Tag Archives: writer’s block

Challenge – Inspired by Dorothy Parker

As I mentioned in a recent post, Dorothy Parker has a number of pieces which I call “monologue stories”.  These tend to be just the inner thoughts of the MC or the MC’s one-side of a conversation.  I’ve always enjoyed reading these as they allow the reader to become fully immersed in the personality of the MC.  You are literally experiencing the events of the story through the MC.  

I have written one of these styled stories before, but it wasn’t that great.  However, I am challenging myself, and anyone else who is interested, to give it a try.  Can you tell an entire story through only the thoughts of your MC?  It’s a lot more challenging than it sounds.  If you need inspiration, you can turn to Parker – Lady With a Lamp, or her more humorous examples, The Waltz or A Telephone Call.  I will see if I can keep mine down to flash fiction length (a constant challenge for me), and post a final here when I’m done.

Happy writing!


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X – “X”, The Unknown

Today, I’d like to fill you in on a little secret of mine.  I think I’ve mentioned how important it is to do your research – when you’re writing historical fiction, when you’re writing about something with which you do not have personal experience, when you’re writing an essay of any kind, and especially when you are referencing published and well-known books on your blog (nope, still haven’t forgiven myself for that).

I think I have also mentioned the dangerous trap that this can put a writer in – namely, me, as I do this all the time.  Since research can be so daunting, and one may not know where even to begin, sometimes research can put a great idea on hold indefinitely.  Like I said, this happens to me all the time.

The advice that I keep being given in these situations, and the advice that I keep giving all my readers (hypocrite that I am) is “Just write”, but if you don’t know what you’re writing it can be intimidating.  I never want to get anything wrong, and editing is hard enough without having to change whole paragraphs or chapters to be historically (or otherwise) accurate.  Many of my projects have been stunted or completely stopped by this problem.

However, lately I have found a great fix for this.  While writing a scene in a hospital the other day, I had  a doctor ordering tests for my MC.  Now, I’m not a doctor, and I have no idea what tests a doctor would run when faced with the unique ailment I’ve given my MC.  I could have put down my notebook, and waited until I could speak to a real doctor about it, but I was on a roll.  I didn’t want to stop.  So instead I wrote, “Nurse, I want to do a few neurological tests.  Order a X, X, X, and an MRI”.  (They always order an MRI.)  I used the letter “X” in the same way it’s used in Algebra – to mark the unknown variable.  It works as a place holder.  I know that eventually I’ll fill it up with some learned medical jargon, but at least for now I can move on.  And the great thing is, “X” by itself rarely shows up in any text, so once I have the necessary information, all I have to do is use Microsoft’s (or any other word processor’s) search/find feature and replace my “Xs” with my new knowledge.  Gone are the days when lack of information kept me from finishing a project.  I hope this tidbit can help you too.


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M – Meetup: Where Are All The Writers?!?

As we all know, writing can be a very lonely hobby and profession.  If it’s your full time job, you may spend up to 8 hours of the day, like Stewart O’Nan, at your computer or desk or typewriter or notebook.  If it’s a hobby, you probably try to spend at least a couple of hours, like me, at your computer, et al, and 8 hours or more at work, and hours with family, and (if you’re lucky) at least 7 to 8 hours sleeping.  (Wouldn’t that be nice!)  With all that time alone, how do you get to meet people, socialize, find other writers who share your pain and celebrations?

One of the greatest tools I have found is Meetup.com.  Meetup.com is a website devoted to bringing people together via the internet to meet in real life activities and events.  They can be found in most every city – the major hubs, obviously, but some smaller cities too.  (When I searched my hometown, which is notably smaller than my current city of residence, I found over 100.  Flint, Michigan with a population of just 100,000 also had over 100 groups.)

Now, you may be thinking, “What does that have to do with writing?”  Well, like I say; writing can be a lonely business, but humans are generally social animals.  So finding a group that you can cut loose with is important.  The site has groups that are of vast interests and purposes.  Let’s remember, too, that writing is a sedentary activity, so if you can find a group that goes on a hike once a week or gets together for tennis or other sport, you can get some exercise too.

And, of course,  every city I searched had at least one group of writers.  If you can get in with a good writing group, you are on your way to completion and success. While Meetup is not the only way, it is one of several ways to find a good writing group that can help advise you and critique your work. I attribute the completion of my first MS entirely to a writing group I attended for about 5 years.  A good group can be an excellent source of motivation, wonderful critique, and a solace when you are struggling with your work.

So look for a good Meetup in your area, and get out and find writers!



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I – Inspiration: Mmmm… Magic!

We never can be sure when it’s going to hit, or what causes it.  Maybe a song you heard on the radio had a lyric that sparked something.  Maybe an international news story gets you wondering what it’s like to live over there, under those conditions.  Maybe a documentary on the History Channel sparks something.  Who knows?

But when the inspiration hits you hard, it’s magical.  You sit down at your computer, or your notebook and you just start letting it flow out of you.  It comes so easily.  You probably don’t even notice that your pen isn’t leaving the page, or your typing is ceaseless.  Your hands and wrists don’t hurt, even though hours are passing by.  You have no idea, because you’re in the zone.  If you were hungry once, it’s passed.  You might be thirsty, but you’re too busy to notice.

In that moment, when the story is coming to us so seamlessly – like you already have it memorized and you’re just transcribing it now –  this is what we all wish and hope for.  I remember reading something about a famous author writing his most famous work – it might have been Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby, or Faulkner and The Sound and the Fury; I can’t remember – and he managed to do it in only two weeks.  My MS took six years, and I remember thinking, “What a jerk!  For a masterpiece like that (whichever one it was) to come so easily.  I hate him.”

But just a few weeks ago, for the first time in years, I was hit by one of these waves.  Ten handwritten pages kept me up until 4:30 in the morning, and I had to force myself to go to sleep.  I was so jacked up on my own inspiration; my own creativity, it was like drinking an espresso.  My mind wasn’t turning off.  And suddenly, I understood how Faulkner or Fitzgerald, or anyone else for that matter, could finish upwards of 97,000 words or more in just two weeks.  And there’s a part of me thinking, maybe I could do that.  Hopefully, the wave will keep up.

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B – Blocked, Not A Single Word

The dreaded writer’s block. You either can’t figure out what to say or how to say it.  It is particularly defeating when it occurs before you even get started.  My worst writer’s block always comes at the beginning of a project.

I’ve come up with what I feel is a brilliant idea for a story: A teenage girl, a ballerina with a bright and successful future, is paralyzed in a car accident and now has to face the reality of a life not doing the only thing she’s ever imagined.  Okay!  Let’s get started, right?


How is this car accident going to happen?  What kind of injury can she sustain that would permanently paralyze her from the waist down, but not be life threatening?

This is one of my biggest problems (and one from which I’m currently suffering): Getting bogged down in the details.  It’s so hard to write an accurate and believable story without the needed lingo, jargon, and knowledge.  I’ve said before that research can be daunting, and require a lot of extra work on the part of the writer that might not be necessary if one chose a storyline based on things about which one already has all the needed knowledge.  But truth be told; we don’t have all the knowledge in the world.  My first MS was based on my personal experience, and I still had to do some research, because I was the basis for only one of the characters.  I needed to know what the doctors would know; what the social worker would know.  So I had to go find out.

Unfortunately, if you’re like me, a problem like this can arise before a word is even written, and you find yourself years from now saying, “I have a great idea for a novel.  I just don’t know how to get started.”  Speaking from experience, I can say, don’t let that stop you.  However, cliche you may think your story is, however challenging the research may be, however doubtful you are in your writing abilities, none of that can be tested if you never write.  I assure you, it has taken a lot of self-talk, but I finally just started writing and decided I could get the information I need along the way.  Do the same.  Just write.


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A to Z – Challenge Accepted

Some readers may be aware of the A to Z blogging challenge. For those that are not, it was started apparently on a whim in 2010. It grows in participants every year, and is an opportunity for the blogging community to come together and learn of one another’s work.

I decided to participate in this when I heard about it, and have spent the last several weeks compiling topics to share during the month of April. I’m excited to post nearly everyday, starting on April 1, and hope that I will be able to keep up with posting more often once the challenge is over.

Of course, all posts will still be writing related with a couple of challenges thrown in for fun. Topics have been difficult to find for each letter of the alphabet (who knew J would be so hard?), and you may feel that some are reaching a bit. But all in all, I think this month is going to be fun, and hopefully, informative and interesting for my readers.

Thanks as always to any who visit here, and I look forward to reading the work of other A to Z participants!


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Procrastination, or Jenn Is Distracted By Pretty White Stuff

So, it snowed today. 

For the first 23 years of my life, I lived in Eastern Tennessee.  For the last 10, I’ve been in Eastern NC.  Apparently, both areas of the country have a similar reaction to snow of any kind.  

“HOLY $#^!  It’s a blizzard!  We’re all gonna die!  Milk, bread, eggs, milk, bread, eggs – Worried about the power?! Why would I be?!  Get home, and fast!  Why is this jerk only going 45mph?!?  Doesn’t he see it’s snowing?!  Does he not know it’s turning to freezing rain in, like, an hour?!  Thank God I’ll be home before that happens.”

(Turn on CNN, and you will see this happening in my backyard.)

Nice thing about snow? – can’t go anywhere so might as well stay in, and use the time to write and read. Bad thing about snow? – It’s cold in my office and I have cable. Well, okay. I guess technically, those are the bad things about winter and having cable respectively, but the fact remains that I have gotten very little writing (or reading) done today. I did do some thinking, though. I did a lot of thinking. I thought, “It is extremely cold out here, and the snow is making the fur lining of my Candian goose down coat’s hood wet. Why am I walking to the store? Is food really that important? I could be writing right now.” And I thought, “The local news keeps telling me the same thing over and over. ‘Gridlock traffic; conditions worsening; if you don’t have to be out, stay home.’ Why am I watching this? I could be writing right now.” And I thought, “What do you mean no Jeopardy!? I waited to cook dinner, so that I could time it just perfectly to sit down and eat with Jeopardy! I could have been writing by now!” So here I am, ceasing the interminable cycle of procrastination by sucking it up, battling the cold (my desk is right in front of a large window – great for sunlight, bad for drafts), turning off the TV, radio, and the phone, and actually writing.

Let’s face it. As writers, procrastination is the biggest battle we fight, and we fight it – not just everyday – but at multiple times of everyday. Sure, any person in any job can procrastinate. But it’s different for writers. The truth is, for the most part, we don’t have deadlines. The majority of us are writing because we love it, not because we are making a great income or the boss tells us to. But that means that the motivation, the drive, and the incentive has to come from within. And on a cold day, or a tiring day, or a day that you just feel meh it’s hard to be your own boss – especially since you are making you be a mean boss. Everyone who writes – scratch that – everyone who is successful in writing, has their own way of dealing with procrastination. What works for me is self-talk, specifically telling myself what I could be writing if I weren’t sitting here watching television. It begins with a legitimate question; “If I go write, what am I going to write about?” But then, I start trying to come up with an answer, and eventually something so good comes along that I have to go write it down.

Of course, personal goals help too, especially if there is some sort of tracking system that helps you hold yourself accountable. For me, it has been a great little website, 750words.com. I assure you there is no double meaning in the domain name. You write 750 words a day, and you get points, which are really arbitrary, but become meaningful because of your reminder/congratulatory daily email which is sent to you at a time of your choosing. It really is very motivating, and I highly recommend it to any writer.

Another thing that helps me is that when I’m really in the zone and I share with my friends progress I’m making on whatever WIP I have, they start bugging me. “Is it done yet?” “How far along are you?” “Are you going to publish it?” “Have you ever thought of self-publishing?” “What about publishing an e-book?” Some days, they seem more excited about my writing than I am, but it encourages me to keep up so that I have an answer when they ask.

In the spirit of camaraderie and encouraging dialog – What do you do to fight procrastination?

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