Category Archives: writing

Writing is Magical

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Throughout the life of this blog, I’ve mentioned (time and again) that I love to write. I’ve told you about my experience participating in Nanowrimo. I’ve told you about how much I love to make-believe. And, believe me, writing is a big part of make believe.

But more than that, I enjoy the feeling that I get when I sit down in front of my laptop or my pen poised over paper as I prepare to write a word, a paragraph and the beginnings of a story. It’s a wonderful feeling of anticipation. I feel as if I am standing on the edge of a cliff about to jump without knowing what’s below.

Writing is the same way. When you write, you take risks. You start off with a single word, a single idea, or a short snippet of dialogue. This eventually grows larger as you write. It eventually fills out as you create a new world composed of an entirely unique set of characters and places.

And this all came about from a single word, a single idea, or a short snippet of dialogue. This is why writing is truly magical.

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3 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

 

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We’ve all been there. You set aside time to write. You spend all day thinking about that moment when you can finally put your pen to paper, or your fingers to the keyboard, and write. You spend all day fantasizing about your main character, Lily. You wouldn’t dare to admit this in public but you often walk around pretending that you are Lily and adopting her mannerisms and habits. You let her take over your being, your essence, so that when you finally do sit down to write, you are disappointed that the words do not come.

You type her name, and then the next word, a verb. But then, you shake your head. You delete that last word. And then, you stare at the screen, at the blank, very white Word document. You can see the words that are there but they just won’t come. The words are stuck. You are stuck. How do you unblock yourself?

Well, my friend, I’ve been there. On more than one occasion. On several occasions, actually. And I’m here to tell you what do to get over writer’s block.

  1. Write. 

Okay, this is a given. But it is really important. Even when the words just won’t come, I recommend that you designate a time. It can be at 6:00 in the morning, before you head off to work. Or, it can be at 3:00 in the middle of the night. Choose a time that works for you. And then, open up your Word document, or Google Docs, or whatever you use. You don’t have to work on the same writing project everyday. Instead, I recommend that you mix  it up a little. Work on your main writing project every other day. And then, for the rest of the days, use a random writing prompt generator such as this one.

In fact, for the past week, I have been writing every night at 9:00 PM. For an entire hour. I choose a random writing prompt and then I copy and paste into a Google Doc. And then, I write. I admit, sometimes I’ll sit there, staring at the computer screen, my fingers poised over the keyboard. And eventually, miraculously, the words will come.

By setting a deadline, as well as a prompt, I can make sure that I don’t succumb to writer’s block. Remember when it’s Nanowrimo time and you just have to write a minimum of 1667 words per day. Well, this is kind of the same thing. By telling yourself that you have to write a certain amount of words, about a certain topic, in a certain time frame, you are giving yourself purpose and a goal. And sometimes that is all that is needed.

2. Brainstorm.

Okay, you’ve tried to write. You’ve been staring at that computer screen for thirty minutes. You’ve probably hit the backspace button more times than you can count. But the right words just don’t seem to be coming. What do you do?

Well, remember in elementary school, when your teachers had you brainstorm? Take those fingers off the keyboard. Grab a piece of paper, or even just open a fresh new Word document.

And then, ask yourself this question: what is the topic about?

Say that this is your writing prompt: “Alcoholism is like crying.”

And then, type in, or write, “alcoholism” at the top of your page.

And then, write all the words that remind you of “alcoholism.” Remember that word association game that you played on online forums? Quick! What do you think of when you think of “alcoholism”? I think of: alcohol, beer, addiction, wine, cravings, disease, and so on.

Once you’ve exhausted all the words that you can think of that you remind you of alcoholism, then move on to a sub-category, such as “addiction” or “disease.” Do the same thing here. Keep doing this until you notice a pattern emerging.

For example: alcoholism –> addiction –> cravings –> passion –> love –> writing

Based off these six words, you could now write a story about a fifty-year-old writer who is an alcoholic. How does he cope? Does he use his writing to cope? In what way? Does anyone help with his disease? A family member, significant other, friend, child? How are they affected? What is his relationship with them?

See what I mean? Keep asking questions. Keep associating words with new words.

3. Take a Break.

But sometimes, the words still don’t come. What do you do then? Take a break. Go outside. Take a walk. Take your dog for a walk. Read a book. Eat a snack. Just do something that will get your mind off the writing project. Sometimes the best ideas come after we’ve taken a break.

Your break can be as short as five minutes or as long as a day. Just take a break and let your mind wander.

Let me know what you think! What have you tried? What works? What doesn’t work?

 

I Like to Make Believe

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I’ve decided to begin my new year by looking into the past. Specifically, my childhood. And even more specifically, I’d like to explain why I enjoy writing and how it all began. After all, you can’t start or continue something without knowing the very root or essence of it.

I can’t exactly pinpoint the very first day when I decided that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. All I can say is that I was drawn to the very act of writing. Perhaps it is because I’ve always enjoyed reading books. I’ve always been fascinated by the very people who wrote the books that I was so enthralled by. While other kids were learning how to write cursive, I was dreaming about my name — my name— being on the front cover of a book, either as an author or an illustrator, although I’m not much of an artist. But I suppose that’s normal. I suppose that is instinctive for anyone who enjoys reading as much as I did do.

Why did I enjoy reading? It was entertaining. I could escape into another world, a world that often times was much more interesting than mine. It was fascinating to inhabit the mind of someone else or watch as someone went through life. It was even more fascinating when that person was as normal and average as you and I — just someone who’s trying to fit in and find their place in society.

Simply put, I like stories. I like things that have a nice beginning, middle and end. I like to be entertained. And I like to entertain. Even when I was a child, I liked to make-believe and make up stories. I liked to act out stories with my stuffed animals and dolls. I still remember the very first story that I ever wrote. It was called “The Little Boy” and it was about a boy who wanted a party.  I had an imagination, definitely. In fact, I still do.

I guess that’s why, in the end, I majored in Communications in college. But on my journey of getting there, in all of the courses that I took, I enjoyed telling stories. In high school and college, I enjoyed creative writing courses the best. I loved it when my history teacher had us write a creative writing piece about a fictional person who lived during the Bubonic Plague. And when I had to take standardized tests, 9 times out of 10 I chose to write a narrative essay. In college, I loved my PR and social media courses. I enjoyed writing feature stories and press releases and blog posts. Hey, what can I say, I like to tell a story.

And that is why my Communications degree led me to want to pursue a career in content marketing, social media and PR. I haven’t yet found that dream job in my chosen industry but I have hope that I will in 2016. I have hope that I will find work with an amazing company where I am allowed to thrive, learn, and most importantly, make believe.

But until then, I will continue blogging. I will continue writing, specifically working my Nanowrimo novel. I will read more and learn from experts in the writing industry. I will do all this because I have hope.

I have hope. And I will continue to make believe.

 

#AmEditing Lessons

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Editing is hard. It’s frustrating. Editing involves taking a supposedly good piece of prose and then cutting out the stuff that is not needed. Writers go through and read what they wrote. They stress over analyze every single word, wondering if they should keep it or toss it. Whatever they decide, it is agony, like cutting open one’s own heart. Each word is precious to the writer. Each word appears proffered by the Writing God. Each word can not be thrown out lightly.

And yet, some words must in order for the story to flourish, to thrive and even to survive. Without doing so, the story stagnates and dies. But when the writer can somehow manage to cut out a couple of words to supposedly make the story that much better, it becomes magic. When a story turns from a tangled mess into a coherent whole, it is something that should be marveled at.

As someone who has just started to edit my own Nanowrimo novel from last month, I’ve learned a few things about editing and about my own writing…

  1. Editing can improve your writing

However tedious it is to comb through your own words, you will soon realize that it is well worth the hassle. Nobody can write a polished final draft the first time around. Yes, I firmly believe that everyone has a novel, a book, inside of them. But that book is not going to be perfect. It is going to have typos, misspelled words, grammatical errors, lapses in sentence structure, plot bunnies. Your plot will occasionally try to grab you and run away from you. Your plot will squirm and divide, becoming another thing entirely.

But at the end of the day, your first draft will become a second draft that will be that much better. And then, your second draft can become an even better third draft until, finally, it becomes the published masterpiece that you knew in your heart that you were always capable of creating. So, don’t give up. Because this process is part of the learning curve and your writing will improve.

2. Read out loud

I don’t care if you are in a room full of people. I don’t care if they start to stare. Say the words out loud. Trust me. The words will sound different out loud than inside your head, reverberating, echoing. Out loud, the words sound that much more richer, purer, finer. So, don’t be ashamed. Read out loud, slowly, letting your mouth form each word delicately, almost as if you are eating a delicious piece of dark chocolate that you wish to savor for all of eternity. Because, technically, you do want to keep your words as long as possible, and it is only when they are gone that you realize how much they were needed, or how much better off you are without them.

3. Cut, cut, cut! 

But eventually a few, some, most of your words have to be cut. That’s just part of the editing process. There’s nothing you can do about it. Just be quiet and cut out those toxic words. Cut out the one too many ‘said.’ Cut out the character who just won’t stop talking and is not moving the plot forward. Because that is the ultimate goal, ladies and gents. You’ve got to move the plot forward. You’ve got to have a character and then have them fight for what they want. Give them motivation. Give them wants and needs. Make them annoying. Make them ridiculously fun and weird but at the same time oh so relatable to the human condition. Make them real. Your characters are your best friends, your enemies, the neighbor across the street. They are people. Make them people. Cut out those words until your characters become fully fledged. Keep cutting until that happens.

4. …And then, write!

After you cut all the useless and redundant words out, then start writing. Write an entirely new description about your main character. Write a new piece of dialogue between your character and… someone else. Let your imagination flow. Let your words flow. Pretend that this is your first draft all over again. Write as if you haven’t just cut a million or so words from your story. Words will always exist but in different combinations, waiting to be ceased upon by you, the writer. Grab the words while you can. Trust that the story will form and soon you will have that perfect product that will be on your reader’s Kindle, Nook or in your local bookstore.

But until then, read, cut, read some more, write, read, cut and don’t stop until you have a piece that you are proud of, like your first born child.

 

2016: A Look Ahead

Another year is about to end. 2015 has undoubtedly been a great year for me. I graduated. I wrote and finished my first novel. I’ve went on job interviews. I’ve had a few internships. I’ve started blogging (again). I increased my social media presence, connecting with fellow writers and professionals in my intended industry.

All of these things have allowed me to continue growing. And I intend to keep growing in 2016 while satisfying a few goals. One may call them New Year’s Resolutions. But why commit myself to calling them New Year’s Resolutions when many are destined to fail. Instead, I will call them goals and leave it at that. No commitment, no pressure. Just me doing a couple of things next year simply because I want to.

2016 Goals

  1. Find a job in the social media, PR, marketing or higher education industries.
  2. Start paying off my student loans.
  3. Read 50 books.
  4. Finish editing and revising my Nanowrimo 2015 novel.
  5. Get my Nanowrimo 2015 novel published.

And that’s it. For now.

What are your goals for 2016?

Looking Back in Order to Move Forward

To be honest, I don’t really like long titles. I prefer short ones. The ones that make you stop and go “Hey! What’s that?” and then start you on a long process of rumination. But, for some reason, this title seems fitting somewhat. And when I’m writing, I tend to go with my gut instinct, with whatever sounds just right.

And the title is absolutely right! I am looking back towards 2015, at all the great changes that have happened this year. Perhaps at 26 I would have liked for some of the changes to happen just a little bit earlier. But I keep reminding myself that life happens at its own pace. Some of us are destined to have our lives picture perfect before the age of 24, while the rest of us are still struggling to find our footing, to discover who we were meant to be all along.

And even though I don’t believe in God, or any higher being, I still cling on to fate. Yes, I believe in fate. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that everything that has happened to me at 26 (and prior to that) will be revealed in due time. I have to believe. Otherwise, how can I continue to have faith that everything will be okay in the end? And I do believe that everything will be okay. In the end.

At the beginning of the year, you know that I was in school. I was attending Southern New Hampshire University online. Well, I finally did it! I graduated! I can now say that I am a college graduate. I have a B.A. in Communications. It is honestly the proudest moment of my life. I’ve been working toward this moment since I was in high school, first filling out college applications and taking the new SAT (by the way, there’s going to be a new new SAT in 2016. Why??).

My eight year journey of college (2.5 years at Furman University in SC, .5 year in Berlin, Germany and then 1.5 years at SNHU) finally ended in 2015. It took so long because I took a leave of absence that soon became a four year leave of absence. But those four years weren’t a complete waste. I wasn’t sitting at home, watching TV and netflix all day. I was working retail and then during my off hours I was trying to figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life.

Well, now that I am a college graduate, I have narrowed it down to Marketing, PR, Social Media and Higher Education. Of course, I’m still holding on to my old childhood dream of becoming a published writer (hopefully next year in 2016!).

Even though I haven’t yet found my dream job, I’m hoping that that will happen next year, in 2016. In the meantime, I am picking continuing to pick up valuable skills that are not taught in the classroom. Specifically, I have went on a handful of interviews (face-to-face, virtual, phone) and had the extraordinary opportunity to connect with various recruiters and HR managers. I’ve learned how to communicate effectively, as well as persuasively, to get my point across (although that last part is really due to my Communications degree).

Some of these interviews went well, some not so well. Regardless of the outcome, I learned something new from every single one. For example, I learned about presenting my best self forward. I also learned about each of these companies from countless hours of research.

As with every year since 1999, Nanowrimo happened again this year. And this year, instead of just reaching 50,000 and stopping, no matter what. I finished my novel. I began the month of November with a good idea of how I want to begin, and end, my book. I planned out my characters and my plot, and then made sure that I had conflict.

And I finished. I finally finished a novel at just under 60K. Currently, I’m in the middle of editing my book (another first!) Maybe, just maybe, I will try to get my book published next in 2016.

As a result of Nanowrimo, I’ve also started to use to Twitter. More. Much, more more. And I’m finding that I’m really enjoying it. I love interacting with people on social media. I love participating in Tweet Chats. For example, there was a #MillennialTalk Tweet Chat that I attended this evening. I feel like I learn something new whenever I’m on Twitter. And I’m lovin’ it!

And then, on a more personal level, I found out that I’m expecting. Currently, I’m 30 weeks. It’s been pretty easy so far, and for that I’m grateful.

So, 2015. 2015 was a year of change… graduation, writing, soon-to-b new baby. I can’t wait to see what 2016 will hold for me. Stay tuned for my next post which will focus on 2016 and my New Year’s resolutions and goals. But in the meantime, tell me how 2015 has been for you!

 

4 Things I Learned From Twitter

I first signed up for a Twitter account back in 2010 but I only ever started using it as an undergraduate student at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). As a Communications major grad with a degree in Communications, I have taken a lot of courses that emphasized the importance of using social media to increase brand awareness and establish long-lasting, powerful connections. As a student at SNHU, I fully immersed myself in many of the major social media sites, such as Google+, YouTube, and, of course, Twitter.

But it is only in November that I really started to use Twitter. Why, you may ask? One word: Nanowrimo. In addition to the wonderful forum offered on the Nanowrimo site, I found a thriving community of writers on Twitter. Hashtags such as #amwriting, #Nanowrimo, and #Nanowrimo2015 allowed me to connect with other Nanowrimo writers.

But it soon became more than that: I not only connected with other writers, I learned more about Twitter, a social media site, I admit, that I was initially confused about. I am going to highlight four main things that I learned from using Twitter…

4.) Hashtags are King in the world of Twitter. Hashtags are used to categorize tweets. Hashtags help your tweets reach people they wouldn’t ordinarily reach. And let’s face it, it’s interesting to see what the world on Twitter is talking about at any given moment. I am, of course, talking about the Trending Tweets that are updated/posted on Twitter.

3.) Trending Tweets are a quick way to learn what is going on in the world. It’s almost like a cheat sheet. Instead of reading the daily newspaper or checking Google News or the New York Times, you can just check out the Trending Tweets and found out what people in your area, your state/country or even the world are talking about. And then, you can join in on the conversation. Though, of course, you should read up on key issues before tweeting or contributing to the conversation.

2.) Follow people in your industry. Follow people you are genuinely interested in. Follow people you want to network with. These are the people (and their tweets) that you will see in your personal feed when you log on to Twitter. Don’t just follow people just for the sake of gaining followers. Glance at the person’s Twitter page and come up with at least one good reason for following them. Are you following a company that you would love to work for one day? A fellow classmate? Someone who you lost touch with over the years? Or were you inspired by something that they tweeted?

And, finally, the biggest thing that I learned on Twitter:

1.) Engage with your followers. Tweet. Respond. Be interested. Keep them interested. Continue the conversation. Twitter is instant and breathtakingly fast. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be. Show each of your followers the level of care and devotion that you’d want to be given. In short, the golden rule applies here… treat your followers the way that you would want to be treated.

Do you agree? Disagree? I’d love to know your thoughts on Twitter. Comment below or tweet me at @hhensell.