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.

Purposeful Writing

Everything we set out to do in life has a purpose. The purpose of getting in our car in the morning is to go to work. The purpose of going to our children’s sporting events is to show support. The purpose for pushing yourself out of bed for that morning run is to stay healthy (and maybe so you won’t feel so guilty about that candy you ate the other day). Writing is no different. Every time we set out to write a new novel or story, we need to have a purpose- a goal. When you work towards something in particular a certain passion and dedication comes out that you may not even realized you had. The end seems more tangible, something that you can reach rather than just a figment of your imagination.

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In a recent article on The Huffington Post blog, Paul Bishop talks about just how simple this goal can be. When you initially think of what a writer’s goal should be our prestigious side comes out. Bestseller lists, writing awards, six-figure publishing deals, and producers wanting to turn your book into the next summer blockbuster movie are just a few things that come into our mind. Yes, all these things would be nice but what about everything else that gets you to that point? What about writing in the moment? What about sitting down and pouring your heart out the page, smashing it to a billion small pieces, and patching the story back together to make the best possible product? What about producing work that you are most proud of?

Goals don’t need to be outrageous. Simple goals are often the most rewarding. The next time you sit down to write, think first about why you set out to write this story in the first place. Was it to bring light to a certain issue? Was it to express the endless creativity that flows through your brain daily? Or was it simply to just produce the best possible work you can at that moment? Keep your goals within a realistic reach and stay true to them. If you end up on the bestseller list, nominated for multiple awards, flush with cash, and collaborating on a movie well then just look at where all those simple goals led you! Success is measured by what you set out to do, not by how famous you have become in the process of doing so.

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One of Paul’s ‘successful’ writer friends also gave him some writing advice. I share a lot of advice on this blog so I am sometimes hesitant to overload you with more tips that may or may not be useful. But, his advice is fresh and new. He talks about things we often don’t hear very much about:

Never use a dollar word when a nickel word will do. Don’t use “cacophony” when “loud” makes your point.

Short sentences. Short paragraphs. Short chapters.

Never over describe a room. Pick out one feature and move on.

The same applies to what a character is wearing.

Use dialogue to drive your story.

Cut exposition to an absolute minimum.

Simplify your plotting, then simplify it some more, then some more. If a reader has to backtrack to figure out what was going during their last reading session, you’re doing it wrong.

I really enjoyed his words of advice because he is talking about writing for the masses. You don’t need to use impressive words, create deep imagery, or calculate elaborate sentences to write a bestseller. Readers aren’t looking for that. What they are looking for is accessible and entertaining stories. The best way to write a story geared towards readers is to stick to those simple goals. Focus on writing the best story you can, not about which synonym for ‘loud’ you are going to use. Write on.

Lessons & Surprises in Writing

Writing is full of lessons and surprises. No one day is ever the same as the next. What was easy one day, could be impossible the next. Your “million-dollar” idea could quickly fall flat. Your characters could morph into completely different people. Once your creativity gets flowing, one book can expand into ten. A writer can never predict what will happen or what they will discover along the way.

The Huffington Post recently asked some successful and acclaimed authors what surprised them the most about writing and their careers. Their answers were refreshing, putting them on the ground level with every other writer, instead of flying high in the clouds above everyone else. We can learn from them, we can relate to them, we can sympathize with them, and sometimes we can even laugh about them. Here is what they had to say about the crazy life of being a writer:

-Being a writer forces you to be an extrovert. You need to communicate with your fans and get out there to market/promote your books. Other people won’t start talking unless you are talking too. [Sue Grafton]

-You will experience humiliation. Bad reviews, awkward interviews, poor showing at marketing events can be embarrassing and hurt your self-esteem. You quickly learn how to handle these situations. [Linwood Barclay]

-Different genres have different chemistry among authors. With a certain prestige comes more friction. [Sara Paretsky]

-Writing is therapeutic and balancing. [Louis Begley]

-Success still enables you to live a normal life. [Harlan Coben]

-Writing never gets easier. [Lisa Gardner, Faye Kellerman, and Ian Rankin]

-The writing world quickly and constantly evolves. Pay attention to the trends and appreciate it them while they are here- in a few years you will need to adapt to new ones. [David Morrell]

-Authors have become their own marketers due to social media. [Jayne Ann Krentz]

-Writing is universal and heard around the world. [Michael Connelly]

-The high of a successful writing career never goes away. [Dennis Lehane]

-Success is always a surprise. [Clive Cussler]

Write On.

Battling Censorship

While browsing Huffington Post’s website today, I came across an article on a topic I don’t believe I have talked very much about on this blog (if at all)- censorship. This is a daily struggle that authors of all genres experience on many different levels. Obviously, censorship is most important  when you are writing nonfiction, a memoir, or biography. When things get too political, violent, or intimate we tend to second guess every word we put down on the page. Am I going to offend someone? Is the scene too vulgar? I am going to drive readers away? We lose focus of our goal, telling a truthful story, and spend more time worrying about what details to spare and what we might be able to paint in a ‘prettier’ light.

Fiction writers deal with the very same thing, in a different way. Our society has ingrained into our brains to always worry about what other people are going to think. After each scene, page, or chapter we are left wondering how readers will respond to our writing. We forget what we want and start writing for what we think other people want. Your story slowly becomes a product of societal influences, rather than the story you originally set out to write.

Whether we are contemplating which details of our dark past to leave out or searching for the ultimate ending we think our fans are looking for, Rachel Thompson perfectly captures the downfalls of censorship. We may feel like we are doing the right thing in the moment, but the only person you are cheating in the end is yourself.

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Censorship allows others to made decisions for you.

If you find yourself censoring your writing, then your writing is no longer truly yours. You are letting outside influences affect you to the point that you are actually changing your work for them… crazy, right? It happens so naturally and quickly that sometimes we don’t even realize it. Your finished product may be more ‘public-friendly’ but was that really the story you set out to tell? The best thing you can do for your writing is stay true to yourself and your story.

Shame leads to censorship.

Our society dictates what’s right and wrong. When something ‘wrong’ happens to us we think twice before telling someone about it. What will people think of me if I confess what happened? Will they believe me? Will they be embarrassed of me? When we think about writing about something ‘wrong’ we ask the very same questions. Shame is a powerful tool that keeps us from sharing our emotions and experiences. Shame keeps us from expressing ourselves. Hiding in shame won’t solve any problems, you have the right to speak your mind. I bet you will find many new supporters along the way and that shame will quickly wash away, in turn making you a stronger and better person for it.

Censorship is risky.

There’s always risk involved with saying what’s on your mind. Someone is going to disagree with you or be offended by what you had to say. Some will even voice their opinion back at you. But censoring yourself is also risky. You want to be happy with your writing and you want your writing to make you feel good. Will you find happiness in writing that isn’t truly what you had meant it to be? Probably not. You need to ask yourself what’s riskier. The best writing pushes risk to its extremes. Be a little different, speak what’s on your mind, and take the risk.

Write on.

Embracing The Digital Age

Writing is a scary process. It’s one of the few times we can let ourselves be completely vulnerable. We pour our heart and souls onto the paper and then all of the sudden, it’s there- ready for the rest of the world to see. Unfortunately, the publishing process is just as scary. Especially into today’s publishing landscape, there are so many options an author needs to consider. Do they want to try their hand at a traditional publisher? Do they want to immerse themselves in the indie world? Do they want to seek a strictly digital publisher? The digital age has changed so much about book publishing its very easy to become discouraged.

Today I can across another Huffington Post article that highlighted five things that all authors should know about publishing in the digital age. Perhaps the article will ease your mind, maybe it will ensure you that despite all it’s challenges it is possible to succeed in today’s publishing market. Or perhaps the article will increase your anxiety even more, bringing to light more things that you had never even thought of. Either way, the article addresses some important issues that our digital age has created for authors and book publishing. So take a deep breath, read it for yourself, and know that you can do this.

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  1. Traditional vs. Indie

The indie world has opened up a mass amount of opportunity. More authors than ever have the ability to publish their work, share it with fans, and most importantly- make money off of it. But now every author is faced with the dilemma of going with a traditional publisher or acting as their own. Being your own publisher allows you to find your own success, work on your own terms, and maintain absolute creative control. The freedom comes with a price tag of a lot of work, many logged research hours, and a host of lingering questions. If you decide to seek out a traditional publisher, the work that will need to be done on your end in terms of producing the book decreases dramatically. But now you need to decide which publisher is right for you and what your expectations are.

2. You need to market your own work.

The world of social media has made it easy for everyone to become a marketer and once you write your first book, you aren’t just an author now but a marketer as well. Even if you have a traditional publisher, the role of social media is instrumental to your success. Your publisher just isn’t going to have the amount of time needed to appropriately dedicate the hours into growing your social presence, so you are going to need to do it. Everyone loves being able to connect with their favorite authors, see what they are up to on a daily basis, and keep track of their upcoming projects. Being visible is the best thing for your writing career. Once people are invested in you, they will be invested in your work as well.

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3. Print On Demand Books.

Bookstores rarely stock print on demand books, so this is something you should be aware of before making any distribution/publishing decisions. Bookstores want to be able to return their stock if it doesn’t sell, so the print on demand model just doesn’t work for them. The article points out a couple ways in which you may be able to get around this, so check it out.

4. Distribution.

So, you have this lovely physical book- how do you sell it? Finding a distribution company can be next to impossible, especially if you are a new author. Most distribution companies like to see a successful sale history, so if you don’t have any to show them then you just might be out of luck. Your best bet is to wait until you have some (good) digital sales. The good news? Digital sales are growing by leaps and bounds, so don’t sweat it.

5. Pitch Your Work.

Don’t be afraid to talk about your book (and get used to it). Put yourself out there and pitch your book to whoever you need to in order to get the job done. If you don’t get yourself out there, the likely hood of them coming to you is very slim. You will also need to prepare yourself for rejection. It’s one of those unavoidable harsh realities of writing and publishing. That one “YES” will make all false hope worth it. If not, don’t get discouraged- you can always do it on your own. If you don’t ask, you shall never receive.

Write on.

Keep On Writing

It’s very easy to stop writing. When you have a few weeks of a hectic schedule, hit a hard writer’s block, or have lost faith that your writing will ever “succeed” it’s easy to quit. Your frustrations and outside pressures cloud your head and sometimes it just easier to give up. You are probably thinking that I am going to tell you not to do this and that you shouldn’t let a few rough days, weeks, or months keep you from completing what you have set out to do. If that’s what you are thinking… you are right! But, I don’t want you to keep writing just so your book, novel, memoir, short story, or poem gets finished. I want you to write because it’s healthy. There are many health “fads” out there right now to help you reach your optimal physical health. There’s Crossfit, obstacle course runs (warrior dashes, mud runs), Beachbody workouts (P90X, Insanity), Shakeology, and paleo diets. What about our mental health? Our brain, soul, and mind are the most important aspect of who we are. If we aren’t in a good mental state, how can we be expected to care for our physical bodies?

I came across an article today on The Huffington Post blog that highlighted three benefits to writing. Each one of them proves that the act of writing may be one of the best things we can do for our mental health. It’s really that simple and us writers have the advantage on this one.

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Writing allows you to express feelings. At the end of each day, we should all really sit down and write- even if it’s just for a few minutes. There are so many thoughts and emotions that we experience each day that we never share with anyone else. These feelings can easily bottle up inside of us and possibly one day explode. If something pissed you off that day, write about it. If something made you smile, write about it. if something reminded you of a bad memory, write about it. If you finally accomplished a lifetime goal, write about it. Expressing your emotions for yourself is one of the purest forms of therapy. There’s no one there to judge you and your thoughts can be completely uncensored. Who knows, you may even ignite inspiration for your next book. That jerk who cut you off this morning may just be your next blessing.

Writing is also an easy way to commemorate your life. If you write about your challenges, successes, obstacles, and accomplishments bit by bit your legacy will be forever preserved. You may not think that you have a whole lot to offer anyone else, but the truth is that you actually do. You have a whole lot to offer. No one else out there has lived the same life you have, but there are people out there who have had similar experiences or are going through something similar at the moment. You never know who your writing will inspire or help through a rough time. Even if it’s just one of your children or grandchildren, your writing will never see a better purpose.

Writing gets your creative juices flowing. When you sit down to write, you never know where you are going to end up. Writing about a simple trip to the grocery store could lead you to Mars having dinner with an alien family. You might discover your next story idea, a new interest you never knew you had, or it just might clear your head and leave you with a blank slate to take on the next day. The more you write, the more ideas that will filter in and out of you brain- for better or worse.

Never underestimate the power of a couple words. Write on (and don’t stop).

Breaking Free of Self-Doubt

Let’s face it, we all have those days when we feel down and something is just off. Sometimes it’s for no apparent reason, while other days it’s because nothing seems to be going your way- whether you got a bad review on your book, a fan posted a nasty comment, or your editor told you that you need to basically re-write your next novel. These days make us start to doubt our ability to succeed. We start to question our talent and wonder if we truly have what it takes to keep going. When you put your work out there to be criticized a lot of good things can happen, but a lot of bad things will probably happen too. We need to find ways to pick ourselves out of that self-doubt and move forward. Every hit of negative criticism makes you a stronger and better writer.

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Today, author Holly Robinson shared four ways that she conquers her self-doubt in a post on The Huffington Post book blog. I thought they were pretty awesome ideas and that many of us could benefit from them- not just in our own writing worlds, but in our every day lives as well.

1. “Work With Your Hands”

Build/do something with you hands- bake something, do an arts project, conquer a landscaping project. Seeing the physical result of your efforts will help you gain some of your confidence back.

2. “Forget About Success”

Stop worrying about what other people think and remember that the main person you create your work for is you. Don’t be afraid to fail. As long as you are happy with the work that you produce, you are already winning.

3. “Stay Flexible”

Try new things- even if it’s just for a few hours. Try writing a different type of genre than usual. Craft up a totally different character than ever before. Create a world that seems completely bizarre to you. It will give you a break from your typical writing and you never know, it might lead you somewhere other than the trash bin.

4. “Keep Your Projects Warm”

Never stop working completely. If you aren’t up for a whole day of writing then just reread a few chapters, edit a few lines, or make outlines for future chapters. The second you stop working, you are letting your self-doubt win.

The only person that can make you succeed or fail is yourself. We all have days of self-doubt, but it’s how we break free that matters. Write On.

Keeping The Memory Alive

Author Warren Adler attributes memory to be the key to novel writing. Many writers depend on their memory to help spark ideas, describe scenes, and add a sense of reality to their fictional writing. Especially as an author ages, memory becomes even more important. When a key component to your life’s work starts to slip, it’s a devastating reality you won’t be able to erase.

To combat the looming memory loss and to keep his memory active, Adler talks about his daily exercises in a post on The Huffington Post book blog. Most of his memory exercises take place in the morning. Before he even gets out of bed, Adler practices his recall. He tries to recall every detail he can remember, starting with his earliest memory. He remembers his earliest sights and feelings as a baby. He recalls close family relatives, such as grandparents who have long passed away. He remembers what they looked like, what they wore, their mannerisms, and their persona. Adler recalls their addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, etc. He also vividly remembers their houses, all the small details- the smell, the sounds, the décor, even the layout to the rooms and furniture. He does the same for past girlfriends, old friends, and even recalls every teacher he ever had. Adler simply relives his life every morning with just his memory- sharpening it by the day.

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Adler points out that this is an exercise that works for him, though not scientifically proven. It’s an interesting method and at any age, one worth trying. As Adler mentions in his post, the brain controls everything. We must exercise it as much as possible, especially when our work depends on it. Write on.

Remember Why You Write

Starting your writing career is hard. You are always kept wondering if you are ever going to be good enough, when that first big deal will come, and if writing will ever be something you will be able to do full time. But the truth is, writing is hard and it seldom gets easier. Every stage of your career has new and different challenges to overcome. Just when you think you are comfortable, another road block emerges. Successful author, Holly Robinson, talks about this phenomenon in a recent article on The Huffington Post book blog entitled, “Why It’s Harder To Write The Next Book Than Your Last– And How To Keep Writing Anyway.”

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Robinson explains that with each book she writes it actually gets harder. She is always worrying about disappointing her fan base, her next advance, and what publicity she will be able to land. Despite all her success, she still worries if she is going to continue to make it in the publishing world.

We all can’t relate to Robinson’s challenges at this point in her career, but what we can relate to is why she keeps writing. Robinson makes a realization that I think all writers and authors need to make at some point in their career to be successful, “I write because writing is the thing I love to do.” We can’t succeed in a writing career without first realizing why we write. When you put your own work on the line for the whole world to either criticize or love, the reason you started this all in the first place needs to be ingrained into your soul. You started to write because you love it, because it keeps you sane, because you can take any figment of your imagination and turn it into reality. You started this journey for you and if anyone else happens to join you for the ride than you are one step further than you ever imagined you would be.

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Robinson ends her article with a wonderful summation of how writers, new and experienced, need to remember always to write, “”Write your story for yourself alone; pour your heart out on the page.” Write on.

Reading To Write

One of the greatest ways to learn to write is to read. The more you read, the more you are exposed to. You can see firsthand how different authors develop their characters, set up their scenes, and analyze their structural and stylistic choices. Reading across all different genres and all different types of authors is extremely helpful- especially to a new author who hasn’t quite found their footing and place in the writing world yet.

Just as helpful as it is to immerse yourself into the books of mysteries, romances, thrillers, histories, and sciences it is also tantamount to have a few reliable technical writing books up your sleeve. I believe that most writing is simply a natural experience but there are some rules, methods, and techniques that we all need to faithfully practice. Being able to refer back to these reminders is an opportunity we should all give ourselves.

Gregory Ciotti, from The Huffington Post book blog, put together a list of five technical writing books that help you improve your writing skills. I found the list particularly helpful. If you haven’t found your “writing bible” yet, you might want to check these out:

1. REVISING PROSE by Richard Lanham

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2. 100 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR WRITING by Gary Provost

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3. BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott

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4. ON WRITING by Stephen King

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5. THE SENSE OF STYLE by Steven Pinker

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New or experienced- we can all benefit from brushing up on our writing skills from time to time. But, finding the right writing book for our individual style and work habits could prove tricky. Give these a try if you are still on the search, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. Write On.