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Guest Post: Unlocking Your Story’s Potential with the Magic of “What If?”

A rubber ducky asking himself "What if I were a writer?" Well, that's what it looks like to *me* anyway.

“Rubber Ducky” by Robert Burakiewicz via Flickr

Recently we’ve been looking at the power of daydreaming, how it can improve your writing speed, and how you can direct your daydreaming with the use of questions. Now let’s see how it works in real life.

My friend and fellow writer, Amber Seah, (you may remember her previous guest post on My Life in Music — A Memoir) is going to share a snippet from her writing life. In this post she describes how she and her daughter use the question ‘what if?’ to create interesting stories and discover answers to those tricky story questions.

The other night, while washing the hair of my 6-and-¾-year-old, I was mentally composing a letter from an indignant aunt to my main character, Timothy. While my mind was two centuries and half a world away, my daughter was asking her predictable retinue of ‘what-if’ scenarios, addressing such important questions as:

“What if a person this big, (approximately the size of a grain of rice) could eat a hamburger as big as our house, and….” Wait for the punch line.

“And STILL be hungry?”

I have yet to find satisfactory answers to these puzzles. She is usually posing the next what-if without expanding the first one. Listening to her outlandish what-ifs brought to mind an article I read years ago about using ‘what if’ to overcome writers block. It suggested writing 50 or 100 what-ifs to break through the block.

I have never had occasion to use this method as writer’s block is not something I suffer from, however I do feel from time to time that my plot has become stale, laboured and predictable. If I get bored writing my novel, where does that leave the poor reader?

While I rinsed the soap from my daughter’s hair, I tried to give far-fetched, concise answers to match her scenarios; but like a rubber band left too long in the sun, my imagination does not stretch to equal the dimensions of hers.

Fortunately the brain is not a rubber band. Neuroscientists assure me lost elasticity can be regained. I began what-ifing about the letter of this aunt.

What if she threatens to cut him off? He doesn’t need her money.

What if she forbade him to marry the girl, or insisted he marry another girl? He would throw the letter on the fire.

What if the letter contained a string of insults disguised as advice? Malicious and predictable.

These what-ifs led me to think about the personality of this Aunt. Are Timothy’s beliefs about his aunt a true representation of her? As children we develop impressions of the adults around us, which in adulthood we come to realise were erroneous or at the very least warped.

Has he misjudged his aunt’s interest and intentions in the case?

So I went back to what-ifing, and before the conditioner had soaked in, it hit me.

What if she did not write a letter but came in person? What if on receiving no answer to her carefully-worded letter she followed her nephew to London? After all, she is a woman of action; she is not the sort to sit around at home twiddling her thumbs. Besides, there is always something useful to be got out of London, even if she does not succeed in protecting him from ultimate heartache.

All those what-ifs revealed to me this supporting character’s motivation and personality — a revelation I chose to share with Timothy so that he now has a new understanding and appreciation for his overbearing aunt. Their relationship has grown and hopefully so has the story.

What can what-ifing do for you?

Do you have a dull character? A lull in the action? A sticky bit in the plot?

I won’t put a number on the what-ifs, but I recommend to keep asking them until you hit upon something that stimulates you. Stretch those neurons to reach new connections and feel the exhilaration that comes when you finally hit upon a solution.

That is the magic of “what if”.

What about you? What have you discovered from asking “what if?”?
A photograph of Amber

Amber Seah has always loved the wonder of the written word – be it prose, poetry or song. She lives with her husband, daughter, dog and extensive alphabetized library of favourite books.

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De-Stress Your Writing Life: Taking Control of Your Mindset (Part 2)

Title artwork for De-Stress Your Writing Life

This year I’m blogging my book De-Stress Your Writing Life. You can read it for free on Creativity’s Workshop every Friday. In today’s post we continue the chapter we started last week on Taking Control of Your Mindset.

Permission

From a very young age we’ve been taught to ask for permission – “May I leave the room, miss?” “Can I have another piece of pie, mom?” The publishing world has also taught us that we need the permission of gatekeepers before our words see the light of day.

However, we now live in a world where blogs and self-publishing are commonplace. Are we still waiting for permission to start?

The reality is the first person (and often only person) who needs to give us permission is ourselves.

If we haven’t committed to a project, if we haven’t acknowledged that we can and should be writing, then we’ve withheld permission to begin. That roadblock is of our own making, and only we can tear it down.

Choosing a project, and committing your attention to it, is all the permission you need.

Give it a go: What would you do if you had permission? Write down your answer, and then give yourself permission in writing. Sign your name at the bottom. Now go invest your time and energy in your new project!

Recognition

We want to be known as a writer. We want to be read by other people. We want to take our place in the writing world.

This sounds like the kind of recognition that can only be bestowed by other people, but first ask yourself these questions:

  • When people ask me about myself, do I identify myself a writer?
  • Do I give the proper attention and time to my writing?
  • In other words, do I recognize myself as a writer?

Others won’t recognize you as a writer until you take yourself and your writing seriously. If you don’t call yourself a writer and act like a writer, how will others recognize you as one? The best way to get started is to give yourself a pep talk and get writing.

Give it a go: Start identifying yourself to others as a writer. The next time someone asks you what you go for a living, say you’re a writer. Make a poster declaring yourself a writer. Set aside time each day to write.

Approval

We want to shine in the eyes of others, especially those closest to us. It’s natural to want someone to say, “Well done. I’m proud of you.”

Unfortunately, relying on other people’s approval is like flying a kite – we will find ourselves continually at the mercy of elements outside of our control, the fickle winds of opinion. The constant adjustments and sudden dips will never change.

Don’t wait for others to approve of you. Approve of yourself and keep moving forward. Shut down the voice of your inner critic and allow yourself to be proud of what you accomplish. When you reach the end of each day, find something (no matter how small) that you can say “well done” about.

Give it a go: Make a list of your recent accomplishments. Don’t focus on what went wrong with them, or what didn’t turn out exactly as you planned. Instead, spend your time patting yourself on the back for the progress you’ve made, the words you’ve created, and the results of your hard work.

Inspiration

Ideas are essential to a writer, but they can seem to pop into our head without warning or disappear for long periods of time. We may feel we’re at the mercy of that elusive spark.

However, inspiration is not as fickle as it first appears. By understanding our personal creative process and keeping our ‘creative well’ topped up, we can place ourselves directly in inspiration’s path.

By maintaining a positive outlook and a regular creative routine, you can attract inspiration like bees to pollen. (We’ll cover the source of creativity and the elements of a good creative process in a following chapter.)

Give it a go: Find an activity (like reading a book, walking in a park, visiting a museum) that you find creatively rewarding. Regularly set aside time in your monthly schedule to feed your mind high quality idea fodder.

Direction

Writing projects can tend to loom large on our horizon, especially when the excitement of a fresh idea wears off. We face a mountain of things to do without any idea of where to start. We might wish that someone was there to tell us what to do, to take the lead and give us direction in our writing life.

Often the problem is we’re trying to tackle the entire project all at once. We need to remember that all projects, no matter how huge, are completed in tiny steps. Even experienced writers still only write one word at a time.

If you’re not sure of where to start, write yourself a To Do List. Keep breaking down your To Do List into smaller and smaller chunks until you find something you can start on. If you’re working on a first draft, start anywhere. Just get the first word on the page, and then the second. They’ll eventually add up.

If you don’t know how to do something, then start by learning. View reading a book on the subject or watching an online course as the first step in your project.

Give it a go: Start a To Do List for your project. Take each major task and break it down into smaller tasks until you find something you feel able to manage. Then get started on that task.

As you can see, these needs which first appeared to be out of our hands can often be filled by simply changing our mindset. One of the best ways to help us make this transition is through writing a personalized pep talk, where you can get your new mindset down on paper. We’ll cover that in next week’s post.

*****

Add your comment below. What writing project are you working on at the moment? How have you given yourself permission? What is next on your To Do List?

*****

I’m finally getting back into my writing routine (although I’ve just had a flu jab today so we’ll see how that goes). I’ve fallen a few months behind with my fiction writing schedule, but my priority at the moment is to make sure I’m setting achievable goals for the coming months. My De-Stress Your Writing Life posts are one of my top priorities because I promised I’d always have something encouraging here for you to read on a Friday.

If you’ve found the above helpful, please either send the information on to a fellow writer you feel would benefit or leave a little donation in the kitty to help things along.

Everyone who donates will receive a free electronic copy of the book once it has reached completion.

Thanks for dropping by.

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online


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De-Stress Your Writing Life: Taking Control of Your Mindset (Part 1)

Title artwork for De-Stress Your Writing Life

This year I’m blogging my book De-Stress Your Writing Life. You can read it for free on Creativity’s Workshop every Friday. In today’s post we start a new chapter.

Do you feel you’re in control of your writing life?

Have you taken up the reins and set off in the direction you want to go?

Or are you waiting for someone to take you by the hand and lead you out?

We’ve looked at what it means to be a writer as well as the positive, independent mindset that will help you achieve your writing goals. We’ve also gone over a number of fears and barriers that could stop you in your writing tracks.

In this chapter we’ll look at ways that you can actively direct your writing mindset so you can pour all your imagination and energy into your writing projects.

  • First, we’ll look at emotional needs you may have and how you can go about filling those needs.
  • Then we’ll consider how you can write yourself a personalized pep talk to reinforce your positive mindset.
  • Finally, we’ll go over what true balance in your writing life means.

Fill Your Emotional Needs

All of us have emotional needs. When we’re upset, we need comfort and sympathy. We thrive when given recognition and approval. When attempting creative projects we need inspiration and direction.

The problem is that we all too often rely on other people to provide us with these things. We wait for permission, we search for inspiration, and we crave approval.

By expecting other people to fill these needs, we hand the reins of our writing life to those who aren’t invested in our personal journey.

So what’s the answer?

The answer is to fill these needs ourselves. It may sound counter-intuitive or even impossible, but let’s look at some common emotional needs and see how you can take back control of your writing life.

Comfort

Discomfort can come from something as simple as the wrong chair or something as complicated as disgust for the writing we’re producing.

Obviously, if your chair is causing your problems then that’s an easy fix – find yourself a new chair. But when the discomfort runs deeper than that, the solution may not be as forthcoming.

Often what is making us uncomfortable is not the situation itself, but our way of looking at the situation. By finding a new and positive way of looking at our writing we can regain comfort and satisfaction in our work.

For example, what if you are disappointed in the quality of writing you produce first thing in the morning? You could try viewing that writing time as removing the bilge from your writing ‘pump’ so the clean words can flow later. This simple shift in your mindset can completely change your feeling towards your writing, even encouraging you to write more often.

Give it a go: Choose an aspect of your writing that you find disappointing and then look for a positive slant. It may take a bit of practice, but you’re a writer – your job is to find new ways of describing and explaining a subject. Once you find a more positive way of looking at the situation, write it down in a pep talk so you can refer to it often.

Sympathy

Sometimes we just want someone to acknowledge that the writing life has its difficulties and that other writers battle with the same hurdles as we do. We want someone to put their arm around our shoulder and say, “I know, me too.”

Most writers are quite open about their difficulties, which can be a great benefit to the rest of us. Reading biographies and blogs by other writers can help us see we’re not alone when it comes to things like writer’s block, editing haze, and other quirks of the writer’s life. It’s not unusual to find that a ‘great’ writer battled with similar insecurities to those we individually face.

Even if we can’t find similarities from these sources, we can still acknowledge the difficulties we personally face and take the time to appreciate how hard we’re working.

After all, the only person who completely understands what you face is you. So give yourself a hug, a pat on the back and an encouraging smile.

Give it a go: Write down one of your biggest writing hurdles and describe how it makes you feel. Sit with that feeling for a few minutes and acknowledge the impact it has on you. Now write yourself a positive message to help you continue facing that problem with conviction.

*****

Add your comment below. Have you ever found comfort in hearing about another writer’s struggles?

*****

Like you, I have off days and sick days. At the moment I’m battling through a flare up of my chronic illness. But I know that a regular writing routine is important, so I make sure I have something here for you to read every Friday as promised.

If you’ve found the above helpful, please either send the information on to a fellow writer you feel would benefit or leave a little donation in the kitty to help things along.

Everyone who donates will receive a free electronic copy of the book once it has reached completion.

Thanks for dropping by.

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online


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De-Stress Your Writing Life: Believing You’ll Never Make a Difference

Title artwork for De-Stress Your Writing Life

This year I’m blogging my book De-Stress Your Writing Life. You can read it for free on Creativity’s Workshop every Friday. Today’s post is part of the chapter on Discovering Your Writing Fears and Barriers.

We’ve already covered many of the fears writers face here, here, here, here, here, and here. We’ve also looked at how you can create a rescue plan to overcome your personal writing fears and barriers. Last week we looked at two barriers that may interfere with our writing. Now we’re looking at one last barrier.

Believing You’ll Never Make a Difference

Our world is full of words, and since the advent of the internet the number of words out there has skyrocketed. Now, with self-publishing becoming easier and easier, the number of books available is staggering.

It’s understandable, therefore, that at times we may become downhearted – wondering if there is any point to our writing. Would it really matter if we stopped? Will we ever make a difference?

These discouraging thoughts can lead us to:

  • View our writing as being worth very little, or perhaps even worthless, which leads us to…
  • Miss our regular writing schedule, which leads us to…
  • Find the process of writing harder and harder until we give up on our writing. After all, we tell ourselves, what’s the point? My writing will never make a difference to anyone.

This cycle of negative thoughts and lack of motivation can completely ruin any productive schedules or achievable goals we’ve put in place.

To move past this barrier, we need to take a closer look at our expectations – what sort of a ‘difference’ are we looking to make with our writing?

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How do I define success in my writing? (Is if finishing a story I like? Is it hearing back from a happy reader? Is it the act of putting my work out into the world? Is it receiving payment for my writing? Is it having a loyal following of fans?)
  • How many readers am I hoping to find? (10? 100? 1,000? 1,000,000? More?)
  • What kind of a difference do I hope my writing will make? (Improve my self-esteem? Show others I’m a real writer?Give someone an enjoyable read? Make someone stop and think about a topic? Make enough income for me to live off?)

Try to be as specific as possible with your answers. Be honest with yourself about what you’re hoping to achieve.
Once you’ve nailed down your expectations, think about the following.

Firstly, the act of writing will always make a difference to you. Even if no one ever reads your work, the act of writing provides you an outlet for your words. It allows you to take a blank page and make it yours, to create adventures and discoveries that are unique to you.

Remember earlier in this book we mentioned the ‘bubbling of words’? If you feel that bubbling, then the act of writing definitely makes a difference – it allows those words out into the world and leaves room for more.

Many writers find the act of writing cathartic. It relieves stress, provides perspective, and releases a feeling of excitement or calm which stays with them for the rest of the day.

Does it make a similar difference to your life? If so, then do not underestimate its worth. Many people set aside regular time to go to the gym, visit the beach, knit, sew, paint, or engage in some form of hobby because it makes them feel good. Writing is just as valid a way to enjoy yourself.

Secondly, your writing can make a different to readers, one person at a time. Your story doesn’t have to be a bestseller to make a difference to someone.

Sometimes the writing with the biggest impact has a very small readership. Some subjects may not appeal to a wide array of readers, but the readers who do identify with it will be moved by its content.

For example, the history of your small town and the fascinating people who have inhabited it in the past may not appeal to someone from the other side of the country, but it may be of great interest to your fellow residents, especially those whose families have been in the area for generations.

If you had to pick one of these options, which would you choose?

  • Millions of readers who skim your work but never emotionally connect with what you’re writing about.
  • One hundred readers who love your work and can’t wait for your next release.

While many writers dream of reaching a wide audience, almost all agree that the second option is preferable. Finding those hundred, or possibly thousand, readers may take a lot of time, patience, and bravery, but the Internet makes it possible for your writing to find an audience. Yes, the very thing that bombards us with a great mass of information can also help your writing make its way to your ideal reader.

It is possible for you to make a difference, both to yourself and your readers. The best way to do that is:

  • Keep up a regular writing habit.
  • Write about subjects you’re passionate about.
  • Continue to learn how to improve your writing so you can grow as a writer.
  • Send your work out into the world so it can find readers.

If you never try, then you definitely will never make a difference. Be brave and passionate in your writing. Take note of every little difference it makes, to you and your readers, no matter how small the impact.

*****

Add your comment below. I’ve reached the end of my outline for this chapter on fears and barriers. Have I covered everything? Are there any other fears or barriers you feel should be addressed? I’m always open to suggestions.

*****

My writing is my living, and I’m currently working under some tight deadlines for upcoming fiction projects, but I take time out of my week to publish this because I made a promise to you, my readers, that I would post here every Friday.

If you’ve found the above helpful, please either send the information on to a fellow writer you feel would benefit or leave a little donation in the kitty to help things along.

Everyone who donates will receive a free electronic copy of the book once it has reached completion.

Thanks for dropping by.

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online


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De-Stress Your Writing Life: Believing You Can Please Everyone and Believing You Need to Fit a Type/Mold

Title artwork for De-Stress Your Writing Life

This year I’m blogging my book De-Stress Your Writing Life. You can read it for free on Creativity’s Workshop every Friday. Today’s post is part of the chapter on Discovering Your Writing Fears and Barriers.

We’ve already covered many of the fears writers face here, here, here, here, here, and here. We’ve also looked at how you can create a rescue plan to overcome your personal writing fears and barriers. Now we’re going to look at a few beliefs that can cause barriers to writing.

Believing You’ll be Able to Please Everyone

Almost every writer wants to have happy readers – people who enjoy reading their work and are anxious to read whatever the writer is currently working on. This is a normal expectation. After all, if you like what you’re writing, chances are there will be others out there who share your likes.

However, at times that expectation can morph into the belief that we can somehow write something that everyone will like. Our thinking could become black and white, believing that if one of our readers doesn’t like our writing it therefore means our writing is a complete failure.

The result of this belief can be:

  • Reluctance in sending our writing out into the world (either to beta readers, as submissions, or through self-publishing).
  • Extreme disappointment when receiving negative feedback or reviews, leading to us giving up on writing altogether.
  • Continual rewriting in the hope that we’ll somehow create the perfect story.

The truth is it is impossible to please everyone. People have different tastes. Some readers love period romance, while others can’t stand it. Some readers like nothing better to curl up with a fast-paced thriller, while others are looking for a meandering tale without the adrenaline.

This diversity means there will always be someone who does not like, or does not ‘get’ what you are writing about. However, it also means that if your story is strong enough and well-presented, there will be an audience of some size and description who will enjoy what you’ve written. These people are known as your ‘target audience.’

Understanding that you will not be able to please everyone can help you to relax. It means you don’t have to force your story and characters to appeal to a broader audience, you can allow them to form naturally as you, the writer, intended. It also means you don’t have to become overly upset at negative feedback. If it’s obvious that the reader doesn’t fit your target audience, then it was unlikely that the story was going to appeal to them in the first place.

If you relate to this belief, then you need to take some time to define your target audience. This will not only help you become more resilient when faced with negative feedback, but will also help you tailor your writing to appeal to your ideal readers.

Ask yourself the following questions and write down the answers. You might even give your target reader a name if you feel that would help you come up with more specific answers.

  • What genre/sub-genre does my target audience prefer? (Romance? Sci-fi? Fantasy? Steampunk?)
  • How would my target audience describe their favorite book? (Action-packed? Character-driven? Unpredictable? Satisfying conclusion?)
  • What does my target audience look for in a good book? (Is it set in an interesting world? Does it cover a specific topic?)
  • How does my target audience discover new books? (Searching online? Word of mouth? Magazine articles?)
  • How does my target audience decide whether they have enjoyed a book? (If they emotionally related to the characters? If they were surprised by the ending?)

Once you have created this profile, take a moment to imagine the people who would not fit that profile. If your work is properly targeted to your ideal readers, then there will naturally be people who will not enjoy your work.

This may take time to come to terms with, but it’s an important realization as it will help you to face the emotional ups and downs inherent in the writing life.

Once you have convinced yourself that you do not need to please everyone, you can focus on pleasing your audience.

Believing You Have to Fit a Type/Mold

As we mentioned in Chapter 1, many people have preconceptions of what makes a writer. But in reality, writers are an extremely diverse bunch. Some are introverts, some are extraverts. Some love the outdoors, some prefer a snug corner. Some function best in the early morning, some are night owls.

At times we may look at a fellow writer whom we admire, or who is experiencing success, and begin to think we should be more like him or her. We may believe we should change our writing schedule, chosen genre, storytelling method or all manner of things in an attempt to fit the type or mold of that writer.

While there is nothing wrong with trying new things in our writing and taking every opportunity to learn something new, the danger lies in losing ourselves while trying to better ourselves.

This belief may cause us to:

  • Radically change aspects of ourselves and our writing because we are trying to replicate what another writer (or group of writers) have.
  • Ignore our own personal experiences and feelings because they don’t match the ‘model writer’ we’re trying to emulate.

In the process of trying to become like another writer, we may lose what is unique and interesting about ourselves and our writing voice. This belief can be a major contributor to ‘writer’s block,’ because we are attempting to replace our words with someone else’s words – words that cannot, and will not, come naturally.

The world doesn’t need another Hemmingway or Tolstoy. It needs something different. Something fresh. It needs you in your truest form.

We can learn many things from our fellow writers, including great tips that can make our writing better. So where do we draw the line? At what point does learning from other writers, and using their writing methods as inspiration, start to impinge on our uniqueness as individuals?

The solution is to give your personal writing experience equal weight. Make sure you’re in touch with your needs and what works for your creative process.

For example, a writer may enjoy writing at 10 o’clock at night. The day is finished and they’re able to relax into the world they are creating on the page. The house is quiet and their mind is clear. But then they read a tip from a famous author saying writers should always start their day writing. What should our example writer do?

a) Completely change their writing schedule. Get up an hour earlier each morning and write.

b) Change their schedule for a week and see whether writing in the morning makes any difference.

c) Stick to their current schedule and have confidence they know what’s best for their writing routine.

Many writers, especially those who do not yet have confidence in themselves as writers, may choose option A in the belief that writing in the early morning is obviously what ‘real writers’ do. However, in the process they may sacrifice the writing routine that was working for them.

On the other hand, if the writer has never tried changing their writing time then option C may not be the best response either. They may be missing out on a change which could help them improve their output.

Option B allows the writer to test out the piece of advice and decide whether or not it works for them. It may not work, in which case they can simply revert back to their evening routine. If it does work, that does not mean that all ‘real writers’ write in the morning. It means that this writer writes well in the morning.

‘Real writers’ are such a diverse group that you could pick just about any fact (no matter how strange) and find a ‘real writer’ who does it. For example, ‘real writers’ own cats. ‘Real writers’ drink hot chocolate with chili. ‘Real writers’ write their stories backwards. ‘Real writers’ compose everything in iambic pentameter.

See what I mean?

So, approach your writing life asking these two questions:

  • What can I learn from other writers?
  • What works for me?

The answers to both these questions have equal weight.

*****

Add your comment below. Who is your target audience? Who don’t ‘get’ your writing?

*****

My writing is my living, and I’m currently working under some tight deadlines for upcoming fiction projects, but I take time out of my week to publish this because I made a promise to you, my readers, that I would post here every Friday.

If you’ve found the above helpful, please either send the information on to a fellow writer you feel would benefit or leave a little donation in the kitty to help things along.

Everyone who donates will receive a free electronic copy of the book once it has reached completion.

Thanks for dropping by.

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online


1 Comment

De-Stress Your Writing Life – Fear of Committing and Fear of Criticism

Title artwork for De-Stress Your Writing Life

This year I’m blogging my book De-Stress Your Writing Life. You can read it for free on Creativity’s Workshop every Friday. Today’s post is part of the chapter on Discovering Your Writing Fears and Barriers.

Fear of Committing

As soon as you decide what you’re going to write, you start narrowing down possibilities. If you set your story in Italy, then your main character can’t climb the Eiffel Tower. If you decide your story takes place in the 1980’s, then you character can’t pull out their smart phone to solve a problem in the third act.

Letting go of some of those possibilities can be difficult and at times the worry of what you might be missing can hamper your writing flow.

Fear of committing to the story may cause symptoms like:

  • Difficulties making story decisions.
  • Trying to include too many details, characters, places or plot points in your story.
  • Not wanting to start the story in case you can’t do it justice.

While it’s true that you have to let go of some possibilities as you create your story, the fact is that’s an integral part of any creative process. Imagine a sculptor not wanting to chip away at the marble in front of him because he doesn’t want to limit his options. The sculpture will never emerge if he never commits to actually chipping something away.

The advantage you have as a writer is that words are far more flexible than stone. The decision you make when you start a project can always be changed later on down the track. The key is to actually make a decision and get started.

You’ll find that as you commit to your decisions and narrow down your possibilities, your unique story will emerge. The more you limit your options, the stronger the story will become.

In order to do this, you can try:

  • Clearly describing the world you’re setting your story in. What location have you chosen? What year? Is it real life or fantasy?
  • Interviewing your main character and asking pointed questions. Find out where they were born, what their favourite movie is, how they feel about politics, why they dress the way they do. This specificity will give your character their unique voice.
  • Taking tangents in your drafting phase. If your interest is taking you in a different direction to where you expected, follow it. Allow yourself and your characters to go off on tangents every now and then to explore possibilities. You can always remove the chapters later, but you may find the exploration reveals something new and interesting.

Words are not stone. You can always go back and change things if you wish. But narrowing down your options and making clear writing decisions is very important to the creative process. So start chipping away and see what you discover.

Fear of Criticism

No one likes to be criticized, but as writers we need feedback in order to improve our writing skills and our stories. This is not always a pleasant experience and we may find our writing process slows, or perhaps stalls altogether, as the possibility of criticism looms.

The fear of criticism may cause you to:

  • Avoid finishing your stories.
  • Dread sending your stories to beta readers.
  • Take offense at suggestions people make about your writing.
  • Become depressed when presented with areas where your story could improve.
  • Procrastinate in sending out submissions.
  • Feel overwhelmed at the prospect of people reading your work.

It’s normal to feel sensitive when it comes to people’s opinions on your creations. After all, you’ve spent a lot of energy, time, and emotion in your writing and so you understandably feel attached to it.

An important part of overcoming this fear is understanding the difference between helpful feedback and destructive criticism. We’ll go into this in more detail in a later chapter, but here’s the simple definition.

Helpful feedback is when someone points out an area where your writing could improve and may also suggest ways you could go about making the changes.

Destructive criticism is where someone pokes holes your writing and makes derisive remarks about your abilities as a writer. It is not specific and it does not provide solutions.

At first, it may be difficult to distinguish between the two, especially when we’re feeling emotional. So when you receive someone’s response about your writing, try the following:

  • Read through their comments without passing judgment. Just take in the information they’ve given you.
  • Take time to mope if need be, but do not respond to the person. Your feelings may be hurt by some of the suggestions. Acknowledge the hurt, and even allow yourself some time to sulk if necessary, but set a deadline. Be it an hour, a day or a week, when your moping time is up then move on.
  • Read through the comments again, this time with an eye for what improves the story. You may even ask for a second opinion from an experienced writer or reader.
  • Note down any points that may be valid. Remember, you don’t have to make every change that’s been suggested. As the writer, you have final say on what happens, but at least spend a little time considering the point.
  • Disregard points that make direct and hurtful comments about you as a writer. Helpful feedback focuses on the words, not the writer.
  • If you notice someone continually provides unhelpful criticism, avoid asking them for feedback in the future. You don’t have to be a martyr to your writing. If you don’t enjoy someone’s feedback, find someone else you can work with.

Think of each round of feedback as an opportunity to polish your work and to learn as a writer. Remember, as a writer you’re always learning. Receiving feedback is a good way to keep that process going.

*****

Add your comment below. How do you deal with feedback or criticism?

*****

My writing is my living, and I’m currently working under some tight deadlines for upcoming fiction projects, but I take time out of my week to publish this because I made a promise to you, my readers, that I would post here every Friday.

If you’ve found the above helpful, please either send the information on to a fellow writer you feel would benefit or leave a little donation in the kitty to help things along.

Everyone who donates will receive a free electronic copy of the book once it has reached completion.

Thanks for dropping by.

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De-Stress Your Writing Life – Fear of Failure and Fear of the ‘Writer Stigma’

Title artwork for De-Stress Your Writing Life

This year I’m blogging my book De-Stress Your Writing Life. You can read it for free on Creativity’s Workshop every Friday. Today’s post is part of the chapter on Discovering Your Writing Fears and Barriers.

Fear of Failure

None of us wants create something that doesn’t work, and so we naturally do all in our power to give our work its best chance at success. However, sometimes our attempts at avoiding failure can actually prevent us from making progress. In fact, at times our subconscious may believe that the best way to prevent failure is to prevent us from finishing.

The fear of failure can cause symptoms like:

  • Difficulty making progress in your novel.
  • Reluctance to try writing something new.
  • Procrastination or a slowing of progress as the end of the story approaches.
  • Becoming distracted by a new idea. (Yes, a plethora of ideas may actually indicate a hidden fear or barrier, e.g. fear of failure or a fear of completion.)
  • Continual rounds of minute edits in an attempt to get the manuscript just right.

We may find ourselves worrying about what others will think about our work, and at times become anxious wondering if we’ve actually accomplished what we set out to write.

In order to work past this fear, we need to come to terms with the following:

  • There is no such thing as perfect. Remember, aim for beauty, not perfection.
  • A missed typo isn’t the end of the world. Even the most polished books have tiny mistakes. Don’t sweat it. Do your best and then move on.
  • Stories are never really finished. There’s always something more you could tweak. Stop the endless revisions. Polish and then ship it. Send it out into the world and move on to the next thing.
  • The real failure is never attempting something. If you’ve given something a go, then you’ve achieved success. Even if it didn’t turn out as you expected, you were adventurous and you learned along the way.

Some writers view the fear of failure as a good thing, even a marker that they’re on the right track. If they aren’t facing the possibility of failure then their project isn’t unique and interesting enough.

Failure isn’t the terrible thing it first appears, it’s simply the moment you discover something didn’t turn out quite as you planned. That may be a temporary disappointment or it may be an opportunity to learn a new way of doing something.

Whatever the outcome, it isn’t fatal (at least not in writing). So embrace the possibility of failure and keep going. It means you’re trying something worth doing.

Fear of the Writer Stigma

Some writers do not like calling themselves ‘writers’ because they worry what other people will think. They dread questions people may ask them about their writing, and they worry about how people view writers.

This fear shows itself in various ways, like:

  • Refusal to use the term ‘writer’ when talking to others.
  • Embarrassment to admit you spend your free time writing.
  • Nervousness at gatherings where the topic of ‘What do you do for a living/hobby?’ may come up.

What you call yourself and your writing is up to you. Some writers prefer the term ‘author’ while others gravitate towards ‘storyteller.’

What’s most important is becoming relaxed and confident in yourself as a writer. Often our fear of what others think about us and our writing is actually a reflection of how we view ourselves and our writing. If we’re not comfortable being thought of as a writer others will pick up on that discomfort.

To overcome this fear, you could try the following:

  • Begin calling yourself a writer when no one is around. Create a sign or a poster saying, “I am a writer.” Put up on your door or next to your computer – somewhere you will see it regularly. Become comfortable telling yourself you’re a writer.
  • Make a list of the questions you’re afraid to answer. Your list may include questions like, “What have you had published?” and “What kind of things do you write?”
  • Think of answers to the problem questions. Consider how you could answer each question in a sentence or two. For example, “I’m working towards publication at the moment actually. I sent out a query letter just this week.”
  • Tell a stranger you are a writer. You may find telling a stranger is easier than telling a friend or family member. Next time you’re out shopping or at a party and a stranger asks you what you do, tell them you’re a writer. Notice their reaction. You might be pleasantly surprised.
  • Work your way up to telling a friend or family member. Remember, first you need to be comfortable identifying yourself as a writer. Feel confident and at ease with the word, then allow it to naturally flow into the conversation. Then note the reactions of those around you. They may be more at ease too.

Even if you still find people less than enthusiastic about your writing life, that’s okay. You don’t need their approval to enjoy your writing. You write because you love doing it, and that’s the sign of a real writer.

*****

Add your comment below. What questions do you dread hearing? When someone asks you an awkward writing-related question, how do you respond?

*****

Right now I’m extra busy preparing my e-book for publication, but I take time out of my week to publish this because I made a promise to you, my readers, that I would post here every Friday.

I’ve you’ve found the above helpful, please either send the information on to a fellow writer you feel would benefit or leave a little donation in the kitty to help things along.

Everyone who donates will receive a free electronic copy of the book once it has reached completion.

Thanks for dropping by.

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online


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Are You Suffering From These 3 Hidden Writing Blocks?

A woman sitting at her laptop in a not so ergonomically friendly position. I wonder how much writing she'll get done..

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Writing blocks are a controversial subject. Is there such a thing as writer’s block? Many would say yes. Some would say no.

I’m not here to weigh in on that debate. I’m here for another reason.

I’ve found three things which do impact on writing and which will not get better simply by doing a bunch of extra writing exercises.

To get past these three problems you first have to know they exist and then work to fix them.

So what are they?

Uncomfortable Writing Spaces

We all get that antsy feeling from time to time when we don’t want to write. We’re sitting in front of the page and we shift in our seat, stretch our necks and sigh a bit.

Okay, sometimes that’s just procrastination. But sometimes there’s more to it.

So try sitting in your writing space and check the following:

  • Is the temperature comfortable? Not too hot and not too cold? (Hey, Goldilocks had a point.)
  • Is your chair the right height? Is your computer set up in the right place? Check these ergonomic guidelines.
  • If you’re writing by hand, is your pen digging into your finger? Could you get yourself a more comfortable pen?
  • Do you get cramps in your hands when you write? If you’re writing by hand, could you be gripping your pen too firmly? If you’re typing, could you use a wrist rest?
  • Is there sufficient lighting? Could you do with a brighter bulb, a new lamp or perhaps different curtains?

All these things have an effect on your comfort and therefore the patience you have for your writing.

Eyesight Problems

When was the last time you had your eyes tested?

Recently, I realised I’d been suffering from headaches, muscle tension and eye strain. I went to the optometrist and found out I needed new glasses.

Once my eyes (eventually!) adjusted to the new prescription, I was surprised by how much easier it was to sit in front of the computer and write for longer periods of time. My eyesight had slowly been affecting my quality of work without me even realising it.

As a writer, your eyes are an important part of your everyday tools. In the same way that a mechanic will maintain his tool kit, you need to make sure your eyes are functioning at tip-top efficiency.

Emotional Strains

There is always an emotional component to writing, especially when you are having trouble writing. I didn’t realise how much of an effect those emotional components had on writing until I read The Writer’s Portable Therapist by Rachael Ballon.

If you still find you’re having difficulty writing, it’s definitely worth a read. We writers pour our hearts onto the page, but if our emotions are working against us then writing becomes a whole lot harder!

Those emotions don’t just magically fix themselves up by you tying yourself to a chair and forcing the words out. Sometimes you have to spend some time examining yourself and understanding your inner nemesis before you can continue.

What about you? Have you found any of the above affecting your writing?

By the way, my new e-book Creativity on Demand has a section on how you can create you own personalized solutions to writer’s block. If you haven’t had a look at it yet, why not download it now?


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37 Tips to Get You Writing Again

A man so stuck with writing that he is eating his keyboard.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

We’ve all been there. The words aren’t coming and your eyeballs are glazing over every time you look at the page.

At any point in the writing life this is frustrating, but during NaNo WriMo it can be excruciating.

If you’re stuck and not able to write, try some of these tips.

Force Yourself to Continue

Sometimes all you need is a little stubbornness to get you over a slump in energy or enthusiasm.

NOTE: While following these tips, do not at any point check your social feeds or e-mail.

  • Say out loud: ‘Perfection is my enemy. I will write imperfect words and edit later.’ Then say it again and again until you’re convinced.
  • Set a timer for 15 minutes (or 30 minutes) and freewrite. Don’t stop writing, even if all you’re recording is drivel. Something might pop up and get you going again.
  • Set a word count (500 words, 1,000 words) and work towards that goal. Forget about the quality, focus on the quantity.
  • Set up a reward system, (e.g. for every sentence written, you’re allowed one potato chip).
  • Tie yourself to the chair. Literally. Go find rope or a scarf or a bed sheet.
  • Stick your feet in a bucket of water. (This forces you to stay in your chair, but don’t do this near electrical outlets.)

Change Things Up a Bit

If you can’t force yourself to write (let’s face it, force is painful and not always helpful) then why not try a change?

  • Change the font of your manuscript.
  • Change the word processor you’re using. (Try Scrivener, OmmWriter, or even just TextPad.)
  • Change the location of your scene, (e.g. if your scene takes place in a posh restaurant, move it to a car rally).
  • Change the characters’ names, (e.g. instead of Max and Joanne, write about Fluffy and Mrs. Winklebottom).
  • Use one of Creativity’s suggestions on how to add a new element into your scene.
  • Move on to another scene that you feel enthusiastic about. (Remember: novels don’t have to be written in order.)
  • Choose a writing prompt.
  • Get up and walk around your office to give your brain a bit more blood flow.
  • Move yourself to another room, or even outdoors if temperature allows, and write there.
  • Write by hand. Use your favourite pen or different coloured markers.
  • Use a typewriter to pound out your words.
  • Dictate your scene into an audio recorder (e.g. on your computer or phone) and then type up the transcript.

Trick Yourself Into Writing

The above not working for you? Let’s get more creative!

WARNING: Use all tips below sparingly and not as excuses to avoid writing. Only use these once you’ve tried the above and got no results. After using a few of the below, go back to the tips above and try those again.

  • Have a chat with a fellow writer. Find out how their work is progressing and then maybe bring up the problem you’re facing.
  • Sketch a location for your scene.
  • Act out a scene from your novel.
  • Choose music for your scene.
  • Think up your character’s favourite activity, then do it.
  • Read what you’ve already written and build momentum for what comes next.
  • Go back to whatever sparked your original idea and rekindle your excitement.
  • Get out your favourite book and fall in love with writing again.
  • Watch the special features of your favourite film, especially anything to do with the writing, scoping or directing process.
  • Read your dictionary.
  • Read your thesaurus.
  • Play Balderdash/Fictionary.
  • Find your favourite piece of your own work and read it.

Bore Yourself Into Writing

Still stuck? Now we get serious.

The purpose of these tips is to either provide the mind with the downtime needed to come up with new ideas, or to do something so mind numbing that you’ll voluntarily return to the page. As mentioned above, use these tips sparingly.

  • Go for a walk.
  • Take a shower. (I can personally vouch for the success rate of this tip.)
  • Bounce a ball (preferably without breaking priceless household objects).
  • Iron clothes.
  • Sew buttons on shirts. (If buttons have not fallen off yet, then help them along with scissors.)
  • Get out a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle and start with the sky.

Do you have any more tips for the list? Add your own in the comments below.


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Teaching Your Creativity to Eat Vegetables

Happy girl eating salad and tomato soup.

See? Eating vegetables can be fun!

Last week Creativity wrote a post about riding your creative wave, in which she mentioned our experience writing a particularly challenging blog post. She pointed out that if your Creativity is finding your current project boring, you should move to a project he or she is more interested in.

While I realise there is a lot of merit in this (and I have seen the benefit countless times) I do feel I should expand upon the subject further. We cannot always drop a project just because our Creativity refuses to play ball, or wants to play backgammon instead.

Tiv likened the situation to getting a child to eat vegetables. The analogy is apt because, although we all love to eat sweets, we cannot live a life without vegetables, however enticing that prospect is to a five-year-old. There are times when you just have to sit your Creativity down and make him or her eat the vegetables, just to prove that icky greens aren’t so bad after all.

How? Here are some of my tips. (You may notice the points suggested work equally well on children. Need I say more?)

  • Don’t be afraid of inactivity. I think it’s worth saying first off that if your Creativity doesn’t begin spouting ideas as soon as you sit down, don’t be too perturbed. Often your head, and your Creativity’s surroundings, needs to be completely blank before the idea hits, almost like the calm before the storm or the blank canvas before the painting. The poet William Stafford likens this moment to fishing. Your Creativity may not necessarily be turning up her nose at the greens, but simply examining them for caterpillars before she begins munching.
  • Set a timer. If your Creativity really is sticking her tongue out at you every time you try to get serious work done, then this may just be a matter of habit forming. Your Creativity might not like being tied down the same project over and over, but if you make it apparent that you’re going to sit there and stare at that project for a set amount of time every day, eventually he or she may take the course of least resistance and join in.
  • Have a reward system. I know we say this often, but it’s a truism; sometimes the best way to get work out of someone (especially a reluctant someone) is to provide an irresistible reward at the end. It can be anything from chocolate to spending time on a different fun project. Check with your Creativity what would work best for them, and then carry through on your promise.
  • Mix it up a little. As Tiv mentioned in her post, by making your vegetables more interesting, or by changing the way you present them, the greens become more appealing and exciting. So why not change something about your environment? Go to a cafe, or sit in a park. Or perhaps change your expectations. Maybe you need to inject a little more fun into the project to bring Creativity’s attention back. Does your project need some visuals to stir the ideas? Perhaps write in a different voice, change the setting of a scene, dream up a new character, add something unexpected. What can you change to make it fresh again?

I add as a reluctant addendum that there are times when you should allow nature to take its course, realize your child may have a lifelong hate of cauliflower and leave it at that. The same is true on a creative front. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m sure Creativity would agree with me when I say that some ideas, projects and posts should be left to fade away. If the spark is gone and shows no sign of returning, then let the thing die a dignified death. Nothing is ever a total waste. Often what you were working on helped you to find your way to the next idea or at least define what you are not looking for.

But don’t give up on your projects right away, even if your Creativity is uncooperative. It’s possible that with a little change to your routine, you can bring him or her back into line and have them chompin’ their veggies with vigour.

Have you come across this problem with your Creativity? What solutions do you find helpful?