Listen

Do you love writing? Do you love stories and storytelling and find pleasure in doing the work, writing your stories, creating your characters?  Sometimes I let it become nothing but work, just another thing on my to-do list. I forget sometimes to reconnect with the pure pleasure and fun of making things up.

This fabulous episode of the even more wonderful Magic Lessons podcast from Elizabeth Gilbert is about the fun of making things just to be doing it.  It's a great reminder and listening to these wonderful women talking about creating for no one but yourself is a beautiful thing.

Listen, then go make something. And have fun!

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Sharp 09

Back in June I wrote a post on reasons to do writing practice.  The first reason I mentioned was that writing practice sharpens your writing skills.

I gave some general ideas of how writing practice sharpens your skills.  Here are some more specific ideas on how to use your writing practice to hone your craft.

Before we dive in, let me say that I think sometimes you should just write. Start with a prompt or just start with a blank page and write for your 10 or 15 minutes or for your three pages or whatever marker you've chosen. Write to get words out.  Write to find out what you're thinking about.  Don't make every session about improving your craft or practicing specific things.  Let some sessions be only about letting words flow.

Now, for those times when you do want to focus more on craft, here are some ways to do it.

Sharpen Your Writing Skills:

  1. Use writing exercises from books and websites. Set up a file of exercises to use when you want to practice craft so you don't have to do a lot of searching to find something to write about.  You might want to create categories for your exercises: description, setting, action scenes, dialogue, character work, and anything you might need that's specific to your own story or your genre.
  2. Use a story generator prompt.  See my post about prompts or search for story prompts (a story prompt will give you a whole story premise rather than just an interested object or idea to write from as some writing prompts do).  Try to come up with a complete story from the prompt. (These kinds of prompts are great for writing flash fiction.)
  3. Write about your main character doing ordinary things--getting ready for work in the morning, having dinner home alone, having dinner out, getting ready for a date, preparing for a job interview, etc. Writing about these ordinary things will give you good writing practice and also help you learn more about your characters.  Then do some of these for your antagonist and other characters.
  4. Write about your main character's home, their favorite outfit or piece of clothing, their car, their desk, their bathroom.  Again, do this for other characters, too. This will give you description practice and, as with the above prompt, will help you learn more about your characters.
  5. Write about your own memories.  What did the kitchen smell like at Thanksgiving? What did your grandma's attic smell, look, sound like?  Keep a list of memories you can write so you can turn to them when you want to do this work.  Also search for memoir prompts to help you find what to write about.  Writing this will help you hone your descriptions, and it's enjoyable to visit your own past.
  6. Try out some poetry prompts.  Writing poetry, even partial poems, is great for developing your descriptive writing and for learning to use metaphors and other rich forms of language.

Writing to develop your craft isn't too much different from doing general writing practice.  It's really sitting down to write with the intent of practicing a particular aspect of writing much like sometimes a golfer goes out to play a practice game and sometimes he goes out to work on his putting.

Use these ideas to mix up what you work on in your writing practice sessions.  It will enhance your work and keep you from falling into a rut.  But mostly, keep writing.

 

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2

Willamette Writers Conference Wall of Advice
Wall of Writing Advice

This past weekend I was at the Willamette Writers Conference here in Portland, Oregon (an amazing conference with great teachers and programs--I highly recommend it).

On Sunday I had the pleasure of presenting some programming about NaNoWriMo.  For one of the activities, the attendees wrote down their best writing advice on sticky notes so we could create the Wall of Advice you see above.  I promised to write up a post so everyone could see what was written, so here it is.

The advice:

  • First read, then write. Write every day.
  • The difference between your book and the last book you read that you hated is that they sat down and finished theirs.
  • Don't over-outline. Let your characters develop themselves. ~Stephen King
  • It is pen and paper not a monster howling outside your door splintering the wood as it crashes through to slice you to shreds with fearsome claws.
  • The importance of concepting. Being able to describe your work in a simple phrase so others get it.
  • Trust your voice--and follow it.
  • Allow yourself to write for just 2 minutes and stop if you want. Often, you will want to keep going.
  • When someone tells you writing is a waste of your time, ignore them. They don't know what they're talking about.
  • First, do a good, big vomit. Edit later.
  • Just get it on paper. You can fix it later.

So much great advice, isn't it?  That second one about finishing really hit home for me.

What's your favorite or best piece of writing advice? Leave a note in the comments so we can all gather some wisdom to rev up our writing lives.

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Listen

Technically, since this is a YouTube video, I guess I should say "Watch this."  But you get the idea.

This is Eric Witchey doing a short video on writing practice: Eric Witchey, Five Minutes on Writing.   It's genius.  If you follow this advice and no other you will improve your writing.  You'll be a better writer, a more regular writer.  This is great stuff.

And if you ever get a chance to go to one of his conference presentations/classes or take a workshop with him, do yourself a favor and do it.  He's not just a prolific writer, he spends time analyzing why things work in writing, and he's very good at explaining it to others.

Go watch the video.  Then go write!

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Prompting

Sometimes the writing flows.  Sometimes it needs a kickstart.  For that, I love writing prompts.  I have folders and files of them all over my computer, and I never get tired of finding more.  They're a great way to get your daily writing practice going when you can't quite figure out what to write.

Here are ten of my favorites (plus two bonuses) in no particular order:

  1. Dragon Writing Prompts.  It seems to have stopped updating, but there are loads of good prompts over there.
  2. The One-Minute Writer.  Prompts on a time limit (although you can always take them off the site and write more if things are getting good).
  3. Creative Writing Prompts.  A strange looking page full of numbers, but there are good prompts hiding in there. Hover over each number to see the prompt.
  4. Awesome Writing Prompts. AKA Prompts that Don't Suck.  A whole Tumblr full of fun and quirky prompts to play with.
  5. Writer's Digest Prompts.  Great story starting prompts here. Make sure to check the older posts because they've been doing this for years, so there's a lot to see.
  6. Language is a Virus. This is a prompt generator. When you land on the page, there's a prompt showing.  If you don't like it, you can click the red button and get something new. But don't cheat and keep clicking! Only give yourself one or two do-overs before you start to write.
  7. Toasted Cheese. This is one of my favorite sites. They have a variety of writing prompts and a weekly writing chat.  Plus, I love the sandwich they're named after.
  8. StoryWonk Story Generator.  StoryWonk is my favorite writing site (so many awesome podcasts!). And this generator is fantastic with its crazy mishmash of characters and settings and events. It's great fun!  And if you're interested in trying new processes in your writing life, check out the StoryWonk Frog Box.  It's all about things to try (writing in a closet, for example) to shake the dust off your writing life.
  9. DIY MFA Writer Igniter. This is another fun story generator to play with, and it gives you a photo for the setting to really help get your writing started.
  10. The Writer prompts.  Pages of scenarios to get your stories started.

And those bonuses I mentioned:

These are very short daily prompts that are sent to your email, and they are some of the best prompts I've seen:  Sarah Selecky Daily Prompts

This is a website that gives you a daily prompt and a place to do your writing practice (you can have them emailed to you, too, to make it really easy to get going): Daily Page

This should be plenty to get you writing and keep you going.  Grab a prompt and go write something!

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2

ListenI struggle with middles in my longer writing projects.  I'm always excited about the beginnings (isn't everyone?).  And at least some of the time I'll have some good stuff queued up for the ending, so I know how that's going to look. But the middles catch me and drag me down.  I have stopped writing in the middle of a few too many wannabe novels.

This podcast from Writing Excuses addresses middles and has some great advice.  I especially like the conversation about try/fail cycles and also predictability.

Writing Excuses 10.27: Why Can't I Just Jump to the Ending?

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3

Your Way

Since shifting to focusing on writers and writing, I've been taking things pretty slow around here.  I'm still getting a feel for how my love of writing and love/obsession with story structure and writing methods and all the nuts-and-bolts stuff will come together to make things better for myself and other writers.

To help with that, I've jumped in on ProBlogger's 31 Days to a Better Blog.  I've signed up before but didn't do much, but this time it's being done as a podcast, so I'm listening in the car.  So much easier to keep up with it this way!  I tell everyone else but forget for myself: Make it easy.  This will make it easy for me to gather my thoughts and share them here more regularly.

But back to the topic.  What is this thing, or what do I do around this place?

Your story, your way.  Your writing life, your way.  That's what MuseCraft is all about.  I'm here to guide writers to create their perfect writing lives and write their stories their way.  There is no one true way.  There's only your way.

That's what I'm here for.  So what can I do to help you and your writing dreams?

 

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2

Writing Practice Reasons 2

I think writing practice* is the most important thing you can do for your writing life. Of course you need to work on your stories or articles, but you need to give attention to writing for the sake of writing, too.  Just as an athlete or musician or dancer must practice regularly to keep themselves in top form and do their absolute best when it's time to perform, a writer must practice their craft so when they sit down to the page they can tell the story that is in their hearts.

So what exactly do you get from regular writing practice?  All of this and then some:

Sharpen your writing skills

Writing practice, even the most free form, stream-of-consciousness style, gives you a chance to play with words and sentences, practice descriptions, toy with dialogue. It lets you build better writing skills without the pressure of trying to become a better writer while also trying to write a story.

Learn to write on demand

Sitting down to write regularly, especially if you set a goal to write for a certain amount of time or number of words or pages each session, trains you to start writing when you sit down at the page.  Sitting down with your notebook or at the keyboard becomes all the trigger you need to let the words start flowing.

Discover your true thoughts

Writing practice lets you examine your own thoughts and opinions on whatever subject you choose to write about.  There is no influence from others besides what you bring with you to the table from your own experiences, reading, etc.  There is no need to worry about what readers will think about what you have to say because writing practice is your own personal writing and not meant for readers.  Writing practice gives you a chance to dive deep into topics and then use what you've written as a springboard for further exploration so you can get down deep into your own thoughts.

Quiet your mind

Writing practice is meditation.  It lets you clear your mind, quiet your thoughts, focus on just your hand and the pen and the page (or the keyboard and screen). The more you practice, the more you will find that a good, solid, regular writing practice is just as beneficial to your state of mind as sitting in meditation or practicing yoga.

Build a body of work

In writing practice, you write.  You write a lot (you'll be surprised how many words pour out even in a 10 minute session).  Most of it will not be useful--it will be a lot about worrying about money and your health and your dog and your job.  It will be a lot about the world around you.  But it will also be true thoughts from deep inside you, snippets of dialogue, descriptions of what's outside your window.  And all of these are things that can be used for further writing practice and also in stories and poems.  The more you write for writing practice, the more you have to draw on for later projects.

Banish writer's block

When you get in the habit of writing anything that comes to mind when you sit down in your writing spot, the habit starts breaking down any writer's block you may experience.  When you become used to keeping your hand or fingers moving, keeping the words pouring out no matter what else is going on, this carries over to your other writing.  If you become accustomed to starting to write as soon as you show up at the page, you will also start to write immediately when you show up for your story.  Giving yourself permission to write fast with no worries for content loosens you up to write whenever you need to.

I hope I've convinced you to start a regular writing practice aside from your stories, poetry, and so on.  It's really worth your time.  Give it a shot.  Try it out for a couple of weeks or, even better, a whole month.  Then stop back here and let me know how it's going.

*Writing practice is writing for its own sake.  It is letting your thoughts spill onto the page free form either by writing whatever comes into your head or by using prompts to get you started.  It can also be targeted writing practice where you do exercises to build your description skills, dialogue skills, etc.

 

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ListenYou may have heard about the book deal that John Scalzi signed with Tor a bit over a week ago.

You may also have seen some of the uproar.  Most of what I've seen on the internet has been really positive, congratulating Mr. Scalzi and wishing him well.  But there have been people saying he's selling out, people who seem to think that somehow his getting a great deal is going to take something away from other authors.  This is completely untrue and ridiculous.

Alastair Stephens of Story Wonk talked about this in one of his The Journeyman Writer podcasts last week, and I think what he has to say is important for all writers.  So have a listen.  Don't worry about what other writers are earning because it won't impact you at all, honest, and get back to your story.

The Journeyman Writer 53: A Big Deal

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6

In any writing project, or in writing life in general, we're going to hit slumps.  We'll be writing merrily along when suddenly we are flies caught in amber.  We feel stuck, sluggish, like we don't know what to do or where to go next.  We're tired, our brains are mush, we feel overwhelmed.  When that happens, stop writing!

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Sometimes when you hit those sticky spots it means you need a break (a break, not quitting, so decide when you'll go back to work).  Check in with yourself and see if that's what you need.  If so, go take a nap, take a walk, bake a cake.  Step away.

Sometimes it's not about needing a break, though.  Sometimes we hit these spots because we've been all about the output and not enough about the intake.  If that's what's going on with you, there are some writerly things you can do to get unstuck.

When we're in the middle of writing, especially if we're under a tight deadline or pushing toward some hefty goals, we forget that we still need to fill the well, feed our creativity, keep the fun in our writing.  We start to become all about the word count and forget everything else until we find ourselves stuck.

So what do you do?  First, stop writing.  We've covered that one.  Next, do writing-adjacent things, things that will keep you involved in your story or keep you connected to writing and storytelling in general.  This is my list of writing-related activities.  You may think of more to add that work even better for you, but this is a starting point in getting unstuck.  Pick one or two, or try them all.

Writing-adjacent activities:

  • Immerse yourself in narrative (thanks to Lani Diane Rich of Story Wonk for this phrase)--watch movies and TV shows, read books, listen to audio books.  Watch or read things in your own genre and in others.  Something with great characters is best, because all of these things teach us about storytelling even when we aren't actively trying to learn, so we want to pick good quality teachers
  • Plan your book cover
  • Write your back-cover copy
  • Write lists of events, dialogue snippets, descriptions, and any other things that you might want to put in your story
  • Make a Pinterest board or a collage for your characters, your setting, anything about your story
  • Create some mindmaps
  • Read inspirational books on writing (I love Natalie Goldberg, Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King for this)
  • Chat with some writer friends and find out what they do when they're stuck

Most of all, give yourself the time you need to really feel like you are ready to get back to your story.  If you need to, adjust your goals.  Take the time you need to reconnect to your story and get interested in it again.  You'll be a happier writer, and your story will be better because you're enthused about it.

Happy writing!

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