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fiction writing

Secrets Your Inner Critic Would Kill to Keep

SAMSUNGThis article is not for everyone.

Some writers really love the actual process of writing. Some writers have so many ideas they don’t even know what to do with them all. Some writers almost always feel confident and upbeat about their writing.

I am not one of those writers.

It is incredibly difficult for me to sit down and do the physical work of writing. I love tripping though Imagination-land in my head. I love talking about books and writing. I love to read novels, stories, and poetry. But when I sit down in front of the blank page I would rather be anywhere else.

I am also a very slow writer. I write about 5 pages a week, sometimes I make it to 10. I have never—never, ever—written over 20 pages in one week.

And almost every time I reread the first draft of anything I’ve written, I absolutely hate it.

For years, I assumed all of these things were indicators that I was not cut out to be a writer. My inner critic pushed me to compare myself to other writers, and to legends about writers, and to idealized fantasies in my head about what a writer was supposed to be and how they were supposed to work.

I came up short every time.

Then…I discovered that my inner critic is not my voice of truth. In fact, it’s not even my voice at all. The voice of my inner critic comes from a place of fear. My inner critic likes to mislead me into thinking that if I listen to fear I will be safer, I won’t be laughed at, I won’t lose anything.

After all, it is true that is if you never put yourself out there, you might feel safer.

And if you never put yourself 100% into finishing your novel, you won’t run the risk of it being laughed at.

And if you never try to move out of your comfort zone, you won’t ever lose the familiar.

But when I started writing again seven years ago, I decided things were going to be different between me and my inner critic. No matter how much fear it tried to pour all over my hopes and dreams, I would keep going. I would keep pushing forward, no matter what. So what if writing is hard for me? So what if I’m a slow writer? So what if I cringe when I reread my rough drafts? I still get to try.

In seven years I’ve written four novels. I’ve written eight short stories. Now, I’m writing a blog. And the only thing I did was show up for myself and my writing, week after week, and promise the universe that I would get those 5 or 10 pages down on paper. And I did this in spite of being possibly the world’s worst procrastinator, while simultaneously competing for an Olympic gold in low self-esteem.

If I can do it, you can too.

You don’t have to be amazingly awesome at writing right out of the gate. You don’t have to have an idea that no one’s ever had before. All that’s required is that you show up and write. Even one page once a week will do it.

Warning: Your inner critic is not going to like it. It’s probably going to throw a temper tantrum or try to undermine you sneaky-style at first. Because the number one thing your inner critic is truly terrified of is you stepping into your own power. Once you take that step it’s very likely you’ll discover that you never needed your inner critic to survive. Quite the opposite: It always needed you.

To follow your dream as a writer, it’s most helpful to practice positive thinking and persistence. That means, the Beast of Self-Judgment is not going to get you again. That means, one bad day no longer has the power to significantly set you back. The future is full of more days in which you get to try again. And if you do have a bad day, it’s not something to beat yourself up over. That’s an inner critic strategy and we’ve determined the inner critic is destructive and unhelpful, if not outright insane. So if you have a bad day, or feel down about your writing, the new strategy is to show yourself loving kindness and gentle compassion.

And then get up the next day and try again.

Persistence and positive thinking come from a place of love. Moving out of fear and into love, using love as your new operating system, and consistently practicing love towards yourself—these are all radical shifts to make. However, once you shift into a life that includes mostly love and not so much fear, your creativity and writing will show the difference. And because you already know what every writer should know

You will find the strength to show up every week for yourself and your writing.

You will trust and have faith that your book is already inside you, waiting to be born.

You will accept yourself as the unique, beautiful writer that you are, and you will spread this light to others around you.

And you will get up, day after day, and keep on trying again.

The next time your inner critic speaks up you can choose to listen to your own true creative essence instead and expose your truth.

Your inner critic voice is not you. And YOU already know what to do.

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What Every Writer Should Know

SAMSUNGI went through many years during which writing was my big secret. I wasn’t writing as much as I wanted to, and when I did sit down and write, it was so clunky and awkward that I was horribly ashamed of it. The thought of letting anyone else actually read my writing brought on waves of anxiety and fear.

So I didn’t tell anyone I was a writer, and whenever I wrote anything I hid it away.

Consequently, I didn’t get very much writing done.

Writing is one of the most challenging pursuits on this earth. Creating and listening to your characters, putting in the hours of work to get their stories down on paper, the weeks of revision, the months of waiting for feedback—all of it adds up to what feels like superhuman amounts of energy, time, and effort.

But if you were not meant to be a writer, you would never have the urge to do this kind of work in the first place.

Yes, today’s world is full of writers and the publishing industry is undergoing a complete revolution. Yes, it’s terrifying to put your work out there and be judged for it. Yes, you will question and doubt yourself, and you will wonder if you’re going to make it.

Yes to all of the above, and yes, you are still meant to be a writer.

That means that if you don’t write—if you turn away from your gifts as a storyteller—you will always feel like something is missing. You will always dream that your life could have turned out differently. And you will always feel an empty place inside.

The missing piece, the life that includes fulfillment, the sustenance to fill that empty place, these things are all to be found in your writing.

And you know it. If you didn’t, you would not be reading these words right now.

All humans need stories, this is how we learn and grow. Stories connect us with each other, plant seeds of creativity and change, and personalize different perspectives. Without stories, humanity would be cut off from so many valuable opportunities. In order to move forward as a planet, we need stories to show us the way.

Your life purpose as a writer is to pour your heart-and-soul energy into telling stories. It’s an extremely important job. And the beautiful thing is that your stories can be about anything as long as they spring from your own unique, authentic voice. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about slimy green space aliens with dozens of tentacles, or pirates who fall in love with princesses. If you’re writing as honestly as you can about the stories that show up inside your head, then you are doing your job on this planet extraordinarily well.

Your path is not the easiest path out there, and sometimes it won’t be very fun. A lot of other people won’t understand what you are, or why you are, or even the smallest thing about what you’re attempting to do. You’ll experience criticism, and rejection—probably a lot of rejection—and the never-ending worry of self-doubt. But you were called to be a writer because you were born with what it takes. Somewhere inside of you burns the creative desire, the grit and the guts you need, to walk such a challenging path.

Basically, it’s like you’re a warrior and a unicorn and a superhero all wrapped into one, with some bad days where you feel like you’re the ugly little hamster that no one wants to take home from the pet store.

Yeah, it’s that kind of challenging.

But you have it in you. You really do. And we’re in it together. That’s what’s so cool about there being so many other writers out there, and the publishing industry changing every day. You can choose to see these things as competition and proof of scarcity, or you can see them for what they really are—more people on planet earth who are kindred spirits to you, and more chances to find them. And let’s face it, as warrior-unicorn-superhero-hamsters, we always need to meet more of our own kind.

Stay the course. Keep writing. Believe in yourself.

Everything else is just details.

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5 Best Writing Prompts

SAMSUNGTraditional writing prompts usually ask questions or state an opinion to get the writer arguing a point, or imagining some of the many possible answers. But most writers already have ideas, questions, and half-formed characters swirling around in their heads. What we really need are strategies to help us dive deep into our imaginations and pull out the glowing embers hiding in there.

Here’s my list of the 5 best (non-traditional) writing prompts.

Music
Make a playlist of anything you want—so long as it’s a little bit random. Google “songs about rain” or “songs about war” or even just add your favorite songs you’ve been listening to recently. Then set aside one hour some evening when you can be totally alone. Sit or lie down comfortably in a dark room and listen to your playlist. Do nothing but listen and let yourself drift.

How It Works
Being alone and in a dark room will cut down on distraction and enhance the effect of the music on you. Music stirs the emotions, and urges us to think in images instead of words. Powerful stuff for the creative writer. When your listening time is up, sit down with a pad of paper and jot down whatever came into your head as you were enjoying the songs.

Talking about Your Characters
Pick a friend or a member of your writing group and ask them if they would be willing to sit and ask you questions about your characters, and then let you ramble on about them when you get into the flow. You can do this exercise anywhere, as long as it’s one-on-one and uninterrupted.

How It Works
Talking about our characters out loud helps us unearth things about them that we never before suspected. And having an outside party ask questions spurs us to examine parts of them we hadn’t before discovered. Just make sure to keep a notepad with you as you do this exercise and write down the details so you don’t forget them later.

Taking a Shower
Have you ever noticed that you get some of the best ideas while you’re in the shower? What if you set the intention to focus on writing ideas before you even got in and started shampooing? Tape a note to the bathroom mirror to remind yourself to use shower-time as writing-idea-brainstorming-time.

How It Works
When our bodies are engaged in routine, mundane tasks that we’ve done repetitively so many times we could do them in our sleep, our minds tend to slip into the alpha state. Alpha is somewhere between sleeping and alert wakefulness. It’s the state you’re in when you’re daydreaming and it’s an extremely fertile ground for creativity. This is why you get so many good ideas in the shower, and this is why you should always put this time to good use.

People Watching
Go to the mall, or downtown to a busy intersection, and plop yourself down to watch everything that goes on. Spend 15 or 30 minutes, or even an hour if you’re really into it, but devote yourself to nothing but watching. Bring a notebook with you and record anything interesting that pops into your head about the people passing you by.

How It Works
As writers, we don’t need much to get our imaginations going. An old lady in a fur coat, a guy wearing a crazy hat, a kid with a pet turtle—anyone can be inspiration for the next character in our novel. You can take full advantage of this natural tendency to play detective by exposing yourself to large and diverse numbers of people in a short amount of time.

Drawing
This is another exercise to do alone, while you have some quiet time. You can use a notebook, or big sheets of paper, or post-it notes. And same goes for drawing implements—ink pens, crayons, color markers, anything goes. Whatever you prefer, sit down and start drawing anything that comes into your head. Then draw a story around it.

How It Works
A writer’s first choice of expression is usually words, but we are still creatively tied to our hands no matter how technologically advanced we become. Using your hands to tell a story through pictures gets your creativity engine up and running. The bright colors and whimsical playfulness help a lot too. Access your inner child to remind yourself how fun writing can be again.

Writing takes hard work and discipline, yes, but it also takes curiosity, spontaneity, and joyfulness. The goal of each of these exercises is to have fun. If you finish one of them and feel excited and full of delicious energy, then you did it right. If you weren’t able to fully surrender into it, then do it again.

Now go play!

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Introverts, Empathy, and the Art of Creating Character

Blue WomanI am an introvert.

Growing up, I never would have admitted that. Up until a few years ago the label “introvert” pretty much meant socially awkward, shy, and kind of of dorky. And while I am also sometimes awkward, sometimes shy, and definitely a dork about certain things, when I say I’m an introvert I’m talking about something else entirely. Continue Reading