Writing the Sequel While Editing the First Book 

My writing project is big. Too big. And it’s all my fault. Whatever writing advice told me to start small: start with short stories, master the fundamentals, and then move to bigger projects, I didn’t listen. 

In one of my previous updates, I mentioned that I’m working on a novel. Guess what, it’s going to be more than a one-off. It’s at least two books, but probably going to be three. A trilogy. Maybe more. I’ve committed to a long game. I wanted a project that could pull me out of the Covid world and drop me on the other side. And I found it. Regardless of what this trilogy becomes, it’s going to be a significant part of my life. For that I’m lucky. 

But what I want to talk about today is my awkward process. I’m currently editing the fourth draft of book one, while I’m writing the first draft of book two. It’s awkward because I feel like I’m looking into the future to write and I’m traveling back in time to edit. Unconventional as it may be, I do find it productive. At this very moment, where the world is in chaos and motivation is hard to come by, it’s easier to maintain productivity if I’m active in two separate phases: writing and editing. 

When I’m writing, I’m using a different creative muscle from editing. I’m a pantser or a discovery writer, so I don’t do many outlines. My first draft is the outline and I just let it flow. 

However, editing is a slog. I don’t take a lot of pleasure in editing. It’s the act of cleaning up the mess that the pantser-writer-me made, and in this project, it’s a big mess. In order to ensure I fully develop the world, understand my characters, and build out the story arc, I’m writing beyond my first book to gain clarity on what I should focus on while editing it. 

Writing sequel editing first book

I also want to keep the structure of my books the same and there was a fortuitous period of the process where I was writing the first and second acts of the sequel while editing the first and second acts of book one. This allowed me to see critical turning points in the stories from both books at the same time and try to spot and create parallels. 

Ideally, I’d like this series to resemble each other in form even though the story changes as it goes. I want to be consistent where I can while letting my characters roam free and explore. This process also allowed me to go back and check on all the motivations and scenarios in the first book and make sure they support what the character will do in the second. I can even sneak some foreshadows or other storytelling devices in and hint at the events to come. 

Now, I don’t recommend this as writing advice, it really does depend on your goals. For me, this writing while editing is most helpful for my editing process. I am still trying to strengthen the story in the first book and by writing beyond, I gain a better understanding of the world and characters. I can also discover whether or not the characters will achieve their goals so that I can set the tone properly. For example, if my character will face greater hardship in the second book, maybe I can lighten up in the first. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I want the lessons in the first to come into play in the second. These are all still options. 

By starting my sequel before I finalize my first, I give myself room to experiment. Since I’m not an established author who has an impending deadline, this is a luxury. By doing this, with a bit of editing in the first book, I can ensure I won’t write myself into a trap I can’t escape from. Little by little, I’ll eventually bring my whole story to a close. 

I will probably use this same process to complete the whole trilogy. It sickens me to think how much more I have to do, but getting started on the second book makes me feel like I’m happily invested. It proves to me that I enjoy writing this story. It makes me hopeful that I can reach the end if I just keep moving forward. At the very least I’d have it all written. Once it’s all written, then who knows… but that will be a while from now. After all, this is a big project and I’m in it for the long term. 

There you have it. If you’re stuck editing your first book, try writing a sequel. Even if you don’t plan on publishing a sequel, it can help you flush out your story more. And hey, who knows, maybe you’ll discover a better ending. Maybe you’ll discover that the sequel is actually the story that matters. 

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4 Punctuation Principles You Must Master

The comma is the most complicated punctuation mark in the English language. Not only does it have many uses, but it also has many misuses. In The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and EB White (Amazon), four punctuation principles were deemed most important and that “they should be so thoroughly mastered that their application becomes second nature.” 

Now,  if you’re ready, grab a pen and notebook, strap yourself in because we are going to quickly go through these 4 important punctuation rules:  

1.  Enclose parenthetical expressions with commas 

Take this example:

The dog that ran away came back with a cat. 

The fact that the dog ran away is extra information. But this information is also essential to the sentence.

It’s this essentialness, or restrictiveness, that determines the role commas play.

A parenthetical expression is a word or phrase that adds to the sentence to give extra information. 

If the information is essential such as in: 

The dog that ran away came back with a cat. 

You may omit the commas. 

However, you can add commas to separate, if the information is nonessential, such as in: 

The dog, hungry for treats, came back with a cat. 

So remember it this way, if the information is essential you may omit the commas, but if the information can be removed without influencing the meaning of the sentence then you should add the commas. 

Another way to put it is to recognize nonrestrictive terms and clauses, as they will often require commas. In the middle of a sentence these nonrestrictive clauses are often preceded by “Which”, “When”, and “Where”: Such as:

The car, which was illegally parked, got towed. 

Nonrestrictive clauses may also appear at the beginning of a sentence:

Parking the car illegally, the man hurried into the store. 

To summarize:

You won’t need commas for a sentence like: The boy is a criminal.  

But you will need one for: My son, Billy, stole my car. 

How are we doing? A little confusing, eh? You’re not alone. This rule for me is one of the most challenging in the entire language because sometimes the importance of the information can feel subjective. 

But don’t feel bogged down by all the commas, Strunk and White give you permission to omit them if the interruption is short. 

If you are to remove the commas, however, don’t remove one but not the other. 

If you are to remove the commas, however don’t remove one but not the other. 

Personally, I always use commas to break up “however”, as well as dates: Saturday, June 4, 2022

Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

2. Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause. 

A conjunction is a word that connects two separate elements or sentences. Common examples include FANBOYS:

  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So

And also:

  • As (used in relation to Because)
  • While (used in relation to events happening at the same time) 

When a conjunction comes before an independent clause (which can serve as a single sentence in itself), a comma is required in front of it. 

The traffic was bad, but the robbers were going to escape no matter what. 

Or

The police chased on foot, for the roads were gridlocked. 

However, with a dependent clause, it gets a little tricky. 

According to Strunk and White: If the clauses in the sentence share the same subject, the subject is only expressed once, and the conjunction is “but” then adding a comma will be useful. 

The robbers found a hiding spot, but forgot to take the money. 

However, if the conjunction is “and” then omitting the comma will be okay as the two interlinking thoughts are closely related. 

The police found the money in the car and decided to keep it for themselves. 

3. Do not join independent clauses with a comma. 

If you have two complete and separate thoughts with their own subject and verb, such as:

WRONG: The monster emerged from the swamp, the terrified campers climbed up the tree. 

Do Not place a comma between them. 

To correct it, you have a few options: 

The first option is breaking it into two sentences and using a period — or an exclamation mark — while capitalizing the first letter of the following sentence: 

The monster emerged from the swap. The terrified campers climbed up the tree.

The monster emerged from the swap! The terrified campers climbed up the tree. 

Alternatively, you can combine the sentences by using a semi-colon or adding a comma and conjunction. 

The monster emerged from the swap; the terrified campers climbed up the tree.

The monster emerged from the swap, so the terrified campers climbed up the tree. 

As you can tell, changing the punctuation mark changes the relationship between the two statements. The better you understand this principle, the better control you’ll have of your writing style. Personally, I’m a comma/conjunction type of guy, but let me know which one you prefer in the comment below. 

4. Do not break sentences in two. 

Simply put, commas cannot replace periods and periods cannot replace commas. A period’s primary function is to separate complete sentences, so when you use it instead of commas, you’ll likely end up with sentence fragments. For example: 

He was a wealthy man. Having earned all his money through buying and trading crypto. 

It should be: 

He was a wealthy man, having earned all his money through buying and trading crypto. 

A complete sentence has a subject and verb, and while the first part can stand as an independent clause, the second half of that sentence is missing the subject. 

An exception to this principle, which I’d recommend using sparingly, is to break the sentence when you want to emphasize a specific word. Such as: 

He punched the wall. Hard. 

There you have it! Those are four of the most important punctuation principles according to Strunk and White. Once you get a hang of them, you will be well on your way to being a proficient writer and editor with another tool in your tool belt. 

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How to Be Consistent When Writing: Focus on the Valleys Not the Peaks

Photo by Sangay Lama on Unsplash

One way to stay consistent is to keep track of what you’re doing. By keeping track you can actually see — over the course of many months and years — how consistent you’ve actually been. Did you take a break during the holidays? Did you make big progress during the summer? These are things you can see when you start tracking your writing and other creative projects. 

A tracker can be anything you want, it can be a notebook, it could be a spreadsheet, but I like a simple calendar. Preferably Google Calendar. 

When you start tracking your work, whether you’re writing a novel, building a YouTube channel, or growing a business, you’ll begin to see ups and downs. Sometimes you’re doing great: you increase your word count or you hit a record high days in a row of working on a project. Other times you see lows: days where you didn’t even open your notebook or edit a video. It’s that week that you got sick and you didn’t publish or that month when you were on vacation. 

It is in these lows — or as I like to call them, valleys — that you lose your momentum. These valleys can expand into canyons if you don’t handle them properly. These valleys can be so demoralizing, especially when you are looking up and seeing how high your peaks were and you question whether you can ever get back to that level. 

Tracking your work keeps you honest and it can be a compassionate motivator if you know how to use it. The secret is in how we define “progress”. 

Sure there will be days where you don’t make a lot of progress in your writing, but you took some photographs that help to inspire your next chapter. It’s easy to dismiss that activity and call it something else besides work and, therefore, you don’t track it. But maybe you can track it. Mark it down as “Doing research for the novel”, categorize it differently from “word counts” or “publishing”, give it a different color in the tracker if you must, but track it.

You get to decide what you want to track as creative work. It could be reading, watching a movie, or listening to a new album to get inspiration. All this could be considered research. All this could be a way to refresh your creativity because creativity can come in those moments where you aren’t at the computer writing or editing. 

As you begin to include these other activities in your tracker, you’ll see that your valleys aren’t a dramatic drop-off. Your valleys aren’t pits and they contain moments where you were making progress, albeit you weren’t increasing your word count, polishing your piece, or hitting publish. 

Focusing on raising your valleys to me has been super effective in staying consistent. And it works for all things. No project or business can maintain a straight hockey stick growth forever. Eventually, you’ll have to battle with peaks and valleys. Peaks are great! Everything is wonderful when you are at the peak. 

In fact, it feels so good, we end up putting too much attention on it. Our highest records, our biggest profit, or recorded breaking post. The peak is great, but it doesn’t need your immediate attention. Focus on the valleys. It is the valleys that will make all the difference in terms of your longevity and growth. Focus on increasing your valleys by tracking what you did during those days that impacted your project indirectly. The higher your valleys become, the higher your baseline will be over time. 

Rather than trying to reach a higher peak by putting in all-nighters for a week and then burning out. Focus on doing a little bit every day, adding more as you go, and pulling back if you need rest. Maintaining your valley will keep you consistent. The beautiful thing about all of this is that you get to decide how to track your growth. Not all tasks are equal, but all tasks can be tracked. When they are, you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time. You’ll see progress, even if it is a long slog through the valley. 

This is a mindset that has worked for me, I hope it works for you. Let me know if you have another method of staying consistent in the comments below. 

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Waking Up Earlier to Write if You’re Not a Morning Person

If you’re working full-time like I am, it’s hard to find time to write. At the end of the day, you’re tired. You’ve depleted your creative energy. But not only that, by waiting until you’ve finished everything else, you’ve been carrying around this anxiety all day long. I hate that. And you probably do as well. It can make you resent all the other responsibilities you have. 

So, to make sure I can get some words down with guilt-free energy, I wake up an hour early each day to write. 

Before we get into the details of my experience, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Elliot and I’m a writer. I’m currently working on a novel and if you want to hear how that’s going, check out this video here or in the description, and if you are interested in following along on my journey, please subscribe. 

Now back to the current video. Here’s what I can tell you about my experience waking up an hour early to write. 

Get up 60 min, 90 min, or 110 min earlier

When I say I wake up an hour earlier, I don’t mean the break of dawn. I use to get up at 8 am, now I get up at 7 am. It’s not that impressive when I say it like that. But again, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. 

However, if you’re finding it hard to get up 60 minutes earlier, try getting up 90 or 110 minutes earlier. You might actually feel more refreshed. The reason is that a sleep cycle is between 90 to 110 min long, so by reducing your sleep, you may actually wake up at the end of a cycle instead of in the middle. 

When I write in the morning, I write longhand

For my job, I’m going to be spending my whole day in front of the computer. In order to reduce my screen time, especially first thing in the morning, I choose to write longhand. 

I find that writing physically in a notebook gives me a stronger connection with the words. Also, when I’m at the computer, it’s too easy to hit the delete key. I’d be damned that if I woke up early and did not get my words down. By writing it on paper, and not being able to erase it, I know that at the very least, I’ve made a mark on the day. 

Writing in the morning
Photo by Ioana Tabarcea on Unsplash

We are adaptable 

When I talk about waking up earlier, I know what many of you are thinking: “but I’m not a morning person.” Fair. I’m not a morning person either, but I used to work the opening shift at a Starbucks that opened at 5 am, which meant that I needed to be up by 3:30 am and out the door by 4am. It was brutal, but I adapted. I got to work on time every shift. 

I’m not superhuman, I just needed the money. It was my job. That job gave me evidence that I could wake up earlier if I had to. 

You’ve woken up early before, you can do it again. The more you do it, the more you’ll adapt to it. I will never be a morning person, but I could certainly suck it up if it means taking advantage of an optimal time to write. I treat it like a job. 

Writing is not the first thing I do when I get up

When I say I wake up early to write, you might think that I get up and go straight to writing. I don’t. I wake up and do my morning routines first, the ones I would do if I was heading directly to work after. I’d wake up, get clean, walk and feed my dog, say hi to my wife, make a cup of coffee, and then, at last, I sit down to write. 

My point here is to find your own routine. Waking up early doesn’t mean you need to spend every extra moment you get to write, it just means you get a headstart on the day, a little bonus time before you’re bombarded with other assignments. 

One morning won’t make a big difference

If you wake up early for one day and expect to see significant results, you’ll be disappointed. You won’t get a lot in one hour. But if you build upon this habit, the hours add up. 

There are days where you’ll wake up, spend the hour writing crap, and be exactly where you were before. Don’t be discouraged. Stick with the process

Yes, you could have slept in and achieved the same amount. However, if you wake up one hour earlier every day, then over the course of weeks and months, you’ll see that your good days will greatly increase. From there, you’ll gain momentum. 

These little headstarts add up. You might not see results after one day, but over the course of a year, you’ll notice. 

Many writers talk about a morning routine. There is a reason why so many prefer it. By getting writing checked off the list immediately, we don’t carry that anxiety along with us all day. We don’t expend all our energy on lower-priority tasks. 

As writers, we need to write and be creative so that the weight can be lifted. Some people exercise first thing in the morning to release the tension and feel normal. Some need to write. It’s not so much about productivity. Productivity is great, but it’s more about doing something for yourself as early as possible. You deserve days where you’ve written, so make sure it happens. 

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Overcome the Anxiety of Sharing Your Creative Works

I’ll admit this first, I’m not an expert on anxiety. While I do get stressed occasionally, I don’t suffer from anxiety in any chronic way. However, I recently read a book about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT)[Amazon] and found some mindset techniques useful for dealing with my own household stress, such as sharing my creative work. 

My creative work. I’ve put my heart and soul into it and the thought of someone disliking it tears me apart. Especially if I’m awaiting feedback from someone I respect. 

The reason for anxiety is because back in the cave people days, you needed to be ready in case a sabertooth tiger jumps out of the bush and attacks you. In that situation, anxiety raises your heart rate, heightens your senses, and speeds up your breathing to help you stay alert.

Today, anxiety is still useful when you get caught in tiger territory, however, it’s not that useful when you’re sitting safely at home contemplating publishing your work. While the triggers are different, the reaction within you is much the same. 

In the moments before, during, or after you’ve shared your creative work, you may feel your body firing up, preparing yourself for danger. But there’s no real danger. Yes, there is a possibility that your work will be negatively received, but it’s not a tiger, you’ll survive. These types of false alarms can cause you to panic, pull back, and hide your work from the world

To do that is a disservice to yourself and the world. You’re preventing yourself from growth, both personally and in your craft, and you’re robbing an audience of a chance to discover you. 

Okay, so here we are. Anxiety is a real barrier. Yet, with patience, practice, and the right frame of mind, you can overcome it by countering those reactive thoughts that trigger anxiety, which is what CBT is all about. 

There are two types of reactive thoughts: 

First are the thoughts you have when you jump to conclusions: 

  • They will all hate my work. 
  • They will laugh in my face. 
  • They will make fun of me to their friends. 
  • Someone will hate a passage and I’ll get canceled. 

These types of thoughts lead you to the worst-case scenarios, catastrophes. The likelihood of someone reading your work and reacting in such a way is unlikely. Can it happen? Yes, it’s possible. But it’s equally likely that they’ll love your work, congratulate you, and share it positively. In either case, the reaction of others is not something you can control. 

Accept it! Once you put it out there, it’s out of your hands. 

To combat the negative thoughts, remind yourself that you’re merely jumping to an unlikely conclusion. You’ll feel pressure to hide your work, but hang onto it — push through — and share it, submit it, publish it. The more you practice going through this process of sticking with it, the less scary it will feel. Especially when you see nobody’s laughing at you. 

Another thought that may flash in your mind and cause panic is that of misplaced responsibility. These thoughts cause guilty feelings about what you’ve created. 

  • My career would be more successful if I wasn’t working on this novel. 
  • I’d have better relationships with my friends if they didn’t think I was going to write about them. 
  • I should’ve been taking care of my family instead of writing. Even though they are fine, I know they are resentful. 

This type of thinking starts in childhood when parents or other adults blame or shame you for unrealistic expectations. Statements like “raising you is the reason we’re poor,” may have caused you to feel that the unhappiness or displeasure of others is your fault. That can certainly induce anxiety later in life and halt you from sharing or pursuing your creativity. 

Much like how you handle thoughts where you jump to conclusions, to counter your thoughts on misplaced responsibility, you must accept that other people’s expectations of your work are their business, not yours. Then acknowledge that your writing is something that you do for yourself. It’s not harming anyone, it’s done in your own well-deserved time, and it’s an expression of who you are. There’s no pressure. It’s doesn’t have to win the Nobel Prize, spark a revolution, or cure cancer for it to be meaningful. 

Should you need to, speak to those you care about or those who are dependent on you and explain how much writing means. They’d likely support that or at least, you would have started a conversation to build a healthier relationship. 

Know that even if your boss confronts you about your personal projects, you can show him your performance report, or if your family is in need, you can take a break from what you are doing to help them. But they’re fine. Everyone is fine. All these issues are thoughts and are not real — when they become real, you’ll deal with them then. 

Dealing with anxiety takes time and if you are feeling very overwhelmed, a professional, like a clinical counselor, can really help. With that being said, I encourage you to keep creating for the love of it, even when faced with the fear and stress of sharing your work. 

Understanding the sudden thoughts that trigger your anxiety is the first step to countering them. At any stage where you find yourself jumping to conclusions or taking on misplaced responsibilities — stop, breathe deeply — accept that you’re only in control of yourself, counter the unrealistic expectations, and push through. It might never be easy, but it’ll get easier. Good luck! 

For more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel here!

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Why Using Too Many “—ing” Words Hurts Your Writing 

The power of an ‘ing’ word is that it creates a progression of time. “The hero is flying over the city,” is more immediate than “The hero flies over the city” or “The hero flew over the city. “Ing” words have the ability to put readers right there in the moment. 

Take a look at this paragraph from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea (Amazon)

There are 123 words in this paragraph and 6 of them are “ing” words. But what’s more important is where Hemingway positions them. They are close enough together that the “ing” words can almost echo off each other, building tension, but far enough away so that it’s not overdone. 

You see, “ing” words come with a price. First, “ing” inherently adds another syllable to your word which can affect the pacing. Secondly, if you overload a sentence with too many “ing” words too close together, the power of immediacy is dampened by the repetitiveness of the sound. 

Take a look at this sentence: 

Remembering her time climbing the steps, Jodie was listening to the paramedics upstairs suggesting removing her ailing father through the window. 

Six “ing” words appear in this 21-word sentence: 

We have “Remembering” a present participle, “Ailing” an adjective, “climbing”, “listening”, and “suggesting” as verbs tenses, and “removing” as a gerund. 

Grammatically, this sentence can pass, but you don’t need to read it too many times to identify the problem that the “ing” words cause. 

Like so much of life, moderation is key. By limiting the amount of ‘ing’ words within a time and space, you build tension with fluid pacing. It allows your words to stand out independently. 

Take a look at this revised passage:

Jodie remembered climbing the steps as the paramedics upstairs suggested removing her sickly father’s body through the window. 

We went from six “ing” words in a 21-word sentence to two “ing” words in an 18-word sentence. Now, some might call it a matter of taste, but the second version is objectively punchier, and dare I say, more dramatic. By swapping out “ing” words with words that end with “ed” or “ly”, and rephrasing certain ideas, you allow the sentence to flow smoothly. 

Keep an eye out and an ear open for those that are bunched together. Experiment with the spacing of these words and don’t ever feel trapped by your word choice, there is always a way to fix it. 

This article was inspired by the tip from Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark (Amazon).

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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Writer

As a writer, it’s common to have people ask you questions about languages, words, and stories. I do my best to share my advice. My advice: meaning, my opinions and experiences. 

After sharing, I always expect people to call me out. 

“No! That’s not correct. You’re wrong and you’ve lost all credibility. You’re an imposter!” 

However, they rarely do that. Even when I say something outrageous. They rarely do that. 

Do people end up taking my advice? I don’t know, but when I attempt to answer their questions, it’s an opportunity for me to reflect on what I do know. The truth is, sometimes, I don’t know what I know. 

Questioning your knowledge and abilities is not a bad thing. It keeps you humble and receptive. It’s a good reminder of how much value your opinions and experiences have. Yes, you may worry that you’re not qualified and someone will expose you… but expose you of what? Of being a student? Of being someone who’s learning? Sharing? Trying? 

Remember even doctors and lawyers are testing, reviewing, and learning — that’s why their offices are called “practices.”

The best way to overcome imposter syndrome is to embrace it. You don’t know everything and you’re here to gain experience and learn. That’s the key. Learning. Experimenting. Testing. Studying. Recording. Documenting. Sharing. 

Take this YouTube channel for example. When I started this channel and began making content about writing… I felt like an imposter. Who am I to be giving advice? I don’t have a New York Times Bestseller. I was an ESL student. I can barely spell definitely. I’m going to get called out. I’m going to get exposed. I got called out sure… embarrassed sure, but exposed? For what? 

There’s nothing to expose because I’m only here learning and sharing. 

There is a lot of power to learning in public, a concept introduced to me by author, Elizabeth Gilbert.

Learning in public is the idea of sharing your new knowledge and creation with the world. You create distance between yourself and what you’ve made by showing it to others. This way, you act compassionately to yourself knowing you’re striving to improve your craft as opposed to impress an audience. 

While the opinions of my audience — you — matter, I’m not creating this for you. I’m creating this for myself. I’m creating this because in doing so, the idea is fully explored. I’ve put it into the real world, as opposed to merely thinking about it in my head or writing it and keeping it private. It’s the curiosity of how the work will be received and how the project will ultimately turn out that keeps me going. 

I’m not trying to fool or impress you. Believe me, you won’t be fooled and you won’t be impressed if I tried. I’m merely a student learning alongside you.  

So there you have it. That’s how I overcome imposter syndrome by approaching everything I do as an opportunity to learn in public. To have practice. To be motivated by curiosity. To have compassion for my capabilities and limitations. 

We are all imposters trying to understand who we ourselves are. There is no doubt about that. Believe in your ability to keep learning. It’s got you this far and it can keep you going. Learn about yourself, learn about your craft, learn about the world. And whatever accolades you get along the way that is just a bonus rather than something you strived for, so don’t feel guilty when you receive it. Acknowledge, celebrate, stay humble, and show your work.

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How to Use Adverbs Effectively

Here are two sentences. Both with adverbs modifying the word “cheer”. Which one is more effective? 

  1. Paul cheered sadly for his team during the championship game.
  2. Paul cheered gleefully for his team during the championship game. 

Since cheering is already associated with happiness, we can say that sentence one’s usage is more impactful. If you remove the adverb from sentence one, you change the entire meaning of the sentence. If you remove the adverb from sentence two, there’s hardly any difference. 

Human emotions are complex. Using adverbs to direct an action away from its common interpretation helps create more dynamic characters and is a great way of applying it in your writing. 

If an adverb isn’t effective, removing it would be inconsequential. Often, removing it will likely improve your sentence altogether

Alternatively, instead of using adverbs to modify the meaning of your verbs, choose more specific verbs as replacements. 

Instead of: 

Paul cheered loudly for his team during the championship game.

Try: 

Paul howled for his team during the championship game.

It’s not always easy finding the right words, but when it comes to adverbs, there is a way to determine whether it’s necessary or not. 

When editing your writing, ask: is this adverb essential? Is it changing the meaning of the verb? Is there a specific word that is more effective? 

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Optimistic Nihilism and Creativity

Okay… let’s go there right away: What is the meaning of life? 

Is it to multiple? Is it to find happiness? Is it to save people from an eternity in hell? 

For many of us, the answer is to be creative. To make something, leave it behind, and be remembered for it. 

But look around you. Hear all the music. Read all the books. Watch all the videos. You can spend the rest of your life consuming other people’s creations and not even come close to enjoying it all. There is so much out there that it calls into the question our answer to the meaning of life: to create… for who? Who will see this? Who will remember this? 

We now know how unlikely it is for us — regardless of talent — to have our creative works enshrined in a pantheon for all of history. There is too much out there! There are too many different tastes, genres, languages, cultures, and traditions. The only hope for you is to pave your own path and be the first or get lucky and hit the market at the perfect time. But there’s still hope. 

However, know this: regardless of what you make, how great it is, how wealthy you become, how revered you are by your contemporary — none of it matters.  

As Conan O’Brien recalled from a conversation he had with Albert Brooks, where the late-night host lamented to the filmmaker that movies have the sustainability to last forever, while his late-night shows are forgotten and never seen again. To which, Albert Brooks responded: 

“What are you talking about? None of it matters.” None of it matters? No, that’s the secret. In 1940, people said Clark Gable is the face of the 20th Century. Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter. You’ll be forgotten. I’ll be forgotten. We’ll all be forgotten.”

As a creative, it’s helpful to be an optimistic nihilist. I remind myself that there is no meaning. There’s no great thing that I need to create — and in the meaninglessness — I’m free. I look around and see all these people moving purposely as if they know the answer. There is no answer, except the story we tell ourselves. Their creative stories are as valid as mine — they might not be writing, drawing, or making music, but their creativity might be raising a family, starting a business, or traveling the world. Everyone is creative; a creator of experiences. Everyone’s choices are valid. And it’s because of all these experiences spinning in all directions, hitting off of each other that new stories and new creations are generated. Surely if there was a meaning to this life, and we know it, there would be some order by now.

When we think of nihilists, we think of cynical assholes or depressed alcoholics, and while there are some, those who are nihilistic have found an escape from the pressure of existence. Sure, some people thrive under pressure. Some people sell big businesses, some people hit home runs, and some people launch bombs at civilians. However, for many of us, the pressures are fabricated for ourselves by ourselves as guidelines to follow. 

We are supposed to graduate, get a job, get married, have a family, and retire. We are supposed to pass on traditions. But why? No, there is nothing wrong with those pursuits, inherently, but those are not necessarily the only pursuits worthy. In fact, there are no pursuits worthy. 

We can be vegetarian. We can travel to space. We can have children. All of these are worthwhile but none of it will change the outcome of the universe. This is doubly true for the novel you’re writing. This is doubly true for the movie you’re making. This is doubly true for the painting you’re painting. Don’t do these things to alter the universe. Do these things for yourself. Do these things for those who are present. Don’t worry about legacies. Now is the only moment there is. Creativity is a small acknowledgment of this moment. To set something in a time and place. To merely wave back at the abyss. 

Optimistic nihilism is the hopefulness that you can make a difference and it’s the knowledge that it doesn’t matter. Life is an exhibition game. And while we’re keeping score. It’s not going to count for anything other than our participation. Go for it. Write that story… make that video… paint that painting, because as Albert Brook said, “Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter.” 

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To Write Confidently, Cut These Out…

These are verb qualifiers: 

  • Sort of
  • Tend to
  • Kind of 
  • Must have 
  • Seemed to 
  • Could have 
  • Used to 
  • Begin to

They allow you to present a level of uncertainty for your character’s actions. Use them with caution, because verb qualifiers may only add little information and cause confusion.

When I’m writing action sequences, I simply ask myself: Did the characters do the action or did they not? 

Take a look at this modified paragraph from Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (Amazon): 

Chipper sort of fell silent. His eyes kind of went around and around his plate, but he must have not been provident and there was nothing on the plate but woe. He began to raise his glass and silently half urged a very small drop of warm milk down the slope to his mouth. He stretched his tongue out and seemed to welcome it. 

Notice how there is a lot of uncertainty in that paragraph? These little sprinklings of doubt spoil your credibility as the author and mess up the flow of your story. Take a look at the original version without any of the added verb qualifiers. 

Chipper fell silent. His eyes went around and around his plate, but he had not been provident and there was nothing on the plate but woe. He raised his glass and silently urged a very small drop of warm milk down the slope to his mouth. He stretched his tongue out to welcome it. 

Your first draft is often loaded with these verb qualifiers. This is understandable. You aren’t certain of every detail when you write the first draft. But now that you know how it all ends, be more confident and remove those pesky verb qualifiers and give a more assured image of the story. By removing them, you’ll see how much more clear and precise your writing becomes. 

Writing with confidence doesn’t mean your content needs to be bold or dramatic, it can be done by merely trimming off the excess that fog up the details. Don’t let your important words be overshadowed by verb qualifiers. Keep an eye out for them and cut them out. 

For more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel here!

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