Tag Archives: craft

Holiday nano-practice for writers

Photo courtesy SXC.

It’s a week before Christmas.  We’re in the middle of Hanukkah. Yule, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve are just around the corner. If you’ve got a writing project (or projects) you’re trying to keep on track, it’s very easy to get distracted by holiday festivities and end up both frustrated at your lack of progress and sad that you couldn’t enjoy your holiday recreation fully because you were fretting about your writing in the back of your mind.

I’m just as guilty of giving into this tension and distraction as everyone else. However, I was lucky to recently come across a series of very helpful blog posts by my cyber-pal Christina Thompson, who is a trombonist, creativity coach, music teacher and author of a new book, Women Embracing Creativity.

Her 2008 “No Time To Practice?” (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4) series has a lot of good tips, broadly applicable to artists of every discipline, for maintaing a connection to our creative work. And it’s inspired me to write this short list of “nano-practice” tips for writers, who actually have more opportunity than most, I believe, to keep their skills sharp during holiday breaks.

So if you’re in the thick of your holiday preparations or celebrations right now, consider channeling your writing mojo into these activities …

1. Take your Twittering and status updates to a new level. I’ve blogged about using Twitter as a writing coach before, and in this age of social media, being able to say something rich and evocative in a few words is an even more valuable skill than ever before. The poetry of some people’s tweets or updates can make connecting with them far more than a perfunctory experience. What can you say in 140 characters or less that might move your personal network and express your feelings and observations succinctly?

2. Revive the art of correspondence. Many of us send paper or electronic greeting cards or annual family letters, but do we think about more than just providing a news report for friends and colleagues? My father used to write a family letter that placed our entire clan in a Renaissance era motif and made its readers howl with laughter. He was following in his mother’s footsteps, who played off her first name to create a yearly missive entitled “The Perils of Jewel and Pauline,” which mimicked the theme of a popular series of films during her youth.

It’s not necessary to summon literary greatness to get your Christmas cards or family letters out, but they are another place where your writing and editing skills can create a story that touches your audience and pleases your “sources,” who are those closest to you!

3. Catch up on your “craft” reading/listening. If you’re flying or riding in a car to your holiday destination, how about absorbing some good books relevant to non-fiction writing? I’m partial to Jack Hart’s A Writer’s Coach and Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools, but reading or listening to a well-written novel is also good for picking up tips on how to handle dialogue, expository passages and other writing challenges. Even if you’re only able to read a few chapters, or a few pages, you may pick up something valuable.

4. Practice one-sentence journaling. The point of journaling isn’t to meet a production quota! It’s to convey meaning in a form that will stick with you later. Early last year, I conducted an interesting interview on my creativity blog, Creative Liberty, with journaling instructor Quinn McDonald on this technique. Much like the more public tweet/status update suggestion, the length limitation on this sort of journaling encourages you to both writing something each day and choose your words very carefully.

5. Engage in intentional conversations. If you’re at a family holiday gathering and are surrounded by people, listen to them! Even if you have precious little common ground with your relatives, practicing the art of conversation sharpens your ear for dialogue and accurate quotations, allows you to understand your “subject” on a deeper level, and may improve your interviewing skills.

If you want to make use of your time with your loved ones to record some conversations for posterity, the StoryCorps program can help you get started. They have excellent interview guides, tips on managing audio recording devices and plenty of audio files on the site to hear other families reminiscing. The goal of this non-profit is to create a “nation of listeners” in 2010, and your little conversation could be a part of it, if you choose to be involved.

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What are your writing goals for 2009?


Illustration courtesy of SXC.

Now that we’re several days into 2009, the unfocused warm glow of New Year’s optimism is giving way to the nagging question that haunts resolutions or goals made at anytime during the year: how am I going to get from where I am now to where I want to go?

For writers and editors, this question can be quite pertinent. It’s quite possible to consider yourself an aspiring writer and carry on your creative work without anyone even knowing you’re doing it. There is a great freedom in pursing an art-form so unfettered by the requirements of specific tools or logistics, but it is also possible to labor for years without significant improvement in one’s writing, simply because of a lack of access to feedback or a lack of investment in one’s art.

Setting writing goals for the year can be tricky. If you’re just starting out, you may have no idea what you’re best at or what topics you want to write about. If you’ve been writing for a while, you may want to take your writing in a new direction, but not be sure how to go about it. And if you are a seasoned professional writer, your goals may be driven by a need to stay relevant and/or avoid burn-out or staleness.

A good place to start with goal-setting is to figure out what results you want to create in three areas in your writing life: publication goals, craft goals and community goals.

Publication goals are pretty straightforward—they include all the possible outlets for your writing, from the church newsletter to national magazines, Technorati Top 100 blogs, commercial outlets, books and more.

My publication goals for this year are to get six or more articles published on topics that I consider my specialties (creativity and workplace learning), to continue to post to Write Livelihood at least once a week, and to guest post at least once a month on other blogs that cover topics allied to my own blogs (this one and Creative Liberty).

You’ll notice my goals have numbers attached to them. Once you’ve moved past a benchmark (getting the first article published in a topic area), it can help motivation as well as week-by-week planning to have a frequency goal to encourage regular query-letter-writing, blog posts, and other publication-generating work.

Craft goals concern the quality of one’s writing. To set a craft goal, one needs some feeling for the requirements of their publication goal(s). If you have said that this year is the year you’re going to write up that nonfiction book idea that’s been floating around in your head for years, consider what you’ll need to know how to do to get started.

Have you ever written an article on the topic?

Have you ever written a series of articles on interrelated topics?

What has been the longest (in terms of word count) that you have sustained a story or stories that have a similar theme?

Have you ever written a book proposal? Do you understand how to compose the component parts?

If you plan to write creative nonfiction, your craft goals may look similar to those of fledgling fiction writers if you haven’t yet mastered dialogue, descriptive writing, dramatic structure, etc.

Picking a particular craft element to focus on each day, week, or month may also provide direction if you’re intending to start a daily writing practice or a writer’s notebook.

My craft goal for the year is to review and practice with two great books on nonfiction writing style that have come out in the past few years: Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark and A Writer’s Coach by Jack Hart. I feel confident in my ability to complete the big-picture tasks of nonfiction writing (formulating an idea, finding an appropriate structure, etc.), but I would like to enhance the line-by-line care I use when building images through words.

Community goals aren’t for everyone, but, as I pointed out earlier, writing can be an intensely private craft and involving others in your writing process can provide perspectives, feedback and camaraderie that can balance and harmonize your individual brilliance.

It’s a good idea to think broadly about building writing community. Perhaps your first goal might be to find a trusted “first reader,” who can give you key feedback on your early drafts. This person doesn’t have to be an editor or a writer—on some levels, it may be better if they are simply a caring, intelligent reader—to give you an honest response to your work. Just having the same person read your early drafts over time can develop a rapport that allows you to be more vulnerable on the page, as you know your first reader will support you in your self-extension, even if he or she has suggestions for improving your expression.

Beyond a first reader, are you hungry for feedback from other writers? An editor’s opinion (or help)? Connection with others who reassure you that your writing is a worthy project ?

My community goals for the year include more commenting and interaction on other writing blogs, inviting readers to join me for off-blog events (live or virtual) and exploring local writing groups or meet-ups.

The question to you…

What are your writing goals for this year?

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