I knew I loved to write at a young age. In fourth grade I started to write little short stories in pencil on half sheets of loose leaf paper. The stories were my escape from the social pressures of fitting in at a new school. I was a shy, introverted kid, more happy alone than anywhere else. Writing was my outlet and my ticket to a world of adventure and, evidently, a fair amount of tragedy.
Most of my stories had a heavy moralistic message to them. Looking back, I can blame this on my Catholic upbringing where righteousness ruled the day. That and the fact that the Catholic faith is a fair target for most everything, it seems. My characters were often the victim of their own wanderings from the straight and narrow path that my young mind felt was the one and only true road. Some reaped what they sowed, others were just the victim of natural and man-made disasters like flood and fire. All of the stories were my way of working out justice as only a fourth grader could.
When I showed my first story to a couple of friends, their response spurred me on to write a second, then a third. Eventually my homeroom teacher, Sister Patricia, found out about them and asked if she could keep them in a special box of student projects for the year. I think I told her no, only because I didn’t want the attention. So, one minute I was writing because someone praised my work, and the next I was shunning attention because it made me uncomfortable. Such was the conflicted life of a shy young writer.
Fast forward nearly fifty years and you will find that I am still that introverted writer working out my escapes from reality via my words on a page. I have two published memoirs and two poetry books, with a third one with Unsolicited Press forthcoming in October of 2018. The accolades for my efforts have taken me by storm and I’d be lying if I said I ever expected this kind of success this quickly. Granted I am a small press, small potatoes writer, but I am enjoying it for what it is; a rewarding, creative outlet that I cannot imagine not doing. Every book, short story and poetry acceptance gives me an adrenaline rush as big as my first publication acceptance eight years ago, a simple little sixteen line poem.
At the same time, the price of success means selling one’s soul a bit. Publication means public readings, book promotion, horn tooting, elevator speeches and lots of glad handing. Most of these activities push me far outside my comfort zone. There is part of me that is still that shy fourth grader creating worlds with a number two pencil and half sheets. Now it just takes the form of clickety-clacking on my laptop at the library while listening to Pink Floyd on my headphones. These items are my armor. This is my Buddah posture of contentment that screams, “Leave me alone! I am seeking Zen.”
Recently I was appointed Poet Laureate for the Village of Wales, Wisconsin. Wales is a small village of about three thousand residents a short drive from where I live. The appointment is not a huge deal, but I was both honored and flattered to be considered. One of the poetry education and appreciation tasks of the position is to read a couple of poems in front of the Village board before their monthly meetings. As usual, this requirement ramped up my anxiety, as does any public appearance. However, after I’d read that first time, I had a nice banter back and forth with the board and the citizens that had us all laughing and helped us relax. I came away from the whole experience a richer person and realized that if I hadn’t pushed myself outside my shell, I’d have missed it. Not to mention it raised awareness about my writing and my books.
So, as I prepare for yet another reading a week from today and another signing at the end of the month, I do so knowing that these appearances are all part of a writer’s cross to bear. I liken it to being a parent of two children. Launching them into their college experiences was a leap of faith for me. And, like presenting and promotion, I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable. It worries me.
But in the end, it is necessary and it’ll all work out.
Jim has two published memoirs, The Portland House: a ‘70s memoir, and Dirty Shirt: a Boundary Waters memoir, by eLectio Publishing. He also has two poetry collections, Written Life and Reciting From Memory. His nonfiction has been published in Main Street Rag, Sundown Press and others. His poetry has been published in many different journals. Jim currently resides in Waukesha, WI. For more information, visit: http://jimlandwehr.com
As poets we are really anachronisms walking around on two legs. You struggle to get the perfect image committed to paper, suffer through the rejections in a publishing world where the acceptance rate for most publications and “esites” is less than two percent. Then you discover that the lit mag that discovered your masterpiece has a circulation of less than 1,000.
I read somewhere that someone said, “The fastest way to obscurity is to become a poet.” So what is a poet to do in a hustle bustle age where people are so addicted to their digital gadgets they suffer from short attention span disorder?
Well you could take advantage of the new media and explore a visual medium for your work. Throw yourself into the e-verse. If a piece works on the web it can even help sell your books or lead people to your published poem. Then you can bask in your Andy Warholian fifteen minutes of fame.
So how do you bring your words alive? Here are a few tips.
Do a decent recording of your work. I can’t tell you how many shaky marginal audio clips I see on Facebook. Frankly they are painful to watch. So what can you do to improve the recording? First get a tripod that can hold the IPhone steady. Just check IPhone adapter on the web to find one. Second get close to the speaker so the little mike on the headset can pick out the audio from the background. If the venue uses a sound system it may mean you should position yourself close to the speakers where the sound is actually coming from.
If you are a fan of radio you could create a channel on Sound Cloud and upload an audio file of your recording there. It is easy to share it to Facebook or one of the others.
Here are some other tips:
Lets face it most poetry is not going to compete with the Kardashian culture, but if you want to see an example of one of my poetic videos (which was also a sneaky plug for my book Cogitation) check out “Jacuzzi Guilt” that had hundreds of views on Facebook views. It is on the buzz site of the Unsolicited Press web page.
Sam Love is the author if COGITATION, a poetry collection. You can buy it on our website and from major retailers.
I recently read a quote somewhere, I don’t recall where exactly, but it went as so: “Write to tell, not to sell.”
The principle behind it is to write the story you want to tell, not the story you think your readers want to hear. It’s a noble idea, staying true to yourself as a writer, writing about the stuff that’s important to you, but is it practical?
Cliches, the very things that strike fear into the hearts of writers. “Oh, look, you’ve used a...cliche!” *gasps from everyone reading your manuscript. The world that you have built is unravelling word by word...* Okay, we get the point, cliches are bad. But must they always be the villain when it comes to writing? If used correctly, I believe that they can, in fact, become a powerful writing tool.
What is a cliche? It’s one of those “you know it when you see it” concepts (hey, a cliche!). The actual definition from Dictionary.com is “a trite, streotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse.” Here are a few examples of cliches that you’ve probably heard of:
And here’s a list of 681 cliches to avoid when writing.
Be wary about cliches popping up into your writing, but don’t feel like you can never use a cliche. Cliches are powerful because of their notoriety and, as a good writer, you want to be original. So make a cliche an original piece of writing by changing them slightly. The infamy of these phrases will allow you to subvert the expectations of the reader and surprise them. Check out these examples:
Each of these cliches has been changed slightly, emphasising the point being made and drawing the reader’s eye.
I caution excessive use of this technique to keep it fresh and original in your writing. As long as you use it sparingly, your writing will instantly become more witty. So give it a try!
You’ve probably heard of and played apps such as Candy Crush and Pokemon Go. You probably use Facebook and Twitter to obsessively check your social media accounts. And, I guess, you probably use your phone to call and text. Well my fellow writers, take a break from crushing candy because I’m going to tell you that your smartphones and tablets can go beyond simple entertainment and communication. They can become a tool to improve your writing. Below, I have listed writing apps that I believe every writer should have on their smartphone or tablet:
Imagine as a writer that your friend gives you their manuscript and you’re expected to offer feedback, i.e. to criticise it. For many of you, you don’t have to imagine this cause it’s already happened. You don’t want to hurt their feelings but you also have a duty to help improve their work. Now, how to go about writing a critique letter without totally demolishing the moral of the author? Let's be honest, any kind of criticisms you give will hurt, even just a little bit. The best thing you can do is lessen the impact and here’s how.
The very first thing your critique letter should have is a summary of the manuscript. A general summary should suffice. Why? As the person who wrote it shouldn’t they know what it’s about? Not only does a summary show that you’ve read their manuscript, but what you understood and took away from the author’s story. From your summary alone, the author can pinpoint some of their strongest scenes and determine if the story they want to get across is actually being conveyed.
As writers, we all know how difficult it can be to think of things to write about. In fact, it’s probably why most of us don’t write as often as we should. It can be so frustrating to have the urge to write and be creative, and yet absolutely nothing comes out. It’s like hitting a brick wall. You just stare at a blank page until you can’t even think anymore, thrown down your pen, and go watch Netflix. It is so sad, and I know the feeling all too well.
It is so sad when this happens! We do not force ourselves to think, so every time we give up easily, it makes the next time that much easier for us, until we don’t even try at all. Creative writing requires a brain muscle that needs to be worked and flexed in order for it to get stronger and more reliable. No one ever said lifting weights was easy, but if you do it, you will eventually get stronger. If you make yourself write two paragraphs each day, about whatever, eventually that will seem easy to you. Once you are confident with that, add to the length to build that needed endurance so that eventually you will be able to write and write. The daily practice from writing will eventually pay off, as it is always fun to do something that comes easily.
When you are trying to think of things to write about, it seems that you see the world so much clearer. Take time to even think creatively throughout your day, even if it’s not writing specifically. This is not a solely after work activity, though don’t tell your boss I said that! Make up a story about some interaction between people you just saw on the street, or pretend that dog you just passed by can talk, what would it say?
It really is a beautiful way to see the world. It is as if your eyes are sharpened to all the events and details around you – anything could be a source of inspiration when you open your eyes to it. When you have this mindset, everything becomes important, and your brain connects with your eyes in a whole different way. You start to see and think in descriptions, your mind is constantly turning out plot points, and you are just more in-tuned with more than just the surface level of what is around you.
As a human being, you should be aware of your surroundings. If you aren’t, then now is a great time to start. You will be surprised at what the world really looks like. A bird on a tree branch could inspire a short story, or a puddle of water in the lawn could inspire a poem. It is so cool to be able to see and think the way. It is a special thing to be able to view the world around you with much more awe, wonder, and respect than your average human. We as writers have this gift, and it would be such a loss to not take advantage of it.
If you don’t have it, it’s easy to get. Just stop and look. Wonder. Be curious. Use these thoughts and feelings to write and write.
In this day and age of iTunes and Google Play, you’ve probably heard of podcasts. Question is, have you actually listened to one? If not, you should fix that. Not only are they entertaining, but I believe that they can be a useful resource for writers. For the sake of limiting genres, I will be focusing on drama orientated podcasts.
The first reason you should consider listening to a podcast is the entertainment they provide. I’m probably not the only aspiring writer to be poor (wait, is that an infinite black hole in my pocket?), so paying for audio books isn’t really an option. That was until I listened to The Black Tapes, a modern audio horror drama. My. Mind. Was. Blown. At that moment, I was addicted. Basically, it’s a free audio book that uses radio as its mode of storytelling. Listening to podcasts make boring tasks, such as chores, a riveting experience.
Podcasts create their own sounds for their radio shows that place you amidst the action of the drama. If people are fighting, you hear it. If there’s a monster shrieking, you hear it. There’s no need to explain what something sounds like. The writer of a podcast has to carefully deliberate what sounds will give them the best effect that they are striving for. As a writer, I appreciate how podcasts teach you a new way of thinking that wasn’t available before; the ability to think using your ears. How do certain sounds add to atmosphere? How do character reactions to certain sounds characterize them? If I was to write this sound or describe it, how would I go about it? These sounds help you think about scene writing not just through your sense of seeing, but through hearing too.
As a writer, you will appreciate the creativity podcasts have to use for narrative structure. Podcasts are usually set in the present, which means that writers are limited in what they can do. Unlike reading a book, they can’t spend forever describing a scene or narrate in third person. Instead, they use a combination of first person and sound to convey what is happening at that very moment. Here are a few examples as to how podcasts narrate what's going on: In Archives 81, the main protagonist isn’t allowed to shut off his recorder as he archives, thus the audience hears everything that is going on, Small Town Horror begins with the narrator listening to two tapes he recorded when he was younger, Tanis’ protagonist always has a recorder on as he tracks down and dissects conspiracy theories. Narrative structure allows the listener to keep up with characters in present time and develop a fitting atmosphere for radio. These narrative structures could be useful to you if you’re thinking of writing a book that’s interview style or in first person.
Think of podcasts as the antithesis of a book; instead of reading and imagining what’s going on, you’re hearing and imagining what’s going on. Relying on a different sense forces you to think outside the box and normal conventions of writing. So give them a try! If it doesn’t work out, well, at least it was free.
We writers are usually known to spend most of our time alone, letting words speak instead. This time of writing can become lonely if the writer does not connect with other writers. Also, there is no room for personal growth in the writing if one does not receive feedback and criticism.
Writing communities are a great place to connect with writers from all over the world and share thoughts, feelings, and ideas. It is a place to receive critiques on pieces and use them to grow.
There are plenty of writing communities out there. It is easy to connect with other writers who share a love of a favorite genre or style. A few good ones include: NaNoWriMo, The Next Big Writer, and WritersCafe.org. These have fellow writers who will gladly support and guide a writer asking for help. You can share thoughts and ideas too.
If you join these communities, you will benefit from them. Now, having family and friends look at and assess your stories is not a bad thing. It can be good feedback. But writers have a better idea of what to look for in terms of style, plot, and character development and will probably tend to be more honest than family. They understand the nuances that come with each word. They will provide assistance in any way that is needed to improve a piece. They may have information about how to get published if that is an end goal. Writers want each other to do well. So use these communities to connect with fellow writers and grow with each other. You won’t regret it.
I never understood how people got into writing. Throughout elementary, junior high, and high school, I hated to write. It was frustrating, tedious, and I just didn’t have any ideas for stories. A writer was never an answer to those school questions of what I wanted to be when I grew up, because I wanted to be an astronaut or firefighter. But I think that’s typical for most kids, because at that age, they aren’t big readers or writers. I think firefighters or police officers, or other typical elementary answers to the “what I want to do when I grow up” question are chosen because kids at that age can see the effects of those career paths. The rewards are tangible. A firefighter can put out a fire and everyone knows that the job was accomplished.
But writing is so much more rewarding. It took me years to see that, but I finally can. Writers have so much influence over people, and there’s a lot of variance to how that influence can be seen. Look at how spread out Tolkien’s influence has become. The Hobbit was originally published in 1937 and yet people are still adapting it into, albeit an overlong and CGI-heavy, trilogy of movies. Hundreds of books come out because those authors were inspired by Tolkien’s world building. I can see ghosts of Tolkien’s work in authors like Terry Brooks (The Sword of Shannara) and Christopher Paloni (The Inheritance Cycle). Even music has been influenced by Tolkien. Bands like Led Zeppelin (Misty Mountain Hop, Ramble On), Megadeath (This Day We Fight), and solo artists like Enya (May it Be and Lothlórien), have songs referencing Lord of the Rings.
Kids can’t see how much power writers have, because they don’t a lot of exposure to anything. But as we grow up, writers in the past influence us, even if we aren’t reading. Through extensive reading, I’ve been able to see how large of an influence writers have. It doesn’t matter if only one person has read the piece, because that person will be changed through reading the piece. Even if the change is small, or negative, you as the writer have caused the alteration of a stranger’s life through words alone. And while conveying a story is all well and good, I think that the true value of being able to write is that ability to influence how other people think.
If you’re a Buzz fanatic then you’ve probably read Melinda Harris’ post, “Three Reasons Writers Might Want A Blog” about the importance of keeping a blog. Here’s a recap in case you haven’t: a blog “keeps you writing,” “builds a readership,” and helps to develop an online “community.”
Sounds rather nice, right?
So we’ve established why having a blog is an awesome tool for any writer. Now it’s time to get technical. You want a blog, but what website builder should you be using?
I’ve provided a list of pros and cons for three popular and free website builders that anyone can use which are WordPress.com, Weebly.com, and Wix.com. I built my own unpublished blogging websites using these three builders so I could personally give you an account of what makes each different.
Before delving into the differences of these builders, let me mention a few features that they all have in common. All three builders are easy to learn, customizable, have search engine optimization (SEO), can be edited from mobile devices, and allow you customize your blog posts using HTML. When used correctly, each of these features will help you build and maintain a stellar blog.
So, without further ado, let me introduce my findings:
Most likely if you’ve ever looked into building a blog or you follow a blog, you’ve come across WordPress and there’s a reason for that. Not only does WordPress power 25% of the web, but it was built with blogging in mind!
Weebly allows you to build beautiful and simple websites with pre-made themes ranging from business to blogging. This builder has a unique drag and drop features that simplifies any website building. For those who aren’t tech savvy, Weebly allows you to contact support via emails regardless of if you’re using a free account or an upgraded one.
Wix is an amazing builder for those who love a little extra glam for their websites. Not only are their themes fun and interesting, but, without having to upgrade to a paid website, you can upload video clips to use as your background. Plus, they have animation features that will bring to life any piece of content you write.
These are, in my opinion, the best of the free website builders that you can use for your blog. Wordpress would be your best bet if you want a no frills website that is devoted to blogging and building a blogging community. Weebly is a wonderful option for both those who are and are not tech savvy due to the ability to customize templates with code and their customer support. Wix is a must for bloggers who really want to stick out by using their amazing video and animation features. Weebly’s and Wix’s easily enabled e-commerce options make them great options for anyone who wants to mix business with blogging. If you’re still not sure which builder to use, create websites using all three and publish your favorite one!
Starting a writing project is the easy part, but finishing it can be frustrating and time consuming. It is easy to begin typing a new idea, but the real task is in sitting down and finishing them. I personally have several projects in some unfinished purgatory state on my laptop’s hard drive. New ideas keep on popping up and take priority over the older stories that are at a standstill. It is so easy to collect unfinished drafts, but here are some tips to help you power through and finish your writing projects.
Create a Schedule and Set a Goal
To finish a project, you need to set aside time to write. If you don’t, then it doesn’t become a priority and gets put on the backburner. Decide what time works best for you: morning, afternoon, or night, and set aside a few hours. Devote this time to writing without any distractions. Maybe find a writing location that helps keep you focused. Set a goal for how many words you want to type in a day or how many you need to type in a month. These ideas should help you make progress easily.
Create an Outline
Teachers teach this concept to everyone from an early age, so this shouldn’t be a surprising tip. Outlining helps keep your story going in your head and gives you an idea of what needs to happen in what order. This helps you write without a break because you know exactly what needs to happen next and keeps the writer’s block at bay.
How you write an outline depends on the writer and the project. For a short story, you obviously don’t need a long outline. A novel, will need some extra details. Here are some useful formats that can be used:
The goal should be to write a first draft, not a finished draft. Write what you can, you can always edit later. Your goal should just be to keep the plot moving forward and finish your work of progress.
Promoting a book may seem like the most self-centered, assholish experience ever. All you are doing is talking about you, your book, and why people should buy it. You are spamming everyone on every social media platform with your announcement. You also expect/want to see instantaneous results from the project that you poured your soul into--so why not spam every single person that you have access to? Because it’s annoying and makes you an asshole. Marketing a new book takes time. You can’t spam your Twitter, FaceBook, and Tumblr for 24 hours and expect your book to become a bestseller. It is a gradual process that you have to keep at for months after your book is published. So here are a few tips on how not be an asshole while marketing your book.
Be yourself. You don’t have to be a certain person to be successful. Social media helps connect the readers to the writer. And writers who let their personalities show on social media are more likely to have more followers.
Don’t Overdo It and Don’t Be Pushy--
It may be hard not to use every social media platform to spam every single one of your followers, but you need to keep it at a low percentage. Provide other content to engage your followers. The marketing process is a slow and steady progression, but it will be worth it in the end.
Use Your Creative Brain--
Come up with creative ways to market your book. You know your audience and you should know what will catch their attention. If you are a blogger with a strong audience, maybe collaborate with other bloggers to prepare a blog tour. Or maybe start a giveaway that requires your audience to share a post on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook in order to be put in the drawing for the giveaway. This will help expand the reach of your posts and make one lucky fan really happy.
Join the Writer Community and Promote Others--
Karma works in mysterious ways, along with gratitude. If you have a writer friend, help them promote their new book, and they are more likely to scratch your back in the future. It does not even have to be anything extravagant, just a retweet on Twitter or a share on Facebook. The writing community is huge and can be very helpful.
Overall, instead of spamming your followers come up with creative content on social media or your blog that will engage your audience and lets you be you. These tricks will keep you from being considered an asshole while marketing your book.
Reading and writing should be a time for relaxation and creative flow. We can never fully enjoy our time if we are in a chaotic setting, or if we are waiting on something, like the boarding of a plane, for instance. If half of our mind has to be still focused on what time it is or if the people around us are talking to us, then we cannot truly abandon ourselves to the literary task at hand.
For your own sanity and enjoyment, I urge you to create a space that is both comforting and calming. Pull up your favorite comfy chair, wrap yourself in a blanket, make a cup of tea, put on some soft music, and then enter into your favorite place; the world of words and stories.
For writing especially, the creative mind cannot work well if its attention is divided. If words aren’t coming, even in this peaceful environment, just sit back and let your mind stew. There is nothing worse for writers block than putting pressure on yourself. You are only stifling yourself. Allow yourself to relax and let your mind wander. It might wander right on to the perfect path.
I find that a great atmosphere greatly improves my reading enjoyment. In the past I have used reading to kill some time before going somewhere, and it is like torture (literary torture, of course)! Keeping one eye on the clock while reading is not fun, and then either you end up not even grasping what you had just read for the last 20 minutes, or you get so absorbed in your book that you are then late. I think it is best to just avoid that situation all together.
There are few things I find more relaxing than knowing that I have a large amount of time to have a good, long read. During these few times that I consider real treats, I strive to put away all technology and other thoughts about my real life, so that I can just enjoy my book and the smell of the nice candle burning on the end table.
You owe it to yourself. You are great, and you deserve to take some time just to focus only on what you love. I think we would all love to sit at home and read all day every day, so why not treat yourself once and awhile. Your heightened sense of creativity and enjoyment will thank you.
What is your favorite way to get the most out of your literary time?
How do you control your creation once you put it anywhere other than the private screen of your own device? How do you prevent yourself from being charged with infringement of copyrights?
A piece is born, the child of skill and inspiration. Wrought into existence by the powers of creation gifted to the worthy. It seek the light, the attention of others, to expose the frailness of from and structure for all to feel. How proud you are, the aching parent, before you even know success, and more so after. I have made a thing.
A month later this begotten offspring shows up on your feed or in your search under a different title, a non-familiar “by” line. No credit. No source. No links to heal your hurts. Claimed. Stolen. Disowned.
What do you do?
1. Preform seppuku as you never registered for copyrights for your work and the metaphorical adoption files have been sealed, thus rendering your soulchild a stranger forever. Sucks to be you.
2. Call a lawyer with a screenshot or a link of your original posting and the repost, and / or send the original file, preferably both dated.
Put the knife away. By U.S. copyright law - Copyright is granted to a content creator the moment an idea is fixed into any tangible form. And yes, that does include words on paper / screen.
“Many people assume that online content, or content found on Web sites, is not subject to copyright law and may be freely used and modified without permission. This is not true. Others think that online content is not protected unless it carries a copyright notice. This is not true either.” (1)
Begin by gathering as many evidence as you can, especially proof of the reposter identity, and file for a “Cease and Decease”. In the case of a fully justified and documented legal win, restitution will be anywhere from $200 (in a case of "innocent infringement") up to $30,000 per work infringed. (3)
Also, contact Google. Using written content search and monitoring tools, you can locate reposts of your OC and get google to remove them from search result. Online content that is deemed “duplicate” or “low quality” can get completely booted from Google search results.
Do not take this for granted. Google’s operating mode does not mean your OC is safe. If someone gets higher ratings on their website than yours has, Google could interpret the situation as though you are the copyright infringer. It is, therefore, always in your interest to monitor your content. (2)
However, before we go out guns blazing crying for the blood of our wrongdoers, try contacting the person involved. Maybe they don’t even realise it’s a big deal, maybe they’ll get scared by being called out, only intending to lie in the safety of social webbing.
Now, what about making sure you can use other people’s materials without infringing upon anybody’s copyrights, or plagiarism? Basically, you can freely use any content as long as:
1. It was published before 1923.
2. The author expressly gave the content to the public domain.
3. It was published and copyrighted before 1989 and the copyright expired.
Do not despair, this doesn’t mean you need to go buy a shovel and go dig through the back storage of your local library for newspaper clipping from 1964. We do have the right for Fair Use!
“Fair use allows for short quotes from another work to enhance your own, as long as your usage does not in any way diminish the commercial value of the copyrighted content. ” and ALWAYS with citations and credit! - Learn more at: http://www.wedowebcontent.com/library/copyright-law-and-web-content-original-web-content/#sthash.r3D3A2oq.dpuf
See? Just like I did up there.
Make sure you give source and credit when you do use anything you’re not completely sure is not copyrighted, and even when you are. It is the right thing to do, wouldn’t you want the same to be done for you, even if someone is using your public domain content?
Feel free to use any piece of this blog post in any way you see fit, as I hereby expressly give this to The Public Domain.
Pic in article is “I made this” from http://nedroidcomics.tumblr.com/post/41879001445/the-internet
What makes a piece of literature a classic? Is it the interesting plot or transforming characters? Is it the consistent flow or descriptive language? There are plenty of books that rise quickly up the year’s best-seller lists and then are rarely spoken of again. There are books that take the number one spot on these lists and are considered literature of the century. What makes these books special?
“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”
A common problem writers experience is the lack of motivation or inspiration to actually write. They may have every intention to make progress on their masterpiece, but simply opening a blank Word document feels like an enormous task. There are several tricks I’ve learned to combat this problem, but today I’m going to focus on what I think is the biggest cause of this lack of motivation: location.
Are you trying to write, but the inspiration just isn’t coming to you? Look around. What are your surroundings? Personally, I can’t accomplish anything if I’m sitting in my bed with the heat of my laptop burning through my sheets. So if I actually want to get something done, I have to get out of my room. My favorite place to go to write is a small, local coffee shop. I can just sit there for hours with the best coffee ever, surrounded by wonderful pieces by local artists, and the words flow much more easily. Experiment with the coffee shops your area has to offer. See which provides the best atmosphere to stimulate your creativity. If your area is lacking in cute, indie coffee shops, try Starbucks! Some people find Starbucks to be an excellent place to write, despite its lack of hipster cred.
Or maybe coffee shops aren’t the best fit for you. I know plenty of people who prefer to go outside. When the weather permits it, beaches and parks are popular places for writers to get in the proper mood to be productive. Set yourself up on a bench, picnic table, or blanket, or see how this new environment affects your creative output.
Go to a library or bookshop. Not every small bookshop has a nook for you to chill with a laptop or notebook for a while, but there’s always, at least, Barnes and Noble. Libraries and bookshops are great places to write because they’re (usually) quiet, and you’re surrounded by the very thing you’re trying to create, which I find hugely motivating. If I don’t feel like spending money on a cup of coffee, this is usually my second choice for a writing location.
Maybe you’re not in the mood to go out, and you’d just really prefer to stay home and write today. I’ve found that the only way I can be productive at home is if I set up a specific place to write. I don’t yet have an office or a writing desk (one day–the dream is alive), so I clear off whatever flat, table-like surface is accessible and most conveniently located (usually my vanity is the best option). When I say I “clear it off,” I mean I make it spotless. I remove every miscellaneous item that has taken residence upon it, I wipe it down to get rid of any dust that has accumulated, and if I feel it’s necessary for whatever mood I’m in, I’ll even clear out a drawer and dedicate it to items that are relevant to my progress (pens and other stationery, notes, any pieces of art I’ve collected for inspiration, etc.). Only after I’ve completely set up a space that is purely for writing can I sit down and get to work. I make much more progress this way than I would if I were to remain in my bed, but it usually does not produce the same level of results as if I get out of the house altogether.
And finally, as Leslie Knope so rightly advises: “If you have the ability to go to Paris, by all means, go to Paris.”
Writing is hard. I sound whiney and this is something that we all already know--that is why so few people are writers. It’s damn hard. But I am beginning to find that this difficulty is self-imposed. We all can write. We’ve all written things that we are proud of, despite the plethora of things that we probably aren’t so proud of.
Have you ever been at a loss on where to start writing? I’m guessing you have. Why not draw on personal experience?
It must be part of the human condition to think that we lead boring lives. Every other person’s life looks better than our own, and we wish and dream for change. That’s called discontent, people. It is poisonous and will only lead to trouble and despair. We constantly compare out lives to the movies that we see, or the books that we read. Who doesn’t want to be Elizabeth Bennett or Jack Ryan (Tom Clancy’s famous character). We read a book and (usually) think, ‘what I wouldn’t give to be that person’ or ‘wow, my life is so boring’, but this will get you nowhere except into a pit of despair.
Instead of hopelessly wishing for a different life, look to the one you lead for inspiration. I just bet that you could take any one experience that you’ve had in your day and turn it into a story. Walked your dog? Write a funny story about how everything that could have gone wrong did. Ripped a hole in your favorite shirt? Turn into an emotionally charged narrative about lose. Tripped on the stairs in front of the person you are smitten with? Turn it around and make it a romantic story. The possibilities are endless.
Please, don’t believe the lie that you lead a life that is less worthy than those around you. You are you, and you are awesome. What you do is unique to you, and you should take full advantage of that opportunity. If you are looking for some inspiration, check out YouTube personality Olan Rodgers. You won’t regret it. He is the perfect example of what I’m talking about here. One of his stories can turn my day right around, and his stories are about the most simple, most strange things. If you watch, you’ll understand. Follow his format if this seems weird. He is successful at it, so you can be too! Maybe not in the same way, but it will certainly add some flavor to your own personal and creative life.
I challenge you to take moments in your life and transform them. Use them as creative fodder and see where it takes you. Maybe even string a couple stories together and make a character that resembles you. Remember, you are great, your life can be the perfect inspiration, and no one does your life better than you.
We’ve all had those moments where we have great writerly ideas at horrible times. Out on a date, riding in the car, at your cousin’s ballet recital, a distant relative’s funeral--you name it. Here are a few methods I’ve experimented with to make sure that none of my ideas die and fade away before I have a chance to write them down.
Pros: It feels very writerly, walking around, taking notes, having a pen in your pocket and a little Moleskine book filled with observations from your day. Even if your ideas are shit, you look the part at the very least.
Cons: Well, you’re carrying around a pen and a notebook everywhere. Pens explode. They leak ink. And notebooks are bulky, even when they’re small. Carrying around 50 index-card sized pages around is a feat that can’t be done without pockets are a little bag. For female writers, shove it in your purse. For males, maybe invest in a satchel?
2. Text yourself the ideas as they come.
Pros: Efficient, autocorrect takes away the typos that come with trying to jot down ideas quickly. All your ideas end up stored in a single place, the text thread that you share with yourself. You can also text yourself pictures, sound bytes, videos, etc. that you found inspirational.
Cons: It feels a little strange and lonely, texting oneself. But we’re writers so I guess strange and lonely are right in our wheelhouse. Also, if your battery runs out then you’re shit out of luck. Also people might ask who you’re constantly texting, and it is a little uncomfortable to have to explain that you are--in fact--texting yourself. Because you’re a writer/have no friends, basically.
3. Write on yourself--hands, arms, legs, socks, etc.
Pros: You definitely won’t lose your ideas, they are literally on your person. You don’t have to carry around a notebook or worry about texting yourself, just have a pen with lots of ink to cover yourself with. Temporary tattoos are cool.
Cons: Temporary tattoos might not be cool when you can’t scrub them off and the ideas turn out bad. Your arms/legs/hands also offer only so much idea-space, and ink has a tendency to rub off when it’s left on your skin long enough.