How to Harness the Power of Your Dreams

Aside from the actual craft of writing, one of the best ways to improve your work (and generate more personal satisfaction and income as a result) is to harness the power of your dreams.

In this context, let’s use the word “dreams” to include those stories you tell yourself while you’re sleeping, of course, and also your waking daydreams, your fantasies about how life could or should or would be, plus those many “what if” scenarios you dream up in response to real life situations that strangers helpfully play out in front of you.

All of these ideas, scenes, set pieces, snippets, and snapshots may be sparked by external reality. But they nearly always feed off some of your innermost feelings, drives, and desires. As such, they are normally connected to strong emotions that, when woven into your writings, will tend to attract and captivate others much more powerfully than the relatively dry stuff that spills out from your comparatively cerebral creative processes.

It has often been said that if you are not crying while you are writing, you’re not doing it right. Starting with material from your dreams will make crying – and other high emotions – a more commonplace part of your writing process.

Here are some tips to help you harness the power of your dreams:

1. Keep Track of Your Dreams

The first step in harnessing the power of your dreams is to capture as much of this raw material as you can. This requires you to keep a “dream journal” in which, every morning on first awakening, you immediately note what you can remember of any dreams you’ve had during the night. At first, you might remember just a few disconnected snippets of your dreams. But as you continue with this practice, you’ll get better and better at remembering the details of what you dreamt the night before.

But don’t stop with nighttime dreams. Carry some kind of note-taking mechanism with you – scrap paper and pencil, a bound journal, your smart phone, a tape recorder, or anything else you can comfortably tote all the time – and use it frequently. Record random thoughts, complete ideas, simple stories you make up during the day, human interactions you witness, and any other fodder for writing that you encounter as you go about your daily business.

Don’t try to vet these items for quality, relevance, or any other virtue. Capture them all as they come to you. Later, you can decide whether a particular note has enough merit or potential to warrant further work.

2. Brainstorm On Your Dreams

You can think of dreams that pop into your head as “first generation” material, because it comes unbidden to your mind. But equally valuable is the “second generation” material you intentionally manufacture using your “first generation” material as starting points.

There are many rules to aid in brainstorming, the full range of which I won’t bother to discuss here. But I will cover just two: free writing, and pyramiding.

Free writing is a simple exercise designed to uncover lots of ideas that your native internal editor would normally try to keep hidden. It consists of starting with an item of first generation dream material and then writing whatever comes to mind, without stopping or thinking or editing, for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. If you have nothing to say, just write “I have nothing to say” over and over again until you do have something to say. The result of this free writing exercise is to “clear the pipes” and uncover subconscious material that often reveals additional thoughts, feelings, memories, and ideas tied in with your strong emotions.

Pyramiding is a more conscious process in which you start with an item of first generation dream material, then intentionally and logically build on it. Say you originally dreamt of an umbrella. You might pyramid on that idea by thinking of umbrella uses, such as shielding a person from rain or sun. You might think of other items that are reminiscent of or associated with umbrellas, such as awnings, tarps, tents, and porch roofs. If you start with an item of clothing, you might build to whole outfits or trending fashions. If you start with a snippet of human interaction, you might pyramid from there toward an entire play.

The discipline and practice of brainstorming applied to your first generation dream material is helpful because it produces further raw material on the basis of which you may later write something wonderful.

3. Refine Your Dream Material

Although your first and second generation dream material provides the valuable ore containing hints of golden promise, you extract the most value from this raw material when you refine it into ingots of first-rate creative expression.

To do this, sift through your dream material in search of nuggets, grains, or even flecks of worthwhile story material. Look for elements like a great line of dialog or description, a powerful conflict, a memorable character, a captivating visual, an exciting journey, an enthralling plot, or something better.

Collect and organize these as the basis for the most “writerly” part of this process:

4. Edit Your Dream Material Into Story Ideas

Here’s another place where we separate the “wannabes” from the professional writers. Anybody can think of a great line of dialog or an enthralling plot. It takes a professional to craft such elements into a complete idea for a story.

Take, for example, “Proof of Life.” It’s a compelling film based on a magazine article prompted by the actual practice of gaining freedom for hostages taken by terrorists. Lots of people knew about the practice; thousands more read the magazine article. The raw material was sitting out there in public view, just waiting for a professional writer to do the work necessary to wrangle the raw idea into a story.

Steps one through three, above, will regularly provide you with a treasure trove of raw dream material chock full of powerful elements from your own life, mind, and unconscious.

From that point on, you will have endless opportunities to use your writing chops to crank out a great story. Or more than one.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

Earn More While Working Less

I don’t know about you, but while I greatly enjoy writing, and I love to re-read my finished work (plus I metaphorically glow every time I hear the occasional “you changed my life”), I have never forgotten that under the capitalist system there’s always the component of money.

As a result, I have spent a good deal of my professional time and effort thinking about, and finding ways to increase, my income from writing.

Here are some of the methods I have used to accomplish this simple but important purpose:

1. Raise Your Rates

This is fundamental to increasing your income. In part, I’ve always thought of this process as a simple scenario: Suppose you’re in a room or on the phone with a relative stranger, and you ask them to give you $10. Chances are, they’ll scoff and brush you off with a forceful “no.” That’s a natural reaction. But when you are in a room or on the phone with someone who is negotiating to buy your work, you can ask them for that same $10 (extra) with a much greater likelihood they’ll say “yes.”

That’s one big reason I’m routinely exploring how much more I can get for every word I write.

Asking for more is the basic tool for earning more. If I’m getting $1.00 a word from most of my clients, I’m likely to quote a slightly higher rate to my next prospective client. If she balks, I can always change my tune and offer the lower rate I’m already getting from so many others.

Of course, you don’t want to appear avaricious, nor do you want to queer a deal by behaving too greedily or money-grubbing. But there’s nothing wrong with considering the total earnout from a piece of your work and trying to maximize it.

Aside from outright asking for more, there are a couple of other considerations to keep in mind when trying to raise your rates.

First, part of the process of kicking up your rates is to establish and maintain a minimum rate, under which you will not work. If you don’t have such a minimum, it’ll be extra difficult to resist the inevitable capitalist pressures on you to work cheaper and cheaper. Naturally, you’ll want to keep raising this floor as you cement your ability to get higher and higher rates for your work.

Second, calculate how much you “should” earn, and how much you “want to” earn by summing up your living expenses for the year and dividing by the number of hours you generally work. If you spend $100,000 a year and work 2,000 hours (40 hours times 50 weeks), you should earn $50 per hour to meet your expenses. If you want to earn $120,000 next year, you’ll have to find ways to get $60 per hour.

Since inflation eats away at the value of your dollars, this calculation contains a built-in incentive for you to keep raising your rates.

Of course, you can always work more hours or spend less money, but that’s fodder for a different discussion.

2. Specialize and Become an Expert

As I’ve mentioned in a recent article I wrote for NAIWE, most writers should choose between specializing on a single field of knowledge, or writing on a variety of topics.

Aside from any other considerations, however, choosing to specialize can bring you more income. This is because:

  • You’ll tend to establish yourself as an expert,
  • You’ll be writing on a topic that few others can cover as well as you,
  • You’ll be writing for a narrower audience of people who may feel more willing to pay well for good information, and
  • You may uncover ancillary sources of income such as speaking, teaching, editing, researching, or something else.

3. Work More Efficiently

We’ve already touched on the number of hours you can work in a year and the amount you can earn each hour. Reading those ideas, you may have realized that another way to earn more is to produce more output per hour.

This brings you into the world of productivity and efficiency.

Back in 1980, I found a great way to increase my income by switching from an electric typewriter to a word processing computer. I not only cranked out more material on the computer, every line read better because I could craft it more meticulously.

At this late date in the computer revolution, there are probably very few changes you can make that offer a comparable productivity advantage. But you might want to think about:

  • Speech-to-text software instead of typing,
  • Auto-correcting software to reduce the time needed to clean up your work,
  • Automatic formatting software to facilitate writing scripts and plays,
  • “Mind mapping” software to help you develop complex characters and plots,

and perhaps other technologies I haven’t discovered yet.

You could also pull a “James Patterson” and simply supervise as others do your writing for you. But that’s a topic for another post.

4. Self-Publish Your Best Material

During the gold rush, it wasn’t the prospectors who tended to make a fortune. It was the prospectors buying equipment and supplies who made many shopkeepers rich.

Along the same lines, it isn’t the writers who tend to make most of the money available from crafting the written word. More often, it’s the publishers who do.

Fortunately, self-publishing has become much easier than ever before.

The techniques of self-publishing are topics for a different discussion, but there’s no shortage of information and advice on how to do it. In fact, by one reckoning, many of the most successful self-published books unabashedly cover the topic of how to self-publish.

Of course, that’s not the only topic that works as self-published material. Look into it. You’ll discover that when you are keeping 100% of the sales income, you don’t have to sell very much to earn more than what you might receive from a project that pays you only a small fraction of total sales or, even worse, only a flat fee.

5. Negotiate for a Piece of the Action

One of the nice things about TV, film, and music is that the writer can reasonably expect to get paid not just an upfront fee, but a portion of all the revenue the work generates.

You can gain increased income from this simple principle by trying to write for industries that offer such ongoing payment.

I’m not telling you to abandon your principles and your passion to write pot-boilers for network television. I’m simply saying that if you’re looking to harvest apples, you’ll do better in an apple orchard than in a fallow field.

To a lesser extent, you can also try to gain more revenue by negotiating a piece of the action from the kind of writing you already do for other projects and purposes.

6. Stop Getting Screwed

Perhaps the most difficult, yet important, avenue for earning more income is to stop signing contracts or accepting assignments that allow others to take advantage of you. I’ve done lots of work for people that resulted in limited – even zero – income for me. I’m not proud of it. I don’t like to talk about it. It really galls me. But it motivates me to avoid making the same kinds of mistakes in the future.

I therefore suggest that you make one of your professional mottos the following: “Screw me once, shame on you. Screw me twice, shame on me.”

You can find more advice on avoiding bad contracts here.

Working to increase your income from writing is different from, but related to learning the craft of writing. Based on my own career, as well as those of people I have helped to succeed as professional writers, I can tell you that half a loaf is better than none, and being able to afford to buy a full loaf is even better than that.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

What are your writing strengths and weaknesses?

No matter what the field, what the profession, what the skill set, everyone who strives to accomplish specific goals brings to the effort a variety of strengths and weaknesses. This is no less true in the field of professional writing than anything else.

But while it may be lamentable that you are not great at everything you try, this simple truth need not be a source of unhappiness nor a one-way ticket to failure.

One of the most important distinctions between a highly professional writer and a lesser one is that the former recognizes her strengths and weaknesses, while the latter is to some extent blind to them.

Here’s how you open your eyes to your strengths and weaknesses, and begin to incorporate them into your work:

1. Assess

First, the professional writer continually assesses his or her talents, skills, and capabilities. Each new effort, each new finished piece, stands as a milestone from which the professional writer can look back at his or her body of work and try to understand the patterns it contains.

For example, perhaps you can write a snappy poem, but your efforts to pen a political essay often fall short. Maybe you can craft a compelling short story about a young person coming of age, but that novel you’d love to write about an aging couple with regrets over past relationships eludes you. It’s possible you can describe an article of clothing in terms so soaring that you drive sales higher than the designer’s expectations. But that’s no guarantee you can write a meaningful review of the newest video game.

Strengths and weaknesses don’t manifest themselves simply in terms of whether a certain project is easy or hard for you to complete at a high level of proficiency. There are other factors, such as your willingness to work at honing a difficult passage, your satisfaction with your results, and – of course – how other people react to your output.

Most of us want to rely on our own judgments about our capabilities in various styles, genres, topic areas, purposes, audiences, and formats. Fine. Go ahead and make those personal assessments. But it’s helpful if you check your judgments against those of others, at least once in a while, to make sure you’re not just spinning fantasies about your abilities that won’t hold up in the world of impersonal market-based judgments.

2. Map

Consider both your strengths and weaknesses in terms of the kinds of material to which they relate. If you’re great at explaining actions in step-by-step fashion, that’ll be useful in writing “how to” articles and revealing what’s behind the scenes of complex current events. But it won’t be much help in writing dialog in a bodice-ripper.

On the other hand, if characters you imagine instantly come to life in your head and heart, then you’ll find it easier to tell intense personal stories that keep various audiences turning your pages. But you might not find it as easy to cover a news event or write a compelling press release.

By the same token, if you tend to lose track of where you’re going while writing procedural dramas, there’s little point in beating your head against the wall by trying to draft a spec script for “Law and Order.” Yet that deficiency says nothing about your ability to accomplish other writing objectives.

Take time to evaluate the talents, skills, and capabilities that normally go into creating any category of writing that interests you. Then carefully compare what you actually can do best against what you probably need to be able to do if you expect to excel in a specific kind of writing.

3. Execute

All this effort should result in a list of styles, genres, topic areas, purposes, audiences, and formats that feel very comfortable and interesting to you. These are the categories in which you will do best to concentrate not only your writing time, but your efforts to learn your craft.

Make it your top priority to work on the ones that best match the strengths and weaknesses you bring to the table. Those where you measure up less accurately you can relegate to a back burner or earmark for more concentration later, when you have more time or after you have grown as a writer.

If you’re like most of the writers I’ve known and mentored, you’ll find that the closer you stay to your wheelhouse, the easier and better your professional work will become.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

Some Issues with Contracts

The better a professional writer you become, the bigger and more important will be the contracts people ask you to sign.

But tempting as those financial figures may be (with all those zeroes to the left of the decimal point), you’ll be foolish to sign without applying a little professional savvy to your contract evaluation process.

Here are some fundamental tips to guide you in contract evaluation:

1. “Sign This”

My most important contract advice derives from my very first book deal: I remember sitting in the publisher’s office and chatting amiably about how great was my book concept and how much money we were going to make.

Eventually, the conversation wound down and the publisher looked me square in the eyes. He reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a sheaf of papers. “This is our standard contract,” he said with a warm, friendly smile. “Sign it.”

Instead, I started looking through the pages. Here was something I didn’t like. There was another questionable arrangement. After a few minutes of flipping pages and deconstructing legalese, I looked up and said: “There are some things in this contract I don’t like.”

Without missing a beat, the publisher reached into a different drawer of his desk and said with no trace of embarrassment: “This is our other standard contract. Sign this one.”

2. Watch Out for Claims

This warning may be just as important as the previous item: Most contracts for professional writing come with conventional language warning the writer not to plagiarize, infringe on any rights, defame, or violate any one of a great many laws governing creative work. They follow these injunctions with language in which you agree to indemnify and hold harmless (basically “reimburse”) the publisher for any liabilities arising from your breach of any of those laws and injunctions. So far, so good.

But the lawyers like to sneak another word in here that threatens your entire economic wellbeing. I’m talking about the word “claims”. Basically, most contracts require that you reimburse the publisher for payments made in response to claims that you breached one or more of those laws and injunctions.

Do you see the danger here?

Once you sign such a contract, anyone can make a claim that you violated certain rights, plagiarized, defamed, or did any of a number of bad things, and the publisher doesn’t have to be concerned about whether or not you actually did it. Under the contract, the publisher can simply pay the claimant to go away – and make this payment entirely with your money!

This actually happened to me, once, and I learned my lesson. I have never since signed a contract making me liable to pay for unsupported claims. Instead, I insist on language to the effect that I must reimburse the publisher only for claims “proven in a court of competent jurisdiction.”

Such language is no problem for me because I never plagiarize, defame, or do any of those other bad things.

Once or twice a publisher has been too bureaucratic or hidebound to accept my request for this new language, and so I wasn’t able to make those deals. But I have no regrets; the danger is too large and too real to put myself on the hook for that kind of scam, no matter how lucrative the contract might appear to be.

3. Obligations of the publisher

Contracts generally bind all parties to both rights and obligations. When looking them over, it’s easy and natural – and sensible – to devote most of your attention to your rights and your obligations. But it’s more professional to take a few minutes to consider the publisher’s rights and obligations, too.

For example, I once negotiated a book contract that gave me a wonderful share of revenues from the hardcover version, and less revenue from the paperback version. I signed it. But I didn’t realize until later that the contract did not obligate the publisher to bring out that hardcover edition. Years later, I’m still waiting to see that book in hardcover.

I have to admit I’ve made this kind of mistake twice, not just once. But you can bet your bottom dollar I won’t be making it a third time.

4. Play “What If”

Contracts tend to be written by people who are seemingly paid by the word. They rarely use one word when ten will do. As a result, contract language often gets very confusing and the whole point of what’s required can get lost.

That’s why it’s useful to play “what if” to an extreme, just to see what results from the language of the contract you’re preparing to sign.

Try some of these “what if” ideas, and any more that may appeal to you. What if:

  • The publisher goes out of business
  • The work sells millions of copies
  • The work sells almost no copies
  • You can’t complete the work on time
  • The publisher never publishes the work
  • Someone plagiarizes your work
  • Someone claims you plagiarized their work

The more extreme and wide-ranging the “what if” scenarios you test, the more clarity you’re likely to get regarding the contract.

5. NDA Hijinks

Non-disclosure agreements are increasingly common not only in contracts, but in stand-alone form that someone wants you to sign before you can even begin to learn about a project in which you might want to participate.

But the language here can get very tricky. One potential client asked me to sign a non-disclosure agreement that was so strict I discovered – by playing “what if” – that if I signed it I would be forbidden from revealing my own name!

Maybe these kinds of provisions wouldn’t hold up in court, but it’s easier, cheaper, and more practical not to sign such a sketchy contract in the first place.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

How to Get Your Next Assignment Easier Than Your Last, or Easier Than You Ever Imagined

If you are – or want to be – a working professional writer, then it’s time to realize (or remember) that being able to write a great piece is winning only half the battle.

The other half is being able to sell it.

As far as I can tell, there are only two ways to sell your work:

1. Find your own audience to pay for reading it.
2. Convince someone who already has a paying audience to provide your work to their audience.

I’m all in favor of finding your own audience. I’ve self-published several books and I plan to do more. I’ve known or heard about people who’ve started their own publications, promoted their own blogs and websites, crowd-funded their books and other writing projects, and so forth. I’ve even met people who have sold their own poetry on street corners for as little as 25 cents a pop.

There are lots of ways to find your own audience and I encourage you to try some or all of them en route to building your writing career.

But it’s always helpful to take the easier route and piggyback your desire to be published on someone who already has access to a paying audience.

Again, I believe there are basically two ways to do this. First, you can write whatever you want and then hope to get someone to pay you for it, or second, you can find someone willing to pay you for writing something they assign to you, whether that’s a newspaper or magazine article, a book, a poem, a white paper, liner notes, a website, a blog post, or anything else.

Here’s how to make getting such an assignment even easier.

1. Try Lots of Avenues to a Wide Range of Outlets (and Keep Trying New Ones)

Selling your work is something like a lottery: you can’t win if you don’t play, and the more entries you have working for you, the greater your chances of winning.

If you’re interested in writing magazine articles, for example, make contact with lots of different publications and editors. If you want to write a book, talk to lots of agents. If you’re interested in ghost writing, beat the bushes for lots of different potential clients.

Accept that this is part of the business, and like any professional looking to make a sale, recognize that every rejection brings you one step closer to a “yes”.

2. Be Flexible, Professional, and Easy to Work With

Maybe if you’re the next Hemingway or Doris Lessing, you can afford to be grumpy. But it you’re not, or not yet, then make it pleasant and relaxing to work with you. Hold your complaints, say “yes” as much as you can, and try to find ways to work around the unpleasantries that come with almost every assignment.

I remember when I was young and reporting for a newspaper in Philadelphia, I would sum up the entire wisdom of the world – as it pertained to the topic at hand – in the last paragraph of every article I wrote. The editor would inevitable chop that last paragraph for reasons of space.

I could have gotten angry. Instead, I simply put that wisdom into the second to last paragraph.

Of course, if things get too terrible for you, you can always find a different outlet for your work. But don’t burn any bridges on your way out. You never know when you may have to re-cross that bridge on your way back.

3. Always Have A “Next” Project to Offer

Whenever you sell something, immediately implement the successful professional writer’s “two step”: First, deliver what you promised, on time, as terrific as you can make it. Second, start setting the stage to sell that outlet more of your work.

For the professional writer, a sale is not the end of the process, but the beginning.

4. Go Back to the Best Wells Again and Again

Although following these directions will eventually net you a variety of places to sell your work, some will inevitably be better than others: more interesting, challenging, lucrative, friendly, easy, or whatever.

Don’t be shy; keep going back to these outlets with better and better ideas, as well as better and better work. I mean, if you have found two peach trees, and one makes better peaches than the other, isn’t that the one where you should do most of your picking?

5. Keep Adding New Arrows to Your Quiver

As a professional, part of your job is to keep improving, delivering better and better work in a wide variety of genres, styles, and formats. You’ll find that trying to sell to new outlets is far easier if you have more skills, abilities, and offerings to show them.

6. Sell the Same Prep-Work Over and Over

You may or may not have noticed, but successful professional writers often touch on the same topics, revisit the same information, and appeal to the same audiences over and over again. Of course you want to grow as a professional, but if you spend a lot of time and effort digging into and mastering a certain topic, why not get the most from your investment? You’ll find it’s easier to sell the second and third items resulting from that work than it was to sell the first.

7. Piggyback On Your Best Ideas

One of the techniques of brainstorming is to piggyback on others’ ideas. For example, I might suggest “let’s paint it red,” and then you might piggyback on that by suggesting “let’s offer it in seven different colors.”

But you don’t need others’ ideas for piggybacking to work. Whatever idea you’re working on, you can probably use that idea as a jumping off point and find some other idea(s) that will also yield good material you can sell.

I have consistently used these techniques to maximize the results of pitching my work to publishers, editors, writing partners, and clients. They may have little to do with the craft of writing, but they have a great deal to do with keeping me in the writing game when other “writers” have dropped out of the creative world in order to keep food on the table.

Of course, it’s important you maintain your primary focus on writing rather than on getting your next assignment. But if you lose sight of selling, there’s a chance you’ll fairly soon be writing for an audience of one.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

Setting Up the Effective Writer’s Office

Whenever I have moved to a new home, I run into the same kind of organizational difficulties.

For example, say I want to write a story, but I can’t because my chair and desk are cluttered with moving boxes. Well, I’d like to move the boxes, but I can’t put the boxes in the closet because the door to the closet is blocked by a large piece of furniture. I’d like to put the furniture where I want it, but I can’t move the furniture because the floor in the room where I want it needs painting. I’d like to paint the floor, but I can’t paint the floor because I don’t have the right color paint. I’d like to go get the paint, but I can’t get the right paint because my car is in the shop.

And so forth.

As a result, I’m not only frustrated, I can’t tap that particular swirl of inspiration and use it to write my story.

Later, when everything in my new home is squared away and I am settled in, whenever I want to write a story, I’m in a great position to do so. I can immediately sit at my desk, grab whatever tools I need for writing, and get to work.

Over the years I’ve learned that one of the ways a writer becomes more professional is by surrounding herself with the proper tools and the most comfortable systems she needs to work more effectively.

In short, she creates an effective writer’s office.

In general, this entails:

1. A comfortable space in which to work, whether that’s a garret or a patio, a soft bed or a hard chair, a high tech hardscape or a Victorian drawing room, or whatever.
2. The right tools, whether that’s a good pen and plenty of paper or a touch-screen laptop, or a lightweight laptop with Scrivener or Pages software, or a heavyweight desktop computer with Dragon or Speech Recogniser, or whatever.
3. The right aural and visual environment, whether that’s dead quiet or heavy metal guitar shredding, a breathtaking view of a mountain lake or a bust of Hemingway at your elbow, or whatever.
4. The right reference materials, whether that’s your own notes on preparatory thoughts or props that help you get in your characters’ frame of mind, an encyclopedia or an internet connection, or whatever.
5. The right feeling, whether that’s a creative mood, a historic sense of writing well in that place, the takeaway after proven warmup exercises, or whatever.

An effective office is as important a support of your best writing as an effective wardrobe is in helping you look and feel your best.

Every hour you spend setting up and maintaining your effective office will pay regularly repeated dividends over the years as you gain career momentum and add emotional power to your most important writing efforts.

I can recall many times that helping aspiring writers create a solid platform on which to work has led to the launch of a far more satisfied and successful wordsmith.

Setting up an effective writer’s office is different from, but akin to learning the proper footwork or other fundamentals of a sport. Not only my own experiences, but those of others I have helped, make clear that it’s so much easier to concentrate and produce compelling material that accurately reflects your thoughts and feelings when you don’t keep butting up against practical impediments and obstacles.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

What kind of writer are you?

I remember going to lots of writers’ conferences, back when I lived in Philadelphia. And then going to more writers’ conferences after I moved to Los Angeles. And also taking writing courses and attending writing workshops by the dozens.

Along the way, I met a lot of “wannabe” writers (and also a lot of “don’t wannabe” writers, but that’s a different story).

I remember reading a lot of their work, some of it quite good. But much of it was quite bad. And I remember thinking: “How can you claim you want to be a writer, and then ask someone to read something put together so sloppily.”

I’m talking about errors in punctuation and spelling, poor and repetitive sentence structure, inadvertent subject-verbs disagreements. I’m also talking about unclear references and – more fundamentally – disordered thinking.

I never had to resolve to become a more professional writer; it was a drive that just came naturally to me. Like a carpenter who made straight cuts in the wood, or a plumber who produced tidy solder joints in the pipes, in my bones I felt it was important to master my craft and write at least professionally, if not well.

I make the distinction because writing well is all about touching your audience and leaving them changed. Not everyone can do that. But anyone who claims to be a writer can crank out professional quality work.

And once you’re capable of cranking out professional quality work, adhering to all of the rules is no longer of prime importance.

Think of Picasso. He could draw like nobody’s business, a single line conveying a tremendous amount of image and information. But after he mastered that skill, he broke free of “realism” and could produce images no one had ever seen before – presumably the exact images he wanted to show to the rest of us.

I can create a nonsense image, too. But since I can’t draw very well, it’s more random than Picasso’s and unlikely to reflect exactly what I’m trying to convey.

So what kind of writer are you? Are you comfortable stringing together some words in hopes your production touches your audience and leaves them changed – changed in the way you intend? Or are you the kind of writer who wants to master your craft so that you have the best chance of conveying your fullest depth of meaning precisely?

Over the years, in some cases, I have helped aspiring writers clarify their thought processes, delve deeply into their innermost feelings and ideas, and dredge up some powerful material that they might never have been able to produce on their own.

But in almost every case, I have been able to teach aspiring writers to craft better material, reflecting more precisely their intended meaning, and often carrying more power to change their readers than the works they had previously been coughing up.

I don’t take any credit for this; it’s just a gift I have learned to share. But I think it’s an important calling, and I hope to continuing sharing this love of mastery for many years to come.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

Welcome to my NAIWE blog….

Welcome.

On this blog I’m hoping to inform and inspire you to reach heights of professionalism you’ve previously thought were beyond you.

Professionalism is what separates the best from the rest. It’s the result of a philosophy, a practice, a skill set, and a drive that is attainable by many, but achieved by only a relatively few.

Some of us get here easily. Some of us must work hard to achieve our desired level of professionalism.

Whichever route turns out to be yours, I sincerely hope you reach all your goals, both as writers and as people. My aim here is to help you, so please feel free to ask me any questions, challenge me on any of my ideas, and revisit this blog as often as you can.

Best wishes for a great future!

Robert