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Your notebooks and journals serve several purposes, but one of them is NOT to be published.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

Posted in Nonfiction Writing, Writing, Writing craft, Writing Nonfiction

5 Tips for Writing Nonfiction Leads

Thirty years ago, I began my career as a nonfiction writer. The first time I pitched the story to the weekend features editor of a local newspaper, I realized that although I’d done a ton of academic writing at that point, had written lots of unpublished essays and had a passion for writing that went back to my pre-teen years, I didn’t know that much about the fine points of magazine writing.

My background was in health science, so what did I know about writing magazine articles?

What I had was a passion for writing, a knowledge base in the content area I had proposed, a willingness to learn, lots of research experience. The first thing I had to learn was how to write a solid lead. Three decades later and that knowledge has had a chance to be practised over and over, and now I’m sharing my five favourite approaches to a lead―a bit of help for nonfiction authors, magazine writers, bloggers and copywriters.

As I reviewed these tips for leads, it also occurred to me that fiction writers might find inspiration here for opening paragraphs for short stories or even book chapters. I’m a great believer in cross-genre learning.

Here’s today’s episode of WRITE. FIX. REPEAT. with the five approaches to leads.

Posted in Publishing, Writing

5 Writing Myths You Need to Bust Now

As I said in my book Permission to Write, there are myths and there are realities. It’s about the difference between how you’d like it to be and how it really is.

What exactly is a myth? It’s a story that may or may not have a basis in reality―a widely held belief that is largely unfounded or false.

In the twenty-first century, when it seems like everyone is writing a book (and publishing it), there are so many myths about writing and publishing that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for any serious writer to know what to believe. Over my 30-plus years of writing, I’ve learned more than a few realities. And what I have learned is that continuing to believe the myths eventually becomes an obstacle for anyone who aspires to write and publish successfully.

Do you know what’s real and what’s a myth in this world of writing and publishing?

I’m not sure where all of the myths about writing and the writing life come from; I only know that new writers seem to have a lot of unfounded beliefs. Here are five tips for busing those myths.

The myths you need to bust now summarized:

  1. Talent is over rated.  Anyone can be a successful writer. The sad truth is that although talent is not enough, it is necessary for success.  And this is true of any field.  Talent can be cultivated.
  2. No one cares about grammar. I beg to differ.  Everyone cares about grammar; it’s just that some of them don’t know about it.  Get out the grammar book.
  3. I write better than most people.  Can you hear me laughing?  As American writing guru William Zinsser says, “Most people have no idea how badly they write.”  And if you don’t know who he is, stop reading and go immediately to Amazon and order his book On Writing Well.  Then read it.
  4. Thousands of Instagram and Twitter followers guarantee success.  Now I’m grinding my teeth.  If would-be writers spent as much time practicing their writing and having it edited by someone who knows what he or she is doing rather than amassing thousands of Twitter followers, success would be more likely. 
  5. My friends think my idea is great, so everyone else will, too. I just have one question for you: how did you get friends with such deep knowledge (backed up by data) about how your target readers will think at any given time?  The rest of us would love to know. 

You might also have other unfounded beliefs about writing success, but these are the ones I see demonstrated most often.

Get over these ones, and you’ll be able to move ahead with a clear view of the future.