Guilds, Bargains, and General Deviousness

Writer’s block, as we have mentioned before, is a real pain in the…er…plot. Mine’s lasted for about three months. I’ve spent agonizing hours in front of my computer screen, trying desperately to write something, more agonizing hours plotting chapter outlines in the showers, and even more…less agonizing hours doing everything but writing as I pretend that I’m not working on a novel. However, someone has finally dipped the Bucket of Motivation (+5 to Stamina, +3 to Persuasion) into the Well of Lost Plots, and I find myself writing again, quite enthusiastically. Such a happy occurrence, is, of course, not due solely to sheer force of will (iron though mine may be) or a new influx of brilliant ideas (even though I’m sure those are en route). Rather, my new and improved page count is due to a potent combination of three motivational strategies that I thought I would share with you today, in the hopes that something in a similar vein may work for any of my fellow suffers.

I joined a Guild. Well, of sorts. We call ourselves that for motivational purposes and because most of us are writing fantasy stories, so it fits the tone of our works. That, and it just sounds cool. Anyway, there’s a group of six of us in a six-week program. We set individual goals and milestones for the duration of the program, public for everyone in the group to see, and let the coordinator know what kind of feedback we’re looking for. Each person is paired with two reviewers and two reviewees. I post what I’ve written every other week, and my reviewers comment on what I’ve written, using the requested feedback guidelines, after which I do the same for my assigned reviewees. I’ve been a little bit behind on my deadlines, but I’ve kept working at it, and writing is being done.

Why it works: Double accountability. General accountability doesn’t often work for me; just knowing I’m supposed to write a certain number of pages every week so I can show it to someone at the end of the week doesn’t put enough pressure on me to break the writer’s block. The Guild’s system, however, means that I have to comment on and provide feedback for other people’s writing, and that means terrible self-inflicted guilt when I don’t meet my own goals for them to critique. The threat of that guilt and (for me, anyway) embarrassment is enough to make me write, even if I feel like what I’ve written is crap.

More fun than this, I promise.

Bargaining. As most of you know by now, I am an avid Star Trek RP’er. Tom and I both role-play on The USS Intrepid (now recruiting, if anyone’s interested) and the new Play-By-Email site Outpost Eden. Both sites are a great deal of fun, and I spend a lot of time writing for my various characters. Tom has even more dedication to the sites, and he has also been wrestling with writer’s block. So we made a deal: I can’t post on either site until I’ve written 500 words on my novel that day, and he can’t post until he’s written his 500 words. I let him know when I’ve met my goal, and he does the same (or, if I finish first, I pester him until he reaches his goal, because that’s what a good First Officer does).

Why it works: it’s the reward system, with (for me) high-stakes consequences. I’ve been role-playing for almost a decade, and this writing forum is extremely important to me. I love it very much. So knowing that I can’t do anything with it until I accomplish another task makes me focus very, very hard on getting those 500 words written.

Photo credit: Tom

General Deviousness (aka, Netflix). When I write academic papers, I can’t have any distractions. The only song I can bear to listen to is the 24-hour playlist version of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” Knowing this, I’d never tried creative writing with any background noise, thinking it would just distract me. However, this past weekend, I put on an episode of Suits, pulled up my Word document, and started writing. Lo and behold, I managed to get almost a thousand words written in the space of two episodes of one of my favorite shows. Repeat attempts at this strategy have proven successful (as evidenced by the fact that you’re reading this blog post now), and so I’m rather happy to have discovered it.

Why it works: Distraction. Writing brings out two of my biggest neuroses: perfectionism and linear thinking (logical plot progression). My need to make everything perfect the first time and know exactly how each detail fits into the plot often makes my writer’s block the major problem that it is. I overthink. But when I turn on Netflix, my focus is split, and the perfectionist bit of my brain gets distracted. I write almost on autopilot, and my subconscious brain takes over. Writing gets done, and it may need a good bit of revision afterwards, but the important part is that the words are there.

Netflix came to Poland in January, and there was much rejoicing.

In summation: Double-accountability, the reward system, and distraction. On their own, none of these three methods worked for me, but together? They’re magic. I’m writing. My characters are speaking. And the story happens. I encourage you to try combining methods, when you have difficulty writing. Find what combination works for you, even if it’s weird, and let it fuel your writing. What strategies work for you, and why?

On Missing the Method (but Increasing the Madness)

Greetings, fellow writerly denizens of the interwebs. It’s been a while since I last wrote to you, partially because of the (relatively) new schedule and partially because of a chaotic combination of work, random trips to Berlin, holiday prep (we celebrate several days of Christmas here in Poland…the actual celebration/vacation part can last up to 3 weeks!), and sheer exhaustion from all of the above. I have also, during this time, been working on my novel, and been making quite slow progress, at that. I have encountered a new problem in this particular process, and so I come to you, dear fellow tortured souls, to seek solace and suggestions for success (Eru, I adore alliteration).

I spent 2 days wandering around here.

I have a very particular and carefully structured way of writing. By that, I mean that I compulsively have to write from start to finish, with everything in its proper order. This was true in my university days as well, where I wrote all of my 500+ essays from introduction to conclusion, and never in any other order. The very thought of starting in the middle of a story or an essay and then coming back to write the introduction bits later is enough to send me into a panic attack. Anyway, that method, flawed though it may be, is not the problem at this particular moment in time. No, my problem instead comes from breaking my adherence to that method and finding myself in a great deal of trouble as a result.

Forever my watchword.

After getting the prologue and a full chapter of the novel written, I suddenly found myself with three complete scenes in my head that should take place around the climax of the book, scenes in which several important plot points happen. These three scenes are chronological to each other, but don’t belong anywhere near what I had previously written. They popped into my head so vividly that all I could do for several days was think through, analyze, and tweak them. I wanted to write them down, but about 98% of my soul screamed in agony at the thought. I took the problem to my proofreader, our very own Tom, and as his writing process is radically different from mine, he suggested I ignore my inner structure demons and try writing the scenes down anyway. After that, I could lock them away and then ignore them until the rest of my very structured and quite chronological writing got to that point. I agonized over it for a week before I finally told said inner demons to go to hell (so to speak), and I wrote down those scenes in a mad rush, as if my paycheck depended upon it (which sadly, it does not). They were absolutely exquisite (although 2 of them are now out of date and will need a great deal of revising in the future). I’m very proud of the work I did. However, the problem I now have to contend with is that having written those exciting scenes, I’ve run out of writerly energy to get much further now that I’m back working on chapter two. The wheel of writing is turning, but the hamster of creativity is dead, and I don’t know necromancy. Anyone have any ideas for how to get my plot back on track?

6 Plots in Search of a Novel

Fellow writers, I find myself facing a quandary. Usually when I write, whether it be short stories or longer projects, I have one all-consuming idea that I work on until it’s finished (or the well of plots runs dry). I tend to be extremely single-minded when I write; though I can do other projects, such as working on the Star Trek role-playing game I do with Tom, when it comes to my own stories, I take them one at a time. Not out of choice, mind you. My brain just can’t handle multiple primary plots at one time. At least, that’s how it used to be. *cue ominous music* I currently find myself with an entire stampede of plot ideas all running through my head at once, which is quite irritating, as I am trying very hard to work on my novel. All the different plots are rolling around, begging and pleading to be written, and worse, they’re getting mixed up with each other. It’s the book version of “I’m My Own Grandpa” in my head; all the related plots are intermarrying and producing strange hybrids that make my head hurt when I try to make sense of them. It’s impeding my writing, but I haven’t found a way to get around it. Have any of you ever had this problem? Do you have any tips or suggestions for me to sort out all of this nonsense and get back to my writing, but perhaps without losing some of the other ideas that might prove fruitful in the future?

This is what it feels like in my head right now.
This is what it feels like in my head right now.

Major Life Changes: Balancing Packing and Writing

mapTo say that the last few days have been a whirlwind of insanity would be an understatement. Last Monday, I was contacted about an interview for a job I really wanted. Less than 24 hours later, I was being interviewed for that job and was given a tentative offer; 42 hours beyond that, and I was offered a position as an Instructor of English with Berlitz in Poznań, Poland, starting at the beginning of October. “Did you accept?” you may very well ask, at which point I will stare at you incredulously, because of course I took the job. It would be ridiculously stupid of me not to. Anyway, factoring in the time I’d need to get settled and start my job training, it became clear that I have a little under 5 weeks to prepare, pack, and relocate. Everything since Thursday has thus been a hectic mess of logistics and suitcase-wrangling.

The sad and unintended side-effect of this major life change has been that I don’t have time to write. I finished another chapter of my novel about a week and a half ago, and I was working at full steam on the next one when the world turned upside down and and inside out (albeit in the best possible way). When I do have a few moments to sit down and not work on a list or comb through paperwork, I’m too mentally tired to actually get any of my creative writing done. My characters are currently complaining that I’m never around, but one day they’ll understand that I’m doing this for them so that they can have better opportunities and maybe a European castle some day. Anyways, I just cannot brain enough to work on my novel, but I can’t just stop writing while I’m relocating. So I’ve developed a system to keep myself consistently in the writing game (and, incidentally, keep me from stressing out too much). I have to take at least 15 minutes a day to write on *something,* whatever that may be. I started a travel blog that I’m currently updating daily, I write my posts for The Art of Writing, and occasionally I will write out one of my famous rants about something nerd-related (usually Doctor Who, to be honest, but you all probably knew that). The point is, despite all the insanity around me, I’m still making myself write. And when I’m flying from the Arizona desert to Poland next month, maybe I will have the time and energy to get back to my novel and my poor neglected characters. But for now, it’s a start.

Random Challenge of the…Whatever

mawwiageSo our fearless leader/benevolent dictator/main writing guru Tobias is now a newlywed! He’s currently off gallivanting around the world and doing whatever it is people do on their honeymoon, so he asked me to take charge of the Friday writing challenge, and out of the goodness of my heart, I chose to oblige. How today’s challenge is going to work is that I am going to give you a topic and some general parameters, and then you come up with a scene or a story based around those guidelines. You can post your results in the comments, put them on your own blog and link it to us, or hide them in your basement and never speak of them again. It’s up to you 😉

In honor of Tobias and Alayna’s recent nuptials, your topic today is a wedding. It can be before, during, or after, but the main event should involve a wedding. And not just any wedding, because I am incapable of doing things in a normal or healthy way: it should be a wedding gone wrong, whether in a humorous or tragic fashion. Just no Red Weddings, please. Have fun!

“What Took You so Long, Old Man?” A Review of the Doctor Who Series 9 Trailer

Hello, sweetie.
Hello, sweetie.

I am a longtime Whovian, a devotee of the Doctor. I grew up watching Classic Doctor Who, and when Russell T Davies regenerated the show in 2005, I jumped on board the TARDIS with Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor and never quite left. In April, I published my Master’s thesis, a 120+ page paper all about Doctor Who, complete with a personal interview with writer Robert Shearman and the signature of the Tenth Doctor himself, David Tennant. I’m a little bit obsessed is what I’m trying to say here. Despite my concerns (Tom, Lorien, and Tobias can all attest that they are many) with Who under Moffat’s leadership in general, and series 8 as a whole, I still haunt the internets in search of hints and promo pictures for anything leading up to the new series. When the teaser trailer for series 9 was released this weekend, I screamed like I’d seen a Weeping Angel, plugged in my headphones, and sat down to watch. So today, you’ll be treated to my review of the new Who trailer. The video is embedded below; if you haven’t seen it yet, watch, and then finish reading 🙂 Allons-y!

So, the first thing that comes to my attention is that they’re running a trailer without the Doctor Who theme music. I’m all for mixing things up, but making an entire 1 minute, 30 second trailer without even a hint of the music (particularly since the 12th Doctor’s music is so amazing), seems a little odd to me. We’ve also got some recognizable bad guys: Missy, the Daleks, the Zygons, and I could swear the grey hands coming out of the ground at the beginning are reminiscent of the Weeping Angels from Time of the Doctor. I could be wrong-and I probably am-but hey, that’s the first thought that came to mind. We also have what looks like the Doctor in an orange spacesuit, which has obvious flashbacks to the Tenth Doctor in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit. Several folks have commented that this trailer leans very heavily on connections and references to Classic Who/early New Who, particularly in regards to Peter Capaldi’s increasingly Pertwee-esque look, and I can agree with that assessment. Moffat brought in a lot of new stuff to series 8, but based on this trailer, I think we’re going to be falling back more on previous plots and monsters. The appearance of Maisie Williams, the young actress who plays Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, reinforces this idea for me. Her one line, “What took you so long, old man?” instantly connotes a long familiarity with the Doctor, which has many, including yours truly, thinking that she’s a Time Lord. Earlier in the trailer, we see her jumping into the Doctor’s arms and he holds her tightly. Personally, I think that Williams’ character will be Susan Foreman, the First Doctor’s granddaughter.  Moffat is linking New Who to Classic Who far tighter than Russell T Davies ever did – and considering the atrocity that was the reference to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in series 8, I’m not sure I like it. pertwee and capaldi

The newer villains, locations, and other characters honestly don’t make that much of an impact on me. They barely blink in for half a second each, and the dark lighting makes them hard to see. Since they barely register, it’s hard to be interested in them.

Something I noted in the trailer was the Doctor’s line about “evil.” We don’t know what that evil is; it could be evil in a universal sense or speaking about some force in particular. However, the Doctor’s line “I want to kiss it [the evil] to death” comes directly after a shot of Missy applying her lipstick, which seems to me to indicate that Missy is the evil and will be our overarching villain again. I also noted that this line seems to contradict the last line: “I’m the Doctor, and I saves people’s lives.” The contrast between him wanting to cause the death of something followed directly by an announcement that he saves lives. I think we’re going to get more tension between the Doctor’s traditional heroism and his more recent tendency towards anti-heroism.

The best part of the whole trailer was the one second shot of the Doctor in sunglasses, rocking out with a guitar. Now THAT, I want to see. Other than that, this trailer overall left me colder than a Dalek Sphere in the Void. It wasn’t very different or interesting, and it was hard to stay engaged without the right music. It didn’t get me excited about the upcoming season, so I do hope that the next trailer will be more defined and exciting. Overall: 2/10. Thoughts, fellow Whovians?


Writing and Awesome Opportunities

The masterAs most of you know, I finished my MA degree a couple weeks ago (you may now all call me The Master), and since leaving school, the long job hunt continues. At the beginning of May, I put in an application for an internship with a company in Pennsylvania. The internship looked pretty awesome: lots of writing, work from home (no relocation needed), set my own hours, etc. It specified unpaid, but hey, internships are great resume builders, right? And it keeps me writing. Anyway, I wasn’t expecting to get it because those things are competitive, but I sent in my Resume and CV anyway. They contacted me for a Skype interview the following day, and the interviewer talked to me about my experience. He was really impressed with the wide variety of writing I do, as I have several academic publications, two theses, several non-academic publications, editing/proofreading experience, creative writing, and, actually, this blog. He looked over some of my posts for The Art of Writing, and he loved it. He said it was a unique and interesting addition to my varied resume and it spoke to my writing experience in various mediums. So, I got hired on the spot! It’s unpaid, but he said there’s a good chance of getting a full-time job out of it in three months if my performance reviews are high enough, which is pretty exciting. The moral of the story is: writing is awesome and it opens many windows for you that you may not be aware of. Varied writing is the key; if I’d only done academic writing or creative writing or what have you, he wouldn’t have found my resume interesting. So keep writing, try new avenues of wordcrafting, and see where it takes you!

A Triumphant Return from the Mount of Academia

You may have noticed that I haven’t been around for the past three months. This unfortunate and quite devastating (to all of you, I’m sure) absence has been due to a rather insane final semester of my Master’s program. Over the course of the past 12 weeks, I’ve written and successfully defended a nearly-hundred-page thesis on Doctor Who, met David Tennant and his glorious hair (and got him to autograph the aforementioned thesis), survived my last two graduate classes and all of the papers pertaining thereto, and taught two courses full of occasionally eager, but usually sleepy, Freshmen students. I’ve also made the decision to move; in two weeks, the day after I get to wear the long robes and the funny hat in another commencement ceremony, I will be leaving the East Coast and heading to Arizona. As a result, I’ve had to add packing to my long list of things to do (and I still haven’t finished quite yet…). As you can imagine, such a hectic schedule has prevented me from doing anything outside of academic writing. I haven’t written a single short story or a line of poetry since January. Now that (almost) all of that is over and done, however, I now have time to write creatively and to talk to all of y’all about writing and other such fun things. For my next post, you can look forward to me talking about my next monumental task: I’m finally attempting a novel. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, here’s a picture of me with David Tennant, his hair, and the random banana we brought for him (David’s Scottish accent not pictured, but oh, is it brilliant)

me and david