Conference Challenge #5: Grip, Click, LEAP!

Happy Leap Year, everyone!

Now, you just knew this week’s challenge was going to have something to do with leaping, right? Right. But as I sat down to write this, no great exercises came to mind, nothing worthy of an As The Eraser Burns challenge. Then it hit me. What’s the opposite of leaping forward?

Falling backwards.

Have you ever felt as though you’ve gone backwards with a manuscript? Like, you’re chugging along great—writing your little heart out, kicking some page count rear—and then BOOM. You crash into the wall and your train of forward motion rebounds backwards on the track, leaving you frustrated, perplexed, and back at square one.

Raise you hands if you’re as familiar with this as I am.

Seriously, only one? The rest of you aren’t going to leave me hanging, are you?

Now that’s more like it! 🙂 

For me, I have many, many walls caused by:

–    My carefully crafted plot completely falling apart
–    Not knowing my characters very well
–    Intimidation, procrastination, and hesitation
–    Feeling as though my out of control to-do list for my real world is seeping into my fiction world.

When this happens, I know it’s time for me to get a GRIP.

Let me explain.

About seven years ago, I was involved in two major accidents within months of each other. The first involved our Chevy Suburban and bumper-hitch camper flipping on the New Jersey Turnpike. One of my worst days ever. In the second, I flipped my Jeep Liberty on black ice. Again. Not a good day.

Needless to say, not only was the Suburban, camper, and Liberty wrecked, I was pretty wrecked as well. I started having panic attacks, mostly when someone else was driving. I developed ticks, such as throwing my right arm in the air. (Almost took a guy’s head off one time when our plane hit turbulence!) Sometimes I’d throw both arms up and wiggle my fingers, like jazz hands on crack. My worse tick, however, was when I loudly sang, “La, la, la, LA!”

Seriously. I’m not joking. When under great stress, I’d belt out la, la, la, LA, just like Pig did in the movie, Babe, much to the amusement of my boys.

In order to help me cope, my husband came up with a code. If he was cruising down a two-lane highway and I felt a panic attack brewing, I’d say, “I need a grip.” With those words, Bob knew it was time to switch to the slow lane until I got myself back in control.
I’m better now. It’s been years since I’ve la, la, la, la’d or ticked hard to the right, although I still occasionally do jazz hands with my left. But I still make good use of the word, “Grip,” when it comes to my writing and those dreaded times I hit the brick wall.

But how does one get a grip when this happens? Do you take a break? Put your manuscript or drawing aside for a few weeks until you see things more clearly?


Seriously. Just don’t. 

That’s the worse thing you can do. Not only will that backwards motion continue, taking you farther and farther away from your final destination, you’ll have an even harder time leaping forward when you return to your project.

Instead, getting a grip means going back to the basics. Doing research. Studying writing how-to books. Talking with other writers, or surfing the internet for articles related to your issue. For example. After doing several rewrites for JUST FLIRT, I still had a major problem, one that left me perplexed and confused with a face-full of brick dust.

My main character wasn’t likable.

La, la, la, LA!

Don’t get me wrong—I love Dee. I think she’s awesome, but my earliest readers didn’t. Dee is blond. Skinny. Pretty. Usually the center of attention and an expert flirt. Problem is, when other females hear the words blond, skinny, pretty, attention, and flirt they tend to translate it as this:

Conceited, frivolous, Little Miss Perfect, God, I hate that girl!

Yes, I know. That’s horrible to say, but it’s the truth, isn’t it? However, Dee is hardly conceited, frivolous or perfect. She’s compassionate, hard-working, very flawed, and still in pain from her father’s death and being dumped by her ex. She never plans to be the center of attention, she just kind-of ends up there. And she doesn’t see anything wrong with flirting. It makes people feel good, so what’s the harm?

The harm is that I wasn’t conveying Dee the way I saw her in my head. So before stumbling through another rewrite, I got a GRIP by going back to my favorite writing book ever, HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL, II, by James N. Frey.

Yes, I know, I’ve mentioned this book many, many times, but his chapters on developing character sympathy, empathy, and identification are fabulous, fabulous must-reads.

After taking pages of notes on how to use his advice for Dee, it was then time for me to CLICK. By click, I mean I did Goggle searches using key words like, “character sympathy, flawed characters, likeable characters,” etc. Soon I found this gem of an article series on Brandilyn Collin’s Forensics & Faith blog about Character Empathy.

So was Kris Cramer’s article on Flawed Characters and Why We Love Them.

Then I read an online article about creating character empathy by using Scarlett O’Hara as an example. (I don’t think this is the same one, but here’s a similar article from The Art of Writing Blog by Tobias Mastgrave.) Hello! Scarlet was a notorious flirt, but we still all loved her, right?

Suddenly, the wheels in my head started to slowly turn, pulling my train in the right direction. I thought of all sorts of ways to make my lovable Dee more . . . well, lovable to readers and then I finally, finally was able to LEAP forward, choo-choo-ing happily along with yet another rewrite.


For all of you who raised your hand earlier, (and even those who didn’t,) here’s your assignment for this week. I want you to look at your current work-in-progress. Or an idea that has been haunting you for weeks, but you’ve been too intimidated to start. Or a rough draft that you’ve been avoiding.

Ask yourself this: What’s my wall?

What’s keeping me from leaping forward with this project, character development? A weak plot? Poor time management issues? A lackluster setting? Fear of failure?

Once you have identified your wall, then get a GRIP by spending at least an hour going back to your favorite writing how-to book for a refresher. (Don’t have one? Leave a comment and I’ll find a recommendation.) Or, do an internet search for more articles that can help and CLICK. And then, once you feel as though you are ready to bust down that wall, I want you to LEAP!

Grip. Click. Leap.

And for those fabulous illustrator’s out there, here’s your:


Sticking with the leap theme, Chieu is challenging you to try a medium that you’re not familiar with. Go into unfamiliar territory. Leap over boundaries. Do you like to sketch in pencil? Pick up a pen. Got watercolors? Try paint. Work by photo? Wing it without one.

Just LEAP!! 

Happy writing and drawing, everyone!

And if you’ve missed our previous challenges and need to catch up, use these links!

Challenge #1: Failure

Challenge #2: What’s Your Pitch?

Challenge #3: Poetry

Challenge #4: Writers illustrate and Illustrators write!

Challenge #5: Grip, Click, LEAP!

Challenge #6: Less is More


About Laura Bowers

Laura is a writer, runner, reader, runDisney addict, blogger/vlogger at Write, Run, Rejoice and Joyful Miles, mom of two awesome boys, wife of one fantastic husband, excellent chili maker, and obsessive list keeper. She loves run-on sentences and adverbs. She also still thinks Spice World was an awesome movie and feels no shame about that.
This entry was posted in Writing & Drawing Exercises. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Conference Challenge #5: Grip, Click, LEAP!

  1. Great post, Laura. Thanks for the links. I’m going to check them out now!

    • Laura Bowers says:

      Thanks, Sarah!

      And I forgot to mention to everyone how the book I’m reading now, SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder, is excellent help for those with plotting issues. Fabulous, fabulous book! 🙂

  2. Edie Hemingway says:

    Great post and challenge, Laura! It’s always helpful to know we’re not alone in this crazy business of writing and illustrating.

  3. Melanie Vickers says:

    Wow, this was one of the best. I’m so glad I opened this email. Today, I was down and out in Charleston. Not only did I get out an old self-help book and get writing but I’m going out to buy James Frey’s book.

    • Laura Bowers says:

      AWESOME!!! 🙂

      I’m so glad my post helped you. And remember, it’s the second HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL that I was talking about, not the first. (I haven’t read that one yet, but heard it’s also good.)

      Good luck with your writing!

  4. Thanks, Laura, for helping me really THINK about the current wall. Since my wall might not be so unique, I’ll share it: organization and time management. I recently bought Roy Peter Clark’s “Help! for Writers – 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces,” and although I haven’t finished it yet (time management!), the book has a great section on “Getting Your Act Together.” My LEAP is to actually put some of those great ideas into practice.

  5. Thanks, Laura!

    I’ve been facing several walls recently. The biggest one, the one that knocks me on my butt time and time again, is the fear of submitting my manuscripts, once I have them finished. I once heard someone say that you should consider your first novel to be a throwaway – a practice round. Finish it, learn from it, then put it away and start writing the next one, because the first one won’t be good enough. Well, that piece of advice has been my own little piece of Kryptonite, and I carry it around in my head, pulling it out on an almost daily basis.

    Over time, this little nugget of wisdom has grown and morphed into a knowledge that, since the first novel will never be good enough, the second (and third and fourth) probably won’t be good enough either. I’ve reasoned that submitting too soon will close doors and hurt my chances… So I write and write and write… and revise, and revise and revise… then, I research all of the agents I can find, reading stacks of books by authors they represent, studying blog posts, twitter feeds and online interviews, trying to find the magical connection that tells me this is the perfect agent for my book…

    And then I put my projects away and start the next big thing, hoping that someday, I’ll be good enough to start thinking about submitting my work. Even when I had an editor at a conference tell me “You need to get over the fear and get out there. Trust me, you’re ready,” I couldn’t get over the fear. (Sometimes, I feel like I’m channelling George McFly from “Back to the Future” – “I just don’t think I can take that kind of rejection.”)

    I hope it’s okay that I kind of modified this challenge for myself. Because my biggest wall comes in the form of researching obsessively until I have a mountain of excuses for why everyone in the world is more prepared to be published than I am, I skipped that “do some research” portion of this challenge and forced myself to simply take a leap. I submitted an application for the SCBWI work-in-progress grant, reminding myself that I could *never* win it if I didn’t even try… and then I submitted my query/pitch/sample pages to three different contests being conducted by the agents on my “agents I want to send queries to someday” list.

    Now, I’m giving myself permission to believe that I am a writer, and I’m moving forward, one by one, with all of my stalled manuscripts 🙂

  6. Shirley Menendez says:

    Thanks for this post. My wall has been choosing a format for my next book. I started with an ABC approach that hasn’t worked, so now I knocked down that wall and am starting over with a different approach.

  7. Pingback: Conference Challenge Wrap Up! « As the Eraser Burns

  8. Beth Blevins says:

    I have been working on a short story, told in first-person, from the POV of an 18-yo. I have had absolutely no trouble in hearing her voice–she wants to talk. But then I started to wonder if what she is saying conforms to “plot and conflict.” So I pulled out a book I’ve consulted in the past, “The Art and Craft of the Short Story” by Rick DeMarinis. It’s full of quotable nuggets of advice, such as, “You don’t begin with meaning, you end with it.” My takeaway, so far, from this is just to keep writing and letting her speak to me, without censoring her or making her speak within a particular form. [Thanks for the other book recommendations!]

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