Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Writer's Block Roundup

Bloggers must wrestle with this periodic disability on a regular basis -- and, no doubt, writing a blogpost about the cures for writer's block is an attempt to break the spell. When you go through the lists below, however, note that a blog entry (especially a numbered list) includes re-writing the same suggestion in more than one ways, probably to reach an even number of suggestions. Oh, well, at least they've gotten over the block.

Could I be writing about writing about writer's block because I've got a problem with it? No, I've actually had a surge in writing creatively lately. Here's a roundup of recent solutions for writer's block, with my favorites:

1. From Dawud Miracle, "20 Surefire Ways To Beat Writer’s Block" Gems: Write something else. (that's what diaries are for), Tell yourself you have to write for only five minutes (restrictions vitalize creativity), Turn off your screen so you can’t see what you’ve just written (it's far-fetched, but shakes up the monotony).

2. CreativeCreativity, "10 Ways To Prevent Writer's Block" Gems: Read. (yes, reading is the penicillin of writer's block. It might not work instantly, but it always works for me); Lower your standards (every piece of writing doesn't need to be award-winning. The bell curve says a small percentage will be that way; you have to create a majority of mediocrity to produce art.)

3. Melinda Copp says writer's block doesn't exist: it's an excuse not to do the work. She does have suggestions for rekindling inspiration -- gems: Go for a walk (remove yourself from the place where you're stuck), and ask for help (explaining the problem to someone else helps you think it through).

4. GrammarGirl has ideas for generating story ideas and overcoming writer's block -- gems: watch Twitter for ideas (if free-word-association works on a one-person level, jump into a cascade of free-association sentences from the world); nothing focuses like a deadline (if you gotta get it done, you'll make sure it's done).

5. David Taylor recommends block writing -- a method of intense writing in small constrained time-periods -- as a way to control and break through writer's block. The method seems interesting, and could work -- but the gems I found were in his "mistakes" list: don't focus on the final product (you're manufacturing raw goods when you're writing. A farmer doesn't pluck frozen dinners from the ground, no matter what cartoons tell you); fear of failure is different than actual failure (fear of failure can be ignored -- actual failure can only be detected after everything's done and written; neither affects putting words to a blank page)

6. Maartje Van Hoorn has another deca-list of writer's block solutions -- gems: Try to write in a different location (changing method of writing, putting pen to paper instead of typing, may be a key to this, too); edit your drafts for a while (this is akin to reading, but it's your own stuff. It was interesting enough to write about the first time; it might reinspire you).

7. And lastly (because I've got someplace to be), Lisa Shearin says writer's block is good for the writing process. Reaching a writing dead-end means you need to back up and start in a different direction. Thinking about your subject in a different way is a good way to spark something new, even with an idea you think might be exhausted.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

How To Write A Book

Berkun offers some straight-forward statements on book writing: it's just writing, and as long as you're not trying to be a millionaire or get a big contract, getting published isn't that big of a deal, either. The devil's in the details, of course: self-publishing needs the proper steps, small publishers aren't always the nicest to their authors, and the mechanics of putting a book together can be tedious.

What's lost in Berkun's post is that people who want to be a writer actually need to produce a manuscript. This is a distinct difference -- a book is ink-and-paper, a manuscript is the writer's words. Writers need to be encouraged to write a manuscript. Once that's done, then worry about getting the book published. Amateur writers get ahead of themselves, concentrating on the book's sales and production, even before they write a thing. Most published writers have their manuscript done long before they think about publishing it...and some manuscripts, completely written and edited, end up in a drawer and don't ever see the light. Writers write -- get that done first. Don't even bother with the 'how to get published!' books at Barnes & Noble. Learn how to write, and the publishing part will come easier. Publishers hate nothing more than an author who can't write worth a damn, regardless if you follow the 15 Easy Steps To Getting Published book to a tee. The most common tip from a published writer is "write something every day," but amateurs wonder, "isn't that wasting time -- when do I start writing my book, then?" The answer: the writing every day IS a book. Maybe it won't ever be published, maybe it won't come out on paper in book form, but it's words. That's Berkun's most important point: "A book is just a bunch of writing." Write without intentions, and a book will appear. If a book is just a bunch of writing, you need a bunch of writing first. A house is just a pile of boards, a computer is just a bunch of circuit boards, a car is just a bunch of metal and plastic. None become what they are unless someone puts them together.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Make Your Own Mini-book

"Make your own book" has several (sometimes overly-simplified) tutorials on how to make books in various forms, but the mini-book tutorial seems the most useful in a pinch. Fold, fold, cut, and you've got a little book of eight pages -- or (the tutorial doesn't show this) cut around the edges, other than the spine, and get 16.

Does this mean you can use this to print/hand-write a book, fold it, and hand-sew it? This folding process produces a sextodecimo signature, with all the pages facing the right way, so it seems to be a smart way to do it. However, this example shows how printer's do it, with the page numbers 'jumping' from edge to edge. The mini-book example here is more linear, in it starts at the upper-right-hand corner and proceeds, counter-clockwise, until page 16, so it's easier to follow.

Why don't printers do it the same way as the tutorial? The printer's example ends up with all the pages sharing a common spine, thus making it easier to sew the signatures together (plus, it has one less 'cut' to separate the pages). The mini-book tutorial gives each pair of pages its own 4-page signature, which may not facilitate sewing, but it does let you piece out consecutive pages all on one sheet, while regular signatures have highest and lowest page-numbers on the same folded sheet.

Need to see it, to wrap your mind around it? I've made one for the mini-book and another for the traditional signature. Print it, double-sided, with the lowest numbers at the top on each side, and it should line up. Make sure you're turning off "fit to page" when printing. Fold, in half the long way once, then twice, and then in half the other direction. Cut the edges, and you'll have your little book signatures.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Devil's In The Ending

The fabulous Poynter.org wonders why writers have trouble ending things. The Sopranos blink to black, a cliffhanger implies continuation for no reason other than to have a sequel, or everyone expects a happy ending (especially Americans, who according to Gorbachev, require ourselves to win in the end, no matter the odds.) The wifey and I saw the new Harry Potter movie, and were disappointed in the film's ending. There's an endearing scene with Luna that has a nice "closing" feel to it, but then the film continues on to a bombastic procession of the main characters, espousing how they succeeded and won out over evil. We saw that already -- was it necessary? The ending of a book, or any story, is the last thing a reader walks away from. A book spends 600 pages getting the reader involved, then wraps everything up in 10 pages and suddenly ends (a minor complaint I had about The Diamond Age) is going to be dissatisfying, no matter how good the book is.