Hey Writer, Comparison Kills Creativity

Writerly fabric has common threads, but writing style, the message, life lessons, the growth from experience—those are unique. Why you and I know this in our heads but not trust with our hearts is complicated. Once upon a time we heard encouragement that sounded like little waves of “You’re special!” Those words can feel warm and wonderful. Those same words can wash over us very differently with a slight twist of tone or inflection. They can make a person feel awkward, embarrassed, and insecure. The truth is, we can hear the same words, and a completely different response is evoked.

Writers are readers, and the first thing an emotionally healthy writer does with words (spoken and written) is evaluate them for truth. We want truth, especially when the words reflect on our souls or submissions. But writer, consider the source. That’s the “must do” in the list today. You simply must think about the heart behind the words. A beautiful, honest heart shares truth in a loving way (even if the message might be a little painful). Truth is like that.

Image: Comparison Kills CreativityBut there’s more.

Writers being readers, we spend time taking in others’ good words. When those “others” have been successful in their writing, we begin to compare. It starts honestly and naively: “I want to be like her when I grow up.” That’s fine when skill and methods can be learned, and you start down the road with your unique journey in mind. It gets ugly quick when we want the end result without the work, or when we refuse to take the first step on the journey because—

My voice doesn’t really matter. I can’t say it better than __________. The message has already been said. If I did write something, who would read it? Publishers don’t give writers like me the time of day. I’m a nobody. My name isn’t Beth, Christine, Joyce, Lysa, Lisa, Liz, Nancy, or Priscilla. This is too hard!

Writer, remember two things if you remember nothing else.

Comparison doesn’t work.
You aren’t like anyone else. Your life story is yours. The message you share comes out of your own learning, growth, and experience. No one else has that. You are spec—let’s not use those words, even if they are true. You are unique! Think of your life a little like a sculpture, shaped by a whole tool chest of chisels. Each tool mark in your life is slightly different than mine, even if the circumstances are stone from similar quarries. Your voice matters because it isn’t like anyone else. Your message matters because only you can tell it in your voice with your perspective. Your plot twists will be different, so long as you don’t plagiarize.

So writer, write. In your voice. Share your message. Write in the few minutes you have. Write with the audience in mind, but long before their eyes will find it. You are writing in a precious place, and it’s a gift. For now, you are in obscurity, and that’s wonderful! It’s a blessing and a safe place to write without pressure or shame.

Comparison kills creativity.
Writer, go to your happy place. Go to the place where you write freely without other writers in mind. It’s not that we want to hold the “competition” in mind and heart with ugliness or defiance or loathing (self-loathing or directed at others). Just take a moment to dismiss them from the audience when you have trouble with shame in their shadows. (We should talk about this later in terms of community!) When a writer creates in the shadow of another’s perceived greatness, there is no freedom.

Writers tend to watch Ps and Qs and commas. That’s good writing in light of remembering the reader and presenting good, clean words. Excellence is never sacrificed in the work. If the creative mind returns to others’ writing samples, and it leans comparison and shame, stop it. That’s no bueno! You need a fresh start. Over-monitoring in the shadow of comparison shuts down your own creativity, and your work will likely be blocked or dripping with your felt shame.

The solution? Release others, and you release your own creativity! How’s that sound? Become less concerned about others’ success and release them (and their work) from your head space. Then you’re free to be you, write in your voice, and share your message.

I hear “Fr-ee-ee-ee-ee-dom!” in my head. Do you?

Writer, it’s time to write in freedom with amazing creativity. Lean in. Get to it!



Hey Writer, It’s a Gift

Hey Writer, have you landed in a trap? The main focus becomes how to get a response, and then the emotionally-charged treadmill starts up and rolls on. It makes sense, really. Writing is unique in its process. A writer gathers thoughts and ideas for an audience to see and unpack later. Eyes may land on the screen seconds after clicking publish, or they may take it all in years later on fresh pages with a cover. In any case, writers live for the moment of engagement, don’t we? (I can be impatient and, a little like Veruca Salt, I want it n-n-n-now! How about you?)

The common thread between both moments of engagement with the good words is the reader. Don’t miss this. Writer, you simply must imagine someone sitting across the table from you. This is a conversation, even if time and distance intrudes. And there is something else that will change the way you write.

It’s a gift!It's a gift: hands giving a gift.

Many of us know we have a talent for writing, but it’s more than that. In fact, if that’s all it is, the treadmill waits for you. You’ll be evaluating your talent by engagement, and that’s a terrible emotional ride.

Can I challenge you? Instead of a talent mindset, think about your good words as a gift. You offer an opportunity for readers to engage. Imagine giving your audience the very best gift you can afford. Your heart, mind, and love through words is a gift to your readers. That means you’re not tossing the gift at them in the plastic shopping bag with a receipt. You’re taking the time to prepare and present your very best.

Maybe it looks a little like this:

The right gift. When you choose a gift for someone, the best gift is selected with the recipient in mind. Likes and dislikes are considered. Quality is checked. The art is created out of love for the reader. While you’re not responsible for how the gift is received, take special time and effort to choose to love someone with your gift.

Ribbons, not strings. The precious gift you choose is presented beautifully, and you’ll will take time to wrap it and tie a pretty bow. But because it is a gift, it has no expectations or strings attached. Offer the best gift with your unique flair and presentation. Then wait patiently for the recipient’s response without pressing heavily or guilting anyone.

Sacred moments. The moment a reader’s eyes take it all in is sacred. You chose, prepared, and presented the gift. Now the audience has an opportunity. Love this moment, but hold it loosely. Let the gift pass from your hands to the reader’s. Sit back and enjoy the opportunity you’ve offered.

Remember: you’re not trying to get anything. That will change your perspective in a hurry. You will write for your audience out of love for them. You’ll be comfortable in your niche (and your own skin!). This is where you, the writer, will thrive! You’ll fulfill the calling on your life using the talent you have to give a gift to the audience you’ve been given.

Writer, you have a gift to give. Now give it.


Hey Writer, You Have Something to Say

October 2018 jjhWriter, you know it. Deep in your core, you know. There is a storyline, a character, or a message—something you’ve just got to share. Sometimes you scribble the words on a napkin or a scrap of paper. Other times you hurry to record them in an audio note so you won’t forget. There’s something about those thoughts.

The words mean something, or you wouldn’t rush to save them. They have value because they’re a fresh plot twist, they communicate significant thoughts, or the turn of phrase is unique and sweet. Isn’t it amazing that our creativity is boundless and blossoms over and over in special moments? We love it when it comes in the quiet, but we’ll pull over on the commute or holler at Siri half a dozen times to get the reminder right. We are writers, for sure!

Think about it. Something inside your mind and heart is hidden but won’t rest until it’s revealed. Why do you think that is? I think it’s because an audience needs it. The words know it, and you know it.

Writer, you’ve got something to say. It’s an engaging storyline or a meaningful message. And the process is life-transforming for you, the writer, and your audience.

So, what will you do with that? Will you be bold and put the words down for your audience to read, or will you keep the art hidden within? Will you proclaim or procrastinate? The choice is yours.

You have something to say. And it matters.

What will you do with that? I’d love to hear what you have to say. Comment below!



Hey Writer, What Do You Need?

I wasn’t looking. Something happened. I wrote several posts, titled them, and then a theme showed up when I looked back. The titles all started with the same word and had a certain “feel” to them. Have you noticed? It was so obvious I added a category in the sidebar (see “Writers Series”).Writers, What Do You Need? (apple, books)

If it’s a theme and I’m going to be known for it, let’s call it out. Sometimes I put on the “teacher hat” when I sit down to the keyboard. This doesn’t surprise anyone who knows me well, and it certainly doesn’t surprise the boys I schooled at home for most of their lives. *grin* I’m a teacher-type person. I own it.

I’m perfectly aware I won’t have answers to every writerly thing, but I’m really curious—what is it that you, writer, find to be your biggest challenge? What is it the writing community most needs? What should we be talking about?

Inquiring minds want to know. (I definitely do!) If you’ll take a few seconds to share your biggest writing struggle, I promise I will read it. I’ll read each and every one and try to respond personally! I may share your struggle, or I may think about the ways I can offer support and encouragement. Just know you’ll be heard (uh, read!), and I’ll respond.

Are you willing?

Comment below or send me a quick e-mail (whatever makes you feel comfortable). I want to hear what’s on your mind and heart. I want to know what makes you as a writer think or pause.

Thanks for engaging!


Hey Writer, Lift Heavy Things

It’s mid-morning. I sat down to enjoy my some quiet creative time, and do you know what happened? Nothing. I sat down, buckled my seat belt, turned the key, and—Writers, Lift, Coffee cup


Sometimes I imagine my brain cells lined up, waiting for the barista to get a move on. The sad thing is, I think they think I’m the barista! (Surely they know I’m not the dependable one for a fabulous cuppa before 10 AM!) I digress.

What’s my point? Simply this: writers talk about “the block” like it’s some kind of enormous object that drops from the sky and flattens them. (Now I imagine an ACME anvil and a coyote. You too?) The truth is, I don’t think the block is nearly as big or heavy as we might think. I like to think with the right “lever” we can move heavy things. So, what kind of lever do we need?

Writing. Just writing. Stream of consciousness. Haiku. A limerick. A brief character sketch. A few minutes’ work on a piece of dialogue. The lever, whatever form it takes, is personal to the writer. The lever is the tool a writer uses to refresh her raison d’être (reason for being).

Every writer needs to know there is a message waiting to be shared, that it’s important, and she needs to tell it. Writing needs to be partly creative and play (yes, even in business writing). Writing, in all its forms, is significant. And craft. And play.

Writer, when you feel stuck, the breakthrough is coming. Pick up your “pen” for a little playtime. Here’s what the process might look like for you.

Choose a tool. Choose something you really want to do and unrelated to the “chore” that needs to be done. Think about the writing genre or style you fell in love with, the kind of writing that makes you laugh, or the reason you began writing.

Set a timer. Limit the exercise to a few minutes to refresh your writing soul. If you’ve got extended time, great. Some of us need to return to our “real world” with real deadlines.

Write freely! There’s no judgment or evaluation of the writing sample when you’re finished, though you may decide to keep it as a springboard for later use.

I hope these ideas give you thoughts on breaking your barriers to writing. Try a tool. And seriously, if you write a Haiku, you simply have to share in the comments below! I’m dying to read a poem or two.

I was feeling a little blocked, so I wrote something about writing. Look at that!

All the best to you as you write today!


Hey Writer, Mind the Margin

Speed. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? A drawn-out sigh escapes when the laptop takes longer than a few seconds to boot. Four minutes is forever when the microwave turntable holds a potato. Red lights are always too long as we hustle from one thing to another in our booked-solid schedule. Once upon a time the drive was precious thinking time—creative, playful, plot twist and storyline exploration time—it’s nothing like it was. Rush hour traffic stole it all away, then the rush hours’ intensity and anxiety bled into every part of the day.

Wait. No, really—wait.

The writer’s mind should be tended, cared for with gentleness and respect. Honestly, this is for writers, but it’s not just about writers. Don’t we all find our RPMs too high every so often, or too often? There’s noticeable wobble happening at a certain point. (Don’t make me out to be a liar. You experience this too, right?)

It starts innocently enough. Where did I leave that _______? Why am I in this room? (I was looking for something.) Ooops! I really meant to be there, but I never got the meeting into my calendar. The deadline is when? You get the picture. My though process gets loose and disorganized; and forgetfulness begins to sprawl, affecting more and more brain cells. When I notice these things, it’s time to take the early warning signs seriously.

Additionally, I find the important, scheduled things in my days are dismissed or overlooked altogether. I have a favorite morning practice that feeds my mind and soul. When I see I’m rushing off without some quiet, focused time in the morning, that’s a  serious sign that I’m living too fast.

Writers are mindful of the margin because there are guidelines for assignments, papers, projects, and contest and publishing submissions. The white space is not only necessary but also clearly directed. The reader’s eye and writer’s mind need white spacend the writer gives the margin a close look when red ink feedback is found there.10 2018 Margin jjhowe

Back to the white space in life. The mind needs margin rest. We like to think we can be high-capacity people with off-the-charts productivity. While hard work is necessary and even recommended six days of the week, rest is critical. I even press for something a little more gentle—white space within the day for your mental, physical, and spiritual well being.

The care and feeding of the mind and soul of a writer should include white space in life. That slow (read: boring) time in the schedule allows for creativity not found in frenetic activity. It feeds the mind, and that feeds the theme paper, creative project, or good words a writer hopes for.

More importantly, the writer’s soul needs tending. The good words flow from the soul that is rested, fed, and well-loved. The writer who leans into the emotional state to create needs a stable soul to share the vital message or story that resides deep inside. To share significant, meaningful content, the writer must have significant, meaningful “stuff” inside. That, my friend, comes from reading and thinking and precious relationships.

In my life that comes from reading life-changing, truth-filled words in my Bible, thinking about how I live my life differently because I read that, and talking about the truths with God and good friends. That fills my soul! I wonder what fills yours.

I hope this helps you begin to plan the margin, the beautiful white space, in your schedule. I’m betting, if it’s not planned, you’ll never fit it in. Nature and schedules abhor a vacuum.

Feeling bold? Share how you plan to adjust your margin below. This could be really helpful for those who struggle to know how to make a schedule that feeds and cares for the body, mind, and soul.

Thanks for reading!


Hey Writer—Solutions for the Professional Without an Office

Show up to your day like a professional or because you are a professional?Show Up_jjhowe blog graphic 09 25 18

Do words make a difference? I say they do. The truth is, you will show up today in some way. Short of staying in your jammies under the covers—you’re showing up to this day. (If you’re hiding under the covers right now, get your sleepy self out of bed, friend!)

Many times the professional who works from home, the coffee shop, or the library is more like a nomad drifting from place to place. Variety is the spice of life, don’t get me wrong, but showing up to your workday probably requires a professional mindset.

Do the clothes make the man? Some say so. Offices have dress codes for a reason. The fashion industry is built on individual expression and filling a personal and emotional niche.

Does environment matter as much as appearance? It may be more important. I work out of several different hidey holes, and they each have their strengths and weaknesses. Lately, I’m less impressed by the opportunities I have to choose from. Sometimes I want quick, unlimited online connection. I may want to choose healthy food choices. And I don’t like scrapping for a quiet space. I can find connectivity, but it may crawl. I can brown bag it in lots of places, but I might have to shift my tech priorities for the day. The library is quiet, but it’s got limitations, too.

So what’s out there these days for the professional looking for a space? People, there is something popping up out there, and you should find one. There businesses offering shared office space (for a small fee). What I’ve found locally is a gem! The Office Clubhouse should be on your radar in Mundelein, but if you’re not local, see what’s near you.

Something changes when we’re willing to take time to go to an office and make a small investment in our work. When we get serious about our work, our work becomes more professional. Having an office “home” means something, too.

Writers and editors, hear me! Once in a while make the small investment. Go to a professional environment where distractions are minimal, the office is yours for the day, and the coffee is a few steps away. Your per diem could be spent easily on breakfast, a coffee, and lunch at a hidey hole. Or, bring your favorite foods, make some coffee at the office space, and work hard and undistracted for the day.

What do you think about these new ventures? Have you taken advantage of one? What was your experience?