How do you get stuck during writing? Do you have a great title but no characters or story to go with it (yet)? Does your dialogue fall flat on the page? Is your antagonist cooler to hang out with than your protagonist? Do you have zero ideas about how your main character is going to resolve her conflict? Or, are you simply stuck for ideas because you’re staring at Mount Laundry, the kids are fighting over the remote and you just can’t think straight?
If you identified with at least one of the above, or something similar, please know that you are not alone, and what I just mentioned all come from personal experience. I’m also a recovering procrastinator! The purpose of this post is simply to help you cut loose and play—just to see where it takes you.
For me, writing is HARD. It’s not that I don’t love to write, but when I get stuck, I do have a tendency to occupy myself with little non-writing-related projects—usually something artsy—because, let’s face it, that’s way more fun than the pain of rewriting a scene that seems to be going nowhere anyway.
Here are a few quick tips and optional affirmations to help you battle any frustrations that might be holding you back from your creative genius.
It’s okay to get stuck. We all do. The key is to make sure that you don’t stay there. Affirm: “I am a brilliant writer/illustrator. Getting stuck provides the perfect opportunity for me to dig deeper into my writing, and creatively connect with my character(s).”
Owning up to procrastination helps put it right back in its place. When you know you are supposed to be revising—avoid distracting thoughts of grocery shopping, or leafing through your favorite magazine—and declare “I’m procrastinating!’ then do something about it. Try one of the exercises in this post, or some of the other exercises featured during Summer School and you’ll be back on track in no time. Affirm: “I am focused and loosen up my writing muscle through playful character exercises.”
We are all busy and have 24 hours in one day. Carving out a pocket of time just for yourself is tough but not impossible. Make it a habit by starting small. Assign ten minutes a day for free writing—waiting at school pick up, getting up/going to bed earlier, hiding in the bathroom! If you’re already at ten minutes, add five or ten more. Affirm: “When I write/illustrate for ten minutes a day, I bring my creative joy to the world!”
If you have kids in the family, extended, or otherwise, ask them questions. Talk about your character, explain the problem, and see if they can offer up any suggestions. Kids of all ages have amazing,out-of-the-box ideas. Be prepared for the shoulder shrug response, but typically, if an adult says to a kid, “Please will you help me with my story?” the response is a favorable one. Thank them for their help and try EVERYTHING they suggested. Affirm: “When I try new ideas, no matter how bizarre or foreign, I know it is the perfect way to push me beyond my comfort zone.”
Consider joining a local critique group or find a writing partner (someone who writes in the same genre is best). Bouncing ideas back and forth and being part of a positive, supportive and constructive group is great for motivation to get you back into your writing. Affirm: “I am always open to receiving/giving new ideas to help myself and others write or illustrate forward.”
One of the most constructive forms of feedback I receive from my critique partners is the “What if… ?” or “Have you tried… ?” question. Consider a few of these basics to get you started:
- What if you write this story (or chapter) in a different tense than you normally write?
- Have you tried writing this story in first person rather than third?
- Have you tried making your main character an animal instead of a human?
- What if you made a list of the physical attributes your character employs when she experiences: anger, surprise, fear, reluctance, jealousy, joy, sadness, grief or curiosity?
- Have you tried listing spoken words that your character might use when experiencing those emotions?
- What if you gave your character a prop, or a sidekick?
That’s okay. It happens. Take a break or, if you’re up for it, try one of these writing prompts: Junk Drawer Dive [JunkDrawerPrompt_HighRes] or Lost and Found [LostFoundPrompt_HighRes]. Each prompt contains a ten-minute exercise and one that requires at least 30 minutes for free writing/sketching. All you need is paper and pencil, so grab your favorite beverage and hop to it!
Thank you so much NerdyChicks and Summer School for having me over! I hope you all find a little something in this post useful to implement in your own writing or illustrating. Wishing you writing and illustrating success!
Leeza Hernandez grew up in England where she spent her playtime imagining, drawing and meeting characters from around the globe. She’s the author/illustrator of Dog Gone! (Putnam) and its newest companion Cat Napped! and the illustrator of John Lithgow’s latest picture book Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo (S&S) and the Eat Your Homework series written by Ann McCallum (Charlesbridge). Leeza lives in Central New Jersey with her family. Visitwww.leezaworks.com.
Enter to win some incredible prizes from Leeza: a goody pack featuring signed copies of Dog Gone! and Cat Napped!; An 8 x 10” matted and signed, hand-painted collage inspired by my cat … er … napping, a 4×6” silkscreen print of Dog Gone! and a Mystery Prompt Bag (ten tiny goodies with instructions for writing/sketching prompts). Five runner-ups will each receive a signed 4 x 6” silkscreen of Dog Gone! and a Mystery Prompt Bag too!
To be entered to win one of these prizes, please leave a comment on this blog post!
For another great writing exercise, please visit the Exercise Book.