writing breakthrough

Piece By Piece: Writing Your Way Out of a Creative Dry Spell

Piece By Piece: Writing Your Way Out of a Creative Dry Spell

It happens to all of us at different points in our writing lives: we hit a stretch where we can’t seem to finish anything, or the ideas have dried up faster than morning rain on an Arizona highway. It happened to me this last year when I finished one novel and was excited to start a fresh project, except each novel idea I started fizzled out. They weren’t right. Same went for a few short stories I had rattling around in my head. I’d make it halfway through before casting each aside. Even poems felt forced. I felt stuck. I WAS stuck. And I was breaking Neil Gaiman’s wise and important rule: “Whatever it takes to finish things, finish.” It was a hollow, scary feeling.

But instead of sitting back and waiting for inspiration to strike, I tried a few of the methods below to jumpstart that old excited feeling, to help me start something I could finish. I picked these up from other writers, so it's not like these are fresh, original ideas, but they helped me out, bit by bit. I’m hoping that if they worked for me, they’ll work for you. 

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Poetic Focus: From I to Eye

Poetic Focus: From I to Eye

About twelve years ago I received a poetry rejection from a magazine editor who shall remain nameless (because I can’t remember who it was for the life of me). This editor told me he rejected my work because the poems were all about myself, the poet, writing poetry, and nobody cares about “I” poems anymore. While this was (and remains) untrue in the wider sense, it took me years to understand what this editor meant by his rejection.

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Piece By Piece: My New Column in The Blue Mountain Review

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Every writer has been there. Whether it's burnout or writer's block, we all hit that wall where nothing seems to work, we can't finish anything, and great ideas die on the vine before they're ripe. I hit this wall a few times each year, but I've found little ways to work around (or through) that usually do the trick and get me back on track. I shared a few of these tips in my latest column, titled "Piece By Piece," for The Blue Mountain Review, Issue 8. Check out page 50 for my quarterly column. The issue is full of excellent poetry, prose, art, interviews, and a lot more, so it's definitely worth your time. My deepest thanks to Clifford Brooks and the staff at The Blue Mountain Review for including me yet again.  

NaNoWriMo…or Something Like That

So it’s National Novel Writing Month, and I’m sort of participating. I’m working on my fifth novel and getting about a thousand words a day (average) down, which doesn’t feel like a lot per day but it’s adding up. The “sort of” qualifier comes into play in that this isn’t really anything new for me. NaNoWriMo is every month when you’re working on novels around the year, plus short stories, poems, freelance, and run a lit magazine. So as much as I love everyone (well, writers at least) getting excited about a novel writing month, it’s really just another month for many of us.

But like I said, production levels have been steady. I’m maybe 25K words from the end of this novel so I should be able to finish come December. I’m excited for this one’s potential, and had a revelatory moment while sitting in a mechanic’s lounge waiting on my car about how to better wrap up the ending with more of a surprise connection to how the crime driving the plot started out. Perhaps not thrilling to any reader of this blog, but thrilling to me as I scrambled to jot down all the new details and connections on the back of 23 of the mechanic’s business cards with his dying Bic pen, hoping to get it all down before I forgot anything. So it goes.

By the way, the novel is a mystery based on a real series of disappearances that took place in Vermont in 1945. The working title is The Girl in the Mountain, and I’m really excited about it. More details coming soon.

The Writer, Lost in the Woods

The end of April and beginning of May have been frustratingly slow in terms of writing progress. I wouldn’t call it writer’s block so much as being lost in the woods—figuratively for me, literally for my characters. It's not the type of situation where I don't know what to write, but I keep writing and getting deeper and deeperand what's worsemore lost.

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The Hustle Continues: Updates on Life & Writing

So far this new blog is mostly writing advice and a couple of new book announcements. In the hopes of appearing more like an actual human doing actual human things and not a PR spam-bot posing as a writer, here are some real, true, honest "life-things" for your optical intake receptors. Engage!

The new novel (the one fictionalizing a real missing persons case from 1945) was in a major slump over the last week, like a ‘Dostoevsky freezing at the train station I’ll never be able to write again’ slump. Then I finally broke through in the last 48 hours. Mostly because I told myself, “forget about description and action right now, the next 3-4 pages is all dialogue, so just do that and come back later and pick up a Crayola and jazz the scene up.” And that worked. Just stop worrying, thinking, planning, outlining, tinkering, and just write dialogue and revise later. So, like the Kool-Aid Man — KABOOM — breakthrough.

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