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Muse On This

Inspiration for writers is something of a mythical construct. In nearly every Pantheon of gods, there is a god or goddess (usually a goddess, since historically men were the creators and women were the objects that inspired them – sexist, I know) who might, if they felt like it, graciously bless a mere mortal with a creative idea. Nowadays, with the exception of a few Pagans, we know that the Muses aren’t looking to throw any of us a bone in the form of a bestseller. Inspiration isn’t external, but many of us are still guilty of treating it like it is. We stop writing when we aren’t doing it for our jobs or school, because we don’t have any good ideas about what to write. I know it seems self-evident, but if you aren’t writing, you aren’t going to write anything good.

We become good writers through frequent writing. In my opinion the best writers are also good readers, but that’s a discussion for another time. For now, I only want to talk about writing regularly. If you aren’t writing regularly, and thinking critically about what you’re writing, you could have the best idea for a story that anyone has ever had, but it will come out wrong because you won’t have the skills you need to tell a good story the way it deserves to be told. If this thought has you panicked, I’m sorry. I understand what it’s like to stare at a cursor blinking on a blank page and think, What am I doing? I have nothing to say that anyone would want to read. In fact, that was the thought I had when I sat down to write this blog post. I spent a lot of years being afraid to write for fear that I would disappoint myself with what I would produce, and it’s hard to reprogram yourself to overcome a bad habit. If you want to write, though, it’s vital that you do so.

Whether you’re getting back in the habit of writing regularly or you’re trying to establish the habit for the first time, I found that what worked best for me was committing myself to writing regularly and finding someone else holding me accountable for that writing. There are a lot of ways you might go about this, and I’ll tell you about some methods I’ve used.

 

Take a Creative Writing Class

I did this during my senior year, when I had made it through three years of analytical papers and had completely stopped writing for fun. After taking the course “The History and Theory of Criticism” I felt like all that was creative in me had died, so when I saw that poetry and short story classes were being offered I signed up for both. It’s true that I was technically writing for a grade, but it still got me thinking creatively again. It’s also true that before my first short story was due, I panicked because I had no idea what I was going to write about. I was also afraid because I knew whatever I wrote would be picked over aloud by the class since that was the class format. However, by taking the class I had committed myself to turning in two short stories, and that’s what I did because it was that or fail the class. I even ended up being really pleased with the first story I wrote for the class, and am still proud of that work. If I hadn’t had to write it for the class, though, chances are good that I never would have written it at all. This strategy is good if you are a student or you can afford to take a class like this. If you invest a grade or money into it, you’re more likely to stick with it than if you sign up for something free on the internet.

 

Write for a Publication

There are a lot of startup publications online that are looking for people who are willing to contribute to the site without the promise of a paycheck. There are even more sites out there that offer a small check to freelance contributors who can stick to the subject and format of their site’s articles. For those of you who need just a little motivation, the incentive of a reward for your writing might be what you need to push you and get you writing some articles. For myself, I wanted someone who would give me deadlines, so I found an online publication that would let me work with editors. Now I contribute to Realcity, where I write about my life in Houston. I write maybe one article every month, and I work with editors who critique my writing and set deadlines for me. The benefit of choosing this route is that you end up with some good pieces for your portfolio, and if you become a regular contributor you can add the work to your resume when you’re looking for a job that involves writing.

 

Maintain a Blog

Finally, we come to the last, most obvious suggestion. If you enjoy writing, chances are good that even if you no longer maintain it, you’ve started a blog. Boost Your Writing isn’t my first blog. Last year I blogged for one month about the Game On! diet as my good habit, since the game required that I establish a good habit. I had to blog every day, except the one day off per week that the game allowed. If I didn’t keep up with my blog, I would lose points every day in the game, and whoever had the most points at the end would win $40. If I didn’t win, I had to contribute $20 to the winner. I didn’t miss any days, because I knew that I couldn’t just quit the blog unless I wanted to pay $20 to do so. If you want to become a better writer and decide to blog to do so, you should look in to the Game On! diet because you are held accountable by teammates and the competitive aspect of the game. I discussed it pretty thoroughly in my blog at the link above. We could all do with improving our lives and our health, so even if you aren’t looking to lose weight (I wasn’t) you would probably be happy to improve your physical health (I was). I decided that a blog would be the best way to bring writing into my daily life because blogs are incredibly open-ended and I could write about anything. I know that’s an obvious statement since there are a huge number of blogs today, but that can also be what holds you back if you let it overwhelm you. I would advise that you narrow your blog topic to something you know and care a lot about. I care about writing and reading things that are well-written, so I started Boost Your Writing. One of my friends is a great cook and started a food blog she calls Life From Scratch to share her love of cooking with her friends. It’s up to you, but make sure to pick something that you can elaborate on, and something that you won’t get tired of writing about.

That’s it for now! I will probably cover some of these topics more thoroughly in the future, but in the meantime, start writing!

-Caryn

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Give It to Me Straight

Everyone who uses writing to achieve their business or educational goals wants that writing to be the best it can be. We all want to communicate the passion we feel towards our chosen subjects, but sometimes in spite of our best intentions, our writing doesn’t measure up to the ideal in our heads. When this happens, some of us just give up the writing project and chalk it up to a failure. Others decide that what they’ve created is better than nothing, and use mediocre writing to market their ideas. People who are successful with their writing take a third route – a route that is one of the best ways to improve your writing, but that many people struggle with. They let someone else critique their work.

I understand why many people would rather get by with writing that is just okay than strive for greatness. Asking someone to criticize something you’ve created can be frightening, especially for people who are sensitive to criticism. I know exactly how those people feel, because I was one of them. The high school I attended never challenged my writing, and I went to college thinking that as far as essays went, I could do no wrong. However, once I began the path to my English degree, I learned that my professors expected more of my writing than I was used to giving. I struggled to adjust to their criticisms, and for a large part of my college career, I took any slight to my papers as a personal attack. I received B’s on papers that would have been A’s, if only I had accepted that my professors were trying to make me into a better writer and weren’t, as I believed, telling me that I was a terrible writer.

By the time I graduated I was better at accepting criticism, but I still only addressed specific comments on my papers. It wasn’t until 2011, when I edited a novel for my husband, that I finally grasped the necessity of receiving criticism of your work. My husband wrote a truly imaginative story, but he was too close to the project to see where his ideas might confuse readers or where his meaning was ambiguous. As an outsider to his creative process, I could lend him the perspective to let him think critically about his work. Because he had no problem accepting criticism, he didn’t write as I had, with the goal of only addressing the specific comments I made. Instead, he learned to think about how his writing might look to an outsider, and he became a better writer. Observing the way my husband accepted my criticism helped me learn how to welcome criticism of my own writing, and when I compare my recent projects to papers I wrote in college, the difference is incredible to me.

My advice to anyone who wants to improve their writing is to find someone you trust who will critique your work. It’s important that you enlist the help of people who truly want to help you, because there are people out there who are only destructive in their criticism. Their goal is to tear down anyone who creates something. These people are all over the internet, but you’ll meet them in real life, too. I took a creative writing class with one of them, and the class as a whole realized that his critiques of our work were only meant to bring us down. People who can help you grow as a writer will know that insults aren’t helpful. You will be able to tell if someone really wants to help you because they will tell you how they think your writing can be better – they won’t just tear down what you have already written. It will also be useful to you if the person you find to critique your work is someone who can spot major grammar issues, but anyone in your target audience can tell you whether or not you’re getting your message across.

If you’re looking for someone with editing experience to help you become a better writer, you can always contact me at boostyourwritingCL [at] gmail [dot] com, or on Twitter @CarynLL. I’m happy to help you with fiction or nonfiction writing, and with anything from your novel to your website. I know the struggle we have with seeking out criticism of our work, and I want to work with you to achieve your goals.

Just Leave Everything to Me

Hello authors! Also, hello to all of the aspiring authors. I know that sometimes we have grand aspirations about what we want our writing to be, but it can be hard to get those aspirations off the ground. Sometimes you have a great idea, but you may lack the technical skill to create a polished product.

 

That’s where I come in.

 

I offer both editing and consulting services on how to improve your writing. For years I’ve helped people with graduate school application essays, tutored high school and college students in writing classes, and written analytical essays for my English degree. I contribute nonfiction articles to the online publication Realcity, and I’ve edited three young adult novels through the design and publishing company my husband and I run, EDL Epic Designs.

 

While there are a lot of companies out there that will edit your work, my husband and I learned firsthand what dealing with some of these companies is like. When he was trying to publish his first novel, Brandon Marlowe and the Spirit Snatcher, he went through a publishing company for independent authors. They offered “editing services,” but what he got for his money was a series of impersonal observations that could have applied to any young adult fantasy book.

 

That experience was frustrating, but like all mistakes in life we could either beat ourselves up over it or learn from it. I learned that there is a niche available for a good editor and writer who loves to read and who wants to be involved with the work she’s improving. Not all writing is the same, but all writing is about discovering your voice as an author, and my business goal is to help you uncover and refine your voice.

 

This blog will allow me to share with you some of my writing experiences, as well as my observations on how we become better writers and editors of our own work. General advice can take our writing far, but for more personal advice on your writing in general, or for help on particular pieces of fiction, nonfiction or analytical work, please contact me at boostyourwritingCL [at] gmail [dot] com. You can also follow me on Twitter @CarynLL and I’ll be happy to get in touch with you there. I’m looking forward to writing with you!

 

-Caryn