Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Are You Smarter Than a Turtle?

First, let me say thanks to all the fun comments from my April Fools post. Sorry to everyone who thought it was a real post. As my kids said, “They don’t know Dad very well do they?” I’m kind of known around the house for my teasing—which sets me up for some pretty good April Fools pranks from my kids and wife too.

Second, if you are in the West Jordon area, drop by the Jordan Landing Barnes and Noble tomorrow night, where James Dashner—author of 13th Reality and the forthcoming Maze Runner— and I will be signing books and giving away posters. Should be a lot of fun, even if my series is better than his!

Finally, thanks to everyone who came to the Pleasant Grove Library signing. It was a lot of fun. And thanks to Julie Bellon, I broke my one cardinal signing rule (never sign body parts) and signed her daughter’s arm with permanent marker. (Hey I told her I would if her mom said okay. How could I go back on that?)

Last fall I adopted a turtle. A red-eared slider to be precise. Up until I got the turtle, all I knew about them came from cartoons. Which means that they are slow, dull witted, and shy. They tend to say things like, “Duh . . . which way did that rabbit go?” or “Saw the whole thing, dude. First you were all like "whoa", and we were like "whoa", and you were like "whoa..." Understanding that cartoons might not be the final word in pet raising, I actually got a book on the subject. The book was somewhat more informative. It taught me things like: turtles shed, they are omnivores, and they need both a heat lamp and some other lamp that costs like $10 per bulb. (I think it might be some kind of projector bulb for the turtle’s home theater.)

What the book didn’t say is that turtles have attitude, can climb chicken wire fences, do an incredible “I want food” dance, and have a mean temper. You think I’m kidding about this? I am not. We went out and got a fifty gallon tank, heater, the aforementioned two lamps, a kind of turtle chase lounge, and a filter. Within 24 hours the turtle decided he hates the filter. Remember the scene in Finding Nemo where Nemo swims into the filter of his aquarium to block it with a rock? Well that fish has nothing on Yoshi the turtle. Suction cups don’t stop him. Rocks don’t stop him. Chicken wire fences don’t stop him. The little dude is relentless. And he doesn’t just pull the filter off the aquarium wall. He dismantles it and chews on the pieces.

Yesterday, I finally went to war. We have a chicken wire fence bent into an L shape that is supposed to protect the filter in the corner of the tank. We have rocks pushed up against it. Rocks that weigh more than Yoshi. But he pushes them aside, yanks the fence down, or squeezes past it. I think I might finally have beat him. I used a pair of wire snips to cut about two inches off the bottom of the fence and bent it out as a base. I piled the rocks on the bottom of the base, and then added the ultimate weapon. Duct tape along the top of the fence above the water line.

Even with all that, the one turtle wrecking team hasn’t given up. He nearly climbed completely over the fence. Have you ever seen a turtle clinging to the side of a chicken wire fence with all four feet? It’s crazy. And you should see him studying the duct tape with intense scrutiny—like he’s wondering if a little plastic explosive might do the trick.

So, what, you might ask, does this have to do with me? I don’t have to worry about chicken wire or duct tape. And I would pay for a device that constantly kept my house clean. Fair enough, but my question is to you have the determination to attack a problem until you find a solution? I speak in particular of the dreaded writers block. That moment nearly every writer hits when the flowing fountain of story drops to a dribble and eventually turns off. What do you do when writers block hits? Do you give up? Or do you fight? And if you do fight, how long do you keep fighting?

Here are ten ideas for overcoming writers block.

1) Decide what is actually being blocked. Have you lost your desire to write completely or are you just stuck on your current work? If you have lost your love of writing, maybe you are just not writing what you love. Don’t let writing turn into a job. Stop thinking about what you “have” to write and start thinking about what you’d really love to write, then do it.

2) If you are stuck in your current work, are you stopped cold? Or are you just having trouble with the current scene? If you are stopped cold, there is a very good chance you have a problem with your story. Step back from the trees and look at the forest. Stop trying to force a story that isn’t working and figure out what needs fixing before you put down another word. Remember this is not about rewriting your entire manuscript; it’s about finding the problem and fixing it.

3) If you are stuck on a scene, skip it. Literally, just put in a note that says, “insert something interesting here,” and skip to the next part that you are comfortable with.

4) Spend lots of time lying under a heat lamp, then get back to work. (This is from Yoshi.) Take a break. I offer this solution with a great deal of caution. Side effects can include never finishing your book. But sometimes a break is what you need. Life has to come before writing. If you are dealing with so much stress in your life that you can no longer write, stop writing, fix the stress and return to writing.

5) Don’t try to edit and write at the same time. Some people are actually very good at writing and editing as they go. If that is you, keep doing what works. But for many people, editing as you go is a trap that sucks you in and kills your story’s momentum. The more you reread your story, the more editing it needs. And the more your edit, the more you start to feel that the whole thing stinks. It’s like saying the same word over and over until it makes no sense. Just remember that most authors hate their work at one point or another. You can always come back and fix things later, but only if you push through to the end.

6) On the other hand, sometimes a break is exactly the wrong thing to do. Writing can be a habit. Write every day and your mind gets used to writing. It’s addictive. But stop for too long, and you can break the habit. If the current story is stuck in neutral, write something else. Another book, a short story, a journal. Just don’t forget that the goal is to get back to your current work.

7) One of the biggest problems for beginning writers is starting a story when all they really have is a beginning. Do you know how the story is going to end? If not, you just diagnosed your problem. Stop writing and go back to plotting you don’t need to know all the story. But at least know where it will end.

8) Write out of order. Again this doesn’t work for all writers. But if you are struggling with a current scene, try writing scenes you are more excited about. You can always cut and paste later.

9) Get feedback. I know it’s hard to show a work in progress to someone else. But if the train isn’t moving, you may need a different perspective to see if it has run completely off the tracks.

10) Cut. Sometimes the problem is that you are in love with a scene that doesn’t work. You are so enamored with your beautifully written scene that you don’t realize it doesn’t fit the story. If cutting is too painful, think of it as storing that scene. Save it in another file that you can always bring back later in this story or something else.

Remember that all of these are only suggestions. If one doesn’t work, try another. What works for you may not work for someone else. But the key is to keep trying things until something succeeds. Take Yoshi’s advice. If butting your head against the rocks isn’t getting you closer to your goal, try pushing past the fence, or even climbing over it. But don’t give up. You and your story deserve better than that!
Oh, and before I forget, I big shout out to my friends at Oakcrest, Westland, and Riverton Elementary schools. You guys rock!! See you at B&N!


At 4/07/2009 4:17 AM, Blogger LexiconLuvr said...

Loved the Nemo reference. Those turtles are awesome!
We once has a turtle named Botticelli and he should have been named Houdini. He was only happy in the bathroom sink. =P

Thanks for the tips about writers block. I'm going to use one or two of those tomorrow at my writers group to help me get crackin' again.

p.s. How weird is this? My word verification is: tryone. Like try one of your tips!

At 4/07/2009 5:52 AM, Blogger Anna Buttimore said...

Your tips are excellent, especially no. 2, which I found recently when I got hopelessly stuck in my latest effort. I had given up on it and decided it wasn't worth my time, but then came back to it and discovered a little tweak or two which would revive it.

I really must get into the habit of writing every day! Thankis for the advice!

At 4/07/2009 11:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes! i am famous now. I still have you signature on my arm and when people ask me what it is i tell them that its my best author friend. i retraced it once, but i think i have to wash it off soon
:(thanks for signing my arm!


At 4/07/2009 11:33 AM, Blogger Melanie J said...

Number 5 is so true for me. I began to write so much faster when I quit editing along the way. Ultimately, my edits rarely affect story structure anyway so I've found it's best to just let the story go forward and then do the clean up afterwards on the little bits. At least for me, anyway!

At 4/07/2009 3:28 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

I just saw Lauren at lunch. She is not kidding about the autograph still being on her arm. And she did say that it was the autograph of her best author friend.

At 4/07/2009 5:10 PM, Blogger J Scott Savage said...

Lauren has been my best friend since I published my first book. One day I am going to hire her as my marketing assistant. Or maybe she will start writing books and hire me!

At 4/07/2009 5:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks! i would definitely love to work for you. but some day when im famous, i will sign your arm in return. and then i will hire you for something. deal?


At 4/07/2009 5:38 PM, Blogger J Scott Savage said...


At 4/07/2009 7:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

haha I definitely can't wait to be your marketing assistant.


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