A blog for authors, about authors, written by an author
I'm a YA fantasy author, working on 'The Council Of Twelve' series with several books published.
My rare free time I'm spending in extreme reading, excessive pool swimming, and playing monster-monopoly. My strongest support system is my sister, family, and friends, and my very beautiful, active, and demanding three cats.
If you like to know more about me, please check my website: http://www.aurorajeanalexander.com
The creatures that inhabit our novels should make sense and feel as real as our worlds.
In speculative fiction, we’re not just writing stories—we’re creating worlds. And no matter if those worlds are alternate realms, possible futures, distant planets, or secret portals hidden at the back of the closet, at some point, your characters are likely to run into some of the creatures who inhabit it.
Writer’s block is a very controversial subject in the publishing world. Everyone has an opinion and everyone is right. Okay, maybe not everyone. I am right…and also NUMBER ONE AT HUMBLE!
*gets cramp patting self on back*
I believe that, when it comes to discussing writer’s block, there is a real danger of oversimplifying a truly complex phenomenon. Many claim there is no such thing as writer’s block. Just sit down and write and stop making excuses for being lazy. While laziness might be an answer (as we’ll explore) this One-Size-Fits-All solution is low-hanging fruit. Sort of like going to the doctor where the standard answer for everything is to “lose weight.”
Me: I’m tired all the time.
Doctor: Lose weight.
Me: My knee really hurts. I think I might have arthritis.
Doctor: Lose weight.
Me: *blood spurting from missing arm* I uh, think I need emergency surgery.
Doctor: Nah. Lose weight.
Now, is it true that many health issues could be remedied if we weren’t carrying around extra poundage? Sure. But, the human body is vastly complex, meaning it’s wise to ditch the myopia and take into consideration other factors.
Same with writer’s block.
Writer’s Block & Laziness
We’ll just deal with probably the most common explanation for writer’s block right now. Why? Because just like sometimes losing weight really IS the answer to a health issue, laziness could be at the root of our inability to put words on the page.
Because writing is hard work. Let me add a caveat, “Superlative writing is hard work.”
I know this because when I knew NOTHING about my craft, I never ran out of stuff to slap on the page. My first ‘novel’—the 187,000 word monstrosity I keep in the garage because it pees on the carpets—was a JOY to write. My book had IT ALL! There was romance, action, comedy! My novel had everything…except a plot.
I once asked my dad why he taught me how to read when I was only a bit older than 3 1/2 years. His answer was: “Because you wanted me to.” I laughed and told him: “I don’t remember I was able to talk back then, how would you know? And he replied:” When I was reading, you often climbed on my lap and wanted to see what held my attention. And I understood you well enough.”
By the time I was four years old, I could read fluently (which threw my kindergarten teacher entirely off balance – but that’s a story for another time).
My father helped me understand my early fascination with the written word. I was never a great artist in drawing and painting, but I found out I could show a scene – any scene, simply by using words.
Of course, being four years old, I wasn’t that much into writing yet. But I read whatever I could get a hold of, even the daily newspaper. With six, I had left the picture books far behind me. When I was five, I was enrolled in school with special permission because I was simply bored in kindergarten. But even in my first school years, when the other kids just discovered the alphabet, I had a good time looking out the window until my teacher realized it would be a good idea to let me read to avoid getting bored.
And one day, our first essay was due while the other kids howled; I found myself ecstatic! I had discovered that I could write stories, not only read them, and the future writer was on her way.
I never lost my fascination with the written word, neither one of other writers nor mine. I keep reading as often as I can, the one or other book I read once a year.
Until this day, I’m convinced all the reading during my childhood and teenage years have formed me in many ways. And that’s why I think writers should never stop reading for many reasons. I’m trying to list here only a few of them.
Reading helps us with vokabular,wpeling and gramer vocabulary, spelling and grammar.
I firmly believe, the more often and intensely we read, the more we pick up on the spelling and grammar, and we extend our vocabulary. Every writer has a unique style of painting a story with words, and subconsciously we memorize their use of words.
Reading helps us with our health
It is clinically proven that reading helps with:
Reduction of possibility to get Alzheimer’s
The written word is our world
We love stories. We love the written word, we love other worlds, and we enjoy improving our imagination by diving into the unknown… we can experience adventures without even leaving our living room and with a cup of hot tea next to us. That’s where we belong.
To see samples of work
Oh, I know, that point needs some explanation. Of course, when we have a book in front of us, we look at a work sample from another writer. (Known or unknown doesn’t matter at all). But we can find out what we can ‘tolerate,’ what we are unable to swallow, what we like, what we don’t, what we enjoy, and what we love and adore.
Do we judge? Not necessarily. We are, in many cases, just finding out what works for us. Let me give you a brief example. I’m generally not a huge fan of Sci-Fi. Many purely technical explanations in space ships drive me up the walls. My technical understanding is limited, and I want to read how the story progresses. I don’t give a hoot with how many ‘Mach’s that space ship speeds through the universe and what the specially developed exhaust muffler does and does not do for the reusable energy in the ship… That doesn’t mean the book is terrible; it just means I don’t need those technical manuals included in the story.
Also, time-traveling can have its traps. I read too many stories where the accepted paradoxes made it hard to continue reading through the end. (That’s also a reason why I’m not a ‘Back to the Future’ worshipper). And I know, you can crucify me now; it’s a classic – I love Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox! I think they’re both great. But the paradoxes permitted in the script are not ‘my thing.’ Millions of people love those movies, and they’re most likely pretty good. They’re just not for me.
In reading stories, we can find out what works for us and what doesn’t. It might help us go through our story without stepping into those traps.
Reading stimulates our imagination
The more we read, the more our fantasy and imagination are tickled. We can even extend our ability to imagine things by consciously concentrating on doing so. When you read a thrilling scene, even a fight, try to imagine how that scenery would look ‘as a movie’… concentrate not only on the two faceless characters… remember how they were described to you at the beginning of the book. Please give them a face, dress them in their respective clothing, picture their weapons, the smell, the heavy breathing, the sweat, maybe the blood, the scenery around them! Focus on the particular event… and try to do that whenever you can – that is ‘living’ the book you read. If you’re practicing that often enough, it suddenly stays with you, automatically, without any further effort.
I’m quoting George R. R. Martin here, the writer who gave Jojen Reed his voice:
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
(P. S. George Raymond Richard Martin is an American novelist and short-story writer, screenwriter, and television producer. He is the author of the series of epic fantasy novels A Song of Ice and Fire, which was adapted into the Emmy Award-winning HBO series Game of Thrones.)
Permit yourself to be influenced
Reading is a good thing for writers. I heard a few writers say they don’t read because they want to focus solely on their own work. In my opinion, that kind of thinking is wrong. We can learn so much about structure, character- and plot building, writing techniques when we read. Why close up to that influence? It can help us!
Of course, by reading other authors’ work, we should try to understand what we can take and what is a good influence on our own writing. We’re not off to copy another writer’s work!
But none of us is going to discover the ‘Sorcerer’s Stone’ with our writing. (Oh well, maybe J. K. Rowling did) … but we can accept that our work can be positively influenced by what we read. A good example is a good example, is a good example.
Read other writer’s work and make them read yours
It’s easy to expect readers to stumble upon your books. But maybe that doesn’t happen. Other writers can help you with your work! They can advise you with difficulties, help you by offering to be your beta readers; they can recommend your books to their readership. They can help, read, review, support, encourage, guide, and so much more!
But in return: don’t expect anything that you aren’t willing to give back! It’s up to you to help others as well. And you sure will find hidden treasures (and not so hidden ones too!). Some authors will give their books for free if you help them. Please do the same for them! You’ll be surprised about the support you get.
And that’s why I recommend writers read as often and as many books as possible!
Of course, one or the other will refuse.
I’m too busy
I cannot afford books right now
I never have even one minute to relax
There are a million other excuses. Take the time to read, take the time to relax. If not, you’re going to end with a heart attack, and you won’t be able to write another word. You can get plenty of books for free from other authors when you take the time to write a review or Beta read (see above).
After a massive restart in my life in July 2019, I decided to add another significant change a mere two months later. Scared to screw up, I didn’t want to tell too many people about it. But today, I can say I think I did surprisingly well.
Now, what am I talking about? I refer to my former habit to smoke. Yes, you got that right. I said former addiction!
I did quit; I’m proud to be a quitter! I’m not saying it was easy – but it went better than I expected, and I didn’t fall off the wagon – no exceptions, not even once. Not that I was never weak – but I was also too scared to get back to where I was all that time ago.
There are so many ways to quit smoking.
Cold Turkey (no outside help)
Nicotine replacement therapy
I decided on the first method. Literally, I ran out of my favorite cigarette brand and chose not to buy any more of them.
Therefore I’m in no position of recommending or giving any advice for a future quitter. I heard others tried different ways and only found out what works for them after several attempts.
I’m not going to warn smokers how unhealthy it is because I always hated to hear that. I know about the danger; I took the risk. I don’t need a speech, a seminar, or a medical report. I would say: Once you’re ready, you’ll know; and then quitting will work for you. But the decision needs to come from deep inside of you.
That worked for me. I decided to quit; I made a plan, I followed it through. And that’s why today I’m so thrilled to celebrate two years smoke-free! Thanks for celebrating with me!
Today, as I was recently informed, is ‘National Hug Your Sweetheart Day.’ What a cute day of a small celebration between two people. (Let’s say, for this post, I will exclude all pet owners equally, who insist the only other living creature in their life they need, is their pet).
Well, to celebrate this day, there’s not much needed, right? A hug – and a Sweetheart.
As for me: I’d love to celebrate, I really would. Too bad I’m missing one of the two key ingredients.
And now it gets a little tricky…
Because theoretically, ‘he’ does actually exist. He just screwed up – and he knows.
However, I’m not going into details today… after all, it’s supposed to be a wonderful little celebration day – for sweet couples – and the ones who plan to become one (maybe at least temporarily.)
Hug – feel each other, enjoy each other’s company as long as you can.
When I discovered this quote, I was laughing out loudly. Of course, the name ‘Dorothy Parker’ was anchored somewhere in the back of my head. I remember I got different information about her. Some say she’s been known more for her impertinence than her writing. Others admire her for her wit, guts, strength and personality, and sense of style, writing, and adventure. I belong to the second group.
As a quick side note, The Elements of Style is a book written by William Strunk jr. and E. B. White and is described as THE classic style manual. I read the book several times and still consult it occasionally. I love the tone it’s written in, and it has helped me many times. I’m convinced it had helped many other writers too.
The writing itself is only a tiny part of what being a writer means
Of course, there are so many more examples, but those are the ones I heard most, with minor variations, of course.
Encouraging new writers is a good thing. Being honest about the writing is another one. Writing in Dorothy Parker’s time was quite different from now, with our possibility of self-publishing. One can say it’s far easier today to see your own story published. In many ways, that’s true. But also, the entire process of self-publishing is often very much underestimated!
Every single step of the way is a process in itself. Self-publishing does not mean you can sit down, write whatever you feel like, set it online, and become famous and wealthy. Don’t forget. There are millions of writers with the same idea – and enormous talent!
Self-publishing means you will have to deliver a nothing-less-than-impeccable final product! And part of that ‘writing process’ is quite costly. A self-drawn cover and Momma’s retired English Teacher’s editing won’t be sufficient. Formatting, copyright, cover, editing, trailer, marketing, it all needs funds. Throwing your book out there and expecting the money flowing into the bank account by the thousands is a utopia.
Even nowadays, self-published authors are still the step-children of the craft. The traditionally published authors with the agents are the ‘real’ authors. An author needs a thick skin and guts to deliver name and work out there.
Self-doubt and thoughts of giving up are a daily strain. Depression is widespread among writers, and only other writers can often understand what we are going through. Networking and supporting each other are essential and cannot start early enough in the process.
We want to read our fellow author’s work. We want to give them the famous pat on the back and want to tell them: “Well done!” We want to help and encourage, and many of us are fellow writers and lifelong friends! But we also need to face reality. We need to believe in ourselves. But also need to accept if the one or other story doesn’t work, isn’t as intriguing as we thought, or could be better if we’d take advice and the one or other suggestion.
That means, of course, the four initial recommendations above are still very accurate! And I’m convinced many more writers than just little old me are going to hear those. But it also means, as sassy as Dorothy Parker’s statement is, the one or other experienced writer can very much relate.
Dorothy Parker (née Rothschild; August 22, 1893 – June 7, 1967) was an American poet, writer, critic, and satirist based in New York; she was best known for her wit, wisecracks, and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.
One of her most famous screens was the one for the 1937 film ‘A Star Is Born’, which she wrote in cooperation with director William A. Wellman, Robert Carson and Alan Campbell, her husband. As we all know, the film has been remade three times: in 1954 (directed by George Cukor and starring Judy Garland and James Mason), in 1976 (directed by Frank Pierson and starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson) and in 2018 (starring Bradley Cooper, who also directed, and Lady Gaga).
Dismissive of her own talents, she deplored her reputation as a “wisecracker.” Nevertheless, both her literary output and reputation for sharp wit have endured. Some of her works have been set to music; adaptations notably include the operatic song cycle Hate Songs by composer Marcus Paus.
Parker died on June 7, 1967, the age of 73 of a heart attack, presumably caused by the alcohol addiction she suffered from for over a decade.