What’s Your Biggest Writing Challenge?

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Mine is unclear thinking. Clarity clears a straight path between A and Z. The story, poem, or essay feels consistent and clear. When it seems like one train of thought, and not a mash-up of parts done at different times and moods, a finished work feels cohesive. Some obtain cohesion via many rounds of editing.

Unclear thinking makes messes. Unclear thinking yields awkward, ineffective, meandering trails of ideas that abandon readers in the woods, lost and confused, or in the desert, thirsty and begging for water. These messes are hard to tidy up and are sometimes unfixable.

I need help and hacks to achieve clarity of thought. Sometimes I make mental maps, outlines, index cards, cover walls with post-it notes, or keep journals for specific writing projects with pages of character, setting, and plot developments.

But whatever you do, however you do it, I believe that structure needs to be there to avoid the scourge of unclear thinking in your writing.

So what’s your biggest writing challenge? How do you overcome that obstacle?

Triggerfish Critical Review.

Triggerfish is an online literary journal dedicated to the “why” of poetry, seeking to understand and illuminate this process, to say that it is possible to make qualitative judgments and distinctions about the substance of poetry.

I’m excited to announce that Issue 19 of Triggerfish includes two of my poems (with audio!) – “Tell Them a Story” and “I Am Hip Hop.” You can check these poems out at the links below. I appreciate the chance to contribute to Triggerfish! It is wonderful to be included amongst the talented writers and artists in this issue.

http://triggerfishcriticalreview.com/adrian-s-potter-tell-them-a-story/

http://triggerfishcriticalreview.com/adrian-s-potter-i-am-hip-hop/

Work Backwards from the Precipice.

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"When I write, I imagine a particular precipice and then work backward. I ask myself: What kind of journey would find its meaningful end here?”

I stumbled upon some interesting writing advice from Naima Coster, author of Halsey Street, over at the Poets & Writers Writers Recommend feature. She has a pretty cool perspective on constructing good fiction by starting with a worthwhile ending and building the story backward from there.

https://www.pw.org/writers_recommend/naima_coster

What to Look For…

There’s no shortage of lists or newsletters available to writers. Some of them are invaluable resources that authors will go back to time and time again, while others aren’t quite as useful. So how does one decide which of these resources are worthy of attention? In this insightful article on the Malahat Review’s website, Erika Dreifus provides some personal guidelines she uses to better understand what makes some these offerings better than others.

http://malahatreview.ca/tips/dec2017.html

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Fight Procrastination by "Chunking" Down Goals

The start of the new year is the season of big goals. And with these lofty expectations undoubtedly comes chances for procrastination to occur – especially with writing. “Chunking” down goals is a strategy I’ve used to dead procrastination in my creative life, especially with larger writing projects like manuscripts.

Achievers sometimes bite off more than they can chew. Procrastination is when you look at what's sitting on your plate and think: No way! It's too just big. I can't finish it.

I said plate figuratively, but let’s think about goals as if they are meals. Whenever you have too much to swallow, do what you’d do if you had ordered a large meal at a restaurant. Cut it up. Chop it into smaller portions. Eat it one small appetizing bite at a time, one manageable portion at a time. If needed, take some home to finish later - you don’t have to down the whole meal in one sitting, despite the peer pressure from others. But break that meal down to pieces you can handle.

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Like that meal, take intimidating goals and slice them into smaller chunks. If you look at those portions and they still seem overwhelming, cut them into even smaller chunks. Keep going until you get to a bite-sized morsel where you think, "yes, I can finish that." Then just eat it one chunk at a time. And keep going until you've finished the whole thing.

When you have a project that seems too big and you’re tempted to procrastinate, break it down. Then attack it one bite at a time. Savor each piece and appreciate that portion of the larger meal (goal). Swallow and progress on to the next chunk.

The Extra Mile

My dad used to repeat a hackneyed saying - I’m likely paraphrasing, but it was “it’s never crowded along the extra mile.” And though it’s trite, it’s true. You’ll rarely need to fight through a herd of people who are all willing to go above the minimum of what’s required.

For those pursuing success and personal improvement, the road might be long, but it won’t be crowded. Along the way, you’ll confront the silence of being alone on a lengthy journey. That silence is deafening. It’s so obnoxious and omnipresent that you’ll begin doubting the path you’re taking is the correct one.

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But don’t succumb to that doubt. Sure, double-check your roadmap or GPS to confirm you’re headed in the right direction. But don’t dupe yourself into believing that traveling along an unfamiliar path by yourself is wrong. You’re a trailblazer, creating new routes that others will follow in the future.

Also, realize you’re not alone. There are others going the extra mile. You just don’t always see them because they’re traveling it in a different field, career path, or sport than you are focused on. Yes, there aren’t a plethora of extra mile walkers, but we are here - trudging forward through challenges, sprinting towards a goal whenever conditions are ideal.

I’m traversing that extra mile in several areas in 2018 – creative writing, consulting career, personal fitness, and hobbies/side hustles. I will find out a lot about myself, both positive and negative, and will make improvements and adjustments in my life while doing this. I’m not completely sure it will all work out, but I’m willing to cast aside doubt and ambiguity to try. If you’re still reading my rant, then you’re probably contemplating doing the same. Just do it. Don’t procrastinate. Walk the extra mile in 2018.

In Defense of Laziness

Last week I didn’t do as much for my overall writing practice as I had planned. Not nearly enough freewriting, zero blog posts, just a bit of editing, and I only sent out a handful of submissions to journals. With all the pre-holiday hubbub, I wasn’t feeling a creative spark, so I decided not force it.

Society has sold us this concept that people should always be busy, and that when we’re not busy we should keep ourselves busy preparing for when we will be. We’re told inaction is inherently bad. We’re challenged to prove our worth, and worth is measured by how much we accomplish.

Overachieving employees and students are sleep-deprived workaholics (me included). We feel guilty when we say “no” to social outings & party invitations. We apologize when we can’t take phone calls or make meetings. We act like it’s bad if we sleep in or stay at home - unless we’re organizing or cleaning.

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Bullshit. Laziness is okay at times. Often the problem isn’t that we don’t do enough. It’s that we do too much of the wrong stuff and not enough of the right stuff.

Laziness is okay…in moderation, like everything in life. Inactivity can be our default mode. This is where we can remain, contemplating and resting, preparing our minds and energy until the right action becomes obvious. But be mindful of when the next move becomes apparent; cease being lazy and take that action so you don’t miss opportunities.

Just this morning I’ve already pre-written a few blog posts, edited a story I’ve been working on, did some freewriting, and sent out a submission. I am convinced this is because I took a little time to rest and “be lazy” in moderation. My mind has responded in kind, and now I’m poised to seize the opportunities in front of me.

It’s something to think about – maybe your next move shouldn’t be to force things just to keep up the appearance of staying busy. Perhaps you need a little time to be lazy to recover and get yourself back on track.

My Writing Game Plan: Pessimistic Optimism

Over the years, I’ve been blessed to meet many writers, in person and online. Some have been successful following different paths. One thing they all have in common is they are all pessimists. The other thing they all have in common is they are all optimists.

I understand this might be confusing. How can two incongruent viewpoints exist in the same individual simultaneously? But the equation makes complete sense when you consider time as a variable: they have made themselves short-term pessimists and long-term optimists.

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What I mean is this: they expect each and every discrete project they take to fail because the reality is, most things never get completed or published. They are acknowledging reality, and have zero emotional response when a fiction plot gloriously fizzles to nothing, a poem concept just doesn’t work out, or their personal essay fails to ever get published.

Yet they are long-term optimists because they know if they work on enough writing projects, several of them will succeed, making up for all the ones that failed. And yes, that is also reality.

The eternal optimist who thinks everything they write will “work out” is soon ground down by reality. Their beliefs don’t match up with the results, they start to question themselves, and constant disappointment hinders their ability to shake it off and move onto the next project. They become snakebit, and eventually bitter – which is never a positive trait for a creative.

The constant pessimist never takes any action on their writing endeavors because they automatically expect everything they do to fail. And because they never really act, they do fail. They stay loitering on the sidelines moping, never actually getting in the game.

In writing, mindset is very important. But it must be a reality-based mindset, with hard-nosed expectations, not pie in the sky fantasies or pouty tantrums. The more you do, the more you fail, yet paradoxically the more you succeed.

The pessimistic optimist is armored against constant failure and rejection, and it bothers them not.  But they also expect success to occasionally interrupt failure, which is why they write and compete in the first place.  Become the pessimistic optimist writer, and you will evolve into a winner in a literary world full of losers who love losing.

Develop Your New Reading List!

It’s getting toward the end of 2017. December is an awesome time for readers – it’s late enough in the year that all of the “best books of the year” lists start to roll in. I use this time to scan through those lists for books I might find interesting. Then I compile a catalog of books to read in the next year.

Hands down the best list is from Largehearted Boy (David Gutowski). Annually he aggregates all the online year-end book lists and places them in a single post on his blog. As new lists appear, he adds them to this master list, updating it daily.

Add a little energy to your upcoming New Year’s Resolution to read more – survey these lists and develop your own personal list of new books to check out in 2018.

http://www.largeheartedboy.com/blog/archive/2017/11/online_best_of_75.html

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Free Time Calculator: Do You Really Have Time to Write?

If you're like many writers, you've probably convinced yourself that you don't have enough time. Whether it's finding time to send out submissions, edit your work-in-progress, set new writing goals, finish your novel or just about anything…we often give up before we even start because we believe it's just not possible to fit writing into our busy lives. 

Well, the interesting thing is, if you sit down and do the calculations, you'd be surprised at just how much time you really do have. 

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To make it easier to figure out how much time you actually have to write, check out the Free Time Calculator at the link below. It's a simple, but effective, spreadsheet that will reveal the time you actually have to work on things you've been putting off - such as your writing. And it will help you identify the time blocks you can use to your benefit each day.

Quick Instructions:

1. Simply open the spreadsheet and you'll see all the days of the week across the top and then 60-minute time blocks on the side. These time blocks should start from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, so you may need to make adjustments. You can also switch to 30-minute increments to be more precise if you prefer.

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2. In each time block, mark all the times you are busy. For example, include time at your job, exercise, family time, church, meal preparation and eating, commuting, etc. 

3. Then for open blocks, write in “1” for each hour block that you have free. If you switch to 30-minute blocks, enter “0.5”.

4. Once you've completed these steps, you'll see how much free time you have each day AND the total free time you have each week.

Of course, this calculation is just the first step in getting more done with your time and possibly reaching those writing goals you never thought you had time for. From here, you'll need to connect that time to the writing goals you want to achieve.

http://www76.zippyshare.com/v/qCoImh3d/file.html

Contingency Plans.

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It is something writers would rather not think about, even if they should – protecting your writing from a computer emergency. Most writers have faced this at least once. The struggle to recreate that perfect short story you lost because you didn’t backup your work is almost as painful as losing the story in the first place.

So check out Triona Guidry’s article “How to Protect Your Writing from a Computer Emergency” over at The Writer. It gives some great hints on how to protect your writing from that inevitable data crisis.

https://www.writermag.com/2017/10/30/computer-emergency/

A Blogging Gameplan.

Writing content for a blog isn't always simple, To make it easier, I follow a set process.

1. Decide On A Topic

Develop a list of things you’re passionate about or you can write on authoritatively. It could be a mix of not only your expert subject-matter, but also topics related to productivity, motivation, work/life balance, etc. Also, think of questions you’re constantly answering. What common problems/concerns do people have? What info do you often seek? Pinpoint areas that others face difficulties- then you can create a benefit to readers by solving their problems. Keep a list of potential subjects to write about to fall back on when you don’t have new ideas.

2. Develop an Outline

I suggest using a traditional outline like we all learned to make in grade school. Break out the primary points of a post and create a list of what you want to include in the order you plan to address it. A traditional outline helps you work out the flow of a post and organize ideas in a logical manner.

3. Fill In The Holes

Next take your outline and start filling in the blanks. Add supporting evidence, research, sources, examples, and stories. Just write. Don’t worry about how it sounds. Since writing and editing are different skills, trying to do both at the same time hinders your process. Just focus on getting your ideas out and conveying what you want to say.

4. Edit

With a first draft down, read your post out loud to help identify any writing awkwardness, typos, wrong words, sentence fragments, and anything else that hinders the flow of your post. If you have a hard time reading it, your readers will also have a tough time getting through it.

5. Create a Title

Coming up with good blog titles is hard. A title needs to not only summarize your post and hint at what you’re about to say, but it also needs to be engaging to readers and descriptive for search engines. To become better at writing blog titles, I’d recommend following some exceptional blogs and note how they come up with their titles.

6. Toss in an Image

Adding compelling images to your content will enhance your story and affect how users perceive it. If you use stock photography, select photos that add pizzazz to your content. Choose images to set the tone for your post and pull people in. One place I use for images is https://unsplash.com/, which has artistic images from amazing photographers for free.

7. Share the Post

Once you’ve done the work, post the article to your blog. Share the post via all of your social media networks, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and wherever else you participate.

This is one process for developing blog posts that people want to read. I’m sure there are other methods, but this one seems simple enough to help anyone get started. Happy blogging!

 

Think Like an Entrepreneur.

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“Not every entrepreneur is a writer, but every writer is an entrepreneur.” This is the premise of Benjamin Sobieck’s article “How to Breathe New Life Into Your Creative Career” over on the Writing and Wellness website. Mr. Sobieck chronicles how the same creative juices that fuel his writing practice also powered his efforts to roll out a new product and start a new business. It's a great read.

http://www.writingandwellness.com/2017/10/01/how-to-breathe-new-life-into-your-creative-career/?utm_content=bufferb40ae&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

How To Be Creative.

So you want to be more creative in art, writing, work, or whatever. Here are some tips that have worked for me over the years.

  1. Ignore others. The more original your ideas, the less good advice other folks will be able to provide. Plus, people tend to naysay and undermine new ideas, whether out of jealousy or fear. If you truly have a new idea, it’s often best to cultivate it internally before getting the opinions of others.

  2. Your idea doesn’t have to be huge – it just has to invoke a change in the world. The two are not necessarily the same, even though we often assume they are.

  3. Put in the hours and effort. Doing anything worthwhile takes an extra push. What separates the success stories from failed people is time, effort, and stamina.

  4. Everyone is born creative. We all doodled with crayons in kindergarten. We imagined impossible things and were happy doing so. In high school, society stole our markers and construction paper and replaced it with algebra and textbooks….and then our workplaces replaced them with mundane memos and company policies. Blah. Deciding that you want to be creative is just you taking back your crayons – the crayons you should have been able to keep all along.

  5. Don’t stand out from the crowd. Avoid the crowd altogether. Your plan to showcase your creativity needs to be as creative as your work itself. Don’t blindly follow the same methods others follow just because it’s “what you’re supposed to do.” Find your own path, even if it I winding.

  6. If you accept rejection, it cannot hurt you. You will hear “no” often. If you hear it enough, you’ll become numb to it. You might hear no because people don’t understand your ideas, or what you are doing is so different that they think it must fail. Accept rejection as collateral damage. Their rebuffs won’t sting for long if you are certain you’re destined for greater things.

  7. The world is changing. Your creative vision needs to change as well.

  8. Sing in your own voice. People can recognize a knockoff a mile away. Once you’ve been pigeonholed as a bootleg version of someone else, you’ll never crawl out from under that label.

  9. Don’t worry about finding inspiration. It will arrive, eventually. You’re better off not pushing the deal. If you really want to write but it’s not coming easy, go read for a while. If you really want to draw but have no ideas, scroll through some artistic photos. Your body requires food to have enough energy to workout. Similarly, reading or studying the creative work of others can fuel your own creativity.

  10. Always create from the heart.

These creative tenets seem to work for me. Maybe one or two of these ideas will ring true for you. Safe travels as you embark on your creative journey!

Need a Spark? Try Using Writing Prompts!

Even a motivated writer can need a jumpstart to get the creative juices flowing. Rather than staring at a blank sheet of paper waiting for inspiration to arrive, why not try using writing prompts? A single Google search can yield a plethora of creative prompts. These can serve as a starting point for your endeavors. The work that comes out of using prompts could prove to be your best stuff, or it might take you in a creative direction you wouldn’t normally head in. Or the prompt might result in your worst writing ever, but the act of pushing through instead of giving up could pull you closer to your next masterpiece.

Here’s a short list of writing prompts that I found over on the Submittable Blog – this can be a great starting point. Good luck in getting your derailed creativity back on track!

https://blog.submittable.com/2017/10/write-right-now-or-get-ready-to-write-later/

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“Nothing” at The Voices Project

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The Voices Project is a non-judgmental venue for women, and also men, to express their personal stories and observations through poetry to promote social change. They are dedicated to helping others feel empowered through self-expression. Recently, they published my poem “Nothing” on their website. Big thanks to the editors at The Voices Project for allowing me to contribute.

http://www.thevoicesproject.org/poetry-library/nothing-by-adrian-s-potter

So what does it mean to be a writer?

Lately, I’ve thought about what it means to be a writer. I’m a self-taught creative with a technical day job. I used to equate my worth as a writer to the number of publications my work appeared in. I felt as if I needed to legitimize myself in a world filled with accomplished MFAs.

Over time I have evolved – I’ve had work published in at least 200 periodicals, both in print and online, and won or placed in contests for both poetry and fiction. I know that I’m not a hack anymore. My work has faced off with some exceptional creative minds – sometimes winning, more often losing, but I’m sure my writing deserves the chance to compete. I’m not the most polished. I don’t have MFA connections or a book deal (yet). But I’m humbly certain my writing deserves the little bit of attention it steals from time to time.

With that manufactured confidence, my personal writing focus shifted from just getting work out there to crafting better writing on a daily basis. That transition has helped my growth, energy, quality, and work rate. Not to mention that spilling new ideas on paper is immensely more satisfying than obsessing over amassing empty publication credits.

All of this self-reflection fell in line with my thoughts as I read “What It Means to Be a Writer—and to Emerge as a Writer”—guest post by Albert Flynn DeSilver on Jane Friedman’s site. This article presents some unique insight on the term “emerging writer” and the transformation many writers experience as we hone our craft. It is a great read.

So what does being a writer mean to you?

https://www.janefriedman.com/what-it-means-to-be-writer/