If You Want to Write: Journals

Doctors will tell you to keep a journal in order to release stress and sort out emotions. Jotting down all your feelings and thoughts can help you resolve conflict, make decisions, and force you to learn about yourself. But why should writers keep a journal?

In this chapter, Ueland explains the benefits of journal writing and how it makes you a better writer. Not better in the sense of correct grammar and what the world expects of you – better in the way of more honest, real, and true to who you are.

But why is it important to be real?

Readers want to devour a good book. A good book deprives you from sleep, takes you away from your family and friends, and sucks you deep into the world it creates. As an author, you can’t do that without being real. Your reader will move onto something better, and frankly, honest is more interesting and fun.

Any writer can fill pages with words. It takes true talent to show a reader what you see rather than telling them. Ueland uses this example:

  • His muscles rippled through his shoulders. (Did they really? No.) So she asks, what do you see it your mind?
  • His muscles looked as if they would burst through the seams of his shirt. (Believable and descriptive)

The novel Gone Girl is a great example of this. And ironically, it’s set in a journal format. That’s no accident. Journals are people being who they are and who they don’t want to be. The best-seller captivated readers worldwide, and it remains one of the most talked about novels in my office. It was the nitty-gritty details of a relationship, and it felt real. You were smack in the middle of the story and couldn’t put it down.

What you can gain from your journal:

  • A greater love for writing – Sometimes it’s hard to write and get into the habit, but once it becomes a routine, you have to do it. It’s like an addiction, and if it’s not done, your day may feel incomplete.
  • It jump starts other projects – We all have a book or story idea that we haven’t made time for. We sit down at the computer and freak out because we don’t know where to begin. After journal writing, you’ll realize that you can just start, and edit and fill in gaps later. You can even trade the time you’d spend on your journal on that new project, or switch back and forth as needed.
  • Immerse yourself in your own life – If you took one hour a day you play on social media or watch TV and wrote in your journal, you’d have insight into your own life, dreams, and self. As scary as it may be, good writers aren’t afraid to explore their most inner thoughts.

She recommends keeping a journal and writing in it every day, but not looking back on it until six months have passed. Doing so, you’ll see honest progression and skill as the journal continues. You learn more about the personality that comes out in your writing because no matter how hard you try, it will come through for the world to see.

Want more tips? Check out our If You Want to Write section!

If You Want to Write: Personality

“But since he has no true feelings about poverty, nothing to offer about it, neither do you, the reader, have any feelings about it. There is no infection.” – Brenda Ueland

Passion and personality: The difference between good writers and great writers. The difference between a good story and a story no one remembers.

In this chapter, Ueland discusses what she calls the “third dimension”. It is the personality behind the words and ideas.

Depending on the reader, seeing a writer’s personality can be the deal breaker. If there is no personality, why should your reader care what you have to say? Ueland also references Chekhov’s idea for fiction, “to pose a question but never answer it.” According to Chekhov, as soon as you answer it, the reader knows you are lying or trying to prove something. That’s the beauty of writing as art; it’s all about interpretation.

What does your writing say about you?

Honest writing exemplifies its author. If you look closely, you can see certain personality traits from the author(s). Here are a few examples from recent posts:

1. I think we CAN all get along. I think various kinds of fans CAN get along, and many kinds of fans can exist within one person – you can be a fan of games, electronic entertainment, sports, literature, history, natural science, etc. I know you can be, because I am a fan of aspects of all those things.

2. No matter the animal, we grow attached to them. Sometimes we talk to them when we can’t talk to anyone else – animals can’t gossip or argue. In fact, they may be the only ones in the world we can completely trust. There’s no judgment or criticism.

3. Despite the accident, I did return the next year; though it was unremarkable for the most part. I did get a ridiculous case of athlete’s foot from the community shower. I also saw a boy cut off most of his thumb with a hatchet. Nothing matched the bus accident though.

What do you notice about the writers?

  • I see writer one is accepting and open-minded, but he wants and possibly expects others to be as accepting and tolerant.
  • Writer two doesn’t trust easily, and she sometimes feels alone and judged – so much so, that animals fill a void people cannot.
  • In the third passage, the author shows fearlessness in a potentially traumatic situation. However, he also uses humor to make light of the situation that may still haunt him.

Fun, right?! This week, pick an article, post, or book, and look beyond the words and images. What do you learn about your author’s personality? Also, think about what your readers will say about you. Feel free to share your thoughts below!

Read more tips on writing and grammar.

If You Want to Write: Writing as Art

When you write, think of painting a picture. It can be any picture you want, but think of the images that must be in the painting. For example, a beach scene.

Virginia Beach, VAIf you wanted to duplicate this picture, you would need to include the sand, ocean, and sky. You wouldn’t add clouds, the sun, an umbrella, etc. If you added those things, you may lose the tranquil setting this picture represents and change the meaning. Adding unnecessary items may distract your audience or lose them entirely.

The same is true in writing.

Adding unnecessary words, phrases, and punctuation can distract your readers or cause them to stop reading. Once that happens, conveying your message is almost impossible. Most studies agree that the average adult attention span is 8 seconds or 140 characters. Not words, characters. If that’s true, you would only read the first two sentences of this post before moving onto something else.

So, what does that mean to writers? It means we need to cut the crap.

In the chapter Art is Inspiration, Ueland discusses writing from our hearts and saying it like it is. She credits Russian writers, like Chekhov, who focus more on the truth rather than how they sound. Personally, I enjoy Russian writers for the same reason and believe that it is more effective to teach readers than sound like you have read the dictionary.

Here are a few tips to help while you write:

1. Don’t use words/phrases no one knows or ever says. Big words do not make you sound smarter or tell your reader anything about you – except maybe you’re over compensating for something. As you write ask yourself, “Would anyone ever actually say that?”

2. Only use adjectives and adverbs when needed and know how to use them. They do not improve your writing or ideas, and sometimes readers will think they are fluff.

3. Show don’t tell. Future post coming, but Ueland says, “… quietly describe what you are feeling. Don’t say your boredom was excruciating or agonizing, unless your own was, which is doubtful.”

4. Focus. Remember to only include what is necessary to convey your message. This tip applies to characters, setting, plot, words, objects, etc. You probably wouldn’t paint a mountain with a fruit bowl, so why would you add unnecessary words, details, or characters to your story? Everything should have a purpose.

Do you have any tips on editing? For more info, check out:

5 Tips on Editing Your Own Writing

Writing Succinctly

If You Want to Write: Be Your Character

I’ve read a lot of fiction – good and bad. One common factor between the two seems to be the hardest part to write. Characters. The bread and butter of any story. Sure, you can have a great premise, plot arch, and writing style, but if the characters suck the piece may suffer a worse fate.

In the chapter Microscopic Truthfulness, Ueland urges us to look for the truth within ourselves. I know, I know, it sounds deep and something that many of us seldom find, but this is a different truth. This is a truth most of us can achieve.

Own How You Feel

Human emotion is raw and pure. We seldom write when we are overflowing with emotion because we are afraid of the outcome. During the day, maybe you’re at work where you must be professional and conduct yourself responsibly. At night, maybe you’re out partying with friends or home with your family. Ueland asks us, “but how to single out your true self , when we are all so many selves?”

The trick is to own it. I find myself stepping away from the computer for a few if I receive an email that fires me up. I also take a deep breath and calm down before I confront someone. And because human emotion is so powerful, I have to do these things. What would happen if I didn’t? The idea has some dangerous potential.

However when you write, that is your time. That is your time to get it all out. Scribble down how angry, happy, turned on, drunk, or whatever you are at the moment. The writing will be messy and disorganized, but it will be believable and real. Ueland says, “Active evil is so much better than passive good, which is docility, feebleness, timidity.”

Find Truth in Your Characters

My favorite quote from this chapter: “If you feel like a murderer for the time being, write like one.” And how true that is. In order to write good characters, you must get inside their head. You must be the character. Why do you think Stephen King uses writers as so many of his main characters? What about the wife who writes about making love or an unhappy marriage? What about the child who writes about the kid with superpowers? They are their character.

Sure, sometimes it takes some research and time, but you need to know your characters. By getting in tune with your own feelings, you can tap into others’, making you more observant. The comment I write to new writers the most is “How does this character feel? Show the emotion.” A plot is easy to outline and change, character development takes serious work.

The Challenge

I challenge all the writers out there to keep a journal for one week, even if it’s a notepad on your desk or in your purse. Take 15 minutes a day and write about your day and how you feel – not how you think you should feel, but the real emotion that lies within. You may find it therapeutic, and you’d be surprised how much you learn about yourself. Happy writing!

If You Want to Write: Childhood Memories

“A child experiences things from his true self (creatively) and not from his theoretical self (dutifully), i.e.: the self he thinks he ought to be.” – Brenda Ueland

A child’s imagination is a powerful thing. It’s raw, undisciplined, and fierce. There’s an innocence within a child’s mind that doesn’t hold back or worry about how they should be thinking. My son, who has created countless video games, board and card games, and short stories all before he was 10 years old, simply amazes me. Now that he’s a teenager, he uses software to bring them to life. And because of his drive and creativity, I believe he will become a great game designer.

In this chapter, Ueland urges us to write like a child. She recommends we write about a childhood memory and remember how it felt to be there. Ueland explains that an older person writes from not only their imagination but from their ego and conscious as well. Adults are afraid to write honest details because we’re afraid someone will judge us, or we don’t want to look bad. The exercise is to write about a childhood memory, and although I don’t have full stories with lots of details, one thing tops the list.

Waffles

When my parents separated, my brother and I spent most weekends at our grandparent’s house. On Saturdays, grandma would clean the house and play or make crafts with us. My grandpa usually remodeled something or worked in the yard.

My grandparents. He passed in 2011, but they are still be most amazing couple ever.
My grandparents. He passed in 2011, but they are still the best couple ever.

As great as Saturdays were, Sundays were the best. They had the same routine, but Sundays started in a very special way. My grandparents let me sleep in, sometimes until 10 o’clock, and when I awoke I knew I had a delicious treat awaiting me.

Almost every Sunday my grandparents would make me a waffle for breakfast. There was nothing special about the smell, but it tasted amazing. They would butter the round waffle, which took up the entire plate, and each little square was filled with syrup. They added a sliced peach for each quarter and sprinkled confectioner’s sugar all over it. It was so sweet and so comforting. And I was so hungry.

I still eat my waffles exactly that way. I have never tried any other fruit and get upset if we’re out of confectioner’s sugar. I will not touch a pancake. I realized this year, I had never made my son pancakes. I found myself almost banning pancakes because of my ties to waffles. Strange as it may be, I’ll probably never eat a pancake, but I do cook them now. Our memories can shape us into someone unexpected and cause us to do crazy things.

Another lesson Ueland addresses is that we shape our children. If you want them to be great, you must be great. If you want them to be a musician, you must practice music. If you want them to believe in themselves, we must believe in ourselves. We set the example.

Now, it’s your turn. Think back and try to write about a childhood memory from a child’s perspective, not an adult’s. Try to remember what you were going through or feeling – it may be therapeutic to your soul.

For fun, here’s a recipe for waffles. Maybe you can add your own fruit or make them special for your family!

If You Want to Write: How to Handle Rejection

Unless you have never left your house, you know what rejection feels like. It’s gut wrenching. Your heart hurts. There’s a lump in your throat. And when you’ve poured yourself into a manuscript, only to receive a rejection letter, how do you pick up the pieces and move on?

In this chapter, Ueland shows the difference between what she considers ‘good’ writing and ‘better’ writing. In her opinion, it’s all about the way in which you tell your story. I learned it’s purely subjective. What one thinks is compelling and well-written another may find boring and mediocre.

That’s the trick to overcoming rejection letters. It’s a matter of opinion. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or that your manuscript sucks; it just means your work is not what that publisher is looking for.

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”

― Barbara Kingsolver

So, what can you do to keep looking? Here are a 10 tips:

  • Never give up. Keep sending, writing, and sending.
  • Remember that a lot of crap and awesome stuff gets published. I bet you’ve come across a book and thought, “I could have done better than this.”
  • Be yourself. Let your natural gifts shine and show passion in what you do. If you’re excited, others will be too.
  • Blog/write about it. Writing about your submission experiences can be therapeutic and help others get through their own obstacles. Be open and honest.
  • Be realistic. Ever heard “Don’t quit your day job”? Follow that advice and don’t expect to become a star overnight.
  • Do your research and get creative. Send it to lesser-known publishers, too. Follow all the rules and guidelines per submission, and have fun. It doesn’t matter who publishes it as long as it’s available.
  • Release it in parts on a blog and build an audience and followers. Readers are loyal, and if they love the story, they’ll stop and read it.
  • Self publish an e-book. Amazon is a well-respected rite. You never know what will happen.
  • Set up a Kickstarter campaign and get the word out. People love contributing to these projects, and I was a small contributor to this one: Apocalypse Now. It was a cool experience and works!
  • If you’re set on going the traditional route, then save some money and contact a publisher. For a fee, they may publish and distribute the book for you.

With these in mind, I’d like to give a shout out to my good pal Kevin who recently published his first novel, Crazy Lucky Dead. It was a great project to work on, and I hope you all will check it out!

Read about how to start your own blog, and share any tips you have below!