20 Creative Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is the bane of anyone and everyone who writes. You’ll be cruising through a story, your words are flowing nicely, until suddenly you’ve hit the brakes and can’t restart the engine. Most of us try to work through the road block, endlessly searching for inspiration, but sometimes you just can’t produce anything worthwhile. Instead of cursing the writing gods or pressing the delete button, take your hands off the keyboard, take a deep breath and consider trying one of these 20 creative ways to overcome writer’s block:

  1. Relaxation Techniques: Practicing relaxation techniques can be extremely effective for overcoming writer’s block. Relaxation techniques can improve concentration, boost confidence and increase blood flow to major muscles. Taking a break from your writing to do a relaxation exercise will get your blood flowing and your brain back on track.
  2. Attend a Writer’s Workshop: Attending a writer’s workshop is a surefire way to inspire you and overcome writer’s block. You may not be able to attend a workshop at the onset of writer’s block, but you can take the lessons and tricks you learned that will help you rise above writer’s block.
  3. Jot in a Journal: It’s a good idea to carry a journal with you whenever you’re out and not sitting in front of a computer, so you can jot down story ideas, character names, conflicts or anything that comes to mind. Then, when you’re stuck on something, you can refer to the journal for ideas or inspiration.
  4. Sleep on It: You may have exhausted your brain of ideas for one day, so it might be in your best interest to sleep it off. More than likely, you’ll wake up refreshed and ready to tackle your story the next day.
  5. Read Inspirational Quotes: Sometimes the only way to get inspired is to read other’s inspiring words. Try reading inspirational quotes that will rejuvenate your spirit and get you back to writing.
  6. Go for a Walk or Jog: Sometimes the only way to get back on track with your writing is to get moving. Go for a walk or jog to clear your mind and take in your surroundings. You never know what observation could be applied to your story and overcome your writer’s block.
  7. Do Something Mindless: When you’re experiencing writer’s block, it’s best to step away from the computer and calm your brain down. You may find it beneficial to do something mindless like watch television, a movie or read a magazine before you return to writing.
  8. Switch to Another Project: When you’re experiencing writer’s block, take a breather from what you’re working on and switch to another project. That way you’re still being productive and exercising your brain, before returning to your original project.
  9. Writing Exercises: When you’ve fallen into a writing slump, try a writing exercise that will help you brainstorm and keep your mind fresh. Some writing exercises provide a prompt that narrows your focus, while others are free of constraints.
  10. Stream-of-Consciousness Writing: Stream-of-consciousness writing allows you to use interior monologue to put your thoughts on paper. This kind of writing is raw and often difficult to follow, but it can clear your mind of nonsense and help you get back on track.
  11. Change Sceneries: Your desk and white walls will get pretty old after a while. Venture away from your normal workspace and change sceneries when you are struggling with writer’s block. Even changing rooms within your house or going to your backyard will offer enough variety to get you out of your funk.
  12. Play a Game: Playing games is a nice break from the frustrations of writer’s block, but it can also help you overcome the challenges in your writing. Games of all kinds can have a positive effect on your creativity and problem-solving skills.
  13. Make an Inspiration Board: An inspiration board is an effective tool for overcoming writer’s block. This board is a collection of visual ideas like newspaper clippings, magazine pictures, photographs and just about anything that can be used to inspire you when you’re in a major slump.
  14. Switch Art Forms: Sometimes you’ve got to step out of your art form and into another to start fresh. When you have writer’s block, you may want to shift your efforts toward another art form, such as playing a musical instrument, painting, drawing, dancing or photography. Whatever experience you choose, it will surely boost creativity and freshen your writing.
  15. Unplug the Internet: Unplugging the Internet is one solution to overcoming writer’s block. This will put a temporary end to the countless distractions that circulate the web, like Facebook, Twitter and even e-mail. Getting back to the basics is refreshing and can make a huge difference in your overall productivity.
  16. Read Blogs: One way to overcome writer’s block is to read the work of others. Blogs are fun to read and they touch on so many different topics that are bound to give you an idea or two.
  17. Cut out the Rules: Writing without rules is especially helpful for those who have writer’s block. This approach allows you to write without inhibitions and let the words flow without interruption. In order to practice this difficult exercise, you’ll have to ignore spelling, grammar, formatting and context rules and just write. You can always edit later.
  18. Listen to Music: Music can be extremely inspirational and relaxing at the same time. Listening to the right song can spark a new idea, help you solve a problem and collect your thoughts, which may be all you need to get over a bad case of writer’s block.
  19. Talk and Ask Questions: When all else fails, spark up a conversation with others to get past your writer’s block. Better yet, ask fellow writers what they think of your topic or how can you expand on a particular part of your story. You’d be surprised by the amount of great ideas that come from the people you interact with everyday.
  20. Follow the News: Whether you pick up a newspaper, turn on the local news channel or read a story online, the news is filled with real, raw stories that can be incredibly inspiring. News articles are also great references for expanding your vocabulary.

This post is shared by Corinne Reidy and originally appeared here, 20 Creative Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block.

10 Brilliant Biographies That Every Writer Must Read

By Katheryn Rivas

Writers do not — or at least should not — work in a vacuum. Regardless of whether or not they go to college, attend workshops or network with other professionals and hopeful professionals, they still absorb something of the world at large. These experiences ultimately mold their works, even on a subconscious level; so many creative types actively seek out other perspectives in order to add texture and dimension to their portfolios. One simple means of gaining insight involves simply picking up a book, and those by or about professionals in a desired field makes for a valuable start. The following biographies and autobiographies of influential and notable writers may not even scratch the surface of available, worthwhile reads. But they do, at least, provide a nice framework from which aspirant authors can move forward, eventually picking and choosing similar pieces relevant to their interests.

  1. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: A young, indomitable Ernest Hemingway bounds through sensuous European expatriate adventures, accompanied by his wife Hadley and little son. Anecdotes abound regarding his relationships with such literary and artistic figureheads as Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Hilaire Belloc and many more, granting readers an intimate peek at the creativity bubbling in 1920s Paris. One of the most memorable stories involves the famous writer accompanying F. Scott Fitzgerald on a road trip, where to two grow closer in spite of their occasional blows. Quite a hilarious series of scenes, really, in spite of the occasional bit of tragedy, courtesy of poor Zelda Fitzgerald’s pernicious mental state.

  2. Ignatius Rising by Deborah George Hardy and Rene Pol Nevils: Brilliant A Confederacy of Dunces scribe John Kennedy Toole led a fascinating, yet ultimately tragic life prior to winning a posthumous Pulitzer in 1981. While the more famous of his two novels certainly stands on its own as a work of literature, fans who pick up this revealing biography can easily piece together points of commonality between fantasy and reality. Most especially when it comes to the central relationship between a flustered and smothering widow and her lofty, melodramatic, intellectual son — for those who read both, A Confederacy of Dunces occasionally reads more as an autobiography than one of the most hilarious and provocative American novels of the 20th Century.

  3. Maus by Art Spiegelman: The graphic memoir has gained considerable attention within the past few years, though it extends back much further than that. Though Art Spiegelman did not create the genre, he certainly wrote and drew one of its most notable and defining works. He interviewed his father Vladek about his gut-wrenching experiences as a prisoner in Auschwitz, depicting the era as a dangerous (and famously literal and metaphorical) game of cat-and-mouse. In spite of their bonding, Spiegelman does often find himself uneasy with his father’s present attitude, making this an incredibly realistic read on complex family relations as well as a useful history. Many Holocaust literature courses feature Maus prominently on their syllabus, alongside other essential biographies, such as Elie Wiesel’s Night.

  4. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: It probably comes as little surprise that at least one of the other more mainstream and recognized graphic memoirists cites Art Spiegelman as a major influence. Thanks to the faithful, truly lovely film adaptation, many flocked to Marjane Satrapi’s highly engaging autobiography and granted it the prestige it deserves. With equal parts humor and horror, she chronicles her life as a child growing up in Iran after the Shah’s deposition. Escaping the fundamentalist Islamic regime, she receives schooling in Europe, only to find that her host countries come packaged with their own sets of prejudices and abuses as well. Through simple yet incredibly evocative drawings, Satrapi pours out her emotions, personal failings, triumphs and tragedies with an elegant honesty.

  5. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein: Gertrude Stein and her partner in life and business Alice B. Toklas lived a charmed expatriate existence in Paris following the First World War. Though written by the former, the popular book about their experiences actually sports the perspective of the latter, hence the title. As well-known patrons of the arts who often hosted salons and parties with the best and the brightest of the era, including T.S. Eliot, Henri Matisse and the aforementioned Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, her memoir overflows with stories of creativity and clashing. Of course, she also discusses her early life prior to the famous stint in Europe as well. Definitely an excellent autobiography for writers hoping to learn about the goings-on of myriad innovative and influential people.

  6. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by David Eggers: This Pulitzer finalist epitomizes (so far, anyway) the use of meta and postmodern elements in a memoir. Within a month of one another, Eggers’ parents die of different cancers, leaving him as the legal guardian of his little brother Christopher ("Toph"). What follows is a rich tale of family and self-awareness, punctuated frequently by pure fantasies, self-aware liberties, altered timelines, a frequently absent fourth wall and other narrative components. Eggers’ style mimics the way human memory compresses, decompresses, misremembers and imagines, resulting in a highly entertaining, emotional carnival ride on the cusp between fact and fiction. The "Mistakes We Knew We Were Making" addendum offers a clearer focus on how he crafted this memorable work.

  7. The Diary of Anais Nin by Anais Nin: Famous for her erotic works and relationship with Henry and June Miller, Anais Nin accomplished much, much more and befriended many other influential thinkers than most probably realize. Her diaries span nine volumes and recount multiple decades’ worth of experiences and ideas. Sharp and sensual, Nin encountered a battery of writers, artists, psychologists and other intellectuals, discussing both opinions and lessons gleaned from them. The well-educated, well-read and whip-smart woman provided her own unique perspective on the concepts batted about during her lifetime; any fans hoping to place her wonderful works into a cultural and personal context should certainly pick up at least one corresponding volume.

  8. The Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain: American literature aficionados consider Mark Twain (the nom de plume of Samuel Langhorn Clemens) amongst the nation’s greatest writers and satirists. He dictated a number of anecdotes and ideologies in the last few years of his life, though prior to that nearly every attempt at scratching out a complete, formal autobiography fell flat. The stories themselves come loosely affiliated with one another and come published more as a series rather than a long, lengthy, linear narrative, meaning he left in nothing but the particularly poignant or humorous bits. As with many of his celebrated novels and short stories, the settings come slathered in such rich precision they seem almost as if characters in and of themselves.

  9. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings contains some of the most poetic prose ever committed to print. No surprise, considering Maya Angelou once occupied the admirable position of Poet Laureate of the United States! In spite of her buoyant spirit, the writer’s life came fraught with racial stereotyping and bullying, sexual assault and an unexpected teen pregnancy. Yet she pulled courage from deep within her core and walked through the trials and tribulations with her head held high, coming out of the dark with a deep self-awareness many people will never achieve. Even non-writers can find something to love and appreciate about her inspiring story — though really, one should be able to say that about any on this list.

  10. J.R.R. Tolkien Humphrey Carpenter: Though not an autobiography, the famous, academic, linguist and Lord of the Rings helmsman granted Humphrey Carpenter personal interviews and insights for his write-up — so much of what’s included here comes straight from the source. An intimate portrait into J.R.R. Tolkien’s life and works resulted, with the biographer piecing together how his myriad pursuits came to shape his illustrious career. His early life does not go unexplored, either, especially considering how much the death of his parents and subsequent descent into poverty impacted him. Relationships with family and friends factor greatly into the narrative as well, most especially the one he shared with equally beloved writer C.S. Lewis of The Chronicles of Narnia fame.

This post was shared by Kaitlyn Cole and originally appeared here, 10 Brilliant Biographies That Every Writer Must Read.

What You Can Learn From Free College-Level Online Writing Courses

The author Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Sage advice, but new and intermediate writers may need to first hone their skills a bit. What can they do? Take some free writing courses. A writing course serves as a fine-grained whetstone, giving a sharp edge to roughly textured writing skills.

Where can you take free writing courses? The Internet made the world a much smaller place, and free courses from leading institutions around the world are now available online.

Here are some of the best free online writing courses. The comments for each course are short summaries based on the course descriptions:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

MIT offers a few of its past writing courses on its website. Take a writing course and tell your friends you’ve been accepted to MIT! To incorporate “quark spin” into your next novel, go to this MIT web page! If that doesn’t spark your creativity (and chances are it won’t), then maybe The Creative Spark is more worthy of your time. Professor Karen Boiko taught the course back in 2004. The objective of the course is to develop effective writing and speaking skills along with helping students become aware of their own purpose as a writer.

Another MIT course, entitled Writing and Reading Short Stories, focuses on the craft of – you guessed it – the short story.

Open University

This University is the largest academic institution in the United Kingdom. It offers a number of excellent free-of-charge, online writing courses, including:

  • Start Writing Fiction. Improve your skills in creating characters and settings.
  • Approaching Prose Fiction. Covers the settings of novels, narrative events and perspectives, types of characterization, and genre. It’s designed as an intermediate level course.
  • Writing What you Know. Enhance your descriptive writing abilities. The course also reviews how authors use their own personal history to form the basis of their work. This one is an introductory course.

Warwick University

Warwick University, also located in the United Kingdom, offers a collection of courses in its Podcast Browser. David Morley, Director of the Warwick Writing Programme, leads you through a series of creative writing challenges designed to help you develop your creativity and talent as a writer. You also have the opportunity to send your work for evaluation.

Purdue University

Purdue Online Writing Lab’s Fiction Writing Basics course teaches writing techniques for beginning and intermediate fiction writers. The course covers the basics of plot, theme, character, point-of-view, and conflict.

The average price for an online writing course is $400. So try one of these free courses and save yourself some money!

Brian Jenkins writes about career and school information for writers, among other topics, for BrainTrack.com.

Flash Fiction vs. Short Stories: What’s the difference?

The term “short fiction” includes many different types of writing. The most popular among these types are short stories and flash fiction. A short story can range anywhere from about 500 words to 10,000 words, depending on the source of the information. Many publishing companies, especially the ones specializing in anthologies, look for works that range from 1,000 words to 5,000 words. Flash fiction usually ranges from 100 words to 1,000 words.

So, what is the difference between short stories and flash fiction? There are many differences, though they are often difficult to discern. The main difference between the two is the concept of structure.

Short stories should have a basic structure including introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. Many believe that a short story is just a flash into the lives of the characters, when in reality, a short story contains the same essential elements as a novel. The difference between a novel and a short story is the depth at which the characters and plot line are explored. In a basic form, a short story needs a beginning, middle, and end, with a healthy dose of character development. 0t should tell a complete story, whether the topic is how a relationship between two people begins, the testing process of a wizard, a car accident, or perhaps even a character’s struggle to find a job. The possibilities are endless. What needs to remain constant is that there is an introduction, character development, a conflict, and a resolution for that conflict. It does not have to be a positive resolution, or a happily-ever-after, but it does need to be a conclusion which the reader finds satisfactory.

Flash fiction, on the other hand, is a “flash” into a situation. It should include one character, conflict, and resolution. The difference here is that the plot can be quite simple. For example, an evening in the life of a character in which realization is achieved. There does not have to be an external conflict in flash fiction, and the resolution can be as simple as the character making a decision they were previously having trouble resolving. There are many forms of flash fiction. Some of the most popular are stories with a word count restriction. There are those that specialize in using exactly 55 words to tell a story, all the way down to 3. These kinds of flash fiction concentrate more on hinting at the plot line, and may not even contain a solid character.

In the end, the main identifiable difference between a short story and flash fiction is the depth of which the character(s) development, plot line, and resolution strive towards. Both forms have great merit, and there are many published authors who have made a name for themselves strictly by writing flash fiction and short stories.

Joy Campbell specializes in article writing, research, short fiction, and creating helpful information for new and emerging writers.

Unique Writing Rituals From Twenty Acclaimed Authors

Acclaimed Author - Trueman Capote

Most literary types agree that a definitive, personalized ritual performed before, during or after a writing session forms one of the absolutely essential components of creating innovative, effective works.

These obviously vary from author to author, and even similar methods come with their own unique variances. Regardless of whether or not one hopes to pen a future Pulitzer winner or simply finish his or her homework, forging a comfortable writing routine serves as an excellent means of bolstering creativity, relaxing, clearing the mind and — most importantly — encouraging productivity. While some of the following strategies may not exactly work for everyone, they still provide a keen insight into some of the literary sphere’s most notable, impressive minds.

  1. Victor Hugo let it all hang out.: According to The New Yorker, the celebrated author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame forced himself to write and stave off procrastination by stripping down. His valet was instructed to find the sneakiest hiding place possible and place his clothing inside. Hugo hoped this ritual would prevent him from leaving home and encourage tighter focus on the task at hand.
  2. C.S. Lewis kept a tight schedule.: When it came to writing his beloved novels, essays and novel-length philosophical works, C.S. Lewis kept an incredibly obsessive schedule. He allowed himself short, periodic breaks, but otherwise planned every minute of every day in order to maximize productivity. A rigid series of rules dictated everything from appropriate times to take a beer to when visitors were allowed to stop over.
  3. Benjamin Franklin got wet.: Though not fully verified, many believe the famous American statesman was the first to import a bathtub into the United States. A consummate inventor, Benjamin Franklin appreciated and studied it as a marvel of engineering and innovation, but the lovely bit of porcelain provided him with more than just a piqued scientific curiosity. When it came time to read and write, much of the Renaissance man’s time was spent soaking in a leisurely bath.
  4. Haruki Murakami stays healthy.: Much like C.S. Lewis, the celebrated Wind-Up Bird Chronicles and Norwegian Wood scribe keeps himself creative by staying on a stringent schedule. Haruki Murakami’s afternoons are devoted to keeping his body as healthy, active and fit as his mind. Exercise involves a 10-kilometer run, a 1500-meter swim or some combination of both. Such a ritual, he claims, grants him the mental clarity and physical stamina to hammer out thick novels.
  5. William Wordsworth consulted man’s best friend.: Great English Romantic poet William Wordsworth composed several odes to his faithful canine companion. Though anecdotal, some think the Poet Laureate would write while taking regular constitutions with the dog in tow. He would recite ideas out loud, and any met with barking or agitation was taken as a sign that revision was necessary.
  6. W.B. Yeats went on autopilot.: Along with his wife George, the renowned Irish poet and playwright found inspiration in the mystic arts, infusing them into more than just his works’ content. Though the process of automatic writing understandably dredges up its fair share of skepticism and scrutiny, W.B. Yeats employed it in earnest. The controversial procedure involves giving in to the subconscious (or, for the more mystic-minded, the spiritual realm) and immediately writing down whatever comes to mind. No revisions, no pausing to think. Just the simple act of putting pen to paper and letting creativity flow.
  7. Vladimir Nabokov just couldn’t sit down.: While writing the classic Lolita (and other works, of course), author Vladimir Nabokov launched into the day’s work standing up. His study boasted a “lovely old-fashioned lectern” of which he was very proud, and he greatly preferred starting from there than his armchair or desk. However, Nabokov did admit that his legs did grow tired in such a position, but only then would he retire to one of the comparatively more leisurely options. He also preferred index cards to notebooks and legal pads, as their structure allowed him to easily move scenes around as he saw fit.
  8. Toni Morrison can’t see the light.: As the mother of three children, this Nobel and Pulitzer-winning author didn’t always have the time to sit down and write. Toni Morrison eventually disciplined herself to wake up before dawn, brew up a strong, delicious pot of coffee and get productive. Even after her kids grew up and moved out, she continued on in the exact same pattern. Watching the sun rise is an added perk that stimulates her imagination.
  9. Philip Roth stays on his feet.: Standing burns many more calories than sitting, and decorated author Philip Roth — much like Vladimir Nabokov — prefers this physical calibration when writing. In addition to this healthy habit, he also pushes himself to walk half a mile for every page he completes. Despite age starting to plague his body, Roth continues this ritual to benefit both body and mind. As with Haruki Murakami, he believes that clarity and creativity come when all facets of a person operate in peak condition.
  10. Gertrude Stein indulged in Godiva.: Allegedly, the modernist maven and pivotal figure in the “lost generation” of creative American expats after World War I frequently took to her car when inspiration struck. She would park her Ford, famously nicknamed “Godiva,” somewhere and begin firing off poetry while staying put in the driver’s seat. Something about the vehicle inspired Gertrude Stein and provided a space conducive to her legendary creativity and literary innovation.
  11. George Sand got down to business.: Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin, who wrote under the pen name of George Sand, participated in a nearly two-year affair with fellow literati member Alfred de Musset. Apparently, their sexual escapades charged her up to the point she’d move straight from bed to desk after finishing a session. de Musset himself found this boundless energy highly impressive.
  12. Truman Capote got horizontal.: Regardless of whether or not he used a typewriter or decided to go longhand, the author of such notable works as In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s opted to write from either his comfortable bed or cozy couch. He proudly referred to himself as “a horizontal writer,” and often took tea, coffee or drinks while in repose as well. Capote’s first two drafts were usually written out by hand, then switched to a typewriter for the third.
  13. T.S. Eliot let it all go to his head.: T.S. Eliot didn’t go so far as to purposely infect himself with colds, but he was probably one of the only people on the planet to ever welcome them. He found that writing while so afflicted greatly helped him concoct unique, gruff voices either for different characters or in the creation of harsher scenes.
  14. Alexandre Dumas kept the doctor away.: Like Toni Morrison, Alexandre Dumas of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo fame enjoyed rising early and greeting the day with a personalized ritual. Rather than enjoying a piping hot cup of coffee, however, he preferred taking an apple to the Arc de Triomphe. At 7 AM every morning, Dumas noshed his nourishing breakfast and watched the people of Paris tend to their own unique routines.
  15. Honore de Balzac gave himself the jitters.: Any discussions regarding the renowned writer’s legendary coffee consumption posit his daily intake anywhere from 50 to 300 cups a day. No doubt he certainly consumed more than most people — Honore de Balzac infamously died of health problems related to caffeine poisoning — but many of the estimates are more than a little arbitrary. Turkish and Parisian blends particularly piqued his fancy, providing him with enough fuel to keep him writing throughout the evening and on into the night.
  16. Henrik Ibsen made war, not love.: Playwright Henrick Ibsen, famous for his progressive values in works such as A Doll’s House, really knew how to keep his enemies closer. An oil paint portrait of his polar opposite and fellow writer August Strindberg hung on his wall as a constant, intimidating reminder to always push himself. Any slacking would give his rival even more fodder for accusations, snide remarks and critical and commercial success. Ibsen even referred to the painting as “Madness Incipient.”
  17. Demosthenes goes in halfsies.: Considered one of the greatest statesmen and orators in ancient Greece, Demosthenes took a very unique approach to self-motivation. When it came time to study, write and work on overcoming his speech impediment, he would shave the hair off one side of his head. As much as he yearned to travel and explore his homeland, Demosthenes knew the importance of educating and perfecting himself. Forcing himself to look silly kept him indoors and concentrating on what he needed versus what he wanted.
  18. Warren Ellis works sideways.: Not every writer necessarily works chronologically. Some, like the aforementioned Vladimir Nabokov, prefer penning bits and pieces before merging them together. Author of the grotesquely hilarious Crooked Little Vein (and plenty of comic book series) Warren Ellis begins his stories somewhere in the midpoint. From there, he works a little bit towards the start and a little bit towards the ending until his manuscript is complete. This strategy seems to work pretty well — he claims he rarely has to write more than one draft.
  19. Maya Angelou keeps it classy.: Following the success of her autobiographical I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, America’s former Poet Laureate established for herself a luxurious, elaborate writing ritual. After waking up at 5 AM, she heads to a nearby hotel with legal pads, a bottle of sherry, a deck of playing cards, a Bible and Roget’s Thesaurus. Per her instructions, hotel staff members have removed all the art and photos from the room’s walls. Before leaving in the afternoon, Angelou usually completes between 10 and 12 pages during her stay, which she edits later that evening.
  20. Jonathan Safran Foer likes to watch.: A blank sheet of paper once belonging to Isaac Bashevis Singer greatly inspires the acclaimed author of Everything is Illuminated. It sits framed in his living room, and he stares at it constantly whenever the need for inspiration strikes. The unorthodox exercise challenges his imagination, pushing Foer to discover words and concepts that could’ve one day spread across the paper. Not content with only Singer’s possessions, he began asking many of his favorite writers for blank sheets of their typing paper in order to expand the possibilities and further stimulate the mind.

By Kate Rothwell and reprinted with permission.

Five Creative Ways to Kickstart Your Novel

At some point everyone aspires to write a novel. Then the hypothetical writer sits down to write, Grand Idea in tow, and can’t find a way to realize it. Then the hypothetical writer gets depressed, closes the window, and quits working for six months, though they continue to tell everyone they know that they’re either writing or “getting ready to write” a novel.

You don’t want to be one of those people who talks about getting things done more than they get things done. Instead, if you want to be writing a novel, you should be writing a novel. Here are some creative ways to get that novel started.

1. Cut to the chase.

Don’t think in terms of establishing everything right away, especially if your grand masterwork hasn’t been outlined and will be more made up as you go along (as if things aren’t made up as you go along). If there’s a single event, or a character, or some other factor that’s making you feel forced to write, write about that right away. It doesn’t even necessarily need a place in your novel
right away; you’ll find a place for it as you go, and establishing that will help make everything else come naturally.

2. Don’t begin at the beginning.

Beginnings and endings are brutally, painfully difficult. They require a whole lot of revision and a great deal of planning to make them successful, effective and not bogged down in cliché. Start from just about anywhere else and your chances of getting frustrated go down considerably; your beginning and end will come when they come. Don’t assume that you’re writing a beginning
when you start writing, and that you’ll find a place for the first pieces you write as you get further along in your writing project.

3. Power through your first draft.

Don’t assume that you’re going to craft something truly great as you simply start writing. Instead of reading and rereading when you only have a few pages, keep moving; when a cohesive whole, or the seed of a cohesive whole, starts to take shape, begin revising then. You’ll feel a thousand times less prone to abandoning the entire project if you’re trying to support more than only a few hours’ worth of work, and your increased investment in the project will help you in the long term as you seriously approach the revision process later on.

4. Experiment with narration. (point-of-view)

If you find it difficult to write in the third-person, try writing from the first-person. Or consider even trying an epistolary format or another version of second-person address. In doing so, you might find yourself suddenly more invested in a character, or a concept, or discovering things that do and don’t work for you as a writer or the long-form work that you’re attempting to complete.

5. Read fiction that inspires you. Poach a good idea if you find one.

Supposedly at some point Pablo Picasso said that “Talent borrows, genius steals.” Don’t steal someone else’s work and don’t plagiarize, but if something moves you enough to start writing, ask yourself why it affects you so much and why it works, and twist that concept or idea until it begins to feel like yours. The best writers are also voracious readers of fiction; they know tropes and the rules of language well enough to be able to subvert and play with them, and how to make something that stands out in a world in which thousands of books are published yearly and there aren’t that many readers. Bringing up your consumption can only help you in the long run.

Andrew Hall is a guest blogger for Pounding the Pavement and a writer on call center management for Guide to Career Education.

Golden Rules For Being A Writer And Dreaming The First Draft

Joseph Clark of The First Footsteps of Poetry wanted to share these tips from his blog with the readers at The Craft of Writing Fiction. Then I read Anne Fortier’s guest post from Writer’s Digest about her Golden Rules of Being a Writer and thought these little “rules” are a great idea. After you’ve read Joseph’s post, please take a moment to share your own “Golden Rules” in the comments.

Dreaming up that first draft requires a lot of time, and the patience of a saint. We all have a real life outside of our imagination; if we could combine the two, there wouldn’t be a straight line in sight across the globe. To be a writer, having an over active imagination is an obvious must, but it is only one of the many traits a good scholar needs in his or her arsenal.

It becomes increasingly evident that good parents also make good writers, as long as the first need is met. Parenting is about having the patience of a saint, so is shaping and editing any piece of work, or even waiting for the idea. It’s been known for weeks or even months before that golden idea will hit. So always keep up with your real life because you never know when your fictional one will want to sweep you away.

How to bring your first draft into existence

  • Poetry:
  • Build up a firm understanding of poetry in general
  • Experiment with poetical devices and forms
  • Imagery, symbolism and other theories, familiarise yourself with them!
  • never forget, the meter is almost more important than the words
  • Novel writing:
  • You can’t fluke it, you need to know what you’re doing
  • Set the scene, it must be as vivid for the reader as it is for you
  • Live in the world yourself, know about it and make all the notes you can
  • Keep your paragraphs in line, let the reader breathe.

My Golden Rules of Being a Writer

I’ll end these tips with my five golden rules for being a writer:

  1. No research is ever wasted, know your topic
  2. No such thing as bad criticism when it’s constructive
  3. Not everything has to have a deeper meaning, some like simplicity
  4. Patience, it always comes to you when you relax
  5. Even writers need down time, it means you can work all that bit harder.

With this very short, but hopefully helpful bundle of words, I hope to have guided or inspired someone out there to succeed at what I’ve devoted most of my life to already. Happy writing!

What are your own Golden Rules of Being a Writer?

10 Famous Writers Who Didn’t Die From Suicide or Alcohol

There’s a stereotype about writers that’s hard to shake from your subconscious; namely, that they’re a bunch of boozy sad sacks who suffer so much for their art that they usher themselves into early, bitter graves by addiction to their vices. Jack Kerouac died of cirrhosis from a life of heavy drinking; Ernest Hemingway turned a shotgun on himself; David Foster Wallace hung himself after a lifetime of clinical depression. But these sad stories have a way of clouding the fact that, all urban legends and poetic posturing aside, many authors live long lives that end as a result of age, illness, or any of the number of causes that usually take someone. The writers listed below spent their lives creating works of art, and they lived long enough to enjoy the fruits of their labor. It’s nice to remember that art doesn’t have to exact such a high cost.

1. Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov got a lot done in his 72 years: in addition to being a professor of biochemistry, he was a titan in the sci-fi world, with his name on more than 500 books as author or editor. The epic Foundation series was one of most popular and acclaimed works, and his Three Laws of Robotics became a foundational bedrock for many of his writings. He also produced a number of history volumes in later life, examining the Greeks, the Romans, and the Egyptians. He received multiple awards and more than a dozen honorary doctorates in lengthy and influential career. He died in 1992 after some earlier health problems including a heart attack, and years later it was revealed that some of the complications were a result of HIV contracted during a blood transfusion.

2. Patricia Highsmith

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1921, Patricia Highsmith was acclaimed for her suspenseful psychological thrillers, most notably the Tom Ripley franchise. Her debut novel was Strangers on a Train, adapted into a successful film by Alfred Hitchcock, and The Talented Mr. Ripley would go on to inspire multiple film versions. Highsmith, a lesbian, often created works with gay undertones, marking her as one of the more progressive authors of the mid-20th century. She wound up publishing 22 novels and eight short-story collections before dying of leukemia in 1995 at age 74.

3. James Baldwin

James Baldwin was another gay writer notable for tackling issues of sex and race long before others were so open about it. He debuted with the semi-autobiographical Go Tell It on the Mountain in 1953, and would go on to explore race and class and a variety of other issues with his incisive essays and fiction work. He also became active in the civil rights movement, and his 1972 nonfiction work No Name in the Street examined the movement and the death of major leaders Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King Jr. Baldwin died at age 63 in 1987 from esophageal cancer, leaving behind an influential body of work that continues to challenge and inspire.

4. L. Frank Baum

L. Frank Baum left an indelible mark on children’s literature with 1900’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which remains a classic thanks in no small part to the beloved 1939 film. What some forget that is that Baum also wrote thirteen sequels to create an immensely detailed fantasy franchise, and he also wrote scores of other novels, short stories, and poetry. Baum also campaigned for women’s suffrage. He died of a stroke in 1919, not long before he would have turned 63.

5. Ken Kesey

Ken Kesey was a prominent counterculture figure during the tumultuous 1960s, though he considered himself something of a lost man between the earlier beatniks and later hippies. After a small start, Kesey gained prominence with 1962’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which he got the inspiration to write after working the night shift at a veterans’ hospital. It became an instant success and was soon adapted into a stage play, followed in 1975 by the classic film version starring Jack Nicholson. He released Sometimes a Great Notion in 1964 and joined a few other counter-cultural dignitaries (including Neal Cassady) to form the “Merry Pranksters” and travel across the country getting high and being vaguely philosophical. An believer in art until the end of his days, his final major work as a Rolling Stone essay published shortly after 9/11 in which he advocated for peace. He died in November 2001 after a series of compounded health problems. He was 66.

6. Pearl S. Buck

The daughter of Southern Presbyterian missionaries, Pearl S. Buck grew up in China and spent a large part of her life there. Seeing events like the Boxer Rebellion and the Nanking Incident firsthand had an effect on her, influencing her humanitarian efforts. Her 1931 novel The Good Earth was the bestselling book in the U.S. for that year and the next, and the story about a Chinese village won her the Pulitzer in 1932. Yet her diverse bibliography includes many more novels and a host of nonfiction titles, many about China, and a variety of short story collections. She died in 1973 of lung cancer, at the age of 80, and her name remains synonymous with smart, passionate writing about justice and humanity.

7. Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison won a National Book Award for Invisible Man, his 1952 novel about what it meant to be black in America in the early 20th century. The novel is regarded as one of the best in modern literature, but Ellison was also noted for his critical writings. Shadow and Act, from 1964, is an essay collection spanning twenty years of life and reflection on culture and class. He lived to be 80, dying in 1994 of pancreatic cancer. Some of his unfinished works were published posthumously.

8. Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton died in 2008 at the age of 66 after a quiet battle with cancer. He left behind an impressive body of sci-fi and adventure fiction that probed the meaning of humanity and the cost of technological advancement. He remains the only artist ever to have No. 1 hits simultaneously in TV, movies, and books, a feat he accomplished in 1994 with (respectively) ER, Jurassic Park, and Disclosure. His career gathered steam in the 1970s and ’80s with thrillers like The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, and Sphere, and in later life he became a prominent public speaker on a variety of scientific subjects, including the complexity of global warming.

9. Philip K. Dick

Easily one of the most influential and pioneering writers in science fiction — not to mention one of the most adapted, with nine of his stories turned into films — Philip K. Dick is known for creating fantastical, intriguing worlds that use outlandish ideas to explore our own. The Man in the High Castle, set in a world in which the Axis won World War II, is a harrowing examination of authoritarian control, while stories like We Can Remember It For You Wholesale and The Minority Report dealt with memory and fate in compelling ways. Unfortunately, many mainstream audiences and critics didn’t begin to embrace his work until it was almost too late. Dick died after having a stroke in March 1982, at the age of 53, having written dozens of novels and more than 100 short stories.

10. Marion Zimmer Bradley

Born during the Great Depression, Marion Zimmer Bradley started publishing fantasy novels and short stories in the 1950s. She created a series of works set on the fictional planet of Darkover, and she also wrote myriad other works in straightforward and pulp styles, but she’s best known for her 1982 novel The Mists of Avalon, which retells the stories of King Arthur from the points of view of the female characters. The work explored the potential oppression that can come with the spread of religion, and the perpetual battle between a character’s fate and their free will. She died in 1999 at age 69 after several years of failing health. Her impressive bibliography remains some of the most popular fantasy writing in recent memory.

Thanks to Jena Ellis for allowing me to republish this post, about 10 famous writers and the different ways famous writers die, originally published at onlinecertificateprograms.org. Do you have a great post about “writing fiction” or “the craft of writing” gathering dust in your archives? I’d love to consider publishing (or republishing) it for The Craft of Writing Fiction community. Contact me with your guest post submissions or sign up as a contributing author!

What other famous writers’ deaths come to mind? What about writer stereotypes? How are you setting your own trends and defying author clichés?

Six Clichés to Avoid In Fantasy Fiction Writing

Yesterday Kimberlee Ferrell introduced us to a creative way to eliminate clichés from our writing. Today, William Meikle visits to share six clichés to avoid in fantasy fiction writing. Can you think of others? What about for other genres? Share in the comments!

Fantasy fiction is doing good business at the moment, but there are certain situations that have been overplayed. So much so, that they have become genre clichés, and everybody knows what to expect next. If you’re a writer in the fantasy genre, here are 6 clichés you should try to avoid in your stories.

1. Receiving tutoring from the old wise man.

The ‘Merlin’ gambit, as used in Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Dragonslayer and innumerable King Arthur clones. A stable boy or other similar seemingly low-born type is taken under the wing of the local eccentric. There’s usually a beard involved, and a pair of blue eyes piercing from beneath some spectacularly bushy eyebrows. He’ll say things like: ‘All of nature is one’, ‘Use the force’ and ‘You have a great destiny, my boy.’ Try not to give him a grey cloak and an elven sword. Maybe you could try having the youth tutoring the old man for a change? Or, more radical, how about having the teacher as an old woman?

2. Learning to fight.

The ‘Galahad’ gambit. The stable boy gets secret training in weaponry, allowing him to beat a seasoned warrior in his first fight. People say: ‘I’ve never seen the like before’ and ‘He is the best swordsman I have ever seen’. Now how realistic is that? A radical idea would be to have the stable boy being completely useless at weapons. How is he going to fulfill his destiny then?

3. The parting from everything you ever knew.

The ‘Dick Whittington’ gambit. The stable-hand, being under a geas to complete a great quest, must say goodbye to hearth and home. People say: ‘I must go and fulfill my destiny’ and ‘I will return when I have avenged my father’. This is usually done with a great deal of schmaltz and emotion. Sometimes it is done violently, the hero being parted from family by the villain of the piece, who he is destined to kill at the end of the story. Either way, it has been done so often that any tears you are expecting to provoke could well be due to laughter. Try to do something different. Why does the hero have to leave his family? What would happen if he took them with him?

4. Being abducted from earth to a different world.

The ‘John Carter’ gambit. People say: ‘How did I get here” and ‘You have been delivered to us in our hour of need’. This one was heavily overused in the early and mid-twentieth century by H Rider Haggard and A E Merritt among others. Usually it is no more than a ploy to get a character the writer is comfortable writing about into a fantasy situation where said character could never otherwise exist. Edgar Rice Burroughs liked it so much he even had it happen to Tarzan on occasion. And it still happens, the most obvious modern examples being Thomas Covenant and the various present day characters that Stephen King has recruited into his Dark Tower series. Maybe your hero could be someone from another dimension who gets transported to Earth? Or maybe he stays where he is, but everything changes around him?

5. The multi-race bar room.

The ‘Inn at Bree’ gambit. It happens a lot in science fiction a-la Star Wars, but it is just as common in the fantasy genre. After a thirsty day on the road, our heroic stable boy and his companions will visit an inn. Inside, there will be representatives of different races from the world created for the story. The innkeeper will always be fat and jolly, there will always be a silent stranger in a dark corner, and someone will sing a silly song giving the writer his chance to show off his invention of other-worldly lyrics. How about having a human trying to get a drink in a dwarf-only bar, or vice-versa? There should be plenty of opportunity to add tension there.

6. Discovering hidden family truths.

The ‘Ugly Duckling’ gambit. The stable boy gets to the final climactic battle, only to find that his adversary is his father/mother/brother/sister etc. People say: ‘It was kept from you to protect you’ and ‘You cannot kill me, I’m your father’. This has been so overused, it even turns up across genres: witness Luke Skywalker confronting Darth Vader for example. A variation is to have the hero find that he is suddenly a prince, or even king. This says more about the writer’s own desires than it does about the plot. Wishful-thinking fantasies do not usually make strong stories. But what would happen if the hero already knew his background, but his adversary didn’t?

The next time you read a fantasy story, count how many of the above are still in use. I think you’ll be surprised. It’s even worse in film and television, where all of them can occur in any one movie, and often do. Just look at Star Wars – it contained most of them, and still made huge amounts of money.

And that’s also why the above should be taken with a pinch of salt. Clichés still have their place in popular culture. Just don’t take that as an excuse to use them yourself. At least not too often.

William Meikle is a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with seven novels published in the States and three more coming in 2007/8, all in the independent fantasy and horror press. His short work and articles have appeared in the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Greece, Saudi Arabia and India. He also has three shorts produced from his scripts, and several supernatural scripts currently on option, including four shorts, and a supernatural thriller feature.

William Meikle
http://www.williammeikle.com

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=William_Meikle

What situations do you feel have become clichés in your favorite genre? Do you think there are still fresh and creative ways to write about them?

ePub Formatting: What You Need To Know (Part 2)

If you missed part 1 of Deb Dorchak’s fantastic guest post yesterday, check it out before continuing.

Formatting Your Word Document

To format your Word document, you’re going to have to get used to using the manual procedure instead of the convenience provided by the toolbar. The upside of this is once you have a specific document set up for your manuscript you can save it as a template to use over and over without formatting everything each time you want to write a new novel or chapter.

To start, create a new Word doc file for each section of your book. This includes the front matter (your copyright and publisher information, ISBN), acknowledgements, introduction, prologue and each individual chapter. I mentioned above that ePubs don’t recognize page breaks. eReaders are all about flow and work the same way as a web page. They’ll scroll through a whole file in one long line without any breaks. The only way to get or make a forced break is when the HTML files inside that ePub zip file come to a new HTML file.

Now, with your fresh new Word document opened, you’re going to start putting in the types of formats you need. To do this go to Formats > Styles and Formatting. Click on that and a window will open up. In it you’ll see some basic formats already (Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc.)

The “Normal” setting is for the body of your content. This is for all your regular paragraphs. In it you’ll set your paragraph indents, spacing and font style.

Next you want to add formatting for your chapter headings. Since most eReaders disregard fonts and use their own, you can use Heading 1 for your chapter headings. So each time you start a new chapter and give it a title, you will highlight that line of text and then click on Heading 1 in your Styles and Formatting window. The text will automatically change according to your settings.

Now, to create the other basic formats like “Bold” or “Italics“, type out a single line of text and highlight it. Click on the Bold button in the toolbar. You should see a new format show up in your Formatting sidebar. From now on when you want something bolded in your content, you will click on that format to make it so. Continue to do the same for italics, underlines, bullet points if you are using them in your book.

In short, if you’re changing or adding a new format to your document, you want to have a style for it in the sidebar with the other formats and use only that as you write. This is what’s going to keep your Word doc as clean as possible for your designer.

Once you have all your formats set up, save the blank document as a template. On my computer I have it saved as “6x9_trade” because it’s set up with everything I need for doing a trade paperback or hardcover.

Not Just for ePubs

The process of setting up formats and styles in Word docs goes beyond getting them ready for an ePub. Printed novels and PDF ebooks also begin the same way, with just a few differences:

  • Unlimited Fonts: for print and PDF you’re not limited to only web friendly fonts. These are the fonts that come installed with every computer. If your computer does not have a certain type of font, it will substitute the closest one. Print files are bundled with the required font for any given book. The printer installs them on their computer if they don’t have it already and work with the layout files that way. For PDF, the fonts are embedded into the file and therefore show up as they should no matter what computer you open them on.
  • Images: ePubs have a difficult time with inserting images and wrapping text around them. There are a few adjustments needed in the HTML version of the ePub files that need to be made in order to do that and it involves some basic knowledge in coding. Similar to the embedded fonts, a PDF also embeds the images, like text wrapped images, background images and so on. One important point to remember when using images in your print or PDF book is to include the images in hi-resolution as jpgs in a separate folder you send to your designer. Images cannot be pulled from a Word document and set up into an InDesign file. When an image is placed in InDesign, it links to that specific image in the InDesign final bundle. High resolution is important in case your designer has to reduce or enlarge the original image to fit the layout. It’s alright to put the images in the Word doc for placement only (FPO).
  • Interactivity: Many PDFs allow you to click on hyperlinks (live links within the document), or on graphic images to take you to other pages or sites on the web. Right now, hyperlinks are the only form of interactivity you can use in an ePub with any kind of accuracy. Creating live linked images is still labor intensive for the designer and again requires coding knowledge to get them to work in the ePub file. Adobe Acrobat Pro has special tools that make this easy when you’re doing a straight PDF ebook.

Even though you have to go through a few extra steps to format your Word document, the results will be worth it. You will have a clean file ready for your designer to work with and trust me, your designer will thank you.

Deb Dorchak, the co-owner and Lead Designer of Blue Sun Studio, Inc./Sirius Graphix. Deb’s been a graphic designer for more than 25 years and an artist since she could hold a crayon. She’s worked in the graphics industry doing everything from newspaper and glossy magazine layout, to animation in Las Vegas’ largest and oldest sign company. Deb got her start in Illustration, and her passion for telling stories through images hasn’t wavered yet. She and her business partner, Wendi Kelly, have finished their first novel Bonds of Blood & Spirit: Loyalties, due to release late October 2010.

You can find more of Deb’s articles on design, writing, and publishing at Sirius Graphix, or follow her @SiriusGraphix on Twitter. If you’re an author who needs a new site, or book for print, PDF or ePub designed, send her and the team an email at info@bluesunstudio-inc.com.