Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Psychology of Greatfulness in Writing

I have so much inside of me. I want to share it with the whole world. I'm feeling grateful for my occupation: full time mother, wife, and artist.

A tremendous source of inspiration in our writing comes from our feelings. Especially those that are highly charged, both positive and negative.

I just returned from the SCBWI Orlando 2014 Conference and feel so pumped up after seeing my friends and learning so many new techniques as well as being inspired by the synergy that happens when so many creative and talented people come together.

Some great questions I came away with to improve my writing are:
Can I cut it?
Should I move this?
If you are asking,  the answer is yes!
Marjetta Geerling, instructor of the  Saturday Novel Workshop and author of FANCY WHITE TRASH, said that if you have a question about your writing, then you are already aware it is a problem and can usually answer with, Yes.

Wendy Loggia (Delacorte Press), read first pages and also shared some confidential first pages of her forthcoming books and instructed us in pacing and how to start a story with a great hook.
Tired old beginnings include:
Waking up.
Starting with a dream. (Snore)
Starting with a move.
Starting on an airplane.
Starting your story on the first day of school.

Wendy challenged us to come up with a fresh new place to start. One exception: Waking up dead at the mall. this was done in such a fresh new way, it conquered the rules and is a forthcoming book from Delacorte Press, I WOKE UP DEAD AT THE MALL/SHEEHAN. It sounds charming, with the exception of the dead part, but definitely a good hook and makes me want to read more to find out what happened to her.

So now I'm off to make my novel tighter and fresher. Revisions are my favorite! It's much more fun to squeeze clay than to throw ingredients into a bowl.

The delete key is more effective than adding words. How tight can you make it?
Happy writing!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Psychology of Writer’s Block in Writing

We’ve all been there:

Maybe it happens at the beginning of a new project: We stare at the blank, white screen as it intensifies, its brightness burning our retinas, which will ultimately make us go blind, rather than gently sweet talking us into writing the next bestseller.
Maybe The Block happens in the middle: Just seconds ago, you were typing happily along and then all of a sudden—what the hell—you have no more ideas…you rub your eyes, you stretch your wrists, you try again to keep the story moving: Nada, zilch, nothing. Except the book is not yet finished, but it is now suckers! Thanks for playing, now get off the computer—you’re done! Game over.

The Block can come at any time, even when you are hundreds of pages in and can see the light at the end of the tunnel: Your book is almost finished! But sadly, you just can’t come up with a satisfying ending and it’s driving you crazy! You begin to doubt your abilities: Will I ever write again? Will this be The One That Got Away—the novel that gets thrown into a drawer never to be pulled out again (unless you move and have to pack and upon said packing, find this unfinished piece and get to have yet another panic attack all over again!)
Ah, the great fun to be had as a writer!

But we’re not alone:
The Block is a common, universal condition that doesn’t have to alienate us from our work. In fact, I propose we use it as a phenomena that binds us writer folks together. As in, “Hey Sally, I’ve got The Block, pass the Oreos, please. Oh, what’s that? You’re currently in recovery from The Block? As in, back on The Writing Wagon typing happily away again? Oh, I see… you suck! I mean, that’s great. Good for you! Could you pass the Oreos now, please?”

Let’s roll up our sleeves and see how many tricks we can come up with to get through The Block faster:
1.       Expect it rather than dread it: Since we know it is a common, universal phenomena that has been experienced by John Green and the lovely Sarah Dessen (I assume. Please feel free to comment, validate, or disagree, John Green, Sarah Dessen, or other great writers we totally love and respect.). If you know that The Block is a natural part of the process, like having to get up at some point from the computer to pee, than we can take some of the more intense, negative emotion out of it.

2.       When you are face to face with The Block, talk to it, out loud like a full-on crazy person. Here are some dialogue examples to get you started: “Hello, Block, I’ve been expecting you. Thank you for joining me today. Stay as long as you want…I think the sheets are clean in the guest room, but I can’t be sure, it’s possible that they are still unwashed from my last overnight guest, but hey! Make yourself at home. If you don’t care for dirty sheets, I won’t complain if you’d like to do some laundry—there’s plenty to choose from.” By recognizing the problem for what it is and normalizing it, even in a crazy way, you dilute its power. The best way to make a problem stick around longer is to dread or fear it. By staring down the barrel of The Block, you neutralize its effect as much as possible, making it pass in the shortest amount of time.

3.       Never underestimate the power of distraction: The Block is easily distracted, like a toddler or a squirrel! Or a writer … remind me to place that order later… what was I talking about? Oh, yes, distraction as a way to combat The Block. Here are some of my favorites: paper crafting, pretending to cook, swimming, wake-boarding, and spending time with family. (Yes, I just referred to my family as a distraction from writing. You know you feel the same way sometimes.) And if none of that works, you could always start a load of laundry, or better yet, come to my house and start a load. So many ideas come to me when I’m just living my life throughout the day. We don’t have to be tapping away at the keys to be productive.

4.       The Sure-Fire-Anti-Block: Read! Reading stimulates your brain. You can enjoy exciting and inspiring stories while your mind is harvesting fresh ideas as for your work. This is my favorite tool—reading fights The Block without even trying.

5.       Keep typing through it. Even if you write the same word over and over again, or make up something ridiculous. My friend, Christina Farley, author of GUILDED, ( told me that when she gets stuck, she has ninjas come and fight. I love this idea. No matter where you are in your story—stuck in the middle of a love scene or in the middle of the scene where Grandmother is expressing her last dying wish—get those ninjas to come and start an uproarious fight. And while you are shaking your head writing your ninja scene, other ideas will come to you.

7.       I mentioned this in a previous blog, but it bears mentioning again, Brian Farrey-Latz’s ( idea of writing Never Scenes. What you do is write a scene that WILL NOT be part of your book, but it’s something different, fun, and exciting that you are just experimenting with, but without the pressure. This technique got me through a tough spot in one of my manuscripts and I ended up being able to mold the Never Scene into something that was actually usable. It brought in a new element to my story. It’s the section where I have my main character face an armed lunatic at a Strawberry Festival, it was totally out there at the time, but I realized my seventeen-year-old character could use what she learned from her psychology books to navigate the situation. That was a lucky discovery, but the point is to write something crazy just to keep writing, but it’s best to have the expectation that you will not use it.

8.       Write the old fashioned way. Get out a pen and a pad of paper and STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. Free write, no matter what comes out. Just write. Even if you scribble, I don’t know what to write, over and over again. You don’t have to write about your book. Write about your feelings. Write about anything. The act of ‘hand swirling’ will jar your brain out of a stuck place into an unstuck one.

9.       When faced with The Block, I like to write letters to my characters within the manuscript that I delete later. Example: Dear Elton, Boy, we’re really stuck now. What do you want to do next?  Sometimes she writes me back, like her very helpful and frequent response: I don’t know. So I keep going without her oh so helpful input: Okay, here is how I’m thinking/feeling today. I am very frustrated that you’ve stopped talking to me, but I am sure we will get through this together. If you don’t have any ideas, I’m going to have you fight a ninja. Then I wait for a response: That could be fun…she says. And out come the ninjas.

10.   Write about your feelings in a journal. Be honest with yourself about your hopes, fears, and goals, and what they mean to you. You might be holding too tightly onto something and when we hold too tightly, we don’t give ourselves any space to adjust. Flexibility is key.

11.   The Blocked Beginning: If you are starting a new project and facing that blank screen: Accept that you will start out by writing at least ten sucky pages, knowing that they will lead to something amazing later as you warm up your writing muscles. And those ten sucky pages will most likely be deleted eventually, but hey, they got you started, so they served their purpose well.  Notice a trend here? We are working to alleviate pressure. Tension within a novel plot is desirable. Tension to unleash greatness at the beginning of a project, or anywhere within a first draft, is not.

12.   The Blocked End: I’m not talking about constipation here, but maybe that metaphor is appropriate. Pressure to create the most amazing ending ever can be the plug that stops your creativity. Instead, expand your options. Write the ending in ten different ways and pick the one you like best. And make sure you put tons of effort into creating the worst ending possible. Again to alleviate pressure—make it chock full of feeling statements where you show and don’t tell and all kinds of horrible writing don’ts.  It will be a 'Never Ending' that you won't actually use. Don’t create a Block by locking yourself into a singular point of view. I’ve heard writers say that they don’t want to waste time writing something that they aren’t going to use. This is, in my opinion, not a helpful philosophy. A wonderful aspect of writing is how much revising is possible, meaning we are free to experiment, especially in those first drafts to find the most satisfying organization of scenes, leading to the most satisfying ending. This should include trial and error, because our errors show us why something doesn’t work and that in turn can point to what does. It’s all grist for the mill.
I hope you get some use out of these twelve tips for combating The Block. If you find them helpful, please share them freely with others.

I'd also like to invite you to add a comment letting me know if you've ever faced The Block and what helps you move past it.

Your responses are very helpful! I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Writing!

Tori Kelley

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Writing of Psychological Professions: Who's Who in Psychology

School Psychologist
Organizational Psychologist
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Professional Counselor
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

With so many 'ists,' do you know who is who?
I hope the following will give you more clarity when you are creating scenes with mental health professionals in your manuscripts.

Clinical Psychologist: A professional specializing in diagnosing and treating diseases of the brain, emotional disturbances, and behavior problems. Psychologists use talk therapy and can administer psychological tests. Psychologists have doctoral degrees such as Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology). They may have additional training in specific specializations as well.

Psychiatrist: A medical doctor with an MD (Doctor of Medicine). They completed a specialization in Psychiatry on top of their medical school training. They are qualified to prescribe medication.

Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC): A professional specializing in talk therapy with the focus on diagnosing and treating emotional and behavioral problems. They have a minimum of a MS or MA (Master of Science or Master of Arts) and have completed a two-year training program/practicum and internship, before passing their state board exam for licensure. Their focus in on the individual in counseling.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT): A professional specializing in talk therapy with the focus on diagnosing and treating emotional and behavioral problems as it pertains to the family.  They have a minimum of a MS or MA (Master of Science or Master of Arts) and have completed a two year training program/practicum and internship, before passing their state board exam for licensure. Their focus in on the family structure, including marriage counseling and family therapy.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW): A professional specializing in talk therapy with the focus on diagnosing and treating emotional and behavioral problems. Their training focuses on how the community impacts the individual and are aware of social support resources. They have a minimum of a MS or MA (Master of Science or Master of Arts) and have completed a two year training program/practicum and internship, before passing their state board exam for licensure.

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC): Depending on the state of licensure, some states use this title to include all of the above Master Level Professionals.

Psychotherapist: Any professional who engages in talk therapy and holds a state approved license may use this title. It is the catch-all/umbrella title so to speak.

Organizational/Industrial Psychologist:  A professional who consults with corporations to improve the functioning of the organization. Has a PhD or PsyD.

School Psychologist: In most cases, they do not provide counseling. Their education is sufficient at a Master level. Their main focus is to administer testing and develop academic plans/IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) and referrals based on the results of their testing for children needing exceptional education.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Psychology of Waiting in Writing

Waiting. What is it about waiting that causes such anxiety?

Is it the sense of wanting to be in the future when you can only be in the present? Wanting to fast-forward to some ‘knowing time’ where you’ll have the answer or situation you desire? But how do we really know that that future place will be any better than where we are right now?

If you had a remote control, would you skip ahead?
If you did, you might hazard the chance of getting somewhere before you’re truly ready for it. In my opinion, the universe spins exactly as it should, and if we can align ourselves accordingly (be satisfied in the present moment, with exactly what is happening to you now), the anxiety of waiting is moot.
The illusion of the ‘As Soon As’ syndrome needs to be addressed. We’ve all been there at one time or another: As soon as I get published, I’ll be happy/satisfied/complete. I’m convinced that’s all a big fat lie. You will feel a temporary happiness around the moment you receive the good news, but it will quickly fade into that pesky human condition: the desire to achieve or arrive at the next big thing. Waiting to publish more books.
We are constantly working to cross things off our list and in doing so, get so mired in our lists that we forget to embrace and enjoy the journey.
Want in on a little secret? You’ll never be happy until you are happy as you are right now. In your current position, doing or not doing whatever it is that you are experiencing right now.
Take a deep breath. Feel the air fill your lungs. Are you in good health? Do you have plenty to eat and a safe place to live? Do you have people who care about you and support you? Are you free to say what you like (not at the expense of others) and live creatively?
If so, take a moment and give thanks for what you have. Being grateful for what is, is the first step toward true happiness.
Look at what’s already inside your half-full glass. Focus on what is there already and bow to its goodness. When you appreciate what you have, more things tend to jump into the glass without much struggle.
Remember, there will always be more, but you’ll never cross it all off of your list until you accomplish humanity’s last chore. Which is to die.

So embrace the present and be fully alive, engaged in all that you do. Turn your back on the wanting for more or the unknown. The unknown doesn’t matter. Today is perfect, even with its flaws. Problems teach us and grow us and provide us with opportunities to dig our roots in deeper.
Stretch out in your space. Give yourself permission to be fully alive. What would you do/feel/think if you weren’t waiting for anything?
Say, I’m not waiting, I’m simply enjoying myself in this moment.
Happy writing! And more importantly, Happy Living!


THE POWER OF NOW by Eckhart Tolle


Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Writing of Mental Illness: Panic Disorder

Before assigning your character a mental illness, it is important to understand how that mental illness operates. You don’t need a Ph.D. to write a believable mentally ill character, but it does help to know the markers that physicians look for in a particular diagnosis to make your character more believable. I’ll add specific ones over time, but if there is a diagnosis in particular that you would like me to cover, please ask. I’d be happy to help.

For now, let’s tackle Panic Disorder:
It is included in the anxiety disorders grouping:

ANXIETY DISORDERS: Panic, Specific or Social Phobia, Obsessive-Compulsive, Posttraumatic Stress, Acute Stress, Generalized Anxiety
1.       Panic Disorder:

 If your character has panic disorder, they are afraid that they will have a panic attack. The worry over this lasts at least one month.

 Agoraphobia can develop in panic disordered people, which is the avoidance of places/situations in which the person feels they would not be able to escape and/or would suffer embarrassment should a panic attack happen in that location.

For example: I had a patient who would not shop in the grocery store because she was afraid of leaving her cart of groceries in case she had a panic attack. This possibility was extremely embarrassing for her.
Panic attacks usually last less than ten minutes and come on fast, sometimes for no apparent reason, and others after a situation or a trigger has occurred. The frequency and severity of an attack varies depending on the individual, so as a writer, you can take a lot of creative freedom here.
Your character should experience at least four of the symptoms below during a panic attack.
a.       Heart palpitations

b.      Sweating

c.       Shaking

d.      Shortness of breath

e.      Feeling of choking

f.        Chest pain

g.       Nausea

h.      Dizziness

i.         Feelings of detachment

j.        Fear of losing control or going crazy

k.       Numbness or tingling

l.         Chills or hot flushes
If your character is getting therapy for this illness, Cognitive-Behaviorial therapy is the most common method used and works by helping the patient examine their irrational thoughts and replaces them with more reasonable ones. For further research, you should look up psychologists Aaron Beck, MD, the father of Cognitive Therapy, and Albert Ellis, Ph.D., who created and developed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).
Medications that your character might be on for their panic disorder could include an anti-anxiety, which slows the heart rate and can be fatal if taken in excess. Benzodiazepine tranquilizers can be habit-forming so they need to be closely monitored. Xanax (Alprazolam) is a common one, but be careful in naming medications in your book as they change frequently. Xanax currently comes in white (.25 mg), pink (.5 mg), and blue (1 mg) tablets or a long white tablet (2mg). Common side effects can include drowsiness, weakness, confusion, headache, disorientation, dry mouth, and nausea, but may subside after the patient becomes used to the medication.
A panic attack could occur at any moment, even while driving. However, it has been my clinical experience that many patients have their panic attacks after a dangerous situation has occurred and they have entered a safe space.
For example: One patient of mine witnessed gunshots fired. She escaped, thankfully, but it wasn't until she arrived at a safe place that she sat down and had a panic attack.
I hope you find this information helpful in making your mentally ill characters pop off the page. Please check back for more as I will add them periodically.
Until we meet again, Happy Writing!
*DSM-V Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychological Association)
*The Pill Book (Fifteenth Edition)



Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Psychology of Perfectionism in Writing

Is perfectionism holding you back from writing?

 If you think you are going to sit down at the computer and tap out a perfect novel from start to finish, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Don't let the idea of perfectionism keep you from writing what's on your heart—that is what the delete key is for.

Take advantage of being able to save many different documents under many different folders. Don’t be afraid to write in chunks of little bits of ideas, or move something that isn’t working in a piece to a ‘Bits and Pieces’ folder so you don’t have to let it go entirely, just store it in a ‘closet’ to pull out later when you find a more suitable place.

What you write today is not what is going to be published immediately. In fact, the reason traditional publishing takes so long is that it goes through countless levels of revisions: Your own gazillion revisions, revisions that come from your weekly critique group’s suggestions, Beta readers, an editing service, the agent who falls in love with your work, and finally the publisher, who will direct edits of your work for the bazillionth time (that’s what comes after gazillion, right?).

But don’t let this information overwhelm you, it is meant to encourage you. Why? Because you have tons of chances to get it right.

And if that doesn’t convince you, look at all the people in history who have messed up, but still hold a place in society: Martha Stewart, Bill Clinton, OJ Simson. Okay, the last two were chosen on purpose, to show hard-core examples where people tend to be forgiving and accepting of flaws. As far as I know, no angry pitch-fork wielding mob has come after any of them and stabbed them to death.

Those of us recovering perfectionists (such as yours truly) need to have these gruesome examples to remind us that we are nowhere near that level of scrutiny (except in our own minds) and we are so much better than we give ourselves credit for if we can just put aside our own critical voice and free ourselves to what possibilities can emerge from our fingertips if only we give ourselves permission to be human. This includes letting mistakes,  and good and bad ideas flow onto the page without the worry of who will see it, if it will be deemed worthy, and if it will be accepted by others.

Don’t worry about any of that. Free your mind, free your fingers and let those thoughts fly. How many wonderfully imperfect sentences can you write? Let if flow, revise later, keep the nuggets of gold, and as for the rest? That is what the delete key is for. 

The Psychology of Revision in Writing

How many opportunities do we have in life to start over? In my opinion, revision is the greatest thing in the business of writing, because you get to take a rough idea, and hone it until it shines.

Could you imagine if the De Beers dug up a rock of a diamond and secured it into a setting? Who would make a fuss over a dirty, uncut, unpolished diamond? But give the jeweler some time to do the work, to make all the necessary adjustments, and that diamond becomes a gorgeous work of art that people drool over.

Your novel is no different. I’ve never gone on a diamond excavating trip, but I imagine it must be exciting to pluck such a precious gem out of the earth. You might hold it up and admire it.

The same thing happens when a concept for a story flashes through your mind. It is exciting. You’ve gone and done it—come up with an original idea! You rush to the computer or your notepad and jot it down as it pours out of you, inspired. You jump up! It’s done!

Not so fast, you have plucked a dirty gemstone from the earth, that’s awesome—it’s a diamond! However, don’t set that cloudy thing into a ring just yet. Now that you have your raw clay (yes, your first draft should be thought of as raw clay), think about what you want it to become. Think about all the new scenes you could add to up the stakes, add texture, tie up character threads, can we add in some surprises?

Examine your character arc, does your main character change in the most satisfying way? Have you left any story unfinished among the supporting cast—they are people, too. So many considerations. Plus, there’s fixing and catching grammatical errors, spelling, format problems, and structure.

What a freeing feeling to know that there is no rush to get it right the first time. Enjoy the revision process and ask yourself, How good can I make it?