Tag Archives: good writing habits

What aren’t your characters telling you? (And what aren’t you asking them?)

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend who is trying to write a story. She has characters, plot and setting in mind. She even has a few scenes mentally scripted out.

Overall this lady has a start to a book. The difficult issue at hand is starting the process of writing itself. She knows the characters in passing, but not well enough to get in their heads and let the words flow out.

So I shared with her a tip that the Allied Authors of Wisconsin shared with me: Interview your character.

I thought it would be easy enough. Just imagine yourself in a room with this other person and ask them questions. I’ve done it before, and it works great.

Then, a few weeks ago, we were eating sushi and talking about life. I brought up her book and asked how it was going. Miserable, she confessed that she had gotten nowhere from the last time I talked to her. Apparently, she put the heroine in a room, and the gal just crossed her arms, refusing to talk.

“OK, what did you ask her?” I asked.

The questions were complicated and required the character to relive painful memories or detail out descriptions of her life — things that would be hard for any person to adequately answer in real life, especially to a stranger.

It was at that point I knew that something I thought would be simple had been taken to a level of complexity I never anticipated.

“Don’t start with the hard stuff,” I suggested. “Get her to open up with the easy things.”

“What easy things?” she asked.

And I started to list off some simple questions.

  • What’s her favorite color and why?
  • What does she like to eat?
  • What does she do in her spare time when at home alone?
  • Whom does she talk to?
  • Does she read? If so, what?
  • What kind of music does she like?
  • What’s her nickname, and who gave it to her?

This progressed into more detailed questions. However, the restaurant was closing, so we made a promise to meet on the weekend, and I would help her through the interview process.

That Sunday we started with her heroine and the male counterpart. The questions were simple at first, like the ones from earlier in the week. Eventually, they became more detailed, more personal. The very cores of the characters were examined, and painful past events, guilty feelings, and revelations that my friend had never known about her characters came to light.

In four hours we did more than what had been accomplished in the prior months.

Now this is not to say I am a miracle worker. I am not. This gal could have done the whole process on her own. The problem was overthinking the solution and making life far more complicated far too quickly.

Long story short, here are some things you may want to keep in mind when starting an interview with a character:

  1. Start out with easy questions — topical things that help you flesh your character out.
  2. Then get into more detailed questions. “Why,” “when,” and “how” are fantastic vehicles to dive deeper into a character’s psychosis.
  3. Ask the tough stuff once you have a better impression of who the character is in your mind. Even the little details that seem superficial can mean a lot.

For example, her character loves to watch classics movies and movies from the ’80s because that was what she used to watch with her parents before they died. Why is this important? The character is holding on to her past too tightly and is trying to remember all the good things about her childhood while punishing herself with the same memories.

This information came from the questions “What do you like to do in your spare time?” “Why do you do this?” “How long have you been doing this?” and “What do you feel when you do this?”

As a side note, if you have multiple characters and one refuses to talk…stop the interview. Move to the next character. You may find that you learn more by asking your other characters for their impressions of the silent one. Later on, go back with that uncooperative character and tell them what the other characters’ impressions of him/her are. You may find your silent partner starts talking.

If they don’t, well, silence can be golden. Maybe you learned more about that person than you ever thought you would, even with a “failed interview.”

Also, although the process might be unfamiliar, never feel stupid about this process. If need be, write up a list of questions and have someone else ask them instead. Then you can answer for that character.

Personally, I prefer to just sit in the room of my mind and not only listen to what the character is saying, but what they are doing and how they look. Body language is a marvelous thing, even imaginary body language. Your characters may have various tells and quirks that they don’t even know they have. One character of mine, Zander, likes to chew on his hair. He doesn’t realize he does this. How do I know? I watched him do it while interviewing him.

As you progress, you may want to have characters that are close to each other sit in subsequent interviews together. Their speech patterns, their body language, and even their interaction can be valuable.

For instance, when I did this with Zander and his sister Gwen, I realized that Gwen would lightly smack Zander’s shoulder when he started chewing on his hair. She never said anything, but it was how she reminded him not to do that. Gwen and Zander are both introverts, but while Zander shrinks inside himself and lets his sisters do all the talking, Gwen will force herself to be a happy and gregarious person. But they only take on these roles when they are together.

It can get complicated, but starting simple can take you further than you think. As the saying goes: you must learn to walk before you can run.

Alexia Lamont contributed this article.

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Watch out for these five overused words

When a fledgling writer first takes a stab at the craft, he or she is apt to make a few fundamental mistakes.

One such error is assuming that the more words one uses, the better.  Perhaps it stems from penning so many papers in high school and college.  After all, most essay assignments come with word or page quotas.  A student quickly learns to cram in filler words to make sentences extra robust.

And then...

“And” and “then” can cause problems on their own. But when they team up, watch out!

And don’t get me started on those lovely long words that take up half a line all on their own!

Academic writing aside, most folks who concentrate on fiction and creative nonfiction strive for the opposite.  Simple, straightforward syntax rules the day not only because the writing reaches a broader audience, but also because even advanced readers tend to prefer tight, fast-paced prose to a narrative that is drags due to excessive words.

(Don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with challenging the reader.  But few people gravitate toward fiction that reads like a dissertation.  It’s as much a matter of tone as a matter of composition.)

The first step to tidying up a manuscript is finding the words, sentences, and even paragraphs that impede a reader’s progress.  A writer must measure every phrase carefully and decide whether it moves the story forward—either by advancing the plot or by presenting pertinent information about characters, setting, and so forth.

As with most aspect of writing, the devil is in the details, and often it’s the smallest, most innocuous words that clutter up clauses.

Here are five words that appear more often than necessary and should be the first on any writer’s chopping block when tightening up his or her work:

Then

“I did something.  And then I did something else.  And then…  And then…”

The problem with “then” is that it doesn’t have much intrinsic value.  Readers assume that, unless otherwise indicated, the actions occur in chronological order.  The event in one sentence precede the events in subsequent sentences.  So in most cases, “then” is redundant.

Despite its semantic shortcomings, “then” occasionally can be helpful in terms of sentence structure variation, rhythm, and clarification.  Just be sure to use it sparingly.

Note: if writing in the present tense, the same goes for “now.”

Also

Like “then,” “also” seldom adds anything meaningful to a sentence.  It belongs to a family of adverbs that show a relationship between ideas, but like its relatives “both” and “either,” “also” can quickly cause sentences to slog, especially if used habitually.

Again, a reader understands that when two thoughts are separated with a conjunction—particularly “and”— the second item also belongs in the collection.  The same is true for the context among sentences.  There’s seldom a need to start a sentence with “also,” as demonstrated below.

Also, “too” and “as well” are just “also” in disguise.

And

I challenge anyone to write a story of any substance that completely avoids the word “and.”  The result, I posit, would be awkward at best.  But while conjunctions like “and,” “or,” and “but” are essential to the English language, “and” can become a crutch like the others on this list.

Notice my what-not-to-do example for “then”: “I did something.  And then I did something else.  And then…  And then…”

Not only does “and” like to tag team with “then” to create redundancy, but also it encourages run-on sentences.  “And” also appears when a writer lists a series of items or actions.  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with series, too many of them can make a scene sound more like it belongs in an instructional manual than a manuscript.

Consider this example:

“I grabbed my coat, opened the door, and slammed it behind.  On my way to work, I stewed over the argument I’d just had with my girlfriend, swore at the sluggish traffic around me, and fumed at the thought of what awaited me at work.  Frustrated and weary, I stomped to my desk.”

That’s three “ands” in three sentences, and while there’s no crime in that per se, the idea of grouping actions—and emotions—gets old very quickly.  Yes, combining the verbs “grabbed,” “opened,” and “slammed” in a single sentence is quicker than dedicating three separate sentences to the motions, but employing too many of these “grocery lists” grows wearisome.  Either space them out or determine which actions can be cut—and likely remain implied.

(For that matter, we don’t even need “frustrated and weary” in the last sentence because we already know the protagonist’s mood from prior sentences, and “stomped” communicates the emotions effectively on its own.)

Said

When it comes to speech tags, “said” is very much in vogue.  In fact, novice writers often get scolded for using fancy variations, such as “stated,” “declared,” “reported,” and “told.”

And yet, when a writer intersperses action or deftly uses voice—via word choice, sentence structure, etc.—to otherwise indicate the speaker, “said” just gets in the way.

More on that here.

All in all, reducing the number of speech tags is an easy way to reduce the word count and pump up the pace of dialogue.

Was

“Was”—and “is,” if you prefer the present tense—can present like a plague if you’re not wary.  Just because any given sentence can contain some form of “to be,” doesn’t mean it should.

Action verbs are always stronger than copular verbs.

Let’s look at that last sentence as an example.  I could have said, “Action verbs always dominate a sentence, whereas copular verbs simply connect a subject to the predicate.”  The semantics aren’t identical, but the latter gave me an opportunity to be more specific and more creative.

Another example:

“I was so hungry that I ate the whole box.” vs. “I devoured the entire box.”

Not only does the second sentence lose a few unnecessary words, but also it is arguably more impactful because it uses “devoured” instead of “was so hungry.”

Beware of the copular verb’s clever cousins, modals: “can,” “could,” “might,” “must,” “should,” etc.  Used in moderation, copulars and modals are harmless; however, when relied upon too regularly, they are bound to let you—and your readers—down.

I suspect every writer has his or her own stable of overused words or a particular construction he or she employs too often.  How often is too often?  However many times it takes a reader to become distracted by it or otherwise bogged down by it.

For instance, I used the “not only…but also” sentence structure three times in this relatively short post.  If it didn’t serve such a fine example of my final point, I’d likely go back and find other ways to express the same thoughts.

Another example from my fiction writing is the word “eyes.”  For some reason, whether giving a character’s description or trying to convey emotion during dialogue or other action, I default to calling attention to people’s eyes.

But now that I’m aware of this tendency, I always stop after typing the word “eyes” and decide if there’s a better way to proceed, possibly by employing a different sensory description.

The five little words outlined above don’t do much harm on their own.  Their danger comes from numbers.  Pruning a handful of these small words from a short story or avoiding them throughout a novel can add up and result in a leaner, meaner manuscript.

The best writers don’t jack up their word counts with filler words.  They understand that true skill is conveying meaning with fewer words, not more.

David Michael Williams contributed this article (reprinted with permission from http://david-michael-williams.com/2013/06/20/watch-out-for-these-five-overused-words/).


Why writers groups still matter

Anyone who has studied literature surely has stumbled upon them: a group of extremely talented writers who came together to exchange ideas, encourage one another, and, sometimes, to form a movement.

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were members of both the Coalbiters and the Inklings.  Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and others were known to gather at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris.  The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood included painters and poets.

These super groups are the stuff of legend and, one might assume, an endangered species in this age of do-it-yourself writing, editing, and publishing.  After all, why waste your time talking with other writers—face to face, no less—when one guy with a computer can do it all these days?

I recently read several blog posts ragging on writers groups, claiming they are, at best, an old-fashioned waste of time and, at worst, a detriment to one’s writing because they implicitly suggest another’s opinion should have an impact on one’s Art (note the capital A).

I beg to differ.

Setting aside the sad notion that writing can often be a lonely pursuit (more on that in “The ‘cons’ of writing collaborations”), there are many ways an author can benefit from writers groups.  But before I expound on that, full disclosure: I am a member of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin, one of the oldest writing collectives in the state and, arguably, one of its best kept secrets.  My view on this matter is biased because of this group of outstanding and supportive writers—and friends.

Yet I realize that not all writers groups are created equal.  So consider these dynamics when selecting—or starting—a writers group.

Education

Have you heard the saying “Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you?”  There’s plenty of truth to that, though I would amend it to this: Surround yourself with people who are smarter, more experienced, and more successful than you.

If you are going to subject your story to a critique, make sure those readers have a fair measure of expertise.  Learn from their missteps as well as their accomplishments.  If you typically struggle with the structure of story, you’ll want someone who has a keen understanding on the craft of storytelling, perhaps an English professor.  And if syntax is your weakness, there’s nothing like a copyeditor to help conquer those grammar gaffes and/or a bibliophile to ferret out pesky clichés.

Whenever possible, find people who have been published and can lend some insight into the business aspects of writing.  And if you can get your hands on an editor or agent, hold on tight and don’t let go!

In short, find yourself a flock of mentors to take you under wing.

Inspiration

When I leave an Allied Authors meeting, all I want to do is go home, plant myself in front of the keyboard, and type away into the wee hours of the morning.  Great writers groups should do that.

I’ve heard horror stories of writers groups that achieve the opposite.  Two friends of mine were members of an organization that sounded more like a sect of sadists than a support group.  Apparently, members took turns mercilessly tearing down one another’s hard work.  My friends eventually quit because they grew tired of hearing how inept they were by people who thought their own work was better than it was.

While every writer needs to grow a layer (or two) of very thick skin, there’s no excuse for tactlessness.  Critiquing should not equate to kicking someone when they’re most vulnerable; on the contrary, constructive criticism mixes praise with opportunities for improvement.

At the end of the day, a writers group grants a writer objective perspectives.  The reader doesn’t know what you know, and getting feedback midway through a novel allows the author to glimpse what a particular reader is thinking and feeling at that precise moment of the story—invaluable insight to be sure!

You don’t have to agree with everything that is said.  Neither do you need to explain every literary decision you make.  Listen, learn, and then decide how to apply what was said (if at all).  If the point of a writers group is to make you a better writer, then your peers’ comments should inspire you to jump back into your narrative and trim, tweak, and/or tread forward with confidence.

If your group instead discourages you, it’s time to move on.

Motivation

When my son was a newborn, I had a great idea for a novel but felt I had no time to dedicate to writing it.  Since I was a part of a writers group, I felt obligated to bring something to the table.  Oh sure, I could have slacked off and missed a meeting here and there, but because I had the opportunity to get feedback from a fantastic group of writers, I just couldn’t stand to squander it.

And so every month, I wrote one new chapter.  Some passages were arguably better prepared than others, but if nothing else, those monthly meetings provided me with deadlines, impetus, and momentum on a project that resulted in a novel that is now represented by an agent.

Without a reason to pursue those one-chapter-per-month milestones, the completion of that novel would have been much delayed or perhaps postponed indefinitely.

On the other hand, beware of writers groups that require too muchresponsibility.  Your network of writers should function as a support system that makes your writing better, not as a “time suck” that detracts from your fiction in the form of excessive, outside-of-class exercises.  If you’re spending hours reading massive manuscripts, preparing a dissertation for each chapter another member submits, and/or running out to the copy shop for copious printouts prior to meetings, then maybe your writers group needs you more than you need it.

Reciprocation

Even if you joined a writers group for mostly selfish reasons—so that you can become a better writer—you do have a responsibility to return the favor.  The best writers groups are those comprised of people who genuinely want one another to succeed.  Sure, there might be some friendly competition and good-natured banter/bashing, but at the end of the day, you owe it to the group to be a giver as much as a taker.

That means attending meetings even though your work isn’t on the agenda, paying attention even if a particular genre or style doesn’t appeal to you, and always giving honest and genuine feedback (even if So-and-So didn’t give your most recent submission a raving review).

The quickest way to destroy the integrity of a writers group is to adopt a me-versus-them approach.  If you want to be supported, you must support others.  If you expect others to cheer you on, then you have to congratulate them on their successes.  And because you (hopefully) played a part in making their writing stronger, their successes become your successes.  Even as you were mentored, mentor those with less experience.

Any writers group is an investment; you can only hope to gain what you are willing to give.

Harmonization

I suspect that the folks who condemn writers groups have had unfortunate experiences with them.  In addition to the aspects addressed above, there is another angle: the “X factor.”

Here’s one example.  If you write romance novels, and no one in the group appreciates that genre at all, then you probably need to find a different group.  But having said that, I urge writers to surround themselves with readers and writers of fiction outside of their preferred genre, too.  The uninitiated tend to catch things others take for granted.

And what about the tone of the meetings?  Is it all business?  Or is everyone OK with an hour of socializing prior to critiquing?  Make sure everyone is on the same page (so to speak) when it comes to the rules, expectations, and goals.

At the end of day, a group is comprised of people.  Sometimes personalities mesh; sometimes they don’t.  Positive attitudes can sweeten the deal, while strong egos inevitably sour the bunch.  If you are willingly opting to spend time with these people, then you should genuinely enjoy their company.

I’m sure J.R.R. and C.S. connected because of common interests, but I have to believe it was more than just business (and their penchant for using initials).  There’s no law that says a writer has to join a writers group to become successful, but I personally have benefited from writers groups both while in college and as a member of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin.  I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without them.

And if some of the literary greats also saw merit in gathering together and exchanging ideas, who am I to disagree?

Do you disagree?  Tell me what you think of writers groups below…

David Michael Williams contributed this article (reprinted with permission from http://david-michael-williams.com/2013/04/05/why-writers-groups-still-matter/).


When life is too busy, try a TMS

Time.

Never quite enough.

Not enough to do this or that and certainly not enough to dive into the writing we really, really, really want to do and give it all the attention it deserves.

Admit it or not, most of us have felt this way at one time or another; sadly some would-be writers make it an excuse.  Perhaps the TMS approach can help.

For more than ten years, I was privileged to teach a fifteen-week adult enrichment course titled Writing for Publication at a local community college.  I found a common problem with my aspiring writers, twin problems, in fact: trouble carving out a large enough chunk of time to write and trouble actually getting started.

And so the Ten Minute Special was born.

***

I start each class session with a TMS. 

I present a brief topic to explore, and if you don’t like it, write something else. 

No one will see the work of another.

Spelling, grammar, punctuation…don’t worry about them. 

There is only one strict rule, and that is to write for the full ten minutes.  If you can’t think of anything to write, then write “I can’t think of anything to write,” and after a few repetitions, your brain will get bored with that and start percolating.

Some TMS idea examples: Chronicle the last time you cried; describe a room in your home left to right, top to bottom; take an issue you feel strongly about and argue — convincingly — for the other side; detail the last time you felt ashamed; five minutes of character interaction in dialogue only, followed by five minutes of the same interaction with no dialogue at all; write your own obituary; etc.

At the end of each full course, I’d ask for a critique of what worked, what didn’t, and what could be improved about the class.  Every time, without exception, the TMS would pop up as one of the most valuable elements of the class (often at the top of the list).  Several TMS topics went on to become the basis for short stories or pieces of non-fiction, and at least one TMS morphed into the beginnings of a novel (no idea if it was ever completed).

***

Digression…

In high school I played drums and was in concert band, marching band, orchestra, the pit band when we did musicals, the drill team drum squad, and an outside concert/marching band during summer.  This doesn’t count the hours I played and practiced (some may say pounded) on my drums at home.

In short, I played a lot.  And when I wasn’t really playing, I was sorta kinda still playing.  During algebra, my fingers twitched; in history class got my toes tapping; and in English those fingers would dive into a syncopated dance with my tapping toes.  And on those rare occasions when it was not possible for my assorted digits to tap, twitch, or dance, the music moved to my head.  It was always there; I loved it, learned it, and lived it. 

Friends on the baseball team would often walk, stand, sit with a baseball in hand, holding it, rolling it, squeezing it…learning it.  The same with guys on the football team, only with a football.

Another friend liked art class and had a knack for drawing; when he wasn’t working on anything specific, he would doodle aimlessly…living his craft.

Seeing a pattern?

End of digression.

***

I believe the class-time TMS exercises were especially effective for new and aspiring writers for several reasons: an instant, manageable (hopefully thought-provoking) topic, the time limit and requirement to keep writing helped short circuit that often pesky internal editor, the privacy curtailed self-censoring and allowed total freedom, and the communal aspect of everyone frantically scribbling away providing a shared creative atmosphere. 

And then there was the powerful realization that they could write a heck of a lot faster than they’d ever expected.  After a few TMS sessions, it was common to find them finishing three, four, five or more pages in those ten minutes.  Although not a math whiz by any means, I was able to point out how those same TMS efforts applied to their own writing and stretched to 30 minutes or an hour would lead to “making pages” at an impressive rate.

And how does any of this relate to us in — or aspiring to join — the writing business?  Well, when we don’t have the time to really, really, really dive into our work, we can take the brief moments that life grants us to live/love/learn our craft and flesh out a description, jot a few details of setting, doodle a map, chart fragments of potential dialogue, make a list of things we may need to research, detail a character’s history specifics that can help bring them into focus, etc., etc. 

Time.

A little here, a little there.

Adds up.

Jack Byrne contributed this article.


Dedicated writers tread fine line between routine and realistic expectations

A coworker from across seas recently contacted me by IM at work. He was impressed with the scripts and guides I had written and asked a few questions about writing. I imparted upon him what the Allied Authors of Wisconsin imparted on me:

Just write.

No matter how bad you think the things you are writing are, just do it.

Further, get yourself into a routine of some kind to promote your writing. For example, on Sundays I will bike ride to my local coffee shop, have a chai tea latte and write for thirty minutes up to three hours. I make the time to write.

It helps. It really does.

Now I have written things that I don’t like in the time I set aside, but you know I don’t regret them…I even decided to keep a few after a bit of polishing.

To me Total Writer’s Block is a myth. If you cannot think of something to write on your current piece, take out a new sheet of paper or open a new file and write something else. It doesn’t need to be good. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It doesn’t even need to be something you save beyond becoming kindling for a fire. The fact is that writing, even when you don’t exactly know what to write, is an exercise.

Let’s face it, if you don’t practice what you know, you will lose touch and find it gets harder as time goes on and you have to start back up again.

I can speak from experience, having paused in my weekly ritual at the coffee shop. It’s been a little more than two months now, and I am finding that writing is a habit that can be difficult to get back into—like going to the gym. The moment I stopped was the moment I lost momentum.

I could go on about the fact that you need to keep up the practice of writing and making time in a busy schedule, but I won’t. If writing is important to you, you will find the time to write. And if life gets so busy that you need to put down the pen and focus on other matters, don’t feel too guilty. Life is like that.

Feel just guilty enough to start writing again as soon as life slows down a bit and you can make time again, but not so guilty you fear putting thoughts to paper—or screen.

Alexia Lamont contributed this article.


Rules for SUCCESS for writers

There are no guarantees when it comes to writing—no formulas, no surefire step-by-step plans, no infallible paths to follow.

Okay, okay…I know; there are countless books and magazine articles giving just such plans and formulas, and they almost all appear to make some degree of sense. True. No argument. Read them myself. But there are two important points to consider: following them does not guarantee success, and ignoring them doesn’t guarantee failure.

The best we can do is think about the advice that makes sense to us and discard what doesn’t. I advise you to do the same with the “Rules for SUCCESS” that follow. They make sense to me and might just work for you.

S Set goals…realistic, attainable, daily goals

Attempting to write, revise and polish a book in a week is (for most of us) unrealistic. Setting a daily writing goal of 10,000 words is (again, for most of us) unattainable. Only you can determine a personal goal that is realistic and attainable.

While perhaps not essential—and there are numerous successful writers who have not done so—I would strongly encourage aspiring authors to establish “daily” goals; whether “making pages,” doing background research, mentally creating character histories or whatever else needs to be done.

Doing so daily keeps the material percolating, bubbling and fermenting much more effectively than trying to carve out large, but infrequent, chunks of time to work. Putting even a minimal amount of time and effort into your writing daily keeps the material alive and growing and prevents the ideas and enthusiasm from napping (or going into a coma).

An aspiring musician, for example, with a daily one-hour practice schedule will 99.99% of the time grow in skill more quickly and evenly than one who practices seven hours every Sunday.

U Understand what it means to be the writer you wish to be

If you want to write layered psychological thrillers, you need to understand the human mind and psyche.

If you want to write hard science fiction, you’d better have at least (at least!) a rudimentary understanding of the science portrayed in your book.

If you want to write historical fiction or a whitewater rafting adventure or a police procedural, you’d better research that historical period and learn the ins and outs of rafting and become an authority on how the police work.

And if your goal is to write greeting cards, haunt your local Hallmark store to develop an eye and ear for the craft.

And read voraciously in whatever field you choose to work; read what works and learn from it. Read what doesn’t work, as well; determine what doesn’t work about it and why.

C Control your time

Waiting for inspiration, for just the right moment, for the “muse” to plop down on your shoulder and whisper sweet ideas in your ear is not a plan of action.

Reading about writing or thinking about writing or planning to think about perhaps reading a book about writing in order to be ready when the time is right is not a plan of action.

Planning to write when you get a chance or when the time is right or when the kids get back in school or when the holidays are over or when the spring cleaning is done or after vacation or when the kids are out of school…nope, not a plan of action.

If writing is a priority to you, treat it as such; if it’s not, that’s fine, too. Less competition for the rest of us.

CCreate an environment conducive to creativity

Take classes; read books about writing and writer biographies; attend workshops, seminars, writer/fan conventions, etc. Listen to whatever music sooths or stimulates or moves you. Find and use whatever nudges your neurons, sizzles your synapses or caresses your creativity. Do whatever it takes to keep your right brain self-engaged and questing and growing.

Do not, however, count this as actual “writing” time.

E — Enable enthusiasm by writing what excites you, what gets you going

Some aspiring writers (and some published authors, as well) try to determine “what sells” and set their sights on getting ahead of the curve, regardless of whether this is what they want to write. For most, this path leads to rejection and dissatisfaction and often sub-par work.

Writing well is hard work, even when you love the material. Writing something you don’t truly enjoy can be torturous and depressing.

S — See yourself as a writer

A number of years ago, a major NBA star was hired to work on an athletic show commercial. He was instructed to miss a free throw, but it couldn’t be an obvious miss. He had to look as though he was trying to sink the shot.

It took him thirteen tries.

His self-image as a basketball professional and his “body memory” of shooting free throws were so ingrained, so strong that he literally had trouble breaking out of that reality. His psychological makeup and sense of identity made missing nearly impossible.

If you see yourself as someone who will write “someday” or as someone who “wants” to be a writer or as someone who “hopes” to be a writer, this could very well slow, stall or perhaps even stop you before you get started. While positive think won’t guarantee success, negative thinking will almost certainly prevent it.

S — Send your work out

In my years as a freelance writer, writing instructor and literary agent, I’ve never had nor heard nor read of any other writer having editors pounding on your door demanding to see the contents of your file cabinet.

Write it, revise it, polish it and send it out. Immediately start something new. After all, you are a writer, aren’t you?

Jack Byrne contributed this article.


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