Dear Diary...

By Kate Carroll

“Dear Diary,
I don’t get you. I don’t get why I’m writing stuff to myself since I already know what I’m thinking. You’re supposed to be secret, but what if my little brother finds my key – or I accidentally divulge my innermost secrets at the next sleepover? This is dumb. Bye forever, Diary.   

Your friend, 

As a young girl, I loved to write, but I never kept a secret diary. Honestly, the activity seemed trite to me. Many of my friends wrote faithfully to “Dear Diary” every night, but I just didn’t get it.  I preferred writing fairy tales with happy endings, or reading until my eyelids drooped.
Today, we call this popular writing pastime journaling.
I love to write, but I am not a true journal writer. I find it too demanding to write something in a journal everyday because I’m “supposed “ to. Yet, as I pursued a new career as a writer, I felt compelled to pick up a blank journal and fill it with wonder. So… that didn’t happen.  I do envy people who fill page after page, book after book with their imaginings, their dreams and their insight.
Traditional journaling isn’t my thing, but I’ve discovered a way to use journaling as an effective tool for my craft.  As a writer, I look for moments of inspiration.  Journaling can be a treasure trove of ideas, crafted from everyday experiences.  I call this intentional creativity.  Watch people at the airport and fill a journal with vivid characters and situations ripe for a future manuscript.  Go to a playground and delight in the creative play of children.
Another simple way to journal is to word journal. I love words, and I write them down in all sorts of lists and categories.  I don’t keep them in a fancy book or under lock and key; I keep them in a folder on my computer. I have lists of grade level words, verb words, magical words, adventure words, silly words and rhyming words.  These resources come in handy when I’m searching for just the right word to polish my manuscript.
When you think about it, we use conventional journaling for many purposes:

  • Food journaling
  • Diet journaling
  • Exercise journaling
  • Vacation journaling
Can you think of others?   

"Dear Diary,

You're old, but your bones are still kicking around and have found new life in this friend. 


So You Want to Be a Writer

By Lisa Amstutz
True confession: It took me 10 years to work up the courage to write for publication. During those years, I thought about writing. I read about writing. I talked about writing. I did everything but actually write. What if no one liked my work? Worse yet, what if they did? Where would I start? The fears and questions paralyzed me, and cost me 10 years of my writing life.

Here are five things I wish someone had told me at the time. If you find yourself in the same boat, I hope you will take them to heart. The world needs your stories!

Don’t Let Fear Paralyze You
It took a significant birthday to make me realize I was more afraid of never writing than I was of writing. Don’t wait around for that moment—do whatever it takes to get past your fear. Start small if you like—write something for a newsletter or a letter to the editor at a local newspaper. Write a short story and share it with a few friends and loved ones. Or use a pen name.

Sometimes fear doesn’t look like fear. It looks like excuses. I don’t have time to write. There’s already a book about that topic. I didn’t study writing in school. I have kids/a full-time job/housework to do. These thoughts may all be reasonable and true, but don’t let them keep you from trying.

Consider Yourself a Writer
I occasionally have the opportunity to mentor new writers. Many are tentative about calling themselves writers, just as I was. “If you write, you’re a writer,” I tell them. It’s really that simple. You don’t have to be published or specially trained. There’s no secret handshake. You may or may not be a good one yet, but if you write, you are a writer. And that’s a place to start.

Write Every Day
Everyone’s busy, I know. I am too. But if you want to write, choose to make it a priority in your life. Write a little every day, if possible. If time is limited, write on the subway, or dictate stories into your phone while driving. Keep a notebook by your bed and jot notes before you fall asleep. Write instead of watching a TV show. Find those snippets of free time in your life and use them to accomplish your goals.

At least 90% of writing is just sitting down and doing it. The rest is noticing the things around you and the feelings inside you, and finding the right words to express them. You’ll get better at it. But not unless you actually try.

Find a Tribe
My writing quality and output grew exponentially once I found a writing tribe. I joined a local writer’s group and SCBWI, took classes, attended workshops, and found online support. Other writers can provide the support, knowledge, and honest critique of your work that you need to grow as a writer and succeed. And on a practical level, preparing for a monthly critique meeting or class will give you a deadline and make you more productive.

If you don’t already have a writing tribe, look for local writer’s groups or organizations in your area. Take a writing class, attend a conference or workshop, or join a critique group. Look for Internet message boards and Facebook groups where you can connect with other writers.

Revise and Send Out Your Work
Once you’ve gotten some critiques on your work, revise and polish it until it’s the best you can make it. Check for spelling and grammar errors, and read your work aloud to yourself to see how it sounds. But don’t stop there. Get a copy of Writer’s Market and look for places to send it. Target your submission to editors or agents who are interested in your genre. You will get rejections—even big-name authors do. It’s OK. Pick yourself up and keep submitting.

Every writer started somewhere different—the important thing is that they started. Don’t let one more day go by without reaching for your dreams. Pick up your pen and write. You can do it!

Have you mastered your writing?

by Lana Wayne Koehler

When someone hears that I’m a writer, it usually elicits the same response: “I’d like to write a book someday, too.”

I usually smile and wish them luck. But luck has little to do with it. Writing takes time, talent, and tenacity (thanks, Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton). Only then can luck even begin to play a role. 

Every successful writer that I know keeps a schedule of writing. For some, it’s every morning, and others write better in the afternoon or evening. I write best when I can block out days of pure writing time so I can marathon my stories. It helps me to maintain continuity of characters. Malcolm Gladwell writes in his book “Outliers” that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. That’s about 40 hours a week for five years.

Whether or not you subscribe to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule, you have to admit that some of us are tempted to put in the time and expect miraculous returns. But, even Gladwell had to define its limitations:

“There is a lot of confusion about the 10,000 Hour Rule that I talk about in Outliers. It doesn't apply to sports. And practice isn't a SUFFICIENT condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years and I'll never be a grandmaster. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest. Unfortunately, sometimes-complex ideas get oversimplified in translation.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines Tenacity as: NOUN; the quality or fact of being able to grip something firmly; synonyms: persistence, resolution, endurance, stamina.

Do you have these qualities? Are you willing to persist through dozens of rejections; resolve to send out your manuscript one more time; and endure until an agent or editor embraces your work? If you do, then your stamina will take you far.

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." ~Seneca

Are you prepared? If not, get going now! You never know when opportunity might come your way.
There’s a party joke going around among writers. It goes something like this:

“What do you do for a living?” he asks.
“I’m a writer,” I respond.
“When I retire, I’m going to be a writer, too.” He beams with satisfaction.
“What do you do for a living?” I ask.
"I’m a neurosurgeon,” he replies.
“When I retire I’m going to be a neurosurgeon, too.” I respond, as if it were a possibility.

The fallacy is that if you can write, you can be a writer. For those of us who take our craft seriously, we know how much time and effort it takes. No less, at times, than a practicing surgeon, as we hold the life of our characters in our hands.

Have you mastered your writing yet?