How to Talk to Writers about Writing: A Guide for Non-Writers

Talking to Writers about Writing: A Guide for non-writersThis is a post I hesitated to write. I don’t want it to come off wrong or condescending to non-writers, but I (obviously) decided to write it because I have been stuck in far too many conversations with non-writers who just say the wrong things. They often don’t mean to, but that doesn’t change the fact that it happens.

I also decided to write this post because I know that writing is a really weird and unconventional thing to do. It’s also something that, in most cases, is hard to understand unless you’re a writer or creator yourself, which means it can be hard for non-writers to know how to have a conversation with a writer about their work. I hope that this is ultimately helpful and that it’s something writers can share with non-writers (or post on Facebook for their non-writer friends to find).

To the non-writers who have found their way here, welcome! I hope this helps you connect with the writers in your life. But keep in mind, this is just a guide. All writers will like and dislike certain questions. This list comes from my personal observations and conversations I’ve had with other writers, but it’s by no means a definitive set of rules. Also, if you’re a lover of books, movies, stories, and creativity, there’s a good chance you don’t need to worry about any of this. This post is mainly for any non-writer who has felt completely at a loss when talking to a writer about writing.

Without further ado, here are the dos and don’ts of talking to writers about their writing.

The Dos:

Ask about the writer’s current work in progress

I think it’s always okay to ask about a work in progress, but know that some writers don’t like to talk about their work while they’re working on it. If your writer is up for talking about their WIP, you can ask them about the plot, the characters, their writing process, their inspiration, etc. If they’re not up for talking about it, respect that and don’t take it personally that your writer doesn’t want to share. The story may be very personal, or it could be such a disaster that the writer wouldn’t even know where to start. And sometimes, not talking about a WIP is simply a part of the writer’s process.

Ask about/discuss published works

If you know a writer who has a book out, definitely ask them about it. I have yet to meet a writer who doesn’t like to talk about their published work. This includes self-published writers! Ask them the same types of questions you would for a work in progress. You can also ask about the publishing process, working with an editor and things like that. There are very few questions that aren’t okay to ask about a book at this stage. And if you have a writer who has finished a book but hasn’t published it yet, definitely ask them about it too! Celebrate the accomplishment of finishing a book. It’s a big deal, even if it’s not published yet.

Ask about the writer’s general process

Writers write because we love it. Even when it’s going badly, we love it. So taking an interest in a writer’s process is an almost guaranteed way to talk to your writer about their work (even if they don’t want to get into the specifics of what they’re working on). You can ask about their inspiration, their research process, their brainstorming, and drafting. If you’re not much of a writer and feel like you don’t really know where to start, you can simply ask them what their process is. Then ask any follow-up questions as needed.

Accept if your writer doesn’t want to talk

Writing is often very personal and there are plenty of reasons why a writer might not be comfortable talking about any aspect of their work or progress. It’s good to show interest, but please don’t push your writer into sharing if they don’t want to.

Be encouraging

Regardless of how much or little you talk about a writer’s writing, be encouraging. It doesn’t matter if your friend is published or working on their first book. They are living their dream, and they’re taking on a challenge that very few people would ever dare to try. Every published author can point to the people who always believed in them and they can point to the people who didn’t. This is your opportunity to put yourself on the right list.

The Don’ts:

Don’t ask how the work in progress is going

Typically, a book is a mess until it’s not. It may be that it’s bad, or it may be that it’s so far away from what we want it to be in the end. Even if it’s going well and we’re enjoying the process, we often have a crap ton of work ahead of us, which can be frustrating. So talking about how it’s going can be a stressor for your writer. Rest assured, if it’s going well, you won’t have to ask. That kind of information will most likely be volunteered!

Don’t ask how the querying/agent or editor search is going

If you know a writer who finished their book and is going through the process of trying to get their book published, please don’t has how the process is going. This is, quite frankly, the worst part about writing. There is a TON of rejection. Like, on a daily basis. It can be incredibly demoralizing and the only thing worse is having to tell people how often you’ve been turned down. If you know your writer is shopping their book, and you really want to check in, try framing it in a way that shows support. Something like, “You’ll tell me when you have good news to share, right? I know it’ll happen for you.” is perfect. This way you can get a sense of if your writer is still working through this process while letting them know you care and believe in them (and without making them talk about all the rejection sitting in their inbox).

Don’t ask how book sales are

If your writer is published, there’s no reason to ask about book sales. These numbers are largely outside of the writer’s control. Because of that, they can be a source of stress for a lot of authors. Beyond that, what it means to have “good” sales varies from book to book and doesn’t mean very much to anyone outside of publishing. This is another area where if we have good news to share, you won’t have to ask–we’ll share it.

Don’t discredit self-published writers

I was writing for ten years before I signed with my agent and sold my first book. Between the three books I queried, I probably got rejected around 500 times. Despite that, at no point did I ever consider attempting to self-publish. Why? Because self-publishing is HARD. Sure, it doesn’t have the same gatekeepers as traditional publishing, but it has, like, four times the amount of work. Everything businessy and promotional a traditional publisher does for its authors, self-published authors have to do for themselves. And they have to do it without the reach and distributors that major publisher have. They may not have the same vetting a traditionally published author has, but they took their career into their own hands and created the reality they wanted for themselves. That’s not something that should ever be looked down on.

Don’t talk negatively about writing as a career path

This is easily the biggest and most important point on this list. Do not, in any way, for any reason, talk negatively or discourage a writer from writing. Writers live a life in a constant state of uncertainty. We don’t know if what we’re writing is good, we don’t know if what we’re writing will be published, we don’t know if it will make us any money. But we love it. To most of us, that love is worth the uncertainty. And pushing through that uncertainty is key to our success. It is not your job to make us question our goals or directions. Don’t be the reason a future bestseller never gets written. If you can’t find a way to be positive, say nothing. Don’t be negative.

Final thoughts:

It’s okay if you if you don’t get writing and you don’t really want to talk about it. It’s fine to say, “It’s really cool that you write,” and change the subject. In my experience talking about other things we have in common is better than a conversation that’s painful for all involved. As long as you don’t talk negatively about your writer friend’s work/dreams/goals, you should be good to go!

Non-writers, I hope this helps in some way!

Now it’s your turn: Writers, what have non-writers said/done for you that have been super helpful? And what’s one thing you’d wish they’d stop doing? Non-writers, what’s one aspect of writing you just don’t understand? Was there anything I didn’t cover that you’d like to know more about?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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Why Writers Should Be Less Critical of Art: Writing Life Tips

Why Writers should be less critical of artSocial media has made it really easy (and popular) to share our opinions as we experience them. It’s become instinctive to post our immediate thoughts on whatever book/movie/show/etc we’ve recently taken in. The plus side it that it’s a great way to find people who like the same things you do. The downside is that it seems like negative opinions are more popular than ever, and I think there’s something to be said for being less critical of art in all forms.

As much as I believe it’s okay not to like something (and to say as much) I think sometimes we’ve become too critical, and I think it can hurt us as writers. If we’re overly critical of everything we experience, it can also make us overly critical of our own work. As writers, we are often our own harshest critics to begin with. If we experience art from an overly critical perspective, it becomes a habit to look for problems instead of celebrating strengths, and it can make our own book’s problems seem more pronounced.

In order to be more open to positive qualities in both our own work and in others’, we first have to figure out why we’re being so hard on art in the first place. With that in mind, here are five reasons you might be judging art to harshly and how being less critical of art can help you as a writer.

1) You’re trying to make the work what you want it to be

It’s important to remember that art is something that is shared with you, not necessarily created for you. As creators, I think this can be easy to understand, but difficult to keep in mind. We write the stories that matter to us and we write them how we believe they are meant to be told. Therefore, it’s easy to understand where another creator is coming from. However, when you’re a writer/creator/artist yourself, you can probably see a number of “better” choices that could have been made in the piece. But when you do that, you’re trying to make the work your own in a way that’s not fair to the creator or the work.

Instead, try to understand and appreciate the decisions the artist made. You may still not like the outcome, but it’s important to acknowledge the reasons and vision of the artist. This can also remind you that you have the same power when you work on your own projects.

2) You might not be the intended audience

I think we can all point to at least one song/book/movie/etc that everyone seems to love but we hate. (I know I can.) Does this mean “everyone” is wrong? Does it mean you’re wrong? Of course, it doesn’t mean either of these things. It simply means, that, for one reason or another, you are not the audience for this particular piece of art. Instead of being overly critical and tearing the work down, step back and appreciate the fact that this work is simply for other people to enjoy.

This is something else that should be celebrated! It’s a reminder that even if one person doesn’t like your book, it doesn’t me no one will like your book. Your work will not speak to everyone, but it doesn’t have to. It only has to connect with those who will get it.

3) You’re holding on too tight to reality

Sometimes in order to fully appreciate a piece of art, you have to agree that the unbelievable is possible. You have to agree to suspend disbelief for the sake of experiencing a killer story. Every story has its own rules, and sometimes those rules won’t jive with the world we’re used to living in. Even if you’re reading a contemporary story, the rules of the real world may be broken for the sake of the plot. And sure, you could nitpick and point out everything that’s “wrong”, or you could agree to enter a world where what’s being presented is true and enjoy the story for what it is.

This can help you learn that it’s okay if your story doesn’t 100% line up with the rules of the real world. The important thing is to be consistent and follow any rules you establish.

4) You’re comparing your own work to what you’ve seen

If you love writing a certain genre or type of story, it might be easy to compare your own work to every similar type of story you take in. Typically in this case, writers are either looking at why their story will never be “as good as” the story they’re experiencing or why their story is so much better than what they’re seeing. Both aspects can hurt you as a writer.

First, being overly critical of your own work is just as bad as being overly critical of others, and comparing finished work to a work-in-progress isn’t a level playing field. It can be discouraging. For the sake of your story, you need to do everything you can to avoid putting yourself in that situation. If you think your story is much better, it may trap you into thinking that you know all there is to know about a genre, which can prevent you from improving.

The bottom line: nothing good ever comes from comparing.

5) You’re looking for perfection

No piece of art is ever truly perfect. Yours won’t be either. It’s unfair to hold a piece of art to an unrealistic standard of perfection. And by coming to expect perfection in the work of others, you will start to demand it in your own work. This can be both discouraging and impossible to achieve. Perfection doesn’t really exist. You have to write a story that makes you happy and one that is as good as you can possibly get it. This may not mean that it’s perfect, but it doesn’t have to be perfect to be outstanding. Instead, embrace imperfection and celebrate what is working. Appreciate art for the success that it is and learn to do the same with your own work.

I hope this gives you a good idea of why writers should be less critical of art!

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t be critical ever or that you should be positive about something that you genuinely don’t like. The point of this post is to help you stop focusing on the negative aspects of art and start appreciating the positives. The positives are what you want to emulate, and they’re what you should try to find in your own work too!

If you’re interested in learning how being less critical can help your overall life, check out this article from Vortex-Success.

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever caught yourself being overly critical of art? Did you notice how it affected you? How did you reign it in and be less critical of art? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Writing Tools: Whiteboard Paint (Uses and Review)

Whiteboard wall: uses and product reviewFor about ten years now, I’ve been using a semi-unconventional brainstorming technique. I write directly on my wall. I can’t tell you why it helps so much with my brainstorming process, but it does. This all started when I learned that chalkboard paint existed. At the time, I had two whiteboards that I used for brainstorming, but they always filled up too quickly. I was planning on using the chalkboard paint until I got to the store and saw the whiteboard paint sitting on the shelf. As you can probably guess, I have always been more of a whiteboard girl, so when I saw that this was an option, it was a no-brainer.

I wanted to take this post to share a little bit about how I use my whiteboard wall for writing and give you some product pros, cons, and application tips in case you want to give it a try yourself!

Side note: This page does contain affiliate links, which means if you purchase something using the product links on this page, I may get a small commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and helps keep this site running. Thank you!

The Product:

Rust-Oleum Dry-Erase Paint

How I use it

Typically when I have a story idea, I play around with it in my head for a month or two before I ever start writing anything down. (I like to think of it as letting my story “cook.”) Then when I’m finally ready to get some ideas out, I go to my whiteboard wall. I’ll use it as a mind map, or sometimes a freewrite. I can’t tell you why it’s more helpful to freewrite on a wall than it is in a notebook, but it is! I also feel like it makes me a more active participant in my story. It gets me up and moving and I feel like it makes the whole process more hands on.

And because I’m completely engaged, it can be especially helpful when I’m having a hard time focusing or when I’m struggling with a project. Being able to slow down and see my project off the page and computer screen stimulates my creatively in a way I never expected when I first decided to invest in this paint. It’s also just a lot of fun to write on the wall, which I think helps the process–especially when I’m hating my project with a passion.

Product Pros

  • If you follow (all most all of) the directions, it’s a simple application. Once the paint is cured, you’ll have an entire wall of space to map out and brainstorm your stories.
  • This paint has been on my wall for nearly ten years and I have yet to have an issue writing or erasing. (I did repaint it once, but only because I was painting the rest of the room. The wall itself still worked great.)
  • I use standard Expo Markers, so once the painting is done, you don’t need anything fancy to write on it.
  • If you’re a whiteboard brainstormer, this is a one day project that your creativity will thank you for every time you use it.

Product Cons

  •  Like any whiteboard, it can get a little discolored over time. However, I honestly didn’t notice this until I was repainting the room and decided to repaint the whiteboard wall too. When I had an “after” to compare the “before” color to, it was clear that it was discolored. But had I not decided to give it a fresh coat, I never would have noticed.
  • You’re sacrificing a wall of your house. (I consider it to be a worthwhile sacrifice, but it’s something to consider.)
  • If you don’t choose your wall carefully, everyone who comes over will be able to see your ideas/what you’re working on.
  • If you aren’t careful in the application, it won’t work like it’s supposed to.

Applications Tips

I have done this process twice and never had a problem. But if you read the Amazon reviews, you’ll see that it can be hit or miss. Here are three things I did that I think made it work:

  1. Follow the directions. Use the specific type of roller and other tools they suggest. Give enough drying time between coats. Don’t write on the wall until they say it’s safe to. It will be torture to wait, but try to be patient.
  2. Don’t mix the paints like they recommend. This is the one direction you shouldn’t follow. The paint kit comes with two cans. A larger can of what appears to be regular white paint and a smaller can that “activates” the whiteboard quality. The directions say one of the first steps is pouring the small can into the large can and mixing before you start. I didn’t do this. Both times, the directions said I needed three coats of paint, each of which had to dry for 20 minutes. It also said that once the paint is mixed together, it will only be good for an hour. It knew it would take about 15-20 minutes to do a coat. This meant once I considered the time to dry, I would need the paint to last more than an hour. Because of that, I poured about a third of each can in a paint tray and mixed it there before each coat.
  3. Check the expiration date. Each kit has an expiration date. If the paint is expired, it won’t work like it’s supposed to, and you may have a problem erasing. The image above in the “Product” section is an Amazon link, but because of the expiration date, I would strongly recommend going to your local hardware store if you can. If you can’t (or they don’t carry it), make sure you check the date before you open the product and be prepared to exchange it if it’s out of code.

The process may have changed since I last did this. So if you have any questions about the application, you might want to think about calling the company for clarification before you start.

Photos!

Freshly Painted Whiteboard Wall

Freshly painted!

Full Whiteboard

Full and happy whiteboard wall (blurred to protect ideas).

I hope this gives you a good idea of how a whiteboard wall can work for you!

Now it’s your turn: Do you use a whiteboard to brainstorm? Have you used whiteboard paint before? If you have, what’s been your experience? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Find More Writing Time: Writing Life Tip

reclaim your writing timeOne of the biggest deterrents from writing is how much time it takes. Not just how long it takes to write a book, but the amount of time it takes on a daily basis. I’ve talked about finding time to write in the past, specifically about how to make do with any 10-20 minute windows you have in your day. But what happens if you don’t even have that much time? Or what if that time isn’t enough?

When that happens, it’s time to start creating time to write. The obvious way to make time is to cut something from your schedule; watch one less tv show, say no to friends, or task someone else with making dinner. But sometimes none of these are real options.

One thing that really helped me get more writing time was learning to batch as many tasks as possible. There are a number of tasks that we do repeatedly, whether it be weekly, daily, or a number of times throughout the day. Some of these tasks will be less time consuming if you set aside a block of time and tackle the task in one shot.

With that in mind, here are five tasks you can batch to find more writing time!

1) Social Media

It’s possible you’ve heard that it’s never too early to be building a platform on social media. Or maybe you just really like to be looped in on what’s happening on Facebook or Twitter. Regardless, if you check in on your social media accounts more than once or twice a day, it’s probably taking up more of your time than you realize.

Reading posts and responding to comments takes time. And be honest, how often do you think to yourself, “Oh, I’ll just jump on for a minute to see what’s going on,” and the next thing you know, fifteen minutes (minimum) has passed? This used to happen to me at least five or six times a day. Now I save my social media catch up for fifteen or so minutes at the end of the day. It’s enough to check in and engage, and I gained at least a half hour of daily productivity time.

2) Email

We’re pretty much programmed these days to answer emails ASAP. But every time you do that, you have to stop what you’re doing, put your full attention on the email, then get yourself back into a working mindset when you’re finished. It can also be really easy to get sucked into an email you don’t have time to answer. Instead of answering emails throughout the day, choose 1-3 fifteen minute windows to tackle your inbox. And when you do, keep your responses as short as possible; Don’t give a long explanation if it’s not needed and don’t answer an email that doesn’t really require a response.

3) Cooking

If you cook every night, it probably takes about an hour a night to get dinner on the table. At least, that’s what it usually takes me. Instead of cooking dinner every night, see if you can put aside 2-3 hours on the weekend to cook and freeze meals for the entire week. This cuts down on time because you can have a few meals going on different burners/in the oven at the same time. Plus, there are probably even a few foods that you have a couple times a week, like, rice, potatoes, or a certain vegetable. Batching your cooking means you can make them all at once. This will cut down on how much time you spend prepping, cooking, and cleaning up each night and give you more time to write!

4) Cleaning

Okay, maybe you don’t clean every day. And, yes, this is usually the first thing to go when we need to find more time. But at some point, the cleaning does have to get done. When you do it, you’re better off tackling each task in its entirety at once. This is true for daily tasks and weekly ones. Don’t load the dishwasher/wash dishes throughout the day. Do it once, and give yourself just a little more time when you do. Don’t just vacuum one room or one floor when you really need to do the whole house. Sure, these types of tasks may only be saving you five minutes here and there. But those five minutes chunks can add up and turn into more time for writing.

5) Planning

This was a game changer for me. Instead of taking the time each day or each week to plan what I need to get done, I put aside one day a month to plan my writing schedule, blog posts, and social media posts for the entire month. I used to lose so much time on a daily basis trying to figure out what I was going to write/post each day. Now I get into planning mode for 4-5 hours a month. By the end, I know what I’m going to work on and post for the next 4-5 weeks. What you need to plan might be different from me, but if you’ve noticed your day getting regularly interrupted because you have to think about your tasks before you do them, this might be a good option for you.

Final note:

These are the batched tasks I’ve found to be most helpful to me, but this method can be applied to almost anything you do repeatedly. So if you’ve found yourself regularly losing time to a task, see if there’s any way you can batch it and fill the time you gain with writing!

And it’s also worth noting that while this post was written with writers/writing in mind, it can be applied to anyone looking to create more time in their day-to-day schedule. In fact, here’s a blogger who has made batching work for her!

I hope this helps you find more writing time!

Now it’s your turn: What tasks can you batch? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Prep Your Writing for the Year: 6 Writing Tips

How to prep your writing for the new yearThe new year is just a few weeks away, which makes it the perfect time to get your writing life in order for next year! Of course, there’s no bad time to decide to prioritize your writing, but the new year gives us a blank slate and a clear start date to take advantage of. So if you’ve gotten off track, or if you’re just looking to revamp your writing life, now’s the time to start planning!

This post was written with the new year in mind, but you can definitely apply it for any long term writing prep!

Here are six tips to help you rock your writing life in the upcoming year!

1) Focus on building a habit

As exciting as it is to envision reaching your goal, making that your main focus may be one of the quickest ways to deter you. When all you can see is the end result, it’s easy to get overly ambitious and attempt to do too much too fast. And once that happens, writers can also get overwhelmed, discouraged, and decide to call it quits. If you instead put your focus on building a regular writing habit, chipping away at your goal will become manageable, sustainable, and hopefully enjoyable!

2) Be realistic about your goals

I’ve said it before on this blog, but it’s always true! It can be easy to lose sight of reality when you’re planning. Or, at least it is for me. I get excited when I make plans–too excited. I see all the possibilities and the fact that I’m sitting down to make a plan is a sign to me that I’m serious about my goals. And that seriousness alone can get the best of me. It makes me want to push myself as much as possible in order to meet my goals as soon as I can. But when that happens, I burn out. We all have our limits. Yours will probably be different from mine, but they’re there. Set goals that challenge you, but be realistic. You won’t meet your goals if you burn out. For more tips on setting manageable writing goals, check out this post.

3) Be realistic about your time

Just like you have to be realistic about what you can reasonably accomplish, you also have to be realistic about how much time you have available to you. Be honest with yourself and plan reasonable goals accordingly. If you want to write a thousand words a day, but can only write for fifteen minutes a day, it’s going to be hard to meet your daily goal. And it will also be easy to get discouraged if you consistently fail to meet the goals you created for yourself. It’s okay if you can only write fifteen minutes a day. You may want more time–and down the line, you might be able to find some–but if all you have is fifteen, you’re better off acknowledging that and planning for that, then trying to work with time you don’t have.

4) Don’t plan too far ahead

If you’ve never planned an entire writing year before, it might be better to try to plan on making a regular writing commitment than a concrete plan. You should absolutely set goals and checkpoints for yourself, but if you create a rigid plan for the whole year, you might be setting yourself up for a setback. Sometimes your work has its own ideas. Sometimes you think you know your story is going then you’re reminded that your writing has a mind of its own.

Odds are at some point this year, your project won’t go as planned. You’re going to need to regroup and adjust your plans and goals and all of this is a lot easier to do if you haven’t planned too far ahead. My advice is to make set a goal for the year, and maybe even monthly checkpoints that would help you meet your goals, but only create a serious plan (i.e. what draft and chapter you’ll be working on each day) one month at a time.

5) Consider investing in your writing

If you’re going to get serious about writing this year, that also means trying to be the best writer you can be. Make it a point to beef up your craft book collection, take a writing class, or consider enrolling in a writing program. And yes, all of these things cost money, but if you start planning and investigating options now, you might be able to save up for a writing class in the fall or end up with a solid book collection by the end of the year. For classes and writing programs, check out your local colleges, community centers, and libraries. For craft books, you can do an internet search or check out the resources page of this site!

6) Go into the year knowing what you’re going to write

Start planning what you’re going to write now! Whether you do a concrete brainstorm or you simply start thinking about your next story, it’ll be a lot easier to build or change your writing habits if you’re truly excited about what you’re working on. So start thinking about your project now, so that when January comes, you’re ready to dive in!

I hope this gives you a good idea of how to prep your writing for the year!

Now it’s your turn: How do you prep your writing year? Has anything you’ve done in the past been particularly helpful? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Create a Writing Process That Works: Brainstorming

How to Create a writing process that works: brainstorming

I’m kicking off a writing process series with tips for developing a writing process that works best for you! Today we’re going to talk about Brainstorming. If you want to skip ahead, here is Part Two: Drafting, and Part Three: Revision and Editing.

At this point, I have a pretty finely honed writing process. Does it work 100% of the time? No. Nothing in writing works 100% of the time. But I’m able to be consistently productive, which is obviously essential in completing a project. I created this process largely through trial and error. Odds are, you’ll probably have to do the same, but there’s a lot to think about at each stage of the writing process.

Keep in mind, the goal here shouldn’t be to do what other people say “works” or to do do what other people say is “right.” The goal is to find a process that makes you productive. You need to figure out what is the best approach for your personality and your life. Don’t be afraid to try something new and ditch it if it doesn’t help. And don’t be afraid to take these ideas and modify them to better serve your needs.

Now, on to the post! Here are some tips to help you figure out how to brainstorm (and if you even should).

Plotter or Pantser?

There tend to be two schools of thought for brainstorming: pantsing and plotting. If you’re a pantser, then you probably don’t do too much brainstorming, plotting, or outlining–you fly by the seat of your pants. If you’re a plotter, you do brainstorm, outline, and/or plot. Panters like to experience and uncover the story as they write while plotters like to know where their story is going before they dive in. So, how do you figure out where you land?

How I learned about myself

I can’t speak for everyone, but here’s how I learned. I used to be a panter. The idea of brainstorming was overwhelming to me and when I had an idea, I wanted to get it out as fast as possible. Pausing to brainstorm seemed like a waste of time.

I was working on a writing project early in high school when I started to see how brainstorming could help me. I hadn’t done any brainstorming on this project, and I had made it twenty-five chapters pretty easily. However, what I came to realize was that in those twenty-five chapters, only about five days had passed. And most of the time, my characters had been wandering around trying to figure out what they should do next. And on top of that, I had absolutely no idea what direction I should send my characters in for chapter 26. So I started brainstorming–not to too much though. Just pausing for fifteen minutes to think of a few plot points I could cover in the next chapter. When I did this, it made writing so much easier for me.

What I came to realize is that I don’t multitask well when it comes to writing. I can’t think about what I want to say and how I want to say it at the same time. Now my outlines are pretty detailed because I learned that the more I think about my story before I write, the easier it is to write. I increased my brainstorming slowly. Once I got used to working with just plot points, I started planning key scenes. When I saw the benefits of that, I started to add more and more detail to my outlines, so now I practically have every scene planned before I write. This may not be right for you, but it works really well for me.

Some tips to help you find what works for you

Check out how other writers brainstorm. Everyone has a different approach and something another writer shares might resonate with you. I always say you should, at some point, try nearly every technique you come across because you never know what might be helpful. I also suggest you go with what’s working until you’re having a problem. Then work to alter your process and add something new based on the problem you’re trying to solve.

In the case of brainstorming, it’s probably easier to start with pantsing (at least, if you can get into your story from the start). If pantsing becomes a struggle, you consistently find yourself frustrated because you don’t know what happens next, or you really HATE the direction your story is going in, then take a stop writing and map it out. Start with only thinking a chapter ahead. If that’s helpful, then pause your draft and plan out the rest of the book. I would suggest you start with only a couple of plot points and add detail as you find it helpful.

As much as plotting and pantsing are the two main schools of thought, they’re also, essentially, anchors on a scale. It’s okay if you fall somewhere in between. If diving in with absolutely no direction has left you struggling to write but a full-blown scene-by-scene outline feels too limiting, try simply coming up with a few guiding plot points to hit at different points throughout the book. And again, don’t be afraid to alter any techniques you come across to meet your own personality and needs.

Somethings to consider

If you follow me on Instagram, you know my process is pretty detailed, but that doesn’t mean your brainstorming has to be. If you’re new to brainstorming, start small. Consider these five basic brainstorming tips and these three basic questions when developing your characters. Know that if you chose to brainstorm, you don’t have to do a lot of it. It might be enough for you to jot down five key moments for your book, fill out a plot structure like this one, or come up with one key scene/idea per chapter. Or you might want to simply take a day and do a free write of your book before you start drafting. All of that counts as brainstorming.

And if you discover pantsing works best for you, try not to completely rule brainstorming out altogether. I have some friends who are solid panters for their first draft but turn to brainstorming and outlining for their second draft. This way, they’ve discovered their story enough by drafting that they can step back and plan how to make it better. If you truly are a hardcore panters, that fine! But don’t feel like you can’t be a brainstormer just because you don’t brainstorm before you write. Brainstorming is supposed to serve your story in any way you need it, even if it’s not until after you’ve written a draft.

I hope this helps you find how you approach brainstorming best!

You can find part two: drafting here!

Now it’s your turn: Are you a plotter or a panster? Have you tried both approaches? How did you learn what works best for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Be A Healthy Writer: 5 Writing Life Tips

How to Be a Healthy WriterBeing a healthy writer can be challenging. After all, it’s pretty common for writers to sacrifice their health for their art. We stay up too late, hunched over our computer, and because our time is limited, it can be easy to grab a granola bar and call it dinner. We also live in a world that often rewards and celebrates people who make these kinds of sacrifices for the things they care about.

As much as I do believe in pushing yourself past your limits, I don’t believe you should be sacrificing your health on a regular basis for any reason. Sure, we all may have to suck it up from time to time, but if taking care of yourself and being unhealthy has become a version of ‘normal,’ you might want to think about making a change.

Personal story: the year before my first book came out, I was way too wound up and I was working too hard–though it took me a while to realize it. It was understandable. It was my first book and it was an exciting time, but it had also made me more prone to unhealthy habits. I wasn’t sleeping enough, I wasn’t eating that great or moving enough either. Sure, I was on a deadline for my second book, and some of it was unavoidable, but a lot of it was. After my book came out, I realized how wound up I was and made some changes. These changes not only positively affected my overall health, but they also made me a better writer.

Here are some things I did that have made me a healthy writer, and how they can help you too!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and you should definitely talk to one before making a lifestyle change. This is just me sharing my personal experience. 

1) Move more

This was a big one for me. I had done online yoga for years, but not every day and never with classes were ever designed to work together. Around the same time I was realizing I needed to take better care of myself, my favorite online yoga teacher Erin Motz, aka Bad Yogi, came out with her Perfect Body Yoga Program. It’s an eight-week program comprised of classes designed to work together. It’s built on the belief that the “perfect” body is the healthiest version of the body you already have. I found that moving every day opened a floodgate of creativity and made me a more consistent and productive writer.

Another part of that program is weekly walks, which I’ve started doing at least 3-4 times a week. Getting outside regularly has also had a really positive impact on my writing. I’ve found that if I’m struggling, taking a 20-30 minute walk to clear my head almost always gives a boost of energy and makes it possible to keep working.

Even if yoga and walking isn’t your thing, consider taking the time to find a regular exercise that you enjoy. If you like what you’re doing, you’re more likely to keep showing up. And if yoga is your thing, please know that I don’t get any kind of commission or anything for recommending Bad Yogi and PBYP. I just love it that much, so you should totally look into it!

2) Eat right (80% of the time)

Another part of the Perfect Body Yoga Program is eating better without depriving yourself of the food you love. This isn’t a health blog, so I won’t bore you with the details, but basically, I try to eat pretty healthy 80% of the time and have whatever I want 20% of the time. This has made it really easy to eat better, largely because I don’t feel like there’s anything I “can’t” have. I feel like I make the choice not to have something, but I always know I can have it if I really want to. And when I do really want to, I enjoy it!

Also, I don’t count carbs or calories, so I don’t cut myself off from food when I’ve reached a ‘limit.’ My brain needs food to power it. If I’m hungry, I eat something. However, I do pay attention to sugar, dairy, and process grains and try to eat as little of them as possible. That doesn’t mean I don’t eat these things; I just make sure I eat them when I want them and not just them because they’re there and easy. I’ve found that eating better has given me more motivation and alert, which has made it a lot easier to be consistently productive.

This approach to food has made it pretty easy to be a healthy writer. But again, I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist. I can only speak for what I do and what’s helped me. Consult an expert before making any dietary changes.

3) Sleep enough

Seriously. Sleep enough. I know life is busy. I know sleep is one of the first things to go when we need more time. But you will perform better and make better choices if you are well rested. I’ve found when I try to stay up too late, it flat out gets harder to work. It will take me twice as long to meet my goals and my writing isn’t as good as it could be if I was rested. Maybe this is just me. Also, being rested on a daily basis had made it a lot easier to continually meet my goals.

4) Drink enough water

Once I started drinking enough water, I noticed that I had more energy and overall focus. I also found that drinking more water made me crave more water. I rarely drink iced teas or sugared drinks and I don’t drink soda at all. At no point did I really make a conscious choice not to drink those things. I just stopped wanting them. I don’t know if this will happen for you, but it definitely made cutting back on sugar easier. And again, this is something else that made me a much sharper writer.

5) Meditate

I don’t think I really need to tell you how much of a mental job writing is. Apps like Headspace can help clear out the excess thoughts and distractions to help you focus more on your writing. I was pretty surprised the difference 5-10 minutes can make. It can also put you in a more positive mindset which will enable you to do your best work–or at the very least, to get something written on the page. Taking care of your brain is super important when it comes to being a healthy writer. Check out this post for more tips to care for your brain!

Bonus tip

Don’t try to completely change your habits all at once. Ideally, you’re looking to be a healthy writer for the long-term. You’re more likely to make these changes last if you focus on building one new habit at a time. For most of these changes, I put my attention on implementing a new habit for at least a week before I added another one to my routine. That’s how I can tell you how each change helped my writing. I’ve also been able to maintain these habits long term, which I think is largely because I took the time to get used to them individually. Overall, I’ve been able to be consistently productive since I made these changes without feeling drained or burnt out.

I hope this helps you become a healthy writer!

Now it’s your turn: Have you noticed how your habits affect your writing? What are some easy tips you have to be a healthy writer? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Keep Writing During the Holiday Season

How to Keep Writing During the Holiday SeasonThis time of year is typically a busy one. There are parties, family gatherings, and SO MUCH to prep and eat! This can make writing during the holiday season a challenge! No matter what you celebrate (or even if you don’t), the world tends to feel much busier than usual.

I wrote this post with the holidays in mind, but it could also be adapted for any busy season or time of year. Getting work done when life is particularly hectic can be hard but it’s not possible! And it’s important not to let a time like this blow up your writing goals.

Here are seven tips to help you keep writing during the holiday season.

1) Cut down on writing time (but protect the time you have)

It’s okay if you have to cut back on writing. You can’t do everything and be everywhere. Sacrifices may have to be made in order to meet holiday obligations, but it’s important not to cut writing time out entirely. And while you may need to reallocate some of your writing time to holiday activities, I would suggest you be SUPER protective of the writing time you do put aside for yourself. This may mean saying no to last-minute requests or activities. If your writing is important to you, it’s up to you to protect any time you can get, even now.

2) Spend time with your family/friends

With that said, it is the holidays and family and friends are important. Make time for them! This has two benefits. First, these moments and events are exactly the types of things you may want to write about someday. In order to write, you need to live and experience. Second, I’ve found that if you make time for people, they are much more respectful of any time you take for yourself to go write. This way, you get your writing time in without someone knocking on your door to bake cookies. It will be known that you’re writing for half an hour, then you’ll be free for baking.

3) Consider a serious schedule (even if you’re not a scheduler)

The holiday season means time is even more limited than usual. One way to manage is by being smarter and more purposeful about how you spend your time. Consider making a daily schedule–even if you’re not a scheduler–and sticking to it. This will help you get all of your tasks accomplished while still making time to write!

4) If you’re traveling, make the most of your time in transit

Don’t let your travel time be a waste! If you’re flying, make it a point to work during the flight. If you’re driving, see if someone else can drive. Traveling can be hectic, especially at a busy time of year. This is one of the best ways to also make it productive and to keep writing during the holiday season. It can also make it more enjoyable. If traffic is terrible or your flight is delayed, it means you get more time to write! It also means you’ll have less work to do once you get to your destination. If this sounds like something you might want to try, here’s an article from The Muse on how to stay productive while you travel.

5) Let writing be a break from the craziness

When you’re going in fifteen different directions and have a never-ending to-do list, it can be incredibly refreshing to take half an hour to escape. Let writing be an anchor to your normal everyday life. Let writing slow your crazy busy day down a fraction. Be fifteen minutes late to the party and write. I find when I do this I’m often more relaxed and more social when I get to where I’m going.

6) Don’t be a Grinch

As much as it’s important to keep writing during the holiday season, it’s also important to be flexible and forgiving about your goals. Somedays you might not write as much as you want to. Let that be okay. Try not to be a frustrated grumpy grinch if you constantly fall behind. No one will like you! I’ve also noticed that people are less likely to support you and your goals if they feel like these goals make you a miserable person. Protect your time. Make it a point to write. But don’t beat yourself up or take it out on your family and friends if you don’t get as much done as you hoped. Let yourself off the hook and let it be enough that you moved your project forward–even if it’s just a fraction.

7) Enjoy the holidays and be present for them!

Even if you’re behind in you’re writing, show up for your holiday events and be present for them. These types of gatherings are half the reasons we have stories in the first place. If your head is in your writing or you’re feeling guilty because you didn’t meet your goal for the day, then you’re likely missing out on an experience that could play a key role in a story down the line. Be present and take it all in.

I hope this helps you to keep writing during the holiday season!

Now it’s your turn: How do you keep working during a holiday season (or any busy season)? Do you have any tips you can share? Tell me about it in the comments!

How to Stay Positive While You Write: Writing Life Tips

How to Stay Positive While You WriteWhen it comes to writing (and a lot of things in life), attitude and perspective are everything. It is possible to stay positive while you write. You can let the hard parts get to you, or you can choose to celebrate the good things. This is something that’s as true before you’re published as it is after. In reality, a lot in publishing is out of your control. You don’t get to decide if an agent or editor wants to read your work, likes what they’ve read, or wants to publish you. And if they do, in fact, want to do all of those things, you don’t get to control if people buy it, like it, or want more of your writing.

Basically, you get rejected A LOT, and it’s easy (and understandable) to let this rejection get to you. But that kind of negativity isn’t all that great for your writing. In fact, it can make you want to give up. This is why it’s so important to keep your head in a positive place, despite the rejection and downsides that come with writing.

With that in mind, here are six tips to help you stay positive while you write:

1) Remember why you started and why you write

I think we can all agree that when writing is going well, it can be a rush. It’s like reaching the top of a mountain, flying, and winning an Olympic event all at the same time. When everything fits into place and you’re firing on all cylinders, it can feel like writing is what you were born to do. I write for this feeling. It’s what I’m always chasing. Remembering this feeling is what keeps me going. Why you write may be different, but taking the time to remember why you write can shift your perspective.

Writing is a gift. Remembering why you started can help you to focus on why writing matters instead of why writing is hard.

2) Remember that you LOVE the story you’re writing

If you started writing a book, then I have to believe there is something in there that you love. Whether it’s a majority of the book or just the plot or main character, there’s a reason you wanted to write this story. Go back to that reason. Remember what’s working. Even if you feel like most of your book is a mess, it’s important to remember that you have good ideas and that there’s a reason this idea called to you. Go back to what you love about this story and use those areas to inspire you.

3) Don’t compare your writing to anyone else’s (especially your WIP to a published book)

It can be particularly discouraging to be going through a rough patch in your project while you’re reading a really good book. It’s easy to compare a well-done book to your not-so-well-done work-in-progress. But if you do that, you’re also probably going to feel pretty bad about yourself. It’s important to remember that every well-written, well-executed novel was once a hot mess. It took a lot of time and effort to make it good. Comparing your book to a finished or late-stage book isn’t a level playing field. Beyond that, every book has different elements and different needs. So comparing your book to anyone’s book, in-progress or not, isn’t an equal measuring stick. Your book is unique and it should be treated as such.

4) Don’t compare your writing life to anyone else’s

It can be hard to stay positive while you write if you’re trying to measure up to someone else. It can also be easy to look at how other writers work and think you’re not writing “correctly.” But ultimately, there is no right way to write. Sure, there’s a basic process (brainstorm, draft, revise, edit, publish), but how you go about each of those steps is up to the writer. You need to figure out how you work best. What’s productive for others may not be right for you and it’s important not to feel like it should be. For example, I’m not someone who can write every day. If I do, I burn out. When I see that there are people who write every day, it doesn’t make me feel like I’m slacking for taking time off. It’s them doing what’s right for them, while I do what’s right for me.

5) Limit time you spend on the news, social media, and the internet

Sometimes too much input from outside sources can cloud your judgment. It can be hard not to compare yourself to others if you follow a bunch of writers on social media. And it can be hard to focus on what you’re writing if you have too many sources telling you what you’re supposed to be caring about. Maintaining a positive writing attitude is something you have to harness from within yourself. It’s insanely hard to listen to yourself if you’re competing with all the thoughts and opinions of the internet. I suggest limiting your intake of the news, social media, and the internet on a regular basis. Jump on once a day–enough to be informed and connect, but don’t get consumed by other people’s output. If you’re really in a negative place, I would suggest taking a sabbatical from these sources. Instead, fill what would be your online time with music, TV, art, or anything else that inspires you.

6) Write something else for fun

Take a time out from your WIP and write something just for fun. This is particularly helpful if remembering why you write is a little challenging. Writing something purely for fun can help you stay positive while you write because it takes the pressure off. This can help you organically come back to come back to your writing roots. And if you don’t know what to write about, hop on to Pinterest and do a search for writing prompts. You’ll get TONS to choose from!

I hope this helps you stay positive while you write!

Now it’s your turn: How do you stay positive while you write? Do you have any tips you can share? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Evaluate Writing Feedback: 5 Writing Tips

How to Evaluate Writing FeedbackWelcome to Part Four of the Feedback series! Today it’s time to talk about how to evaluate writing feedback! Be sure to check out Part One: Finding the Right Early Readers for Your Writing, Part Two: What You Should Ask for Writing Feedback in Stages, and Part Three: How to Give Helpful Feedback.

Learning to evaluate writing feedback is another essential tool for writers. It’s important to get your work critiqued, but that doesn’t mean you should take every piece of advice you’re given. As I’ve said this a few times during this series, it’s important to remember that not every reader will be the right reader for your book. Because of that, not every reader will give you helpful feedback.

Beyond that, even if a reader is right for your project, you shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it’s your book. You get to decide what advice you take and what advice you don’t. So, how do you separate the good critiques from the bad?

Here are five things to consider when you evaluate writing feedback:

1) Consider the source

Everyone has different tastes and different perspectives. In order to truly evaluate the feedback you’re getting, it’s important to have a good understanding of your reader’s perspectives and how they line up with your vision for the book. For example, let’s say you’ve written a fantasy novel with a light romance subplot and you get feedback from an early reader who is a massive romance fan. The feedback they give you about the romance in your book is probably going to be pretty solid. If they read and/or write a lot of romance, then they probably have a good grasp of the genre’s characteristics and will be able to help strengthen that subplot.

However, they may also tell you that they think the romance plot needs to be bigger. As a massive romance fan, they naturally want more romance. But if that’s not the kind of book you’re intending to write, then that’s not the kind of feedback you need to act on. Recognizing the difference between what your reader wants from a story and what you want for your story play a massive role in picking out helpful feedback. When both of your interests line up, take that feedback to heart. When they don’t, set that feedback aside.

2) Pay attention to the “why”

When it comes time to evaluate writing feedback, why someone believes something is always more important than the note itself. I was in a workshop once where I had written a short piece about a bunch of teenagers. I intended it to be very dramatic and it was. There was one scene that someone told me they didn’t like because it was very melodramatic. They meant this to be a negative critique, but since I was going for dramatic, it wasn’t as negative the person thought it was. They may not have liked the scene, but their reason for not liking it was exactly what I was trying to achieve. As far as I was concerned, I accomplished my goal.

This can go both ways. Perhaps you get a note from someone that says, “I love this scene. It’s nice for the characters to have a moment where they feel safe.” It might be nice that your reader likes the scene, but if you don’t want your characters to feel safe in that moment, then it’s a sign to revise.

By all means, take in your reader’s options, but base your decision to revise on the reasoning and not the opinion itself.

3) Trust your gut

If someone points out an aspect of your story that’s been bothering you, then chances are whatever they found is worth listening to. Your gut often knows when something in your story isn’t quite sitting right, even if you don’t know what it is or how to fix it. However, your gut also tends to know when something is working. If you’re someone who’s receptive to feedback, but find yourself thinking “absolutely not” to a note, there’s probably a reason for it. Be open to the feedback you get. Consider it seriously. But it’s okay to dismiss a critique simply because it doesn’t feel right. You know your story better than anyone. If it’s not right, it’s not right.

4) Ask follow up questions

If a note is either confusing or feels way off base, it’s okay to ask your reader to clarify. I can’t tell you how many times I was ready to dismiss a note that actually turned out to be helpful once I asked for more information. Don’t dismiss feedback simply because it doesn’t make sense. Double check to make sure you’re understanding the suggestion/problem correctly. If it still seems wrong after you’ve clarified, then disregard it. But don’t risk trashing a good note just because you didn’t follow up with your reader.

5) Don’t take feedback personally

This probably goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. If you’ve asked for feedback on your book, it’s important not to take the feedback you’ve asked for as a personal attack. If you’ve given your book to people you can trust and people who you know want to help and support you, then trust that any feedback they give is in the spirit of wanting to make your book the best it can be.

Granted, sometimes you may find yourself frustrated because someone didn’t like your book at all and didn’t give you anything helpful, but that doesn’t mean you should get angry at them. It means you shouldn’t give them another book of yours to critique. Don’t burn bridges over feedback. You can still be friends with someone even if they don’t get or can’t help you with your writing. Just know that they aren’t the right people to help you in the future.

I hope this helps you evaluate writing feedback!

Find the rest of the feedback series here: Part One: Find the Right Early Readers for Your WritingPart Two: What You Should Ask for Writing Feedback in Stages, Part Three: How to Give Helpful Feedback.

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Now it’s your turn: How do you evaluate writing feedback? Tell me about it in the comments!

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