Why Creative Ruts Happen, and What You Can Do About Them

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I’m taking the week off from my blog to focus on other writing projects. Please enjoy the following article, which was originally published in May 2019. I’ll be back next week with fresh material.
Falling into a creative rut can feel like the end of the world, like you’re stuck in a desert with no sign of water or food or life. When they happen, you can do one of two things: fight them to the death, or embrace them.

Ruts are not a bad thing, says author and freelance journalist Kristin Wong. They serve a useful purpose, prompting you to question your life goals and career aspirations. Ruts, she says, reminds you that you are human after all, not a machine.

Other creative types see ruts differently. Author Jane Porter suggests that it’s not a rut you are experiencing at all, but impatience. You want to see results right away. You want to see progress quickly and in the right direction, just as you sketched it out ahead of time. You want to see proof that your hard work is paying off. But, Porter says, efficiency is not the same as creativity.

Do a Google search and you’ll find hundreds of articles with suggestions for dealing with ruts. But most  of them don’t address why they happen in the first place. Wong says ruts usually happen for one of three reasons:

* Information overload. The Internet provides a lot of information, and it can be easy to get lost in it. Some of the information is legitimate; a good portion is not, and we have to discern between fact and fiction. It’s also easy to get distracted with non-essential ideas that don’t fit in with your own aspirations. When you feel lost, it’s easy to seek guidance from other people and forget that you even have a brain and a voice. You need to block out the distractions so you can hear your own voice and follow your own path. 

* Burnout. Creative professionals often work on the same project for months or even years. But after looking at the same pages all the time, you can become bored. You begin to feel stagnant, and run out of ideas of how to fix your writing or artwork. Burnout is natural when you stare at a project for too long, says Wong. To counter burnout, it’s important to take breaks – lots of them. Self-care is as much a part of the creative process as the work you do. During those breaks, learn to do nothing, even if it’s just staring out the window. Breaks give you stamina and energy so you can keep going toward your goals.

* Uncertainty about your path. Sometimes you can be so engulfed in the process of creating that you lose sight of your overall vision. It can translate as boredom on the job. When you continue to do a job out of routine, and you’re unclear what the overall vision is for that job, it can throw you into a rut.

So now that you have a better understanding why ruts happen, what can you do about them? Ask any creative person and they will tell you how they deal with them. But their ways of dealing with ruts are as different as they are. Check out this Huffington Post article about how 29 artists break out of ruts. It’s important to find what works best for you. Here are a few ideas:

1. Take a break. Most creative people will tell you that frequent breaks are necessary for clearing your head. Go for a walk, take a weekend getaway, play with your pet, or take a nap. When you return to your desk, you may notice a solution you hadn’t seen before.

2. Work with your hands. Find ways to work with your hands. Try gardening, playing in the sand, mold clay, juggle, or anything that requires you to use your hands rather than your head. Playing with something tangible like dirt, water or clay can be therapeutic.

3. Take a bath or shower. Ever have an eureka moment while showering? There’s something about immersing yourself in water that releases creative energy. In astrology, water is often associated with creativity and artistry, so any activity involving water may help “flush out” new innovative ideas.

4. Try something different. Do something you’ve never done before, says Christine Mason Miller, author of Desire to Inspire: Using Creative Passion to Transform the World in a recent Psyche Central article. Sign up for a cooking class, for example, visit a nearby town you’ve never been to before or go horseback riding if you’ve never done it. The key is to open your mind up to doing something different. If you experience something out of the usual order of things in your life, that new experience can spawn new creative ideas.

5. Make small changes. Sometimes making small changes to your environment can help you look at the world differently. Miller says whenever she falls into a creative rut, she will repaint a room, rearrange a room or buy a new piece of furniture. Bringing something new into your environment can spark creative ideas.

6. Show up and be present. Give your work all the attention it needs, even if the quality of work you produce isn’t quite what you want. At least you are still working at it.

7. Allow yourself to be bored. Author Jane Porter says our brains are too occupied with information, data, news and other stuff. Our brains are too busy, and all that busyness can kill creativity. It’s okay to be bored every so often, to do nothing, to think of nothing. Use the time to stare out the window or a picture on the wall. Become a blank slate. Think of it as part of the creative process.

8. Surround yourself with beautiful things. Visit a museum, listen to classical music or read poetry. Enjoy the sources of beauty and creativity that surround you. Seeing it in nature or seeing it in the works of other creatives can inspire you.

9. Embrace your creative rut. Realize that feeling stuck is part of the creative process. Once you understand this, you can embrace it for what it truly is – a reason to keep creating.

Creative ruts are inevitable, and a natural part of the creative process. They serve as red flags alerting you that something is out of sync. When you fall into one, don’t fret. Recognize it for what it is – a chance to recharge your creative spirit so you can produce your best work.

How Reading a Variety of Books Can Improve Your Writing

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When I first began my writing journey nearly about five years ago, I was inspired by Stephen King’s book On Writing, in which he encouraged writers to read often and read a variety of book titles. Around that same time, I had started volunteering for a non-profit group that provided books to incarcerated women, and I became familiar with the books they often requested from our library (most of which were donations). So I was reading everything from true crime, prison life and re-entry to African-American and Hispanic fiction.  

Adding fuel to the fire was a blog post I came across about a reading challenge—reading books under certain categories, themes, genres or book titles—no matter how crazy those titles might be. The list included everything from reading a non-fiction book, a book about motherhood, a book turned into a movie or TV series, or a book with a color/number/person’s name in the title. You get the idea. The challenge wasn’t about how many books you could read, but the variety. It simply added another layer of fun to the activity of reading.

Put altogether, reading a variety of books became ingrained in me. So what that I rarely read the current bestseller? I learned as much by reading a classic John Steinbeck novel as anything else on the current bestseller list. I learned that every book you read can teach you something about writing.

More important, reading a variety exposed me to authors I probably would never have read (Toni Morrison, for example) and about different cultures and perspectives (Indian culture through the work of Jhumpa Lahiri, for example). It showed different uses of language and unique and interesting characters and settings (fantasy, for example).

Reading a variety has also shown me the things that don’t always work in storytelling and what does and does not appeal to readers. That knowledge is helping me craft better stories, stronger plots and more interesting characters. (At least I hope it does.}

Reading a variety can nudge you out of your comfort zone and challenge your brain to see things differently. If all you ever read is the same genre, boredom can settle in and you’ll likely see the same plot lines and the same types of characters over and over again. When that happens, it may be time to mix things up a bit. After reading a couple of historical fiction novels, switch it up by reading a memoir or a classic. You can always return to your favorite genre.

Here’s what you can learn about writing by reading outside your favorite genre:

  • Sci Fi/Fantasy – Learn about world building with its own unique population and language. This challenges you to think outside the box.
  • Mystery/thriller – Learn techniques for pacing and creating suspense.
  • Literary – Learn about character-driven plots, character motivation and story arcs.
  • Memoir – Learn about a person’s history, emotions and experiences. What makes them tick? How did they become the person they are now?
  • Non-fiction – Learn to explain technical or complex subjects. Get background information about a subject.
  • Commercial fiction or current bestseller – ask yourself why they are so popular with readers. What is their appeal? Why are people buying this book?
  • The classics – Learn about the use of language from years ago. Important if you’re writing historical fiction.
  • Plays/drama – Pay attention to dialogue. How do the characters speak and relate to one another?
  • Read Latino, African-American, Native-American, Middle Eastern, Asian-American authors – Notice how their culture influences their story telling.

The way I see it, reading is the flip side of writing. Without reading, we would never experience the fine art of storytelling. So read a lot, and read a variety. Your creative writing self will thank you for it.

Learning to Trust the Creative Process

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For the past two years, I’ve been plugging away at a novel that is nowhere near finished. I started with a bang, writing the first draft in four months. Then the editing phase began, where the real writing begins, so the experts say. I’m still muddling through the novel after starting over several times to make sure those first few chapters are “just right.” It’s much like starting to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle, but all you have are the pieces.

Some of that is, admittedly, my perfectionist tendencies. The rest is learning to trust my creative instinct. I have found that the deeper I go into writing my novel, the more I need to realize that there is a process to all this muddling through. The more often I get stuck in my current WIP, the more I realize I need to trust the process. The process, so it seems, knows more about my story’s natural progress than I do.

From my experience, I’ve found that there are several moments in one’s writing practice when it’s necessary to trust the creative process:

  • When you begin to doubt yourself
  • When you get stuck in a writing rut
  • When you’re not sure where to go with the story next
  • Whenever you face a blank page

There might be other moments too that I have not listed. You’ve probably noticed them yourself. It’s at those times when trusting the process is a necessity, not a luxury. When you forget about trusting the process and push on, that’s when things tend to go off the rails.

Everybody’s creative process is different, of course. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing. The hardest part for most newbie writers is figuring out the best process for your work-in-progress. That may require some experimentation. (Hence my multiple attempts at writing that oh-so-critical opening chapter). But once you figure it all out, getting to The End is much easier. (At least, I hope it is.)

So what does trusting the creative process look like? For me, it was:

1. Starting a writing project with only a vague idea of what it will look like in the end. Or conversely, …

2. Having a clear vision of how the story will end so you begin writing, trusting that your story will end where it’s supposed to.

3. Writing a little bit every day, knowing it might be crap but also understanding that something truly beautiful and valuable could emerge.

4. Knowing you have a gift for writing and knowing it’s what you love to do and want to do. People may tell you that writing is a waste of time, but you write anyway.

5. Writing for the sheer pleasure of it, knowing it may never achieve recognition or publication

6. Understanding that every story idea goes through a gestation period. It has to simmer on the back burner until you are ready to put pen to paper.

7. Not waiting for inspiration to begin writing. You write regardless if you have a clear idea what you want to write about. You gotta start somewhere.

8. Understanding that story ruts happen. See them as signs that you need to adjust the plot or introduce a new character. You know if the story isn’t going anywhere, it’s time to make something happen to move the story forward.

9. Knowing that a solution to your plot or character problem will show up if you are present enough to recognize it. The solution may come in the form of a webinar you attend, a conversation with a fellow writer, or a podcast.

10. Recognizing that writing can be a messy process. Sometimes there are no neat paths to completing your project. There are times you simply have to muddle through.

11. Recognizing that writing is scary – and doing it anyway. It’s a part of yourself that you are putting out into the world in the hopes that people will like it.

12. Taking time to appreciate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may be. From small accomplishments come larger ambitions to create something new.

So the next time you feel stuck in your writing, or you stare at a blank page or someone doubts the wisdom of your career choice, that’s when you may need to trust the creative process.

Tips for Mastering Multiple Genres

Stephen King has done it. So has Margaret Atwood and J.K. Rowling. Neil Gaiman, Joyce Carol Oates, Jacqueline Woodson and Isabel Allende have also done it.

These famous authors might be best known for their work in fiction, but did you know they’ve also published works outside of their chosen genre? King might be known for his horror novels, but has also written mysteries and a fantasy novel. Allende has written memoir and Rowling has published non-fiction. You can find more examples at Bustle.

But writing in multiple genres isn’t easy. Experts suggest having some writing experience behind you before tackling a new style of writing.

Why would any writer want to publish in different genres? Naturally, it can help you scratch that creative itch. If all you write is magazine feature articles or press releases, sometimes you get that itch to try something new. Or maybe you get this brilliant idea for a mystery novel and you just have to try to write it.

Other times you don’t want to limit yourself to one style of writing. No one wants to be a one-trick pony. Your writing can get stale and boring that way. Experimenting with a different genre can help you break out of that creative rut.

But how do you begin? Here are a few tips to mastering multiple genres:

  • Read beyond your selected genre. Most writers I know read a variety of books, everything from mystery and science fiction to non-fiction and memoir. Reading different genres exposes you to different writing styles and different ways to tell stories. You have to understand your chosen genre well before you can begin to write it. How can you write a good mystery if you’ve never read one?
  • Focus on one genre at a time. Start by focusing your time and energy on mastering one particular genre before you tackle another one. Stephen King became a master in the horror genre before tackling different genres later in his career.
  • Practice, practice, practice. It can take time and lots of crumpled pieces of paper before you figure out the nuances of your newly selected genre. You might be a strong fiction writer, but writing memoir or a biography requires a different writing skillset.

One of the challenges of writing in multiple genres is managing your time and workload, especially if you’re working on different projects at the same time. Not everyone has the time or inclination to work on several projects at once.

Unless your name is Simon Van Booy, who has published several novels for adults and children, as well as a screenplay and non-fiction. He usually has several projects going at one time. He shares his tips for managing his time and workload with Writer’s Digest.

Booy starts by setting monthly goals for each project. He then breaks down his workload in chunks of time. For example, he writes adult fiction from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Mondays, then edits and adds material to it on Wednesday and Friday mornings. Booy also sets aside time on Tuesday afternoon for reading adult fiction and Thursday afternoon for reading children’s fiction.

With that structure, he says he’s able to meet his monthly writing goals on all three projects. By splitting his time between writing, research and reading, he has built in enough variation of work to avoid boredom.

However, there are some downsides to writing in multiple genres. According to The Author Wheel blog, it can be difficult to market your work because you have more reader groups to appeal to. It can also cause readers to be confused if you use your name for the different genres. Readers may see your name on the shelf and expect it to be one style of book, only to be disappointed that it’s something else entirely.

In these instances, you might consider using a pen name for at least one of the other genres, or a variation of your name or an abbreviation. For example, if you are known for writing non-fiction but want to publish science fiction, it might be beneficial to use a pseudonym to find the right audience for your project.

For every new pen name, however, you may have to create an entirely new author platform, including a separate website, mailing list and social media. That can be rather labor intensive to manage all those channels, and you may not have time for that. Only you can decide if a secondary platform is necessary for your work.  

That said, many famous authors stick with their own name when they publish in a different genre. Their name has the cache to attract readers.

Even with all these considerations, writing in multiple genres can be challenging and fun. It can broaden your writing experience and help you find new fans for your work.   

Eight Favorite Romantic Tropes to Make Readers Swoon

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February is the month for love, and if you’ve been following my blog, you know I’ve been talking a lot about romance – the language of love. Romance novels are more popular than ever these days. Who doesn’t want to read about a happily ever after? Most people, I think, still believe in true love, or that love conquers all.

Sure, the romance genre has its critics who say these stories are predictable, they can’t be taken seriously, or that they don’t reflect real world relationships. It’s true that romance stories can be predictable. You sort of know what is going to happen from page one. But it’s that expectation of predictability that appeals to many readers. Readers expect a happy ending, and they expect the couple in question to struggle through their attraction.

What make romances even more interesting are the tropes that help set up the romantic plot. You may find everything from a fake engagement to enemies-to-lovers story lines, May-December romances and second chance relationships. There are dozens of tropes used in romance novels, and some are more intriguing than others.

Below are some of my favorite romantic tropes and why I think they work.

  1. Secret identity – My personal favorite is the secret identity in which one person hides some aspect of themselves. Perhaps they’re ashamed of who they really are, or they’re trying to gain a professional advantage or they feel that they won’t be taken seriously if the other person knows who they really are. For example, a wealthy person might pretend to be an average blue-collar worker to blend in with the community, or a member of royalty decides to live among the commoners. This trope is my favorite because it creates the most intrigue and mystery within the romance. When and how will the protagonist reveal their true self? How will the love interest react when they find out who the other person really is? Will they still love each other in the end? There’s usually of fear of being found out, or wanting to find the right moment to reveal themselves. Except while hiding out, they learn to care for the other person.
  2. Road trip – There’s nothing like a long-distance road trip that can force two people to come together—against their better judgement. They usually disagree about something or have opposing points of view that creates the tension in their relationship. At some point, something or someone has to give in. Either they come to an understanding and learn to respect, if not love, each other, or they are ready to tear the other person apart. This doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship either. Think of films such as Driving Miss Daisy or Green Book.

  3. Girl/Guy next door – I think this is one of the simplest and most overlooked tropes because I think it happens in real life more often than we think. Sometimes our best love connections live right across the hall in our apartment building or in the house next door. These characters already have something in common – they live in the same building or neighborhood. The closeness forces the neighbors to keep running into each other, so they’re bound to start up conversations, which can lead to coffee dates, movies, and so on.

  4. Fish out of water – This trope can be the most creative and humorous because you see a character who it totally out of their element. Think of the movie Enchanted when Amy Adams’ princess character complete with her pink gown is clearly out of place in downtown Manhattan. The humor comes from seeing the missteps and assumptions the character makes to try to fit into her new environment. Enter the unwitting partner who helps the out-of-place character become more acclimated and falls in love with them in the process.

  5. Stuck together/stranded together – Whether it’s an elevator, a raft a long way from shore or inside a locked bank vault, when two people are stuck together for a short period of time, it’s bound to create a sudden kinship that wasn’t there before. They have no choice but to work together to get themselves out of their enclosed quarters, but once they do and they are free, what happens after their brief encounter? Do they decide to see each other again, or do they move on as if they had never met?

  6. Ghost/angel – Who doesn’t like a little bit of divine intervention to help a romance blossom? In this scenario, when a character struggles to find true love, a ghost/angel intervenes on the character’s behalf, usually dispensing sage if cryptic advice, and it’s usually up to the character to figure out what that means. Perhaps the angel is someone from the character’s past, or it’s an angel who is working toward earning their wings. Sometimes it’s the angel/ghost character who wins the person’s love, while other times they simply act as a guide to help the two lovebirds find each other.
    Examples: City of Angels with Meg Ryan or Hallmark Channel’s Christmas in Angel Falls.

  7. Belated love epiphany – This is another underused trope, yet I think it’s more reflective of the real world. In this scenario, two people have known each other for years as mere acquaintances, colleagues or friends. They spend so much time together in a neutral setting yet neither sees the other as a potential love interest. But as soon as one person leaves or threatens to disappear from  everyday life or marry someone else, the other person suddenly realizes how much they love them and fights to win them back.

  8. Forced proximity – Two characters fall in love after being forced to live or work in close proximity to one another. Maybe they have to work together on a project but come with opposing viewpoints and agendas, like writing a book or training to compete in a sporting event. Or they’re stuck in the same country cottage on vacation because the company doubled booked the accommodations. Now they have to figure out how to live together or find other living arrangements. After a few hours stuck together, they manage to enjoy each other’s company.

There are many more tropes, and many overlap. You’ll likely find several tropes used within one story. While they may not be the most imaginative of scenarios, readers and audiences still crave them. They bring a sort of comfort because they’re familiar. To make them interesting, however, try mixing and matching the tropes or turning them upside down in some way.

When used well, tropes can help you create a romance that readers will swoon over.

Interview with a romance author

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Continuing my special focus on romance writing this month, I reached out to romance author Sylvie Kurtz for a Q&A about her writing career. Besides recently self-publishing two Christmas romances (I know — Christmas is long over, but there’s always later this year), Sylvie has also published numerous novels in the romance and romantic suspense genres. You can check them out on her website (https://sylviekurtz.com/books).

Sylvie was kind enough to answer some burning questions I had about her experience writing romance. Just in time for Valentine’s Day.

1. Do you recall the exact moment when you realized you wanted to be a published author and/or romance writer?

I found myself at home with two young kids and no one to talk to and decided to see if I could write one of the Intrigues I read. That first book will never see the light of day, but finishing it showed me that I could possibly, eventually do this. Took me four books before I got how story structure worked.

2. You’ve written and published romance novels for Harlequin in the past. What did you learn from that experience?

I learned how to write to reader expectations and how to write on a deadline. It’s interesting how having to write inside a box actually makes the writing more freeing.

3. What authors inspired you to become a writer?

* I’ve always been an avid reader, but didn’t think I could write for a long time. I learned English reading Marguerite Henry horse books. As a horse-crazy teen, I read any library book with a horse on the cover, which led me to Dick Francis racing mysteries, then to Airs above the Ground by Mary Stewart, my introduction to romantic suspense. I loved it so much that I read her whole backlist and looked for more like it. After having kids, I discovered Harlequin Intrigues.

4. You recently self-published two Christmas romances, Christmas by Candlelight and Christmas in Brighton. What inspired you to write this series?

During the pandemic, I found I couldn’t watch or read suspense anymore. I needed something lighter and turned to watching Hallmark movies. They were such fun to watch that I wanted to create that kind of magical, feel-good place. Yet, I also wanted to address some of the issues that cropped up in my life, like agoraphobia and anxiety.

 5. What made you decide to self-publish?

Mostly because I didn’t want to wait so long between a sale and publication. I also wanted to have more control over the final product.

6. What is it about romance novels that you find so appealing to read and to write?

Love is the greatest power for transformation. It lights up darkness.

7. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep practicing. Never stop believing you can write.

8. What’s next for your writing? What are you working on currently?

I’m working on a third book in the Love in Brighton Village series–a summer festival this time.

To learn more about Sylvie Kurtz, visit her website at https://sylviekurtz.com. You can also follow her on Facebook (https://facebook.com/sylviekurtzauthor) and Instagram (https://instagram.com/sylviekurtzauthor)

12 Ways to Show Chemistry between Characters

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 As Valentine’s Day creeps closer, it seems only fitting to talk about romantic chemistry. When you read or write romance, how do you know that two characters are truly attracted to one another? The signs are usually obvious to most of us, but could you list them all?

During a recent virtual romance conference sponsored by ProWriting Aid, writer and book coach Mary Adkins discussed ways to create chemistry between characters. She was on point when she offered her list of how to show signs of attraction. Her tips were too juicy to keep to myself.

Whether you’re writing a romance or want to create a romantic subplot for another genre, these simple, tried-and-true scenarios can help you create chemistry between characters.

  1. Acting clumsy. When you first meet someone you’re attracted to, the last thing you want to do is look silly or awkward. Yet you can’t help yourself. The girl or guy is just so darn amazing! The same is true for fiction. One of the first signs a character might show that they’re attracted to someone is clumsy behavior. Maybe they spill their glass of wine on them, forget their own name when they’re introduced to the other person, accidentally walk into a glass wall or trip over their own feet. Nothing like clumsy behavior to give a memorable first impression.

  2. Not noticing what happening around them. With their head in the clouds and stars in their eyes, the character may not notice events around them, even though they may be obvious to everyone else. They’re simply too preoccupied to notice that the sink is overflowing or the baby is crying in the next room. They may not realize their sleeve caught on fire from the open flame on the stove, or that someone is saying hello to them. It can make for a humorous moment in your story.

  3. Saying something stupid. Note that this is not the same as witty banter between two people. This is one person speaking out of turn in one way or another. For example, they might ramble nonsensically or gush over the other person who happens to be a celebrity. Or they might be tongue tied or forget their own name, or worse, say someone else’s name as an introduction. For example: Character one says, “Hi, my name is Jack. I’m new in town.” Character 2, mesmerized by the new person, responds, “Nice to meet you. I’m Jack” even though their name isn’t Jack. You get the idea. Another example is asking an awkward question. (“Is that a birthmark on your neck?”

  4. Having other characters notice the attraction. I see this often in Hallmark movies. One character always has to point out that the protagonist likes the new guy in town. Maybe the protagonist is smiling way too much lately or has a bounce in their step. Maybe someone points out that the protagonist has put on a sweater backwards or is wearing two different shoes of the same color. Best of all, two people may be dining out and the waitress mistakes them for a real couple, even before the couple has noticed their own attraction.

  5. Being attracted to a small detail about the other person. This could be something few other people notice, such as a scar, a tattoo, dimples or a cleft chin. Maybe there is another detail that the protagonist can’t stop thinking about, like their long eyelashes, slim fingers, or soft lips. Then again, it may be the person’s laugh that they notice or the scent of their perfume or cologne.

  6. Being surprisingly earnest and sincere. As the couple gets to know one another better, there might come a point when one of them speaks from the heart. Giving a compliment, for example. Such as “You look stunning tonight.” “You make me happy being with you.” Or “I’m really glad I met you.” Such honest moments bring the relationship to a new level of intimacy.

  7. Sharing something meaningful about themselves. You recognize that moment in the story when one character say, “Come with me. I want to show you something.” That’s usually a sign that there some degree of trust that they’re willing to expose more of themselves. They might share a hidden talent, such as playing the piano or writing poetry. Maybe they reveal a childhood experience, show off their family photo album or take them to their favorite private place that few people know about.

  8. Doing something impulsive together. These scenes are always fun to read or watch. Just when you think the couple is having one of their intimate conversations, one person breaks the tension.  It might be having an impromptu snowball fight, hurling seeds at one another while eating watermelon or splashing each other with water while washing a car. The unexpected fun brings them closer together with laughter.

  9. Giving someone a backhanded compliment. On the surface, their comment might seem meaningless, but underneath there is a sincere compliment. For example, a character might say, “This might sound crazy, but I don’t get tired of being around you all the time.”

  10. Mentioning some tiny physical detail. This is similar to number 5 above except this time the character mentions it in conversation. They may say something about that scar or birthmark. Or it might be the same hat or coat they were wearing when the two individuals met three months ago. For example, “How did you get that scar?” or “What kind of cologne are you wearing? It smells nice.”

  11. Still loving that sometimes annoying but endearing habit. In longer-term relationships or married couples, there might be one specific trait or habit that could be annoying to others but instead, they find endearing. It could be the way they laugh, their crooked smile or the way they whistle while they work. It could be their occasional habit of mispronouncing a word, their tendency to wearing socks that don’t match or the bad jokes they tell at parties.
  12. Showing someone that they’ve been paying close attention to what is happening in their life. Noticing that the other person is going through significant challenges or experiences shows they are invested in the other person’s life. For example, the character might buy an item that the other person had their eye on, like a scarf or pair of earrings. They might serve coffee to them the way they like it without being asked or serving it to them in their favorite mug. They might ask about what plans they’ve made for their birthday the following week or how their training is going for their next skiing competition.

Eight Strategies for Returning to Writing after a Hiatus

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Imagine my surprise when I checked my calendar this morning and realized it was February. Where did the time go? It seemed like yesterday I was watching Hallmark Christmas movies and making plans for the New Year. I realize now how little progress I’ve made in my writing.

That’s because since November, I’ve had numerous distractions, from demanding job assignments and household responsibilities to holiday celebrations and catching up on sleep. With everything that was on my plate, creative writing wasn’t a priority. I’m barely making my weekly deadline for posting to my blog.

Contributing to this scheduling mess was the fact I had completed writing a sports romance, but was having second thoughts about its viability. I knew I had to re-read it and edit it further, but my eyes just weren’t seeing the solutions to my storytelling problems. I began to doubt the story – and by extension, my writing. Was I producing anything worthwhile, or was I wasting my time?

So I set aside the novel until I felt ready to edit it again. I was feeling so overwhelmed by the task that I took a break from it. I needed the time to regroup to figure out my next steps.

So now it’s February, and though I have dabbled writing a Christmas novella through the holidays, I have nothing concrete to show for my efforts. It’s time to get serious about writing again. But where do I begin?

I’m not alone. After reading this recent post by author K.M. Weiland, I realized I’m not alone in taking a sabbatical from writing. Weiland shared her own struggles with writing again after taking a lengthy break, and she shared the steps she’s taking to get back to writing again. Sometimes you have to step away from it to gain perspective about how far you’ve come and where to go next.

So how does one begin to get back on track? The experts at Masterclass suggest having a plan for building up your writing practice and getting those creative juices flowing again. Here are a few possible ways to get started writing again.

  • Start small. You can’t always just dive into the swimming pool. Sometimes you need to get your feet wet first. That might mean sitting at poolside with your feet dangling into the water. Or maybe you start further by wading in the shallow end for a few minutes before getting back out. The truth is you don’t have to spend hours on Day 1 playing catch up with your writing. Start writing shorter pieces, such as an essay, a poem or flash fiction. It might be easier to get your creative juices flowing this way, and you might feel more accomplished finishing that first short piece.
  • Limit your writing time. Using a timer or clock, set it for a specified time, say 30 minutes. When the timer rings, stop writing, no matter where you are on the page. OR…give yourself a word limit or page limit, such as 300 words or one page. In smaller chunks, you may not feel as overwhelmed by the writing process.

  • Don’t be hard on yourself. If you get too busy or feel overwhelmed, it’s okay to skip a day of writing. Some people feel pressure to write every day like the so-called writing experts suggest. Sometimes it’s not feasible. Although, I must admit, having a regular schedule helps me stick to my writing practice.

  • Schedule your writing time. If you’re the type of person who routinely plans your day and keeps doctor appointments, try scheduling your writing time. On your calendar or appointment book, block out a chunk of time for writing. As mentioned before, start small, say 15 minutes or a half hour.

  • Comb through old writing projects. You probably have a file or desk drawer filled with unfinished stories. Pull them out, read through them and see if they spark your imagination. By reviewing old material, you might get ideas for new projects or ways to rewrite what you’ve already written.

  • Try writing prompts. This might jumpstart those creative juices that you haven’t used in a while, and the exercises are short enough that they don’t require a huge time commitment.

  • Take a writing class or attend a workshop. Immersing yourself into the world of writing can inspire you to begin writing more. There might be in-session exercises to get those creative ideas going again. Reading a book about writing might also do the trick.

  • Remember that nothing is perfect. Whatever we put on the page is never pretty. Focus on getting ideas down, then go back and edit later. That’s when the real writing begins.

    With these strategies in your pocket, you’ll be back to writing regularly in no time, and with greater motivation and inspiration. It’s never too late to start or (restart) a writing practice.

Eight Keys to Conducting Good Interviews

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Among the many skills writers and creatives must master, interviewing might be one of the toughest, especially if you’re an introvert. Most of us aren’t born interviewers; we have to develop those skills over time.

Most of us can learn a thing or two by watching the late Barbara Walters’ interviews, how she maintains focus on her subject at all times as if that person is the only one in the room. She speaks to them as if holding a simple conversation. Really when you think about it, that’s what an interview is – a simple conversation between people. What’s so scary about that?

Of course, the interviewer – you – holds the key to making the interview productive and successful. Success, however, is only as you define it. A successful interview might be snagging that elusive source you’ve been chasing for several weeks. It could be gleaning an important detail you didn’t expect to get, or it could be getting a normally reticent person to open up about themselves.

Interviewing is just one aspect of writing that most novice writers don’t think about. Interviews are often needed for getting background information on a topic for a work of fiction, non-fiction, magazine feature or other written work. For example, if your story takes place in a bank but you’ve never worked in a bank yourself, you might interview one or two people who do to get a sense of what their day is like, their process for handling money or for dealing with customers, or worse, how they would deal with a bank robbery.

Interviews can cover a variety of topics such workplace issues, health and wellness, auto mechanics and baking. In my magazine writing, I’ve interviewed experts about the housing market, how to create webinars, blockchain technology ADA compliance.

Don’t overlook interviews for memoir either. Sometimes you need to find historical information to build context into your memoir or a biography set in another time and place.

From my experience writing for trade association publications, I’ve learned how to be more comfortable about asking people for their perspective on certain topics. People LOVE to talk about themselves, especially the work they do or a hobby or side interest they enjoy. Tap into those topics, and you’re usually home free. Even the most reticent person will open up about what interest them.

To maximize your success, here are my keys to conducting good interviews:

  1. Be prepared. Research the topic to develop a cursory knowledge and can ask semi-intelligent questions. Read published articles about the topic or contact subject matter experts. If possible, research the individual you’re interviewing too. Use LinkedIn to get their background and education. You may even find that you have something in common with them, such as graduating from the same university.

  2. Set a goal for the interview. Think of one or two pieces of information that you need to know that only that person can provide.

  3. Focus on the person you’re interviewing. Don’t use the time to talk about yourself. Be personable without getting too personal. Allow the person to speak without interrupting them with your own story.

  4. Get the basics first, such as the spelling of their name, their company and occupation. Brief them on the interviewing process and what will happen once the interview is complete. Notify them when the article will be published. You might make comments about the weather or their local sports team to help them relax and build rapport.  

  5. Go slow. Start with easier questions. Softer, open-ended questions are more likely to put them at ease. Avoid closed questions with simple yes or no responses which might make them feel like they’re being interrogated.

  6. Be polite and considerate, but don’t fawn over them. Remember they have other obligations and their time might be limited, so don’t waste time. Be sure to thank them at the end for their time.

  7. Conclude the session by asking if they have any final thoughts. I like to ask the question, “Is there anything else readers should know about this topic that I have not asked about?” Most of the time, they may not have anything else to add. More often, they reiterate a point they made earlier. Occasionally, you will get a true nugget of information that adds depth to their commentary.

  8. Follow up. Send a thank you for their time and perspective. Ask for additional questions if needed. Also ask for additional resources they might know of about the topic or other people you can interview. Explain the process moving forward and whether they’ll have a chance to review their sections of it before it gets published. That’s a detail you’ll have to work out with your editor. Depending on the publication and deadline, some editors require source reviews while others may not. 

    Interviews can be fun to do – if you’re prepared and you know what you want to accomplish. Once you’ve done a few, you’ll have one more skill in the writers’ arsenal.

Tips for Finding an Editor for Your Manuscript

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Whether you’re just starting to write a novel or you’re on your fifth revision, at some point you’ll wonder if you need another pair of eyes to review your work. Perhaps you are stuck with a dead-end plot or you’ve been rejected by numerous editors or agents who weren’t impressed with your manuscript.

Maybe you’re on your tenth attempt at rewriting your current work-in-progress, and the story still isn’t quite coming together the way you imagined. Then it may be time call in an editorial expert to review your work. Having someone else review it and give you feedback might give you insights about where the story has gone astray.

According to writer and editor Susan De Freitas during an online workshop “Maybe It’s Not Your Plot,” there are eight telltale signs that it may be time to consult with a professional editor.

  1. Your novel is overwritten. You’ve written way more words that are required for your genre. For example, you’ve written 140,000 words for a story that should only be 80,000. As much as you love your own story, it’s filled with too many unnecessary scenes that don’t push the plot forward.
  2. Too many drafts or versions of the same story. Most novels typically go through an average of five to seven drafts, but you’re working on the tenth and the story still does not seem finished.
  3. You got lost in the world building. You’ve immersed yourself in a whole new world you created for your characters that you forgot about the plot and the characters.
  4. There’s no clear ending to the story. Every time you think of an appropriate ending, you draw a blank.
  5. The first draft is complete, but you’re not sure how to begin revising it.
  6. You didn’t plot out your story in advance so you “pantsed” your way through the first draft.  Now you have to figure out how to structure what you’ve written into a cohesive plot, but you don’t know how or where to start.
  7. You received a lukewarm response from your beta readers or critique partners, but you’re still not sure what’s wrong with the story.
  8. You’ve submitted it to agents and editors who have expressed little interest in publishing your story.

Once you realize that you need an editor, you’re not sure where to find a good editor. It helps to understand the four different types of editing that you might need.

  • Developmental editing (sometimes called story editing) which looks at the overall structure of your story.
  • Line editing looks at how the story is presented, such as language, pacing and how chapters end or begin.
  • Copy editing looks at spelling and grammar as well as the story’s timeline.
  • Critique/assessment reviews the manuscript and provides feedback about the story arc. It’s not as intensive as a full developmental edit, which can cost more money.

To find an editor for your work-in-progress, begin by asking for referrals. If you belong to a writer’s group or take writing classes, ask fellow writers, classmates and teachers for referrals. You can also search member organizations like the Editorial Freelancers Association to find someone who specializes in your genre. You can try searching the acknowledgment page in your favorite novels where authors usually thank their editorial team, then do a search for that editor’s background and previous work. Most editors have their own website and will describe at length the services they offer and pricing. If none of these ideas work, there’s always Google.

Before hiring an editor

There are several factors to consider when hiring an editor, said romance editor Jessica Snyder during her online workshop “How to Find Your Perfect Editor.” First, consider how much experience they have in your genre. If you’re writing a science fiction novel, your best bet is to hire someone who has edited other sci-fi novels. Someone who typically edits literary novels probably won’t be the best fit.

Ask for a sample edit. Provide the editor with a chapter and see how they review your work. What kind of suggestions do they offer? Are they positive and provide encouragement? Or are they too negative? Consider their communication style to see if it meshes well with your own.

Also ask about the editor’s process. How do they communicate criticism? What kind of timeline do they work with? Most editors require several weeks to review your novel or they may be backlogged with other projects and may not get to your manuscript right away. Pack your patience.

Cost is also a big consideration for many writers, especially those who want to self-publish. Know your budget ahead of time. Does the editor offer payment plans? How do they handle things like refunds and disputes?

If you’re on a tight budget, Snyder said it might be best to opt for a simple story assessment and copy editing pass by two different editors to keep costs down.

After reviewing the editor’s comments

Take a deep breath before reading through your edited manuscript. Feedback can often bring about strong emotional responses. You don’t want to respond to the editor with snarky comments or knee-jerk reactions. Remember, this is only one person’s assessment of your work.

Editors are guides in your writing process. Their suggestions are meant to help you create a better, stronger story structure and improve your ability to meet readers’ expectations in your chosen genre.

Also remember that editors aren’t perfect. Their edits are only suggestions. You don’t have to accept all of them if you feel strongly about something. But do keep an open mind or be willing to change your mind. Most suggestions editors make do make sense in the overall scheme of the story. If an editing comment is unclear, ask for clarification.

Most of all, remember that not all feedback is correct or appropriate. You know your story best, so use your best judgment about what edits will work with your story. I’ve had instructors and fellow writers offer feedback to my work which didn’t fit the story that I imagined. In those situations, I didn’t follow their suggestions because I didn’t feel they understood my story. But I always politely thanked them for their comments. Always respond to critiques from editors with compassion and kindness. The next time you find yourself stuck with an overwritten novel or one that garnered a lukewarm response from readers, a professional editor can steer you on the right track toward publication.