My story, "A Learned Man," appears in the May 31 issue of Electric Spec. It's based on a 2-page folk tale I read in a small-town library one day in El Salvador, when I was tired of sightseeing. I wrote most of the rough draft in the pleasant square there in Ahuachapan.
It can be
far too easy to let lack of inspiration take away our ability to put pen to
paper; to let it shatter the joy that comes from that wonderful dance of our
fingers upon the keyboard. Many times, we instead find ourselves staring out
the window, watching the rain; we glance at the clock, only to find we’ve
whiled away half the day browsing the internet, finding out who wore what on
which red carpet, and which no-longer-tween celebrity just broke up with her
It can be a
challenge to refocus, to force ourselves to look at that oh-so-depressing empty
page. How do we find the strength to go on, to push forward?
address what is, in my experience, the chief cause of writer’s block: fear.
block is much akin to a schoolyard bully, that oppressive playground punk who
makes us shrink away from the things we want to do. Want to take a big writing
risk—the writer’s equivalent to swinging on the monkey bars? Too bad, because our
terror of being unable to live up to our own expectations—and the expectations
of readers—creeps in and paralyzes us. Am
I good enough to pull this off? Will people like it? Does it work in my story?
questions twirl round and round in our heads, we once again find ourselves
thinking about anything but writing. The bully has made us back down again, and
all we’re left with is a blank sheet and a heaping helping of dissatisfaction.
So what to
do? The answer is: Just go for it.
something. Write anything. Let it be bad. Don’t judge it. There’s no need to listen
to the criticism of your inner editor demon. Even if it’s awful, that’s the
beauty of writing: You can always go back and change it. For now, however, the
most important aspect of breaking through the block is getting the ball
are a few tips that have worked for me to make that happen . . .
#1. Get in the character’s head.
I don’t mean
in a general sense; I mean sink down into that exact moment where you’ve hit
the block. Ask yourself: What is my character thinking? What is he feeling?
What is he physically seeing? Doing? Forget about moving the story forward for
now. The important thing is to regain your momentum; anything extraneous you
can always remove later. Even if writing about your character doing the dishes
gets you back into the flow of writing, do it. Whatever it takes.
#2. Try writing longhand.
changing up our process can clear out the fog. Most writers these days use a
computer (or laptop, tablet, etc.), so it can be an interesting and liberating
experience to try it “old school.” There’s less pressure for everything to be
“perfect”; you know you’ll have to type it in later, so corrections can be put
off until then. Furthermore, having the opportunity to cross things out, make
notes in margins, get a little sloppy can make us feel more free to make
mistakes; on the computer screen said mistakes are summarily erased from
existence, and the page is restored to a state of unmarred perfection. That’s a
advantage of writing longhand is that we can force ourselves to be free of
distractions. Take a notebook and, if the weather’s nice, go to your favorite
park; or visit your local library, bookstore, or coffee shop. Leave the laptop
at home. Granted, in this day and age you’re likely to be carrying a
smartphone, but I find the temptation far less on a mobile device. If
necessary, turn off your wi-fi and data plan, just to give yourself an extra
#3. Speed through transitions.
that blocks can arise from getting a character from point A to B. “John” needs
to get uptown, but first he needs to leave his apartment, walk to the subway,
wait for the train, and so on. Or we could simply write, “John left his
apartment, and caught a train uptown. A short time later, he emerged from the
station . . .” Voila! Done. It can always be expanded upon later, but often the
best thing to do is expedite and move things along.
#4. Get to the cool stuff.
A lot of
times we have particular moments we’re writing toward, but there just ends up
being so much in between where we currently are in the narrative, and where
we’re champing at the bit to get to. Instead of drawing things out, do away
with delays. Simply take the story there.
However, if there
are things you absolutely must address before moving things forward to that
section, figure out ways to punch them up. I find writer’s block can emerge
when I’m trying to deal with a section I find boring or uninspiring. A powerful
way to deal with this is to come up with unexpected, unplanned moments to
insert into these otherwise pedantic portions of the narrative that get us
amped up; ideally they should be rife with tension and conflict. You might end
up with something amazing you never anticipated.
#5. Don’t force it…Actually, do.
Just put a
sentence on the page. “The wallpaper was red.” “The sky was overcast.” “The
car’s tires squealed.” It doesn’t matter if it isn’t good; you can always
remove it later. The important thing here is to build momentum. And you can’t
build momentum if you don’t write something. Anything. Don’t judge it—for it’s
that judgy inner editor that keeps you afraid from putting something poor on
the page in the first place. Just press on, and you’ll be surprised at what
Supposedly, the war between Calchis and Orion ended decades ago. But upon reporting to an isolated Orion army base for basic training, Private Stockton Finn learns the war still rages, only the weapons have changed—most disturbingly of all, Finn has been selected to become one of those weapons.
Across the border, young Calchan farm boy Aaron Waverly learns all too well just how determined his country is to win the war when he is abducted from his family's property by a sinister government operative known only as Agent. Trapped in dreary new surroundings, learning deadly skills he's never before imagined, Aaron struggles to reconcile his ephemeral faith with his harsh new reality.
As the two nations hurtle toward a resurgence of open hostilities, Finn and Aaron, along with their new friends and mentors, must rush to prepare themselves for the inevitable clash. All the while, a new archaeological find in the frozen tundra far to the north hints that the brewing conflict may only be the first of their worries...
I really enjoyed The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
The writing is excellent (even though I don't like present
tense). The characters are likeable and
interesting. The world-building is
unique. It feels like a European culture
in a Central American setting. I also
think the faith/religion aspect is really well done. It's not preachy, yet it's integral to the
plot. There's adventure, love, politics,
and—miracle of miracles—the correct
use of comma splices (only 2 or 3 in the whole book, used for impact, with
short sentences of similar structure).
I'm not sure I like the way the author deals with the
self-proclaimed "fat girl" issues and changes, but that's very
subjective. I think the author misses
some opportunities in one abrupt death scene.
Elisa, the main character, also overcomes her underconfidence perhaps a
bit too quickly.
Despite these minor, subjective issues, the book is rich and
interesting and well written. Plus, it
actually ends. I like a series to
consist of stand-alone stories that build on each other, instead of having
cliffhanger endings. This fit the
bill: I'm satisfied, and don't HAVE to
read more, but I WANT to. The perfect
Now my favorite animal: pronghorn (also called "antelope")
These beauties can run up to 60 miles per hour, for sustained periods, but mostly you see them lounging around in grasslands in places like Wyoming, Colorado, and even Arizona. Their distinctive markings and bright colors make them easy to spot from a distance. On one trip between Walden, Colorado, and Laramie, Wyoming, we saw 42 separate sightings of pronghorns! About 35 of these sightings happened within the last 20 miles or so before Laramie. Some of these were single animals, but many were pairs or small groups. The biggest group we saw was about 12-15, in the distance. Gorgeous!
I feel a little sad. For the last three Fifa World Cups, I have happened to be teaching English in Europe, where World Cup excitement is crazy. I spent a few days in Berlin while they held the World Cup in Germany, and the flag-draped, face-painted, firecracker-lighting fans made for quite the spectacle. When Germany made a goal, you could hear people cheer all down the street. I don't really know much about soccer, and honestly I hardly follow sports at all, but I still rode the wave of excitement. This year I'm in America, and I'm not sure many people even know it's going on. Oh, to be in Europe. But I'm so thankful for the time I've spent there.
I love good punctuation humor (yes, I'm a nerd), and I've read several books lately that suffer from the lack of a certain comma. So, to help with the situation, I wrote a post at Writers on the Move about the vocative comma. Don't worry about the term. Just worry about Grandpa in the below example.
For more fun examples, check out the article here.
"A colony on an alien world is functioning as best it can with limited resources when an infection causes hallucinations that could prove as deadly as the infection itself -- and the doctor who was supposed to deal with it died on board the ship before it ever reached the planet in the first place, leaving one resourceful young lady scurrying to figure this mess out before time runs out." --Description by Edmund R. Schubert, editor.
I love the art that accompanies it, created specifically for my tale by the talented Andres Mossa.