Start a Writing Practice — No Matter What Age You Are

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If you ever thought you were too old to begin writing, whether for business or pleasure, guess again. Consider these late-blooming authors:

* Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing when she was in her 40s. Her first book Little House in the Big Woods was published nearly 20 years later.

* Harriet Doerr was 74 when her first novel, Stones of Ibarra, was published.

* Frank McCourt was 66 years old when his memoir, Angela’s Ashes, was published.

* English author Daniel Defoe was almost 60 when he finished writing Robinson Crusoe.

* Nora Neale Hurston, author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, didn’t begin writing until she was in her 40s.

There are numerous other authors who did not get published or begin writing until they were in their 40s or older – proof that you don’t have to be a young spring chicken to write. (Here’s another great list of women writers who were late bloomers.)

In fact, it may be more advantageous to start a writing practice later in life rather than earlier.  For one, you have the benefit of life experience. By the time you reach your forties and fifties, you’ve acquired plenty of life experience – new jobs and losses, moving to a new city perhaps, starting a family, starting a business, health crises, etc. You’re able to look back at your experiences to learn from life’s lessons. All you really need to write is the desire and a willingness to commit to it.

As I get older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve come to the conclusion that our lives are divided into two halves. The first half is all about acquiring knowledge, skills and experience. We’re students of life. During the second half of our lives – after age 45 or 50 or so – we look for opportunities to share what we’ve learned with others. We become teachers.

So it makes sense that many older adults rediscover writing as a way to express themselves while sharing their lifetime of knowledge and skills. Writing is the path to teach others about what they’ve learned on their life’s journey.

Writing also challenges you mentally, and at times, emotionally. It keeps your brain active which is important to ward off dementia. By writing, you become more aware of people and events around you too. You notice things more – like the bright colors of flowers, the sharp sweet smell of coffee in the morning, the way someone speaks. You pay more attention to these details because your writing thrives on these types of details.

If you are over age 50 and you’re new to writing, here are a few tips for starting a writing practice. Of course, many of these tips are appropriate no matter what age you are. But I think they are particularly helpful for older writers.

* Be open to learning new things. Attending workshops and classes can help you develop new skills and gain an understanding of the writing process. You’ll meet other people just like you who are starting their writing journey. You’ll have a lot to talk about with them – and a lot to write about afterwards.

* Don’t overlook your life experience. You bring a lot to the table by virtue of your life experience. When it comes to writing, age is an advantage, not a flaw. Write about those experiences that made a difference in your life. Share your life story with others so they can learn from you. Your personal experience is valuable, giving your writing added depth and perspective.

* Start small and work your way into bigger projects. Especially if you’re just starting a writing habit, begin by writing shorter pieces. Even writing in your journal counts. Aim for 100 or 200 words to start, then as you get into a rhythm, you can extend yourself to 500 words or more (if your schedule allows).

You may find that starting with shorter pieces is easier because once you complete them, you feel a greater sense of accomplishment. This approach serves two purposes: it allows you to  test out story concepts in shorter formats to see if they’re viable, and it helps you refine your writing technique for specific genres. Don’t be afraid to start small.

* Pay attention to the world around you. When you begin a writing practice, you may notice events and people around you more keenly. You may pay more attention to little details – the way a woman’s dress moves when she walks down the street, the smell of onions and garlic as you pass an Italian restaurant, or the cheerful chirping of birds outside your window at five in the morning. Writing gives you a renewed appreciation for life, one you appreciate even more as you get older.

* Make an appointment with yourself to write. Put the appointment in your calendar. If you’re good about keeping appointments, you’ll likely be as vigilant about keeping up with your writing practice.  

* Create a body of work you can be proud of. Regardless if you get published or not, keep writing to complete as many essays, stories and blog posts as you can. You’ll develop a body of work to leave as your legacy. More important, your body of work is evidence that you are never too old to start a writing practice.

The best part about starting a writing practice is that you can write well into your 70s, 80s or 90s. No matter what age you are, you can enjoy a writing life for years to come.

Let Your Natural Writing Rhythm Help You Become More Productive

Ever notice that there’s a natural rhythm to life? If you pay close attention, you can see it all around you.

For example, you may see a rhythm in the changing of the seasons – from spring, summer, autumn and winter, then back to spring again. You may see it in the repeated patterns of the 12 months of the year, the seven days of the week, nighttime and daytime, and through the new moon/full moon cycles.

Likewise, humans have a natural rhythm, like the steady inhalation and exhalation of breath, for instance. You may go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time the following morning (unless you’re an insomniac, then all bets are off). Eating three meals a day, usually at the same time every day is another example of that rhythm. And for women, there’s the monthly menstrual cycle.

You may notice too how you are more energetic at certain hours of the day, while at others, usually midafternoon, your energy dips. When you become aware of the rise and fall of your natural energy levels, you can work with those rhythms to write more and create better work.

It’s like watching traffic patterns in the city and waiting for when highway traffic is light so you can drive to your destination without hitting any traffic jams. It’s like riding your raft in the direction that the river flows rather than fight against the flow going in the opposite direction.

Your writing process can fall into an easy rhythm too, if you remain aware of those cycles of productivity and creativity in your life. There’s as much an ebb and flow to your writing process as there is in the ocean tides. For more about creativity cycles, check out this article on Write to Done blog which describes the four phases of the cycle in depth.

At high tide, for instance, your energy level rises. You may feel ready to tackle complex projects, and ideas and words flow seamlessly. You seem able to get more done in a shorter amount of time.

At low tide, your energy dips. Everything seems like a struggle. You have difficulty finding the right words for what you want to say.

When you learn to recognize the high tides and low tides that are specific to you, you can adjust your writing routine accordingly. You can schedule writing sessions during high tides to to capture the creative flow and ride it as long as possible, like a surfer on the ocean. Reserve the low tides for administrative tasks that don’t require as much thought, creative energy or complex problem solving.

One way to learn about your natural creative rhythm is to track your activities throughout the day. For an example of how this works, check out author Chris Bailey’s blog A Life of Productivity in which he describes how you can calculate your biological prime time – your most productive hours of the day.

You may already know which hours of the day you are most productive. For me, it’s that morning window of 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. That’s when I do most of my creative writing.

When you are aware of your energy peaks and valleys – your writing rhythm – you can fit writing into those productive periods and save the valleys for more mundane tasks. You’ll get more writing done in short bursts when your energy is at its peak, and you’ll avoid spinning your wheels during those periods of low energy. Consequently, your writing practice may grow beyond your wildest dreams because you’re able to achieve more in less time.

When you recognize the best wave when it comes along, you can ride it to the shore. Enjoy the ride.

How Well Do You Manage Your Emotions When You Write?

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Several years ago when I faced an emotional and financial crisis, I took to journaling almost every day to deal with the pain and anxiety I felt. The emotional pain was so intense, in fact, that it took two notebooks of journal entries to release those emotions. I just kept writing and writing to release the anger, fear and guilt I felt until I had my emotions under control. Writing in my journal was much better than pacing floors and indulging in crying spells.

Psychologists at the Harvard University Healthbeat blog call this expressive writing. They cited several studies showing how expressive writing (journal writing) can help you manage stress and anxiety by organizing your thoughts and making sense of traumatic experiences. Expressive writing can also help you break free of the endless mental cycling through of events that can lead to brooding and depression.

So why am I writing about this? With so much going on in our world, many people begin writing to deal with their often confused emotions to make sense of things. For many, writing helps heal wounds both old and new. At a time like now, expressive writing, or different variations of it, can help you deal with the emotional aspects of these dramatic events.

Writers learn to write with emotion, to use it to fuel their stories. But how do you write when you feel too overwhelmed by life-altering events, when you feel too emotional to write? How do you express your emotions without being overwhelmed by them? How do you put those emotional experiences into proper perspective?

Here are a few writing tools to help you navigate those rocky seas of emotion.

1. Journaling – Therapists at the University of Rochester Medical Center say that journaling is one of the easiest ways to release your emotions, next to talking to a close friend or family member. That’s where expressive writing comes in. The idea behind journaling, or expressive writing, is to set aside time every day to write in a journal or notebook for a specified amount of time, say thirty minutes or so. (However, in my personal experience, if you’re feeling really emotional about a situation, you might consider writing for longer than that, or at least until you have nothing left to put on the page.) Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or sentence structure, and don’t show your journal to anyone. Journaling is your personal path to healing.

2. Freewriting – Freewriting is like a stream of consciousness on the page. You don’t stop to edit yourself either, much like journaling. While expressive writing helps you deal with the emotional content, like a dumping ground of sorts, freewriting is the flow of thoughts and ideas. Journaling is more personal, while freewriting is less emotional. But because of the assortment of ideas, freewriting helps you sort through them to find nuggets of wisdom. I also recommend handwriting for both journalizing and freewriting because writing by hand creates a direct connection to your subconscious mind.

3. Letter writing — Another exercise I used to get through my emotional crisis was letter writing. Write a letter to that person (or organization) who you feel angry with (or disappointed, saddened, frustrated, etc.). Describe your rage or fears, and most important, explain what you would like them to do in response. Be specific in your request. Most important, don’t mail the letter. Instead, tear it up or burn it. Release the contents into the Universe. You never ever want to mail a letter to someone that you wrote in anger. You might regret it later. Write as many letters as you see fit until your emotions are under control. It really does make you feel better to get things off your chest, even if you never mail the letter.

4. Write about your experience in third person. This suggestion comes from a therapist at Psych Central, who explains that writing in third person (he/she/they) creates distance between yourself and the traumatic event. When it’s less personal, the traumatic experience is easier to deal with.

5. Do nothing. Yes, you read that right. Do nothing – at least for right now. Be careful not to respond to a volatile situation with a kneejerk reaction. What you write in the heat of the moment may not be what you really want to say. Allow time for your emotional self to cool off. It could be a few days, a week or a month or more. When you wait for the drama to subside, what you want to write about will eventually become clear.

The turmoil in the world has created a lot of emotional noise. You don’t want your voice to get lost in it. Take a step back (or two or three) from the drama, allow some time to pass, then you’ll be able to look upon that situation with greater clarity. Writing can help by giving you an outlet for those pent up feelings.

With life in topsy-turvy mode these past few months, writing solely for yourself can bring balance back into your life.

Are You Being Truly Authentic in Your Writing?

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Webster’s dictionary defines authentic as “genuine” or “real.” But what does it mean to be genuine or real in your own writing?

Writing authentically means revealing a little bit about yourself through your writing. You provide a glimpse of your daily life so others can see that you are not some robot but a real person with real feelings and real experiences of the world. Your readers are looking for a reason to connect with you. They want to see your humanness. Being a responsible, authentic writer means opening yourself up to them.

I’m not talking about an online diary or a log of everything you ate for breakfast this morning. I’m talking about human emotion and experiences, which readers can relate to.

Writing with an authentic voice is the key to being a successful writer, says writer and blogger James Prescott, who eloquently describes his own experience about losing his authentic self at the Publishous blog. When Prescott focused on external ego-centric factors like publishing deals and how many followers he had, he said he easily lost sight of what was truly important about writing: connecting with readers.

Your readers aren’t interested in those ego-centric things about you. What they do want to know is how you overcome writing blocks, how you found your first writing gig, how you brainstorm story ideas. Because these are issues they deal with every day. These are problems they want to solve. They want to see that you are just like them, a writer who struggles with motivation and inspiration and time management, even as you build your success.

Writing authentically is about knowing what your audience wants to know, not what you want for yourself. For example, you might begin a blog post by telling readers about a writing class you attended recently and what you learned from it. Not only do you share your knowledge, you put up a mirror of sorts so they can see themselves through you. Sharing your personal stories helps you connect with your readers.

Readers are on your side. They want you to succeed in your writing. They want to read stories that are honest and truthful and speaks to their heart. They seek authenticity from the writers they read and follow in social media, so it’s up to you and me, as writers, to give them what they want.

Here are a few ways that you can bring more authenticity to your writing.

  • Turn off the negative internal voice. You know the one that tells you that you’re not good enough, that you don’t have a right to share your knowledge with others, that writing is a big waste of time. You get the idea. Find a way to shut out that negative internal voice. Better yet, shout back at them. “Yes, I am good enough. Yes, I enjoy writing so it’s not a waste of time.”

  • Stop worrying about being perfect. Just focus on your message. What do you want to say to your readers? When you focus on your message, the right words will come naturally.

  • Watch for performance anxiety. Putting words down on the page is a lot like standing on a stage to perform for an audience, but you don’t have a script and you have to fly by the seat of your pants. Not knowing what to say to a room full of strangers can cause anxiety for even the most practiced public speakers. If you feel performance anxiety just by staring at a blank page, again focus on your key message(s). The words will come.

  • Feel the fear and write about it anyway. Human emotions are the one thing that connects us all. We all feel fear. We all know what it’s like to feel our knees go weak, our hands tremble, and our heart beat wildly inside our chest. Write about those things. Those experiences will help you connect to your readers.

  • Learn to meditate. Meditating helps you quiet your mind and slows your breath to an easy rhythm. When your thoughts slow down, you can observe your inner world more clearly. You can observe the way you think and the way you feel. When you slow down, new thoughts arise, thoughts you never knew you had. Meditating helps you reconnect to your true self, and when you connect to your true self, you discover your personal truths. When you are in tuned with those truths, you are more likely to share them with conviction.

Don’t be afraid to share what you learn about yourself. It’s scary, of course, but that’s what makes it real. That’s what make you human. That’s what makes you authentic. And your writing will improve because of it.

What about you? How do you bring authenticity into your writing?

For more about authenticity in writing, check out these links:
Why Authenticity as a Writer and Blogger Is Crucial to Success
Writing with Authenticity

Finish What You Start: Tips for Completing That First Draft

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How many first drafts do you have tucked away in a desk drawer? If you’re like me, the answer is at least two, maybe three.

You start the project with enthusiasm, proceed steadily until the halfway point, maybe even  two-thirds of the way through. Then suddenly, inexplicably, you stop. Why did you stop writing?

There are several possible reasons. Either you stop to go back to review what you’ve already written, and then you get detoured editing and rewriting sections of it. (Guilty!) Or you get stuck with the plot, unsure where you want it to go next, so you set it aside until inspiration strikes. (Guilty of that too!) Or you believe your writing simply isn’t any good so you abort the project altogether before giving it a chance to grow. (Yep! That too.)

But don’t give up just yet. Your novel-in-progress can be saved. In Writer’s Digest webinar, Self-editing Techniques That Work, publishing experts Marie Lamba and Cari Lamba offer some tips for making sure you finish that first draft.

* Think of the first draft as a brain dump. Here’s your opportunity to pour all those scenes and plot twists stored inside your head onto the page. The whole point of the first draft is to sort through your story ideas to see which ones work. Consider it a literary experiment to see how all the pieces will work together as a cohesive unit.

* Understand that the first draft is never perfect. Much of what you put down on the page will be garbage, BUT also recognize that some of it will be valuable. Don’t be tempted to throw any of it out – at least not until you finish writing the whole thing. That will be your reward for finishing.

* Write as if no one will ever see it. Chances are the first draft won’t be very good. Who cares if no one else sees it? Instead, enjoy the process of creating your story, of seeing your characters come alive on the page. Don’t stop writing until you write the words “The End” on the page. Refrain from re-reading what you’ve written. You might be tempted to edit those sections, which only slows down your progress. Or you might decide you don’t like the story, feel discouraged, and abort it altogether. Keep writing until you get to the end of the story.

* Stop trying to write and edit at the same time. Writing is governed by the right side of the brain, the creative side, while editing and other analytical skills are governed by the left side of the brain. They generally do not operate simultaneously. Editing as you write slows you down and prevents you from getting to the end, your primary goal. It also takes your focus away from the creative process. Stay focused on writing the first draft, and you’ll get to the end sooner rather than later. There’s always time to edit later.

* Do only the lightest of editing. Okay, this might seem to contradict the tip #3. There is one exception. Do light editing only if it helps move the story forward. Better yet, just make a notation in the margin of the changes you want to make, then edit that section later.

* Have an end scene in mind. Before you start writing that first draft, visualize or sketch out what the final scene will be. Then begin writing toward that ending. Or write a draft of that final scene in its entirety (with the understanding that you’ll probably have to revise it later). Either way, you’ll have something to work toward.

* Write a book jacket summary of the novel. Before writing the first draft, try writing a summary of the novel as if it will appear on the inside flap of the book cover. The summary acts the same way the end scene does, by providing you with a picture of how the story will progress.

* Remember, you’re not alone. Every author has experienced first draft-itis, no matter how experienced they are and no matter if they’ve been published before or not. If they all managed to overcome these obstacles, you can too.

When you are done writing the first draft, congratulate yourself. You put in some hard work and a lot of hours of writing. Savor your victory, but remember, there’s more work to do. Don’t jump back into your novel right away. Set it aside for several weeks at least, to give it a chance to cool off. That time away from your novel will give you a chance to catch your breath, rest your brain, and shift from right side thinking (creativity) to left side thinking (analytical). Then when you’re ready – at least several weeks – you can begin to tackle the revision process.

Working on the first draft of a novel is hard work. It’s like a practice run for a marathon. Pace yourself, and keep writing. Before you know it, you’ll be writing “The End” in no time.

Tired of Staring at a Blank Page? Begin Writing with a Story Starter

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Staring at a blank page is one of the scariest experiences for a writer, no matter how much experience they have. It’s one of the most common objections people have about starting a regular writing practice. “I don’t know what to write about!” they cry.

Story starters can help you fill that blank page. Story starters are word games and activities to help you generate story ideas. Not only are they great at helping you flex your creative muscles but they can also prompt you to look at events in your life in unexpected ways. Most important, story starters can help you stay motivated whenever you feel stuck or want to take a break from your current work-in-progress.

So the next time you find yourself staring at a blank page, try one of these starter activities to help you fill that page with prose.

1. Writing prompts. Perhaps the most popular story starter is the writing prompt. As the term says, a writing prompt poses questions or fill-in-the-blank statements to stir your imagination. For example, “Whenever it rains, I like to…..” Or “If you won the lottery, what would you do with your winnings?” There are entire books devoted to writing prompts or you can find them on sites like Writer’s Digest, StoryaDay.org and Self-Publishing.com. Or you can revisit my previous post about writing prompts here.

2. Word lists and associations. This technique was popularized by author Ray Bradbury who often used it to brainstorm story ideas whenever he felt stuck. First thing in the morning, Bradbury would jot down whatever words came to mind. Then he’d look at whatever connections they made to each other, or in some cases, how they prompted a memory. By combining some of the word associations, he was able to form the basis for a story.

3. Dreams. If you are an active dreamer, I hope you keep a notebook at your bedside to jot them down. That way you can remember them later. The longer you wait to write it down, the more likely you will forget important details. Dreams have a way of revealing issues we’re dealing with in our lives, sometimes when we don’t realize we’re experiencing them. Maybe you felt yourself falling helplessly in a dream, or you were being chased by an unknown being. Try to capture that scene as well as your emotional response. You never know when dreams can serve as the premise for a story or a scene in a larger work.

4. Visuals, such as artwork or photographs. Is there a painting, sculpture or photograph that moves you or inspires you? What do you see in that image? Each piece of work conveys different meanings to different people, so what you see in a painting will differ from what your friend sees. The next time you see a visual that moves you, try to write a story about that image or about the artist. What do you think inspired them to create this piece?

5. Maps. Lay out a world map on your desk, or find a globe. Then close your eyes and let your finger drop down to a place on the map or the globe. Wherever it lands is the backdrop for your next story. Imagine what it’s like to travel there, or create a character who is from that region. Maps can guide you to a story set in faraway places.

6. The news. You can’t escape what is happening in the news these days. Current events and TV news programs are filled with interviews with experts, personal profiles and events. They can look at one story from different angles. Perhaps someone in the news provides inspiration for a character in your latest short story, or a news feature can spark fresh story lines you might not have considered.

7. First line game. Think of a first line of a story, then keep writing to see where the story takes you. Or for an added challenge, find a first line from any novel you choose, then create your own different story from that first line.

8. Dictionary word game. For this activity, all you need is every writer’s best friend – the dictionary. Open the book to any page, close your eyes, then with your finger point to a word on that page. Then open your eyes and see what word your finger fell on. Does that word conjure any images in your head? If that word doesn’t work, scroll up and down the page for another word that strikes your fancy. The important thing to remember is that the word should somehow resonate with you, conjure up images that have meaning to you. For example, perhaps the word you settle on is “cantankerous”. What image comes to mind? Perhaps it’s the image of an elderly uncle whose gruff manner frightened you as a child?

9. Favorite object. Do you have a favorite object that has special meaning to you? Perhaps it’s a piece of jewelry you own, a book you’ve read, or an ornament you picked up on your travels. Perhaps you owned something that is missing or broken. Describe the object and explain why it meant so much to you.

10. Observations. Look around you and describe what you see. It could be a cat sleeping on your desk while you work. It could be a person you see on the street who started digging around a nearby dumpster looking for food, or a doorman in front of an apartment building who smiles and says hello to everyone walking by. Just jot down what you see, what they are wearing, what they are doing. Simply observing the world around you can spark a scene or short story.

With so many story starters to work with, you won’t have to search hard for stories.

What You Can Learn by Re-Reading Past Writing

 

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Most writers I know are reluctant to go back in time to read things they wrote a long time ago. I don’t usually like to do that either. I figure I’ve already looked at that piece so many times and completed so many editing passes, that by the time it gets published, I’m sick of looking at it. I’m so relieved when I can finally move on to the next project that I gladly put it out of my mind.

So why are writers reluctant to re-read old published works (or in the case of unpublished writers, completed or semi-completed works)?

Perhaps they fear that they won’t like what they read, that it will confirm their suspicions that they are indeed a bad writer. Or maybe it’s a different kind of feeling – that the work is better than they imagined — or at least it will be once they tweak it here and there.

Author Adam O’Fallon Price writes in The Millions:

“A writer could go through their whole life accumulating work and publications without ever, in earnest, going back and looking at what they’ve done with a reader’s eye. And if you never revisit your old work, you may never fully understand how, or if, you’ve changed as an artist and person.”

I bring this subject up because I’ve spent the past couple of weeks re-reading unpublished essays and half-completed manuscripts that were hidden in my desk drawer. Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours re-reading the first three chapters of a romance novel I started writing a couple of summers ago which I set aside to pursue other projects. I thought I was done with that romance novel. After reading it, now I’m not so sure.

I look at these pieces now, and I’m amazed at what I’ve accomplished. Even old blog posts from several years ago and magazine features I’ve written for a client give me a boost of confidence.

With so much time passed, I can look at each of those pieces with a clear head and an objective eye. What have I learned from this practice?

I’ve learned that I’m a pretty good writer. That my magazine client thinks I’m proficient enough to publish my work. That my blog posts are clearly written and provide practical advice to help my writing peers. That even if I never get that romance novel published, I can be proud of my accomplishment.

Likewise, what can you learn by going back and re-reading what you’ve written long ago? I’m not talking about your current work-in-progress, or the essay you finished last week. I’m talking about writing from a year ago, five years ago, or even things you wrote in college.

How can re-reading your old works benefit your writing today? Here are a few reasons.

  • It can help you see how far you’ve come as a writer. The person who wrote that essay in college is not the same person who would write it today. You’ve matured as a person since then and perhaps you’ve learned more about the topic you wrote about. Perhaps as you gained more knowledge, you’ve changed your stance on that issue.

    Your writing skills are likely better now too, especially if you’ve been writing consistently or have taken writing classes. You may have started out with humble beginnings, but you can see that you’re a better writer now than you were then.

  • It can help you realize that you still have much to learn about the writing process. HealthWriterHub suggests reviewing old emails and projects so you can see recurring mistakes and bad habits. With so much time that has passed, it will be easier to spot those errors and fix them in your current writing. It’s also important to note your strengths, not just your weaknesses, so you can continue to improve.
  • Re-reading past works can affirm in your own mind that you are a good writer. By putting time and distance between yourself and a past work, you can review it as a reader would. Perhaps you realize your work isn’t as lousy as you feared it might be, and that there are many redeemable qualities to your writing that you can still build on for the future.

    Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank, says re-reading old works gives you a chance to savor your accomplishments, and it offers a list of questions to keep in mind when you review them. For example, would you write it differently now? What surprised you about the text? Did the voice sound authentic? By answering these questions, you can see ways that you can improve your writing.

  • You may notice opportunities for re-writing that old piece. You might re-read something from long ago and decide there are nuggets of good writing there. Perhaps you know more about the subject now to give it more substance. Or through your life experience, you can provide a different perspective. With the new knowledge and experience, you can bring added dimension to that piece that you did not have before.
  • You can decide if that older piece is worthy of being part of your portfolio. If it’s better than you remembered, you might decide to show it to prospective clients, or maybe just hang onto for your own self-enjoyment. Even if it isn’t the most current work or your best, it might be worth keeping just in case a future client or employer wants to see an example of different types of writing. You never know.

So the next time you’re tempted to toss out old stories, essays and written works from a decade ago, think again. They may still provide value to your writing experience.

Sticking to a Writing Routine During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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As our world grapples with the global COVID-19 virus, many writers may be finding it difficult to stick to any kind of routine to maintain their writing practice. Perhaps anxiety and fear about the virus and economic future has paralyzed you and you can’t seem to find the energy to lift a pen to your paper. Or perhaps other responsibilities are calling your attention, such as taking care of your family, doing grocery shopping, or cleaning your house. Naturally, writing takes a back seat.

We’re living in strange times where new rules of self-isolation and social distancing govern our daily lives. But that doesn’t mean your writing has to suffer. You just have to adapt by creating a new writing routine.

One option is to cut back on the hours you spend writing or write only on certain days. Another option is to keep a small notebook (which you should already be doing for your writing) and take notes when the mood strikes or if you notice something unusual in your everyday world. Most important, take note of what you are thinking and feeling at that moment to document what is happening during this time. You never know when you can turn those notes into a publishable story that can be passed on to future generations.

At times like these, writing brings more value to our lives than we ever imagined. Here’s why it’s still important to stick to a writing routine.

Writing forces you to turn off the TV and social media. Sometimes too much information can be more harmful than helpful. Tuning in to news stories about the COVID 19 virus can make you feel crazy, depressed and anxious. Turn it all off, and turn to your writing to escape the harsh surreal world we are all living through these days. Writing takes your mind off the problems of the outside world and focus on the problems of your inside world, the world of your characters. At least you know you have control of that story’s outcome.

Writing allows you to document this unprecedented time in our lives – for history’s sake. Herbert Braun, a history professor at the University of Virginia, has instructed his students to record their daily lives during this pandemic crisis, so they can look upon what they wrote many years from now to see how their lives were changed. “The mantra of our course is ‘Write it down.’ When you do, much of your life and who you are will be different than if you don’t,” he explains. This global experience is bound to change all of us but whether for better or worse, remains to be seen. By writing down your thoughts and experiences every day, you can see how you evolve as a person.

A writing routine gives you control over personal circumstances. We can’t control this disease, can’t slow down its progress or how it affects so many people. But we can focus on one thing that we do have control over – our writing.

A writing routine takes advantage of self-isolation. Many writers are natural self-isolators and have been doing so for some time. It’s the only way we can get our writing done. But for many others who have lost jobs or clients because of the virus, or who are working from home, self-isolation is a brand new experience, unlike anything they’ve ever had before. Self-isolation is like being stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean with nothing to steer it or a map to know which direction to go. Instead of seeing self-isolation as a punishment, view it as a gift. If you have always wanted to write but complained you never have time, you have no more excuses. You’ve got the time now, so use it to your advantage.

A writing routine allows you to daydream and plan your next work. If you’re simply not feeling up to writing today, then don’t write. Instead, use the time to think, plan and daydream about the story you are currently writing, or want to write. You may not be physically putting pen to paper, but you can still “write” a story – inside your head, says professional fiction editor Jim Dempsey at his Writing Therapy blog. You can still work out plots, dialogue and characters even as you walk your dog or wash dishes. Even when you’re not physically writing, you’re doing so unconsciously – by noticing the world around you, Dempsey says. Then when you feel ready, you can sit down and write in a flurry because you’ve already worked out situations in your head.

Writing encourages you to stay connected to your support group. When the going really gets tough, reach out to your support system. We might all be separated from one another physically, but we can still stay connected through technology. Visit them through Skype, set up a group chat on Zoom, or simply pick up the phone and call someone. Tell them what you’re having trouble with in your writing and ask for their guidance. Even while you are practicing social distancing with them, you can still stay connected – through your writing.

While it may be difficult to keep writing during such a troubling period in our lives, writing every day, even for only ten minutes or so, can give you the time and space you need to keep making progress on your current work. Even better, writing can help you make sense of what you’re experiencing.

For more tips for writing during this COVD-19 pandemic, check out this article on Contently.

Stay home and stay safe.

Do You Have a Holiday Writing Plan?

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The Christmas season is in full force. There is much to do – shopping, baking, decorating, attending parties, socializing with friends – you name it. This is on top of your usual obligations – work, school, housekeeping, family time, volunteer work, and self-care. There isn’t much time left for your writing practice.

Or is there?

It all depends on how you allocate your time.

If your writing is important to you or if you are currently working on a deadline, then reaching your writing goals is critical. To reach those goals, you need to have a plan. If faced with this dilemma – and most of us are – you have several options:

1. You can put your writing practice on hiatus.

Going on hiatus will obviously clear the way for you to enjoy your holiday more without worrying about what your next essay will be about. Then when you begin working again, you come with a fresh eye. On the other hand, a hiatus can take you out of your writing rhythm. You could lose momentum on the current work-in-progress. Come January when you sit back down and review your story, you might lose sight of where your story is going. Then you may have to start all over again.

2. Decrease the time you spend on your writing practice.

This approach might make the most sense for most writers. You can still make progress on your current work while still making time for your holiday activities. Here’s how it works. If you currently write for one hour a day, you might decide to write for only half an hour. Or instead of writing six days a week, perhaps you only write three days a week. The scheduling is up to you.

3. Maintain the status quo in your writing practice.

To maintain your current writing schedule will mean reassessing your holiday activities. Are there any that have lost their meaning for you? Do you really need to go to every party you’ve been invited to? Can you skip sending out holiday cards or the holiday bar crawl? The choices are yours.

If you’re struggling to figure out how to maintain your writing practice during the holidays, here are a few suggestions:

1. Set priorities. How much of a priority is your writing? If it’s important to you, you will automatically make more time for it. Other activities will go by the wayside as a result.

2. Make an appointment for your writing. Make an appointment with yourself to write just as you would make a doctor or hair appointment. When you see that you have three one-hour writing sessions in your appointment book, chances are you will be more likely to stick to that schedule.

3. Set realistic goals for your writing. What do you want to accomplish? For example, if you decide you want to write one chapter for your current novel during the month of December, you need to figure out how to make that goal. But make sure that goal is reasonable and achievable. Writing a 1000-word essay or a 3000-word chapter of a novel is probably more achievable than writing 50,000 words.

If you want to learn more about making a writing plan for the holidays, check out the Books & Such Literary Management blog.

When you maintain a consistent writing practice throughout the holidays with all its assorted pleasurable distractions, you may actually feel more joyous throughout the season. Why? Because you love to write and you know how you feel when you write. There is no other greater joy than to do what you love during the holidays.

 

NaNoWriMo: Achieve Your Writing Goals

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Editor’s note: I am not employed or affiliated with NaNoWriMo not-for-profit organization nor am I being paid for promoting this event. 

Could you write 50,000 words in one month? A national non-profit writing organization is challenging you to do just that.

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as it is often called. NaNoWriMo is a creative writing event hosted by a not-for-profit organization that began in 1999 to challenge young writers to complete a novel during the 30 days of November. The goal is to write 50,000 words, or roughly 1,667 words a day. That may seem like a lot to some, but not if you plan your time well, say writers who have participated in the past.

If you’ve always wanted to write a novel and wasn’t sure how or where to start, the NaNoWriMo website offers some practical tools and resources to help you get started. I’m especially impressed with the Prep 101 Workshop, a series of exercises that helps you plan your novel. In this section, you’ll find an entire handbook containing exercises, quizzes and worksheets to help you do everything from developing your story idea, creating complex characters, outlining your plot, developing the setting for your story, and organizing your time to get it all done.

I found the quiz about plotting preferences especially useful. I discovered that I don’t like a lot of detailed planning, but just enough to get me started and keep it flexible enough to allow for new characters and plot twists.

If you’re writing a memoir, a play or non-fiction book, don’t feel left out. While this event is geared toward novel writers, you could easily adapt the tools to your own work. The goals are the same – 50,000 words in 30 days.

You don’t need to donate to the organization to participate. You can do the work on your own, like I plan to do. Or meet with fellow writers in your area for ongoing support and encouragement. Check listings in your area for write-ins that might be taking place at bookstores, public libraries or schools. For the uninitiated, a write-in is like an open house for writers where you spend an hour or several just focused on your writing. Write-ins are a marvelous way to immerse yourself in your novel.

Also check if there is a local NaNoWriMo chapter in your area, just like this one in Chicago.

November is an exciting time to be a writer. Take advantage of these resources and challenge yourself. See if you can reach 50,000 words in 30 days.

Besides, imagine how great you’ll feel at the end of the challenge. Even if you don’t reach the goal of 50,000 words, even if you only achieve 30,000 or 20,000 words, that’s more than what you have written up until now. And you’ll be that much closer to completing your book. That’s always a reason to celebrate.