One Helpful Trick for Preventing Writer’s Block

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I started this post intending to say that when you write a lot, you start to write better. Words come more easily, you develop a kind of muscle memory that helps keep you going.

And do you know what happened? Writer’s block.

Proving, if nothing else, that the universe has a sense of humor.

Writing can be a tricky business. Sometimes I sit down to write and feel like my fingers just cannot type fast enough to keep up. Other times I’ve made myself dizzy spinning in my office chair, hoping to catch any thread of anything to say something at all interesting or valuable.

Practice does help. As I started building my freelance business, that’s one of the greatest things I noticed: as I transitioned out of a 9-to-5 job that only required me to write in email form—and started writing more long-form content—it became easier to write well. I was more likely to have the speed-typing problem than the chair-spinning problem.

But like so many things in life, a plateau is inevitable. You get into a groove and then it becomes a rut.

One tool I’ve been using to stave off such a rut is the Morning Pages practice from Julia Cameron. I haven’t actually read The Artist’s Way (or at least not past the introduction; curse you, shopping ban) but I’d seen Julia’s name in enough acknowledgements sections to be familiar with the gist of this practice that so many artists swear by: three pages of longhand, stream-of-conscious writing every single morning.

There are no rules to Morning Pages. You just have to keep doing them.

My own Morning Pages practice is still very new. But while there was some horror in showing up on day two and feeling like I’d already run out of things to think (and then write), it’s making a great addition to my day. Usually part brain dump, panic over to-do lists and deadlines, and trying to remember whether or not I’ve already fed the cat, it’s also showing me patterns in my thinking, releasing mental clutter, and giving me the opportunity to play with language that I otherwise might have thought but not written down.

It’s also a chance to engage both my inner critic and my inner mentor, to practice my real-live handwriting, and to reform that callous on my right ring finger that I’ve hated since I was a kid.

If one of the most important ingredients of good writing is just to keep doing it, Morning Pages is creating an invaluable daily space to do just that—writer’s block, be damned.

On Writing Rituals and Routines

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I had a professor in college who said he had a dedicated laptop for writing. It had never been (would never be) connected to the internet. He only wrote on that computer, standing up at a podium.

I often find myself trying to create a specific writing ritual, but I haven’t found anything in particular that’s stuck. Sometimes I write at my desk on a standard desktop PC. Sometimes it’s on my laptop (at my coworking space, at the library, on my couch, in bed) or even on my phone. I write at 8 a.m., at 8 p.m. Occasionally at 2 a.m. I write in silence or with music, with coffee or without.

I’m learning that it really doesn’t matter as long as I keep going. Stephen King wrote in On Writing that “the sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate – four to six hours a day, every day – will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things and have an aptitude for them.”

Even as a bookworm and a professional writer, that can be a tough benchmark to hit consistently.

There’s always extra stuff on the to-do list, things to be tempted by: getting trapped in my inbox, worrying about my personal brand, doing chores around the house, trying to exercise more than once a year, not shopping, binge-watching Game of Thrones with my husband.

But it feels great to make the time.

This morning I spent a couple hours on my bookkeeping and on client work, and then I spent the afternoon reading a novel from cover to cover before sitting down to write. It felt like such a luxury!

And a rejuvenation. It turns out that writing after a few hours of reading a book (especially when you’re reading for recreational purposes and not out of obligation or requirement) feels a little less harried than after a big chunk of time in front of a screen . . . or several.

Maybe one day I will have an eccentric or very specific writing routine. Until then, I’ll just keep plugging away whenever—and however—I can.

What about you? Do you have a setting, time of day, or tools that you always use to write?

Closing Loopholes: Sticking with the Shopping Ban

A QUICK DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY USE AFFILIATE LINKS.

I’ve been requesting books almost compulsively from the library, and they’re coming in faster than I can read them.

I told myself that it wouldn’t be too difficult to give up buying books as part of our 2019 shopping ban because I’ve become such good friends with my local library branch. And that’s mostly been true. Mostly. Because some books are designed to be kept or journaled in or referred to again and again.

I was on the waiting list for Julia Cameron’s seminal The Artist’s Way for weeks before a copy was available. And though I was delighted to get it and start reading, I soon realized that her process is intended to be followed over 12 weeks. I only got to keep the library’s copy for three weeks and—because it’s wonderful and lots of other people are waiting for it—no renewals allowed. Unless I wanted to fork over 30 cents a day for three months (and irk plenty of library employees and patrons in the meantime), I would have to give it up before I finished it.

The search for a loophole began.

This could ostensibly be considered a work-related purchase! Exploring creative processes and improving my writing are essential to my work! I told myself when we started the shopping ban that things needed for the continued operation of my business would be allowed. Plus, it’s just one book. And I think I really do need it!

But I had already convinced myself not to buy new file folders last month just because they were pretty and had stopped myself from buying new wall art just to fill up blank space. I don’t need this book. If we’re being honest, I probably don’t even have time in the next 12 weeks to fully commit to the process. It’s okay to wait.

So with only a little bit of grumpiness I added it to my “for later” book list and moved on. I’ve got plenty to read—including Cameron’s The Right to Write, which is its own delight, and Notes from a Public Typewriter, pictured above and my favorite book of 2019 so far—and more than enough to do until I’m ready to dig into The Artist’s Way with the time it deserves.

Handwritten Notes

Do you write handwritten notes? I’ve always loved to send snail mail, but it can be so easy to settle for a quick text instead or to rely on greeting cards to do the talking for you.

I’ve been reading The Art of the Handwritten Note. I picked it up at a used book store several years ago and had peeked through it occasionally. But I’m only just now reading it cover to cover. It’s reminding me of the joy of finding a handwritten note—slipped into a purse or coat pocket, in a stack of junk ads and bills in the mailbox, or from someone unexpected.

I have some regular pen-pal buddies (Hi, Jessie! Hi, Kaitlin!) but I hope to send more notes in 2019. More notes to say thank you. To say I miss you. To say hello or isn’t this sunshine nice or here’s what I’m reading or I love you.

If writing more notes is something you’re interested in, I recommend Margaret Shepherd’s book. She helps you consider the words, the envelope, the pen, the paper. (“Do not write with a pencil or use blue-lined school paper, especially not notebook paper with holes punched in it. That’s like going out dressed only in your underpants. That is only for rough drafts and for people under the age of ten.”)

She reminds you both of the absolute treasure that a handwritten note can be and that done is better than perfect: you don’t need to be a professional calligrapher writing on parchment with an expensive pen to give someone the joy of receiving a thoughtful note.

4 Sites to Help Diversify the Sources You Rely On

book-books-bookshelf-159621.jpgDo you wish you had more diverse sources to reference in your writing? Sometimes when I’m working on a piece, I realize that I’m using the same types of resources and citations over and over again.

When thinking of promoting diversity, paying attention to whose work you’re referencing and whose voice you’re quoting is an important piece of the puzzle.

That’s why I was so excited to learn the existence of the brilliantly named Women Also Know Stuff page . . . and then shortly thereafter, Women Also Know History, People of Color Also Know Stuff, and Sourcelist.

These sites all provide searchable databases of women, minorities, and other underrepresented populations who are experts in their fields. Need a scholar who studies the American presidency and executive politics? Here are 57 women located in the United States, sorted by state, with links to their own respective websites.

Search by field or location or experience level. See content areas and read short bios and find contact information. Be encouraged by the number and diversity of voices out there who want to talk to you about what they know.

Don’t just quote the most readily available content or the voices you tend to hear the most often.

How to Write a Book: 3 Tricks to Finishing Your Novel

More than clearance Halloween candy, more than the promise of turkey and pumpkin pie, and even more than the joy of sweater weather . . . November is about writing.

Have you thought about writing a book? As far as bucket list goals go, it’s a pretty popular one. But where to find the time or the energy? Or even the pressure of a deadline? NaNoWriMo to the rescue! National Novel Writing Month is a free global community program that encourages you to set a goal and stick to it: write 50,000 words in the 30 days November has to offer.

I’ve attempted it several times but have only “won” once; I have high hopes of doing it again this year! Here are my three favorite tactics for making it across that word-count finish line:

Put it on your calendar

This can seem like both the easiest and the hardest thing to do. Time can feel scarce, but there’s definitely something to be said for making it a priority by including it alongside other must-dos (like work, childcare, or feeding yourself). Whole afternoons can be great when you can find them, but don’t forget to look for those 15-, 30-, or 60-minute chunks too.

Find a buddy

Nothing keeps you accountable like a friend who’s in the same boat. Get a buddy to sign up with you or find fellow writers who are participating (there are tons of great communities, both online and in real life). Check in with each other, meet up for a write-in. And when you find yourself getting stuck, remember that others are out there chugging along on their manuscripts too.

Just keep going

Even if you’re certain that what you’re putting on-screen is garbage, even if you’re sure it’s not propelling your plot, momentum counts for a lot. Whether you take advantage of sprint exercises at a community write-in event or through the @NaNoWordSprints Twitter account—of if you’re just forcing yourself to keep those fingers moving—that energy often allows you to find some clue, angle, or thread that will inspire you sooner or later to really move forward in earnest.

You can always edit later, so keep stringing those words together. Before long, you have a thousand words and then fifty thousand words. Now you’ve got a manuscript!

Signed up? Let me know how you’re doing!

Daily Rituals

One of the best and most immediate perks of giving up my corporate job was that I could stop setting my alarm. I’ve always struggled with getting up in the morning: no matter what time I go to bed or how long (or how well) I sleep, I’m always happy to stay in bed a little longer. The snooze button and I have a close, personal relationship. I really hated having to be somewhere at 7, 8, or 9:00—especially if I was expected to wear business casual clothes and more than a swipe of mascara.

But left to my own devices this summer, the pendulum swung the other way. Having no routine has made me feel anxious about how I’m getting things done and guilty for eschewing all structure in my day. As I started trying to come up with the perfect daily agenda, I found the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work from Mason Currey. He compiled the daily routines of writers, composers, painters, choreographers, philosophers, filmmakers, and scientists—often in their own words. It’s a wonderful and interesting collection of insights.

Some wake at 4:00 in the morning, others at noon. Some follow a minute-by-minute routine and others let their intuition guide them. Charles Dickens went for “a vigorous three-hour walk through the countryside or the streets of London” ever day promptly at 2:00. Truman Capote only wrote while lying down, always with a cup of coffee and a cigarette . . . shifting from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis as the day progressed.

It turns out there’s no one schedule that defines the creation of good and important work. I still haven’t decided on a routine that works for me, but I’m slowly carving one out. So far it includes making the bed as soon as possible, finding a half hour for a walk, leaving my phone in the other room when I’m writing, and still not setting an alarm. I’ve decided I don’t care whether I wake up with the dawn or just in time for lunch.

What about you? Do you have a particular routine or ritual?

Page 2

I’ve had “start a blog” on my to-do list for approximately 11 months. As a person who likes to write, who likes to fancy herself a little bit witty and/or interesting, and who has recently started a freaking writing business . . . it seems like a totally reasonable thing to be doing. But I’m terrified of first pages.

When I start any kind of paper-bound project, and I’ve been doing this for years, I start on page two. Diaries, food trackers, notebooks for classes, bullet journals, blank calendars. I leave that first page blank on all of them and start on the second one. I’m not sure if it’s a fear of imperfection or just of starting, but there’s just a little less pressure after I flip past the first page.

I suppose I’ve avoided a blog because there isn’t a way to avoid that on-screen. I just have to start and hope that I don’t later feel compelled to come back and slide some kind of explanation in front: “What you’re about to read is a bunch of drivel and my apologies in advance.”

But if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that good stuff happens when you commit to taking leaps. I suspect that anyone reading this post is likely to already know a good bit about me—which is probably true of most First Blog Posts—but here’s my quick introduction anyway:

I’m the 30-something owner of Mallory Herrmann Editorial Services LLC. I live in the Kansas City area with my sweet husband of nearly four months and our (mostly sweet) cat Hot Dog. I’m a lifelong reader and writer with a knack for finding subject-verb disagreement and an insistence on using the Oxford comma. I’ve been writing and helping writers for a decade, and I made the leap into full-time self-employment earlier this year. This is my first (and hopefully not last) blog.