My First James River Writer’s Show

This past Wednesday I finally got a chance to attend my first writer’s show, hosted by the James River Writers. The Writer’s Show brings authors and professionals from the writing industry to talk about a wide variety of topics, from novel writing to marketing. Ever since I joined the JRW back in January, I’ve wanted to go to a writer’s show, but as life will happen something always popped up, preventing me from attending. This month, however, despite my crazy day at work and little time to get ready, I put on my big girl’s pants and went to the show, and I’m really glad I did.

The topic of the night concerned something that plagues authors of every kind, and that is how to deal with the “squishy middle” as they coined it. The squishy middle is the condiments and meat of the story. It’s one of the most important parts. It’s where characters and plot are developed, the juicy middle that keeps your readers engaged, but it can also be a point of stress for many authors as well. So this show covered ways to motivate yourself to get through those tough squishy parts.

As I sat in the middle of the audience, struggling with an inner battle of sleep deprivation and trying to focus on the show, I learned that I am not alone on my journey through the squishy middle. Each panelist explained their own struggles with it and offered very helpful advice. Power through it, one author suggested, even if it sounds like complete crap write it down anyways because you can’t edit what’s not there. Another author suggested that you lay out an outline. Write down all the highlights and plot points you want to reach and fill in the gaps as you go. Walk away, sometimes it’s okay to abandon a story, don’t delete it, but let it sit and come back to it with fresh eyes. I’ve done this a few times, it’s especially helpful during the editing process.

All and all I had a really fun time. It’s nice to know even established authors struggle with the squishy middle. You’re not alone out there; just don’t stop writing. Next show I hope to be more outgoing and take better notes instead of a half-dead zombie. If you’re interested in checking out any of the panelists feel free to look them up. I’ve labeled their names on the picture below.

JRWS pic

**Forgive my blurry picture, it was taken on the sly.

Getting to Know Your Characters

Every Bit of Normal copy

Just the other day I was speaking with a friend about how to get to know your characters better. As writer’s, it’s assumed that we should already know everything about our characters before we write, but that is far from the truth. More often than not, we get to know our characters as we write, but what if you wanted to get to know them better before you start writing? How do you go about doing that?

What I’ve found that really works for me, is starting a relationship with your characters, talk to them, ask them about their day. I know it sounds crazy, but it helped me overcome some really tough spots in my writing, especially with my current project, which has been plagued with spells of writer’s block and schedule conflicts. In the time away from the page I think of my characters often. I think what would they be doing if they were here, or better yet, what would they be doing on an average day. Of course, all this information won’t be included in the story, but these interactions may help reveal new character traits you may not have thought of before. I also spend time listening to my characters talk to each other. I have two characters, in my current project, that are best friends and I’ve learned so much about them just through listening to their conversations. This helps make the interaction between them more organic when I write. So I don’t need to come up with something random to feel a dialog gap. Instead, I can rely on what I’ve observed to create a better scene and don’t limit yourself to having them just talk to friends. Have your characters talk to other characters, whether they are side-characters or the shopkeeper in the market, even the antagonist. Find out what makes them tic, it’ll help down the line when figuring out how the characters will react.

I hope this helps in your character development journey, good luck writers and remember don’t give up on that story, the world needs your voice.

Ready, Set, Go…

I know very few authors who haven’t had a case of writer’s block, it kind of creeps up on you, like a spider crawling on your bed. It can strike at away time and solutions for it include clichés like “Just power through it” or “You just gotta sit down and write.” Well duh, obviously I know I need to sit down and write, but how can I if the words are all clogged up? Unfortunately, there is no plumber we can call, there are however some daily practices you can do to encourage the words to flow.

First and foremost, you’re not going to write at your best if you’re in a bad mood. Set aside some time to clear your mind. Snack, watch some television, bathe, get your mind right for the task. As a writer writing is supposed to be a relaxing activity, allow yourself to enjoy it by de-stressing before you start a session. I like to cruise through Facebook and listen to my favorite Pandora station before I begin. Another thing that is critical to getting yourself in a good mood to write is setting up your writing space. Do you write better outside of your home or office? If so, then leave. Certain locations carry a certain air around them that might be over or under stimulating for an already distracted mind. Maybe the peace and quiet of a library may force you to settle down and get a few pages done or the opposite, maybe a busy café is the perfect place for those long writing sprints. Find your writing cave, make it your own, and you’ll find your attitude towards finishing that last chapter will change.

If you’re busy like me, it is also hard to find time to sit down and write. I’m sure you’ve had that powerful urge to write at inappropriate times, like in your car or at work. However, these feelings don’t have to go to waste, carry a notebook around with you or better yet, just grab a pen and a napkin and joint down your thoughts. It’ll be extremely helpful when you finally have the time to sit down and write to have those notes on deck, so no more trying to remember that big break in the scene or forgotten dialog, write it down. Get a tape recorder if that helps, or carry a tablet. I’m most productive while I’m at work, but I only have time to write late at night, and you best believe I flush out a lot of ideas during the daylight hours. You don’t have to write every day, but you should be thinking about your project daily. Run trailers in your mind to keep yourself hyped up, talk to your characters, interact with the story, it’ll help.

Finally, there is no catch-all cure for writer’s block. It comes and goes. Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve hit a wall, writing isn’t something you can just conjure up and spit out, you have to feel it. So in these mini writing hiatuses, take a breather, enjoy a good meal, and distress. It’s not going to last forever and worrying about it isn’t going to help either.