As Women’s History Month comes to a close, it seems appropriate to highlight some of history’s most prominent female authors. In their own words, here are their thoughts and musings about writing and the writing life. Let their words be an inspiration and motivation for your own work.
Do you have a favorite quote about writing, either from the collection below or one that is not represented?
“The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”
“Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
“I could not write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life.”
“The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self; to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.”
“Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing. Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolors. Every stroke you put down you have to go with. Of course, you can rewrite, but the original strokes are still there in the texture of the thing.”
“You must not only know how to write, but you have to be privately, personally, sound at the core. Not sane, but sound. If not, it always shows.”
Martha Gellhorn, war correspondent
“To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.”
“The book to read is not the one that thinks for you, but one which makes you think.”
“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
“I am a woman, and I am a Latina. Those are the things that make my writing distinctive. Those are the things that give my writing power.”
“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.”
“Language is an intrinsic part of who we are and what has, for good or evil, happened to us.”
“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
“Women and fiction remain, so far as I’m concerned, unsolved problems.”
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
“Invention, it my be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos.”
“When I go back and read my journals or fiction, I am always surprised. I may not remember having those thoughts, but they still exist and I know they are mine, and it’s all part of making sense of who I am.”
“After awhile, the characters I’m writing begin to feel real to me. That’s when I know I’m heading in the right direction.”
“Good books, like good friends, are few and chosen; the more select, the more enjoyable.”
Louisa May Alcott
“Write about the emotions you fear the most.”
Laurie Halse Anderson
“Writing is a process, a journey into memory and the soul.”
“Writing is a job, a talent, but it’s also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.”
“You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page.”
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Rejection is one of the most painful experiences a writer can go through. It’s also a normal part of the creative process. Because without rejection, we would have no impetus to improve our work.
At least that’s what we like to tell ourselves, right?
When rejection happens over and over again though, it can feel like a giant boulder slamming down on your head. You may grow weary of all the effort you put into your work only to have it rejected. You may wonder if a writing life is worth all the rejection, and you may begin to doubt yourself. You may even be tempted to give up on writing altogether.
But don’t give up. If you have a story to tell, you need to tell it. Keep going. Keep writing.
Whether you’ve been turned down for a job, overlooked for a promotion in your company or received a rejection notice from a publisher, rejection hurts. It will always hurt. But there are ways to deal with the lingering emotional turmoil so you can make the most of the rejection and use it to fuel your future endeavors.
So how can writers move past rejection? There are several steps you can take to not only cope with rejection, but use it to fuel your work.
1. Take a time-out. After you’ve been rejected, it might be helpful to take a time-out to re-settle yourself emotionally. Getting rejected is painful, especially if you’ve toiled for weeks, even years, on your latest masterpiece. But rather than get back to work, take a break. Do something else for a couple of days — read a book, do yoga, take a hike, work in your garden, clean house, or visit a museum. Do anything that will clear your heart and mind before getting back to work.
2. Write about your rejection. Don’t dwell on the rejection. Sometimes writing about your rejection experience can help clear your mind and body of the emotional turmoil rejection leaves behind. Write about it in your personal journal, or write a personal essay. In fact, it doesn’t have to be anything anyone else will read. But by writing about it can help heal a wound before it festers beyond repair.
3. Talk things over. If you don’t want to write about your experience, talk it over with a friend, spouse, or a colleague – someone close to you who understands your need and desire to write. Writers need to surround themselves with a strong emotional support system so they’ll always have at least one shoulder to cry on, one person to listen to your angry rants, and one person to celebrate when you accomplish your dream.
4. Don’t reply back to the rejection source. This is important. Responding in anger is counterproductive and will likely make you feel worse, writes Angela Tung in the Huffington Post. She suggests that sending an angry reply can hurt your chances of being published later on by this publication. They may not want to work with you. However, there is one exception to this piece of advice. If the editor offered some helpful tips to improve your piece, you can reply with a gracious “thank you.” If the editor took the time to provide feedback on your work, it means they liked your writing enough to give you encouragement. Take their comments to heart.
5. Work on another project. If you’re like most writers, you may have several projects going on at once. While the initial project is on hiatus, pull out another piece you’ve had on the back burner and give it another read. After time away from it, you’ll be able to look at your work with a fresh eye.
6. Review the editor’s comments. Once the emotional dust has cleared, review whatever comments you received from the editor. If they took the time to provide feedback or make suggestions, they clearly felt your piece has some redeeming value. Review your work again, this time with the editor’s comments in mind. You’ll find more often than not, their suggestions are worthwhile.
7. Get back to work. That might mean rewriting your piece or it might mean finding another publication to submit your piece to that might be a better fit. With rejection behind you, you can roll up your sleeves and get back to writing with a fresh eye and renewed energy.
8. Don’t quit. Keep working. Keep writing. Don’t let rejection deter you from your writing. Instead use it to fuel your work.
All writers experience rejection. It’s a normal part of the creative writing process. Rejection, and any feedback that comes along with it, is meant to help you become a better writer. Use it to your advantage.
It’s one thing to show off your latest work to your family and closest friends. After all they are the ones who know you best. They know how ambitious and creative you are and how hard you work at your craft. But can they be truly objective about your work? Can they provide more helpful comments other than “it’s a great story.” If you want more than a pat on the back, then you have to look elsewhere to get your writing critiqued.
There are writing groups, of course. Many new writers swear by them, claiming they have gained valuable feedback from fellow group members. But most members are as new as you are to writing, so they may not have the best perspective of your skill or a solid grasp of your story. Members will likely tell you that the work is good as is, simply because they either don’t want to offend you or because they want to be seen as a valued contributor to the group or because they may not understand the difference between good writing and great writing. Personally, I’m skeptical of writers groups for critiques.
So who are the best people to critique your writing? Depending on where you are in your writing process, any one of the following people can provide meaningful and practical feedback.
1. Close friend or spouse In his book On Writing, Stephen King suggests completing a first draft before having your work reviewed, and then showing it to only one or two people who are closest to you and who you trust, usually a spouse, partner or best friend. King’s wife reviews his first drafts, and she provides valuable input that helps him during the revision phase.
Your significant other knows you best, understands your love of writing, and supports your need to spend countless hours pouring your heart and soul onto a blank page (or computer screen). They may be in the best position to tell you if there’s a better way to phrase something or if a character seems one-dimensional or if a plot twist seems contrived. They may be close to you personally, but they are not close to your work, so they can give you an objective review of your work without killing your enthusiasm for it.
2. Writing instructor or coach
If you’ve ever taken a writing class, you know how valuable the instructor’s knowledge can be. Not only do they become familiar with you as a writer over time, they can help you become aware of your own creative thought process. In that way, you refine your self-editing skills. As they become more knowledgeable of your writing, they can identify weak spots you need to improve on as well as strengths you can maximize to the fullest.
A coach not only provides technical guidance but will also help you be accountable for your writing and help you stay on track to meet your goals. They may be published authors themselves, so they can give you insights about the path to publishing. Many instructors also serve as coaches, offering instruction on a one-on-one basis. Instructors and coaches help you learn to help yourself, but their services may come at a price — the price of a writing class or a coaching session. But the cost may be worth it.
3. Beta readers or reading groups
Other helpful sources of feedback are beta readers and reading groups. Beta readers are individuals in your personal network who are avid readers, while reading groups are groups of avid fans. They may be fans of certain genres, such as mystery or science fiction. If you’re writing a science fiction novel for young adults, reach out to the avid readers in your network and ask for their input. Because they are familiar with the genre and have likely read tons of stories in that genre, beta readers can tell you how your story compares with others they’ve read. Is it on par with them, or does it need improvement? Beta readers and reading groups understand what works and what doesn’t, what will appeal to readers and what won’t.
Mind you, reading groups have a different focus than writing groups. While writers groups focus on writing technique and performance, readers’ groups focus on the storytelling aspect. They understand what makes readers read certain books and not others. And that information can help you craft your story better.
4. An editor
After you’ve revised your story enough times to make it believable and readable, it’s time to submit it to an editor for review. That thought might make you weak in the knees, but don’t fret. Remember, editors are your friends. They’re there to help you hone your story further. They’ve reviewed and edited hundreds of other stories, so they know that many of them are decent enough stories, but aren’t publishable. The editor can tell you how to make your story more publish-worthy.
There are two types of editors. One works for a publication and routinely reviews submitted stories. They know what writing style they’re looking for and the types of stories they want to publish. If your work does not meet the publication’s criteria, it will be rejected.
The second type of editor may work on their own, offering their services to aspiring writers before they formally submit it to an agent or publisher. They will likely charge you for their expertise, but it may be worth it to have someone review your work with a fresh pair of eyes. If you’ve worked on it a long time, you may be too close to your work to see it objectively.
5. An already published writer
If you’re fortunate enough to count a published writer among your acquaintances, take advantage of their expertise. Ask if they are willing to review a few pages or a chapter or two. If they don’t have time to review it, ask if they’re willing to discuss your project. You might get enough meaningful advice just through the discussion alone. Since they’ve been through the publishing process already, they can tell you what worked for them and what they would do differently.
6. An agent If you aspire to be published, at some point, you will want to show your completed work to a literary agent. Agents tend to work in specific genres, so do your homework and find an agent that works in the same genre as your story. A good place to start is Writer’s Market, which is updated and published every year, and Writer’s Digest magazine, which profiles a literary agent in each issue. Each agent is different, so be sure you review their submission criteria.
Agents will review your work with an eye on its marketability. Will it sell? Is it publishable? Agents have relationships with multiple publishers and can determine if your story is a good fit at one of them. Most important, they’ll review your work to determine if you are worthy of being represented by them.
Depending on where you are in your writing journey, you will no doubt have a connection to one or several of these individuals at some point. No matter which of these people you choose to review your work, their insights can help you become the best writer you can be.
Do a Google search about writers’ groups, and you’ll find a plethora of articles and resources touting its benefits for aspiring writers. But dig a little deeper, perhaps seek out discussion boards about writers’ groups, and you’ll get a very different picture. For example, a discussion on Quora reveals mixed reactions from participants about writing groups. Some had positive, even transformative experiences, while others expressed dissatisfaction with the groups they were part of, citing disinterested or dysfunctional members.
Certainly writers’ groups have their place. They provide a safe space to experiment with your writing, for example. They provide an outlet for socializing with other like-minded people so you can escape the solitariness of your writing life. They provide an opportunity to share resources and best practices, seek motivation, and help yourself and others to stay on track toward your writing goals.
But despite the positive impact they can make on your writing, they can also prove troublesome, according to Script Magazine. If getting too involved in writing groups, they can become a form of procrastination, taking you away from your real work as a writer. There can be a certain competitiveness among members, even jealousy, if one person is perceived to monopolize the conversation or if one person is published while everyone else is still trying to find their writing voice.
Most group members will tend to be at the same development level in their craft, usually just starting out or if they have been writing, still unpublished. As newbies, they may not have the perspective to share meaningful insight about your work. For more experienced and confident writers, writers’ groups may offer little value because they have passed that phase of their career.
Sometimes, members will comment just for the sake of commenting or to appear as a constructive member of the group. But that doesn’t mean they understand your work or can provide any meaningful suggestions.
Many people join writing groups for the socialization. That’s certainly a bonus. But writing is not a group effort. You still have to do the work, and that work requires significant alone time. The sooner writers accept and learn to tolerate the solitary nature of the work they do, said one of the Quora participants, the less need they will have for writers’ groups.
If you still believe joining a writers’ group is good for your career, think about these issues:
1. Decide what you want from the writing group. Do you want your work critiqued? Or do you want a place to gather and socialize, learn new techniques, share best practices and get encouragement for your work? If you are not clear about your expectations, you may join a group whose goals do not align with yours, or they don’t provide the support that you’re looking for.
2. What is the level of experience of the other members? A group consisting of people of different ages and backgrounds can offer alternative perspectives that can benefit your writing. If all group members are at the same level of development, that could limit the depth of knowledge and experience exchanged among group members.
3. Will the group members represent different writing genres, or are they all from the same genre? No matter what genre you work in – novels, screenwriting, short story, memoir – you can benefit from other writers of other genres. The only exception might be poets, who may not understand the nuances of narrative writing. Likewise, novelists and essayists may not understand poetry well enough to provide meaningful feedback to poets.
4. Will one person be moderating the discussion at each meeting, or will members rotate? A rotating schedule can ensure each member has a chance to lead the discussion and be engaged in the learning process. Conversely, having one person facilitate the discussion can provide consistency to the group. Some members may simply not want to take the leadership role.
There are other guidelines for starting and joining a writing group, including this piece of advice from author Jane Friedman. If you do decide to participate in a writing group, make sure you are clear about your own goals and expectations. As you become more successful in your career and gain more confidence, you may find you no longer need to be part of a group. They may not meet your needs as they once did or that you’ve simply outgrown them. Sometimes, group members simply grow apart or life gets too busy.
Writing groups are not for everyone. Critics of these groups say they can do more harm than good, hinder your progress as a writer or provide unnecessary distractions. There is no rule that says you have to be part of one in order to enjoy success as a writer. Only you know what is best for your career path.
Writing is often a lonely endeavor. You sit isolated in your home office working laboriously on your craft. You can see your story coming to life. Then you hit a dead end. What do you do next?
At times like these, it’s helpful to have one person or a group to reach out to for inspiration, support or good old-fashioned common sense advice. Surely your family or a close friend is the first line of defense, but they may not always understand your creative process or your deep desire to write. Even your spouse or partner can be somewhat mystified by your writing career. They might be able to provide the emotional support, but perhaps not the creative support. That’s why you need a creative support system. That system can come in the form of a person or a group.
Support systems are vital to writers and other creative types. That social outlet is needed to distance yourself from your craft temporarily to regain perspective on problem areas. Your support system may be able to see things you have overlooked. It helps to have someone to talk to, to help you become accountable for yourself and cheer you on when you accomplish your goals.
You can develop a support system from any number of places. Naturally, your family and friends are the initial lines of support. But look beyond those circles too. If you’ve taken a writing class, keep in touch with your classmates. There may be one or two who may be especially helpful to your cause. Post a message on your social media. Perhaps a former co-worker or a high school friend are avid readers and writers struggling on their own.
It helps to first determine what type of help you need. Depending on the type of support you’re looking for, your support system can be small with only one or two people or extend to an entire writing community. But not everyone wants to be part of a writers’ group. Sometimes relying on one or two people is enough to keep you sustained through tough times.
Need help deciding where to go to develop your support system beyond family and friends? Consider these other options.
A writing coach. If you’ve saved up money, you can hire a writing coach to help you through the process. These individuals are usually experienced and published authors themselves, they’ve been through what you are going through. They can guide you through the trouble spots so you can resolve them on your own. A relationship with a coach will likely be structured, and you’ll have to meet or speak with them at a designated time each week. The relationship is governed by a contract, so you will have a legal obligation to one another with set terms for payment and other details. That may or may not fit into your personal schedule.
Another downside is the cost. Coaching can be pricey and beyond most writers’ budgets, but if you are willing to work hard and desire to work with someone who will help you be more accountable for your work, then a writing coach may be a smart investment and a worthy addition to your support system.
A Mentor. While writing coaches are generally governed by a contract, a mentor is not. Like a writing coach, a mentor has been around the block before. The difference here is that the relationship is informal, perhaps evolving organically over time. There is no set schedule for meetings, so you may meet or chat once a week, once a month or even once a year. A mentor can be a former teacher, a colleague, or a current or former boss. They have loads of experience in the industry that they willingly share with you. Best of all, they can cheer you on when things get tough and celebrate with you when you achieve your goal. Meetings occur on an as-needed basis, but the value of the mentor’s insights are just as valuable as the writing coach.
A Writing group. Behind family and friends, a writer’s next best line of support may be a writers’ group. Whether you join an established one or start one of your own, consider your reasons for participating. Is it strictly to socialize to get away from your self-imposed hibernation, or do you really want an exchange of ideas or feedback on your creative project? Also consider the type of person you are. If you are a sociable type who needs people around you, a writers’ group may be the perfect source of support. Less sociable types may be better suited for a mentor or writing buddy. Writing groups can meet in person or online. Check out sites like Shewrites.org or Meetup.com, which has several reading and writing groups.
A Writing buddy. Looking for encouragement, inspiration, resources and fun? Try working with a writing buddy. You may write different genres, come from different industries or educational backgrounds. A writing buddy may be at the same skill level as you and their goals may differ. But they are friendly, non-competitive companions who want to see you succeed as much as they want to. They’ll kick you in the butt if you need to move past writer’s block and celebrate with you when you sell your first story. Whether you decide to share your work with one another is up to you, or you may decide to keep it strictly about motivation, inspiration and to talk shop. I’ve had a writing buddy for about a year now. Every time we meet for coffee, I have walked home afterward with a story idea forming in my brain. You can’t get any more inspired than that.
Every good writer and business communicator needs a strong support system. Make sure you surround yourself with the best support possible to help you achieve your goals.
How do you express your creativity? Does music put you in the mood, or do you need complete quiet to let the creative juices flow?
For years, scientific research has found that music played at a low volume can enhance a person’s creativity. A new study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology and reported in Medical News Today, has debunked this notion however. Researchers from three European universities who conducted the study found that quietness or even mild background library noise is more beneficial to creativity than music. It didn’t matter if the music was instrumental, contained familiar lyrics or unfamiliar lyrics. Music of any form impaired a person’s ability to solve tasks involving verbal creativity, such as writing and conversing.
For the study, researchers asked participants were given three words and were asked to add another word to each one to create a new word or phrase. For example, for the words dial, dress and flower, the correct answer was the word sun which created three new words: sundial, sundress and sunflower.
This exercise is an example of Compound Remote Associate Tasks (CRAT) which scientists often use to assess creativity. CRAT demands creative convergent thinking which connects different ideas to determine one correct solution to a problem. This contrasts with Alternative Uses Tasks, which engage “divergent thinking,” meaning that multiple possible solutions are generated.
Researchers found that listening to music disrupted a person’s verbal working memory that supports creative problem-solving in everyday tasks, such as driving, decision-making, conversing, and of course, writing. Even background library noise was a better option than music, the researchers found.
This conclusion contradicts a study from 2012 that found that ambient background noise was an important factor in creative cognition. Research found that a moderate level of ambient noise – about 70 decibels, equivalent to a passenger car traveling on a highway – enhanced creative performance. However, higher levels of noise above 85 decibels hurt creativity by reducing a person’s ability to process information. As noise volume increases, so does one’s level of distraction.
What does this mean for writers, artists, poets and other creative types? It means quieter environments are likely to enhance your creativity outflow. Noisier environments are more distracting. If you enjoy music, perhaps keep it at a low volume so it simply hums in the background.
Other factors also should be considered, such as the type of creative work being performed. Does the task demand verbal working memory for memorizing lines from a play, practicing a speech or writing a poem? Or is the task related to alternative divergent thinking, which allows the mind to wander off in different directions, especially helpful for brainstorming.
If you want to stir your imagination and brainstorm story ideas, go ahead and play music. It will likely stir your imagination. But if you need to resolve a problem or need a fixed solution, like finding the best words to express yourself in a letter, you might want to turn off the music.
Another factor is the person’s personality. Some people, myself included, cannot tolerate high levels of outside stimuli. Others are not only not bothered by outside stimuli, they thrive on it. I admire any person who can zip off a short story while sitting at a local coffee shop with music blaring from the speakers.
There’s one final factor to consider: a person’s mood. Sometimes listening to your favorite music lifts your spirits. When you feel good, the ideas begin to flow.
As writers, bloggers and business communicators, we need to protect our creative resources. It’s one of the most vital resources we have for our work. Minimizing the noise in your environment not only protects your ears, it protects your creative well-being.
Which type of environment works best for your creativity? Do you like to work in a quiet environment, or do you prefer to work with music that inspires you?
I’ve been reading about do-it-yourself writing retreats a lot lately. I became intrigued about these retreats after reading an article on Writer Unboxed, which provided some practical insights about planning one. After further investigation, I was surprised by the number of articles about writers’ retreats. There’s even an e-book that can be purchased on Amazon.
Writing retreats, especially in exotic locations, sound like a dream. Imagine sequestering yourself for days in a quiet place to focus on your writing, with occasional breaks for meals and hiking and sleeping. Think of it as a solo getaway to inspire and motivate you. But writing is a solo activity, and sometimes you need a change of scenery to unblock yourself and perform more creatively.
If you have ever considered attending a writing retreat, you know how pricey they can be. Most writers I know don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to spend on a retreat. But many writers who have planned DIY retreats say you don’t have to spend a ton of money for a fancy hotel and air fare or go to exotic destinations.
Sure, it’s nice to meet other writers and attend workshops to immerse yourself in your craft. But it’s not always possible if you are short of time and money.
To plan your own writing retreat, here’s what you need:
1. Create a vision for your writing retreat. Think about your definition of a writers’ retreat. What does it mean to you? What does it look like? Where would you go? Would you confine yourself to a library for a few hours or would you spend an entire weekend at a hotel? What would you do during the retreat? Would you do only writing, or would you take short breaks to explore the neighborhood, practice yoga or read up on your craft? You are in charge of planning your retreat, so it can be anything you want it to be. If you’re unsure what a do-it-yourself writing retreat looks like, here’s one example.
2. Start small, then work up to larger retreats. If you are a busy mom with young kids, you may not have the luxury of spending a few days away to write. Consider a short-term solution, such as a morning at the public library. Offer to house sit or pet sit for friends when they go out of town, and use their home as a writing sanctuary. Other low-cost options are a hotel lobby where there may be quiet reading areas, an unused room at the local park district fieldhouse or a neighborhood community center, a hospital lounge, or a university library. Some would argue a coffee shop, but they can be fairly noisy if there is music playing.
As you do more of these on your own and as you earn more from your writing, you may decide to venture on to larger retreat experiences involving groups of people. Writing is a solo journey, and meeting with other writers can be stimulating and socially rewarding.
3. Decide if you want this to be a solo adventure or a group outing. There are advantages to both. Going solo means you are in charge of your own schedule, you don’t have to meet up with other people and you can do what you want on your own terms. Some writers have organized retreats with other writers to share the experience, swap ideas, and motivate each other. However, if you’re doing this for the first time, going solo might be the better route.
4. Pack everything you need. Obviously, bring along your pens, notebooks and your imagination. Let go of any guilt or preconceived ideas of what you think you will accomplish. Remember to bring along books to read, especially books about the writing craft that may be collecting dust on your bookshelf. Be sure to bring a battery recharger too.
5. Re-treat yourself. Once you’ve done one or two retreats, you’ll want to do them more often. It’s like eating potato chips – you can’t eat just one. Commit to a mini-retreat once a month or every other month or even once a week. A mini-retreat can be a few concentrated hours on a Saturday morning or an entire weekend at a hotel or B&B. Planning repeated retreats shows your commitment to yourself and to your craft.
Do-it-yourself retreats don’t have to be just for writers. They’re perfect for aspiring entrepreneurs planning their business, artists looking for inspiration from nature, or students studying for exams.
If a retreat is beyond your schedule or budget, look into write-in programs at your local library or university. These write-ins are usually free and open to the public and give you a chance to work quietly along with other writers. Snacks are usually provided so you don’t have to take a break for meals. It’s a great opportunity to engage with other writers and immerse yourself in your writing. You can stay as long as you want, whether that’s for an hour or the entire day. The one downside is that they are planned events that may not fit your schedule.
That is why planning your own do-it-yourself writing retreat is such a cool idea. Need ideas for planning one? Check out the following articles: