Why Creative Ruts Happen, and What You Can Do About Them

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I’m taking the week off from my blog to focus on other writing projects. Please enjoy the following article, which was originally published in May 2019. I’ll be back next week with fresh material.
Falling into a creative rut can feel like the end of the world, like you’re stuck in a desert with no sign of water or food or life. When they happen, you can do one of two things: fight them to the death, or embrace them.

Ruts are not a bad thing, says author and freelance journalist Kristin Wong. They serve a useful purpose, prompting you to question your life goals and career aspirations. Ruts, she says, reminds you that you are human after all, not a machine.

Other creative types see ruts differently. Author Jane Porter suggests that it’s not a rut you are experiencing at all, but impatience. You want to see results right away. You want to see progress quickly and in the right direction, just as you sketched it out ahead of time. You want to see proof that your hard work is paying off. But, Porter says, efficiency is not the same as creativity.

Do a Google search and you’ll find hundreds of articles with suggestions for dealing with ruts. But most  of them don’t address why they happen in the first place. Wong says ruts usually happen for one of three reasons:

* Information overload. The Internet provides a lot of information, and it can be easy to get lost in it. Some of the information is legitimate; a good portion is not, and we have to discern between fact and fiction. It’s also easy to get distracted with non-essential ideas that don’t fit in with your own aspirations. When you feel lost, it’s easy to seek guidance from other people and forget that you even have a brain and a voice. You need to block out the distractions so you can hear your own voice and follow your own path. 

* Burnout. Creative professionals often work on the same project for months or even years. But after looking at the same pages all the time, you can become bored. You begin to feel stagnant, and run out of ideas of how to fix your writing or artwork. Burnout is natural when you stare at a project for too long, says Wong. To counter burnout, it’s important to take breaks – lots of them. Self-care is as much a part of the creative process as the work you do. During those breaks, learn to do nothing, even if it’s just staring out the window. Breaks give you stamina and energy so you can keep going toward your goals.

* Uncertainty about your path. Sometimes you can be so engulfed in the process of creating that you lose sight of your overall vision. It can translate as boredom on the job. When you continue to do a job out of routine, and you’re unclear what the overall vision is for that job, it can throw you into a rut.

So now that you have a better understanding why ruts happen, what can you do about them? Ask any creative person and they will tell you how they deal with them. But their ways of dealing with ruts are as different as they are. Check out this Huffington Post article about how 29 artists break out of ruts. It’s important to find what works best for you. Here are a few ideas:

1. Take a break. Most creative people will tell you that frequent breaks are necessary for clearing your head. Go for a walk, take a weekend getaway, play with your pet, or take a nap. When you return to your desk, you may notice a solution you hadn’t seen before.

2. Work with your hands. Find ways to work with your hands. Try gardening, playing in the sand, mold clay, juggle, or anything that requires you to use your hands rather than your head. Playing with something tangible like dirt, water or clay can be therapeutic.

3. Take a bath or shower. Ever have an eureka moment while showering? There’s something about immersing yourself in water that releases creative energy. In astrology, water is often associated with creativity and artistry, so any activity involving water may help “flush out” new innovative ideas.

4. Try something different. Do something you’ve never done before, says Christine Mason Miller, author of Desire to Inspire: Using Creative Passion to Transform the World in a recent Psyche Central article. Sign up for a cooking class, for example, visit a nearby town you’ve never been to before or go horseback riding if you’ve never done it. The key is to open your mind up to doing something different. If you experience something out of the usual order of things in your life, that new experience can spawn new creative ideas.

5. Make small changes. Sometimes making small changes to your environment can help you look at the world differently. Miller says whenever she falls into a creative rut, she will repaint a room, rearrange a room or buy a new piece of furniture. Bringing something new into your environment can spark creative ideas.

6. Show up and be present. Give your work all the attention it needs, even if the quality of work you produce isn’t quite what you want. At least you are still working at it.

7. Allow yourself to be bored. Author Jane Porter says our brains are too occupied with information, data, news and other stuff. Our brains are too busy, and all that busyness can kill creativity. It’s okay to be bored every so often, to do nothing, to think of nothing. Use the time to stare out the window or a picture on the wall. Become a blank slate. Think of it as part of the creative process.

8. Surround yourself with beautiful things. Visit a museum, listen to classical music or read poetry. Enjoy the sources of beauty and creativity that surround you. Seeing it in nature or seeing it in the works of other creatives can inspire you.

9. Embrace your creative rut. Realize that feeling stuck is part of the creative process. Once you understand this, you can embrace it for what it truly is – a reason to keep creating.

Creative ruts are inevitable, and a natural part of the creative process. They serve as red flags alerting you that something is out of sync. When you fall into one, don’t fret. Recognize it for what it is – a chance to recharge your creative spirit so you can produce your best work.

How Reading a Variety of Books Can Improve Your Writing

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When I first began my writing journey nearly about five years ago, I was inspired by Stephen King’s book On Writing, in which he encouraged writers to read often and read a variety of book titles. Around that same time, I had started volunteering for a non-profit group that provided books to incarcerated women, and I became familiar with the books they often requested from our library (most of which were donations). So I was reading everything from true crime, prison life and re-entry to African-American and Hispanic fiction.  

Adding fuel to the fire was a blog post I came across about a reading challenge—reading books under certain categories, themes, genres or book titles—no matter how crazy those titles might be. The list included everything from reading a non-fiction book, a book about motherhood, a book turned into a movie or TV series, or a book with a color/number/person’s name in the title. You get the idea. The challenge wasn’t about how many books you could read, but the variety. It simply added another layer of fun to the activity of reading.

Put altogether, reading a variety of books became ingrained in me. So what that I rarely read the current bestseller? I learned as much by reading a classic John Steinbeck novel as anything else on the current bestseller list. I learned that every book you read can teach you something about writing.

More important, reading a variety exposed me to authors I probably would never have read (Toni Morrison, for example) and about different cultures and perspectives (Indian culture through the work of Jhumpa Lahiri, for example). It showed different uses of language and unique and interesting characters and settings (fantasy, for example).

Reading a variety has also shown me the things that don’t always work in storytelling and what does and does not appeal to readers. That knowledge is helping me craft better stories, stronger plots and more interesting characters. (At least I hope it does.}

Reading a variety can nudge you out of your comfort zone and challenge your brain to see things differently. If all you ever read is the same genre, boredom can settle in and you’ll likely see the same plot lines and the same types of characters over and over again. When that happens, it may be time to mix things up a bit. After reading a couple of historical fiction novels, switch it up by reading a memoir or a classic. You can always return to your favorite genre.

Here’s what you can learn about writing by reading outside your favorite genre:

  • Sci Fi/Fantasy – Learn about world building with its own unique population and language. This challenges you to think outside the box.
  • Mystery/thriller – Learn techniques for pacing and creating suspense.
  • Literary – Learn about character-driven plots, character motivation and story arcs.
  • Memoir – Learn about a person’s history, emotions and experiences. What makes them tick? How did they become the person they are now?
  • Non-fiction – Learn to explain technical or complex subjects. Get background information about a subject.
  • Commercial fiction or current bestseller – ask yourself why they are so popular with readers. What is their appeal? Why are people buying this book?
  • The classics – Learn about the use of language from years ago. Important if you’re writing historical fiction.
  • Plays/drama – Pay attention to dialogue. How do the characters speak and relate to one another?
  • Read Latino, African-American, Native-American, Middle Eastern, Asian-American authors – Notice how their culture influences their story telling.

The way I see it, reading is the flip side of writing. Without reading, we would never experience the fine art of storytelling. So read a lot, and read a variety. Your creative writing self will thank you for it.

Recommended Books about Mothers and Motherhood

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Since the calendar turned to the month of May, I’ve found myself reading novels where mothers are the key characters and motherhood the main theme. My current read is Two Little Girls in Blue, a suspense novel by legendary author Mary Higgins Clark, a story about the kidnapping of three-year-old twins Kelly and Kathy and their telepathic connection.  

Clark’s story got me thinking about other books I’ve read that explore similar themes of motherhood. With Mother’s Day coming up this weekend, I thought I would pay special tribute to Moms with a list of books that feature mother-child relationships. All types of mothers are included on this list, including birth mothers, adopted mothers and step mothers. Most of these books I’ve read, but I’ve included a few others worth noting.

So if you’re looking to add more to your TBR list, here are a few worth a look:

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline
What would you do if you received a postcard in the mail about missing children, and one of the children on the card looks identical to your adopted son? That is the premise of this suspenseful page turner that asks the question: What would you do if you suspected that your adopted child was kidnapped from another family?

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
With clearly drawn characters and crisp writing, this was another book I couldn’t stop reading. Hannah is a new wife and stepmother to 16-year-old Bailey, who wants nothing to do with her. When Hannah’s husband Owen disappears, she receives a note from him with one simple message: “Protect her.” Hannah knows she must protect Bailey, even as she tries to unravel what has happened to her husband.

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
With the help of a psychic and a private investigator, a teenaged girl attempts to find out what happened to her mother, an elephant researcher, after a tragic accident at an animal sanctuary. Guided by her mother’s diary that documented the behavior of elephants through death and grief, the girl follows a trail of clues that lead to a very unexpected and surprising ending.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
The motherhood theme plays out in several different scenarios in  this moving novel by Ng. When artist and single mom Mia Warren arrives in the idyllic and carefully planned community of Shaker Heights, her disregard for the status quo upsets some area residents, particularly Elena Richardson, who is suspicious of Mia’s mysterious past. The lives of Mia and her daughter Pearl are intertwined with those of the four Richardson children. When friends of Elena want to adopt a Chinese-American infant, Mia and Elena find themselves on opposing sides of the debate. Elena becomes obsessed with ousting Mia from town with devastating results.

Lost by Joy Fielding
The first time Cindy lost her daughter Julia, her daughter was five years old. The second time was when Julia was 14 and she moved in with her father, which broke Cindy’s heart. But when Julia disappears again at age 21 after a promising audition with a Hollywood director, Cindy begins a frantic search for her. This time, the answers she finds reveals a disturbing truth about her daughter that she realized she never really knew.

Where Are The Children? by Mary Higgins Clark
One of the first novels by Clark, and probably the one that put her on the path to publishing success. Here’s another story about a mother whose two children disappear while playing in the front yard. In Clark’s signature style, the story is told from a variety of perspectives, including that of the kidnapper.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
It’s been a while since I’ve read this debut novel by Tan, which explores four mother-daughter relationships of Asian-American heritage. The story is told from alternating points of view of each mother and daughter, exploring how the attitudes and behaviors toward love and family are passed through the generations. The film was also quite good.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch
It’s been a long while since I read this book by Fitch. I also remember seeing the movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer. After her mother Ingrid is charged with murder for killing her boyfriend, 12-year-old Astrid is shuffled from foster home to foster home, each time putting her in complicated situations. As Astrid struggles to define herself, she continues a rather tenuous relationship with Ingrid in prison.

The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton
At times this was a difficult book to read because of the moments of violence. I give credit to Hamilton for the way she treated each of the main characters. Ruth lives at home with her mother May, who sees her daughter as a disappointment because she isn’t anything like her brilliant brother who graduated from college and works in Boston. Instead, Ruth works at a dry cleaners and falls for a Ruby, a lazy, stubborn scoundrel, who does not mix well with May. Ruby and May come to a violent clash, and only Ruth’s innate goodness and compassion allows her to have hope for her future.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarity.
I love how Moriarity plays with intriguing questions and scenarios, bringing both humor and drama to her stories. In this novel, 29-year-old Alice is pregnant with her first child and is crazy in love with her husband. After falling at the gym, she wakes up in the hospital, only to learn that it is ten years later, she’s 39 with three kids, and she can’t understand why she’s in the midst of a messy divorce and why her sister won’t speak to her. As she puts the pieces of her life together, Alice figures out how to connect with her children and mend fences with her sister who has been on her own journey to become a mother.

Other books often listed with motherhood themes that are currently on my TBR list.

Beloved by Toni Morrison
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarity
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

What books about mothers and motherhood have left an impression on you? Which books would you recommend?

Tips for Compiling and Submitting Freelance Writing Clips

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When you’re starting out as a freelancer (or even if you’ve been doing it for a while), at some point a potential client will request samples of your work. This is common practice, so don’t fret if you get a request like that. If anything, you should celebrate because it means they’re considering working with you and they want to see what kind of work you’ve done previously.  

But what types of clips should you send to them? How many? What do you do if you don’t have many writing clips to show? Let’s start at the beginning.

Keep track of your clips.

Whether you’re starting out as a freelancer or you’ve been freelancing for a while, you should collect your clips and keep them in one place so you can quickly access them. If the article was posted on a blog or online content hub, save a copy to your hard drive, auxiliary drive, your website or online portfolio site you might belong to like Contently. To save, select the Print option, then in the drop down menu, select Save as PDF. Then you can save it wherever you want to keep all your clips. That way you know where to find them when you need them.

Wherever you keep your clips, it might help to sort them by date, publication or subject area, such as real estate or health. Again, that’s for ease in finding them quickly when you need them.

Follow the client’s instructions.

When a client requests your clips, be sure to follow their instructions. Some clients are very specific about what they want and how they want the clips delivered to them. Some may ask for PDF or Word documents sent as an email attachment. Others may want only links. Do as they ask. It’s their way of testing you to see if you can follow their instructions.  If they ask for three sample clips, send them three sample clips. Don’t send them four, and don’t send them one. If they don’t specify how many they want, stick with two or three, which is enough to give them an idea of your writing ability.

Consider several factors when submitting clips:

  1. Send clips that are as close to the type of writing that you’d be doing for them. For example, a client looking for someone to write SEO blog posts will want to see similar types of clips from you. In that case, don’t send them research papers or marketing proposals as your samples. Your chances of getting hired improve greatly if your samples closely match the type of work they’re hiring for.
  2. Make sure the clips are fairly recent. Most editors want to see work you’ve done within the past couple of years, not what you wrote 10 years ago. Although, if that is the only clip you have in that particular genre, send that along and explain why you’re sending an older piece.
  3. Send your best work. Some writers and editors will tell you to make this the number one priority, but in my experience, your best work may not fit their genre or it may not be the most current work you’ve done. That said, if you submit three clips, designate one as your best work, even if it doesn’t fit the genre, then include two others that do fit. Make sure they’re all recently published.
  4. Pay attention to the tone and writing style. Does your writing style mesh with that of the publication? To answer that, you’ll need to review their publication carefully to become familiar with their style. If it’s a light-hearted, humor magazine and you tend to write more serious, research-based articles, your writing style probably won’t work for them. You need to match their tone.
  5. Consider the publication’s audience. If your writing experience is focused on business publications, such as magazine features, newsletters, and blog content, it may be difficult to transition to consumer-focused publications because the writing styles are different. Consumer writing is more casual, usually written at a lower grade level than a technical business publication. If you want to write for a consumer-focused publication, it’s easier to get assignments if you’ve written for consumer publications in the past.
  6. Make sure the clips are error-free. If they’ve been published, they’ve obviously gone through a copyediting and proofing phase beforehand. But if your sample is posted on a friend’s blog and hasn’t been proofed, it’s possible that a misspelled word or other grammar mistake has slipped through. Make sure your work is clean before submitting.

But what should you do if you’re starting out as a freelancer and you don’t have enough clips or the right type of clips, you might ask?

Sorry to be blunt about this, but realistically you’re probably not ready for a freelancing career. Freelancing is highly competitive, and editors want to hire only the best-qualified individuals that have experience writing about certain topics. To gain that experience, try taking a few writing classes where you can accrue samples. Or volunteer to write website articles for a non-profit group (which I did early in my career to gain experience), create your own samples or start a blog. Some editors do view a person’s blog as a legitimate writing sample so don’t overlook its potential.

When you do submit clips, it might help to keep a spreadsheet or note to yourself about which clips you sent in case the client asks questions about it later.

Keep your best published clips organized in one central place, and make sure they’re polished and error-free. When a potential client asks for clips, you’ll be ready to send them the best work you’ve done.  

Give Yourself Writing Credit

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It can be a real drag to be slaving away on a lengthy piece of writing for months or even years. It’s even harder when you’re doing it in relative invisibility. There’s no one around to cheer you on when you get stuck, no one to urge you toward the finish line (unless you have a spouse or best friend living with you). There’s no one to help you celebrate small successes you experience along the way, like hitting the 10,000-word mark on an 80,000-word novel or finishing a chapter. When you’re focused on the next goal, the next chapter, or the next deadline, you might forget to pat yourself on the back for the work you’ve put in.

Experts (both writing and psychology) say it’s important to give ourselves credit throughout a project, not just at the end. Delayed gratification is a no-no. It’s not just to keep you motivated, but to acknowledge the hard work and grief you’ve gone through during the writing process. Since most writers work in isolation, no one else sees how you toil behind the scenes. No one witnesses the blood, sweat and tears you pour into your work to get it published.

By setting up a credit system for reaching certain milestones, you can take time to appreciate the work you’ve done so far. You can feel good about what you’ve accomplished while you’re accomplishing it. No need to wait until the bitter end to pat yourself on the back. Who wants to wait that long before receiving any kind of acknowledgment of your hard work?

Giving yourself credit plays off the concept of “What’s rewarded gets repeated.” When you acknowledge that you wrote 5,000 words in one week, how likely are you to repeat that effort the following week? Of course, you’ll want to keep performing at that high level. As the words pile up on the page, so do your rewards.

The rewards should be small things, like giving yourself a day off from writing or taking a day trip somewhere. They don’t have to cost anything either, like playing with your favorite pet or re-watching a favorite movie. In fact, waiting until the end of the project for a larger, more indulgent reward, something that could be a splurge, like dinner at a hot new restaurant or a massage.

There are a few guidelines for giving yourself credit:

  • Refrain from food-related credits, which can sometimes be unhealthy and ruin your diet.  
  • Keep credits small and budget-friendly. Save the bigger splurge for when you complete your project.  
  • Consider hobbies and activities that you enjoy that you don’t get to do very often, like dancing or spending an afternoon at the library.
  • Don’t put off cashing in your credit. Take it the moment you reach your milestone.

So what types of credit should you give yourself?

  • Re-reading a favorite book
  • Re-watching a favorite movie
  • Going for a hike or walk in nature
  • Going for a bike ride
  • Going to a matinee movie
  • Visiting a museum
  • Buying fresh flowers for your work space
  • Dancing in your living room
  • Taking a day off from writing
  • Spending an afternoon at the library, bookstore or coffee shop
  • Spending time with your pet
  • Spending time with a friend you haven’t seen in a while

Here’s another fun thought, shared by book coach Jessica Conoley. Use fun, colorful stickers to decorate your calendar. Every time you meet a goal, say finishing a chapter, put a sticker in your calendar on the date of completion. Or your goal might be to write 1000 words a day. Every day you reach that goal, put another sticker on the calendar. Over time, you see how many stickers you’ve collected as “credit” for the work you’ve done. You may not see all the words you’ve written toward your finished manuscript, but the stickers in your calendar can show you how far you’ve come.

As writers, we all work hard, often in isolation. Few people see the hard work we put into our craft. Taking time to give ourselves credit isn’t frivolous. It’s a way to acknowledge that our work is worthy of recognition, even if we’re the only ones to see that progress.

So how do you acknowledge your hard work? What special rewards to you give yourself for reaching your milestones in a longer project?

My Pet Peeves about Books

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For all the joy I get out of reading, I also have a few pet peeves. I’m not alone. Recently, a contributor at Book Riot published a list of annoyances about books and the book world, gleaned from their readers’ comments. Complaints ranged from poorly designed book covers to the competitiveness of reading challenges and the lack of a synopsis on the back cover. Most of these comments are related to book marketing, not the books themselves.

Inspired by Book Riot’s list, I’ve compiled my own list of petty annoyances. But while the Book Riot list focuses on the marketing of books, my list relates more to the story telling.  

Do you agree or disagree with this list? Or do you have other pet peeves about books and/or the book publishing process?

  • Unnecessary prologues – More often than not, prologues aren’t necessary because, in my opinion, they offer few insights into the backstory. The only exceptions might be a mystery or thriller that sets up the murder or science fiction/fantasy to establish world-building that requires some explanation. If the prologue could be read as a first chapter or if the information could be weaved into the main story, you probably don’t need the prologue. I rarely, if ever, have read a prologue that added anything to the story.

  • No summary on the back cover. I’m inclined to agree with the Book Riot reader who suggested the back cover was often wasted on meaningless quotes from celebrities. That’s prime real estate for book summaries. It makes the summary more accessible and easier to read, and much easier to grab a reader’s attention.  

  • Books that don’t live up to its premise. There’s nothing more frustrating that finding a book with an interesting hook that I can’t wait to read, only to find by the end of the story, that it didn’t live up to its hook. Perhaps the story meandered, ran off in tangents. Or the ending didn’t quite make sense. When a book doesn’t live up to its promise, I feel cheated. And when I feel cheated, I’m less likely to pick up another book by that author.

  • Novels that are too long. I think the sweet spot for most novels is 300-350 pages. That’s long enough to develop a strong plot, characters, and suspense to keep readers interested. There are exceptions, of course, such as Harry Potter series and science fiction/fantasy sagas. Others, especially in women’s fiction, have gone for nearly 500 pages—too long by my standard. By page 350 I tend to lose interest. You don’t want to do that to your readers. This leads to my next annoyance….

  • Slow, meandering middles. Ugh! The book might have gotten off to a roaring good start, but by the middle, the story drags or heads off in a different direction. You can tell when an author has struggled to write the middle of the book. Either there’s too much backstory or not enough of a surprise plot twist to push the story forward.

  • Unsatisfactory endings. There’s nothing more frustrating than reading a 400-page novel only to reach an ending that doesn’t make sense or make you feel good. As a reader, when you finish the final chapter, ask yourself, “How did this conclusion make me feel?” Two books that DID resolve the story satisfactorily and made me feel good: The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah and The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick.

  • No surprising plot twists. Some of the best novels I’ve read had a major plot twist that was unexpected and surprising. Without that surprise element, there’s no momentum forward, and there’s nothing to keep the reader interested in the story until the very end. If you want to see successful surprising plot twists, check out Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult or In Five Years by Rebecca Serle (and the aforementioned The Nightingale.)

Even with these petty annoyances, books are still the most wonderful creations on earth. I’m willing to put up with a few clunkers in my reading list to find the best gems.

A Writer’s Guide to Building a Professional Support System

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Writing is often a solo venture, and it can get a bit lonely sitting behind your computer screen creating your latest masterpiece. Every now and then, you have to get away from your desk and join the human race, if only for a little while.  

No writer ever really works alone, however. Successful writers surround themselves with supporters from various areas of their lives—friends, family, business associates, members of their church, school, etc. Having a strong support system can help you get through the rough times, like when you feel stuck in your writing or receive three rejection letters in one day.  Certain individuals can help you find the weaknesses in your manuscript and provide meaningful feedback to improve your story. Yet others can provide moral support to help you get to the finish line.

If you’re not sure where to look for your support system, start by taking stock of the people already in your life. You don’t need a huge circle of connections, only a few that can make you feel supported as you try to get published. But if you want to expand your social circle, there are numerous places to go to build your writing support system.

  • Spouse or best friend – Those closest to you not only appreciate who you are and what you do for a living. They can act as your first reader. Many successful authors often rely on their spouse to do an initial read of their manuscript. If you don’t have a significant other, identify a close friend who you trust to give you meaningful feedback. Count at least one person in your closest circle who can act as your go-to person to talk out your story idea.

  • Writer friends or a writers’ group – The next circle of support are writer friends. Like you, they are working through their own manuscripts. As writers, they may have insights about plot and character development, and perhaps help you through those times when you feel stuck. They may act as beta readers for later drafts. Just remember to return the favor.

  • Avid readers – I like to include this group because avid readers understand what it takes to make a good story. If a story isn’t good, readers aren’t going to keep reading until the end. Readers also buy books, so they know what’s already on the store shelves. They can tell you if a story drags, if a love story is lacking emotion, or whether there are loose ends that still need tying up. In fact, they may be better suited for the role of beta reader than fellow writers because they read as much as they do. They may have a better understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish with your own work.

  • Professional associations – As writers, you never stop learning. That’s why it’s important to be involved with an association or be part of a professional group. Through these associations, you can learn more about the business of writing, publishing trends, new technologies that can impact writers, etc. These groups also provide social opportunities so you have a chance to mix and mingle.

  • Business colleagues and coworkers – If you hold a job in addition to your writing, don’t overlook your coworkers or people you associate with through your job, such as vendors. You never know if someone has experience or special hobby that could play a role in your story. For example, someone who loves to bake and has aspirations of opening their own bakery can serve as inspiration for a character in one of your stories. Or someone with carpentry experience can explain the finer points of building a bookshelf or repairing electrical wiring.

  • Writing students or classmates – Whether you take writing classes or some other adult education class, such as art history or auto mechanics, be open to connections with your fellow students. They can offer moral support, or serve as beta readers or subject matter experts. Be sure to offer your expertise in return.  

  • Community – Look around within your community for book clubs at your local church or library. Ask if they would be willing to act as beta readers for your work. Also check out meetup groups that center around reading or writing for potential connections. These places are also great for social activities and building friendships.

Writing may be a solo activity, but you don’t have to achieve your writing goals alone. It takes a village, as they say. There are many options available to find the support you need. Really, you only need a handful of people, not an entire army to back you up. Most important, be sure to offer your support or expertise in return. You’re only as strong as the people who surround you.

How Much Patience Do You Need to Be a Writer?

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The longer I work at this thing called writing, the more I realize how much patience it requires. When I’m forced to wait for something else to happen, I realize I’m not nearly as patient as I think I am.

While the physical act of putting the pen to paper can make you feel productive, there are times when you have to take a step back, whether of your own volition or because of circumstances. That’s when you feel at your most unproductive. Maybe you need to let a story idea simmer on the mental back burner. Or you need to let a story idea breathe a bit so it has time to sprout into something worth writing. On the business end, sometimes you need to wait for sources to return messages or that critical invoice to be paid.

So how does writing test your patience?

When the story idea is there, but you can’t work on it right away.
You have a brilliant idea and you’re eager to start writing, but you can’t because you have to finish up your current work-in-progress. Or you have work assignments or school projects that require your time and attention. As anxious as you might feel about starting a new project, you have to wait until you finish other obligations first.  

When you get an idea for a story, but it needs time to develop.
You need time to figure out the conflict, character motivations, plot twists, and whether it ends happily or mysteriously. Your patience is needed to allow the idea to gestate into a more visible form before you begin writing.

When you finish your first draft.
Experts recommend that you allow several weeks to pass before you begin the editing or rewriting your draft. That time away from your work in progress allows the story to settle a bit. When you begin reading what you’ve written, you can see the story with a fresh eye and make the changes necessary to make it publishable. That in-between time, whether that’s one month or six months, is another test of your patience.

When your work is being read by beta readers.
There’s lag time while beta readers review your manuscript. So you play a waiting game, wondering if they will like your work.

Freelancers face other lessons in patience.

When there’s downtime between assignments.
Especially if you write for bi-monthly and quarterly publications, there’s often a longer lead time between assignments. You have to find a way to fill that time. It can be a test of patience, not knowing when the next assignment will come or if it will come at all.

When you must wait for people to respond to your messages.
You may have to wait for sources to return phone calls or emails so you can set up interviews or get answers to your questions. Sometimes you can wait several weeks if the person you’re trying to speak with is traveling out of the country. Zoom calls may be out of the question. It’s hard to be patient when you’ve got a deadline looming and your assignment isn’t finished because you’re still trying to reach a source.

When you need an editor’s review before you can proceed to the next step.
Once you submit the article to the editor, there’s more waiting. You have to wait for the editor’s review and approval. They may have to submit it to another person for review, so you have to wait for them as well. This phase can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. With more waiting, more patience is needed.

When you’re waiting to be paid.
The worst scenario requiring patience is waiting to be paid. Some clients can take an inordinate amount of time to pay you. I usually require 30 to 45 days for invoices, but because of the quarterly publishing dates, it has been known to take longer. Editors have their own internal protocol to follow, such as not submitting invoices from freelancers until the publication goes into production. When you’ve got bills piling up, though, that extra time to wait for payments from clients can be nerve-racking. An email or phone call to follow up may be necessary; but so is patience.

It does no good to sit at home twiddling your thumbs, however. There are things you can do to pass the time. In the meantime, you can:

* Work on individual scenes for your story idea that are clearer to you or that are more fully fledged out.
* Catch up on errands and chores that have piled up
* Catch up on reading and research in preparation for your work in progress
* Catch up on sleep, since sleep is so important to your creativity
* Make pitches to other editors to keep work assignments flowing toward you.
* Experiment with other types of writing. It’ll keep your writing fresh.

Who knew that having a writing career would require as much patience as it does?

Learning to Trust the Creative Process

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

For the past two years, I’ve been plugging away at a novel that is nowhere near finished. I started with a bang, writing the first draft in four months. Then the editing phase began, where the real writing begins, so the experts say. I’m still muddling through the novel after starting over several times to make sure those first few chapters are “just right.” It’s much like starting to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle, but all you have are the pieces.

Some of that is, admittedly, my perfectionist tendencies. The rest is learning to trust my creative instinct. I have found that the deeper I go into writing my novel, the more I need to realize that there is a process to all this muddling through. The more often I get stuck in my current WIP, the more I realize I need to trust the process. The process, so it seems, knows more about my story’s natural progress than I do.

From my experience, I’ve found that there are several moments in one’s writing practice when it’s necessary to trust the creative process:

  • When you begin to doubt yourself
  • When you get stuck in a writing rut
  • When you’re not sure where to go with the story next
  • Whenever you face a blank page

There might be other moments too that I have not listed. You’ve probably noticed them yourself. It’s at those times when trusting the process is a necessity, not a luxury. When you forget about trusting the process and push on, that’s when things tend to go off the rails.

Everybody’s creative process is different, of course. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing. The hardest part for most newbie writers is figuring out the best process for your work-in-progress. That may require some experimentation. (Hence my multiple attempts at writing that oh-so-critical opening chapter). But once you figure it all out, getting to The End is much easier. (At least, I hope it is.)

So what does trusting the creative process look like? For me, it was:

1. Starting a writing project with only a vague idea of what it will look like in the end. Or conversely, …

2. Having a clear vision of how the story will end so you begin writing, trusting that your story will end where it’s supposed to.

3. Writing a little bit every day, knowing it might be crap but also understanding that something truly beautiful and valuable could emerge.

4. Knowing you have a gift for writing and knowing it’s what you love to do and want to do. People may tell you that writing is a waste of time, but you write anyway.

5. Writing for the sheer pleasure of it, knowing it may never achieve recognition or publication

6. Understanding that every story idea goes through a gestation period. It has to simmer on the back burner until you are ready to put pen to paper.

7. Not waiting for inspiration to begin writing. You write regardless if you have a clear idea what you want to write about. You gotta start somewhere.

8. Understanding that story ruts happen. See them as signs that you need to adjust the plot or introduce a new character. You know if the story isn’t going anywhere, it’s time to make something happen to move the story forward.

9. Knowing that a solution to your plot or character problem will show up if you are present enough to recognize it. The solution may come in the form of a webinar you attend, a conversation with a fellow writer, or a podcast.

10. Recognizing that writing can be a messy process. Sometimes there are no neat paths to completing your project. There are times you simply have to muddle through.

11. Recognizing that writing is scary – and doing it anyway. It’s a part of yourself that you are putting out into the world in the hopes that people will like it.

12. Taking time to appreciate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may be. From small accomplishments come larger ambitions to create something new.

So the next time you feel stuck in your writing, or you stare at a blank page or someone doubts the wisdom of your career choice, that’s when you may need to trust the creative process.

Tips for Mastering Multiple Genres

Stephen King has done it. So has Margaret Atwood and J.K. Rowling. Neil Gaiman, Joyce Carol Oates, Jacqueline Woodson and Isabel Allende have also done it.

These famous authors might be best known for their work in fiction, but did you know they’ve also published works outside of their chosen genre? King might be known for his horror novels, but has also written mysteries and a fantasy novel. Allende has written memoir and Rowling has published non-fiction. You can find more examples at Bustle.

But writing in multiple genres isn’t easy. Experts suggest having some writing experience behind you before tackling a new style of writing.

Why would any writer want to publish in different genres? Naturally, it can help you scratch that creative itch. If all you write is magazine feature articles or press releases, sometimes you get that itch to try something new. Or maybe you get this brilliant idea for a mystery novel and you just have to try to write it.

Other times you don’t want to limit yourself to one style of writing. No one wants to be a one-trick pony. Your writing can get stale and boring that way. Experimenting with a different genre can help you break out of that creative rut.

But how do you begin? Here are a few tips to mastering multiple genres:

  • Read beyond your selected genre. Most writers I know read a variety of books, everything from mystery and science fiction to non-fiction and memoir. Reading different genres exposes you to different writing styles and different ways to tell stories. You have to understand your chosen genre well before you can begin to write it. How can you write a good mystery if you’ve never read one?
  • Focus on one genre at a time. Start by focusing your time and energy on mastering one particular genre before you tackle another one. Stephen King became a master in the horror genre before tackling different genres later in his career.
  • Practice, practice, practice. It can take time and lots of crumpled pieces of paper before you figure out the nuances of your newly selected genre. You might be a strong fiction writer, but writing memoir or a biography requires a different writing skillset.

One of the challenges of writing in multiple genres is managing your time and workload, especially if you’re working on different projects at the same time. Not everyone has the time or inclination to work on several projects at once.

Unless your name is Simon Van Booy, who has published several novels for adults and children, as well as a screenplay and non-fiction. He usually has several projects going at one time. He shares his tips for managing his time and workload with Writer’s Digest.

Booy starts by setting monthly goals for each project. He then breaks down his workload in chunks of time. For example, he writes adult fiction from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Mondays, then edits and adds material to it on Wednesday and Friday mornings. Booy also sets aside time on Tuesday afternoon for reading adult fiction and Thursday afternoon for reading children’s fiction.

With that structure, he says he’s able to meet his monthly writing goals on all three projects. By splitting his time between writing, research and reading, he has built in enough variation of work to avoid boredom.

However, there are some downsides to writing in multiple genres. According to The Author Wheel blog, it can be difficult to market your work because you have more reader groups to appeal to. It can also cause readers to be confused if you use your name for the different genres. Readers may see your name on the shelf and expect it to be one style of book, only to be disappointed that it’s something else entirely.

In these instances, you might consider using a pen name for at least one of the other genres, or a variation of your name or an abbreviation. For example, if you are known for writing non-fiction but want to publish science fiction, it might be beneficial to use a pseudonym to find the right audience for your project.

For every new pen name, however, you may have to create an entirely new author platform, including a separate website, mailing list and social media. That can be rather labor intensive to manage all those channels, and you may not have time for that. Only you can decide if a secondary platform is necessary for your work.  

That said, many famous authors stick with their own name when they publish in a different genre. Their name has the cache to attract readers.

Even with all these considerations, writing in multiple genres can be challenging and fun. It can broaden your writing experience and help you find new fans for your work.