Thursday, August 11, 2011

Around the Word

Today we zero in on how to stay focused, motivated, and positive when you write. 

Book project boot camp: The lazy days of summer are filled with excuses to not start a project. The weather is nice, the kids are at home and sometimes it is just too hot to think, let alone write. If you're lacking the giddy-up to get your book going, writing pro and no-nonsense blogger Chris Brogan might have the inspiration you need. In the first two posts of a four part series on book writing, Brogan shuts down the excuses we all use not to write. He encourages writers to find the time and the discipline to make their book project happen with tips for maintaining focus and reaching word-count goals. How do you stay motivated during the dog days?

Digital quiet car: Sometimes, all the discipline in the world isn't enough to stay focused when the Internet readily available for distraction. Fortunately, there are a host of tools for keeping you on-task while writing. One new online service, Quietwrite, offers a distraction-free site to write. Free of spell-check, buttons, icons and links, Quietwrite auto-saves while you work so all you have to do is type. What do you do to keep out digital distractions? (h/t GalleyCat)

Don't fear the tangent: When your efforts to focus fall short, Darren Rowse, founder of Problogger, suggests embracing the mental tangents your mind takes. Sometimes, your writing follows a winding road that ends in a place you never expected to be. When you find yourself off-course, you can leave in the tangent, delete it or use it as a springboard for a new piece. Rowse advises, "Look for parts of the post where you could have said more, where ideas weren't complete finished, or where you think the reader might have been left asking questions." Those are the places, he says, where you can find your next big idea.

Fast and furious: For those of you who struggle with the slows year round, you might want to check out this piece from Slate writer Michael Agger. Frustrated with his pokey progress next to his speedier colleagues, Agger decided to delve into the psychology of writing at lightning speed and understand why some writers are much quicker than others. The literature finds that writing is a very cognitively challenging activity, and that the fastest writers have, unsurprisingly, practiced. . . . a lot. Writing in regular bursts, at a set time every day, in a non-stimulating environment helps you stay focused, Agger says, and lets the words fly onto the page. Reading and listening to feedback from your audience helps, too. 

In praise of the copy editor: Once all the mental hurdles have been cleared and the words have somehow made their way to the page, your pysche will still have to go through the wringer of the editing process. Seeing those red marks all over your work can be a humbling experience for even the most seasoned writer. Just ask author Elizabeth Fama. On the Subversive Copy Editor this week, she penned a cheeky first-person account about getting her manuscript back from an editor that many pros will identify with. Too many em dashes, mistakenly compound words and flagrant comma abuse were all problems she never knew she had until a talented copy editor took a look at her prose. "Hoo boy am I ever grateful for your edits," she writes to her editor. "I feel honored to have someone out there watching my back so carefully." Have you thanked your copy editor today?

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