What is cathartic writing?

What does cathartic writing mean to you?

Cathartic writing to me means to cleanse or purge, to pour your heart and soul out onto paper as a form of healing. I draw on past hurts and experiences to create more emotive and powerful writing. I am not saying that everything I write about has happened to me. However, perhaps it has happened to a family member or friend, or I have read a story somewhere that resonates with me. You can put yourself into their shoes, use that powerful imagination we all possess to engage your reader and open their eyes to these experiences. Your readers want to be engaged, they want you to draw them into your story and form connections. The most effective and powerful way to do this is to tap into your readers feelings, empathy and experiences. The more emotion and vulnerable your writing is, the more you can create a relatable story for your readers.

We, as humans, have a powerful defense mechanism to protect ourselves from ridicule and criticism by over thinking our writing. We want it to be perfect and correct, but in so doing we can strip it of all emotion and feeling. However, your audience doesn’t want this. Your reader wants to see your vulnerability, they want raw emotion that resonates deep within them. By embracing the human imperfections of strong emotions and situations, you create the best stories. I promise if you write using raw, hard emotions it will shake your reader up and engage them so they want to keep reading and will remember your story long after they put it down.

What about you?

Enough about your readers, what about you? Why do you write? Is it simply to make money? Or because you love writing? Do you find it calming? Do you find it cathartic? Are you planning on publishing, or is it for your own personal benefit?

Do you keep a journal?

Do you keep a journal? I write in one, although not as often as I should. Journaling is a form of cathartic writing. You take the jumbled mass of emotions, thoughts and ideas in your head and purge them out in a tidal wave of writing. Not only does this help to clear your mind, it releases all those pent-up feelings. I love reading back through my journal and seeing what I have written. I find I can draw inspiration from certain events to put into my writing projects.

You never have to show your journal to anyone, it is for you and you alone. It can be as dark and negative, or as light and happy as you are feeling. It is a powerful tool to cleanse your heart and soul. You will find that you will write things in there you may never say aloud, but feel better for getting out. This to me is true cathartic writing.

Whatever cathartic writing means to you, tapping into the strong emotions behind it is what helps you create powerful and great writing. Whether or not you ever show it to anyone is up to you. But I can guarantee that the whole process can be healing and freeing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writers Block: Myth or Real?

Do you suffer from writer’s block? I used to think I did too. One day, when I had wasted my time producing nothing of value yet again, I had a brutally honest conversation with myself. I asked myself, do you want to be a writer? Yes. Then what is stopping you from simply writing? Writers block? The answer was no, not writer’s block. When given a deadline for my freelance writing by clients I had no problem starting and finishing those projects. So why couldn’t I do the same with my own writing?

The truth is, I no longer believe in the phenomenon of the so-called writers block. I used it as a convenient excuse to procrastinate and waste time, and perhaps even to avoid failure. However all it took was an honest pep talk, and a few simple tricks, and now any time I write I use my time much more effectively. So long “writers block”.

To overcome “writers block” I asked myself a number of questions, and answered honestly.

Question One

What was holding me back?

To be honest, it was fear of failure and criticism. It is a scary thing to put your writing out there to be rejected and judged. All those hours of research, planning and writing, you pour your heart and soul into your project. So, even though it isn’t, when you are rejected it feels very personal. An attack on you, not simply your writing. It is much easier to never write anything, then to risk being ridiculed and rejected.

Question Two

Why do I feel stuck? Why do I feel like I have hit the mythical writers block?

I felt that there were several reasons that I was stuck. First, and foremost was that I simply did not know where to start. I knew what I wanted to write, but I wasn’t sure where to begin. How much planning should I do? Should I start at the beginning, middle or end? How do I develop characters? Settings? Conflict? Dialogue? I put so much pressure on myself to write an amazing story from the get go, that it paralysed me and I ended up writing nothing.

Another reason I felt stuck was lack of confidence, which ties in with the whole fear of failure that most of us suffer from at one time or another. I kept asking myself, “am I really up for this? Will anyone want to read my writing? Can I earn enough to justify all the time and effort?” I was continually second guessing myself, which made me reluctant to write anything.

Finally, I believe I felt blocked as I didn’t know enough about the main theme and topics I wanted my novel based around. If you don’t know enough, or don’t feel confident about your subject then how can you write about it?

Third Question

Why do I feel I am so stressed and pushed for time?

I am a work-at-home mum, as well as part-time nurse so the time I have to dedicate to writing is limited. I believe these constraints and pressure led to me throwing up my hands and saying it is all too hard. So I didn’t write.

 Overcoming those barriers

So, how did I overcome all these barriers?

Fear of failure and rejection:

To overcome fear of rejection and criticism is probably the most difficult. I don’t know if that fear ever leaves you, but if writing and being published is something you really want to do then you need to grow a thick skin. Look at every rejection, each piece of criticism, as a lesson. Take these lessons on board, and use them to improve your writing or admission process. The point is to keep putting your writing out there; eventually it will be accepted somewhere, and with every acceptance your confidence will grow. In the mean time….a glass of wine and some chocolate whilst reading rejection letters really helps!

Not knowing where to start: 

The issue of not knowing where to start is quite common. The easiest way I found to overcome this is to write a rough outline or sketch of my novel and characters, and then simply begin writing. If I draw a blank on a certain scene or chapter then I move on and find one where the writing flows. Once again, it is just about writing. I use writing warm-up activities to loosen me up and get those creative thoughts flowing before I start writing my novels, and also during if I find I am staring at a blank page for a few minutes. They really do help. By releasing myself from the pressure of having the perfect plan, character sketches and settings from the get go, I wrote a lot freer and they developed naturally as my novel grew.

Lack of confidence:

The lack of confidence in your writing is really only something you will overcome with time and effort. As more and more of your writing is accepted and published, your confidence will grow, as will your skills and expertise at writing and applications.

Lack of knowledge:

Not knowing enough about your theme or topics is very easily overcome. Do your research. With the Internet at your fingertips there is no excuse for not researching and knowing your topic. If you don’t have Internet access, then use your local library. The more you know about your topic the easier it will be to write. If you want to write about a particular event, setting or activity in your novel then go out and experience it!

Perfectionism: 

Most importantly, I came to the realization that my writing does not have to be perfect the first time round. There is a reason it is called a first draft, or a rough draft. This first draft is to get all your ideas onto paper before you forget them, and then you review, re-write and re-create from there. It sounds so logical, right? But we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect from the get go, we forget that writing is a process of reviewing, re-writing and re-creating over and over again until you are happy with it.

Time constraints:

Time is a valuable commodity. As a work-from-home mum and registered nurse I found it hard to juggle everything. I find a solid writing routine, not wasting time with procrastination and always ensure I put aside time to spend with my precious family helps. I write a to-do list each week, and highlight those things that are an absolute priority for that week. It helps me keep things in order, and achieve those tasks that have to be done. The most important thing is to not waste the time you have. Do not procrastinate when writing, sit down and get the job done!

I hope these ideas help you to overcome any fears or difficulties you have with writing. I would love to hear of any more tips you have of overcoming your own hurdles. Feel free to comment below with them!

30 tips to spring clean your writing.

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SPRING TIP #1: Keep a journal.

Journaling everyday helps to improve your writing, is great for reflection and is a fantastic tool for ideas and inspiration.

SPRING TIP #2: Add a writing warm-up exercise to your writing routine.

I challenge you to add a writing warm-up to your writing routine for 2 weeks and see if it makes a difference to your productivity and creativity. Let me know how you go!

SPRING TIP #3: Write everyday.

It doesn’t matter if it is only 10 minutes here and there around all your other responsibilities; the point is that the only way to be a better writer is to write. Writing everyday improves your practice, inspires ideas, and sparks creativity. Learn to take advantage of any down time to capture some of those words floating around in your head.

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SPRING TIP #4: Organization.

To run a successful writing business organization is keen. And what better time to get organized then the season of spring-cleaning! Make sure all your files are up to date (and backed up), clean up your computer, buy some lovely stationary and diaries to keep dates and projects organized, and keep your work area as clutter free and neat as possible.

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I love spreadsheets. Spreadsheets for timelines, projects, income, invoice trackers, publications….pretty much everything! I find them an easy way to keep track of what I am doing, and where I am up to. I am also a huge fan of to-do lists. The main key is to be organized, in whatever fashion that is for you.

SPRING TIP #5: Develop a writing routine.

Forming the habit of writing everyday helps to improve your writing and productivity. However a writing routine is not just about writing, it is about how you write, and how you organize your time to ensure you make the most of each moment.

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SPRING TIP #6: Take regular writing breaks.

The recommendation when sitting at a computer is to stand up, walk around and stretch hourly. You should do this when writing too. And not just a brief 5 minute break, a walk outside in the fresh air can help clear your head and improve your concentration and productivity when you return to your writing.

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Make sure you eat at regular times. It can be easy to forget, so I set an alarm on my phone to remind me to eat and drink if I am having a long writing day.

Taking regular breaks away from your writing helps clear your mind, refresh you and ensures you don’t become stiff and sore sitting hunched over your computer!

SPRING TIP #7: Motivation.

How do you find your motivation? What motivates you? How do you maintain motivation? If you can find the answers to these questions it is half the battle!

SPRING TIP #8: Inspiration.

The search for inspiration can sometimes feel endless. I find spring is a great time for sparking new ideas. Have a walk outside and see the buds of new growth, the sun breaking through the clouds and your ideas and creativity will sparkle!

SPRING TIP #9: Read, read and read!

Reading exposes us to other styles of writing, other forms, genres and voices. The more you read the more your writing will improve, and you will be exposed to more ideas and inspiration.

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SPRING TIP #10: Make time for your family and friends.

Whilst writing may not be a regular job with normal hours, it is still important to make time for your family and friends. You don’t want to miss making precious memories with your loved ones because you always have your head buried in your computer…and you know what they say, all work and no play turns you dull!

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SPRING TIP #11: Stick to time frames!

If you tell a client you will have a writing project to them in 2 weeks, make sure you stick to that. I tend to over-quote on how much time I will need in order to avoid the stress of not having work done on time.

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SPRING TIP #12: Social Media.

Social Media is an important tool to promote your writing business, network with other writers, build your reputation and to research other writers. However, it is a black hole that can suck us in. You may find that instead of spending valuable time writing you are surfing through various social media mediums for hours on end. The trick is to limit the time you spend on social media, and to ensure you use that time efficiently and effectively.

SPRING TIP #13: Develop a work/life balance.

One of the best things about being your own boss is you can choose how much work you take on. However one of the hardest is also saying no. Keep in mind that you need to maintain a healthy balance between work and living your life. One of my favourite sayings is you need to work to live, not live to work.

SPRING TIP #14: Do not rely on spell checkers to catch all mistakes.

Never trust a machine to do all the spelling and grammar checks! Nothing beats good old human interaction and checking of your work. It is a great idea to check your work on paper and on your computer, things may look different and show mistakes you missed before!

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SPRING TIP #15: “Rest” your writing.

When you have completed your first draft, “rest it”. Put it away for a few days before you take it out again to start the lengthy editing and revising process.

Once you feel you have a finished project, “rest it” again. After a few days, weeks or a month (whatever time frame you choose), take it out again and read it one last time before sending it to a friend, family member, editor or if you feel 100% confident you are completely done then send it to a publisher.

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The point of these “rest periods” is to take a break from your project and come back to it with a fresh perspective and clearer mind. This way you will catch mistakes you may not have noticed otherwise, and will recognise changes that need to be made easier.

SPRING TIP #16: Read other writers websites/blogs/articles.

Think of it as research! To find out what other writers are writing or reading about, then the easiest way is to research by looking at their websites, Facebook, google+, blogs, twitter etcetera. Not only will reading about what and how they write help you with your own writing, it can inspire your own blogs, posts and writing projects. One of the best ways to learn is from those who are more experienced and knowledgeable.

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SPRING TIP #17: Write yourself a schedule.

You are running your own writing business, and you must treat it as such. If you are writing for others, such as freelance projects, then obviously it is important to ensure you stick to the time frame you negotiated with your clients.

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If you are writing for yourself, however, then it is still important to develop your own schedule and stick to it. Such as, by this date I will have the outline completed; by this date I will have a first draft finished, etcetera. This way you will ensure you will actually get your writing projects finished, and it is a great feeling when you tick off a to-do list!

You can use a spreadsheet, calendar or good old-fashioned diary. Whatever works for you, but make sure you create an achievable schedule and STICK TO IT!

SPRING TIP #18: Avoid “overwriting”.

“Overwriting” is a wordy style of writing, wrought with repetitions, figures of speech and convoluted sentences. Try to avoid using too many words to describe something, if one word will do. Go for simplicity to convey your writing and I guarantee it will get your point across just as effectively without hitting your reader in the face with all those words.

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SPRING TIP #19: When undertaking large writing projects, turn off your internal editor for the first draft.

When you are writing a long first draft the best way to get all your ideas and thoughts out is to simply write, and keep on writing. Do not stop and correct or edit as you go. Turn off that little editor and judgmental voice in your head so you can get all those words out initially before you forget that great idea.

This can be difficult. I know I find it quite hard due to my innate need for perfectionism. However, the more time I spend writing long projects the better I am at simply sitting in front of my computer and letting the words and thoughts flow out of me. You will spend more time editing and revising, so this first draft is all about capturing your ideas on paper no matter how poorly they are written!

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SPRING TIP #20: Plot!

When writing a novel, developing an interesting plot is essential. It helps to ensure your story unfolds in a logical manner, whilst building tension and suspense to draw your reader in and keep them interested.

SPRING TIP #21: Read your old work.

If you are feeling lost, unmotivated or have lost confidence in your work then have a read through your old projects. It is a great way to see how far your writing has come. I know I have read back through some of my very first blog posts and cringed.

Reading back through your old work can also help inspire you and spark new ideas, or thoughts on how you can improve upon it and re-release it.

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SPRING TIP #22: Keep a list of all your publications.

I find it easiest to do this on an excel spreadsheet, with columns for dates, genre, format and publication type. It helps so that you can see how many of your projects have been published and also if you ever need to refer back to a project you can quickly find where it was published and those other details you choose to input into your spreadsheet.

And lets be honest here, the longer that list gets the better you feel! Think of it as a brag sheet if you want. It is a great way to see where you have been, where you have published and the footsteps you have left behind with your writing.

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SPRING TIP #23: Ask friends and family to read your writing.

If you have friends or family members who you know will be able to provide constructive criticism you should ask them to read your work before sending it to a publisher, or self-publishing. Their eyes will help to pick up on any mistakes or plot flaws that you may have missed in your editing and revising process. They can also provide feedback and encouragement before the intimidating process of sending your work out in the big wide world.

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SPRING TIP #24: Time management.

A concept I feel most people struggle with! Juggling your own writing business, especially if you are still working another job whilst attempting to get your business up and running, with family, home life and chores is a difficult thing to master. You need to work efficiently in the limited time you have, whilst ensuring that you leave time in your busy schedule for family and friends. I have found the best way to manage your time is to stick to your schedule and timeframes for work, whilst penciling in time for family, friends and most importantly, yourself!

SPRING TIP #25: Join an online or in person writers group.

Writing groups are a fantastic place to meet like-minded people, find sources for ideas and inspiration, and as a free source for constructive criticism and feedback. Whether you join a group online or in person, or several groups, doesn’t matter, the point is to find a group of writers in your niche and to actively participate in discussions with them. I challenge you to find a group of writers and to join them. Most importantly…..ENJOY!

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SPRING TIP #26: Don’t forget why you write.

Why do you write? What do you get out of writing?

I write for the love, passion and enjoyment I get from creating a great written project, no matter how big or small. I always get a small thrill upon completing a written piece. Never forget the positive reasons behind why you write. Always write for impact, and not income.

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SPRING TIP #27: Draw inspiration from your surroundings.

Look around you. What is happening nearby? What conversations? What characters? What scenery? Use your surroundings to form pictures and characters in your mind that you can translate to paper.

Where do you find your inspiration?

SPRING TIP #28: Do not procrastinate.

Your time is at a premium, do not waste it procrastinating! Learn to recognise when and how you procrastinate, and identify strategies to overcome it.

SPRING TIP #29: Keep your end goal in mind.

When your energy wanes, you lack motivation, and you feel as though you have lost your creativity and inspiration focus on your end goal. The sense of pride and achievement from seeing your name in print, being a published author, a successful freelance writer. What ever your end goal is, allow it to guide you through the tough times and keep your focused and writing!

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SPRING TIP #30: Never stop writing!

The final tip for this lovely spring month is to never stop writing. Writing promotes writing, and the more you do it the better you will become. Just like practicing at a sport or cooking, the more you practice the more adept you will become.

So never stop writing.

 

Learn How to Edit Your Next Writing Project.

Learn how to edit your next writing project.

Some people believe the first draft is the hardest to write. Coming up with the idea, maintaining motivation and seeking inspiration to complete a first draft can be daunting, however I still believe the hardest part comes after this. The revising and editing process. This is where you will generally spend the majority of your writing time.

I have developed an editing process I find works well for me. I apply it to everything I write; short pieces, long projects, blogs, articles and more. You may find you adopt some of my practices into your own, you need to simply find what works the best for you to produce a high quality and well edited writing project.

This first thing I do when editing any writing projects is to make a list of everything I know that will need to be checked (such as spelling names correctly and consistently, timelines, plot points, theme and character arcs), fixed and assessed. This list helps lessen those feelings of overwhelm when looking at your rough draft, as well as provide direction when the daunting task of editing is at hand. Once I have finished my list I break the revision process down into sections that I refer to as the “Attack of The R’s”: Re-read, Rest, Re-arrange, Re-word, and Re-check.

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Re-read

This re-reading stage is about identifying flaws and holes in your plot (if writing non-fiction or creative fiction), as well as double checking facts, figures and research (fiction, articles, assignments etcetera). You can make another list, if you wish, of all the finer details that will need further researching and checking to be sure they are accurate and fit in with your story.

Cut out whole chapters, sections, dialogue or pages that do not fit with your story. It is ok to be brutal here. When you have done that once, then read through again and cut out smaller sections such as paragraphs, sentences and phrases that once again do not suit your story and what you are attempting to convey. I save both copies of the draft, the first draft and the reduced draft, so that I can always go back and see what I have cut out. You may also find that some of the things you cut out spark an idea for a different story or even a sequel.

Once you have fixed any major problems and culled down your word count then it is time to move onto the second process in editing your project.

Rest

After I have cut down the original draft, I let it “rest” for a while. I put it away for a few days or even for a week or so (as long as there are no deadlines looming) so that when I return to it, I do so with fresh eyes and a new perspective. It also saves you from not only becoming sick of your story, but from missing any mistakes.

Re-arrange

This process is once again reading through your project and thinking about the flow and arrangement of your work. If you find that it doesn’t read well, try re-arranging sections, paragraphs and sentences around until you are happy with the flow of words. You should also be double checking that your plot develops in a logical and understandable manner, if it doesn’t then you will need to re-arrange plot points until it makes sense and flows seamlessly.

Re-word

Now we are getting down into the nitty gritty finer details. I always put this process near the bottom of the list as there is no point spending all that time and effort finding the best words if you only end up cutting that entire section out.

Re-read your work again (yes again!). You may find you re-read your work 100 times or more when it comes to the final processes of editing and perfecting. This stage is where you polish and fine-tune your whole piece. Dissect every paragraph, every sentence and every word. Are you consistent with names, dates, personalities, spelling, tense, and point of view etcetera? Do you use your active voice, not passive? Have you picked powerful words? Re-word and re-write until you feel you are done and couldn’t possibly do any more re-writing. Then read it all again!

Re-check

If it is a long project I am editing I let it rest for a week or so again. If it is a small project such as an article or blog then I skip the “rest period”.

This re-check is simply a last thorough reading of your project to ensure it flows smoothly, reads well, all mistakes have been fixed, and that there are no spelling, grammar or punctuation errors. I also double-check the list I wrote at the very beginning to confirm I have ticked everything off. If you are confident, you can send it on to a friend, family member or editor for a final check. A new perspective is handy to spot any errors you may not notice after reading your writing project copious amounts of time.

And there you have it. Editing and revising using the “Attack of the R’s”! It is a simple process that can be adapted to any project, big or small. Below is a list of other tips that I use throughout the whole Attack of The R’s process.

 Editing and Revising Tips:

  • Read and edit on your computer and in paper form
  • Read your writing out loud. Is it easy to read? Does it have a smooth rhythm? Does it flow?
  • Be brutal and cut out parts that do not suit your project.
  • Make sure your writing flows, is logical, and the story line is easy to follow.
  • Double-check all facts, figures, quotes, and citations etcetera to ensure they are accurate.
  • Have a family member, friend or professional read through and check your work.
  • “Rest” your work before a final read through.

 

How to Create Powerful Writing

How to create Powerful Writing

Creating a powerful and memorable piece of writing is so much more then simply knowing proper spelling and grammar. You want to convey emotions and portray a picture, to draw your reader into your story so they can see what you see, and feel what you feel, when you write. You want them to be thinking about it long after they have finished reading.

I want you to take a moment and close your eyes. Think about a piece of writing that truly engaged you, that made you want to keep reading, that evoked emotions and passion and made it hard to put down. I want you to analyse what it was about that particular piece that resonated with you? What made it so memorable for you?

When you have roughed out a first draft, think about the following points to create powerful writing as you re-write and edit. They may help your writing to go from mediocre to emotive and gripping.

1. Know your audience

As a writer, your job is to know whom you are targeting with your writing. You need to know what will hold their interest, what language they will understand, what will appeal to them and the beliefs and knowledge they hold. This will help you to write a book that resonates with your target audience and will also help when it comes to marketing strategies.

2. Flow and readability

You need your writing to be readable and flow seamlessly to create powerful writing. The readability of your work is determined by sound grammar and clear writing that your reader will find easy to understand. Flow is created by consistency of tone, style and tense as well as logical transitions between scenes, dialogue, paragraphs or chapters.

3. Focused

Powerful writing has a goal in mind, an intended point. It may be that you are selling something, attempting to convince someone of something, explaining how to do something, or instilling a belief or moral through telling a story. It does not matter what your goal is, but you must have it clear in mind when you are writing so you remain focused and clear.

 4. Compelling

Powerful writing reaches out and grabs the readers’ attention. Find that one thing that is unique to your story and expound upon that, use it to create interest and intrigue, to cause readers to pick your piece or writing over others.

 5. Passion

You cannot make your reader care about something unless you care about it yourself. If you wish you could make a list of topics you are passionate about and develop writing projects from there. You can use your passion to make your intended audience care about your topic, or to heighten their emotions in regards to a topic they are already passionate about. Great writing grows from passion and emotion.

 6. Multiple Senses

You use your full range of senses of site, sound, touch, taste and smell when experiencing events in the real world. To create powerful writing, you need to evoke these senses in your readers through great description.

 7. Characters

A great tool to create powerful writing is to develop intriguing and complex characters that your readers will either love or hate. You must also give your audience insight into your characters. What makes them tick? What are their motivations and aspirations? What are their likes and dislikes? What sets them apart from others? The more your audience knows about your characters, the more they will relate to them and what you’re putting them through.

 8. Strong Emotions

Evoking strong emotions will keep your reader interested, and will ensure they want to know what happens next. Humans are emotional and for the most part social creatures. We want to feel like we are part of something; we want to feel empathy and sympathy. Our job as a writer is to make them feel happy, sad, angry, triumphant, and everything in between.

9. Point of View and Voice

The point of view and voice you choose to convey in your writing piece can have a strong impact on your audience and how they relate to it. Point of view will change how close or removed your reader is from what is happening in the story, and voice is how the story is being told. Is it humorous? Sarcastic? Matter of fact? Is it told from a childs’ perspective, therefore a childs’ voice? You must answer all of these questions and have them clear in your mind when writing. How you want your story to sound and to be conveyed will determine point of view and voice.

10. Less is More

Don’t use two words when one more powerful word is available. It helps to keep your sentences easy to read and avoids the pitfall of “overwriting”.

 11. Use an active voice

There is a big difference between passive and active voice, and how it will affect your writing. Powerful writing uses active voice to draw the reader in and evoke potent emotions. Be wary of being caught out by the passive voice!

Useful Articles on Powerful Writing:

 “8 Qualities of Powerful Writing” – Dustin Wax

“5 Powerful Writing Techniques That Bring Stories To Life” – Henry Herz

“Follow These Rules For Stronger Writing” – Writers Digest

 

Where do you find your Inspiration?

Where do you find your Inspiration?

Following on from last week’s post “Was Thomas Edison Right?” I started thinking about inspiration. I want to know where you find your inspiration? When your well of idea’s dries up, you are staring at a blank page with no creative flow, or you hit writers block during a project, where do you go or how do you spark those creative thoughts again? How do you overcome the dreaded idea drought?

No matter how much you love writing, and are enjoying your current writing project there will always be times when you suffer from a lack of inspiration. I know I do. I have a myriad of different sources for re-sparking the idea process to help the words flow again. For me, it depends on the mood I am in and also why I am suffering from the so called writers block, which technique I use. Every person is different, so will find different means and ways to find inspiration. Below are a few of my favourites that I have found invaluable during my writing journey and career.

Writing Warm-Ups

There are hundreds of writing warm-up exercises that are designed to loosen up your creative muscles and aid flow of thought. Some of my favourites are free writing, word jar and random word link. I find that they help me to relax into my writing, so when I turn back to my current project the ideas and words flow so fast my hands can barely keep up typing.

Books

I love to read. I could spend hours and hours curled up in one spot with a good book. And one of the best things about reading is you can draw inspiration and ideas from the plot, characters, setting, dialogue or themes of the book. If you find you are stuck, try reading a book by your favourite author or even branch out into a different genre.

Movies

Much like reading, movies can inspire great ideas for your next book. You may enjoy the lead character so much you decide to model your main character on them. Or a certain scene or dialogue may set off those creative sparks and before you know it you have outlined your next book!

Art

I don’t know about you, but I find looking at photos, prints, sculptures and paintings to be a great source of inspiration. What story is the artist trying to say? What emotions are they conveying? What does the scene/character/setting tell you? What would happen next? You can ask these questions, and more. Write it down if you want, you never know your next story may start taking form.

Blogs

Reading other blogs on any topic you wish can help jolt your brain into creative mode. Whether you are stuck for ideas for a blog, article, novel, and short piece or content, someone else out there is sure to have some inspiration for you.

History

Don’t know what your next novel should be? Try reading up on some history. There are many stories waiting to be told, whether fiction or non-fiction. Sad, happy, tragic, triumph, good and evil; our history holds many different themes and rich characters that combine to create inspirational stories.

Honouring our soldiers, Australian War Memorial, ACT

Honouring our soldiers, Australian War Memorial, ACT

Maheno Shipwreck, Fraser Island, QLD

Maheno Shipwreck, Fraser Island, QLD

Exercise

I find turning my mind away from writing for a while is a great way to develop more ideas. Go for a run, to the gym, a yoga class or any form of exercise you fancy and work out your physical muscles. Sometimes the ideas hit me whilst I am working out, other times they don’t hit until I am in front of the computer or journal again. Regardless, exercise is a great way to clear your head and work out any frustrations you have with your writing.

Walking/Nature

Take a stroll outdoors and marvel at the great outdoors. Appreciate the beauty of the landscape around you, whether it is rural or city. Use it to clear your mind and as a source of inspiration. Write what you see, smell, hear and feel.

Autumn colours

Autumn colours

Cross by the Lake

Cross by the Lake

Walking along the beach at Jarvis Bay

Walking along the beach at Jarvis Bay

Journal

Writing in a journal has long been recommended as a source of inspiration and a way of keeping your ideas together. It is a great way to get all the junk clogging up your brain out. Cultivating the habit of writing in your journal daily helps to clarify your thoughts, and ensures you never forget a great idea again! Write down your thoughts, inspirations, over heard dialogue, plot ideas, characters, dreams, or anything else you want. Read back through your journal whenever you hit a slow patch or writers’ block for ideas and inspiration.

Shower

I seem to always have my best ideas when I am in the shower, which is unfortunate as there is no easy way to record them whilst showering. It is also a great way to relax tired and achy muscles from hunching over a computer.

People Watching

People are always a great source of inspiration. Find a place to sit where you can quietly observe those around you. Listen to the way they speak, walk, laugh and sit. You can develop characters from those around you. Not to mention you may overhear some great story that serves as inspiration.

And finally…good old Google!

Simply search the topic you are currently writing on and you can find tons of great resources to help you out.

 

So there you have a few of my favourite techniques to help with inspiration and creativity. I would love to hear where and how you find inspiration!

 

 

 

How To Write Great Description

How to utilise Descriptive Writing

Description is one of the strongest tools in your writing arsenal. The purpose of descriptive writing is to show your reader who, where or what you are writing about. If you are skilled enough the reader will form a picture in their mind based on your words and with a small amount of imagination to fill in any gaps. The best way to capture your readers’ imagination and pull them into your story is to utilize all five senses in descriptive detail. You need powerful verbs and adjectives, which we will discuss at a later time. All together these skills generate a sense of realism and authenticity in your writing that will leave your reader asking for more.

For example:

She raised the glass to her lips and sipped the wine.

Or.

She raised the crystal wineglass to her lips and tasted the velvety red wine.

As you can see the second example uses sight and taste to show the reader not only what the woman is drinking, but what she is tasting. Your jobs as a writer is to make your reader want that wine; describe it in such perfect detail that they can see, smell and taste it. This is the key to great description.

When talking about person and place, describing the sight, taste, feel and smell of the surroundings is the most effective way to engage your reader. However, when you wish to convey strong emotions the best way is to not mention that emotion at all. It may sound silly, but the best way to engage your reader and to help them feel what your characters are feeling is to show them.

If you simply write “he is sad,” you are telling your reader what your character is feeling. It feels flat and uninspired.

However, what if you wrote:

He sat on the couch, his bowed head resting in his hands, aching for one last hug.

Your reader will feel your characters heart ache, they will feel his sadness and hopefully be able to relate to him. This creates connection and rapport with your character and story. It is an invaluable skill to have as a writer and one that will be sure to garner the attention and interest of your readers.

Artists use different mediums to show their feelings and paint a story, we as writers do this with our words. Our goal is to involve our reader, to make them see, feel and taste what we do when we write. Our words and descriptions is what makes our stories memorable, gives depth to our characters, and keeps our readers interested and invested in the story. The Lit Candle Exercise I have discussed previously is a great way to tap into these descriptive writing skills, however there are many more out there. I would love to hear your techniques or tips for developing great description and how you use them for your writing projects.

Lit Candle

Lit Candle

I love this exercise. I was first introduced to this great meditative writing practice during an online course run by Ann Linquist. She asked us to light a candle and write one paragraph describing it, avoiding generic terms such as “dancing flame”. I found it a great descriptive exercise to hone my skills and to think outside of the box. It also had the added benefit of calming and focusing my thoughts, and providing a meditation like experience when staring into the lit candle.

The point is to show your readers what thoughts and feelings the burning candle evokes, not tell them. It is a tool to help you tap into your emotions when writing which helps to create a connection with your reader. This is the power of words aIMG_8680nd description. This is what will make your novel and writing stand out and leaves a long lasting impression on your readers.

Below is my very first attempt at this exercise. It is rough, however I have a strong attachment to it and have never been able to throw it away.

“Lighted memories.”

My candle was a gift from Secret Santa at work one year. It is in a thick glass holder, that could do someone serious damage if wielded as a weapon. It smells of Banksia and Bergamot. I stare into the flame for a while, and I start panicking as no ideas would come to me. So I take a deep breath, close my eyes and will my muscles to relax. Once I felt the tension drain away I open my eyes and stare into the flickering candle once more. Then they come to me. Faces skipping through my thoughts, like the twisting flame before me. The faces of my family; my parents, my nana and my siblings. Their features are cast by the orange glow of the campfires and candlelight of many happy memories flashing through my head, too many to describe in one small paragraph. Such strong memories and emotions to be evoked by the flickering of a fragile little flame. I am now very reluctant to blow the candle out, not wanting to lose the image of those smiling faces so far away from me over the Easter weekend. I think I will keep it burning for a bit longer. 

 I would love to see some descriptions of yours. Or if you have any other great exercises like this to help practice descriptive writing I would love to hear about them. I am always on the lookout for new writing tools, techniques and exercises.

Sentence Structure

Sentence Structure

Yesterday we discussed paragraph structure and how important it is to the flow and rhythm of your story. Just as important is sentence structure. This is really getting down to the finer details of your novel, and how it will help create a logical and easy to read story that flows well and draws your reader in.

The most effective way to keep your readers’ attention is to make your writing concise and easy to understand, no matter how elaborate the ideas are that you are trying to convey.  By structuring your sentences appropriately and using correct punctuation and grammar you achieve simple and effective writing. In this particular post we will focus on sentence structure. At a later date I will write some posts on grammar and punctuation. Once again, I found a post by Lucy Mccarraher “How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: sentence structure and punctuation” a great read, that helps to clarify sentence structure.

Back to Basics.

A sentence can be long or short and it generally has 3 fundamental components.

  • It must start with a capital letter.
  • It has to end with a full stop or other conclusive punctuation, and
  • It contains a subject and a verb.

Types of Sentences.

There are four different types of sentences. See this article on “Sentence Structure” by Elizabeth O’Brien (Grammar Revolution: Grammar the Easy Way) for more in depth explanations that are easy to read and understand on the different types of sentences.

  • Imperative sentences: exclamations, commands and requests. These sentences are the only ones where the subject and verb rule is exempt.
  • Simple sentences: A simple sentence contains only one independent clause. An independent clause is a group of words that expresses a complete thought, with a subject and a verb. For example: I ate chocolate. I is the subject, ate is the verb and it expresses a complete thought. These are ideal for quick action scenes with punchy statements and brisk dialogue.
  • Compound sentences: are where a conjunction joins two related simple sentences together. Conjunctions are “joining words” such as: and, or, but, because. This type of sentence contains at least two independent clauses. For example: She danced and he drank.
  • Complex sentences: these sentences are made up of a dependent clause and a main clause. The main clause can stand-alone. However, dependent clauses will turn into fragments if on their own. For example: I washed the dishes after I cooked dinner. I washed the dishes is the main clause as it is a complete sentence when by itself. After I cooked dinner is a dependent clause as it is not a complete sentence if standing alone.

Then it really gets interesting as you can combine the four main sentence types to create other sentences, like a compound-complex sentence. A compound-complex sentence contains at least two independent clauses, and at least one dependent clause.

Sentence Syntax.

The sentence syntax is essentially sentence structure. It is the way you put your words, grammar and punctuation together to create interesting and easy to read sentences. It is usually broken down into three syntactic slots.

Untitled
Molly (subject) drank (verb) wine (object).

A good rule of thumb is that you can load one or two of these slots with detail, but not all three. If you load all three slots then the sentence becomes harder to read and will slow your reader down. For example:

Filling up one slot:                                                                                                            Molly, drank a bottle of her favourite red wine.

Filling up two slots:
Molly, drank long and deep from a bottle of her favourite red wine.                                                                                                         

Filling up all three slots:                                                                                                  Molly, lonely and single once more, drank long and deep from a bottle of her favourite red wine.

So remember, simplicity is key. Your reader doesn’t want to get bogged down in lengthy and overly detailed sentences. Keep the story moving forward by writing concise but descriptive sentences and adhering to the rules of sentence structure.

That brings us to the conclusion of the Building Your Novel Blog Series. You should now have a more in depth understanding of plotting, story structure, the dramatic elements, paragraph structure and sentence structure. I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. Please feel free to send me an email, comment if you have any questions, or wish to add anything else to these posts.

Paragraph Structure

Paragraph Structure

Yesterday we discussed the dramatic elements that underpin your story. Today we get down to the nitty gritty details of paragraph structure. It sounds boring, and it can be a dry subject. But if you can master how to write interesting and well-structured paragraphs then you will create an easy to read novel, and your readers will want to read more!

Lucy Mccarraher has produced a great, easy to read and understand post on paragraphs “How to write fiction without the fuss: paragraphs”. It is definitely worth a read if you are looking at how to write and structure your paragraphs.

What is a paragraph?

So what is a paragraph? In both fiction, and non-fiction writing the paragraph is considered one of the most basic building blocks. Obviously words and sentences are even more basic, but it is the paragraph that allows you to string your story together. By definition a paragraph is a distinct section of a piece of writing, usually dealing with a single theme and indicated by a new line, indentation, or numbering.”

A paragraph can be as little as one word, and as long as a page. But you need to be careful that it remains easy to read and emphasizes what you are saying. The purpose of a paragraph is to act as a visual break and to help create rhythms in your writing. The visual break helps readers to keep track of where they are up to on the page. Solid text, or very long paragraphs are intimidating and tiring to read. Paragraphs of different lengths help create rhythm within your story, as well as the atmosphere you wish to convey. For example; short paragraphs keep the action moving forward at a fast pace, whereas longer paragraphs tend to have detailed description and complex thought processes, which slow the story down.

Paragraph structure.

In non-fiction the structure of your paragraph generally has to follow a set of rules. In fiction writing, which is what we are focusing on today, these rules are more of a rough guideline. Whilst fiction writing doesn’t have the same rigid constraints of non-fiction writing, each paragraph should still convey an idea that relates to the next paragraph and follows a logical sequence.

Think of a paragraph as a framework that contains a certain amount of information. In non-fiction terms this could be description, dialogue, action or any combination of those components. It can be one word, or many sentences.

Starting a new paragraph.

When should you start a new paragraph? This is often a confusing part of writing, and hopefully the points below will help to clarify this for you:

  • Every time a different character starts to speak, their dialogue should start on a new line and form an individual paragraph. If there is action, internal though or description alternate this with their dialogue and you can keep it all in the same paragraph. However as soon as another character starts to speak or the focus shifts to them, then you should start a new paragraph.
  • Start a new paragraph with every new piece of action, narration or thought process.
  • When the focus of your story changes from one character to another begin a new paragraph.

 Order of paragraphs.

The most important consideration when deciding which paragraph goes where is the logic of your plot. Place related paragraphs together and read through them to see if they progress in a coherent and easy to read manner. Play around with the order, see how this changes your story and the effect and atmosphere you wish to create. It can take time and lots of revising to make your paragraph structure flow from one to the next.

Paragraph structure is a fundamental tool for all writers. Learn to write paragraphs well and you will build scenes and action, develop characters, introduce themes and control the tension and progress of your story in the best and most logical way.

Tomorrow, we will take it down another level to sentence structure. This is getting into the very fine details of writing and structuring. It will be the last post in the Building Your Novel series. But don’t think the learning ends there! There is so much more to writing your novel.

The Dramatic Elements

The Dramatic Elements

So far in the Building Your Novel Blog Series, we have discussed plotting and how to structure your story. Yesterday we touched briefly on the importance of the dramatic elements. Today we will go into more detail about the elements, how to incorporate them into your fictional novel and why they are important to your writing.

The four dramatic elements drive everything in your story. They are the fundamental building blocks that run underneath the outline of the 3-act structure. Each of the elements defines the next element, so that ultimately they combine together to form a powerful force behind your story. The elements are sub-textual, meaning they are not stated explicitly but the reader will feel their emotional force at work. It is what will bring them back to read more of your writing, and will create lasting impressions of your story.

Passion:

Your personal passions are your gateway to writing a memorable and successful novel. This is where all drama begins as an author. The more passionate you feel about something, the better you are able to convey those feelings through your writing to your readers. So what do you feel passionate about? Create a list if it helps, then you can use that to help pick a writing topic.

Theme:

From your passion you can derive a theme. Theme is the message you wish to share through your writing. The most effective themes are those that can be expressed in a few simple words, or a single short sentence. Passion and theme are quite similar, so to differentiate between them think of it like this: passion is your reason for writing your story, and theme is the take home message for your readers.

Theme is an essential tool a writer can use to test ideas for their story. As you develop each plot or story point ask yourself if it is interconnected to your theme. If it does not relate someway, then is it absolutely necessary to your story? If not, delete it!

Theme is most effectively conveyed by showing your readers what you want them to know, as opposed to telling them your message. For example, telling them that illegal drugs are bad is a weak message that your readers will not relate to. However by showing your reader the effect of illegal drugs on a person, their family and their health creates a lasting impression. Not many people enjoy being told what to believe, but this way you can subtly influence your reader and their beliefs.

Character:

It is your main characters’ inner conflict or flaw that drives your story and highlights your theme and passion. This is why when plotting your story it is important to take your time in developing your character.

Your character is a critical dramatic element that your story structure is based around. It is a good idea to develop your main character and their flaw or inner conflict early in your creative process and then base the other dramatic elements around your character flaw.

Generally speaking your main character may have several flaws, but when talking about structuring your story it is easiest to pick one main flaw and focus on that.

Characters are so important to your story. There will be a whole post dedicated to Character Development after the Building Your Novel series.

Premise

You premise combines your main character’s flaw and theme to form a “what if?” situation. It helps to move your story from start to finish.

I found this example a great help:

What if a (main character) set out to (task/journey) in order to (goal) and discovered (inner epiphany).

This helps you to define your main character and their flaw, the journey they take and their epiphany. From here you can flesh your story out, but the premise is a simple short sentence to help define your plot and story.

I hope this has helped to highlight the importance of the dramatic elements and how they help to draw your reader into your story. There is a blank worksheet on the Learning Tools page that you can print out and use to help plan your novel using the four dramatic elements. Tomorrow we will cover paragraph structure. The aim is to improve your writing, and it is also useful to help your write interesting and well-structured paragraphs. The end goal is a story that is easy to read and flows from one paragraph to the next.

Plot and Story Structure Relationship

Plot and Story Relationship

I have spoken a lot about plotting, using the 5 element or the 3 element style, and story structure utilizing the 3-act framework. It can be confusing when trying to come up with your story outline, plot and structure how they all relate to each other. So I decided to add a quick blog to this series that I hope clears up some of the confusion for you. I have designed a graph with all these elements overlapping to show their relationship. There is also a blank worksheet in Learning Tools that incorporates all these points.

GRAPH