When More is More

Ramsay is the author of The Blog Tyrant, a popular blog about… well… blogging. In his recent post, How to Write More, he offers the following advice about long-format writing:

Usually people tell you that less is more.

But when it comes to blogging it’s fascinating to note that there are some scenarios where it’s pretty true to say that more is more. More words, more posts, more links, etc.

For example, one of the backbones of my blogging strategy for the past few years has been to create long form content that is at least 3,500 words long.

People like Neil Patel, Glen Allsopp, etc. regularly extol the benefits of writing longer posts – they are statistically more likely to get more shares, likes, links, and subscribers.

And while there is no point in posting more if the content is ordinary, it’s good to learn how to write more if it means you can create longer blog posts that solve more problems, rank well on Google, and form a solid basis for your blog’s long term success.

So, let’s take a look.

How to write more

Here are a few strategies, ideas, and tools that have helped me write more over the years. We’ll begin with the more theoretical tips and then get on to some practical methods.

1. Have a solid set of goals with a timeline

It is really hard to sit down to research and write super-long articles if you don’t have a reason to do it. Knowing your short and long term goals and setting them to a timeline makes an enormous difference.

I made this error for years and years and it wasn’t until my older sister asked me over dinner what my goals were for the year. I ummmed and aahhhhed for so long and went away feeling embarrassed enough that I decided to sit down and figure out exactly what I wanted to do that year.

As Jim Rohn says in a piece on goal setting:

Goals are no place to waffle. They are no place to be vague. Ambiguous goals produce ambiguous results. Incomplete goals produce incomplete futures.

2. Know exactly why you are doing it

I have personally found it crucial to have [clearly defined goals.] For some people it is because they want to get better at a skill, for others it might be making more money to support your family or perhaps even a charity. Whatever your motivation, it can help a lot if you isolate it, make it clear, and then recall it regularly.

Not only does this keep your writing focused and careful, it also helps to support you emotionally when you are having down days where the writing doesn’t flow or you feel like progress isn’t happening fast enough. If you can recall to mind the stakeholders of your progress then it puts a fire under your butt.

3. Read, read, read, read, read

If you talk to almost any writer, author, journalist, or blogger about what helps them be good at what they do I can guarantee that a large portion of them will tell you to read more.

A lot of fantastic things happen when you read – especially when you go outside your comfort zone and look at various sources. First of all, your mind opens up to new ideas. Secondly, you start to discover new ways to express those ideas with your writing. Thirdly, your writing happens with less difficulty because the tones and styles of those authors start to absorb into you.

If you are having a period of writer’s block then one of the best things you can do is take a few hours to read. Look around at the best blogs in your niche, but then go further to excellent long form sources like the New Yorker, WIRED,,… etc. and see if something sparks.

4. Find a place to write and go there… even if you can’t

Finding somewhere to write is extremely important. It doesn’t need to be National Library of the Czech Republic inspiring but it should be enough that it allows you to concentrate in the zone.

The most important thing, however, is that you actually go there and write. This is really easy for me to say – I don’t have kids or a “real” job to go to. And I imagine that if you’re a stay-at-home parent or someone trying to blog while raising a family then it could be extremely tricky. But it is also extremely important.

Try finding a cafe nearby or even a place in your house that is just for sitting and writing. Let your family know that for the time that you’re in there (it might only be 30 minutes a day) that you’re not to be disturbed. You can get a lot done in a short amount of time when it’s just one thing.

5. Start with an extraordinary headline and keep coming back to it

For me, it’s really important to have an excellent headline sorted before I start doing any of the actual content writing. This helps me to stay focused.

Actually, this was a tip I got from a lecturer in University who said that you should write your essay topic at the top of your screen and always have it in sight. Refer back to it again and again and it will help you stay on topic in every paragraph, sentence, etc. I found it useful and so applied it to… writing.

The thing to remember here is that once you figure out the perfect headline/title for your blog post you often find that the content writing flows a lot easier. You know what question your are trying to answer, problem you are trying to solve, etc. and as such everything feels very consistent.

At Certa, we highly encourage our authors to have a blog and keep it fresh with their thoughts, missives and book updates. Hopefully this advice from The Blog Tyrant will help to transform your blog into a place where you can interact with your readers and gain new ones.

Should You Really Write a Book?

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Did you see what he tweeted?

Did you watch her Instagram story?

Did you stream his podcast?

Did you watch their Facebook Live?

With so much flashy content available, it’s easy to wonder if there is still room for the printed book, and if anyone is still asking, Did you read her book?

You may feel that books are going the way of the dinosaur… or the CD player. And if so, is it really worth all the time and effort? In fact, you may be tempted to set aside your manuscript and focus exclusively on pithy tweets, profound blog posts and your Instagram account.

Our advice? No. Don’t give up on the printed word. And here’s why.

Books open doors

It isn’t often that a conference speaker is chosen based on her tweets. Few churches bring in workshop leaders due to their YouTube account. Organizations of substance want experts of substance. And nothing proves substance like a book.

In his article for Harvard Business Review, John Butman writes,

The book is the most widely-accepted credential at the largest number of content venues. “Has new book” is a standard, and often required, box to tick for the gatekeepers who control access to areas of the ideaplex you would most like to enter: lecture halls, television studios, boardrooms, media pages, special events, people’s minds.

Book establish credibility

In his article for Forbes, John Hall writes,

People look at you differently when you’ve published a book. They assume that if you’ve literally written the book on a topic, you know what you’re talking about. You’re a leading voice in your space, and they’ll defer to your insights over those shared by influencers who aren’t authors.

Any freelance writer can do some quick research and pump out a 750-word blog post about a topic. But not just anyone can write a 20-chapter book on a single topic, survive the editing process and have it published. Doing so says something about you. It says that…

  • You are passionate about the subject of the book.
  • You have made a commitment to thinking about and researching the topic, as well as seeking out other experts.
  • You felt the subject so salient that it was worthy of this effort on your part.

Michael S. Hyatt, former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, wrote the following in a recent blog post,

People work for years to land an important job or get a graduate degree. Both of these can be important steps in your career path, but neither provide the level of credibility that comes with having a book with your name on it. In our culture, this is still regarded as the ultimate proof of your mastery.

Books have longevity

Long after a live-streamed talk has faded from memory or a blog post has been overtaken by newer posts, a book remains. It remains on the pastor’s bookshelf, on the business man’s nightstand, or on the student’s Kindle. It sits on library shelves and families’ coffee tables. It is ever ready to be read again, referenced or gifted to a friend or colleague.

Yes, blog posts and Facebook accounts last forever (even if we wish otherwise!) but there is something more permanent about a printed book. It maintains a type of authoritative weight unmatched by its digital counterparts.

So pick up that manuscript again with a new appreciation for its importance. Tweet, post and stream all you want, but let the work of authoring a book remain your ultimate task.

At Certa Publishing, we are passionate about partnering with writers who are doing just that. We look forward to working with you in pursuit of this consequential achievement.

John Piper: Why I Write

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John Piper may be best known to you as a writer, or perhaps a theologian. And he is surely among the greats in both categories. However, you may not know that he is also an accomplished poet. In fact, he annually creates story poems centering on Biblical characters for his congregation each year for Advent. Piper’s works were recently published in a 13-volume set titled The Collected Works of John Piper, of which 140 pages are poems.

In tribute to this momentous publication, Piper penned a beautiful commentary on his love for poetry and writing as a whole, named Secretary of Thy Praise, which we have excerpted here. Be sure to continue to the end for his lovely poem I Write.

 

To Gaze on His Glory

Since not everyone revels in poetry, here’s a brief bit of prose to answer the same question, Why do I write so much? It’s a combination of my bent and God’s beauty. At about age 17, something happened. Before that, I avoided reading. After that, I’ve never stopped writing. Does that make sense? The best I can make of it is that, at about 17, I discovered that writing was a way of seeing that more than compensated for reading so slowly.

Hence, the bent. Now add to that, at about age 22, a supernova season of seeing God. I entered a world where the bent and the beauty became a catalytic combination of joyful energy. I have lived in that world for almost fifty years. Here’s a taste of how it works:

  • There is a greatness in the beauty of God. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3). And all his works share in his greatness: “Great are the works of the Lord” (Psalm 111:2). I love to look at greatness. Since writing is a way of seeing, I write.
  • There is a wonder in the beauty of all God’s works and words. “Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14). Every heart craves wonder. Woe to me if I walk through a world of wonders and grumble about the humidity. Even the psalmist prays to see this: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). God answers this prayer for me through writing. So, I write.
  • There is depth in the beauty of all God’s thoughts. “How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!” (Psalm 92:5). God spare me from wading near the beach for fear of your depths. Few things have pushed me more regularly into the deeps than writing. So, I write.
  • There is a vast value in the beauty of God’s mind. “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:17). Life is a constant battle not to believe the devil’s portrait of this world as preferable to the preciousness of God. Writing about this treasure helps me see it. So, I write.
  • There is an endlessness in the beauty of God. It is inexhaustible, and will be, for all eternity. “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us . . . they are more than can be told” (Psalm 40:5). For those who have the capacity to see, there will be no boredom in the endless ages of the world to come. Writing has delivered me from many a fearful season of threatened boredom with life. So, I write.
  • There is a gladness in the beauty of God. And a gladness in finding it out. “You, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:4). “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2). How can we not make this study the happy work of a lifetime — and beyond. Nothing aids my study of God’s works like writing. So, I write.
  • There is a legacy in the beauty of God. There is nothing better to bequeath. “One generation shall commend your works to another” (Psalm 145:4). “Even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation” (Psalm 71:18). Writing is a proclamation that will be heard beyond the grave. So, I write.

To Praise His Splendor

Taped in front of me on my computer monitor are these lines from George Herbert. They express my sense of calling:

Of all the creatures both in sea and land Onely to Man thou hast made known thy wayes, And put the penne alone into his hand, And made him Secretarie of thy praise.

Secretarie of thy praise. I only wish I could have done it better. Perhaps in whatever time remains, his grace will make a more ready scribe.

I Write

Some travel where they’ve never been,
    Some trace the paths within,
Some peer into the depths, and grope,
    Some scan the skies, and hope.
They long to see, 
    If faint or bright.
      Since I agree, 
         I write.

Some study, marking ev’ry page,
    Some probe the ancient sage,
Some perch cross-legg’d and chants rehearse,
    Some through the night converse
To understand 
   And seize the light.
      I set my hand 
         To write.

Some eat at gourmet restaurants,
   Some mortify their wants,
Some blitz along the Autobahn,
   Some plod the marathon
To feel the zest, 
   Enjoy the height.
      I share the quest, 
         And write.

Some paint, some build, some act the play,
   Some draw, some spin the clay.
Some cook, some sew, and some compose,
   Some dream, and some propose,
All to create. 
   Ah, such delight!
      I bear the trait, 
         And write.

Some heal, some shield, some educate,
   Some sway the magistrate,
Some feed, some serve to make shalom,
   Some bring the stranger home.
They seek to love. 
   I too invite
      The cordial Dove, 
         And write.

Some sing, some leap, some lift their hands,
   Some bow and keep commands,
Some kneel, some sway, some close their eyes,
   Some lie prostrate, some rise.
And all to praise. 
   Is this my flight?
      Oh, all my days! 
         I write.

And may it be that someday we,
   In heaven, sinlessly,
At last may see, and understand,
   And feel, and put our hand
And spirit to create, and love,
   And praise. Then to the Dove,
All-powerful and pure and high,
   My prayer will be: That I,
With crowning skill 
   And perfect sight,
      Be summoned still 
         To write.

Does Piper’s poem ring true with you? Leave us a comment below and share what motivates you to write.

The Potter’s Tools: The Divine Work of Writing

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Imagine a half-finished sculpture on the artist’s table. Strewn about are various chisels, brushes and tools. Chunks of clay lie discarded on the floor. The master leans intently over the object, pressing it here and there with his hands, refining… cutting… scraping. Yet look at the delight in his eyes. Look at how his fingers dance to an unheard song, molding and shaping, with a sense of what will be.

We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Isaiah 64:8

You see, the Lord did not lay down His creative skills on the sixth day. He is still at work, forming and fashioning us into new creations. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10).  You can be confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

Have you considered that the Lord may be using your role as a writer as one of his potter’s “tools?” But this work is uncomfortable. If you’ve been writing long enough, you’ve surely experienced the sting of rejection. Perhaps an editor has returned your work with more red ink than you thought possible. Maybe your manuscript has not been received with the praise you expected, or has even been panned or criticized by your friends, family or the public.

Scrape. Push. Cut. Do you feel the potter’s tools?

As believers, we have a choice in our response to the pain of His reshaping. Resist or submit. And James reminds that He responds accordingly. God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble (James 4:6).

What if we viewed writing as a new opportunity to submit to the potter’s work? Could we receive the editor’s remarks as a chance to grow and stretch? Can we hold our words with an open hand, allowing the Lord to refine them and infuse them with His voice? When we feel ready to quit, can we ask Him to help us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1)? What if we approached our mentors with a humble heart, asking for their constructive criticism, and appreciating their input?

Jeff Goins, bestselling author and blogger, suggests,

A good writer is humble. Regardless of skill, she is committed to seeing the writing process through to completion. No matter how grueling or hard, she will write. And she will get better…

This all begins with humility. Which really means a willingness to listen and change. To do the work and become a professional.

If you do this, if you take the time to make your work great by never settling for good enough, it will make all the difference. So start persevering today.

Let’s view our writing as more than work, more than a pastime, but as a divine process, a tool in the hand of the Master. Is there really any better place to be than on the table of the Potter?

The Very Normal Habits of Great Writers

04.16.17 very normal copyThe writer’s cabin. The oceanfront balcony. The serene lake-front dock. Is this where you imagine most great authors write? Are you putting off writing until you can make your escape, clear your calendar and clear your mind? If so, you’re not alone. In his post, The Writer’s Cabin is a Myth, bestselling author Jon Acuff writes,

Every writer secretly believes in the writer’s cabin.

In our heads we see a small isolated cabin in a quiet patch of woods. There’s a porch with a swing out front. We sit on that when we need a break from all the amazing words we’ve written inside. There’s not much behind that cabin door, just a humble table like Hemingway probably used, a chair our grandfather made by hand and some sort of way to gather our words. For some, it’s a stack of fresh, white paper and a favorite pen. Others see a typewriter that makes real clickity clack sounds with each brilliant word you capture. The days pile up as the pages do too and we emerge from this literary sabbatical with a book and a beard. (Unless you’re a lady, the beard is not nearly as cool in your story.)

I thought that would be my life when I became a full time writer.

Instead of waiting for serene moments and locations, Mr. Acuff suggests:

Write wherever you are.

Write in your car during your lunch break at work.

Write while you wait for your kids to finish gymnastics.

Write in any moment you can steal back from an already busy life.

I wrote my first book in a Burger King. It could not have been less cabin like.

Many writers also believe in the 30-minutes-a-day rule. No matter if inspiration strikes or not, they make a habit of writing for half an hour each day. Doing so creates a discipline, improves your skill and trains your mind to be more productive. In his post Why You Need to Write Everyday, Jeff Goins states,

Spending five hours on a Saturday writing isn’t nearly as valuable as spending 30 minutes a day every day of the week.

He quotes Jack Cheng who uses the analogy of physical training,

When mastery is the goal, spending an exorbitant number of hours in one sitting will likely lead to burnout. We don’t go to the gym expecting to put on 20 pounds of muscle in a single, day-long workout. Instead, we do several short workouts a week, spread out over months.

Do you think of writing as a daily discipline or an occasional indulgence? Re-orienting your approach could be just the thing you need to jumpstart a new project or accelerate your current one.

In response to the question, “Where is your favorite place to write?” Poet Taylor Mali offered this deadpan response,

[At] the top of our house, there’s an old cupola, and I watch the sunrise up there… and write my poems in longhand. I’m right-handed but I force myself to use my left hand, because I find it makes me more creative. And I write in Latin, because it forces the brain to work in new way – backwards, like Hebrew…

But, really Mali adds,

I just sit in front of my computer.

What are your very normal writing habits? Comment below and let us know!

Is This What You Really Meant to Say?

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In our last post, we told you to embrace the ugliness of the first draft. Whether this exercise was fun or grueling, we hope it propelled you further down your writing path. But don’t assume that the next step is to simply edit your way from a first draft to a final draft. No. Now it’s time to find your voice. Your tone. Your message. It’s time to answer the question, Is this what you really meant to say?

If today you emailed your first draft to 10 different writers to finish, do you think you would receive back 10 very similar works? Absolutely not. In fact, they might be almost unrecognizable from the original. Why? Because those writers will have applied their voice to the text, crafting it into something unique and exclusive to them.

So that’s the next step. But maybe you’re asking what is my voice? What makes it unique?  That’s where we turn for advice to national bestselling author Jeff Goins, and his article Ten Steps to Finding Your Voice. Goins writes,

Spending some time deliberating over voice is worth your attention and focus. Whether you blog for fun, write novels, craft poems, pencil melodies, or inspire people with your prose, it’s essential that you find your unique writing style.

If you struggle with getting people to read your writing or with staying consistent in your craft, you need to stop chasing numbers and productivity and reboot. It’s time to start finding and developing that voice of yours.

An Exercise for Finding Your Voice

Not sure where to start? No problem. Most of us need help understanding our voice. Here’s a short exercise that can help you — just follow these 10 steps:

  1. Describe yourself in three adjectives. Example: snarky, fun, and [ambitious] 
  2. Ask (and answer) the question: “Is this how I talk?”
  3. Imagine your ideal reader. Describe him in detail. Then, write to him, and only him. Example: My ideal reader is smart. He has a sense of humor, a short attention span, and is pretty savvy when it comes to technology and pop culture. He’s sarcastic and fun, but doesn’t like to waste time. And he loves pizza.
  4. Jot down at least five books, articles, or blogs you like to read. Spend some time examining them. How are they alike? How are they different? What about how they’re written intrigues you? Often what we admire is what we aspire to be. Example: Copyblogger, Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, Ernest Hemingway, and C.S. Lewis. I like these writers, because their writing is intelligent, pithy, and poignant.
  5. List your favorite artistic and cultural influences. Are you using these as references in your writing, or avoiding them, because you don’t think people would understand them. Example: I use some of my favorite bands’ music in my writing to teach deeper lessons.
  6. Ask other people: “What’s my voice? What do I sound like?” Take notes of the answers you get.
  7. Free-write. Just go nuts. Write in a way that’s most comfortable to you, without editing. Then go back and read it, asking yourself, “Do I publish stuff that sounds like this?”
  8. Read something you’ve recently written, and honestly ask yourself, “Is this something I would read?” If not, you must change your voice.
  9. Ask yourself: “Do I enjoy what I’m writing as I’m writing it?” If it feels like work, you may not be writing like yourself. (Caveat: Not every writer loves the act of writing, but it’s at least worth asking.)
  10. Pay attention to how you’re feeling. How do you feel before publishing? Afraid? Nervous? Worried? Good. You’re on the right track. If you’re completely calm, then you probably aren’t being vulnerable. Try writing something dangerous, something a little more you. Fear can be good. It motivates you to make your writing matter.

So we encourage you to take that ugly first draft and decide how to craft it into what you really meant to say. Your future readers are waiting!

How to Write Like Max Lucado

04.01.16 max lucado copyIf you haven’t heard of Max Lucado, you’ve been in your writing closet for too long! Lucado is one of the most prolific Christian authors whose almost 100 books have 80 million copies in print. He practically lives on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Now that I have your attention, let’s dive into what makes Mr. Lucado so successful and how you can imitate his process.

First, watch this quick video interview with Max Lucado by Michael Hyatt, former publishing CEO.

M A X   L U C A D O   O N  :: editing 

In a recent quote Mr. Lucado describes the benefit, and agony, of the editing process:

Ernest Hemingway espoused rewriting: “I rise at first light . . . and I start by rereading and editing everything I have written to the point I left off. That way I go through a book I’m writing several hundred times . . .  Describing A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway said, “I had rewritten the ending thirty-nine times in manuscript and . . . worked it over thirty times in proof, trying to get it right.”

I find it helps to read the work out loud. First to myself, then to anyone who is kind enough to listen. I vary the locations of the reading. What sounds good in the study must sound good on the porch. What sounds good to me must sound good to my editors. Sure, editing hurts. So does a trip to the dentist. But someone needs to find the cavities.

Let editors do their job. Release your grip on the manuscript. A little red ink won’t hurt you. A lot of red ink might save you. My most recent manuscript was returned to me sunburned in red. It bled like raw steak. Of its fourteen chapters, thirteen needed an overhaul. I was depressed for a week. Yet the book is better because of the editors.

And isn’t that our aim? The best book possible? We need good books. We need your best book. The single . . . the lonely pastor . . . the stressed missionary— we need you to give them your best words. We need you to write.

And now I believe we can all see why Max Lucado’s skill is worthy of our esteem. If he can write that well about writing, imagine the beauty of the rest of his work!

M A X   L U C A D O   O N  :: clarity

Can you summarize your entire book in one sentence? If not, Max Lucado suggests that you need more clarity. He says,

Distill the message into a phrase, and protect it. Stand guard. Defy interlopers. No paragraph gets to play unless it contributes to the message of the book.

M A X   L U C A D O   O N  :: the work of writing

In his writing space Mr. Lucado has posted the quote,

You wanna write? Put your butt in that chair and sit there a long, long time.

This reveals his view of writing… that it is hard work. Mr. Lucado suggests that if an author tells him that writing is easy or natural, his or her work is likely lacking in quality. So be encouraged that the struggle you feel each time you put pen to paper is actually a credit to the caliber of your work product.

Whether you are a New York Times Best Selling author or simply working on your first manuscript, consider employing Max Lucado’s time-honored tools of self-editing, striving for clarity, and hard work.

First Things First :: Writing the Rough Draft

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After months, maybe years of hearing “You should write a book!” you’ve finally sat down at your computer to release your wisdom and wit for the masses. And it hits you. Panic. Never has a blank page looked so large or so… blank. Sure you have an outline and key points, but how do you turn that into the life-changing, bestselling manuscript you thought for sure you were capable of?

Never fear, dear writers. We have all been there. There are few harder components of writing than the beginning, so we are here to help!

3 Ways to Get Started on Your Rough Draft

1. Embrace the ugliness

It’s going to be ugly. Accept it. No one will be impressed. Embrace it. If you can begin with this mindset about your rough draft, you’re on the road to success!

Dan J. Fiore, winner of the 82nd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition states,

Know what one of the most frustrating things about first drafts are? They’re always terrible…

Instead of letting this discourage you, flip it around and use it to your advantage. Remind yourself over and over again as you’re writing that you give yourself permission to write terribly. Tell that little voice in your head that keeps saying to you, This is awful, that it’s okay. Name an author, any author. Go ahead. Guess what? His or her first drafts [are terrible too.] Keep reminding yourself of that.

By embracing the ugliness of the rough draft, you can simply pour out your ideas onto the page without concern for their readability. Are you missing the perfect anecdote? Skip over it. Are you still waiting for just the right voice for your character? You can fix that later. Are you realizing that a certain portion needs further research? Set aside some time to do that soon.

Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes, suggests,

Ban self-slandering remarks. Don’t beat yourself up by saying things like I’m a crappy writer or this is awful. [The first draft] is the content equivalent of staying home alone in your jammies all day and eating peanut butter straight from the jar. Revel in it. There’s no one around to judge.

2. Be willing to take a step back

Often it isn’t the writing that is so hard about the rough draft, but instead the thinking. If you’ve been stuck on that first page for a while, perhaps you need to spend more time thinking about the message.

Have you really honed in on the key points? Do you have a great deal of clarity on what you want the reader to walk away with? If you are muddled here, you will really struggle to get those first words on paper.

Doug Kessler, a successful content writer, is quoted as saying,

If I’m really struggling, it’s usually not about the writing – it’s about the thinking: I just don’t really have the story down yet. So more research or groping with the outline can unstick me.

3. The best outline is one you don’t always obey

We believe in outlines. We do! But we also know that often the best parts of a story emerge as we are writing it. So begin with an outline, perhaps using one of these methods:

  • The traditional format we all learned in school
  • A simple list of ideas
  • Key point headers with sub-points underneath
  • Mind mapping
  • Or one of these methods

However, once you begin writing, don’t let the outline boss you around too much. Or, as Dan Fiore thinks of it, the outline shouldn’t be a GPS barking at you when you deviate off course. He states,

If a character wants to go in a direction you hadn’t anticipated, by all means go check it out. See where that scary road leads. It might lead to a better story. It might lead to fixing a problem you had earlier (or will run into later) in the story. Or it could be a dead end. But guess what, dead ends are okay. Dead ends make you a better writer. Just go back the way you came and find a new route.

By embracing the ugliness, giving more thought to your main point and utilizing an outline, the daunting task of writing your rough draft can easily be accomplished!

Once you have that ugly rough draft finished, the fun begins! Be on the lookout for our next post, Is this really what you meant to say?  where we discuss voice, tone and how to craft your words into your message.

How to Ignore Your Inner Editor…for now

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It can happen at any time and while working on any piece. Your writing session is going smoothly when suddenly a thought hits you out of nowhere: “That’s the worst phrase/sentence/chapter ever!” This voice in your head leaves you feeling self-conscious and paralyzed…

Don’t be discouraged! This internal message doesn’t have to plunge you head first into writer’s block. Recognize the voice and its message for what it truly is—your inner editor repeating old insecurities and expectations that need to be drowned out.

All writers have heard this foreboding voice and cringed at its pointed words (or at least felt the effects of its criticism). You might stop mid-type and stare at a blank screen. Maybe you begin pacing aimlessly around the room. No matter how helpless you feel, though, only you can break through the block to quiet your inner editor.

But how?

Start by typing “fix” every time your inner editor starts to speak. Brush past your critical thoughts by vowing to revisit the passage at another time. Why is “fix” so helpful? It reminds you that this is only the first draft and no words are permanent. It is a marker of which sections to return to. It helps you acknowledge that you’re aware of the possible imperfection of your passage, giving yourself permission to move on without accepting it as a final draft.

Somehow, writing “fix” after whatever words are bothering your inner editor allows your words to flow again with renewed creativity. Once you’ve moved on to the next part of your writing, you’ll often discover new words and phrases popping into your head that are perfect for “fixing” your prior issue.

So next time you hear the condemnation in your inner editor’s voice, reply with a simple “fix” and move along. Trust yourself to move forward in your piece and return to the problem areas when it’s time!

Why You Should Always Carry a Notebook

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written by Srinivas Rao (lightly edited by Certa Publishing)

There isn’t one prolific creator of any kind that I know that hasn’t abided by the policy of carrying a notebook. I have stacks of Moleskine notebooks on my bookshelves. All the projects, books, and ideas that I’ve turned into reality started in the pages of my notebooks.

If you let it, a notebook can become a platform for your imagination.
It can give you the opportunity to rewrite the story of your life.
It can enable you to create more than you consume

AJ Leon wrote the following:

I use a tiny Moleskine as my idea notebook. I jot down every business idea, prospect idea, project idea, potential blog post, poem, art or social project, whatever. Every single thing I’ve done in the last four years can be traced to one of my notebooks.

In his piece on advice for recent graduates, Austin Kleon said the following:

Carry your journal around with you and write in it all the time: make notes in between job interviews, doodle while you’re watching Netflix, daydream about what you want out of life, etc. Any old notebook and pen will do…

Ideas Emerge at Odd Times

Like falling in love, moments that announce themselves as your subject are rare, and there’s a magic to them. Ignore them at your own peril. —Dani Shapiro

If you haven’t noticed, ideas don’t always show up according to our schedule. The muse is fickle and makes appearances at her own convenience.

Ideas emerge when we’re at dinner and someone says something.

Ideas emerge when we’re at the gym, surfing the perfect wave or flying down a mountain on a snowboard.

Ideas emerge when you’re sitting in LA traffic wondering why anybody in their right mind would voluntarily drive in this city.

If you’re going to consistently come up with ideas to write about or do something with, you have to be able to capture them regardless of when they show up.

Ideas don’t show up fully formed

Ideas are like babies. They don’t show up in our lives fully formed. They need time to bake, grow, and evolve. They have to be nurtured and cared for. When we don’t put them down in our notebooks, it’s like letting our kids play in traffic in the middle of a busy intersection.

Notebooks are fertile soil for creative seeds

Creative success requires us to plant seeds and play the infinite game. A notebook is fertile soil in which you can plant those seeds. While you could plant the same seeds on your computer, just think of all the other seeds that have been planted there. The likelihood of the seed bearing fruit in a digital wasteland is lessened.

In a recent article Benjamin P. Hardy said the following:

Your thoughts are the blueprint of the life you are building one day at a time. When you learn to channel your thinking — both consciously and subconsciously — you create the conditions that make the achievement of your goals inevitable.

Garry Reynold tells the following story about visiting a designer at Apple:

Most professional designers- even young new media designers who’ve grown up on computers- usually do much of their planning and brainstorming on paper.

This became very clear to me one day at Apple when I visited a senior director for one of the creative teams on the other side of the Apple campus to get his input on the project we were working on. He said he had sketched out a lot of ideas the wanted to show me. I assumed that he had prepared some slides or a movie or at least printed out some color images in illustrator or Photoshop to show me. But when I arrived at his office, I found that the beautiful Apple Cinema Display on his desk was off. (I learned later at this talented creative director worked forays without ever turning on his Mac)

I always write by hand before I ever turn on my computer. It allows you to limit the inflow, and there’s tremendous power to pen and paper in an increasingly digital world.

What Should You Put in the Notebook?

 Sometimes people get tripped up because they have no idea what they’ll put in their notebooks. Other times they don’t want to ruin something as beautiful as a Moleskine with their chicken scratch. But as Amber Rae once said to me, “Fall in love with your chicken scratch. Accumulate pages not judgments.”

Any of the following can be put into your notebook:
Quotes
Ideas
Thoughts
Sketches

The surprisingly simple act of carrying a notebook can change your life and allow you to become the author of your narrative.