A Quotation From John Stoltenberg

“I felt an urgency to write words that I could stand behind with conviction, words that I could trust to say out in public because I had thrashed them out in private until they were as true as I could get them, until they said exactly what I mean, exactly what I believed, even if those words might provoke some people to outrage.”

— John Stoltenberg, Refusing to be a Man (New York, Meridian, 1990), p. 3.

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Achieve Your Writing Goals Tomorrow By Starting Today

Some days, you really feel productive: you are crossing things off your to-do list (or “next actions” list for those GTDers among us) left and right. There’s nothing you can’t do.

Other days, it seems as though you spend all day taking one step forward only to take two steps back. Nothing comes as easily as it did the day before, and no project seems to move toward completion.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could take actions to have more highly productive days and fewer days stuck in the Slough of Despond? Other blogs that discuss ways to apply productivity principles to your work and personal life often feature ways to engineer those highly productive days we dream of. See: 15 Tips to Make Today the Day You Finish Your To-Do List, Your Most Productive Week Ever!, Make Every Day Your Most Productive Day, and Purpose Your Day: Most Important Task (MIT). As these links show, a popular tactic is to prepare for a productive day the day before.

As you know, at Writing Power our mission is to discover productivity principles that will work to improve your writing life. So, let’s apply this day-before productivity principle to writing. Here are five ideas that you can do today to make tomorrow an insanely productive writing day.

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Don’t Outline — Strategize! Part 2

In the previous article, I discussed recalibrating the way we as writers think about the planning stage of the writing process. I suggested that we think of it as strategizing, just as a general would plan the strategy for a military engagement.

You’re in your war room, and you have your raw material at hand: maps, troop data, enemy intel. How do you begin to strategize?

The first thing to do is to determine the victory conditions for this engagement. In military terms, how will you know when you’ve succeeded? In writing terms, how will you know you have finished writing?

To determine this, you must clarify your purpose for writing. Why are you writing? What do you hope to achieve? At the broadest level, writing can be classified by its purpose: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain, for example. Many writers don’t step back to consider their writing’s true purpose, and they end up with muddy, unfocused drafts as a result.

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A Quotation From Leonard Bernstein

“Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time… The wait is simply too long.”
–Leonard Bernstein 
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Don’t Outline — Strategize!

This is part one of a two-part series.

It’s easy to love the early stages of writing in which you’re generating ideas.  The only rule of brainstorming is that all ideas are acceptable:  this means that you can feel legitimately productive while cranking out line after line of crackpot schemes and off-the-wall rants.  If the “cluster,” “web,” or “bubble” methods work for you, even better.  You can place your crackpot schemes in spatial relation to each other until they look like some futuristic blueprint.  No wonder we love this early stage.  Even the name for this part of the process – invention – sounds cool.

It’s also easy to feel good about the writing process’s later stages: drafting, revision, and editing, although they don’t generate the same enthusiasm as invention does.  Many writers view these later stages as “real writing” because they’re actually putting words on a page in sentence and paragraph form.  In other words, the writer has something intelligible to show for the blood, sweat, and tears he or she put into the project.  Once a writer has a draft, the hard work seems “worth it.”

One stage of the writing process, however, seems to be perpetually left out in the cold.  This stage is grudgingly completed and often ignored.  It’s the stage we love to hate.  It’s the planning stage.  However, if we recalibrate the way we think about and use planning in our writing, planning can be a source of inspiration rather than dread.

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New Weekly Feature: Links To Love

Sunday is a great day to look back over the past week and plan for the week ahead. With that in mind, I am introducing a new weekly feature here at Writing Power: Links to Love. Each week, I will share a few links from blogs or other websites that I think you’ll find useful. Let’s get started:

10 Steps to Create the Habit of Writing from Leo Babuta’s new blog Write to Done. Leo has built a great reputation by replacing the idea of life goals, which are often amorphous and vague, with the idea of habits, which are measurable and concrete. This post applies his successful formula to writing, with insightful results.

12 Techniques to Help You Live a Happy and Fulfilled Life a guest post by David B. Bohl for Dumb Little Man. A well written review of principles to live by. If you’re tired of living through your paycheck, check it out.

What’s YOUR Sticking Point? by Dustin M. Wax for Lifehack. A great resource to help you think through what may be blocking your project’s progress.

The Ultimate Student Resource List is not just for students! This post contains a wealth of online resources for research, writing, citation, online organization tools, and productivity apps. It also gives students an easy recap of Lifehack‘s student-centered posts. For anyone who writes regularly, this is a goldmine written by Dustin M. Wax.

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Revise Those New Year’s Resolutions

Okay. It has been one month since many of us made New Year’s Resolutions, and it’s time for a reality check. How are they going?

If you’re like most people, your answer is somewhere between “they’re going okay” and “ugh.” New Year’s Resolutions are a psychological minefield. The idea of a New Year’s Resolution is incredibly alluring. Once the new year is here, things will be different, we think to ourselves. We believe that when we wake up on January 1, it will somehow be easier to find the motivation to exercise, eat right, keep to a budget, and banish clutter from the house. Meanwhile, before that shiny new year gets here, we implicitly give ourselves the excuse to party like it’s 1999. After all, it’s not the new year yet, right?

When you think about it, making New Year’s Resolutions has as much chance of making your life worse as it does of making your life better. The resolutions are psychologically set up to fail, and if they do fail, we heap on the guilt and self-recriminations. What a disaster.

So now that the New Year’s hoopla has died down and we’re back to reality, what do we do with our good intentions, our desire to change our lives for the better? I propose that we start thinking about our New Year’s Resolutions not as challenges to be achieved but as drafts to be revised. Beginning today, you can revise your New Year’s Resolutions using the same standards you’d use for any other sentence, particularly a thesis sentence. By revising the way you think about your resolutions, you will change the way you act in response to them, and they can begin to serve the function for which they were intended: to enrich your life.

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A Quotation From Stephen King

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair — the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart.  You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names.  You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world.  Come to it any way but lightly.  Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.”

— Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), p. 106.

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The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly (Grammar)

America is an incredibly diverse culture. As diverse as we are, though, we seem to have one thing in common: none of us is immune to getting tripped up when it comes to whether we should say “good” or “well.”

For years, the problem was that people said “good” when they should say “well.” For example, it’s incorrect to say, “I did good on my test.” Similarly, in response to the question, “How are you doing?” the answer should not be “I’m doing good.”

Fair enough. In general, people tend to replace adverbs with adjectives, as in “Without my glasses, I just can’t see clear” (it should be “clearly”), or “Run quick and fetch my screwdriver” (it should be “quickly”).

But something particularly crazy has happened with the whole good/well fiasco. Suddenly, the air is filled with, “I’m not well at it” and, “It doesn’t look well on you.” I have heard it on television, on the radio, and in conversation. Hmmm.

It seems that in an effort to avoid using “good” inappropriately, some people are now using “well” inappropriately. To help stop the madness, I have put together this quick and easy good/well review.

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Convene Your Mental Advisory Committee (MAC)

If drafting is about exploring options, revising is about making decisions. Decisions about what you want to say and how you want to communicate it. Decisions about where the heart of your writing is, what’s good, and what’s not. Decisions about whether two clauses should be joined with a conjunction or left to fend for themselves. Decisions, decisions.

When there is junk in my writing – junk defined as anything in a draft that is not what it should be, where it should be, how it should be – it nearly always represents a decision I haven’t made. It may mean that I’m confused about where a point is going. Maybe I’m ambivalent about an argument’s validity or an example’s relevance.

There’s always junk in a draft, and I work hard to re-envision as I revise. But sometimes, revision is about as fun – and as productive – as running into a brick wall. At times like these, I convene my Mental Advisory Committee (MAC). What? You don’t have a MAC? You should get one…I’ll explain.

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