Ashenclaw has posed an interesting question (but one that all writers grapple with at some point) over at his blog. How do you deal with writer’s block, especially when you are on a tight deadline?
For me, I’ve found that most frequently my writer’s blocks come from weaknesses in my outline. Sometimes I need a certain series of events to happen for a certain reason and the characters must react to the events in particular ways. Occasionally, the characters have traits that can make it difficult for the necessary reactions to occur in a believable manner. When this happens, I go back over what I have written and insert notes on changes that need to be made so that I can proceed onward. Other times, I’m simply too mentally drained to give that work justice at that particular moment.
So, how do I get around writer’s block? It’ll sound counter-intuitive, but I write.
That doesn’t mean I keep working on that project. I frequently have several projects cooking at once. If I get stumped on one, I will take a fifteen minute break to work on another. The momentum from working on the other often gives me the insight and the energy I need to blast through the block on the first one and get back on track.
Another valuable tool is to set realistic expectations for yourself. In a marathon session, I once managed to crank out 20,000 words on one project in a single day. But, if I expected that of myself every day, I’d quickly burn out. I generally set a page goal for myself on a per-week basis. On Alayne’s Story, for instance, I have a goal of 5 pages per week. On Midnight of Lanar’ya, I average about a page a day (so 7 – 10) pages per week. On two unannounced projects, I get about 5 pages per week done.
Lastly, sometimes you have to realize you’re blocked not because you are having a momentary issue but because your work is fundamentally flawed. You have to see if you can salvage it or if it’s time to start over fresh. I have done that a few times when I reached a point of where I just could not make things work no matter what I did. After I started a fresh rewrite, I was able to not only meet my goals for the day, but when I reached the same point, I was able to sail past it quite easily.
On short-term projects (like term papers or news articles) I find that reviewing the source material or considering an alternate perspective on same is frequently useful in getting back on track.
Of course, if the block is occurring because I’m exhausted or sick, I don’t try to power through it. I go and rest.
What about you? What are some of the ways you overcome your blocks?
I’ve just posted the latest update to Alayne’s Story over on the WoW RP forum. This week’s update takes the characters through the next two bosses in Bastion of Twilight.
I have just concluded work on the Firelands arc and am doing the next interlude between it and the last battle. I’m revising my outline and have a few tricks up my sleeves. Alayne’s Story may be winding down, but it will still pack a punch.
And now, back to work!
So, I’m a little over a week away from the date for my LSAT. I’ve been preparing a bit here and there and feel fairly confident about four out of the five sections. Reading Comprehension? No problem. I’ve only been reading since I was three years old. Logical Reasoning? No problem. I like debates and I’m one of the few people I know who memorized most of the Fallacies’ List and can call it up at will. Analytical Writing? What, are you kidding me? That’s easy.
But the Analytical Reasoning? Kills me. Every. Single. Time.
Oh, I can generally get more correct answers than I get incorrect. And, on single axis questions, I do fine. But if you give me something with multiple dimensions, that’s it. Game Over. I’ll do better by eliminating the obvious answers and just freaking guessing than I will by trying to hone in on the one correct answer.
So, since knowledge of your weakness is a strength, guess what I’m going to be spending most of my free time doing this next week?
If you guessed “working on mastering Analytical Reasoning for the LSAT” then give yourself a cookie. And save one for me. I’ll need it after I get home on December 3 from taking this test. I’ll need that cookie, a healthy dose of Jack Daniels, and a dark, quiet, cool place to hide where I never have to see another three-level matrix for a question again.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have more work to do. ><
I’ve just spent the past six hours playing with the Dragon Age Toolkit, Blender, and MakeHuman.
3D modeling is fun but it is killing my eyes. ><
Why am I playing with these applications, you ask? Well, I decided that I really wanted a few short action scenes for a promotional ad I’m doing for my novel. So, I started with the DA Toolkit until my roommate pointed out that I probably couldn’t use it to make a commercial. So, I loaded up Blender, ran through a few tutorials, loaded up MakeHuman, made several models, then realized I need to get the damned add-on to Blender to open the MakeHuman files. The MakeHuman site is not exactly clear in navigation, my eyes were hurting, so I sang “Tomorrow, tomorrow, there’s always tomorrow” and closed the applications.
I’m fairly confident that I’ll have something interesting for the promo. And, I’m learning how to use these tools and new skills are always a good thing, right?
At any rate, I’m going to go look at something other than a computer screen for a bit and then sack out.
I’ve just posted the latest update to Alayne’s Story over on the WoW RP forum. This week’s update takes the characters through the Halfus Wyrmbreaker encounter in Bastion of Twilight.
I’ve just about wrapped up the Firelands encounters and will soon be closing out the Mount Hyjal arc to take the action far to the south for a time. I’m waiting for the next patch to roll out so I can finalize my outline of the events from it and get working on them. I’ve already mapped the final scene and a couple of possible epilogues. I’m trying to decide if I want to bind my hands on this project or if I want to leave myself room to come back to it if Blizzard ever releases an expansion that I deem worth my time.
You don’t know how much I hate saying that. For years I have loved playing WoW. But Cataclysm felt less like a true expansion and more like a big patch. And now Pandaria? Seriously? My characters have slogged through the Burning Legion. They have fought against the Lich King. They will take on Deathwing. And then…pandas? Are you in earnest, sir, or is my leg being pulled?
If I even get the new expansion, it would be strictly to stay in touch with my guild and raid with them occasionally even while I’m back in the US. But, it’s looking more and more doubtful that I’ll have the time, let alone the inclination, to level my characters through Pandaland.
But, more about that in another entry. I have some work to be about.
This entry was inspired by reading an entry over at Daniel Kaine’s site.
Time management is often the bane of my existence. Back when I had a “real job,” I often wished I were a little less…ethical…and felt okay using my downtime at work to work on my novel. However, since I could just see my company saying “hey, you added a comma to your novel during your lunch break but you did it on our computer so we now own the rights to the whole thing,” I, wisely, decided to save the novel for home and work on Alayne’s Story instead.
Now that I’m self-employed, I can decide when I’m going to do what. And that, my friends, often leads me into trouble.
So, how do I manage my time? Well, the last few weeks my own sleeping schedule has been off due to staying up strange hours for an LPI course. Now that I’m finally going to bed (and getting up) at “normal” hours, I generally stick (religiously) to the following schedule:
9 am – 11 am: Cleaning, errands, shower, reading the news
11 am – 1 pm: Working on The Conspiracy
1 pm – 2 pm: Cooking and eating lunch
2 pm – 4 pm: Working on Alayne’s Story with odd breaks to do job searches and applications (I average about 5 of these per day)
4 pm – 6 pm: Working on Midnight of Lanar’ya
6 pm – 10 pm: Break time. I can play WoW, Dragon Age, cook and eat supper, read, whatever.
10 pm – midnight: Working on either MoL or Alayne’s Story.
1 am – 9 am: Sleep (when I can)
I still find myself getting distracted or slacking, though, but I’ve found that assigning a time range for each project helps me stay organized and on-track better. I know that this whole schedule is going to be history soon, once the Conspiracy is unleashed, but I will probably still keep the same principles in play.
And now, it’s closing on midnight so I want to finish off what I was doing in MoL and then get some sleep.
I’ve just posted the latest update to Alayne’s Story over on the WoW RP forum. This week’s update takes us through the last part of the run-up into Grim Batol.
I’ve started to get a better hang on my different writing projects. I’m currently working with two guys who want to do illustrations for my original novels (Alayne’s Story will never be published for-sale because I really don’t want to tangle with Blizzard’s Legal Department). I’ve decided to self-publish Twilight of Lanar’ya and my other novels through Amazon and other electronic services. The more I think about it, the more I realize that it’d be monumentally stupid of me to do otherwise. I’m a trained editor (though I do have others read my stuff to find things I overlooked). I’ve worked in marketing so I can do my own promotions. Distribution was my hang-up but Amazon and other services render that moot. So, why should I pay an agent a percentage to find others to do things I can already do myself?
Kinda like hiring servants to take care of your house. Sure, go for it if that’s money you can part with but otherwise, a vacuum cleaner and a washer and dryer unit are a much better investment.
I’m hoping to have Twilight of Lanar’ya out for sale some time early next year.
Alayne’s Story should be completed within the next few months though the updates will go on longer than that. I’ve already said that Part IV will be the last part for the foreseeable future. I just cannot see myself dragging these characters through Happy Cheery Fluffy Pandaland. I may eventually do an epilogue to round things out but I do want to wait a while on that in case Blizzard actually brings out an expansion worth my time. Considering the epic fails that have been Cataclysm and now Pandaland, I somehow doubt it will happen but then, never say never. They could surprise me.
My recent Google searches have actually begun to worry me. If anyone ever got a hold of them, they would wonder just why on Earth I was searching for things like:
Causes of nuclear winter
Maps of volcanoes on Earth
Problems with stem cell research
Free radical cancer
List of Popes
List of Patriarchs
Fault-lines in Asia
I actually have legitimate and non-violent reasons for looking up things like that. It’s called “I’m writing something and I want more than a half-assed reason for X to be related to Y.”
As some of you are no doubt aware, I don’t usually just start writing something without having at least an outline of what will happen in what order. My outlines are actually more than just that. In some ways, they are flow-charts and feedback loops. As a historian, I understand a great deal about civilization and historical trends. Persons and peoples do not just act randomly. There are forces at play in humanity that dictate certain reactions in certain circumstances. So, if you want to have a people who reacts to a given event in a particular manner, you have to have a reason for that. Religion can be a reason but then, why would the religion teach that? From where does the belief actually derive?
Many writers fail to build these kinds of foundations so they run into problems with their writing. If you’ve ever read something in fiction and then gone “wait, that doesn’t make any fucking sense…” then you know what I’m talking about. Oftentimes, writers who neglect the foundation will try to come up with a reason that answers that question. When the reason sounds very impractical and tacked-on, you know you’ve just come across someone who thinks that you start writing a book by just writing it.
My first few books were done that way. I just opened up a word program and started typing. I had a rough concept in mind and just let the story “flow.” Those books? Suck. A lot.
When I decided I wanted to teach myself to write a series, I decided to start with something established. I started with World of Warcraft. I wanted to explain to myself and to others what was going on and why my characters were involved or cared at all. WoW had recently begat TBC so I decided to try something my teachers used to harp on doing.
I wrote an outline.
And it changed my life.
When I finished Part II, I decided to do a more complicated outline for Part III. I did a simple one first but then I started doing charts and feedback loops. I came to some conclusions based on what MUST happen if X and Y took place. When Cataclysm was announced, I finished up Part III and outlined Part IV.
Doing an outline lets you flesh out your story concept a lot more. It also shows you where your weaknesses are and gives you the chance to shore those up BEFORE you commit a lot of energy to the story. For something I’m writing now, I needed to understand some scientific concepts. When I did my outline, I realized that much Googling was in order. So, I have some absolutely scary search phrases but they resulted in me learning things that strengthened my outline and enabled me to say “I can do this and it will work out.”
Working on an outline, planning things out, and thinking about the underlying causes and effects behind your characters and their societies is required if you’re going to do a solid new-world book. If you fail to do that, you can still wind up with something fun to read but if you tried to build a series on a shoddy foundation, it will collapse.
And, with that, I need to get back to work and then head over to Firelands for my guild’s raid tonight.
I’ve just posted the latest update to Alayne’s Story over on the WoW RP forum. This week’s update takes the characters through the elemental and cultist sweep of the upper plateau in the Twilight Highlands and gets them ready to go into the Bastion of Twilight.
After a lot of thinking and wrestling with my thoughts, I have decided that Alayne’s Story will end with the end of Cataclysm. I am not going to continue writing it through Mists of Pandaland. Should Blizzard come up with an expansion later on that is actually good and has a compelling story as Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King did, then I may pick back up (but no promises). Instead, I am going to focus on my other works. I may finally get cracking on a Dragon Age story I was putting together. I’ll have more time and energy to spend on my own novels (Lanar’ya and another two I’m working on). Alayne’s Story has been fun to write and has given me a chance to practice and improve at my writing but I can only work with what I’m given. If Blizzard can’t give me a compelling story to work within, then I’m not going to bother. If they want me to write a compelling story for them, my contact details are quite easy to track down!
I almost quit writing with Cataclysm because I was just not impressed with it at all. But, I figured that I would wait and see what was coming next before I decided. In order to give myself an “out,” I decided that someone was going to get pregnant. It came down to a literal coin-toss to decide if it was going to be Alayne or Dar’ja.
So, what will happen to the characters after Cataclysm? Well, read and find out. For now, I need to grab lunch and get ready for my LPI course.
This past week, I’ve been taking an LPI 1 certification course and getting a better grounding in the fundamentals of Linux systems. In a previous life, I was a very junior sysadmin for a friend’s webhosting firm. I’m already learning stuff that I wish I had known then (such as how to do a major backup without crashing the whole system). Back then, I pretty much taught myself all the tricks I know by reading the man and info pages on the commands I was running and by hanging around /. So, my education was definitely spotty and lacking in the basics.
For instance, I never really understood what the chmod command did properly. Sure, I knew that if I said “chmod -R 777″ it would make the directory readable, writable, and executable by everyone on Earth. I knew that most directories should be set to 755 or 775 but I didn’t really understand what it meant until my instructor broke down the binary for me. When the lightbulb lit up, I was staggered. When he turned around and showed us a MUCH easier way to do the exact same thing without having to memorize binary number sequences and do the math, I wanted to hunt down and shoot the guys who started trying to teach me Linux for not showing me the non-mathematical method.
What am I hoping to do with this training? Well, if all else fails, I’ll come out of this LPI 1 and 2 certified and that opens up access to a wider range of jobs for me. I may also come out of this with a degree in law which opens up even more jobs. My mid-future plans will open up yet even more jobs. By the time I’m done with this, I think the only things I won’t qualify for will be things like practicing medicine, building physical structures, and being Pope.
The economy sucks right now so I’m hoping that the more diverse my skillsets are, the better chance I’ll have of landing a decently paying job if my current plans go to /dev/null.
And now, back to finishing up the update to Alayne’s Story and the next chapter on Midnight of Lanar’ya.