Happy New Year! I’m pleased to announce the debut of my white paper “Find Motivation to Start Writing — and Keep Writing” which you can find on my website. Also check out the new weekly writing prompt in the sidebar.
“Why do I write?”
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself that question? It’s important to think about the ‘why’ of your writing every so often. Whenever you feel lost in your writing journey, go back to your ‘why.’ It will reconnect you to your mission and set you back on your path.
Recently I came across a new writing challenge: Jot down 40 responses to that very question – “Why do I write?” When you stop to consider how many reasons you have for writing, you will never feel lost.
For a couple of examples, check out these lists from Marisa Mohi and Bryan Hutchinson at the Positive Writer. After reading the first few reasons though, you’ll want to create your own list.
I did the challenge too, and I was able to do it in one sitting. Then after letting it sit for a day, I came back to it, and added a few more. Not only did I hit the magic number of 40, I surpassed it — by a good 10 items.
So grab a pen and paper, and find a quiet place to contemplate this question. Ask yourself, “Why do I write?” It might help to set it up as a prompt, such as “I write because…”
Then start filling in the blank. Bonus points if you can do this all in one sitting.
Give yourself a day or so to set the list aside before reviewing it. You might tweak it here and there, and maybe you’ll notice that you have a duplicate answer. You might even think of one or two more responses.
When you’re done, put the list somewhere where you can see it every day – a bathroom mirror, by your work space, the refrigerator or wherever. If you want, share it on social media too. Invite others in your circle to participate in the challenge.
So how did I do with this challenge? Here’s what I came up with. “I write because…”
1. I love working with words.
2. I enjoy story telling.
3. My bosses and teachers always complimented me on my writing.
4. I like sharing positive, uplifting messages to my readers.
5. I like escaping into other worlds I create.
6. I express myself better in writing that I do verbally.
7. I’ve always enjoyed reading, so it only made sense that I would write too. The more I read, the more I want to write.
8. I come from a family of teachers, so I use my writing to teach and motivate others.
9. I was inspired to write by some of my favorite authors, especially the late Mary Higgins Clark.
10. I enjoy using my imagination.
11. I like developing different characters, especially strong female protagonists.
12. I like the challenge of experimenting with different genres.
13. I like the challenge of creating different plots that people may not have seen before.
14. It helps me release my negative emotions, like anger and grief.
15. It helps me document my life experiences
16. It helps me heal from old and new wounds
17. Writing relaxes me.
18. I want to leave a lasting legacy of my existence.
19. I like seeing my work published.
20. Writing has no age limit. I can write well into my 80s and 90s if I want to.
21. I tend to live inside my own head so I might as well make good use of the space there. J
22. I write to make people happy, because I like to see them laugh and smile at my stories.
23. I write because I have more story ideas than I know what to do with.
24. Writing gives me the freedom to choose what to write about. There are no limits to subject matter.
25. Writing helps me describe and make sense of the dreams I have during the night.
26. Writing is portable. I can write anywhere and at any time. All I need is a pen and paper.
27. Writing is a great hobby to have.
28. Writing is a great career to have too.
29. I write because my soul calls me to do so.
30. I write because I like getting a byline.
31. I write because it’s an extension of my identity. It’s who I am.
32. I write because I feel I’m making a valuable contribution to society.
33. I write because it makes me feel whole and authentic.
34. I write because it makes me forget what is happening in the outside world.
35. I write because I like to entertain myself.
36. I sometimes use writing to create an alter ego and pretend to be someone I’m not.
37. I like to dream up whole new worlds (world building).
38. I write to set an example for young, aspiring writers.
39. The more I write, the better my skills become.
40. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
41. I write so I can keep my cat company while he sleeps on my desk. J
42. I write because I believe it’s a misunderstood and underutilized skill in the world (especially in the workplace.)
43. I like getting positive feedback about my work.
44. I write because it forces me away from the refrigerator so I’m not constantly snacking.
45. I write because I can’t think of any other way to earn a living
46. I write to get myself out of boredom.
47. Writing gives me a break from watching TV and forces me to turn it off during the day.
48. Writing makes me feel productive.
49. I like the solitary nature of writing.
50. It makes me feel at peace with myself and gives my life meaning and purpose.
Happy New Year! I’m pleased to announce the debut of my white paper “Find Motivation to Start Writing — and Keep Writing” which you can find on my website. Also check out the new weekly writing prompt in the sidebar.
What does your writing life look like a year from now? What kind of writer do you want to be by then? If this was January 2022, what would you have achieved, especially in your writing?
If you’ve been asking yourself these questions lately, then it may be time to create a vision for your writing practice.
Even if you don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, I’m sure you have ideas of what you want for yourself in the coming year. Envisioning your future writing life isn’t easy – too many variables and unknown factors can throw you off your game. But you can use a number of tools to help you clarify your goals and help you envision your writing life for the coming year.
I’ve written in the past about setting a one-year goal. (You can read about it here.) Five years seems too long in the future to plan that far in advance, so I don’t. I only look ahead for one year. Then working backward from that starting point, I set milestone goals for myself on the way to that year-end goal. Make sense?
Visualization is somewhat like goal-setting. It’s a technique for using positive mental images to achieve a particular goal or outcome. It can help you create the future you want. For example, your goal for 2021 might be to write and publish an e-book for your business but visualization can help you imagine the steps you need to take toward that goal and how you will feel when you accomplish it.
Here’s how I once used visualization (and a bit of intuition) in my career. While working at a membership association some years ago, I started out in a lower level position, but I knew I wanted to work my way up into a manager role. However, at that time, I didn’t think I was being taken seriously in my job by some of the directors. So rather than complain, I assessed my own behavior. I asked myself, “How would I act if I already was a manager? How would I dress? How would I interact with people?”
Over the next few weeks and months, I dressed more professionally and I responded more promptly to phone calls and emails from members and staff. I got to work on time, met my deadlines and proved that I was a reliable worker. I did everything to up my game. Within a year, I had my promotion to manager.
As my case shows, visualization can work. However, as life coach and TV show host Mel Robbins says, it’s doesn’t guarantee success. You might get some version of your goal and it may not happen exactly as you wish or in the time frame you’d like.
Having a vision changes your expectations, Robbins adds. When you alter the expectations of yourself, you alter your behavior accordingly to achieve that goal. Visualization helps you the steps you need to take to get where you want to be. All good things come to those who are willing to work for it.
What tools can help you visualize the future of your writing practice? A few of those below I’ve done on my own; others I’m just learning about. Find one or two that work best for you.
1. Write your vision as if it has already been achieved. Imagine that it is one year from now – January 2022. Describe what your writing practice looks like. Where do you write? Is anyone with you? Are you alone or in a roomful of other people? Remember that it might be different than it is now. What have you accomplished over the past year of 2021? This isn’t about describing what you wish your practice would look like, but putting yourself in a new pair of shoes in January 2022 and looking back at what you have achieved in the previous year. Seeing yourself a year from now can help you reset your goals and expectations for the coming year, as well as the steps to take you there.
2. Create a vision board. This is a fun, creative and personal project that anyone can do. When you have a goal in mind for the year, you create a visual representation of that goal. For example, using the e-book example above, you might cut out pictures from magazines that show someone writing or reading a book, or a laptop and other tools of the writing trade. You can make drawings with markers and add a positive message to keep you motivated. When you’re done, you can set the board somewhere in your office where you can see it every day. For a good example of a vision board and how to create one, check out this post at Mind Body Green. Review and update your vision board at least once a year, more often depending on your goals.
3. Do some heavy-duty soul searching by answering a series of questions. Mel Robbins has a list of questions that can help you visualize your ideal future. The questions can be used whether you’re looking ahead five years or one year. While Robbins’ questions can help you get a handle where your life is right now, I’m not sure how it helps people create their vision for the future. But contemplating your progress so far can be a strong foundation for creating a stronger future.
4. Create a writer’s vision statement. Once you’re done answering the above questions, use the answers to create a writer’s vision statement. Or use the method used by writing coach Marisa Mohi, who says that having a writer’s vision statement can help you stay on track to meet your career goals even as your non-artistic friends don’t understand the path that you’re on.
5. Use visualization exercises. If none of the previous tools work for you, you can always try the traditional visualization exercises, a form of meditation that guides your internal mental images of the life you want to lead. The images are all inside your mind but you can convert them to a visualization board or write an essay about your experience.
No matter what method you use, visualizing your future self as a writer is key to finding success on your terms and building a practice that you can be proud of.
Check out the new weekly writing prompt in the sidebar menu.
“Every cloud has a silver lining.” You might have heard that proverb at one time or another. It means that there’s something good or hopeful to be found in every bad situation.
Dictionary.com has its own definition: “A sign of hope or a positive aspect in an otherwise negative situation.”
The year 2020 has shown us an overabundance of negative situations, from a pandemic of a highly contagious and dangerous disease and social isolation from loved ones to social injustice, civic unrest and political and economic uncertainty. It’s been a difficult year, but somehow we’ve made it to the end with the hope that 2021 will be better. It has to be better, right? We can only go up from here.
Yet despite the turmoil in our world, there is reason to hope. There are silver linings in the year that was. It’s called “counting your blessings.” We all have them if we look close enough.
So what silver linings have I noticed in my world? For one thing, I was highly productive with my writing projects.
* Consistent blogging. I recommitted to my blog, posting stories at least once a week, sometimes two. With this renewed commitment, I am now considering expanding my offerings to include a weekly writing prompt, white papers and e-books.
* Experimentation with writing styles. Without clients to write for, I’ve used my free time to experiment with different writing styles, most notably e-books and novellas. At 30,000 to 50,000 words, novellas are shorter than novels and tend to have only one plot line, but they are longer than short stories.
* Reading challenge. I kept up with my reading challenge throughout the year. Reading provided the needed escape from the darkest moments of the year.
* Professional development. I took advantage of discounted webinars, online workshops and virtual conferences that were offered, which I would not have participated in otherwise. I studied everything from building a freelance business to content marketing and writing holiday romances.
* New technologies. Like many people, I participated in more online meetings than ever before which meant learning new technologies, such as Zoom and Google Duo.
* Expanded offerings. I completed and posted a white paper on my website and plan to do another one in 2021. I also have two e-books in the works.
* Networking. I launched an email networking campaign to one group of contacts to search for new clients. The second phase of that campaign will begin in the New Year.
A writer’s work is never done and it goes beyond just writing stories. There’s the business of running a writing business and all that it entails – accounting, networking, marketing, etc. Despite it all, I feel hopeful and optimistic about the future.
I realize that in the midst of darkness, there is light too, like a rainbow after a storm. We must all learn to adapt to this new reality of ours, because frankly, it’s not going away anytime soon and our lives will be changed. Things won’t be the same as they used to be, even though we may wish them to be “back to normal.” Each of us will have to redefine what that new normal means for us, and more important, what it looks like for us.
So how has your writing life changed – for better or for worse – because of the upheavals of 2020? What are the silver linings in your year?
Now Available! Download your copy of the new white paper, Find Motivation to Start Writing and Keep Writing. Also check out our new weekly writing prompt in the sidebar! Happy Holidays!
Browse the Internet for “writing inspiration” and you’ll find pages of links to articles that describe how to find inspiration for writing. But when you put the shoe on the other foot, when you search for articles about writing to inspire others, you’ll find very few articles that address that issue.
How do you create a story that not only engages with your audience, but inspires them? How do you shift the focus from seeking inspiration within yourself to helping others become inspired?
In this season of giving, it seems fitting that we all consider ways to give, share and, yes, inspire others. What better way to do that than through our writing?
If your goal is to share stories of inspiration with readers, here are a few ways to do that.
1. Be authentic. Be real with your readers. Tell personal stories of your own struggles, which makes you relatable. Readers are interested in knowing who you are, your triumphs and challenges, your fears and joys. They want to read about the obstacles you faced in your life and how you overcame them. “All these are common traits in many stories and inspire the reader to do the same with their own lives,” writes Bethany Cadman at Writer’s Life. People want to hear your story because they want to believe that they’re not alone in their experiences.
2. Bring lightness and warmth to your writing. Be personable as if you are having a conversation with a good, close friend. Add humor if it comes naturally to you, but don’t make jokes just because you can, which can come across as forced. It might be helpful for you or someone else to read your story out loud to make sure you’ve captured the right tone.
3. Share a positive message. Think about the message you want to convey, whether it’s hope, love, resilience, self-confidence or courage. Readers want to believe in the goodness in others, and in the goodness of the world at large.
4. Write with emotion. Writing with some emotion – joy or sadness, fear or excitement – can help readers empathize with you because you’ve shown your “realness.” If you’re writing about the death of a dear friend, for example, let readers see and feel your pain and loss. As I mentioned previously, people want to believe that they are not alone in their experiences. The better you are at writing with emotion, the more exciting, exhilarating and inspiring your stories will be to your readers, writes Cadman.
5. Remember why you write. If you ever find yourself at a loss for what to write next or if you’re searching for a story that will make a difference, go back to your “why,” suggests author Julie Petersen at Bang2Write. Think again about why you write and who you write for. Think about what is your passion. When you remember your why, finding the right stories to inspire others will be much easier.
6. Be brave in your writing choices. It’s not always easy to write about deeply personal and meaningful events of your life, but sometimes it’s necessary to heal yourself. Still there’s a lot of emotional pain to muddle through before you can reveal your old wounds. It takes a great deal of courage to step out of your comfort zone to spill your guts on the page, but readers will usually understand that process because they’ve gone through something similar in their own lives. Taking a stand on an issue and speaking your truth can be scary, but despite those fears, it is likely to garner the respect of your readers, more than you know.
Whether you share stories of heartache or of personal triumph, it’s not easy to bare your soul. But when you write those stories with emotion, courage and warmth, readers will respond to you in positive ways. Writing to inspire others is one of the greatest gifts you can share with your readers.
How to Make Your Writing Inspirational
Breaking Barriers: Inspiring Others, Julia Alvarez
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?
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?
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.
|Schedule||Set schedule, usually same time every day||Unstructured schedule, not every day, but frequently|
|Purpose||Provide consistency and structure||Improve writing or create a more immersive experience|
|Intention||Can be mindless in nature||Mindful intention to achieve something with each session|
|Focus||Externally focused||Personal, 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.
Ever notice that there’s a natural rhythm to life? If you pay close attention, you can see it all around you.
For example, you may see a rhythm in the changing of the seasons – from spring, summer, autumn and winter, then back to spring again. You may see it in the repeated patterns of the 12 months of the year, the seven days of the week, nighttime and daytime, and through the new moon/full moon cycles.
Likewise, humans have a natural rhythm, like the steady inhalation and exhalation of breath, for instance. You may go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time the following morning (unless you’re an insomniac, then all bets are off). Eating three meals a day, usually at the same time every day is another example of that rhythm. And for women, there’s the monthly menstrual cycle.
You may notice too how you are more energetic at certain hours of the day, while at others, usually midafternoon, your energy dips. When you become aware of the rise and fall of your natural energy levels, you can work with those rhythms to write more and create better work.
It’s like watching traffic patterns in the city and waiting for when highway traffic is light so you can drive to your destination without hitting any traffic jams. It’s like riding your raft in the direction that the river flows rather than fight against the flow going in the opposite direction.
Your writing process can fall into an easy rhythm too, if you remain aware of those cycles of productivity and creativity in your life. There’s as much an ebb and flow to your writing process as there is in the ocean tides. For more about creativity cycles, check out this article on Write to Done blog which describes the four phases of the cycle in depth.
At high tide, for instance, your energy level rises. You may feel ready to tackle complex projects, and ideas and words flow seamlessly. You seem able to get more done in a shorter amount of time.
At low tide, your energy dips. Everything seems like a struggle. You have difficulty finding the right words for what you want to say.
When you learn to recognize the high tides and low tides that are specific to you, you can adjust your writing routine accordingly. You can schedule writing sessions during high tides to to capture the creative flow and ride it as long as possible, like a surfer on the ocean. Reserve the low tides for administrative tasks that don’t require as much thought, creative energy or complex problem solving.
One way to learn about your natural creative rhythm is to track your activities throughout the day. For an example of how this works, check out author Chris Bailey’s blog A Life of Productivity in which he describes how you can calculate your biological prime time – your most productive hours of the day.
You may already know which hours of the day you are most productive. For me, it’s that morning window of 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. That’s when I do most of my creative writing.
When you are aware of your energy peaks and valleys – your writing rhythm – you can fit writing into those productive periods and save the valleys for more mundane tasks. You’ll get more writing done in short bursts when your energy is at its peak, and you’ll avoid spinning your wheels during those periods of low energy. Consequently, your writing practice may grow beyond your wildest dreams because you’re able to achieve more in less time.
When you recognize the best wave when it comes along, you can ride it to the shore. Enjoy the ride.
How 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.
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.