Reading for inspiration, part 1

Like many of us who are groping (come on, get your mind out of the gutter) our way into the writing world, I have my share of brain-stuttery days when the whole creative process grinds to a painful, definitive halt.

You know those days. There’s a tumble of words slopping around the old cranium, but the few that want to be written only allow themselves be slung together in strands of relentless triteness. All the ideas and imaginings that felt so fresh and vital yesterday have turned to mold overnight. The characters who bounced off your fingers and onto your keyboard are now so stultifyingly tedious that you’d strangle them yourself if they had any actual substance.

Yeah. Those days. Whether you write, or paint, or take photographs, or throw pots on a wheel, if you create, you’re probably bitterly familiar with those days, in all their grim, uncompromising absence of spark and inspiration.

We all have our own little tricks for reinvigorating our saggy, baggy, flagging inspiration. Many, many tricks, if the truth be told. Some tricks work well when our plot has taken a detour into the realm of convolution and improbability. Some tricks are just the ticket when we realize that our main character has the personality of a desiccated booger. It’s all about knowing which trick is going to wreak its tricksy magic on a specific creative crisis. Is this a “just keep your butt in that chair” problem, or is it a “take the dog for a stroll and blow the stink off” problem?

One of the most effective strategies I’ve found for rekindling the writing magic is reading.  It’s a piece of advice we hear all the time, isn’t it? If you want to be a better writer, read! But reading doesn’t just fuel our writing talents; in my experience it can also fire up the creative barbecue with startling efficiency, even when the ashes appear to be stone cold. I’m not talking about just picking up whatever novel you’re currently reading and diving in–although that, too, can be just the poke you need. No, again, I’m talking about figuring out the specific piece of reading that will wreak its tricksy magic on the specific writing damn-jammer that is currently causing you woe and despair.

Over the next few blog posts I’m going to share a few of the writing quagmires that tend to suck at my boots and the reading inspirations I’ve found most helpful for slogging  my way clear. I’ll be talking about the reading remedies I use when I’m laid low by plotting woes, by insecurities around structure, by character implosions, by stagnant prose and flat dialogue, and by the general malaise of indolence that has me convincing myself that just one more episode of Dexter or the IT Crowd could be construed as research if I only squint hard enough.

And I’ll try not to mix my metaphors as egregiously as I did in that last paragraph, but no promises. If you have your own reading inspirations that you’d like to share, have at it in the comments, or tune in again on Wednesday when I’ll be looking at the therapeutic benefits of taking a voyeuristic peek into the writing practices and processes of other authors.

K is for Kick-Ass Blogs for New(-ish) Wrtiers

Everything I know about writing I learned from…so many sources I could never hope to name them all. The good news, from your perspective, is that I’m not even going to try. What I am going to do is introduce you to five of the writing blogs that I currently visit on a regular basis. This is by no means a comprehensive list–I follow and enjoy many blogs that focus on writing–but I return to these five time and again because I know I can count on them to provide consistently high quality, entertaining, informative and useful articles. I’m also including links to a few of my favourite recent posts from each blog.

Cheryl Reif Writes: How to Thrive on the Writer’s Road (@CherylReif)
I discovered Cheryl Reif and her writing blog a couple of months ago and was immediately charmed by her warmth and humour, and imposed with the breadth of writing topics she tackles. Cheryl takes a themed approach to blogging: Mondays theme is “Finding Joy,” Tuesday brings the “Tuesday Ten”lists on writing and blogging and all kinds of good stuff; then there’s Whatever Wednesday; on Thursdays Cheryl shares resources; and finally, Friday brings interviews and inspiration. Something awesome every weekday!

Writer Unboxed (@WriterUnboxed)
Oh, how I love this site! So many different bloggers posting on so many different subjects–and frequently. Authors, editors, literary agents, social media and marketing experts: it’s a veritable idea stew for any writer interested in developing her/his skills or trying to navigate a passage through the complexities of of tis writing life.

Victoria Mixon (@VictoriaMixon)
A professional writer and freelance editor, Victoria Mixon has written two indispensable books for would-be authors, The Art & Craft of Fiction, A Practitioner’s Manual and The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual. (I own the first and will be buying the second very soon.) Victoria blogs about writing, editing, social media, and so many other things of interest to the newbie and seasoned author, and her blog also features a writing advice column.

Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors (@KMWeiland)
K.M. Weiland’s site ___ offers tons of advice on the nuts and bolts of the writing craft via blogs. The comments section also tend to be very lively. On Twitter, K.M. Weiland hosts the Writing Question of the Day chat (#WQOTD), posing a different question every day, Monday through Friday, for writers to answer and discuss. Lot’s of fun.

Story Fix (@storyfix)
I just discovered Larry Brooks and his blog. I suspect I’m just slow. What sets Larry’s site apart is the meatiness and depth to his (and his guests’) posts. No ___ It’s almost like he didn’t get the memo on how to write for the web–and this is a good thing.
Larry describes his site like so: There is only one thing you have control over in this business, and it’s not your career (which is largely out of your hands, to be honest)–it’s your manuscript. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it needs to be better than perfect, at least better than perfectly fine. It needs to grab an agent or an editor who has seen it all before by the throat and squeeze. This blog is about how you can evolve your work to that level.
During the month of April, I’m participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. My challenge posts will focus on 26 of the things that have inspired me as a writer or that I’ve learned as I stumble my way toward becoming a writer. Clicky-click on the link to read some of the other bloggers who are participating in the April madness.