Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Procrastination vs. the Creative Writer: Dealing with Distractions

The Writing Life: Tips for Dealing with Procrastination
By JJ Murphy

I know something's up when I'd rather do laundry than write.

Another more subtle sign of procrastination is when I conduct endless research, but never write a rough draft. I'm in trouble when I'm hunting in the refrigerator after every sentence.

But what can I do about it? Here are a few ideas that have helped me negotiate this rough terrain in my writing life:

1. Define your most productive times. I write best first thing in the morning. Nothing has happened to distract me from my thoughts. This is the best time for me to free write, review materials I wrote several days ago, or proofread. Another good time for me is when I'm hiking or when I take a break after a 45 minute hike to a pleasant sit spot.

2. Assess your writing environment. I write best when there is natural light. At night I need correctly placed light. Shadows or glare are distracting obstacles that contribute to procrastination.

3. Remove distractions. I have a place where I can sit and write regardless of the weather. I like being outside better, but when I need research and support materials, my library and the Internet are important. If music is playing, it has to be something that is not intrusive. TV or videos are deadly. Turn off the TV - even the Weather Channel. The difference is amazing. If you do not have a room, office or a space all your own, dedicate a corner of a room or a quiet place in the library where you do nothing but write.

4. Write everything down. Freewriting, brainstorming, lists, outlines, organic notes (those diagrams with spokes) - whatever floats into your head - write it down. Worry about organizing later. The idea is to fill up the page with words. If you have to start with "I hate this, it's dumb, I can't think of where to begin..." - do that. The more words that turn up on the page, the greater the chance that some of them get to the heart of what you want to say. If your hand cramps, talk into your voicemail or consider purchasing voice recognition software.

5. Take baby steps. I recently set a goal to publish a writing-related article once a week. That would be scary, but I have broken the task down into baby steps. I established a list of topics that I can add to whenever I think of something. If an idea grabs me, then I'll write down what I'm feeling, thinking, learning or any other comment. I may have written about this topic before. Eventually I will have enough notes to begin a freewrite, which often turns into a rough draft. That is often enough to keep my momentum going through the rest of the writing process.

6. Write the easiest parts first. If I am stuck for a beginning, I write a middle. If I have a conclusion or strong opinion, I write that first. Sometimes a little push is enough to set the process back in motion.

7. Reward your small victories. If I have been writing for 15 minutes to an hour, I take a well-deserved break. It soothes my eyes to shift from staring at a screen or notebook to looking out at the horizon. I may just stretch or get a cup of tea or I may use that time to break for a hike or some other treat. Taking breaks helps avoid burn-out, which kills productivity.

8. Be prepared for setbacks. Even with the support provided by these guidelines, setbacks happen. If I focus on being stuck, I stay stuck. Instead I look for ways to move on. I might write about the topic from an opposing point of view, I might write a dialogue between me and the procrastination monster, or I might switch from writing nonfiction to fiction. The important thing is not to substitute washing the kitchen floor for writing.

9. Have a plan. When caught in the grip of procrastination, recognize the symptoms and make a commitment to change the pattern. For me, procrastination typically sets in when my hiking is curtailed by a stretch of bad weather. Walking or any kind of rhythmic movement is part of what I need to do to write. In my part of the world bad weather is a fact of life. I will get stuck indoors. At that point, I have my tips list, an idea file, magnetic poetry and a whole range of ways to get words on a page. I don't need a final product. I just need to get my hands or my voice moving.

10. Accountability. Whether you write or not is entirely in your power. I cannot blame the weather, a sprained finger or anything else for my decision to write or not to write. If I want to provide my clients with work on or before a deadline, I have to write. If I want meaningful content for my readers, I have to write. I enjoy writing, but if it ever becomes a chore or a daily burden, I'll look for something else to do.

JJ Murphy is a freelance writer who helps a variety of companies, small businesses and individuals to express their awareness and dedication to developing sustainable technology and to preserve our natural resources. She provides articles for natural magazines, hiking publications, simple living publications in print and online. She also writes curricula to help public schools home schooling groups, private schools, wilderness camps, adult learning groups, continuing education programs and others stretch and expand their students’ knowledge.

She holds a Master of Arts degree from the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas and a B.A. degree in English and Anthropology from the University of Connecticut. Her client list includes writers, business consultants, motivational speakers, psychologists, financial planners, educators, and politicians.

Visit her website http://www.WriterByNature.com

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Creative, Living Characters for Your Fiction

How To Create Characters Who Leap Off The Page
by Maxine Thompson

Show me your friends, and I'll tell you who you are, a special co-worker once told me. First, let me explain what special means. In Ebonics, we'll say, ''She's a special case.'' Or if someone is not dealing with a full deck, but yet are loveable, we'll say, ''She's special.'' So as you see, this was a ''gem'' spoken out of a ''special'' person's mouth.

Although, at the time, I didn't quite understand what she meant, I now know what she was talking about is called ''character.'' In life, this could be a bad thing, but in fiction this is a good thing. Nothing works better for memorable fiction than strong characters with flaws. To get to the point, how does one create memorable characters? Sol Stein, in his book, Stein On Writing, points out that eccentricity is at the heart of all strong characterizations. In short, the most effective characters in fiction are to some degree bizarre.

Character is an essential part of the best fiction. Think of all the memorable characters in fiction. When you think of the books whose characters resound in your head, you don't think about, well this happened and that happened, (plot), you generally think of who the protagonist was. Words such as ''Scrooge,'' ''Pollyanna,'' and even ''Uncle Tom'' developed in our culture to express a personality, an outlook, a character trait. And in spite of my dislike for the Antebellum South, from my first reading at fifteen, Scarlettt O'Hara and Rhett Butler stenciled a place in my memory as colorful characters. (Who can ever forget Rhett Butler's last sardonic words, ''My dear, I don't give a d--?.''

As an African American, I grew up during the 50's with no role models in my fiction. No archetypes that had any relevancy to my life. But now, I--and readers from all races-- are blessed with a list of memorable Afrocentric characters. Janie ( who left 3 husbands), creator, Zora Neale Hurston. Sula, Milkman. Pilate. Sethe (who cut her baby's throat rather than see her back in slavery). Creator, Toni Morrison. Nana Pouissant (who built bottle trees to protect her family), creator, Julie Dash/ Daughters of the Dust. Likewise, I'm hoping that my fictional characters--Jewel, Big Mama Lily, Nefertiti, Solly, Pharaoh and Reverend--will one day also become household names in the literary corridors of my reader's mind.

Eccentricity has frequently been at the heart of strong characterization for good reason. Ordinariness is what readers have enough of in life. The most effective characters have profound roots in human behavior. Their richest feelings may be similar to those held by many others. However, as characters their eccentricities dominate the readers first view of them. The first time I encountered this is through the character of Pilate, from Song of Solomon. She has no navel, yet has the ability to communicate with her dead father. I am still haunted by her dying

Another reason character is so important in plotting your fiction is that people are different. The same tragic event can happen to two people and have different effects. One person can lose his job and never bounce back, and another will be galvanized by the same event. These are the types of points of departure you can examine in fiction through your characters.

These are the three major techniques I think will make the difference in creating memorable characters who leap off the page.

1) Point of view. Even if the character is eccentric, you should make the reader understand his world view.
2) Specificity in Details. Develop your character's quirks, habits, motivations, and hobbies.
3) Challenges. Fiction that takes risks and challenges our smug assumptions about life.

Don't just write about normal situations. Examine the human hearts and the depths of what people will go when faced with moral dilemmas. What will a mother do when she is broke and hungry and has children to feed?

To distinguish between plot-driven fiction and character-driven fiction is the same distinction you find between popular movies and serious movies. The former categories often satisfies you, but, like Chinese food, can leave you ravenous after a few hours. Character-driven fiction/movies will stick to your ribs like ''soul food.'' It will make you examine the human heart and condition. Most of all, it often disturbs you like the book and movie, Beloved, yet you will find yourself driven to read these same books over and over.

About the Author
Maxine Thompson, Inglewood, CA USA
More Details about http://www.angelfire.com/ca2/blackbutterflypress here. Dr. Maxine E. Thompson is the owner of Black Butterfly Press, Maxine Thompson’s Literary Services, Thompson Literary Agency and www.maxineshow.com. She is the author of eight titles, The Ebony Tree, No Pockets in a Shroud, A Place Called Home, The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sells, How to Publish, Market and Promote your Book Via Ebook Publishing, The Hush Hush Secrets of How To Create a Life You Love, Anthology, SECRET LOVERS, (with novella, Second Chances,) and Summer of Salvation. SECRET LOVERS made the Black Expression's Book Club Bestselling list on 7-8-06 (after a 6-6-06 release date.) Since 3/05/02, she has hosted an on-line radio show on www.voiceamerica.com called "On The Same Page". The show is aired live on Tuesdays at 6:00 a.m. Pacific Time, 6:00 p.m. Pacific Time, and Saturday 1:00 p.m. She is also a host on www.artistfirst.com Monday at 6:00 p.m. PST. On March 1, 2005 she launched her own radio show at www.maxineshow.com. You can sign up for her free newsletter at http://www.maxinethompson.com.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Writing for Your Reader

Never forget that writing is communication. Though Dave Davis' article below is about sales writing, the main point is important for every writer. Whether you're selling a product or selling a plot...focus on your reader.

Write For You - A Reader Focused Writing Primer
by: Dave Davis

You want to write better, more engaging articles and content right? You want to get your message across and you want your call to action….actioned right? I am no writing expert, but I can tell you one thing, the secret to writing better starts with one tiny word….. YOU!

Your readers (And maybe your potential clients/customers) read what you have written for a reason. They read because they want to gain something from it. THEY want to gain something. They are not interested in how YOU are this, that and the other. They want to find out how what you are writing can benefit THEM. People are greedy. Even when they are not trying to be. They are greedy at a subconscious “Brain Sponge” level.

How many times have you read an article or blog and stopped reading half way through? How many times have you thought “God…this person likes to talk about himself”? And don’t you just hate conversation when someone else always talks about themselves? READ ON!


When you are writing, and especially when you are writing to sell something, focus on your reader. They (Usually) don’t care about how great your product is, they only care about how great it will be to them. Use the Words “You” and “Your”. Make your reader feel how much it is going to benefit THEM.

A great testimonial to this fact is a test I ran on a single eBook I used to sell. It was a single page website that sold an eBook on setting up a website. I played around with the copy a lot and the product was great, but it was not selling. I invested in a split testing software and created two different versions of the sales page. One was the normal sales copy and the other was the sales copy focusing on the user. So rather than “With our eBook” I had “With your eBook” etc. The results were surprising. By minimizing the use of “I” “We” and “Our” and increased the use of “You” and “Your”, the sales of the book increased by 60%. That’s a lot!


Asking your readers questions is also a great way to engage them. Make them think. Make them ask the questions YOU WANT THEM TO ASK! Questions that YOU have an answer for. Have a specific call to action and lead them down the path.

I have used this technique on many sites in my network from the beginning and have seen great results. I am sure you will too.

***It should be worth noting that I (tried) to keep you engaged in this article by using the word you/your 30 times (Including this sentence) and asked 5 questions. Seems like a lot now but it worked, didn’t it?

About The Author

David Davis, is the lead developer and project manager of RedflyStudios LTD. Web Development Ireland. For more information visit http://www.redflystudios.com.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

How NOT to Sell Your Writing

No matter your level of experience, selling your writing can be the most difficult part of being a writer. That's especially true if you're a novice in the freelance marketplace. Louise Dop has some good insights on how NOT to sell your writing. (Hint: Reverse this advice, and you can actually sell your writing...)

How Not To Sell Your Writing - Common Mistakes For Freelance Writers
By Louise Dop

It doesn’t matter how brilliant your writing is, you won’t sell it if you don’t act in a professional and businesslike manner. If you are a freelance writer trying to get your work placed in a magazine or e-zine, the editor holds the key to your success. Bombarded with queries and manuscripts, they are likely to put your work straight in the bin if you don’t stick to their strict code of conduct. If you want to see all that hard work rejected, try some of the following:

Don’t bother to find out the name of the contact who reads submissions. Just address it to ‘the editor’ and hope for the best.

A glance at the publication in question or a quick call to their office should give you the information you need to address your query correctly.

Submit your work on scruffy, crumpled paper, folded many times and stapled together.

While it’s not necessary to spend a fortune on best quality writing paper, it should at least look fresh and well presented. Use the biggest envelope possible to minimize folding and never use staples – editors hate them! If you have a large number of pages, fasten them with a paper clip or put them in a plastic folder before placing into the envelope.

Use brightly colored stationery covered in cute pictures or witty comments. For good measure, enclose free gifts and stickers.

Anything other than business stationery will mark you out as an amateur and guarantee that you won’t be taken seriously. Having said that, as long as the envelope is the right size, clearly addressed and has been stamped with sufficient postage, it is acceptable to reuse old envelopes. Chances are, the editor won’t actually get to see them as they are often opened by a junior member of staff.

Send off your completed manuscript without bothering to read the submission guidelines.

Most editors have very strict guidelines for submissions. If they include the words ‘no unsolicited mss’, do not send your completed manuscript or it will go straight in the trash can - unread. Send a query letter instead. If the publication does accept full manuscripts or if the editor asks to see yours, it should be typed using double-spacing. If email submissions are accepted, you don’t need to worry about double–spacing.

Ring or write to the editor after a few days to see if they like your work.

The speed with which your query is answered can vary but it is perfectly normal to wait weeks or even months for a reply. If you haven’t heard anything after about 3 months it is acceptable to make a polite enquiry about your submission.

Argue or complain if your work is rejected.

If you are rude to an editor they will never consider your work again. Accept the rejection graciously and try to learn from the experience. If you are asked to modify the piece in some way, do it if you want to get published.

Submit your work late.

If you have been lucky enough to land a commission, make sure you keep to the deadline set by your editor. Discuss this at the beginning of the project so that a realistic timescale can be agreed. If you suspect that you are going to have difficulty completing on time, let the editor know straight away.

Sell the same piece of work to lots of different places at once.

Nothing will make an editor more furious than paying for a piece of writing only to read it in a competing publication a few days later. Some magazines and websites are prepared to buy reprints but you must be honest and present them as such. Editors will usually want to know where and when the piece first appeared.

Louise Dop is a successful freelance writer and technical author. Her ebook, The Writer's Secret Weapon, brings together a collection of the best free online resources for writers and gives an insight into the writing life. With over 50 direct links to resources, this straightforward guide will show you the real-life tips and tricks that – armed with an Internet connection and basic computer literacy – you can try for yourself right away. www.clearlywrite.co.uk

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Developing Creative Characters

Creative Fiction Writing Workshop: Character Development
by: Kat Jaske

Would you recognize your characters if you ran into them on the street?

Answering a resounding “yes” to this question indicates you have been able to develop solid, plausible characters in your fiction stories.

Make your characters come alive, whether in good or bad ways. Let them talk. This means using dialogue. However, you need to also provide vivid descriptions of the characters’ mannerisms or facial expressions or body expressions. Your readers must be able to create a visual picture of your characters, as well as hear what they are saying.

Pay particular attention to how your characters interact with other people in the story. How they behave toward others reveals much about their character. Are they kind? Abrupt? Intelligent? Funny? Weird? Concerned? Evil? Strong? Controlling? You need to convey these traits to a reader in a way that will inspire your reader to love, hate, admire, or feel SOMETHING about the people you have created.


“And she hates you.”
“With a passion and what a passion.”
“And what have you done to earn such ire from such a young woman?” Tonie seemed mildly amused by the man.

“I tried to force her to marry me. I shot one of her oldest and dearest friends down in cold blood and killed him.” He didn’t even pause for breath as he listed his catalog of worthy accomplishments. “I betrayed my own brother. And I shot her lover in front of her eyes. A pity Frederick William wouldn’t give up on the man or he would have died. As it was it took him months to recover. I guess you could say the woman has a personal vendetta against me. Will there be anything else, madame?” he concluded with a practiced politeness.

“Not at the moment.” Tonie left the room, Konrad on her heels. She stopped long enough to pull Greg aside and give him instructions in regard to the pursuit of one Laurel d’Anlass. “Ever try betraying me, and I’ll kill the woman myself, Konrad.”

“I would expect nothing less. But, my lady Tonie, I highly recommend you do not seek to threaten me.”

“Take it as a threat if you will, Konrad. But you have shown your weakness, my dear.” Tonie’s barbed words struck with more force than even she realized. “In that warped heart of yours you love Laurel and could never kill her without dying yourself. So don’t push me unless you want me to take all control out of your hands and make you lose any possibility of ever possessing that beautiful, young woman.”

In the above scene from the coming book, Righting Time by Kat Jaske, even though you have not read the book, you can discern much about the characters. Note that Konrad is speaking rapidly and doesn’t even pause for breath as he rattles off his list of worthy accomplishments. He is polite, but it is not real. He has a “practiced” politeness. These behaviors help the reader to instinctively dislike the man. Readers quickly realize that Tonie is a killer since she is amused by evil deeds and so easily states she will kill Laurel herself.

Who is in control here? Tonie or Konrad? Near the end you see that Tonie controls this scene, but Konrad pushes back when she threatens him. These two people are fighting to establish who is really in control.

Note also the double use of the word “passion.” Although one would not normally use the same word twice so close in the same sentence, this is much more powerful and descriptive than saying, “With a great passion.” Kat Jaske http://www.forhonor.com.

About The Author

Kat Jaske is an English and French teacher and fiction author in Las Vegas, where her high school selected For Honor as the featured book for the 2006 Reading Incentive Program in the school. See samples of her great writing and all her articles at http://www.forhonor.com. ©2006 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Looking for Creative Writing Success? Show Up!

Freelance Writing Success By Showing Up
By Angela Booth

Woody Allen summarizes the best-ever advice for writing, and for living, with his famous quote: "Eighty percent of success is showing up." In your freelance writing career, you show up by writing every day, as well as by contacting writing markets and by offering your work for sale.

If you've been procrastinating about writing, or are avoiding marketing your work, try my two-pronged "show up" technique, and you will be amazed at the results. I teach this technique to my writing students. It works. Students who are unpublished, brand-new writers have often sold their first piece of writing within a couple of weeks once they start showing up.

Show up by writing, every day

Showing up by writing is vital for any freelance writer. If you're a novelist, you'll need to write 100,000 words for an average novel, so 500 words a day of writing which is in its final form is the bare minimum you need to write each day. If you're writing nonfiction articles, 500 words a day is also the minimum - you can't build a profitable career on fewer words.

If you're a new writer, you'll need to build your writing muscles before you can write a couple of thousand words a day. What's vital is that you write every day, to build those writing muscles.

Some writers find it restrictive to focus on daily word counts, and if this is you, opt for an hour of writing each day instead. This doesn't have to be a block of a single hour. You can write for 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes at lunch time, and 20 minutes in the evening, as long as you show up by writing every day.

Show up in the writing marketplace

Freelance writers sell their words, so this means that your words need to be out in the marketplace. Your primary "showing up" tools in the writing marketplace are your portfolio, and your bio.

Your portfolio contains examples of your work. If you're a new writer, you won't have any examples of work you've sold. There's an easy way around this: craft some writing samples of the kinds of writing that you want to sell - magazine articles, advertising, several chapters of a book, or a Web site.

Your bio is also a vital sales tool. It introduces you to people who can buy your work. Many new writers, and also some experienced ones, have a lot of trouble with crafting a bio. Here's an easy way to write your first bio: think: Who, What, How, When, Where and Why. When you use the "5Ws + an H" system, it gives you a handle on the process.

Let's see how this works in practice when you're writing a bio. "Who: Linda H. Writer; What: writes fiction and nonfiction; How: full-time writer; When: for five years; Where: business and technology magazines; Why: marketing degree, enjoys writing, developed full-time career."

Using this bare-bones outline, you can quickly write bios of various lengths: 25 words, 50 words, 100 words, and 250 words. Your 50-word bio is the one that you'll use most often. You'll send it out with every query that you write. Use the 25-word version as your email signature file.

Once your portfolio and bio are ready, you can show up for markets in minutes, as soon as you spot a possible new market for your work.

For example, you might be browsing the Web, when you spot a new magazine that's debuting in a few months. Just shoot off a quick note to the editor introducing yourself with your bio with a link to your online portfolio, and ask what opportunities there are for freelancers with the magazine. Or, you may be sitting in the dentist's waiting room, and you spot a new magazine. Shoot off an email enquiry to the editor as soon as you get home, even before the Novocain wears off.

So there you have it: how to show up for your freelance writing career. Try it. Just show up: you'll succeed when you do.

Angela Booth is a veteran freelance writer and copywriter. She also teaches writing. Visit her blogs - Angela Booth's Writing Blog at http://copywriter.typepad.com/ and Fab Freelance Writing at http://fabfreelancewriting.com/blog/ for daily writing inspiration and motivation. Subscribe to the Fab Freelance Writing Ezine at http://fabfreelancewriting.com/ezine/fab-freelance-writing-ezine.html to receive "Write And Sell Your Writing: The Power-Write Report" free. It's 21 pages packed with information to help you to develop a six-figure writing career.

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