Blogging to Combat Writer’s Block

Thinking through topics, saying your thoughts out loud, and writing them down are all different ways of expression. And, each one should be approached differently.

Just the act of writing something can mold your mind. Some writers free write, some write short stories, and some blog.

If you’re like me, free writing feels pointless. I’ve got a wife and a toddler and family always wants us to do something. If it’s not family, it’s doctors. My health is far from the best and between family, doctor’s appointments, and just feeling like crap, any writing time I can sneak in has to work toward something.

So, that leaves short stories and blogging.

I write short stories. They help learn the craft and the technical aspects of writing. Ray Bradbury suggests writing a short story every week for beginners because, “It’s impossible to write fifty two bad short stories.” That’s good advice and I wish I had the free time to apply it.

But, I struggle through the same roadblocks in my mind with short stories as I have my many failed novel attempts. Here’s where blogging can come in.

It’s easier to write something honest than to make something up.

At its core, fiction is lying. They are entertaining lies and honest lies, the reader knows it’s not true. But, writers face the same psychological problems from writing fiction as we do from lying to people’s face.

When you write down an honest opinion, you don’t have to think. It’s like walking or chewing or breathing. Instead of thinking about what to say, you just say what you think. That’s what is so helpful about free writing. You get to just express what you’re feeling and not worry about turning it into a narrative.

So, why not just free write? Well, that’s a valid choice. You could spend an hour every day just writing the first thing that comes to mind. But, here’s what happens when I do that.

Just trying to wake up my brain. I have a lot of problems with that early in the morning. If I had woken up hours ago, I’d be plenty awake by now. I’d have had time to wake up then I would have gotten coffee and pushed myself even further awake and I’d be ready to write some on my story. But, that didn’t happen. The heavy metal isn’t working. Though they are playing far too much AC/DC this morning. I need a healthy supply of Ronnie James Dio to get creative. This isn’t even worthy of being a blog post. I don’t seem to have a point. I’m just rambling. I don’t think it’s even working. I don’t think today is going to be a good day. I’m so stupid. Shit shit shit. I have absolutely nothing to say. Everything is meaningless. I have nothing to offer. Fuck to you fucking hack.

Stupid. Rambling. Bullshit.

Then, I get negative and start telling myself how shitty I am at everything. That’s not helpful. That’s the opposite of helpful. And, I spend an hour doing this while my daughter is asleep just to have her wake up when I hit stride feeling sorry for myself and my wife thing’s I’m angry at her for the rest of the day because I’m in a bad mood.

So, instead, I do this. I’m writing a blog post right now. Well, not right now add you read this but now while I’m writing this post. It’s waking my brain up and putting something productive out there.

Yea, you heard me.

Promotions are another area that I’m not skilled in. I can’t figure out how to use Twitter or, Odin have mercy, instagram. Even my author page on Facebook isn’t as well defined add I’d like.

The simplest way to promote yourself as an author is to blog. I started reading K. M. Weiland’s blog, here’s the link helping writers become authors and it made me want to read her novel, Dreamlander. Lots of authors post links to their latest release on their page. And, It’s easier to tweet and instagram a link to your page than something thoughtful and witty everyday. Most days, I don’t feel very thoughtful or witty.

I have a busy schedule. Well, but so much of a schedule as just a constant barrage of chaos. I never know when I’ll have time to write so, if I find time, I try to work on a story. But, sometimes it just doesn’t come. So, I blog and hope promoting myself a bit will open up the floodgates of creativity.

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How to Fight Worldbuilder’s Disease with Short Stories

I have tried to write many times. From my first picture book about dinosaurs when I was five years old to something awful in sixth grade to the most bland fantasy series imaginable in high school, and beyond off and on through my adult life. One step has always stopped me, worldbuilding.

It’s not that I don’t like worldbuilding. In fact, it’s the opposite. I would get so involved with building a world, I would know the full recorded history of every race and the tectonic structure and all the legends and myths. And, I’d stop.

I would just get so burnt out on building a world that I’d give up before I ever started writing. Then, I’d throw everything out, partially because I wanted all my space on my computer to be coherent but mostly for embarrassment. Looking at it just reminded me of my latest failed attempt at writing.

This time, I’m building my world through short stories.

There are some basic things that all fantasy/sci-fi worlds require.

1. Culture(s)
2. History
3. Magic/technology.
4. A map

Culture

Culture could have its own entry altogether. It’s the most important aspect of creating a world but most writers just give it a passing mention. Cultures will define your characters and their backstories and you don’t have a story without characters.

A story is not a string of events, it’s one or more characters making decisions. And, culture will affect how your characters make decisions.

Races have their own cultures but races are not cultures, themselves. They should have subcultures and factions. Every member should deviate slightly and in a unique way from the norm.

History

Second to maps, this is where most of my time with worldbuilder’s disease was spent. It’s more productive than map making in that it can help you develop cultures. Culture and history go hand in hand. History shapes culture and cultures that struggle against one another make history.

But, spend too much time here and you’ll outline the entire history of your world without ever starting on the story you want to tell. I fell into this trap. If I ever finished with my maps and borders, I started on the history. Then, came the vicious cycle of adjusting my map’s borders to fit the new history.

Magic/technology

If there’s no magic or advanced technology, then why build a whole new world to begin with? No magic and no future tech and you’ve just got a contemporary drama with nothing speculative about it. You don’t need to build a world for that, just maybe one small town.

Too much magic or tech and you’ve got a whole new problem. No limits means weak storytelling. You need a rational magic system or drawbacks to tech. Here’s a couple of good articles from mythcreants that better explains this point.

Four Ways to Limit Magic and Technology

How to Create a Rational Magic System

Maps

This is the one most new writers spend the most time on, I know I did when I first started. It’s fun and can help you to envision your world, some might say necessary for envisioning your world. But, it’s the least important part of the overall process.

You may or may not end up including a map in your actual book. Well, let’s be honest, you probably will. And your readers will give it a passing glance before forgetting all of it when they start reading.

So, how can short stories help you through this process and keep you writing?

All of the things above have logical reasons for being in your world and there’s probably a story behind them. How did people discover magic? Who discovered it first? What battles were important and why? Where did people come from?

History is just a series of stories told from the winner’s point of view. Writing short stories can help you find the important moments in your fictional history and discover why they’re important to your cultures. You can discover magic or technology’s strengths and weaknesses through stories. Here are some examples.

You might have a magic system that involves magic beings granting favors to humans. Why do they do this? Writing a story can explain their motives.

A machine is going to destroy the world? Why was it built in the first place?

A race of people who live in the trees and are at war with ground dwellers? What started the conflict?

Your king is a war hero? Tell the story of his greatest battle and how it affected him.

But, the most important way short stories can help you beat worldbuilder’s disease is through the act of writing them down. You can discover loads about your world but writing it out through stories well keep you writing. You can brainstorm and work on your craft at the same time.

You don’t have to publish them. In fact, it might be best not to. That’s not saying you can’t but don’t expect people to get invested in your world through one single story. If you’re the pragmatic type, you can release them as a collection to go along with your series if it does as well as you hope. But, keep in mind that a short story should be able to stand on its own and not be tied to a series.

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Simplifying Character Archetypes

I read a blog from one of my favorite authors a while back about character archetypes. Here is the link.  There are a lot of methods for characterization out there, probably as many as there are authors, this one simplified most of them into a coherent model. But, I simplified it even further.

First, I would like to break down the one from the talented K. M. Weiland’s blog. She puts eight main characters in opposing pairs. These are: protagonist and antagonist, sidekick and skeptic, guardian and contagonist, and reason and emotion. She goes further into detail, but it breaks down like this:

1.   Protagonist – the main character
2. Antagonist – the one directly opposed to the main character
3. Sidekick – agrees with the main character
4. Skeptic – on the same side but is doubtful of the main character
5. Guardian – teaches the important things necessary for the main character to fulfill his or her goal
6. Contagonist – pushes the main character away from his or her goal
7. Reason – makes decisions based on reason
8. Emotion – makes decisions based on emotion

The protagonist is the main character, the one that is most affected by the events of your plot. If they aren’t the one making all of the changes, all of the changes better make things worse for them. You know what, no. Eventually the protagonist has to do something our they’re not the protagonist, you’d have to change the whole viewpoint of the story and that’s a whole other entry. Some examples are: Snake Plisken I escape from New York, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, and anyone who has the story named after them.

The antagonist stands directly opposed to the protagonist. If the protagonist starts out not making any bog changes, the antagonist will change rings for the worse until the main character has to act to stop him. Other names for him are: the villain, the bad guy, the final boss, etc. You know this one, they’re characters like Darth Vader, Voldemort, or Sauron.

The sidekick is typically the main character’s best friend. But, they don’t have to be. They can be the protagonist’s biggest fan or just a supporter. Think the adoring fan from The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion or one of The Doctor’s companions from Doctor Who.

The skeptic isn’t against the main character but they’re not for them either. The skeptic is against the antagonist but doesn’t think that the main character is right in his or her actions. They are a good source of tension outside of the main conflict. A good example would be Morigan from Dragon Age.

Most of the time, the guardian guardian is an old guy with a beard but they don’t have to be. Gandalf, Obi Wan (original trilogy), Dumbledore, these are all old guys with beards. But, the guardian is anyone who teaches the main character what he or she needs to complete his plot goal.

The contagonist, this one is not as commonly understood. Short answer, they oppose the work of the guardian. They push the main character’s development backwards, that isn’t an excuse not to have a fully developed protagonist. Unlike the antagonist, they may or may not oppose the main character on purpose. But they do have to oppose them. A good example would be Borimir from The Lord of the Rings. Here’s a more in depth article on the contagonist.

The reasonable character makes their decisions through logic and reason. They will offer advice based on evidence. Think, C-3P0 or Sam Winchester.

The emotional one is the opposite of the reasonable one. They make decisions based on feelings, like Han Solo when he said, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Both the emotion and the reason are advisors to the main character.

Miss Weiland then goes on to add the love interest as another one that can be combined with one of those mentioned above, that’s where the “and a half” part comes in. I tried using this and it worked really well. It gave me some structure and direction where I needed it and a way for me to understand how my characters interact with one another.

Combining the love interest with one of the other slots keeps them a fully developed character and not just an object that keeps the main character on track. It’s a great way to see where they fit in your plot. So I took it two steps further.

When I used this method, I had two characters just hanging out with no place in the story. These two were reason and emotion. So, I took these two characters and did what miss Weiland did with the love interest.

1. Protagonist
2. Antagonist
3. Sidekick
4. Skeptic
5. Guardian
6. Contagonist

The reason and emotion characters can occupy one of the other slots or be left out entirely. I still keep them, but they fit better as sidekick and skeptic or guardian and contagonist. They could even occupy unrelated slots like sidekick and guardian.
Each of these are based on their direct relationship with the main character. If you have multiple pov’s, I would recommend doing a chart of these with each pov in the protagonist slot. Any comments or suggestions are welcome, tell me what you think.

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A Simple Test to Check for Sexism

This is going to be short.
Sexism. Sexism is toxic and it permeates all aspects of society, including writing. Some might even say especially writing. But, for all the talk of strong female characters and their difference from masculine female characters, remember this. If the roles were reversed, would the male lead look silly.

If the genders were swapped, would a male character be a joke where you want your female character to be taken seriously?

The only place I can see that this would get complicated is imagining a male in the damsel in distress role. Toxic hyper masculinity might make you think that men in the helpless victim role are a joke. But, there is a place for vulnerable men in a serious work if you handle it correctly. However, women portrayed as the helpless victim can reinforce the sexist views of society.

If you find a situation where gender reversal is either not helpful or even harmful, let me know in the comments.

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