Keeping a Story-Starter Notebook: 5 Ways to Start Your Story

Everyone has their own hang ups when it comes to writing their story. Sometimes we’re inspired to write, but don’t know what to write about. Sometimes we start something but can’t get through the middle slog, or don’t know how to end it. Other times we know what we want our story to be about, but just don’t know how to start it. For this last reason, it is handy—nay, essential—to keep a Story-Starter Notebook.

Don’t forget, if you’re reading this in April of 2021, I have an Earth Month offer, only available until April 23, 2021!

What is a Story-Starter Notebook?

Very simply, a Story-Starter Notebook is just a place where you keep ideas of how to start a story. This doesn’t have to be in a notebook proper, but can be in an app on your phone, a spreadsheet on your computer, or notes in your planner. I personally use a shocking amount of space in my planners for just this purpose.

The idea is that you keep a running list of things that inspire you. What would catch your eye if you were opening a book and reading the first line? What would be a situation that would make you ask questions?

A short story of mine, “June,” about a little girl who knew that she and her mother were dragons, though no one else knew, came about from sitting under a tree watching kids play in its branches. I listened to the conversations around me, and wrote down interesting lines of dialogue. From there, the story was born.

How to Find Story-Starters

It’s all well and good to keep these things written down, but how do you find story-starters? If they were easy to find, then the plethora of writers who struggle to start their stories wouldn’t struggle to start their stories.

1. Generating Ideas

This is an assignment I often give my clients: write down any first-liners you think of and store them for a rainy day. This is just as difficult and easy as it sounds.

Write down any idea that happens to come to mind that you think sounds like a good story-starter.

Years ago, I was driving home and in my mind was arguing with someone, going over and over how I should handle a particular issue in my life. Then one line of my argument wafted to my attention. I realized that could make for a good opener. My mind then shifted from my imaginary argument to the different directions that line could take me.

Another time, while in Greece, I was a little less than sober and looked up at the cliff near the house. I noticed there was a particular pattern in the rock, and the thought, “My gin-soaked mind seems to have found the gravestones in the cliff.”

It needed some worked, but given that at the time I was working on a gothic horror, it felt like a perfect launching point for a scene. Of course, my mind was, as stated, gin-soaked. However, the next day I was able to rework it, polish it, and build on it.

These observations come up all the time. It’s just whether or not you’re present enough to witness them and take note.

2. Read Poetry

If you don’t already read poetry, chances are, you’ll hate being told to read poetry. However, there is a poem out there for everyone. Some like the floral language of the Romantic Era, others prefer something real, tangible, and directly relatable as is found in the works of Andrea Gibson, Dean Atta, Emily Juniper, or Tawnya Selene Renelle. Some want something with justice behind it, and find comfort and inspiration in Audrey Lorde, Gwendolyn Brooks, Staceyann Chin, Maya Angelou, and June Jordan. Or, some people are just interested in the weird, and find intrigue with poets like Jim Morrison. There are so many different styles of poetry, and saying you don’t like poetry is like saying you don’t like food. It’s nourishing and necessary, and there is something out there for all taste.

While reading it, you can find lines that inspire you, and by all means, use those as story-starter prompts. You might even use one of those lines as the literal first line in a piece (if you publish, be sure ask permission and give credit to the poet!).

Collect lines that resonate with you, that spark your imagination, that get your mind buzzing with possibilities. You can return to them time and time again for inspiration.

3. Eavesdrop

Yeah, you heard me. While yes, one ought not to eavesdrop, it makes for fantastic story fodder. I hear snippets of conversation all the time that get my mind reeling with possibility and questions. Start listening in to those around you while you’re standing in line at the bank, while you’re walking in the park, or if you’re (safely) eating outside at a restaurant.

Try not to take note of full conversations, but just of statements, even if they seem somewhat boring. You can use those statements or questions or exclamations to build on. How can they start your story and lead to something remarkable?

4. Random Page

Turning to a random page in a book can also be an interesting way of starting a story. This is closely related to selecting lines from poetry, though a little different. I personally have used this in terms of bibliomancy (I’ll get to this in a minute), though moments ago was inspired to look at it in terms of writing prompts.

As I was writing this post, I was interrupted by my phone buzzing, sending me a notification of a prompt: “Grab the nearest book to you, turn to page 45. The first line is your love life.”

A few of my friend commented on this with their nearest book. One of the lines was “Among the gifted, the ability to bend magic to your will is not a weapon that makes you exceptional, much less invincible.”

I was intrigued. What love-situation could make this statement necessary to be said, and true?

Bibliomancy is the art of holding a question in your mind, picking a book at random, turning to a page at random, and selecting a sentence at random on the page to answer your question. This can equally be used for story-starting prompts, or really, any writing prompts.

5. Observing the World Around You

Another way you can start to develop your story-starters is to pay attention to the world around you. Or, if you’re safely and wisely sheltering in place, you can do this with shows that you watch, or by opening the window.

Use your five senses and take note of what you smell, what you hear, what you see, what you feel, and what you taste.

Referring to number 2, reading poetry can help you tune in to how to observing the world around you. Many poems are simply observing and writing what is less noticed and noting the significance in what is being observed. By getting used to these kinds of noticings, you’re training yourself to do the same.

What do your senses notice?

Mindfulness

Being mindful is somewhat of a buzz concept. However, being present, that is, being aware of what is going on around you, and active enough in your mentality to take note of what is going on around you is the key to finding inspiration in daily life. There are a plethora of writing prompts out there, books that give you daily inspirations, exercises, and so on

Really, all you need is to be mindful.

This is a skill that sometimes needs to be built upon. Simply being in the moment. Taking five minutes a day to notice your thoughts, your breathing, your body, your senses, all of it. This is all that being mindful means.

When you do this, then you’re also in the presence of mind to notice when those interesting conversations are heard and write them down, when you have an interesting thought in your head wander through, when you see something noteworthy, etc. Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to jot these things down on our phones, or make a voice memo. Or, you can of course go the tried-and-true method of just keeping a little notebook with you for just such occasions.

If there is anything that can be taken away from this post, mindfulness is what will help you find writing prompts and inspiration in your daily life. Make noticing and being present a habit.

Your Homework

Your homework is to start your Story-Starter Notebook, whatever that might look like. However, there is a specific exercise to get you going:

Write 25 first lines.

Set a timer for 10 minutes and get down 25 first sentences in that 10 minutes. Don’t think this. Just write them out, one after the other. Whatever comes to mind, write it down. You’ll find that after the first few, you’re just desperate to get thing down. As a result, your inner critic gives up, thus taking some of the pressure off you, and your mind begins to flow.

Don’t forget, if you’re reading this in April of 2021, I have an Earth Month offer, only available until April 23, 2021!

Happy Writing!

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Intro to Generating Story Ideas: 3 Steps to Jumpstart Creativity

There are writers who have a piece in mind that is burning to be written, and that is their only focus. And then there are writers whose fingers itch to put pen to paper, but they have no idea what to write about. They dream of concocting worlds and characters that tug at the heart strings, that put readers on the edges of their seats, and influence societies into better ideas. And yet, they have no idea what in the world they should write about.

You aren’t alone if you struggle to figure out what to write about. I have a whole list of story ideas as well as spin-offs from those ideas, and concepts I’d like to explore, and so on—and yet I sometimes still have a hard time figuring out what I want to write.

However, I still have a few tricks up my sleeve to help me generate a story idea or two. There are three main tips that I use time and time again:

  1. Underthinking
  2. Taking Notes
  3. Retell

My tips and exercises are of course extended into your homework as well.

I also regularly use the Tarot, which is something I’ve already written about, so I’ll leave that out of this post. However, if you’re interested, you can read more about it here.

Underthinking Ideas

It happens to all of us. We could call it writers block, but I come from the unpopular opinion that writers block doesn’t exist. It’s a matter of thinking too much, and as a result, rejecting ideas. If you don’t think that’s the case, I challenge you to look up and read, if you haven’t already, Unicorn Western by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. These two have written several books to help authors, as well as gone on to have successful fiction-writing careers as well. They challenged themselves to write a novel based on what they thought was an absurd idea: a unicorn western. They believed that you can write any story you want, so long as you do it right. And they were proven right.

This is a matter of not being too critical of ideas. After all, Sharknado was such a hit that they made six of them, as well as a spin-off film, video games, and comics out of the franchise. These are sharks in a tornado. I’m just saying. I know that I, personally, would have come up with that idea and said “No way, that’s too weird and out there. There’s no way to pull that off.”

You Are the First Gate Keeper

I know, not everyone wants to write something completely out there. I mention Sharknado and Unicorn Western only because I want to illustrate that the first gatekeeper is your own mind. You’re the one who’s nixing an idea before it can be fully developed, and again before it can be fully written.

However, by exploring the possibilities that your mind has to offer, no matter how ridiculous the idea might seem, you’re training yourself to think outside of the box. You’re teaching your mind that there doesn’t need to be a limit on what it creates, and you get into the habit of creating ideas.

Practice with Titles

I get emails from CoSchedule, and I love them. I don’t actually use CoSchedule, but their blog is amazing with the tips they offer. They also happen to offer a Title tool, which is designed to help you with SEO and your blog titles.

For most blog posts I write, I create at least 30 potential blog titles. Then I run them through the title machine and see their score, come up with more titles based on the score and so on, until I find the right one. Most of the time.

However, the first step is that I create 30 titles first. By the 10th one, I begin to stop caring, and I’m just trying to get titles down on the page. And I’m usually trying to do this quickly, since I still have to format my blog post, create the images for it, and so on (for those of you interested, I generally spend about 6 hours writing and creating each blog post). So then I start throwing out random blog titles, so long as they’re somewhat related to the post I’m creating.

And those ones, the further I get away from that first ten, are usually the ones that rank the highest on that CoSchedule Headline Analyzer. They’re also the ones that I find most catchy. And the reason why is because I usually stop gatekeeping my own ideas and just let creativity fly.*

Note: I have no affiliation with CoSchedule. This is my honest recommendation.

Your Assignment

There are a couple of ways you can practice this for yourself to break through that voice in your head that’s judging everything you create.

First, challenge yourself to create 30 book titles. If you have a blog, try it with the blog title. But if you’re doing this to create fiction, then I would stick to book titles.

It does help to have an anchor for your ideas. So maybe pick your genre, or something that you think would be interesting to explore. Maybe recently you’re super into reading sci-fi westerns, or maybe you like the idea of bringing legendary creatures into the real world, like Paul Sating does with his Subject Found series. Maybe you like the idea of a modern gothic, or connection with nature, or creating something along the lines of the Fast and Furious franchise. Wherever your interest is, use that as an anchor.

You of course don’t have to stick to that. Just let your imagination fly.

However, as you partake in this challenge, give yourself a time limit. Tell yourself you won’t spend more than 15 minutes creating 30 titles. That means you only have 30 seconds per title. This is pretty liberal. So if you want a greater challenge, give yourself 10 minutes to create these 30 titles. The key is not to think, just to create.

Taking Notes

Once you have been sure to get rid of that inner critic, you’ll start to notice that there are actually ideas all over the place if you pay attention.

The key to this is in part mindfulness. You need to be present enough in a moment to recognize what can be inspirational. It can be the way the clouds work, a phrase you hear, a mis-reading of a billboard, an interesting piece of graffiti, a question that catches you off guard, and so on.

For example, I was once enjoying some beverages in the sun just after I moved, and I looked up the hill and saw some strange rock formations. I initially thought they were headstones, which confused me, to say the least. Were they ancient? Were they meant to be hidden? If so, why were they there in the first place? I realized a moment later they weren’t headstones, but had been property walls that had been buried from the storm the winter before. However, I jotted down my initial impression, along with the phrase that came along with it when I noticed it, knowing it would be an interesting first-liner or a story.

As you go through your day, you see and hear plenty of things that you can use as a writing prompt. Keeping a notepad with you and jotting things down when you notice them can prompt ideas later on.

This takes a little bit of mental training, since we don’t always think in terms of “how can I use this as a writing prompt?” As I mentioned before, this is also a practice in mindfulness, of being present enough to recognize these things. So, go easy on yourself as you train yourself.

Your Assignment

Give yourself five minutes every day with a notepad or journal, and in a different location every time. I don’t mean different places in your house, though if that’s your option, that’s your option. Ultimately, I would recommend a different park each day, if you can, or outside a restaurant, or on a bench in a town center, or (if you can do this safely) in a mall or shopping center.

During this five minutes, write down your observations. They don’t need to thoughtful or anything particularly interesting or detailed. Go through your senses, and write what you see, what you smell, what you hear, what you feel, and what you taste (but please don’t lick anything unless it’s food you’ve purchased).

When you get to what you hear, try to move beyond mentioning the hum of general talking in the air, but maybe actually hear what’s being said around you. One of my novels came from me overhearing part of a conversation at the table next to me at a café.

Your assignment is just to record and get in the habit of noticing. You don’t have to write an item down and come up with a story idea from that. Just, notice and record.

This serves two purposes:

  1. The first purpose is what I’ve been writing about—getting in the having of noticing and being present. This can help you generate story ideas or find interesting things to spark your imagination.
  2. The second purpose is that this will help you craft details in your story later on. When you notice how much is going on around you, you’ll find that s you’re writing your scenes with your characters, they, too, notice what’s going on around them. This will enrich your writing and bring your reader deeper into the reality you’re creating for your characters and in your worldbuilding.

Retelling

Not to jump on the bandwagon of Hollywood (who are clearly running out of ideas if you’re paying attention), but right now, the re-telling of old stories is pretty big. As I’m writing this, theaters are awaiting the release of the movie Cruella, a story based on Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians. No judgement. I think it’s an interesting creative direction.

However, there are a lot of untapped ideas from looking at stories already told. I have often said that if I ask 10 writers to re-write Sleeping Beauty, I will get 10 different stories. Each writer has a different background and set of ideas, and thus no two writers are going to tell the same story (unless they literally write the Disney version, scene by scene).  

So, look at stories that have already been told. How can you retell it?

A truly beautiful example of this is Enchantment by Orson Scott Card, who takes the Russian tale of Sleeping Beauty and puts a modern spin on it. I devoured this book when I read it, and I recommend it to anyone.

Your Assignment

Consider some of your favorite stories, whether they’re stories that are told throughout history, or just a book or movie you really liked. Make a list of 5-10 of these pieces, and take one thing from each of them. This could be a character, a concept, a moral, a quandary that’s brought up, the world, anything. For each thing you take from one of these pieces, make a list of five directions or ideas you could write about using that one thing.

For example, returning to the retellings of stories that are making their way through Hollywood, their direction is the backstory of a character, usually the villain. These are a great direction, but there are so many others that can be applied. The movie Behind the Mask, which is a wonderful B movie, takes on the perspective of the killers of slasher stories. In the movie, a documentary crew follow a slasher killer as he walks them through his process of why he stalks the girl the way he does, how he chooses who to kill, why he chooses his horror mask, and so on. It’s a different take on a formula that is used over and over again in teen slasher films that brings “depth” (if you can go that far with a slasher film) to movies that have already been created in that genre. Just like Wicked brought a new depth to the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz.

So of your list of stories, how can you bring new depth to them?

Conclusion

These are just a few ways you can generate ideas. This is by no means an exhaustive list. However, these are a couple of ways to try and break your mind out of the box it might have been in. Remember, that ideas are all around us, we just have to recognize them and be ready to explore them.

The hardest part about generating ideas is the pressure we put ourselves under. When we can learn to stop gatekeeping, be present enough to notice what’s going on around us, and to look at things differently, we can find story ideas all the time.

In the homework assignments below, I give a few tips to expand on some of the above-mentioned assignments. I hope you’ll find this all useful, and be sure to comment below with any of your own tips for finding writing inspiration, or if you found any of the ideas posted here helpful.

Your Homework

I’ve given assignments all throughout this post, but you still have some more homework. Generating ideas can be easy once you make it a habit, but until then, it is a practice. There are several assignments here that build off your assignments from this post.

Title Practice

There are a few parts to this homework. The first part of this assignment is to consider 5 to 10 existing book titles. Pick famous ones, and even better, pick ones that you don’t actually know what the book is about. It’s easier if you pick a genre you’re not well-versed in as well.

Once you have your list of 5-10 titles, give yourself no more than 3 minutes to come up with 10 story ideas for each title. Yes. 10 for each. The reason for this is so you don’t overthink your ideas. You’re just throwing ideas onto the page. This is to help get those creative juices flowing.

Next, consider your list of titles you came up with. Write 10 directions you can go from each title. That is, if your title is The Darling Buds of May, write 10 different story ideas that can relate to this title. Give yourself seven minutes to do this per title.

This is the important part: don’t analyze your story ideas just yet. Sleep on it. Don’t look back at them until at least the next day, or even better, leave yourself a week so you can look at these ideas with fresher eyes.

Notes on Your Notes

After a few days of taking notes on what you see and hear around you, make a list of 15 of your observations. Once you have your list, spend some time exploring what kind of story would stem from those observations if they were the first line of your novel. What would the genre be? What would it be setting up? How would it be important to the story as a whole? And what end would it lead to?

Retelling on a Different Level

We talked about taking a concept or character or setting from another story and considering how you can use it to inspire another story, or a retelling of an old story.

This piece of homework involves looking at the stories you enjoy, and instead of taking away one thing from it and using that as your inspiration piece, consider how you can retell the story in a different genre. What would Jane Eyre look like as a science fiction novel? What about if 1984 was high fantasy? Or Joker was a pirate romance?

Play with this idea. While you may not retell the Joker’s story as a pirate romance, it might spark an idea for a DC-inspired villain in that setting.

As you take your list from the retelling assignment, write a paragraph of a potential story retelling for each item on the list, exploring what it would look like in another genre. If you need to kill those inhibitions, put a timer on this exercise.

Once You have all Your Story Ideas…

Okay, at this point you should have dozens, if not hundreds, of one-liner story ideas. Go through and highlight the ones you like. In a new document or on a new piece of paper, start exploring each story idea.

You won’t get through them all. Not in one sitting, anyway. So go into word or Google Docs, or better yet (if you have it), Excel, and create a table with two columns: Story Idea and Notes. Keep a running list in this table, always adding to it, and adding any details of the story idea such as characters, themes, motifs, questions you want to address, world-building, and so on, in the Notes column.

Be sure to keep your list going. You’ll never know when something that seems a bit “blah” right now might inspire something completely different and new in the future.

Happy writing.

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Writing Through the Moon in October

The moon holds some amazing power over people. Horror stories revolve around it, and the cool blue-white glow of its light can be equally haunting as it is magical. So magical, in fact, that it’s worth of being a writing tool.

The Significance of the Moon

The moon is commonly associated with water, which is easy to see once you think about it. The moon influences the pull of the oceans which results in our tides. It’s said that crime rates go up during a full moon, because it has such an effect on people (remember, a large part of us is made up of water). People plan to travel or launch a business based on the moon. People plant and harvest their gardens according to the moon.

Esoterically, the moon corresponds to water because of it’s shadowiness, which relates to the subconscious or psychic abilities/intuition.

In my post, Writing Through the Elements, I talk about how in the Tarot, water represents the emotion, intuition, the subconscious, and creativity. With the moon relating to water, it’s easy to see that the moon relates to creativity as well.

October 2020

Tomorrow is October 1, which is not only my favorite month given that the best holiday of the year happens during this time, but this year contains a blue moon. A blue moon is when a full moon occurs twice within a month. That second full moon this year? Yeah, you guessed it, it’s on Halloween!

In light of the double full moon, I thought I would make this month about writing with the phases of the moon.

Again, water corresponds to the moon, and water represents creativity. Why not create with the ebb and flow of our biggest satellite?

Water

To connect with the moon, I feel as though we should connect with water, and see how it connects to our creativity.

Consider what water is (aside from H20):

  • Essential for life on earth
  • It can be calm and nourishing
  • It can be violent and destructive
  • The ocean is what connects the world
  • The depths of the ocean are a mystery
  • The shallows of the ocean are pleasant and what we’re used to seeing
  • Water cools us
  • Water warms us (at least, when I’m cold, the only thing that will warm me up is warm water)
  • It can exist as a solid, liquid, or gas
  • It is clear yet blue at the same time
  • A repetitive drop of water can be enough to wear away rock

Just to name a few things and get you started on what water is. What water means to us as individuals might be different. Are you afraid of water? Do you love it? Do you have to be bribed to drink a glass of water?

The ocean holds more secrets at this point than space does. Reaching into its depths teaches us new things about our world.

Reaching inward, much like reaching down into the ocean, helps us to bring to light things we didn’t know about ourselves. It’s an attempt at examining ourselves. It is here that the subconscious lives, and I believe, where creativity reaches from.

Unconscious, Intuition, Creativity

In the Tarot, the element of water, represented by the suit of cups, represents the subconscious, creativity, emotion and intuition. Thus, as a result, because the moon rules water, the moon corresponds to these elements as well.

The moon itself is a strange shadowy thing: sometimes we see it, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we see all of it, sometimes we see some of it. Sometimes the light from the moon is so bright, that you don’t need your headlights on to drive (but seriously, keep them on), and sometimes it casts a strange light that seems as though things are appearing twisted and distorted.

That’s often the way we can view the aspects of ourselves that water rules. Likewise, water itself twists and distorts things when you view them from above. For example, you can put your finger in water and it will look as though it has bent when it actually hasn’t.

Creativity, which is what we will mostly be focusing on, is the same way. We catch it from the corner of our eye and try to harness it and twist it to our wills so we can produce something. The moon, with its many phases, can influence our creative process and productivity.

This week is working on how to use it.

The Moon & Writing.

We will all have our natural rhythms. However, it’s likely that these spiralic rhythms fall in line with that of the moon or of the seasons, in some way, the same way that menstruating womxn’s bodies fall into a 28-day cycle. The moon, too, has a 28-days cycle, which is why it’s often associated with womxn.

It is said that it has passive energy. While writing can be a stressful act, it’s also somewhat of a passive act, as creativity often is. So we view the phases of the moon, we have to think of what is growing, and what is fading.

As the moon goes from new to full, the energy of the moon is increasing. This means increasing creativity, energy, pull, etc.. Conversely, when the moon is waning and going from full to moon, that energy is dispersing.

Thus, when we’re writing by the moon, we can think of it in terms of how an idea or project grows.

During the first part of the moon cycle, when going from new to full, something is growing. Thus, this is an excellent time to:

  • Develop a story idea through planning
  • Begin writing a story
  • Begin marketing/gaining a social media following

As the moon fades from full moon to new moon, it’s a great time to:

  • Rest
  • Revisit your outline
  • Go back over what you’ve already written
  • Edit

As the creative energy is drawn out of you by the growing of the moon, you can harness that energy and apply it to your story. As the energy fades, it’s good to switch gears to a more analytical aspect, or into full on rest before you start the cycle over again.

For those of you who are fast writers, this is a great way to write and edit, allowing yourself the first two weeks of the cycle to get out your draft of your book, and the second two weeks to edit, and repeat.

The Rest of October

The 1st and 31st of October are full moons. For the first full moon, I am releasing this post. Each week will be a different moon phase that I’ll write on:

  • October 1st – full moon
  • October 8th – last quarter moon
  • October 17th – new moon
  • October 24th – first quarter moon
  • October 31st – full moon

Waning Gibbous Moon

After the full moon, the moon is known as waning gibbous. This is the section of time leading to the last quarter of the moon cycle. Contrary to popular belief, the full moon is actually the middle of the cycle, and thus we are headed toward a new beginning.

Since we’re starting this toward the end, here are some things  you can do to get yourself ready for your beginning on the 17th:

1.
Make a list of habits that are holding your writing back

These could be procrastination, self-doubts, saying yes to everything but your writing, etc. Spend some time making a plan to get rid of these habits. How can you change your attitude toward your writing? How can you make sure it comes first?

This isn’t just limited to writing habits. It could be how you handle constructive criticism. It could be how you view certain genres or publishing ventures.

Take the time and really look into any ways of thinking, attitudes, or habits, and see what you can do to alter them toward something more productive.

2.
Kill Your Darlings

Between the full moon and the new moon is an excellent time to revise what you’ve written. You can use this time to shed any parts of your book that are unneeded. Be completely ruthless with this.

Remember, if you don’t want to get rid of your characters/purple prose/superb scene that unfortunately doesn’t contribute anything to the story/etc. entirely, you can always make a separate document and copy and paste them there. You never know when they might come in handy for something else.

3.
Play

Spend some time writing some flash fiction or poems around your story. Have fun with it. This will help you get in touch with your story and your characters in a different way, and it can also be a great way to gather marketing fodder. You can send this out to your mailing list, your Patreon supporters, or put it up on your website.

Wither way, this is a time to acknowledge that you’ve done the work, and to enjoy it. What better way of enjoying it than writing your own fan fic for your world?

4.
Express Gratitude

I know, this one sounds a little weird, but hear me out.

When you write, there are plenty of things to be grateful for. And when you’re grateful, it helps you to appreciate your writing even more. For example, if you’re grateful for the time you have to write, then you’ll honor that time and be more likely to stick to it.

Here’s what my gratitude list looks like:

  • I’m grateful I have a mode of creative expression
  • I’m grateful I can support myself through writing
  • I’m grateful for the understanding that looking through my characters’ eyes bring me
  • I’m grateful I have time to write every day
  • I’m grateful my partner supports my creative pursuits
  • ect.

What are you grateful for regarding your creative practice?

These are just a few ways you can use this time of the cycle in your writing practice. I challenge you to spend a month working with the moon phases to see how it affects your work and let me know how it goes at the end of October.

Homework

There are two parts to this week’s homework. The first part is to journal on the following questions. Spend some time, giving yourself at least five minutes for each question. This allows you to really explore yourself and your thoughts on each prompt.

  1. What is your relationship to water?
  2. How do you respond to your own emotions?
  3. How do you respond to other people’s emotions?
  4. What habits are holding your writing back?
  5. What attitudes might be holding you back?

The second part of your homework is to spend some time creating a gratitude list. This is good to do, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with your writing. It can help you see the beauty already existing in your life and inspire you to create more.

Once you have your gratitude list, ask yourself what your ideal writing life would be like, and write it out, looking at a day in the life of Author You, writing it out from the time your successful writer self wakes up until you go to bed.

Before going to bed, your future you writes out their gratitude list. What’s on it? Write the list as if from your future you’s perspective.

Journal on the experience of this exercise, paying attention on what you learned about yourself as a writer, and what it means to be successful as a writer.

I’ll catch up with you next week when we move on to the last and third quarter moon.

Happy writing!

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September Natural Writer Journaling Prompts

After an impossibly long 9 months of 2020, September is finally here. And with September comes #NaturalWriterJournaling prompts.

As promised in my introduction post, I have 30 single-word journaling prompts for you, one for each day of the month. I want to challenge you each day to crack into a word, and look at it from every perspective. As a result, I have the following questions/prompts to spark your thinking with each of the daily words:

  1. Define the word in your own terms
  2. Generate as many synonyms as possible surrounding this word.
    Feel free to expand your definition based on the words you generate.
  3. How is this word used culturally vs. socially?
    For example, the word “man” literally means an individual identifying as a grown male. However, culturally we use the term “man” to mean “mankind/evolved humans.” Socially we might mean it be “the man” as in those in control of the system, or “man” as a casual generic term of direction at the start of a sentence, usually to make a point of notation. For example, “Man, the band last night was amazing!” Similarly used as “dude,” “oh boy,” “Oh my god,” etc.
  4. What are the historical uses of the word?
    There are so many examples of words changing definition over time—most recently, the word “literally” which now is also known to mean “figuratively” (ironically).
  5. How do you feel about this word/how does this word influence you?
    That is, what emotions or memories does this word bring up for you?
  6. How can it be used spiritually and/or metaphorically?
    I say “spiritually” to mean that which applies to the non-physical and outside general daily conceptual use.
  7. What are the creative different ways this word can be used?
  8. If you feel inspired, use this word as a creative writing prompt.

Have fun with these words and get creative! We are wordsmiths! Words and their definitions are what we use to build worlds, break hearts, and restore harmony.

Here are the 30 words of September:

1. Light bulb11. Power21. Diamond
2. Peanut12. Branch22. Dark
3. Integrity13. Coin23. Prolific
4. Word14. Elastic24. Green
5. Spark15. Survival25. Azure
6. Freedom16. Red26. Feel
7. Time17. Justice27. Loyal
8. Unit18. Rising28. Art
9. Heart19. Dependent29. Gate-Keeper
10. Ice20. Grow30. Belonging

While you go through these words, don’t be afraid to break out a dictionary (or several! Look at the difference between British dictionaries and American dictionaries), rhyming dictionaries, and thesauruses (I do strongly recommend WordHippo, which can be fun to play around with). Sometimes finding words that are similar to other words can help you to create a deeper understanding of it.

The key take-away? Have fun! Play with these words, and also, see what it unlocks within you.

Also, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram: @NaturalWriterCoaching for daily posts with the 1-words prompts and reminders of the journaling questions.

Happy writing!

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3 Act Story Structure & Tarot

For those of you who outline, or for those who are in trepidation about outlining, you might be considering using the 3 Act Story Structure as a starting point. Tarot, whether you read the cards or not, can be very helpful in this.

The banner for the blog post reading : 3-Act Story Structure and the Tarot. Finding Direction for the 3 Acts and the Them of your WIP

What is the 3 Act Story Structure?

In a nutshell, the 3 Act Story Structure is, in its most simple form, the beginning, middle, and end.

But anyone who has actually looked into the 3-Act system will tell you it’s a little more complex than that. In a later series, I’ll dive a bit deeper into what the 3-Act system looks like, but for now, here is a brief overview.

Act 1

Act 1 of the 3-Act system is comprised of introducing your main character, showing their world as it currently is in some way, and the inciting incident. This leads you up to your first plot point.

The first act is often referred to as the Set-Up, for obvious reasons: You’re setting up your story. This is where a problem is presented and your MC has to step forward to resolve it, whether they want to or not.

The first act maybe consists of a quarter, at the very most, of your story.

Act 2

Act 2 of the 3-Act system is the largest part of the story. This is the bulk of your book. It’s where you have the confrontation of the problem presented in the book. This is your middle build all the way up to your climax.

In this section, you’ll have the try-fail sequences, you’ll have the complications in the love life, the obstacles that get your heroine has to overcome in order to slay the dragon, the difficulties in learning to fit in in order to become the champion—whatever your plot is, this is going to be what happens after your MC says yes to making changes (the inciting action) all the way to the climax.

The middle or middle build is where your character grows the most.

Act 3

Act 3 of the 3-Act system is where your MC’s growth is challenged. This is the point during which they can show that they truly have learned/changed/matured/excelled, or, they can show that despite all this learning, they failed (which would make the story a tragedy).

The climax happens in Act 3, and then, from there, the resolution of the problem presented in the first act, and the conclusion.

This section of the book is also quite small, maybe 15% of your book. Of course, there is no hard and fast rule to this, but that’s generally the standard.

3-Act Story Structure and Tarot

You can use the 3-Act Story Structure with Tarot, or rather, you can use Tarot to determine what happens in each of your Acts. Very simply (though I’ll go over this in more detail), you draw a card to represent each Act of your story.

In my first post about Tarot and writing, I talked about how in order to read the tarot with your writing, you only needed to look at the pictures and write about what you see. You don’t need to know the meaning of the cards.

The same concept applies.

Here is a spread to assist you with your 3-act stories, as well as a way of upgrading your system in order to help you develop your theme.

Please Note: This is a spread that I created in 2019 and published on my Tarot blog, KarmaStar Tarot. If you have seen it before, I assure you that I’m not stealing it. I own that blog, I own the spread (to my knowledge).

3-Act Story Structure Spread

A visual depiction of the 3-Act Story Structure Tarot Spread. There is the signifier card to the left, three vertical cards next to it, number 1 at the bottom, 2 in the middle, and 3 at the top. There are two cards on the right, vertically lined, reading card A at the bottom and Card B at the top. To the far right it reads S: Signifier, 1: Act 1, 2: Act 2, 3: Act 3, A: Theme 1, B: Theme 2

Your first three cards will each act as a single act:

Card 1: Act 1
Card 2: Act 2
Card 3: Act 3

This can be helpful if you have a signifier card.

What is a Signifier?

A signifier card is a card that you choose to represent your MC if you know who your MC is at this point.

When you pull this card from  your deck prior to laying down the cards, you can use it as a focal point as you shuffle. This can be a visual representation of your MC, that is, someone who looks like the MC, or it can be a picture that you feel depicts the spirit or the journey you plan to send your MC on.

Traditionally, the Court Cards of the Tarot were used to represent people. Because I’m encouraging you to set aside what you might know about the Tarot already, I strongly suggest that you look through the whole deck for your Signifier. It’s alright if you choose a Court Card, but just know that you don’t have to.

Using the Spread

Once you have your Signifier, if you’re planning to use one, then you can focus on it and what you know of your MC while you shuffle the rest of the deck. When you feel ready—and there is no wrong time—stop shuffling and draw three cards.

As mentioned before, the first card is your first act, the second card is your second act, and the third card is your third act.

I suggest that you lay them down face-down and turn them over one at a time. Spend some time on each card with a journal in hand, ready to write down what comes to mind. Don’t focus on it too much, just let your pen go. You can always shape it how you want it later on.

You can write what you see in the scene in the card, you can write down a feeling that you get from the card. This is for you. There is no wrong way to do it, unless you’re doing something that doesn’t feel right. Even then, trust yourself.

Spend at least 5-10 minutes on each card, really letting yourself free write on each card.

Adding 2 Cards for the 3 Acts

Once you’ve drawn the cards for the 3-Act Story Structure spread, you can draw a further two cards for the theme.

While there will be an all-over theme that your story will have, there can sometimes be a point in which the theme seems to switch, or at least, alter. For example, a story that starts out about surviving a war can then alter into a story of surviving in a new society. The overall theme of survival is there, but there is a switch in what the MC is surviving.

Draw two cards, A and B, one to put between the first and second act cards, and one to put between the second and third act cards.

Again, I encourage you to read the cards one at a time. Flip card A over and read it, spending time with it, and then looking at it in relation to how it relates to cards 1 and 2. Spend some time journaling what you think. Try looking at the cards in the order of 1, A, and 2 like they’re a story on their own. How does A act as a transition between cards 1 and 2? Or, you can read card A and look at cards 1 and 2 as the details of card A. How does this shape your story?

Do the same with cards 2, B and 3. Look at how they shape each other. Play around with this in your journal.

You can do this first, or you can do this after playing with cards 1-3, but another combination you can try is looking at cards A and B together to see what their combined meaning might be in terms of an overall theme for the story.

After the homework assignment, there will be an example if you’re interested in seeing how this might look.

Homework

If you have a deck of tarot cards, try this spread out, either on an existing concept for a story that you have, or completely from scratch.

If you don’t have a deck of cards, check out www.Serennu.com, using the 3-card reading feature. Use the three cards to represent each of the 3 acts. This isn’t an optimal site since it uses the Rider-Waite Smith deck (which I personally don’t find the best when reading for creative writing, though that’s a personal opinion). However, you can explore other sites that let you pick cards at random, or follow the hashtag #tarotreadings on Instagram, where you can find people posting their 3-card readings, and use those as inspiration for your 3-Act Story Structure Spread.

Example Reading

For this sample reading, I am using the Light Seer’s Tarot by Chris-Anne. I love this deck, and totally recommend it for creative writing prompts. There are many, many others that I could recommend, but that’s a post for another day.

Signifier: the Sun

I picked the Sun because it represents a woman who ha it all. She’s free-spirited and has a pretty contented life. If anything, she can be a little cocky, which is a downfall of hers, but Tasha feels like she has been touched by the sun.

Act 1: 3 of Pentacles

3 of Pentacles Light Seer's Tarot

Tasha is a part of an artistic group, and she’s somewhat the boss in the grope. The guy, Daniel, is in love with her, and then he asks her out. Tashia, however, knows that her sister, Rebecca, sitting on the floor there, is in love with Daniel. While Tashia has harbored feelings for a while, she has respected Rebecca’s feelings and kept them to herself.

When Daniel asks her out, in front of her sister, everything changes. What was once a tight-knit creative group of friends has now become a place of hurt.

Act 2: 10 of Swords

10 of Swords Light Seer's Tarot

With her sister blaming Tashia for Daniel’s feelings and Tasha not wanting to confront her own feelings, she leaves. She can’t stick around for this. She needs to figure out what she wants in life. Is it Daniel? Is it family? What means the most to her?

She knows that she can’t stick around to find out, and so she leaves, getting them both out of her daily living so she can learn about herself.

Act 3: Queen of Wands

Queen of Wands Light Seer's Tarot

What Tasia learns is that life is precious and must be celebrated. She knows that she loves Daniel and Rebecca equally, and she would rather love Daniel as a friend and keep him in her life as well as keep Rebecca in her life by not betraying her and going for Daniel.

She has gone and come back with her heart-centered answer, and was humbled during the experience.

Card A: Death

Note: If ever you draw the Death card in Tarot—IT DOES NOT LITERALLY MEAN DEATH. I feel like since I’m talking to writers that we can all understand the idea of symbolism. Death is a symbol of transformation and growth, of shedding that which is no longer needed in order to move on to the next thing.

Tarot Spread. Far left card is the Sun, showing a woman spreading her arms and looking up at the sun, as if she's been spinning and stopped to pay homage. Three cards are next to the left card, lining up vertically. The bottom card is the 3 of Pentacles, showing a woman sitting and knitting on the floor, working on the wall hanging in the center of the card. A man is holding the wall hanging up, looking down and smiling at a second woman, who is standing with her back to the reader and looking up at the man. The middle card is a woman walking away along dry, sandy ground, with ten crows flying over head. This is the 10 of Swords. The top card is a woman sitting cross-legged, smiling with joy, with a cat curled up at her feet. There are candles all around her. She is smiling at a ball of light in one hand, and in the other hand she holds a staff straight up in the air. This is the Queen of Wands. There is a third column of cards, made of two cards. The bottom card is Death, a hooded face that reveals a night sky over dark trees inside the hood. The top card is a person suspended by a ribbon, bent

That being said, I’ll move on.

There is a hooded figure in the Death card, and a center of light, with tells me there is a journey within. It’s a night time setting within the hood, which tells me that it’s a journey into the unknown. This is the theme of the first part of the story, is helping Tasha look within, which is something she hasn’t done before.

The Death card is a contrast to the shiny card of the Sun which is her signifier, which says to me that the lessons she has to learn will balance her.

With this card falling between card 1 and 2, there is a transformation in which she has to think of other people. Her social sphere has changed when Daniel told her that he cares about her, and when Rebecca overheard it. She’s forced into the changed sphere. If she wants to fix it, she needs to change is further.

Card B: Hanged Man

The Hanged Person is confident and comfortable enough in their position that they can close their eyes and reach into the pools of messages and meaning. Tasha grows comfortable with her ability to sink within to find meaning, to remain still and listen to what her inner wisdom has to say. She can remain suspended in this place for as long as she needs to.

It is through this sitting with herself that she recognizes the need to act from a place of love, in its truest and purest sense, in order to make things right between her, Daniel and Rebecca. From this, she comes back with the answer.

Combining A and B

The first part of the story is about delving within. For Tasha, she’s not comfortable with this because she’s never done it. Because she wants to find answers and keep her sunshiny existence as loving as peaceful as she can, she has to get uncomfortable in order to grow.

She finds that the discomfort isn’t so bad, and even begins to find comfort in it, and from there she grows.

The overall theme then is finding growth in discomfort.


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NatWriCoChallenge: Week 4-ish

Hey friends. Just a reminder that through April and May of 2020, I am offering coaching sessions at a Pay What Feels Right for You rate. That means that you get a coaching session and you choose the price. Read all about this offer here.

Welcome to the fourth and final-ish week of the Natural Writer Coaching Challenge! I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts this month.

If you’re just getting into this challenge, it’s not too late to join. You can read all about the challenge here, and how to participate for your own enjoyment, or to win 2 FREE writing coaching sessions with me. Though, I will say, at this point, it’s going to be a lot of work to catch up with your Instagram posts at this point. But if you’re willing, my requirement for being entered into the draw on June 1st is for each participant to have 31 Instagram posts sharing their flash fiction piece featuring the designated one-word prompt for each day.

Remember, if you want to be entered into the drawing, the post must tag me using the handle @NaturalWriterCoaching and use the hashtag #NatWriCoChallenge. Otherwise, I won’t see it.

Additional Challenge

Each week I’ve been providing an additional challenge for those who need that extra umph to get their creative brains working. Whether or not you do the challenge won’t be taken into consideration for who wins, but it’s for your own creativity muscle-building.

This creative challenge is to write a poem which uses the word-prompt as the theme.

You can take this a step further and refrain from using the word prompt in the poem, but the poem can summarize or describe the word or a situation outlining the concept of the word.

That’s step 1.

Step 2 is to use each line of the poem in your flash fiction piece.

The lines of the poem can be the start of a paragraph, or they can just be sentences in your piece. Maybe even the dialogue. It’s your piece, have fun with it.

However, remember that in your flash fiction piece, you must use the word. While in the poem, the word is optional, it must actually be present in the flash fiction piece itself.

This Week’s Word Prompts

The month of May has 5 Fridays. So far, each Friday I’ve been posting the following week’s word prompts. This will be the last Friday I do this, and the prompts will extend all the way until Sunday, the 31st of May.

Friday, May 22: Right
Saturday, May 23: Long
Sunday, May 24: Deer
Monday, May 25: Unison
Tuesday, May 26: Hole
Wednesday, May 27: Decision
Thursday, May 28: Rook
Friday, May 29: Tambourine
Saturday, May 30: Balance
Sunday, May 31: Join

On June 1st, I’ll announce the winner of the Challenge on Instagram. Are you excited? I’m excited. I look forward to reading your pieces! Feel free to comment below to share your experience or ask any questions.

Book a Free 30-Minute Session with Me

Are you thinking about working with me, but just aren’t entirely sure? Fill out the form, schedule a call, let’s talk. This is a no-pressure, non-sales-pitch call, where we talk about you and your writing, and whether or not you want to work with me. Let’s chat!

NatWriCoChallenge: Week 3

Hey friends. Just a reminder that through April and May of 2020, I am offering coaching sessions at a Pay What Feels Right for You rate. That means that you get a coaching session and you choose the price. Read all about this offer here.

Welcome to week 3 of the Natural Writer Coaching Challenge! Congratulations to those of you who have participated so far. I’m so pleased to see all your creative minds in action.

If you’re just joining the challenge, you can still participate. I just need to see 31 Instagram posts tagging me using @NaturalWriterCoaching and the hashtag #NatWriCoChallenge at the end of the month. You can read the details of the challenge and how you can win 2 FREE writing coaching sessions with me here.

Additional Challenge

Last week I posed an additional challenge for those of you who are just whizzing through these flash fiction prompts. This week, I have another challenge for you. You can use it however you want, whether it’s to combine with last week’s challenge or to use it on its own. It is up to you.

This week’s challenge is to use one of my favorite tools for generating creative and unique writing ideas: the third option.

You’ll hear me talk about this exercise a lot. I first learned about it through a writing competition put forth by Wonderbox Publishing a few years ago. I have loved it ever since.

When you look at your writing prompt, jot down the first idea that comes to you. Then cross it out. Write down the second idea that comes to you. Then cross it out. Write down the third idea that comes to you, and go with that.

The theory behind this is that usually the first two ideas are something we’ve already seen or heard, though we don’t realize it. By chucking the first two ideas, then we get closer to something we, ourselves, have generated.

If you choose to take on this challenge, feel free to share your first two ideas that you tossed away in your IG post. I’d love to hear them!

This Week’s Word Prompts

Each Friday in May, I’ll provide the daily work prompts for the follow week. If you’re playing catch up, you can read last week’s prompts here.

Friday, May 15: Bulb
Saturday, May 16: Singing Bowl
Sunday, May 17: Fresh
Monday, May 18: Seed
Tuesday, May 19: Starlight
Wednesday, May 20: Cornucopia
Thursday, May 21: Desert

I look forward to reading your pieces! Feel free to comment below to share your experience or ask any questions.

Book a Free 30-Minute Session with Me

Are you thinking about working with me, but just aren’t entirely sure? Fill out the form, schedule a call, let’s talk. This is a no-pressure, non-sales-pitch call, where we talk about you and your writing, and whether or not you want to work with me. Let’s chat!

NatWriCoChallenge: Week 2

Hey friends. Just a reminder that through April and May of 2020, I am offering coaching sessions at a Pay What Feels Right for You rate. That means that you get a coaching session and you choose the price. Read all about this offer here.

If you’ve been participating so far, I want to say congratulations on getting through the first week of the Natural Writer Coaching Challenge! I have enjoyed seeing your posts on Instagram, and reading your wonderful works.

Catching Up

If you’re coming into this late in the game, the #NatWriCoChallenge provides daily writing prompts for your flash fiction pieces. Using the hashtag, post your pieces via Instagram and tag me using the handle @NaturalWriterCoaching to be entered to win 2 Free Coaching sessions. You can read all about it, here.

For those of you who want to get in on the chance to win free coaching sessions, but haven’t been posting each day—you’re not out of luck. So long as by the end of May, you have one post for each of the writing prompts posted onto your Instagram (so, 31 in total), then you’re entered for the chance to win. However, the goal is to get into the habit of writing daily, so if you save up seven posts to do in one day, you’re only doing yourself the disservice.

Additional Challenge

Hopefully you’re having fun with these prompts. For some, it’s easy to come up with a new situation in which these daily word prompts can be used. And thus, I would like to add to the challenge:

Create one story with each writing prompt. Each day, use the designated writing prompt to add to the story that is building throughout the month. At the end of the month, you could have a story between 7,750 and 15,500 words long. This isn’t a novel, but it’s certainly a short story, or even the base of a story that can be filled out to become a novel.

This challenge means that, if you create a story that builds upon itself, the conclusion of the story will contain word prompt for May 31st. You can read a full list of the daily word prompts here if you want to plan.

If You’re Struggling

I just wanted to adress those of you who are awesome, though despite your awesomeness, you’re still struggling to get into that creative place. I see you. I hear you. Sometimes the muse just doesn’t want to behave.

Check out my post on Creativity as an Inner Sense that can be harnessed and directed through Meditation and/or Meditation here. Let me know what you think.

This Week’s Word Prompts

Each Friday in May, I’ll provide the daily work prompts for the follow week. If you’re playing catch up, you can read last week’s prompts here.

Friday, May 8: Radiance
Saturday, May 9: Circle
Sunday, May 10: Guidance
Monday, May 11: Empty
Tuesday, May 12: Prophetic
Wednesday, May 13: Indulgence
Thursday, May 14: Question

You of course can participate on your own, or you can join in on Instagram, posting your flash fiction piece there, or posting a link to your website with your flash fiction piece. Remember to tag me in the post using the handle @NaturalWriterCoaching and to use the hashtag #NatWriCoChallenge. I look forward to reading your pieces! Feel free to comment below to share your experience or ask any questions.

Book a Free 30-Minute Session with Me

Are you thinking about working with me, but just aren’t entirely sure? Fill out the form, schedule a call, let’s talk. This is a no-pressure, non-sales-pitch call, where we talk about you and your writing, and whether or not you want to work with me. Let’s chat!

NatWriCoChallenge Week 1

Hey friends. Just a reminder that through April and May of 2020, I am offering coaching sessions at a Pay What Feels Right for You rate. That means that you get a coaching session and you choose the price. Read all about this offer here.

Happy May Day!

Today is the first day of the Natural Writer Coaching Challenge, or #NatWriCoChallenge. As the first day of the challenge, today also marks the first week of the challenge.

Each May Friday I’ll post the week’s writing prompts here. The goal of this challenge is to encourage a small bit of creative writing each day to help develop the habit. Likewise, writing 250 words a day on something unrelated to your current work in progress can be what you need to kick-start you into your creative mindset for the day, and lead you on to your WIP.

Developing a writing habit is crucial. It’s to gain the discipline over your mind to write at will. When you create a habit, your mind wants to engage in the daily dose of creativity.

Give this challenge a go. See if it works for you. Have fun with it!

If you want the chance to win 2 FREE hour-long coaching sessions with me (£150 value), then participate on Instagram using the hashtag #NatWriCoChallenge and my Instagram handle, @NaturalWriterCoaching. You can read more details about how to participate in the challenge here.

Additional Challenges

Each week, I’ll provide an additional challenge to try with your flash fiction pieces. This is for those of you who are flying through the prompts and might be a little bored. You don’t need to embrace these additional challenges to participate in the NatWriCoChallenge. This is just adding a little extra weight to the bar for those who want it.

This week I won’t be providing a challenge. For those of you who want the challenge, just think of this week as a warm up.

This Week’s Writing Prompts

Again, each Friday i’ll post the one-word writing prompts for the following seven days. You can use this to plan ahead or just have a small bite-size of what’s to come.

Here are this week’s writing prompts:

Friday, May 1: Light
Saturday, May 2: Green
Sunday, May 3: Mosquito
Monday, May 4: Bottle
Tuesday, May 5: Gingerly
Wednesday, May 6: Headache
Thursday, May 7: Flight

I look forward to seeing your creations! Tell me all about your experience in the comments below.

Happy writing!

Book a Free 30-Minute Session with Me

Are you thinking about working with me, but just aren’t entirely sure? Fill out the form, schedule a call, let’s talk. This is a no-pressure, non-sales-pitch call, where we talk about you and your writing, and whether or not you want to work with me. Let’s chat!

Journaling for Writers

There are a lot of reasons why someone would keep a journal: it’s therapeutic, they could be trying to figure out something important and complex in their lives, or they might simply want to document what their life entails.

For the writer, journaling, however it’s done, is essential.

Therapeutic

Every writer I know has a lot going on in their heads. Whether it’s story ideas, worrying, or even the classic writer trope of having some form of mental illness (fun fact: not all writers have mental illnesses like depression or anxiety, nor do you “need” a mental illness to be a writer. Stop this damaging myth!). Regardless, journaling is a therapeutic and essential act, I believe for everyone.

There is a wonderful cartoon going around with two people talking. One has a thought bubble of tangled yarn, and the other person’s speech bubble is organizing and tidying the yarn into individual balls. The latter is often labeled “my therapist,” though I’ve seen replacements such as “coach,” of my personal favorite, “writing.”

This is what writing in general can do, but also what journaling can do for you.

Our thoughts are not organized. We of course all have the ability to organize them, but it sometimes takes some know-how. Most of the time, when we are jumbled, it’s because we can’t get our thoughts to behave and organize themselves. They’re these images, sounds, and concepts, floating around our brain space, bumping into each other, interrupting each other, until we find ourselves somewhat confused.

When you decide to put your thoughts down on a piece of paper, or a document, or to make an audio recording of your journal, then you’re funneling your thoughts into something cohesive, or at least, practicing doing this. It means that only one word can come out at a time, and your brain has to work to make the expression of a thought come out in some recognizable order.

Through this, the journaller can usually find some semblance of understanding in what they’re thinking. It doesn’t 100% of the time work, but it’s a good first step if nothing else. However, with practice and regular routine of journaling, you’ll find it is effective.

Writing Habit

Furthermore, one of the best things you can do as a writer is to write. But we don’t necessarily always know what to write for our projects. We might be still mulling over a concept and how we want to formulate it in a project, but aren’t ready to start the project yet. However, it is still essential to form or maintain the habit of regular writing.

Journaling is a great space holder for this. You are still in the habit of writing, or creating the habit, but you don’t necessarily have to be working on anything but yourself. You can record what you dreamed about the night before, or an interesting conversation you had, or your frustrations about the day, or better yet, the excelling things that happened/you saw/you appreciated during the day.

Creating a writing habit is essential to preventing writers block. Writers block is simply your brain resisting creating. The words are there, in you, ready to come out. So is your story, as well as a myriad of other stories. However, there is always a resistance to the unknown, and every story we write, no matter how well planned, is the unknown.

When you create the habit of writing daily, however that might be, then it becomes familiar, and thus, resolves such resistance.

Creative Exploration

Journaling is also a method of creative exploration. This means that you can explore a story idea or a concept without any pressure of committing it to the actual project itself. You can ask yourself questions regarding the genre you write in, what you think of your main character, whether or not you’d have a drink with them, if you think they carry the plot well.

You can suggest to yourself interesting facts that you learned about a tiny village on a Greek island, and ask yourself what you would do if that was where you lived as an outsider, or explore the idea of being a cricket farmer to create cricket flour.

Likewise, you can discover different mediums of writing. How does it feel to try different forms of poetry? What about writing as if you were writing an essay about your day?

The beautiful thing about a journal is that it is personal and private. No one gets to see it unless you want them to. But it is a space for you to play, to processes, to think, to unravel thoughts, and to explore.

Morning Pages

Morning pages, a concept created by Julia Cameron, is the practice of getting up and writing longhand for at least three pages in your journal. Before you do anything in the morning (except relieve yourself if you need, of course), you get up, go to wherever it is you write, and sit down and journal, non-stop for at least three pages.

The idea is that you do not stop until you’ve reached the end of the third page. This means no pausing to think what to write, no thinking about how to spell something, no scribbling out. Just writing.

There have been claims that this morning act alone helped people get through difficult times, such a rough divorces. I won’t make that claim, but in hard times, everything is worth trying.

The benefit of this is that it gives a goal to reach: three pages. But it also allows you the freedom to have a stream of consciousness conversation with yourself to get you ready to write.

I suggest that you practice this not only when you get up in the morning, but before you sit down to write creatively. It is a way of breaking through your writing blocks and cobwebs that have formed since the last time you wrote. Have your document or notebook, however you prefer to write, ready and next to your journal so you can go seamlessly from Morning Pages to your work in progress.

Your Turn

Do you keep a journal? Why, or why not?

When I was younger and in school, I always hated questions that ended in “why or why not?” For me, the answer was always obvious. “Because I don’t want to,” “Because I don’t like it,” “ Because I refuse to participate in something that goes against my core beliefs”  (I as a little bit of a snot-nose when I was in school).

However, as I’ve gotten older, I see them less as incessant questioning to get me to write more than a one-sentence answer. They’re an invitation to dig deeper, to really explore the meaning of the question as well as my answer.

When you try journaling, take the opportunity not just to record, but to explore as well. As writers, our job is to explore the human condition. Why not start with ourselves?

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