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The Big Damn Writer Advice Column

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Welcome to the very first installment of the Big Damn Writer Advice Column, where I answer your anonymous questions about writing and all that stuff connected to it. Every Thursday, I’ll be answering two questions from the Big Damn Writer Question Box.

Q: What are the best ways you know to combat writer’s block?

A: Recently, I’ve struggled with some pretty horrible writer’s block. I’ve spent days lamenting that I will never write another book again, that the well has run dry, that I should hang up my hat and quit trying. As scary as it is, I’ve just taken two weeks off from writing fiction. Even with books planned for the rest of the year, deadlines looming, I knew that if I didn’t have a chance to recharge my batteries, I was going to find myself in real trouble. Something had to change.

I spent much of those two weeks engaging in hobbies that usually get shoved aside in favor of writing. Knitting, coloring, making soap, and–gasp!–actually sitting down and reading some god damn books. There seems to be a common thread among writers I know who suffer from writer’s block. If you ask them when the last time was that they got to actually sit down and read for more than ten minutes on the toilet, they probably won’t have a very encouraging answer. I fully believe that reading in a long, uninterrupted block helps rejuvenate you for writing. You don’t have to read an entire book but read for a full thirty minutes, at least. I swear, it does something to your brain. Reading a good book can make you feel excited to write your own thing. Reading helps focus your attention, so when you do sit down, words will come easier and without the temptation to get on social media.

But above all, don’t try to force yourself. And if you do feel like you have to give yourself a little tough love, do it with a small goal. “Today I’m going to write five-hundred words.” And if you don’t make that goal? Don’t beat yourself up. Just say, “Tomorrow, I’ll do better.” And if you start making those 500 word goals, up it to 600 or 700 for a few days. Part of writing is habit and focus, and those are the first two things to fall by the wayside with writer’s block. And always, always remind yourself that you can always fix your first draft. Nobody is judging what you’re putting down on the first try.

And if all else fails, you could turn to New Age spirituality:

A prayer candle with Lin-Manuel Miranda dressed as Alexander Hamilton, surrounded by amethyst and quartz crystals of varying sizes, all arranged in front of my computer screen.

 

Q: Do you find that writing fanfic strengthens your skills in original fiction? Have you ever used an original character from a fanfic in an original story? What are your ethics on that? 

A: One of the best tools a beginning writer has at their disposal is fanfiction. Not just writing it, but reading it, reading thoughtful critical reviews, engaging with other writers, all of that will strengthen your skill. You just have to be willing to listen without getting defensive. Fanfiction can teach you how to be a great writer, but only if you don’t close yourself off from criticism from more skilled writers in your fandom.

Do not latch on to the “hot” fandom of the time if you don’t really care about it. It will show in your writing, and with the recent P2P trend, other fans are going to suspect your intentions are to steal from the creators of the thing they love. You don’t have to be in a big fandom to forge connections with other readers. In fact, some of the most engagement I’ve gotten has been in communities with small, close-knit fandoms. They tend to be more enthusiastic in my experience.

As for the use of an original character from a fanfiction in an original story, I have done that before. The book never ended up published, but I used an original character from a Les Miserables fic I wrote years ago in a historical romance I was kicking around. But when I realized that I intended to someday publish the story with the character from my fic, I took the story down from the site it was on. I also never used any of Hugo’s characters in my novel (though if you wanted to do so, his work is public domain. Just remember how poorly received Cosette was). As long as you separate your character out, don’t borrow plot or other characters, and don’t use the fandom or your fic as a way of advertising your original work, I don’t see anything ethically dodgy with keeping a character you created.

BONUS QUESTION:

Q: This is off topic, but I wanted to anonymously submit this to you because you’ve call out fakes and hoaxes and I love that about you. Max Monroe, the NYT bestselling secret pen name, marketed themselves from day ones as two NYT bestselling authors who secretly came together to write under the pen name, Max Monroe. It’s what brought them their fame–that story of who they might be. Turns out, it’s complete fiction, including their titles. Max Monroe is Laurel Ulen Curtis and Natalie Alcorn (https://www.bizapedia.com/ky/max-monroe-limited-liability-company.html). Amazon caught them first, and therefore, their bio on Amazon had to change. There’s nothing wrong with using pen names, even secret ones, but to lie about your accreditation? How many other authors are doing this? The new “Anonymous Girls XOXO” email going around seems like another copycat of both that and Erin Watts/Gossip Girls stories. It’s all so….sneaky. So many authors work really hard and now everyone’s afraid to call out these two, Laurel and Natalie, for lying because it could jeopardize their own careers. I may just be a blogger, but I think that’s wrong. If this interests you, please write about it. If not, please consider passing it along to someone who would. Thanks. Signed, Dream Crushed Blogger

B: I’m just posting this here so someone else can call them out and I can bitchily say that I loved the scene in their first book where the virgin heroine took the hero to sneak into the One UN hotel pool. It was really great and I wonder what inspired them.

giphy (2)

 

Wanna see your questions get answered (or just wanna air a grievance?) Put it in the box!

10 Comments

  1. samuel
    samuel

    I’m confused by the bonus question. At first they say that the story that Max Monroe is a secret pen name for 2 authors is a lie, but then say that Max Monroe is in fact a pen name for 2 authors.

    March 2, 2017
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    • Jemmy
      Jemmy

      I think the lie is the two writers are NYT best selling authors. I haven’t actually goggled the two named writers yet, but I’m assuming they don’t have the credentials they claimed as part of the Max Monroe publicity campaign.

      March 3, 2017
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      • Jemmy
        Jemmy

        *googled

        March 3, 2017
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  2. I had a stubborn case of writer’s block that started at the end of October in 2014 when my cat Biggie disappeared. I tried to get back into it but I just couldn’t do it. For the whole of 2015 I didn’t write a thing, I had become obsessed with working overtime at the job so I could build up my savings account and get my credit straightened out to try to purchase a house I really wanted but in the end knew I couldn’t afford. Instead I bought a new car and moved out of my parent’s house and into an apartment. I thought, yes, after living with my parents for almost two years I can finally get back to writing again. After I finally got settled in by January of 2016, I was ready to write again. Got out my historical vampire novel I started on in mid-2013 and got to writing.

    Five days later, my father died from dementia.

    Four days after that, his brother died.

    Two family deaths pretty much back to back killed my ambition to write. I pulled out the HV novel from time to time and wrote a sentence here, a paragraph there, even got about halfway through a new chapter, but another family death, my cat Jake’s death, and other things in-between plus a physically demanding job that was also mentally stressful because I work with idiots just put me out of the mood to do any writing. I wanted to, but my mind kept saying, why bother? No one will read it anyway, just like the last tripe of a novel you wrote.

    I continued down the path of not writing shit except, you know, a sentence here, a paragraph there, until I finally got to the six days off that I had requested for the end of January back in December of last year. I managed to finish a chapter I had started earlier in the month, and it was a long one, longer than expected, and started a new one. Ever since then I’ve been working on the HV novel pretty much every day, most days getting in 2-400+ words in a day and one day the words flowed so smoothly I managed 1600 words, and 1000 of those was in less than an hour in the morning before I had to leave for work. That’s a very good day for me, considering I hadn’t written much for a long time. So far I’ve been writing ever since and my mind is flooded with ideas to further the book along. I hope this keeps going until I reach the end of the first draft. I want to say I was suffering from burn out, from work and all of the things happening in my personal life, and those six days off for myself helped a great deal. I hadn’t taken time off from work for myself since October of 2015.

    I should note that in 2016, any writing that I did do, which I guess can count as writing now that I think about it, was short history articles I have been writing from time to time for my hometown’s Facebook historical society page. I’m secretary of our newly (June 2016) formed society and I have been having fun learning about our town. The first bus line in America started in Nashville, Michigan by a man by the name of Roy Wolf, who drove his jitney bus between Nashville to Battle Creek using the only arm he had. And that required skill, considering the condition of roads back in the 1910’s. And there’s something you now know.

    March 3, 2017
    |Reply
    • Lindsay
      Lindsay

      Roy Wolf sounds like an amazing topic to write on. I think an eye for real obscure historical detail makes for some fascinating original perspective on a vampire novel. I would also encourage keeping your Michigan background in mind. There’s not a lot of midwestern literary works out there. Haven Kimmel is one of the few that comes to mind that really captures Midwest, and I think the Midwest history and culture could absolutely envoke a fresh take the way southern gothic via country realness made an impact with Sookie Stackhouse.

      I spent my teen years in metro Detroit, but most people don’t understand the scope and size of Michigan, they don’t get that it has its own unique brand of history from industrialism and immigrant factory culture that was melded with race issues; they don’t see how the rural aspects of Up North blended a bit with Canada, a bit with the west, a touch of ‘we don’t care about politics, we just like deer jerky!’. That Eastern European immigrant culture tho! The Polish and Dutch influence; go ahead and try to explain Frankenmuth or Punzkis to outsiders. Point is, exploit your perspective and knowledge!

      March 6, 2017
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      • The HV novel I’m working on takes place in my small Michigan hometown in 1923. The biggest help so far I’ve come across in research has been reading the microfilm of the newspapers that were written back then. Being part of the historical society has helped, too.

        March 7, 2017
        |Reply
  3. Lindsay
    Lindsay

    Hi! So, I have a question that probably also your brilliant commenters can answer. I write. I love writing, I imagine plots to fall asleep, I think up witty dialogue when I shower. Like the whole deal. Started writing in literally kindergarten, and I used to love it. I was diagnosed in elementary school with PTSD and chronic depression, and later on severe social anxiety was added to the list. But I mean, for yearssss, writing was my outlet! In my early twenties, of all possible times, after a lot of time consulting professionals and getting my shit together, writing is like. Gone. I figured out how to function and now I write a page and I have severe panic attacks until I erase it. I write long winded status updates, which feels like breathing, it’s an itch I have to scratch so I do it and I post it and I exhale and I go to bed, and then I wake up in a cold sweat and have to keep my vomit down until I hit delete. It doesn’t matter if I had a hundred comments on that post in the meantime, ‘this is a hilarious delight and we hope you write a book someday!’. I cannot catch my breath until I delete. This had been a cycle for about ten years? Anyway.

    My wonderful supportive husband pointed out that I do much better when I let go of control. Like, when I was in a class and would submit a paper. I could keep my self criticism in check, because it was out of my hands, and the fact that nowadays I’m basically a shutaway housewife there is no other critic. I’ll always be my harshest, it’s becoming an endless feedback loop of negativity, I thrive on the power to delete and it’s my downfall. So! I live in bumfuck. I live in nowhere southeast. There’s no writers groups. There’s no writer workshops. I can’t afford a proper college class, frankly.

    What’s an online place that’s good? Legit good. Like, listen, I have nothing against fan fiction, I have nothing against ladies supporting other ladies with a hobby, and positivity is wonderful. But google isn’t very helpful and I’d like a real online resource of people who know what they’re talking about, hopeful professionals, constructive criticism and guidance. What’s legit? Also Jesus that first paragraph is so much, I’m having a rough day guys.

    March 4, 2017
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    • I’ve been a member of an online writing forum called Absolute Write since 2008 and have found the information on there to be invaluable. There are people on there from beginners to pros in the field that post on there, and it’s a treasure trove of information on writing and publishing. There’s also a share your work section that’s password protected so search engines cannot pick up your posts, therefore protecting your first publishing rights. You don’t have to post anything for critique, but you can read others’ works and critique for yourself, or just do what I do most of the time and lurk.

      March 4, 2017
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      • Lindsay
        Lindsay

        Thank you so much, I will absolutely check that out.

        March 5, 2017
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    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      Yeah, I was going to come here to say Absolute Write.

      March 4, 2017
      |Reply

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