Many thanks to Nicole Bianchi for her permission to post this excerpt:
Leonardo da Vinci. Marie Curie.
Thomas Edison. Beatrix Potter.
What do all four of these people have in common?
Not only were they highly motivated and creative individuals, but they also all kept an idea journal.
An idea journal is quite different from a diary. You use an idea journal not to record all of the things that happened to you throughout the day, but to jot down daily goals, achievements, opinions, observations, or bits of inspiration. If you’re working on a project, you can fill the idea journal with updates on your progress, thoughts on how to improve the project, and anything else that motivates you.
A writer’s idea journal might be filled with ideas for stories or articles or blog posts (no need to fear writer’s block when you have an idea journal). An artist’s might contain sketches or inspirations for drawings. Ultimately, the idea journal exists as a private place to plant your ideas and watch them grow.
Here are four reasons why you should keep an idea journal.
An Idea Journal Helps You Remember & Develop Ideas
Among Leonardo da Vinci’s many achievements, he was a brilliant artist, mathematician, engineer, scientist, and inventor.
In his notebooks, he filled pages and pages with sketches, scientific diagrams, ideas for new inventions, and reflections on art.
Because da Vinci was left-handed, he found it easier to write from right to left. That means his notes can only be read in a mirror. To make his writings even more private, he often employed a kind of shorthand and didn’t worry about perfect penmanship or proper punctuation.
What he did care about was carefully recording his lab notes and his many ideas for new inventions: everything from a flying machine to a submarine prototype.
Da Vinci’s notebooks ensured that he never forgot any of his ideas.
If you write down every great idea that comes into your head right away like da Vinci did, you will not have to worry about forgetting an idea ever again.
Further, the action of writing down an idea forces you to think more deeply about it.
The idea journal helps you clarify your thoughts and express them more clearly.
Note from Andrea: Does reading this excerpt make you want read the other three reasons to keep an idea journal? Read the full article.
Thanks to Jeff Goins, author of The Art of Work and blogger at Goins, Writer. You can also follow him on Medium.
Some weeks, my desktop is a disaster: full of papers and files and sticky notes with half-baked ideas. Yes, I am your typical “creative.” Disorganized and disheveled, I proudly chalk it up to the artist in me. But if I’m honest, this is embarrassing.
Clutter is not my friend; it is my enemy.
Clutter is procrastination. It is the Resistance, a subtle form of stalling and self-sabotage. And it keeps me (and you) from creating stuff that matters.
The mess is not inevitable. It is not cute or idiosyncratic. It is a foe, and it is killing your art.
Clean up your mess
Before beginning her career as a successful author and speaker, Patsy Clairmont did something unexpected. She washed the dishes.
She wanted to take her message to the world, but as she was readying herself, she felt nudged to start in an unusual way. She got out of bed and cleaned her house.
In other words, Patsy got rid of the mess. And it put her in a position to start living more creatively. We must do the same.
Bringing your message to the world does not begin on the main stage. It starts at home. In the kitchen. At your desk. On your cluttered computer. You need to clear your life of distractions, not perfectly, but enough so that there’s room for you to create.
The relationship between clutter and creativity is inverse. The more you have of the former, the less you have of the latter. Mess creates stress. Which is far from an ideal environment for being brilliant.
Make more with less
Jack White has an interesting philosophy on creativity. He believes less is more, that inspiration comes from restriction. If you want to be inspired, according to Jack, then give yourself boundaries. That’s where art blossoms.
At a public speaking conference earlier this year, I learned this truth, as it relates to communication. An important adage the presenters often repeated was:
If you can’t say it in three minutes, you can’t say it in 30.
We spent the week of the conference writing and delivering five-minute speeches every day. We learned that if we couldn’t summarize our ideas in a few short sentences, then we couldn’t elaborate on them for half an hour. Sure, we could ramble and rant. But that’s not communicating. It’s word vomit.
I’ve learned to do this with writing. If I can’t say what I want in a sentence or two, then I’m not ready to share the idea. Prematurely broadcasting an idea before it can be described succinctly will cause you to lose trust with your audience and cost the integrity of your message.
When attention is sparse, the people with the fewest, most important words win.
Be Ernest Hemingway
In a world full of noise, it’s nice not to have to weed through digital SPAM to find the nuggets worth reading. But this doesn’t come naturally. Succinctly getting your point across is a discipline.
I like to talk — a lot. I often process ideas out loud as they come to me. But I find this frustrating when other people do it. So I’m trying to master the art of clutter-free writing.
Here’s what I do: I write and write and write, getting all my on “paper” (or computer or whatever). Then, I take out as many words as possible while still clearly communicating my message.
Because if I can say it in five words instead of 15, I should.
This process of cleaning up your message is not intuitive for people. But it isimportant — an essential discipline for anyone with something to say. If you don’t know where to begin, start here:
- Reclaim your inbox. Throw away magazines and newspapers you have no intention of reading. Clean up your email, getting it down to a manageable amount (zero, if you can).
- Clean up your desk. Again, throw away stuff you haven’t used in months.
- Find a clean space to create. This is different for everyone, but it needs to not stress you out.
- Limit distractions. Turn off email, phone, and social media tools. Force yourself to focus on one thing at a time.
- Start creating clutter-free messages. Remember: less is more. Use restrictions to be more creative.
- Repeat this for the rest of your life.
For more on ways to be more structured and focus as a creative, I’ve found these books to be really helpful:
- The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry
- Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky
- Clutter-free by Leo Babauta
How do you deal with clutter and creativity? Share in the comments.
Thank you to Lucy Mitchell of BlondeWriteMore for inspiring us with the courage to give those manuscripts languishing in file cabinets a second look.
Many months ago you ditched your unfinished draft. Writer / draft relations sadly broke down at 56k words. In your head the story was amazing and definitely a literary masterpiece, but reality was very different on paper.
There was something wrong with the draft but you couldn’t work out what it was. Instead of thinking it through you hit the ‘ditch draft’ button!
After wiping away your tears and taking a couple of deep breaths you placed your unfinished draft in a folder and vowed to never open it again.
After a few weeks of wandering around like a lost soul you started to rebuild your writing life; creating a new story and making some new character friends.
One day out of the blue you find yourself going back to it.
There are 5 stages to returning to an old and previously ditched draft:
- Echo from the past. You will…
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Everyone has a favorite fairy tale. Who could resist a story with a winning hero, a dastardly villain, and everything turning out for the best at the end? But fairy tales are more than simple stories with pat conclusions. There are some very good reasons why these bedtime stories are enduring classics. Here are four fundamental elements found in every time-tested fairy tale that can help you create your own unforgettable stories.
Four Fairy-Tale Fundamentals For Writers
A worthy main character. Your main character should rouse the reader’s concern. Consider good-hearted, trusting protagonists like Cinderella and Snow White, who don’t deserve the treachery that is about to befall them; or innocent Hansel and Gretel, abandoned in the woods, tugging at your heartstrings as they try to find their way home. And how could you not feel sorry for the poor little Ugly Duckling? Capture your readers’ sympathy and they’ll be fully invested in the story’s outcome.
Many fairy tales feature characters using clever ways to outwit their adversaries. Thumbelina overcomes the obstacles of her size by finding inventive ways to use objects around her. The shrewd tailors who fashioned the Emperor’s new clothes made something out of nothing (literally!). Readers enjoy identifying with ordinary characters who find extraordinary ways to rise above life’s unexpected hurdles. Tip: A three-dimensional characterwill definitely appeal to readers’ modern tastes!
A fiendish villain. Give readers an antagonist they’ll love to hate. Evil queens may inspire you to write about authority figures who abuse their power. Everyone despises wicked witch characters who put defenseless children in peril. Introduce your own version of a big, bad wolf or a repulsive troll living under the bridge, and put your hero or heroine in imminent danger. A detestable villain and the unbearable suspense he or she creates will keep your readers anxiously turning the pages.
A fantastic setting. Instead of taking place in a typical apartment complex, perhaps your narrative is set in a medieval castle. Your big-city heroine might have more interesting adventures in a forbidden forest. By introducing a unique setting, you can give your story a fresh atmosphere that will pleasantly surprise readers.
An unexpected plot twist. The Ugly Duckling becomes a beautiful swan. The last billy-goat gruff is large enough to easily give the bridge troll his comeuppance. And a princess has a sleepless night on multiple cushy mattresses over a single pea. Having an unanticipated turn of events for your story’s ending will make your writing compelling, interesting, and, ultimately, unforgettable.
Once upon a time, an author wondered how to write a story that would win the hearts of readers. A wise, writerly fairy godmother advised the author to incorporate these four elements found in many timeless fairy tales. The story was well-written, enjoyed by all, and the author became a success. And everyone lived happily ever after!
Photo by PVCG
Did you ever wonder how your work-in-progress compares to others in your genre in terms of word count? Many thanks to Sheila M. Good of Cow Pasture Chronicles for this week’s guest post.
One of the most frequent questions asked by writers is : “What is an acceptable word count for _________” (fill in the blank). Most magazines, contests, or websites will define the type of fiction they’re looking for and the required word count or word limit. In my research, I found a number of sites with slightly different word counts, but all were generally within these limits.
Basic fiction classification and the associated word counts:
- Flash Fiction – under 500 but some accept up to 1000.
- Historical Fiction – 90,000-100,000.
- Literary – 80,000-120,000.
- Memoir – 80,000 – 90,000.
- Middle Grade Fiction – 25,000 -40,000.
- Mystery, Thrillers & Crime – 70,000 -90,000.
- Novella – 10,000 – 40,000.
- Novelette – 7,550 – 17,500.
- Picture Books – standard 32 pages (500-600 words).
- Romance Fiction– 50,000 – 100,000.
- Science fiction & Fantasy – 90,000 -120,000.
- Short Story – typically between…
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A great big ARHtistic License thank you to Julie Stroebel Barichello for this wonderful article about the joys of author visits to schools.
The job title for writers is a bit misleading.
You’d think the majority of the job would be writing, but it’s a pretty even split between writing and promotion. After I finished writing my first book, I dreaded the promotion side of things. Not only was I uncertain where to begin, but I also wasn’t looking forward to the social side of being an author. I was perfectly happy to stick to the keyboard.
Then I started doing classroom visits. Suddenly the social side of writing wasn’t so bad.
Classroom visits are great for children’s authors on multiple levels. For one thing, it puts us face to face with our audience and gives us valuable insights. We get to see firsthand what makes kids laugh, what they’re interested in, and what they’re looking for in books.
Last week I made two visits to McKinley Elementary School in Ottawa. I had…
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This is the perfect project to learn English paper piecing. It’s small enough to get results straight away.
I like the zig zag pattern too. You don’t see it very often but in a large scale, and if you choose your fabrics carefully, the end result can be spectacular.
How to do English paper piecing mini quilt tutorial
Learn to do English paper piecing in just over 2 minutes:
There’re only 3 steps to start doing English paper piecing:
- Download the hexagon template (google doc).
- Print the required size (this project uses the 1 inch pattern) on thick or plain paper – I used plain printer paper.
- Cut the patterns and get sewing
Two important points to make:
- Before printing make sure you’re printing at 100% to avoid surprises.
- Leave the paper template in until you have finished sewing all hexies together
Mini quilt instructions
Print 60 hexagon templates (Google doc).
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A big thank you to Suzanne Rogerson for this wonderful article, which appeared previously on her own blog.
Proofreading is one of the hardest stages of writing for me. I love drafting and editing, but to read each word and sentence and analyse it’s components is difficult. It’s too scientific for my creative brain, but an important process that needs to be done before considering publication.
Back in August last year, I devised a checklist to tackle the final proofread of Visions of Zarua. My original post was here.
Looking back, I’m quite pleased with it as a ‘how to’ guide. It worked brilliantly for me, but I do have to warn you that a couple of tiny errors still slipped past this stage (slap wrist). Luckily with KDP & Createspace it’s a simple matter of updating the corrected file and within 24 hours the revised book is on sale. However, we should all aim to produce the best book we possibly can from the start and there really is no…
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