Monthly Archives: May 2011

Steps To More Efficient Writing – My Personal Method

As stated in my previous post, many of us writers find ourselves again and again in that blank, unproductive state where we sit for hours without producing more than a few satisfactory words. This is the post where I crack down on this bad habit with specific methods I’ve learned to use in breaking it.

Now one practice I’ve found effective is rotating projects and consequently taking a turn with each one. I always have several projects going on at once. Take for example, 1) outlining a novel, 2) writing poetry, and 3) writing articles. Often, you’ll find that instead of taking a two to three hour window of time to “write,” allotting yourself small portions of time for very specific objectives can help you be more productive.

Try this: give yourself 30 minutes to work on the novel, 30 minutes to write poetry, and 30 more minutes to type up an article. We’ve broken down that 90-minute time window into three different segments, but if you’re like me, they’re still a little to general to tackle as is. Now specify what you’re going  to do with each of these 30-minute sessions. Use your first 5 minutes of novel outlining to brainstorm plot ideas, the next 5 to list character names, 10 to freewrite about what you want your novel to be, and the last 10 to flesh out character sketches. Likewise, break down your poetry session into making lists of rhymes, freewriting subject matter for your verse, and practicing with different meters and forms. For tips on how to write articles when you’re pressed for time, see Jim Estill’s post on How to Write an Article in 20 Minutes.

Especially since getting a job and starting a condensed class schedule this summer, I’ve realized that setting specific goals in narrow spaces of time can help create a more urgent, more focused writing environment and push you on your way toward more efficient writing sessions.

Do you have trouble getting work done in wide or narrow spaces of time? What process do you follow to achieve your attempted word count each day? Leave your thoughts in a comment below.


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How Getting A Day Job Can Improve Your Writing Life

As writers, we are all familiar with the frustrated feeling we may get when faced with the prospect of being unproductive. Many have dubbed this fruitless state “writers’ block,” but I find that a poor excuse for a blank screen and stagnant word count. Perhaps the most frustrating part about this futile state is the potential of it. So much time on our hands, but nothing accomplished. This is enough to drive anyone mad, which is why, until you pump out that first best seller, you should tuck away those dreams of writing full time and get a day job.

I know, remaining hunched over a desk all day, scribbling like a hermit is a tempting lifestyle, especially if you are living off of more than your own income (say, a spouse or parent), but there are several reasons a part-time job can boost not only your writing productivity, but your physical health as well, these being (saving the best for last):

  • A steady source of income. Enough romanticizing the dirt-poor scrivener who writes for every meal. It’s a very nice idea to live off of one’s words, but let’s put that on hold until we’re selling books by the million, shall we? We want to be successful, and the first step to being successful is to stay alive. Keep your house; keep your job! And keep your sanity and your dignity while you’re at it.
  • The opportunity to stretch! You can make any excuse you want (I make plenty–“I’m stretching over my laptop!”) but no matter how you look at it, sitting in a desk chair for extended periods of time is terrible for your body. For example, I have a handicap stemming from partial sacralization in my back (see’s Medical Dictionary), which causes pain that is worsened by remaining in one position for more than a few minutes. I now have a part-time waitressing job. I never get a chance to sit. I’m always walking back and forth, which is very good for my back. The lifting and carrying of heavy trays? Not so much. But you get the point. It’s unhealthy to sit around all day–go to work, or do some chores.
  • More time in the real world. A writer must be constantly observant of his surroundings. Leaving your house once and a while to go to work will expose you to new people and places, broadening the subject matter you will use in your writing. You’ll come across interesting people, hear realistic dialogue, and experience new occurrences every day. You may even find open time windows throughout your job for mini writing sessions. My job as a waitress, for example, allows me to jot things down in my booklet next to customers’ orders. Your job does not have to be in the writing field. The whole point is to have time away from your writing so that you are more focused when the time comes to sit down and produce more words.
  • Less time to write. It’s a good thing. Really. Taking time away from your projects (or lack thereof) will give you other things to think about and leave you creatively stimulated and hungry to write next time you sit down at your desk. Comparatively, having short spans of time as opposed to long, fruitless periods will press you to write more productively. Have a word goal and cut-off time, or go to the extreme of using Write or Die (“putting the ‘prod’ in productivity!”) or a similar program. However you do it, manage your time wisely (I’ll be posting an article on various methods shortly). Until then, form efficient habits now; they will make or break your writing career in the future.
Do you have a job that is outside the sphere of writing? How do you manage your schedule in order to make time for writing? What other benefits of keeping a day job have I missed? Leave your thoughts in a comment below.


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6 Rituals To Put You In The Mood For Writing

A “ritual,” as defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary, is “an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner.” As writers, we all have our quirks; some are beneficial to our writing goals; however, others can be less than productive (I’m looking at you, Twitter addicts). There are times for marketing; but now it’s time to write. While most of the rituals listed here have no magical powers that will make your writing better, they are useful because they:

  • Set up your writing environment.
  • Tell your brain that it’s “writing time.”
  • Make your writing time something to look forward to.
Here are six things that I like to do before or during my writing time.
1. Light a candle or two (or three or four).
I love writing in old-fashioned settings, and in old-fashioned ways. When I was younger, I used to write fairy tales with a quill and ink, and by candle light of course. I even logged the time and setting of my writing for a month, and interestingly enough, the quality of my poetry is always better when written by candle light. Coincidence? You decide.
2. Create a soundtrack.
What music really makes you want to write? Perhaps the soundtrack of an inspiring movie you’ve seen, or a list of songs that are about writing (post on this topic soon to come). I like to listen to “Defying Gravity” *cough*ChrisColfer*cough* when feeling discouraged, or epic trailer music while brainstorming , or “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles and songs with similar themes.
3. Pour your coffee (or tea).
This is probably the most obvious one. Whether you do it for the caffeine or just to feel like part of the club (all of the great writers drink coffee!), having your favourite writing beverage by your side can never hurt when sitting down for a productive writing session. Due to chest problems, I’ve recently had to switch to decaf, but you can still buy me a coffee here! (It makes me a better writer. Honestly.)
4. Do some housework.
I don’t know about you, but there’s something about scrubbing floors that always seems to enlighten me. Maybe it’s the rhythmic motion of the rag on the kitchen floor that tickles the poetic side of my brain, or perhaps the hysterical state I’m already in when I start my compulsive cleaning, or maybe it’s just the sleep deprivation from the 2-o’clock-in-the-morning part of my cleaning routine. Whatever the reason may be, see if cleaning (or some other form of physical exercise before writing) works for you. This way, you can sort out your thoughts before sitting down to write and keep your family off your back all at the same time. Isn’t efficiency great? 😉

5. Recite an oath.
I’m not suggesting anything freaky, but you may find something like Gail Carson Levine’s (Ella Enchanted author) “Writer’s Oath” does the trick to keeping your writing morale:
    I promise solemnly:
  • to write as often and as much as I can,
  • to respect my writing self, and
  • to nurture the writing of others.
    I accept these responsibilities and shall honor them always.

6. Come back to your main focus.
Why is it that you write? What, out of all of the things in the world, are the most important to you? Your faith? A cause? Are you writing for that? If you want to be truly productive, take a minute before each session to rediscover this focus, this cause for your writing. Brainstorm. Meditate. Pray. When I feel that I’m not getting anywhere with my writing, I come back to what’s most important to me.  “Would God be pleased with what I’m writing?” I ask myself, because if He wouldn’t be, then why am I writing? Your cause may be different from mine. Maybe you haven’t established it yet. If not, find a quote that inspires you to write, and post it above your desk. I have a bunch of quotes pasted all over the walls of my writing space. One of them is Proverbs 16:3.

“Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.”

Do you put any of these to use before your writing sessions? What writing rituals do you have that aren’t listed here? Leave your thoughts in a comment below. (I promise I won’t think you’re weird.)

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5 Useful Duotrope Tools You Haven’t Utilized Yet

In my previous article, “How To Publish Your Writing With Duotrope,” I listed the basics of the main search engine and a couple of strategies to get you started finding suitable publishers for your writing. For those of you who would like to utilize even more of Duotrope’s resources to their highest efficiency, these five tools are for you.

[Continue reading on blog]     [Continue reading on Ezine Articles]

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Writing Methods from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” Part 3 – Characterization Cont…

Last week, I promised a continuation of my post on characterization with more examples. This post will focus on friendship among characters–these being the famous trio: Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

What about these friends make their bond so strong? As Rowling said in the very first book, “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.” Like true Gryffindors, what sets Harry, Ron, and Hermione apart is their enduring willingness to courageously fight for each others lives and stand up for one another in perilous circumstances. And like their house’s mascot, the lion, they each have a terrible temper if rubbed the wrong way. Take for example:

Ron Weasley

Ron comes from a financially struggling pure-blood family of nine. The subject of his family’s condition is a touchy one, as he is known to react violently when harassed about it. This sets him apart from Harry and Hermione, but like them, he always sticks up for his family when under verbal attack, as well as his friends (Hermione especially).

Hermione Granger

Coming to Hogwarts from a muggle household, Hermione is passionately dedicated to her studies. Unlike Ron and Harry, she is most insulted if her academic ability is challenged. Also, like Hagrid, Hermione has a soft spot for animals and pursues justice for her friends and magical creatures alike. If an enemy is being cruel to one of her friends, she retaliates physically as well as verbally (see page 293), and will go to great lengths (even flying, one of her greatest fears) to help her friends.

Harry Potter

Unlike his friends Ron and Hermione, Harry has no living parents; since the age of one, he has been raised by the Dursleys (his muggle aunt, uncle, and cousin). After learning of his magical heritage and the death of his parents, he suffers even more contempt from the Dursleys, and like Ron, what really makes his pot boil over is verbal attack on his family (just look what happens to his Aunt Marge when she insults his dead parents). Likewise, he sticks up for his best friends through thick and thin.

While each of these characters come from different backgrounds, what binds them is their loyalty to one another.

Next to come: overlapping conflict in The Prisoner of Azkaban, followed by lots of juicy Goblet of Fire posts! And lastly–

What do you find special about the three main characters of the Harry Potter books? Have you learned as much about writing from the third book as I have? What other books and authors would you like to see in upcoming “writing lessons” categories?

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How To Publish Your Writing With Duotrope

If you’re a writer like me, working to widen your publications, you may or may not know of an essential publishing tool called Duotrope. As profitable as it is, I figured a lot more writers would have heard of it and put it to use, but upon being asked, most reply “What’s Duotrope?” So I decided to write an article explaining what it is and including a few strategies to try when using it. You can read it here on Ezine Articles or here as originally posted on the site. It’s my first published article of many more to come; as I listed in my Goals for 2011, I’d like to write a lot of these, so stay tuned and I will update you when I have another one available.

Do you use Duotrope as an aid in publishing your work? Do you share this valuable resource with your friends? Did you find this article useful and what writing/publishing topics would you like to see in an upcoming article?


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“Of Women’s Wiles and Underwear?”

Apparently, there is another writer out there who shares my last name. More coincidentally, his name is Michael A. Tashjian. How strange. He has a story called “Of Women’s Wiles and Underwear,” or “Wiles and Underwear” for short, being published online at Eric’s Hysterics May 15th. Opening in the waiting room of a doctors’ office, it begins when a curious adolescent boy picks up a women’s magazine, an incident followed by a garage sale and a cute girl.

Even more bizarre than the story writer’s name, Michael A.’s style seems similar to mine–except for the fact that I would never write anything so vile as a story about underwear and wiles. Nevertheless, perhaps you’d like to read it when it appears on the site this Sunday.

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