Camp NaNoWriMo: Tackling Writer’s Block

As Rachel eloquently puts it, this month is a struggle for most authors. Every day of every month is a struggle to write, but this month in particular. So Rachel presents writers with suggestions for those struggling with Writer’s Block. Hope they will be of help.

Rachel Bohlen

So, it turns out that this month has not exactly gone the way I anticipated. I’m behind on my word count, and I’ve missed a lot of writing days. I wish I could chalk this up to some easy excuse–working more than usual, personal stress, etc.–but it’s a combination of stress, exhaustion, and just not wanting to write. I’m beginning to wonder if my idea really has the teeth to make it to 50,000 words. So far, I’ve hit a little over 20,000, and I’m not entirely sure where it’s going. That can be good, but I don’t know here. Also, it’s a horror story, and quite frankly, it’s just not scary enough. I need to amp up the fear factor.

That being said, I wanted to take on a common problem for writers: writer’s block. I know some people will try to convince you that writer’s block isn’t real, but…

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The Man in the Mirror

When you look in a mirror, do you like what you see? Are you happy? Or, do you wish you were different? Are there certain things that you want to change? There comes a time when you have to take a good, long look at yourself, stop lying, assess what you have, and figure out what you want. Some people call this a “‘Come to Jesus’ moment.” My moment is here.

It came to my attention that I haven’t been forthcoming and honest about myself and what I want to do with my writing and this blog to my audience. It’s nice that I get thumbs up and comments, that my Twitter followers respond to my tweets, and I get likes on Facebook when I post. The feedback is nice and positive, but I know real life is not all roses and sunshine. There are people who do not understand what or why I write. There will be cynics that will slash anything and everything I do.

I experienced such a moment where someone close to me questioned my last post, a short story I wrote about what happened after a wedding took place. The person didn’t understand what the story was about. I had to explain the plot and why I wrote it. It then became a question of why I write and who I am. At first, I felt hurt and betrayed. I felt like shit. I felt like this person who was supposed to be friend stabbed me in the heart, twisted the knife, and left me to bleed out. But I pulled out said proverbial knife, and took some time to think about the conversation we had. It still stings, but I understood what the person was saying. I wasn’t being truthful in my writing. I wasn’t being truthful to myself. This person was the only one to call me out on it.

So, I am writing this post to show my audience my reflection, to show what I see in myself, and to be completely honest with myself and to those who follow me. Here goes.

I am an African-American male who loves writing. I took Creative Writing courses in college and graduated with a Creative Writing degree, but haven’t consistently wrote in years. A year ago, I made the decision to truly pursue this career. But I was unaware that the game has evolved. I need classes to catch up and evolve myself as a writer. I don’t have a group or person outside of Twitter or Facebook to look at my work and give me an honest critique. I don’t have a mentor to guide me through the writing process. I have no ideas in writing a novel or craft a really good short story. I have no experience in marketing a book, finding an agent, or whatever else is needed. I feel lost in this writing world, and need people to steer me in the right direction, or at least lend me a compass. But I want to become a better writer, and just call myself a “writer” just because I post something on a blog or write something that will never see the light of day. I want to write because I have a passion for it, and I want others to experience what I feel in my heart.

And while I’m on the subject of being real, here are some other things I want to share. This is hard, but I want people to know the real me. For starters, I have bipolar disorder, Type I. I was diagnosed with the condition in 2005. I tried different methods and medications, but found a combination that works. I see a therapist once a month, a consistent one in over two years. Second, I work a full-time job at a national retail chain selling cell phones, TVs, video games, and other electronics. I like my job, and I’m writing stories based on those experiences. Third, I like playing video games in my spare time. I know, I should be writing, but I enjoy times of controlling other peoples’ fate, as it is. Fourth, I am a husband and a father to two wonderful kids. I don’t always enjoy being around them, especially when they’re screaming at the top of their lungs. Outside of that, I love them. Fifth, I am a Christian, though I really haven’t been putting it into practice. I don’t read and pray as often as I should. It’s not a way of life, but I am working on it. And I think what’s important is that I’m working on the things that matter, like being a better father, being a better husband, not letting my diagnosis dictate who I am, finding things that make me reasonably happy.

Well, this is me. Good side, bad side. We all have both. I feel like I unloaded weights off my shoulder and dumped a lot in front of my audience. Whether this post will be received with praise or with venom is not up to me. I did what I set to accomplish. I hope that my audience will appreciate what I’ve done. If not, so be it.

2015 A to Z Blogging Challenge: Project Blacklight’s Reflection

A-to-Z Reflection [2015] - Lg

When I first heard of this A to Z Blogging Challenge, I thought “I couldn’t possibly do something like this. I haven’t written enough or been published to come up with 26 entries spanning the alphabet. I don’t have a plan. I don’t have a theme. I have nothing worthwhile to contribute.” (That last statement I could apply to this blog as a whole.) So, here I was contemplating whether or not I should even attempt to take on such an ordeal. Then one Thursday, StoryDam hosted a Twitter chat on the A to Z Challenge. I learned that I didn’t need a particular theme. I learned that it didn’t matter how experienced I was. I learned that I wasn’t alone in this quest. And the more I learned, the more my thoughts changed. From “can’t be done” to “it’s possible”.

So, I outlined my plan on Evernote on my phone. I went through several changes on topics until I nailed down something I was comfortable writing about, and some topics not so comfortable. I created reasons and statements to explore. After the planning, it was a matter of getting it out there by any means necessary. Whether that meant waking up before the crack of dawn or staying up late in the evening. In the solitude of silence or the company of Pandora, I wrote. I wrote for 26 days, covering 26 topics with no particular theme; just what I learned and hope to learn in this writing journey I’ve undertaken. A whole month later, I crossed the finish line, happier, without regrets.

So, what do I take away from this challenge?

  1. I can write on a deadline. Essentially, the A to Z Challenge was a set of deadlines that had to be met. There was no leeway to me. Either stay the course or play catch up. And catch up wasn’t an option.
  2. I can write about anything. The old adage is true: you never know what you can do when you’re forced to. I didn’t think I would come up with anything brilliant to say about the topics and subjects I picked. And yet, I did.
  3. I am not alone. I know, I know. Being on Twitter and Facebook, I have a great community of writers I can turn to for answers. When I signed up for this challenge, I had no idea the number of people participating in this thing. And the numbers grew and grew. I even found new blogs to follow and gained new followers.

I can honestly say that this challenge has been the best thing for me as a writer and blogger. In a short month, I gained a confidence I didn’t think I had. It taught me the importance of planning and thinking outside the box. I expanded my horizons and I found blogs to follow that I didn’t think to follow before. And again, it reassured me that there are people who do read and like my work.

So, I leave this year’s challenge basking in the confidence that I can do anything. Maybe next year, I will have a theme. Who knows? Until then, I will continue to write and hopefully enlighten someone with my words. Happy writing!

2015 A to Z Blogging Challenge: Y is for Youth

AtoZDay25Youth is a funny thing. When we were young, we wished we were grownup and be able to do whatever we wanted. Now that we’re older, we wish we could be younger. There are all these advances in cosmetics and healthcare to make us look and feel younger. So many companies are making the claim that they’ve discovered the modern-day Fountain of Youth, but it still won’t change the fact that we’re getting older. But hopefully, the old adage will apply: with age comes wisdom.

Still, I would want to travel back in time to my younger years and give my past self some sage advice I’ve heard. The most impactful: focus on your writing. This may be out of guilt or envy, but I think it’s the most vital I would tell my younger self. I know it takes years to get published, but I think developing those habits early in my writing life could save me some trouble. The other piece of advice I would give is be confident in yourself and your work; that rejection is inevitable.

I think those words of wisdom would have been beneficial to my younger self. I’m sure other writers feel the same way. And even though we can’t go back in time without messing with the present, we can pass what we learn to future generations. So, let’s make a difference through the youth of today.

2015 A to Z Blogging Challenge: O is for Oliver Greene

2015AtoZDay15I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to share a couple of characters that I kept on the backburner. This one is a little more recent. And by recent, I mean after I graduated from college. His name is Oliver Greene.

Oliver Greene is a 22-year-old student who receives a letter from his mother. It says that his father is very ill. She requests that he come down to Newport to visit the family in case the worst happens. He struggles with the decision, as he does not have a good relationship with his father. (Cliché, I know.) He contemplates his choice even after arriving at the bus station. His sister takes him to the hospital and have a somber family reunion.

This is where Mark Twain’s quote makes some sense for me. Recently, I had a relative who passed away. My relationship was good, not great. She loved the family and did whatever she could to make sure we communicated with one another. After her passing, the relatives made a concerted effort to keep in touch. It’s worked so far.

This is another of those stories where I don’t know where to go with it. When I first wrote this story, I wanted him to wrestle with this decision at the bus station, and end it at the station. In another draft, I wanted to focus on the relationships he has with his family while at the hospital. At some point, I thought about combining the two. And yet, I thought about Oliver meeting the family at the home, watching his father tinker and having a conversation with his father before falling ill.

There are so many avenues with this story. I almost gave up on it because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write it. But a good friend on Twitter told me that stories, like us, have their season. It didn’t feel right writing this story straight out of college. I wasn’t ready to write. At least, not without a plan. So, we’ll see how this turns out in the future.

2015 A to Z Blogging Challenge: J is for Journaling

2015AtoZDay10When I took my Creative Writing courses in college, the one constant exercise was journaling. I was always told to keep a journal. Write down anything and everything I observed. I admit that I did not see much value in keeping a journal. I didn’t see the link between journaling and the writing process. I didn’t take journaling seriously. But ideas would randomly pop in my head, and they would vanish as quick as they appeared. I regretted not writing them down when the opportunity presented itself.

I believe all writers need a journal. We have all sorts of thoughts running through our brains: characters, paragraphs, stories, miscellaneous thoughts that have zero connection to writing. I have two journals: one for my stories and one for random thoughts. And when carrying a big notebook isn’t practical, technology steps in. Every phone has some kind of camera and voice recorder. And there are apps on smartphones for dictation, note-taking, and journaling. My go-to app is Evernote. With it, I can organize notes into notebooks without worrying about space. And recently, my wife told me about an app called One Day. It’s a journal app that reminds you to write something in it, even if it’s just a sentence. I will be downloading that soon.

After I graduated, I started keeping journals to record everything. The one regret I have now is not keeping them when I filled them up. It’s interesting looking back on them and read what I recorded, to remember what I was thinking at that moment. So, I need to find a box to keep those precious thoughts so that I can come back to them if ever I need an idea or if I’m feeling nostalgic. Journaling has become part of my writing process. I regret not doing this sooner.

2015 A to Z Blogging Challenge: F is for Family

2015AtoZDay06Family. The one institution where everyone is a member. There’s the obvious family that we’re born into, with parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. And then there friends who we consider as close as siblings or parents. If you attend a church, you consider people who share the same passion brothers and sisters in the faith. If you’re into sports or in the military, your team is considered a family. And if you’re a writer, you’re part of a family. Fiction or non-fiction, prose or poetry; it doesn’t matter. We all have the same goal: to share our works with the world.

Family comes in many forms, has many definitions, and many ways to say it. No matter how you define it, there’s one word synonymous with family: support. Notice I did not say approval. Approval is fleeting. And not everyone is going to agree with your decision. Instead, we should rally around one another through thick and thin, through good times and bad, through triumph and tragedy. No one is meant to go through life alone. That’s what family is for.

I am fortunate enough to be a member of a number of families. Most “members” know who I am and what I do. And they seem to approve of my choice. Some offer advice on what I should do, to “write what I know.” I know they mean well, but sometimes I have to shake my head.

I don’t always agree with them, but I am glad I have them in my life.

2015 A to Z Blogging Challenge: A is for Advice

2015AtoZDay1Welcome, all, to my first attempt at the A to Z Blogging Challenge. This may be the most “challenging” endeavor I’ve ever taken so far in my writing career. As most of you know, bloggers all over the world create posts on a topic based on a letter of the alphabet. This is Day 1, so all topics start with the letter “A.” For my first post, I’m talking about advice that has been passed down to me. And while there are many tidbits, many of which I don’t remember, one profusely sticks out:

“Write what you know.”

Mark Twain’s quote is the go-to quote about what to write by writers and non-writers alike. Last week, The Write Practice and a Facebook group, 10-Minute Novelists, broke it down. They discussed why this advice is so quoted to writers and does it really hold any merit.

Personally, I hate when people use this quote to solicit advice. It’s not that it’s necessarily bad, but it’s used too often. I think they’re under the assumption that writer’s block can easily be conquered. That’s not always the case. There is also the assumption that writing what you know makes for good reading material. That can be true, sometimes. Writing is about tapping into the creative side, using what you know to create stories readers will enjoy.

So, writing what you know isn’t bad advice, it’s not the best advice.