Become and Enthusiastic Writer

Just as there are multiple ways to tell a single story, there are multiple ways to approach the writing of that story. 

At the most basic level, we all understand that some writers prefer outlines while others discover their story in the act of writing. Brad Haseman talks about this in relation to academic research where he describes that a creative researcher may have an ‘enthusiasm of practice’ that carries them throughout their research project. 

Traditionally, academic research projects begin with a question that the researcher/s aims to answer, but that’s not always the case for creative researchers. Rather than starting with a question and using that as a guide, they instead identify a problem or issue that they wish to explore. 

How does this relate to your writing?

Rather than approaching the blank page with a specific idea about, not only what will happen in the novel or story, but how you will write it, you can instead approach your craft with open curiosity. You could choose a topic, a premise, or a quandary and then explore that through your writing. This means that you will discover the answer (and the story) in real-time rather than already knowing the answer and then expressing it. 

The reason why an enthusiasm of practice is often relevant to researchers is because, sometimes, you may begin a project without really knowing what the ‘problem’ is that you are hoping to resolve. 

And that’s a scenario that many writers can relate to. 

Obviously, every writer works differently and every project is different, but what this idea gives us is a way to move forward when we hit a creative roadblock. 

For instance, if you are trying to create an outline for your entire novel but are struggling to map out a solid middle and ending, then choosing to follow your enthusiasm is one way to get you started. Rather than getting stuck behind the idea that you don’t know how this story should end, you can instead let your curiosity lead the way as you discover the answer while drafting. 

Brad Hasman describes ‘an enthusiasm of practice’ as ‘something that is exciting, something that may be unruly, unmanageable or mysterious […] Perhaps it is just fun to do.’ 

The idea with this approach is that you decide on an experiential starting point and then you allow your practice to then carry you forward. Rather than getting trapped, stuck, or obsessed with planning, you instead dive straight into making. 

Obviously, whatever comes out of this approach will be unique to each writer and there’s no guarantee that this method will lead to a positive outcome, but it is one way you can move forward with a project if your creative practice has started to feel stale or if writing itself no longer feels playful or exciting. 

Creating art is funny business because, in one way, we need loose, free exploration so that we can generate enough interesting material to work with. Once we have that material, however, we then need to apply order to that chaos so that it can be presented to an audience. 

As Henry Moore wrote, ‘I sometimes begin a drawing with no preconceived problem to solve … But as my mind takes in what is so produced a point arrives where some idea becomes conscious and crystallises, and then control and ordering begins to take place’. 

The trick is, you need to know when enthusiasm or order are needed. 

Using order too early in the drafting of a novel or story could limit or stifle your writing. The writer, Ann Patchett, has said that she resists creating outlines or drafting scenes while she is still developing her novel ideas because once she has written something out it starts to feel fixed. 

Outlines can be tremendously useful as they can act like a safety net that can get you started, but often the ideas we create in that space–the space that existed before we started writing–does not always translate once we are working on the page. A particular event we mapped out may no longer feel organic and a major plot choice may no longer feel authentic to your protagonist. 

These are the types of discoveries that happen once you are in the mess of writing; some problems can only be discovered, and then resolved, in the act of doing rather than thinking. 

Believing that you have to have everything figured out before you start writing can easily become a form of productive procrastination. You may think that this endless planning will result in an efficient and smooth writing process later, but we all pay the same fee somewhere along the way. The time you invest in outlining may mean fewer revisions later (though not necessarily) and diving head in may mean that you uncover the shape and scope of your story quicker (again, not necessarily). 

And that’s the problem with making something out of nothing. No one can tell you how to do it–including yourself!–but knowing what tools to use when can make it all the easier. Enthusiasm is just one path that can lead you to The End. 


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 and Money | Why Consumers Expect Art to be Free

I spontaneously dropped by a friend’s house the other day after she’d just finished having lunch with some other friends that had spontaneously dropped by.

Sitting around the table, I struck up a conversation about books and writing (as I often do) with the stranger sitting next to me. It turned out that we were both former journalists, and we had similar tastes in books having just read Bewilderment by Richard Powers. 

We hurriedly asked on another, ‘Have you read The Overstory?’ 

We then proceeded to rave about this book so much that the other five people at the table stopped their conversation to listen to ours. 

Our enthusiasm and love for the book was so palpable that two people whipped out their phone to purchase the book on audible and ibooks. 

Then someone said, ‘Oh, it’s fifteen dollars.’

The internet and social media has trained us to expect art for free. 

Traditional writers are encouraged to produce content (videos, blogs, social posts) as a way to bring readers in and grow their audiences. Indie writers are told to make the first book in their series free because, apparently, 99 cents for a debut book is too much to ask. 

A few years ago, singer Lisa Mitchell released a single titled, Everything is free nowThe song is about Mitchell’s experience of being undervalued as an artist, how she has had to struggle financially because people aren’t willing to pay money for the skills that she has cultivated (that they presumably don’t have) and which they enjoy consuming.

The internet has made making a living as an artist more possible than ever, and yet, it has also told us that we have to give an extraordinary amount of ourselves away for free in the hope that our audience, followers, or subscribers will purchase our ‘real’ products or future products. 

I’ve had my own awkward exchanges with friends, acquaintances, and even strangers I’ve met at parties (!) wanting a copy of my book for free. 

Don’t they release the amount of time (5+years), effort (including a masters degree), and money ($2000+) that went into making that book happen?

I turned to my friend (who is a wonderful, amazing, generous, and truly kind person) and said, ‘The Overstory is eight-hundred pages long and it took five years to write. Fifteen bucks is a fucking bargain.’ 

If you can’t afford to buy books, that’s okay–libraries exist for a reason. More often than not, people aren’t buying books and art because they can’t afford them but because they have been trained not to value them. 

In a recent vlog brother’s video, author John Green said that writing used to be fun and exciting, but now he finds the idea of publishing new fiction scary. He is crippled by the idea of receiving terrible reviews and disappointing his fans: ‘what if readers feel like I cheated them out of the $20 of faith they placed in me?’ 

And that’s the thing, most books don’t even cost that much (!), but something readers need to understand is the weight that measly price tag can have on a writer. It’s not about the monetary value but the fact that we have the gaw to place any value on our art at all. It takes a lot of guts to make something and then ask someone to buy it, even for twenty dollars. 

And when buyers refuse to pay, our worst fears are confirmed. 

Literature is dead; books aren’t valuable; writing and creativity are pointless; they do not enrich people’s lives, especially if they have to pay for it. 

If there’s one hill (…there isn’t one hill…) I’d die on, this may be it: artists deserve to be paid for their art. I will always be in defence of the artist. 


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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, 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.

External and Internal Conflict: The Secret to Gripping Prose

I tend to steer away from hard craft advice these days because there is just so much content out there around how to develop characters, plot, setting, theme etc. 

We learn a lot of these concepts in high school and we’re exposed to their workings in every film, tv show, or book we’re exposed to. Don’t get me wrong, if you are new to writing, you need to learn these basics anew because thinking you know how literary devices and features work and actually being able to execute them on the page are two different things. 

Lately, I’ve been more interested in the psychological, philosophical, and emotional factors that drive writing. Questions like, what does it mean to be a writer and how do you do it?

That being said, this post is not about any of those things. Instead, we’re going to talk about internal and external conflict. 

Last year, I read a book that I could not put down. The type of book where I spent my days wishing the hours away until I could go home and read my book. This has not happened to me for a very long time.

When I finished, I did what any self-respected writer in my situation would do. I sat at the kitchen table with a notepad, pen, and highlighter, flipped the book back to page one and pulled it apart–figuratively speaking. 

What was so good about this book? Was it the language, characters, genre, plot? 

At first, I thought it was simply appealing to all the things I love in other people’s books, but what I realised was that almost every page operated on two levels through the use of internal and external conflict.

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of complexity. How do you write complex scenes that work on multiple levels? Scenes that are in the present but that allude to the future and the past? Scenes that are metaphorical and literal? Scenes that allude to more than what appears literally on the page.

Creating internal and external conflict is, perhaps, one of the quickest ways to add complexity to a scene while making your narrative a page-turner. 

Internal conflict, as the name suggests, means that the character is struggling with some quality within themselves, whether that be physical, emotional, or mental. External conflict can be thought of as the protagonist in opposition with another character, society, culture, or nature. 

Okay, so some examples…

Paul suffers from social anxiety and he stutters when he’s nervous (internal conflict), but if he wants to keep his job (and his home and marriage and his cute poodle, Molly), then he’ll need to present the findings from his latest project to the board of directors (external conflict)…two weeks from today (double external conflict). 

Brooke was born into a noble family who groomed her from birth to be the next keeper of the kingdom; a kingdom that has been at war for the past two hundred years (external conflict), but Brooke doesn’t want to be a politician, she wants to be a soldier or a healer/mother/witch/blacksmith/butcher/whatever (internal conflict). 

You get the idea. 

Conflict is the heart of any story and while the examples I just shared are a way to see these two tensions play out on a larger scope, you can also play with internal and external conflict in small ways within each scene. 

For example, let’s say your protagonist is locked in a room. Great, you have external conflict, but what if they were also claustrophobic? 

Here’s another: let’s say your characters are sitting around the dinner table talking. Internal conflict could come from your character not wanting to be there because they feel uncomfortable (internal) or they promised their best mate that they’d see their band (external). Maybe their family are discussing politics and an argument starts up (external), but your protagonist can’t leave because they don’t want to miss out on dessert (internal). 

Considering internal and external conflict can happen at any stage of the writing practice as it can inform your outlining or your revision process. It’s never too early and never too late to consider the internal and external conflicts of your narrative, but when you do, the writing will likely become easier. 

Why? Because stories are about conflict (and transformation, but that’s another post), and when you are working on these two levels, you’ll have so much more material to play with. 


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.

Setting Creative Boundaries (For Yourself)

‘I often feel exhausted, but it is not my work that tires (work is rest); it is the effort of pushing away the lives and needs of others before I can come to the work with any freshness and zest.’

May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude.

This quote encompasses the experience of so many writers. The idea that other people are a constant threat and impingement to our creativity. 

It’s true that we do have to create boundaries as a way to protect our creative routines. This could look like asking your family to leave you alone for an hour after dinner or for a few hours every Sunday afternoon. A boundary can look like closing the door (complete with a Do Not Disturb sign). It can mean buying noise cancelling headphones and setting the house rule that headphones = leave me alone. 

Coming up with boundaries is the easy part; it’s upholding them that is tricky! 

We think of boundaries as rules that we create in relation to other people as a way to keep ourselves safe and happy, but do you ever pause to consider the boundaries that you create for yourself? 

What behaviours do you engage in that hinder your work?

It’s easy to say that your writing session was ruined because a family member knocked on your office door or a friend dropped by for an unannounced visit, but what do you do to sabotage your creative efforts?

Setting boundaries for herself might look like…

  • Putting your phone on aeroplane mode
  • Closing your inbox
  • Leaving the house
  • Writing what you want to write
  • Not writing about topics, or in genres, that make you cringe
  • Speaking kindly to yourself
  • Being patient with the work
  • Allowing yourself enough time
  • Choosing to schedule time for your writing (or creative projects)
  • Engaging with your work even when you don’t have enough time
  • Making changes if something isn’t working (in the project itself or how you approach it)
  • Daydreaming
  • Keeping your pen moving
  • Setting a timer
  • Reading during the day…

Some of these boundaries are restrictive, such as closing your inbox because this behaviour can easily lead you away from writing and art-making. Other boundaries are expensive in that they give you permission to engage in activities that enhance and enrich your creative life, such as being patient with yourself, daydreaming, and reading during the day. 

It’s easy to focus on how the actions of others hinder our writing, but we also need to acknowledge the ways our own behaviour limits or restricts our creativity.  

Setting any kind of boundary, whether it be verbal or physical, is the easy part; it’s reinforcing them that requires guts and gentle discipline. 

Now, I’d love to hear from you. Do you set boundaries around your writing (either for yourself or others)? Do you find keeping these promises to yourself easy or difficult?


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.

Returning to Creative Work after the Holidays

It was December 29. My office, which also acts as our guest bedroom, rotated between these two purposes several times over a single fortnight. 

I liked it better as a guest room. The bed was made, pillows fluffed, and the organised shelves were much more appealing to look in on than my black desk that was usually covered in pens, books, diaries, and teaching notes. I have a ritual of packing up the desk at the end of every workday so that the space is always clean and organised for when I return, but still, the presence of the desk—which can be viewed easily from the main thoroughfare and heart of our home, the living room—is a constant reminder: there is so much you could be doing right now. 

The twenty minutes it took to extract my documents, computer, and desk and replace them with a bed brought several days of guilt-free relaxation.

Make no mistake, my inner-taskmaster frequently popped up to remind me that I should be taking advantage of this ‘non-time’ between Christmas and New Year, telling me I should be getting ahead on my work because 1) I’ll be very busy once the new year gets going and 2) doing more work now will lead to an easier life later. 

Oh, this lie is a seductive one.

I have fallen for it more times than I can count. If you get ahead now, you can rest later. I am yet to experience this mystical later. 

If you plan on having a long, full, ambitious and meaningful creative career, then the work will never be done: completed projects and contracts are replaced by new projects and contracts. (Note, this is a very good problem for a creative to have). 

I used to say that waitressing was a job that had no sense of completion. Every shift begins anew; every day is a clean slate. No matter what happens, the next shift offers a second chance; and no matter how bad a shift is, it always ends. Forgetting to put in a drink order is not ideal, but easily fixable, and it’s unlikely you’ll be serving the same customers the following night. Break a glass? No one will remember tomorrow. Don’t sweat it. 

Creative careers are different. We’re usually juggling multiple projects with multiple collaborators returning to them day after day followed by sporadic breaks due to competing priorities. 

We might take short breaks here or there. A day off on the weekend or no work after six pm, but we spend most of our time up on the balls of our toes, not swinging in a hammock. 

And yet, I hate this narrative. The glorification of ‘busy’: the idea that you have to grind yourself into a pit of dust to be considered a good person. 

There are few times in any calendar year where taking a break is 1) easy and 2) encouraged. That ‘non-time’ between the end of one year and the start of the next is one example. 

So, when my inner capitalist started to pipe up about how much work I could be getting done during this time, I actively chose to ignore them. Rightly or wrongly, it is easier to rest during the holidays because it’s … kind of expected and it’s what most people are doing. 

When the time came to flip the third room from a spare bed back to my office, I was less than excited. The switchback was a signal that the period of guilt-free rest was over and that soon (very soon) I’d be returning to business as usual. 

Returning to any kind of work after an extended break can be tricky, even when you love what you do. 

Today is my first day back, but a few simple strategies made the transition that little bit easier… 

Yesterday, I went for a long walk in nature and took the time to really observe my surroundings. No podcasts. No music. Just me. Then I spent several hours reading invigorating essays about creative writing in a park with a piece of left-over Christmas cake and chai tea. In the afternoon, I watched a brilliant interview with a beloved author. At night, I ordered pizza from the best Italian place in town and watched Dexter. Basically, I stuffed myself with a combination of deep relaxation and inspiring content. 

This morning, I went into my office early (no long breakfast in the attempt to delay the inevitable [which would have only increased my resistance!]), pulled out my new weekly planner, quickly assessed where all my projects were at and made a loose but realistic schedule for the week. I didn’t check social media or my emails. Instead, I begin working on the most important task of the day. 

Three hours later, I was done, leaving the rest of the day for soft research, emails, and writing this blog. 

I could have turned this article into a snappy listicle titled ‘Seven ways to return to work’, but we all operate differently and what makes returning to work easy for me may seem nightmarish to you. This is the process that worked for me today, but I’d like to hear what works for you. 

Do you dread returning to work after Christmas or an extended holiday? How do you make this transition as smooth as possible? 

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.

Writers who invest in themselves

Your ability to improve as a writer is dependent on how invested you are in your own learning. 

If you want to get better than you need to be actively engaging with your creative practice. We’ve all heard the cliche, ‘practice makes perfect’ and the updated version, ‘perfect practice makes perfect.’ Fortunately/unfortunately, this principle also applies to writing. 

It is unlikely that you’ll finish your manuscript if you only write when you feel inspired. 

It is unlikely that you will write an excellent book–that could stand out in the market, that people would want to read, and that is un-put-downable–on the first draft (or the second or third). 

It is unlikely that you will improve as a writer if you don’t reflect on your weaknesses and then actively try to improve them. 

The participants and students who do well in writing programs (online and in real life) do so because they are invested in their writing. 

They show up and they read the set modules and recommended readings. They think about what they have read and they ask questions about the work. 

They consider how that content relates to their own writing practice and what that might mean for them. For example, they may reconsider their hardened stance that pantsing is the only way to write or that literary fiction is boring or that efficiency is what we should be striving for–how to write a good book in as few steps as possible!

Like, I guess you could adopt that viewpoint if you wanted to take the wide, exploratory, juicy quality of writing and submit it to the systematized processes demanded of hustle culture and productivity… up to you. 

Being invested in your development as a writer can mean many things from the simple, learning how to use semicolons correctly, to the elaborate, completing a PhD. 

It can mean studying how other writers approach their craft by listening to podcast interviews, reading critical reviews of their work, or following them on social media to see what their writing life looks like (albeit a controlled and curated version). 

Being invested in your writing might look like consuming a ton of ‘how to’ writing books and then putting that advice to practise.  

It could be reading a wide variety of literature and analysing each book to see how the author constructed it; what literary devices are present and what did you love or loathe about the book?

It’s learning to self-edit beyond the line level. It isn’t enough to remove the typos, you need to be critically evaluating the content of your book. Does the plot work? Are the characters round or flat? Is the structure interesting or unique? How might you tell this story differently? Is there enough conflict or tension? What is this book saying and what do you want it to say — and do those two match up?

All that might sound daunting and not much fun. It might sound like a lot of work. And sometimes writing is work, but it can also be playful and joyous. 

Play is present as you are working with your imagination and joy is built in because you are engaged in the act of making. And there is so much satisfaction in pushing yourself beyond your limits and achieving something you’d previously considered impossible. 

Every writer writes for a different reason: 

Because it’s how they process the world

because it’s the only way to make the pretend voices in their head feel useful

because they feel better when they do

because it’s fun

because it’s stimulating

because it’s entertaining, interesting … better than folding laundry

You don’t have to be invested in your writing. 

You can write however you want to, but if you want to get better at writing and if there are particular creative goals you want to hit, then being invested in your own learning is how you are going to get there.

 


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 as an Identity

I was recently listening to an episode of the Secret Library Podcast where host, Caroline Donahue encouraged listeners to consider what their life may look like without writing. 

Initially, I was dumbfounded. Caroline was quick to acknowledge that posing that type of question on a writing podcast may seem a little odd, but that taking the time to truly reflect on that possibility could lead to useful insights. 

For me, if writing was no longer a part of my routine, then whole areas of my life would crumble away. I wouldn’t teach writing, have a blog or YouTube channel, and I’d be losing an activity that I’ve dedicated a significant amount of my time to. 

At its most basic, writing is a creative outlet, but beyond that, it has become the axis from which so much of my life hangs.  

Without writing, I wouldn’t have my current job, many of my friends are writers so we’d no longer have that in common, my days would be a patchwork of errands and empty space, and I’d have to discover a new way to work out my thoughts and feelings on various topics.    

In the podcast, Donahue asks the listener to consider how the feelings or achievements they hoped to get from writing could be met from some other area of their life. 

Perhaps you write as a way to feel seen, heard, and acknowledged. Starting a YouTube channel, joining a theatre group, or public speaking would also give you those qualities. If you write because you are driven to win an award, that is a need that your day job may be able to provide. 

Of course, most of us probably write for a variety of reasons; this hobby is too consuming and nuanced to be driven by a single desire. 

This mental exercise is particularly illuminating as it is a different way of coming at the question: why do you write? Or what does writing do for you?

Personally, I know that when I’m not writing I tend to get restless and bored. Life lacks depth. Writing provides me with mental stimulus and a way to exercise my imagination—a skill that is seldom encouraged outside of childhood. At its best, writing is both a critical and creative process. 

When I’m not writing, I feel off centre, a bit unmoored. 

In many ways, writing has become my identity, and while I don’t necessarily think that is healthy, I also recognise how rare it is to find something that you deeply love and are obsessed with. 

Two qualities that could have manifested into me becoming a serial killer, but fortunately the only thing buried under my floorboards are dead manuscripts. 

Of course, we’ve all experienced wins and joys that have nothing to do with writing. In fact, when you first start out as a writer, it may be some time until you achieve your goals. 

I rarely write when I’m travelling or on holiday because I want to be present with the novelty of being in a new place. Travelling requires us to be outward, whereas writing requires us to internal and inward. 

I don’t miss writing when I’m travelling because I know that this time away will refresh and refuel me. 

If I am at home, however, and for whatever reason writing is unable to be a part of my daily (or to be more honest, weekly routine), the way I spend my time starts to feel purposeless. I become deeply resentful when my days are sucked up with urgent to-dos, and when I’ve gone through particular periods where this has happened day after day, I’ve wondered, ‘is this how everyone else lives? Completing tasks that are urgent but unimportant?’

I’ve worked hard to create a life that centred on writing, but that also means that my relationship with writing has altered, slightly. Writing is no longer a fun way to amuse myself on days off, now it is the one activity I must do to ensure that I continue to progress professionally. 

Publishing short stories, releasing these videos, and blogs are a way to earn immediate approval; they are also a way for potential clients to learn more about me before requesting my coaching services; having a long list of academic publications is a must when applying for teaching positions, and publishing my novels is now a way to validate myself as a writer, teacher, and coach. 

Art marking is important to me, and despite the professional pressures I just mentioned, they haven’t tarnished writing for me—though I can easily see how that could happen.  

And that is the tightrope that most creatives have to walk. 

If imagining a life without writing, painting, acting, dancing, or music makes you feel hallow, then you must create. Art marking doesn’t have to be your fulltime job or a stream of income, but if you contain within you then need to make something out of nothing, then it is important that you honour that aspect of your personality.

If writing is a revenue stream, then getting crystal clear on your priorities and boundaries is a must. What types of art are you not willing to make? How much time do you need to make art that you are proud of? How much empty space do you need to daydream and wonder? What forms of art, media, or experiences give you energy? 

Donahue’s question—what would you’re life look like without writing?—is an arresting one, but the answers it spurs are worth the discomfort of pondering this dystopian nightmare. 

What about you? Can you imagine a life without writing? How important/vital is writing to your happiness/fulfilment/joy/sense of purpose? 


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.

Process vs Goal Orientated as a Writer

There are countless ways to approach writing. Our routines and methods are constantly evolving and changing to meet the demands of our current project and schedules. 

My writing routine is constantly changing in response to other aspects of my life, but recently I was reflecting on how my attitude to writing has changed. I used to be goal orientated; now I’m more driven by process. 

So, what’s the difference?

Being goal orientated means that the writer’s motivation comes from completion. As a writer, that may look like finishing the first draft, then the structural edit, then the line edit.

Their focus is on the horizon and less on their feet.

They still care about the process, just not at the expense of their goal; they are ‘Type A’ personalities who are driven by producing measurable outcomes. 

These are the types of writers who pride themselves on being efficient. They are not the type to do multiple scrappy drafts as a way to ‘figure out the story’, and the idea of deleting an entire chapter or section is not an option. If time and energy have been sunk into a project, then that project had better perform. 

Being goal orientated doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a singular focus on publication–though that probably is the ultimate goal–but with each stage of the writing process (thinking, drafting, editing), they tend to be more motivated by the idea of completing that stage than by engaging with the work. 

They are the type of writer who is happy for having written.

Writers who are process driven, however, find joy in the act of making and they are less concerned with the success or completion of a project. Writing–period–is a good use of their time because they don’t put any pressure on the work to actually…work. 

These types of writers are more likely to see their creativity as play. The stakes around their writing are lower because they approach writing in a manner that is exploratory and the joy of making is what they value most. 

Process orientated writers will still have goals, but not at the expense of their process. For them, it is all about how their writing happens and less about what their writing can achieve. 

Of course, these two ways of making are not mutually exclusive and most people will probably sit somewhere between the two or their motivation for creating may change between projects or be influenced by other external or internal factors. 

From what I’ve seen in my students and clients, setting clear, measurable goals and figuring out an approach to writing that is exciting and do-able are equally important. Setting a word count target may be the right way to motivate yourself one day; another day you may be more motivated by the idea of mapping out various versions of a single scene. 

Years ago, I watched an interview with Josh Homme (frontman for Queens of the Stone Age) and he made the comment, ‘If you expect music to do anything for you, you’re expecting too much.’ 

The same can be said for writing, but we don’t need to take this quote literally because I do have expectations around my writing. Except, those expectations have nothing to do with fame or fortune and everything to do with living a rich and fulfilling creative life. 

And look, yes, I know that sounds very pollyanna-rish because we live in a society and culture where monetary value is how we measure the worth of almost everything, but the rewards I reap from writing are beyond measure. 

I was goal orientated for the first few years of my writing life because I was desperate to get some publications under my belt and lay the foundations for a sturdy portfolio career, but over the course of the last two years in particular, I’ve become much more driven by process. 

I’m less focussed on achieving a certain number of publications a year and more concerned with the quality of those publications. 

Of course, setting goals and having something to work towards is a great idea–not to mention fun–and I still set goals for myself, but they tend to be a lot more flexible and frankly, within my control, then they used to be. 

Setting goals for your writing isn’t strictly necessary, nor is perfecting a writing routine or creating elaborate rituals, it just depends on why you write and what the expectations around your writing are. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re goal or process orientated. Setting goals is an easy way to measure progress, and considering your process will ensure that the achievement of those goals is enjoyable and emotionally rewarding, but being aware of which category you lean towards may assist you in striking a better balance between the two.


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.

Are you writing the books you want to write?

We’ve all answered the career advice question, ‘If money wasn’t a factor, what would you do with your life?’

If you’re reading this blog (or watching the below video), then I’m going to assume that your answer has something to do with writing or creativity.

Opting away from the presumably safe or conventional options of a nine to five takes a lot of courage. Announcing you’re going to be a writer isn’t easy, and there is a reasonable chance that you will be met with fear and resistance (from both yourself and others).

This is a massive step, but you will make so many more decisions in your long career as a writer. 

It takes a lot of time and experimentation to develop your skills as a writer. We all have to build our knowledge of craft basics. It’s one thing to recall high school English definitions of plot, setting, theme, symbolism, metaphor and so on, and another thing to deepen our understanding of these literary devices and features and then apply that information to our work.  

You will never have as much confidence in yourself as a writer as you do the moment before you start working on your first *real* writing project.

Developing your voice as a writer takes time and the bill you have to pay is writing a bunch of crappy short stories and manuscripts that no one will ever see.

This is how you develop your understanding of how stories work. And what you are personally able to achieve in your writing.

We improve our writing abilities by trying out different techniques, completing writing exercises, reading deeply and widely through the lens of a writer rather than a reader, and learning how to critically evaluate our own work.

The thing is, with so much focus put on the quality of the writing itself, sometimes we can lose sight of what it is we are *actually* writing.   

What I mean is, are you writing the books that you want to write?

Have you become so concerned with up-levelling your skills, or writing books that will sell, or telling the types of stories your writing group would approve of, or … most alarmingly … are you writing towards the types of stories that are generally considered respectable, serious, or intelligent. 

You know, grown-up literature.

Bad enough that you want to be a writer, but you better not be the kind of writer that tells alien/cowboy/vampire/space/romance/detective stories. The only way you’re going to save face by announcing yourself as a writer is if your stories are realistic. 

Want to be taken seriously? Then your writing better be sophisticated and subtle – as though these qualities couldn’t also exist in genre writing.

Note that this can happen without us knowing it, particularly if you are process-driven and love the challenge of seeing whether you can pull something off. Sometimes, we tackle an idea simply because it is challenging and not necessarily because we find the topic personally engaging or thrilling.

Sometimes we drift into projects simply because it is a way to stay busy and to keep working.

But it’s always worth reflecting on your work in the bigger sense, are you writing the types of stories that you want to write?

As with most of my blogs, I’m writing this post because it’s a question that I have been asking myself lately. As it turns out, creative existential crises are just as crappy as regular existential crises.

This question was prompted after reading a novel that hit on all of the old aesthetics and tropes that I adored growing up as a child; qualities and features that formed the foundation of my storytelling knowledge. 

I grew up watching Friday night fright night, The Alfred Hitchcock HourThe Wraith (Rat forever!), Tales from the Crypt, Unsolved Mysteries, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Are you Afraid of the Dark? (I still think about that ghost in the pool episode!), and I read Goosebumps, Paul Jennings, Anamorphs, and so on.

Little wonder my debut novel starred a ghost! 

So, I’ve been experimenting this past month with going back and revisiting all of the movies, tv shows, and books I grew up watching and reading, and to be honest, it was a relief to discover that I had mostly outgrown that content. 

But I couldn’t ignore the fact that the book I had just finished had cracked open this question. 

So, I sat down, put on my literary detective goggles and tried to figure out why this book appealed to me so much, and what I realised was that it took all the tropes and aesthetics I loved as a kid but they then repacked them for an adult audience.

I then shared all these thoughts with my mentor who in turn directed me to a fantastic article by Kelly Link. If you’re feeling stuck for ideas, or if you feel uncertain about whether you are writing the stories you really want to write, here is the exercise that Link describes.  

Grab a piece of paper and write out all the things you love in other people’s books. 

These points can relate to tropes, themes, setting, mood, whatever, and they can be as specific or as general as you like. 

For example, in Link’s list, she mentions twins, libraries, books inside books, haunted houses, ghosts etc. My own list includes gothic architecture, witty banter, plot twists, character secrets, and heartbreak (as in, a beloved character dies).

Once you’ve completed your list, you can use this as a reference point for your own work, as a way to generate ideas, or to evaluate the work you’ve already produced.

The good thing about a creative existential crisis is that it’s (usually) a lot easier to course correct than a regular existential crisis. 

You don’t have to get a divorce, move cities, quit your job, buy a pet or an expensive car. All you have to do is choose to create art that is in alignment with your authentic tastes. 

Okay … granted, if you’re making a 100k every year writing Harlequin romances or if you won last year’s book then maybe pivoting won’t be that easy or comfortable–for you or your agent. 

Similarly, if your are eighty percent finished with a project when you realise that it isn’t the book of your heart … might I recommend that you finish it anyway? If you’ve sunk that much time and effort into a project, best to see it through to the end and then take a new direction with the next project. 

Okay, now that I’ve gotten ALL those disclaimers out of the way, back to my point. 

If writing isn’t your main source of income, then you have the creative freedom to change direction and to write whatever stories you want.

The reason why it is important to ask yourself the question, am I writing the stories I want to write?, is because writing (regardless of context) is awesome and if we’re focussed more on the act of writing than what we are writing, we could drift away from the types of stories we love best. 

And sometimes, we unknowingly write towards an invisible critical audience, or towards the expectations of our parents/family/friends. 

Developing your skills as a writer and challenging yourself with new and difficult projects is one thing, but it should never come at the cost of your creative integrity.

The following advice has become a cliché for a reason, because it is true, write the story you want to read.


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.


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.

Luck and Creativity

Writing is a matter of chance. 

I’m not talking about the type of luck that is involved in landing an agent, a publishing deal, or a spot on the New York Times Bestseller list, though all those wins do contain an element of luck. 

I’m referring to the chance that happens within your writing habit. 

These are the unintended connections, repetitions, resonances, or loops that your subconscious mind embeds in the story and that are invisible to you until you begin revising the work. 

They are also the sudden insights or ideas that pop into your mind while you’re working on a scene. When you are out walking the dog, having coffee with your best friend, or attempting to meditate. 

There is more than one way to write, whether you are a true pantser or a planner or a combination of the two. But regardless of how you approach writing, this aspect of chance shows up for all of us in the same way. 

It is unpredictable and entirely outside of our control. 

And yet, it is one of the most fun aspects of writing. 

There is a unique joy in editing a draft of your novel and discovering that a comment in chapter fifteen mirrors an event in chapter two, or noticing that a spontaneous decision you made at the end of the book now acts as a broader metaphor or illuminates the novel’s theme. 

You couldn’t have included this stuff if you’d tried, but because you’ve opted to live a life steeped in storytelling and because you’re deeply familiar with your story, the subconscious mind has done the work for you. 

Sometimes these chance aspects may be underdeveloped, but once recognised, there is an opportunity then for you to flesh out, expand, or work these novel nuggets into literary gold. 

The other aspect of chance is equally outside of our control, however, there are things you can do to invite these types of spontaneous insights and ideas into your practice. 

Spending time in low-stress activities that are separate from writing but that allow your mind to relax and wander creates the space for these types of connections and insights to occur. For example, gardening, swimming, walking, cleaning, playing with your kids, or engaging with other creative practices like music, dance, or art. 

These activities absorb your attention to a degree, but they are not cognitively demanding. However, the trick is that you must be present with the activity and not actively thinking about the story you are working on. 

There are times when you can intentionally use movement, such as walking, as a method for solving creative problems. This is a method that Cal Newport uses and he refers to as Productive Meditation. But to experience the sudden, sharp bursts of insights I am describing here, your mind has to be in a relaxed and semi-distracted state. 

The element of chance may only occur a handful of times within the making of a single project, and yet, it is one of the most thrilling aspects of writing. 

So much of writing is problem-solving. It is fumbling around in the dark as you try to discover the shape, size, and scope of the story. Even when you create an outline, there is so much that remains a mystery. 

For most of us, we only truly get to know our story once we start writing it. You can think about your story forever, but there’s a good chance that you’ll only find it once you start creating it

When chance occurs, it’s like you finally found the key that will unlock your story. Chance may resolve a plot hole, create nuance and layers, change a character’s motive, or reveal an alternative structure. 

It happens infrequently, and yet, it is the high that every writer is chasing. A good writing day is great. We all love when a scene feels more like fluid dictation rather than painstaking creation. But chance is the holy grail that every creator is seeking. It comes as a surprise and fills us with awe, wonder, and relief. This story is going to work. 

I wish I could provide you with a five-step hack that guarantees creative insight every time, but that’s not how creativity or chance work. 

The best you can do is look for those unintended connections, mirrors, or repetitions while editing your book. Look to see if there are any possibilities or opportunities within the work already that you can draw out, build, and expand on. And finally, carve out the space to spend time doing other things, because the one thing chance demands is that you be distracted. After all, how else will it slip into your apartment and leave a love note on the bench? 


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.