Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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Guess Who’s in the Driver’s Seat of Your Creativity?

by Holly Lasky

Photo of a young man in front of his laptop computer.

The path to understanding and having creative flow is about knowing the origin of and what to do when you don’t have creative flow. Guess who's in the driver's seat of your creativity?

What do you do when you’re blocked, staring at an empty page waiting to be filled with your brilliance and genius and are coming up with……nothing? Or maybe you are second-guessing the writing on the page -- ripping and shredding and stabbing as you edit out all the elements that are creative, amazing and express your unique voice.

What happens when you’re completely stuck, perhaps have a blind spot, have an idea of what’s wrong but have no idea how to write yourself out of it? What about when the noise is so loud in your head you can barely string together a coherent sentence? These are challenges every creative has faced to varying degrees. 

There are 4 secrets to know who is in the driver’s seat of your creativity. 

Guess what, it’s not who you think!

Our Minds and Creativity

Understanding creativity begins with understanding our minds, how we process, what we think, what we feel and what we do. Every second, we are bombarded with 11 million bits of information. We take this information in through our five senses and our self-talk.

Our unconscious mind processes and organizes information by distorting, deleting and generalizing to get it down to 134 bits per second that we can assimilate. Our unconscious mind is not done yet! The 134 bits then go through all of our filters - background, education, spiritual beliefs, values, experiences - good and bad, trauma, PTSD, compulsion, etc., and then we create our picture of the world.

From the picture comes our thoughts, emotions, and actions. This is why a dozen people witnessing a car accident will have 12 different stories of what they experienced - what they saw, heard, and felt. Each person has a unique perception of their 134 bits of information per second.

Discover Who is in the Driver's Seat of Your Creativity

Secret #1

Our conscious mind is 3-5% and our unconscious mind is 95%. You may be wondering, how is that a problem?

We live, work, play and create from our automatics. We mostly live according to these unconscious strategies, problem-solving, coping mechanisms, and patterns. How we do one thing is how we do EVERYTHING. Our conscious mindsets the goals and the unconscious mind goes and gets them. If they’re not in agreement, guess who wins? That’s right - your unconscious mind! 

Photo illustrates frustrated creativity.

Secret #2

Begin to create a new awareness when you’re blocked. What are you feeling when you’re blocked? When our creativity is blocked it is usually coming from a negative emotion. When it happens, allow yourself to be curious. Even if you don’t have a label for the emotion, you can ask yourself, what does the emotion sound like, look like and feel like? Where do you feel it in your body? Negative emotions don’t feel good. While they feel “yucky”, “yucky” is not an emotion. Frustration is a more surface emotion so allow yourself to go deeper. Anger, sadness, fear, hurt, guilt, shame and all their variations are negative emotions.

Secret #3

Once you have the negative emotion, the question to ask is, “What do you take that to mean about yourself?” Some very normal things to come up might be, I’m stupid, not smart enough, or not good enough. Now we’re getting closer to the real reason someone is stuck.

Are you letting life circumstances affect you? Are you unconsciously choosing to let your environment control you or is it your fears? Even boredom can be a block. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, creativity stops flowing.

Secret #4

Whatever the answer is to “What do you take that to mean about yourself?” helps bring to light a decision you made early on that is creating a block. In coaching terms it is a limiting decision. Your limiting decision is the source of the block. These decisions can show up in every area of life to varying degrees.

Common Limiting Decisions

  • I’m not worthy.
  • I’m not smart enough.
  • I’m not passionate enough.
  • I’m not enough. 
  • I’m too much.
  • I’m a failure.
Photograph illustrating the overwhelm when you don't know who is in the driver's seat of your creativity.

Everyone, take a breath. 

Really, take another breath.

Being creatively blocked and stuck is not your fault. 

Let me say it again. Being creatively blocked and stuck is not your fault!

All these limiting decisions are not your fault. They were created early in your life, usually from your unconscious mind doing its job to protect you.

Now with this new awareness, you can dig into it and ask, “When was the first time you felt this way? When was the first time you felt unworthy, not smart enough, passionate enough, not enough, too much or a failure? What did you need that you didn’t get? If you had those things you needed, what would have been different then? If you know you have or can have those things now, what can be different now?”

“What do you want instead?”

Put Creativity in the Driver's Seat

We can look at our blocks in a new way when we realize our unconscious mind is in the driver’s seat. Then we can allow ourselves to feel and learn from the emotions as they come up.

When we ask questions like “What do we take this negative emotion to m,ean about ourselves?” and, “When did we first notice this feeling?”, we open up a new awareness and there is the possibility to resolve, release, and reframe the unconscious automatics and create agreement and harmony within ourselves.

Consider the possibility that your creativity can flow easily and effortlessly when these blocks are identified and eliminated. Imagine what your creativity will look like, sound like, feel like when you have new decisions -- consciously and unconsciously!

  • I’m worthy.
  • I’m smart.
  • I’m passionate.
  • I’m empowered.
  • I’m creative and inspired.
  • A blank page will be a new adventure to explore. 

Can you imagine the possibilities of what you will write and create?

Homework: Remember a time when you were blocked. Go back to that time in your mind and go through the 4 secrets to change your perception. What came up? What was your block really about? What do you want instead?

When you experienced a creative block, how did you get back in the driver's seat of your creativity? Please share your story with us down in the comments.

About Holly Lasky

Holly is an Internationally Certified Master Coach, Professional Musician, Writer, Speaker, and Encourager. Holly coaches Executives, Entrepreneurs, Coaches, and Creatives in eliminating blocks in the area of life they most need & creating intuitive, congruent goals. Achieve repeatable, optimum results in less than 30 days without rah-rah motivational & accountability coaching, toxic positivity, unnecessary & unproductive busywork, and years of therapy. 

You didn’t come this far to only come this far!

Click this link to learn more and to connect: https://linktr.ee/HollyLasky

Let’s talk about and get clarity on what’s blocking you. Interested in one-on-one coaching or our new group coaching program? Click the link above to reserve time on my calendar.

Also, check out Aligned Optimum Vitality Coaching’s latest Masterclasses. (Includes 2 New Masterclasses: “5 Shifts to Reboot Your Creativity” and “Set & Achieve SMART Goals with 100% Belief, Certainty & Alignment.”)

BONUSES

Bonus #1 - Everyone who books and shows up for a call with me, I will send a custom meditation created especially for WITS to help you build trust with and learn from your Creative Self. 

Bonus #2 - Join the free Facebook Group: Master (Unconscious) Mind for Creatives, Entrepreneurs, Coaches & Leaders

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4 Essential Elements You Need to Create a Workable Novel

by Sandy Vaile

Image of faceless white-clay.figure sitting on the floor surrounded by large, red 3d question marks, The character has its elbows on its knees, one hand covering its face because it doesn't know the four essential elements you need to create a workable novel.

Every second person I speak to believes they’ve “got a novel in them”. It’s getting it out and onto the page that’s the tricky part! Only about 3% of people who actually start writing a book, will ever finish it. Fewer still end up with a story that works because they don't understand the essential elements needed to create a workable novel.

So, how can you be in the minority of fiction authors who end up with a story that hits all the marks publishers and readers are looking for?

In my experience, it doesn’t matter when or how much you like to plan your stories, so long as you nail four critical aspects. It’s all about writing with purpose. Having a fabulous idea is just the beginning. The hard part is molding that idea into a living, breathing story that captures the imagination of readers, plucks at their heartstrings, and lures them towards ‘the end’.

Authors usually become stuck by:

  • Not developing their idea into a workable plot. The whole brainstorming and playing with ideas phase is often rushed in the excitement to start writing.
  • Not populating that plot with interesting characters readers will want to spend time with.
  • Not having a focused direction for the story and therefore losing their way.

Sure, there are dozens of aspects to the planning and writing process, and we can’t cover them all in a single article, but without the four critical aspects below a novel is unlikely to have what it takes to catch a publisher’s attention and engage readers.

The four critical aspects of a workable novel are:

  1. Idea transformation  
  2. Story purpose
  3. Driven characters
  4. Character-driven conflicts

Now, let’s look at each of these elements in more detail,

Idea Transformation

Image of an anonymous clay character with no face on its round head and holding a red puzzle piece with gray puzzle pieces around it on the floor and in front of him a hole for that red puzzle piece that will make a workable novel.

An idea is not a plot, no matter how amazing. It is the kernel of inspiration, which we must flesh out into a three-dimensional world populated by living, breathing characters.

The whole process of gathering, sorting, and selecting ideas can take a long time. Our minds need to brainstorm, ponder and weigh up possibilities before settling on a host of ideas with the potential to come together to form a novel.

The Brainstorming

Take your time when brainstorming ideas that flow from that initial idea. Follow each one along the path of “what ifs” until you exhaust all avenues, no matter how crazy they may seem. I’m often surprised at what random ideas trigger solid story threads.

What if questions can lead in a host of different directions. Keep going until you expose the inherent conflict in a situation. Something that interests you enough to want to tease out the underlying struggles people in that situation are likely to face. Something that is substantial enough to germinate a multitude of possibilities and sustain a story for 80,000 plus words.

Once you’ve filled many pages with potential ideas, sort them according to topics or your degree of interest in them. If you still can’t choose the angle/topic you want to work on, I find it helpful to flesh out a few ideas. Just free write, imagine situations, locations, and characters and see where they take you. Some will peter out, but eventually one will fire up your imagination and demand to be told.

Some Examples

Let’s look at a couple of examples (simplified though they may be) of how ideas can be transformed into story premises.

Example 1

  • Idea – A destitute woman with a child to care for.
  • Brainstorming – What if a destitute woman had to provide for a special needs child whilst living in a station wagon?
  • Transformation – A destitute woman pretends to be someone else, to provide for her special needs child, despite the constant risk of exposure.

Example 2

  • Idea – Someone who lived through the sinking of the Titanic.
  • Brainstorming – What if a woman who is desperate to avoid an arranged marriage, falls in love with a working-class man?
  • Transformation – A seventeen-year-old aristocratic woman falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic and will risk everything to avoid her arranged marriage.

Story Purpose

We are looking down on a large anonymous orange clay figure who has a tiny white clay figure standing on his left shoulder and whispering into the orange one's face and a black clay figure stand on his right shoulder and whispers in his ear as the orange one tries to figure out a workable novel.

There are two parts to story purpose:

  • The author’s reason for writing the story; and
  • The end goal (of the book or main character).

Understanding why you want to write a particular story will sustain you through the inevitable questioning of its worth, and being clear about where it’s going will prevent you from meandering so far from the core plot that you lose steam and come to a halt. Worst case scenario? You abandon the story altogether.

The author’s purpose

Books are so much more than ideas communicated through words. We tell them because we want to share our own beliefs and ideals with others and/or to open their eyes to the plight of a minority and/or to open their minds to a different way of seeing things.

Dig deep into your soul to see what aspects of the story and its character you want to explore. Where does your passion lie? It might be an injustice, moral standpoint or statement about an institution or culture.

What message or sentiment are you hoping to leave readers with after they close the book?

The story’s purpose

A story’s purpose is the endpoint, which every action and thought is hurtling towards.

I use a “story summary” to point my characters in the right direction. It’s a few paragraphs that outline who the main characters are, what they want, why and what’s stopping them. Just like a synopsis, only less formal because it’s purely for your reference.

I often start mine by posing a “what if” question I will answer by the end of the story and spend extra words making it clear why my character is driven to pursue this goal and what inner fear or false belief they will overcome during the story.

Referring to this summary before writing or editing each scene, prevents me from getting side-tracked on tangents that don’t serve the core plot.

Driven Characters

A white-clay. faceless character figure sitting on the floor beside a red heart with black cracks in it. The character holds its hands on each side of its head and represents how to change a driven character story into a workable novel.

This is the most common area where I see stories fall short. Authors often come up with a story idea, complete a standard Character Profile and start writing. Unfortunately, this tends to lead to dimensionless cardboard cut-outs on the page.

It isn’t what a character looks like that will make them memorable or able to drive a plot. We need to unearth their “why”.

  • Why they are in this situation.
  • Why they desperately want to achieve the goal.
  • Why they are the perfect person to put in this situation.

The answers to all of these questions must be relevant to the character’s goal (what they want to achieve by the end of the story).

Some Examples:

  • They are in this situation because of choices they made and situations they faced before the book started.
  • They desperately want to achieve their goal because it has a deep emotional and/or physical meaning to them. This desire needs to be strong enough to keep them going in the face of fear or danger.
  • They perfectly suit this story situation because of events from their past, which shaped the skills, talents, flaws or fears they have and are relevant to the plot. They must be the kind of person who will be challenged or distressed as you deliberately put them in increasingly difficult situations.

How your characters got to the point in time where the story starts, has a huge bearing on the types of obstacles you put in their way during the story.

Use their personal fears, false beliefs and past traumas against them, to make their lives as difficult as possible.

Having to overcome such challenges will help them grow as a person (their character arc). Learn something about themselves (possibly something they would never verbalise).

Character-driven Conflicts  

A white clay figure strides forward  inside a large red cog and represents character-driving conflicts in a workable novel.

Conflict is the heart pumping life through the arteries and veins of your novel. The source of character development and the thing that hooks readers into the character’s life.

Use what the main character(s) want (their goal) and why they want it (their motivation) to create challenges that are difficult for them specifically. This is what I mean by the characters driving the conflicts in the story.

Some examples:

  • A victim of child abuse is going to react differently than someone who was nurtured in a loving home.
  • Someone who has repeatedly been rejected, by lovers, friends and parents, will view relationships differently than someone who found the love of their life in high school and is still with them.
  •  A person who feels guilty for letting down someone they cared about in a big way,  will approach a similar situation differently than someone who hasn’t experienced such a trauma.

Stephen King says, “Put interesting characters in difficult situations and see what happens.”

Force your main character(s) to face challenges as soon as possible. To create a well-rounded story, your characters should come up against external and internal conflicts. Gradually making the situations they are in more challenging — with more to lose emotionally and physically — will increase the tension and lure readers through the story.

A Solid Foundation for a Workable Novel

Competition judges, agents, publishers and (often subconsciously) readers, are looking for these four elements to create a cohesive story they can follow and become fully immersed in.

So, if you find your stories fading into oblivion and remaining unfinished, or you have completed stories that aren’t quite coming together right, you may be left feeling confused, overwhelmed and insecure about your writing abilities. But don’t despair.

Take a step back and make sure you have fully explored the four essential elements to transform your idea into a workable story using driven characters and conflicts, and keep it on track with a clear purpose. With these things in place, you will have a solid foundation from which to create a workable novel.

If you are stuck in a rut of writing novels you never finish, never submit, or aren’t sure how to fix, then it’s your lucky day. I’m offering Writers in the Storm readers a FREE masterclass, which reveals the real reasons few aspiring authors finish their novels (and how to avoid them).

Grab the Quit Procrastinating and Write a Publishable Novel masterclass here.

About Sandy

Photograph of Sandy Vaile author of this post is holding a copy of her book Combatting Fear showing she knows how to create a workable novel.

Sandy Vaile is a motorbike-riding daredevil who isn’t content with a story unless there’s a courageous heroine and a dead body. She writes romantic-suspense for Simon & Schuster US and coaches fiction authors to write novels they are proud to share (and which get noticed by agents and publishers).

Sandy is an experienced course presenter who provides a nurturing workshop environment where participants can truly absorb the material and apply it to their own work.

In her spare time, Sandy composes procedures for high-risk industrial processes, judges writing competitions, runs The Fearless Novelist Facebook group, and offers critiquing services.

Connect with Sandy Vaile on her website or social media.

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Writers: Pantser, Plotter … Roadster?

By William F. Wu

I have known a lot of professional, much-published writers over the years and the pantser/plotter descriptions fit everybody to some degree. The pantser, of course, writes with minimal advance plotting by the seat of the proverbial pants and the plotter prefers to have a detailed outline while writing. I started out as a pantser and became more of a plotter.

I don’t recommend any particular approach—whatever works for someone makes sense to me, including combinations of the two approaches. I’m merely looking back at my own evolution along this line. If others shared this experience, we’re not alone. I hope I’m not completely alone, as that is a weird thought.

Starting Without a Map

When I was first writing with the goal of becoming professionally published (I had written stories from the time I was very young), I chose to begin with short stories. I liked reading them and had found a number of them meaningful to me over the years. So that’s how I started, with the intention of writing novels later.

I worked out story ideas many different ways. Sometimes I had a premise and then worked up the protagonist. Other times I had a character in mind first and sometimes, less often, a setting came to me first. I was totally writing by the seat of my pants, as the metaphor goes. One result was that I wrote a lot of fragments, attempts for which I got stuck and never figured out how to go forward. I did write some complete short stories this way. One was accepted by a regional magazine, which folded soon after my story appeared—and before they paid me the fifty dollars that had been promised. The ones I sent to major magazines and anthologies were all rejected.

At this time, I was writing fantasy and science fiction stories, which I continued to write, and also short crime fiction. Back then, I got nowhere with the latter.

Less than a year after I set out in this endeavor, I was able to take part in the Clarion Writers Workshop. At Michigan State University then, it focused on writing science fiction and fantasy. I had a great experience. Immediately afterward, I was unable to put into words what I had learned—I tried, talking to other writers as well as nonwriters. Over time, I processed a great deal of the experience to my benefit. This did not, however, influence the process I was using.

One Note, Two Notes, Three Notes... and More

Photograph of a surveyor's measuring device looking down a wide swath of dirt graded for a new road illustrating the post Writers: Pantser, plotter...roadster.

While I was pantsing on a story, however, sometimes I thought of something to add farther into the story. That something might be a character, a plot device, maybe some dialogue. To avoid forgetting it, I wrote a note to myself.

That was the first step toward becoming a plotter. Yes, it took a long time, and my first two professional sales (the sale to the regional magazine was not considered professional by the Science Fiction Writers of America) were written mostly by pantsing, though I came up with the ending for the second one pretty early while I was working on it.

So, as I kept writing, I also wrote down notes for later—more and more, over time. I needed to note when in the story I planned something and began putting the notes in the order I would use them. Okay, you can see where this is going. Still while pantsing, I would sometimes take enough notes that they represented events all the way to the end. That constituted an outline—not detailed at first, but an outline.

During this time, I also came to the concept that a story is about its ending. In casual conversation, we might say a story is about a plot premise or a protagonist as “someone who does something or other.” How the protagonist resolves the conflict of the story, or fails to do so, is what the story is really about.  

Over time, without any particular decision-making, I found myself writing up notes until they began to take shape as an outline every time I worked on a story. In particular, I was still writing down anything I didn’t want to forget.

Of course writers can still pants their way to an ending they have chosen. I know some writers who use sketch outlines that have only a handful of important moments written down. They often have notes, however, about details they intend to include at some point.

I was on a panel at a science fiction convention (I don’t remember when or where, but it was close to twenty years ago) where this subject came up. When my turn came, I described gathering notes, eventually arranging them in order, and adding details as I continued to think of them. At some point, strictly intuitive on my part, I was ready to start writing the first draft.

Writers: Pave a Route/Routine

Illustrating Writers: Pantsers, Plotters ... roadsters.

Author Stephen R. Donaldson was on the panel and he offered a metaphor I like: Building a road. He likened the first notes to setting out a surveyor’s stakes and then, of course, I graded the road and eventually paved it—I think of paving as writing the first complete draft. Last, I paint the lines, as in working with details on my way to the final draft. I’ve used this metaphor from time to time to explain the process I developed over time.

Even with all the writers I know, in most cases we haven’t discussed much of this process. Once we work out a process that works for us, we just go ahead with it. If some others do this in the way I do, at least we’re not alone. So maybe instead of pantsers and plotters, we’re roadsters—a metaphor that somehow brings up images to of very old cars. Then again, I don’t feel like I’m a car, but I don’t feel like I’m pants or plots, either.

I want to stress that the entire outline remains up for revision as I go. In fact, I often reach something in the outline that I choose to delete in favor of something else. So pantsing still takes place within the plotting.

And maybe it’s all just road building.

Writers: what kind or road builder are you? Pantser? Plotter? Or something inbetween? Please share it with us down in the comments!

About William F. Wu

Photo portrait of William F. Wu, a science fiction, fantasy, and crime author, and author of Writers: Pantser, Plotter...or roadster.

William F. Wu is a science fiction, fantasy, and crime author whose traditionally published books include 13 novels, one scholarly work, and a collection of short stories. Regarding his more than seventy published works of short fiction,  he has been nominated for the Hugo Award twice, for the Nebula Award twice, and once for the World Fantasy Award. His novels Hong on the Range and The Temple of Forgotten Spirits are available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook editions through Boruma Publishing. His science fiction collections Intricate Mirrors and Ten Analogs of the Future, the latter being ten collaborations with Rob Chilson, are available in ebook editions. For more information, see williamfwu.com.

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