Posted in Writing, Writing rituals

Don’t cure writer’s block: Avoid it!

So, what is writer’s block? Is it a real thing? Damned if I know. I’ve never had it. No, really. I. Have. Never. Had. Writer’s. Block. I’ve been writing for thirty-plus years and cannot ever say I’ve been blocked.  Stuck from time to time, maybe. But it only lasts for a nanosecond, and I find myself able t move forward. I think it’s because (a) I don’t buy into the notion that it’s a thing for all writers, and (b) I have some habits that seem to help me void the dreaded block.

We all get stuck once in a while. We just get unstuck. Being blocked is being paralyzed by an inability to continue a project you’re working on. This paralysis is a problem and a problem that sits squarely inside a writer’s head. Does that make it real? Only if you want it to be.

I’m not the only writer who doesn’t think writer’s block is a real thing. Or at least we can avoid it.

“I don’t believe in writer’s block. For me, there’s no such thing as writer’s block―don’t even say writer’s block.” ~ Judy Blume

“Writer’s block doesn’t exist…lack of imagination does.” ~ Cyrese Covelli

“Writer’s block is just an excuse by people who don’t write for not writing.” ~ Giando Sigurani

“Writer’s block is just a fancy way of saying ‘I don’t feel like doing any work today.’” ~ Meagan Spooner

Here are the ways I avoid writer’s block.

1 – At the first sign of being stuck in a project or when the characters seem to have stopped talking, I change my environment. I get up and go for a walk. I do the laundry. I make a sandwich. I don’t’ just take my writing to a different space―I put my head into a different space.

2 – To avoid falling into the trap of seeing only the problem―or even letting the situation arise in the first place―I do some writing practice every day. I have notebooks of all types and will write something. Sometimes, I write a script. Other times a blog post for the travel blog I write with my husband. Sometimes, it’s just a few paragraphs.

3 – I always have at least two projects on the go at the same time. I am always writing a novel―always. That’s a given. But I also write scripts for my YouTube Channel and often have another book at some stage of gestation. For many years, I always had a fiction and a nonfiction project on at the same time. My newest novel (out next month) was written while I was also writing How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal that Sells. Stuck in one project? Move to the other, then come back.

4 – I have a writing ritual. Before I begin writing, I always have a cup of coffee. Always. Sometimes, I add a yoga session before the coffee, but the coffee is a ritual that gets me moving. It’s not about the caffeine. It’s about sipping the coffee mindfully. This means that you’re not thinking about your writing during the ritual―you’re thinking about the coffee. Or the yoga. Or the Chopin Nocturne you’re playing on the piano. Then you write.

5 – I have a second creative outlet. I design clothing and create garments. This is a major creative outlet for me that often feeds my primary passion: writing. You might take up sketching, playing music, ballet, oil painting, singing, making Kumihimo jewellery or whatever other creative passions ignite you. You’ll be amazed at how this creative outlet can get your writing muse on the ball.

I’m going to give Erica Jong the last word (you know her, of course??)

“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.” ~Erica Jong

So, if you’re afraid of being judged, just write for yourself. Writer’s block will dry up.

I can almost guarantee it. Almost.

Posted in Book titles, Writing books, Writing craft

5 tips for choosing better titles for your writing [books, blog pieces, articles, short stories]

What is the one thing that all forms of writing―any fiction genre, nonfiction trade books, academic and professional books, magazine articles, newspaper stories, blog posts―have in common besides, of course, the fact that they all contain words? They all have titles. And those titles are essential for you as a writer if you expect anyone to read what you’ve written.

My question is this: how do you choose a title for an individual piece of your writing? How does any writer? There’s no easy answer to this because writers are inspired by various factors when choosing titles. But those titles are, arguably, the most important promotional tool you have in your toolbox.

After spending almost three decades in the academic world, reading (and writing) academic papers), I’m here to tell you that I’ve seen more hideous titles than you can ever hope to see in your life. Academics are the absolute worst. They seem to think that complicated, densely worded, erudite-sounding titles make them sound smart. They do not. However, this problem of wanting to sound clever isn’t confined to academics. Anyone who writes for a living―or even a hobby―would do themselves a favour by reconsidering the titles they place on their work for readers’ consumption.

This week I have five tips that I’ve picked up through thirty years of writing to help you choose better titles. Here is the summary. For the complete discussion, click on the WRITE.FIX.REPEAT. video.

  1. Your title should be unique. How can you figure this out? Search for it. For books, try Amazon. For blog pieces, plug a few things into a search engine.
  2. Your title should reflect what the book/blog/article is really about. Trying to be cute or smart or something else just to be clever without really reflecting the content is just wrong.
  3. Your title should be easy to remember. Wouldn’t you like readers to be able to tell their friends the name of the book/blog/article? If it’s long and complicated, they’ll forget it. Or their eyes will glaze over (I’m talking to you academically-oriented writers).
  4. Don’t pack it with keywords. (Sometimes referred to as keyword stuffing.) This includes things such as repeating words, adding words out of context, adding irrelevant words. It’s not necessary and makes for crappy titles.
  5. Try to incorporate a hook without being overly clever. How can you know if your title is a hook? Maybe it’s easier to examine those that aren’t. For example, one-word titles, or the label title, don’t really grab readers. (Jaws notwithstanding.) What if I’d called this blog piece simply “Titles?” Would you have been as interested? If I called “Better Titles,” that would have been marginally better. But specificity that focuses on the potential reader is the best.

Believe it or not, there are online assistants for finding titles, but they are generated by AI and usually have issues. But they might intrigue you all the same.

The site Tweakyourbiz.com generates titles. It’s a bit odd, but fun, nonetheless.

Spend a little time finding the right title.

Some other resources:

JUDITH BRILES.  How to Create Titles to Hook Your Readers https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2016/02/63714/

Headline analyzer https://www.aminstitute.com/headline/

Posted in Journals, Writing, Writing craft

5 tips to make better use of your journals and notebooks

You have journals, right? Writers have journals.

The authors of an interesting article in The Guardian newspaper in 2018 about the inner workings of writers’ journals said this: “Note-taking is not just a method for remembering. It is a way a writer tells himself, or herself, a story―and this becomes a process of life, a mode of being.”[1]

But this story-to-self is unpublishable. And that’s where we begin.

Your notebooks and journals serve several purposes, but one of them is NOT to be published. Ever. They are for your eyes only. That’s the beauty of them. They are probably also the only time you write long-hand these days. I know a few writers write without a computer, but that’s not who I’m talking to here. I believe that a writer needs a pen-and-paper journal or two (or three).

I have five tips to help you make better use of your notebooks and journals. (Skip to the bottom to see me talk about these tips).

1 – Choose your writing instrument carefully.

Your pen (or pencil if you prefer) should glide across the paper. If it doesn’t, you won’t write as much or as often. There should be no scratching at all.

2 – Use it every day.

I mean it. Every day. Without fail. (well, almost veery day) Write something. Try Natalie Goldberg’s approach from her wonderful book Writing Down the Bones for writing practice. Start with “I remember…” and keep your hand moving for 10 minutes.

3 – Turn it into your artistic ritual.

Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit (which I’ve mentioner before) has a wonderful section on artist’s rituals. For example, composer Igor Stravinsky had to sit at his piano and play a Bach fugue every morning before he began work. Julia Cameron, author of the now-classic The Artist’s Way, talks about “morning pages” for writers: a ritual that gets the creative mind in the mood. Make your daily journal writing your own personal ritual.  

4 – Have more than one.

This is my approach. I have one for gathering snippets. One for each project I’m working on or thinking about. A “big-idea” book. I reach for one or the other several times of day as I sit at my computer when I see, hear or think of ideas don’t belong in that particular manuscript.

5 – Regularly review your journals to mine them for inspiration.

Your jotted notes that capture your thoughts and observations are a treasure trove of ideas. Think of them as a treasure chest you can open whenever you want, whenever you’re suffering from writer’s block, whenever you’re looking for new ideas. Remember that you were impressed enough by the thought to write it down. Why did it impress you? Go back and figure it out.

Is your notebook a diary? It can be, but for most writers, it doesn’t seem to be. Use it to try things and remember things. But just never publish it. And remember, it is the one piece of writing you’ll do that is unhackable!


[1]

‘Messy attics of the mind’: what’s inside a writer’s notebook? https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/06/tales-masters-notebooks-stories-henry-james