Does Writing Count If It Isn’t Challenging?

A journal should not be the main channel for your writing. The truism that tells us writers to write everyday doesn’t specify what kind of writing we should be exercising. Does blogging count? Journaling? Or is fiction the only kind of writing that will really put our skills to the test?

I would never speak ill of journal writing. Of course it has its value. I definitely do not think it’s a waste of time. Journal writing is an important and useful medium of expression (particularly for the introverted types).  But is it an effective way to practice your writing?

When I read my diary’s past entries, I think what nonsense, what gibberish. But if I were to stop and try to edit my own journal, it wouldn’t be a journal at all.

Maybe journal writing doesn’t have all the benefits of fiction writing when it comes to feeding the creative self. So what? Journal writing is just easier and when you’re feeling like you don’t have the time for anything else, it’s the best alternative. But if I want to keep those creative muscles strong then journaling is not going to fly.

Lesson learned: Write everyday. Write everything and anything — as much as you can.


Positive Psychology: Building on Your Strengths

Have you ever heard of a thing called positive psychology? I just learned about it today. Positive psychology is, as I understand it, a great therapy based on building strengths and thinking positively. The people who came up with it thought that psychology should be more than just a focus on problems. They believe in a balance between troubleshooting our weaknesses and maximizing our strengths. I think it’s a wonderful concept. Why not continue working with what you’ve already got instead of desperately trying to conjure up a characteristic that’s just not in your nature?

So, I got to thinking about a writer’s skills and I wondered what were my skills? I came up with the following categories:

Theme: Is the theme fluid throughout the story? Is the theme universal?

Plot: Is the plot structured well? Is the reader clear on what’s happening? Is the story compelling? original? Is the story paced correctly for maximum effect?

Descriptions: Of characters? Of setting? Of action? Are they from the right perspectives? Are you showing not telling? Or are you telling in a compelling way? Are you flooding your writing with too many adjectives/adverbs? Is everything important/relevant to the story?

Language: Too many big, unnecessary words? Are you using the right words?

Voice: Is there one loud and present voice throughout the story?

Time and Place: Is the setting being used appropriately? Does it bring out plot, action, and character?

Conflict: Are the obstacles believable? Is there depth to antagonist? Are the stakes high enough for the reader to care about the character?

Character(s): How well have your characters been developed? Is there depth? How interested is the reader? Is their purpose/desire made clear? What about relationships with others? Is the dialogue intriguing and fluff-free? Are the conversations natural? Believable?

What are your strengths and how can you work on them further?

As of yet, I’m not really sure what my strengths are. When I write with confidence, I usually have a steady and strong voice. When I write with a foundation/outline, I usually structure my plot well. My strengths are dependent on a number of factors. I think I can say that I am generally an original writer. I’ve heard that from a bunch of my readers and I’m definitely okay with taking their word for it.

But then there are other things to consider: Do I write everyday? Do I read everyday? Do I finish stories? Hm… no. But! I’m going to force myself to not focus on that. Let’s see if this positive psychology thing works…

What are your strengths and how can you work on them further?

All About Creativity

Inspiration is one thing, but what happens once you’re inspired? Let’s say the inspiration has lead you to something of value. A writer’s job is then to take that raw inspiration and make something of it — and this calls for creativity. Creativity happens when the artists makes new connections and associations between existing ideas. According to recent findings, creativity actually has very little to do with that sudden spark of ideas (cognitively speaking). Creativity is about figuring out solutions to problems. Ironically, the most effective way to solve a problem can sometimes mean taking a break from it. Once we’ve removed ourselves from that problem, our brain opens up. When we stop focusing, our brain relaxes and it is easier for ideas to roam around — networking with other ideas, thereby developing new solutions.

Why is it then that some people can think creatively while others seem to have a mental block? Creative people don’t have any inborn cognitive advantages, they don’t have better childhoods, and they’re not smarter. It is not nature and it’s not always nurture either.

Creativity is a skill that you can practice. For example, creative people generally have schedules that serve to maximize creative thinking. They shift between work and rest, so that their mind can reboot. Creative people know where they work best. In public, noisy environments or in quiet, seclusive environments. They also know to always keep a specific objective in mind. Even if they don’t have an exact picture in mind, they will have, at the very least, an idea of what they want and that will keep them focused. Of course, I also believe that sometimes not knowing what you want can lead to great artistic things. But that’s kind of the lucky exception.

But most of all, creativity is about having a free flow of ideas. Creative people are more creative because they have more ideas. And I think maybe that’s the key separator between talented and mediocre. Many of those ideas will be worthless, but it is up to the thinker to decide that. They filter their inspiration like a sieve and they work with the few ideas they’ve found viable.

Ways to Unleash Your Creativity

1. Shift to another project – When you get can’t work any longer, you’ve reached a normal, practically inevitable, point. One solution to writer’s block is to move around that road bump and start working on another project. I have one big WIP, but every other month I stop writing it. I’ll stop thinking about it too. But I’ll continue to write. Prolific writing is important, but no one said you had to stick to the same story. Try some writing prompts to kick you off. Write some short stories instead of trying to conquer another full length novel.

2. Exercise – Adding a physical hobby to your daily schedule can refresh your mind. In addition to the physical benefits, there are also psychological reasons to work out. It can improve mood and help with anxiety. A clearer mind might help you focus on your writing. I know that when I’m depressed and worried, I don’t write very well.

3. Classical Music? – Yeah. It’s good for the intelligence of your baby and it’s good for your adult mind as well. Try it out. And if classical music isn’t your thing, try soft or sweet lyric-free music.

4. Bathtub, Bed, Bus – The three most common places to be struck by inspiration. “In creativity research, we refer to the three Bs—for the bathtub, the bed and the bus—places where ideas have famously and suddenly emerged. When we take time off from working on a problem, we change what we’re doing and our context, and that can activate different areas of our brain. If the answer wasn’t in the part of the brain we were using, it might be in another.” (

5. Think Big – According to the Construal Level Theory, people are more creative when they think in distances. That is to say, when we think of anything that is not occurring in the here and now. If we look through another lens, from someone else’s perspective, from another culture’s eyes, or if we imagine things not of this earth — we’re more likely to create something new. Thinking big promotes global processing which allows your brain to open so that creative thoughts can connect to each other and produce new and interesting thoughts.

6. Tagline/Logline –A logline is that one-sentence summary that a writer will use to sell his story. But before the novel is even finished, a writer can use a logline as a guiding light. The logline is to a writer what a walking stick is to a blind man — it keeps us on track. To write a logline, ask yourself the following questions: 1. Who is the main character and what he/she want? Who/What is standing in the way? What makes the story unique? Use action words to intrigue and descriptive words to create a lasting image. Advice from

Photo: Flickr alicepopkorn

In creativity research, we refer to the three Bs—for the bathtub, the bed and the bus—places where ideas have famously and suddenly emerged. When we take time off from working on a problem, we change what we’re doing and our context, and that can activate different areas of our brain. If the answer wasn’t in the part of the brain we were using, it might be in another.

Discovering an Author and Handling Disappointment

There’s this author by the name of John Muir. Heard of him? Probably not. When I read about him on the Library of America website, Story of the Week, I had such high hopes. I thought He’ll be my next favorite author. Move over Steinbeck,Fitzgerald and Cather (yeah, I’m big on American writers). All the signs pointed to FAVORITE.

  • According to LOA, he was the next Thoreau.
  • He loved nature and I love nature. One of the first serious things I ever wrote was an Ode to Water.
  • “He rebelled by becoming a vagabond, and by asking powerful questions about the orthodoxies of his day and ours, especially the notion that people stood at the center of the universe.” And that just screams awesome.
  • He shares my belief in worldly interconnectedness. And by that I mean that everything in the world is related to everything else.

But then I read his short story, A Wind-Storm in the Forests, and it dawned on me that… nature writing kind of sucks. It was a terrible epiphany — it didn’t feel good at all. It was as though I was tearing off a part of my identity.

Here’s an interesting tidbit though… I really enjoyed reading his story at first. I thought Wow, what powerful writing, what descriptive language. Thing is — that kind of language and writing style is very distinct and too much of it gets boring fast. It’s like when you hear one note for an extended period of time. You’ll either get annoyed or you’ll stop hearing it all together. His nature descriptions were wonderfully written but they needed to be weaved in with plot, with people, with… more than just setting. I couldn’t even concentrate long enough to find out what the plot was. Ugh, it was so sad.

But now I must pick up my disappointment and move on. Hm… what to read next?