You found an idea and arranged the words to express that idea before putting them out in the world.
You spent time and effort making sure you’re adding something new to the conversation.
You’ve chosen to share it with the world, but it’s still yours.
Except that the moment you pressed publish, you lost control.
No Strings Attached
We’re trained to be polite when giving and receiving gifts. We learn to navigate the minefield according to unwritten rules, and if someone fails to play the game right we call foul.
When you send your work into the world, you expect it to be received with polite thanks at least, and effusive gratitude at best. But you fear bad things will happen and you’ll be powerless to do anything about it.
Your work, that gift for the reader that you laboured over, gets ignored, thrown to the ground and trampled on, or taken apart until it is shredded beyond recognition. You’re angry, disappointed, and afraid to risk trying again.
You must try again and change your attitude to giving.
We’re all adults and we know that many gifts don’t hit the spot. It’s on the recipient to decide what they do with the gift, and as long as you gave in good faith that’s where your influence ends.
If you’re giving what someone might need or use, give it freely. Don’t be that person who gives money but dictates what to buy with it. Don’t be that person who gets huffy when you don’t bring out their gift every time they visit.
All you can do is put enough time and effort into making sure you’ve created your best possible work.
After that, it’s time to forget expectations and cut the strings.
Lightly Not Tightly
A busy road separates my house from the main residential area. My son, then aged nine, wanted to cross the road and cycle to his friend’s house alone. I was worried; a girl had been killed on that road shortly after we moved in. I was acutely aware of all the potential hazards. At the same time, he was growing up and wanting more independence.
I had several options at that point:
Keep him at home
Let him go but only with a parent
Let him go alone
Many factors played into this decision but eventually, he would have to face the world without me beside him. My job as a parent was to teach him how.
Two of the hardest parenting lessons to learn are how and when to let go.
Stories are like children. You’re responsible for keeping them safe while they develop and giving them the tools to survive. But after that, they’re on their own.
Your story belonged to you. Now you must find a way to set it free with a light heart, rather than holding on too tight. Then, like your child leaving the nest, you give your words and creativity room to grow and fulfil their purpose.
Random Acts of Connection
I know that books seem like the ultimate thing that’s made by one person, but that’s not true. Every reading of a book is a collaboration between the reader and the writer who are making the story up together. John Green
We write with a specific idea in mind, but that idea can spark many different connections in different minds.
Once I wrote a fictional argument between two gay men about authenticity. I received a long comment in return from a woman, married with children, who identified so strongly with one character that she was in tears reading it.
This was not the reaction I intended. But it told me that for one person at least the issues resonated, so strongly that she took the time to reply.
We write to connect. We can’t predict whether we connect or in what way, because each reader is unique. Each reader views the story through a unique lens shaped by personality and experience.
A story is different for everybody who reads it and the writer only owns the first version. The reader filters and changes your words, consciously or not. Their response has more to say about them and where they find themselves at that moment than the story itself.
The glory of a good tale is that it’s limitless & fluid; a good tale belongs to each reader in its own particular way. Stephen King
So consider your story a child of your imagination. Make it as strong as you can. When it’s ready, send it into the world. Your story is outside your control now, and that’s as it should be.
Every child must walk its own path. Every story must make its own way.
Whether people react to your words with delight, anger, scorn, or tears, you’ve done your job. You made a connection. The outcome is not your responsibility as long as the story comes from a place of love, and a desire to share and receive something positive.
That also means that every story has the ability to change someone in ways you can’t predict. Who knows what comfort you can give to a person who can finally say, “That’s me, that’s how I feel.” If you can do that, why hesitate?
That’s the true worth of a story – the possibility of learning, wonder, and growth for writer and reader. Accept this responsibility and use your powers for good.
Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning. Gloria Steinem
As December ends and we leave the holiday season behind, our thoughts naturally turn to the new year. Like the two headed Roman god Janus, patron of doorways and transitions, we look forward and back at the same time.
It can be a time of regret for missed opportunities, unwanted challenges faced, and unfulfilled dreams.
It’s also a time to look forward with hope, taking the lessons we’ve learned forward to do better in the new year. Here are 19 uncommon goals to improve your writing. Let’s do the WRITE thing in 2019.
Write More, Write Better
1. Write a manifesto
Companies write inspiring mission statements to express their aims in a few words. Write out your personal manifesto. What do you believe in when it comes to life and your creative work? What principles guide you? Condense the ideas into a single sentence that captures the essence of your vision. Use it in your bio on Medium, Twitter and your blog.
2. Set a monthly word count and track your output
What gets measured, gets done.
Daily word counts work well for some people but with busy lives sometimes a weekly or monthly target is better. This allows you flexibility to vary the count according to life events and the unexpected.
You might favour a fancy bullet journal, but a cheap desk diary works too if you like analogue records. If a spreadsheet works better for you, use that. The format doesn’t matter, as long as you complete it.
Set aside fifteen minutes each Sunday to record your word count and plan your week. If you’re falling behind, revise your goals. Schedule it in your diary and show up.
3. Finish that project — create a timeline
Unfinished projects derail you in three ways.
You waste time and energy feeling guilty and anxious.
You deprive yourself of the satisfaction of completion.
You deprive the world because it never sees your work.
You know that thing you started but never finished? Its time has come.
Whether it’s a novel or a blog post, pull up the document now. Figure out the minimum needed to complete it. Start writing. Keep going until it’s done. Don’t think, write.
Don’t stop, even if all you write is “blah blah blah and then they were abducted by aliens, The End.”
When you finish, breathe a sigh of relief and hit delete. You never have to look at it again. And you never have to let it drain your mental energy again, unless it is to edit and publish — if you want to.
4. Build or update your website
Everyone who hopes to send work into the world should have their own blog. It’s a place to build your portfolio, to connect with readers and clients, and to express yourself. Having all your work in one place is unwise, unless you own the platform.
If the platform vanishes, your work will vanish with it. By all means publish on Medium or elsewhere, but also have your own site where you can start to build an email list.
Make a free website this year with WordPress or Blogger.
If you have a blog already, refresh it with a new theme. Rewrite your About pages. Ensure you’re collecting emails for your subscriber list.
Read Something Interesting
It is well to read everything of something, and something of everything. Joseph Brodsky
5. Read a craft book
There’s a number of classic books on the craft of writing. You probably have one unread on the shelf right now. Here’s a list to get you started.
Pick one craft book and read it. Make notes on the new things you learned. Commit to using at least two of them in your next month of writing. It’s not enough to read and understand, you must also apply and assess results.
6. Read one book in a less favoured genre
You know what you like, right? And you avoid what you don’t. But you can learn new skills from different genres. Those skills are transferable to any genre.
Mystery shows how to write foreshadowing and twists. Horror shows how to write suspense. Fantasy shows how to write worldbuilding. And romance shows how to write dialogue.
Pick a book in a genre you never usually choose. Then read like a writer. You might need to read through and then go back to dissect how the writer achieved their aims.
If you could improve in the areas where you are weakest, imagine how much better your writing would be.
You can experiment with something new, or see what the competition is like in your chosen niche. It might give you ideas.
If you like a book, leave a review. That’s the best way to support a fellow writer, apart from buying their books.
8. Choose new authors on Medium and elsewhere
We live in an age of algorithms and filtered results tailored to our preferences. You can end up in an echo chamber where everyone holds the same views and no dissenting voices appear. That’s not good for discourse or for empathising with other people.
Instead of clicking on the same few names in your Medium email, try searching the tags you’re interested in. Pick a new author and have a look at their posts. Leave an intelligent comment and vote when you like a piece. You might find a new favourite.
Improve Your Skills
9. Take a course
The knowledge you need is out there. Commit to completing a course this year. Paid options include Udemy and CreativeLive. The latter offers some free to view content.
Free content is available as a signup bonus for some blogs like Jericho Writers as well as formal paid courses.
If you learn better with feedback or with demonstration, taking a course might suit you more than reading a book. Take your professional development seriously.
10. Retreat from the world
Writing retreats vary from simple to luxurious, local to exotic, with price tags to match. The opportunity to focus on writing can jumpstart your project or your mindset.
If you can commit the time, you’re halfway there. A retreat could consist of eight dedicated hours on Saturday with the kids sent to a relative or friend and the phone switched off. Or it could be a Caribbean cruise with well-known writers and cocktails.
Award yourself some time to write.
11. Join a Twitter pitch event
Each year, a number of writers find their agent through Twitter. Events are organised regularly by genre, using hashtags for authors to describe their books. Agents read the pitches and request pages, and some authors get signed.
Condensing your book into a 140 or 280 character pitch requires discipline and economy. The same skills are needed for writing blurbs and synopses. If you can’t condense it, maybe your story isn’t ready for an agent. Find tips and advice on winning twitter pitch events here.
12. Make an ebook for download
Ebooks are often used as incentives to sign up for an email list, and it’s good to offer your new readers something valuable in return for their time.
Include your best blog posts, or new stories not published elsewhere. Having your own mini book is another signal that you take yourself seriously as an author.
Use free resources from Canva or LucidPress to make professional looking booklets with ease. Then link it to your sign-up form using a mail program like Mailchimp or Convertkit.
There’s an undeniable sense of achievement in saying “I made that.”
Talk and Connect
13. Leave a meaningful review or comment
Be the change you want to see in the world.
You want people to read and engage with your words. Commit to doing this for another author at least once a week. Leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Reviews are hard to get and vital to a book’s success.
Write a comment that goes beyond ‘good job’ and shows how the words impacted you. Claps and reads and votes are marvellous, but a thoughtful comment is gold. And you can start a conversation that becomes a real relationship, without having to make small talk or even get dressed.
14. Join a group — genre or other
Writing is solitary and people in real life don’t get it. Join a group of people who do. Facebook has hundreds of groups organised by genre, gender, location, and philosophy of writing.
Writing conferences happen throughout the year and all over the world. Most offer workshops, sometimes with well-known authors, and the opportunity to meet agents and others in the publishing world. You can practice your pitch and chat with other writers. Self-publishing is also covered.
Cost will determine your choices here. Weekend events sometimes allow day visitors, which reduces costs of accommodation and catering.
16. Attend an author event
Attend a book signing or reading that’s local to you. Ask Google, or your local bookshop or library might have a calendar of events.
Have a sensible question for the author, but don’t monopolise the conversation or make it all about your book.
Like number 13, this is about good karma and being supportive, as well as learning by observation. Make good connections, because one day it could be your turn.
Entering a contest sets a deadline, which encourages you to finish your piece. You might have to write to a prompt or theme. And if you win, it will take your self-confidence to the next level as well as giving you bragging rights for your bio — and hopefully some cash too.
18. Milestone rewards for writing goals
Celebrate your successes and remind yourself how far you’ve come. Set some goals with a time limit, and write them out. You’re going to attach a reward to each milestone such as number of blog posts, finishing a project, hitting your monthly word count or whatever.
This reward will be something meaningful to you. Getting your 100th follower might mean more than hitting a word count, so let the rewards show that.
Big milestones deserve big celebrations. You got an agent? Finished your 120K epic saga? Wrote for 100 days without a break? Take a bow, choose a prize.
This is when your writing group gives another benefit — having people to celebrate with you. Don’t look for credit where you know it won’t be given, that’s just self-sabotage. Be happy for yourself.
19. Publish a book
The joy of self-publishing is that it gives you total control. There is no gatekeeper. You can write and publish a book with your name on it this year — if you want.
Like many things in life, the most successful authors are not necessarily the most visible. There are independent authors making millions, others following a hybrid self and trad publishing path, and others just thrilled to hold their own book in their hands. It’s not all about money.
Collect your best blog posts and add 25% new material. Collect your short stories or poetry by theme. Polish up your novella.
If this seems like an impossible stretch target, remember everything that exists was once no more than a passing thought.
Think of yourself as a published author. Then act like a published author. Ignore the disparaging comment “self-pub isn’t real publishing.” It is real, and if you’re going to be the next Kindle millionaire you’d better get started.
Putting the 20 into 2019
Most of us have heard of the power of affirmations. And most of us don’t really believe that repeating positive phrases will change our reality.
But we’re mistaken.
Thinking things into being is what creatives do.
So I challenge you to take your wildest, most precious, most secret wish for your creative life. Write it down, for your eyes only, on real paper. Tell it like it’s already real; say I am… or I have…
Now choose a physical object to symbolise your wish.
It could be a talisman like a crystal or a lucky pen. Maybe you’ll roll up your wish on a tiny scrap of paper and hide it in a locket.
Hold your wish in your hand once a week. Say it out loud.
Dream first, because that’s where everything real begins.
Then get working to make it come true.
When you do the things in the present that you can see, you are shaping the future that you are yet to see. Idowu Koyenikan
Good luck with your writing goals in the coming year.
Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right. Oprah Winfrey
As the year ends you can’t escape the notion of a new start and the pressure to commit to resolutions. Maybe you don’t call them resolutions and prefer to talk about setting goals. Or perhaps your new year is marked by assertions like I will lose weight or I will write more.
There’s a gap between here, where you are and there, where you want to be. But the size of the gap is terrifying and the amount of work needed to bridge it is too much to think about.
Unfortunately we have a strong tendency to go into denial when faced with unpalatable facts. You don’t want to know exactly how bad it is, whether that’s your weight or your productivity. That knowledge alone might stop you in your tracks.
You just hope it can be better. So you make vague, non-specific statements of intent. You’ll break them anyway, like 99% of people do.
But do you want to be just like everyone else? If you want to be in the 1% who come out ahead, don’t set your goals yet.
You can tell yourself you’re too creative, too right-brained, bad at math, afraid of spreadsheets, or whatever. You still need to track numbers, and the most important is the number you begin at.
Losing weight is a very different prospect when you’re 100% over your ideal weight rather than 15%. The target and methods might be similar, but the application and trajectory must vary to be sure of success.
If you already write 1000 words every day, you need a different plan than if you’re struggling to write consistently at all. I will write more in the coming year is a single goal, but everyone will take their own path to it.
Before you can start to consider where you are going, you must know where you stand. How else can you map out a route?
Do The Math
I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. Bill Gates
I resolved to start writing regularly a few years ago. My challenges included work that was physically and emotionally draining, family issues, bereavement, raising teenagers, and more. Starting from ground zero made the initial goal simple; I will write a daily journal. No other numbers or targets.
I’m still writing the journal, although not daily. Other targets have replaced it. I went from starting a blog, to posting there occasionally, then weekly. At the end of each year I look back at what I did, and that process is much easier when I have a record.
What works for me may not work for you. I am no bullet journal person and I dislike spreadsheets. But I accept the need for data before making decisions. I want to know how far I travelled, what worked and where I fell short.
To do that I need various types of information, captured in a way that’s simple and easy to understand. In 2017 I used parallel paper and digital records whereas 2018 was paper only.
My 2019 experiment is a structured year planner plus a monthly summary in a spreadsheet. I have bigger goals which demand more detail, so I’ll get over my spreadsheet aversion and do what’s needed.
Get the right information and open your eyes to the truth of your current position before you figure out how to improve.
Choose Your Track
Items you can track include
Words written – day/week/month
Writing sessions done
Chapters/blog posts completed
And more, such as views, read ratios, books you read…
Decide what is most important to you. As your writing career matures, you’ll know which metrics are worth following. If you’re new to tracking, stick to one or two numbers until you’re confident, rather than overwhelming yourself and then giving up.
Although many people swear by daily word count, a weekly or monthly target gives more flexibility. I prefer to count finished works, whether that’s a blog post or a short story. My daily writing habit is already in place and underpins my ability to finish the work.
The simplest way to record a tracked item is a note on the diary page. The easiest way to see it is to add a colour coded spot. Now you can flick through the pages and see where you missed or where you hit a streak.
Hitting a streak has power – think of the satisfaction of knowing you’ve written fifty days in a row, or posted to your blog thirty-two weeks in a row. The longer your streak, the more motivated you are to continue it.
Stay In Your Lane
The best tracking system is the one you’ll actually use. It’s exciting to buy a fancy planner with coloured pens and stickers, but if you won’t use them they’re useless. Plus you feel like a failure when you see them lying neglected on a shelf.
If you’re comfortable with spreadsheets, they can be organised to give detailed information in as many areas as you want. Many paid and free versions are available such as Excel and Google Docs. A free download for writers is offered by Alan Petersen and he also has a video showing how to use it.
Know yourself and plan around your strengths. If your system doesn’t suit, try another. If your system works keep using it, no matter how low tech it might seem to your accountant spouse or super organised friend.
Keep it really simple, and keep going.
The End Of The Road Is The Beginning
Before setting your writing goals for the new year, look back at last year’s numbers. If you didn’t track your progress, don’t worry. Go back and record what you did each month, whether that’s words written or posts published or something else. Get a feel for which numbers are meaningful to you.
Now, armed with some numbers, think about what you want to achieve this year.
To write 80K words by December 31st, you need to average 220 words per day or 1538 words per week. How does that compare to 2018? If you’re already exceeding this number, great. You have space for more projects, all other things being equal.
If you only managed 1000 words per month, you’ll need to plan how to fill the gap, or modify your target.
If you know you’ll be moving house, having a baby, or changing jobs, then your targets must reflect that. Life may throw these at you – and more – unexpectedly. Your writing doesn’t have to be derailed by these challenges if you have a method to take stock and adjust your trajectory.
Writing goals should be SMART but also flexible, because life happens. Events can alter the definition of achievable or realistic, so don’t be afraid to revisit your goals as time passes, not just at the end of the year.
Doing What Counts
Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted. William Bruce Cameron
Especially if you love data and numbers, it’s easy to be sucked into analysis and forget that you have to do a thing before you can count it. Counting is not working.
The spreadsheet or planner won’t tell you whether you felt inspired or miserable. It can’t tell you that your words resonated with someone. It certainly can’t say whether the 100K words you wrote last year mean more than the 20K you wrote the year before.
These questions are important. They speak to a sense of achievement that isn’t quantifiable, yet determines whether you feel satisfied with your work.
Your journal is the soft counterpart to hard numbers. It’s the place where you can explore the uncounted but vital feelings that drive your life and work, and get to know yourself a little better.
Track your progress and your goals but keep it in proportion.
Remember numbers are visible and concrete, but not the whole story. Like an iceberg, the greater part of writing lies unseen below the surface, beyond the reach of spreadsheets.
Do you really need the elusive 1% of inspiration, or is 99% perspiration enough to get the job done?
Inspiration is one of those ideas people use to separate artists from the rest of the population. Popular culture shows an artist writing or playing or painting like a person possessed, forgetting to eat or wash in the process. They’re overwhelmed by the spirit of creation and must capture it before they lose it.
Perhaps as a reaction to that, many no-nonsense creators simply dismiss it. Show up, do your work, and you don’t need inspiration. Once you start, you’ll find whatever you need along the way. Prolific and successful writers such as Stephen King and Nora Roberts have no time for inspiration, dismissing it as an excuse for failure to produce.
You might share one or other of these views. You may have been inspired and found the experience both thrilling and elusive to repeat, like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Or you get on with hitting your daily word count and find that’s more than enough.
But is it possible that both viewpoints are true?
Seeking The Muse
All the effort in the world won’t matter if you’re not inspired. Chuck Palahniuk, Diary
The Nine Muses of Ancient Greece were goddesses who symbolised arts and sciences such as poetry, singing, astronomy, drama, and so on.
Artists of the time called on their muse to bring forth their best work.
The idea of the muse as inspiration persisted into the last century, often personified as a woman who inspired a male artist. Sometimes an artist in her own right, she embodied an artistic concept for the man whose work often featured her as a model. Dali, Picasso, Rossetti, and Rodin all drew on their significant relationship with a woman, while Francis Bacon’s muse was male.
The muse reflected the artist’s vision while also challenging him. Her presence as model or sounding board encouraged him to push the boundaries, infusing his pieces with more energy and no doubt encouraging him when the results were viewed with confusion or disdain. Every movement that we now accept in art began with artists who dared to go further, risking the scorn of their contemporaries.
The muse shines her light on a new path and whispers in the artist’s ear, “That is your way forward. Be brave.”
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working. Pablo Picasso
Creativity and inspiration are not the same things. They can exist separately or together.We’re all creative, but we’re not always inspired. You can make a cake or write a story by gathering your materials and starting. The result will be perfectly serviceable if you know what you’re doing.
But if you have inspiration, you can create something much more. Inspiration turns good into great, and great into sublime.
Think about the last time you were struck by an idea. It seemed to come from nowhere. Perhaps you were in the shower or thinking about something else entirely. Perhaps you were half-way through your piece and suddenly you went off in a different direction, as though a billiard ball collided with you.
It’s impossible to explain. You might say your characters told you what they wanted, or that you had a hunch, or you shrug your shoulders and say it just felt right.
The Ancient Greeks would say your muse had whispered in your ear. Science says that it happened in your brain. Your brain is a collection of a trillion neurons and a quadrillion synapses, a self-regulating system capable of near-miraculous processing.
Put another way, you can make a fire with two sticks rubbed together and oxygen. Both are essential and together they are sufficient, with enough effort.
But add a spark and you shorten the process. The spark is neither necessary nor sufficient on its own. But allied to enough kindling and skill, your efforts can go into making a bigger, brighter flame.
Fire = kindling + oxygen + skill
Creation = spark of inspiration + kindling of ideas + skill
Now you need to make sure that inspiration can find you, ready and waiting.
The Power of Habit
Whether it’s a painter finding his way each morning to the easel, or a medical researcher returning daily to the laboratory, the routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more. Twyla Tharp
Every act of creation has process at its heart. Every marvellous work you admire is rooted in skills which are hard won and honed by repetition. So before you think about being inspired, you have to do the work of being able to do the work. Always.
If your spark drifts by and your eyes are closed, you’ll miss it. If you have no materials, or there is no oxygen, you won’t be able to use it. This is where a routine is your friend and constant practice is your teacher.
Forget about inspiration and work on your craft daily. You need to level up before you can take advantage of it. Put in the work to improve. Check your progress with whatever measure you like, just be sure that you’re doing better work, not just more of the same.
The rules of writing (painting, photography, or anything you like) can be tedious and boring to learn. Learn the rules anyway, so that when inspiration strikes you know which to break and which to follow. Put in the training miles so that when spark meets kindling, you’re ready.
Inspiration is there all the time. For everyone whose mind is not clouded over with thoughts whether they realize it or not. Agnes Martin
Just as a flame needs oxygen, inspiration thrives in open space. An open mind is unusually receptive to new patterns. You need to clear out the constant chatter of conscious thought. Meditation may be useful but it’s not absolutely necessary. Daydreaming, naming clouds, or watching a raindrop crawl down a window can all quiet the mind and allow new ideas to surface.
Some people get their breakthroughs while in the shower. It’s a time for most of us to let our brains idle. For others, free-writing nudges thinking into a less directed state, as in the morning pages of The Artist’s Way.
Some people move around. Walking, running, swimming or even sweeping a floor might work for you.
A Chance To Dream
You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. Jack London
A tired mind is a slow mind, barely able to cope with the familiar let alone come up with something new. Lack of sleep is so common these days that it’s seen as normal, but to be truly creative you need sufficient rest. The average is six to nine hours, so experiment and find your ideal. Work back from your rising time to find when you need to go to bed.
Find advice about establishing a good sleep habit here or here. It will lengthen your life and make it much more pleasant when awake.
The other reason to sleep more is to get enough REM sleep, the phase during which we dream. Often this phase occurs just before waking naturally, so if your alarm wakes you before you complete your sleep cycle you will miss out.
If you can remember your dreams, keep a notebook by the bed to write them down on waking. Sleep allows the conscious brain to rest and the subconscious to work without distraction. There’s some evidence this can result in more creative insights. Dream recall can be difficult to start but improves with practice.
If creativity is connecting things, make sure you have plenty of material to work from. You’ll have to sift through a lot of rocks to find that nugget of gold.
Get out from your routine and search out something new.
Read something outside your comfort zone, outside your genre. Read non-fiction, look at architecture or a photography magazine. Read a novel you think is trashy and one you think is classic. Re-read the books you loved when you were twelve, or twenty-one.
Visit a museum and spend thirty minutes with a single exhibit. Examine it from all angles. Think about the materials and techniques that made it. Imagine it in your sitting room. Take a picture for later. Print the picture and sleep with it under your pillow.
Talk to people properly, by which I mean ask them about themselves and listen to the answers. We all have a tale to tell and some of them are fascinating.
Visit an unfamiliar place. This could be a new town or part of your hometown where you never go. If you live in a city, take the tourist bus tour and learn something new. Look up at buildings, notice carvings and old facades. Sometimes all you need to do is raise your eyes to see much more.
A Marriage of Opposites
It’s a dull world without inspiration. And without perspiration and effort, nothing would be realised. We need both.
When you feel like you’re just plodding along and you’re missing something, seek inspiration.
Build your skillset, sharpen your tools, challenge your capabilities.
Be curious, give your brain space to spark new connections, and always be seeking out new materials to feed it.
If anyone can make this marriage of opposites work, it’s a creative person like you.
Go to it.
To depend entirely upon inspiration is as bad as waiting for a shipwreck to learn how to swim. To leave everything to natural spontaneity is as bad as to make everything the result of mechanical predetermination… perfection is the harmonious blending of the two. Francois Delsarte
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 uncertaintyis 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
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.
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.
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
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
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 needintrinsic 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mens sana in corpore sano A sound mind in a healthy body Juvenal
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.
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.
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
Maybe you’re a religious person. In that case, honouring your faith will be key to your wellbeing. Even if you’re not religious, feeding 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.
Now you have more material and a better machine to work with. Come back to your screen refreshed, and get growing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Reclaim Your Creativity
Get your creative spark back now. Claim your free copy of my ebook Unleash Your Creativity here.