Category Archives: Writing Craft

On Writer’s Block

I don’t think I’ve ever really understood the concept of writer’s block. I know there are times where we don’t know what to write next. I’ve always got ideas, but sometimes I’m uninspired. However, that’s the thing with writing- you’re not going to be inspired or motivated. In fact, most days you won’t be. There will be times where you get stuck and you’re not sure what to do next. You’re not blocked.

There’s no such thing as writer’s block.

That is a concept that amateur writers think exists because they think we all sit down, inspired to make magic happen every day. We don’t. I used to be one of those amateur writers. In fact, there are still days where I don’t write but for the most part I’ve developed a habit. That’s the important thing- develop the habit of writing every day. You don’t have to work on the same project every day. And that’s really what I’m here to talk to you about…

Get Yourself “Unstuck”

It’s really very simple. As mentioned in a previous post, Turn on the Faucet, words tend to flow once you sit your butt in a chair and start making things happen. Start typing about your day. Describe your surrounding in excruciating detail. If you start writing “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over again, eventually your brain will find something else to write. Maybe you’ll start writing about the film, The Shining, or the book by Stephen King, or maybe you’ll start writing about how you feel overwhelmed at work and you don’t get enough free time. This can spiral into another idea. Need a place to do this? Check out my previous post on 750words.com.

The bottom line is, you could write anything. It may not be applicable to your current work in progress but it doesn’t matter because you’re still writing. You’re still honing your craft- a craft that none of us master, according to Ernest Hemingway.

“Nothing will work unless you do.” – Maya Angelou

Just because you didn’t work on your current WIP, doesn’t mean you can’t make progress in some way. Work on a blog, work on a short story, work on a different novel idea, brainstorm a new project, and when you’re not doing all of those things, read!

You should always be making progress towards your future self.

There’s a lot of inspirational quotes online- some of which say something like, “will the you five years from now look back and regret not taking those forward steps to get closer to your dream?”

Stop trying to skip the struggle. If writing were easy, everyone would do it. Instead, people romanticize the idea of being a writer. I’m still not sure why. There is something about it that people find alluring when really most of us have had times when we skipped showering, brushing our teeth and eating in order to down more coffee and churn out that next chapter. When you’re a writer, you’re essentially playing God. You are creating characters, moments, places, and events from nothing. It’s exhaustive work.

Understandably, sometimes you don’t feel like playing God but in order to hone the craft you need to work at it every day. It will be a struggle.

Write every day as though it were breathing.

I hope things are going well for those of you who are participating in Camp NaNo this month. We’re about to head into the doldrums of week two and the second week tends to be the toughest. If you find yourself running out of steam, it’s okay. It happens. If you feel stuck, don’t be afraid to skip around in your story or work on something else. You can always come back. Your work isn’t going anywhere without you.

Happy writing!

-RB

Sometimes I Fail at NaNoWriMo (And That’s OKAY)

April Camp NaNoWriMo 2019!? Is it that time of year again already? I suppose since NaNoWriMo technically happens three times a year now it comes upon us a lot faster than it used to and we’re not always ready. I don’t know how many times I’ve participated in the April and July camps, but I can say that I have participated in the November writing challenge for over 10 years. Does it get any easier? Not really. But that’s okay. That’s why it’s a challenge, right?

If you consistently participate in NaNoWriMo, there may be times where you don’t reach your goal for the month. And there may be different reasons for not reaching said goal. Work, family and health may be some of the reasons you don’t reach that goal. Don’t panic. It happens to all of us. There will be years where you make it and there will be years when you don’t. Don’t beat yourself up.

Failure is a key to success.

Sounds backwards doesn’t it? You can’t win all the time. And if you did win all the time and you knew you were going to win, it would defeat the purpose of the challenges that life presents. After all where is the fun in that?

NaNoWriMo is a challenge in that it’s a competition with yourself. It’s not a competition against other writers. You’re not competing against them, you’re competing alongside them.

Setting SMART Goals

The great thing about the April and July camps is that they allow you to set a different goal instead of sticking to the regular 50,000 words. Don’t be afraid to push yourself but if you feel like, “I just want to get this 20,000 word novella out this month,” or “I want to finish the last 10,000 words of the novel I started in November,” that’s fine too. Set a goal that challenges you but is realistic. I’ve seen people knock out over 150k words during these challenges. Personally, I’m not there yet.

I am guilty of setting goals for myself that are way too big for me to achieve. When I set them, I think, “I know I can do this. I know I’m fully capable.” However, some days I come from from work after staring at a computer screen all day and I don’t feel like staring at a computer screen anymore. Life happens. I’m not saying you should purposefully pad your schedule but the most successful goals are SMART goals. And by SMART I mean Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.

I am severely guilty of setting goals for myself that are unattainable because they don’t take into account my daily mood and life schedule.

The real objective of the month is to get you writing daily. Whether that’s one word a day, two pages a day, or 2000 words a day, it’s progress on a daily basis. NaNoWriMo is about forming the habit of sitting down and putting words on paper every day, no matter what. So if you don’t reach that traditional end goal of 50,000 words in a month, don’t beat yourself up for it. Beating yourself up will only slow you down and hinder you even more. Trust me, I’ve been there. Sometimes I still go there.

If it’s your first time doing NaNoWriMo, you don’t know what to expect, you aim for those 50,000 words, and you find that you’re way behind halfway through the month- it’s okay. You’re not failing. The only way to fail at writing is to not write.

As we embark on this journey of the April writing challenge, I say to you, just keep pushing forward. I look forward to seeing you all out there in NaNoLand. I will be joining you in this camp. If you would like to see some motivational posts or memes, please follow me on Instagram here. I look forward to seeing everyone’s progress. Good luck in the month ahead!

Happy Writing.

-RB

P.S. Don’t forget bug spray, rope, a knife, and a good sleeping bag.

Cover art created with Canva.

Chapter Length: How Long Should It Be?

Recently, a co-worker expressed interest in writing a book. This individual turned to me one morning and asked, “So, how do you know how long a chapter is?” I thought he raised an interesting point and decided it would be a good topic for a blog post. Sometimes, after we’ve been writing for a while we forget some of our original questions – questions we had when we were first starting to write. To be honest, I hadn’t given chapter length much thought for a long time.

In reality, a chapter can be anything. Some books and stories don’t even use chapters. Instead, they use sections or parts. Others use both. You could have a Part 1, 2, 3 and 4, each with chapters inside of them. Some stories have long chapters that include several different scenes, some include one scene, some are just part of a scene that’s really long and so the author decided to split up the story at a cliffhanger to keep you reading (because the end of a chapter if often used as a stopping point).

In other words…

There is really no specific guideline for chapter length. I’ve read books where some chapters were 30 pages long, and some were a single page (within the same book!) Don’t be afraid to switch it up! Your book doesn’t have to be uniform or symmetrical in chapter numbers. Don’t think too much about how many chapters you have or how long each chapter is- just tell the story! Once everything is on the page, it will become easier to see where you want to divide your writing.

And there you have it. Short and sweet. When it comes to chapter length, there are no rules! Just write your story and if it needs to be split up, you will be able to tell naturally where that needs to occur. Don’t worry too much about it. Just write!

Happy writing!

-RB

Cover Art by Canva.

The Pros and Cons of Dictation

If you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for new and innovative ways to improve your writing. At times it’s not directly related to the craft itself. Sometimes it just has to do with your own efficiency and time management. One thing I like to do in order to save time is utilize dictation software to increase my writing pace.

This could mean turning out a rough draft a little quicker. Other times I use it to draft a blog within a matter of minutes. Thirdly, I use it to transcribe handwritten notes or drafts onto the computer because it’s more efficient to dictate then to write it again.

Dictation is a fantastic tool and it’s mentioned in two previous blog posts written by guest blogger Descript. However, it’s not without its downfalls. If you’re considering getting into dictation to quicken your writing pace, here are a few pros and cons that you may want to be aware of in order to better determine if dictation is truly for you.

Cons

1. It can make editing a bear, especially when it comes to writing fiction. If you’re writing fantasy or science fiction chances are your characters have names very unlike Bob and Sally. When you say an unusual name the dictation software will try and form it into a common word or phrase that it sounds similar to. When going back to edit, this can prolong the editing process because you constantly have to replace “coal” with “Cole.” And that’s not even a weird name!

Now I know what you’re thinking- just use the find and replace feature, right? Wrong. It won’t hear you the same every time and may slightly alter the phrase. Also, if it sounds like something that’s in the middle of a longer word it will replace that too and just make things even more of a headache.

While I find that it’s easier to use dictation for things like essays or blog posts, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it for fiction. I do use it for rough drafts. Sometimes I have to read over a sentence that makes absolutely no sense- read it out loud- to try and figure out what I was really trying to say.

2. There is a slight learning curve. When you have to say punctuation out loud such as, “comma, end quote, he said, period” it takes some getting used to. Some people choose to skip over punctuation during the initial phase and put it in later. You also have to think out loud. This is a challenge for me because a lot of my brainstorming and writing happens internally. Also, it may not be easy for everyone to lock themselves in a room away from family to get time to think out loud.

Pros

1. Whether you’re a fast or slow typist, either way, you can speak faster than you can type. I know that I can dictate up to 6000 words per hour. That is, if I don’t stop and take breaths. Obviously, you need to have a clear idea of what you’re going to write. Even if you get 4000 words in an hour with dictation, it’s better than typing at 1000 words for hour.

It can double your word count or it can cut your writing time in half so that you have more time to do other things such as reading or editing or whatever else you want to do. Maybe something that doesn’t involve writing?

2. If you have carpal tunnel, arthritis, or any kind of hand or wrist injury, this can save you a ton of pain and grief. Typing all day for hours on end takes its toll on your joints. Not to mention you’re either sitting down with butt in chair or standing still to do it. I personally don’t have the desire nor muscle coordination to work on my novel while walking on a treadmill but some people can manage it. The headset I use has a cord long enough to allow me to pace my office while dictating. It also allows me to shut my eyes, lay down on the floor and put myself in the scene, talking openly about what my imagination sees.

3. It improves your voice and public speaking skills. With practice, you become more clear in what you want to say and how you’re going to say it with less thinking. If you’re looking to become a better public speaker, dictation may just be the ticket.

4. Using an app on your phone it becomes much easier to take notes anywhere at any time. Granted, if you’re in a crowded train station it may be hard for your phone to pick up your voice among all the noise. But 9/10 if you’re taking notes into your phone, a quick memo will be recorded and you can come back to it later.

I’m not normally one to write just anywhere. It’s usually either a quiet coffee shop, a local writers center, an airport, or my home office. However, in attempts to be more prolific, it helps when I can dictate a quick note or idea into my phone. We all have those ideas at strange times or in strange places and then we think, “Oh, I’ll remember this later. I don’t need to write it down.” Raise your hand if you’ve had this thought…then later lost the idea.

If you can think of any other pros or cons, please let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions. If you are already an avid dictator, please let me know which software you prefer and where you do most of your dictating.

Happy dictating.

RB

Patreon for Writers and Why I Don’t Have One

If you haven’t heard of Patreon, it’s similar to a crowdfunding site but for artists. A lot of people like painters and musicians use it to collaborate with their fans and interact with them on a regular basis. I love the idea of interacting with fans. However, as a writer I find it more difficult to maintain a Patreon page and produce content for those fans while at the same time working on manuscripts.

When it comes to producing content, I have this blog where I can share excerpts and inspiration for my works in progress. I do think that some authors post poems and flash fiction or micro fiction in order to keep readers enticed but it’s not for me. The experience felt like a huge juggling act and a distraction from working on my actual projects.

It was hard to draw a line between what should be a blog post and what should be a Patreon post. Suddenly, I was spending too much time between my Instagram page, my Patreon page, and my blog, while not spending enough time on my actual manuscripts. This is part of the difficulty with navigating social media and promoting yourself as an author. There’s so many different platforms that if you’re posting regularly on every single one, it’s taking away from the time spent on the actual work.

Dedicating more time to actual blog posts, helps me hone my craft.

If you’re a writer and you’re considering setting up a Patreon account, by all means, go for it. It’s free to set up. You’ve nothing to lose. However, if you feel torn or distracted from your actual work, don’t feel guilty about getting rid of it. Ultimately, I would rather people enjoy my stories and interact with me on this blog than throw a few bucks at me every month to read something that they could read here for free.

Are you a writer with a Patreon account? What sort of content do you post for your followers and do you feel that it helps your sales any? Please comment below and let me know what you think about writers having a Patreon page.

Happy writing.

RB