Don’t let rejection letters get to you!
Please welcome Natasa Lekic from NY Book Editors with a post that will help you handle rejection letters. Read well, because this post is packed with excellent advice.
Rejection letters are a cruel, inevitable part of every writer’s life. However, they shouldn’t derail your writing habits, which is why it’s critical to get over rejection notes as quickly as possible. To do this, you need to understand their actual value and how it compares to the act of writing.
The advice below will help you cultivate habits and a state of mind that will make rejections feel like a passing annoyance.
- Recall the rejections of writers you admire. Most writers, throughout history, have known the bitter taste of rejection. To read their stories or listen to their interviews is a way of reminding yourself that you’re not alone. They didn’t let rejection stop them from writing – and neither should you. Take rejection as an event in your life that you share with the likes of Joseph Heller, Stephen King, and JK Rowling, among countless luminaries.
- Reconsider your expectations. Your reaction to the rejection is directly correlated with your expectations. When you emailed the submission or query letter, did you fully expect to see your story in the literary magazine or did you envision meeting your new agent in New York? Consider the volume of submissions and queries that get sent to your recipient(s). Once you realize how challenging it is to get noticed, rejections won’t feel as painful.
- Play the numbers game. Submit, submit, submit. One rejection doesn’t seem like a big deal when you have many possibilities available to you. Never put all your eggs in one basket. Opinions about writing are subjective. You need to reach out to a lot of people in order to find someone who supports your work.
- Tell your negative thoughts to shut up. Negative energy leads to self-doubt and is more likely to cause negative outcomes. Athletes know this and train themselves to focus away from negativity. You should do the same. When you manage to remain optimistic, you’re more likely to stick to your writing schedule, write well, and think of new, interesting ideas.
- Fail wisely. When you receive a rejection that contains a personal response, appreciate the fact that the recipient thought highly enough of your work to take the time to respond. Approach the criticism with an open mind. Consider the fact that they might be right, and try to learn from it. What can you do differently next time?
- Turn submissions/queries into a routine. The way to be successful in the long term is to turn your submission efforts into a routine. Submitting your work or querying agents should be a tick on your weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly to-do list. It’s nothing more or less. The important work is the time you spend writing. Submissions and queries are a necessary administrative task, like doing your taxes. Turn it into a habit so you know you’re checking those boxes, and carry on with your real work.
- Reward Yourself. You deserve recognition for the work you’ve done, whatever the outcome. You did your part by completing the story or the manuscript and sending it out into the world, which was no small feat. Remember to reward yourself for the work you do once in a while, whether it’s with a glass of good red wine or an afternoon’s walk in the park. Your commitment to the craft of writing should be appreciated.
If you follow most of this advice, the negative mental effect of rejection letters will recognizably diminish. You’ll be able to maintain a state of mind that allows you to get back to the desk and continue writing.
Elizabeth Gilbert says she’ll “always be safe from the random hurricanes of outcome” as long as she never forgets to continue writing. The same goes for you. If you can keep going, you’ll be OK.
About the Author: Natasa Lekic is the founder of NY Book Editors, an affiliation of editors with extensive publishing industry experience who provide freelance editing services to authors.
Is creative writing a lifestyle?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines lifestyle as “a particular way of living: the way a person lives or a group of people live.”
Dictionary.com defines it as “the habits, attitudes, tastes, moral standards, economic level, etc., that together constitute the mode of living of an individual or group.”
A lifestyle is something you build for yourself from all the elements that make up your daily life: your thoughts, dreams, actions, routine, work, family, friends, food, hobbies, habits, and interests.
So is creative writing a lifestyle?
Examining the Writer’s Life
The writer’s life is unique. We spend a lot of time alone, with only our words and ideas to keep us company. We are immersed in word counts and submissions, manuscripts and notebooks. We work under tight deadlines and live in fear of typos. When other people are enjoying their favorite television shows or a day at the beach, we’re busy at our keyboards, doing our writerly work.
We are idea seekers — always looking for the next topic, poem, or plot. Every moment is an experience that could lead to a masterpiece, so every moment is a masterpiece. We live as observers, taking in the world around us so we can share the best parts of it with our readers.
We are communicators, using words to forge connections. It’s not enough to tell a story. We want to show readers what it was like to be there, to live it, even if it never really happened.
And the most ambitious writers, those who are driven to make creative writing not just a way of life but a career, must also look at themselves in a way few other people do. We must see ourselves as authors and learn how to brand and market ourselves. We have to be self-promoters, and we have to be brave enough to put our work, which can be highly personal, out there for all the world to see.
The Creative Writing Life
The writing community is a tight one. Outside of literary circles, when two bookworms or writers bump into each other, they’re sure to forge an instant bond because such a person is a rare treasure. There may be some competition among writers, but most of what I’ve seen is goodwill and support.
We find ourselves outside of social norms. Our day jobs are simply a means to pay our bills. The real work happens early in the morning, late at night, and on weekends, when the rest of the world is playing. But our work is play. We writers breathe language. We engage in make-believe. We search for stories that beg to be told. We are concerned with words and images, grammar and structure, the historical and the fantastical, fact and fiction (and the difference between the two). And while we may be concerned with ordinary living, we ourselves experience a rather extraordinary life.
We get excited over things that put regular people to sleep — a passionate voice, a riveting scene, a complex character. We delight in office supplies, stationery, and writing instruments, tools that other people see as mere necessities.
All these things make up the life of a writer, a writer’s lifestyle.
How Do You Live?
Creative writing is an adventure, and it’s an adventure that is threaded throughout every minute of a writer’s day. That’s my experience, anyway. How does being a writer shape your daily life? Do you consider it a lifestyle? A hobby? A habit?
Let’s look at four types of writing.
Please welcome guest author Bryan Collins with a post exploring four types of writing.
This craft of ours is hard. You’ve got an idea, you’ve finished your research, and you know you’ve got something important to write about. There’s just one problem. When you try to write, the words feel slow, awkward, and off target.
Do you want to know a secret?
Good writing does at least one of four things: it educates, informs, entertains or inspires.
- A tutorial shows a reader how they can accomplish a task.
- A news story tells your reader something important about a current event.
- A short story gives your reader a place to escape to.
- A self-help book inspires your reader to make a change in their life.
Great writing does all of these things. You don’t have to do all four, but before you start to write, ask yourself, what am I trying to do for my reader?
Here are the only four answers that count.
I Want to Inform
Take lesson from journalism. The job of a journalist is to tell readers of a newspaper, magazine, or website exactly what’s happening. Facts are the currency of a journalist. They write the most important point first, the second most important thing second, and so on.
Even if you’re not writing journalism, this type of structured writing will help you inform readers.
Your headline, first sentence, and first paragraph should answer the following questions in increasing levels of detail:
- What happened?
- To whom did it happen?
- Where did it happen?
- Why did it happen?
- How did it happen?
- When did it happen?
This approach will help you inform readers about a topic you’re passionate about.
I Want to Educate
Educating your reader means you must approach every topic with a beginner’s mind.
When you become practiced at a task or skill, your writing voice dulls itself on a groove of repetition. Your arguments establish themselves and your opinions solidify. You turn to the same haggard metaphors and imagery long after their prime.
This isn’t fun to write, and it’s not exciting to read.
Consider starting a new job: For the first few weeks or months, you are an outsider who sees the workplace differently and wonders why things are done a certain way. Sometimes, forward-thinking managers will capitalize on your outsider’s insight to make informed changes.
For those first few weeks, you are a unique commodity.
Writing like a beginner means bringing a renewed sense of passion and curiosity to the page. It means seeing things like an outsider or beginner who is learning something for the first time.
I Want to Inspire
The author Christy Brown was born with cerebral palsy in 1932 into a large working class family in Dublin.
Although he didn’t receive schooling for much his life, Brown still learned to read and write with the support of his mother. As an adult, he wrote several critically acclaimed books and collections of poetry using his left foot.
In his autobiography, My Left Foot, Christy described what it was like to grow up with a disability and how others regarded him. He had no qualms about revealing intimate personal details, such as his loneliness and sexual desires.
Brown inspired many people because he pursued a passion in spite of personal adversity. Through this pursuit, he revealed an essential truth about living with a disability in Dublin during the mid part of the twentieth century. In 1989, the director Jim Sheridan even turned the story of Brown’s life into an Oscar-winning film.
Brown’s story is an extreme example, but you can still inspire your readers to take action by writing honestly about adversity and how you regard the world you live in.
I Want to Entertain
If you want to entertain your reader, tell a story.
This creative skill is difficult to master until you turn to the Hero’s Journey.
This is the basic framework behind many narratives and popular stories told around the world throughout history. Essentially, a hero leaves the world they are living in to go on an adventure. After overcoming a challenge, he or she returns home a changed person.
The scholar Joseph Campbell best explains this framework in The Hero With a Thousand Faces:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his people.
You can find this framework in films like The Matrix and Star Wars. In the latter example, Luke leaves his home planet to go on an adventure and save Princess Leia. What happens next changes him, and he becomes a Jedi.
When you write to entertain, tell a story about a journey and how the hero overcame a big challenge.
Ready to Write? Wait!
Before writing this article, I set out to give you an overview the four most common types of writing.
If you don’t know what type of writing you’re producing, you’ll find this craft harder and slower than it needs to be.
Please don’t be that kind of writer.
Before you start writing, establish what you want to give your readers. This will give you confines within which to write, you will find it easier to put the right words down, and you will have a goal to write toward.
Your readers will thank you for it.
What tips do you have for teaching, informing, inspiring or entertaining? Please let me know.
About the Author: Bryan Collins is on a mission to teach people how to become writers and finish what they started with A Handbook for the Productive Writer. Get your exclusive free samples and start your journey on Become A Writer Today.
Creative writing prompts for crafting stunning imagery.
Today, I’d like to share a collection of prompts from 1200 Creative Writing Prompts, which contains a variety of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction writing prompts.
Some of the prompts in the book are story starters. Some are word lists. The prompts I’m sharing today are simple but provocative images that are designed to spark a writing session.
In writing, imagery is the key that can unlock a reader’s imagination. When an image is rendered with the right combination of words, it magically appears in the reader’s mind like a photograph or film clip.
Here’s an example:
A woman wearing a black dress is lying on the floor in a disheveled room.
Now look at the image above. Note the details that are missing from the sentence above: the tilting couch and mirror, the shiny hardwood floor, and the brightly colored plastic flower in the foreground. These details were left out of the example sentence to create a white space, which the readers can fill in for themselves.
One reader might imagine clothing scattered across a carpet, a broken lamp, and a woman who has been injured lying on the floor, waiting for help. Another reader might picture the aftermath of a party: dirty dishes, empty bottles, and a woman passed out from drinking too much wine. One reader will imagine a wild and beautiful young woman, another will picture an older, more refined woman.
The perfect balance of description and white space provides just enough detail to make the image manifest, but not so much that the reader’s own imagination fails to be engaged. As a writer, it’s your job to know how much detail you need to include in your writing in order to bring out the most important elements of any image.
Creative Writing Prompts
Today’s creative writing prompts deal with creating imagery in writing. Each prompt consists of an item, which functions as the inspiration for a larger image. You’ll need to paint in the final strokes so the image and its emotional implications become clear.
As you work through these creative writing prompts, try asking questions about the prompt you’ve chosen from the list and the image it evokes. Where is it? Who put it there? Why? Ask questions until the image comes into focus. Then all you have to do is use your words to paint the picture you have developed in your mind.
You can use these writing prompts to create an essay, short story, or a quick freewrite. You can write a few paragraphs or a few pages. Let the prompt provide the image, and then let a story about that image unfold. Use your words to follow wherever the image takes you. Does it evolve into a scene from a film? A poem? Ride it to its conclusion.
- A pair of baby shoes
- A torn photograph
- A broken bottle and a guitar pick
- A “no smoking” sign and a pair of fishnet stockings
- An oxygen tank
- A partially deflated basketball
- A fishing rod
Once you’re done, come back and tell us how these creative writing prompts worked for you. And keep writing.
Are you wired for storytelling?
Are you a storyteller? Do you want to be? Then I suggest you pick up a copy of Wired for Story, ASAP.
This is easily the best book on writing fiction that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. The book takes a fresh approach and tackles fiction writing from a scientific perspective. Thus the subtitle: “The writer’s guide to using brain science to hook readers from the very first sentence.”
Before all you left-brained creatives bristle at the word science, know this: the book is completely accessible. It doesn’t confuse you with complex scientific jargon. Instead, it uses simple examples (mostly told as stories) to demonstrate the science behind story.
What keeps the reader’s brain engaged? What causes the reader’s brain to wander off in search of something more compelling? How do you hook readers in the first place? If you want to know the answers to these questions, you need to read this book.
Not only does Wired for Story answer these questions, it explains what are the most critical elements that your story needs in order to resonate with readers. And as an avid reader, I found myself nodding along with every piece of insight and advice this book offers.
We’re All Wired for Story
“Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution.”
– Lisa Cron, Wired for Story
In the past year, I’ve read several books on the craft of fiction writing. I don’t think I finished half of them. Some were unrelatable (like the one that used a bunch of novels I’ve never read or heard of as examples). Others were written in a tone that I found dull (and in one case, offensive).
So when Wired for Story arrived in my mailbox, I was a bit hesitant. But once I got started, the book was hard to put down. Not only did it address issues that most other books on the craft of storytelling miss or gloss over (even though they are of critical importance), I found it fun and entertaining, too.
I found concepts in this book that I could immediately put into practice. I experienced several aha! moments where I thought that’s exactly what my manuscript needs!
“Storytelling trumps beautiful writing every time.”
– Lisa Cron, Wired for Story
My favorite chapters dealt with characters (and more specifically, the protagonist), explaining the importance of creating characters who inspire emotion from the reader, characters who want something (one thing internally and something else externally), and characters who possess the all-important inner issue. I immediately recognized the validity of these concepts and because they were explained so smoothly, I could even see where my own characters were missing the mark.
Perhaps most importantly, Wired for Story will get you out of your own head and force you to think not like a writer, but like a reader. You want people to buy your book, read it, and give it positive reviews. So, you better be cognizant of what their expectations are and what they will experience when they read your story. Why should they care about the protagonist? How will they relate to her goals, struggles, and inner issues? Or will they?
Best of all, I found Wired for Story to be highly motivational. I couldn’t wait to finish each chapter so I could work on my own story and apply the concepts I’d picked up.
Whether you’re thinking about writing a novel, in the middle of drafting a story, or working on revisions for a screenplay, this book will keep your head in the game, because it’s a constant reminder that writing is a delight. It cuts through the fluff and gets to the heart of what makes a story work.
Get Wired for Story
“Writers are, and always have been, among the most powerful
people in the world.” – Lisa Cron, Wired for Story
We’re all wired for story, but are you wired for storytelling? Find out what really hooks readers and keeps them glued the page, and learn how to write a story that people will read and love. What are you waiting for?
Get Wired for Story right now.
A few insights to help you write better fiction.
You know that feeling you get when you read a novel and become completely lost in it? You can’t put it down, so you lose track of time. When you finally finish, you wish it would just keep going.
Isn’t that the kind of novel you want to write?
Over the past year, I’ve read only a few books that I couldn’t put down. Unfortunately, several of the books I started to read didn’t keep my interest past the first few chapters. There was a time when I forced myself to finish every book I started, no matter how boring it was. But I don’t have time for that anymore. My book pile is big and my reading list is long, so if I’m not compelled by the time the second act gets underway, I move on and find something more intriguing.
The Best Fiction Sticks
I’ve been thinking about what makes some books so easy to put down and what makes some stories impossible to let go of. After reading The Catcher in the Rye, for example, I had the strangest feeling that Holden Caulfield was a real person. I expected him to come walking around some corner and start mumbling about the lousy week he was having. This sensation lingered for a few days, both times I read the book.
But let’s go back further. I read Charlotte’s Web when I was about six years old. Then I read it again. And again, and again. I watched the animated movie over and over. No matter how many times I read the book or watched the film, I always cried at the end. To this day, quotes from the book and scenes from the movie get me choked up. It’s a story that sticks.
The most recent book I couldn’t put down was a trilogy: The Hunger Games. I’m a science fiction fan, so the dystopian world intrigued me, but what really kept me glued to the page was the heroine, Katniss Everdeen. She wasn’t fearless but she was brave, strong, and honorable. It’s rare to find female characters of this caliber in fiction, and it’s not every day that a novel with such positive messages becomes a worldwide sensation.
Writing Better Fiction
If we want to write better fiction, we have to read the best fiction, and figure out what makes it so excellent. When I’m absorbed in a book, I always try to keep one corner of my find focused on what the writer is doing so brilliantly to keep my full attention on the story. Some things are obvious: believable characters, an interesting plot, realistic dialogue. Other elements of the best fiction are a bit more elusive. Here are some observations I’ve made about how to write better-than-average fiction:
Give Them a Reason to Read
If I get to the third chapter of a book and still don’t care about it, I’ll probably put it in the donation pile and pity whoever ends up with it. The characters have to want something badly enough to go out there and try to get it. The must have purpose, an objective if you will.
Don’t Bore Your Readers
Pages of description, minute details that are neither interesting nor relevant to the plot, and dull scenes that have little purpose will bore readers to death. Keep the conflict coming and the action moving and your readers will stay up to read your book rather than reading it to help them fall asleep.
It’s the Little Things
Too much detail and description gets boring, but the right details can make an otherwise average scene extraordinary. One liners that make readers laugh, subtle (or overt) pop culture references, and symbols that have deeper meaning keep readers stimulated.
Stimulate Imagination, Provoke Thought, and Pull Heartstrings
Speaking of stimulation, it’s one of the main reasons people enjoy reading so much. Sure, lots of readers are just looking for escape and entertainment, but plenty of us want to engage our imaginations and have our intellects challenged. Get readers emotionally involved, and not only will they enjoy your book; they’ll also become loyal fans of your work.
Do Something Different
Forget about trying to be completely original. I doubt that’s possible anymore. Every story is the result of stories that have come before. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put your unique stamp on your story.
Write Smooth Sentences That Make Sense
This one is last on the list for a reason. One of the best novels I read recently did not have the best sentence structures. In fact, some paragraphs were fragmented and disjointed–not so much that I couldn’t understand what was going on, but it was a bit jarring at times. The story was strong enough that I didn’t care all that much, but this type of oversight can mean the difference between a four-star and a five-star review.
How Do You Write Better Fiction?
When you’re reading and writing fiction, do you think about the little things that make the difference between a mediocre story and a mesmerizing story? What was the last book you read that you couldn’t put down? What was it about that book that made it so potent? How do you apply what you’ve learned as a reader to your own fiction? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
Please welcome Warren Adler, author of The War of the Roses, with an article that compares print and digital book launches and examines the impact of traditional versus independent publishing on authors’ careers.
The launch of a book, be it the first for an author or their most recent release, has always been the established gateway for traditional publishers to introduce a new work. The launch of a book is like the birth of a baby: crucial and necessary. There is, after all, no future for an unsuccessful birth. For the author, like anything born into a lifecycle, it is the aftermath that really matters, and for those authors seeking career continuity, and even enduring recognition, digital publishing has offered a widening arena of options for keeping a book from disappearing.
The Traditional Publishing Path
I started out as an author with traditional royalty contracts, having my books, The War of the Roses (Warner Books), Random Hearts (Macmillan), The Sunset Gang (Viking Press), Mourning Glory (Kensington), and Trans-Siberian Express (Putnam), among others, represented by large publishers. But traditional publishers could not offer me what I wanted for my work.
The old tried-and-true publishing path went something like this: The book is edited, a cover is designed, and a date is set for the launch. Reviewers are informed and sent copies, an attempt is made to secure endorsements, and the book begins its journey–first, as a hardback. The book is catalogued well in advance. Media outlets are contacted, and some respond, depending on the book and the novelist’s previous work. Bookstores place orders, but most are speculative; the book may or may not be shelved.
Then the launch date arrives, and if the publisher senses buzz around the release, an ad or two might be placed, and coop money invested. A book party may be arranged by the publisher or the author’s friends or relatives. The book is now available for purchase.
But for most books, especially debut novels, if sales are low, the author’s future is dim, and the book eventually fades from the public consciousness. If the book hits a prestigious bestseller list, it has the advantage of being placed in the forefront of the public consciousness by means of various outlets, reminding readers of its presence and sparking purchases. The amount of time on a bestseller list is directly proportional to sales.
Traditionally, a paperback would be launched some time later, and by that point, the hardback is discounted and remaindered. After that, unless the work finds its way on to the big or small screen as an adaptation, or to academia to be adopted into the curriculum, it fades into obscurity and disappears. Traditionally published books are also subject to contractual terms, which eventually take a work out of print based on certain sales outcomes within a given period.
Before the advent of digital publishing, most books had no chance to continue being circulated in new and creative ways, even those that were briefly celebrated. Memory is short, and success and celebrity sputter quickly like the last gasp of a candle before it flames out. Of course, those few who do achieve this brief success consider the spotlight moment as a worthy payout for work well received and recognized as having contributed to the zeitgeist.
While reticence and modesty may inhibit vocalizing their conviction, authors believe that their work has a long tail, has relevance and consequence, and is worthy of survival. From my perspective, it is the absolute truth that motivates artistic creation. But for authors who aspire to endurance, it is in the aftermath where the grand prize lies.
Digital publishing defies traditional norms that dictate the average life span of a book, and authors are no longer bound by the limitations of a traditional book launch.
In shelving methods used by legacy publishers, books would simply be removed from the shelf never to be advertised again. Buyers would have to search for titles in libraries or secondhand bookstores. But when a reader searches for a recently released title with an e-retailer such as Amazon, which also offers a print-on-demand option, iBooks, Nook or Kobo, etc., all the author’s previous works are displayed alongside the search result on the interface. Thus an author’s complete repertoire could always remain available for purchase. An e-book will never go out of print.
The Promotion Front
Thanks also to digital media, an author now has the ability to promote their work via social networking, blogs, online reviews, and personal websites. Authors today, far from having their backlist disappear into the ether, can play an active role in discoverability. This also means that an author can re-launch any book from their backlist at will, utilizing all the networking, publicity, and advertising levers, paid or unpaid, available to the author.
As a novelist and an e-book pioneer, I have long been driven by the issue of discoverability and survival of my books. It has always been a heroic challenge, full of experimentation and beyond predictability, perhaps best characterized by William Shakespeare’s great quote from Macbeth: “If you can look into the seeds of time / And say which grain will grow and which will not, speak, then, to me….”
About the Author: Warren Adler is best known for The War of the Roses, his masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated dark comedy hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito. Adler’s international hit stage adaptation of the novel will premiere on Broadway in 2015-2016. Adler has also optioned and sold film rights for a number of his works including Random Hearts (starring Harrison Ford and Kristen Scott Thomas) and The Sunset Gang. Warren Adler’s newest thriller, Treadmill, is officially available.
FREE writing exercises (literally).
One of the most valuable writing exercises I learned in college was freewriting.
When you sit down with a pen and paper and let words flow freely, amazing things can happen.
At first, freewriting is a bit of a struggle, but if you stick with it, you will produce some gems. The trick is to get out of the way, and let your subconscious take over. Most writing exercises ask you to think. This one requires you do anything but that.
Freewriting is not like other writing exercises; it allows you to generate written material for a variety of projects. It can also help you clear your head or tap into your deeper thoughts.
Writing Exercises and Train of Thought
The first few times I tried freewriting, I botched it. I would describe everything I’d done that day or jot down my thoughts on a particular subject in a random, messy way. Finally, in one of my creative writing classes, I got to hear some examples of freewriting and something clicked. Freewriting is not about train of thought, it’s about stream of consciousness, and there’s a big difference.
Here is an example of one of my early attempts at freewriting:
I set the microwave timer for 30 minutes so that I wouldn’t write for too long, although I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt if I did. Usually I do freewrites in a journal. I have a tendency to reflect on the current events of my personal life during a freewrite.
Yes, I was actually writing about how I was writing.
Train-of-thought writing exercises are pretty coherent. For the most part, the text makes sense, as you can see in the example above. The technique involves writing on a particular subject in a pretty clear manner. This can be useful in many ways, but it won’t tap into your deeper creativity the way freewriting will.
I use train-of-thought writing for clearing my mind or to prepare for writing a nonfiction piece as a brainstorming method to churn out all the information I have stored in my head. But when I’m looking for poetic images or vivid characters, freewriting does a much better job.
Writing Exercises and Stream of Consciousness
After hearing another student’s freewriting read aloud, I had a much better grasp on it. Here’s a sample of what I wrote once I better understood what freewriting was all about:
in moonshine eyelet lace a rhapsody of liquors dancing off light reflected in the cut glass spoons stirring iced candy meltdown of hopes washed out memories of faded photographs and standing in line at a supermarket eyeing the magazines their eyes watching you like cats high up in trees crying for freedom but afraid to come down
The key to stream-of-consciousness writing is to relax your thinking mind and let the images of your subconscious take over. For some people, it takes a little practice, but once you get it down, it becomes a neat trick. So what can you do with it?
Applications for Freewriting
Once you’ve built up a nice collection of freewrites, you have created a repository of images and lines, sentences, and paragraphs. You can now go through and harvest the material for your various writing projects. As you can imagine, the fruits of freewriting lend themselves particularly well to poetry.
When I’m writing poetry, I often go through my freewrites with a highlighter, marking words and phrases that pop or strike me as especially meaningful or aesthetically pleasing. Then I pull these from the freewrite and use them to compose a poem.
Freewrites can also be used to bring creative, colorful language into prose. Strong images and rich language generate work that is more literary in nature, and if done well, it’s a lot more fun to read. It will help you generate words that show rather than tell and make your story or essay come alive more easily in a reader’s mind.
Have you ever tried freewriting? Do you tend toward train-of-thought or stream-of-consciousness writing? Are there any other writing exercises you recommend for creating more vivid prose or poetry?
If you have any writing exercises to share, feel free to post them in the comments.
Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.
Good grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
Let’s get technical for a minute. What, exactly, is grammar?
According to Wikipedia:
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of sentences, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules….Linguists do not normally use the term to refer to orthographical rules, although usage books and style guides that call themselves grammars may also refer to spelling and punctuation.
Technically speaking, in linguistics and academia, spelling and punctuation are not components of grammar. When we discuss the mechanics of writing, we don’t refer to grammar. We refer to grammar, spelling, and punctuation because they are separate components that provide the rules for written language.
So how is grammar meaningful if words aren’t spelled properly and if punctuation isn’t applied correctly in a piece of writing? Aren’t spelling and punctuation critical to the structure of written language?
Grammar and Orthography
There are two common ways that language manifests: it is either spoken or written. Grammar deals with how we structure the language, and it is applied to both speech and writing. Orthography, on the other hand, addresses the rules of a language’s writing system or script.
Orthography deals with spelling and punctuation, because these elements are only relevant when the language is written.
After all, when you say a sentence aloud, you don’t say period, question mark, or exclamation point at the end. However, if you’re reading the sentence aloud, you need these punctuation marks to help you navigate the text, and they also provide cues that inform the way we stress words or inflect the reading.
Proper Grammar and Popular Grammar
I’m not a linguist. I’m a writer. I’m interested in linguistics and etymology, but only to the extent that these fields of study inform my writing and can help me better understand how to use the tools of my craft.
Grammar addresses how we structure our language and includes concepts such as tense agreement, modifiers, sentence diagramming, word order in a sentence, and sentence order in a paragraph.
But when we’re dealing with written language, proper spelling is just as essential as tense agreement. It would be quite difficult to get through a written text that was not punctuated or if the majority of the words were spelled incorrectly.
Spelling, Punctuation, and Good Grammar
Oddly, I’ve found that spelling and punctuation are misused far more than structural (or grammatical) elements in writing. Most people know how to put their words in order, and a writer of average skill is usually good at verb and tense agreements and other aspects of writing that would be construed as grammatical in nature.
Yet plenty of folks struggle with orthography (punctuation and spelling) even if their grammar is in good order. This makes sense, because we are primarily exposed to spelling and punctuation through reading and writing. But the structure of our language comes to us through listening and speaking as well.
In other words, we writers are probably far more immersed in grammar than we are in orthography.
Putting it All Together
Technically speaking, grammar may not include spelling and punctuation, but without all these elements in our writing, proper grammar does not equate good grammar. We talk about grammar, spelling, and punctuation because these are separate but related elements that work together to produce a mechanically coherent piece of writing.
Need ideas for your creative writing projects?
Do you ever feel like you’re in a writing slump?
You can’t find a project worth committing to, or you have so many ideas, you can’t choose just one. You fill your notebooks and journals, but you can’t find a sense of purpose in what you’re doing. Maybe you spend a lot of time thinking about writing but can’t find the time to actually write.
Sometimes, the best plan is to make a plan. Instead of writing in circles or fretting about your projects (or lack thereof), stop and think about what you want to achieve or explore with your writing. Make a list of ideas for creative writing projects that you can sink your teeth into and then choose one and see it through to the end. You’ll come out of it with a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
Ideas for Creative Writing
Whether you’re stuck in a slump or caught up in a cacophony of projects that are vying for your attention, reviewing your options is the single best way to get refocused. You might decide that you need a big, long-term project that will keep you busy for months, or you might choose something short and simple that you can finish quickly. You might realize that you don’t need a project at all — what you need are better writing habits and practices so you can stick with your craft.
Below is a list of ideas for creative writing projects and practices. This list is meant to inspire you to think about your personal goals as a writer so you can make solid decisions about what to focus on in the near future.
- Make a chapbook, a little thematic collection of essays, stories, or poems (or all of these). Print copies and bring them to readings or your local, indie bookstore, or make an ebook and sell or give it away online.
- Start a blog. Give yourself a public space in which to write, put your voice out there, and stick to a regular writing schedule.
- Set aside twenty minutes every day for writing. Write whatever you want during those twenty minutes, just make sure you do it every day.
- Write for change. Find something you’re passionate about and affect change through writing (a blog is great for this).
- Participate in NaNoWriMo. It happens every November, and you can spend the months before NaNo plotting, outlining, and sketching characters.
- Read for an hour every night before bed. Reading will inspire you and it will make you a better writer.
- Keep a journal. Spend ten or fifteen minutes a day jotting down your thoughts and ideas, or use your journal as a space to practice clear, compelling writing.
- Tackle writing exercises that inspire and challenge you.
- Go to an open mic. Attend as a listener or bring your work and share it with the audience.
- Read everything you’ve ever written. Go through all your files and notebooks. You’ll see that your writing has improved over time, and you may find some old projects that are worth dusting off and revisiting.
- Submit something. If you’ve accumulated a lot of writing over the years, there’s a good chance you have a few publishable pieces. Why keep them hidden away?
- Write about writing. Why do you write? What do you love about writing? What are your goals? The very act of writing a personal statement will shed light on an otherwise murky path.
- Join a writing group or find a writing partner. Groups and partners have a lot to offer: they help you stay focused, they can offer feedback and criticism to help you improve your work, and they can be your support system.
- Join a book club. If you don’t read much, your writing will suffer. If you haven’t read enough, a book club will introduce you to worthwhile literature and provide a space in which you can explore writing from the reader’s perspective.
- Take a creative writing class or workshop. You’ll get to do exercises, assignments, and engage with other writers. Surround yourself with peers and mentors and get feedback on your work.
- Re-imagine your favorite story. Take an old legend or fairy tale and give it a modern twist. Start with an outline, and if your concept works, develop it into a short story, novel, or screenplay.
- Get personal. Write a polished personal essay about an experience you’ve had that you think it worth sharing. If the project intrigues you, let it expand into a memoir, or fictionalize it and turn it into a novel.
- Try something new. If you always write fiction, try to write a song lyric. If you’re stuck on poetry, try writing a personal essay. Change genres: if you’re a romance writer, give science fiction a spin.
What are some of your favorite ideas for creative writing projects and practices? If you have any ideas to add to this list, please share them in the comments. And keep writing!
Do you take your writing seriously?
Please welcome guest author Jack Woodville London, author of A Novel Approach (To Writing Your First Book).
“What I find hard about writing,” Nora Ephron said, “is the writing.”
There’s a difference between writing and typing. Writers produce. Typists reproduce. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. Writers believe that a story worth telling is worth telling well. Writers believe that a turn of phrase can invoke a vision, that the choice of exactly the right word will lead someone to think about something in a new light, will persuade, will entertain. Some writers are blessed with a combination of neurons, synapses, left brain cells (or is it right?) that make their words flow onto the page or screen with clarity and purpose. The other ninety-nine percent of us must draft, erase, revise, delete, change, correct, and revisit, so that in the end, after many drafts and rewritings, it looks like it wasn’t hard.
We want to be writers. Where to begin?
1. Your first commitment is to write one thousand words a day, every day. Facebook, e-mail, Twitter, and instant messaging do not count.
Sit at your word processor today and compose a thousand words on the book, novel, memoir, poem, article, or short story that you’re writing. Tomorrow, edit those thousand words, revise them, and improve them. Recast the fuzzy sentences into the active voice. Make the subjects and verbs agree in number and tense, and eliminate the pronouns that might refer to more than one person, place, or thing so readers understand what you intended to say. After you’ve finished editing, write your next thousand words.
Then, and only then, may you take up the cudgel of Facebook and e-mail.
2. Your second commitment is to take yourself seriously. Form short- and long-term strategies for your writing.
A. In the short term, create your space and carve out your time, and then make them sacred.
Your space is your office, your desk, your chair, your word processor, your printer, your physical environment. Make it comfortable for you and for no one else, and consider it to be your office. Organize it. Keep your programs updated. Back up every word you type.
Your time is even more sacred. For the three or four or eight hours that you write each day, do not take telephone calls, do not send or receive emails or mess around with social media. During that block of time you should edit yesterday’s work, compose today’s thousand words, revisit your story outlines, and do the research for the piece you’re writing.
B. When you have achieved those goals, you can shift into the longer-term strategy. What does that include?
Writers find an audience. You must find readers to read what you write. How? Identify and submit your work to literary contests, to journals in your genre, and to first readers. Join and be active in writing groups in your genre, such as the Historical Novel Society or Romance Writers or Military Writers Society of America. Go to school and surround yourself with peers.
C. Go to school? You’ve got to be kidding.
I’m not kidding. Creative writing involves the development and improvement of the conventions of the literary art. These include the mundane tasks of composing paragraphs that make sense and writing sentences that don’t contain too many dependent clauses or indefinite pronouns as well as the skills of writing dialogue, writing descriptions of settings, and the creation of characters who have unique personalities. Courses range from evening classes with a writing group to weekend courses (usually replete with guest editors and literary agents) to full-blown enrollment in academic settings in which you are challenged by writing exercises to improve your skill. Find them. Enroll. Study. Practice new things.
All of this sounds like it’ll take a lot of time. Does it?
Malcolm Gladwell dedicated a chapter of Outliers: The Story of Success to the Beatles, Bill Gates, and your seventh-grade violin teacher. The Beatles played over 1,200 sets before anyone “Saw Her Standing There.” Gates got access to a computer at age thirteen and then spent most of the next six years doing little else but programming on it. Common denominator: they put in ten thousand hours of work, each of them, before someone recognized their genius.
And your music teacher? I don’t know about your personal seventh-grade music teacher, of course, but such people as a group tend to exemplify the difference between someone who may have had talent, a great deal of talent, but did not put in ten thousand hours and, regrettably, did not go on to perform in Carnegie Hall.
The truth is that composing prose, whether fiction or non-fiction, is a creative and proactive process. You must give it your thoughtful and undivided attention. Practice—dedicated, serious practice—will take your writing to a higher level. It will take time, but if you’re serious, you’ll make time for it.
On the other hand, Facebook, e-mail, and similar intrusions on your writing life tend to be reactive replies to the postings of others and the quick sharing of your own news or musings to which you expect others to react. The attention given to such writing tends to be in much shorter spurts than the attention given to a dedicated effort to compose a news report, a work of history, a short story, or even a chapter. Instead of such diversions counting toward the time you practice your craft, they just take up your time.
Will it take you ten thousand hours to become the genius that you can be? Probably, and then only if you want it. You have to want it badly. Do you?
There’s only one way to find out. Start with a thousand words. Revise them tomorrow. Then write another thousand words. That’s what writers do.
About the Author: Jack London is the author of A Novel Approach (To Writing Your First Book) and the award-winning books, French Letters: Virginia’s Wars and French Letters: Engaged in War. He has published some thirty literary articles and more than fifty book reviews. He has also studied creative writing at Oxford University and earned certificates at the Fiction Academy, St. Céré, France and Ecole Francaise, Trois Ponts, France. London lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Alice, and Junebug, the writing cat. For more information, please visit www.jwlbooks.com.
25 creative writing prompts to inspire and motivate you.
Don’t you just hate writer’s block? Some say it’s a disease that only creative workers succumb to. Some say it’s a curse. Others argue that it doesn’t exist at all. But just about everyone has been there–sitting in front of a blank screen, fingers itching to create a masterpiece. And nothing happens.
For me, the most bizarre thing about writer’s block is that it strikes randomly. Most of the time, I’m overwhelmed with more ideas than I can possibly write about. But then I’ll sit down to write and my mind goes blank. Sure, I flip through my notebooks and review all the ideas I’ve stockpiled, but nothing feels right. I want something fresh. I need a new angle.
Luckily, I have several books and other writing resources that are packed with writing exercises and creative writing prompts. Sometimes, all it takes are a few words to get me started, and then I’m off, writing into the sunset.
Creative Writing Prompts
Today I’d like to share a mash-up of creative writing prompts. There are no rules. Write a poem. Write a short story. Write an essay. Aim for a hundred words or aim for a hundred thousand. Just start writing, and have fun.
- You’re digging in your garden and find a fist-sized nugget of gold.
- Write about something ugly — war, fear, hate, or cruelty–but find the beauty (silver lining) in it.
- The asteroid was hurtling straight for Earth…
- A kid comes out of the school bathroom with toilet paper dangling from his or her waistband.
- Write about your early memories of faith, religion, or spirituality; yours or someone else’s.
- There’s a guy sitting on a park bench reading a newspaper…
- Write a poem about a first romantic (dare I say: sexual) experience or encounter.
- He turned the key in the lock and opened the door. To his horror, he saw…
- Silvery flakes drifted down, glittering in the bright light of the harvest moon. The blackbird swooped down…
- The detective saw his opportunity. He grabbed the waitress’s arm and said…
- There are three children sitting on a log near a stream. One of them looks up at the sky and says…
- There is a magic talisman that allows its keeper to read minds. It falls into the hands of a young politician…
- And you thought dragons didn’t exist…
- Write about nature. Include the following words: hard drive, stapler, phone, car, billboard.
- The doctor put his hand on her arm and said gently, “You or the baby will survive. Not both. I’m sorry.”
- The nation is controlled by…
- You walk into your house and it’s completely different — furniture, decor, all changed. And nobody’s home.
- Write about one (or both) of your parents. Start with “I was born…”
- The most beautiful smile I ever saw…
- I believe that animals exist to…
- A twinkling eye can mean many things. Start with a twinkle in someone’s eye and see where it takes you.
- Good versus evil. Do they truly exist? Are there gray areas? Do good people do bad things?
- Write about your body.
- Have you ever been just about to drift off to sleep only to be roused because you spontaneously remembered an embarrassing moment from your past?
- Get a package of one of your favorite canned or boxed foods and look at the ingredients. Use every ingredient in your next piece of writing.
Now It’s Your Turn
If none of these creative writing prompts inspired you, don’t despair. Come up with some prompts of your own, and then share them in the comments.