Life as a Writer’s Block

Dear Reader,

Sometimes, we need a break.

After I graduated with my masters in 2010, I was dead-set on having my second book published within the year, which I did.

It took me seven years to write Haunting Miss Trentwood (because I was a full-time student and a part-time writer). I put my hand and head to marketing, and did so for a year… so much time spent interacting on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc, meant I wasn’t reading or writing anymore. Just talking about things that I had read and written before Haunting Miss Trentwood was published.

It was draining. Exhausting. It made me despise writing, the thinking and doing of it.

I have felt so guilty lately for not wanting to touch The Rebel’s Touch. I keep printing drafts hoping I will feel that old familiar rush that motivated me to put the Red Pen of Doom to paper. Nothing doing. Instead, I find myself staring out the window, wishing my head didn’t hurt. Or hoping a certain someone calls so we can hang out. Or looking up new recipes because I don’t want to be sitting, I want to be moving around and making something new. Or throwing my dance shoes into my bag because I have a performance or a lesson to teach or a party to enjoy.

Fact is, I have a very particular sort of Writer’s Block: life.

I never had a life before. It’s amazing! In high school, college, and even graduate school, my schedule consisted of…

  • School,
  • Homework, and then,
  • Because I wasn’t allowed to hang out with anyone after dark (in high school anyway which set my pattern for undergrad and grad school), I would read or write or paint or sew.

I love those years, they made me prepared and capable to handle the little fixes around the house.

But the truth of the matter is I have no idea how to balance a full life and my writing.

The first three months of 2012, I tormented myself by thinking I wasn’t being true to my craft. I didn’t want to admit that my “craft,” as it were, was switching. I’m a swing, lindy hop, and balboa dancer. I won’t have this “young” almost-27-year-old body forever. This is my opportunity to make the best of my youth and dance while I can. Writing… well, I hope with all my soul that I will always have my mind available to write one more story.

I’ve also begun exploring religion, something that has always been a part of my life, but never explicitly. I just have so much I’m trying to figure out right now… My psyche is in flux, making it difficult to write about characters whose lives are also in flux. Without knowing myself and what I want to write about, it is almost impossible for me to give my characters minds and thoughts and worries of their own.

Do you have any suggestions for me, to help me balance life and writing?

Anyway, that is my explanation for my radio silence.

All the best,

Belinda

Determining a Character’s Big Goal

Dear Reader,

The last couple of weeks I’ve talked about how I brandish the Red Pen of Doom for editing. I needed the edits so I could determine which characters were necessary to the plot, whether I needed to change motivations, and if I needed to tweak the hints I’ve dropped about character pasts.

Eventually I will have to type the edits into the manuscript but in the meantime, I’ve locked them away for safekeeping so I can focus on writing new content rather than obsessively tweaking existing content. To keep me on track with the new content, I wrote the characters’ Big Goals on a whiteboard.

What are Big Goals?

If I could tattoo the Big Goals on my arm I would. Just looking at them inspire me to write. Big Goals are the primary motivation behind the character  doing anything in the book. Let’s look at our h/h from The Rebel’s Hero, for instance.

Tempest wants to be free, but when she is kidnapped, she gets confused and thinks her Big Goal is to get home. Daniel wants to help runaway slaves, but when he meets Tempest he gets confused into thinking he wants to get rid of her. However, neither of these are his Big Goal. Daniel’s Big Goal is to figure out what happened to him; why he lost all of his memories from before age fourteen.

In Haunting Miss Trentwood, Mary’s Big Goal is to live her life quietly and in peace, but when her father begins to haunt her, her Big Goal switches to figuring out why he’s haunting her and what she can do about it. Hartwell’s Big Goal is to protect his family, and along the way in Haunting Miss Trentwood, his Big Goal is clouded by his growing attraction and affection for Mary.

So you see, determining the Big Goals brings characters together. The way they go about accomplishing these goals is where the spats, clashes, passion, and drama occur. It’s inspiring to me, and makes writing fun.

Also, imagery like the one in this post inspires me to write. If The Rebel’s Hero wasn’t already a play on Sleeping Beauty, I’d totally make it more Steampunk. After all, my masters thesis used Steampunk artisans as a case study. This fantastic piece is called On Steampunk Wings, by Gwendolyn Basala on DeviantArt. She’s got some excellent stuff there.

Procrastinate by browsing her work! Gotta love reenacters. I have half a mind to bug her about dressing the part and what a woman could get away with not wearing, since Tempest isn’t such a fan of crinolines (hoop skirts) or her stays (corset).

Best,
Belinda

Wielding the Red Pen of Doom (i.e. Editing)

Dear Reader,

This week I’d like to talk about what I look for when I pull out the Red Pen of Doom on my shitty first draft. But first, a sketch of Tempest Granville, the main character of The Rebel’s Hero, that I drew during a boring meeting at work…

She has wild hair because she is a tomboy. She is frowning because her dad wants to marry her to someone she doesn’t like. And then there’s the whole kidnapping escapade. That definitely brought a frown to her face.

Wielding the Red Pen of Doom

When I pull out the Red Pen of Doom, especially in the early chapters when I haven’t written the remainder of the book, I look for three main things:

  1. Is the heroine’s goal clear?
  2. Is the hero’s goal clear?
  3. Does the combination of their goals make for an interesting and intelligible story?

Notice I’m not too concerned about characterization or setting yet. That comes with the draft that is between the Shitty First Draft and the Reader Worthy First Draft. I like to call that draft, the one that is interesting and intelligible but lacking the meaty descriptions and emotions, Shitty First Draft B.

I use the Red Pen of Doom to remind me that I must be brutal to the Shitty First Draft. This is no time to hold onto my darlings. They aren’t my darlings yet, I haven’t lived with them long enough. This is my best opportunity to make goals of characters crystal clear. I consolidate unnecessary characters and plot lines, simplifying them so I can explore backstories and emotions fully in later drafts.

I ask the three questions I listed above on every page. If I don’t have an answer in seconds, then goodbye you lovely paragraph that was a study of beauteous grammar, but you are dead weight and you must go.

I tend to do this sort of editing when I’ve had a good day. I’m more objective when I’m in a neutral/good mood rather than when I’ve had a crappy day and want to punch everyone’s face in for even thinking of looking at me.

Writing. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

Best,

Belinda

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