Reading time: About 6 minutes (but easily scannable)
Here are my 10 favourite articles or posts from last month, focusing on the most useful, helpful and healthful pieces for writers.
It’s pumpkin season here in North America, with shortening days, cooler temperatures and more rain. As my husband and I plan how to safely deliver treats to little goblins coming to our doors Oct. 31 (we’re planning on building a COVID-free delivery chute, with PVC piping) I’ve also been looking for blog posts that will help inform and amuse me — and you as well. Here are the 10 best I’ve spotted in the last month.
Get yourself out of unnecessary meetings
There are few things that make me feel less celebratory than unnecessary meetings. And while COVID has eliminated the number of times I’m stuck in a room with 15 others, it’s multiplied my Zoom meetings by about 500 percent.
The website AnotherTaskDone offers some great advice about how to free yourself from meetings. I particularly like the way the site offers some specific scripts for how to get yourself out of weekly status meetings, meetings with no agendas, brainstorming meetings and information broadcast meetings. As the website puts it: “Can you justify two hours in a needless meeting if your vital project gets eight hours in the whole week?” My answer is no!
Close your blinds before writing
Michael Connelly (@Connellybooks) is the bestselling author of 31 novels and one work of non-fiction, with more than 74 million copies of his books sold worldwide and translated into 40 foreign languages. His first novel, The Black Echo, won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 1992.
So how does Connelly do it? He starts writing when it’s still dark (5 or 5:30 am), takes a break to take his daughter to school and then continues writing until lunch. Then, if he’s deep into his novel, he’ll continue writing until dinner time. He keeps blackout shades on his window to “put everything else out of focus and look only at the screen of my laptop.”
Computer scientist and deep work proponent Cal Newport describes Connelly’s habits in a recent blog post, observing that Connelly’s routine is common among popular genre fiction writers. As Newport puts it:
“For the rest of us, drowning in our inboxes and Zoom invites, this should be more than a source of aspirational escape. It represents a reminder that getting the most out of the messy jumble of neurons known as the human brain requires sacrifices. To instead orient work around pleasing everyone who might need you in the moment is to ultimately please no one with the quality of what you produce.”
Sleep on your writing problems
The poet William Blake said, “Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.” But what if you could get away with some positive multi-tasking relating to how you plan your days? That’s the question Chris Bailey (@Chris_Bailey) explores in a recent blog post under the headline, “Tonight, pick one problem to sleep on.”
Here’s how Bailey frames his suggestion: Just before you go to bed at night, write down one problem that you want to solve. Then, go to sleep. As Bailey puts it, “your brain will continue to churn away on the problem, making it more likely that you’ll experience a eureka moment in the morning.”
Bailey attributes the success of this trick to two factors: (1) the power of dreaming, a time when we’re more able to unearth creative insights and (2) the Zeigarnik effect, which holds that we store unsolved problems at the front of our minds (I would have described this phenomenon as the back of our minds) where we continue to seek insights as we are completing other tasks.
Front, back or sideways, however, I find the idea of using sleep to solve my problems to be rather delicious.
Make your plans for NaNoWriMo
Are you planning to write a book during NaNoWriMo — the annual write-a-book marathon that started in 1999 and has been held each November, ever since? While I have mixed feelings about the event (I fear it will cause some writers to burn out), I LOVE the way it encourages more people to develop a writing habit. My tips for NaNoWriMo are here.
In a recent post on Janice Hardy’s (@Janice_Hardy) Fiction University website, writer Jodi Turchin (@Jturchin) offers her own five fast-writing tips to get you through November. I endorse all of her suggestions, but most particularly #2, “Do SOME planning” and #4 “Write without your inner editor.” If more people followed these guidelines they’d be happier writers — even if they weren’t trying to write a novel in a month.
Learn more about how to write with these one-sentence tips
Can you learn valuable writing tips in just one sentence? Josh Spector (@jspector) has persuaded me that you can. In a post titled “40 One-Sentence Writing Tips,” he offers more than three dozen gems that could change the way you write. Here are my seven favourites:
- The most valuable thing you can learn from successful writers isn’t how they write, it’s how often they write.
- First drafts feel bad, but everything after it feels good.
- “Wow, that had great grammar,” said nobody ever.
- 75% of writing isn’t writing — it’s thinking, editing, and publishing.
- Writing is the rare skill that makes you better at everything you do.
- No one talks about the brilliant fourth paragraph if the first three paragraphs are boring.
- You’ll never be able to predict which things you write are going to be home runs so take a lot of swings.
Remember that a book is NOT a baby!
When I published my latest book, Your Happy First Draft, a shockingly large number of people described it as my ‘baby.’ The expression made me uncomfortable at the time and not just because I’m the mother of triplets and I know how much work goes into raising children (WAY more than writing a book, by the way.)
For a thoughtful and more thorough examination of why writing a book is not like birthing a baby, read Ayden LeRoux’s interesting and insightful reflections in a recent post on the LitHub (@lithub) website.
I particularly appreciated the powerful conclusion in the final paragraph of her essay, where she wrote: “I am tired of women’s most valuable contributions to society being reduced to their role as mothers, regardless of our professional success and cultural contributions…. More than a failure of our imagination, it reflects the way the systems and structures of the world see women and their worth.”
Learn how to embrace rejection
What do writers and actors have in common? Both must become comfortable with shocking amounts of rejection. In fact, rejection is not just something that you have to tolerate and learn to live with — it’s a job requirement for the actual work you want to do .
In a recent post on the Make A Living Writing website (@TiceWrites), Sean Ogle (@seanogle) gives five tips for writers to make the rejection less painful. They are:
- Start with a rejection mindset
- Build your rejection muscles
- Figure out your rejection rate
- Embrace your inner superhero
- Be a business owner
I found Ogle’s comments about the rejection mindset to be the most useful. Here is how he phrased his thoughts:
“Instead of being positive you’re going to get a ‘yes’ on everything you send or submit, flip it, assume you’re going to get a ‘no.’ Realize that in almost every single case, hearing ‘no’ is still ok. It happens. You pick yourself up and move on to the next thing. But having that little voice in the back of your mind assuming ‘no’ is the answer until it isn’t? Well, it’s a little mental mindset shift that can pay off.”
Be more honest about your writing goals and accomplishments
It’s awfully easy to lie to others — and worse, to ourselves. We resolve to get more exercise and then fail to do it. We say we’re going to eat better and then tuck in to that delicious slice of Boston Cream pie. We plan to write and then spend all our time answering email or browsing Facebook.
In a recent post on the Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) website, creativity expert Eric Maisel (@ericmaisel) reflects on the need for total honesty about our creative work habits. As he puts it, “Being 80 percent honest or 90 percent honest is lovely and a pretty high bar for human beings. But you and I are actually aiming for 100 percent honesty. We are aiming this implausibly high because that tricky, untruthful 10 percent or 20 percent can scuttle our ship.”
I particularly like his term “hard truths,” which he uses to describe the kinds of beliefs and feelings that can stop us in our tracks: Writing is sometimes boring. Or hard on the back and neck. Or tiring. But by acknowledging the difficulty, we can develop ways to cope with it.
As Maisel says: “Be honest about whether you are attending to your daily practice enough. Be honest about whether you are creating dramas so as to avoid your practice. Be honest about whether you are truly engaged with your practice or just going through the motions. Be honest about whether you tend to leave your practice too soon. Be altogether honest: anything less jeopardizes your daily practice.”
Figure out how to format your manuscript
Writing a book is hard enough. But wouldn’t it be tragic if you failed to land an agent or publishing contract because you’d formatted your manuscript incorrectly? Don’t allow this to happen to you. Instead, check out a recent post by Nathan Bransford (@NathanBransford) under the headline, “How to format a manuscript.” A former agent who has become a published author in his own right, Bransford is the real deal. He provides an excellent list of “must-haves” (ie: a cover page, Time New Roman 12 pt. font and double spacing) and a thoughtful list of variations where agents or publishing houses may have different opinions.
Break your bad habits
Can we break bad habits by being more curious about them? Psychiatrist Judson Brewer (@JudsonBrewer) believes the answer is yes, as a result of studies on the relationship between mindfulness and addiction. I’ve long been fascinated by anything relating to habits as I work with so many people who are either trying to break the uncomfortable habit of procrastinating or develop the desirable habit of writing every day.
In a powerful and brief (9-minute) TED talk, Brewer describes how the simple act of showing curiosity about what you’re experiencing can help you vanquish bad habits and establish healthier ones.
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Consider joining my three-month accountability program called Get It Done. If you already know you want to apply, go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
My video podcast last week addressed how writers can protect their sleep. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
What’s the best blog post or link that you’ve spotted in October? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Oct. 31/20 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!