Apr 25, 2008

No 10 Easy Steps to Writing

I read a lot about writing, and sometimes I wonder how much I’m actually learning. Since I don’t take notes, highlight, or even buy the books so I can reference them later – is reading a waste of my time?

A professional, published, seasoned writer says, “No!” (but not in so many words)

Writing quotation: “In the end, writing skills are mostly absorbed, not learned. Like learning to speak as a native speaker, learning to write well is not just learning a set of rules or techniques,” writes Philip Martin in The New Writer’s Handbook 2007 (Scarletta Press). “It’s a huge, messy body of deep language, inspired by bits of readings, conversations, incidents; it’s affected by how you were taught and where you live and who you want to become.”

That’s good – and there’s more:

“For every convention, there is another way that may work better. For every rule, there are mavericks who succeed by flaunting it. There is no right or wrong way to write, no ten easy steps.”

Writing tip: I think the most successful writing mavericks or renegade writers (Linda Formichelli!) are those who don’t try to be different. They just are. They trust their gut, they take those little glimmers of inspiration and nurture them into blossoms of orange and yellow and red. Writing mavericks tap into their personalities and souls, and let themselves be vulnerable.

It may sound easy, but it takes a lot of courage not only to be who you are, but share it with your readers.

PS – I’ve now been on the radio twice, talking about my articles! I really should blog about it……

Apr 19, 2008

Writing Great Beginnings

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Apr 13, 2008

Erica Jong on writing problems

What’s your writing problem? Whatever it is, Erica Jong has the answer.

Writing quotation: “All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged,” says Erica in The New Writer’s Handbook. “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.”

Writing tip: Fear is the root of many writing problems. Fear of making mistakes, fear of rejection, fear of humiliation, fear of vulnerability. (Fear’s actually the root of many struggles in live, I daresay).

My most recent fear is of misattribution of sources. I’ve been writing a fair amount for Reader’s Digest online (and the print version too, but those pieces aren’t published yet) and Spirituality & Health, and I’ve dropped the ball on attributing sources correctly. I sort of called someone a “psychologist” instead of “psychiatrist”, and gave someone else the title of “Dr” when she’s not – and it happened more than twice. I hate making those mistakes! And I hate getting my knuckles wrapped for them. (But if I didn’t get my knuckles wrapped, I wouldn’t have realized it’s a problem).

Okay, my fear isn’t misattributing the sources; my fear is really about losing clients. I love writing for Reader’s Digest and Spirituality & Health, and I want them to stay with me! I don’t know if they’ll shrug off my mistakes as normal writer error, or if I’m black listed or slightly tarnished now.

So now, I keep pitching my queries to them – even though I’m embarrassed that I didn’t submit perfect work in the past. I’m red-faced, but I want to push through that because I’m learning and growing and becoming a better writer all the time. They’re helping me do that!

And you? What’s your writing problem? What’s your fear? Sometimes digging out the roots can open the floodgates to both self-awareness and a new writing resolve. Bringing your fears out into the open can make them less harmful, less destructive.

Apr 8, 2008

establishing your writing habits

I’m on a Julia Cameron kick, even though she’s not my all-time favorite writing writer. Don’t get me wrong, she’s great – but I like reading practical stuff about writing, like how to write query letters and how to take all those old ideas and twist them into something new. Morning Pages never really did it for me.

Anyway, on to Julia’s advice about artists and trainers…

Writing quotation: “In order to succeed as an artist we must have two well-developed functions: our artist and its trainer. The trainer is steady and adult. It keeps its eye on the course and the long run. It coaxes, wheedles, begs, cajoles, and occasionally disciplines our artist, which Westie-like, proceeds in spurts and sometimes not at all,” Cameron says in Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance.

“The trick is setting the jumps low enough that our artist can be lured into action. If I am writing nonfiction, I set my goal at a modest three pages. Almost anyone can write three pages of something and my artist knows that.”

Writing tip: Julia Cameron's writing habit includes 3 pages. Yours can be 3 paragraphs or 3,000 words. Or, you can write for 3 hours – or just 30 minutes. The trick is to do something every day that moves you forward.

I’m a freelance magazine writer, and right now I have 5 articles due (yay!). The deadlines vary from this Friday to two months from now – and I get scared. Insecure, and anxious, and pressured. I want the articles to be fantastic, and I want to keep my editors happy.

What works best for me is to work a little on each article every day, whether it’s writing the sidebar or emailing sources or researching or finetuning the lead. My ideal goal would be to spend an hour a day on each article – but I tend to get lost in the article I’m working on and I run out of time for the others.

What works best for you? It doesn’t matter how I work, or how Julia Cameron writes, or how Mark Twain wrote. What matters is finding what works best for you, and making that a habit.

And tossing back a shot of espresso or whatever suits your fancy every once in a while never hurts, either.

Apr 2, 2008

"How to Avoid Making Art" by Julia Cameron

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