Getting the ‘Write’ Attitude

Be confident and write.

I love to watch Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, exude what he calls calm assertiveness. It only takes a short time for him to get dogs — whose frazzled owners have unsuccessfully cajoled, yelled at, or bribed them — to behave.

What writers need is quiet confidence.

Let’s face it; many people (yes, even professional writers) get a bit panicky when faced with a blank screen or page. All kinds of doubts about our abilities come gushing up from our guts. Our confidence abandons us. How do we combat that?

Focus on what you have to say. So many times, people sabotage their writing by worrying about the mechanics more than the meaning. You have something valid to share, so focus on organizing it clearly especially for the first draft.

Don’t anticipate problems. Writing is hard enough without conjuring all the things that could go wrong. Stay in the “now.” Avoid predicting phantom writing disasters.

Don’t forget the reader. Don’t ever forget that we write to give something to the reader. One of my pet peeves (I have so many!) is people who write in a manner that makes them look smart but confuses the reader. We run into this all the time in academia, government, and business. If you concentrate on the best way to get your information across to the reader, you won’t have to worry about looking smart; you’ll be smart!

Mechanics are important. Cleaning up grammar, spelling, and usage can wait until you revise. Get it down, but make sure to clean it up. Never skip revision. In fact, make sure you go over your work at least twice before you send it off. If you take the time to polish up your writing, you build confidence in the final product.

Practice. Writing is like athletics or playing a musical instrument: the more you practice, the better you get. Exercise your writing muscles regularly, and you’ll find it gets easier. The easier it gets for you, the more confident you become in your writing abilities.

Stay humble. The moment I get overconfident and think I know everything is the moment someone comes along to point out my errors. Talk about an ego buster! Understand that you don’t know everything. Be willing to take constructive criticism. Be willing to learn more.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. For some reason people, especially Americans, think asking for help is equal to admitting failure. We all need help and, for the most part, are willing to help others. You’re human, so it means you’re going to make mistakes. Asking for help when you run into trouble is smart; struggling alone and producing a flawed product isn’t. Besides, there’s nothing better than having someone you admire tell you that you did a good job.

It’s tough to maintain confidence when you write. There are just so many things that can go wrong out in the public eye. If you concentrate on the things that can go right and follow these tips, you can gain the confidence you need to write well.

I know you can!

Next Week: Change Is Constant


A Writing Routine? Help!

We hear it over and over again – to be successful writers, we need to follow a routine.

Recently, I was reading The Daily Routines of Great Writers to get some tips. It was depressing.

First, I’m not that grwriting routineeat a morning person. Unlike so many famous writers and creative people, I don’t do 6 a.m. The only reason I see 4 a.m. is if the cat or dog wakes me up. (Usually it’s the cat, which means the dog needs to go out.) If that happens, I’ll crawl back into bed for several more hours.

Second, I’m not big on exercise. I do not run! Oh, I like a good walk or digging in the dirt in an attempt to try to grow something. I consider vacuuming the house my workout.

For me, setting up a routine is easier said than done. I have tried to set up a writing schedule and failed miserably. I’m just not that good at fitting my life in to time slots. I really struggle with this. Somehow, I manage to still get things done.

I have come to recognize the things that sap my productivity, and I work each day to avoid them. Maybe it’s a “negative routine.”

Once I am out of bed (for good), I make coffee and sit down in my office. I used to cheat and work in the living room, but the television is too much of a temptation. The TV is the single worst siphon of productivity and the biggest suppressor of creativity.

Once I set myself up in the office, I might turn on the radio. I don’t usually notice whether it’s on or off, but sometimes I do need the background noise.

I’ll start writing something, anything to get the juices flowing. Once I get into something, I lose track of time and just keep going until I get to a natural stop. This usually ends up being two or three hours later. During that time, I may only stop to refill my coffee cup or visit the bathroom. (I’ve been known to forget the dog outside.)

When I’m working, I need to consciously, viciously avoid the Internet. TV is horrible, but the Internet can lead me off into unproductive wanderings like nothing else. It makes me think I’m getting lots done when I’m just wasting time.

“Ooooh! Look at that shiny tidbit of information! Oh, and that one!”

I leave e-mail review and reading news sites for the afternoon.

I let the answering machine screen my phone calls, so I don’t pick up unless it is a real emergency or I’m done with what I’m working on.

I have checklists to help me stay focused on what is most important. If not, I’d just do the fun stuff and avoid the “hard” things like the plague.

I work well under deadline pressure, so I convince myself I have early or “phony” deadlines to keep things moving.

No matter what, I do make sure I spend at least 30 minutes every day writing something for myself. (Client projects and journal entries usually don’t count.) I also try to read something about writing each day.

Does all this seem like a routine? What do we mean by “routine”? Hey, I’m open to any suggestions. What do you do for your writing routine?

Hi ho! Hi ho! It’s Off to Write We Go!

Just like a carpenter, a writer needs a toolbox.

toolboxEven someone as successful and prolific as Stephen King recognizes the need. He talks about it in On Writing. Throughout my writing career, I’ve usually just thought of tools as reference books, but they’re more than that.

Different types of writers will have different things in their toolbox just as a framing carpenter and a finishing carpenter will have some different tools. These days, many writing tools can be electronic.

Let’s look at some tools I think every writer should have.


This is a must-have whether it be hard-copy or electronic, but make sure it is a good one. I find it more convenient to have a printed Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary close at hand when I’m writing since I often write offline. Online dictionaries include Merriam-Webster and the Cambridge Free Dictionaries. (I avoid online dictionaries because they have diversions, such as word quizzes, that I find hard to avoid.) These also offer a thesaurus and even audio pronunciation. Microsoft Word has a “lookup” function which is pretty good, too.

Dictionaries make sure you understand what a word means so you use it correctly, and they help with spelling. (Spellcheck can only take you so far.) Dictionaries help make sure you are using a word as the correct part of speech. Is it an adverb or an adjective? They also provide proper forms for irregular verbs. (To me, “I seen” is like someone running their nails across a chalkboard!)


A thesaurus can save the character of your work because it helps you find just the right word to express what you want to say. Again, there are hard copy and electronic versions available. Roget’s Thesaurus is the most popular.

But beware! You can get yourself into a lot of trouble if you don’t understand the connotation – the “flavor” – of a word. Words like house, home, and abode mean the same thing, but evoke different emotions. Someone reading a heartwarming story will react badly when she reads, “Fifi had finally made it back to her abode.” It’s like a sour note.

Usage and Style Manuals

English usage manuals solve those pesky grammar and punctuation questions. They explain when to use “who” and “whom” or if you should use a comma or a semicolon. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White is the leading reference for American English.

Another word of caution – English is an ever-evolving language and sticking strictly to “proper” English can get you into trouble. (“To whom are you speaking?” vs. “Who are you speaking to?”) Sometimes common use overrides the “rules.”

Style manuals – AP, MLA, Chicago, or APA – are used for different types of writing. Each is designed to keep the writing style and format consistent. Inconsistent mechanics slow down readers we want to keep focused on meaning.

Word-Processing Software

Even if you do most of your writing longhand, you’re going to need to type it in order to submit it. The age of electronic communication pretty much dictates that content be in an electronic format, too.

There are lots of software out there; some specialize in specific outcomes like Windows Live Writer for blogs. Microsoft Word is one of the most widely popular general use programs. It provides functions to accommodate specific formats such as PDF, web, and blogs. Check to make sure things like hyperlinks still work after you convert content.

For those on a tight budget, Apache Open Office provides a free, downloadable software suite that includes a good word-processing offering.

These are my must-haves for any writer, but there are tools that are nice to have to make a writer’s life easier:

· Templates, useful for formatting writing done repeatedly.

· Subject-specific reference materials, such as funding lists for grant writers.

· A writing group or writing buddy. (I’m not fond of listing people as tools, but it’s always nice to have at least one other set of eyes to look over your writing.)

I’ve outlined some writing tools I think are important, but I’m sure there are lots more. Let me know what tools you use to make your writing life easier!