Should Writers Be Writing Everyday?

This month I’m participating in a daily questionnaire for writers about their craft and work habits. It’s been a lot of fun thus far and I’m making some new friends along the way, but there was one question I wanted to explore a little more deeply.

Recently, we were asked to share the worst advice that we’d received as writers. Many authors immediately said that they hated it when people told them that they should write everyday. They said that this was an unrealistic expectation that just ended up making them feel bad about themselves. I was intrigued by that, especially since I’ve been encouraging my writing students to write everyday for years now.

I understand the feelings of those who are opposed to the idea of daily writing sessions. Life happens, and we shouldn’t punish ourselves for focusing on more important things when they come up. I also understand that some people have writing rituals that require a certain amount of time or preparation that make them impossible to do at the drop of a hat. Still, I’d like a chance to clarify my position on the subject.

I don’t encourage my students to do a full writing session every day. My advice is to get a minimum of 100 words written every day, which usually takes 5 minutes or less for the average writer. Even doing this minimal amount of work will help establish your writing habit, and make it that much easier to take the time for a serious writing session when you have the time. Of course, life can still happen and you could miss the occasional 100 word minimum. That’s fine. But it’s important to make that effort and at least stretch those creative muscles, even if you don’t have time for a full workout.

I’ll end this by acknowledging that writing advice is subjective, and if you’ve found that you’re able to write better by not holding yourself to a daily standard, please keep doing what you’re doing. My hope is to speak to those writers that are still trying to find their own writing process, and to encourage them to lean towards goals and personal accountability, rather than the slippery slope of justification and excuses.

Ten Ways to Handle Writer’s Block

It doesn’t matter if you’re a best-selling author or a first-time writer. Sooner or later, every storyteller will find themselves staring at their computer screen (or notebook) without a single story idea. Here are some ways to break down those mental barriers and get back to the craft of creation that you love.

  1. Change your Mindset

We’re often our own harshest critics. We feed ourselves all sorts of negative self-talk. “Your ideas aren’t any good.” “You are wasting your time.” Make a conscious effort to remove these bad messages and replace them with positive affirmations. “This is just a first draft. I’ll revise it later.” “I set aside this time to write, so that’s what I’ll do.” You might even try saying these affirmations out loud before you write to help train your brain for positivity.

  1. Work on Multiple Projects

When something is hard, it’s natural to want to take a break from it for a while. But rather than walking away from your writing to check out what’s on Netflix, try writing on a different project. It could be another novel, a short story or even a poem. This allows you to continue to exercise your creativity muscles while giving your brain a break from that project that is bothering you. Who knows? You may even find that your secondary project becomes your primary one!

  1. Create a Writing Playlist

Music helps with so many tasks that we do each day, it only makes sense to listen to tunes while writing. Just keep in mind that the wrong music can be a distraction and actually make it harder to get your work done. Try to pick songs that will inspire you without pulling your attention away from what you’re doing. Movie soundtracks work well for this, as do playlists based on songs that make you think of the scene you’re currently working on.

  1. Brainstorm Your Way Through

Sometimes, when it’s hard to decide where to take your story next, it helps to brainstorm all of the potential directions it could go in, however improbable or out-of-character they may be. Take some time to list anything that comes to mind without worrying if it makes any sense. “His hairbrush comes alive and tells him what to do next” could be one idea. “They all turn into weasels” would be another. Give yourself permission to be silly. By relaxing a little and having fun with the problem, it becomes less intimidating and stressful. Eventually, you’ll get the wiggles out of your system and will be able to start brainstorming some real options for what to do next in your story.

  1. Change your Method of Writing

Sometimes a change of surroundings can reset the creativity batteries and bring fresh new ideas. If that’s not possible, try changing the tools you’re using. Whether it’s switching out a laptop for a pencil and paper or a tablet for a typewriter, many writers have found solid results by changing their preferred method of writing, even if it’s only temporary.

  1. Introduce a Recurring Scent

The human mind can be conditioned through stimulating a variety of senses, and one of the strongest is our sense of smell. After all, when was the last time you walked past an aromatic restaurant and suddenly realized you were hungry? Similarly, if you regularly introduce a particular scent into your writing space (stepping into a coffee shop, lighting a scented candle, etc.) you’ll eventually notice that you feel like writing just because there’s a certain fragrance in the air.

  1. Research

If you’re struggling to come up with ideas for your story, you may be suffering from a lack of background information. Ask yourself if learning more about some aspect of your story would help give you more material to work with. If nothing comes immediately to mind, pick something minor out of the scene that you’re currently stuck on, and research that. You may not get anything useful for that specific scene, but there’s a good chance that you’ll learn something new that could give you that creative spark to get things going again.

  1. Dress to Write

Some writers take pride in the fact that they can exercise their craft while still wearing the clothes they slept in the night before. But other artists feel the need to dress for success before the ideas start flowing. You may even consider having a “writing hat” or similar article of clothing that you always wear while working. This has the double benefit of establishing another level of conditioning to train your brain on when it’s time to write, while also sending a visible signal to those around you that you are busy and not to be disturbed.

  1. Short Outlines

If you’re a plotter (a writer that plans a story before writing it) then you already know the benefits of having a roadmap to follow as you work. But even if you prefer to just jump in and see where the story takes you, there is an advantage to sometimes doing partial outlines of your current project. If you’re stuck, try creating an outline of what will immediately follow the current scene. By planning out the next few chapters or scenes, you’ll have a better idea of where you need to get to, and may get an idea of how to connect those dots.

  1. Set Modest Goals

Too often, we choose to measure ourselves against some other person’s yardstick. We hear that a successful author writes 2000 words a day, so we figure that that’s what we have to do. Or we become impatient with ourselves and set an unrealistic deadline that temporarily feels good but inevitably becomes a source of guilt and private shame as we realize that we’ll never achieve it. Instead of filling your mind with negativity, try setting smaller, more conservative goals. This will build your confidence as a generative artist, and give you a better idea of what sort of long-term goals are truly within your reach.

 

Do you have any other techniques that have helped you with writer’s block in the past? Feel free to share them in the comments below!

Looking Forward to My 2018 Book Tour

With at least one book coming out this year, I’m starting the process of planning my 2018 book tour. Last year was my first time touring outside of Washington state to promote my books, and it was a definite success. Hoping to build on that success, I’m looking for book stores, libraries, Cons, and local writer groups that may be interested in hosting an author reading, creative writing workshop, or book signing.

If you’re somewhere in the United States and would like for me to visit your town, please let me know, especially if you have any connection to a venue where I could market my books or give one or more of my creative writing classes. Then again, a venue may be more willing to host something if they know there’s a lot of local interest, so make your voice heard if you’d like to have me and my books come to your town!

A New Home for my Online Courses

I’ve got some very exciting news for anyone interested in taking my creative writing classes! In the past, you’ve either had to hope that I would come to a town near you for a workshop or else you would have to sift through my occasional online workshops for a subject that applies to you. Well no more!

Savvyauthors.com is a website dedicated to helping writers at all stages of their craft, and they have generously offering me a place in their spring catalog of online offerings. From April to June of 2018, I’ll be teaching five different creative writing courses via live webinar as well as recorded videos. The courses that are currently on the schedule include:

The Basics of Creative Writing
Finding Your Writing Process
A Novel in Four Drafts
Crafting a Complete Story
Four Types of Scenes

These courses can be taken individually or as a complete series. You can even take a single workshop or several workshops across different courses.

Follow the link below to see the complete series as well as the individual courses available from savvyauthors.com.

Classes & Events from Instructor Lindsay Schopfer

Note: My in-person, creative writing courses through South Puget Sound Community College’s continuing education program are growing in popularity all the time and will continue into 2018. In fact, there will be some exciting new developments there as well, but that’s for another blog post… 🙂

SPSCC Winter Writing Course Schedule

Ten Christmas Gifts for the Writer in Your Life

1. A cat video filter for her internet browser

2. A “Cliff Notes” version of a book on the craft of writing

3. A word processor that auto-corrects telling instead of showing

4. An instant-inspiration pill that is not harmful, habit-forming, or fattening

5. A mobile desk so she can pace and write at the same time

6. A voice-activated graphic design program that will take an infinite number of vocal commands to design the perfect book cover

7. A music app that syncs up the type of scene she’s writing with the appropriate mood music

8. Special glasses that can scan people’s brains and instantly know whether they’ll be interested in her book or not

9. An automated candy dispenser that will only release a piece of chocolate for each time she writes another 1,000 words

10. A keyboard that makes typing feel like she’s petting a dog

Top 10 Things a Writing Coach Doesn’t Want to Hear

10. This session didn’t count, right?

9. I’m going to warn you up front that I don’t take criticism well.

8. How many books should I expect to sell in the first week?

7. I’m not looking to hire a writing coach, I just wanted to send my manuscript to you to get your feedback.

6. I never realized how effective semi-colons are.

5. My writing group thinks you’re wrong.

4. How many copies of my book are you planning on buying for your friends?

3. What are your rates for writing college research papers?

2. Can you help me get my fan-fiction into Barnes and Nobles?

1. I’ve got the cover image done, now I just need to write the book.

Can you think of any more? Leave a comment below.

Another Ten Weird Writing Prompts

1. Contrary to what the experts might say, it’s surprisingly hard to dress a live chicken in a tiny tuxedo.

2. “Ha! the joke’s on you!” I shouted. “I’m not wearing any pants!”

3. All stories have to begin somewhere. This one starts part-way through the middle, skips to the end, then goes back to the beginning to see what we missed.

4. The early morning light glistened like liquid gold on Larry’s bald head.

5. There is a prophesy, as ancient as time. But those things are never right anyway, so never mind.

6. I woke up, hanging upside-down over a pool of lava while fiendish bug people danced the Macarena nearby. “Not again,” I thought.

7. I suppose you could say it all started last Tuesday. You’d be wrong, of course. It all started on Thursday, but you can say Tuesday if it makes you feel better.

8. The quest was over. You missed it.

9. Magic was thick in the air. Either that, or someone had recently spritzed the room with Febreze.

10. Nobody suspected the armadillo.

A New Kind of Creative Writing Class

I recently finished my first creative writing class for the continuing education program at South Puget Sound Community College. Called “A Novel in Four Drafts” this four-part series was both well received and well attended, and I’m so grateful to SPSCC for providing me with this fantastic opportunity to instruct and inspire other writers.

This class also marked the first time that I was able to work with the same group of students over multiple weeks, which allowed me to try out something new. In addition to my usual combination of lectures and focused activities, I experimented with some techniques designed to motivate students to write on their own during the week.

At the end of every class session, students were given several minutes to consider what they had learned, and make notes of how they could apply those things to their own work. After that, students were asked to create and share a writing goal that they would accomplish before the next class session. The following week, students would report on their progress, sharing their successes and challenges in a safe, open environment.

The response to this new approach was overwhelming positive. Rather than feeling intimidated, students that said they felt liberated by the goals and reporting, finding support and encouragement from their peers even as they continued to learn about the craft of writing. I was very pleased with the results of this experiment, and plan on continuing to use this method in all of my future classes through the college.

If you’re interested in checking out my classes, you can click the link below for a list of all of my offerings for the summer and fall quarters. Classes are open to the public and take place at the college’s Lacey campus in western Washington.

Click here for my list of creative writing classes through SPSCC

Some of my Favorite Quotes about Writers

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.
– Richard Bach

A hack is on the constant hunt for ‘ideas’ for his plots or ‘new angles.’ The real writer is haunted by a plot which he must write out of inner necessity. He is impervious to suggestions.
– Edmund Bergler

However great a man’s natural talent may be, the art of writing cannot be learned all at once.
– Jean Jacques Rousseau

Everyone who works in the domain of fiction is a bit crazy. The problem is to render this craziness interesting.
– Francois Truffaut

Any writer overwhelmingly honest about pleasing himself is almost sure to please others.
– Marianne Moore

How can you write if you can’t cry?
-Ring Lardner

Ten Weird Writing Prompts

1. The fishbowl felt surprisingly heavy as I placed it over my head.

2. In all my years as an arborist, I never had a tree hug me back. Until today.

3. “Of course I can babysit your walrus,” I said with a forced smile.

4. It’s hard when anyone’s ex comes back for a visit. Mine came back as a zombie.

5. I doubt anyone will believe the fantastic adventure I had last summer, so I’ll tell you about the weekend I spent binge-watching Netflix instead.

6. I went to Australia to find myself. Unfortunately, it turned out I wasn’t there.

7. It wasn’t until my first concert that I found out I’d been blowing into the wrong end of my saxophone.

8. You don’t know me, and that probably won’t change by the time you’re done with this story.

9. It goes without saying that I also got a flat tire on the day that my house blew up.

10. The mongoose said this would happen.