Workshops are great when you are wanting an overall idea of how your readers interpret your stories. But what do you do when you want deeper insight into a piece? Hiring an editor is definitely an option, and is probably something that you should do anyways if you are going to self-publish. But finding a writing buddy who will give you that initial feedback is so valuable. Especially if it becomes a relationship that lasts long term and sees projects through to the end.
I have several writing friends that I go to depending on the type of piece that I am working on. From years of knowing one another and writing together, I have learned that their criticisms and tips are things that have fostered my writing along to a publishable state. Writing friends should be people that you trust, but who are not afraid to tell you when something doesn't feel right in your story. If you want encouragement instead of critique, then grandparents and relatives are a great resource.
My writing friends and I usually like to meet one-on-one with each other over coffee or tea and talk out impressions of my story and things that can make it better. We start with the big picture stuff, which is making sure that the plot and characters make sense and resonate with the reader. Later on, when I'm getting closer to sending it out into the world, it's nice to have them check for errors or awkward sentences. Writing friends are great for the brainstorming stages too or when that writer's block hits. I've spent countless hours at coffee shops with my notebook out scribbling away as my friends give me ideas and I bounce mine off of them. My first novel was actually planned in this way during a fantastic three hour brainstorming stint at one of my favorite burger places.
One thing to keep a healthy writing relationship going is to realize that it is not one sided. You can send your friends your stories as much as you want, but eventually they are going to get tired of always giving you feedback when they never get any in return. Offer to return the favor and then, here's the kicker, actually do it! Read their work closely and give detailed feedback, the kind that you want them to give you.
Finding that writing buddy can be easier for some folks than others. I was lucky in that I connected with a lot of people in my college English program and we have stayed in contact over the years. I know that others find their writing friends through Facebook groups or community writing clubs. You have the Internet at your fingertips, don't be afraid to reach out and see if you can find some people to exchange ideas and stories with. Most likely, they will be happy that you asked.
When I was at writing camp in junior high (cause that's the kind of cool kid that I was) one of the instructors told us to never throw away a piece of our writing. As my mom can attest, I took her advice very seriously. While this has resulted in piles and boxes of notebooks and scraps of paper, I can honestly say that my instructor's advice was dead on. The more I write, the more ideas I need, and the more I resort to looking through my old stuff. But thanks to my freshman college creative writing professor, I now have a more organized way of doing that.
It's a writer's notebook!!! And here is why you should have one:
Here is one of my many writer's notebooks. It's a little beat up, as you can see, but I like that it reflects its usage.
I don't know about you, but I love writing to music. It helps prompt my ideas and get me into scene. I have to be careful about what I'm listening to because my writing is bound to take on some of those elements. I never listen to songs with lyrics (I'll just start writing out the song) but maybe you're better at concentrating than me. Of course, nothing beats silence when you really need to focus, but sometimes music can do wonders. If you're stuck or just want some fresh tunes, here's list of songs that I like to listen to when I write.
For those who like to get in the zone:
My recommended artists and a link to one of their songs:
Do you have any favorite artists or songs that you listen to when you write? Leave a comment below!
So it's that time in the semester. The long haul after the holidays. My inability to do anything productive has only been compounded by the fact that I'm graduating in May. I'm not usually a procrastinator but boy, this semester has been rough. And it's not even close to done yet!
I think the thing that's taken the biggest hit is my own writing. Maybe others have had phases like this in their writing lives, but I feel as if something has sucked out my creativity and left me with the dregs of ideas and no way to bring them to life. This is more than just writer's block, this is a dry spell. What happened to the days of old when the words came easily? I have no idea if this is the right approach, but with this particular phase of stress and lack of motivation in my life, I've had to come up with some ways to keep my writing alive even when I'm not writing.
First of all, I had to stop beating myself up about not being able to write like I usually could. Don't get me wrong, writing is hard work and there are days where you really have to power through and concentrate on what you're saying. But I never want my writing to come out of stress or frustration. Maybe it's just me, but my writing has always been a refuge for my busy mind and I'd like to keep it that way. So instead of forcing myself to write and making myself miserable when it doesn't work out, I've learned to be okay with just writing down my ideas as they come and fleshing them out later.
I've also had to get past feeling ashamed about moving onto a different writing project when my inspiration is lacking. Now, I have two to three different stories going on at a time. Whenever I burn out on one I can usually pick up with the next project until I can cycle back around to what I was previous working on. Leaving a story and coming back to it later is not abandoning it. I see it as allowing myself the time I need to give it my all later on when the ideas are flowing again.
Another thing that I've been doing when my creativity feels spent is to read. I get so caught up in my own writing that sometimes that I forget what made me want to become a writer in the first place: great books! Whether it's reading poetry, short stories, or full-fledged novels, I've been able to further my writing skills even when I can't seem to put down anything on paper. It's been like an oasis in the desert and I have realized that I should have never gone as long as I have without coming back to the wonderful authors and books that I love to replenish my writer's mind. Just the other day I was able to talk with my dad about my favorite book, "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens. (If you haven't already, you Must. Read. This. Book.) It was fun to talk about all of the masterful things Dickens does with his plot and characters and it really re-energized my own passion for writing. And if you need something to refill your creativity tank, Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" will do it. His attention to detail will inspire you like nothing else.
What do you do when you're going through a dry spell in your writing? How do you keep the creative spark alive? Which books refresh your writer's mind? Feel free to comment below!
Hi, I'm Jessica! I'm on a mission to make my writing better in hopes of becoming a published novelist. It's been a crazy journey so far as I learn the twists and turns of the publishing world, but it's been worth it. Though I'm still learning how to be the best writer I can be, I'm excited to share what I learn with you. Happy writing!