Different Strokes for Different Folks

There are so many different ways to write a novel, which makes every story unique from one another. Some authors prefer to write from an outline, others write first and last sentences then go back and fill in the rest, while some writers prefer to write in scenes, mash them together, and reorganize. The ways authors could go about writing a novel are endless. Chris Bohijalian described his writing process in an article entitled, “The Writing Process that Led to ‘Close Your, Eyes, Hold Hands,” in The Huffington Post book blog.

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I found his process really interesting because it provides maximum amount of freedom to let your creativity juices flow, which is an integral part of writing. It’s pretty simple- Chris just sits down and writes. He does not have an outline, nor does he know where the story will take him. He simply lets cause and effect led the way, only deciding on a story topic and voice before writing. Next, he lets the character take him through the story. It’s as if he puts himself into the mind of his character, writing down their emotions, thoughts, actions, and reactions as they come to him (which sometimes happens to be a bike ride).

Chris points out that this style of writing calls for a great deal of rewriting. He uses Ernest Hemingway’s approach- to start each day off rewriting what he wrote the day before. This concept, as Chris points out, allows him to remember clearly where he was the day before and gives him a jump off point to start his new work. I find this process intriguing because it allows you to revisit the state of mind you were in yesterday- you can choose to stay in that state of mind or modify. Every day provides a different perspective. It also provides a unique opportunity to connect each page of your novel to the next earlier on in the editing process, instead of creating a major headache after your first draft when you realize the flow of your story just isn’t right.

This process of not outlining the scope of your novel and relying on the character is a very challenging but rewarding creative process. It allows for the writer’s own creativity to take control.  When you have an outline it’s very common to become “married” to it, making it harder to change the story’s direction when needed. Obviously, this free handed style isn’t going to work for everyone, but the good news is that there are many different writing processes out there. If you have not found a style yet that you are comfortable with, give this one a try. Even if you just try it as a writing exercise, it will be very beneficial to feel the amount of opportunity that is out there for your writing. You really have no idea where it will take you. Write on.

Writing Is Learning

Life is full of experiences and experiences are full of lessons- some we search for and others just fall into our laps. Writing a book is a priceless, grueling, and rewarding experience that not many of us get the privilege to indulge in. It takes a certain type of person to become an author- self-motivated, disciplined, and critical. Not only is writing a book a great item to add to your list of accomplishments, but the experience itself also comes with a whole host of lessons we learn throughout the process. I came across an article on The Huffington Post’s blog by Maria Ross that perfectly captured some of these greatest lessons. Not only do we become better writers, when writing a book, we become better people as well. Writing affects us in more ways than one, both in our writing world and in the real one.

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  1. Have Discipline

~Writing Life: Create a schedule for your writing, don’t expect to just be able to “fit it in” when you have the time. Treat writing as a job and make time for it. Most importantly, keep that commitment to yourself. There’s very little that we actually accomplish without holding ourselves accountable.

~Real Life: When you make a commitment, honor it. Do what it takes to get it done. Turn thoughts and intentions into reality by creating goals and following through with them.

  1. Open Up To Family and Friends

~Writing Life: Let your family and friends know that your time will be limited while you are writing. Don’t just let yourself disappear without reason or fall into the pressure of committing to too many plans while writing. You don’t need to give up your life, but you also need to know when you need to skip your lunch date and write. Let your friends and family know about your writing goals so they can support you and hold you accountable as well.

~Real Life: Let the people close to you into your life. Share your goals, dreams, and aspirations. The more support you receive, the more likely you will get to where you want to go. You will probably be much happier too.

  1. Invite Feedback

~Writing Life: Find people to review your ideas and writing for honest (yes, honest) feedback. Just because something sounds amazing or makes sense to you, doesn’t mean that everyone else will feel the same way. Be smart with who you seek feedback from though. Seek help from critics, editors, writers, readers, or friends with the same interests as you (or as your target audience) or with the appropriate knowledge of the genre/audience you are trying to reach.

~Real Life: Always ask for help and seek advice from those who have been there before. Even if you think you know what you are doing, you probably don’t. No one knows everything. You never know which small piece of advice could change your life forever.

  1. Be Your Own Audience

~Writing Life: When you are writing, pretend you are your targeted reader. What would you want to see happen, what questions would you have, what thoughts would cross your mind, what would interest you? Incorporate the answers to these questions into your writing.

~Real Life: Always put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It is much easier for you to be critical of yourself when you are looking at what you do through different lenses.

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  1. Prepare For Criticism

~Writing Life: News flash- not everyone is going to like/enjoy your writing. Even people you thought would love it, might not. Guess what? That’s perfectly alright and perfectly normal. Not everyone likes the same clothing, same shoes, same decorating style, or same hobbies. Diversity keeps things flowing. At the end of the day, write what you feel and you can’t go wrong.

~Real Life: Not everyone is going to be on your side, not everyone is going to agree with you. People have their own goals/beliefs and we need to respect that. We can’t expect everyone to support everything we do or believe in everything we say. Respect it, embrace it- don’t hate it.

  1. Self-Doubt Will Happen

~Writing Life: There will be many times in the writing process where you will question what you are doing, what you are writing, your credibility, and your future success. Are you wasting your time? Are you writing about the right topic/genre? Do you have the credibility to say what you are writing? These questions are good. They mean you care. Those nervous butterflies prove you are doing the right thing.

~Real Life: Always seek improvement and never get “comfortable.” The moment you stop questioning yourself, pushing and challenging yourself, is the moment your dreams remain dreams and nothing else.

  1. Trust Your Story

~Writing Life: Write with your heart, write what you feel, and believe in it. It doesn’t matter how many other times it has been done. If you feel it, if you believe it, then it’s worth writing about. Everyone has their own take on the same topic or scenario- make yours heard and don’t look back.

~Real Life: Trust your gut and believe in yourself. If you feel like something is right, like you are meant do something, if you can’t stop thinking about something then do something about it. Take others people’s advice and hopes for yourself only so far. Live for you- with no regrets.

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Like many other things in life, writing is a priceless experience. It allows you to grow, to discover, to reflect. You can learn extraordinary things when you least expect it. Life, and writing, is a beautiful thing. Write on.

Bypass The Block

Suffering from writer’s block sometimes feels like the worst thing in the world to have happen to you, especially if you are on a deadline or if you only have a short amount of time each day to work on your writing. Fortunately, there are many things that writers can do to get their creative juices flowing again. Some of these suggestions include getting some form of exercise/take a walk to clear your mind and get some fresh air or distract your mind by reading a book or magazine unrelated to your writing (mentioned in my previous post). Sometimes, breaks like these just don’t work so I was really happy when I caught an article today in The Huffington Post which focused on getting kids to ‘like’ creative writing. I think the tools/exercises mentioned in the article will also help to get any writer, of any age, out of a ‘funk.’

The article is titled ‘2 Great Exercises to Help Kids Love Creative Writing’ by Brett Murphy Hunt, a College English Lecturer. In the article she talks about two techniques to improve children’s interest in creative writing. The first technique that she offered is called “Word Association Exercise.” The way it works is that someone (or the teacher) is supposed to give you a series of words and then the writer is to write down the first word that pops into his or her head, next to the word given to them. After all the words are given, the writer is supposed to circle a group of words that create the strongest visual for them and hopefully this will inspire some free or new writing/ideas.

If you don’t have someone to do a similar exercise like this with, I have a solution. Look at a random newspaper, magazine, or online article or a bunch of different articles. Pick out some words out of an article and then next to the words you select write the first word that pops into your mind. This exercise will be helpful for people who just need to jump start their creative juices and wake their mind up again.

The next exercise that Brett presents to her students is a “Partnered Story,” which is exactly what you think it is. The teacher writes the first line of a chapter then passes the notebook to the student, who then writes the second line. The teacher and student go back and forth like this for as long as needed, until the imagination is flowing again.

Again, you will need someone else to do this exercise with- a friend, sibling, parent, or even pen pal. If you don’t have someone to do this exercise with then I would suggest using the internet as your other person. Go to a comment section of any article you can find and take a comment that you find interesting and add a second sentence to it. Odds are (if it is an interesting enough comment) you will get a response, and then you can keep on going with it.  The sentences don’t have to relate to anything you are writing or something you would ever want to write, they just need to rev your mind back into gear. They could be completely funny and out of context just to elicit a visceral response from an unsuspecting reader. The more fun you have with it, the more you will gain.

Although both these exercises are described to be used in the context of students in a classroom, I think they are both wonderful exercises for writers of any age. They will certainly help to ignite a spark in the creative mind and help get stuck writers unstuck. The hardest part of being stuck is getting unstuck and any help we can get is always appreciated. Write on.