Saturday, October 19, 2013


There are so many people who say they want to write, and they have an idea for a story, but they could never get it down on the page. I always assumed those people just didn’t want it enough. I always thought that if they really wanted to write, they would be able to push past the initial writer’s block and let the words out. Maybe that’s not the case.

A few months ago, I left home to start college at BYU Provo. When I got to Utah, I had a week and a half before school started. I stayed with my grandparents for a few days, then went to a leadership conference for incoming freshmen, then attended student orientation. For the first week or so, I was writing as much as time would allow. But as I started school, my ability to get words out diminished.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write. And it wasn’t that I was too busy. Even with my full college schedule, I had a few free hours every day. But when I did have time, the words wouldn’t come.
I had ideas, but they were vague and slippery, and none of my previous projects interested me. A few weeks before, I had been charging full-speed through the first draft of a new manuscript, and now I couldn’t even crawl across one page of prose.
Eventually I had to take a step back and try to figure out what my problem was.

It didn’t take me very long.

I hadn’t read a single book since the airplane flight to Salt Lake City, two weeks before. I had not spoken personally to anyone who was serious about writing since leaving home. My input had entirely stopped. No books. No people. The only conversations I’d had about writing had been emailing back and forth with my brothers and friends from home. As a result, my output had stopped too.

Once I had that realization, I hunted down the college’s science fiction/fantasy magazine and started volunteering as a slush reader. I also joined a writing club on campus that meets every Wednesday. Since then, I've been able to write again.

I didn't realize how important the people were. When I have other writers around me, my productivity increases. When I don’t, it tapers off. It doesn’t matter if I let anyone read what I write. It doesn’t matter if I’m close friends with the other writers. What matters is that I’m around them, even if I’m just listening to them talk to each other. 

So if you want to write, but you can’t make the words come, don’t give up. Maybe you just need to find more input. 

Search for it. Read books. Go to writing conferences and workshops. Find people in your community who are also trying to write and spend time with them. Talk about your writing projects with people who share your interests.

And if you already have connections to other writers, keep them up. We need each other. Writing’s not easy, especially if you have to do it on your own.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Zombie Writer: How to Come Back From the Dead

by Rebecca J. Carlson

With Halloween on the way I thought I'd keep up the theme from Jonene's last post and talk about how to come back from the dead.

It happens to all of us. Maybe we finished a big writing project and decided to take a little break that became longer... and longer. Maybe we moved to a new house. Got a new job. Had a new baby. Or maybe after a book release life was just an utter whirlwind of self-promotion. For whatever reason there are times in life when we suddenly realize we haven't written anything new in, like, forever.

So we sit down and try to pick up right where we left off. And realize that there's just no pulse.

How do you revive the writer in you?

Here's a few things that have worked for me when coming back from long breaks:

0. START! Write one word. One sentence. Something. Then you can get up and go do something else. While you're away, your thoughts will wander back to that one word or one sentence, and you'll think of what comes next. Go write that down too. See? You're STILL ALIVE!

1. Take it easy at first. Don't get frustrated if you need more breaks than you used to. Writing for six hours a day when you're used to zero isn't going to work any better than running five miles when you're out of shape. You can do it, but there's going to be some serious pain involved. Start slow and gradually work up to the writing routine you want to have.

2. Rather than tackling a big, important project, warm up with some writing prompts, free-writes, or that short story you've always wanted to try your hand at. Have fun with it.

3. Get other people involved with your writing. Talk to other writers and share your writing goals. Like having a jogging partner, this can really help keep you on track.

4. Think about the writing projects you're working on and see if you know anyone you can interview to get good details for your settings, characters, or plots. These people will ask you how the writing is going, and you'd better be able to honestly say you've been working at it.

5. Clear some clutter out of your life so you have more room for writing. If you just can't do that, try keeping a notebook or a computer file always open and ready for you to jot down a few sentences whenever you have time.

What's helped you climb out from six feet under?

Friday, October 4, 2013

How a Zombie Movie Enlarged my Brain

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things. Most have withstood the test of time. Some haven’t. Up until recently, here are a few things I thought were true:

1)       As a writer, my neat little system for researching works well, so why try anything new?

2)       Facebook sucks you into a time-vortex and spits you out hours later, all slumped over. That can’t be good.

3)       Zombie movies are not my cup of tea.

Sorry, zombie fans, but for me, the rotting flesh, dead eyes, drag-legged walk, and cannibalism, especially where they eat human brains, are so not my thing.

However, because I love my daughter, and because she asked so nicely, I went to see a zombie movie with her. 

There were some good things about it.

The special effects and imagination were fantastic. (Zombies forming a human ant-pile in order to scale enormous walls? Wow.)

The tension-raising music worked. (You know that cliché everyone hates in YA novels: half-moon cuts in your palm from your fingernails? Yup, I did that.)

However, other than that, this movie was becoming a serious test of my patience . . . until, during a super-intense scene, I received a ‘light bulb’ moment.

You see, I’ve had a book idea for a year now. I haven’t written it yet because I still needed a crazy (crazy is the key word here) but compelling reason to use the setting I wanted. So, while I watched this zombie movie and thought very atypical thoughts, a new idea for my story exploded out of nowhere. Sure, it was half-baked, but it was finally coming.

I didn’t mind the rest of the movie. (Actually, I was so busy brainstorming, I’m not sure how it ended.)

On the way home, when my daughter asked me how I liked it, I answered honestly that it was enlightening. Okay, okay, you zombie fans, it was actually pretty good . . . for a zombie movie.

Now, onto my previously erroneous belief about Facebook. My kids have been dragging me very slowly into the current century. They insisted several years ago that I make a Facebook account. I did, but found it was very bad for me.

Confession: the moment I log on, time changes. One minute it’s 8:15. The next it’s 11:28 and I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. I don’t know about you, but time and health are already in short supply, so Facebook is dangerous. I have to use it sparingly.

Well, back to my point here, the morning after the movie, I went on Facebook. A few minutes (probably an hour) into perusing, I clicked on a video clip a friend posted.

Then smoke started pouring out of my ears. I’d seen this clip before, but pared with my already percolating story idea – thanks to the zombie movie – I now had a complete and believable reason for my choice in location.

So, to neatly sum everything up, here are the three morals to this story:

1) Inspiration comes (sometimes) from stepping outside your comfort-zone – it can send your thoughts spinning in crazy new directions. And (sometimes) that’s good.

2) Facebook can (sometimes) be good for you.

3) Zombie movies, although still not quite my cup of tea, can (sometimes) enlarge your brain.

Happy October and have a lovely Halloween!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wind At My Back

I took my two youngest boys out to fly kites on a windy afternoon not long ago. There are plenty of windy afternoons here on the windward shore of Oahu, but it's rare when one of them lines up with an empty spot on the busy family calendar.

One single afternoon of perfect joy goes a long way.

As a teen I went out to fly kites at least once a week, maybe more. I still love kites, but there are other things I love better.

Last summer I trained with the crew of the Iosepa. The Iosepa is a traditional hand-carved, solid-wood, seventy-foot-long double-hulled Polynesian voyaging canoe, and just about the coolest thing I think I've ever seen. Training wasn't just learning how to tie knots and navigate by stars. It was a lot of sitting in a circle, listening to the captains talk, and getting our hearts in the right place. We were told that very few of us would be selected to be on the actual crew. There was only room for so many on the boat. For every one person that sailed on that boat there were a hundred people on the shore who had worked just as hard to make the voyage happen. What mattered was that the boat sailed, and if the captain wanted you on board or the captain wanted you on the beach, you did your part, your duty, your "kuleana," and counted it an honor.

Last winter, a man who has had a very successful career in the performing arts came to speak to the faculty at our college. As he told the stories of all the people who had helped him along his way, and all the gifts of encouragement, of teaching, of opportunity that made him what he was, he seemed to be looking right at me and speaking into my heart. I'd begun to feel bitter over the past year, bitter that although I'd helped other writers on their journey, some who are now bestsellers, I still hadn't found the success I wanted for my own.

Writing is a performing art. There's only room for so many in the canoe. True, I'm going to stand on the beach, and in time swim out into the ocean and tread water alongside, until I'm brought aboard, but I'm not going to waste one more second being bitter about it if I haven't had a ride yet.

My mantra has gone from, "There should be more great books in the world, especially ones written by me," to simply, "There should be more great books in the world." If I'm helping to make that happen by mentoring a teen writing club, creating critique groups wherever I go, blogging writing advice, supporting my local SCBWI, and peer-editing my writing friends' manuscripts, then I'm still an important part of the process, even if my name never shows up on a book cover.

There's more than one book out there with my name safely tucked inside, in the acknowledgements, where maybe no one sees it but me. But my influence was there. Without people like me, hundreds of thousands of us giving support from the shore, the sailing crew isn't going anywhere.

I did get to sail on the Iosepa, not as crew but as an "educated passenger," on a wild, windy day when she danced up and down the waves and her sail snapped like a kite in a gale. One single afternoon of perfect joy goes a long way.

It isn't often that hard work, desire, and opportunity line up, especially in a performance art like writing fiction. For some people, maybe it never will. And if it never does, was the hard work and desire wasted? Maybe if the hard work and desire was only directed to the success of that one individual. If we help others with their preparation, so they'll be ready for their opportunities, then we're bringing more light and joy into the world, whether it's our name on the cover or not.

Keep flying!