The Scariest Question Anyone Has Ever Asked Me About Writing

If you were standing face-to-face with your favorite writer of all time (dead or alive), what is the one question you would ask him or her?


When you’re a writer, people – writers and non-writers alike – ask you a lot of questions.

They ask you where your ideas come from. How you get so much writing done in a day (or why you don’t). If you think you’ll ever be as successful as [insert their favorite author here].

For me, the hardest question to answer – possibly the most terrifying question anyone has ever asked me – has nothing to do with my ideas. I have a few theories about those.

It has nothing to do with whether or not I really want to be a writer when I grow up. I have always known that. I have never minded that my ambition seems childish and impossible to some.

It’s a question I should have seen coming, but didn’t. A question that I should have been able to construct an answer for, but couldn’t.

The question is this: “How do you put your ideas into words?”

A seemingly harmless question, right? How do I take an idea and iron it out and make all these pretty words appear on a page.

I guess I … well, first I …

The first time this question came to me, I realized I did not have an answer.

In a way, breaking down how I write a story would mean paying more attention to every single detail of my own … so much so that the magic, the mystery, might disappear.

But I did try to think about it. Only to come to the conclusion that when I write something, so much of my brain is engaged in the process that I will never fully be able to comprehend it in its entirety.

I realized that I am not, nor have I ever been, nor will I ever be, in control of my words.

That’s a scary thought, for someone like me.

Sometimes I enter a flow state and write a few thousand words without stopping to let my mind take a breath, and when I finally do and skim over a few lines of what I’ve just written, I find myself asking my own question: How did I write that?

There is no answer. Instead I must ask a follow-up question: Can I do it again?

Answering questions is just a part of being a mentor, a literary role model, if you will (I’m not saying I am one; I’m just generalizing here). People become fascinated by the way you express thoughts and they want to believe there is some magical formula for making it happen.

There isn’t. But being asked those kinds of questions makes you think, makes you view the process of writing in a completely different way.

It’s the questions you cannot answer that drive you to seek answers out. Force you to dedicate your life (or at least, a healthy portion of it) to helping others find the answers, too.

I cannot explain it. I cannot tell you my exact process for transforming an idea into a series of words and sentences and stories on a page. I think it is much more complicated than sitting down and writing until something comes to form. At least deeper down where you cannot reach.

What I can do is show you the value of your ideas, and help you form your own processes, and guide you into establishing your own rhythm, so that you can pick out those ideas most meaningful to you, and somehow, put them into your own words.

I don’t have all the answers. But I do know a thing or two about how to ask the right questions.

If you were standing face-to-face with your favorite writer of all time (dead or alive), what is the one question you would ask him or her? Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Loren Kerns/

Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

How to Turn Inspiration into Motivation, and Motivation into Productivity


Last week, I figured out how my trilogy is going to end.

As it often happens these days, I wasn’t writing when the idea emerged from hiding. Actually, I was working, minding my own full-time, focus-requiring business when BOOM—there it was. Right down to the last line of the epilogue. I could almost hear the character speaking the words in my head.

Admit it, it’s happened to you before, too.

You’d think this would prompt a much-overdue happy dance. I FIGURED OUT HOW TO END MY SERIES! There are just a few problems with my new “discovery,” though. The most important being, of course, that at this point I have barely made a dent in Book 1. Even after almost three years of working on the project.

So here I am, with a beginning mostly written and a pretty awesome ending in mind. Now all that’s left is … everything else.

The moment I realized the perfect way to end my trilogy/series/whatever the heck it ends up being, inspiration hit. Really—if you’ve felt it before, you can back me up that it’s an actual physical, yet oddly satisfying slap in the face. Though I had the ending, and not much in the middle, thinking about my book again inspired me to work on the story despite not being anywhere near the end of it.

There is a common misconception, though, that the second a writer feels inspired to work on one of their [often many] projects, they get to writing, well, right away.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Inspiration does not always equal motivation, which does not always lead to productivity. I haven’t made much Elite progress since my “ending revelation,” but that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt inspired, and even motivated, to do so. Here’s how to get yourself from that fresh sensation of inspiration, onto the motivation train, all the way to Productivity Land.

Write Something Down ASAP

It doesn’t matter when, or how, or what. When inspiration hits, especially if you can’t start writing that second, minute, hour, day, week, just jot down something. Find a Post-It and scribble keywords. Write a note in your planner. Set a reminder in your phone.

While you’re not likely to forget an idea—and if you do, if the idea is good enough, it will always come back—making a physical note to yourself gives you something to go back to when the “right time to write” finally comes.

Journal About Your Idea Later 

For those “against” outlining, think of this practice as a way to expand the horizons of your inspiration before shaping it into a scene, theme or piece of dialogue. On that same Post-It note, marginal space in your planner or in your phone, without worrying about spelling, grammar or even full sentences, write about your idea. I have an untitled document on my iPad that consists of several pages of random thoughts associated with my trilogy, and when I am inspired to write but not motivated to sit down at my computer and do it, I open up this document and scroll through it first. This usually does the trick.

Writing your idea down, and then writing more about that idea, can give you a clearer picture of how you want to use it in a current story or even a future project. Additionally, if you’re inspired but still dragging your feet, return to those notes. Often, this will transform inspiration into “I have to write, right now!”

Choose One Piece to Run With

You’ll develop a lot of smaller ideas just from one bout of inspiration, probably without realizing it. One mistake writers frequently make is trying to fit all the pieces together in one sitting, then hopping onto their laptop and trying to crank it out right then and there. Highlight one small element you want to work on, and focus on that first.

Writing about your idea, instead of leaping right into working on the actual project, is not a waste of time. It took almost a quarter of a page of notes before I realized one of my characters has to battle a brain disease (spoilers, sorry, you’ll forget by the time, if, this thing ever gets to print), which eventually turned into a significant plot point throughout the entire series. For awhile, I focused just on this, and it has led to many more (slow) developments since.

When you feel inspired, get your idea on paper. When it’s on paper, motivate yourself by expanding on that Post-It/margin/screen. When you’re motivated, take one small piece from the notes you’ve made and start incorporating that into your project. It’s not complicated, and you might find it works better than another method you’ve tried.

These three steps will take you from the abstract to the concrete; the process is worth holding off on opening your project’s document in MS Word. Especially if you’re like me, who gets ideas in the middle of the work day and can’t stop menu editing to work on them. (If only.)

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.

How to Keep Your Idea Bulb Turned On

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The age-old literary debate: is Writer’s Block a myth or the real deal? Sorry, I don’t have any peer-reviewed scientific research to back up anything I’m about to write, but I have an English degree, not a Bachelor of Science (yet). I’m in the clear. For now.

Is Writer’s Block a myth? Certainly not. Sometimes our ideas and our motivation to follow through with them don’t correlate when we want them to.When we have an idea and we’re motivated to carry it out (i.e., after we’ve had over half of our venti iced latte while sitting outside Starbucks), we’re good to go. What can you do to keep your ideas and your drive to turn them into tangible products working hand-in-hand? Here are a few – haha – ideas.

Keep an idea book with you. 

Spiral notebook, pack of Sticky Notes, iPad – as long as it fits in your bag and gives you space to scribble down an idea, it’s good enough for your creative brain. It may be creative, but creativity often comes in spontaneous spurts. You might have a day or even a week where ideas flow nonstop, and then a few days or a week where nothing seems to come to you at all. When the ideas keep coming, you can’t just sit at home and type them all out at once. Some get their best ideas while running, showering or maybe even grocery shopping (if you’re a nutrition writer like me). If you’re out and about and you get an idea for a character/story/novel/song/poem/article/memoir, have something you can use to make note of it so you don’t forget. And who knows – that one idea may lead to a dozen others, which you can proceed to write down underneath the first.

Never stop reading.

How often do you spend reading? As often as you spend writing? Even though you can’t plagiarize someone else’s idea in your own writing (even copying an idea is illegal, not just specific words or phrases someone else already wrote), reading can help spark a new idea you might not have thought of if you hadn’t been reading that book or article. I try to read as often as I can – if I don’t have time to read another Jodi Picoult novel, I’ll take a 15-minute study break and read an article or two online just to keep my brain alive. Read what you like and do it as much as you can: you’ll be surprised how much it can help you out when you feel like every idea you’ve ever thought of has already been thought of before.

Learn to be brave.

Whether you’re hesitant about a new idea or you’re not sure you’re ready to go out and do field research for a story, project or school assignment, put that fear of the unknown behind you. This is something I’m trying to work on as well. (I didn’t want to be on my school paper in high school because I hated the idea of interviewing people. Ironic?) Thinking about the probable success of an idea or current project is terrifying, I know. As successful as we strive to be, the idea of actually getting there can actually hold us back from following through with what our minds don’t want us to let go of. Stifle that voice that keeps telling you it’s not good enough, it won’t ever make it in the industry, no one will like it. Do YOU like it? Then stick with it. Even if it never “makes it” anywhere, it’s still something you created. Be proud of it.

Be patient. Sometimes you need a long walk, a different project or a good night’s sleep to recharge your creative batteries. It doesn’t do  anyone much good, unless you’re in the middle of a Wrimo (and if you don’t know what that is, try not to tempt yourself to find out) to keep trying when your head literally isn’t in it. Walk away; come back later. You might walk outside to take the garbage out, see something on your way to the dumpster and BOOM – you’re ready to get going again. You really never know.

It’s what we don’t know that motivates us to do what we can to find out – even if it’s fictional. No one knows what happens when the world ends, so writers like to make it up. If that’s your thing, go for it! It’s certainly better than nothing.

Love&hugs, Meg<3