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How Not To Allow A Blank Screen To Defeat You When The Words Go Missing

Some believe writer’s block is a myth, while others claim it has ruined their writing career. It can last a few days or many years. How do you deal with writer’s block?

Fortunately, I discovered writing challenges early in my blogging journey. I found them beneficial when staring at a blank screen and words failing to travel from my brain to my fingertips.

But there have been times when I have faced writer’s block when taking up a writing challenge. For whatever reason, the prompt does not motivate me to write. My creative cogs refused to budge, and even walking away from the screen and going on a walk failed to get them turning.

Has this ever happened to you?

Last week, I had one of those blank-screen moments while trying to write something for the weekly 99-word flash fiction challenge here at the Carrot Ranch.

After coming back from a long walk, I thought I’d be able to knock down the writer’s block wall, but it would not budge.

As the blank screen became a nightmare, I started panicking and thinking I would fail. Then I had one of those bright spark moments when I thought, write anything.

As the words began their journey to the screen, a story in my head began to form. I saw a woman sitting in a comfy chair, staring at her husband, who she thought was ignoring her again.

Why was he ignoring her? I asked myself. The words began to flow.

Then another question popped into my mind. ‘Why did the wife think her husband was ignoring her?

It wasn’t long before I had a story from two perspectives.

After writing both stories, I set them aside for 24 hours and allowed them to rest. The next day, I read both stories and began editing them.

I don’t know about you, but I never publish the first draft of anything or write and publish something on the same day. Didn’t I read somewhere from a well-known author that the first draft is always, umm, shall we say, something that attracts flies?

But although writer’s block seemed defeated, I now had another dilemma. Which of the two stories was I going to cut down to 99 words and publish?

I could have asked for feedback on which one, but I had a gut feeling about one of the stories and went with it.

Do you always go with your gut feeling when making a decision?

Given all the many pieces of flash fiction I’d written for the 99-word flash fiction challenge, I knew which of the two stories my readers would like the most. Another gut-feeling? Yes, but I saw a dark edge to one of the stories, something I always hope readers will pick up.

I cut the story to 99 words and weaved in the dark edge, trying to make it slightly more obvious.

You can read my piece of flash fiction, The Squeaky Husband, here.

A couple of days after staring at a blank screen with failure sitting at my side, I was having fun rewriting and editing a story born from writing a Christmas wish list.

Yes, that piece of flash came from writing my Christmas wish list. Any words help. It doesn’t matter what they are.

Writer’s block? What is writer’s block? Did it exist on that day, or was it something I’d made up because other writers believed in it?

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you conquer it?

Copyright © 2022 Hugh W. Roberts – All rights reserved.

About the Author

Hugh W. Roberts lives in Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.

Hugh gets his inspiration for writing from various avenues, including writing prompts, photos, eavesdropping, and walking his dogs. Although he was born in Wales, he has lived in various parts of the United Kingdom, including London, where he lived and worked for 27 years.

Hugh suffers from a mild form of dyslexia but, after discovering blogging, decided not to allow the condition to stop his passion for writing. Since creating his blog ‘Hugh’s Views & News’ in February 2014, he has built up a strong following and now writes every day. Always keen to promote other bloggers, authors and writers, Hugh enjoys the interaction blogging brings and has built up a group of online friends.

His short stories have become well known for the unexpected twists they contain. One of the best compliments a reader can give Hugh is, “I never saw that ending coming.”

Having published his first book of short stories, Glimpses, in December 2016, his second collection of short stories, More Glimpses, was released in March 2019.

A keen photographer, he also enjoys cycling, walking, reading, watching television, and relaxing with a glass of red wine and sweet popcorn.

Hugh shares his life with John, his civil partner, and Toby and Austin, their Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

You can follow Hugh’s blog at Hugh’s Views And News and follow him on Twitter at @hughRoberts05.

Why My Ears Work Better Than My Eyes When It Comes To Advice About Writing

There is lots of writing advice out there, but there are two things I can’t entirely agree with that some authors swear by.

The first is to drink gallons of coffee because writers need lots of the stuff. I’m not too fond of coffee, are you? But I am partial to a bar of coffee-centred chocolate or coffee-flavoured cake. Does that count?

What if you don’t read books?

The second thing is that to be a good writer; you must read books.

The problem with that piece of advice is that picking up a book often terrifies me.

As somebody with dyslexia, reading books is something I struggle with.

I cannot finish reading 90% of the books I pick up because I can’t make any sense of them. But it’s not usually the author’s fault, but the fault of how my brain works when reading words on a page.

My heart sinks when I read the advice that you must read lots of books to be a good writer. I start doubting that I’m not a good writer because I don’t read enough books.

Picking up a book is a frightening experience because my brain tells me I will fail to reach the end.

But even though I dislike drinking coffee and don’t read many books, I still love to write!

They say practice makes perfect.

It’s one of the reasons I participate in the Carrot Ranch 99-word flash fiction challenge every week. People tell me that my writing and flash fiction has improved a lot. And, yes, I can see the improvements.

However, if I rephrase ‘to be a good writer, you must read books,’ to ‘to be a good writer you must watch lots of television,‘ would you look at me oddly?

You see, there are many ways I get ideas for writing fiction and improving my writing, and reading books hardly features.

I watch much more television than I do reading books.

Because of my dyslexia, I find watching television, a movie at the cinema, or a show at the theatre much easier. I can sometimes lose the plot, but I often put that down to a poor script or lousy acting.

I have much more success improving my writing from the screen or stage than from a book page.

However, just because I find reading books problematic doesn’t mean I find other stuff hard to read.

How the world of blogging helps.

When I first discovered the world of blogging, I amazed myself how easy it was to read many blog posts.

I can easily read most blog posts providing the quality of writing is good and does not show any signs of being rushed. I can spot a rushly-written blog post from miles away.

One downside for me because of being dyslexic is that I find blog posts written in accents hard to read. Even the simplest of words prove difficult as my brain tries to determine what the characters are saying.

However, I have no problem if I’m watching a movie or television show where the characters speak in a particular accent. This dyslexia can be a funny business, sometimes.

One last writing tip that may help.

I also get many ideas for stories and blog posts when ‘people-watching’ and listening in on conversations that I and the entire world can not miss because of how they’re being conducted.

My ears work more than my eyes to help me overcome my problem with dyslexia.

I’ve had some success listening to audiobooks, but my eyes need to watch something while listening, so I often give up on them too.

So don’t feel weird or out of touch when other authors and writers recommend that you must read many books to become a good writer and author. It isn’t true for all of us, especially those with problems with words and letters playing tricks on them.

As for drinking gallons of coffee, I’ll have a couple of slices of that coffee and walnut cake rather than a mug of coffee, please.

Are you somebody who is dyslexic but who loves to write? Do you have difficulty reading books? What tips do you use for improving your writing?

Copyright © 2022 Hugh W. Roberts – All rights reserved.

About the Author

Hugh W. Roberts lives in Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.

Hugh gets his inspiration for writing from various avenues, including writing prompts, photos, eavesdropping, and walking his dogs. Although he was born in Wales, he has lived in various parts of the United Kingdom, including London, where he lived and worked for 27 years.

Hugh suffers from a mild form of dyslexia but, after discovering blogging, decided not to allow the condition to stop his passion for writing. Since creating his blog ‘Hugh’s Views & News’ in February 2014, he has built up a strong following and now writes every day. Always keen to promote other bloggers, authors and writers, Hugh enjoys the interaction blogging brings and has built up a group of online friends.

His short stories have become well known for the unexpected twists they contain. One of the best compliments a reader can give Hugh is, “I never saw that ending coming.”

Having published his first book of short stories, Glimpses, in December 2016, his second collection of short stories, More Glimpses, was released in March 2019.

A keen photographer, he also enjoys cycling, walking, reading, watching television, and relaxing with a glass of red wine and sweet popcorn.

Hugh shares his life with John, his civil partner, and Toby and Austin, their Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

You can follow Hugh’s blog at Hugh’s Views And News and follow him on Twitter at @hughRoberts05.

August 19: Flash Fiction Challenge

How does a little dog eat a big lake? One bite at a time.

Lake Superior has locked Mause into an eternal game of chase-my-waves. At nine-months-old, this petite GSP is smart. She calculates the roll and trajectory of beach waves and begins her chase at the crest. The waves slant, hitting one part of the beach first and splashing further down. Mause devours water.

It’s been a hot week full of intense work after two weeks of meetings, training and deadlines. I made a water promise — to be in or on it regularly. I load Mause or the kayak into my car and we head out to escape the unseasonable warmth for a brief break.

Despite the high temperatures (today it was 90 degrees F), chasing waves and biting water chills the pup. When we get back to the car, her towel is warm. Mause shivers until I wrap her up and rub vigorously. She has gained an appreciation for a thorough toweling.

Today Mause learned to appreciate a sandy beach. It was hot enough that I wanted a dip, too.

We drove out past the blueberry farm. I saw the ghost of campfires past and imagined I smelled Dutch oven beans. I laughed, seeing that the campers in #5 set up next to my favorite pine to leave a leak. I let the good memories walk with me on the beach, my bare feet scrubbed by the quartz grains. I told Mause, “There are stars in the sand.” She tried to find them and dug.

The water created a new game — fill-in-the-holes. Waves elongated and smoothed over Mause’s star mines. This only made her dig faster. Rooster tails of golden sand shot backward three feet. Water filled the hole. Mause pawed the momentary sludge, digging water, then sand again. In the end, the beach kept its treasure. Except for the grains that ended up on Mause’s towel.

The trouble with trying to eat a big lake is that it overfills a small puppy bladder. We stopped three times on the way home so she could leave her leak outside the car. She’s so tired she didn’t whine when I watered the potager garden without her. I had herbs to cut, banana peppers to pick, and a bunny to greet. She shelters in my lavender bush. I watered beneath the watchful gaze of the elegant Lemon Queens and thought about next week.

Next week, I’ll be in my office on campus. Next week, I will meet my students and discuss success with them. Next week, I have a coffee date with my office mate, a soprano who teaches music appreciation. Next week, I get to Zoom with Sue Spitulnik’s writing group. Next week, I’m going to my first Rosza concert (outdoors) since the pandemic began — Beethoven and Banjos, a celebration of water through classical, folk and indigenous music and dance.

Next week feels like I found a star upon the beach.

Both my classes will learn about clarity in writing, after all, whether a written piece is informative or artistic, the goal is communication. In English 103, we will focus on clarity in what we read and how we form critical thought. In English 104, we will focus on forming critical thought to write clearly.

As literary artists, clarity might vary in degrees. We are practicing what to include in 99-words, and what to leave out. Did you know that the clearest sentence in the English language is the SVO construction? Subject-verb-object. As literary artists, we can vary our sentence lengths. Long sentences slow down the pace. Short ones speed it up. The SVO sentence can be punchy and well-placed after a long, ambling sentence. Or three in a row can build tension. Syntax is a writing element that impacts both clarity and style.

However, in fiction, syntax must also advance the plot and character arc. Marylee McDonald explains how to observe syntax in fiction and create your own cheat sheet of author’s sentences that you admire. Deconstruct the sentences to see the mechanics underneath. She refers to Hemingway’s SVO sentence structures as SV, but otherwise, its an excellent primer and tool on syntax.

To clarify, since we are talking clarity, syntax is a writing element. It has to do with language construction. Craft elements, on the other hand, are the mechanics of fiction. Dialog and world-building are craft elements. Syntax plays a vital role in clarifying who said what, as well as defining a new world experience. As a writer, it is your word choice and sentence construction. As a fiction writer, both craft and writing elements carry the action and emotion from a starting point to a conclusion.

Never doubt there is always something to learn, practice or master in our craft!

For now, let’s chase stories and stars.

August 19, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the phrase, “stars in the sand.” Your story can be any genre (or poem) and can use realism or fantasy. It’s a dreamy prompt. Go where the it leads!

Respond by August 24, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

White City Sand by Charli Mills

Copper miners’ families crowded the double-decker steamer. Wives and children sported tiny brass stars on collars and lapels. Solidarity for fair treatment twinkled across the open decks. An anonymous patron had provided the striking miners with an exclusive excursion to White City. Thirty-minutes east of closed mines, the summer-weary strikers and families anticipated their lucky day. Respite. The promised carousel, dance pavilion, and ham picnic came into view. Mine enforcers emerged. Hundreds. Clubs in fists. The boat docked. They say you can find stars in the sand where the working class were tricked and beaten into submission in 1909.

🥕🥕🥕

Writing a Novel Scene by Scene

Tips for WritersWhat I’m going to say will either sound like writing blaspheme, or will set you free.

Also, I’m going to give you a disclaimer: the process I’m sharing works for me. I don’t expect it to work for everyone. Some of you may be kindred spirits; some of you exact opposites. Wherever you stand, take a stand for your own writing. Try a different way or analyze it; you can improvise, accept or discard.

Stop outlining.

Okay, I said it.  Stop outlining your novel before you write it. And yes, I know that there are outliners and pantsers, but I have always been an outliner. What I’ve found is that you need both skills, but at different times in the process. When I was 13, I outlined my first novel. I’m not going to tell you how many novel journals I’ve outlined since, including two independent projects in college.

However, it was also in college that a professor taught me to write in scenes. I’ve never looked at movies the same way because movies are constructed that way. It’s easier to see the construction in a movie than in a novel, so I’ve studied movie scenes ever since. It’s also how I began to recognize the hero’s journey.

But I didn’t know how to bring it together–outlining, scenes and journey–until  I took Mary Carroll Moore’s workshop on book development. That is where I learned to map the hero’s journey to a storyboard. It also provided me with a big “a-ha” moment regarding scenes.

When I took Moore’s class, I was proud of the fact that I had 99 pages including my outline. She was unimpressed. She explained that in order to work the storyboard, you needed material to break down into scenes. So, she had me break down all my pages into scenes.

You see, we tend to write linear and put all the back-story in the front of the book, as if needing to explain what is happening. Outlining is also linear and these processes tend to shut down the creative possibilities.

My professor who taught me to write in scenes also told me to let my characters talk. Whenever I let a character have dialog, I feel like I’m channeling somebody else. I’m not crazy, it’s just that dialog allows me to tap into that creativity stifled by my years of rigid outlining.

And the characters always take the story in a different direction than I intended.

I was beginning to understand what it means when writers advise other writers to “just write.” So stop outlining and write. You might be surprised at what happens. I actually finished two novels in less than one year. Granted, one novel took me four years to get to 99 pages. The next novel, I cranked out 400 pages in less than 30 days with no outline.

I’m going to give you three scenarios for writing a novel scene by scene using the storyboard. The first is based on my introduction to the storyboard. The second reflects how I tossed outlining to the wind. The third is a compromise if not outlining unsettles you. You can improvise, use your own colors and change up the process.

Scenario #1: Incomplete Manuscript with Outline

  1. Buy a stack of yellow sticky notes, a black pen and a red pen.
  2. Break down your manuscript into scenes. A chapter is made up of many scenes, so make sure you are breaking down into small chunks.
  3. Use a pen to line across the page to indicate a scene-break.
  4. Summarize each scene concisely (such as, “Mindy robs the candy store,” or “Detective Bard books Mindy downtown”).
  5. Write each scene that you have written in black on a yellow sticky note.
  6. Refer to your outline and write down each scene that you don’t have in red (next week, we’ll talk more about finding gaps).
  7. Pick out your most crucial five scenes. These are your anchors that express the hero’s journey. In “Miracle of Ducks” I opened with my character’s husband leaving for Iraq which sets her up–reluctantly–for the hero’s journey.
  8. Map out your novel according to the “W” and write the “red” scenes that you don’t have yet.

11-New System for Tagging Scenes

Scenario #2: Use NaNoWriMo to Write Your Novel

  1. Sign up for National Novel Writing Month at nanowrimo.org.
  2. Commit to 1,667 words a day for 30 days in November.
  3. Write. Just write. You will be so surprised! I wrote an entire novel, scene by scene by just writing each day in November and I had no idea what I was going to write beyond my opening scene.
  4. If that makes you freeze, but you want to break the “outline the whole book first” habit, just start with a single scene the first day. Place the scene on your “W” and think of a couple more possibilities without outlining every chapter. Give yourself the creative freedom to jump around.
  5. Write scenes as if they were islands. During revision (in a few Mondays from now) we’ll explore using the storyboard to revise. Set yourself free from your inner critic and write. Don’t worry about gaps. That comes later.

15-Writing Scenes for NaNoWriMo

Scenario #3: Use the Storyboard to Map the Five Anchors of a Hero’s Journey

  1. If you can’t breath unless you have some sort of outline, try outlining just the five anchors of the hero’s journey: the call, the test, the cave, the transformation, the return.
  2. Write a scene for each of those.
  3. Next, write the scenes that connect each anchor to the other.

12-First Leg of the W

Be a writer and write. Give yourself material before you start committing to structure. Structure is the first step of editing, and editing is not writing. Allow yourself to make big mistakes; to not know if your scene is plausible or accurate. That’s research and research is also a part of editing, not writing. Allow yourself to make little mistakes. If you are constantly scanning and going back and correcting punctuation or spelling, you are editing, not writing.

The importance of thinking in scenes is that you are creating a movie of sorts in the reader’s head. You will later link scenes to tell the story in such a way that is engaging. Don’t tell everything. Decide what to withhold, how to pace, when to reveal your character’s motives–but that all comes with revision. Write like the wind; revise slow and bright like a long summer day.

Use your board to track or map your progress as you write scene by scene, and next week we’ll discuss how to use it to find gaps.

How would you use the “W” storyboard to write a novel?