Writer’s Block & Burnout

Stuck For An Idea?

We’ve all been there at some point or another. We want to write, but nothing comes to us. Everything that does come to mind seems trite, boring, maybe even repetitive or used up. At times we stare at the blank page for hours on end, willing an idea for a story or a poem or an article to come to us. When nothing comes, we doubt ourselves as writers and we wonder if maybe we’ll never have a good idea again.

The good news is, there are ways to get the creative juices flowing again. And none of them involve sitting in front of a computer or notebook for hours hoping an idea will just pop up. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Instead of worrying about the problems you are dealing with, psychologists recommend finding something else to focus on. It’s not entirely clear why, but when the mind is unfettered and is free to roam or hone in on something other than a problem you’re dealing with, a solution often presents itself to you just when you least expect it.

When I’m stuck for an idea or experiencing writer’s block, I do anything but focus on the problem at hand for hours at a time. I’ll work on a blog post or another story. I’ll watch TV or read a good book. And if ideas don’t come after all that, I often find just going about my daily life is an inspiration. Some of my best ideas for stories occur during the semester. While at work or in my classes, a random thought, sometimes related to my coursework or the project I’m doing and sometimes not, will pop into my head and grab my attention. From that thought I can develop an idea, which turns into a story or article of some sort.

A great example of this happened in class a couple of weeks ago. During a discussion, one of my classmates made a comment about the Soviet Union in World War II and about D-Day. What he said so captivated me that it ended up being the foundation for a series of novels taking place in a dystopian communist nation (no idea when I’ll write them, but the fact is, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with them if I hadn’t been in that class on that day having that discussion and hadn’t seized on the thought when I least expected an idea to come to me).

Plenty of other authors are able to come up with ideas the same way, whether by taking classes, working, volunteering in the community, or finding some other hobbies or interests that occupy their time and allow the creative processes in their brains to do what they do naturally rather than being forced to produce something. It’s amazing what you can come up with when you try finding story ideas this way.

And if you do have an idea while pursuing this method, I highly recommend writing it down immediately. I write down all my ideas so that I don’t forget them, which Im prone to do. I even bought a little notebook the other day so I can write down ideas as they come to me and then put them down on a list on my flash drive when I’m at a computer so that I’ll remember them when I want to write them. (I used to just write on the back of my hand, but I’m kind of tired of seeing a bunch of ink scribbles covering my left hand.)

Categories: General Writing, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, The Writer & Author, Writer's Block & Burnout | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Author Fun: Random Title Generators

Have you ever stared at your manuscript, or your outline, while making a face like this:

Gollum plays the riddle game with Bilbo via The Hobbit

If the answer is yes, then welcome to the club!  the other day I was emailing with an author who joking said, “I wish they had book title generators” and I thought, “I’ll bet they do!” So off I hopped to google and – Guess what! – they do!

 Fiction Alley generator: For this one you need to input words and it will rearrange them into several titles. Yes, you could do it yourself, but it’s still kind of fun.

Warpcore SF generator: this one gives you both a title and a series name, but you only get one. To get another you need to hit the back button.  Still pretty fun.

Random title generator: This one gives you six at a time, and actually came up with some pretty compelling titles. There are some mature content words involved occasionally.

Fantastic Random title Generator: This one also has six titles at a time, as well as links to a Romantic Title Generator and a Sci-Fi/Fantasy title generator.

I had a lot of fun generating random titles, and even made notes of a few of them. But, beyond entertainment, what value does a title generator really have? For me it helps me to think “outside the box” – or rather outside “my” box, so to speak.  It actually suggested “Children of Petals” to me which, while it wouldn’t work itself, led me to think of Children of Shadows (Shadows being a word I have collected on my “good words for titles” list). Would I suggest straight up using one of the generated titles? Sure, why not, if it fits your story.  And even if none of the titles do, it’s a great way to kill twenty minutes.

How do you come up with titles or what are some of your favorites that someone else has written?

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Categories: The Writer & Author, Writer's Block & Burnout | Tags: , , , ,

Myths of Being a Published Writer: Part 2

Myth: If I publish enough books, I’ll be able to make a living as a writer.

Fact: I wish I could say this is true, but there is no guarantee you’ll make a living as a writer, no matter how many books you publish.

And I have no idea why some authors sell more than others or why some books appeal to a wider audience than others.  Look at all the vampire books out there.  There are so many of them, I can’t even begin to count them all.  But it’s only a few we actually know about as a society.  Twilight might have made it big, but that doesn’t mean all vampire books will make it big.  I met a NY Times Bestselling author who was featured on JA Konrath’s blog who made big sales with one of her books.  But her others didn’t sell even a fraction of what that one did, and no matter how many more she publishes, it’s just not there.  Why?  I have no idea.

This is something we can’t take for granted.  While publishing more books increases our odds, it doesn’t promise anything.  That’s why you have to be in this business because you love it.  It has to be something you have to do.  It’s hard, often frustrating, definitely confusing.  The business isn’t an easy one to understand.  There is no easy answer to why some books sell and others don’t.    There is no “one-size fits all” marketing technique out there.

And it might not even be you that does something to hurt your sales.  The algorithms on online bookstores could mess you up.  I suspect that probably causes a lot of the damage to sales because without visibility, how are you going to reach new readers?  I’ve heard of authors who were selling very well when a glitch in the system knocked them down and it hurt their sales and chances of being noticed.  I’m not even going to try to guess what causes glitches, but I’ve read enough about them on forums to know something is going on.  Once in a while, this stuff works against authors.  Writing more books can help buffer you, but it might not save you.  Just don’t take anything for granted.  This is a rollercoaster business and the only relief I find is when I remove myself from all online activities so I can write (because writing is one of the few things that gives me peace and joy).

I know I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again: do whatever you can today to put yourself in the best financial position possible.  I am preaching to myself with this one.  I’d like to say that I have a huge emergency fund put aside and no mortgage payment.  The truth is, I still have a mortgage payment and nothing saved aside because I’m struggling to make my quarterly voucher payments for taxes (which went from 15% to 40% on the federal level thanks to the new IRS laws, and when you consider my state income tax, I am taxed at almost 47% of my total income).  So if anyone needs to hear, “Be careful and wise with money,” it’s me.

Myth:  You must write every day if you’re serious about writing.

Fact: Writing every day might lead to burnout which means your books will suffer in quality.

Sometimes a break does you the most good.  I do think you need a schedule.  A routine helps you stay focused on what you need to do, and you maximize your effectiveness if you have a set time when you sit down and write.  With kids, I tend to spread my time out across the day, but I’ve noticed there are certain hours of the day where I have the best chance of meeting my word count goals for the day.  Word count goals help me stay focused and helps me see my progress in a way that encourages me to keep going.  Other authors find it more beneficial to write for X number of hours, regardless of word count.  Some authors even take weekends off.  As a general rule, I don’t take weekends off because weekends can be my most productive time (esp. I can write while my kids are playing at the park).

But no matter what your situation is, I think it’s time we stopped feeling guilty for taking some time off from writing.  This idea that we must write every single day can be unhealthy.  It can force us to write out poor quality work (just to make word count) or make us hate writing the story we’re working on.  Sometimes you don’t know where you’re going in a story and need to take a break from that story until you figure it out.  This is why I work on more than one book at a time.

We aren’t machines and real life kicks in.  When I start feeling my enthusiasm slide on writing, I’ve learned that if I take a nap, go for a walk, take the day (maybe even week or more) off, watch a movie, or read, I feel my enthusiasm return.  There are days when I push through that “I don’t feel like writing” feeling, but if I have only managed a couple hundred words in two or three hours, I call it quits because I know I need a break.  There’s also time when you should focus on family and friends.  Vacations, family day trips, etc need to be a priority because at the end of our lives, it’s the people we loved who also loved us that give our life the greatest meaning.  Writing is important; it’s who we are.  But it’s not more important than people.  So there should be a balance somewhere.  A schedule can help give you a structure where you can set aside time for writing and time for the people in your life.

Now, it is harder to get back into the writing routine when you get out of it, so be prepared to feel like you’re pulling teeth in order to get stuff written after you come back from an extended break.  If you just take a break for a day or two, you’ll be fine, but I’ve found if you’re away from the routine for a week or more, it’s awful to get back into the routine.  If you’re having trouble getting into the routine again, be patient with yourself.  Just because you’re not making a certain word count every day, it doesn’t mean you’re not serious about writing.  Being serious about writing means you care about the quality of your books.

I’m going to say it again in bold so because I want this thinking to take the place of the “you must write every day” trap:  Being serious about writing means you care about the quality of your books.   Quality being the key word.  “Quality” basically means is that you put forth your very best effort with the help of outside resources (other people who know what they’re doing).

Categories: Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Schedules & Routines, The Writer & Author, Writer's Block & Burnout | Tags: , , , ,

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