When You Are Burnt Out

Life happens to all of us. We are called away, get busy and sooner or later wind up spent.

Earlier this month, I drove from my home in Grand Rapids, MI to Rochester, NY and back to MI. Then got up, flew down to Frisco, TX for a work conference and then flew back to MI. The next day I drove to NY and two days later drove back home – all in eight days.

This whirlwind did not make me excited or energized as you might think a trip or time away from the office might. I grew more and more exhausted as the days went on. I anticipated that I would have time to sit down and put words on the page. Instead I rushed from one thing to the next and tried to force some fiction only to delete most of it.

It was then I knew I arrived at a place we all come to now and again – the roadside of life. Okay, this might seem a bit melodramatic, but I am a writer after all. But we’ve all been there – the place where a basic task seems akin to moving a mountain. In the words of Jim Gaffigan, “I should probably get the mail. But then I’d have to put on pants.”

Coffee Not Helping?
Coffee Not Helping?

If you’ve been there or are there now you know there are two directions you can go. Further down the path of the exhaustive rut or with a little effort, we can start to turn things around.

But how do you turn things around if you are stuck in the same life sucking rhythm?

Well, let’s start with stating the obvious. The current rhythm does not work. That and we’ve either lost or forgotten our passion. I stopped traveling and instead of sleeping in and getting rest, I knew I needed to stick my heels in. So, I decided to get up between 5:15 or 5:30 a few mornings. I got up and stretched those writing muscles and worked on a couple of new short stories. I knew that if I started something short, something doable, I could use that momentum to face longer projects, like my novel.

How about you? Have your wheels fallen off? What project do you need to do but do not have the energy to get it done?

Keep working.

Keep writing.



Developing Characters – The Blind Date Approach

Characters make or break a work of fiction. No matter what perspective you are writing they have to be real, convincing, and unique to survive your entire book.

I’ve read a lot about creating characters. Not so that I can whip up bland cookie-cutter personalities but to learn how to develop them. Our readers want our characters to grow through whatever journey we take them. This does not mean the journey finishes with an end of the rainbow ending, but it does mean that they cannot be the same person at the beginning and at the end.

This is why I believe we should reveal our characters as if they are on a blind date with our audience.

I have not been on a date in about a decade. I’m happily married. But a blind date is a simple enough concept. You don’t start by telling them you are interested in getting married right now, or tomorrow at the latest. And you don’t ask them to see your parents tomorrow or move in. Relationships take time to develop.

Introduce your main characters with a few descriptive details. Not – he was old, fat and lazy. Instead – his hobby was TV, his favorite food was anything found in a gas station, and he kept a fridge next to his sofa so all of his snacks were within arm’s reach.

Okay that description may have been a bit lame but you get the point. Don’t tell the entire history of this person in three or four pages and interrupt the flow of the story. If you do it you, the author, are drawing attention to yourself with this magnificent sidebar. The introduction should feel natural and then take opportunities through the story to reveal the character through action and conversation.

I encourage you to go back and check each time you introduce a character. See how many pages and paragraphs you use to do this. Keeping it short and sweet can help keep your audience in what John Gardner called “the vivid dream”. They will be carried along by the current of your plot as they get to know the people you’ve created.

Keep Writing.



Don’t Let Your Dreams Just Be Dreams

My friend Ben introduced me to a movie trailer the other day. I watched it and knew I would love it right away. The movie is titled the Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The main character is a man by the same name. It is based on a short story by the same name as well by James Thurber. Walter is a picked on loner who just can’t seem to stand up for himself and do the things he wants to do in life. Instead, sadly, he falls back into a dream world. There he lives out doing the very things he could not do or is not quite brave enough to do in the real world (though the movie may take this in another direction).

As writers, a lot of us dream all day. We think of great stories and possibly live some of them out in our minds for a bit. Sort of like trying on a shirt to see if it would fit right. However, I think many times we fall into this state too often and spend time dreaming instead of living out these passions in our real life.

This post is short but I’d just like to say that along the road of writing day dreams of publication and contracts can be distracting. Don’t get distracted today. Writing is hard work. Make sure you come back to reality and carve out a few hours to actually do it. The same can be said for anything in life that can fall under the category of “I would do ___ but I just…”.

Don’t watch a TV series on something.

Don’t live vicariously.

Just live.