Tag Archives: writing tips

Five Reasons to Keep a Writing Journal

This week, I’m wrapping up the eight millionth draft of a manuscript, polishing it to a high shine before querying agents. Of course, putting the finishing touches on one manuscript has put my mental gears spinning as I think about what’s next. Should I tinker with an old manuscript, trying to salvage a story that’s been pushed aside? Or should I start fresh, seeing where my muse might lead?

I’m still not sure what direction I’ll go, but this transition from one story to the next has sent me flipping through my writing journal, weighing my options. And it’s also provided the inspiration for today’s post.

When I first started writing, I didn’t keep a journal. After all, I like things nice and neat and orderly. A writing journal is inherently messy. There are jotted down bits of dialogue. Clipped newspaper headlines. Pictures of people, places, and potted plants pilfered from magazines. A bazillion ideas for story starters. In general, just lots of “stuff.”

And it’s all an absolute mess.

So why do I do it? Why do I now jot, clip, tape, and scribble things into my writing journal, even if the chaos pushes me ever closer to crazy?

I’ve got my reasons. . . .

Writing Journal

1) How else will you remember when a friend sees a man in Wal-Mart pushing his wife in the shopping cart while the wife paints her nails?

2) Sometimes people say the darndest things. And characters have to talk, too.

10-year-old coming off of a looping roller coaster: “I kept my eyes open the whole time! . . . I just blinked kind of slow on the twisty part.”

3) Real newspaper headlines can often trump anything my imagination could ever conjure.

“Rifle cases taped to bike give away Elkhart burglar”

and . . .

“Woman fends off bear with zucchini”

4) Often, it’s that extra little detail that makes a setting come alive.

Slogan on the side of a plumbing truck: “A flush beats a full house.”

5) When I write a story, I always uncover a lot of “what if” questions then try to answer those questions in interesting ways as the story unfolds. Of course, I may need a bit of help with the initial question that gets a story rolling, and a writing journal is the perfect home in which those questions can reside.

What if . . . a boy’s dad sometimes wears a kilt?

So how about you—are you the writing-journal type? If so, take a meandering stroll through one of your journals and see what you find. You might uncover an old spark for a new story. Even if you don’t, you may find something to inspire the rest of us. Feel free to share a snatch of stolen dialogue, a meandering musing, or any other random tidbit that’s found its way into your journal over the years.

And, of course, happy writing!

T. P. Jagger, The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers.

 

Tricks to Defeat Writer’s Block

Does a deadline, blank page, or difficult scene make you break into a sweat, yank your hair out, or start cleaning everything in your house so you’ll have an excuse not to write? Don’t worry, we’ve all had times when it’s hard to write, but you can do something about it.

Writer's Block

  • Time yourself and type nonstop for twenty minutes or whatever amount of time works for you. Try to shut off any distractions (like ringing phones). You’ll have lots of editing to do later, but at least you’ll have something to mold into shape.
  • Remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect! Diving into a new project can be hard, especially when you’re leaving characters you love and know at least as well as your family. First drafts aren’t supposed to sparkle. Just get your ideas down. There’s plenty of time to make them sing.
  • Give yourself a small task. Sometimes, the project can intimidate you by seeming too big. Try working on a smaller goal first. Some authors have a word count per day in mind, others make a goal, such as two or five pages a day. The trick is to find a number that isn’t too hard to work into your day. A lot of times, writers get caught up and produce way more than the daily goal. Hopefully, that will happen to you, too!
  • Find a candle scent that reminds you of your manuscript, calms you, or gives you energy—whatever aroma makes it easier for you to plunge into your project.
  • Play music that makes it easier for you to dive into your character’s life. I happen to work best when it’s totally quiet, but many of my writing friends make a playlist for their characters and say it helps them immediately leap back into the manuscript.
  • Try writing late at night, when your internal editor is too tired to bug you. You can also experiment with writing during different times of the day or night to see what works best for you.
  • Word war with friends—you can even give winner a prize! Everyone can start at same time and write for twenty minutes, an hour…whatever works best for the group. Or you can have a contest over an entire day or weekend to see who can log in the most words. Again, you’ll have tons of revising to do later, but every first draft usually needs some hefty revisions.
  • Find others with the same goal you have, and start a group somewhere, like Facebook, where you can cheer each other on and log in your progress.
  • Get to know your characters better. Interview them or write journal entries from their point of view. Find out what scares them the most, and you could end up with some great ideas.
  • Think about your manuscript when you’re showering, exercising, driving, or lying in bed. It’s amazing how many issues you can work out in your mind while doing other activities! I had the idea for this blog post in mind when I showered, and by the time I got out, I knew what I wanted to say. Of course, I was almost late driving my daughter to her bus stop. Oops! But I made it in time, then rushed home to start typing.
  • Make a goal (or several smaller goals) and reward yourself when you hit it. Splurge on some music, get a massage, take a well-deserved TV break—whatever will motivate you to write, write, write.
  • Don’t let shiny new ideas distract you. If another idea starts screaming for attention, take a few minutes to jot down notes so you’ll be ready to plunge into it later, then get back to your current project.
  • If you have trouble getting back into your manuscript each day, write down a few things that should happen next before you leave your computer. That should help you leap back into it!
  • I had mentioned turning off the phone when participating in a word war, but it’s also great to get rid of as many distractions as possible when you write. I love feeling like I’m in the zone, and cringe when the doorbell rings. Do what you can to block the outside world—put a note on your door, turn off your e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and other notifications.
  • You can collect pictures that remind you of your characters or the world you created, or place encouraging sayings around your writing area.
  • Realize that you CAN do it. That you WILL do it. And then glue your butt to your chair and write, write, write.

If you have any tips to share, I’d love to hear them!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s Twitter, Facebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

 

Five Writing Truths We Can Learn from Christmas Carols

 

 2103 Christmas-Snow I have a confession to make: I love Christmas music. In fact, I like it so much that my wife had to institute a family rule—no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. I eventually got her to compromise, convincing her that Christmas music was allowed before Thanksgiving, as long as it had snowed first. This year, pre-Thanksgiving, I had the stereo pumping “Jingle Bells” as soon as Virginia had its first snowfall.My wife accused me of cheating because we live in the state of Washington.

I say that she never specified the location of the snow.

Anyway, with Christmas now only one week away, I began to wonder what writing wisdom might be gleaned from the music of the season. From the traditional “Away in a Manger” to Elvis’s “Blue Christmas,” here are five Christmas songs and the writing truths they reveal:

1)      “Away in a Manger”: I don’t care if you are reading this while at work in a busy office. Don’t be shy. Go ahead and belt out the opening lines of this Christmas classic. What do you have? Within the first four measures, you already know about the no-crib issue.

If you want to pull in the reader, start with a problem that needs overcome.

2103 Christmas-Rudolph

2)      “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”: There’s more to be learned from Rudolph than the proper hyphenation of phrasal adjectives*. In fact, the writing truth embedded in the song is as illuminating as Rudolph’s nose:

A single unique trait is often enough to create a memorable character.

3)      “Blue Christmas”: Elvis had snow. He’d finished decorating the Christmas tree. But none of that could pull him from the doldrums of a blue Christmas. He was missing his “Dear.”

Have your protagonist struggle with the loss of something or someone he cares about.

4)      “Christmas Don’t Be Late” as sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks: The squeaky voices of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore get really annoying, really fast. My tolerance of their singing definitely doesn’t extend to listening to the whole song. So . . . when you write, I don’t care if your character is a singing chipmunk or a granny who grew up deep in the mountains of Kentucky.

Don’t overdo dialectical speech in yer dialogue. It’ll get distractin’.

5)      “The Christmas Song” (a.k.a., “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”): Written on a hot summer day in 1944, “The Christmas Song” went from a few lines penciled in a notebook to a finished song in about 40 minutes. No, you probably won’t crank out a timeless masterpiece in under an hour. But . . .

You never know when the muse might strike.

Sometimes you just need to sit down, start writing, and see what happens.

Now, before you give your muse an opportunity to inspire, take a moment. Pick a Christmas carol. Pause and ponder. Then share with us some holiday-based writing wisdom of your own.

 2103 Christmas-Gift *Note: If you have no idea what a phrasal adjectives is, you may not know why you should never write about a “ten year old boy.” Thus, in the spirit of the season, I offer this ever-so-useful link as my grammatical gift to you: Grammarist: Phrasal adjectives.