Let’s diagnose and defeat writer’s block!
Wikipedia defines writer’s block as “a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work.”
However, I have come to believe that in most cases, writer’s block is a symptom, not a condition.
Before we can cure writer’s block, we have to diagnose it.
Writer’s block is almost always presented as some mysterious disease. A writer sits down to work and nothing happens. The ideas are gone. The words don’t come. It must be writer’s block!
At times, writers certainly lose their inspiration or face challenges that prevent them from working. I’m not saying we shouldn’t call this writer’s block. What I am saying is that in my experience, there’s usually some underlying cause, and it’s often something that’s easily remedied. Instead of blaming our inability to work on a vague condition, we can figure out what’s really preventing us from writing and fix the real problem.
Today, let’s dissect writer’s block and figure out what causes it. We’ll also explore some solutions for curing writer’s block, and I’ll share some writing tips that have helped me stay inspired.
What Causes Writer’s Block?
The true causes behind writer’s block are probably infinite. Each of us requires a different set of conditions to be productive and creative. Some writers can trudge through a draft when they’re tired while others will just stare at the blank page with an even blanker look on their faces. However, there are a few common causes that we can identify:
- Physical ailments: If you’re sick, exhausted, hungry, or dealing with a headache, you might find it impossible to write. Allergies interfere with my ability to focus on anything, including writing, a few times a year. Whether you face these kinds of ailments occasionally or on a regular basis, it’s important to acknowledge the real problem and then look for a cure. That might mean taking a break so you can take care of yourself. I recently struggled with writer’s block because I had a nasty cold. I cured both my cold and writer’s block by drinking lots of hot water with lemon and honey.
- Mental and emotional stress and distractions: It’s hard to concentrate when you’re in a bad mood, stressed out, depressed, or angry. In cases of a bad mood, a little positive thinking might pull you out of it. You can also use relaxation techniques to calm your anger or alleviate your stress. It’s normal to be depressed after any kind of loss or trauma, and these times may call for taking a hiatus from your creative work. If depression persists for more than a few weeks or months, it’s important to see a doctor.
- Lazy days: Sometimes you just don’t want to write (or do much else, either). There’s a deadline looming but the sun is shining and the beach is calling. You swore you’d finish this chapter today but you’d rather take a nap. Technically, this probably shouldn’t be included on this list, because the problem isn’t that you’re blocked; you’re just feeling (or being) lazy. However, I know there are writers out there who use writer’s block as an excuse for being lazy. This is common when writers get burnt out and what they really need is either a break or a little motivation. Look for ways to get your energy levels up (eat healthy, nutritious meals and get plenty of exercise) and revisit your goals to regain your motivation.
- The grass is greener: This is a close cousin to the lazy day. It’s not that you’d rather get some rest and relaxation. You’d just rather do anything in the world other than work on your writing project. In fact, you’d rather surf the web, organize your closet, or schedule a dentist appointment. You may even be seduced by a brilliant new idea that’s tempting you away from whatever you’re supposed to be working on. The grass may look greener, but it’s not. The only cure here is sheer willpower. You can also use a reward system: get your work done and then treat yourself to something special.
- Avoidance and procrastination: Sometimes we go out of our way to avoid a difficult writing challenge. It could be that we’ve gotten our characters into a sticky situation and can’t get them out of it, or it could be a poem for which we just can’t seem to find the right rhythm. You might know, deep down inside, that you have to scrap some of your work or make heavy revisions to get yourself unstuck. Maybe you need to do some (boring or tedious) research. So you avoid it altogether. Instead of procrastinating, push yourself to face these obstacles head-on. You can also skip ahead and work on some other part of your project. If you’re truly stuck, then ask a friend to take a look and offer advice. Often, someone else can see a solution where we can’t because we’re too close to our own work.
I’m sure there are many more causes of writer’s block. I’ve experienced all of these in varying degrees. As I’ve grown more experienced, I’ve learned that whether I need to take better care of myself, push harder to get things done, or face up to an undesirable challenge, writer’s block can be cured, and usually, it can be cured easily.
A Few, Final Writing Tips for Combating Writer’s Block
- Take care of yourself. Eat well, exercise, and drink plenty of water. Schedule time for rest and relaxation. Don’t run yourself down.
- No matter what you’re working on, some other project or activity might sound more enticing. Try to see one project through before starting another and reward yourself when you push through something difficult or unpleasant.
- On the other hand, if you have two projects going, you can rotate back and forth to maintain your interest in both.
- Get advice from other writers. Often, they’ll see a solution where you see no way out.
- Sometimes, defeating writer’s block is just a matter of getting inspired. Keep a running list of ideas and things that inspire you. Whenever you feel uninspired, this list will be there for you.
How Do You Handle Writer’s Block?
Do you believe in writer’s block? Is it a real condition or a symptom of some other problem? Is it possible to become uninspired for no reason whatsoever? Do you have any writing tips that would help other writers stay inspired and unblocked? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: Rock and Rhyme Poetry.
Today’s post features an exercise from my book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which is filled with exercises for various forms of writing, including fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. It will inspire you while imparting useful writing techniques that are fun and practical.
This exercise comes from “Chapter Eight: Free Verse.” The creative writing exercises in this chapter focus on free-form poetry writing.
I chose this exercise because it’s fun and inspiring. It asks you to use a song as a foundation for writing a poem. Many song lyrics are poems in their own right. This exercise focuses on rhyming, but it also shows you how to look at your writing’s musicality and encourages you to think about rhythm and meter in your work.
Give it a try, then come back and tell us what you learned. Feel free to share the poems or lyrics that you write from this exercise in the comments section.
Rock and Rhyme Poetry Writing Exercise
Rhyming poetry goes in and out of vogue all the time, except when it comes to children’s poetry, which is almost always packed with fun and clever rhymes.
Some poets take to rhyming rather easily, and sound-a-like words roll off their tongues like butter. Other poets struggle, dancing through the alphabet and flipping through rhyming dictionaries just to find a rhyme as simple as bat and cat.
Poems that rhyme may be a challenge for some, but they’re still fun to write and a blast to read (they are especially fun to read out loud). Rhyming is good practice for exploring musicality in language and experimenting with word play.
All you need is a song. A rhythmic and rhyme-y song without a lot of fancy runs. You’ll want a relatively simple tune. A short pop song will work well. Forget about classical music because most of it doesn’t have lyrics, and what we’re doing requires words. We’re writers, right?
Rewrite the lyrics but keep the rhythm and rhyme scheme intact. You don’t have to replace the rhyme ring and sing with a rhyme like thing and bling. But you do need to find another rhyming pair (like dance and pants). Your rhymes can be as strict or as loose as you want.
If you do just a few of these, rhyming will start to come more naturally to you, and your rhymes will flow with greater ease.
Try to rewrite the song on your own, but if you’re really struggling, hit up a rhyming dictionary or a thesaurus.
Tips: You might want to start with a short, three-chord pop song. Then, graduate yourself to longer and more complex tunes. If you know all the lyrics to your song, that will be immensely helpful. If not, do an online search to find the lyrics to the song you want to work with.
Variations: Here are a few variations that you can use for this exercise:
- Try it with nursery rhymes: Hey diddle diddle.
- Try it with a famous poem: Shakespeare anyone?
- Try it using a song without lyrics: You’re on your own!
Applications: Working with rhyme helps you think more carefully about word choice and points your focus to the sound and rhythm of a piece of writing. This is also an excellent exercise for anyone who has thought about writing song lyrics or children’s poems and stories.
I Rocked Some Poetry
Here’s my attempt with the first chorus from 80s one-hit wonder “99 Red Balloons” by Nena.
The Original Verse
You and I in a little toy shop
Buy a bag of balloons with the money we’ve got
Set them free at the break of dawn
Till one by one they were gone
Back at base, bugs in the software
Flash the message: something’s out there
Floating in the summer sky
Ninety-nine red balloons go by
My Attempt to Catch the Rhyme
Shoes untied at a little bus stop
Sigh and whistle a tune ’cause it’s all you’ve got
Set your feet on the tired green lawn
Tie your shoe, stretch and yawn
Five o’clock, the bus should be here
Time is precious, the deadline is near
Waiting till the bus comes by
Ninety-nine cents just for a ride
Are You Ready to Get Down?
Try it for yourself and post a verse or a chorus in the comments! If you’re looking for a song lyric resource, then check out 99 Red Balloons and 100 Other All-Time Great One-Hit Wonders, which is packed with awesome song lyrics that are ideal for this exercise.
How is your writing environment?
Please welcome guest author Ali Luke with a post on making adjustments to your physical environment to help your writing.
Do you struggle to get into writing?
Perhaps you sit down with your favorite notebook on a regular basis, but you never seem to get far.
Your kids start arguing. Or you get a backache. Or you’re distracted by that neighbor doing yet another bout of DIY. Or an urgent email pops up for your attention.
External factors aren’t the only (or the biggest) distractions that affect our writing, but they make a surprising difference in our ability to be productive.
If you’re already struggling to focus, a few distractions and irritations can easily be enough to make you give up for the day.
Here are seven key factors that influence how well – or how wrong – your writing sessions go. Which of these could you tweak today?
Factor #1: Are You Likely to be Interrupted?
If you know someone’s likely to interrupt you at any minute, it’s really hard to get into the flow of writing.
For some writers, knowing that family members or housemates are home is enough to stop them from writing.
Tips to Make it Work:
- If you can, write in a room of your own with the door closed and locked. If you don’t have a dedicated office space at home, try scheduling time to write at the library or a café.
- Write at a time of day when your house is generally quiet. For many parents, that’s first thing in the morning before the kids get up or at night after they’re in bed.
Factor #2: What Can You Hear?
Is the TV or radio on in the next room? Is someone having a loud phone conversation a few feet away from you? Are your kids bickering with one another?
While writing in complete silence isn’t always possible (and some writers hate silence anyway), intrusive noise can be a huge distraction.
Tips to Make it Work:
- Noise-cancelling headphones or music that you enjoy and can write to will make a huge difference. My usual choice is Metallica or Iron Maiden — definitely not everyone’s thing, but it works for me!
- If you find music too distracting (perhaps you always want to sing along), try a site like Noisli, which provides a range of ambient sounds. I particularly like the sounds of the forest.
Factor #3: Are You Sitting Comfortably?
A couple of days ago, I was in Starbucks for a ninety-minute writing session. I got over 3,000 words written (which is a lot more than I’d usually manage, even though I type fast). However, my neck was starting to feel sore and stiff by the time I was done.
Physical comfort matters. If you’re really into your writing, you might not notice that you’re getting stiff, or that you’re hungry or thirsty. But after a while, your body’s demands are going to break into your concentration.
Important: Don’t ignore discomfort or pain. You don’t want to cause yourself an injury that holds back your writing for months or even years.
Tips to Make it Work:
- Adjust the height of your computer screen: you want to be looking straight forward, not slightly bending your neck to look up or down.
- Try sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair. I was super skeptical about this at first, but tried it when I was pregnant with my daughter, Kitty.
Factor #4: How Much Clutter Can You See?
This might seem like a small thing, but the amount of clutter around you can pull your attention away from your writing. It may even stop you from easily reaching your keyboard!
If clutter gives you lots of things to fiddle with, move around, or even tidy up, it’s stopping you from getting the words down. And if it makes you feel tired or frustrated, that’s also a problem.
Make it Work:
- Go somewhere else to write, even if it’s your kitchen table. This isn’t necessarily a good long-term solution, but it can help immediately.
- Tidy up your desk, but not as an excuse to avoid writing. If you write first thing in the morning, try to leave things reasonably tidy the night before.
Factor #5: What’s the Mood of Your Room Like?
Although it’s taken me a while to realize it, my environment affects my writing.
Simple things like the light level can affect how you feel. Most of the time, I’d say keep it well lit, though if you’re working on a horror or dark fantasy novel, you might want to try writing in a more gloomy atmosphere.
Make it Work
- Changing the mood of your room could be as simple as putting a few pictures or posters on the wall. Some writers like to use a vision boards as a representation of their goals.
- If you have a particular ritual that helps you write, indulge it! Make your favorite coffee or light scented candles. Do whatever it takes to lift your mood and make your environment more welcome and nurturing.
Factor #6: Are Your Tools Good Ones?
The tools you use to write (your computer or your notebook and pen) can affect how much you get done. Just imagine trying to write with a dried-up pen, where you have to keep stopping to go over too-faint words.
If your keyboard is fiddly to type on, if the software you’re using freezes or crashes, or if you’re struggling in some way against your tools, don’t put up with this: change it.
Make it Work:
- Right now, make any small changes you can. That might mean something as simple as finding a better pen or a fresh notebook.
- Plan ahead for larger (and more expensive) changes. Perhaps you’d do better with special writing software like Scrivener instead of Microsoft Word.
Factor #7: Are You Allowing Distractions In?
Finally, watch out for distractions that you’re letting into your writing environment. You may hardly be aware of them, but they can be enough to cut short a writing session.
Your phone, Skype, email, and social media accounts are all prime sources of distractions. If you’re struggling with your writing and a new email appears, it’s all too tempting to check it. And an ill-timed phone call could easily stop you from getting going at all.
Make it Work
- Turn off any potential distractions you can: email, social media, Skype, even your phone. Set a timer for 30 minutes – you can check them after that.
- If you’re still finding yourself distracted, switch off your wifi. This can be surprisingly effective.
While your internal motivation matters a lot, your physical environment can lift you up or drag you down. Find two or three changes you can make today, without spending more than ten minutes on them, and let us know in the comments how you get on.
Bio: Ali Luke’s seven-week course On Track will help you get moving again with your writing. Whether you’re working on a blog, a novel, a freelancing career, or something else entirely, On Track will give you the tools and inspiration you need. Best of all – it’s totally free, and even comes with a bonus ebook. Find out more about the course and join here.
Writing Forward turns seven years old.
When I started Writing Forward seven years ago, I had no idea what to expect. As a writer and internet junkie, a blog seemed like a smart way to pursue two of my greatest passions. I had no idea where the journey would take me.
This website has helped me build a business, become an author, learn about the artistic and business aspects of writing, and most importantly, it has connected me with the writing community. Although at times the journey has been frustrating and exhausting, it has also been enlightening and invigorating.
Writing Forward may be my website but it wouldn’t be going strong today if it weren’t for the many readers and writers who have subscribed, commented, and shared the content via social media. I’m grateful to everyone who’s been a part of this amazing journey.
Seven-Year Celebration Sale
To celebrate Writing Forward’s seventh anniversary, the Kindle and paperback versions of all my books on writing are currently on sale through the end of the week. Each title is a dollar off the regular price. To purchase a paperback from Create Space at the discounted price, use the following discount codes:
101 Creative Writing Exercises: 7ZLPPK54
10 Core Practices for Better Writing: QB68TJBF
1200 Creative Writing Prompts: EQU9H8RW
Adventures in Writing: The Complete Collection (all three titles above in a single volume): RXHRCJFS
Sale ends Friday 9/5/15 at midnight!
Leave a Review, Get a Free Book
Have you already read 101 Creative Writing Exercises? If you’ve read it and would like a free ebook of Adventures in Writing: The Complete Collection, simply leave an honest review of 101 Creative Writing Exercises at any of the sites where the book is sold or on Goodreads. Then use the contact form to send me a link to your review and let me know whether you’d like your free copy of Adventures in Writing: The Complete Collection in Kindle or epub format (or just let me know which device you’re using). This offer is open through September 10, 2014.
Thank you to all the readers and writers who have visited Writing Forward and subscribed, commented, guest posted, and shared its content throughout the years. I’ll continue working to keep Writing Forward going strong for years to come. Keep writing!
A handy little source of inspiration for writing
We writers can’t be inspired every day.
Sometimes we get burned out. Other times, we have ideas but they just don’t seem appealing at the moment when we sit down to write. Sometimes we need to take a break from a writing project and spend a little time on shorter projects, which can recharge our creativity. Other times, we’re just stuck in a writing slump.
That’s when keeping a little stockpile of writing ideas and inspiration inspiration is a good idea.
The Pocket Muse
I received my copy of The Pocket Muse as a gift a few years ago. Unfortunately, it sat on my bookshelf for far too long. But recently, I cracked it open and started perusing it. And I found it absolutely delightful.
It’s a lovely mashup of prompts, writing tips, and project starters. There are also photos to help you generate ideas. Plus, the author shares her own writing experiences, insights, and anecdotes in short essays throughout the book.
Each page contains a prompt, image, idea, quote, writing exercise, or bit of wisdom. This book is a treasure trove for writers.
One of my favorite pages offers a list of word prompts. It’s labeled as a list of verbs: racket, snug, green, spoon, boggle, and snake. The list is followed by a note pointing out that all these words are not verbs, then offers the following suggestions:
Jeremy is racketing across the lawn as we speak!
Can you hear earthworms snugging out of the ground as the sun greens the trees?
Verbs are sometimes a matter of opinion.
I just love that! If we writers don’t make language fun, who will?
Here are a few more goodies from The Pocket Muse:
- A photo of two hippos includes a caption that says it’s your job to figure out how these two hippos ended up in a school parking lot.
- “I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read.” – Samuel Johnson
- And this golden bit of advice about trying to get published before you’ve mastered the craft: “Respect your apprenticeship.”
This book is packed with ideas and inspiration. But it also contains plenty of wisdom and offers practical tips. For example, there is a list of classic story elements: setup, complication, rising action, meanwhile, climax, and denouement coupled with examples from the classic tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It’s an excellent and simple example of major movements and elements that need to be present in any good piece of fiction.
The Pocket Muse is an ideal gift for any writer (including yourself). It’s a lovely little hardcover, and is great for your desk since it is both decorative and useful. When you need a break, are stuck in a rut, or just need something to pass a few minutes, this book will be a treat. You can flip through it, open it to some random page, or read through it from cover to cover. Any which way, you win!
And of course, this book will help you keep writing.
Journal prompts from 1200 Creative Writing Prompts.
Today’s journal prompts are taken from my book, 1200 Creative Writing Prompts, which is filled with inspiration for writers and includes prompts for writing fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.
The journal prompts in the book are found in the creative nonfiction section. They urge you to think about your personal experiences, beliefs, and ideas and then write about them. Some of these prompts could be used to write personal essays. They might even inspire an idea for a memoir, a personal blog, or a weekly column.
All the journal prompts are designed to spark ideas for personal writing. If you get an idea that is different from the prompt, go with it. Change the prompts, combine them, and use them in whatever way you see fit.
10 Journal Prompts from 1200 Creative Writing Prompts
- Write about someone you admire from afar—a public figure or celebrity.
- Have you ever felt like you were meant for something, that some event or moment in your life was fated? Have you ever felt an inexplicable call to do something? Where do you think this feeling comes from? Write about it.
- They say it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Whom have you loved and lost?
- Tell the story of the first time you earned your own money.
- Sometimes, we use common sense and do the right thing or make the best choice. But sometimes, we learn lessons the hard way. Write about a time in your life when you made the wrong choice and learned a lesson the hard way.
- Many of us have experienced a terrifying moment in which we thought we were going to die. If you’ve ever experienced a moment like that, write about it.
- Think of something you wish you were good at but aren’t. Write a narrative about your attempts to do this thing and how you coped with failure.
- Write about your earliest memory. Include as much detail as you can remember.
- Write about the happiest day of your life.
- Think back to the first time you had a best friend. Tell the story of your friendship.
Did any of these journal prompts inspire you to write? Which one? Did you write in your journal, or were you inspired to write something else? Where do you get your best creative inspiration? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
Which of your writing ideas is leading the pack?
There are always too many writing ideas or not enough of them.
Some days, we writers are so overwhelmed with ideas, it’s impossible to get anything done. Should you work on your novel? That essay you’re writing for your favorite magazine? You have an original premise for a short story. And you feel a poem coming on.
Other days, we just can’t find any inspiration.
Prioritizing Your Writing Ideas
Prioritizing your writing ideas will help you stay focused on projects you’ve already started. Too often, we writers run around chasing one idea after another, never finishing the big projects we’ve begun. A priority list that we follow with due diligence will encourage us to finish what we’ve started. And when inspiration is fleeting, we can turn to our priority list and it will remind us that we have plenty of ideas ready and waiting to be explored.
It’s a good idea to keep track of all your ideas, and most writers are already adept at this. We jot our ideas down in our notebooks. We litter our work areas with ideas scrawled on sticky notes. We scrawl concepts on random bits of scrap paper and cocktail napkins. You probably already have a boatload of projects incubating all around you. Now, you just need to get them in order.
Keeping a master list of projects (including your works-in-progress and future project ideas) is a good way to start prioritizing. Electronic lists work well because you can move things around. Note cards are also good organizational tools because you can spread them out, color code them by form, genre, or deadline, and keep them in a box or bound them with a rubber band for easy storage and access.
How to Prioritize Your Writing Ideas
Before you prioritize your writing ideas, create a neat and manageable list using a spreadsheet, word processing document, or set of note cards. Then you can starting putting things in order.
1. Finish What You’ve Started
You’re three chapters into a novel when you come up with a breakthrough story idea for another novel. So you promptly shove your current project to the back burner and move on to the next idea. This is no way to get things done. Make a list of all your unfinished projects — the ones you fully intend on completing. Tackle those first. Add any new ideas to the bottom of the list and refrain from working on your new ideas until you’ve wrapped up the old ones.
2. Do it for Money
I’m not a big believer in making art just for the money, but we all have to eat. If you have projects that will ensure there is food on the table and a roof over your head, then get to those first. Business before pleasure, my friends.
3. Do it for Love
Nothing carries a creative project like passion. If you have tons of writing ideas and aren’t sure which one to focus on first, follow your heart. If you’ve finished your other projects and are eating well, then do what you love.
4. Little Things Come First
When you have a huge list, it can help to work through the little projects first — the ones that will only take a few hours or a couple of days. This is a great way to shorten your project list and get a lot done in a short amount of time. But take care — little projects have a way of popping up all over the place. Make sure you don’t let small projects keep piling up in front of your bigger projects.
5. Even Distribution
If you have big projects, little projects, ongoing projects, and one-time projects, short-term and long-term projects, try prioritizing one of each. In other words, write a poem, then a short story, then an essay, then start that novel, then go back to your poetry. You can go around and around. You’ll chip away at everything a little more slowly, but you’ll be well rounded for your efforts.
How Many Writing Ideas Are You Juggling?
Do you have more writing ideas than you know what to do with? Are you short on time or not sure what to tackle first? Try organizing your projects into a list and then prioritize them using these five methods for putting your projects in order. Keep adding all your new writing ideas to your list, but more importantly, keep writing.
Better writing starts with you.
Today’s post is an edited excerpt from the introduction to 10 Core Practices for Better Writing, a book that aims to impart best practices in the craft of writing.
“When I’m writing, I know I’m doing the thing I was born to do.” — Anne Sexton
Words. They have the power to captivate the imagination, impart knowledge, express feelings, and share ideas. They are magical, and they are powerful.
A writer makes things out of words: sentences and paragraphs, essays and articles, books, poems, stories, and scripts. We use writing to create, communicate, share, and express ourselves. We use it to connect with people.
Writing is one of the most useful skills a person can possess. Think about how stories, speeches, films, and books have impacted society and culture, how they have shaped people’s thoughts and beliefs, and you’ll get an inkling of just how influential writing can be.
Everybody learns how to write. We go to school, learn our letters, practice reading, and eventually, we can put words on the page.
We aren’t born writers; we become writers.
We all have to work at building and growing our writing abilities. Whether writing is a hobby or a career, if you want to be good at it, you have to make a commitment to it.
Good writing requires an extensive set of skills. We have to organize our thoughts and ideas, express them clearly, and compose sentences that are correct and make sense.
Great writing requires a whole lot more. An expert writer understands language, syntax, and context. A firm grasp on grammar and orthography is essential. A vast vocabulary, a talent for puns, and a knack for storytelling are all skills that benefit any writer.
There’s a lot to learn, and in order to establish the skills that every successful writer needs, we must develop lifelong writing habits. We must live the writing life.
It won’t happen overnight, and you might have to make some sacrifices, but by managing your time wisely and investing in yourself and your writing, you’ll develop good habits and core practices that lead to better writing.
10 Core Practices for Better Writing
10 Core Practices for Better Writing is for people who are ready to commit to producing better writing.
It’s not a learn-how-to-write-overnight or write-a-best-selling-novel-in-thirty-days book. It won’t fill your head with story ideas. It won’t drill down into the nitty-gritty of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It won’t tell you how to land an agent or get a publishing deal, nor will it walk you through the steps of self-publishing or marketing your writing. It’s not a book about getting rich or famous.
This is the book you read before doing all that. It’s for becoming the best writer you can be.
The concepts covered in this book are beneficial for all writers. These are the core practices upon which you can build to make your writing good, then great. Think of the practices contained in 10 Core Practices for Better Writing as seeds; if you plant them, water them, and nourish them, they will flourish and you will continually grow as a writer. If you make the time and put in the effort to adopt these practices, your writing will blossom.
Why I Wrote 10 Core Practices for Better Writing
When I started my blog, Writing Forward, in 2007, I chose writing as the topic because I was passionate about writing and it’s the thing I’m best at doing. I had no idea that the site would help so many writers, that teachers would use it in their classrooms, or that I’d end up coaching other writers. Other than writing something I’m personally proud of, helping other writers has been the most rewarding aspect of my career.
I wrote 10 Core Practices for Better Writing because I love working with other writers and helping them be the best writers they can be. I especially love helping young, new, and beginning writers. To see writers develop, to see their work improve with time and effort, and to contribute to their development is incredibly fulfilling.
What separates the great writers from the mediocre ones is not luck or talent. It’s grit and determination and a lot of hard work. If you want to write well, put in the time and eventually you’ll become a master.
If you love to write, then the work will oftentimes be enjoyable. But there will also be times when the work is hard or frustrating. Sometimes it might even seem impossible.
I encourage you to push through those times when writing doesn’t come easily, when ideas aren’t readily available, and when words and sentences refuse to flow and the whole process becomes maddening.
Always remember that the ends make the means worthwhile.
I hope this book will inspire you to make a conscious commitment to strive for better writing every day.
Should you learn good grammar?
Every writer I know has a different perspective on just how good grammar needs to be.
Some are sticklers who insist on adhering to the highest standards of the literary order. Others are comfortable taking creative liberties and believe that breaking the rules is an art unto itself and a practice that should be embraced.
Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I believe that a writer who is dedicated to the craft will take the time and invest the energy required to master the most basic tools, grammar being foremost among them. But I also believe there are situations in which it’s best to break the rules — as long as you know which rules you’re breaking and why.
Too many times I’ve heard aspiring writers shrug off good grammar, saying they’d rather focus on plot or character, they’d prefer to use a natural, unlearned approach to keep the writing raw, or they will simply hire an editor to do the dirty work.
I have a hard time buying into those lines of reasoning. Refusing to bother with grammar is just plain lazy, especially for writers who yearn to be more than hobbyists.
10 Good Reasons to Pursue Good Grammar
Why should writers should embrace grammar rather than make excuses for ignoring it? Here are ten reasons why good grammar should be a central pursuit in your writing efforts:
If your work is peppered with grammatical mistakes and typos, your readers are going to have a hard time trudging through it. Nothing is more distracting than being yanked out of a good story because a word is misspelled or a punctuation mark is misplaced. You should always respect your readers enough to deliver a product that is enjoyable and easy to use.
Some musicians learn to play by ear and never bother to learn how to read music. Many of them don’t even know which notes and chords they’re playing, even though they can play a full repertoire of recognizable songs and probably a few of their own. But get them in a room with other musicians and they’ll quickly become isolated. You can’t engage with others in your profession if you don’t speak the language of your industry. Good luck talking shop with writers and editors if you don’t know the parts of speech, the names of punctuation marks, and all the other components of language and writing that are related to good grammar.
3. Getting Published
How will you get that short story, essay, or blog post published if you don’t know the basics of grammar, spelling, and punctuation? Sure, some managing editors will go over your work and clean it up for you, but most reputable publishers have enough submissions that they can toss grammatically weak work into the trash without thinking twice.
4. Working with an Editor
I love it when writers say they can just hire an editor. This goes back to communication. If you can’t talk shop with other writers, you certainly won’t be able to converse intelligently about your work and its flaws with a professional editor. How will you respond to feedback and revision suggestions or requests when you don’t know what the heck the editor is talking about? Remember, it’s your work. Ultimately, the final version is your call and you won’t be able to approve it if you’re clueless about what’s wrong with it.
5. Saving Money
Speaking of hiring an editor, you should know that editors will only go so far when correcting a manuscript. It’s unseemly to return work to a writer that is solid red with markups. Most freelance editors and proofreaders have a limit to how much they will mark up any given text, so the more grammar mistakes there are, the more surface work the editor will have to do. That means she won’t be able to get into the nitty gritty and make significant changes that take your work from average to superior because she’s breaking a sweat just trying to make it readable.
6. Invest in Yourself
Learning grammar is a way to invest in yourself. You don’t need anything more than a couple of good writing resources and a willingness to take the time necessary to hone your skills. In the beginning, it might be a drag, but eventually, all those grammar rules will become second nature and you will have become a first-rate writer.
7. Respectability, Credibility, and Authority
As a first-rate writer who has mastered good grammar, you will gain respect, credibility, and authority among your peers. People will take you seriously and regard you as a person who is committed to the craft of writing, not just some hack trying to string words together in a haphazard manner.
8. Better Writing All Around
When you’ve taken the time to learn grammar, it becomes second nature. As you write, the words and punctuation marks come naturally because you know what you’re doing; you’ve studied the rules and put in plenty of practice. That means you can focus more of your attention on other aspects of your work, like structure, context, and imagery (to name a few). This leads to better writing all around.
Some people don’t have it. They charge through life completely unaware of themselves or the people around them. But most of us possess some sense of self. What sense of self can you have as a writer who doesn’t know proper grammar? That’s like being a carpenter who doesn’t know what a hammer and nails are. It’s almost indecent.
10. There’s Only One Reason to Abstain from Good Grammar
There is really only one reason to avoid learning grammar: you’re just plain lazy. Anything else is a silly excuse. Like I said, I’m all for breaking the rules when doing so makes the work better, but how can you break rules effectively if you don’t know what the rules are?
No matter what trade, craft, or career you’re pursuing, it all starts with learning the basics. Actors learn how to read scripts. Scientists learn how to apply the scientific method. Politicians learn how to… well, never mind what politicians do. We are writers. We must learn how to write well, and writing well definitely requires using good grammar.
Share your favorite reasons why writers should embrace good grammar by leaving a comment. Feel free to recommend useful writing resources and grammar guides. And keep writing!
Poetry writing exercises: alliteration and assonance.
Today’s poetry writing exercise is an excerpt from 101 Creative Writing Exercises.
The exercises in 101 Creative Writing Exercises encourage you to experiment with different forms and genres while providing inspiration for publishable projects and imparting useful writing techniques that make your writing more robust.
This poetry writing exercise is from “Chapter Eight: Free Verse.” It’s titled “Alliteration and Assonance.” This exercise covers two literary devices that make your writing more rhythmic and memorable. Enjoy!
Poetry Writing Exercise: Alliteration and Assonance
Developing a vocabulary of poetry terms and literary devices will help you better understand the writing techniques and tools that are at your disposal. It may not occur to you that you can build rhythm by repeating consonant sounds. When you know the meaning of alliteration, then this idea is more likely to influence your work.
Poetry terms, such as alliteration and assonance, show us how clever, creative word arrangements add musicality to any piece of writing, making it more compelling and memorable. These terms and the concepts they represent apply to all types of writing, not just poetry.
Alliteration is the repetition of the initial consonant sounds of words in close proximity to one another. Examples of alliteration include black and blue, we walk, and time after time.
In some cases, alliteration is used to refer to any repeated consonant sounds, even if they don’t occur at the beginning of words. An example of this would be “blue notebook,” where the b sound is repeated at the beginning of blue and in the middle of notebook.
Alliteration might also be used to describe the repetition of a consonant sound nestled in the middle or even at the end of words. Blueberry, for example, contains alliteration within a single word.
Assonance is similar to alliteration, except it deals exclusively with vowel sounds. Assonance occurs when accented vowel sounds are repeated in proximity:
Assonance allows literary writers to create fun phrases.
In the example phrase above, there are several runs of assonance. The opening a sounds in the words assonance and allows demonstrate one run of assonance. This run is marked with underlining. A second run is marked with bold lettering and occurs with the a sounds in create and phrases. Can you find a third run of assonance in the sentence?
Assonance often evokes a sense of rhyme without serving up a direct or technical rhyme. The phrase “fancy pants” is an example of this.
So, how are alliteration and assonance used for effect? Well, think about repetition in general. When you repeat something over and over, it becomes embedded in memory. Alliteration and assonance work the same way. If used correctly, these devices enhance the rhythm of a piece, making it more memorable.
Go through a piece of writing (your own or someone else’s) and look for instances of assonance and alliteration.
The material you work with can be poetry, fiction, a journal entry, or a blog post. Any form of writing will do.
Mark the runs of assonance and alliteration with bold, underlining, italics, or highlighting. When you’re done, read the piece aloud to get the full effect.
Tips: Double-check the runs you’ve identified for assonance to make sure they mark stressed (or accented) syllables. Watch out for sounds that are different but use the same letter (such as the a sounds in cat and cape).
Variations: As an alternative to identifying alliteration and assonance in a piece of writing, try writing a short piece with several runs in it. Or revise a page from an existing writing project to inject alliteration and assonance into it.
Applications: Musicality and repetition enrich any piece of writing. Too often, writers focus on content and not language. The study of poetry, poetry terms, and literary devices like alliteration and assonance reminds us to work on our language, word choice, and sentence structure.
Take a break with these creative writing activities
Every once in a while, we writers need a break from our regular writing routines. Whether we spend our work week crafting copy for clients or dedicate late-night hours pounding out chapter and verse, we occasionally need respite from the monotony.
We get burnt out in the middle of a long project and need to step away so we can gain perspective and recharge our creativity. Sometimes we need to rejuvenate between projects. When a major project is finished, we need to find our next big idea.
But we also want to keep writing. A short vacation from writing practice starts with good intentions but ends with wondering how months or years slipped by without getting any real writing done.
One great way to continue writing while taking a break from our work is by engaging in creative writing activities. These are activities that remind us that writing is fun, meaningful, and invigorating, and they keep our writing skills sharp.
Creative Writing Activities
These creative writing activities provide respite from your daily writing routine. Try one or try them all. Use them when you need a break from your regular work or when you’re between projects.
- Poetry Walk
- Grab your notebook and put on your walking shoes. Take a stroll and make notes about what you see: city life and wildlife. Take photos to capture what you’ve seen. Pause during your walk (stop at a park bench) and compose a poem or wait until you return home. A poetry walk is a great way to collect ideas and images for your creative writing projects.
- Writing Exercises
- Writing exercises keep your skill sharp and your creativity flowing even when inspiration is fleeting.
- Character Journal
- Fiction writers need to get inside their characters’ heads. A great way to do this is to keep a journal as your character. It’s a great way to understand a character and find his or her voice.
- Re-imagine the Classics
- The greatest stories in history are revised and retold over and over again. Choose a classic legend or fairy tale and re-imagine it. Write an outline or draft the whole story.
- Photo Prompts
- Head over to Flickr or use Google image search to look for interesting photos that you can use to prompt a random creative writing session.
- Sell Yourself
- Take a break from your creative work and get down to business. Work on a query letter, a book proposal, or content for your author’s website.
- What-if List
- The best writing ideas come from asking what-if questions. Make a big list of what-if questions that you can use later for writing inspiration.
- Name Game
- You’ve got characters, story ideas, a novel in the works, and a blog. Conduct a brainstorming session to come with names and titles for these projects.
- Tool Time
- Do you consistently write in your notebook with your favorite pen or is all your writing done on a computer? Try mixing it up and using a variety of writing instruments: pencils, crayons, markers. Write on note cards, sticky notes, and cardboard.
- Idea Box
- Take a break from writing and make an idea box. This is a place where you can stash writing ideas, exercises, and prompts for later use. It can be as simple as a cardboard shipping box or you can decorate a fancier vessel for your treasure. Use note cards to record your ideas and prompts and then toss them in the box. Use them whenever the mood strikes!
- Observation Station
- Get out of your own head. Grab your notebook or journal and head to a heavily populated area. Park yourself on a bench or in a comfy café and do a little people watching. Record your observations and brainstorm ways you can use observation to influence and empower your writing.
- Vocabulary Building
- A writer without words is working without tools! Dedicate some time to expanding your vocabulary. Play some word games (crossword puzzles, for example), sign up for a word-of-the-day program, or flip through the dictionary. Start a language journal, a place where you can keep track of newly learned words.
Do you ever take a break from the seriousness of writing to engage in creativity exercises? What are some of your favorite creative writing activities?
How to become a better writer.
There’s more to writing than pushing a pen across a piece of paper, and there’s more to being a writer than having written.
These days, everyone’s a writer. We write emails, text messages, and lists. A free blog is just a few clicks away. Self-publishing has drawn tens of thousands of dreamers who have scrawled stories and uploaded them to the web for all to read.
Everyone’s a writer, including you.
But how do you differentiate yourself? How do you stand out from the crowd? How do you make your words and ideas resonate with a reading audience?
Steps to Becoming a Better Writer
There’s more to becoming a better writer than improving your writing, although that’s certainly part of it. Here are a few ways you can become a better writer:
1. Make the commitment: Sometimes the difference between a working writer and a would-be author is as simple as making a commitment to writing (and then sticking with it).
2. Do the work: Write as often as you can, every day if possible. Spend more time writing than talking about writing or thinking about writing.
3. Engage with other writers: They will keep your fire burning, and they can help you with your writing. Find a writing buddy or group of writers and swap critiques.
4. Study the craft: There’s always more to learn. Writing is a complex and intricate field. I don’t think anyone can learn it all in one lifetime, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying!
5. Read: The single best way to become a better writer is to simply read.
6. Know the industry: If you plan on being a professional writer, you should familiarize yourself with the business side of things. Become knowledgeable about submitting your work, publishing, and marketing.
7. Be diligent: Rewrite, edit, proof, repeat. Nobody wants to read your rough drafts, including agents, editors, and fellow writers who are critiquing your work or helping you with proofreading and editing.
8. Build a platform: Thanks to the Internet, it is cheaper and easier to build a platform today than ever before. Learn how to market yourself: find your readers, connect with them, and sell your books.
9. Know your audience: I like to think of a reading audience as a group of people connected by a common interest or passion. Who are your readers?
10. Be yourself: Don’t write what’s hot, write what’s in your heart.
How much effort do you invest in improving your writing? Do you take steps every day to become a better writer? What steps have you taken to develop your craft and grow as a writer? Do you have any tips to add to this list? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing!