Today on Twitter I had someone ask me "What's your advice for Writer's Block? Suggestions on what might help to get rid of it?" As I sat and pondered the questions, I thought 'I can't answer this in 140 characters.' Hence, today's blog topic. Alinanegrau, this one's for you.
I've split of the remedies for the common writer's block into two categories: those that cost money and those that don't. Thankfully, the list for those that cost money is quite small.
Remedies that cost money
1) The Writer's Block: 786 Ideas to Jump-Start Your Imagination by Jason Rekulak - This remedy is literally a block full of writing block techniques to . . . well, "jump start-your imagination". In it you'll find: writing challenges, spark words and writing topics. All of which are designed to get you writing on anything in hopes you will begin to write something. Just randomly pick a spot in the block and begin writing based on the technique. Either a challenge to overcome, a word to spark an idea or a topic to write about.
2) The Writer's Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the 'Write' Side of Your Brain by Jamie Cat Callan - This remedy is a box full of writing tools to help get you into the writing mood. In it you'll find tools for: the first sentence, transitions, story arcs, and protagonist ideas. Follow the instruction book and by the time your down, you'll be well on your way to breaking that writer's block fever.
Remedies that don't cost money
In a world where gas prices are above $3.50, thank god for remedies that are free.
1) Free write: One of the first thing you learn in writing 101 is free writing. Put your pen down on the paper and write non-stop for 5 minutes never picking it up. Even if all you write is "I don't know what to write. I don't know what to write. I don't know what to write." Sooner or later, something will come out.
2) Write in a journal: I find that writing in a journal everyday can help get the creative juices flowing because at the end of the day, you're writing. And that's what matters most.
3) StoryMash.com: One of the things I like about this website, is the ability to collaborate with other authors. What I found was that having the ability to write from someone else's idea helped me to get my own. They even have writing contests giving you the idea and concept to start with.
4) Writing Prompts from Writer's Digest: The Writer's Digest website provides you with a list of writing prompts, scenarios you can start from to relieve the sinus pressure of your creativity.
5) Creative Writing Prompts.com: Another wonderful website full of writing prompts to help you out. Just click on any of the 346 numbers to see the writing prompt within. I find that this site works best if you don't pick and choose. Just click a number and write away.
Well, I hope this helps. If I find anymore fabulous remedies (cost or no cost), I'll let you know. In the meantime, I hope you feel better.
With so many books in my library that I am dying to read, I thought this summer I would actually choose ahead of time what books I'm going to read. I'm giving myself from July 1st to September 1st to read eight books. That's basically one book every week not counting my book club books. I don't know. Do you think I can do it? It's not unheard of for me, but this summer seems to be a busy one. I guess we'll see. Ok, here's my list (not necessarily in this order). I've got a mixture of Middle Grade and Young Adult.
We the Children (Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School) by Andrew Clements
Sixth-grader Benjamin Pratt is weathering a few different storms in We the Children, Andrew Clements's newest series for the middle-school set. His parents have just split up, his school--a landmark in his old New England sailing town--is about to be torn down, and the janitor sneaks him a mysterious gold coin...hours before he dies unexpectedly.
Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink
Lia and Alice buried their father on a rainy day in the fall of 1890. His death was sudden, and strange happenings are keeping the twins from resuming their wealthy, well-educated lives. Lia begins to dream of flying and Alice, while reserved, does not appear to mourn her father. Lia's boyfriend, James, uncovers an ancient tome that cryptically tells of two sisters, one the Gate and one the Guardian. One has the power to return Satan to Earth, the other the responsibility to keep her sister in check.
Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach
As usual, sixth-grader Hero's Shakespearean name prompts teasing in her new school, and her loving parents are clueless about her difficulties. Then intriguing, elderly neighbor Mrs. Roth tells her about the enormous diamond rumored to be hidden in Hero's new house. Helped by Mrs. Roth and cute eighth-grader Danny, Hero launches into a stealthy search that unearths links between the diamond's original owner and Edward de Vere, a nobleman believed by some to be the original author of Shakespeare's plays.
The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne
Hoping to fly under the radar in middle school, Hamlet’s dream of a quiet eighth-grade year is dashed. Her genius seven-year-old sister, Desdemona, is also enrolled in eighth grade so she can fill her homeschooled curriculum deficiencies in the arts before moving on to college, and her flamboyant Shakespearean scholar parents—in full Elizabethan garb—offer their expertise in Hamlet’s class. Hamlet stands out during a dazzling reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which reveals her natural talent for theater.
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
In the spring of 1776, Isabel, a teenage slave, and her sister, Ruth, are sold to ruthless, wealthy loyalists in Manhattan. While running errands, Isabel is approached by rebels, who promise her freedom (and help finding Ruth, who has been sent away) if she agrees to spy. Using the invisibility her slave status brings, Isabel lurks and listens as Master Lockton and his fellow Tories plot to crush the rebel uprisings, but the incendiary proof that she carries to the rebel camp doesn’t bring the desired rewards.
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Ten-year-old Caitlyn hates recess, with all its noise and chaos, and her kind, patient counselor, Mrs. Brook, helps her to understand the reasons behind her discomfort, while offering advice about how to cope with her Asberger’s Syndrome, make friends, and deal with her grief over her older brother’s death in a recent school shooting.
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
Yolen takes the story of Briar Rose (commonly known as Sleeping Beauty) and links it to the Holocaust--a far-from-obvious connection that she makes perfectly convincing. Rebecca Berlin, a young woman who has grown up hearing her grandmother Gemma tell an unusual and frightening version of the Sleeping Beauty legend, realizes when Gemma dies that the fairy tale offers one of the very few clues she has to her grandmother's past.
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Gemma, 16, has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother’s death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence. One night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order.
* Footnote: All descriptions are from Amazon.com
Yesterday marked the two-year anniversary of my aunt's death. My parents went to Arlington Cemetery to pay her a visit, placing flowers on her grave as well as plastic butterflies (they were her favorite). Thinking about her and the life she lived even though it was cut short by cancer got me thinking about death in books. I find it to be a very popular theme as well as plot turner. Death has a way of propelling a character towards the desired path of a story.
Aside from the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, I find that characters usually go down two paths after experiencing death or loss. 1) The character gains strength from it, using the death to push them towards resolving their conflicts or 2) The character is forever changed by it, never ending the same way they began and death becomes the reason they are who they are. Let's look at two examples.
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
J.K. Rowlings would be the first to tell you that the main theme in Harry Potter is death. The series starts just after the death of Harry's parents and ends with that of Voldemort's. In fact, it's through the death of Harry's mother that Harry survived the attack on him as a baby. Her willingness to die in order to save Harry left a lasting impression: love. It was this that Voldemort couldn't fight.
Throughout the series Harry encounters death and the loss of family and friends: Cedric Diggory, Sirius Black, Dumbledore, and more. However, through these deaths Harry finds in himself the strength he needs to fight Voldemort. Through the loss of losing those he loved, he finds the courage he needs to do what has to be done and thereby defeating Voldemort once and for all.
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
When Cassie dies, Lia not only has to deal with her eating disorder, but with her guilt as well. As the spirit of Cassie haunts her, Lia first falls deeper and deeper into despair by not only continuing counting calories but also by cutting herself. Cassie wants Lia to join her and even though Lia's words say no her actions scream yes, until she finds herself in the same hotel room where Cassie died. The hotel room where Cassie called Lia 33 times and Lia never picked up.
Lia grapples with the death of her friend, first allowing it to consume her, dragging her down, but when she finally falls she realizes that what she wants is to live. Cassie's death propels her to choose life and therefore she starts to take the steps she needs to heal. She starts to become a different person.
This books is definitely one to read. At least that's what I think. Reading this book had me going through a plethora of emotions, which is usually my sign it's a good book. Beside the emotions I stated in my earlier blog post, I finished this book having felt sad, angry and happy.
- Sad: I was sad to see what happened to the girls and the teachers (I won't give details for fear of a spoiling). I was sad that Liza started questioning herself due to the events that happened.
- Angry: I was angry at the reaction of the school when they found out about Liza, saying that she had a disease and needed to be fixed. It makes me angry to think that there are people in the world that still think this even today.
- Happy: I was happy about the ending (again, I won't give details). I was happy to see Liza figure out who she was and what she wanted.
I'm not an emotional person to begin with, but I love the books that can get that kind of rise our of me. I was literally fuming on the train as I was reading the scene with the school hearing. In the end, I hated Mrs. Poindexter and Ms. Baxter. I hated their ignorance and the ignorance they spread to the students including Liza's friend Sally. What makes it real is that these portrays are accurate. And society today isn't as bad as it was a decade ago, two decades ago, five decades ago. I can't even imagine it. I commend Nancy Garden for writing this story and I am glad it got the acclaim it so deserved.
We'll see what the book club thinks. We meet June 22st. Till then.
Recently, it was announced that Glee star Chris Colfer signed a two-book deal with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and it got me thinking again. Whenever I hear about celebrities publishing books I always get a wave of emotions. Besides the usual envious feeling because I still haven't gotten published yet, I also often find myself disappointed and even angry. Are these celebrities getting book deals for the shear fact that they're celebrities and therefore are likely to sell more books than a newbie author as myself or do they really have the talent?
I usually make a mental note not to buy celebrity books, just for the pure fact that the first-time author spot they took could have been mine or perhaps another struggling author. One who houses a stack of rejection letters in his or her draw just like I do. And what about these celebrities? Do they have rejection letters? Probably not, because who wants to say no to someone with a fan base of millions of teens. I do get the appeal, trust me I do and I realize I'm probably being petty, but I can't help the way I feel. I have to struggle and fight my way through a process that these celebrities can just walk past. It's like being the one waiting in a long line at the club and watching the pretty girls step right in. It doesn't feel fair.
Chris Colfer aside, who seems to have writing experience between writing a Disney pilot and a movie screenplay, I wonder about some of these other celebrities. Celebrities like Hillary Duff, who wrote the YA fantasy Elixer, Madonna and her The English Roses series, Ricky Gervais, Josie Bissett, Will Smith, LeAnn Rimes, Billie Crystal, Jamie Lee Curtis, and more. Some of which, I will admit, I have read even though I don't own them. And, I also admit, some of them were good. But, I wonder, would these books have been published if they were not written by celebrities?
I'm more than half-way done with this month's Book Club book Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden and, so far, I'm liking it. Annie on My Mind follows Eliza Winthrop or Liza as people call her. One day, while visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she meets Annie Kenyon and instantly knows that there is something special about their connection. As the book progress, the two girls fall in love and realize just how amazing and confusing love can be.
What I like about this book thus far, is that it's no different than reading about a teenage boy and girl falling in love. The only difference is the sexes of the two main characters happen to both be female. Yes the book addresses homosexuality and the two girls researching books that discuss the topic, but the actual idea of love and the feelings of confusion and excitement are the same. I have the same hopeful feelings reading this book as I do with other teenage romance books.
When my club reviewed Sarah Dessen's Along for the Ride, I remember feeling nostalgic of high school and the intense feelings that came with having a crush on a boy. It's the same with this book. Being a teenager in love is dramatic and these two characters are written with that same dramatic flare that I so remember in high school: the butterflies of wishing he would hold my hand and the tingling feeling when he finally did, the constant drumming of my heart when he would lean in closer because I knew what was coming next and the world disappearing as we kissed for it seemed like we were wrapped in a bubble of time.
Oh, yeah. I remember. These two girl made me remember and that is a testament to a good book.
Yesterday The Wall Street Journal posted an article about YA books being too "dark", stating "Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?" This article (click here to read), has spurned much debate on Twitter as well as the hash tag #YAsaves, where readers off all ages have posted numerous books that have helped them and even, at time, saved their lives. Being a writer myself, I couldn't just let this article be without posting my response to it. I saw it upon waking up this morning at 9am and I am only now able to clear my head to write. It took that long for me to calm down enough to answer their question "Why is this considered a good idea?" Here is my response.
It's books like these that make a difference in the world of teens. Not that I'm saying the other "softer" books don't. To this day, my favorite book is Harriet the Spy which was the book that made me realize I wanted to be a writer and therefore changed my life. However, these other books, these so-called darker books depict a reality that up until now was always kept in the "dark". I'm going to admit something here that only a few people know, I was molested as a child. I won't go into details of what happened, but I will say, had some of these books been around while I was growing up, I may not have felt like that in some part is was my fault. It may not have taken almost all of my 31 years to come to grips with what happened and maybe, even now as I write this, I wouldn't be shaking. I only hope that one day, a book that I write, will have the kind of impact I am seeing on Twitter.
Authors from Judy Blume to Ellen Hopkins to Laurie Halse Anderson have broken the mold and written books that teens need to read. Yes, the topics are serious and yes, the topics are reality. To hide them or band them will cause more harm than good. Do we really want to live in a world where teens are not allowed to express what they feel or what they are going through? Band these books and that's where we're headed. We need these teens to realize they are not alone, that others have been there and that it's ok to go to their parents, teachers, librarians and ask for help without feeling guilty or ashamed about it. In Jackie Morse Kessler's Hunger, when Lisa walks into her parent's bedroom and says "Daddy, I need help." I could almost picture the various teens going to their parents and asking for help just because this one character was strong enough to do so. That is the impact these books make.
So in response to the WSJ question, "Why is this considered a good idea?" My answer "Because it is".
There's no better way to help answer your questions or get advice than to consult reference books. Whether it's to hone your writing skills by learning about grammar and sentence structure, or dive into a new genre by reading about how to write for sci-fi and fantasy, or learning the tricks to getting published, or just to read advise from of the authors who have made into the business, reference books can provide you with the knowledge you need to expand your skill and take your writing to the next level.
Here is a list of some helpful reference book. Some I've personally read, some I've heard good things about and some I have being delivered to me as we speak. I've split them into four categories: Honing Skills, Genre Specific, Publishing, and Author Advice. Let's get started.
- Courage And Craft: Writing Your Life Into Story by Barbara Abercombie
- Editors on Editing Edited by Gerald Gross
- Essentials of Writing by Vincent F. Hopper, Cedric Gale and Ronald C. Foote
- Essentials of English by Vincent Hopper, Cedric Gale, Ronald C. Foote and Benjamin W. Griffith
- A Writer's Space by Eric Maisel
- Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks
- The Writer's Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card & the Editors of Writer's Digest
- Writing the Paranormal Novel by Steven Harper
- Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art by Judith Barrington
- The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books by Harold D. Underdown
- Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market by Alice Pope
- How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters by John Wood
- How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen
- Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- On Writing by Steven King
There are, of course, many more books out there to choose from. The idea is to find the books that work for you and what you need for your writing. Some good places to look are not only at your book stores or online book shops, but also writer specific websites like the Writer's Digest Shop.
Blogs are whatever we make them. Defining ‘Blog’ is a fool’s errand.