Feeling stuck?

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Boy without balloon, acrylic on board, www.carolineallen.com

Are you a writer who has always wanted to write, and in fact, did have luck in creative writing courses in high school or college, but you haven’t written in years?

Your passion to write and inability to do so cause you more than a little despair. Your inability to just do it makes you deeply upset with yourself.

I think the biggest block to writing is the enormity of it. In our minds, we see a 300-page novel with our names on it. How huge is such a prospect! How scary! We think: my gawd where do I begin? How long will it take? Do I have years of my life to devote to this?

Can you waste the years you have left NOT devoting yourself to something your soul wants to do.

So, you’re staring at a blank page; actually the blank page is in your mind, you haven’t even gotten the courage to open Microsoft Word on your computer and really stare at a blank page, because that would be an admission of how stuck you really are.

Where to begin? Anything you focus on will grow. Period. So, focus in any way you can on writing. Read good fiction. Get a book on writing: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway. If you can’t read it because it triggers you, put it by your bed and just skim through it for even five minutes before you go to sleep. You must begin somewhere.

A number of my students and clients ask: “What do I write about? I want to write, but I don’t know what to write about.” I suggest taking a compelling story from their lives and writing about that. So, have the courage to open Microsoft Word on your computer. Sit down and write a very rough draft of an event from your life you can’t get out of your mind.

1. Write it rough from beginning through the middle to the end.
2. Develop the characters — look at who’s in your story and give us some characterization. What do they look like? What are there quirks? What do they wear? Drive? Eat?
3. Develop setting. Where is the story taking place? Add weather. Describe the natural setting. Describe the room, the house. What details of the setting stick with you?
4. Look at the theme. There’s a reason this story stayed with you and that reason is the theme of the piece. For example, I can’t get an event out of my mind from my childhood — my sister wanted to ride my Miss America bike down the steep and treacherous Cochise Lane. I was in third grade; she was in second. My bike, Miss America, was painted with red and white stripes, and had a star-spangled banana seat. Red, white and blue streamers blew out from its handle bars like mystical hair. I LOVED her. My sister sat on front. I was on back. We whipped wild ass down Cochise. When the bike started to wobble, she threw us over. She was scared. She wanted to hasten the moment, have some control of the crash. We took the asphalt at quite a speed. Well, I did. She landed on top of me.

I wrote the story and then had to process the theme. Why of all the bike accidents and mishaps that I’d had with my six siblings did this one haunt me? I thought it was about how my sister always took me down with her. But it wasn’t. It was how I was willing to allow her anything, absolutely anything she wanted, and on top of that I was so protective; I knew I would always take the fall for her. It was my childish notion of love.

So, I took a simple bike accident and understood its universal implications. That’s what you need to do with your compelling story. It’s only compelling because there’s a universal theme to it. It’s only been repeated so often because it’s got something mythological behind it, something that speaks to your life as epic.

5. Revise the story after you develop it. Put it away for a few weeks, then come back to it and begin page 1, paragraph 1 and revise, revise, revise. It’s normal to lose some of the magic in the revision process, but then you have to revise again to get it back. Don’t stop until you feel: Wow, this is great. This is as best as it can be.

So, when you’re feeling stuck, the answer is this: What you focus on grows. Get a book out on writing and focus on writing. It will create a sort of snowball affect in your psyche. Focus on what you love about writing. Make a list of writing successes. Don’t focus on hateful teachers, and brutal rejections. I promise that won’t help to unstick you.

The other advice: if it all seems too big to tackle, pick a small story from your own life. Write it rough. Develop it step-by-step. Soon, you’ll notice other stories all around you. You’ll imagine all sorts of ways to turn those stories into fiction. But you have to start somewhere. So, start small. Start with your own life. Pick one event. Write it down.

You have no more time to waste. www.artofstorytellingonline.com

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