Browsing Tag

first-time writers

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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The Real Reason You Can’t Stop Procrastinating

SAMSUNGFirst of all, let’s address some common concerns.

You are not lazy.

You are not useless.

And you are not doing anything wrong.

Lazy, useless people actually never worry about getting things done.

Lazy, useless people don’t have any projects, or even any ideas for projects, that they put off starting. You, on the other hand, have this intelligent, curious, creative brain that has many ideas and projects that you would love to follow through on and finish. But…procrastination tends to seep in.

So if you’re so intelligent, curious, and creative, then why do you have problems with procrastination at all?

Precisely because of those very same traits.

Intelligent, curious, creative people are also intense, driven, and struggle with perfectionism. Our brains work well with extremes, and that’s why we’re able to think not only outside the box, but we can also imagine what would happen if the box was invisible, had superpowers, or decided to impersonate a unicorn just for kicks.

This extreme mode of thinking sometimes gets us into trouble. When we think about starting the first chapter of our novel, we then leap ahead to the second and third chapters, then the ending, then how readers will react, then onto the book tour—and then we’re totally exhausted because all of these things have flitted through our mind in the space of one half second. And we haven’t even picked up the pen yet!

This is not a bad thing. Our brains are wild, dynamic creatures that must swim and fly and roam. Letting them do just that is totally okay. As long as there is one solid part of you that gets into the habit of hanging back and being the sensible parent. That part knows that your eyes are always bigger than your stomach and only lets you put one or two things on your plate instead the whole buffet.

The practice of writing down your goals can be extremely helpful when it comes to parenting yourself. You don’t have to go nuts with a crazy to-do list. In fact, it will be most helpful if you keep it simple. Most writers already know their big goal—write a book and get it published—so you don’t have to worry about that. What you want to do is write down your small goals, the things you can get done in one day.

So if you want to move forward with writing your novel, a daily goal list for you might look like this:

Write two pages

That’s it. The aim is to keep things simple, manageable and no-pressure. If two pages still seem overwhelming, then make your goal one page, or one paragraph. The amount of work does not matter. The forward motion is what matters. And beware of listening to the Beast of Self-Judgment who will try to tell you that you aren’t doing enough. The truth is that even one short paragraph gets you further than you were before.

Every time you think about starting or continuing a project you’re procrastinating on, pull out your post-it notes and write down one small goal connected to that project. Keep these notes somewhere all together and every day choose just one of them to complete. Some days you will feel like you breezed through that one job and you’re ready to tackle another. Go ahead. But be prepared for other days, when it will feel like a Herculean task to move through just that one little goal. No judging yourself when you’re in this space! Just move through the work and give yourself props for doing it.

Think of it this way—if you saw all the food you were going to eat in one year piled up in front of you, it would most likely make you feel physically ill. That’s how your path to success works. If you look at the whole thing together there is a 99% chance of you becoming overwhelmed. Truly successful people do a little bit each day and count on all those increments to add up.

Take the first step towards conquering procrastination—know that your eyes are always bigger than your stomach.

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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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The Difference between a Job and a Calling

SAMSUNGMost of us have and/or need jobs. Jobs pay the bills and keep the lights on. But not everyone has a calling, or is even interested in finding out what it might be if they do.

Writers are different.

Almost all writers know they have a calling, and they know their calling is to write.

If you’re not sure of the difference, how can you tell?

Examine your reasons. And then explore your emotions.

Let’s use one of my fictional characters as an example:

Oliver is a writer by night. He writes dark fantasy novels about his hero, Octavio Sash, and his villain, the sinister Letitia von Campidonni. Oliver is passionate about world-building and battle scenes and he stays up late to get more pages down. By day, he works tech support for a corporate cable company. He sits in a call center and answers repetitive phone calls.

Here are Oliver’s reasons behind his choice to work tech support:

He needs to pay rent
He needs to pay all his other bills
He’s had tech support jobs before and so he already knows how to do it
Inertia

Here are Oliver’s emotions about working tech support:

Contentment (sometimes)
Frustration (sometimes)
Apathy (all the time)

You can see that if Oliver’s reasons and emotions were put on a graph, they would probably chart a steady line with a few tiny bumps here and there.

Now here are Oliver’s reasons behind his choice to write:

When he isn’t writing he feels like something important is missing from his life
He has always loved books and is naturally drawn to writing
Making up stories is something his brain does on its own, he can’t stop from doing it

Here are his emotions about writing:

Joy
Excitement
Accomplishment
Pride

…and a dozen others that can be summed up in just one word: Happiness.

If Oliver’s reasons and emotions about his writing were put on a graph, the line would go up and up and up.

Sometimes, too, the line would suddenly plunge down. That’s when Oliver falls into doubting himself or runs into seemingly impossible problems in his story. But when the line starts climbing up again, it climbs even higher than before. That’s because Oliver had to push himself beyond his boundaries, he had to grow, to stick with his calling.

A job that is “just a job” very rarely pushes us to grow. But our calling never stops pushing.

We all have bills to pay. I’m not suggesting you give up your day job. What I am suggesting is that you start giving your calling top priority. Your writing is the thing in your life that brings you joy, and excitement, and that delicious feeling of riding the line to the top of the graph. The most important thing you can do is feed it—with your love, your belief, your time and energy.

You will always find something else to do to pay the rent. You will never find another calling. Writing is it for you, you drew those cards. Own it. Start writing as if it’s the most important thing in your life.

Because it is.

 

5 Best Blogs on How to Write a Query Letter

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Query Shark
by Janet Reid
You can read this blog, or you can get seriously interactive. The premise of Query Shark is that readers send in their query letters to be critiqued. Reid’s advice is blunt and straight to the point—and it’s very, very useful. Query Shark shows writers exactly what they’re doing wrong, and makes clear, practical suggestions for improvement. If you have a query letter that you’re looking for some feedback on, you should definitely think about sending it to Query Shark before sending it out to agents.

Author! Author!
by Anne Mini
Anne Mini is known for the length of her posts. This is not a breezy, five-minutes-of-info blog. However, reading Mini’s long posts counts as time well spent. She covers every detail of querying, how to work with agents, the fine print, and more. This woman is totally amazing and I highly recommend investing the time in reading what she has to say.

Nathan Bransford
Bransford used to be a literary agent, and he’s currently an author himself. He includes information on the query process, as well publishing e-books and what to expect these days from traditional publishers. He’s also friendly and down to earth. If you only have a few minutes a day to do your query research, Bransford is a good bet.

Rachelle Gardner
In addition to posts about agents and the querying process, Gardner includes helpful information about marketing and promotion, and the financial and legal side of things. She’s currently an agent with Books and Such Literary Agency so she has a true insider perspective. She gives readers the real truth about pursuing a career in writing, but she also comes across as a real person.

Absolute Write
Not technically a blog, Absolute Write offers articles and information for published and unpublished writers. The site is probably best known for its forums, where writers can discuss topics and ask questions of other writers. If you have questions about a specific agent, for instance, the forums might provide more information on him or her. But like any forum, it’s easy to waste a lot of time endlessly reading the discussions if you’re looking to procrastinate—something we writers are known for!

If you’re serious about getting your writing career off the ground, it’s time to bring in the experts. After you visit the blogs I’ve recommended above, do your own a Google search and dive into the results!

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