Why you aren’t writing – Reason #4

48a7559f5355d7a30e4ac3fcda051ca7This week I’m writing about how to write when you’re out of ideas.

I’m convinced that we can find endless triggers to get the words flowing if we tune in and pay attention. Ideas are EVERYWHERE. Before we get to my list (not all inclusive, by any means) of ways to load up your idea hopper, think about doing this by using each of your senses individually. In fact, if you devote an entire day (or week) to focusing on each sense, my bet is you’ll have more ideas than you know what to do with. (And if this happens, refer to my blog post on how to write when you have too many ideas.) Begin with the snippets you generate and build on them. Before you know it, you’ll have full-blown stories in the works.

Look. Rather than just go through your day on autopilot, slow yourself down and really LOOK at all the beautiful and miraculous people, places, and things you encounter every single day. Stop long enough to take in the details of a face or a hand, the lines of a building, a room and its contents, and the form and color of the ordinary items you use every day. Make a mental picture or take a picture on your phone for later reference (unless it will get you into some kind of trouble), or sit down in the moment and write – in detail – what you see. Plant yourself in a public place (like a coffee shop or a park) and you’ll have more than enough seeds to get going: Describe the old man eating alone on a bench at the park or the young woman with the cast on her foot at the coffee shop, then begin to imagine their stories. Why are they there? Where did they come from? Where will they go when they leave? Who do they love? Who loves them?

Observe art. Get online, or better yet, visit a museum. Find at least five pieces that resonate with you. You don’t have to know why. Just sit and write a description of each of them. What’s going on in the painting or photograph? What’s the story behind the sculpture? OR, name the emotion(s) each piece brings up in you. Attach that emotion to an event or a character and go from there.

Pay attention to colors. Colors evoke emotion in us. Focus on a color and write about it. What memories does it trigger in you? What does it symbolize? What object(s) does the color affix itself to in your mind: a coat, a car, a dress, a building…?

 

Listen. As with looking, slow down and really begin to listen to the symphony of sounds that make up your world. As I write this, the refrigerator’s motor is running behind me – a soft, windy sound embedded with a bright, high-pitched tone. The sound of kids playing on the playground – a cacophony of voices that rise and fall, squealing with glee, making protests, and shouting orders, occasionally punctuated by their male teacher’s voice and the echo-y bounce of a rubber ball on the cement. The clicking of my staccato keyboard strokes. The hiss of a bus’s brakes slowing at the corner.

Write down song lyrics that resonate with you and riff on them for several minutes.

Sit in nature and note the ambiance. Notice the plethora of subtle sounds around you. Focus in on 1-3 of the sounds you hear, and imagine a character listening to each sound. What is he/she doing? How does the sound fit in with, influence, or affect the moment he/she is experiencing?

Eavesdrop on conversations. Sitting in a public place and turning into what’s being said around you is a great way to generate dialogue and story ideas. All you need is one unusual comment or question to get you going.

 

Smell. While I’m a filmmaker and avid film viewer and believe film to be a powerful change instigator, it can’t evoke our imaginations around smell the way the written word can. As you go through your day, make a list of all the smells you encounter. Write down their sources, then write at least one paragraph for each in which you describe the smell in detail. (This is not easy!) Then, imagine what’s going on around that smell and let your imagination do the rest.

 

Touch. As with smell, touch doesn’t translate in film, nor is it easy to write, but give it a try. For a week, pick five textures per day, and spend time touching each one. Use ordinary items from your day (your coffee cup, your bedspread) or seek out new ones. (Try visiting a fabric store and touch a variety of fabrics, find textures in nature, or visit a walk around your town or city to see what you can find.) Write at least one paragraph for each. Describe the feeling of each one. (Hint: Using metaphor/simile will come in handy here.) But don’t limit this to what you can touch with your fingers. Also think about textures of food in the mouth.

 

Taste. And speaking of the mouth, don’t forget taste. Set out to focus on all the possible options (sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami – a new one to me. Read about it here and here). Spend a week planning your meal options around food to explore the full spectrum of possible tastes. Brainstorm what situations might align with each taste, and a story will unfold. (For example: Sweet. Cotton candy. Carnival. Who’s there? What’s he/she doing?)

 

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Johnnie
XXXX

 

 

 

 

Why You Aren’t Writing – Reason #1

I recently wrote about 10 beliefs that sabotage writing.

This week, I’m writing about Reason #1: You don’t have time.

by Snoron.com

by Snoron.com

Here’s the first thing you need to know. Time is a construct.

Sure, we all have responsibilities, and we all generally have to meet deadlines or carry out duties within a specified time frame for work and in our daily lives. But… we are not at the mercy of time. Time does not have to dictate our every decision, our quality of life, or whether or not we write.

Chances are, you have more time than you realize. That is, if you’re a person who believes that time is something you possess.

Besides the obvious obvious approach of adding more time to your day by waking up an hour or two earlier (Try it. I started waking up at 5am, and it completely changed my productivity.), you can collect time and save it.

Think of it like a money jar you keep on the counter. You throw spare change in when you have it, and after a year has passed, you’ve saved enough to buy something for yourself you otherwise would not have been able to buy.

Time works the same way. Think of it as energy that you can gather and shape shift.

The best way to see where you can start saving up time is to do exactly what you’d do if you were trying to figure out where you can save money.

You do an inventory.

  • For at least one week – preferably two – track your time every day. From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed. This may sound tedious and anal, but you’ll be amazed by how much time you’re likely squandering every single day. Notice how much time you spend buying and preparing food, checking and answering emails, watching videos online, having unproductive conversations (or conversations that go on long past the length of time the issue at hand requires), doing laundry, practicing self care, on social media, exercising, and on and on.
  • Look for ways to shave time. If you’re spending an hour and a half at the gym, chances are, you can cut your workout routine down to an hour and still get the same benefit. Make meals in batches ahead of time and freeze them. Unsubscribe from email lists that clutter your inbox so you’re only tempted to read the ones that truly pertain to your life and your interests. Give yourself a social media time allowance and stick to it. You get the idea…
  • Check for patterns. After your week (or two) of inventory, if you see that every day around 11:00am you get bored and spend an hour on social media, but realize that only 10 minutes of that hour were spent productively, you can add 50 mins. to your time bank and start a new habit of only spending the necessary 10 minutes to accomplish your task. Do this for every task you perform every day.
  • Decide when you’re going to use the time you’ve collected. Figure out when you’re the freshest, when no one else is home, or whenever the optimal time of day might be for you.
  • Make a vow to use your time to write. Follow through and use your extra time to write. Think about this: If you saved $2,000 for that trip you’ve been wanting to take but then blew it all on slot machines, how crummy would you feel?

Now that you’ve figured out how much extra time you really have, don’t blow it carelessly.

Treat it as something sacred. Because it is.

How much extra time were you able to find?

How understanding the Power Chakra can help your writing

image credit: soul-trees.com

image credit:
soul-trees.com

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Root Chakra and the Sacral Chakra and how understanding them can help you understand your writing better.

This week, I’m writing about the third chakra, or the Power Chakra. Other names for this are the Personal Power Chakra and the Solar Plexus because it’s located in your solar plexus, just under your rib cage, in the center, in the vicinity of your upper abdomen.

As I’ve said in the past, the Writing Through the Body™ process has both generative and corrective benefits.

Remember that before we can approach the process as a generative tool, we have to have at least a vague idea of who we’re dealing with. In this case, let’s say a 15-year-old female.

Next, when we look at the Power Chakra elements, we can first go to the primary fears of this chakra. Starting here gives our character something to grapple with. We might decide to go with the Power Chakra fear that someone will discover her secret(s). This will help us begin to think about what secrets she might have. Maybe she just discovered she’s pregnant. Maybe she’s stealing money from her parents. Maybe she’s dating someone her parents wouldn’t approve of.

Any of these could be cause for stomach problems, a typical ailment associated with the Power Chakra, so we could give her that.

Because she’s withholding, she’s stifling the power of this chakra – her personal power. When we do this, it can draw up anger, so there could likely be an angry outburst in the story.

Over the course of the story, she can either address and transform the problem, or she can continue to keep it to herself. Either way, there’s a story here.

If you already know you have a 15-year-old girl who is stealing from her parents, but you aren’t sure where the story’s going, a brief look at the chakra elements, and you’ll know you’re dealing with a Power Chakra problem. You can then begin to think about the primary strengths of the chakra. Two are generosity and a strong sense of ethics. We at least know she’s not strong on ethics, and although we don’t know what she’s doing with the money, she may or may not be generous.

In considering these aspects of her character, we can begin to ask the all important question: “why?” This question is what drives story. Story is about cause and effect. It’s about decisions that lead to actions that lead to discoveries that lead to more decisions, and on and on…

By consulting the Power Chakra and understanding its elements and getting the character moving around, by making her visible, we can then delve a little deeper into her characterization and her motivations.

This is how story unfolds.

Why do you think she’s doing what she’s doing?

How understanding the Sacral Chakra can help your writing

Last week I wrote about how The Writing Through the Body™ process is both generative and corrective. And we looked specifically at the first chakra, the Root Chakra.

This week, let’s take a look at the second chakra, the Sacral Chakra, which is located in the lower abdomen, about three inches below the navel.

If we’re working from a generative position – that is, if we want to write but are uncertain how to get going – the first step is to begin with a character. How about a 40-year-old male?

Next, we can learn about the Sacral Chakra elements and see what resonates with us. For instance, if we look at the negative

image credit: sacramentovocalmusic

image credit:
sacramentovocalmusic

manifestations of the Sacral Chakra (one of which is the killing of creativity due to fear), that can give us a place to start. What if the 40-year-old male is a classical composer with a commission deadline coming up, and he’s hit a serious block (killing of creativity due to fear). He’s tried and tried, but he just can’t get the piece finished.

If we then understand the primary fears associated with this chakra (one of which is loss of physical body due to death or illness), we can start to experiment with what the underlying fear might be that’s preventing him from finishing the piece. Maybe he hasn’t been feeling well, and while he’s writing it off as stress from the project, in the far, far back corners of his mind is the fear he’ll die of cancer the way his father did, at a very young age. We can then begin to explore his relationship with his father and see where that takes us.

If we’re working from a corrective position – that is, if we already have a story underway and we’re working with this character and his problem, we can simply begin by learning which chakra corresponds with the character’s particular problem and go from there, the ultimate goal being to take the character through an arc of transformation, which might be ability to take risks, one of the primary strengths of the Sacral Chakra, and/or he’s able to break through the block and create, one of the primary strengths of the Sacral Chakra. And of course, in some situations the character doesn’t make that transformation, but the reader will. The reader will ride the waves of uncertainty and struggle right along with the character, and she’ll be able to see aspects of him he can’t see himself. And in doing this, she’ll be changed, whether he is or not.

image credit: theelegantuniverse.tumblr.com

image credit:
theelegantuniverse.tumblr.com

The beauty of working with the chakras in this way is that there’s always an answer. Any problem we throw at our characters, there’s a road map, of sorts, in the chakra system. Every obstacle we face as humans can be tied back to one of the chakras.

How awesome is that?!

Who’s your character and why can’t he finish what he set out to do?

 

To write better, read.

bokeh_mood_books_read_pages_flowers_butterfly_fantasy_1920x1200

One of the best ways to improve your writing is to read other writers. By reading the work of other writers, we can gain a multitude of benefits.

Reading fiction is like taking a vitamin for your brain, psyche, and soul all at the same time.

Besides creating something in our brain called grounded cognition, literary fiction also increases empathy because it helps us to “understand the emotions of others.” And specifically literary fiction, because it “has more depth,” is better for us than mainstream fiction. It’s like the difference between organic food and fast food for our bodies. The fast food might fill us up, but it won’t give us the same nourishment or have the same lasting beneficial effects as the organic food.

While these benefits can be had by anyone who picks up a novel or a short story, for writers, the benefits don’t stop there.

When we read other writers, it causes us to step outside our tried and true habits, go-to word choices, and predictable rhythms. Can you imagine having only one window from which to view the world and never being able to go outside?! Reading other writers affords us the opportunity to look through many windows and expand our view of writing and of the world.

Expanding our vocabularies is also important, as is studying how other writers turn a phrase. And we can reap the benefits by reading fiction both mindfully and unmindfully.

By reading mindfully, I mean that we can choose a particular book with the sole purpose of studying the mechanics of it to find new ways to freshen our own writing, which is not to say we should be moving away from our own voices that took so long to find in the first place, but being aware of how others utilize the language, approach story, and tend to character should be a regular exercise for any writer.

Likewise, reading unmindfully, just reading for pleasure, can also benefit our writing because it wakes up our imagination, works on our subconscious, plants seeds for future use that we aren’t entirely aware of.

And lastly, reading diversely is also important. Life is busy, and our days are full. Finding time to read our favorite authors is hard enough, but it’s also important to read authors who aren’t our favorites. Or authors we’ve never heard of. Especially under-represented authors. Filling our heads with as many voices at possible, letting them hang out together and talk to each other will only add to the rich cacophony of possibilities in our own work.

 

On my nightstand right now
Dear Husband, stories by Joyce Carol Oates
Henry and June by Anais Nin
Waste and Timelessness and other early stories by Anais Nin

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What are you reading?