I talk a big game about never experiencing writer’s block. I even going so far as to say I don’t believe in it. Instead, I believe there are different ways to approach writing that allow you to move forward no matter where you are in the process.
Occasionally, I post writing prompts aimed at getting to the heart of specific issues related to writing.
- How to develop imagery to tell a story
- The Pitching Challenge
- Turning the first draft of a novel (or other book length piece) into a polished draft
- 7 ways to commit to your writing
I believe in them so strongly that I offer free feedback to the first five people who respond to each prompt to prove how well these prompts work. Which, by the way, you’d be surprised at how few people have taken me up on it, so feel free to write to a prompt and e-mail it to me.
When I say I don’t believe in writer’s block that doesn’t mean I never get stuck with my writing. It simply means that I’ve learned how to use the different prompts in my own process to move me past the frustration.
It’s no surprise I named my private online writing group The Writer’s Process. That’s where I share my experience and techniques to help others develop their own process.
Just that moment, Lola tapped me on the shoulder.
As I was writing this post, Lola Akinmade, an incredibly accomplished writer and photographer and a woman I very much admire, asked if I’d like to take part in a writing blog hop asking four questions that focus on how I write and what I want for my writing. The timing was so perfect, I couldn’t say no.
1) What am I working on/writing?
I make sure to write something every day. Whether I have a deadline for a paid-pitched article or I simply free write in my journal, I write every single day.The daily practice of putting words together keeps my brain limber. I find this habit particularly important now that I’m pregnant because it is so easy to get distracted.
My main project these days is the book I’m writing based on the journal I kept while pregnant with Lila.
It’s a slow plodding process, to be honest. I get stuck a lot, do a lot of free writing, and have been using my own prompts regularly to work through the kinks. You can download the first chapter here.
The second thing? A writing retreat.
The fabulous Jeannie Mark of Nomadic Chick and I are putting together a writing retreat for 2015. Our vision? To create an inspirational space where you can relax, be inspired and feel freed to write that which you’ve always wanted to write.
Jeannie and I hosted our first retreat in Costa Rica in 2015, and it was amazing. We filled all 10 spaces and every woman on the retreat left with a finished piece of writing and a clear plan for what she wanted in her writing life.
2) How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?
They say “there’s nothing new under the sun.” I won’t pretend I’m reinventing the wheel every time I publish something. My personal experiences and choices — growing up orthodox Jewish, travel, living as an expat — separate me from others writing on similar topics. I enjoy writing pieces that turn a topic at an angle and see it in a different light.
I also draw heavily on my academic writing training. I think of all writing as literature, so no matter what I read or write — a travel piece, a best-of list, fiction or creative non-fiction — I apply similar principles. I want everything I create to have a core truth. Everything must have a story with a beginning, middle, end and must include a meaning that goes beyond the details.
Why? Because even the most personal piece must resonate with the audience. Once my writing leaves my hands, the details of my own life are no longer important. When a piece of writing reflects a universal truth, it can exist forever.
3) Why do I write what I do?
I write what occupies my mind. Right now, that’s pregnancy, children, travel, life choices. My writing begins as a way for me to organize my own thoughts and beliefs. Writing allows me to create different scenarios and follow divergent pathways that I may not want to take in real life.
There are many people grappling with similar questions about motherhood, pregnancy and how to best raise our children. How do we make choices for ourselves and our children should we choose to have them? Can we travel? Must we stay in one place? How much stability do we need?
I hope my writing allows others to work through these questions with me.
4) How does my writing process work?
There are two parts to my writing process.
The first is the loosey, goosey, airy-fairy, tap into your own soul kind of thing. It’s free and meditative. It’s what I think about when I daydream. My journals are full of gratitude, anger, irrationality and horribly faulty thinking. Sometimes I type. Other times I write by hand, occasionally writing with my non-dominant hand just to see what happens.
One key element that I haven’t yet mentioned? Trust and faith. I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t doubt his or her abilities. No matter how many times we write, we wonder if this is the moment it all falls apart.
No one else ever sees this. It’s the ugly side of myself, and I am not brave enough to share without editing.
The second part is rational. It is type-A and all business. This is when I edit, shape, craft and control.I write at least two drafts per piece, usually more. With each draft, I focus on different aspects. Is there something missing? Is the dialogue working? Do I have a core meaning? Is it believable?
A corpus callosum of analysis and thought connects the two. Even when I’m not actively writing, I’m always working on a piece.
One key element that I haven’t yet mentioned?
Trust and faith. I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t doubt his or her ability. No matter how many times we write, we wonder if this is the moment it all falls apart. That doubt intensifies when we attempt to stretch our boundaries and do something we’ve never done before.
You have to push aside the doubt and keep moving forward.
I focus on my process. It has never failed me. When I hit a wall, I take a step back and let the work marinate. The only thing that can stop me from writing is myself. Same applies to you.
What happens next on the blog hop?
Next week, three wonderful writers, all very different, all of whom I admire for their use of language, storytelling and development of the craft of writing will pick up the mantle.
Mike Sowden is an ex-Archaeology student turned full time writer. He’s written articles for websites like Mashable, CNN Travel, Matador Network’s Brave New Traveler, Gadling, EcoSalon and Weburbanist. Mike is sharp, funny and has a very British way about him.
I know Candice Walsh from our days working together at Matador Network. Her blog is reflective and narrative, showing her life as a tangled mess of unfortunate coincidences, bizarre experiences, and shady characters. You will find no grandiose exclamations of life lessons here, nor any “Top 5 beaches to get in touch with your inner yogi” shit. Just Candice and her relationship with “place.”
Ana O’Reilly is a bilingual Spanish and English travel writer. Originally from the Buenos Aires province in Argentina, she now lives in Dallas, Texas where she travels and writes about place, food and all the things that make exploring the world so wonderful. She also runs the Apuntas, Ideas, Imagenes blog and writes regularly for Pocket Cultures.
I encourage you to ask yourselves and answer the same four questions. Even if you don’t have clear answers to every question yet, all go a long way to working through what you want for your writing, developing your goals for your writing career and ultimately figuring out what works best for you to reach your goals.