Use Your Writing to Build Authority

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Be sure to check out this week’s writing prompt: Write a story about a childhood memory related to food (learning to cook, family barbecue, tasting something for the first time, etc.)

When you’re just starting a writing career, you naturally want to be taken seriously by your readers. This is especially true if you’re writing non-fiction or starting a blog, or anything based on factual content as opposed to fiction writing.

It can be difficult to establish your authoritative voice in a sea of experts on the internet. How do you set yourself apart from them? How do you establish your own authority? How do you make your voice stand out from the rest?

This is especially important if you’re a beginning blogger. Many beginning bloggers are unsure what to write about, so they write about everything. Unfortunately, this gives the impression of being scattered, so scattered that it’s hard to know what their specialty is. Even publishing expert Jane Friedman has admitted that she did not have a niche when she began her blog. But that’s okay. Sometimes your niche or book concept can grow over time as you post consistently and readers respond to your posts.

So how do you establish your authority? How do you reveal your expertise? Here are some steps you can take to help build authority with your writing.

1. Take stock of your experience. What are you good at doing? What professional work have you done (bookkeeping, legal, marketing, etc.)? Do you have any hobbies or special interests you’d love to tell people about? Most important, what are you passionate about? Perhaps you’re an expert knitter, love animals or play golf? Make a list of all your hobbies, special interests, and work experience, then rank them according to how passionate you feel about them.

2. Focus on a single niche. Once you’ve done your self-assessment from step one, you’ll have a good idea what you’re an expert at – and what expertise you want to promote about yourself. If you’re figuring out an angle for your blog, this step is imperative. A blog focused on one topic shows more authority than a blog that covers multiple topics. A good example is The Art of Blogging (all about blogging).

3. Do your research. Even if you have particular experience about something, there will be times when you need to do some research to supplement your knowledge. Adding quotes from experts or sharing the latest research can put you in good stead with your readers. Adding one or two statistics can bring more meaning to your piece. For example, for the magazine features I write for my client, I usually include one or two statistics to demonstrate key points. When you use data from recognized experts in your industry, it adds to your authoritative presence.

4. Know your audience. Think about who you are writing for. What do they want to know? What types of questions do they ask? Use their questions as a guide for future blog posts or an e-book. By providing readers with answers to their questions, you establish yourself as someone they trust and will come back to for more information.

5. Surround yourself with outside experts. While you may focus on one niche, there may be times when you want to cover a topic that is related to your niche but goes beyond your expertise. Then you’ll want to refer to subject matter experts. Ask them questions to fill in the blanks of your own knowledge and experience. Know who you can go to when you don’t have all the answers. Be sure to provide proper attribution when you quote them. Sometimes being an authority means recognizing that there are some things you don’t know. To find an SME, check associations, booksellers, universities and think tanks for possible leads.  

6. Provide real value. Once you understand your audience’s needs, you can offer meaningful and helpful content for your readers. Avoid writing fluff content that only fills space. It might help to think of one takeaway you can include in each blog post you write. Or if writing a non-fiction book or e-book, think of takeaways for every section or chapter. What can readers learn from you that they can’t get from anyone else? Readers want information that is readily adaptable to their own needs. When you provide meaningful, practical information, readers will begin to see you as an authority.

7. Be consistent. If writing a blog, be consistent with your posting. Whether you post a story every day or once a week, make sure it’s posted around the same time or on the same day of the week. Readers who follow you will begin to look for your story at that time.

I once produced a bi-monthly residential newsletter for an apartment high-rise community. Every other month, the newsletter would be slipped under their doors. If by the first of the month, the newsletter didn’t appear, the management office would receive calls from residents asking where it was. They knew when to expect the newsletter because we were consistent with the schedule. When you’re consistent with your schedule, readers are more likely to trust you.

8. Limit attributions. It’s not necessary to attribute every piece of information in your blog post or work of non-fiction. After all, your stories reflect everything you’ve ever learned by the VIPs, teachers and parents in your life. However, attributions are necessary if you are using a direct quote or sharing a principle that someone else formalized. While you still need to give credit where credit is due, if you include too many attributions, people will wonder how much of the writing is coming from you. If it isn’t original, it isn’t authoritative.

9. Use a variety of media to share your expertise. Once you establish you’re authority, you may want to broaden your reach. If you love social media, use it to establish a following. Write e-books, guest posts for other blogs, magazine features or opinion pieces for local publications. Alternately, you can establish your own YouTube channel, produce a weekly podcast, or appear on local radio shows. If the media isn’t your thing, you can teach workshops or make presentations.

Keep in mind that building authority with your writing takes time. If you find you lose interest in your chosen topic, it’s okay to switch gears. But you’ll have to go through this process all over again, and perhaps find a new audience.

With consistent practice and patience, you can begin to garner a loyal following of readers who see you as a trusted authority on your chosen niche.

How Writers Can Cultivate Curiosity

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”

Zora Neale Hurston, author of Their Eyes Were Watching God

Last week, I wrote a post about the habits of highly productive writers. One of the habits I mentioned is  the ability to maintain an open, curious outlook. For today’s post, I’ll be delving deeper into that habit.

Curiosity, by definition, is the strong desire to know or learn something. It is one of the most valued traits a writer can have. By staying curious about the world around them, writers are able to find answers to the questions they’ve long asked, and by extension, answer questions that readers want to know.

According to this Lifehack blog post, curiosity is important for several reasons:

* It makes your mind active rather than passive. By asking questions and doing research, curiosity makes your mind stronger and more engaged.
* It makes your mind more observant of new ideas. You’re more likely to recognize new ideas when they occur. When you fail to be curious, those ideas may pass you by.
* It opens up new worlds and possibilities. You’re able to explore different cultures and ways of doing things.
* It brings more excitement into your life. Because there are always new things to try and new ideas to explore, a curious person’s life is never dull or boring. Curious people have an adventurous life.

I will add one more reason to that list:

* Curiosity begets creativity. Curious people who have done their research tend to be more creative because the new knowledge feeds their desire to create something new.

By nature most writers are curious. They’re not afraid to ask questions. The five Ws are always in their writing arsenal. They’re the first to ask at an accident scene what happened, how it happened, who drove the car, when did it happen, where did it happen, and why.

Sometimes the grind of daily life can sap your curious nature, however. If you find yourself struggling to be curious about the world around you, here are a few ways to cultivate more curiosity in your writing life.

1. Read, read and read some more.  Reading books and magazine features on a variety of topics broadens your mind. If you prefer fiction, you can use curiosity as you read novels. For example, as you read, jot down questions about the characters, plot and setting. Where does the story take place? Is it a place you’ve never been to before, such as Alaska? Then jot down questions about Alaska that you’d like to find out.

2. Ask lots of questions. The five Ws plus How should be part of your writing toolbox. I would add a couple more:  “what if?” And “I wonder.” (Yes, I know “I wonder” isn’t a question, but it open up possibilities all the same.)

3. People watch. Hang out in the park, a shopping mall or a food court. Watch people as they go about their day. Be curious about them. Who are they? What do they do for a living? Why are they there? Create different scenarios for each person you observe.

4. Experiment. Be adventurous. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try? For example, several years ago, I finally had the chance to ride in a hot air balloon, something I’d always wanted to do. I enjoyed every minute of it. The experience gave me something to write about. Experiment with your writing too. For example, if you’re struggling to find the right viewpoint for your story, try writing it from different character points of view until you find one that works best for the story.

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.

Voltaire

5. Research something just for fun. Think of something you’d like to learn more about, preferably something not related to your every day job or your writing practice. It could be how to make lasagna from scratch or how to begin bird watching – whatever tickles your fancy. Then spend 30 minutes on the internet researching everything you can find out about it.

Michelle Richmond at The Caffeinated Writer suggests this exercise to test your research skills:

1) Make a list of ten subjects you’d like to know more about.
2) Choose one of those subjects. Then write a list of questions about that subject.
3) Spend 30 minutes researching this question on the internet.
4) Then find one book that will help you delve further into the topic and deepen your understanding. You can buy a book or borrow it from the library. Richmond says buying the book allows you to make notations.

Remember this is strictly for fun, so enjoy the research process. But be sure to cap the amount of time spent researching. It’s easy to get carried away and lose track of time!

6. Connect with an expert. We all know people who are experts at something. I have a friend who is a scientist, another who runs marathons, a third teaches yoga, and a fourth studied engineering. They’re all experts at what they do, and I know that if I ever need their insights or want to learn more about what they do, I can reach out to them, armed with my toolbox of questions.

I challenge you to jot down the names of 10 people you know along with the special knowledge or skill that they have. Then jot down questions you might ask them about what they do. Bonus points for reaching out to one of them and chatting with them about their work.

Because curiosity can boost your creativity. So it makes sense to cultivate more curiosity into your writing life.

Nine Habits of Highly Productive Writers

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“You can’t edit a blank page.” Unknown

Whether you’re a veteran writer who’s been published previously or an aspiring novelist, it helps to develop good habits that can make you more productive. Here are some of the things that have helped me in my writing practice.

1. Read a lot. To be a good writer, you need to read – and read a lot. Further, reading deeply and across different genres – both fiction and non-fiction – can broaden your mind. When you expose yourself to different authors and writing styles, you naturally absorb their techniques into your own.

2. Write a lot. This is a no-brainer. The more you write, the better you become, just like practicing a musical instrument or rehearsing lines for a play. It’s all about practice, practice, practice. Over time, as you write, you not only are able to express your thoughts clearly, but you’re able to writer faster in less time. The hard part for many novice writers is getting started. But really, all you need is 10 minutes a day. No matter how busy you may be, it shouldn’t be difficult to find 10 minutes to start your writing practice. Start small and build up your writing routine by adding another 10 minutes every day. Before you know it, you are writing – a lot.

3. Don’t wait for inspiration. Many novice writers believe they can’t begin writing until they feel inspired. But if you wait for inspiration, you will be waiting forever to begin your writing practice. Start writing first, then inspiration will come to you. It was only after I took a few writing classes and wrote in my journal that I began to find inspiration for several novels.

“But what if I have nothing to write about?” you ask. Then start by writing about the fact that you can’t find anything to write about. Or use a writing prompt to brainstorm story ideas. You can find numerous resources on the internet for writing prompts, including Writer’s Digest and DIYMFA. Remember that inspiration comes when you begin writing. So start writing, and write a little every day. The more you write, the more easily inspiration will find you.  

“Don’t think and then write it down. Think on paper.” Harry Kemelman

4. Study the craft. Keep up with your knowledge. Take classes, webinars and workshops to build your skills. Read blogs and magazine articles about your craft. Talk to other writers and learn what works for them. Learning about the art and craft of writing is a never ending process and it’s constantly changing. So keep writing and studying.

5. Persevere when things don’t go right. Nobody is perfect, and certainly, no author’s writing is perfect at the first, second or even the third drafts. Keep at your writing and it will all come together eventually. Remember, that rejection is a normal part of the process too. See it as an opportunity to improve your writing. There will always be rough patches where you don’t feel like writing, where too many rejections get you down, and criticism can drain your enthusiasm. Keep persevering. Nothing ever gets accomplished if you decide to give up.

6. Be open and curious. Many writers I know are naturally curious and love to do research. How many times have I reached for my smart phone to look up something on the internet when I came across a topic that caught my fancy? Curiosity is nearly synonymous with creativity. Writers look at the world with wonder in their eyes, and they’re willing to ask the questions that everyone else is afraid to verbalize. Think of the five Ws – who, what, when, where and why. And don’t forget the H – how.

7. Meet your deadlines. No matter how busy you are, don’t ever let your deadlines slide. Meeting your deadlines shows you are serious about your work and that you’re reliable and professional. Editors will know they can count on you to fulfill your obligations, which means they’ll be more likely to come to you for future assignments.

8. Keep your work space clean. A clean work space is a sign of an uncluttered mind. Make sure everything is in its proper place. and off your desk space. When your space and mind are clear of junk thoughts and papers, it gives your brain free reign to produce quality work. Personally, with a clean work space, I find it easier to maneuver throughout the day and to find things that I’m looking for.

9. Have fun. Writing is supposed to be fun, so relax and enjoy the writing process. Seeing your stories come to life on the page is one of the most satisfying experiences you may ever have. If it stops being fun, then it might be time to find something else to do.

To be a productive writer, it’s necessary to establish your own ground rules. Form good habits from the start, and you can enjoy a satisfying writing practice, whether you get published or not.

What about you? Do you have any habits that make you more productive with your writing?

Don’t forget to check out my weekly writing prompt. See the website for this week’s prompt.

How to Make Friends with Your Inner Writing Critic

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Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving yourself and see what happens.” Louise Hay

Writers and creative types are known for being sensitive to criticism. But that’s assuming the criticism is directed from outside sources.  But what happens if the criticism is coming from within yourself?

How do you deal with the fact that you are your own worst critic? How do you respond when your worst critic – your internal one — rears its ugly head?

That internal critic judges everything that you do, from your thoughts and actions to how you talk to people and the clothes you wear to the words you write. According to Good Therapy blog, self-criticism is the act of pointing out a person’s flaws.

Some experts believe that self-criticism can healthy because it can help you increase self-awareness and personal growth. If taken too far, however, it can be self-defeating, causing you to abandon projects before they get off the ground or missing deadlines. While occasional moments of self-doubt is normal, it’s the excessive stretches of self-criticism that can be harmful to your mental health.

Your worst critic can manifest in your writing life in a number of ways:

* Procrastination – putting off starting a writing project or assignment
* Not meeting deadlines
* Never finishing a writing project or constantly re-writing a piece
* Reluctance to show your work to anyone else because you don’t think it’s good enough

It might help to recognize that we are all born with internal voices, and in fact, we have two of them, writes executive coach Svetlana Whitener in Forbes. There’s the cheerleader who recognizes your writing strengths and encourages you to reach your goals. The curmudgeon is an unhappy character; he’s never satisfied with anything that anyone does. No one can ever please him.

If we’re all born with these two types of internal voices, then it’s safe to say that we can choose which one of them to listen to – and it’s no contest. Give me the cheerleader any day.

To minimize the impact of self-criticism, it’s helpful to cultivate self-awareness. This allows you to look at yourself fairly and objectively. Self-awareness can help you reshape your thinking, and shift it from negative to positive. Rather than disregard the internal critic’s commentary, it might be wise to take their remarks for what they’re worth. See if there’s anything of value in those comments that you can use to your advantage. That’s just one approach to dealing with your own worst critic.

“The inner critic isn’t an enemy,” writes Yong Kang Chan, author of The Disbelief Habit: How to Use Doubt to Make Peace with Your Inner Critic. “Our reaction to self-criticism is more important than the self-criticism itself. Paying attention to our reactions is very important because the only thing we have control over is how we react.”

If you are your own worst critic, it might be time to make peace with it. Rather than silence it completely, there are some things you can do to put it to good use. In most cases, it’s a matter of rethinking how you view your internal critic and its place in your writing life.

1. Practice mindfulness and self-awareness. Cultivating better self-awareness can help you remain objective as you review your writing. You can readily accept yourself as a whole writer whose work may be flawed at times, but is still worthy of being shared and accepted.

2. Practice self-kindness and compassion. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Self-criticism is common. Most of us have feelings of doubt at times. Berating yourself for your faults is counterproductive. Acknowledging them while still appreciating your writing self is far more advantageous.

3. Work with a writing buddy, mentor or coach. They may be able to point out your writing strengths as well as the areas you need to improve on. They may be able to see your writing more objectively than you can. As Stephen King writes, “Writers are often the worst judges of what they have written.” So get another viewpoint or two and listen to their feedback.

4. Know yourself as a writer. This phase takes self-awareness a step further. As writers (or any creative type), it’s helpful to understand what kind of writer you want to be, and what kind of writer you are right now. That means understanding your strengths and knowing what skills you need to develop. Then – and most important – take the time to develop those skills.

5. Stop comparing yourself to others. When you and your internal writing critic compares you to other writers, it’s difficult to live up to those comparisons because it’s not a level playing field. Their level of writing experience may be different than yours. Perhaps they started writing at an earlier age. Comparing where you are now to someone else who has already gone through that phase is unfair to you, and unfair to them.

6. Turn negative self-critiques into a positive learning tool. Even the most negative self-criticism holds elements of truth. It’s up to you to listen carefully for them. Healthy self-criticism can help you spot flaws in your work and prompt you to improve your writing. Sometimes the feedback isn’t so harsh at all, but the voice of the internal critic may be so loud and insistent that it camouflages the critique behind the noise.

7. Understand that you are not alone in self-criticism. Everyone has internal critics. Even highly successful published authors suffer periods of self-doubt and self-criticism. If other writers have experienced those inner critics and found ways to work with their feedback to get published, you can too.

8. Recognize that first drafts, even second and third drafts, are never perfect. They’re messy and they’re usually junk. Self-criticism during these initial phases is meaningless. It only prevents you from completing the hard work you know you need to do to finish it. Even through the messiness on the page, you can find reasons to be optimistic about the manuscript’s outcome.

Before you berate yourself the next time you make a mistake, slow down and take notice of your thoughts. Is there a nugget of truth in what your inner critic is telling you? Can you turn it into something positive?

Self-criticism is a part of the writing life. Since internal critics are part of yourself, maybe it’s time to call a truce and make friends with them.

For Some Writers, the Fear of Success is Real

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Check out this week’s writing prompt: What does success mean to you? Describe it on your terms. Or write about a time when fear of success held you back from accomplishing a cherished goal. How did you overcome it?

While the fear of failure is fairly common among writers, others suffer from a different malaise:  the fear of success. That might be a strange thing to say. “How can anyone be afraid to succeed?” you ask. You’d be surprised at how many people fear success, myself included.

Fear of success might manifest in several ways. You might have an unfinished project – or two, or three or ten. You have several projects in various stages of completion but never seem to finish any of them. In your mind, finishing one of them means you’ve achieved a certain level of success. Once you get to the end, you might begin to worry about what happens next – a thought that scares you enough that you never finish your work-in-progress.

Or just when you near the end of a writing project, you get stuck. You’re faced with writer’s block, unsure how to wrap up your story.

Maybe you find other more important things to do. You get so busy doing housework and chores that you can never get around to working on that final chapter.

Perhaps you edit your piece over and over again, never fully satisfied with what you’ve written – a useful delay tactic preventing you from finishing your piece.

Fear of success is very real, but it is misunderstood, according to psychologist Nick Wignall. The fear is about the consequences of success, not the success itself, Wignall says. “Life can change dramatically when you succeed,” he explains. “You’re entering unchartered territory. Fear of success can be more debilitating than fear of failure. With fear of success, you may be projecting yourself too far into the future which can result in self-sabotage. You may not realize you’re sabotaging yourself.”

For example, once you publish a book, you may be required to go on a book tour, do interviews and public appearances and, of course, begin writing that second book. Your life changes dramatically. It’s these unknowns that can scare people into non-action, Wignall says.

If fear of success is holding you back from starting a writing practice, there are several things you can do to get back on track.

Define success on your terms. Think about what success means to you. What does it look like? It may look and feel differently to you than to your spouse or your best friend. We all carry an image of what success looks like. So be sure you are defining success on your terms, not someone else’s.

When you define success on your terms, there should be no reason to fear it because you’ve defined it on terms that are real, concrete and readily achievable. More important, they are meaningful to you. It’s when you follow the path of success that is predetermined by others or by the publishing industry that tend to strike fear in us.

Finish what you start. This is easier said than done, of course. If you have trouble completing writing projects, then stop and consider what is stopping you. Are you stuck on a plot point? Or did you get bored with your story? Or did something else interfere with it, such a sudden need to do laundry?

If you have a file of unfinished stories, go through them now. Choose one story or essay that you’ve started but never finished. Go back and work on it until you finish it. Do not, under any circumstances, start any other projects until you finish this one. Once you finish that piece, sit back and revel in your success of completion. How do you feel now that it’s done?

It might help to make that a general rule of operation: Don’t start any new projects until you finish the one you’re working on.

Remember that finishing a story, no matter how long or short it is, is a form of success. If you’re able to finish one story, imagine how good it will feel to finish all the others in your file.

Stay in the present moment. Because much of the fear of success hinges on possible future events – author readings, interviews, the next novel, etc. – you forget to stay in the moment. Fear of success – or any fear for that matter – deals with future situations that may or may never occur. Why worry about the future when you have important work to do — now? Stay present in your writing and let the future take care of itself.

Train yourself to talk about your writing. People with a fear of success often have difficulty boasting about their accomplishments because they don’t want to appear arrogant or full of themselves. But it isn’t selfish to brag. In fact, for a writer to find an audience, telling others about your completed project is often necessary. So go ahead and tell people what you’re working on. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but the more you talk about your current writing project, the more comfortable you will be with your public persona as a writer.

Share your fears with a friend or writing buddy. If fear is holding you back from finishing a manuscript, it might help to talk things over with a trusted friend or colleague. They may provide some valuable insights to help you over the hump. If you find it truly debilitating, it might be necessary to talk to a professional therapist.

Fear of success for writers is more common than fear of failure, but it can be even more debilitating. Recognizing your fear and why it occurs is the first step toward overcoming it.

How to Manage Distractions during Your Writing Practice

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One of the most common – and annoying – aspects of maintaining a writing practice is dealing with distractions. Especially when you’re working on a deadline or immersed in your latest work-in-progress, distractions are not very welcome. They can interrupt the flow of thoughts that you need to put down on paper. They can disrupt your momentum, slow you down or make you lose your place in your manuscript.

I suppose distractions can have an upside too, although that’s rare. For example, they might help you notice a plotting problem in your story while you’re away paying attention to the distraction. Or they might inspire a new story idea. Still you need to get back to the task at hand.

Minimizing distractions is important for writers because good writing requires time and focus, writes Joyce Carol Oates on the Masterclass. Without that time and focus, the writing will lack clarity and impact.

In my experience, I’ve noticed five types of distractions.

1. Physical environment. Room temperature and uncomfortable furniture can make you lose your focus. A messy desk can be a sign of a cluttered mind. Outside noise, like construction and leaf blowers can disrupt your thoughts.

2. Familial environment. If you have kids, they may be curious about the work you’re doing, and pets may want your attention when you want to work. If you live in a condo building, neighbors may start renovations in their units that requires drilling and vacuuming. The occasional ambulance with its blaring sirens can disrupt your thoughts too.

3. Technology. Electronic devices, such as your phone and laptop, can tempt you when you should be working. You might be tempted to work with the TV on to keep an eye on a baseball game or catch up the latest breaking news. Social media is always a temptation because writers have a need to know what’s going on in their world.

4. Internal noise. These are the voices and conversations inside your head that may have nothing to do with your work. You might experience negative thoughts, replay arguments you’ve had or worry about upcoming events. You may be more focused on your worries and fears that you lose track of what you’re supposed to be working on right now.

5. White noise. Part of the background most of the time, white noise has little impact on your writing progress – or it shouldn’t. It might be the ticking of a clock, passing traffic from the expressway near your house, or the drone of a plane flying overhead.

Distractions, in whatever form they take, are inevitable. But you can minimize the impact they have on your writing practice. Here are a few suggestions to do that.

1. Identify the distractions that affect you the most. Before you can reduce distractions, you need to know what they are, according to the Author News blog at Penguin Random House. Take note of what is taking your attention away. Is it a pesky pet who insists on sitting next to you on your desk as you work? Is it the constant barrage of emails and phone calls that distresses you? If there’s one particular distraction that is bothersome, then find ways to remove that distraction. Perhaps move the cat to another room, or set aside a specified time to respond to emails.

2. Set office hours. Most successful writers treat their writing like a real job with set hours. Those steady office hours let others in your household know that you are busy during that time and cannot be interrupted.

3. Know your productivity hours. Every writer has a prime time for writing, where they feel at their most creative and productive. It could be during the early morning, or it could be late at night before you go to bed. Establishing a regular writing session during your most productive time of day can help eliminate unnecessary distractions.

4. Put away your electronic devices. This might be easier said than done. Most of us rely on our computers and phones to get our work done. But do you really need them for your writing? I’m a big proponent of writing longhand on pads of paper. I find it easier to brainstorm blog post ideas and fiction scenes that way. I can draft scenes in a heartbeat with only a pen and paper. Using a computer or phone to write or research might feel more productive – as long as you stay on task – but it can also be tempting to check your emails and your social media accounts. I recommend turning off the TV as well. The focus should be entirely on your writing.

5. Keep a neat, tidy desk. Put everything in its place and use only the materials you need to get your writing done. When writing my blog posts, I have my file with my blog calendar and list of story ideas, a lined note pad for drafting an outline, and a pen. I find that a clutter-free desk translates to a clutter-free mind. It’s also important not to have other tasks and deadlines hanging over your head, say experts at Mediabistro. Take care of those details before you begin your writing session so they don’t creep up on you while you write. Need to make a doctor appointment? Make that appointment now before you begin writing.

6. Reward yourself. If you still struggle to keep distractions to a minimum, try this experiment. If you’ve managed to stay away from the Internet and social media during your writing session, reward yourself with a social media hour or an hour of internet browsing or online shopping. If writing is your real job, then treat social media as play time. It’s what you do when you’re done with your work day. Knowing that you have a full hour of social play time waiting for you at the end of your writing session might be enough to keep you focused on the writing task at hand.

Distractions are a normal part of our work days, but you don’t have to let it ruin your writing practice. Start by identifying the pesky distractions that bother you most, then take action to minimize their impact. You’ll find you have more head space to produce better quality writing.

Learn to Recognize the Blind Spots in Your Writing

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Do you know what your blind spots are? You know, those areas around us that are obstructed so we can’t see past them.

Drivers have their blind spots that prevents them from seeing a pedestrian crossing the street behind them. Hockey goalies have blind spots too when an opposing player parks his body in front of the net so the goalie cannot see around him.

Writers have blind spots too. Usually, it’s about some aspect of their writing skill, like a lack of knowledge about grammar or the tendency to use the same words over and over. Sometimes you’re aware of those tendencies, but choose to ignore them. Other times, you’re not aware you have a blind spot. “Your writing is just fine as it is,” you say to yourself. “It doesn’t need to be fixed.”

Then there are the blind spots that appear in our stories. Perhaps you focus exclusively on exciting creating action scenes. You want to thrill readers with car chases and non-stop fight scenes. However, there may be little written about the protagonist – their emotional side, their backstory, their desire and motivation.

Your blind spot is your inability to see that your story is one-sided. All action, and little to no narrative. Readers may love the action scenes, but feel the story is lacking. It’s out of balance.

Writers can fall in love with different aspects of their story to the detriment of others. They may hate writing dialogue and focus exclusively on internal narrative.

We all have blind spots in our writing. Acknowledging that you have blind spots is half the battle. The rest is knowing what they are so you can improve your writing.

So how do we recognize the blind spots within ourselves? Experts say it’s easier to spot them in others than in ourselves. There are several approaches to recognizing your own blind spots.

1. Take time for self-reflection. You can get so busy with the demands of everyday life that you neglect to check in with yourself. Those moments when you are alone with your thoughts can help you become more aware of what you think or feel at any time. You can develop greater self-awareness through meditation, fitness or just sitting quietly too. No matter what method you use, you can learn to look within. Don’t be afraid of what you might see there either. We all have our faults, and many times, we’re afraid to admit we have them. Nurturing self-awareness can help you learn to accept all parts of yourself – the good, the bad and the blind spots.  

2. Seek feedback from a trusted friend. Since it is so much easier to identify blind spots in others than in ourselves, it might be a good idea to pair up with a trusted friend or fellow writer. Ask them to review your work with you. They may be able to see things in your writing (and in your personality) that you may not recognize in yourself. Their input can put things into proper perspective. They can help you identify weaknesses in your writing and offer suggestions for improving your story. Be prepared to take their suggestions to heart, no matter how painful it might be to hear them say it.

3. Separate yourself from your work. As difficult as it might sound, you are not your writing. While it’s true that much of yourself appears in your writing, that doesn’t mean that you and your writing life are one and the same. At some point, you have to detach from your work and look at it from an emotional distance. Without emotion clouding your judgement, you’ll be able to see the weaknesses in your story.  

Author Tom Avitabile suggests that writers “rinse all knowledge of the story from your mind.” When it’s time to review or edit your work-in-progress, either read the chapters out of sequence or in reverse order from back to front. Reviewing scenes out of order can help you focus on each individual piece, which can help you notice problem areas.

4. Target specific areas of improvement. There may be several weaknesses in your writing that may be occurring simultaneously. Focus on one or two areas at a time. For example, you might need help building your vocabulary, eliminating redundancies in your writing or developing flat characters. You may not notice that you repeat the same conversations in your story or use the same words over and over. Once you become aware that this is happening, you can focus on one aspect of your writing to improve. If you try to fix all your blind spots at one time, it can be overwhelming.  

We all have our blind spots. But by nurturing self-awareness and learning to review your work with emotional detachment, you’ll learn to recognize the blind spots that are holding you back from being the writer you were meant to be.  

More about Blind Spots

How to Avoid Blind Spots in Your Writing
https://arimeghlen.co.uk/2016/05/20/how-to-avoid-blind-spots-in-your-writing/

Confront Your Blind Spots: 5 Strategies for Self-Discovery
https://www.recruiter.com/i/confront-your-blind-spots-5-strategies-for-self-discovery/#:~:text=A%20blind%20spot%20is%20something,re%20supposed%20to%20be%20perfect.

How Writers Can Develop Better Resilience

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Check out this week’s writing prompt on the blog.

Life is filled with disappointments – the breakup of a relationship, not getting that coveted job or promotion, a cancelled vacation. But I’ve always believed that it’s how we respond to those disappointments that show who we are.

Suffering through one disappointment is bad enough. But a lifetime of disappointments (and rejections from editors) can make us feel like giving up. Fortunately, most of us don’t. Can you imagine if Stephen King or Toni Morrison had given up writing after being rejected?

Over time, those disappointments can serve an important purpose by building up a hard shell around us, so future rejections can bounce off. As Polly Campbell writes over at the Writing Cooperative, resilient writers are also among the most successful.” They learn to bounce back from setbacks and keep going despite the pain of rejection. And as they keep working, they are learning their craft and improving their writing.

“Resilience doesn’t prevent hardship or adversity, but it does help us to reframe the difficulties and move through them faster. With resilience, we become more adaptive, creative and flexible. We are less stressed, more capable. This helps us keep writing despite the setbacks,” Campbell says.

Resilience is an important behavior that writers need to develop. But it takes time. Some of us are naturally better at it than others. But like any other behavior and skill set, it needs to be developed, honed and fine-tuned. Unfortunately, that means going through some rough stretches in our writing careers and opening ourselves to disappointment – over and over again.

But successful authors says there are ways to strengthen our inner resilience beyond the school of hard knocks.

  1. Stay optimistic. It may be difficult to maintain a positive mindset when your work is constantly being rejected or criticized. The most resilient writers are able to do that. Campbell says optimism can motivate behaviors which foster improvement or better outcomes. That means keeping our eye on the prize and not letting it out of our sight. Believing in the potential of your latest work-in-progress may be enough to keep going.

  2. Not everyone will “get” your story. Whether writing science fiction, historical romance or non-fiction, recognize that not everyone will “Get” your story. They may not understand the plot, the characters or some of the action that takes place. That’s okay. There are other audiences what will understand it and believe in it. The most important person who needs to “get” the story is you. If you lose faith in what you’re doing, then you’ve lost the fight. Keep believing in the story, and others will get behind it too.

  3. Celebrate the rejections. As contradictory as that may sound, it actually makes sense. Science fiction author Alex Woolf suggests rewarding ourselves every time we receive a rejection. It’s a way of honoring our efforts. “Rejections are milestones showing you’re on your way to a win,” Woolf says. “Rejections show you are working hard to achieve your goals. The more stories you submit, the more you’ll be rejected, but it also raises the chances to get an acceptance.” One idea is to drop a dime (or a quarter) into a jar each time you receive a rejection notice. Over time, you will have built up a supply of coins that you can take to the bank, or reward yourself with a special treat.

  4. Look for positive nuggets in the feedback. Woolf says we’re programmed to focus on negative comments to the point that we overlook the positive ones. After the dust has settled and you’ve regained your composure, go back and re-read the rejection letter again. Did the editor make any positive comments? Did they make any suggestions for improving it, or invite you to re-submit something else? If so, take heart. Focus on the positive news, implement their suggestions, then be sure to respond with a kind thank-you to the editor.

  5. Remind yourself of your ‘why’. Several weeks ago, I challenged myself to list forty reasons why I write. (I actually came up with fifty, but who’s counting.) If you feel tempted to give up on writing, go back to your why. When we’re disappointed and feeling hurt by repeated rejection, it can be tempting to give up on your craft. But when you remember why you’re doing this and why you love to tell stories, it may be enough to keep going. When you keep your ‘why’ in perspective, you’ll easily bounce back from setbacks.

Whether you focus on positive feedback, celebrate rejections or remind yourself of your ‘why’ of writing, you’ll develop stronger mental capacity to deal with setbacks on your writing journey. The most resilient writers are the most successful. Don’t let rejection and disappointment deter you from your writing goals.  

Intuition May Be the Key to Better Writing in Less Time

Intuition, which is also fundamental to writing fiction, is a special quality which helps you to decipher what is real without needing scientific knowledge, or any other special kind of learning.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude


Have you ever begun writing a work of fiction with a clear idea where you want to go with it, only to see it head off in a different direction, seemingly all on its own? New characters showed up you hadn’t dreamed of, and they were more complex and interesting than the ones you had originally outlined. New scenes that you hadn’t planned evolved in your imagination that made the story more suspenseful.

Or maybe you began writing an essay about a certain topic, say a generic one about motherhood. As you began writing it though, a different idea took hold, perhaps about becoming a new mom during the pandemic. When you began writing that new essay, the process came easily, seamlessly, and the words flowed. You could almost visualize every word before you wrote it.

You can’t explain what happened in these instances or why. Only that you were guided by a little voice inside that instructed you what to write. Some describe that little voice intuition.

Ask any writer how they define intuition, and they’ll give you a variety of answers.

Colleen Story at Writing and Wellness blog calls it your “writerly instincts,” that inner knowing that you have about your work.

“When a scene works right, you’ll feel it in your bones. You’ll experience a ‘yes’ moment,” writes C.S. Lakin at Live Write Thrive blog. “Conversely, when a scene or character feels out of place you know that too. The more you try to rationalize it, the stronger the ‘No’ becomes.”

That’s why it’s important to listen to your body, Lakin says.

That inner knowing that something is off in your writing is common among writers, especially those whose level of intuition is high. Intuition is that internal sensor of what is going wrong with your writing – and what is going right. It’s there to redirect your efforts so you make smarter choices about plot structure, character and dialogue, even the right word choices.

Listening to the inner “knowing” can build your confidence too. “A well-honed writing intuition can free you from much of the emotional volatility you experience when someone is ‘dissecting your baby’. It means developing greater confidence in your work, disengage from negative emotions and response patterns because you see wisdom in the feedback you get,” writes Angela Ackerman at Writers Helping Writers.net.

No matter what you call it, intuition can serve an important function during the writing process.

Whether we believe it or not, we are all born with intuition. It’s just that many of us tune it out or don’t pay attention to it. Some writers might ignore that voice, and stick to the story line they created in their outline. Others embrace it freely, allowing their intuition to guide their choices during the writing process.

The worst possible scenario is recognizing that it exists but not trusting it. When you don’t trust that inner “knowing,” you may ignore the power it gives you to improve your story.

I can’t tell you how to trust your intuition more. That’s up to you to figure out. But there are several things you can do to enhance your intuition so that it’s accessible and sharper. For starters, you have to learn to practice mindfulness. (These suggestions are also helpful for overcoming writer’s blocks and getting out of ruts.)

1. Take frequent breaks from your work-in progress. Time and distance gives you better perspective. If you feel stuck, set it aside for a day or two. When you come back, you may notice solutions you hadn’t thought of before.

2. Enjoy the outdoors. Being in nature can help you clear your head and perhaps inspire you to write something completely different. Keep the headphones at home too.

3. Practice meditation. Sit quietly on the sofa with your feet planted firmly on the floor, or sit cross-legged if you prefer. Lay your hands in your lap and close your eyes. Let your breathing slow. Follow that breath. As your breath slows, so does your brain. Release every distracting idea that crosses your mind.  

4. Do something else for a while. Work on another piece of writing, read a book, or take a nap. Maybe putz around in the kitchen or clean out a closet. The act of doing something else will engage you brain in other ways.

5. Immerse yourself in water. As strange as it sounds, water can release the tension in your brain as well as your body. Go for a swim, wash dishes or take a bath. In astrology, water is associated with creativity. Immersing yourself in water can help you re-engage your creative side.

6. Tune in to your body. During your walks or meditation or during any quiet moment of the day, sit quietly and notice what is happening with your body. Notice any aches and pains, any stiffness, or any other physical ailments. How does your body feel when it’s relaxed compared to how it feels when you feel tension? It’ll show up in your body in places you didn’t expect. Your body will tell you when something – whether it’s in your personal life or your writing life. Pay attention to those signals that it sends you.

A funny thing happens when you trust your writing intuition. The writing seems to flow more easily, the characters are more complex and nuanced, and the dialogue more interesting. Ultimately, listening to your intuition – and trusting what it tells you – can help you write more engaging stories.

What Writers Can Learn by Attending Author Readings

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Writers are always looking to improve their craft. Their journey is one of continuous professional improvement, and they’ll look everywhere to boost their knowledge and understanding of publishing, and to be the best writer they can be. That learning can come in various forms – conferences, webinars, classes, self-study courses and writing groups.

But there’s one resource that can easily be overlooked: the author reading.

Author readings are live in-person events held at libraries, bookstores, schools and coffee houses where authors read from their latest works and answer questions from the audience. The events can attract hundreds of fans or as few as a dozen interested observers.

For the aspiring writer hungry for learning, author readings can provide insider knowledge of the publishing process that they may not get anywhere else.

Of course, with the current pandemic, these live events have gone virtual. But that doesn’t mean writers can’t participate in them and learn something about the writing process. While the experience is better in a live setting, you may be able to gain the same benefits with virtual readings. After all, authors have to practice speaking their selected passages no matter how or where they deliver them. They have to learn to read for the audience’s ear, not just their own.

Hearing someone read their own published work to understand their story requires a different process. According to the writer’s platform Clear Voice, how our brains process meaning from what we hear differs from how we read. We recognize words on a page, visualize words as pictures and hear them spoken aloud in our heads. But when we listen, all the visual cues littered in the pages we read don’t hold much muster. Something gets lost in the translation.

Here are a few tips for taking advantage of this educational resource.

1. Treat the event as an educational experience.
See it as an opportunity to soak up the atmosphere. Bring a small notebook to take notes – whether it’s describing the experience for yourself, jotting down sample language from the text, or making a list of questions to ask the author. If possible, chat with the author afterwards and ask about their writing process, how they come up with story ideas, and how they overcome writer’s block. While they may not have all the answers you’re looking for, and their answers may not be suitable for your situation, you can learn what worked and what didn’t for them.  Then you can decide if it might work for you.

2. Listen to the reading as a writer, not just as a fan. That means learning to develop a writer’s ear. According to communications coach Karen Friedman, a writer’s ear “can’t rewind or replay what a speaker has said…” While our eyes can browse through detailed information or re-read something that is complex in meaning, our ears need simpler language to grasp the speaker’s meaning. 

“When we talk with people, we don’t read to them. Rather, we have conversations. Our sentences are shorter, sometimes spoken in phrases and we naturally pause between thoughts. Our pitch, tone and pace automatically vary,” writes Friedman.

3. Pay attention to how the passage is presented. Listen for the way the author delivers the passage. Do they speak dramatically, or do they mumble? Remember poet Amanda Gorman who spoke at the presidential inauguration? Her poem “The Hill We Climb” was powerful because she made it powerful. She used her vocal expression to match the power of her language to make a huge impact. She enunciated words clearly and spoke with passion and emotion. If she had mumbled the words, the meaning of the poem would have been lost. When done well, presentation can be a powerful thing.

4. Listen for narrative descriptions. Close your eyes and see where the author’s writing takes you. Can you see what the narrator sees in the story? Do you feel as if you are right there at the scene with them? If you can, then you know the descriptions are spot on. On the other hand, there may be descriptions that get lost in the spoken word; they may be better by reading it than hearing it.

5. Listen for dialogue. Like the narrative descriptions, you can pick up nuances of language when you listen for dialogue. Can you tell which character is speaking? Does the author’s tone change with each character? The vocal styles of each character should be as distinct as their personality.

6. Pay attention to the author. How does the author conduct themselves in a public setting? We need to remind ourselves that they are human beings too, prone to having bad days just like the rest of us. They may be shy, retiring souls who would rather be at home doing their laundry rather than speaking to a room full of strangers. Be kind and respectful to them. Remember, they worked hard to get their book published.

The next time you’re looking for inspiration or an extra dose of education, consider hanging out at an author reading. You never know what knowledge you’ll pick up. Use the time well and be open to listening and learning from others who have gone before you.