Upping the Word Count

I’m notorious for slow sprints… running and writing 😉 But recently I’ve learned—well, have been forced to learn—how to up my pace in my writing sprints. Thank you, Nano! 😉

I was at a pretty steady pace of 1000 words an hour, which is nothing to frown at, but I had no idea I could get better. Now I’m doubling that number, and here’s a few tips on how I did it.

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No distractions

Write straight through. No toggling between tabs—in fact, keep open only the manuscript. I even shut down my “research” while I draft, and use all caps or weird combinations of letters to search for later. Before, it would take me two or three sprints to reach the flow. (The flow is that zone every writer can find themselves in where the story takes them away, and the world around them becomes the book their writing.)

Now that flow is found within minutes 😉

Summarize your chapters

Before you sit down with your keyboard, sit down with a pen and paper. Write absolute nonsense about what you want to happen within the upcoming chapter. I know you pantsers are screaming at me right now 😉 but trust me, this allows your muse to keep talking at the end of each paragraph. There will be no awkward pauses in thought, and you might find yourself writing something unexpected.

Write the entire chapter

Instead of going until a certain time, write until you’re done. This also helps during revisions so nothing feels disconnected. If you don’t have chapters during your drafts, write the scene in its entirety. Take a five/ten minute break, then write the next one. Sometimes you’ll be done within the hour, sometimes less, sometimes more. But you’ll feel ten times better knowing that you didn’t drop off in the middle of a scene or chapter.

Set aside the time

We all have lives outside of writing, believe me, I know. This next one may take some trial and error, but find the time of day when you won’t be interrupted. Like for me, right now, it’s a bad time because the husband and children have all come in at least five times to ask me where something is or to wipe their butt 😉 (Not the hubby on that one!) But I find my zone at certain times on certain days, which took some figuring out.

For example, Mondays I know I have from 10-11 to write in the morning, and then from 8-10:30 that night. Tuesdays I have 10-11 in the morning and that’s it. Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8-bedtime, and Fri-Sun forget about it!

Because I know that time is precious I make the most of it.

I promise this works if you follow it. I’m able to write 1500-2500 words in an hour-long sprint when I’m this focused and when I take the five minutes beforehand to prepare. Which means writing 50K in a month not only seemed possible, it seemed inevitable 😀

Good luck out there!

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Cassie Mae is the author of a dozen or so books. Some of which became popular for their quirky titles, characters, and stories. She likes writing about nerds, geeks, the awkward, the fluffy, the short, the shy, the loud, the fun.

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Since publishing her bestselling debut, Reasons I Fell for the Funny Fat Friend, she’s published several titles with Penguin Random House and founded CookieLynn Publishing Services. She is represented by Sharon Pelletier at Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. She has a favorite of all her book babies, but no, she won’t tell you what it is. (Mainly because it changes depending on the day.)

Along with writing, Cassie likes to binge watch Once Upon A Time and The Flash. She can quote Harry Potter lines quick as a whip. And she likes kissing her hubby, but only if his facial hair is trimmed. She also likes cheesecake to a very obsessive degree.

You can stalk, talk, or send pictures of Luke Bryan to her on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cassiemaeauthor

Showing vs. Telling: The Whole Story Approach

There are a lot of writing absolutes floating around the internet. “You must write every day to be a real writer.” (Yeah, no.) “True artists use pen and paper.” (Nope. Nope. Nope.) “Showing is better than telling.” (Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.)

We crave these absolutes. We live in the gray area between Definitely-Yes and Definitely-No, and when revisions have worn us down to splinters, we sometimes find ourselves wanting nothing more than to be told what is right, and what is wrong. But there are few topics more divisive than Showing vs. Telling. What do we show, and what do we tell? How do we show it, and when do we tell it?

Opinions vary.

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I’m super smart (some have even called me awesome), but I don’t have the answers. What I do have are some insights that might help you find some on your own. Because you’re super smart too, as evidenced by your taste in writing advice websites.

Telling: The black cat walked down the sunny sidewalk.

Showing: The cat twined between the legs of the sidewalk’s pedestrians, its dark fur a sharp contrast to the sunshine lighting the city up like a casino billboard.

Now, both of these sentences are decent. There’s nothing wrong with telling your reader about the cat. And there’s nothing wrong with showing your reader either. Your story should have a balance of showing and telling in it. But how do you decide what to show, and what to tell?

The way I look at it is this: Is the cat important? Is noticing the cat a casual observation on the part of my main character, or does it hold some sort of significance? Did my character’s pet cat just die, giving this moment internal resonance? Or is the cat going to play a role in the story, giving this moment a more external meaning?

Showing is a wonderful tool you can use to “zoom in” on the aspects of a scene that hold the most importance for your main character, whether you’re setting the mood through emotional resonance, subtly hinting at events to come, or simply bringing an otherwise dull scene to life.

Telling: She hated peas.

Showing: The peas in the casserole looked like green pustules of evil. Suzy didn’t care if Mom promised her a thousand desserts, no way was she ever going to touch the stuff.

Showing can also be used as an element of voice. Is Suzy’s hatred of peas integral to the story, or to her emotional landscape? Probably not. Does the showing line give us a better sense of Suzy as a character, and help us “hear” her voice? You betcha.

Of course, one danger of showing is that it can so easily be overdone. We have to be careful that we don’t obscure meaning with flowery (purple) prose, zooming in on the words instead of the actual significance of the moment.

The mellifluous golden orb crested the horizon, a river of yellow light touching the world to waking, a heralding of the warmth of spring that would soon touch the land again.

Which is a fancy way of saying: The sun rose. Spring was coming.

Whether we’re zoomed in too far, or not far enough, we run the risk of showing our reader who’s hiding behind the puppet theater’s curtains. For the most part, modern storytelling is all about the invisible narrator. Readers want to believe in the puppets. They want to be enchanted by them. Root for them. Boo at the villain, and cheer on the hero.

The person pulling the strings? They don’t care about so much. Ouch. I know.

If the main character notices things it doesn’t make sense for them to notice (like walking into their bedroom and mentally reciting a long list of descriptions so the reader can see it with them), the reader will see the puppet-master. If the main character doesn’t notice something it does make sense for them to notice (like hey, that boat they climbed on so they could say goodbye to their ex has been moving for an hour now and they are out to sea suddenly!), yep, the reader is definitely going to know who’s pulling the strings.

And they won’t be the least bit surprised when that storm rolls in and strands the two characters on a desert island. Just sayin’.

Showing isn’t just about how you write your sentences, it’s about how you write your story. It’s about what you want your readers to experience with your main characters.

If you need to describe your main character’s bedroom to set the scene, walk into your own bedroom and take note of what you notice. Did your significant other leave a mess again? Did you? Does the fact that only one half of your bed is rumpled remind you that you don’t have a significant other? Do you notice something missing? Is the clock in the hallway ticking stupid loud because you’re late? Is there a funky smell because you’ve been super down lately and laundry is your nemesis?

If your main character needs to be on that boat with their ex, and having them not notice it moving doesn’t make sense, what if they do notice it moving? What if they could have stopped it before it got out to sea, but they didn’t? What if they have to deal with the emotional fallout of realizing that deep down they want to be trapped on a boat with their ex?

What your character notices shows the reader who your character is. It shows them what your character places value in. If your character walks into a room full of people and notices their clothing first, they might come off a little shallow. If they notice someone who’s upset, they might give a more empathetic impression. Zoom in on those moments. Show them to us. Help us get lost in your character’s experiences.

I’ve come to realize that this is one of the dividing lines between meh-it’s-all-right fiction and blows-my-freakin’-mind fiction. Do the descriptions feel organic? Do they pull us into the main character’s point of view to the degree that we feel like we are experiencing the story with them? Do we learn about who the character is through their sensory experiences of their world?

Tell us your story by showing us what matters most.

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kimKimberly VanderHorst is a YA author who cherishes a love for all things quirky and strange. Claims to fame include running Prism Editing, co-hosting the annual Pitch Slam contest, and serving on the committees for the annual LDStorymakers Conference and The Whitney Awards program. Despite being a city girl with a tendency to cuss a lot, Kimberly is married to an LDS minister and lives in rural northern Canada. There, she helps raise their four lovely daughters while pretending not to be afraid of the neighbour’s chickens.

 

 

 

Mindful Details: Paying Attention to the World Around You

How many times do you find yourself in a waiting room, on a bus, sitting outside a restaurant waiting for the rest of your party . . . and to pass the time, you pull out your phone. You might be thinking it’s the perfect opportunity to catch up on social media or to shoot off some emails you’ve been procrastinating on. Maybe you’re playing a game or reading an e-book.

We all do this. I know I’m guilty of it. Actually, I shouldn’t use the word “guilty” here, because I, for one, see nothing wrong with this. I’m not here to shake my fist in the air and shout to the world that electronic devices are destroying human interaction, yada yada yada. (I actually believe they’ve brought people closer together in some ways, but that’s another post for another blog).

Nope, I’m not going to chastise anyone for playing a game of Candy Crush while sitting at the bus stop. I might, however, be so bold as to say that frittering away the “boring” moments of life on our phones is wasting an opportunity to improve our writing skills. When was the last time you kept your phone in your pocket and just sat, observing and experiencing the world around you? When was the last time you were fully mindful of your surroundings? When did you pay attention–really pay attention to the people passing by?

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While at an art museum this last weekend, my friend, who’d recently moved into the town in which I was visiting her, was asking the woman at the front desk if she had any recommendations of other things to do in the area. They talked for a long time, and I sort of let myself fall off to the background. At first, I busied myself taking pictures of the cool architecture in the lobby, then posting the pics onto Instagram. But eventually, as the two continued to chat, I became fascinated by the way the woman’s heavy jewelry clacked with every movement she made. And she moved a lot. She was animated, talking with her hands. I watched for a while, wondering how it didn’t bother her, deciding it would certainly bother me. And then . . . it occurred to me that I could use this for one of my characters. I excused myself, pulled out my phone again, opened up a note app, and wrote the description down.

The next time you have the opportunity to people watch, take it. See if you can find at least one unique detail about a person, whether it’s a distinctive article of clothing that hints at their personality, the way they carry themselves, what their voice sounds like, what they smell like (if they’re close enough)–and write it down. (One caveat: don’t be obvious about it. You never know how someone might react. I take no responsibility for any black eyes.)

Don’t stop with people. Be mindful of scenery too. Of the feel of a room when you enter it for the first time. Of the sounds of wildlife outside your window bright and early in the morning. Don’t push these observations to the background as you go about your day. Keep your eyes, ears, and nose open and really take it all in. Then write it down. Even if you don’t have a place for a particular observation in your current project, it’s good practice anyway.

One more thing: don’t focus only on the strange and/or unique. Focus on the mundane as well. Some of the best writing I’ve read has been able to transport me into a scene via one or two simple sensory details of something as plain as the sticky feel of over-waxed wood beneath fingertips, or the citrus scent and fizz of bubbles in a sink full of soapy dishes. You can feel that wood yourself now, can’t you? Because we’ve all felt it at one time or another. You can smell that dish soap and hear that faint crackle of foam, and now, you’re in the scene. These are mindful details. And the more often you take the time out to pay attention to the world around you, the more often these details will seep into your writing, making it so much stronger.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen 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.

 

A Story About Nothing: Lessons About Writing From Seinfeld

We writers are constantly trying to hone our craft and improve our storytelling skills. One of the best ways to do that is to study the ways other people tell stories. A good writer will look to a variety of storytellers for ideas, inspiration, and instruction. Being able to understand why a good story works is immensely helpful when trying to write our own.

An often overlooked storytelling form is the TV sitcom. While your favorite weekly sitcom doesn’t appear to have much in common with the YA or Sci-Fi novel you’re working on, there are nevertheless some good lessons that can be gleaned. After all, there’s a lot of storytelling—including multiple plots, character arcs, and pacing—that is distilled and condensed down into a twenty-two minute sitcom episode. One of the best examples is Seinfeld.

LESSONS ABOUT SEINFELD

At first glance, Seinfeld shouldn’t work as well as it does, because it breaks many traditional rules of storytelling. For instance, the plots are paper-thin at best. (A whole episode about waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant? An episode devoted to Pez?) Furthermore, all of the four main characters are selfish, narcissistic, and regularly manipulate others for their own gain. And perhaps most egregiously, none of the characters ever change or exhibit any real growth throughout the series. If I were to give you notes like that about your story, you’d set fire to your manuscript and take up knitting or woodworking instead of continuing with writing. Yet Seinfeld remains one of the most successful TV shows of all time, and continues to resonate with us. It’s a show that has transcended mere pop culture and has entered our collective unconscious. Whatever the situation, there’s a Seinfeld reference for it.

Let’s examine some of the lessons Seinfeld has to offer writers.

You can’t “Yada Yada” your story.

As much as we’d like to just write, “Once upon a time . . . yada, yada, yada . . . and they all lived happily ever after,” we just can’t. Skipping important details will not only confuse your readers and weaken your story, it will brand you as a writer who doesn’t want to do the work necessary to tell a good story. Don’t yada yada over the best parts, especially the bisque.

“In that moment, I was a marine biologist!”

You don’t have to be an actual expert on every single thing you write about, but you can “play one on TV,” as it were. Research is great, but don’t let it take over your story. You’re writing a story here, not a dissertation. You only need to be a marine biologist long enough to get the golf ball out of the whale’s blowhole, and then you can move on.

“We’re like rats in some kind of experiment!”

This is George’s lament when they’re all lost in the parking garage, and they’re walking in circles. The world your story inhabits is important, and it’s critical that your readers not get lost. Keep your readers oriented by giving them a clear sense of where and when the story takes place, and then keep them moving in the right direction. If your readers start to feel like George, your story may be in trouble. Think of the goldfish.

“That’s some pen. Writes upside down.”

Many Seinfeld plots come from characters making seemingly innocuous choices, and then reacting to the fallout from those choices. Jerry admires Jack Klompus’ astronaut pen, which leads to problems for everyone at Del Boca Vista condos. Elaine gives Sue Ellen Mischke a bra as a gift, who then wears it as a top, causing Jerry and Kramer to crash George’s car, which makes the Yankees think George is dead. George answers a personal ad in The Daily Worker, which leads to him being accused of being a Communist. Kramer hits just one golf ball into the ocean, and nearly kills a whale. Your characters will make choices throughout your story, and those choices will have consequences. Show those consequences, both good and bad, and show your readers how your characters react.

The jerk store called, and they’re running out of YOU!”

George flies all the way to Ohio to deliver what he believes is the ultimate comeback to a former co-worker’s snarky remark, only to be quickly bested again. George gets angry and insults the man’s wife, only to learn she is in a coma. Characters need goals, and they need obstacles to overcome to achieve those goals. The fun comes in watching those characters try to achieve their goals, with varying degrees of success. But so often in the Seinfeld world, a character achieves a goal, only to instantly regret it. Thus, Jerry finally dates a woman he’s always liked, who immediately turns out to be racist and an anti-Semite. Kramer turns his door’s peephole around, and becomes increasingly paranoid. What happens to your characters when they finally get what they’re after? Does it make their lives better or worse?

Keep it real, and keep it spectacular.

You’re not writing to impress your AP English teacher anymore, so cool it with the flowery prose and pseudo-scholarly shtick. Readers are smart, and can tell when someone is being pretentious. If your voice isn’t authentically you, your readers will spend their whole time wondering how they can figure out who the real you is. Your voice is unique and important, and only you can tell your particular story. Your voice can be spectacular on its own.

Ultimately, Seinfeld continues to work because it wasn’t really a show about nothing, it was a show about us. If the purpose of art is to hold a mirror up to reality, then surely Seinfeld’s was a warped fun house mirror. Nevertheless, we all see something of ourselves in there. We recognize aspects of Elaine in ourselves when we try to dance, and of Kramer when we are feeling clumsy. We have wrestled with George’s insecurities and neuroses, and we often wish we could be as carefree and aloof as Jerry. These characters do and say things we sometimes wish we could do and say (or things we’re afraid we’ve done and said!) Your story’s core needs to be centered around flawed, yet well-written characters, too. We need to recognize something of them in ourselves, and visa-versa.

Maybe the biggest lesson for writers from Seinfeld is that it is possible to break the rules and still have a good story. So the next time you’re channel surfing and you stumble across a rerun like Seinfeld, give it a closer look. Watch it with a critical eye, a writer’s eye, and see if you can spot some of the lessons I’ve mentioned here. See if you can recognize how the characters, the multiple storylines, and the breakneck, almost haphazard pacing all combine to make one of the most unique brands of storytelling of the last twenty-odd years. And once you’ve done that, head back to your manuscript with what you’ve learned and giddy-up!
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Dennis Gaunt has worked as a slushpile reader for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. All those years of reading other people’s words inspired him to take a crack at writing himself. His first book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, was published in 2011, and he has since published other books and magazine articles in the LDS market, and has even recorded talks on CD for LDS youth and young adults.

Though primarily a non-fiction writer (for now), he loves reading and talking about what makes great fiction stories work. His years of wading through the slushpile from the other side have given him a unique perspective on the writing and publishing processes, and he’s excited to be a part of Thinking Through Our Fingers.

Dennis lives in the Salt Lake City area with his wife, Natalie, who still has the text he sent her all those years ago that read “Holy cow–I think I’m writing a book!” In his spare time, he enjoys photography, playing the guitar, cooking (hold the onions, please), going to Disneyland, and Godzilla movies.

Books to Help Writers Get Better

I have a weakness.

I mean, besides books. That’s obvious.

My other weakness is craft books. I love them. I love learning how people think about story, seeing how I can think differently or better about my writing, to be inspired by how others engage in the creative process. If you know me in real life, it won’t surprise you to know that analysis makes me super happy.

Which is why I have a shelf that looks like this:

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And amid the great novels loaded on my kindle are the following:

  • Creativity Inc.
  • A Writer’s Guide Story Structure and Beyond
  • The War of Art
  • John Gardner’s Collection on Writing
  • The Art of Work
  • The Anatomy of Story
  • The Right to Write
  • All of the Emotional Thesaurus books
  • Crafting Unforgettable Characters
  • Getting Published in the 21st Century
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
  • Million Dollar Outlines
  • Save the Cat

But still, I found myself wondering what books people went to when they wanted to study their craft more. Below are some of the dozens of suggestions I received (several I’ve never heard of!):

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New Craft Books:

  • Author In Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published Paperback by Therese Walsh
  • The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface by Donald Maass
  • Story Genius by Lisa Cron

Books to Improve Overall Writing:

  • The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner
  • How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them by Sol Stein
  • Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass
  • Scene & Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Jack M. Bickham
  • Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark
  • Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark
  • Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry

Books to Nurture the Writer:

  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Fierce on the Page by Sage Cohen
  • A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller
  • The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Books to Help with Editing:

  • The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
  • Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques by Sol Stein
  • 77 Reasons Why Your Book Was Rejected Paperback by Mike Nappa

Even MORE Great Writing Books:

These are new to me, so if you know more about them, please share! 

  • The Crosswicks Journals by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art Paperback by Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Forest for the Trees (Revised and Updated): An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner
  • This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
  • If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
  • Reflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones

Lifetime Achievement Awards:

Face it: these books are so good, we still need to talk about them.

  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • Elements of Style by by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

Did I miss any? Do you have some favorites? 

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profileTasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

The Power of Side Writing

I sit down. I write. I get up. I go about my day.

I write only what goes in the story. I don’t have a lot of time. I need to go about my day. Did I mention that?

What happened in yesterday’s writing session? I pick up there. And I write what happens next. And that’s it.

I have a good story now. I mean . . . well, it’s decent. It’s got all the right bits. I get up. I go about my day.

But now as I fall asleep, it nags at me. Something . . . I don’t know. It’s not right. I have an adequate story. Have I put all this time into writing to be an adequate storyteller?

I wake up. I sit down.

I don’t write. I think.

I think there is more to consider here than a series of events. More than first and then and next.

There is why.

There is what if.

Have I asked her how she feels about the story I’m giving her, this character of mine? What would she tell me about her story? I let her write her letter to me. Oh. Oh. I am missing things, not explaining reasons, not really understanding her. But she tells me. She tells me what I forgot. Missed. Ignored.

How well do I understand her, really? Less than I thought. Do I know what she would do in a situation she’ll never face? Let me write her one, a scene that has no place in my story, but shows me what she would do. And as I understand it, I understand how much further to push her in the scenes we see.

I sit down. I write. And somehow I lose her voice. So I hunt it. I write her a scene of pure dialogue in the form of poetry. What kind of poetry would she speak in? Is she a limerick? Of course not. She would roll her eyes. Is she a sonnet? It makes her skin uncomfortable, like she has tried to wrap herself in a fancy fox fur, but she doesn’t like the bristles against her skin. She is not fancy. Is she a chain of haikus? But no, she feels as if she’s cut off, each thought having a little more to it. She is free verse, and as she speaks her poem, I find her voice again. The poem doesn’t show up in her story, but her voice is growing more clear.

I sit down. I write. Most days it is still the story. First and then and next.

But some days, some days the character must play so she can lead me off the narrative path to where the surprises lie, surprises that as I pick them up, as I see what she loves, lead me on to the better story.

These are all actual assignments given by advisors I worked with in the MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and each exercise unlocked a new and deeper layer of my characters. Thank you to Will Alexander and Cynthia Leitich-Smith for these nudges. 

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Melanie Bennett Jacobson is an avid reader, amateur cook, and champion shopper. She consumes astonishing amounts of chocolate, chick flicks, and romance novels. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three kids and a series of doomed houseplants. Melanie is a former English teacher who loves to laugh and make others laugh. In her down time (ha!), she writes romantic comedies for Covenant and maintains her humorous slice-of-life blog. Her sixth novel, Always Will, hits shelves in October. Melanie’s contemporary YA novels are represented by Alyssa Henkin.

Playing with Writing

Last fall, a friend and I were both bemoaning that we were in a writing slump and having a hard time pushing through on the projects we were working on. As we were talking, the conversation somehow turned to the letter game ( a la Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer in Sorcery and Cecelia) and we decided we would play our own letter game.

The basic premise of the game is that each writer assumes the persona of a character and exchange letters with the other character. The next few weeks were a flurry of emails as my friend and I debated just what characters we wanted to play and what story we wanted to write, throwing out all kinds of absurd and goofy ideas. The brainstorming was so much fun! We finally settled on a set of twins who had been separated for the first time in their lives, one to go off to boarding school and one to live with a crazy aunt in Cornwall.

To be honest, we only exchanged letters a couple times before real life (and the projects we were supposed to be working on) took precedence. But the act of letting go, of just playing around with world-building, with characters, and with writing in general, was so freeing. It made it so much easier to go back to the project I’d been working on and to remember what I loved about it. Sometimes I get so bogged down with what is not working in a particular piece that I forget entirely about what is working.

So if you’re struggling with a writing slump, try letting yourself play around. Some suggestions I’ve heard or tried are:

1. The Letter Game.

This can be a lot of fun, but as I mentioned above, it does require another person willing to play with you.

2. Try experimenting in a different genre. 

I find that taking a break from my usual MG/YA and writing picture books (or something for adults—gasp!) really sparks my creativity.

3. Force your characters to do something different. 

I have a friend who once said she did some side writing and made her male teenaged love interest take care of a baby just to see what he did with it. So force your characters out of their comfort zone and have fun doing it.

4. Kill off your main characters for the fun of it. 

I was really annoyed with one of my stories once, so I wrote a scene—not in the same document as the story, of course—and killed off my characters. It was so fun and freeing to realize that I could do it, but I didn’t really want to. (And both my characters and I were much better behaved after that!)

5. Ignore all the other voices and let yourself love your manuscript. 

This one is so, so hard to do, but I find that when I’m worried about what other people think, my stories just aren’t as good. But when I write things that I love and I let myself love it without worrying about the other voices, it’s not only a better place for me emotionally, but the story is better.

What about you? What do you do when you find yourself in a writing slump?

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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.