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Entries in writing (13)


Why Your First Draft Does Not Have To Be Perfect

So many of the authors I work with tell me how hard it is to get their words down on paper; that their first draft is never how they imagine it in their heads; that they spend an inordinate amount of time on just one paragraph; that it is just not good enough! They work in fits and starts, never getting to where they think they should be. Sound familiar?

I almost always respond to these complaints with one of my most favorite quotes:


As far as I'm concerned, perfectionism and self-doubt is deadly for writers. It doesn't mean that you can't go back and change a word here and there, or when you've gotten down a chapter or section going back and working on that. But if that changing or seeking that absolute perfect word gets in your way of plowing through your first draft, then you may have a problem as you will over-think and never be happy with your words on the paper and so nothing will ever move forward to a completed draft. Unfortunately, for some, they spend as much time fighting against perfectionism and self-doubt as they spend in actual writing time.

Why do people believe that what they put down the first time needs to be perfect? I think it is probably a combination of several things- usually all stemming from the self-doubt rattling around in their head. The inner head critic starts telling you that “your plot is stupid or doesn't make sense” or “everyone already knows all the stuff you are writing so why bother as no one will want to read what you write” or “people are going to laugh at your writing” or “ that you are stupid or can't write”. What happens as these thoughts rattle around is that they will impede the flow of your writing. “But if I just can spend time fixing that word, or changing that, then people will think I'm brilliant...” Unfortunately, the result is that you will be brilliant, but only in your own head because you will never get anything out there for others to read so no one can tell you you aren't brilliant!

Remember, you will probably revise something smaller like a blog post 3-4 times before posting it. For larger pieces such as short stories or books, you may revise many more times before you even hand it off to an editor. Writing through your perfectionism and overthinking is not easy but it is something you need to do on your first draft. I will tell my authors to turn off the computer screen when they are writing until they have finished writing for the session. This will focus them on just getting it down and they won't get hung up on going back and re-reading and second guessing while they are getting words down on paper. Okay, reality check here... how many of you just said, “I couldn't do that and not see what I've written!” Well, try it. It will help in breaking the habit of constantly second guessing yourself on your writing.

When you stop spending so much time on your word choice or imperfections of your writing in your first draft, you will leave yourself much more time to actually write. Remember and focus on the end result of sharing your story/truth with others and trust that it will get there at its own time. (That's why you're writing, remember?) But you can't move forward until that first draft is written. It doesn't have to be perfect. That's why God made editors! You need to just get it down on paper.

For those interested in getting started writing, my next one-day Writer's Workshop will be on 1/24/15 in Alameda, CA. In the alternative, for those of you who would like to work with me 1 on 1 on getting down your first draft or your story out of your head onto paper, or would like to explore how you can publish with Our Little Books, please contact me for a free consultation.


Beans and Writing Overwhelm- Is There a Connection?

I just brought in a handful of beans for dinner tonight. I live in a smallish apartment, on the second floor, so all my ‘gardening’ is done on my small balcony. Instead of having rows of beans, I have to plant each plant in its own pot, starting with good organic dirt mixed with my worm castings which provides wonderful organic fertilizer.

I get the worm castings from my box of worms I have up on the balcony as well, which I feed with all my food scraps, cardboard, and various other organic material. Although gardening on a small scale, I am able to get my hands into dirt, plant either a seed or seedling, and the soul-enriching chance to watch what I started grow into a plant that provides me with food whose trimmings then go back to feeding my worms. A truly life satisfying cycle. 

Someone said to me that all that seemed to be a whole lot of work for such a little reward, picking just a handful of beans maybe only 3-4 times a season. While others are bringing bags of extra zucchini and tomatoes to share with their friends (a VERY good thing, I might add as I was one of those people when I owned my home with a huge organic garden!), I am happily content with what I produce given the space/time available. The difference is just size. I still get to play in the dirt. I still get to see my plants grow and I still get to produce wonderful food. I just do it on a smaller scale, and I don’t get overwhelmed as I used to keeping track of my previous large garden. 

The same can be said for writing. People look at writing as a huge task, expecting huge results. This can create what I call writing overwhelm, which then can result in just doing nothing! When I lived in my house with my huge garden, there were times when all the necessary digging, weeding, planting, watering and general tending created garden overwhelm where I ended up getting nothing done. But when I broke it down to weeding or watering one section, then doing another section the next day, it became completely manageable.

Think of writing as a small, balcony garden. Do a little at a time and keep at it. Slow and steady is what is going to bring big results. Set up a time to write, every day, even if only for 10 minutes. But keep at it. Plant your writing seed. If you can’t think of anything to write about, write about not being able to think of anything to write about. Or think of how beans and writing go together! Who would have thought that there was a connection. It is all there in your head. Just nurture it and allow it to come out in small, little bursts rather than getting into writing overwhelm. Keep at it and your ideas will grow into beautiful successes!


For those of you who would like more tips on how to deal with writing overwhelm, or how to work with me 1 on 1 to get your ideas down on paper, I am doing a free online webinar on August 5th, 2014, and I will discuss my four step process.


Writing is Meant to be Read!

Our Little Books recently participated in an East Bay Women’s Network day-long workshop entitled, Speak (and Write) to Sell. I co-taught the workshop with the amazing Warrior-Preneur, Ann Evanston. Ann started speaking in Toastmasters when she was in 7th grade and just happens to be an Our Little Books’ author, so she knows what she talks about! We had 35 people who wanted to improve their business ROI by connecting to their selves and becoming more authentic in the presentation of their story.

From the feedback, it was a very successful, interactive working day. Everyone confronted their fears about writing (“I can’t write anything!”) and speaking (“What? Stand up in front of a crowd and tell a story?”) by actually doing those things. No one walked out of there with bleeding wounds so everyone survived and connected to an inner core that will allow them to be more authentic in their businesses in the future.

One of the bottom lines of the program that I hope everyone heard is that: writing is meant to be read! Whether you write a book, blog, article, or just in your daily journal, everyone should be reading their writing out loud, even if only to yourself in a mirror. Otherwise, our brains/eyes can play tricks with us in our writing.

We know what we want to say, so that is what we read. However, it may not be what is actually on the paper! When we read our writing out loud, we add another sense to the mix. When we hear what we wrote, it often times is not what we wanted to say, even though our eyes are telling us it is right. Also, reading out loud can also confirm that you ‘nailed it!”, taking away that satisfied sense of, ‘yup, that’s what I meant!’.

So start reading your writing out loud. Read to your spouse, your kids, your friends, or anyone who will listen to you! It is great practice and the more you do it, the more comfortable you will become with reading out loud (which will lead to comfort when speaking). The side benefit will be that you will find that your writing will become more clear and exactly what you really wanted to say all along! So, I'm listening...


Head-hopping. And What Does That Have to Do With Writing a Novel?

Ok. You are in the middle of your fiction book and an editor friend tells you that there is too much “head-hopping” and you need several rewrites. Blank stare from you. Head hopping? Head nodding? How does a head hop? Does she mean break dancing on your head? But you can’t dance and besides, what does that have to do with your wonderful, change-the-world novel that will make you a millionaire?

Unfortunately, if you are writing a novel, “head-hopping” has much to do with you being successful or not. A simple definition of head-hopping is when you, as the writer, change from one point of view (POV) to another usually during your chapter or paragraph in your chapter. While head-hopping is not automatically wrong (and in some cases is a very effective way of describing a scene), as a general rule if you are describing a scene from one POV of one character and then switch to another character, you can totally (and most probably will) confuse your reader. Hence “head-hopping” – hopping from one POV to another too quickly.

You can imagine a tense or scary or sexy scene being seen through the eyes of the reader’s favorite character in the book. Your reader is caught up in what is happening. They are connecting emotionally with the character’s narration. They are engaged and engrossed in their character which has a certain voice and vocabulary. Then the head-hopping. Suddenly, the reader has to switch gears, change their emotional connection, and keep following the thread of the story that you so carefully set up previously. Generally, this is not an effective way of writing and if done consistently, you will lose a lot of readers.

How can you deal with head-hopping? Since your object is to keep a consistent POV from one character, instead of using another character to describe something, use your main character to convey what the second character is thinking or seeing or feeling. You get the same information out there in the story, but you haven’t changed the POV and this allows your reader to maintain an emotional connection to your character while continuing the story without a break.

If you want to change your POV, rather than change in the middle of the scene or in the middle of the flow of what is happening, wait until a new chapter. Or, if you need to have a new POV within a chapter, make one of those page breaks, just to notify your reader that something has changed. This will allow your reader the few seconds they need to adjust to another POV, switch their emotional connection around and plow forward. But as a general view, head-hopping is something that should be avoided in order for you to have a book that makes you a million dollars!

Are you writing a novel or short story? Have you found yourself head-hopping? How have you fixed that in your story?

There is a lot more to writing than just sitting down with a pen and paper (or a computer). As a publishing company, Our Little Books strives to provide you with information that will make everyone better authors, no matter what they are writing. Feel free to contact us if you would like to talk about your book and how we can help you.


What Does a Wedding Dress Have to do With Writing? Everything!

We love it when someone writes something to get us thinking. And in today's Our Little Books Guest Post Wednesday, Judy Stone-Goldman of The Reflective Writer, did just that. In The Reflective Writer, Judy shows you how writing can be used to explore boundries and life balance. Here, Judy got us thinking about what we are saving in our lives and why. But, more importantly, she also gives us a recourse when we realize we are holding onto something that should better be let go. That recourse? Writing! See for yourself.

Are you a saver? I am. I save mementos and heirlooms, feelings and ideas, and countless memories. My cache is great for reminiscing, but sometimes it becomes a burden. I was reminded of this yesterday when cold July weather sent me searching for my Christian Dior suit. 

I loved this suit: lightweight wool, creamy white, big gold buttons down the front of the jacket, and a pleated knee-length skirt. This was my wedding dress in 1994, and at the time I couldn’t wait to wear it. Except I never did—the weather changed from June cold to July hot, and I had to wear a different dress. I stored the suit in a closet (tags still on it) and the disappointment in my mind. 

Then yesterday I put the suit on—first time in over 15 years—expecting a resurgence of good feelings. But the image in the mirror contradicted my memory: the suit (with me in it) was remarkably unattractive and outdated. The shoulder pads were comical, the long jacket ill proportioned, and the color unflattering. 

My husband and I had a good laugh together, and then we asked, “What happened? How can this be so wrong?” Indeed, how could it be? How could the suit look so beautiful in our memory and so foolish in the present? And what does it mean that it hung like a museum piece, unworn for 16 years?   

We all have things we save. Some are sweet reminders of a cherished past; some are markers for unfinished business. But what do we do when we lose our balance and forget how to surrender what no longer serves us?  How do we overcome the roadblock we created with all that we’ve saved? 

We can write. Writing brings images and feelings out of storage, helping us face what is held back. I ask, “What did this suit stand for in my life? What has been the point of holding onto it, unworn?” Then I write, answering my questions and letting new questions emerge. 

Perhaps the suit was a fantasy about who I would be in the marriage, a “new me” in a “new life.” Perhaps leaving it unworn kept a dream protected: once worn, the new would become ordinary, and the chance for a new beginning would be diminished. The more I write, the more I find layers to explore. Clothes, weight, achievement, marriage, aging—who would imagine one suit could hold so much?   

What is in your closet that is unworn? What is in your mind that is hidden or burdensome? Consider this an invitation to explore what you still need and clear out what you don’t. As for me, I am ready to donate my Christian Dior suit to the local Goodwill. Tags and all.

Questions for Reflection: Are you a saver or do you get rid of things quickly? What sorts of things have you held onto?  

Writing Prompts: I have always been someone who (saves/doesn’t save) and I know _______  (then keep writing). When I think of letting go of _____, I feel _____ (then keeping writing).

Judy Stone-Goldman is a dynamic speaker and seasoned teacher who makes writing part of every day. She developed The Reflective Writer based on her own writing practice and encourages others to use writing to explore boundaries, balance, and the intersection of personal and professional life. Feel like you could use a little help getting started? Become a fan of The Reflective Writer on Facebook and get a free phone or e-mail consult with Judy.