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This post goes out to all my fellow struggling writers out there…

Sometimes it happens. Authors find their creativity, sense of purpose, and vision has stalled out. (Believe me, I’ve been there.) And so I’ll devote this installment of the Jessie Mae Hodsdon Writing Guidebook to that very thing. How to win back excitement when writing has taken on a monotonous or overwhelming quality.

Blog Bonus Feature: I consider creativity a gift. A treasure of immeasurable price. And so, when it threatens to disappear–being swallowed up by the busyness of life or the pressure of deadlines–I fight back. Because I refuse to let imagination slip out of my life. Don’t give up, struggling, starving, drained artists. Please. Don’t give up.

#63: Recognize that the Halfway Point is Hard.

Anticipate that inspiration will dry up around the 1/3 or 1/2 mark of your novel. The initial excitement over the characters has run its course; you have established your setting; and the basic plot is well in hand. Now what? Whether or not you outline, there comes a point of uncertainty. The best way to deal with it is to expect it. Then you won’t be discouraged when it arrives.

#47: There is Value in a Break.

I want to start this entry by offering a warning. Just as breaks have the potential to bless, they also have the potential to curse. If you make them purposeless (ie not writing, reading, or daydreaming anything), they could destroy your rhythm. Instead, take a purposeful break from your story by reading multiple novels, watching movies, and doing something unrelated but creative. (Your probably already know what that creative thing is. Maybe you like to cook or play guitar or draw. You get my drift…) This will stimulate new creativity inside of you and, before long, you will find the old passion for your story returning

#81: Minor Characters have the Potential to be Awesome.

I’ll assume you are familiar with Frozen. Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff are incredible main characters, but really… where would the movie have been without the trolls? Not far. Kristoff would have been a little less loveable. Anna wouldn’t have gotten the push to accept her feelings. And the essential clue/moral of the movie would have been lost. Not to mention the trolls (especially Grand Pabbie) added flair and spice to the story. The minor characters gave background to a major character (Kristoff), direction to the writer, plot clues to the movie watcher, and color to the story.

I’m a big fan of secondary characters. (And I’ll admit, sometimes I carry them a little too far.) But minor characters, being able to sustain eccentric personalities you could never get away with for main characters, have limitless potential. When your writing has stalled, turn your focus from the main characters you know so well and let your mind tool on the minor characters. Perhaps you will discover background, direction, plot clues, and color too.

If you have other ways to deal with the stall-out point of a novel, let me know in the comments! Best wishes in your writing endeavors,

Jessie Mae

(See my previous posts about the Guidebook here and here.)

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I’m done! At 112,405 words, my first draft is a completed success. (Please note, I was aiming for 85,000-90,000 words.) I stayed at Starbucks for over five hours, indulging in the caffeine buzz from two grande iced coffees. The Gold Card with its unlimited refills combined with the quiet late-night atmosphere to make Starbucks the perfect place to write away the hours. But, eventually, my sense of overstaying one’s welcome drove me to Tim Hortons where I drank hot coco to keep warm and enjoyed the idea of an all-night cafe were I could keep working until the project was finished.

There are three narratives in my story. Marcus and Cressa’s were intertwined so they were easy to finish up at the same time. Otis’, however, proved a touch more difficult. There was a fierce temptation, as the night waned on, to call it quits when the major story arc–Marcus and Cressa’s–was completed. Especially when Otis and his fellow characters seemed to stubbornly resist giving me any clue as to their climax. But, in the end, victory was that much sweeter for keeping on.

It was a little after 10 PM when I finished, but it was after 1 AM when I finally fell into bed. The energy of the writing has my mind buzzing. I see a truck and find its fictional back-story rolling through my mind. I find myself looking for my next scene in the kitchen. And my creativity is already plummeting deep into the fairy tale I have had on the back burner since late February.

What’s next for me? Editing will come, but I think I will first roll around in the freedom to write whatever I want. For a little while at least.

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Friends,

When I draft a novel, I DRAFT a novel. Free-writing is my mantra. I don’t let sensible thoughts weigh me down. Why bother? They are chains on my creativity. This process works, it really works, for me. Writing tip: if you are trying to edit while you are writing, you are a hundred times less likely to enjoy the process or finish the story.

And then the muses sweep me in a different direction… (Thanks, muses. I love you anyway.)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote two scenes that were to take place in the medieval fortress of Saphree. Saphree is of great significance to one of my characters so there were lots of specially crafted phrases describing its architecture and its emotional impact. All of this was powerful writing, until the muses decided my characters should be at some legendary waterfalls in the middle of the open woods instead.

Usually, relocating is not too much work. A wall is a wall so change bricks to wood or wood to stone and, poof!, you’re done. But relocating from indoors to outdoors is a major project. And relocating from one significant place to a place that is significant for entirely different reasons… Oy vey (which, by the way, is a “Yiddish exclamation of chagrin, dismay, exasperation or pain”). My brain hurts just thinking about it.

And yet… I admit. I find these kind of time-consuming changes fun. It offers a challenge that my typically sloppy free-writing does not. So here’s to finding a little fun in the journey and the work and the muses. May your challenges melt to joy today and the stories you craft–in pen or deed–receive a breath of fresh air,

Jessie Mae

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This cold just won’t let up. I struggle to find enough brainpower to make this post ring with clarity. You will just have to decide for me if it does.

My new cover has such a different feel! What excitement as I watch it unfold. Like all creative efforts its birthing is a process, but one my designer and I enjoy. If only I could find the will-power to dive into the last few pages of the novel itself…

I will admit that while my hesitation rests largely with a plot-flaw I have to fix, equally at play is the daunting realization of how much work is left and and my unwillingness to let the novel out. I have held it close for so long, allowing only glimpses into the characters I have poured my soul into. But the time is rapidly approaching when I will need to share Mark of Orion with the world. I better get comfortable with that and hope that the book rings with the clarity and depth I tried to develop.

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I am beginning to see just how many commonalities there are between life and writing.

Both are full of pivotal decisions and some seemingly insignificant ones. Both have loss and victory, pain and joy, hope and despair, love and sacrifice. Both have some pretty neat characters come into a story to stay and some pretty neat characters make a mere appearance. In both writing and life we wish those incredible characters could remain in our stories forever…

As I have carved out beloved sections of my latest novel, it reminds me of how I carve out pieces of my own life. There are dreams that I have held since childhood, whose fulfillments have been offered to me. Yet I turn them down now, moving in a different direction just like I do with my novel. Both the fictional tale and my life are better for these tough decisions.

Then there is the hand of a planner in both writing and life. Only I can take a lot more confidence in the heavenly Planner who plots my life than my characters would take in me if they came to life…

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So how do we really design epilogues? Here are some common questions and their answers:

How long should the epilogue be? In ‘The Art of the Epilogue’ I wrote that, “The epilogue is the graceful hint from the author that grants readers just a glimpse of what would have come. ” A hint. That means, in its best light, less than a page. No more than a page and half unless you have an exceptional reason to make it longer.

What is the point of the epilogue?  In ‘A Real Epilogue’ I asserted that the epilogue’s job is to leave an emotion in the minds of readers. Stay away from the trap of listing events. They may be interesting. They may exciting. But they defy the purpose of the epilogue. Have an appendix with future events, tell people to check out your website, write a short story, whatever; just don’t write what happened for ten years in bullet points as your epilogue.

Why are you so narrow-minded? The reason I say this is because epilogues are the last things people read, which means people remember them. Only, people tend to forget events. Ask yourself, “Do I want the last impression of my book to be forgettable? Or do I want to give readers some emotion to recall–a positive emotion–about my book?” I think you’ll lean towards the latter.

What comprises the epilogue? The epilogue portrays a scene in the lives of characters. The epilogue is not meant for information; its meant for emotion. Characters–not events and scenery–build emotion. Even if you are the type of writer who causes characters to fall into the backdrop throughout your novel, the epilogue is the moment for you to bring them out, polish them up, and help them shine.

When should I write my epilogue? I highly recommend you write your epilogue at the end of the book. Once you are finished with your body ask yourself, “What’s missing? Where will these characters go from here? What do I hope people will learn from my book?” Before you know it, you’ll be brain-tripping right towards the content of your epilogue.

What are some common types of epilogues?

Well, friends, that’s for another day.

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The white-board continues to prove an effective tool for dealing with plot-line issues. I am at the turning point in the book so I continually return to outlining and dry-erase markers… It amazes me how different a novel this is simply because I am telling it with a different style. Instead of following scores of characters, I switch between the perspectives of only two. I am learning a lot, but I fear that my pacing might be off a little…

As for my non-imaginary existence, I have been trying to catch up/get ahead on some school projects. When I look at how busy my summer is going to get, I shiver. Then I sit down and write papers. Tonight, dinner is at my sister Kate’s house. Beyond that? Well, that takes up just about every hour of the day. And free time is torn between re-runs of Murder, She Wrote and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

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