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Self-Writing and Self-Talk – WN 061

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Welcome to episode 061 of the Write Now podcast! Today, we’re talking about how we talk about ourselves. (It’s very meta.) We’re not always aware of it, but the way we think and talk about ourselves can have an incredible impact on our self-esteem, success, and abilities as a writer.

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Today’s episode is brought to you by the Liberty Podcast, which you can listen to on iTunes or via its website.

How Do You Write & Talk About Yourself?

I tend to be self-deprecating at times, often for humor. So if I stumble up the steps and someone sees me, I’ll say, “Yep, that’s me, the klutziest woman on the planet,” and laugh it off. Sometimes being self-deprecating is a good way for us to laugh at our mistakes and take ourselves a little less seriously.

But other times, it’s not good at all.

For example, I started a new project a couple weeks agoan audio drama called Girl In Space. I’ve been writing both professionally and for fun for yearsnonfiction, fiction, poetry, technical writing, ghostwritingand I thought that I could pick up scriptwriting quickly and easily.

Turns out I WAS WRONG. (And those of you who are scriptwriters and screenwriters are probably smiling at my naivete.)

I ended up sitting at my dining room table (where I’ve taken to writing lately), crumpled papers and notecards strewn everywhere, thinking to myself:

Wow, Sarah, you suck at this.

Sarah, you’re such an idiot.

Sarah, you’re a failure.

Sarah, you’ve never even taken a scriptwriting class. Why did you think you could do this?

Sarah, just who do you think you are?

Sarah, you’re worthless.

Maybe you’ve talked about yourself like this before, or maybe your journal is full of this type of self-talk. Maybe you don’t see any harm in it.

But as a lifelong writer, reader, and speaker, I believe that words have immense powereven the words we say to ourselves. Sometimes if we repeat something enough times (e.g., “I am such an idiot,”) we begin to believe it. We begin to expect it. And it begins to come true as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Be Honest. But Be Kind.

What kind of words do you use to talk about yourself? Are they similar to or different from the way that you talk about others?

I use my sister Rebecca as an example in this episode (sorry, Bec)I love her, and I would never say, “Wow, do you suck,” or “You’re so worthless, Rebecca.”

Instead, I say things like, “I really liked that poem, but if you tighten up the second stanza, it would work a lot better,” or “Wow. That novella was amazeballs.” I encourage her and build her up instead of tearing her down.

In the words of Dr. Brene Brown, do you talk to yourself like you would to someone you love?

Because you should, writers. Even when you’re frustrated with yourself. Even when you take up a project that doesn’t go the way you want it to. Even when it’s hard.

Now, I’m not advocating that you lie to yourself. I’ve seen and read about life coaches and career coaches who encourage people to look in the mirror and say affirmations such as, “I am the greatest writer who has ever lived!”

I love you, and I think you’re a great writer, but unless you’re the second coming of Virginia Woolf or James Baldwin, you may not be the greatest writer who has ever lived. (Real talk.)

Instead, there’s a spectrum, and I think it’s a good idea to find a true and healthy place on it. The spectrum goes from:

I AM SLIME <——> I AM THE GREATEST WRITER WHO HAS EVER LIVED

Essentially, it goes from flatworm to writing god. People with low self-esteem tend to think of themselves on the flatworm side of the spectrum, while people who are more confident tend to view themselves with an angelic halo.

But the truth is, we’re all somewhere in the middle. Because we are human. We are not perfect. We make mistakes. We take on too many projects and spell words incorrectly and forget to go to our 1:30 interview and trip up the stairs.

Are you truthful, are you loving, and are you kind? Do you realize you are wonderful and worthwhile despite your mistakes? Do you encourage yourself , and pick yourself back up when you make those mistakes?

The way that you talk to and about yourself could determine whether or not you publish that book of poetry, whether or not you finish your novel, or whether or not your audio drama ever goes live.

Who do you think you are? Well, you’re a writer, darn it. So get back out there and write.

Helpful Links:

How do you talk about yourself? Have you ever created your own self-fulfilling prophecy, for better or for worse? Tell me your thoughts on my contact page! You can also leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. 🙂 As always, I’d love to hear from you.

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Make Them Tell You No – WN 060

Title card image of woman in front of a rainbow wall

You might be thinking, “Sarah, haven’t you already talked about saying no?” Sure, we’ve discussed cutting unnecessary and unwanted obligations out of our lives to make room for what we love.

But the title of this week’s Write Now podcast isn’t a goal, it’s a challenge.

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Saying “yes” to what you love doing is great. But there will come a time when you’ll have to get someone else to say yesto your work, your ideas, even you as a person. But this is where we run into the risk of rejection. And that is what keeps most of us from acting upon our dreams.

Dreaming is Easy

You’ve probably seen Shia LeBeouf’s infamous “Just do it!” video. Some may have chuckled, and some may have found inspiration in his rant. But secretly, we all know it isn’t that easy.

Putting yourself out there is scary. What if people laugh at me? we wonder. What if they tell me I’m awful? What if my name is forever tarnished by failure?

There is risk in actually doing things. Which is why you need to have real bravery to act upon your dreams.

Did you know? You are allowed to want things from your life. But as the saying goes, simply wishing won’t make it so.

When you look at your favorite book sitting on a table, you don’t think of the years of hard work, frustration, and self-doubt that plagued the author on every page. You only see the inspirational work which we dream of living up to.

Books are oddly passive like that—they don’t often portray the bravery it took someone to make it exist.

99 out of 100 roadblocks you will face as a writer will be based upon fear. The hardest part of overcoming a fear may be simply identifying what it is.

So what’s in your way right now? What are you afraid of? Chances are, yelling at you to “just do it” will only add to your anxiety. Lucky for you, there’s a way to move forward without adding undue stress.

What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

This is the question you really need to ask yourself. And, as with most things, this only works if you’re being realistic and honest. What is truly the worst that can happen if you send your manuscript to a publisher? Or ask an employer for a raise? Or pitch an idea to an investor?

They’ll say no.

That’s it.

That is the absolute worst thing that can happen if you go after what you want. Granted, being ignored is tough, too. But at least with outright rejection, you have certified proof of your bravery. You can hold your head high and say, “I went for it! I wasn’t afraid to try!”

No one is going to offer you everything you want on a silver platter. And if they do, watch outthey’ll probably want your credit card information as well.

Dreaming is easy. Acting on that dream is hard. Just keeping reminding yourself that hearing “no” is the worst thing you can expect. And you can live through that.

My Challenge To You: Make Them Say “No”

As I’ve discussed in the past, saying “no” to others is difficult, especially if they’re persistent. But this time, it’s your turn to make it hard for someone to tell you “no”. Put that ball in their court. It’s easy to say “yes” to your own dreams. Doing nothing is the only thing keeping others from agreeing with you.

Keep working hard, my friends. Be brave and keep each rejection letter you receive as a badge of honor. You can do this!

Helpful Links:

This episode was a bit shorter and a bit different from the norm, but I hope you still found it helpful. Tell me your thoughts on my contact page! You can also leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. 🙂 As always, I’d love to hear from you.

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SEO For Writers – WN 059

Hello, friends! This week, I’m discussing a topic that’s a little outside of the Write Now norm. Search engine optimization (or SEO) is a term you may have heard before. To some, it may sound like confounded techno-babble.

But really, SEO is just a bag of tips and tricks that help search engines like Google better understand your website. And best of all, it’s completely free!

If you’re still working on your website, you may want to brush up on episode 033 of the Write Now podcast, Do I Need a Website? first. But if you’re ready to move on, we’ll be exploring a few easy steps that will help search engines bring as many people to your site as possible.

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Index That Content!

Modern search engines have become crazy smart. They use bots (or “spiders”) to index (or “crawl”) your site, making it easier for actual users to find what they’re looking for. But these digital spiders don’t see a website the same way we do. Luckily, a little housekeeping will help search engines better understand your content while simultaneously making your site more accessible to more users.

  1. Include “alt text” for your images. Spiders can’t look at a picture and understand what it is by the file name alone. Be sure to fill out the “alt text” option when placing images on your site. Simply writing short descriptions of your website’s pictures can really help boost its accessibility.
  2. Avoid Flash and Java plugins. You may want your website to look cool or have a lot of interactive features. But plugins don’t work well for mobile users or people who use screen readers. Remember, function always comes before form online.
  3. Offer video and audio transcripts. Did you know? 30% of the people who visit your site will have an accessibility issue. This includes color blindness as well as limited eyesight and hearing. If your website features video or audio, including transcripts increases accessibility, which in turn increases user retention.

Tidy That URL!

Now that we’ve helped the search engine’s bots index and understand our content, it’s time to clean things up on the user side. When it comes to your website’s address (or URL), you need a place for everything. Just remember to keep everything sorted logically. Nothing turns away users like a disorganized website! Here are some ways to keep your users’ needs at the forefront of your site.

  1. Use hyphens to separate URL words. For example, use sarahwerner.com/write-now-podcast, instead of sarahwerner.com/writenowpodcast. It’s a simple step that makes your website easier to traverse for users and bots alike.
  2. Keep URLs short and sweet. You don’t have to string together a parade of hyphens and words to get the point of a page across. Call your contact page “/contact”, not “/contact-me-i-would-love-to-hear-from-you…” You get the idea.
  3. Match URLs to its page. If your URL calls a page “/about-the-author”, it’s not a good idea for the actual title of the page to read “Sarah Werner”. Cutting down on confusion keeps your users browsing happily!
  4. Use real language. Eloquent wordplay has its place — and that place isn’t within the page titles and URLs of your website. When users want to read your blog, they probably aren’t going to click a menu option that reads “Fanciful Musings and Pensive Introspection” because they might not know what it means. It’s a blog. Just call it a blog.
  5. Avoid orphan pages. Every page on your website needs a home. Organize your content into more and more specific categories. For example, my “/forbes” page is accessed through my “/writing” page, which in turn can be reached from the “/home” page. So the entire URL is sarahwerner.com/writing/forbes Think of your website like a nesting doll and keep everything in its proper place.
  6. Limit user choices. When you overwhelm users with a sea of links, they’re more likely to leave than choose one! On any single page of your website, try to limit the user’s choices to six options or fewer. As with the above tip, limiting choice actually helps users find what they’re looking for. Just think of the alternative (an overcrowded mega-menu) as a really frustrating game of “Where’s Waldo?”

Empathize with Users!

Now that we’re nice and organized for both humans and bots, let’s talk about your actual content. Good on-page SEO means you’re writing great content that is easy to understand, stays on-topic, and gives users what they came for. Sounds easy enough. But you may have to set aside your inner wordsmith — and for some of you, this may be easier said than done.

  1. Answer the question. Every page on your website has a purpose. If someone is visiting that page, chances are they have a question that needs answering. A page labeled “Store Hours” should not serve up an exhaustive history of your company. Save that for the “About Us” or “History” page, where it belongs.
  2. Easy to understand. On the internet, clarity always wins out over creativity, which means this is not the time to break out the thesaurus. Your users are busy. They aren’t on your site to expand their vocabulary. Do them a favor: use short sentences and paragraphs with a generous portion of white space. Check the Flesch Reading Ease link to test your site’s readability, or go to File>Options>Proofing in Microsoft Word, select the “Check grammar with spelling” checkbox, and select “Show readability statistics”.
  3. Stay on-topic. Do you really expect users to use a weather widget on your author website over a site dedicated to weather forecasting? Concentrate on giving users what they’re looking for and avoid stuffing your content with needless keywords. Remember, modern search engines reward good content!
  4. Update content often. Relevant and meaningful content keeps people coming back for more. Fresh updates also keep search engine spiders happily crawling your website. A site’s activity and content quality keeps it high in search results, so keep that good content flowing!

Helpful Links:

I hope this episode was helpful in building your website’s SEO. But what do you think? Too much information? Not enough? Tell me all about it on my contact page. You can also leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. 🙂 I’d love to hear from you.

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All Of The Best Writing Excuses – WN 058

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Perhaps pathetically, perhaps hilariously, or perhaps ironically, I almost didn’t create this week’s episode of the Write Now podcast. I kept running into (figurative) barriers, which I soon realized were excuses — often the same excuses I use to avoid writing.

With that revelation, I figured that it was all the more important to talk about, and so here it is — I hope you enjoy it.

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Sound Familiar?

You finally finish up a long day or night at work or in class, eat whatever meal is appropriate for the time of day, spend time with your family, get the kids into or up from bed, and realize that, despite all odds, you just might have some time to write!

You know it’s a rare occasion and that you shouldn’t waste it, but… first, you really should tackle those dishes. And the plants need watering. And, you tell yourself, you’ll feel much better once the living room is picked up or your office is clean.

And now that that’s done, come to think of it, you’re tired. You’ve had a long day, and you’ve just accomplished a lot! There’s always time for writing tomorrow.

But as you drift off to sleep, you feel that feeling — that gnawing, rotten, unfulfilled feeling deep in your heart that always creeps in when you’ve passed up an opportunity to write.

Reasons vs. Excuses

Did you know? There is a difference between a reason and an excuse.

Reason: A cause or explanation that tends to be logical and non-biased or objective. It’s pretty tough to punch holes in a solid reason.

Example: The pilot tells you your 6:00 a.m. flight can’t take off on time because the airplane engine is on fire.

Excuse: An explanation that justifies or defends a bad decision or a fault. They tend to be illogical or irrational, and often point blame. It’s easy to punch holes in a flimsy excuse.

Example: The pilot tells you your 6:00 a.m. flight can’t take off because he shared a hotel room with his co-pilot, and his co-pilot snored all night and he didn’t sleep well. 

One might wonder why the pilot didn’t have a cup of coffee, request a pair of earplugs, change rooms, call in beforehand saying he was unable to fly that morning, etc.

Excuses Are Easy. Writing Is Hard.

The fact is that excuses are easy to make, while life is hard. Responsibilities are hard. Writing is hard — especially after a long day of work. And sometimes the easy route is incredibly, overwhelmingly attractive. We’re only human, after all.

Often, we make excuses to cover up a difficult or painful truth. We lie to others and ourselves, whether consciously or unconsciously. We say we can’t write today because we’re not feeling well, but really, we don’t want to write today because we’re terrified of what happens when we finish the novel and no one likes it.

One of the most valuable writing skills that no one ever talks about is the ability to be truly honest with yourself. The ability to ask yourself, What is true? And the courage to answer yourself honestly.

Let’s Play: Reason Or Excuse?

What do you think?

  1. No one will want to read what I write. (Excuse: You can’t logically guarantee that absolutely no one will want to read your writing, and besides, you don’t need readers to be a writer and write.)
  2. I’m afraid. (Excuse: It may be honest, but it is not logical. It’s up to you to drum up the courage to write in spite of the fear — or to let the fear keep you from writing.)
  3. I don’t have time to write. (Excuse: You have 24 hours in a day, the same as me, the same as your boss, your FedEx deliveryperson, your local short-order cook, and the doctor in the hospital ER. The same as V.E. Schwab, Jon Acuff, Annie Dillard, Stephen King, and every other published writer ever. It’s up to you to manage, arrange, and prioritize your schedule to fit writing in.)
  4. Facebook/Twitter/Instagram needs me! (Excuse: No one is waiting with bated breath for your next post. And the world won’t cease to exist if you’re not there to witness all of the latest goings-on.)
  5. I’m too old to start writing. (Excuse: Unless physical complications or health issues keep you from typing or lifting a pen or pencil, you are never too old to start writing. Just ask Jay Greenfield.)
  6. I’m too young to start writing. (Excuse: Even if you’re 16 years old, or seven, or five. You can tell a story. You have important thoughts to share. Just ask Mark Messick.)
  7. I need to wash the dishes. (Excuse: Those dishes are still going to be there when you stop writing. Unless someone else takes care of them for you, in which case, rejoice!)
  8. I don’t have the right education. (Excuse: You don’t need a fancy degree or a special creative writing course to write. In fact, the best way you can learn more about writing is to read more and write more. So get to it.)
  9. I’m out of coffee. (Excuse: Go make or buy more coffee. Have a friend deliver some to you. Make tea. Or try writing without it.)
  10. I have nothing original to say. (Excuse: This is a popular one! But just because you don’t think you have anything original to say, that doesn’t mean you are incapable of writing. Write anyway.)
  11. My spelling and grammar are really horrible! (Excuse: That’s what editors are for.)
  12. Publishers today are only publishing garbage. My novel is going to be smart and amazing and wonderful. So why should I even bother? (Excuse: Someone else’s opinion or grasp on the market should never be a factor in whether or not you sit down and create what you were meant to create.)
  13. I just got off of a 12-hour shift and I have a newborn baby at home. I am simply too exhausted to write. (Reason: Holy crap, go get some sleep. It sounds like you are stretched too thin right now, and your priorities need to be self-care, work, and caring for your newborn. This might not be a realistic season for writing, and that is okay.)
  14. I’m writing a historical novel, and I need to do a ton of research before I can continue writing. (Excuse: This is where the line gets a little blurry, but I’m going to say this shouldn’t keep you from writing. Plow ahead, get your first draft done, and fill in the historical details later.)
  15. I’m undergoing chemo and I am exhausted and in pain. (Reason: You have other priorities more important than writing this season. Rest and heal — don’t further drive yourself into the ground. However, don’t deny yourself some journal or creative writing if you think it would be a healing experience.)

None of this is meant to be hurtful to you, of course, and it’s not my intention to make light of any of the above excuses. Rather, this episode/post is intended to be your kick in the pants — your reason to kick the excuses to the curb. 🙂

We’re Only Human.

It’s always good (and healthy!) to remember that we are human beings and, as such, we are not perfect. Fear is a very powerful motivator, and it can easily motivate us not to write.

But being human also means that we have free will. Often, it’s up to us (and only us) to smash the excuses and exercise the important writerly skill of being honest with ourselves. We have to make the decision to overcome the fear that threatens to overwhelm with us. We have to decide and want to put the pen to paper, or our fingers to the keyboard.

To do that takes courage. And by reading this post — or listening to this podcast — you’ve just shown me that you have courage. You’ve taken the first step to crushing those excuses that get in the way of you fulfilling your dream of writing.

So take another step and write today.

What About You?

What excuses do you use to avoid writing? Or what reason do you have for not writing right now? I’d love to know. Tell me all about it on my contact page. You can also leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. 🙂

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How To Survive Your Day Job – WN 057

Image of Episode 057 Title Card

Hello, lovelies. There is a lot of sweet stuff in store for you in this week’s episode of the Write Now podcast, which takes a look at day jobs, writing for money, and what happens to a dream deferred.

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“Don’t Quit Your Day Dream.”

On April 14, 2017, I left my job.

I was a senior UX content strategist at a marketing technology agency for over five years. I left by choice, though I enjoyed the work and really loved my coworkers.

So why did I leave?

  1. I was working 80+ hour weeks among my full-time job, podcast work, Forbes writing, personal writing, and church work, and needed to restore balance.
  2. I felt called to move on. I ignored and pushed back against it for the longest time, but we can only deny our calling for so long.
  3. I was using all of my energy (creative and otherwise) at work.

My decision to leave my job was not a rash one. In fact, my husband and I spent the better part of a year weighing pros and cons, building up a “runway” of savings, and carefully planning what our new life would look like. Many people talk about taking the “leap” like it’s a rash, impulsive decision — but for me, it was anything but.

And even several weeks after having made the transition, I’m still discovering new pros and cons. While I do get to work on my own projects, take on opportunities I would have otherwise had to turn down, and work less than 80 hours per week, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

I miss the team I used to work with, not to mention the reliable income and benefits. And I miss being an authoritative expert — in fact, I feel like a surprisingly large chunk of my identity has been torn away. I went from being Senior UX Content Strategist Sarah Rhea Werner to… being Just Sarah. It’s weird.

Expectation vs. reality, dream vs. fantasy.

We’re writers, and many of us are prone to daydreaming. And sometimes our daydreams are fueled by images we see on Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and other forms of social media. Images that set a certain expectation in our minds of what the life of a writer looks like.

Images like this (from my own Pinterest board):

writing images from pinterest

These images often fuel dreams in which we quit our jobs and write for a living. We think going to be all inspiration and coffee and cozy sweaters and thoughts and ink and muffins (and maybe sunshine and rainbows, too, if that’s your thing).

But it’s not. At least, not all the time.

Americans (and maybe other cultures as well — I’m not sure) often suffer from “expectations vs. reality” syndrome. We get an idea of how something “should be”, and are then completely wrecked with disappointment when it turns out that’s not the case.

For example, we watch chick flicks and then expect marriage to match up to the Kate Hudson/Matthew McConaughey romantic ideal. But it doesn’t, and it never will. There is no “happily ever after” — no end to the hard work that we have to put in to enjoy a lifelong, functional relationship.

I’m not trying to be a downer. What I’m saying is that often, there’s a gulf between our expectations and reality:

image of expectation vs. reality

Left: expectation. Right: reality.

Looking to quit your job and live out your dream of writing for a living? Just make sure you are setting your expectations for reality and not fantasy. By quitting your day job, you are not going to escape hard work (because writing is hard work) or frustration (because writing is extremely frustrating).

With all that in mind, leaving my day job to write full time was definitely the right decision for me. But (and this is probably what you’re wondering right now) is it right for you?

Don’t overlook the good.

Sometimes, having a day job is the best possible thing for a writer. Now, this might not be something you want to hear. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

Many, many writers produced their masterpieces whilst employed at their day jobs. Wallace Stevens sold insurance while writing Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry. William Carlos Williams served as chief of pediatrics at Passaic General Hospital, and typed poems on a typewriter between patients. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote award-winning material for years while holding down jobs as a cook, a bartender, a waitress, and a magazine employee.

So maybe you’re in a good place right now. Maybe your day job provides you with fodder and insights for your writing, or maybe it helps keep the financial pressure off of your creativity. Maybe your day job is decent and gives you the space and income you need to create without fear.

But maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you are trapped in a toxic work environment or hemmed in with toxic co-workers (or both), or maybe your job is harmful to your body or spirit. In this case, you need to ask:

  • Is this a job I need to survive?

Or:

  • Is this a job I need to leave?

If you need to leave, then find a replacement job and leave. But if you think you can grin and bear it, here are some tips for surviving your day job.

Sing it with me: I will survive.

Here are some tips to help:

  1. Read and/or write over your lunch break. Take the time to lose yourself in words.
  2. Keep an idea notebook with you at all times. It will keep your brain focused on your story, and it’s a great way to keep your creative self literally present at all times.
  3. Get in early (if you’re a morning person) or stay late (if you’re not). Make your workspace work for you.
  4. Use standing-around time to write, plan, outline, or jot down ideas. Just make sure you get your paid work done first.
  5. Don’t dwell upon how frustrated/angry you are. Trust me. Negativity is a bad spiral that will suck up all of your creative energy.

Also, while you’re surviving, please be ethical and smart. Don’t write on company equipment or on company time. Not only is it ethical, it also ensures that you fully own your work.

Remember, no matter what, you are a writer.

You do not need to quit your job or write full-time to become a writer.

You do not need someone else to validate your writer status for you.

If you write, you can call yourself a writer.

If it helps, get business cards printed. Vistaprint usually has some kind of sale where you can get 500 business cards for like $15. (This is not an endorsement for Vistaprint — they’re just cheap and don’t screw up my stuff.) Here’s a business card design I created in less than two minutes using Canva:

A business card Sarah made in less than 2 minutes

Hand it out to friends, family, and whoever else might take one. Do it. Be it. Live it. You can do this.

Related things you should read:

Here are some links you may find useful:

What are your writing dreams? How do you survive your workday? Tell me all about it on my contact page. You can also leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. 🙂

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Living A Creative Life – WN 056

Title card for living a creative life

Hello friends! So… right out of the gate, let’s address what some of you are probably thinking right now. You’ve read the title of today’s episode, you’ve seen the above picture, and you’re thinking “Yeah, okay, Sarah. I’ll just quit my job and start painting every day.” ::eyeroll::

But this episode is definitely not about supporting yourself financially with your creative work.

I’m not even talking about filling your day-to-day life with arts and crafts (even though those can be a fun way to express yourself). So don’t worry — you don’t have to hang macaroni art on your walls or plant flowers in shoes to live a creative life. I mean, I certainly won’t stop you from doing so, but what I’m addressing today runs much deeper than that.

Today’s episode of the Write Now podcast is about asking yourself some tough questions and, most importantly, answering yourself honestly. But first things first. What does it even mean to live a creative life?

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Dreams and Molds

Today, I mention one of my all-time favorite webcomics, XKCD by Randall Munroe. One of his strips really speaks to me. It talks about trading our dreams and aspirations in for the molds from which society tells us we should emerge. Heady stuff, to be sure:

Image of XKCD Comic 137

(I blurred out the strong language to keep this post family-friendly, but simply click it to read the whole thing!)

I’m also reminded of another work not mentioned in today’s episode that parodies “socially-sanctioned” creativity. The YouTube series Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared (also viewer discretion!) takes a more sinister look at how cultural norms poison and undermine our attempts to be different and creative.

I think these different works share a similar idea: that society has very defined expectations of us all.

We live in a world that encourages us to work hard and do well in school, get a job, get married, and raise a family, all while buying and owning the correct things at each stage of the process. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this plan, and it works well for many people.

The problem emerges when it becomes an expectation of us all, regardless if it’s the life we want for ourselves or not.

Elizabeth Gilbert touches upon this in her book Big Magic. It may be that we were raised by parents who valued rules, or avoided risk, or who just had no creativity to begin with. These are difficult things to rise above, especially if we were raised in and/or work in these environments.

But I think that’s what it really means to live creatively in today’s world. It’s not necessarily about proselytizing a quirky lifestyle, sustaining yourself on creative work alone, or even creating something in your free time every day.

Living creatively is about deciding and shaping for yourself the life in which you want to live.

The Big Questions

Like me, you may not even realize which molds you’ve been stuffed into until you’re an adult. So how can you tell if you’re living creatively or by someone else’s terms?

Here are some big (and sometimes tough) questions you can ask yourself.

  1. Are you living the life you want to live? This simple yes-or-no question may be the hardest one to answer honestly. It’s easy to look at all the advantages you have and say “Yep, I’m good.” But answering “no” to this question brings up a lot of uncertainties and leaves you wondering, “Well, what do I want?” Having the courage to answer honestly will ultimately give you more control over your life.
  2. Are you living out your purpose or calling? Again, this doesn’t necessarily pertain to your career. We all have to eat, after all. But what were you made for? What are you supposed to be doing? What’s the one thing that makes you feel like a million bucks when you do it? You may not know the answer to this question yet. But don’t stop searching.
  3. Are you deciding for yourself what you want? When answering the above two questions, keep this in mind. Is this what I want… or what I was told I want? The same goes for your calling — only you can decide that. It’s important to identify where your self interest intersects with your upbringing, your beliefs, the people who impact you, and what society in general expects of you. You may find the life you truly want lies outside of all of these influences. And you know what? That’s okay!
  4. Are you shaping your own world? Trick question — the answer is always “yes”. Whether you are consciously steering your life or passively letting it happen, what you do shapes how you live. The real question is, are you happy with that? And it’s okay to say “yes” or “no”, as long as you’re being honest. Hopefully, your answer will lead toward taking the steps you need to live the life you want.

So what does this all have to do with living a creative life?

A lot, actually. Creativity is stifled by fear, public opinion, and the limits placed upon us by others and ourselves. By identifying what it is we truly want, we can more easily recognize the obstacles that keep us from living it out. Much like human beings, creativity can only truly thrive in freedom.

Inspiration to click on!

Here are some links you may find useful:

It is my hope that today’s episode helps somebody take a good hard look at their life. Is that person you? Tell me all about it on my contact page. You can also leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. 🙂

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How To Prioritize Your Writing – WN 055

How To Prioritize Your Writing - Title Card

If you’re anything like me, you probably have a life filled with tasks, obligations, and priorities of varying urgency and importance. Sometimes there are so many assignments on my plate that even writing everything down in a list doesn’t alleviate the overwhelming stress of it all. This may be one of the rare times in life where “looking at the big picture” does more harm than good.

Or maybe the handful of tasks you flutter between in any given day just aren’t getting done. You begin to realize that focusing on all the things really translates to focusing on none of the things. Picking and nibbling away at your to-do list only seems to give it chances to regenerate new tasks for you to complete. You work hard but are never able to enjoy the feeling of completing anything.

On today’s Write Now podcast episode, we lay down in plain terms exactly what it takes to tackle your list. You may not like it (you may even hate it), but if you want to actually finish that list and start making time for your writing, we’re going to have to talk about something that absolutely nobody wants to talk about…

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Time Management!

Yes, I know. You’re a free spirit and can’t chain yourself to a schedule! (At least, I am.) But stay with me here. Managing your priorities and dedicating time to actually finishing them will free up more time to write and enjoy life than you may think. That’s why I’ve come up with seven steps to manage your time for people who hate time management.

  1. Make a list. Write down all of your priorities. Full-time work, part-time work, family, writing, reading, etc. Group together small tasks into larger categories to make things more manageable. You may already be familiar with this step. But instead of leaving it here, let’s actually make this list work for us.
  2. Reflect on your list. Think about what’s really important to you (not someone else!). Rank your list of priorities based on how meaningful they are to you. Just don’t mistake “meaningful” for “fun”. The top of my list is always going to be my full-time job, not because it’s what I want to do the most but because it enables me to do everything else on my list. It may sound weird, but it’s okay if spending time with your family or your writing takes a back seat to your job in your calendar. You need to complete one before you can enjoy another!
  3. Be real about time. Start thinking realistically about time spans and how much each of your ranked priorities take up. Your full-time job isn’t just eight hours a day. You still need time in the morning to get ready, commute, break for lunch, and come home. Time is a real and limiting factor here. You have just as many hours in your day as everyone else. But remember you don’t have to do everything now. Focus on the top-ranked priorities in your life before devoting time to others.
  4. Block off the big stuff. It is impossible for human beings to multitask very well. You’ll be working twice as hard for a fraction of the productivity. And the things will never get done! Use a tool like a day planner or Google Calendar to schedule when and where you’ll be focusing on your top priorities. Start by blocking off number one in your calendar and work your way down. Remember: you don’t have to do it all now! If you’re honest with yourself about how much time you have and put first things first, you won’t have to resort to multitasking.
  5. Block off your free time. This is probably the toughest part for me. If I don’t plan what I’ll be doing in the precious little free time I have, I do nothing. Committing to a schedule is especially important for writers. Minimize the amount of marketing and platform building through social media with tools like Hootsuite, Buffer, or paid services like Meet Edgar. Set aside specific times for education and research, around 1-3 hours at a time. Opportunities for education are literally infinite and you can spend way too much time caught up in “learning to do it right”. When that time is up, commit to putting an end to learning and actually start doing it. Schedule the time you need to write every day and then write, darn it!
  6. Hold yourself accountable. Stick to your schedule and consciously focus on that one thing while you’re doing it. No multitasking, no distractions. Not everything on your list can be your number one priority. But at the same time, not all top priorities stay at the top. There will come a time when you can say yes to socializing and “me time”. This list is not set in stone for the rest of your life. Maybe this list is just for one year, one season, or one week. But for now, hold yourself to what is most important to you (not someone else!) and stick to actually doing it.
  7. Cut yourself some slack. Life changes and priorities change – sometimes very quickly. When you’re thrown a curve ball or manage to drop the ball completely (both inevitable, by the way), be patient with yourself. Nobody is perfect, which means no schedule is perfect. Hold yourself accountable, yes. But stay flexible. Give yourself a little grace now and then. Just get back on the horse and focus on one thing at a time!

Comparing Notes

More than anything, I want the Write Now podcast to encourage you to write. Sometimes that means dedicating time to obligations that act as obstacles to our writing. Time is real so we need to be real with ourselves about it. Here are some tools I mentioned in today’s episode that may help you to manage your time:

Also, here’s an image of my own calendar. I don’t share it with many people, but I’m happy to share it with you:

Image of Sarah's calendar.

Finally! Here’s the interview I did with Spreaker, as well as my episode of the Spreaker Live Show with Rob Greenlee (my segment starts at about 40 minutes in).

Was this episode useful to you?

My method of time management isn’t the only right way. How do you make time to write? What works best for you? I’d love to hear your story!

Tell me all about it on my contact page. You can also leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. 🙂

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Introvert & Extrovert Writers – WN 054

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As a writer, you are uniquely gifted with a voice that is capable of understanding and giving language to the human condition. Pretty lofty, huh? Knowing this, it probably behooves us to familiarize ourselves with what it means to be human. And the best place to start is getting to “know thyself”, as the old standby goes.

So let’s start with the basics and ask, “Am I an introvert or an extrovert?”

In today’s episode of the Write Now podcast, we explore the places and social situations in which you as a writer flourish and the source of your creative energy.

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The Armchair Philosophy

Let’s get one thing straight: the classification of introverts and extroverts is not scientific. It’s simply an assessment of your personal reactions to social stimuli and how you prefer to rest. As such, there are many already-debunked myths about each kind of person that continue to pervade what we think when we hear these terms.

Introverts are typically viewed as shy, quiet, overly sensitive anti-social shut-ins with a penchant for collecting felines. On the flip side, extroverts are labeled as loud, self-centered, overly-friendly, people-loving leaders with energy to spare. But we all know these are just stereotypes. No one is truly one or the other. In fact, the term ambivert eludes to a fairly even mixture of intro- and extroversion. But yes, there is a definite spectrum here. And understanding where you thrive on that spectrum can help your writing in a big way.

Most people see writing as a quiet, solitary introvert activity. But some of the greatest authors of all time are extroverts. It all depends on how writing energizes you. Do you prefer exchanging ideas in a group? Do you need a quiet place in which to lose yourself? Or do you like mixing it up with a bit of both? You don’t have to limit yourself to just one method. Just be flexible and be sure to take time and refresh yourself between writing sessions.

Wearing Many Hats

As modern-day writers, we have to fill a plethora of roles that, on their own, make up entire job descriptions. On top of actually writing something, we are expected to:

  1. Read and critique others’ work
  2. Listen to criticism and praise
  3. Observe our surroundings
  4. Strategize, both novel plots and advertising our work
  5. Market ourselves as authors and maintain our platform
  6. Act as Public Relations to our readers and critics
  7. Speak about our processsometimes for crowds
  8. Communicate with editors and publicists
  9. Sell our writing as a product
  10. …and the list goes on…

As you can imagine, no one person is able to flawlessly perform all of these duties. But when we understand how much of an introvert or extrovert we are, we can identify our strengths and weaknesses. This, in turn, helps us discover the types of people we need to surround ourselves with and draw upon to be successful. It also helps us identify how and how often we rest and recharge.

One of the most helpful tools you can draw upon is a personality assessment. Whether it’s an extensive Myers Briggs test or a free evaluation like 16personalities, understanding how you make decisions, what motivates you, and how you interact with people is invaluable to a writer. I encourage you to take one, if you haven’t already. It never hurts to reconnect with yourself from time to time.

Helpful Resources

I hope you found this week’s episode useful! Here are the different personality tests I talked about:

As a writer, where do you get your energy? How does your personality reflect how you write?

Tell me all about it on my contact page. You can also leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. 🙂

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Does Listening To Music Help You Write? – WN 053

Does Listening To Music Help You Write? - Title Card

It’s a question writers have been asking since owning copies of recorded sound was a thing. What’s the best kind of music to write to? Some swear by classical Baroque as a sure-fire muse. Others claim you should avoid listening to music while writing altogether. But how can you tell what’s right for you?

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The Soundtrack of Your Novel

In today’s Write Now podcast, I discuss the idea of curating music, much like a museum or art exhibit is curated. What type of mood are you trying to achieve? What is the desired aesthetic you’re going for? Are you looking to jog yourself out of writer’s block and give your creative juices a jolt? Or are you trying to focus on the task at hand and be as productive as possible?

On the one hand, intelligible chatter (i.e., lyrics) proves to be one of the most distracting elements when it comes to concentrating. But the right inspirational phrase in your favorite song can create the positive emotion and, more importantly, the motivational intensity you may need to try something different. So which is best: a calming, lyric-less ambiance or a high energy, word-filled catalyst?

“Messy Minds”

Studies show no one is really that great at multitasking, at least not as great as focusing on one thing at a time. But neither is the human mind easily placated by just one external stimuli. We need to hunker down and get to work, but we also need some emotional incentive to jog our creativity from time to time. So the answer to the question “What kind of music should I listen to while I write?” may just be both.

Mellow and calming music (or even just good old-fashioned silence) may be best if you’re trying to focus on productivity and getting the words on the page. For those times when you feel burned out or uninspired, your favorite high-energy, passionate pop or metal anthem may help you discover some innovative new approach. You may find movie soundtracks or simple ambient noise sets a mood that coincides with your writing and helps set the mood. If you don’t know where to start, there are tons of curated playlists out there to help inspire the state of mind you need.

Just keep in mind that music can only help facilitate your writing — only habitual reading and writing will help you become a better writer!

Helpful Resources

Here are some of the articles I referenced in today’s episode:

What do you listen to while you write? Tell me all about it on my contact page. You can also leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. 🙂

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Personal Branding For Writers – WN 052


Episode 052 Title Card

You’ve probably never thought of yourself as a brand. But guess what? You already are one! Your name, your reputation, and the writing you’re working on are all part of your personal brand. What you choose to do with it and how far you plan on taking it are up to you.

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Living in a “Cult of Personality”

Whether it’s an author’s name or a corporation’s logo, seeing a name printed on something alters your perception of what’s inside. Oftentimes, our opinion of a book or a product is shaped by the people who create or endorse it.  True, personal brands are technically self-promotion and, therefore, a form of marketing. But marketing is just another tool you as a writer have to help find people who want to read your work.

Established authors often have access to publishers, who usually take care of publicity and marketing. But if you’re just starting out, you’ll have to wear a lot of hats if you want to get your name out there. Today, writers have to be able to play the part of web designer, content manager, and social media contributor on top of finishing their novel. It can seem overwhelming if you haven’t considered it before. But in episode 052 of the Write Now podcast, we’ll discuss several tips that will help establish your personal brand in a way that is not only manageable, but completely FREE.

DIY Marketing

The most common first impression you’re going to have to future readers will be online. If you’re new to the scene or you’re looking to branch out, here are some steps to establish yourself on the web.

  1. Google Yourself. It may sound basic (and maybe a bit weird) but you can bet it’s what your readers are going to be doing. What do you find? Do you like what you see? How are you portraying yourself? Everything (and I mean everything) associated with your name online can either hurt you or help you. The things you share, the comments you leave. These are what people associate with your personal brand. Make sure your name is leaving a trail of kind and useful content for people to find.
  2. Prioritize “Social” over “Media”. You don’t need to be on every social platform in the universe to stay relevant. Pick one or two and make regular, professional posts that cater to the interests of your followers without constantly trying to sell your book. Stick to the 80/20 Rule: post thoughtful, relevant updates 80% of the time and plug your book the other 20%. To help keep your personal brand consistent, refer to a mission statement and keep your profile picture and name the same across all platforms. And always remember to think before you post!
  3. Own Your Space. You may already be established on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But what happens when those sites go down or disappear entirely? They take your entire personal brand down with it. Consider investing in your own website. It shows the internet that you’re legit and skyrockets your SEO (search engine optimization). Keep the URL simple and make sure your email and social media presence stays professional and relevant to who you are.
  4. Keep Your Ear to the Ground. Be sure to check up on who’s saying what about you and your writing. Make use of hashtags in your social media posts to help future readers find you. Use free monitor software like Google Alerts to easily see when your name or book pops up online. Leave only helpful and kind messages in comment sections and when you see incorrect or downright negative comments, do not respond!
  5. Don’t Forget to Finish It! Throughout this whole personal branding process, keep in mind that your writing is the most important thing. Without your novel, story, screenplay, or poem, you have nothing to market! So be sure to devote your best time and energy to actually finishing your writing. You can preschedule tweets and posts with apps like Buffer and Hootsuite. Remember to keep your work at the forefront of your personal brand.

How Do You Sell Yourself?

Share your own marketing tips and online networking exploits via my contact page. You can also leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. 🙂

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Should I Use A Pen Name? – WN 051

Should I Use A Pen Name? - WNP 051 Title Card

Besides all being authors, what do Mark Twain, George Eliot, Richard Bachman, J.K. Rowling, Cassandra Clare, Lemony Snicket, and Carolyn Keene have in common? That’s right– these are all pen names! But this isn’t just for well-known authors. Any writer may choose to publish their works under a pseudonym, and for a variety of reasons.

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An author by any other name…

If you’re publishing something you’ve worked so hard to finish and share with the world, why bother hiding your name? In episode 051 of the Write Now podcast, we explore the stories behind the pen names listed above. But here are six reasons why anonymity might make sense for you:

  1. Conceal your identity. This may be the original reason authors have used pen names but it’s still widely done today, and for a variety of reasons. It might lend credibility to a female author writing from a male point of view or vice versa. Using a pseudonym may protect an author writing on sensitive topics or in a medium outside their profession. Or it could be a simple matter of protection of privacy. There’s nothing wrong with a little anonymity.
  2. Invent a memorable name. Sometimes you just need to jazz things up a bit. Maybe your name is exceedingly common, too similar to another recognizable name, or just not a good fit for the type of book you’re publishing. In contrast to reason number one, you may want to use a pen name to grab attention, not avoid it.
  3. Distance different works from each other. Maybe you’re like J.K. Rowling and you want to mix things up from time to time. That may be difficult if you’re known as a “fantasy author” and you want to write a murder mystery. If your name has widespread recognition, that notoriety may stifle the success of your creativity. The solution may be starting over with a fresh moniker.
  4. Hide your productivity. If you’re blessed with Stephen King-like prolificness, you may want to consider spreading your work over a variety of names. Similar to the above reason, you may want to avoid being “type cast” as a specific type of author. You also may want to avoid your readers mistaking you for a think tank of ghostwriters.
  5. Combine a group of writers. In contrast to reason four, some book series like The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew are actually many different writers published under a single author’s name. This may be done to avoid reader confusion and provide a more consistent style and tone to a series. This may also be done to boost book sales by using an established author’s name recognition or license.
  6. Freedom to write. A pen name isn’t just for marketing and branding. It can even help an author as they’re writing. If the thought of criticism or “putting yourself out there” is holding you back, the simple act of changing your name can lend you the courage or mind frame to see things through to the end.

Is a pen name right for me?

Ultimately, the choice to write under a pseudonym is your own. If you identify with one or more of the reasons above, there are a few questions you can ask yourself before deciding to use a pen name:

  • Am I okay not receiving direct credit for my work? Will I want to consolidate later?
  • How will it feel to write under an assumed name? Will it free or hinder me?
  • How secretive do I want to be? Am I avoiding publicity altogether or just obscurity?
  • How will this name affect my brand? Website? Social media? Legal documents?

How would you go about choosing a pen name? Would it hold some special meaning to you? Does it sound good or have a pleasing alliteration? Are you concerned with alphabetical shelf placement or reader recognition? Or are you interested in assuming a more unique or memorable name? I’d love to hear your thoughts via my contact page. You can also leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. 🙂

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The Most Important Question A Writer Can Ask – WN 050

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Sometimes the most important aspect of writing is not the words you string together but the questions you ask. So I’ve created episode 050 of the Write Now podcast to guide you along your way.

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Just ask.

Some of us were trained early on in our writing education to ask questions — who, what, why, where, when, and how. Questions are crucial to understanding. But not everyone has had this education, and that’s OK! That’s why I’m sharing an excellent question with you today:

Why?

I know it sounds simple — it’s one word, and two-year-olds ask it all the time — but sometimes the simplest things are the most important. Asking why? allows us to chisel away at extraneous information until we find ourselves at the core of truth of a story, be it fictional or nonfictional.

  • Why did this character do X, Y, or Z?
  • Why did this character get angry when X happened? (Or, why did this character not get angry?)
  • Why did X happen after Y happened?
  • Why might this character not like the news he or she received?
  • …etc.

You can even get a little existential and ask things like,

  • Why am I writing this?
  • Why am I writing this now?
  • Why am I having trouble writing this?

These questions also make for great journal entries. 🙂

Stay curious.

There’s something happening to us, as a culture — in the media we consume and the stories we tell. A lot of people have lost their natural curiosity and stopped asking, “Why?”

My digital mentor, Seth Godin, said it best in his brief but brilliant article, “The Candy Diet”:

“Fifteen years ago, cable channels like TLC (the “L” stood for Learning), Bravo and the History Channel (the “History” stood for History) promised to add texture and information to the blighted TV landscape. Now these networks run shows about marrying people based on how well they kiss.

And of course, newspapers won Pulitzer prizes for telling us things we didn’t want to hear. We’ve responded by not buying newspapers any more.

The economics seem to be that the only way to make a living is to reach a lot of people and the only way to reach a lot of people is to race to the bottom, seek out quick clicks, make it easy to swallow, reinforce existing beliefs, keep it short, make it sort of fun, or prurient, or urgent, and most of all, dumb it down.

And that’s the true danger of anti-intellectualism. While it’s foolish to choose to be stupid, it’s cultural suicide to decide that insights, theories and truth don’t actually matter. If we don’t care to learn more, we won’t spend time or resources on knowledge.

We can survive if we eat candy for an entire day, but if we put the greenmarkets out of business along the way, all that’s left is candy.”

I believe that it’s our job as writers to re-light that spark of curiosity in people. It’s our job to get people excited about truth and possibility and making the world a better place.

It starts with you, and your willingness to ask, “Why?”

What question(s) are you asking?

What questions help you to be a better writer? Let me know! I’d also love to hear about your novel- (or memoir- or poetry book- or song- or blog post-) to-be via my contact page. You can also leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. 🙂

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What I Learned From Writing A Book In One Week – WN 049

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HELLO DEAR FRIENDS! I am back in your ears with Episode 049 of the Write Now podcast, which showcases 10 lessons I learned while writing a book in one week. (That’s right: one week.)

Who you gonna call?

Some of you may know that I ghostwrite books in my spare time. This means I’m paid to write books (or blog posts, articles, memoirs, etc.) under someone else’s name so that they get the credit. This usually happens when the person is too busy to write, or perhaps an expert in their field but not a great writer.

Ghostwriting is fun and interesting for me, and I love doing it. So when someone asked me to take on a ghostwriting rush job with a deadline in one week, I said yes because I love a challenge and also I am insane.

(Want to hire me to ghostwrite your book? Get in touch with me at Write Now LLC!)

Here are the 10 lessons I learned:

  1. Writing is work. Hard work, and often tedious.
  2. Writing takes time. And yes, time is a very real and very limiting factor.
  3. The very best thing you can do is put your butt in your seat and commit to writing.
  4. Know how to prevent burnout — and know what to do if and when you do get burned out.
  5. The most important thing you can do right now is get your first draft finished. You can always edit, polish, and research later.
  6. Do not overcommit yourself — there are only a certain number of working hours in a day, and you should not more take on more work than those hours permit you to complete.
  7. Outlines are amazing.
  8. Dread is cumulative — once you start writing, you realize that it’s not as daunting or scary as you thought it would be.
  9. Realizing, “Yeah, I can do this,” and gaining the confidence I needed to write my own stuff.
  10. Accountability in the form of a deadline can be invaluable.

What lessons have you learned in writing?

Share what you’ve learned in the comments below! I’d also love to hear about your current work in progress via my contact page, in a comment below, or by emailing me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. 🙂

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30 Tips for 30 Days of NaNoWriMo – WN 048

30 NaNoWriMo Tips - Title Card

I love this time of year — the crisp November air, the interminable rains, the smell of decaying leaves, and NaNoWriMo. That’s right — Episode 048 of the Write Now podcast is here to help you get through this wonderful season of marathon creativity in style.

What is NaNoWriMo, and is it right for me?

That’s a great question! And the answer is:

  1. NaNoWriMo is short for “National Novel Writing Month”, and it’s a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, from November 1-30.
  2. Maybe?  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

OK, I don’t mean to be flippant. NaNoWriMo is intentionally inclusive and tons of fun, but it can also be incredibly frustrating to folks like you and me who are busy, and may not have the time or energy to write 1,700 words every day.

Still curious whether or not you should do it? Check out Write Now Episode 027: NaNoWriMo And You for more insight.

30 Writing Tips for 30 Days of NaNoWriMo

And now… as promised, 30 writing tips for NaNoWriMo. Hopefully you will find at least one helpful.

  1. Remember you are a writer. Say, “I am a writer!” to your friends, your family, your coworkers, your reflection in the mirror… however best allows it to sink in.
  2. Don’t give up. It’s easy to fall behind during NaNoWriMo — after all, writing 1,700 words per day is no easy task. If you do fall behind, the notion that you have to make up for it and write 3,400 words the next day, or 5,100 the next can be enough to make you want to quit. But don’t.
  3. Schedule time to write. If it’s not on my calendar, I don’t do it. Blocking off dedicated time on your schedule to write every day not only gives you the time you need to write, but it also creates an appointment that you can’t let yourself miss.
  4. Don’t put it off. It’s so easy to sit down to write and “take just a moment” to check Facebook or sports scores. But don’t do it! Sit down and start writing. Facebook will still be there when you’re ready for a break.
  5. Don’t think — just write. Just start putting words down. Don’t overthink it right now — NaNoWriMo is all about quantity, not quality.
  6. “Embrace the suck,” as my friend Mark Adam Thomas says. Don’t pressure yourself into creating something perfect — give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft. You can turn it into something beautiful during editing.
  7. Tell your friends and family you’re doing NaNoWriMo. This advice also comes from Mark Adam Thomas, and it was especially helpful for me. If people know you are doing something that is important to you throughout the month of November, they will likely be more understanding if you need to duck out of obligations here or there. Plus, it adds accountability.
  8. Use the NaNo Buddy System. Connect with fellow WriMos on the NaNoWriMo website! It’s a great way to be held accountable and to meet folks who are going through the same thing you are. (Become my buddy here!)
  9. Stock up on snacks. You’ll thank me later.
  10. Don’t stop reading. I know, it can be tempting to exchange your daily reading time for extra writing time. But don’t do it! Or at least don’t sacrifice it all. Reading is essential if you want to grow as a writer, even during NaNoWriMo.
  11. Keep quick inspiration close. Stay inspired as you slog along with an inspirational quote on your monitor, a magazine cutout of what your main character looks like, or your favorite book at hand.
  12. Save the research for later. This is one lesson I learned the hard way. If you’re not sure what kind of lighting would have lit your character’s home in 1860, don’t stop writing to research it. Simply make a note and keep writing.
  13. Pump the music. Drown out noisy neighbors or psych yourself up for an awesome writing session with the right music. Lyrics optional. (I also love writing to rainymood.com.)
  14. Write what excites you. Sometimes we get stuck in the soggy middle of our novel, ready to give up, when all we really want to do is write the ending. Or the romantic scene. Or the one part where all the baby elephants run amok in the television studio. You do not have to write your novel in order — if you’re excited about the ending, write the ending!
  15. Use a prompt. Stuck? That’s OK. The internet is chock full of prompts. (I also have a set of story dice that are kind of fun in a pinch.)
  16. Turn off your phone. You’ll be amazed at how your productivity soars. And if you can’t afford to be out of touch, put your phone in airplane mode and adjust the settings to allow important phone calls through.
  17. Keep it portable. It’s cool if you want to write your novel wholly on a massive typewriter from 1916, but do note that it will be hard to write during your lunch break, on the subway, or any other time you’re on the go. Try using a journal, notebook, laptop, or other portable device so you can be ready to write whenever time permits.
  18. Identify and stay away from time-sucks. Do you have a bad Facebook habit? Maybe November is a great time for a Facebook fast. Or is there a TV show you’re watching but don’t really enjoy? That time might be better spent writing instead. The point here is to identify chunks of wasted time and replace it with writing.
  19. Say “no” to fear. Every writer — even famous writers — wrestles with writing-related fears (fear of failure, fear of writing subpar material, etc.). It didn’t stop them, so don’t let it stop you.
  20. Tone down your need to win. There’s nothing magical about hitting the 50,000 word mark — you can have a successful NaNoWriMo whether you write 1,700 words per day or 170. Seriously. Do what you can, write every day, and don’t give up.
  21. Take care of yourself. I know it’s tempting to say, “I’ll sleep once November’s over!” But… don’t. Please take care of yourself. Sleep regularly. Eat regular meals. Sacrificing your health is not worth it.
  22. Help your future self. This is a great mindset if you’re prone to instant gratification. Make decisions with your future self in mind — decisions that will inspire gratefulness, not regret.
  23. Don’t waste time formatting. It’s tempting to procrastinate by changing your novel’s font, or deciding to make the chapter titles ALL UPPERCASE instead of Title Case. After all, you’re still “working” on your novel, right? Wrong! Stop messing with formatting and get back to writing. (I like to use OmmWriter or a plain text document for writing just for that purpose.)
  24. Count it toward your 10,000 hours of mastery. I know the “10,000 Hour Rule” has been debunked. But it’s still important to invest time in mastering your craft — and NaNoWriMo is a great time during which to do that. If you’re feeling frustrated by your less-than-amazing novel and on the verge of quitting, just remember — you’re putting in the time now to better master it later.
  25. Try outlining. Are you a pantser like me? Then the idea of creating an outline may sound unbearably dull. But even the most high-level of outlines can help steer you back on track later on during NaNoWriMo if you get stuck.
  26. Boost your word count with chapter titles, quotes, etc. Feeling a little glum about your word count? That’s OK — just like Bingo, NaNoWriMo has a free space or two. Long, rambling chapter titles, quotes from sources that support your themes, and even meaningless rants by your character’s best friend can help carry you to your goal on a bad day.
  27. Use “but” and “therefore”, not “and”, to connect the dots in your story. The most boring stories link events using “and”: “Mary went to the donut shop and bought a donut. And then she ate it. And then she went home.” More interesting stories use “but” and “therefore”: “Mary went to the donut shop, but it was closed. Therefore, she decided to learn magic to conjure up her own donuts out of thin air.” I know those are terrible examples, but you get the idea.
  28. Got PTO? Use it! Most folks here in the U.S. are terrible about taking all of their PTO (paid time off — accumulation of sick time and vacation time). So during NaNoWriMo, if you have extra PTO, why not use it for a couple days worth of writing?
  29. Be patient. Writing is hard work, and it’s easy to get frustrated with yourself. So be sure to give yourself some grace and don’t be too hard on yourself during NaNoWriMo.
  30. Have fun! You love writing, remember? 🙂

Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

Be my NaNoWriMo buddy! Just sign up on the website or find me if you’re already a member — I’m username Juneva Spragg. (It’s a pen name from a million years ago… I’ve tried to change it to Sarah Rhea Werner, but so far it’s a no-go.)

***UPDATE: I HAVE CHANGED MY NANOWRIMO NAME thanks to listener Anika! I am now Sarah Rhea Werner.

I’d also love to hear about your novel-to-be via my contact page. You can also leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com — I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

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What They Didn’t Teach You In School – WN 047

Episode 047 Title Card

We learned a lot of great things in school. But our educational system isn’t perfect, and there are some things we should have learned that we didn’t (and things we did learn that we maybe shouldn’t have). Episode 047 of the Write Now podcast is here to take a closer look at what this means for us today as writers.

What DID we learn?

First! Please note that today’s episode is highly subjective to my own experience — but I still hope you’ll connect with it and find some value for your own life. 🙂

Like I said above, we learned a lot of great things in school — that sharing is caring, for instance. And that John Keats wrote some lovely poetry, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides, and whales are mammals. These are all very good things to learn.

We also learned that:

  1. Spelling, grammar, and handwriting are important, and the rules must always be obeyed.
  2. There was a vast difference between what I wanted to write for myself (creation) and what I was instructed to write by my teachers (regurgitation).
  3. A five-paragraph essay is the most essential thing you will ever write, especially in preparation for state-mandated proficiency tests.
  4. Failure should be avoided at all costs.
  5. Grades matter.
  6. Graduation is some kind of ending point.
  7. We need permission to answer a question, go to the bathroom, get out of gym class, etc.

We learned many things that made us successful in school, but not necessarily successful in life — and we never learned to un-learn these once we left school for the “real world”.

The School of Life puts it this way in the video:

“School curricula are not reverse-engineered from fulfilled adult lives in the here and now.”

You can watch the video here (it’s fantastic — and short!):

So… what DIDN’T we learn?

Our adult lives are structured differently than our childhood lives, and this is not something we are ever taught. It’s something we are left on our own to discover — which is great, except that many people never do.

Along those lines, here are several other crucial items that we never learned in school:

  1. We don’t need permission to live our lives or to call ourselves writers.
  2. What it actually means to live a fulfilled, successful life.
  3. How to make a living as a writer in the “real world” — how to write a query letter, whether or not you need an agent, how publishing works, or even the different career paths you can take as a writer.
  4. It’s OK to make mistakes. In fact, failure should be embraced and is a great way to learn.
  5. Language is fluid and organic — its main purpose is to facilitate clear communication. It’s OK to question tradition. It’s OK to end a sentence in a preposition or begin a sentence with a conjunction. It really is!
  6. How to think and live creatively. (h/t to the lovely Elizabeth Gilbert on this one.)
  7. We are free.

I hope today’s episode is valuable for you.

What about you?

What did you learn in school that served you well as a writer — and what do you wish you would have learned? What does it mean for you to be free and live a creative life? Let me know via my contact page, leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com! I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

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Crafting Your Mission Statement – WN 046

Crafting Your Mission Statement - Title Card

A mission statement is a valuable tool for a writer — it can help you understand your own story, remind you of your purpose, and guide you toward your goals. And Episode 046 of the Write Now podcast is here to help you create a mission statement of your very own.

Why would a writer need a mission statement?

Life can be hard. And overwhelming, painful, frustrating, and difficult to navigate. That’s why it’s a great idea to have a mission statement as a writer — a written statement that you can visit when you begin to question why you’re doing this. Why it matters. Why you are worthwhile, and why what you’re writing is worthwhile.

A mission statement is a valuable tool for a writer, and can serve as a beacon, a lighthouse that keeps you focused on your goal. So even though the waters may become choppy, and storms may be forming overhead, and sharp rocks await your every turn, you can be sure to steer yourself safely toward shore.

How do I create my mission statement?

A mission statement is one of those simple things that nevertheless can take a lot of thought. I recommend generating it through a thinking or writing exercise, and maybe even journaling about it.

Here are the steps I recommend taking in today’s episode:

  1. Think about where you are now and where you want to go. Think about how you want your writing to impact the world. Dream big. This dream is your vision.
  2. Think about the qualities you value — what means the most to you — and write down five. These values will serve as the guiding principles that will help you accomplish your mission. Some examples could include truth, beauty, innovation, generosity, prosperity, love, joy, uniqueness, creativity, fun, etc. When you have five, narrow them down to three. (It might be hard, but you can do it.)
  3. Think or write about how your three values will help you live out your vision. It might help to define what each of those three values means to you.
  4. Craft an “I am” or “I will” statement that explains how you will use your values through your writing to make an impact on the world. This is your mission statement!

It’s perfectly okay if it takes you several rough drafts to reach your mission statement. It’s also okay if your mission statement, values, and vision change over time. People change and grow, and that is awesome.

How do I use my mission statement?

Once you’re done, post your mission statement somewhere you can easily reference it — a corkboard in your writing office, a Post-It note on your computer screen, etc. You can then use your mission statement to:

  • Remind you of your purpose when you’re having a bad day/week/month/year
  • Understand your own story
  • Make hard decisions, and know what to say “yes” and “no” to
  • Guide you toward your goals
  • Remind you that you are making a difference

My mission statement.

I wouldn’t ask you to craft a mission statement without creating one for myself. Here’s mine:

I will use my podcasting and writing skills to tell stories that use truth, creativity, and encouragement to nurture, heal, and inspire others — and in doing so, help make the world a better and more empathetic place.

And remember, these words aren’t carved in stone. It’s okay if your mission statement changes with you — in fact, it’s healthy.

What about you?

Do you have a mission statement? Or have you created one since listening to this episode? Let me know via my contact page, leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com! I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

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Careers for Writers – WN 045

Careers for Writers Title Card

Perhaps you majored in English, or maybe you simply love to write — either way, you’ve dreamed of a career in writing. But what kind of careers are available for you, and how difficult are they to get? And how do you find one that’s right for you? Episode 045 of the Write Now podcast is here to help you think it through.

Stuck in a soul-sucking, toxic day job?

Stuck in a soul-sucking, toxic day job while you dream of being a paid writer? First off, I’m sorry. That sucks.

Second! Please know this: You are not trapped. You have a choice in what you’re doing for your career — even (and especially) if you want to write.

What careers are available for writers?

In today’s episode, I outline 10 different career paths for people who dream about writing. I have done most of these throughout my own career, with the exception of strict newspaper journalism (#2) and grant writing (#4):

  1. Copywriter (technical, marketing/advertising, and web)
  2. Journalist
  3. Ghostwriter
  4. Grant writer
  5. Freelancer
  6. Proofreader, copy editor, or editor
  7. Blogger
  8. Content strategist (this is what I currently do, so I had to add it to the list!)
  9. Volunteer writer
  10. Creative writer (either for others or for yourself)

Remember: It’s OK to start small.

One thing I forgot to mention in today’s episode is that it’s okay to start small. You don’t need to immediate land a job at the Harvard Business Review or the New York Times to be happy and fulfilled in your work.

If you’re working for your hometown newspaper or doing grant writing for a small nonprofit, rejoice. You’re getting paid to write and that is amazing!

The fine print!

Hey! Just a few quick things so that you don’t sue me:

  1. Please note that listening to this podcast in no way guarantees that you will find a job in writing. (I felt like I needed to say that.)
  2. Please note, too, that jobs in writing are by no means easy.

Good thing this is work that you love.

What about you?

Are you stuck in a soul-sucking day job? What’s keeping you there? Or are you currently writing for a living? If so, what’s that like? Let me know via my contact page, leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com! 🙂

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How Do I Find My Muse? – WN 044

Image for How Do I Find My Muse?

Chances are, you’ve heard of the concept of a muse, whether you’ve read your fair share of Shakespeare or simply seen Disney’s Hercules. But can a muse possibly have an effect on us here in the modern world? Episode 044 of the Write Now podcast takes a look at the idea of a muse/genius/daemon and its effects on our inspiration to create.

Listeners, Beware: I realized after I had begun editing that, from timestamp 4:18 through 6:56, there is a dreadful popping/ticking noise in the background for about 2 minutes. I’m incredibly sorry and I’m trying to figure out what caused it so that it doesn’t happen again!

What is a muse?

A muse (the root of words like “music” and “museum”) is a divine entity that grants the spark of inspiration to mere mortals such as you and I. A muse can also be referred to as a genius or a daemon, and they are often depicted like this:

Image of Nine Muses

Or like this:

Another image of a muse

So… okay. Back in the day, people used to look to the muses for inspiration. But what does this have to do with us today?

Your elusive creative genius (a.k.a. muse).

Elizabeth Gilbert’s amazing TED talk from 2009 talks about how, before the dawn of rational humanism, we used to talk about creatives as having a genius — having a muse that inspired them. But after this renaissance, after the individual began to be respected and venerated on its own, we began to talk about creatives as being a genius.

This subtle shift, Gilbert notes, marked a change in how writers (and other creatives) see and treat themselves, and how we are seen and treated by society.

Listen to the whole talk here — it’s 20 minutes but it’s 20 minutes of time well spent, trust me:

Similarly, Stephen King notes that:

“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter… Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic.”

—Stephen King

So is the muse real, or is it a gimmick? Is it representative of a divine intervention, or some deep creative force that lies deep within our hearts?

Either way, interesting as that question is, it’s not what matters. Whether or not you believe in the concept of a muse—whether you think it’s a gimmick or a real-life entity—it’s still up to you to sit down every day to do the work.

Good thing it’s work that you love. 🙂

What about you?

Do you have a muse? What inspires you to write? Let me know your thoughts via my contact page, leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com! 🙂

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How Important Is Networking For Writers? – WN 043

How Important is Networking for Writers? Image

I know, I know. You hate networking. I know this because I hate networking. It feels so corporate and shallow and sell-out-y. But it’s important for writers nonetheless. And episode 043 of the Write Now podcast is here to help you navigate the turbulent waters of this essential skill.

Why networking?

Today we’re talking about networking. But maybe not the kind of networking you’re used to.

I’m not going to encourage you to go to a corporate event and shake hands with strangers. I’m not going to ask you to start looking at other human beings as things to be used to your own advantage. I’m not going to advise you to stand atop a building and make it rain with your business cars.

What I’m talking about today is different and better. And way less scary for us introverts.

Bestselling author Jeff Goins has a really great article called “The Unfair Truth About How Creative People Really Succeed” that got me thinking about networking in a whole new way.

In this article, Jeff Goins notes that often, when we say a writer succeeded due to “luck”, what we don’t know about is all of the networking and relationship-building that happened behind the scenes.

Networking and success.

I’m totally taking this story from Jeff Goins’ article, which you should totally read. But he notes that even though Hemingway was a great writer when he first started out, he was a great writer that no one was reading — because he didn’t know anyone.

Then he moved to Paris, where the living was cheaper, an fell in with a community of artists (including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce) that eventually made his career.

“Without a network, creative work does not endure.”

However, please do not feel like you need to move to Paris to find success as a writer. That’s not my point.

My point is that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the influence of several key people in my life.

So… Is it all about who you know? Kind of. But before you let that depress you, please remember that you can get to know a lot of different people in a lot of different ways using THE MAGIC OF THE INTERNET!

Pointers for networking on social media, within blog comments, etc:

Stay focused on individuals. While it may feel like everyone is just shouting past each other via digital megaphone, in reality, we’re all just people. Remember, there’s a human being on the other end of every social media account. Treat digital interactions like face-to-face personal interactions, focus on building a relationship, and you’ll be fine.

Be human. Do not nag, troll, or hassle other writers. Reach out and make contact, and if they don’t respond, please do understand that they’re probably incredibly busy. If they do respond, don’t stalk them or latch on parasite-style. Be gracious and give them space while you build a relationship.

Join a community! This can be on Medium, a Facebook group, a Google+ community, a subreddit, Quora, a gaggle of like-minded NaNoWriMo forum commenters… there are online communities everywhere. And they can confer great benefits, like mentorship, growth in skills and talents, and (you guessed it) networking and connecting with others who can have a positive influence on  your life.

You don’t have to do it all. This was a lesson I had to learn the hard way (with this podcast, in fact). You don’t have to be on every single social media platform ever invented. Pick one, two, or three and find solid footing there before you branch out to other platforms.

Interact! This is not an “If you build it, they will come” scenario. You can’t just sit back and wait for praise and adoration to flow in. You nee to build the groundwork. Reply to posts. Respond to others’ tweets. Ask questions. Listen to answers. Challenge opinions. This is great practice for developing and using your voice.

Be positive and uplifting — don’t tear others down. While being negative might get you the amount of attention you’re looking for, it’s not the kind of attention you want. (Think about how everyone looks at the 2-year-old throwing a tantrum in the grocery store.)

Give, don’t take. If you’re going into networking looking to use people or take something from people, you’re doing it all wrong. You’re there to give — your time, your talent, your expertise. Often the greatest gift we can give someone is the (rare) gift of listening.

Be patient. Just like building relationships in person, building relationships online takes time. You’re not going to set up your Twitter profile and wake up the next morning to find a thousand followers. You will more likely have two. Or three. But that’s OK. We all start somewhere.

Jeff Goins’ three keys to networking:

  1. Help people. Set your motives for “selfless”.
  2. Give something away — do favors for people.
  3. Know how to ask for help at the right time.

In person? Coffee.

Sure, you can attend a conference or join a professional association or local writers’ group. (Trust me on this one.)

But the most powerful in-person networking tactic is to get coffee one-on-one. There is magic in coffee (and I’m not just talking about the caffeine).

Something happens when you commit to connecting with someone one-on-one in a small (public) place, when you can set aside screens and make eye contact or shake their hand. There’s something really rare that happens when you put yourself out there as willing to listen to someone else’s story — and you actually listen to it.

So ask someone influential if you can buy them a cup of coffee. It can be a favorite college professor, a local news anchor, bookstore owner, head of marketing at so-and-so company. Tell them you admire the way they accomplished X or completed Y, and say that you’d love to hear their story. And if they agree, be respectful of their time, be willing to truly listen, and (above all) be yourself.

So what is networking good for? Ultimately, it’s how we build trust. It’s how we form credible relationships. It’s how we can show that we care. When you go in to networking with a servant’s heart and not with the intention of using people to climb some sort of social ladder, you’ll be positioning yourself for success as a writer.

What about you?

Do you agree? Are there any ideas left? Or are we simply creating reiterations of old ideas? Let me know your thoughts via my contact page, leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com! 🙂

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Are There Any Original Ideas Left? – WN 042


Image for Episode 042

Is it true that there’s “nothing new under the sun”, that we just keep retelling the same 3 stories over and over, and that Hollywood is out of ideas? Are there any original ideas left to be had by you or me? Let’s explore this and much more in Episode 042 of the Write Now podcast!

Why is it important for us to have original ideas?

We love being “that person” — the person who came up with the idea, invented the machine, or solved the problem. But why?

The simple answer is that whoever does it first gets the credit. And oh, how we love to get credit! Credit validates us. It tells us and everyone around us, “This person is worth something! This person has contributed to society. This person matters.”

And I think that there is nothing wrong with wanting to matter. 

However, having an original idea is not the only way to matter. It’s not the only way to live a life full of purpose and meaning.

Plus — did you know? You already matter. You are already important, and your life is already priceless. Even if you never have an original idea, even if you never write your book (and I still hope that you do), I want you to know that you are an amazing person regardless.

Why does it feel like every time I have a new idea, I start seeing it everywhere?

Podcast listener Theresa wrote in with some great questions that I’d like to share with you. She writes,

One thing I’ve found in this whole [novel-writing process] is that what I once believed to be an original idea for my book I start to see everywhere! There seems to be so many books coming out of the woodworks that have the same theme and premise of the one I am trying to write.

Do you think that this is because of the whole yellow car dilemma (once your attention is called to them you find yellow cars everywhere), and since I am sensitive to the topic my mind immediately goes to “Hey that’s like mine!”, or is it simply the fact that great minds think alike?

Assuming you and others may be going through similar ordeals, how do you not become discouraged when writing your now “unoriginal” (as you may consider it) idea?

Great, great questions. And yes, I think that great minds do think alike, as the saying goes — or at least they seem to. But whether that comes from a shared cultural experience or something less concrete, there is nothing we can do to affect what ideas other people are having, or whether they act on those ideas.

So let’s look a little deeper at the things we can affect.

I’d never heard of “yellow car” syndrome before, but I think that it may be a factor here, too. To this, I say don’t let it get to you too much — there are 9 billion people on the planet and there’s bound to be some crossover sometimes in the things we think about and the ideas we have. I think this is something else we just have to make our peace with since we can’t stop other people from having ideas.

We can, however, stop ourselves from acting on our ideas. And this is the real problem — when we let the fact that someone else has an idea similar to ours stop us from creating.

So… are there any new ideas?

There are folks who would argue that “there are no new ideas”, or “there’s nothing new under the sun” (that was Shakespeare, right? or maybe the Bible). However, I think there can be new ideas — or at least unique takes on old ideas, or new combinations of existing ideas. The human brain is amazing and its potential is limitless. I say dream big.

A novel is more than an idea. It’s storytelling, plot, character, art, execution, skill, and talent all rolled into one. So even if there is someone else out there with the same idea as you… that idea is just one small piece of the whole puzzle. Don’t get too hung up on the significance or role of the idea.

And remember: while other folks may have the same idea as you, no one else is you. No one else is going to execute that idea in exactly the same way you will, with the same voice, characters, plot twists, etc.

No one can write your novel but you.

So please don’t be discouraged! You are 100% unique and amazing! So take an idea that you love, and that you’re passionate about, and truly make it your own in the way that only YOU can.

What about you?

Do you agree? Are there any ideas left? Or are we simply creating reiterations of old ideas? Let me know your thoughts via my contact page, leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com! 🙂

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Should Writers Be Paid? – WN 041


Image for Episode 041

We hear it all the time: “We can’t afford to pay our writers,” or “Your payment will be exposure and experience!” But is that true? Should you take that unpaid internship, or write for a paid publication for free? Find out in Episode 041 of the Write Now podcast.

Do writers deserve to be paid?

In a word: Yes.

Writing is work (and hard work at that). And hard work deserves fair pay. I don’t think anyone would argue with me about that. So why is writing so de-valued? Why do so many companies and corporations think that they can get away with paying writers in “exposure” or “experience”, or not paying them at all?

It happens all the time.

Just ask Wil Wheaton. Or Harlan Ellison. Or the young writer who received hate mail decrying her audacity to charge $1.99 for her newest ebook.

Basically:

Tweet from @itsjoehunt

What’s causing this problem?

Part of the problem is the societal belief that:

  • writing is fun
  • writing is easy
  • writing is a “soft” or “throwaway” skill
  • writing is a dying art
  • writing takes no particular cultivation of talent
  • there is no difference between amateur and professional writing
  • everyone took English class in high school and therefore knows how to write well

Some of these beliefs are true. Others are not. But all of them hurt the writing community because they de-value not only the work that we do but the amount of time, dedication, and practice that we have put into honing our craft.

For my part, I believe that everyone can write. By this, I mean I believe that everyone has the innate ability to become an excellent writer if they take the time to practice and develop their craft. That’s a big “if”. In fact, it’s part of the reason that I started this podcast in the first place — I want to help develop you as a writer, and help you become a master at your craft.

However, I do not believe that everyone can write well right out of the gate. It takes time, dedication, and practice to become a good writer. And that’s why I encourage you to write and read every day.

That being said, if you’re a new or aspiring writer, don’t be discouraged. I know you can get there — you just have to be passionate enough to want to put in the time and the work. 🙂

The unpaid (or underpaid) writer.

So if you’re offered an unpaid internship, or a writing gig where the pay is “getting your name out there”, do you take it?

Well, that’s entirely up to you. At one point in my life, I was convinced that money was evil, and that I would never “sell out” to make money from my writing. Then I graduated from college and found out that if you want food, clothing, and shelter, you need to have money. Life is expensive.

Unpaid internships are a huge problem. An unpaid internship is nothing more than a company taking advantage of new college grads and not fairly compensating them for the work they do. A new college graduate can’t begin to pay down their student loan debt with “experience.” They can’t pay their rent with “this great opportunity.”

I also believe that if you are asked to write unpaid and uncompensated for a publication that will be making a profit from your work (whether directly or through advertising revenue), you are being taken advantage of. And that is not okay.

Long story short: writers deserve to be paid. And yes, I feel very strongly about this — and so do many other writers, artists, and creators. 🙂

Tweet from Will Wheaton

What about you?

Do you get paid to write? Or has earning compensation for your work been a challenge for you? Should writers be paid at all? Let me know your thoughts via my contact page, leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com! 🙂

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How To Deal With Rejection – WN 040

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It happens to every writer sooner or later: dreaded rejection. But does it really need to be so… dreaded? Episode 040 of the Write Now podcast explores different types of rejection and how some of them can actually help us to become better writers.

Rejection hurts.

When we create something, regardless of whether it’s a 140-character tweet or a 140,000-word novel, we’re proud of it. And when someone disagrees with, dislikes, or rejects the thing that we’ve created… well, it can hurt.

And it doesn’t just hurt newbie writers like you and me. It hurts the big guys, the famous writers, and the writing tycoons, too. Because despite having “made it” and been published, they still face rejection, too. You can read some stories about famous literary rejections (such as Ray Bradbury, who was rejected over 800 times before he sold his first story) at litrejections.com.

Nothing — not even publication, a writing award, or a great review — can protect us against rejection. It’s part of the life of every writer, everywhere. So it’s probably a good idea to learn how to best deal with it.

Learn to discern.

Even if you’ve been writing your entire life, not every single thing you write is going to be amazing. And that’s okay. Part of writing is learning how to write, and part of learning is doing (a.k.a. practicing). And a lot of that practice writing is probably pretty awful. Mine is.

In addition to practicing our craft, we have to learn to be discerning. About what we’ve written (is it really better than William Faulkner/Octavia Butler/Chaucer combined? or are we perhaps a little biased?) and about the rejection we’re receiving (is it objective or subjective?).

It helps to develop a distanced or non-biased eye for our own work — or to find a reader (or a writing mentor or a writers’ group) who’s willing to be truly honest with us about whether what we’ve written is hot or not. Because while we can’t change what critics or publishers may think about our work, we can always improve our work.

Or, as Chuck Wendig says in his article about rejection:

You can’t change market forces. But you can change the quality of your work.

Three types of rejection.

Speaking of author Chuck Wendig, he has a really great blog post from 2011 called “25 Things Writers Should Know about Rejection“. In it, he talks about three different types of rejection that writers face:

  1. Good rejection: The rejection that can help you become a better writer.
  2. Worthless rejection: The rejection that you impale on a spike on your wall. Then you take a deep breath and keep on writing.
  3. Mean rejection: The rejection that you ignore. Haters gonna hate. Trollers gonna troll. As for you? Writers gonna write.

At the end of the day, not everything you write is going to be amazing. And in the real world (as opposed to Little League Land), not every effort will get you a participation trophy. But that’s okay. Because we don’t learn lessons from participation awards. We learn lessons when we fail.

Being a writer is a lot more difficult than people give it credit for. I’m so proud of you for sticking to it and doing what you love.

How do you deal with rejection?

Let me know via my contact page, leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. I can’t wait to hear from you. 🙂

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The Worst Writing Advice – WN 039

The Worst Writing Advice - Image

The internet is brimming with writing advice — both good and bad. Episode 039 of Write Now talks about how to determine which advice is worth following, and gives you a rundown of what I think are the worst offenders.

Bad advice is bad.

I think we’ve all received bad general advice at one time or another, such as:

  • “Gun it! You can totally make it through that yellow light.”
  • “Aw, come on. You can totally handle one more drink.”
  • “You don’t really need to study for the bar exam.”
  • “Your kids would totally respect you more if you dyed your hair blue.”

Sometimes it’s easy to tell whether advice is good or bad — it’s just up to us to make the correct decision. But other times, the line between good and bad is a bit more blurry.

Discerning good advice from bad advice.

Advice, like so many things, is relative. Advice that’s good for one person might be bad for another person (think of medical advice as an example here).

So when you receive a piece of advice that sounds pretty good, ask yourself:

  • Is it true?
  • Who is giving me this advice? (Are they trustworthy?)
  • Why is this person giving me this advice?

Alex Cavoulacos of themuse.com offers two more great questions to ask when considering the source of the advice, in her article called “A Simple Test That Will Help You Tell If You’re Getting Bad Advice“:

“The vast majority of advice you’ll be given in your life will be one of two types: Either ‘Do what I did’ or ‘Do what’s best for me right now.’ Make sure you take the time to identify if either is the case before taking the advice at face value.”

If either is the case, that doesn’t immediately mean the advice is bad — it just means that you have extra context to consider.

And again, advice is only ever just advice. It’s not a marching order, and so it’s your responsibility to consider it fully before taking or not taking it.

The worst writing advice.

Here’s my list of the worst offenders:

  • “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” — This is simply untrue. I love to write, but at the same time I recognize that it is often frustrating and incredibly hard work.
  • “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” — This quote from da Vinci may ring true, but it’s terrible writing advice. It seems to be saying that if you decide a piece is finished (and gasp! submit it for publication), you’re abandoning it, which is shameful and guilt-inducing.  When a mother bird pushes her baby birds out of the nest, she’s not abandoning them — she’s sending them out into the world to flourish and grow.
  • “You can’t force good writing.”Au contraire! If you’ve written for a deadline before and produced anything decent, you’ve likely forced good writing. Now, what you may not be able to force is creativity — but if you take this as writing advice, all you’re going to get is the license to be lazy.
  • “I’m against schedules. Write when you feel excited by the prospect.” — This one is from novelist Rick Moody, and it happens to be bad advice for me. (Though it might be great advice for you!) I’m just so busy that if I never scheduled in my writing time, I would never get to do it — even though I love it.
  • “You need [X] to write.” — Here, “X” can be coffee, booze, a lucky pencil, a program like Scrivener, a specific typewriter, or any other crutch. If someone tells you that you need “X” to write, they are probably trying to sell you “X”. The only thing you need to write is you.
  • “Write what you know.” — Just… ugh. I hope you know how terrible and limiting this can be. Please do not take it as writing advice. Ever.

What about you? What’s the worst (or best) writing advice you’ve ever received? Let me know in the comments below!

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Give Yourself Some Grace – WN 038

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I ended the last episode of the Write Now podcast (#037) with the concept of giving yourself some grace. I ended up thinking about that concept for a long time after that, so decided to give grace its own episode. I hope you enjoy it here in Episode 038.

My deep, dark secret.

No, I’m not Batman. Let’s just get that out of the way.

My deep, dark secret is that often I don’t like myself very much. Maybe you feel like this sometimes, too. Or a lot of the time.

You see, I never feel like I’m quite enough.

I’m never thin enough, tall enough, fashionable enough, smart enough, motivated enough, or driven enough. I don’t clean my house enough and I’m certainly not wealthy enough. I don’t write enough.

I have really, really high standards for myself and the work I do. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in and of itself. But it can have troubling echoes throughout your life.

SET ALL THE GOALS???

Recently, I made the mistake of taking a leadership course that focused on setting (and achieving) goals.

The course essentially said that there are X number of hours in a week, and you are responsible for making each one work toward your goals. If you do this, you will be fulfilled.

Well hey, that sure sounds nice. But I found that when you implement it into your life, things begin to break down.

You start defining your self-worth by the goals you accomplish. You start packing in more and more goals to accomplish. You start to see any time not spent toward goal-achievement as wasted time. You see no value in relaxation. You see no value in enjoying life.

This is a problem.

Even worse, at the time, you think that you’re chasing success. You think that you’re doing something good.

But then you find success. And you find that, even though you’ve accomplished something, you’re not fulfilled. Not in the way you hoped you’d be.

Because even though you’ve accomplished something, it hasn’t changed who you are. You’re still you. Which means you’re still not thin enough or rich enough or smart enough or whatever it was you were dissatisfied with in the first place.

So what are we chasing, anyway? What will it feel like when we’re finally “enough”?

I think that what we’re really looking for is love. We feel like if we are thin enough or well-read enough that we’ll finally be worthy of or earn the love that we want.

Well guess what? You don’t need to be worthy of anything. You don’t need to earn anything.

Enter grace.

Grace is what we need to give to ourselves and to others.

The basic tenet of grace is the understanding that we are all human, and no human being is or can be perfect. With that in mind, grace is favor—approval or preference—given without merit. Without having to earn it.

Grace is the antidote to all of those awful feelings that keep us from writing, or from writing well: doubt, fear, hatred, guilt, anxiety, worthlessness.

Today’s episode is all about how necessary it is for us to give ourselves some grace, especially when it comes to writing. It’s about the freedom we so often deny ourselves to simply live as we were made to live.

But in grace and peace and love, I can tell you that you are enough, just as you are.

You are enough - image

Now go, and write, and enjoy your life.

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De-Clutter Your Life So You Can Write – WN 037

De-Clutter Your Life So You Can Write - Image for Episode 037

I’ve been thinking a lot about work/life/writing balance ever since I committed to writing a book this year. And so Episode 037 of the Write Now podcast is about just that — balance, clutter, distraction, scheduling, and so much more.

Just keep spinning…

This is what I feel like a lot of the time:

Plate Spinners

It’s not incredibly fun (though maybe it looks cool from the outside).

Being busy is fine if you can balance it well. But how many of us can actually claim that we balance it well?

What’s really important?

Before we take a look at what’s cluttering our life, let’s look at the non-clutter — the important stuff.

In today’s podcast episode, I encourage you to think of 5 things that are deeply important to you — 5 things, whether they’re objects or entities — that are integral to who you are.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Spending time with family
  • Nurturing healthy relationships with your friends
  • Serving the community and volunteering
  • Your faith
  • Your creative time spent writing, drawing, painting, dancing, photographing, etc.
  • Your vintage car collection
  • Your career
  • Personal fitness
  • That plant your mother gave you that you’ve triumphantly managed to keep alive for nearly a year
  • Reading
  • Etc., etc., etc.

If the other stuff in your life doesn’t support these things, it might just be clutter.

Distraction destruction.

Clutter creates distraction. I know that when I used to think about my email inbox of 300,000-odd unread emails, my eyes would glaze over and my stomach would knot with dread. It’s hard to write when your mind is on all of the emails you’ve never responded to.

Same goes with a cluttered desk or office, a cluttered sink full of dishes, even a cluttered schedule.

Sometimes it’s worth it to devote the time to purge that stuff from your life. Sometimes it’s even worth sacrificing one writing session for. Clean it up, get it over with, and get back to writing.

Ultimately, the question you need to ask is:

What needs to happen for you to sit down and write with the focus that you need to write?

The answer might surprise you.

It also might be time to give yourself some grace.

I’m not very good at all at doing this for myself. But if you accidentally spend 45 minutes answering emails instead of writing during your writing hour, just forgive yourself, move on, and be more intentional about writing during your writing hour tomorrow.

We’re human, after all. We’re not perfect. So give yourself some grace, move on, and set yourself up for a successful distraction-free writing session tomorrow.

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The Pressure To Be Great – WN 036

The Pressure to Be Great Image

We’re under tons of pressure all the time — as writers, family members, employees, and just as human beings in general. That stuff can really get to you — and that’s what we’re talking about in Episode 036 of the Write Now podcast.

Under pressure.

Pressure surrounds us all the time — and I’m not just talking about the type that keeps our heads from exploding. I’m talking about the type that keeps us in line socially, that often dictates our behavior without us even realizing it.

Pressure isn’t necessarily good or bad — it’s just a neutral force that presses against us, against our morals and values and strength of character. And we can decide how we respond to it.

And that’s what today’s episode is all about: how to take a step back and reassess the pressure you’re under. It’s about how to deal with and respond to pressure in a way that creates positive outcomes (inspiration) instead of negative outcomes (crippling fear & doubt).

At the end of the day, pressure doesn’t control you. Your decisions about how you react to pressure determine how things turn out.

So give today’s episode a listen, and give in to the pressure — in a good way, in a way that keeps you writing and fulfilled.

Speaking of pressure… I’ve decided I’m going to write a book this year.

I can’t tell you whether or not it’ll be any good. But it’s something I’ve wanted and needed to do for a really long time now, and I’ve decided to commit.

One thing I do know is that it’s going to take a ton of time and hard work. So I’m going back and listening to Episode 009, “Say Yes To Writing”, and remembering that when you say “yes” to one thing, it means you say “no” to something else. And that can be a good thing.

So I’m honing my naysaying abilities. More about what that means in an upcoming episode.

The Book of the Week is not really a book.

The Black Tapes Podcast ImageOK SO. I am still working on reading Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey. It’s really, really good, but also really, really long. (And I’ve been really, really busy.)

HOWEVER!

The Black Tapes Podcast has been my companion this week during my workouts, and I’ve gotta say — this modern radio drama really takes the “work” out of “workout.”

It’s the serial story of a naive audio journalist who finds herself in the midst of an adventure when she begins investigating the videotape collection of a paranormal investigator who doesn’t believe in the paranormal.

Something fun for you to listen to while you’re awaiting new episodes of the Write Now podcast. 😉

Keep up-to-date on my book-reading adventures on Goodreads.

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The Power of a Writers’ Group – WN 035

The Power of a Writers' Group Image

One thing I always want to stress in the Write Now podcast is the fact that you are not alone. Despite what you might feel, despite what you might what (or think you want), you’re not alone. This is important. And it’s the focus of Episode 035 of the Write Now podcast.

Before we begin, a quick note that I’ve made it easier than ever before to support the work I do with the Write Now podcast with my new Tip Jar! 😀

Click here to leave me a tip!

OK. Enough of that. Let’s begin…

Starting a great writers’ group — or making your current writers’ group even better.

Podcast listener Laura emailed me with some questions about best practices for writers’ groups:

I wondered if you would consider doing a podcast on good practices for a writing group?  Do you have any suggestions based on your experience?  Exercises and activities? Resources? Pitfalls to avoid?

Great questions, Laura. And YES! I have experience with both successful and failed writing groups, and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with you.

Different types of writing groups.

Writer-Specific Groups

What type of writers’ group do you want to have? Writing groups that focus on a specific type of writer can include groups for mystery writers, women, veterans suffering from PTSD, sci-fi writers, poets, dissertation students, adolescents, and tons more.

You could also simply just have an umbrella group for people who love to write, regardless of what they’re writing.

The Spectrum of Groups: From Encouraging to Critiquing

What do you want your writers’ group to do for the folks who join (including yourself)? I’ve been part of writers’ groups that are 75% critique and 25% encouragement, and groups that are 90% encouragement and 10% critique (if that). Each offers different benefits.

Critique-heavy writers’ groups will help you develop your skills as a writer, and improve your manuscript (or whatever you happen to be working on) as well as your editing and critiquing skills. They are also great if you want to get better at reading your work in front of others.

Encouraging writers’ groups can tend to be a bit more laid-back — they are places of social inspiration and discussion, and can equip you with the energy and encouragement you need to go home and write up a storm.

Both will give you community and fellowship with like-minded writers, and can help you make both friends and the important connections you need to be successful.

Group Size, Dynamic, & More

You’ll want a group that’s neither too large nor too small. I recommend the sweet spot of 4-8 regular participants.

There’s also the dynamic to consider. I’ve been in writers’ groups where one person is just a really bad fit (perhaps better described as a toxic personality), and we’ve had to find a way to ask them to leave. It’s unpleasant, to say the least.

If you’re beginning your own group, consider carefully whom you’ll be inviting. I’m not advising you to act under an exclusive mindset, but rather to carefully consider the cocktail of personalities you’re mixing together.

You’re creating a writers’ group, a community, a haven for creatives, a circle of trust. So be intentional about whom you invite.

Beware Entrepreneur’s Depression

Bestselling author and blogger Jeff Goins coined this phrase, and I love it: entrepreneur’s depression.

Essentially, if you’re thinking about starting a writers’ group, you’re going to have a vision for it. And a vision can be exciting and awesome and amazing. But sometimes, it can also set you up with some unrealistic expectations.

Your vision may be (like mine was) incredibly optimistic. I imagined 20, 30, 40 people attending my writers’ group in downtown Chicago. I imagined a line out the door of the coffee shop where it was held. But instead, I got one or two people. And often none at all.

It was discouraging. It was easy to feel betrayed and hurt that no one wanted to attend my awesome writers’ group.

But keep at it. Keep showing up, as Jeff Goins says on his blog. Keep inviting people, and make sure that any people who do come have a meaningful time. After all, you started this thing to help others.

Listen!

Fight the temptation to lead your writers’ group like you’re teaching a class. Truly, if you’re looking to help others, the very best thing you can do for them is listen. Plus, you might learn some really cool things.

Benefits of belonging to a writers’ group

  1. Community of people with a similar passion & interests
  2. Support — implicit or explicit
  3. Accountability
  4. Improvement of your writing skills
  5. Zone of trust
  6. Insights, ideas, and perspectives you can’t get on your own
  7. It’s fun!

For me, the most impactful part of belonging to a writers’ group has been the realization of how much more I get accomplished when I have the support and encouragement of my peers. 🙂 And I think that blogger Mad Like Alyce could say the same.

Uh… where’s the Book of the Week?

Finally! I don’t have a book of the week this week because I am wading my way through the glorious science-fantasy epic Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey. BUT you can still keep up-to-date on my book-reading adventures on Goodreads.

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Feeling Like A Fraud – WN 034

Episode-034-Image-Imposter-Syndrome

 

Oh, my friends. It’s time for episode 034 of the Write Now podcast. And I am so glad about that. 🙂

Before we begin, a quick note that I’ve made it easier than ever before to support the work I do with the Write Now podcast with my new Tip Jar! 😀

Click here to leave me a tip!

All right, enough of that. Let’s begin.

“Who gave you permission to be a writer?”

I know that often, on this very podcast, I’ve encouraged you to stand up (or stay seated, whatever) and proudly proclaim, “I am a writer.”

But sometimes (or maybe a lot of the time) saying this can make us feel like a fraud. Or perhaps you feel so fraudulent that you say it with a blush and a grimace, or you never say it at all.

Because despite all the positive, affirming statements, there’s always that voice. That mean, nasty little voice in the back of your mind that causes you to doubt yourself. The voice that asks, so viciously, “Who gave you permission to call yourself a writer?

This is all part of something called the Imposter Syndrome, and today we’re going to talk about how to respond to it.

Why is it so hard for us to see our own value?

The Imposter Syndrome is described beautifully in a New York Times article by Carl Richards entitled “Learning to Deal With the Imposter Syndrome”, published on October 26, 2015.

The article credits psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes for coining the term in 1978, and Richards describes it as follows:

They described it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.” Sound familiar?

Why, yes. Yes it does.

Remembering your worth.

Obviously, it’s not healthy to think that you are the most amazing writer in the cosmos, and that your writing is going to, like, liberate all people everywhere from shackles real and imagined.

But it’s also not healthy to feel worthless or fraudulent. Because you are neither of those things. You. Are. A. Writer. And you have immense worth as a person… whether or not you are working on a writing project at this moment.

And just think — the fact that you even deal with imposter syndrome is an indicator that you have the depth of intelligence and creativity that it takes to be a really fabulous writer.

So what I want you to do, right now, is take a deep breath and say, “My name is [your name], and I am a writer.” I don’t care if you stand up and shout it or remain seated at your desk and whisper it.

Just say it. Believe it. Do it. Be it. Prove that voice in your head wrong. And show the world how amazing you are.

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Do I Need A Website? – WN 033

Do I Need A Website Image

Welcome to episode 033 of the Write Now podcast! Today I am answering the question, “As a writer, do I need a website?” I am also answering the inevitable follow-up questions of “Why?” and “How?” Stay tuned!

Though as you listen, please note: I am not a lawyer! So please take what I say in this episode as my own thoughts & opinions and not official legal counsel. 🙂

As a writer, do I need a website?

Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Yessssssssssssssss.

Seriously, a website is a great tool for any writer, whether you’re a novelist, a blogger, a journalist, a poet, or… you know. Any other kind of writer.

First, I’d like to establish the need for every writer to have an online presence of some type (if not a website). Whether that’s a Twitter profile or an Instagram account, there’s a community of other writers and (perhaps more importantly) readers online that you can’t afford to ignore.

So why would you need a website if you already have a digital presence on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Ello, etc.?

Because you don’t own those properties. Not 100%.

But! BEFORE I GET IN TO ALL OF THAT, just a quick heads-up that I now have a Tip Jar live on my site!

If you feel that the content I provide is valuable and encouraging, tossing a buck or two into my tip jar will help me continue to produce fun, interesting, & ad-free content on a regular basis.

Click here to leave me a tip!

Thank you! 😀

All right. Now back to the good stuff.

Home… home on the web…

You need a home on the web — a digital base camp — that you own and control fully. Here’s why:

Branding.

You can more fully brand yourself — you’re no longer constrained by the blue boxes and formatting of Facebook, or the 140-character limit of Twitter. You don’t have to worry about being censored or having posts removed if you’re a fan of four-letter words.

Trust & credibility.

Your own website lends you trust and credibility. You can refer people to [yourname].com instead of encouraging them to find you on Facebook/Twitter/etc.

Professional email.

And you can set up email on your domain so that your queries and correspondences come from something like hello@sarahwerner.com instead of saucylibrarian82@hotmail.

Blog and write whatever you want.

Your website is also a great place to host a blog, where you can establish yourself as an expert in your field — whether that’s novel writing, poetry, book or music reviewing, technical writing, and more.

Build your audience, readership, or tribe.

Your own website is also a great home base from which to build your tribe, a.k.a. your audience or readership. Build loyalty, collect email addresses, send emails to the list you build, and more.

(For example, check out the black bar at the top of this page, where you have the option to sign up for the Write Now newsletter!)

Make the money you deserve from your work.

Finally! With a bit of finagling, you could sell your books from your website and not deal with the 30%, 60%, 80%, etc. costs of a middleman like Amazon.

How do I get my own website as a writer?

The awesome news is that you don’t have to pay an agency $35,000 for your own website. In fact, depending on what you want your site to do, it’s quite likely that you can make it yourself for a relatively small investment.

Build it!

Here’s what I recommend, depending on your level of comfort with digital & web-based stuff:

I built my website on wordpress.org, if you’re curious. And no, none of these platforms is paying me to shill them (sadly). I actually do recommend them.

Measure your analytics & success.

Web analytics (such as Google Analytics, which is free and easy to install) provide a treasure trove of valuable information. Dive in to the analytics of your website to see what’s working, what’s not working, and adjust your website accordingly.

Use social media to your advantage.

Yes! Despite having your lovely new website home at you-dot-com, it’s still advantageous to use social media to drive traffic back to your website. So instead of posting your thoughts to Facebook/Twitter/etc., post them to your website and link to that post on social media.

My last piece of website advice.

However you choose to build your website (or if you have someone do it for you), the best advice I can give you is to keep it simple. Less is more online. Remember that and you’ll be just fine.

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Your New Year’s Writing Resolution – WN 032

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Let’s take a look at New Year’s resolutions specifically for writers in episode 032 of the Write Now podcast.

Make & keep your New Year’s resolution.

Let’s be honest — we are not part of the 8% of the populace that actually sticks to a New Year’s resolution. For most of us, a New Year’s resolution is lucky to last through the third week of January. And many of us, I’m sure, see New Year’s resolutions as dumb, hypocritical, or useless.

But maybe this year we can use the idea of a New Year’s resolution to improve ourselves as writers.

8 tips for making and keeping your New Year’s resolution:

  1. Keep it positive.
  2. Make it realistic and focus on just one thing.
  3. Make sure it’s something you actually want to do.
  4. Establish a way to hold yourself accountable.
  5. Set baby-step goals and celebrate every time you reach one. Remember, you’re establishing a new habit and that is hard.
  6. Set the stakes, if you need to.
  7. Start before January 1! (Yes, you can do that!)
  8. Remember to fail a lot.
Midori helps me podcast.

Midori stayed here throughout the recording of this episode.

My New Year’s resolution for 2016 is to write 100 words per day, 7 days a week. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

And I’d love for you to keep me posted, too. Contact me or send me an email telling me about your New Year’s resolution. We’ll hold each other accountable and make 2016 a year of amazing writing.

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Creating In A Time of Destruction – WN 031

Creating in a Time of Destruction - WN 031

Talking about creation and destruction go hand-in-hand. And I think that writers play a special part in not only conveying the destruction of the present, but creating the future.

Makers gonna make, yo. Let’s do this together in episode 031 of the Write Now podcast.

Creation, destruction, & writing.

Destruction is hard to talk about — it’s so deeply tied with loss and grief and pain. But it’s a reality that we as writers have to deal with, whether it’s the latest in a string of mass shootings, the bulldozing of a beloved local forest, or an illness that’s ravaging the body or mind of someone dear to us.

Today’s episode is based on a quote that I love by Maxine Hong Kingston:

“In a time of destruction, create something.”

— Maxine Hong Kingston

And so when we’re in the midst of a time of destruction, a long and vast stretch of wilderness, I think what matters is how we respond to it.

Because we are powerful, creative beings. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again until the day I die — words have power. The power to create and the power to destroy. The power to expose truth and shape the future.

The world is changing. Let’s change it for the better, together.

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Letting Go – WN 030

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Letting go is one of the hardest things a writer (let alone a human being) has to do. It speaks of loss — whether willful or not — and grief and all manner of unpleasant things.

But as a writer, you have to do it. And it would benefit you to learn to do it well, and with grace.

Today, in Episode 030 of the Write Now podcast, we’ll talk about the different types of letting go you may face in your daily writing, work, and life overall.

And I’ll try not to get that Disney song stuck in your head.

How to let go of:

  1. Perfectionism. Remember, done is better than perfect.
  2. Things that have changed and you cannot change back. And how to be OK with it.
  3. Needing to change other people (and letting go of your own ego). You are a finite resource, and you may need to pick your battles.
  4. Your own self-deceit. Sometimes clinging to a good idea prevents you from working on a great idea.

Finally, we’ll talk about how to know when to let things go, and how to give yourself some breathing room.

This is important stuff. I hope you like it.

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Writing With All of Your Senses – WN 029

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I’m back from my mission trip to Jamaica, my friends. And I have several stories and writing insights to share with you. It’s all here in episode 029 of the Write Now podcast.

Is travel a “must” for writers?

Travel is a great way for writers to learn, grow, and gain an entirely new perspective. The only downside is that it’s not feasible or accessible for everyone. Travel can be expensive, and not everyone can take an extended leave of absence from work, family, or other duties.

This is why I’m so grateful to my employer, Click Rain, for sending me on an annual overseas mission trip to inland Jamaica for the past three years. In today’s podcast episode, you’ll hear all about my trip and how it affected me as a writer.

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My Writing Retreat – WN 028

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Welcome to Episode 028 of Write Now. I’ve returned from my annual writing retreat and we’ve got some catching up to do.

Should I take a writing retreat?

I’ve spoken with a lot of writers over the years about the merits of a writers’ retreat. And the question of Should I? isn’t really fair to ask, since the answer has been a resounding Yes! from all surveyed.

Perhaps a better question to ask is: How do I keep the good effects of a short-term writing retreat going throughout the year?

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NaNoWriMo and You – WN 027

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It’s November–and you know what that means! Or maybe you don’t, in which case I’ll tell you: it’s NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH! And the way I see it, November is a time to celebrate all writers, not just novelists. That includes you. Get ready for the writing frenzy with episode 027 of Write Now.

What is NaNoWriMo, and is it right for me?

This is the nanowrimo logo.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month (because who wants to say that over and over?), and over the years this has become a sort of marathon for writers. The challenge? To write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, from November 1-30.

Yes, that’s nearly 1,700 words per day. Yes, that’s insane. But it can also be kind of fun, and a great way to get into a daily writing habit.

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When Life Kinda Sucks – WN 026

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Episode 026 of the Write Now podcast is once again sponsored by my good friend Dave Booda at the Darken the Page podcast. Check it out!

Life isn’t always as amazing as we’d like it to be.

…To put it lightly.

Sometimes the Powers That Be decide that juggling the usual work/life/writing balance just isn’t hard enough, and sends us fun new things to deal with on top of it all. Things like illness, depression, toxic people, and bad situations at work.

So what’s a writer to do?

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My 10 Favorite Books (Part 2) – WN 025

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Episode 025 of the Write Now podcast is sponsored by my good friend Dave Booda at the Darken the Page podcast for creatives of all kinds. He’s a smart and funny dude. Check it out!

LET’S TALK ABOUT BOOKS AGAIN!

Today’s podcast is a follow-up to last week’s episode about 5 of my 10 favorite books.

In this episode, you’ll learn about the remaining five, as well as the reasons why they’re so important to me:

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My 10 Favorite Books (Part 1) – WN 024

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DID YOU KNOW THAT I LOVE BOOKS? This is a good thing, because episode 024 of the Write Now podcast is all about books. Hooray!

This week’s episode is sponsored by my good friend Dave Booda at the Darken the Page podcast. Dave is passionate about exploring the creative process, and his interview-style podcast lends some great perspective. Check it out!

What are your favorite books?

As writers, we tend to love books. Many books, various books, perhaps even all books.

But we still have our favorites — those books that we’ve had since childhood, books that comforted us when we were afraid, that kept us company when we were lonely. Those books that contain characters we count closer than our friends and remind us of all the possibilities life can bring.

Here are 5 of my 10 favorite books, along with the reasons why.

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What Does Success Look Like For You? – WN 023

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Oh man. Episode 023 of the Write Now podcast is about SUCCESS. Get ready  for some kind of MONTAGE or MOTIVATIONAL POSTER, probably!

…Or, you know, a nice earnest discussion on what it means to find success as a writer.

What does success look like for you as a writer?

It’s something that we all daydream about but rarely give any serious thought: What would it look like if we were successful?

I think that a lot of writers interpret success as a “luck of the draw” type fate, and to a certain degree, that’s true. But I think those writers also tend to underestimate the power of strategic planning and goal-setting.

It all starts with understanding and defining what success means for and looks like to you as a writer.

For you, is success:

  • Changing the way your society operates?
  • Shaking up the status quo?
  • Spreading an idea?
  • Selling a lot of books?
  • Making a ton of money from selling a ton of books?
  • Hitting the New York Times or Amazon bestseller list?

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Was I Meant To Be A Writer? – WN 022

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Hey friends. Have you ever questioned your writer-ly destiny? Then Episode 022 of the Write Now podcast is for you.

What if I simply wasn’t meant to be a writer?

I received a letter from a very bright, very talented young writer named Amanda who was wondering whether she was actually meant to be a writer.

Her letter affected me so much that I decided to dedicate this episode to exploring the topic.

Amanda writes,

I’m not sure if I’m meant to be writing… I like coming up with characters and thinking about the situations they would get into. I like developing the characters. I love dialogue particularly.

…But I spend maybe 5% of my writing time actually writing. The rest of the time, I am in misery. I agonize over my faults until I can barely move, let alone be creative…

I’m just wondering if I should even be writing at all. Can someone maybe have a passion for writing but then shouldn’t do it anyway?

Wow. It took me a while, but I was finally able to provide Amanda with an answer, and I’d like to share it with you.

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How To Defeat Writers’ Block – WN 021

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My friends. Episode 021 of the Write Now podcast is about writer’s block and how to defeat it. GET READY.

Have you ever struggled with writers’ block?

Writers’ block can seize any writer at any point during the writing process. But that doesn’t mean you can’t fight back!

In today’s podcast episode, I talk about what to do when:

  • You can’t come up with an idea
  • You have too many ideas and you can’t commit to just one
  • You don’t know what to write next
  • You’ve strayed from your outline and you don’t know how to get back on track
  • You’re bored with what you’ve written
  • You don’t feel like writing
  • You’re paralyzed by fear
  • You’re stuck in revision purgatory

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Truth In Fiction – WN 020

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I never intended to go into marketing. In fact, I just kind of fell into it — and realized I was fairly decent at it. In marketing, I’ve learned a lot about truth (and how people respond to truth) that I’ll share with you today in Episode 020 of the Write Now podcast.

Truth! Beauty! Right?

There’s an adage that says, “Writers are professional liars.” I can understand the cynicism and humor that lie beneath that statement, but I don’t agree with it. Not a bit.

When you’re writing to connect with people, whether it’s an account of factual events or a story about unicorns piloting spaceships through a multiverse of rainbows, you have a responsibility to tell the truth.

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7 Reasons You Need A Writing Mentor – WN 019

7 reasons you need a writing mentor

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Do you have a writing mentor? Find out why it’s super-important to have one in Episode 019 of the Write Now podcast!

Every writer needs a mentor.

What are the benefits of having a writing mentor? How do you go about finding one? Is it possible you have one already? And how can you tell a good mentor from a bad one? SO MANY QUESTIONS! Good thing I have so many answers.

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Fail A Lot – WN 018

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Hey there, friends. In episode 018 of the Write Now podcast, I’m going to give you some advice that I’ll bet you don’t hear all that often:

Fail a lot.

As writers, why are we such perfectionists? Why do we expect perfection from ourselves? Shouldn’t we understand better than anyone else that the human creature is inherently and beautifully flawed?

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Your Professional vs. Creative Self – WN 017

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Welcome to Episode 017 of the Write Now podcast, my lovelies. I am so glad you’re here. Today we’re going to talk about your work/life/writing balance.

Where are you putting your energy?

If you go out to iTunes and check out the Write Now podcast “about” info, you’ll see it says:

“A weekly podcast for aspiring writers looking to find a healthy work/life/writing balance.”

Sometimes, I feel like three separate selves trying to work together, instead of one self trying to find balance: my work self, my life self, and my creative writing self. And they don’t always get along:

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How to Make Writing Fun Again. – WN 016

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This is the sweet 16th episode of the Write Now podcast with yours truly.

Sometimes we lose that spark.

Remember when writing used to be fun? Or better yet, satisfying?

You can find that feeling again. It might just be a matter of letting go of some other stuff that matters less. It’s about understanding what it is you love about writing.

Here are some simple questions you can ask yourself that will guide your mind back into a happy writing place.

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Why Is It So Important For Writers To Read? – WN 015

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Welcome to Episode 015 of the Write Now podcast. We’re going to be talking about something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while. SO I HOPE YOU HAVE BEEN WANTING TO HEAR IT! (Hint: the topic is BOOKS, you guys!)

Why do writers need to read?

“Reading is essential if you’re going to be a writer.” You’ve heard it from teachers and fellow writers and books on writing. Heck, you’ve even heard it from me.

you-need-to-read

(And from Stephen King.)

But why? Why is it so essential for writers to read?

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Creating A Space For Writing – WN 014

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YOU GUYS it has been a while. But I am back, and the foam on my delicious cappuccino is as fluffy and delightful as the suds in an angel’s bathtub. (Is that weird? Maybe that’s weird. But it’s TRUE.) Anyway, I’m glad you’re here.

Where do you write?

It surprises me sometimes — where I am able and where I am unable to write. Can you write anywhere? Or do you have certain objects, snacks, or environmental enhancements (whatever that means) that you need to be able to write?

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7 Ways to Write Yourself Out of a Corner – WN 013

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Oooh. Lucky episode 013. Or unlucky, if you suffer from triskaidekaphobia. And I hope you don’t, because I think you’ll enjoy this episode.

Help! I’ve written myself into a corner!

We’ve all been there. That point where you realize a scene’s just not working. Or where you realize that your character’s motivations don’t match the action you need him or her to take. Or where you realize your outline sucks, or that you’ve been writing an extended idea and not a story.

You’ve written yourself into a corner and you have no idea how to fix it. Well, I don’t want you to be in the corner. The corner sucks.

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My 8 Favorite Writing Tools – WN 012

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In this week’s episode of the “Write Now” podcast, I talk about caffeine addiction, my obsession with Bic 0.7mm #2 mechanical pencils, an intense personal dislike of sports, the ubiquitous egg timer, and (bonus!) Jane Austen’s homemade ink recipe.

Buckle up, because this is going to be ONE WILD RIDE.

What are the tools of the writer’s craft?

Sculptors use a hammer and chisel. Knitters use needles. Writers use… what? A word processing program on a laptop? A composition notebook and pencil? A vintage Lillian Rose typewriter from 1945?

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