Nine Ways You Can Benefit from a Consistent Writing Practice

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As I’ve developed my writing practice over the years, I’ve noticed that my writing has improved significantly, and my approach to storytelling has changed. I’m finding my writing voice, and I think that’s due to my willingness to experiment with different techniques and reading more books from different genres and authors. My writing practice has also helped me build a collection of work, whether published or not, that I can be proud of.

Ask any writer about how writing has improved their lives, and they will tell you all sorts of stories similar to my own. Here are examples by Jeff Goins and Darius Foroux. Below are some of the ways that a regular writing practice can benefit you.  

* A writing practice helps you build confidence in your abilities. If you’re just starting a writing practice, I advise you to start small. Start with 100 words, then after a week or two, increase your word count to 250 words. Then maybe after another couple of weeks, you can work your way up to larger pieces. As you reach each goal, you gain confidence in yourself and you feel ready to tackle larger pieces.    

* A writing practice allows you to experiment with different genres. You may not know how to write an essay or short story, but a writing practice gives you the space to experiment. Until you try to write in a certain style, you won’t know what you’re capable of. With each small success, you gain confidence in your abilities.

* A writing practice helps you find your voice.
When you begin to write, you may be unsure what your writing voice sounds like to your own ears, or what it feels like within you. It may be tempting to copy the writing voice of a favorite author. But that likely won’t feel authentic, and it certainly won’t appear authentic to readers. Writing every day, even for just 15 minutes, helps you tune into your own thoughts, ideas and memories. You become more in tune to yourself. With time and practice, your voice emerges on the page.

* A writing practice helps you improve technical skills, such as grammar and punctuation. The more you write and read, and the more you get feedback about your writing, the more your writing will improve. According to the Grammarphile blog, as you write, you naturally learn more about the mechanics of writing – and reading – and you develop a stronger vocabulary. Once you know the rules of grammar and punctuation, you know when it’s okay to break those rules when it’s appropriate for your story.

* A writing practice improves your mental and emotional well-being. By writing, you release emotional burdens you may not have known you were carrying. By writing about emotional issues, you begin to make sense of them. While the experience may never leave you entirely, the writing process serves as a vital outlet for healing.

* A writing practice clarifies your thought processes. When you begin to write about a topic, especially one you know very little about, your thoughts may start out in a confused jumble of words. As you continue to write, however, those thoughts seem to straighten out, the fog lifts and you can express your beliefs and ideas more clearly. Again, it may not happen overnight. It may take several sessions of writing, but your thoughts eventually gain clarity.

* A writing practice opens a path to greater creative self-expression. This benefit seems obvious. Not only do you gain clarity of your thoughts, you’re able to delve into more creative ways of expressing those ideas. The more your write, the more your mind works to find different phrasing and rhythms in your words that help you tell your story.

* The writing process gets easier with time. I find that the more I write, the more easily words begin to flow as soon as I put a pen to paper. Writing becomes less forced, and I’m able to accomplish more in less time. Don’t get me wrong. Writing will always be difficult, but the process seems to get easier over time as you continue to work at developing your craft. The key is consistency.

* A writing practice turns your daily output into potential projects. Judy Reeves, author of A Writer’s Book of Days, says a writing practice can result in beginnings, middles and endings of writing projects you didn’t know you had within you. When you begin writing, you may be so focused on putting words down on the page that you don’t see the potential of the scene you’ve just written until you see its connection to other scenes you’ve written previously. 

With so many potential benefits to enjoy, why wouldn’t you want to start a writing practice?

What benefits have you received from your regular writing practice?

Achieve Your Writing Goal in One Year (or Less)

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Have you heard this questions before? “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

I’ve always hated that question in job interviews because I could never answer it without making myself look like a disorganized mess. I would hem and haw, waiting for inspiration to strike me with an appropriate answer before finally settling on a very safe one: “Working here.”

The truth is, I’ve always had difficulty setting and keeping five-year goals because I could never think that far ahead. Too much can happen between this moment and five years from now that could alter my long-term plans, so why bother making any?

These days, my goal-setting is simpler because I focus on short-term goals and I look no further than one year ahead. Instead, I ask myself, “Where do I want to be one year from now?” I figure as long as I take care of the short term goals, the long-term future will take care of itself.

The one-year plan includes several interim goals to measure your progress. I borrow this approach from publishing production schedules, which establishes the publishing date first and then works backward to the starting point of the production cycle. In between, there are deadlines for writing, proofing, artwork and so on.

Think about what you want to accomplish with your writing practice. Where do you see it one year from now? Maybe your vision is to manage a blog. Maybe you want to complete a collection of travel essays. Or maybe you want to write stories from your life to pass onto your grandchildren. Whatever that goal may be, start with your year-end vision, then break it down into smaller, achievable tasks. Those tasks become your interim deadlines. When you know you want to achieve X one year from now, it’s easier to work backward to set the interim deadlines.

I find a good time for these goal-setting sessions is the beginning of the New Year, your birthday, or the beginning of the school year. Those times signify fresh starts when goal setting can help you stay motivated. But any time of year is a good time to make goals for yourself, no matter what you want to achieve with your writing.

To help you with this goal-setting exercise, answer the following questions.

1. Name one thing you would like to achieve in your writing practice one year from now. For example, complete first drafts of 12 childhood memoir essays to be included in a published collection. (Twelve is a random number that I chose based on the calendar months of the year. That equates to one memoir essay each month.)

2. Name one thing you would like to achieve in six months. Perhaps your six-month goal is to review the essays you’ve written so far leading up to your one-year goal. How many essays have you completed toward your year-end goal? Do they need editing? Perhaps your six-month goal is to hire an editor or have someone review the work you’ve done.

3. Name one thing you would like to achieve by the end of three months. Perhaps in three months, you would like to read one or two memoir collections that other people have written to help you understand how it’s done. Or maybe your goal is to write three essays that will be included in your collection.

4. Name one thing you would like to achieve within one month. Your goal could be to write for 30 minutes at least three days a week, or it could be to complete a draft of one essay for your childhood memoir.

5. Name one thing you’d like to achieve within the next two weeks. It could be to evaluate your daily schedule to see what you can change to make room for writing. Or it could be brainstorming ideas for your collection of memoir essays.

By the end of this exercise, you will have set five goals for your writing practice at five different time periods – two weeks, one month, three months, six months, and one year. Make sure they are reasonable, measurable and realistic to achieve. Then review your goals every few months to see how much progress you have made. If you find that you haven’t achieved any of your goals, do not beat yourself up over it. Just modify your goals and start over again.

By developing a one-year plan with smaller goals at interim points, you can stay focused on the tasks at hand while letting the long-term future take care of itself.   

What kind of writing plans do you make for yourself? Are you able to stick to them?

Four Ways to Elevate Your Writing Habit Into a Writing Practice

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I’ve written previously about how aspiring writers can create a regular writing practice. Yet, the term “writing practice” might be confusing for many people. “Isn’t that the same as a writing habit?” you might ask.

No, they are not quite the same. Let me explain as best as I can.

A habit is any activity that is done at roughly the same time every day, like brushing your teeth after every meal or kicking off your shoes when you enter the front door. Habits are more about time and place – where you do that activity, at what time of day, and how often. Some habits, like nail biting, are done so routinely (like during scary movies or intense sporting events) that you don’t even think about what you are doing or why. It becomes mindless.

If you’ve already started a writing habit, you likely write at the same time every day. That set routine encourages consistency and helps you monitor your progress. A writing practice takes the habit a step further by creating stronger purpose, intention and focus.

I borrowed the concept of a writing practice from yoga. I felt there were similarities in the way they are both very individualized experiences. How you progress through the poses is based on a number of factors, such as your level of confidence, body type and skill level, even how you’re feeling that day. Further, yoga isn’t necessarily dependent on practicing every day, though many people do. If you only make it to one class a week, it’s still considered a yoga practice, not a yoga habit. 

Like yoga, a writing practice consists of a purpose and intention, such as getting in touch with a deep emotional wound, creating better sensory descriptions, jotting notes for a non-fiction book, or experimenting with a different genre. Writing every day might make it a routine but to make it a regular practice, you need to add intention and purpose. It’s this mindfulness aspect – of being one with your creative self – that I believe is missing from most writer’s routines.

When comparing a writing habit to a writing practice, there are four characteristics that separate them.

1. Schedule – Think of all the habits you’ve developed over the years. You might go to bed at the same time every night or maybe brush your teeth every morning and every evening. A writing habit provides structure and routine. If you already have a writing habit, you probably have a set schedule for your writing, say writing for one hour starting at six a.m. every day. A writing practice is less structured, and you can choose to write whenever and wherever it is most convenient. If all you have is two hours on a Saturday morning to write, that is your writing practice.

2. Purpose – The goal of a writing habit is to encourage consistency, to make sure you write every day. When you set up a routine time and place to write, it makes it easier to stick to that schedule. In a writing practice, the goal is to create an immersive experience that challenges you in some way. For example, you might dedicate your writing practice to writing a collection of essays or learning to write a different genre.  The practice not only benefits your writing, but also your personal development.

3. Intention – Some writing habits can be mindless in nature. You simply write because it appears in your appointment calendar. Or you write with no set intention for improvement or progress toward a larger goal. Like a yoga session, you might set an intention at the start of your writing session. The intention is designed to help challenge yourself, whether it’s to finish that chapter you’ve been working on or perfect your dialogue or release some pent-up emotion. Without the intention, you have no opportunity to improve your craft.

4. Focus – Writing habits tend to be more externally focused. Perhaps you set office hours and ask your family not to disturb you. People on the outside will see that you are involved in a regular writing session. On the other hand, a writing practice is more internally focused because when you write, you experience growth and progress within yourself, perhaps through greater confidence or a more observant attitude. No one on the outside may notice the difference in your attitude, but you will.

I’ve summarized the comparison in the table below.

 HabitPractice
ScheduleSet schedule, usually same time every dayUnstructured schedule, not every day, but frequently
PurposeProvide consistency and structureImprove writing or create a more immersive experience
IntentionCan be mindless in natureMindful intention to achieve something with each session
FocusExternally focusedPersonal, internally focused

If you have a regular writing habit, that’s great news. It’s important to establish a consistent routine of writing, especially if you are a newbie writer. However, if you want to turn your writing habit into a writing practice, try adding a dose of mindful attention to your work. You’ll create a deeper, more meaningful personal connection to each writing session.

Let Your Natural Writing Rhythm Help You Become More Productive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Writing a Novel Takes Practice

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At a panel discussion I attended several months ago, one of the panelists described how she had a practice novel before ever getting published. She had been toiling on this particular story for months before deciding it wasn’t working. So she tucked it away into a drawer and began working on another novel, which eventually got published.

Up until that day, I had never heard of a practice novel. In that moment, I realized that one or two of the manuscripts I had been working on were most likely practice novels.

For the uninitiated, practice novels are written manuscripts that usually never get published. They serve to help you learn how to craft a story in novel form and work out different story ideas and angles. “Chances are the successful first novel is the one that was published, not the first one written,” writes author Donna Cook on her blog.

Think of a practice novel as the warm up concert act before the headliner hits the stage.

Tackling a novel is hard work, and not everyone is cut out for it. Writing a practice novel can lay the groundwork for future success, while helping you work out the kinks of your writing process. If you harbor any doubts or have any question about your abilities, the practice novel can usually answer them.

Here are several ways that practice novels can help your writing.

Practice novels are ideal for beginning writers. While many first-time published authors have previous writing experience, and perhaps have earned a degree from an MFA program, most beginning writers are starting to figure out how to write a novel. Practice novels help you learn the art of storytelling – from plot structure, dialogue, character development, even sentence structure. You learn as you go along, by learning from mistakes, picking up helpful tips from other writers, or by taking occasional workshops. It’s a piecemeal process, and a lengthy one. Even after spending several years working on a manuscript, off and on between other projects, that time is not wasted because you are continually honing your craft.

Practice novels help you gain insights about yourself. As you write each day, you learn how to set goals for yourself and solve storytelling problems. You pay more attention to how you think and how you feel. You may pay more attention to conversations around you, observe how you interact with others, and examine scenery with an eye for color and detail. Through your characters, you learn what makes people tick. Practice novels help you see your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and help you determine if you have what it takes to pursue this strange ambition. Novel writing isn’t for everyone, but a practice novel can tell you if this path is right for you.

Practice novels can help you test out different genres. If you read a variety of genres, it’s only natural that you want to experiment with each of those styles. Perhaps you’re a fan of both romantic suspense and mystery/thrillers, for example. While the two share common elements, there are also differences. You might experiment with both of them, but find through practice that writing a thriller fits your writing style better. Practice novels can help you figure out which genre best suits your writing style and whether your story idea has wheels.

Practice novels may never get published, but parts of it can be – later. It’s rare that the practice novel manuscript gets published at all. There are a few exceptions, such as Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, which was written before To Kill a Mockingbird but published many years later. Most readers and critics agree it wasn’t nearly as prolific as Mockingbird. While most practice novels never see the light of day, some can be utilized in bits and pieces. For example, author Anne Allen, used pieces of her practice novel for another one she wrote 15 years later. Likewise, you may decide that some of the scenes and characters from your first unpublished manuscript are worth saving for the purpose of using in other works. The work you’ve done on a practice novel is never wasted when parts of it can be used in future works.

Practice novels can help you stick to a regular writing practice. When you know you are working toward a specific goal, like completing a novel, it’s much easier to write every day. It’s also much easier to find time to write, no matter how busy you are, because you are immersed in your work-in-progress.

Instead of practice novels, try writing short stories. Many people find the prospect of writing a novel daunting, like climbing a mountain when you’ve never climbed before. Sometimes it’s easier to start with a smaller project, like a short story, which can provide valuable storytelling skills, like plot, character development, and pacing, according to The Writing Cooperative. Further, if you decide to send out that short story to an editor or critique group, you’ll likely get feedback faster. People may be more inclined to review a 20-page manuscript than a 200-page novel. With speedier turnaround time, you’ll learn sooner rather than later whether your work is any good, and what you may need to do to improve it.

Practice novels require a lot of time, effort and patience, but that time is never wasted. Each hour you put into your practice novel is time well spent learning about crafting stories. Even if your practice novel never gets published, just completing one is worth celebrating.

 

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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Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

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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Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

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.