In Defense of Multiple Projects

I used to think that I should focus on only one project at a time. My fear was that, if I let myself get distracted by anything else, I would never finish anything that I started.

Lately, despite this . . . I’ve been having trouble finishing anything that I’ve started. Huh. Go figure.

I’m not exactly sure why this is, but despite planning and plotting (something I never used to do but started doing out of desperation), I still kept getting stuck at right around the first quarter point. Stubbornly, I’d step back, reassess, and usually decide I was taking the wrong approach. So I’d start over, incorporating whatever new idea for a fix I’d come up with. And then, right around the same point, I’d get stuck again.

After about the third round of this with my last project, a shiny new story idea popped into my head. I tried to push it aside; I wrote down a few notes then told it to sit tight and wait its turn. It didn’t like that. It kept nudging me, then poking me, then pretty much punching me in the arm to get my attention. “No,” I told it. “I can’t. I’m still stuck on this other project.” Stuck. Still stuck.

Maybe it was time to take a break. Not give up–no, no, no, I wasn’t at that point yet. Just take a break. Finally, I gave in. I set the other project aside and started working on the shiny new one. You’ll never guess what happened next.

Okay, maybe you will guess. Am I that transparent? Fine, yes, I started finding inspiration for that first project again. I didn’t get bored with the new one. I just found myself thinking about the characters in the old one as well. So now, I’m working on both. Will it take me longer to complete them? Probably.

. . . Actually, probably not. Because instead of sitting around being stuck, I’m actually writing. Yes, I’m writing in smaller increments on each, and sometimes setting one aside for a bit to work on the other, but I AM writing, as opposed to before, when I was spending more time feeling guilty about not writing than actually writing. So yes, I will actually probably finish both drafts faster than I would have if I was concentrating on just one at a time.

So you see, it’s okay to switch back and forth between projects. It’s okay to work on more than one in a single day. It’s okay to take large chunks of time off on one project to work solely on another. It’s okay to do whatever you can to keep your inspiration fresh. Maybe you’re in the mood to write something dark one day, and light the next. Do it. Have both types of projects waiting in the wings so you can pull them out whenever you need them. Writing should be a release, so write whatever emotion you need to deal with that day. Just keep your project load small so you don’t get overwhelmed. I wouldn’t recommend working on more than maybe three. I think for the moment, two is about all I can manage, personally. Maybe when I start revisions for one of them, I will introduce a third.

Now, get out there. Welcome those plot bunnies, don’t chase them away. They may be exactly what you need to get you moving again.

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When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Writer’s Doubt



Should I keep writing?

For the past two months, I’ve opened my file 
And scrolled through page after page
But the words I read felt flat and lifeless.
For the past month, the pieces of my story have felt amiss:
Too large, too aimless, too disconnected, too weak,

And the picture I’ve painted looks neither pretty nor meaningful.

For the past two weeks, my characters have been wary

When they meet me for mandatory morning coffee,
As though my insecurities have forever silenced their voice.
For the past week, I’ve been certain that I’ve done this all wrong,
The whisper of writer’s doubt a needling presence in my head,
Comparing myself to others, convinced that I’m a hack.

This morning, I stole away to a quiet place
And opened my file, perhaps for the last time.
My fingers grazed over the keyboard, my mind stalling as before.

My fear bloomed, waving the flags of past failures.
What if this story was a flop (just like that other one)?
Worse, what if I didn’t have it in me to create something new?

And then my eyes stumbled upon a random passage I liked,
As I read, my words opened a door back into my character’s world. 
When I stepped through, I relived his pain in that moment I’d written.

This character argued and growled; this was a person I’d created,
His world a harsh yet wonderful place because of me.
His story only accessible through my sheer will and imagination.

Abandoning fear for just that moment, I began to type…yes, I actually wrote!
Wonder of wonders, I helped my character experience the joy of a first kiss,
And he in turn helped me remember why I write:

Because my characters trust me.
Because their worlds provide me with a sense of home.
Because their stories reflect my deepest passions and my heart.

Because when I write, it is for them but also for me.
So no matter how deep the pit of writer’s doubt I find myself in, 
And especially when I do not live up to those lofty expectations,

The answer will always be yes,
I should keep writing.

H.
_____________________________

Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both YA urban fantasy and NA contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH, and like all writers, she experiences occasional writer’s doubt. You can find out more about Helen at www.helenboswell.com.



The Rule of Nine: Learning to Willingly Fail



To succeed you must fail.


I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to fail. Actually, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you really don’t want to fail either. 

I don’t want things to be hard. I don’t want writing to be hard. I want to sit at my laptop and let magical brilliance flow from my fingers to the keys and fill the screen with breathtaking magnificence. 

Instead, it’s a whole lot of work. And sometimes there are problems. And sometimes I feel like I’m failing royally. 

When I come to a problem with my plot, a character, or the whole stinkin’ book, I want to come up with a solution. Right away. Or, better yet, 10 minutes ago. I want my brain to instantly supply the perfect solution. Or I want to go for a drive, talk to myself a bit, and then have it all work out in a nice, tidy manner.

But it’s more like this:

Positive me: We have a problem. But it’s okay. We just need to think it through. We can fix this.

My unhelpful internal editor: You suck.

Me: No, I can do this. I’m going to come up with the perfect idea.

My snarky internal editor: Not something lame again, right?

Me: No, of course not. (insert nervous laughter) This is going to be a stellar idea. Yep. Any minute now….crash! It’s going to come to me.

My overly dramatic internal editor : The book is ruined.

Me: Hold on. What about this? No. That won’t work. Or this? Nah, it’d mess up that other story line. Maybe this?

My just plain rude internal editor: I thought you said you weren’t going to try another lame idea?

Me: You’re right. I suck. Maybe we should spray paint something. Let’s go look at Pinterest…

Hmmm. So, that’s probably not the best way to fix anything. Although, I do have many lovely spray painted items. (I’ve also given loads of spray painted junk to the thrift store)

Recently, I learned a better way to come up with ideas from the book, The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus. It’s called the rule of nine. The idea is simple. For every ten ideas you come up with, nine are going to be utterly rotten. And once you come to terms with this it frees you up. Go ahead, jot down ten possible solutions. Sure nine of them are going to compete with the stink in the back of your fridge. But who cares? You already knew they weren’t likely to work.

Vorhaus says, “Depressing? Not really. In fact, the rule of nine turns out to be highly liberating because once you embrace it, you instantly and permanently lose the toxic expectation of succeeding every time. It’s that expectation and the consequent fear of failure that give your ferocious editor power over you. Remove the expectation and you remove the power.”

I recently hit a rather large snag in my WIP. You could even say that I fell into a massive pit of deep, dark despair. I walked around metaphorically banging my head on every flat surface, trying to come up with the perfect idea, for days and days. For some reason, this didn’t work very well.

Then I tried the rule of nine.

I entertained every possible solution to this problem and jotted it down. I didn’t let my internal editor say a word. (Okay. She probably mumbled things here and there about me being a lamebucket, but I ignored her.)

I was ready to try anything. And as I let myself think beyond that dratted box we all end up in from time to time, I began coming up with more and more ideas. But I didn’t love, LOVE any of them. 

So, I kept going. I filled pages and pages with ideas. Way more than ten. And way more than nine failed. But then…I found it. I found the one! I’m excited again. And now I can get back to writing. 

If I’d continued letting that miserable, killjoy internal editor call all the shots, if I’d continued fearing I was going to fail and simply sat still, not taking any chances I’d still be moping around the house like some whiny girl who can’t choose between a hunky werewolf and a sparkly vampire.

What tricks do you use to give that pesky internal editor the shaft? 


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Erin Shakespear writes middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. With six kids, her days are also full of quirky creatures, magic, strange adventures, and…loads of diapers. She also likes to dabble at photography, sewing, and pretending she’s a grand artist. 

Researching Your Way Out of Writer’s Block

A month or two ago, I found myself stuck in the most recent draft of my manuscript. I had everything plotted out, I knew where I wanted to go, but it just wasn’t working and I grew more and more frustrated.

So I took a step back and decided to do a little more research and, in the process, came across some unexpected gems, places I had never thought to look before that gave me some of the information I needed but hadn’t been able to find.

Some of the most helpful books I found at my library were:

1. Children’s Nonfiction Books

Why children’s nonfiction? Well, the books are shorter, easier to read, and usually more fun. More than that, I find that the children’s books are often the best place to start for a general overview to help me quickly figure out what I should focus in on with more research. They also have great bibliographies to find other books on the same topic.

2. Architecture Books

These were fabulous to help me develop a mental picture of the world I wanted to create. Setting and world-building are so important, even in contemporaries, and these books really helped me flesh out what I was imagining. I’d had a vague idea before about how I wanted the world to look, but these books really helped me pin down what architectural features separated the time period I was working on from later periods, what materials for building were available, and the symbolism in the different buildings.

3. Cookbooks

I honestly checked this out on a whim, because it was the only other book my library had from the region I was researching. But seriously, so helpful! The beginning of the book talked about the history of the country as it related to the culinary development, as well as things like festivals and what the people usually ate at them. Cookbooks will vary in how much history and culture they have, but almost all cookbooks that focus on a specific region or cuisine do spend some time talking about it. Sometimes you can even find cookbooks that talk about the origin of the specific dish, which can be useful.

But besides the history, I also found it helpful to know what kinds of food my characters would have eaten. (And making the yummy recipes for myself is an added bonus!)

4. Gardening Books

Honestly, I checked out this book solely for the pictures. Gardens are important in my story and I thought the pictures might inspire me. They did, of course, but the book was so, so much more useful than that. Because it was focused on gardens, the book talked a lot about the climate, why the climate was the way it was, how the landscape affected the climate, and what problems were faced when trying to grow a garden there. In addition to all that, it talked about common plants in that region, how they’re grown, and what they look like (who knew cypress trees didn’t have leaves??). I highly recommend checking out a gardening book if you’re having any troubles with describing your setting.

So what have you found to be the most helpful places to look for information? What tips do you have for dealing with writer’s block?
_________________________________________

Jenilyn Collings loves to read and write things that are humorous or romantic (preferably both). She has worked as a dental researcher, a florist, a martial arts instructor, and a tracker at an alternative high school (she’ll leave it to your imagination what that entailed), but she’s now focused on writing and child wrangling. A long time resident of the Mountain West, she recently moved to New England with her family where she is gaining an appreciation for umbrellas, fall colors, and turning lanes while driving.

When Your Thinking Well Runs Dry: How to Put a Stop to Writers Block

The flutter of eyelashes and the click of words on screen peters out to silence.

Complete silence.

Isn’t there anything clinking around inside your head? A blank stare searches the wide gap on the page and for one brief moment the flippant motion of fingers dance on the keyboard. No, no, no. It’s all wrong. And then a quick staccato hop jumps all over the delete key. Delete, delete, delete… repeat.

Come on. What’s up with the muse today? (And yesterday and the day before?)

Not that you expect the heavens to open and dump a clump of ideas into your brain but a little inspiration would be nice. You’ve hashed, thrashed, and trashed all of your ideas over the last month. Though you remain consistent at the writers life- dedicating time and attention to your passion- you are coming up empty.

What’s wrong?

It sounds like you need a break. Your brain’s parched from over fired neurons. The thinking well is dry. All your writing needs is a little water. It’s hard for anyone to drink from your writing well when it’s spit empty dry. It’s time to pave some new pathways in your brain.

5 Writing Tips 

That Will Fill Your Writing Bucket

Soon your writing will pour out. Take a day off or take a week and refill your thinking. Our brains need something different to focus on. When you step away from your “problem” the answers come. Remember the acronym “WATER” when you just can’t seem to get over that writers block.
Here’s a few tips I’ve discovered that work for me:

Work. 

Work on your yard, your house, whatever. Move that body. Find that project that you have been avoiding and tackle it. Use new tools or new methods to recharge your thinking. As you push yourself to new limits your mind will open up to new possibilities and you will be amazed at the insight gained from pushing yourself physically. Also it will build confidence of accomplishing something hard. You’ve been pushing yourself too much, mentally. It’s time to rework those deteriorating dinky muscles.

Alone Time.  

Make a date with yourself to get away. Step away from your computer desk and think. Solve life’s problems, but not your writing problems. Maybe you need to clear out the clouded over areas in your life that are interfering with the muse. It’s time for a little brain bushwacking. What’s the big thing in life (not your writing) that is bothering you? Go for a walk, grab a journal, drive to a remote location and think, whatever. Clear some things out of your head. You will see all of your paths a little better when you remove some of the roughage that’s interfering.

Travel. 

Go somewhere new. You don’t have to go far. Take a new route home, use a new method of travel to take your kids to school, have you tried a scooter? Visit your local cemetery. Doing something new will open your mind to discovery. Haven’t you been trying to discover something in your writing? Well, if you haven’t discovered it in real life your writing will go flat. Splat.

Entertainment. 

Watch movies, smack a racket ball, attempt bowling (I can throw some wicked gutter balls), go swimming, etc. Think like a kid. What did you love doing as a kid? Try it again. Swing at the park, roller skate, play Nertz (if you can remember the rules), make a prank call, or invent a crazy sandwich. A flood of memories may trigger your writing block. Just play. And don’t do your regular go-to play moments. Stretch yourself.

Read (or Remember). 

Most writers read so I don’t really have to remind you of that but try a new genre. The fast hard rule is to read what you write. But your brain is seriously parched from overdrawing from that well. It’s time to try a fresh, new spring. Read one of those books your kids rave about but you never cared for. Try sci-fi, non-fiction, or romance. (Unless, of course, that combination is your current twisted mix of writing style… yikes.)

Remember. Read old journals or look through faded family pictures. Scroll through, organize, remember, laugh, cry, hide or delete pictures. Slide through and take a mental vacation to a time in your life. Dipping in the past will retrigger some thoughts and emotions. It will help you to feel something and open up your writing to deeper meaning.

Pour Out Your Ideas on Paper

So now that you have new ideas floating in your thinking bucket it’s time to get busy and write. Let the ideas pour out. I never take longer than a week vacation from writing but I have needed the week get away a time or two. It has had great benefits. Try it, you won’t regret it.

_____________________________________________________

Christie Perkins is a survivor of boy humor, chemo, and faulty recipes. She loves freelance writing and is a nonfiction junkie. A couple of national magazines have paid her for her work but her biggest paycheck is her incredible family. Christie hates spiders, the dark, and Shepherd’s Pie. Bleh. Mood boosters: white daisies, playing basketball, and peanut butter M&M’s. You can find out more about her at howperkyworks.com.        

A Writer’s Roadtrip

While driving down the road today, which was full of construction, I saw a few signs that I felt really applied to the writerly journey. At least, they’ve applied to mine so far.

So today I’d like to share with you lovely people ten Traffic Signs/Signals that I feel epitomize the process that is writing a book.

#1 – Green Light

Congratulations! You’ve got an idea and are geared up to go! You find a map (your plan to write, be it so many words or pages a day, or a deadline to finish, etc), plan your route (goals, outline, whatever), and get started, because NOTHING can stop you now!

#2 – Road Closed

Writers block… it happens to the best of us. Go here for an in depth look at different forms of writers block and how to overcome them. Just be careful. When finding your way back to your route don’t run into…

#3 – Detour

“Wait? How did I just spend two hours on my laptop and not write ANYTHING?!” You know them: Facebook. Twitter. Email. Pinterest. Instagram. Goodreads. Amazon. Whatever your weakness, there’s one for you! Your detour could also come in the form of plot bunnies. With either, take care of them if you wish, see where they go, but GET BACK ON TRACK. 

#4 – Red Light

After all your hard work, your first draft is finished. You have permission to breathe a sigh of relief. Not everyone can even get this far. So take a break, and celebrate. Eat some chocolate. Watch some movies. Catch up on your TBR pile (yeah, right). 

#5 – Road Work Ahead

If you’re new to this, you may think you’re done – oh, far from it my friend. Now’s the time to take a critical look at your Work in Progress, and theoretically rip it to shreds. Dig deep, and begin to EDIT.

#6 – WRONG WAY 

 We’ve all been there. In the process of reading through the first draft, you find a plot hole that you can’t BELIEVE you missed! (Or an inconsistency, or character problem, or time issue….) Don’t worry – that’s what edits are for. Back up; fix it.

 #7 – Lane Merging

Once you’ve gone through your beloved WIP to clean it up, it’s safe to ask some experienced writers (I’d recommend one at a time) to read your work and critique it for you. Make sure you take time between Critique Partners to revise things. And I’d suggest trying to get a good mix of people – writers who write in and out of your genre, as well as readers who read in and out of your genre. That way you can get a feel for how your audience will react, as well as how others might think.

#8 – Blasting Zone Ahead 

 I know what you’re thinking: “Shouldn’t that read, ‘Road Closed?'” But I’ll tell you, this is the hardest part. Taking the comments from people you trust and trying to decide what to change and what NOT to change. Here’s a tip: if you get the same comment from multiple people, it’s probably something you want to fix. If you get something from just one, might just be their personal preference. Keep that in mind.


#9 – End Road Work, Thank You

If you’ve made it this far, you have my sincerest congratulations. It takes a lot of work to get here, and you have DONE IT! If you come to a point where your CP’s and you feel that your manuscript is polished and primed, you may again breathe a sigh of relief. Even fewer writers arrive here – you are the greatest of the great.

#10 – The Intersection

Now that your baby is complete, you have some choices to make. (And it ain’t just a four-way street, okay?) Do you want your work to be published? If so, do you want to self publish, or go traditional? Query? Synopsis? Pitch? Do you know what all these are? If you haven’t yet, now is the time to do your research. Decide what you want, and GO FOR IT. You’ll get another green light again soon, which will start you on a whole new journey. Just make sure you know your destination, and you’ll get there.

Even after this point, you’ll likely take the trip again. With the same manuscript, of a new one, the work never ends. Becoming a writer isn’t a destination – it’s a journey. Enjoy your craft, and have passion for it. If you do that, you’ll always find satisfaction and *hopefully* success as well. I love writing, and I’m enjoying my journey so far. Good luck on yours!

Can you think of any other signs that we see as we travel through our manuscripts?_____________________________________________________

Darci Cole is an author, homeschooler, Mormon, and wandmaker. She is a writer of YA and MG scifi/fantasy, usually with a romantic twist. Basically, she writes stuff she wants to read. Darci has edited a number of manuscripts for clients and also served as an editorial intern for Entangled Publishing during the summer of 2013. She is formerly Thor as part of the YAvengers.

Website: darcicole.blogspot.com
Twitter: @darci_cole

Where Do Writers Get Great Ideas? (And What to Do If None of Yours Seem Good Enough)

As writers, we’re often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” If you think back on times you’ve been asked this, you’ll probably realize that this question comes far more often from non-writers. It’s harder to fathom having an idea that could turn into a whole novel when you’ve never done it. (I know it was harder for me.)

For many of us, when we become writers, we start seeing story ideas everywhere. I recently spent a weekend hanging out at a writing retreat, and it was funny how often one of us would tell a little anecdote or even a small bit of information and someone else would respond, “There’s a story in that.” The rest of us would just nod in agreement, because whether we’d read it or not, we understood this quote:

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.”
~Neil Gaiman                            

But that’s not to say that real writers never struggle to come up with ideas. What, then, do we do when the well runs dry, or when none of the ideas on your list feel right? It’s often better to come up with something new than to try to rekindle the love for an idea you’re no longer passionate about.

Here are a few thoughts on how to handle that problem:

1. Read, read, read! As a writer, you’d better be doing this anyway, but the more you’re reading the very best books in the genre or age group you’re writing in, the more you’ll be able to recognize good ideas when they come your way.

2. Make a list of books you wish you’d written. What do these books have in common? My list would include lots of titles by Gary D. Schmidt, Frank Cottrell Boyce, and Wonder by R.J. Palacio, and if I had to boil it down to two characteristics they share, it would be humor and TONS of heart. Now I’ll be more aware of situations around me–in my own life, in the news, or even straight from my imagination–that would lend themselves to stories with humor and heart.

3. Make a list of topics you’re passionate about that you want to see in books. For me, that list includes the arts, science, literacy, getting kids outside and active and most of all, treating each other kindly. Kids dealing with touch situations and finding their place in the world, feeling like they belong and they matter. I’m getting worked up just making that list, and that’s exactly what you want! If I can incorporate things I’m passionate about into my initial idea, I’ll most likely be passionate about the story.

4. Be on the lookout! You never know when a great story idea will come, but they’re far more likely to come when you’re actively looking for them! And when they do come, write them down! Do NOT trust yourself to remember them. 🙂

5. Broaden your horizons. Visit new places, learn about new cultures, break out of your routines. Be an attentive and meticulous people-watcher, in the least creepy manner possible. Visit art galleries and attend concerts and let other artists inspire you. And while you’re at it, revisit your favorite paintings and pieces of music. Is there a story there?

This list is by no means comprehensive, because you really never know where your next great idea will come from. (For the record, the ideas for my four finished novels have come from a short bio of Isaac Newton, an agent’s tweet to an editor linking a blog post both agreed would make a great MG novel, a memory of my grandmother making me treasure hunts to find my after-school snacks, and a sweet brother-sister relationship in my neighborhood.)

For more advice on where to get ideas for a novel, check out these great articles from Writer’s Digest, Write to Done, and the original source of that Neil Gaiman quote.

What about you? Where do you get your best ideas? What was the story seed for your finished books?

______________________________________________

Elaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption. 🙂