Writing Habits from 2020 Worth Keeping

A recent article published by The New York Times explained why we get so upset when our routines change.

What it comes down to is that humans love predictability.

Why? Because in prehistoric times, surprises often lead to unpleasant things, like a hungry tiger or dangerous quicksand.

We are resistant to change because it represents the unknown, which is why the initial lockdowns last year added a whole other layer of stress to our lives.

The good news though, is that humans are also adaptive, at least once we get over our initial resistance.

We all made changes last year. We all had to adapt. Going into 2021, I want to put a positive spin on all these changes and break down the five NEW habits that I plan on continuing for the new year.

# 1 / Timed writing sessions

Okay, honestly, I’ve pretty much adopted this for everything on my to-do list.

We all know what the Pomodoro method is—set a timer for 25 or 50 minutes and then work (without stopping) until the timer goes off—and while I’ve found this trick irritating in the past, now I absolutely love it.

It feels so helpful to have a container within which your work gets completed, and there is something about knowing you ‘only’ have to work for twenty-five minutes that suddenly makes daunting tasks feel do-able.

This year, I used the Pomodoro technique while re-drafting and then revising my latest manuscript.

The reason why it worked so well for me is because it created a distraction-free zone. During these sessions, I do not check my email or phone or ‘duck off’ to hang out the laundry or make a cup of tea.

Knowing I have a five-minute break coming up allows me to set those minor (and major) distractions aside so that I can just focus on writing.

I quickly got into the habit of keeping a scrap piece of paper beside me as I worked so that I could jot down any niggling “I should just check that” thoughts while writing.

Things like Googling a fact, searching for a book I recently heard about, looking up a quote to use in a non-fiction piece, a dinner recipe, or when my next credit card payment is due, etc.

You know, all the distractions our inner-critic likes to remind us of whenever we are doing important work.

Setting a timer and having distinct break times has worked wonders for the constant interruptions such little checks can create. And, might I remind you that every time you do one of these little checks, it takes up to twenty-five minutes to regain your focus (and the average office worker is interrupted every eleven minutes … so basically, nobody is getting anything done.)  

And the crazy thing is that when it’s time for a break, I rarely carry out any of the ‘urgent’ checks that pop up while writing. Go figure.

Stickers in my planner doubled as a reward and tracking system.

# 2 / Stickers

Yup. I am seven years old.

This year, I used stickers as a fun way to reward myself after completing a Pomodoro session, plus it was a great way to keep track of how many hours I spent in a state of deep work (see: Deep Work by Cal Newport).

I tracked these sessions in my planner, and while I have not gone so far as to buy stamps or washi paper, I do enjoy flicking back through my 2020 planner and seeing the neat little row of stickers that line the bottom of each day.

This sounds ludicrous, but this one little step when combined with the Pomodoro technique really helped me make time for tasks I had been avoiding.

For instance, I’m currently completing a doctorate in creative writing, and as part of my dissertation, I have to do a lot of research.

Research for me means reading. Reading fiction books, reading scholarly and literary journal articles, dense books about theory (feminism/human-animal relation/narratology) and anything that seems slightly relevant to my research topic.

By July, I had several files on my computer stuffed with all the things I had put aside to read. But every time I started in on a journal article, I’d abandon ship to go work on my novel, an academic article, or some other kind of writing.

How did I break this? Monster stickers.

Witches, demons, vampires, jack-o-lanterns and werewolves–that’s how I got stuff done.

I’d close my email, put my phone on flight mode, and read until the timer went off. Then I got a nifty sticker at the end of it: a visual representation of my progress.

#3 / Fewer parameters, more doey-doey

Confession, I fully stole this one from VE Schwab.

It’s pretty simple.

Aim to have as few parameters around your writing as possible.

Ideally, I’d love to write in my home office, on a clean desk, with a candle burning, and a large pot of chai at my side while listening to a looped recording of rain sounds. I’d have hours of open time ahead of me. I’d have nowhere to be and nothing else to do. Bonus points for fresh flowers, a new notepad, and snazzy pens. Double bonus points if the house is empty and free of distraction.

If I actually needed all of these things to write, I’d be lucky to get one session in every fortnight.

Best to keep things simple, don’t let your inner critic create a false narrative that you can only write in perfect conditions.

There are only a few things I need to write: a laptop + a bit of time + a drink.

Though some white noise would be nice too.

The simpler your writing routine the more likely it is you will write.

# 4 / Letting go of scheduling everything

Honestly, it took me a while to let go of scheduling my days.

I fought this one so hard.

It drove me nuts that I couldn’t start my workday before 9 a.m (I adore working from 7a.m-3p.m), but with my partner now at home, making that happen felt very difficult. So, I chose to adjust my schedule so that we have longer mornings together before we go off to our respective offices.

I’ve found my place in this new rhythm, though I’d be lying if I said there weren’t still days when I’m tapping my foot under the kitchen table, desperate to finish breakfast so I can sneak off and do my work, and it’s only 7:30 a.m.

And yet, there is something wonderful about front-loading my day with all the pleasant activities I used to reserve for the late afternoon and evening.

#5 / Experimenting with my routine

This one was HUGE for me.

For the longest time, I’ve believed that I could only write in the mornings (see habit number #3!).

I am a morning person. By 5 p.m. I am so done with everything.

However, for the longest time, I thought that writing in the afternoon was so painful that I may as well write the day off by sliding my to-dos over to the following day.

Then I started teaching for the first time and picking up extra bits of freelance work. I started helping out at a function centre when they needed an extra set of hands; started a book club; joined a few committees at my university; and all of a sudden, it became very difficult to keep every morning, Monday-Friday, free of appointments.

I had to become flexible.

I had to learn how to write in the afternoon, even though it is not my preferred time.

How did I do this?

  1. I made the decision.
  2. I set a timer.
  3. I bought some cool stickers.
  4. I was gentle with myself; I lowered my expectations. I didn’t have to write one thousand words in one hour, but I did have to write, free of distraction.

Of course, I wish 2020 played out differently, but it didn’t.

While many of these changes were unwelcomed in the beginning, now I am grateful for the new habits that I’ve established.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. What new habits or changes did you make to your writing life in 2020 that you’d like to carry over into the new year? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it.


Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

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, please 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.

Busting the Five Myths of Writing

At the start of December, Caroline Donahue released a series of private emails to her newsletter subscribers dispelling five of the most common myths she and her clients have encountered.

I love the idea and devoured the series, and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Caroline should be very flattered! Below is my own take on five writing myths that desperately need busting.

While I know these myths to be false, they are lessons I easily forget, and this post is here for whenever I–or you!–need a reminder.  

1/ Create a routine and stick to it.

When the routines in our lives change (hello, 2020) then our creative routine must change too.

Taking on extra clients, picking up night work, getting a dog, moving out of the office (or choosing to hire one) are all things that will upend the routine, not to mention major adjustments like having a baby or moving.

Writing for an hour before work may no longer be possible, now that you have a dog that needs daily walks. Working after dinner but before bed may go down the sink if you start a new relationship. Writing sessions with a ‘sprint buddy’ may vanish if you move towns.

And sometimes, nothing external changes, and yet the old routine stops working. 

Routines can be tremendously supportive, but they can also become stale and prison-like.

A routine is only useful if it works.

Adapting our routines to our external and internal needs is essential if we’re to keep producing.

Flexibility means that we don’t have to abandon a manuscript if the boss wants us to start at 8 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. or if our weekly critique group no longer feel useful.

Ritual is lovely, but ultimately the fewer parameters we can have around our writing the better.

Keep thing simple.

For example, to write I need a computer, a bit of time, and a cup of tea.

Writing needn’t be lonely.

2/ Writing is Lonely

Writing needn’t be lonely, and good writing is rarely done alone.

Most writers receive a whole host of support, whether it be personally from loved ones (a partner that makes you a cup of tea; kids that make their own lunch; parents or friends that ask how the work is going), or professionally (beta readers, writing groups, editors, literary agent).

The author’s name may appear on the cover, but the acknowledgements page exists for a reason because it takes a lot of people to make a book happen.

Speaking from my own experience, some of my best ideas and work have come about when I’ve invited others into my process.

Sometimes this looks like brainstorming a new idea with a friend (why limit yourself to only the experiences you have had?).

It can mean emailing my manuscript to beta readers and critique partners.

Often it is reading books and thinking, ‘how did they do that?’

And occasionally, it’s hour-long conversations with someone who is far more skilled than me, better read than me, and with expertise different from my own (i.e. mentor, supervisors, coaches, editors).

Good writing is the result of collaboration.

3/ You’ll feel like a ‘real writer’ after releasing your first book.

Imposter syndrome never goes away, at least that’s what my experience has been like and that of the writers I know (and those I do not).

Every project is different, and you are different, making every book feel like the first book.

Actually, that’s a bit of an exaggeration…

You’ll likely understand sentence structure, plot, characterisation and other such elements better than before you wrote your first book, and you’ll likely carry these fundamentals into your second book; however, the plot should be different, the characters too, and maybe this time you’ll want to experiment with a different style or voice or challenge yourself to use language differently.

If you’re trying to stretch your abilities, you will be plagued by self-doubt.

This is the perils of being a creative because the inner critic loves to point out all the way we are coming up short, however true or not true its points may be.

As writers, we know that we can’t be objective about our own work. We can’t always tell if a scene is boring, interesting, subtle, or confusing–a point that underscores the above myth: writers need others to help them see their work clearly.

Sharing our work with others only heightens our vulnerability.

It is a unique fear that we don’t experience when carrying out other activities, like hanging out the laundry, because we care about it and it is–in some ways and not in others–a representation of ourselves. 

Writing isn’t just writing, it’s thinking, reading, talking, living…

4/ The only thing that counts are words on the page.

Or put another way: writing is writing. 

I used to think this way too, that writing only happened during writing sessions; that the only thing that counted as writing was words on the page.

This is a hard and ungenerous way to view your creativity, and as time goes on, I feel that it is distinctly untrue.

Fingers flying over keyboards is not writing, that is typing.

Of course, I also acknowledge that some realisations only happen in the act of writing, but just as many occur away from the keyboard.

Writing is thinking, reading, daydreaming, coffee with a friend, watching a movie, doing the dishes; writing is paying attention to your life while holding the story close.

It’s looking for links between the fantasy of your novel and the reality of everyday existence.

It’s bouncing ideas off friends and writing buddies.

Writing sessions are the distillation of all these creative miracles, manifested onto the page as an unravelling tale with inevitable conclusions.  

Additionally, not all writing is equal; different stages require different skills, mindsets, and approaches.

The way you complete the first draft is very different from how you begin the revision process and later the final proofread. First drafts are about the story, i.e.: plot, and maybe characterisation (though this varies between writers).

Revision is critical analysis: what isn’t working and how can you fix it?

Proofreading is checking for consistency and repetitions (making sure the character doesn’t make the same point in chapter five as they did in chapter two) and nuts and bolts elements such as grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.

5 / Writing is either fun or torture

Most days are nestled somewhere in between.

On bad days, writing can feel like any other task on the to-do list, but usually, it feels like a friendlier appointment, like having coffee with a mate that you see often.

While part of you would secretly like to cancel, stay home, and watch Netflix (you saw each other just last week, after all), you also know you’ll enjoy yourself once you get there.

Writing often feels … okay, fine … though it is often bookended by dread before beginning and prideful relief upon finishing.  

Now I’d love to hear from you. What are some writing myths you’d like to bust? Share your response in the comments!


Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

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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, please 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 Process | Master vs Prolific

Is it better to be a prolific writer or a master of the craft?

I found myself wondering this over the New Year break after my partner and I started watching The Crown.

In one memorable scene, Winston Churchill poses for an artist, Graham Sutherland, who has been commissioned to paint his portrait.

Churchill asks Sutherland’s wife, Kathleen Barry, who is assisting her husband that particular day, how many paintings Sutherland completed last year.

‘Three or four,’ she answers.

Churchill’s bombing voice replied, ‘Ask how many paintings I completed last year.’

Barry guesses, ten, then fifteen. 

‘Sixty,’ Churchill replies. After a beat, he adds, with false modesty, that he is not a master artist like her husband.

Given Churchill’s busy political career (at the time of the commissioned portrait, he was eighty years old and Prime Minister of Britain), it is impressive that he completed sixty original paintings.

If we are to understand this fictional Churchill’s definition of artistry, creators fall into two camps: those who are masters, and those who are prolific. 

A master, here at least, has a fine attention to deal, they are willing to invest a great deal of time and energy into a single work to ensure it is the very best that they can make it. 

Prolific and master writers share one thing: they are both invested in their creative practise.

In this particular episode, for example, we see Graham taking many photographs of Churchill to use for reference so that he might practise drawing Churchill’s eyes and hands before completing the final portrait which he will paint ‘live’.

The temptation to fall into binary opposites here is high. If a master produces their art slowly and carefully, then a prolific artist must be someone who works quickly and recklessly, right?

It’s hardly that simple.

Please note, don’t read too much into the terms ‘master’ and ‘prolific’. These terms are not mutually exclusive (I believe it is possible to be prolific and a master) and highly subjective (what skills define someone as a ‘master’? How many works make someone ‘prolific’?)

While Churchill was a ‘hobby’ artists (meaning that he didn’t make his sole living from painting, nor did he want to: politics was his number one passion and painting was simply for pleasure), his works have gone on to be published in several books and in 1948 he was made Honorary Academician Extraordinary by the Royal Academy of Arts.

However, his art was not always well received, unlike his portraitist, Sutherland.

So, this got me thinking about the different ways that artist’s work.

Some relish a slow meticulous approach: they enjoy going deep into a singular work and spending a great deal of time thinking about what they want to do, but also what that work could become.

Master writers can see ALL the variations one story can have.

Another artist may find greater joy in the starting of new projects, in following their instincts as they move through the process, maybe focussing more on the big picture, and less on the small details.

For them, it’s more about execution than perfection.  

Now, this is a writing blog and we all know the names of authors that fall into both of these camps.

Until recently*, Harper Lee had only ever published one novel, but what a novel. Few writers experience the phenomenon of producing a work so widely read and loved; a work with legacy, and capital i Importance.

Other famous novelists that have only written one book include, Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights), Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind), and Oscar Wilde (Picture of Dorian Grey). Though admittedly, while Wilde only published one book, he did publish many poems and plays.

On the other end of the scale, we have the prolific writers; writers who’s back catalogues can fill entire bookshelves (or two!).

Historian estimate that Charles Hamilton wrote around 100 million words. Most were published as short stories, but if you were to divide those words into novel-length, then old Charles published 1, 200 books during his life-time.

Barbara Cartland wrote 720 romance novels during her career.

Beloved science fiction writer, Issac Asimov, published over 500 works.

Stephen King doesn’t have the same outrageous numbers mentioned above, but he is often included in these types of lists, because, you know, he’s Stephen King. To date, King has written 83 novels and roughly 200 short stories.  

So much of whether you fall into the ‘master’ camp or the ‘prolific’ camp comes down to process. And you know, probably a hundred other things.

Process is what supports the artist in achieving their goals.

If you are the type of writer who likes to work slowly and deeply through each ‘season’ of writing–researching, drafting, revision, and publication–then perhaps you fit more comfortably into the master camp.

If you are the type of writer who has thirty novel outlines on your computer, you may be described as prolific.

If you enjoy finding out what the average Victorian-era maid ate for breakfast or what material police uniforms are made out of, you may be a master: a writer driven by detail.

If you find yourself thinking of your novel constantly, stealing snatches of time to write, mostly because you want to find out what happens next, then you may be prolific.

It’s a fun thought experiment to consider which of these two camps you fall into, yet both these labels are arbitrary and exterior. They are descriptions that come from outside the writer (or artist) not within.

I am neither a master nor am I prolific.

I am a writer.

A person who shows up most days to confront the blank page (or to edit a full one); someone who is doing their best to communicate ideas clearly, and to tell stories that reflect to the reader the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that they’ve been unable to express or that they’ve never had.

Each writer’s method is unique, not only to themselves but also each project. The one factor that ties prolific writers and master together is time, for neither of these achievements can be reached without it.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. What do you think of the idea of prolific writers and masters? Do you think such labels are important, something you’d like to strive for, or do you use writers described in such ways as sources of inspiration? Leave your comments below and tell me all about it.

*This is arguable as Go Tell the Watchman is an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird.


Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

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, please 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.

Revision: A Different Approach to Editing Your Novel

For the past month and the next two months to come, I’ll be deep into the revision of my current manuscript.

This is the final, big – independent – revision of the work. (NB: future revision may be conducted depending on the advice/feedback of my supervisors and future editors).

Just as it was with Every Time He Dies, this particular step involves a multitude of mini-steps.

Over the next months, I will be checking the work for consistency, tone, voice, characterisation and pace.

Theme will be subtly underscored and any instances that are too ‘on the nose’ removed.

Grammar and sentence structure will be check, and I’ll attempt to remove all typos, but like a split bean bag, it is impossible to pick up every single one of those pesky little buggers!

I’ve figured everything out. (Haha, I’m hilarious, I know!).

The story is done, now I just have to make one small change at a time until the current manuscript matches the story buried in my head. (Or the story that feels the truest, because ideas change).

Editing is my favourite part of writing.

The process is slow, and it’s my favourite part of writing. Unlike drafting, I’m not creating from nothing, but instead bettering what is already there. I get to play around with words: did he slump into the chair, or collapse into it? Did her eyes narrow, or did she look away to avoid their gaze?

I adore this phase of writing because it allows for this nit-picky, deep thinking, toying around, and noodling with language. However, it is important to keep yourself in check here.

Are these changes making the story better, or just different?

A question I will keep posted above my computer as I continue to edit.

Time and space are luxuries for any writer.

There are few things quite as precious as knowing you have nowhere to be, nothing that urgently needs doing, and that you won’t be interrupted (most important!).

Thank the muse for closed doors and noise cancelling headphones.

This stage of revision, for me at least, is deeply internal and insula.

Not to fall into the business of romanising the craft, but the best part of writing is when the boundaries between the work and your own life begin to blur. When a friend raises a topic your characters were just discussing or when you read a book and an uncommon word is used – and you had just used it too!

You and your novel holding hands ❤

Better yet is when you’re working on a scene that just isn’t … working, and then your ordinary life gives you the solution…

The love interest knew something was wrong when the dog didn’t greet them at the door.

The protagonist couldn’t answer the dinner host’s question because she’d laughed so hard at their joke she’d wet her pants and had to excuse herself from the table! (This has never happened to me.)

One of the fundamental principles of a writing routine is to have a goal, a way to measure the success of your writing session, whether it be a time goal (an hour) or a word goal (500 words).

While the pace as which I write is pretty predictable (1000 words an hour), revision is not.

During the revision stage, I tend to stick to time goals over word count, but lately, I’ve been considering adjusting this goal as well.  

This came about after listening to an episode of The Secret Library Podcast with Sarah Selecky. Here, Selecky said that since the 2020 lockdowns began, she’s started measuring her success on whether she reached a flow state during her writing sessions. Was she distracted, checking social media, email, or websites? Or, was she deeply focussed, giving all of her attention to the work?

Recently, I joined a private writing group for academics interested in wellness. Each month we focus on a particular topic, and last month’s focus was timelessness.

We all know that five minutes sitting in a corporate meeting feels very different to five minutes chatting with your best friend, watching a sunrise, or reading a great book.

Chrons vs Kairos. Or can you have both?

Chronos time is the time that governs clocks. Kairos is the sensation of timelessness. Kairos is a three-hour concert that feels like ten minutes. Chronos is mowing the lawn at noon with a piece of glass stuck in your foot, covered in flies: you are hyper aware of every moment.

Kairos is entering a flow state.

This may sound like a contradiction, but in continuing my revisions, I hope to experience both Chronos and Kairos. I will be setting a timer (because we live in a Chronos world, and other things have to get done), but within this container, I aim to slip into a flow state, Kairos.

I am naturally a quick worker; I like to get things done; and for this reason, I have a tendency to rush through, get my gold star, and move onto the next task.

Working this way can be great, but right now I want to experiment with stretching time, being awake to the process rather than focussing on the finishing line and generally enjoying myself.

I never stopped having fun with writing, but I want to go deeper into the process and to see what there is to see skating around inside the starry, infinity of Kairos because I suspect she has some damn fine stories to tell.


Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

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, please 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.

Enjoy your author platform

In the final email, I sent out to newsletter subscribers last year, I shared how difficult I’ve found it to build an audience online.

I’m not writing about this problem here as a way to gain sympathy or vent, but because all writers (tradition, indie, and unpublished) are heavily encouraged to build and maintain an active online presence.

Like many creatives, or at least those who have read Cal Newport’s books or watched The Social Dilemma, my own relationship to social media is conflicted.

Similarly, I’ve been wondering where my blog and YouTube channel fit into this scheme.

Both would be described as content marketing, in that I am producing free content to strengthen my ‘know, like, and trust factors’ with existing readers/viewers, and as a way to introduce myself to new subscribers.

Alexandra Franzen and Joanna Penn describe their respective newsletters, blogs, and podcasts as art projects that form part of their body of work.

I’ve admired these two content producers for years, but I don’t know that I would describe my own blog and YouTube channel in this way.

Some weeks, I am really pleased with what I’ve written, and others I worry whether they are too idiosyncratic or reflective – a bit too ‘digital diary.’

I worry about the balance between foundational posts for beginner writers and technical information for advance writers and how best to serve these two audiences.

And at the same time, I’m aware that I don’t have a million subscribers or a castle in Scotland, so who really cares what I think about writing?

If I had a dollar for every person who read this blog, I could pay for the front door.

I have to be honest, I don’t really like how-to videos or listicles, and yet I worry that not publishing in this format would be to go against the grain.

A how-to video is super if you actually need to know something (like how to fix loose buttons, check the oil in your car, or make vegan butter chicken [all things I have Googled]) and listicles are a very tidy way to present information, but sweetness is lost in repetition, and I find these formats … off-putting, not to mention they encourage scanning and low engagement.

At the start of 2020, I set the goal to build my email list to 2000 subscribers.

I’ve been publishing on this blog weekly for four years, and loading videos onto my YouTube channel for two.

I spent money I didn’t have on an 8-week digital business course for online entrepreneurs (become I’m so millennial) and watched countless ‘how-to’ videos (ironically) regarding audience growth.

And I haven’t reached that goal.

Maybe the problem is that blogs are dead or that writing is a niche market who already has plenty of established voices.

Maybe my style doesn’t appeal to a ‘general’ audience.

Maybe I just need to get better at SEO or I ‘just’ need to pen an international best-seller that gets adapted into a Netflix series. (Why didn’t I think of that before?)

Who knows?

But those years have hardly been wasted because I’ve learnt so much in the process.

I know how to write a blog even when I sincerely think I have nothing to say.

I can write, film, edit, and upload videos to YouTube.

I figured out how to relax, and talk naturally to the camera.

I know how WordPress works.

I know how iMovies works and am learning the ropes of Premiere Pro.

I know how to avoid copyright infringement (pretty important, kiddies).

I developed the habit of releasing a blog, video, and newsletter every single week (except for holidays because come on man).

I’ve learnt that despite my best thinking, commenters will always point out something that I hadn’t considered (this is why writing works best as a collaborative experience). 

Perhaps the fault with my 2020 goal was the goal itself.

There was nothing I could do to guarantee I gained 2000 subscribers.

The truth is, I can only control what I make and how I make it.

One of the biggest lessons I learnt last year was how my rigidity around my writing practise was stopping me from growing and I plan on applying this same lesson to this space as well.

Going into 2021, I plan on being more open and loose around how I use this platform.

What will that look like?

Honestly, I’m not really sure, but I know that it won’t include how-to blogs or listicles unless that format genuinely fits the purpose and content of that post.

And don’t worry, I won’t be venturing into vlogging, mostly because I don’t want to and the internet is full of creeps who I don’t really wish to expose the inner works of my life too. 

Now THAT is a platform I can full get behind.

More than anything, I will be focussing on creating content that I personally find interesting rather than trying to guess what posts would interest readers.

I will continue to send out my newsletter, and post my videos and blogs every week (the habit is so ingrained at this point, it would be weird not to!), but I will likely shift away from posting on Instagram every day.

I enjoy the content I create on this blog every week – and no, I’m not being prim – but I do feel that I could enjoy it more.

I’m entering this year with one simple intention for this blog, to treat this work as if it were any other art project and a part of my body of work.

Like I said, I’ve been posting on this blog regularly for years now, and I’m ready to do something different with this space.

Perhaps from the outside, it will look much the same, but this shift in mindset and focus is already changing the shape of this space. At least, for me.

This blog doesn’t feel like a distraction from my writing, and yet I’m also hyperaware that the pressure to have a prolific author platform can mean that a writer or creative spends more time documenting there practise rather than actually practising.

In the aforementioned newsletter, I said that the best solution against the endless pressure to ‘do more’ in online spaces is to create clear boundaries.

For me, that means spending a bit of time on social media, a bit more time on this blog, my newsletter, and videos, while saving the bulk of my writing efforts for my novels and short fiction.

The point of this post is to tell you that there may be some changes coming.

It’s also my way of expressing something that’s been troubling me for, oh, two years now?

Maybe it’s troubling you too.

Maybe you’re also trying to figure out how to create a platform that feels … meaningful, useful, like it’s worthy of being described as an art project that forms part of your body of work.

Entering the new year, that is my goal. Please feel free to share yours too.


Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

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, please 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.

Best Books of 2020

At this time of year, what easier blog post is there to write than a ‘best of’ book listicle?

However, this is not your typical ‘best of’ article as I am listing my personal favourite reads from 2020, consequently, not all of the books mentioned below were published this year.

Beneath each book mentioned, I’ve included a single sentence synopsis followed by a mini -review.

The New Wilderness by Diane Cook

The New Wilderness
– Diane Cook

Premise: A mother takes her sick daughter to live in ‘the wilderness state,’ the last bit of wilderness left in the world.

Review: At the time of writing this review, The New Wilderness was shortlisted for the 2020 Man Booker Prize, and little wonder why. What I loved about this book is its complexity, the dynamics between the characters, their motivation, and the way they relate to the environment is far from black and white.

At times, the interactions between characters verges on satire, which brings levity to this often dark tale while also showing how very small humans can be.

The blurring between humans and animals was a highlight, as were the gorgeous descriptions of the landscape, though Cook did well to hold back from romanticising this place.

The wilderness may be a better place to live than the dangerous and polluted city that members of this community have escaped from, but there is nothing romantic about survival.         

It’s better to miss something you can’t have than think there’s nothing worth missing.

The New Wilderness, Diane Cook

In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

In the Dream House
– Carmen Maria Machado

Premise: A memoir that documents Machado’s experience in an abusive domestic relationship.

Review: I, along with everyone else, loved Machado’s debut collection, Her Bodies and Other Parties. The quality of Machado’s writing is astounding.

In this genre bending book, Machado carries us through her courtship and abusive relationship with her ex-partner via short, snappy, chapters presented in the second person.

She uses literary techniques by presenting some scenes as fiction (a more effective way for Machado to conjure certain emotions in her reader than she could have achieved with non-fiction techniques), presenting herself as an unreliable narrator, pathetic fallacy, and a choose your own adventure section.

The book is a decisively quick read, but don’t let that fool you. This one goes a mile deep and is worthy of multiple re-reads.

You tried to tell your story to people who didn’t know how to listen.

In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado

Weather by Jenny Offill

Weather
– Jenny Offill

Premise: A mother worries how her daughter will adapt and survive climate change.

Review: Offill’s narratives unravel through a series of philosophical and darkly humorous vignettes (like her first novel, The Department of Speculation).

The protagonist, Lizzie Benson, former librarian for a university takes a job with a futurist podcaster.

Here, Lizzie is confronted with the reality of climate change, and like us she feels totally ill-equipped to 1. Make meaningful change and 2.Survive (if/when disaster hits).

This is not a dystopian or apocalyptic novel. Lizzie isn’t ‘fighting’ climate change, instead this is a story simply about a woman learning to accept that this is a reality while also tending to the minutia of everyday life. You’ll read it in one sitting.

Young person worry: What if nothing I do matters?
Old person worry: What if everything I do does?

– Weather, Jenny Offill

The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Overstory
– Richard Powers

Premise: Eight characters, who are all strangers, are brought together in one way or another by trees.

Review: This book is EPIC and not just because of its page length.

Powers is a generous and meticulous writer and I honestly cannot recall the last time I read something so very close to perfect.

Warning, the first eight ‘chapters’ of this book may be challenging for some readers as we meet each view point character, learn their backstory, and their connections to trees. Personally, I was amazed that Powers was able to keep me amazed as the first eight chapters are essentially short stories where you’re starting from the beginning again, and again, and again, and again…

From there it’s game on as these various characters meet, fight, love, earn acclaim, make bulk cash, break the law, and find their purpose all because of — and with the help from — trees.

Five gold stars.

The solitary act of sitting over the page and waiting for her hand to move may be as close as she’ll ever get to the enlightenment of plants.

– The Overstory, Richard Powers

Milkman by Anna Burns

Milkman
-Anna Burns

Premise: A nameless women, living in a nameless town, at an unspecified time in Ireland recounts her long ago encounter with ‘the milkman’.

Review: There’s a reason this spooling, cyclic narrative won the 2018 Man Booker Prize.

This novel is visceral, deeply internal, hilarious and disturbing … it doesn’t read like someone’s diary, but as if you’re standing nose to nose with the protagonist as she deals with the gossiping and speculating residents of her small town and the ‘milkman’ (a senior paramilitary figure) whose presence haunts her physically and psychologically throughout the duration of the narrative.

The book has been described as no more difficult to read and comprehend then The Journal of Philosophy … If that sales pitch fails to move you, might recommend the brilliant (and much more digestible) audio book version (which is read by Brid Brennan)

He appeared one day, driving up in one of his cars as I was walking along reading Ivanhoe. Often I would walk along reading books. I didn’t see anything wrong with this but it became something else to be added as further proof against me. ‘Reading-while-walking’ was definitely on the list.

Milkman, Anna Burns

Now I’d love to hear from you. Have you read any of the above books? What did you think? What are your top five reads of 2020? (Including books that weren’t published this year!).


Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

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, please 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 through fear and resistance

There’s a quote on my fridge that I look at every single day.

‘Resisting writing is harder than writing.’

-SARK

I don’t write in the kitchen, so I’m not sure why I stuck this quote on my fridge (procrasta-eating maybe?), but the reminder is a good one – even if my inner-critic begs to differ.

Before I began the revisions of my latest WIP, I felt MASSIVE resistance.

I’d spent a year producing multiple drafts of the story, then another month creating an outline that I would then use for the revisions.

I knew the story, the characters, the theme. I had everything I needed to restructure, revise, and polish my latest book beast.

I made a plan; I made time in my schedule; I was ready.

But every morning I woke up with a feeling of dread. Not a crippling dread. Not like my car had broken down in the middle of the desert, on a seldom used highway, with no phone service, food, water, or good book to read.

This dread was duller, like a dentist appointment.

I felt rusty. I felt resistance. And I felt just a wee bit afraid.

Look, this isn’t my first rodeo. I know that resistance, that the fear evoked by creativity, will never go away.

So, I took my own advice.

I lit a candle, put fresh flowers on the desk, re-read the outline, and turned on some ambient music (crackling fire place + murmuring conversation + pen scratching on parchment).

I opened my WIP document, scrolled to the section I wanted to work on, and the fear in my chest doubled.

I don’t know how to do this! How the hell do you write a book? How does anyone do this?

My inner-critic screamed at me in a voice that was oh, so convincing.

Logically, I knew that this fear was unsound. It’s not like I planned to publish whatever I produced/revised in those twenty-five minutes and I was never going to let myself publish something that was obviously bad.

I am always so mindful to edit and revise my work before sending it out to the world.

But I doubted myself. I was so incredibly aware of my own inadequacies.

And here we get to the root of things: perfectionism.

I wanted to write a novel on paper that matched the vision in my head, a trick that experienced and prestigious authors have admitted to ‘failing’ at. 

A few weeks ago, I listened to an episode of The Writer’s Well Podcast. Every week, the host asks their co-host a writing related question.

Here’s a title episode that turned my heart cold: Is writing worth it?

The short, unanimous answer: Financially speaking? No, yet both authors said that they were so much happier and kinder *because* they had followed their dreams and they’d turned writing into a full-time gig.

I know from my own experience that I’m a better person when I’m writing.

So, if writing isn’t worth it financially, and if the old adage is true, ‘the reward for writing is writing’, then why was I striving for perfectionism, and why was that perfectionism manifesting as fear?

What was the big deal? If you’re not going to earn money or have many readers, then where’s all this pressure coming from? From the sounds of it, you got nothing to lose.

Now, I can’t answer this question for you, but when I drilled down into it I realised two things:

  1. I care about writing.
  2. In order to be taken seriously, I had to take writing seriously.

Writing is about creating meaning (for the reader and myself), improving, rising to the challenge, and when things are going well, it’s f**king fun.

On good days, you’re so fully immersed in the story that you ceased to exist. You become so focussed, so absorbed in what you’re doing that the boundaries between you and it disappear.

I wanted to return to that state, that totally ‘immersed in my book state’, but the fear that I wasn’t good enough created an invisible barrier between us that was as hard as brick.

So, what did I do?

The only thing you can do.

I ploughed forward.

You can’t get rid of resistance, you can’t eliminate fear. The best you can do is acknowledge it and move through the discomfort by taking action anyway.

You writing even though you are afraid you’re no good; you continue to write until your timer goes off, you hit your word count goal, the hour is up, or you’re just totally spent and have given all that you have.

There will be days when it totally sucks, and you suck. And there will be day when you are so in love with writing that you can’t believe how god damn lucky you are

That first day of working on the revision was awful, but the next day was marginally better, and the day after that better again, and by the end of the week I’d found my groove.

Note: Fear was there every day before I started writing, but I wrote anyway. And with every word that I typed, that scream was reduced by one decibel until eventually I was left with nothing but silence.

Books that exist in heads are perfected. Books that are printed on paper are imperfect.  

And I’d rather have an imperfect book in my hand than a perfect one in my head. You?


Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

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, please 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.

Making Money as a writer

Most of us dream of becoming full time authors, but the reality is that few people will make a living wage off writing alone. Especially, in the beginning.

This blog isn’t intended to be depressing or disheartening, quite the opposite.

Personally, I think it is empowering when people deliver a hard truth such as, it’s difficult to make money writing fiction, with a counter-truth, but there’s plenty of writing related job that can. 

Figuring out what kind of career you want and how else you can make money in additional to writing can be a little tricky, but when you see what other people are doing, it opens up new possibilities and ideas that you can apply to your own life.

That’s why in this week’s blog, I’m unpacking the career models of eight successful writers so you can see what’s possible for your own career.

Ghost Writer: Kim Chance

Kim Chance

Kim Chance is the author of the young adult contemporary fantasy duology, Keeper Seeker. She is a former high school English teacher and currently works as a part-time ghost writer. She ghost writes full length novels for a publishing house and though the narrative concepts are not her own, she does have plenty of creative liberties. She aims to complete these projects (from draft to final version) in four to five months. She is able to meet these tight deadlines as the concepts and characters have already been fleshed out.

Website: https://kimchance.com

Instagram: @KimWritesBooks

Writer on Retainer: Alexandra Franzen

Alexandra Franzen

Alexandra Franzen is a full time freelance writer with multiple streams of income, working as a ‘writer on retainer’ for regular clients. She is hired to write TED talks, marketing copy, blogs, and digital course content for clients. She also runs in-person writing retreats, maintains a personal blog, offers free classes, and paid digital workshops/courses. Her ‘day job’ as a writer allows her to complete one personal creative project a year (novel or non-fiction book). She refuses to use social media.

Website:https://alexandrafranzen.com

Interview: Fearless and Framed

Teacher: Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith is an award wining and highly acclaimed novelist, short story writer, and the author of two collections of essays. She is currently a tenured professor in fiction at New York University where she has taught since 2010. She is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and she has had *many* articles published have in The New Yorker.

Website: https://zadiesmith.com

Interview: Salon@615

Teacher: Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado is the award-wining author of the short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, and her experimental memoir, In The Dream House. Her short fiction, essays, and criticism have been published in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Granta, and Tin house, among others. She holds an MFA from Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania and teaches creative writing at Penn Arts & Sciences. She has said in interviews that she doesn’t write during university semesters as she wants to devote her energy and attention to teaching. She completes the bulk of her writing during Summer break. 

Website: https://carmenmariamachado.com/

Instagram: @carmenmariamachado

Interview: Design Matters Podcast

Self-Publishing: Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn is one of the biggest names in self-publishing. Her business is split between fiction (thrillers) and non-fiction works. The non-fiction side (books/podcasts/digital courses) make up the bulk of her income as she shares writing, publishing, and marketing advice for emerging and established independent (indie) authors. She also generates income through sponsorships, affiliations and her Patron page.

Website: https://thecreativepenn.com

Twitter: @thecreativepenn

Interview: ChoseFI Podcast

Hybrid author: Rachael Herron

Rachel Herron

Rachel Herron is a hybrid author (traditionally published and self-published). A cross genre writer, her back catalogue includes thrillers, mainstream fiction, feminist romance, memoir, and nonfiction about writing. She has created several courses for writers including 90 Days to Done and How to Stop Stalling and Write Your Book. She teaches writing extension workshops at both UC Berkeley and Stanford. She was the co-host of The Writer’s Well with J. Thorn and host of the interview podcast series, How Do You Write. In conversation with her agent, Rachel often decides which writing projects would be best pitched to traditional publishing house and which should be self-published. Rachel publishes annual incomes video where she breaks down her multiple revenue streams and their earnings. 

Website: https://rachaelherron.com/

Facebook: @Rachel.Herron.Author

Interview: The Secret Library Podcast

Writing Coach: Caroline Donahue

Caroline Donahue

Caroline Donahue is the host of the The Secret Library podcast where she interviews writers about their creative process. She has created multi-streams of income as a one-on-one book coach and digital course creator. She is currently completing her debut novel and lives in Berlin where she also teaches English part-time. 

Website: https://carolinedonahue.com

Interview: Watch her IGTV episodes

Editor: Sacha Black

Sacha Black

Sacha Black is the author of a YA fantasy series and multiple non-fiction writing craft books. She is the host of the writing podcast The Rebel Author and co-host of Next Level Author with Daniel Willcocks. Sacha is also a developmental editor for indie authors and offers one-on-one hour long consultations with aspiring writers.

Website: https://sachablack.co.uk/next-level-authors/

Interview: How to become a full-time author

Traditionally published author: VE Schwab

VE Schwab

Victoria Schwab is a full-time fantasy author. At 32 years old, she has never had another job. She has 20 published novels under her belt, but only ‘recently’ achieved mainstream success. Schwab has expanded into comic books, movie, and TV writing (adaptations of her novels) as a way to diversify her writing portfolio and income.

Website: https://www.veschwab.com

Interview: 88 Cups of Tea

Instagram: @VESchwab

Portfolio Career:

While I’ve singled one particular aspects of each authors career, you’ve probably noticed that few of these authors do one single thing.

Ultimately, most authors have portfolio careers.

A portfolio career is a way to work that incorporates multiple jobs from a field or across multiple fields.

This could look like:

  • Freelance work.
  • Short term contract jobs + freelancing.
  • Create your own service or product business that you run alongside freelancing and/or paid employment.

Attributes:

  • Use different skill sets that you apply to different jobs.
  • Be willing to try new types of work, new projects and learn new skills.

Click here to read more.

Portfolio Career: Charlotte Wood

Charlotte Wood

A brief CV:

  • Former journalist
  • Taught writing at multiple levels (retreats, community classes, postgraduate)
  • Freelance writer & sub-editor for various magazines
  • Judge for literary prizes
  • Recipient of writer residence program at the Charles Perkin Centre (supported her during the writing of The Weekend.
  • Podcast Host (A Mind of One’s Own)
  • Publisher of The Writer’s Room (collection of her former digital magazine)
  • Author of six novels and two works of non-fiction.

Website:https://www.charlottewood.com.au/

Podcast: A Mind of One’s Own

Interview: The Garret Podcast

At this point, I think we’ve all read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, and one of the key messages in this creative manifesto is that we shouldn’t demand that our art pay our bills, it’s totally okay to have a day job, preferable in fact, and that we should support our creative practice instead of expecting it to support us.

What do you think? Did you find reading about these career models supportive? Did it give you any ideas on ways that you could add additional income streams to your life? Let me know in the comments below.


Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

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, please 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.

Everything is writing + Fun activity

You’ve been circling the shopping centre for ten minutes trying to find a carpark. You’re here to pay a phone bill, buy that dairy-free mayo from the health-food store that your partner loves, get a key cut, and pick up something for dinner.

Or maybe you’re sitting at your desk, playing email ping-pong with your boss, colleagues, and clients. Maybe there’s a stack of reports you need to run, a wad of paperwork that needs filing, and even more that has to be entered into ‘the system’ before knock off.

Meanwhile, your small, inner-literary-self is screaming, ‘but this isn’t writing!’

Feeling resentful of all the tasks that ‘steel’ time away from writing may be common, but that doesn’t mean it’s helpful.

Most of us compartmentalise the components of our lives: work, health, money, relationships, community, etc. But when we segregate our lives like this, we forget that everything is actually connected. 

It may seem like your day job is disconnected from your writing, that exercise has nothing to do with the revision of your latest novel, or that meeting your best friend for a coffee does little to move the needle on your word count.

But that’s not necessarily true.

In an interview on the Joe Rogan podcast, author Chuck Palahniuk said that writing doesn’t happen while sitting in front of a computer, ‘that’s typing.’ Writing is coming up with ideas, talking about it with friends, reading, deep thinking, and having new experiences: living your life.

Writing informs our life, and life informs our writing. 

Finding ways to find or create value in the mundane, necessary, or seemingly unrelated tasks that we all have to do is a mindset shift that could benefit your writing.

What exactly does that mean?

How do you create value in these sometimes resentful tasks?

Let’s indulge in a little thought experiment.

Grab a piece of paper (or two) and draw a stick figure in the bottom right hand corner.

This figure is you (ta-da!).

Fill up the rest of the page with all the non-related writing tasks you do every week.

You might like to write blanket categories and then list all the tasks that fall beneath that category, for example:

Domestic: cleaning, laundry, cooking.

Platform: social media, newsletter, blogs.

Take a pen and draw a line from each of these categories and connect them to your proxy stick figure.

Non-writing activities we do on a weekly basis

Now, spend some time thinking about how you could connect this activity with writing.

Some ways are obvious, like thinking about your story while doing the dishes, but don’t reach for the obvious; challenge yourself to think beyond these first ideas and really consider how these activity could directly or indirectly inform your writing.

To give you some ideas, I thought I’d share my own results from this activity. (Image below).

Domestic:

Listen to music that complements my story, or listen to writing related podcasts. Daydream scenes. Mentally revise plots and characters. Indulge in ‘what if?’ thought experiments.

Errands:

Observe the strangers around you and the people you interact with. How do people move? What are they wearing? Who are they and what are they doing? Let your mind fill in the gaps. [Ideas for character descriptions.]

Platform:

Engage with online community by writing and replying to comments. Critically reflect on my creative process and extrapolate so that others can learn. [We learn best by teaching.]

Socialising

Listen. How do you people speak? What kind of words or phrases do they use? What do they care about? What lights them up, makes them angry, or sad?’ [This is will inform dialogue and characterisation.]

Exercise:

Pat attention to the movements, discomfort, or tension in the body. Describe it in detail. Reach for original metaphors, similes, descriptors. Imagine each of your characters, how would they react to this movement?

Leisure:

Read and watch for fun. Re-watch and re-read for learning. What works? What doesn’t? Analyse and dissect. Write down new words, great phrases, and unique descriptions.

The next two are specific to me, but think about how your own work and/or studies may be supporting your creative practice.

Teaching (creative writing):

Cements my own understanding of craft principles as there is no better way to learn than to teach. Marking and providing feedback on student’s work makes me aware of weaknesses in my own work. I can’t ever be lazy, double check everything! 

Doctorate:

Challenge assumptions about my practise by integrating new theories and concepts. Ask myself ‘how might this apply to me?’ Learn from other writers and research via books and interviews. Identify weakness in my creative and academic writing by comparing my work to existing works.

How these activities could be used to support your writing practise.

You don’t have to make your whole life about writing, and in fact, you shouldn’t.

It’s important that you give your brain (and soul) a break, to think about and to do things other than writing.

Ironically, if you spend a great deal of your day intensely focusing on a project, your subconscious will continue to work on that problem while your conscious mind moves on to other things.

What this activity shows, however, is that with a little bit of mindful effort you can transform a morning of errands, a gym session, a party or a day at work into words on the page. 

You just have to make the decision.

Now, I’d love to hear from you? What insights did you get from this activity? Share your comments below and tell me all about 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 Writers Can Improve Their creativity

I haven’t felt creative since I was six years old.

I stared at the participant’s response, my stomach sinking into the seat beneath me. 

I’d joined Caroline Donahue’s course Write Free* as a beta tester, alongside 200 writers from all over the world.

One central activity asked us to recall the last time we felt truly creative.

My response? Yesterday.  

Considering Caroline’s platform, the title of the course, and the types of people who’d be interested in it, I had expected most of the responses to be similar to my own. They were not. Far from it.

Most participants said they hadn’t felt creative since they were a kid (most citing ages under ten). A huge sector of the group were professionals: academics, editors, and teachers; their age ranged from mid 30s to mid 40s, and most were female.

The reason for their lack of creativity? Work, kids/family, putting other people’s needs before their own, and lack of time.

Why had so many people supressed their creativity and how do they get it back?

Before answering the latter, we have to understand the former.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognise that contemporary, western society doesn’t value creativity.

Here in Australia, at least, arts funding is constantly getting cutting which means that writing festivals, literary journals, and theatre’s and dance companies continue to be stripped of vital funding.

While the internet allows artists to connect directly with their audience, said audience expects that art to be free.

As Lisa Mitchell sang, ‘they figure it out / that we’re gonna do it anyway / even if we don’t get paid.’

Our perception of art and creativity as foolish and silly pursuits can be traced back to a schooling system that prioritises route learning, memorisation, and the obeying of rules (the opposite of creativity) over non-linear, questioning, critical and outside the box thinking.

The intention of industrialised education is to produce workers that then keep the system churning, but a capitalist system also depends on the innovation of individuals to create new businesses, inventions, products, and systems, but how can this occur if people are incapable of thinking creatively?

If consumers don’t value art and creativity, then why would an aspiring artist respect or honour their urge to create?

Right, now that you know why you’ve perhaps neglected your own creativity, let’s get to the business of re-establishing this relationship.

Connected to your creative-self sounds a little too new-agey, even for me, so let’s go with improving your creativity instead.

Improving your creativity really only requires two things: time and effort.

You don’t need a lot of time, at least not in the beginning, but you do need to put in some effort.

What does this look like?

Here’s some simple examples:

  • Day-dream while doing the dishes. Take a recent funny moment or event from your life and fictionalise it. Exaggerate it. Make it enormous. Change what happened to make it even more dramatic.
  • When hanging out in waiting rooms or while waiting for a friend to arrive for lunch, pull out your phone, open the notes app, pick a topic, and list out ten ideas related to said topic: ten new inventions, ten dinner recipes, ten opening lines, ten character names, ten inciting incidents, ten ways to describe a sunny day – whatever.
  • When you read a news article, play the what if? game. What if he didn’t get caught? What if they passed this law instead of that? What if it wasn’t an accident? And so on.
  • When listening to music, use the mood or a particular line or the message behind it as a ‘story kernel’ and build the rest of the story from this starting point.

As adults, we don’t usually engage with this type of imaginative play, but these exercises can help limber up our otherwise ridged ways of thinking.

To further improve your creativity, you must consume creative content: good books, uplifting and inspiring podcasts (fiction or non), and articles.   

When we see what others are creating and how they create it, we see what is possible for us.

Finally, you must make time for creative practice. Decide what that creative practice is going to look like, the amount of time you can reasonably dedicate to it, and establish a reward system.

For example, you may pick up a writing exercise or prompt book and decide you will dedicate thirty minutes, two times a week to completing the set activities. At the end of each session, you give yourself a sticker, watch a supportive YouTube video, have a cup of tea, or read a few pages of a book.

As time goes on and you become more confident and more willing to dedicate larger chunks of time to your writing, you can create more elaborate goals and rewards. For example, you may dedicate an hour before work each morning to working on a short story or novel, then on Saturday morning you meet a writing buddy for breakfast. 

Improving your creativity, engaging with your imagination, and starting a creative practice can seem daunting if you’ve neglected this aspect of yourself for some time, and while our present culture has become accustomed to instantaneous results, there is no ‘hack’ for creativity.

The only thing that is required is time and effort. Not the sexiest ways to end a post, but perhaps the most truthful. 

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


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