Why I’m Not Ashamed of My Terrible Writing

Let’s be honest: All writers start out writing not-great things.

I’ve recently been considering bringing back my podcast. Yes, bringing back — as in I had a podcast once, but after seven or eight episodes it became one of many abandoned projects I would set off to the side when I got “too busy” to squeeze it in.

As I began contemplating the possibility of a Brain Rush revival, I went back and listened to the episodes I’d recorded back in 2016 … and I could barely get through them.

They were — and I’m not embarrassed to admit it — awful. Awful, I suppose, in the way that most beginners’ podcasts are at the start. They didn’t sound good. They weren’t all that interesting. But most of all, they didn’t fit. The writing wasn’t meant for a podcast. I didn’t know what writing for a podcast was supposed to sound like. It wasn’t “bad.” It just wasn’t “right.”

Would I have gotten better at it if I’d kept going? Debatable. But the truth is, I stopped. I sensed what I was doing wasn’t working, even then, and made the right decision: Put this to bed for now and focus on projects that need your attention more right now. And that’s probably why I’ve accomplished so much since then, despite never becoming a podcast genius. I don’t feel I’m missing out.

That doesn’t mean I can’t go back, though. If I want to subject myself to that again. Continue reading “Why I’m Not Ashamed of My Terrible Writing”

12 Steps That Will Take You From ‘I Don’t Feel Like Writing’ to ‘Where Did All Those Words Come From?’

Take these steps and you’ll be good to go!

1. Decide on a very short, simple goal. “I’m going to write 500 words before I get out of this chair.”

2. Decide on your reward upon completing that goal. “After 500 words I can watch season 6 of Friends again.”

3. Sit down and just try starting to work on your thing (book, blog post, etc.).

4. If you’re struggling, and not even your goal/reward is motivating you, there must be a deeper reason why. Proceed to step 5.

Continue reading “12 Steps That Will Take You From ‘I Don’t Feel Like Writing’ to ‘Where Did All Those Words Come From?’”

Just Write About What You Care About

If you don’t care, no one else will.

I’ve come across many aspiring writers over the years who struggle to get going because they “don’t know what to write about.” Either that, or they find themselves stuck before they’ve even gotten started because they’re trying to choose a topic people will flock to by the masses.

In case you weren’t sure, this is absolutely NOT a good way to start out as a writer. Let me explain why.

Continue reading “Just Write About What You Care About”

3 Self-Editing Rules That Will Make You a Better Writer

I hope these help!

It is the law of creative expression that all artists must critique — and often modify — their own work.

For many writers, self-editing feels like absolute torture. But maybe that’s because plenty of us have never been taught how and when to self-edit — and when to leave the editing for later.

The truth is, if you aren’t careful, editing can kill your productivity. And that’s, as you may have guessed, bad.

These are the rules I follow to make sure I don’t slow down my writing productivity by focusing on the wrong things. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

Continue reading “3 Self-Editing Rules That Will Make You a Better Writer”

Why the Writing Life You’re Imagining Will Never Become Your Reality

Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we hope they will, and that’s OK.

When I helped my dad design my current home office — despite the fact that I had been a professional writer for a handful of years and knew better — I couldn’t help but imagine my “dream life” as a writer.

This imaginary life isn’t anything extravagant — not really. All I really picture is at least one wall filled floor to ceiling with books, a desk with a comfortable chair, and many consecutive hours of uninterrupted writing time, no exceptions.

Also, an endless supply of coffee that I didn’t have to continuously get up to make, and unlimited snacks, and a very well behaved puppy.

I’m very low-maintenance when it comes to my writing space preferences, you know.

As you can probably guess, my home office — though amazing in its shelf space and optimal spots for comfortable puppy nap times — does not make my writing life perfect. I still get tired and cranky. Sometimes I sit down and the words just won’t come, or I keep getting distracted.

Sometimes I have a really bad day, and I think to myself, “Why are you trying to make a career out of writing? Is there even a point?”

Continue reading “Why the Writing Life You’re Imagining Will Never Become Your Reality”

How Changing Your Morning Routine Could Make You a Stronger Writer

Try it — you might like it!

I wake up just as the sun is starting to rise — that magical segment of morning where the light is soft and subtle, there only to remind me it’s a new day and nothing more.

Coffee comes first. I sit on the porch overlooking the yard and the empty field behind it. Halfway through my second cup of coffee, I open a book and spend some time reading.

A long walk with the dog and a short jog and shower later, I am caffeinated, energized, and motivated. Over breakfast — out on the porch again, because why not? — I open my laptop and start writing.

And that’s how the rest of the morning goes. Quiet. Productive. Focused and fulfilling.

Or, at least, that’s how mornings used to go. They don’t anymore. I still struggle with that.

My favorite, ideal morning routine is no longer realistic. And I’ve only recently come to accept that. Only recently have I come to terms with the fact that adults don’t actually get what they want, not all the time, and life is not a peaceful, uninterrupted stretch of moments. Instead, it is unpredictable and all too often exhausting.

And by all that, I don’t mean I expected “grown-up life” to be easy and all about me. I’m very fortunate to have grown up with a mother who set a realistic example of what it means to balance self-care and caring for other people. I watched her closely. I knew being an adult would have its perks and downsides.

However, as a creatively driven soul who would love nothing more than to spend 12 nonstop hours making things out of the thoughts that enter my mind — every day, always — I spent a long time struggling to understand that creativity does not exist in a bubble, and neither do we. We don’t get to escape to quiet porches, write books without interruption, and finish our coffee BEFORE it gets cold. At least, not all the time.

Before I had a full-time job, before I found myself responsible for another life besides my own (she has four legs and loves to cuddle), I COULD follow a morning routine like the one described above. I could wake up when I wanted to, start work when I wanted to (or not), and that made me feel free and in control.

It’s funny, though. As soon as I no longer had that freedom, I actually started taking my writing much more seriously than I ever had before. With restrictions like time constraints and deadlines and an always disruptive husky at my feet, for the first time, I had to truly learn discipline, proper time management, and focus. When it was time to write, it was time to write — no exceptions. Otherwise, it would never get done.

I’m not only a more efficient writer because of my less than ideal morning routine — cold coffee, shorter walks, very little freedom to choose what gets done when — but I am also a stronger one. I have been forced to learn to write quickly, but skillfully. In a span of 24 hours, with deadlines always hovering overhead and others always demanding equal attention, there simply isn’t time for careless mistakes. There isn’t time for weak writing.

Do errors happen? Of course. Do I ever produce something perfect on the first try? Of course not. But I have taught myself how to focus on the important details, the things people will notice, the parts of a piece of writing that will stick with a reader long after they’ve clicked away. In writing, there are things that matter more and things that matter less. You eventually figure out how to tell the difference, and can use that to your advantage in everything you write.

No, I don’t have the luxury of taking things slow when the sun starts to rise. I don’t get to spend hours upon hours of uninterrupted time writing to my heart’s content. But I’m a better writer because of that — for many reasons.

Maybe it’s because I now take the time each morning to work out and give my brain some time to wake up instead of diving straight into reading or work. This ensures that I spend the energy necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of my day job with plenty left over to dedicate to my side projects after normal working hours.

Maybe it’s because I now fully separate my work time from my personal time. I don’t relax in the same places I work. I operate by very specific start and “cutoff” times. That’s how I taught myself how to do more work in less time. At some point, the day has to end, and you have to stop working. So you need to get it done before your work day ends!

Sometimes, all it takes is accepting that things need to change. The way you WANT to begin your day may not be the BEST way. And allowing your routines to shift can change your entire writing life for the better, if you let it.

My mornings are much busier now. I often miss the sunrise, and go days at a time without even setting foot on the porch overlooking the yard. But that’s okay. The new way I’ve structured my day works better than the old way. I’m creating more. And I’m also living more. Maybe not quite as slowly. But it’s working out in my favor.

Change is good. Or it can be, if you know how to make the outcome work for you.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

Are Procrastinators Actually More Productive Writers?

Maybe it’s not as bad as you thought.

I have always been a chronic procrastinator.

I submitted the application for my first writing internship — the one that would eventually lead to my first editing job — five minutes before the cutoff deadline. I never pay my rent early. I wait until I have a day’s worth of shampoo left to buy more.

I’m getting better, little by little, because it turns out that, as a professional, narrowly missing deadlines can actually sort of almost get you in big trouble. Or, at the very least, it’s five a.m., you’re running on three hours of sleep because you were up until one finishing it, and now you have to go to work cranky and unfocused and AAAHHHHH.

It took until I was hours away from finishing my graduate degree to realize two things: One, that procrastinating can be very, very bad — but two, that if you plan things out just right, it might actually benefit you in the long run.

Does that sound wacky? Of course it does. Welcome to my brain. Allow me to explain.

So there I was, basically in my 20th year of school — and thankfully, at least for the time being, the last. To be clear, I LOVED graduate school. I’m THAT kind of nerd. As ready as I was for my career as a traditional student to end, I knew I was going to miss the concrete excuse to learn.

There were no exams in my final course — only projects. It was one of those class structures where you turned a small piece of your project in every week or so, and then put everything together at the very end. There was no presentation to finish off. All we had to do was write up a 15-page proposal for a fake health initiative, which is, you know, the kind of thing you do when you’re training to become a health communications expert.

We were given our deadline the day the class started — let’s just say it was May 1, 2017. We were given plenty of time and space to complete this project throughout the three-month course. Theoretically, it was possible to turn the paper in as early as a week in advance, because we didn’t learn anything new the last week of the class. We were given that entire time to put together and submit the paper.

Guess what I didn’t do?

Not only did I neglect to work on the paper even for a second that entire week, but I also spent most of the class turning in loose rough drafts of each piece I figured I would polish up later. (Hint: DON’T EVER DO THAT, EVER EVER EVER.)

Scene: May 1, 2017, 7:00 PM. I’m texting a friend whose close family member is in the hospital and she needs comfort. I have everything I need to write this 15-page paper … but I’m also on central time, and our 11:59 PM deadline is on eastern time. So I basically have four hours — FOUR. HOURS. — to write this 15-page proposal, which needs to include citations, material from the textbook and lectures, charts, mock flyers …

7:02 PM. Full panic mode commencing in 3 … 2 … 1 …

Mind you, I have been a procrastinator for a very long time at this point. I know the exact cycle of this panic wave. I’m going to freak out for a few minutes, start wondering what would happen if I failed the class, look at the seemingly very long list of requirements for this paper, take a deep breath …

And then I’m going to write the entire thing in one sitting without stopping.

And that’s exactly what I did.

If I remember correctly, I did end up turning the paper in a few minutes past the deadline. But, as so often happens, I still got a decent grade both on the paper and in the class.

I’m not exceptionally gifted in the realm of academics. I failed general chemistry twice in college. Math literally breaks my brain. When I hear there’s going to be a test, I curl up into a ball and barely breathe.

But somehow, when it comes to writing, I work best under pressure. I completed the same amount of work in four hours as I probably would have in one or two weeks chipping away at that paper little by little.

What usually ends up happening anyway, when I try to break big projects into small pieces, is that I write myself straight into a flow state and end up finishing the entire thing in one sitting without trying to.

For me, in certain circumstances, procrastination actually saves me time and eliminates my greatest distractions. As I wrote that paper, I don’t think I checked Facebook or even took my eyes off my computer screen other than to check in with my friend.

Is what I call “extreme procrastination” healthy? No. Especially not all the time. Some stress is good, and if you work well under pressure on bigger projects, there’s probably nothing wrong with using this kind of stress to your advantage as long as you get the work done on time and it’s exceptional work.

But too much stress too often isn’t good. It’s one of the reasons so many people have heart disease. Some stress: Good. Lots of stress: Not good.

This is why I “plan” my procrastination. Is it really procrastination if you plan for it? Debatable. But for many of my writing deadlines, I don’t plan on working on something until the day it’s due. This just makes it easier for me to focus my attention on more pressing priorities, knowing I’m going to have just the right amount of pressure to help me focus on a deadline when I really need to.

I’m just one person and I’ve spent a lot of time creating a productivity system that works for me and my writing schedule. I’m not saying you should start procrastinating if you don’t, or that you shouldn’t try to get a better handle on your procrastination issues if you have them.

But for some people, procrastination is just the key to their productivity. They know they’re going to procrastinate, so they simply take that into account when managing their own projects. Maybe it’s no longer procrastinating when you plan for it, but either way, this method sometimes tricks the brain into thinking that much-needed pressure is still there even when it’s been part of the plan all along.

I’m more productive because I’ve accepted that I’m a procrastinator and this fact is not going to change. Maybe we need to spend less time trying to undo our bad habits and more time figuring out how to balance them out with better ones. E.g., I’m also not going to stop eating potato chips, but if I eat a piece of fresh fruit also, at least I’m making an effort to eat something healthy.

Are you as bad of a procrastinator as I am? Maybe you feel like it’s hurting you. Maybe it’s actually not hurting you at all — you just never realized its potential power.

Tell me about your relationship with procrastination. How does it affect your writing? Do you wish you had more control over it? How can I help?

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

Write As You Grieve.

It might help. It might not. Maybe it’s worth a try.

Loss hurts. Goodbyes hurt. Grief … hurts.

It’s so easy, so tempting, to just lie down and avoid the world when you’re hurting. Well, maybe keeping your head down for a little while is OK. Healthy, even.

But eventually you have to get back up. Right?

The thing to know about grief is that it affects everyone differently. There is no predictable path from one end of the journey to the other. This isn’t a linear progression. Some people get sad for a little while and then move on. Some get angry and stay angry for a very long time.

It is the nature of humanity, to struggle through loss. It’s the reason none of us are meant to be alone for long stretches of time. We need each other. We need a place to pour out our pain and receive love and grace.

But there’s more than one way to grieve. Talking helps. Writing helps, too. Or it might, if you try it.

I don’t know about you. But when I’m hurting, writing is sometimes the only thing that helps.

Sure, there are always stretches of time when I’m not in the right place mentally or emotionally to write, and that’s OK. Sometimes Life Happens and you have to break away from your normal routine in order to conserve the energy you need for handling it.

But I almost never feel better about something that hurts until I’ve written about it in some way. Is talking to real people important? Of course. However, I’m a writer. Sometimes I can’t word something quite the right way out loud, but on paper, I somehow figure out exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it.

The best part about writing when you’re angry or happy or annoyed or sad is that there are no rules. You can do whatever you want, write whatever you want, say whatever you want. If I feel like writing a song, I write a song, and if that’s what helps to heal my heart little by little, I’ll keep doing it. If I want to work on my book to distract myself for a day, I’m free to do that. If I want to write a blog post about how writing connects to the grieving process, no one is going to stop me from publishing it.

When your life feels out of control and you’re not sure how much more chaos you can handle, you are always in control of your creative energy. You are always free to decide how you want to use it, and how you want to allow it to help you feel like everything is going to be OK, even if it isn’t.

That, my friends, is why I write. I write because it is my foundation. It keeps me grounded and it keeps me sane. When everything else around me is spinning out of control and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it, I start writing. And even if that doesn’t actually solve any of my problems, even if it serves as a temporary escape, it is always what I need. I can always count on my creativity, my drive to Make Words Happen, to be there when I need it most.

I hope your creative projects and that headspace provide the same comfort and stability for you as they do for me. Life is unpredictable and you never know when you’re going to turn around and walk headfirst into a brick wall. You can’t expect it to happen, but you can always have something to turn to when it does.

Maybe for you that’s a person. An activity (a healthy one, I hope). A place. A song. A keyboard and a blank document or a pen and a blank page. As long as there’s something. As long as you have some way of keeping yourself in check when everything goes wrong.

Life keeps moving forward. There are always new stories to tell. New revelations to be had. There will always be hellos and goodbyes, good endings and bad ones, finished products and abandoned ideas.

But there is always something to learn. Some way to grow. Some opportunity to change, hopefully for the better.

Write your way through it, if you can. Maybe it won’t help at all. But maybe … maybe it will. In time.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

12 Essentials For Your Next Writing ‘Vacation’

Taking a writing break? Here’s what you need before you begin.

1. Sweatpants, tea, and Netflix — they’re a trio!

2. Snacks. All the snacks.

3. Your favorite movie.

4. A book you’ve never read.

5. A book you’ve read a hundred times — one more can’t hurt!

6. A hobby or activity that requires creative energy but doesn’t involve writing.

7. Plenty of naps.

8. Time away from your screens. Give your brain some room to breathe.

9. Permission to let your mind wander — even if it wanders straight into a new story.

10. Permission not to write if you don’t want to.

11. The freedom to write — just a little bit — without pressure or expectations.

12. A pen and notebook to store any ideas that may tug at your sleeve. Just in case.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

Transforming Wishes Into Goals: A Quick Guide

You can do it!

Everyone sets goals, whether they realize it or not. But the truth is, most people who “set” goals are really only in the planning stages of ambition.

You might tell anyone who asks about your career goals that you want to write a book someday, for example. But that’s little more than a statement. A fact. There’s no inspiration there. There are only words. It’s just a wish, nothing more.

So how do you get from “I want to write a book someday” to “New York Times bestselling author” — from a fleeting wish to a surefire goal? Maybe that’s not your exact desired result, and that’s OK. But what matters most in the moment isn’t the goal itself, but how you approach conquering it.

I’ve been a writer long enough to have learned the difference between making a wish and establishing a goal. Writing goals in particular are about as challenging as writing itself because regardless of your desired endpoint, there are about a thousand tiny goals that stand between you and The Big One. Like, you can’t just decide to write a book one day and become a bestselling author the next. There’s a lot of in-between to work through.

Starting off on the right foot helps. To do that, you need to begin with a goal. Not a wish, not a “someday,” but a goal — a what, a when. A why, too, if you have one.

It’s not as tough as it might seem. The rules look a little something like this:

YOUR GOAL MUST BE AS DETAILED AS POSSIBLE. Some use the word “specific.” You don’t have to change your wish — “I want to write a book someday” is a fine thing to want. But “someday” implies you’ll get to it eventually, which definitely almost always means never. I always tell writers at all stages of their careers to set deadlines for themselves when formulating a goal. “I want to finish writing the first draft of a book by the end of 2020.” That’s better.

YOU SHOULD ALWAYS TRACK YOUR PROGRESS AS YOU GO. This requires breaking your big goal into smaller bite-size goals. Example: “I’m going to write 500 words a day in 2019.” Or, “I’m going to write a chapter a week.” That will eventually get you to your bigger goal because all books do end, and 500 words at a time fills that progress meter more than you think. Keep track of your progress in a notebook or spreadsheet, or whatever method is going to allow you to look back at what you’ve accomplished, especially on days you’re feeling discouraged or as though you’re not moving toward your finish line at all.

YOU NEED A GOOD PLAN, AND YOU NEED TO BE WILLING TO REVISE THAT PLAN. It’s not enough to decide you want to accomplish something. You need to have a plan in place for how you’re going to do that, because the part of a goal most people don’t pay attention to is whether or not they’re capable of doing it. Imagine if you tried to write a book in a week. That’s not an attainable goal. You’re already set yourself up to fail and you haven’t even started. My advice? Give yourself more time than you think you need. Set goals in multiple layers: an easy goal, a challenging but manageable goal, and a stretch goal. “Today I’m going to write 250 words. If I can do that, I might try for 500. If I do that, let’s shoot for a thousand.” You’ll easily breeze past your first goal, and probably won’t reach your third. But your second, which is the goal you had for yourself all along, is the one to reach for.

But don’t forget to figure out HOW you’re going to do that — the plan, remember? I haven’t watched Netflix for a month. I decided that was what I needed to set aside in order to meet my daily writing goals. It’s part of my plan. I will watch less Netflix and write more. It works. Most of the time.

And if I do want to watch something on Netflix … I need to do whatever it takes to get my writing done first. My backup plan. I don’t like it. But that’s why it’s called a backup.

YOUR GOAL NEEDS TO ALIGN WITH YOUR VISION, ALWAYS. I help writers put their ideas into words, or at least I try to. I wouldn’t be qualified to do that if I didn’t spend significant amounts of time developing and refining my own skills. Therefore, my writing goals hold major significance in my life. I’m not just writing a blog post or working on a book because it sounds cool. These are goals that fall upon the path leading to a bigger vision for my future career. Relevance in goal-setting is essential, because if you don’t care about it, you’re not going to put in the effort to make it happen. So don’t say you want to write a book unless you really, really want to do that. Always have a why. “This matters because ___.” “I want to do this because it will help me ___.”

YOU NEED A DEADLINE FOR EVERY TASK. I was supposed to write this weeks ago and guess what I didn’t do? Give myself a deadline. OOPS. So here we are — well, here I am, wondering why I didn’t follow my own gosh dang advice. I set small writing goals for myself daily. It’s not as overwhelming as it seems. Write a thousand words. Write a blog post. Write a short book review, all by 9 PM so I get adequate puppy snuggle time. These are still deadlines, even if they don’t sound as official as “finish writing a first draft of a book by the end of 2020.” Goals can be big, small, and somewhere in the middle, but they’re never going to transform into achievements if you don’t set deadlines to keep you motivated.

Everyone sets goals — or should I say, makes wishes. But you’re different. Now, you know how to not only set a goal, but how to take the steps required to move toward achieving that goal.

This is all from my experience, of course. I don’t know you, I don’t know what your struggles and roadblocks are. But I do know what’s gotten me pretty far on my writing journey, and I hope some of my suggestions offer positive, manageable solutions for you.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.