Tag Archives: writing advice

Working Through a Block

writer's blockFor more than a year, I’ve been meaning to write the story of Dafydd taking Paul home to meet the family. Late last year, I started on it with the overly optimistic idea of making it a Christmas story. Maybe if I’d started it in September or October…

Anyway, when I realized it was too close to Christmas, I quickly revised it as a Spring Equinox story and continued on. Right into a block.

The story was going along great. I had fun describing Dafydd’s rather large family and their reaction to a vampire boyfriend in their midst. I had an idea for a short case for them to solve and then realized I’d gone down a dead end.

This doesn’t happen to me often. Usually, if I hit a tough point, I step away from the story for a day and come back to inspiration. Not this time. More than a week later, I was still stuck, so I wrote a chapter of the next novel to try to break the block. Still nothing.

As I wrote earlier, I’ve been using the method Dean Wesley Smith detailed in his book Writing Into the Dark, so what were his words of wisdom? Go back about a thousand words and take a new run at the trouble spot. Nope, that didn’t work.

I finally decided to re-read the entire story. I did a bit of light editing along the way, and as I neared the end, I found where I had taken a wrong turn. However, I was still lacking in inspiration.

Without revealing too many spoilers, the case involves an angry ghost, and my original idea of his motivation was just horrible. (No, I will not share it.)

I finally broke the block with a bit of logical thinking.

  1. What makes ghosts angry? Usually someone wronged them or someone murdered them. My ghost had been murdered, but that didn’t work as the motivation here.
  2. I thought bigger. What if it wasn’t something that happened to the ghost, but some historical event that had angered the ghost? That would work with the events of the case.
  3. I researched major events in San Francisco in the 70s and finally found something that worked. Added bonus? It ties nicely in with Dafydd’s personality and motivation

A bit of logic and research wins the day! Logical thinking can get in the way of creative thinking, so I’m intending to use this approach with caution. However, this time it got me out of a nasty block.

Most readers will totally think I set it all up, but you know otherwise. I hope you enjoy it when I publish the story. If all goes well, look for it in a month or so.

Want to be a beta reader? I’d love to have you. Just email me and let me know. My email is on the About Me page.

Image credit: Flickr user SEO under a Creative Commons license

Be Wary of Writing Contest Rights Grabs

ID-100335501Have you ever considered entering a writing contest? I looked at several this year, especially ones with no entry fee. However, I never entered them because I paid careful attention to the terms and conditions, and I didn’t like what I saw.

I didn’t copy the terms of one, but I remember the gist. Basically, if you entered, even if you didn’t win, you were agreeing that the contest organizers could, in perpetuity, submit your book to a library, with NO royalty paid to you. Granted, libraries aren’t buying my books at the moment, but I didn’t want to give up that right forever.

Another, I did copy. Read this:

Each Entrant hereby grants Sponsor the irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, fully transferable right and license to reprint, copy, transmit, display, reproduce, perform, use, create derivative works from, and exhibit any entry and/or materials and information submitted by such Entrant in connection with the Contest for any and all purposes in any medium.

With respect to any offer any Entrant or Winner receives from any third party to reprint, copy, transmit, display, reproduce, perform, use, creative derivative works from, and/or exhibit his or her entry, materials or information, Sponsor shall have a right of first refusal to engage Entrant or Winner at the same cost and on the same terms as the third-party offer. Entrant or Winner shall notify Sponsor and provide Sponsor a 10-day period for Sponsor to determine whether to accept the offer at the same cost or the same terms.

I ran this one past Kris Rusch to be certain I was reading it correctly, and she agreed I was. Basically, if you enter this contest,  you are not only granting them the rights to use the story, forever, without paying any royalty, you are also granting them first right of refusal anytime you want to publish, republish or create derivative works. Imagine having to check in with the contest organizers before submitting to an anthology or self-publishing the story. I think it could be argued that you’d have to check before writing a sequel–note the clause “create derivative works from.” Oh, and did you notice that it applies to all entries, whether you win or not?

Here’s what Kris had to say about such contests.,”It’s pretty simple: Smart writers don’t enter those contests. Period.”

I knew that publishers were attempting to grab as many rights as possible for as long as possible, but I hadn’t realized contests were doing the same thing.

As always, before you submit your work to anyone or anything, read all the fine print. If you aren’t sure what it means, hire a lawyer to review and explain it. Your writing is your hard work. Don’t sell or give away rights that you don’t have to.

Image courtesy of kittijaroon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writing Into the Dark: Works Surprisingly Well

Writing Into the Dark coverEarlier this year I read Writing into the Dark by Dean Wesley Smith, and I was thrilled to see that something I had been doing is actually a good idea.

In the book, Smith talks about “cycling,” where you go back every 500-700 words and revise/review what you wrote. It’s a good time to add depth, fix consistency problems, uncover typos, etc. I’d been doing something like it but not consistently. At some point I had read “never go backwards.” The idea was to always move forward in a book. Editing as you go was a waste of time and a good way to get blocked. Smith says it’s the opposite. Cycling allows you to keep writing in “creative voice” while still finding and fixing errors along the way.

His goal is to write one draft and never go back to read through the entire story. Finish draft. Send to first reader and editor. Fix errors they find. Publish. Move on to next story.

That philosophy ran counter to everything I thought I had learned about writing, but as I read the book I realized it was the approach I wanted to use. I just needed someone to tell me it was okay.

The other focus of the book is on writing without an outline, which I have always done. And always kind of felt like I was doing it wrong. For the current book, I decided to completely embrace his method, and three chapters in, I already see the benefits.

He spends a lot of time in the book talking about the dangers of writing from critical voice instead of creative voice. He says beginning authors believe writers can’t add foreshadowing and come up with all those great plot twists without outlining. Smith says outlining leads to writer’s block because it’s boring to, in effect, write the story twice. He says you have to trust your creative voice and that it knows what it’s doing if you just get out of its way.

So what’s happened for me so far? Well, when I started this book, I knew four things needed to happen (one is too big a spoiler and I’m not going to reveal it here, so I’ll only talk about three of them.) 1. Dafydd was going to get an apprentice. 2. Paul was going to hunt a serial killer. 3. Buildings were going to start falling down around DC–magic is involved. I wanted there to be some connection between 2 and 3 but I had no idea what it would be.

Halfway through Chapter 2, the connection revealed itself, quite naturally, and a big zinger happened at the end of the chapter, which works (I think), but I had no idea was coming. Part way through Chapter 3, #3 started happening, and I think it’s a pretty cool way to introduce that particular plot element.

While I have the high level understanding of the relationship between points 2 and 3, I’m still fuzzy on the details, but I’m confident now that my creative voice has it all under control, as long as I’m willing to listen to it and keep critical voice firmly muzzled.

If you haven’t read Smith’s book, I highly recommend it. I think it’s going to take me to my next level as a writer, and I’m excited about that!