Category Archives: Mindset

Start in the Middle

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve watched a student staring at a blank page, frozen, locked up, paralyzed by writer’s block. I’d crouch down to be at eye level and ask what was wrong. And I get some variation of:

I can’t think of a title.

I don’t know how to start.

I don’t know where the story begins.

Have you ever done this? Yeah, me too.

A blank page can be a frightening thing to behold, especially for a new manuscript. There’s so much potential for greatness. And failure.

So how do you get unstuck?

Here’s a permission slip to start in the middle. Or at the end. Or with some random scene or chapter that you’ll include who know’s where.

Remember that titles often aren’t chosen until the work is written. You don’t have to start with the introduction or the first scene. Many times it’s actually easier to write the introduction after you’ve written the rest of the book. And if you’re writing fiction, you may need to dive deep into the conflict of your story before you can figure out exactly where it should begin for your reader. In fact, there’s a technique called in media res, that opens a novel in the middle of the story.

Start writing wherever your creativity is directing you, whether that’s the final scene in your thriller or the anchor chapter in your self-help book.

Writing Tools

Writing software programs make it easy to move text around, so don’t worry about the dangers of losing important text with a copy-and-paste job gone wrong.

I know lots of folks rave about Scrivener because it’s so easy to move material. I’m still a Microsoft Word fan myself. Using the headings feature and the navigation pane, it’s a breeze to move text in a Word document. This article shares just how to do that (and even links to how to find the navigation pane and apply heading styles if you need to start there).

Just Write

So don’t worry about starting at the beginning. Just write. You’ll figure out the order, or nail down the timeline, eventually.

Read Like a Writer

What does it mean to “read like a writer”?

It does not mean reading aloud at an author event, although I now have a new idea for another Teaching Corner article.

To read like a writer means to read material not for pleasure, but for education. It requires a different skillset altogether.

Rather than immersing yourself in a story or reflecting on an idea put forth in a self-help book, a writer can choose to use published material as a master class in writing. A self-guided master class, to be clear.

How to Plan Your Master Class in Writing

1. Find writing material in your genre that wows you. This could be a novel, a short story, a personal essay, a blog post, a poem. You get the idea. Obviously, this means that you have to read in your genre.

The next time you’re reading for pleasure, bookmark or highlight a passage that stands out to you. Don’t worry about analyzing it in the moment. Just mark it for your next learning session.

2. Set aside a block of learning time. This can absolutely be part of your daily writing, but the material you produce may not end up in your current manuscript.

3. Pull out the passage from #1. Read it again slowly. Reflect on what you like about it. Maybe it’s dialogue. Or setting description. Or the use of time transitions. Or a well-orchestrated fight scene. Or a complex idea that’s easily accessible to the reader because of the writer’s prowess.

4. Once you know what made this material stand out, analyze it further. What makes this snappy dialogue? How does this character’s choice fit into the character’s overall arc? What word choices did the author use to engage the reader? Are the sentences long or short, and how does their length affect overall pacing?

5. Play.

Imitate what the published author did that you found so engaging. Read your practice attempt aloud. How’d you do?

Try again.

For most of us, we learn best through expert modeling and personal practice. So look to the masters of the written word to be your expert models. Then playfully give it a go in your own notebook.

If you want to improve your writing craft, don’t be afraid to try new things. Some will flop, of course. Or feel stilted. But others will become a part of your own writing toolbox.

A Note about Plagiarism

I’m in no way suggesting that you copy published work and use it as your own. Nor am I saying, just change minor details and publish it. No.

Use published work as a textbook. Once you’ve identified a writing craft lesson you’d like to try, use your own ideas in your attempt. You’re mimicking style, not copying material.

What will happen as you try out various styles and voices is that your own unique style and voice will get stronger and clearer.

Writers Provide Service to Readers

Tim Grahl, the book-marketing guru, once said that the X factor in being successful is whether or not an author believes in their book. When I believe in my book, then I speak about it with enthusiasm to anybody and everybody. I’m not embarrassed to ask folks to buy it because I know they are getting a great value. Said value could just be entertainment, and that’s enough.

No one feels bad for paying for a movie. We fork over the ticket or rental fee happily to steal away from the world for a couple of hours.

Books are no different. Asking someone to buy your book is giving them an opportunity to enter a fantasy world or to learn something new or to peek into someone else’s life and reflect on their own.

You, as a writer, are providing a valuable service to readers.

Never doubt it!

You, as a writer, are providing a valuable service to readers. Never doubt it!

Still don’t believe me? Think about your own reading habits. Why do you read books? Aren’t you happy to support the authors who share the gifts of their words by purchasing books, borrowing them from the library, leaving ratings or reviews, telling friends about them?

Having good books to read is always important, especially in a time when the world’s needs are so great. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have reading material right now. Keep writing and sharing your stories.

Photo by Fernando Hernandez on Unsplash

Writer’s Block, Part 1 (of 2)

Writer’s block is a mindset issue.

Every writer has experienced writer’s block.

And I’ve seen lots of conversation that suggests it is something to overcome, or power through, as though writer’s block is a foe you must conquer.

Writer’s block is a mindset issue.

Every writer has experienced writer’s block. And I’ve seen lots of conversation that suggests it is something to overcome, or power through, as though writer’s block is a foe you must conquer.

What if, instead, you listen? Writer’s block is showing up because it has a message for you.

How do you decipher the message?

Ask yourself: Do I want to write this?

No? Then stop. Let it go. No “shoulding.” Write what inspires you.

Unless you’re writing on assignment to pay your bills. If that’s the case, your answer isn’t really no. It’s a yes because, yes, you want to pay your  bills.  

Yes? Then figure out what you’re struggling.

First, look at the basics:

How are you taking care of yourself?

If you’re tired or hungry or sick, stop and give your body rest or food or whatever else it needs.

How are you filling your creative well?

Writing does require dedication and persistence, but you have to build in time to reset and recharge. Maybe that’s by exploring nature or playing with finger paints. Find something that will get your creative juices flowing.

How are you setting yourself up to be successful?

Do you have an uninterrupted block of time to write? If you’re a plotter, have you worked on an outline? Do you have a playlist running that sets the mood?

Fear:

Most writer’s-block issues are rooted in fear. I love what Elizabeth Gilbert said in Big Magic. The fear never goes away, so she just tells it to scooch over to the passenger seat and buckle up because she’s driving.

One way to drive “with” the fear is to remember WHY you’re writing in the first place. Putting your focus on what’s important to you is a great way to calm the fear.

Also, consider revisiting your definition of success. Can you release expectations and just let yourself write? Putting burdens of earning a dollar amount or garnering X number of reviews can paralyze your creativity. Those ideas of success are reasonable, of course, but save them for when you’re wearing your marketing hat.

Finally, as my friend Marni says, “Out of shit, you get flowers.” Let yourself write badly. The flowers will bloom in later drafts.

Consider creating a ritual to begin each writing process. Maybe you have a special prayer like Steven Pressfield. Or write an affirmation, such as, “I’m a great writer” and post it on your monitor. Listen to a song and dance before you begin. I’m partial to Odetta’s version of “This Little Light of Mine.”

Writer’s block is a part of the writing experience. Learn how to work with it so that you can sustain your writing practice for years to come.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Pantsers and Plotters

Are you a pantser or a plotter or a planter (should that be pottser)?

Pantsers are writers who do not write with a plan. Outlines feel like handcuffs. They sit at the keyboard just to see what happens next, or who will show up.

Plotters are the exact opposite. They come ready to write, plan in hand. They already know what happens next, and next, and next, and there will be no surprise guests in their character roster.

Then there are the rest of us: some combination of pantser and plotter who has at least a loose plan in their head and enough flexibility to meander down a creative stream when it appears.

Which is better?

To be clear, there isn’t a “right” way to write. No extra brownie points, or fans leaving reviews, if you plot over pant, or vice versa.

But I think it’s worth the time to occasionally check in with how your particular process makes you feel. If you’re always a pantser, but you find you’re often experiencing resistance, maybe that strategy is no longer working for you. Try jotting down a handful of notes, or even a rough outline, before you begin. Or know where you want to end up, but be open to how you’ll get there.

Same goes for the plotters. If you’re always prepared with an outline, but lately your writing feels stale, or you’re not having as much fun, try a handful of spontaneous writing exercises to see how your writing changes. Experiment more than once to really feel out the process.

Evolve

In the same way that we sink deeper into our writing voices over time, it’s likely that your writing style will also evolve. Be flexible enough to try something new if the old way begins to let you down.

Photo by Terri Anne Heighway on Unsplash

Defining Success as an Author

Success is one of those words that can be packaged with a lot of triggers. In today’s world, many of us equate success with money and fame. And if our endeavor isn’t bringing in money and fans—immediately!—then it’s easy to judge it as a failure.

And I hate that!

Many of us write because we love to write. It’s a passion. And as soon as you place financial-earning expectations on your passions, something changes. This is not to say that you can’t earn moolah for your writing, because you absolutely can (and I hope you do). But what if making money off your books isn’t your first priority? At least when they’re in their fledgling states.

Instead, how can you reframe what success looks like for your writing? How can you make success an incremental movement that builds on itself and gives you confidence along the way? What if success looked like:

  • Finishing a piece.
  • Submitting a short story or personal essay to a magazine.
  • Getting to the next stage of the publishing process.
  • Sharing at an open mic night.
  • Sticking with a writing session even though it was hard to get started.
  • Providing enjoyment to, or teaching something to, your readers.
  • Getting reader feedback that lights you up because you hit the mark.
  • Giving a gift of your writing to a special friend or family member.
  • Leaving a legacy.

Don’t forget to celebrate each success, big and small, to build momentum. Make the journey as enjoyable as the outcome.

What’s Your “Why”?

Why do you write? There’s no correct answer, of course, but it’s important to understand your why. By which I mean the reason that will sustain you when the writing gets tough.

Because it will get tough.

And when it does, what will allow you to find your grit and persevere?

Some folks, who respond well to accountability, write because they have a deadline. For others, they won’t eat, or pay any of the bills, if they don’t write. And for others still, writing creates the space in their brains they need to find peace.

For me, when writing Love Letters to My Body, I had a message that I felt compelled to share with my daughters first, and then other women. And by compelled, I mean I knew I wouldn’t be using the gifts I’ve been given to their fullest potential if I didn’t write this story. And I don’t want to leave this life with anything left to regret.

So what’s your “why”?

Sometimes the answer comes to you immediately, and other times, you have to sit with this question. Think about on your next walk. Sit in silence. Journal until you write a response that feels true in your bones.

Be prepared that multiple “why”s may arise. Often, there’s a singular reason driving us, but there are nuanced layers that add fuel to our desire to share our words and stories. I’d love to know why you write. Reply and share your why with me!

Time to Write

An hourglass with blue sand sits at a tilt on pebbles.

Last month I asked what writing problem you would solve if you had a magic wand, and several of you said you’d magic up more time to write. Last I heard, the Ministry of Magic still isn’t loaning time turners to Muggles, so what else can you do to find time to write?

Last month I asked what writing problem you would solve if you had a magic wand, and several of you said you’d magic up more time to write. Last I heard, the Ministry of Magic still isn’t loaning time turners to Muggles, so what else can you do to find time to write?

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