14 Ways to Stretch Your Writing Voice

mpfkUCmIn my last post, I talked briefly about stretching as a writer. Hopefully, you’re on track with writing. You’re sitting in front of the page every day, or most days, and hammering out some words. Maybe you’re even consistently hitting your word count.

You have filled or are filling notebooks, or a journal or collecting all of your writings in a word file. You are finding your voice and feel like your writing has gained a sort of consistency.

What can sometimes happen is that you start feeling like, blah, blah, blah. Stretching ourselves where our writing is concerned is a great exercise that can broaden our horizons and add depth to our voice. Although there are many ways to expand, I have a few favorites listed below.

  1. Read outside your genre. If you write mysteries, you might dive into a few science fiction novels, or if you read exclusively romance novels, you could pick up a thriller.
  2. Create a blog. You’re a writer and you have something to say. They’re easier than ever to set up and some of them are free. For the very brave: You can allow comments and get feedback on your posts. It’s a great place to test the waters of your writing.
  3. Take a writing challenge. One of the favorites is National Novel Writing Month which falls in November. The goal is 50,000 words in 30 days. I love 30 day challenges. Write a super short story, journal entry or poem every day for 30 days, or post everyday on your blog. Write a page a day. Increase your word count to see how often you hit your goal.
  4. Take a favorite character from a book you read and tell what happens to them after the book ended.
  5. Write a journal for one of your favorite characters. It can be one of yours or someone else’s.
  6. If you normally type, write with a pen on paper. Conversely, if you always write on paper, try typing or keying your thoughts into a document.
  7. Clip photos from magazines and write your own version of what happened.
  8. Using Google maps (or other favorite map site) write about a city you’ve never been in based on the images you see.
  9. Attend (or participate in !) a poetry slam, or an author reading.
  10. Sharpen your skills of observation by looking for unusual situation while in your car, or on a walk. Write down five a day. I once walked in to a local java joint to find a pretty young woman sitting in the lap of a considerably older man. In traffic one hot afternoon, I looked to my passenger side to see a tiny, bright pink car with a behemoth man in a full beard driving. On a sunny Saturday, I saw a little girl on roller skates attempting to get on a two wheeler. I wanted to know the stories of those events.
  11. Increase your word power by learning and using new words you discover in the dictionary or in the course of reading. Write them in a notebook and try to use them the next time you write.
  12. Consider all the people you know. Who among them intrigues you? Ask to interview them. You would be surprised how many people are happy to talk about their lives. And you might just make a friend. This exercise also helps you focus on dialog various speech patterns.
  13. Try to capture turns of phrase. When I lived in the Deep South, I heard some of the most wonderful idioms. I wasn’t a writer then and didn’t bother to write them down and missed out on an opportunity to collect valuable character possibilities.
  14. Gather snatches of conversations by eaves dropping in restaurants or coffee houses. You never know what phrase will trigger your next story.

Certainly there are many more ways to expand your writing possibilities. What are some of your favorite ways to stretch yourself as a writer?

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Starting Somewhere

evb0088_StackedPaper.tif A very dear friend of mine frequently said, “Do not despise small beginnings.”
It has taken me the best part of fifteen years to appreciate her advice, and it’s a quote I consider often as I go through my life on the writing journey.

It’s very east to look at others in the world who are enjoying some level of success and be a little envious. It might be a nice car, a home or homes, vacations, glamour or a lot of money. Of course those things can be attractive. These things are not really ends in themselves. I don’t write to get things I don’t have. I don’t write to become anything I’m not. They can be motivational to some starting out. What motivates you? What drives your writing or creativity?

I like writing. In fact, I’ve always liked writing. If I’d had slightly more attentive people in my life when I was younger, I might be farther ahead in my writing career. Lots of writers have been more successful at a much younger age than myself, some had parents who were writers, or their talents were recognized earlier, or they knew what to do with that gift regardless. It would be very easy to compare myself to those people and after a few hours, I’d be feeling pretty bummed out that I am not where they are.

But, I didn’t start when they did, or do what it took early on. And what I have chosen to focus on instead is that I finally recognized my passion (thank you Vera Hassell and Neil Wein) and because of that, I may not have accomplished as much as some, but I’m not where I used to be either. I move forward, sometimes incrementally, and at other times in great leaps. Those writers who are succeeding often share what they did to reach that level. Some of them are mentors to me. And it always comes down to this: They did the work.
I didn’t start taking my writing seriously until eight years ago. Up until then, I never considered writing for publication, but when I did, there was a shift in my thinking. I looked for opportunities to stretch myself.

So much of writing is about committing. It’s about showing up to the page day after day and writing when you think “you got nothin’”. I’ll step on more than a few toes when I say that you can train your muse to show up at a regular time. If you show up every day to the page at the same time, get your coffee or tea, and sit at the computer or your desk with your pen and paper, you will write. Don’t get up until you write. You can start a blog, write a short story, a poem, or your screenplay or a novelette. You can begin with one page, a word.
Start somewhere. Start now.

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The Cost of Inspiration

If your writing goals are become easier to reach, it might be time to raise them. I was able to consistently write 1000 words a day and raised it just recently. It happens to coincide with my desire to send more stories out to literary magazines. I’ve watched over the past few months as my husband was cranking out submissions one after the other, all across the country and, in fact, all across the English speaking world.

He inspired me to start sending my stories out again. Additionally, I get inspired is through music and photographs. I can take them as sensory prompts and write for quite a while.

Normally, I don’t talk about music on a writing blog and maybe you’re one of those who prefers total silence in order to work. I love music. I’ve listened to all of my personal collection so much, I’m pretty tired of it. So something like Pandora, where the station constantly updates is pretty cool. I hear favorites and fresh sounds quite a lot.

I don’t get anything tangible from Pandora except inspiration. They don’t pay me to say I love this or that track, or even tell you that you can get hours of uninterrupted music all day every day for the low price of 49.98. One really good piece of writing will pay for that. Actually, that must sound like a deal. The truth is they just endured a price hike and I wasn’t very happy about it. That motivated me to look into some other streaming music sources.

I discovered I’ve become quite a snob about all of this music stuff. I don’t like commercials butting in (at twice the volume–how jarring!) and I despise short play lists that want me to keep picking what mood I’m in now after 5 or 10 songs, or pick another song… I priced some other venues only to discover that they want nearly double per year what I currently shell out.

I listen, on average, to 8 hours of music a day (which I assure you is conservative!) nearly 3000 hours a year. Rounding up to 50.00$ a year dividing by 3000 hours, I end up paying about one penny per hour. Suddenly, their prices didn’t seem so bad. Plus, no annoying interruptions. I can click the songs I don’t like up to three per hour or change stations anytime. A paid account lets me have up to 100 stations. That’s access to every genre and millions of songs.

Since listening to Pandora, I’ve completed my first two books, dozens of blog posts, countless short story starts, four that are finished and won two Nano Awards. I’ve published in half a dozen magazines.  I’m feeling a little happier about my music investment.

How are you investing in your inspiration sources? What inspires you?

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Reaching Your Goals

snoopy the writerSome people in my circle of influence think I’m a prolific writer. If 2000 words a day is the mark, I reach it most days. But, that  wasn’t always the case. I’ve written for years, with no consistency. I wanted to be more disciplined. That required setting measurable goals. When I set up my first blog eight years ago, I forgot about it for nearly a year.  What would I talk about? Who would read it What was my platform?

Eventually, I set a goal of writing 300 words a day, that is, approximately  half a page. When that became consistently attainable,  I stretched it to 500. At the end of six months, I had a pile of writings. Now what?

Some of it turned out to be good writing. With a little attention, some tweaking and polish, it became a decent essay. At the end of that year, I had a stack of essays. What could I do with them?

I set a new goal. I wanted to send my pieces out to various literary magazines, contests and anthologies. I researched and studied, (Long Ridge Writers Group article writing class proved invaluable!) learned how to format work so that it would be acceptable and my new goal was sending out 5 pieces a week.  I didn’t achieve that goal, but at least two went out per week with some regular consistency.  My secondary goal was to get 100 rejection slips.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I wanted 100 rejections? Getting any kind of feedback  reminded me that I was working toward my goal. Every writer who became noteworthy said they had enough rejection slips to paper their walls. It goes with the territory. I expected to get 100 before I finally got published.

After my fourth submission, an anthology accepted my writing. I was published! I kept sending out work and fun things happened. More people accepted my work.

This is where I am right now. Remember those photos from last week? I wrote a story (6300 words!!) and found a place to send it to. You can do it too! Just begin with a few goals and never give up until you reach them. Did you write anything this week? I’d love to hear from you.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, below you will find an excerpt from the story I sent out:

     Then, something tapped my bare foot. In the sand by my toes lay a shell. Wait, a shiny, pink and white Queen Conch shell washed up on the shore of Lake Michigan? It seemed highly unlikely. Had the dolphins somehow delivered it? I bent to my haunches and picked it up. The shell over filled my two hands and felt heavy as a brick. It looked like something from the tropics, sold from souvenir shops.

As I held it, I noticed something protruding from the opening and I quickly set it down. It looked almost like a snail head. It touched the sand, slowly lengthening, as if pulling itself from its shell. Then there were two. As I watched, mystified, then saw that it was really two fingers. I pulled out my cell phone. In my rush to leave, I’d forgotten to charge the battery. The icon on the screen was blinking, as if it was gasping for breath. I snapped two pictures before the phone’s battery officially died. The being continued to emerge until a whole hand had formed, then an arm. I backed away.

This was the strangest occurrence I had ever witnessed on the Chicago shore. I stood up and turned away to see if there were other onlookers, to call attention to this weird event unfolding, right here, just off 78th on Rainbow Beach. A mother and her child were a ways up, and I waved frantically, shouting to get their attention. The child saw me and pointed. The mother looked in my direction, clutched her kid tighter and hurried back to her car, looking over her shoulder to make sure I wasn’t following them. I felt like a nut.

There was no one left. Not even a dog. When I returned my gaze to the shell, I noticed the decidedly female form had become a head, two arms and a torso. Her head faced the water, with me behind, and I backed farther away.

I gazed in complete wonder at the woman lying on her back, wriggling herself free of that shell…

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How Creative Are You?

I’ve been working on new short stories and feel excited about writing with photo prompts. In one of the literary magazines I read a while back, they had a cool idea called, Bridge the Gap, where they took two images and the asked their readership to contribute stories around the pictures.

What a genius idea. I wonder how many creative people I have out there? Can you write a song, or a poem or a short story with the two images below? I’d be curious to see what you come up with. I will also write one this week.

mer hand in shellmermaid

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Welcome Interruptions

typewriter-skip-huntI had been working on two novels simultaneously for a long time. When I need a break, thirty day challenges are what I look for. If I can’t find a good one, I make up my own. Once, I did a post every day for a year—photos, quotes, stories anything. I just had to post. It helps me to do things that are related to my field. Buying one caramel macchiato every day for a month wouldn’t be appropriate, but something writing related is.

The most recent challenge issued was to write 30 short stories for 30 days. One thousand to 20,000 words. Obviously, some of them will be real stinko stories, but the idea was to spark my imagination and see what I could come up with every day. It caused me to be more observant, eavesdrop on conversations (who knows, maybe I was listening to you!) and watching the reaction of people to various circumstances.

It’s better to try and fail than not try. You don’t know what you’re capable of if you don’t make the effort. I allowed myself 3 extra days due to standing appointments, and took advantage of those days where I wrote more than one story in a day. I’m happy to announce I managed to get 30 in 30. My husband and I celebrated the accomplishment.

They’re not all highly polished stories ready to send out (yet) but I’ve got seedlings to grow. Because they’re designed to be brief, this kick starts my goal of sending out short stories this year. It’s only March. By December, I plan to have all the good ones out in the world being read by someone, and maybe attempt another 30 day challenge. Who knows, maybe you will join me!

How are you challenging yourself in your writing?

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Keepers of the Flame

candle in windIt is possible for others to minimize your relationship with writing especially if they are not writers. It’s more than a little frustrating when someone who says they care about you, yet try to invalidate your passion. Quite often, they’re disinterested or—surprise, surprise—jealous of your ability, tenacity and determination to pursue a dream.
I would venture to guess that every writer has endured the cutting remarks about their writing whether they wrote longhand with a pen on paper or had the newest computer set up on the market.

Learn to recognize when someone isn’t interested in your writing and stop talking to them about it. It may sound like, What makes you think you’re a writer? Have you ever been published? Have you ever been paid? Your writing is just a hobby. What makes you think anyone wants to hear what you have to say?  You’re still working on that same book?

I was once married to one who refused encourage my writing. It’s disheartening when the people we are closest to can’t or won’t support us. It’s discouraging when they disparage your efforts or even worse, try to sabotage them and make you feel guilty for pursuing your craft.

Do not share your work or your victories with these toxic people. Spare yourself from feeling and being discouraged. You don’t have to ditch them as friends (or relatives) but they’re not part of your tribe. Develop an inner circle of writer friends to share those exciting moments with, when you get a contract for your piece or you get published in a magazine, when you complete your book.

I can’t imagine a life without writing. I don’t view it as a hobby. If you’re comfortable with the term, that’s completely fine, I am not and my intent is to make writing my full time job; until then, I view it as a sort of hands on apprenticeship. You can’t be a writer unless you write (and read a lot!) I treat it like a job; I come home, get into the office and write a set number of words (1000 to 2500), or for a set amount of time. By the end of a year that’s a lot of words.

Remember that not all people share our enthusiasm, but their remarks don’t make you any less a writer. It’s always disappointing and it says more about where those friends and relatives stand, not you. This is one of the reasons it’s so important to find like- minded people.

If you don’t have a cheerleader in your corner, comment below. I will cheer you on. If you’re writing a blog, share the link, I will follow and encourage you. If this is your dream, guard it like a candle flame. Too many people are willing to be the wind and blow it out for you. And if someone tries to put out your fire, even if you’re barely a smoking ember, come back here and let your passion be reignited. No one on this earth will ever see or say things the way you do. Your voice is unique and important. Keep on writing. Never ever give up.

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