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Website of author and professional editor Rachelle M. N. Shaw. Find information about her books, her editing services, and her blog, From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing.

From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing

From Mind to Paper is a blog for writers, editors, and those interested in the English language. It covers a multitude of writing topics, from punctuation and grammar to plot development, character development, and world building. In addition to in-depth articles about various writing topics, this blog also has a number of series posts, which are currently being transformed into a nonfiction series on writing.

Beating Writer's Block

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

At one time or another, every writer experiences writer's block. It's rather frightening not to be able to come up with new ideas, even if it's just for one piece in particular, especially when you've been writing for what seems like your whole life. Not to mention, it's frustrating, disheartening, and can even strangle a writer's creativity and passion for writing if it persists too long. So what can you do to prevent writer's block?

Well, while there isn't a sure way to prevent it from ever happening (that I know of at least), there are ways to keep it from coming often and from staying long. So here are some reliable methods to help keep your mind sharp and your creativity at it's peak, nipping any lurking writer's block in the bud.

1. Be creative in other areas. Often times, people who enjoy writing also have other creative hobbies that they pursue. Allowing yourself to dabble in other creative hobbies frequently gets the creative part of your brain back in shape, and new ideas will come about for your writing. A few of the hobbies that can help get your creative juices flowing are photography, drawing/painting, sewing, and music, but there are many others. If you prefer to build something or do some coding on the computer rather than the aforementioned activities, go for it. Anything that is creative will stimulate your mind.

2. Practice writing exercises. Though it can seem silly and pointless (I've been down that road myself), doing writing exercises actually will help you evolve your writing quite a bit. If your working on a particularly story and are having trouble with one or more of the characters, find a writing exercise that involves sticking those characters in a situation outside of your piece of writing, and see how they react. You might be surprised how much you can learn about them this way. If it's the world in your story you're having trouble developing, do some exercises specific to working on atmosphere and environment.

Whatever the specific issue you're having for your particular piece of writing, there is guaranteed to be a writing exercise for it. If you're just having trouble in general, or you are looking to come up with new ideas altogether, try a number of writing exercises. Eventually, you will stumble on to something that could turn into much more.The Internet is a writer's haven for these types of exercises. Here is one good resource I've found for such purposes: http://mysite.du.edu/~bkiteley/exercises.html.

3. Read. It's simple. The more you read good writing, the more you will be able to produce it. Find a few well-written works from your favorite authors, and even some you're unfamiliar with. You'll get a wide variety of styles of writing, and some of the pieces may even spark some ideas for works of your own. In doing this though, there are two things you want to be careful to avoid, the first of which is plagiarism. So how do you avoid it and still get some ideas from others' pieces you've read? Let's say you like the Harry Potter series for instance. Rather than creating your own world similar to Hogwarts, or even writing a story about witches and wizards, you can use the main theme in the book to come up with your own piece that is unique and doesn't steal from Rowling's ideas: good vs. evil. There are countless stories that can be told of good vs. evil, and they don't have to involve supernatural characters or world at all. In fact, they don't even have to be very long.

The second thing to avoid you'll want to avoid is poorly-written books. This can be a bit more challenging. With books such as the Twilight series and 50 Shades of Grey at the top of the "best-sellers" list, it's easy to be deceived about what is good writing, and what isn't. A good place to start is with the classics. Yes, they're not everyone's cup of tea, and not all of them are great, but there's a reason for them being categorized as classics; they're timeless, and most of them are quite beautifully and elegantly written. It's quite a different story for most of the garbage that's published today. The problem is the changes in the publishing industry. It's now much easier for the average joe to publish a piece of writing, particularly without going through any editors or agents. The result? While a lot of good books get to market that otherwise might not have made it, so does an equal amount (if not more) of poorly-written books. If you are wanting to go with a more modern book though, there are ways to find good ones.

a. Search online. Amazon is a surprisingly good resource for determining whether or not a book is worth reading/buying. The reviews of a book are truthful; the customers who comment have no reason to be dishonest about something that they spent money on. If you go through and actually read the reviews rather than simply looking at the stars at the top, you will quickly see which comments are valid and which aren't. Also, for those with Kindles, Amazon offers samples of most of their books that are available for the Kindle. This will give you a taste of what the book is like without you ever purchasing it. A win/win in my book!

b. Sample the book. Flip through the first few pages/chapter. If you aren't hooked by that point, you likely won't be for the rest of the book either. Though there are instances where this isn't true, good writing generally applies throughout the entire book, not just sections of it.

c. Check for spelling and grammar errors. If you have trouble deciphering the writing on the first few pages due to back grammar and spelling, or you notice that the book is written at an incredibly low reading level with no sense of detail, originality, or a distinct voice, pass on the book. If the author can't get the most basic writing right, they certainly aren't going to be able to create an intricate story line that proves to be interesting and innovative.

I hope these few pointers will help you not only to improve your writing but also to hinder the evil leech that is known as "writer's block" the next time it decides to latch onto your brain and suck all your creativity out.

Also, for another cool tip on beating writer's block, check out my friend's blog: http://smwright.wordpress.com/2013/01/05/redux-tarot-for-writers/.