I knew I had all night to myself (yeah, I'm a real winner) and could stay up as late as I wanted, so I planned to sit down and hammer out some of these ideas that are floating around in my brain for the Scare Us challenge. I set my itunes to a random playlist of black metal, got my cigarettes ready, had a couple lots of PBRs, and...nothing. Then I tried removing all distractions, a nice quiet desk with a cup of coffee, and...nothing.
It's been a long time since I've really pushed myself to write. I've got ideas in my head, but can't get them to bleed across the page. I think it's called writer's block? (I hesitate to say this for fear of degrading writers by including myself in their ranks).
Does anyone have any tips/websites/books on good writing exercises? Just something to push me, give me a prompt and a direction to go, so I can get the mind working in the right direction again? A long time ago, I had a book called Beat Spirit (or something along those lines) that gave writing exercises along the lines of emulating the famous beat writers. But that was a long time ago, and I can only create Burroughs' cut-ups of my dad's Penthouse Forums combined with his Catholic Messenger newsletters so many times before I realize I'm not getting anywhere.
Maybe there's something on this site already that I just haven't found? Anything will help, and thank you in advance.
I have a really old, beat up copy of "The Writer's Book Of Matches" and I use it for prompts some times. I don't dedicate myself to writing anything more than a few sentences, and I challenge myself to work the prompts into what I am writing. When I am feeling especially lazy, I google "writing prompts" but lots of those are meant for school kids...
Check out the book Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. She talks about getting up in the morning and writing first thing. Then she talks about training yourself to write on a schedule later on in the day. Also, Steve Pressfield, The War of Art, talks a lot about becoming a professional. Basically, do it every single day. You probably have a job you go to, so treat writing the same way. This trains your mind to be ready to write when you sit down. Or as Pressfield says, the muse will only visit those who put in the work. Everyone is different, but the same time daily writing routine works for me. Anne Lamott, in Bird By Bird, talks about taking a small picture frame, and when you are stuck, tell yourself all you need to do is write enough to fill that picture frame. Those are just a few things that might help.
I'm going to link you to a few articles that really helped me. They're all by Chuck Wendig. Great writer who dishes out some pretty damn entertaining writing advice. He's big on 25 lists, after he puts out a bunch he usually combines them into ebooks you can get on Amazon.
25 Way to Defeat the Dreaded Writer's Block
25 Reasons You Won't Finish That Story
If you're looking strictly for exercises, you could do worse than The 3 AM Epiphany by Brian Kiteley. Pretty cool and fairly concise, can help you if you're just looking for some random things to force you into a narrow style. If it's just coming up with something to write period, you could try The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood or something similar (there are lots of those kinds of prompt/idea books. Or even something like The Writer's Toolbox by Jamie Cat Callan if you really want to trick yourself (it's sort of presented like a game). These are all random things that have been given to me. I've not really used them much, but they seem like nice ideas if you're the right kind of person to use them.
I did do a few exercises out of The 3 AM Epiphany and enjoyed them a lot, actually. I think it's a pretty legit book, and if you're trying to just say, "Okay, I'm going to write in this style from this perspective without doing X," it can be fun and interesting. If you take some of your ideas, apply a couple of the rules from the book to really narrow your focus, maybe that would help jump-start you by removing options.
I just finished 500 Ways to Tell a Better Story and I'm in the middle of 500 More Ways To Be A Better Writer, both by Chuck Wendig. Very fun reads, very full of machinery-driven sex-toys and monkeys. Also, some good solid writing advice. I find that reading light and entertaining writing advice (the aforementioned Mr. Wendig as well as Stephen King's On Writing, for example) stimulates me and fires me up to write.
I also like to do other things I'm not so great at (playing drums, throwing knives, wing chun forms), because I get some practice in, and it makes me forget about writing for a while. Also, I take a shower. I don't know why, I just always want to write when I'm in the shower. It's probably because I am so sexy.
I'll second Stephen King's book. Kind of half writing book, half memoir, and it's a light and sincere read. I really enjoyed it and it does have some practical advice on the craft, on larger elements of writing in general, and just... life. Whatever you think of his fiction, it's pretty great.
Something else that I'm finding out as I actually stick to a writing schedule for the first time in my life- It gets easier.
All the books, advice, and website pretty much tries to hammer that point home, that the more you write, the more you'll actually be able to write. I surprised myself this week by finishing one story and immediately starting on a new one the next day.
ALso, I know this is easy advice to give, but harder to actually practice, but just start writing something. Even if you hate what you're writing and think it's absolute shit, you might start to slowly get back into the groove of things.
I started just writing with a pen and paper. No internet to distract me, don't get that many phone calls, and it just feels better. Of course the downside to that is about 100,000 words I need to type up.
I second watching JGB do wing chun forms in the shower. It is exceptionally stimulating.
A sincere thank you to everyone, there's a lot of good stuff in your posts, and I'm taking it all into consideration. Thank you so much, just reading these I already feel ten steps closer to my goal of getting back into this.
Writing prompts: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1582973512/ref=trdrt_tipp_dp_titl_GWTB_507846?pf_rd_p=1369331022&pf_rd_s=right-4&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_i=507846&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=000YB983W72PERKP5P29
Damn, just noticed that Michael beat me to it. I was in the author's class during a summer program.
Here's what I do. I wouldn't go as far to call it good advice, but it might help you out if you're looking to try something new:
Take an idea you came up with and never wrote because you thought it was stupid or just unpublishable. Use that as your prompt. Since you think it's crap already, you won't be concerned about whether you're doing the idea justice or not. Don't write it in a way that's intentionally bad - try to polish the turd of an idea as much as possible - but never let it cross your mind that this could be the best thing you've ever written.
Then lo and behold, you've written a story. It might suck, but I'm of the opinion that one has to accept the fact that a lot of their writing is bound to suck anyway. The sucky stuff is worth writing because it's good exercise. You get more practice writing crap than writing nothing.
I thought I saw someone else here say they were reading 3 AM, I guess it must have been Brad.
3 AM is pretty awesome. So is 4 AM.
I'll echo 3AM. I never actually did any of the exercises specifically when I read it about 10 years ago, but it did get me thinking. Constraints can be creatively liberating. Switching a point of view, moving the "camera" back farther, that kind of thing. Even just taking a different viewpoint on something that's already been done.
I mentioned in another thread that I often get good productivity out of dictating to a cell-phone recorder while riding an exercise bike. Occupying the other side of the brain with any kind of mundane activity when you normally "shouldn't" be writing can free you up to allow ideas to flow.
I'll second that too. I rarely record anything, but I think up a lot of stuff when I'm walking the dog or exercising. I've heard many famous writers talk about walking as a real creative lubricant.
King's On Writing. Like Morpheus, it will set you free.
Also, I find reading a lot helps, too, especially if it's novels you are really digging. After I burned through Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt books, I began writing a sci-fi novel, just because Huston's style inspired me. Find writers whose style you like, books you found inspiring.
Writing is the exercise.
Oh, wait, you guys all had real advice.
Don't listen to me.
To add to J.Y.'s real advice. There is no magic bullet, I've looked (and looked), so you just gotta write. Chances are, in the beginning (even before the Word), you'll stink on ice, but that's okay (and if you don't stink, then I'll hate you with a red hot hate like Satan's semen), you keep writing.
Writing is simply hard (as in difficult, Howie) work. Ya just do it (can we get a trademark symbol on aisle five, please?).
JY is kinda right. My thing is to simply put pen to paper and see what comes out. Dont censor yourself, dont stop. Just keep that pen moving for a set time limit. I do 10 minutes, but you can do less. Once you get to minute 5, you'll be cruising. The ideas that come out may not be brilliant, but it will get the juices going.
Guys i just could not come up with a horror story. I tried. I did. I had girls in canoes on the lake and something lurking, I had an old house, lots of tryign. But i blocked on the horror aspect. I just stopped trying horror. I could not get a story going. i was disappointed in myself. I had to stop and go to a different story. I'm working on one now and hope to post soon. Not horror though. How come I can't do horror?
Because what's actually horrific isn't all the bullshit you see in horror movies and splatterpunk books. That's just gore, and we've been inundated with it, so much so that a lot of people try to sit down and write something horrific, all they think is "make it gross, kill somebody". I'm guilty of that too. It's a reflex.
Instead of just "trying to write a horror story", try to think of what really makes you afraid. What could happen in your life that would really terrify you? Start there, see where it takes you. You'll likely find there's nothing horrific about it at all (in the sense of monsters or serial killers or what have you), but at the same time, you might be able to build on it, take it somewhere.
I could probably rant about this for a while, especially since I've had a couple of beers, but I think there's something real and useful about fear, something beautiful about works of horror in general, but the older I've gotten, the more I've realized that so little of what's classified as horror is actually frightening to me.
We're talking Resident Evil versus Silent Hill, since I'm from the videogame generation (and I'm speaking of the games, not the movies). One is OMG ZOMBIES SHOOT THEM OH LOOK GIANT SPIDER. The other is... best experienced rather than described; but so much more than just the violence or things jumping out and biting you. It has that too, but so much more. I guess you'd say it's the concept of something gross or exciting versus "psychological horror", but I don't think even that cuts it. Silent Hill is full of conventional horror tropes along with the deeper stuff, and the two work in tandem to make something truly frightening. But so few things seem to manage that, these days. I wonder why that is?
Either way, I'd say get away from all that stereotypical garbage. No lakes with monsters, no camping trips, no deserted cabins, no haunted mansions. Take it away from all that and you might find your imagination excited.
Great advice Michael. I'm stuck on everything at the moment. Going around reading Facebook and writing sites to avoid the actual writing, and I don't usually do that. Something will give soon though. I started one story but the idea seems better than the writing has turned out.
There's something to be said for saying "screw it", taking a night off, and just reading something good instead!
I've thrown this up here before, so if you're tired of it, go fuck yourself I'm so terribly sorry.
100 words. Every day.
That's a minimum. I can write 1000 words, but I have to write at least 100 words. Some days, it's only 100 because my tank is empty (i.e., I made too many other things in my life a priority over writing). Just 100 words. If I miss a day, I don't beat myself up. I do 100 the next day (I never miss two days in a row). I set an alarm on my phone because in the past I ALWAYS quit things like this because this or that interrupts me and suddenly it's been three months since I last wrote. For me, I must have the alarm as a daily reminder.
100 words is easy. As quick as five minutes, fifteen on a bad day. If I don't have 5 to 15 minutes to write, then I don't really want to be a writer.
Now, if I want to be a pro, then obviously I gotta write more than 100 words a day. There are plenty of writers out there who MAKE THEIR LIVING writing. But they bust their asses. One of the best married couples who do this is Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean (shut up) Wesley Smith. They treat writing as their profession. Read their blogs if you're curious as to what it's like to be a pro (a working-stiff pro, not a Stephen King bestseller pro): http://kriswrites.com/ and http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/
As others have mentioned, The War of Art (Steven Pressfield) is a good "zen" book on breaking through blocks and how to think (and work) as a pro instead of an amatuer.
Write down all the reasons why you think you can't write. Do this on paper.
Take the paper outside and burn it.
I like that.
It's 1am and there's too much great shit here - some good books/resources for me to research and add to my own library (I don't read Stephen King, but he's prolific and I'll take youses guys word that his book is legit). 3AM sounds interesting.
I'd also like to suggest "Naming the World" for great essays and exercises to get your juices flowing. It was recommended to me by a writing instructor. I haven't used it in a while, but when I have it's worked well.
Mostly I wanted to comment because I'm trying my best to adopt GaryP's philosophy. He's dead on. I've not been doing it every day, but making more of a concerted effort and enjoying some nice results.
There's also an exercise I used to do for lyric writing that evoked the senses.
Wake up in the morning and one of the first things you do is write. You set a timer for 10 minutes. Then you write whatever the fuck comes to mind for those 10 minutes. Timers up, you stop. But during those 10 minutes, let it flow. Try to use all your senses. Consider it a light morning workout. The theory was that you woke your inner writer up and he/she is going to spend the day with you - partially in that mindset while you go about your real life obligations.
As much as I like that exercise - I predictably strayed away. I suck.
I actually try to do that and it never works. My brain is in too much of a deep fog and I just can't seem to shake it until I've actually gotten up, and by then my dog is all over me and going crazy wanting to go out, so I'm sort of screwed.
I've done the 10 minutes in the morning several times over the years, Otis, but like you, I also strayed. For several months one spring/summer, the wife and I would head out to a coffee shop and write our morning stuff. Very enjoyable, even though it wasn't writing as soon as I woke up.
One weird thing I tried (I'm right handed) was write left handed, just to see if it would unwind some other part of my brain. I did that during the coffee shop morning sessions. I even drew left handed. I didn't have any sudden creative epiphany because of it. Never noticed a difference with my brain function that I could detect. But it was fun.
I tried the left handed thing and noticed I couldn't read what I wrote. No joke, it was chicken scratch.
Yeah, I'm useless that way too. May as well have been trying to write with a boxing glove.
When I write with my left hand the words are all full of venom and hate.
I'm ambidextrously venemous.
So Jess is that different then when you write with your right hand?
"So Jess is that different then when you write with your right hand?"
Yeah. The right hand is sarcastic and insincere. But I type with both hands.
Be careful. You might that you've replaced reading about writing with writing. Many of these books are great. None will make you a better writer if you don't write. One of the quotes that sort of stuck with me from one of those books mentioned (I guess the gist of it stuck with me) went something like: "My father was a truck driver. He never complained about truck drivers' block."
Ah, that explains so much.