blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

How to Build Self-Confidence and a Writing Career You’re Proud Of

friendship_InsidePhotography
InsidePhotography via pixabay

What’s the one thing that you and every other writer want?

You might answer money, fame, critical acclaim, autonomy, or something else. All these boil down to one need: validation. As humans and creatives, we want to feel that we matter, that our work matters, that we have made a mark, no matter how small or fleeting.

Too often you don’t get it.

Your spouse ignores your attempts to find writing time by making endless domestic demands.

Your friend laughs when you confide that you want to see your book made into a movie.

You read over what you wrote, and it’s so far from the standard of your favourite author that you want to toss the laptop out of the window.

You brood, become irritable and defensive and indulge in mindless TV or ice-cream or gin. Anger simmers under skin that seems to get thinner every day. Your writing stumbles and you can’t get going again but what does it matter? It’s not like it means anything to anyone.

You can recover, but you need to know how.

First Find The Itch

We aren’t all the same, thank goodness. Success and might look very different to you and to me. It all depends on whether your need for validation is internal or external.

Internal validation is rooted in strong self-esteem. You set your own performance standards and you live by them, and the approval of others is less important than your own. While it’s helpful to get support from others, you don’t rely on it completely. You look inwards for the strength to deal with your own issues. You’ll run with the pack if the pack is running your way, but you’re okay with being on the margins sometimes.

External validation is rooted in strong social instincts. Harking back to a time when acceptance by the pack was literally a life or death matter, you seek to conform to what’s expected in your social group. You look outwards and rely on the feedback of others to judge your performance against an accepted standard. You’ll stay in the centre of the pack where it is safest.

Both of these styles can coexist, where they apply to different areas of life. So you might be entirely happy with your professional performance where you have confidence in your abilities, but less certain when it comes to your creative skills.

Sources of validation will vary based on these different styles because what works for one will not suit another.

Few people would turn away from external success, but for some, it comes at too high a cost. The familiar sad sight of a celebrity imploding despite fame and fortune has many causes, but failed internal validation is one. The star has everything she wants except her own approval, and all too often no idea how to get it.

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 13.07.24https://2squarewriting.com/2017/05/would-you-walk-a-mile-in-my-shoes/

 

Addicted To Love

thumbs-up_geraltgeralt via pixabay

Western society prizes autonomy and a strong sense of self. Look at all the movies with a lone hero, doing what he knows is right and to hell with the system. From John McClane to Jack Reacher to Jason Bourne, they cut through the knot of expectation with their sword of conviction.

But society prizes conformity even more. The social death heralded by no likes on your latest Instagram post is for many people equivalent to the actual death of being banished from the tribe. We are encouraged to post and share, then wait for the dopamine hit from likes, claps, and comments. Since the hit is fleeting we do it again, a never-ending cycle to feed a hunger that can’t be sated.

Whether at high school or work, you know that conforming is generally easier. Nobody will ask you to justify sticking to the status quo. You’ll get along just fine without having to explain why you don’t watch that one show everyone’s talking about, and then why you don’t have a TV…

Media holds up examples of overachieving, internally validated heroes, and at the same time demands worship at the altar of extreme external validation. It’s no wonder we’re confused about what’s important.

The internally validated person is more in control. They weather the ups and downs of life better, not because they have fewer storms, but because they trust their ability to survive them.

The externally validated person, however, has a shaky sense of self-worth. All is fine until they don’t get the answer they expect and need. A negative or missing answer leads to feelings of shame, guilt, loneliness, anxiety and so on. Managing these feelings leads to dysfunctional behaviour, and their weak boundaries result in a spectrum of responses ranging from extreme people-pleasing to narcissism.

Of course, we don’t live in a vacuum and we write to connect. There’s nothing wrong with wanting praise and positive reactions from others sometimes. But if that’s your only way to feel good about yourself, then you need to work on gaining approval from the one person who truly matters.

That person is you.

All By Myself

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 12.59.43MonikaP via pixabay

Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.
Louise L. Hay, You Can Heal Your Life

Writing is a solitary business until we look for external acclaim, and then we feel exposed and vulnerable. But it’s possible to get what we need without being completely overwhelmed by forces we can’t control.

To escape the trap of external validation, you need to pay attention. Instead of simply reacting to events, start to notice your inner world and slowly refocus your response.

Notice your body

It’s easy to get caught up in sensations of stress: racing heart, dry mouth, nausea, shaky hands, and tight chest. Stress hormones coursing through your veins distract you from thinking clearly, instead flooding your lizard brain with three options; fight, flight or freeze. None of these are helpful in modern life.

Before you distract yourself from how you feel physically or try to make the sensations go away, take a deep breath, and another. You might feel threatened, but the cause isn’t an actual threat to your immediate survival. Slow down, allow your thinking brain to regain control.

Notice your achievements

Many of us go through life still looking for a pat on the head and a cookie from some parental figure. Part of growing up is realising that we have to be both parent and child, and award ourselves our own approval.

You probably have no difficulty beating yourself up over imagined shortcomings. What if you gave yourself praise too? Stick to those things within your control. Acknowledge that you hit your word count or finished a task. Let go of the external response to those tasks for now, because that’s not under your control.

Without being arrogant, give yourself credit for what you’ve done well. Write it down, give yourself a gold star.

Notice your emotions

Properly channeled emotion can inform your writing and give it power. Unregulated emotion, however, is the enemy of creativity.

Take a moment to recognise your feelings. Try not to judge by saying that feeling angry is bad, for example. Each emotion has its place, and it’s how you choose to respond that defines your experience of the world.

You might just feel ‘bad’. Sit with that feeling until it becomes more defined. Bad as in angry, lonely, hurt, anxious? They aren’t interchangeable, and neither are the solutions. Ask yourself questions until you’re certain of the feeling. Write about it in your journal.

Then ask yourself, “what do I need?” Treat yourself as gently as you would a child. You deserve no less. If your instinct is to run away from difficult emotions and numb them, sit with them longer. Work it out in your art, take a walk, pray, meditate, give yourself time.

The next step is to find a way to give yourself what you ask for, whether that is attention, positive affirmations, or simple recognition.

Notice what you give away

If you’re a caregiver by nature or training, you may be out of touch with your own emotions. You’ve learned to react to other people’s feelings and ignore yours. Notice what you offer people because that is very often what you need for yourself.

You offer to be a beta reader, give thoughtful comments, and write a nice review on every book, all the while waiting for others to do the same for your story. You’re friendly to that person hovering on the margins of the writing group because you hope someone will give you acceptance in return.

You’re generous with your time and knowledge, and you swallow the disappointment of finding that people take without giving back. Recovering from this feels a lot like selfishness. But remember the airline safety briefing?

Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.

In fact caring for yourself first allows you to offer more service without becoming exhausted. The more you have, the more you can give others. You don’t become selfish: you simply put yourself on equal footing with others.

Getting What You Give Yourself

mountain-adventure_PexelsPexels

When anyone starts out to do something creative – especially if it seems a little unusual – they seek approval, often from those least inclined to give it. But a creative life cannot be sustained by approval, any more than it can be destroyed by criticism – you learn this as you go on.
Will Self

You write and you want to get better, so you seek feedback and hope for a positive response to your writing. That’s a proper route to improvement but should form only a part of your validation process.

When you grow used to the idea and practice of self-approval, a strange thing happens. As you become more comfortable in your own skin, others start to give what you once yearned for. You’re less needy and less inclined to fish for compliments. When you get one, you can accept it gracefully because it aligns with your internal map. And if you don’t get one, that’s okay too.

Family members can be the worst for refusing to give up their idea of you as a child, or a beginner, or something else. A person with self-approval accepts that and goes on their way. Maybe your mother doesn’t think art is a suitable pursuit for you. Maybe your friend thinks writing is not for people like you.

When you are internally validated, you accept their views without letting them derail you.  It can feel strange to receive something you dreamed of yet truly not need it for your peace of mind. The freedom that comes from being independent of external opinion is intoxicating.

As long as you remain open-minded and avoid arrogance, you’ll find that your approval is the only thing you need to keep walking your path, sharing what only you can give to the world.

Go your own way.

blog, creative writing, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

How To Keep Writing When You Have No Fans Or Money For Your Work

stevepb via pixabay

Are you tired of giving away your best work and seeing no return?

You’ve taken the advice of experts who say they’ve cracked the code.

It’s simple. People don’t buy from strangers, so you need to build a following. Show up consistently with great content at no cost and earn the right to offer a paid product. Frame it as service, sharing your gifts with the world, or whatever else. The expert’s smiling profile picture beckons you. It can be done and they’re the living proof.

So you work and put your words out there, and you start to see results. You get more reads and votes. Then the excitement of those early gains fades. You’re still working, but not breaking through. You work harder to produce better stuff but it doesn’t translate into bigger returns.

You’re shouting into the void.

You begin to question yourself.

How far are you along the road to success?

How much more effort do you have to put in before it bears real fruit?

Are you on the edge of a breakthrough, or should you cut your losses?

You Don’t Know How To Think About Art

Most professions have a defined path. You study certain subjects at school, get a degree, then pass further qualifications. That’s how I became a doctor. Attaining defined milestones guaranteed success. I proved myself and the world recognised my achievement.

The artist’s way is different. Each creative person brings a unique set of skills and desires to their career and there is no one true way to achieve their goals. There is no map. There is no prescribed skill set or summative assessment. There is no definitive endpoint to say you’ve made it.

How can you continue to work under those conditions?

The issue is not lack of commitment. It’s a lack of certainty. The artist must commit to the work knowing that the outcome is uncertain. Progress in art is not measured by simple metrics.

Progress is hard to measure in any creative endeavor, I think. It’s often a matter of instinct, of feeling your way through what works and what doesn’t.
Kate DiCamillo

A professional attains a required standard and then uses their skills to make a difference. An artist makes a difference by practising their art and sharing it. There may be different notions of what makes good art, but the artist must create and share in any case.

Embracing the essential uncertainty of the path and committing to making a difference despite the uncertainty is the keystone of the artist’s mindset. Without that acceptance, you will falter and fail. Creating something new entails taking risks and leaving the known behind. You must be willing to sacrifice some security in exchange for novelty.

Even though the artist’s path is variable, undefined and badly lit, many people have walked their own version. I believe it’s possible to find a way through.

Do Just One Thing To Guarantee Failure

Source

You’ve already done so much, and you’re sick of it. A hundred posts, a hundred rejections, ten thousand hours, you’ve done it all.

But remember that everyone, no matter how successful now, started at zero. Zero followers, reads or votes. Zero book sales and earnings. If you are past zero on any measure then you are already succeeding at some level. Give yourself some credit, and keep going.

When you look at the successful people in your field, remember survivorship bias. Their results look better because the failures have left the field. You don’t know what combination of hard work, talent, and blind luck got them to their current position.

What you should know is that by continuing to show up, you increase your chances of being in that group of survivors. When others give in to their doubts, put your head down and keep going.

Success lies along an exponential curve. If you put in the work and practise deliberately, you’ll move along that curve until you reach the tipping point.

source

Two things predict arrival at the tipping point:

  1. Sufficient effort
  2. Sustained effort

You have to do the work and there is no shortcut. That means writing while implementing all the advice you’ve read, not just continuing to write the same way without implementing new techniques. That’s not real practice and doesn’t count toward the tipping point at all. Many writers don’t understand this. Act on advice so that you improve, and keep going.

If you stop before the tipping point, the rock rolls back down the hill. You’ll be crushed by the process and much less likely to try again. Go on without stopping until it starts to feel easier, and then keep going.

Only failures quit.

Stop Chasing Unicorns

Comparison is the thief of joy.
Theodore Roosevelt

Every industry and creative endeavour has its rock stars. They are the titans whose success dwarfs all others. Each has such a massive audience that acclaim is almost guaranteed, whatever they produce.

You might notice that their later output isn’t actually stellar quality. No matter. They’re at the far end of the curve, and now receive high rewards for less effort. Their situation is the reverse of yours.

None of that matters to you.

They struggled in the beginning and stayed the course to make it. And the environment in which they succeeded is not like yours, because time has passed and everything changes. Their past success has nothing to do with your future success and does not prevent you from seeking it.

Stop reading them and indulging in self-flagellation or angry rants about their content. This is the embodiment of drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It hurts you and only you.

Compare yourself only to past you. Are you moving in the right direction? Don’t chase unicorns, chase your future.

Serve Your People Better

“I haven’t got an audience,” you say. But you’re here and I guess you have a few followers or readers. The number isn’t big enough for you yet, but it’s not zero.

So what are you doing for those people? Are you like those annoying corporations who woo new customers with all their best offers and leave their existing customers in the cold? You’re so focused on the people who don’t know you that you turned your back on those who do.

Some people are watching. Some people have shown interest and faith in your work. Think of them as individuals, which is what they are. What are their needs, fears, and dreams?

Then ask yourself how you can meet their needs, nurture their dreams, inform and support and entertain. You’re here to serve in some way, so dive deeper. Give your fans 100% of your effort and knowledge and insight.

Discover the problems your actual audience has right now, and offer solutions.

An Inconvenient Truth

Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: TNG

When you’re used to putting in the work and seeing direct results, this is a particularly hard pill to swallow. The action ⇢ result switch appears to be broken because you acted but nothing happened.

This is true — but only in the short term. If you continue and keep faith in the process, you’ll find that what you’re seeing is not failure, but delayed success. Keep going.

Time For A Reality Check

I know you want to give up because I want to stop too. The things I want seem too far away, and my efforts are too small to make a difference. I’m tired.

At this point, you need to remind yourself of your effectiveness. When you feel useless, it bleeds out into a generalised despair. But you’re not a total failure. You’ve succeeded at many things already both large and small. You’ve survived life so far.

I had a professional mentor once who I found almost impossible to work with. I needed the six-month placement to complete my training. Most of my days were spent just surviving because you can tolerate any job for six months, right?

I barely made it.

Almost nothing of what he tried to teach me remains, except this. He advised me to keep a compliments file. Since it was inevitable that someone would complain about my work, and I would feel bad about myself, the compliments file provided a reality check.

You feel like you’re useless and everybody hates you. But other people enjoy and are grateful for your work. Print out those comments and emails. Keep them in an actual file that you can see and feel. Person A felt your words helped them. Person B found your advice useful. Person C loved your way with words.

Recall your life successes, whether it’s a diploma awarded or a joke well told. Balance your negative with all the positive you can muster. Go find your nice comment, print it out so it’s tangible, and look at it to remind yourself you’ve won before, and you can win again.

You Can Conquer The Swamp of Suck On Your Path To Greatness

Source

You’ll always have good and bad days. Know yourself and your triggers to navigate your downswings more easily. When you feel better again, think about how you got there and what you need to avoid or mitigate the trigger.

Cherish positive comments and hoard them for encouragement in difficult times.

Every win is a treasure. Track them, acknowledge them, be grateful for them.

Celebrate when you reach a milestone. Don’t just shrug it off and look at the next goal. Attach a treat to each milestone because the top of the mountain is a long way off. Even those who conquer Everest make camp along the way.

List your goals and write a reward next to each one. The only rules are

  • the reward must be within your power to give and
  • the reward must make you smile.

Do it now.

Your Engine Is Inside The Car

We quickly adjust to new situations, whether it’s more money, a bigger car, or the next thousand followers. These things lose their ability to motivate us and we say familiarity breeds contempt.

Extrinsic motivators like metrics and fame work for a while to pull you along. But if you don’t have them yet — and even when you do — you need intrinsic motivation. This is your engine. The small voice that won’t be silenced, that says after all this struggle you are still gonna write anyway and be damned because not writing is even worse than writing without immediate reward.

It is the combination of reasonable talent and the ability to keep going in the face of defeat that leads to success.
Martin Seligman

So go forward, and write anyway. What else are you going to do? Take what you have, and keep going. I’ll see you there.

 


Have a comment or question? Drop it below and start the conversation.

 

blog, creativity, garden, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

How A Small Win Paves The Way To Big Success

 

tulip-yellow_zoosnow
zoosnow via pixabay

There comes a point in every long project where you’re too far from the beginning to stop and too far from the end to go on.

You have a plan. You work to execute your plan and somehow you’re still no closer to that distant goal you set. You’re tired and more than that, you’re discouraged. Is it all going to be worth it in the end? You’re not sure any more.

Finishing a novel, hitting a target weight, or remodelling a home are examples of long term endeavours that are definitely worthwhile. Yet many of us run out of steam, part-way to victory.

I found myself in this position with my writing goals. Ideas ran dry, motivation deserted me, and facing the blank page morphed from exciting possibility to anxious dread.

I needed something different.

 

Think Different

By knowing the large you know the small; and from the shallow you reach the deep.
Miyamoto Musashi,
The Book of Five Rings

It might seem at first sight that the simplest tasks are very different from complex ones. But even making a sandwich involves weighing alternatives, assessing and acquiring materials, and execution of linked processes. The difference is that success is practically assured and most importantly, within easy reach.

Large and small share the same DNA.

So turn away from your big project and do something small, trivial even. It must be easy to complete and yield a tangible result. By completing a task with a finished product, you reinforce feelings of competence. A small win becomes the building block for a bigger effort and a bigger win.

This isn’t procrastination. Procrastination is unfocused avoidance. This is deliberate. This is trimming the rudder, a small action that points you more directly at the goal. The process of achieving a minor win makes the large win more likely by boosting your confidence.

The Future Looks Bright

How does this work in practice? Here are two examples from gardening and writing.

When we moved to our current home we acquired a large grassed space at the back. I wanted a garden. But even planning the garden, let alone executing all the changes needed, was overwhelming. And we had no money and limited time.

So instead I planted flower bulbs, five or ten at a time. This small job fitted between childcare and working and cost little. It was a microcosm of the larger space in planning, preparation, feeding, and planting.

Long form works often grind to a halt, perhaps more so if you’re a pantser like me. I’ve written about ways to get moving again if you’re truly exhausted, but sometimes you just need a little boost.

At this point with my novel, I’d write something else. Song lyrics and poetry, haiku if I wanted a really quick win. A short story for my writing group which ended up in our anthology. Some of these pieces have never been shared, but that isn’t the point. The point is to recalibrate, compress the task of writing into a smaller space and to reach the end.

Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 18.34.14

So go and write your haiku. Plant some bulbs. Sweep the yard.
Find your win.

When you taste a drop of victory, you’ll believe the whole bottle is within your grasp.


Have a comment or question? Drop it below, start a conversation.

audio, blog, writing process

Jericho Writers – helping to get you published

books carpet girl hands
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

listen to this review here:

This review is about Jericho Writers, a UK based writers’ website offering services and advice to get you published. I was lucky to be given a year’s subscription, but I’ve used their services previously when they were known as The Writers’ Workshop.

Helping to get you published

It was set up in 2004 by Harry Bingham, a successful crime author. Initially offering editorial reviews, the range for members now includes a wide range of videos and masterclasses covering all aspects of writing and publishing. They will give free advice on your stuck manuscript or query letter.

If you’re interested in self-publishing, they have that covered too, with masterclasses dedicated to independent authors.

Queries: asked and answered

I first watched the video on how to write a query, then decided to test the free query letter service. The reply came back within 48 hours. Stephanie gave useful suggestions which improved my letter enormously. I’m now using AgentMatch to find suitable UK agents. This searchable database is easy to use and focused on the questions I really want to ask.

Finding the right agents to submit to is crucial, and knowing if they are keen to build their list or fully committed is a key point. AgentMatch saves time looking at multiple websites. Finding an agent would definitely repay the cost of membership.

Jericho Writers counts many published authors among its users.

Connecting in person

Opportunities to meet other writers as well as editors and agents come with the annual Festival of Writing weekend in York, and How To Get Published, a one day event in London. I attended the latter a few years ago. While I was nervous to go to a writers’ event alone, the day was a great boost to my confidence. I talked to varied writers, listened to talks by authors such as Emma Darwin, and had the chance to talk to an editor about my then fledgling novel.

After that experience, I invested in an Editorial Report. It was the first time I’d had objective feedback, and the critique wasn’t always easy to accept. But it was a necessary step to making my story the best it could be. I didn’t realise then just how many revisions lay ahead… but that’s another story.

Every word counts

Editorial services form a staple of Jericho Writers’ offering. Manuscript assessment, copy editing and agent submission pack review are all on offer. If you have a children’s picture book, a screenplay or script you can access specialist advice here.

And if you want to learn, their online courses cover a broad range of subjects.

Like most memberships, Jericho Writers offers the chance to be a part of a community where you can share experiences online. Members receive a discount on paid courses and events. You can also sign up at no cost to receive regular emails, and get a free guide to being published.

Worth a look

The website is attractive and easy to navigate. If you just want to have a look, the free resources are really useful. If you decide to join, you can choose from monthly or annual memberships. I’ve already gained from my membership, and hope to find success with the support of Jericho Writers.

Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 11.34.50


Have a comment? Leave it below.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

If You Want To Be A Better Writer, Stop Writing

sometimes more writing isn’t the answer

Pascal van de Vendel on Unsplash

You’re a writer. You gave yourself permission, put your bum in the seat, and started cranking out words. They’re not perfect yet but that’s okay because you read advice articles that tell you how to do it better. You’re on your way.

Then you stumble. No matter how much advice you read and try to apply, the words don’t get any better. You’ve tried it all, and when you read your piece back you cringe. It’s dull, it’s bad, and it’s all yours.

Impostor syndrome sneaks up behind you like a cheap horror movie monster. It breathes down your neck. “I knew it. You’ve been found out, and not even the best advice can save you now. You’re no good. And you never will be.”

You stop trying.

Writing is too hard and you’re just not good enough. It’s enough to drive you to drink. Or back to Facebook and Netflix.

Invisible Growth — What You Don’t Understand About Practice

When something isn’t working, it’s tempting to give up. But you need to think about the way growth happens.

I used to plant sunflower seeds every spring with my young children. They were so excited, pushing seeds into the earth and imagining sunflowers higher than their heads. They looked at the picture on the packet, and they wanted all the flowers right now.

But the seed needed time to absorb water, develop roots, and grow a stem. On the surface, nothing was happening. The kids got impatient because progress was less than they expected. Under the surface, growth was already proceeding unseen. One day the shoot popped up, apparently overnight.

Then it grew really fast.

Source Evolution Partners

This type of progress in students as described by Thomas P Seager, PhD fits with my own experiences in the garden or the classroom.

Some students (black line) show linear growth at a steady rate. Others (green line) take instruction with little apparent effect until one day it clicks, and they take off. Soon they leave the others behind, despite being slower to start.

The move to higher levels of skill is often preceded by a stage in which nothing much appears to be happening. In fact a number of sub-skills are developing. When those skills reach critical mass they combine to produce a leap forward, followed by accelerated development.

In the early days of building a skill, a following, or a plant, progress seems slow. Patience and persistence are essential.

That means you must have faith and keep going. But although creativity is endless, it needs to be replenished.

Sometimes the best way to keep going is to stop.

Just Don’t Do It

You’ve read many articles about establishing a writing habit. You might know that Stephen King writes 2000 words every single day. All the advice says sit and write daily.

I suggest you do the exact opposite. Step away from the keyboard.

Just like any other human, a writer is the sum of many parts. The healthiest writers get out of their rooms and out of their heads regularly, and those experiences enlarge their characters and inform their writing. The more they see and hear of people, and the more things they do, the bigger their repertoire of subjects, characters, and situations to write about.

If you’ve been pushing harder but not seeing results, it’s time to change your approach. Staring at the blank screen for hours isn’t working. Rewriting the same paragraph isn’t working.

You need to move on and concentrate on another part of your skill set. Writing is more than butt in chair, just as soccer is more than kicking a ball. Stop writing and you’ll write better.

Three types of not-writing can help you reach the visible growth stage faster.

Get Physical

Mens sana in corpore sano
A sound mind in a healthy body
Juvenal

MatanVizel via pixabay

The brain weighs about 2% of body mass but needs 20% of energy intake to function well. In addition, we can concentrate fully for around 90–120 minutes. After that, we need a break to maintain focus.

You need to build two types of break into your writing routine.

One is a short break after ninety minutes. Get up, stretch, move around. Look into the distance to rest your eye muscles which have been working hard to focus on the screen. Take five slow deep breaths, allowing your belly to relax. Your brain needs extra oxygen.

Drink water

Research has shown that thirst is a poor predictor of dehydration and that dehydration reduces performance. Consider setting an alarm to remind you to drink more water.

Move your body

The second type of break is regular exercise. The type of exercise doesn’t matter; what’s important is that you engage regularly, which is more likely if you enjoy it. Some activities have a social element built in, which is very good if you sit alone all day to write.

Sitting for extended periods is known to increase your risks of premature death. That alone should motivate you to get moving. Walking, running, gym work, and yoga are all beneficial. Vigorous gardening and housework are alternatives.

Get enough sleep

Insomnia is a problem for many of us that tends to increase with age. However, finding and keeping good sleep habits is essential to mental and physical health. If you have problems start your search for help here or here.

Simple measures like regular sleep and wake times, keeping your bedroom dark and the bed only for rest or sex, and writing a to-do list for the next day can all help. Cut back on the nightcap because although alcohol might help you nod off, it then causes broken sleep.

My one best tip, gleaned from personal experience and professional practice as a family physician is this;

if you wake in the night, never check the time.

Your brain immediately starts working, calculating the time you’ve been awake, the time left before the alarm goes, and so on. Turn the clock away. Do not look at your phone. Slow deep breaths can help.

It’s natural to wake during the night and it will happen more often as the years go by, so have realistic expectations. Learning to go back to sleep is the skill you need.

Whatever your health status, you can improve fitness levels and give your brain what it needs to function more effectively.

Only Connect

Staying mentally fit and well needs to be a priority. It’s certain that you will have to navigate personal or professional difficulties at some time, while continuing to meet your obligations. It’s all too easy to withdraw from people, but if you write you already spend a lot of time with your own thoughts. Balance that with positive contact.

Humans are social creatures. We all need different amounts of interaction to feel our best, but looking at the same walls every day can drag you down, especially if you live where winters are long and dark. Figure out how much social interaction you need to be energised, not depleted. Then make sure you schedule time to get it.

Combine social contact with exercise by going to the gym or taking a class. Dog walkers know that pets can be a great icebreaker.

Stay in contact with friends and family. Avoid being hijacked by Facebook and Twitter by setting a time limit on checking updates.

Sit in a cafe and listen to people talking for clues on dialogue and people’s current concerns. You might hear a character or a problem for your next piece.

Join a writers’ group and interact with people who understand the struggle. Even difficult interactions can be a source of material for your writing.

Writers are often introverts who find being in groups more or less difficult. Online connections can be as real and nurturing as real-life ones, if not more so. Don’t let extroverts mock you for not going out all the time.

Part Of The Fabric

BrainyQuote

Maybe you’re a religious person. In that case, honouring your faith will be key to your wellbeing. Even if you’re not religiousfeeding your spirit is essential to wholeness. Finding meaning, a reason to go on with life, is a matter of realising that you are part of something larger than yourself.

There’s more than one way to tap into a sense of awe and wonder that enlarges your sense of being. Prayer works for some, while contemplating the natural world or spending time with a child or pet is preferred by others. Quieting the endless chatter in your mind can be achieved by gardening or stargazing or knitting.

Concentration on a single thing is the essence of meditation. It doesn’t have to mean chanting and impossible poses. Find the thing that absorbs your attention to the exclusion of external stimulus. Do that regularly.

Feeding your spirit might come from watching the ocean, singing along at a concert, or volunteering. It can come from seeing art or listening to music, or sending a supportive message to someone who’s struggling.

Don’t underestimate the value of laughter.

We smile and laugh much less as we grow up, and who can blame us? Adult life is tough. Share a joke with your server or your partner. Watch a comedy show before bed rather than depressing news. Humour is essentially linking familiar things in an unexpected way. It’s one of the most creative activities around and it’s calorie free, so indulge.

Connecting with people has an element of looking outward and giving rather than receiving. Altruism makes us happier by focusing attention outside our selves while making a positive contribution. Even though each one of us is a tiny part of the fabric of life, we can still make a difference.

And as writers, isn’t connection and making a difference all we want?

Burn Bright, Don’t Burn Out

Nobody can be ‘on’ all the time. Balancing work, rest, and recreation is the key to a healthy life for everyone. Sometimes before we can push forward we need to stop and catch our breath a moment.

Solutions often bubble to the surface after a period of letting problems percolate unseen. While you’re occupied in another activity, your subconscious is busy figuring out the questions you’ve been stuck on.

Your body will benefit from the improved physical health that comes from being strong, well rested and well hydrated. A healthy brain is more flexible and resilient, able to think faster and process the many different things it sees and feels. And creativity is about making new connections.

Creativity is just connecting things.

Steve Jobs

Now you have more material and a better machine to work with. Come back to your screen refreshed, and get growing.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

Free resources to power your writing

express yourself for less

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

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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paclomartinezclavel via pixabay

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