Using Instagram to Break Out of Writer’s Block

I haven’t been doing much writing lately. Who am I kidding, I haven’t written but a few pages here and there since the end of last year. I could easily say life’s gotten in the way, but the honest truth is I just haven’t felt inspired. And what is the writing life if you’re not inspired?

Inspiration, breaking yourself out of a self-imposed writer’s block, can come from some most unusual sources. Take social media for example. I’m not talking about websites like Writer’s Digest or any other writer’s magazine, chock full of well-intentioned but obvious advice – “A writer writes!” – that often times can leave a writer more discouraged than inspired. I’m talking about leveraging Instagram.

Instagram? You mean that app where people like Miley Cyrus and millions of others post selfies, or pics of their cats? Yeah, that app. I’m on Instagram, and I’m just as guilty of a few selfies as you are. But in between the selfies and cat pics are writers and poets posting snippets of their work. I’ve found these writers, thanks to Christina Hart, aka Daily Rants with the Bitch Next Door, and some of the writing I’ve been reading has been nothing short of profound and daring.

So I decided to take the plunge into the Instagram writer’s community pool and post some of my work:

Call it micro-fiction, or even poetry, but it’s me flexing my writing muscles again. You can’t cycle up a mountain without getting on the bike and hitting a few short roads first, no?

Question for you, dear reader: do you use other social media sites to motivate or inspire you or your writing? Share your results below!

In Praise of Late Bloomers

For those of us who are in our 40s and are constantly reminded that creativity is best suited and served for by those younger than us (see Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 List), here’s a reminder that just because you’re 45 and you still haven’t published that novel (or, worse yet, finished it) doesn’t mean you’re a failure.

In Praise of Late Bloomers

The history of literature is rife with so-called “late bloomers,” writers who had the desire and the inklination to write, but never had a major work published until they turned 40 or later. Charles Bukowski didn’t publish his first novel, “Post Office,” until he was 51. Toni Morrison was nearly 40 when her first novel was published. You get the idea.

We tend to romanticize this notion that youth is a requirement for producing major works of art, and while that may be the case in, say, music or visual art, it doesn’t lend itself that well to literature. Sure, you can write a great novel when you’re 25. But you can also write a masterpiece when you’re 50.

For more inspiration, there’s Bloom, “…for writers and artists of all ages and stages, for anyone who believes that the artistic journey is, and should be, as particular and unique as each one of us; that there is no prescribed beeline to literary achievement.”

I, for one, need to be reminded of this every day, and remember that it will never be too late for me to achieve what I want to achieve as a writer.

(REPOST) – NaNoWriMo Is Upon Us: How to Get Inspired Even If You’re Not Participating

Hey everyone,

Sorry for the lack of posts here lately. Life’s getting in the way of blogging. Hopefully that will change soon.

I read this article this morning on Flavorwire, and was thinking of everyone taking part in NaNoWriMo, and those of us who aren’t:

NaNoWriMo Is Upon Us: How to Get Inspired Even If You’re Not Participating

Some helpful ideas to keep us writers engaged while we’re not participating in NaNoWriMo.

(Reblog) Should I Get an MFA? 27 Writers on Whether or Not to Get Your MFA

The age-old question that’s asked every year: should a writer get an MFA, or should they not get an MFA?

27 Writers on Whether or Not to Get Your MFA

Lots of food for thought from many writers who give their perspectives from both sides.

For those of you who’ve either gotten your MFAs, or are in the process of completing your MFA degrees, what’s your take? Worth the time and investment? Inquiring minds want to know.

Dear Editor, Or: What’s With All the Hate For Adverbs, Anyway? (Writing 101, Day Fourteen)

Author’s Note: Just a little background into the theme of this writing exercise.

Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What’s the first word that jumps off the page? Use this word as your springboard for inspiration. If you need a boost, Google the word and see what images appear, and then go from there. 

Today’s twist: write the post in the form of a letter.

The word on page 29 of “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt is “Suddenly.” We now have our Word for the Day…

 

                                                                                      Horace J. Ishkabibble

                                                                                          Acme Book Editors

                                                                                                      Scranton, PA

                                                                                                     June 19, 2014

 

Dear Horace,

Many thanks right off the bat for the wonderful editing work you’ve done on your first pass for my manuscript, “And the Horse You Rode In On!”. I’m delighted to learn that your sterling reputation as a first-class editor truly preceeds itself, and the attention you’ve given my manuscript – not that it really needed it…haha! – puts me greatly at ease knowing my work is in trusted and careful hands.

I do want to say, however, that your insistence on striking through any descriptive word that ends in -ly slightly dismaying. I get it: ABVERBS, BAD! Hemingway despised them. Stephen King has been quoted as saying, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” I understand there’s a consensus that repeatedly using adverbs is a sign of poor writing. I mean, the sentence, “She walked slowly into the kitchen” just doesn’t carry the same weight as, “She sauntered into the kitchen.” Anyone can walk slowly, but sauntering suggests something else otherwise.

But I admit that I like the word “Suddenly,” which you don’t seem to. I used it five times in the first seven chapters of my manuscript, “And the Horse You Rode In On!“, and all five times, I saw this: suddenly. One of the uses of the word, I thought was pretty apt:

Jacob read aloud from his American History textbook. “While the Louisiana Purchase signaled Napoleon’s France was desperate for cash to fuel their campaigns of conquest throughout Eastern Europe, so much so that they were willing to sell much of what would become the Great Plains of the United States for arguably far less than what they were truly worth, the Purchase endorsed and approved by President Thomas Jefferson sowed the seeds of what would inevitably become the young Federal Government’s prevailing philosophy of expansion: Manifest Destiny, a belief that both Divinity and a geographical presence would allow the Federal Government to stake its claim to all the unsettled land west of the Mississippi River.”

“Not to be confused with Destiny’s Child,” Shelley chimed in, knitting a pair of booties she was going to make for her as-yet-unborn child, not making eye contact with her baby’s daddy.

“Cute, very cute. And instead of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ our national anthem should have been ‘Survivor,’ right?”

“Jake,” Shelley turned to him, suddenly, dropping her knitting needles. “Go get me a fly swatter. A big one. Hurry!”

Suddenly. Key word. It signals a turn of events. My goodness, what is happening now? What sort of foul being would interrupt their idyllic setting? Why would Shelley react with such terror? Take the word suddenly out, and Shelley could be just making idle chatter, or perhaps she’s prone to silly statements. The word suddenly now conveys something drastic is now afoot, and the reader’s attention is pulled into another, more important direction.

But I get it: it’s still an adverb. I’m sure there’s another way of describing that sentence without resorting to the use of an adverb. However, I must disagree. It’s perfectly fine to season your manuscript with a few, well-chosen adverbs. Think of them like a delectable garnish you’d sprinkle all over your chicken. Just enough will unlock untold flavors.

So, my point is, while I understand and appreciate the reasons why you’re suggesting the removal of adverbs like suddenly, I must respectfully decline the edit suggestions for the reasons I  have stated above. And, because, as a writer, sometimes you have to trust your instincts. I’m sure you can appreciate the sentiment.

The check’s in the mail.

Slavishly Yours,

Gus Sanchez

Guest Post – “5 Things I Learned Writing ‘Death By Ice Cream” by Rebecca Douglass

For the next installment in the Out Where the Buses Don’t Run Guest Blog Post Series, we now turn our attention to author and librarian Rebecca Douglass. Rebecca and I met on Goodreads a while back, and we’ve maintained our friend both there and through each others’ blogs.

She’s recently self-published another book, called “Death By Ice Cream.”

DeathByIceCream_FrontOnly

The synopsis of “Death By Ice Cream”:

Pismawallops Island is a quiet place where nothing much happens, even at the High School.  That’s why JJ MacGregor likes it.  When a high-handed new member of the PTA threatens to disrupt the even tenor of life in the middle of Puget Sound, JJ wants someone to take a firm stand against her.  But when Letitia Lemoine shows up very dead in the freezer where there should have been 30 boxes of ice cream bars, JJ worries that someone might have taken her command too seriously.  Not the sort to sit back while someone else solves her problems, JJ just can’t help asking a few questions.  But someone wants her to stop—and an acerbic sense of humor, insatiable curiosity, and carefully hidden dedication to duty lead her into more trouble than she knows how to handle.

Like any good writer, Rebecca looks back at the experience in writing “Death By Ice Cream” and recognizes there are some lessons to be learned. In her guest blog post, “5 Things I Learned Writing ‘Death By Ice Cream’,” Rebecca shares those lessons learned. I think we as writers can take a lot from what she’s learned. Not to mention she’s learned all this while retaining both a great sense of humor and some humility to boot.

Her bio:

Rebecca Douglass was raised on an Island in Puget Sound only a little bigger than Pismawallops.  She now lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area, and can be found on-line at www.ninjalibrarian.com and on Facebook as The Ninja Librarian.  Her books include the tall tales for all ages, The Ninja Librarian and Return to Skunk Corners.   Rebecca likes to spend her time outdoors, when not writing or working to make the schools the best they can be.  She spends her free time bicycling and running, and her vacations hiking, camping and backpacking.

rd author photo

Blog: http://ninjalibrarian.com

Book purchase links of all kinds: http://www.ninjalibrarian.com/p/blog-page_11.html

At any rate, here’s Rebecca’s guest post. Thanks to Rebecca for writing this and sharing!

________________________________________________________________

5 things I learned writing Death By Ice Cream

  1.  It’s best not to take ten years to draft a novel.
    This is particularly true if you don’t have an outline. I should have learned this with my first, mercifully unpublished, mystery. Often months went by between times I worked on it, and I would forget what had happened, not to mention where I was going. Death By Ice Cream was also originally drafted (though somewhat faster) before I committed to writing daily. Let’s just say it took a lot of work to create the tight, coherent story I wanted. So what I’ve learned, in all seriousness, is to work every day. A writer writes.
  2. If you love something about the story, it’s worth saving.
    I learned this from my editor, Inge Lamboo. I took her a draft resurrected from the files where it had languished since I’d given up shopping it to agents, and told her I wondered if it was worth trying to salvage. I thought about just taking the characters I loved and start over. She told me that if I loved the characters, the book would be worth working on. She was completely right. It wasn’t easy, but I not only loved the main characters but also the setting, so the process was rewarding, and the end product a book to be proud of.
  3. It may not be easier to write your mystery using an outline, but it’ll be a poodle-load easier to edit.
    Actually, I haven’t really tested this, yet (only the writing part, since I’ve drafted the sequel, Death By Trombone, with an outline, mostly). But it can’t make it any worse. And honestly, it was easier to write the first draft knowing who did it and why. But an outline doesn’t have to be a bunch of Roman numerals in a cascade. My “outline” was more a series of questions: who’s dead? Who found him? Who might have done it? Who did do it? Why? And will JJ’s love life ever improve? By the time I had answered most of these questions, I had a whole lot more—and also both a substantial back-story and a good idea where the novel would go and how it would get there.
  4. Everyone’s lying.
    The best advice I ever picked up (wherever I did pick it up, and I don’t remember now) was that everyone’s lying. This is probably true in any kind of novel—everyone has their secrets, and that’s what makes them interesting and complex. It’s doubly true in a mystery, where it’s all those lies about unrelated things that make it so hard for the sleuth to find the important lie. But it was surprisingly hard for me to do. I tend to write in a straight line, and make my characters honest upstanding citizens. Well, most are, but that never stopped them from lying.
  5. Most importantly, I learned I can do it.
    I can write a mystery that completely works. I was never sure I could, up until a reader with an ARC reported back that she read the whole thing in one sitting. That only happens if you’ve done something right. I’m looking forward to doing it again. And again. Because, despite the agony of editing and the gloom of sales and marketing, writing is the best job I can think of, and I’m one lucky lady to be able to do it.

Why Befriending Writers Should Bring Out the Competitor in You (Insecure Writer’s Support Group)

Author’s Note: Another first Wednesday of the month, another post for The Insecure
Writer’s Support Group
. Be sure to check out the many other writers participating in this blog hop. Many thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for leading the IWSG.

This Blogging Things Works Wonders! (Insecure Writer's Support Group)

 

Like me, many of you are no doubt friends with authors. Some of those friendships are mere acquaintances, perhaps, others closer than that. It seems obvious, of course, to be a writer and have friends that are also writers. I mean, why not surround yourself with those who understand why it is you delve deep into your prose, obsessing over the rhythms and cadence of every sentence?

I am inspired by my writer friends. They too have embraced the self-publishing wave, opting to become their own imprint. From their footsteps, I was inspired to take my own leap into the self-publishing world. Many of my writer friends helped me along the way, and continue to do so.

But I confess to being envious. Envious of the plaudits they’ve received, and the attention they’ve garnered elsewhere. However, I am not a man who wallows in jealousy. It’s a stupid, pointless emotion that gets you nowhere. If I’m envious, it only fuels my competitive streak. So when a friend gets a great review on Goodreads, I am excited for them, but there’s a part of me that says, “C’mon, Gus, you can do better!”

That I can do better doesn’t mean I want to one-up my writer friends in the my-book-got-better-reviews-than-yours, or, “Hey, look, my short story got picked up by Glimmer Train, and yours didn’t, NYEAH NYEAH NYEAH NYEAH!!!” It means I have to work harder, and write better. That competitive streak has fueled me to crank out more than 10 short stories in the past couple of months, as well as plug forward with my work-in-progress.

My point is we should draw inspiration from our fellow writers, because we share the same trials and tribulations, as well as the triumphs. And it doesn’t hurt being competitive with one another, as long as that competitive nature fuels your creativity, not your jealousy.

Guest Post: “Writing Cramps” by Christina Hart

Hey everyone,

Busy, busy, busy, as the good people of Bokonon would say. Yeah, it’s been a hellacious busy time here at Out Where the Buses Don’t Run. Work (real work), writing, reading, life, things have been hectic, but in a good way. Unfortunately, my blog’s taken a hit. Hence the reason why there have been no new posts lately. Some new posts will be coming soon, I promise.

In the meantime, here’s a terrific guest post from Christina Hart. You may know her from her insightful and funny blog, Daily Rants with the Bitch Next Door. Christina’s been kind enough to share with us a guest post, entitled “Writing Cramps.” In her words, “it’s 463 words, and summarizes the joys and difficulties of the writing process. It explains how characters can lead you through the process, how you can teach them to stop bitching about the process, and vice versa.”

“Writing Cramps” is a great guest post, and I think all of us who are writers will take much from it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

About the author:

Christina Hart is a writer who has worked for several online women’s magazines and blogs, while running her own blog, Daily Rants With the Bitch Next Door. She has self-published three books, including a poetry collection, a novella and a short novel. She is currently trying to get a fantasy novel published and survive the ups and downs of life while writing her way through it all. 

So, without further ado…

_______________________________________________________________

Writing Cramps

By: Christina Hart

Daily Rants with the Bitch Next Door

 

While writing can be magical at times, it can also be almost crippling. The joy of finishing a novel, the despair of never finishing one. We all suffer from writing cramps at one point or another. So what’s the trick to enjoying it full time? Are there any tricks? Is there one trick that works for everyone?

No.

The trick is simply to love it; whether it loves you back full time or not. You need to be in a committed, long term relationship with your writing. You need to understand it’s like any other love: there are going to be good times and bad times. There are going to be days where you don’t want to get out of bed and write anything at all. There are going to be days where you feel like your work in progress is on a train to nowhere fast. You’re going to feel like that train dropped you off in the middle of nowhere when just yesterday you were in a place full of warmth and promise.

So what’s the trick?

The trick is getting back on that god damn train whether it stops for you or not. The trick is being dedicated enough to be willing to run for it, jump for it, or risk your life for it. Okay, maybe it’s not that intense. But it certainly feels like it sometimes.

The trick is to keep on running, despite the cramps. Run through them. Write through them. The rest will come; if you’re willing to put the work in. Finishing a novel is like running a god damn marathon alone. You only have your characters to get you through this. And if they’re not helping you, poke them until they do. Get them pissed off. Put them in a situation where they have to do something.

Our characters are like our children. Or maybe we’re theirs. They either teach us what’s right or we’re going to have to put them in a corner until they learn it on their own. For me, I tend to let my characters lead the way once I’ve nurtured them to the point that I trust their decisions. Maybe it happens right away. Maybe I feel like they walked into my life and I already knew them. Maybe I have to invent them, only knowing them from their childhood. Maybe I don’t understand why they are the way they are until later in the story. Either way, it’s a process. And it can be a fun one or a troubling one. Either way, it’s an adventure.

Write the book you want to read. Introduce the characters you wish you knew, or maybe wish you were.

And don’t let that train stop even if everyone on board wants to get off.

Want to Write Better? Let Ernest Hemingway Help!

In my never-ending quest to learn valuable tricks of the trade, I stumbled upon the best app a writer can use to effectively help them understand how to write better. It’s called the Hemingway App, and it’s very simple to use. You cut and paste some random text, and let the Hemingway App analyze the text for the following:

  • Sentences that are hard to read
  • Sentences that are VERY hard to read
  • Adverbs – dreaded words that end in “-ly”, like “effortlessly“, “really” and “overly,” for example.
  • Words or phrases that can be simpler
  • Uses of passive voice
  • Readability (think grade level)

I recommend reading the text that appears on the app first, to get a better idea of how the app works, before you copy and paste your own text and let Hemingway App analyze how good a writer you are.

To show how this works, I took a screenshot of an analysis the app did on a short story I wrote a couple of years ago:

hemingway snap

Overall, the story possesses good readability. If anything, I was guilty of using too many adverbs. Then again, how many is too many adverbs? Some will say a few, others will say none at all. Regardless. the analysis left me with a great feeling about my writing, and it helps me to see where some strengths and weaknesses lie.

This app appeals greatly to me, for the simple reason that it’s got the name Hemingway associated with it. Hemingway was my first literary hero. I devoured The Complete Short Stories and The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories one summer during high school, and then moved on to his novels. From Hemingway, I learned the importance of choosing the right word, even if it means opting for a simpler, more direct method of prose than a more dynamic, floral prose often practiced by some of his contemporaries. He still remains one of my greatest literary heroes.

So if you’re looking for a tool to help your writing become more focuses, more leaner, more meaner even, you might want to give the Hemingway App a whirl. It’ll be fun, at the very least.

The Best Response to Bad Criticism (Insecure Writers’ Support Group)

Author’s Note: Another first Wednesday of the month, another post for The Insecure
Writer’s Support Group
. Be sure to check out the many other writers participating in this blog hop. Many thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for leading the IWSG.

This Blogging Things Works Wonders! (Insecure Writer's Support Group)

As writers, as artists, as creators, we put our work out there for public consumption. Whether it’s one person who reads it, or thousands (we hope!) who read your new short story published at New Millenium Writings (okay, I’ll stop dreaming now…), you’re putting your work out there, for people to enjoy, to digest, to appreciate.

Some people will not like your work. And will not hesitate to tell the rest of the Internet that your writing sucks.

I got some bad reviews for my blog collection, Out Where the Buses Don’t Run: Seven Years of Rants, Raves, Dirty Jokes and Bad Ideas From a Small But Loud Corner of the Blogosphere. I knew my brand of humor essay wasn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I went ahead with self-publishing my collection nonetheless. It’s one thing to win the praise of friends and family, it’s another to win the praise of complete strangers. Still, getting some bad reviews stung, especially when the reviews seemed so far off the mark. One reviewer criticized me for my “stories” having no form, no plot, and bad characters.

You have to resist the temptation to lash back at your critics. I mean, screw ’em, what do they know, right?

That’s exactly what Josh Homme, he of Queens of the Stone Age, said in an interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast recently.

(Yeah, here I go again quoting sources of inspiration from unlikely sources of inspiration. See: Bourdain, Anthony)

When asked about the creative process, Homme pointed out that no matter what he does, he’s never going to be able to please everyone, and anyone who aspires to please everyone is running a fool’s errand. To take that one step further, he addressed some of the criticism he’s received in the past:

I work and I work until I’m 100% satisfied that what I’ve done is the best work I’ve done, and once I’m done with that, there’s nothing I can do to control whether people like it or not. If they like it or love it, that’s great. If not, then the CD makes for a nice drink coaster.”

What Josh Homme said can also be applied to writing. Write to the very best of your abilities, exceed them, even. Write knowing that the short story or novel or poem you’ve written has been written to meet your high standards (that is, assuming you have high standards, and you’re not one of those waterheads who thinks it’s perfectly fine to just write something you’ve just pulled out of your ass as a first draft and throw it up there, without a single edit, on self-publishing platforms like CreateSpace or SmashWords…), and no one but you will know what you’ve undertaken to create what you’ve created.

Yes, we all want our work to be appreciated, but, face it, that’s not going to happen. Just like we’re going to get rejected by agents and publishers, we’re also going to get rejected by reviewers. So be it. You wrote the best book you could write. If a book reviewer doesn’t like your novel and posts a review somewhere, that’s their right. But that reviewer isn’t going to take away from you what makes you a writer. Their bad review doesn’t make you a bad writer. Far from it. You wrote the best you could, and you’re probably writing something even better as we speak. Keep at it.

And just like that person who disliked the new Queens of the Stone Age album – and, really, who is that idiot? …Like Clockwork is amazing – has been encouraged to turn that CD into a nice new drink coaster, I invite that person who gave my book a bad review to make some nice artwork out of my book. Or donate the book to a friend or to their local public library.