Don’t Flatter a Fickle Muse

I bet a lot of us have had a conversation about our “muse” or the “muse.”  I recently was in one of those conversations myself, and it sort of surprised me what kind of advice was bandied about.

Many professionals don’t wait for “the muse” or “flow” when they write, mostly because they can’t due to deadlines.   Yet, I watched another writer, one who I admire, claim that one should “wait for the flow” to write.  This person is a mentor within their writing community and the writing was more for fun than for work, but the advice didn’t jive with me, even though I definitely respect the writer that gave it.

The muse is not the writer.  You are the writer.  She doesn’t have to show up and do the work, you do.

I’ve watched too many friends who “wait for the muse” and never write a single thing.  They have amazing ideas, they have stories I want to read, but they don’t buckle down and write it.  When this happens, the muse becomes an excuse.  She is being uppity and refusing to join you, so oh well, you just can’t write without her.  Gotta wait for that flow of inspiration, right?

Sure, for some that flow comes regularly, but for the most part, a lot of writers have to show up and write whether they like it or not.  Writers who work professionally, either in fiction, journalism or content creation, have deadlines.  There are times I am not in the mood to write, but if I have a deadline, I write anyways.  Generally, it isn’t a joyful process but it is a productive one.  And 9 times out of 10, when I come back to revise that piece of writing, it is nowhere near as bad or lacking in flow as I thought it would be when I plunked those words down.

And honestly?  It amazes every time when I come back to a piece of work and it is not half as bad as I thought it would be.  There are certainly times where that is not the case, where the work needs a lot of editing and improvement, but if the writing has been done that still puts me one step ahead of someone who is waiting for inspiration.

Please note:  I’m not talking about moments when you are stuck or unsure of a direction for a story.  There are times where thinking too hard on a project, and lacking flow because of it, is certainly more detrimental than helpful.  Those moments, I find it’s best to take a step back.  You usually only get to those moments if you’re doing the work, though, whether your muse has shown up or not.

So I think the best advice I can give you is this:  Don’t flatter the muse.  She isn’t the one putting in all the hard work.  If you keep giving her all the credit, she just gets a more inflated ego and then she won’t work at all.  Show up, do the work, and she’ll probably get all jealous and want to work with you more.

 

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Opportunities – Sometimes, things have to fall apart so they can fall into place

I had some trouble sleeping last night, and as I chased the pillow, I was reminded of something that upset me a few months ago.  Insomnia driven nights are never good times to contemplate failure, but I’m the kind of person that finds it difficult to get it out of my brain once the thought has popped up.

In one of the writing communities I frequent, I was encouraged by a friend to apply to be one of their volunteer writing mentors.  It seemed like a given I would be able to get the position.  In the past,  I had organized several online writing groups, proofread and edited friends’ writing, and even had a weekly, informal, online writing class I had done to help fellow writers improve their work.  The class involved me picking a topic each week, drafting a short lesson, sharing it and then discussing it with my fellow writers.  It was a thing I really looked forward to each week, so I was excited to possibly do it again.

But I didn’t get the gig.  I was told that it was not based on my experience or ability, that outside factors had taken me out of the running.  For some reason, that only made things worse.  I had thought I was a shoe-in, that it was a given that anyone would want my skills and experience.  Though I was rather disappointed about the whole thing, I did my best to suck it up and soldier on.

It was as if the universe knew I needed a bit of validation, as well as a pick-me-up.  Within two weeks, I found out that I had gotten a freelance job I had applied for around the same time as the volunteer gig, a job that would pay me for my time and efforts.  The job entailed working as a mentor to a budding writer, which was very similar to the volunteer position I had not gotten.  It was vindicating and helped to remind me that my skills and hard work were valued.

If I had gotten the volunteer position, I might have ended up taking a step back from the sorts of jobs I want, rather than a step forward.  I might have had less time to work on projects that took me closer to my goals.  While I’m still working on how bummed I felt about not getting that position, I’m also learning the value of realizing sometimes you miss out on one opportunity, so that another more fitting opportunity can swing your way.  

I know that “Sometimes things fall apart so they can fall into place,” shoulds horribly cliche, but in this instance, it was definitely true for me.  Now, I get to continue to work on my skills as an editor and writing mentor, while placing myself even closer to my goals. I think we all have moments where our confidence is shaken, but if we don’t give up, we never know what might be around the corner.  Failure happens to all successful people, sometimes many times, before they finally hit their stride.  So I won’t give up, and I hope you won’t either.

5 Tools to Boost Your Productivity

After nearly 3 years of writing and working as a freelancer, I’ve found good tools that keep me productive are essential.  I think these tools can be helpful to just about anyone, from writers and artists, to people who work in a more traditional job.  Most of these are tools I have used for a time, and then I’ve gone on to modify them to best work for me personally.   I’ve written about some of them before, but this is an updated list that I think will be of great use to you!

Momentum

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Momentum is an add-on app for Google Chrome.  When you open a new tab on the browser, you are met with the beautiful Momentum Dashboard.  This is one of my favorite parts of the app, each picture is stunning and inspiring.  Way better than looking at a blank new tab page.  It has a place to list your main focus for the day, as well as menus where you can make a to-do list and store your favorite links.  For me, Momentum helps me remain focused on projects that matter, when I might be opening a new tab to do something that’s not quite as productive.

Strict Workflow

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Strict Workflow is another add-on for Google Chrome and it is honestly one of my favorites.  It uses the Pomodoro Technique, which involves 25-minute working sprints and 5-minute breaks, but it takes it a step further.  The little tomato on the upper right-hand part of your browser works as a timer, but it also blocks sites that might distract you while it is ticking away.  If you want to look at Facebook during those 25 minutes, you can’t, unless you want to disable the extension or uninstall it.  If I am struggling to focus, this app is perfect.  It blocks sites that might tempt me away from my work, but I can still access them once the break timer starts.  You can also edit the work and break times, according to what works best for you.

RescueTime

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RescueTime is an application that runs in the background of your computer and measures the time you spend on different programs and websites.  You can log into their website and monitor your productive time, see what distractions you’re spending the most time on, or see if you’re spending way too much time replying to emails.  They also send you a weekly email that breaks down all the time you spent on your computer for the week.

I love this app, because I can see exactly how much time I’ve spent writing and working for clients, based on the programs I’ve used and how long I used them for.  I can also see if I’m spending too much time playing games or writing emails.

Focus Booster

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Focus Booster works similarly to Strict Workflow, in that, they both make use of the Pomodoro Technique.  Focus Booster is not a free program, but they have a trial you can make use of to see if their program is helpful for you.  They also have a “Professional” option, which is about $5 a month and allows you to track your sessions automatically and compile a timesheet.  This is great for those of us who work freelance jobs, because you can seamlessly track the time you work on a particular job for a particular client.  You can also export a CSV report to use for invoices.

Bullet Journal

This year I’ve actually purchased the Ink+Volt Planner, but I use a lot of the functions I learned from 2 years of bullet journaling.  I loved using this method because it made it so easy to see what I had worked on and what I needed to work on.  It’s basically like creating a renewable to do list. You can check out the Bullet Journal website for step by step instructions on how to craft and create your own journal.  You can also check out the bulletjournal tag on tumblr to see how other users are creating their journals!

I hope this list helps you!  Do you have any awesome apps or methods I should check out?  Please comment if you do!

 

 

 

Don’t Go Chasing Synonyms, Please Stick to the Words and Phrases You’re used to.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of article writing and editing for clients.  I have been pulling out my thesaurus a lot, which always makes me think about times I’ve seen words in sentences where they don’t belong.

I have spent a fair amount of time in online writing communities and writing-based roleplay communities.  For some reason, in many of these groups, the need to sound “smarter” tends to become highly valued.  A lot of the writing eventually evolves into over-written, flowery prose that is both difficult to read and often the synonyms are used incorrectly.  Big words don’t always elevate the quality of your writing, and if they are used incorrectly, they actually might make you look more like an amateur.

This is why I advocate for using words you are familiar with when you are looking for a synonym.  There is something to be said for using a simple word, rather than a complicated one.

Good writing should be both descriptive and accessible.  Synonyms are often words with similar meanings, but that does not mean they are completely interchangeable.  So it’s something to watch out for, as you try to find the right words for your writing.  More flowery words, or bigger words, does not necessarily mean better.

If you do have a “big” word that you love, you can make it understandable by ensuring that the sentence it is in has contextual cues so that your reader can figure out its meaning.  Imagine if you read a book where you either had to constantly re-read paragraphs or pick up the dictionary every other paragraph.  It would take you out of the magic and deeply impact your love of the story.

By sticking to the words you know and trying to make your writing accessible, you will find you are able to offer a seamless experience to your readers.

 

Who Tells Your Story? Women in Media

As a writer, I spend a lot of time studying storytelling.  One of the main takeaways I’ve always gotten from many things I’ve read on storytelling, is that stories have to tell the truth in some way.  Usually, these truths feel very personal to the author, which means they also have the chance of feeling personal to the reader.

While our stories may be unique, our pain, our joy, generally isn’t.  That is why we love stories, because they often remind us we are not alone, while allowing us the chance to escape the mundane.  They make us feel like we are apart of something bigger, that we are not alone.

One problem we have in our current state of movies and media, often women don’t get to tell their own stories.  A recent study by the Sundance Institute found that only about 29% of filmmakers are women.  This includes writers, directors, producers, cinematographers; and editors.

You may be wondering why this matters?  Hollywood tends to have a bad reputation for underwritten or poorly written female characters.  In many movies, even very popular ones, there may not even be more than one female character, and if there is more than one, it may be rather rare to see her speak to another female character on screen.  This can be gaged using the Bechdel Test, which is admittedly a low bar for female representation.

I recently watched Dr. Strange and though I enjoyed the film, the female characters in it felt either stereotypical or underdeveloped.  While I liked Rachel McAdams’ performance as Dr. Christine Palmer, the character felt more like an accessory for Strange’s breakdown, rather than an independent and interesting character of her own. For those that know of characters like Clea Strange in the comics, Marvel may have missed an opportunity to include a dynamic and layered female character in their story.  Arguably, Dr. Strange is Stephen Strange’s story so it is expected that he would be the central figure in it.  But when Marvel has yet to have a movie led by a woman, and still only has one movie planned to be led by a woman, I think it’s probably okay to look at their female leads with a critical eye.

To me, this problem seems to be systemic.  If women aren’t there to write and tell their stories, then it seems to follow reason that we lack diverse and interesting female characters.  I am a firm believer that women have just as interesting and complicated inner lives as their male counterparts, but it is likely we don’t often see this portrayed because women are not allowed to tell their own stories.

The upcoming Wonder Woman film will be directed by a woman, but the writers are male.  It seems somewhat odd to not have a female writer involved in developing the story of one of the strongest feminist icons of the last century.  This is not to say that some men can’t write amazing, complicated and full female characters, there are many male writers that can and do.  There is still a certain authenticity when women are allowed to tell their own stories.  I think this goes for all people, that we are the ones most uniquely qualified to tell our own stories, in and out of fiction.  The problem is that women do not have an equal opportunity to do so.  I also believe that everyone can benefit from interesting, authentic and diverse stories.

 

 

Story Brainstorming Worksheet

Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo and I’ve already managed to get my 1,667 words in for the day.  I hope that all of you are making great progress as well.  I wanted to share with you all a great way to get a story started, if you are stuck and lacking ideas.

A few years ago I attended a comic writing workshop taught by Kelly Sue DeConnick and in the workshop, she walked us through a writing activity where we started with a setting, created characters with basic traits, and figured out theme/world/plot from there.

Eventually, that exercise inspired me to create this worksheet, so that I could easily run myself through it.  I use it whenever I am trying to brainstorm a story, but I’m unsure where to start.  For short stories, generally, this sheet and a brief outline are enough for me to write a story from start to finish.  For longer fiction, this sheet tends to be the first brick in the wall.  I will have a link to the PDF at the end of the post, here’s a preview of the worksheet:

 

This worksheet can be used backward or forwards, depending on what kind of writer you are. I tend to start with a theme.  I figure out what kind of truth I want to tell in the story, and that helps me nail down what kind of characters I need, what the plot will be about, etc.  I also tend to write details about submission due dates, word count requirements and other details in the “Title” section of this sheet, so I can keep track of what I’m working on.

You can start with characters if that is how you prefer to write story, or plot.  Or if you have an idea for a story, but nowhere to put it yet, jot it down on the worksheet and hold onto it until you feel ready to flesh it out.  By no means do you need to start and work from top to bottom with this sheet, you can make the worksheet work for you.  

That’s probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the last year of writing.  Make the tools work for you.  If outlining a certain way is difficult and you find you work better when you reverse engineer an outline, do that instead.

Story Brainstorming Worksheet Click Here to Download

Review: I Am A Writer

This month has been filled with a lot of books about craft.  I’ve been reading up on self-publishing, blog writing and increasing my word count.  I stumbled across the book “I Am A Writer: A Story About Finding Your Inner Author” by C. G. Cooper and I want to recommend it, especially if you are starting out and still feel like you are suffering from impostor syndrome.

The style of the book is more like a short story, we follow Sherri, a character who wants to be a writer.  She is guided through the book by her would-be mentor Daniel.  Sherri shares the insecurities that a lot of new writers share.  She thinks there is some arbitrary finish line she must cross before she can call herself a writer. With each chapter, Sherri learns a lesson that puts her one step closer to becoming a published author.  The story is interesting and inviting, while also providing the reader with useful information about writing. After reading several stories on craft, it was kind of refreshing to read one that was actually written with a narrative, rather than being written like a “how-to” guide.

Many of the lessons shared are simple thoughts that I discovered as I worked toward a writing career, but the story and the lessons are written in a way that is easy to absorb and the book itself is short enough to be read in one sitting, as the book is only 74 pages.  Cooper covers topics like figuring out your voice as a writer, finding a writing group to provide and share feedback with, and getting in a consistent habit of writing each day.

At the end of each chapter, there is a “Practice.”  Each practice builds upon what you have already learned, and gives very practical advice about what it takes to be a writer.  Cooper builds you a step by step process for getting started, and though this book is by no means a comprehensive outline about writing a book, it would certainly be a valuable addition to any budding writer’s toolbox.