5 Things No One Tells You About Writing a Book

Writing your first book is an exciting and scary thing. And if you’re embarking on this journey, you’ve probably been writing shorter pieces for a while. Maybe you’re a poet who’s had a few individual pieces published online, or a fiction writer who’s had a short story or two published in literary magazines. 

No matter your genre or publication history, nothing can really prepare you for the unique experience of writing a book for the first time; there are many things you’ll learn along the way. Here are my top five examples.

Note: I’ve tried to keep these topics broadly applicable to various genres of writing, although my personal specialty is in writing/editing poetry manuscripts.

1. You’ll hit a wall at some point.

Everyone deals with writer’s block — even if only for a few hours at a time. It’s completely normal to feel stuck, frustrated, and uninspired at certain points of the process. It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to have a constant creative output with no hurdles along the way.

There are many ways to remedy this, which I’ve covered on the blog before in Stuck With Writer’s Block? Here Are 5 Tips for Pushing Past It. In that post, I mention strategies like journaling, listening to music, reading, finding local calls for submissions, and interacting with other writers. 

Another good post from the archives is 4 Alternative Ways to Up Your Writing Game, which mentions listening to intellectually-stimulating podcasts, watching interesting films, socializing, and meditating.

Those are all great strategies to consider — but I also want to point out that sometimes, it’s completely necessary to take a break from writing in order to boost your creative output. Maybe you’ve been working intently on your manuscript for weeks or months at a time, and you’re getting a bit burnt out. 

Give yourself permission to take a week or two off. Spending your time doing other things — AKA living your life — will help you feel energized and refreshed before returning to your desk. Over-working yourself is never the answer; writing a book is a marathon and not a sprint. Don’t wear yourself out trying to hit an unrealistic daily word count if it’s not working.

2. You’ll re-read your manuscript so many times that it stops making sense.

Have you ever repeated a word out loud so many times that it stops making any sense? It doesn’t even feel like a real word! 

You should know that you’ll probably experience this same phenomenon while writing a manuscript. Polishing your manuscript will involve a lot of re-reading and re-writing, so you’ll likely feel a bit disconnected from the text. 

As I mentioned in tip #1, in order to get over writer’s block, you’ll often need to take time away from your writing desk. But that advice holds true for this issue as well. Take a week or two off from the writing/editing process, and try not to think about it too much. Give yourself a break from the entire book-writing process.

This may seem counter-productive. You might be thinking, I’m trying to write an amazing book. Shouldn’t I be working on it non-stop to make sure it’s absolutely perfect? Taking a break will just slow me down

And I understand that concern. I’m definitely guilty of overworking myself and obsessing over the details of my work. But I’ve learned from experience that taking time away from my writing can make a huge difference. Even just a day or two spent away from the keyboard often helps me return to the work with “fresh eyes.” Taking time off can help fight the fatigue of the entire process. 

And when I return to the work, I often pick up on simple typos/errors that I hadn’t noticed before. Spending too much time working on your book can get you too wrapped up in the manuscript itself. Step away for a little bit and watch how you become an even better writer in the process!

3. It will require a lot of collaboration.

Another great way to improve your creative output/editing process is to engage with others in the literary community. Finding friends, colleagues, and mentors you can talk to about your work is invaluable.

Writing a book seems, in theory, like an isolating experience. Unless you have a co-author, it seems like the whole process largely falls on your shoulders. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Sure, if you go the traditional publishing route, you’ll likely collaborate with an editor at the final stages of the process. But as you write the manuscript from its conception, you probably won’t have a professional editor at your disposal to help you along the way.

This is where a writing community can seriously boost the quality of your work. For me, I first found this sense of community while in high school, when I was part of a creative writing group. That was when I started taking writing workshops and engaging with fellow young writers.

When I got to university, it was even better — I took creative writing seminars, was published in campus journals, and attended different poetry readings. All of this helped me make contacts in the Toronto literary scene. 

One of my professors ended up becoming a mentor and friend with whom I consulted on both of my books. I was also able to make friends in classes and at events. This helped me establish a wider network to collaborate on my work with. 

The great thing about making friends in your local literary community is that it’s usually a two-way street; everyone wants to get feedback on their work, so they’re happy to give it back. It’s common to swap work and chat about each other’s writing. Grabbing a cup of coffee with another writer friend isn’t just a fun social outing, but an easy way to get another set of eyes on your work. 

Nothing exists in a vacuum; your writing process shouldn’t feel isolating. Make it collaborative. Even though current social distancing restrictions make it difficult to take in-person workshops or attend live readings, try searching for digital literary events in your area, or just reach out to a writer friend of yours (if possible). You could always set up a Zoom call or just send emails back-and-forth critiquing each other’s work. Try to find a way to get (and give) feedback.

4. It will feel impossible at times.

I won’t lie to you; writing a book is extremely difficult. There’s a reason why most people who “have a great idea for a book” never end up writing it.  

But just because it feels overwhelming doesn’t mean you should give up. You’ll probably feel like giving up many times along the way. Don’t let that stop you.

My number one suggestion would be to keep going. Even if the quality of your writing doesn’t seem great, don’t stop writing. Maintain a regular writing practice, whether it’s daily, weekly, or on another schedule. Stay consistent. Don’t try to be perfect. You can always edit later.

And if you’re really concerned about your skill level, seek out information. Keep reading blogs just like this one, along with books on the topic. If possible, take some type of writing course (even if it’s just a virtual workshop). 

Or try to get shorter pieces of writing published, so that you can build up confidence in your skills. Once you’ve got a few publishing credits under your belt, you’ll feel a bit more comfortable with the process of writing, editing, and submitting work in general. That will make you better prepared for the book-writing process.

5. Your book won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (and that’s fine).

It’s important to remember that, at the end of the day, your book won’t be for everyone. Once you’ve finished the writing process and start sending it out to publishers, don’t expect to get glowing reviews from every single one. Editors are people, too — and we each have individual tastes. You can’t please everyone — and you shouldn’t try to!

As an author, it’s your job to put in the work to write a book you’re proud of. You should take the time to work hard, get outside perspectives, and polish your manuscript. But you can’t control how other people — including editors/publishers — will respond to your work. 

When I wrote my first chapbook, I sent it out to multiple small presses. And guess what? The first response I got was a rejection email. The editor was not impressed with my work. They even sent me a list of other authors I should change my work to emulate. 

Sure, it stung a little bit. I felt a bit defeated. I wondered: Should I really be changing my work to be more like these other authors? Was I doing it all wrong? 

But the second response I got was from my now-publisher, who immediately picked up my book and published it (without a single additional edit). They thought my manuscript was great just the way it was. And after collaborating with my publisher on many other projects, I’ve realized how lucky I was to find an editor who really vibed with my style. 

Try not to take it too personally if you get a few rejection letters. Just keep submitting your work to different publishers, and do your best to find one that fits with your individual style. Check out their website: What kind of work do they publish? What kind of topics do they focus on? Do you fit in with their overall vibe?

There’s no “right” and “wrong” when it comes to writing. What one person loves might be the same thing another person hates. Regardless of outside perspectives, stay true to your authentic, unique voice. 

Conclusion

As mentioned, one way to keep growing as an author is to read blogs just like this one. So, don’t forget to subscribe to the Writing Advice blog to stay notified of each new article.

Happy writing!


And let me know in the comments: What has been your biggest obstacle when writing a book (or a shorter piece of work)?

How to Make Your Writing Stand Out to Editors

As a freelance writer, much of your time will inevitably be spent sending your work out to various publications. Whether you’re a poet, blogger, or journalist, much of your career will involve submitting samples to editors/editorial boards for consideration.

And it can feel intimidating — especially when you’re a new writer — to send your work out into the world in the hopes of getting published. I touched on this briefly in my first blog post, 3 Free Ways to Get Published as a New Writer, but today’s article will dig into more specifics on this entire process.

As someone who’s been on both ends of this — as an author seeking publication and as an editor selecting pieces for publication — I’ve got some handy tips to keep in mind.

I also recognize that the best advice will vary depending on the type of writing you do. So, I’ve divided these tips up based on genre:

Tips for creative authors submitting literary work

This advice will be best-suited for authors of poetry, creative non-fiction, and short stories. Most publications you’ll submit to will be literary magazines and journals which ask for pieces of polished, high-quality writing during their call for submissions. If you’re a poet, this will usually be around 1-3 poems. If you’re a fiction writer, this will usually be one piece of approximately 1000-3000 words. 

Here’s how to make your work stand out:

1. Know your audience. 

Try to get a good sense of what kind of publication you’re submitting to. Do they typically publish experimental work, or are they more “high-brow”? 

Better yet, have you submitted to this publication in the past? If so, did they accept or reject your submission? Let that guide you; if you’ve been successful before, aim to take a similar approach. 

If you’ve been rejected by their editorial board in the past, make a conscious effort to tailor your selections to the kind of work they do publish. This doesn’t mean that you need to change your writing style altogether. It just means looking at your catalogue of work and selectively picking the pieces that seem to suit their tastes. 

For example, if you submitted a long-form poem to a publication in the past and they rejected it, take a look at their past issues. Do they seem to prefer snappy, short, and minimalist poetry? If so, next time, pick one of your shorter pieces to send instead.

2. Make note of how much they pay upon publication (if they do at all).

Next, you’ll want to be sure that you understand exactly what publication entails. Read the call for submissions carefully.

Will contributors be paid for their work? If so, how much? Will contributors receive free copies of the publication? If so, how many copies? 

If the publication doesn’t offer compensation (which is quite common), ask yourself: Is it really worth it? Will this specific publication look good on my writer’s CV? Does this publication offer a wide reach in terms of their audience? If so, it may still be worthwhile.

You should also keep in mind that when you later go to apply for writing programs, residencies, or grants, many review boards will refuse to count publication credits as “professional” unless they involve some form of payment. So, choose carefully. The most realistic strategy is to submit to a mix of both paying and non-paying publications.

3. Follow their instructions closely.

Again, I’ve touched on this in a previous blog post, but it’s absolutely imperative that you follow the guidelines listed in the publication’s call for submissions. 

It’s useless to send your work out if you’re rushing through the process and ignoring specifications like font style, font size, file format, length, or title format. Messing up just a single specification can immediately disqualify you from consideration. Some editors are more lax than others, but there’s no way to tell how forgiving a certain editorial board will be. Always play it on the safe side by following the rules.

And, as mentioned before on the Writing Advice blog, you’ll want to make note of whether or not a magazine/journal allows simultaneous submissions. If they allow you to send your work for consideration to other publications at the same time, they’ll likely ask you to reach out and let them know if — in the meantime — it gets accepted elsewhere. 

If they don’t allow simultaneous submissions, then don’t send your work to other journals while waiting to hear back. Of course, this rule can be restrictive for authors and make you wait long periods of time to send your work out to multiple places, therefore limiting your chances of getting published in general. If this bothers you, simply don’t submit to publications who maintain this policy.

4. Take your time, and then be patient.

It doesn’t make sense to rush through this process. Don’t try to bang out 10 different tailored submissions to various journals in one day. Take your time to carefully choose the right publications, understand their compensation rates/guidelines, and prepare your writing sample for submission. 

Many magazines and journals only accept submissions from the same author once per year, so you need to make your one shot count! Put adequate time and effort into your submission. 

But once you’ve done the work and sent your submission in, try to be patient. Editors are often strapped for time. Many publications take several months, or even up to a year, to respond to submissions. 

Try not to take it personally if you’re left waiting — and many calls for submissions will include an estimate of how long it will take to hear back. If it’s been a while and you’re unsure of the status of your submission, you can (politely) follow up with the editors. But — again — try not to take it personally if they don’t respond for a while.

I know that — as an author — the waiting period can feel grueling and frustrating. But I also know that — as an editor — it’s a really lengthy and complicated process to sort through submissions, read them, and correspond with all the potential contributors. Try to have a little grace with us, if you can!

Tips for submitting/pitching your non-literary work

This advice is more applicable to freelance writers of articles and blog posts. You’ll likely be pitching to websites, magazines, or newspapers. This differs from literary work in one very important way: submitting creative writing usually involves sending a sample of “finished” work, whereas pitching an article for a website involves sending an overview of a proposed concept (before even writing the article). 

Here’s how to master the pitching process:

1. Figure out the voice of the publication you’re submitting to.

Your pitch will be most effective if you’ve read several different articles from the publication in question. Get to really know the tone of their writers, and get a sense of what topics they generally cover. There’s no use pitching a light, fun lifestyle piece to a website that solely focuses on tech.

Keep in mind that you want the pitch to both fit in with their current overall voice while still adding something unique to the conversation. Search their website to make sure they haven’t published a story like yours in the past. 

2. Keep it brief.

A pitch should feel snappy, concise, and interesting. You want to pique the editor’s interest while not overwhelming them with excessive details. This is a pitch — not a full article — after all. In general, a pitch of 100-300 words is a good starting point. Be sure to include a potential title (or two) and a summary of your article concept as a whole. 

3. Make sure you’re contacting the right person.

The biggest mistake you can make when pitching is to send it to the wrong person. A pitch is doing nothing if it sits in the incorrect inbox. Take the time to figure out who you need to contact. Checking the “submissions” or “guidelines” page on their website is a good place to start.

Their website will likely list a specific person (like a managing editor) to send your email to, or will simply list a centralized email address that they use to accept submissions (without mentioning who you’re sending it to exactly). If you can find a specific person, all the better! That way, you can address them directly in your email. 

Think of it like applying for a job — you want to get your work in front of the right person, and if possible, you’ll want to address the hiring manager (or, in this case, editor) directly to show that you’ve put in the effort. This is not necessary, but it certainly helps.

Wrapping up

There you have it — my top tips to get noticed as a freelance writer. I hope you found them helpful. As always, be sure to subscribe to the blog to be notified of each new article.

Happy writing!

And let me know in the comments: What’s your favourite way to make your writing stand out?

How to Set Up a Cozy Writing Nook During Quarantine

With coffee shops closed for dine-in service, there aren’t many places left to get freelance writing work done. Even co-working spaces — a popular coffee shop alternative for digital creatives — are mostly closed during the pandemic.

Suddenly, our homes are now also our only offices. And whether you’re a freelancer or even a full-time employee now working remotely, you’ve likely had to adjust to this new way of living. The separation between home and work has become incredibly blurred.

One way to stay motivated, focused, and on top of your freelance work is to set up a dedicated writing nook. 

The basics

To get started, pick one area of your home that you could feasibly use as a workspace. This could be as simple as a desk in your bedroom, a specific spot at your kitchen table, or even an entire room/home office if that’s realistic for you. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy!

You’ll also want some essentials, such as:

  • A desk/table
  • A functioning computer — with an accessible power outlet/charger/etc.
  • Stationery (notebooks, pens, pencils, highlighters, sticky notes)
  • Office supplies (stapler, scissors, tape, pen holder, organizers)
  • Adequate lighting (natural or artificial)
  • Headphones, a speaker, or a white noise machine

Try to make do with what you have —like a table/desk you already own, your existing laptop, or whatever headphones you have on hand. (You can also check out a past article on the blog called Freelance Writing on a Budget, which gets into the specifics of financially starting out as a writer.) Get the basics down — the items you really need to get work done — and upgrade your office equipment as you go along, if necessary. 

One important consideration, from a practical perspective, is how you’ll keep audible distractions to a minimum in your new workspace. A white noise machine left playing in the background can help drown out distracting sounds, or you could try playing classical music (either via a speaker or your personal headphones). 

And no matter how small the space, there are many simple steps you can take to make it feel a bit cozier. 

I always find myself referring back to a book I’ve discussed on the blog before called The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking. The book breaks down the concept of hygge, which “has been translated as everything from ‘the art of creating intimacy’ to ‘cosiness of the soul’ to ‘taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things.’”

For me, hygge just means creating an environment that feels welcoming, warm, and comfortable. So, here are some tips for creating that sense of coziness in your writing nook:

Create cozy lighting

A big theme in The Little Book of Hygge is the importance of mood lighting. For example, something as simple as lighting a candle at the dinner table can seriously elevate the experience and make everyone feel a bit more at home.

Wiking writes, in his chapter on Light

“You guessed it. Bring out the candles. … However, you may also want to consider your electric-light strategy. Usually, several smaller lamps around the room a more hyggeligt light than one big lamp set in the ceiling. You want to create small caves of light around the room.”

Similarly, when you’re creating your dedicated workspace, try to strike a balance between keeping the room well-lit but also with a homey feel. You obviously want to have enough light to be able to see your desk — especially your notebook and laptop — in order to get work done.

But you also don’t want to have the space kept super bright with harsh, fluorescent lighting. It shouldn’t feel clinical or cold — it should have a certain level of coziness. (You’re still at home, after all!) So break out your favourite candle or bring in a lamp from another room that you really love.

(Alternatively, if you’re someone who really thrives with plenty of light, you might want to set your writing nook up next to a big window with lots of natural lighting. Personally, I do better with low lighting, but everyone is different!)

Get a really nice cup of coffee

Another big focus of The Little Book of Hygge is coffee. And I don’t know about you, but my writing habits and my caffeine consumption are definitely intertwined. Whether I’m working away at home or at a local cafe, I’ve pretty much always got a coffee going beside me. 

But during quarantine, those habits have certainly changed. Here are a few of my favourite ways to get that caffeine fix while working from my writing nook:

  • Find a way to make your own coffee that feels luxurious and elevated. For me, this means taking some time the night before to set up some cold brew in my French Press. That way, in the morning, I’ve got a really tasty, strong cup of coffee waiting for me.
  • Support your local coffee shops. Another great way to stay caffeinated is by purchasing takeout or delivery from a local shop. Obviously, this may not be financially feasible as a daily habit, but it’s always a nice treat. And while Starbucks is great, try to find small businesses in your area that may really be struggling during this pandemic. Getting money into the hands of local business owners is a great way to help your city’s economy. (And you get to enjoy a fresh cup of coffee, too! Win-win.)

If you’re not a coffee-lover, substitute in whatever beverage you prefer, such as a nice cup of tea. The importance is less on the coffee itself and more so on the act of maintaining comforting rituals in combination with your writing practice.

Keep your desk clear & organized

Lastly, when it comes to creating that perfect writing nook, it’s crucial to keep things tidy. You don’t need to go overboard with complex organizational systems, but just make a deliberate effort to make sure things stay clean.

Keep things like binders and folders handy to store important documents/sheets/etc. Nothing is more distracting than a desk covered in random papers, pens, and other materials. 

If your writing nook is cluttered and disorganized, you won’t be able to get much done. In fact, just looking at your desk could send you into a spiral of anxiety and even make you dread the entire writing process.

To make this a regular habit, at the end of each writing session, make a point of putting everything away — file away loose documents, put your pen back into its holder, and close/put away your laptop. Maintain this habit every time you write, and pretty soon, staying organized will feel like second nature.

Wrapping up

There you have it — the basics of setting up your very own writing nook that feels cozy and pleasant to work in. As always, be sure to follow the Writing Advice blog to stay notified of each new article.

And let me know in the comments: What’s your favourite way to spruce up a workspace?

What Poetry and Resume-Writing Have in Common

On the surface, poetry and resume-writing may seem quite different: the former is a type of creative writing, while the latter is a more professional endeavour. But there is one crucial point of overlap — both mediums are predicated on the art of being concise.

Striking similarities between the two forms of writing

In general, poems are short — and so are resumes. Sure, there are different styles of poetry — some lengthier than others — but poems are typically no more than a page or two each. The same goes for resumes; if they’re done well, the candidate has condensed their key features within one or two pages max.

Both forms of writing call upon the author to keep things short, snappy, and (most importantly) engaging

A 2018 study from TheLadders.com found that: 

Despite operating in the toughest hiring environment in decades, many recruiters are still skimming resumes for details—with the average initial screen clocking in at just 7.4 seconds.”

When a recruiter sees your resume, then, it’s your job to impress them in mere seconds. The process of engaging a poetry reader is remarkably similar. 

Oftentimes, a potential reader will come across your book at a library or bookstore. It’s your job to create a piece of art that is so engaging, it pulls people in. 

Even though the expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover” seems great in theory, the truth is that many readers will judge your book solely based on its cover (at least as a knee-jerk reaction). That’s why book design is so important — as is the art of choosing the perfect title. 

Once a potential reader picks up your book, they might spend a few seconds glancing at the first poem or two. And, within that very short time-frame, they’ll make a split-second decision on whether your work seems interesting enough to read in more detail. Then, they’ll either put the book back down, or end up purchasing it.

In either scenario (as a job applicant or author), your reader is basically saying: Impress me. Show me what you’ve got. And succeeding means keeping things concise. 

Even stylistically, poems and resumes have a lot in common. In either medium, there’s an art to the way you display words on a page. The formatting, punctuation, and line length all matter.

Your font style, size, and line spacing are all deliberate choices. Your use of em dashes, semicolons, and italics become more powerful. Your choice to keep lines short is methodical.

How to succeed at either art-form

Now that we’ve established the similarities, you’re probably wondering: How do I put this knowledge into action? 

Here are some tips that apply to either genre:

  • Keep things clean. The design of your page should appear sleek. Don’t overcrowd the page with information (especially in a resume). The reader wants to feel informed but not overwhelmed.
  • Recognize the added weight that each word carries. When writing in shorter formats, your words are so much more precious. You don’t have time to flesh out concepts and ideas; you need to make your point, and you need to do so efficiently.
  • Dig into the minutiae of your writing. Pause before choosing a semicolon vs. an em dash. Assess the length of each individual line or sentence. Pay attention to the aesthetics of each page. 
  • Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Imagine if you were reading this particular resume or poem: What would it take for this piece of writing to truly catch your eye? Meditate on that.
  • Don’t be afraid to trim, trim, and trim some more. Many resume writers in particular try to cram as much information onto the page as physically possible. The recruiter does not need to know about every extra-curricular activity you’ve ever done, or every single task you carried out at a particular job. Challenge yourself to cut more words than you think you need to. The same goes for poems — you don’t need to include every little detail. Just the important ones.
  • Always ask for the opinion of others. Pretty much any writer would benefit from getting outside feedback. Have your friends, family, or colleagues read over your work. See what they think. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own heads that we don’t see our work clearly. 

As you can see, either form of writing requires reflection. 

Writing in 2020

With many of us now looking for jobs, the art of resume-writing has never been more relevant. The precariousness of work right now (across the globe) has stirred up anxiety surrounding our careers.

Even if we still have a job, we might worry: What if I don’t have it in six months? Keeping your resume polished is always a good idea.

And as I covered in a recent article, When Hobbies Become Everything: Finding Comfort During a Pandemic, the practice of creative writing is also more valuable than ever. Poetry is a very healing thing.

I hope you found these writing tips helpful! Be sure to subscribe to the blog to stay notified of each new article. And if you have the time, check out a little survey I recently put out for readers of the Writing Advice blog to give feedback about the site (linked here).

Happy writing!

Writing Advice Survey

Hello to all readers! This is a quick note regarding a new survey for followers of the Writing Advice blog.

We’ve got some exciting things coming in the next few months, and I’d love your thoughts about the blog as a whole! Please check out the Google Form here to give your feedback.

The entire survey should take you about 5-10 minutes to complete. Please note that you won’t receive any compensation/gift cards/etc. for filling this out, but I thank you in advance for your time.

This is simply to get your feedback and suggestions on how to make the blog better for you. I want to hear your thoughts and honour what this community needs best!

A new blog post will still be coming this Saturday.

Happy writing!

6 Purchases — Big and Small — That Have Boosted My Productivity as a Writer

A lot of the suggestions given here on the Writing Advice blog are rather conceptual in nature: I recommend strategies, ideas, and practices to up your writing game.

But there are plenty of items — many tactile and physical — which are just as crucial to maintaining a writing career. So, here are six purchases that have helped me stay productive as a writer.

Disclaimer: This is not — in any way — a sponsored post. The recommendations given below are based on my genuine thoughts about the products, and I make no commission or affiliate income if you click the links provided here. 

1. Cute Notebooks

Perhaps the most essential purchase for a writer is a plain old notebook. Having readily-available stationery is a must for any author. 

Of course, you can buy whatever type of notebook you like — whether it be from a pricey bookstore or your local dollar store. 

For me, I find that I work best with cute-looking, distinct notebooks. This is because — in the past — I’ve purchased random, plain-looking, cheap notebooks, and always lost track of them. Since they all looked the same and none of them really caught my eye, I had a hard time staying organized. 

The solution? To spend a little extra on nice notebooks with designs that I love. That way, I feel motivated to grab them and always keep some handy at my desk.

My personal favourite is the Ssuiem & Cclim Compact Notebook, which is from a Korean stationery brand that I found at a local paper shop, Hanji Gifts (more on them later).

The notebook comes in a variety of adorable designs — so I always make sure to have a few on hand: one to consolidate all of my current rough work, and a back-up or two for when the first copy runs out. I like to rotate different designs just to keep things interesting.

But again, you may have different taste; perhaps you prefer leather-bound notebooks. Find a company, store, or style that you enjoy, and stick to a standard one for the sake of simplicity.

2. Easy-to-Use Pens

What is your favourite brand of pens? It may seem like an inconsequential detail to most people, but I think most writers would agree that having an easy-to-use pen makes a huge difference in terms of productivity.

Again, this is all up to personal taste, but my personal choice is the PaperMate InkJoy brand. I find them to be a pleasure to write with, and I use them for most of my freelance writing, personal journaling, or just for making to-do lists.

I often find them at my local dollar store (Dollarama here in Canada), with a box of 12 pens running no more than $2-3. I find that they strike a nice balance between affordability and quality.

So, find a brand that you enjoy using, and make a point of keeping your desk stocked with them for whenever inspiration strikes.

3. Music Subscription Service

This is by no means a required purchase, but I’ve found that having a Spotify Premium subscription (which I split with family members to keep the cost low) is extremely useful. 

Paying the $4.99 a month for ad-free listening is worth it to me — both personally and professionally. For a long time, I opted for YouTube as my source of playlists to use while working on my laptop. If you’re on a budget, it’s a solid option — but the increasing number of ads on each video is kind of excessive at this point. 

Shelling out for an ad-free service makes it easier to stay in my workflow without going back and forth between tabs to skip through ads. I like to listen to instrumental playlists to keep me focused and in the zone. 

Other people might also prefer using a white noise machine, which can play ocean sounds or rain tracks to relax you in the background. That might be a worthwhile purchase if it suits your needs (I have one to keep running in my room at night, as well). Since it’s a one-time cost, it might make more financial sense, too.

Depending on your budget, find some type of music or background noises to help you stay focused on your writing work. 

4. Quality Laptop

Again, this isn’t a must-have, but I’m a big fan of my MacBook Air. I purchased mine seven (!) years ago after saving up money from my part-time job for years and years. It was an investment I made right before starting university (since my dying, old laptop just wasn’t cutting it anymore).

Of course, everyone is working with a different budget. Some people have the funds to invest in a high-quality laptop, while others might resort to using computers at their local library. 

Wherever you are financially, try to strike a balance between a computer that is within your budget but will still serve you well over time. Even though I paid over $1000 for that 2013 laptop, it has served me well throughout university and beyond without a single problem. 

The only thing I’ve ever had to replace is my charging cable, and in the next year or so, I’ll probably shell out for a replacement battery. But when you break that purchase down into its cost-per-use, it’s actually pretty low at this point. 

Having a reliable and fast computer has certainly helped me stay productive as a writer. Try to find an option that works for you.

5. Simple Pen Holder

This item certainly costs less than a laptop! For me, another invaluable purchase has been a simple pen holder that I bought at my local dollar store (again, Dollarama for us Canadians). 

It’s pink, it’s cute, and it helps me stay organized. I keep it beside me at all times while working at my desk, and I can easily access pens, highlighters, pencils, and scissors as needed. This may seem silly and insignificant, but it has genuinely helped me stay on top of my work without having to interrupt my flow to search for a pen.

6. Zine Paper

Lastly, another worthwhile investment has been in high-quality paper to print my zines on. A couple of years ago, in between writing my two poetry collections, I wanted to take a less-structured approach to creating and publishing new work.


So, I opted to make single-page zines on which I’d copied and pasted miscellaneous new poems. I made them using my at-home printer/photocopier, and whenever I table at zine/book fairs, I still sell them in addition to my poetry books.

I found it useful to pay for high-quality, handmade paper which I also found at Hanji Gifts here in Toronto. You can always check out your local paper shop or office supply store for different options.

If you choose to go the self-publishing route, quality paper is a worthwhile investment to make your work look professional and catch the eye of a potential customer.

Conclusion


And there you have it: six essential purchases that help me stay productive as an author. 

As always, thanks for reading the Writing Advice blog, and be sure to subscribe to receive notifications for each new article. 

Let me know in the comments: What is one purchase — big or small — that you’ve found essential as a writer?

Happy writing!

4 Alternative Ways to Up Your Writing Game

When it comes to improving as a writer, there are some fairly obvious methods to try. For example, reading a diverse range of books, taking courses/workshops from experts in the field, and maintaining a regular writing practice are all excellent ways to develop your craft.

If you’re serious about becoming a successful author, those are great tips to keep in mind. It’s true that more-obvious forms of learning — through reading material, coursework, and dedicated work-time — are valuable. But you don’t need to stop there.

Instead, recognize that many alternative, seemingly-unrelated activities can seriously up your writing game. Here are four such examples:

1. Listen to intellectually-stimulating podcasts (they need not be about writing).

Yes, it’s useful to listen to writing-related podcasts. Ashley Gainer’s Copy Chatter is a perfect example. Such resources can provide insider knowledge and advice. But you can go far beyond them, too.

Any intellectually-stimulating podcast will do — just one that you find genuinely interesting, regardless of the genre. The Daily by the New York Times is one of my personal favourites.

The topics of discussion on The Daily vary wildly from day-to-day, but they’re always interesting and challenging. Host Michael Barbaro often covers recent political news in the United States (but also globally), and also bounces around from subjects like the dangers of e-cigarettes to the failing business model of Uber.

You never really know what you’re going to get, but it’s always an in-depth investigation full of balanced reporting. As someone who often instinctually leans pretty far to the left on political matters, the reporting of the New York Times often challenges me to reconsider my opinions and appreciate alternative viewpoints (like more moderate or conservative beliefs) before automatically discounting them.

The Daily is great because new episodes are often released each weekday (as the name implies), so you’ve got a steady flow of new content to consume. But feel free to find a mix of different podcasts you like, and just take the time to enjoy them.

Listening to intellectually-engaging podcasts won’t magically turn you into a creative genius. You probably won’t spring from your seat at the end of an episode, suddenly inspired to create new work, and write your greatest masterpiece.

But, over time, regularly indulging in content that interests you (such as podcasts) will help you become a better thinker. Challenging podcasts will present you with new ideas, viewpoints, and experts to consider. At times, you’ll dive deep into seemingly-obscure topics. You’ll laugh; you’ll have fun; you’ll get your mind turning.

And none of it has to feel labourious. When you consume content tailored to your interests, it will feel effortless. All of that new information will inform your thinking process, your opinions, and even your writing style

Becoming an effective writer means consuming information, processing your perspective on it, and formulating your ideas into words. Any type of intellectual activity — like listening to an engaging podcast — will improve your work.

2. Watch interesting films.


Similarly, watching interesting films can aid your writing process. Especially if you’re a fiction writer (or screenwriter, more obviously), movies can help teach the concept of world-building. You’ll get wrapped up in entirely-fictional storylines, each with unique characters, settings, and dialogue.

Take a second to think: What was the most interesting movie you’ve ever seen? Why was it so interesting? What did the writer, director, or filmmaker do creatively to build such an engaging storyline? Or, if it was a documentary, what kind of creative liberties were taken in presenting the facts?

You don’t need to pick movies about famous authors, or those based on classic works of literature, for this to be effective. Pretty much any film that you find interesting and engaging will serve the same purpose.

As with #1 (listening to podcasts), all you need to do is consume content that you enjoy, and that challenges you. Over time, such exposure to new viewpoints will naturally inform your creative process.

3. Spend time with your loved ones.

Many people believe that, to become a great writer, you need to lock yourself away in a secluded room and spend hours upon hours labouring at your keyboard. But that’s simply not true. Even though some legendary authors — think Emily Dickinson — were solitary individuals, that’s not necessarily what you should aim for.

To produce great work, you need to first be in a mental state where you feel motivated to do so. And we, as humans, aren’t meant to focus all of our time on working or writing. Our well-being is holistic in nature; if we don’t feel socially-connected to other people, we probably won’t feel great about ourselves. In turn, we might not be at our best, creatively.

Spending time with the people you love — even if just through a FaceTime call or socially-distanced walk — will inevitably lift your spirits. It can help you unwind and just have fun.

And if you feel fulfilled, happy, and loved, you’re probably going to have higher motivation levels. We need downtime to recharge and rest — that way, we can feel energized enough to show up at our keyboards and put in the work, when the time comes.

4. Meditate — even if only for 30 seconds.

In an article for Author Unlimited, Albert Flynn DeSilver summarizes:

“A study published in the Journal of Psychiatry Research discovered that mindfulness meditation actually altered the section of the brain responsible for learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.”

So, when it comes to any kind of creative work, meditation is essentially a cheat code. It’s an effective way to centre the mind, calm the body, and find some stillness in this chaotic world

Whether you’re trying to reduce your stress levels or increase your creative output, meditation is a valuable tool. I was first truly introduced to a formal meditation practice by taking an MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) course several years ago. My initial goal was to improve my mental health, but the benefits stretched into every facet of my life.

When I started truly understanding how to meditate, how to become more mindful, and how to step back from my thoughts in an objective way, my whole worldview radically changed.

Things that I used to see as inherently “bad” or “unfair” suddenly shifted: They just were. Even if I resisted them, even if I thought that I didn’t deserve them, even if I hated that I was going through them, I was able to step back and observe that they were happening. Plain and simple.

These things were happening, whether I perceived them as “good” or “bad,” and fighting against reality wasn’t helping anything — in fact, it was making things worse. Gaining that sense of perspective was huge.

Similarly to spending time with loved ones, taking time from your day to meditate can seriously help you relax. And if not relax, at least carve time out of your busy schedule to take care of yourself — to invest in self-care, and to invest in your well-being.

Becoming a more well-rounded, adjusted individual will invariably help you grow and learn as an author. When you develop new ways of perceiving the world around you, you’ll have new ideas, thoughts, and concepts to share — perhaps in a new piece of writing.

Some of my favourite resources for meditation/mindfulness include:

  • The InsightTimer app (with a comprehensive free version), which lets you find and listen to free, guided meditations
  • Palouse Mindfulness, an invaluable resource, which allows you to take an entire 8-week MBSR course online, at no cost
  • Buddhify, which is a paid app with extremely high-quality meditation tracks (it costs a one-time fee for lifetime access)

Try including even the briefest of meditations into your daily routine, and watch what happens — to your mind, your wellbeing, and your writing.

Conclusion


There you have it: four indirect ways to up your writing game. 

Thanks, as always, for reading the Writing Advice blog, and be sure to subscribe so that you’re notified of each new article.

Pride Month is also coming to an end, so check out this article I have pinned to the top of the blog, which includes info and a call for donations to The Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention. It will be highlighted here for the rest of June, but I encourage you to support such causes all year round, if possible. 

Happy writing!

Pride Month Reading List: 5 Contemporary Books by Queer Authors to Check Out (Like, Yesterday)

Pride Month is already winding down, and this year, it’s looking quite a bit different than usual. While mass gatherings, marches, and celebrations are largely cancelled amidst COVID-19, there are many other ways to celebrate the LGBT+ community.

And one alternative way is to support the work of LGBT+ authors. Purchasing, reading, and sharing books by queer writers is something you can do from the comfort of your home — which still goes a long way in uplifting oft-marginalized voices.

Here are five of my favourite books by LGBT+ authors from the past few years. They vary in subject matter, but all include some form of a personal narrative:

1. Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope by Karamo Brown

Known best for his role as the culture expert of Netflix’s hit Queer Eye, Karamo Brown gives an intensely personal and uplifting account of his life in this memoir. Never one to shy away from deep and complicated conversations, Brown gives an intimate look at his own struggles and triumphs.

You may be used to watching Brown facilitate the emotional transformations of Queer Eye’s heroes, but his own life story is perhaps the most interesting of all. This book covers so many intersecting issues, like growing up in an abusive household, navigating substance abuse/mental health issues, and growing up as a gay, black man in America. 

Brown tackles each subject with care, ultimately leaving the reader feeling challenged and inspired. As a trained social worker, he is a master at using difficult experiences to facilitate personal growth, and after reading his memoir, you’ll understand the why behind his signature process. Keep your tissues handy, but rest assured that you’ll leave feeling the warmth and hope Brown is known for providing.

2. Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future by Pete Buttigieg

New York Times bestseller, this autobiography by Democratic nominee hopeful Pete Buttigieg is reflective and beautiful. Full disclosure — I’m currently part-way through reading this title, but I’m already deeply engaged in his story.

With perhaps the most unique resume imaginable, Buttigieg has won over the hearts of many this past year in the spotlight. The first openly-gay person to run a major presidential campaign, his life story has been broadcast frequently as of late. 

Buttigieg is Harvard-educated, Oxford-educated, a former recipient of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, an Afghanistan War veteran, and a former small-town mayor of South Bend, Indiana. (And just a few sentences into this book, you’ll notice that his writing style is indicative of an Ivy League literature major.)

If you’ve ever been curious about the backstory of this LGBT+ trailblazer, definitely check out his autobiography.

3. Bad with Money: The Imperfect Art of Getting Your Financial Sh*t Together by Gaby Dunn

In this personal finance title, self-proclaimed bi-con (“bisexual icon”) Gaby Dunn continues the conversation started in her popular podcast, Bad with Money. Recognized by many for her early work at Buzzfeed, Dunn’s accomplishments span genres.

Since leaving Buzzfeed to start Just Between Us (a YouTube-channel-turned-podcast) with comedy partner Allison Raskin, Dunn has also co-authored a New York Times bestselling YA novel and recently put out her first comic book.

Bad with Money (the book) takes Dunn’s own money journey and blends it with her classic wit, focus on intersectional activism, and all the info she’s learned since starting her hit podcast of the same name.

Funny, cheeky, and blunt, the book is an excellent look at the personal finance space from the lens of an author deeply concerned with intersecting forms of oppression such as systemic racism, LGBT+ marginalization, and sexism.

Always one to centre social activism in her work, this book by Dunn is a must-read for anyone interested in improving their financial situation or learning more about her unique story of improving her own. 

4. Naturally Tan by Tan France

This Sunday Times bestselling autobiography is written by another Queer Eye expert: Tan France. Known for his impeccable fashion sense and no-BS attitude, France is another extremely interesting LGBT+ figure.

His Wikipedia bio notes how France became “one of the very first openly gay South Asian men on a major show, and one of the first out gay Muslim men on western television.” Another LGBT+ trailblazer, France’s autobiography is a witty, fun, and frank account of his fascinating life.

France covers everything from growing up as one of the only people of colour in his British neighbourhood to coming out as gay to his family. Though he describes how difficult it was facing intersecting challenges like racism and homophobia, his story is ultimately one of triumph. 

A massively-successful fashion designer now married to the love of his life (an American cowboy), France weaves the tale of how he became the man he is today. Interspersed with his trademark fashion advice, this memoir is another must-read (which extends far beyond the importance of a French tuck).

5. I Might Regret This: Essays, Drawings, Vulnerabilities, and Other Stuff by Abbi Jacobson

Lastly, this collection of personal essays is by Broad City co-creator Abbi Jacobson. Already a New York Times bestselling author before writing this title, her tender account of a solo cross-country adventure is essential reading for any newly-out queer person.

Although you likely know this multi-faceted artist best for her stoner comedy style and cheeky drawings, I Might Regret This is an excellent account of what it’s like to face your first big heartbreak. The book follows Jacobson as she grapples with falling in (and out) of love for the first time ever — with a woman.

Whether you’re a diehard Broad City fan or just an individual questioning your sexuality, this title is another arresting personal story to consider reading.

Conclusion


And there you have it: my list of five great books to check out this Pride Month. Thank you, as always, for reading the Writing Advice blog, and be sure to subscribe to be notified of each new article.

Happy reading!

When Hobbies Become Everything: Finding Comfort During a Pandemic

If there’s one illusion the current pandemic has shattered, it’s the idea that work is everything. In our fast-paced, capitalist society, one’s worth as a human being has often been equated with our profession. 

But now that the entire world has essentially shut down, we’ve been confronted with more complicated questions, like: Who am I when I’m not at work? 

Countless people have lost their jobs or been indefinitely laid off. Unemployment rates are skyrocketing. Suddenly, work is no longer a given part of everyone’s lives and identities.

So, where do we go from here? A good place to start is by cultivating hobbies. And creative writing is one of my favourites.

Finding a new sense of value

In the context of a career-driven, capitalist, and consumerist society, hobbies haven’t always been valued. 

Many have wondered: Why “waste” your time on activities that won’t explicitly further your professional ambitions? Why spend hours working on a skill that won’t necessarily make you much (if any) money?

And look — I get it. Money is important. It drives so much of our day-to-day lives. Without adequate funds, you can’t put a roof over your head, feed yourself (and your family), or even afford the time to pick up a leisure activity.

But if your basic needs are being met, there is so much value in picking up a hobby. Because we, as human beings, are not meant to be money-making machines. We’re complex, multi-faceted individuals, each with our own talents, interests, and passions.

Not every interaction needs to be an opportunity to “network.” We can (and should) spend some of our time doing things just because we enjoy them — not in an effort to beef up our LinkedIn profiles.

The psychological benefits of hobbies

And hobbies aren’t just for fun — they can have concrete and seriously meaningful benefits. For example, psychologist Joyce E.A. Russel writes for the Washington Post: “Research has shown that people who have hobbies are generally healthier, and have a lower risk of depression and dementia.”

As someone who’s dealt with mental health issues for basically my whole life, I can attest to the fact that hobbies can help provide meaning and structure.

Engaging in your favourite leisure activity is most certainly an act of self-care — which is a term that gets tossed around a lot these days. As many of us are now adapting to slower, less hurried lives, hobbies are easy shortcuts to accessing moments of joy, relief, and comfort.

Why pick up creative writing?

So, now that we’ve talked about the basics of why hobbies are important, let’s look at an example of what you can pick up. Obviously, as this is a blog about writing, I’m a bit biased. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, writing poetry has personally been a source of life-long comfort.

And the thing about poetry is that there really isn’t much money in it. Unless you happen to blow up and become an international best-seller (à la Rupi Kaur), you should never become a poet with the intention of making a living off it. 

Even the most talented and well-respected poets of our time typically still have “real jobs” as professors, teachers, or publishing professionals to pay their bills. And yet, they still write creatively, knowing that their reward for doing so will likely not be monetary.

The act of writing allows one to process their thoughts and emotions into tangible words. It gives the writer time to pause, reflect, and craft something meaningful out of the mess of existence.

In 2020, amidst a global pandemic (and collective suffering/outrage over racial injustice), we could all use a few moments of reflection. Taking just a few minutes per day to write can have lasting benefits.

The timing has never been better

So, if you’re a writer — even just as a hobbyist — give yourself permission to get creative. Many of us now have plenty of free time on our hands, and writing is one way to keep yourself engaged.

Is there a novel you’ve been meaning to write? A great idea you’ve had on the backburner? Curious about writing a poem or two? Or just interested in starting to journal?

Now is a great time to start. And not for the purpose of “getting things done” or staying “productive” — just because you want to!

Truly: if not now, when?

Wrapping up

If you need inspiration for getting started, check out these past posts from the Writing Advice blog:

No matter what your hobby — whether you’re a painter or a home cook — remember to carve out time for doing the things you enjoy. Just because we’re all collectively going through a difficult time doesn’t mean that you should let your fear or sadness consume you.

Taking time to do things you truly enjoy — regardless of their money-making potential — can help offset the widespread stress of living through a pandemic. Remember to be gentle with yourself and afford yourself the time to unwind.

As always, thanks for reading the blog. Be sure to subscribe so that you can receive new, weekly articles straight to your inbox. 

Happy writing!

Statement on Pride 2020 and the BLM Movement

Introduction

First of all, Happy Pride Month to each and every reader of the Writing Advice blog. As always, I want to thank you for supporting this site by subscribing and reading my regular articles. In lieu of a new blog post this week, I’d just like to give a quick note to all readers.

Seeing as I’m someone who doesn’t really use social media these days, this website is one of my only forms of digital presence.

It felt wrong to not use whatever platform I have — no matter how small — to state, unequivocally, that I support the Black Lives Matter movement and condemn the widespread, systemic racism that plagues countless Western nations (including Canada), and especially as of late, the United States. I recognize that this recent surge of activism simply serves to highlight an already long-standing issue which includes instances of racial profiling and police brutality.

Call for Donations

I usually have a sidebar on the Writing Advice blog asking readers to consider making a one-time, $5 donation to help fund the site. But, if you feel so inclined to support the blog, please consider making a small donation to The Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention instead. It’s a great local charity I’m supporting this Pride month, which works to fight against intersecting issues such as HIV-related stigma, homophobia, and anti-Black racism.

As a queer person, I recognize that the rights I’m afforded in 2020 have only been made possible by those who came before me — many of whom were black (and trans) activists. The black community deserves our support during this time in history.

Conclusion

Again, thanks for your continued support of the Writing Advice site. Regular blog posts will resume next week, and this call for donations will remain pinned at the top of the site for all of June.