Writing Prompts: I Try Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Practice Day Three

In an effort to keep these weekly videos interesting (for myself, and you!), I’ve decided to try Natalie Goldberg’s writing advice/routine for seven days.

Today’s video is Day Three. Here, I experiment with what Goldberg has to say about writing prompts and how to create your own!


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Writing Detail: I try Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Practice Advice

In an effort to keep these weekly videos interesting (for myself, and you!), I’ve decided to try Natalie Goldberg’s writing advice/routine for seven days.

Today’s video is Day Two. Here, I experiment with what Goldberg has to say about detail and most importantly, how to write it well!


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

I try Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Routine: Day One

In an effort to keep these weekly videos interesting (for myself, and you!), I’ve decided to try Natalie Goldberg’s writing advice/routine for seven days.

Today’s video is Day One, and though I am very familiar with Goldberg’s approach to writing, I was still surprised by the results.


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

The Writer’s Well: Filling Your Creativity


I’ve never experimented with the style of my weekly videos.

After filming 113 writing advice video, I’ve decided to try something new.

Is today’s videos groundbreaking? Hardly.

Will its contents alter the way you write? I doubt it.

Was it refreshing to just make something up on the fly and try something different? 100%.

This video is far from perfect and I could see many changes that I would make next time were I to try this style again. But, it was fun and there are portions of the video that work rather well (it gets better the further it goes on, I think).

Note, that there is no formal blog this week as I came up with my script in real time while putting the video together.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this small experiment—be kind!

Seven Tips for Proofreading Your Novel

I’m about to conduct the final pass on the book I have been writing for the past three years. Now, the book isn’t about to get published, but I am about to submit it as part of my dissertation. And trust me, when it’s about to come out in real life, I will be letting you know.  

While I have read the full manuscript numerous times, I am yet to perform an actual proofread. 

The reason why is because proofreading is the final step in the writing process. 

Think about it; there isn’t much point in fixing up all your typos, missing words, or grammatical and punctuation errors until you are certain that you are happy with the story on a structural level and at the line level. 

So in today’s post, I am sharing my seven tips for proofreading your novel.

Tip #1: Less is more

Details aren’t my strong suit and proofreading is all about the details. 

It requires a high level of concentration to perform a good proofread on a book, and for that reason, I plan on only editing in short bursts of an hour or less. 

Basically, as soon as I feel myself getting distracted, reading too quickly, or if I feel my attention is wanning, then it’s time to call it a day–or at least take a break. 

# 2: Paper 

I plan on doing this proofread on paper rather than the screen. 

We’ve all heard that we tend to skim when reading on screen and that we often absorb more when we read on paper. 

By editing on paper, I am eliminating all the potential distractions that come along with working on a computer: social media, emails, and all that is the internet. 

I am also more likely to identify and recognise errors because it is easier to control reading speed when editing on paper, which brings me to my next point.

# 3: Slow and close reading

I have read this novel so many times and I am totally blind to its inconsistencies and errors. I am so familiar with the work that it has become fixed in my mind as if it is set and finished. 

The reason why you need to take a break between writing and editing is that our brain will often insert missing words and skim over errors on the page because we know what we meant to say, even if that isn’t actually reflected on the page. 

To conduct a slow and close read, I will literally be reading the novel a sentence at a time, and to ensure that I don’t run ahead, I will use a ruler or a sheet of paper that I slowly move down the page as I read. By doing this, I can only visually see one line at a time and that line is more likely to get my full attention because my eyes are not drifting towards the next sentence. 

In the spirit of slowing down, I’ll also be reading the work out loud. This will help me identify any awkward phrasing, missing words, or incomplete sentences. Though this read will primarily be focussed on identifying errors within the text, reading aloud will also allow me to check the rhythm of the work, which is personally really important to me. 

# 4: Physical comfort

This may seem silly, but you must be physically comfortable when doing a proofread. 

I mean, you should be physically comfortable anytime you are writing, editing, or otherwise working at a desk, but the reason why I raise this point here is because you don’t want your attention to be divided between the manuscript and the uncomfortable chair you are sitting on, or the too hot room, or the fact that your new puppy is chewing your charging chord… 

If you are reading on paper, then make sure you are also doing so in a way that’s going to prevent you from putting your neck out or causing round shoulders. I want you to do a good proofread, but you don’t need to look like the Hunchback of Notre-Dame to do so. 

#5: Breathing space

As I mentioned before, it can be much easier to edit your own work when you place some distance between read-throughs. In my opinion, if you can, it is ideal to have a break between the structural edit and the copyedit and another break before you begin the proofread. 

If you notice things you’d like to address in your next round of edits, certainly make a note of it or fix it on the spot, but again it is essential to have these breaks as a way to defamiliarise yourself from the narrative. 

# 6: Look out for your writing tics

If you’ve been writing for a while, then you likely are aware of the words and phrases you use all the time. During the proofread, it is important to look out for these tics as they can become grating for the reader if they appear too often in the text. 

For instance, some words that I seem to use all the time are turning and towards. In my fiction, everyone seems to be turning or going towards something. I also have a weird habit of dropping the ‘s’ on my plurals, for example, she had so many hat or too many wine. I also have a weird tendency to use too many compound sentences with the conjunction but. For example, The office was ordinarily quiet, but not today. Or Susan didn’t want to invite Louise in, but she did.  

#7: Proofing during my optimal hours

As I mentioned, proofreading requires a high level of concentration. For this reason, I plan on doing my proofread during the times of day when I feel my best. Personally, I am a morning person. As my days go on, my brain slowly shifts from being an optimistic wonderland of creativity and productivity to a bowl of mashed potatoes. 

As I am only proofreading for an hour or less, a day, I plan on scheduling that time before the rest of my work day begins. 

And that’s all I’ve got for you today. 

How do you approach the proofreading of your manuscripts? Are there any tools or tricks that I didn’t mention that assist you through this stage? 

Writing Motivation: Pressure or Leisure

Are you motivated by tight deadlines? Do you only write well under pressure? 

Or are you the type of writer who needs plenty of time to daydream, experiment, draft, and revise at your leisure?

(I know this intro sounds like an infomercial, but I promise I am not selling you anything but my thoughts). 

I’ve recently had a number of conversations with other writers (fiction, non, and scholarly) about their writing process, particularly in relation to deadlines and procrastination. 

Many of these writers shared that they were only motivated to write when they were pressed against a hard deadline. These deadlines ranged from publication dates (self-imposed dates set by indie authors) to speaking gigs to academic milestones (think presentations, papers, thesis submissions etc.). 

These types of writers are not motivated by long-deadlines. Some may ‘waste’ months procrastinating on their writing task (self-imposed or not) before going hard and fast in the few days before their book, presentation, or journal article is due. Others initially described themselves as procrastinators, but when prompted to elaborated, they realised they spent most of that time thinking about their plot or argument (often for months), and the deadline forced them to commit to a particular shape/form/stance. 

In both instances, it was the deadline that encouraged the writer to take action and put words down on the page. 

What struck me most about these conversations is how many writers work this way.    

For myself, I prefer a slow and steady approach. I find deadlines immensely stressful, and I do not do my best work in this environment. To be clear, the writers who work under pressure agreed that working in this way was very stressful, but many had accepted that this was their process, and though they would prefer to work consistently on major projects, the work alone was not enough to motivate them. They need an external sense of accountability. 

Deadlines are real, and missing them has real consequences. 

If you don’t finish writing the novel that you’ve already made available for preorder, then your readers will be very angry with you and you’ll have to refund their money. If you’re collaborating with other scholars on a journal and you don’t complete your portion of the paper, you could all miss out on a publication. These types of missteps can also severely harm your reputation and ability to secure similar opportunities in the future. 

And it is this fear, I think, that people find motivating. If I don’t finish this piece of writing, then something bad will happen. 

Could you create this same sense of external accountability without putting your reputation at risk? There are ways, but it’s difficult to say how effect they would be (as this depends on your personality and what motivates you). 

You could…

  • Set false deadlines
  • Work with an accountability partner
  • Hire an editor/coach (investing money is good motivation!)
  • Imagine how thankful your future self will be
  • Set weekly meetings with a mentor or fellow writer
  • Work with beta-reader where you must send them your pages by a particular day
  • Tell your spouse/kids/best friend that when you finish writing [x] you’ll go do something fun (hike/holiday/theme park etc)—this make you accountable to someone else

For myself, even these types of tactics make me feel stressed and anxious. I prefer writing to be a pleasant experience whether I’m working on non-fiction, fiction, teaching materials, or academic papers. 

I work best when I know I have a lot of time to complete a project. I want to sink into my work so that my focus is on the work and not the ticking clock. 

Often, I overestimate how long it’s going to take me to complete a piece. My honours project was done two months before the due date, meaning that I had plenty of time to do fine proofreading and referencing checking (small details are not my strength, so I really need this time). Every Time He Dies was complete and ready to publish six months before I released it, meaning I could focus all my energy on creating a book release plan and marketing strategies. 

This is not to say that I don’t feel stressed, but my stress is internally generated rather than externally. I know that if I don’t make time for writing then the stories and papers I want to publish will never be complete. I am more afraid of not writing then writing. If I don’t write, then…well, I’d have to get another job–and that would suck. 

Even though I want writing to be pleasant and enjoyable, there is still a low-grade stress that comes with it, and that’s okay because stress is motivating! The difference, though, is that I feel anxious and excited before I start writing, and it is this stress that gets me to the page. For others, they feel stressed, anxious, or excited while writing because of their looming deadline. 

There is no right or wrong way to write. We all create differently and all ways lead to written products if you choose to put your time and energy into it. The only time it is a problem is if you decide that the way you work is no longer working for you. 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Is scrolling the same as reading?

Recently, my partner and I have been having an ‘argument’. For the past several months I have, with various levels of dedication, attempted to pick up whatever book I am reading when I would ordinarily pick up my phone.

 

Times when I ordinarily reach for my phone: 

  • when the person I am with opens their phone 
  • waiting for the kettle to boil
  • waiting for my partner to get ready
  • while uploading a video to YouTube 
  • the weird gaps of time that happen between things/tasks/activities

In these instances, I’ve started to pick up my book instead. So, it’s now become a reasonably frequent– though imperfect!–habit to pick up my book when my partner picks up his phone and starts scrolling. 

Then one night, when we were preparing to have a late dinner and watch an episode of Sandman, he picked up his phone and I said, ‘No! Don’t do that. There is nothing on Instagram worth seeing and I don’t want to lose you for the next twenty minutes. 

He then said (a tad tongue and cheekish) that he saw no difference between him picking up his phone and scrolling and me reading my book. 

Dear reader, I know I don’t have to explain the difference to you between scrolling and reading but just in case I do, here’s a short list:

  • Reading is a form of entertainment where you are not the product (because you have bought the book, you own a product. Social media is free because you are the product)
  • Reading reduces stress (rather than increasing anxiety)
  • Reading increases your vocabulary (and hopefully absolves you of saying stupid things like ‘I’m so here for it’ or ‘rate it’ or ‘unforch’) 
  • People who read daily live longer (phone scrollers get into car accidents)
  • Reading challenges your perspective (rather than re-enforcing it by only showing you news articles, people, products, or services that mirror your search history)
  • Reading improves sleep (whereas blue light and the interactive nature of social media and clickbait excites us)
  • Reading prevents cognitive decline (turns you into a zombie)
  • Reading means you don’t have to be alone (screen and social media lead to comparison and often heighten loneliness [once you’ve closed the app])
  • Reading inspires you (social media can absolutely do this too(!), but it can also lead to comparison. Why don’t I have a six-pack, magazine-worthy kitchen, perfect puppy, and white-toothed smile?) 

Obviously, I still use my phone and writing this blog and filming this video is very hypocritical because I used new technology to make all of this. I didn’t write these blogs on my phone or film my video using a fancy iPhone camera, but I did use my fancy laptop and I’ve uploaded this content onto YouTube, my website, and Instagram. 

There is a part of me that would kind of love it if the internet just crashed, and we were all freed from this wonderful and miraculous technology, but there is a part of me that also freaking loves the internet and my laptop. After all, I easily spend eight hours a day on these devices…

Technology is a part of our daily lives and it has enabled so many creative people to have careers and access to their audiences in a way that has never happened before. Yes, you have to be privileged enough to own a smartphone and privileged enough to have the education on how to use it, as well as business, marketing, and advertising knowledge… but that’s not what this blog is about. 

What I am saying is that sitting and reading a book for twenty minutes is totally different from scrolling Instagram or watching TikTok videos for twenty minutes. These activities may look kind of similar—sitting, head turned downward, gaze fixed towards our hands—but what is happening in our brains and hearts is wholly different. 

I typed the sentence it’s okay to use your phone and then deleted it because it felt so redundant. Phones aren’t going anyway. The average person is not going to give up their phone (including me). So instead, I’m going to say that it’s okay to pick up a book. You won’t miss out on anything by doing so–FOMO is, in many ways, baffling because once something is online that digital content exists more or less forever. 

Whatever it is you are seeking from a device—distraction, disembodiment, entertainment, information—you can find in books, only better. 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Should You Make Reading a Hobby or a Habit?

Recently, I was listening to a book podcast where the host described reading as their primary hobby. I was shocked. The host makes money off their podcast (thanks to Patron supporters) and they have to read books in order to talk about them on the show—that sounds like a job to me! And yet, I loved that they (the person who gets paid to read) perceived reading as a hobby.  

A hobby is something we do for fun during our free time, and often with a sense of curiosity. We might be beginners, novices, or masters. 

In the same way that I want writing to be taken seriously, I also want reading to be taken seriously, even if the books people chose to read aren’t always considered ‘serious’ (i.e., commercial vs critical success). 

For me, I’ve often thought of reading as a habit. Every day I brush my teeth, make the bed, walk the dogs, do something related to writing, and read a book. In fact, reading is one of the items I track on my daily habit tracker. I also keep a reading journal as a way to record and reflect on what books I’ve recently read. Writing and books are such a central part of my life that calling them a hobby feels—not only diminutive—but inaccurate. 

Perhaps some of us, myself included, frame reading as a habit rather than a hobby to give it more credit. I want the people around me to recognise that reading and books are something that I value! I am protective of my reading time and when I’m deep into an amazing audiobook or paperback it can be difficult to convince me to do things IRL. The bonus of audio, though, is that you can ‘pretend’ to be attending to the administration of life when in fact you’re only walking the dog or scrubbing the shower as an excuse to keep listening. 

To me, a hobby is something you do now and then whereas a habit is something you do often, perhaps even daily. For many of us, myself included, I can’t fall asleep unless I have read—even just a page or two. According to Collins dictionary, a habit is something that you find difficult to ‘stop doing’ and reading before bed has become so closely tied to my ability to sleep that it has become a biological and physiological need. I can’t stop it. 

The problem I have with the terms habits and hobbies is that both lack emotional charge. I make my bed and brush my teeth out of habit. I don’t feel anything about these activities and I largely do them on autopilot, but I love books. I love reading. I value them. 

Describing my reading life as a hobby or habit fails to represent the love I have for literature. 

Perhaps, then, it would be more accurate to describe reading as a passion? We feel compelled to read. We read with feeling, enthusiasm, and eagerness. We choose reading over sleep, other people, and the need to pee. 

Books and writing are two of my favourite things to talk about. They are also just about the only subjects I can speak to with any authority. I listen (mostly) to bookish podcasts, follow authors online, and have made a YouTube channel dedicated to the writing life, which also includes the reading life. 

At this point, my relationship to books and writing probably sounds more like an obsession or addiction—wow! We’re really covering all the labels in this post!—but the difference between passion and addiction is whether the activity has become a barrier between you and real life. 

If you’re addicted to reading then it’s because you’re using it as a numbing device, in which case, it is unlikely that you will recall with great detail what you have read. If you’re reading every opportunity that you can, that could also be a sign that things have become unhealthy. As much as I am a proponent of reading in sips and big gulps, it’s also important that our brains have meaningful downtown when we are not stimulated by, or engaging with, input from others. 

It doesn’t really matter whether you see reading as a habit, hobby, or passion, but it is interesting to become aware of how you conceptualise reading and why you perceive it in that way. If for no other reason than to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your priorities. 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

The Problem with Outlining Your Novel

Outlines are helpful because they make us feel safe. They are a blueprint which convinces us, rightly or wrongly, that we know what the story is going to be about and where it is going.  

Novels are large wieldy beasts that contain multiple threads and components. An outline is a great way to make all that seem just a little bit more manageable. It can be difficult to hold an entire novel in your mind, but an outline basically acts like a second brain that can store your story in a small number of pages.

It takes a long time to write a novel, so it can be good to know before you start writing that you’ve already thought about some of the potential problems that could occur and solved them.

This type of planning can give you the confidence to start, but an overreliance on an outline can actually be detrimental to your novel. 

If a writer spends too much time creating an outline and then fiercely sticking to it, they may shut themselves off from the sudden insights and awareness that can only happen once you actually started writing. 

Often, we may plan something out ahead of time, but once we start writing a scene, those events may no longer make sense or feel organic. 

If a writer has sunk hours into the creation of an outline, they may feel beholden to follow it, even if the ideas and scenes they mapped out fail to come to life on the page. 

When it comes to novel writing, writers should learn how to remain curious and open about their stories. 

Rather than working from an outline as a way to prevent major rewrites or edits, it is perhaps more accurate to say that a novel emerges slowly and through multiple drafts as the writer critically reflects on what they have written, adapts to sudden changes or ideas, and incorporates new material as the discover it in real-time. 

The good thing about stories is that if you write something and it doesn’t work, you can either move it someplace else, revise it, or delete it! If you write a bad scene, the entire novel isn’t going to collapse as a result. Instead, we need to think of novels as beings that evolve and unfold over time as we continue to engage with the work. 

Outlines are incredibly helpful tools for sorting out our thinking, but we are under no obligation to follow them, particularly if you want to challenge yourself by pursuing a new idea or you just want to see what happens, following your curiosity and instincts. 

The entire novel doesn’t need to be figured out before you start drafting. Give yourself permission to discover the story as you write it – that’s half the fun! 

Something to consider before you start is: how would I write this draft differently if no one was going to read it?

 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

How to Critique Other Writers’ Work

The purpose behind writing workshops is to give and receive feedback on your creative works. 

I’ve noticed a trend among creative writing students to only focus on the aspects of the story that are working and shying away from the parts that do not.

Some students feel that they are not experienced enough to offer critical feedback on another student’s work (‘who am I to say their story is bad?), and many are afraid of hurting their peer’s feelings.

This is understandable because sharing creative work is incredibly venerable, and sharing new work (stories the writer has spent little time with) is even more so. 

The critiquing process of creative writing workshops is a flawed system because writing is subjective—at least to a degree. I would argue that most of us know good writing when we see it… 

The workshop model has been criticised for favouring realism, stifling creativity, and encouraging students to write more or less the same. 

However, workshops and critiques can be very valuable. We can’t see our work clearly, and there is something really wonderful about getting to discuss early drafts of our work with other people who understand writing craft. Ideally, these critiques are offered in an environment that is safe, supportive, and encouraging. 

Critiques are the most helpful when they are specific. And this is one way we can combat the fear of hurting someone’s feelings. If you describe a story as boring, confusing, or bad, the following can happen: 1) the writer’s feelings will be hurt (obviously) and 2) the criticism is too vague to be meaningful. 

Instead, if you described the story as slow because there was too much exposition or a transition between two scenes as confusing because there is no signposting…  then it is clear that you have engaged with the work, thought deeply about what exactly the problem is, and the criticism also hints towards the solution: reduce the exposition (more show, less tell) and use signposting (or scene breaks) to make transitions clearer. 

This is invaluable information for the writer. 

This is the type of feedback that can guide the writer as they move into the revision stage. When you focus on the writing rather than the writer, your comments are less likely to be personally offensive or hurtful. 

A good critique will not hurt a writer’s feelings. Instead, it should make them excited to know, very clearly, was aspects of the work could be further developed and what can be left alone. 

The critiquing process is a way for you to fine tune your ability to think about a creative work critically. It is always easier to do this with someone else’s story than your own, but by practising this skill, the hope is that eventually, you’ll be able to do this same process for yourself. 

Critiques can support us during the revision process, but it is also important that we eventually develop the ability to trust our own instincts and decisions. 

And that’s the strange thing about writing. This process is both fiercely solo and collaborative, you just need to know when to engage with these strategies and at what stage.  


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.