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Writerly Roundup – March 2019

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Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don't want you to miss.


Boost Your Creativity: How to Jump-Start Your Brain, Steven James, Writer's Digest

So many of us experience "that" moment. The moment where we sit down to write and there is nothing but the blank page. Fingers poised over the keyboard and we can almost hear the thud of the blinking cursor. Steven James offers his advice for jump-starting your creativity.

We all know what it takes to jump-start a car, but what do you do when you slide behind the computer, slip your fingers onto the keyboard and…nothing happens? You sweat and squirm, pound your desk and curse at the cursor, but it doesn’t do any good. Your story is stalled out. Your writing isn’t going anywhere.

Most of us know what it feels like to be uncreative — our ideas are stale and dry, our writing is boring and predictable. We long to come up with ideas and stories that are fresh, original, inventive and spontaneous.

But how do you jump-start your brain?


He encourages to explore L.I.F.E. - his acronym for literature, imagination, folklore, and experience.

When you don’t know where else to turn, explore L.I.F.E., an acronym for Literature, Imagination, Folklore, and Experience. L.I.F.E. is a limitless well of ideas waiting to be tapped.

Coax new stories from classic plots by setting them in a different time and place; examine your imagination for themes that pique your interest; search through the timeless motifs of myth, fairy tale, and folklore; scour the expanses of your own experience to spark new ideas. Let your memories come alive!


James also advises that a change of perspective can help to provide a good jumpstart to creativity.

Creativity isn’t seeing what no one else sees; it’s seeing what anyone else would see — if only they were looking. New ideas are born when we view life from a fresh perspective or peer at the world through another set of eyes.


Steven James further advises writers to let serendipity happen, look for connections, set boundaries, and question your direction.


Failing Forward: Why Every Draft Counts, Lisa Ellison, Brevity  

The thing to keep in mind about writing is that it’s a process. No one just wakes up one day and writes a masterpiece. Everyone starts out with a "you know what" first draft. Lisa Ellison talks about her first book and how important those initial drafts were to her as a writer.

Thirteen years later, I’m grateful to that failed project. It taught me everything I needed to know about how to write a book. Those devastating “mehs” became the fuel I used to find my voice. Along the way, I realized writing fiction shielded me from the true stories I was afraid to tell—the ones that came more naturally if I gave myself permission to write them.


Writing her first book gave her the confidence and experience she needed to even attempt her second.

In 2015, I attempted a second book—this time a memoir about how I believed carrying my belongings across a divided highway at seventeen would save me from the people who had loved and hurt me most. As I sat at my writing desk, I was terrified by what I might discover—or feel—but I never worried about whether I would finish. That 250-page failed killer-clown manuscript proved I could break the first-draft barrier. It also taught me about the second-draft blues, and the importance of choosing critique partners who understand long-form writing and finding beta readers who will read your entire manuscript. Most importantly, I learned I could let a project go and write again.


Ellison says there are failures in the writing process and it is up to the author to learn something from each one.

Writing is a process made up of failures. Projects that stall. Unsuccessful drafts. Rejections. Our job is to learn something from each one. As Abby Wambach said in her 2018 commencement speech for Barnard College, “failure is the highest octane fuel your life can run on.” Each draft teaches us something about finding our voice, the power of perseverance, and how to peel back the layers of meaning in our work. Our job is to pause, celebrate our efforts, and find those valuable lessons, having faith that each failure brings us closer to success.


Anyone who has been writing for any amount of time can attest to the truths that Lisa Ellison shares about the process. Rejections and failure will always be par for the course. Learning from each one is how we come out on the other side.


Storytelling Tips From The Writer Of Blade Runner, Hampton Fancher, Literary Hub

Hampton Fancher confirms an often repeated piece of advice that every writer hears in his or her lifetime. If you want to write, you must be an avid reader.

If you’re not in love with words why are you writing? Wondrous, the books that explore the words, words that lead to ideas and ideas to expression. It is to your benefit to read a thousand books in your lifetime, and to get there you need to always be reading. Imagination is a greedy little pig that needs to be hand-fed. Several times a day. Fatten the pig.


Fancher describes writing as a mixture of ink and blood. Ink is the act of putting the story on the page and blood is the depth that brings the drama to life.

Ink and blood. Ink means the actual writing, putting the story to the page. There is good ink, which draws me into the narrative, and there is bad ink, which loses me. Blood is what brings to life drama and depth of the story; the viability and plurality of its characters. You can have intriguing characters that exist within an otherwise flat or confusing story—that’s bad ink. You can have a good story with many dynamic elements but acted out by characters who fail to pump the blood.


Hampton Fancher goes on to offer advice on one of the hardest things to write for many of us - dialogue.

Explore ways to improve your writing of dialogue by asking what should I have said instead of what I did say. We walk away from situations all the time saying to ourselves, Damn, I wish I would have said this instead of that. That’s dialogue. Pay attention to it. Making notes on this stuff is one way you’ll learn to write better dialogue. Pay attention to how you say what you say in your head, trust that it’s the best way to put something to writing. And make a habit of writing these things down, otherwise you’ll be stuck in your head and that might drive you nuts.


Fancher's final bit of advice is important.

It’s action you want. It’s a pinprick even. Keep it simple, keep it felt. Language is secondary. But it also isn’t—don’t be stupid, write sharp.


Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we'd love to hear your input!


Sharon Brandwein is a writer living in California, and a former blog editor for Literary Mama. Her work has appeared on ABC News, Motherly, Scary Mommy, 40 Plus Style, and ParentMap. You can find her writing about motherhood and documenting her life as a writer at her website.

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