Writer’s Block vs. Reader’s Block

Dysfunctional Literacy

The author completely lost his train of thought as soon as he put his manuscript on the writer's block. (image via wikimedia) The author completely lost his train of thought as soon as he put his manuscript on the writer’s block. (image via wikimedia)

Most people don’t understand how frustrating reader’s block and writer’s block can be.  When I have reader’s block, I can waste an entire day wandering down aisles of book stores looking for something interesting to read. When I have writer’s block, I just stare like I’ve witnessed something traumatic.

A co-worker of mine doesn’t even believe that reader’s block exists.  He thinks it’s something that I made up.  In this day and age, I can’t believe I work with a reader’s block denier, but that’s the world we live in.  After he loudly proclaimed that reader’s block was all in my head (which kind of proved my point), he admitted that he doesn’t read books.  Typical denier, I thought.  Maybe it was my fault for trying to explain reader’s…

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Getting our hands dirty

Strong Language

Taboo words and expressions are usually among the first things second-language learners want to learn—a fact not lost on sign language instructors like Barry Priori (first introduced to Strong Language in a Sweary Links roundup), who ran “swearing workshops” at the Adelaide Fringe Festival to boost awareness of Australian Sign Language (Auslan). Swearing in sign language is incredibly nuanced and is about much more than learning a simple handshape or gesture. Get it wrong, and you might alienate an entire community, as Kristin Henson found out.

Henson hosted videos on the popular YouTube channel Dirty Signs with Kristin in which she taught her interpretations for signs representing profanity or crude phrases in pop culture, including skullfuck,cunt punt and twat waffle. Her notoriety landed her a book deal, but members of the Deaf community [1]launched a petition urging the publisher to drop the book because…

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Finals: A Guide in Futility

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If I’ve learned anything from being a student, it’s that most people don’t take finals as seriously as teachers and professors would like. Students often see finals as the last giant step to being done with that class forever and don’t really study until the last minute, don’t write their final papers until the day of the exam. I’m guilty of this too, don’t get me wrong. If students aren’t going to prepare in advance, they can’t show their professor/teacher how much they’ve learned.

This measure of knowledge is very subjective to individual interpretation. Some students are good at taking tests and will ace them without a second thought, but another student who learned just as much would get a much lower grade if test taking isn’t their forte. Now I’m not suggesting that professors stop giving exams because until such time that we can figure out another way to accurately access how much students have learned over the course of the semester, final exams and final papers will stay. But don’t be too harsh on yourself if you didn’t get the grade you wanted. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t much matter anyway. Not everyone is good at taking tests. That’s okay. Don’t base your value on a letter grade. You’re more than your GPA.

The Importance of Research

Writers will often tell you that research is not necessary or that you should do all your research before you even type the first letter. While both of these approaches are valid, my approach is just different. As a writer of primarily fantasy, research is extremely important in order to get my setting, culture, and overall worldbuilding believable.

1. LOTS AND LOTS OF RESEARCH

I tend to do more research than is actually necessary. Generally, when I have a topic I want to write about, I look at the lore surrounding the creatures/beings/humanoids I want to use as characters. From there, I research names that come from that culture, find ones where the meaning reveals some aspect of the character, significant or otherwise. I compile a list of names that is too long to contain all my planned characters, that way I have a multitude of names to choose from, and I won’t have to look up more names if I decide to add a few secondary characters.

Once I have my base culture figured out, I take some time and ruminate on in what kind of setting I want to place my characters. The last story I wrote, the characters were extremely poor, living in a shanty type of slum. I looked up some images from around the world, basing the design of the setting on those photos. This is where a program like Pocket or Evernote can come in handy. Instead of having bookmarks on your computer, you can save your reference pictures to Pocket and Evernote and they can be looked at on your phone or tablet so you can write anywhere.

In the last story, I wanted to have the imperialistic culture be similar to the Victorian Era, though it takes place far away from the earth and many millennia in the future. Again, I looked up reference photos of common dress, especially for high-class women, basing my descriptions of their dress on those pictures. This method is effective especially for someone like me who has troubles describing places and objects without reference pictures. I can see it clearly in my mind, but my fingers don’t like to communicate with my brain well, and what comes out tends to be a mess of unnecessary adjectives. I’ve gotten much better with my concrete descriptions by first finding references. Even artists use references.

I do so much research, in fact, that I’ve completely used up two Moleskine notebooks, and I don’t even use most of it.

2. Don’t necessarily have to do it all at once.

I have never done my research all at once like some writers recommend. There is a fluidity to my style, following the ebbs and flows of my mind. By laying out all the research in advance, I find that the creativity and inspiration have disappeared along with my excitement. Half of the time, I don’t even know where my story is going; it is rather dull to set out on the journey with knowing exactly where you will go, what you’ll see, who you’ll meet.

A lot of published writers recommend doing all your research ahead of time because they find that stopping in the middle of your first draft to look up the composition of gangs (personal experience) is uncomfortable and will disrupt their flow. While I see where they come from, my style allows for such pitstops.

3. Handy-Dandy Notebook

I am currently on my third notebook of research. I take “field notes” while people watching, hoping to find some unique characteristics for a character, or unusual dialogue I wouldn’t be able to think of by myself. I highly recommend people watching. You can learn so much about humans that you’ll never manage to glean any other way. Keep a notebook with you at all times so if you come upon something interesting, you can immediately write it down. No matter how much you believe you’ll remember it, you won’t.


Disclaimer: These are just my techniques and what works for me. Do not take this as Gospel truth because I’m only human. Each different method has value and don’t be afraid to blend or alchemize different techniques. Find what works best for you.

Flash fiction: The Beacon

This was beautiful. If only I could write flash fiction.

Claire Fuller

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The word had come when she was sleeping. A hammering on the door, loud enough to wake the dead. She was already dressed, only her boots to pull on, the flambeau leaning in a corner. Outside, she ignored the advancing cliff-face of sea-mist, refusing to think about the horrors it must contain.

Three tries to light the flambeau; four agonising minutes for the bonfire to catch. But as the flames surged upwards she saw smoke rising from the neighbouring headland, and the next and the next. And she thought that maybe there was still time for them to be saved.

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This is a 100-word story for Friday Fictioneers brought to us by the wonderful writer Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. I didn’t see observatories when I first looked at the picture, so I went with my first impression. The image this week is supplied by the amazing writer, Doug Macilroy. Click here to…

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An Open Letter To All Of My Friends Who Take Selfies

The Belle Jar

Dear Friends Who Take Selfies,

I want you to know that I love it when you post pictures of yourself. I know selfies get a lot of bad press, but I think they’re rad. They give me a little window into your life, and you’d be amazed at how much I can get out of one little photo.

I love your pictures because I love seeing what you’re wearing – the outfits you build give me ideas about how to mix it up with my own wardrobe, and seeing you work your shit gives me courage to try clothing that I otherwise might have thought was too outlandish or revealing.

I love seeing how you do your hair and makeup. You look like a hot babe and I wish you would make YouTube tutorials explaining how you get your eyeliner just so. I want you to post pictures every time you change your…

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brash

Sesquiotica

To be brash is to be rash – b rash indeed. It’s to be flashy and crashy and probably trashy, perhaps to be brutal and break things. It is to say to your brain “sh!” before it can finish. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of the adjective brash is “Hasty, rash, impetuous; (orig. U.S.), impulsive, assertive, impudent; crude, insensitive; flashy.” Ashes to ashes, but bashes to the brashest. It is a characteristic most especially of the young, and in particular of young men. Words it most often shows up with, according to the Corpus of Contemporary American English, include (in descending order) young, loud, style, bold, cocky, and arrogant.

Here’s another word you may see with it: water. As in water brash. This is a medical term. It’s not brash water; here, brash is a noun. A more technical term is reflux. You…

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