Practice: the Key to Great Writing

Practice: the Key to Great Writing

When I first started writing. I was sure that it would come as naturally to me as speaking or walking. I mean, I was communicating in a language that I'd known and studied since birth; it should be easy-peasy, right? 

Wrong. 

Writing is a skill, not an instinct. It's a unique means of expression that is different from any other means of expression, including speech. And it takes time and practice to develop confidence and facility on the page.

I know how to read music, but that doesn't mean I can play the trombone. I know how to use a hammer and a level, but that doesn't mean I know how to build a house. I can paint a wall, but that doesn't mean I can paint a portrait like Da Vinci. I can stand on my tiptoes, but that doesn't mean I can dance a pas de deux like Misty Copeland. 

If you want to learn an instrument, you need to practice that instrument for hundreds of hours before you become adept at it. You need to practice for thousands of hours on the same instrument in order to truly understand its nuances, and be able to powerfully express emotion through its sound without consciously thinking about it. 

Babies, Books, and Balance: Notes from the Writing Mama

If you haven't heard ... I'm having a baby! 

My second daughter, whom I'm dubbing the "Little Star," is due to join our family in just three short weeks. Matthew and I are incredibly excited. Our family's three sets of loving grandparents are ecstatic. Áine, my two-and-three-quarter-year-old Moonbeam, is ambivalent. 

And, truth be told, I'm a little nervous.

I feel like I still haven't completely learned to balance my creative work with being a mama. I wonder if I will ever completely master this juggling act. And, now that I'm going to have a Moonbeam AND a Little Star, I know that things are only going to get more complicated. 

I find myself asking questions like, 

  • What is going to happen to my creative energy once our daughter comes into the world and our lives shift accordingly? 
  • How will I have the time and stamina to do it all? 
  • Will I be able to create in the same way ever again? Or will everything be different? 

Not only mamas ask these kinds of questions. Many writers struggle with change - whether that change comes in the form of a move, a shift in a relationship, a new job or schedule, or something else.

Right Brain, Left Brain: The Writer's Balance

Right Brain, Left Brain: The Writer's Balance

I have a friend who is brilliant with words. A natural storyteller, he can weave an engaging narrative around just about any subject. He pulls evocative words and images together seemingly out of thin air, off the cuff, without any discernable effort. He can talk circles around anyone, and can drag you around to his way of thinking even if you start off at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.

Of course, this guy is a brilliant writer. (He also went to Harvard Law School for fun, but that's another story.) 

I used to wonder, when we conversed over coffee, how I could possibly consider myself a "writer" when people like my friend existed in the world. I am not a verbal gymnast, nor am I a natural storyteller. Was I condemned to mediocrity on the page because I didn't share his natural talents and innate verbosity? 

How Structure Creates Depth

How Structure Creates Depth

Creative energy is like water. It flows, and it follows a path. Often, that path is the one of least resistance; the one that feels natural and easeful. 

If we let our creativity flow unchecked, it can lead us to some new and unusual places. Sometimes, those places are amazing. Sometimes, they're dead ends. Sometimes, they feel like they're barely in the same universe where we started. 

This creative flow can be incredibly valuable when we are exploring new territory as writers. However, if we don't see it for what it is, it can also create some pretty interesting problems in our writing. 

You see, water, like creativity, will flow until it's contained - but only when it's contained will it begin to gain depth. 

What a First Draft REALLY Looks Like

What a First Draft REALLY Looks Like

New writers seem to be divided into two camps when it comes to their first drafts. 

The first camp is comprised of those who are intent on making their first drafts perfect. They obsess during the initial writing process about the way that their ideas flow. They censor and edit themselves as they write, and often feel stuck when it comes to creating new material. more, they feel defeated when what they've created isn't "perfect," and needs to be revised.

The second camp is made up of those who get attached to their writing. They think that, because they wrote their content a certain way the first time, said content is sacrosanct and shouldn't be changed. This hampers them in their revisions because it prevents objectivity.   

Neither camp is "bad" or even "wrong." Both are full of writers who are doing their best to create their books. But both sides labor under a fundamental and potentially harmful misconception: that a first draft is (or should be) only a quick proofread away from a finished piece of writing. 

How to Write a Killer Outline for Your Book - And Why You Need to Do It

How to Write  a Killer Outline for Your Book - And Why You Need to Do It

I know, I know. Outlining. Ugh. 

I used to feel the same way. But in the decade since I started writing professionally, I've fallen in love with outlines. (It isn't even a passive-aggressive relationship anymore!)

Outlines are the most powerful way to streamline your book's contents in accordance with your overall topic, message, and intended reader outcome. They offer a way to see the forest instead of just the trees, a way to study the landscape before you go exploring. 

I used to think that I could keep everything about a book straight in my head—that I could just sit down, start writing, and create something that would serve my clients and readers. After all, my on-the-fly approach was working just fine for articles and blogs, (except when I started on one topic and ended up writing about something totally different—but hey, ART!), and I was getting great feedback on my shorter pieces.

But, as I soon discovered, books are different.