If You Can’t Write for Fun, Write to Learn

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Writing isn’t always fun. That’s just the way it goes. No matter how much you love it and want to strive to improve your skills and write more captivating content, there will always be moments you wish you didn’t have to.

And really, technically, you don’t.

But that doesn’t mean you can, or even really want, to stop trying. With so many other things to balance on top of your personal writing time, it’s very easy to just put it off, tell yourself it’s okay, you don’t feel like it today but maybe tomorrow. Writing does require some brain power, after all, and sometimes your brain just wants to rest.

Maybe you’re one of those people who loves to learn. No, seriously: they exist. Learning comes in more forms than sitting in a classroom and taking sloppy notes. Whether you know it or not, writing is a form of learning, too—one you can engage in anywhere, whenever you want. This might be the kind of motivator you’ve been looking for to give your writing a little push.

Research those random facts you’ve always wanted to know 

Then, write about them. Researching “at random” is something we all do when we’re bored (aka, procrastinating), but you can use this tactic to your advantage if you haven’t been in the mood to write lately, even though you wish you were.

If you find something interesting, open up a Word document or a notebook and just start jotting down pieces of what you’re reading about. Give yourself your own prompt and see where it goes. It’s both fun and learning disguised as writing, and it might even lead to a new story idea you can run with for a while.

Develop your skills at your own pace

While it can be healthy to write every day, the world won’t stop spinning if you don’t. The problem with writing “because you have to” is that the deadline and time constraint puts your creativity in a box it doesn’t always belong in.

Writing for work or for school is different, but when you’re on your own, give your work the time it needs, even if it’s sparse. There’s no law that says you have to write a story in a certain amount of time, and when it’s really up to you, let it be your chance to experiment, write in styles you’re not used to, launch yourself out of your comfort zone—all ways to develop your writing skills, and hey, you might even have fun too.

The thing about writing is, it is never a constant. Some days you just can’t stop; some days you spend 10 minutes staring at your screen before walking away to do something else. Some days you write, but don’t feel satisfied; other days you might only write a paragraph, but it’s the best paragraph you swear you’ve ever written.

Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s not. But writing is like a brain workout that doesn’t involve shoes or sweating, and often without realizing it, you’re always learning something. If that’s the only thing that keeps you going, it’s a pretty good start.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Refining Your Writing Style 90 Seconds at a Time

NR90secthursdaysThere are three reasons promising writers never get around to refining their skills.

Reason #1: Money. Writing coaches, professional critiques and experienced editors all come with a price—a numerical one with dollar signs in front, which you are expected to pay in exchange for a service. Even though you’re only trying to get better at writing so you can, oh, actually get paid for what you do, perhaps?

Reason #2: Anonymity. You might spend all your free time writing, figuring out how to get your name out there, tweeting out posts and following other writers’ web sites and blogs like it’s your job (it probably isn’t, if that’s how you spend your “free” time). But no one pays attention. No one knows who you are. It isn’t anything personal. And you might write some good stuff. So do a lot of other writers-to-be, though, and it’s hard to know who to network with to make it to the next level. So when you’re finally ready to look for someone to help make your dreams come true … well. You start to feel stuck.

Reason #3: Time. School, work, family, friends, grocery shopping T.V. good books planting flowers teaching the cat to fetch … basically, the ability to block out writing time is a luxury, especially if you’re dealing with Reason #1. If it’s not your full-time job, it gets moved to the bottom of the list. Not because you don’t want to. There just aren’t enough hours in a day. And by the time you finally do sit down to write, you find yourself staring at something you wrote three weeks ago and don’t know how to get back into The Zone.

Of these three reasons, time is probably the toughest to deal with. You could have the money to get good critiques and the connections to get your query letters into the right hands—or at least a cup of coffee with a potential agent thrown into the deal—but without time to actually sit down and crank out a product to sell, you haven’t really made much progress. And if you do have something you want to work on revising, it even takes time to find resources to help you with that.

That’s why we’re starting a video series, 90 Second Writing Lessons: to help you clean up your writing style, once per week, in just a minute and a half (or a little less—give us a break, we’re new at this). You can watch each segment while you’re waiting for the train (or sitting on it), on your break, between classes and even while you’re waiting for your water to boil before starting dinner.

Our tips are quick, and you can easily apply them to your own projects as you watch Meg work on hers. Sometimes when you spend all day staring at a screen, and want to come home and work on something of your own, you don’t want to read a blog post about how to write better. Now you can watch a video instead, leaving plenty of time afterward to write a few hundred words before moving on to The Next Thing.

Our videos and subscribing to Meg’s channel are free. If you have something to add to the video, or have an idea for a future topic, leave a comment: it’s a great way to network with other writers, get people to follow you and keep tabs on your writing progress, and contribute to a much bigger mission: helping writers organize their ideas and put them into words. Catering those words to a specific audience, a band of readers who will listen and respond to what’s on that page. Refining your writing style, so you can establish your own unique voice in this noisy, busy world, and make that voice heard.

We’re here to make writing what it should be: enjoyable, fulfilling and enlightening. Will you join us?

You can check out Lesson 1: Using Fewer Words here.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Is Taking a Writing Class Really Worth Your Time?

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Writers learn to refine their skills in a lot of different ways, and the most successful writers take the time to try a healthy variety of options before deciding which ones work the best for their personality and style. Taking classes in writing, whether as a high school or college student or on your own time somewhere else, is one method some writers find refreshing and helpful.

Some writers. Not all.

Those who teach writing have probably started an ongoing list of pros, and it’s true there are benefits to learning how to write while sitting beside a diverse group of writers at all experience levels. There are downsides, however, that might make you reconsider signing up for an optional writing course in the near future.

Consider these factors when deciding whether or not to sign up for a writing course near you. 

Individual Critiques Are Minimal

There are plenty of opportunities to receive feedback on your work when you’re taking a writing-focused course, whether it’s creative writing, journalism, research or something else. Unfortunately, most of this feedback tends to be generalized, sculpted to fit an entire group of writers after an instructor has reviewed an assignment.

“Here are the most common mistakes I saw,” she’ll say, and spend the next portion of the hour going over them. Some instructors break their classes into peer review groups, which is a step in the right direction, but if you’re looking for professional feedback from a credible, experienced writer, a class just isn’t the best place you’ll find it.

You’re Taught From One Point of View

The most beneficial courses you’ll take, in any subject, are taught by more than one person. Exposure to multiple expert opinions on the same material allows you to sift through what you’re given and store away the pieces you find most helpful. This isn’t usually the case with writing courses, especially college freshman composition.

Most writing instructors, especially on the more creative side, won’t say there’s a right and wrong way to write. However, more than once you’ll hear the phrase, “This is how I do it.” Hearing how another writer writes can be beneficial, but in those moments you disagree with an instructor’s opinion on how something should be done, you might start feeling a little … trapped.

You’ll Find Yourself Stuck in a Prompt

The purpose of prompts is to stimulate creative thought and get students to practice spilling those thoughts out on paper. There’s nothing wrong with them. Maybe someday you’ll actually flip through the composition notebook you had to purchase after enrolling in the course and look back on everything your instructor asked you to write about. But probably not.

While there is always the potential for a certain prompt to spark an entirely new idea for a story, this doesn’t do you much good once you emerge from the part of your brain that houses all your original ideas and find yourself still sitting in a chair, stuck on the initial prompt’s one-way street.

Courses geared specifically toward writers are put in place to give those who learn best in a classroom setting the chance to learn from others the next best steps to take in their own writing style and career. They’re a perfect way to network, and most likely you’ll be able to approach the instructor individually to ask more specific questions later.

Go ahead and give it a try—but if you find it’s not really working for you, don’t get discouraged. There are other ways to get motivated to practice writing without having to take a formal class. If you’re dedicated enough to your art, in time, you will find the one that’s right for you.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.