Why Reading is Essential to Writing

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I have heard that some writers have a phobia of reading while they are writing. They believe that the words of another writer might sneak into their subconscious and influence them too much, dampening their own voice, even resulting in plagiarism.

I can sort of understand where this fear comes from. However, in my experience I have found it to be untrue. If I don’t read, my inspiration dries up. My words become blah and even my desire to keep producing dwindles.

I really believe that reading is to writing like sunlight is to flowers. It’s nourishment. If not for reading other books, would a desire to write your own ever have even been born in you? Probably not. Other stories fuel our passion and even sometimes help us when we are stuck by providing new ideas. One thing leads to another and before you know it, the story you just read is feeding the tiny one that’s already growing somewhere deep within.

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So if you are a writer who doesn’t read while you are working and you are finding yourself stuck, pick up a book, either a new one or your favorite one. Lose yourself in it for a while, a solid hour or more. You might just find that the struggle is gone or a lot easier to deal with when you look up.

Write on!

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What To Do When You Doubt Your Writing

Feeling down about your work? Read this.

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*** Originally written for The Odyssey Online in 2017 .***

Every writer doubts their work at some point or another. Maybe you received feedback from someone that was overly harsh or downright rude. Or your inspiration dried up, leaving you feeling desperate and defeated, or maybe you just can’t see the value in your own words. Whatever the reason, all writers encounter these things at some point in their writing careers.

We all fall prey to negativity sometimes and feel discouraged. But, you cannot allow that to stop you from being a writer.

Say that aloud: I cannot allow doubt to stop me from being a writer.

I am guessing that you did not start writing to please other people. I am guessing that you started writing because you felt an uncontrollable urge to translate your daydreams onto paper, that you had a love affair with words since you were a child, that writing gave you a joy unlike any other. If I am right, then you have no valid reason to quit.

It’s no secret that first drafts generally suck and that any piece of writing needs to be reworked at least once to make it the best it can be. Sometimes you will get rough criticism and other times it will be accurate. (It is possible to have haters of course and those sorts you should just ignore.) This is all part of the game. But you have to believe in what you are doing. You have to write for writing’s sake. That’s an essential part of becoming a successful writer, or really a successful anything in this world.

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If you are feeling epic doubt, pinpoint exactly why. If it was due to negative criticism, be honest and ask yourself if the person who gave it to you has a point. Maybe your character really is one-dimensional or the ending does seem contrived. If you can see the flaw, you can fix it and move on. If you determine the reader either misunderstood or just doesn’t like you or your work for some reason, disregard it.

If you feel like your writing is garbage no matter what, you have to ask some different questions. Do you feel this way because you feel inferior across the board in your life? Did you never learn how to receive compliments or believe in yourself? These are things that frequently are not taught to us and can leave us floundering as adults.

Do you perhaps need to stop comparing yourself to authors who won Nobel prizes for literature? Comparing yourself constantly to others is a surefire way to inhibit your growth and make you feel bad about yourself. Don’t even compare yourself to writer friends you have. They are not you.

Bottom line: The road to success is not an easy one, but not an unnavigable one either. Keep at it. Others have done it and you can too.

 

Write on!

 

Images by Pixabay.

Why You Should Join A Writing Group

Five reasons every writer should belong to a critique group.

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*** Originally written for The Odyssey Online in 2017 . ***

The very title of this post probably has some of you cringing. Join a writing group? Where I actually have to let others read my writing, or worse yet, read my writing out loud to people who might not like it? Shiver. I could never!

Ah, but you can—and you should! I have belonged to a writing critique group for around nine years and have been moderating that group for at least four. During this time, I have learned a great deal from my fellow group members. Without further ado, here are some reasons you should seek out a critique group—and, you know, actually go to the meetings. 😀

1. It Will Hold You Accountable

We all know writers love to procrastinate. Attending a writing group will force you to produce consistently.

2. You Will Learn How to Take Criticism.

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As a writer, learning to take criticism is a must. We often don’t see the flaws in our own work, so other people need to point them out for us. Helpful group members will be respectful but honest about your work and you will grow accustomed to receiving real feedback.

3. It Will Help Keep You Inspired

Nothing fuels inspiration like reading or listening to other people’s work, which is what you will be doing in a writing group.

4. You Will Make Human Connections

Writing can be a lonely craft. Meeting other writers will get you out of your own head and you may even make new friends, or meet people who work in other fields related to writing, such as editors or publishers.

5. It Will Sharpen Your Editing Skills

Critiquing other people’s writing will help hone your own editing skills, which will make you a better writer. Win/win situation.

So where can you find a writing group? Your local library or college are usually good places to start. So get up and get going! You owe it to yourself!

 

Write On!

Cover Image Credit: Pixbay

How Poetry Made Me A Better Writer

Poetry is the gift that keeps on giving.

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***Originally written for The Odyssey Online in 2017***

Poetry is a curious beast, to say the least. (Hey look, it rhymes! LOL.) It can be beautiful and intriguing, but devilishly hard to understand, and even harder to write, or at least write well. I have loved poetry since I was a child, and filled up several notebooks over the years with my own poems, or, more accurately, my “efforts at poetry.” Though I have never considered poetry my “main writing gig,” I do admire the genre and feel I am beginning to get a grasp on writing it. A kinda, sorta, infant-like grasp.
***UPDATE: I have since had several poems published so I am officially out of pre-school. 😀 ***

But what I really want to share here, is the great influence poetry had and still has upon my fiction. Some of you might be wondering how that could be so. Poetry, especially modern poetry, is short, and often highly personal and not as clear-cut as straight prose or fiction writing. But poetry has taught me two valuable lessons that have helped me tell better stories:

1. Notice the small details

Poems focus to a great extent on small details and subtle nuances. The way light glimmers off of broken glass. The smell of autumn leaves. The way a person removes their gloves or holds their coffee cup. Yes, this is found in fiction too and plenty of books on how to write fiction, but I have to say that poetry has been my greatest teacher when it comes to observing tiny details and learning how to bring those details to life on the page, which is the essence of writing. That brings me to my second point.

2. Unique Descriptions

Poems are nothing if not unique. Reading them or listening to others read them, you will encounter similes and metaphors that you have never heard before, that capture the image or feeling of the subject so well that you remember them for days or years to come. Reading poetry or attending a poetry reading are kindling for my writing fire, and sometimes the whole ton of logs. I really credit my love of description to all of the poetry, both classical and modern, that I have enjoyed over the years.

My advice to all writers: explore some poetry. Even if you don’t particularly like it, you may learn some valuable lessons and others too. You might also find that you love it, and the things we love often become our creative inspiration.

 

Write on!

Cover Image Credit: pixabay

Is Writer’s Block Fact or Fiction?

I am pretty sure that, despite being often being invoked as a lame excuse, writer’s block is sometimes real.

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*** Originally written for The Odyssey Online in 2017 ***

Every  writer has heard of it and every writer dreads it: writer’s block. Though this “malady” seems to strike word nerds across the board at some point, there is debate as to whether it is a real phenomenon or just a cheap excuse not to park your keester in front of your computer and get the keys hot. Truthfully, I have found myself on both sides of the argument at different times of my life. What is my current take on it? I am going to say that yes, in some cases, it is real.

Now we all know that many writers are epic procrastinators and frequently cite assorted reasons why they are unable to write. But beneath those reasons lie a mere lack of motivation and discipline. And then sometimes, life really does happen and you need to attend to real-world issues, which is perfectly understandable. That’s called being a human

However, I have experienced episodes of what I can only describe as “block.” This block goes far beyond knowing exactly what I need to do next in my story and how to do it, but deciding to binge watch episodes of “My Haunted House” instead and eat my way through a bag of miniature Butterfingers. That’s laziness. Pathetic laziness, often rooted in fear of an impending challenge.

But block? It sucks. You want to write, but for some reason your brain is like an overactive beagle puppy cooped up in the house on a rainy day; it can’t sit still long enough to focus and does not want to do what it is told. Furthermore, and this in my opinion is the worst part, if you try to push through the block and force yourself to write, you end up with god-awful dribble on the paper in front of you that is so uninspiring, it is not worth pursuing.

It happened to me after I finished the first draft of my third novel. I knew what I had to do and wanted to do it, but I felt like I was walking through drying concrete. Like a good little trooper, I slogged through for a while, but finally I had to take a hiatus that lasted for several months. Those first seven chapters that I rewrote when I was struggling are quite frankly mediocre and need to be rewritten again.

I have no explanation for it, but I do remember feeling sort of empty, like a corn field that had been picked clean of its crop. Only husks of my creativity remained and I needed to wait for next year to come back to life. I had given all I had to give and now I needed to rest and replenish.

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Maybe this is just the natural ebb and flow of life at work. Everything after all comes in cycles and I assume creativity is no different. Writing is satisfying but challenging work and maybe our brains really do need a break occasionally. Knowing when to retreat is just as valuable as knowing when to forge ahead. Retreating though does not mean you lost the war; you’re just recouping and waiting to come out in full force again.

So yes, I am pretty sure that writer’s block, despite often being invoked as a lame excuse, is sometimes a bonafide issue. What it is not though, is a good reason to completely give up and abandon a project. Give yourself a rest if need be; and then when you’re ready, give it everything you got!

 

Write on!

Cover Image Credit: Pixbay

Three Things I Learned From Writing Historical Fiction

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*** Originally written for The Odyssey Online in 2017. **

As you may recall from my previous posts, I am in the process of rewriting my novel, a love story set in the 18th century. I have always been a history buff and deep down, I think I always wanted to write a historical work, sans vampires or any other paranormal elements. However, I always thought it too difficult a project to tackle and far beyond my capability. At last, the itch grew too strong and I began work on one in earnest. Dedicating countless hours to research and incorporating that research into my writing has certainly been no cake walk, but it has proven to be a fascinating romp through yesteryear. During my journey, I have learned a few things.

1. History is not necessarily what we believe it to be.

I have discovered that many people have what I refer to as “pop culture” ideas of historical figures, events, and entire eras. I certainly did. Misinformation prevails and we often have partially developed ideas about the past and its people or downright incorrect ones.

History is frequently not as cut and dried as we believe either, especially when it comes to conflicts. Sometimes one side was downright wrong and were truly “the bad guys.” Sometimes both sides were downright wrong and downright horrible to each other and sometimes both sides had valid points and reasons for their behavior. There are many angles to be considered. Rather than being black and white, a lot of our planet’s past is a shade of gray, sometimes closer to black, sometimes closer to white.

2. Historians are NOT impartial.

As a bumbling novice, I assumed that historians, like judges are supposed to be, were impartial. They researched and reported on facts and that was all. But apparently, that is not what historians do–at least from what I have seen. These dedicated people do tons of research and then build a case around that research. Each historian has a different interpretation of the very same events or people.

As a storyteller, you will need to read widely to get a good grasp of the history you are working with. But, you will need to more or less take a side and even cherry pick facts to a certain extent. Align with the interpretation that fits your story best and run with it to build your own “case” and garner empathy and sympathy for your characters.

3. You will develop a galloping fear of being wrong.

We have all heard the hair-raising accounts of them. The dreaded nit-picky reader who will leave a one-star review or fire off an angry e-mail over a minor inaccuracy in a story. It doesn’t sound like much but one bad review or snarky message can shoo other readers away from your book or cripple your confidence in your writing ability.

You imagine this happening to you (after being published, of course) and it begins to hang over your head. Soon, you develop a phobia of screwing up your facts or even overlooking something entirely and making a complete idiot of yourself.

Yes, we are often accidental philosophers, analyzing and shedding light on the human experience, but at our core, we are entertainers. As hard as we might try with our research, we cannot and should not bill ourselves as experts or historians–unless that is literally your day job. I personally feel that we should strive for excellence in all that we do and make a solid attempt at portraying the world we are building correctly. But, at the end of the day, my work is still one of fiction, a world in which things have to make sense. My portrayal may be largely accurate, but should not to be taken as a scholarly dissertation.

My journey is nowhere near its end yet. I still have books sitting around which I have not finished or even cracked, and the learning continues–both historical and writing-wise. After two and a half years of research and writing and rewriting, I admit I still feel like an amateur. People may wonder why anyone would undertake such a difficult project when there is no guarantee of literary or financial success. For me, it’s a labor of love, born from a drive to write mingled with a fascination with humanity’s past. Hopefully, I will get to share it with the rest of the world.

Write on!

 

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

 

 

Why Do Writers Love Coffee Shops?

This writer chick can think of a few good reasons.

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*** An article I originally wrote for The Odyssey Online in 2017.***

Pop culture insinuates that writers and coffee shops go together like peanut butter and jelly. I have even seen memes on Facebook goofing on writers “feeling the need” to “be seen” in coffee shops. Apparently, some people view this as a vanity on the writer’s part, whom is assumed to be a hopeless and self-absorbed amateur, trying to prove they are a real writer.

 

1. It Fosters Creativity

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Sometimes a change of scenery really does “clear out the cobwebs,” so to speak. An influx of new energy can breathe life back into your piece or back into your writing brain if you find yourself struggling.

2. It’s Easier to Concentrate and Drift Off Into Story Land

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Some writers would surely argue on this point as they find themselves too easily distracted by the hustle and bustle around them. That is understandable. For me, it works the opposite way. At home, with the TV on, the phone ringing, adorable cats and dogs demanding attention, and conversations possibly relevant to me taking place, I frequently lose my focus. Removing myself from those distractions can be valuable particularly since I only bring notebooks with me.

Anyone who knows me well understands that my laptop does not leave the house. It is far too precious a tool to me and I have imagined too many “nightmare scenarios” (I drop it in a parking lot, it gets destroyed in an accident, curious black bear breaks into car and crushes it, and so forth and so forth) to take the risk. It also eliminates the possibility of jumping onto that delightful time-suck known as Facebook or adding more items to my wishlist on Etsy. (Yep, I also silence my phone and conceal it safely in my handbag when I am alone and getting serious about my work. No apps for me!)

3. It’s Inspiring

Writing in eating and drinking establishments can also be deeply inspiring. Any writer who reads “how-to” articles (and most of us are obsessed) will tell you that we are commonly advised to people-watch and even politely eavesdrop on conversations to learn how real humans speak and therefore how characters should speak. Yes, creepy creative people are watching you!

 

4. FOOD AND DRINK!

Lastly, coffee is found in these places. Coffee. And brownies. And cookies. And sometimes the cookies are even warm. Who could resist that?

Write on!

Cover Image Credit: pixabay
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