Writer’s Boot Camp Week: 4 Secrets To Becoming a Better Writer

Margaret —  April 17, 2013 — 27 Comments

Writer's Boot Camp: 4 Secrets

Welcome to Writer’s Boot Camp—a place where I’m not here to inspire or encourage you, but to get you writing your best. To understand the rules of the Boot Camp, you need to read “Writer’s Boot Camp Week: Why I Hate Talking About Writing” so you don’t get kicked out.

You may also want to read yesterday’s post: "21 Things No One Will Tell You As a Writer (But Someone Probably Should)."

Writing demands that you come to terms with the creative life—a rush of emotions, observations, adoration, ironies, coupled with the every day demands of paying a mortgage, caring for a family, and oh, yeah, dirty laundry. [Tweet this]

I’ve been writing for more than 15 years. I’m hopeful that in another 50 I might become good.

For those who want to write or unleash their creativity, enough hours never exist in any day. Never.

You must make time where time does not exist. [Tweet this]

You must find energy where energy does not exist. [Tweet this]

You must master the art of making something out of nothing. [Tweet this]

That requires prayer and intentional living. Here are 4 Secrets To Becoming a Better Writer: [Tweet this]

1. Your Place Matters. The location you write matters. Great writing isn’t dependent on the perfect nook, the softest chair, the smoothest roller ball pen (no matter what you tell yourself), but your surroundings will impact your ability to write.

The place you create and the place you deconstruct your writing must be different. [Tweet this] I never write and edit in the same place. I will move from one side of the room to another. Change chairs. Sit on the other side of a table. The part of the brain that creates is different then that which plays critic, and I want different physical places to represent the reality of what I’m doing.

When you create, you need to be free to create without the slightest hindrance—no self- slowing you down. That’s reserved for 10,000 rewrites.

Objective: Reflect on the place where you create and the place where you deconstruct. How can you make your creative space more life-giving? [Tweet this] Remove clutter? Add a splash of fresh paint? Hang a framed photo? What physical shift do you need to make for the editing process?

Writer’s Boot Camp Week: 4 Secrets To Becoming a Better Writer

2. Discover Your Creative Sweet Spot. Did you know there are particular hours in your day that you write better than others? [Tweet this] If you look at a calendar, you’ll discover specific days of the week that are your prime writing times.

During a week when I’m at home, my best writing is Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. After a weekend of playing with friends and adventuring outdoors, my creative tank is full. The most colorful expressions and sharpest turns of phrase will emerge during those three days. That’s why I’ll push aside everything—radio interviews, blog posts, conference calls until Thursday and Friday. I don’t want to sacrifice a moment of juicy creativity answering ho-hum emails or getting caught up in busy work.

Objective: Over the next 21 days, pay attention to what you’re writing when. Which days of the week are your strongest pieces emerging? [Tweet this] Which hours of the day are you wide-awake and alert to creativity?

Writer’s Boot Camp Week: 4 Secrets To Becoming a Better Writer

3. Unplug From Distraction. Now that you’ve discovered your creative sweet spot, everything is going to try to tear you away from it. It won’t just be professional pressures, but familial demands. The lawn must be mowed. The dishwasher emptied. The laundry folded.

You may be able to run away to the library or coffee shop and escape such nuisances, but the most dangerous is lurking right in front of you: The Internet.

I confess that I can’t write unplugged. I’m co-dependent. Sites like Thesaurus.com and Dictionary.com are heaven-sent gifts. Sometimes I just need to know how many toes a salamander has before I can write another sentence. (Never more than four toes on their front feet, in case you were wondering).

But much more dangerous sites are only a click away. Facebook. Twitter. Skyauction. Craigslist. Weather.com. Ebay. Hours of distraction beckon me. Sometimes I’ll give in—telling myself it will just be a minute. It’s always at least two. But the real cost is the start and stop of creative energy. In turning to such sites, I lose inertia. The creative flow wanes and must be drummed up again.

Objective: Make a list of what will most likely distract or pull you away from your most creative moments. Ruthlessly eliminate each one. [Tweet this] If you must stay plugged in to write, limit the sites you visit to those that feed your creative energy. Stay away from the drain holes.

Writer’s Boot Camp Week: 4 Secrets To Becoming a Better Writer

4. Develop a Sustainable System. What system do you have in place to support the way you write? Most projects require research, notes, interviews, and more. How do you stay organized as more information, details, and potential rabbit trails infiltrate your project?

Here’s my top secret system. I write with four Word files open. The first file is a detailed outline of the project. This is my roadmap. I’ll return to this file at least 300 times during a project to see if I’m staying on track or wandering away from the main idea.

The second file is the actual document. This is the manuscript. This is where the creativity happens. But along the way I’ll write a paragraph that, while insightful, doesn’t fit. I’ll tell a story that, while intriguing, isn’t necessary. These need to be cut. That’s why another file is needed.

The third file is called scrap. This is the place I put everything I wrote in the actual document that doesn’t have a place. That funny-one liner. That stellar quote. That ironic detail that just doesn’t fit. I’ll cut and paste all those left overs into this one file. Then when I become stuck writing, I’ll turn to my scrap file and look for treasures. Sometimes I’ll find that one sentence or idea that gets me unstuck and fits perfectly.

The fourth file is called research. The web is a living entity. Articles appear, disappear, and become modified overnight. If any of your research is done online, always take a screen shot. Then save that image in research. You’ll probably also need an old fashioned manila folder for scrap articles that are from print sources (or scan them in). But you need a place to collect your research.

Objective: Reflect on the sustainability of your system for researching, writing, and creating. What’s working? [Tweet this] What needs to be readjusted? How would a better organizational plan help you become a faster, better writer?

Writer’s Boot Camp Week: 4 Secrets To Becoming a Better Writer

Stop. Drop. And give me 1. In the space below.

Give me the ONE thing from this list you struggle with the most as a comment on this blog post. [Tweet this] Then explain how you are going to overcome it. 

If you have a follow up question to this post, ask it. If I like you, I’ll consider answering it. But only if you did your homework from the two previous posts: Why I Hate Talking About Writing and 21 Things No One Will Tell You As a Writer (But Someone Probably Should).

Remember. This is Boot Camp.

If you’re brave enough, jump back on tomorrow as we discuss The Secret to Getting Published in 2013.

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27 responses to Writer’s Boot Camp Week: 4 Secrets To Becoming a Better Writer

  1. For me, trying to carve out uninterrupted creative time with three little kids is my biggest challenge. By the time all three are asleep in bed it is usually at least 9:30 pm (NOT my best time to be creative) and the youngest is usually up by 6:00 am (AHHH….sleep). I think I need to schedule a certain time on the weekends when I can get away, maybe Saturday mornings early when my husband can watch the kids and I can just zero in for a few hours before we start the weekend as a family. Granted, that isn’t much time, but during this short (blessed) season of my life with little ones roaming around all over me it might be just what I need to take action and put some of the words in my head down on paper. Thank you for this bootcamp. I love it. Blessings!

  2. I started reading this post from Twitter while I should be finishing a sentence I started on another screen. So, I guess you could say distraction is big for me. :)

  3. Ummm… distractions! AFTER I get moved… I will address this AND the SPACE! I am in a bit of holding pattern for the moment but I can still cultivate inspiration and encouragement right? Oh, and I LOVE, love, LOOOOVVVEEE the four tabs. THAT will happen right away. I already do two! ;-)

  4. I love Twitter. Makes me feel connected to other writers. But I have to be careful what links I click and what blogs I read because I often find myself spiraling down a tunnel debating a topic that while I care about is not the project or passion God put on my heart.

    Question: Margaret, how long did it take before your first book was published?

  5. Distractions. If they don’t come from the outside, I create them with rabbit trails….. how to overcome? I find the best way to overcome is to keep the creative juices flowing. Thus, my solution has to be a place to go for ideas or a new activity that is full of idea making seeds…..this needs to be done with a journal, pen or camera in hand in order to bring back to my writing place.

  6. My biggest challenge is being easily distracted by the plethora of sites available with just a tap of the track-pad. To eliminate this I will write for at least 25 minutes at a time, then if I feel like I really need a break or need to do some chore, I will take one. Otherwise I will continue writing until I reach whatever goal I have set.

  7. My biggest distraction resides on the internet – margaretfeinberg.com!! In addition this blog, my biggest distraction is walk-in interruptions. People from my team, my boss, etc drop by for important and sometimes not so important discussions.

    Sometimes, the magnititude of a writing project is a distraction. It can also be demotivating. I have to make myself plow through a page or two and just write something before the creative juices start flowing.

  8. Distractions, for sure. I am reading this blog because I want to, need to, have to, SHOULD WRITE and yet never do, for any number of excuses. Love what you have to say and am so thankful I found your site today :)

  9. I have no sustainable system. The MBTI says I’m a ‘J’ but developing a system to keep myself and my writing on track has eluded me.

    Mmmm. And I need to kick my husband and his clutter out of my happy green office.

  10. Thank you for sharing the insight on having a separate space to write and deconstruct. I’ve known I need to change my writing space around for a while, yet didn’t put those two thoughts together. I’ve got an unused space I’ll be changing into a creative space for me this month- with two areas. One for writing and one for editing. Great advice. In addition, I’ll be attempting to take my writing outdoors to the park. It may help me write while my active homeschool kids play.

    Question: How do you balance time between writing for a blog and writing a book manuscript? What is the MUST pace that you have found for either to keep on track? How many posts do you write, how much time do you spend between manuscript writing/ researching and editing?

    Thank you for the boot camp!

  11. I don’t have a system, let alone a sustainable one. That is why everything and anything distracts me. Granted I have some monumental challenges–health concerns, three little girls, full time job from home, home concerns, etc. But plenty of people have had these concerns and still had writing concerns. I am bound and determined this week to come up with a system. I am a night owl and yet I tend to stay up and watch TV. What a waste. It just takes one day at a time in turning off the TV and writing. Please Lord, help me resist temptation.

  12. Discovering my creative sweet spot would be my biggest challenge, mostly because I have three very little children and so am forced to limit my writing to certain times of day, even if other times might be better for my creativity. This is, though, only a season.

  13. I am easily distracted when I should be writing. I need to unplud from ALL distractions. I am going to make a list of all my distractions and eliminate each one!!!

  14. Picking one challenge from the list is a challenge! But probably the distraction of the Internet is number one. I find that I do best if I don’t even look at my email until after I have had my writing time, but that is not always possible. When I start looking at the email I get drawn down a bunch of rabbit trails and suddenly realize one hour is gone. I will try to only look at the email to see if there is a pressing need then shut it down while I write.

  15. I’m looking forward to joining in and learning from this challenge. I’m filing this away for rereading.

    I think there are times I distract myself on purpose. I become timid or overwhelmed or self-conscious about where fingers moving to Holy Spirit will take me next, and maybe most definitely it will crack me open more than I already am. This I crave. This I cower at. This life? Oh I wouldn’t have it any other way! Okay, most times :)

    Thank you, Margaret. And thank you to all the ladies commenting. Awesome.

  16. Margaret,

    You are now officially my new favorite person. THANK YOU for writing these for the rest of us.

    The one I am most amazed at? The different days of the week thing. YES! I agree. I write best on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

    And now, I know why.

  17. I am a butterfly. So organized systems are not necessarily in my normal vocabulary…. BUT I love your idea, simple (word, I can handle that) AND I am IN LOVE with Google Docs (Now called DRIVE)…. the “idea” of being organized takes my creativity with it… #honest

  18. Disorganized files. Will attempt the four word file system immediately. Great tips, thanks.

  19. Facebook can be a big distraction for me – I totally lose my momentum in writing when I pause to scroll. “Ruthlessly eliminate” that Facebook tab when writing – good butt kicker for me! :) I’m also going to set a timer for my writing time. If I’m flowing, I’ll blow past the buzzer, but if I’m struggling, I’ll keep at it until it sounds.

    Thanks, Margaret – this boot camp is helping me a ton!

  20. This is so incredibly helpful Margaret. Never even thought about places for creating and deconstructing and that makes such good sense. Also the different pages for each category: awesome! I think, no I know, I struggle with turning social networking off while I write. I struggle with finding the balance of needing to connect with people outside of the space where I write. I’m taking your advice to heart, its so timely for me actually.

  21. Distractions are a biggie but I also need a better system. I wing it much too often. Or I approach writing without a realistic goal. Enough already. I need to just do it. I’m going to map all that out tonight! Thanks, Margaret! Enjoying your posts.

  22. I struggle most with distraction. To overcome distraction, I will refuse to sign on to Facebook or Twitter during the time I set aside to write. When I get tired of writing or can’t think anymore, I will get up and do some calisthenics, which I hate, so I will want to go back and write. I will block a chunk of time for four days a week, same time, same days, so friends and family know not to disturb me during those times. I will let the phone record messages, and call back after my writing time is over.
    Question: What is a very good way for a writer to get an agent ?

  23. Where and when I create are my biggest challenges. I will be praying about where and when in my currents space God would have me release what He’s got floating around inside me. Just diagnosed with severe obstructive sleep apnea & learning how to use the CPAP machine to breathe should help me be a lot clearer in the future. I used to write in the wee hours since I couldn’t sleep for long, now hopefully I will be sleeping so I will have to work on a whole new plan and I am sure my writing will make more sense!

  24. *CURRENT
    BIG pet peeve – typos! Soooo sorry! Still working from exhaustion…

  25. Janice Collazo April 26, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    4. Develop a Sustainable System.
    I don’t use a roadmap. Huge mistake. My mind wanders and rabbit trails like crazy. I want to write down anything and everything that comes to my mind. I am severely ADD so a road map, structure, is necessary!
    I plan on starting to write with a road map. Even if it’s just a blog post. I wanna make it a habit.

  26. Thanks for sharing ideas. I think they are valuable.

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