We’re All A Little Crazy

Writing is one of the craziest things. Yes, I said it. It’s crazy! On the surface it seems like such a relaxing and simple task, but really it’s so much more than that. I think there’s a small part in all of us who wants to be a “writer.” We all have thousands of thoughts that run through out minds on a daily basis, we all have that one awesome book idea, and we all think that what we have to say is way more important than the person sitting next to us. The truth is, writing isn’t for everyone. Not everyone is meant to be a writer. To be a true writer you have to be a special kind of person. A writer needs to be patient, but driven. Self-disciplined, but connected to the outer world. A multi-tasker, but focused. Flexible, but determined. Creative, but conformed. Writing pulls you in so many different directions in the course of just one page, one paragraph, one sentence which makes it one of the most unpredictable careers or hobbies out there.

I started to think about just how crazy writing is this morning when I came across an article in The Huffington Post titled ‘5 Things You Need To Know About Writing Before Becoming A Writer.’ It really put the whole process in a clear perspective that made me stop to think about the mental stability of us all. Why do we do it? Writing seems harmless and fun but when you start to peel back the layers, it’s way more than you can ever imagine.

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My brain is whizzing at about 1,000 miles per hour about these ‘5 Things To Know,’ so here we go:

Writing is difficult. To do it effectively, it’s probably one of the most difficult things you will ever do. And guess what? It never gets easier. Every time you sit down to write even just a few simple words, you may feel like you have been hit in the face with 1,000 bricks. I know this because today is one of those days. And last week was too. And the month before that. Every time I sit down to write a quick blog post, nothing profound, nothing revolutionary, it’s like pulling teeth. Yes, some days the words come out easier than others, but I would never say the process in general was ‘easy.’ You always second guess your opening sentence or your last word. You always struggle to find that one word that truly describes how you feel or want your readers to feel. You always wonder if you could say more or if you should of said less. I also know writing is difficult because I can think of hundreds of others things I rather be doing right now- like laundry, mopping the floors, or washing dishes. And I never want to do those things.

  1. Throw Out All The Rules. In school we were all taught the basics of grammar and the ‘right’ way to construct a sentence, essay, or research paper. As we grew into our own writing and found our ‘spot’, our genre, we were introduced to a whole new set of rules. What you can and can’t write about. How the story is supposed to end. What types of characters you should create. Which surprises you are allowed to throw into your writing, and which ones you should leave out. What a writer really needs to do is ignore everything they have ever learned, which is much easier said than done. To set your writing a part, it needs to dabble outside the mainstream. It needs to say, ‘HEY, LOOK AT ME!’ But every time you misplace a word, use informal language, adopt a risky tone, or create a controversial character your heart will skip a beat. You will have every urge to erase the whole damn thing because you just read an article about how a romance isn’t supposed to end that way. And it will take every ounce of courage to carry on.
  2. Writer’s Block Will Happen. And when it does it will be one of the scariest and most frustrating moments of your life. You will start to second guess everything you have ever written. You will start to wonder if you are even cut out for the job. You will have an urge to keep writing and the words that are coming out will be complete garbage. And you will know it too. This is when there is literally only one thing you can do- stop. You need to stop. You need to throw that self-discipline into high gear and force yourself to walk away. You might just need a few minutes, you might need a few hours, or you might need to come back to it tomorrow.  But don’t fall victim to losing some of your best work because of ‘the block.’
  3. Writing Doesn’t Work Around Your Schedule. You might plan out the most perfect day. A quick morning run, a nice hot shower, followed by a few productive hours of writing with a few delicious cups of coffee by your side, then a healthy lunch at the cafe down the street and quite stroll through the park, with a few more productive hours of writing under a beautiful willow tree. I hope you get those days, I really do. But it won’t always work out the way you want it to- I can promise you that. The words might be get stuck in some far away galaxy that morning and finally make it down to Earth half way through that veggie wrap. You might need to push all those healthy habits aside right then and there. When creativity strikes you need to pull out that laptop or notepad and let the words dictate when you will write them. Flexibility is key.
  4. It’s Extremely Satisfying. Through all the craziness you need to keep your eye on the prize- the finished product. To form the perfect sentence, to create a realistic world out of white paper, or to finally choose that last word is a feeling that cannot be described, only experienced. Everything you said you ever hated about your writing and every time you said you were going to quit will simply disappear as if it never existed. You may even feel like a completely different person, completely misled or fooled… until the next time you sit in front of  a blank page.
  5. It’s A Window To Connecting With People. Although the process of writing is personal and intimate, once finished your writing reaches complete strangers. There are going to many people who could care less about what you wrote, but there will be others who stopped in their tracks all because of the words that you strung together. You might inspire them, you might change their perspective, or you just might simply entertain them for a few hours. Talk about pressure, huh? The beautiful thing about this connection is that you can’t force it. It’s either going to be there or it won’t. So don’t overthink it. Your natural words will connect you to someone, somewhere better than anything else.

Yes, writing is crazy. 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.

brainwriting

-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.

A Case of The ‘Friday Giggles’

It’s Friday, the sun is shining, and it’s finally 70 degrees outside! Spring has officially arrived and did I mention, it’s FRIDAY?! Friday always calls for a little fun. We work hard all week and we deserve to let loose a little. Well, Bustle came to the rescue again and gave me just the right amount of silliness I was looking for. Today they talked about some strange habits from famous writers and although it’s mostly entertaining and perfect for my “let loose” Friday attitude, we might actually learn something from it as well.

friday

  1. Get your cardio on. Many famous authors (like J.A. Jacobs, Kurt Vonnegut, and Haruki Murakami) swear by their workout routine and I couldn’t agree more. I know that when I don’t get at least a little exercise in each day, I feel sluggish and tired. It even effects how I feel the next day, until I get around to working out again. Keeping some sort of physical activity built into your day will only help you to keep on top of that ‘to-do’ list.
  2. Keep busy. Franz Kafka swore by exhaustion. I do like my beauty sleep, but I can definitely see the benefit of keeping a busy and regimented schedule. If you give yourself too much freedom, you will become lazy. There will always be the, “I’ll do it later or tomorrow” excuse. Keep yourself busy with work, hobbies, friends/family so that when you do have time to finally sit down and write- you actually sit down to write.
  3.  Pick up a dictionary.  Anthony Burgess turned to the dictionary to help him write some of his scenes. All writers have at least that one scene that they are really dreading to write. Most of the time because they know it’s going to be a daunting task to get it right. Burgess suggests picking up a dictionary and using the words on a random page to write your scene. Not only is it a fun challenge, but you will end up with a unique scene that you never would have written otherwise.
  4. Stand. Thomas Wolfe, along with many other famous writers, liked to write standing up. Sitting down all day is detrimental to our health, so we should all be trying to stand a little bit more anyways. Plus, standing prevents us from getting too comfortable and forces us to focus on the task at hand.
  5. I’m just going to skip #5 and leave you to our own devices on this one. It’s certainly entertaining nonetheless.
  6.  Find your own space. Maya Angelou rented a hotel room in her hometown on a monthly basis and used it for writing. Sometimes we need to separate ourselves from everything else going on in our lives in order to be completely present and focused on our task at hand.
  7. Get off your feet. Authors such as Edith Wharton and Mark Twain preferred to write while lying down. I can’t think of a better excuse to curl in bed with your writing supplies in tow.
  8. Keep your own traditions. Capote held many superstitions when it came to writing and I don’t think he’s completely crazy for it. Sometimes doing something over and over again a particular way (for whatever the reason may be, or perhaps there’s no reason at all) brings comfort and consistency. If you feel good about your actions (or lack thereof) you will most likely feel more confident about the writing you just produced.
  9. Loose the layers. John Cheever and Victor Hugo did their writing in different stages of undress. Not sure if I would practice this method myself, but there surely is a freeing sensation  about being close to your natural state that could very well carry over into your writing as well.
  10. Travel more. Gertrude Stein and Joseph Heller did their best writing on the move. Seeing new places, people, and things will help ignite new inspiration.  I know that I could definitely do better writing on a beach in the Caribbean…

Write on.

The Most Dangerous Writing App- literally.

I am always looking for new writing exercises to pass onto you fabulous writers. Writing can become very tedious, which in turn can force us to become stagnant. How many times can we sit down at the same computer, at the same coffee shop, and work on the same few pages? It will make anyone go a little crazy and will eventually bring on a nasty case of writer’s block. To make sure we keep our creative juices flowing, we need to switch up our routine a bit every once in a while. Maybe we take up a bench in the park for a few hours instead of writing under the dim light of our favorite coffee spot. Or maybe we try writing at night, versus during the wee hours of the morning. Or just maybe, we take a break from our current project and focus on some freestyle writing- even if just for an hour.

This morning I came across a new (well, for me) writing app called ‘The Most Dangerous Writing App’– and it takes its name quite literally. To put it simply, you set the amount of time you want to write for and if you stop typing before time is up… everything gets deleted. It’s a web based app that you can use with any type of browser, making it very accessible from wherever you are.

dangerous

At first I was horrified. How about if you pen the start to the next Pulitzer Prize novel and then you stop for just a second to take a sip of coffee and it’s GONE?! After my initial freak out of far fetched dreams, I shifted back to reality. The purpose of this app isn’t to write an amazing piece of literature, it’s to exercise and train your writing brain. Many writers struggle with finding chunks of time in their day to sit down and write. This app trains you to sit down and follow through on your commitment. If you struggle to write for more than than a half hour, set the timer for 45 minutes. Write about absolutely anything. Your day, your weekend plans, or that crazy dream you had last night. Anything- just don’t stop. Soon enough, writing for a half hour will feel easy and you can slowly work your way up writing for hours without much thought to it.

Another great benefit of the app is that it doesn’t allow for perfectionism. You have absolutely no time to go back and read what you just wrote or fix your grammar errors. If you do… well, you know- your work will be deleted. It trains our brain to be alright with getting all our thoughts out on paper without thinking about how it’s  actually sounding or what golden writing rule we just broke. Writers need to get more comfortable with the idea of a crappy first draft because to be honest, most are. It’s really hard to fully edit or tweak unfinished work. You need to have the structure of your story, the bare details, and the arc of where you are hoping to take your book laid out before you can really get down to writing. That’s hard to do if you are continually obsessing over the same paragraph. Do yourself a favor and forget about it. Continue writing and come back to it after. You will have a much clearer idea of what your purpose is and making corrections won’t seem as daunting.

Trying out this app will definitely be scary the first couple times, but I truly think only good things will come from it. As long as you don’t use it to write that book or essay you are on a strict deadline for.

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.  🙂

seven

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.

dreams

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.

Becoming Your Own Editor

I do a lot of posts about editing on this blog, it’s no secret. To be honest, I have been feeling kind of lost lately because I haven’t done one in a while. There must be something real off in the universe, right? But have no fear, Bustle answered my cry for help this morning. Rachel Krantz reads essay submissions for Bustle and also conducts monthly writing seminars/workshops for their writers and freelancers alike. It is very safe to say that she has completely immersed herself in every part of the writing process, for better or worse. Her last seminar focused on self-editing (insert happy dance here). It is actually one of the more helpful articles I have stumbled upon when it comes to editing, giving me even more of a reason to share it with you.

I don’t want this advice to replace hiring a professional editor. If you have room in your budget to hire professional help, I would still highly recommend it. I’m also in touch with reality enough to know this isn’t possible for everyone, making self-editing one of your prime concerns because you simply don’t have a choice. Whether you are writing a news article, an essay, a short story, or a novel editing can seriously make or break you. You can have an awesome story, but if the reader/editor evaluating your writing can’t get through a few pages (or lines) without finding structural or grammatical errors your writing is automatically going in the ‘trash’ pile. It may not seem fair, but it’s really hard for someone to connect with your writing when all they can think about are the mistakes that keep popping up. Despite if they are easy fixes or not, most editors aren’t going to be willing to work with you if they can’t connect with your story.

selfediting

Below you will find some advice from Rachel’s seminar, but you should really check it out for yourself too:

  1. Get your FAME on.

Rachel created an acronym for the process of self-editing before you even start writing, she calls it FAME.

Free Write: Designate a certain amount of time and just sit down and basically barf up your story in any way, shape, or form possible. Just write whatever comes to mind. Don’t stop and most importantly, don’t think. Just write.

Account For Your Details: Look for patterns. Words that repeat themselves and themes that keep reoccurring. Highlight those details.

Map Your Arc: Create a general map of your story. It will be helpful to know where you are starting, what your climax is going to be, and where you will end up.

Expect An Audience: Figure out who your audience is before you start writing. Also, make an ideal word count. Different forms of writing, different age groups, and different genres all have different ‘ideal’ word counts. It’s best to figure that out before you start writing.

2. Embrace the first edit with questions.

How nice would it be to only have to do one edit and then call it a day? That has to be every writer’s dream, right? Unfortunately, your first edit is going to be one of oh, I don’t know… 100? It might be helpful to approach your first edit with some questions in mind, instead of focusing on just finding the mistakes. I bet there are many areas that could still be developed, cut down, or made clearer. Your first edit is the best place to tackle these problems. That’s why Rachel provides key questions on content, form, and length for you to think about. It’s important to get these issues resolved as early as possible.

3. Walk away.

Once you complete your first edit, walk away from your writing for a few days. Work on something else, treat yourself to a reward, or pick up that book you have been dying to read. Give yourself some time to digest all the work you have done so you will be able to come back to it with a clear mind.

4. Conquer the second edit and so on.

During your second edit, make sure to revisit the same questions you asked yourself during you first edit. Make sure you still feel the same way about them. Rachel also poses some new questions for you to think about to make sure you are still following your original intended track.

5. Recruit a friend.

Ask a friend to read it through. A fresh set of eyes can often save your writing. Sometimes we become blind to the one thing that really needs our attention because we are so busy making sure our overall message is delivered. You might even want to give them the questions that Rachel suggests, so they can think about them while reading.

Self-editing is scary, let’s just admit it. But, with a little help from people who have been there we will be able to get through it, hopefully with the same amount of hair on our head as when we started. Write on.