a new hope (in the quiet, not in silence)

What a deceptive title.

One, because this post has nothing to do with Star Wars, at least not directly.
Two, because the hope I’m thinking of isn’t new in the conventional sense.

It’s more of a renewable hope. Or a continually-renewed hope.

I sit here in the final minutes of 2016 (it’s literally 5 minutes ’til midnight), typing on my laptop while the TV regales me with the blatherings of announcers, the poor enunciations of music artists, and the weird ramblings of a woman with green glitter lipstick worthy of Panem’s Capitol. I think of the illusory and foundationally meaningless construct of calendars and years’-ends. We humans get in such a tizzy at this time every year, never mind that flipping a calendar page from one month to the next or one year to the next has absolutely no connection to actual, tangible change.

I set my laptop aside to check windows for fireworks as 2017 A.D. rolls through the door.

The fireworks are audible from inside my living room, but I can’t see them from any of the windows. A quick call to my parents — one I make every year on January 1st at approximately 00:05am — sends love reverberating through the atmosphere. A good start to the new iteration of this particular human construct.

My husband went to bed at 22:35 (that’s 10:35pm); my four-year-old daughter trundled off to sleep at her usual time of 20:00. None of our friends were partying this year.

No one texts me.

This is probably the first time in 20 years that I’ve rung in the “new year” completely alone.

Shouldn’t this make me melancholy? I don’t know if it should (don’t should on me!), but it doesn’t. It’s kind of cozy, really. Until the timer turned them off a few minutes ago, the Christmas tree lights splashed a warm glow across my typing fingers; I’ve turned off the TV, so all is quiet, if not silence; I can hear my husband snoring, my clock ticking, my fridge chuckling. Sporadic fireworks still grace the night behind me, on the other side of the window.

I don’t type in silence, but I type in the quiet.

Ah. There’s the first ambulance siren of the year.

Peace. Peace for this year. Grace and mercy to those who aren’t starting 2017 in peace.

The clock is ticking.

The cat is sleeping under the darkened Christmas tree.

The year 2016 A.D. held so much grief.

Deaths of people I’ve long admired from great distances.
Death of confidence in the basic decency of humanity.
Death to idealism and optimism and other beneficent -isms — all of which are intimately connected with fellow humans-being.

I still like to think of myself as Eternal Optimist Woman, even though that belief has been sorely tried this year. I think the EOW has disintegrated into ash for the time being; I can only hope that, like the phoenix, she will rise from the ashes again.

She’s done it before.

And there’s that word again.

Hope.

I’ve pondered again and again whether or not I should wax political about the goings-on in the United States of America in 2016. And if I decided to wax that way, just what could or would or should (!) I say? But the emotional energy required take for such a blopgost (yes, blopgost) would be an expense I cannot afford.

The Babadook still lives in my basement*. He demands my intensive self-care, which includes not feeding my strength into something that won’t benefit anyone.

(*If this reference makes no sense to you, I recommend watching the movie The Babadook, which is basically a metaphor for depression.)

I will say this, since it relates to hope: I don’t hope for anything Good to come from the USA’s current president-elect. “I hope for no hope from him…poor clown,” as Amalthea told Molly Grue. (Although I know I’m doing Schmendrick an injustice; still, allow me my nerdy references, would you?) He has proven himself ridicule-worthy, dangerously unbalanced, selfish, self-absorbed, greedy, incapable of empathy, ableist, racist, misogynist, bigoted, prejudiced, childish, fiendish, and just plain gross.

If I were to put him into a novel, readers would mock me for writing such a parody of a villain. He’s so much Chaotic Evil as to be unbelievable. No one would read him.

(“He lied in every word, that hoary [emotional-]cripple with malicious eyes….”)

I cannot describe to you how much it cost me to write the preceding two paragraphs. I feel completely exhausted.

But.

The point is, I have no hope for the next year regarding the president-elect of the USA, his cabinet, his advisors, his family, his decisions, his intentions, his cronies, his sycophants. I have so little hope regarding any of those, it has passed zero and dropped squarely onto the negative side of the axis. And on the negative side, my hope moves ever more rapidly away from zero.

Thank God — literally — that the Reality which gives me hope is no human construct or human system.

When I was 19, my atheist friend said to me, “Courtney, I don’t care if you believe in God or not — but if you’re going to believe, you have to be able to tell me why.”

I had no answer for him then.

Nowadays, I have answers squooshing out of my ears, but that’s another tale and shall be told another time. 😉

My thought tonight is that because of my faith and in spite of the Chaotic Evil that has created a safe place for so many other evils to reveal themselves, I still have hope.

A renewable hope.

A continually-renewed hope.

What if we humans had a leader who cared? Who empathized? Who accepted us all, every one? Who wanted to build something beautiful and glorious and beneficial, instead of promising dread and fear and harm? What if we had a leader who actually did represent us and count us in and protect us and serve us and live for us and die for us? What if we had a leader truly “for the people” and “by the people”?

What if we humans had a leader truly made of Love?

I know of so many people who profess to follow this man named Jesus of Nazareth, the Anointed One (that’s what mashiach–“Messiah” and “Christ” mean) — and yet, they are so terrified of someone misleading “their country,” they actually believe that a human construct could “close the doors” of their churches.

(Fellow believers, how could you vote Chaotic Evil when you claim to follow the Perfect Lawfree Good, which never restricts freedom?)

The Good News is that no matter what any man-made system decides or does, the house being built by this Jesus of Nazareth will never close.

After all, He is a carpenter. He knows how to build a house with uncloseable doors.

But it’s not about the closing of doors. It’s about the closing of minds, the closing of hearts, the tearing-down of the differently-opinioned, the shutting-down of empathy, the removal of “with” from compassion (which leaves only passion, and of an undirected, malignant sort).

(Compassion, in case you didn’t know, means “suffering-with”; to have compassion on someone means to enter into their suffering, to become part of it and to make it part of you.)

And this closing off and shutting down is coming from those who profess to own the One who personifie(d)s opening up, feeling with, suffering with, building up, welcoming in.

My so-called fellow Jesus-followers rejected his example and his indwelling Lifespirit.

That, in my very subjective view, is the real tragedy of 2016 A.D., for it leads to the suffering of humanity, most especially including the impoverished and the unbelieving.
In regard to so-called Jesus-followers, this felt more like 1016 A.D.

They have forgotten their hope.

They have forgotten that their hope can be “new every morning”

(great is thy faithfulness).

Jesus the Anointed One, Son of God Most High and Head of His Body (the collective of Different Ones [definition of “saints”] in this world) — He is building a house.

His house has nothing to do with physical buildings ornamented with made-up names and stained-glass windows.

His house encompasses the universe itself.

He will build that house with or without those followers of his who happen to name themselves “American” (for you can be sure that *he* didn’t name them that). He will build his house with the people on the street corners, the ones who actually hear his words and listen to them and respond (Matthew 22). He doesn’t care where these people came from; they listen, and they come to him, and he loves them and takes them in.

They take his Hope and they eat it. They chew it. They swallow it whole.

And his Hope has no relation whatsoever to the construct of human politics or calendars.

In the vastness of the universe and the multi-directional eternity of history, human politics are less than a footnote. I’m not sure they’re even mentioned between the covers of the entire book.

I have hope.

Because I’m a stone in a wall that’s going to last forever. I am a stone in Reality.

That Reality behooves and encourages and enables me to feel-with and suffer-with those who feel deeply and suffer. And it’s the kind of suffering-with that leads to action. Compassion leads to getting my hands “dirty.”

I’m okay with that.

His hands were “dirtier” than mine ever can be.

I didn’t intend for this blopgost to turn into such a revelation about my beliefs. I wanted to keep it simple, really. But it just seemed like the words wanted to come out exactly as they did.

There goes the second set of sirens of the New Year.

No one wants to read a sermon first thing on January 1st (at least, I don’t know of anyone who does.)

Also, I’m tired and starting to fade toward sleep. And starting to type in my sleep; I’ve already had to delete two sentences because they made no sense. 😉 So I’ll wrap this up. There really should be some more thoughts here, but I don’t have any.

I’m too tired.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, everypony!

Peace.

#NaNoWriMo When You Have No Freaking Clue What Happens Next

Hile, wordslingers!

With neither ado nor adon’t, Ima splat you right in the face with a lemon meringue writing advice pie. It’s November, and that means NaNoWriMo, and though I ain’t perticipatin’, I know there’re plenty of you crazy kids out there who might need a little scribbling inspiration as the end of Week One approacheth. So here y’all go:

This Hoopla We Call Writing

Writers are people with ideas. Or so the story goes. Most of us, when we sit down to start writing, don’t seem to have much trouble finding something to write about–after all, if we didn’t have the idea, we wouldn’t have sat down to write in the first place. (This might be what’s called circular logic, but I’m gonna go with it anyway.) (Also, this might not apply to the dreaded monster known as Undergraduate Thesis Paper; but in this case, if the list of ideas grows short, there’s always coffee and foolhardiness.)

Hitting The Wall

But I digress. (Shocking, innit?) We writers are people with ideas…except when we’re not. The initial sit-down-and-start-scribbling-like-mad ideas are not a problem. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve got that covered. But what happens after the first bout of hectic, joyous franticness fizzles out?

Oh yes, you know what I’m talking about. Don’t you dare shy away. Make eye contact with me, kiddos! We’ve all been there: You’re slashing away with your pen at that bountiful pad of lined, yellow paper. You’re hammering away at those keys as if they’re tiny square culprits who drank the last of the milk and stuck the empty carton back in the fridge. Things are flowing, story’s moving, characters are sparkling–and BOOM. Dead end. You smash face-first into a wall, and you’re pummeled by that most horrid of questions: What happens next??? You don’t have a clue, because you. Are out. Of ideas.

Part of the solution to your difficulty is that most horrid of pre-writing exercises, The Outline. But that’s another story and shall be told another time. What we’re concerned with today is ideas, and we’re going to turn to a seasoned pro for advice on where to get them.

Elmore Leonard Gets Ideas…

In “Making It Up as I Go Along” (AARP Magazine [don’t ask], July/August 2009), Elmore Leonard describes some of the ways in which he generates ideas for his stories. Considering his novel-pub cred (Get Shorty, Three-Ten to Yuma, Out of Sight, and Rum Punch, among many others), I figure the man probably knows what he’s talking about. So take a look at some of these and see if any of them resonate with you:

…From Photos

Leonard describes how the main character of his novel Out of Sight started life as a photograph of a woman deputy marshal holding a pump-action shotgun.

eleonardAs some of you, my darling readers, already know, I am a very visual person. I can see myself picking up a magazine like National Geographic, thumbing through to an article about some 19th-century adventurer, and feasting my eyes and my creative brain on the sepia-fuzzy image of a hood-eyed man in a weather-beaten hat. Maybe he’s wearing a heel-length overcoat and carrying a pack. BOOM again–but in a good way, this time. Suddenly, I have a character named Mac Finchley, and he just stepped out of the magazine pages and into my dead-end chapter–to do what? Shoot my main character in the leg? Build a fire and cook supper? Juggle spoons? Release two badgers and a wombat? The possibilities are endless, which means the ideas start piling up and the story can roll on, dude.

…From Other Writers

When Leonard needs spare style, he reads Ernest Hemingway every day. When he wants to flavor his prose with humor, he picks up Richard Bissell.

Me, I turn to Stephen King when I have trouble with characterization, and to Tad Williams when I need a refresher on world-building. In my opinion, though, it’s best to use caution when reading other writers specifically for help with your own writing. Especially when you’re reading one of your favorites, it’s easy to adopt that person’s style instead of developing your own. It’s natural to imitate what you love. But if you focus on finding your own voice and remain aware of your literary surroundings, you should be able to glean what you need from other writers without transplanting their entire crop into your own creative field.

…From History

Moonshine and the library gave Leonard the seeds for his novel The Moonshine War.eleonard2 Speaking of war and not-so-shining historical moments, I have long thought that the epic battles described in the Bible’s Old Testament provide great framework for battle descriptions in fantasy stories. And in ancient Roman tradition, a slave whispered “you are only a man” to the great leader as he made his triumphal entry into the city; in my novel Rethana’s Trial, I turned this bit of real-world history into a character’s final test of manhood. Humanity’s past abounds with facts and people and scenes that will spark a fire of what-happens-next in your mind. Grab a history book, open it to a random page, and let what you read be the next challenge your characters face. How does the real-world snippet “translate” to the world of your story? How will your characters handle it? Let them tell you.

…From Real People

Leonard based a fictional judge on a real-life friend in the judicial system.

For my novel Shadows after Midnight, I needed someone to get my main character into a heavy metal concert without a ticket. On the day I wrote that scene, I happened to be texting with my friend Bryan, who listens to the kind of music my MC was hearing. Jokingly, I asked Bryan if I could put him in my book. He said sure–and suddenly, my MC had the knowledgeable insider he needed, complete with a T-shirt bearing the name of Bryan’s favorite heavy metal band. Later on, it turned out that Bryan had information my MC was desperate to get, which moved the MC and other characters halfway across the country.

So look around at your friends and family and see who possesses the traits your characters might need to move your story forward. You know these people–their habits, hang-ups, foibles, and faces. Once you start pondering, I promise you’ll find you know exactly who is going to help your characters take over the world. Of course, you should always ask permission before you assign a real person the role of Evil Overlord, lest you acquire too-intimate experience with a lawsuit for defamation of character.

______

So there you have it, sweetlings. A few ways to generate ideas that will poke, nudge, prod, or blast your story forward when you’re stuck. But plenty of other options exist, and I don’t doubt you’ve thought of some while reading this post. The mental block of what-happens-next can seem as intimidating as a 2001 monkey-hysteria space-monolith. But it need not lay you low. Use some of Leonard’s methods to generate some ideas, or follow some of the methods that have worked for you in the past. (Share them in the comments! We all need ’em!) You’ll be skipping gaily around that monolith in no time. Or at least hacking dementedly away at it with a hammer and chisel.

To wrap up, a few particularly enjoyable and helpful quotes from Leonard:

“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

“Dialogue, in fact, is the element that keeps the story moving. Characters are judged as they appear. Anyone who can’t hold up his or her end of the conversation is liable to be shelved, or maybe shot.” (I, Courtney, heart this one with gusto.)

“A photo of a woman marshal with a shotgun, and a prison break, gave me what I needed to write a love story.”

“After 58 years you’d think writing would get easier. It doesn’t. If you’re lucky, you become harder to please. That’s all right, it’s still a pleasure.”

May we all be able to say that after 58 years. 🙂

Game of Thrones and Semen Receptacles

So, the most recent Game of Thrones episode.

WARNING

SPOILERS

TRIGGER WARNING

concerning rape and the victimization of women.

Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 6, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”

I still haven’t watched the episode.

And it’s likely I’m not gonna.

And it’s possible I won’t be watching the show at all anymore.

The day after the episode aired, Twitter was abuzz with talk about the horror of it. Since I hadn’t watched the episode, I went looking for plot summaries. I found more than I wanted to know. This was worse than the aftermath of “Red Wedding.”

Sansa raped by Ramsay both revolts me and makes me roll my eyes with plain annoyance.

First of all…really? Another instance of a woman victimized by sexual violence on this show? Come on, WRITERS…. You’re already changing tons of stuff that G.R.R. Martin wrote. Why not change the parts where women repeatedly have their agency torn from them? WRITERS, is this the only way you know how to advance a plot or a female character?

COME ON. You can do better than this. Women victimized by sexual violence has been *done*. THINK UP SOMETHING ELSE. For worship’s sake, USE YOUR IMAGINATIONS. I assume you have them — after all, you’re getting paid for this. Sheesh.

Furthermore…Sansa raped by Ramsay. Really? Like I didn’t see that one coming the second she and Petyr Baelish reined up at Winterfell. OF COURSE Ramsay raped her. He’s a lunatic sadist — what else would he do? It’s so utterly PREDICTABLE. And once again, GoT WRITERS, I implore you to use your imaginations. GIVE ME A SCENE I DIDN’T PREDICT TWO EPISODES AGO.

*eye roll*

Having Sansa suffer rape by Ramsay is a stupid (on many levels), predictable, and utterly boring choice. Find a better way to advance Sansa’s character. Since the scene is apparently meant to motivate Theon/Reek to fight back against Ramsay (as if EMASCULATION weren’t enough of a reason already), you can find a better way to advance Theon’s character, too, while you’re at it.

GoT, with all the cramazing writing you’ve delivered in four-and-a-half seasons, I know you can do better than this.

I’ve never been raped. But I imagine that seeing such a traumatic event reduced to a tired plot device OVER AND OVER does something to cheapen the sufferings of those who have experienced this particular brand of horror. Rape shouldn’t be just another set of mechanics for getting a character from here to there. Once again, the GoT writers should be able to do better than this.

Horrify us if you must…but don’t drive away an entire segment of your audience that is so sick of this as the “be all, end all” portrayal of the female experience. I expect better from GoT because, as Chuck Wendig says, “its creepy fascination with hurting and marginalizing women is increasingly gross.”

I AM SO EVERLASTINGLY SICK OF WOMEN’S PAIN HAVING NO SIGNIFICANCE BEYOND SERVING AS MOTIVATION FOR A MAN’S SPRINGING INTO ACTION.

So…do we just not portray rape in fiction, or what?

Since this episode of GoT aired the same weekend as Mad Max: Fury Road, a lot of people have been comparing the treatment of women in GoT to the treatment of women in Mad Max. Well, I haven’t seen Mad Max yet, either (more woe is me), so I had a couple of other stories pop into my head concerning rape and victimization.

YA novel Did You Hear What Happened to Andrea? by Gloria D. Miklowitz has the titular character raped and trying to put her life back together. The book directly addresses rape culture: lack of support from family, friends, and authorities; victims made to feel responsible and guilty; rapists holding power over their victims long after the crime has occurred. It’s a good read for teens (AND ADULTS), considering that rape culture truly doesn’t get discussed openly or enough.

It’s worth noting that this novel was published in 1984. And we in 2015 think we are SO advanced.

I also recently read Stephen King’s short story “Big Driver.” The main character is raped and chooses not to live as a victim. It’s a great story of a woman finding and exercising her agency, refusing to let trauma and/or stigma keep her from making sure the rapist answers for his crimes. King’s story is a thriller — in great part because it’s thrilling to see a woman successfully quest to get her power back from the one who thought he’d taken it away forever.

So…in my rant about Game of Thrones, am I saying we storytellers should never include rape in our stories?

No. I am not saying that at all.

For one thing, to say that would make me a hypocrite — because in my debut novel, Colors of Deception, I included an attempted rape. And because I was a new author (and more naive about life), I’m pretty sure I did it badly. I didn’t write the aftermath as I should have, and the story suffered for it. I just hope my readers haven’t. But the story stands as a testament to one writer’s growth — as a writer and as a human.

Furthermore, I never want to say, “We can’t or shouldn’t write about ________________.” Fill in that blank with your pet uncomfortable topic. In fiction and in real life, we need to be able to talk about what’s dark and gritty. We need to explore what’s uncomfortable. Talking about these awful things lets us be more vulnerable and open with one another and find healing where healing needs to happen. We can’t be fully human with each other until we are vulnerable and transparent.

Sometimes, vulnerability and transparency mean openly acknowledging and working through the dark stuff.

“Monsters aren’t beaten by hiding them in the dark. They’re beaten by exposing them to the light.”
–Paul Anthony Shortt (@PAShortt)

So, storytellers…tell stories about the darkness. Tell stories about rape. But do it in a way that empowers your characters instead of stripping them of their agency and humanity.

“It took Sansa from her growing place of power, cut her off at the knees, and put the focus on Theon’s ordeal.”

“There’s only so many times you can be disgusted with something you love before you can’t bring yourself to look anymore.”

The Mary Sue

In Sansa, Game of Thrones isn’t even telling the story of a woman anymore. It’s telling the story of a gamepiece moved around the board by the whims of others. It’s telling the story of an object that’s handled and used to make other people do things. At this point, Sansa might as well be an ornamental vase. A receptacle for men’s desires, schemes, and semen.

“Stark” is the German word for “strong.” The GoT writers have utterly removed from Sansa Stark the ability to step into and live up to her own name.

On the other hand, we have Gloria D. Miklowitz and Stephen King, who told stories about women who were raped but rose in strength like phoenixes from the ashes.

So, writers, tell the dark tales as you will. But let the women be women. Don’t turn us into vases. Don’t turn us into receptacles.
 

WE ARE NOT THINGS.

 

 

 

Dragon Vs. Turkey, Death by Hamster, and Writing Advice

Um. Hi?

I feel like I should be tiptoeing in here, and it’s my own blog. I’m sorry for the extreme silence lately, y’all. Honestly, the only thing I can tell you is that I’ve been pureeing pears and prunes. Seriously. Since the Itty Bitty started her foray into solid foods, I’ve felt as though I’ve been living in the kitchen.

Fortunately, I shall soon acquire a brilliant gadget unfortunately named “Babycook,” which shall do the cooking and pureeing for me and is, fortunately, not made from real babies.

Furthermore

My grand and good intention is to get back into blogging regularly — at least once a week. There won’t be another month-long hiatus if I can possibly help it (and I do think I can, Pauly). In the meantime, I’m also planning an updateish post to let you know what’s been happening in my writing world.

But that’s for later. Right now, I’m in the mood for silly, so silly is what you’re gonna get. Specifically, silly related to keyword searches.

You people are weird, and I love you for it.

Without further ado or adon’t, here are some of the keyword searches that, according to Google Analytics, have recently led y’all to my blog. And also my reactions to said keyword searches. BANGERANG.

1. would you please do me a favor

I never take requests unless asked, so yes!

2. what can be the misuses of having banana
common misuses of a banana

I take it back. You don’t get any favors. Sicko.

3. upside down scrambled cat

I don’t really understand, but okay….

scrambledcat

I didn’t know how to do the scrambled part, but perhaps this will suffice anyway.

4. what to do when your novel gets too complicated

SIMPLIFY.

No, really. Cut a character, erase a subplot or two, delete some scenes. If the novel’s too complicated, it means you’ve got too many cats in your frying pan. Toss a few of them out. You’ll end up overcooking them anyway.

5. sometimes a lady

…will have her cat cake and eat it, too.

6. should a writer listen to suggestions

For the love of all that’s good and true and writerly in this world, YES. Don’t be a precious snowflake.

7. scary hamster
hamster kiss
hamster suicide
dumb hamster
death by hamster
cool hamster

Okay, I can see why the hamsters might be kissing. Even furfaces like a little lip once in a while. And if a dumb hamster and a cool hamster are kissing, it might have entertainment value. Locking braces, awkward positions, AND SO FORTH.

But…but…why hamster suicide? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? And by Grabthar’s Hammer, what is death by hamster? Diana from “V” swallows one and chokes on it?

And why did these searches lead to my blog?!?

#whatisthatidonteven

8. novels — how long is too long

If you keep writing after the story is finished, then your novel is too long.

9. i have a bachelors in writing now what

Yes. Quite.

(READ: When I find out, I’ll let you know.)

10. dragon vs. turkey

dragonvsturkey

5 Reasons Why Your Novel’s Getting Nowhere

Writing a novel is hard.

Writing a novel makes your fingers hurt. It makes your head hurt. It makes your heart hurt. It puts you in a place where you have to acknowledge certain truths — about reality, about other people, and, most of all, about yourself. Writing a novel is like being an actor filmed in a low-definition movie and suddenly projected in hi-def on a screen the size of a football field.

All of your tiniest flaws are on display to the world. You can no longer hide the grime, the sweat, or the over-sized pores. You can no longer hide your heart, and you have to hope and pray that nobody laughs at it.

So when you’ve made this commitment to laying your naked soul on a sacrificial altar for the world, what really kicks you in the gut is when the novel, this lifeblood-spilling work, just refuses to go anywhere. You’ve risked all, you’ve let them film your grit and tears — and right before they show the film, somebody packs it into a container and hides it away in the bunker from the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

All that sacrifice, all that heartache. For nothing but a screeching halt to everything you hoped. Some of the thoughts that go along with this screeching halt sound like this:

Every time I sit down to work on my story, my mind goes blank.
My characters took the story in a new direction, and I don’t know what to do now.
I don’t feel like writing — the inspiration just isn’t there.
My writing feels stilted.
I’m just no good at this.

Here are a few reasons why that screeching halt happens — and a few hints on what to do about it.

5 Reasons Why Your Novel’s Getting Nowhere

1. You haven’t started writing it.
This one’s kind of a duh, right? Of course, it’s impossible to keep a novel going if you haven’t actually written any of it yet!

But that blank page — whether it’s lined or unlined paper, a notebook, or a word processor with blinking cursor — it’s awfully intimidating. It jeers and sneers at you. It knows your fear of failure. It speaks doubt into your mind and despair into your heart.

In Stephen King’s Misery, writer Paul hears a question every time he sits down to write: Pauly, can you? Every writer hears that question (most of us minus the “Pauly” part) — and too often, faced with getting started on that new story, our answer to that question is, “No. I can’t.” And so we don’t.

The solution to this problem is complex. Each of us has reasons for our fear of the blank page. Failure. Rejection. Ridicule. The belief that we don’t have the right to write. And a myriad of other mental/emotional buggaboos. Overcoming these fears can take years of dedication (and a lot more heartache). Sometimes, whether or not we overcome these fears depends on just how far we’re willing to go in knowing ourselves.

But the answer boils down to the simplest of phrases: Just write. Sit down, pull out your pen and paper, open your word processor, and just write. Write anything at all, even if it’s not your story. Engage in the simple act of getting words out of your head and into visible, tangible form. The rest might just take care of itself.

2. You don’t know where it’s going.
Ack! This plot! I had such a fantastic concept for how this book would go. But first the main character quit talking, then that supporting character just up and died, and then there was a major plot hole I didn’t know how to fill, so I changed direction somewhere around the middle, and now I’m getting to the climax and it doesn’t make any sense in the context of the beginning of the story, HELP!

*ahem*

You’ve been there, haven’t you? Please tell me I’m not the only one.

Not knowing where the story is going will kill your novel. The fix? Figure out where you want to go before you start. This means work, my friends. It means prewriting: outlines, character descriptions, synopses, and the like. You might not need all of these; you might need only one of these. You might need pre-writing in a form unique to your writing and working style. But you need to figure out your roadmap before you start the story, or you’re going to end up in a sticky rut.

If you’re already quagmired in the middle of your story, all is not lost. It’s going to take some tricky effort to extricate yourself, but you can do it! Sit back, plot it out, outline it, and take a close look at your story arc. You’ll figure out where you went wrong. And who knows? You might discover some side paths you overlooked before, and they might just lead you to something sparkly and grand.

3. You’ve forgotten the whys.
Why is he walking down the street with a machete in one hand and a lemon meringue pie in the other? Why is she standing in the middle of the market with nothing on but her hair curlers — and a smile?! What turned him into the kind of person who picks at his cuticles every time someone mentions faulty wiring?

If you don’t know why your characters do what they do, then eventually they’ll (a) do nothing the story needs them to do, or (b) do nothing at all. You must, must, must know their motivations, and you must know these motivations on an intimate level.

And once again, this means prewriting.

You need solid backstories for these people. These backstories might never make an actual appearance in your novel; your readers might never know about them. (Unless you become wildly famous and all your fans clamor to hear so much more about your characters that you have no choice but to broadcast their life stories to the world.) But you will know. You should know. Because that personal history is what makes your characters who they are today. And who your characters are should be your story’s driving force.

4. You’re not getting any feedback.
Oh, I know. You’re not writing this story for other people. You’re writing it for you — so why should you need feedback? You should be able to figure the whole thing out on your own, right?

Wrong.

We writers are blind. Every last one of us. Yes, yes, we see the world in ways that others might not, and we see things in the world that others might not. But when it comes to our own writings, we’re a bunch of blind mole rats. We fall in love with our characters, plots, and turns of phrase — and we’re incapable of seeing their collective flaws.

Fellow writers, there are a bunch of sighted people out there. They are called beta readers, and we need them like a blind mole rat needs…well, whatever it is a blind mole rat needs to get along. I’m guessing it’s more than a cane and a seeing-eye cricket.

In other news, I seem to be digressing into a really bad metaphor. The point is, we writers need objective feedback on our work. Our characters and stories deserve it. Without it, our craft will stagnate, and our stories will die. And if you’re stuck in the middle of your novel, the wisdom of an objective beta reader can get your novel started again in cramazing ways.

5. You’re waiting.
I have sad news to share with you, my friends: Inspiration doesn’t strike. Inspiration’s not an ethereal, graceful lady clad in something sheer, whispering the right words into your ear at the right moment. And inspiration doesn’t just show up out of the blue to help your novel along when you get stuck.

Inspiration, sadly, is a greasy little creepazoid twerp who’s never going to show up at work unless you show up there first. And if you expect him to do so, he’s just going to sit back in his worn-out, grimy easy chair and point at you and laugh.

Okay, so I lied. Sometimes, inspiration does strike — but you can’t count on it, and you can’t wait for it. If you’re waiting for a random hit of inspiration to get you out of your noveling rut, you’re going to be waiting for the rest of your life.

There’s just no way around it: You’ve gotta put in your butt-to-chair time. You’ve gotta make yourself sit down and write, even if every single word strains your mind and makes pulses visible in your forehead. It’s hard work, and it hurts. (Hmm, where have I heard that before?) But if you want your novel to go somewhere, butt-to-chair time is the price you have to pay.

And sometimes, the creepy inspiration dude won’t even show up then. Sometimes, you have to wrestle him into the chair beside you, hold a knife to his throat, and tell him to start talking.

The great thing is that once you’ve got him in that position, the guy usually won’t shut the heck up. And that’s when it turns glorious.

So, there we have five reasons for our noveling woes!

What other reasons have you experienced?

How did you turn the problem into a solution?

Are you still stuck? And what do you want to do about it?