspaper print? Allow yourself to take in these sensations. Feel them. Enjoy them and allow your words to flow.

Free Writing

When I was first introduced to free writing, I didn’t trust it. I was in college, a junior, and had years and years of traditional writing method under my belt. So, when my professor said to write without worrying about writing mechanics, punctuation, or grammar, I didn’t know what to think. By that time, I had received lots of feedback that focused less on the content of my writing and more on the mechanics that shaped and secured my essays to a particular style sheet. At the time, my professor didn’t tell me that free writing was an opportunity to write past the inner critic—that horrid internal voice that rattles off personal barbs meant to deflate self esteem—or that it was an opportunity to produce text. More than anything, free writing is really about free writing, writing that doesn’t cost a thing emotionally. There are no evaluations of free writing. No grades. No expectations, other than to write nonstop for 5-10 minutes. Usually free writing is directed by a writing prompt, a topic, that helps you face a direction, but by no means is it supposed to tell you how to walk down the path.

Free writing is an excellent way to warm up prior to a strenuous writing workout. It gets the juices flowing; it helps the brain and hand get into sync. Free writing is unencumbered, weightless, lightened by removed constraints. It is a good way to help you figure out what you think about things. Free writing is permission to be you without having to apologize for not yet knowing all of the dance steps.

Timed Writings

How long is 5 minutes? What can you do in 5 minutes time? Brush teeth. Sort mail. Microwave a frozen meal. Light a candle and say a prayer. There are so many things that can be done in 5 minutes. You can write in five minutes, get the beginnings of a story, poem, or essay down. You can fill up the front of a 3x5 index card—the backside, too. You can set your timer if you’re anxious about time. Set it for five minute and go! Don’t stop writing until the timer chimes.

Timed writings are a blessing. They truly are. If you have a hectic schedule, you can rest easy that, at minimum, only 5 minutes a day is all it takes to start writing your next project, or to get some writing practice in, or to jot down an image that you don’t want to forget. And, if you have more than 5 minutes, say 10, then you are even more blessed, because with 10 minutes, you can sink deeper into your writing. You can change your world. Set your timer, every day, portioning out your writing time. Once you set your timer, you are obligated for only those few minutes. Feel the urgency of the timer and let it compel you to write, write, write without worrying about punctuation or grammar. Just get those thoughts down on paper! Remember, there is time later on (at least 5 minutes) to revise them to your liking.

Early Bird Writing

I’ve found that if I don’t start my day with writing, I most likely won’t do any writing for the day. While not everyone is necessarily a morning writer, I encourage you to find that time of day when you feel it is the best time to haven yourself from the world and fall into your writing. Make it a habit. Write a little bit every day. Start with 5 minutes. Then, the very next day, write for 10 minutes. Then, the day after that, write for 15 minutes. Continue each day, adding 5 minutes more until you get to 30 minutes a day. Write for thirty minutes each day for a month. Then slowly increase your writing time by 5 minutes a day until you reach 60 minutes. Then, write everyday for 60 minutes. Every day for 60 minutes, forever.


Denise Menchaca holds a doctorate in speech communication with an emphasis in performance studies. She is a writer of creative nonfiction, family narratives, and essays on culture and society. She also coaches writing for both seasoned and novice writers. Her blog, “A Writer’s Card File,” features brief essays on ideas, tools, and notes that nurture the writing life. phatballet1.livejournal.com