NaNoWriMo: What You Need to Know Before Committing

The flurry of clacking laptop keys. Coffee rings staining our notebooks. Refrains of “I can’t! I’m writing!” filling every cafe, library, and living room.

It’s here. November and National Novel Writing Month. What we affectionately call “NaNoWriMo” challenges writers to complete a novel of at least fifty thousand words in the month of November.

This can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never finished a novel, or if you’ve never written that much in that short of a time frame, or simply if you’re not used to maintaining such a rapid writing pace. For some, even thinking about keeping up makes the palms sweat.

So… is it worth it?  Continue reading NaNoWriMo: What You Need to Know Before Committing

10 Perfect Gifts for the Writer Who Already Has Enough Mugs

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Every holiday season, I see the same listicles: Ultimate holiday gift guide! Best gifts for women under 30 (whatever that means)! Sparkly gift ideas for the unicorn lover/Star Wars fan/scuba instructor in your life!

Since I’m a writer (as are many of my friends) I often find myself Googling “gifts for writers” around holidays and birthdays. And every list—every single one—has some kitschy mug with a snarky phrase: “Don’t bother me, I’m writing.” “I’m a writer; what’s your superpower?” “Don’t disturb the writer, or she’ll put you in her story and then kill you.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good kitschy mug. The proof: my shelves are full of them! But the truth is, I don’t need another. And most of my writer friends don’t either. (For the record, we’re also fully stocked on notebooks.)

So here’s your “ultimate holiday gift guide” for the writer in your life—sans mug. Continue reading 10 Perfect Gifts for the Writer Who Already Has Enough Mugs

5 Easy Ways to Write More While Traveling

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As a writer, I love to travel.

I differentiate this travel-love from the spark of wanderlust most everyone carries—this travel-love is about getting inspired, stealing tidbits from experiences I never would have had otherwise, and slipping them between pages in a story.

I’m a bit of a creeper, to be honest.

I’ll eavesdrop on conversations in coffee shops, even if I don’t understand the language, just to get a sense of the rhythm of emotional exchange. I’ll watch the local woman haggle for a better price on oranges while her kids weave around her varicose legs. I’ll write down every detail I can soak in—from the smell of the trees that only grow on this island, to the shape of the clouds over the sun at noon, to the insults drivers shout at one another in rush-hour traffic.

This is a kind of travel-love I think a lot of writers share.

But traveling for writers comes with its own share of challenges. How do we maintain our practice while on the road? How do we keep a routine when the very nature of travel disrupts the routines we spent so much time and energy cultivating?

And how do we maintain a balance between experiencing the place we’re in and holding space for our work?

It may sound crazy, but I find I’m often more productive while on vacation. This is because I know I’ll have a limited amount of time, and so I go in with a plan that is realistic for me to execute but still leaves space for what I want to accomplish.

Here are 5 things to think about as you get ready for your writing/traveling adventure so you can write more while still enjoying your vacation. Continue reading 5 Easy Ways to Write More While Traveling

How To Turn Distraction Into Your Best Writing Session Ever

I am a writer.

I also have ADD.

But I suspect this experience is not entirely unfamiliar to other writers:

I’m working on a story, and then—BAM—I’m hit with a brilliant idea for another project, or a scene for later on in the piece, or a detail I want to make sure to include somewhere, etc.

The problem?

I either get so absorbed in the new idea that I completely lose focus on what I was working on, or I tell myself I’ll remember the new idea (but never, ever do).

Worse still, I sometimes try to maintain focus on both at the same time, trying to remember the new idea while still working on the original piece, rendering both efforts frustratingly inaccessible and mediocre.

My hands already cramp up trying to keep up with the speed of my thoughts; now I’m trying to hold onto an idea (or more than one!) while also pursuing a separate thread of attention. It’s simply not possible.

Writing on its own is hard enough—and research reflects this.

Continue reading How To Turn Distraction Into Your Best Writing Session Ever

Want to be a Writer? Stop Fetishizing Talent

“Can anyone help me become a poet?”

I’m a member of several groups for writers on Facebook—and this was a recent post in one of them. It struck me. I took this question (“Can anyone help me become a poet?”) as coming from a place of sincere desire to grow and hunger for art and artistry.

I clicked open the comments—I was so curious about what the advice would be.

Would they recommend great poets to read and get inspired by? Would they offer exercises, like free-writing or morning pages, to help unlock a boost of creativity? Would they tell stories of their own journeys as writers, about how hard they toiled over their craft?

To my dismay, most of the comments went something like:

  • “You can’t teach talent.”
  • “Talent is a gift—you’ve either got it or you don’t.”
  • “In order to be a Real Writer, you have to have a natural, God-given talent, and if you don’t, you’ll never make it.”

As someone who has taught writing for years, this broke my heart.

Here was a person genuinely interested in learning the art and craft of poetry, and comments like these were completely shutting him down.

And this isn’t an isolated sentiment. The idea that talent is to be prized above all else has haunted almost every writing community I’ve been a part of—from groups and forums online, to undergraduate workshops, to the halls of my MFA program, to the students and writers I’ve worked with both on and off campus.

Continue reading Want to be a Writer? Stop Fetishizing Talent

How to Set Goals That Will Actually Make You Write

Last month you said you’d have 50,000 words by the end of the summer. Last week you said you’d finish your story by the end of this week. Yesterday you said, for the 100th time, “I’ll write tomorrow.”

Sound familiar?

I’ve been there—making promise after promise, scribbling an arbitrary word count on a post-it note like it was going to force my fingers to the keyboard.

And I’ll be honest: sometimes I’m still there.

It was worst during the year that followed turning in my MFA thesis. Now that deadlines no longer breathed down my neck, there was nothing constantly driving me—or my writing—forward.

Nerd that I am, I researched my heart out. I read up on productivity, on goal-setting strategies, on the writing habits of famous authors. I dove so deep into the work of others I forgot my own, and every time I tried a new strategy, I gave up almost immediately.

I was thinking a lot about how to get myself to write, but I still wasn’t writing.

Why wasn’t I writing?

And it wasn’t just me.

This was an issue plaguing many of my friends and fellow MFA grads—and it continues to be an issue for a lot of writers.

The problem with the way we set writing goals is, most of the time, we’re not doing so in a way that will actually get us to sit down and write.

We make the mistake of assuming that because so-and-so famous writer produced a thousand words a day, or followed such-and-such specific schedule, that we have to operate within the same goal-setting framework. As though all writers are wired the same!

Which is crazy, really, because something that often defines writers is how not like everyone else we are.

We pride ourselves in thinking outside of the box, in seeing the world differently—and yet we try to fence ourselves within these arbitrary parameters because, hey, it worked for Hemingway/King/Woolf/insert-famous-author-here.

The key to setting effective writing goals is recognizing that different writers write differently—and should set their goals accordingly. When I struggled to set writing goals that worked, I failed to consider a crucial piece of the equation: me.

I’ve outlined three goal-setting styles below—along with how to decide which approach is the right fit and how to modify them to make your goals work for you.

Continue reading How to Set Goals That Will Actually Make You Write

What Everyone Should Know about the “Suffering Artist”

Maybe your mom said it when you told her you wanted to go to art school. Maybe your teacher said it when you mentioned your novel. Maybe your friend said it after complimenting your work.

They meant well. They really did.

But they said it anyway:

“You know, you can’t make a living doing that.”
“Writing is a hard, hard life.”
Real artists suffer.”

This sentiment permeated the halls of my own grad school experience. We idolized the downtrodden and suicidal. We held up as examples the saddest and the most bereft: Hemingway, Plath, Wallace, and so on. They suffered, so we should, too.

Let’s take a step back and talk about reindeer (trust me on this)

Around Christmastime, a woman brought her son to one of those Santa Land parks—you know, you buy the tree and sit on Santa’s lap and look at all the pretty lights and go home sticky with candy cane. This particular Santa Land was completely decked out: trees, lights, fake snow, people dressed as elves—and actual reindeer.

…and reindeer poop.

Continue reading What Everyone Should Know about the “Suffering Artist”