Stupid Writer Tricks: 7 Crucial Mistakes Writers Make

Dunce-school-punishment-857281-hSometimes I like to tell myself stories, say, when I'm doing the dishes (which my husband might claim is rare) or putting on my make-up and drying my hair.  And it occurred to me recently, that a couple of my favorite stories fell into the category of colleagues doing Stupid Writer Tricks. (Because, in the stories I tell myself, I'm always the heroine who is five times smarter than anyone else--and of course, I never do any of these myself.  Nope, not ever.)

And then it occurred to me that these stupid writer tricks warranted a blog post.  So here you go.  In all seriousness, these are bad habits that can derail a writing career faster than my cats attacking their food dishes at 4 AM in the morning.

1.  Not utilizing the basic tools of the trade.  In the course of my travels through the writing landscape, I have come upon several practitioners of our craft who do not have word processing programs.  God only knows what they type on, but this means, at a minimum, there's no formatting and no spell check.  It also often means that others cannot open their manuscript.  It for sure means that their submissions to anyone anywhere in the entire publishing world will be ignored and they will be branded as an amateur.

2.  Ignoring conventions of genre and structure.  Like, writing a mystery without a murder. Or thinking that it really doesn't matter if their novel's characters don't want anything.  It does to matter, because, DESIRE MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND.  And furthermore: yes, the conventions of literature apply to you.  No, your genius is not such that you can ignore them all. And if you persist in coddling your genius in this manner, guess what? The world will ignore your work.

3.  Ignoring the critiques of those whom you have entrusted to read your manuscript.  There's a fine art to taking criticism.  Sometimes, it is so clearly not applicable and that's fine.  Reject it.  But I've seen writers ignore advice that would have made the difference between a meh book and a wow book and that's just plain dumb.  Rule of thumb: if more than one person is bumping over something, consider changing it.

4.  Ignoring submission guidelines.  Years ago, at one of the first writing conferences I ever attended, an audience member inquired at an agent panel, "Does my manuscript have to be typed?" Sure wish I had a photo of the expressions on the faces of the agents there that day.  I don't think anybody these days is quite that stupid, but you'd be surprised how many people I know fail to follow the most basic of submission guidelines.  Bottom line is this: go to the website of the agent or publication to whom you wish to submit and DO EXACTLY WHAT THEY SAY.

5.  Not using social media.  Yeah, I know.  It's beneath you.  Tough.  Do it anyway. If you don't like Twitter, use Facebook, and vice versa.  If you don't like either, try Instagram (my current favorite).  Or Pinterest. Maybe you'll even be one of 10 people who like Google+!  Whatever, find something, anything that you like and work it.

6.  Posting all self-promotion, all the time.  I have a friend. She is the bane of all her writer's friends existences because all she does on social media is talk about her great she is and how everyone loves her book so much and how now she's appearing at this conference (where everybody loves her) and now she's reading at this event.  Barf.  I've got news for you--after awhile, nobody pays attention.  I know its a cliche, but what we want is to engage.  Start conversations.  Comment on what other people post.  Chat a bit. It'll get you way more followers--and it is way more fun.

7.  Not writing every day.  Because none of the above matter one bit if you don't.

Which of the above are you guilty of?  Okay, maybe you don't want to confess publicly.  So which ones are your writer friends guilty of?


Are You a Right-Brain or Left-Brain Dominant Writer?

ElliottBayBooks
A Stack 'O Writing Books

I learned a different way of looking at my writing this weekend, a way that I think will help inform how I plan and plot a novel. (One of the things I love best about writing is that there's always something new to learn.  It's impossible to be bored by it.) I'm thinking this thing will help you, too, so let's discuss.  But first, some background.

This past weekend, I went to Seattle with my daughter.  We took the train up and back (the best way to travel), stayed in the Roosevelt Hotel downtown, and reconnected with an old friend and met her new family.  (One of the most adorable two-year-olds on the planet, second only to my own granddaughter.)

One of the best times we had was Saturday afternoon, when we hung out at the new (to us) location of Elliott Bay Books.  The bookstore is dotted with large tables at which you can while away the afternoon.  Which is exactly what we did. It felt like the height of luxury to spend a couple of hours doing nothing but looking at books.  My daughter perused books from the design section, and I pulled out stack after stack of titles from the writing section.  I read through many of them,  took notes from some, and ended up buying two:

Naming the World, and other exercises for the creative writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston.  I remember being at AWP years ago right when this book came out. It is comprised of brief essays and accompanying writing exercises from a wide variety of writers.  I'm always looking for exercises for myself and my students--I'm not sure why I haven't bought this one earlier.  It is excellent.  (I especially love the section of Daily Warm-ups at the back.)

PlotWhispererThe Plot Whisperer, by Martha Alderson.  I've read her blog, but for some reason shied away from the book, which has been out a few years.  I'm only a short way in, but the book is excellent.  And the thing that has grabbed my attention is the distinction she makes between left-brain dominant writers and right-brain dominant writers.  To wit:

The left-brained writer thinks in language more often than images and is quite comfortable with action.  He might also be analytical and detail-oriented.  Alderson says that if you crave action and "spew out dialogue at will" you are a left-brained writer.

The right-brained writer thinks in pictures rather than language and likely starts his writing developing characters or emotional moments in the story.  He takes a more intuitive approach.  If you fall in love with your characters and love to ponder theme and meaning, you are more right-brain oriented.

Raise your hand if you recognize yourself in one of the descriptions above.  Me! Choose me!  I'm a right-brained writer through and through.  I can't think of a novel or story I've written that didn't start with a character, and because of this I also have a few abandoned stories littering my computer, because I didn't know how to develop action for the character.

It doesn't matter which one you are, but it helps to figure that out from the get-go.  Because just as I've struggled with action in my stories, the left-brained writer will struggle with getting character emotion and detail into her work.  And if you know that going in, you'll know where your weaknesses lie and you can figure out how to correct them.

You'll know that if your left brain tends to be more dominant, you'll need to learn to focus on character, imagery, and emotion.  Conversely, if your right brain rules the roost, you'll have to focus on plot and goal and structure.  (There are ways to do this without freaking yourself out.)

Alderson has an interesting offer on her website.  (I'm in no way affiliated with her, just intrigued by the info she's presenting.)  It's called Writing a Story Takes You on an Epic Journey, and since it is in beta, it is really inexpensive (like $14.99, amazing). 

So that's what I learned this weekend.  Does the concept of left-brain dominant and right-brain dominant writers resonate with you?  Which are you? Do discuss in the comments.

All images are by moi.  I've been using Instagram a lot lately.  Come follow me there, why don't you?


Je Reviens: The Power of Scent

JeReviens1Many, many, many, many, many, many (okay, I'll stop now), years ago in college, my favorite perfume was Je Reviens.  This was a perfume that stopped men in their tracks, causing them to ask me why I smelled so good.  I clearly recall one instance of this when I sat studying in the EMU Fishbowl.*  A frat boy sitting two booths away yelled over to ask the name of the perfume that was distracting him. There was just something about this scent--and maybe the way it reacted to my skin--that enticed people, including me.  

Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure my sister Alice, who was an airline stewardess for TWA back in the days when they were still called stewardesses and TWA still existed, must have brought me bottles of Je Reviens from Paris. I quit wearing perfume for a long time and forgot about Je Reviens. But flash forward a gazillion years, to last summer, when the hub and I were in Paris on our way home from Pezenas.  I decided to try to find a bottle of Je Reviens to take home.  The glitzy--and intimidating--perfume store on the Champs Elysees, which sells every perfume known to man, didn't have it.  And the bored ladies who worked there hadn't heard of it.  I asked everywhere I found a place they sold perfume--at a cute little store at the base of the Sacre-Coeur Cathedral in Montmarte, at a shop in Montparnasse, where we stayed.  But nobody seemed to have heard of it.  (I'm certain my terrible French pronunciation had nothing to do with it.)

Upon my return home, it finally occurred to me to ask my friend Angela about the perfume.  She is a perfume writer, you see (as well as being a wonderful mystery writer).  She immediately told me she had some vintage Je Reviens she'd found in an antique shop and she would decant some for me. (See photo.)  She also explained that the perfume had gone through several incarnations recently and was still available, albeit in a watered-down, drugstore version.  I carried my sample home with reverence and stuck it in my bathroom cabinet to use for special occasions.

I am wearing it today.  I'm not going anywhere special--I'm not going anywhere at all.  I sprayed it on to cheer myself up after the WORST allergy attack that anybody has endured, ever, happened to me yesterday.  And it has done the job.   It brought back all kinds of pleasant memories, as noted above, and it has also made me ponder the power of scent in writing.

Firstly, smells transport us to other times and places.  A whiff of a hawthorne bush, and I'm a little kid again, at my Aunt Betty's house in Hillsborough, California.  The smell of corndogs and I'm at the Rose Festival Fun Center carnival that assembles itself every year along the waterfront here in town.  (They call it CityFair now to try to jazz it up.) The aroma of sage transports me to New Mexico. Inhaling Je Reviens brought back all the memories I wrote about above.  And these are rich veins, people, rich veins.  You could do worse than to line up some smells to use as prompts.  Take a whiff and start writing.

And second, smells can be just as evocative in our writing.  Adding aroma to your descriptions helps to bring it alive--and yet it is probably the least taken-advantage-of sense.  In my just-submitted novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery, my agent challenged me to do a better job of evoking the smell of the protagonist's macaron shop.  Erp.  Here's what I came up with: 

And there was no other word for the smell of it but heavenly—that faint whiff of sugar, like cotton candy at the fair, or an ice cream cone on a hot summer day, the aroma that called to mind the best day of your childhood, or maybe your whole life.

Not holding myself up as the paragon of descriptive writing here, but rather illustrating how I equated smell with emotion rather than try to evoke it exactly. Because, how do you describe smells, other than to use the noun of what they come from--rose, for instance, or grass?  I think that's why writers shy away from using smell in their descriptions.  But I urge you to try.

So, yeah, 700-some words later and I've written a blog post, all inspired by my perfume.  The power of scent, indeed.

*The EMU at the University of Oregon was the scene of the famous food fight in the movie Animal House, and also one of my favorite scenes of all time, when John Belushi says, "I'm a zit."  Just to balance the sweetness of this post, here's the clip:

 

How do you use smell in your writing?


How to Establish a Regular Writing Practice

I love headlines and titles that promise me they are going to teach me something basic, like a few years ago when a book came out titled, How to Think.  Now that's basic.  So I was going to title this How to Practice but then I thought perhaps that was too vague, because one can practice a lot of things besides writing.  Like the ukelele, or meditation, or making perfect. Practice-makes-perfect-concept-23764447  

So here we go with some advice on how to establish a regular writing practice.

The impetus for this is an article by Antonya Nelson about her tips rules for writing that a friend sent. The rule I keep pondering is this one, #8:

Be tolerant of dry spells. Understand that being a writer is not illustrated solely by the act of typing. Mulling, reading, meditating, lollygagging, cooking, joking, traveling, watching television—all activity, as pursued by a writing sensibility, is potentially the stuff of writing.

I am the first to acknowledge that creativity comes in cycles, and sometimes you just have to wait it out until it comes back again.  But I also know, and have observed in myself and others, that "being tolerant of dry spells" too often turns into Not Writing.  Period.  And that those dry spells you are so happily tolerating can stretch for months and then years and then a lifetime and then there you are--you've become that person who put her unfinished novel in the drawer and there it sits for your children to find after you are dead.

So that's why I think that a regular writing practice is a good idea.  You don't have to be writing brilliant words on your potential bestseller of a novel regularly.  You can write in a journal, or just free-write on prompts, or scrawl a one-stanza poem every day, or nearly every day.  In my humble experience, writing, no matter what kind, leads to more writing.  And if you're a writer, as you and I are, you are not truly happy unless you are writing something.

So, write already.  Here's help for how:

1.  Follow your natural rhythms.  I'm a morning writer.  I love getting up at 5:30 and heading straight to the page.  By evening all I want to do is down sip a glass of wine and watch TV or read.  My brain is not alive enough for writing.  But you may be the opposite--I know plenty of people are. Go with what works best for you.  I know, simple advice, but I myself have spent years trying to twist myself into what others think best and I suspect you have, too.  Because that's what we humans do, crazily enough.

2.  Define what regular means.  Maybe regular to you is not once a day, but two or three times a week.  Or once a week.  Whatever.  My whole life and my coaching are built around encouraging people to discover what's best for them and then do more of it.  But here is where I step away from that platform and remind you that in defining regular, you need to commit to more than once a year. Or even once a month.  Because practice means "the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use." (I got that from consulting the Google.)

3.  Set a reasonable goal.  I know, I hate the G word, too.  I really do.  I start squirming in discomfort when I read books written by logical, left-brained business types about accountability and all that.  And sometimes I rebel against my own goals.  But I still think they are useful.  Set yourself a word count or page goal and have at it.

4.  Lower your standards.  You don't have to write the whole novel in one week, nor should you. Books get written one word at a time, so all you have to do is get yourself to the page and write a few of those words.  Julia Cameron talks about how three pages a day doesn't seem like much--but at the end of the month you've got 90 pages, which is one-third of a novel.  I read a book last summer (forgive me, the name of it has escaped into the ether) in which the author recommended a writing practice of a few hundred words a day.  That, my friends, is achievable by anyone.

5. If all else fails, give up.  Walk away from it.  Throw up your hands and say forget it.  Release your dream of being a writer.  Because here's what I think: you really do want to be a writer.  And writers write.  So if you give it all up and are able to stay away from it and not write, then you're not really a writer.  But if you really are a writer--and I'm certain you are--you will not be able to stay away.  And you'll figure out a way to make it a regular practice in your life.

What are you best strategies for making writing a regular practice?  Please share in the comments!


12 Ways for Writers to Celebrate Autumn

Marquette_Sugarloaf_beautiful_249786_lYay! It's autumn, my favorite season.  There's something about this time of year that I just love--the crisp days and fall color, the nummy seasonal food (apples and butternut squash, anyone?) and, of course, Halloween.

I always feel a sense of personal renewal at this time of year, stretching on through the dark days of December.  It's because for so many years I returned to school come September, going back to a whole new slate of things to learn.  

And now, with the cooler temperatures here at last, there's no better time for writers.  So, herewith are my suggestions for celebrating autumn.

1.  Sit by a roaring fire and write.  Okay, you don't even have to do the fire part--just write.  Gone are the distractions of summer and it is likely raining or cold outside.  Sit your butt down and write.

2.  Curl up in bed and read a good book.   Pile on the comforters and duvets and pull out your Kindle or your book.  There's no better time than a autumn day to get lost in a book.  And one of the best things about being a writer is that reading is a big part of the job description!

3.  Drink a pumpkin spice latte.  If that doesn't get you going, nothing well.  (Actually, when I was in the Salt Lake City airport on my way home from Paris I got a pumpkin spice latte from Seattle's Best Coffee.  Um, they put pumpkin spice in the whipped cream, people!  It's fantastic!)

4.  Take a long walk and scuff through fallen leaves.  Julia Cameron says that walking is one of the best things for creativity and I agree--it clears your mind and allows new thoughts to enter.

5.  Conquer stress at last.  Stress is the cause of most, if not all of our ailments, including, I would venture to say, writer's block.  So let's slay that dragon this fall, shall we?  My dear friend Sandra Pawula offers a wonderful home study course to do just that.  Click on the Living With Ease button to the right and check it out!

6.  Make leaf placemats.  There's a myth afoot that taking time for creative projects other than writing will just take you away from your WIP.  But the opposite is true--creativity breeds creativity. So here's a fun project (especially good if you have tiny humans around, but they aren't strictly necessary): Collect a variety if colorful leaves and lay them on one sheet of wax paper, cut to the size you want your placemat.  Then place shavings and bits of crayons around the paper.  Cover it with another sheet of wax paper, and using a sheet or something to protect the iron, press together.  Voila! Leaf placemats.

7.  Commit to a new project.  Nanowrimo is coming up in just a couple of weeks.  Who wants to write a novel in November?  You've got just enough time to dream up some characters, plan the plot, create a world, before starting writing on November 1.

8.  Finish a current project.  As I write this, it is Mercury Retrograde, the perfect time to return to unfinished projects.  Most writers I know have a story or two or twelve languishing unfinished on their computers.  Pull them out and polish them off!

9.  Watch a movie.  Watching movies (and TV shows) can help you understand structure and dialogue and scenes.  To me, there is something positively decadent about taking time for a movie on a week-day afternoon.  So I give you permission to do it.

10.  Start a journal.  I'm a big fan of journaling, in all its permutations.  I am off and on with it, going stretches without setting pen to diary, but then suddenly I will feel like I absolutely must write in a journal again.  (This happened to me most recently in France.)  Regular journal entries help you create flow in your writing and are good for noting all the things you want to incorporate in your work.

11. Take a nap.  Dreaming is good for writing--and the soul.

12.  Bake an apple pie.  Or an apple crisp.  Or a pear crisp. Or a crumble.  The apples and pears are so delicious right now and there's nothing more satisfying then assembling a nummy dessert.  Then you can eat a piece while doing #1, #2, or #3.

Well, I could go on, but you'd likely get tired of me raving about all things autumn.  (I didn't even get to Halloween, my second favorite holiday!)  So I will just turn the floor over to you--what are your favorite autumn activities?  Please comment!


Writing by Hand Versus Writing on the Computer

Do you favor writing by hand or on the computer?   Painted-printed-blue-401-l

This may well be one of those never-the-twain-shall-meet dichotomies.   

We all start out writing by hand as little kids, and for many of us that remains the preferred method of composition.  For years I've taken lots of notes by hand before I switch to the computer.  I even wrote half of a novel by hand once.  (I ended up abandoning that novel, so I'm not sure what that says.)  

And, for years, I've been a proponent of writing by hand when journaling or free writing.  There's a more direct connection between hand and brain when you are writing by hand.  And sometimes it is helpful to step away from the computer with paper and pen to write.  (For other benefits, read this article.)

But lately I've been rethinking my position.   I've noticed that when I write by hand, I get bored quickly and can't seem to force my pen across the paper.  I quickly get into a this is stupid, why am I bothering frame of mind and I quit.  A client and I were talking about this yesterday and she said when she writes by hand what comes out on the page feels very juvenile and not at all adult.  I love that--I know just what she means.

And another problem is that my handwriting is increasingly difficult to read.  (Just ask my husband how hard it is to read my grocery lists.)  When I write something that I want to keep, it is hard to find it in the scrawl of my journal pages.  And often when I go back, I'm unimpressed with what I wrote anyway.  I've read that some people take all their free writes and put them onto the computer, but I simply don't have time for that.  So many of my free writes are not about much of anything and I use them as warm-up exercises.

A month or so ago I bought a book called Writing From the Senses: 59 Exercises to Ignite Creativity and Revitalize Your Writing.  I've not made it very far in the book, but what I read in the introduction changed my writing life.  Here's what Laura Deutsch, the author of the book, wrote:

"A word on whether it's better to write by hand or on the computer.  Many people feel there's a heart connection when writing by hand.  I, too, feel a difference.  Yet, I usually write on my computer because I can write faster and because I can save my freewrites."

So, apparently all it takes for me is for one person to give me permission because ever since I read that I've been off and running, doing freewrites and writing practice on the computer.  Last week, I did a journal entry of sorts on the computer--I wanted to remember an experience I'd had and hand writing it just seemed way too onerous.  

Now I'm a huge proponent of freewriting on the computer.  And, the thought occurs that this may be a phase I need to go through and that some day I'll get back to writing a lot by hand.  But, whatever--I don't care.  As long as words are getting on the page one way or another, I'm happy!

What is your favorite way to write?  Please leave a comment.

Photo by brokenarts.


The One Thing You Need to Do to be a Successful Writer

Okay, are you ready?  I'm about to reveal it all.  The one and only thing you need to do to be a writer, that will guarantee you success on some level.

And that is... Mlab-gary-hamel-1921221-h

Drum roll, please....

The one thing you need to do to be a successful writer is to write.

You need to write regularly, every day if you can.

You need to throw words at the page without worrying about the end result, or how the words sound, or anything else except putting one word after another on the page. 

And that is all you need to do.

That one thing is the simplest thing there is.  And the hardest.

But its all you need to do.

And, honestly?  All my advice, all seven years of it contained in 1078 posts, boils down in one way or another to that.

So quit reading the blog already and go write.

(But come back on Thursday, when I'll have a wonderful guest post about ways to overcome writer's block.)

Do you write every day regularly?  Is it easy or hard for you to do this?

Photo by jurvetson.  I'm not sure what it depicts, but I loved it.  All those words and diagrams!


How Do You Define Writing Success?

"Visualize this thing you want.  See it, feel it, believe in it.  Make your mental blueprint and begin."  Robert Collier

Copper-canal-path-432055-l

The importance of getting clear

We're all well-versed in goal-setting, becoming certain about what we want, and visualizing our outcomes. Knowing what you want is a no-brainer, because how can you get "there" if you don't know what your "there" is?  This process is often compared to traveling without a map.  Sure, you can get from New York to Los Angeles without one, but your route is apt to be far from the least efficient path if you go any which way that presents itself.  

As writers, it is paramount that we understand what we want to achieve.

It's just that these days there are so many possible paths that might get us to writing success.  And it's difficult to achieve clarity on what we want when there are so many options.  Let's look at some of them.

 

Paths to Success

Legacy publishing

Indie publishing

Teaching/coaching

Freelance writing

Ghostwriting

Novel writing

A myriad of choices. But which one is the path that is your heart's desire?  Maybe it's a path I didn't list here, who knows?  Only you.

Years ago, I was doing a lot of feature writing for newspapers and regional magazines. I'd go interview somebody and come home and shape it into a story.  But increasingly as I progressed in my career, I found that I wanted to make stuff up because it would create a better story.   I'd look over the quotes from the interview and find myself wishing that the interviewee had said something just a little different, because it would be so much more interesting that way.  This is when I turned to learning the craft of fiction.

The Path Gets Muddy

And, then there's the slight problem of making a living.  Most fiction writers don't exist financially on their novels and stories alone.  They have to teach, or freelance, or ghostwrite, or something.  And when doing something else, it is oh so easy to get distracted by it, lured into thinking that this is what you really want to do.

This has happened to me.  Even though since the day I started writing fiction I knew I wanted to be a novelist, I've taken a number of creative U-turns along the way, mostly for the sake of earning a living.  I've taken on soul-sucking ghostwriting jobs and convinced myself this kind of writing was great.  I've let business coaches cajole me into focusing on branding myself as a content and copywriter--areas I'm not good at and that I loathe.  And I've been enticed by the lure of internet information marketing. When all I really wanted to do was write novels. 

It's very, very easy to lose your way when the path gets murky.

And that is my point today.  If you can get very, very clear on your heart's desire, at least you can make concrete steps towards attaining it.  Probably won't happen all at once, but hey, the journey is the destination--and nowhere is that more so than writing.

An example of this is my recent foray in indie publishing.  I'm not breaking sales records or hitting the bestseller list, but I'm learning something new, enjoying getting my work out in different ways, and most importantly taking steps toward doing what I love doing the most--writing fiction.

What is your heart's desire as a writer? Are you taking steps to achieve it?

Photo by familymwr


Are You a Big Picture or a Little Picture Writer?

Frame_picture_gold_263287_lDo you like working with the tiny details or the grand sweep of things in your writing?

I'm in LA, visiting my dear friend Suzanne, researching some locations for my next novel, and launching into the edits for Emma Jean.  This combination of work has me thinking about little picture writing and big picture writing.

Little picture writing = Edits for Emma Jean (the tiny things like approving comma changes and so on).  You could include specific details, description, scenes and final polishing.

Big picture writing = Scouting and visualizing locations for the next novel.  It might also translate as theme, premise, character motivation, and story.

See the difference?

Little picture writing encompasses all the little beats and details that, taken together, create a novel.  The truth is, novel writing is a back and forth process between the little and the big.  You write dialogue between two main characters and realize that what you just wrote impacts the theme.  You tinker with a scene near the beginning of the book, tightening and honing it, and see that what you just did impacts everything that follows it, all the way to the end.

It's important to be able to think both big picture and little picture, though most people are more comfortable with one mode or the other.  (I'm a big picture gal myself.)  Because if you can't think big picture, you're going to have trouble coming up with an overarching structure for the novel.  And if you can't think little picture, you're going to struggle with writing scenes that make the reader feel like she's there.

Anne Lamott, in her writing classic Bird by Bird, tells of keeping a small picture frame on her desk.  If she flounders in her writing, she picks up the frame and peers through it, reminding herself that all she needs to write about is what she can see through that frame.  This is a great reminder for writers.  And yet, you need to keep the big picture in mind, too.  You need to be able to write the little picture that you see through that frame while keeping the big picture firmly in mind.

It's really not that hard, and I think its good for you, because I'm pretty sure it engages the whole brain.  But if you battle with big picture writing, remember this: it's really just a bunch of little picture writing strung together.  And if you struggle with little picture writing, ponder the following: it's really just the big picture divided into portions.

I'm simplifying wildly, of course.  But that's because more and more these days I'm seeing that what this writing game is about is just writing.  Clearing away the worry and the obsessing and the advice and the critiquing and just writing.

Which is the hardest thing of all to do.

So, tell me.  Are you more comfortable with the big picture or the little picture?

If you do struggle with writing novels, you might be interested in my Get Your Novel Written Now class which begins next week.  In four weeks you'll be raring to go!  Check out the page with more information here.

Photo by melodi2.

 


Question, Question, You've Got Writing Questions? I've Got Answers

Question-trade-world-11479-lI had a brainstorm yesterday. 

As is my wont (for some reason I absolutely love that phrase), I was visiting my usual haunts on the internet, among them the Pioneer Woman's blog.  And there I found that she is putting on her advice columnist hat and answering questions about reader's problems.

And the thought occurred that I could do the same thing.  Only about writing.  Or getting inspired to write.  Or maintaining a writing practice.  Or my upcoming classes.  Or my coaching.  Or any of the gazillion things we talk about on this blog.

So, here's the deal.  If you have a question about an aspect of writing, write it out in the comments below.   Make sure you're signed up so your name and blog name appear so I can give you a shout-out, and why don't you throw in a bit about what you're working on?  (If you'd rather be anonymous, send me your question via email with Writing Question in the subject line so I don't miss it.)

I'll gather up your questions and do my best to answer them, starting next week.  If I've got a long answer, it'll make up one post.  Short answers will be grouped.  And if I don't know the answer to something, I'll do my best to steer you to a resource that will.

So come on, now.  Don't be shy.  What are your writing questions?

 


So Go Write Already

One of my students said something about writing and the teaching of writing that resonated with me.  She said, basically, that every writing teacher says the same thing in different ways. 

What is it that we say? Finger-blank-paper-25643-l

The way to become a writer is to write.

Period.

The big secret is that there is no secret.

It's all about putting words on the page.

Now, every writing teacher, myself included, has come up with various tips and tricks to get yourself to the page.  But they are all variations on a theme. 

The theme being, go write.

So what are you doing reading this blog post?  Go write, already.  You could start by writing a comment about what most often keeps you from the page.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: You know what I'm going to say.  Go write.

Photo by OmirOnia.


Balance vs. Excellence

Everystockphoto_187217_mA Post Wherein I Explore Two Approachs to Writing and Confess I Don't Know Which is Best.

Let's begin with balance.  It has been a bit of a massive buzz word the past few years, with experts telling us we need it in our lives and offering advice on how to achieve it.  Seems it's what we're all looking for, that elusive balance between working hard and taking time off to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

What does balance look like?  For me, its something like this:

--I rise early after sleeping well.

--I head to the computer, ignore my email inboxes, and work on my novel.

--After a rousing writing session, I eat breakfast and shower.

--The rest of the day is spent working on assignments or coaching.

--After dinner I take a walk and am able to relax and watch trash TV or read.

Plenty of time to work, plenty of time to relax.  Balance.

But lately, I've read some things dissing balance, saying it really isn't all that it's cracked up to be.  That balance equates mediocrity and who wants to be mediocre?  Chris Guillebeau, whose writing I admire, wrote about it a few weeks ago (and of course, now I can't find the exact link.  But go check out his site anyway.  After you're done here, of course.

What does the other way look like? (Loosely, we'll call it the pursuit of excellence.)

--It looks the same throughout the day, with the exception that I probably rise earlier.

--After dinner, I'm not wasting my life watching stupid TV.  Nuh-uh.  I'll return to my office and work late into the night, only to get up early and do it all again the next day.

As I was writing this post, I got an email from somebody hyping a telecall discussing how important it is to achieve balance, because if you don't, you'll blow out your adrenals, with drastic consequences to your health.  Which is the antithesis of working all hours to finish a project.

So what's a writer to do?  Which way to seek?

My answer: I dunno.

What I do know is that my life bounces between the two extremes and I suppose that is its own kind of balance.  I love, love, love the days when I've had a satisfying and productive day and can knock off by 5:30 or so.  But I kind of like the weeks when I'm madly working to finish a million things, and return to my computer for at least an hour, if not longer, in the evening.

As a vote for the side of balance, I know that creativity begins in the darkness, in the quiet hours we sit in silence and if we're rushed and stressed new ideas are not going to arrive in our psyches.

As a vote for the side of excellence at all costs, I also know that I desire to create a life and body of work of high caliber and have no desire to be mediocre.  And if that requires staying up late a few nights, so be it.

How about you?  What works best for you?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Experiment with scheduling your writing and other responsibilities and see what works best for you.

Check out my new coaching packages when you get a chance!

Photo by dancerinthedark.


How to Keep Writing Through Holidays and Other Distractions

Easter_candy_chocolat_242057_l"Get back to me after Easter."

"Let's deal with that after Easter."

I've heard that several times this week and it has gotten me thinking about how we deal with our lives around major holidays and other distractions. Specifically, how we deal with our writing.  Even more specifically, how we get writing done when holidays and major distractions (spring break, anyone?) occur.

Sometimes we don't.

And honestly, when that happens, when you know there's just no way you're going to get any work done, its best just to go with it and not beat yourself up. 

But what if you truly, desperately want to keep working through busy periods?  If you're coming down the homestretch of finishing a novel, say, or in the white hot heat of beginning one?  Following are some tips to keep you sane.

1. Find a way to touch base with your WIP.  Even if you can't write, you can take time to read a page or two.  (C'mon, this takes only five minutes.) Staying in touch with your project in this way keeps it planted in your brain and allows your subconscious to work on it.

2.  Write first thing.  I know, you night owls hate this one.  But there's nothing like the feeling of getting your most important work done first thing in the morning.  Even if its just twenty minutes, somehow connecting with your most important project first thing makes the whole day go better.

3.  Write while exercising.   You keep up with your exercise routine, right?  (Somehow its easier to tell your demanding family you're going out for a walk than it is to tell them you're shutting yourself away in your writing den.  I know, I've been there.)  Take a voice recorder and talk your next scene into it while walking.  Or just hide out at the coffee shop and work instead of writing.  (Maybe you could walk to the coffee shop so you wouldn't technically be lying.)

4.  Take your manuscript with you wherever you go.  Then, you can take an extra few minutes before grocery shopping to look through you recent pages.  (Everyone knows grocery shopping takes forever, you can snitch a few minutes.) Or work on it while you're waiting for your daughter after school.  Or while you're waiting for something to download at work.

5. Think about your work.  Thinking is a highly under-rated activity for writers.  You always have your brain with you, right?  Instead of obsessing about politics, direct your brain to think about your WIP.  And write down the ideas you get anyway you can--on a scrap of paper or your phone.

6. Eat lunch with your WIP.  Wouldn't you rather spend time with your manuscript than the latest issue of O?  Okay, I read O with lunch all the time, but when pressed for time, try connecting with your WIP during breaks.  At the very least, it will keep the work fresh in your mind.

7.  Maintain an attitude that there is enough time.   We spend so much time convincing ourselves that there's no time, it's no wonder we're stressed and overwhelmed.  Try taking the opposite tack and affirm to yourself that you have enough time.  This actually does work.  At the very least, you'll be a lot more relaxed.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: This Easter season, try approaching the hoopla and rush a bit differently.  Remind yourself that your writing is worth it and experiment with the above ways to stay with it over the holiday.

What about you?  How do you find time to write during busy periods?  Got any good tips for us?  We'd love to hear them.  And if you enjoyed this article, please share it on social media through the buttons below.

 

Photograph by Zela.


Hallmarks of a Good Writing Idea

Dice_games_game_264676_l

I've been obsessed playing with Pinterest the last couple of days.   I love this new site where you can create online picture boards, tagging photos from across the web. Not that this should be a surprise--you're on the blog of a woman who offers a free Ebook on creating Vision Boards, after all.

But what interests me about it is why it has captured my attention.  In spare moments I zip over to my Pinterest page and create more boards.  In boring meetings I ponder subjects for new boards I could create.

This is the way I felt last week about my novel.  Yes, just last week. Oh dear, wonderful novel please forgive me for my betrayal!  This new infatuation will fade, as infatuations do, and I'll be back to you, my first and true love soon.  I hope.

This new love of mine begs the question: what is it about an idea that engages us?  What is it about a writing topic that attracts us?  And is it important to choose our subject matter carefully or should we just write about any old idea that comes ambling down the pike?

I happen to have opinions on this subject.  (I know, you're shocked.)  I think the subject you choose is vital.  If you're working on a book-length project, it is doubly vital, because you are going to be working on that project for the long haul, and it is very easy to get bored.  I know this from first-hand experience.  And the three novels I started and abandoned in between the one I'm marketing and the one I'm writing are testament to the boredom factor. 

They also attest to the mysterious state when you're working on something and it just doesn't feel right.  The muse, she is a strange creature and sometimes she feeds you ideas that aren't really meant to be developed.  (Which is why I like keeping an idea book, and jamming thoughts and snippets in it, all together.  Then half-baked ideas mate with other semi-developed thoughts and create full ideas.)  I once heard a writer say that ideas are like trains coming down the track--and if you don't jump on them as they come to you, the moment for that idea has passed you by.  Not sure I agree with that, do you?

As I've been pondering this topic, I've come up with some things that denote a good writing topic.  So herewith, hallmarks of a good writing idea:

  • It makes your heart go pitty-pat and you get an ineffable feeling of happiness and connection when you ponder it. (I say ponder on purpose, because generally this is a feeling that will come over you before or after you write, not necessarily during.)
  • The subject never bores you.  As mentioned above, you're going to be working with this idea for a good, long time, so if you're struggling to stay interested, that's a bad sign.  A very bad sign.
  • The topic is something dear to your heart, something you believe in fervently and really want to share with the world.  Fervor feeds feeling and feeling feeds writing.
  • It just feels right when you're working on it.  I know, I know, this is a bit vague, but I think you know what I mean.
  • You don't have to force yourself to work on it.  I realized this with a novel I attempted to create.  I hated working on it.  I could barely force myself to open the file.  Whereas I could barely keep myself away from the other novels I've written. (Until I got infatuated with Pinterest. Sigh.)

Okay, your turn.

Create as successful, inspired writing life: Run your latest idea through the above points.  Does it fit?  You can save yourself a lot of time and trouble by choosing the right idea.  But don't worry, sometimes it takes a few false starts before an idea sticks.

Please comment.  I'd love to hear how you choose writing ideas, and if you have a criteria for which ones to follow through on.   What's the farthest you've ever gotten before abandoning a writing project?

 

Photo credit: brokenarts.


Move Your Mind, Too

This morning I was reading one of the five million newsletters I subscribe to and the topic was about moving your body.    It was yet one more call to exercise regularly and talked about how establishing this habit is easier than you think, because our bodies are made to move. Dummy_wooden_white_261078_l

I'll second that.  I know I feel much, much better when I'm getting out every morning to walk.

But it got me to thinking about how important it is to move your mind, also.  Especially for writers.  I've been facilitating a discussion group for my church around the book Birthing A Greater Reality.  The book is dense in places, which is a nice way of saying that sometime I've really got to concentrate on it, more so because I'm leading a discussion of it.

At first I struggled a bit.  But now I'm totally loving it, because I really have to concentrate when I sit down to read it.  I take notes in the margins, I underline, I look up concepts.  I move my mind. 

And I'm pretty sure that our minds are made to move just as much as our bodies are.  Because the more I stretch my mind, the easier it gets to plow through dense material.  The more I focus and concentrate, making notes in the margins, listening intently to the Sunday messages on the material, the more my mind wakes up and engages with the world. 

How Writers Move Their Minds

Does that almost sound kinky?  Just a brief aside, never mind.  Here's my list:

1. We write.  Duh.  But with the crazy demands of our lives it is very easy to forget that writers write and that we actually need to practice our craft once in awhile.  Or every day.  And that we write to discover.  That we write to move our minds.

2. We read.  We read anything and everything from cereal boxes to blogs to novels to non-fiction books.  The best way to teach yourself how to write is to read anything you can get your hands on.   And read tons of examples of what it is you want to write--my friend Linda, for instance, has set herself the challenge of reading 100 YA novels in order to teach herself about the genre.

3.  We discuss.  We communicate with other writers, in person or via the internet or phone and talk about writing.  There's nothing more energizing and interesting than a group of writers gathered to talk shop.  Because "shop" includes just about everything under the sun.

4. We think deep thoughts.  Because all of the above foster deep thoughts.  Well, actually mine tend to be shallow at times (especially after I've watched too much trashy TV), but who cares, at least I'm thinking.

5.  We go within.   By giving our minds a rest through meditation, prayer, or whatever works for us, we actually allow our minds to move with more ease and less effort.

What have I missed?  How do you move your mind?  And how does it impact your writing?

***Another way to move your mind is to feed it images, which you can do via a vision board.   Sign up for my newsletter and receive my free Ebook, Jump Start Your Book With A Vision Board.  The form is to the right of this post!

Photograph by float.


Move Your Mind, Too

This morning I was reading one of the five million newsletters I subscribe to and the topic was about moving your body.    It was yet one more call to exercise regularly and talked about how establishing this habit is easier than you think, because our bodies are made to move. Dummy_wooden_white_261078_l

I'll second that.  I know I feel much, much better when I'm getting out every morning to walk.

But it got me to thinking about how important it is to move your mind, also.  Especially for writers.  I've been facilitating a discussion group for my church around the book Birthing A Greater Reality.  The book is dense in places, which is a nice way of saying that sometime I've really got to concentrate on it, more so because I'm leading a discussion of it.

At first I struggled a bit.  But now I'm totally loving it, because I really have to concentrate when I sit down to read it.  I take notes in the margins, I underline, I look up concepts.  I move my mind. 

And I'm pretty sure that our minds are made to move just as much as our bodies are.  Because the more I stretch my mind, the easier it gets to plow through dense material.  The more I focus and concentrate, making notes in the margins, listening intently to the Sunday messages on the material, the more my mind wakes up and engages with the world. 

How Writers Move Their Minds

Does that almost sound kinky?  Just a brief aside, never mind.  Here's my list:

1. We write.  Duh.  But with the crazy demands of our lives it is very easy to forget that writers write and that we actually need to practice our craft once in awhile.  Or every day.  And that we write to discover.  That we write to move our minds.

2. We read.  We read anything and everything from cereal boxes to blogs to novels to non-fiction books.  The best way to teach yourself how to write is to read anything you can get your hands on.   And read tons of examples of what it is you want to write--my friend Linda, for instance, has set herself the challenge of reading 100 YA novels in order to teach herself about the genre.

3.  We discuss.  We communicate with other writers, in person or via the internet or phone and talk about writing.  There's nothing more energizing and interesting than a group of writers gathered to talk shop.  Because "shop" includes just about everything under the sun.

4. We think deep thoughts.  Because all of the above foster deep thoughts.  Well, actually mine tend to be shallow at times (especially after I've watched too much trashy TV), but who cares, at least I'm thinking.

5.  We go within.   By giving our minds a rest through meditation, prayer, or whatever works for us, we actually allow our minds to move with more ease and less effort.

What have I missed?  How do you move your mind?  And how does it impact your writing?

***Another way to move your mind is to feed it images, which you can do via a vision board.   Sign up for my newsletter and receive my free Ebook, Jump Start Your Book With A Vision Board.  The form is to the right of this post!

Photograph by float.


My Life If I Weren't a Writer

My daughter came over for breakfast on her way to work today.  I actually got a good little writing session in before she appeared, but as I was cooking bacon at an unusual hour the thought occured: this is what non-writers do instead of worrying about writing first thing in the morning.

Typewriter_Writing_Writer_238822_l

So I starting thinking.  What would my life be like if I weren't a writer.  Here's what I came up with:

  • I'd drink coffee, read the paper and eat breakfast first thing in the morning, rather than taking my coffee to my office with me to write.
  • I'd read for pleasure only, instead of constantly studying to see how other writers do it.
  • I'd watch movies without straining to pick out the plot points and mid points.
  • During the summer, I'd have a suntan from being outside, instead of inside writing.
  • I'd actually make sense when I talk to the grocery clerk during my first outing of the day, after a long day at the computer.
  • I could truly relax, instead of constantly thinking, I should be writing.
  • My desk would not be littered with ideas written on scraps of paper.
  • I would have no desk.
  • My hair would not stand on end from me pulling at it when pausing to search for the right word.
  • I would never have traveled to Nashville and many other interesting places.
  • I would not know the best and most interesting people in the world, both in-person and online.
  • I would not know how to make sense of my life.
  • I'd be dreadfully bored.  And even more dreadfully boring.

This is just a beginning list, off the top of my head. How about you?  What would your life be like if you weren't a writer?

Photo by kiamedia.


Writing in the Rain: Monday Morning Round-up

Falling_water_rain_279538_h It is raining this morning.  I know, I know, I live in Oregon, its to be expected.  And, truthfully, I don't mind.  I love going out for a walk in the rain and coming back inside where its cozy, warm, and dry, to curl up with my writing or my reading.

And this morning my reading served up two good nuggets.

First, while eating my yogurt and nuts I read a review, by Jeff Baker, of Annie Proulx's recent lecture in Portland.  Apparently, she loves research and reads voraciously.  But what I loved the most about this article the advice she gave out to writers at a small private meeting the next morning (I sulked for a little while about not being invited).  Here are some of the gems:

  • Use times when you are waiting in line, for a flight, whatever, to work on descriptions of people.
  • Read your work aloud to yourself.  (Whenever I read my work or do a lecture, I always take a pen with me to the podium, because I can't help but edit when I hear myself read.)
  • Listen to the way people speak around you--hear regional dialects and everyday speech.
  • Draw a landscape to remember it.
  • For a writing project, research the years around your birth.  What was the world like back then?
  • Be interested in what you write.

Read the full article here.  It is worth it, there's some real gems.

And then, when I opened my inbox, I found a fabulous article by Chris Guillebeau, who gives reliably good advice, whether it is on travel hacking or creating your own unique way in the world.  The title of the post is "How to Write 300,000 Words in 1 Year," and in it he gives good tips on focus, one of my favorite topics.

One bit:

"Make your art your obsession.  Fall in love with it. Experience withdrawal symptoms when you don't give it your attention."

And another:

Rather than worry about quality, "Worry instead about getting your words in. [He strives for 1,000 per day, and he wrote this post while waiting for a delayed flight at the Nairobi airport.] Wake up early, stay up late, use that notebook you are carrying, appropriate those ten or fifteen-minute breaks in the day with nothing scheduled."

There's other good stuff on this post as well.

What are you best tips for writing?  Care to share?

***One of my best writing tips is to start with the images.  Learn how by downloading a free copy of my Ebook, Jump Start Your Book With a Vision Board.  Sign up in the form to the right and you'll also get a free subscription to my newsletter!

Photo credit: imageafter, from Everystockphoto.


Developing Good Writing Habits is Like Flossing Your Teeth

If you are going to write, you've got to write.  Dental_floss_teeth_266168_l

I know, I know.  But I was feeling profound today so I thought I'd lay the full force of my brilliance on you.

All kidding aside, you've got to make time to write if you are ever going to finish that novel.  Or book to promote your business. Or memoir.  Or short story.  Or article.  Or blog post.  The writing doesn't get done on its own, alas.  And the best way for you to get it done is to work on it regularly, because:

  • then you don't have to go back and reread all 50,000 words you've already written
  • your subconscious latches onto your story and works on it for you
  • you develop momentum
  • you actually look forward to writing because its not such a big deal
  • the words flow more easily

This is why I harp on the topic of creating a regular writing schedule so incessantly.

And this morning it occurred to me that doing so is like flossing your teeth.   Which you do regularly, right?  Well, maybe not.  Because I was a teeth-flossing slacker until I realized recently that flossing takes about 5 minutes, probably less.  And if I do it every day my teeth feel good and clean.  And if I don't, they feel dirty and gross.  The other day I was going to opt out of flossing, when I remembered that I wanted my teeth to feel good and clean, not dirty and gross.

So I took the time to floss.

I want my mind to feel good and clean, the way it does after I write, not dirty and gross as it does when I'm avoiding it.  So I write. 

And look: you can write 15 minutes a day and feel good about it.  Truly, doing it is far more important than how long you do it or how great the words are that you're producing.

I bet you even have 15 minutes to devote to it this weekend.  Add on 5 for flossing your teeth and you are good and clean and shiny from head to toe.

What's your writing schedule?  What works best for you?

*Along the lines of creativity in general, I have a video series for you.  I've written before about how I often sometimes like to take time to mess around with painting and art.  Mess being the operative word.  But my friend Linda told me about her husband's new series in which he actually gives helpful instruction about art, which you can access here.  And, as you know, I believe that everything we do impacts our writing, so you might just get some tips that will help you in glumping out the words.  Check it out.

**And along the lines of creativity as it pertains to writing, check out my free ebook on creating a vision board for your book.  Its amazing what vision boards can do for you and your book!

***Who knew you could find photos of dental floss?  The interwebs, they are amazing.  This lovely shot came from inya. 


Living Full Out

I like to think I live pretty full out, how about you? As writers and creative types, we tend to live full out because: BusterCloseup

A. we're used to being fully present while we create, and

B. we routinely tap into that which feeds us.

Earlier this week, though, I challenged myself to really look at how fully I've been living.  It started one evening when Buster the pug and I were watching one of our new favorite shows, the Picker Sisters (our other new favorite show is Mad Money, as we endeavor to learn about the stock market and money in general).

If you have not watched the show yet, it features the adorable Tanya and Tracy, tricked out in short shorts and boots, as they mush through junkyards across the country, charming crusty old men and irascible elderly women along the way.   Did I mention that T and T are from LA, of course?  They buy rusty parts and other random things and haul them back to their shop in LA where their long-suffering partner Alan makes the junk into items for the home. Anyway, on the show the other night, one of them, I can't remember which one because I get them confused,  said something to the effect of "We live life full out!"  (This was right after one, or probably both of them, said, "Oh my God," which is their most favorite thing to say, ever.)

And that comment got me thinking.

At first I thought, really rather smugly, I live life full out.  (Return to top of this post for more on that topic.) But then I looked at it more deeply.  And started thinking about the appointment I had the next morning that I didn't want to do.  And how I was thinking really negatively about the appointment, and the person it was with, and getting deep into my story about what a victim I was to have to put up with this person and all the time it would take to deal with them.

Which is when I realized.  Um, this is not living life fully.  It is living life negatively and bitchily and all wrapped up in my ego.  And if I didn't really want to do the appointment than I shouldn't have agreed to it in the first place. 

Since then, I've been thinking about what truly makes me live life full out.  And here's what I've come up with so far:

Deciding.  Most of us waffle and ponder and don't ever truly decide.  But making a definite decision is living life fully, because you're saying yes to what you really want and no to what you don't.  The power of making a decision is awesome.  Once you decide, all kinds of help and support will fall into place.

Watching thoughts.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  Another idea so common its a cliche.  But just sit back and observe your thoughts for a day or half a day.  And notice how often the judgments, negativity and snottiness are separating you from living life full out.  Because when you're in that egotistic state of judging, you're not fully present.  And when you're not fully present, you're not living life full out.

Nailing procrastination.  Okay, look, I really don't think it is possible to live procrastination-free.  We all need some puttering type down time once in awhile.  But do you really need to check for the latest news on Hurricane Irene five times an hour?  Or click on your in-box one more time to see who has emailed?  The thing is, this kind of procrastination is preventing you from living life full out.  Because you're not really present when you're clicking around the internet, now, are you?

That's as far as I've gotten.  So talk to me.  Tell me how you live life full out, whether watching TV or writing.  I'm all ears.

*One way I know for certain to live life full out is through the power of intention.  And creating a vision board focuses that intention.  So sign up for my free Ebook, Jump Start Your Book With a Vision Board.  And read more about their power here.

Photo of Buster, the TV-watching pug from my Iphone.  And thanks to Karen, from Square-Peg People, who told me how to get photos from my phone not to turn sideways!