Staying Authentic With Your Audience in Mind

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I’ve been doing a lot of reading about what it takes to be a successful freelance writer. I want to to produce great content, keep up with my blog, submit to outside websites, and keep my clients happy all at once. It’s a delicate balance, and as you can see, I’ve neglected my blog while focusing on other things.

I’m sure this balance is different for every person. Not every writer has the same writing style or can work under the same conditions. For instance, I’m writing this at my dining room table while my 3-year-old watches YouTube. That ideal work/life balance teases me, hanging just out of reach.

There’s another delicate tightrope writers walk: Finding the balance between pleasing an audience and staying authentic. In the countless articles I’ve read about freelance writing, I found conflicting opinions. Some say to write from the heart, and the audience will come. Others say to pander to the audience for fear of alienating them (and your paycheck).

I agree and disagree with elements of both approaches. I believe it’s possible to focus on an audience without sacrificing artistic freedom. If you care too much about what people think, your writing will never be authentic. But if you are trying to make a living at writing, you need a captive audience. Personally, I do both.

1. Choose The Audience

Rule number one taught in grade school and high school English classes is to identify and consider the audience. I think this is where people make the crucial mistake. They confuse considering their audience with pleasing their audience. Some writers don’t need to keep their audience happy at all times. They just need to get their attention.

For instance, this blog’s target audience is writers. There’s a good chance that the things I say won’t resonate with some of you. My words are based on my experiences, and I’m sure plenty of writers won’t relate. There are things that work well for me that might send another writer spiraling into mayhem.

I’m a writer who thrives in the midst of organized chaos. For example, I set a 10-minute timer so I could write this post. My first draft was word vomit. Whatever popped into my head made its way onto the page. Not all those words made their way into this published post. But I find that my best work develops when I don’t censor myself in round one.

2. Free Expression

In fact, that’s my second step to finding balance. Once I have established my audience, then I need the freedom to express myself. All my thoughts, feelings, and opinions need to be documented to create a foundation. This is my favorite part of the process. It keeps me honest and keeps my work real and uninhibited.

3. Editing

The editing process is where I become my own worst critic. I try to put myself in my audience’s shoes. In step one, I only had to identify my audience. In step two, I gave myself complete creative freedom. Step three is where I try to strike the balance. I consider what my audience wants to hear in conjunction with the message I wish to convey. This is where I clean up the unnecessary fluff that spilled onto the page. Sometimes I save sections that don’t apply to my intended message and later use them to form new posts. Sometimes I hold onto them for future inspiration. I might even scrap them completely.

Either way, those words have served their purpose. They have helped me to form a coherent piece. No matter what kind of writer you are, you need to find your own balance. Typing on my laptop at the dining room table with Surprise Egg videos playing in the background works for me today. Setting the timer pulls my focus and keeps my mind from drifting to other to-do list items. (Like those dishes in the sink. God help me.)

For these ten minutes, I’m focused on this and this alone. That is my balance.

What’s yours? Use the comment section to tell me what strategies work for you.

 

Your Words are Valuable

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When I grappled with starting a blog about writing, I talked myself out of it many times. I was sure that I couldn’t write anything that hadn’t already been written. What could I possibly have to say that was new, relevant, and connected to readers that hasn’t been done before?

I sabotaged myself with negative thinking before I even began. Before I had typed a word for my blog, I decided that others were better than me, I couldn’t come up with original ideas, and I wouldn’t gain enough followers to make it worth the effort.

It took some committed efforts at self-improvement to realize how backward my thinking was.

Are there other writers out there better than me? Yes.

My mistake was comparing myself to them. Sure, I might be writing about topics that have been covered before, but I have never covered them before. My thoughts are important to someone.

That’s where I realized I had made my second crucial mistake. I was thinking about followers and gaining approval rather than fulfilling my purpose for writing in the first place. I want to write because I have something to say. I want to write because I enjoy it. Sure, I also want to make a living, but it’s important to write because it makes me happy.

If I am being genuine, the followers will come. And if they don’t, that’s okay. If I’m doing something that brings value to my life, then my time has not been wasted.

It is important that I believe in my words. Most people can tell when someone is being fake – even through a computer screen. I should respect myself enough to write and understand that my words are valuable, even if no one else reads them.

When I first began writing, I kept it private. It was just for me. It took a lot of trust and closeness with someone for me to share it. Now that writing is my business, I feel pressure to write for others. While it’s important that I know my audience, I’ve learned that obsessing about them keeps my writing from being genuine.

I have found that the best way to write is to let my fingers dance across the keys as if no one will ever read my words. If I produce something that I want to share with the world – great! I submit to publications or publish it on my blog. If not, I keep it with the understanding that those words are for my eyes only. Maybe just for now or maybe forever.

The point is, I’m not writing for anyone else, and I’m not trying to copy another writer’s style. I’m allowing my unique voice to shine through my work. I am giving my words the freedom to spill out onto the page uninhibited.

When I do this, I often discover things about myself that I didn’t know were there. I develop new, unexpected ideas, and sometimes my topics take me in a direction I didn’t expect.

If you’re a writer, don’t count yourself out even if you feel discouraged. Writing is not as easy as some would have you believe. It is in high demand and always will be, especially in the age of advancing technology. Genuine, passionate writers are hard to find.

Just because you aren’t covering a new topic doesn’t mean you don’t have something unique to say. There was only one Charles Dickens. There was only one Jane Austen. There is only one J.K. Rowling.

There is only one you. You have something to say. Your words are valuable. As long as you understand that, the rest will follow.

 

8 Tips for Improving Writing Focus

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Are you a writer who has trouble focusing on one project at a time?

See if this sounds familiar:

You have some precious moments to yourself. Your writing space is set. Your laptop and notebook are ready, and you have drinks and snacks within reach. You lean your head side to side and crack your knuckles like you’ve seen in the movies. Then you start typing furiously.

After typing your first few paragraphs, another brilliant idea smacks you in the face. You jot it down in your notebook and try to return to your original project. But that idea keeps rolling around in your mind anyway. Suddenly, you have a hundred different ways to develop it. You stop your current project to work on the new idea instead.

You take a swig of coffee, crack your knuckles again, and dive headfirst into this next project. That is until you remember that you haven’t purchased that book on Amazon. You need it to research one of your many story ideas. You add the book to your Amazon cart. Oh, and you forgot to update your blog’s social media pages. So you take another detour to schedule a few posts. Promotion is important, right?

Now you can focus.

Wait. What were you writing?

This is where you’re struck by writer’s block. Your idea doesn’t seem so brilliant anymore. You force a few more sentences onto the page before you decide it’s all terrible and stare at the screen.

I’ve played out this exact scenario a dozen times. It’s not because I’m a bad writer. It’s because I failed to discipline myself. I got caught up in preparation and promotion phases and neglected to actually write.

If you are a writer, you have to act like a writer. That means disciplining yourself to focus and write.

This might look like different things to different people.

Some writers need a set schedule so they can write for a specific period of time every day. Others take opportunities where they can and work until their ideas are developed. Some work in five-minute snippets and write as much as they can in their limited time.  

Whatever writing method works best for you, stick with it. And use these strategies to improve your focus:

1.Stick to one project at a time.

It’s a struggle if you’re used to multitasking. While multitasking is considered a desirable skill in many professions, it’s a hindrance when you need to write. Don’t let yourself get distracted by many ideas or items on the to-do list. Pick the one thing you need to do and stick with it until it’s done. It takes practice to stay focused, but you will feel accomplished once you can cross that project off your list.

2.Get off social media.

Easier said than done, right? Social media is a key asset to your writing career, but it can also be an enormous time suck. Scheduling social media posts ahead of time and restricting yourself to checking at certain times can help you be more productive.

3.Track your ideas.

Keep a notebook or app close by to jot down ideas as they come. Jot down the idea and immediately go back to what you were writing. See the first project through before moving onto the next no matter how loudly that idea is shouting at you. A creative mind is a blessing and a curse. The ideas are there, but the focus is difficult to maintain. Force yourself to stick to it until the project is finished.

I keep a to-do list document open on my laptop as I write. If an idea hits me, I add it to the list and return to my first task. While I’ve been writing this blog post, I’ve had three other ideas for posts and books. I wrote them down and continued writing.

4.Prioritize your projects.

Work until you can cross the most important project off your list, and then move onto the next one. I repeat: Don’t move onto the next project until the first is complete. Unfinished projects can leave you feeling discouraged. Finishing even the smallest tasks can keep you motivated.

If you have multiple projects on your plate at once, try to focus on no more than one big project and two or three small projects at one time. Allow a daily amount to complete on your big project. For instance, if you are writing a novel, set a daily goal to write 500 or 1,000 words – whatever is most workable for you.

Your smaller projects might be short stories, blog posts, or emails. You can break those down into writing, editing, and proofreading phases.

5.Set goals for each project.

Write these goals on a list. Once your goal for a project is reached, cross it off, and move onto the next one. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted.

For example, every night before bed, I make a list of the top three things I need to complete the next day.

It might look something like this:

1.Write [client name] article draft

2.Edit Write Like Me blog post

3.Write novel – 500 words

The types of tasks vary depending on what takes the highest priority. Sometimes my priority is pitching potential clients. Sometimes it is crafting an email. Sometimes it is writing three different articles.

By prioritizing my top three daily goals, I can cross projects off the list and feel accomplished. Sometimes I finish faster than planned. When that happens, I pick another project and keep working.

6.Set a timer.

I love to use this method when I know I have time to work uninterrupted. I set the timer for ten minutes, twenty minutes, or thirty minutes and don’t stop writing until it goes off. I don’t worry about editing or proofreading or what I have to do next. I write until the timer sounds and sometimes beyond. (It’s great for cleaning too!)

I find that this race against time sparks my competitive streak and forces me to stay focused.

7.Set limits.

It’s much easier to lose focus when you get overwhelmed. Don’t take on more than you can handle. In a similar vein, don’t allow your to-do list to rule you. If I look at my entire to-do list at once, I tend to panic. If I focus on the most important projects first, I am less stressed and far more productive.

8.Take time for yourself.

I am guilty of avoiding things that relax me when my to-do list grows to the length of my kitchen table. I feel guilty if I spend time on me when I could be using that time to work on a project. The problem is, when I am stressed and overwhelmed, I don’t produce my best work. I find that if I allow myself some time for relaxation, I feel reenergized and am ready to work again. (In fact, I just finished reading a few chapters of a favorite book before I sat down to write this post.)

Always allow time to do something you enjoy. Maybe it’s reading a good book, going for a walk, or blowing away some imaginary people in Call of Duty. Do whatever helps you clear your head and brings you back to center. Your physical and emotional health and your writing will benefit.

If you are struggling with keeping your writing focus, get organized. Find a schedule and system that works for you and stick to it. It might take trial and error, and you might feel the overwhelming pressure to do everything at once. Go easy on yourself, take each project one step at a time, and remember to take time for you.

 

How to Get through NaNoWriMo and What to Do Next: An Interview with Shayla Eaton of Curiouser Editing

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This is my first year participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I must confess, I am failing miserably. I’m far behind on my word count, but I have put words on the page and developed the idea far past what I had just one month ago.

I know there are many of you who are much further ahead of the game, and you’re on the verge of finishing that novel (yay!). You just have to get to the end and complete those 50,000 words (you’re so close!).

But then what?

What do you do with your book once it’s finished? How do you make the necessary changes? How do you take that next step toward publication?

That’s where Shayla Eaton comes in! She is the founder of Curiouser Editing, and she has the answers to all of your questions.

Shayla has personally been through the novel-writing and self-publishing process several times, and she has helped numerous people accomplish the same.

She is here on Write Like Me to let you all know how you can get through these last few days of NaNoWriMo and what to do next:

 

In your opinion, what three key elements make a great novel? Characters with flaws, maddening cliffhangers, and a plot that’s always thickening.

What are three of your favorite novel-writing resources (books, websites, apps)? The Emotion Thesaurus is a must for any novelist; Word Hippo for synonyms and antonyms when your brain is too fried to think; and Your First Novel for novices who need a walk-through.

You recently went to the beach to write a novel. What are two of your other favorite places to write? Coffee shops are a must because it’s nice to get out of the house and be surrounded by potential minor characters. (Yes, if I find you interesting, you might make it into my novel.) I also love sitting at my desk to write. I recently gave my writing space a makeover for more productive writing, and it’s made a huge difference in output. It’s helped to eliminate distractions, as my desk is only used for writing now.

For more details on writing your novel on the beach, read her two posts:

Read: Why I’m Hiding Out in a Condo to Write My Novel

Read: 10 Rules for Writing Your Book on the Beach

 

Have you ever felt “stuck” or like your novel wasn’t any good? Sure, all the time. As an editor, I think I’m even more critical than most authors because I expect high, high quality. I don’t ever want to produce anything that isn’t my best, so I’m constantly asking questions such as, “Is this my best work? Could this dialogue be stronger? Is this paragraph necessary? If I pull out all my hair, will anyone notice?”

How did you get past that feeling, and what advice would you give others who feel the same way? Step away for a little while. Grab a bite to eat, take the dog for a walk, or do something mundane. Especially if you’re stuck on a plot hole, do something mundane—wash the dishes, try to fix something. The answer to whatever plot- or character-driven dilemma you’re facing will hit you like a bolt of bookish lightning.

I always recommend talking out a plot hole with someone who knows nothing about your book. Every time I explain an issue with my plot, someone asks a question I never thought of and I immediately spot the discrepancy and find a solution.

What do you believe is the biggest thing holding people back from self-publishing or submitting their novels to publishers? Fear of rejection, either from a publishing company/agent or from potential readers. There’s also that horrible voice in the back of the author’s head, saying, “No one will like this. It’s been done before. It could be way better.” So for some reason, we listen to that maniacal little jerk and put everything off. Silence him, and publish your book.

If you need more motivation, remember that Stephen King threw away Carrie, Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times, and Golding received a letter from a publisher stating, “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”

What prompted you to start Curiouser Editing? I wanted to work one-on-one with authors. After leaving the publishing industry, I tried my hand at selling T-shirts. But my calling has been and always will be writing and editing—making an author’s dream come true. I came up with the name Curiouser Editing, landed my first client, and I suppose the rest is just history.

What do you most want people to know about Curiouser Editing? We believe that your book is your baby, so it’s our goal to give it the best care possible. It’s always scary handing your book over to someone else’s eyes, but it can make all the difference in the world.

How can it help writers when NaNoWriMo is over? The great thing about succeeding at NaNoWriMo is having a complete novel. Once it’s done, that’s where Curiouser Editing shines. We offer consulting, editing, book covers, formatting, marketing, book trailers, author bios and summaries—phew! Bottom line: we’ve got you covered.

Are you taking on new clients? Absolutely. Our team prepares for the influx of authors after NaNoWriMo. Our team adores books, and we love authors.

Meet the team: http://www.curiouserediting.com/meet-the-team/

Any final pieces of advice for aspiring novelists? Learn everything you can about realistic characters. Listen to conversations as you sit in cafes; eavesdrop—you’ll learn more about how humans communicate by simply observing.

When it comes time to publish, stay away from vanity publishers. These can also be subsidy publishers  who charge money to publish your book—they tell you it’s for marketing, but they never market your book. The best thing about self-publishing is that you can hit the publish button yourself—that’s why it’s called self-publishing.

If you’re going to spend money—and yes, you’ll have to when it’s time—invest in professional editing and top-notch design. But don’t forget to invest your time into a tribe of loyal readers who will fangirl over your book. I call them book ambassadors, and every author needs them.

If you’re short on book ambassadors, let me introduce you to some. Join Curiouser Author Network to learn, grow, and succeed—and be surrounded by crazy book lovers too.

 

There you have it! You are now armed with a host of resources to take that next step in publishing your novel. As a current member of the Curiouser Author Network, I can tell you that it is a group you need to be a part of if you plan to self-publish.

For more information about Shayla Eaton, see her short biography below and her website at www.curiouserediting.com.

 

Biography: Shayla is the president of Curiouser Editing and a connoisseur of the writing and editing process, having edited over two hundred books and countless articles, blogs, social media posts, and web copy. She is the author of The Curiouser Crusade and the Pre-Publishing Checklist. She loves coffee and is an admirer of all things creative and bookish.

Journaling: My Personal Pensieve

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Today I was working on a generic post for this blog with the subject, “Why Writers Should Journal Every Day.” The topic has been done to death in the writing world, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not true. Journaling might be the most important weapon in the writing arsenal.

If you’ve written anything, I’m sure you’ve experienced the dreaded “writer’s block.” You’re staring at a blank page or screen and can’t force the ideas out. There are too many distractions.  

Life gets in the way of our work and our passions and we stress about the smallest things at the worst possible times.

I frequently find myself sitting in front of my laptop and wondering if I remembered to pay the rent. Or I text my husband to buy bananas on his way home from work. Or I worry that I’ve damaged my daughter beyond repair because she watched Despicable Me on repeat for a whole day while I worked.

These little things have a way of consuming my thoughts and preventing me from being productive. They block my ideas and swirl around inside my head, clouding my vision.

That’s when I stop what I’m doing and break out my journal. Sometimes it’s a blank Word Document, and sometimes it’s a notebook. Whatever tool I choose, I use it to write. I let the words spill out of my head and onto the page. The editor in me wants to fix them, change them, and make them make sense to others. But the writer in me knows that they only need to make sense to me.

And so I keep writing. I keep pouring my thoughts onto the page until I feel relieved of my burden of words searching for a way out.

Sometimes I choose to edit and change and cut and paste until I believe the words are ready for the rest of the world to see. But sometimes I keep them just for me. I leave them in their raw form – the words that expressed exactly who I was on that particular day. Then I tuck them away as a part of myself that I protect and keep just for me. I might go back and read them one day – or they might never be seen by human eyes again.

But those words served their purpose at the moment. They helped me articulate my feelings and express my thoughts. I said what I needed to say, and I allowed myself to feel what I needed to feel. They helped me clear my head of my worries and focus on the tasks at hand. When I’m free to write my novel or create marketing content for a client.

I can do these things well because I took the time to focus on myself and journal about the thoughts in my head. I took the time feel what I needed to feel and say what I needed to say.

When I give precedence to my own writing needs, I can gain distance. I am later given the rare opportunity to step back and look at my life from the outside. Through my own words, I am sucked into past memories or future dreams. I am pulled into stories that happened only in my head or heartbreak that was all too real.

Journaling has become my personal Pensieve. It is my lifeline to the rest of the world and the thing that allows me to gain perspective.

It’s not forced. It’s not expected or required. I don’t gain monetary compensation for putting my thoughts on the page. I write in a way that expresses my true self and connects to my most important audience – me.

If you are struggling to finish that project hanging over your head, stop thinking and put words on the page. You might be surprised at how free you feel and how productive you become.

 

The Vulnerable Writer

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When I clicked the publish button on this blog, I immediately thought, “Oh my God! What did I just do?”

I had been toying with starting a blog for a long time. A really long time. Years. I have always been someone who writes almost daily about anything that pops into my head. Sure, I’ve had stints where I grew discouraged or busy and didn’t do any personal writing. But I’ve had jobs that required writing and an English major that kept my keyboard busy.

Even though writing has been a huge part of my life, it has also been something that I considered to be private. I kept journals or jotted down quick poems or thoughts on scraps of notebook paper. Then I kept them hidden in the back of a notebook or the bottom of a drawer.

Even my husband knows not to open my personal journals or he will feel my wrath.

So when I considered starting a blog, I hit a wall. I was torn between establishing myself as a writer and maintaining my privacy.

When I finally published that first post, my breath caught in my throat.  I briefly considered deleting it.

It wasn’t because the subject matter was intensely personal. I’m writing about writing.

But even the most basic writing requires some vulnerability – something I tend to avoid. I believe writing style is as unique as a fingerprint. Sure, the style evolves and improves over time, and it is possible to learn how to hone writing skills.

But you can’t learn your individual voice. You can’t learn how to be you.

I knew that by publishing my work, I was revealing a piece of myself.

No matter how basic or generic the subject matter seems to be, my voice is going to come through. I can change the tone. I can change the subject. I can aim for humorous, informative, or sentimental. But it will always be my voice in the words.

Writing my own blog means sharing my opinion with the world. I’m not given an assignment and told what to write. I choose the subject and write and edit until I’m satisfied. The topics come from me. The words flow from my head and out my fingers. The editing, the formatting, the proofreading – it’s all me.

So to know that people are going to be reading and critiquing something that is a part of myself made me nervous. The knowledge that people will be accepting or rejecting my words was daunting.

I did it anyway. I clicked the publish button. And you know what?

The world kept turning. No one laughed at me. A few friends even praised me for finally putting my work out there.

I took the chance. I made myself vulnerable. Instead of the eye rolls and criticism I expected, I received encouragement and support.

Now that I have taken that first step, I now have the confidence to keep writing.

I’m sure there will be criticism. Not everyone is going to like what I write, and not everyone is going to agree with my opinions.

I’m okay with that because the more I write, the more confident I feel.

No matter what your ambitions or interests are, someone cares and wants to encourage you. If you want to share your art, photography, or writing, share it!

Take that risk and make yourself vulnerable. I became the vulnerable writer, and I have never felt better. You will never gain the confidence you need for success if you don’t take that first step toward your goals.  

 

Why My House is Never Clean

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The dinner dishes are piled high. The floor is in desperate need of vacuuming. Laundry is sitting in my bedroom (miraculously folded) waiting to be put away. Toys are strewn across the living room.

What am I doing?

Sitting here writing.

It’s not that I don’t do housework. I do. A lot. I can scrub a mean toilet if I do say so myself. In fact, I’m a better housekeeper now than I ever was before I had a kid – although you wouldn’t know by looking at my home.

The truth is, I don’t make it my top priority. When I’m not spending time with my kid, I would rather be writing or reading. I often have to make a choice between writing the next blog or refolding and putting away the kid’s clothes for the 1000th time after she’s pulled them all out of her dresser. Nine times out of ten, the blog wins.

Even on that one time out of ten that housecleaning takes precedence, my mind is still on that next idea. When I’m doing the dishes, I’m brainstorming a post idea. The socks I’m sorting become characters and develop their own tragic tale of estrangement and miraculous reunification – except one whose mate was lost forever. It’s all very Steinbeck-y.

Inevitably, I have to stop what I’m doing at some point to write down these ideas so I don’t forget in the hustle and bustle of dusting the tops of picture frames. (Just kidding – Who actually does that?)

I find solace in the fact that my house is generally a complete disaster by reassuring myself that no writer has a clean house. (Except maybe J.K. Rowling, but she’s magic, so that’s not fair.)

I want to believe that I’m not alone in taking advantage of these rare moments of silence to tune into my thoughts and write rather than vacuuming cheerios off the floor for the third time that day.

I don’t know about you, but as a work at home mom, I feel a lot of pressure to do it all. I mean, I’m already home all day. Why shouldn’t the house be clean? So, at first, I tried to juggle the chores, the writing, and the child care. Sometimes, I actually did get it all done. But those were the days that I didn’t shower and got only a few hours of sleep.

After a few weeks of doing that (I showered in that time, I promise!), I realized that it was either scale back and choose my priorities or crash and burn. Obviously, child care is the first priority. So second priority became writing.

My family doesn’t live in squalor, and we do eat hot meals (most nights – KFC counts, right?) I don’t neglect my family and home in favor of typing on my computer. I’ve simply realized that I’m never going to achieve perfection. The best I can hope for is a workable balance by prioritizing the things that are most important to me.

So there you have it. That’s why my house is never clean.

Keep your eyes peeled for my next bestseller: “A Tale of Two Feet: The Perils of Laundered Separates.”    

 

15 Writing Prompts to Use When You’re Stuck

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“I stuck, Mommy! I stuck!”

I hear this phrase at least six times a day from my two-year-old. She is consistently wedging herself into places from which she can’t seem to extract herself without some help. Sometimes she’s actually stuck, and sometimes she just needs some encouragement to get out of the predicament on her own.

I often feel like this when I’m trying to write something. It’s easy to get stuck. For some people, the ideas seem to flow smoothly for a while and then stop suddenly. For others, it takes a little more coercing to get started. Along with utilizing some of the great resources online (writing courses, message boards, writers’ Facebook groups) you can also use some writing prompts to get those creative juices flowing.

 

  1. Journal About Your Day.

Journaling is the most common piece of advice that I have seen for someone suffering from writer’s block. Just sit down and write about whatever wants to come out. Talk about the day you had today, what you had to eat, who you talked to, what good or bad things happened. Write about your thoughts, your feelings – get everything out on the page. You can refer back to it later for ideas. If nothing else, you will likely feel more clear-headed and ready to focus your writing on other things.

 

  1. Follow Your Passion.

Pick something you’re passionate about (something that makes you angry, sad, hurt, happy, giddy) and write about it. One of my favorite pieces that I have written so far came from something that annoyed me. I was ranting about it to my husband, and then I decided to write it down. It took less than fifteen minutes and a quick edit, and I had gold!

 

  1. Make Up a Word.

Make up a new word, give it a definition, and create a story around it. One of the best writers of our time (J.K. Rowling, maybe you’ve heard of her) made up words that have become household staples (muggle, quidditch, pensieve). She built a whole series of stories around them. Your made-up word might sound silly initially, but the more you use it, the less silly and more fun it becomes.

 

  1. Write From a Quote.

Pick a favorite quote from an author, celebrity, or other public figure, and build a personal essay around it. You can write your opinion or draw from experience and create a story related to this quote. You can write a narrative example of the quote in action or make it more like a journal entry where you talk about how this quote has affected your life. However you choose to use it, an inspirational, humorous, or even offensive quote can be an amazing springboard for a great fiction or nonfiction piece. (An example of a website that uses this method is Tiny Buddha.)

 

  1. Watch Your Favorite Show or Movie.

Watch a television show or a movie, and then write about it as if you were one of the characters who lived the experience. Yes, you are writing someone else’s story, but it gives you an opportunity to create emotional depth and inner monologs for a chosen character. You don’t have to write from the main character’s point of view either. You could choose an extra standing in the background observing a scene. This concept can apply to books and short stories you enjoy as well. Choose an obscure character and write the story from his or her point of view. It’s an excellent writing exercise and just might generate ideas for your own original stories.

 

  1. Open a Dictionary or Thesaurus.

Yes, those still exist. And those of us who enjoy writing often keep at least one of these handy in hard copy form. Close your eyes, flip through the pages, and point to a word. Whatever word your finger lands on is the one you write about. Maybe this word will evoke a memory, and you will write about a real-life experience. Maybe it will elicit strong emotions, and you will write a strongly opinionated essay. Or maybe it will mean nothing at all to you, and you will be free to build an entirely new story around this one word.

 

  1. Pick a Random Object.

Choose an object that is lying around your home, and write a story about it. It could be a clock, a piece of jewelry, or a dish towel. Choose whatever item strikes your fancy and write a story that brings this item to life. It might be a story centered around the item or from the point of view of the item itself. (Ever seen Toy Story?) Or you could jot down your thoughts about the item or any particular memories associated with it. Just pick something, and write about it.

 

  1. Read Someone Else’s Book.

Read a book or a story, and write your analysis or your opinion. This helps you get inside the head of another writer. Write about how much you loved or hated the story. Write about how much it resonated with you or how little you can relate to it. Pick out favorite quotes and expand on them or pick it apart and criticize every element. No matter which route you choose, this will get you thinking and possibly spark new ideas for your own stories or pieces.

 

  1. Track Down Writing Contests.

There is always someone on the Internet running a writing contest based on a particular topic. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction, and some are poetry. Even if you don’t submit to the contest, you can use the required topic as a springboard to developing your own idea. A great place to start with this is Hit Record, an open production company that runs its own weekly writing contest. (I am not in any way officially affiliated with Hit Record aside from sending the occasional writing contribution. I just really love this website.)

 

  1. Use Calls for Submissions

Calls for submissions make excellent writing prompts. Just like with writing contests, you don’t have to submit to the site, but you can use the topic ideas as a starting point for your next great story, article, or personal essay. This article from Submittable gives some great information on writing from calls for submissions.

 

  1. Use Old Photographs.

Make up your own descriptions and back stories for the people in old photographs. These can be photographs of people you know or people you have never met. Go to the library and browse genealogy books related to your local area. Look at the photos of the people, and without reading the actual story (although you might want to do that eventually) make up your own character using that physical description and that particular time and place. You might be surprised where your imaginations will take you.

 

  1. Use Your Memories.

Take a personal memory, embellish it, and turn it into a story. It can be something as simple as eating family dinners as a child. Sometimes you don’t even have to embellish. You can simply write the memory as it happened, edit for clarity, and many times, you have a riveting, thought-provoking, highly relatable story.

 

  1. Check The News.

If you are struggling for inspiration, simply turn on the television and watch the news or go to a local or national news website. You will never be at a loss for stories. The only downside is that most of these can be quite sad. If you need inspiration for something happy, Humans of New York is full of heart-warming, uplifting stories of real, everyday people.

 

  1. People Watch.

This is one of my favorite writings prompts (in a completely non-creepy way). I love imagining where people might be going or what they might have on their to-do list for the day. What are their hopes and dreams? What kind of job might they have? If you are a fan of writing in a local coffee shop and are suffering from writer’s block, stop and take a look around you. Write a physical description of the barista and make up a character for him. Perhaps he’s working his way through college or perhaps he is saving to travel. Perhaps he is a spy with a secret identity and is working undercover as a barista.

Perhaps the brunette lady two tables over with her nose in a book just returned to work after having her first child and is enjoying alone time on her lunch break. Or perhaps she is meeting someone. Or maybe she is in the witness protection program, and the name she gives the barista for her coffee is not her real one. The possibilities are endless.

 

  1. Browse Old Journals.

I’ve been keeping a diary in some form since I was six years old. I have piles of old diaries and notebooks and scraps of paper. I could never bring myself to throw any of it away. I have found that they often act as excellent writing prompts for stories, personal essays or articles. Sometimes I pick up where I left off with an old story or pick out a few elements I like and scrap the rest all together.

 

Do you have any favorite writing prompts or ways that you generate new ideas? I would love to hear them! Please share in the comments below.

 

The Day I Stopped Writing

courtesy of pixabay

Last week, I had a moment. It’s one that I haven’t experienced often, but it was significant anyway. I was sitting in front of my computer staring at a blank screen, and I just couldn’t make myself write. It wasn’t because of the dreaded “writer’s block.” I had ideas. I had lots of ideas. But I couldn’t manage to form the words to get them on the page.

My eyes were drifting in and out of focus, and somehow the (rare) silence in the room was deafening. The only thing I could hear was the clock on the wall ominously ticking away the precious moments of nap time that I so desperately needed.

I soon found myself staring out of the window to my right and watching a cardinal flit from tree to tree. Then I found myself refilling my stale cup of coffee and wandering out onto the back deck. I stood in silence for several minutes and breathed in the warm, humid air. It was too hot to be outside, but I couldn’t make myself sit at my laptop for another second.

I sat down on the deck with my legs crossed and sipped my coffee as I watched the cardinal continue to hop on the branches and chirp to his heart’s content. Even though the cardinal is our state bird, it’s often possible to go months without seeing one. That is unless you live at my house. This little guy makes an appearance every few days, and there is often a female that joins him.

Today, it was business as usual. He was chirping, playing, enjoying the sunshine. He had nothing to do except anything he wanted.

Then I realized what I had to do to get out of this writing funk:

Stop writing.

I know, I know. It’s the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish. Writer’s write. It’s what they do.

But my brain was in serious need of a break. I can only do so much research, scribble so many notes, type so many words before everything starts to run together and the screen starts to morph into a weird gooey blob.

If you’re anything like me, you might find it really easy to shut yourself up in a room and work on your craft, whatever it might be, for hours on end. I know I’ve constantly got something new in the works, something I need to be writing, something I’m excited to finish.

But this makes it really easy to forget one of the basics of writing (or any art for that matter): Writers build their craft from life experience. At some point, they have to put down the pen or shut the laptop and go out and experience life.

There are times when I need to stop seeing everything as an opportunity to write and just experience what’s happening around me.

Like a mother taking pictures of her child is in danger of missing the moment in her attempt to capture it, writers often focus too much on the experience as it relates to the next piece rather than the experience itself.

So, I stopped writing. It was just for the day, and then I was back to work feeling more refreshed with a slew of new ideas.

Take some time to stop writing – maybe for just an hour, a day, or even a week. Do some yoga, go for a run, take a day trip with your family, visit a friend. Stop writing and take the time to drink in the world around you. If the experience is significant enough (or even simple enough), you will have the opportunity to write about it when the time is right.  

 

Stop #Hashtag Abuse!

social-media-640543_1280

I’ve made it no secret that I loathe the overuse (or even general use) of the hashtag. I mean, what is the point?

 

Getting the day going with a cup of coffee! #java #ilovecoffee #coffeerules #wakeupwithjoe #imsotired #inventawaytomainlineit #ihatemondays #letsallgobacktosleep #ilikeusinghashtagsbecauseithinkitmakesmelookcool #tryreadingthiswithoutyoureyescrossing

 

Seriously? Is that really necessary?

I don’t know about you, but I skip right over the string of hashtag text and move onto something else.

I’ll admit that it wasn’t until I did some work for a marketer that I realized the hashtag has an actual, functional purpose.

 

The hashtag began on Twitter as a tool for personal connections and marketing. For instance, if you were looking for a group of people interested in coffee, you would search #coffee and find all of the people who have used it. Then you are free to connect with like-minded people who want to talk about coffee.

It works the same way in blogging and marketing all over social media. If you are trying to find a business or individual that specializes in web development and marketing, you could search for #webcontent or #onlinemarketing.

You can even search for articles or pages related to your area of interest with things like #photography or #gardening.

Pixabay

 

Now that I am a little more educated on the use of the hashtag, I have made my peace with it. I have even used it myself a few times in blogs and freelance work (although I still refuse to use it on my personal page for purely superficial, stubborn reasons).

 

So, now that you have been educated on the proper use of the hashtag, I would like to make a genuine request from the deepest part of my heart:

 

STOP THE ABUSE!

 

Stop the visual assaults on your innocent, unsuspecting friends and family who just want to peruse Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest for a bit of peaceful entertainment over their morning coffee (or tea… I don’t judge).

Stop stringing together useless words and phrases that no one in their right mind would ever think to search. Not once have I ever thought, “Hmm, I wonder how many people are interested in #ihavehemorrhoidsandtheyhurtlikeabitch?” No one is clicking on that. NO ONE.  

There’s nothing wrong with tossing in a quick #tbt or #sundayfunday. I’ll be the first to admit that I even look forward to a little #mcm. (I’m looking at you, Chris Hemsworth. Rawr.)

All I ask is that you use discretion. Stop and think before throwing together a string of hashtags. If you’re unsure, ask yourself these questions:

 

Is it useful?

Is it relevant?

Is it easy to read?

Are there two or less?

Did I leave out mention of all bodily functions?

Will I still have friends after this?

 

If the answer to all of these is “yes,” then #hashtag your little heart out. If the answer to even one of these questions is “no,” then I implore you to stop and reevaluate your life.

If you struggle to resist abusing #hashtags and find yourself inadvertently typing #mykidssmearpooponwalls and pressing enter, please seek professional help.

I ask that you join me in my campaign to #stophashtagabuse. And, for the love of the Internet, don’t drink and #hashtag.