7 Tips to Defeat Writer’s Block

This morning I sat down to write my post – because I love writing with coffee on Sunday mornings – and when I did, I just sat here staring at a blank document. I cruised through Facebook, looked at old posts, tried to pick a topic, and drew a total blank. Nothing.

writers block
Alyssa L. Miller

Well, here I am. While trying to pick a topic, I realized I have a little block. And boom! Here is my topic for the week. When you have a problem, the best thing to do is work through it, so we’re going to work through my temporary writer’s block and give you some tips on how to overcome your own.

1. Take a break.
I have written several posts about taking a break, staying sane, etc. This tips will always top the list. Whether you take frequent 10-minute breaks or a day off, walking away helps. I have decided I am going to do more physically creative things today and break from writing. I have two artsy projects I’m working on, so that’s where I will focus my energy today.

2. Flip your schedule.
I’m a night owl, but I write better in the morning. I can’t always crank it out before 9 a.m. though. Today, I’m going to write this afternoon, and see if a schedule change helps the words flow more easily. Changing things up will help break any habits that may stifle creativity.

3. Know your habits.
I try to crank out as much as possible before noon and maintain a routine. I’m aware of my habits, when I’m most productive, and what I need to write. Sometimes I need absolute silence, sometimes I need the T.V. on, sometimes music. Knowing your habits and giving yourself what you need ensures you’re always in the right environment to work.

4. Change topics.
Recently, I changed jobs and I write a lot more. My problem this morning was that I have focused so much on work topics, I couldn’t think of a good post for RevPub. I decided to make it more personal and write about a topic we’ve never covered. And this post is the result. Try writing something new to you – a poem, short story, article, etc. – and see what you create!

5. Read.
In today’s tech world, we skim, not read. Try sitting down and reading a magazine, a few chapters in a book, articles, or something from a favorite author. Good writing often recharges me and makes me want to write something as good or better.

6. Treat yourself.
We work hard, so reward yourself. If you love Starbucks, then go get a latte. If you love chocolate, books, toys, clothes, or video games, then go buy something. Treating yourself will perk you up and help regain confidence, so you can get back to writing.

7. Try something new.
A fun activity may spark a new interest and lead to new ideas. Try a free online course, something outside like ziplining, or calling someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Maybe try a new recipe for dinner or picking up a new hobby. Something new creates excitement that will carry over into your work.

Thanks for hanging in there this morning, and I hope these tips help you as well. Happy writing, and feel free to share your tips below!

Plagiarism: Just Don’t Do It

plagiarism cartoon
Photo by: guides.library.vu.edu.au

Earlier this week I was surfing the Web and came across a fellow blogger who has been accused of plagiarism because guest bloggers on his site plagiarized content. After feeling defeated he said he would no longer blog, but thankfully has since changed his mind and is active again. More than 50,000 people follow this guy…

This infuriated me. This blogger who uses it to relieve stress and express himself was put in the position to give up something he loves because someone plagiarized – the fancy word for stealing someone else’s work.

So how does one plagiarize?

It’s really not that difficult to understand. If someone else said, wrote, painted, sang, created, etc…something, and you try to claim it as your own, you have plagiarized. If you used it in any way without permission from the creator, or if they allow permission, but you do not credit them, it’s plagiarism.

No Plagiarism
Photo by: http://www.rightblogtips.com

What’s the big deal?

Those who create things – writers, photographers, illustrators, designers, programmers, musicians, anyone considered an artist – work HARD to create things and usually pour their heart into it. It’s just wrong, and why would you steal from some random stranger who’s never done anything to you?

People can also get sued or in serious trouble, hence the copyright laws and usage. There’s a reason people put the © symbol on their creations. It’s a way of saying this is mine, and in my professional world, if you violate it, you’re gone. Do not pass go. You know where the door is.

It’s a violation and insulting. My biggest problem is that most people don’t think about it or care. If it’s on the Internet, it’s fair usage. Wrong. Other people are intentionally trying to cause harm, and karma will find those people one day.

How to avoid it:

  1. Credit everything you use. Photos, quotes, copy, everything. If you did not create it, it belongs to someone else.
  2. Don’t try it. Those of us who know what to look for, look for it. We know if it doesn’t sound right, and a quick Google search will confirm or deny it. It takes 5 seconds.
  3. Respect the creator(s). Most of us don’t mind you using our stuff with credit. There’s a lot of awesome stuff out there, and it should be shared. However, respect the people who put in the time and hard work.
  4. If you can’t create something, try harder. For example, maybe you think you’re terrible writer, so you decide to “borrow” someone else’s writing. Stop. It’s lazy. If you feel that way, do what’s necessary to make it better. Take a class, send it to a trusted proofreader or friend, read books on improving your writing, practice. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but by the end of it, you’ll be a better writer and have self-respect.
  5. If you’re unsure if it’s plagiarism, it probably is. Better to be safe than sorry, so ask for permission and reread No. 1. There are also great sites that check for plagiarism, and there’s no shame in checking! Try: Grammarly’s.

Feel free to share your thoughts about plagiarism in the comments section below!

10 Script Writing Tips

Earlier this year, the RevPub team volunteered to read scripts for a local film festival’s screenwriting competition. As we approach our second year as readers, I wanted to share some things I learned about screenwriting while reading the good, the bad, and the ugly.

1. Keep it simple. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t overcrowd your story with too many characters, locations, or plots. Think about some of the best movies and what makes them the best. Most good movies focus on one or two main characters and a handful of minor characters, and their story.

2. Don’t describe the characters in great detail. This is what the crew is for. The casting director will pick who plays what, the costume designer will dress them, the actors will bring the characters to life. Only mention physical appearance if it’s essential to the story.

3. Select a central location and work around that area. Scripts that bounce from place to place drive me nuts. It’s hard to remember where the characters are and why they are there. Pick a central location, and use the area around it, but try to stay central. For example, if it’s set in a school, keep it at the school – not the school and all the kids’ homes.

4. Start with a bang. Scripts that set the scene for paragraphs on end will bore the reader. Begin the script with action or something interesting that immediately grabs the reader. Set design will create a scene, so you don’t have to ramble about what it looks like. If it’s a forest, for example, just say a forest. We know what a forest looks like.

5. No stupid dialogue. I cannot tell you how many times I groaned reading dialogue. Dialogue should move the story along, not slow it down. The things said should be important for character and plot development, and each character should have their own voice. Keep it conversational, but make sure what they say is important to the plot.

6. Remember everything matters. I once had a professor say everything in a movie had a purpose. As I’ve watched movies since then, I realized he was right. Every prop has a purpose. Every character needs a reason to be there. Every word should serve a purpose and not just fill space.

7. Avoid adjectives and adverbs. One of the worst lines I read was “[Katie] flings her dainty wrists haughtily.” Enough said.

8. Balance dialogue and narrative. The best writers used both and not equally. It depends on the story, and both are important. Make sure you aren’t rambling on or slowing down the story with either.

9. Have people read it. Give it to your friends and family before finalizing it. Have them read the first 20 or 30 pages, and get their feedback. If you’re on the right track at 20 pages, the rest should be fine. Also, have a proofreader read it to ensure correct spelling and grammar – these errors can distract the reader and show the writer doesn’t care enough to fix the little things, so they probably won’t accept feedback well.

10. Have fun! Have fun writing, and let your story come to life.

If You Want to Write: Wrap Up

We’ve reached the end of the If You Want to Write series. For a small book, there’s a lot to discuss and learn, and hopefully, we’ll become better writers from it. Not better in terms of quality, but better in the sense that we are more true to ourselves.

In the final chapter, Ueland lists 12 things we should keep in mind while writing. I picked my favorite five:

1. Know you are talented, original, and have something important to say.
Many of us struggle with this. We doubt ourselves and our abilities, but if we work hard and stick with it, there’s no limit to what we can do.

2. Work is good.
People tell me I’m crazy because I enjoy working. I’m not a workaholic; I know when to take a break, but I do enjoy working. It always pays off one way or another, and it beats watching TV all the time. Also, we should love what we do, and if not, we need to change something. We spend too much time working to hate it.

3. Don’t be afraid of writing bad stories.
I love this advice. Ueland says in order to know what’s wrong with a story, write two or three more and go back to the first. “Good” writers learn from their mistakes and work to fix them. And it doesn’t matter if people like it – write for you.

4. Don’t be afraid of yourself.
We all have demons, baggage, hang-ups, whatever. We all get in our own heads and may be afraid of what we’ll find if we open up. People may judge us. None of it matters. Be whoever you want to be, and let those emotions pour out. At the very least, you’ll feel better.

5. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Ueland says because we are all unique, we are incomparable. We should not criticize because they do not write like we do. We should not question ourselves because someone is better. We should stay true to ourselves and our art.

If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit digs deep into the emotion it takes to write passionately. Ueland encourages us to write with honesty and love ourselves. With that, here is a poem I dug up. Can you guess what it’s about? 🙂

My eyes burn, heavy lids
eyelashes itch, dry skin peels.
Muscles ache, hunched
wrinkled hands, cracked.
Jaws clinched, I bite
my lower lip.
The day is done,
what do I do?
Complain about the day’s past.
A line appears across my forehead,
but what’s the point?
Another day gone by,
another eight hours done.
What is the point?

If you haven’t bought the book, check it out, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts. May it inspire all artists!

Whoever vs. Whomever

GrammarTips

Whoever vs. whomever isn’t commonly used, but every now and then it comes up. Just this past week I had a lovely coworker ask me this rule. It takes a little thinking, but if you can remember him and he, you can remember which one to use.

Common Terms Used in This Post:
Pronoun: A word that takes the place of a noun. Eg: He, she, it, I, me

You’ll need to think about the sentence and replace the pronoun with either him or he:

Whoever: him + he

Pick [whoever/whomever] volunteers first.
Pick him. He volunteered first.

Whomever: him + him

We will visit [whoever/whomever] you recommend.
We will visit him. You recommend him.

I know it feels a little weird, but never fear! There’s a great quiz, so you can practice as much as you like. Of course, you can always cheat and just reword the sentence – which I also suggested to my coworker.

The Cheat

Please let me know [whoever/whomever] is the correct source to contact for the article.
To avoid usage: Please give me the most appropriate contact for the article. Who should I contact for the story?

No matter what you choose and as long as its correct, your readers will appreciate the accuracy. And if you’re ever in doubt, look it up or ask someone. It only takes a minute. Happy writing, everyone!

Source: The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, my brain

Good vs. Well

GrammarTips

How are you? I usually answer one of two ways: I’m good or I’m doing well. Many people teach that either is acceptable when asked how you are, but I disagree. The more we blur the lines between the rules, the more exceptions are made, and the more confusing the language becomes.

But how do you know which one to use and why? The rules are pretty basic, but I find ‘well’ too formal in casual conversations with those I’m close to. In professional settings, I use ‘well’ and always use them correctly and know the difference.

Common Terms:

Adjective: a word that describes a noun or pronoun (good)
Adverb: a word that modifies everything else: adjectives, verbs, etc. (well)

Here are some quick guides to help you know when to use good or well:

1. Good describes people, places, things, ideas.
— That was a good show.
— We ate some good Chinese food.
— He smells good.

2. Well works as a state of being. It doesn’t have relate to just humans either. It can be a project, a work day, etc.
— I’m well. I’m doing well.
— The project is going well.
— He doesn’t look well today. (implies he is sick)

The best way to learn how to use these correctly is to do so. The more you practice and break bad habits, the more natural it becomes.

Try this quick test to practice, and if you have any other tips, feel free to share!

(Source: Bluebook of Grammar, my brain)