If You Want to Write: 5 Ways to Clear Your Mind

“Clarity of mind means clarity of passion, too; this is why a great and clear mind loves ardently and sees distinctly what he loves.” – Blaise Pascal

Throughout the book If You Want to Write, Ueland emphasizes the importance of letting your imagination flow freely. However, with work, family, friends, and everyday stress, it’s not always easy to clear your mind to let thoughts run free.

Our minds are restricted by a number of things, like fear and fatigue, so it’s important to find ways to relax and gain clarity in what we do. Once you have clarity, then your mind is free to express your deepest thoughts and produce your best work.

Here are five ways to gain clarity:

1. Meditation. I know, I know. You can’t meditate. You can’t sit still long enough or focus your thoughts. Whatever. My brain runs a million miles a minute all day and night. It runs so fast I trip over my words and say some epically stupid things sometimes. But I can meditate. It may only be for two minutes, but it helps, and the more you practice it, the longer you can focus. You have to train your mind, and I’m living proof it can be done.

2. Avoid procrastination. Many of us love the rush of an impending deadline, but it kills our clarity. We focus on meeting the deadline more than we do the final product. It becomes more about I HAVE to get this done, instead of I’m going to take my time and make this awesome. Starting early gives you more time to think and work, and you’re free to tweak as needed instead of producing something that’s not your best.

3. Break often. If you don’t procrastinate, you can break guilt-free. Take 10 minute breaks and one day off a week. I’ve started taking one night a week when I turn off my phone and do something I want to do. Removing myself from the world (even Facebook) allows me to focus on what I need instead of everyone else. It also helps me deal with stress and emotions that I push down, forcing me to address any concerns or problems.

4. Listen. If you’re lucky, you have a couple of people who give good advice and listen. The advice isn’t always easy to hear, but if it’s honest and pure, you’ll appreciate it. Listen to those who care about you. Oftentimes, they can offer a clearer perspective because they are not so close to the situation. Don’t be dismissive – you know when they’re right and when they’re not. Listen to your gut, heart, and mind, too.

5. Find inspiration. We all get stuck and go through creative ruts. It’s frustrating to want to create something but not “feel” it and risk forcing it. This is where inspiration comes in. If you read or listen to something else, it may distract your thoughts, inspire you, then refocus your attention to your own work. I find inspiration in everyday things such as conversations, movies, music, and people. If you open up, inspiration is all around you.

If you have any tips for clearing your mind, feel free to share them below!

Writing for Web – Chapter 2: Sound Like You, Only Better – Part One

Chapter 2 catered to the grammar geek in me. I sometimes hear people say spelling and good grammar don’t matter anymore. With the world of short handing for texts and readers skimming everything, why do I find spelling and grammar important? For preservation. Imagine a world where we answered by saying l.o.l. instead of laughing, or instead of the special “I love you” you heard I less than three you. It’s just not the same.

Felder states in her Best Practices for Web chapter that you should sound like you, only better. Writers know their voice and tone, and new writers may not have found it yet. Felder helps you observe others and your own style, so you can hear your voice and improve it. See below for an exercise that I urge all writers to do; it only takes a few minutes.

Assignment 2: Get a story or article you wrote, and mark all the ‘to be’ verbs. Get rid of them, and edit the phrases or rewrite the sentences.

Verbs to mark: to be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been, be

Examples from my article about Arts and Entertainment in East Mississippi:

Before

Meridian Little Theater is far from small in the hearts of Mississippians. This theater dates from 1932 and seats 400 attendees. This venue has grown to be the largest community theater in the state. With the help of nearly 1,000 volunteers, MLT is able to produce more than 50 performances a year.

After

The Meridian Little Theatre holds a big place in the hearts of Mississippians. This theater dates from 1932 and seats 400 attendees. As the largest community theater in the state, and with the help of nearly 1,000 volunteers, MLT produces more than 50 performances a year.

Before

The Meridian Museum of Art is located in the city’s only remaining Carnegie Library. Built in 1912-1913, the museum houses all that is art in the area. Along with supporting regional artists with exhibits and groups, the museum offers art education and outreach to the community.

After

The Meridian Museum of Art houses art in the area. Built in 1912-1913, the museum resides in Meridian’s only remaining Carnegie Library. Along with supporting regional artists with exhibits and groups, the museum offers art education and outreach to the community.

As you can see, the assignment truly made a difference. The writing becomes clearer, and overall I managed to cut about 40 words from this article.

Also in chapter 2, Felder gives you various tips on writing about writing succinctly, using conversational tone, and what to avoid such as idioms and trendy phrases. She also reworks the famous, “show, don’t tell” advice by insisting we do both – we show and tell.

I found these tips useful and will implement them immediately. For fun, see if you can find a ‘to be’ verb in my review, and feel free share your editing tips below.

For extra fun: This week my co-author recommended this inspirational video — creative types will enjoy this pick. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Kc3JqVIIJA

Writing for Web – Chapter 1 – Know Yourself and Your Audience

Assignment: Pick three words to describe your generation. Then write two paragraphs on why you chose those words.

My words: tech-savvy, impatient, opinionated

I am in Generation Y, and although I’m not entirely sure what that means, I didn’t hesitate when I scribbled down the three words above. Afterward, I thought of myself and the dozens of people I know around my age, and those three words applied. You may have noticed I cheated by using tech-savvy. I can do this because I used it properly (adjectives describe nouns, even hyphenated ones) and because I like it way more than techie. Generation Y is a group that is not afraid to try new technology. We are fearless when it comes to computers and devices and often view them as toys. We hear of a new iPhone or iPad coming out, and it is a competition about who can get it first. Others channel their excitement into programming; whether it’s building a new site or developing new software. I don’t know much about coding, but I’m happy to take instructions and work my way through it. If you had told me five years I would know how to work a WordPress site or a Central Content System, I would’ve laughed in your face. That is a common trait in my generation; when it comes to computers and mobile devices, bring it on. The more it can do, the more popular it is, and the harder we work to get it.

The last two adjectives tie together well. We are impatient and opinionated because of the technology used above. I used to get so frustrated in traffic and cussed my way through Tool’s Anemia on repeat, until one day I made myself stop. Generation Y hates to wait. It’s that simple. We whine about being in line too long, a drive thru too long, or sitting in traffic or at a light. We fidget, complain, honk, and yell because we have somewhere to be. We need to get over it and learn to breathe. That leads me to my final word: opinionated. Generation Y loves to tell you what it thinks. I’m definitely guilty of it (as you can see from this very site), and I want to be heard. All of us want to be heard and agreed with all the time. Maybe we’re used to controlling the technology, the machines and devices we own, or we are uncomfortable with real confrontation. With pushing a button, the device does exactly what we want. People do not work this way, and we don’t like it. What happens when we disagree with something? Watch out! Thanks to the world of websites and social media platforms, we can tell you how much or little we agree or disagree, and we expect you to care enough to read about it or watch us talk about it. YouTube, comment sections, “like” abilities, and forums make it possible for people to ramble endlessly about what they think. Not only is it possible, it’s encouraged. Generation Y loves to read its own thoughts.

Notes:

I learned some pretty interesting things in this chapter that focused on me, the writer, and you, the audience. I read about clarity, spark, and meaning – all of which are essential to effective Web writing. The assignments, all 10-minute nonstop exercises, included writing a letter to grandma, texting a friend, and the one above, which was my favorite. This assignment was significant because I had to write about a large group of people I hope to reach with our content.

Felder stresses being lively but straightforward, so I’m eager to learn how to be direct and purposeful without being dry. If the writing becomes dry or boring, she recommends stepping back and looking at it from another viewpoint. I struggle with this the most, and I wonder from what angle should I look?

What are your stepping-back strategies? Do you literally walk away for a few hours, or do you take skyline view approach? How do you change your vantage point?