The Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Found

Today’s post is a little more nostalgic than I usually am on the blog. But this is absolutely the most revolutionary piece of advice I could ever offer anyone with a dream and I have to share it. Plus it gives me a chance to share a bit more of my story with you.

Writing is hard work. Anyone who has ever written a novel or attempted to publish anything can tell you that it’s not all creative sparks and frolicking through fields of perfect ideas. It’s rewarding because it’s challenging, but the challenges can really overtake you if you aren’t careful.

This happened to me. I’ve been writing since I was eight years old and creating stories and worlds way before that. Writing has always been my lifeline, the thing that keeps me going, the way I know how I’m thinking, and my creative outlet. I write because I love it and because I can’t not write.

However, a few years ago, I went through a pretty traumatic life experience (don’t worry, there will probably be a book about it someday…the gist is a broken heart and a broken spirit) that rendered me practically unable to write consistently. I’d get these brief, glistening threads of inspiration, write and write and write until they were fully realized on paper and then have no energy to attempt writing anything else for months at a time.

This cycle continued for almost three years. I felt like a failure, like a horrible writer, like I had abandoned every idea I had ever had, and that I would never see my dream of being a published author come true. I felt listless, lost, and empty.

And then in a fit of stubbornness and screw-it-all attitude, after venting to my husband about my frustrations with my writing and with my creativity, I decided that I would write a novel during NaNoWriMo. And I would finish this novel, thankyouverymuch!

I guess being a stubborn redhead is a good thing, sometimes.

I finished, four days ahead of schedule, with just over 50,000 words to show for my hard work. But I learned something important that November. The reason I had succeeded wasn’t because a thread of inspiration came to call and I panicked and wrote 1200 words in one sitting while I tried to hold onto the thread for as long as I could. The reason I succeeded was simple.

Every day, for thirty days, I sat down to write. I had a daily word count goal and sometimes I reached it, sometimes I didn’t and sometimes I far surpassed it. But every single day, regardless of what was going on, I sat down and wrote.

I wrote early in the morning, I wrote late in the evening, I wrote while watching movies with my husband, I wrote with my computer squished onto my lap as we drove an hour away to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I even wrote a bit on Thanksgiving after our guests had left at the end of the night, with miles of dishes piled high in our sink and my back screaming at me for being on my feet all day.

This book was not the best thing I’ve ever written in my life. But it had that glimmer of life that had been lost in my attempts at writing for several years. And what I learned during that month of writing has been the most important part of getting back into my passion.

Ever since I wrote that book I’ve seen this little tidbit of advice pop up everywhere. Blog posts I read, books I read, websites, tv shows, conversations with my mom, conversations with friends.

Do something every single day. It doesn’t matter what. It could be writing 1200 words or writing 100. It could be editing your novel, or fleshing out a character. But every single day, whenever you can and wherever you are, write something. Anything. Write about the woman on the street who had those adorable shoes, write about an apple’s thoughts as it falls from a tree, write about how you brush your teeth. Anything!

It may not seem like much in the beginning. It may seem like you’re not making progress or you’re just dallying in a hobby. But keep your dream in mind, whether it’s to publish your books, become an editor, join the circus, or become President. Hold your dream close to your heart and do something, big or small, every day, that will get you there. When you publish your book, or become an editor, or start a circus, or become President, you’ll look back and see the trail of small and big accomplishments.

And you’ll realize that even on the days when you struggled to write for three minutes while waiting to pick up your kids from school, or scrambled to pen a quick book title as you got off the bus to go to work, you were still working, still moving forward, still aiming for the dream in your heart. And every single bit of effort will be all the more worth it.

“Work with all your heart, because – I promise – if you show up for your work day after day after day after day, you just might get lucky enough some random morning to burst right into bloom.”

– Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Cheers!

Alexis

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How to Create a Stand-Out Title

create a title that stands out

For me, one of the easiest parts of writing is coming up with titles for my work. More often than not, I just go with my gut and the phrase sticks. But sometimes, picking a title is really hard. For instance, my Elves series is simply called “Elves” because I haven’t come up with something else I really like yet.

But no more! Today I’m going to walk you through a process to pick a title you love for your current work. One part training, one part fun adult homework, and one part brainstorming exercise, we’ll break down the places you can draw inspiration from to name your works, and gather it all together to come up with a few different options so you can pick the perfect title.

And hopefully, at the end of this exercise, I’ll have a title for my fantasy series concerning elves and you’ll have a better idea of what to call your own stories or books.

And yes, there is even a worksheet! Because what writing exercise is complete without a worksheet?? (Why is adult homework so much better than kid homework?) Click here to download the worksheet and print it out! There is a lot of goodness in this post and I made the worksheet as the perfect complement to all this information.

First things first…

Don’t Worry About When

I want to make a note about the ever-hovering when. As in…when you should name your book or story. I know some authors are very opinionated on this…naming at the beginning keeps the themes and feel of the story authentic all the way through or naming at the end helps tie everything together once the details are sorted.

To be honest, I don’t think it matters to anyone but you, so name your book where it feels right to you. If you want that guidance from the get-go, name your story before you write it and when you’re in the conceptual phase. If you’d rather have the title be all-representing, wait until you’ve finished and know your fully fleshed out novel.

Or you can be like me and fall in love with a phrase in the middle of writing your book and make that your title. It’s really all ok.

And now you can break out your worksheets cause it’s about to crazy in here!

Four Quick Tips for Stand Out Titles

Before we get to the meaty title-making, there are a few things to remember when you’re giving your work a title. These are my top four quick tips to naming your creations:

Evoke Emotion
Convince, Don’t Confuse
Be Clever, but Don’t be Crude
KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid!

The first thing someone will notice about your book on a shelf if the cover. The second thing someone will notice is the title. Aside from the cover artwork, your title is the number one way to not only set the stage for your entire book or series but also to draw in new readers and appeal to new audiences.

You want your title to get people curious…to engage some emotion in them that intrigues them and induces them to pick up your novel. You don’t want a title that is misleading. Instead, you want something that gives your reader a small piece of your book. Don’t name your book an irrelevant name or go for shock value. You want to build trust with your readers, not turn them away.

When in doubt, keep it simple. As silly as it was, Twilight was a catchy title.

Now, let’s get started!

Genres

Let’s start with the big picture: genre. What genre does your story fall in? I’m sure you’ve noticed that different genres have their own “feel”. Romance titles tend to be a bit more dramatic and emotional, Sci-fi titles tend to be a bit more logical, straightforward. Historical fiction as a genre carries names of notable people or places or roles in history, and contemporary general fiction tends toward more poetic titles. Do a bit of research and find some titles within your genre that you like or feel drawn to. These can be a great starting point for structure or phrasing a title, so write down your favorites and look for comparisons between them.

Setting

Where does your story take place? A fantastical world? Tudor England? Modern day Sydney? Mars? Great stories have vivid settings, and the adjectives and phrasing you use to create this world for your readers can be a good place to start to finding your perfect title. Use your worksheet and write down a few key descriptors of your story’s setting.

Themes

There are few better places to start when you’re really at a loss for a title. Common themes in your book can give you keywords, emotions, phrases, a variety of things really.
Say you’re writing a short story about a young graduate’s first interview…what are the main themes someone could pull out of it? New experiences? Stepping out of the familiar and into the unknown? Taking risks? Really dig into what your characters motivations are. Why they do what they do can lend you a stand-out title. Write down the top three themes of your story on your worksheet.

Character Events

Character motivations can lend good themes while character events can lead to active, powerful titles. Going off an event like your character’s trigger, or the choice that sets the story in motion can create a title that draws readers in and already gets them curious about the ending. Write down some notable events in your story,

Phrases From Your Story

This is where I get quite a bit of my inspiration. Common phrases characters speak. Encapsulating phrases about events or character experiences or emotion. It is in this work of description in my stories where I most often surprise myself with what I’m capable of writing and those quite often end up being the perfect title.

Something to Consider…

Knowing your target audience is another component in naming your work. Whether you’re writing for teenagers, adults in a midlife crisis, or a young child, your title will be different. Knowing your audience can be a good guideline to titling your work.

Now, I’ve left you quite a bit of room to pull words and themes and emotion from these past breakdowns of your book or story and piece them together into a title. Spend several minutes here. Be intentional and think critically of how you want your story to be perceived.

Don’t stress about this. Take your time, and let yourself roll different ideas around in your head.

Once you’ve decided, it’s time to celebrate! Whether you do a happy dance in your chair or break out the champagne, give yourself a pat on the back for creating a stand-out title.

And write it big in the nice box I made for you on the worksheet. 🙂

I would LOVE to hear how this worksheet worked for you. Did it help you come up with a title? I’d love to hear your titles too!

In case you missed the link, click here to download the worksheet!

Cheers!

Alexis

How to Stay Organized: Part 1

How to Stay Organized Part 1.jpg

Staying organized as a writer can be hard. If you’re like me, you write both on paper, and on the computer, so you have notes and thoughts and scenes and things to remember spread out all around your desk, your purse, your bedside table, your coffee table, the living room floor. And it’s not just physical notes either…your computer is probably stuffed with story ideas, lost outlines, character profiles, timelines, etc. No wonder we can feel so frazzled!

Getting organized, whether that means compiling all your notes for your stories, keeping track of your favorite resources, or simply making it easier for you to focus on writing when you sit down each day if vital to keeping up your momentum and your creativity.

Plus I just love organizing.

So in the spirit of spring cleaning (perhaps a little late, but whatever) let’s get organized!

For Part 1 of this series, we’re going to start with an area that most of us writers are probably the all too familiar with: our computers. I do most of my writing on my computer so it’s very important for me to have a well-organized folder system.

Let’s start with…

1. PDF Resources

Ah, the wonders of email sign up bonuses. I love a good PDF, whether it’s on character development, inspiration, or plot work. However, I don’t particularly enjoy reading these on my computer. If you have an iPad, a Kindle, a Nook, then boy do I have a treat for you.

To organize all these great resources I find on the internet that arrive in my inbox in PDF format, I use my friendly iBooks app on my iPad. I’m a big reader so I have the iBooks app, the Nook app, and the Kindle app and I have each one organized for different purposes. The Kindle app is for library books, the Nook app is for ebooks I purchase and the iBooks app is for all the writing guides and PDFs I get off the internet.

For example: I discover a new writing blog and sign up for their email and in return, I get an ebook on, say, how to create good characters. I will then transfer this ebook to my iBook app to read at my leisure!

Here are directions on how to get PDFs onto apps on your iPad or iPhone, your Nook, or your Kindle.

How to Add PDF Documents to the iBooks App, the Nook app or the Kindle app easily and quickly.

This really couldn’t be easier. When you receive a PDF or ebook in your email, click the link to open the file. It will open in your web browser app. Tap the screen once and a light white bar will appear at the top of the screen. On the left side of the bar, it will say “Open in iBooks…” And on the right side of the bar, it will say “Open in…”.

-For iBooks: Touch “Open in iBooks…”. iBooks will open and the file will open.
-For the Nook app: Touch “Open in…”. In the window that opens, click Copy to Nook. You’ll be taken to the Nook app where the file will open.
-For the Kindle app: Touch “Open in…”. In the window that opens, click Copy to Kindle. You’ll be taken to the Kindle app where the file will open.

Of course, the other option is to print out each of the PDF’s that you find, but I’ll talk more about that and organizing them in the next post in the series.

2. Using Pinterest As an Organizational Tool (And Other Options)

Pinterest is pretty much the bee’s knees when it comes to inspiration, help with projects, and best of all, article storage. You can create a board for literally anything, and almost everything you encounter on the interwebs these days has a pinnable image so you can keep track of the things you want to remember.

I use Pinterest for a variety of things, but in my writing, I use Pinterest as a way to keep articles I want to reference in the future, or worksheets I want to remember to print out, or a place to keep resources like e-courses and workbooks. You can even pin videos now and items you want to buy later one!

I create boards depending on the topic or the theme and reference them frequently. For instance, I have a board just for writing prompts (feel free to follow it and use the prompts whenever you want!) that I refer back to all the time for ideas when I’m stumped and need something, anything to write.

In addition to Pinterest, I know there are a few other tools people love. The main one is Evernote. I have minimal experience with Evernote but my father, who is also a writer and published author swears by it for everything from notes for his books to planning family vacations. Instead of boards, you create notebooks, and compile links, images, videos, etc and you can access it all offline as well!

I also know that Trello can work similarly although it’s more of a planning tool than an idea organization tool. However, I use Trello daily for keeping track of my blogging schedule, dumping post ideas, and keeping The Lexicon Writing Blog’s style guide all close at hand.

Use what works best for you and don’t be afraid to try out other programs! The beauty of Pinterest is that you can make everything public, so you can hop over to my boards and grab some information and I can hop over to yours for writing prompt ideas and we can all share inspiration for our stories. It really creates a community of sharing that’s unseen on any other social media platform and that’s why I love it so much.

3. Organizing Files and Documents On Your Computer

If there is one surefire way that you could find me procrastinating (Me, procrastinate? Never!), it is with reorganizing files on my computer.

I have literally hundreds of files on my computer, most of which are incomplete novels, short stories, songs, poems, character profiles, timelines, outlines, subplot charts, and all manner of supporting documents for the really big ones: my stories.

Now before I go into the actual organizing bit here, I need to stress the importance of backup. Whether you have a program like Backblaze going constantly, or you add things to an external hard drive a few times a week, there is nothing worse than having your computer crash or getting a new one and transferring the files, only to find you lost your next great work or that plot bunny you wrote down and meant to get to but never did only to find it lost when you found the time.

It’s happened to me. There were fountains of tears. It wasn’t pretty.

Use what you must, to give yourself peace of mind. Especially if your computer is an old one, like mine is and could kick the bucket any day.

Now onto the fun part! (Is anyone else obsessively interested in organizing like me?)

I like to keep my desktop simple and clean so I only put folders on my desktop that I’ll access on the regular. Right now, that’s four folders: the folder containing all the world on my Elves series, a folder with my other writing projects, a folder of resources I want to keep at easy reach, and of course, the folder for this blog, TLWB.

I use a Mac so in the dock, in my Documents folder, I keep everything else: printables, recipes, e-courses, etc. But all the important stuff…the stuff that I access every day, and use consistently is on my desktop for easy reach.

Within each folder are more subfolders. For this blog, I have a folder for branding, a folder for blog posts, a folder for social media, a folder to other business items. And the tree continues with more subfolders in those. I like to sort things by year, then the month, then by name. So when I create a workbook, say for a blog post in June, I’ll have the workbook, the blog post, the Pinterest and Instagram images, all in one folder with the post title. That’ll be in the June folder, in the 2016 folder. See?

For e-courses, I do something similar. I have folders on common themes in the e-courses I take, such as social media, email marketing, fiction writing, etc. and within those folders are subfolders for each e-course, and within that folder is all the information I acquired during the course.

It’s a great system for me because it keeps every layer is kept simple and quick to browse, which is exactly how I want it. I don’t want to waste time scrolling through files looking for something for five minutes when a bit of good organization would have helped me find it in one minute.

What systems do you use for online or digital resources and for organizing your stories if you write on your computer? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Part 2 will be all about organizing physical materials. I can’t wait to share it!

Cheers!

Alexis

Creating a Writing Schedule That Actually Works

create a writing schedule that actually works

Let’s be real: finding time to write can be really hard. With day jobs, families, social obligations, community involvement, and Netflix, it’s hard to fit in the time to sit down and write. I can’t even stress the importance of writing every single day, but full disclosure: I don’t write every single day. I write almost every single day. And that’s because I have a schedule that allows me to write even when the rest of my life gets crazy.

Today we’re going to get you a writing schedule so you can make those small steps every day to write your way to your dream. All you need is a bit of gumption, your planner or calendar, and an open mind.

Break Down Your Schedule

Grab a piece of paper and write down your general daily schedule. Mine looks like this:

Mon-Thurs: Wake up at 6:30 and work out

Get ready for work and arrive at 8:30

Work until 4pm

Get home at 4:20

Pick my husband up at 5pm

Make dinner, clean the kitchen, perhaps watch a tv show, make lunches for the next day, get ready for bed

Bed by 9:30pm or 10pm

Fri-Sun: Free days…Church and grocery shopping on Sundays

Find Free Pockets of Time

For me, I have a chunk of free time every day Monday through Thursday, from 4:20 to about 4:55 when I go pick up my husband from work. That gives me over half an hour to get settled at my desk and crank out something, anything! Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are a bit more flexible.

Give Yourself a Daily Goal

Whether it’s writing for half an hour each day or writing 300 words a day, just make it something manageable. And it doesn’t have to be the same every day. For me, on Mondays through Thursdays, I just try to write for that half hour between getting home from work and picking up my husband. On Fridays through Sundays, I give myself a word count instead. Our schedule is always changing so I challenge myself to write 300 words a day for the weekend. This way I know my goal, but I can fit it in whenever it is convenient for whatever we have going on.

Follow Through

It takes over a month to set a habit, but they can be broken in a day. Be diligent about sitting down to write during your scheduled time, or writing your goal amount every day. It will be hard at first, but as you continue on, you’ll build the habit and eventually it will be harder to break it than to build it!

Make the Most of Your Time

Your writing time isn’t your excuse to check Facebook or read writer blogs (although, I confess, I have read many blogs and called it my “writing” exercise for the day…don’t do it!). Your writing time is for you to write. So when you sit down at your computer, turn off the wifi, or if your computer is too much of a distraction, go old-school and write with pen and paper. You’ll feel more accomplished if you can see the progress you made rather than feeling bummed that you sacrificed your writing time for reading other people’s work.

Create Your Space

It’ll do you no good if you sit down to write and get overwhelmed by your messy desk or your chattering kids or your husband mowing the lawn. Create a space that is conducive to inspiration, not distraction. It doesn’t have to be a desk, it could be the dining room table or a sewing table or a coffee table. Just keep it neat and clean and in a quiet area. My husband and I have a home office and my desk is right by the window. I love getting the late afternoon sunshine coming through the window. I often listen to music to drown out my cat chirping at us or my husband’s game noises. I like to have inspirational quotes on the wall in front of my desk to urge me on and I keep some of my favorite things on my desk. It’s a happy place to be and I enjoy sitting down to write every day.

Utilize Spare Bits of Time

There will be some days where writing just doesn’t happen. Your writing time will get taken over by a sick child, a family vacation, a spontaneous meeting, or another required obligation you can’t get out of. That is totally ok. Life happens! Don’t beat yourself up about it and don’t think you’re a failure. Instead, find a little bit of time where you can scribble something down. Just before bed, pull out a notebook and reflect on your day as if you were writing a movie review, or details your nightly routine, or describe in hyper-detail the outfit your daughter wore to school. Write while you’re waiting for a meeting to start, or waiting for a friend to get coffee, or while you’re waiting for dinner to cook. There are always little chunks of three, five, ten minutes here and there. Take advantage of them, and write.

See? Practically painless. I’d love to hear what your writing schedule is in the comments and if you have any tricks for sticking to a schedule!

Cheers!
Alexis

May’s Writing Round Up

I love these posts. I’m such a sucker for compilations of links to cool things on the internet and I can’t help but share! These are my favorite articles, blog posts, and books from the month of May.

May's Round Up

1. As a blogger, I’m always looking for thoughts on how to be a better blogger (which I believe in turn, makes me a better writer!). This article by Elle and Company’s Lauren Hooker on whether or not the length of your blog posts actually matters was right up my alley this month.

2. I discovered this fantastic free novel outline this month from Eva Deverell and am already in love with the whole workbook! It’s such a great writing exercise!

3. I don’t know about you but I can easily get distracted from the real work of editing my books. This post on ways to stick with your novel was so helpful!

4. Making a living as writer is easy…said no one ever. This post on how to make a living made me want to jump up and down in excitement.

5. For all my fantasy/sci-fi writers out there (or really anyone who has to write a setting) this article on the basics of creating a world is for you.

6. Free books you guys!! 

Cheers!

Alexis

Get Those Words Out! Writing When Time is Short

Get Those Words Out

One struggle I always have as a writer is some days, it’s just really hard to sit down and write out my personal daily quota. Either I don’t have time, or I’m lacking motivation, or I get to the end of the day and realize that everything else took my time and writing just didn’t happen. Does this ever happen to you?

These are the moments where I’m most susceptible to feeling like a failure. I didn’t fit in my quota, or I didn’t do big work on my book or my blog. These are also the moments where I have to remind myself of the most important thing I tell myself as a writer: Every little step will lead me to where I ultimately want to be. Don’t forget this, friends. Every little step will you to where you ultimately want to be. As long as you do something every single day, you’re making progress, whether it’s fleshing out a character, testing your conversation writing skills, editing a whole chapter in your book, or just writing a response to a random prompt for five minutes because that’s all you have time for. As long as we engage ourselves and write something, no matter what it is, we’ve done what we need to do to keep moving forward to our dreams.

But here’s where practicality kicks in: what do you write when you only have fifteen minutes? Ten minutes? Five minutes?

There is an abundance of resources out there to help get the writing juices flowing if you only know where to look. These are my top three tried and true exercises for when I’m short on time.

#1: Writing Sprints

If you’ve ever done NaNoWriMo, then you know the joys and hurdles of writing sprints. Basically, you set a timer for a specific amount of time, and once it starts you write and write and write and keep writing until the buzzer rings! The goal here isn’t to write incredible prose, or well-fleshed out characters, or even something comprehensible. Your goal here is to stumble through and write a scene, a short story, a setting, a conversation, as fast as you can, as many words as you can. Yes, it’s hard. But some of my favorite parts of my first book in my Elvan Footsteps series came from these writing sprints. They needed a bit of time at the spa to really get impressive, but the heart was there.

#2: Writing Prompts

I love, love, love writing prompts. Some of my best work came from me browsing willy-nilly on Pinterest looking for inspiration and writing the first thing that came to mind. There are so many places to find prompts; it all depends on how hard you want to look. Pinterest is a wellspring of writing prompts. Just search “writing prompts” and you’ll have enough ideas to last your entire life.

There are several good books full of writing prompts out there too. One my favorites if 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto. Every time I flip through the pages, I find some inspiration to whip out.

You can even glean inspiration from other sources. Grab a magazine or a newspaper, find a headline or pull quote and write a story inspired by what you find. Set a timer for yourself and see what you can write.

#3: Pen to Paper

It must be an unspoken rule that most writers carry a small notebook and pen with them wherever they go. Normally you’d use your little notebook to write down plot ideas, book title ideas, etc. But here’s a thought: use it to actually write! When you’re on the bus commuting to and from work, when you’re waiting for a meeting to start or waiting to pick up the kids from school. Instead of just scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, make use of that time and do a bit of writing.

Since you’ll only have a few minutes, do something that is an easy, breezy exercise. These are some of my favorites and I have them written on the inside cover of my little notebook to remind myself to write when I have a bit of spare time.

  • Write down everything you hear for three minutes
  • Write down a conversation you’re overhearing
  • Write down the exact details of a memory
  • Flesh out a small piece of a fantasy world of my own
  • Describe what you can see right in front of you
  • Describe an object near you in colors and shapes only

I’d love to hear what exercises you try!

#4: Prepare for Future Time Crunches

This is a fun one. Set yourself up for success and create seven new writing prompts. Keep them in that small notebook that you have with you, so you’re never without some form of inspiration.  Then if you ever lack an idea, you already have an arsenal of original writing prompts that you came up with. And off you can go, writing away!

What do you do when you don’t have much time to write? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Cheers!
Alexis

May’s Writing Prompts

On the first Monday of every month, I create a few writing prompts to help you get writing! You’ll see them here each month and on Instagram @blognamehere every Monday.

Happy May! There are five Monday’s in May which means…five writing prompts! Like always, submit your stories and I’ll pick one winner each month to feature on the blog!
Here we go!
1. Write about a bird’s view from his spot sitting on a power line. What does he see?
2. Write about a time in your life when everything would have changed if you had made one small decision differently
3. The ex you haven’t seen in six years shows up at your front door. Write what happens next.
4. You wake up in a bed that isn’t yours. Write about why and how you got there.
5. Write a story including the words “May Day”, “florists, and “blue sky”.
Each month you may submit your stories inspired by these writing prompts and I will pick one as the winner! The winner’s story will be posted on the blog with next month’s writing prompts. Please include your full name and a short bio with your submission. One story submission per person. All submissions due by May 31, 2016.

Cheers!

Alexis