When the Story Just Isn’t There

A writer sits down at her keyboard and stares at the blank screen. She prays. Her fingers hover over the letters, but the story just isn’t there.

It’s been that way for days. A sense of panic sets in. What if she can never find the words again? What if all the stories are gone?

I remember a very similar experience to this when I sat down to begin my second book A Great Catch. I called my friend and mentor Judy Miller and told her about the blank screen looming before me. “I’m afraid I can’t do it again.”

She laughed and said,”Yep, and it will only get worse.” Then she added, “Self-doubt is part of being a writer. It’s time for you to remember the stories are never yours. They belong to God. He’ll give you the story.”

I typed the words, “HELP ME. HELP ME. HELP ME.” I wrote a  whole paragraph of help me’s, before I felt a flicker of creativity. I captured the thought and quickly transferred it to my screen.

I don’t remember if I kept what I wrote that day–I sort of think I did–but I do remember the story God gave me flowing through me.

 

So what can we do when the stories just don’t seem to come?

  1. Pray.  As in all things, turn the dry spell over to the Lord.
  2. Self-Care. Are you taking good care of yourself? Are you getting enough rest? Are you writing during your best time of the day?
  3. Feed your story craving. Read a book or binge on a Netflix show. Good stories feed the muse.
  4. Plot. Now, no booing. Honestly, if you know where a story is going, it’s much harder to hit a dry spell.
  5. Do something else creative. Whether it’s coloring a page in an adult coloring book, scrapbooking, or crafting, doing something creative engages the creative side of your brain. This could be the wake-up your mind needs.
  6. Breathe. The stories are still there. Phil. 1:6 says, “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” Trust God, not yourself, to finish the story He put on your heart.

Now, it’s your turn. Have you hit any dry spells in your creativity? What did you do to get going again?

 

Variety –The Spice of Life…um… Story!

I cut my writing teeth on short stories and articles for children’s magazines. I’d taken a correspondence course and one lesson focused on varying the start of paragraphs. Because of this lesson, it was imbedded into my memory to start each paragraph with a variety of words.

Varying the start of paragraphs was so ingrained in me, that I thought this rule was no brainer. Then I read a writer’s blog post who just learned that you shouldn’t start each paragraph the same, especially with a character’s name, and she spent a lot of time revising most of her manuscript.

My minds light bulb flickered. Hmm…not everyone was aware of that? Then while reading one of my favorite suspense authors, I ran across three paragraphs in a row that started with the character’s name. It was jarring and took me out of the story. No writer wants that to happen!

When I learned the “Inkspers” were talking about revisions for the next couple of weeks, I jumped at the chance to cover this topic. Here are five tips to help you keep the first sentence of your paragraphs varied.

1)      Only one paragraph per page can start with a character’s name.

2)      Use a pronoun instead of the name but keep the same rule as the character name, one paragraph per page can start with a pronoun.

3)      Begin the paragraph with dialogue. Show inner thoughts or action after the dialogue.

4)      Rule number one also applies to the word “the”.

5)      Start the paragraph with the character’s action verses name. ‘Blowing out the candle, Esther tried to gauge the distance of the approaching riders over the pounding of her heart.’ Rather than ‘Esther blew out the candle, her pounding heart making it impossible to gauge the distance of the approaching riders.’

Writers, do you have any additional tips for varying the start of your paragraphs?  Readers, do you find repetitive starts jarring when reading a book?

Priorities

I’ve been blessed beyond measure in so many ways, one of which is the lessons I’ve learned in life. I learned one such lesson the day this photo was taken. Hubby, the kids, and a few other family members (including my sister-in-law), were at our pond, fishing one Saturday, and wearing play clothes. Note that in the pic, I am not wearing play clothes. Why? I was working that day. My “Corporate America” position included meetings, 65-hour weeks, two beepers, and a private plane. (Well, I never actually rode in the plane, but I did pick up the Big Boss from the airport a few times.)

work_deskI popped by the house for a few minutes, realized everyone was at the pond, and hurried down there to say hello. My SIL snapped this picture. The actual lesson came the day she handed it to me — in a frame titled, “Priorities.”  Uh-oh. Shortly after that, I got a “mommy-friendly” job — office manager at our church. It’s still a busy job, but since I quit the corporate job, I’ve never had to tell my family, “Sorry. I have to work.”

Being a busy person, like most of us are, requires one to make many choices. In other words, set priorities. Once I realized that my career is only a means that allows me to enjoy my passions, my life changed.

A lot of people say to me, “You’re so busy. How do you get it all done?”

Actually, I don’t “get it all done,” but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post! I do make lots of choices, though, about what I want and should do. First, I had to identify what I really wanted in life — my main passions: my family, my church family/spiritual life, my hobbies/interests (writing, traveling, photography, hobby farming, basketball), and my community (I serve on two boards). I also run a home-based business that combines a critique/consulting service for writers as well as online marketing strategies and website development (which includes my instructional blog “On Blogging Well“).  How do I “do it”?

  • I almost never watch TV. Maybe a Razorback game from time to time, but seriously, even if Hubby or the kids turn it on, I stay out of the den.
  • I don’t require much sleep. I usually go to bed about midnight and am up and at my desk before 6.
  • My kids are in college now. (Son lives at home but works second shift.)
  • My husband works second shift.
  • I keep my weekends free for family time and schedule my projects (blog posts, website updates, tweets, and anything else I can put a date/time stamp on) during my early morning/late night alone time while it’s just me and the dog at home.
  • I forcus on a goal. Right now I want to retire from my day job and work solely from home, so I’m concentrating on online marketing strategies that will enable me to do that fairly soon.
  • I’m very selective about what I write. For example, fiction takes a tremendous amount of time, so I’ve  put my novel WIPs on hold until I can write full time. Then I’ll mingle it amongst my blogging, ebook writing, and other “quicker” projects. But, I keep notebooks handy and jot down ideas as they come so I won’t forget them.
  • I use online productivity tools, such as TweetDeck and Google Homepage. (I read about two dozen blogs with my morning coffee — or rather, I scan the headlines and first sentence on the Google Homepage and if I think it’s something I need to finish, I’ll grab my “blog notes” notebook, open the file and take notes.)
  • Since I’m involved in networking online, Twitter has become a necessity. However, some of the best tools can also be time-tickers, so I have to be careful with it. (You can read how I tame the Twitter Beast in 20 minutes a day HERE.)
  • Another productivity thing that has helped is getting a phone with email & Internet access. When I’m in line at the bank or grocery store (if I’m not talking to someone!), I check my email & Twitter and answer as many as I can while waiting.
  • Handling email is a biggie for someone with a tendency to get sidetracked easily. I get about 300 emails a day, not counting spam, so it can get crazy. I set up a L-O-N-G string of folders in my email client and I only stop to check my email about once per hour. (I use Gmail, which has the best spam filter I’ve seen). When an email is from, say, from a writing group I’m in or a blog I subscribe to, I immediately move it into the proper folder and read it when I take a reading break. If it’s a “to-do” item, I mark it with a star and leave it in the in-box. When I complete the task, I remove the star and archive the email. I almost never delete emails and being able to search through the archives has saved me many, many times.
  • And, no, I’m NOT organized! (Uh, look at the pictures, LOL!) In fact, I’m a maverick who hates structure, although I developed a few loose “systems” that work for me.

home_deskLook at my home desk. To the right are a stack of notebooks. I use one per project – for each novel WIP, blog, course (I’m taking three right now), or general notes. This keeps all the info I need at my fingertips. If you’ll look at my office desk (above), you’ll see a line of sticky notes. For each thing I’m asked to do, I make a quick sticky note and plaster it to my computer screen. Once I’m done, I throw it away. Before I leave every day, I make sure none of the remaining notes need completed that day. Kind of messy, but it works for me. I also bought a laptop and work when I travel, which is as often as possible since going to new places and taking pictures are my favorite pastimes.

I also have to be aware of my weaknesses, the biggest of which is that I love new toys and am easily distracted by them. For me, a toy can be a new gadet, computer program, or even a new project. I’ve been trying hard to think projects through to the end to see if it will truly help me attain my next goal or if it is just another thing to get me sidetracked. If it’s the latter, I pout and put it back in the toy box for another day.