This is somewhat off-topic to "talking story" and "better conversations," however Talking Story has been reborn for me this year as my personal blog so here goes… you can skip it if learning to love writing is not on your wishlist.
Readers, and mostly other bloggers, ask me all the time how I can write so much, publishing for at least three sites regularly, and I have been called a "writing machine" on more than one occasion, so I thought I would try to explain it here. I’ll describe how my own writing flow happens, offering it up to you in the hope you can draw some tips from it if you are a writer who wants to get more from your inner muse.
For those of you who like lists, what follows are…
9 Ways to Get Writing Flow from Your Inner Muse
1. Never be without pen and paper. Never.
You get a lot of ideas, you really do. You just have to train yourself to capture them, and then explore them through your writing. You see our brains are so amazingly alert, they are always looking out for the next idea for us, and if we don’t write things down, we forget them easily as we get fascinated with something else, and a new idea always seems to be cooler and sexier than an old idea – even one that was only 5 minutes ago.
When I get an idea, I’ve been known to stop people mid-conversation, saying, "Can you hold that thought for a moment while I write something down?" (and people who know me well, will sometimes stop mid-sentence and ask me, "Are you going to write about something I just said?" I guess my thinking gets pretty transparent :)
2. When online, keep a Simple List open for your capture.
Once my fingers are poised over my keyboard, a pen doesn’t have a chance with me, for I type way, way faster than I write. Simple List is the name of a Google Doc I use as the digital, electronic counterpart to the same kind of quick capture my pen and paper provide in serving my brain when I’m offline.
My Simple List is actually a Google Spreadsheet and not a document, because if it were a document I would write too much and the idea itself would get lost in my exploration of it. Simple List is more like my digital scrap paper of ideas, and I have 4 columns on it:
column 1 – today: date the idea struck
column 2 – done?: date I did something with it (cause then I can sort all the blanks I haven’t acted on yet to the top of the page
column 3 – what?: whatever the idea capture is
column 4 – why?: what struck me about it?
Sometimes I’ll add to the why later (thus it’s the last, and biggest column…) and far as blogging goes, I will usually get one post for every why? I come up with, for more is too much.
If you’re not a list or spreadsheet person, there are a lot of other ways to do this: The idea is to have a very quick-and-easy-to-use capture tool that is habitual for you in your trusted system.
3. Choose a good bookmarking tool, and use it.
The bookmarking tool I use is del.icio.us – absolutely love it for keeping a tagged reference to whatever I happen to find of interest online. Del.icio.us gets the credit for what I’ve taught myself about the value of tagging (way more than Technorati ever did). Most of the time my subscriptions there are a mess because I need to clean up my tags, eliminating dupes and better bundling others, but here’s the good news: It’s one of the most creative messes I have! I mostly go back to my account to do some clean-up in those evenings when I think I’m brain dead for much else, and somewhere within the clean-up I get newly interested in something I bookmarked and I start writing about it.
I am finding that the following feature on Tumbler is terrific for this too; I get tons of pointers to interesting tidbits from following Christopher Bailey. (If you have a Tumblr, point me there by ‘following’ me there, or leaving your Tumblr link here in the Talking Story comments.)
4. Get inspired with great photography.
That adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is so true. So capture those words that picture inspired you with! Here is the site I now get most of my photos from… I defy you not to lose at least the next three minutes there… (come back, okay?)
Here is a great example of how a picture can turn into newly energized writing: Longtime readers know I write about the Daily Five Minutes ® often… what more could I possibly write about it? Well, lots, but as nuts as I am about recommending it to you, I recently had this aha! moment that I didn’t have a definitive article for it on MWAC, when I saw this picture:
Conversation in the clouds by Swamibu.
Click on the photo to read: What’s the skinny on the Daily 5 Minutes?
5. Get the most out of your RSS reader.
[Plain talk: RSS feeds aggregate website content you can subscribe to.]
For all the conversion I have done to Google Apps, you’d think I’d have switched to Google Reader by now too, but I haven’t because I’ve gotten into such a good writing rhythm with Bloglines, and not just a reading one. Don’t idly skim or wallow in information gluttony with your feed reader: When you read something that triggers thoughts for you, write about it right there and then, just enough as an outline or theme you’ll easily build on later.
Don’t skim when you want to trigger your writing. Read fully, and read short and deep. RSS readers will keep everything for you when you are good and ready for them. I get Bloglines to do the work of keeping my place for me wherever I
jettisoned from: "Mark all new" is my favorite click there. (Seems we
are like-minded Bloglines fans over at JJL.)
6. Read your own archives.
Admit it: Anyone who publishes online has felt the painful realization of how short a life span their desired “front page news” has had. RSS readers has made this worse with legions of overwhelmed readers who periodically give up on the collections of feeds they’ve amassed, and just hit “mark all as read” in their reader of choice so they can start fresh, missing that gem you were hoping they’d see. If whatever you wrote was that important to you, don’t give up on it! Challenge the editor in you: Freshen it up with a new title and newly added content and bring it back.
Best Practice Tip: When you rewrite an old posting, don’t delete the original in your archives, especially if you did receive comments the first time, and are still enjoying inbound links from search spiders. Redirect it instead, with a pointer to the new article you wrote. Here is an example of how I do it.
7. Finish conversations you suspect you didn’t finish well.
I have also become the biggest fan of my own archives because I know that there are tons of conversations there I would like to take up again (like this one added to my Tumblr from Joanna’s place). I will start to write in my journal as a way to at least finish a conversation with myself, and more often than not the writing begins to take a new turn because of the way that life has marched on since then, and voila, I have a new posting for one of my blogs.
[Interesting related tidbit to this: The posting I called Learn to Finish Conversations Well Redux, was post #900 for Talking Story!]
8. Think about being a guest author, and participate in writing projects.
If your own blog isn’t inspiring you for the moment, trust that it’s just a temporary lull, and give your writing energies and aloha to someone else at their place. We are always looking for new contributors at Joyful Jubilant Learning, Tim Milburn has been welcoming guest authors at College Students Rule, and consider this your open invitation to write for me here on Talking Story – pitch me your idea!
Robert Hruzek of Middle Zone Musings hosts a monthly writing project he calls WILF, which stands for What I Learned from… which is usually a lot of fun, for Robert is terrific at making them playful and entertaining – he got two entries out of me the last time I participated. At other times I will start to write something up intending to participate elsewhere, and I’ll find that I ended up with something that will fit better for one of my own blogs for a completely different subject, or as a part two for the entry I started with.
9. Read blogs on writing and adopt the authors as your coaches.
I highly recommend you start with Joanna Young at Confident Writing. Not only is Joanna an exceptional writing coach, she is an extraordinarily generous community builder who has built up a fabulous community of other writers. Here is an article Joanna wrote that is a terrific example of the talent she has with connecting her own reading to an idea she fleshed out as a great new article: 7 Ways To Write With Numbered Lists.
I will also point you to Leo Babauta’s newest blog, one he has named Write to Done. Leo (who you may know from Zen Habits) says he created Write To Done as a way to share some of what he has learned as a
writer, with new (and experienced) writers looking to improve their
craft and their art. I am enjoying what he has there so far, though I will tell you that for someone who says his mantra is simplicity, Leo includes an awful lot in nearly every post, for he is a "list-style" writer, and you have to be self-disciplined about making a choice or two from his suggestions and then focusing on them.
10. Keep a journal, write in it daily, and re-read it after a few days.
If you’ve read this far, you get number 10 too, with a bonus link :) I know you have heard about journaling before, however are you doing it? You hear about it so much because writers are fully aware of how magically it works. In the beginning you may think you are spewing out nothing but rubbish, but
work write through that (grab some pleasure shredding that stuff), for what you are doing is clearing away the cobwebs and oiling the gears… soon your mental gymnastics will start to do some amazing things for you.
Here’s the bonus link: I wrote about how I use blogging as my digital journaling for Joyful Jubilant Learning and seven months later I am still at it, for it’s a keeper in my trusted system now… it’s the magic.. you don’t have to completely understand it to reap the benefits from it…Learn from the Master: Blog for 1 Person.
To wrap this up…
This did turn out to be directed more toward online publishing, however think of these 10 Ways to Get Writing Flow from Your Inner Muse as triggers: What you end up writing could be for a chapter in the book you want to publish, or end up as truly terrific aloha writing or morning pages for you.
To subscribe to everything I publish online, check out my Tumblr, Ho‘ohana Aloha. My approach there has been to list it as I write it, and people have told me that they love being able to just check that one feed for me now versus having several to read before. There are two feeds offered there, and I’d love it if you took the Feedburner one – which is also the one you want for the email subscription option.
Also, on writing:
- You know you love writing when you don’t have to keep it.
- Aloha in a Love Affair with Writing
- And from the reader’s perspective; What do you look for in a Book Review?