C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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#Nanowrimo: You do not have Writer’s Block

This week I found inspiration for a new character. I got it from the Latin word “occubus”, meaning to rest (especially in the grave.) I love my Latin dictionaries and will miss them when I move on to projects beyond This Plague of Days. A blind stab, a finger pointing on a random page and wham! Something new to play with! A new chapter! That’s the joy of discovery in writing. The ideas don’t always flow so easily, but if you’re in a good place, the words always come.

Readers ask us where we get our ideas.

If you’ve made it out of the horrors of high school (or perhaps even more so if you didn’t), you’ve got enough material to start writing. That supply of disappointment, embarrassment and angst will last for your career.

Conflicts, fisticuffs and the world news are all fodder for the mind mill. Family, relationships, lack of relationships? Cannibalize! Books you read will feed books you’ll write. Whether you’re a monk on a mountain or a suburban wage slave, you are surrounded with input for your output.

An afternoon walk can spark an idea, especially if that walk takes you to the local courthouse. Arraignment hearings are best. One long court trial might yield a book. Bearing witness to the parade of arrests from last night will give you all the books you can write and make you wish you had the ability to type faster.

We are all dreamers, putting information together in new ways for new takes on ancient stories. If there is such a thing as writer’s block, it is not because of a lack of ideas to play with.

Writer’s block comes from a loss of enjoyment of play.

That sounds more like depression, doesn’t it? Or laziness that springs from too much sugar and wheat and not enough kale. If you think you’re suffering writer’s block, don’t complain about a muse deficiency. You can’t fight that, but you could fight an amusement deficiency.

A long time ago, I stopped writing for several years.

My “block” was really about rage. A co-worker annoyed me mightily. I went home and began to write a short story that was basically a tantrum on the page. I got about four lines into the revenge fantasy and realized, I don’t want to feel this way and I don’t want to write this. I didn’t write again until I fixed my life (or at least repaired my lifeboat.) I was unhappy with what I was doing and, instead of rage on the page, I resolved to change the underlying problem (i.e. working with twits.)

We often romanticize the miserable writer working in poverty as the creativity bubbles out of all that sadness. Mostly nonsense. You don’t get a book written when you’re so depressed you can’t face picking up a pencil. I mean that literally. I remember lying atop my unmade bed (a grubby futon on the floor, actually) and thinking, I can’t. I just can’t. The pencil stayed on the floor.

Depression sucks energy away and writing demands we put energy out. You can’t give what you don’t have.

Writer’s block is a vague, disempowering notion that, ironically, is a dangerous fiction. Instead, focus on concrete variables you can change: income, time management, who’s sleeping beside you, what goes down your throat, the exercise you do and what you allow into your mind.

Sure, inspiration is everywhere.

But maybe you need a doctor.


Filed under: NanNoWriMo, What about you?, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

Setting writing and exercise goals that work

Grab Crack the Indie Author Code here.

Grab Crack the Indie Author Code here.

Years ago I read a book by an exercise guru who encouraged people to change everything about their lives all at once. The energy of a radical overhaul, he said, would lead to an unstoppable momentum. Recently I read The Nerdist’s Way by Chris Hardwick and I think a softer, less demanding approach has a better chance at making long-term change. I think the same slow but steady approach to writing can help us, too. Don’t get overwhelmed in your race to publication.

There are many radical exercise programs out there. On The Biggest Loser, fat people go from sedentary to athletic, working out six hours a day and often getting ground down in the process. (I used to watch the show, but the subtext of “You aren’t a worthy human until you’re the right weight,” got to be too much.) Or take P90X. If you’re already in good shape, you might try it. It has its fans. However, as someone who has treated a lot of sports injuries, I can tell you that trying to go from zero to hero too fast is a recipe for injury that really kills progress. I took a slower approach after burning out on trying to do too much too quickly. I started with drinking a kale shake a day and began building back up from there. I think there’s a lesson for writers here. I tried to do too much at once, too. I lost too much sleep and feeling awful became the new normal. We need balance.

More tips and tricks to steer your authorship. This book is free to you until Saturday, Dec. 15! Please click to get it now.

More tips and tricks to steer your authorship. This book is free to you until Saturday, Dec. 15! Please click to get it now.

When you try to write too much at once, you’re going to have to do a lot more rewrites later. You probably know when your writing sucks. You go from “I’m a genius!” to “That was somewhat competent.” You aren’t happy while you’re writing badly. You look at the clock too much and think about anything besides what happens next. Writing doesn’t get better if you bear down and grit your teeth. Bearing down and gritting your teeth is sometimes what you have to do to start writing, but you shouldn’t end that way. When you begin to write, get into it and, if it’s going well, carry on. But when you’ve been writing for a while and you stop feeling the flow, take a break. Do something else. Refresh. Go to the gym even.

I begin a writing session by reading a bit of what I’ve already written, to get into the flow.  I might have a few minutes to write or a couple of hours. That doesn’t matter. What works is to begin writing and to be consistent, just like exercise. Starting is the major hump to get over and whether you promised yourself just a few hundred words or twenty minutes on the treadmill, you’ll probably end up doing more than what you promised yourself. If not, not, but at least you will have accomplished the minimum you asked of yourself for the day.

There are plenty of useful things to do, so there’s no need for anyone to get upset at themselves if they don’t achieve the superhuman every day. Expectations that are too high leads to disappointment, failure, burnout, self-loathing, self-medication with sugar and fat and eventually stalking the neighbourhood with an AK. Ease up on yourself because you can go hard or you can go long. You can’t do both for very long. Just begin. If you screwed up, begin again. That’s the magic.

I used to write short stories and still do occasionally. As a journalist, I’d write several stories a day. That was excellent training to build up to the 2,000 to 3,000 words a day I now write. For my process, I tend to think in blocks, so I don’t stop mid-chapter. Sometimes I’ll write two chapters a day, but I’m wary because that second chapter might not be as hot if I don’t get in some down time to cogitate and refresh. 

Whether you use a word count or a time limit as your daily goal, pay attention to how you feel as you write. If you lose yourself to it and you don’t notice the time passing at all, that’s a good sign. Similarly, you may feel tired or a little sore afterward, but if you generally feel better after exercise, great. That was the right amount. (For more on setting goals exercise goals that work, listen to guest Tom J Deters on The Duncan Trussel Family Hour Podcast. It’s NSFW.)

Find more tips and inspiration here.

Find more tips and inspiration here.

~ Robert Chazz Chute writes suspense, a little quirky self-help and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire. Check out all the links to his books or hear the latest All That Chazz podcast at AllThatChazz.com

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NaNoWriMo Prep: Brainstorming Your Way to Surprising Stories

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One of the dangers in writing a novel is that halfway through, you run out of steam. It happens a lot. Everybody is eager and can’t type fast enough as they begin their story. As the pages pile up, it’s easy to lose the plot’s thread. Enthusiasm wanes. We wonder, What did I think was so great about this idea? I can’t remember. You might not necessarily get writer’s block, though running out of ideas in the middle is common, especially if you’re discovery writer (meaning you find out what the story is going to be as you write it instead of outlining.)

If your middle is a muddle, there are a few common tricks. Knowing the final scene is helpful. Outlining helps. Writing out the major plot points. (And if you haven’t read No Plot? No Problem! yet, you should grab a copy before you begin your National Novel Writing Month adventure.)

I propose a fun exercise to get your mind going, and do this before you start outlining (or before you sketch out the major scenes and beats.) An outline is a map that will carry you through to the end, but I’m going to suggest an innovative strategy I use to open my mind up to possibilities I would not have ordinarily discovered. Try this:

1. Get out a legal pad.

2. Write the numbers 1 – 40.*

3. Get out a dictionary, hit random on Wikipedia, drag out your Goth Bible and any books on myths and legends. Use what resources you have. (I have The Book of Tells. That may prove very useful for the story I have in mind. I want the villains to be formidable, so they’ll be sensitive to body language that gives the hero away.) Atlases, trivia or histories can give you some clues, too.

4. On each of the lines, 1 – 40, write three words from your resources in #3. (Choose words with which you are unfamiliar. Don’t slow down to do research. That’s for later. Now is for writing 120 words or phrases as fast as you can. Anything that strikes you as interesting will do. Geographical names might end up as a character name, for instance. Don’t worry about that now. Write quickly.

5. When you’re done, look at your list. Your plot will develop in the next stage when you construct your actual outline. However, you’ll find those 40 trios may influence the development of your plot.

Here’s an example of a few trios:

A. peroxide, absinthe, firebomb

B. picayune, letters to the editor, Bond movie

C. Malta, the actress Pam Grier, ecstasy

D. Blue Mountains, security scan, divinity school

So, from Trio A, I see an interesting image. How about this?:  

The protester pushed past him, breaking through the line. Dressed in rags, her face was covered with a camouflage veil—a poor defense against tear gas. Her shock of peroxide blonde hair made her an easy target for police, but they shrank behind their riot shields as she menaced them with the molotov cocktail. Defiant, she stood her ground and held the green bottle high in one hand, its rag fuse alight. Green, he thought. The bottle’s contents were bright green! Who would use a $100 bottle of absinthe for a molotov cocktail?

Will I use this passage? I don’t know yet. I know I wouldn’t have come up with it had I not built my trio list, though. I’ll find out as I build my beats and scenes timeline. If I choose to deviate later, that’s okay. First drafts are supposed to be a journey of discovery, free and easy. Write the first draft for you.

You may choose to use each of your trios or you may opt out.  The point is to stir your imagination. If you find yourself stuck, going back to your trios. Find ways to incorporate them into your text (without trying too hard) to get you writing again. Try it and you may be surprised what new ideas occur to you and what spins and reels your story will take.

*Are you wondering why I chose 40 trios? Math is involved, but it’s easy. For my own fiction, I prefer short chapters that skip along. You’re going to need to write over 1,600 words per day to complete NaNoWriMo successfully. I shoot for 2,000 words a day so if I miss a day in the process, I’m still ahead of the game overall. Two-thousand words each day for 30 days over 40 chapters is 80,000 words.

You actually only have to get to 50,000 to get a pass from NaNoWriMo. Me? I want a book at the end that I can revise and 80,000 words is a good length for what I have in mind. I am not interested in participating as a writing exercise. I write plenty as it is, so I want the time spent to be productive. When I’m done the sprint, I want a first draft I can doctor. Construct as many trios as you like. Planning ahead will give you a proper blueprint for your story. You do not want to hit November 15, sit in front of your keyboard and ask that terrible question, “Now what?” Using this technique, I developed two trio sheets and two outlines for two different books yesterday. By November 1, I’ll have to choose down which rabbit hole I intend to throw myself.

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, Writing exercise, writing tips, , , , ,

Editing Exercise: Cut word density to speed reader comprehension

Novel & Short Story Writer's Market

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There are brakes in your writing. Take the brakes off. Put your foot on the accelerator. Edit.

I’m writing a little sci-fi short story just to break things up. Here’s my original paragraph.

CONTEXT: A teen who wants to be an informant for a cruel theocratic state challenges the narrator’s father about his patriotism which puts the father’s life in danger. The next day, the boy is found murdered in an alley.

1st DRAFT excerpt:

“I am glad that bully is dead, father. He shouldn’t have spoken to you that way.”

“No, Mark. What happened to that boy is a tragedy and I grieve for him and his parents. When a child is killed, all the parents’ hopes and dreams die with him.” Mark would never forget his father’s face as he mourned his accuser. His eyes were wet.

2nd DRAFT excerpt:

“I’m glad that bully is dead, father. He shouldn’t have spoken to you that way.”

“No, son. When a child dies, his parents’ dreams die with him.” His father’s eyes were wet.

EDITING COMMENTARY: Notice what I’m doing here. I’m eliminating repeated information. I can tell the story in fewer words and not lose anything. I don’t need to explain more. I gave it to the reader once clearly. After that, I’m hitting them over the head with it instead of providing the broad strokes so they can fill in the rest of the scene. It is a rare thing to underwrite. Most people overwrite. Obviously in my first draft, I write too much. Always do. Whittling is fun.

This isn’t the only way I could have edited this piece, but I want to write this one especially short. I have a  5,000 word count for this project and a lot of things happen before we get to the end, even though the structure is a slow build to a twist ending.

When I read something that is dense to read, where obvious economies are not eliminated, I often get bored and I wonder if the author is trying to disguise a lack of plot.


Don’t repeat yourself. Don’t repeat yourself.


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Filed under: Editing, manuscript evaluation, My fiction, publishing, Writing exercise, writing tips, , , ,

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