blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

Free resources to power your writing

express yourself for less

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Don’t let lack of funds hold you back from your dreams of being a writer.

Ideas may be free, but the tools to express them can be pricey. Fortunately there are numerous free materials to help you write without breaking the bank. These are some of my favourite free writing resources.

What follows assumes you have a least a smartphone, if not a laptop. That’s a great deal of resource already. Try this for free laptops for people on low incomes in US and for those on low incomes in the UK try here. Schemes can have differing eligibility and be withdrawn at any time, so make sure you always use the most up to date information.

Burning Books in the House of Books

Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 1953 on a rented UCLA library typewriter. He paid ten cents per half hour and completed the first draft in nine days for $9.80. That’s approximately $88 today.

In the age of smartphones and Google, the modern library and its librarians are often forgotten as resources. But the library provides a quiet space and is one of the very few public spaces left where you can spend time without spending money.

Libraries offer free or subsidised internet access and computer help, which are invaluable to people with extremely limited funds and/or knowledge. A library card allows you to borrow not just any book available, but also other media such as magazines, DVDs and music.

You might need to research something arcane or historical. We’ve all experienced the frustration of getting a million hits on a search but not finding the facts we need. In times of data overload, having a guide can be the best option. A good librarian knows how to find information.

Catching Butterflies

Chasing new ideas can feel a lot like chasing butterflies. They catch your eye but flutter out of reach before you can grasp them. Or, they don’t arrive at all.

Try sparking your ideas by using randomly generated prompts. Need a name for a character or a first line? Need a plot idea or a first line? Look at some of these sites for a jump start.

https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/

This site generates names for different character types such as elves or warriors, as well as place names.

http://writingexercises.co.uk/

Multiple random generators covering first lines, story plots, images, three noun combinations, dialogue, and many more.

https://web.njit.edu/~ronkowit/poetsonline/generator.html

Generates a random line of poetry to start or inspire your next poem.

An image can launch a thousand words. If you’re visually inclined or need a royalty-free picture, you can search millions of free-to-use images at Pixabay or Unsplash.

The images are licensed under the Creative Commons, meaning you can use them any way you wish without attribution. I encourage you to link to the original though, because every artist deserves credit for their work.

Lost in Translation

Does one of your characters lapse into their native language when angry? Do you want to leave an Easter egg for your readers to find? Then you need accurate translation. While Google Translate is a great start, sometimes the machine translation can be clunky or plain wrong. To test this, translate the result back to English and see what you get.

You might be lucky enough to have access to a native speaker who can help.

I use Reverso.net. It covers English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, and Japanese.

What sets it apart from Google is the use of context. It will give several translated examples so you can choose the right one for the sense you’re trying to convey.

Getting It Right

Writing is simply a matter of the right words in the right order. Correct grammar and spelling ensure that the words make sense to readers. Searching for the right word is easier with sites such as thesaurus.com which give more options than your word processor’s built in option.

Hemingway and Grammarly both offer free and paid versions. These text editors check grammar, passive voice, readability, adverbs, and more.

Grammar Girl is brilliant for learning all the rules of English grammar you forgot or never knew. If you don’t know where the apostrophe goes, or whether to use lie or lay, this is the place to find out.

A Place Of One’s Own

All writers should consider having a blog. This website is a place to start showing your work, practising in public, and building a following. You can blog on a personal site, or place your work with others where traffic is guaranteed to be higher.

WordPress is easy to set up and use. You can start your own website without paying a penny. WordPress offers paid options with more features, but it’s an excellent place to begin. Help to run your blog is a click away.

Medium is relatively new, but is set up so that anyone can post their work. The interface is clean and easy to read. You can post under your own name, or under the umbrella of a large publication with thousands of followers and potential readers of your work.

Quora is a site where anyone can ask a question, and anyone can answer. You can see what types of questions are most popular at any time, and you can build a following by answering questions in your area of knowledge. This can help you find hot topics to write about.

Finding Your Community

Medium is a wonderful place to read, write and connect in almost any area of interest. There’s also the chance to earn money from your writing.

Facebook offers another way to find groups who share your interests.

Twitter is not just a timewaster. You will find every kind of writer, including famous names, plus publishers, agents, and publications have a presence here. Careful sifting will yield opportunities to connect, plus promote your writing and brand to the right people.

Every genre has its own sites which offer targeted advice and information, plus forums to meet other writers and share your work. Search for your chosen genre and try some out.

In It To Win It

Writing competitions can boost your visibility and give much needed legitimacy to your career. There are lots of free options. Use Google, but I highly recommend Free Writing Events. Here you’ll find a monthly calendar of all kinds of free to enter contests.

Hang With The Cool Kids

Most published authors have their own website, with information and links to their work. Consider following your favourites. In the same vein, search sites like Medium and WordPress for blogs worth your time. Use keywords to focus on what matters to you.

Lists of 100 best websites for writers are collated by various people and updated annually. They’re an excellent source of great writers. Try The Write Life or Feedspot or Writers Digest.  

Watch And Learn

YouTube has much more than cute animal videos. It’s an underrated source of knowledge, whether you need to know how to write a query letter or how to do stretches for carpal tunnel syndrome. You can watch famous speeches by authors like JK Rowling or Neil Gaiman for inspiration.

Research is easy with YouTube. I recently wrote a ghost story involving a battle from the English Civil War. History was never my strong point, but watching videos of re-enactments gave me enough information to add authentic details about uniforms and muskets.

If you’re a visual learner, YouTube is for you. Someone has already uploaded a video showing exactly what you need.

All You Can Eat

He that loves reading has everything within his reach. - William Godwin
BrainyQuote

 

To write well, you must read widely. If your reading appetite exceeds your pocket, then look at ways of getting free books. I already mentioned libraries.

Sign up with Prolific Works, previously known as Instafreebie. For the price of your email address, you can download free full length e-books in many genres.

BookBub offers free and discounted new releases, as promotions for the authors. You can return the favour by leaving a good review.

Wattpad is beloved by young adult (YA) fiction writers and readers. If your young relative is an aspiring author, this is the place to post their early efforts. Quality varies wildly, but it’s a great place for younger and young at heart readers to indulge in YA and fanfiction.

Increasingly, the most popular titles on free platforms are moving to trad publishing or even television. Some of the biggest titles in recent history (for example The Martian by Andy Weir) started out on free-to-read sites.

The Daddy Of Them All

Google is the king of free resources.

Search for anything and get millions of results. Use Wikipedia as the starting point for subjects you know little about. At the bottom of each page you’ll find a list of reference articles. Explore those for more depth and accuracy.

Use Google Docs to write, collaborate, dictate, and edit your words. Search within your documents and add links and images with ease.  Import articles into your WordPress blog with a click. And all your work is saved automatically in Google Drive.

Not Quite Free

These are not quite free, but low in cost. If you’re really strapped for cash, they make good gift ideas that are more practical use than another journal.

Magazine subscriptions are a gift that keeps giving. Each month you’ll get information on writers, writing, contests and conferences. Often new subscribers can pick up goodies such as pens, mugs, books and bags, as well as reduced cost for the first year.

Try Writer’s Digest Writing Magazine Poets & Writers or Writers’ Forum. All these offer print, online, and international subscriptions.

The Visual Thesaurus is a treat for the eyes as well as a logophile’s delight. Search for a word, and it displays a beautiful animated tree of related words and definitions, all of which are fully searchable. It supports Dutch, English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. It’s also possible to search in more than one language at the same time. There is a free trial, after which it costs $14.95 a year.

The writer in a coffee shop is a cliché but for good reason. Being around people can break up a monotonous week, and offers opportunities to people watch. Listening to dialogue or making up stories about the people you see hones your writing skills, all for the price of a hot drink. Wifi is free and you’re forced to get dressed and leave the house, which every writer should do at least occasionally.

Information roaming free

When so much data is freely available the problem is not how to gain information, but where to find the information we need and turn that into useful knowledge.

We can access centuries of thought and progress without a second thought. Add that to minimal cost of entry, and there really is no better time to be a writer than now.

BrainyQuote

 


Reclaim Your Creativity

Get your creative spark back now. Claim your free copy of my ebook Unleash Your Creativity here.

blog, creativity, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

Done is Better Than Perfect: How to Move Past the Perfectionist Trap

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The worst enemy to creativity is self doubt.

Sylvia Plath

They say that everyone has a novel inside them. Maybe you know someone who is hard at work on theirs. You read their comments online or chat with them at an event. They tell you they’ve been working on it for a while. “How long?” you ask. They tell you it’s been several years so far. These perfectionists have laboured over this one piece for five, seven, ten years. And they don’t know when it will be finished.

Or maybe it’s your work that has limped on forever. You’re stuck because you can’t figure out the right style of the gowns in your Imperial court, or your research on spring weather patterns in Kansas has led down increasingly arcane corridors.

You’ll publish or submit, someday. But it’s not perfect yet. And so your great work sits on your hard drive and the world never sees it.

What Are You Afraid Of?

Perfectionists are often procrastinators. You believe if a thing’s worth doing, it must be done properly and nothing less will do. So you either rework and edit endlessly, or you don’t even start because you can never get it absolutely right. And you can’t edit an empty page.

You conceal these feelings behind strong psychological defences and sublimate them into pointless activity. But research isn’t writing. At some level, you know that and you’re disappointed with yourself.

At the heart of perfectionism is fear.

Fear of failure.

Fear of success, because then you have to do it again, leading back to fear of failure.

To overcome perfectionism, you need to understand your fear and master it. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is action despite feeling fear. Courage is taking a deep breath and doing it anyway because your desire for something is greater than the fear of what might happen.

If you never challenge yourself to move past fear, you cannot improve or grow. Everything you really want is outside of your comfort zone.

In order to step out there and thrive, you’ll need to let some ideas go and embrace new thinking. We’ll look at how to do this next.

via BrainyQuote

Everybody sucks and nobody cares

Fear is a basic emotion that we all understand. You fear humiliation and ridicule for getting something wrong. Perhaps you replay some old memory of being laughed at for a minor error, and that underlies your current avoidant behaviour.

Here are two reasons why you should leave that in the past where it belongs.

  1. Everybody sucks in the beginning. Every author, actor, artist, or sports person you admire now was once terrible at their chosen discipline. They wrote awful prose, missed more shots than they scored, and forgot their lines on stage. But they carried on and used those early failures to improve over time. Nobody has a perfect score overall.
  2. People aren’t actually watching that closely. They are as consumed by their inner lives as you are by yours. Even if they look your way, they forget you the next moment as their own drama takes over. Though you might feel as though everyone is looking at you, they’re really not. In psychology, this is known as the spotlight effect. Knowing about the spotlight effect is liberating. It frees you to do whatever you need to do without the pressure of a supposed audience.

Act like a baby

Babies are the world’s fastest learners. From zero, they learn to feed, walk, talk, and live in a social unit, all within two years. They achieve this not by being perfect, but the opposite. They stumble, fall, stand up again.

They babble nonsense and parrot speech without understanding at first. Eventually, they achieve a level of competence that allows them to run, jump, and sing a nursery rhyme.

They do not beat themselves up because they can’t yet recite Shakespeare. They simply chatter and listen to adults when corrected. Each time they repeat, they’re closer to the goal of intelligible speech.

You learned to speak, walk, and countless other complex skills in the same way. If you had waited to speak until you were perfect, you would not have uttered a word for years.

Cultivate a beginner’s mind. Understand that supposed errors are signposts back to the right path, and you’re much less fearful of your results. Judge not against some unattainable level of perfection, but against where you were last time you tried.

You already know how to learn and improve. Adjust your aim, and try again.

Less is not more

While you’re slaving over one meticulously crafted blog post, searching tirelessly for exactly the right image and quote, I’m ramping up my output. One post every Friday was my first goal. Having reached that goal and with over 200 posts under my belt, now I’m aiming to post two or three articles every week. I don’t have time to agonise endlessly over a picture.

Oh, you say, but you prefer quality over quantity. People repeat this justification for low output as if it were gospel truth. It’s completely wrong.

Quantity leads to quality

In an experiment, students in a ceramics class were split into two groups. One group was told that they could get an A by turning in one perfect piece. The other group was told that they would be graded solely on the total weight of pieces produced, of any quality.

The results were surprising. The second group produced a large number of extremely good pieces. They were freed from the constraints of perfection and given free rein to experiment without being penalised. I’d bet money they were happier with their work too.

Repeated practice increased their skills and confidence. They weren’t paralysed by over-analysis or worried about criticism. They did not fear the impossibility of lightning striking twice, because they knew how to create a storm. They were able to replicate good work because they understood what went into making it.

The more you make, the better you get.

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Let it go

Real artists ship.
Steve Jobs

Imagine if Dali had refused to let anyone see his paintings, or if Michelangelo had obsessively chipped away at and repolished his David. How much poorer we would be! Remember also that an artist’s most famous works comprise only a fraction of their total output.

Writers learn more from finishing one story than from starting and abandoning ten. You’ll learn where you wrote yourself into a corner, and how to figure your way out. You’ll learn how many plots you can juggle. You’ll learn what makes a good ending. And eventually, you’ll join up all those skills and move from conscious competence to unconscious competence.

In other words, you will master your craft and spend more effort on deciding where to put the ball than how to kick it.

At some point, you have to declare a thing finished and let it go. The more refined your skill, the harder it is. You always feel there is just one more thing you could improve upon.

Let it go. Ship it. Publish, submit, and move on to the next thing. That’s the secret; always have a next thing. Each piece becomes a little less precious when it forms a smaller part of your portfolio. You may still have your favourites and the ones you shrug over, but the totality is what matters.

Confidence comes from improvement. You know that you can make another piece, and it might be even better than the last. And if it’s not, that’s okay too.

That is true creative freedom.

via BrainyQuote

Ready to reclaim your creativity?

This free short e-book will show you how to stop letting limiting beliefs hold you back and finally start creating the work you’ve been dreaming of. Want your creative spark back? This is the guide for you.

Get your free short e-book Unleash Your Creativity here.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

Writers’ groups: the good, the bad, and the ugly

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Writing groups offer a social counterpoint to the solitary business of writing. Joining a group is neither necessary nor sufficient for becoming a writer, but the benefits of belonging include mutual support, sharing advice and information, and opportunities for getting published.

You can also access critique and reviews in some writing groups.

I am a member of one real life and three online groups. Through these groups, I get out of the house regularly, cheer on my peers, and commiserate over problems in writing and life. Crucially, I write more than I would on my own. I write for meetings, for competitions, and for anthologies.

Because of these groups, I’m a published author in four anthologies with more to come. I’ve learned about self-publishing, editing, making ebooks, book launches and more.

Most of all, I have networks; people who are geographically dispersed but come together to read each other’s work and spread the word about all our work. It’s good karma in action.

Membership of an organisation is good, as long as you can make yourself heard.
Mahathir Mohamad

Stronger together

Crucially, being part of a writing group makes it more likely that you will show up. We often find it easier to keep commitments we make to others. This is the basis of many group activities that can be done alone such as exercise or weight loss. Whether it is guilt or wanting to be seen as a good person that motivates us, external promises are more likely to be honoured.

At their best, groups provide a way to discuss your craft with people who can become friends. Other writers get the struggle of finding words, changing words, and chasing elusive words. Another writer might have the nugget of advice you need to get your stalled WIP working again.

Since many writers are introverts, a group provides a social outlet without the horror of small talk. You already have a shared interest to discuss. And if real life interaction is too much to bear or not possible, online groups are a great alternative.

Think big or small?

The web is full of online writing communities. They can be centred on the works of a single author or genre, or be more diverse. Often they have subgroups devoted to specific topics, and they collect together useful resources for reference.

Facebook (FB) is a great resource for writing groups. You’ll find thousands of groups with every kind of focus you can think of. Some groups are geographic, which is great if you’re looking for something local that offers opportunities for face to face interaction. Many groups are based on genre; romance or crime or thriller writers join to talk about their niche. Still, others are based on the qualities of their members, such as freelance, terrified, or female writers.

Some of the largest FB writing groups are open to all. The upsides include a diversity of membership and subject matter, a huge store of collective knowledge, and lots of activity. You might like the relative anonymity. The downsides are related to size as well. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with notifications, alienated by a feeling of insignificance, and not feeling welcomed.

Smaller groups can be more welcoming. You will be more visible, which as always can be a good or a bad thing. You can get involved to a greater degree if that’s what you want. Accountability is greater in a small group, where you’re making commitments to individuals rather than a faceless crowd. On the other hand, any failure to honour commitments is obvious, although explaining why is often easier when you have a stronger connection.

Of course, smaller groups can easily be overtaken by strong personalities. Most of us have experienced this in other groups we’ve been part of; families, friend groups, work teams. This is where the dark side of groups rears its ugly head.

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The Four Horsemen of the Writing Group Apocalypse

We’re only human, and writing groups reflect that as much as any other. You might gain a writing friend for life, or you might find yourself trapped in a room with someone you’d normally cross the road to avoid. Here are four examples.

Critical Colin

Colin is always right. His eagle eye spots every typo, hanging participle and use of passive voice. He’s a whizz at seeing weak characters and plot holes. Because he’s always right, he rebuffs any and all criticisms of his own work. He is generous with his critique, all of it negative, and tells you what you should do to fix things.

Sometimes Colin simply declares that the piece didn’t work, folds his arms and sits back, judging silently. Colin is writing Literature. He despises genre fiction.

Arrogant Alice

Alice gives you the gift of her presence at every meeting. You’re truly fortunate to have her, as she is really a bit too advanced and/or successful for the group. Alice may be traditionally published, or she may have self-published before the other members of the group. She may have won a prize or know a famous author slightly.

Either way, she is faintly condescending and never misses a chance to remind you of her greater accomplishments. She is an Author, not a mere scribbler.

Lazy Linda

Linda wants to write, really she does, but life conspires against her. She fails to give her apologies and attends less than half of the scheduled meetings. She either brings nothing or an incomplete 500-word first draft that doesn’t make sense. Linda has fewer domestic responsibilities than you, but she still can’t find the time to write.

At coffee break, she regales you with the long story of how she didn’t write anything this month because she was Busy. When it is her turn to set the group challenge, she has nothing prepared. She does not complete her own challenge.

Blind Brian

Brian wears blinkers which shield him from anything he doesn’t want to see. He is loud and talks over others. He attacks writers, especially quieter ones, for errors he commits himself. He strays from the point to keep discussion where he wants it; on his opinions or his work.

His work may have merit but he resists any constructive criticism that could improve it. He passionately argues some detail because unlike others, he Cares about his work. He doesn’t recognise social cues such as checking a watch, sighing, or impending tears. He will pursue you at coffee time to discuss the finer points of something or other that you don’t care about.

Who hasn’t been in a group that’s being derailed by one or other of these characters?

You could always walk away, but if you’d prefer to stay in the group you need to know how to handle the horsemen without going crazy.

Tactics for survival

If you’re fortunate, the chair will keep the meeting flowing and focused on the point in hand.

If not, there are things you can do.

Critical Colin may make good points with his eye for detail. Look beyond your emotional response to see if you can take the positive from his negative feedback. Be respectful when you give your critique, and remember he might just take it on board – outside the meeting.

Arrogant Alice may have useful information. If she’s ahead of you on the curve, picking her brains will flatter her ego and help you.

Lazy Linda may need your help. Casual discussion of how you find time to write, or general time management tips could be the nudge she needs to move from aspiring to actual writer. Keep it friendly, no matter how irritated you feel by her flakiness.

Blind Brian is a challenge. It could be personality, lack of empathy, or lack of social skills that informs his behaviour. The chair is the best person to nudge him back on track. Sometimes a quiet word in private will be needed, but this is risky with someone who may lack self-awareness. On the other hand, he can’t know how he appears to others unless told.

The problem is that the group relationship may not be strong enough to withstand this personal feedback, therefore no-one wants to take it on. He may be avoided by everyone, which is sad but it isn’t your job to solve his social issues.

 

Finding your tribe

Survival has always been about finding your tribe. It’s possible to go it alone successfully, but why make things harder than they need to be?

First, lurk around online writing groups. Lurking means hiding in the shadows observing without interacting. It’s a good way to see if online groups are right for you. Google, as always, is your friend. Here’s a list of recommended writing groups to get you started. Have a look around, see what feels right for you and your goals.

Facebook (FB)  is different because you have to join, and then most groups are private so non-members can’t view their activity. However, you can look at the descriptions and request to join. You’re under no obligation to stay in any group. If it’s not for you, move on.

I joined FB two years ago purely to be a part of a large writing group. That led to the formation of a splinter group. We felt lost as the original group grew, and now we have around twenty members, all by invitation only. The strength of FB is the ability to create groups, and if you don’t find what you want you can make your own.

Size doesn’t determine effectiveness. My small group just published the first of four planned anthologies, and it feels great to be involved and significant. I am still a member of the large group. Different groups fill different needs. Try this list of Facebook writing groups to get you started.

It’s not in numbers but in unity that our greatest strength lies.
Thomas Paine


Ready to Unleash Your Creativity?

This free short e-book will show you how to stop letting limiting beliefs hold you back and finally start creating the work you’ve been dreaming of. Want your creative spark back? This is the guide for you.

Get your free copy of Unleashing Your Creativity here.

blog, creativity, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

Diversify for writing success

go wide and deep for success

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Finding writing success can be like prospecting for gold.

You know it’s out there, somewhere, but you’re not finding it no matter how hard you dig. You see others strike it big and assume they’re luckier or got a bigger shovel.

You could have the perfect tools and focus on your goals, but it won’t matter if you’re digging in the wrong place.

People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.
Thomas Merton

The Double-Edged Sword of Focus

You work hard, eliminate distractions, and focus on one thing at a time.This can be good and bad at the same time.

Take gold prospecting. Digging a one hundred foot mine shaft will keep you busy, whether the gold lies there or not. If there isn’t any gold, your work will be in vain.

The same can be said for your writing.

How will you find out where to place your efforts?

You need to go wide and then deep.

Trying new areas is the only way to know if a better prospect is out there for you.

The gold miners need to survey whole landscape first. They go wide. The surveyors dig exploratory mines in promising spots. They only go deep when there’s a good chance of reward for their efforts, because they have to process a lot of ore to find nuggets of gold.

Then they study the landscape to learn the signs that tell them there’s gold further down, which makes it easier to spot next time.

For example, I wrote an article last year about being let down by a friend. It was more popular than anything I’d written up to that point.

Friends shared it and reached out to me on Twitter. It wasn’t viral, but it was a little gold strike. Once I got over being amazed, I studied it to see how it differed from previous pieces and came up with the following points.

  • Personal tale
  • Readers like emotional stories
  • Universal theme of betrayal
  • Conversational style — written as a letter
  • Accessible language
  • Shared to social media on a ‘quiet’ day
  • Title alluded to Facebook
  • Friend shared it on her Facebook feed
  • Cross posted in several places — blog, Medium, Twitter
  • Performed best on Medium

So now I have some pointers to what might do well, and where. I can choose to add the personal, and decide on the writing style to use next time. I won’t expect huge response from my blog, but there are other reasons to post there.

The other lesson is that it’s impossible to predict what will do well and where. Spread your net wide.

Want more? You’ll have to do more

Quality comes from quantity. You can’t hit the target if you don’t shoot, and the more shots you take the more hits are likely. Yes, a debut author might be nominated for the Man Booker Prize or get their first novel filmed by Steven Spielberg.

But these are unicorns, rare as a lottery win and even less predictable. Working consistently is the best route to success.

There are two ways to approach diversifying your writing. You can explore your niche more widely, or look outside it altogether. Let’s look at that in more detail.

Challenge grows your writing muscles

Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.
Neale Donald Walsch

Perhaps you’re comfortable doing what you do now. You don’t want to progress or grow as a writer and person. That’s fine. Challenge isn’t for everyone, and there are times in every life where the challenge is survival, pure and simple.

But you’re reading this because you want to do more. You want to achieve your potential, though you’re unsure what that might look like.

That means leaving comfort behind, even if very briefly, and doing something new. Then assess the result and course correct. Let’s see what that looks like for a writer.

Try a new fishing ground

Writing divides into three very broad categories.

  • Fiction
  • Poetry
  • Non-fiction

Writing fiction teaches imagination, how to move a story along, and how to tell the truth by hiding it inside a story.

Writing poetry teaches focus on emotions, how to condense expression, how to convey concepts in word pictures that show the world in a new light.

Writing non-fiction teaches structure, clarity of expression, how to make an argument, how to persuade and inform.

The best pieces include elements from more than one discipline. That breadth of expression appeals to more of our senses and emotions, therefore affects us more. We write to change how people feel, so having more tools leads to better engagement with our audience.

Crossing the boundaries could look like this.

  • Poetry plus non-fiction elements:
    Structured poetry forms like sonnet, villanelle, tanka
    Polemic — a poem with a strongly stated point of view
  • Fiction plus non-fiction elements:
    Tightly plotted fiction
    Historical fiction with strong research base
  • Fiction plus poetry elements:
    Lyrical writing style
    Highly descriptive but concise style
  • Non-fiction plus poetry elements
    Descriptive travel writing
    Immersive memoir

Learn new ways to tell your story, blur the boundaries. Take what you learn back to your chosen field and play with it.

In your own field, try a different corner.

If you always write free poetry, use a recognised form like a sonnet. If you write technical pieces, write a think piece on your industry or an interview with a leader in the field. Horror and romance writers, switch genres.

Your next piece will benefit from taking another viewpoint.

Wave a flag and get noticed

This is a great time to be a writer. Gatekeepers still exist for traditional publishing, but it’s never been easier to choose yourself and get your words out there. That inevitably leads to a crowded marketplace, but there are ways to stand out.

Enter a competition

In a world of almost limitless choices, recommendations count for a lot. That’s why star ratings are so powerful. Winning a competition, even getting shortlisted in one, can be the start of new opportunities. A win says you can be trusted to tell a story.

In 2017 I won first place in an international short story contest. I’d missed the deadline for another contest, and entered the HE Bates Short Story Competition at the last minute. The boost this gave my writing career and confidence continues even now. It’s a fine addition to my writing CV.

The win raised my profile among friends and family, some of whom took my writing seriously for the first time. The story was published in a local lifestyle magazine.

I now write a monthly story for them and continue to build my portfolio. Because people know I write, some came forward in response to a Facebook request for early reviewers of an anthology.

It’s a virtuous circle in which success opens doors and changes attitudes, not least my own. And I bought some very fancy noise cancelling headphones with the prize money.

Competitions exist for every kind of writing and writer and are held year-round. Writing magazines are good sources of information, and you can google by type.

The cost of entry varies but many are free to enter so you can try without financial barriers. There is no reason to pass on this chance for recognition and validation.

Start a blog

Starting a blog is easier than ever, and can be low or even no cost. While it’s hard to drive traffic to a blog, it’s also a place for you to do whatever you want, to experiment, and to start gathering fans.

You can showcase your writing, give advice on any subject, maybe even earn money eventually.

If you’re querying agents for traditional publishing, they will expect to see samples of your work if they Google you.

Your blog or website is the place to assemble your portfolio. Aim for consistent, quality work rather than lots of rushed pieces.

Medium is one of the best places to expand your writing career. You can write for yourself, or for publications boasting thousands of followers.

In fact, you should do both and spread your net wider. Look around and see where you could fit in. Try Smedian, a site that gathers useful information on publications plus links to joining them as a writer.

Submit to magazines

Some magazines are online only while others have a print version as well. The website will have guidelines on what the editor is looking for and how to submit. Both fiction and non-fiction are wanted and all editors need good content every month.

This article looks at non-fiction submission.

Submitting to literary magazines is covered here. Payment varies. Again, this is a good way to build writing credits and a reputation.

With a little help from my friends

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
African proverb

Writing is a solitary occupation but sometimes it’s helpful to share the journey. Other writers understand the challenges and can be supportive, sharing ideas and information. Writing magazines host online forums where feedback and advice is given.

Many online groups exist, often run through Facebook. Real life groups get you out of the chair and offer social interaction.

Some groups run their own contests and publish anthologies of members’ work. Again a google search should give some options local to you.

Be prepared to stick with a group for a while to see if it’s a good fit with you and your aspirations.

Groups reflect life and can be breeding grounds for negative interactions, so if you’re experiencing overbearing or overcritical personalities leave gracefully and look for another.

Try it now

Prompt: a person finds a key in the street.
Now write about it in 500 words or less.

Non-fiction writers, write a poem of any form.

Fiction writers, write a factual piece.

Poets, write a short story.

Take the next step

You want to improve and get to the next level?

Challenge yourself to do something new and stretch your muscles. Then employ that new strength in a new area. You never know, your real calling might lie in a totally different place from where you are now.

It’s time to get moving.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

How to take the negative feedback challenge – and win

blue thumbs up and red thumbs down by geralt on pixabay (edited)
geralt via pixabay

“Every defect is a treasure.”
W. Edwards Deming

Integral to improvement is the need for feedback. You only know what needs to change or improve by seeing what does or does not work.

For creatives it can come as one star reviews, lack of engagement, negative or offensive comments. You might be working with a mentor/tutor or in a group of your peers, and actively seeking comment in order to do better work.

Harness the pain of negative feedback

Writers crave good feedback. We want to hear how much readers loved our characters, plot and description. Positive feedback (I loved this!) feels good but isn’t enough on its own. Without constructive elements there can be no learning. Like dessert, it tastes better after eating your greens.

But we’re less keen on hearing negatives. Like broccoli or high fibre cereal, we know it’s good for us but it doesn’t taste good.

Negative feedback cuts to the heart of our self esteem. If we are too closely identified with our work (writing is my life rather than writing is something I do) we feel that a criticism of our work is a criticism of our core self. Then we must defend ourselves by attacking either the critic or ourselves. Both of these options are painful, therefore we avoid them.

Reviews and comments are an accepted part of life. The only way to avoid them is never showing your work. Fighters work with a sparring partner to build up strength and improve skills. Writers can ask for help from a trusted source. Each time someone points out a defect is an opportunity to learn and do better next time. We must learn to take feedback on the chin and come out fighting with our self-esteem intact.

There are ways to make feedback both palatable and useful, whether it was invited or not.

Constructive or destructive criticism — know the difference

Constructive critique is aimed at the work.
It is factual. It focuses on objective measures using rational language.

Destructive critique is aimed at the creator.
It is opinion given in emotive language. It may not be relevant to the work at hand. It is personal.

What does a constructive critique look like?

  • Timely — ideally given soon after the event
  • Focused — limited to one or two points
  • Objective — factual, uses respectful language
  • Specific — gives examples
  • Actionable — suggests targeted remedies

Poor critique:
What complete rubbish. I didn’t get it. You’re useless, my child could write better.

Good critique:
I enjoyed the story but found this hard to read. The sentences and paragraphs were very long and it looked like a solid wall of text.

Consider having one idea per sentence and three sentences per paragraph. That will give more white space on the screen, which is easier to read.

 

The first example is pure negative opinion and offers no useful insight.
The second example avoids insults and emotive language, and suggests remedies.

Whether you choose to take the advice depends on the source and the quality of the suggestion. But it gives you something to work with. The new version might work better or not suit your style. Either way you know more than before, and can make more informed choices in the next piece.

Take constructive feedback on the chin

  • Allow time for strong emotions to settle
  • Look for a kernel of truth, no matter how small or hard to accept
  • Consider the alternatives presented
  • Be open to trying another way, even if you reject it in the end
  • If you decide to maintain your current position, know why
  • Thank your critique partner for their time and attention

Not every comment deserves a response. Sometimes you just note it and move on. Remember you are in charge of your words. You don’t have to accept all of the critique, or make all suggested changes. However, review from another source can be invaluable in showing a reader’s view, which you as the author cannot experience.

Put up your guard against trolls

Endless negativity, especially if mixed with personal attack and vitriol, says more about the commenter than the work.

The internet is full of people whose comments consist of slurs and insults. Sometimes they start by being pleasant and complimentary, then if you respond they switch to attack. Being targeted by an online and probably anonymous bully is a painful and upsetting experience. The answer is simple; don’t feed the trolls.

Do not respond, do not engage in a flame war, do not stoop to their level. You risk hurting your brand among observers, as a reputation is hard to build but easy to destroy. And you open yourself to a stream of negative feelings that persist long after the encounter.

You can close comments, mute, block or unfollow, depending on the platform. Often silence is the best response.

Be open to discussion

A common response to critique is to become defensive or aggressive.

I worked all night on that and you don’t even give me any credit so what’s the point?

Well, what do you know anyway? I’ve got a postgraduate degree in X so I think I know what I’m talking about.

A good sparring partner exposes your weaker areas without attacking them outright. You wouldn’t spar when angry; it could turn into an ugly fight. It might take some time to process the emotional hit, so take a breath. Take in the comment and remember that you’re here to learn. Nobody is perfect. Everyone can improve.

Learn to love the pain

Exposing yourself to feedback more often is the best way to increase your tolerance of it. No creative is immune to the sinking feeling when they see just how many changes they need to make to a piece. You’re allowed to feel bad about it as long as you keep the end goal in mind. Constructive critique builds the strength to do better work.

You are not your work

You put something of yourself into your creation, but please separate your sense of self from the thing you made. Critique of your work does not lessen your worth as a person. When you truly accept this, critique is much easier to handle. You can always make another, better piece using what you’ve learned.

You are not your work.

Now it’s your turn

Everyone’s a critic and dishing out negative reviews is easy. Giving useful critique isn’t easy. Like all good teaching, producing insightful analysis and actionable suggestions is harder than it looks.

I invite you to try writing good critique, either on an older piece of your own writing or by swapping with someone else. The first and golden rule is be respectfulSharpening your own critical faculties is essential if you’re serious about developing your writing skills.

via Brainyquote

blog, creativity, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

5 simple ways to jump start creativity for writers and artists

powering through the block

crayons-scribble-baby_marimari
marimari via pixabay

Sometimes the ideas won’t come. You want to paint or write but you don’t know what. You started something and now you hate it. Or maybe you’re trying to get started again after a drought or forced hiatus. Like a stalled car, you need a little push to get going.

The Two Types of Thinking That Affect Creativity

The way we think has a great impact on creativity.

Divergent thinking creates possibilities. It gathers ideas and combines them in new ways. There is more than one answer to a question. And all ideas have potential value. Divergent thinking creates options using right-brained methods; imagination, visualisation, and intuition.

Convergent thinking solves problems. It considers, weighs and discards options, narrowing them down until the right answer emerges. Convergent thinking achieves results using left-brain methods; sequencing, logic, and facts.

We need both types of thinking to achieve a result. First, come up with ideas using divergent thinking, then execute an idea using convergent thinking. A brilliant concept is nothing without the techniques to make it a reality.

Judgement can wait

But choosing which idea to work on too soon can choke off possibilities. We tend to judge ideas and discard them without fully exploring them. So it’s vital to gather all your ideas without judgement first. It’s like mining a fine diamond; they’re not lying about on the surface. After digging through a lot of worthless stuff, you spot something with potential. Then you get to work cutting and polishing.

Creativity exercises are best done quickly to outwit the inner critic. Keep moving and let yourself be imperfect.

We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.
Bob Ross

1 . Get random

Having too many choices can lead to being overwhelmed. Because you could do anything, you end up doing nothing. Research has shown that we are more satisfied with our choices when options are limited.

Try letting chance dictate your next move rather than fretting over what to do.Then you can put your energy into doing, rather than frustration that you don’t know where to start.

Turn to a page in the nearest book to hand. Count the tenth verb or noun. Set a timer for ten minutes. Write a story or poem inspired by this word.

Do the same with a magazine, instead using the tenth picture as inspiration.

Go to Pixabay or Unsplash for photos. Use the first image containing a yellow object as inspiration.

2 .Brainstorming

This is a classic way to access divergent thinking. The idea is to generate quantity rather than quality. Concentrating on quantity leads your brain to think widely, past the obvious. Creativity sees new links between ideas or objects that were not connected before.

Keep asking “what else?” but do not ask “would this work?” For example, a Lego brick could be a doorstop. It doesn’t matter at this stage how effective that might be.

Most people can think of 10–15 ideas for a paperclip. See how much better you can do.

Write down as many uses as you can think of for a paper clip; a Lego brick; a small silver coin; or a teaspoon.

Pick an unusual use for an object and write a short story about it. Or draw it instead.

3 . Do the same job with fewer tools

Creativity blossoms within restriction. When we challenge our skills by limiting the available options, we have to find another way to get the job done. In other words, divergent thinking comes into play. That is the essence of creativity.

Try thinking inside the box.

Artists, paint or draw using shades of only one colour. If you usually draw in pencil, try using ink. Set a time limit.

Writers, use a random first line generator like this one to write a one-page story. Sometimes this works better writing by hand; somehow it’s less daunting than the blinking cursor.

4 . Play in a different sandbox

To create we need to see the world in a different way. When we’re comfortable in one way of seeing, it’s good to mix it up. Maximise your creative muscle by trying something new, just as you’d train different muscle groups in the gym. You will benefit by finding new solutions and skills that you can bring back to your chosen field. That could be improved memory, attention to detail, or improvisation. And it’s fun to try something new.

Make something small, in a different medium.

Doodle your favourite animal, if you write.

Write a song or poem, if you paint.

Cook a meal using a new recipe or only three ingredients from your fridge.

Look at an object in the room for one minute, then try to draw it from memory.

5 . Move

The brain requires up to 20% of the body’s energy. That energy comes from circulating blood, and getting active improves circulation. Sitting or standing in one position for extended periods also leads to stiffness and even pain. Artists and typists are prone to repetitive strain injuries from small repeated movements.

Spending long periods inside in solitary activity can have a number of negative effects, from vitamin D deficiency to low mood. We need to take care of our bodies if we want to stay healthy longer.

Go for a walk and notice the animals. One of them will become a character in your next story or painting.

Wander around a gallery, craft supplies store or even a toy shop. Surround yourself with interesting visuals to spark ideas.

Running, swimming, walking or gardening are good ways to clear the mind and occupy the body with soothing repetition. This allows ideas from your subconscious to bubble up to the surface.

Just do it

The most important thing you can do to access creativity is to make more things, no matter how small or mundane. A new recipe, story, garden, doodle, or haiku all come from looking at the world, seeing new possibility and then expressing what you see in your own way. And that’s what creating is all about.

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which to keep.
Scott Adams

blog, writing process

Writing karma: do you give as good as you get?

gift-flowers-hands_klimkin
klimkin via pixabay

Once you’ve lived a little you will find that whatever you send out into the world comes back to you in one way or another.
Slash, rock star

Hello, fellow writer. Have you written something lately? Posted it anywhere? Checked your feed for claps, votes, comments or sales? It’s something we all do. Unless we’re writing purely for our own catharsis, we want our words to be heard by an audience.

But now another question. Have you read anything lately? Did you clap, vote, comment, review, or buy?
And if not, why not?

You’re asking for something you didn’t give. Karma says what goes around, comes around. Karma says you get what you give.

Consumers, creators, commenters

Most people consume without creating, and they consume without responding. Around 5-10% of buyers leave reviews on Amazon overall. Even the most popular articles on Medium or Quora have a tiny percentage of comments compared to claps, and claps compared to reads.

Consider this article by Zat Rana, who has 72,000 followers on Medium. This gained almost 21,000 claps in thirteen days but a mere 79 comments.

View story at Medium.com

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 14.38.46

Since each reader can give from zero to a maximum of fifty claps, we can infer that at least 420 people read this piece, but the true figure is likely to be many more. As good as it feels to be read, it feels great to get applause. And comments? Well, a thoughtful comment is the sweetest nectar of all. It can give you validation and the dopamine hit we all crave, but it can do something even more valuable. It can start a conversation. And conversations lead to relationships.

Your reasons are excuses

There are reasons why you haven’t tended to your writer karma. Few of them stand up to closer scrutiny.

  1. I don’t have time to read.
    Stephen King said  if you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have time and the tools  to write. A good writer, one who aspires to improve, must also read widely. It takes a few minutes to read an article on Quora or Medium, or look at your favourite writer’s website. Step away from mindless scrolling and put that time to better use.
  2. I don’t have time to respond.
    Really? It takes seconds to vote or clap. Even a brief message can make someone’s day, so why would you not do it?
  3. I can’t afford to buy a book.
    Buying a book new at full price is the ideal for an author, but maybe you don’t have resources. You can still buy secondhand and review, borrow from a library or a friend and review, tweet and Facebook post about it, tell your friends. You can download free books from Instafreebie and review.

    Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads drive sales twice. First, because the algorithms favour books with more reviews. Second, because readers also favour books with reviews. In this era of almost endless choice, recommendations are even more important.

  4. Nobody’s reading my stuff so why should I bother?
    See point 2 above. Feel good by doing good. Your following is built one reader at a time, one comment and relationship at a time. The best follower is one who is invested in your work, and the numbers are only one way of measuring impact. You never know who will be your new cheerleader.

    Your tribe of like-minded readers and writers is out there, but it will not find you if you are hiding silently behind a screen. You’re a creator, not part of the herd of consumers. Act accordingly. Connect. Reciprocate.

Give as good as you get – or better

Paraphrasing Anna Sabino, sometimes you have to send ships in the hope that one day they will come in. Sometimes you need faith in yourself, faith that things will turn in your favour, if you keep working. And when prayers are answered, it’s usually because a lot of unseen groundwork was put in without a guaranteed return. Ask any ‘overnight success.’

When your success arrives, you’ll want to turn to the people who matter, your mutual support system. You can rejoice together, because the only thing that makes a well-deserved success better is people to share it with.

So don’t wait. You can improve someone’s day, right now, and it only takes a minute.

I'm a true believer in karma. You get what you give, whether it's bad or good. - Sandra Bullock

Source

 

 

 

 

 

 

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, poetry

September’s end

 

autumn-tree-leaves-red-63614
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com  

 

A breeze blows still, cooler and sharper than summer’s soft sigh, an edged whisper stealing beneath my ill-advised layers of silk. I should wear a sweater, perhaps. It’s almost time, but I cling to the dying summer as a drowning man cradles the last hopeful flotsam to his chest. It’s not enough, in the end. But it will do for now.

Vibrant spring greens gave way to lively grass greens. Varied hues fade in sunlight that promises much from behind a window, but delivers less than wanted in reality. Here and there, wine red blushes leaves while others flicker orange and yellow, a final bonfire of colour to warm the season’s end. The green of life retreats to its source. We know the dark is coming.

Not today though. Today energetic clouds bustle in cool blue. Scarlet fruits bob and sway. Nature keeps her promises in generous bounty. And in the imperceptibly shrinking day another voice hides. Now you see me, then you won’t. But the world turns, and brings another, harsher time. Gather in while you may.

audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

A Black Woman Goes Shopping

shopping bags_rawpixel
rawpixel via pixabay (edited)

listen: 

The automatic doors spring open for me, the only welcome on this chilly grey morning. Hot air blows briefly through my hair and I blink in the harsh lights of low-end retail, piled high, never mind the quality. Price is king. I’m not here for anything fancy. I have a specific task in mind.

Get in, get it done, get out clean.

Taking off my gloves, I flex my fingers and let the warmth seep into my fingertips. Cold hands lack feeling, and I need to discern every change in texture, weight and balance point as I seek my target. I’m not sure where to find it. Time to roam the ground floor.

I think he’s seen me.

I wander, apparently aimless but in fact with a definite route in mind. Back to bathroom goods, along the rear wall to soft furnishings, over towards the tills and retrace my steps. I pause next to lighting.

He’s still there.

No need to panic. I belong here, just walk like I belong here. I do belong here, I do. But he’s following me, upstairs to kitchenware, past textiles. I hide in the furthest corner, flipping through pictures. Maybe when I turn — no, I see him slipping between the shelves.

When I approach the till and the tired operator asks me if I found everything today, I nod and smile and hand over my debit card. No worries about the trifling amount for a laundry hamper. I dreamed of this day, when prices wouldn’t worry me. A nightmare dogs my steps all the same, even though I’m in the black.

Or because of it.

The security guard watches me exit the store today, just like every other day I visit, keeping a close eye on people like me. I want to shove the receipt in his face and scream.

He didn’t see me.

The automatic doors spring open for me, a cold machine welcome. I’m in another store, a giant halogen-bright temple to consumerism. I have a specific target in mind.

Get in, get it done, get out clean.

These salespeople are bright, smart, and cheerful. They want to help, and commission is a great motivator. I am faced with many options to replace my ageing bed. I look around, but it seems everyone is busy, helping someone else, earning commission somewhere else.

They haven’t seen me.

No need to worry yet. I definitely belong here; my bank balance says so. I do belong here, I do. Black Friday deals everywhere, now if I could only get some assistance with all these different sizes, fabric colours and delivery dates. It’s a high-end store with beautiful room sets and lots of empty space. Price matters, but quality matters more.

I’m not here for anything cheap.

I linger by a truly regal bed, its headboard glamorous buttoned purple velvet. Maybe in another colour, it could be the one. Thirty percent off in the sale ends tomorrow. This is the cue. I’ve stopped walking, I’m ready to be sold something.

Ready, willing, able.

I pick up a brochure on my way out. No one asks me if I found what I wanted today.

In the black. Invisible.

 

originally published by Those People on Medium September 11 2018