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How to Get Past Writer’s Block: Productivity Tips [Guest Post]

The following is a guest post by Maria Rainier. For more on Maria, check out her bio at the end of the post or visit her at First in Education.

Whether you’re writing your first paper or you’re an acclaimed novelist, you’ve almost certainly encountered the frustrating phenomenon of writer’s block. And you’ll encounter it again in the future. Depending on your circumstances, writer’s block can ruin an entire session of potential productivity – it’s easy to let procrastination take control. When you’re not feeling inspired, nothing seems right and it’s almost impossible to put words on the page.

The good news is that there are many ways to get around the dreaded writer’s block. You probably have some of your own strategies that work for you when your creative juices seem to run dry. These are a few of my favorite ways to court the muse and start writing again, so I hope they enhance your repertoire and offer you more approaches to solving the problem of writer’s block.

Surround Yourself with Writers

I know I feel more capable of writing for an extended period of time when I’m surrounded by like-minded people with the determination to keep writing, no matter what. Join a MeetUp group of writers, get some creative friends together, or search for writing groups on Craigslist. You might be surprised at what you can do when you’re in good (and productive) company.

Find an Inspiring Location & Set Up Shop

Think about the inspiring places you’ve been and see if you can figure out a way to start writing in some of those locations. Bringing a notebook and pen with you is permissible just about anywhere you go, and many places will allow you to bring a laptop if you prefer to type. Just stay aware of your laptop’s battery life if you’re working outdoors, unless you have a solar charger.

I like to write in the following places: art museums, botanical gardens, parks, theaters, local coffee shops, and my artist friend’s studio. Each of these locations inspires me to write even when I’m struggling to come up with a simple string of coherent thoughts. Try writing in the places you turn to for rejuvenation, relaxation, and creative inspiration.

Read Your Journal or Other Old Writing Pieces

I keep a journal that occasionally offers inspiring ideas or phrases, which can then be turned into “real” writing. You can often find something in your archives that’s worth expanding, so don’t hesitate to take a few minutes and read back over your past writings. If you find a striking idea that can be developed, you’ll gain self-confidence because the idea was yours all along – and that’s a great way to tap into your creativity.

Listen to Music

Listening to classical music helps me to stay relaxed and focused, which are two conditions that help me write well. Depending on my mood, I’ll choose something slow and soft to get myself into a creative state, or I’ll select a fast-paced instrumental number like Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro overture to wake up and start writing. Music has the power to affect your energy, creativity, and mood, so take advantage of it to improve the conditions that surround your writing process.

Relax with Breathing Exercises

Running into writer’s block often stresses me out, triggering anxiety and negative feelings. That state of mind is never conducive to any creative pursuit, so writing after hitting a wall tends to be unproductive unless I change my attitude and decrease the level of stress I’m feeling.

I usually relax with a few minutes of circular breathing, which is a simple exercise that you can try with almost no effort. Just close your eyes, exhale all of the air in your lungs, and use the thumb and fourth finger of your dominant hand to pinch your nostrils closed.  Wait a few seconds, then remove your thumb and inhale through the open nostril. Replace your thumb, closing the nostril, and hold your breath. Now, move your fourth finger away and exhale through the other nostril. Repeat this exercise as many times as you need to in order to feel refreshed and stress-free.

About Maria

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about education, online degrees, and what it takes for adult students to succeed studying for an online post-grad degree from home. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

4 Ways NOT to Find Your Writing Motivation

Photo: DSmous | Flickr

The ultimate remedy for writing motivation is a topic many have blogged about before. We all know the things that we are supposed to do like make time in our schedules for writing, use prompts and other exercises to jumpstart your creative juices, yada, yada, yada. Instead of re-iterating the standard prose on writing motivation, I thought I’d do something a little different to spur us writer folk into action.

I’m going to tell you what NOT to do to find your writing motivation.

DO NOT turn on the TV. You start out telling yourself you’ll watch the first five minutes of the news—after all, they’re doing a story about the germs lurking in the corners of your kitchen, you can’t miss that, right? But after the national news goes off, it’s time for Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy—who can miss those? Game shows keep your mind sharp! After game shows there are sitcoms and dramas and Wipeout and basketball games and Mythbusters and 400 other channels full of distractions. Next thing you know it’s after midnight and you’re passed out on the couch in the middle of a Pawn Stars marathon. The TV is a gateway drug and at least a few nights a week, you have to avoid turning it on because the moment you press the power button, it’s over.Continue Reading

A Writer’s Dilemma: Characters Versus Plot

photo by frechen

Yesterday, we asked you guys to share your opinions on which comes first in the writing process: characters or plot. We had so many great responses and as I read each one, I felt myself nodding in agreement, even if it was conflicting with the previous answer.

The truth is, neither method is right or wrong, it just comes down to a writer’s inspiration and preferences. So we decided to straddle the line of impartiality and present everyone with five tips for starting at either end of the spectrum.

One quick note before we start–I highly recommend trying both methods of writing. If you typically create characters first, change it up every once in a while and try developing your plot before thinking of characters. You never know what you may discover!

5 Tips for Starting with Characters:

  1. Take yourself out: Probably the hardest step in creating a great character is to remove yourself as the author. But the fact is, your singular experience as one person of a specific race and socioeconomic status could keep your range of characters pretty narrow. Give your characters license to do the things you’ve never done and be the person you’ve never been.
  2. Keep yourself in: I realize this is a total contradiction to Tip #1, but in all honesty there has to be a balance of the two. While you should push yourself to develop characters completely different from your own personality and experience, you must also acknowledge that it is nearly impossible to create a character from the ground up without including a part of yourself. It might be something small–a nervous habit, a secret hobby–but a piece of you will always lend a needed element of reality to your characters.
  3. Dimension in the Details: Keep your characters from feeling stale and flat with the use of little details that make fictional people seem human. Whether it’s a bad habit or a favorite food (like Myron Bolitar’s Yoo-Hoo obsession) something so small can do big things toward making a character seem real.
  4. The Twist: Avoid having your characters fall into a certain stereotype by throwing in an unexpected characteristic or trait. For example, the serious businessman who eats Fruit Loops for breakfast, or the inner city school teacher who comes from a wealthy family. Few of us fall precisely into pre-cut stereotypes and your characters should be the same way.
  5. Motivation = Direction: Understand the motives of your characters–what drives them? Are they motivated by family, money, greed, or goodwill? Knowing what drives them to do what they do will help lead you right down the path to a plot.

If you want to read more about developing characters, check out the blog posts from our Character Cavalcade Week (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6 earlier this year. You might also want to experiment with our YA and Mystery Character Generators.

5 Tips for Starting with Plot:

  1. Start with conflict: The key to every plot is, of course, a conflict that must be resolved. Your conflict can take any number of forms–a question, an event, a circumstance–but whatever it is, it has to be something that your readers feel can be resolved by the main character. Whether it is actually resolved, however, is entirely up to you!
  2. Give readers a reason: No matter what your genre is, you have to hold the interest of your readers with a solid reason for them to keep turning the pages. There has to be an element of personal investment, be it sympathy for the main character, curiosity as to how a conflict will be resolved, etc. Something to drive a person to see things through to the end.
  3. Avoid getting bogged down in the details: This is one of my biggest hurdles in writing. It’s so easy to become obsessive over minute details of your plot–how did this person get from one place to another, how could they afford to eat at this restaurant, who was taking care of their dog while they were off saving the world? The reality is, most of these questions will never cross a reader’s mind. As long as the plot keeps moving and you avoid any really distracting incongruence, your readers will skip right over those little details.
  4. Don’t forget the TP: One of my middle school English teachers consistently referred to the turning point of a novel as the TP, to remind us that it is a staple of writing, much like the other kind of TP (toilet paper) is a staple of life. Knowing when your plot will turn a corner and start down the home stretch is critical. Knowing why your plot will take that turn is even more important–what is the catalyst that will shift your plot from conflict to resolution?
  5. It’s all about the angle: Once you have your plot nailed down, the transition to characters starts with you asking yourself whose perspective of this plot do I want to tell? Often it takes more than one perspective on a series of events to tell the whole story, but it’s up to you how much of the story you want to tell. What you don’t write is just as important to a good plot as what you do write.

As always, we welcome your feedback in the comments section below. And if you still have something to add to our discussion question yesterday, the phone lines (or in this case, the comments) are still open!

Thanks and have a great Labor Day Weekend!

Later days,

– Shannon

Writing: Which comes first, the characters or the plot? [Discussion]

In thinking about our cycle of blog topics (branding, publishing, marketing and design) it occurred to us that we left out a critical component of the self-publishing process: writing! For all the obvious reasons, you can’t self-publish a book without…you know…writing it.

So with that in mind, we’ve decided to add writing to our cycle of blog topics, starting today. For discussion Wednesday, we’ve decided to pose the following question:

Which comes first, the characters or the plot?

Do you sometimes find yourself building characters and than trying to build a plot around them, or vice versa? I’ve done a little of both and I don’t know if one is easier than the other, but it does take a lot of creativity either way.

Feel free to share your opinions below! We want to know what you think, what you’ve experienced, and most importantly, what you have to say!

– Team Duolit

The Do’s and Do Not’s of the Writing Process [Self-Publishing Basics]

Note: For an updated version of the information below, download Self-Publishing Basic Training for FREE (you’ll also get some nifty extras)!

photo by sander123f

I’ve been calling myself a writer since third grade when the greatest teacher I’ve ever had put a pen in my hand and told me to set free my imagination.

Later that year, I “self-published” my first book, “Neighbors from Outter Space” (which I suppose is the opposite of inner space) complete with magic marker illustrations and a glitter-coated cover. It was well received by my target audience at the time (a.k.a. my third grade classmates, my parents and my siblings).

It took me seven years to complete my second book (a pop-up called “The Adventures of a Red Bouncy Ball” for my freshman art class) and then another eight years to actually compile my first full length novel. I say that to say this:Continue Reading