Your Ideas, All in One Place

Your Ideas, All in One Place

There are a few essential tools in every Writer’s arsenal:  the pen or pencil, the laptop or typewriter, the ever-present red pen.  There’s one tool you may have been neglecting, and which will make your writing life so much simpler.  An Idea Notebook.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical notebook:  you could use programs like Evernote or Sticky Notes on your laptop or your One Note program on your Microsoft tablet.  Whatever you choose, keeping all your ideas in one place makes it much easier to find them later.

How many times have you had an idea that slipped away before you could jot it down?  I did exactly this recently when I had an idea for two separate and related blog posts while riding in the car.  I had left my idea notebook at home and by the time I got there I had no earthly idea what those ideas had been.  Writing the idea down allows you to look at it later and remind yourself what you were thinking about and what you wanted to do with that idea.  (So long as you don’t write and drive at the same time.)

It isn’t enough though, to just jot the idea down any old place.  The numerous sticky notes cluttering my drawers can attest to that.  That is why having a catch-all place or a “notebook” is so key to success:  you don’t have to rifle through drawers or under your bed, you just have to find your notebook.  I would also recommend dividing it into sections or categories, that way you can find specific ideas easier.  I have a separate section for each book I want to work on, a section for blog post ideas, a section for random ideas, etc.  This organization makes it so that, when I’m stuck, I can go back through my ideas for inspiration.

So whether it’s a notebook and a pen tucked into your wallet or an app on your smart phone, keep your ideas with you.  You never know when you’ll need them.

Why Scheduling Your Writing Time is so Difficult

Why Scheduling Your Writing Time is so Difficult

So you want to be a writer.  How many times have you googled “ways to be a productive writer” and gotten the advice, “Make a schedule”? Schedules are helpful when it comes to planning appointments and crossing items off your to-do list.  Schedules allow you to structure your day and figure out where, when, and how.  So why is it, when we make a schedule for writing, we always manage to find excuses not to write?  “I need to go to the gym instead,” Or “But it’s taco night and I’m in charge of the cooking,” or “You know, I really just want to finish this crossword puzzle first…”

We basically set ourselves up for failure when we do this.  “I didn’t follow my writing schedule last week, so why would I follow it this week?” Sure, sometimes life gets in the way.  I think we get in our own way just as often.  Our fear that we won’t stick to a schedule or that sticking to a schedule won’t get us any results paralyzes us and causes us to avoid writing all together.  It won’t matter how flexible your writing schedule is.  So long as you live in that place of fear, you will always find reasons not to write.

So you want to be a writer.  Why?  Does it fill you with a crazy energy, does it make you feel alive, does it make you happy?  Then write.  Push your inner judge and jury to the side and just let yourself write for the sheer pleasure of it.  Before you know it, you’ll be writing more often, and scheduling less often.  When it comes to something you enjoy and are determined to do, it won’t matter if it’s on your schedule, you’ll make time for it even it it’s not.

The Stubborn Factor: Writing Edition

The Stubborn Factor: Writing Edition

For this post, I am going to tell you another story.  If you remember my previous post, The Stubborn Factor: Reading Edition, this story expands on that idea by examining it from the author’s point of view.

You begin with an open mind and perhaps The Book does not seem odd, at first.  The ideas are flowing easily, the characters are likeable, and even if you have no idea where The Book is going, it has grabbed your attention enough that you think, “This is it, this is The Book, I am going to finish writing this.”

Some time passes and the ideas are not flowing as easily as they once did.  You write in fits and starts.  “Where is this going?” you wonder, and “Do I want it to go where it’s going?”  You doubt yourself, and assume it is Writer’s Block.  “I am still finishing This Book,” you say to yourself.

More time passes.  Every time you work on The Book, you feel as though you are clawing your own face repeatedly in frustration.  Nothing seems to be working.  The ideas all sound stupid, the world feels flat, and the characters do nothing but annoy you.  You are stuck.  “But, this is The Book!  I’m going to finish this thing!”

Sound familiar?  Congratulations, you have just experienced The Stubborn Factor.  Except this time, instead of it being someone else’s book you are bound and determined to finish reading, it is your own book you are bound and determined to finish writing.  You have already realized you and The Book are no longer getting along, in fact, you no longer even like The Book, but you have come so far and you’re bound and determined not to quit now!

Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why do we realize that we hate literally everything about The Book we are working on, that working on it has become a chore, and still insist on finishing the chore?  This isn’t your house — you do not have to clean a public toilet (unless you’re a janitor), nor do you have to finish That Book. Wouldn’t you rather work on something that excites you, that gets your creative juices flowing, that makes you feel alive again?  We come up with so many reasons to try to finish The Book:

  • I worked really hard on developing the plot and the characters.
  • I only have a few chapters left.
  • The Book started off so cool!
  • I’m scared if I don’t finish This Book, I won’t finish any!

Stop it.  Stop torturing yourself.  When you are writing something that speaks to you, that feels right, that works with you instead of against you, I promise you, you will finish it.  All the hard work you put into The Book doesn’t have to be in vain.  You could use some of the ideas or characters you did like in other books.  You could take the beginning you thought was so cool and re-write everything after that, going in a totally new direction.  You could even, if so inclined, set The Book aside and work on something entirely different for a while. The Book will always be there (so long as you don’t set it on fire).  Maybe you need a break from it before you can finish it and maybe it’s not a book you ever want to finish.  Either way, forcing yourself to choke it down, unless you are on a contract to complete it, is just going to make you hate The Book.

Do you really want to hate something you created with your own hands so badly it becomes known as “The Book”?  Or do you want to let it breathe and work on something you will love instead?

The Stubborn Factor: Reading Edition

The Stubborn Factor: Reading Edition

For this post, I am going to tell you a story.  It’s a story you have probably heard before, and experienced a dozen times.

You begin with an open mind, and the book seems odd from the start, but you are determined to read it.  At first, you do not really notice how the pages of The Book are turning a little slower.  You do not notice how often you keep checking what chapter you are on, or what page.  You look at the spine of the book (or your progress bar on an e-reader) just to see how far in The Book you are.  1/4 in and you think, “Surely I’ve read more than that?”

Then you start to notice everything.  You notice how you sigh every time the characters do something you don’t like, or how you groan each time the author starts another page-long description of the leaves on the forest trees.  You keep flipping pages to see how many are left until the end of the chapter and you keep checking your progress and thinking, “Surely I’m at least halfway through this stupid Book by now.”

You reach that halfway point and you have already been justifying to yourself why you must keep reading The Book:  “But I’m already halfway through,” you say and, “Everyone says the second half gets better.”

By the time you are 3/4 of the way through The Book, you feel you are too far into it to quit now.  “I may as well finish it,” you say, “Since I’ve already come this far.”

So you read the entirety of The Book and when you finish you feel a strangely empty satisfaction.  “At least I can tell people I read the whole thing when I say I didn’t like it,” you tell yourself, as though this is some sort of consolation prize for your suffering.

Sound familiar?  Congratulations, you have just experienced the Stubborn Factor.  It is that moment when you realize you are not enjoying the book you are reading, but you decide to finish it anyway.  Very infrequently this results in a book you actually like at the end and are glad you read, and because you know that this can happen, it reinforces the Stubborn Factor.  “Remember the time we finished That Book and liked it?  That’s going to happen again.”

Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why do we realize a book is “not our cup of tea” and decide to drink it anyway?  There are new books being published on a daily basis, yet we still try to find reasons to finish books that do not appeal to us:

  • It was recommended by a close friend and he/she never reads anything, so it must be good.
  • I might learn something new, since this is not normally a book I would read.
  • It has been sitting on my shelf for forever.
  • I have been meaning to read this since it came out.
  • It was a gift.

The list goes on and on.  Truthfully, the only valid reason to invoke the Stubborn Factor is “This book is required reading for a class.”  Otherwise, you are essentially torturing yourself.  Perhaps there will be some payout, yes, but wouldn’t you rather read the thing that excites you, that gets your creative juices flowing?

I decided last year after struggling through a misery-inducing Book that I was not reading anything that did not grab me within the first 50 pages (20 for shorter books).  Will I still be a victim of the Stubborn Factor in the future?  Maybe.  Honestly, though, the decision not to let the Stubborn Factor control my reading habits has been immensely freeing and has led to the discovery of three series that jumped straight onto my all-time favorites shelf.

I would rather read them a million times over than read one more book I hate so much I refer to it as, “Oh, That Book.”

DON’T Think of Your Audience

DON’T Think of Your Audience

There are several pieces of writing advice every writing website in the internet universe seems to dole out as solid fact:

-Write every day.

-Write what you know.

-Show, don’t tell.

Followed by the infamous “Think of your audience.”  The idea behind this “think of your audience” advice is how you want to go outside of your own head and imagine a different perspective of your book.  This can be very good advice when used practically.  After all, our readers read books, not minds.  The audience cannot know the reasons or motivations behind an action that seems totally logical to you, but is out of left-field for them.  Your reader is saying, “Why the heck did your main character just chop off that guy’s hand!?” while you are thinking, “My main character likes to pretend he’s Jack Bauer and that guy has secrets about an international terrorist group!  Didn’t I tell you this?” Maybe you did explain your character well enough for the reader to guess he likes to pretend he’s the star of 24, but maybe you didn’t and your reader is now staring open mouthed at the page, the same way they watched the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones.  Realizing this, you adjust the scene so that you reveal that fact of your character’s nature before (or during) the hand-chopping so your reader isn’t left spinning.

What happens when we take the “think of your audience” advice too far?  We start over-analyzing every single thing we write.  “Will the audience enjoy this scene?”or “Will the audience get bored with how over-the-top my description is for that tree?”or “Will the audience think this sounds like something that character would say?”or  “Will they like me?”

Inevitably the pressure and the desire to please leads to a self-paralysis that prevents you from writing at all.  You become so worried about what your audience thinks that you forget the point was to help them understand what you are trying to say.  Suddenly the book is no longer about what you started writing it for.  All you can picture is a bunch of book critics sitting around in a circle talking about how they wish they could burn your book and read Harry Potter instead.

The thing you have to remember is that while not everyone is going to like your book, not everyone is going to hate it either.  People who frequent your genre are going to understand what you are trying to say whether you spell it out for them or not.  So don’t think about your audience.  They know what they like to read.  You can connect your audience to your book by writing exactly what you want to say, without compromising or dumbing it down.  It is going to be scary and you are going to have self doubts.  That’s exactly what writing is about:  facing those fears and forging ahead regardless of them.

Forget the audience for a little while.  Just long enough so you can get your book out there. Your audience will tell you what they think regardless of your inner critic.  If you never let what’s in your head make it to the page, that inner critic is the only place your audience will ever exist.

Its vs. It’s (And Why It’s So Confusing!)

Loupe Magnifier Grammar Magnifying Glass BookIt’s inevitable.  Somewhere, sometime, every writer faces the moment when the decision needs to be made:  To apostrophe?  Or not to apostrophe?

Its vs. It’s is a grammar issue that has plagued novices and pros alike for a very long time now.  Like many issues that plague writers, it refuses to follow the rules.  It’s a matter of possession.  When one thing owns another, typically we show it with an apostrophe.  For example:

“That is Lucy’s coat.” Or “Jeremy, please don’t steal Lucy’s coat.” Or “Jeremy, really, Lucy’s coat isn’t even your color.”

In these examples the coat is owned by Lucy.  For any person or animal or thing, that is the way of possession.

“The trees’ leaves.” “The hamster’s wheel.” “The farmer’s cow.” “The field’s wheat.”

So, naturally you would expect this rule would follow for the compound “its” like so:

“The tree shed it’s leaves.”

This is wrong.  In the backwards land that is “its,” adding the apostrophe actually creates the compound word “it is.” So instead of saying “The tree shed the leaves that belong to it,” the above sentence says “The tree shed it is leaves.”

Still confused?  Let’s tackle the situation from the other angle:  contracted words.  To create a contraction, you take two words and join them together with an apostrophe.  “Let’s” is actually “Let us.” “Don’t” is “Do not.” “We’ve” is “We have.” Here is where the rule does apply, for “It’s” does mean “It is.” Some practice sentences include:

“It’s not a simple thing to fall in love.” Or “All it’s saying is that magic is complicated.”

In both of the above sentences, “it’s” is standing in for two words, “it” and “is.”

In summary; for possession (one thing owns another thing), use “Its.”  For contractions (one word taking the place of two or more), use “It’s.”  If “it’s” is not a contracted word, we don’t have to apostrophe its letters.  I hope this brings some clarity to an otherwise confusing and troublesome issue.

 

 

Where is my Thesaurus?

Where is my Thesaurus?

Have you ever lost a phone number?  In the depths of your address book, recorded under a last name you have forgotten or a page you tore out because you thought you would never call that person again?  In the new phone you just got, after transferring the numbers from your old phone, but minus one and  it takes you a month or two to notice that it’s gone?

Once you have noticed you lost that number,  you realize just how badly you want to call that person, so you try to remember their number off the top of your head while turning your house upside down looking for it. Then you sit in the middle of your now apocalyptically disheveled room and think “I’ll never remember this.”

That is what it is like when you cannot think of what word to use in a sentence.  You know what you want to say, the idea of what the word means is on the tip of your tongue, but the word itself alludes you like some slippery fish monster swishing its tail at you as it retreats, leaving only bubbles in its wake.

Without a doubt, this is frustrating.  It is beyond the help of the mighty thesaurus, which is only good for replacing the words you use too often or helping you think of a new way to say the “things” you want to say.

For example, here are half of the options your thesaurus will give you for the word “things”:

things-thesaurus-screenshot

If, however, you ask, “Dear thesaurus, How do you say that word, the one that means doing really well?” the thesaurus will merely give you a perplexed “?”. You cannot type this into your word processor and you certainly do not know what section to flip to in the paper version.

So what does a Writer do in a situation like this?  Really, you only have three options (and three is my magic number!):

  1. Sit there until you think of the word or some approximation of it.
  2. Literally write the idea of the word in the margin or the comments tab or somewhere close to your writing (so that you do not lose the idea of the word on top of the word itself), and then move on and come back to it later, while editing.
  3. Leave it.  Get up, walk away, do something else.  Odds are it will come to you several hours later, like that time you and your friend could not remember an actor’s name and IMDB was not at hand and then you thought of it so long afterwards that it would be stupid to text them about it now, but dangit, you remembered it and you are crazy excited that you did so without IMDB.  Brain power is weird like that.

Whatever you decide, the word or its general meaning will make it onto the page.  In hindsight, it may even seem silly you spent so much time on one word out of thousands.  When you are in that moment, though, having a staring contest with the blank canvas in front of you, it feels like life or death.  “If I get this word wrong, the whole book falls apart.” Unless that word is your title, I really do not think you need to take it so seriously.

After all, it is just one word.  The book will go on without it.