Friday, May 29, 2015

Dealing With Emotional Block

All writers suffer emotional stress from time to time. Some get through it fine but for others it can be devastating. The three top emotional stressers are the death of a loved one, the end of a long-time, loving relationship, and the onset of major physical problems. But there are many more. Dealing with any of these requires a full-time effort. Even the most creative person cannot work when such heavy burdens settle in.

For even the most emotionally stable of writers, dealing with difficult emotional situations can place a lot of stress on the creative process. Being creative is work. If you’re having toruble thinking that indicates impeded flow, just like the flow of water through the pipes in your house. If something blocks the flow, nothing comes out at the other end.

The creative process is more than what you write. There’s also a part that happens invisibly, under the surface. That’s when your senses perceive the world around you and your heart and mind are thrown into dissonance. That’s when your soul stops responding.

Normally, your creative response doesn’t just pour out of your head. There’ s no such thing as pure expression. You formulate, strategize, order, and then articulate. It’s only that last part—at best about 25 percent—that shows as output or progress.

The sudden death of someone close to you can put you under a great deal of stress. Know from the start that the period of grieving will last from one to two years. Life gets better as the days pass by, but you will have to deal with it. It you find you’re unable to cope, get some grief counseling or join a support group.

Divorce can be traumatic, especially if your spouse has been having an affair. The main emotional trauma to deal with here is personal rejection by someone you’ve trusted, followed by self-doubt. When any long-term relationship ends—even one with a publication or one of your editors—you also need to grieve. While the process is as prolonged as when someone dies, it’s grieving nevertheless.

The sudden onset of an illness or a medical condition can be life changing. Besides medical care, what’s needed here is a lifestyle change. It may be that all the stress you’ve put yourself through as a writer finally catches up to you, causing your body to fail. If your medical condition can be dealt with, you’ll be able to go through rehab. And while that may get your body back in shape, you’ll also have to go through mental rehab. Severe or prolonged illness often brings on depression. Get help if you need it.

Another stresser is a perceived or actual lack of financial support. The cliched image of a starving writer working in a one-room garret is fiction. You need to have some sort of income otherwise your body won’t be in the best shape to create anything. You may have to face up to getting a part-time job to bring in enough income to eat and pay your bills.

Repeated rejection leading to making you doubt your ability as a writer can also lead to major stress. For some people, this is the primary cause of stress throughout their writing career.

So what are some ways of dealing with all of the above?
  • First, get enough sleep. Your body, including your mind, works better when you have enough rest. Sleeping an extra hour can make all the difference.
  • Cry. Yes, have a good cry. If the situation is that bad, you’ll get some emotional release by crying. If nothing else, it will make you feel better. But don’t let yourself get mired in the black hole of depression.
  • Get support from family and friends. Tell those you trust what’s going on. While they may not be able to physically help you, they can lend moral support.
  • Surf the Internet. See what tips you can find to help you deal with your problem. 
When faced with a decreased flow in productivity, many writers seek out the device or method to use to quickly raise production levels instead of asking themselves what might be interfering with their creative process. Let’s face it, most people today look for the easy way out. But there’s no easy way out of any of the above stressful situations. The best thing to do is just deal with it. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Experience the Real World

Writing is a reflection of life. If you write non-fiction, it’s a documentation and interpretation of life. And if you choose to write fiction, you convert what happens in real life into fictional drama. The important thing is not to just sit in front of your computer and forget about life.  Get out and live it.

You learned to write in school. However, the academic environment of school isn’t real life. And though you studied past writers in the form of literature, you never learned about their techniques, only their ideas. In fact, too many academicians infer too much from the works of famous writers. They inject symbolism and innuendo into everyone’s work, because they can’t see into the mind of these writers at the moment of creation.

Ernest Hemingway is most noted for his adventures in the real world. He was to some extent an eccentric, but he knew that if he didn’t try all sorts of things, he wouldn’t be able to write honestly about any of them. The old saying, “Write what you know,” is key to this way of thinking.

But in school, you didn’t write what you know. When you had to write a research paper, you searched out the facts and spit them out on paper in perhaps a slightly different form. You never took the time to digest them. After all, the only reader who mattered in this process was your teacher. Only his or her opinion counted. But in real life that’s not how it works.

A good writer writes from experience. And while you may not be able to afford the time or money to experience everything in life, you do experience a lot each day. Much of it you take for granted.

You don’t have to go to some exotic locale to gain insight. If you’re like most people, you struggle with relationships day in and day out. You know how you relate to people and how they relate to you. With some acute observation, you can study the relationship of others. Everyone knows about relationships. They just take them for granted and seldom look at them as material to write about.

You probably also take a vacation once in a while. Some people go to the beach and just lie in the sun. But you can see the beach and all who are on it as one giant resource to draw on. While lying there, try playing the “What If” game. Look at the group of people nearest you and see what you can gain from observing them throughout the day. Tune in to their conversation. Do they give you any ideas that you can work into a story?

Or perhaps you prefer to go on an historic vacation, visiting historic sites nearby or far away. What are you learning about these places and the people who inhabited them? One writer visited Fort Delaware, a former POW camp for Confederate soldiers. The fort has been lovingly restored by a group of dedicated volunteers and the State of Delaware. Recently, they reconstructed one of the prisoners’ barracks which reveals the lives of the 12,000 prisoners who were incarcerated there for the duration of the war. He learned a lot about their experiences. So much so, that he was able to create an article that truly captures the POW experience at the time. Being able to sit on one of the bunks in the barracks and seeing re-enactors portraying the roles of various prisoners put him right back in the war. And the knowledge he gained on that visit help put his readers there, too.

But writing isn’t limited to pleasurable things. How about documenting a tragedy. With all the news available to you, you should be able to glean a wealth of information to use later in a short story or novel. Because the media goes into overkill on most tragedies or disasters, you won’t be able to use any of the information right away. But you can put aside what you’ve learned for a writing project in the near future. 

To experience life, you don’t have to go zipping through the cloud forest on a zip line or get in the ring with a ferocious bull. Instead, look to experience those things in life that interest you. Then you’ll really be able to write what you know.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The All-Important First Draft

First drafts are the all-important backbone of any article, short-story, or book. But many writers produce them as if they’re the final draft. There’s a great difference between the two.  And there’s a difference between a first draft in non-fiction and one in fiction.

In non-fiction, you begin with a mass of facts and have to compile them into a cohesive article or book that documents reality. But in fiction, you start out with nothing and have to create an illusion of reality. In both cases, a first draft gives you something to work with.

But even before you get to the first draft stage in your writing, you need to think about what you’re going to write. You’d be surprised just how many beginning writers don’t do this. This comes from bad practices they learned in school. Much of the writing they did was spontaneous writing in class. The teacher would give them an exercise, and they had to start it or even complete it in class. Too many carried this method over to their own writing.

In fact, you should begin by thoroughly thinking out your idea and how you plan to craft it. Then you need to block out what you plan to write. This isn’t an outline but a plan—and a loose one at that. You shouldn’t include too many details in your blocking but, instead, focus on the main and some of the subpoints. The main thing is to keep it flexible. Your blocked plan will help you to stay on course. In non-fiction, it will help you line up the facts in a logical order. In fiction, it will keep you from going down too many side paths and thus drifting away from your plot.

Think of your first draft as the clay, not the sculpture. A potter starts with a hunk of wet clay and kneads it into a pliable mass. At that point, he or she only has a vague idea of what the final piece will look like. And just like this mass of clay, your first draft will be messy and unrefined. But refining comes later. Your job now is just to get started.

So the first thing to do is to empty your head of everything on the subject at hand. In non-fiction, you most likely will have notes to refer to but in fiction, you may just create as you go. In both cases, you have your blocked plan to follow. Don worry about how your writing looks or sounds at this point. This is just between you and your  keyboard.

You shouldn’t show your first draft to anyone. You know it needs lots of work. In fact, you probably know exactly what that work should be. So showing your first draft to someone at this stage is pointless. It’s not called a “rough” draft for nothing.  And while you shouldn’t show your first draft to anyone, that doesn’t mean that you can’t discuss your idea with a close friend or family member. Doing so might help to free up the cobwebs in your brain. Talking about an idea  often helps a person think it out.

Today, both non-fiction and fiction writers do lots of research. But that can bog you down.  You may get so involved in your research that you never get to your first draft. Also, know when you’ve done enough general research on your idea. If you start writing and then continue your research, you’ll constantly be changing what you’ve written. It’s okay to look up details.

If you’re writing fiction, you can always flub the details and make them up to keep the story going. To make sure you know which details to look up later,  put them in bold type. This will make them stand out. If you’re writing an historical article or fictional story, put the year dates in bold type. Then you’ll be able to see at a glance if they’re out of chronological order. The only time they may not be is if you’re using a flashback.

Finally, set a deadline for your first draft. Be reasonable. Give yourself plenty of time to write it, but know when it should be finished so that you can get on with revising in future drafts. If you stop for any reason for a bit of time, insert “START HERE” in your notes or if you’re in a revision draft, wherever you stop within it.

The key to writing a successful first draft is not to revise as you go. Keep revising until after you have the whole story laid out, and you’ve gained some perspective on it. When you’ve finished your first draft, let it rest. Work or another project or do something else for a bit. That way, when you do get back to it, you’ll be able to see just what needs to be done.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Today’s Rollercoaster of Freelancing

Remember the days when rollercoasters were the most fun ride in an amusement park. The cars crept slowly up the incline, seemed to hesitate for a moment, then gravity took hold and they plunged to the depths, riders screaming all the way.

Today, the cars still plunge, the riders still scream, but at ever-increasing, sometimes dizzying, speeds. Believe it or not, the same thing is happening to freelance writing.

Technology has taken rollercoasters to literally new heights with more curves and many more screams. It has done the same to freelance writing. Since the 1990s, computers have changed the way freelancers do business. They’ve allowed writers to work anywhere and find information on practically any subject in seconds. But those same computers have also given editors an extra edge that previously only freelancers could provide them. You’d think all this technology would provide loads of publishing opportunities for writers, but unfortunately, the opposite is true.

Sure, there are loads of additional opportunities for writers, like blogs and ebooks, but most of these pay little or nothing. And as a freelance writer, you can’t live on that.

Technology has also cut into traditional freelance markets. And while communication happens in an instant today, there are more writers out there than ever before—all trying to make a go of it as freelancers. That number also includes all those editors and staff writers who lost their jobs because of publications closing.  So even if you think you’ve sent an idea to an editor quickly, someone else will have sent the same idea faster and gotten there first.

Freelancers used to use the U.S. Mail to not only send queries with ideas, but also finished manuscripts. Today, if you don’t use some sort of electronic form of communication, you’re out of luck. However, there are still some editors who haven’t adapted to 21st-century communication and insist writers send everything by snail mail.

In today’s freelance writing environment, writers experience higher highs and lower lows. When they fall, they fall hard. So much today depends on the idiosyncracies of technology.

For instance, one writer developed a long-standing regular gig writing content for Web sites.  The same person, his biggest client, owned a group of sites. He began pulling some sneaky tricks, trying to get more hits on Google. Google discovered this and pulled all of the client’s sites from its listing which effectively knocked out his sites, putting the freelancer out of work.

Because many people get their news from the Internet and T.V., the newspaper market, which provided many freelancers with bread-and-butter work, is virtually dead.  And while there may seem to be more magazines available today, many specialize in one subject. And a specialty market will only support a limited number of publications.