Write what you know. This may seem like the most obvious advice in the word, but it’s not. While I’m sure many of us have a burning desire to write the next great novel of pure fictitious brilliance, there is something to be said for using the material your life has gracefully provided you. And it is immediate and at-hand. The only research required is within your own personal history and daily life.
Julia Cameron‘s suggestion of writing “morning pages,” from her book called the The Artist’s Way, is one great suggestion to mine the creative juices from our lives. In this free writing, free flow, pre-consciousness approach, we can find creative breakthrough by writing whatever comes to us. I suspect that this method frequently reveals gems from one’s own personal reality.
What if you rebut: “My life is so boring!”
I’d respond: “Is it? Is it really?”
My six-year-old daughter tells me when she is bored. Often times it is when she is not engaged by me or a teacher or a friend or her siblings; and also when she is too tired or grumpy to play by herself. When she says this, it always blows my mind. She has a pretty amazing life for a little girl – that’s what I feel from my perspective at least. I’ve stocked our home with countless garage sale books. She has neighborhood friends and they play (safely) in the street. We travel to visit our out of town family. When I look at all the places she has gone, the experiences our family has had together, the opportunities open to her, I think: “Wow, you’ve had a great life so far, my dear.” I hope most days she realizes this too.
It’s all a matter of perspective.
One of our mandates as writers is to translate our experiences into our fiction, non-fiction, poetry, young adult stories, mysteries, essays, short stories, and the list goes on. Whatever your mind can conceive of, right?
If you are a fiction writer that has never considered taking inspiration from your own life, I suggest you give it a try! Think about the people that cross your path every day; your coworkers, family and friends . Maybe some of them can become your most beloved characters – or villains. You have a collection of people around you. People you know extremely well – from their opinions to their facial expressions. Take inspiration from these folks and write that kind of detail and intimacy with humanity into your stories. The same goes for settings.
I’ve heard it said somewhere, something to the effect of: there is no true fiction. (If someone can point me to the actual quote, that would be much appreciated.) There is a grain of truth behind all stories. What better reason is there to write what we know!
Somehow, my life experiences always seep into my writing. Or perhaps I would better describe it by saying: my life provides the richness of inspiration for my writing. This is something I am extremely grateful for.
I am so inspired by the human experience that I have inevitably become an avid observer and recorder. For me, memoir and personal essays are an easy choice. However, it is nice every once and a while to break out and experiment with fiction. You could say my successful completions of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month; 50K in the month of November) and the 3 Day Novel Contest (September long weekend; 100+ pages) are just such a foray into crafting work outside my every-day life. I would also argue that I simply love a challenge.
Funny enough, I actually found it much easier to write fiction to the pace of the racing clock during these competitions than I did the one year I participated in NaNoWriMo with a memoir as my goal. I couldn’t unearth my personal stories that quickly. They require a slow-cook-approach I’ve discovered.
What I write about most often, for my profession and for pleasure, are family stories. Parenting. Motherhood. Being a working-mom. Being an artist-mom. Personal identity. These topics are close to my heart. They feel almost quintessential and spiritual to me. For now, I am telling these stories through creative non-fiction. Its a blurry category. Is it 100% truth? Well, no. Is it fiction? Nope, not really. At the same time, I feel like creative non-fiction is my perfect vehicle, for now, to write what I know.
What writing projects have captured your heart right now?
What are you working on?
How do you use your own life as inspiration for your work – no matter what genre you are writing in?
Please comment below. Let’s have a conversation : )
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Thank you for reading!
– Alexis Marie
Summer is often a season of declining motivation – but for writers, it is a great time to get focused and tap into your creative energy. Let the heat of the sun fuel you! Get focused on your project – or projects. Now is the time.
There is power in action!
– Alexis Marie Chute
I’m sure you’ve heard this writing advice: “Get your butt in the chair” – but who said it had to be an office chair? Find a seat outside and enjoy the summer – while chasing your writing dreams.
Get your writing on track with some Mentoring Magic.
I call it MAGIC because there is something wild, powerful, mysterious, and indescribable about the creative spirit. This is a unique and wonderful place to create from – and a place I strive to live in every day. Let me help you get there too.
I would love to help you on your journey of becoming and inhabiting your calling as a writer! I offer creative coaching – but I prefer to call it mentoring. The difference is distinct in my mind.
A COACH is on the sidelines.
A MENTOR is in the thick of it with you.
My goal with Mentoring Magic is to stir the sometimes abstract creative spirit inside of you. I will help you get motivated and cultivate relentless determination. You will focus on where you need to go and what you want to achieve.
I will read your work. This is huge. How can I advise you without knowing your writerly voice and your challenge areas? We will get on the same page – literally – and I will send my notes back to you.
As writers, it is a tremendous help to have someone who knows the ropes, a fellow writer who can give you the needed edge and competitive advantage in the industry.
Whether you want to pursue writing to heal your heart, or supplement your income, I am the mentor for you.
Please email me to book your sessions: [email protected]
If this is your first time booking with me, the sessions start in a bundle of three. Each session costs $120 +GST CAN. Three is the magic number so we can really dig into the creative work together.
Here is another blog posts about Mentoring Magic:
Summer lovin’, had me a blast. Summer lovin’, happened so fast…
It did happen so fast and now that summer is reduced to a scrapbook full of photos, it’s time to refocus on writing. During the blissfully warm vacation season, it’s easy to slack off and develop poor writing habits. Who wouldn’t want to swim in the lake instead of pounding out the morning pages or tee up on the golf course instead of cracking down on the challenging scene from the work in progress?
Alas, now that September has arrived there is no better time to get your writing practice back to where you want it to be. Just like any habit, it will take some time but do not fret. Developing good writerly habits is a matter of mental determination and will power.
Try these tips to help you refocus:
- Write out a list of projects you wish to accomplish and how you are going to achieve them.
- Free write to get the creative juices flowing.
- Read a new book to get your mind alert and engaged.
- Take in a theatrical performance or visit an art gallery for inspiration.
- Go for a jog and think about your manuscript as you sweat.
- Tell your family and friends that you can’t hang out on certain days because you are writing – and get them to hold you accountable.
- Visit a writing group or attend a workshop.
- Duck tape your butt to your chair and get started.
Sometimes the most challenging part of getting back into routine after the summer is just getting started. Once you pound out a hundred boring words, I’m confident you’ll find your rhythm. Even if those first hundred words take you an hour, remember breakthrough is just around the corner. Writing is not easy. It is a habit of perseverance, determination and hope.
Good luck with all your writing projects this autumn!
I love that word: Free. It may just be my favorite word in the English language – and FREE writing is one of my favorite activities as a writer.
Free writing is simple in theory. All you do is sit down and write, letting your mind take you wherever it wants to go. Yet, it can sometimes be hard to surrender. Often we have a finite quantity of time and infinite number of things to do. We bring our agenda to the notepad or computer when we want to write and often this pressure to be productive may choke out thoughtful creativity. Or, there is something on our mind that is pestering us like a gnat, flying around, distracting our focus from the writing at hand. The goal of free writing is to get all these worries, to-do-lists, and distractions out on the page – first – before even stressing over what comes next.
Creative writing frequently faces challenges of left-brain logic. Free writing lets you process all these practical concerns on the page so that you can break through into a fun space of ideas that flow through the once clogged orifice.
Then, with all this jumble out of the way, free writing allows the right side of your brain to dance – and you may actually be surprised what comes out of you.
When I have a scene I want to craft, either from real life or fiction, I simply sit down and write without filtering myself. This is my brand of free writing. I don’t judge my word choice or sentence structure in this stage. I don’t edit. It is simply a free flowing process. My favorite place to free write is in a program called Write or Die. I set the time and the word count and get started. I write till I am done and aim to get every detail out of me, forgoing every perfectionistic tendency. Free writing has helped me be a free spirit. Plus, its fun.
Have you ever tried free writing?
Did you ever write anything during free writing that surprised you?
If you have never tried free writing, don’t psych yourself out. Give it a go!
It is now one week from the time I began tying my 3 Day Novel Contest story. I do have to say, I really miss my characters. I want to give them a call, ask how they are doing, see if they want to hang out and catch up. It’s as though their lives have continued on and I am missing out on the action.
Besides actually writing my story, which was a fabulous rush, an exciting push; I loved every minute of chatting on Twitter with my new writing buddies. I had not anticipated this wonderful dialogue of encouragement, page and word counts, and silly late night writing frustration. It was beyond a highlight for me and I hope to continue the conversation with these awesome people.
A few reflections on writing the 3-Day Novel Challenge:
- My outline was my best friend. I could not have pressed through in the tough moments, the times when my brain was so tired that I nearly lost my plot’s direction, if it was not for the guiding hand of my outline. It said to me, late at night, “Now where do you think you are going?” in its gentle but caring manner, “Get back over here and refocus. You’ve got a job to do. Get your characters moving.”
- Time pressure = less writers block. I had written about writers block the week leading up to the 3-Day Novel Contest and I do believe this mental preparation made a world of difference, especially the positive affirmations and tips for combating the block, but really, the rush of the weekend meant I had no time to even get caught in a jam…
- But when I did get caught, some wise tweeters encouraged: keep the plot moving, introduce action. I found this advice a life saver. Introduce action. Action moves the story forward, gives your characters something to do, something to talk about. It was revolutionary for my story where my protagonist tended to get a little lost in her head.
- My twitter buddies, many who have done this contest many, many times before constantly posted page and number counts. This was both a distraction and an encouragement for me. When others surged ahead I cursed my poky finger’s pace and got worried that my word count wouldn’t count for much. At the same time, I felt camaraderie with other writers who were on the same page, so to speak. It also helped me realize that I was not alone (a lot of us were on par). These updates were a double edged sword, but apart from their distracting and motivating properties, they were simply a lot of fun.
This last week has been spent recovering with sleep and family time but I have very wonderful memories of my first 3-Day Novel Contest. I am excited to develop my story.
The shortlist and winners will be announced in January 2013. The grand prize is book publishing – the dream of every serious writer. If my novel is not the winner, I will still be sending it out into the world and I will keep you posted.
As I was telling my husband about the 3-Day Novel Contest when he turned to me and said, “This weekend is going to take a lot of discipline for you.”
My next thoughts were telling: Oh crap! What have I got myself into?
Immediately, the negative self-talk began – but I caught myself mid thought. Why am I telling myself that this challenge is going to be too hard and that I don’t think I can do it? Why am I already scheming an exit strategy to get out of it?
What I really need to be doing is encouraging myself, saying good and uplifting messages to my inner artist. Being a creative individual is trying enough, why not be my own best supporter instead?
My husband and I brainstormed phrases of encouragement that I can use when writer’s block catches me in a downward cycle of negativity. I love these phrases and wish they were all 100% true of myself – but sometimes we need to speak our hopes into being, like a self-fulfilling prophesy or a pep talk to a sports team. There is power in positive-self talk. If you don’t believe me, try these phrases out for a week and see if your circumstances or at least your mental state does not receive a pick-me-up.
Positive Affirmations for Writers:
- “I am a brilliant creative mind and I will accomplish whatever I set out to do.”
- “I don’t need to feel lonely; my family and friends support me in my pursuits and will be there for me when I need them.”
- “Only those who try have the chance of success.”
- “My ideas are creative.”
- “My characters are dynamic.”
- “My plot has depth.”
- “I am in control.”
- “I am the bully of my own writer’s block.”
- “I have the power to write writer’s block out of my story and my head.”
- “This time to write is a gift I give myself.”
- “I will not sabotage or be afraid of my own success.”
- “I believe in myself and my work.”
- “I will get through this tough stretch. This too shall pass.”
- “What I write will make a difference.”
- “My audience is out there. I am writing for them.”
- “Anything is possible for me.”
Specific encouragements for the 3-Day Novel Contest:
- “I think of myself as an Olympic athlete. This contest is my race. It’s only three days. The end is in sight.”
- “This is going to be fun.”
- “If the challenge was easy it wouldn’t be worthwhile.”
- “No matter the outcome, I will be proud of myself.”
- “The journey of this experience will be a catalyst for even greater creativity.”
- “I can sleep tomorrow.”
Repeating these positive phrases to yourself will shift you from negativity to a more positive outlook. Who doesn’t want that transition when stuck in a rut? I will be practicing speaking these sayings to myself as I embark on the 3-Day challenge and also as I continue my work as a writer. Try it for yourself and let me know if it makes a difference for you.
Here are a few little tricks can you do to overcome writer’s block. First of all, don’t freak out. Try these techniques instead. With the 3-Day Novel Contest only days away, these are the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” I will be utilizing when caught in a block.
- Run the stairs of your home or apartment.
- Eat a healthy snack or meal. Nothing too heavy. Fruit and veggies are great for snacks.
- Look out the window and let your mind wander. Watch cars go by, day dream about the shape of clouds. Breath deeply and allow yourself to simply be for a moment.
- Draw a picture or doodle.
- Shift mental gears by doing something (besides typing) with your hands. For me, this would be work on my wood sculpture for 10 minutes. For others, this could be laundry, taking out the garbage, vacuuming a room, peeling potatoes for dinner.
- Do a word search.
- Lay on the floor and stair up at the ceiling while calming yourself.
- Go outside and take a few deep breaths of fresh air.
- Take a short nap.
- Go for a brisk walk or run – a sprint even.
- Take a cold shower (not just reserved for hormone filled teenage boys!).
- Change your clothes; get out of your pyjamas and into clothes that gear you up for work.
- Drink a whole glass of water.
- Stretch out your muscles (yes, I would suggest getting out of your desk chair to do this).
- Set the mood of your writing area: lighting, music, a photo on your desk of your favourite vacation spot (your happy place), and a scented candle.
- Get away from your computer. Leave your office. Change scenery for a brief period of time.
- Answer the phone if you are in the middle of a thought. Better yet, turn the ringer off. That’s what answering machines are for.
- Update social media.
- Check and respond to e-mail.
- Watch TV (It could turn into a longer break than you had anticipated).
- Eat junk food. Avoid artificial sugars and salts.
- Give in to negative self-talk.
I will very likely refer back to this list myself in the heat of the moment as I participate in the 3-Day Novel Contest while battling the block. If I come up with any more ideas I will be sure to post again.
Do you know any good techniques you’d like to add?
When trying to overcome writer’s block, the most important point of both the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” is to not give in to negative self talk. It truly is in the fragile ground of our mind where the batter over blockages is either won or lost. Maybe you do not even recognize your negative thoughts. They are subtle for sure.
Be attentive and listen to the messages you tell yourself. If you are genuinely a self-nurturing and self-encouraging person – good for you! If not and you start to realize the words you use that defeat your own mojo, come back to Artist Reborn tomorrow. I will be posting an uplifting list of positive affirmations for writers.