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.

Making Collaborations Work

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I’ve been reading about collaborations a lot lately. I have never collaborated on a creative fiction project myself; I’m far more comfortable getting my own ideas published. But for many writers and creative professionals, collaborations are a means to expand their business opportunities.

The truth is, writers and other creative professionals have been joining forces to create new innovative products for years. Sometimes these collaborations work; many times they don’t. There are numerous reasons why writers would want to seek collaboration on a project. They may want to experiment with a different genre of writing but don’t have the experience or the confidence to pursue it. A collaborator can bring that perspective.

Another reason for collaboration may be the size of the project. It may be too large for one person to handle on their own. In that case, a collaborator can share the responsibility — and the rewards. Yet another reason is the challenge it brings. Many writers may relish the thought of working with another person because they feel the process makes them a better writer.

If you decide to pursue a collaboration, keep an open mind. It’s important to be open to new ideas and not get locked into your own.

According to Joanna Penn at the Creative Penn blog, it helps to have a clear idea from the start what kind of project you and your collaborator are working on and to set parameters for making progress. Lack of proper planning can derail the project before it even gets off the ground. You both need to be on the same page to move the project plan forward.

Here are a few words of advice from writers who’ve been part of successful collaborations.

1. Work with someone you already know. When you know someone, you are familiar with their strengths as a creative, their personality, their ideas, work habits and more. It’s much easier to get on the same page when you know who you are dealing with. While it’s not a requirement, it can be helpful to work with someone you already know. When you don’t know the other person as a writer or collaborator, you have to start from ground zero in getting to know how they work, and more important, whether you can work with them at all. It might be helpful to start on a small project like a play or novella before embarking on a larger project.

2. Start slow and plan you project ahead of time. Don’t begin writing right away. Plan out what you want to create, though you don’t need every detail outlined. Outline what each of you will be responsible for during the project. A simple sketch with your story ideas and characters might be sufficient. Once you start writing, keep working at a steady pace. Put a schedule in place with incremental deadlines and a final publication deadline. Having a clear plan of action with deadlines can keep you and your collaborator on track to meet your goals.

3. Be clear about the story concept. Define your genre. Is it historical fiction, an international thriller or a fantasy series for young adults? Penn says it can be tempting to do a mash up of different genres to please different audiences, but that can result in a confusing product. Instead, choose one and do it well. When you focus on one specific genre, it will be easier to market it to consumers.

4. Communicate clearly and often. You may be working at opposite ends of the country, so it’s important to have frequent communication to update each other on progress, says writer Jeff Somers in Writer’s Digest magazine. Set aside time each week or every other week to check in with each other to see how the work is progressing and resolve any problem areas before they derail the project. 

There are other important tips to consider. 

1. Be respectful of each other. You each bring something special to the table – your skill level, writing experience, etc. If you find yourself encroaching on the other person’s space, take a step back and allow them room to work their own magic. Likewise, if you find they are encroaching on yours, politely ask that they give you time to work your own writing magic. There’s no room for egos when you collaborate.

2. Embrace different ways of working even if they make you feel uncomfortable. The new processes may actually help you see past writing problems that have stumped you before. Learning new processes through collaborative efforts may even help you become a better writer.

3. Speak up if the project seems to stall or doesn’t seem to be going well. Don’t let resentment simmer in the background or boil over, Somers says. Address issues as soon as they arise.

4. Take time to celebrate milestones and successes. When you complete that first book in your fantasy series, or get that contract, celebrate that success. Then get back to work. Most important, have fun.

5. Don’t be afraid to walk away. If you find you cannot work with this person or a stalemate has occurred, walking away from it may be your best option. You may have to weigh the pros and cons of doing so. For example, if you received an advance from a publishing company, you may have to find a way to complete the project. Honor your obligations. But if you don’t have any restrictions and this is simply a creative experiment that clearly is not working out, by all means, walk away and chalk it up to experience.

Remember, for all the success stories about collaborations that fill the Internet, there are still many others that have failed. In any partnership or relationship, sometimes you have to set aside your ego to let the relationship flourish. The same is true for collaboration. If you enter it with the right mind set, the end result may be a product you can be proud of.

Have you ever collaborated on a creative project? What was your experience like? I’d love to hear about them.

In Search of Your True Writing Voice

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It’s not easy transitioning from a career in business communications to fiction writing. The hardest part about the transition is finding your voice. In business communications, the writing voice is impersonal, detached and, well, business-like. Communications are focused on the needs of the company or client that you’re writing for. Your personal voice is absent.

When you begin to write fiction, on the other hand, it’s imperative to find your writing voice because your story and characters are all extensions of yourself.

Finding your writing voice matters for several reasons. It establishes consistency throughout your body of work. It gives your writing personality. Finally, it helps readers know who you are. You can’t hide behind your words; you have to learn to write from the heart. That’s how readers will find you and keep coming back to you.

According to the NY Book Editors blog, a writer’s voice is a combination of three factors: the writing style, perspective and tone.

Style is the character of the writing; the words and phrases you use and how you express your ideas. Style is developed by years of practice and experimentation. It also helps to read the works of different authors from different genres to sample their writing style. Over time, you pick up bits and pieces from authors you admire. Style may be short, abrupt sentences or long sweeping poetic ones. However you develop your style will eventually become your hallmark, editors say.

Perspective is how you choose to view a situation and relay what’s happening. Perspective is drawn from your history of experience and knowledge of the situation. For example, when a car accident occurs on a busy street corner, one witness standing on the sidewalk will have a different perspective of the accident than the passenger in one of the involved vehicles and the policeman who arrives to investigate it will have yet a different perspective.

Tone is the attitude or feeling about the story that you’re telling. It can be serious or sad, or it can be humorous and upbeat. Tone gives readers a clue about how to feel about what’s happening in the story.

It can take years to find and refine your writing voice. Here are a few ways to help you find it.

1. Spend time alone with your thoughts. Be aware of the ideas, notions and imaginings going through your head. Note the conversations you have with yourself internally.  Notice your own feelings too. Do you feel cheerful, optimistic, sad, guilty or fearful? What is the source of those feelings? Where are they coming from? It might help to learn meditation to be fully present with yourself.

2. Keep a journal. Most writers do keep a journal. It helps them take stock of their experiences. If you prefer, carry a small notebook in your pocket or purse so you can jot down ideas and observations as you go about your day.

3. Write letters. If you’ve ever written a personal letter to someone, you know how difficult it can be to find the right  words to express how you feel. The practice of writing letters helps you access what you’re feeling in your heart. Writing from the heart is the key to finding your writing voice.

4. Read different authors. When you read different genres and authors, you expose yourself to different ways of storytelling. We naturally pick up bits and pieces along the way from other writers, especially ones whose works we admire. Over time, you will synthesize different styles to form your own.

5. Freewrite. As I’ve described in previous posts, freewriting is the practice of writing nonstop for several pages about anything that comes to mind. There are no right or wrong answers to what you put down on paper. It’s simply a fast, easy way to access parts of your subconscious that you may have kept hidden, even from yourself. You never know what shows up on those freewritten pages. When you go back to re-read what you’ve written, the writing will most likely be sloppy, but you may find hidden gems of heart-felt emotion. That’s where your voice will emerge.

If you want to explore this topic more, I highly recommend the book Writing from the Heart: Tapping the Power of Your Inner Voice by Nancy Slonim Aronie.

Finding your true voice as a writer does not happen overnight. It takes practice and dedication to access those parts of you that readers will appreciate.

What to Do When You’re Not in the Mood to Write

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I don’t know if there’s ever a right time to write or a right place or even a right mood. If you always wait for just the right spirit or mood to strike, then you may never write a single word. Then all your brilliant story ideas would collect dust bunnies in your brain. What good are brilliant story ideas if you don’t begin writing them?

But sometimes you’re just not in the mood to write. Either you’re bored with the project you’re working on, or you’ve been at it for too many weeks and you’re not seeing the results you want. Maybe you’ve spent too much time away from writing, either due to illness or injury or a family emergency. In those times, it can be difficult to find the motivation to begin writing again. But you don’t have to be in the best writing mood to make progress toward your writing goals.

Ironically, it is the very act of writing that can put you in a positive writing mood. But beyond that, what else can you do to put yourself in the mood to write. Here are a few ideas.

1. Create an inspiring environment. If your environment feels stale, try mixing it up by surrounding yourself with things of beauty, like fresh flowers. If you are moved by music, play some classical music softly in the background. Find a comfortable chair to sit in, use your favorite pen to write, or even sit outdoors in the sunshine and watch nature unfold. Surrounding yourself with beautiful things can bring out the artist in you.

2. Start small. Set small easily attainable goals for yourself. For example, set a time limit of 30 minutes. See how much you can accomplish during that short time. Author Jack Smith in his book, Write and Revise for Publication, suggests trying the “dribble method.”  Try reaching a small goal, like 100 words. More often than not, you will surpass that goal and will want to keep writing.

3. Re-read what you’ve written already. If you’re working on a lengthy project, like a novel or non-fiction book, go back and review what you’ve already written, particularly the previous chapter. Your brain will automatically switch into edit mode. When you find yourself reaching for that red pen, that’s usually a strong sign that you’re ready to get back to work.

4. Switch up genres. Perhaps you’re not inspired to write because you’re bored with your latest writing project. Try switching to another genre, writes James Duncan in Writer’s Digest. If you’re writing a novel, try writing a poem or two. If your memoir is beginning to feel emotionally exhausting, work on a short story instead. You are still writing something even if it isn’t the project of your dreams, and it might just give you the motivation you need to keep working.

5. Begin with a freewrite exercise. Freewriting is the act of writing for a set time or number of pages without stopping to edit or revise. Think of it as a stream of consciousness that you put on paper. Freewriting for ten minutes can jumpstart your imagination and begin the flow of words. At the end of those ten minutes, you won’t want to stop, and you’ll want to jump back into your writing mode.

6. Read about the writing. Even though you’re not putting any words on a page doesn’t mean you’re not working at your craft. Even reading about your favorite genre, whether it’s memoir writing, science fiction or a historical romance, can help you gain useful insights that you can apply to your own work. It can also inspire you to experiment with a different technique, thus sparking more creativity.

7. Read the works of your favorite authors. Pick up one of their best books and begin reading. What is it about their writing that you always enjoyed? What can you learn from their approach to storytelling?

I recently came across several books I had in storage from a couple of my favorite authors, Mary Higgins Clark and Joy Fielding. Both books had been signed by the authors, which was probably why I was still hanging on to them after nearly two decades. Re-reading their notes of encouragement has inspired me to keep writing today. I’m gradually re-reading these novels, this time with a more expert eye on their writing style.

8. Talk things over with a writing buddy. Sometimes taking a time out or a well-needed coffee break can break the monotony and loneliness of writing. They may have insights that you had not considered. Hearing about their successes and struggles can inspire you to get back to the table. Knowing you have someone supporting your efforts can bring you back to the present with renewed energy.

You don’t always have to find the right mood to begin writing. But you can cheat a little with these little tricks. But really, there’s only one true antidote for getting in the mood to write when you don’t feel like it. Just write.

 

Use Waiting Time for Your Writing Practice

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At my part-time job recently, I found myself sitting around for extended periods of time waiting for batches of orders to come in before I had to put them together for the customer. I hated those slow times. Even though I had my smart phone with me, I didn’t want to waste valuable battery life on reading online articles. So I did the next best thing to make the time pass. I grabbed a pen and began jotting down notes on a spare paper bag about my waiting experience, notes that I am now converting into this blog post.

Inspiration can hit you at any time so you have to be prepared. One of the best opportunities for finding that creative inspiration is while you’re waiting — whether you’re at the doctor’s office, at the airport, or  in the grocery checkout line. Taking advantage of that uninterrupted time for writing, research or revising stories is better than worrying about that job interview or your upcoming blind date.

Worrying is fruitless when you have to wait, say psychology experts. Worrying doesn’t accomplish anything except make you feel worse than you already do. And worrying can be harmful to your health in the long run.

Waiting is commonplace in our society. So why do we hate it so much? Because we’re used to being on the go. We don’t want to slow down for anything. Social media and technology have made the situation worse by creating an immediacy to information and faster response times. Life got busier and faster as a result. We’re used to being on this treadmill called life, and we don’t want to get off.

We also dislike waiting because we can’t control our time. The control of our time is in the hands of someone else, like the doctor or the pilot. We worry because we aren’t in control.

Sometimes we simply have no choice but to wait. According to the Washington Post, research has found that it isn’t the wait that annoys people; it’s that people get bored while waiting. Researchers have found that unoccupied time feels longer than actual occupied time. When you have something to distract you, time passes more quickly. That’s why you see TV screens in doctors’ offices, magazines at hair salons, and mirrors and paintings outside elevator banks – to keep people preoccupied.

As awful as waiting can be, it is sometimes necessary, even helpful. It can be especially beneficial for our writing and creativity. Here’s how to make the most of those wait periods:

1. Catch up on your reading. Bring a book or magazine to read. It really does make time pass by more quickly, especially at a doctor’s office or while getting your hair done at the salon. You never know when that book can start a conversation with the person next to you in line.

2. People watch. If you’re lucky enough to have a window to look out of during your wait time, take advantage of it by watching the people go by. Reimagine their conversations. Imagine where they are coming from, what they do for a living. Create stories about them.

3. Jot down notes. I carry several small notebooks in my purse so when inspiration strikes me, I take notes before I forget them. I can refer to the notes later if I need ideas for stories. If you don’t have a notebook, look around for a spare sheet of paper to jot down notes. The note-taking keeps your hands and your mind busy so you don’t dwell on the long wait.

4. Do research. Do you need to do research for an upcoming project? Or maybe you are a news junkie who needs to stay updated on the latest news. Your smartphone (or laptop if you have it with you) are your gateways to knowledge.

5. Look around for inspiration. There are stories all around you. For example, if you’re at the airport, observe how the ticket agents handle customer issues. If you’re waiting for your prescription at the pharmacy, take note of the different products on the store shelves. What do they do? What ailments do they heal? Set aside your frustrations about waiting, and be curious.

6. Write about your waiting experience. There’s an instant story right there. Use the little notebooks from number 3 above to jot down ideas. Write about other times you’ve been forced to wait for something. Let your experience be your guide.

7. Take a walk. Stretch your legs. We do too much sitting around, so it’s important for our health to keep moving. Walk around for a change of scenery. It might also improve your mood.

8. Stop looking at the clock. In fact, put away your clock or watch altogether. The more you look at the time, the more it will seem to crawl, which will only frustrate you even more. When it’s out of sight, it’s out of your mind, and you won’t think about all the time you’re losing by waiting.

9. Learn to be patient. That’s what waiting ultimately does – help us become more patient.

Waiting doesn’t have to be a chore or a bore. With a little preparation, you can turn your enforced waiting into an opportunity. Make the most of it.