November 1st marked the beginning of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The goal: to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November. While this may sound like a daunting task, the organization that founded the challenge all the way back in 1999 doesn’t expect--or even want--you to do it alone. A cornerstone of their philosophy is the power of community. Now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, they offer tools, goals, networking, mentoring, and more to encourage writers of all stages to, well, write!
If you’re one of the brave souls who has decided to take on this challenge (or anyone working on a piece of writing), then you are probably well acquainted with the dreaded “Blank Page Syndrome”. October may have prepared you to be scared of ghosts and ghouls, but no one told you that the most frightening thing you would have to deal with would be a black cursor flashing judgingly on a blank word document.
‘I think writer’s block is when you say to yourself, “I could write something, but it wouldn’t be good enough.” There’s no such thing as a complete inability to write a sentence.’
-Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert
Writer’s block is something every writer has faced. Not even the greats can outrun that looming phantom. The good news? There are plenty of tips available to help you to conquer your fear and get down to writing. Today, we will share 10 ways to face the blank page with confidence.
1. Try Drawing
Sure, not everyone is an artist, but just about anyone can pull out a stick figure or two. If you are struggling to put your scene into words, try drawing it out instead. It can be quick sketches or even simple swaths of color defining the moods and emotions you want to convey. A book is made of words, but words are not what you see when you read. Instead you see sinister characters inching closer to the protagonist, fields bathed in morning light, and flowers sparkling with the evening dew. If you aren’t sure how to build your world with words just yet, create it visually first.
2. Use Comic Sans
This next tip certainly falls into the “strange but true” category. Despite its seeming absurdity, countless writers swear by the technique of switching their font over to comic sans. There is no exact scientific explanation for this phenomenon, though multiple theories have been offered up. One blogger suggests that the font’s purposefully distinct letters make reading and re-reading smoother and more entertaining. She also shares that the letter shapes help to melt words together so that she is able to view her lines as one cohesive whole rather than individual sentences that need picked apart.
Another writer chalks the productivity increase up to the disarming quality of the childlike font. How can you be judgemental of something that looks like it was written by a 2nd grader?
Whether there is a science to it or the placebo effect, there are enough positive testimonials to warrant a try!
3. Start with something easy
They say the best way to get over writer’s block is to just write--easier said than done. If you’re feeling lost or intimidated by where to begin, write something you know you can write with ease. Put a twist on an old fairy tale or rewrite a scene from your favorite sitcom from the perspective of one of the characters. Get your creative juices flowing and show your inner critic that you CAN write and you’ll likely find yourself revving to begin your new piece.
4. Stop when you are going good
This next tip applies more to general writer’s block than to beginning a piece of writing, but it was such great advice, we knew it had to make the list. It comes from one of America’s greatest writers, Ernest Hemingway.
In a 1935 article in Esquire ( "Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter") Hemingway offered this advice to a young writer:
"The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it."
Most of the time, getting started is the most difficult part of writing. By stopping while you are still in the middle of something you are excited about, you will always begin your next writing session with enthusiasm.
5. Interview Your Characters
They say to write what you know, but it is unlikely that Tolkein knew too many Hobbits and Elves personally (though we could be wrong). So how do you get to know people and worlds that don’t exist? The same way you get to know people in real life--talk to them. If you aren’t sure how to begin your story, try writing an interview with your characters instead. Ask them about their likes and dislikes. Ask them about their childhood and goals for the future. What do they think about another character?
The better you understand your characters, the easier it will be to know how they will react to the conflicts you place in front of them, or to create conflicts you would like them see react to.
6. Outline It
This is an oldie-but-goodie. Looking at a blank page can be intimidating for two reasons: (1) you have no idea where you’re going, or (2) you have too many ideas and don’t know where to begin. Creating an outline give you anchors to work towards and provides direction as you write.
Some writers don’t like outlines, fearing that they stifle creativity, but the reality is this is only as true as you make it. Who says once something is in the outline it’s there forever? There is nothing wrong with changing plot points as you go. An outline simply offers a suggestion so that you don’t have to start from zero.
Everyone outlines differently, so try a few methods and see what works for you. Maybe you begin by deciding the 6 major plot points, taking you from the beginning of the story all the way to the end. Or, maybe you prefer to map out your main character’s arc and fill in the action to support that change. There is no right or wrong way. The most important thing is to get something down on the paper. If you hate it, at least you know what not to write!
7. Write Nonsense
Our next tip was sourced from lifehack.org. One primary cause of blank page syndrome is the dreaded inner critic. Each time you make a running start at a sentence, that critic yanks you back, telling you that you’re no good. A simple way to push past this is to write something meaningless. “The cat walked up the tree and sent down an apple. The girl plucked it out of the basket and jumped for joy.” Meaningless. But, words on a page. Sometimes, you just need to get your body into the writing groove.
After 5 minutes or so, write down one line that relates to your piece. Throw in another and another. Once you put start putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys), you'll find it much easier to get down to your real piece.
8. Re-Read a Piece You’re Proud Of
It’s easy to think of yourself as a talentless hack when you’re staring at a blank word document. The next time you feel unworthy to be sitting in front of a keyboard, take a moment to read something you’ve written that you are proud of. Not only will this help put you in a writing mindset, it will remind you that you have written well in the past and can do it again.
9. Write in White
This is a fun trick from Ink Copywriters. Tired of hearing your inner critic? Don’t give her anything to critique! By writing in white, you give yourself license to not only write without overthinking wording, but you avoid stopping to correct every spelling and grammatical error the spell-check points out to you.
10. Don’t Be Afraid to Skip
While Maria Von Trapp said that the beginning is a very good place to start, this isn’t always the best path to take. If you are having trouble setting up the beginning of your story, don’t be afraid to jump to another part that you feel more confident about and begin from there. Writing is writing and you can always go back and fill in the blanks later.
We hope you found these tips helpful--or at least a good distraction from that blank page you’ve been staring at!
If you plan to participate in NaNoWriMo, let us know in the comments below so we can cheer you on!
"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."
Last week, we celebrated teachers everywhere during Teacher Appreciation Week. From 12-hour days to spending nearly $500 dollars of their own money each year on classroom supplies, teachers are some of the hardest working individuals out there, sacrificing time, money, and sometimes even their sanity to shape and nurture the next generation. Talk to any teacher, and they’ll tell you that it’s a juggling act. Not only do they have to to build effective lessons that meet individual learning needs while also making things fun and engaging, teachers must also attend to the social and emotional needs of their students. To be a teacher, you have to be persistent, resilient, creative, and have a deep understanding of humans of all ages. So, it isn’t surprising to learn that some of the greatest authors of all time used to be teachers.
While they may not be educators in the traditional sense, authors take us to new places, introduce us to new people, share new ideas and, in sometimes subtle, sometimes plain ways, teach us about the world and the people in it.
In honor of all the incredible teachers out there who have shaped our lives and opened up countless young minds to the joys of reading and writing, we have put together a list of 5 famous authors who once made their living in the classroom. We hope you enjoy--and then go thank a teacher!
Robert Lee Frost, born March 26, 1874, was an American poet, but he had several other jobs before being honored with numerous Pulitzer Prizes. From the beginning, writing and teaching were in his blood. His father was an editor at the San Francisco Bulletin, as well as a teacher. Though Frost tragically lost his dad when he was just a child, it seems that he managed to pick up his parent’s passion for writing and sharing the English language.
After graduating from high school, Frost attended Dartmouth College, but soon dropped out to work several jobs, including co-teaching a class of boys along with his mother. After his time with the boys’ school, Frost tried to make a go of farming. While the tranquil setting of the farm inspired many of his most popular poems, it unfortunately proved not to be the career for him. Having failed as a farmer, Robert returned to his teaching roots and taught English at New Hampshire’s Pinkerton Academy from 1906-1911. In his later years, he also went on to teach at several higher institutions of learning, including the New Hampshire Normal School (now Plymouth State University), Amherst College, and the Bread Loaf School of English of Middlebury College.
"I think that I've had a very strange life."
Joanne Rowling, born July 31, 1965, is one of the most globally recognized (and certainly one of the wealthiest!) authors of all time. She is best known for writing the Harry Potter book series, which has sold more than 500 million copies, been adapted for the screen, and won multiple awards. However, her path to world-renowned author was anything but straight and had multiple stops along the way--including a stop in the classroom.
Rowling graduated from the University of Exeter in 1986 after which she worked as a researcher and bilingual secretary while also writing essays and, eventually, Harry Potter. The idea for the story of the boy wizard famously came to her while on a delayed trip from Manchester to London in 1990. Though she began writing almost immediately afterwards, the first book in the series wouldn’t be published for seven more years.
In between that first lightning bolt of inspiration and publication, Rowling picked up her life and moved to Porto, Portugal, to teach English. The job required her to teach at night, which left the day free to write her novel. Perhaps some of her time in this classroom made its way into the halls of Hogwarts.
After graduating college, Brown wanted to pursue his dream of becoming a famous musician. It was this goal, in fact, that first led him to teaching. In 1991, he took up a job teaching classes at Beverly Hills Preparatory School in order to pay the bills. When the stage lights passed him by, Dan moved back to his hometown where he taught English and Spanish for 3 years. In 1996, he decided to quit teaching in order to pursue writing full-time. It paid off when his first book, Digital Fortress, was published in 1998.
Like other authors on our list, William followed in the footsteps of his father, who was a science master at Marlborough Grammar School. Unlike the previous writers, Golding continued teaching young students throughout much of his life. His first position was as a schoolmaster at Maidstone Grammar School where he taught English and music from 1938-1940. His teaching career was interrupted by the battles of WWII, during which time he served in the Royal Navy. Returning home in 1945, Golding found his long-term post at Bishop Wordsworth’s School, where he would teach English for the next 16 years. His first and most famous novel, Lord of the Flies, was published during his time at Wordsworth’s and the characters contained within are said to have been heavily influenced by Golding's many rambunctious students.
When it came time to go to college, this passion would lead him to study English at the University of Maine where he also earned his teaching certificate. Upon graduation, King had a difficult time finding a teaching position and, in a reversal from the plight of most writers, he had to sell stories in order to support himself while he looked for a job in teaching!
In 1971, one year after his college graduation, King was hired to teach at Hampden Academy, a public high school in Maine. While there, he continued to write and sell short stories and work on ideas for books. When his now-famous novel, Carrie, was published in 1973, King’s career as a horror writer was officially launched and he transitioned away from teaching to write full-time.
Filled with knowledge, theories, questions, and exploits, books can be some of our greatest teachers. Through reading, we can go anywhere and learn anything. Thank you to the teachers who first make the jumbled symbols on the page transform into adventures and place pencils in hands and teach us to build worlds of our own.
Have you heard? A. Blob is back and this time, things are about to get stickier than ever. When A. Blob boards the school bus, it seems like the children of Lincoln Elementary School will never get away from its ooey, gooey bullying behavior, but can one small voice change everything? Even A. Blob? Find out in A. Blob on a Bus, by L.A. Kefalos, the second installment of The Blob Series, coming this spring.
About Laughing Leopard Press
Hello! We are Laughing Leopard Press, an independent book publisher from Akron, Ohio. At Laughing Leopard Press, we’re interested in publishing works that contribute to our understanding of this wonderful world. Through this blog, we hope to add to that understanding with commentary on life, literature, and a few things in between. We hope you enjoy the blog and take some time to talk with us in the comments or on our social media sites. Happy reading!
This is A. Blob by L. A Kefalos. $14.95
$1.00 is donated to charity for each book sold on this site--half to St. Jude's and the other half to PetFix Northeast Ohio.