Archive for the ‘writer’s block’ Category

What Color Is Your Writing Hat?

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Writers wear two different hats.

Now that summer is over, I’m getting my hats ready for the new school year.

I’m not talking about the vintage hats in my collection of unsubtle disguises. I’m not talking about the lumberjack hat I begrudgingly wear when I venture out into the frigid Michigan winter. I’m talking about my writing hats.

We writers wear at least two hats at all times, whether we know it or not. The first is the hat of the creative writer – the generator of new material. My writing hat is always blue.

Why blue? Because scientists have discovered that exposure to the color blue encourages creative thinking – the generation of the brilliant, zany, surprising, and sometimes merely ridiculous new ideas that make writing interesting. (You can read more about the impact of color on the brain in Science Magazine, where the study was first published in 2009.) Blue is the color of oceans and skies – the color of summer. Just try not to relax when you think of the color blue. Now put on your attractive blue writing hat and pour yourself a glass of lemonade. As you write, allow your mind to soar across the landscape of your ideas. Your work will be messy and rough, but you are discovering your territory and collecting the raw materials for your story.

Of course, the blue WRITER hat is always too easy-going when it comes to the brutal thrashing needed to get a story published or marked with a shiny “A” by your English teacher. “This is such a super-fun story, Gilda!” my blue WRITER hat seems to say. “The only thing that could make it more fun might be another witch and a few more pink rabbits. Oh, and some grape bubble gum. I think it adding a subplot about grape bubble gum makes sense in this report about the American Civil War. Don’t stop to edit, Gilda, because you’re fine just as you are. Go for it, girl! Woo hoo!!”

If I don’t force myself to tear off my blue WRITER hat, I end up with red pen all over my work from annoyed hand of my English teacher.

And guess what color those scientists linked with enhanced attention to detail? That’s right! The color of stop signs, fire engines, grumpy teachers, and cheap valentines is also beloved by editors. I wear my red hat when I’m switching from my dreamy, inventive role to my opposite role – the persnickety EDITOR dressed in a tweed jacket and flat loafers.

My friends know that wearing the red EDITOR hat doesn’t come easily to me. Why? Because the editor’s job is to shine a flashlight on hidden, festering problems and then do the grimy work of fixing what isn’t working. This means that I have to read through some of my favorite sentences with a very grumpy, unfriendly attitude. My red hat forces me to ask myself annoying questions: “Does this paragraph really work?” “Does this sentence belong here?” “What are you really trying to say?” How could this be improved?” “Did you check whether grape bubblegum was even invented during the nineteenth century?”

The bottom line: wearing the editor hat can be a big pain in the you-know-what, but it’s as crucial to the success of my writing as chocolate is to the success of my much-loved banana-and-peanut butter sandwiches.

So both the blue WRITER hat and the red EDITOR hat are necessary. The trick is to avoid wearing both hats at the same time. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but if you’ve ever suffered from writer’s block, you should keep your two writer’s hats in separate rooms of the house.

Writer’s block happens when we wear the stern, nagging red hat while simultaneously trying to tell a delightful, surprising story that nobody has ever heard before.  If you’re at the beginning of anything, put on your blue hat because the red one will make you way too tense. Getting started almost always benefits from the breezy attitude of the blue hat. If you wear the red hat while trying to explore your ideas, you might start biting your fingernails and chewing up paper instead of writing on it. “Whoa! Slow down there, girl!” says the red hat. “Fix that! Get out of there immediately! Cut out this rubbish! This makes no sense! What a lot of rot!” Sometimes the red hat gets so mean that I stop and yell back at her: “Listen, Miss Irritating Red Hat. I’m not writing ANYTHING until you shut your pie-hole!”

If you experience an outburst of this nature, you should gently put away your red hat and retrieve your relaxing blue CREATIVE WRITING hat. Just take your time, follow your ideas, let the first draft plop out onto the page in all its formless, ugly glory.

If you have time for a short vacation before your assignment is due, this is a good time to leave town. If you aren’t so lucky and your paper is due the next day, you should quickly return to your work wearing your red hat. (Note: I personally prefer a plastic fireman’s helmet borrowed from Wendy Choy’s little brother. Accessories include red lipstick, face mask and heavy work boots to achieve a proper editorial mindset.) Once I’m wearing my red hat, it’s time to be brave. “Look Gilda,” my red EDITOR hat always seems to say, “Someone’s got to fix this, and it might as well be you.”

So along with your new notebooks, binders, and pencil cases filled with gumballs and lip gloss, don’t forget to find a couple “writer hats” for the new school year – one red, and the other blue. The next time you have to write a paper, you’ll need both of them!

–Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator

Alicia Gonzalez is Gilda’s Reader-of-the-Month!

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Alicia Gonzalez drafting ideas for a mystery.

Announcing our April/May reader of the month: ten-year-old Alicia Gonzalez! Be sure to keep reading for some fabulous suggestions to add to your book list!

So who is Alicia Gonzalez, and why did I pick her? Well, Alicia is just like many other smart girls you might meet: she studies hard and pursues lots of extracurricular activities like soccer and girl scouts. You would never guess that a year and a half ago, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor that has required repeated courses of chemotherapy. In fact, if you had a conversation with her she probably wouldn’t even mention it; she would probably tell you about a play she’s writing, or a party she’s planning for her friends.

Alicia’s determination to pursue her dreams despite adversity has inspired everyone who knows her. And like many readers of this blog, she finds inspiration and strength through connections with good friends, good books, and from the creative process.

GILDA JOYCE: Alicia, you’ve been through some extreme mental and physical challenges during the past couple years, and you’ve set an amazing example of courage and determination to get through a difficult time. What has been hardest about this experience, and what helps you cope?

ALICIA: I think the hardest part has been missing some school and other activities.  My family and friends have been immensely supportive and that has helped me a lot.

GJ: Are there any books that you have found particularly inspiring, comforting, or helpful?

AG: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is one book that I have found very inspiring.  It shows that people with disabilities can make as big an impact as anyone on the lives of others.

GJ: Any other favorites you love that you can recommend to other readers?

AG: Books I’ve really enjoyed:  Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, So B It by Sarah Weeks, The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding, 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass, and of course the Gilda Joyce series!

GJ: What do you love most about your favorite books?

AG: All of these books feature an admirably brave female protagonist.

GJ: Thanks for such good suggestions! You’re a writer as well as a reader. What types of stories (or other genres) do you like to write? What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

AG: I really enjoy writing poetry because there really is no wrong way to do it.  That’s why I also enjoy the drafting stage of a writing project where I know that if I make a mistake I can always fix it.

GJ: I know exactly what you mean. All the same, Olympic athletes have been known to collapse from exhaustion when asked to write a short essay or story, yet you recently chose to have a creative writing workshop. Did anyone at Make-A-Wish explain that Disney World was another possible option? Do you ever find writing tiring or difficult – or is it mostly fun?

AG: What?! Someone should have told me about the Disney option!  (haha)  I usually have fun while writing, but often I get writer’s block when presented with the task of writing an essay.

GJ: A little bird told me that you recently started writing a mystery. Can you tell us anything about it, or any other writing goals?

AG: My mystery is still a work-in-progress, but I have just completed another project:  I co-wrote a play called Stand Up, Speak Out with my friend Caroline for our Girl Scout troop.  We all performed it for our leaders and parents in mid-March.

GJ: I look forward to reading (or maybe watching!) your literary works in the future, Alicia. Your courageous approach to life and your dedication to the craft of writing is an inspiration!

Read about Alicia’s Make-A-Wish Foundation-sponsored book party and mystery-writing workshop in Bethesda Magazine:

Gilda’s “Up All Night” Famous Chocolate Fudge Cookies!

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Okay, I’ve been gone for a while, and I appreciate the many notes asking whether I fell into a ditch, whether I was hit by a bus, and other gentle and not-so-gentle inquiries as to my whereabouts.

Suffice it to say, ladies and gentlemen, that when you read my next adventure (my fingers are still sore from typing it), those questions will be answered, and you will be AMAZED that I am even still here to type at all. And the answer to one of the above questions is “yes,” by the way. But probably not in the way you’d expect.

How’s that for being vague? Read THE BONES OF THE HOLY on June 10th to find out more….

But on to more important matters. For those of you who are studying for final exams or getting “spring fever,” and just plain tired of doing your homework, I thought I’d offer you something to help you stay perky during the final weeks of the school year.

That’s right, I told you I would post some recipes, and I didn’t lie. It took me a lifetime to get the work done, but I’m finally going to reveal…. TA DA!

Gilda Joyce’s “UP ALL NIGHT” Famous Chocolate Fudge Cookie Recipe
Note: We writers should give credit to our sources, and my “Up All Night” cookies are not solely the result of my own late-night, chocolate-fueled writing sessions. My favorite chocolate cookie recipe is based on a recipe in Craig Common’s wonderful cookbook, The Common Grill Cookbook, which I highly recommend. And hey – if you visit Chelsea, Michigan, make sure to eat at the Common Grill! You’ll no longer believe people when they insist that the words “Michigan” and “yummy” don’t fit in the same sentence!

NOTE: for best results, consume two cookies along with a double latte. Now—get back to that term paper or the last chapter of that novel-in-progress!

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
½ cup unsweetened chocolate
1 2/3 cups brown sugar
2/3 cup butter
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Sift together four, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.

Over medium heat, in bottom half of double boiler, heat 1 inch of water; do not boil. (Set aside.)
Place semisweet chocolate pieces and unsweetened chocolate in top half of double boiler and melt slowly. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. (Set aside.)

Set mixer to medium speed and cream brown sugar and butter in large mixing bowl for 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl and continue mixing while adding eggs one at a time, until combined. Add vanilla and beat for 30 seconds. Add melted chocolate and beat for 10 seconds.

Slowly add sifted flour mixture to creamed mixture and continue to beat for 30 seconds. Scrape down sides with rubber spatula.

Drop 2 tablespoons per cookie onto cookie sheet, spaced 2 inches apart, and bake for 15 minutes. Cool.

If you don’t know what to do next, I can’t help you.

Feel Better; Write More!

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Gilda Joyce the Dead Drop by Jennifer AllisonEvery now and then, we writers have what is commonly called a “blue day.” Maybe that story that we pictured becoming a NYT bestseller ended up getting rejected by the school magazine. Maybe that boy we’ve had a crush on for the past year decided he likes the very girl we can’t stand (or vice versa). Maybe something genuinely terrible or simply mortifying has happened, and we’re ready to catch the earliest train out of town. Or maybe we’re simply feeling uninspired and “stuck.”

Here, my dear reader and writer, are some of my favorite tried-and-true tips that will not only help you feel better; they’ll get you writing again!

1. My first suggestion is so simple it sounds ridiculous, but you should get a new writing pen. I personally prefer pens with pink or purple gel ink. Sparkles are good too. Will this magically transform your writing? No, but you’ll suddenly feel better as that sparkly pink ink flows onto the page. Or try using a typewriter for fun if you’re used to writing longhand or using a computer. True– it’s not for everyone, but I swear by it!

2. Treat yourself to a new notebook and decorate it. I just used some babysitting funds to purchase a pink leopard-print notebook that will house the next chapters of my “Penelope Stunn” mystery-in-progress. But I also have a stash of notebooks decorated with my own original book-cover art – stuff I’ve created from collages of magazine photos and even my own cartoons. (On those rare off-days when the words aren’t flowing, you’d be amazed at how proficient I remain at using scissors and glue.)

3. Hit the high road and go exploring.. Now might be a good time to take a walk in a new neighborhood or visit a new museum. It doesn’t really matter where you go so long as it’s unfamiliar. Whenever I visit a new place, I pay more attention to details. Suddenly, I find myself getting new ideas for stories and seeing old stories in a new light.


The Cure for Writer’s Block!

Friday, April 30th, 2010

To be honest, I’ve never really understood people who get “writer’s block” because I have the opposite problem. It’s a problem a colleague of mine charmingly described as “diarrhea of the pen.” (Okay, I’ll admit it was one of my elementary school teachers who came up with this diagnosis. She didn’t like my habit of adding five pages of witty footnotes to help explain the page-long book report I had turned in.)

People like me are always being told to “tighten things up,” reign things in,” and “tone things down,” when it comes to our writing and our wardrobes. We’re always being advised: “Cut back a bit, sweetie; I can’t see where you’re going with all of this. Lose the first 100 pages. Oh, and while you’re at it, you might consider removing that leopard-print jacket – not to mention the dangly earrings, the red lipstick, and the bangles.”

But if you’re the kind of person who has a hard time getting started when you sit down to write your best-selling novel or your book report—one of those types who could use a little mental laxative to get things flowing (sorry! I couldn’t resist the yucky metaphor) – may I suggest my favorite creative medicine?

Hold onto your bonnets, ladies and gents, because it’s going to sound a little old-fashioned. Don’t be shocked….. The solution is – ta da!