Hey Writer—the Bad…

April 22 2019_jjhHey, Writer—the last post in the series focused on the best parts of your writing. If you haven’t read it and taken the 3-minute challenge, go here.

Today we’re peeking at something challenging—the things we know need to be shored up or polished in our writing process. There are so many “moving parts” in the process when we take a closer look: showing and telling, the writer’s and characters’ voices, plot and subplots, writing style and conventions. It’s overwhelming if we get stuck in all of it.

Truth is, we don’t do all of writing skillfully; there’s room for growth in this craft. We will be more successful when we accept that truth and ourselves as we are in the writing process. Admitting we have room for improvement in the first and final drafts can be encouraging.

As an editor, I’ll list some of the common struggles I see.

  • Comma, comma, comma, comma, comma, chameleon
  • Conjunction junctions
  • Content spell-bound by uncommon terms
  • Flooding the work with adjectives and adverbs
  • Footnotes! Everybody footnote! (Citation styles can be tricky.)
  • Inconsistencies in plot, character traits, or minor details
  • Plodding storyline or subplots that distract
  • Regular use of lackluster words: being verbs and “that,” for example
  • Telling, rather than showing

You might see your nemesis in the list above, or you may already know the first thing you should address in your writing based on feedback. I always think it’s great to know where to start in my crafting and drafting growth.

The imperfections can be addressed in baby steps, but the first step is knowing where the attention is needed. Do you know? How would you find out? Try some of these:

  • Create or join a writer’s group or circle for the community and feedback
  • Consider a guild or larger learning community for writing resources
  • Find truthful and encouraging critical readers who know your genre
  • Study the areas mentioned repeatedly in the feedback
  • Study the craft to become your own best and fierce friend for self-editing
  • Find a skilled editor to help you with your words

Remember, this isn’t really the “bad” in our work but a growth opportunity. Writers write. Good writers are teachable, learn the craft, and master bits at a time.

Writer, own your place and space in the writing world. Your words and stories matter. Readers need what you have to say. Don’t shirk the work for the wrong reasons. Step into and grow into the role of writer. After all, you are one!

Here’s your quick 3-minute assignment for sharing below: think about a single growth area in your writing process. What is it? Brainstorm one or two steps you can take to strengthen your weakness. When will you step into this growth opportunity?

~Jennifer

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Hey Writer—Handle with Care

Hey Writer: Handle with Care (jjhowe)Hey, writer! Your wordsmithing skills are strengthening. (Remember when a blank page made you sigh and stare at the ceiling? That’s less frequent now. Or if you start counting holes in ceiling tiles, you can break the pattern. Celebrate little victories!) The writing life is a challenge, but it’s also exciting. You’re crafting sentences now, and you know it. Still—there are things to think about.

It’s time to write with care.
By now you’ve got a reader in mind when you write. You know all about her, even see her face. What does your relationship feel like? Are you friends? Now write with her in mind. Choose words that communicate and connect, rather than overwhelm or confuse. If the relationship to your reader is caretaking, you might reach her with words that encourage or soothe her soul. If banter is your connection, you can still respect her stage of life, knowledge of the world, and her worldview. If she’s your nemesis, you may be crafting word weapons. (This is a challenge for me, and I do well to borrow Shakespeare’s words like I did here. It could be the difference between nuclear devastation fueled by unchecked emotion and precise targeting through borrowed words.)

Talk to your real, imaginary friend.
You’re writing to a reader, having a conversation on the page with an imaginary friend of your own invention—a clearly identified, very real reader. Now you’ve got a job to do.  Think about your work in these terms.

  • Hold her attention. If you make writing decisions centered purely on your own preference, she’ll sense that. If you’re not inviting her into the conversation or honoring her presence, it will be obvious. Invite your reader into your world of words prepared for her before she ever cracked the cover. If you’ve been thinking of her, she’ll know. She’ll feel welcome, like she belongs.
  • Move her along in your work. When she enters your writing world, be sure to gift her with a page-turner. Use language that’s easily understood, phrasing that reads naturally, and descriptions that serve her. If you choose to bog her down in difficult language, sentences that require two or three attempts, and heavy-handed details that are overwhelming or overdone, she may be done (long before you’d like!).
  • Genuinely impact her life. Leave her with all the benefits of your words. Choose well what you share—make your work a gift that keeps giving long after the final words. Has she met new friends? Visited new places? Grown in her knowledge or wisdom? Is her quality of life better for reading your words? Those are some goals.

It’s not about you.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it a hundred times (probably). A writer is an artist who births a beautiful “child” in the final draft, a child who might seem to be the darling who can do no wrong. A writer who never feels this way either has no genuine connection to the work or extreme insecurity in it (a topic for another day). The mature writer learns to love writing, wholeheartedly enjoying the process and avoiding self-indulgence for the sake of the reader. If a writer manages to balance the creativity and crafting with love for the reader, it’s a win-win. The writer writes, the reader reads, and the work’s fulfillment comes through the reader’s engagement.

Writer, handle your reader and words with care. Do that through skillful, thoughtful writing.

~Jennifer

Hey Writer—Highs, Lows, and the Everyday Flow

The Highs, Lows, and Everday Flows, jjhoweHey, Writer! I’ve got a question for you: What is big in your mind? When you answer the first time, just assume you need to ask several times to go deeper and mine the nugget of truth waiting for you. I tossed out casual answers the first two times, but found the revealing, transforming stuff when I gave the question the time it deserved.

Answering the Question
My first answer was words and word count—those were big in my mind. A writer writes, so words are artfully crafted and tallied. Without words to count I couldn’t call myself a writer. Writing must be about the words.

On the heels of that was readers and platform. It only made sense the words must have fifteen minutes of fame in front of a reader. A writer writes for an audience; that means readers, and publishers want lots of them. It’s all about the platform, or so I thought.

My third go-round landed at message. The message soars on wings of words with the wind of a reader supporting it. The words need a guiding message to hem them in and give them significance. The reader can only understand the words in a message that connects to their mind, heart, or story. The message is large and in charge.

Then Gut-level Honesty…
When I quietly leaned into vulnerability, I had different answers, answers that changed like the weather or depended on the day.

The highs and lows registered as big. A writer can find the highest highs and the lowest lows overwhelming.

This post went viral! Viral? That’s crazy-awesome. I wrote that. I’m crazy-awesome. I can’t wait to get the next installment published!

Four thousand words today? Amazing! I wrote every one of ’em. I’m so proud. I’m amazing!

Brian says my message matters. My message matters. My message matters. My message matters! My message matters! I’m on it!

The last post went viral.  *Checks stats for the 20th time.*  Zero views? Zero? I am nothing!

A negative word count? How does that happen? Another week of this, and I quit! I suck.

Who would read this? Nothing new under the sun, they say. Why bleed on the page if it’s already been said? This is pointless. It’ll never see the light of day.

Oof! Highs and lows could kill a writer. I know them because I’ve been there and done that. I can laugh (now) because I’ve seen the other side of every high and low. Neither lasts forever, and a writer does well to remember that. Enjoy the highs and know most of us don’t live in them. Guard your heart in the lows—and know most of us don’t live in them forever either.

Keep writing on the roller coaster of the writing life. Whatever you do, don’t let a snapshot along the way define your journey. I’ve found I’m not always applauded or amazing, and I’m not always a nobody writing nothing. Be encouraged! It’s a journey with lots of learning along the way.

The Everyday Flow
As a writer generates content, sometimes the words that flow reflect the big things in life. What’s big in your life? Is it the highlight reel of your everyday life (like most Facebook statuses)? Is it the lowlights that have been endlessly chasing you? When a writer captures the everyday flow of life, it can land in the carefully constructed positive perspective or the negative one.

Writer, may I challenge you? The highlight reel is fun. The lowlight reel is tough. If we major on one or the other, we have reel life, not real life. Life ebbs and flows; we move from one moment to another. We can write life authentically including ourselves in the scenes, but it takes some effort to avoid landing in a single reel of life. A reader may like reading about the ordinary, the mundane, the good-bad-and-ugly of it all. The same reader, sensing an unrealistic, plastic life, may decline to engage. Or, sensing there is no joy to be found, may choose to find some elsewhere.

What if a writer chose to describe real life, rather than reel life? It might be interesting for your reader to know there are highs, lows, and everyday flows. Keep things real and in proportion. Give it a shot!

Hey writer, what do you think? Do your emotions ride the highs and lows? Do you write about the reel life or real life? I’m curious. Share away!

~Jennifer

Hey Writer, It’s a Jungle Out There

Graphic: It's a jungle out there! (Jennifer J Howe)

Writer, you face a challenge in this tech-savvy age. A writer seeks a unique reader, and it can feel like trekking to find Dr. Livingstone on the African continent.

Readers are inundated with messages 24-7-365. Inboxes flood with the messages they want and the junk they don’t. Hundreds of messages add up in little red circle alerts on phones everywhere.

An unknown writer is a sapling trying to grab a ray of light in the jungle. It sounds daunting or impossible.

Roughly 7 1/2 billion people call this blue marble home. If technology reached a fraction of them, there would be audiences for everyone. A handful of writers reach millions and tens of millions. Still, no one corners the market on global population. What if you believed there are enough readers for everyone? What if a community filled with encouragement helped others on their journey to the audience they’re looking for? What if we amplified others’ good words for the good of others?

A writer could do that, but it doesn’t feel natural. Language like competition, rat race, and dog-eat-dog colors our perspective. They say it’s a jungle out there. The truth is, you writerly neighbors two trees over in the jungle have messages that could reach readers near you. Writers sit in a jungle saturated with messages.

What will you do with this reality?

A few words of advice—

Connect!
Remember my post about Connection with your reader? Here’s another facet: connect with writers, even those who write in your neck of the woods. Someone writes well in your genre? Read it. Has a similar message? Read it—knowing your message, voice, and style are different and matter. Share the good words with other writers if you dare.

Grow!
Every writer must develop. A sapling in the forest may take longer to develop than the one dropped in a sunshiny meadow, granted. Be the diligent writer who grows where you’re planted.

Growth can mean many things. You might work to identify your audience and niche in the jungle. You might grow an e-mail list. You might even outgrow a generic site to your own dot com. Or try these:

  • Leverage technology to learn your craft, increase confidence, and publicize work.
  • Learn new writing techniques and genres. Stretch yourself.
  • Learn conventions in order to produce clean content.
  • Learn to become your own editing critic before sharing your work.
  • Get into encouraging learning environments (conferences).

Don’t get so comfortable you forget to grow, and don’t forget to count the baby steps you take along the way.

Clear the way!
Writer, get out your machete. There’s work to be done, and you’ll have to clear your way.

  • Cut extra words. It takes time to know good ones, but cut, cut, cut! Experienced writers write all the words and keep the good ones. Create a “Right Words, Wrong Timing” space to save the darlings you might need.
  • Be precise and remove unrelated content. I wanted to highlight this point. The scope of a writing project is genre-driven and theme-related. Keep to a specific, centered argument.
  • Be healthy! An author easily establishes and maintains an unhealthy link to the work. Friend, you are not your words, thoughts, or message. The ideas are separate and distinct from your person. Don’t get caught up in anxiety, shame, or distress. Be you—a writer—who has words, thoughts, and a message to be refined and shared.

Write!
If a tree falls in the jungle and no one hears it… Do you wonder if your efforts lead to a view on the screen? It’s natural. If a sapling had thinking, I imagine it would dream of peeking through the canopy and wonder if it could ever happen. That’s a writer’s life. The seed of a message is watered by thoughts of the need for it, desire to share it, and encouraging validation.

The writer begins the journey in obscurity. Once upon a time, even the best authors created “masterpieces” only a mother could love. But the household names we know did two things:

  • They wrote often.
  • They never gave up.

Writing in private offers the freedom to say everything. Going public invites the task of pointed criticism and sharper editing. If you are famous in the industry and your book title is in smaller font than your name, you have to live up to that. That writer sits in an InstantPot ™ but that’s another post.

Writing in a quiet corner with a few people who know your name and love you enough to speak truth and encourage you in your way, that’s a beautiful space. (There’s something satisfying about coming full circle.)

Hey Writer—connect, grow, clear the way, and—whatever you do—write!

~Jennifer

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!

~Jennifer

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!

~Jennifer

Hey Writer, Feed the Mind

Typewriter_Iván_Melenchón_Serrano_MorguefileHello, beautiful writer friends!

I’ve been thinking about the small steps we might take in our writing journey. The question of the day is this—What am I doing today that will feed my writer soul?

No idea what that might be? Sometimes we forget the building blocks of our writer souls, but I’ve got some ideas. Try some of these:

  • Read something today (learn about craft, storytelling, successful writing strategies; notice the signage around you; try reading an encouraging blog, thread, etc.).
  • Observe the characters surrounding you today (their appearance, mannerisms, obvious emotional states).
  • Observe the environment around you (notice the floor plan, decoration, building materials).
  • Listen closely to the casual dialog that surrounds you (vernacular, tone, communication styles, emotions conveyed).
  • Imagine telling a short story about the moment you’re sitting in right now (find the significance in the moment, even if it seems boring).

Just some thoughts for you today. Remember that you can always think like a writer, even when you’re not actively adding words to the count.

Thanks for stopping by. If you’re feeding your writer soul and mind in a fresh way, share what that is for you. We can all use the encouragement and fresh ideas! Comment below, share at the Facebook page or Tweet away!

~Jennifer