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The end of April is quickly sneaking up on us and May is around the corner. A new month is a good time to plan a new writing challenge. Right?

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BREAKING THE ANTI-WRITING BARRIER:

Challenge Yourself

by L V Gaudet

Sometimes breaking past that barrier preventing you from writing is as simple as putting your mind to it.

I know what you are going to say.

“But I have been doing that! And now all I have is a headache from banging my head on the table. (Or desk, keyboard, wall, etc.)”

And when I say “simple” it does not mean easy. It’s more of a deceptively seems simple, but can still be an insurmountable mountain of doom.

Regardless of its cause, breaking past that barrier preventing you from having the ability to write is a mental challenge. It’s emotional, a mental crutch. It boils down to somewhere inside you something is telling you that you cannot do it.

For some, challenging themselves can break down that invisible wall.

Make that challenge something new. The same old isn’t working, right? Let’s explore a few possible challenges.

Make it a job. Take the passion out of it.

Yeah, but writing is a passionate endeavor. We live, breath, and exist through writing in the heat of the moment when the words are pouring out as if of their own volition. They have a life of their own through that passion we embrace them with.

But, for this exercise, you are going to approach your writing with a dry calculated businesslike manner. It’s a chore, but not the nasty sort like cleaning the toilets or picking up the dog poop. Make it a routine chore. Something that must be done which you have no particular feelings about good or bad. Like emptying the dishwasher or putting groceries away; making your bed or dusting.

Instead of tackling that article, story, poem, or book that you want to finish or start, write something dry and businesslike.

Try committing yourself to writing a weekly blog post. Or bi-weekly if time doesn’t allow a weekly one. It doesn’t have to be long. You can target 300 or 500 words and see where it goes from there. It can be about anything, literally. And you don’t ever have to publish it.

Explore different facets of writing. Character or scene development. Character archetypes, plotting vs. pantsing, what makes different genres different, and so on.

The best way to fold towels. Maybe you just can’t bring yourself to write about writing, or don’t feel you know enough about it to write about it, so write about something else, anything else. Write about how something works, how you do something, why you like or dislike something. Fly fishing, wine making, knitting, 3D printing, or another hobby. Something you are learning. Heck, it might even help you remember it better or learn more about it. Write a recipe blog of your favorite recipes. Keep in mind recipes also fall under copyright laws, so you would need to give credit where it’s due or write an original recipe you made up yourself.

Starting and never finishing.

That’s the problem? You start the writing piece, but just can’t finish it?

Let’s take your mind off the writing you are struggling with by making a project out of starting and not finishing. It’s okay, because that’s the whole point of this challenge.

Every day, every two days, maybe three… challenge yourself to write a beginning and only the beginning. Whether it’s articles, poems, or stories, it can even be a mash of them, your goal is to just write starts.

I know some people who pick a month each year to challenge themselves to daily starts. The idea is like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where you commit yourself to writing 50,000 words in 30 days in November.

In this case, you are not tied to a minimum word count. Rather, you are tied to coming up with an idea and writing the start of a writing piece each day. It can be a single sentence, a paragraph, or go as far as it takes you, but each day you must start a new one. You might even end up with a few pages of writing some days. However you contrive to come up with the ideas, your goal and only goal is to start each one, a new one each day, and then put it aside.

Going back to finishing those starts can be a project for another time. I know people who have successfully finished and published some of their starts after the challenge.

Drabbles. Dribbles and drabbles, dabbles of writing.

First, what is a “drabble”? No, this isn’t an Urban Dictionary thing. “Drabble” is another term for micro fiction.

Simply put, a drabble is a piece of fiction that is exactly 100 words long, not including the title. It is the ultimate challenge in brevity. Can you write something interesting and meaningful in only 100 words?

I’m a fan of encouraging writers to challenge themselves to writing flash stories. Usually, coined as “flash fiction”, but who says it has to be fiction, right? Keeping it short, but trying to write a complete ‘story’, challenges you to tighten your writing like nothing else.

Whether you are writing dribbles (50 words), drabbles, (100 words), 55 word nano fiction, flash fiction (1,000 words or less, but often requested at 500 words, sometimes 300 or less), or dabbling on a napkin, the goal is the same: make is short and sweet and feel complete.

Can you do it? How many drabbles, dribbles, nanos, flashes, or other dabbles in extreme short writing can you do over the next two weeks, three weeks, or 30 days? Can you write a single stanza poem?

The goal is to take your mind completely off what you are failing to write and turn it onto a fun and completely irrelevant game of extreme short writing challenges.

How random is that character?

This challenge is great for those, like me, who have struggled with creating characters. You can have a great story, plot, write fabulous scenes, and awe inspiring descriptions of the events taking place, but your characters can fall flat.

The first and most important rule in creating a character is they must be believable. Okay, unless it’s satire. In that case the unbelievable and insanely weird rules. Heck, even in fiction it’s okay to blur the lines and push the boundaries, but there still needs to be something about the character the reader can invest in, believe in, and feel an affinity to the character.

And if you want your characters and stories to have that little extra something, make every character real no matter how main or insignificant they are. When I write, I mentally create characters with their own lives even for the bit players. You stop at the coffee shop. Did you give even the smallest thought to that person serving you the coffee as a person? Or are they just as inanimate as the counter to you?

In the real world, every person you encounter, however briefly, has a backstory. They have a personality, quirks, needs, problems, wishes, and probably would very much like it if you smiled, thanked them, and told them to have a great day.

In this challenge, you are going to create random characters.

How many? Let’s say twenty-five. You can change the number, of course.

Now, let’s randomize their details.

Heads or tails, odds or evens: flip a coin. Heads = female, tails = male. Roll a die. Odd = male, even = female.

Use a random number generator, 0 to 110, to determine the character’s age. Adjust the number range to choose their weight and height, keeping in mind that a 7 foot, 300 lb, infant might not be human. So, that might actually change their species. Ogre maybe?

Make some lists, tear them up, and put them in the proverbial hat. You will probably want to use a few (bags are useful). For example, you need to choose their housing, family, and job situations in addition to personality and physical specifications. List every one you can think of: traits, mannerisms, emotional scarring or lack of, jobs, hobbies, desires, allergies or lack of, ailments, disabilities, types of housing or lack of, socio-economic background, single or not, family living and not, and anything and everything that can potentially go into a person’s physical, mental, and emotional makeup as well as their situation. Are they destitute with nothing but the clothes on their back or have more money than they can possibly spend in a hundred lifetimes, or where on the spectrum?

To add a little something to your character profile you can use this random character generator. It’s weird, but that adds to the fun.

Stuck on names? Use a random name generator. I like the Behind the Names one. You can even choose to allow it to generate a life story for you, male or female, and nationalities. The life story is very basic. It gives you age and birthdate, height, weight, left or right-handed, and blood type. It even gives you the date, age, and cause of death, but no real life story details.

Here is another character generator. This one has random generators for personalities, cause of death, sexuality, and more. Even a dating profile for your character.

So there you go. Create and write twenty-five random character profiles. Fill in the dry details and then actually sit down and write that character. Describe them. Feel them. Be them for a drabble or dribble of getting across who they are.

You can toss your characters after or file them away for when you need to throw a random bit character in the mix of your story.

Dial up the dialogue.

Even more difficult than creating characters, I could not write dialogue to save my life. The idea of writing it terrified me. How stupid it will sound. Forced. I can’t even talk to people let alone write brilliant, sane, and authentic story dialogue. It took me a lot of practice, and I mean a stupid lot, before I actually allowed dialogue to permeate my stories.

I even wrote an entire novel with almost nonexistent dialogue. Yeah. All action, no talk. Great if your characters are all mute, but how believable is that? And they weren’t all mutes or trapped in a situation where they could not talk. I could write a flash fiction of an event or scene, but could not add dialogue. That story, by the way, I completely rewrote after years of working on improving my writing and has been published. First by Second Wind Publishing, then under the imprint Indigo Sea Press, and now it’s all my own baby and the first of the McAllister series: Where the Bodies Are.

In this challenge, you are going to write dialogue. It doesn’t have to be good; it just has to be.

Let’s call this the “30: 30: 30 Dialogue Challenge”. Thirty days, thirty random characters (you can reuse them more than once), and thirty situations. No two dialogue days are the same. Now who is your character talking to? Well, it can be another character or multiple characters in the scene, pet, inanimate object, mirror, their self, anything goes. But it’s dialogue.

Set your scene. Where are they and what is happening?

Set your characters in the scene, living or not; your character and who or what they are communicating with.

Get inside your character. You are the character. Live the moment, feel it, what they are thinking and feeling as if it is happening to you, and go.

30 scenes of dialogue, 30 unique situations, 30 writing bits of one or more characters. You never have to publish it, include it in a story, or let anyone see it. This is all for you.

How do you feel about your ability to write dialogue after?


For more writing challenges, you can browse calls for submissions. I posted a bunch of them two days ago, on Friday. You don’t have to plan to submit it. It doesn’t have to be good; drafts rarely are, that’s what the magic of editing is for. The idea is you are plunging into writing something not of your choosing, but to challenge yourself to write something different and unimportant to your real writing goal of that story you just can’t get done.

What other challenges can you come up with to help break through that barrier stopping you from being able to write?

Keep writing, my friends. One word, one sentence, at a time.

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It’s mid April already. When did that happen?

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BREAKING THE ANTI-WRITING BARRIER:

Facing The Beast

by L V Gaudet

Well, I succumbed again to the anti-siren call, that un-mesmerizing numbing of the dull-eyed slack-jawed drooling sloth-like beast which slowly sucks away your will or ability to write. That, and the lack of time.

Thus, the two week hiatus on the blog. Has it been two weeks? Three? It feels like longer. At the same time the weekly posts feel more like near daily posts that I have to push out without feeling them when I can’t get inspired to write.

It’s more than lack of time, isn’t it?

It could be that the time available just is not at the right time. Or you simply cannot find that moment without distractions. You are surrounded by a bedlam of noise and activity that closeting yourself away behind a closed door cannot satisfactorily drown out, if you are fortunate enough to have the ability to lock yourself away somewhere. That would mean you aren’t the mom, most likely. Ha ha, right moms?

The first two paragraphs of this post took me multiple tries over an eight hour stretch, until after bedtime. Then the distractions and interruptions lessened, but didn’t go away.

This is the beast we, as writers, have to face. The distractions of family, pets, friends, boyfriends or girlfriends, and work. The housework, yard work, groceries, and all the other things that come up. The lure of social media, mindless distractions, and simply feeling distracted. It tirelessly conspires against us at times.

There simply isn’t always enough time in the day. Something, like this blog post, that shouldn’t take more than an hour at most, minutes at best, takes a few days or more.

The people in your life may not seem to get it, or you. That this is who you are, what you do. They don’t understand that you yearn for that time alone to write. They want your time for them. That’s okay. Do you eagerly embrace and understand every one of their interests? Having something that is just yours is good. Having separate interests is healthy. It grounds you in who you are. Your specialness.

All is not lost. There is one way to best this beast: perseverance. Embrace the minutes you can and don’t let the lack of blissful time away from all the interruptions and distractions defeat you. Every hard won sentence is a victory.

The other face of this beast is the doldrums. That wretched feeling of sluggish lack of inspiration. It slowly claws its insidious way inside you. You’ve lost your mojo, your drive to write. Your inspiration.

I think of this as the writer’s depression and maybe that isn’t too far off the mark. When you feel good, you feel inspired. And, when you feel inspired, you feel good. That’s the writing high. At its peak it can be exhilarating. In the low points you lack feeling. You might wonder if something is wrong with you. Why you just can’t seem to sit down and write. To want to sit down and write. Your mind is blank and the inspiration and ideas just won’t come.

Whichever face of this multifaceted beast you are facing, take the small wins and cherish them. Every five minutes of writing is progress. Instead of focusing your thoughts on what you are not doing, turn to what you might do. What you can do.

Being a writer is an endless long-term goal. It’s a way of being. It’s what and who you are. Many great books took years from inspiration to completion. It has its highs and lows, the hotspots of inspirational bliss and stretches of breaks. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t written in two days, two years, or two decades. It doesn’t have to mean you quit forever.

And if you can’t manage to write, then edit. Editing and revising has helped me innumerable times to get back on that writing bus. You have nothing to edit? Or perhaps you just can’t bring yourself to pick it up? Then edit something someone else wrote. Critique someone else’s writing. Your favorite author’s perhaps. What did you like or not like about that last book or the one you are currently reading? Did you find mistakes? Something you thought could have been better or you would have done differently? Even the top publishing houses’ teams make mistakes. The top writers are human and thus imperfect too.

I’ll start. I used the word “inspiration” and contractions far too many times in this short bit of writing.

Keep writing, my friends. One word, one sentence, at a time.

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March is coming to an end and spring is around the corner. Let’s wake up our minds, hearts, and muses, to a new season of writing.

BREAKING THE ANTI-WRITING BARRIER:

Finding Inspirations to Write

by L V Gaudet

When you just can’t get into the writing mood, finding inspiration can feel impossible. But, without inspiration, your writing is likely to be flat, lacking the vitality and life of its own of great writing.

You can force the prose, but it will feel just as forced to the reader as it does to you. And sometimes that’s what you have to resort to in order to get yourself back on track and producing something, anything, with the hope of fixing it later with the magic of editing.

Inspiration cannot always just be willed to come. Sometimes we have to woo it. Coax it along. Like a shy beast loathe to venture out of the safety of its dark den.

There are things we can do to help it, and us, along.

Relive the inspiring feelings.

Whatever inspired you to write the story, return to it if possible. Was it a location? (Taking a picture of the inspiration at the moment it happens is a good practice for when you cannot return to that place and moment). A song or show you can replay? Anything that can help put you back mentally and emotionally in that moment can trigger that inspiration to return when you have the time to write.

Habit makes a good writing buddy.

Is there a particular spot in your house or time of day you find your muse more open? Forming a habit of writing in a particular spot or time can help train your brain that it’s time to get to work and be creative.

Have a playlist.

Set a playlist that gets you in the mood. Multiple playlists for different writing scene moods can be truly inspirational. I find music without words, or with minimal lyrics or lyrics that are more muted, blending with the music rather than bold, are best. You don’t want those lyrics distracting you from writing.

It can be hard to find a good mood fit in songs with minimal lyrics. I’ve spent too much time searching Spotify without success. The few writing mood music songs I came across that work for me were by accident while watching shows. A few I like are If I Had a Heart by Fever Ray (the Vikings series theme song and the only Fever Ray song that hits the writing mood button), and some of the music from The Walking Dead series like Blackbird Song by Lee DeWyze and Bad Blood by Alison Mosshart and Eric Arjes (search Waking Dead on Spotify).

The sweet thing about Spotify is that once you find your music niche you are likely to find more songs that fit your needs in their recommended songs.

Visual inspirations are helpful.

Sometimes when I’m stuck on a story I make a mock-up of a working cover for inspiration. It goes hand in hand with your working title to remind you what the story is about and drive inspiration, but won’t be used on the final product. The working cover is about creating mood, putting a visual to the emotions of the story’s essence.

Surrounding yourself with images that resound with your story can be great motivation for your muse. Images that also draw out the emotions and mood of the story. That evoke inspiration and a thirst for creativity.

Don’t underestimate the power of smell.

Think back to moments that touched you or vague memories that seem to always be there. Memories that are more feelings than clear. A warm childhood Sunday morning kitchen ripe with the smells of coffee and fresh baked bread. The crisp fall air surrounded by the blaze of colored leaves ready to fall from the trees. Hay and the ever-present smell of farmers burning off the stubble in the fields in the fall, barns, and the easy freshness of open air. Hot summer days with the smell of the lake hanging heavy in the air, or freshly mown grass. The cloying smog of a city, ugly gas and oil smells of cars, or the rot of garbage, decay, and spoiled food. The sharp turpentine and perfume of a rotting orange from your child’s hidden Thanksgiving school craft.

These don’t stick in the mind because of some memorable event. They are smell-triggered memories.

Certain scents can bring on warm feelings, like baking apple pie, and others inspire a romantic or invigorating mood.

What odors can inspire the right emotional ambiance to write about the grimy overheated sweatshop of a workhouse or inner mechanical workings of a steampunk powerplant? How about the overbearing stifling swampy stench of a bog? The dank deep and dark cavern where the remains long gone to dry morbidity of a thousand year old vampire are lain awaiting that ill-fated cave spelunker?

Whatever wakes your inspiration, embrace it and revisit it. Like writing in a particular place or time of day, or writing just ten minutes a day, these inspirational nudges revisited regularly can help train the writing mood to come more easily with their influences.

Keep writing my friends, and share what inspires you to get into the writing mood.

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It’s frigging March 2021. More than a year since Covid-19 made its wretched world debut. More than a year since it started spreading across the globe like an insidious plague storyline. A year since it was declared officially a pandemic.

BREAKING THE ANTI-WRITING BARRIER:

Talk The Words Out

by L V Gaudet

Keeping your intentions a secret means no one ever has to know you quit, failed, or slacked off. You can spend months in silent misery bemoaning your inability to write.

Or you can get proactive about committing yourself to writing and opening yourself to talking about it.

Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

Make yourself accountable to someone who is not you.

Break your silence and talk about it. Not everyone is going to listen, or care. The odd person might even be a jerk enough to be negative. But if you tell enough people, “I’m writing a five thousand word short story,” you will find someone who is going to ask you about it later. Maybe multiple people.

Now you are on the hook.  After telling all those people you are doing it, won’t you feel just a little silly if you don’t even try? The key word here is ‘try’.

It’s okay to not make the word count mark, or the deadline you preached, especially if they were too adventurous. But you can’t exactly tell everyone you are doing something and not even make the effort. How would that look? More important, how would it make you feel?

Now you are accountable to them, even if only in your own mind. It’s an added incentive to push yourself a little more to find your writing voice.

Bounce your ideas off someone.

You have half-formed ideas. Maybe just nigglings of them. They are just there beyond your mental vision like that shadow in your peripheral that moves away with the turning of your head. You sense its presence, but it is teasingly just beyond your reach to grasp it and pull it into view.

No matter what you try, you just can’t seem to pull the ideas together into something coherent, recognizable. Something you can work with.

Maybe there are just too many details that you can’t pull together to make it work. They just won’t come to you.

Find someone to talk about your story ideas with. Someone you can bounce them off of. Other writers are great for that and probably the most understanding. It doesn’t have to be a writer. It can be anyone. You don’t have to like or use their ideas.

The point to this exercise is that just talking to someone and getting feedback can open up that place in your mind where ideas come from. Crack open the door, push aside the barrier just a little, and you open yourself to your own imagination.

Suggestions, good or bad, inspire other ideas. Write them down, work with them, and let them fill up as many pages as you need to. Somewhere in there you will find what you need.

But you still can’t find the ‘right’ idea?

When I’m completely stuck on a story, at some point I let myself consider the unimaginable: something just isn’t working. Actually, it is entirely common.

The problem is, you might not find the ‘right’ idea because something else in the story just doesn’t work.

Go with the next best idea and flag it for review later, and write on. The point is getting past the spot you are stuck on, even if it isn’t what you envisioned for that moment in the story. You can try to get back on track, or follow the new path your story takes. You can fix it later with editing.

By continuing to write, often the problem will become evident. It may be something else in the story needs to be reworked, or that your idea for that moment just didn’t really fit your vision for the overall story.

Create word and idea association tables.

What if you can’t find anyone to bounce ideas off of?

If you really have no one to talk about it with, try making yourself a word association table.

Word association games are not just to give grade school kids something to do when the teacher wants to kill classroom time, or as a vocabulary building exercise.

Start with some basic words associated with your story, genre, or scene. Throw in some completely random words to throw you off being too focused on the overly perfect word for the story.

Our game will have a little twist. You are not just expressing words, you want to capture impressions and feelings too, since that is what writing it about.

Write the words on little slips of paper and as you run through them the idea is to flash them to yourself as quickly as you can, writing down the first word, impression, or feeling that comes to you for each one. Write down any and all of those three the word inspires. A speech to text app might help you with the speed here, so you don’t have to stop to write down each word.

Build your chart however you think will work best for you. Categories along the top and feelings and impressions along the side for example. Put all your words in the box that fits each one best.

To help you get started, here are some word association word generators:

Need a word association generator? These are free and better than your average thesaurus . . .

You can take the word association table further and use it to make an idea association table.

The same principle applies. You won’t be able to flash through them as fast as the words. Start by writing down the first idea that comes to you from each word. They don’t need to have any relation to your story. Keep them short and generic. Add any other random ideas that come to you while doing it.

Put the ideas on slips of paper and flash through them just like the word association game, writing down the first impression or new idea you get from them. When you build the chart, you can color code impressions in one color and ideas in another.

Each time you run through your word and idea associations; you expand your tables. It also helps train your brain to be better at coming up with new words and ideas. Like everything, practice makes you better, no matter what you do. After you’ve been dong these exercises for some time, you’ll have an expansive resource of ideas and word associations you can use any time to help spur the creativity.

Write on my friends. We will get through this inspiration drought together. For now, I will try to make this topic my weekly post. Finding that inspiration together, and ways to break through that wretched barrier stopping our creative muses from shining bright.

Update on: p.s. I’m trying out this “Convert to audio” “Create a podcase episode” click-link on the sidebar. Anyone use it? We’ll see that it does. I have no idea what it’s going to do.

This is still a big learning curve, how to edit the sound in Anchor to add pauses, remove unwanted things like, “photo by…”, and improve the flow (Hint: use the + thing to make the sound wave as BIG AS YOU CAN). Unfortunately there seems to be no way to fix words Anchor imports using the wrong word sound or words it skips altogether.

I have been trying out other (free) apps and programs to see if I can find a better text to speech than the importation of WordPress blogs to Anchor. So far the WordPress to Anchor is by far the winner in not sounding like a bad robot.

I also broke down and ordered a not super crazy expensive (because I’m a writer and broke) sound mike and anti-‘PUH” screen to keep the P, T, and TH sounds from exploding on the mike. Next I’ll have to learn how to actually talk without sounding like I have a mental stress speech impediment; without stuttering, stilting, pausing, umming, uhing, or otherwise tripping over my own face or tongue, and sounding actually semi-normal.

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