Guest Blog by a Dear Friend

30 May

I call her my Lil Sis, and she receives that name because I love her to pieces and wish I had a little sister like her.  Her name is Cynthia Calhoun and she has offered to do my post this week, giving me a needed break while I heal some emotional wounds.

With that out of the way, I turn it all over to my Little Sister!

 

Writing is a craft, a calling. We pour our souls into the project at hand and hope that the rest of the world appreciates what we have borne through life experience and sheer hard work.

And Bill – or Big Bro, as I call him – truly exemplifies experience and hard work! I’m so glad to be here writing a post on his blog!

I wanted to create a post that would speak to his readers, while giving ideas to be creative!

So here goes….

Even the most adept writer needs help with making their writing more engaging, more powerful and more colorful.

Just how do you, as a writer, make your work more colorful, descriptive and engaging?

It’s not as difficult as you’d think, and there are a number of ways you can spruce up your writing.

Practice and Practice…and Eliminate Distractions

Every writer worth their salt knows this. But actually doing that is another thing.

How many folks out there sit down to the computer and find other distractions? You sit down at 9am to write, and before you know it, the clock almost mocks you as it says, “12:54 pm.” You glare at it, silencing the little sneering voice that beams out from the numbers.

There are ways to help with distractions. You can install a “distraction free” app on you computer so that you can’t check the internet.

Similarly, you can use the “focus” setting in Microsoft Word (or similar program), or there’s a program called, “Focus Writer,” which is a bare-bones writing program that uses a full-screen mode. If you use Scrivener, there’s a similar function.

Other things you can do: Set a timer. Some folks get motivated by seeing a countdown. This is something I use almost daily. Set it for an hour and FOCUS.

At the end of that hour, step away and give yourself a break. Then come back to it and use the timer again.

Have a policy of checking email once, or at the most, twice per day. If you constantly answer emails as they come in, you have to refocus and bring yourself to concentrate all over gain. Getting into a “flow” state takes at least 20 minutes of uninterrupted activity. It’s also extremely easy to slip out of it.

Experiment with what works for you, though: set a word limit. How much do you want to do in a day?

Try different things to see what works for you. Ideally, you do this every day and establish a routine with it: same time, same place.

Journaling

If you know me at all, then you’ll know that I’m a life-long journaler (yeah, I made that word up). I can’t live without getting words on the screen (or paper).

This tip will work for people who naturally like to do this, but we’re all different. My friend Bill here says he’s not a journaler, but obviously that has not held him back. Have you SEEN all the books he’s published!?

However, when you sit down to journal, it’s good to do this first thing in the morning (or after a mindfulness exercise) before other activities in the day crowd out this special time.

If you don’t have ideas, think about a quote that resonates with you, explore ideas for your next book, or you can talk about a problem you want to work out. Still, you can talk about dreams and things you want to do with your life.

The point of this exercise is three-fold: you get out all those stray thoughts that might otherwise occur to you while you’re working, you boost your productivity by actually getting a block of writing done early in the day, and it allows you to work on your craft in a pressure-free environment. It’s also a good idea to make this a daily activity.

Free-Writing

This is related to journaling, but with a different goal: to stimulate the generation of ideas. Sometimes you are staring at a blank screen, feeling the pressure you’re putting on yourself to produce something. Anything.

A free-write can be about putting a word down on paper and see what your mind does with it.

For example, right now, get out a piece of paper and find a place where you can write down a note for a quick free-write.

Now, write down the first word that comes to mind. Don’t judge your word.

For me, in this instant, I thought of “giraffe.”

Next, I’ll let my mind wander for a moment about all the words related to giraffe and what it makes me think of: African safari, animals in zoos, beautiful patterns, gentle creatures, feeding giraffes, the tale of the extra tall giraffe, and more.

As you write all those words down, you can put them into a list, or just write them across the page – whatever you’d like to do.

But then, think about the other ideas that come from those words and phrases and start writing – don’t worry about punctuation or a story line, just write whatever comes to mind in stream-of-consciousness style.

Here’s mine: “giraffe went to the department store he wasn’t supposed to be there but why is it his fault, the kid brought him there and made him wait outside, well it was hot and he got tired of waiting, so he walked through the revolving door much to the surprise of the greeter in a pantsuit who was going to call security but then decided to just let him walk through the store it was like she understood the giraffe was trying to find someone” – that’s what I came up with in 60 seconds.

You can keep going for as little or as much time as you want. But the key is to give yourself permission to just write like crazy, no editing or backspacing, and just see what happens. Do this whenever you need ideas.

Mind Maps

Similar to free-writing, mind maps are fun. You start with a single idea. Perhaps you have the subject or a theme for a book you’d like to write. In the center of a large paper, you write it down. Then, attach a line to that circle and add another idea. Try to keep them to fewer than four or five words; shorter is better.

Let your mind go wild and try not to censor any ideas. Sometimes the most outlandish idea will actually lead to that one perfect one for your next book or project.

Again, this activity can be as short or as long as you want, but aim for a minimum of 5 minutes. It’s especially useful to do before starting a big project.

10 Ideas a Day

The thing about writing is that we’ll come across someone else’s work and say, “that’s a good idea! Why didn’t I think of that?”

The truth is, that person just didn’t come up with a good idea without having to work at it. Coming up with good ideas is an art, and you have to start with a lot of bad ideas, first.

This exercise is actually more about quantity rather than quality. While that may seem counter-intuitive, think of it like creating Michelangelo’s “David” sculpture: “you just chip away everything that doesn’t look like David.”

Incredibly, this is how idea-generation works: you have to chip away at the bad ideas to be left with the good ones.

In the mornings, as often as possible, make yourself write down 10 ideas about a theme or subject. About anything.

Why? Because often, unrelated bad ideas help to uncover the one good idea – that you can use immediately or for another project.

Date your list of ideas so you can refer to it later.

Then write down a topic for which you want to generate more ideas.

Don’t let yourself get up from the chair until you’ve come up with ten.

If you can’t think of anything, try the free-write activity, first.

Since we were talking about giraffes in the free-write activity above, let’s go with that.

The guidelines: no judgement about how good or bad those ideas are, don’t let yourself get up until you have 10 ideas, bad ideas allowed – the more the better – because that gets you closer to uncovering a good idea!

10 Ideas: Writing a story about Giraffes:

  1. Giraffe meets a unicorn.
  2. Giraffe meets a family on safari in Africa.
  3. A giraffe born with three legs.
  4. The giraffe who was set free.
  5. Giraffes and civil wars in Africa.
  6. The giraffe and the baby monkey.
  7. Giraffe gets a yellow hat.
  8. Giraffe becomes Aware.
  9. The mindful giraffe.
  10. Giraffe helps banish Barnum & Bailey’s circus from existence.

It might seem like all I think about are giraffes, and while they are awesome creatures, I can assure you I don’t think about them with reckless abandon.

I may or may not ever use anything on this list. That doesn’t mean that this list is useless.

There are other ideas I can possibly take away from this: civil wars, baby monkeys, awareness, mindfulness – these subjects make my brain go, “hmm.”

When I come back to do another 10 ideas, I can take the words that piqued my interest and go with those.

When you first start doing this, it might be hard to come up with 10 ideas. But, it gets easier over time and you start to get really good at coming up with ideas.

Index Cards

In this digital age, the ubiquitousness of the smart phone has allowed us to easily take notes. But what if our phone is charging or we’re standing in the rain outside, or we’re not near our phones, or we don’t feel like typing a whole narrative onto a tiny screen?

Cue the index cards!

Some of the best ideas come when we’re away from work and away from writing.

I personally carry index cards (and a pen) in my car, in my bag, in my office, and they’re in several areas around the house.

Any idea I have gets a place on these cards.

I’ve come up with some brilliant ideas and having a card around to immediately write it down prevents me from completely losing that idea.

They’re easy to refer back to and don’t take up much space. When you’ve had a chance to properly work with the idea you had on the card, then you can recycle it.

One of the best places to keep an index card is in the book you’re currently reading. When you have an idea, it’s so easy to quickly jot it down.

Read Others’ Work

This is a huge one. If you’re a mystery writer, it’s good practice to read other mystery writers’ novels – you’ve probably heard that before. There have been countless times I’ve been reading a book and that triggers an idea for an upcoming story.

Even so, get out of your genre from time to time. It’s a great way to get a new perspective. Often times you’ll learn something new and you never know how you’ll be able to apply that back to your own writing.

But as you read, always be thinking, “What if?” 

What if the giraffe was purple? What if the giraffe was a prince in disguise? What if the giraffe was supposed to be on an ark somewhere?

Those “what-if” questions can really make your mind wander.

Do Unrelated Activities

You’re in the shower and a brilliant idea comes to you. Or, you’re on a hike and you think of the perfect solution to the problem you’ve been working on.

Sound familiar?

When you’re working on something, and you’re consciously thinking about it, ideas can be harder to come by. But, when you really want to find a solution to a problem or get ideas, doing a completely unrelated activity can generate ideas because your subconscious continues to work on it.

So, sometimes it pays to take a well-needed break, refill your cup and let your subconscious work on its own. You might be surprised!

Be Mindful

Okay, now for my favorite. This one activity can really change the way you look at things and your level of creativity.

Each morning, before I do anything else, I set a timer and spend time in mindful silence.

I try to focus just on breathing, and try to limit any thinking about work or ideas about things.

Of course, if my mind insists on thinking about something, I’ll grab an index card, write it down, and continue with my mindful silence. These days I spend 60 minutes in silence, but over a decade ago when I first started, I only did 5-10 minutes.

But now, spending this time in silence, focused on my breathing, clears out my mind completely. It is then that I feel primed to generate ideas.

Indeed, all these activities are on my list for whenever I need original ideas for better, more creative writing. I’m also grateful Big Bro let me share some of the techniques I use to generate ideas for my own writing, whether it’s a blog post, a drawing, a poem, or fiction.

 

About Cynthia

Cynthia has been a life-long writer. Most of her writing centers on non-fiction, although she makes occasional forays into the world of fiction. She writes over at Intuitive and Spiritual and enjoys a mindful existence, filled with journals, artwork, and walking all over the place. Her coloring book, The Tree of Life: A Coloring Journey is her newest work, due out on June 2, 2017.

ONE FINAL NOTE FROM BILL

I’ve seen her coloring book and it is fantastic…I’ve even colored in it…so, if you want a great gift for someone, or a great gift for yourself, this coloring book is my suggestion.

Thanks so much, Lil Sis!  You’re the best!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

 

 

 

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34 Responses to “Guest Blog by a Dear Friend”

  1. Janine Huldie May 30, 2017 at 10:35 pm #

    What can I say, but what a nice surprise to see Cyndi here today on your blog. This made my night just that much better and brighter as I adore you both. So to have you both in one place at one time is just awesome. And now I get to wish you both a wonderful Tuesday night ahead now, too! 😉

    • Sageleaf May 30, 2017 at 11:37 pm #

      Janine – thank you so much! I can speak for both Big Bro and I: WE ADORE YOU! 🙂 Yeah, I thought I’d hang out over here today. Give my Big Bro a little break and have some fun chatting about writing. 🙂
      Have a wonderful week! xo

    • Billybuc May 31, 2017 at 12:01 am #

      Aww, Janine, you know how we feel about you. One day we’re going to have an HP reunion and we can all meet face to face. Thanks for your loyal support.

  2. Linda Lum May 30, 2017 at 11:58 pm #

    How wonderful to finally “meet” Bill’s little sis. After reading this I jumped over to your blog and am totally blown away by you. The words you write, the knowledge you share, the books and images and healing thoughts…no wonder Bill loves you. Thank you for taking over for him this week. I know he is pleased. I pray he finds peace and comfort.

    • Billybuc May 31, 2017 at 12:02 am #

      Linda, I hang with the cool kids…you included. This is the best time of my life, and I thank you for being a part of it.

    • Sageleaf May 31, 2017 at 12:56 am #

      Linda – nice to meet you! Thank you for your sweet words and I’m thrilled you also liked my blog. I so love your comment here – it’s really just brightened my day! Thank YOU for your awesome feedback and yes – I’m hoping my Big Bro can get some R&R and some healing. ❤ Thank yo again!

    • Sageleaf May 31, 2017 at 1:12 am #

      Also, Linda, I found you over at HubPages. I followed you under my “real” name’s account: CCLitGirl (I know, I know, hehe…it stands for Cynthia Calhoun, Literature Girl – because I’m stuck in my head when it comes to books and literature. Hehe).

  3. mommyincolor May 31, 2017 at 1:54 am #

    Great tips! I too am a lifelong “journaler” lol

    • Sageleaf May 31, 2017 at 2:07 am #

      Thank you so much! Nice to meet you. A fellow journaler – I already know you’re a kindred spirit. Sending you hugs! ❤

    • Billybuc June 1, 2017 at 2:07 pm #

      Thank you mommy. I appreciate you taking the time to drop by.

  4. suziehq May 31, 2017 at 6:59 am #

    Lovely to read your guest blog Cynthia and definitely related to it. Definitely use some of your tips on getting the creative juices flowing again! Thanks for popping by and hugs to you and Sir Bill xxxx

    • Sageleaf May 31, 2017 at 12:01 pm #

      Suziehq – hi there! Nice to meet you and thank you for your feedback. 🙂 I honestly use these all the time and just completed a mindmap for a mindfulness journal I’m working on creating, so yes – the practical applications apply to many things. 🙂 Thank you!

    • Billybuc June 1, 2017 at 2:08 pm #

      Hey, Irish, I owe you an email…be right there.

  5. marcoujor May 31, 2017 at 11:30 am #

    Hi Bill and Cynthia,
    Coolness indeed runs in the family…! I have recently met your Lil Sis on one of my new hangouts, Slack.
    It’s lovely to learn more about you both in this post and your website, which is beautiful. I’m looking forward to following your writing and will indeed be checking out your coloring book on Amazon.
    Love and hugs to you both, Maria

    • Sageleaf May 31, 2017 at 12:06 pm #

      marcoujor – hi there! It’s awesome to see you here. 🙂 Yay! I’m in the “cool kids club” hehe. And yes, it’s really neat to see what’s going on over at Slack. I had so much fun writing this post. You know, Bill usually doesn’t write such long posts but I had let him know that I was Verbose Valerie. I sat down and started writing and REALLY tried to pare it down, but I had so much fun with all these ideas and they’re ones I use all the time. 🙂 Thank you also for your willingness to check out my coloring book. 🙂 Love and hugs back – CS

    • Billybuc June 1, 2017 at 2:08 pm #

      Maria, my dear, thanks for joining Lil Sis and me for a cup of tea and a visit. You are appreciated.

      love,
      bill

  6. Deborah Neyens May 31, 2017 at 12:10 pm #

    Great post, Cindy. I especially love the 10 ideas a day suggestion. It’s nice to see you here on Bill’s blog. Bill, I hope you are doing well.

    • Sageleaf May 31, 2017 at 12:54 pm #

      Deborah! Oh my goodness! So *awesome* to see you here!! Oh, it’s *truly* wonderful to be seeing my HP buddies here. I may need to start writing over there again. We’ll see…time is always the tricky thing. 🙂
      In any case, it’s awesome to see your feedback here and I’m glad you liked this post. Sending you hugs!

    • Billybuc June 1, 2017 at 2:09 pm #

      Thank you Deb! I hope you are well and your garden is flourishing. 🙂

  7. Lawrence Hebb June 1, 2017 at 3:15 am #

    Bill
    Cynthia put some great ideas into this blog. Please pass that on to her. I really enjoyed the ideas with the Giraffes, though at the moment I don’t seem to have a problem with ‘getting ideas’.
    Being able to sit down and write at 9am sounds great too, but I think I prefer the way things are at the moment for me, for me, getting the time to write (any time) is great and I just ‘go for it’ though the editing can take a bit longer.
    Great stuff

    • Billybuc June 1, 2017 at 2:10 pm #

      Thanks as always, Lawrence. As I’ve always said, whatever works for you. Writing is an individual undertaking and we have to find our own process.

    • Sageleaf June 1, 2017 at 6:30 pm #

      Lawrence – nice to meet you! Thank you for your awesome response and yes, we all can tweak and play with ideas until we find what works. 🙂 And if you have something good worked out, then I say go with that, full steam ahead! I hope you have a wonderful week! Cheers. 🙂

  8. Lawrence Hebb June 1, 2017 at 3:16 am #

    By the way, the phone never leaves my side during the day, I use it for too many things, and I have ‘backup’ plans for if it ever ‘packs a sad’

  9. Audrey Howitt June 2, 2017 at 1:26 am #

    Hi Cyndi! So good to read you today–And such a great blog post–my problem is always focus–I have short periods of time during the day when I have time to write–and it takes a while before things start flowing and by then I am out of time –and by the time I get back to it, that flow is gone–I am struggling to get up earlier to write–before my teaching day starts–wish me luck on that–summer is here and so getting up early is easier–

    • Billybuc June 2, 2017 at 2:22 pm #

      Hi Audrey! Thanks so much for reading Cyndi’s post this week. It’s hard working full-time and then getting up earlier to write….don’t be too hard on yourself for that one.

  10. Melanie June 3, 2017 at 8:20 am #

    What a cool post to read on a Saturday morning and by one of my favourite people! Cyndi, these tips are amazing, really! Did you draw those little images btw? Hehe, the are too cute 🙂 You’ve inspired me good and proper to get my morning routine back to the way it was a year ago >> quite time + stretching + journalling instead of being lazy in bed and have zero energy for the rest of the day! The idea about timing yourself works like magic… I remember working last year at my job and being so stressed about the amount of writing I had to fit in – I point blank refused to work overtime. I shut my door, put on timers and willed myself to complete each creative piece before the buzzer. Well, what do you know, it worked!! Amazing what we can do when we put our minds to it, and just have that little bit of motivation. Thanks for reminding me about that. I’m going to need it working from home again now more than ever! I LOVE the mind maps idea… that’s really fun. I need to get some paper this weekend and get doodling those ideas.

    Great post my friend! Sending hugs to you and Bill x

  11. Sarah Potter Writes June 3, 2017 at 3:58 pm #

    Bill, this is a lovely post from Lil Sis. Hi Cynthia. Good to see you here and this is a wonderful amount of good advice you’ve given 🙂
    I don’t have much problem thinking of things to write, as long as I don’t touch the internet even for a moment of a day, before doing some serious writing. There are days when I’m too tired to write, which are days where I need to get away from the computer, full stop. This is easier in the summer, as I love gardening. Not so easy in the winter, but reading is good instead. I like to read a wide selection of genres, which is probably why my writing is a multiple mix of genres. Beta reading for other authors is a brilliant learning experience and one that I would highly recommend, as well as allowing authors who write well themselves to beta read your own work.

    • Billybuc June 3, 2017 at 4:01 pm #

      Sarah, as always, a great comment. Happy Weekend to you, my friend. I hope the weather is cooperating for you. We are having what I consider perfect weather right now, balmy, not too hot, shirtsleeve weather but no extremes. If it could stay this way all year I would be a happy person. 🙂

      • Sarah Potter Writes June 4, 2017 at 1:49 pm #

        Same here with the weather. I love it when I can have all the doors and windows open in my house. Being by the sea, there’s often a cooling breeze. The birds are very vocal at the moment. Yesterday, a large number of jackdaws decided to party and squabble most of the day on a tree that overhangs my garden. Then a seagull came along and told them off, after which a robin started singing at the top of his voice. It was all most entertaining … a rock concert of the bird world! Like you, I’m happy when the weather is happy 😀 But in the winter, I have a terrible battle with SAD, especially in January and February D:

      • Billybuc June 4, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

        Sarah, normally the winter does not affect me too much, but this last winter definitely did, so I’m rejoicing in the sunshine now and singing its praises. 🙂

  12. Christy B June 3, 2017 at 5:50 pm #

    A guest post from Cyndi, what a delight! This is a wonderful choice, Bill 🙂 I’m with you on the power of the free-write, Cyndi. Wow, I’m in awe of you for spending an hour in mindful silence. I think that index card by me would be filling up fast with thoughts as sometimes my mind is go-go-go 😉 Great advice here for writers, from beginners to more advanced xx

    • Billybuc June 4, 2017 at 3:21 pm #

      Thank you Christy! I’m with you. I can’t imagine an hour of thoughtful silence. LOL Maybe because Bev would never allow it. 🙂 Thanks so much for being here. Hugs from Olympia!

  13. Eddy June 6, 2017 at 2:41 pm #

    Oh how lovely to be back in your midst again and even when I haven’t the time to write from now on I will make sure that I find time to read in your midst. Great work Cyndi, so refreshing and inspiring.
    All my love
    Eddy.

    • Billybuc June 6, 2017 at 2:59 pm #

      And it’s lovely having you back,Eddy! Don’t stay away so long, please.

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