Monthly Archives: March 2015

How To Become a Successful Writer

how to become a successful writer

How many people out there dream of becoming successful writers? How many of those people actually achieve that dream? And what separates one group from the other?

There are many elements to becoming a successful writer. And talent, as Stephen King notably commented, “is cheaper than table salt”. That’s because writing isn’t just an art, it’s also a business, and there are practical sides to the craft that can’t be ignored if one is to become successful at it.

Get Away From TV and the Internet

Television has been proven by science to deaden the brain’s activities. Which is the opposite of what you want when you’re creating something. Not only that, but it sucks up hours of your time that you can’t get back. Stephen King recommends blowing it up. Or you could just unplug it.

Same goes with the internet. The time, energy and brain activity that it sucks is just as insidious as the television, if not more so. Avoid it. Many a professional writer have gone so far as to either disconnect it completely or use two different computers: one for surfing the Web and one for writing. Eliminating these productivity suckers will free up light-years of time that you can now use for writing.

Be Able To See Things Through (To the Bitter End)

Now that you’ve got your time management under control by abolishing TV and internet, you can work on your writing. But, if after day two of writing you find yourself bored, stuck, desperate or suicidal (which any writer will assure you is completely normal), you have two choices: plow ahead or give up. Writing is hard. It’s very hard. Many a menacing phrase have been written by writers describing exactly how hard it is. Take this lovely nugget from Anne Lamott: “My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.”

Marathon runners talk about hitting the wall – when all of the sudden their muscles seize up and feel like each leg weighs a hundred pounds of solid concrete. Writing can feel like that. And there’s nothing to be done except for drag those 200 pounds of legs across the finish line. That’s what makes the difference between someone who’s successful and someone who’s given up because it got too hard.

Get Familiar With Your Craft

If you’re a writer, chances are you’re also a reader. The two usually go together. And in fact, some of the best advice that almost any writer will give you is that in order to write, you must also read. A lot. Read other writers. Study them. Find comfort, passion and inspiration in their words. Read good writing, read bad writing too. Bad writing can show you where the holes are so you can avoid falling into them. It can show you what awkward phrasing, obvious plot twists and one-dimensional characters look like.

If you don’t already have a circle of writer friends, join a writer’s group, virtual or face-to-face. Take a writing course. Get the opinion of other writers. Read other people’s work-in-progress. Give and get advice. Become versed on how to talk about writing, how to receive feedback and how to make meaningful changes in your work. The more investment you make in your writing life, the richer your return.

Have Courage

A successful writer is also one who is courageous. Imagine how much courage it took for Elizabeth Gilbert to bare her soul and talk about her messy divorce and subsequent depression in her autobiography Eat Pray Love. Would the book have been so wildly successful if she had glossed over her personal demons and instead just focused on the wonderful pasta in Rome? Writing takes an incredible amount of courage in order to overcome the voice not only of the internal critic, but the fear of the external ones.

What if they don’t like it? What if they think I’m stupid, sick, perverted, pathetic? If every writer listened to that voice, there would be exactly zero books published in this world. A successful writer is brave enough to confront those voices and tell them to shut up. They get busy with creating and expressing themselves as freely as they can and don’t give themselves time to dwell on fears and doubts.

Publishing and Self-Publishing

Better add patience to stamina and courage for qualities that make a successful writer. The publishing world can be brutal and the haul from “The End” to hitting the bookstores can be a long path. It can take years and piles of rejection letters before someone decides your book is worth publishing. These days, the publishing world is going through a revolution thanks to the popularity of online reading. Many writers are taking publishing into their own hands. Self-publishing is a respectable and sometimes even more profitable way of going about publishing your work. An interesting article by Forbes Magazine contributor Brett Arends tells the tale from both sides of the publishing coin.

Define Success

As your writing career develops, at some point you’ll face the question: what does it mean to become a successful writer? Maybe you want to write a best-seller. Maybe you just want to be published by anyone, anywhere. Maybe you want to be able to quit your day job and live off of your writing. Maybe you want to win accolades and literary prizes and the approval of your peers. In the end, success is really self-defined.

For more writerly advice, here’s a short-list of great books about writing:

On Writing by Stephen King
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

Keep writing, keep dreaming, and best of luck in whatever goal you’ve set for your writing life.

Feeling Frustrated And Out Of Ideas? 5 Tips To Keep Writing

how to keep writing

Every writer has writer’s block now and then. Some writers pass through seemingly interminable stretches of it. Writing is like surfing: some days you catch the waves, other days you miss them. Some days there are no waves at all, other days you can ride them all the way to shore. The point is that you have to still show up every day with your board. You never know which days you’re going to catch the waves and which days you’re going to miss them. That’s the beauty of it. You have to show up to find out.

Instead of giving up and packing in, try these 5 tips that will help you keep writing:

Be Bold

Sometimes (often) writers stifle their own creativity because they fear criticism or failure or that nobody else will “get it”. Penning yourself in is no way to keep yourself motivated. Spend some time digging up and mapping out some of the most outrageous ideas you’ve ever come up with. Look at Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated, with huge stretches of the book written in the broken English accent of a Ukrainian guide. Genius. Or Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” about an angel fallen to earth whose bodily functions and lice are anything but heavenly.

Let it loose. Swing from the rafters. There’s the saying, “Dance as if no one was watching.” Well, write as if no one was reading. Be as bold, offensive, weird, daring, perverted and crazy as you can be. See what comes out once you’ve let the subconscious off the chain. Remember this advice from Albert Einstein: “For an idea that does not first seem insane, there is no hope.”

Get Out Of the House

Sometimes, sitting around staring out your window until you come up with an idea is just the thing you need to do. Other times, it’s best to head outside a bit and see what the rest of the world is up to. Head to a coffee shop, bar or bookstore. Go to a museum. Sit in the park. Eavesdrop on people’s conversations. Take public transportation. Observe people. Take a taxi. Talk to the taxi driver.

Make it an exercise when you’re receptive to outside stimulation and you’re an observer in the midst of the action. Bring a notebook or laptop and write down the things that strike you. It could be an interesting conversation you overheard. Or sensory stimulation such as crunching leaves, the biting cold air, the smell of roses in bloom. Choose a person and observe them physically. The way they’re dressed, the way they move, their age. Try to imagine who they are based on what you see. Use these experiences to prompt an idea.

Mold Your Environment To Induce Creativity

Though sojourns to the outside world can help spark lagging creativity, most writing is done in the confines of your home. So dedicate some time for carving a creative nook of your own in your home. Whether you live alone or with twenty roommates, whether you’re single or married with children, finding a space to call your own, no matter how humble, is the least you can do for yourself as a writer.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s post-Eat, Pray, Love writing took place in her attic where she collected eclectic things such as a knight’s armor, and had a window overlooking a garden for inspiration. Jane Austen wrote on what has got to be one of the world’s tiniest desks. Mark Twain took breaks from writing by playing pool on his private pool table. Nigella Lawson’s wall-wall bookshelves house her personal library of thousands of books – all within arm’s reach for research and inspiration. Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw and E.B. White were partial to windows overlooking greenery.

Make a space that’s all yours. If you’re the type who likes to decorate and embellish things, fill it with inspiring pieces of art, handwritten poems pasted to the walls, books that you love. If you need blank space and peace and quiet, go the Zen minimalist way and un-clutter space for you to sit and fill the emptiness with your ideas.

Sign Up For Reinforcement

Make sure your ideas don’t dry up by giving yourself a constant injection of creativity. Get on the mailing list for interesting blogs, podcasts and websites to keep your mind stimulated. Sometimes you just can’t pull the weight of endless creativity all on your own. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out and seeing what other brilliant minds are sharing with the world. Hopefully it will jog something in you that you weren’t able to access on your own.

Write Down a Lot of Ideas

Don’t sit and agonize over the perfect idea. Don’t wait for the thunderbolt. Sometimes it doesn’t come. Sometimes, you need to make it rain. Try any of these exercises:

  • Write down 50 ideas for stories or articles. They don’t have to be perfect or brilliant. Just write them down. You’re already being creative by just thinking about them. Choose the one you like best and use the momentum to build on it.
  • Freewrite. Do a freewriting session when you set a timer for 20 minutes and write down everything that comes to mind without stopping, erasing or spell-checking. See what came out of it. You can go another step further and choose your favorite thought from your first freewriting session and use it to start another one. This is called looping. You can do it ad infinitum.
  • Make a spider diagram. Write your main idea in the center of a piece of paper and then write ideas that spin off. You can connect related ideas with a line and start expanding beyond the original ideas, continuing to connect related ones with a line, like a spider’s web. Having a visual map of your ideas can help you organize your thoughts enough to start writing.

7 Tricks To Make You a Faster Writer

how to become a faster writer

In case there were any doubts, we live in the age of instant gratification. Everyone wants everything right now. There are hundreds of blogs out there on time management with tips on being more productive, on squeezing more out of your day. So, it’s only natural that certain things notorious for taking a long time, such as writing, can be sped up, too.

This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, learning to become a faster writer means learning tricks to overcome writer’s block (oh, that pesky thing) and expressing yourself more efficiently. Whether you write blog posts for a living, or write novels or are working on your master’s thesis, learning to be a faster writer is a great skill to hone.

Here are some tips on how to write faster:

Do Your Research First

One of the things that will hamper your writing speed is trying to write while researching. Jumping between your text document and your research will lead to a lot of stops and starts in the writing process. It will make you to go off track and lose your momentum. Your writing will not only be slower, but will likely reflect this disjointed method. Instead, do your research first. While researching, you’re already beginning to assimilate your main points in your head. You can take a few notes while you’re researching, if necessary. If it’s a longer piece, notes will be helpful for sure. If you’re writing an article, you can write down the subheading ideas. By the time you’re done with your research, you should have a good idea of what you want to say and you can start writing.

Freewrite

Freewriting is when you write without stopping for a determined period of time. You can write whatever comes to mind, just don’t stop. This form of writing, especially if your research is fresh in your brain, can lead to fast and productive writing process. During freewriting, you don’t edit, pause, use the backspace or spell-check. Just get the ideas down. Afterwards, you can go back and clean up your ideas, use the spell-check and do your editing. But the important thing is to give yourself the chance to get the words out without being hampered by constant self-editing.

Stay Away from the Internet

Since you’re probably writing on a computer, it can be so tempting to start clicking around on dangerous sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Gmail. Don’t do it. A few innocent minutes of scrolling can turn into an hour or more of procrastination. Don’t cheat by using your phone or iPad to check either (I speak from experience). Think of it this way: if a runner is training to run a faster 400m race, he won’t get faster if he strolls off the track and starts chatting with his friends around the water fountain. Stick to the track and train. That’s the only way to get faster.

Set a Timer

Maybe you’re the type of person who responds to pressure. If so, give yourself a challenge by setting a timer and seeing if you can finish your article or chapter before it goes off. As the timer starts to run out, you may feel a rush of adrenaline kick in and suddenly the ideas start to click and your fingers start to fly. Even if you don’t finish in the time you set aside, you managed to get some words down and that’s better than you were doing before the exercise.

Setting a timer can also be a great way to focus on writing. Make a rule that while the timer is running, the only thing you can do is write. Even if you’re staring at a blank document for a good portion of the time, your mind is focused on the topic you’re writing about. It may not seem like it, but a lot of writing is actually just that – allowing the space to stare at a blank page and wait for the ideas to form. Without that space, the ideas will get lost in the distractions. The timer is a good boundary-setter for those who have problems setting limits on their own.

Use a Different Word Processor

For some writers, the standard MS Word doesn’t provide the flexibility they need to be efficient. With all the new thought organizers and word processing programs out there designed to give you the power to restructure your documents at will, why not try one? A little bit of reorganization may be what you need in order to become more efficient. Try Scrivener or Evernote. These programs can be especially helpful to novelists and those working on a master’s thesis or PhD.

Don’t Be a Perfectionist

If you want to write faster, you may need to loosen up a little. What I mean by that is that you may need to learn to let go of your idea of the perfect essay (or novel or thesis) and just write the essay you’re able to write with the skills you have right now. Some writers hem themselves in with perfectionism. Giving yourself the freedom to be imperfect will give you the courage to express yourself more freely and completely. And this means you’ll also write faster.

Handwrite

Want to be a faster writer? Stop writing on a computer and start handwriting. First, there’s no internet in your journal, so you won’t be tempted by that distraction. Second, there’s no backspace or spell-check, so you won’t spend your time erasing your thoughts or correcting your spelling. Most writers who handwrite find that they write more deliberately and thoughtfully. There are no typos. And hand-writing rarely leads to crossing out entire sentences or paragraphs the way that typing does. You may find that not only will your speed increase, but the quality of your writing will too. Give it a try.

Hope these tips get you writing faster. Happy writing!

For Those Writing Their First Novel

how to write a first novel

Wow! Is this really the year you’re going to sit down and finally write your first novel?
You’re all geared up, ready to rock ‘n roll, fingers poised over the keyboard waiting to channel your creative muse. There’s just one wee problem… how to actually transfer the best-seller in your head into a completed manuscript.

If this is your first attempt at novel writing, knowing how to turn your dream into reality can seem a daunting task. Well, fear not intrepid novelist. All you really need are a few fundamental steps to use as guideposts to keep motivation up, and moving in the right direction.

And this post is going to give you those steps. They’ll help to break down such an ambitious project so you’ll always know what your next step is going to be. But, be warned… once you’ve read this post, you’ll never be able to procrastinate with quite the same level of comfort. There will be no more excuses, so if you’re not really committed, maybe you should check your email. Or water the plants, or re-organize your desk again… Still here? Wonderful. Let’s begin.

Step 1 – Own Your Story

Sure, you know what your story’s about because it’s been rolling around in your head for years, but now it’s time to commit it to paper. Not the 1,000 page version, not yet. No, to make a strong start you need a condensed version that will encapsulate the core idea of your story in one sentence. That’s right, one sentence.

This is the essence of your story, its fundamental matter. And it’s around this central idea that all aspects of your novel will build upon – all the plot twists, character quirks, settings and moods will grow from this one sentence. Think of it as the ‘big bang’ of your novel – a point of singularity that contains every story element in potential form.

Keep it short, and make it as succinct and clear as possible – absolutely no frills at this point. If you’re stuck, read the “one-line blurbs on the New York Times bestseller list” for inspiration.

Step 2 – Own Your Writing Goals

This is your novel, so you get to set the rules. But, there’s a few questions you’ll want to ask to establish a clear plan for how and when you’re actually going to write. Once you’ve worked out the answers, put your steps into a calendar and stick to it. Here’s a few sample questions to consider:

  • How long will my novel be? What’s the final word count?
  • How many words can I write in a day? (check out this Lifehack post on calculating a daily word count).
  • Do I need ‘solitude’ to write? If so, when’s the best time to write without distraction?
  • What tools and resource materials will I need? Will I use a software program to organize my notes, and if so, which one?
  • Will I need an accountability buddy to stay on track?
  • Should I join a writers’ support group? And how much time will that take?
  • How am I going to deal with resistance when it comes up? (you know it will, might as well be prepared).

The clearer your goals are at the outset, the more likely you’ll be able to deal with obstacles in an efficient manner when they arise.

Step 3 – Brush Up on Fiction Basics

This being your first novel, you’ll want to spend some time in reacquainting yourself with the elements that go into creating compelling fiction: components such as voice, theme, character development, setting and dialogue. Read your favorite authors, or those successful in your genre, and study how they address and employ the basics of sound novel writing.

Step 4 – Sketch a Plot Outline

Now that you have your one sentence summation, it’s time to decide on the structure of your novel. Will your story follow the premises of a three act plot, or will it be more narrative in nature? This may change as you go along, but having a pre-established structure will guide your focus and keep inspiration strong.

Begin by jotting down some notes on post-its and arranging them on blank sheets of paper to describe the key events/crisis points for your main characters. Re-arrange as needed as your design takes shape, then move them through the story’s timeline to get an idea of how the plot will develop. This post by Victory Crayne has more details on sketching a plot outline.

Step 5 – Character Development and Writing Scenes

As an aspiring author, it’s helpful to have a good understanding of what motivates your characters before you begin writing scenes. One way to do this is to sit down and interview them. Determine their age, occupation, history etc. Next, determine their “core traits and values”. Create their personality ‘issues’ – what are their blind spots, fears, ambitions, strengths and weaknesses?

Once you’ve established a persona for your characters, you can begin the process of writing scenes. From your design notes, pick a character and event. Choose their particular attitude for this event and give him or her a problem, then write about how they would handle it. Include the basics of good story telling such as setting, emotional tone, dialogue etc to create well-rounded, enticing scenes.

Step 6 – Problem Solving

You’ll have days when resistance rears its ugly head. When you find that the words have dried up, the infamous ‘writers’ block’, just write anything that comes to mind. Yes, it will be drivel destined only for the garbage can, but at least you’ll be writing – which is infinitely better than giving into the inner critic’s formless fears and doubts.

And there you have it – the basics to successfully write your first novel. Now that you know what to do, there’s not really any excuse for not doing it, is there? So off you go, get to work, stay the course and celebrate when you’re finished.