Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Are You a Pantser or a Plotter?

If you’ve been around the writing world for any time at all, you’ve probably heard about the great debate of panster vs. plotter. If you’ve never been asked if you’re a pantser or a plotter, you might be new to writing. And no, we’re not talking about pulling someone’s pants down. We’re talking about how writers approach their writing. Do you plan? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
Writers who write by the seat of their pants are called pantsers.

Pantser


In the 1930s, pilots coined the term “fly by the seat of your pants,” which likely originated in the UK since there are several instances of this American idiom that have been known to use the word “trousers,” which is totally a British thing. 

Basically, it came about right around the time that instrument panels started to become a thing for airplanes. But most pilots of the era flew airplanes with little to no instrument panels. They had to fly “blind” and to use their gut instincts to fly by the seat of their pants. 

In writing, this means that a writer just writes. It’s an adventure to see where they end up. They trust their gut, and just go with it. In essence, they are flying by the seat of their pants, hence the term “pantser”. They don’t have a fancy instrument panel to help guide the journey (a plot outline). They may not even know how the story is going to end. And that’s okay too.


Plotter


A writer who claims to be a plotter is someone who loves outlining every last detail. They know what scenes are in each chapter. They might have a character worksheet filled out for each of their characters and know how the book will end. Perhaps it’s one way to counteract the fear of writer’s block

Pantsers claim that plotters have no fun. Plotters claim that pantsers will take 10 years to finish a book. There’s no right or wrong way to approach your writing. While plotters may take more time up front to plan the book, pantsers take more time on the back end with revisions. Either way, it still takes about the same amount of time to write a book and get your story straight.
 


Learn How to Map Out a
Basic Plot For Your Own Novel





Can You Be Both?


In recent years, a new term has been coined: a “plantser”. That’s a writer who takes a middle-of-the-road approach. I like to call them planners. Basically, it’s someone who starts with the end in mind, has a couple of main characters, and generally works through the plot ahead of time, but not down to the last detail of every chapter and every scene. 

Being a planner (or plantser) is my favorite approach. You get the best of both worlds. Because when you plot out your five main plot points, you’re posting your milestones out ahead of time and you always know what’s coming next. Yes, even the ending. And since you’re not planning every last detail, you’re free to explore different pathways to get to your next milestone, keeping the fun aspect fully alive. 

After all, isn’t that what keeps a writer going… the fact that we actually enjoy it? So, if planning out the basic story structure of your novel is helpful to keep the fun factor alive (while also being organized and helping you feel a little bit in control), then let’s do THAT all day long! 

QUESTION: If you had to choose one or the other, what side do you lean a little closer to? Are you 100% pantser or 100% plotter? I’m 85% plotter. What about you? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

How to Bust Through Writer's Block… for Good

Yes, Virginia, Writer’s Block is real. It comes when you least expect it, when you round a corner of doubt, or when you’re excitedly working toward the end of your story. But how can you chisel your way out of this problematic writer’s block and turn it into an exquisite wooden statue of a bear, an angelic ice sculpture, or your own marble masterpiece?






How Do You Define Writer’s Block?


There are two camps of thought when it comes to Writer’s Block: either you believe it exists or you believe it is hogwash. But that depends on how you define it.

The basic definition of Writer’s Block is when a writer feels unable or uninspired to write or continue writing. 

Does this exist? Do writers ever feel uninspired or unable to continue writing or to start a new project? Absolutely!

Or is it just a bunch of hogwash? Is it all because a writer is being lazy?

There are two types of writer’s block - based on why it happens in the first place. And both camps of thought can peacefully coexist in the world of writing.

 

Reasons Why Writer’s Block Happens


There are two reasons why a writer faces Writer’s Block. 

  1. It’s an excuse to not write. You’re being lazy. There’s something unpleasant about the imminent writing task placed before you that is making you procrastinate it. This reason is what leads many to believe that Writer’s Block is a myth - pure hogwash.
  2. You’re facing a problem in your writing that you’re struggling to solve. All writers solve problems every time they add a new chapter, a new character, a new action, or start revising their stories. You can’t always simply “write through it.” This reason often requires reflection, deep thought, and different options to try out in order to bust through the mental block.

So if you believe that Writer’s Block doesn’t exist, you’re right (if you’re procrastinating or just being lazy). And if you believe that Writer’s Block does exist, you are also right! Either way, there is a solution to help you cure your Writer’s Block woes.



Three Things to Help Counteract Writer’s Block


Yes, Virginia, there is a cure for Writer’s Block. How do you bust through that tough block of wood in the backyard of your brain? While there are many things you can do to help combat this common writing problem, these are the three best ways to bust through your mental blocks:

  1. Brainstorm. You can brainstorm out loud with others or brainstorm silently on paper all by yourself. Either way, brainstorming is a powerful way to help you see more options. When you see several paths laid out before you, it’s much easier to take a single step - a leap of faith - than when you are staring at a brick wall thinking you have to somehow figure out how to scale it.
  2. Run (or walk). Running (and of course walking too), is a proven method with science to back it up to help a person become (and stay) more creative. Even horseback riding works! Sure, doing chores or mindlessly watching TV can help switch your brain’s airwaves and trigger a new thought the next time you return to your writing, but running is magical. It has to do with CSF, or Cerebrospinal Fluid. It’s a clear liquid that runs through the spinal cord to the brain, which stimulates neurological reactions. So go for a run!
  3. Go to a writing retreat. If you’re facing a funk due to lack of inspiration, a writing retreat works wonders. Workshops and conferences are good too, but a retreat is my favorite. If you’re struggling with revisions, a writing retreat can provide you with fellow writers to give you personal feedback in real life. A writing retreat can provide you with inspiration, collaboration, feedback, learning, and so much more. Find out about the Writers Who Run Retreat and get added to the waitlist for 2023.


QUESTION: How often do you take your writing with you when you head out for a jaunt? Share about a time when it helped solve one of your plot problems. Share your comment here.


Keep on keepin' on... 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Story Ideas Are Like Seeds

You can start a story with a nugget of an idea. Story ideas are like seeds; nurture them and they will grow. Just like humans, plants have a few basic necessities for life - air and water being the two most basic. When you plant a seed, it needs soil, water, sunlight, and air in order to thrive and grow. Stories are no different. 

Stories need four basic ingredients to grow from an idea into a story. You don’t need to have a green thumb to make a seed (or your story ideas) grow, you just need to know that you are good enough to be a writer. And to be patient in the process. Stories (and plants) take time.









Character is the Soil


It’s not that hard to start building a story - even if you only have a snippet of an idea.  Your idea needs a place to live. First, think about who your story might be about and create a character. What kind of strengths and weaknesses might your character have? Once you know who will be in your story interacting with each other, it’s time to give them some water and make them do something.


 

Plot is the Water


When you water a seed planted in soil, it gets excited. Plot is what your characters will do during the story. Plot is basically what happens during your story. What kinds of things will your characters need to do to reach their goal? Once you have some characters and a simple plot, you can flesh it out later.



Conflict is the Sunlight


Next up is a little sunlight. Or in the case of a conflict analogy, probably some shade too. Conflict is the thing that stands in the way of your character reaching their goal. Conflict is what helps make your story more interesting. Ever heard the phrase, “Put your character up in a tree and throw rocks at him”? Conflict makes it hard on your character, which is what makes it interesting and the reader has someone to root for. If it’s too easy, then the story is boring.

As far as fleshing out your seedling of an idea, a good brainstorming session or a little help from a fellow writer might be all you need to get the ball rolling with more ideas before you start to feel like you actually have a great story idea. Just remember to make life hard for your character. Even a tiny seedling has to work to push through the soil and burst into the sunlight. (So maybe the soil should be the conflict?)



Theme is the Air


Lastly, you need a theme if you want your story to matter. Usually, the theme emerges as you write multiple drafts. You can technically start a story without a theme because, like I said, it often emerges later. The theme is basically what an editor is thinking about when they ask, “What’s the point of the story?” 

You already know how to write a story. I just wanted to remind you that the idea doesn’t have to be fleshed out in stone to pursue it. In fact, ALL stories start with a seedling of an idea. As you slowly add a little character, a little plot, a little conflict, and a little theme, your story will begin to take shape and pretty soon, you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor.



QUESTION: How many ideas do you get in a day, a week, a month? Share your comment here.


Keep on keepin' on... 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Are You Good Enough to Be a Writer?

To write or not to write? That is the question. One of a writer’s biggest fears or roadblocks is wondering if they are good enough to be a writer. While some people may try to discourage you, I say, “Go for it!” There’s only three things you need to be a writer.






You LIKE to Write


If you’re anything like me, you’ve been writing since you were a child. Writing makes you feel good. There are things we do because we have to. And then there are things we do because we want to. Writing, I hope, is the latter for you. 

If you like to write, whether or not you actually do any writing, makes you good enough to be a writer. Or at least in the very beginning. Because wanting to write is half the battle. But you won’t get any better at writing if you never do it.

If you go to a writing conference, workshop, or retreat, you will definitely be inspired to keep writing. So if you like to write, do it! And remember, you are good enough.


 

You DO Write


Writing, like anything else, takes practice. It takes a lifetime to master your craft. If you take the time to write, even if it’s sporadic, or only once a month, then you’re good enough to be a writer. Because you’re actually doing it!

Doing something you love, like writing, makes it easier to take the criticism. Critiques are pretty much necessary as a writer to become better. You might have a good cry after your first one, but it will make you a better writer.



You’re Willing to Learn and Put in the Work


So you call yourself a writer? If you like to write and you take the time to write, then you can call yourself a writer. And the best part? You don’t even have to be good at it!

Yes, taking the time to put words on paper will make you a better writer. But eventually you’ll want to take your writing to the next level. Aside from merely writing a lot.

Ever heard of continuing education classes or being a lifelong learner? Yep, writers do it too! Read books, buy craft books, take writing classes, join a critique group. Do “all the things” to take yourself seriously as a writer and to learn from everyone you meet in the industry. 

If you ever get to the point where you think you know it all, you don’t. Nobody does. Keep writing. Remind yourself why you love it. And always continue to learn and grow. Because you are good enough to be a writer.


QUESTION: What’s one of your favorite craft books? Not one that’s popular that you only know of because everybody talks about it, but one you’ve actually read and used. Share your comment here.


Keep on keepin' on... 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Staying Afloat With Walking and Writing

This week’s blog post comes to us from guest blogger, Lacey ‘Crazdwriter’ Gordon. Thanks so much for sharing your story about how walking and writing kept you sane during great difficulties in your life. Take it away, Lacey!


I began writing short stories and poems back in high school, but back then I never knew how my writing would save me from heartache and loss in the future. I was just a teenager trying to find a new outlet for this sudden onslaught of new ideas and characters who seem to pop up out of nowhere thanks to my love of reading and thanks to one of my teachers who taught a writing seminar. 

Yes, there were other English classes that I enjoyed, but this class was strictly about writing and I loved it. I continued to write through the years, nothing too serious until my husband and I married in 2007. My dreams of becoming published and seeing my books on bookshelves in bookstores or being sold online was a dream I wanted to pursue, and while being stationed in Hawaii with my husband, I had plenty of time to write while working as a Preschool teacher.








My Husband Was Deployed


My husband, Ryan, is in the Navy and was deployed most of our first year married and my first year living away from home. I did go hiking and did a few things alone, but having no family or friends on the island and my husband gone on a ship for months on end, my only companion was a kitten my husband adopted for me on my birthday and the characters I created inside my head. I ended up adopting another kitten before my husband came back from deployment, so I had two sweet kittens who loved to “help” me write, meaning they would sit on my notebooks or hide my pens, or even lay down on the computer’s keyboard. 
After Hawaii, we were stationed in California, my home state, and once again I dabbled in writing but things picked up a bit more since we had friends and my family here, plus working, plus going out and doing things with my husband. My writing just sort of fell on the back burner and even though I still wrote, I wasn’t giving it my full attention like I should have been. I regret not having been more into my writing back then, but I’m truly grateful to have it still as a constant in my life.


 

Walking Through Miscarriages


I didn’t get into walking until later on when we moved from the Anaheim area down to the Oceanside area. I felt so alive when walking around, especially when I walked from our condo down to the ocean, which was a good 3 miles round trip. Ryan and I would walk along the beach, hand in hand, watching the waves, and enjoying the cool ocean breeze. Or I would walk to the library down there and just sit and be around the books, still wishing that my books were on those shelves, being picked by curious readers. 

During some of these walks, we would talk about having our own family, and we decided that it was time to start trying for our first child. Unfortunately, we had issues the first year, and we suffered with two miscarriages in the year of 2012. My heart sank every month and then broke when we were struck by the miscarriages. My husband was hurting too, but he did everything he could to be the strong one for me. They sent me to an infertility doctor in the military to see if he could find out what was wrong with me. My husband’s tests and my tests both came back normal, so why was I suffering from miscarriages?



Looking for a Life Buoy


When I felt like I couldn’t take anymore, I turned back to my writing, grasping onto it as if it were a life buoy that will help keep me afloat. I dove into my Fantasy, my Horror, my Mystery, even my Young Adult, causing mayhem and havoc for my characters and bringing magic and love into their lives depending on the genre I wrote, writing anything to keep my mind from swirling with sadness. My heart felt heavy, and I knew that if I didn’t pull myself out, I would enter a dark place that I did not want to go, so my writing, my walking, and my husband became my closest life buoys. Sure, I had family and friends, but I felt that they didn’t fully understand the pain I was going through. I hated going to baby showers, but my mom said I had to go, not truly understanding how much my heart ached. 

I found a group of women at a Preschool I worked for in 2012 at Coast Kids Preschool in Carlsbad. I felt so at home. Their faith and their love pushed me forward, helping put a smile back on my face, and they pushed me, like my husband does, to continue my writing and not giving up on having a family. When I had break times, I would find a quiet place and just write. The other teachers I worked with would ask me how it was going, how I was doing, and how my writing was going too. While working there, we suffered from a third miscarriage and my hopes of having children fell even further; the darkness threatening to overwhelm me. I clung to my husband; I clung to my walking; I clung to the women at Coast Kids, and mostly I clung to my writing.


Rainbows on the Horizon


I still write to this day, still working on becoming a published author, whether traditionally or through self-publishing. I walk mostly every day when I can, completing virtual races through a great website, https://yes.fit/, but my walking has turned into riding a stationary bike right now because of Covid. I still have the best husband at my side who pushes me to write and exercise as I push him to better himself and to help him through his dark times right now of his own onslaught of health issues. I do not work with the ladies at Coast Kids anymore, but I still chat with them from time to time and they are still telling me to keep writing. And my cheering section has grown a bit more with not just one rainbow baby, but two. We suffered from a fourth miscarriage back in 2017, but the following year we welcomed our second rainbow daughter, our first rainbow daughter gracing us with her presence in 2013.

If it wasn’t for my husband, friends, family, walking, and most importantly my writing, I don’t know where I would be at this moment. Depressed, alone, stuck in a dark hole most likely, but thankfully I am not. I still mourn for my four angel babies, but I am stronger because of other aspects in my life, though I never go a day without thinking about them. And now my views of becoming published have changed as well. Yes, I still want to see my books on those shelves in bookstores or being sold online, but now I want to show my two girls that their dreams can come true with hard work and perseverance. Walking isn’t just for exercising, it can also help your ideas flow more freely. Keep walking when you can. And don’t give up on your writing dreams.


 
Thanks again, Lacey, for sharing your story. I experienced one miscarriage myself and I can attest to how difficult they are. I can’t imagine going through four. I’m glad you had friends and family to help you through it, and like you said, your buoys of walking and writing.

Lacey Gordon, aka Crazdwriter, is a stay-at-home mom to two beautiful daughters, a proud Navy wife, and a writer striving to become published. You can find her online at Blogging With Crazdwriter, on Twitter @crazdwriter1, and on Instagram @crazdwriter. 


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


Keep on keepin' on... 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

READ-4-LUCK: Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin Kheiriyeh

This book review comes to us from children’s author, Lois Wickstrom. Thanks for introducing us to a cross-cultural beach experience!

READ-4-LUCK includes a book recommendation, book review, teaching tip, and writing lesson for children, parents, teachers, and writers.

  1 Clover: Not bad. Might read twice.

  2 Clovers: Fun read first few times. Would get from library again.

  3 Clovers: Very enjoyable. Wouldn't mind owning a copy.

  4 Clovers: Multiple readings please! May just have to buy it.




Summary of Saffron’s Ice Cream


Author/Illustrator: Rashin Kheiriyeh

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

Year: 2018

Age: 4-8

Topic: beach, ice cream, music, friends

Theme: social situations, cross-cultural experiences Summary:
“Rashin is excited about her first visit to the beach in her family's new home. On the way there, she remembers what beach trips were like in Iran, the beautiful Caspian Sea, the Persian music, and most of all, the saffron ice cream she shared with her best friend, Azadeh. But there are wonderful things in this new place as well -- a subway train, exciting music... and maybe even a new friend!”

Rating for Children


3 CLOVERS: Very enjoyable. Wouldn't mind owning a copy.
   

Saffron Ice Cream is the story of a girl named Rashin, just like the author of this book. Rashin has just moved to Brooklyn from Iran. This book is about the differences a child would notice between her new life and her old one.

Rating for Parents


2 CLOVERS: Fun read the first few times. Would get from the library again.
   

She used to have to ride in the family car for five hours to get to the beach. Now, she can just hop on the subway with her family, and arrive in less than an hour. She used to have to go to the women’s side of the curtain at the beach, while her father and brother stayed on the men’s side. Now, there is no curtain. She used to have lots of rules about how to behave at the beach. Now the rules are simple. 1) Stay in sight of your parents and the lifeguard. 2) Have fun. 

The most important difference: She used to eat saffron flavored ice cream at the beach. Now she doesn’t recognize any of the flavors. An American girl recommends Chocolate Crunch.  Rashin discovers she likes the new flavor. The new ice cream is symbolic of her new life – different – but she likes it.

Rating for Teachers


3 CLOVERS: Very enjoyable. Wouldn't mind owning a copy.
   

The illustrations are colorful folk-art. This is a gentle introduction to the immigrant experience. The book is totally appropriate for libraries and classrooms. The events will lead to useful discussions if presented at story time.

Rating for Writers


2 CLOVERS: Fun read the first few times. Would get from the library again.
   

Some people complain that this book is political. Immigration is a political act. Much of what we take for granted as American culture is political, like men and women swimming together at the beach. 


As a child, I moved from Iowa to California. I experienced culture shock. Different fashions. Different foods at the grocery stores. Rashin’s culture shock is more jarring than I experienced. Children will benefit from learning that the world is not the same everywhere.

Thank you, Lois, for this book review!

Lois Wickstrom is a retired science teacher. She has self-published over three dozen children’s picture books. You can find them on Amazon or on her website, Look Under Rocks.


Got a book you'd like to recommend? Or one you want me to review? Share in the comments!

You might also like: Preschool, Passion, and Prickly Porcupines, an Interview with Picture Book Author, Laura Renauld



How to Analyze a Picture Book with a Story Board






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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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