When Nothing Goes Right

You plotted correctly and it the story is wonderful. You drew from deep within and created the perfect characters to carry your story to conclusion. You kicked everyone out of the house or went to your special hiding place to write. And you put the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and get started.

And nothing comes out as it should. What’s worse, you can’t figure out why not so you don’t know how to do things differently in order to get it right. What to do?

Don’t sweat it. Write a few words or sentences to remind yourself later where you are in the story and what’s happening and then go on to the next part. Or to the end. Or to whatever scene in the story you can wrap your mind around at the moment. And write.

Don’t worry about the part you couldn’t do. Come back to it later when you’re in a better mood. It’ll most likely go right then because you’ll have filled in what happened before and after that particular scene.

Hint:  when this happens to me, I highlight the scene that didn’t work so I can find it easily later. For some reason I can’t figure out, just passing over those highlighted words when I’m on my way to the scene I’m working on at the moment does something. It gets the creative part of my subconscious mind working so when I do return, I find that I know exactly what to do.

Minor Characters

Minor characters are sneaky.  They are necessary to the story but they aren’t supposed to take over.  The problem comes when one or more of them do exactly that.  So what to do?

Depends.  There are two kinds of minor characters.  You need to know which category your minor character belongs to before you can decide what to do about it.

The first category is that in which the minor characters flesh out the story, make it deeper, stronger and better. But if that character could be written out of the story without changing the story itself, then that particular character isn’t essential.  Rein them in, keep them under control.  Do it!

The second category is that in which the minor character is essential but isn’t the character that the story is about.  Same question applies.  Could you write that character out without changing the story?  If the answer is ‘no’ then you should think long and hard before you rein in that character.

Because your story just might be better for enlarging that character’s place and letting him or her take over a larger chunk of the action.

I’m thinking about this because, in my book Spirit Legend that’s going to be featured in a Book Blast starting the 8th of April (drum roll, please) a minor character took over and became a major player.  I didn’t know it was happening until after the book was finished.  It was the reviews that made it very clear that the character of the spirit in the lake was pivotal and important.  Reviewers used words like  ‘charming.’  ‘interesting.’  and ‘endearing.’  And the spirit only came into existence as a device to hang a story on.  Until it took over and I let it run riot because I couldn’t figure out how to rein it in.

Now that I’m deep into Wolf Legend, the same thing is happening to the character of the psychic wolf pup Snowball.  She was supposed to be an afterthought.  She now has a starring role and I’m glad to say that this time around I’m smart enough to recognize what’s happening and run with it.

So expect to see a lot of Snowball in Wolf Legend.  And I’m looking forward to seeing whichever of your minor characters take over and run with your story when you publish your next piece.

Coming of Age as a Writer

When I first started writing professionally, I couldn’t imagine what I’d write about.  Where I’d find inspiration.  Who my characters would be and what would happen to them.  As time passed and I discovered that a steady living as a writer could be had by writing confession stories, everything came clear.  I’d write about myself and anyone and everyone I knew because no one, including me, would ever be embarrassed by what I wrote.  Because confession stories are written anonymously.

I soon learned there was another advantage to writing for the confession market.  By writing about past problems large and small, I could get rid of a lot of emotional baggage that I’d been carrying for a long time.  It worked in much the same way painting or writing or any other creative endeavor works in an institutional setting.  Like when mental patients paint pictures of their demons.  Or write about their nightmares.  It worked and, by the time I’d gone though every negative experience I’d ever had or anyone I knew  had ever had, I was well on my way to being a fairly good writer.  My catharsis was complete.  I started writing happier things and I’ve never stopped since.

Some time later, when I joined a writers’ group, because I had some experience in the writing field, new writers sometimes came to me for advice and to critique their work.  Guess what?  I saw a lot of writers doing the exact same thing I’d done, using their writing as a way of getting things out of their system.  It was such a common phenomenon that I  privately began to call it the ‘cathartic phase’ of becoming a writer.  I suspect we all go through it in one way or another.

I mention this today because, if that’s where you are now, in your own personal cathartic phase, go for it.  Get it out.  Get rid of the angst.  And when the day comes that you realize you don’t have any more negative things to write about, be thankful and find other topics.

Don’t worry that your readers will think you are no longer the same writer as before.  You are that same writer, just without the baggage.  And that’s a good thing.  It means you have come of age as a writer.

THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP OF ALL

I learned this tip while still a teenager.  I studied ballet from one of the country’s (perhaps the world’s) best technicians.  She was so good that professional dancers of all kinds who were in Chicago for a gig took whatever classes she could fit them into for the duration of their stay.  They weren’t good enough to be in the advanced classes, so they always ended up in the intermediate classes, the ones I was in.

We students couldn’t help noticing that, almost without exception, they were really bad dancers, much worse than us, and we weren’t even advanced students.  They were so bad that eventually we asked our teacher how they could call themselves professionals when they were terrible.  We expected her to shake her head and say that it was ndeed hard to understand.  Wrong!!!  Instead, she verbally tore into us until we were cowering and chastened and wished we’d never said anything.

They could call themselves professionals, she said, because that’s just what they were.  Professionals.  And we weren’t.  They might not have much inborn talent but they used what talent they had in such a way as to create something that people who worked hard for their money would willingly spend some of it to enjoy whatever those professionals had to offer.  And, between peformances, they worked on their craft and honed it.  Whether they were in the mood or not.  Whether they felt good or not.  Whether they were busy with other things or not.  Because that’s what professionals do.

She cowed us so thoroughly that I never forgot her words.

When I decided to become a professional writer, I knew I had some small amount of talent but it was her words that gave me the courage to quit my day job and go for it.  Because, thanks to that lecture, I knew that inborn ability is only one component of a successful creative career.  And not the most important one.

I knew that if I took what talent I had and worked at writing as hard as I’d work at any job or profession, I could make it as a writer.  And so can you.