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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holiday Tradition: Rock Painting

For several years my children and I enjoyed a special holiday tradition. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving every year we would paint river rocks with symbols representing an intention for the upcoming year. We each got 3 rocks. As we painted, we talked about our intentions and shared our ideas about our goals. Daydreaming, fantasizing, brainstorming, it was all a part of the ritual. We created some beautiful fold art and many wonderful memories. It was always fun as the New Year arrived and progressed to see our intentions come to fruition. They always did.

As my children became teenagers and I entered a second marriage, the tradition faced resistance. The new husband did not want to participate and the children lost their uninhibited expression of freedom. So for the next couple of years, I carried the tradition on in the form of a “Dream Giver’s Festival” with my writing friends. We gathered at my house around a camp fire to paint the rocks, then we would move into the teepee to do some writing.

Last year I left that new husband and I no longer had a teepee. I was displaced, both physically and emotionally. The rock painting tradition stayed sealed up in a box with all my other thoughts, hopes, and memories. No rocks were painted that year.

At a recent writing meeting, we all talked about how much we had enjoyed painting the rocks and agreed that we wanted to do it again this year. We talked about how the teepee was an accessory, not the essence of the meaning of the tradition. Simply painting the rocks and being together would be enough. So we agreed to meet at my house on New Year’s Day 2010.

I’ll provide the rocks, the paints and paint brushes. Everyone will bring a dish to share for a potluck meal. We will gather to paint and talk, laugh, write, dream and eat together.

I thought about how traditions evolve with our changing lives and circumstances, but like the core essence of who we are, traditions maintain a basic and essential element of their meaning.

Rock Painting
January 1, 2010 @ 4pm
Contact me for directions

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

HUB update #2

It takes time to learn something new. What what’s to learn about HUB pages? It’s a website where you post articles you’ve written and then, based on how many people read your articles and click on the advertisements placed there by HUB, you eventually start earning some money.

Yes, this seems to be it in a nutshell. You can learn what subjects get more readers and you can learn how to write better HUBs. You can participate in the forums and learn strategies that work for fellow “hubbers”. You gain followers by doing this and you get to read lots of interesting articles as well.

OK, so what is there to learn? Am I making this more difficult than it needs to be? No, I don’t think so. Yet I struggle. I think that my struggle is with the time and effort involved versus the tangible reward. I don’t’ get a balance here. Something must be missing…. But what?

I’m just not convinced. I’m not convinced about my own purpose with HUB pages, and I feel that I just don’t get it. I mean, who is my audience? Do I even have one?? It seems that the purpose is to produce hundreds of articles in order to just be noticed. And then what? OK, so volume matters. This makes me feel like a machine spitting out articles as fast as I can. And quality matters, too, so that negates the quantity factor. Or is it just me – am I the only one who requires time to produce quality? I just don’t spit out quality very quickly.

Hmmm. Maybe what I’m saying then is that my approach to writing has to change. Maybe my whole philosophy of writing has to change. My belief in inspiration and creative flow is being challenged.

Yeah, I’m struggling, but I’m not ready yet to make any conclusions…

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Book Review: Old Friend From Far Away

By Guest Blogger, Linda Johnson.
Visit Linda's blog, Various and Sundry Items of Interest

Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, Natalie Goldberg, hardcover edition, November 2007, writing practice, $25.00, 13:978-1-4165-3502-7

Natalie Goldberg rocked the writing world in 1986 when she wrote Writing Down the Bones, a treatise on using writing as practice. That is practice, as in practicing scales for a musician, and practice, as in the Buddhist tradition of practice as a way of meditation. Since then, writers all over the world have filled countless notebooks with pages and pages of handwritten words as their own writing practice.

Goldberg returns to the idea of practice in Old Friend from far Away to help her readers learn to write memoir. In her introduction, she emphasizes that writing memoir is not a straight path from A to B to C. She says that we need to write and remember and realize “…the zigzag nature of the way our mind works.” (pg. xviii) She says that we need “to approach memoir sideways, using the deepest kind of thinking to sort through the layers…” (pg xxi) Then she says, “Go!”

Goldberg believes in using a pen and a notebook; she believes that writing is a whole body experience. Plus, if you are comfortable with the simple tools, you have no excuse when you are away from a computer.
Just as in Writing Down the Bones, Goldberg advocates these simple rules given on pages 2 and 3:
• Write for a full ten minutes.
• Begin with “I am looking at.”
• If you get stuck, start with your first line again—“I am looking at…”
• Don’t cross out.
• Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar.
• Be specific.
• Keep your hand moving.
• Say what you want to say, not what you think you should say.
• After your first ten minutes, take a short break, and then start with “I am thinking of…”
• Go ten more minutes.
• Next, write for ten minutes on “I remember…”

These rules form the basis for all Goldberg’s teaching. If you follow these alone, you will find enough to write about for a long time. As she says, “’I remember” hits smack-dab into the heart of memoir.”(pg 4) And as you continue to write “I remember” entries, you will find one memory leading to another until you suddenly remember something that you had not thought of for years. Write them all down—the familiar and the forgotten.

The book is organized into short chapters and short exercises, which all contribute to unearthing those forgotten memories. The book is excellent for use alone and in writing groups. My group is especially fond of Goldberg’s three-minute lists. She gives a list of unrelated topics, and then tells you to write on each one consecutively for three minutes each. When we do this as a group, we are amazed at the beauty and unexpected ideas that come up. Something about the short time, the continued effort and the juxtapositions always loosens up something inside almost every one of us.

Goldberg concludes the book with a chapter on structure. We need to know what to do with all these seemingly disjointed memories. She reminds us to discover our own organic structure, a “…way that is natural to what you have to write…” (pg286). And to find our own structure, we look at other memoirs to see how different authors have constructed their works. We don’t imitate; we look for the plot, the thin red line, the spine that connects the memoir. Then we figure out what our spine is and shape our writings around that.

We don’t try to do a whole life biography; we focus on a telling event or period in our life and see what form the writing needs to take. Then we let go of the parts that don’t fit this structure. Don’t try to force everything into this one book. Even though we have to write about everything, we do this to get to the essential ingredients for this particular memoir.

She ends the book with two pages of summarized guidelines and suggestions, and then a list of some great memoirs to read. Goldberg’s goal is to get us writing and to introduce us to “…who you were, who you are, and what you remember.” (pg. xix) Her prompts will get you writing, and if you follow them all, you will definitely meet that old friend from far away.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Writer's Gift (2)

I am still thinking of the gift of words and what a treasure it is. As writers, we experience one kind of joy in the process of writing and probably don’t think much about the joy that others receive from our writing. During this season of holidays and gift-giving however, I am thinking of how much it has meant to me to receive original writings and the reactions of those who have received such gifts from me. I thought I’d share with my readers some personal examples of writing gifts.

Family Writings

My mother is the family historian, so several years we have received the products of her careful collections. One year she took her mother’s diaries and composed an autobiography which included several never-before-seen photos. Everyone in the family received a copy of the autobiography on a CD. Another year she had a family genealogy book professionally bound and surprised us each with our own copy. And yet another year, we got a collection of her poems. Each poem was about someone in the family. None of these could have been done quickly, of course. The writings were done over a long period of time, many years, in fact, and what we received was the compilation of her hard work. Those gifts are among my most treasured items.

When my father died, I wrote the eulogy and presented it at the funeral. Ten years after his death, I created a small booklet using the eulogy, one page for each paragraph, and gave it to my sisters as a gift.

Writings for Friends

One year at Christmas time I wrote a letter to everyone in my Sunday school class telling them how their presence in the class meant something to me. Writing to some of the people was very easy because I had a relationship with them and lots of things to write about. Some of the others were more difficult however because there were a couple of people who I didn’t know at all and had never even heard them speak! As I thought about their mere presence in the class however, I was able to think of what such dedicated commitment demonstrated for me and from that idea, I was able to compose a meaningful letter. While my friends in the class expressed appreciation for their letters, it was the silent smile of the man who had never showed any emotion that meant the most to me. In the following year, he contributed to the class and even volunteered to participate in some of the outside activities.

Writing is easy for those of us who love to do it. We often do it for selfish reasons – because we love it; because it keeps us sane; because we have to… But this holiday season, I want to encourage you to do it for others. Write something out about the people in your every day life. Whether you give it to them or not is not the first priority, just start pouring your gift out on the page and maybe, just maybe, it will reach the one who needs it the most.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Writer’s Gift: The Personal Letter

I am still thinking about the gift of hand-written letters. Inspired by Patty Digh’s blog, 37 Days, one year during the Lenten season I decided to write a letter a day to someone who had influenced my life in a meaningful way. The act of thinking about significant people in my life and writing out just what it was about them that impacted my life was both inspiring and humbling. I never sent those letters and that isn’t really the point: perhaps the whole purpose of that exercise was the message it held for me, for it brought me back to my core values and put me back on a very specific path in my life.

The gift of writing extends far beyond our original intent and far beyond both the writer and the reader. One of my personal treasures is a hand-written letter from Jesse McAnally to Eliza Potts during the Civil War.

Eliza Potts was my grandmother’s grandmother and Jesse McAnally was her father. That’s four and five generations before me. The content in the letter is not particularly profound, but it’s endurance through all these generations is. That letter is a witness to family love; it is a record of the details of living during the Civil War; it is evidence that my ancestors are in fact the stuff I am made of; and it is a piece of genuine communication between two people.

Our means of communication are so sophisticated today and really, quite impressive. But I wonder what aspect of this technology will be witness to five generations from now of who we were and how we lived? A hand-written letter provides a piece of soul and spirit that just doesn’t come across in electronic devices. A hand-written letter demonstrates characteristics and nuances that are found in the unique shape of the letters and even in the energy absorbed by the paper. I believe in these things; I do.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Writer's Gift

What gift can I writer give? Why, her words, of course!

In our last journaling meeting, my friend Andrea started writing about a memory of her father that just popped into her head. That was during the first prompt which was simply finish with the words “I am thinking of…”. After that, she kept working on that idea for the rest of the evening. (One of the nice things about our journaling group is that no matter what the writing prompt is, people are free to write whatever they feel like writing.) During each reading time then, she let us see how her story was developing. She was surprised by what she was producing and encouraged by the oohs and ahhs that accompanied each reading. At the end of the evening, she exclaimed, “Now I’ve just about got a Christmas gift for my dad!”

How cool is that?!

I have no idea how she plans to present her words, but I know that her story will be the best gift he gets this year – maybe even ever! I am also certain that h will remember and treasure this gift for the rest of his life.

How cool is that?!

We are blessed with this gift of words. Claim it! Own it! And feel the exhilaration of this gift deep in your soul! Then let this joy spill over into the confidence to share it with others.

You can write a story or a poem, or even a good, old-fashioned letter. These days, a hand-written letter is extremely rare. What a wonderful gift! You can package your words on pretty paper or laminate them on bookmarks. You can insert personal pictures and you can make a little booklet bound with a festive ribbon. There are a lot of ways to present your words, but don’t get so caught up in the packaging that you freeze yourself out of the writing.

First sit down and write. No one else in the world can choose the words you will choose or string them together in the way that you can. This is precisely what makes the gift of your words so wonderful!

Here are some story-starter prompts to get you going. Just begin with the words for each prompt and write non-stop for at least five minutes and see where it takes you.

Starter Prompts
I remember when you and I …
I always think of you whenever I …
The friendship we share is special because …
Your _____ has influenced me by …
You are a role model because …
Red (or any other color) represents you because of your …
I never laughed so hard as when we …
Wasn’t it amazing that we …
When you and I were …

Monday, November 30, 2009

Making Writing Booklets

by guest blogger Linda Johnson
See Linda's personal blog: Various and Sundry Items of Interest

I just wanted to let you know how much fun we had at last night’s meeting of “Just Journaling” while I’m still pumped up about it! We wrote more than usual and even had time to get crafty as well!

We created writing support booklets based on the prompts, which came from Sark’s book, "Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper". (Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper: Gifting the World with Your Words and Stories, and Creating the Time and Energy to Actually Do It. Authored by Sark).

The prompts were questions that we wrote out and answered on note cards, one per card. We punched a hole in the corner of each note card for a notebook ring to go through and hold them together. On the last pages we put contact information for all the members so we can contact each other directly if we want to. This is the basic scenario. Of course, some of us went on to decorate the pages, create covers, etc. while others said, “”No way!” Such is the flexibility and freedom of our group.

Don’t worry if you weren’t there last night. I am including the prompts in case you want to create your own booklet. The idea behind the books is to have something that you can carry with you to remind you why you write or to give you ideas when you’re stumped. Also, some of us decided to put some blank pages in it so we will have more spae to write things down as we go along. They are small, portable, and can be added to or subtracted from.

We used either 4x6 or 5x7 note cards. You could use 3x5s and carry them in your pocket. Experiment and have fun!

Here are the prompts:
I love writing because…
I sometimes hate writing because…
Writing is fun and easy because…
I sometimes don’t write because…
What triggers / tools / set-ups could I use to prompt my writing?

Try actually writing out the answers – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Books! Books! Books!

The Write Shop now has a selection of books available! I've chosen books about writing and tons of memoirs to inspire and intrigue. Some of them I've read and some of them I want to read. For example, on page 3 of the store you can find "Legacy: A Step-by-step guide to writing Personal History" by Linda Spence. I first found this book at Christmas time at Restoration Hardware of all places! I bought it, read it, and proceeded to write several of my family stories.
"Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within" by Natalie Goldberg is another old favorite. How about "Opposite of Fate: Memories of A Writing Life" by Amy Tan? I love her, but haven't yet read this one...

Check them out at: The Write Shop!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hub update: week 1

My goal was to write one HUB a day every day until Christmas. I got distracted from the very beginning though by also writing articles for Associated Content. Without actually saying that I also aimed to write one article for Associated Content every day in addition to the HUBs, that seemed to be a goal that emerged anyway.

I want to be realistic – set goals that push and challenge me, but that I am also likely to stick with and be able to accomplish. If I’m going to be writing articles for Associated Content, I feel that, like the HUBs, I need to be active in the communities. This is added time and effort. So in essence, I’ve doubled my work. OK, I think I can do it. At least I’m now making the HUBs my number one focus and Associated Content a close second.

In my first week, I managed to get 6 HUBs written and 5 AC articles. I made my goal. Now it’s week 2. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I haven’t yet written any AC articles and no HUBs for this week. I spent Monday morning writing an assignment that was due that day and the rest of the day I was on the road as I went to pick up my daughter at college. Tuesday I went to court in the morning (pending divorce) and spent the rest of the day fighting depression. I wrote another assignment from bed that was due that day.
Today I’ve got to do the grocery shopping and cook for tomorrow… but first, I’ll at least draft 3 HUBs.

HUBs about writing … do I have enough ideas??

Monday, November 23, 2009

Just Gotta Do It

The nitty gritty of writing is much like the nitty gritty of living: some days you feel good and some days you don’t; sometimes everything goes your way and other times you can’t seem to do anything right. You just gotta do it anyway. You just have to get up and move through your day no matter how you feel about it. It’s the same with writing – you just have to do it!

No matter what life throws you, you keep on living. Whether you are sick or happy, excited or troubled, busy or lazy, you keep on living. Your heart beats, your blood flows, and your breath moves in and out through your lungs. No matter what the circumstances of your life may be, you keep on living. Writing is really no different.

I write because I’m alive. It’s really that simple. I write because I think – they are not separate actions. I think more than I write just like the beats of my heart outnumber the steps of my feet, but many of the thoughts I have get written down somewhere, sometime, somehow.

When I don’t feel like writing, I usually berate myself in writing. When I am worried about something, I lay out my concerns in writing so I can either manage them or destroy them. When I am excited about something or totally moved by some life experience, I have to put words to it in order to preserve it.

Writing isn’t about creating genius masterpieces to impress anyone with your gift; it’s about living. Writing is the expression of living. You do it because you just gotta do it. Once you accept this fact about your own existence in this world, I promise you, your blood will flow more freely and your heart will pump more steadily.

Yes, the nitty gritty of writing is really synonymous with the nitty gritty of living: like it or not, you just gotta do it!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Increasing Traffic

I've made a decision: Hubpages is my current focus.

I am still struggling with the learning cure regarding how to get noticed for my online writing. I’ve got a lot of stuff out there, but what I’m lacking is the marketing promotions to attract traffic. I do alright with my SEO articles written for clients, but those don’t have my name on them, so what I’m doing with those articles is promoting the work of my clients, not my own work.

I have been so busy writing for other people that I haven’t been able to devote my energies to building traffic so I can write more for myself. There are so many “how-to-bring-traffic-to-your-site” tutorials and each one takes me in a whole new direction. What I’ve got is my foot just over the start line of too many races and I’m not even on any specific road!

I’m frustrated and overwhelmed.

So what I’ve done this week is assess and analyze all my starts. I’ve researched and read everything I could find on all the companies, websites, and vague ideas where I have, at one time or another, thought I could find the answers to my questions. I still think they are all good starts, but I simply can’t do them all (not now, anyway). So I ordered them according to my own criteria – basically on a whim. Based on things like how clear the language is, the comments made by other writers within the community, my impression of the founders, creators, and staff, and that ever faithful “gut feeling”, I stacked my options in numerical order according to how well I liked them. Then I chose only one to run with and put the others in the filing cabinet.

Hubpages. This is the winner.

I joined hubpages, jumped into the community discussions, and created a few hubs

Check back often because I’m going to keep a running journal in this blog of what I’m learning and how it’s working out.

My aim is to increase traffic to this blog and to my website. And the purpose of that goal is to increase the income generated by the website.

I’ve been training and I’ve finally signed up for one race. Here I go! Wish me luck!

Another hub example
And here's another

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Expressing Emphasis

When we talk, we create urgency, drama, compassion, suspense, and all sorts of other forms of emphasis by the way we use our voices, hand gestures, facial signals, etc. We can create the same emphasis when we write even without the use of these visual or audial tools.

We create emphasis in writing by the way we use punctuation, capitalization and font. We use these tools like you use spices when you cook – know what works best to add flavor and zip, but don’t overuse them or your writing will go down the garbage drain along with the pot of soup that has too much salt.

Ways We Express Emphasis in Writing

1. The Look of the Words
Larger font
Smaller font
A different font
A different color

Spaces between lines


Boxing off


2. Punctuation
“Quotation marks”
Exclamation marks!
A series of periods…

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Write Store is OPEN!

I can't believe it. It's been a challenge to figure out some of this web stuff, but I've finally got 3 products in The Write Shop on my website, The Riverside Writer.

There you will find 3 ebooks to help push your writing to the next level.

The first one, Novel Writing Tips by Larry Brooks, is full of tips for writers such as the 5 things you should know about your writing before you start and how to write characters that editors love. His ebook will help ground you on that fine line between authentic creativity and keeping editors and publishers in mind as well.

The second product, Unique and Popular Writer's Resource by Rob Parnell, provides tips on how to produce quality work at top speed and how to keep you going, and going, and going,,, you get the idea.

Finally, I've added Story-Craft Story Creation Software. This software guides you through the process of creating and developing your stories and converts basic story ideas into concise story concepts. It helps identify the genre and category of your story and even helps with organization and revisions! It looks like a very useful product for fiction writers.

To see these products, visit The Write Shop at:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Office

I love my new office!

One time in my journaling group we wrote about our dream office. At that time I didn’t even have one, so my writing was pure fantasy. I wrote a description of a working space that had lots of book shelves, lots of color, and lots of personally significant mementos as the decorations.

When it was finally time for me to get my very own office, the dream work had already been done. So when my sister, my personal decorator, asked me what was important to me to have in my office, I knew exactly what I wanted. The problem was that we had an odd-shaped space and it was too small for all of my books. When it got right down to making decisions, I wasn’t as clear as I had thought I was – somehow there was something missing between fantasy and reality.

Fortunately my sister knew just how to bridge the gap. She asked me all sorts of strange questions like what I wanted behind me when working at the computer, and what would I want to see out of my peripheral vision. And here’s the key: she listened to my answers! She has this amazing ability to translate words into four dimensional space. I say “four dimensions” because in all of her interior creations, she includes an element of atmosphere that hums a warm, positive melody and breathes in unison with her clients.

We worked with a very small budget and figured out how to use what I already had. She helped me discern what really mattered to me and what didn’t so we weeded out the less important stuff and revamped the stuff I wanted to keep. She also helped me figure out how to put things away without that terrible anxiety of “out-of-sight-out-of-mind”.

So now I have my dream office and while it doesn’t look like the visions I first had in my head, it is better than I ever imagined possible. Anyone who knows me walks into this space and is amazed by how totally “me” it is.

The walls are three different colors – watermelon, modern Japanese emerald, and sky – and the floor is ocean blue. A peg board, cork board and chalk board provide visual space for immediately relevant items and a pink filing cabinet stores everything else. My dad’s old book shelves, cabinets, and desk offer sentimentality, psychic energy (steady encouragement), and practical use. Other pieces of furniture in the room are whimsical pieces I’ve painted at other times in my life. Everywhere there are pens, paper, office supplies, personal pictures, pieces of art painted by loved ones and given to me as a gift, open counter tops for spreading out projects, and counter-top files for on-going projects.

Colorful, whimsical, eclectic, the space calls to me every morning and inspires productivity. The ancestors are alive in that space – I can feel my dad’s smile on me and I can hear his steady encouragement. My sister cheers me on even when she’s not physically present. God is in this space – a space I can call my own; a space where I can finally do what I was called to do! I am alive in my new office because the space itself is alive.

Oh yes, I love my new office!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pricing Tips for Freelance Writers

Here are some tips for pricing your products. The number one tip is to be fair. Everything else falls under this heading. This means that you need to be fair both to your clients and to yourself. The tips in this article address three issues you need to consider in establishing your pricing: 1) new kinds of work; 2) time involved; and 3) word count.

New Kinds of Work
The first few times you do a particular kind of project that is new for you, it will take you some time to learn the steps, the style, and your own unique strategies. This is the learning curve. The client shouldn’t have to pay for you to learn. Time yourself so you know how much time is invested, but don’t charge the client for every actual hour. Depending on the kind of project, I always cut my time in half, or even half again when I bill the client. By knowing how much time it actually takes you, you can better figure out how to speed up your work for future jobs. You can also use this information to determine if this is the kind of job you want to take on or not.

So you lose some money on these first few jobs in this particular category; you gain an education. Remember the value of learning something new so you can be fair in how to charge these new clients. I wrote my first few sets of SEO articles for a mere $1.25 per article. It took me about an hour (sometimes more) to write each article. I must be crazy to work for $1.25 per hour! I would never take a job like that! But what I gained from that experience turned into a monetary reward eventually. I learned how to research for several articles at a time: lots of quick Google searches for a general niche, not per keyword; overlapping my writing; speed writing. Now I get $10.00 - $12.00 per hour for SEO articles because I can write 4 – 6 in an hour. Per article, the price is still considerably low - $2.50 - $6.00 – but with better and more efficient strategies, I can justify it. When clients are paying for hundreds of articles, they aren’t willing to pay a lot for each one.

Learn to work efficiently. When working on a particular project, don’t split yourself up into other tasks and projects. Focus on that one assignment and crank it out at your top speed. Get one assignment done and out of your mind. If you let things sit around in your head for days, you end up giving your time and attention to it subconsciously. This is precious time that you are not getting paid for! You know old adage, “Time is Money.” Yes, it’s true. As a writer, you use time differently from most people. A project that sits in your mind keeps you thinking about it, and therefore, working on it until it is gone. So aim to get projects started, finished, and sent to the client in the most efficient time possible. This is the only way to be fair to yourself in terms of how much you are putting into an assignment against what it is paying you monetarily.

Word Count
Lots of writing charge by the number of words on a page. This is fine, but I’m not sure it is the fairest way to price your work. In order to be fair to yourself and get paid for all that is involved before you get those words on the page, you have to charge enough per word so that it balances out. This may not particularly be fair to each client. By charging per number of words, you may get paid a lot of money for easy projects and may only barely cover the cost of your time for more difficult projects. Maybe in the end it all works out, but maybe it doesn’t. If it does, it isn’t necessarily fair to all of your clients. And if it doesn’t, it isn’t fair to anyone – you or your clients.

What works best for me is to have a basic price per page that I work with in my mind as the starting point. Then I charge the client by the project depending on what all is involved. So for example, if I have to do research, that is an added cost. A quick Google search is different from academic research. Consultations, interviews, layout and design, these are all in addition to the number of words.

When pricing your work, keep fairness at the forefront of your mind: be fair to yourself and be fair to the client. Fairness is the “Golden Rule” for freelance writing. It is what will keep you competitive and will also keep clients coming back time and time again.

NOTE: this is 820 words and it took me 25 minutes to write it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Brainstorming: The Freewriting Technique

When you’ve got a new idea for a writing project, how do you brainstorm to develop that idea? There are a lot of different ways to brainstorm from making lists to mind mapping, but the one I like best is freewriting. Freewriting is simply writing as quickly as you can to spill from your mind everything that comes into it. In freewriting, you do not allow yourself to stop and contemplate the organization of your ideas or the validity of the ideas. You also do not allow that inner critic to condemn you for grammar and spelling errors or to trip you up with doubts about the quality of your work in any way. In freewriting you are truly “free” to let go.

The act of freewriting is exhilarating. It invigorates me and makes me believe in myself and in the impossible. While freewriting, I really get to go to those “forbidden” places such as the sky, the depths of the earth, the places where ideas run rampant. In freewriting the unpredictable takes charge and takes me on a wild ride. Freewriting is equivalent to driving in the country with the top down on the car on a beautiful spring day with the radio blaring and me singing at the top of my lungs.

The most common propeller for freewriting is the use of prompts. Take a prompt and freewrite to it, knowing that there is no such thing as the “right” way to write to it. Let your imagination run and just see where it takes you. This is a natural high and makes you believe that you are potentially the best writer on earth! If nothing else, it is cathartic.

Another common use of freewriting is as a brainstorming technique for an idea that is percolating in your head. You’ve got the idea, but need to let it develop before you begin the actual writing. OK, so freewriting is the most effective way to do this in my opinion. Ask yourself “what if…” and write out the possibilities. The key is to not think first, but to let the thinking happen as a result of what emerges on the page. Thinking first puts your mind in control and kills the element of freedom. Freewriting is designed to go down into your mind where conscious thinking can’t go. In the process of freewriting you go to the places in your mind where magic happens!

Freewriting is wild and passionate! For me, freewriting is the open door where my muse comes in to play with me. Freewriting is a ritual for me, and it is absolutely the most enjoyable aspect of writing.

There are many ways to brainstorm and I believe that brainstorming is an essential first step to any writing project. Sometimes listing works best for me; other times it is mapping or webbing. But always I include the act of freewriting even if I do not consider it an exercise in active brainstorming because without freewriting, I often miss the one key element that makes the difference between good and fantastic!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Writing Articles for Search Engine Optimization

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimized. An SEO article is one that contains keywords that get picked up by the search engines and determines where it falls in the line of thousands of articles about the same topic. How those specific keywords are determined is a whole other topic and will be addressed in a separate article. For the purpose of this article, it is sufficient to know that the keywords are very specific and very important. There is no flexibility or creativity in the use of the SEO keywords.

An SEO article will be based on 2 – 3 predetermined keywords. Let’s say for example, that you are working with the following keywords: acai berry health benefits / health benefits of acai berry / health benefits of acai berries. The SEO article needs to contain at least one of these keywords in the title. Then in the first paragraph, all the keywords need to appear at least once. More than that is even better. The keywords need to continue to appear throughout the article including the conclusion. The more times the keywords (all of them appear) in the article, the higher chance the article has of showing up at the top of the list of search results produced by the search engine.

You completely blow the strategy if you try to get creative with the keywords. For example, if you exchange the words “acai berries” with “little black tropical berries” it doesn’t count. Words such as “acai fruit”, “healthy berries”, “health boost of acai berries”, etc. are some variation of the predetermined SEO keywords and will not get your article to the top of the list. This doesn’t mean you can’t use these variations; it just means that they don’t count in terms of your purpose.

The challenge is to create an interesting article that doesn’t sound elemental to the reader. When you use the same words over and over, it is difficult not to sound redundant. This challenge is where you get to exercise your creativity.

I tend to get bored writing SEO articles, so I have a formula and I play it like a game. I aim to use each keyword a minimum of five times in the article. Each one has to be used at least once (preferably twice) in the title and the first two sentences. Then I hear the keywords like a mantra in my head as I’m writing. Sometimes they fit, and sometimes I choose one of the variations. In the end, I have an interesting, informative article that also fits the requirements.

Write SEO articles quickly, but carefully. Only count your keywords at the end. As you are writing, imagine the keywords as helium-filled balloons that will send your article above all the rest – and remember that there are tens of thousands of articles starting out on the ground just like yours.

It’s like a race. Aim to excel.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Intellectual Property

I was thinking about intellectual property the other day. Much of what I do involves processing information and then creating new ways of articulating it. Until recently, most of my work was purely creative. My most current clients, however, require research and analysis in order to create the product. This is very different from creating something from within me. My own creations are certainly unique, but that is different because those creations happen naturally and they come from within. When I have to do research on the other hand, what I produce is the result of an added dimension to the writing process. When a client asks for commentary on a particular theory, for example, I have to research that theory, grapple with it until I understand it on my own terms, then begin the creative writing process to produce the end product. This makes the end product something I would definitely call intellectual property.

For too long now I’ve charged for the end product based on how many pages it is and how many words there are on that page. I figure in my creativity as a part of the price for such and such number of words or pages. As a result, my intellect has been a “freebie” – a bonus. Writers, your intellect is your most valuable resource!

You may not be able to put an exact price on your intellect, but you can certainly justify its value! Keep this in mind when estimating the cost of potential jobs.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Who is “HE”? What is “IT”?

Just a Few of the Common Pronouns
anybody; anyone; each; everybody; everything; he; him; his; she; her; hers; it; mine; one; somebody; something; they; them; theirs; we; you; yours

Pronouns are the words that represent a noun. Note that when you use a pronoun, the noun it represents should already be known. Other wise, you will confuse your reader (and quite possibly, even yourself!) Look at this example:

He was the nicest man I’d ever met.
Who is he?
Well, let’s go on: Jack had soft blue eyes and the warmest smile. He was the nicest man I’d ever met.

OK, so “he” is “Jack”. Now we know that so the first sentence is acceptable. But if you only refer to Jack as “he” or “him” or “his” throughout the entire piece of writing, you will certainly loose your reader. On the other hand, if you never use the pronouns and only use Jack’s name, your writing will be so redundant that again, you will loose your reader.

Keep this general in mind: use the actual noun for clarity and use the pronoun for diversity. Or put it another way: use the actual noun for clarity and use the pronoun for simplicity.

Look at these examples:
No Pronouns: Janice took Janice’s dog for the dog’s walk.
Use of Pronouns: Janice took her dog for its walk.

No Pronouns: Maggie planted Maggie’s flowers along the edge of Maggie’s garden.
Use of Pronouns: Maggie planted her flowers along the edge of her garden.

I hope this helps!

Nitty Gritty of Writing: Run-ons and on, and on, and on, and ...

Run-ons and on, and on, and on, and ...

A run-on sentence is one that has too many subjects, too many verbs, too many adjectives and adverbs, too much punctuation, or, to put it simply, too much stuff and way too many points so that your reader ends up getting totally lost and overwhelmed even though you think that what you are doing is providing your reader will all kinds of really good information, so good in fact, that you have to get it all out as fast as you can which is what results in the really long, obnoxious sentence that in grammatical terms, is called a “run-on”.

Phew! Take a breath! Now try to read that sentence out loud. YUCK!

Let’s rewrite it so that is becomes a paragraph with good, complete, yet simple sentences:

A run-on sentence is one that has too many subjects, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, as well as too much punctuation. To put it simply, a run-on sentence has too much stuff and way too many points. The result of a run-on sentence is that your reader ends up getting totally lost and overwhelmed. While you may think that you are providing your reader will all kinds of valuable information, in reality, only end up with long, obnoxious sentence that in grammatical terms, is called a “run-on”.

The old acronym comes in very handy as your basic rule to avoid run-ons: Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Scanning and Skimming

Scanning and skimming are 2 reading skills that you definitely want to practice and perfect. These 2 skills are the basic essentials to research, assessment of information, organization, and reading comprehension. They also save you lots of time and energy. Being good at scanning and skimming will also save you from becoming overwhelmed and frustrated with too much material or material that is too difficult.

Before I talk about the specifics of scanning and skimming, let me say that you have to accept and appreciate the complexities of the mind in order to get the full benefit from these skills. You see, while you are consciously scanning and skimming pages and pages of written material, your mind is actively working very hard on the next level down, just below your conscious awareness. You have to know that your mind is automatically doing this and trust it; give your mind the freedom to do this work without suffocating it with conscious thought. In other words, focus your mental energies on scanning and skimming and just trust the rest of your mind to do its work behind the scenes and you will be greatly rewarded.

Approach the information you need to read as if you are standing in a wide open field. Outdoors in wide open spaces, your eyes naturally look to the horizon. They sweep over the space and you become aware of the totality of your environment. You notice the colors of the sky and the texture of the earth; you take in all the elements with all of your senses, but you don’t linger on any one thing long enough to fully study it. You notice, for example, that there are many trees in the distance, but you don’t focus your eyes there to actually count them.

This is how you scan when you read. You read the title and notice how many pages or paragraphs there are in the whole piece; you read the sub headings and look for words that are bold, underlined or italicized. You notice any pictures or graphs and you look at them as you would watch a bird that flies across your path in the open field.

This is scanning: you simply get an awareness of your surroundings. In the case of reading, your surroundings are the entirety of the content in the material.

Back to the field – once you are attuned to your surroundings, you will naturally be more interested in certain aspects than others. This is what makes your experience in the field unlike anyone else’s. So you turn your attention to a cluster of trees, for example, and let your thoughts linger there longer than anywhere else. You study the trees, not in isolation, but in terms of their environment. You notice how they are clustered; you notice how they bridge the earth and the sky; you notice how they shelter the ground and house the bird you noticed earlier.

This is how you skim: you simply pick up certain specific bits of information from the reading and put it in your mental collection of take-aways form the material.

Notice that when scanning and skimming, you never sit down and read something word for word. The purpose of scanning and skimming is to first get an overview of understanding, and second, to gleam bits of information to take away, interpret, and use.

Colons and Semi-Colons

Colons and Semi-colons

Colons and semi-colons often confuse people when they are writing. Interestingly however, people usually don’t’ experience any confusion over colons and semi-colons when reading. That’s because we know how to interpret the meaning when we see it (implicit knowledge), but don’t necessarily know the rules that govern their use (explicit knowledge).

Personally, I never try to recall any specific rules I may have learned at some point in some boring English class when I’m writing. I just think the words in my head and listen to how they sound to direct my choice of punctuation. There are a couple of rules that are like old faithful standbys that come to the forefront of my mind when it comes to the difference between colons and semi-colons though, so I’ll share them with you here.

A colon is 2 dots on top of each other and it looks like this (:). That’s just what it is – a colon. A semi-colon is kind of like a colon, but not complete – it’s a “semi” version of the real thing. It looks like this (;).

So here’s the deal: you use a semi-colon between 2 complete sentences that are similar in meaning so that you read it like a gentle pause, not a stop. (A colon would indicate a full stop; a semi-colon however, indicates a “semi” version of the real thing). Sure, you could use a period instead and create 2 separate sentences, but that would read a little more choppy and stunted than if you used the semi-colon. The use of the semi-colon allows you to emphasize the fact that the 2 sentences are so closely related that you really don’t want to separate them by placing a period at the end of each one. Think of them as twins – individual in many ways, but inseparable.

(By the way, using a semi-colon makes me feel confident and authoritative because I’m using long, sophisticated sentences!)

Check out this example:
Complete sentence #1: My children’s father is Japanese.
Complete sentence #2: They speak Japanese at home but not in front of their friends.
Use of a semi-colon: My children’s father is Japanese; they speak Japanese at home but not in front of their friends.

Can you see how using a semi-colon emphasizes the relationship between the 2 sentences more than if you left them separate and simple?

As for colons – the general rule of thumb I follow is that a colon announces that I am about to present an example or more information about something. It says to your reader: “Here’s what I’m talking about.” It also says I am about to present a list to you.

Check out these examples:
The vitamins that promote healthy hair growth include: Vitamin B5, B6, B12, and Biotin.
The following vitamins promote healthy hair growth: Vitamin B5, B6, B12 and Biotin.
These are the vitamins that promote healthy hair growth: B5, B6, B12 and Biotin.

Notice how the colon comes after these phrases:
The following
These are…

Other phrases that are usually followed by a colon include:
These (things)…
Such as…
As follows
There are …

There are other times you use a colon such as in the use of time (12:15) or after the salutation in a formal letter (to whom it may concern:), but I’m not talking about that stuff right now. Right now my focus is on basic writing.

Just for the fun of it, why don’t you go back through this article and find all the colons and semi-colons and see if they match up to what I’ve said about them. Have fun!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

PLR 101: The Basics

PLR stands for Private Label Rights. What this means is that any document labeled PLR can be used over and over again by hundreds, or even thousands, of people without falling into the category of plagiarism. Anyone can put their “John Hancock” on a PLR document and claim it as his own work. You can buy and resell PLR content. You can edit it, chop it up or expand on it, you can twist it and spin it and remake it into something new as often as you want. Private label means that once you purchase the content, you are free to make it fit your own specific needs.

Every online business needs content. Without content, potential customers never even find the website! They never know what you have to offer, and certainly, they will never buy your product! Without content, an online business simply can’t exist.

On average, an online business needs at least 20 articles just to get started. It takes at least 50 articles to make an ebook, and to stay in business, new articles have to be added all the time. The average online business adds 20-25 articles to its site every month.

Custom ordering articles is very expensive. Hiring a copy-writer is even more costly. The online businessman’s solution to this dilemma is PLR content.

PLR content is fast, cheap, and effective. It is a win-win situation for writer and businessman alike because writers can resell their work as often as they want, getting more dollar per piece than they can ever get for even the best paid assignments. When business owners find writers of PLR that they like and trust, providing content to their websites becomes automatic, freeing them up to focus on other areas of their business.

PLR products have become very popular as the number of online businesses has grown to astronomical proportions. Online shopping has also become more common in our society. All these online business encounters require content by the bulk. Therefore, the market for PLR is growing every day! Writing PLR is one of the fastest ways to expand your own portfolio, jump-start your writing career, and make money! For the online business person, PLR is the best deal on the web!

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Writing Process - organized

I’ve never been diagnosed with ADD, but I definitely don’t have a long attention span. I know this about myself and so I have learned to focus my concentration for the duration of its limit and then welcome a productive break. The trick is to be able to get back to the work after the break!

For years I suffered with the clutter of unfinished projects until I finally figured out how to utilize the stops to my advantage and restart in a timely manner. The first step (after lovingly recognizing my own personal limitations) is to see projects as geometrically shaped pieces that when fit together, make my completed project.

I know that I can work really well for about an hour and fifteen minutes to two hours. After that I’m just dilly-dallying around and wasting time. I find that what gets done in each hour or so of quality time is a big enough chunk of material to qualify as one of the shapes in the end product.

The second step is to have all my materials organized, easily accessible, and easily transportable. What works for me is to have what I call a “portable office” or my “office in a bag”. I have a simple bag that is big enough to hold manila folders and my hard-backed journal, but not so big that things get swallowed up inside it. The bag opens out completely – this is an important feature), and has individual pockets for the following: 1) pens/pencils; 2) reading glasses; 3) postit notes; 4) paper clips; 5) thumb drives. These items need to be separated for me so that I don’t waste time or mental energy digging through one big generic pocket to find what I need. A cluttered bag leads to a cluttered mind and this is way more distracting than most of us will admit.
And distraction is defeating.
I usually work on several projects at a time, so I keep everything related to one project is a separate manila folder. Inside each folder the papers are grouped and paper-clipped together in the following manner: a) the original assignment and notes from the client; b) the original draft; c) research, resources and references. Note: in order to keep from cluttering my mind, I never keep more than 5 project manila folders at a time in my “portable office”.
For each chunk of concentrated time, I aim to work on only one project. Which project gets my attention is determined first by deadline, and second by inspiration. Inspiration always takes precedence however, whenever it gets a whirlwind of energy, and just between you and me, this is the real gem of a writer’s life – the exhilarating high is magnified by it spontaneous and unexpected arrival. You absolutely must honor inspiration!
So back to organization: I believe that because of the power of inspiration, and because of its unpredictability, you’ve got to be highly organized so you can work under the shelter of discipline in a steady manner. This way, when inspiration sweeps down and takes you on a flight, you are free to go without missing any important deadlines.
One more note about the manila folders: I mentioned that I never keep more than 5 project folders in my bag at a time. The word “project” is underlined to differentiate it from the other 3 folders that go everywhere with me: 1) Planning; 2) Inspiration; and 3) scrap paper.
The Planning Folder is where I keep my lists. I list what I have to do each day; I list what I intend to do; I list what I hope to do eventually; and I list all the things I simply want to remember, at least for awhile. For all you perfectionists out there, I have to warn you, as soon as you start doing something on your list, you will realized there are many more steps involved in that one task than you originally thought, so your lists will grow, often in sloppy, eclectic ways: that’s OK!
The Inspiration Folder is full of words, phrases, images, paragraphs and snippets of stuff that have no particular beginning, middle or end. There is no pressure attached to the things in the Inspiration Folder. These are like pretty shells you pick up on the beach – maybe I’ll do something with them and maybe I won’t, but they are my treasures.
The scrap paper folder is, well, I think this is self explanatory. A writer would rather be caught dead without her underwear on before being caught anywhere in the world without some paper!
So think about this stuff when you are doing other things this week. Give yourself about an hour at a time over the duration of several days and get your writing bag in order. Believe me, its well worth your time!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Use of Quotation Marks

Say "WHAT"?

Quotation marks are the punctuation symbols used to identify what someone says; they are used in writing to mark the speech of a character. They help us to understand, when reading, the difference between narration and speech.

They are also used to suggest doubt or skepticism, and while this is in fact, grammatically correct, it drives me nuts!

When used to mark direct speech, they work really well. I take issue with the over use of quotation marks, especially when people use them to show that they really didn’t mean what was written at all. I know, in this way they are being used to “suggest doubt or skepticism” (I’m quoting myself here). But here’s my point: if you really have that much doubt in what you are writing, I say you need to go back to the drawing board and figure out just what it is you are confident about and write about that instead! Be direct; be clear; say it like it is and get your fingers off the quotation mark key!

Here are some examples:

1. We are going to have a “surprise” party for Mary. With the quotation marks around the word surprise, the reader is left with a flood of questions: Is this a surprise or isn’t it? Was it originally intended to be a surprise, but Mary somehow found out about it? Who spilled the beans? So if it’s not really going to be a “surprise”, then what is it?!

2. It’s a “lunch” meeting. If I got a memo like this, it would cause me major distress! What does “lunch” mean to the writer of this statement? Is there some collective understanding of the word lunch and so we are to assume that something else will be at the meeting? What is “lunch” anyway? The quotation marks leave me to wonder not only what the word means, but also adds stress to an upcoming meeting that may cause me the discomfort of feeling terribly hungry! Should I slip a snack bar into my bag? Am I supposed to bring a lunch box for myself? Or maybe I’m supposed to bring a dish to share with everyone else at the meeting. Suggesting doubt around the word lunch makes me wonder if I should even go to the “meeting”.

3. He’s going to do it “tomorrow”. Excuse me? Either “tomorrow” means tomorrow or it doesn’t; and if it doesn’t, then when will he do it!? Is he a procrastinator and so I’m just supposed to know that “tomorrow” isn’t ever likely to come? Is the author expressing her own doubt or trying to protect the reader from getting false hopes?

Oh sure, we are all full of doubt, but I think we should be more conscious of just how much doubt we have and do something to clarify the circumstances of our lives. Communication is way too fragile – way too prone to confusion as it is. I vote for simplicity; speak with “clarity”!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Spelling Tricks

What’s your biggest spelling pet-peeve? There are 3 that rank at the top for me: 1) to/two/too; 2) there/their/they’re; and 3) your/you’re. Even though most people know the differences between the meanings for each of these common mistakes, they blunder all over the place with them and think it just doesn’t matter. Well, it does matter, so maybe these tricks will help you keep it straight and make it easier to avoid these mistakes in future writing.

“To” is only 2 letters and it implies direction: from X to X. Example: I’m going to give this pen to John. The first “to” is the direction of intent: an action will take place; the second “to” is the direction of the actual action: the pen moved from X to X.

“TWO” is the number after 1 and before 3. The “w” is your clue that the #2 is spelled T-W-O because the “w”, centered between 2 other letters, has 2 cheeks to its butt that sits on the line.

“Too” means more, or also. It has the letter “o” in it more than any other spelling. It has an “o” and it has another “o” too! Because of this spelling, you can visualize the concept of more, more, more! Example: I want ice cream, too! This means that more than one person wants ice cream, or that one person wants more than just ice cream.

The trick to these is to take off the “T” and see what you’ve got:
“There” is a place. Take off the “T” and you’ve’ got “here”. “Here” is a place and we all know that quite clearly!

“Their” implies ownership, something belongs to some group of people. Take off the “T” and you’ve got “heir” – someone’s rightful ownership of something passed on or given.

“They’re” is the contraction of “they” + “are”. Example: they’re going to the party. Take off the “T” and you’ve got instant enthusiasm: Hey! Are you guys going to the party!

“Your” implies ownership. Let the “r” at the end of the word lead you into critical doubt: you – really the owner??

“You’re” is the contraction between “you” + “are”. “You’re” plus one more word makes a full and complete sentence; this is something you can’t do with the other spelling (your). Example: You’re great! If you mess these two up, you make no sense at all. “Your great” leaves the reader having a hey day with a wild imagination – your what is great?! Oh my!

The statement, “Your my best friend” drives me nuts. Whenever I read this I feel a bit paranoid and extra protective of my stuff. My what is your best friend??

Write Before You Speak!

How many great ideas have you had that never get written? Like a first impression, inspiration really only gets one chance. That’s why I’m a firm believer in selfishly hoarding and protecting all great ideas! I never share them, no matter how excited I am when they pop into my head.

I have found over the years that if I talk about an idea before I write it, it requires tremendous labor to put it on the page. And then, once written, I’m stunned by its crappy appearance. It’s dry, dull, dead. It’s stilted, stale. And there is no return, not way to go back and redo it. No amount of scratching, waiting, editing, or rewriting will ever bring back the charm and magic of that initial great idea.

When editing another writer’s work, I do so with questions. “What do you mean here?” “What does this feel like?” “What is the character thinking now?” “Why…?” Inevitably the author wants to tell me all about it, right then and there as soon as they see my questions. I understand this desire. It’s only natural. We writers spend so much time in isolation that it’s really hard to resist the energy that flows between two passionate souls. And when it comes to our writing, yeah, our souls are unleashed in a playground of passions.

But hold back! Grab the passion and run to your favorite hide-out where you can break free – totally free – like belting out your favorite rock songs in the shower. Run! Bunker down! And Write!

These are not rhetorical questions, however. I really do want the author to answer them. In fact, I hope that the questions inspire elaborate answers that then trigger more questions! Play with the ideas; play with the words; play to your heart’s content, but for now, play alone!

Whatever you do, don’t answer any questions about your work with words that speak through your voice! Use instead the silent words inside your head, the words that can only come alive on the blank page. Trust me, these words are much better than the words that stumble out of your mouth.

If you want to be a writer, write first and speak last (or, in some cases, don’t speak at all). If you want to be a writer, shut up, sit down, and WRITE!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fighting Writer's Block

Writer’s block is very real. No matter what kind of writing you do or for what purpose you write, writer’s block is very disturbing. If writing is your livelihood, writer’s block is worse than disturbing; it even threatens your ability to pay the bills and support your family! But even if writing isn’t your main source of income, writer’s block robs you of your very essence and therefore, it can be devastating.

One reason writer’s block is so terrible is because it is the opposite of something really great. When your writing muse graces you with her presence, you behave as a genius, frantically scribbling and tapping wildly at your keyboard; you produce amazing work and you soar on a natural high. Then comes writer’s block. You feel abandoned and everything about you is barren. Barren in your mind and in your spirit: this is writer’s block, the fall after a surge of great writing. This is writer’s block and the reality is it happens. It happens to all of us.

We usually don’t see it coming; writer’s block just drops in one day and suddenly, the mind is dull. When this happens, you basically have two choices. You can lay down your pen and go into sulking - a behavior that will no doubt send you into a downward spiral of low self-esteem and depression, or you can turn your dry spell into an opportunity for growth.

That’s right. Writer’s block can actually be good for you as a writer. I know it sounds crazy, but bear with me here and look at this obstacle with an open mind.

Like anything we do in life, we get into a rut, even with our writing. You write about the same stuff; you use the same words; you even write in the same style. No wonder the muse leaves for awhile! Don’t fret it, though, realize instead that this is your muse calling you to stretch your brain muscles a bit and strengthen your skills. Take advantage of writer’s block and use that time to try something new.

Here are a couple of ideas:

1. Reflective writing

Have a discussion with yourself about writer’s block via writing. Write out your struggle with writer’s block.

A) Give it a personality and tan on the heroic role of defeating the villain. Yell at it. Curse it’s will. Send it off to a place “where the sun don’t shine”.

B) Ask yourself what you have to gain by bowing to writer’s block. Answer yourself in writing, of course. If you have to wallow in self pity, do so in writing, but conclude your piece with what it feels like to give in to defeat. Hang the conclusion where you can see it and read it over and over until you are ready to rise up and get over it.

2. Revisit and Rework

Go back to pieces of writing that you have already completed and take a look at it from a different perspective.

A) Analyze the characters and/or ideas in the piece (do this analysis in writing, of course). Pretend you are a student in a literature or logic class and analyze with a critical mind.

B) Rewrite it from a different perspective. If it is in first person, write it in third person, or keep it in first person, but change the voice; if it is a narrative, make it a personal letter. Whatever you do, just step into another voice and tell the story from a different point of view.

C) Write it in a different tense. Make it an historical piece or turn it into a futuristic fantasy. Try putting it all in present tense – that is always a challenge!

D) Take one or two points in the piece and expand that section. You may even be able to take one point and expand it such that you can write another whole independent piece from that later on.

Writer’s block is very real and, like the common cold, it is unavoidable. So when it hits, hit back!

Return to The Riverside

The Value of Writing Prompts

Writing prompts are the best tool to use for writing practice and development. Prompts provide you with the means for discipline the help you use your time efficiently. Best of all, writing prompts are the spring board for unforeseen surprises and great new discoveries both personally and professionally.

Writing prompts are prescribed words, phrases, questions, statements, quotes, thoughts, anything that is already prepared that you don’t have to conjure up on the spot, anything that you can use as a starting point for your writing. You may certainly create your own writing prompts, but you should do so in advance so that when you sit down to use one, your mind is blank, empty, open and unsuspecting. The purpose of writing prompts is to warm up your mind and get the writing nurons in your brain snapping with creative energy. When you randomly choose a writing prompt and write to it, you are forcing yourself to stretch and grow in ways you would otherwise never encounter.

I use writing prompts every day before I begin my regular work. I find that by starting my writing sessions with a random prompt, I am more ready to delve into projects currently in progress. The prompts help trigger vocabulary and concepts I often use later in the day. They also wake up my mind, telling it that it is time to write. In this way, the habit of starting my writing day with a prompt is like any other preparatory routine that gets you ready to work.

In addition to being a skill, writing is also a habit and a practice. Anything you do requires practice; you do what you do well because of practice. Even great performers don’t just show up on stage and perform a master piece. No, they practice. They show up for practice time whether they feel like it or not. I guarantee they do mundane and repetitious exercises. Professional ballerinas still stand at the barre and do plies, for example, and professional musicians run scales to warm up their fingers and voices.

We have to treat our writing the same way. Writing prompts are the practice exercises that lead you to great masterpieces.

If you don’t have a particular assignment or project you are working on, you may find yourself at a loss when you sit down to write. Many writers complain that they don’t know what to write. This leads to a lot of wasted time. If you use writing prompts, you will use your time more efficiently because as soon as you sit down, you have an immediate direction to go with your writing time.

One of the biggest rewards of writing prompts is the plethora of secret surprises they have to offer. You may choose a random word that, at first, seems to mean nothing in particular to you. Something as simple as the word “hands”, for example, may lead you to recall thememory of your grandfather who died when you wer a young child. Then, in writing about him, you may uncover a life lesson he demonstrated that, as a young child, you wouldn’t have recognized, but that now, as an adult, is just the “advice” you need to hear at this point in your life. By forcing yourself to grapple with the prompt, move through the “this means nothing to me” stage and on to the free writing that has its own animated agenda, you end up with ideas and insights that literally fall into your lap – often little gems that lead to great stories or articles.

How it Works

  1. Choose a prompt. Prompts are all around you. Just look through any of your books about writing or Google “writing prompts”. Don’t contemplate when you get a prompt and don’t turn your back on one thinking the next one will be “better”. Just take one and force yourself to write on it.
  2. Time yourself and write to a specific prompt. Five minutes is a good amount of time to start with, especially if writing to prompts is new to you. Set a timer and write frantically the whole time. Even if you don’t know what to write and aren’t at all inspired, simply write “I don’t like this prompt….” As you argue your way around the prompt, you will eventually come to something. If not, you will at least be actively practicing writing. Once you are comfortable with five minutes, increase your time to ten. You may go as long as fifteen minutes, but don’t go beyond that or you will loose the power of the prompt. If you are on a roll and really like what you are doing, you can certainly continue. But as a general rule of thumb, never demand yourself to go beyond fifteen minutes. If you can’t get something going after fifteen minutes, then that particular prompt simply isn’t meant to be. That’s OK. Let it go and try again with something new the next day.

Writing prompts are an invaluable tool for all writers no matter how novice or experienced you may be. Writing prompts are the means to practice, develop and grow as a writer. Chances are, you’ll write something really terrible to most of the prompts that you use. But that’s OK. The point of practice isn’t to be great; it’s to become great.

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I Don't Feel Like Writing Today

I don’t feel like writing today. I don’t have anything to say. Wait, that’s not true: I always have something to say and today, like every other day, I have way more to say than I have time or energy to say it. I just don’t feel like enduring the process today.

Everything I start gets mundane even before I’ve gotten to the first point. My writing is bland and it is boring me to death! I guess I’m getting on my own “last Jesus nerve”! (I love that phrase. My dear Southern friend, Carolyn, blurted it out one day and it so tickled me.)

I usually like myself and I enjoy my own company. When I write, I like being able to hang out with “ME”. Writing is a very solitary activity, so befriending oneself is of utter importance. Well, today I just wish that “ME” would leave me alone!

Blah, blah, blah! She just keeps rambling on and on about nothing!

Have you ever been at a party or some other social function when you hear yourself talking and you just can’t believe how stupid you sound? You scream to yourself inside your head, “Shut up!” Yet the outside self just keeps going on, this constant, obnoxious drone. That’s what my writing sounds like to me today. It’s an irritating squeaking voice, one that grates on the nerves like fingernails on a chalk board.

What I have to say is interesting stuff – no, it’s better than that – its fascinating! Its fascinating inside my head; but when it comes out on the paper it is a heavy, droning, monotone. It’s painfully boring!

“Shut up!” I bark to myself, “who cares? Nobody!” I try another sentence. “Give it up, you fool!” I think that if I just put the general ideas down, I can go back later and write it with a new voice. “What a waste of time.” It’s not like I have nothing else to do. Good grief, I have half-read books all over the house that I need to return to; I have to fix the dryer so I can finish the laundry; I have children with needs and dogs that are waiting to be fed. Oh yeah, and I have a “real job” I have to do to today, too.

“So shut up! Stop writing!!”

My writing muse smiles ever so slightly, a tiny upward curvature at the corners of her mouth that draw my attention her way. She nods, a movement so small that it is nearly invisible, yet I saw it. She looked at me, and she nodded approval.

I don’t have to write anything at all, but I do have to sit with the empty page. That much she asks of me. I can finally shut up, knowing that I can not shut down.

I don’t feel like writing today, and that’s OK.

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