Five Things No One Tells You Before You Start Writing

5 THINGS NO ONE TELLSYOU BEFORE YOU TAKE
5 THINGS NO ONE TELLSYOU BEFORE YOU TAKE

If you’re a parent, or perhaps you have relatives or friends who are parents, do you ever wonder why no one warns about what parenting entails? If they did, the human race would eventually die off. Simple as that. Deceptive, yes. Helpful, no.

The same may be true of the craft we enjoy–writing. Have you noticed how many things you never knew about writing before you started writing?  There are many, but for purposes of saving time and getting back to our beloved craft, I’ll limit this list to five points.

1. Writing is a solitary activity.

Did anyone tell you this? No? I didn’t think so. No one told me either. I’m not certain why I didn’t realize it myself. Perhaps I had visions of writers gathering in coffee houses or quiet tiny cafes as Hemingway did in his day. But that is not the case. If I’m writing, I’m usually in a “room of her own” with the door closed to keep out the dancing cat who prefers to tap on the keyboard. Or I’m in a room at a local writing house and there alone.

But no one told me it would be like this!

“Writing is a solitary business. It takes over your life. In some sense, a writer has no life of his own. Even when he’s there, he’s not really there.” ― Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy

2.  How long it takes to write a book.

No, not a single soul took the time to say, “You know this could take years.” Yes, there are those who have devoted years, sometimes a decade or more, to completing a novel or memoir. It may take you or me that long. We must be committed and/or dedicated to the task at hand to complete this work we’ve started now. It means writing every day, day in and day out.

But no one told me I might spend the rest of my life writing my memoir when I retired in 2006 and undertook this project!

3. It always takes more than one draft.

Who knew? You want to write a book so you sit down and you write. You finish the first draft and think you’re done and ready for an editor. But wait! That’s just your first draft. There’s more!

Many writers tried to tell us this but unfortunately we didn’t find their books until after we started our first project or we chose to ignore their sage wisdom:

The first draft of anything is shit. ~Ernest Hemingway

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

If it sounds like writing, then rewrite it. ~ Elmore Leonard

If we aspire to come close to any of these illustrious writers, we need to heed their warnings and remember that a first draft isn’t a finished manuscript.

4.  How many drafts you will write, revise, and edit before your manuscript is ready for a professional edit.

Yes, those quoted above tried to tell us there would be multiple drafts. After completing your first draft set it aside for a couple of days. Then go back and read it. Next step is edit, revise, repeat–several times. Whether you print it out or do this on your computer screen matters not. The words are the same. Just edit, revise and repeat. It’s somewhat like doing the laundry–killing your darlings and then cleaning up afterward.

In the days before computers, imagine the numbers of trees killed in an attempt by an author to write one book. Or think what recycling would be like if we were still using typewriters and sheet after sheet of paper. It would be an enormous task to dispose of all that paper today and continue to do our “greenest” to keep the environment healthy. Multiply the number of authors writing today by the number of pages in the average manuscript, and you’re talking billions and billions of reams of paper. At least today, we can do most of that before printing out a copy of our manuscript.

5. You need to build a platform.

No one mentioned carpentry, did they? Nope, never. I don’t care for carpentry. With a hammer and nails, I generally hurt myself. But that’s not what “build a platform” means.

In reality, building a platform is like branding a product you’re going to sell. In this case, you and your book are your product. It involves time spent on social media connecting with other writers and readers, blogging, networking, and more. But you say you just want to write. Well, that’s what most writers want to do. If you want to sell your book, it’s going to take some extra effort out there in the big wide world of social media, or as it’s called in the writing business building a platform.

A platform is a “stage” that gives you and your message leverage and visibility. ~ Jeff Goins, Why Building Your Own Platform Is Essential

There are many other things I learned after the fact. But none of them nor these five above will keep me from enjoying the writing life.

To write each day is pure joy. To find a reader who on reading my words experiences my joy, now that is bliss.

What about your writing life? What things have you learned that you didn’t know before you started writing? Join in a discussion below.

And keep writing!

How to Increase Your Writing Productivity

Via Google Images
Via Google Images

In a perfect world, our days would be filled with limitless hours of writing time. However, ours is not a perfect world. At least mine isn’t.

Despite living in retirement, my days are still filled with what seem to be unending household chores, yard and gardening chores, errands, maintaining a small business other than my writing, and more.

I am not an expert on increasing writing productivity. Perhaps like you, I struggle every day trying to find the time to write.

If you look around–in books, on the Internet, magazine articles, there is a plethora of advice on how to increase your writing productivity.

Here’s a sampling of what I’ve found:

1. Eliminate Distractions.

Via Facebook
Via Facebook

As difficult as it may seem, sitting down to write means limiting distractions and interruptions. One easy tip is to close all open tabs on your computer and have only your manuscript or working document open. If you are still tempted to hop over to Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, perhaps an app like StayFocusd to limit the time you allow yourself to visit social media sites would help. StayFocusd is free to Google Chrome users. Other such apps include: Freedom, Anti-Social, RescueTime (my choice), and ColdTurkey. A search for “social media blocking apps” will offer a longer list.

2. What is Your Process?

Do you have a process for writing? Or do you sit down and just start writing? Are you enjoying the process of writing? Or have you started something that doesn’t please you or feel right?

Remember, you don’t have to be what everyone else is–historical novelist, memoirist, chick lit writer, biographer. You don’t have to write the same way every other writer does. You can be whomever you want to be as a writer.

Look around your space. What books do you see that you’ve kept after reading them? What fills your shelves? If those are the books you’ve enjoyed as a reader, maybe they fall into the genre you will enjoy writing. Take a good look at the process these writers chose. Discover the writer you want to be. Know yourself, and try to forget the critics.

3. Set a Daily Goal

Via LifeHacker
Via LifeHacker

Determine a daily goal, either by number of words or pages or choose a time increment, such as an hour or maybe two. If you choose to follow a time increment system for daily writing, set a timer for the amount of time. Then write until the timer goes off. A handy app for accomplishing this is Pomodairo, a Pomodoro time-based timer and task management app.

4. Give Yourself Breaks

Via Google Images
Via Google Images

After you’ve accomplished what you sat down to do, give yourself a break. Take a 10-15 minute walk or stretch, have a cup of tea or coffee, do something to move out of your chair and breathe fresh air. Perhaps you have a note or personal card to mail–write it and get it ready to go in the mail. If that load of laundry is ready to be folded, that will only take a few minutes. Do that. Just do something to refresh your mind and body.

5. Devise a Method to Follow Productivity

I did not realize how important this could be until I signed on to Jeff Goins’ Facebook group, My 500 Words. The goal in this group is to write 500 words each day on something you’re working on or using the provided prompt. It provides accountability, support and encouragement. The accountability is what I was searching for when I signed up. In the process of organizing the group, Jeff mentioned the importance of accountability, including following your own productivity. Not long after, I came across a link to a writing progress tracker developed by author Jamie Raintree. Simple to use and handy in an Excel document on my computer, I can easily log in the number of words I’ve written each day and on which blog or project. Jamie has entered all the formulas to calculate the daily, weekly and monthly word count. Thanks, Jamie!

6. Read Less, Write More

This is an area I need to improve on. I lose writing time each day because I think I should ready everything I find on becoming a better writer, how to write memoir, and more. I can’t resist the idea that someone has a better idea about how to write. Slowly I’m learning that I must stop reading what others think and get on with the writing. As I look around my writing space, there are dozens of books and articles on writing that I have yet to read and in that state they aren’t supporting my writing efforts. I’m finding I tend to learn more by doing than reading about how to do it. If I encounter a problem in my writing, then I’ll go look it up and see what I’ve missed in the doing.

7. Read Your Genre

There is one area you’ll want to read, and that is books in the genre you’ve chosen to write. From these writers, you will learn more about your chosen craft. Watch how they open and close chapters. See how they have developed their characters. How do they use dialogue? Then see if you can apply them to your work. This is not plagiarism as you’re not copying what they wrote–you are modeling the principles of writing they used.

8. Set Goals

Some of us are goal setters, and some are not. If you are so inclined, set large goals first. Then work backward from the deadline established for that goal and set smaller goals along the way to help in accomplishing the larger goal on time. For instance, if you want to publish your book after the first of the year, you will need to have it edited and revised in October or November to leave time for edits and rewrites. What this means is that the book needs to be finished in late summer. This is an example of how you need to set your goals in order to timely complete your project.

Accountability needs to be worked into goal setting. Perhaps there is someone you can tell about your goal(s). A critiquing partner, a writing group member, or a close friend or family member. You’ll note on the right sidebar I have a countdown set. Believe me, I see that more often than is comfortable these days. You can also set the dates on your calendar and set up pop-up reminders for each one.

9. Work When No One Else Is and/or When You Feel “On”

How do we know the best time of our 24 hours each day to write? Some writers wake early in the morning before their family members wake up, and they get in an hour or more of quiet writing. Young mothers who are writers wait eagerly for nap time. I read a post recently by Ellis Shurman on how he found an extra hour in his daily schedule of commuting, working fulltime, parenting and more. Others establish blocks of time on a calendar and then tell their family members they are off to write and are not to be bothered. (Sometimes that works; sometimes it doesn’t!). Actually, for you it might be looking at what you have to carry out and doing that during the part of the day when feel your best, really “on.” Suit yourself. You are the writer.

10. Write Now, Edit Later

You have all heard it. Write until the first draft is completed. No stopping for edits, errors, corrections, rewrites–just write. The temptation for some of us who are Type A personalities to make that first draft perfect is overwhelming. I have finally taught myself to write, write, write–don’t stop. It hasn’t been easy but it does go faster when you’re not continuously stopping to make corrections. Once you’re finished with the draft, then you can sit down with a copy, or maybe you like to do your editing on the screen, and make the necessary corrections, perhaps a little rewriting here and there. I think we may all be familiar with Anne Lamott’s quote on this subject.

11. Bottom Line–Write Your Story and No Harpies Allowed

In your writing, be yourself. Be honest. Tell your story. It is after all your story. Yours to tell, and only you know it and can tell it. If you don’t write it down, how will anyone remember it after you’re gone? How will anyone ever read it and gain any perspective from your life experiences?

We mustn’t let the harpies get in our way. When one settles on your shoulder, close your ears to what you hear: “You can’t write.” “Who is going to read this garbage?” “What makes you think anyone wants to now what you think or feel?” “Get over yourself–you’re not a writer.” remember you are the writer, you own the story, and you can write it without any outside help.


This is not an exhaustive list. If you search the Internet, there are so many ideas about what we writers should do or not do in order to be productively producing our books and essays, our poetry and rhyme. Yet it all boils down to how it works best for each of us individually, doesn’t it?

Do you have a process that works for you? Are you willing to share ideas with the rest of us? Leave comments, ideas, questions, criticisms, etc. in the comments below. Let’s discuss!

6 Blogs to Recharge the Writing Life

Writing is solitary. In fact, the singleness of writing can become the elephant in your writing space. So much so, some writers lose the initial spark experienced when beginning that next book, essay, or blog post.

Perhaps you’ve been working on building your platform , and no one seems to be clamoring at your blog or on your Facebook fan page. And all you have for your hard work is a throbbing headache.

What to do to get back in the writing groove and use some of that creativity to work on your memoir, novel or yes, even the dreaded platform?

Look to the writing and blogging community-at-large. After all, this is a business where encouragement and support are readily available. However, despite the abundance of resources and tips, sometimes it’s hard to decide where to look.

Following are six blogs I consistently read. I always find something to reignite the lost spark of creativity or jar loose the stillness in my inspiration:

The Write Practice

The Write Practice is here to kick-start your practice.
You have to write millions of words no one is ever going to see
before you can write the ones that will change someone’s life.

Joe Bunting, founder of The Write Practice, supports and encourages writers of all ages and skill levels. Here you will find tutorials, writing prompts, writing tips and other resources.

Connect with Joe @write_practice on Twitter or on Facebook.

The Creative Penn

… where you will find resources to help you write, publish and market your book.

Joanna Penn, best-selling author, shares her own writing journey using both mistakes and lessons learned in the areas of writing, marketing and publishing. Joanna features guest posts from other writers willing to share their experiences and knowledge.

Connect with Joanna @thecreativepenn on Twitter or on Facebook.

Catherine, Caffeinated

Here’s a full list of all the “self-printing” category posts which chronicle my entire self-publishing adventure. I’ve tried to organize them in some sort of coherent way, but if you want to read them all—and you have, like, a week or so of your life to spare—you can click here to access all posts tagged with “self-printing” instead.

In addition to writing blog posts on “self-printing,” Catherine Ryan Howard is a writer and coffee enthusiast from Cork, Ireland. Her goal at Catherine, Caffeinated is to share with other writers her knowledge gained as self-publisher. A plethora of information is available on her blog, so I suggest a cup of coffee and a comfy place to sit when you’re ready to dig in.

Connect with Catherine @cathryanhoward on Twitter or on Facebook.

Goins, Writer

Here is where we wage war on the blank page, where we band together
to find purpose in our art and lives.

Jeff Goins generously shares his views on writing in the 21st century while also sharing resources and tips. His blog covers many topics on writing, passion and creativity.

Connect with Jeff @JeffGoins on Twitter or on Facebook.

Nina Amir

…she writes, speaks and teaches from a place of knowing that
what has worked for her will at least provide others with
a starting place from which to find what works best for them.

In her blog, How to Blog a Book, Nina Amir shows her readers how to blog a nonfiction book. However, fiction writers may also find many useful tips and ideas here. Nina offers posts based on her experiences as a freelance nonfiction book editor, writing coach, and consultant.

Connect with@NinaAmir on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook.

We Grow Media

I help writers share their stories and connect with readers.

Founder of We Grow Media, Dan Blank, works with writers through online courses, conferences and events, one-on-one consulting, workshops and speaking, and writing this blog, a weekly newsletter, and ebooks. Additionally, he also works with publishers and publishing agencies.

Connect with @DanBlank on Twitter.

* * *

This listing is by no means complete and perhaps in the near future I’ll post others I keep an eye on.

And what about you? Is there a blog or blogs that can recharge you and your writing? If so, won’t you share in the comment section below? I’d love finding new resources!

Tips for Participating in Writing Challenges

On the first day of the new year, Jeff Goins’ 500 Words A Day Writing Challenge began. Jeff’s posts on this challenge had entered my inbox. I read them, and I thought: “I already have goals set. Probably shouldn’t sign up.”

With each post I read, I was tempted. Jeff makes a good case for his challenge. You’ll note in his post at the link above Jeff shares the following:

Here’s what I know about writing: It happens in small bites. Step by step. One little chunk at a time.

This sounded easier. I pondered the possibilities for three days and on January 4th I began the challenge.

I talked with friends who had signed up. And Jeff’s rules for the challenge made it seem like a reasonable challenge to help shape a new habit of writing daily. After all, Jeff’s own philosophy of 500 Words says it all:

My 500 Words is a 31-day challenge designed to help you develop a daily writing habit and become a better writer.

I will be the first to tell you that I didn’t write every day. This is obvious since I didn’t begin until January 4th. But there were other days where life did intervene, and I didn’t write. A longstanding rule in our home before and after retirement, Sundays are reserved for family time and to honor the Sabbath. I knew those days I wouldn’t be writing.

At the end of January 31st, I had written a total of 16,011 words, many more than I had written per month when I started the challenge.

And the challenge goes on even with Jeff in Africa and February underway. A strong community has grown on Facebook where we gather to record our successes and not so successful days. With January’s success, I intend to stick with the challenge in February.

No matter the context of the writing challenge you choose to take part in, the following tips may be helpful to you:

  • Set aside a time each day specifically for writing, hopefully away from distractions.
  • Do not edit as you write–free write. There’ll be time later for editing.
  • Remember: This is to help develop the habit of writing every day.
  • If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up. Life intervenes, and there’s always tomorrow.
  • If you don’t make the goal each day, at least write something.
  • Hopefully, your writing will be on a specific project but perhaps it won’t. That’s OK too.
  • Allow yourself freedom to write and let the words flow.

My takeaway:I now realize I can sit down and write almost every day, and I can forgive myself on the days that I don’t. And I finished the 31-day 500 Word Challenge!

My goal now is to write every single day. Writing is my passion, and my passion feeds the rest of my life. 

And for you, why not consider coming along with us in February to get a feel for how this challenge works? You just might like it!