Things We Wish We Knew When We Were ‘Writing Virgins’

With each word, sentence, and paragraph we write we often learn something new- whether we are writing a book, article, essay, or blog post. We learn something new about ourselves, our writing style, the world around us, and the best part- how to write better. But what if we could go back in time and keep all our current knowledge? If we would write our first words knowing everything we know right now? Although impossible, it sounds enticing, right? Maybe we would all be best selling authors and award winning journalists by now. As it turns out, we shouldn’t relish on things we can’t change. Instead we should be thankful for those lessons we have learned along the way that helped us grow into the writer we are today. Hey, at least we aren’t that clueless ‘writing virgin’ anymore.

We don’t only have our own lessons to learn from, but we also have our fellow writers experiences to lean on as well. Recently, Marie Claire sat with author Kate Mosse and talked with her about things she wish she knew before writing her first book. She really seemed to nail down some crucial points and if we can’t take writing advice from a successful author herself, then who can we really trust? Whether you are a veteran writer or a ‘writing virgin’ (go ahead thank me now before you become famous… well, maybe you should really thank Kate), everyone will find something they can relate to or learn from on her list:

  1. You must tackle the blank screen.

As Kate puts it, the blank screen is your enemy. You can’t say you are writing anything until you actually have words on the page. Research, outlines, doodles, and excuses are all part of the writing process but don’t let them keep you from doing the one thing you really need to do- write.

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2. Editing is where success happens. 

Sometimes we get so caught up in the actual writing process because we think that if we have a crappy first draft that we are doomed from ever succeeding. But, editing is really where all the magic happens so let yourself get to that point as quickly as possible. We need time to digest our own stories and often our best ideas come when aren’t really looking for them.

3. Everyone has bad days. 

Every writer has a day (or maybe countless days) when they feel like everything they are doing is wrong and that maybe they never should of started this project in the first place. These feelings aren’t just for you ‘virgins’ out there, everyone has them. Some days you feel awesome and others you may feel completely discouraged. Just know that this is completely normal.

4. Make a plan and stick to it.

You know that feeling when you think you have the best story idea ever and then you get half way through and start to question everything about it? Yes, I know you do. Well, guess what? Don’t do that. Stick it through and keep writing. This is where the editing magic really takes place.

5. Write every day. 

Make sure you are writing something every day. Even if you only have 5 spare minutes one day, write a few sentences. You need to stay in the writing groove to make sure you stay on track.

6. No writer is the same. 

In order to be successful you need to find out what works for you. Every writer has a different time of day in which they write their best or a different writing spot that really gets their creative juices flowing. Just because it worked for one writer, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Stay true to yourself and give yourself what you need.

7. Write on inspiration, not sequence.  

You  don’t need to write your story in order- that’s the beauty of ‘copy and paste.’ If you are itching to write a particular scene, go for it. Writing is supposed to be enjoyable and the more fun you have with it, the happier you will be with the end result. Don’t force yourself into writing something you aren’t into at the moment. There’s always tomorrow for that.

8. Don’t be afraid to fail. 

Every failure leads to another success, so don’t let that get in your way of trying. If your first, sixth, or tenth story completely fails- brush it off (after you treat yourself to a nice big pity ice cream sundae). Something you learned from that experience will help you succeed in the future, I promise (and Kate does too).

Write on.

Why We Should Always Be Writing

I guess it’s easy enough for anyone to tell that I have been having a hard time keeping up with regular blog posts this summer. My last post was about two months ago- yikes! Life can easily get in the way of some of our simplest and most mundane tasks. Getting back to blogging has been on the back of mind since well… my last blog post. I just never had the right inspiration to lure me away from the pile of work on my desk and into blog writing abyss. There was always tomorrow, or next week, or next month (haven’t I talked about NOT doing this at some point on this blog? Thought so). It didn’t hit me until today that I am missing something vital in my daily/weekly life- writing.

My job is full of reading, but rarely do I get the chance to write. Writing is a beneficial exercise for everyone, whether you are actually a writer or not. It’s one of the only outlets of expression that is truly our own. It’s easier to express your true feelings and track our personal experiences or thoughts on paper, whether or not we ever intend to share it with others. An article published this morning on LifeHacker really helped to drive this point home for me and there was no way I was going to be able to get away without another day of blogging (I know exactly what you are thinking- yes, it does appear to your lucky day). The article talks about the psychological benefits to writing and let’s just say we should all be writing as much as we can.

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-The first thing the article talks about is that regular writing often leads to an improved mood/well-being and reduced stress levels. I know for myself that I feel a whole lot better after each post I write because of that satisfactory feeling that I have created something that wasn’t there before. Writing helps us to express things that we might find a hard time communicating verbally. It gives us a moment to stop and think about how we feel and what we have to say before committing to it, which leads us to their next point.

-Writing helps get us through pain. Many people have a hard time verbally sharing how they feel or talking about tough times they are currently going through. It’s very easy to pretend that everything’s alright, even when it’s not. With writing, it’s very hard to escape our true feelings. No matter how hard we try to hide them, they will eventually come pouring out. Writing is truly a safe haven.

-Writing also makes us feel more positive and gracious when about good things going on in our lives. Just as hard as it is to face the bad things in our lives, we often feel embarrassed to share the good news too for fear of ‘bragging’ or being ‘self-centered.’ But, recognizing our achievements and the positive events taking place in our lives will make us happier people for it. Especially in today’s world, we should never be ashamed to spread some good news.

-Writing clears your mind. We all have a ton of ideas floating around in our heads on a daily basis. Some days it feels as if not a single tiny bit of information more can fit in there. If we continually write about what’s on our mind it relieves our brains from thinking about it any longer, giving our brains/minds more time to think about other things. We are constantly surrounded by sensory overload and we shouldn’t torture ourselves with it any more than we need to.

-When we write, we learn. Not only do we learn many new things about ourselves every time we write, but we also learn new things about the outside world. Every new piece of research you find teaches us something that we didn’t know before and you are most likely teaching someone else something new too, which might just be the best part.

-Writing forms the leader inside of you. There’s no better feeling than knowing that something you wrote about has positively affected someone else. We all have at least a few writers we look up to dearly and can really relate to. Believe it or not, you are likely that writer for someone else too- leading them into a better life one word at a time.

After reading this article it’s safe to say, “I’M BACK!”

Or at least I hope so.

Write on.

Making Writing A Priority

If you are someone who is lucky enough to call themselves a full-time writer, its very likely that you have already discovered that it’s not as glorious as it sounds. Is it awesome? Yes! But, every job comes with it downsides. Many people envision writers with amble amount of time on their hands, spending their days “writing” in cute coffee shops, connecting with nature on a picnic blanket in the park, or doing “research” on fun vacations or in fascinating museums. Many people assume that writers have a plethora of time available to them to do other things like errands, house cleaning, babysitting, or fun days/nights out with friends because your schedule is so flexible, right?

These writing fantasies couldn’t be further from the truth. When writing is your full-time job that’s exactly what it is- a full-time job. One of the biggest challenges of having such a free-form job is scheduling.  It’s very easy to let other things get in the way of your writing because we all have other commitments: children, spouses, hobbies, chores, errands, and friends. When you don’t punch the clock for a 9-5 job, it’s incredibly easy to keep pushing off the one thing you really should be doing because you have the whole day ahead of you and there’s always tomorrow. But, if you want to keep writing full-time you need to find a way to make writing your priority. It’s way easier said than done, I know that. But then again, there’s nothing glamorous about not getting your work done.

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A few days ago, on Huffington Post’s I NEED COFFEE blog they talked about three really helpful tips for scheduling your writing life:

  1. Find your scheduling method.

You need to find a way of scheduling that works for you. Do you want your schedule to be electronic so you can easily access it from whenever you are? If so, you need to think about what type of tools you want in your scheduling software. There are so many choices out there that if you don’t pick the right one for you, it isn’t going to help. Maybe you prefer to hand write your schedule? Then you need to get an agenda pad that’s easy to use and easy to carry around. You need to find a way to keep it neat and organized or else you will end up missing the very things you started that agenda pad for.

2. Schedule everything, but schedule small. 

If you are getting a scheduling software or agenda to just put down to “Write novel” in it, you are wasting your time. You need to go deeper than that. Maybe give yourself a particular word count to reach, a certain scene to write, or a chapter to complete. Maybe a character or a past event needs more developing, schedule that too. You need to think small when scheduling your day, week, or even month. Anything you do pertaining to your writing needs to be scheduled. It forces you to stay on track and focus on the task at hand. You can worry about everything else you need to do when it comes up on your schedule.

3. Learn to buffer. 

The problem with scheduling is that we can easily get carried away with it. We can become so obsessed with it that we find ourselves scheduling every minute of our lives. That’s why we need to buffer. Leave 15-30 minutes between tasks to breathe. Take a break, get some fresh air, check on your kids, do a few quick house chores, stretch- anything. Going from one task, to the other, to the other will make anyone crazy. You will be much more successful if you buffer your time and take those well deserved breaks.

Write on.

Dr. Seuss Turns 112!

It only seemed fitting on this day, Dr. Seuss’ birthday, to talk about writing a successful children’s book. After all, he was one of the greatest (or possibly THE greatest) children’s book authors of all time. His left an unforgettable mark on society that goes far beyond his writing talents. He is and always will remain a household name. Children (and adults too) still lose themselves in his books each night before bed, they still watch movie adaptions of his work each year, and they ride Dr. Seuss themed rides throughout entertainment parks across the country. Dr. Seuss continually makes the impossible possible, even long after he is no longer with us.

Today I found myself thinking about what makes Dr. Seuss’ work so great. Why are we so captivated by his stories? Why do children of all decades continue to relate to his work? What did he figure out about writing children’s books that many authors are still trying to understand? The truth is, we will never really know. What makes a genius, a genius usually dies with them. For us regular folks, we are left sitting here asking why.

I took what I know about writing children’s books and applied it to Dr. Seuss and his work. And guess what? Each and every one of his books consisted of each and every successful characteristic of children’s writing that I could think of. So, I guess that’s a pretty good place to start.

  1. Make your book timeless.

One of the main reasons Dr. Seuss was, and continues to be, so successful is that he found topics to write about that are completely timeless. Be nice to one another, believe in yourself, don’t be afraid to have a little fun, take chances, and honor each other’s differences are all things that children will always be able to relate to. His characters and illustrations are also timeless. They don’t scream a certain time period or ever look outdated. If one didn’t know any better, they could easily believe that The Cat In The Hat was written just last year.

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2. Your  book needs to be visually appealing. 

Half of the children indulging in these books, don’t know how to read yet. They are listening to their parents, grandparents, or siblings read these books to them. The catchy phrases provide a good source of entertainment, but in order to captivate there needs to be a visual element as well. Dr. Seuss’ pages are filled with all the colors of the rainbow and humorous illustrations. They are tastefully crazy and perfectly match the wild imagination of children everywhere.

3. Keep it simple and straight to the point. 

When children are bogged down with detail, they are likely to stop paying attention or just might simply walk away. Less is better when it comes to writing for children. Each page of Dr. Seuss is only filled with a couple sentences. The words are simple, short, and to the point. There are no unnecessary details and each word helps him to reach his end goal-to entertain and teach.

4. Teach a lesson.

When writing for children it’s important to have a purpose. Children’s brains are absorbent sponges and we should take every opportunity we have to teach them something new or reiterate something they should already know. It can be something simple, like to remember to brush your teeth. Or it can be more complex, like recognizing everyone is different. No matter what Dr. Seuss set out to write, he set out to teach. Each book taught a different lesson that every child could relate to.

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5. At the end of the book, your audience should feel good. 

It’s important that children walk away from books with a good feeling. If the book is too sad or scary, they aren’t going to want to pick up another book anytime soon. We want to encourage reading, not discourage it. This doesn’t mean you can’t deal with some heavy topics, you just need to find a way to make it ‘alright’ in the end. Dr. Seuss knew just how to do this. No matter what you are dealing with, you are guarantee to feel even just a tad bit better after reading one of his books. The rhymes, illustrations, and story lines encourage smiles to form on every reader’s face.

Do yourself a favor and pick up your Dr. Seuss favorite today and give it another read. You deserve to be a kid again every once in a while.

Write on.

Writing To Finish

I’m not sure what the whether is like where you are today, but here it is dark and rainy. If I didn’t have anything I needed to do today, I would welcome the gloom with open arms. There’s no better excuse to snuggle in bed all day with a good book. But in reality, on most rainy days, we all have stuff we need to do. We all have jobs we need to attend and goals we need to meet. Bad weather is just another thing to add to the ‘excuse list.’

Writers… you know what I’m talking about.

Some days we look for everything and anything to avoid picking up the pencil or sitting down at the keyboard. The ‘scaries’ become ever more prominent the closer you get to finishing your current project, book, or novel. It’s like there is some extraterrestrial force pulling you away from the very one thing you should be doing or working on. Procrastination is one of the biggest obstacles for writers. Writing is a long process that takes a lot of stamina and determination. It’s very easy to get distracted or discouraged after months of writing, especially if you feel like you aren’t getting any closer to the end product. You aren’t alone in this feeling and it’s something that everyone of us struggles with at one point in our lives (or maybe a few points). The good news? It’s a fixable problem.

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The Huffington Post published an article this morning about some helpful ways to combat our unlucky procrastination. Of course, it’s easier said than done. Nothing worth having comes easy. That’s why it’s called an accomplishment. If we want to reach those accomplishments, we need to find ways to work through those hurdles. We need to find a reason to pick up that pencil on those rainy days. Here are some of the suggestions from The Huffington Post, maybe one will work for you:

  1. Plan a reward. 

Give yourself something to look forward to. You would think the gratification of writing an awesome novel would be enough, but in most cases it’s not. It’s not something tangible and it’s in our human nature to thrive on physical gratification. Plan a treat for yourself once your book is completely ready for publication- take a mini vacation, get that yummy dessert you have been eyeing for months at your favorite restaurant, or buy yourself a new outfit or pair of shoes. You deserve it.

2. Make a list of benefits. 

Take a break and make a list of all the benefits to finishing your book. You’ll get to finally publish it, which brings in book sales. You get to move on to your next big idea. You can focus on other leads for the project- such as a possible audiobook or movie deal. So many more doors open when you have a finished product. In fact, no doors are open until that finished project is in your hands.

3. Completion avoids failure.

Every new sentence puts you that much closer to actually finishing. It might sound like common sense, but think about it. Every day you don’t sit down to write another sentence, paragraph, or chapter increases your chances that you are never going to finish. And we don’t want that now, do we?

4. Ditch the perfectionism. 

Having polished work is important, but you don’t want to overthink it. Once it prevents you from progressing then it has become a problem. Editing, rewriting, and revisions are good but we need to do them tastefully. As soon as you find yourself questioning how other people are going to react to a certain sentence or the tiniest of details, you have gone too far. Write the story you want to write and people will either love it or hate it.

5. Imagine the worst. 

Imagine the worst thing happening to you upon completion of your book. Is it a bad review? No sales? Nasty comments? Whatever it is, picture yourself surviving it. Because guess what? You will. If that’s the thing that is holding you back from finishing, just know you will survive (and yes, the Destiny’s Child song is now permanently stuck in my head for the night).

6. Aim for your best effort. 

Rather than focusing on perfection, focus on creating the best version of your book that you can. Aim to make each book of yours better than the last. Focus on growing as an author, learning from your own mistakes and triumphs. Don’t strive for someone else’s perfection because you will never get there. Become the best writer you can be and then next time, become even better.

7. Please yourself.

Make sure that once you put that last word on the page, your story is exactly how you set out for it to be. Sometimes people’s opinions and criticisms along the way change the course of our writing. Most of the time we don’t even notice it, or we think it’s the best choice at the time. At the end of the day, you need to be happy with your finished product. There’s no guarantee it’s going to sell. The only guarantee you can have is that your proud of it. And plus, if you are writing something you want to write it’s much more likely you will finish it.

Write on.

The Magical 7

A lot of the writing advice that I give on this blog can become monotonous at times. There’s only so many different ways I can tell you to edit your work, read more books, and just keep writing no matter what. I love when I come across different ways to present the same information to you. Because the truth of the matter is, this ‘stuff’ is really important. You can never be told enough times to edit your book one time or read one more book to understand your genre better. If something I told you didn’t stick the first time, maybe it will stick this time.

Business 2 Community published a creative article this morning about ‘7 Ways You Can Become A Better Writer.’ I really liked the way in which they choose to present the information. It’s fun, and let’s be honest, we can all use a little fun on this Friday- it’s been a long week.  🙂

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Take ONE course/class per year.

It’s true, writing is a personal journey. It allows for a lot of self-reflection that you can’t get anywhere else. But every once in a while, you need to work with other writers. Sharing your work in progress, reading it out loud, and receiving real life criticism (the good and the bad) is very important to your writing journey. You can learn a lot from a complete stranger. Many writing courses/classes can be expensive, but there are also plenty of free ones too- you just need to search them out.

Make TWO good beginnings.

The title of your book is one of the most important decisions you are going to make. It’s the first thing that readers see and most likely the reason they picked up your book in the first place. Make it count. If the title doesn’t feel right, then it’s probably not. The first few paragraphs and pages also need to make an impression. You want your reader to become immediately invested in your story. Give them a reason to stick around.

Read THREE books a month.

You barely have time to write, how are you going to find time to read three books? Trust me, it’s worth it. Just as you should always be writing, you should always be reading. I also really like what they suggest to read. Read one recently published book in your genre to keep up with the current trends. Read another book that has seen a lot of success and figure out why. The third book should be for pleasure- whatever interests you.

Do FOUR revisions.

Editing, editing, editing- it’s very important. As you write your first draft, you should keep an eye out for as many errors as possible. It will make your life easier in the long run. After you finish your first draft, do another edit. After the second edit, take a break and come back with fresh eyes for your third edit. For the fourth edit, ask a friend/editor/family member to read it through. I would highly recommend to do a couple more edits as well after this, you can never do enough.

Use all FIVE senses.

While writing, remember to use all five senses. You want your readers to feel what you are writing. You want your readers to be able to put themselves inside the pages of your book, right there with the characters. You want them to feel, hear, see, smell, and taste everything that the characters are.

Focus on SIX weaknesses.

When you go back and analyze previous works of yours, you should be able to pick out at least six areas that you struggle with or could use improvement on. Do some research and find some ways that you can improvement upon your weaknesses. Use what you learn in your next piece and focus on turning those weaknesses into some of your best qualities.

Learn SEVEN new words.

Make a point to learn one new word each day of the week. Chances are you are never going to use or say that word again, but you never know. One of those words might just naturally find it’s way into one of your books one day.

Write on.

 

Creating Your 2016 Action Plan

The new year always brings lots of talk about goals. We often get so wrapped up in where we want to go this year that we forget that we need an action plan in order to get there. It’s great that you want your book to land on the New York Times bestseller list, but how are you going to get it there? It’s most likely not going to appear there by itself. That would just be too easy. Once you have your goals lined up, next step is to create a plan. Formulate tools that are going to help you reach those goals. A good action plan turns goals into reality.

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This afternoon I came across an article on Poynter that handed out some pretty refreshing suggestions for productive writing. Sometimes the action plan seems so overwhelming that we quickly start to doubt that we will even make it past step two. That’s why I loved this article so much, it makes productivity sound easy. The article provides five doable solutions to having a productive writing year. It’s something we can all do without too much hassle. It makes our goals seem within our reach, which is half the battle. We need to believe in ourselves before others will. While creating your 2016 action plan, try incorporating some of these tools:

  1. Create a to-morrow list.

Slim down your “to-do” list every night. Make a smaller list of 3-5 things that you know you will be able to accomplish tomorrow. Often there are many pending jobs left on our ever expanding “to-do” lists that we constantly have the nagging feeling that we are doing so much but we aren’t moving anywhere. Feel your progress with shorter lists meant for success. Tomorrow never felt so good.

2. Dream Big.

This one might just be my favorite. 2016 is the year of big changes. Big changes means big goals. Take a moment to picture your wildest dream ever. Don’t be afraid to get a little crazy with it. Draw a quick picture of your ultimate success and hang it in your work space. Yes, I said it- draw. It doesn’t need to be the next Picasso, but visual reminders are often the most effective. A take a look at that drawing every day before you get to work. Use that energy to make your day the most productive it can be.

3. Build your own ladder. 

Create your action plan in chronological order. Start from the bottom and work your way up. What needs to happen before you can take the next step? Don’t get ahead of yourself. Live within the moment and savor every step of the journey.

4. Just do it

We can only plan so much before we want to rip our hair out. Sometimes we just need to sit down and write. Get all your thoughts out of paper then go back and revise, polish, revise, polish. In order to create something, you need to have a product. Get your baseline product done early so you have the most amount of time possible to make it the best version of your product out there.

5. Set a timer. 

It’s really easy to feel overwhelmed when writing, especially when nothing seems to be working out the way we had envisioned. Work in smaller spurts. Set a timer between 30 minutes to a couple hours. Work until the buzzer goes off, then take a break. If you are really feeling what you are writing, keep going. If not, it’s the perfect opportunity to hit the reset button.

Happy writing! Write On.