by Pat Miller
Autumn in Texas lasts about 48 hours.
Few of our trees change colors. Instead they cling to their green leaves until, one cool day, they shed them like a sneeze.
For Valentine's Day three years ago, my husband bought me this Shantung maple. Its Texas SuperStar description bragged that it "...turns spectacular red or red–orange in late fall. "
The first fall, the tree showed absolutely no color but green. Maybe it was still too young.
The second fall arrived. No red, no orange, not even brown.
I was full of hope this third autumn. Mentor trees across the street flaunted riotous reds and oranges.
One crisp day, half the leaves fell off. Still green. I decided my maple was a dud. Spectacular was not in its vocabulary.
Winter winds revealed how wrong I was.
Turns out, this slacker tree is actually perfect. It was selected from among finer trees by a female mockingbird.
The tree's stubbornly green leaves protected her and her family until they and the leaves flew away in their season. Mama Mocker thought this was, indeed, a spectacular tree.
I overlooked what was hiding in plain sight.
This maple revelation reminds me of my writing journey.
For years I tried to write fiction. One story was rejected 32 times before publication. The others continue to migrate through publishers.
I thought it was because I was new at this. So, I attended conferences, took online classes, and faithfully showed up at my computer.
Year two and three went by, and my fiction was still "green". Mentor texts and colleagues revealed their secrets, but my imagination refused to get vivid. My stories were duds.
Then one spring, I tried my hand at nonfiction--a biography. Research became addictive, my subject became a family member, the writing was more effortless. Turns out, creating color from my imagination isn't my strength. But constructing a nest to support the life of another is.
Maybe your writing strength is hiding in plain sight. Besides fiction, try biography, science, poetry, and magazine articles. Perhaps you'll discover a spectacular talent!
When I’m stuck on a word, line, phrase, or rhyme to improve my writing, my first instinct is push onward until I’m totally frustrated. This pressure totally eliminates my usual “I love my job!” vibe. To get back to my happy place, I force myself to loosen up by taking a walk, or a nap. And magically, as I relax, those elusive words pop into my head.
Wondering what other writers do when the words have stopped flowing, I’ve queried my very best ninja author buddies for their solutions to getting stuck. Here are their suggestions:
Pat Miller’s strategy for dealing with the danger of being stalled is a digital tomato timer. It goes off every 20 minutes for a mandatory 5 minutes away-from-the-desk activity. The mini deadlines keep her focused and the breaks give fresh eyes.
Nancy Churnin and Michelle Medlock Adam’s favor music – Nancy like songs that tell a story, and Michelle is a Sinatra fan. Also, hot cocoa and fresh popped popcorn are big hits.
Stephanie Bearce loves sewing and making up her own patterns. If I don’t have some sort of craft or creative element in my life - I have a much harder time writing.
Wendy Lanier and Nancy I. Sanders prefer making lists and brainstorming with their husbands whether they’re eating out or running errands.
Linda Skeers plays Tetris. “I'm doing something with my hands and one part of my brain, but the other part can wander and work on plot points, phrasing, new ideas, etc. It's my go-to for relaxing and pondering. That and taking a shower. I get my best ideas in the shower!”
Christine Liu Perkins digs deeper into research. “I've made some terrific serendipitous finds this way.”
So, the next time you’re stuck, frustrated, or pounding on those computer keys, the ninja consensus - finding what relaxes you is the key to creativity. Whether it’s listening to music, crafting, taking a walk, a talk, a break, a nap, or a shower: find your happy place and the words will flow.
What techniques work for you? Please share in the comments.
by Wendy Hinote Lanier
I hate writing. I love having written.
The above quote is often attributed to Dorothy Parker although there’s no evidence she ever said it. But lots of other writers have—including me.
Sometimes writing is easy. It just flows out of you. But if we’re honest, most of the time writing is the result of hard work and more than a few tears. It doesn’t come easily. And there are lots of times when you’ll do almost anything (remember that drawer that hasn’t been cleaned out in years?) to avoid it.
I have to admit, I’m a champ at avoiding my writing tasks. I’m so good at it, I’ve had to find ways to force myself into positions where I MUST write. I share a few of them here in the hopes it will help you become more productive, too.
by Linda Skeers
Fiction writers can keep readers on the edge of their seats and flipping pages by creating exciting and compelling page turns. They do this by making sure there’s drama and tension and suspense throughout the manuscript.
But how do nonfiction writers do that when they are dealing in facts and information? The same way – by borrowing a few fiction techniques!
1. Ask a question
Readers are curious little beings and if you pose a thoughtful question that intrigues them, they’ll keep reading to discover the answer. Tease and tantalize them into wanting to know more and they’ll be hooked! Don’t rehash what they probably already know about your topic – dig deep for a tidbit that will surprise and amaze them. And then keep doling them out!
2. And then what?
Think about page turns and use them wisely. Mention a problem or obstacle and make readers wonder IF it can be resolved. Raise the stakes. Hint at what could happen if the problem isn’t resolved.
3. Make it fun
Use descriptive and lyrical language whether you are talking about rocks or rabbits. Sprinkle in action verbs and sensory details – make each scene come alive for the reader. Try to create compelling scenes that draw a reader in and keep them interested. Great nonfiction should be as exciting and interesting as fast-paced fiction! Avoid passive language and bland verbs. Reading it aloud can help you “hear” where you can punch up the language.
4. Use the element of surprise!
Forget the nonfiction from your youth – it’s a bright new day! Steer clear of dry, textbook explanations and find a unique way to present your information and your readers will be hooked. What about a unique narrator? Or unusual format? Fun sidebars? Activities? Humor? Look at your topic sideways and upside down – find a new angle or perspective that hasn’t been done before. Be adventurous! Be daring!
5. Kindred spirits
Remember what it was about your topic that first caught YOUR attention. That passion (and sometimes obsession) will shine through your manuscript and will spark the same desire for knowledge and need to know more about your subject in your reader. Enthusiasm is catching!
We are ten authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas and a strong belief in The First Amendment. The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.
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