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

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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, 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

Silence.

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!

~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—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?

~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