What to Do When Your Draft Genuinely Sucks

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Every writer I know understands that producing a book–or even an article or blog post–is a process. It’s rare for people to spew one version of something, hit publish, and have the world applaud. Instead, most of the time, content goes through multiple, painstaking rounds and is shaped over many days, weeks, or months. We accept that first drafts, although crummy, can become beautiful.

But sometimes–maybe even a lot of the time–you might read your draft over and know in your heart of hearts that no amount of reworking is going to fix it. What do you do then?

  1. Look at the concept, not the technique.

When a draft is beyond repair, it’s usually because there are flaws in the concept itself, not because you “can’t write”. So just as a contractor would move to better ground instead of investing in a resource suck on sand, you need to move on to something more solid and have faith you can build elsewhere, too. Having one bad concept doesn’t mean that all of your ideas are awful, and when you get a new one that works, your technique will still be there to build it up.

Before you start your next project, think critically about what was wrong with the concept. Maybe biases got in the way, for example. Or maybe the concept was just too “busy” and didn’t fit into any of the usual story archs enough to be workable. Other people can help you figure it out with good feedback. Whatever it is, once you’ve identified the issue, you’ll be in a better position not to make the same mistake next time.

2. Pick out the gems.

Even in the shi–iest of drafts, there’s something that sparkles. Maybe that’s just one chapter. Maybe it’s a particular character who feels realer than real and speaks really deeply to you. Maybe it’s a single sentence. But I guarantee there is something shiny. Go pull it out. You don’t have to even know how or where you’ll lose it. The point is that you recognize the shine and have the courage to save it. You’ll know when you have the right context or “home” for whatever you’ve saved because the placement into a new draft will feel incredibly natural or like an “aha” moment. As you wait for that right context to manifest, you can look back on those gems to keep your confidence up that yes, you CAN create something pretty amazing. It’s right there.

3. Go read something.

I know, I know. Reading great writing as you battle your own Drafty McDraft Suck experience might seem like the last thing you need. (How could you be on par with those writers?) But when writing is really good, it stands on its own and you stop comparing. You start thinking. You can feel all kinds of emotions and have all kinds of questions run through your head. Jot that all down in a notebook or a digital doc. Let it be fodder for later and use it as inspiration for research. If you analyze why you’re thinking and responding as you are in the context of what the author did, then you’ll know exactly what to do in your own voice to get a future draft that yields the reaction you want from your own readers, too.

4. Review your big picture.

Does a single bad draft mean that you can’t query something else? Nope. Does it mean all of your previous successes disappear? Nope. Does it mean you’ll never have a book on store shelves? Nope.

All a bad draft means is that you figured out one path that wouldn’t take you to your finish line. But the finish line itself and all the work you’ve done up to today to get closer to it is still there. Zoom out to see it. Ask yourself if it’s one you still want to cross–it’s OK if priorities and goals change! If that finish line still excites you, then congratulate yourself on what you learned from taking the wrong path and come up with a new route.

Not every draft is going to be a winner or sellable. That’s OK. But every draft can teach you something and make the next piece you create a little better. Hone in on that and don’t let yourself ever believe that that win is even close to any kind loss.

The Ultimate Writer Self-Care Checklist

Writing tends to be a pretty lonely and thankless job. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t take care of yourself so that everything you write has serious oomph. That’s especially the case when you’re writing about really tough stuff or your scene has you in an emotional puddle. Here are some of the best things you can do–aside from the typical nap or trip to the gym/spa–to give yourself a little love and get the words flowing.

  1. Set a Pomodoro timer. When it goes off, get up and stretch or walk around.
  2. Read a book you want to read, not one you feel you’re supposed to read.
  3. Reward yourself after meeting a writing goal with one inexpensive item that will improve your writing output or enjoyment, such as the Pro version of a writing program or a nice pen. OR choose something entirely unrelated to writing as a reminder you are more than just what you put on the page or the number of copies you sell.
  4. Join a writer’s group (in person or online) to make sure you have feedback and support.
  5. Keep yummy nom noms near your desk to fuel your writing sessions.
  6. Declutter your workspace to help you focus. Better yet, declutter your entire house so you spend less time cleaning and have more time to create.
  7. Turn to social media with purpose. Instead of comparing yourself to others on your favorite networks (seriously, it’s nice they got an agent, and all, but…but… 😭), celebrate with them so they will feel comfortable celebrating your wins with you later with genuine joy (and yes, those wins WILL happen).
  8. Schedule a writing-free day so you can go experience the world.
  9. Destroy imposter syndrome and advocate for your craft by using the “writer” label when you engage with others or on your profiles.
  10. Set up automatic backup systems based in the cloud so you never lose a word, can work across devices, and have the option of working wherever you are.
  11. Take time to enjoy and get inspired by the creative works of others, whether that’s going to a museum, checking out awesome Youtube videos, or reading about the latest research breakthroughs. Remember that there are lots of creatives in the world and that you don’t have to carry it all.
  12. Get a manicure or wrap your hands in a warm heating pad for a while.
  13. Temporarily change the height of your desk or chair.
  14. Give your hands a break by using voice-to-text programs to create your next draft. The practice speaking also will make you more confident sharing your ideas in podcasts, videos, pitches, or presentations.
  15. Create playlists that can get you in the mood you need for specific scenes, or alternately, get you back into real life.
  16. Write somewhere you usually don’t.
  17. Use a program like RescueTime to track your habits and limit where you go when you’re on your devices. Analyze how you really use your time with those programs so that you are realistic when setting your writing goals.
  18. Clarify your boundaries with others and yourself so that people don’t infringe on your plans to write, and so you don’t feel unnecessary guilt and stress.
  19. Let yourself write in a genre or style you don’t normally use.
  20. Keep a notebook–or even a Google Doc–ready specifically so you can jot down other great ideas you have when writing other things.
  21. Reread your previous work and pick out your favorite phrase, sentence, or word. Make a note, voice audio, video, or other media about why you like it.
  22. Cosplay your current MC or writing period.

How to Keep Gratitude Journaling from Totally Sucking

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You don’t have to look very far to find the benefits of gratitude journaling — stress reduction, for example. But if you don’t approach it the right way, then keeping this kind of journal can start to feel more like a chore than a tool to relax and appreciate. And if that happens, then the odds of you tossing the habit into the trash are pretty high.

So from my own experience, here’s what I recommend you do to make gratitude journaling way more fun and easy to stick with.

1. Explore variety.

One of the reasons social media is so popular is that it can offer lots of different types of content. You can get links to text-based pieces, short little blurbs, comics, photos, videos, and so on. So don’t limit yourself. If you choose a digital platform to do your journaling on, or even if you just take more of a scrapbook approach, then you can pull all of these things together and create posts that will be more interesting to you in the future. You won’t get stuck in a rut of always doing the same thing with the journal, and making an entry subsequently will feel more novel each time you go to do it.

2. Skip the scheduler.

If you get a kick out of being able to do something for 6 minutes and 3 seconds every Wednesday at exactly 6:00 p.m., that’s fine. Some people do really well with this type of structure. But I personally find that an anytime, anywhere approach works better specifically for gratitude journaling, given the intent. It lets you create an entry right when your ideas and feelings are fresh and more genuine, and the flexibility can help the journaling process feel more spontaneous and natural.

3. Share your entries.

You don’t have to share everything, and you can set the limit on how personal you go. But when you share your gratitude journal in person or online, it creates the potential for it to become interactive. People can leave feedback on what you experienced or thought, and you can have amazingly deep discussions that help you strengthen your sense of who you are. You might even inspire someone or get them through something.

4. Incorporate “you”.

Me? I like unicorns and Yoda. (OK, I’m borderline obsessed.) I also like felt-tip and liquid ink pens, Chipotle chicken bowls, and Stephen Colbert monologues. Find ways to bring everything that screams “you” into your journaling process.(Hint: These things are usually things you’re grateful for!) Maybe pick…

To continue reading, please visit the original version of this post on Medium at https://medium.com/change-your-mind/5-strategies-to-make-gratitude-journaling-not-suck-3299d1b37585. Love the content? Follow Wanda Thibodeaux on Medium and you’ll get an email every time a new post is up!

The Real Reason a Great Writer Needs the Perfect Pen

It happens to me every flipping year. School supplies come out, and there, somewhere between the Sharpies and zippered plush pencil pouches, I melt faster than the Wicked Witch of the West. I cognitively understand that I already own dozens of writing utensils. Yet…well, away goes my resolve and money, and home the new package comes.

I’m not the only writer, I’m sure, who does this. But why do we do it? Why do we get so obsessed?

Because as silly as it might sound, writing utensils aren’t just functional. At least to me, they all have an individual feel. An aesthetic. It comes not only from elements like color or weight, but from the way it flows, the way its dance is coordinated with fresh whiteness of the blank page.

Why is this feeling so important? Because for a writer, feelings shut or open the door of creativity. As buzzy as it might sound, we need a sense of psychological safety to let our guard down enough to let the story flow more freely out of us. To try new structures or word choices, to listen to our own pace and lean into the next paragraph. To even have the courage to start the story at all.

As many writers will tell you, when you do find the perfect pen or pencil, it feels like it chose you the same way Harry Potter’s wand chose him. The rush of surety and power and confidence flows from your fingertips, and you glow with the light of a new wholeness.

Like Harry, we browse. We try different ones out. Some of them might be pleasurable for a time, if our mood is conducive to it. But most of them lack the consistency to be named our pen, the pen, the one that we will turn to over and over again over all others, and that we will mourn when at last it fails. We get excited in the search, even so, because we know there is the potential to find the one that will choose us.

So when you go looking for a specific pen you “have” to have to outline or draft or edit, don’t feel silly. It’s not all in your imagination. Or, if you see a writer friend do it, don’t tease. The pen really does change how you feel, and when you change how you feel, the entire process–and importantly, the result of that process–is different. Take the time to find your ideal match, because your readers will thank you for it.

How to Get Storytelling Right Every Time

As I peruse social media (which I do a lot for *cough* marketing), I see writer after writer step up and ask the same question:

What makes a good storyteller?

Or, to put it another way,

What makes a story engaging?

Lots of answers go into technical detail about how to tell your story well. For example, engage the senses. Get the pacing right and cut the fluff.

But great storytelling isn’t about perfectly arranging technique like flowers in a vase. Think about it. Dickens isn’t Rowling, Rowling isn’t Patterson, and Patterson isn’t Hemingway. They all have wildly different approaches, yet we’d never dare to say that any of them stink. And that’s because great storytelling is far less about voice and much more about empathy.

What this means in a nutshell is that, if you want to write well, you have to connect to the audience. And doing that, paradoxically, requires you to forget your own story for a moment and hone in on theirs. What have they experienced? What makes them excited? Sad? What dreams do they have?

It’s only after you know their story that you can match them to you, that you can pinpoint what elements of your story that they’ll find relatable. People don’t really like to hear that, because learning someone’s story can take time–lots of us want immediate gratification and results, the ability to create a draft on demand and at rhythm of our own choosing. But once you have reliability, you have engagement.

It’s all about knowing who you’re talking to. And by “know”, I don’t just mean what you write in a proposal package (e.g., Caucasian females, aged 18-40). You have a sense of how they think and what they do, and you have to know how to use what they know to paint your picture. You have to feel as though, even though you’re putting words to the page in a way that’s your own, you are having a very instinctive, reverent conversation. Everything you write is something your ears have spoken.

So don’t worry so much about your paragraph size or any of that. Worry about how deeply you know people. That is what will train your pace, give you the analogies, and allow you the important details all great stories are built on.

How to Balance Spontaneous Creativity and Planning as a Writer

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Some of our best writing comes when we least expect it–our brains often find solutions when we allow them to wander and don’t think too hard. So you have to be ready to write anytime, anywhere and not force the story, article, or other content to come. But if we work only based on when our brains wander, then we’d never meet a deadline. If you promise an editor you’ll have a draft by the end of the week or in a few months, well, then at some point, you can’t wait anymore.

So how do you balance the need for spontaneous creativity with the planning you need for consistent productivity?

I’ve found that it can help to surround yourself with or get involved in areas related to what you want to write about. For instance, if you’re writing a mystery, play some sleuthing games or go on a scavenger hunt, watch crime documentaries, or read content connected to the mystery (e.g., how a specific forensic technique works). The idea isn’t to find a specific solution so much as it is just to get more information, get some deeper, emotional and experiential knowledge of the topic and become really comfortable with the elements of the mystery world. You might find what you need to move forward without consciously realizing it. Even if the facts don’t fit what you’re currently aiming for, they might work for something later, so literally file them away.

Secondly, set yourself some boundaries. It is extremely easy to keep researching and researching or rewriting and rewriting–drafts can get better the more you learn or tweak. But it’s generally not a matter of whether you can add or adjust. It’s a matter of whether you should. Ask yourself what the piece you’re writing really requires. If your draft is clear and convincing with just six reliable sources, for instance, then don’t waste your time looking for a dozen. And if two transitions work equally well, then just pick one and move on. Have a vision or goal for your message, but don’t let what could be get you stuck or distract you from what you actually need.

Then there’s the idea of outlining and chronology. I think outlines and structure do help. But nothing says you need to work through your outline in order. If you get a great concept for Chapter 13 while you’re writing Chapter 2, then go ahead and flesh it out as much as you can. Because any writing moves the draft closer to complete. Yes, you might have to smooth out transitions later, and you might decide that your concept doesn’t work after all. But the practice of just going after the idea and rounding it out will help you everywhere else.

Connected to the idea above, don’t be afraid to work in bits and pieces. If a single sentence comes to you, then record it. With simple pocket notebooks and tools like voice-to-text and Google Docs available through smartphones 24/7, you really don’t have any excuse not to. Let go of the idea that you have to write a lot to be doing something significant, because often it’s that epiphany sentence that flashes in front of you as you stumble for your coffee that ends up being the cornerstone for entire pages or chapters, or that encapsulates the heart of your entire manuscript.

DO set some time aside for writing every day. But don’t necessarily force yourself to work on anything specific during your writing session. Instead, try to have multiple irons in the fire to choose from. Then ping around based on what feels the most complete in your head, or what best suits your mood. And if you have an idea for something else while you’re working on one manuscript, let yourself stop long enough to jot that something else down. I guarantee that this will improve your result, because you’ll always feel like you have more of a choice. Feeling forced or confined never put any writer in a good mood, and bad moods generally aren’t conducive to getting into a great state of flow.

As you work through a writing session, try super hard not to judge what’s on the page. Just get the concepts out and trust yourself to pull out the best pieces when you’re done. Try a couple different approaches or phrasings and see which one you keep coming back to later. That’s probably your winner. If you’re having trouble choosing between two options, try to identify what keeps speaking to you from both and then do a reasonable merge. Plenty of times, I’ve written the main idea more than one way and realized the best solution was to splice two versions together.

Lastly, submit your work for feedback. Often others can see what we can’t, and all we need to continue well is for someone else to get us thinking in a different way, or to point out something we perhaps hadn’t considered. And by finding and using good feedback forums, you’ll get in the habit of feeling obligated to create something without necessarily feeling like that something has to stay as it is. And much of the time, simply defending what we already have on the page shows us how committed we are to a certain description, plot line, or thesis. The more confident you feel in your defense, the more likely you are to keep on refining/promoting your work and querying even through the trolling of the worst naysayers.