Thursday, September 22, 2016

Writer's block, what is it?


All writers get it, but what is writer’s block?   
The term makes it sound like a cork stopper is jammed into the channel of the brain that allows free-following thought. Much has been written on the subject, some by writers, some by psychologists and psychiatrists.  Writers want to know how to overcome it.   PhDs and MDs are more interested in the neuroses that cause writer’s block to occur.   
As a writer, I find my encounters with writer’s block occur when I’m distracted by life.  Some of these distractions are good, such as vacations, visiting with friends and family, or getting a new pet.   Unexpected home maintenance, health issues, family drama, or the dog chewing a hole in your leather recliner fall into the not-so-good category. Whatever the distractions may be, they take time and focus away from freewheeling creativity and putting pen to paper.
Doctors have arrived at a medical explanation for this. It appears during periods of stress or distraction, the brain’s limbic system takes control from the cerebral cortex.    The limbic system controls instinctual “fight or flight” reactions, whereas the cerebral cortex is vital to the creative process.   The more stress, the less creativity.  Writers under a deadline may experience a negative feedback loop.  The more they stress over meeting the publisher’s or editor’s deadline, the less creative they become.
I also find some writing projects just lose steam.  It has nothing to do with personal distractions or my brain shifting from one side to the other, but more to do with my writing ability.  It might be my original idea for a book or story isn’t well thought, or maybe I’m just not smart enough to finish what I started.   Whatever it is, it’s led to many uncompleted writing projects. I have a Word file labeled “Elephant Graveyard” filled with the carcasses of dead novels and short stories.  I occasionally visit the file and kick the bones.  Every so often, one of the elephants comes back to life. 
So, what do you do about writer’s block?  Not being under deadlines, I have the freedom to wait it out, and that’s what I do.   I’m not big into mental manipulation or word games to free my thoughts.  These techniques may work for some, but I find putting my project(s) on the back burner for a few days and coming back fresh is the best approach. 
Starting a new writing project can also help.  If I hit a dead spot while working on a novel, putting it to the side and writing a blog entry or starting a new short story can jumpstart creative juices.  In fact, that’s what I’m doing now.  I’ve been working on the third book in the Miles Stevens time-travel action-adventure series and needed a break. 
I think I’ll grab a cup of coffee and get back to seeing what Miles is up to.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

When I'm 64, will you still need me?


Will you still need me?  Will you still feed me when I’m 64? 

Paul McCartney, the Beatles icon, was only 16 when he wrote the song which was later released in 1967.  At the time, turning 64 was nearly five decades away for young Paul.  He couldn’t have had a clue what being 64 would be like. This was obvious by the questions he posed.  

Will you still need me?
Will you still feed me?
Will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I'd been out ‘til quarter to three, would you lock the door? 

This is what a 16-year-old wonders about someone who turns 64?  On the one hand, he sees a 64-year-old as unneeded and unable to feed himself.  On the other, the same person is drinking wine and staying out until 2:45 a.m.    

Well, I turned 64 this past week, and I am definitely still feeding myself.  I tip the scales at 190 on my skinny days.  I’m also still paying bills, so I guess I’m still needed.   I received several birthday cards, and I drink wine daily, so I can check off that question, too.  As far as the final question, if I was ever out ‘til quarter to three, I wouldn’t need to worry about being locked out.  My wife would have already contacted highway patrol and filed a missing person’s report.  I haven’t been out past midnight since before Reagan’s presidency.  

I wonder what McCartney thinks of his song now.  He’s looking at 64 in the rearview mirror. The knighted mega-millionaire turned 74 this past June.  Maybe he’s working on a sequel, When I’m 94.   If he is, I might suggest the following questions find their way into his tune: 

Will Medicare still heal me?
Will Social Security still feed me?
Will you still be sending me a get-well card, bedside flowers, graveside stone?
If I fall and make a mess, will you mop the floor?  

Check back.  I plan to update this blog post in 30 years.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Why Write Short Stories? An Update


If you’ve read 11 novels or more last year, you’re in the minority—at least in the U.S. 

The percentage of Americans reaching this reading plateau has declined from 43% in 1978 to 34% in 1990 to 28% in 2014.  Nearly a quarter of Americans didn’t read a single novel last year(1).    Reasons for this decline are many, but it sure isn’t due to a lack of supply.  The number of new authors who pen their first work each year is in the tens of thousands, and quality books from both new and established authors continue to percolate to the top of best seller lists.   

Reading takes time, and many activities compete for the time of potential readers.  The average American spends an alarming 11 hours a day on electronic gadgets --TVs, smart phones, PCs/tablets, radios, DVD players or other devices (2).   If you sleep eight hours, that leaves little time for family and other interests.  

Avid readers have at least a couple things in common.  They tend to make reading a priority, setting aside time each day to read.  They also have typically been ardent readers most of their lives, becoming interested in books at a young age.  This could have been the result of parents reading to them as toddlers, or becoming interested in a young adult series as a preteen or just having an active curiosity that reading satisfied.

I believe short stories and novellas provide a means to get more adults interested in reading. Short stories have a compact and pointed plot and typically can be read in one sitting.  Novellas are works of fiction of intermediate length and complexity, usually requiring just a few hours to complete.  In today’s electronic media world and consumers’ desire for immediate gratification, short stories and novellas are stepping stones back to reading.  

I’ve written several novels and recently published my first novella, MOST MEN, packaged with a second collection of short stories. In addition to focusing on the Miles Stevens time travel series, I plan to continue writing and publishing short story collections.   This decision was driven in part by a desire to target new readers.  I've talked to many people who are becoming fans of short stories. They are willing to invest the time required to read these stories, but are unlikely to ever read a 350+ page novel.  

I enjoy writing short stories and have received literary contest recognition for several of them. Unlike with novels, editing of novellas and short stories goes more quickly.  Changes and improvements can be made without tearing through hundreds of pages.   On the other hand, space is precious and words can’t be wasted.  Character and plot development must be crisp, yet compelling.  

I hope both new and veteran readers will check out my short story collections, IT GOES ON and MOST MEN.  Maybe the stories will inspire you to read more novels this year.


Books by D.R. Shoultz can be found by clicking HERE.
 

(2)    http://www.geekwire.com/2015/nielsen-reports-that-the-average-american-adult-spends-11-hours-per-day-on-gadgets/