It’s time for YOU to write

Do you have a great idea for a book, a screenplay, or some other kind of writing and want to get some help turning that idea into reality? You’ve come to the right place!

The hardest part of the process is getting started. That’s why I’ve written several get started guides for you. You can get them free here:

There are also tips here on how to protect your material, how to write faster and better, how to use your right brain to be more creative, and how to get support for your writing (click on the boxes on the right). My “Creativity Rocket” podcast features great interviews and tips on how to be more productive.

Please make use of all the goodies here, and if you have any questions, email me at . Don’t put off any longer writing what only you can write!

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Ten things you can write in ten minutes or less

January 20, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Alarm clockIf you think you need to set aside big chunks of time to write something creative, you're wrong.

Of course it's great to have a period of two or three or four hours of uninterrupted writing time, but here are ten things you can write when you have only ten minutes or even less:

1: A haiku. In case you've forgotten the details about this Japanese form of poetry, the pattern of haikus in English is three lines, the first with five syllables, the second with seven, the third with five.

Traditionally they are about images or feelings relating to nature, beauty or an important moment but feel free to add your own variations. For instance, if you were to write a haiku about your project, what would it be?

2: A description of a character in a book, script, or story you want to write. You can focus on the physical for one session, the emotional for another, the childhood and family for another, and so on.

3: The kind of glowing review of the project you're working on that you hope to see when it goes out into the world. Be specific–what makes it so wonderful? This can serve as a guideline for you when you create and refine it. 

4: A thank you note or email (a note is better) to someone who has inspired you or who gives you moral support for your creative activities. Is it your spouse or partner, or a parent, a sibling, a friend? Do you think 'oh, they know already that I apprecate them.' Are you sure? 

5: A note to yourself about what you need to do next to help bring your creative idea or project to fruition. If it's a big task, break it down into a list of smaller steps and the order in which it makes most sense to do them.

6: A list of at least ten things you've achieved in the past despite initial doubts. Keep it handy for days when you doubt yourself.

7: A description of one place you were in the past 24 hours that might be a good setting.

8: One memory that makes you smile.

9: One memory that doesn't.

10: One thought about a story you might want to write in the future. If you do this in a notebook you carry or a notes app on your phone, over time you can accumulate lots of ideas. 

Some of these might fit into a particular projects, some won't, but all of them can keep you exercising your creativity and developing your writing skills.

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Want to write a horror story? These real photos will inspire you.

January 17, 2014 at 12:00 pm

If you're interested in writing a horror story or a thriller or maybe sci-fi story, recently featured 38 photos of "the most spectacular abandoned places in the world." They range from the "Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane," to "Six Flags Jazzland" in New Orleans, to a hotel built in Colombia in 1928. Looking at some of these is like reading a Stephen King novel in sixty seconds.

Pripyat ukraine, photo credit Barry Mangham:pixog

photo credit: Barry Mangham/pixog

See the rest here:

Worth a look even if you don't want to write a horror story! 

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Hemingway on how to practice to be a good writer

January 16, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Ernest Hemingway had this advice on how to practice to be a good writer when you're not actually at your desk writing:

"When people talk listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. Hemingway-w200-h200Most people never listen. Nor do they observe.

You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling. Try that for practice.

When you’re in town, stand outside the theater and see how the people differ in the way they get out of taxis or motor cars. There are a thousand ways to practice.

And always think of other people."

I like to do something similar, using glimpses. Apart from the people we work with or live with, we catch only glimpses of the lives others. Use that glimpse to imagine what is going on in their lives at the moment–and figure out what was about them that led you in that direction.

Was it what they wore?

The expression on their face?

Their body language?

The way they moved? 

These also are the kinds of clues you can give your readers about what your characters are like, without spelling it out. 

(You can get writing advice from the best writers of all time in the book, Your Creative Writing Masterclass, published by Pearson and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)

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Fixing weak character voice

January 15, 2014 at 11:48 am

A reader emailed me to say that her novel had been rejected and the editor in question had scribbled on the cover sheet that the problem is "weak character voice." She asked me what that is and how to fix it.

Weak character voice means that your character, usually your protagonist, doesn't stand out enough to capture the interest of the reader. It can apply to stories written in the first person or the third person. Your character doesn't have to be grotesque or overly quirky but there has to be something about them that makes us want to keep reading.

It may be that your concept of the character is strong but that doesn't translate to the page. When I was reading screenplays for a production company sometimes the authors would send along a page of character descriptions (which is not necessary or even recommended). Often the description would say something like "Ramona is a feisty, independent woman who will go to extremes to have her way"…but in the actual screenplay there would be little evidence of those traits.

What makes a character reveal what he or she reallhy is about? A challenge. The need to cope with circumstances that are new and/or stressful. A situation that calls for her to make a decision–not always between good and bad, but between good and good (or bad and bad). 

It doesn't mean that the character has to express himself strongly via dialogue. It's much more effective to let us learn about the character by what he does, not just what he says or what others say about him.

How to fix it? A good place to start is to ask these questions:

* What does this person care about the most? Does your story force him to defend it?

* What is your character most afraid of? Does your story force her to confront it?

* What does your character not want to reveal? Does your story put him in danger of having to reveal it?

In rewriting, sometimes this means you have to tell a different story or a different aspect of the same story, but you'll end up with a character interesting enough for readers to care about.

(There are loads of useful, practical tips in my book, Your Writing Coach, and you can get it from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)

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PS: Is broadcast TV violence a race to the bottom?

January 15, 2014 at 1:31 am

A few days ago I started to watch The Blacklist, one of the more intriguing new dramatic series on broadcast TV, but it turned out to be the straw that broke the camel's back. I turned it off and I doubt that I'll be watching it or shows like it again.

The reason: the first few minutes were dedicated to showing a man drugging a woman, kidnapping her, and, when she wakes up tied to a make-shift operating table in his home, telling her in detail how he was going to torture her. As he started to do it, I switched off. She was in mid-scream.

I've written thriller scripts in which people get killed. I know that violence and death are staples of drama going back to the Greeks (and there's plenty of both in the Bible, for that matter). What bothers me is that broadcast television series are getting more and more graphic. So many plots are driven by the hunt for a serial killer that the writers try to figure out ever more grotesque ways for the killers to torture and murder their victims. The producers and the networks are fine with showing these acts in lurid detail. 

Does seeing this stuff several times a week (and for heavy viewers, several times a night) have no effect? I'm not suggesting that a well-adjusted person suddenly is going to turn into a sadistic murderer but I have a hard time believing it doesn't affect us at all. There are plenty of kids absorbing this every night. I wonder what it's doing to their brains. 

Of course there are plenty of alternatives, including the "off" switch. That's the one I turned the other night and I have a feeling my life is going to be richer for it.

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Some tips from 100-year-olds

January 10, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Old man with applesMental Floss magazine rounded up 100 bits of advice from people who have lived 100 years or more. I don't think getting old necessarily makes one wise but they did have some great tips. Here are my favorite ten:

 “I don’t care what you’re passionate about: maybe saving Dixie cup covers. But if you do it passionately, you’re alive.”

"Nobody else controls you."

“[Humor is] a life force, a way of surviving the difficulties of living.”

“We all remember how as children, when we were having fun, we often forgot to eat or sleep. I believe that we can keep that attitude as adults, too. It’s best not to tire the body with too many rules such as lunchtime and bedtime.”

"Don't compare. You'll never be happy with your life. The grass is always greener."

 “Have lots of people in the house and lots of different kinds of people—young, old, black, white, people from all over the world. People have always energized me.”

“Do one thing each day that is just for you.”

 "Don't look at the calendar. Just keep celebrating every day."

"I make myself go out every day, even if it's only to walk around the block. The key to staying young is to keep moving."

"Find your passion and live it."

Plus one I doubt is true, but I sure like the sound of it:

"The secret to longevity is ice cream.”

(I offer these mostly for fun and as food for thought, but in terms of writing these also might be useful for creating lively, appealing, energetic characters of any age.)

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Three keys to having creative confidence

January 10, 2014 at 5:47 am

What's the secret of having creative confidence? After all, every creative act entails some kind of risk.

Mainly there's the risk of failure–whatever we create may not work or be appreciated.

There's also the risk of success. This may not be as overt but lots of people worry that if they are successful there could be negative effects: prompting jealousy from one's current friends, not being able to handle success, and even the fear that we wouldn't be able to sustain the success we've achieved.

I'm reading a book on this topic, Creative Confidence, written by brothers Tom and David Kelley. They have the necessary credentials: Tom Kelley wrote the best-selling book, The Art of Innovation; David Kelley is the founder of Ideo and the Stanford Design School. 

The first step is to accept that creativity is not restricted to artists and writers and eccentrics. I suspect most people reading this are past this step and agree that anybody can be creative. 

Another is to get into the habit of experiencing things that will spark creative thought. You can't force creativity, but you can invite it. Realizing that we do have an element of control helps us to feel more confident. Generally the wider the variety of things you experience, the more raw material you have from which to generate new connections. 

A third is to cultivate a growth mindset. Rather than thinking "I'm good at this, I'm not good at that," we need to be open and willing to learn new things. As we've seen in just the last few years, the tools of creativity keep developing and changing and the people who can learn them have more opportunities for exposure. 

If you want to check whether these ideas could help increase your creative confidence, here are a few quesitons to think about:

1: Do you believe that everybody can be creative? If so, have you tapped the creativity of your spouse or partner, your kids, your friends? Can you think of some fun ways to do so?

2: What are three things you can do in the next week or two that you've never done before? This doesn't have to be skydiving or anything big, it can be going to a restaurant and eating a dish you've never tried (or cooking one), or reading a magazine you've never looked at before.

3: Is there a skill that would help you to progress with your creative projects? Where and how could you learn it? Sometimes you don't even have to do it yourself but you have to know enough about it to outsource it to somebody else.

There's lots more in the book and I'll share more information from it in future posts. 

(You can also get lots of great ideas from my book, Creativity Now, published by Pearson and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)

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Do you have a creative name? Should you?

January 7, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Name tagPeople judge how creative your work is partly by how unusual your name is. That's the result of a study done by researchers Izabela Lebuda and Maciej Karwowski. They had five groups of people judge four different types of creative projects: art, science, poetry, music. In each case the projects were the same but the names of their supposed creators were different. They were one unusual male name, one unusual female name, one common male name, and one unusual male name. A fifth group judged the projects without seeing any name attached. 

Here are the results, as reported in Psychology Today

"The highest creativity score was earned by a painting signed with a unique female name, while the lowest went to that same painting with a common female name. For the science-related products, works signed by any male name scored much higher than the same products signed by women. In fact, the science product signed by a common female name scored even lower than the anonymous control group. In the area of music, any piece signed by a unique male name was rated highest. Poems, on the other hand, got the best scores when signed by a unique female name and the lowest from a common male name."

It would be interesting to know how that would work with novels; my guess is that it would depend on the genre. I'm sure a thriller written by Blake Carson would rank higher than the same one written by Petunia Abercrombie; but for romantic fiction the reverse might be true.

Does that mean we should use pen names that fit the public perception? Or should we follow in the footsteps of authors whose sheer talent overcame any bias against their names?


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Living with the shadow

January 6, 2014 at 11:46 am

Want to get a better grasp of your protagonist or other character–or yourself? Consider this quote from Carl Jung:

 "The shadow is the negative side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide. … There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection."

ShadowOne of the most revealing questions you can answer about a character is what darkness he or she is trying to hide. It's not necessarily anything they have done, it could be something they are afraid they might do. Of course it's your duty as a writer to throw temptation in their path.

If you are trying to figure out the character arc for your protagonist (the kind of transformation he or she will undergo) a story in which they learn to accept their shadow side usually is worth telling.


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Are you making these mistakes?

January 6, 2014 at 8:46 am

Question markHere's another roundup of common mistakes in word choice or grammar. These are all examples I've read recently:

"Quick to setup." That should be "Quick to set up". Setup is a noun referring to the process, so you might say "The setup is quick." 

"Five things you should do everyday." That should be, "Five things you should do every day." Everyday means common or ordinary.

"Back in its hay days…" That should be its heyday (singular). 

"Unless you want to give your boss free reign on your Facebook account…" I can see why this one is confusing. Giving somebody the power to reign over you like a king makes sense; actually, the term comes from riding, in which free rein is a rein held loosely to give the horse free motion. However, the use of "free reign" is so widespread that many experts consider this a lost battle.

".. people would just as sooner use…" This is a combination of two terms, just as soon and sooner. For instance, "People would just as soon throw something away as have it repaired," meaning there's no difference in which option is preferred, and "People would sooner throw something away than have it repaired," in which case the option of throwing the thing away is preferred.

"to raise moral…" This could just have been a typo for morale. I'm very sympathetic toward people who have typos in their articles mainly because I know I have quite a few in mine. On the other hand it might have been someone who hadn't seen the word in print and sounded it out, like the person who wrote the word "Wallah!" for voilà, which is also easy to mix up with viola, the musical instrument (I've been guilty of that one).

And last but not least, a sentence in Dan Brown's novel, Inferno, reads, "Apparently having received all the information the man intended to share, Sienna changed tacks." Unless she was using one set of small nails and switched to using a different set, she should have changed tack (from a sailing term). The other mix-up with this one is confusing it with tact, which is a form of politeness.

All mistakes to avoid this year! 

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