The Manhattan Project--2016 A to Z Theme

Always a work in progress--welcome to my blog...

Monday, July 18, 2011

It's Your Story So Tell It Like a Story

          If you ask me, writer's block is just an excuse that is the same as saying, "I'm too damn lazy to write anything right now."  I don't have any problem with a writer not feeling like writing, but I do think we should cough up the truth if we are not writing.  If your life depended on coming up with something don't you think you could?

          Okay, so you're at a standstill with your current work in progress or you have an idea for a story but don't know how to start.  You're having trouble forcing yourself to write.   Well, then force yourself to write something else.  Forget about trying to make something up.   Write about you.  Write the story of your life.  Surely you know that story.

          When faced with the concept of writing memoir some people might balk with the claim that their life is not interesting or they haven't done anything special.  So what the heck, write about it anyway.  I'm not talking about mundane journal entries or Daytimer schedule planner entries; I'm talking about you telling what you did today, or yesterday, or once upon a time on that special day of your life.  Make it creative.  Turn it into a tale.

          Maybe you just went to the grocery store today, bought some groceries, and came home.  Come on--think!  There's so much more to this story.   How did you get there?   What did you see on your way?  What was playing on the radio?  Did someone else go with you?  What did you talk about?  What kind of car do you drive and how's it running anyway?

           Now you're getting somewhere.   What store did you go to?  Did you see any particularly interesting people?  Who did you see there and what did they look like?   What was on sale?  How much did things cost?   What did you buy?   How did you pay for it?   How are your finances?   Will you have enough to get through the month?

           "Bor-r-r-ing!"  You may say.  Make it interesting--you're the writer.  Throw in adjectives and adverbs, metaphors and similes, or whatever else you can grab out of your writer's trick bag.  Add some humor, inject some action, or elicit pathos.   Paint a vivid picture that the reader can see, hear, and sense in every way.  Sometimes everyday experience can be the most interesting because we can all relate to it.

            Think about the stand-up comic's routine.  What makes it all so funny is that we can usually picture it because we've been there.   Next time you're listening to a comedy routine focus on why it's funny.  A great deal of the humor comes from the presentation, but familiar story content makes us nod our heads with the realization that we get it--yeah, we've been in that same situation and know exactly what the comic is talking about.

          Or what about that friend or co-worker who always holds our attention with a riveting story.  Why? Again, presentation is a big part of it, but our ability to connect to what is being said makes a big difference in keeping us interested.   Conversely, think about the person who tells the dull boring story.   Maybe we can also relate to that person's story, but do we care?  The way the story is told can be a big snooze-a-rama without presentational pizzazz tossed into the mix.

         Try it out.  Next time you're bemoaning that you've got writer's block, stop what you're doing and tell your life story.  Not necessarily your whole life story, but maybe what you've done since you woke up that morning or what you did before going to bed the previous night.  It might end up being a better story that the one you wanted to write in the first place.

          Instead of using the esoteric term of writer's block or the artsy complaint of lacking inspiration, just tell it like it is.  I'm too damn lazy to write, too distracted to write, or I just plain don't want to write whatever crap I'm supposed to be writing.   Hmm--maybe you can write a story about why you feel that way.  And please make it an interesting story.

           What's your opinion of writer's block?  Have you ever tried stand-up comedy?   Do you find it easy to write about your life?

            On Wednesday my special guest will be Karen Walker who will be visiting Tossing It Out as part of her Following the Whispers blog book tour.  Karen's someone who can tell about writing a memoir and she'll be here to give us a few tips on the Do's and Don'ts of memoir writing.




  1. If I get stuck I read back through my novel, or some of the short stories I haven't finished. Sometimes you need to take a break from what you are working on then go back to it with fresh eyes.

    Great posting

  2. Hi Lee .. I can quite understand people getting stuck .. but I suspect it might be with overload - too much information or too many ideas.

    I'd forgotten snippets of my childhood - but they were brought back to life through an interesting part of a railway journey, which triggered my imagination to look a little further .. and hey presto my latest post was born.

    Writing a book would daunt me I think .. I admire everyone who does it .. cheers and enjoy the week .. Hilary

  3. I love listening to people who can turn an everyday event into a laughfest, and have sat and analysed, till I realised that that style is simply not me. There's so much happening all the time it's a challenge knowing where and how to start.Sue

  4. If I get stuck when writing, I usually take a walk, play music, do something totally unrelated to writing. I find you do burn out to an extent and you need a 'refresh' of sorts.

    I've not tried stand up comedy, I'd probably suck at it, really. :D Happy Monday!

  5. It would take a lot to make my life interesting!
    Once I get an idea, I don't get stuck. It's just coming up with that idea in the first place!

  6. When you get right down to it, we all write about ourselves. Even when writing science fiction a part of ourselves is on the page. When I feel really stuck I read the newspaper and write about my reaction to something I read. It's still all about me. I do find it hard to make "me" interesting though.

  7. If I'm stuck on a story, I write in my journal. I get my thoughts down. I write everyday, although it may never be meaningful to another. I can never claim to have writers block. I eventually work everything out in my head.

  8. Laziness? *my hand goes up*
    Tiredness? *there's the hand again*
    The only block I get is the one preventing my arse from plunking itself in front of the computer.

  9. Great post! I read a quote not too long ago attributed to Stephen King ... allow me to paraphrase ... amateurs sit around and wait for inspiration, writers sit down and write.

    I love the idea of working on a personal history. I've actually been doing that inbetween everything else. It's amazing the things I've remembered and some of those ideas just might end up in my novel.

  10. My life is funnier than fiction. But I would gladly have traded yesterday's blog post for a cart full of groceries that survived bagging without molestation.

    I teach science to ninth graders. Every day is a stand-up routine for me.

  11. I think you are spot on about writers' block, Arlee. You give some great suggestions to get the creativity ball rolling again. Writing about my own life and experiences seems to come easy for me as it is at least one area in which I am an expert.
    Pam at

  12. I have done comedy all my life to ease tense, difficult situations but would love to try stand up one day!

  13. Sometimes the inner critic gets so loud - "That sucks. This stinks. Why do you even try?" So to spite those critics. I sit down and intentionally write garage:stream of consciousness with no punctuation or thought. Soon the inner critic leaves in disgust, and I can segue on to the work at hand. And when I look back over my "garbage" I usually find a few nuggets of gold.

    I once stood up at a party (in four inch spike heels) for two hours straight telling jokes. Does that count as stand-up comedy?

  14. I don't usually have a problem with writer's block. If I do sit down and nothing happens, I will journal or take a walk or practice my singing or piano. Then when I go back to the writing, it usually begins to flow.
    Writing about our lives can be daunting, particularly if there has been trauma. But it can also be quite healing. Thanks for the shout out about my guest post, Lee. I'm looking forward to it.

  15. 'If you ask me, writer's block is just an excuse that is the same as saying, "I'm too damn lazy to write anything right now." '

    Could not agree less.

  16. Good tips! My problem is time time time. There never is enough of it available in a large enough chunk for me to get rolling....But maybe thats an excuse too. I will work on that. Thanks for the push!
    Blessings, Joanne

  17. I get stuck sometimes, but it's usually because my subconscious is trying to unravel something I haven't quite worked out yet in the plot or character motivation. After a day or two it usually works itself out and I move on.

  18. I liken writer's block to the 24-hour flu. You know, where you pretend you're sick, that you have flu-like symptoms when really that's not the case.

  19. Jarmara -- A break is usually one important solution to getting out of the rut of not knowing what to write.

    Hilary -- Retracing steps can often jog ones memory, I think you'd do a great job writing a book. You have such a great ability of digging up information.

    Sue -- Practice! You just start with the first thing that comes to mind and elaborate. Experiment with some prompts.

    Talei -- Getting recharged with diversion can do wonders for inspiration.

    Alex -- I'm sure your life is more interesting to others than it is to you. The stuff we live with everyday seems boring to us.

    Delores -- I agree that we put ourselves into everything we write, but maybe digging deeper will improve our writing.

    Miranda -- Sounds like you take the right approach. Scholars appreciate those journals left behind by writers.

    Cathy W -- Me too! Guilty as charged.

    Cathy -- Love the King quote. As we get older I think it becomes more important to write our lives, not just as an exercise in writing, but for those we leave behind us.

    Val -- Kids appreciate entertaining teachers.


  20. Pam - Who better to write about our lives than us!

    Gregg -- You never know! Maybe you should try it. Comedy with a message.

    Roxie -- Telling jokes for 2 hours standing in spike heels sounds like extreme stand-up comedy. I could never remember that many jokes.

    Karen -- You have pointed out the importance of achieving balance. In fact you wrote about balance on today's guest post on your blog tour.

    Suze -- Not that there's anything wrong with being lazy now and then. We all need a break sometimes.

    Joanne -- Scheduling is an important part of achieving balance. Planning ahead can help. I have this same problem and I really have no good excuse.

    L.G. --You bring up a different aspect of time. Often we need to let the stew simmer a bit longer until it's ready.

    Jeffrey -- Sometimes we know we need a break from what we're doing but don't want to just come out and admit it.


  21. If I were a writer, and had writer's block, I'd find this post very useful. When I was still teaching we used to have "Drop Everything and Write"...10-15 minutes when everyone had to write; something, anything. The premise was that the more you write the more your writing will improve. Not sure if that was the case with every student, but it certainly made a difference with many. Now, in counselling I often suggest writing as a therapeutic tool/activity for certain clients. Sometimes it works like a charm.
    Putting a story on paper can be very powerful.

  22. awesome post.

    do have trouble at times, after retrying, it works out mostly.

  23. I agree with you about writer's block--it's hogwash. To be honest, I think it is--like you said--an easy excuse for I Don't Want To Syndrome, which everyone suffers from sometimes. The thing is that it's easier for writers to get away with goofing off than it might be for those in other vocations. If a ditch-digger doesn't feel like doing his job, his wife (and his boss) pretty much expect him to get his arse to work anyway. If a writer (or other artist) isn't feelin' it, we can shift the blame to our muse...we aren't lazy, we've simply been abandoned by that fickle muse.

    I write every day, no excuses. Sometimes, the words flow from my fingertips like magic and when I read back what I've written, I feel pretty good about it. Other days, it's pure crap. No matter. I keep the good stuff, see if there's anything worth salvaging from the rest, and get on with it.

    As far as writing about my life, I do quite a bit of that. My background as a newspaper columnist taught me well how to incorporate the everyday into stories that resonate with people, and to build connections with readers in the process. We're all just living our lives and though we might come from very different geographical, ethnic, religious, and family backgrounds, I believe that our similarities far outnumber our differences, and it is in our sameness where the good stories live.

  24. I love this post Lee! I can definatley relate to being 'stuck' as to how to begin a story...or thinking that a certain event is too boring to write about...I live for humour (mostly) and love comedy. I've never tried stand up, but way back when I was in film school I remember being encouraged in that direction...I can't remember why I didn't go that way! I think it's true that we all do write about ourselves even when we're not, because we put part of us in all our work...thanks again this post!

  25. If I get stuck, I'll go work on something else. Usually I get unstuck doing something else -- working out, chores, getting out, etc ... Something will present itself and I'll go, "Aha."

  26. Great post Lee :)

    I don't usually get writer's block. If I find a story frustrating that day, I just work on one of the other ones or do some editing. :)

  27. Great post Lee, I look forward to Karen on Wednesday have been following her tour.


  28. Right now I have to say I'm in the vein of "I just plain don't want to write the crap I'm supposed to be writing"--and trying to work through it by writing at least a few hundred words anyway. Most of the time I do that or work on a non-writing project; but I'll have to try this exercise sometime.

  29. For me, writer’s block is a sign I haven’t done enough research. (I write historical YAs, by the way.) It also can be a sign of what you nailed in your post—those natural times when we feel a lack of confidence.

    It is difficult for me to write about my life, because I come from a background as a news journalist, which is all about writing about others. If I could write it as fiction instead of a memoir, I just might be able to pull it off, but I don’t know. My hat is off to all memoirists.

    I’m delighted to be a new follower! I’ve also left a comment for you on Joy’s blog.


  30. Great post! I think sometimes we get caught up in wanting to write about an "epic" idea, that we fail to write what's in front of us. Happy Monday!

  31. ah, Arlee, the motivational speaker :)))

  32. There are definitely no excuses when one has been introduced to your writing and blog. I like way that you started this post off with strong first paragraphs that whip us lazys into writing shape and then provide not only solutions to the writer's block excuses but also proof that stories can come from the simplest of moments that we experience in everday life.

    My opinion of writer's block is that it is something that many experience and I usually get a case of it when I am stressed out or overwhelmed or tired or all three. One of the ways I have been able to get around it most of the time is by doing just what you explain here....well, sorta.

    I don't always write about my life but may write about experiences or my opinions about a topic or movie on days when the things that I planned to write just seem so difficult to get together.

    No, I have never tried stand-up comedy. I don't think I'm THAT funny, lol. I may be able to tell some jokes one-on-one or in a small group but my humor is not enough to satisfy the comedic needs of a large crowd of people in a room. No way, jose!

    Yes, I find it easy to write about my life if the topic is on par with what I write about at any other time. For example, I recently had a very frustrating experience when going to the movie theater like 1 week or 2 ago. I used that experience as inspiration to write about theater practices and movie showtimes, specifically theater pre-shows because the experience was related to my blog's topic and it may also be something that other people may relate to if they had something weird happen that the theater had the power to control and improve.

    Many times, I don't find it easy to write about my life if the subject is not something that can be tied into what I already write when my life is not the main subject matter because A. I am not interested in sharing every little detail about my daily activities with the world and B. I often assume that readers would rather know less about my trip to the grocery store and more about things that they can experience themselves such as a visit to the theater or meeting actors at a screening or finally getting the special edition of Lord of the Rings on DVD or something like that.

    The Madlab Post

  33. for me writers block is when i have words in my head but can't make them make sense

  34. /raises hand/

    You got me on this one! Writers' Block is definitely my euphemism for Lazy Girl.

    I'm either not interested in what I'm writing or I just don't feel like messing with it--to the degree that I'll willingly choose laundry instead.

    I'm sure there are truly inspired authors who may have some true form of block--when their gorgeous and monumental talent is so overused that the well has run dry. That ain't me.

  35. Writer's Block does happen but when it does one has to ask oneself why?

    Oftentimes, for myself, I find that the block is related to the fact that I really don't want to write about a particular topic of news or information.

    If it has to do with creating a character, that's a whole different process and overcome quite easily. I'll first think up a name for the character and then begin by writing either a bio or an obit, and then I find myself getting "involved" with the character as if I really knew them. In the end, I wind up not only with a well formed character but a real story emerges.

  36. When I find myself suffering from Writer's Block, I usually just go to the nearest Starbucks coffee shop and beat the java out of a liberal. That generally gets the juices flowing again for me.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  37. 'Writer's block' happens when we aren't enjoying what we're doing or where we are going in the story or even when we put too much pressure on ourselves and want what we write to be perfect first attempt.

    I love your advice to try to write your life story. We are left with no excuses then.

  38. Better -- I like the concept of "Drop everything and write." I do think that the more spontaneous writing we do, the more we improve. I also agree about the therapeutic value of writing.

    Bluebell - Sometimes we just need to shake ourselves out of a funk.

    Word Nerd -- I like your comparison of writing to other occupations. Sure I'll concede that writing involves creativity, but the creative mind is like a muscle and needs to be exercised. And what you've pointed out about the "sameness of our stories" is the point I was trying to make.

    Eve -- Sometimes just getting started is the hardest part.

    M Pax -- The aha moments will come sometimes when we least expect it.

    Jemi -- It's good to have other projects on the shelf. If the stuck writer doesn't, they need to start some.


  39. Yvonne -- Karen has been contributing some wonderful guest posts so far and you can expect the same from her here.

    Golden Eagle-- Now's a great time for you to start writing about your life. A highly descriptive daily journal started at your young age will undoubtedly be much appreciated by you when you get much older and start looking back on your life. I wish I had started one when I was in middle or high school.

    Michelle -- Welcome to my blog and thanks for the follow. Now I'll have to find this message you left. Maybe reporting objectively about your own life would be a good exercise to try. And I'm mostly just talking about writing about the little daily things and making them interesting to a reader.

    Lynn -- You are so right about this. And even an epic story can fall apart if the small stuff is overlooked or not fleshed out.

    Dezmond -- Time to get things in gear and stop making excuses--right?!

    Nicole -- I love your long comments! Sometimes it not so much the exact details that are shared, but the selectivity, the descriptions, and the connections that are made. I think readers want more than just a detailed accounting of what happens, but also what it was like to be there and how a subject felt. There are so many aspects to a story.

    becca -- I guess a circumstance like that is where some free writing--writing without worrying to much what you are writing---comes into play. That's what editing is for. We can always rewrite after we've gotten some basics down.


  40. I feel like I've received a parent lecture! ; )

    I don't get writer's block, but I do write in starts and stops. While I do something writing-related nearly everyday, rough draft, editing, a blog post - I'm not always in a rough-draft-fiction state of mind. That's okay with me. In 5 years, I've written and edited 6 manuscripts (+ extra if I count sequel ideas), so it's not like I'm not accomplishing anything.

    I read all the time, I got out and observe people, I spend time with friends and family. I count it all because it enhances me as a writer.

    I'm impressed with the people who do write everyday, just like I'm impressed with outliners/plotters.

  41. I tell people I don't get writer's blog. From time to time, I simply stop writing in order to concentrate on editing. When I start feeling an itch to tell a story, I get back to writing.

  42. I couldn't agree more. The best way to get over writer's block is to write.

  43. Nah, I don't get writer's block. I get writer's flood and writer's I'd rather be on the beach but never the block. I could write something all day long. Sometimes I do.
    Jan Morrison

  44. I've learned the cure for writer's block is to move on to another project.

  45. I've been stuck lately and this post is great inspiration to get back to writing. Wonderful post, thank you! I'm looking forward to Karen's visit on Wednesday as well. :)

  46. Sometimes I get stuck on where my novel is going, but I can always come up with a blog post when given a topic. There is a huge difference between being able to write and being able to write a novel. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Just pushing the Picket Fence icon registers the vote. Thanks!


  47. Thank you Arlee for coming by ans suggesting taking the calendar off. I think we solved that problem. Thank you as well for letting me nkow about Daniel. I apperciate it so very much.
    Love to tdays post. I do tend to write alot about myself and the adventures I get into. I sometimes think they are boring but am finding others seem to enjoy them. Thanks for this encouraging blog.

  48. Hi, Arlee Bird!
    Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog about recycling. I like it when people leave a comment and it starts a conversation. I'm finding it's like pulling teeth though getting people to comment. I don't understand why. Everyone has an opinion!
    I really liked this post.
    You know, I am writing a memoir. After 4 months of writing like a lunatic, I hit a wall. I'd never had writer's block before, only heard of it. But suddenly, I could not decide where in the world I wanted to go with the story.
    I realized I had 2 stories I was trying to tell at once. I started all over, and broke the "book" into two different stories. It is so much better this time around.
    So, besides writer's block being an excuse for laziness, (and I do agree with that), I also think it can be a problem with organization, direction, or being all-out overwhelmed. Little writing goals must be the way to go. You think?
    I would LOVE to try stand up comedy. Maybe I will. Thanks for the push!
    Where is this email follow up box? Is it only for blogspot users? :(
    I don't understand blog spot. I'm coming up anonymous. I'm not. I'm jennifer!

  49. What a great idea for dealing with writers block. Me, I'm in funk over my newest story and haven't written in days. Ugh! I'm trying to figure out how to get over this and back into the chapters. But what happens when you can't even bring yourself to open the document anymore?

  50. Theresa -- Yeah, I was in a weird mood when I wrote this and wanted to play some with style. Sounds like you're taking the right approach to keeping many creative pathways open.

    J.L. -- Exactly! If you feel stuck take on another project until you're inspired to continue.

    Karen -- You're right! Write!

    Jan -- I'm pretty much the same way when laziness or distractions aren't interfering.

    Lisa from Nadir -- Agreed! If you run into a problem, do something else to entertain your mind or body.

    Julie -- In case nobody noticed today's post was inspired by Karen's guest post. I try to keep weekly themes going as much as possible.

    Joyce -- I guess I voted for your blog then. I was really confused about what was going on with the Picket Fences site.

    Bethe77-- I like to be helpful when I can.

    Jennifer -- Glad to meet you! And thank you for coming to visit my blog. I think we Blogspotters get a mite confused about those Wordpress sites as well.

    Melissa -- Maybe your mind senses something wrong with the story? If you can't shelve the story because of a deadline, then you've got a challenge on your hands. You just gotta force it I guess. Maybe write spontaneously without thinking it through too much and then go back and fix it later. I don't envy your situation.


  51. Loving this post. And I am ashamed to say I'm a mixture of lazy and insecure. It's mainly feeling overwhelmed by my own ignorance which stops me writing. I read all the time and noticve that when I read a poorly written book, my writing improves - when I read a great book, it stops.

    ITs so annoying, since this only started after I'd decided I was going to take my writing seriously. When I was just writing fro myself it was fine. I sat down and wrote 13 chapters. IT was going to be a novella. Its still at 13 chapters 12 months on only I've edited the hell out of it. And now its going to be a novel. - A series in fact. I've kind of lost my flow - a flow I seriously need restored.

    As for comedy - STAGE FRIGHT!! But my pals and my hubs all think I'm funny and can spin a great yearn. My hubs is my number 1 fan and thinks I'll be a super-star once published. I'm not the only one spinning yarns! ;D Shah. X

  52. Thank you very much for your well wishes while I was sick!
    Duncan In Kuantan

  53. If my WIP isn't behaving, I put it away, and write something else. Things like "Rain on the Table" are a diversion that keeps me writing and thinking about writing. Writer's Block? HA! I defy it!

  54. Shah -- Love it! I think I'll start reading really bad books so I'll be inspired to write better. You may have something there.

    Duncan -- Glad you are recovered. It's no fun to be sick.

    Susan -- A blog is a great place to experiment and play with writing.


  55. Great post. When I'm not pouring my heart and soul into a story, I usually end up writing poetry by default.

    I write for my sanity.

  56. Hi Lee! What a great post. I agree and next time I come up with the artsy line of "lack of inspiration" I am going to remember this post, and your words, because I can relate!!!

    Never have tried stand up comedy. I get nervous talking in front of just a few people let alone trying to think of something funny to say :)

    Have a great weekend!

  57. Angela -- I used to write a lot of poetry and songs in times like those. Haven't done it in quite a while, but I agree that it is a good outlet for creative expression.

    Rasz -- I think stand-up comedy would be a bit of a challenge. If I tried people probably wouldn't laugh at what I was saying as much as how I was attempted to say it. I don't tell jokes well as a rule.


  58. Yeah, I have a lot of ideas and find it hard to believe. BUT, I do believe it can happen. I am with Hilary it is overload...stress can wreck havoc on anyone including one's muse.
    Great tips by the way :D

  59. Ella -- Sometimes, like with chores or work, one can have so much that they don't know where to start. I guess my point is to start with something simple and obvious and chip away from there.



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