Become a Better Writer with This Tip

WordsI can’t take credit for this; I saw it in a PR Daily article, “The 7 traits of great writers.” But what I read was absolutely ingenious.

Specifically, number two on the list:

2. You collect words.

Great writers collect words with the intent of using them later. I keep a running list of my favorite words in the notes feature on my cell phone.

In essence, make your own thesaurus.

Like seriously, how brilliant is that? Think about this for a moment. How many times have you read an article or short story, or heard a newscast, or listened to a friend … when you thought, “Wow, that’s a really great word.”

However, by the time you sit down to type your next masterpiece, the word has slipped from your mind.

Yet, developing a running list of these words—I can only imagine how much more lively, more engaging, this would make our writing.

Why don’t YOU help get this started? Comment and list your favorite 2-3 words. Let’s start a list right here!

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Special note: I am currently in the process of revamping the feel of my blog. I am awaiting a few things before launching a completely new platform, so this may still take a couple of more weeks. I’ll announce the new version after it’s officially launched. However, if you begin seeing small changes here or there, you’ll know why.  

Are You Being True to Your Writing?

As a writer, this is perhaps the MOST IMPORTANT question you need to ask yourself.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post entitled, “The Novel Dilemma: Story No Longer Relevant … Now What?” Many of you commented with empathetic remarks or great advice (thank you!). And now, I’m happy to report that I found the answer to my own question.

I am re-working my original plot line, but keeping the same two characters. I arrived, however, at this final conclusion by asking myself the question:

Be YourselfAm I being true to my writing?

Really, the props in this epiphany go to my boyfriend, Oscar—who, over chicken wings at Native New Yorker one night, said to me (as I complained how I can’t write anything great), “You’re stuck on your book, because you’re not being true to your writing.”

Whoa.

Just think about that for a moment—being true to your writing. What does that mean? Oscar spelled it out for me, plain and simple: “Shari, you’re trying to write about a girl who grew up without a father. But you never lost your father. So you can’t really understand what your character is going through.”

BINGO.

He then went on. “But you know what it feels like to be Jewish and in a relationship with someone who harbors anti-Semitic feelings.”

Are you seeing where I’m going with this yet?

It suddenly dawned on me that I was trying to be TOO CREATIVE with my writing. I was trying to write about things that I thought were exotic or conflicted, but that I didn’t really understand. I was trying to be J.D. Salinger, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald … all at the same time.

But I just had to be Shari Lopatin. And write about what Shari knows … with some exaggeration.

Suddenly, the book won’t stop flowing from my fingertips. I wrote 10 pages in two days. And I’m going like a train on fire. In addition, those who have read my first few (new) chapters said the story is MUCH more intriguing, now. Who would’ve thought?

Have you been feeling stuck in your writing?

Maybe you should do as I did. Take a hard look at your plot lines, and your themes. Are you being true to yourself, to what you know, and what you understand?

The Novel Dilemma: Story No Longer Relevant … Now What?

Snoopy writingWhat happens if you discover your novel-in-progress is no longer relevant? Do you let it go and start a new project, or re-work your story and characters?

I ask because I’VE hit such a dilemma, and I’m turning to you for answers. I may be an experienced article-writer, journalist, and copywriter … but the world of novels is new to me.

Here’s the Deal

I began writing my work-in-progress about two years ago. It initially began as a way to vent certain life frustrations. I never took it seriously, because my “serious writing” was devoted to my journalism.

Yet, a year into sporadically writing this book, I began looking at my creative writing differently. I began getting SERIOUS. I stopped reading just for fun, and found myself re-reading certain classics and breaking them down, like my old high school days of AP English. I started this blog (Rogue Writer), and began reading other blogs of published authors willing to share a tip or two.

That’s when I realized just how much I still had to learn … at least when it came to creative writing.

Now, I’m Stuck

I’m stuck because, after two years of self-improvement and hardcore fictional short story writing, I realized my novel is no longer relevant. I can now stare at my work with a critical eye, and I realized it may not measure up. However, I’ve grown so close to my characters (I know that sounds kinda schizophrenic, but I’m sure you can relate), that I couldn’t imagine letting them go.

Their needs, their hopes are just too dang important.

Plus, what about all that time I’d dedicated to writing the current chapters? To brooding over the ins-and-outs of the characters’ quirks? The daydreaming of my novel becoming the next THE HELP or HUNGER GAMES, minus the trilogy?

I’ve Contemplated …

  • Re-working the central story; this would entail re-writing many of the chapters, and possibly taking out certain conflicts that were vital to the original story.
  • Shelving it and starting a new project (although, I’m not sure what that would be). Maybe later, I could return to this book after reaching success with another project.

Those are really the only two solutions I could muster.

What Would YOU Do?

Since many of you are serious writers (some published), maybe you could offer some advice. What would you do in my situation? Or perhaps … have you already dealt with this novel dilemma?

Just F-ing Write, Already!

This is what my boyfriend recently yelled at me. And ever since, I’ve screamed those same words over and over into my head.

To force myself to stop obsessing over everyone else who’s been (super) successful, and why I’m not there yet.

We’re writers, right? So for the love of GOD—just do some dang writing already! And stop worrying about “making it.”

Success Obsessions Gone Wild

You know those cool, collected writers with 500,000 Twitter followers? Who’ve been published in The New Yorker and the Boston Review, all while running a blog that everyone drools over (didn’t you read Entertainment Weekly’s review on it last week)? They always seem to sport those geeky/chic wired glasses with a quirky beret.

Yea, I want to be that writer.

And since I’m not, I’ve spent time reading their success stories. And then I analyze: When did they start their blog? How did they word their entries? Who are their connections? How long did it take them? The list goes on and on, my friends …

But in the midst of this obsessing, I’m missing one key component. I’m not writing.

Just F-ing Do it, Man!

Perhaps understanding how the “big ones” made it can help the rest of us begging to just lick the bone. However, trying to craft our success strategy around their journey is only to our detriment.

As my boyfriend pointed out, I’m wasting all my energy on analyzing and planning. Meanwhile, I have no finished products to promote to an agent or editor, since I’m not writing.

Over the past week, I’ve finally forced myself to stop reading what everyone else is doing, and just start doing sh!t myself. And you know what? Stuff’s gettin’ done … finally.

Do you ever struggle with this curse of success obsession? If so, how do you overcome and just get back to your own writing again?

Inspire Yourself with these 6 Themes

I’ve been on a creative binge lately. And for the New Year, I want to help inspire you, too!

I’ve been reading books and writing stories about some of the deepest, most profound themes I know.

You know, those deep, dark ideas that give a story its umph. That inspire us to reconsider our own lives. I’m not an English scholar, I’m just a journalist who also writes creatively … and who lives for stories.

To read them. To write them. To share them.

Huntington Beach, Copyright 2011 Shari LopatinSo I can’t tell you exactly why these themes resonate better than others. And of course, I can only speak for myself. However, I’ve noticed, some themes inspire us more than others.

And these are them:

1. Family

As a human race, perhaps one of our strongest Hierarchy of Needs, is the need to belong. The need for family. Think Fiddler on the Roof, or Sound of Music. Family doesn’t have to encompass a Brady Bunch story. The complicated love between rival brothers can tear at your heart more than a summer romance. Or, think of an orphan who’s sought a sense of family throughout her life, only to find rejection time and time again.

2. War

If you haven’t already, go see War Horse. War is such a great setting and theme for any story, because it offers the opportunity for many smaller, underlying themes. A husband and wife can reunite after years apart, thinking the other was dead. A sworn enemy can suddenly become a best friend. What does war make us realize about ourselves, as a society, and as individuals?

3. Guilt, and Redemption

Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, tells us that in every story, something or someone must die, or be saved. The theme of guilt and redemption can take us, literally, to that place. What deed in someone’s past could drive that person into utter self-destruction … and what power or action could literally free them, from their own cage? If you’ve ever read The Kite Runner, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

4. Wanting What You Can’t Have

A blind man who longs to see. A woman in love with a married man. A father who would give his life to hold his son, one final time. When we hear stories of others longing for what can never be theirs, we empathize. Our hearts literally ache for this character, as if we’d experienced his or her pain ourselves (and often times, we have).

5. A Forced Life Change

I saw the previews to a movie called The Vow, based on true events. A married couple of five years are in a car accident and both fall into a coma. The wife awakens with no memory. Her husband is a stranger. However, his love for her drives him to try and recreate their relationship, with the hopes his wife will fall in love with him again. Imagine if tomorrow, something dramatic happened to you, or someone you love. Suddenly, you lose your legs, or your child goes blind. How would you, and your loved ones, cope?

6. Identity and Heritage

I once heard a true story about a Mexican-American woman who grew up poor and ashamed of her heritage. When invited to speak at a prestigious event, her mother sewed a traditional Mexican dress for her daughter. The young woman refused it, and instead bought her own. She later married, and refused to teach her children Spanish. Years later, after her mother died, she found the old dress in her mother’s attic, boxed away. This time, she broke down crying. Denial—or even hatred—of one’s self-identity can drive destruction of epic proportions.

Me, in college

WHAT ABOUT YOU? What themes do you find inspiring, lasting? What can you never read enough of, or write too much of?

I’m Tired of Writing

Do you ever feel that way? Wiped clean. Buzzed dry. Rolled flat.

Yea, that’s me today. And I’m not afraid to say it. I’m a writer, who for once, is sick of writing.

Gasp! I know, right?

But here’s the thing. I do it all day for my job. I do it after work for my freelancing. I do it on the weekends for my short stories and my novel. I even scribble down ideas during lunch break for this blog.

Seriously, is there something wrong with me?

I usually love writing. I always thought you can never grow sick of your deepest passion. But today—at 29 years old and feeling like a sap—I proved myself wrong.

Maybe it’s not the writing. Maybe it’s the constant working toward a goal that seems so far off. Maybe I’m just tired in general of seeing others float while I have to fight. And maybe it sometimes just feels a bit UNFAIR.

But then I remind myself that all writers struggle. Just like artists and musicians. Because if you want to live and breathe the art, that’s the only way you’ll ever truly make it. 

But you know what? I think today, I feel like dancing instead.

So to heck with any more writing right now. I’m gonna turn on the music and boogie down…

MY QUESTION TO YOU: Do you ever suffer burnout? And if so, how do you get over it?

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[Note: I’m opening up my blog for more guest-posting. Do you have an idea you want to write for “Rogue Writer?” Or do you want me to write something for your site? Contact me and let me know!]

Weed Wackers & Writer’s Block: Spark Your Creative Juices!

I watched a man buzz down the street—literally—in my mom’s neighborhood the other day, a Weed Wacker engine slung haphazardly onto the back of his bike. This was one of those “only in America” moments.

And people wonder why half the world wants to kill us.

In all seriousness though, I realized something. This man wasn’t only insanely lazy; he was brilliant. You see, my boyfriend has a saying:

“Necessity is the mother of all invention.”

And in his need to remain excessively lazy and prevent his precious legs from peddling, this man took two seemingly unrelated items and combined them. The result? A high-pitched, annoying bike that doesn’t require any work to operate. Mission accomplished.

OK Shari, so what in the world does this have to do with writing?

Combine two opposites for a killer idea

I once learned about an exercise marketers and creatives use when they hit writer’s block:

  1. Rummage through some magazines and cut out random pictures (often found in advertisements).
  2. Paste each picture onto its own piece of cardboard or thick paper.
  3. Shuffle your new “cards” and separate them into two piles (face down).
  4. Randomly pick one card from each pile, and brainstorm a story/script/idea that combines those two images.

The beauty of this exercise is you may end up with a picture of a butterfly, and a man’s razor. How can you combine these two images to create a story?

I’m already picturing a cartoon butterfly awakening from his caterpillar years—and as his first task being a “real man”—shaves in front of the mirror.

Sometimes, combining two completely opposite ideas or themes can spark a brilliant idea. SO TELL ME: What gets YOUR creative juices flowing?

Do you like the advice offered here? Then don’t miss the next post! Sign up to get my weekly posts delivered by email, straight to your inbox.

Dry on Creativity? This ‘Art’ Might Help

Don’t you just LOVE when you see an image that makes you want to grab the nearest pen and paper, and begin scribbling?

Or when you hear “that song” on the radio in the car, and suddenly, you think of your next (New York Times bestselling) novel?

Art inspires art. For me, it can be an image, a song, a movie, or heck—even another work of writing. Today, I’d like to share some images (five) that are inspirational. They are beautiful, and maybe they’ll stimulate some ingenious ideas in YOU.

Here’s the disclaimer. The oil-on-canvas artist, who recently graduated Magna Cum Laude with her degree in Fine Art from Arizona State University, is my younger sister, Becca Lopatin:

**All images are the strict, copywritten property of Rebecca Lopatin and may not be copied, reproduced or printed without the proper WRITTEN consent of Rebecca Lopatin.**

You can find more of Becca’s work, as well as her contact information, on her Blogspot website.

SO TELL ME: What inspires YOU to write, or create other art?

Turn Your ‘Ah Ha!’ Moments into Amazing Characters

When was the last time you had an “ah ha!” moment? Mine happened about two months ago, after I arrived home from work and found my house ransacked.

That Monday in April was the day I realized how much I appreciate my right to own a gun. You see, I’d called 9-1-1 (I was alone at the time) and frantically told the operator the burglar may still be inside my house. I was stuck outside–a young woman in the dark–with no protection.

The police took 40 minutes to finally show. And I realized, the only person who will protect me–is me. “Ah ha!”

For the first time in my life, I considered becoming a gun owner. If I were a character in your book or story, what would this moment reveal about me?

Use your revelations to reveal your characters’ truths

My blogging buddy, Leah Singer, wrote this great post back in May called, “My ‘Ah Ha!’ Moments.” Even though she didn’t refer to character development, she got me thinking: How can we use these revelatory moments to unearth greater truths about our fictional characters?

In her bestselling book, “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” Anne Lamott said a death or a birth must occur in every story. Whether it’s the death of a dream, a physical death, or a realization (birth), you cannot have that dramatic conflict without either/or.

5 Personal “Ah Ha!” Moments to Consider

Yes, I’m going to take a leap of faith here, and reveal five of MY “ah ha!” moments. With each revelation, consider the story behind the statement, and what might have led to this conclusion:

  1. Just because I was thin through my 20’s, doesn’t mean I’ll be thin in my 30’s (unless I work at it).
  2. I may never work in journalism again.
  3. Sometimes, money is more important than dreams.
  4. I betrayed myself when I refused to accept my heritage.
  5. My family is more important than my career.

Notice, each one of these “ah ha!” moments reveals some sort of internal or societal conflict.

SO TELL ME: What have been significant “ah ha!” moments in YOUR life, and how could those experiences add depth to your characters?

NOTE TO FACEBOOK USERS: I took the plunge and opened an official Facebook page for this blog and all things writing. Thanks for everyone’s input! If you’re in a supportive mood, head on over to my page and “like” me. 🙂 We’ll see how this goes …

Nature as Creativity Booster

Ever since I met Melissa Crytzer Fry, I’ve been AMAZED how she draws parallels between the tiniest details in nature and the writing process. Today, I’m happy to introduce Melissa to you–as the third (and final) writer/blogger in my networking project.

Welcome to Rogue Writer, Melissa, and thanks for your guest blog (and photos) today!

Nature as Creativity Booster

Guest post and photography by Melissa Crytzer Fry

**All photos published on this post are property of Melissa Cryzter Fry, and cannot be copied, re-reprinted, or re-produced without proper permissions and consent from Melissa Cryzter Fry.**
 

I grew up among cornfields and cow pastures in northwestern Pennsylvania. Perhaps the long walks down to the beaver dam, strolls along the bullfrog-infested, green algae-blanketed pond behind my house, and salamander-owl-raccoon encounters account for my attraction to the outdoors.

I can’t be sure. But I do know, after living in downtown Phoenix for a decade and then moving to a rather remote part of southern Arizona, that I fell in love again with those wide-open spaces. 

But this time around, nature offered an entirely new gift: writing inspiration. Without fail, every jog or hike I take among my ranch’s saguaro-studded hills results in something new: engaging leads for magazine articles, plot solutions, and inspiration to keep writing – to be more creative overall.

So what, exactly, is it about nature that inspires creativity? The crisp air? The vastness of outdoor space? The departure from technology that lets the brain wander? Yes, yes, yes. But there’s also a scientific reason: Nature solves problems. Creatively. Biomimicry is at play. Bio-what? Biomimicry says that we can borrow creative solutions to just about any problem … from nature. All we have to do is pay attention to and study nature’s best ideas – its efficient designs, models, systems, processes.

Creativity guru Tamara Kleinberg asks, “If nature … has solved many problems we face today, why not go back to nature for inspiration? Why not engage with nature, understand how it works and then apply those lessons to life and work?” And to writing!

I agree with Kleinberg that nature is the ultimate innovation tool. In her blog post, she suggests some nature-related exercises to boost creativity:

  • Ask “What does it do?” With eyes closed and natural objects in hand – feathers, rocks, leaves – determine the function of each. Not what each is. What each does. Does the feather repel water, provide insulation, add to aerodynamics? Asking such questions may inspire new thoughts, ideas.
  • Fieldtrips. Go to a museum, visit an archaeological site, a city park. Pieces of nature – bones, animal skin, fossils, plants – “can take you to new places,” says Kleinberg.
  • Look & See: Step away from the computer and get outside. Really see your surroundings. Ask why nature works the way it does – how the insect is able to walk on the pond, how hummingbirds just seem to “know” where the flowers are, why water clings to grass blades. Doing so can conjure new ideas and provide answers for seemingly unrelated creative conundrums.

Take time out to interact with the outdoors, even if you live in the city. You may be surprised at the creative results.

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Melissa Crytzer Fry is a fulltime freelance writer, author of the What I Saw creativity & writing blog and a writer/enthusiast of literary women’s fiction. You can also follow her on Twitter.