So You’re in a Writing Drought

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

What to do until the words return? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Go for a walk (or something else that’ll get you outside). Writers spend far too much time indoors hunched over a keyboard. If you think about your writing, great. If not, that’s ok, too. The fresh air will be good for your brain regardless.
  2. Read! Instead of beating yourself up over not-writing frustration, put it aside and pick up a book. If it’s a good book, it’ll inspire you. If it’s a bad book, well, rage is a powerful motivator. 😉 If you’re in a long-term writing drought, create a reading project (a book a week, an author from each letter of the alphabet, bestsellers from the year you were born…) to keep yourself occupied.
  3. Stop pinning ‘how to create a commonplace book’ articles on your Pinterest and start your own commonplace book already! It can be as simple as starting a fresh board and pinning a few writing quotes on it. Here’s a search to get you started.

Escape Your (Reading) Comfort Zone

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker & Beaver

  1. This month we challenge you to read outside your comfort zone. If you always read books by men, pick up a book by a woman writer. If you always read white writers, pick up a book by a writer of color. If you always read writers from your own country, pick up a book by a writer from another part of the world. If you always read fiction, pick up a memoir. And so on.
  2. Check out these hashtags for recommendations and discussion:
  3. Take the title—just the title—of one of the pieces in this month’s article and create a mind map. Write the title in the center of the paper, branch out from there with ideas until you’re dry, then go back to the center and start again. (For examples of mind maps, do a Google Images search for “mind map” or “mind map template”.)
  4. Many of the editors’ choices are deeply personal true stories. Write at least a paragraph (hopefully more) of one of your most personal, private stories. Afterward, put it away or delete it and write a fictional paragraph or poem inspired by your previous exercise.

NaNo Rebellion

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

For the Traditionalist:

  • Join National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and write 50,000 words on a single piece of fiction.

For the Habitual Line Stepper:

  • Write 50,000 words of fiction spread among several projects.
  • Write ten 5,000-word short stories.
  • Write 50,000 words of memoir or non-fiction.
  • Blog 50,000 words.
  • Write a poem a day.

For the Non-Conformist

  • Write in a new place at least once a week.
  • Create ten new characters; work on their character backgrounds three days each.
  • Write fresh fiction every day based on a writing prompt. When you hit 1,667 words, stop for the day. Pick up the unfinished pieces in December.
  • Write anything in a new-to-you genre.

For the Eschewer

  • Submit four or more pieces for publication, at least one per week.
  • Spend the first two weeks of November researching markets and the remainder of the month submitting.
  • Research and query one or two agents or publishers per week.
  • Attend a workshop or write-in. If you can’t find one, create one.

The Rules

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker & Beaver

First Round

  1. Write something.
  2. Revise.
  3. Revise.
  4. Revise.
  5. Find a publication you’d like to submit to.
  6. Read the submission guidelines.
  7. Are the guidelines acceptable to you? If no, return to step 5. If yes, continue to step 8.
  8. Submit your work, following the guidelines.
  9. Patience, grasshopper.
  10. Return to step 1.

Second Chance

  • Take a rejected piece and look at it fresh, keeping this conversation in mind. What advice do you think Beaver & Baker might give you for this submission?

Your Ordinary is Someone Else’s Extraordinary

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

  1. Start a “character” worksheet for yourself. Highlight aspects of your background, personality, or experience that you rarely/never see represented in stories, essays, etc., regardless of how insignificant you think they are. Make an effort to consciously incorporate these details into your writing, especially if you have not done so in the past.
    1. Take an existing story and rewrite it from the perspective of a character with your point-of-view.
    2. Take an existing essay and write about the topic from your perspective.
  2. Pick an experience or incident from your past that you haven’t written about because you didn’t think it was important or interesting enough. Imagine an audience that has never experienced this “ordinary” thing—for whom this experience is extraordinary—and write about it. Assume your audience knows nothing about this experience and thus needs it described down to the last detail to understand it. When you have finished a draft, start at the beginning and add more details. Repeat, until you absolutely can think of nothing more to add. Let the piece rest. When you return to it with fresh eyes, think about what elements are most compelling and prune and shape it accordingly.

Make Your Own Summer Writing Bucket List

A Pen In Each Hand

By harpspeed

What will you put in your bucket? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Post a suggestion or a comment here. 🙂
  • Take out an old story and write back stories for your main and supporting characters.
  • Write a short story.
  • Write a story entirely in dialogue.
  • Write a story in backward chronology.
  • Write a story that happens in a 24-hour span.
  • Rewrite a story in a different point-of-view: first, second, or third.
  • Rewrite a story with a different narrator, style, or structure: Give an inanimate object or concept such as “joy” a voice. Try writing in stream-of-consciousness style or in epistolary format to tell your story. It worked for Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Charles Frazier and a host of writers.
  • Write a flash story.
  • Give an old story a fresh coat of words: Rewrite it in a different verb tense. Try a present, past or future voice: I write all summer long. I wrote all summer long. I will write all summer long. I promise!
  • Write in a different genre.
  • Interview someone of interest in your community and pitch the interview to your local newspaper editor or local magazine editor. Hint: Retired veterans and school bus drivers have great stories to share and know a lot about the community.
  • Create a cookbook anthology using your personal favorite recipes.
  • Pitch an event to your local newspaper editor, attend, and write about it. (I touched the real Titanic and wrote about the artifacts on exhibit when I toured a local museum with third-graders. There wasn’t much news that day so my little story and accompanying photograph made the front page.)
  • Write a friendly letter.
  • Write a query letter.
  • Write a personal essay about something you feel strong about that has a universal audience and pitch it to your local newspaper editor. (I once wrote about Beanie Babies and compared them to other collectables of the past. Approximately 30,000 people read it in the editorial section of my local newspaper.)
  • Write a poem.
  • Write about something you are an expert on. A how-to essay or what a particular activity means to you. If you have hobbies start there. Maybe you know how to build the perfect chicken coop or know some gardening secrets you can share. Visit the newsstands and see where your piece best fits.
  • Write an article or book review for Toasted Cheese!

Ready.  Set.  Write!

An Open-Ended Question

A Pen In Each Hand

By Bellman

Consider a favorite book you have read. What question do you think the writer was exploring? Is it an open-ended question?

Now consider a story you are working on. What are you exploring? How would you phrase that theme or premise as an open-ended question? How does phrasing it as a question affect the way you look at your story?

Sex and Setting

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Set a story or poem in the town you’re in right now.
  2. Set a story or a poem in a real place you’ve spent a week or less visiting.
  3. Vanessa Blakeslee said that she doesn’t do a lot of backstory or biography for characters in her short fiction. Start writing the story of a character named Lee who is riding public transportation or driving a car. You know nothing about Lee. Just write and see where you both go.
  4. In a few days, go back to Lee and fill in any necessary biographical information you created while working. How does it change your story, if at all?
  5. Vanessa said that the absence of love and sex in fiction is “as noticeable as an elephant in the room.” Go back to a stalled or abandoned story or poem and add a previous or current sexual relationship or encounter to the action. How does it change the story? How does it change your characters? As an extra challenge, push your scene or backstory out of your character’s (or your) personal comfort level.

A Self-Interview Guide for the Writer

A Pen In Each Hand

By harpspeed

Over the years, I’ve been asked some interesting questions about the writing life. Attending social gatherings can be fun but they can also feel more like a job interview than a party. I personally try to avoid the subject of writing especially when in the company of strangers. Yet, sometimes the questions cannot be avoided, especially when I am introduced as “my friend, the writer.” So, get your pens out and whip up some quips for the next holiday gathering—interview yourself. Keep in mind that you never know whom you may meet at a backyard barbeque. Here are some questions to get you started. Feel free to leave a comment if you would like to share any additional writerly questions.

  • Are you a “real” writer?
  • So what exactly do you write?
  • Where can I read your work?
  • Do you have a day job?
  • Have you published anything?
  • Don’t you want to be published?
  • Does your family know you do this?
  • How do you find the time to write?
  • Where do you write?
  • Are you one of those people I see at Starbucks?
  • What’s your biggest challenge as a writer?
  • What is your creative process?
  • Do you have a good luck charm?
  • I got this great idea for a novel. Maybe you could—you know—ghostwrite it with me?
  • Do you write about people you know?
  • Can I be in your story?
  • What writers do you read?

Stretch!

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

It’s spring—time to come out of hibernation and do as the bears do: stretch! This month’s challenge is to stretch outside your writing comfort zone. Here are some ideas:

  1. Use something other than words to tell a story.
  2. Learn a new skill. Choose something you want to do (not have to do).
  3. Start a daily practice in anything; use what you learn to inform your writing practice.
  4. Schedule time to write (be realistic) and keep your appointments.
  5. Buddy up with another writer; set a mutual time or word goal and keep each other accountable.
  6. Free up physical space to write. Get rid of something you don’t need/use anymore that’s cluttering up (the space that could be) your writing space.
  7. Free up mental space to write. Cross a postponed task that’s distracting you from focusing on your writing off your to-do list.
  8. Offer to read another writer’s work and give them feedback—without the expectation that they will reciprocate. Instead, see what you can learn from critiquing and apply it to your own work.
  9. Pay for a professional critique or edit of your work.
  10. Thank someone who gave you a critical review for reading your work.