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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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 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 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 Keep Writing When Your Life Blows Up

How to Keep Writing When Your Life Blows upLife happens. People fight, get divorced, get fired, and lose loved ones. When these things like this happen in your life, writing can understandably become a much lower priority. It can also be much harder to write if a major source of stress is requiring so much of your mental energy. Life happens to all of us at one point or another and it’s fine to take a break from writing to manage it, but it’s also important to keep writing when your life blows up. As much as you may need to reconfigure your life, it’s important not to let a set back stop you from achieving your writing goals.

Here are some ways to keep writing when your life blows up:

1) Abandon your schedule/plan

When you’re dealing with a majorly stressful situation, it’s important to limit your stress in as many other areas of your life as possible. This can start with writing. Ditch your plan and schedule and find a victory in simply moving your project forward, even if it’s only a little bit. Write what you can, when you can. It’s okay if it’s just a page or a sentence, or an eighth of the work you normally do. You don’t even have to like or be happy with what you’ve written. Let it be enough that you wrote something. And let yourself off the hook for the work you didn’t get to.

2) Take time off when you need it

It’s okay not to show up every planned writing day. Real life problems can be time-consuming and draining. It’s okay if you have a day, or stretch of days, where you don’t have the time or the energy to write. Let yourself take the time away from your work without feeling guilty or worried about how behind you’re getting. But also, be careful not to let this become a habit. The longer you go without writing the harder it will be to fit it back into your life again. If you find that you’ve gone a whole month without writing at all, consider some tips from point #1 and try to write something, even if it’s only a sentence.

3) Let writing be your escape

Trying to fit writing in when everything else is going to hell can sometimes feel like a burden and a chore. But if you can, try to reframe the task in your mind so your story becomes your escape. There’s a good chance your real life problem will start to feel all-consuming. So dive into your own fictional world for a half-hour or so and let your book completely monopolize your brain. This might be easier said than done, but if you can find the time and the headspace, you may find it refreshing and rejuvenating.

4) Let writing help you sort through your emotions

If you can’t seem to get yourself in the right frame of mind to escape your problem, consider using writing to process your situation and emotions. Put your characters in a similar situation as you. Or if that’s a little too on the nose, try putting them in a situation where they might be feeling what your feeling but in a different context. If you need to temporarily abandon the project you’re working on, that’s fine! It’s better to keep writing and write something different than to stop writing altogether because you’re not feeling up to working on your work in progress. In fact, here’s an article from Bustle on 7 Health Benefits of Writing and Journaling.

5) Remember why you’re doing this

There is a reason you’re writing. You probably love it. Maybe it makes you happy and whole. Maybe it helps you make sense of and give meaning to the world. These things are most likely true no matter what you’ve got going on in your life. Let those reasons for anchor you to your work–even if it’s only for a few moments a day or a few moments a week. Remember why this matters to you, and why it was important enough to fit into your life in the first place. As long as you hold on to why this matters to you, you’ll be able to find your way back to the page.

I hope this helps you to keep writing when your life blows up on you.

Now it’s your turn: Do you keep writing when life blows up? If you do, how do you do it? If you don’t, how do you get back on track? Tell me about it in the comments!

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The Importance of Writing for the Right Reasons

The Importance of Writing for the Right ReasonsOne thing I’ve heard a lot about over the years is writers talking about giving up. I’m sure you’ve heard it too. Sometimes it comes from a writer who’s been published sharing how close they came to giving up. Sometimes it’s someone who hasn’t been published yet and wondering how much longer they should keep writing.

With that in mind, I have something to confess: Not once in my ten-year quest for publication did I ever consider giving up. And not once did I doubt that I would be published someday.

My secret? Ironically, I got very comfortable with the idea that I might never be published. Because of that, I found other reasons to write. And once I found other reasons to write, I knew I would be writing for the rest of my life whether anyone ever published me or not. And once I decided I would be writing for the rest of my life, publication start to feel inevitable–whether it happened in my twenties or in my sixties.

Publishing can validate you, but I don’t think a lack of a publishing credit should invalidate you. Publishers, editors, and agents may stand between you and your publishing dreams, but they don’t stand between you and your writing. That experience is solely and completely yours. You get to own that, whether anyone likes what your writing or not.

The more you write the better you will get. That’s how writing works. So, the key to reaching your writing goals, whatever they may be, is to keep writing. And it’s a lot easier to keep writing if you’re writing for the right reasons. Here are a few to consider:

Because  it makes you happy

This, I believe, is the best reason. Admittedly, I’m biased, because it’s also my biggest reason, but I think if you can write for yourself and your own happiness first and foremost, it makes it a lot easier to persevere until you reach your writing goals. If you write because it makes you happy, “good” doesn’t matter. Publishing doesn’t matter. And yet, the more the more write and the more you learn, the better you will get. You will get closer to good and get closer to being published, simply by focusing on telling a story that makes you happy the best that you possibly can.

Because it connects you to people like you

Writers often see the world differently than other people. As cool as it can be to have a unique perspective, it can also be a little isolating. Connecting with other writers can help you find people who see the world more like you do–who see a mess of stories and perspectives and outlooks. Connecting with the writing world through classes and social media can help you feel more supported and less isolated.

Because it helps you interpret and make sense of the world

Typically, writers are people who search for clarity and understanding. Writing can help us find that. It forces us to slow down and lock in on our own thoughts and beliefs. This brings a greater understanding to both our world and ourselves, which I believe makes us happier and more productive people.

Because maybe you can express an idea another person has been searching for

Have you ever read a book or watched a show/movie/play and had a character express an exact emotion you have felt but have never been able to put into words? I know I have. There’s a power in speaking for your audience like that–in being able to be their voice. That power doesn’t come from publication. It comes from writing. This is true regardless of if your audience is global or just your close friends and family.

Because no one else is going to have your perspective

No one will ever see the world exactly as you do. No one is going to put words together like you will. Writing is a way to record what you think, feel, and believe. Publishing may help you share your work, but you don’t need it to record your perspective. This is how you can use your voice.

Because you only get one chance to leave your mark on this world

If you have a story inside you, write it! Life may be full of second chances, but you only get one chance at life. Your work will almost certainly matter to someone whether it’s published or not. If you want to write, you should write. Leave your mark on the world and your readers while you still can.

Because connecting with readers is a true gift

We are lucky to live in the age of the internet where there are so many options to share our work. Between sites like Wattpad, and the ability to create a blog like I have, there are plenty of ways to get your work to readers on your own terms. There are few joys of writing that exceeded connecting with someone who has read and appreciated your work. That connection is real regardless of if you’re published or not.

Because being about to say you do something you love is worth more than any job can ever pay you

It is a privilege to get paid to do what you love, but I don’t show up every day to write for money. I show up every day because I am my best self when I do. Writing matters so much more to me than anyone can put a price tag on. I loved the act of writing so much that if I didn’t get published, I was fully prepared to work a boring job that paid enough and wasn’t in any way mentally taxing. Because nothing was more important to me than doing what I loved, whether anyone paid me for it or not. I found that writing out of love takes the pressure of publication off and brings more joy to both my life and my writing.

Because if you don’t give up, someone might just pay you someday

Publishing shouldn’t be the reason to write, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be reason to write. And I think you’ll find if it’s not your main motivator, it’ll get easier to keep writing no matter the criticism or odds. Additionally, if you’re not writing for publishing and bestseller fame, it puts you in a position to be happy with any publishing situation you find yourself in. Whether it’s a small press or major publisher, whether your book does incredibly well or incredibly poorly. It will be enough to have made it that far, regardless of the outcome. Write for reasons other than publishing, and publishing will never disappoint you.

I hope this helps you find the best reason for writing!

Now it’s your turn: Why do you write? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Create an Awesome Writing Space: Writing Life

Creating a Writing SpaceCreating a space to write in can be more beneficial to your writing than you may realize. Not only does it give you a designated place to get work done, but I’ve also found that creating the space can be a wonderful-yet-productive break from writing. It taps into a different kind of creativity while still contributing to your output in the long run.

In this post, I’m going to share four reasons why I think it’s important to create a designated writing space and give you four tips to make it happen.

Why it’s important

It puts you in the right mindset

Sleep specialists say you should never work in your bed because it trains your brain that your bed is for something other than sleep. In a similar vein, I’ve found that having a designated space to work trains your brain to work when you’re in that space. Writing in a space you normally relax in, like on your couch, might work fine when you’re writing well, but if you’re going through a rough patch, it can be a challenge. It becomes all too easy to put the writing aside and turn on the TV if you just don’t feel like working.

On the other hand, if you have a designated writing space, you’ll know that when you’re there, you are there to work. This puts you in the right mindset before you even start writing and makes it easier to get work done–even when you just don’t feel like it.

It can remove you from distractions

When you have a space for work, you can design it to be distraction free. You can make sure a TV is not in view, your phone is out of your space, and make it clear to others in the house that if you’re in that space, you shouldn’t be bothered. This will help with your focus and productivity.

It can help you and others take your writing seriously

Writing can feel a lot like a hobby if you aren’t getting paid for it yet, but if you want to be paid for your work at some point, it’s important to treat it like work now. When you have a space to write in, it’s easier to feel like you’re working. It’s also easier for others in your house to see you working. Giving yourself a space to work can help you and everyone around you to see your writing as a career-in-progress and less like a hobby. For more on how to treat writing like your job before it is, check out this post.

It can help you organize your writing time better

When you don’t have a designated space, writing time, relaxing time, family time, and life in general can all run together. I’ve found that once I take the time to create a space, I’m more motivated to use it. Which means I’m more motivated to carve out writing time and make sure that time is protected.

How to create an awesome writing space

Pick a location

It can be a room in your house, an area outside, or even a corner of your living room. It doesn’t matter how big or small the space is, the key is that it will be designated for work. Also, consider an area that will stimulate your creativity. If looking out a window will help fuel your story, set up your space near a window. If you’d find the window distracting, go for a wall.

You may even want to have a couple writing areas if you can. My favorite space is outside, but I also have a smaller space inside for when the weather isn’t cooperating.

Get the right furniture

A desk or table and chair are usually the basics, but that may not be for you. If you’d rather write in a comfy chair, go for it! But I recommend getting a chair exclusively for your writing space. If you’re using a corner of a larger room and you don’t live alone, you also might want to think about getting some kind of separator or screen to isolate yourself while you work. And if you don’t happen to have the right furniture laying around, Craigslist and yard sales are a great way to get what you need inexpensively.

Surround yourself with plans and positivity

Hang quotes that inspire you on the wall. Have pictures that relax you nearby. Consider adding a whiteboard or corkboard with your writing plans and goals so you always know what you’re working towards. Add whatever you need to keep yourself focused and motivated.

Browse Pinterest and Amazon for decorative ideas

Pinterest, in particular, can be super helpful in collecting ideas for a creative or writing space. Cast a wide net. Search ideas for home offices and small office spaces. You never know what other people have come up with that might be helpful to you.

I hope this helps you create an awesome writing space!

Now it’s your turn: What do you surround yourself with when you want to be productive? What’s essential for your writing space? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Treat Writing Like Your Job Before It Is

Treat Writing Like a Job Before it IsIf one of your writing goals is to be published, the sooner you start to treat writing like your job, the better off you will be.

I started treating writing like my job in grad school. To be fair, at that point, it kind of was my job since I was getting graded, but once I started that habit, it carried over into my post-grad life. I believe it’s a massive reason why I’m published and why I can handle it.

So today, I’m going to talk about how it can be beneficial to treat writing like your job, how it helped me, and give you some tips to help you do the same.

The benefits:

It builds good habits

You get used to showing up at your computer or notebook on a regular basis. If you want to be paid for your writing someday, you will have to meet deadlines. To meet those deadlines, you often have to show up even when you don’t always feel like it. The sooner you can get used to that idea, the more habitual it will be and the easier it will become.

It ups your productivity

I don’t think this needs a ton of explanation. When you show up on a regular basis, you will get more done! Sure, some days will be harder than others, but even a little bit of progress on a bad day is better than not writing at all. I also found that writing got a lot more fun for me once I saw consistent progress.

It helps protect your writing time

When you treat writing like a job, it makes it easier to protect your time and say no to others. If you asked someone for a favor but they had to work, they wouldn’t hesitate to say no. If you start thinking of writing as your job and framing it that way to others, it will be easier to say no to things. Because you do have to work. (I wrote a post on Saying No to Others if you need more tip on this.)

It makes transitioning into publishing more manageable

Like we said earlier, if you want to be published, you will have to meet deadlines. Those deadlines will be easier to meet if you’re already in the habit of scheduling your writing time and committing to that schedule. It’s pretty common for writers to spend years working on their first published book. No one is waiting on it, so you can take all the time you need. But once you sell that book, you’ll have a pretty serious deadline for revisions. And if you’ve sold more than one book, you’ll have to write an entire book from start to finish in a fraction of a time that it took you to write the first.

Personally, I found meeting publishing deadlines to be (for the most part) a lot easier than I was expecting. There were some parts I had to adjust to, but as a whole, it was a relatively smooth transition. I’m pretty sure this was because I was already used to the idea that writing was my job and that deadlines had to be met.

It forces you to take your goals seriously

The moment I decided to treat writing like my job was the moment I writing went from a fun side project to a career goal. It made me more dedicated and determined. I also found that once I took my goals more seriously, it either made others take my goals seriously, or helped me to tune out the people who didn’t.

How to make it happen:

Make a schedule and commit

When you have a ‘real job’ you have a regularly scheduled time to report and tasks to complete. If you’re treating writing like your job, then it’s going to need its own schedule and set of tasks. Pick a time of day that you can show up to your story on a regular basis. Maybe it means getting up a half hour earlier, staying up a half hour later, or writing through your lunch break. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time if you’re just starting out, just make sure it’s consistent.

Something else to keep in mind: while we are treating writing like a job, it’s important to remember that writing isn’t necessarily like other jobs. Some days, the brainpower and creativity just aren’t there. On days like that, I still encourage you to show up at your computer or notebook, if that’s part of your plan. Even if you can’t meet your goals, do what you can to keep that time commitment to yourself. Find a way to take a step forward, even if it’s only a small one. For more on how to commit to your writing, check out this post!

Set manageable goals

It’s okay if you treat writing like a part-time job instead of a full-time one. The point is to take your writing time and production as seriously as you would if someone were paying you to do so. However, you shouldn’t run yourself into the ground in the process. Small sacrifices are one thing, but you shouldn’t be killing yourself to make your writing dreams a reality. It’s unhealthy and unsustainable. It’s really hard to be a happy writer if you’ve spread yourself too thin, so set goals you can reasonably accomplish. Once you do break into publishing, you might be able to cut back on other obligations to get more time, but for now, build the habit. It’s easier to expand a habit you already have than to start from scratch.

For more on this topic, check out these posts: How to Set Manageable Writing Goals and The Importance of Setting Reasonable Writing Goals.

Hold yourself accountable (or find someone who will)

If this were a normal job, there would be a boss, someone above you waiting for your work. Someday, that will be your agent, editor, and publisher. For now, that boss is going to have to be you. If you’re someone who is good at holding yourself accountable this might not be too hard. Personally, I get a lot of satisfaction out of sticking to a schedule, but that might not be you. If that’s the case, then find a friend who will check in on your regularly. Then come up with a system. Maybe you have to report your word count or (if they’re a good early draft reader) send them pages. If you can find another writer, you can support each other and hold each other accountable.

Work “Out”

If you have the option of leaving home to write, give it a shot. I’ve found that this creates the feeling of “going to work” and helps me stay focused once I get there. I also know of writers who made it a habit of stopping a cafe for a half hour or so on their way home from work. They knew once they got home, the writing wouldn’t get done, so they found another option. If you want more on this topic, I did a whole post on the benefits of writing out.

I hope this gives you a good idea of why you should treat writing like your job and how to make it happen!

Now it’s your turn: What helps you take your writing seriously? Have you ever tried to treat writing like your job before? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Do You Need an MFA to Get Published?

The Pros and Cons of Getting an MFAFirst, the million dollar question. Do you need an MFA (Master of Fine Arts degree) to get published?

No. You absolutely do not. MFAs are not cheap and there are a lot of affordable resources that can help you hone your craft and become a better writer. I personally know plenty of published authors who do not have an MFA.

I, however, do have an MFA. My degree is an MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College, and getting it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself. While I believe that I would have gotten published eventually without my degree, I also credit it for a lot of my success. I think it massively accelerated my publication track and I became a better writer than I would have ever become had I not enrolled in my program.

But getting an MFA is a personal choice, and it may not be for everyone. If it’s something you’ve been contemplating, here’s my list of pros and cons to help.

The Pros:

Community

You get a built-in community of people who are in the same boat as you. They love writing, take it seriously, and want to make it their job. I found that this was one big reason I was often really excited to go to class every week.

Structured lessons designed to challenge you

Sure, you can learn to write by taking non-credit classes, online courses, or reading craft books/blogs/articles, but those courses aren’t always designed to really push you. MFA programs are built to make you a better writer and often require you to do things that might scare you or that you may think you can’t do. They are built for more serious writers who what to be the best writers they can be.

Deadlines

You’ll have a handful of deadlines each semester, which forces you to be productive. This is good practice if you’re hoping to be published someday.

Knowledgeable/experienced instructors

MFA programs usually require instructors to either be published writers or have made significant contributions to the writing/literary community. The people you learn from are vetted and experienced writers with plenty to share.

A tool for a day job

While an MFA does not guarantee you a publishing contract, it does give you some solid credentials for a day job while you work toward your publication goals. With an MFA, you can teach writing at various levels. Colleges, in particular, are often looking for adjunct Comp 101 teachers, and some might even have openings in their creative writing classes. Personally speaking, my degree has enabled me to work as a college writing tutor for the past four years, which has given me a reliable source of income.

Exposure to opportunities and experiences

MFA programs have a vested interest in your success. If you succeed, it reflects well on them. Because of that, they are able to point you in the direction of some quality resources that will help you reach your goals. During my time in my MFA program, I had access to regular talks from editors, agents, and published writers. I was also given the chance to do a reading in a Philadelphia Barnes & Noble for one of my classes. This meant that we spent time discussing how to give a good reading and my first reading experience was with a friendly audience of classmates, family, and friends. When my book came out and I had to do events, I was prepared.

Additionally, there were a handful of conferences and writing events that gave discounts to students in my program.

An informed critique

The feedback you get comes from people who are studying the craft just like you are. While a friend’s critique can be valuable and helpful, it also might include, “this is funny,” or “I don’t like this,” which isn’t all that helpful. A critique from your MFA instructor or classmate will often be more specific. They’ll be able to tell you exactly what you’re doing well so you can replicate it, and identify specific problems, so you know what you need to fix.

Plenty of options

You can choose between full residency programs (traditional, weekly classes), low-residency programs (work remotely with short stints on campus), and fully online programs, to find one that best fits your budget and lifestyle. And while MFAs are expensive, you don’t have to go to the most renowned school to benefit. I went through a small, fairly affordable program and I feel like I got a high-quality education.

Shows agents/editors you’re serious

Getting an MFA is a sign to editors and agents that you are serious about your writing. It tells them that this isn’t just a hobby for you. It shows that you put a serious investment into learning your craft, which is often appreciated.

You will be a better writer

I am an exponentially better writer with my MFA than I was before it. My first published book was the first book I developed from start to finish after I graduated, and I don’t think that’s an accident. It was the first chance I had to use everything I learned in my program. Your experience may not look like mine, but I can’t imagine a reality where you won’t emerge a better writer after you graduate than you were before you started. You’ll also give yourself a serious leg up on any publishing goals you may have.

The Cons:

Cost

This is obviously a big one. Of course, prices vary from program to program, but we’re still talking about a Master’s degree. As I mentioned, my program was pretty affordable, but even the most affordable programs cost thousands of dollars. You have to figure out if it’s really worth it for you based on your own circumstances.

Time

Again, it’s a Master’s degree. Each class is going to take a significant time commitment. Also, if your life is really busy and you’re only taking one or two classes a semester, it will take a long time to complete your degree. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something to think about.

Location

Depending on the program you pick and where you live, you will most likely have to travel to your school either weekly or occasionally. Your time commitment and travel expenses could increase if you live far away from your school. Additionally, your availability and travel budget could limit your options.

A possibility of too much feedback

You don’t get to pick your readers in an MFA program. Even though the majority of your classmates will probably have the best intentions when they give feedback, they will not all be your readers. Some will not get your work, and their advice might mess with your head. I’ve seen it happen. It is possible to give good feedback regardless of genre, but that is a very specific skill set that not all MFA students have. No matter what you decide, it’s important to keep this in mind.

Mental fatigue

Any graduate program can be mentally draining, especially if you’re also working a full-time (or even part-time) job and trying to keep up with family and friends. You will most likely spread yourself too thin during your time in school. I thought it was worth it, but it may not be for everyone.

No guarantee of publication

In most professions, getting a Master’s degree in your field all but guarantees you a job in that field–at least at some capacity. The same cannot be said for an MFA in writing. While I absolutely believe it will make you a better, more complete writer and give you a better shot at the publishing industry, publications if far from guaranteed.

I hope this gives you a good idea of the pros and cons of getting an MFA!

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever thought about an MFA? Do you have one? What are your pros/cons/concerns/thoughts? Tell me about it in the comments!

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