There are some things that, as a writer and as an individual, I cannot write an informative essay about. I cannot write about characterization, because every word I say is an uneasy echo of something I’ve learned from someone else. Style is similarly not my forte — I can only say that you need to be clear and direct, and that’s about it. But if there is anything I’m good at talking about, it’s the act of writing itself. I can tell you how to write, not in the sense of which way to organize your words, but how to break though your reluctance to start and get those words down when it’s do-or-die.

For most of us, weekdays begin with school or work. After that, you’re exhausted. You tell yourself, “Just wait until the weekend. I’ll have tons of time to write then.” Except that when the weekend comes, you are hesitant to start. You may not like your idea, or it may be hard to get into a set position. Maybe you get all set up, but something distracts you and you have to stop. Perhaps you do get something started over the weekend, and are enthusiastic to continue it during the week instead of slacking off. But then the workweek arrives, and school, jobs, and other things come calling. Without you noticing, writing sessions become rarer and rarer until your story lies incomplete and forgotten under a pile of papers.

Well, here’s the ugly truth: In life, you’re going to feel lousy a lot of the time. But there’s a defense against this. It’s called focus. Do you have a routine in which you write or read? Get that ready to put it into motion. Gather your materials, grab a snack, put on some music if that helps you, and go to where you write. Put your pen or pencil to your paper, or your fingers to your keyboard.

You have everything set up. The page lies blank. But just what do you write? Several things can hold you back here. You might be afraid that what you write won’t be the best you thing you could put down even though you have a story in mind. Conversely, maybe you don’t have a story in mind to write about yet. Or perhaps you have a story in mind and have an idea on how to write it, but you aren’t satisfied with your ideas.

With the first barrier (you have an idea but don’t know how to put it into words), realize that there a lot of different ways to express yourself — a lot of good ways, but a lot of bad ways as well. Just for the moment, think of ways you could present your story if you’re in that situation. From the first sentence to paragraph to page, to first scene to chapter to major event. Just think. Even better, think with your pen or computer. Write out ideas, and if you’re lucky, one of your ideas will expand. Finding way of presentation that just plain works for you can give you the boost needed to get into your story. The key here is to not be afraid to experiment – - you may go through plenty of angles that don’t work before you find one that does.

The second barrier (you want to write, but you don’t have something to write about) requires brainstorming as well, although of a different type. The foundation of this type of brainstorming is asking questions. “What if” is a common brainstorming question. What if the sky rained cats and dogs? What if the things in my house turned into animals, from my computer mouse to a real mouse to a pillow into a sheep? Okay, some corny ideas maybe, but you get the idea. “What if” is something you can apply to anything. That’s its flaw as well as its virtue — some things just can’t be made into a story. So while you look for a workable idea, be aware that this method will cough up a lot of garbage in addition to the occasional gem. Write it all down, because even a “what if” that at first sounds ridiculous can later turn out to be a great premise.

Another brainstorming question you can ask is, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” Be careful with this one, because you don’t want to put elements into your book for no purpose beyond their coolness. When an idea is included that doesn’t contribute to your characters, plot, or world building, it will ultimately detract from your story as a whole. But this is different. Instead of being used as extra fluff, “wouldn’t it be cool if” is shaped into a main idea. So your reader isn’t wasting their time on pointless events or gadgets, but reading important events that just happen to be totally awesome.

The last barrier (you have ideas on what to write and how to write it, but aren’t comfortable with them) is a big problem for me personally. When your idea just doesn’t interest you, it’s hard to invest the time and effort needed to write it. Coming up with long lists of possible topics is easy; the world is full of ideas things to write about. But ideas and words you can love, that might be hard to come by.

Writing things you want to write about can help clear this ailment. Maybe you don’t even have to change your story idea. Maybe you just have to tilt the focus of text to show what someone else in your story is thinking or doing. Ever read a book where much of the action is behind the scenes? If you think those behind the scenes pieces are interesting, you can write them so that the audience can see them. If you enjoy writing it, it’ll probably be more interesting than the thing you forced yourself to write. Just by unrestricting yourself from things you told yourself to do but have lost enthusiasm for, you can write more effectively because you want to write. (This is one of the reasons I tend to disregard outlines. Not because it might make the plot of a story seemed forced, but because it forces me to write it. Sorry, I’m just not feeling up to writing the scene I decided to write five days ago. Can I take a sick pass?)

Even the coolest sounding ideas can feel stretched thin once you actually start writing them. For example, being a boy wizard is cool, but if there’s nothing important about being a boy wizard it gets boring fast. In fiction, we can add the things that matter in order to make cool things deep as well. A boy wizard who has friends he cares about, friends he doesn’t just do dangerous things with, but also can actually just hang out with—_that_ makes the life of a boy wizard worth living and the boy wizard’s magic worth doing, just like friends in the real world give us a reason to get up and start our days. Giving your characters motivation will in turn give you motivation to write about them and your reader motivation to read about them.

When you want to write, that’s when exhaustion from school and work can be tossed out the window. It really helps your chances of getting into a productive mood if you actually want to write. Tell yourself, “I can write. I will write. I want to write,” and you can do it.

Now put your pen to your pad or your fingers to your keyboard. Get going and start twisting time and space.

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  1. SlyShy on 21 September 2008, 20:49 said:

    Testing… sorry.

  2. Undertow on 27 September 2008, 02:58 said:

    I think your articles are going to have the adverse effect of making me write so much that I’ll absolutely fail school…granted, there are worse ways to fail school.

  3. GC on 27 September 2008, 04:26 said:

    Who’s Billy the Reindeer? Or Undertow? Introduce yourselves, people! I think we need a new page to do that…

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