Monday, May 18, 2015

The Romance Genre and that dirty, four-letter word: SMUT.

Earlier a fellow author posted on Facebook how bothersome it was that the entire romance genre has been relegated to dismissive, derogatory terms like "smut." This takes all the wonderful stories we read and lands them all in the same trashy heap as erotic fiction, which has the sole purpose of being sexually titillating - even if, especially if, it's ridiculous. You can see how this might bother authors who don't write those types of books, but ultimately, thanks to nothing more than simple laziness, get tossed in together as if we're even remotely the same.

Usually I never let what other people say about my genre bother me much. I've been reading romance novels for 35 years, which is almost as long as I've been watching soap operas. I love chick flicks, I cry at sad movies, I read (and write) chick lit. I enjoy it, and I don't need (and never have needed) the permission or acceptance of others to do so. I'm firmly in the "Live and let live" camp. As long as you're not hurting another living creature, the world is big enough for all preferences.

Case in point, I still listen to Barry Manilow and disco music. I still watch American Idol for fuck's sake. Like I care what people have to say about what I like. I like it. Nuff said.

But this is a question I feel is worth examining, not because of what is being said, but why it's being said. What is being said is inaccurate and doesn't tell the whole story. At worst it's annoying, but we can work around it. There are some people we're never going to win over, and that's perfectly fine. Some of our stories demand a little more open-mindedness, and I, for one, would much rather an easily offended reader who might find my content objectionable skip gaily past. It's saves time for everybody.

Why it's said...., well. That's indicative of a much larger problem, not only in the publishing world but in society in general, one that starts the minute someone tries to shame us for reading "smut," and we feel the immediate need to apologize, explain or deny that we enjoy reading about sex.

Oh yeah. I'm going there. Buckle in, kids. And keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times.

The idea of "romance" fiction being smut isn't necessarily a new idea. I present this clip from the classic TV sitcom, Friends, where noted manwhore Joey finds one of Rachel's racy novels...

If I remember correctly, there's a similar episode of Three's Company, where the girls had some sort of dirty reading material and felt like they had to hide it as well, with another noted manwhore, Jack Tripper, finding it and teasing them because of it. It's a recurring theme in comedy. Good girls like something naughty, so naughty boys use it to tease them. Hilarious! It's funny because it's true... amiright??

Dismissing romance novels as smut has been the standing joke of it forever, but why?

Most who would be so derisive are no fans of the genre, so it's not like they have dozens of "smutty" romance novels steaming up their Kindle at any given time. Likely they've read passages only, which have been ripped from the pages and yanked out of context to mock the way it is written. Admittedly, these passages would probably never win some authors any awards. But why would we take this criticism seriously anyway? For every book that talks about his swollen manhood and her heaving bosoms, there are dozens more that eloquently examine the nature of love, of life, of motherhood, of childhood, of innocence and debauchery with the finesse of a female scribe. These are timeless stories that have been studied throughout the ages, beloved for generations, conquering every form of media, and woven lovingly into our collective consciousness.

As much sex as there might be in a romance novel, the readers generally take away from it all of the other stuff we put in there to craft a story or plot. My latest novel, BACK FOR SECONDS, was hands-down the raciest story I've written yet, with scenes that surprised even me. But the readers were far more interested in my heroine's journey out of a loveless marriage and into an empowering relationship with a man who not only wanted and respected her, but exalted her.

Not bad for "smut," if I do say so myself.

Conversely, I don't recall seeing any passages ripped from the sometimes equally silly sci-fi, fantasy or horror novels for collective mockery in the same way romance is, even if they're poorly written. In fact, for the purpose of this article, I Googled both "worst passages in romance novels" and "worst passages in sci-fi," and here's how that shook out:

So the issue isn't whether or not romance is smut. We can all agree "smut" is a very subjective term, and those who think that lowly of smutty material in romance (or movies, or TV) aren't likely consumers of it anyway.

The problem is when you classify female writers/readers under the heading of "smut," it's inherently offensive.

But why?

There's a few of things going on here, actually. The first of which is the legitimacy of sex, culturally speaking. Let's peek into another industry to provide contrast.

Think of all the movies you've seen that involve sex scenes, even graphic ones. Generally they are still regarded as "film" rather than the more shameful "porn." This is regardless of the overall quality, and regardless if the story itself is driven by sex and had scads of gratuitous nudity.

Some performances even bring home a shiny gold statue chock-full of Hollywood validation.

What's the difference, really, between award-winning, critically acclaimed film and the much derided romance genre?

Well, I have an inkling. Allow me to zero in on the main culprit:

(What? It's a cloud, a chandelier, some eggs and a dog. What do YOU see? You smut expert, you.)

Okay, so I'm not exactly subtle. But let's face it, the presence or absence of one specific body part determines quite a bit in the discussion of how sex is portrayed in the media. Let's refer back to the popular movies that feature sex shamelessly, versus books that dare to do the same. The movie industry is one where men outnumber women 5 to 1, and most operate under some antiquated notion that men buy more tickets than women. That's why everyone is *shocked* when female driven vehicles are successful, as if it changes the dialogue in some way. (The dialogue IS changing, all you have to do is open your ears and listen.) Smart filmmakers are ahead of the curve here, but there's still a lot left to be done.

In contrast, consider that in the romance novel industry, female novelists outnumber men, just like female readers outnumber the men. So why are our rules any different? Why is the product immediately assumed to be inferior for something that is produced by and marketed to women, despite the staggering success of it? Lifetime TV is lampooned endlessly for the "schlock" they produce. Meanwhile we're on Sharknado #3, where the laughable dialogue and cheesy graphics are considered a form of legitimate entertainment.

It still hasn't made a dent in the fortune created by Fifty Shades of Grey, which took women's fiction and sex to a whole other level...

...and is probably the biggest example of what many might consider "smut," given it's kinky bent. I'm *pretty* sure Ms. James doesn't really care one way or the other if people look down on what she writes. Girlfriend got paid and then some, and is currently living the life of her dreams.

You know... kinda like what might happen to a heroine inside of a romance novel.

So you'll forgive me if I don't feel the need to explain myself or apologize if something I write shocks or offends or is considered obscene, especially since I'd be expected and permitted to seek out, think about, chase after, lust after, mourn over sex in all its stages if I only had a penis. (There's a country song in there somewhere. Someone call Amy Schumer. Let's make "If I Only Had a Penis" happen.)

So I write smut. Who cares? It's not like, oh, I dunno... I'm going to face any real-life consequences for writing something lascivious, right? It's not like I'm going to have to write it under a pen name for fear of losing my job if I'm "outed." It's not like anyone might ask me to take a psychiatric test or anything. I mean really! How silly would that be?

(You'll note, by the way, that those examples include *female* writers who have been "outed" for their debauchery. You see how we keep circling back to the same thing? Women are nurturers, for goodness sake. I mean, a teacher writing erotic fiction? Don't let her near the children!!! They might grow up to think women actually like sex or something! Oh the humanity!)

In our culture, if you hear anything sexual from a man, there's an implied legitimacy, even if it's something ridiculous like Porky's. Smut, schmut. No one cares how raunchy something is that is made for men by men. Two words for you: Seth MacFarlane. That guy produces some of the most offensive content you can dream up, and he's about to take home the GENIUS award without one hint of irony. No apology needed, guys being guys, society's status quo.
“Whether he’s in the writer’s room, behind the camera or in the recording studio, Seth MacFarlane has become one of Hollywood’s most beloved talents,” said BTJA President Joey Berlin. “MacFarlane’s work has been a fixture on our screens – both large and small – for almost two decades. His humor and talent is undeniable, and we’re honored to present him with (this award).”


You think Seth cares if you find his material offensive? He has the right to produce the kind of content he wants, because - as a man - he has a legitimate voice in the media. People laugh at Family Guy, which regularly pairs the dog Brian sexually with "human" females. If you lambast him for "beastiality," he'd likely laugh and say, "Calm your tits. It's just a cartoon."

Exactly. So why should I internalize any shame whatsoever writing about sexual relationships between two consenting adults who happen to be FICTIONAL?

Oh right. It's smut. I keep forgetting. It's not a word I use very often. I prefer the term "ladyporn." For women, who typically need an emotional connection for sexual fulfillment, the words contained inside a typical romance novel are more about heart than heat. Whether they're having sex from page one or they don't have sex until the end of the book, our "money shot" is the fact that these two people can actually get together and be happy - not just get together and get off. Romance novels and erotica are two very different things and operate under very different rules, with erotica usually winning the smut competition handily.

{See what I did there?)

And granted, for those who aren't particularly turned on by graphic sex descriptions (or any sex descriptions) in their books, modern romance may indeed fall under the heading of smut for them. Let's face it, smut is in the eye of the beholder. With the liberal umbrella of "romance," there are all kinds of stories with all kinds of heat levels, from sweet G-rated virginal romance to steamy X-rated orgy madness with vampires, werewolves and other creatures of the night.

(I was going to insert the video of Susan Sarandon in the Rocky Horror Picture Show singing "Toucha-Toucha-Touch Me," but couldn't find a decent copy. I did, however, find the official Glee version - you know, that show they made for teens? So... make of that what you will...)

Suffice it to say, I don't give a crap if someone calls my books smut, for the very same reason I call myself a bitch or a slut. No one gets to define me but me, and just because someone else thinks it's bad or inappropriate, that doesn't mean I have to agree. It's only shameful if I accept that shame, and I, wholeheartedly, do not. I know what I write. I don't need to justify or defend it. Call it smut if you want. As long as you're talking about it, it's a win/win.

Admittedly there is a certain standard of obscenity to which we all sort of adhere, and that's where a lot of this shame stems from. This is the second part of the problem: permissiveness. Our "smut" standards, when broken down and examined, still leave women with the short end of the stick... metaphorically speaking. The rules are just different all the way down the line, aren't they? It's a sad truth that generally women have much more to prove before their voice can be heard over the voices of men, because our patriarchal society must grant us permission to be included. The reason that we're still fighting for legitimacy is because it is simply not being granted, often by virtue of sexual stereotypes.

I've broached this topic before in Legitimate Fiction vs. "Genre" Fiction, because unfortunately - as a female writer - I'm keenly aware that it's a reality of my business. Frankly speaking, sexism in the publishing world is a maggot-infested pile of misogynistic dog shit, and who fights misogyny?

THIS girl.

Yes, I am a feminist who writes romantic fiction, which means I'm going to approach my writing with all the audacity of a man, no permission required. I write what I write for a lot of reasons. The most obvious reason is that I love the chase part of falling in love, which is usually fraught with sexual tension. It's exciting and thrilling and intense and passionate, and thanks to romance novels I get to feel that every single time I write.

It's awesome.

I get to fall in and out of love/lust all the time. You think I'm the least bit bothered if someone considers it obscene? Homelessness, poverty, children dying in third-world countries because they don't have access to food or water, injustices where people are beat down for the color of their skin or who they happen to love... that is my definition of obscene. Creating and reading a little bit of ladyporn? That's just good, harmless fun.

It's kind of funny to me how much people still look down on the romance genre, given it makes more money than sci-fi, fantasy, horror and thrillers (i.e. "male" dominated genres) combined. By most standards, this makes it a huge success story. It makes more money and sells more books, and yet the entire genre is still treated like the dirty little secret of literature, which is generally bogus anyway. The simple term 'romance' is a very large umbrella for a great many, very different, books, whether they conform to specific genre convention or not. It's sort of become the catch-all phrase for any stories that deal with relationships or women in general, so it should go without saying that all romance is not created equal, from the great classics to modern bestsellers. You can have EL James on the same bookshelf as Danielle Steel, even if the "heat" or "smut" level is vastly different. Romance, really, captures the whole of the human experience, which is why I love to read it and I love to write it.

BUT... and here's the rub... because it's *for* women and usually written *by* women, it's usually ridiculed by default. I know that may seem like a huge reach for some of you, but allow me to present the case of Jonathan Franzen vs. Jennifer Weiner. Both are successful writers who have written about sex, but guess which one will get shamed for it? Go on. Guess. We'll wait.

Mr. Franzen has admitted that he would never read Weiner's work, but that doesn't really stop him from disparaging it. Sure, some romance/chick lit may be laughable and silly, something one might want to mock and ridicule, but that's not the whole story. Not by a long shot. Like I said, romance covers almost every single story of a woman who must navigate affairs of the heart, whether she's pursuing one specific relationship (which is the genre rule for romance,) or whether it captures the story of a woman's entire life, where she's loved and lost more than one man (or woman, whatever floats her boat,) where her entire objective isn't to partner with anyone, but to live a grand adventure told best in sweeping saga style.

Is Scarlett O'Hara's story one of a star-crossed love affair with Rhett Butler? Or is it the story of one woman's survival of the Civil War? It's all a matter of our third, most important issue to address: empowerment.

In a romance novel, the female is the hero, the one who fights for and usually gets what she wants, and that's a scary scenario for those who ultimately fear female empowerment. The best way to fight back against that is to shame it back into the shadows where it belongs.

Despite how impossible it is to determine the worth of all romance by the lowest hanging fruit on the tree (a very low standard by which to judge, if you ask me,) we writers and lovers of the genre are subtly shamed to apologize, or at least be embarrassed, for what we read. If a book written by a man, one that includes a story about a couple, that happens to have sex, it's not "smut" - it's literature. If a woman writes a book that includes the story about a couple, which happens to have sex, it's called a "bodice-ripper" and derided as lesser fiction because of it. They're naughty to have written it, we're naughty to read it. Hilarity ensues.

Legitimacy, permissiveness and empowerment are all trampled underfoot of a much bigger problem in our society. Women are not allowed to experience sex as part of their natural lives like men, including the embrace or experimentation of it, to figure out what we like or don't, what kinds of partners (yeah, I said PARTNERS) we might enjoy, or if we find pleasure or not. The statistical average for a woman to orgasm in sex is about 40%. For men? A *wee* bit higher. **COUGH**98% of the time.**COUGH** And that's because we buy into this idea that for men sex is a necessity. For women, it's more of an abstract.

A man orgasms, we know beyond a doubt he's crossed the finish line. (Hence why it's called "the money shot.") For a woman, everyone is chasing after the Female O like it's Nessy or Big Foot, without any real idea A.) how to get there or B.) what it would look like once they got there.

You could, you know, just read a book or something. We're not that hard to figure out, and we're certainly not that hard to get over the finish line. A lot of the time, guys, the weak link is you. I guarantee that "smut" she's reading gets her there *every* time, not just 40% of the time.

Could be why it's a billion-dollar business. Just sayin.

Society has bought into this bullshit that sex is a duty to make a woman's oversexed man happy, but it's not something she's ever going to seek out for herself. Inevitably, whether before marriage or after, the man is automatically cast in the role of pursuer. He wants it more than you, so women must be coerced/seduced to unleash the "wild" side, which is something we must then hide from the world lest it affect our "virtue." This is a recurring theme in romance, actually, which is why the appeal of the Alpha Male is so great. That older billionaire who takes the virginal ingenue in hand and guides her to be his lover is a successful plot device for a reason. It is a metaphor, really, to "liberate" that part of ourselves in the most socially acceptable way possible. Acting on sex just because you want it? Unthinkable! Seduced into a sexy love affair? Now we're talking.

Like I said, I've been reading romance novels since 1980. I'm used to the rogue taking the lady in hand, opening her up to sensual delights under the permissive heading of fated love. In the 70s, this resulted in the rape storyline on General Hospital. It was the only way to allow a young, married woman to "give in" to her desires for another man and be forgiven for it. Forty years later, we still prefer to believe that good girls, virtuous wives and saintly mothers simply do not talk about it, ponder on it, wish for it, drool over it or - gasp - seek "smut" out on purpose. We're not supposed to prioritize it, ladies, because sex is just something we put up with to go to bed early.

Is it any wonder that a female-dominated genre built upon romantic fantasy would be filled to the brim with sex, and ridiculously successful as a result? Come on. Really? Within the pages of a romance novel is the only safe place that women can unleash that inner tigress, living out naughty fantasies without any fear of society regarding her poorly because of it. She reads smut, how cute. She LIVES smut? What a whore.

Tell the nice people how we feel about that other four-letter s-word, Pink.

See that's where that sad little word comes from. Smut is meant to shame you for having the audacity to like sex outside of its accepted social paradigm. Believe it or not, even now, people are still surprised that women like sex. That makes the whole idea of sexual exploration, even if it comes within the safe pages of a book, "dirty," "trashy" or "pornographic" by default. Calling a book you've never read "smut" is nothing more than a shaming device.

I mean, it's a fairly benign word overall. From a Google search: ""Smut" is a slang word - most common in Britain - for any form of media that is considered profane or offensive, particularly with regards to sexual content."

To which I say... so what?

For men, having sex is almost a rite of passage. They get to have scores of it, seek it out, talk about it, write about it, and we somehow all buy, "Oh, it's because he's a man." Anything he writes, then, is forgiven for including sex in their books. It's all part of the experience. For women, sex - for better or worse, usually worse - defines our identity. We're either a good girl or a slut, with no wiggle room in between. It's how our character is rated, not just among men - but other women as well. Our value depends on how we regard sex. It's a honking pile of manure given that the second part of that is that we're limited as individuals anyway, made to feel incomplete unless we land a man, preferably ONE, to give up our precious virtue with complete social acceptance. (And it has to be done in the context of love, or it's just wrong. Period.) Everything is sold to us under that heading, from the time we're little kids (Disney princesses) to adulthood. (i.e. ANY magazine sold in the grocery store.)

In the end, calling a romance novel "smut" is another form of slut-shaming based on the limited standards of someone else. There's sex in a book? OMG! You LIKE to read those scenes? OMG! How unladylike! How trampy. It's trashy and, by default, so are you. (smut=slut)

To which I say again... so what?

If I do nothing else in my books, I hope to further the idea that it's only how we perceive ourselves that matters. We don't need to fight for legitimacy - we exist and we have a right to say what we're going to say. We don't have to wait around for permission to enjoy the things we like, and we certainly don't have to hand over our empowerment to anyone else just because they think we should.

Basically it matters as much or as little as you decide to let it. You get to choose.

I'm out to write a story. The books I read, much like the books I write, may have sex in them, because life has sex in it, and every single writer writes about life. But my books won't *only* have sex in them, and anyone who has read anything I've written knows the difference. Yeah it's unfair, even sexist, that these stories I have crafted with care, to be significant, not just scintillating, are going to be lumped into a category by those who are too ignorant to know the difference or too lazy to figure it out.

Therein lies the key.

If someone uninformed and small-minded mislabels something you love, always consider the source. Then tip your chin, write/read what you want and be a kick ass, empowered, unapologetic chick anyway. Permission: Granted.

Sing us out, Barry.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Illusion of Writer's Block and Learning to Utilize Your Runway

"Writer's Block." Those two words can strike fear into almost any wordsmith. There's nothing more terrifying than a well that has run dry, when you stare at a blank screen and your muse is nowhere in sight. Every writer will face it in their lifetime, but you needn't consider it the scary boogie man hiding in your closet.

In fact, you needn't fear it at all.

Here's the good thing about a writer's block. It isn't a stop sign. It isn't a wall. It's a "block," one that often can impede your progress when you're on the wrong path. That means it's small and manageable, and often productive, in the grand scheme of things. Inconvenient, maybe, but in the end it's simply an obstruction in your path that you have to figure out a way around, usually to make your story *stronger* as you develop your writing skill.

Picture yourself on a road, toodling along, listening to the radio, making excellent time on the way to wherever you are going. Let's pretend that you're on the first day of a long vacation, and you have plenty of time to spare. If you're on this highway and you hit an obstruction in your path, like - say - a big beam prohibiting passage, you might have the luxury of sitting in your car and chatting with your passengers, waiting for someone else to come along and remove the blockage so that you can resume your journey, usually at the convenience (mercy) of someone else.

If you're a truck driver who has a deadline to meet, whose money depends on how quickly you can get from Point A to Point B, you don't have the luxury to wait around. It's up to you to find/create a workaround. You'll take the nearest exit. You'll find a detour around your original, planned path, to get to where you need to go by the time you're scheduled to be there. And as someone who is trained to look several car lengths ahead to plan around these kinds of inevitable delays, you're prepared at all times to economize your time so you can make these changes accordingly, with as little inconvenience as you can manage.

Working writers are like truck drivers. They have deadlines to meet. They don't have time to wait for an elusive muse to show up on the scene and remove the blockage. They have to finagle their way around these obstacles. It's you against Writer's Block, and you have to win if you want to finish your project. The when and how is ultimately up to you.

Uncomfortable Truth Ahead: The quickest way to fight your way around Writer's Block is to WRITE your way out of it.

Consider this your runway. Every writer in the world wants to soar through the air, flying gracefully and forcefully through space, trailing behind them each perfect word that appears flawlessly and effortlessly after the other. Truth is that amounts for maybe 25-30% of your writing experience. Most of the time you're on the ground, waiting for clearance, preparing your vessel for the journey ahead and planning for any contingency. That means how effective your creative flight is and how long it lasts usually depends on two things. One, how generous your muse happens to be and two, how prepared you are for the journey.

I can't help you with your muse, she's going to be as temperamental as she's going to be. I can, however, give you some tips in planning, which is generally under your control. I've written both by the seat of my pants, with no clear direction of where I wanted to go between the first page and the last scene, as well as with an outline. Without question, I've always, always, had better luck fending off Writer's Block with an outline. It's a road map of where you need to go, and you usually figure out a lot of the pitfalls when you plan out your story ahead of time.

Some writers feel this inhibits creativity, but that's not the case. Your characters will jump off the page and throw your outline into the wood chipper regularly and without a hint of apology. The point is having an objective every single time you sit down to write. I use chapter-by-chapter outlines. I write it before I write anything else. (Some writers like to do a lot of prep work ahead of time, including character analyses, but we'll get to that in a minute.) In one sitting I go through the story in my head, like I'm watching a movie. I need to know, step by step, where I'm going. I know what beats I have to hit and where, so I plan them accordingly, building the story with pretty basic notes of what I want to accomplish in each scene. Here's an example from my latest book, BACK FOR SECONDS.


Chapter One:
Begin with scene leaving the family home, meet Russell, make it tense, zero respect, lots of bitterness. Kids are devastated, particularly Kari. Joely and her children return home from to her mother’s house. Get to meet Lillian and Faye right in the restaurant, along with Xander Davy. He prompts a smile from Kari. That night he leaves with one of the customers from the restaurant, Joely’s mom explains that he likes the ladies and the ladies like him. It immediately puts her off. Sweet scene with youngest daughter – strained goodnights with older kids.

Chapter Two:
Joely is ready to go back to work. Problem: she’s been a stay-at-home mom for twelve years, and keeps running into obstacles. She is no longer an attractive candidate for her chosen field in management, and needs a certain income to support her family. That Xander is a bit of a showoff with his money only puts her off even more. It’s clear she doesn’t like him. It’s clear that’s not what he’s used to. Kari, however, lights up at the restaurant where they eat nightly. Introduce Mason.

Chapter Three:
Several rejections later and Joely ends up baking her feelings. Her mother is overjoyed with her product, saying that she should do that for the restaurant. She tells her mother no, she’d rather make it on her own. It’s bad enough they have to stay in their house. The sooner she gets a job, the sooner she gets her freedom. Her grandmother ends up cooking with her at home. She’s a feisty gal full of advice and good humor, especially when it comes to her strained relationship with her daughter.

Chapter Four:
Joely drops the kids off with their father, who makes it a point to wave his new relationship (his former affair) under her nose. Joely decides to head to a bar with her BFF Novanna, who has nothing good to say about Russell, even though their husbands share a practice. Cheating is a deal breaker. Period. She convinces Joely to scope out a new man, a hot meaningless affair to remind her what it is to be her own woman. She ends up running into Xander. After a disastrous dance where their personalities clash, she retreats back to the house, where she bakes goodies, getting creative with the decorating.


If you've read BACK FOR SECONDS, then you can see where the story ventured off on its own, following its own unique flow in the narrative. The outline that plants my butt in the chair is not carved in stone, there's plenty of wiggle room to venture outside the lines where I need to. You find your own groove as you delve further into the story. An outline is more of a guideline where you're going, so that you can *keep* going. So I throw random, vague scene ideas in the mix I think will further the story I want to tell, but leave enough room there to let the muse do her thing.

She's more compliant than you'd think.

Once that initial plan is in place, it gives me a writing schedule (usually at least one chapter, maybe two, per day,) which means I can finish a first draft in a month or less. If I get stuck, say, like when my characters jump ship from the outline and get caught up doing their own thing, then I delve deeper into their motivation, to keep the flow of action as organic as possible. It has to build upon itself, one thing upon the other. Here's where you can refer to your character analyses, if you've written them, or write them in addition to the outline, whenever you need an extra push to get past that dreaded blinking cursor. You can also do more research. If your characters live in Los Angeles, research Los Angeles and use that in your story. Find a place, give them an activity, throw them into a scene and just see what they do. If they're a doctor, research a case that might pertain to their occupation and fit it into the story. If they're famous or rich, take the afternoon and get balls deep in a Biography hole on TV, to figure out what kinds of situations they've found themselves in and knock your characters around accordingly. Find a way to "show" what you need to say, incorporating your central theme or message in deeper layers.

(Some writers even prefer a writing project aside from the one they're working on, such as a blog post, etc., just to get the juices flowing. Ahem.)

The trick is to find *something* to write about, even if you end up scrapping it later.

See, that's the biggest lie that Writer's Block whispers in your ear. Most of us hit a standstill when we feel that what we're writing doesn't match what we want to say. The words are all wrong, or simply don't come at all. But even a less stellar word is one more towards your destination. There are a lot of things you can fix in the rewrite process. (We'll go over that in a future blog.)

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten was, "Don't get it right. Get it written."

Writers' Block, Shmiter's Block, that's your job. Get it written. So plan ahead. Research, research, research. Write your way out of it.

Now get cracking.