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!

An or A? What to Do

GrammarTips

I’m not surprised when people ask me about this rule. Many believe that if a word begins with a vowel, then you use an, and if it begins with a consonant, you use an a. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. It is the English language, after all…

My favorite thing about this rule is that it’s based on sound, not the written letters/word. If you’re confused about this rule, say the phrase aloud and you’ll usually hear which word (article) is correct.

Article: the, a, an – precedes a noun and tells you a noun will follow

Noun: a person, place, thing, or idea

Vowel: In the alphabet, the letters a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y

Consonant: not a vowel (all the other letters)

The Rules

An – Use an if the noun following makes a vowel sound.

An apple, effort, octopus, honor

As you can see with honor, the h is there, but it is silent. If you say honor, you’ll hear the aw sound, which sounds like a vowel.

A – Use a if the noun following makes a consonant sound.

A fish, dog, rope, song

The exception (because there’s always an exception): the long u (pronounced yoo) sound.

A U-turn, unicorn, user

The best test is to think it aloud, so you hear the sound the noun makes. It’s all based on phonetics, and you’ll know whether it sounds and feels right or wrong.

For fun, say the following aloud and you’ll hear how wrong these sound and feel: an phone, an ladder, a ant, a ending.

If you have any tips or questions, feel free to comment below!

Sources: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/591/01/

Grammar Blue Book

Writer Etiquette: Professional vs. Unprofessional

Once in a job interview I was asked, “What do you think is the most important part of customer service?” My answer: Manners. You’d be amazed how far ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ get you.

Often we talk about writing tones, ideas, styles, and rules, but what about etiquette? A dear friend and co-worker asked me if I had ever posted about my code of conduct, which are the rules I follow when writing for someone, and sometimes, myself.

The idea intrigued me, so here’s my breakdown on the differences between professional and unprofessional writers when given an assignment. These are things I keep in mind every time I’m dealing with anyone in a professional client/employee relationship.

Professional writers:

  • Meet the deadline. Ok, things happen, and everyone knows that, so it’s probably ok to be late every now and then – when things actually happen. A good writer will do their best work and meet the deadline, unless there is a real excuse (death, emergency, crashed computer, etc.).
  • Thank the client for the assignment. When you accept the work, you should thank them for hiring you. It shows you care about receiving work and you don’t just expect it.
  • Go above and beyond (not in word count though). Writers who solve their own problems and deliver a good piece are gold. I exhaust every form of research before I ask for help, and I let them know what I’ve tried, so it saves them time, too. This also applies when receiving feedback and edit requests. We all have to tweak things, and these writers do so quickly and change whatever needed to make the assignment better.
  • Do not procrastinate or over commit. Good writers will decline an assignment before they will accept it and turn it in late. Also, if you start early, you can solve problems quickly.
  • Let someone know there’s a problem. Once the calls are made and the research is done, you may have questions or need someone’s help reaching someone. These writers speak up to make sure they turn in the most accurate work.

Unprofessional writers:

  • Cop an attitude. Keep in mind there are millions of writers out there, and the number keeps growing. You can and probably will be replaced if you are rude in emails or on the phone.
  • Lie/make excuses. Some writers lie and make 100 excuses on why they are late. Editors know if you “have something come up” every assignment – you’re either not on your game or don’t care.
  • Back out at the last minute. This is my biggest pet peeve. I could never accept an assignment and just not do it. It’s inconsiderate, rude, and highly unprofessional.
  • Don’t have initiative or problem-solving skills. You should never ask your client a question that can be answered by a quick search. I believe people can ask stupid questions, and they should expect smart ‘a’ answers in return.
  • Think they’re irreplaceable. Writers who think they are “just awesome” and cannot be replaced entertain me. I’m a writer in my free time, and I know we’re a dime a dozen. A little ego can get you a job; anymore than that can keep you from getting one.

It’s in your best interest to behave admirably and make people want to hire you. We’re all trying to get our stuff out there, therefore acting like a professional may set you apart from others when tone and style just aren’t enough.

Feel free to share your tips and thoughts below!

If You Want to Write: People Make a Difference

Happy New Year, everyone! As 2014 kicks off, we’re full of excitement as we set our resolutions or simply hope that things will not suck. In honor of new beginnings and change, let’s talk about something that motivates us: people.

Ueland’s chapter 15 “a fountain of ideas” touches on something much deeper. Yes, we are full of ideas – good and bad – but we need certain things in order for those ideas to blossom. We need courage, faith, rest, and as much as I hate it sometimes, people.

Friends, family, coworkers, strangers. People surround us all the time, and whether we admit it or not, they influence who we are and how we act. They can make or break us. They can build us up or tear us down. In order to be ourselves and write from our true forms, we must decide who is worth our time and energy. We must weed out those who hold us back and doubt our abilities, because with doubt, there are fewer possibilities.

In order to be a fountain of ideas and let our creativity seep out, we must know how to handle people – “to work and shine eternally.” Enjoy these tips!

Avoid negativity: This is my biggest challenge. I feel the need to fix things, but sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you have to stop trying – if only for a few hours – and get away from what brings you down. Negativity can destroy creativity.

Meet new people: I love meeting new cool people. Yes, I hate people as a whole, but every now and then I meet someone who is worth time and attention. My best friends are these people; they are people I have developed long-term relationships with, some for more than a decade.

Pay attention: If you want people to listen to you, listen to them. You can also test your observation skills by really listening and getting to know them. You never know when a small detail will fuel something bigger.

Laugh A LOT: We should laugh as much as possible. It’s a great stress release, and the world is too serious. Find those people who make you laugh until your abs hurt and your eyes tear up. Those people are special.

Take a break: Socializing can be exhausting, and we don’t always feel like chatting. Don’t force it, and take a break when needed. If someone gets upset about it, they’ll live. If they are good for you, they will be there when you’re ready.

Be yourself: Honesty goes a long way, and not everyone appreciates or can handle it. It’s okay. Part of fueling your creativity is to not fear who you are and letting those ideas pour out. Your audience knows when you’re bullstuffing them, so don’t do it. Use the good and bad to write honest pieces.

Feel free to share your tips below, and happy writing!

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.