Friday, September 19, 2014

The Next Thing: Shan's thoughts

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Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

There are nine zillion things on my plate right now. Have you ever felt like that? Like, you can’t possibly get everything done. It’s an overwhelming feeling, being surrounded by a to-do list that just won’t end, all of the tasks shouting at you for attention.

As it relates to writing, I feel the heaviness of my imagination most when an entire story sprawls before me. The manuscript I’m working on now came to me, not as a complete whole (there have certainly been some surprises), but with a vague notion of its end fairly developed.

The end! A glittering star I was desperate to reach. But between that far-off place and where I stood at the outset, sixty or so scenes rose like craggy mountains before me. Each one of them needing every ounce of my energy, every spare moment of my time, and a singular focus. Without these things, I would never finish.

And thus, the question became, “Where do I start?”

 Elisabeth Elliot gave me the answer.


 These four words are the rope that tethers me to sanity. They give me wings. They make the climb possible. Because I cannot do it all. I certainly can’t do it all today. But when I roll out of bed every morning, I remind myself that I can do the NEXT thing. And come hell or high water, I will.

It may take a little organization to figure out what the next thing is. You may even need a few writer pals to point you in the right direction, but freeing yourself from the burden of the next 59 scenes will lighten your load. Write the next scene. That’s it. And then when you’re done, attack the next with abandon. But not until THIS one is done. Don’t carry future work with you. That’s too heavy for anyone.

There’s only one next thing. Do that.

It’s different for all of us. Maybe writing isn’t the next thing at all. Maybe it’s querying or brainstorming or being brave enough to ask for feedback. Maybe the next thing is taking a class or setting your manuscript aside to study the craft. Whatever it is, find a way to make it happen.

So, what’s MY next thing? I am wicked close to being done with this manuscript, you guys. And I’ll be honest, my eyes keep straying to the top of that very last mountain. To THE END, but that’s not my next thing. My next thing is to get my main character good and caught. My next thing is to let the bad guy find her. My next thing is to write those moments and only those moments. And when she’s tangled something fierce, then I will write the thing after that.

Tell me, what’s your next thing? Are you organized enough to know? If not, dedicate some time and effort to figuring it out and then DO IT! I’d love to know where you all are on the journey. If you’re up to sharing, tell us. 

Tell us your next thing!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The First Thirty, a guest post from Marion Jensen

28 comments:
Marion Jensen is a mild-mannered instructional designer at American Express by day, but at night, he puts on a cape and writes superhero books. Books that will make you laugh, cry (but only because you’re laughing so hard), and then hopefully laugh some more. In his spare time he enjoys running, board games, cooking, and reading. He’s also a board-certified, synchronized Pez-dispenser. He is the author of Almost Super, and the soon to be released Searching For Super, both by HarperCollins. He is represented by Sara Crowe.

A few winters ago I went on a hike up a canyon near my house. We’d had a blizzard the night before and I couldn’t resist trekking into fresh snow. You can see a few pictures of my hike that day here.


As soon I as I stepped out of the car, the familiar voices started up in my head. You've probably heard them before. They whisper things like:
It's too cold.
You're not prepared. You don't have the right clothing.
The snow is too deep.
It's too far to the summit.
For me, these voices have the most power in the first thirty minutes of a hike. The voices will tell you it's not really giving up if you've only just started. And since you've only invested a small portion of your time and energy, turning around is easy to do.
Sometimes the voices may speak truth. Perhaps you are not fully prepared. Perhaps the way is too difficult. You should always begin journeys with care and thoughtfulness.
But mostly the voices lie. And in the first thirty minutes, you are the most vulnerable to their deception.
Once I've left my car far behind, and the valley is spread out in my view, I find I can talk back to the voices.
The summit is still too far.
Then I will go as far as I can.
The snow is getting deeper.
I've walked through worse.
You cannot do this.
Yes, I can.
If I make it past the first thirty minutes, I usually make it to my goal. I see through the voices' lies, I've invested significant time and energy, and I plow my way to the top.
I've discovered a similar truth in writing. When you begin a new story, the voices are quick to speak up.
These characters are bland.
The plot is thin.
You'll never get to eighty thousand words.
Again, most of the time the voices lie, but it's easy to stop when you've just begun. It's easy to tell yourself that the story isn't as compelling as you first thought. You haven't invested the time, so it is a simple matter to close the document and move on to something else. Or perhaps give up altogether.
Don't believe the voices.
Lower your shoulders, pick a good pace, and plunge ahead. Write the first thirty pages. Or fifty. Whatever it takes. Ignore the voices and just move forward. Perhaps on page thirty-one, you can start to respond to those nagging doubts.
The characters are weak.
I'm getting to know them.
You'll never reach eighty thousand words.
Maybe not, but tonight I'll reach three thousand.
The plot is thin.
I will do this.
Ignore the voices until you've written thirty pages. Invest the time and effort that your story both deserves and demands. You'll find the next hundred pages will unfold.
One last thing. When hiking, I've found that at the base of the trail there are dozens of footsteps. The farther you go, the thinner the tracks as one by one, those who have gone before turn around and head back. Eventually, there is an exhilarating moment when you see the last set of tracks come to an end. You look to the trail ahead and see nothing but unbroken snow.

In writing, it's not good to compare yourself to others. There are far too many variables. But sometimes I like to compare what I'm doing now with what I've done in the past. Maybe first the goal is to just finish a short story. Then it's to writing something longer. Maybe you want to place in a contest, and then come in first. Then you may tackle a lofty goal such as finishing a novel, submitting it, and getting good feedback. Then that happy day comes when you sign a contract, and see one of your books on the shelf.
If you ignore the voices, sometimes you can go farther than you ever thought possible. All you have to do is tackle the first thirty.
*          *         *         *         *
Jill here. Do you hear voices like this in your head? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Also, we're going to give away a copy of Marion's book Almost Super. Here's a little info about it:
Perfect for fans of Pixar's The IncrediblesAlmost Super is a fresh, funny middle grade adventure about two brothers in a family of superheroes who must find a way to be heroic despite receiving powers that are total duds. Filled with humor, heart, and just the right kind of heroics, Almost Super is a winning story that will satisfy would-be heroes and regular kids alike.
Everyone over the age of twelve in the Bailey family gets a superpower. No one knows why, and no one questions it. All the Baileys know is that it's their duty to protect the world from the evil, supervillainous Johnson family. *shake fists*
But when Rafter Bailey and his brother Benny get their superpowers, they're, well . . . super-lame. Rafter can strike matches on polyester, and Benny can turn his innie belly button into an outie. Along with Rafter's algebra class nemesis, Juanita Johnson, Rafter and Benny realize that what they thought they knew about superheroes and supervillains may be all wrong. And it's up to the three of them to put asides their differences and make things right. They may not have great powers, but together, they're almost super.

If you like to read middle grade books, have a sibling that does, or are writing this genre and want to take a peek at your competition, enter to win a copy of Almost Super on the Rafflecopter widget below.



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Creating Creatures for Your Novel

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Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

Storyworld First is now available in just about every format that exists. To celebrate, I condensed the Creating Creatures chapter down into this post. Enjoy!

Ever read a book and come across a creature so strange you could barely understand it? What about a creature that was pretty much the same as something on earth but had a different name, like calling a horse a gorse?

Then there are authors who choose to write about the stereotypical creatures that have been so overused like the centaur, dragon, fairy, ghost, griffon, harpy, manticore, minotaur, pegasus, phoenix, satyr, unicorn, vampire, werewolf, zombie, or even giant versions of cats, dogs, birds, or spiders.

None of the above are wrong. But the first choice usually means that the author is trying too hard to be original. (For an example of this, see my daughter Kaitlyn's amazing drawing of the Three-Eyed G-Wing.) The second two options often means the author isn’t trying hard enough.


If you are trying to create a unique storyworld, you want to invent creatures that are both awesome and believable. Here are some things to keep in mind:


WHY DO YOU NEED THEM?

Is your animal a pet? A messenger? Part of an animal-human team? Is it a warrior? A source of food? Or is it domesticated and raised as livestock? Is it a predator? A minion of evil? There are endless ways you could work beasts into your story. The point is to give the creature a purpose. 


WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE?

Part of the fun of creating mythical beasts is deciding what they look like. I included a Creature Creation Guide in my Storyworld First book. And you can really have fun coming up with what it looks like. Just don’t forget your reader’s suspension of disbelief. They’re trusting you not to leave them lost and confused or to break the laws of plausibility.

Take into consideration the environment in which this creature lives. Also think about how this animal will be perceived when your main character crosses paths with one. What emotion comes over him? Fear? Awe? Disgust? Amazement? How do humans interact with these animals?


WHERE DO THEY LIVE?

What kind of habitat does your animal call home? Does it sleep? Where? Wild animals live in a wide variety of places: burrows, trees, dens, caves, nests, hives, water, webs, and even under rocks or in rotting logs. Domestic animals live in houses, pens, and barns.

Some dog-like mammals live in packs, lions live in prides, grass-eating herbivores live in herds, ants live in colonies, bees live in swarms, and birds live in nests and travel in flocks. Many animals migrate to stay with the best climate and food sources. Some animals are territorial, keeping other animals away from the place in which they find food, mate, nest, or roost. Some animals live in a home range with many other animal types.


WHAT DO THEY EAT?

Three are three types of animals: herbivore, omnivore, and carnivore. What does your animal eat? This will help you determine what kind of a mouth it has. If it is a predator, how does it hunt?


DEFENSE MECHANISMS

How does your animal protect itself from danger? Speed is one of the most common ways for animals to evade predators. Many animals are able to camouflage with their surroundings. Turtles have a thick shell which helps them hide in their environment and also provides natural armor against predators.

Porcupines have quills, skunks have their smell, opossums play dead. Some animals travel in groups for protection, like herds of wildebeests or schools of fish. Packs hunt together to better bring down prey and to share the food with each other.


MATING

Some animals mate for a season, some for life, like many types of penguins. Some male animals have groups of females all to themselves. Some males fight each other over one female. Some female insects eat the male after mating.

Many egg-laying animals spend time building nests and watching until their young hatch. Male and female penguins take turns incubating their egg while the other looks for food. What kind of parent is your animal? Does it abandon its young or take care of it for a while?


DAILY LIFE

What does your animal do all day? Many animals spend most of their time foraging or scavenging or hunting. Lizards sit in the sun to soak up heat so they’ll keep warm at night. Some animals climb trees, some play (especially the younger ones), some go for a swim to cool off. Knowing these things might inspire a scene in which your protagonist happens upon your animal.

How does your animal respond to other animals or humans? Do they attack? Give chase to scare the intruder away? Growl and stay back? Run for cover? Completely ignore the visitor? Observe from a distance? Come when called? Or wander over on its own to say hello?

Does your animal have any special abilities? Think of some of the neat things earth animals are capable of. Roosters crow in the mornings. Monkeys and opossums can hang and swing from their tails. Dogs have acute senses and can be trained to track. Chameleons are able to camouflage themselves. Cattle have four stomach compartments and chew their cud as do sheep, deer, giraffes, and camels. Rabbits can see behind themselves without turning their heads. Owls can see in the dark. Bears hibernate. Mockingbirds can mimic any sound. Galapagos tortoises can live over 170 years.


NAMING CREATURES

First, and most importantly, keep it simple. You want readers to be able to remember the name and be able to pronounce it.

The name should feel right. Don’t name a beautiful bird a slithlop because slithlop sounds slimy and heavy and slow. Names can give readers hints about the creature. One would expect a timber gator would live in trees. You might also be able to give a name that fits the animal’s personality or paints a picture in the reader’s mind. Andrew Peterson is great at this with his bumpy digtoads, snickbuzzards, and toothy cows. Or you could combine animal types like Peterson’s ratbadger.

Play with the obvious. Make a list of describing words for how your animal looks, sounds, or behaves. I did this with two creatures in my Kinsman project: the bluegem beetle; and lightworms, which glow like jellyfish. You could also combine description with an animal type, like furry pigs or red-beaked hawks.

Foreign languages can be an easy way to come up with names. I used Hebrew for many of my fantasy words in my Blood of Kings trilogy, and for some of the animals I simply looked up the word. If you use this approach, you might have to vary the spelling to make it easier to pronounce.

Be consistent with the tone of your world. It would be strange to use French names for creatures if you used Inupiat-style names for everything else in your story. Unless you’re choosing names purposely to match different cultures.

Always Google any foreign or made up words just to make sure that the word doesn’t have some strange or offensive meaning.

If you get stuck, you could try some of the online name generators. I’ve never used a name straight from a name generator, but I have played with them and been inspired. So it might be worth a peek if you’re at your wits end.

This excerpt was taken from Storyworld First by Jill Williamson and greatly condensed. Click here to learn more about this book.


Do you have any great tips to add for how to create creatures? Share in the comments.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Stephen King on What He Has

35 comments:
by Stephanie Morrill

"Why do you write for teens?"

I get asked that question a decent amount in interviews. By now, I should have a good answer for it, but the truth is that I don't know. I can theorize that it has something to do with marrying my high school sweetheart, with seeing how choices made in high school affect the rest of your life. But truly, I don't know. Those are just the stories I have.

So that must be why I resonate with Stephen King's when he says in his classic book On Writing, "I was built with a love of the night and the unquiet coffin, that's all. If you disapprove, I can only shrug my shoulders. It's what I have."



What about you? What kind of stories do you "have"? Do you ever feel like you owe people an explanation for why you write what you do?


Monday, September 15, 2014

How to Develop the Habit of Writing Everyday

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Whether she’s building life-sized models of dinosaurs with her adopted family, trying her hand at cooking at a private retreat, living in a barn, taking a road trip across Europe or climbing mountains in Asia, author Aidyl Ewoh (aka Lydia Howe) seems to have adventures follow her wherever she goes. Her first book, Cave Secrets of the Pterodactyl was published by Answers in Genesis in 2013 and her second book is to be released by Master Books in 2015. Find out more about Aidyl at her BlogFacebook, and Twitter


If you want to be serious about writing, you need to get in the habit of writing every day. It was August, 2012 and I was at my first writing conference when I heard the advice. I wrote it down in my notebook and began thinking of ways to implement writing every day into my life. 

It was the next week when I was reading the Go Teen Writers blog that I saw Stephanie had announced the first round of the 100/100 challenge. (Which is a writing exercise where you write a 100 words for a 100 days.) Realizing it would be the perfect opportunity to get into the habit, I signed up. 

I’m happy to announce that I’ve been going ever since. 

I just wrote my 100 words for the 730th day in a row. It’s a fantastic feeling. 

I know it doesn’t work for everyone to write every day. Still, I think it’s beneficial to at least try it. Here are some tips I’ve found for making the 100 for 100 challenge easier:

Set an alarm. 

I have a phone where I can set a timer that goes off every day. My alarm is set for 10:16 pm each night. When the alarm sounds, if I haven’t already written my words, I snooze it until my words are written. And yes, I have had to get out of bed to write my words when I’ve forgotten to write them. I guess it would probably be smarter to get the words knocked out first thing in the morning, but I’m happy with my routine. 

Keep track of it. 

I started writing down what I did toward my writing dream back on January 1st, 2012. I’ve missed a few days, but I always go back and fill them in. Since I began keeping track, I’ve done at least one thing toward my writing goal every single day. It’s an amazing feeling to flip through a notebook and see how taking little steps each day for years can add up to a big dream coming true. (For instance, on 6-14-13 I wrote: 100/100, Blog post, publishing story, GTW FB, And... My first book is being released today!)



Be ok with mediocre words sometimes. 

You can’t always spend the time you need to craft sensational sentences. Last month my best friend got married, and I was her maid of honor. For several days I didn’t have much time to spend on my writing, so I would think of how my character might respond to the situation I was in, and then write it from her perspective. That was great for me because - although I may never use those words - I still took the time to dive into my character’s head and get a clearer picture of her. Which ties into:

Develop your characters. 

I discovered very quickly that sometimes I won’t be able to write more than 100 words per day (especially if I’m busy editing another manuscript). When that happens, I’ll work on character development, or write a snippet of description or dialog I might be able to use later on. That way I’m still writing constantly and making progress, but I don’t have to worry about choppy paragraphs where I jump from thought to thought.

Share your work. 

If you have a blog, tell your readers about the challenge and give them updates every so often. If you don’t have a blog, try sharing it with a friend, family member, or fellow-writer. Or you can just comment about it on the Go Teen Writers blog or Facebook group. This year I began writing a story and sharing a segment of it on my blog every Friday. My readers love it. 

Reward yourself. 

So, you’ve written every day for a week? Extra internet. Every day for a month? An ice cream cone. A year? Buy yourself that book you’ve been wanting. It doesn’t really matter what it is, just find some way to reward yourself. I’m a words of affirmation gal, so most of the time I just tell my family about my accomplishments and their praise is all the reward I need. 


Whatever you end up doing, remember that your dream does matter and that it is worth spending extra time on! 

Stephanie here: How awesome and encouraging is Aidyl's story? I'm amazed by her discipline and super proud of her. Have you taken steps recently to make writing a more serious part of your routine? If so, we'd love to hear it! 

And there's still time to sign up for this round's 100 words for 100 days challenge! Today is DAY ONE of the challenge, and it's also the LAST day to register.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Message From McKenna Morrill to Her Fellow Writers

42 comments:
by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

It started as an off-handed comment at dinner. My husband asked me how the announcement of another 100 for 100 challenge had gone over. I told him it had been well-received, and then shared the thought that had been lurking in my mind all day. "I was actually thinking about signing up McKenna."

McKenna, our six-year-old, heard her name and wanted to know what we were talking about. I explained that Go Teen Writers was hosting a challenge where writers signed up to write 100 word everyday for 100 days.

"And you signed me up for that?" The tone of her voice made it clear that this task seemed impossible. 100 words? No way, Mom!

"I was just telling Daddy that I had thought about it. But 100 words really isn't that much. It sounds like a lot, but you can do it pretty quickly." I noticed her marathon training page hanging up on the wall. "Same as the marathon you're running. You run just a couple laps a day, but it adds up to a lot."

That was pretty much the last word that I got in at dinner, because McKenna launched into the longest story I've ever heard her tell. She plays a game at recess with her friend, Kiara, about a princess and a vampire. This game started when they were in kindergarten so the story of the princess and the vampire has grown quite a bit. As she told us about it, her excitement about turning their playground story into a real story grew to the point that she was soon begging to be signed up.

Combining that with how she described her dress to me last night ("Can you help me find my purple dress, Mom? The one with long sleeves that makes me look like an upside down tulip?") I can't help wondering if this is the start of something big for her.

Maybe her excitement will dampen as the weeks wear on, but regardless I love being able to share a part of what I do with her. When I asked her if I could make a short video of her talking about the 100 for 100 challenge, something that I could put on the blog, she lit up. And here she is:

video

(Many thanks to my husband who performed the surprisingly difficult task of getting the video off my phone, turning it the right direction, and getting it up on the blog.)

The 100 for 100 challenge starts on Monday! Don't forget to sign up!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Writer's Block: Shan's thoughts

42 comments:
Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Happy Friday, everyone! I’m back with a new piece of advice to discuss. If you’re playing catch up, you can find last week’s blog in this series right here. It’ll give you a little explanation.

Today, we’re talking about writer’s block. Every author I know has been asked about this dastardly villain and many of them deny his existence entirely. Check out this quote by Thomas Mallon. 

No such thing, he says. And while I understand his sentiment, I don’t know if I’d go quite that far. Here’s what I think. I think the phrase writer’s block is often used for lack of a more specific explanation. Sometimes we don’t know why the words won’t come. There’s just SOMETHING standing in the way.

It can be helpful to strip the phrase of its power though. We do that by digging deep and pointing a finger at the real culprit.

I’ll start. I’m going to list a few of the SOMETHINGS that often keep me from moving forward with a story and I’ll share just how I’ve shaken off the problem. Ready?

When I blame writer’s block, sometimes . . .

I simply don’t want to write. Brutal, I know. But true. There are days when I should be writing, but I’d rather curl up with someone else’s story or watch old 49ers games or reorganize my bookshelves. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood.

When I reach this place, it’s usually because I’m tired or burnt out or starved for words. One way to address it is to give myself a day off. Instead of writing, I’ll read, watch movies, go to the theatre, play with my kids. I’ll do something else that inspires hoping my muse won’t stay hidden for long. But, if you’ve been doing too much of these other things lately, you may just have to demand your muse find you. And the only way to do that is to sit in the chair and start writing. Write anything. You can edit the heck out of it later. If you’re super-duper stuck, there are tons and tons of writing prompts on Pinterest. Grab one and write with your characters in mind.

I don’t know what comes next. This is a very real problem for the pantsers out there. Those of us who don’t outline and who just write the next thing that pops into our crazy heads. At some point, things could dry up on you. It happens to the best of us.

So, here’s what you do. Stick two of your characters in a room and get them talking. Lock them away (on the page, of course) and force them to discuss your plot. How are they feeling about all the stuff you’ve put them through? How do they relate to the character across from them? And goodness, what is that smell? Force them to confront the other character in the room and don’t let either of them out until you squeeze your next plot point out of them. This technique has been life changing for me. Books become living, breathing things when you let your characters talk to one another.

I’m burned out on this story. Confession: When describing angels one runs out of adjectives after a while. Not everything can be fiery. Something I learned while writing my Angel Eyes trilogy. After writing about the same characters for two years, I was exhausted. If you find yourself in that place, burned out on your main character or your story or, God forbid, your love interest, you need to do something to mix it up. That exhaustion will show on the page if you don’t.

While writing DarkHalo it helped me immensely to reread my favorite scenes. As it happened, they were set in the basement of a lighthouse. Cool, right? Those moments had action and emotion and passion and everything I, as the author, desperately needed to feel about my story again. If you’re having trouble moving forward because you can’t remember why you cared about this story in the first place, reread that scene you’re so very proud of. Remind yourself why you zeroed in on this plot in the first place.

Another thing I want to say—and say carefully—is that not being contracted can be a blessing. At this phase in your career, you do not need to feel obligated to finish the story in front of you. If it’s bleeding you dry, it’s okay to start something different. It’s even okay to bounce back and forth between two different ideas. Once you’re contracted, you will have to keep your behind in that chair until the story is completely done. But right now? Right now, you’re free to try different things. Find freedom in that.

I don’t want to be alone. This is one of those things I deal with because I’m half introvert and half extrovert. I absolutely need my alone time and I get overwhelmed when life is too busy for me to have it. On the flipside, being hunkered away in my office for extended periods can leave me in a dark place. Especially when I’m writing those hard, gut-wrenching scenes. Especially when the words aren’t coming. These days are the hardest for me. When I hit this rough patch, the idea of climbing inside my own head is repugnant and that makes tapping into my imagination difficult.

The good news is that as hard as this place can be, there is an easy fix and it’s as simple as writing elsewhere. Get out of your cave. Take your laptop or notebook and just go. I like cafés. There’s coffee and food in abundance and oodles of real life people. But if you can’t get to a café, try the library or a park. Bookstores are fabulous for inspiration too. A change of scenery works wonders for the soul and I bet it’ll add a bit of variety to your story as well.

So those are my thoughts on writer’s block. Phantom or not, it can be a thief of both time and words and the only way to get writing again is to do something about it.

Tell me, what do you do when the words won’t come out to play?