Tuesday, February 23, 2021

How to Use Your Walk or Run to Unlock Your Creativity & Get Unstuck

I have an announcement to make! I am now accepting guest bloggers for my weekly blog articles. If you would like to be considered, leave a comment or hit reply on the email version and let me know. My first guest blogger is Ursula Saqui. Take it away, Ursula!


Thanks, Christie.


Do you often feel stuck in your ability to be creative? Do you sometimes get so frustrated you want to leave your current work in progress and never return to it?

These feelings and thoughts often leave you wondering if you were ever really that creative, if you should continue to struggle, or if you really have anything worthwhile to say.  And it doesn't seem to matter how long you have been writing or what kind of success you have had. These roadblocks make it feel like you have never written anything good at all.

A quick search yields many tricks and tips for writer's block, such as reading a book, listening to music, playing, and freewriting.  However, the solution that has worked the best for me is taking a creative walk or run.



Use Your Walk or Run to Unlock Your Creativity and Get Unstuck



The following are five guidelines I practice when I walk or run to increase my creativity and solve any writing issue.

Go outside and leave your problem behind


Staying indoors puts you right in front of the usual negative triggers.  You see the unfinished manuscript, the bills that need to be paid, the dog who needs to be let out, and the room that you want to paint.

Resolve to go outside regardless of the weather conditions, even for fifteen minutes.  The outdoors is out of your authority, responsibility, and control.  There is nothing for you to do except experience it (and watch for erratic drivers). 

When you leave your desk and go outside, leave your problem behind.  You don't take what you are struggling with on your walk or run. If thinking more about the issue was the solution, you wouldn't be stuck. It's only by letting it go can it be solved.

 

Go to a different place


Our tendency when we are stuck is to do more of the same.  And when that doesn't work, our frustration grows as now we are working twice as hard with no results.  Therefore, walking or running the same route you always do will not boost your creativity. 

Research new areas in your community that you could explore on foot. One of my favorite places to go is county parks. They usually have a wide range of wildlife, habitations, and vegetation.

Go somewhere new instead of walking out of your front door.  Wherever you decide to go, remember that you need to do something different instead of doing more of the same. You and your creativity are worth the extra effort to go someplace new.


Be present in the world


Having earbuds in, listening to your favorite podcast, or talking on the phone isn't being present in the world.  They are often defense mechanisms used to distract us from unpleasant thoughts such as, "What am I going to do about my project?"

Being present in the moment helps you move through self-defeating thoughts, reduce stress, and increase your ability to observe the surroundings.

To take full advantage of your creative walk or run, leave distractions behind.  Silence your phone or put your phone on airplane mode and tuck it in a pocket so you won't be tempted to use or look at it. Make your creativity walk or run a priority above everything else.


Set no parameters for pace, steps, or distance


Or for people like me, this is not a competitive training session. If you find this guideline challenging, resolve to take another walk or run to meet whatever fitness goal you feel like you are missing out on.
 
Looking at your watch to see how far or fast you've gone means you are missing out on what is going on in the world and the opportunity to get unstuck. You will also be more reluctant to stop and observe things or take notes on ideas that come to mind.

We are all busy and like to multi-task, but in doing so, we miss out on the present experience. The purpose of your walk or run is to reset your creative mind—nothing else.


Engage your senses


Your creativity is lacking because everything seems dull, tired, and shapeless, or you are overwhelmed with stimuli.  Deliberately channeling your senses counteracts these roadblocks to creativity.

Once outside, close your eyes, take a round of deep breaths inhaling all the fresh air, and exhale slowly, imagining that you are purging all the staleness inside of you. If thoughts about being stuck come up, imagine them leaving your body with every step or breath you take.

As you walk or run, notice the world around you using each of your senses. Be curious about what you notice, even if it doesn't seem to relate to your current issue.  Ask questions, make up stories, or even sing songs about what you observe. Believe what you are noticing is essential, and let your subconscious mind make the needed connections.





You want to get unstuck and feel creative again? You can.

You want to look at your work in progress without daggers in your eyes? You can.

These guidelines won't be easy to implement. Almost everything in our society is set up to encourage us to be inside, doing repetitive things while being distracted and overstimulated.

I know because I've struggled with the same things.  However, with tenacity, you can implement these guidelines and overcome creative blocks, solve problems in your work in progress, and generate ideas and prompts for new projects. 

So, imagine leaving your problem behind, putting yourself in a different environment with no distractions or parameters, and being present in the world with your senses fully engaged. What kind of beautiful, creative things will happen for you?
 

Ursula Saqui, Ph.D., is a writer, runner, and ruminator. In addition to working on her first thriller novel, she has a monthly column "Life in the Comment Section" in The Daily Drunk and has been published in Multiplicity Blog.  She lives in the Midwest with her family and five cats.


Have you experienced a time when your run or walk unlocked your creativity? Share your comment here.


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Thursday, September 24, 2020

6 Different Book Formats

It takes a different type of runner to excel in the 50-yard dash than it does to excel in the ultra marathon. The difference is in the format. Some runners like to run short sprints, while others can go the distance for hours on end.

Just as there are different race distances (100-meter, 1-mile, 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, and ultras), there are different book formats too. 






A book’s (or a writer’s) audience is simply the age of the reader. 

Genre is the category of the book, based on story elements, setting, and location.

The format of a book is different from the audience and genre categories. The following list is an example of a few different book formats. When writing your own book, the audience and genre are the two you should focus on. Format is more of the way in which you write your story or the way in which it is printed.






Board Books

  • Board books are typically meant for babies ages 0-2. Sometimes they are picture books that later get turned into a board book format. It is a very difficult market to break into. Most board books are developed in house.

Rhyming Picture Books

  • Since picture books aren’t typically categorized by genres, per se, any “genre” (contemporary, historical, fiction, nonfiction, humans, animals, etc) can be either rhyming or in prose. Most editors say they aren’t looking for rhyme since it’s difficult to do it well.

Graphic Novels

  • Most graphic novels are for children and tend to run in the MG range. This is a format and not a genre (though some would disagree). Stories can employ any of the genres: contemporary, historical, mystery, coming of age, fantasy, even super heroes.

Novels in Verse

  • Similar in nature to a rhyming PB, novels written in verse are becoming more and more popular. The story itself can fit into any of the genres available for novels. It’s a popular YA option, though most novels are definitely written in prose.

Hardback Books

  • Most new books are released in hardback. This is across the board for PB, MG, novels, fiction, and nonfiction. This is a very easy-to-understand book format.

Paperback Books

  • Most paperback books are released after the hardback edition.


Keep on keepin' on... 

Friday, September 18, 2020

What Audience Are You Writing For?

One Saturday morning, I went for a run and ended up with a very unique audience that day. No, I wasn’t running in a race with hundreds of spectators dressed in costume.

After I hit the 2-mile mark, I turned around to head back home for a total of 4 miles that day. When I hit the 3-mile mark, there were about 16 wild eyes staring at me. There were eight black-bellied barbados sheep watching me run up the hill beside their fenced-in area. It was a little odd and slightly humorous. Too bad I didn’t have my camera that day. 






It made me think about audiences for writers, though. As writers, it’s very important to who you’re writing for. You wouldn’t write about adultery for a 5-year-old. But what about cheating? Would you write about that for an 8-year-old reader?

Audience is the age group of your readership. Children’s books are 0-17. Adult books are 18+. Children’s books are divided into four main categories. These are guidelines, though there are always exceptions.

You could also include Board Books (BB) for babies age 0-2; and Early Readers (ER) for children age 5-8. Notice how the ages overlap. That’s because children don’t develop linguistically at the same rate. It takes time to develop a strong independent reader.

Use this Writer’s Audience Guide to help you decide not only who your audience is, but also the age of your characters and how many words you’ll need to write. 






Picture Books (PB)

  • Age of reader: All ages (Typically meant to be read aloud to 4-8 year olds.)
  • Age of character: All ages (Usually 5-10 year olds.)
  • Word length range: 0 to 1,000+ (Sweet spot is 500 to 800.)

Chapter Books (CB)

  • Age of reader: 7-9
  • Age of character: 7-10
  • Word length range: 4,000 to 15,000 (Average length is 6,000 to 10,000.) 
  • Popular genres: Contemporary, Historical, Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Mystery

Middle Grade (MG)

  • Age of reader: 9-12
  • Age of character: 10-12
  • Word length range: 20,000 to 55,000
  • Popular genres: Contemporary, Coming of Age, Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Young Adult (YA)

  • Age of reader: 12-17
  • Age of character: 14-17 
  • Word length range: 55,000 to 80,000
  • Popular genres: Contemporary, Romance, Paranormal, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian

New Adult (NA)

    This is a fairly new (and very small) subcategory of Adult fiction.
    • Age of reader: 17-22 (Usually independent women entering their 20s.) 
    • Age of character: 18-30 
    • Word length range: 55,000 to 80,000
    • Popular genres/topics: Romance, College, Career, Identity

    Adult (A)

    • Age of reader: 18+
    • Age of character: 21+
    • Word length range: Novella (20k-50k). Standard (70k-90k). Epic (100k+).
    • Popular genres: All


    Keep on keepin' on... 

    Friday, September 4, 2020

    Plot Arc Summary for Sing, the Movie

    When the computer-animated musical comedy, Sing, came out in 2016, my kids watched it without me. They were 12 and 14 and loved it. Especially my daughter. Once it became available on Netflix, she watched it multiple times before I even saw it once, which is her typical movie-watching habit. 

    So needless to say that when I finally got around to watching Sing too, I loved it just as much as she did. I even took notes so I could share the basic plot structure with you!


    when I finally got around to watching Sing too, I loved it just as much as my daughter did. I even took notes so I could share the basic plot structure with you!


    Summary


    A group of talking animals enters a singing competition hosted by a koala who is trying to save his theatre.

     

    Characters


    This is not a list of all the characters, but it will give you a small idea of what kind of showstopper this is.

    BUSTER MOON. The main character is a koala who is trying to save the run-down theatre he inherited from his father.

    MISS CRAWLY. Buster's administrative assistant, an elderly iguana with a glass eye.

    EDDIE NOODLEMAN. A sheep and Buster's best friend who doubts the future of Buster’s theater.

    NANA NOODLEMAN. A sheep and Eddie's grandmother who was a famous singer back in the day.

    ROSITA. A pig who gave up her music dreams to become a devoted wife and mother of 25 piglets.

    JOHNNY. A teenage gorilla who wants to sing, despite his father grooming him for the family business (the mafia).

    MEENA. A teenage elephant with an amazing voice, but she also has severe stage fright.



    Plot



    THE SIGNUP. Miss Crawley writes up the announcement for the singing competition and her glass eye pops out of her head and lands on the typewriter, adding two extra zeros to the amount of prize money up for grabs.

    Without this plot point, there would be no story.

    THE GUNSHOT. Mr. Moon (Buster) tells the cast members to get a good night’s rest, despite now knowing the error about the prize money amount.

    Buster is in it for the long haul. He knows the risks and chooses to move forward with his plan.

    THE HALFWAY POINT. Mr. Moon fixes up the theatre to make it awesome for Nana Noodeman, in an effort to gain her support and endorsement.

    Buster makes progress, but then he hits “the wall.”

    THE WALL. When the theatre floods, it completely collapses. The bank takes over the property. Buster moves in with his friend, Eddie, who is living in his parents’ pool house. All the characters are at an all-time low. 

    Mr. Moon sees no way of saving his ruined theatre and accepts the fact that his life’s dreams are crushed forever. But wait...

    THE FINISH LINE. Mina the elephant sings the finale at the newly refurbished open air theatre and the performance is packed.


    Clearly, these are just the highlights. There’s a LOT of action that happens to get to each of these plot points. But seeing the structure in this story can help you pinpoint the five main plot points in your own stories. 


    If you liked this post, you’ll also enjoy the other summaries in the Plot Arc Library

    Share this post on social!


    Keep on keepin' on... 

    Tuesday, August 25, 2020

    The 3rd Commandment for Writers

    Everyone agrees that stealing is wrong, except for maybe those who do it and try to get away with it. Even still, deep down, they know. But then there’s Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. I’m not going to debate the philosophy of Robin Hood today though. At any rate, I digress.

    We already established that if you write, you are a writer. Today, I’m sharing the third commandment for writers with you: Thou shalt not take books from the library and never return them. 

    We borrow library books so that we can read and not have to buy the books.

    Borrowed Library Books

    As writers, we love the library! We love bookstores and anything to do with books. To borrow a book - or more often than not, a stack of books - from the library means that we get to read lots of extra cool words for a few weeks. And then return them. 

    We borrow library books so that we can read and not have to buy the books. Maybe we like the book so much that we end up buying it after all. The library allows us to preview potential purchases, if you will. But not returning the books and paying compounded late fees over several months is not the same thing as buying them. If you want to buy the books, then order them online or go to a bookstore. And absolutely… return the library books!

    Borrowed Words

    On the other hand, as writers, “stealing” is the best form of flattery, right? What I mean by this is that writers often “copy” the writers we admire and hope to emulate. Of course, we always want to develop our own voice. So definitely never plagiarize. 

    You can always use the books you borrow from the library to incorporate into a writing exercise. That’s basically what I did on a very scaled-down version with the Ten Commandments. I took “thou shalt not steal” and turned it into “thou shalt not take books from the library and never return them.” Simply use a paragraph you love and substitute different nouns, verbs, adjectives in place of the current ones and you just mentored an existing writing text! 

    Using another author's words as a mentor text is not the same thing as comparing yourself to other writers. Be sure you don't fall into that trap.

    QUESTION: Let me know if you’re a library book thief. I promise I won’t report you to the authorities. Have you ever NOT returned a library book - and not because you lost it? Let me know in the comments! Keep on keepin' on... 

    Monday, August 10, 2020

    Writing Commandment #2


    Some people think writing rules are “bad”. But these writing rules are different. It’s more of a creed to live by. Writing mantras to inspire you to be your best self.


    If You Write, You Are a Writer


    What does it even mean to be a writer? The simplest definition is that if you write, you are a writer. Same goes for running. If you run, you’re a runner. You don’t have to be a sponsored Olympic athlete to call yourself a runner. Runner isn’t based on speed either. If your feet are in the air at the same time, you’re a runner. So what about writing?

    If you’re not published, are you still considered a writer? If you don’t have a medical degree, can you call yourself a doctor? And then there’s the whole “writer vs. author” debate. Authors are published. Some say that authors are writers who HAVE WRITTEN. But that writers continue to write. So some prefer “writer” and others prefer “author”.

    Personally, I believe that all authors are also writers, especially if you continue to write. If you stick to the “have written” definition, then a writer who only published one or two books may be an author, but not a writer.

    No matter how you look at it, if you write, you’re a writer.

    How to Write More


    Did you see my post about how to do things when you don’t feel like it? My two best tips for how to write more are to:
    1. Put it on your calendar. 
    2. Think about your story.
    Put it on your calendar. It could be 10 minutes a day, or 1 hour a week. Either way, when you look at the “event” on your calendar, you’ll get more excited about and look forward to it. Schedule your writing time and it will help you to actually write more often and more consistently.

    Think about your story. Talk about your story. Get excited about writing the next scene. When you have the next scene in mind, it’s easier to get started and even to write more during that writing session.


    Dream Big


    Lastly, it’s fun to dream big. As a writer, you might dream of writing like another author (or not), being a NYT Bestselling Author, or getting a traditional publishing deal. Maybe you want your next book to be a bigger advance. Maybe you dream of being on TV. Or teaching a workshop. Or doing school visits. There are LOTS of ways to dream about success as a writer.

    Whatever success looks like for you as a writer, dream big! Start by finishing your manuscript. Then dream as big as you can and write it down. Talk about it. See yourself in the future living your dreams. Because you are a writer and you deserve it!

    QUESTION: What's one of YOUR big writing dreams? I'd love for you to share it with me! Let me know in the comments.

    Keep on keepin' on...

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    Monday, August 3, 2020

    10 Commandments for the Writer


    So you’re a writer, huh? Over the years, I have developed a set of rules to follow to help you keep your head in the game. Because if you know anything at all about writing, you know that it’s easy to STOP. And if you stop writing?

    Well… you’re not being a very good writer. Today, I share with you the first commandment for writers.


    Writer Commandment #1


    The first rule of writing is this: Thou shalt have no comparisons of thyself to other writers. A story is a story.

    Basically, you’re the only writer you need to worry about. Yes, studying the “greats” is a good way to learn the writing craft, but be careful to not compare your worst to their best. We all have to start somewhere.

    The Comparison Trap


    Keep your eyes on your own paper. The only person you should compare yourself against is the person you were yesterday.

    I know it’s easy to read a book and say, “I wish I could write like that.” Or to see another writer’s success and say, “Wow. I wonder when it’s going to be my turn to get published.”

    But that’s not healthy. Here’s why.

    Comparing yourself to others takes your eyes off your own goals. If you want to reach your goals, if you have to keep your eye on the prize.

    When you start comparing where you’re at to where others are at, it can make you feel bad about how you’re doing.

    You can always find other writers who seem to be happier, faster, more productive, more successful, etc. When you fall into the comparison trap, you can become envious, have low self-confidence, or even get depressed.

    When you look inward, you’ll be able to focus on yourself, your own writing, your own journey, and begin to see your own progress.

    So how do you stop comparing yourself to the writer next door?


    Learn how to Obey the First Rule of Writing


    When you can get past not comparing yourself to other writers, your confidence will begin to soar. Follow these 7 tips to stop this bad habit before it begins.

    1. Work on your own craft.
    2. Accept where you are.
    3. Love your past.
    4. Be grateful for what you have.
    5. Progress, not perfection.
    6. Rewrite your own story.
    7. Turn comparison into inspiration.

    Working on your own craft is one way to accept where you are. You’ll never reach your goals if you don’t learn the skills. So practice the writing craft to hone your skills.

    Accept the fact that all writers are on the same journey. There is room for all of us. One publication doesn’t make you successful. And it definitely doesn’t guarantee a second one.

    When you can love your past and find the power of seeing who you are and all you’ve experienced and learned, you will be much happier as you continue your writing journey.

    Gratitude is so much more powerful than most people think. Being grateful for what you have invites more things into your life to be grateful for. This is one of the best ways to ward of the green monster of envy.

    Your journey is all about progress, not perfection. Remember to enjoy the journey and to only compare yourself to where you’ve been. When you do that, you’ll see progress every single time. The journey is the reward. And when you reach “The End” it will be all the sweeter.

    If the stories you’re telling yourself are that you’re not good enough or that you’ll never make it as a writer, then I invite you to rewrite those stories right now. Be sure to include feelings of strength, empowerment, confidence, optimism, hope, joy, and plenty of progress.

    Lastly, you can always turn comparison into inspiration. Remember that other writers’ triumphs didn’t happen overnight. So don’t compare yourself in the beginning or middle stages to their amazing achievements. Let it inspire you! Remember that they had to start at the beginning too. It should be a great reminder for what’s possible for you too.

    We all have to start somewhere, just not with a comparison. So give yourself a pep talk and be your own best cheerleader.

    “Thou shalt have no comparisons of thyself to other writers.”

    QUESTION: What's one accomplishment you've made as a writer? Let's share our collective progress in the comments!

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    Monday, July 27, 2020

    Plot Arc Summary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

    Are you a Harry Potter fan? If so, this 5-point plot synopsis may interest you, especially if you're also a writer. There’s a little bit of disagreement around how others define them, but this is my take. The Marathon Method of Plotting is the easiest way to break down plot and analyze any story.



    Harry Potter 5-point plot synopsis.



    The Signup


    A mysterious letter arrives for Harry, but he is not allowed to open it. More letters continue to arrive in the days before his 11th birthday, though he is prevented from opening any of them.

    If Harry had never received the letter, there would be no story.


    The Gunshot


    Harry boards the train at King’s Cross Station at Platform 9¾ to go to Hogwarts.

    When Harry takes a leap of faith to board the train to Hogwarts, his journey begins.


    The Halfway Point


    Harry, Ron, and Hermione discover a three-headed dog, and Hermione points out that it was guarding a trap door to something.

    This is a hingepoint in the story and now they want to know what is hiding down there.


    The Wall


    Harry is almost seized by Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest, but a centaur saves him.

    This is Harry’s lowest point, even lying on the ground, nearly at the mercy of Lord Voldemort. But the centaur’s rescue does not end the book or solve the main problem, so Harry still has a bit of work to do.


    The Finish Line


    Harry lies to Quirrel about what he sees in the mirror. He defeats Quirrel by touching him, and Quirrel’s skin burns on contact.

    Defeating Quirrel, Voldemort’s human host, releases Voldemort back into spirit form and Harry is safe… for now.

    For more plot summaries, see my Plot Arc Library.

    QUESTION: What's your favorite scene in this Harry Potter book? I know it's hard to choose; there are so many good ones! I love the snake scene at the zoo and also the sorting hat. Leave a comment and let me know!



    Outline Your Own Novel with the 5 Main Plot Points





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