In October 2021, I decided to challenge myself to write 4 short stories (between 2000-4000 words), polish them to quality, and submit it to a credible publication. What inspired me to pursue this project was after reading a passage in Ray Bradbury’s writing memoir, Zen in the Art of Writing (Amazon):
All during my early twenties I had the following schedule. On Monday morning I wrote the first draft of a new story. On Tuesday I did the second draft. On Wednesday a third. On Thursday a fourth. On Friday a fifth. And on Saturday at noon I mailed out the sixth and final draft to New York. Sunday? I thought about all the wild ideas scrambling for my attention, waiting under the attic lid, confident at last that, because of “The Lake,” I would soon let them out.
In addition to 4 completed short stories that I’m proud of, I was also hoping to develop a repeatable process where I can produce a piece under a strict timeline. If you are interested in seeing how my experience went, please check out this video here:
Participating in writing challenges, whether it be something like NaNoWriMo or a 30-day writing prompt, has been a fantastic way of overcoming writer’s block and pushing myself to produce something. We, as writers, often overthink what we are creating. Writing challenges like these get us going and keep us going. There is no time to contemplate whether or not I am a good writer… there is only time to write.
If you are currently in a slump, I encourage you to try your own version of this Ray Bradbury writing challenge. Can you do it? Can you write a draft on Monday, edit it during the week, and submit it on Saturday? Give it a try and let me know how it turns out for you!
At the beginning of your writing journey, you won’t have a following. No audience. No readers. Nobody knows who you are. It’s almost impossible for them to find you. It can be an awfully lonely place at the start, and in this solitude, you’ll ask, “Why am I even writing this? Nobody will read it.”
Writing is more than putting words on pages. Writing is communicating. To solve the problem of not having a readership, all you have to ask is “Who am I communicating with?” Now, at this point, you might have an epiphany and discover your audience are the children of Mexico or all the pregnant women in their second trimester. If that’s you. Great! All you have to do then is direct your writing efforts towards schools in Mexico or building a pregnancy blog, and in a matter of time, you’ll have an audience.
But then again, maybe you’re starting out and you don’t have a specific audience in mind. No worries. You don’t need a niche to be a writer. You’ll always have two audience members that you can focus your writing towards. Those two people are You from the Past and You in the Future.
You from the past:
Wouldn’t it be great if you could give advice and share your wisdom with yourself when you were ten, thirteen, or eighteen years old? There is so much you can teach the younger version of yourself.
Think about all you know now that you didn’t know before. There is so much to tell that kid. Your experiences with school, work, and friendships, for example.
The thing is, there are ten, thirteen, and eighteen-year-olds everywhere. And while some of your stories may come across as a curmudgeon complaining about how things worked “back in my days…”, experiences are also a part of being a human and your personal approach to surviving those moments may help someone else who’s going through something similar today.
By writing for yourself in the past, you identify which moments and ideas impacted your life. It’s an effort to tell your younger self what really stuck with you after all this time.
Yourself in the future:
Memory is a funny, fleeting thing and if you don’t capture it, it fades away or morphs into something that is not what it once was.
While we can take pictures of ourselves to capture what we physically look like, photography fails in recording what is on our minds. Writing offers that solution. Like time travelling, writing allows you to communicate with the person you’ll become in the future.
Getting old sucks! However, when you write for the future, you’re passing on a little bit of yourself, allowing your thoughts to travel a little further down the line. The ideas have more mileage. Writing gives memories physical presence in the world for you to revisit when the time is right.
When you write for yourself, whether it’s yourself from the past or yourself in the future, the act becomes a protest against time. While you’re writing, your memories, stories, and ideas are immortalized. When you’re uncertain who will be reading your work, turn the target inward, and you’ll find two audience members eager to know what the current version of you has to say. So don’t hold back! Let them know what’s on your mind.
Who would you rather write for? Yourself from the past or yourself in the future? Let me know in the comments below.
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Whether you have a story you’re polishing up or 2021 is the year you’re clearing the table and starting anew, it’s good to give your writing projects some specific targets. Writing contests have always been a great motivator for me. It challenges me to put my best foot forward. It gives me a deadline.
Without much further ado, here are some prose contests in 2021.
Sometimes, you don’t feel like writing. You’ve been sitting in front of the computer and nothing is coming out. If you sit for another minute, it’ll be another minute wasted. You resist the urge to scroll social media or clean the junk drawer, because that is, for sure, a waste of time, but what is there to do?
Stop writing. That’s fine.
Today might not be the day that you get a lot of words down, but that doesn’t mean it’s a write-off. You CAN procrastinate and still be productive. I’m going to share with you five procrastinating tasks you can do that doesn’t involve increasing your word count.
As a writer, there is always something to research whether it’s detail for your story, publications to submit your work to, or events or courses that you might be interested in attending. What I like to do when I really don’t feel like writing is to find a writing contest and spend some time reading the guideline — and maybe a few of the past winners and the works of the judges. In fact, I procrastinate using this technique so often that I have a whole blog post dedicated to writing contests, check it out, the link is in the description below.
So give this a shot, next time you don’t feel like writing, look up places to submit your work. It might feel as though you are putting the cart before the horse, but I don’t, I feel this is a good way to understand the market, especially if your writing goal is to get published.
If you’re like me you may have multiple drafts, multiple stories, and multiple submissions all up in the air. If you do, then this is a good opportunity to organize your folders and make sure you can easily locate the most recent draft of your story when you need it. The better you have access to your work, the more likely you’ll be able to find it and work on it.
I have a spreadsheet with all my work in progress on it. I have their status (is it still in the works, is the first draft completed and I’m letting it marinate before returning for a second edit, or have I submitted it to a publication and am awaiting the result). I also include other details about the piece including word count and whether it is fiction or nonfiction. If you are using Google Drive, you can just add a link to the draft or the folder it’s in for easy accessibility. Staying organized had made my whole writing process so much more efficient, so I really recommend giving this method a shot if you feel like taking a break from actually writing.
You should never feel guilty for taking a break from creating to consume, but that is only if you do it right. When I say consume, I don’t mean eating — I mean reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to music — in other words, enjoying something someone else made. And when I say you should consume it in a right way, what I mean is that you should do it actively. Approach it critically to find aspects of the work you like and dislike. Really absorb it so that you are able to reflect on it properly afterwards and record it so you can use some of what you do like in your own work in the future.
Many successful writers will tell you that in order to be any good, you are going to have to read. Yes, you should definitely read, but there is certainly value in watching movies, television shows, and listening to music or audio books as well. This is if you do it actively.
4. Revisit Old Work
Now if you really feel like punishing yourself for procrastinating, I recommend that you find a piece of work from your past and reread it. Approach it like you’ve never seen it before and enjoy it. It might feel like you’re taking a trip to cringe city, but there is always a lot you can get from this torturous exercise.
First, you’ll get to see how your writing has evolved over time. The thoughts you had when you were younger might not be the same as the ones you have now. I like this because I get to see my progress. Second, if this piece is something that I gave up on, maybe now I have the ability to fix it and make it better. If I feel so inspired, I can take this procrastination opportunity to edit it, which would be incredibly productive. But don’t approach it with that intention, approach it as your ideal reader, not your critic.
5. Be Creative
If the words simply aren’t coming to you today, but you still want to be creative, you can! Draw a picture, paint a painting, play an instrument, grab your camera and take some photos, film a video — there are many things you can do to still be creative and through those other artistic endeavours you do to see the world in a different way.
After all, the way you show something in writing may be very different from a drawing. What I’ve been doing a lot of is trying to illustrate an idea I have. I’m not a great illustrator, but it takes my mind off of words for a bit. If you really want to get your creative juices flowing, that’s a really good way.
There you go! Those are 5 productive procrastination ideas for when you don’t feel like writing. Are there any you are currently doing? Let me know in the comments!
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What makes one writer formal, important, talented, and cultured — and another pretentious?
This is a tale of two writers. Devon and Jessica.
Devon is an aspiring novelist, he has this epic fantasy novel in his head and has spent many evenings and weekends outlining and drafting. He’s an enthusiast of all things mythology and considers himself a primo expert in medieval weapons. But he knows something is holding him back. Gatekeepers. He simply needs to meet the right people and get them to read his work.
Jessica is an accountant and has never thought of herself as much of a writer. It was only when her grandmother started feeling ill that she even considered picking up a pen. After visiting her grandmother one afternoon and hearing her stories about her childhood in Vietnam, she decided that it was a story worth recording.
Devon and Jessica although had different intentions for their writing, found themselves both applying for a spot in the local university’s creative writing program. One of the requirements for admission was to supply a 300-word essay explaining their writing goals and what they hope to achieve from the courses.
Reid is an administration associate for the university and it’s his job to review the applications and create a short list of applicants. First he read Devon’s and it went like this:
As I commence my journey to ascertain knowledge to optimally communicate my story with the citizens of tomorrow, I aim to transcend the lives of those I have yet to meet as the literary legends I applauded had accomplished for me.
Reid looked up from Devon’s essay, opened and closed his eyes to clear his vision and looked down at it again. Reid doesn’t say it out loud or announce it to his colleagues. He didn’t pass the essay around so it could be ridiculed, but something was glaringly obvious about Devon’s writing: it was pretentious.
While Reid avoided over analyzing the essay in the moment, there were a few aspects of Devon’s writing that couldn’t be ignored.
1. Lack of Clarity
Big stuffy words made the writing hard to read. Although long complex words can often accentuate a piece of writing, like a pinch of salt can bring out the flavour of food, overdoing it can leave the meal inedible. The same goes for writing.
2. Attempting to Be Impressive As Opposed to Expressive
All the choices made in the writing is in an effort to impress Reid. Devon was clearly flexing his vocabulary muscles — perhaps writing with a thesaurus beside him — and in doing so, failed to express himself in a genuine way. It comes across as inauthentic, as though the essay had been written by a robot programmed for optimum results, as opposed to a human aimed to connect.
3. No Awareness of the Reader
Perhaps Devon had misinterpreted what the essay wanted. Reid was not looking to be blown away, but rather, he simply wanted to understand the person behind the submission. He wanted to get an impression of who Devon was. And perhaps he did. Devon is someone who, despite his insecurity as a writer, deems himself to be an intellectual specimen. However, by using words one wouldn’t use when speaking, Devon doesn’t appear smarter, but rather confused.
Pretentious writing is unpleasant to read. It’s often composed with the attempt to stump the reader, giving the writer a feeling of superiority, like a specialist (a mechanic, a lawyer, or a politician) who uses jargon. However, all it achieves is a failure in communication. Pretentious writing stems from lack of confidence, where writers feel as though their ideas, as is, are not strong enough, so they need to juice it up with words or concepts that don’t serve the story in order to give the material bulk.
Reid placed Devon’s essay to the side and picked up Jessica’s. Here’s a passage from it:
When my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, I thought I was going to lose her right away. But while some misfortunes take loved ones away quickly, my grandmother stayed strong and remained. Long enough for her to tell me the story of how she immigrated to Canada. Through this heart-wrenching process, I realized that I was given a second chance to know the woman that was my hero. Now knowing the stories she had in her, I feel it is my duty to capture them and share them with the world.
One word popped up into Reid’s head after he put Jessica’s essay down. Vulnerability. It was not brilliantly written, but it captured why Jessica had decided to take on the gruelling task of writing. Where Devon was insecure, u sing his words as a shield to protect himself, Jessica was emotionally exposed on paper for Reid to see.
Perhaps that’s the essence of pretentious writing. A piece that strives to impress but fails to connect.
What do you think? Is there a piece of work you find pretentious? Let me know in the comments below.
If you want more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel.
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You’ve written a story over and over again. You’ve written many stories over and over again. You’ve persisted as long as you could and you cannot handle another rejection. You feel it’s time to quit.
That’s a very natural feeling. When we try to do something that is very hard it’s easy to feel as though we are wasting time or that it’s no longer fulfilling and we are not seeing progress. We are essentially beating our head against a brick wall, torturing ourselves to make something that nobody else wants to consume.
Before you quit, hear me out. It is completely fine to quit. I’ve quit many things in my life and when I quit something I hate doing, I found myself gravitating to something I enjoy. So quiting is good! But understand why you want to quit. Are you quitting because you hate doing it? Or are you quitting because you feel as though you are not good enough to advance to the next level?
I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer. I wanted to be a director and an actor. The thing is, the more I did that: the more I hated being on set and memorizing lines. I put three full years into pursuing those two careers, but in the end, I came to the realization that I didn’t even know what those jobs required to begin with. It took the doing for me to understand the industry I was getting into.
See, I was thinking about that as a job, something I HAVE to do every day. Something to pay for all my expenses. Thinking of it as a job sucked the life out of it, especially when I was starting out. It placed so much pressure on me because I wanted to do well and impress people so they will hire me again. Not everything you do needs to be a job!
I like to play hockey. And I’m at the age where it’s incredibly obvious that I’ll never play it in any professional manner. I’m too old and I’m not that good. Still, I like to play it. I’m a part of a beer league and it’s a big part of who I am. Does anyone aside from my team care if we win or lose? No! Sometimes I feel like we don’t even care. We just like playing.
The same goes for writing.
Not everything you write needs to be for a professional reason or to get published. You can still do it! You can still be a writer and not publish your work. You can still be a writer and not share it with anyone. You can just write because it’s something you enjoy doing.
Don’t let external pressure force you to stop doing something you enjoy. If you have a day job and you want to write on your free time, do it without considering where you are going to publish it. People watch movies and play video games and scroll social media. So don’t feel guilty for wasting your time doing something you enjoy. Do it for yourself. Everything you do, do it for yourself.
And the beauty of writing is, it’s not like hockey, there is no age limit or physical requirement. You can do it until you are old and withered.
This is my YouTube channel. I make videos about writing, about authors, screenwriters, and filmmakers — you know, creative stuff. Why? Why would I do that when my ultimate goal is to write stories? Shouldn’t I focus on writing stories?
There is certainly a lot of advice out there from experts and “successful” people talking about the importance of focus. Focus on one thing, get really good at it, and then transition to something else after. I’m certain that is a great strategy for many, but I also learned a lot about myself over the course of my life. I’ve discovered that I need a balance of inspiration and motivation to keep me productive. I can genuinely say that if it weren’t for my YouTube channel, I might have stopped writing completely.
Here is how making videos have improved my writing:
Pairing: By doing two things that are semi-related, such as writing and making videos, I use one to push the other one forward. Writing supports my passion for making videos, because each video needs a script and a story.
Community: I’m not lucky enough to have a core group of people with time to motivate me, so I want to create one. Making videos and posting them online allows me to reach people across the world that have the same interest as me. Instead of waiting for someone to invite me to a workshop or anything like that, I get to create my own platform and anyone who is interested is welcomed.
Accountability: It forces me to be a part of the culture. It forces me to be accountable to not only enjoy entertainment but analyze it critically. Making video allows me to not only be a passive consumer but become an active critic. It forces me to think critically and creatively while analyzing a piece of work be it a novel, as I would do in a book review video, or about a creative choice, as I would in my longer-form research piece such as my exploration of The Shining adaptation video.
Presentation: It forces me to read my writing out loud. Reading and communicating is a skill and it takes practice. What is art but a means of communication? In the grand scheme of things, I want to be a good communicator and one of my most powerful tools as a storyteller is my voice. Unfortunately, I don’t have a live audience to listen to my tales so, in order for me to train for my eventual TedTalk, I must make videos and read my words out loud.
Pleasure: I enjoy making videos as much as I enjoy writing. It’s two things I enjoy doing. I would not be completely happy if I’m not doing both. If I never end up being a successful writer, because I spent too much time making videos, that’s fine, because I spent my days doing something I enjoy. But let’s be honest, I don’t think I’ll be writing if I’m not making videos about it. That’s simply self-awareness on my end. Maybe it comes across as not being focus to some.
Not only is it the end of another year, but it’s also the end of the decade. This is a good time for us to take a moment to recalibrate. It’s a good time to look back and see what we’ve accomplished and what we want to achieve in the coming years.
Goal setting is so important, especially if they are personal goals. The thing about personal goals is that there are no deadlines. Nobody is going to chase after us to write that novel or submit that story. There is no boss or manager nagging us to get our drafts done. If there is something you want to achieve, you have to set the goal and timeline yourself.
However, you don’t want to set goals that would discourage you. Don’t set goals that are out of your control. Don’t be vague with goals and separate wants from goals.
Want = I want to be a published writer
Goal = I will submit my novel to an agency
Today, I want to offer 10 measurable writing goals for you to consider in 2020 and beyond. None of these goals alone will guarantee you a successful career in writing, but committing to one of them will ensure you’ll take one step closer to completing a piece of work that makes you proud.
Write a paragraph every day: A little every day adds up. With a busy schedule, we cannot expect to always have time to pound out a chapter in an afternoon. But with consistent habit and even writing one paragraph every day, by the end of 2020, you have a substantial piece of work. Developing a habit is more valuable than an occasional sprint.
Come up with a new idea every day: Want better ideas to write about? Well, start coming up with bad ones. The more ideas you have, the more selective you will be and the better you’ll become at conceptualizing interesting topics that you are passionate about. Coming up with a new idea doesn’t have to be painful. Look out the window and jot down what you see or record the essence of a conversation you had with a coworker. Once you have a lot of ideas, you can start bringing them to life. Here’s an article on how you can approach selecting your top ideas.
Submit a story in a contest: What did Michael Scott say? You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. It’s true. But it’s not only about winning. I find that writing contests are a great motivator for writing and polishing a piece of work I have. Writing contests also have a clear deadline. Parkinson’s Law states that a project will take as long as the timeline allows. Here is a list of some of the writing contests in 2020.
Finding your weakness to improve: Everyone has a weakness and the sooner you recognize what it is, you can start focusing on improving it. If you have issues with creating believable characters, take 2020 to practice character development. If you have trouble ending your story in a satisfying way, find examples of stories with powerful endings and analyze it. This year get 1% better.
Find a critiquing partner: An alpha or beta reader that you can rely on is worth the price of gold. This is someone who you can share your writing with and get feedback, and in return, they can depend on your criticism as well. Finding someone that will challenge and motivate you will help you be a better writer and editor. If you don’t already have someone in your life who you feel comfortable and confident sharing your writing with, then 2020 is the time to find them. They could be your friend or family, or you can explore online and in-person writing groups — or even a workshop or a creative writing class. I’ll speak more about that in goal #8.
Learn a skill that compliments writing: Writers should be constantly learning. To write about someone that resonates with your readers, you need to be able to understand the workings of the wider world. Anything you learn while you aren’t putting pen to paper or typing on your keyboard can inspire you. Whether it’s making music, painting pictures, or making videos, you can apply those skills back to writing. Learn to cook a new recipe or try a new sport. Learn a new language or interview a family member. Learn something and then write about it. I wrote an article about the concept of pairing, which talks about the value of finding two closely related activities to keep improving.
Read 20 books: By now, I feel I don’t need to convince you about the importance of reading for writers. However, with all the writing you are planning to do in 2020, you mustn’t forget to read as well. Make time for it! Whether you are a fast or slow reader, reading 20 books a year is a very achievable goal. Try reading books on different topics to diversity your consumption. Start now, make a list of 20 books you want to read this coming year. This very act should fill you with excitement. If you don’t want to read, why even be a writer?
Attend a conference or workshop: In the end, it all comes down to the people you know. By showing up to events and workshops, you will be introduced to those who are already in the industry. Sure, you can read my blog posts and watch my videos and get some insights, but I’m just one guy. When you attend an event with a whole collection of like-minded individuals with similar goals, you can start to learn different processes and techniques. This is also a great way to be apart of a community, and being a part of a community is a wonderful motivator to write. You will feel accountable to share something in a workshop or have a piece be critiqued by a professional at a conference.
Revisit an old piece of writing: One of the best ways to gauge your own improvement is to look back and see how far you’ve come. Yes, it might be painful, but revisiting your own work with a critical eye can help you see where you have developed and give you a sense of “oh, I know how to fix it now.” Don’t dwell on the imperfection. The piece of work was a snapshot of where you were months or years ago. It should offer you the same sensation of looking at an old picture: I was young and naive, now I’m more experienced now.
Find your mission: When of the most awkward experience for writers is when they are asked what they write: “a little of everything…” tends to be the lame response. This leads to us feeling embarrassed about what we actually do. This year, consider your mission as a writer. What do I want my writing to do? The moment you discover how you want to change the world, the society, the culture, or just your reader, is the moment you feel empowered. This year, find your mission.
Those are 10 clear and measurable goals for you to consider in 2020. Is there one that you particularly like? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear what you plan on achieving this coming year!
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Read a lot and write a lot. That is the hot tip established writers will tell aspiring writers. Except, how do you balance the two? Should you split your reading and writing time 50/50?
So here’s the dilemma, you have this idea for a novel… but you also have that book over there that you want to read. What would be more valuable for your time? Reading? Or Writing?
This is a problem I have because my TBR list keeps growing and so does my list of story ideas… I’m known for biting off more than I can chew. Nevertheless, here is how I approach balancing reading and writing.
I like to think of it in the same way as exercising and dieting.
Ask yourself, what is your goal? Is your goal to finish writing a novel or submit to a writing contest? If so, then prioritize writing. Or is your goal to more intuitive? For example, if you want to write a blog that requires you to make commentary, then perhaps you need to read more to be perceptive.
Just like your physical health where you have to decide whether you are losing weight or gaining muscle, you need to start aligning your reading/writing habits to meet those goals. If you want to lose weight, you wouldn’t just be working out and if you want to gain muscle you wouldn’t just be eating salads.
First, figure out your goals and then slowly design a routine that enables you to write and read in order to meet it.
Reading is the healthy food you eat. TV or surfing the Internet or playing video games are less-than-healthy food when you are trying to be a writer. You can have your cheat days, but on most writing days, you need to refuel with a book.
So the two activities have to work together. It doesn’t have to be a perfect 50/50 balance. You can write more and read less one day and then read more and write less another. The key is to cut out all the other activities that don’t nourish you or doesn’t motivate you to write.
When you wake up: write, when you are on lunch break: read, when you get home from work: write, before you go to bed: read. Find little pockets of time here and there to commit to becoming a better writer.
Drain the well and then refill it. Exercise and then eat a hearty meal. Don’t think of your reading time as time you should be writing, but rather a necessary part of the writing process. You only have 24 hours in the day, so it’s not about picking one or the other, it’s about eliminating the other activities so you have more time to read AND write.
I like to read a few different books at the same time. I find it helps me motivated to read more and it generally inspires me to write a lot.
Don’t get too distracted, but here is my YouTube channel filled with writing inspirations and ideas to help with your creative process. Check it out!
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Submitting to a contest is a great way to stay consistent with your writing. After all, nobody is nagging you to finish that short story — it’s a personal project and you need to motivate yourself. Writing contests give you deadlines, pushing you to write and polish the draft so that it is reader ready.
Additionally, entering writing contests is a fantastic way to support the literary community, and who knows, you might even win some money for your stories.
So let’s get right to it! Make a goal to submit to one of these literary contests in 2020.
Now for the writing contest (contest details are subject to change):
Submission: Stories previously published in print, electronic, and online in 2019. PRINT refers to stories published in a hard copy form. ELECTRONIC refers to stories published ONLINE ONLY, regardless of whether a publication is primarily a print or online publication.