Author Archives: Steve Aedy

How To Fight Writer’s Block and Win

how to fight writer'sblock

Writer’s block is an affliction that affects almost all writers at some point. I say “almost all” because I have to allow for some cyborgs from outer space posing as writers who never have writer’s block. For us humanoid writers, it just so happens that sometimes the words don’t flow. The ideas don’t come, panic sets in. And then paralysis.

Writer’s block can be debilitating and some writers can take a really long time to get back up on the horse after falling off. Ralph Ellison, whose novel Invisible Man made him not only an overnight literary genius but also a hero, is one of the most famous cases of writer’s block. Publishers and critics waited for decades for his second novel to come. It finally did, in 1999, published posthumously five years after his death.

Harper Lee’s story is much the same. After publishing To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960, she finally birthed her second novel this year in 2015. Some writers have prolific careers and then suddenly stop cold. Truman Capote’s last novel, In Cold Blood, was the one that made him most famous and, arguably, the one that ended his career. Sometimes, a work is so famous that the writer becomes intimidated by the task of trying to top it. And then, writing becomes not only difficult but impossible.

So, if these literary giants were defeated by writer’s block, what possible hope do the rest of us have? Well, it can be that you have even more hope than they did. Because chances are you haven’t reached your peak or written your masterpiece yet. That’s actually the good news. Let’s get you writing again, so that you have the chance to reach your top.

Can-Do Attitude

Jerrold Mundis has a great method for beginning writers. You can read his book or listen to his audio tapes which are sold on his site www.unblock.org.  Mundis’ method encourages first a healthy dose of self-esteem and a can-do attitude about writing. Silencing the inner critic and believing that you can write are the first steps to getting over writer’s block. He also warns writers not to focus on the end result, on book deals and movie contracts, but to concentrate on the writing itself, making the goals small and doable. Looking too much at the big picture will inhibit your ability to focus on the small tasks of putting one word after the other.

His recommended method is freewriting, with no editing or revising allowed during writing sessions. And he also champions the idea of quitting while you’re ahead, i.e. not going past time or word count goals for the day but saving whatever might have spilled over for your next session. Hemingway also recommended doing this. It makes you thirsty for your next writing session to see where that thought process you started will end up.

Don’t Fight It

College professor John Perry made waves recently with his book The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing. The genius of his advice lies in the same wisdom as those martial artists who use the enemy’s energy against them by not reacting. Don’t resist it. The more you resist, the worse it becomes and the harder it is to get over it. He urges people to make lists of tasks starting with the least important and building to the most important. Knocking the less important tasks off the list make you feel productive and builds your confidence so that by the time you get to the important one, you feel more prepared to take it on.

You can apply the same to writing. Instead of working on your book, for example, work on an essay or a journal entry or a poem. Build yourself up to the intimidating tasks by knocking off some writing assignments that hold less emotional weight for you.

Just Focus On the Work

Most writers are pretty good at inflicting terror on themselves. They get caught up in thoughts like “How will I be able to market this?” or “How will I be able to look my mother in the eye after publishing this book with sex scenes in it?” Don’t try to write someone else’s book. Don’t try to write a book that your mother would approve of. Don’t think about what publishers will say. Just write what’s inside of you. That’s the only concern you should have for a good long until you have something that’s developed enough to show to someone. Then let an agent or publisher tell you their thoughts.

If you get caught up in preemptive worries about the finished product, you may never get to that final stage. Shut those thoughts down and every time they come up, recognize them, breathe, and get back to writing. Remind yourself that this is your job, not worrying about other people’s opinions or the future criticisms of your work. Tape a note above your desk reminding you of this. Type it at the top of every page if you must until it sinks in. Your art is yours, your words are yours.

Get Comfortable With Routine

All of the professional writers I know follow some sort of routine. And there are scores of interviews with famous writers about their writing process that all go pretty much along the same lines: write every day. Some may, argued that writer’s block is more of an existential crisis than anything else. Like most artists, writers write because at some point they had a taste of the thunderbolt of inspiration and they wanted more of it.

Most days aren’t inspired days. So what do you do in the meantime? The only way to get on with writing when the inspiration isn’t there is to humbly accept the fact that writing, like being a chef, a plumber, a construction worker or a teacher, is work. You’ll have good days and bad days, but that you must show up to work. So, create your routine. Designate your working time, punch your time card and write.

2015 Summer Reading List: Don’t Miss These Books

2015 summer reading list

Is there any better time for a book lover than the summer? A body of water, a cool drink in your hand, and endless sunlight is the perfect backdrop for cracking the spine of a new book. Below is our Summer Reading list, a mixture of fact and fiction for all bookish tastes.

The romantic is sure to enjoy the latest novel by Susanna Kearsley, A Desperate Fortune, that offers two happily-ever-afters within its covers. Those looking for the chill of suspense on a hot day will enjoy Lori Roy’s tale of fate and families set in 1950’s Kentucky, Let Me Die In His Footsteps. And those looking for more emotional stories will find Scott Simon’s memoir about the loss of his mother, Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime, graceful and touching.

These stories and many more beg to be read this summer. So grab some sunscreen and a beach blanket because it’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy one of these engrossing tales.

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

The latest book from Susanna Kearsley features a dual timeline: the first following Sara Thomas, an amateur code-breaker in the present and the second, Mary Dundass, an exiled Jacobite living in 1732 France. In present day, Sara agrees to break the code of Mary’s journal. It is believed to simply be the diary of an average woman living in the 1700’s, but all is not as it appears. To start, the diary must not leave its home in a French chateau. Between jobs, Sara agrees to live in the home as she decodes the diary. As we follow both women on their journeys, romance and intrigue will blossom for both. A book of both delicious romance as well as adventure this tale will definitely keep the romantic in you very happy.

The Rocks by Peter Nichols

This novel, set on a posh resort island, holds a mystery. Once upon a time, a newly married couple was still on their honeymoon when something happened. Something so cataclysmic that the two managed to live on the same small island for sixty years and never exchange a single word between them. Now their own (unrelated) children find themselves star-crossed lovers and the web of their parents’ secrets lies in the way of their own happiness. This story delves backwards through the years, uncovering secrets and lies until finally the truth is revealed in all of its bittersweet and romantic glory.

The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl

This work of historical fiction takes the reader to the last years of book piracy and the forgotten world of the Bookaneers. The end of the nineteenth century was a time of loose copyright laws where it was incredibly easy to publish a book without an author’s consent. Society was full of hungry readers and quick-fingered thieves who stalked authors and print shops hoping to lay their fingers on the latest manuscripts. With an international law looming that will end the era of the Bookaneers, this book follows the last great steal of this literary era. Following two rival Bookaneers and a furiously writing Robert Louis Stevenson to the island of Samoa, readers will live the adventure, triumph, and failings of a dying breed of pirate.

Let Me Die In His Footsteps by Lori Roy

This book is for the lover of suspense. The author, Lori Roy, is a former Edgar Award winner and this time she’s weaving a tale of spellbinding suspense following a girl of fifteen going on sixteen. It’s 1952 and on the night Annie Holleran is exactly fifteen and a half she runs through her family’s lavender fields into forbidden territory. It has been generations since a Holleran entered Baines’s land and Annie does so to seek her fortune in a well. But when the dead body she spies in the well’s dark waters appears in the daylight, Annie’s world will be forever changed.

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Knoll set out to write a book where the lead character was a female Don Draper and in her debut novel Knoll achieves that goal. We follow Ani FaNelli, a woman living a perfect life. Her job is perfect, her friends are perfect, her glamorous wardrobe is perfect, and let’s not forget about her rich fiancé…he’s perfect too. Ani was a bullied child whose experience at the hands of her private school classmates sparked in her a desperate desire to reinvent herself. But there is more than a bad childhood buried in her past – no, there is another secret. One more painful and private that is threatening to rise to the surface and mar the perfection that is Ani FaNelli.

Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime by Scott Simon

A memoir of strength and beauty, this book is a tribute to a dying mother, her memorable life, and the bond between mother and son. In 2013 NPR Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon started tweeting from his mother’s hospital room, the tweets of a son dealing with his mother’s dying went viral. The 140 characters gained so much attention that when Simon’s mother finally passed, her death became national news. This memoir evolved from those tweets as well as Simon’s memories of his mother, a woman who lived a glamorous life in the era of Mad Men. This is an emotional read is sure to leave you fulfilled.

Let’s Write a Winning College Application Essay!

writing a college application essay

Why is it that most students freeze up when it comes to writing the college application essay? It’s an essay about a topic you know very well: yourself.

Many students think that in order to write a great essay, they have to be a straight-A student or a star athlete or have done volunteer work in a Nicaraguan orphanage over the summer. In fact, the beauty of the college application essay is that it’s not about what you’ve done – it’s about how well you’re able to write about yourself. Anyone can write a great essay if they focus on the right things.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing the best college application essay you can:

Brainstorm

The essay is a chance for the college application officers to get to know you better. Think about something that you wish to communicate about yourself. If you already know what you want to write about, great! If not, sit down and make a list of your personality traits, activities, strengths and passions. Talk to your friends, teachers, coaches or parents and ask them if they would add anything to the list. Sometimes an outside perspective can help you see things you weren’t aware of.

Identify your strengths

If you are a star athlete, straight-A student, class president, or some other form of superlative, then the essay will probably be made infinitely easier. But most people aren’t stars. You’ve got to work with the strengths you do possess. Maybe you’re not the best athlete at your school. Maybe you’re a middle ranking one. But, maybe you started out at the bottom of the pack and worked your way up. Instead of quitting, you now secure your position on the team and support the star athletes who couldn’t do it without you. Maybe you never missed a practice. Maybe you also have strong leadership skills or have a knack for boosting team morale and were voted player of the year. Those things are worth mentioning to a college application officer. Don’t think about generic ideas of strengths. You don’t have to be number one. You just have to recognize what’s great about you.

Tell them about your passions

What do you enjoy doing with your time? Are you an artist? An IT fanatic? Do you enjoy leadership positions and participate in the student body? Are you a musician? An actor? An environmentalist? Are you an introvert who sits quietly in the library during lunch and writes poetry? What’s your thing? If you have a calling, write about it. Describe how that activity makes you feel. Have you earned any accolades or awards, officially or unofficially for your talent? Include them.

Don’t be boring

Admissions counselors will love you if you write something creative and original. Do you have any idea how many essays they have to read each year? A lot of students are afraid to say something that the counselors won’t like and end up taking the safe route instead of daring to be different. Be creative, look at the question or subject from a different angle. Explore an uncommon point of view. Just don’t be boring!

Don’t be afraid of controversy

Don’t be afraid to tackle controversy in your essay. If there’s a specific issue that you feel strongly about, express it. Maybe you’re anti-war and feel that the past two presidential administrations spent too much time and energy fighting wars abroad. Maybe you’re pro-war and you feel that the nation’s military programs need to be expanded. Whatever your stance on the subject you choose, make sure you allow time to consider counterarguments and give examples of why you feel so strongly and how this particular issue affects you.

Don’t make a list

Don’t write a resume or make a list of your accomplishments. There should be plenty of space to list them on the rest of your application. The application essay should have a specific theme that you identify in the beginning and carry through to the end. Don’t try to talk about a bunch of different topics and experiences. It will sound muddled and it’s not the point of the essay. The point of the essay is for the college application officers to see how well you can express yourself and to get to know your personality, not just your test scores. They want to see the student behind the grades and numbers.

Write in your own voice

If you had some assistance from someone else, especially if it’s an adult, in crafting your essay, please make sure that the final outcome has your own voice. Admissions counselors will be able to tell if the essay was mainly written by a parent or if it reflects a student’s viewpoint. Remember, they don’t want a perfect paper. They want to get to know you better. And hiding behind the sophisticated language of adults isn’t going to allow them to accomplish that. By trying to craft the perfect essay, you will end up robbing the readers of the opportunity to find out who you are.

Ask for feedback

You may want to show your essay to a trusted teacher or your college counselor or a parent or your friend. Or all of the above. Getting someone else’s feedback may help you identify weaknesses in your essay that you could address before submitting it. But remember that the essay is yours and if you don’t agree with the advice, don’t take it.

How to self-edit

Read it through several times out loud. Reading out loud is a much more effective way to spot awkward phrasing and errors than reading to yourself. If you find yourself stumbling over your words, go back and edit. Keep editing and re-reading out loud until it comes out smoothly. Rigorously submit it to spelling, grammar and punctuation checks. If those things aren’t your strong suit, let someone else with better editing skills read it.

Good luck on your college applications!

Developing Your Writing Style

develop writing style

Sometimes, you can come across a piece of writing in a magazine or a book, and, without looking at the author’s name already know who wrote it. Who else but J.D. Salinger could write such agonizingly existential yet scorchingly judgmental phrases? There’s a reason why Gabriel Garcia Marquez is credited with inventing magical realism. Who but Elizabeth Gilbert makes you feel like you’re reading your best friend’s diary? Would anyone ever mistake Normal Mailer’s work for Toni Morrison’s?

You can pick these voices out from a crowd because they are from writers who have a distinct writing style.

But why does that matter? Why do I need a writing style?

Your writing style is your trademark. Whether you are a blogger, a content writer, an academic or a novelist, developing a style is an important step in your writing life. It not only helps you grow your brand, it also helps you write more and better. If your writing voice is already well-honed, it’s easier for you to jump into a new piece. You start to lose that fear of “how do I begin?” Your writing voice, once it’s developed, serves as your guide.

So, how exactly do you develop a writing style? Here are some tips:

Read a lot of other people’s work

Read a lot of the genre you want to write. Gather a collection of the top writers in that area and read their work. Don’t read for information or entertainment. Dissect their work to determine their style. A blogger who always includes interesting personal experiences that tie to his theme vs. a blogger that tends to quote a lot of stats and news stories. A horror fiction writer who goes right for the gore vs. a horror fiction writer who sets up a creepy psychological landscape. An academic writer who has a conversational tone vs. an academic writer who is more conservative and scholarly in tone.

Keep dissecting and notice more about the tone. Does one writer tend to be humorous while another tends to plummet into political apathy? What are key words and phrases they might tend to us? Are their sentences long and descriptive or short and informative?

Now read your own work

If you’ve already written some pieces, be it blog posts, essays or even books, go through some of your own writing with the same discerning eye. Pick out things you notice about your own style: key phrases, tone, sentence structure and length. Do you get to the point right away or do you take your time building a case? Do you tend to write long descriptive passages or are you focused on action and moving the story forward? What are the things you want to change? What are the things you want to develop more?

Write what you know

This is what most authors do anyway. Your surroundings are often your inspiration. Even fantasy and science fiction sometimes have characters and settings culled from the author’s real life. Writing what you know already takes some of the pressure off of having to imagine a unique story. Write an autobiographical piece about your family. What do you have to say about where you came from, how you grew up? Let loose and don’t hold back. Don’t think about how someone would feel if you wrote that about them. Say exactly what you think.

Having the courage to tell the truth is perhaps half the battle to developing your style. Have you ever read any of David Sedaris’ work? It teems with jaw-dropping anecdotes about his family. Totally no holds barred. Sometimes I cover my mouth in delight and then wonder, “How could he write that about his mother? No, how could he publish that about his mother?” That is his style: caustic humor and brutal honesty. Starting with writing about something familiar is a good way to develop your own writing style.

If you’re writing content, the same holds true. Don’t try to write content about technological gadgets when your background is in Italian Renaissance Art.Write what you know. A writer can write just as eloquently about technology as another writer writes about art. The trick is to be familiar with your subject.

Have the guts to be yourself

Writing takes a lot of courage. You are exposing your thoughts, opinions, fears, emotions and, sometimes, your soul to a group of strangers. Who may actually behave very cruelly in their criticism. In order to survive as a writer, you have to be able to get past your fear of judgement and failure and have the guts to express yourself. In your own way. Not in a way that you think someone would like. In the way that you like.

Like any other endeavor, be it becoming a star athlete, a world class opera singer or a celebrated painter, you must have courage. What if Jackson Pollack thought, “Oh no, I can’t develop this drip paint style. Nobody will like it. Nobody will understand it. I’d better just paint some landscapes.” Don’t be afraid to develop your voice. It’s the unique gift that only you can give.

Freewrite

Doing freewriting exercises can really help uncover your writing style. In freewriting you’re tapping into your brain’s subconscious and letting out anything that comes up. Without filters or worrying about spelling or grammar or if something even makes sense, you’re spilling out a raw form of your writing style. Do a lot of freewrite exercises over the course of a month and see if you can determine a common thread in them that you want to pick out and develop.

Find out who you are

Well, this may sound like a tall order, but when you’re developing a style, it really comes down to defining your vision of the world. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Are you a hedonist or a pragmatist? Are you a poet or a detective novelist? Writers often write because they feel they have something they want to share. What is it that you essentially want to share?

9 Obstacles To Writing a Blog and How To Overcome Them

how to write a blog

1. Writer’s Block

Step Away. Sometimes all you need is a break. Go for a walk, do the dishes, or craft for a bit. You’re looking for a physical activity that requires little mental concentration. This will give your mind a break and let it wander. Don’t be surprised if in the middle of vacuuming your living room an idea hits you. Just like anything else our minds need a reset button sometimes.

Get Stimulated. Talk to a friend, scan your favorite social media, or read a book. Many of our ideas for writing come from our everyday live – whether we consciously or unconsciously choose them. When you’re at a loss for what to write, interacting with fresh sources of information can help introduce new ideas to the creative parts of your brain.

Scene Change. While it’s important to have a designated space for your writing, during about of writer’s block that space can start to feel like a jail cell. Give yourself a mental refresher by moving somewhere new. Instead of your office try the kitchen or playroom. If you have the ability, try a coffee shop, public library, or park bench. Many public spaces – even those outside – have WiFi connections: take advantage of them!

2. Time

Write Every Day. This is a pretty standard rule for writers, but one that can feel overwhelming. Like any other craft, the more you do it, the better you become. However, sometimes this advice seems to imply that we need to produce mass amounts of work (500, 1,000, 2,500 words: hello NaNoWriMo!), but in reality all that you’re asking for is to write something each day – even if it’s only one sentence. The point is to make writing a habit rather than a special activity.

Multitasking. We think we can simultaneously write and check our email, Facebook, and online banking pages. Many of us sit down, intending to write, and end up multitasking our time away. Paid computer apps like Freedom, which stop you from surfing the internet and block social media sites, force you to concentrate. However, if you have tight pockets and willpower, a good rule of thumb is to only allow one window or tab open on your computer at a time.

3. Grammar

Outsource It. Apps like Grammarly will check your work as you write for correct spelling, grammar, and word choice. Bonus: the program also gives explanations as it corrects you, so you have a better understanding of why the suggestion is being made.

Read It. But don’t read it from start to finish. Your brain will skip over all of the mistakes because you created the piece; you’re too familiar with it. For short or very important pieces try reading the text backward (from the end to the beginning); mistakes will become glaringly obvious. For longer pieces try reading them out loud. Again, you’ll hear mistakes you would have missed reading it silently to yourself.

4. Fresh Ideas

Take a page out of someone else’s book. Take a look at other books or blogs you enjoy reading and look for trends. Do you like how they summarize a piece? Do you like the hook they use for their start? Is there a topic that interests you as well? Use what you like as a starting point and make it your own.

Try a new meme. Look for weekly or monthly memes that you can participate in. You can find these via other blogs you read or a Google search for your subject matter and ‘memes’ (i.e. “book blog memes”). Bonus: participating and commenting via the meme will build a larger network.

5. Lack of confidence

You learn something new every day. Always remember that writing, like all arts, involves a constant state of learning. Even in the best writers there is room for improvement. Be consistent in your writing and it will get better with time.

Join a group. Find a writers group online where you can get feedback from others. You’ll find that not only will they offer constructive criticism, but they’ll also offer compliments on what you’re already doing well!

6. No Traction

If a tree falls alone in the forest, does it make a sound? Answer: Who knows? No one is around to hear it. The same is true for your blog. Blogs are a very social space to write in. If you want more people to view and comment on your blog, you need to take the time to view and comment on other people’s blogs as well.

Sharing is Caring. Supporting smaller memes, posting for giveaways, and hyperlinking out to other blogs when appropriate are all great ways to not only support other bloggers, but to put you on their radar to get support in return. Remember, you can also do this via the social media channels attached to your blog too!

7. Word Choice

Go Old School. It’s called a thesaurus. It’s the book that’s kind of like a dictionary but instead of giving you a definition, it gives you a list of other words that have similar and opposite meanings to the word you are looking up. Thankfully sites like Thesaurus.com make using it simple. ProTip: highlighting a word in a Google Doc or Word document and opening the shortcut menu will give you the option for synonyms – it’s a quick and easy way to get a new word.

Rule of Thumb. Never use the same descriptive word twice in a single sentence or within two sentences of its first (i.e. John liked playing on the playground. Playing on the swings was his favorite activity. Changed to: John liked playing on the playground. Swinging on the swings was his favorite activity).

8. Negative Comments

“Bye Felicia”. Sometimes haters are just going to hate. If you receive comments that are purely negative delete them and move on. Remember that you have many readers who enjoy what you write, even if they aren’t so active at commenting.

The Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have done to you. This means you don’t get to engage the commenter. Don’t have an argument with them on the comment boards, don’t email them nasty emails, and don’t go to their blog and trash them there. It will just make the situation worse

Be Clear. Is the comment mean? Or does it offer constructive criticism? Remember, even if unsolicited, a critique of your work will only help you grow as a writer.

9. Idea A.D.D.

A Plethora of Goodness . The opposite of writer’s block and yet just as paralyzing. When we have too many good ideas it can be difficult to pick, concentrate on, or follow through with just one. Try opening up multiple folders, documents, or posts and writing a description of a different idea in each space. Then pick one and devote a set amount of time to it (say 30 minutes) – when time is up you can move on to another idea or stick with the one you chose if your creativity is on point. Bonus: the other documents you started can be great problem solvers when you’re struck with writer’s Block.

10 Essay Writing Tips For College Students

college essay writing tips

Freshman college students often feel overwhelmed by the new set of expectations on their essay writing. What earned them praise in high school may no longer meet the criteria of their college professors. Though the learning curve may be steep, students often find that by their junior and senior years, their essay writing skills have become finely honed.

Here are some tips for college students on how to write excellent essays:

Organize your ideas

Some students need to write outlines in order to organize their thoughts. Outlines are kind of like training wheels that are the teacher’s way of helping you learn how to organize an argument. If you don’t need an outline anymore, you may want to just write down some key ideas and sentences to get you started.

Write your essay out of order

Many students find it difficult to write the introduction first. They know what their argument is going to be and how they’re going to defend it, but they don’t know how to introduce those ideas to the reader just yet. So, skip the introduction and get straight to the body paragraphs. You’ll find that after working through your arguments and supporting your thesis, you’ll have an easier time writing the introduction.

Introductions

Okay, so now it’s time to actually write the introduction. Whether you’ve opted to write it first, second or last, there are good introductions and there are not so good introductions.

Some of them to avoid:

  • General introductions. Introductions like “Human history shows that man has always been obsessed with technology.”
  • Dictionary definitions. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “law” as “the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and may enforce by the imposition of penalties.” This is not only boring, but it’s stating the obvious. Everyone knows what “law” means. What’s different about your take on the law that will show us something we didn’t know before? That’s an interesting introduction.

Some introductions to adopt:

  • Ask a thought-provoking question. Something that will get your readers thinking about this subject and eager to read your arguments
  • Provide an interesting anecdote.  An anecdote can provide a great lead into your arguments by telling a compelling story.
  • Open with a strong quotation. Sometimes a quotation says it like nothing else. If you have that perfect quotation that will nail the essence of your essay, use it.

Conclusions

Conclusions can be just as tricky as introductions. You’ve done your research, you’ve presented your arguments, and…now what?

A good conclusion should achieve the following:

  • Leave your readers pondering the arguments you raised.
  • Make them feel they learned something useful.
  • Impress them with your knowledge of the topic.

One of the best ways to write a great conclusion is thinking about the next steps of the issue you’re arguing. If you’re arguing about legalizing gay marriage, for example, think about what are some of the next steps involved in this issue. What are the implications for the future?

How to research

Sometimes, a professor asks you to read a specific text and write a paper on it. In that case, you should read that text with the topic question in mind:

  • Take notes on sections that reflect the topic.
  • Use a highlighter to highlight sentences that will support your argument or serve as counterarguments.
  • Write down questions that could provide topics for further research.
  • Ask yourself what may be missing from the author’s argument? What other perspective might they have taken? Have you read other texts that provide complimentary arguments? What have other experts argued?

Avoid plagiarism

There are two kinds of plagiarism: blatant copying and simply rewording an argument. The first one is pretty straightforward and usually completely intentional: you’ve simply cut and pasted someone else’s text into your paper without giving credit. Depending on the frequency and degree to which it’s done, it can result in suspension, grade deflation or even expulsion.

The second type of plagiarism is trickier because sometimes students do this without even realizing it. You should do research and seek out the knowledge of experts in the subject. But you shouldn’t copy their argument and original ideas. The point of writing a paper is to practice coming up with your own argument based on the reading you’ve done.

Don’t over-quote

Okay, so you’ll avoid plagiarism by quoting your sources and giving them credit for it. And the occasional quote from an expert that clearly supports and illustrates your point is fine. But sometimes students rely too much on quoting others that they forget to develop and write their own paper. A couple of well-chosen quotes will show the professor that you did a good job with your research. But littering your paper with quotes will rob you of the chance to develop your own writing style and make it impossible for the professor to evaluate your ability to argue a topic.

Don’t write last-minute papers

Editing and rewriting can do worlds of good for your paper. It will help you work out the kinks in your argument, correct grammar issues, and leave your paper so polished it practically sparkles. But, editing also requires time. Not just for the editing itself but for you to have time away from your paper to let your thoughts settle, so you can look at it again with fresh eyes. Don’t leave your writing assignments to the last minute. Start on them as soon as possible so that you can leave yourself the time it takes to do an A+ editing job.

How to edit a paper

Here are some quick tips for your editing process:

  • Remove any sentences that use the passive voice.
  • Make sure you used the correct version of commonly confused words such as their vs. they’re, your vs. you’re, its vs. it’s.
  • Read each paragraph out loud and make corrections. You’ll be looking for grammar mistakes, awkward phrasing, holes in your argument, missing information to support your argument or miscellaneous information that could be left out.

Works Cited

A lot of students lose points because they haven’t learned how to format the Works Cited page. It’s best to learn it once and for all since you’ll be using it for every paper you write throughout college and beyond. Here’s a source that lays it out simply for you: http://writingcommons.org/process/format/formatting-styles/mla-formatting/608-formatting-the-works-cited-page-mla.

Writing Career: Unvarnished

writing career myths

One of my favorite lines about writing comes from the lips of the sleazy American entertainment lawyer in Bertolucci’s bohemian film Stealing Beauty. Upon meeting the daughter of a famous poet, the lawyer muses, “I think it would be great to just sit around all day and…express yourself.” Well, so do a lot of writers, but, as you’ll see, that’s not exactly what being a writer is all about.

Grand misconception #1: writing is an easy career

If you think that culling original, well-turned and beautiful phrases from the recesses of your imagination, mining the depths of your failed relationships, your childhood traumas, your life’s tragedies and triumphs while staring out the window on a dreary Tuesday is easy, try another career. Writing is hard. It’s so hard that writers go to great lengths to trick and train themselves into writing. They develop habits that they enslave themselves to in order to force themselves to carve out time in their day to write.

Most professional writers set a daily schedule and heed it meticulously. Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, Haruki Murakami all woke up at the same time every day and went through the same writing rituals every day, without fail. Many writers set quotas for themselves and don’t do anything else but write until their quota has been met: Norman Mailer, William Golding and Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 3,000 words a day, Stephen King writes 2,000 and Thomas Wolfe wrote 1,800. They practice extreme anti-procrastination methods in order to keep themselves writing. In order to meet a deadline for the delivery of his book The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo locked up his clothes to make sure he didn’t leave the house until he had finished his day’s quota.

Even fictionalized versions of writers tend to be tortured. Have you ever seen Michael Douglas in such a pathetic role as when he plays the writer and teacher Grady Tripp in the film Wonder Boys? As the pages of his manuscript pile up, but no closer to finishing his book, he clings to his habit of donning a beat-up old bath robe as part of his writing process.

Or, taking things to the extreme, what about Jack Nicholson’s psychopathic character Jack Torrance in The Shining who became the caretaker of an isolated hotel for the winter so he can have time to work on his writing. As time passes, the situation deteriorates until his wife discovers that for months he’s been typing the same creepy line over and over again, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. In the end he attempts to murder his wife and son with an axe. Just sayin’.

Grand Misconception #2: if I become a writer, I’ll have many friends and will be famous

What about book tours, giving book readings and book signings? Winning awards and prizes? Becoming the “voice of your generation”? Those moments come to few writers if they come at all. Many writers insist that in order to be successful, you have to derive your sense of success from the process itself. It can’t be because of recognition, fame or money. And if that’s what you’re looking for, find another profession. Also, writing is a mainly solitary career, with most of it spent in moments of well-defended isolation, rattling your brain for some coherent thoughts and then getting it on the page before you become interrupted by life’s distractions.

Grand Misconception #3: if I become a writer, I’ll be rich

Writing and job satisfaction don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. If it did, there wouldn’t be so many alcoholic, drug addicted, suicidal writers (see Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful TED speech Your Elusive Creative Genius). And part of that is because writing is an art, but, because we live in a world where artists must sell and commercialize their art in order to eat, it is also a profession. Many writers live with relatively unstable financial situations.

Unless you’ve written a best-seller that’s turned into a blockbuster movie like Stephen King, Dan Brown, John Grisham, J.K. Rowling or Elizabeth Gilbert, then it’s best you get prepared for a bit of a roller-coaster ride in terms of finances. If you manage to get a book contract, you’ll likely get an advance. That advance may be small or generous. Afterwards, you’ll get royalties from the sales, assuming it sells. And when that money begins to dwindle after the initial release, then you’re left wading in shallow water until your next book.

Depending on writing for money is a Catch-22. It’s what most writers dream of, quitting their day job and writing for a living. But, at the same time, it can lead to incredible financial instability that many writers struggle to manage. In fact, there are few published writers who only write books. Most writers have other gigs too, such as teaching writing workshops, freelance writing for magazines and journals or editing other people’s writing. Check out this link on writer’s earnings in the UK and the US to get an idea of the average writer’s salary.

Grand Misconception #4: if I become a writer, people will love my work

Many writers and artists in general are drawn to the creative arts because of their sensitivity. This is the irony of signing up for a career that depends on you exposing your deepest thoughts and feelings and offering it to the world. Many writers have heart-wrenching stories to tell about sending out their work for years and years before they ever got a “Yes.” Some of them save their rejection slips the way that some people save love letters from past relationships. If you can’t handle having your work rejected (and it will be rejected, no matter how good it is, because you won’t be everyone’s cup of tea), then you’ll have a very difficult time being successful as a writer.

Most published writers have had to summon brutal amounts of self-confidence and courage in order to keep knocking on doors to see if someone would accept their work. And that’s before you’re even published. Then, once published, there are the critics. Who may love you or hate you. Or both. While rejection slips are whispered “No”’s, privately addressed to you, a review puts your work and you on public display for dissection. And people read it. For fun. Kurt Vonnegut had this to say about literary critics: “I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or a play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.”

So, am I saying you should hang up your dreams of becoming a writer? No, I’m saying that writing is hard work and will likely fill you with moments of dread, despair and self-doubt. But, though the legions of writers out there share these same struggles in the pursuit of their art, they also share something else: the immense gratification of self-expression and creation.

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!