Category: Writing

The Importance of Taking Breaks: Recovering From Burnout 

The Importance of Taking Breaks: Recovering From Burnout 

As writers, we like to write as fast as we can and as much as we can. We often don’t know when it’s time for us to stop. We keep pushing ourselves and pushing ourselves until we can’t go anymore.

We give ourselves burnout.

Burnout is caused by continuously trying to write when you are out of mental energy or motivation. It’s the equivalent of driving on fumes. You can’t expect to finish a road trip if you floor it the whole time. You’ll need to stop and refuel a few times.

Let me tell you something from my own experience—it’s very hard to come to that realization and understand when you need to stop writing. We often get stuck on the mentality that if we just push through it will get better. But instead it just gets harder and harder until we just give up.

While there certainly are times when we just need to force ourselves to write, prolonged difficulty in our writing could be a sign of a bigger issue than just writer’s block.

“But taking breaks is silly,” you might say, “it’s easier to just ignore the struggles and just keep going. I’ll stop when I finish my project.”

Resting is essential for writers. Even if you think you can make it, if you are really struggling, it’s good to set aside your work for a bit. However, resting might seem counter-productive to the more driven of us writers.

But there are things you can do while on break that can refresh your mental energy and refill your writing “gas tank.”

Read

It’s very important for writers to read because it allows them to see what other people have written. Sometimes reading a book will spark an idea for fixing an issue in your writing. It is also relaxing and can take your mind off your writing problems for a while. (I do not recommend reading as a form of escapism.)

Be Creative

Many writers have found that doing something creative outside of writing helps rejuvenate them from everything from writer’s block to burnout. I like to crochet and play my instruments. Doing these activities helps take my mind off writing for a little bit and helps me to restore some of my mental energy. You could try finding a new hobby, baking a batch of cookies, or even taking your dog for a walk.

Watch TV

When I’m struggling with writing, I’ve found that watching movies refills my “well of inspiration,” so to speak. Movies and TV shows allow you to see stories in a different way than you do when you’re reading a book. When you’re watching TV, you hear the soundtrack and see the special effects, which, unfortunately, are not in books. But those details add to the story. You might notice how in a fight scene the camera focuses in on a particular detail and then get an idea on how that might help you next time you are writing.

 

I know some people (including myself), who can bounce back after a couple days. But fully recovering from burnout might take weeks or even months.

The key is patience. Give yourself grace and don’t pressure yourself when you aren’t ready.

Taking breaks will help you to write better and more efficiently. Stop to re-fill your tank. Otherwise, you’ll stall out on the highway.

 


 

Oliver’s Travels!

Oliver and Dicken's books
Oliver wishes I had bought a copy of Oliver Twist at the antique store, but alas, I chose my favorite (A Tale of Two Cities) and one I’d never heard of, but looked interesting.
Not Squirrels–Things We Call Distractions, But Really Aren’t

Not Squirrels–Things We Call Distractions, But Really Aren’t

A few weeks ago, we talked about my dog Reese who loves squirrels. I compared her obsessive focus on the furry beasts to a writer’s tendency to chase “squirrels” when he should be writing.

You can find that post here!

Eliana's graphic
My sweet friend, Eliana, made this graphic for me! Isn’t it gorgeous?

 

Today I’d like to address another problem that has come up in my own life. That is the subject of “not-squirrels” or things we think are distractions but actually aren’t.

 

God and Church

Do you know how tempting it is to skip or shorten your devotional time so you can go write? This particularly becomes a problem on busy days. It won’t really hurt anything if we skip it for just one day, right?

But church, quiet time/devotions, prayer, worship, etc. are NOT distractions for writing. Your faith is a million times more important than writing.

In the end, how much you’ve written won’t matter. Your faith will.

The happiness you find when writing is nothing compared to the joy you have in salvation in Christ. Don’t take it for granted.

 

School

Whether you’re in college, private school, homeschool, or public school, it’s very easy to see doing homework as a waste of time.

While we see benefit to literature and English classes—they directly influence our writing—other subjects, such as math, science, government, economics, history, and music don’t seem to be very helpful.

“How will knowing how to find the log of 15 help me with life? What do I care if Joan has a savings account with 1.2% interest compounded annually? Who cares?” That was my attitude towards math.

Even if there are subjects you hate, you still have to do them. Don’t slack on school so you can write.

This is coming from a master procrastinator. Since I was homeschooled, my mom made my writing part of my assignments. So I’d spend all morning writing then I’d be stuck with an afternoon (and early evening) of economics, Spanish, science, and all the other things I didn’t want to work on.

Yes, writing is important, but if you are a student, your school needs to come first.

 

Family

Spending time with your family is—guess what—more important than writing in the long run. You’ll be around these people for most, if not all, of your life. The relationships you have with them truly matter.

Take opportunities to hang out—watch movies, play games, go on a day trip. These life experiences actually will strengthen your writing.

 

Don’t mark these things off as “squirrels.” Because they are not-squirrels. These things matter. Don’t take them for granted or view them as burdens. They will shape and form you as a person and as a writer.

 


 

Oliver’s Travels!

Oliver and Allison
Oliver joined me at another band concert a few weeks ago! He’s not big enough to play any instruments, so he just sings along.
The Power of Words

The Power of Words

Words have rent nations, formed alliances, changed history forever. Two words bind one man and one woman in a covenantal relationship until death. They can build people up and they can tear them down again.

Words have power.

An immense power, even greater than that of an atomic bomb.

James talks about the untamable tongue in the third chapter of his letter. He compares it to a fire. Flames can provide heat to warm us and cook our food. But they can also consume entire cities.

See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. -James 3:5b-10

People handle fire with reverence and caution. But we throw our words around like grains of sand—unimportant and insignificant.

When we speak or write, we are handling a volatile asset. Every post on social media has the potential to inspire someone. Yet at the same time, if we aren’t careful, it can cause division between friends.

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” Proverbs 10:19

We’ve all be told to think before we speak. But how often do we think before we write?

Whether written or spoken, all words have power. The ancient words of the Bible are just as important as they were when they were first penned.

Next time we are tempted to lash out with our words, we must stop and think.

We have great power at our fingertips.

But we must use it carefully.


Allison Grace blogs at allisongracewrites.com

Celebrate Small Wins!+A Poet’s Dictionary Release!

Celebrate Small Wins!+A Poet’s Dictionary Release!

context: The good guys (Snyder and co.) just captured one of the villains.

“A crooked grin slanted across Snyder’s face. He was having too much fun. But he deserved to celebrate a victory. They all did. It was easy to forget they actually succeeded sometimes.” – Checkmate

 

While I’m no longer working on Checkmate, I still like this quote. Why? Because it reminds me to celebrate small victories.

As humans, we get so focused on the destination (getting published, graduating college, etc.), we forget the journey. The individual steps that make the path to the end.

We forget the careful outlines, never-ending drafts, A+ assignments. We forget them all when we look at the destination.

But the tiny things build up to create big things.

We need to remember to celebrate the small wins. When we get another email subscriber after a month of silence. When we finish an article we’ve been struggling with. When we write a paragraph during our first week of college. When we reach 5k in our new work-in-progress.

When we recognize and celebrate our small wins, we fight discouragement. We see that we really are making progress towards that goal.

We remember that we actually succeed sometimes.

 


 

Speaking of achievements, my friend Havilah just released her debut poetry collection yesterday!

There were a lot of small wins that led up to this moment. 😉

A Poet's Dictionary by Havilah Gael

A Poet's Dictionary by Havilah Gael

I read most, if not all, of the poems in an ARC (advanced reader copy). She takes a word (like “sleep”) and writes a poem defining that word.

I thought it was an intriguing concept. I really enjoyed reading them.

Some of them have a darker tone, but the light shines through!

Buy a copy here!

 


 

Oliver’s Travels!

Oliver writes his story
I complain about my phone’s keyboard being tiny, but poor Oliver is dwarfed by this one!
Squirrel!–Dealing With Writing Distractions

Squirrel!–Dealing With Writing Distractions

Reese 

Our dog Reese has a concentration problem. If food or a toy is involved, she’s all ears. But when it’s time to go outside for you-know-what, every single thing is a distraction. Birds. Bugs. Kids screaming at recess. Power tools.

Squirrels.

Those furry little creatures have captured her attention for countless hours. We often find her at the patio door, watching them scurry around.

Reese watching squirrels

Squirrel

 

Squirrel stealing food

 

We all have our squirrels. Things that might be good, but take our attention from what really matters. Whether that is school work, Bible study, or writing, we need to learn to deal with and eliminate distractions.

I get easily distracted by my writing community. There’s nothing wrong being on a social media, in fact, it can have great benefit. But when it distracts you from what you should be doing, you have a problem.

Another internet sinkhole I’ve fallen into is research. A simple search of “How tall is an eight year old?” turns into hours of Googling ways to survive a bear attack. Very important to know when you spend most of your time indoors. 😅

How do you deal with the distractions of a computer/phone/tablet when you need to write on it?

 

Tip #1: Write on paper.

Writing on paper isn’t right for everyone. And you certainly can get distracted using a pencil. There’s nothing magical about this method.

I find that it helps me to concentrate on one project and keeps me from editing as I go.

 

Tip #2: Turn off the internet.

Disconnect yourself from Wifi. Turn on airplane mode on your device. Get an app like the Freedom App (I haven’t used it before, but I’ve heard good things about it).

Sure, you can easily turn it back on if need be, but if it’s simply to scroll through Facebook for “just a minute” or to look on Pinterest “for inspiration,” you might find yourself deciding not to click the “on” button. It’s a little reminder of what you should be doing.

 

Tip #3: Write before surfing the web.

Make checking your email or social media a reward for completing your writing for the day. Tell yourself you can’t watch your favorite bands’ music video until you meet your word goal for the week.

 

Tip #4: Make a research list.

Instead of stopping writing to look up how far a horse can gallop before it drops dead, make a note about it and keep going. You can go back and add in the details later.

Just remember to actually look things up when you’re done writing!

 

Whatever you decide to try, the only to way for it to work is for you to stick to it. Hopefully you won’t get distracted by squirrels any more.

Hey look! A squirrel! *runs off*


 

Oliver’s Travels!

Oliver and Simon
Simon was “thrilled” about taking part in this photo shoot.

 

Oliver and Oreo
Oreo was happier to be involved. At least, it was easier to get a picture with him than with Simon. =D
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Writer–The Value of Practice

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Writer–The Value of Practice

I love writing. I love music. So it only makes sense that I would use them to create an analogy.

When someone decides to learn an instrument, say piano, they don’t expect to be as good as this when they first sit down, right?

So why do we as writers sit down and expect to write like Tolkien on our third draft?

 

Be Content With Baby Steps

One of the first real songs you will play on an instrument is “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” It’s nothing fantastic, but when you manage to play a recognizable tune for the first time, you have a moment of triumph.

Writing is the same. You start with simple stories, clichés, and not much of a clue what you’re doing. Then you begin to progress, learning more and more about techniques and terms. You get better, but you still make mistakes.

It’s normal to take baby steps. It’s good! Don’t rush ahead of yourself and try to do things you aren’t ready to yet.

 

Practice Makes Better, Not Perfect

No matter how much you practice, you will never, ever be perfect. Even masters of music still make mistakes.

That’s what drafts are for! Everything you write, whether it ever sees the light of day or not, is making you a better writer. Every time you pick up your pen, you are practicing your art.

But practice isn’t practice unless it’s consistent.

 

Practice Must Be Consistent

Someone who wants to learn piano can’t practice only once or twice a month. Sure, they might learn some things, but they’ll have a hard time recalling the skills they learned three weeks ago the next time they go to practice.

While I don’t think you have to write every single day to be considered a writer, you do have to write consistently and frequently. Maybe it’s only once or twice a week. Or maybe you can only write on the weekends.

It doesn’t matter.

You simply have to write consistently.

 

Music and writing share a lot in common–they are both art forms, they express thoughts and emotions–but they also take time to master. No one becomes a pianist in a day, or even a year.

With dedicated practice, you will soon move on from the basics and begin composing your own symphonies.

 


 

Oliver’s Travels!

Oliver birdwatching
Oliver didn’t have to travel far to watch the birds in our backyard.
Become an Inspiration Lightning Rod

Become an Inspiration Lightning Rod

Output requires intake, and literary output requires literary intake.
Wordsmithy, by Douglas Wilson, page 30.

 

I think all of us have experienced creative burnout at some point or another in our writing journey. Whether it’s simply running out of ideas or the inability to write at all, burnout is no fun.

When you face this monster, the best way to conquer it is by getting more inspiration. But finding inspiration isn’t just like sitting out in a thunderstorm and hoping to get hit by lightning.

It’s more like intentionally tying yourself to a lightning rod in the middle of a storm cell.

Though it’s a little less dangerous. 😉

 

Where does the inspiration to write stories come from? Other stories of course!

Like Douglas Wilson said above, you need to absorb storytelling before you can write.

There are a few ways to do this:

 

Read Books!

Reading is the best way to fill your creative well. Not only can you enjoy a good story, but you also can discover different styles of writing.

Just like a musician listens to music before attempting to compose his own, a writer needs to read.

Don’t just read in the genre you write! Explore fantasy, historical fiction, contemporary, re-tellings, even non-fiction! You heard me right, reading non-fiction can improve your fiction writing. 🤓

 

Listen to Audiobooks and/or Audio Dramas!

Nowadays, everyone is busy. And sometimes, we don’t have time to sit down with a big tome.

But you can listen to audiobooks or dramas while commuting to work, washing the dishes, or cleaning the house.

If you want to listen to a classic, you might want to check out Librovox. They have free recordings of many classic books.

I personally enjoy audio dramas a bit more than audiobooks. Dramas are a little like movies without the pictures. They have different actors for each character, sound effects, and music.

 

Watching TV!

TV is full of stories, whether it’s a show or movie. Even the Food Network competitions my family likes to watch are stories.

This is a great way to listen to dialogue (noting what is natural and what is stilted) and to watch body language. You’ll start to notice how people act when they are stressed (nothing like the Chopped kitchen to raise your blood pressure!) or when they achieve something big (like winning the million dollar wedge on Wheel of Fortune).

While reading can be more of a solitary activity, you can most likely convince someone to watch TV with you. 😊

 

When you increase your story intake, your writing output will get better. And you’ll find new sources of inspiration.

No thunderstorm required.

 

Oliver’s Travels!

Oliver stowed away and joined me at my latest band concert at an ice cream social.

Oliver goes to band

Oliver goes to band

Oliver goes to band
He enjoyed playing in my flute case.
Oliver's Ice Cream!
He even got his own scoop of ice cream!

(Photo credit: Mom)

 

Oliver Twist: A Lesson on Satisfying Endings+Meet the New Blog Mascot!

Oliver Twist: A Lesson on Satisfying Endings+Meet the New Blog Mascot!

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Oliver Twist and Star Wars: A New Hope.

Dickens’ classic, Oliver Twist, is a novel full of darkness and despair. But that evil is lessened by the hope found in little Oliver himself. No matter the tragedy, he maintains his sweet, hopeful innocence.

Because of these incredibly dark themes, the ending needs to be bright and happy. Otherwise Dickens’ readers would be depressed for days.

While I personally enjoy bittersweet endings the most, I was satisfied by the conclusion of Oliver Twist.

How did Dickens pull off this “happily ever after” ending?

 

The Good Guys Win

As humans, we have God’s Law written on our hearts. (Romans 2:14-15) Even an atheist knows that murder is wrong.

Because of this, we have an innate sense of justice. We want to see good win and evil be punished. Dickens understood this and used it to his advantage.

He doesn’t cheapen the ending by making the heroes win too easily. They have to overcome many huge obstacles in order to achieve victory. Oliver finds a home. Rose finds love. Mr. Brownlow finds the long lost family of an old friend.

 

The Bad Guys Lose

The antagonists in Oliver Twist are utterly despicable. They tried to corrupt Oliver, to lead him into a life of thievery. And after 400 pages of watching them spread their influence, we’re ready to see them punished.

Bill Sikes, the murderer, is dead. Fagin, the ringleader, is in prison, waiting to be hung. Mr. Monks leaves the country and travels to America. Mr. Bumble is in the workhouse.

After the last page, we can breathe a sigh of relief. None of these characters will be back to torment Oliver anymore. They are all dealt with. There is no loose villain running around.  (*cough* Unlike the ending of my first novel. *cough*)

 

How can you create the same kind of ending in your own story?

First, determine what your reader wants from the ending. If it’s a romance, they’ll want the two characters to get married. If it’s a mystery, they’ll want the culprit to be found.

Each genre has a certain set of expectations.

After reading the dark themes of Oliver Twist, I wanted a happy ending full of hope for the future.

Of course, there will be stories where you don’t give the reader what they want.

 

Deal out justice to the villains, or at least give them closure. Sometimes killing the villain at the end of the story is not what you need to happen. Perhaps you’re writing a series and he or she needs to return in book two.

If that is the case, be sure the reader leaves with a sense of resolution. Meaning this, don’t let the villain just slip off the page never to be see again until book two. Sure, leave a teasing loose end, the kind that people love, but don’t leave a glaring plot hole.

For example, at the end of A New Hope, Darth Vader is flying around in his Tie-Fighter somewhere. But we still feel closure because the Death Star is blown up. Yes, Vader disappears for the remainder of the story, but the main threat has been destroyed.

In Oliver Twist, Monks goes off to America. He disappears. But the other antagonists, the more active ones, are all dealt with.

 

Don’t just settle for the easy way out by killing off your antagonists. Like I said in the previous point, sometimes it just won’t work to kill them at the end. Sometimes you need to handle them another way.

Maybe they are in prison for life. Maybe they are exiled.

In Oliver Twist, Mr. Bumble doesn’t die at the end. His status in life is simply lowered. He becomes one of the workhouse people he had taken advantage of at the beginning.

 

It will take a lot of effort to craft as great an ending as Dickens did, but with a lot of practice we can do it ourselves!

 

 

Meet Oliver!

Oliver the cat, that is. 😉

With his green eyes, tiny bow-tie, and one white paw, what’s not to love?

 

Oliver
Oliver loves to play with the coins on Scrooge’s desk.

 

Oliver
When it’s time to play, his favorite place is Madame Defarge’s knitting basket.

 

Oliver
His favorite place to nap is in the folds of Miss Havisham’s wedding gown.
Taylor Writing Conference Recap!

Taylor Writing Conference Recap!

Last weekend, my mom and I went to the Taylor University Professional Writing Conference again. We went last time and met DiAnn Mills!

And as I usually do, here is a recap post (with pictures).

(header image from last year)

Day One

We left on Friday right after an early breakfast. I drove the whole 3 hours there, including through the maze of construction.

Before the first session began, Mom and I perused the book tables. While we were doing so, my friend from the last Taylor conference, Rebecca, found us. We had kept in touch and were excited to meet up again. That’s the second time this year I’ve started a writing conference off with a hug!

Rebecca and Allison
Rebecca and me!

After several sessions on platform, plot, and characters, I had a one-on-one appointment about social media. One-on-ones are personal appointments with various speakers, agents, or editors attending the conference.

We talked over my email list numbers and she said they were really good! Thank you all for making that happen! ❤

Bill Myers
One of the keynote speakers, Bill Myers.
Angela Hunt
Angela Hunt, the other keynote speaker.

 

Then we had dinner in the college cafeteria. Mom almost lost her sandal because the floors were so sticky! We sat with a Taylor grad and she said the floors have always been that way. Her theory was they cleaned with soda.

After dinner, Mom and I went to a group meeting with other fantasy writers. There were about 25 other people in the group and we talked about our writing struggles and shared some resources to help with those issues. This was the first time they had done this at Taylor and I really enjoyed it. It was very encouraging!

Mom and I stayed at a hotel instead of the dorms on campus. We were just about to go to bed when the fire alarm started going off.

Mom went out to the lobby to see what was going on and learned someone had taken a steamy shower and set off all the smoke alarms.

Needless to say, it took a while for me to calm back down.

 

Day Two

Allison and Garfield
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when you come across a strange statue, you must take a picture with it.

We ate breakfast in the cafeteria. I got a piece of bright orange bread. It was orange creamsicle flavored and I only had one bite.

Orange bread
The orange bread of doom. 

After a couple other sessions, I had another one-on-one appointment, this time with Angela Hunt. She and I talked about my recent struggles with Checkmate, plotting, and some “weasel words,” which are words that add nothing to the story or are simply vague. I had gone to her session on “The Plot Skeleton” and we discussed using that outlining method to fix Checkmate.

Allison and Angela Hunt

I brought a sample from Checkmate and she pointed out some flaws as well as some highlights! It was very encouraging and helpful to get a critique from a professional author.

I also brought one of her books that I had read and got it autographed!

Allison Grace and Angela Hunt

Then it was off to lunch. Angela sat with us! I had a blast talking with the other two young people at our table about writing. (One of them was in the fantasy group the day before.) There was an ice cream machine so I got to make myself my own cone.

 

Overall, I really enjoyed going to Taylor with Mom. I got some good advice and hopefully made some new friends!

Fun Fact: On the way home, we stopped in Van Wert, Ohio to get dinner. Van Wert is named after one of the three men who captured British Major John André, a spy who helped Benedict Arnold. There’s a sign right by the Arby’s we ate at, but I didn’t get a picture of it.


Allison Grace blogs at allisongracewrites.com

Writing is Really Hard (but also really fun)

Writing is Really Hard (but also really fun)

When I was younger, I don’t know where I thought books came from. I remember being frustrated that the next book in a series wasn’t out yet and that I *gasp* had to wait.

When I started writing, I was under the impression that real writers sit down at their computer with a cup of coffee, type up a couple chapters of perfect prose, and finish their book in a week or so.

It all seemed so simple. I knew how to type. I knew how to construct sentences. I’d read a bunch of books. How hard could it be?

Really, really hard.

And if you, like me, have believed the lie that writing is easy, I want to encourage you with this truth:

Writing is incredibly hard.

Super encouraging, right?

Writing isn’t for the fainthearted. Just like learning an instrument, it takes dedication, passion, and persistence.

Some days I’d rather clean the bathroom with a toothbrush instead of writing. Some days all I write is trash and deserves to be thrown into a bonfire.

But if that was the end of the story, we wouldn’t have any writers.

Since there are thousands of writers out there, obviously there must be a better side to writing life. And lucky for us, there is.

Writing is incredibly fun.

Some days I can’t stop writing. The words just flow from my fingers. Some days every sentence I write is pure gold and I’m sure my novel is better than any that Dickens or Lewis wrote. Some days I’d like to forgo eating so I can keep writing.

Days like those make me think that writing is easy. I feel like a “real writer.”

But then the next day comes and with it storm clouds that black out the sunshine of inspiration. Every sentence becomes drudgery. Discouragement swallows up all our confidence. Writing sucks.

This is the point where writers groan, “Why isn’t this working?” And here, many people give up.

This is the greatest juxtaposition of the writing life.

I like to describe it like the waves in the ocean. If you’ve ever been to the beach, you know that the sea is never still. There are continuous waves. Some have enough power to knock you down and others barely lap at your feet.

Writing is like that. You’re trying to build a sandcastle at the edge of the sea.

Between the waves, you make a lot of progress. Little bouts of discouragement sweep away some of the sand. Then a big one comes and destroys your motivation to keep building, to keep writing.

And here you have two choices:

  1. Give up
  2. Keep going

You can just abandon the sandcastle to the waves. Or you can build a wall around your castle to protect it from the water and keep going.

Sometimes there will be longer times when writing is nearly impossible. It’s like at high tide. You can’t get to where you were before. You might even be back to where you started your writing journey. And sometimes, high tide will last longer than expected.

But the ocean always returns to low tide. You won’t be stuck in the hard part of writing forever. Soon the moon will draw the waters back and you’ll enjoy writing again.

And the discouragement of high tide makes the productivity of low tide even sweeter (though it’s still salt water).

 

Allison Grace blogs at allisongracewrites.com