A Big Lie About Writing And What To Do About It

Years ago I believed a lie about writing. Today you might believe that same wretched tale spun by Stephen King and other writers that reside on the level of master writer. This falsehood can dash the hopes of the beginner and cause those waist deep in their novels to give up.

Typewriter 2

What is this deceitful thought?

That writers are born.

Consider this sentence written to a publisher from someone considered to be one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century – “It has lost my favour, and I have no idea what to do with it.”

Who was this writer? JRR Tolkien. What was he talking about? The Lord of the Rings, after working on it for months. He also said this after aching over chapter one:

“it is difficult to find anything new in that world.”

Incredible, no?

Today, if you are dealing with writer’s block or stuck in the middle of your story don’t believe the lie that writers are born. Writing is hard. That is the true problem. Our books are deep work yet must be born in the midst of life where we juggle our paying jobs, family, and writing dreams.

Often we have to dig to understand what is blocking our path. This might require journaling it out, discussing our struggle over coffee with a friend, or quiet reflection for an hour.

Maybe you need to further invest in your creative energy so you have more to give when you show up to the page. It might be time to work on another story for a week or two. It could be a busy time of year so you have to throttle back to two hundred words a day.

Whatever challenge is blocking you from a more fulfilling writer’s life, face it and then get creative. I am sure there is a way over it.

The quotations contained in this blog were taken from a charming little book Tolkien: A Biography pages 210-211 by Humphrey Carpenter.

The lie I mentioned about is from Stephen King’s On Writing which I highly recommend. Except the lying bit of course.

How To Finish Your Writing Projects

Last week I listened to a podcast about creativity. In it writer Jeff Goins and Dr. Keith Sawyer discuss how creative people function and the contents of Dr. Sawyer’s book Zig Zag. One idea they mentioned was that writing or creativity does not have to be perfect. But there should be movement from one project to another.

Besides fear, this is one of the main issues I have with writing. Battling the urge to make a billion tweaks until it reaches perfection versus sending out projects before they are finished is a weekly struggle.

I forget that having a process means that some of my writing will work and some will fail and whatever form of failure I feel is not a reflection of me. Finishing anything – a book, a blog post, a book proposal – is an opportunity to learn how to write better.

Finish - Track

The trouble is that I thought any writing process needed to be straightforward and I have difficulty with linear thinking.

From what I can understand, my mind works sorta like a game of soccer, but played by four and five year olds. It’s scrambly, often working in the wrong direction in a tangle of limbs, sometimes picking flowers, and other moments forgetting the rules entirely.

I decided it was high time to focus. To understand how to get this mind of mine to move through a project from start to finish.

I tried the one project method and ended up bored. I wanted to jump to the next thing as soon as I was stuck. I realized if my methodology incorporated bouncing from project to project then I’d better develop a plan.

Here it is – Finishing is the most important thing.

I devised a Finishing Plan and began using it on my blog and a non-fiction e-book I finished last month. It’s been working great. Here is what it is.

1. Finish a draft. Could take a day, weeks, months, or even years. But finish it. Don’t edit. Write the chapters out of order then fill in the cracks, jump to another idea, then circle back, whatever. Just get it out. Did I mention don’t edit?

2. Edit. I print off what I’ve written (or make a separate edit file electronically) and challenge everything. Make notes, scribble in the margins, destroy darlings, and rewrite. Then get it to a friend or editor for more edits. Then I make the necessary changes.

3. Polish. Add the fonts you love, the appropriate artwork, and anything else you may need to dress up the piece.

4. Send it. Post it, query it, submit it to a journal. Just get it out there, and then move to the next project.

5. Circle back and consider what worked or what didn’t and do more of what did.

This system may seem bare and basic but life is complicated. I also tend to hold onto projects too long and need to get them out there and this process allows me to do that.

Reader, what system do you use? How do you keep moving to the next stage or next project? I’d love to hear from you.

Writer, How Do You Hit Your Word Count Goal?

My ideal writing output has changed over time. I’ve tied the satisfaction with my work to words per week, hours allotted, and pages per month. Most of this effort is me trying to trick myself into writing as efficiently as I can during a challenging point in my life.

My key to finish any work is simple – do whatever it takes to keep going. The easiest way for me to keep writing is to take my focus away from the project itself and instead focus on the steps I need to take to complete it.

Stone steps 1

I enjoy taking something complex and tearing it down into smaller bites that help me understand it or conquer it. This is true whether I am building a desk, mowing the lawn, or driving to someplace I’ve never been, my mind is constantly looking for steps I need to take, like a map unfolding before me. Writing is no different.

I firmly believe if you sit down and tell yourself you are going to write an eighty-thousand-word novel, you will fail. If you start out and say “I am going to write the first scene or thousands words” and go from there, you have a better chance at succeeding. For me, writing has always been a joy. But doing the same thing day in and day out, even if I am creating new and exciting content, can grow old. And I, like you, need to figure out the best way to keep moving forward.

But for the writer, production is what we seek. The ability to create more stories. This week I am going to try something new.

I am going to write down seven different word count goals. 500 – five times, and 1000 – two times, on the dry erase board near my desk. Before I go to bed, I must erase one of these numbers. If I am tired, it is 500. If my wife has a project or is going out for the evening or it’s my writing evening, it’s a 1000.

By doing this, focusing on a small portion of words, I will have a better chance of hitting my word count goal on each one of the projects I want to accomplish.

2 blogs (300 word-ish each)

2500 on my YA novel

1500 on my e-book about writing with a family, job, and other life obligations.

To keep momentum, I will come to the blank page with a solid idea of what I want to write about by leaving a note where I left off. This should prevent me from losing the story thread between days.

This is just one method – focusing on bite sized pieces of larger projects. Once I am done with these pieces, it’ll be time to develop a process for editing. But one step at a time.

How do you keep going?

How do you ensure you keep moving forward with your books?

 

 

Why Every Writer Should Think Like A Scientist

If you’re a writer you’ve been a failure. No matter if you’re a New York Times Best-Selling Author or just starting out you wrote an article, short story, book or blog post, and it was rejected or not excepted by your audience.

It’s easy to feel like a failure. I know I have.  No matter if it’s merely a blog post that got poor traffic, feeling rejected can be crushing. I know several writers that have given up because of it.

If you’re a writer who has given up or you are feeling a mountain of discouragement on your back because of constant rejection, I’d like to propose a change of mind to you.

You are not a writer, blogger, essayist, or novelist. You are in fact a scientist. Let me explain.

Microscopic

We are experimenting. We are doing our best to tell stories and introduce ideas to see how they will be received.

There is a famous quote by Thomas Eddison ( this is the best source I could find) where he says he did not fail to invent a lightbulb 10,000 times, he found 10,000 ways light bulbs didn’t work. Failure taught Eddison to innovate, to try different methods.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your take, there is no manual to writing. You can’t follow X Y Z and produce a great book. You can have mentors and guidelines but you must figure it out on your own.

So if you are discouraged, work backwards, reverse engineer your story. Ask friends what went wrong, remove parts, see what your can do to make it move faster, tighten up the grammar.

If you do this it can be a healthy way to separate yourself from your work to lessen the blow on each rejection. It can also help make writing fun again and ignite the thrill of the chase.

Who knows were you might end up if you simply persevere?

The Breathe Conference, Author Steven James, And Cutting Through The Woods

This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak at the Breathe Writers Conference. It was a great experience, presenting from the podium, having one-on-one meetings with aspiring writers, and connecting with publishing professionals.

Steven James was the keynote speaker. He has written numerous thrillers and the Writer’s Digest Book – Story Trumps Structure and he changed my perspective on writing.

He's the cool one on the right
He’s the cool one on the right

As writers, especially in the beginning, we find ourselves listening to rules or following methods that other established writers tell us are law.

Mr. James destroyed several of those for me and set me free to reach for something higher. He said that writing a great story should be our goal. Wonderful stories are better than following rules that others have laid down for us (hence his book Story Trumps Structure).

He also said writers are strange and he couldn’t be more right.

After all, who sits alone in a room wondering what would happen if we stabbed our protagonist in the back? Or for that matter, who lays down a gauntlet of torture chambers (figuratively, emotionally, and maybe physically) for imaginary people that they are quite fond of?

Writers do.

I was challenged to go deeper, to ask questions, and blaze my own trail. Be weird. Write for a good story, not for money, fame or fortune, or an aged writer who says I have to write THIS way.

What rules are you following now that may not be right for you?

No writing path is the same.

I hope you cut through the woods.

Writer -Let’s Go. Moving Out Of The Mucky Middle

The beginning and the end of writing a novel each has their own separate energy. In the beginning, we have the thrill of the new idea and fresh words on the page. We have the joy of saying we are a writer!

The end? We see the finish line. It’s no longer some vague hoped for ending over the distant hills. We can see it.

What about the middle? This is a place of wallowing, where books go to die. This is where novels unravel, life happens, and we just stop moving.

How do we get out of this? How do we keep going when we know the road ahead is still long, our ideas might not be worth anything and above all, we are tired.

Bubbling Mud

There is no simple answer for this. There is a reason I have three finished novels and umpteen half-written ones.

The main reason I stop is that love is easily lost. When we are in the middle of our work it is much easier to complain because the story has lost its luster and is now more difficult than ever.

Difficulty gets a bad reputation. Because something is hard, that may be the very reason to go after it in the first place.

The next time you find yourself in the mucky middle do what long distance runners do. Write the next ten thousand words. Then the next. Focus on the small, short-term objectives of your story arcs.

Doing this four times is much easier on your mind than trying to get to forty thousand words.

Focus on the next marker, not the end. And above all, keep writing. I promise the work will be worth it in the end.

10 Tips To Cut Out Distractions And Just Write

There are many amazing tools we writers have today. We also have a dozen more hats to wear. Not only are we the author but also the editor, publicist, marketer, and distributor. We have limited time to produce our work and more demands than ever.

Ten

Thankfully, the way books get written has been the same since people started writing. We need to put our rears in our chairs and write. Below are ten tips to just write and cut out the clutter.

  1. Have designate social media time and writing time. Separating the two times may be difficult but doing the most important task first means we are always guaranteed to finish out work. Then we can get to the platform building.
  2. Turn off your WiFi. If you don’t allow access to email or internet, you won’t get distracted, hopefully.
  3. Write at a library. Writing at home or coffee shop can be distracting. A library has low traffic and is almost always quiet.
  4. Have time planned out in advance. If you write down your writing time on your calendar it can be a great motivator to actually do it at that time.
  5. Write with pen and paper. I like to do this because there is no chance of wandering. It can be slower, but when I transcribe the words it is usually my first edit, which is a nice process.
  6. Have a designated writing machine. If you have a tablet and desktop and laptop, make one for writing and one for social media. This way you won’t have the social media or other data just the documents you need to write.
  7. Take breaks. This seems counter intuitive but I can only be productive for short bursts and not hours. Sometimes I write for forty five minutes and then go fold some laundry.
  8. Reward yourself. The same as number 7 but with a good twist. Your break is a snack or walk in the woods. Maybe just being quiet with a cup of coffee.
  9. Have a word count goal. Write 1000 words in a sitting. Then get to whatever it is you need to get done.
  10. Set a timer. The Pomodoro method is one example. Write for twenty minutes then take a five minute break. All using a timer. This helps me focus on writing time and break time when it comes and I do not tax my mind too much.

Do you have techniques that help you “just write” and stay focused? Please share below!

What Do You Need To Take Your Writing To The Next Level?

We’ve all said it. If only I had ___ then I would absolutely be a better writer. Come on, out with it. If you had more money to buy the tools, more education, less responsibility, didn’t have to work full time, had 29 hours a day.

What is that one thing you need to take your writing to the next level?

Photo Credit: Dave Catchpole via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Dave Catchpole via Compfight cc

A lot of time we compare ourselves to the greats and that’s not fair. We say things like, if only I had the writing gumption like Stephen King, or if I could just live in Paris when Hemingway did, I’m sure I’d be able to write something grand.

The problem with this thinking is that we are not focused on what we can do right now. I am not talking about a can-do attitude, but more what we are capable of doing at this juncture in out lives. Could you write 7000 words in a week? Could you write 10,000? 2,000?

I’d like to circle back to the original statement above. What do you need to take your writing to the next level?

Does it have to be all or nothing or can you start with 200 words a day? Give up one TV show a week? Buy a portable keyboard and write in the notes section on your iphone at lunch? Can’t do an MFA what about a free Coursera class on story telling?

I believe, firmly, that you should begin exploring the path of the next level now so in three to five years to can be past that obstacle or more at peace with your schedule or financial situation. But it starts with knowing what you need or what your main challenge is. Then being creative enough to get around it or write within the confines of it.

My 7000 words in 7 days is what helps me. I needed a challenge to get me writing at full speed again. Thus far I’ve written 4113 in four days.

What do you need to get to the next level writer?

Does Writing Give You Joy?

I am in the middle of a challenge of 7000 words in 7 days. Yesterday I wrote 1011. In total, I have written 3087 in three days.

At first, I thought this would be easy. I love my YA story and the world I’ve created. I love the idea and the challenge. But through the first few days I’ve lost the love a bit. Does this mean I should wait to get inspired or is this the stretched place I intended to reach?

Whenever I get here I read My Why and the joy returns.

Photo Credit: Paul-W via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Paul-W via Compfight cc

My Why reminds me why I am doing this work in the first place. The goal is to finish another book not to feel good every time I write.

I want to be consistent at putting words on the page, this much I know. Since the start of the challenge I have been able to get 1000 words or more written and put together a blog post every day.

All in all, I’ve written about 4000 words in three days. To some, that may be nothing to write home about, but that has been quite a feat for me.

I don’t write this post to brag but to share that the act of writing may not always be incredibly inspiring and joyful. But maybe writing is not about what satisfies now. Maybe finding joy in our work is a combination of the work of writing (filling the quota) and knowing how far we’ve come. From idea, to planning, to writing, to finishing.

And the truest part of all of this? No one will ever know what parts I wrote while uninspired. They will just know I’ve finished my book.

I hope that when you read this you know that anyone who has a full time job, three kids (soon to be four) can write on the side. That sometimes writing can feel like filling a quota and other times be the most thrilling thing in the world but you must keep going either way.

I hope you find joy in your work today or joy in knowing how far you’ve come.

Five Ways To Restart Your Book This Weekend

Todd Henry recently came out with a book titled Louder Than Words. It discusses the idea of creating an authentic voice that makes your work stand out. It’s a good read thus far.

In the book he discusses the U shaped journey of pursuing our passions.

Photo Credit: JohnSeb via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: JohnSeb via Compfight cc

We stand on one end of a gorge. On the other side, we see the business, the book, the career. It looks so easy. We just need to hike down into the canyon and then up out the other side.

We start this journey with gusto and optimism. In the middle we start the hear cry of wolves and lose our bearing. The trees are tall at the bottom and we have to forge a river. The path gets spotty and it’s harder to follow. This is the part most people give up.

But, Mr. Henry says, this is when we need to dig in. This is where we start to move above our comfort level. Soon enough we break through this uncertainty, find the path again and get out the other side just before we are attacked by the wolves.

Why do I bring this up? Because we’ve all lost steam on a book or project and started to question if the journey was worth it in the first place. Below I list five ways to get excited about the rugged book writing journey again.

  • Go back to the original idea or content. Why? Because this will get you in touch with the excitement you had at the beginning.
  • Recommit. Tomorrow I’m going to start a new challenge on my blog. 7000 words in 7 days. This does not include my daily blog.
  • Write with a friend. Having a companion, even if they don’t talk to you, can keep you accountable.
  • Be honest. Are you not working on it because the idea is no longer good or because you are in the thicket in the story above?
  • Don’t wait for the muse. Neil Gaiman said if you want to be a novelist you must learn to finish things. You can’t wait to be inspired.

If you are not committed to your book and know deep doing it’s a great idea and you want to continue but don’t know how, join me here tomorrow.

I’ve said this on my blog a hundred times, books are marathons not sprints. You cannot expect to get far and be great right away. It takes time and practice.