Give Yourself a Break: When the Writer Needs to Stop Writing

Hello, intrepid readers! Today I’ll be sharing the latest nugget of wisdom I’ve collected on the writing road.

During the past couple of months, but especially in the last weeks, I’ve had the chance to do more writing than ever before. Part of this is due to getting a real writing job (see my post about that for more details). While Geekdom House doesn’t require weekly or even monthly articles, I have been taking on a few extra projects with them, which means more quality time between me, my computer, and my articles-in-progress.

The other reason I’ve been writing more is that, due to some personal changes, I have more time to write than ever before, as well as a wide range of projects that demand consistent work. Previously, most of my creative writing was done on a hobby basis. Whenever I miraculously ended up with a spare half-hour or so, I worked on one of my stories. Because free time is often hard to come by, my writing projects had to be content with inconsistent additions and edits.

Suddenly, I not only have a bunch of awesome projects that I’m working on (a couple of short stories and a feature film script, for example), but I actually have the TIME!!! (did I mention time?) to do them! It’s a writer’s dream come true.

However, I have learned something important about myself and about writing for a career. These past few weeks have been my first taste of what it would be like for writing to be my primary occupation, day in and day out. I’ve discovered that, when I have free rein to attack a writing project that I’m passionate about, I get so excited that I can drive myself to mental exhaustion. Eventually I reach a point where my body is aching to move away from my desk and my brain is fed up with staring at a computer screen, but I’m so into the story that I keep pushing myself.

On one hand, this can be a wonderful feeling. That intoxication with a writing project is why I love being a writer in the first place. It’s a rush like nothing else. But the problem is, if I don’t have something to disrupt my writing occasionally, I end up wearing myself out so much that I can’t stand the sight of words. It’s like chocolate: you need moderation or it will make you sick.

Maybe it’s just me, but I suspect that many writers struggle with the same issue. Yes, we love our time with our computers or notebooks, when it’s just us and our story. I have moments where I’m writing and mentally praying, “God, this is SO cool!” I could – and do – spend hours lost in my own storyworld. But I have to step out of it sometimes or I get overwhelmed.

So for all the writers out there who adore their craft, but need some time away from it for the sake of their sanity, here are a few ideas for activities that will refresh you but keep you in the creative mindset you love.

1. Go Outside

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Remember ‘outside’? That place beyond the walls of your writing realm? Yeah, sometimes I forget it’s there, too.

The paradox of being a writer is that we love writing about interesting places, but we forget about actually stepping out of the house and exploring one of our own. Whether you drive to the mountains or go for a walk – or even just drag a chair into a sunny spot in your backyard – your body will thank you for the time away from your writing desk, and so will your brain. If the weather in your area makes going outside a less feasible option, trying wandering around your local library or visiting a new coffee shop.

To make things more interesting, you can always take a camera with you (oh wait, we have those built-in to our phones now…). I find that it helps me explore when I have a camera along to document what I’m seeing (just make sure to ask permission before photographing people). Who knows, you might end up with an idea for your newest story setting.

2. Get Crafty

There are some great websites out there, like Pinterest and Instructables, where you can find a nearly unlimited supply of crafts. Whether you’re trying to make your own lightsaber or build a cabinet, you can find a tutorial for it (don’t forget about video tutorials on YouTube).

Working with my hands is one of the best ways for me to de-stress. I have been known to vent some frustration by doing leatherworking in the garage (it’s very satisfying to pound holes into leather). Cosplay is also a big hobby for me, because I get to be in the creative mindset of a particular fandom. I love the simultaneous challenge to my logic (by figuring out how to create a costume) and my creativity (by making it happen).

3. Make Some Food

That writing brain of yours needs fuel, people! If you’ve been wanting to try your hand at baking or had a new recipe waiting to be tested, there is no time like the present.

When your brain is working hard, you are actually burning fuel so you need to keep yourself fed and hydrated. Aim for quality meals, not just sugar and caffeine because you’re in a hurry to get back to your writing – although there is nothing wrong with taking a break with the occasional bowl of ice cream. 😉

I don’t know about you, but when I’m deep into a writing project, I tend to lose track of time. Before I know it, it’s past mealtime and I’m starving. My personal goal is to get ahold of some good smoothie recipes, because I’m a smoothie lover and those are a fantastic way to get good food on the go.

4. Have a Movie Marathon

There will be times when your eyes are so worn out from staring at a computer screen that this isn’t the best option. However, there is nothing wrong with making a bag of popcorn and plopping down on the couch with your favorite films!

I tend to feel guilty about taking a few hours to just watch some TV. But the truth is, while I don’t believe watching tons of television day after day is healthy, sometimes we need to veg out. Give yourself the chance to recharge by doing something completely fun and frivolous. And guess what, movies are stories too! You’ll be surprised how much inspiration they can give you.

5. Hang Out With Friends

What?! We’re introverted writers – we only socialize with the people in our heads, right?

Actually, I am a very introverted person, but I also feel the most refreshed after some quality time with my best friends. I don’t usually do big gatherings, but I’ll take a day with a couple of my besties over just about anything else. God has put certain people into your life for a reason, and our relationships are where the best stories happen.

In fact, all four of the other suggestions I’ve made in this post would be fantastic with friends as well as solo. If distance or lack of transportation makes it impossible to meet your friend in person, give them a good-old-fashioned phone call or use something like Skype. Plan a special outing or schedule a regular time to meet up so you keep in touch.

I’ve been blessed that many of my friends are also writers, and let me tell you, there is nothing like having a community of Godly, loving friends who can listen to all your triumphs and trials in the writing world!

 

I hope you all enjoyed this post! Thanks for reading as always. Leave a comment below about some fun activities that have worked for you!

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Geekdom House – My First Paid Writing Job!

Hello dear readers! I know, I know, I sort of vanished from this blog for the last couple of months. I’ve had a lot going on in my life, both good and bad, but today I wanted to tell you a little about one of the really (reallyreallyreally) good things–my first paying job as a writer!!!

A few months ago, through the blogs of other writers as well as the recommendations of friends, I discovered a website called Geekdom House that produces an online magazine called Area of Effect. I heard that they might be looking for an additional writer for the magazine–or would at least be willing to keep my information on file for future positions–so I went ahead and emailed them an application per the specifications on their website.

Much to my delight, the editor replied and gave me the chance to write a guest article for Area of Effect. I eagerly agreed, sent her some article pitches, then worked my tail off crafting an article from the pitch she liked best. It was hard work, but I was pretty pleased with the final draft when I emailed it back.

It took around a month to hear back about my article. I was excited enough at the prospect of getting one article published, but when the editor responded, she not only said she loved the guest article, but offered me a regular Staff Writer position! I was (and am) overjoyed, and I jumped at the opportunity. My first article, originally meant to be just a guest post, went live on May 17, 2017.

As a Staff Writer, I contribute at least one article every other month, but when I have time, I often write more. In July, I ended up contributing three articles.

July articles screenshot

When the Geekdom House home page shows THREE of your articles at once!!!

I loved the idea of writing for Geekdom House from the first time I found their website. The writers are Christians, and our articles are about deeper themes found in popular culture, or “fandoms.” Area of Effect is Christian-based but is not a Christian magazine per se. Instead, its goal is to connect the secular and Christian worlds by talking about pop culture through the lens of personal experience–which can include Christianity.

For example, one of my recent articles talked about the new Spider-Man film, Peter Parker’s struggle with self-worth, my own similar struggles with the issue, and how I’ve come to find my self-worth in Christ.

Area of Effect also has some “Fun Friday” pieces, which are shorter articles just meant to be nerdy and silly. I did one recently called “Why Severus Snape Would Make a Great Therapist,” and I was cracking myself up while I wrote it (hopefully the readers found it as funny!).

And there you have it–the story of how I got my first paying writing job. While my end-goal as a writer is still to write novels and screenplays, not to be a freelance writer, I couldn’t be more thrilled with where I’m at. I’m a big nerd (if you couldn’t tell from my cosplay page) so the chance to talk about my faith in the context of my fandoms, in the company of other Christians, is an absolute dream come true.

Like any job, though, writing has its ups and downs. It’s pretty awesome when I get to read a good book or curl up in front of a nerdy movie “for work” (hey, I gotta be familiar with the subject matter!) but, don’t get me wrong, the job definitely has its challenges. Experienced writers will tell you that writing is the best and worst thing you’ll ever do.

When I wrote my Spider-Man piece, I was so excited that I churned out a decent draft in twenty-four hours. Then, after I got my editor’s feedback and went to edit it, I spent four straight hours agonizing over how I wanted to change it–cutting passages here, adding sections there, and generally wondering what I’d gotten myself into. But, the article turned out much better for all that hard work, and nothing could beat the feeling of seeing it go live on the Geekdom House website.

So, what clever writing advice do I have to share from all this? I guess it would have to be, look for opportunities. Search around, read some blogs from other writers “in the same boat” as you, or with similar interests. See where they’re writing and find out if the same place could work for you. If you’re able to talk to them personally, ask for some guidance about places to apply. Take a class in marketing your writing, if you’re able to.

Freelance writing is not an easy career to pursue. From my personal experience and the experience of family and friends, I can tell you that it is not always a reliable source of income nor will it make you rich. But, if you can find some good writing opportunities to do on the side, you might just end up with a job you love and the public writing exposure you need–and then, you just never know how far you’ll go.

Guest Post on Go Teen Writers Blog

Hello all! I recently had the privilege of getting to write a guest post for the blog Go Teen Writers, a wonderful writing advice blog managed by Shannon Dittemore, Stephanie Morrill, and Jill Williamson, three awesome Christian authors.

Their advice through this blog and the corresponding Go Teen Writers book has been invaluable to me over the years, and it was so great to give back and share some of what I’ve learned with the GTW readers!

I’d love it if you could follow the link and check out the article I got to write for them. 🙂 It’s called, “5 Important Tips Fiction Writers Can Learn From Screenwriting.” Enjoy!

New Wattpad Story Announcement!

Hello everyone! About a week ago I saw the new Beauty and the Beast movie in theaters, which has always been one of my favorite fairy tales. Thanks to the film, I’ve been thrown headlong into a fantasy/fairy tale writing mood, and I decided to take a short detour from my other projects to write a Beauty and the Beast retelling novella.

This novella, entitled “The Beauty or the Beast?”, is based on the original fairy tale (which is in the public domain), not the Disney version or any other adaptations. You can find the whole story on Wattpad here and I plan to be making regular updates! The Prologue is currently available to read and I’ve planned for ten chapters to follow before the story is complete.

Beauty or Beast cover

Current cover while the story is in progress. I’ll hopefully get a better one made before long.

Here is the story synopsis:

He was a Beast that everyone feared. She was a Beauty that nobody saw.

According to Belinda’s father, she is the image of her beautiful mother, the woman who died giving birth to her. But as Belinda reaches adulthood and never has even one suitor – in spite of the attention her sisters attract – she begins to wonder what’s wrong with her.

Then her father runs afoul of a Beast in an isolated castle, and Belinda sacrifices her freedom to save her family. Can a cursed prince and an overlooked commoner find happily ever after?

 

Thanks for checking out this post! I hope you enjoy the story. 🙂

COVER REVEAL: Dr. Flynn’s Shelter for Peculiar Animals

Hello everyone! I have some exciting news today. I had the pleasure of meeting Alea Harper, an aspiring Christian author like myself, through her blog, and she graciously agreed to design a book cover for my Wattpad story, Dr. Flynn’s Shelter for Peculiar Animals.

Alea is an amazing cover designer, and her blog has some awesome articles on everything from writing tips to book reviews, so please check out her site. 🙂

I decided this cover reveal would be a fun opportunity to showcase my story as a whole, for those who may not be familiar with it. But first, without further ado, the new cover!

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Cover design by Alea Harper, Font design by Ani Petrova

Isn’t it amazing?! Okay, I’m just the tiniest bit psyched about it…Alea did an amazing job and it was so fun to work with her.

Want to look beyond the cover? Below are some fun tidbits about Dr. Flynn’s Shelter for Peculiar Animals. Don’t forget to read the full story on Wattpad!

Story Synopsis:

I never asked to be different. Still, I guess a girl named “Althea” couldn’t expect to be totally normal. My parents never really helped matters either. It was their idea to go to Dr. Flynn’s Shelter for Peculiar Animals for my thirteenth birthday, instead of an ordinary dog shelter as I requested. That visit to Dr. Flynn’s brought my life to a whole new level of “different.” But I’m getting ahead of myself…

My name is Althea Monroe, and the book you’re holding is my story. Hang on tight.

Best Lines (so far):

Chapter 1: It’s my destiny to be different. At least, that’s what I assume, since I never asked to be. (Ally)

Chapter 2: My parents look at me, then at each other, doing this weird silent-communication thing with their eyes. I can’t even count how many times in my life they’ve made decisions without saying a word to each other. But I can count on one hand the number of times those silent decisions ended well for me. (Ally)

Chapter 3: I lift my head and follow [my dad’s] gaze out the window. On the side of the road is a sign staked into the ground that I’m positive wasn’t there before. It reads, “Turn here for Dr. Flynn’s Shelter for Peculiar Animals.” (Ally)

Chapter 4: I see more deer, five of them. These look more ordinary, except for large, lumpy deformities on their sides…Suddenly, one of the deer raises its head and the deformities move, unfurling into a huge pair of wings – wings!” (Ally)

Chapter 5: This…is the last surviving dragon on earth. Or, at least, he’s the only one I’ve been able to locate. (Dr. Flynn)

Chapter 6: I walk carefully, maneuvering my feet around Scorch, who is squealing louder than ever and jumping around my legs, flapping his tiny wings in excitement.

…and many more to come!

Similar Stories:

My goal in writing Dr. Flynn’s Shelter for Peculiar Animals was to create the traditional “kid meets pet” story with a fantasy twist. Here are a few books I loved growing up that have a “vibe” similar to my story:

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth

Thank you for visiting my cover reveal post! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Happy reading!

STORY UPDATE: Chapter Six of Dr. Flynn’s Shelter for Peculiar Animals

Dr. Flynn continuation

Hello friends! At long last, I’ve posted an update to my novel, Dr. Flynn’s Shelter for Peculiar Animals, on Wattpad! You can read the latest chapter (Chapter Six) and its precursors totally for free on Wattpad! All you need to do is make a free Wattpad account and find me on the site @authorcaitlineha! You can also use this link to find my Wattpad profile.

In the previous chapters of this tale, Ally Monroe finally convinced her parents to buy her a dog for her thirteenth birthday. That plan backfired when the perfect dog was not to be found at any of the shelters they visited, but on the way home, they happened to stop by the newly-opened Shelter for Peculiar Animals, owned and operated by Dr. Flynn, a kindly cryptozoologist dedicated to researching and rescuing unusual and mythical creatures from around the world. There, Ally found Scorch, an orphaned dragon chick, and chose to adopt him. Because of Scorch’s tender age, however, Ally agreed to care for him at the Shelter until he is old enough to come home with her.

In Chapter Six, Ally returns to the Shelter for her first day with Scorch. She meets Dr. Flynn’s widowed sister, Mrs. Myrtle, and finds Scorch napping contentedly in his cage. Dr. Flynn proceeds to instruct Ally in Scorch’s care, beginning with a rather unusual meal. As for the rest, well…you’ll have to read that for yourself. 😉

Hope you enjoy! Happy reading.

Top 5 Most Common Screenwriting Errors

screenwriter-pic

Hello everyone! It is high time for me to post a new article about writing. Lately, I’ve been working with a group of aspiring screenwriters and doing a lot of critiques on their work. Not surprisingly, I find myself correcting almost the same errors in all of their scripts. So I thought this was good opportunity to consolidate my advice into an article.

I’ve been writing fiction in various forms since I was a kid, but screenwriting is a relatively new (and addicting) format for me. I love the streamlined format of the spec script; because so much is left to the potential director, cinematographers, costume designers, and so on, scripts really give you the chance to focus on the action and plot. And I love it.

For those of you who might also be looking to step into the world of screenwriting, here are a few pointers I’ve had driven into my memory, both through being well-taught and through reading too many scripts that had examples of what not to do.

1. Only Write What You Can See

Screenwriting is all about the visuals. Even though you’re putting words on paper, those words are not the end result; they’re the guidelines to creating a purely visual product.

This means that there is no point in writing what a character thinks, why a particular object is significant, or even anything about a character’s personality – unless you can show it.

For instance, you can’t write “Holly thinks Justin is handsome.” Write that Holly blushes when she sees Justin, or that she whispers to her friend that he’s cute. If you can’t tell something through visuals or sound, it can’t go in your script.

Also, don’t fall into the trap of writing lengthy dialogue scenes with no action description. Your script could exist without sound (um, silent movies?) but it won’t go anywhere without action – otherwise, the most we see is people talking, which is boring.

2. Break Up Those Text Blocks

As I’ve said, scripts are a streamlined format. They should be easy on the eyes, and that means lots of white space. Your action paragraphs should never be large blocks of text, and neither should your dialogue unless you have a good reason for a character to deliver a long speech.

Restrict your paragraphs to a couple of lines each. The “enter” key is your friend. Also, think about how you can use paragraph breaks to emphasize and sort your content. The sentence, “suddenly the bank robber enters,” is a lot more powerful if it’s in its own paragraph instead of bunched together with other sentences.

3. Beware of Too Many Tricks

Beginning screenwriters especially seem to enjoy playing with script elements such as voice over, dissolving or fade-to-black screens, and even text popping up on screen. The reason is that we’ve all seen these tools used in movies for great dramatic effect, and we want that drama in our scripts, too.

While there is a time and a place for all of these tools, be careful that you don’t overuse them. It might be best, when you’re writing your first draft, just to stick to basic action and dialogue scenes. Once you have the story in a good place, then you can go back and get more creative with the “extras.”

The main question to consider is, what tells your story most effectively? If it’s a voice-over, great. But it could also be a character speaking normal dialogue. Only you can figure that out.

4. Don’t Rely Too Much on Parentheticals

Parentheticals are those little “asides” you see in dialogue sometimes, between the speaker’s name and the dialogue itself. Parenthetical content I’ve seen before ranges from simple comments like (whispering) to elaborate ones like (looking angry enough to spit).

Here are the problems with parentheticals:

  1. They’re distracting and visually crowd your text (as if it isn’t hard enough to keep dialogue from looking blocky).
  2. They’re usually unnecessary. If your character is sneaking through a house at night, you don’t need to tell the reader that s/he is whispering because it’s obvious.
  3. They’re bossy. When an actor interprets your script to play a role, s/he doesn’t want to be told exactly how to say something. Make it clear enough through the surrounding action and situation that the actor can figure it out.

Most of the time, the content in a parenthetical should be written in an action sentence, especially complicated ones like (looking angry enough to spit). That’s just too much information for a parenthetical, and it doesn’t say anything about how the dialogue is delivered; it says something about how the character looks.

If you use a parenthetical, make sure the way you’re specifying the dialogue to be said is not immediately obvious. Only use them when they’re really needed for clarity.

5. Use Clear and Proper Formatting

I know, I know, you think formatting is tedious. Actually, if you use a screenwriting software (and there are some decent free ones out there, like Celtx), some of the simple formatting is taken care of for you.

The truth is, even though I find scripts freeing in many ways, they are unforgiving on format. If your script has slug lines with time descriptions like MIDDLE OF THE AFTERNOON instead of just DAY, or dialogue compressed against the left margin (instead of centered), or any text font besides Courier New, you are going to get penalized. The reader will toss your script aside and move on.

The good news is, screenwriting format is not particularly hard. It’s just a matter of knowing the  right formula. There are a number of helpful websites on formatting that can be found through a simple online search, but of course, the number one resource you should definitely have is The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier.

Be tough on your format and your reader won’t have to be. 😉

 

Although I’ve been pursuing screenwriting for a while now and learned much along the way, a lot of these tips originally were presented to me through reading the 6th edition of The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier, the mainstay reference book of the screenwriting world. If you are serious about being a screenwriter, get a copy of this book as soon as possible and read the whole thing. It’s inexpensive, easy to read through, and full of valuable info.

Also, look for some real scripts to read and look at the way they’re constructed. It helps!

Publication Is Everything…Right?

As I’ve mentioned in a couple other places on this site, this year (2016) saw the appearance of my very first publication, a rhetorical analysis article called “One World to Rule Them All” (if you’d like to know more, check out the My Publications tab).

Like most aspiring authors, I thought being published would mean everything. I used to imagine receiving a proof copy of my first novel in the mail (because of course, my first publication would be a bestselling novel, not a lowly research article) and being so overcome that I would cry as I held it (even though I rarely cry). Neither of these things happened – and yet, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.

First of all, the more I’ve learned about writing and publication, the more I’ve come to realize that expecting your very first publication to be a novel, especially a bestselling one, is a bit too ambitious. Sure, miracles happen, but the truth is that becoming an author involves a lot of hard work and, at first, dedication to small projects. Agents and publishers who work with novelists want to know that you, the newcomer, have some experience and credibility in the writing world, so it’s important to have a respectable list (around four to six) of published pieces before you approach them. It doesn’t always have to happen this way, but it sure helps you get a foot in the door.

Remembering how I used to feel about publishing, I’m sure that’s not the news you wanted to hear. I totally get that. Publication is the big shiny goal we all want to get to; it’s what we regard as the ultimate success. Growing up, I had all kinds of plans for getting published, none of which panned out. But this little article was the one I didn’t plan, and it’s the one that ended up being my first publication. It actually started as an assignment for one of my college classes, and through the guidance and encouragement of an awesome professor, I was able to submit it to the Young Scholars in Writing journal.

So how did it feel? I’ll be honest with you: the moment of acceptance was the high point for me, not the day I saw my essay in print. Getting accepted for publication meant all my work had actually produced fruit and IT WAS GOING TO BE PUBLISHED!! The memory still excites me, as you can tell.

After acceptance, though, I still had a really long road ahead of me. The next few months were spent editing my essay, with the help of my professor and the editors of the journal. It was a LONG process (did I mention long?) and at some points I thought it would never actually be finished and published. In fact, there were moments when I could barely stand the sight of my essay, I was so tired of editing it. When I finally received my contributor’s copy of the journal in the mail, it had been about a year and a half since I first began writing it for class.

Don’t get me wrong, I was completely psyched to get my copy of the journal and read my essay, author name, and bio in official print. But my predominant emotion was relief – all the loose ends were tied up and my work was finally done. I could move on to other writing projects knowing this one was complete. I could treasure the finished product instead of obsessing over a work-in-progress.

So what is my bottom line here? Publication is awesome, but it isn’t everything. First and foremost, your satisfaction should come from the writing itself, because if you don’t absolutely LOVE writing – if you don’t wake up in the middle of the night thinking of plot elements or freak out because you just got the best character idea – you probably don’t want to pursue publication, because it’s a long road that only love of your craft (and the grace of God) will carry you through. But if you love what you do, no amount of rejection can ever take that away from you.

It’s absolutely thrilling to be accepted for publication, and I really hope you’ll know this feeling someday soon. I hope I’ll know that feeling again very soon. Just remember to enjoy it all: the concepts, the writing, the editing (be careful not to pull your hair out), the acceptance, and at long last, the publication.

Thanks for reading! God bless y’all.