Writing Tip: Journaling

For the writer, journaling is a great way to get the creative juices flowing. It helps in the development of strong, written communication; it helps improve memory, makes learning easier and helps improve your reading skills. It also encourages the exploration of language: you’ll find the yourself searching for new words and increasing your vocabulary, which is one of the best measures of overall intelligence.

But did you know there are also psychological benefits to journaling? Regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health. It helps bring out peace of mind and a calm state of being. Anne Frank wrote: I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn. 

Through writing, both right-and left-brain hemispheres communicate, synthesizing information that ultimately results in greater mental coherence. Starting a journal is pretty easy, all you need is a notebook and a few ideas. There are many great books out there on the subject. You can Google writing prompts. Or you can write about your life. I promise you, it’s interesting enough to write about once you start delving into it. The key thing is to start. 

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NaNoWriMo 2020

It’s Day 1 of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an annual Internet-based creative writing project that takes place during the month of
November. Participants attempt to write a 50,000-word manuscript between November 1 and November 30. It’s a great challenge that helps you finally write that book that’s been burning to get out of you.

I’ve done the challenge a couple of times; and admittedly, I fell considerably short of my goal last time I did it. But it’s a new year, certainly a different kind of year and if nothing else, I want to walk away from 2020 with a completed manuscript for a new book. It might need lots of editing (Hemingway famously said, “The first draft of anything is s***”) but I’ll be able to say I wrote a book during the pandemic.

Ah, goals.

So care to join me? There is no cost, just register at https://nanowrimo.org/ to keep track of your progress. You don’t even have to write 1,666 words a day, simply adjust the daily word count to fit the genre. What are you waiting for?

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Book Reviews

I am a big proponent of book reviews and try to encourage readers as well as writers to leave reviews.

Book reviews help potential readers become familiar with a book before reading it; it gives them an idea of how they might react to it and allows them to determine whether the book will be right for them. As often as I can, I try to leave a review for most of the books I read. Whether it’s a few words, or a lengthy dissertation (just kidding), I try to share my thoughts, so that the next person looking at the reviews has an idea of what they’re getting. They can decide from there whether they want to read the book or not.

Book reviews also provide the author with greater visibility and a greater chance of getting discovered by more readers. Your number goal as an author should be to build your audience and this is a great tool to help do that. In addition, it also opens the door to more sales, enabling the author to write more.

Writing a review is a win-win situation for the reader and the author. So write a review today!

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Writing Tip: Story Trumps Structure

“Tell the story that’s been growing in your heart, the characters you can’t keep out of your head, the tale that speaks to you, that pops into your head during your daily commute, that wakes you up in the morning.” -Jennifer Weiner

Story always trumps structure. Outlining and plotting a story are necessary steps in writing; however, they can end up derailing the process if they are the driving force. Follow the organic process of story shaping, and let the story inform the direction of your writing. Spend time on your character development and they will tell the story for you. Fear and uncertainty will always drive you back to the outline, but part of the artistic process is learning to how to channel that fear into creativity and not confine yourself because of it.

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The Pastor and The Pro (Movie Review)

I was doing the internet equivalent of ‘flipping through the channels’ the other day and stumbled across The Pastor and The Pro on Amazon Prime. The premise sounded intriguing, if not standard, for a rom-com:

A young, single pastor needs a quick date for a big church dinner so he hires an escort. But as she becomes more entangled in his life, her demands become more outrageous. Now he must navigate a moral mine field as he uses the unholy alliance to advance his ministry career. And things get more complicated when he starts to fall in love with her.

Yeah, sounds like every other romance/chick lit novel out there, minus the pastor part. But it was that pastor part that made it intriguing. It’s not too often that a cleric is portrayed as the male protagonist in a romantic comedy.

Then I read it was Christian film (hence the pastor part … duh!), and I cringed: this genre hasn’t had a good track record for good films. They tend to be more preachy and cheesy than realistic. Still, I decided to watch it.

I’m not going to lie and say it was the sleeper hit of the year (2018, to be precise). But it wasn’t terrible either. It definitely looked its budget (which was reported to be about $11,000, chump change in Hollywood), and there was some preaching; plus that ‘sanitized’ version of the world you tend only to see in Christian books and films, where the issues are very singular, very black-and-white, very #firstworldproblems (in this case, the pastor took issue with lying). But it was also well-acted and a lot deeper than I thought it would be. Realistic too. At one point, the pastor and the pro even made out (no spoiler alert there, it is a rom-com). There was no sex (again, Christian movie), but their actions made sense in light of the story they were telling; and I think that’s what made me appreciate the film most — preaching aside, the writer/director created and developed characters and then let the characters tell the story. That doesn’t always happen and it can be frustrating to watch/read when a character does something out of … well, character.

There also wasn’t a happily-ever-after at the end. But in a strange way, it was satisfying because it fit in with the story. I think that’s the part that surprised me the most: I am a die-hard romantic-at-heart and will usually skip ahead to find out if the leads end up together, thereby justifying my efforts to watch the film. They don’t, but the story made sense.

All that being said, I don’t want to pump this up as a change-your-life kind of film. It wasn’t. But if this is your genre and your kind of film, and you appreciate well-developed characters and good acting, I would say it’s worth the watch.

Homework

I thought I had writers block. I’ve been lacking motivation and ideas lately and was sure I was going through writers block again.

I had writer’s block before and it sucked. I spent a year and a half trying to write the first chapter to one of my books. Everything I wrote was uninspiring, so eventually, I just shelved the book and did other things.

That was a sad period in my life.

Once I came out of the writers block, I determined I was going to do everything possible to not get stuck in that thing again.

Then a pandemic struck. It’s hard to find inspiration when your view is the same day in and day out. Not just that, I was missing the motivation I needed to get this newsletter out on a weekly basis.

Then I found this comic and I realized that writer’s block wasn’t my issue—it was the ‘homework’.

I hated homework when I was a kid. I remember when I was nine or ten years old, my mom made me sit at the kitchen table just so I could focus on my homework.

It didn’t work.

Instead I sat there, looking out of the window, playing with a lone dice, watching my older sister, who, of course, had already finished her homework and was playing with her dolls. I hated having to focus on something I had no interest in and this newsletter has turned that to me. I don’t mean to say that I don’t have an interest in doing this. No, at this point because of this time, it has become homework to me; it is the one question on the test you’re taking that asks for 200 words describing the treaty of such-and-such that you don’t remember reading about; it’s the project you wait until the night before it’s due to start; it’s the assignment you don’t expend any effort on because you already know that the highest grade you’re going to get is a 69 (or a 2; or whatever grading system schools use today).

I hesitated for a number of years to start a newsletter because I didn’t want to put just anything out there. I wanted what I wrote to be reflective of who I am, but also of where I’m at. And I think, for the most part, I’ve achieved that, but sometimes I start thinking about what I can change or what I can do to reflect the current state of affairs, or what I think my cause is, and I begin to veer from the things I am good at. That throws me off my game and I end up where I am now–uninspired and unmotivated, thinking I have writers block, when I just don’t want to do my homework.

Yeah, I overthink things.

A lot.

So the lesson here is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I love writing. I love writing about writing, about publishing, about books I’ve read and films I’ve seen. I love making up stories. I love painting pictures with my words. And to be honest, right now, that’s all I need to focus on.

If we want to go deeper, we can also say that another lesson here is that we don’t need to change as much as we think we do. Sometimes we need familiarity to get us through something, like, say, a pandemic. Change is inevitable, it can be good, it can be bad. But there are times when familiarity is what we need. Familiarity is what’s going to get us through tough times, until we are in the position to change and change in a healthy way.

Oh wait, that’s me veering again …