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.

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.

Can Your Character’s Name Affect Their Destiny?

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I remember when I was a teenager, I went through a brief phase in which I disliked my first name. For some reason, I felt it was too formal to fit my emerging identity. Thankfully, that phase was short-lived. Today, I appreciate my first name (Regina) more than I ever have before. I feel fortunate that I have my formal name and a shortened version (Gina) that my family calls me.

Other people aren’t so lucky. Thousands of individuals have their names legally changed due to a number of reasons. More often than not, it’s because they feel the name doesn’t suit them in some way.

If it can be so difficult for real people to accept their birth names, imagine how fictional characters feel about the names you bestow upon them?

“Your name is not only your calling card, it is also something that uniquely distinguishes you from everyone else and may even determine, to a large extent, who you turn out to be in your lifetime,” according to the introduction to The Hidden Truth of Your Name. “The name you ‘wear’ affects not only how others perceive you, but also how you perceive yourself.”

Take Gogol, the lead character in Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake, who grew up hating his name so much that he legally changed it to Nikhil when he was a young adult, believing that a name change would also change the way other people saw him – and more important, how he saw himself. 

“If you truly understood the meaning of your name in all its mysterious and hidden aspects, could you use that knowledge to affect your own destiny? Would it be possible to take advantage of the inherent power of your name to alter the direction of your life for the better?” continues THTYN

As writers, we wield a lot of control over our characters’ literary destinies simply by giving birth to their stories. What you name them matters. Some names work well; others not so much. How many times have you changed a character’s name because it didn’t quite fit their personality as the story evolved?

One true sign that your chosen character’s name works well is that it sticks in readers’ heads. So it’s important to make it memorable. Imagine if Harry Potter was named Rudolph Kristoffer?

A strong character name should establish three things, according to the Reedsy blog.

* Clarity — The right name helps readers differentiate that character from other major players in your story.
* Character – The right name reveals personality and type of character without the author having to explain anything.
* Bankability – The right name can make your character iconic.

Further, there are certain things to keep in mind when considering possible names for your characters. NY Book Editors offers these tips:

A character’s age – Some names are better suited for young adults while others are better suited for older adults.  For example, you rarely come across a Dorothy among today’s teens, while it was significantly more popular sixty years ago.

A character’s parents – Remember that it’s the character’s parents who name their child, not you. Consider what their logic may be for naming their child a certain way.

The location of the story – Names vary based on location. Mary in the United States is Maria in most Latin countries and Marie in France.

Genre of the story – Writing in certain genres may dictate different styles of names. For example, in science fiction and fantasy, the names may be more obscure and more creative. Think Katniss in The Hunger Games or Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series.

The general rule of thumb is to create names that are easy to pronounce, easy for readers to remember, and fit the character’s personality.

Other naming tips apply. Avoid names that sound alike (Kelsey and Chelsea), names that start with the same letter (Tim and Tom) or names that are close to one another (Laurie and Lauren). Make sure each character has their own unique name so readers see them as distinctive characters and personalities.

For help, there are numerous sources to go for inspiration. You can pick up a baby name book or phone book for starters, or look up the top names of the year in Google. If you’re writing a story set in the 1950s, it might be wise to research names that were popular in that year. Similarly, if your story takes place one hundred years from now, understand that many of today’s popular names may not fit that future environment. You’ll have to create a few names that don’t exist now.

Also try automated name generators, which you can find at Name Generator Fun and the Random Name Generator. Some of these sites will even provide brief personality descriptions so you can find one that suits your characters.

My favorite source is The Hidden Truth of Your Name, a compilation of names and their meanings based on three mystical interpretations: The Kabbalah, runes and numerology. The book also provides spelling variations for more unique possibilities. The detailed descriptions provide insights into the type of person/character they can become. Reading about my own name provided clues to my personality, many of which were spot on!

Naming characters takes a lot more thought than you imagine. You have to consider the type of person you want them to be, the role they will play in your book and their age and cultural background. It can be challenging, but it can also be fun.

What’s in a name? Plenty. With the right name, your characters can reveal subtle hints about who they are and who they want to become. If you’re lucky, they’ll like the name as much as you do.

Want to Improve Your Writing? Read It Aloud

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“I believe the eye and ear are different listeners. So as writers, we need to please both.”
Jane Yolen, author of sci-fi/fantasy novels

Reviewing and proofing your writing is a normal part of your routine. But if you want to take your writing to a whole new level, try reading it out loud.

Experts say reading your manuscript out loud can help you notice mistakes in your writing that you wouldn’t normally catch by simply reading it silently and seeing the words in your head. Reading out loud can also streamline your editing process because you’ll notice the mistakes faster. That said, it doesn’t guarantee that it will catch every mistake, but it will alert you to a lot of them.

“Read a passage aloud and you’ll get an immediate sense of how it ‘should’ feel; the way the words fit together and work as a whole,” writes Robert Wood, editor at Standout Books. “The same way you can hear a missed beat or a wrong chord in music, you understand when your phrasing is awkward or unwieldy.”

If you haven’t made out-loud reading part of your review process yet, here are a few tips for making it work and what you should listen for.

1. Notice the passages where you stumble over the language. If you struggle to read sentences that are complex or contain several difficult-to-pronounce words, your readers will struggle too. Make a note in the manuscript to simplify the language for your readers.

2. Notice if sentences are overly long and wordy. They can be more noticeable when you read them out loud. Also notice if sentences are poorly constructed and confusing. Will readers understand what you are attempting to say? Is there a better way to express what you want to say? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you’ll need to rewrite those sections for clarity and conciseness.

3. Notice the pacing and rhythm of the language. Do you need to slow down the pacing, or pick it up? Do you get bogged down in too many unnecessary details that slow down the pace of the story? Reading out loud will make you more aware of the natural rhythm of the words.

4. Notice if there are misspelled words, grammatical errors and punctuation mistakes. For example, are there too many commas in your sentences? Or are they added in the wrong places, which can change the meaning of the sentence?

5. Pay attention to the tone of your manuscript. Is the tone appropriate for your piece? Is it appropriate for your audience? For example, is the tone too formal for a room full of parents at a PTA meeting, or is it too casual for the company’s board of directors?

6. Pay attention to the sequence of ideas or story scenes. When you or someone else reads your work out loud, listen to the order of ideas. Do they move seamlessly from one to the next? Ditto for short stories and novels. Note if scenes develop in a logical sequence. Also listen for transitions between ideas and paragraphs. Reading out loud can reveal gaps in story lines and thought processes.

7. Notice any repetitions. Did you explain one idea on page three, then again on page five? That’s a sign that you need to condense your content, and rewrite for better clarity.

8. Listen for filler material. Publishing expert Jane Friedman says many writers tend to add filler copy in their manuscripts. These sections and sentences don’t add any meaningful information to the reader. If you notice filler copy, get out the scissors and begin cutting. Make sure every sentence you write, or every section or scene, provides meaning and value to the overall piece.

If you have trouble recognizing these elements as you read your work out loud, it might be helpful to have someone else read it out loud to you. According to the University of North Carolina Writing Center, when someone else reads your manuscript out loud, you receive information in a different way. Most people have more experience listening to and speaking English than they do reading and editing it, the center explains. If your reading partner stumbles over the words or gets lost, those may be places where you need to revise to make your meaning clearer for your readers.

The UNC Writing Center offers the following strategies for reading and reviewing your written work out loud.

* Print out a copy to read. When you read from a printed page, you’ll be able to make notes on the page and mark the places that need revision.

* Read only what you see on the page. If necessary, use a finger to point to each word you see as you say it out loud. The brain has a tendency to “smooth over” mistakes on the page by filling in missing words or making corrections.

* Read out loud at a moderate pace. If you read too fast, you may gloss over words and phrases that need fixing. Slowing down your pace will help you notice errors more easily.

* Read one section or paragraph at a time. Covering up most of the manuscript as you read out loud will help you stay focused on only the material in front of you so you don’t race ahead.

No matter what type of writing you do – nonfiction, memoir, or fiction – learning to read your work out loud can help you catch errors you might otherwise miss. That can make you a better writer in the long run.

Seven Easy Ways to Make Readers Love Your Writing

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This week’s writing prompt: If there was a “Do-over” button, what event in your life would you like to do over or have a second chance at? Rewrite that event in your life the way you’d like it to turn out.

It’s not always easy to get people to read your stories or blog posts. It’s even harder to get them to like your work, share them or comment on them. How do you know people are reading your works? How do you know that they like what you’ve written? Figuring it out is like shooting an arrow at a target in the dark.

The most important thing is to pay attention to any feedback they give you. Which posts are getting the most likes? The more likes you receive, the more likely they enjoyed that story more than others. That might be a sign that perhaps they would like to see more content like that.

They may not always like the work you put out there, but that’s okay. As long as you meet certain expectations, they will like YOU. It’s up to you to give them what you want.

While you may not control how readers respond to your stories, you can control what you write and how it’s delivered. So whether you’re managing a blog or creating short stories or essays to share on Medium, here are six easy ways to make readers appreciate you what you do.

1. Be consistent with your writing. Set a schedule for when you post stories. If you manage a blog, decide how often you can post updates, whether it’s only once a week, or once a day or somewhere in between. Then stick to that routine. When people recognize the schedule you follow, they will likely follow along with you. They will begin to expect it. So if you post a story on Monday morning, they’ll look for it in their inbox. Readers like consistency and routine. It makes you easier to follow when you set that routine for them.

2. Keep your work clean and error-free. You might spend most of your time drafting stories and doing research, but don’t overlook the importance of proofreading. Check your grammar, spelling and punctuation to make sure it’s spotless. There’s nothing more annoying than reading a blog post filled with misspelled words; it’s distracting and it sends the message to readers that you don’t care about your work. Sure, there will be times when a misspelled word slips through after you’ve posted the story. That will happen. Readers will forgive an occasional error like that. Just be sure to take the time to proof your work before hitting the Publish button. Or if you’re unsure of your proofing skills, have someone else review it for you.

3. Write conversationally. Imagine that you are having a conversation over your favorite adult beverage with a close friend. You would likely ask the other person questions. You would probably use “you” to address them, and “I” when talking about yourself. Avoid heavy-handed descriptions and flowery speech that readers may not understand. Be blunt if you need to be, and don’t be afraid to break a few English writing rules if that’s what it takes to express yourself personally. The experts at Copyblogger have a few additional suggestions for writing conversationally on your blog.

4. Be passionate about your topic. Whether you’re writing a blog, a short story or an essay, be passionate about your writing. Indifference will come through, and readers will notice it. “It’s astounding how much better writing is when we write about something we care deeply about. The words flow easily, and we are much more convincing and engrossing,” writes Amy Newmark, publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series in a Forbes magazine interview.

Maybe your passion is caring for your dogs. Then make dog care the focus of your blog. Then stop writing about things that have nothing to do with dog care, like the last restaurant you went to or the DIY home improvement project you attempted last weekend. When your topic is all over the map, you’ll have difficulty finding your target audience. When you stick with your core topic – dog care – you can expand your audience to include not only dog owners, but dog walkers, veterinarians, pet shelters and anyone who like dogs. Again, it’s about managing your readers’ expectations. If you establish early on that your blog is about dog care, readers will expect it from you again and again.

5. Give readers what they want. This is an extension of what I wrote about above. Pay attention to likes, comments and feedback from readers. They’ll tell you what they like best. If they respond positively to a particular story, say starting a dog walking business as a side hustle (to use the example above), then perhaps that is the angle you should keep writing about. If you’re a fiction writer, then give them fiction stories.

6. Give readers added value. Give them a few extras that will whet their appetite for good content. For example, I recently offered a weekly writing prompt which is consistent with my blog content about writing. In your case, you may decide to offer a weekly trivia question or a survey question related to a blog post. Those little extras become something new and interesting that readers can share with others, and makes them want to come back to see “what’s next?”

7. Be sure to respond to questions and comments. If readers really like what you’re writing, they’ll tell you by leaving a comment or asking a question. There’s nothing more flattering than receiving a compliment from a reader. Be sure to thank them though. Engage with them. Be responsive to their questions and comments. A simple thank you goes a long way to establishing trust with your readers.

It takes time for readers to find you and even longer for them to love you. But these simple steps will make it easier for them to appreciate what you have to offer.

Need Motivation for Your Writing Practice? Find a Writing Buddy

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Don’t forget to check out this week’s writing prompt.

Last week I wrote about participating in a writer’s group to help you get past writing blocks and keep you on track toward your goals. But writer’s groups aren’t for everyone. Sometimes you don’t want to share your work with a group of people, but instead, only one other person. That’s where a writing buddy comes into the picture.

A writing buddy is just as it sounds – a person to share in the journey with you. You may have different writing goals (publish short stories vs. polish off that novel that’s been hiding in a desk drawer), write different genres (women’s literature vs. romance), live in different parts of the country (the West Coast vs. the Midwest) and live different lifestyles (one married and one single, for example). While you may have different writing experiences, one thing you do share is a love of writing.

The concept of the buddy system is borrowed from the fitness world where two people might engage in a weight loss plan together. They may arrive with different fitness goals and use different approaches to reach those goals, but neither wants to go through the journey alone. It helps to have a buddy to experience the ups and downs of the process, and to challenge and motivate one another along the way.

Writing buddies can provide the same kind of support. They’re there to inspire and motivate you when your interest lags. They make you accountable for your progress. You know you have someone who supports your efforts, encourage you every step of the way. Writing buddies can also exchange ideas and knowledge about crafting stories. They can also serve as a beta reader for your current work-in-progress, and be your initial reviewer, editor and proofreader.

However, writing buddies are not collaborators; they’re not there to work with you on the same project. Rather, a writing buddy has their own project that they are working on, separate from yours. They are also not a mentor or coach, who provides encouragement and support, but don’t receive any support from you in return. They’re not a boss either, who might teach you a few things about the craft, but may not be working on any project at all.

For a better idea who makes a good writing buddy, check out this article from Writing-World.com. Carol Sjostrom Miller writes that over a six-month period of working with a writing buddy, she wrote more, submitted more stories for publication and sold more than she had before finding her buddy. If you’re a new writer or want to ramp up your writing production, having a writing buddy might be the solution you’re looking for.

So how do you find someone that wants to be your writing buddy, and where do you find them? For starters, it should probably be someone you already know, not a total stranger. It could be someone you’ve met at a writing workshop, at a conference or a former member of a writer’s group that’s looking for a similar arrangement.

When you already know someone, you don’t have to go through that uncomfortable “let’s get to know one another better” phase. Since you’ve already bypassed that phase, you can focus on assessing your writing goals and what you want from your writing buddy.

If you think a writing buddy is right for you, here are a few characteristics you might want them to have – and what you should be willing to share in return.    

1. They must love to write as much as you love to write. This is obvious. The key is “as much as you love to write.” Are you both at the same level of writing? Are you each writing every day, or are you each struggling to make your daily word count goals? If you already have someone in mind for this important role, assess where you both are in your writing practice. Knowing where you each are on the journey and where you want to go will make it easier to work on equitable terms.

2. They’re non-competitive and non-judgmental – and so are you. Check your egos at the door. Writing buddies are neither collaborative nor competitors. They’re not there to judge you harshly or tell you how silly you are to write for young adults. They’re supportive and helpful, like the volunteers who pass out cups of water on the marathon race route or cheer you on at the finish line.

3. They bring an alternate perspective to your writing, and vice versa. Because you may both have different writing backgrounds, you’ll provide alternate perspectives that the other party may not have considered. Having that different perspective means you can share practical and meaningful insights that will help you each grow as writers.

4. You learn as much from their writing process and they do from you. Because you’re each on your own writing journey and working toward individual goals, you each have something to learn from and share with the other person. Perhaps you’ve discovered a more efficient way to edit a first draft that can help your writing buddy, or they have heard of a new online magazine that publishes your genre of short story. There’s an easy give-and-take in the relationship.

5. You both provide helpful, insightful and constructive feedback. Feedback is important to help you improve, so both you and your writing buddy should know how to provide meaningful feedback, not just be a cheerleader. Criticism can be hard to take, but it’s necessary to grow as a writer. Be constructive with criticism and communicate clearly and with sensitivity. There is a way to provide helpful advice without destroying their ego.

6. You both practice positivity. It’s easy to lose faith in your project and your talent over the long haul, so it’s important to team up with a buddy who can stay focused and optimistic to help you out of the doldrums. Likewise, your own positivity should motivate your buddy to stay the course.

7. You celebrate each other’s successes. When you’ve reached milestones, gotten over writing humps or finally published that story you’ve slaved over for months, a writing buddy can share in your joy. Be sure to share in theirs, writes Barbara Beckwith at the National Writers Union.

Writing buddies aren’t a perfect solution, and some buddy relationships may go through rough spells or end altogether. Yet others can last longer than some marriages. But for greater motivation and productivity, a writing buddy may make your writing journey more worthwhile.