Archive | September 2013

Getting Unstuck

All writers get stuck. Call it writer’s block, ennui, frustration, or anything else, a break in the writing process can make you feel as though you might never find a way to write another coherent paragraph. I hope a few suggestions might help.

My daily dose of writing takes place in two blocks of time. In the morning, I like to (excuse the expression) “vomit write.” This means I just sit down and start typing, usually on a topic from my book’s outline. For example, yesterday I did a great deal of research on Video Relay Services (VRS), since that’s where my main character is going to be working. Today, I sat down and wrote about Roy at work. Six hundred and some odd words later. . .

This afternoon, when my brain is more engaged, I’m going to go back to a different section of my draft to edit and revise something. I find my mind flows more freely first thing in the morning, engaging for better editing skills later in the day.

I printed out the information regarding VRS and began highlighting the information I want to incorporate into my scene, a habit I’ve clung to since my high school and college years. Among all the cold, hard information, there were sparks of insight I could connect to Roy’s character and what’s going on in his life:

“I typically chose a cubicle that was further away from the place where interpreters may congregate to discuss schedules, wait for a station to become available, or read the various notices posted on the wall.”

Perfect! In my story, Roy has just been traumatized and is in no mood to socialize. I’ve just been handed the spark of an idea regarding how I can depict this, seamlessly integrating it into his new job.

Another example of a spark:

“Every interpreter, indeed every person, uses closure skills, meaning the drawing on of previous knowledge and common sense to fill in gaps in understanding.”

Again, something I can employ to link Roy’s situation and his work. I’ve also picked up an interesting phrase, “closure skills,” to use.

One final example:

“. . . interpreters are regulated in such a way to produce a non-person who acts as a go-between for the deaf and non-deaf person”

For me, that phrase is like hitting the jackpot. I’m going to take it and run with it. In my book, at this point, Roy has become a “non-person.”

Inspiration sparks can come from anywhere. Even a radio show, totally unrelated to your writing, can act as a stimulus. I love listening to NPR in the morning. They ask wonderful questions I can apply to my story. I also love eavesdropping on people’s conversations to pick up phraseology, interesting vocabulary, and tone. 

And, of course, read. Read as much as you can, both within your genre and outside your comfort zone. Read fine literature for style. There’s a reason it’s considered great. Read bestselling pop authors and figure out why they’re so popular. In other words, read books that will elevate you and read books that might sharpen your storytelling.

In other words, when you’re stuck, expose yourself to something new. You never know where inspiration lies.

Style

Style: it’s more than fashion. In fact, the concept of style covers many aspects of writing and publishing. What type of grammatical rules will you follow? How does punctuation work (especially those darned commas)? How are you going to present numbers in your writing? With digits or words?

I’ve been looking at two different style guides recently, to make those very decisions for myself. One is A Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker and the other is Webster’s Standard American Style Manual.

The first one is a slim, spiral-bound reference. Its main audience is writers of academic papers, with information on the three most popularly accepted styles: MLA (Modern Language Association), APA (American Psychological Association), and Chicago-Style. It’s basic, easy to use, and has a great section on Clarity.

Webster’s, on the other hand, is directed more at the publishing crowd, even getting into how to present tables, illustrations, and indexes. Beyond that, it also covers design, typography, composition, printing, and binding. It’s a little less user-friendly, but its comprehensive coverage of all things style-related, makes it a valuable addition to any writer’s library.

Of the two books, I have to admit my favorite section in either is Webster’s presentation of how to make your own style sheet. I don’t have permission to quote from it. Happily, there’s a great online reference explaining it on The Editor’s Blog.

If you write, write well . . . at least, as well as you possibly can. A style guide can be a major part of helping you to achieve that goal.