Is Journaling Worth Your Time?

I came across an intriguing blog post about journaling on Jane Friedman’s blog. Anne Carley, a writer, creativity coach and journaling advocate posed the following question: Is writing a waste of writing time? The question prompted me to recall my own experience with journaling.

Once upon a time I kept a journal. It was about eight years ago, and I was going through a rough time in my life. I’d made a bad business decision and lost a lot of money because of it. I was out of work and asking myself, “What’s next?” I also went through a health crisis and my mother had recently passed away. I was experiencing a full-blown mid-life identity crisis.

With my life in disarray, I started writing in a journal not to make sense of these sweeping changes that were happening but to vent my anger, frustration, guilt and sadness. I churned out pages and pages of angst-ridden prose – two whole notebooks worth. I vented about my poor decision-making skills and the person who had been involved in the business deal. I poured out my troubles to the journal as if it were a therapist, which I suppose it was. Journaling was critical for my mental health during that time, as was a regular yoga practice. And journaling was far cheaper than visiting a therapist’s office.

Funny thing was, once this series of crises ended, I no longer felt the need to write in my journal. I stuck in in my desk drawer and forgot about it. Every now and then, I’d pull it out, look over what I’d written, write a few more entries, then I put it away again. By this time, I had begun a blog, was writing regularly for freelance clients, had part-time jobs and was writing essays and fiction. I had no more room in my life for journaling.

I know many writers who swear by journaling. They couldn’t imagine starting their day without it. It’s as critical to their existence as breathing.

Admittedly, journaling brings numerous benefits to writers, such as using it as a warm-up exercise, to brainstorm story ideas, or a means to improve their writing. It can help them examine motivations and behavior of themselves and of people around them, and it can be a useful tool to manage your mental health, as it did for me.

While there are certain advantages, there are as many downsides to journaling, such as:

  • It can feel more like a diary or a reporting of events
  • There are only so many hours in the day and too many obligations to allow time for journaling
  • It can be used to avoid doing your regular writing practice, or performing chores you’d rather not do
  • It can serve as a distraction rather than a tool to help you
  • It can feel like a chore, one more thing to add to your to-do list.

Writer Thomas Plummer suggests that new writers often fail at journaling because they have no idea what they want to achieve with their journaling practice. Plummer writes: “Journaling becomes a mind-numbing exercise because without a plan or an expected outcome, you end up writing the chronological steps of your day without adding an interpretation or without deciphering any meaning of what is going on around you.”

To overcome this failing, he presents an example of how journaling can be done so you get the most out of the experience.

Before jumping into journaling, think about the following questions:
1. Where are you on your writing journey? If you are new to writing, journaling might be a practical entry point, especially if you want to write essays or memoir where deep meaningful reflection is needed.

2. Why do you want to start journaling? Know your why. If your answer is because you want to become a better writer or you want to tap into your creativity, then by all means, go for it. However, if your answer is because every writer you know tells you that you should, or because it helps you avoid other responsibilities, then you will likely set yourself up for failure.

3. What do you want to achieve with your journaling? Have a plan for what you want to achieve with your journaling. My goal when I did maintain a journal was to simply feel better about myself and deal with the emotional turmoil I was feeling. I didn’t have a plan other than to write every day until those intense emotions subsided. Your goal might be different. Without a goal, however, you likely won’t maintain a regular journaling practice.

4. What kind of writing do you want to do? I think journaling is more helpful for narrative non-fiction, essays and memoir writing. It probably isn’t going to help you with writing feature articles or non-fiction.

The choice whether to start journaling is up to you. If you do embark on that journey, you’ll find plenty of resources and coaches on the Internet to help you get started.

One final thought: While journaling can help you improve your writing skills, it isn’t the only way. No matter what medium you use — a journal, blog, or something else — as long as you are consistent with your writing, your writing will naturally improve.

Do you keep a journal? What has your experience been like? Can you tell if your writing has improved because of it?

Tips for Spring Cleaning Your Writing Practice

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The calendar may read April but the weather outside my window says winter. Nonetheless, at this time of year, my thoughts often turn to spring cleaning. I notice the layers of dust everywhere (my place is a dust magnet), the piles of papers, the books scattered about, the dust bunnies and cob webs, reminding me it’s time for a deep cleaning. Needless to say, housekeeping has never been my strong point. So while I recognize that spring cleaning is a common rite of spring, it’s also one I dread.

Beyond the housework though, there are other areas that may need spring cleaning, such as my writing practice. Like many writers, I can get lost in my own head to the point I forget about my writing environment. It’s easy to get so caught up in everyday work that I forget that my writing practice might need some sprucing up too.

There are numerous half-finished projects sitting in my file drawers and notes from completed freelance assignments. Not to mention the backlog of emails and texts that have piled up in my archives, and the miscellaneous notes and newspaper clippings I’ve collected over the years, believing that they might come in handy for an essay I hoped to write one day.

Spring cleaning is a tough task, but a necessary one if you want to feel more productive. The good news is you don’t have to do the spring cleaning all at one sitting. Take an hour a day over the course of a week or two, and you’ll get through each one. By the end, you’ll likely feel lighter and freer than before. By clearing away the deadwood and clutter of unfinished manuscripts and story ideas, you can make room for fresh, new ones.

Here’s my to-do list for spring cleaning a writing routine. You may have a few different tasks than what I’ve listed below.

1. Review and reassess story notes. This is a biggie, which is why I’ve listed it first. This can also take the longest time because it can be tempting to lose yourself in story lines from the past, just like going through old photos can bring up memories.

If you’re like me, you’ve created a notebook of miscellaneous notes for each story idea, which means I may have ten or twelve notebooks sitting on my shelf, taking up valuable space and collecting dust. There’s no guarantee that I will ever get around to writing these stories. It may be time to unload some of those stories, especially the ones that are too vague. If you’re reluctant to let go of the idea, but want to lose the notebook, I suggest making a spreadsheet for each story idea. A spreadsheet will help you organize your ideas and streamline your writing activities, while making room on your shelf.

If you use notebooks to handwrite drafts of your stories, and you’ve already typed the up, it’s time to lose the notebooks. Dump them since you likely won’t review them anymore.

2. Go through old emails and text messages. If you have long chains of emails and text messages unrelated to one another that go back several years, take time to delete them.  They’re taking up valuable space on your computer and phone. But you might ask, “What if I need to go back to them later for some reason?” If you haven’t gone back to them by now, then you probably won’t need to in the future. Besides, it feels cleaner to get rid of them. Remember to clear out the messages you’ve sent too, not just the ones you’ve received. Those sent messages can pile up in a hurry.

3. Reassess your social media. When was the last time you assessed your social media needs? How often do you use them, and for what purpose? If you use Twitter to learn about freelance assignments, by all means, keep it. But if you’re never on that platform, or worse, you spend countless hours on it when you could be writing, then it might be time to let it go.

4. Reassess your writing tools and equipment. Do you still use a desktop computer from ten years ago? It might work fine for you now, but like anything that ages, it’s likely slower with time. Which doesn’t help your writing practice. It’s time to find another home for that desktop if it’s still in good, working condition and upgrade to a newer, faster version or transfer to a more portable laptop. Ditto with printers. Today’s versions can spew out more pages in a shorter period of time. If you do decide to upgrade, think about what your writing needs maybe in the future as well as today.  

5. Reevaluate your book collection. Do you have books about writing or freelancing still sitting on the shelf that you read a long time ago, or worse, not at all? Then it’s time to go through them to decide if they should go or stay. If you haven’t read a book and it’s been sitting on your shelf for three years, it may be time to donate it to someone who might appreciate it.

6. Spruce up your writing environment. Does your designated writing space still inspire you? Or do you avoid working there because you’re not comfortable there? Think about the chair you use, the desk, the lighting. If any of these items aren’t helping you feel more productive, It might be time to replace them.

Try to keep your space clean at all times. There’s nothing more uninspiring to a writer than a cluttered work environment. Add an inspirational poster on the wall and a live plant to be close to nature. Little things can inspire you to write every day.

7. Review your calendar. Are you so busy with non-essential activities that you can’t find time to write? If you feel overcommitted, it’s time to reconsider your priorities. If writing is important to you, you need to make room for it in your life. Don’t be afraid to say no to invitations and obligations if they will interfere with your writing practice.

Conversely, is your calendar fairly empty? Not having many outside interests can be as damaging to your writing practice as having too many. Work-life balance means different things to different people. You’ll need to assess what balance means to you and how you will achieve it.

There’s a lot more to spring cleaning your writing practice than just dusting off your shelves. Imagine how good it will feel when you’ve cleared the clutter from your writing life.

What tips do you have for spring cleaning your writing practice?

What Baseball Taught Me about Developing a Writing Practice

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This article was originally written and posted in June 2016. As the 2022 baseball season begins, I thought I would dig this out of the archives. There are some minor edits, but the observations and sentiments are the same.

I might be a writer by day, but by night, I’m an avid baseball fan. I am often inspired and fascinated by the game–the strategizing by the coaches, the gravity-defying catches in the outfield, the clutch hitting in the late innings, the dramatic grand slam home run that makes fans go wild. While we may see the glamorous side of the game, it’s the hard work and training behind the scenes that can make the difference between a championship team and one that misses the playoffs. It all takes practice, and with more practice and training, the better a team can become.

Just like in writing.

It takes lots of practice to improve your story telling skills. Baseball has a lot to teach us about developing a writing routine. When a team tries to score runs, for example, it follows a general principle: Get them on, get them over, then get them in. In other words, get a runner on base, move him over to scoring position, and then bring him home. Any individual who struggles to maintain a writing practice can apply these basic principles. Here’s how.

Step 1. Get them on.
In baseball, you can’t score runs unless a player reaches base. It doesn’t matter how he gets there – a walk, base hit or hit by pitch. Without runners on base, the chances of scoring are slim.

The same holds true in writing. You’ll never complete a manuscript unless you start putting words down on the page. It doesn’t matter how you get the words down. They can be bullet points, writing prompts or freewriting. Use whatever technique works to get your imagination flowing. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect; you can always edit it later. The point is to “get on base” with whatever technique works for you.

Step 2. Get them over.
In baseball, once a player gets on base, his teammates must try to move him over into scoring position, or if they’re lucky, all the way home. That means putting the ball into play, either with a base hit, a walk, a deep fly ball or a bunt. Any of these moves will push the runner over at least one more base and put him into scoring position.

In writing, once you have your initial story ideas jotted down, you need to fine tune your manuscript. This editing phase allows you to strategize your next move in the story. Maybe you need to remove a character, add scenes or cut dialogue in order to make your manuscript sing. Just as it may take several players and pitches to move the base runner over into scoring position, your manuscript may have to go through several editing passes to make it publishable.

Step 3. Get them in.
In this phase, a runner at second or third base needs to be driven home to score. Once a player is at third base, his teammates need to find a way to bring him home. There are different ways this can happen–a base hit, deep fly ball, or better yet, a home run.

Your final editing pass can help you bring your story to completion – and bring it home to victory. This is where you check for spelling, tighten the writing, and double check all the details. Perhaps one or two trustworthy friends can review your manuscript and provide feedback to help you improve your story, much like the third-base coach who directs runners on base.

Success comes when the runner crosses home plate, or when you finish your writing project. The more runs you score – the more stories you finish writing – the better your chances of winning the game by getting published.

Just like in baseball, hard work, patience and perseverance pays dividends, and you can savor your triumph in the same way a team enjoys its victories. But those celebrations are usually short lived. As any athlete can tell you, there’s another game the next day. That means there’s more work to do to prepare for it.

As you complete more stories, savor and appreciate your success for the moment. Remember, there’s still work to do. A little bit of practice every day will pay off for you in the end.

Nine Lessons I’ve Learned on My Writing Journey

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After a brief hiatus, I’m back to writing for The Regal Writer. The time away has cleared my head. I’ve been writing this blog since 2016, and I found that I was running out of story ideas. I’ve had a lot of time to think about my writing journey, and I wanted to share what I’ve learned with you. Hopefully, my lessons will resonate with you.

Lesson 1: It’s never too late to begin your writing journey.

I’ve dreamed of writing a novel since I was in my 20s when I dabbled with a few story ideas. But nothing concrete ever took shape. Once I got to my 50s, well, it seemed all the more pressing to begin the process. So I took a few classes to learn about the writing process and experimented with different storytelling techniques. I realized early in this journey that I was not alone. I’ve met several new writing friends along the way with similar goals. I also learned that numerous other authors were late bloomers. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote Little House on the Prairie and its series at age 65, Bram Stoker wrote Dracula at 50 and Raymond Chandler penned his first novel The Big Sleep at 51. I figured if they could find success, so could I.

Lesson 2: Read widely in different genres.

One of the first books I read about the writing life was On Writing by Stephen King, which I highly recommend. The book freed me to start this writing journey and to take chances with my writing. One piece of wisdom he shared was to read and to read widely, not just my chosen genre but others, because reading is the best way to learn about crafting stories. My library is stocked with everything from non-fiction, romance, literary and the classics. There is something to learn from each one.

Lesson 3: Keep learning – and growing.

Much like reading books of different genres, it’s important to keep up with your education about writing. It seemed that the more classes I took and the more articles I read, the more there was to know and understand about writing. I’m still learning and growing, and I expect I will continue for as long as I call myself a writer. I have also learned that the best education was the actual process of writing. The more I experiment with ideas and characters and plot lines, the more I’m learning about the craft of storytelling. You learn best by doing.

Lesson 4:  Fiction writing is very different than writing for the business world.

I’ve enjoyed a successful career as an editor and communications professional. I’ve seen my work published in association publications and earned a byline. But I quickly learned on this journey that writing fiction is a very different animal. Like other newbies, I had to start at the bottom and learn how to craft a story, how to create the plot, develop characters with depth, and how to create suspense that will satisfy readers. It’s been a long, arduous process, and I’m still working on it. That said, writing fiction is more fun.

Lesson 5: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different writing styles.

When I began this journey, I had yet to settle on novel writing. The first classes I took focused on essays of about 1,000 words. The hardest part of this experience was revealing personal details of myself, which made me uncomfortable at times. I wondered if essays were the best avenue for me. I experimented with other styles – short stories, novellas, and eventually worked my way up to a full novel. I’ve dabbled with writing suspense, romance and women’s fiction, because I enjoy reading all those types of books. Experimenting with the different genres and lengths helped me determine that women’s fiction is probably the best outlet for my talents.

Lesson 6: Don’t be afraid to fail.

I once heard those words of advice from someone interviewing me for a job some years ago, and they’ve stuck with me ever since. In writing, it’s easy to fall into the mind trap that I’ve failed just because I never finished a manuscript or an editor rejected your latest piece. But no writing effort is ever a true failure. There’s always something to be salvaged from the manuscript – a piece of dialogue or a character with a unique perspective – that you can adapt to another piece of work. In writing, the only true sign of failure is giving up. Which leads to lesson 7.

Lesson 7: Never give up on your writing dreams.

I’ve had this dream of being a writer since I was in my teens. I’ve had teachers who encouraged me along the way. While I didn’t write a word for a couple of decades while I focused on my career, built a home life and enjoyed a social life, I was still compiling life experience. When I was ready to write again, I had plenty of fodder to draw from. So if you’re grappling with how to fit writing into your life, all I can say is there are ways to make it happen if you want it badly enough.

Lesson 8: Finishing the first draft is easy; it’s the revision process that is most challenging.

With several manuscripts in various stages of completion, I can honestly say that drafting stories is so much fun. I may sketch out the first few chapters, then begin writing. That’s when my imagination takes over. Characters show up that I never envisioned and plots develop in unexpected ways. It’s when I get to revising, shaping it into a marketable piece, that the hard work begins. That’s when I need to arm myself with patience to get through the often slow, painstaking revision process.

Lesson 9: It’s not the destination; it’s the journey. Enjoy the ride.

As I mentioned above, once I begin writing, I allow my creative muse to take over. My hands on the pen or keyboard are only the conduit for the words that come. It’s that part of the process that I enjoy most. I rarely think about what the end goal is. Maybe I’ll get my work published, more likely I won’t. But I relax and enjoy the process all the same. Don’t worry about what the end looks like, just enjoy the ride. Hope these lessons inspire you to keep writing.

More than a hobby: Getting serious about your writing

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Remember to check out this week’s writing prompt on my website.

For many published authors, writing may have started out as a hobby. They did it for fun, and writing was an outlet for their creativity.  

These are the people who enjoy writing for the sake of it. They don’t care about being published, or getting reviews on Goodreads or doing public readings at libraries and bookstores. They simply want to spend time creating stories. The writing process is a personal endeavor, not a professional one.

Many professional writers frown on the concept of writing as a hobby. They argue that writing is too hard and too much work to be considered a hobby. Writing might be hard work, but if you get enjoyment from the process, if it gives you joy, then it’s a hobby. To say that hobbyists can’t be taken seriously as writers is garbage. There’s plenty of room in the writing world for professional writers, aspiring authors and hobbyists to co-exist.

But I digress….

Hobbyists separate themselves from their professional counterparts with several notable differences.

* Hobbyists have no set goals for their writing. They write for fun simply because they enjoy the process of creating stories. They write for themselves, and may not be interested in sharing their work publicly.  Hobbyists don’t care if they get published or not. That is not their ultimate goal. They write to express themselves.

* Many hobbyists may not have professional writing experience; in fact, they may be starting from ground zero. Other hobbyists may have different occupations and want to try their hand at writing fiction or their memoir. Perhaps they are testing the waters to see if they’ll enjoy writing for the long term or turn it into a professional endeavor later on.

* Hobbyists have more freedom to experiment with different writing styles and genres. They can experiment with poetry or essay writing or fiction to determine what is the right lane for them. Or maybe they’re content to work on one work of fiction or their memoir for their entire lives, experimenting with different ways of telling the story or writing from different points of view. There are no restrictions in what they can and cannot write.

* Hobbyists may not have a set schedule for writing. At least not at first. They fit writing in whenever they have time or are inspired to create something.

* As a hobbyist, there’s no pressure to perform professionally, writes Meg Dowell. Editors and publishers aren’t waiting for your project at deadline. Without that pressure, writing hobbyists can create whatever their heart desires without the fear of missing a dreaded deadline.

* There are no barriers to entry to writing and it costs nothing to start. All you need is a pen and paper and your imagination. Writing as a hobby keeps your mind active and alert too, which is always a tremendous benefit for older adults.

You may be content to remain a writing hobbyist. That’s okay. There are plenty of people who write for the sheer enjoyment of it.

But what do you do when you decide you want to do more with your writing that just maintaining a journal or contributing to your blog? How do you know that you’re ready to take your writing to the next level? How do you know it’s time to get serious about your writing? Author Bethany Cadman at the Writer’s Life offers a few suggestions, or you can follow a few of my own ideas below:

* You spend more time reading up on your craft. You follow writing blogs and subscribe to magazines to learn about different aspects of writing, such as plot development, humor writing or finding an agent.  By attending classes and workshops, you develop your skills and learn more about the writing process, and get feedback on your stories. You might go so far as to apply for an MFA program (which can be pricey) or a fellowship, though neither are necessary to be successful in the publishing business, say many published authors. In fact, most published authors I know did not graduate from an MFA program.  

* You seek out other writers and expand your network. Perhaps you join a writer’s group or find a writing buddy to share your written pieces with or help keep each other accountable. The online writing community is huge, and you’d be amazed at how many fledgling authors are out there, all seeking the same professional advice as you.

* You harbor a desire to get your work published. Or at least get it read and get it seen. Once you decide you want to be published, plan how you can accomplish that, and give yourself a deadline, say of five years. You begin to look for opportunities to be published, perhaps offer to guest post on blogs or submit material to literary magazines. Each piece you produce builds a body of work that you can show potential publishers.

* You develop a consistent writing practice. You write almost every day, usually at the same time. Perhaps you find you spend more time at your desk writing than you do watching television. You keep notebooks with you to jot down story ideas on a whim or note things you hear and see as you go about your day. With a consistent writing practice, you produce more work that can be shown to editors and publishers.

* You treat your writing as a business. You set regular office hours for writing and building your career. You constantly look for ways to earn money with your writing, even beyond publishing. That could be teaching, coaching, or editing others’ work. Perhaps you may consider starting a freelance writing business or explore self-publishing opportunities. Most important, you show up every day and make consistent progress toward your goals.

Whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional, you should be proud of your effort to make writing an integral part of your life.

Keeping a Writer’s Journal Can Spark Inspiration and Curiosity

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When I began taking my writing seriously – and I mean, writing almost every day – I decided it was time to keep track of all my story ideas. Little did I know then that there was such a thing as a writer’s journal.  That’s exactly what it was used for – to keep track of all things related to writing.

A writer’s journal is a place to track everything related to your writing. It can be based on a single story, a theme or your own writing journey.

Much of that depends on what you want to achieve from your writing. For example, I focus strictly on my writing projects. The writer’s journal is my place for developing story concepts, plot structures and character sketches.

I also keep a personal journal to record events in my life, which I keep separate from my writing journal. It’s my place for emotional venting. The second one is where I keep all my notes from all the workshops and classes I’ve taken related to writing. It’s more about the craft of writing.

I keep these notebooks separate because it keeps me organized. I know I have a designated place for each of them and I don’t have to search through countless story concepts to find that one nugget of information I learned in a workshop three years ago.

I use a simple notebook, but you can use a hardcover journal or use your computer. I prefer a notebook because it’s lightweight and easy to carry with me, and I don’t have to worry about having to turn on my laptop to add something to a document. I also carry a smaller notebook in my purse so if I am inspired by a setting or a conversation I overhear, I can write about it then and there.

Other writers use the writer’s journal differently, but see its value just the same. Writer Rebecca Graf uses the journal when her mind goes blank while she’s writing. “No matter how hard I try, I cannot get all those precise details pulled up from my memories. If I go to my writer’s journal, I can find those details and really enhance that one scene. It is a valuable resource any writer can use.”

Dolly Garland writes at The Writing Cooperative that she has used her journal to collect tips and inspiration for improving her craft. It’s also a place where she gets to know her characters and have dialogues with them.

Every writer is different, so you may want to set up your journals differently depending on what you want to achieve. Here are some common elements to include in your writer’s journal:

Basic story concepts. If you’re like me, you’re constantly coming up with story ideas. It’s important to  jot them down before you forget them. Start with a brief plot description or the premise, then brainstorm the rest of the story. The details about scenes and characters will come later.

Characters sketches. Have an idea for a unique character for your spy series? Or perhaps you met someone or saw someone at the bus stop who inspires a new character. Write it down. Describe their appearance, motivations and quirks. Give them a name to help you visualize them better. Like Garland, try having a dialogue with them.

Places you’ve been to that inspire setting. Think of some of your favorite places to hang out. Spend an afternoon at the beach, a coffee shop or the library. Describe the sights and sounds around you. When you need to describe a setting for a conversation between two people, you have only to refer to your journal to recreate that atmosphere rather than jog your memory for details.

Drafts of scenes. Perhaps you don’t have an entire story figured out but you have one or two scenes that appear vividly in your mind. The writer’s journal is the ideal place to get it all down on paper before you forget it.

Memories and flashbacks of your own life.  You might be going about your business when something you hear or see reminds you of a situation that happened to you a long time ago. Now you can’t get that memory out of your head. It’s time to write it all down, and write it as a real story with real characters.

Middle-of-the-night musings and revelations. If you’re like me, you have moments when you’re wide away at four in the morning and you brain is abuzz with different things: a song you can’t get out of your head, a movie that’s playing over and over, or an argument you had earlier in the day. Instead of letting it disrupt your sleep, get up and write it all down in your journal.

Research related to your next project. Include feature articles and news stories that provide historical background. In my files, I have several articles about women who have worn their grandmother’s wedding dresses. They’re handy references for the story idea I have about a similar situation.

Dreams, especially if they’re reoccurring. I’ve taken vivid dreams I’ve had overnight and written them down the next morning so I don’t forget them. Then I may rewrite them as works of fiction. You never know if you need a dream sequence for your work-in-progress.

Snatches of conversation. Ever sit in a restaurant, a coffee shop or a retail store and overhear conversations between other people? The best ones are the public arguments where the participants aren’t aware they have an audience. Jot down as much as you can remember in your writer’s journal. What were they wearing? What were they discussing? Even if you can’t recall the conversation or can’t hear it, make it up. You never know when you need a lover’s spat for your romance novel.

Some writers say it’s important to write in this journal every day. I usually write in it when I know I have something concrete to add, usually when I’m inspired by something I see or hear, or something directly related to what I’m working on. The choice is up to you, of course. Your writer’s journal is your own.

No matter how you use it, you’ll find the writer’s journal is one of the most valuable resources you’ll ever use.

Strategies to Maintain a Consistent Writing Practice during the Summer

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With summer just around the corner, the weather is heating up. Little by little, COVID restrictions are loosening up in many parts of the country. Like most people, writers are eager to get out to enjoy the season.

Along with the summer comes changes in schedules. The school year ends, families go on vacation and some businesses offer summer hours to allow employees time off. Everyone everywhere is in a more relaxed state of mind. They’re eager to enjoy the season, more so this year than in the past because of what we’ve all been through with the pandemic. Things may be so relaxed, in fact, that activities you were so diligent about – such as a regular writing practice — may slack off.

Is it possible to maintain a consistent writing practice while enjoying summer vacation? The answer to that is yes. You just may have to make some adjustments to your schedule.

If you’ve been diligent about writing every day (or almost every day), you probably want to keep momentum. It might help to have a plan for maintaining your writing during the active summer months, so you don’t lose track of your writing goals.

Now is the best time to develop strategies to maintain your writing practice, no matter what the summer holds for you. If writing is important to you, you won’t want to let it slide. If you already have a consistent practice, you’ll be more motivated to keep writing through the summer months.

Here are a few ideas for maintaining a summer writing practice.

Start your writing session earlier. With the sun rising earlier in the day, you have more daylight to play with. Why not use that daylight to your advantage? Rise a half hour earlier and begin writing when you wake up. Even if you already write for an hour a day, by starting a half hour or hour earlier, you’ll get your session done sooner and you’ll have more of your day to spend doing as you wish.

Condense your writing sessions. If you’re really stretched for time or you prefer to use the time to spend with your kids or your friends, you can shorten your sessions. Instead of writing for two hours (if you’re lucky) write for an hour. If you write for an hour a day, cut back to a half hour. You’re still writing every day, and you’re still making progress toward your goals. You’re just doing it at a slower pace.

Write in multiple short sessions. Another option is to write in short blocks of time, such as fifteen minutes. But schedule them throughout the day. So rather than write for an hour in a single session, break up that hour in four 15-minutes sessions. If all you have are little breaks throughout the day, use them to your advantage. You’d be amazed at how much you can accomplish in 15 minutes. Check out my blog post about this topic.

Give yourself an occasional day off (or two). Sometimes you need to take a break from writing altogether. Summer vacation is a prime time to do that. If you’ve been working on a tight deadline or writing every day without a break in between, treat yourself to a couple of days off. You’ve earned it. You’ll come back to your writing with fresh eyes. Just be sure not to keep extending your break for too long or you will lose momentum.

Focus on non-writing tasks instead. There’s more to writing than putting words down on paper. Other aspects, such as research, interviewing subject matter experts, outlining and developing character sketches, are just as important. But sometimes they can be relegated to the back burner until we have to deal with them. Even daydreaming and people watching can be counted as non-writing tasks if they lead to story ideas and developing character descriptions and plot lines.

Capture experiences right away. Remember to carry a small notebook with you as you go about your day. You may notice something in your environment or experience something special that you want to capture while it’s fresh on your mind.

Make yourself accountable. If you don’t want to slack off too much, tap into your community of writers. Reach out to a mentor or writing buddy when you feel your motivation is lagging. Better yet, team up with them to write once a week in a coffee shop or at the beach. When you know someone else is along for the ride, it’s easier to keep on the path.

It’s tempting to let your writing slide during the summer months. By planning ahead and establishing a regular routine, even if it’s different from your non-summer schedule, you can make progress toward your writing goals.

Nine Habits of Highly Productive Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Some Writers, the Fear of Success is Real

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How 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.