One of the most rewarding projects a person can take on is collecting their personal stories. The process of writing one’s memoir can bring about personal healing, can draw people together, and can preserve the past. Though the process seems straightforward enough, many writers face challenges, some of which can derail their plans to write a memoir. A little memoir writing advice can help put writers back on track.
To help you make progress in writing your memoir, follow these simple do's and don'ts:
Do Set a Schedule and Stick to It
When it is time to do something that will benefit us personally, many of us tend to put it off. We eat pizza instead of a salad, we wait until tomorrow to exercise, and we take care of everyone before ourselves. When it comes to our writing, we put that off too. To be successful, writers have to honor their writing time. It is so easy to push off writing until later or to assume that one must be inspired to be able to write.
Instead of falling into the trap of postponing your writing, plan for it. Set aside time that will work consistently with your schedule. Once a week for an hour is the minimum I would recommend. More than that is better if your schedule will allow for it. Of course, some professional writers recommend writing every day, seven days a week, but most of us lack that kind of time, so set aside time every week to write and stick to it. Honor your writing time just as you would a meeting with your boss or a doctor’s appointment, and watch your stories come together.
Do Write All Your Stories
When writers plan a writing project, they oftentimes specify what they intend to cover before putting pen to paper. Many memoir writers plan to tell the stories of a brief time in their lives: the year of the divorce, their college days, growing up with alcoholic parents, or the around-the-world trip. But, when we begin writing, other stories can emerge. Take the time to jot down those stories when they appear; they could present opportunities to offer backstory, flashback, or context, even if they are outside the intended scope of your memoir.
Do Give Your Stories a Chance
Sometimes we have a hard time recognizing that our own stories are important and we gloss over them to write stories of our parents or grandparents. Memoirs are interconnected across many people. They transcend time and space, because people grow and change. Try to give your own stories a chance by collecting them, even if your personal stories become the anecdotal tales that accompany the work you are doing to write stories of your extended family.
Don’t Avoid Difficult Events
Writers may get the idea that they should hide the family secrets, dark memories, and embarrassing moments, but including difficult events can open up opportunities to connect with your readers. One of the reasons readers are attracted to memoirs is the desire to connect with the writer’s life events and learn how they managed challenges.
Rather than hiding the dark events of your past, write them. All of them won’t end up in the final draft of the memoir, but the act of collecting them can reveal connections to other stories and themes that could be explored. As well, writing difficult stories can open up writers to different ways of presenting those events. Some writers find ways to present difficult events by using humor or analysis, and this can add another layer of interest to a memoir.
Don’t Self-Edit While Writing
Writers who struggle to write their stories try to write and edit at the same time, and this method can backfire. Writing and editing use different parts of the brain, as writing is creative and editing is analytical. Switching back and forth slows the writing process dramatically and can cause writers to feel self-critical and insecure about their writing.
Instead, write the rough draft of all the stories first. Once you hit the point where there are no more stories to tell, start the editing and revising process. Editing can take significantly longer than the initial writing for some writers, but the more words you have on the page in the rough draft, then the more you have to work with while editing. That can allow more options when deciding which stories to keep, which scenes to drop, and which ones to enhance for the final piece.
Memoir writers can find a way to worry about anything. Will anyone think my stories are interesting? Is my life worth sharing? What if my family doesn’t care? What if my siblings disagree with my recollection of events? What if my writing isn’t good enough? What if I can’t find a publisher?
Writing a memoir is a journey of discovery. Even though we lived through our personal experiences, we learn about them, uncover different thoughts and reflections, and come to an understanding of who we are by writing our personal stories. Don't get caught up in what the outcomes may or may not be. Instead, embrace the process.
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During 2020, you likely went through some kind of hardship. Maybe you lost a loved one, a home, or a job. Maybe you had to transition to interacting with people virtually or to working from home. Maybe you were OK but had to support someone who was struggling. Between the pandemic, protests, political upheaval, and economic uncertainty, 2020 turned out to be a disappointment even to the least affected.
So, what did you learn from that experience? I bet that you learned what is important in your life. I bet you learned what you truly value. And I bet you learned to pivot on a pin to be able to persevere through difficulty. After experiencing challenging events, writing about them can help initiate the healing process.
Here are five reasons why you should write your memoir in 2021.
Writing Helps Organize Thoughts
Writing helps us make sense of our thoughts and feelings and can be a conduit for better understanding your experiences. Reflective writing helps the writer first and foremost by allowing a pathway to organize our thoughts.
Writing Improves Memory
Did you know that writing down your memories improves your memory? I have experienced this myself. When you take the time to write about your experiences, not only can you support yourself by making sense of them but the process can improve your memory and allow you to recall more depth and detail of your memories.
Make Your Writing a Gift
In most cases, we write for ourselves and for those in our immediate circles. Your writing, especially your memoir writing, is more likely to end up in the hands of friends and family than anywhere else, so make it into a gift of love for them. Write down your life stories with the intention of sharing yourself with those you care for most.
Writing is an Exploration of the Unknown
The process of writing not only helps the writer make sense of their thoughts but reveals layers of the unknown. We don’t know what stories are waiting to be excavated until we begin digging. As we write, we reveal ideas, stories, information that can be collected and preserved.
Write Your Book
Many people will say they feel like they have a book inside of them, and most are right. Even if that book doesn’t end up being a New York Times bestseller, many people have a book idea sitting in the back of their minds. The only way to access that book is to start writing.
The process of writing is a process of revelation, discovery, and healing. As we engage in reflective, memoir writing, we take part in an opportunity to improve as writers and as people.
Watch the video 5 Reasons to Write Your Memoir in 2021
For help getting started on your memoir, check out our book:
Letters to the Future: The Simple Guide for Writing Your Memoir
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I think everyone would agree that 2020 could have gone better. The list of challenges that popped up during the year strained every aspect of our lives: personal, familial, professional.
Not only that but many creative people found their livelihoods yanked from beneath them as galleries closed, bookstores and libraries postponed events, and theaters went dark. The places we depend upon for creative connection shuttered. As we transitioned to connecting virtually, many people came to terms with the shifting balance that we had to give more and receive less.
So, how can writers move beyond a difficult year? Write about it.
We have known for decades that writing offers therapeutic benefits for people who make time to reflect on their experiences. When we write, all the grief and pain of our lives do not disappear as the ink dries, but the process of collecting our thoughts, feelings, and memories onto paper can lighten the burden.
When we write about our experiences, the process can help us to make sense of them. In a similar way that talking through a situation with a friend can bring us some relief, so it goes with writing. Though writing may not offer the full effects of professional therapy, it can improve our relationships with the past.
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Too, when we write about our experiences, we can improve our understanding of events but we can also improve our memory and ability to remember. As we age, recalling the details of past events can be more challenging than when we were young. When we write about what happened, more details make themselves known. For example, I recently wrote up memories of a friend who passed, and while I was writing I was able to recall not just the details like what we were wearing on eventful days, but I also remembered more events as I wrote. In all, I ended up writing twice as much as I had originally planned.
Writing is good for you. It taps into your creative energy, gives you an outlet for your thoughts and feelings, and provides a process to make sense of the world around you. After surviving 2020, spend some time writing about your experiences. The outcome could be the foundation for a rich section of your memoir.
We all walked away with new lessons learned after 2020.
With the year behind us, now is an excellent opportunity to capture your memories while they are still fresh.
As you write, consider how you can integrate lessons learned, revelation of self, and reflections on the events. These elements make for engaging memoir stories. When you share lessons learned, it allows your reader to understand the series of events in your life and how they unfolded. Revelation of self helps your reader to connect to you as a writer. And reflecting on the events gives you, the writer, opportunity to analyze the events in retrospect which can allow for greater analysis of what happened.
We made it through 2020 in one piece, so now it is time to put those stories together. Start by thinking of one event that happened in 2020 and write about that. Perhaps you will write about when you first realized that Covid was a pandemic. Perhaps you will write about the political division in communities. Or perhaps you will write about the adjustments you made to communicating with people virtually.
Start with one event and write about it. Then move onto another event. The writing can be very short; a page per story is plenty to get things started. Once you've written about the year behind you, keep going. The process of collecting your stories can take some time, but the memories tend to bubble to the surface as you are working. And the result can offer a treasure trove of memoir material.
For memoir writing prompts, check out the book, Letters to the Future:
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Like the rest of the world, I spent the last few months with limited contact with my community. My kids are attending school online, I am working remotely, and our summer travels are limited to trips to the grocery store and bike rides at the park.
During this time, I have not written much. In fact, I found it challenging just to read, and usually I read twice a day, but not for the first two months of my isolation. Reading came back to me in slow steps, but eventually, the newspaper and I got reacquainted and books and I found each other again.
After my anxiety about the new routine passed, the writing started to return. It didn’t arrive as an explosion of creativity, though that would have been wonderful had it gone that way. It came back in trickles. The return of writing reminded me to take it easy when reengaging, and I had to take the advice I had given dozens of writing students in the past: start small to start writing.
Reengaging with writing after time away from the page can bring the dreaded writer’s block: the feeling of not knowing where to start. Every writer has experienced writer’s block at some point, and it’s no fun. But there are simple steps writers can take to overcome writer’s block and start writing again.
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How Can a Writer Start Writing Again?
Six Word Memoir
If you have never heard of the six word memoir, it is just what it sounds like. This is a personal story told with just six words. As the urban legend goes, a journalist challenged Hemingway to tell a poignant story with just six words, and in typical Hemingway style, he accepted and wrote:
Baby shoes for sale. Never worn.
For those six words, you get the sense of the personal story. You get a sense of tone, character, and situation, all of which help to drive the story forward. A whole story can be told with just six words, and many have been; in fact there are now collections of six word memoirs.
If you are ready to start writing, try to six word memoir as a starting place. You can think of the overarching theme of your life and write a six word memoir about that or you can focus on a smaller story and capture a single event in one line.
Here are a few examples:
Things didn’t turn out as expected.
Single girl, ginger cat, vintage guitar.
She said yes then ran away.
I should have taken a left.
When you start writing again, you don’t have to tackle a novel. Starting out small tends to work best to get back into a creative routine. Take time to collect snapshots rather than whole stories. If you can compose a small scene, a conversation or a description of a setting, that can go a long way in reigniting your creative energy. Here are a couple of activities you can use to collect snapshots.
Go to a local park or place where people are outdoors (you may even just sit on your front porch if people walk by your house). Pick one person you see and write five to eight sentences of what may have brought this person out today, what this person might be thinking about, and what this person is planning to do next.
Look for a couple or group of people. They should be far enough away that you cannot hear them but close enough that you can see them. Write up a dialogue of what they might be talking about. Are they talking about the weather? An upcoming event? An alien invasion?
Go out for a walk. Many of the great writers recommend walking to clear your head and brainstorm story ideas, Stephen King and Ray Bradbury included. As you are walking, take a mental picture of three different settings. Perhaps the front of a house is bright and cheery but the side is shadowed and dark where the trash cans have been knocked over. Find a couple of settings that you can write about, and create a description of these places.
50 Word Stories
Limiting the amount of space that a story takes up can be helpful in getting a story down on paper, whereas an open-ended story can sometimes take ages to write. A 50-word story is one that must be exactly 50 words (not 49, not 51) and can be useful in helping writers focus on the value of each word. Being restricted to just 50 words may sound limiting, but it can help a writer get started and allow for a short creative burst, which can help to establish a writing routine.
Here are a couple of prompts to use when writing a 50-word story:
Many great novels, stories, and films began with a writer asking a what-if question. I recently read a vampire trilogy. This writer said that she wondered what types of jobs vampires would need to have considering their long lives (as it turns out vampires become research scientists and medical doctors).
Create a list of five what-if questions that pose questions of interest to you.
Here are some what-if questions to get you started:
You can see how asking a what-if question can spark some interesting ideas. This kind of thinking can open up new avenues for your stories, poetry, or essays. This can give a writer practice by encouraging risk-taking and allow for engaging the creative mind in a different way.
Every writer spends time away from the page. People get sick, work takes too much time, and other priorities creep in and take precedence over our schedules. And writing falls to the wayside. During that downtime, it can feel like a challenge to get back into the swing of things, and many writers will experience writer’s block when they return to the page. Using simple techniques, writers can re-establish their writing practices and get back to writing.
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During the last two months, I haven’t written a word. In my writing life, I have been slowly working on several projects: a novel about a person who receives postcards from the afterlife (it’s not as weird as it sounds), my memoir written for my kids, a how-to-dress book for my daughter, memory books of the toys my kids played with and their funny antics, and a series of short stories that I have been sending out to magazines.
But since the pandemic’s beginning, I haven’t had the right energy to write. I have always been a highly productive person and typically work from the moment I wake up until just before bed. Watching a lot of TV or goofing off has never been part of my routine. I’m the gal who grabs a cup of coffee and goes straight to my computer.
So, why can’t I write? Like most adults, I have been through many emergency situations: illness, loss of income, and heartbreak, but the pandemic has hit me in a different way. After taking time to reflect on this experience, I identified a few adjustments that have helped me get back into the swing of writing.
Adjust the Schedule
During the last couple of months, my mind has been racing, and that distracts me from my work, my writing, and my routine. I didn’t realize this until talking to a friend. When she described her difficulty sleeping, I realized it wasn’t just me. I changed my schedule right away and it made all the difference; by getting up earlier and sticking to a schedule, I was able to focus better.
Switch up the Sense of Control
Admittedly, I can be a bit controlling (my husband would probably say a bit of a control freak). When the pandemic started, I think my initial fear was about my lack of control; everything was out of my hands. But, I have been staying home, wearing a mask, and limiting my trips, and that has added significantly to my confidence and given me a greater sense of control. Now, the limited travel doesn’t bother me at all, and my production has been increasing over time.
Show Some Gratitude
Though I am not the best at showing gratitude, when I have recognized the blessings in my life, I am better able to focus on the tasks at hand. All my of my problems are of the first world, middle-class variety. I am working from home on a new computer with reliable internet. We have enough computers that every person in our home has one of their own to use, so no one is forced to share. We have food, jobs, and our health. Life is pretty good.
I think every person I’ve talked to in the last month is gardening. Even the people who don’t even like gardens are starting a plot of vegetables or a window box of flowers. It seems that as we are all longing for our former normalcy, we are returning to the simple activities in life like gardening. Getting into the garden gives us something to look forward to, something to nurture, and a healthy dose of vitamin D every time we put in the work.
Take In New Information
Like many people, I spent the first two weeks of the pandemic watching Netflix. I think I was binge-watching The West Wing (a well-written political drama if you want to see good-quality character development and a quick-paced plot with never-ending complications). But after a couple of weeks, I just couldn’t sit that long and had to seek out other ways of filling my brain with information.
Thought I couldn’t read for the first few weeks that turned around for me and when it did, reading afforded me a huge relief. I added the paper delivery to my digital newspaper subscription, and thank goodness I did, because I am back to spending Sunday morning reading the paper for two hours, which is a joy in itself.
I came back to reading but only connected with the lighter stuff at first. No research, no economics, no professional journals. I started with a couple of my kids’ middle grade novels and a nonfiction series the kids like. Then I re-read On Writing by Stephen King for probably the fourth or fifth time. It’s one of those books that I come back to because I get a new idea each time I read it. Reading came back slowly, but when it did, it provided the soothing herbal tea remedy that I needed to get myself back on track.
Let Go to Move On
But, the cracks in the system reveal deeper truths. Though the lockdown has been incredibly challenging for millions across the country, its effects reach across every demographic, and even healthy, employed people feel the struggle.
I think that for me, letting go of my desire to live in the pre-pandemic manner helped me reconnect with a new routine, and that helped me get back to writing again. I am not yet writing in the same way that I was before the pandemic started, but I am finally writing. The writing is slow, it lacks style, and it comes out in ribbons rather than whole cloth, but it is coming.
Whether or not we return to our pre-pandemic lives anytime soon, I have no idea. I do know that what is ahead of us will take an incredible amount of bravery, camaraderie, and community. And for writers, if we are able to put words to the page, we are more likely to address what is coming with grace rather than fear.
I am certain that in the coming months, I will continue to grow and learn, but for right now, I am out of the woods. I am reading again and writing a little bit. The biggest takeaway of my experience is that if I can put just a few elements in place: a consistent schedule, gratitude, reading, and so on, then I can reconnect with the writing and get the words on the page.
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For the last 20 years, I have taught writing. During this time, I have talked a lot about the writing process. This is a series of steps writers take to create a piece of writing in a manageable length of time. It generally follows these steps: brainstorm, outline, draft, edit, and publish.
But, the reality is that the writing process is desperately lacking. Though the writing process can help a person get from an idea to a completed essay, it doesn’t take a writer through the day-to-day work of being a writer.
You see, in the reality for writers is that we do a lot more than follow a series of super-organized steps to polish an essay. In reality, what happens is that we live our lives, we go to work, we find love, we appreciate the outdoors, we fall down, and we strive to achieve life goals. And in between all of these life events, we write.
So, what happens when life falls apart? What happens when we don’t feel like writing? How about when we have nothing to say? What about those days when the words aren’t coming to us? What do we do then?
I think there is a writer’s cycle that more closely mimics the reality of life as a writer, and it goes something like this.
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First, you collect information. This includes reading, observing, and engaging with life.
Next, you practice. This includes attending classes, writing in a writer’s notebook, and doing practice prompts.
Finally, you write, edit, rewrite, and revise each piece until it is publishable.
In the years that I have worked with writers, I have heard so many people disappointed at themselves for not writing all the time. I actually think this is OK, and I think this is part of the greater process that writers go through.
We don’t always have something to say. We don’t always have something worthy of a story or an essay. But we do always have a place within the writer’s cycle, and we can engage wholeheartedly with another part of the process.
Reading hones our writing skills, because it puts us in touch with professional writers, it gives us published pieces to evaluate and understand, and it connects us to the literary works. Observing and engaging with life allows us opportunities to see situations from different viewpoints, think about how characters would react in different scenarios, and better connect our writing to how real people interact.
As writers, we grow through practice. Every time that we take a class, we learn something new. Every time we drop an idea in our writers’ notebooks or write a practice prompt, we play with ideas without feeling obligated to complete the story to a publication point.
Then when we have collected and practiced, we write. And in those moments when we have something to say, on those days that the words are flowing and the story is laid out before us, we are able to collect our thoughts on paper. Those are the situations where we can write, edit, and revise until we are able to produce quality writing that connects to other people, which speaks to our readers.
So, if today the words aren’t coming to you, read a book. If you don’t feel inspired to write, then go out and observe the world. If you feel cooped up or bored or lonely, then take a writing class and do some practice prompts. And when the writing is there, when the words have built up in your creative bank, then you will be ready to write.
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Not long ago, I heard someone say that the only people who like to cross country ski are people who love the daily grind. These are people who understand what it takes to get up early, work hard, take on underwhelming projects, and push through when it would be easier to take a break. I loved the idea, partially because I love to cross country ski and partially because it reminded me of why I love to write.
I have run across so many writers, and they’re each such wonderfully unique people. Some write for a short period of time and some stick with it for life. I have met writers who scribbled a handful of letters to pass onto their grandkids and felt totally satisfied, and I have known others who struggled with never-ending novel series that took years to complete.
What I have observed about writers generally is that they like to work hard. They like to dig into a complicated story, a wild poem, or a new idea and wrestle with the words until something new emerges from the page. They like to get their hands dirty and don’t really mind struggling with a character that starts out cardboard flat and ends up walking and talking with as much complexity as the eccentric guy down the street.
Writers love to get out into the world. Yes, ours is a solitary hobby. We sit by ourselves, tapping away at the keys alone, and oftentimes use devices to block out the noise of life happening around us. But writers must delve into the truths of life to be able to write about them. Writers listen to conversations, they watch the way people move, and they taste the subtle differences in dishes. All these observations are deep dives into life, which writers do so that they can capture life’s experiences to put into stories.
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Writers tend to think about writing all the time. They read more books because they are involved in learning on an ongoing basis. They tend to have a high interest level in a variety of topics. Who else would want to know when to plant roses, how long a body takes to decompose in the desert, and the physicality it takes to ride a bicycle from Seattle to Portland? Ask a writer, and these are normal questions that they ponder and research. In fact, sometimes a writer will research a question for hours just to write a single line in a story.
Writers think about writing all the time. Many carry a writer’s notebook to capture ideas that come to mind in the middle of the day. Writers will say things like, “That would make a great story” when they hear a weird statistic or curious scenario. Writers dwell on which comeback they would have used two hours after being shouted at by a rude jerk. And they analyze movies for choices the writers made rather than which explosions were biggest.
The wonderful thing about writers is that they can see the depth of life. They can identify its smells and tastes and textures, because they seek out its stories. To be able to understand life so well that we can write about abandonment, desperation, ecstasy and triumph means that we not only don’t mind getting close to life but we relish it.
The writing process can feel overwhelming to some, but most writers have the keen ability to turn coffee into words which gives us an advantage to take on enormous projects, like 9-volume book series. For gardeners, they can work in the garden once a week for an hour or two and end up with a beautiful garden that the neighbors admire.
Writers have to keep coming back to the page over and over again. An hour here or there will result in a completed story, but it will take ages, and no one will see the positive results until the words are arranged in their polished final version. It’s hard work that makes that happen. It’s having the drive to come back to the desk over and over again. It’s having the courage to open up the story and try again and again to edit the scenes to make them flow better.
What writers do is read, research, write, and revise in an ongoing cycle, because once one story is completed, most writers take up another one. To keep up with that kind of hobby, a person has to love to work and they have to find their flow when they dig into the process.
Writers are like that. Even though we take time away from the writing to handle life’s complications from time to time, overall we are consistent hard workers. Put in the work and the reward will come.
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Regardless if you are writing for yourself, for a small audience, or for the publishing market, you probably appreciate when your writing is supported. When we engage in an activity, it sure feels good to have the people around us offer positive support. Sometimes, that support keeps us going when we feel a little low, but the little things can add up to keep us motivated and creative.
When you spend your time alone, typing away at a keyboard, receiving positive support can be the difference between continuing in the craft or abandoning writing for another hobby. Since no other activity is as fulfilling as writing, few writers leave the craft altogether, though many take short breaks to recharge their batteries when they feel low. Writing can be a lonely hobby, especially when people don’t have the support they need.
If You Want to Have a Friend, Be a Friend
So, how does a writer find support? Drumming up support for one’s hobby can feel like a chore in itself, but the old adage is still true. If you want to have a friend, be a friend. This is certainly true for writers. If you want to be a supported writer, then support writers.
One way to support writers is to spend time with them. I know this might sound a little bit silly, especially considering that writing is a solitary exercise, but finding someone who is willing to listen to story ideas can be a challenge. Be willing to listen to another writer’s ideas about characters, storylines, poems, or research projects. By spending time listening to another writer talk about their ideas, you not only support another writer, but you earn an ear to listen to your story ideas. Many writers process verbally, so being able to talk about your writing can offer a big help in your writing process.
Another way to support writers is to be willing to read their work. The editing and revising steps of writing can be brutal for any writer, and if you have ever taken a story from initial brainstorm to publishable draft, then you know how much work it can be. Unfortunately, most people willing to read a piece of writing come in two types: the “I love everything you write” type and the “Here are the 500 errors I found” type. Neither of these readers is particularly helpful, because they lack the balanced perspective that a competent writer can offer during a revision.
When you read for another writer, start by asking what specifically they want you to look for. Sometimes, I just need to know if my story makes sense, and I really don’t need a reader to tell me if the passive voice is problematic. Needing one piece of advice but getting another can feel defeating for a writer, so offer help where it is needed and in the way that the writer is ready to hear. Some days, we just need to hear that we are doing a good job. Just as being a good listener, when you help another writer read their work, you earn a reader, which is an invaluable resource.
Writers also need help in the market place. If you know a writer who is leading a discussion at the local library, show up. When a local writer has a book signing, buy a book, ask them to sign it, and thank them for their work. Even if the book turns out not to be your favorite piece, you’re supporting your local writing community and in return may earn a fellow writer who will support you.
Leave a Review for Every Book You Read
Find local writers, your writer friends, and members of your writing groups and read their books. After you read their books, ask them where you can leave a review. Amazon, Goodreads, and Kobo all allow readers to leave personalized book reviews. These reviews can make an enormous difference for writers, because the more reviews that writers have, the more likely their books are to be included in the criteria for search engines.
I belong to a writer’s group in my small town. We show up to every author’s event at the library and local bookstore. We have three literary events a month: a critique group, a writer’s workshop, and a public reading night. By doing this, our group has doubled in size and we have created a community of writers who support each other. The effort is worth the pay off.
Finally, if, by chance, you earned a degree in literature or history in college (as I did way back when), you may have an understanding of the classics and may be less aware of contemporary literature. Break out of the canon and spend time reading contemporary writers. Read outside of your comfort zone. Read books by people of color, people from other countries, and people from different socio-economic groups. Read outside of your usual genre. When you read newer writing, you have a better understanding of what is being published now, what is popular, and what topics writers are addressing.
Reading modern literature puts you in touch with contemporary writers. When you find writers you like, reach out to them. Send them letters, write them emails, and follow them on social media. Getting connected to writers can help you build a literary network.
You Get What You Give
Become a supporter of living writers, develop a community of people who support writing, and offer support to other writers. When you do, you create a community of others who will support your writing. Though we write alone, we engage with life to find inspiration to write and we share our writing with others so that our words can comfort, instruct, and entertain. Our strength as writers is in our shared community as lovers of the written word, and it is within that community that we can develop support for our own writing as we support others in their creative pursuits.
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I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I cannot think of a single time that my life changed significantly because of me following through on a resolution, and in fact, it seems that most of my attempts at resolutions have sent me backward on my goals.
What has worked for me is to decide on a small goal, meet it, then take on another small goal and meet that. When I have followed the pathway of tiny goals, I have been much more successful than resolutions.
Now, I understand that setting a small goal might feel like the same thing as setting a resolution, but I would argue otherwise. When I set a resolution, it’s usually because some part of my personality, habits, or behaviors is driving me crazy and I want to overcome that by changing several patterns at once. Overnight, I’m supposed to eat better, exercise more, wake up earlier, and be more productive. But the reality is that I never do that because it’s too much all at once. I can’t focus on battling my middle-aged body and try to figure out how to get to the gym six days a week (in the snow no less) with kids, the house, the job, and so many life complications.
What works for me is to attempt a teeny tiny goal, meet it, and then set another one. One example where this worked well was the Inktober activity. In October of this year, I joined Inktober, where writers and artists create a single piece each day based on a one-word prompt. For the first week, I wrote a haiku poem (a haiku is a poem with three lines with syllables of 5-7-5). This activity only took me three to five minutes a day. The goal was tiny and I felt successful quickly.
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After writing a haiku poem for the first week, my confidence was up. So, I wrote a 50 word short story for the next two week. Each day, I would sit down and write a short story, which was usually closer to 100 words. I’d cut it down to 50 words, post it on Instagram, and move on with my day.
For the last week in October, I created a series story. So, each day, I used the daily prompt and continued the story that I wrote the day before. The process was interesting, because I couldn’t go with a totally new idea since I needed to string along several prompts together.
For me, Inktober forced me to write every day for a month. Although I would love to say that I write every day all the time, I don’t. I write a few times a week and usually set aside one morning to write for a couple of hours straight. The problem isn’t that I lack the discipline to write every day; I lack the opportunity. Between work, kids, family, pets, and taking care of myself, I can’t make daily writing work. Yet incredibly, I wrote every day in October for the Inktober project.
When I set a tiny goal (write a haiku poem, write a 50 word story), I was able to do what usually feels impossible. I was able to write for 31 days in a row. To be honest, the outcome was exhilarating and I kept writing every day through November. In fact, the momentum that was generated in October get me through the rough draft of my next book, which I expected would take another two months to accomplish.
So, if you’re like me, skip the resolutions. If they don’t help you, then don’t bother with them. Instead, consider taking on a small goal, meeting it, and then another small goal. Would you like some help doing this? This January, I plan to write a small piece each day. The prompts I’m following are listed below. If this sounds like fun, you’re certainly welcome to join me.
January Daily Writing Prompts
Each day, write a haiku poem, a free verse poem, a 50 word story, a 100 word story, or one paragraph (description of character, setting, plot, or scene) on the prompt. Feel free to interpret the prompts in any way you choose.
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