Blog, Writing Blog

You Cannot Applaud Your Own Story: And Other Rules I Ignore

I recently started publishing on Medium. I’m not sure why, I still don’t really know what I’m doing but I figured, hey, the more places I have my writing, the better. Right? So, it’s there if you want to check it out.

Poking around in my first post, I noticed a clapping button and when I hovered over it, it gave me a message, “You Cannot Applaud Your Own Story.” My first thought?

Eff that.

You can’t tell me what to do.

Which led me down a rabbit hole of a bunch of other things people tell writers they should and shouldn’t do. And ya know what? We probably became writers because we don’t really like doing things the “normal” way.

So, here’s some writing advice that I do not like.

Don’t open with.

A dream sequence…someone driving..someone doing this or that or the other thing.

I think that’s bad advice. My advice? if you’re going to do it, do it well. Do it differently. Do it in a way that will make people say, whoa. Some of these things are cheesy and cliche but only if you do it the same way everyone has always done it. So do them, but do them your way.

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Write What You Know

I HATE this rule. Absolutely hate it. If it pops into my head while I am writing, I literally freeze up with self-doubt.

If you really think about it, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t know a whole lot. And if I let myself realize this, I just can’t write. So, I have to forget it.

Now, maybe what I hate is that this rule implies, “Write ONLY what you know.” Because I obviously do write what I know. But I also write about things I don’t know because if I only stuck to what I know, I would run out of stuff to write pretty quickly.

This is what Google is for. And Wikipedia. And research. If you want to write about something you don’t know much about, write about it AND research it.

Don’t Edit While You Write

This one is tricky. Since I work best under a tight deadline, sometimes I HAVE to edit while I write. I don’t have time to go back later and polish something. If, like me, this is how you work best, just do it. Ignore the haters. Read the last sentence you wrote and change that pesky work before you move on. Reread your last paragraph before you move to the next.

But here’s the thing; I still do shitty first drafts, I just do them FAST. If editing while you write is going to keep you from getting anything done, don’t do it. But for me, this is not a hard and fast rule.

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Write every day

I do not write every day. But I do give myself goals. Right now I am trying to write a story a week. This does not mean that I sit down and work on this story every day. It might mean that on Monday I brainstorm an idea. On Wednesday I jot down notes and on Sunday I feverishly write the whole thing in order to meet the deadline (when is how I do my best writing).

Writing during the week is hard for me. But, I can sit down in my PJs on Saturday or in a coffee shop on Sunday and crank out some words. And it works for me. You do what works for you.

You Cannot Applaud Your Own Story

And, finally…thanks, Medium. While this isn’t really advice I’ve received, that little error message really triggered me.

You cannot applaud your own story.

Bull. Shit.

Writers are notoriously self-conscious and we typically hate our work even when we have people telling us they love it. This sucks because, according to the Dalai Lama, “90% of negative energy is mental.” So, I say we try something different.

Applaud your own story. Be your biggest fan. Love your work. Love your shitty first drafts for the same reason you love your children…because eventually, they will be functioning people that can wipe their own butts. Eventually, your shitty work will be better work. So love it now. Nurture it. Help it grow. Share its milestones. Cheer every time you finish you something. Applaud your own goddamn story.

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What writing rules do you choose to ignore?

 

Blog, Writing Blog

Get That Song Out Of Your Head

So, last weekend we went to see the new Mary Poppins movie. This movie is delightful, Emily Blunt is delightful and the music is delightful (go see if you get a chance).

But, I’ll tell you what’s not delightful. The fact that, since going to see it, the boyfriend’s kiddo plays the soundtrack, or sings that soundtrack, pretty much every chance she gets. Particularly the song, The Cover is Not The Book.

Now, I like this song, I really do. But, what started out as a lovely little diddy has now turned into the earworm from hell. It’s in my head all. the. time. And when it’s not, she turns it on and it wriggles its way back in.  

While many of you parents may not be surprised by this (Frozen, anyone?) I am new to this parenting/step-parenting thing and have not yet experienced the mania for a certain song.

So, in order to counteract this and get the song out of my head (before I started to hate it) I needed to take action.

I decided to put another song in.

Any other song. Any other catchy, obnoxious song. The Gaston song from Beauty and the Beast made its way in.  We’re Off To See The Wizard made an appearance.

And, it worked. When the original earworm would start to sneak back in, I would just repeat, “Because, because, because, because, becaauuuuse…because of the wonderful things he does.”

After the success of this method, I wondered…could this work in other areas of life?

If you don’t like the current song going through your head…change it.

If you’re not succeeding at your current focus, change your focus.

If you’ve been repeating, “I’m going to write a book, I’m going to write a book,” and you’re not writing a book, quit beating yourself up. Change your goal. Try, “I’m going to write a chapter.” Or, “I’m going to write 500 words.” And repeat that over and over until it’s true.

Or, shift your focus completely.

Writing goals have always been front and center for me. My head is constantly full of pesky earworms like:

“Write every day.”

“If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer.”

Or other not-always-helpful-idioms. It can get exhausting.

This year, I’ve shifted my focus a bit to my physical health. I’ve been spending time doing yoga, reading about it, going to the gym more, and trying to meditate. And ya know what? I started writing more.

Taking my focus off the song that was always in my head (the pressure to write all the time) and replacing it with a new song (go to yoga once a week, read a yoga book) made it easier to enjoy the original song again.

So, if you’ve got the same thing going through your head over and over, try changing the tune.

“I’ve already failed at my New Year’s Resolutions,” could be, “Today is another chance to set new goals.”

“I can’t find time to write every day…” could be, “Ten minutes is enough to get a few hundred words in!”

Don’t let a song stuck on repeat exhaust you. Get that song out of your head and pick a new tune.

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*I do not own the image associated with this post:

Creator:Photo Credit: Jay Maidment
Credit:Jay Maidment
Copyright:© 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved..
Blog, Writing Blog

We Hope For Better Things the Perfect Book for a New Year

We Hope For Better Things by Erin Bartles was the perfect book to finish on the first day of a new year. A book about learning from the past to create new beginnings, it leaves you with feelings of hope, renewal, and an appreciation for those that came before you.

One of the first things I thought to say about this beautiful book was that it helped me rediscover my love of reading. A true page-turner, this was the first book in a long time that helped me recapture that feeling of needing to get to the next page, pushing it past my bedtime just to read another line and thinking about the stories and characters until I could again get back to the book. We all know how easily life gets in the way of reading. But true book lovers also know, and relish, that feeling of being so immersed in a book that you can’t wait to pick it up again. It’s been a little while since I felt that with a book. This book helped me recapture it.

Told from the point of view of three different women living in three different generations, each story is captivating and unique and immerses the reader in the lives of the storyteller. In a lot of books with more than one point of view, there’s typically one that holds the reader’s attention more than others, one that causes you to rush through the others so you can get back to the more interesting storyline. Not so in We Hope For Better Things. Each story, a journalist in modern-day Detroit, a farmer’s wife during the Civil War, and an upper-class white woman in the tumultuous 1960’s Detroit, has its own unique pull. When one chapter ends, you are sad to leave that time period only briefly before you are pulled into the next.

The stories that it highlights are important stories, stories that many, even those of us that live near Detroit, do not know, understand, or appreciate. I’ve always heard about the Detroit Riots, but that’s it….just heard about them. I was distanced enough from them in geography and time that they were never more than a historical event in the not-so-distant past. This book gave them life. It gave them faces. While fictional, it helped bring them to life for a new generation.

Beautifully written, the stories told in We Hope For Better Things, will stay with you long after you put the book down. I am happy to go into 2019 with the ghosts of these characters dancing my head. The front of the book contains a quote comparing this story to To Kill a Mockingbird and– much like Scout, Atticus, Jem, and Boo– Mary, Nora, and Elizabeth will now follow me wherever I go, reminding me that no matter the time period, there are always those that imagine that things can be better.

Blog, Writing Blog

How Country Music Inspired My Flash Fiction

From a poor girl living in a run-down, one room shack to a wealthy woman living in an elegant, New York townhouse flat, Reba McEntire tells the tale of a girl named Fancy, pushed out of poverty by her dying mother…and she tells the story in about six minutes.

Martina McBride tells the story of an abused woman who frees herself from her relationship by burning her house to the ground with and her abuser still inside…in about four minutes.

Garth Brooks tells us what can happen when the thunder rolls and a cheating husband comes to home to his fretting wife (it’s not good) and Reba tells what happens when the lights go out in Georgia and they hang an innocent man.

These sagas have all the elements of a good story; intriguing characters with backstories, sad beginnings, middles full of conflict, and dramatic endings…and they all wrap up in six minutes or less.

Like most writers, I’ve been asked some form of this question: “What inspired you to write? Where do you get your inspiration? What inspired you when you were younger?” I was never really sure of the best answer to this question. I’ve just always liked to write. And I’ve always liked to read. And of course, I was inspired by books like Matilda, Harriet The Spy, and, eventually, Harry Potter. But, if you look at my writing now, those didn’t exactly inspire my style. I ended up leaning more toward the style of the Fear Street books by R.L. Stine (which I also devoured) but, looking back, there was something else.

I figured it out when I discovered a Spotify playlist featuring nineties country. I started shuffling through that and, whoa, those songs took me back. I could see myself sitting on the floor with a new cassette (yea, I’m old) and reading along with the lyrics on the inside flap. I remember crying over Don’t Take the Girl by Tim McGraw, Faith Hill’s A Man’s Home is His Castle, and the previously mentioned Independence Day (I was a pretty emotional kid). I can see myself parked in front of the TV the day my dad died, tuning the world out, completely focused on a CMT music video marathon, soaking in story after story about the tragedies of others. And they were stories–elaborate, complete, deep stories.

The country music of my childhood could present a moving and emotional tale, beginning, middle and end, in just a few minutes. A few verses and a chorus were all you needed to get sucked into the life of a frustrated wife, a couple falling in love, or a woman finding her independence. At the time, I didn’t recognize why I liked them so much, I just knew I did. But now, looking back, I know that the writer in me recognized their ability to weave a complicated story in a short amount of time. Given how big of an impact these songs had on me, it’s no wonder I ended up attempting to mimic them.

In flash fiction, you have around 1,000 words to present a complete and engaging story. You have to do what a novel has about 75,000 words to do. Even though it’s short, it still needs to have compelling characters, include enough history to suck in the reader and wrap up neatly enough to keep them satisfied. It also needs to pack a punch. Like Garth’s twist when the wife in The Thunder Rolls goes back into the bedroom for her gun, many of my stories don’t end happily. But they are memorable (so I’ve been told). I thought about these songs long after the last notes died out, and I still do.

I want my readers to do the same when they put down my stories. It may not be normal for a writer to say they were inspired by country music, but now, when I get that perplexing question, I can safely say that I try to write stories that move others like I was moved by the stories of Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and so many, many more.

 

See what kinds of stories country music inspired me to write in my book of flash fiction, “Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction.”

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Blog, Writing Blog

When I Don’t Want to Write: My Internal Struggle

I want to talk about something not a lot of writers talk about. Let’s talk about what happens when you don’t feel like writing.

Not what you should do when you don’t feel like writing…which is write. Power through it. Suck it up. Writers write. You have to do your job even when you don’t feel like doing it, and the same is true for writing. If you ask any successful writer for their advice on what to do when you don’t feel like writing they’d say….write anyway.

But, I’m not here to give you advice.

I am here to talk about how it feels when a writer just doesn’t feel like writing. I want to talk about what happens to your brain, your ego, that delicate writer psyche that is barely holding on to sanity at any given moment. Because it happens. It happens to me. A lot. I am almost always thinking about writing. Even when it doesn’t seem like I’m thinking about writing, I probably am. I imagine the same is true for most writers. This is not the problem.

The problem is the gut-wrenching guilt that comes when you just don’t want to write. I want to talk about that. I am not going to give advice on how to get past it, because I have no idea. I am not soliciting advice because I know what you’ll say and I know you’re right. I just want to talk about how it feels…

So, here are a few things that happen inside my brain, my guts, and my writer psyche when I don’t want to write.

I question my existence

All I’ve ever wanted to do was write. When I was young, I did it all the time. During school, after school, in class, while eating, before sleeping, in the bath, with friends. I didn’t know a lot about what I wanted to do with my life (shit, I still don’t…) but I knew I wanted to write. My love of writing has always defined me as a person. So, what does it say about me if I don’t want to write? I don’t just sit on my bed and write anymore. I don’t sneak out a notebook and write lines between tasks (though, to be fair, I am writing this at work right now…shhh..). I still want to be a writer, but sometimes, I just don’t want to write. And when those two thoughts collide? My guts and my brain and my sensitive writers psyche all tighten into a ball and internally rock back and forth while I grimace and go about my day wondering who I am, what I’m doing with my life and if I’ll ever find a purpose.

I get SUPER jealous

Since social media is obviously the place you want to go when you’re feeling bad about yourself…I spend a lot of my time watching other writers post word counts and pictures of coffee shops and manuscripts and highlighted pages and stacks of paper and I hate them just a little (seriously, love you all!). I want what they have. I want to be doing what they’re doing…except I don’t. Trust me, I get the irony. I say I want to be writing as I blog about not wanting to write….as I write the blog…about…not…wanting to…write…it’s very confusing. And, often, too much for brain, heart, and psyche to handle and I am frozen in my tracks before I can even attempt to put pen to paper.

I feel like a failure

And so, before I even have anything to fail at, I feel like a failure. I didn’t write something that turned out terrible and was shunned by the masses as the worst piece of writing in history….I didn’t write anything at all. You know those “inspirational” memes…”You only fail if you stop trying.” Yea, that’s me. I’ve stopped trying. I’ve stalled. I’m stuck. And a lot of the time, I don’t want to get unstuck. I feel like a failure but I don’t want to take the steps I know I need to take to do the one thing that would make me less of one…try.

I think other writers are judging me

Side note: Writers are actually the most non-judgmental people you will ever meet.

They aren’t judging me, and I know this. They get what I am going through because they’ve been through it. The writers I follow on Twitter and know in real life are supportive and understanding and would never make other writers feel bad about themselves. That said, it doesn’t mean my brain doesn’t THINK they are judging me. My irrational writer’s psyche, the one that thinks I’m a failure, also thinks these writers who are writing are silently judging me for not writing. Even though they’re not. But it feels like they are.

So, there you have it. Not wanting to write sucks. And it makes you feel like a giant, judged, lackluster, no purpose in life failure. At least that’s how it makes me feel.

How do you feel today? Do you go through periods where you don’t want to write? How do you recover? Help! Share your thoughts.

Blog, Writing Blog

Permission to Write

“What gives one the right to write?”

“Well, is there something that will go unsaid if you don’t write?”

“Of course.”

“Well, then, you simply must write.”
You simply must write. Because something will go unsaid if you don’t. This is a mantra that I am going to start repeating to myself. For some reason, as writers, we don’t always believe that we should write. We don’t believe we have the right to write. We don’t think we have permission.

The above is a conversation Karen E. Peterson experienced (author of Write. `10 Days to Overcome Writer’s Block. Period.) in which she finally felt like she was given permission to write.

As writers, we want to write. But, we often pause at our computers or pads of paper, unsure of whether we SHOULD write. I basically feel like this, oh…all the time.

Does this sound familiar?

Start something.

Get passionate.

And then….screeching brakes.

My mind starts to wander, to ponder. To analyze. Why am I writing this? Certainly it’s been said. Someone else has probably already had this experience and put it to paper. So, what’s the point?

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But, in what other profession do people look at what they are doing and say they can no longer proceed because it’s already been done? Doctors certainly don’t, and thank goodness for that. Because each doctor adds something to the profession that someone before them would not have been able to add.
The same is true with writing.
Yes, maybe someone like me had a similar experience, but, they aren’t me. And I experienced that moment differently than anyone before me. I thought different things, I had different fears, I approached it with different experiences behind me. Just as no two people ever read the same book the same way, no two people ever experience the same moment in the same way.
Writing fiction? Same thing. There may only be a handful of stories out there, but everyone tells them differently because everyone is different. This may seem like a simple concept, but writers have a hard time with it. And, if it’s not grasped, it can cripple.

It’s up to each writer to decide if they can push past self-doubt and fear in order to say the thing that might go unsaid. And, to decide if that thing is worth is saying. Spoiler: It is.
I confess, I am currently letting fear stop me. I’ve got a story inside me. One I’ve had inside of me my whole life, because it is my life. And that, the thought of putting my experiences out there for the world to see, that’s terrifying. But, if I don’t say it, who will? No one has had my experience. If I don’t say it, there are definitely things that will go unsaid. Even now, as I type this, there’s a little voice in the back of my head whispering evilly, “But is it really worth saying? Who cares if it doesn’t get said?”
And to that I reply, “I care, dammit. I care.”
And for now, that has to be enough. I am giving myself permission to write. To say what would otherwise go unsaid. And, I give you permission, if you still need it. Go forth, write words. Write YOUR words. Because if you don’t, no one else will.

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Blog, Writing Blog

Storytelling in Web Writing (Why You Need It)

Think about the last thing you read that immediately pulled you in and made you want to know more.

Was it an opening line in a movie? (“In a galaxy far, far away…”)

Maybe it was a book. (“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”)

No matter what it was, it was probably compelling enough to snag your interest. And the rest of the story was probably compelling enough to keep your attention. Creative writers know how to tell a story. And if you’re writing for the web, you should too.

No matter what you are writing online (blogs, website copy, social media posts, etc.) you have the same job as those writing novels or stories: to pull in readers, keep them interested, and peak their curiosities. So, to achieve the same things a creative writer hopes to achieve, a web writer needs to utilize some of the same tools and techniques.

USE A STORY ARC

When you are writing for the web, you are trying to take readers through a very particular journey.

You are trying to gain their attention, turn them into interested readers or leads, make them customers, and then continue to educate and inform them so they will become ambassadors of your business. This process is very similar to the story arc of a novel or fiction piece.

A story arc has:

Exposition: The introduction of your characters, their background information, and why the reader should care about them.

Rising Action: The introduction of a conflict.

Climax: The conflict hits the most dramatic point.

Falling Action/Resolution: The characters find the solution to their problem and their stories are wrapped up.

TUG AT THE HEART-STRINGS

Using compelling characters, you take your readers on this journey. While your web writing may not contain an orphaned boy who learns he is a wizard and has to repeatedly battle the most powerful evil wizard in the world, it should tell a story.

One of the best examples of great storytelling on a digital medium is Dove. Dove tells the story of real women who don’t look like supermodels. We’re drawn into their stories because they are real. They then branched out and told the story of a soldier who simply wants to see his new son. There are compelling characters, rising action as they tell his story, and a resolution as he gets to see his son for the first time. (We’re not crying, you’re crying!)

While this is a video, you can use these techniques when writing a blog, creating web copy, or building a social media campaign.  The point is, no matter what you are writing, you need to make sure to do a few things:

  • Capture attention
  • Make a human connection
  • Appeal to emotions
  • Stand out

You can do all of these things by simply telling a compelling story. Whether it’s two pages or two sentences, writing for the web doesn’t have to be boring. And, if it’s done right, it will tell a story that sticks with your audience.

This post was originally published, here.