My Weekend Writing Routine

Since I have a full time job, the weekends are when the most writing can happen—as long as these essentials are in place!

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7 Reasons You Need a Writing Group

Hello writers!

About a month ago, I joined a brand new writing workshop group. Remember when I said like seven months ago that, when I moved, I wanted to find something like this? Well, it’s taken me this long.
My latest video is about the logistics of creating such a group of your own. Think of it as a checklist for the expectations and ground rules you need to establish, plus a quick guide to how many writing workshops, collegiate and otherwise, operate.

I talked about writing because that’s what I know, but this could apply as well to drawing and painting, film, academic writing, etc.

Here are seven reasons you need to start your own workshop:

1. Writers need community too

So much of the creative process is solitary for writers and other artists. Commiserating and celebrating with your fellow writer-beings can take the edge off your existential loneliness for an hour or two.

2. That last paragraph you wrote is not as great as you think it is

Sorry, boo.

3. Your story is not as awful as you think it is

Of course you hate it; you’ve been hanging out with the same stupid characters trying to get them to do the same tired plot for the last six months. New readers will (hopefully) experience that joy you did when you started the project in the first place.

4. When else do you get to read work by your peers?

I mean unless all of your friends are part of the literati, you probably don’t get to read many things in their original, un-published state.  It’s refreshing to see that no piece of art is perfect when you first make it.

5. Train your critical eye

Dissecting why another piece of writing works or doesn’t will help you do the same on your own work.

6. They hold you accountable

For getting shit done, for avoiding clichés and other lazy writing, for not dancing around the issue you’re trying to address and diving into the epicenter of your topic.  For holding nothing back.

7. Deadlines!

Never underestimate the power of a good old kick in the pants. Students, you don’t know how blessed you are to have these evil little devices built into your curriculum.  The rest of need to create them for ourselves.

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Are you all a part of any sort of workshop? Has anyone found success making their own as part of that post-grad life?  Lemme know in the comments!

7 Reasons You Need a Writing Group | Don't Be A Writer, Be Writing! Blog

On the Importance of Deadlines

There have been quite a few new faces visiting the blog recently, so welcome!  I’m glad that you’ve found my sporadic and slightly uneducated advice helpful.

Whether this is your first visit or your fifth, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been posting, uh, infrequently let’s say.  But I promise I have a great excuse!

I am almost halfway through my senior spring at this point, so I have been busy finishing my thesis and interviewing for post-graduation jobs.

it's always sunny jobs gif

I’m trying not to feel too guilty about not keeping up with this blog, because

a) this is my last chance to enjoy being an undergrad, and

b) this blog isn’t going anywhere.  I anticipate I’ll have more time to write to you all, and indeed, share my thoughts on the transition from writing in college to writing on top of a full-time job-having “adult” soon enough!

But in the meantime, I wanted to share with you what has probably been my most important realization so far as I’ve worked on my creative writing thesis:

Deadlines are terrifying and awesome.

I have finally gotten to this point where I’m writing regularly (i.e. almost daily), and it’s not because of my internal fortitude or love for putting words on the page day in and day out.  To be honest, I don’t always like that part of writing.  It kind of sucks.

No, I’m writing regularly because I have to.  Because I need to show something to someone in a week.

Part of this has been figuring out my own writing process.  I’ve written eight short stories for this collection now, so I know about how much time it takes me to complete a draft, and how much more to edit that mess.

Short story revision: the arts & crafts method.

Short story revision: the arts & crafts method.

The thing about this process is that it’s long.  There are a lot of steps.  That means if I procrastinate on one step, it’s going to throw off the whole process.  And here’s the thing: it’s a lot harder to force yourself to keep moving through this process if you don’t have a hard deadline.

Over the next few months, I’ll be thinking a lot about how to hold myself accountable when I’m not producing work for a grade.  As always, I would love to hear your thoughts!  I think having a community of other writers to chat (and commiserate) with is something that can hold us accountable and motivate us to keep doing our own things.

Now go write something.  Jeez.

Changing Gears: Senior Year & Short Stories

I’m back at school for my senior year!  Hence the brief hiatus.

To those of you who have also returned within the last month–it’s crazy as ever, huh?   And to those of you also embarking on your senior year–we’ve gotten this far, so that’s something!

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling some of this:

Also this:

And a whole lot of this:

Regardless of where your life is at right now, I hope you’re all taking some time for yourselves, away from (school)work and other commitments, to do something that makes you grin from ear to ear and lose track of time.

Now, writing update. Soon I will apply to write a creative writing thesis.  It will be a collection of a short stories, and I’m looking forward to it quite a bit! Short stories are rather manageable compared to novels.  But it’s been a challenge for me to come up with brand new plots and characters.  Some strategies I’ve used so far:

1. Read all the short stories

This is my go-to solution to any writing problem I may be having. Examining a masterful writer at work does wonders.

Collections I’m reading as inspiration:

Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Self-Help by Lorrie Moore

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

2. Keep a writing journal

You know when you have that great idea for a story while you’re in the shower, or just as you’re falling asleep, and it’s so good you think there’s no way you’ll forget it?  Boy, will you forget it.  Write it down ASAP.

I mean this in the loosest of senses, though.  Personally, I use workflowy to keep track of all the sentences and little ideas I have that could potentially inspire short stories.

3. Listen to the People Around You

While my friend and I were catching up over dinner, she told me this really great anecdote about a sort of missed connection she had.  I immediately thought, Oh my god: this is excellent story fodder.

Don’t expect a full-blown plot to spring from anyone’s lips.  It’s your job to figure out what has potential and to discard whatever’s left.  I think it’s especially valuable to pay close attention when other people are talking about their childhoods.  Lots of great insights there.  And realistically, all you need is enough of a spark to get you writing the first sentence, right?

4. Read poetry

Full disclosure: I have not done this recently, but I’ve heard it helps. Focusing on word choice and details in the short story will help you use your limited space efficiently and pack a punch with every sentence.

5. Do writing prompts

Hate ’em or love ’em, there’s no denying that a decent prompt can make you think about things quite differently.

I’m in a writing workshop this term, so I’ll be posting some of the prompts my professor has used here over the next few weeks.

Scene vs. Summary: Staying in the Moment

“Condition yourself to stay in the moment and write through it.”

When one of my creative writing professors said this, he was trying to stress the importance of scene over summary after he saw our tendency, time and again, to build up tension and conflict in our scenes, only to back off and move into summary.

scene vs summary

The blog Writing with Celia does a thorough explanation of the difference between scene and summary, so I’ll just say a little bit about why the distinction is important, and how you can go about balancing your prose.

The kind of summary my professor was talking about is not the kind you start or close a chapter with, or that you use to fill in background details (though there’s something to be said for using less of that, too).  No, this is more about choosing which moments to make scenes, and which to summarize. Continue reading

What to Do When a Scene Isn’t Working

writing a sceneSo let’s imagine you’re writing a scene.  At least, you’re trying to write a scene.  But it’s not coming easily: your prose is flat, your descriptions are plain, and your characters bore even you.

Sometimes you feel this way when you’re getting back into writing after a break, or when you’ve just started writing for the day.  But if you’re all warmed up and everything still feels like a struggle, this may be an indication that something larger is amiss.

If you can, you should take a break from this scene and write a different one, or consider cutting it from your story altogether.  But what do you do if the scene is integral to your plot?

When writing a scene becomes difficult, I always end up asking myself, is this scene awful?  Or am I awful?

I usually blame myself for a while.  But in reality, it’s usually just that the scene is awful, or that your whole work-in-progress needs to be rethought. Continue reading

When to Let Others Read Your Writing (and When Not to)

Writing is usually a solitary endeavor.

But if you hope to have readers one day, who will be the first? When is your work good enough to share?when to share your writing

I doubt that any piece is ever “good enough,” especially if you ask its writer.  You could revise forever–many do, since there’s no progress bar, no flashing neon sign that tells you “THIS IS AS GOOD AS THIS STORY IS GOING TO GET.”

That said, there are few things more nerve-wracking than sharing a draft with someone you admire and respect.  Share too soon and you risk a blow to your confidence, and you forfeit your chance to really get the story settled.  On the other hand, if you refuse to let others read your work, it will undoubtedly suffer.  There comes a point when you are way too close to your story to be able to consider it objectively.

Consult this little guide to make sure you’re good and ready to let others read your writing, and that you’re sharing it for the right reasons:

Continue reading