Monthly Archives: July 2013

Stopping To Smell The Roses: Easing Out Of Writer’s Block

Stopping To Smell The Roses: Easing Out Of Writer’s Block

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”  – Shug talking to Celie in The Color Purple by Alice Walker

“Come forth into the light of things, /Let Nature be your teacher.  —William Wordsworth

Sad news had me distracted today. I didn’t want company, but I wanted to be around people, to hear voices, laughter, life, so I packed up old fashioned paper and pens and headed to the Allentown Rose Gardens.  It was an afternoon of quiet writing under a tree with branches that arched over me like dancers’ arms.  A painter set up her easel near me.   Friends took photos of their children, all blonde hair and pink dresses.  A boy mastered his bike, training wheels ready to start collecting dust in the basement.   Newlyweds, all nervous smiles and linked hands,  took photos under the gazebo.

I was able to relax and unlock part of my writer’s block.  Here is what helped inspire me:

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Guest DJ: Parents Just Don’t Understand by Barry Wolborsky

Guest DJ: Parents Just Don’t Understand by Barry Wolborsky
“Put on your best dress, baby/Darlin’ fix your hair up right/Cuz there’s a party, honey/Way down beneath the neon lights.”  As I was thinking of ways to introduce my inaugural guest blog post, Out On The Street by Bruce Springsteen popped into my head.  A) the time is always right for some Bruuuuuce and B) it’s a song about getting together to have a good time. When I found out about guest blogging, I thought it would be a good time and that it would be fun to connect this way, fun being the key word because heaven knows I need more fun in my to-do list. In my FacebookTwitter and blog, I frequently write about the importance of writers connecting with each other, so it’s win-win (and we all need more win-win fun). Let’s put on our best dresses (we don’t judge here) and raise a glass to welcome Barry Wolborsky to the party!
IMG_0032A native of Brooklyn’s Coney Island, Barry Wolborsky spent close to twenty years working in the tech side of Publishing. Now living in Scranton, Pennsylvania with his wife, Amy, he works part time at the Hoyt Library in Kingston and is finishing up his M.A. in creative writing at Wilkes University.
At my first Wilkes University Creative Writing residency, I was asked to tell a room full of strangers the moment I felt like a writer.  I told them, “When I got accepted to this program.”

I lied.

Even though I had done some amateurish writing for a comic book website a decade prior and had been accepted to Wilkes, I still didn’t feel like a writer. Writers were the people I used to work with when I worked in Tech Support at Rolling Stone and Real Simple. They were authors and screenwriters. Writers were the cool kids. I was definitely not a writer.

I blame my parents.

No, really.

They had a friend whose nephew was a writer. This was not a good thing. “He’s a writer,” my mother would say with all the bile she could muster. My parents believed the only job was one that involved some measure of security. This did not include anything artistic, including writing, a subject I had always done well in academically.

Example: in fifth grade, I asked my parents how babies were made. They told me to read a book, so I did. To my horror, I found out, in detail, how I was conceived. Undaunted, I decided to turn this information into a book report. It got an A+ and was displayed outside my classroom.  I’m sure my parents were a little embarrassed their son wrote a book report about sex, but I’m certain they were more concerned I might consider writing as a profession.

They needn’t have worried. It never crossed my mind.

In 2011, I moved from New York to Scranton, Pennsylvania to be with my fiancé. A year after leaving my job at Time Inc., I remained “underemployed.” My mother had recently passed on, joining my father, who died two years earlier.  Over lunch my wife asked, “If you could do anything you wanted, what would it be?” I responded, “Tell stories.” Before the weekend was over, I had decided to apply to Wilkes.

To my surprise, I was accepted. I spent the month leading up to the start of my first semester in a panic (sorry, wife!). My first day of class, I thought about getting up and leaving.

I stayed.

A year later, I’ve written a few short stories, finished two intensive semesters, am halfway through my first novel and wrote an article about The Office for Entertainment Weekly. So I know I can write. But do I feel like a writer?

Not yet.

But I’m getting there.

You can contact Barry @barrywolborsky

Funny Face

Barry’s wife says this is his doppelganger 🙂

Lights and Shadows: How Archetype Cards Can Strengthen Characterization and Conflict

Lights and Shadows:  How Archetype Cards Can Strengthen Characterization and Conflict

 ImageIn my novel, HOPE YOU GUESS MY NAME, I knew who my characters were, and, thanks to the sage advice from a graduate school instructor, even knew what their feet looked like.  When the array of choices my characters could make were daunting, I looked for help in a deck of Caroline Myss’ Archetype Cards.

Several years earlier, a friend told me she had used the cards to understand her personality traits and how she could harness her archetypes for her benefit. Intrigued, I asked her to teach me about them. My friend opened the heavy, red  box and spread the cards across her glass coffee table. Each card was titled with an archetype name, the light attributes, a bold and beautiful drawing of the archetype, and the shadow attributes.

I sifted through the cards and she explained how to use them.  Basically, we all supposedly possess certain archetypes (Child, Victim, Prostitute, Saboteur) in some capacity, but have to suss out what other archetypes resonate with us. In the cards’ guide, Myss writes, “Keep in mind that your attraction may be positive or negative – that is, an archetype may represent qualities that are important to you as well as some that you wish you had in greater abundance, or qualities you would rather not have.” My friend would then spend time at night sorting the cards that fit and didn’t her life.

By now, you might be thinking this is a bunch of New Age flim-flam hoo-ha, but stay with me. I pinky promise there’s cool stuff here for you.

I bought my own set the next day and began my personal archetype journey.  Some resonated immediately (Student, Teacher).  Others, like Destroyer, shocked me.  It explained my love of rearranging rooms and having no fear about joining the Peace Corps (light attribute) and sometimes abandoning projects or relationships when I shouldn’t have (shadow attribute).  I now work on the shadow attribute, which has prevented me from saying, “Whatever! Forget about it!” many times.

Whatever my archetypes were, I was determining how the light and shadow attributes manifested themselves in my life and how to learn from them. One of my favorite new ways to understand myself and other people is, “Our light is our shadow.”  For example, I’m by nature and through the example of my mother, a giving person.  This is gratifying most of the time, but there have been times in my life when, to quote a line from Gone Girl, I “Giving-Treed myself out of existence.” Light, meet shadow.

If understanding these light and shadow attributes could help me as a person, I was curious to see how they could help me with my novel; so, I spread them out on the floor and started sorting.  The archetype exercise was a guide, not an instruction manual.  It also helped pinpoint my characters’ main motivations and fine-tune plot issues that had been clanking around my brain.  They helped shape my thinking but were not the definitive guide to Marina Koneyesha’s world.

I made color copies of the cards I felt best fit each character. Here’s what I thought were Gilly’s main archetypes:


Gilly is smart, informed and dependable. His work as a civil rights/education lawyer has him advocating for those who need it most. He’s also hiding a big secret from his parents. Liberator is consistent with what Gilly wants to be and what he wants to do; but Companion affirms his loyalty to friends and family, with the shadow attribute of “loss of personal identity” hurting him since he feels he can’t come out yet.  Narrowing one of his archetypes to Companion helped me shape Gilly’s decisions and actions in his misadventures with Marina.

The shadow attributes were especially helpful in creating conflict and planning for the sequel.  For example, there will be a huge disagreement between two Slaves and a Healer because their light and shadow attributes will clash.  I inherently knew about these conflicts, but looking at them through an archetype lens was fun and gave me more direction.  I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for fun and direction.  Pick up a box and see what happens for you and your story.

Please add comments with your ideas about conflict and characterization: