The Four-Burners Theory and Living a Mediocre Life

I first heard of the Four-Burners Theory while reading Emma Isaacs’s biography Winging it. The book essentially tracks Isaac’s journey buying her first business, a recruitment agency, at 18 to eventually buying the juggernaut company, Business Chicks, and becoming an entrepreneur.

I read that book two years ago, but have found myself referring to this theory constantly over the past few months.

 

 

Here’s the basics …

Imagine you have a four-burner stove-top. One of the burners is for family, one for friends, another for work, and the last one is health.

Now, your four burners may have different labels, but the theory remains the same: if you turn off one of the burners, you will become more successful in the remaining three areas, but if you cut off two, you’ll be really successful in the remaining two.

Three years ago, I was chatting with a senior lecturer at a conference about academic workloads and the challenge of living a balanced life.

“The thing is,” they said, “a person with a perfectly balanced life may be really happy, but from the outside their life will look mediocre.”

Issacs echoed this message in her book by stating that she’s minimised the relationships in her life in order to maximise her career and family life (she has six kids!). Similarly, when work gets busy, exercise and healthy eating go out the window so that she can devote more time to work.

The message? If you want to be great at something, say work, you may have to reduce or let go of another aspect of life say, family, friendship, or health.

Now for me, I imagine that each aspect of my life has a four-burner stove-top.

My work life is broken up into teaching, writing, researching, and my author platform. My health is broken up into eating, relaxation, exercise, and meditation.

My relationships are broken up into partnership, family, friends, and community/social clubs.

I can usually handle having four pots on my stove, but only three are ever on high-heat.

Last week, my work days looked like this: three days marking assignments, one day working on the novel, one day split between academic writing and research.

Five days, three pots, and not a single blog written or Instagram comment responded to.

Another week might be different, let’s say I’ve run out of blog posts/videos, so I have to spend one or two days writing, filming, and editing this content, that then leave three days to tend to the other three pots on my stove. Now, hopefully, if there are no pressing deadlines, I can cut off one of these pots so I can tend to the remaining two.

If you’re really clever, sometimes you can combine two pots together.

For example, a blog post can be slightly altered and sold to a magazine or journal (I have done this often), or an idea discovered while doing academic research can become the basis of a blog, or a question asked in class can spark an idea for a novel or short story.

The underlining message of the four-burners theory is simple: you can’t do everything at once, and you can’t do everything well.

If we were to accept the four-stove theory as a true and useful tool, how can we make it work for us in a practical sense?

For me, working with time constraints and batching tasks is often helpful.

Time constraints

If your working hours are 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday, you now have a contain amount of time in which to complete your work tasks. So, how can you use this time to be as effective as possible?

If you have two hours to work on a novel, what can you do to be productive during that time?

If you only have four hours a week to work out, what can you do that will get you into the best shape possible?

By framing the question in this way, you are breaking out of a negative thought loops (“I don’t have enough time!”) and instead critically considering what you can do to make the most out of the time that is available.

Batching Tasks

I’ve written about batching tasks previously, so if you want the full rundown, check out the post here.

The essential theory behind batching is that you’ll get more done when you dedicate a whole day to one activity or similar types of activities.

For example, rather than writing for one hour then posting on social media, then editing a YouTube video, then preparing for a class, and then reading an article, you would be much better to spend the whole day writing (maybe working on a novel in the morning, and then a blog post in the afternoon).

Obviously, this may not always be possible as we all have different deadlines and levels of responsibility and some activities cannot be batched.

For example, you can’t cram a whole week’s worth of exercise into a single day.

And yet, when it comes to work related activities, batching tasks is a great way to make traction on a particular project within a short amount of time.

The four-stove theory reminds us that we only have so much energy and we have to be discerning in how we use it. 

While I can appreciate the lecturer’s sentiment that a balanced life is a mediocre life, I also believe that life is a little more complicated than that.

All of the following statements work on a macro and micro scale …

There are times when work has to be the priority. You’ve started a business, a degree, or you have a massive deadline at the end of the month.

There are times when family has to be the priority. You’ve meet someone, or gotten married, had a baby, or a family member has passed away.

There are times when health has to be the priority. An unwelcomed diagnoses or health scare, you’re feeling sluggish, have low energy, or are generally unhappy.

There are times when friendships have to be the priority. Out of town visitors, birthdays, celebrating milestones, or perhaps a friend is going through a hard time and needs extra support.

Hell, sometimes you just want to have a cup of tea and a chat because life!

Whether you believe in the four stove theory or not, I think we can all agree that you can’t do all the things all the time.

If you want to meet your goals AND have a happy life, then you need to be constantly assessing your to-dos against the other components of life that make you feel fulfilled and sane (see: relationships and health).

What do you think of the four stove theory? Do you agree that you have to cut off one or more burners in order to be successful in other areas, or do you believe a balanced life is a better life? I’d love to know, so please leave a comment below (sorry about the rhyme).


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What You Read Matters

Recently, someone on Instagram commented on one of my posts about Standard Written English (don’t know what that is? You can read the blog here) and stated that they don’t buy books because of the author, that they don’t pay any attention to who has written the book, their race, gender, sexuality, or even what genre the book is — they just read whatever book appeals to them in the moment.

Their argument was that they have no bias because they aren’t intentionally reading books by white authors.

I know you’re a good person; I know I’m a good person (mostly).

I know that neither of us would intentionally hurt another person.

If you’re an avid reader, it’s reasonable to assume that you are thoughtful, progressive, empathetic, and considered (among many other sterling qualities); you’re one of the good guys!

And you are (!), but here’s where things get a little tricky and sticky.

Want to hear some disturbing facts?

79 percent of the publishing industry is white.

88 percent of the books reviewed by The New York Times are written by white authors.

Consumers engaged with a product up to SEVEN TIMES before they even consider buying it.

While you may not be bias about the types of books that you are reading, the publishing industry is bias about the types of books they’re willing to publish.

The majority of narratives published by the industry belong to white writers.

So, even if you are not intentionally buying books by white authors, statistically speaking, the majority of the books you SEE will be written by white authors.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we do have a natural bias for the familiar.

We read books by white authors in school, we study them in university, we (somewhat) unknowingly fill our bookshelves with these particular narratives because we have been told this is what good literature is.

If this person is learned and reflective, they will likely recognise this fault and start to diversify (hopefully).

This is where the road splits and two things can happen:

  1. The unaware reader gets a job in publishing and continues to advocate for books that fit into the shelf of ‘familiar white narratives.’
  2. The aware reader gets a job in publishing and learns that books written by white authors sell better than books written by black, indigenous, or people of colour.

In a research paper published by Macquire University in March 2017, 63% of Australian readers believe that books by Indigenous authors are important for Australian culture, but only 42% expressed interest in reading these narratives.

Fifty-one percent of Australians read one to ten books a year.

Similarly, according to the Pew Research Center, the average American reads 12 books (in whole or in part) a year. When this statistic was broken down further, it was revealed that Hispanic and black, non-Hispanic people read eight books a year, and white, non-Hispanic people read 13 books a year.

My point? That’s not a lot of books.

Want another scary statistic?

In 2017, Australian publishers (of which there are 4,078) collectively published 23, 832 new books.

23 832 new books in ONE year and the average reader is getting through ten (if I’m being generous). 

Want another one?

The average person will read 2,000 books in their lifetime.

It’s reasonable to assume that most people working in publishing are pretty progressive, but when you look at the data and see who is buying books, it is easy to see why (and how) books are marketed to white people and why white voice are promoted over marginalised narratives.

The problem is complex and systemic, and the challenge of correcting this problem has left authors, publishers, and readers wondering, ‘Where do we start?’

There are a variety of issues that need to be addressed.

  • People in positions of power need to check their bias and publish narratives by BIPOC authors.
  • The industry needs to create more opportunities for black, indigenous, and people of colour, so that publishing is able to diversify from the inside out.
  • How we educate readers and writers about what constitutes ‘good prose’ needs to change.
  • We need to consider who has written the books that we are consuming.
  • We need to buy books by authors whose race, gender, religion, and sexuality, differ from our own.

And all these changes need to be made to an industry that is already in crisis.

People may be reading more than ever, but they aren’t reading books. It’s the sales of a few, very high-profile authors that are keeping this ship afloat.

I don’t want to live in a world without books, and I don’t want to live in a world with only one type of book.

So, what can you do?

Buy books by indigenous Australians (here’s ONE list and ONE publisher).

Buy books by black authors (here’s ONE list)

Buy books by black booksellers (USA).

Include characters who aren’t white in your fiction (here’s a blog about how to do that).

What a long read that does a deep-dive on this topic? Check out this fantastic article by Vice. 

This is a big topic, more than I can possible cover in a 1,000 word blog post, so if you have any recommendations or points you’d like to raise, please leave a comment below.


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The Creative Void and Why it is Different to Writers Block

I’ve been wracking my brain for two weeks trying to come up with blog topics for next month and it hasn’t gone well.

For those that don’t know, I put 1-2 days aside every month to write and film my blogs and videos for the coming month, but for the past couple of weeks, I’ve felt as though I’ve got nothing to say.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of issues I could and will blog about, but that doesn’t discount the fact that everything feels a little bit shit and oh so heavy.

Motivation and inspiration are cheap tricks when it comes to writing. Habit and discipline are much more effective if the goal is to get things done, tick the box, hit publish, and get the cheque.

Can we take a step back for a minute?

I published my first book in November, 2019 (feels like five years ago, right?). It took a lot of work, and I don’t just mean the actual writing, I’m also talking about the publishing and marketing of the book.

The physical preparation – editing, proofreading, formatting, organising the cover design – was intense, but it had nothing on the marketing campaign which included creating teaser images for Instagram, reaching out to 150 book reviewers, local media (newspaper, magazines, TV, and radio), and running multiple competitions including a pre-order giveaway.

Did I mention that my confirmation of candidature also took place in November last year?

For those who don’t know, confirmation is when you present your research project to a panel of academic experts who then determine the quality of your investigation and whether or not you should continue. This usually takes place 10-18 months into your doctorate/PhD and needless to say, it’s a bit of a deal, and a lot of effort is spent preparing for this presentation.

I also moved house.

As you can imagine, it was a big end to a big year.

Then 2020 happened.

Yeah.

On a personal level, I continued with the revisions of my next novel, accepted a sessional contract for my first ever teaching gig (which moved online three weeks later), completed coursework (including three assignments), and wrote and filmed weekly blogs/vlogs that went up every Thursday morning without fail. (Including today).

Why am I telling you this?

Cos I got nothing.

I am in a creative void.

The tank is empty.

The well is dry.

I’m bored. I’m restless. I’m frustrated. I’m concerned. I want to want to make stuff. I’m worried about how long this will go on for, and then I stop caring and start Googling things that have nothing to do with academia or writing.

I’m still getting the things done that absolutely have to get done because a) I’m getting paid to do these things and b) people are depending on me to do these things.

But when I’m done, I’m done, and I’m back to mindless Googling. A desperate, grabbing, grasping search for something that is propelled by the idea that there is an article or a YouTube video out there containing the exact information I need to hear right now.

What am I looking for? I have no idea.

A glance at my internet history reveals the following:

How to cook without using oil. What is human design? Neuroplasticity. Racial biases in the publishing industry. Intergenerational trauma. Beached whales. Should you quit your PhD during COVID-19? Virtual book tours. Rachel Hollis divorce. Indigenous Australians dying in police custody. Indigenous Australian authors. Nature-centric stories. Is it a good time to invest in Australian property?

Email. Instagram. Email. Instagram.

I’m struggling to create right now, and it’s not due to a lack of motivation, inspiration, habit, or discipline. I’m just … empty.

I’m in a creative void which feels very different to writers block.

Writers block is when you’re working on a story and then the story stops flowing. This could be for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • You don’t know what should happen next
  • You’re physically tired
  • You’ve painted yourself into a corner.

In a creative void, there are no ideas. There is no story. You sit down and open a word document and every word is hard won and not very good. There’s no PASSION. There’s no HEAT. It’s cold, banal, repetitive.

If this were a concert, the conversation in the front row would go a little something like this …

“I don’t know, it just sounds kinda, meh.”

“Yeah, I like her last album better.”

In order to create we must consume. We want our art to grow and develop with us. Our first book should be our worst book because ideally, we’re growing and improving with time.

I want to do better. I want to be more informed, more aware of my prejudices, have something to say.

Until then, I’m going to get comfy in this void; I’m going to sit back in this here magic dark until someone flicks the switch and the lights come on.

Maybe you can relate; maybe you’re also experiencing a creative void. If that’s the case, go easy on yourself.

If your work is flexible, focus first on the tasks that are fun or appealing. If you don’t have that luxury, do whatever you can to make completing those tasks enjoyable (as much as possible, anyway).

Restrictions following the shutdown are lifting, while somethings won’t go back to normal, many things will.

And then there’s some things that will hopefully never go back to ‘normal.’ Erasing systemic racism won’t happen overnight, but by continuing to educate ourselves, making better decisions, speaking up, and donating, we make change possible.

And this is what we must cling to, a single thread that can only be called hope.

Steven King’s Twenty Rules for Writing Part Two

If you’ve been following along these past few week’s then you already know that I am doing a series all about writing rules. I started off this series with Octavia Butler’s nine rules of writing, followed by Natalie Goldberg’s seven rules of writing, then Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules of fiction writing, and two weeks ago I unpacked Steven King’s Twenty Rules of Writing Part One. 

Stephen King
I want to preface this post by saying that there aren’t any real rules for writing other than the ones you decided on for yourself. I’m making this series as a means of inspiration and education so that you can take the advice that appeals to you, and leave the rest.

This week I’m continuing on with Stephen King’s TWENTY rules of writing by covering rules eleven to twenty.

 

 

 

Rule #11. There are two secrets to success

King attributes his success to staying physically healthy and staying married. While a literal reading of this statement won’t be applicable to everyone, the truth behind it is. Writing is not the most important thing in your life, people are, so you need to nourish those relationships. Writing is a solitary activity, but that doesn’t mean you have to live in solitude, tapping away at your keyboard until you finally kneel over. Take care of your relationships and your body, not so that you can write, but so that you can have a happy life.

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The two secrets for a successful writing career: stay healthy and take care of your relationships.

Rule #12. Write one word at a time

This echoes Anne Lamont’s famous anecdote shared in her book, Bird by Bird. There are many ways to write a book, but ultimately when you boil it down to the barest of bones, novels are written word by word.

King urges aspiring writers to stay present, to focus on the scene at hand, and not to become distracted by thinking ahead.

Rule # 13. Eliminate distraction

This rule is timeless. While the form may change over time, I think we can all agree that distractions are one of the biggest killers to creativity, in fact, I’ve written a whole post about this that you can read here.

You’re not stupid. Switch off the internet, switch off your phone, close the curtains, close the door, and commit yourself to the story in front of you.

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It takes 11 minutes to regain your focus following an interruption.

Rule #14. Stick to your own style. 

Reading allows you to become familiar with the writing style of other authors, and while mimicking your favourite writer is a good place to start, eventually, aspiring writers need to develop their own voice and style.

The world already has a Stephen King, J.K Rowling, Lee Child, Toni Morrison, and Octavia Butler, but what it doesn’t have is you (and your voice).

Rule # 15. Dig.

Stephen King describes himself as a discovery writer: the story reveals itself to him as he is writing it. King believes that stories are ‘found things’, like fossils in the ground. He believes that the story already exist and that it is his job as the writer to slowly dig it up using the tools in his writerly tool belt. For him, writing is a practise of excavation where the story is uncovered through the act of writing it. 

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King believes that stories are ‘found things’; we must dig our stories up like fossils from the ground.

Rule # 16. Take a break.

Given that he’s published 70+ books, I’m not sure how good King is at taking his own advice, but nonetheless he does recommend that writers take breaks from their work so that they can see their story with fresh eyes.

There are a number of way to look at this rule: you can put a manuscript aside for a few months so that you are able to then edit it with an objective eye (King’s tactic), you can choose not to write on weekends, or you can incorporate mini-breaks into your writing sessions so that you avoid fatigue, eye strain, and the general discomfort that comes with sitting in a computer chair for long periods of time.

Rule # 17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings.

This rule is pretty self-explanatory, but if there is a sentence, or a scene in your novel that is not revealing character, or moving the plot forward, or is otherwise dull, then it has got to go.

Rule #18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. 

So many authors break this rule. If you’ve done extensive research for your novel, do not make your reader pay for this through lengthy info dumps or excessive description. Include the details that are interesting and that bring a scene to life, but remember that research is the backbone of the story – it’s not the story itself.

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Reading is the quickest and easiest way to improve your writing.

Rule # 19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. 

Writing workshops, classes, clubs, conferences, and craft books are valuable and you can learn A LOT (especially when starting out), but ultimately, the most valuable lessons you’ll learn are the ones you arrive at by yourself.

Reading and writing are the foundations of your craft.

Read well, by which I mean, think about what you are reading, look for the strings, dissect the work and consider what is working and what is not.

When editing your  work, be sure to question your decisions. Does this scene really need to be here? Are my character’s believable? Is the dialogue interesting? Have I used too many adverbs?

Rule #20. Writing is about getting happy. 

This is perhaps the best rule, we need to remember that writing is fun, or at least it’s supposed to be.

I can’t wrap this rule up any better than the King himself …

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”
— Stephen King


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Stephen King’s Twenty Rules of Writing

Before we get into this week’s blog, I’d like to acknowledge that people all across the United States (and the world) are transforming their grief into action following the death of George Floyd. For those who are interested, I’ve curated a short list of articles, websites, and podcasts that can help you sifted through the flood of information that is coming out right now.

Anti-racism Resources from Australia and Beyond

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice

whenwestandtogether.com

Writing class with Alexandra Franzen: How to Inspire People to Listen, Care, Take Action, and Change the World (honour system donation)

1619 Podcast by The New York Times 

About Race Podcast

George Floyd Memorial Fund

 

I understand that I will never understand.
However, I stand. 

There’s no smooth way to transition into this week’s blog and vlog, I can only hope that my 1000 word post and 10 minute video provide a brief moment of relief during these tense, angry, and grievous times. 


If you’ve been following along these past few week’s then you already know that I am doing a series all about writing rules. I started off this series with Octavia Butler’s nine rules of writing, followed by Natalie Goldberg’s seven rules of writing, and last week I unpacked Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules of fiction writing.

I do want to preface this post by saying that there aren’t any real rules for writing other than the ones you decided on for yourself. I’m making this series as a means of inspiration and education so that you can take the advice that appeals to you, and leaving the rest.

Stephen King
This week I am covering Stephen King’s TWENTY rules of writing. Don’t worry, I’ve split this blog into two posts, and today’s I am covering the first ten rules.

I’ve been beginning each of these posts with a brief author bio,  but I’m pretty sure you know who Stephen King is, so let’s jump straight into the rules.

The following blog outlines the first ten rules of SK’s twenty rules of writing (geared specifically towards fiction writing), followed by my own interpretation of each rule.

Rule #1: First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience 

This rule echoes a point I made in last week’s post: write the story you want to read.

King argues that your first draft should be written for yourself.

What he means by that is not only are you writing the story you want to write, but that you also allow the story to take you wherever it wants to go.

Don’t put on your editors hat until you start your second draft, this is where you can take out all the stuff that doesn’t need to be there.

Rule #2: Don’t use passive voice

Passive voice is when you turn the object of an action into the subject of a sentence.

For example, saying “Mandy hugged Clara” is active while “Clara was hugged by Mandy” is passive. Can you see the difference? Mandy’s action – giving a hug – is diminished when using passive voice.

Writing is revising.
Remove adverbs and change passive voice into active voice when editing your work.

Rule #3: Avoid adverbs

King has become famous for this rule, yet he openly acknowledges that of course he too uses adverbs.

You’ll note that the rule is avoid adverbs, not ignore them.

Adverbs can be a sign of lazy writing, but if you do the work up front you often won’t need to added these additional descriptors.

Think about it, if two characters are fighting and one leaves the room in a huff, you show the reader that the character’s are angry through their dialogue and actions, that way you DON’T have to relay on statements like, “he slammed the door, forcefully” because the reader already knows that the character is angry.

Rule #4 Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said”

Again, note that this rule is to avoid adverbs following “he said” and “she said.” Sometimes it is okay to say “he said, softly” or “she said, loudly”, but most of the time, a simple he or she said is all that is necessary.

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Don’t stress about perfect punctuation or grammar while drafting.

Rule #5. Don’t obsess over perfect grammar

As a writer, I believe that you do need to know the tools of your trade, but I can also appreciate that if you didn’t learn grammar in school, or if you were taught incorrectly, or simply weren’t paying attention, then learning these rules as an adult can be startling difficult.

It is important to learn the rules of grammar so that you can properly edit your own work and so that when you do break the rules, you do so intentionally.

That being said, your primary motivation for writing should always be to tell a good story.

Bad grammar may put a reader off a book, but nobody ever finished a book and said, “Wow, that author knows what a semicolon is and how to use it!”

Rule #6. The magic is in you

This rule speaks specifically to the fear of writing, King believe that most bad writing is rooted in fear and he advises aspiring writer to be bold and fearfulness in their storytelling.

You’ll notice that this rule echoes Natalie Goldberg’s rule of Loosen up.

Writing is a vulnerable act, but it would suck to get to the end of your life and to think that you never got to bring forth all of the treasures deep inside you because you were afraid. 

Read more
The more you read, the more your writing will improve.

Rule #7. Read, read, read

Interestingly, this did not appear on either Vonnegut’s or Goldberg’s list, but reading is essential to writing regardless of genre or form.

Unlike film or theatre, there are no secret stings being pulled behind the covers of a novel.

Everything you need to know about how to write a novel is right there on the page. If you want to see the strings, all you got to do is slow down and look for them.

Rule #8. Don’t worry about making other people happy

We’re all leading busy lives and few people can make writing their full-time gig. So, sometimes, you have to say no to opportunities, invitations, or events because you need to make time for your writing.

This will upset people, but that’s okay.

If you’ve made the decision that you’re going to write a book, then you need to honour that commitment and follow through until completion.

Sometimes, you have to say, “no, thank you” to a momentary pleasure in order to say “yes!” to a lifelong dream.

Turn off the TV and read instead
Only watch EXCESSIVE amounts of TV if you want to be a screen writer. If not, PICK UP A BOOK!

Rule #9. Turn off the TV 

Okay, I rarely watch TV, but because of the recent lockdown I started watching some TV (and movies) as a way to spend time with loved ones.

And I’ll tell you what, I haven’t been missing out on much.

Binge watching Netflix is a time suck and it will not support your dream of becoming a writer.

If you want to write for film and TV then that’s another story, but if you want to be a novelist then the time spent watching TV would be better spent either reading or writing.

Rule #10. You have three months

King believes that it should take three months to write the first draft of a novel.

This rule is a bit prescriptive, and yes, King has written a lot of novels (70+), experienced a wild level of success, and won many awards, but that’s because he figured out a process that works for him.

What we can take away from this rule is the idea of deadlines.

Creating a self-imposed deadline for your first draft is a great way to keep yourself on track and to create a sense of accountability, especially if you buddy up with another writing pal.

Which of these writing rules speak to you? What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received? Leave a comment below and let me know! Next week, I will be unpacking rules 11-20 of Stephen King’s twenty rules of writing, so be sure to join my email list so you don’t miss out!


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Kurt Vonnegut’s Eight Rules of Writing

Recently, I was checking the analytics on my YouTube Channel and noticed that a short video I posted over a year ago called Heinlein’s Five Rules for Writing was the most watched video on my channel.

So, I took the hint and decided to create a five-week long series uncovering the ‘writing rules’ of four famous authors. Firstly, I covered Octavia Butler’s nine rules of writing, then Natalie Goldberg’s seven rules of writing, and this week I’m focussing on Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules.

Kurt_Vonnegut_1972Kurt Vonnegut is an American writer who’s novel, Slaughterhouse Five, you probably read in high-school, and if you didn’t, I recommend you slide that puppy to the top of your TBR pile!

Vonnegut’s writing career spanned 50+ years. He published fourteen novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of nonfiction, with further collections published after his death.

If you haven’t read any of Vonnegut’s work, then here’s a quick quote that captures the his spirit well:

“Novel writing doesn’t breed serenity. It is lying, you know, and the novelist has to spend a lot of time during the course of his writing worrying about whether he is going to get away with his lies. If he fails to, his novel isn’t going to work.”

Now, I do want to preface this post by saying that there aren’t any real rules for writing other than the ones you decided on for yourself. I’m making this series as a means of inspiration and education so that you can take the advice that appeals to you, and leaving the rest.

In the following blog, I list Vonnegut’s eight rules of writing (geared specifically towards fiction writing), followed by my own interpretation of each rule.

Rule #1: Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

This rule takes on a totally different meaning in the age of technology. People are busy, our attention spans are shorter, we’re highly distracted, and we have easy access to entertainment. Contemporary novelists aren’t competing among themselves, they’re competing with Netflix, Stand, YouTube, Social Media, and so on.

Few people will stick with a book that isn’t demanding their attention, that they don’t feel compelled to read.

Few people are willing to invest their time in a work that doesn’t give them something back.

Rule #2: Give the reader at least one character they can root for.

I’ve read a lot of novels over the last few years, both literary and genre, whose casts are comprised of despicable characters; however, there was always one character who I despised a little bit less than everyone else or whose flaws were more endearing than off putting.

Everyone likes a fuck-up with a heart of gold. 

I absolutely believe that there are readers out there who are sophisticated enough to stay with a book whose characters are complex, contradicting, and unlikeable; I can think of several authors who’ve made best-selling careers out of this formula, and yet, even in these challenging works there is at least one character for whom the reader can root for.

Every character must want something
Every character must want something, even if it is a glass of water.

Rule #3: Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

One classic craft rule is, ‘figure out what your character wants and then take it away from them.’ This one simple tactic forms the basis of tension, character motivation, and narrative-drive.

If you know what your characters want, you also know the general trajectory of the plot, the core conflict, potential obstacles, and who your protagonist is.

Rule #4: Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action. 

This circles back to rule number one: don’t waste people’s time. You cannot afford to have any dead sentences in your story; every line must be doing something. A novel that keeps us awake until 2 a.m. does so because each sentence pulls us along into the next.

If a story is constantly turning, a reader will stick with it.

If the writer gives in to his poetic genius by publishing purple prose, then the reader will set down the book and turn on Netflix.

woman-2730919_1280
Every scene must do something, either reveal character or move the story forward.

Rule #5: Start as close to the end as possible.

This is a different take on ‘start in the middle’, but it bears the same philosophy: the only person who needs 150 pages of backstory is the author.

My favourite anecdote about this comes from Jay Kristoff, author of the Nevernight trilogy. While revising book one, Kristoff deleted 80,000 words from the start of the novel. Why? Because it was all backstory!

Now, you can weave that backstory into the main plot or you can allow that backstory to inform the narrative, but you do not need to hold the reader’s hand through pages of ‘set-up’ material.

We don’t care where a character has come from, we care where they are, and where they’re going.

food-2940555_1280
Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Rule #6: Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

This is probably the hardest rule, or at least it is for me.

If you love your characters, or at least like them, then you’re rooting for them to succeed. You want them to achieve their goals and to live long, happy, pain-free lives.

Unfortunately, that’s not very interesting to read. And victories without losses, aren’t that compelling.

We want to see the character overcome obstacles, pull up by their bootstraps, be clever, and survive emotional and physical setbacks; we want them to earn their victories.

Rule #7: Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

You decide who that person is; however, I hope that person is yourself.

Whether you decide to go indie or traditional, publishing is hard and you cannot control your readership. What you can control is your story. It would suck to spend five years writing a story that you think will sell and then have it tank. It would be even worse to write a book you aren’t that into, have it succeeded, and then feel compelled to continue in that series, genre, or style.

The best way to be happy as a writer is to write what you want to write, anything else will feel like a waste of time, money, or passion.

Rule #8: Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

This rule is perhaps a little controversial, though I have to say, I needed this advice while writing Every Time He Dies. There is a careful balance between withholding information as a form of suspense and withholding so much that your reader either becomes confused or bored, but what Vonnegut is getting at is that you can create narrative drive by dripping out information.

You need more than a good secret to keep a reader reading.

It is far more interesting to be given the information, to see what the core conflict is, and then to follow the character as they go about resolving it.


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Natalie Goldberg’s Seven Rules of Writing

Recently, I was checking the analytics on my YouTube Channel and noticed that a short video I posted over a year ago called Heinlein’s Five Rules for Writing was the most watched video on my channel.

So, I took the hint and for the next four weeks I am going to be covering the ‘writing rules’ of four famous authors. Last week, I discussed Octavia Butler and her Nine Rules of Writing and this week I’m unpacking Natalie Goldberg’s Seven Rules of Writing which appeared in her craft book Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life.

Before we dive into today’s video, I want to acknowledge that for many of us, writing may not be the biggest priority right now. We’re all dealing with a slew of other concerns as we’ve had to adjust to working from home, changes in our financial situations, and the general restrictions we’ve been adhering to as part of the pandemic.

In many places, these restrictions are starting to lift and while it may be some time until things get back to normal, I wanted to put this series together as a way to inspire and support you during this time.

Natalie Goldberg is an American author of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, but she is most Natalie Goldbergfamous of her books that explore writing as Zen practise.

While many craft based book focus on the nuts and bolts of writing – character, dialogue, plot, theme – Goldberg’s book focus on the emotional rewards of writing, as well as how to develop a writing practise. Goldberg’s methodology is skewed towards journal writing, but the advice presented in her books can easily be applied to all forms, whether it be fiction, poetry, or memoir.

The following quote sums up Goldberg’s writing philosophy perfectly:

“I don’t think everyone wants to create the great American novel, but we all have a dream of telling our stories-of realizing what we think, feel, and see before we die. Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate.”

Now, I do want to preface this blog by saying that there aren’t any real rules for writing other than the ones you decided for yourself. I’m making this series as a means of inspiration and education so that you can take the advice that appeals to you, and leaving the rest.

So, let’s get to it.

Rule #1: Keep your hand moving

This is perhaps Goldberg’s most famous rule. Keep your hand moving is a challenge to your will power and determination. It is also the best way to separate the editor from the creator. By keeping your hand moving, you are less likely to stop, ruminate over what you wrote, and give into the false temptation of perfectionism. It is easy to waste an hour of writing time fiddling with a paragraph or a single sentence.

There is a time for revising, and an hour spent polishing a paragraph is an hour well spent when you are in the revising stage of your novel. However, you do not need to be wearing your editing hat if you are creating a first draft, if you are new to writing, or if you are simply trying to make writing a habit.

Writing wins when you keeping your hand moving.

Rule #2: Lose Control

We self-censor our work all the time. Why? Because writing is a vulnerable act. If you are writing memoir, this is doubly so because you are sharing personal details and stories from your own lived experience.

Writing fiction is its own sticky net. Sometimes people mistakenly think that our work is memoir in fancy dress and that our characters are mouth-pieces for our own thoughts and beliefs. Sometimes, writing fiction is shameful because we fear that what we have written isn’t very good.

There are so many ways that we judge our work and censor ourselves during creating practise.

We cringe at the idea of our grandmother reading the sex scene in chapter seven, or that our friends will assume that’s what we’re in too!

When you are writing a first draft, or when you are writing for practise (exercises, journaling), it’s important that you loosen up. No one is going to read your work and judge you unless you let them.

Let the words be ripped out of you, raw, and covered in gore.

If you want to write something that feels alive, then you need to write honestly, without censorship.

Losing control in your writing can be a good thing.
Losing control in your writing can be a good thing.

Rule #3: Be specific

This rule relates to writing craft on the line level. It is the details that transform words on a page into images in the reader’s mind. So, when you’re writing, it’s important that you pay attention to the nouns, verbs, colours, and texture, that create your descriptions.

Not every sentence has to be filled with original prose and breath taking beauty – some sentences are just there to move the story forward – but if you’re practising the art of ‘keeping your hand moving’ and notice that one sentence seem a bit … vanilla … push yourself to be more specific in the next sentence.

Focussing on sensory details or embedding imaginative metaphors and similes are just some of the ways you can become more specific in your descriptions.

Rule #4: Don’t think

If you’re keeping your hand moving, then there really isn’t that much time to think anyway, but Goldberg makes a strong argument for following your “first thought” when writing.

For Goldberg, this rule, specifically, is tied to her Zen practise: by following her first thought, she supports rules two and three, because she is forced to stay in the present moment. By staying present, she is better able to avoid self-censorship, keep her inner editor at bay, and to really let loose with her writing.

Personally, I believe that “don’t think” is a good practise for writers like myself who need to get down a crappy first draft before they can move forward.

The ideas that appear in a first draft won’t be the best, but by getting down the bones of the story we can begin the slow process of building that skeleton up into a completed book.

Don't think about what to write
If you think too long about what to write next, you’ll freeze and write nothing!

Rule #5: Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar

This is another way to stay present with the work in the moment. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar are duties that belong to the editor and your editor does not need to be in the room while you are drafting or journaling or brainstorming.

The editor operates out of the left side of brain. She is analytical, literal, and thinks linearly. Exploratory writing needs the qualities of the right side, creative, imaginative, non-linear.

Spelling, punctuation, and grammar are important, but they are not the building blocks you need to concern yourself with if you are drafting or simply trying to developing a writing habit.

Rule #6: You are free to write the worst junk in the world

You don’t have to publish it, but you’re free to write it.

The more you write, the bigger your body of work will become. The more you write, the better your writing will become.

But, of course, not everything you write will be good, even if your writing as a whole improves. Stephen King has written 70+ books and The Tommyknockers is definitely not of the same calibre as The Shinning, The Stand, It, 11/22/63 … you get the picture.

Write bad stuff, write good stuff, just write. 

Be bold and brave in your writing
Go for the jugular. Be brave and bold in your writing!

Rule #7: Go for the jugular

If something uncomfortable, controversial, painful, wild, or surprising pops up while you’re writing, don’t stop! Keep your hand moving, continue with the thought and write it all out. As Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

Remember, you don’t have to publish what you’ve written and you can always edit your work later, but it’s important that you give yourself permission for the writing to be messy, undulating, and alive.

You may end your writing session, look back on your work and see nothing but chaos, but as long as there is a beating heart nestled within that story, then you have done your job and it’s up to your inner-editor to plug that heart into the body of your story.


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Octavia Butler’s Nine Rules for Writing

Recently, I was checking the analytics on my YouTube Channel and noticed that a short video I posted over a year ago called Heinlein’s Five Rules for Writing was the most watched video on my channel.

So, I took the hint and for the next five week’s I am going to be covering the ‘writing rules’ of four famous authors: Octavia Butler, Natalie Goldberg, Kurt Vonnegut and Stephen King: who’s rules I have broken up into two parts.

In today’s blog, I am breaking down Octavia Butler’s Nine Rules for Writing. If you’re not super familiar with Octavia Butler or her work, here’s the highlights.

Octavia ButlerOctavia Butler was an African American Science Fiction writer whose 1979 novel, Kindred, cemented her position in the literary cannon. She was one of the first female authors, and one of the first African American authors, to break into the predominately white, male-dominated world of science fiction. She is most well known for her Parable Series, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talent. Unfortunately, Butler passed before she was able to finish the final novel in the trilogy, Parable of the Trickster.

Prior to becoming a full-time author, Butler worked a string of menial jobs where she would get up at 2 am and write until she had to go to work. Once she became a full-time author, she’d divide her days between writing and reading. Luckily for us, Butler kept a journal where she documented her life and feelings, yes, but also her writing process. Her journals and research notebook were donated to The Huntington Library two years after Butler’s death in 2006.

One of my favourite entries written before Butler became a full-time published author reads: “I shall be a bestselling writer. I will find the way to do this. So be it! See to it.”

As African-American woman in the 1970s, Butler had to overcome many obstacles in order to achieve that dream. It took create determination, discipline, and of course, good storytelling.

Butler’s nine rules for writers were published in an essay titled Furor Scibendi. As Butler describes in her own words, “Writing for publication may be both the easiest and the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Learning the rules — if they can be called rules — is the easy part.”

In this video, I will list Butler’s nine rule of writing followed by my own interpretation of each rule.


Rule #1: Read

As you can imagine, Butler was an avid reader. She pushed herself to read from a wide variety of materials including fiction and non-fiction.

She read bad books and good books, and books she wished to emulate. She even educated herself on the art, craft and business of writing by reading text in each of these fields.

If you want to be a writer, then you must first be a reader.

You do not have to like reading, but you should do it anyway.

If you are time poor or have a short attention, then audiobooks are your friend! You can listen to them when commuting, exercising, or while you complete mindless tasks like cooking or cleaning.

Rule#2: Take classes and go to writers’ workshops 

We all learnt how to read and write in primary school, but writing is called a craft for a reason. You may know how to kick a football or how to upload a video on YouTube, but that doesn’t make you a sports superstar or a tech genius.

Signing up for writing class and workshops is the best way to develop your skill as a writer as you will receive feedback on both the quality of your writing on a sentence level as well as what is working in your story and what is not.

It is vital that you get feedback from people outside of your family and friends.

You can still question the feedback given to you by strangers, but the critiques delivered in writing workshops are often more trustworthy because they aren’t tainted by obligation or affection.

Writing Wokrshops
Writing workshops are a great way to get feedback on your work and to develop your craft.

Rule #3: Write

Butler recommends that you write every day for as long as possible, and for a long time I agreed with this prescriptive advice.

But the truth is, there is no one way to write.

Some people work best when their hands are touching their story every single day and others work better by ‘binge writing.’

You have to write to be a writer, what that process looks like is totally up to you. 

If you’re an established writer, then chances are you know what works best for you. And at a guess, I’d say your two biggest hurdles would be 1) your own personal resistance and 2) the need to protect your writing time from other outside sources.

If you’re new or newish to writing, then I suggest you experiment with a wide variety of routines and methods. Mess around with different times of day, different genres, writing styles, different locations; write with an outline, write without an outline, write listening to music and in total silence. Figure out what you need in order to get order on the page and then make sure you get it.

Personally, and Butler agrees with me here, I recommend that you keep a journal.

Writing in a journal is a great way to reflect on your creative practise, to interrogate your work, to become an observer of your own life, thoughts, and feeling, and to respond to what you see happening in the world around you.

It’s a place for you to figure out what you really think, which is an invaluable thing to know if you want to write about politics, social justice issues, human relationships, desire, depression – whatever.

Rule #4: Revise your writing until it’s as good as you can make it

Okay, guys, your first draft is not your last draft.

You must revise your writing.

Fortunately, all that time spent reading, writing, and attending classes, and workshops will help you do this. Look for plot holes and consistency with your characters and point of view; proofread for typos; revise your work until it is as good as you can make it.

Now, Butler does not talk about beta readers in her rules, but I recommend that you reach out to other readers and writers whose opinions you trust and ask them to critique your work.

Once you’ve read through their feedback and applied whatever changes you agree with, give your manuscript a final once over, and if you are traditionally publishing, make sure your manuscript follows the publisher’s formatting guidelines.

Revising your manuscript
Your first draft is not your last draft. You must edit your writing.

Rule #5: Submit your work for publication 

If you want to traditionally publish your work, then Butler urges you to research the various markets that interest you.

Become familiar with the books or magazines of publishers that you want to sell your work too. Once you’ve decided on a publisher, the only thing left to do is submit.

Yes, submitting your work can be scary, but it’s important that you be brave and hit the send button anyway.

If your story is rejected, that’s okay, find another publisher and send it out again.

Continue this process until you get a ‘yes!’

Reject is a part of life as a writer, so it’s important that you a) get used to it and b) develop ways to cope with it.

Now, Butler doesn’t address self-publishing, specifically because she published her rules at a time when self-publishing was crazy expensive, not very common, and frankly, looked down on.

Fortunately, things have changed and Indie publishing is a totally viable and potentially lucrative option for many authors. Much like traditionally publishing, if you want to go the indie route then you must do your research.

Rule #6: Forget inspiration

Inspiration is fickle, habit is more dependable.

Developing a discipline around writing by committing to a certain number of hours, sessions, or words a week is what will carry you over the finish line long after inspiration has fallen out of the race.

You may not have made writing a habit yet, but there are so many tricks you can use to create habits that stick. One of my favourite writers on this topic is Gretchen Rubin.

Inspired to write
You have all the inspiration you need to write the novel of your heart. Inspiration is great, but habit is more dependable.

Rule #7: Forget talent

Talent is no good to you if you don’t first have the habit of writing. If you are a naturally talented writer great, but if you’re not don’t sweat it. Writing can be taught (insert obvious disclaimer). Good writing comes from learning the craft, practising with intent, and editing your work until it sings.

As Butler says, “Never let pride or laziness prevent you from learning, improving your work, and changing its direction when necessary.”

Rule #8: Don’t worry about imagination

One of the most common questions an author gets is, “where do you get your ideas?”

And of course, the answer is everywhere.

Books, writing, learning, and living a reflective life will keeps the flames of your creativity stoked. You have all the imagination you need to create stories that make people feel something, to see the world in a different way, to be entertained and educated.

Remember that writing is fun; play with your story, the words that you use, the storylines you create.

Nothing is too silly and if it is, you can always edit it later.

Rule #9: Persist

This is perhaps the most important rule as this character trait underlines every aspect of being a writer.

You must persist.

You must continue to develop your craft, ask hard questions of your work, read when you don’t feel like reading, write when you don’t feel like writing, ignore reject letters and continue on submitting anyway.

The only difference between an aspiring writer and a published one is persistence.


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Overcome Your Fear of Writing: Four Tips

You probably don’t know this, but I am the president of my university’s writing club.

Hang in there, I am telling you this for a reason!

Recently, I was hosting a stall at a sign-up day in an effort to recruit some new members, and to make the stall a little more interesting, the VP and I decided to run a wee-little writing competition.

In short, we brainstormed a bunch of writing prompts, stuck them around the table, and waited for all the budding writers to show up.

The rules were simple:

  • pick a prompt (or make up your own)
  • grab a post-it note
  • write a piece of flash fiction.

The prize? A coffee voucher.

Because writers love coffee.

Now here’s the interesting thing: forty people signed up that day, but only three entered the competition.  

Many of the writers were intrigued by the competition; they would pick up a prompt — excitement spreading over their face — but then their eyes would glazed over as the took in the stack of black post-its, presumably overwhelmed by all the possible stories they could write.

But unfortunately, most of those stories went unwritten.

Several times I slide a pen and pad towards a tempted writer only to have them take a step back.

‘Oh, no I can’t!’ They’d lift their hand like a shield, embarrassed that they’d even considered entering the impromptu competition.

This same pattern repeated for the next two hours and I left that sign-up day having learnt something very important: writers are terrified of writing.

Now, I know that it can be hard to write, because sometimes we feel like we don’t know what we are doing (most of the time we don’t know what we are doing), but I never thought of writing as being scary.

So, this got me thinking about the type of courage it takes to write.

Writing is a leap of faith
It takes courage to write the stories buried deep inside you.

Many of these budding writers refused to participate in the competition because they were afraid that whatever they wrote “wouldn’t be good enough”; they thought I was going to judge them.

Now, yes of course, I was judging the stories because it was a competition, but I wasn’t judging them as people.

This predicament then leads to the old paradox of art vs the artists:

  • do we need to consider the artist when experiencing their work?
  • And if so, to what extent?

But I digress.

The thing that really baffled me though, is that the stakes were so low!

The competition was free.

There was no entry fee.

It took less than five minutes to participate in it.

Seriously, guys (!), the “entry form” was a freaking post-it!

These stories were NOT going to be engrave in stone.

I even tried to make the writing component of the competition easy by displaying multiple prompts! If one prompt failed to spark an idea, the aspiring writer could choose another.

Even the length was easy, the story had to fit on a post-it.

Plus, you could win a free coffee. As we already know, writers love coffee!

I was amazed that so many people who were interested in joining a writing club, a club where presumably we would be reading and critiquing one another’s works (in addition to the usual chit-chat that comes along with social clubs), were afraid to actually write!

In short, if you are writer who is afraid to write, or perhaps you are simple afraid to share your writing, then the following four tips may help you.

Writing Prompt
The blank page can be a scary place when you don’t know have a direction or plan for your writing session.

#1 Know where to start 

As you’ll already know from the above story, prompts are a great way to get you started if you are tapped out of ideas.

Here are some of my favourite prompts:
– I remember …
– She opened the lid …

Not knowing where to start can be paralysing, but this is such a silly reason not to write.

Here’s the thing, writing is really re-writing or to put it more elegantly, revising.

Of course, sometimes, writing is incredibly fun, but sometimes writing can be really uncomfortable; writing can be hard when the words aren’t flowing naturally and you don’t know what should happen next.

It’s really important that you keep things in perspective: you’re not trying to save the world, in fact, writing a book is a very inefficient way to save the world.

Keeping you expectations in check is also recommended. Do not approach the blank page with the belief that your story will one day become a best-seller or Pulitzer Prize winner. That’s a lot of pressure to put on your writing! (And you).

Loosen up. It’s okay to write something that doesn’t work. It’s okay to write something that is bad.

First drafts are supposed to be sh*t, that’s why editing was invented.  

Being Judge
Being judged for your writing is the number one reason why people don’t publish their creative work.

# 2 Fear of being judge

People will judge you and that’s okay. You judge people all the time and their life, as well as your own, continues on just fine.

Your work is going to be judge. It will be judge by your beta-readers, editors, agents, publishers, and readers.

If you want to get published, then you need to develop some strategies on how to deal with criticism and feedback.

Look, I get it.

Sharing your art with people is scary, but focus on the positive. You don’t know what impact your writing is going to have on those who read it, and you are incapable of seeing your work accurately.

Your work could be really good, but how will you ever know if you don’t show anyone? And if you’re writing isn’t “that good” then how will you ever know that you need to improve?

And further, how will you know what needs improving?

Rejection is a part of life.

Hate to break it to you, buttercup, but learning how to handle rejection is an important part of life and a reality for any author.

You can either have 999 rejects and one ‘hell yes!’, or you can zero of both.

Consuming good content
Reading is the only apprenticeship a writer has. You must read in order to write.

#3 Consume good content 

If you are really struggling to think of anything to write, but you feel compelled to write something, then perhaps your problem is that you aren’t consuming enough content, or at least not enough of the ‘right’ content.

If you are just starting out don’t stress, there are so many ways for you to build your writing muscles and to learn about the craft.

You can:

– Read craft books! Here are some of my favourites, On Writing by Stephen King, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, The Writer’s Room by Charlotte Wood and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. (If you have any others, please leave a comment at the end of this blog).

– Read lots of books! The only apprenticeship for writing is reading. Pay attention to what you are reading: make note of any unfamiliar words, unique descriptions, clever dialogue or turns of phrase.

– A great way to learn about sentence structure is to grab a beloved book and to write out some of your favourite sentences or paragraphs.

– Read or watch interviews with authors you admire. In fact, my weekly newsletter includes a round-up of inspiring podcasts, videos, blogs, or articles that I have recently read and loved.

– Watch your favourite movies and dissect the story. What happens when? How would you describe the characters or the setting? How did the narrative surprise you?

– Start keeping an ‘inspiration diary.’  Make a record of any interesting articles, sights, sounds, objects, or images that spark your imagination. If you get an idea for a story, or if a funny exchange of dialogue ‘pops’ into your head, write that down too.

How to overcome your fear of being judged and publish your writing
At some point, the only way to overcome your fear of being judged is to publish your writing and to see what happens.

#4 Publish Your Work

There’s a strategy used on patient who struggled with severe cases of OCD … Now, I’m not a doctor and I can’t be bothered Googling the name of this method, but here’s a SUPER WATERED DOWN example to illustrate my point …

If a patient believes they have to turns the door knob three times before leaving the house in order to stop something bad from happening, the therapist challenges the patient to lock the door and to walk away without checking the handle. What happens next?

Nothing.

And that’s the point.

I urge you to try a similar method with your writing.

Write a short story and post it on your blog or submit it to any of the brilliant websites or blogs listed on The Grinder.

You can post a piece of flash fiction on your Instagram or you could type a piece of micro-fiction and tweet it.

Why?

Because the sooner you publish your work the sooner you’ll realise how unimportant it is.  

I don’t mean to be harsh, I’m just being honest.

I love writing; I love words; I think stories are awesome and I am proud to be a writer, but I also realise that if I never wrote another word again, the world would keep on burning turning.

So, there you have it.

Those are my four tips on how to overcome your fear of writing. Now, I’d love to hear from you. Do you struggle with sharing your writing? What did you do to over-come it? Leave your comment below and let’s get this conversation started, because the world needs your story.


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A Day in the Life of a Writer During Quarantine

There’s a lot of negativity bouncing around on the internet these days, so I thought I would post this funny little blog that documents a day in the life of a writer during the quarantine lockdown.

Who knows? Maybe this post will be of interest to future historians wanting to know what life was like for a writer during the pandemic … but I doubt it. Hopefully you’ll see a little of yourself in the following post, and hopefully it will give you a little giggle.

Stay calm, stay sane, and keep writing.

Enjoy!


4:30 a.m. Wake-up. Plead with my brain to shut up and go back to sleep. You don’t have to be awake right now! No one is awake right now!! When pleading fails, I try bargaining. If you go back to sleep right now, you can have pancakes for breakfast, and drink the expensive chai, and work on projects that you actually like and …

4:45 a.m. Try to creep out of bed like a ninja so I don’t wake my partner. Sneeze three times, drop my phone, open the door too slowly resulting in a hideous creak that is reminiscent of a ghost with ill-intent …

5 a.m. – 5:10 a.m. Meditate, or at least try to meditate, but the inside of my brain looks a little like this: Inhale, exhale, ribs swinging, inhale … What should I do today? Should I work on the next chapter or research instead? Oh, crap, my breath, right. Exhale, inhale … I think I want avocado on toast for breakfast. Man I’m hungry. Should I eat before or after I walk the dog? Shit. Inhale, exhale. This continues for ten minutes or until I check the time and decide eight minutes is good enough.

5:10 a.m. Make a cup of tea and open current read (The Blue Jay’s Dance by Louise Erdrich). Ignore dog who is staring at me: provided of food, decider of walks.

5:30 a.m. I cave beneath the pressure of those unblinking, unshifting eyes, and take my persistent hound for a walk.

5:40 a.m: Circle around a couple walking towards me on the footpath. Wish them good morning. Wonder if they are the only other humans I will speak to today.

5:45 a.m: Photographs some roses in the park, post them on Instagram. #grateful. #pandemicsurvival.

6:30 a.m. Arrive back home, hound paws my legs until I get her breakfast. Raises her front left paw in anticipation of ‘shake?’ I grab a stick-note and write: do not be ashamed to dance for your food. Today might be a good day for pitching lifestyle listicles to online magazines, Seven Tips for Decluttering Your Home, Five Tips for Working from Home, How Not to Murder Your Roommate. 

6:30-6:45 a.m. Write out a to-do list in an effort to feel in control and orderly. It won’t look that bad once it’s out of my head and onto paper. Oh, the lies we feed ourselves.

6:45 – 6:50 a.m. Light a candle. Fold to-do list in half. Can you see where this is going? Oh, the joy of tiny, controllable fires.

6:50 – 8:30 am. Open WIP document. Slip into alternative world featuring talking animals and ambitious women.

8:30 – 9 a.m. Wonder how much longer my partner can possible stay in bed for. Doesn’t he know it’s a bright beautiful day and that I am f**king starving and want to have breakfast?

9:01 a.m. Maybe I should just have breakfast without him? Selfish bastard.

9:02 a.m. Scroll Instagram while boiling the kettle for another pot of tea. Stomach grumbles. WIP continues to bite at my heels.

9:05 a.m. Wander back to my laptop, tea in hand, only to discover that my partner has manifested at the other end of the table and that he appears to be in a state of mid-morning-desperation that can only be solved by caffeine. The dog leaps out of bed, drops her stuffed toy animal at my feet, and glares at me: the almighty player of fetch.

9:45-10 a.m. Cross fingers, pray to the Gods of Delicious Breakfasts and cut open an avocado. It is brown. Yet again my prayers have gone unanswered and we instead have pancakes with a side of virus-update chit-chat.

10 a.m. – 10:05 a.m. Interrogate my partner: are you okay? Are you bored? Do you want to do something today?
I don’t have to work.
Okay, well, look I do have to work today, but only a tiny bit.
What’s with the candles? The pile of ash? Nothing, really, just my schedule for the next three months.
Fancy another coffee?

10:05 a.m – 12pm. Left breakfast dishes to bored-out-of-his-mind partner, and return to writing desk. Open email and loss an hour of my life. Bookmark five MUST READ articles that I have no interest in reading right now.

12pm – 12:30pm. Decide that I really need to move my body, so I play fetch with the dog until even she becomes bored.

12:30 – 2pm. Open an audio file that needs transcribing. Swing between loving the process and wondering if one day all this typing will lead to arthritis.

2pm – 2:30pm. Break for lunch. Talk about virus again. Remove pile of ash from table.

2:30 – 4pm. Battle a dreadful case of post-lunch sleepiness. After twenty minutes of white knuckling through my draft, I realise that I am incapable of producing anything meaningful right now. Convince myself that watching hawk videos on YouTube counts as legitimate, important “book research”.

4pm – 4:02pm. Too early for wine?

4:02pm –5pm. Realise that I need to draft my next batch of blogs, so I bribe myself by writing while also replaying a write-in livestream. My attention is divided, so the blogs aren’t the best. Except for this one of course, this week’s blog is EPIC! GOLDEN! MAJESTIC!

5pm. Dog senses a slight change in the quality of the light, a drop in temperature, an increase in early evening precipitation; she launches from her bed, sits loyally by my chair and stares.

5:05pm – 5:55pm. Owner, mighty providers of walks, obliges her faithful hound.

6:00pm. Feed dog, crack open a bottle of wine, Google bread recipes.

6:10pm. Open pantry in search of inspiration. Upon finding no yeast or flour (the last used for this morning’s pancakes), I reside myself to the fact that I will not be making a load of rustic, instagram worthy bread for dinner. Top up wine glass. Rice and veggies it is.

7:00pm. Dinner, more talk about the virus. Another glass of wine. “Discuss” whether tonight should be a movie night or a reading night. Flip a coin. I win.

8:00 –  9:00pm. Read until the lines on the page begin to blur and become a mess of squiggles. Wonder how much longer this will continue on for, and whether I can sleep past 5 a.m. tomorrow morning — knowing that I will be unable to bribe my inner-task with the promise of pancakes, odds aren’t in my favour.


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While you’re here, be sure to join my email newsletter and gain instant access to your FREE downloadable copy of the Seven Ways to Stay Motivated as a Writer. Plus, you’ll receive my weekly newsletter straight to your inbox every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog/vlog, updates and other exclusive content that I ONLY share via email.