Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Trust the Writing Process

I was working with a client recently. We were reviewing a short story she was writing, and she kept asking me if I liked it and what I thought the characters should do next.

I explained to her that she was only just beginning her rough draft, and that she had to learn about her characters first. She was still in the discovery phase of her story.

She understands the concept of multiple drafts. It's just that she is trying some new things and isn't as confident as she'd like to be.

This is a common thing. There's a lot of writing advice out there. A good bit of it is based on solid principles, but writing is not a one-size-fits-all game, and what works this time may not be a good idea the next.

There are lots of techniques to get through the drafting process: Plotting, pantsing, time versus word count, and many others. Ultimately, a lot of the issues we face when writing come down to fear.

I've written about this a lot.

In the case of my client, I advised her to just get the first draft done. Write it with the idea that she doesn't have all the answers, and that the characters she started with may not be the ones that she ends up with. At this point, the story may not be very good, either.

And that's OK.

Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. 
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

The important thing is to set aside the fear. Tell the internal critic to stuff it. Get writing.


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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

5 Questions to Get You Started on Your Writing Path

I've worked with a lot of writers, both as an editor and as a teacher. One of the biggest issues I see is the feeling of overwhelm a writer feels when looking at a new project.

Regardless of the type of writing: fiction, nonfiction, a business report, school assignment, or anything else, it's easy to get lost, end up with a muddled mess, and feel frustrated.

Fortunately, with a little pre-planning, you can focus your topic, making the writing process much less intimidating. Before you get started on your next piece of writing, consider the following:


  1. What: What are you writing? What do you want your reader to think about?
  2.  Who: Who is your audience?
  3. Why: Why are you writing this? Why would someone want to read this?
  4. Where: Where am I submitting/publishing this?
  5. How: How am I making time to write this?

Of course, there are other questions you can consider, and not every one will apply to every project, but it's a good place to start.

I've developed a worksheet on 5 Questions to Get you Started on Your Writing Path. It's available free when you sign up for my mailing list.

Do you have other questions that you use to get writing? Share them in the comments.


Looking for daily writing prompts? Want the latest news on +TwoSentence Horrors+N. M. Scuri, and +byron rempel? Sign up for your weekly newsletter here or subscribe to N. M. Scuri's newsletter for all things writing and editing, including upcoming live workshops and editing consultations here.
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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Six Strategies to Keep Fear From Stopping You

Photo credit:JEShoots/Pixabay 
We've been talking about fear and how it can keep us from our writing goals. If you missed the first two posts, you can find them here and here.

Of course, recognising the problem is half the battle, but it's helpful to have a few go-to strategies when you find yourself getting stuck.

The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.
― Stephen King



  • See Your Fear for What it Is. As they say, feelings are not facts. In general, we tend to create very realistic worst-case scenarios in our minds, and we respond to them as if they were actual events. It can be difficult at first, but work on accepting the idea that your concerns may not be a big deal, even if they happen at all.
  • Get Started. There is a lot of power in just starting the task. As we've already seen, "getting ready to get ready" is a great way to keep busy while not writing. Pick up the pen. Open up the Word doc, and put down a sentence or three. See what happens.
  • Keep Moving. There is a also great deal of power in momentum. You are more likely to keep up any type of practice if you maintain it regularly. A friend of mine committed to a thousand days of cardio. He found a way to keep his streak going despite a demanding schedule because in his words he'd "gotten too far along to break the streak."
  • Be Willing to Let Go. Let go of the idea that it has to be perfect. Let go of the idea that the book, blog post, song, whatever, will make you rich or famous or loved or accepted. It might, but not necessarily because you wanted it to.
  • Stay Open. Ultimately, you decide if you succeed or fail. Why not set yourself up to win? Instead of letting outsiders choose your emotions, why not set up your own rules? Consider using measures of process instead of results. For example, instead of telling yourself "I'll be a writer when I get my book accepted by a major publisher," try "I'm a writer when I write. I'll keep at it until I get my story out to people who want to read it." Which rule would you rather live by?  
  •  Support others. Consider this story:
    I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realize that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
    On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”
    And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.” And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for. – Neil Gaiman

Fear is common. Your actions and results don’t have to be.


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Thursday, March 15, 2018

How Is Fear Showing Up When You Write?

Photo credit:JEShoots/Pixabay 
Fear can keep almost anyone from reaching his or her writing goals, even if the writer has "made it," and should be past these problems.

Unfortunately, fear is an equal opportunity offender. What is not universal is how it shows up.


  1.  You Never Get Started. Everyone's heard this before: "When the kids get older, I'll start that book..." Another one is "When I retire, I'll get that MFA degree..." There's always something that needs to be done first. While we still have to take care of children and attend to jobs that keep a roof overhead, there comes a point where we have to decide that we do have the tools to get started. We will always have more to learn, but it's ok if it's on-the-job training. Putting off writing, or any pursuit, comes from a place of not being good enough. The truth is, there will always be more classes to take, or books to read. We just have to decide to start, knowing that we won't be experts, but we won't stay beginners if we start.
  2. You Start, But Then You Stop. I get it. Life happens. There's illness, family demands, major events in our lives and any of them can disrupt our daily routines, including our writing. Sometimes, the issue comes from the work itself. Sometimes the story demands research we didn't plan on. Sometimes our notes and pre-plotting don't work as we'd hope. Sometimes, everything comes to a screeching halt. You decide to take a break, and that afternoon turns into a week. A month. Years. Sometimes, we call this "Writer's Block," and while there are many theories as to why this can happen, a common root is a lack of confidence in ourselves as storytellers: "Can I do this? Am I good enough?"
  3. You Start, And You Never Finish. On the surface, everything looks great: thousands of words are written every day, the pages piling up. The problem only arises when it comes time for anyone else to see the work. "Oh, it's not ready," you'll hear. It needs revision, some more research "to clean up a few details," but it's never ready. Oftentimes, this delaying tactic comes from a fear of rejection. If we keep working, we can't be told we're not good writers. If it never goes out, we can't be failures.

The imperfect book that gets published is better than the perfect book that never leaves my computer.― BrenĂ© Brown

The important thing to remember is that each of these ways comes wrapped up in the conventional wisdom of writing: Make sure you're prepared, Take breaks as needed, Make sure to revise and review. I'm not recommending that you jump in, throw whatever onto the page and get it out there regardless, but if you're not happy with writing practice, these could be some places to look for what is holding you back.

We'll be talking more about things like writer's block, as well as things you can do to move past fear. In the meantime, what's holding you back?
Looking for daily writing prompts? Want the latest news on +TwoSentence Horrors+N. M. Scuri, and +byron rempel? Sign up for your weekly newsletter here or subscribe to N. M. Scuri's newsletter for all things writing and editing, including upcoming live workshops and editing consultations here.
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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Fear, Writing, and Breaking Through: Jordan Peele and Get Out


Jordan Peele Source BBC/Reuters
In a previous post, I talked a little bit about how fear can stop you from pursuing your writing goals. Since then, Jordan Peele, originally known for his work in sketch comedy, won the Oscar for best original screenplay for his movie Get Out.

Winning this award is of course historically important. Among other things, it is the first time the award has gone to an African-American. It is also the first time Peele had directed any movie, much less a movie he himself had written.

Peele states that he stopped writing the script several times:

I stopped writing this movie about 20 times... I thought it was impossible. I thought it wasn't going to work. - Jordan Peele
He kept going. He worked though his resistance with the material, frustrations with getting the movie made, and a hundred other blocks, both internal and external, to complete the script and shoot the film. Now, there are lots of stories out there that never get the audience they deserve. However, an important take-away from the story of the making of Get Out is no matter how improbable it all seems, follow through and finish your story. You never know where that light you bring into the world will shine.

An award like this is much bigger than me," he said. "This is about paying it forward to the young people who might not believe they can achieve the highest honour in whatever craft they want to push for. - Jordan Peele

 
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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Is Fear Keeping you From Your Writing Goals?

Photo Credit: JEShoots/Pixabay

People will come up to me with questions on writing and publishing. When I ask them about their projects, they'll give me a wistful look and say that "someday" they'll get that book started, or finished, or sent out for publication.

There are a lot of reasons why: Day jobs, family, other responsibilities can all take what little personal time we have, leaving nothing for our own pursuits, including writing. I would argue, however, that if we were honest, the real issue that feeds most of our excuses is fear. The truth is that we have to fight for our time in a world that would take every second from us. If we won't set boundaries that allow us to have quiet time to create, why should anyone else?

This goes for established writers as well as for those just starting out. Consider J. K. Rowling's famous quote:

“Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it.”—J. K. Rowling

The quick reaction is to say "Well it's easy for her. She wrote Harry Potter."  The important thing to remember is that once upon a time, she was an unknown who was just starting out, too. She had to wrestle with feelings of fear to stand up and follow through.

It doesn't get always get better after the first few publications, either. Fear can be the nagging voice that tells us that we've fooled people into thinking we could write, that we aren't "real artists."

“The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something and that any moment now they will discover you. It's Impostor Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.”—Neil Gaiman

This can continue even after critical acclaim and several publications:

“I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”—Maya Angelou

So if that deep-down nagging feeling is keeping you away from telling your story, not only are you not alone, you're in with some excellent company. I'll be discussing the sources of our blockages and what we can do about them, but in the meantime, what are your fears? What are they keeping you from?

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Daily Writing Prompt



Today's writing prompt: Write a story about a character's first date.
Want the latest news on +TwoSentence Horrors+N. M. Scuri, and +byron rempel? Sign up for your weekly newsletter here or subscribe to N. M. Scuri's newsletter for all things writing and editing, including upcoming live workshops and editing consultations here. Rather watch? Check out the Learning to Write YouTube channel here.
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