Thursday, August 24, 2006

Creative Writing: Using a Journal to Develop Writing Skills

I've used journaling in the past to exercise my writing and improve my writing skills. Here's an interesting article on some strategies you can use to strengthen your writing through journaling.

Use Your Journal to Dramatically Improve Your Writing -- The Easy Way
By Will Kalif

If you are keeping a journal on a regular or even semi-regular basis, you have made a great step toward developing your skills as a writer. But, you are probably only using a small part of what a journal can be. You need to take the next step in journal writing and make your journal work for you. Here are some practical tips on how to do that.

Your journal is a place where you put down your thoughts and ideas and this is a great way to keep the creativity flowing and to keep you writing on a regular basis. But thoughts and ideas are not the only things that go into writing fiction. Your fiction takes place in a world and it has people in it. In order for you to successfully communicate your story to your reader you have to create a world that is tangible and people that are believable. These aspects of writing are just like any other aspect in that they takes practice and your journal is the perfect place for you to practice. Here are some basic and easy exercises that will develop your skill as a writer through your journal writing.

Add Descriptive Writing to your Journal

Make a concerted attempt to describe things in your environment. This is a good practical exercise that will help you find your voice in your writing. Writing for an audience means being able to describe your created world to them accurately. You should practice this in your journal and it can be as simple as choosing any object and writing about it. Here are several different techniques for descriptive writing.

1. Describe things – This is an important skill because the description of things can enhance your story. And it makes use of one of the most important rules in writing: “Show don’t tell” Here is an example of two sentences about a pencil:

The writer held a yellow pencil in his hand.

The faded yellow pencil the writer held in his hand was pockmarked with dozens of bite marks, and its eraser was worn right down to the metal band.

In the first sentence the reader understand the situation. But in the second sentence the reader gets an insight into the writer. This is much better than telling your reader that the writer in the story is a nervous type that frequently erases his work and is prone to biting his pencil.

2. Describe Environments

Choose any environment and describe it. Start with the room you are writing in then move outward. As you move about your daily life take note of the different environments that you pass through. Describe these in your journal. Remember that this is not an exercise in storytelling. It is an exercise in building a believable world with your writing. And you should do this exercise in two different ways. First do it as you look at the environment you are in. Second you should do it from the memory of an environment that you are not currently in. It is amazing how radically different your perspective of an environment can be between your eyes and your memory.

3. Describe people

This is the most important aspect of description. A good description of a person can tell your reader much about the character. Choose a person you know and write a description of him. Don’t just describe his face, describe his body and his gait. Describe the mannerisms he has. Does he use his hands when he talks? Do his arms swing when he walks? What other things should you describe? Remember that your description of him will paint a picture in your reader’s mind.

Add Dialogue to Your Journal

Another skill that you should develop in your writing is the art of dialogue. What your characters say and how they say it can either enhance a story or confuse it. You should practice writing lots of dialogue. Here are some good techniques for incorporating this painlessly into your journal.

1. You should first practice writing dialogues that you have overheard. Do this from memory. What did each person say? And what were the responses and counter responses.
2. You should also practice making your own conversations. This is what you will do in your writing so you should practice it a lot.

Blend Dialogue and Description Together

Now try to put the techniques together. Imagine two people engaged in a conversation. Tell your reader the conversation and show your reader the mannerisms of each speaker. Use your descriptions of the speakers and their surroundings to enhance the meaning of the conversation.

Remember that the greatest thing a writer has to offer is his ability to observe and then to think about his observations and communicate those thoughts. But the first thing you have to do is observe. Don’t just use your journal as a way to put down your thoughts and ideas.

How should you integrate these new techniques into your journal writing?

Don’t change your current habit of journal writing. When you take out your journal write in it the same way you always have. Let your thoughts and ideas flow. But, when you feel that you are done with your journal writing for the day go a little bit further and append one of these techniques to it. Add a paragraph describing something or someone or add a paragraph of created conversation. This will add a little bit of time to your journal writing but it will help you quickly develop some new skills as a writer.

Will Kalif is the author of two self-published epic fantasy novels.
You can download free samples of his work at his personal website:

Storm The Castle - Creativity and Fantasy with an edge

Or you can visit his site devoted to fantasy on the web at:

The Webs Fantasy Guide

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Creative Writing: The Creative Workplace, Part 2

We’ve talked about workplace environments that distract and detract from writing creativity, but what about items you can add to enhance creativity? Here are a few:

A flip chart.
Okay, about now, you think I’m nuts. I’m not. If space permits, place a flip chart near your desk, either on an easel or on the wall. When you have trouble sorting through an aspect of your writing—a plot tangle, an article slant, character motivation, imagery, etc.—get out some bright markers and go to town on your flip chart. Write an outline, draw a mindmap, create movie frames with stick figures, whatever works to get you through that rough spot (but no doodling!).

Brightly colored markers (see above).

No, these magazines are not for reading breaks (and don’t do this if they become a source of distraction…see “The Creative Workplace, Part 1”). Rather, magazines can become a good source of motivation. If you’re stuck on creating or describing the physical features of one of your characters, magazine pictures can inspire a “look” for your character. If you’re looking for a new topic, or a slant on a topic you already have, thumbing through magazine articles may help you find it.

Idea files.
If you don’t already have one of these, I suggest you start one. These files should contain every writing idea you’ve ever had but haven’t used, both for fiction and nonfiction. Categorize them however you want, but use them. This serves two purposes in maintaining a creative workspace. The most obvious is that, if you’re stuck for an idea, you can rummage through these files and find something you haven’t used, or at least of which you haven’t tapped all the possibilities.

Less obvious is the need to set ideas aside during writing. I personally know that some of my best ideas come to me when I’m trying to work on an entirely different piece—call it a form of mental self-sabotage. Rather than starting on that idea “so it doesn’t get away,” write it down and stick it in your file. You’ve preserved your idea, but you’ve also kept yourself from running away on a rabbit trail.

That’s what I have for now. If you have extra techniques or ideas, I’d love for you to share them with me on this blog!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Creative Writing: The Creative Workplace, Part 1

Last time, I talked about clutter in your work space. However, I didn’t talk about another potential source of distraction—decorations and knickknacks.

If knickknacks reach the point of clutter, it’s obvious what you need to do. If you don’t want to rid yourself of your precious possessions, you need to at least move them to another place, preferably a space completely out of your sight.

At the same time, it’s impossible to make too many sweeping statements about the suitability of decorations in your workspace. It’s too individual. For one person, a fish tank in their office might create a relaxing and creativity-inducing atmosphere. For someone else, that same aquarium might provide a constant ballet that keeps them away from their keyboard. I myself have a daily “Bad Cat” calendar that I should remove from my desk. I constantly use it to distract myself. For another person, like my non-cat-loving husband, it wouldn’t even be a blip on the screen of his consciousness.

So, the best advice I can offer is this: take stock of your workplace, not just the clutter, but also the d├ęcor. If you find that one or more items consistently pull you away from your writing, remove them. It’s painful, but you have to do it. Who knows; it could mean the difference between have a great idea…and having a book for sale at Barnes & Noble.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Creative Writing: Cutting Clutter to Enhance Creativity

When you’re a full-time writer, it’s important to create a schedule and a method of time management. However, your setting is also important to your creativity. Your ideal writing space will be free of distractions…and clutter is distracting.

Different people have different levels of sensitivity to clutter. Some are immune to clutter, satisfied to have desks that look like war zones, while others will find themselves stopping to clean up if they see a paper out of place. People also face different clutter challenges. If you’re in an office environment—even, heaven forbid, in a cubicle—the immediate space on and around your desk is all you need to keep clutter-free. If you’re like me, and have a desk in your living room, it’s more of a challenge to develop a de-cluttered zone, because the larger space creates more clutter, and thus more distraction.

If you are prone to clutter-induced distraction, the best thing you can do is to set aside time to de-clutter before (I emphasize before) you sit down to write. Many writers, myself included, like to find tasks that help them avoid the act of writing. If you’re one of those, the temptation can sometimes be too strong to resist. You know how it goes: “I’m stuck on this paragraph. I think I’ll take a break and tidy up.” Three hours later, you’re out pulling weeds in the garden while your manuscript sits unwritten. By taking the time to clean your work area before you sit down to write, you eliminate that potential distraction before it has a chance to issue its siren’s call.

I’ll talk more about this next time. Right now, I have some laundry to fold!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Creative Writing: Your Writing Schedule

As someone who recently started working from home, I've already discovered the distractions inherent in the home office environment. Although I'm working for an employer, not just for myself, I think many of Regina Paul's suggestions are helpful. Let me know what you think.

7 Steps to Creating a Working Writer’s Schedule that You Can Live With
By Regina Paul

Creating a working schedule when you’re a freelance writer can be a difficult task. When you work from home contrary to what many people think it is often not easier but more difficult as there are more distractions. For example, maybe you have children underfoot, or your house is dirty and the temptation to clean first and write later hits you, or friends and family are calling you because after all you can make your own schedule so why don’t you go out to lunch or shopping with them, you can write later, right? Unlike working a regular 9 to 5 job where you have a set schedule for what hours you are expected to be productive, when you work from home this is not the case, the only one you are responsible to is yourself.

So, how do you create a working writer’s schedule and stick to it? There are a number of tricks and tips you can use to help yourself in this respect. After all if you don’t write, you don’t get paid, and if you don’t get paid, neither do the bills.

1. Decide how many hours you want to work each day which will provide enough income to take care of your necessities and leave you with a little extra for fun. Then pick the hours during the day when you are going to write, and stick to that time period.

2. Turn off your phone! I can’t stress this enough, many a writer finds him/herself answering phone calls from relatives or friends who don’t take their career choice of writer seriously, and then find themselves on the phone listening to gossip, requests to go shopping, or the latest emotional crisis with the boyfriend. Avoid this all together by turning off your phone during working hours. Let the voicemail or answering machine take the calls, you can always check them later when you take a break.

3. What if you have kids at home? Well, that can be tricky because kids are important and they have a right to our undivided attention and love. What I usually suggest is having special toys or a TV with DVD/VCR for them to watch videos (have them be videos maybe they don’t get to watch normally so it’s different than other times) or play in your home office or very close by. Make it a special time where they get to do something they really like while you are writing, this helps them to feel included in what you are doing.

4. Tell your friends and relatives what your working schedule is and ask them not to call or come over during those hours unless it’s an emergency (make sure you clarify what an emergency is, otherwise the next emotional crisis with the boyfriend will be used as an excuse). After all it’s not like they would show up at your place of employment unexpectedly if you had a regular job.

5. Create your own contract. Add the hours you are going to work and any other stipulations such as how many pages or articles you are going to write per day for example. Make sure you have a place to sign your name and date it, then print it out and hang it somewhere in your office where you can easily see it. This is your contract with yourself since you are your own employer.

6. Commit to your schedule, this is very important. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by dusty shelves, books that need to be reorganized or dirty dishes. Your writing must come first with the exception of an emergency or your children needing you of course. There are some distractions that you cannot ignore, but as much as possible stick to your schedule.

7. Make a list of daily goals. I make my list the night before based on what I got done during the day. I use a student’s planner which has several lines for each day and a full monthly calendar as well. I write in my goals the day before and then cross them off as I finish them each day. If I don’t finish a goal I move it to the next day until it is completed. This also makes it easier for me to keep track of deadlines for previously contracted work.

All of these tips will help you to create a working writer’s schedule that you can live with. You will see your productivity go up, as well as, your income. It’s worthwhile to create a schedule you can live with because you are more likely to stick to it, than the usual hit or miss method which is what many of us use when we are starting out. The old excuses of “I’m just not inspired right now, so I’ll wait,” or “I have writer’s block, I can’t possibly stick to a schedule now, I’ll create one later” will hold no sway over you because just like in the real world when you have to produce, you will train your brain that you are on a regular schedule and must produce as well.

Regina Paul is a freelance writer, and the author of GETTING OUT ALIVE, a science fiction romance, as well as two novellas and numerous articles. She is currently at work on her next novel, and her first non-fiction book. For more information you can visit her website at where you can sign up for her monthly newsletter Regina's Universe, participate in her latest contest, get free e-books, and find many other writer's freebies.

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