How to Write When You Lack Inspiration

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You’re half way through your novel and suddenly you don’t want to work on it anymore.

You’re past deadline and your editor wants to know where your manuscript is.

The thought of writing gives you a headache and sends you to bed.

We’ve all been there, the writer who doesn’t want to write. We’re tired, we’re bored. We’d like to take a break and do something else more exciting, even if it’s scrub the toilet or feed the pigs. Ernest Hemingway said it so well. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

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I believe writing is a gift. Others look at writing as a job. Either way, we all come to the page the same, inspired or not to get words on paper.

How we do that, though, is another story. Some writers designate a specific time, say, every day 8 a.m. to noon, as their writing time. During those hours they write, whether they feel like it or not. Others write in big chunks of time when they feel inspired. They let artistic inspiration take over and write until they are empty. Then they wait for the well to fill and repeat the process. Productivity is as varied as there are writers, and we each handle writing-time differently.

I don’t write everyday. Many days I lack inspiration. But I do do something writing-related everyday. This is my job and fans are waiting for the next story. I can’t let lack of inspiration keep me from doing the work. If I did, nothing would ever get done.

So here’s what I do when I don’t feel like writing.
I work on something writing related, like marketing.
I research for the next story.
I edit.
I do something writing related and record it on a calendar I keep on my desk. Too many blank days in my calendar means I’m lazy and unfocused and I need to get busy.

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If you’re feeling uninspired, here are some tips that may help.

1) Show up.

If it’s a workday, work. Record your progress on your calendar and then go play. At the end of the day you may not have written five pages, but you will have done something to move forward and the day won’t have been wasted.

2) Reward yourself with Internet and email after writing. You’d be surprised what a motivator that is.

3) Set a timer and start writing.

Turn off your internal editor and just start writing. Anything. Even if you write ‘this is crap’ for ten minutes. Free writing stimulates the brain and before you know it you’ll be in the zone. You can’t edit a blank page, so get to work.

4) Change your location.

Sometimes a change in location can be just the boost you need. Go outside and write in the sun. Go sit by a stream. Even a coffee shop or library can inspire you to be productive.

5) Work on something new, or collaborate with another writer.

Often we get tired of working on the same thing everyday. It’s boring and unchallenging. Work on something else. Have more than one story in the basket at a time. When you tire of one you can still be productive. Just be sure to complete those stories and not use this as an excuse to procrastinate.

6) Have a writing buddy.

Having someone who understands the writing process is invaluable. Whine to your writing buddy when you don’t want to write. Finding out that they are having a good productive day will tweak the competitor in you and send you to your desk. Before you know it the words will flow again.

7) Get up and move.

Take a walk. Take a coffee break. Physical exercise often stimulates the muse.

8) Listen to music and set the mood.

I have a meditation CD I play when I lack inspiration. Sometimes I also light a candle. These stimuli tell my brain it’s time to work and add pleasure to what can some days be daunting.

9) Read a good book. Read a bad book.

Either one will get you thinking. Why did he/she use that word? Why does this work so well? This is a piece of shit. I can do better.

10) Allow yourself to make mistakes.

The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be written.

Not every writer approaches the blank page the same. Some writers work best at night. Some in the morning. Some during the day when kids are in school. Some only when the muse strikes hot. How you approach the blank page is up to you. The trick is to be consistent, to keep writing even on days when you’d rather mow the lawn.

-Bonnie Dodge

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Make Monday your marketing day

The rack. The iron maiden. Those forms of torture are nothing compared to the way some writers feel about marketing.  We love writing, but not especially marketing because we’d rather be writing and marketing takes time away from us sitting in front of our computer, or writing on our yellow pads of paper.

Make no mistake, we are damn proud of what we wrote and want to get it out there to readers. But we also consider ourselves writers and not necessarily advertising madmen.

I have been both traditionally published and self-published, and have gotten use to the fact that marketing is just another part of the business. If you are self-published, no one else is going to market your book for you, unless you pay someone to do it. Even with traditional publishing, you will be expected to help spread the word about your book.

Marketing requires a different mindset. As a writer friend of mine is fond of saying, it is time to put on your big girl panties and just do it. For male writers, you can do the translation.

To make it more palatable and convenient, I set one day aside and have designated Monday as Marketing Day. I make my business calls, write news releases or contact reporters, arrange book signings, seek reviews, update my website, etc. And part of that mindset is doing as good a job at marketing as you do at your writing. Get creative. Have fun.

Big girl panties, remember?

We want to get our writing out to people to read otherwise, it’s just a journal for our eyes only. And in order to do that, we need to tell readers about our book with marketing.

So designate your marketing day. Be it Monday, Wednesday or Friday. Even Tuesday and Thursday will do.

 

 

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Show, Don’t Tell

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Beginning writers are often instructed to Show, Don’t Tell. Sounds simple enough, but exactly what does that mean? Here are a few examples.

Telling. Bob Jones was fat.

Showing. Bob Jones pushed himself out of the chair. His arms wobbled has he hefted his large body up and tried to stand. His knees buckled under the weight and he had to sit down and catch his breath before he could try again.

Telling. I hurt myself.

Showing. My arm throbbed. Blood streamed from a large gash, staining my shirt and pants.

Telling. I was nervous.

Showing. Waiting for my teacher to reply, I grew dizzy. My face flushed and I hoped my deodorant was strong enough to mask my fear.

Telling. It was hot.

Showing. Max sweltered under the noonday heat. Beads of perspiration formed a river, dropping into his eyes and clouding his vision. If he didn’t find water soon, he knew he would pass out.

These are simple examples, but you will notice two things. It’s easier to tell because it uses less words, and often the word “was” shows up in the sentence. I was doing something; he was doing something. Your reader will get a better picture and be more invested in your story if you can describe what is happening with action. A man is so heavy he can’t get out of his chair. Blood streams from a cut on an arm.

Remember to use Show, Don’t Tell wisely. If you “show” every sentence in your novel it could easily reach 200,000 words. Show the things that are important and the things you want your reader to remember. Tell the small things that don’t matter. He started his car. He walked to the store.

Don’t forget to incorporate the five senses. What does your character hear? The sound of the chair creaking as he tries to stand. What does he smell? The grease from his cold French fries. What does he see? Blood staining his clothes. What does he taste? Salt when he licks his dry lips. What does he touch? His wet forehead when he wipes away the sweat. Using the senses is another way to make the scene more intimate and allows your reader to experience what your character is experiencing.

Balancing show and tell is tricky, but once you master it your writing will sparkle and your readers will ask for more.

-Bonnie Dodge

 

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Learn the writing business

Whenever I tell people I’m a writer, they usually say they’ve also written a book and want to have it published. Usually my first advice to new writers is about craft and becoming the best writer they can be. But after having been around publishing for awhile, I have additional advice. That is, learn about the writing and publishing business.

Look at it this way. If you decide to start a restaurant, you’re not just going to throw open the doors to your new place and start cooking. You’re going to learn about the restaurant business.  The same is true for the writing business.

I will emphasize that most of my experiences have been good with people, but I too have had my hair singed on occasion. So start by learning about what type of writing you’re interested in, from novels to nonfiction to screenplays to magazine articles. There are hundreds of books and internet sites with advice.

Here’s some things I learned along the way that I hope will save you heartburn.

  • If you’re offered a contract by a publishing company and don’t have an agent, hire an attorney and have him or her look at it. This is well worth the money to make sure you aren’t giving away your rights and do you have an option to get back your publishing rights.
  • Do research on the publisher or whoever is interested in buying your writing. There are many sites on the Web to warn you about the good, the bad and oh so ugly.
  • Ask lots of questions. Don’t be shy. If a publisher doesn’t want to answer, beware. But always be polite and never obnoxious about it.
  • Get paid. Don’t give your writing away. If someone wants to publish it and make money off your talent, then get your share. And get this in writing. A guy still owes me money for a writing job.
  • Keep copies of everything, including emails. Hopefully you won’t need those but if you do…

I know many of you may not care about making money from your writing and your reward will be to share it or give it away, which is great. However, if you want monetary compensation — even if you consider writing a hobby — then it’s best to learn the business or you may end up getting the business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How Important are Book Reviews?

How Reviews Help Authors

Do you read reviews? After you’ve read a good/bad book, do you leave a review? Should you?

In the super competitive world of publishing, reviews are important to writers. Many authors see this as a dreaded nuisance; you wrote the book already, why do you need to worry about reviews? The answer is simple. Because reviews matter to the industry. The more positive five-star reviews you have on Amazon.com and Goodreads, the more visibility your book will get, making the book easier to market. That’s why, if you follow many authors on social media, you will find them asking for reviews every time they release a new book.

Maybe you’re not a fan of reviews. Maybe you never read them. But most of the world does. According to social media, over 85% of all Amazon Kindle readers rely heavily on book reviews. In a sea of books, a good book review helps readers determine if the book is for them and worth the money.

Additionally, many online advertising venues have requirements such as a certain number of positive reviews before they will sell you an ad. The same is true with book review sites. More reviews get authors exposure to other book review sites, blogging communities, and book clubs. More reviews equal more sales for authors.

If you’re an introvert like me, it’s hard to ask for reviews. Especially from people you see everyday. Further, some sites look closely at author relationships, going so far as to take down reviews they believe are not genuine or too closely related to the author.

So, what’s an author to do?

It’s your book, who better to promote it? Get over yourself and your fear of asking for reviews. Ask everyone, your friends, family, and other writers. Offer copies of your book, in print or a pdf file in exchange for reviews. Consider using sites like Kirkus Indie Reviews and pay for reviews.

Ask, ask, ask, but be realistic in your expectations. Not everyone is going to like your book. Not all your reviews will be positive. What one person likes, another one won’t. Don’t be afraid of bad reviews. They often spark interest.

Book reviews come in all shapes and sizes. Successful authors know reviews are an important part of the process.

-Bonnie Dodge

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Keep on your writing toes

There are jobs where people do the same task everyday. Writers are fortunate because everyday is different. You’re not writing the same thing everyday. Even when you are rewriting for the umpteenth draft, the words, punctuation, ideas and voice will change each time. As writers, we may start a novel, poem, screenplay, article or play one day; polish a short story the next; and through the week, develop characters, refine plots, outline, add subtext, kill adjectives. Lots to do.

However, writers still can fall into a rut and become stale. This occurs when we are no longer excited about what we are writing. When we feel like we are writing the same thing over and over despite the fact we are not. When we take the process for granted. I have gotten that feeling and when I do, I work at stretching my skills. Try stretching yours.

Read, read and read good writing. Analyze what makes it good and get excited about the power of good writing to move you, to create images and wonderful characters, and make you want to finish each page.

Write something you don’t usually write. Sure it may suck but it may not. If you don’t write poetry try a poem to get the feel of efficiency of words and wonder of images. For poets, try prose.

Writing prompts are great and fun, kind of like warm ups before exercising.

Talk writing with other writers or readers. Listen to what keeps them out of the writing basement.

Find your own ways to keep on your toes. If you are feeling bored and stale, guess what? Your writing will reflect just that.

 

 

 

 

 

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Resolve to get your literary estate in order

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Ah, December and time to reflect on a productive year. Many writers, as they put away the tinsel and take down the tree, begin to think about things they need to do before yearend: last minute tax deductions; filing up do date; all invoices paid and accounted for. As they gather receipts and checks for the accountant, there is one more thing they should consider. What will happen to their intelligent property if/when they die?

Die, you say, we’re talking about planning for a new year. We’re being positive, not negative. But we’re also so busy looking toward the future we forget to plan for our literary estate. When we die many things are left undone or forgotten.

Example. Several of my friends have passed but they still have Facebook accounts. Every year their birthday pops up and startles me. Didn’t they die, I think because I’m getting older and sometimes forget. Since they didn’t make plans for their intelligent property or tell someone the password so the account could be closed, I get these disquieting notices that occasionally curl my hair.

Another Example. An author dies and their intelligent property passes to someone who doesn’t appreciate their books and writings, in fact hates them. Unlike Emily Dickinson’s sister who made sure Emily’s work was preserved, that author’s work is discarded, burned, gone forever.

Neil Gaiman recently wrote an excellent article on this subject. At Neil’s request, a lawyer drew up a document you can use to protect your literary estate. It’s free and you can find it here.

If you’re a writer, or any other kind of artist for that matter, as you gather items for yearend and tax preparation, make time to write down the passwords to all your social media accounts and place them with your important papers. Take time to make a will or a codicil to protect your intelligent property. Then you can begin the New Year knowing you’re ready and have everything in order.
-Bonnie Dodge

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Waiting for a query reply? Don’t wait. Write

Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worse kind of suffering.

Paulo Coelho

I remember the first time I got a request for a manuscript. I thought this is it, man. The big time. Money. Fame. A Charlie Rose interview.

I sent off my manuscript and then I waited and waited and waited. It was worse than meeting a cute boy when I was younger, giving him my phone number and then waiting for the call, which never came.

Now when I query, I don’t wait. I write.

If you want to be published and your last name isn’t King, Grisham or Patterson or some of those other people on the Amazon bestsellers list, the reality is you’re probably going to have to wait. Like waiting for an agent to decide whether he or she will represent you, or for a publisher to get back to your agent or you. The great thing about the industry today is that you don’t have to wait a week for your letter to get where it’s going. There’s email. But that doesn’t necessarily speed up the wait. (Although it is a bummer to get a rejection email five minutes after you sent a query. It’s like Ouch!)

This all takes time so don’t let it get to you. Don’t check your email ten thousand times a day because it will only increase your angst. In many instances, you may not even get a reply because agents and publishers are busy and get a billion queries.

Forget about anxiously awaiting for snail mail. Only rejections end up in your mailbox if you get one at all.

If you focus too much on waiting, then the painful self-doubts rise up like an El Niño storm. As your grandmother once uttered, don’t put all your writing eggs in one basket.

My advice is that once you send your manuscript, immediately start work on another, if you haven’t already done so. The best way to forget you are waiting is not to wait, but write. Use the days productively. We only have so many, after all.

If you are fortunate and your work is accepted for publication, that takes time, too. Sometimes up to two years to get your book published. The same advice holds when it comes to waiting.

Don’t wait. Write.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

I received some great comments on this, especially C.S. Wilde’s. Thanks for your comments!

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Steps to Writing

“Now shall I walk or shall I ride?
‘Ride,’ Pleasure said;
‘Walk,’ Joy replied.”
― W.H. Davies

I love being a writer, but writing has its hazards. One of them is the amount of time I spend in front of my computer. If I’m deep into a story, I can sit for hours, forgetting to move as I struggle to create a perfect phrase or sentence. When I finally look at the clock, I’m often surprised that the day is over and I haven’t made time to walk.

It’s no secret that walking is good for us. A Harvard health letter claims walking can strengthen bones, tune up the cardiovascular system, and clear a cluttered mind. Because I try to walk every day, I know these declarations are true. In addition to lowering my blood sugar, the minute I put on my shoes and start to walk, that plot problem I’ve struggled with for hours, or that special word I couldn’t find in the thesaurus, pops into my head and just like that I’m eager to finish my walk and return to my desk.

Often I find myself suffering foggy brain syndrome. When I sit too long, everything slows down, including my brain. A quick stroll, even just ten minutes, helps combat this affliction. Walking moves my muscles and pumps fresh blood and oxygen through my head, triggering the release of feel-good chemicals and making it easier to get back to work.

I’m not the only writer to find walking beneficial to my craft. Henry David Thoreau said, “Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Gretel Ehrilich said, “Walking is also an ambulation of mind.” And Thomas Mann said, “Thoughts come clearly while one walks.”

Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast, “I would walk along the quais when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out.” And Henry Miller said, “Most writing is done away from the typewriter, away from the desk. I’d say it occurs in the quiet, silent moments, while you’re walking or shaving or playing a game or whatever.”

The next time you get stuck with a plot point or are facing writer’s block, put on your shoes and go for a walk. It might just be the right step to take to further your writing.
-Bonnie Dodge

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Kid’s book about Knievel jump on sale on Kindle in time for anniversary

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Ten-year-old Billie Nevile wants to be a daredevil, just like her hero Evel Knievel. She also wants a best friend. When Evel comes to town to jump the Snake River Canyon, Billie learns she has to be a friend to make friends and that not all heroes have to soar over canyons.

“BILLIE NEVILLE TAKES A LEAP” is an award-winning young adult book by Bonnie Dodge and Patricia Santos Marcantonio and inspired by Knievel’s Snake River Canyon jump on Sept. 8, 1974.

In commemoration of the upcoming anniversary of jump, the Kindle version of “BILLIE NEVILLE TAKES A LEAP” will be on sale for 99 cents now until September 8.

Soar with Billie and enjoy the ride.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00S5K0GOC

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