Monthly Archives: April 2015

Beat the Block: Change Your Surroundings

surroundingsWriter’s block has left countless writers with the inability to put words to paper. Whether it’s a total lack of ideas or too many ideas, writer’s block leads to convoluted thinking and stops the writer from creating a story. It’s almost inevitable and whether you’ve written one or one hundred books, writer’s block is one of the biggest obstacles a writer might face. It can occur at any stage of the writing process and for some writers, it’s incredibly difficult to beat.

Last week, I discussed how listening to music can help you focus on your writing and immerse you into your story. This week, I’m going to discuss how changing your surroundings can give you a fresh perspective on your novel and help you get over writer’s block.

For many writers, there is one specific place where all writing projects are done. Whether it’s at a desk in a formal office or snuggled under the blankets in bed, writers tend to have a couple of designated places where they do their writing. However, when writer’s block strikes, staying in the same place can feel monotonous and can make it harder to get over writer’s block. Changing your surroundings and going to a new place can help refresh your mind and give you a fresh perspective.

When changing your surroundings, consider going outside to write if it’s a nice day. The fresh air will be a welcome change to the circulated air indoors. Spending time outside has also been proven to improve your mood. If your mood is boosted, you will have the ability to work more productively and ideas are more likely to flow.

If the weather is not particularly nice, go to your local public library to do some writing. Since we spend so much time in our own homes, changing rooms may not be enough because every room in our home is so familiar. It’s easy to get distracted by pictures on the wall or your household to-do list. It is also easy to get the feeling of cabin fever if you spend too much time in your house attempting to write. By going to a new place, you are no longer distracted by your surroundings and you are able to focus on your writing. Libraries are generally quiet places and being surrounded by books will put you in the writing mindset.

To add an element of positive reinforcement, select your favorite coffee shop or café. Then, set yourself a word count goal and if you are able to meet that word count, treat yourself to a coffee or beverage at that location. Whenever you go to your new destination, make sure to bring your laptop or journal with you and write at the coffee shop or café. You will be in a completely new environment and the people and things around you may spark some inspiration. Once you arrive at the coffee shop or cafe, set yourself a new writing goal while you’re there. If you are able to reach your coffee shop word count, reward yourself with a little treat before you leave. If there’s no wifi, no problem. The lack of the Internet will prevent you from getting distracted while you write.

It doesn’t matter where you end up, but changing your surroundings can greatly affect your writing. By changing you surroundings, you won’t be looking at the same four walls and you will give your eyes and mind a much needed break. Being in a new place and surrounding yourself with new things will help spark new ideas, refresh your mind, and will help you get over writer’s block.

Thank you for following my Beat the Block series this month. If you have ever defeated writer’s block by changing your surroundings, please share your thoughts in the comments.

Beat the Block Series:
Beat the Block: Use Writing Prompts
Beat the Block: Get Physical
Beat the Block: Start a New Scene
Beat the Block: Listen to Music

Until next week,

Debbie

Beat the Block: Listen to Music

musicWriter’s block has left countless writers with the inability to put words to paper. Whether it’s a total lack of ideas or too many ideas, writer’s block leads to convoluted thinking and stops the writer from creating a story. It’s almost inevitable and whether you’ve written one or one hundred books, writer’s block is one of the biggest obstacles a writer might face. It can occur at any stage of the writing process and for some writers, it’s incredibly difficult to beat.

Last week, I discussed the benefits of starting a new scene and how it can help a writer to overcome writer’s block. This week, I am going to discuss how listening to music can help you focus on your writing and immerse you into your story.

Regardless of where you choose to write, there are always some sort of distractions around you. If you are writing from the comfort of your bedroom, the singing of birds outside may take your attention away from your keyboard. If you are writing on a busy subway platform, you may begin to focus on the conversation that someone is having next to you. It is very difficult to focus on writing if the sounds of your reality stop you from delving into the literary world you are attempting to build. If you aren’t able to submerge yourself into the story, it’s easy to get stuck. A great way to avoid audible distractions around you is by listening to music.

Music is a great way to immerse yourself into your writing and help you concentrate. When you are listening to music, you no longer have to worry about the noises around you. I prefer music without any words, such as film scores or classical music. By listening to these types of music, you can focus solely on the words in front of you rather than the words in a song. When your ability to focus is heightened, ideas are more likely to flow from your mind and onto the page.

Music is also a great way to help you visualize a scene. Television and films utilize music in order to set a scene and determine a certain mood. If the mood is light, the music will be light. If something is about to happen, the music will be just as suspenseful. You can utilize this film and television trick when you are writing. If you are writing a suspenseful scene, make sure you pick music to match it. If you do, it’ll help you envision the scene and all of your focus will be on the story, not on the stresses of life outside of the headphones. When all of your focus is on your writing, inspiration is more likely to strike.

There have also been some studies done that suggest that listening to music may enhance your focus. According to the New York Times, one study suggests that when people listen to music while working, they are able to complete a task more quickly and think of better ideas than those who don’t listen to music while working. There have been many other studies that suggest that listening to certain types of music can also increase memory and concentration. Although the topic is debated and it certainly helps if you enjoy the music that you’re listening to, music does affect the brain in a positive way that can help you get over writer’s block.

Whether your music of choice is a piece of classical music or a film score, listening to music is a great way to help you focus on your writing. Music can help you dive into the world you are creating by eliminating the distractions around you. When you become a part of your literary world, it’s easier to come up with ideas and keep the story moving. If your ideas are fresh and frequent, writer’s block will no longer be a problem.

I will be continuing my Beat the Block series throughout the month of April to provide tips and tricks to beat writer’s block. If you have ever defeated writer’s block by listening to music, please share your thoughts in the comments.

Beat the Block Series:
Beat the Block: Use Writing Prompts
Beat the Block: Get Physical
Beat the Block: Start a New Scene

Until next week,

Debbie

Book Review: Sycamore Row

sycamoreTitle: Sycamore Row
Author: John Grisham
Release Date: August 19, 2014
Rating: 5/5

Sycamore Row centers around the courtroom drama that ensues after the sudden and tragic death of self-made millionaire, Seth Hubbard. Seth lives in rural Mississippi and in ten years, was able to amass a fortune of over twenty million dollars. When he dies, he mails his last will and testament to Jake Brigance, a lawyer who gained the town’s respect after winning a racially charged murder trial three years earlier. Seth deliberately leaves his children, ex-wives, and grandchildren out of his will and instructs Jake to do everything he can to uphold his handwritten will. Jake knows that this will not be an easy task when he sees that Seth has left five percent of his fortune to the church, five percent to his long lost brother, and ninety percent to his black housekeeper, Lettie Lang. When the news spreads, Seth’s adult children swoop in with a swarm of lawyers as they attempt to take back the money that they think is rightfully theirs. In a brilliant legal thriller, the Hubbard children attempt to prove that Lettie forced Seth to write her into the will and Jake must find the answer as to why Seth Hubbard would leave his fortune to Lettie.

The novel is told mainly from the point of view of Jake. Jake had never met Seth Hubbard, but he vows to protect the will at all costs. At the beginning of the novel, Jake seems a little money hungry, but this could be a result of his own financial instabilities. Once he meets Lettie Lang and begins to learn more about Seth’s past, he seems to be genuinely invested in the case and I found myself rooting for him as the novel progressed. Along with a few other supporting characters, the novel also explores the perspective of Lettie Lang, the black housekeeper. Lettie is a middle aged, career housekeeper who is stuck in a bad marriage. She is dissatisfied with her current situation and when the news of her impending inheritance spreads, she must deal with the stress of gossip and rumors, as well as greedy family members. Lettie handled these obstacles well and I thought that she was a very likeable character, much more deserving of the fortune than the very unlikeable Hubbard children.

There are a number of characters that are introduced throughout the novel and I think that Grisham does a great job of distinguishing the characters apart from one another. There are a lot of lawyers in the novel and I think that Grisham gave them all their own personalities and I never found myself confusing them. I really liked Lucien Wilbanks, who was disbarred and left his legal practice to Jake. I enjoyed reading the interactions between Lucien and Jake and I found their relationship to be interesting. I also liked Lettie’s daughter, Portia, who Jake ends up hiring as a paralegal. Portia is interested in becoming a lawyer and she quickly becomes the perfect liaison between Jake and Lettie.

I think that the last hundred pages are what really makes this a fantastic novel. The majority of the novel is building up to the eventual jury trial that will determine if Seth Hubbard’s will is valid and if he had testamentary capacity to write it. I enjoyed the build up, but the ending was incredibly powerful. The final deposition is what decides the case and I was absolutely stunned at what the deposition revealed. I thought that the ending was excellent and it was one of the best written endings that I’ve read in a long time.

Overall, I thought that this was a great novel. The character development and progression of the plot were very well done. I think that Grisham has a wonderful writing style and he was really able to bring this legal thriller to life. I would recommend Sycamore Row to anyone who enjoys a good courtroom drama. Sycamore Row was inspired by an earlier Grisham novel, A Time to Kill. If you have enjoyed any of Grisham’s other novels, you will definitely enjoy Sycamore Row.

If you have read Sycamore Row, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view Sycamore Row on Amazon, please click here.

Beat the Block: Start a New Scene

newsceneWriter’s block has left countless writers with the inability to put words to paper. Whether it’s a total lack of ideas or too many ideas, writer’s block leads to convoluted thinking and stops the writer from creating a story. It’s almost inevitable and whether you’ve written one or one hundred books, writer’s block is one of the biggest obstacles a writer might face. It can occur at any stage of the writing process and for some writers, it’s incredibly difficult to beat.

Last week, I discussed the benefits of exercise and how physical activity can help a writer to overcome writer’s block. This week, I am going to discuss how starting a new scene can reinvigorate your creativity and help you beat writer’s block.

When you are in the middle of a writing project, especially something as long as a novel, it’s easy to grow into a slump and develop writer’s block. A lot of writers outline the plot of their story and write the chapters in order of how they are in the outline. However, I find that I can sometimes get stuck when I am writing my novel linearly. It’s normal to find yourself desiring to write a scene that happens near the end and lose the motivation to write the ones that come before it. When we lose the motivation to write the scenes in between, this can result in writer’s block.

In order to overcome this struggle, I have found that breaking away from the outline and starting a new scene is immensely helpful. This new scene can be one that you’ve previously outlined that you feel excited about or it can be a scene that you never pictured being in your book. For example, imagine that you are writing a crime novel that focuses on a murder victim’s family. In the outline, you might have had the family nervously waiting for the police to show up and give them the results of the investigation of the crime scene. Instead, write from the point of view of one of the family members going out and investigating the crime scene themselves. Where did the murder occur? What does the family member find? Is there anything suspicious at the crime scene that police have not found? Even if you don’t keep the scene in your novel, it can give you an alternative view of your story, inspire new ideas, and get you excited to write again.

Don’t be afraid to write a scene that you know won’t be included in your project because it’ll be a “waste of time”. Take the example above. If you know that you won’t include a family member investigating the crime scene in your manuscript, write it anyway. This will force you to really picture the setting and the details will become more vivid and distinct. Yes, thousands of words may end up getting cut from your manuscript, but the scene will have aided in world building and may have inspired a new idea.

If you want to write a scene that will be included in the novel, there should be no stopping you. If you feel excitement about the scene, use that passion to write as much as you can. It’ll be easier to connect the scene to the rest of the story later than to stay stagnant and wish for inspiration to hit you. I know that some writers don’t like to write disjointed scenes, but I encourage you to break free of the confines of the outline and start a new scene. You’ll feel refreshed by the new change of pace and your story will really begin to come to life.

Starting a new scene is a great way to get excited about writing again. I know that every writer relishes the feeling of a new idea and it’s incredibly easy to increase your word count when the ideas are fresh. Beginning a new scene gives you this boost of motivation and enables you to get out of the slump of writer’s block.

I will be continuing my Beat the Block series throughout the month of April to provide tips and tricks to beat writer’s block. If you have ever defeated writer’s block by starting in a new scene, please share your thoughts in the comments.

Beat the Block Series:
Beat the Block: Use Writing Prompts
Beat the Block: Get Physical

Until next week,

Debbie

Book Review: Playing Mrs. Kingston

kingstonTitle: Playing Mrs. Kingston
Author: Tony Lee Moral
Release Date: December 4, 2014
Rating: 3/5

Playing Mrs. Kingston is a 1950’s thriller that follows Catriona Benedict as she takes on the biggest acting role of her lifetime. Catriona is a struggling actress and on the night that her show is cancelled, she is offered a new role that is almost too good to be true. The very wealthy Miles Kingston offers Catriona a large sum of money to play the role of his wife so that he can come into an inheritance that is promised to him if he gets married. Catriona agrees, despite the anger of her boyfriend, and enters into the world of the rich and powerful. However, at their fake wedding reception, Miles is murdered and Catriona is left behind to play his widow. Catriona must attempt to figure out who murdered Miles and claim the money that belongs to her.

The point of view shifts between several of the characters in the book, although it was mainly from the perspective of Catriona. I liked Catriona, but I never felt like I knew much about her. Moral mentions that she is from Minnesota and speaks briefly of her family life, but much of her life in New York seemed to be a mystery. I didn’t like Mario’s perspective because he was always angry and his temper with Catriona made him unlikeable. Besides the fact that he’s from Italy and plays in a band at a local club, not much is ever revealed about Mario either.

The supporting characters were relatively similar to each other. Leiobesky, the Polish man who forges the marriage certificate, seems very similar to Louis Ferraro, the casino owner. There isn’t much revealed about Miles until after his death, but his past reveals why he would hire an actress as his wife. I think of all of the supporting characters, I liked Freddie Swann the most. Freddie is a photographer from Harper’s Bazaar and he takes a quick liking to Catriona, bumping into her throughout the novel. I actually felt like the reader learned more about Freddie than Catriona. Grace, Catriona’s fake cousin-in-law, is exactly how I would picture a pampered socialite and I thought Moral described her well.

Playing Mrs. Kingston was definitely plot driven and there was never a lack of impending action. Catriona was constantly on the move. Although the plot was always moving, I didn’t see much character development through this story. Most of the characters seemed to be static and one dimensional. I would have almost preferred for there to be less action if it meant more unique characters.

I thought that Moral’s world building was great and I appreciated all of the details he provided. Moral did a good job of describing each scene in order to immerse the reader into the story. The setting was very 1950’s and I am glad that everything seemed true to the era. The descriptions of the artwork and clothing in the novel were especially detailed and it was easy to picture what the characters were seeing.

I was surprised to see a few typos throughout the novel and the wrong name being used during a scene. There were only a few of these errors but it was enough to jar me out of the scene. I think this is more of the fault of the editor, not the author, but it was still displeasing.

Overall, I think that Playing Mrs. Kingston would be an enjoyable read for someone who enjoys the noir style of writing. The author has written three books about Alfred Hitchcock cinema and it’s obvious that Hitchcock’s works were a source of inspiration. The plot moves quickly and although there is little character development, there is always something new happening. I prefer a story that is a bit more focused on the characters, but I would recommend this to a reader who loves a fast-paced story with lots of twists and turns in the plot.

If you have read Playing Mrs. Kingston, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view Playing Mrs. Kingston on Amazon, please click here.

I received a free copy of Playing Mrs. Kingston courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.