Wherein a Writer Takes a Break From the Internet

For the past few days, I’ve decided to use one of my hundreds of unused journals in leu of battling my internet addiction in an attempt to crank out a chapter or two. I believe the results speak for themselves.

I started writing about three days ago and I’m halfway through with this journal.

That’s with taking breaks for six or seven hours to hang out with my boyfriend or take care of unfinished business.

While the pages of my journal are smaller than a piece of copy paper, I’ve still averaged about 27 pages a day.

One thing I’ve noticed about writing everything long-hand is the experience feels so much more personal. More than anything, it’s just fun.

It reminds me of back in the day when I didn’t have my own laptop and had to settle for my dad’s ancient brick when he wasn’t using it for work.

In between those times I didn’t have a choice but to use a notebook. I’ve since thrown away most of those away out of shame, but I still look back fondly on those nights when I would go through ink pen after ink pen, working on something just because I enjoyed it.

So I think the best way for me to accomplish my goals is to return to basics. I know I won’t get much “networking” done (I’ll get to that in a later post), but I miss being able to fully immerse myself in the work without the temptation of the internet.

I don’t fixate on word choice or getting the plot exactly right. I’m a boulder rolling down a hill and nothing can slow me down.

I want to write now. I want to continue the story and spend time with these characters. It feels like I’ve been backpacking through a world of my own design. Is there anything cooler than that?

I Made My Characters Steal a Horse: a Tale of Writer’s Block

I have a plan, reader.

For the first time in a long time, I’ve set up a writing goal for myself.

I am forcing myself to finish the first draft of my novel by  May 31.

It’s been a tiring struggle against doubt and writer’s block. However, I’ve reasoned with myself that I must fight onward, no matter how embarrassing the result.

One such result was forcing one of my characters to steal a horse because I had absolutely no idea what to do with them.

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You see, a bunch of intricate and entertaining things are going to happen in this tale: interdimensional portals, hopeless wars, death, and victory snatched from the maw of defeat. Sounds sexy, doesn’t it?

But I am experiencing difficulty with getting where I need to go.

So until the thought comes to me unexpectedly in the shower or while I’m teetering just on the edge of unconsciousness, I have to make due with what my mind produces at the time.

I try to be a plotter, but I’m a panster by heart.

This is my usual process:

Brain: Hey, remember how we spent days and weeks planning how we were going to make the main character do this thing? Yeah, they’re doing that thing now.

Me: But won’t that make all that time we spent constructing a plot completely irrelevant?

Brain: Don’t worry. If you keep at it like this, you should have the first draft done by the time you’re in your 40s.

Me: Sweet! *chucks notebooks used for outlines in garbage can*

I appease myself by reasoning that I can just take a giant pair of scissors to it later if need be. Until then, I guess I’ll have to power through.

My friends can’t understand why it takes me so long to finish a project or why it is so easy for me to give up. It’s likely because my ambitions are much higher than I am allowing myself time for. Instead of exercising patience, my go-to response is to throw in the towel.

Not this time, reader. This time I will make my characters do whatever I need them to, even if it kills them. I will make them search tirelessly, doing all sorts of useless crap until they are able pick up the loose plot threads and tell a decent story.

 

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Who knows how long this story will be in the end? All that matters at this point is that it gets finished.

The Writer and The Deadline

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing noise they make as they fly by,” -Douglas Adams. 

I have a deadline today.

You probably have a deadline too.

So why are we still on the internet?

Because we writers are free spirits, that’s why. We can’t have our lives dictated by something as minuscule as a date written down on a sticky note. That’d be ridiculous. When the project is meant to be done, the muse will hit us….

………….any minute now.

This is usually when the panic comes in and we’re forced to contend ourselves with the fact that Muse has skipped town along with her lover, Motivation, and likely isn’t coming back.

Now we’re forced to sit ourselves down in front of a keyboard and type.

We must bleed ourselves dry for ideas.

The sad truth of it all is that writers need deadlines (probably). We love doing what we do, but we’re so distractible, aren’t we? We’re free and creative and fun. But, more often than not, we aren’t punctual.

If we didn’t have deadlines, we would probably be worse off than we are.

Even the fear that takes hold of us with every ticking of the clock is better than never finishing what we’ve started.

10 Things Your Non-Writer Friend Doesn’t Understand

While you are able to enjoy happy and long-lasting relationships with people who have no interest in writing, there are a few aspects involved with your lifestyle that a third party, however beloved, may have trouble wrapping their head around.

1. Why You Can’t Go Out Tonight

It is Friday night and your friend wants to go to dinner or catch a movie. However, you have been mentally mapping out your story in your head while at work and you’re itching to get started on that project, or continue where you left off.

“Why are you being so anti social?” your friend may ask. “It’s not healthy to be cooped up in your room all night when you could be out with your friends.”

You love your friend. You love spending time with your friend. But the writer’s life requires you to make sacrifices. You may want to kick back and just relax, nevertheless, the more you put off writing, the harder it is to get back into the rhythm.

This doesn’t mean you never want to have fun with your friend, it just means sometimes you have to say no if you ever want to get anything done.

Man organizing documents in library --- Image by © Hiya Images/Corbis

2. Why You Overanalyze Everything

“Why can’t you just turn off your brain and enjoy the movie/TV show/book? Who cares if the villain’s motivation doesn’t make sense, or the romance came out of nowhere? Movies/TV shows/books are suppose to be fun. You’re thinking too much.”

What your friend doesn’t realize is a writer’s mind doesn’t just “turn off.” Asking a writer to stop considering integral story elements is like asking a colorblind person to just see green. You obtain new stories ideas through all your senses, and you study all the different forms of storytelling in the hopes of developing your own style.

You know from experience how hard a creator must toil in order for a story to be told well, so when a writer tries to get away with doing the bare minimum it is frustrating.

Doctor Looking at X-Rays --- Image by © Thomas Roepke/Corbis

3. Most Writers Aren’t Rich

With superstar authors like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and George R. R. Martin raking in the big bucks, your friend would be forgiven for assuming that most successful writers are makin’ dat money. However, you know that even writers who have published many articles and books are usually lucky to make a living wage, let alone get rich. Writing is not a job you should take if you are hoping to afford a condo in Miami. It’s something you should do because you feel like you’d go crazy if you didn’t.

Making a lot of coin would be nice, and money is a necessary evil for survival. However, if you are truly serious about being a writer, it’s not your aim to get rich.

20 Feb 1961, Elizabeth, New Jersey, USA --- Marie Reed of the Federal Savings and Loan Association sits next to a million dollars in cash. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

4. Nothing Is Sacred

Your friend knows you’re a writer, right? So of course they realize if they tell you about the time their uncle paraded around naked in his trailer park with a loaded shotgun singing “I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy,” it’s going in a story someday, correct? Sadly no. Your friend will not understand. In fact, they will likely be very upset. Writers are like pack rats, continuously searching for interesting nuggets of information to place in their stories to help give them flavor. Truth is usually stranger than fiction, so true-life events are typically the most inspiring. You aren’t sharing your friends intimate moments in an attempt to shame them, you’re doing it to bring your story to life. You can explain this to your friend all day, but it’s unlikely they will see it your way.

Friends Talking While Boy Listens --- Image by © Buero Monaco/Corbis

5. Your Internet History

Writers need to know most things. Not for their own sake, but for their characters’. If their  protagonist is a sociopath with a proficiency in murder, an author must familiarize themselves with common methods used to end a person’s life. They must know the best way to dispose of a body, how long it takes to drown someone, or the various stages a corpse goes through during decomposition. If you’re fantasy writer, it’s prudent to know about various weapons and poisons or herbs that would be used in an age with no technology.  A thriller writer may need to research some of the key components of a bomb. A fellow writer would understand. You’re friend (and possibly Homeland Security), however…well…don’t give them your password.

01 Jan 1976, London, England, UK --- Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) hides in a trash can in The Pink Panther Strikes Again. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

6. Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a reality most creatives face. Some symptoms include self-doubt, frustration, and unwillingness to do anything except stare at a blank page and wonder why you couldn’t have become an accountant instead.

You will likely try to explain the depths of your frustration to your friend and they will say something in the vein of “uh huh” like you have spoken in a foreign language they took in high school, but have since forgotten.

To most non-writers, authors are filled with an infinite well of creative juice that squirts on the page with no problem. It’s easy, right? All you have to do is create.

While your friend may not understand, at least they can distract you with stories about their horrible boss or flakey co-workers.

Young businessman constructing a building of blocks of wood --- Image by © Holger Scheibe/Corbis

7. Your Characters Aren’t You

Well, they are versions of you; tiny flakes of your personality. Nonetheless, your character’s thoughts and feelings aren’t necessarily a reflection of your own. If you write a story about someone beaten by their alcoholic mother, you might find your friend staring at you with watery-eyes asking if you’re okay. If you write a story in which someone contemplates suicide, you may discover a 1-800 number in your coat pocket.

A writer has to wear many masks in order to depict someone other than themselves. This is difficult to explain to someone who is so close to the original face.

Don’t judge your friend too harshly. After all, they are trying to looking out for you.

12 Jun 2007, Venice, Italy --- Traditional Masks For Sale in Venice --- Image by © Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis

8. Rewrites

Some writers rewrite 3 times. Some writers rewrite 30 times. Regardless of how many times you must do it, rewriting is a teeth-pulling endeavor. All your previous problems are thrown back in your face. You must write a beloved character out of existence for the sake of the plot. You have to cut a scene you worked literally hours on because it no longer fits the new direction your story is taking.

It’s like Groundhog Day, only you feel like Bill Murray’s character during the suicide scene all the time. “Why are you writing it again?” your friend may ask. “Why don’t you just publish it the way it is?”

They mean well. They simply don’t understand that writing means rewriting. The first draft is usually a disaster, as is the second, or even the third. Books don’t just happen. They are cultivated through months, perhaps even years, of intense labor. Writing isn’t always a walk in the park, in spite of the fact you can do it from home in your pjs. It requires discipline and rewriting is one of the necessary steps to make towards completion.

Books burning in fire --- Image by © Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/cultura/Corbis

9. You Need Feedback

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You give your friend a chapter, either through email or in person, and you’re left to wait.  You check your phone religiously, you browse your emails, you watch TV,  but you can’t pay attention to anything. Will your friend laugh at that joke? Will they internalize that bit of foreshadow? Ooh. You should have edited out that scene. It didn’t end up going anywhere in the long run. At long last, your friend texts you.

“It was good,” they say.

You pause for a moment, wondering if they will explain.

“Great,” you type, “What’d you like about it?”

“I don’t know. I just thought it was good.”

You press them for more information, but they refuse to divulge anymore insight into what they thought. Your non-writer friend doesn’t realize that you aren’t fishing for complements. You are asking because you genuinely want to improve your writing. Literary agents won’t hesitate to criticize, so you need your manuscript to be in top form before you start sending it out. Call us needy, but feedback (positive or negative) is as critical to the writing process as ink and paper.

You know your characters backwards and forwards and, as a result, you may unconsciously withhold important information that the reader needs to know in order to make them more relatable.

Something about the the societal structure or a character’s motivation may not make a lot of sense to the reader if they’re going in blind, but you wouldn’t know because you’re too close to the material.

Washington, DC, USA --- Evelyn C. Lewis, Miss Washington 1921, listens to the radio. She tunes in by adjusting the condenser. --- Image by © Corbis

10. You Can’t Stop (And You Won’t Stop)

A writer may face years of rejection and failure. It’s an inconvenient truth. In spite of all the Instagram pics and empty platitudes plastered over the internet, when most people fail their next move is to search for the exit. Especially when they choose an unconventional career that requires self-discipline and low guarantee of financial success.

You’ll vent to your non-writer friend about the struggle. All the years of toiling over a keyboard and the closets full of rejection letters.

And then they will ask the fated question: “Why don’t you quit and find another job?”

Many writers have a second job to supplement their income. However, to just quit being a writer isn’t optional. A banker can quit being a banker. A grocery store clerk can stop being a grocery store clerk. But a writer doesn’t stop being a writer.

Even if a writer only publishes one book in their lifetime, they still write. They still have to ask themselves “what if?” and play with concepts. Being a writer is a state of mind and you can’t stop. You may want to, but the desire to create is still buried in your brain.

23 Sep 1976 --- 1970s MALE WRITER AT DESK TYPEWRITER CRUMPLED PAPERS ARMS UP IN AIR EXASPERATED EXPRESSION INDOOR LOOKING AT CAMERA --- Image by © H. ARMSTRONG ROBERTS/Corbis

Interview With Author Anne Lauppe-Dunbar

Anne Lauppe-Dunbar is the author of “Dark Mermaids,” an award-winning novel about the East Germany doping scandal that lead to the mental and physical decline of many German athletes. Her main protagonist, Sophia, is a East German swimmer whose health has declined to such a degree doctors deny her treatment.

I was given the opportunity to interview Dr. Lauppe-Dunbar while she was visiting the United States on her book-release tour, and I asked her about her experiences as a writer. 

Me: Do you ever get writers block? What’s your advice to those who struggle with it?

LD: Yes, I do. The best advice my Ph.D tutor gave me was “don’t be worried about just staring out the window, it’s actually part of the creative process.” So if your mind is blank and you feel overwhelmed, let it happen. Don’t fight it, because if you fight it you’re pushing against it. Just accept it and read for a bit. Or do a bit of research, or go and read a book about the subject. Or go for a walk. You know, swim, anything. Just don’t try and push it.

Me: What is your favorite genre to write?

LD: Thriller, I think. I like characters, I’m a character writer. I like the type of writing where you feel like you’re inside the character’s skin. We’re contradictory as a species so you’ve got to allow those characters to show that aspect of humanity. I like anything as long as it’s got strong characters in it. I love fantasy as well.

Me: Which comes first: character or story?

LD: Both have to be intertwined. I think if you start with a character and have a story in mind, you can then follow your character and see how he/she reacts to things. Like with my character, Sophia, I tried to make her do something she did not want to do and it was difficult to progress from there. You must let your character lead the way.

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Me: What is the most difficult aspect of writing for you?

LD: Finding time. And then allowing myself the first draft without getting really finicky about it. I have to give myself permission to make a mess. I find that quite difficult because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I think I went through about 30-40 drafts before I finished my first book.

Me: What advice do you have for people who want to become a writer?

LD: Be realistic. Be aware it’s a very long journey. I think getting published is really, really hard. And some people want the validation more than they want the work to be done. More than they want a challenge. At times, I was one of those people. You get to a breaking point, really. So I would say, you know, you have to look at it as if you’re going to be challenged more than you’ve ever been challenged before. And if you’re a writer, then you’re a writer. Take it bit by bit.

Me: It took you two years of submitting before you were published. Why did you stick by your story for so long?

LD: Because I thought the work was good enough. I never thought of myself as good enough, but the work itself— what I had created outside of myself— was. I had a sense that this work was ready. Sometimes you have to just defy any doubts. Even if you have worries about yourself and you think you’re getting pushed back. Sometimes you have to keep going.

Me: How do you know when your book is finished?

LD: You don’t. Not really. I think that’s normal. There comes a point when you just have to send it out. The things you have to ask yourself are ‘Do the sentences work?’ or ‘Are the ideas coming together?’ ‘If I give this to a stranger, are they going to get that idea?’ That’s the most important thing, I say. That’s when it’s ready.

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