04 Jul

5 Writing Lessons from the 4th of July

Posted in Process, Tips, Writing

In light of today’s holiday, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the 4th of July means.  In doing all this thinking, I realized that there’s a lot we writers can learn from the 4th of July and the founding fathers.  Here are a few things I learned this weekend.

1) Don’t be afraid to state the obvious. We hold these truths to be self-evident… What the founding fathers were really saying when they wrote that was: “What we’re about to say is brutally obvious, but it bears repeating anyway, so listen up.”  They weren’t afraid to state the obvious, and we shouldn’t be afraid either.  Remember, while you may know the world of your story inside and out, your readers aren’t privy to all those details unless you tell them.  Don’t be afraid to give your readers all the details they need to get immersed in your world.

2) Keep it short and sweet. At the same time, don’t go overboard with the mundane details.  Remember the Declaration of Independence is a one-page document.  OK, so it’s a big page, but still it’s not a tome the size of a dictionary.  The founding fathers knew to keep their writing short and to the point.  If a detail is not important to your story, take it out!  Who was it that said “Kill your darlings?”  Well, pull that revolver down from the mantlepiece and start shooting.

3) Put it in writing. The founding fathers didn’t just sit around talking about freedom and independence and all that good stuff; they made decisions and wrote them down.  The same is true with our own writing.  Sure, we can get together with writer friends and chat about craft or talk about our stories, but sooner or later we have to shut up and write.  Remember, you can fix just about about anything in revision, but you can’t revise a blank page.

4) Give it room to grow. Even our beloved Constitution wasn’t perfect the first time it was written out.  (Um, that’s why we have amendments, right?  The founding fathers didn’t get it right the first time so they tried again.  And again.)  If the Constitution had been drafted as a perfect, flawless document, it would be static, stuck in time and not open to interpretation.  As we have it, the founding fathers implemented a way to make changes and gave the Constitution room to grow and evolve.  Give your own writing that same gift.  Sure, it might seem nice in theory to draft a perfect novel on the first try, but if you give it room to breathe, you’ll discover something truly wonderful that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

5) Celebrate with fireworks. At the end of the day, writing is hard work and when you hit a milestone (the end of a chapter, the end of a section, the end of a draft) you have to celebrate.  When all is said and done, light some fireworks (metaphorical ones, of course… I don’t want anyone messing up their writing hands) and celebrate!


21 Jun


Posted in Process, Writing

Drought feels like this.

I have been experiencing a writing drought lately.  It’s not that I don’t have projects to work on and writing to do (I have plenty of that) but for some reason, I’ve been struggling with the actual doing of it.  This is very difficult for me to admit here in writing, because people are always saying “writers write.”  The implication of course is that if I’m not writing, then I’m not really a writer, and if I’m not a writer then I don’t know what I am.  So, yes, this is very difficult to say but I’m admitting it.

For the past few weeks I’ve been struggling with it on my own and I’ve realized that I can’t do that anymore.  First off, I feel I owe it to all of you to let you know why I’ve been less active than usual on the interwebs.  But more importantly, I’m hoping that maybe some of you have felt this way too and may have some words of advice.

But what do you do when you’re in the middle of a drought?  Today I had a great meeting with my writing group and got lots of encouragement, but I think it’ll take more than that to kick this drought problem.  That’s where you all come in.  I need some advice and a good, swift kick in the pants.  I feel like I’m trying to water a desert with a watering can and it’s just not working.  Any advice?

What do you do when you hit a writing drought?


16 May

Mindful Writing: Dealing with High Stakes

Posted in Mindful Writing, Process, Writing

It’s pretty normal to have a fear of failure but fear of success?  That’s just plain weird.  Yet in my writer-brain, somehow it’s far more terrifying to succeed at something than it is to fail.  Why?  Because success means higher stakes, and if failure does happen later on it hurts all the more.

It’s like the Earth in the picture, just floating through space, la-dee-da, until some huge meteor smacks into it.  If the Earth were just a barren rock, then the stakes would be low because the Earth wouldn’t have much to lose.  But the Earth has spent millions of years growing life from one-celled organisms to sentient beings.  It’s because of the Earth’s success at making living things that a meteor hit would be so unbelievably catastrophic.

It’s sort of the same with writing.  The more you write, the higher the stakes get because you’ve invested time and effort into the project.  If you don’t finish the book you won’t get rejected by agents and editors because you’ll never get to that point, so it’s actually a comfortable place to be.  But if you spend all that time writing and editing the book and then you get rejected, it hurts.  Big time.

This is where mindful writing comes in.  In mindfulness, you need to be aware of the things you can control and the things you cannot.  You can’t control whether people will love or hate your book, but you can control whether you actually finish writing it.  Success and failure are out of your control.  What you can control is whether you write the book.  After that, all you can do is accept the successes and failures when they come.

What scares you more: success or failure?  What can you do today that will take you one step closer to finishing a project?


09 May

Mindful Writing: Accepting Failure

Posted in Mindful Writing, Process, Writing

We all have goals and high hopes that things will turn out a certain way.  As writers, we hope to see our work in print someday.  We hope for agents, publishers, reviewers, and readers to love our book.  We wish for a lot of things, but it doesn’t always turn out the way we’d like.  Sometimes our projects flop, people don’t like our work or we ourselves don’t follow-through on our goals.  Sometimes we… fail.

So how do we deal with these moments of hurt and disappointment.  How do we bounce back from from failure?  Two words: Mindful Writing.  Today, take out your notebook and take a few moments to take stock of the parts of your writing life where you feel like you have failed.  You can do this as a guided exercise, following the five steps below, or you can just read through and do the exercise later.  Here’s how:

5 Steps for Accepting Failure

1. Notice the disappointments.  Look at your writing life and write down goals you’ve failed to meet or places where things have not turned out the way you would have liked (i.e. rejections and other disappointments).

2. Recognize the things that are outside your control.  While some things may be outside your control–you can’t control who likes your work and who doesn’t–other things you may be able to control after all.  The key is figuring out which things are things you can control and which are not.

3. Take responsibility.  Look at the things you can control and take responsibility for areas where you failed to meet your goals or contributed to the disappointment in some way.

4. Say how you will not let it happen again.  Make a list of ways in which you will not let this disappointment happen or this goal be missed again.  Come up with real strategies to help you avoid this same failure in the future.

5. Let it go.  Don’t ruminate on the disappointment, but move forward towards your goal.  These things happen so just acknowledge, accept and move on.

On a personal note, for me the biggest failure I’ve had to deal with lately was working on my WIP and making my self-imposed deadlines.  I set some rather unrealistic deadlines and it took missing two such deadlines to realize that this method of self-motivation was not working.  At first, I beat myself up for missing the deadlines, but then I realized that I need to set more realistic goals.  But I would not have made this important discovery had it not been for mindful writing.

Have you faced disappointments in your writing?  How have you managed to bounce back?


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