People often underestimate the value in brainstorming. You don’t have to sit down to work every day, ready to fire away and write full steam ahead. Sometimes the words just aren’t there. This is when brainstorming comes in handy.

Despite many people thinking brainstorming is a group activity, you can in fact brainstorm on your own. The goal in brainstorming is just to toss ideas into the air and see which ones land as you work to sort out a particular problem.

For example, I had this really long short story call “Blue Moon Story” that had a good IDEA, but the execution never excited me all that much. I knew the idea behind the story was worth pursuing, I just knew I’d gone about it all wrong the first time.

So on the drive home from work one night, I started throwing ideas out, talking to myself out loud. I had a character and an opening, but nowhere to go from there. What if this happens, I said? Where does the story go from there? Where do I want it to go? Okay, I know how I want it to end, but how do I get there?

I brainstormed ideas and directions for this story on the full 15 minute ride home and by the time I pulled up, I had the story ready to go and I tackled it the next morning, finishing a first draft in only a couple of days.

That’s not to say every brainstorming session ends with similar results, but at least you can walk away with a list of ideas that don’t work and directions you know not to take.

I’ve done this with titles dozens of times. Not every story has a title built into it. My STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE sequel short, “The Dichotomy of Monsters” went through a handful of possible titles before settling on that one, and each one was CLOSE, but not THE title. I used a brainstorming session one morning on the way to work to get that one.

Hell, even the name Midwest Creativity Control was the result of a brainstorming session with my team, everyone throwing out ideas in a group email and discussing each one until we finally came up with the right one, complete with rationale on why it’s the perfect name for our organization.

Brainstorming sessions can be a lifesaver to a creative, especially when you have a group of people involved, but even when it’s just you throwing ideas around yourself. I talk story ideas and details out with myself all the time, and they always bear fruit for whatever I’m working on.

Don’t feel pressured every day if you don’t know what you want to write about or which direction a story needs to take. The possibilities are nearly endless and you’ll find the right one with a quick brainstorming session.

You ever get halfway through a particularly long and challenging manuscript only to realize you’re bored? Not bored with the story or the process, just … your mind needs something else to ponder for a minute. Not a week, this isn’t one of those times where you need to take a week off and work on something else. Just a day. Maybe an hour so you can recharge. You don’t want to stop writing for the day, though, you just want to work on something different.

Diversity is important. Variety, as Morris Day said, is the spice of life. At these times I have a list of alternative things I could work on just for a minute, something to kick start my brain, put me into writing mode, but not bog me down in the same thing I’ve been working on for the past three months.

Reviews. I love writing movie and book reviews. They’re a quick way to force you to organize your thoughts, you’re getting to praise something you love, or learn from something that didn’t quite work, and you’re getting your fingers limbered up and your mind focused, ready to get back to work. Sometimes writing something that isn’t the thing you’ve been working on, even for an hour, is enough to make you miss the real work.

Blog posts are another alternative. Sometimes I’ll take a minute to post something quick, like what I’m currently reading, or the posters to any movies I’ve recently watched. I actually haven’t done this in a while, but once upon a time it was a regular thing. Back when I had more time to watch a lot of movies and whatnot. Or you can talk briefly about what you’re working on. No details, but a few words on what research you find yourself doing, just enough to tease.

Have you updated the CTAs (calls to action) in your books lately? This is another quick little job you can do when you need to get your mind on something else for a minute.

Something I love to do when I’m bored looking at the same page for the past two days is CLEAN MY DESK. You know your desk is the messiest part of your house, admit it. And it’s much easier to work on a clean desk. If you’re bored with your current work in progress, take the day off from it and clean your desk. And your office while you’re at it. And your inbox.

Sometimes I’m not bored, I’m just tired. I need to step back, take 20 minutes and rest. I often find when I do that, I can come back to it, maybe not wide awake, but not dozing off mid-sentence, either. Set a timer and close your eyes, the world isn’t going to end. And if it does, at least you didn’t have to see it coming.

And the last suggestion for when you’re bored working on the same manuscript every day: work on it anyway. Seriously, sometimes the best work I do on something is when I really don’t want to and I make myself get the words down anyway. I don’t know where the reluctance to work comes from, maybe I’m only bored with it because I know what comes later and I want to hurry up and get to a particular scene. But that’s not going to happen if you don’t write the damn thing. So the only thing to do is shut up, put my head down, and power through whatever downtime scene I’m on so I can get to the fun, exciting one behind it.

There you go, 6 tips to help fight boredom when you want to be productive but just can’t face that same story AGAIN. A quick diversion will keep you working, keep you productive, but give your brain and eyes the break it needs without convincing you that abandoning it altogether is the only option.

Now stop reading blog posts and get back to work. Slacker.

What do you like better, writing, or having written?

Me too.

Having written something is always so much more enjoyable than actually writing it. The work is hard, the after is the reward, and are we not a reward-based culture?

So having written is always favorable to writing.

But we can’t have written without doing the writing. So we have to get started. And I don’t know about you, but for me it’s always the beginning that’s toughest.

There are so many possible ways to start any and every story, it’s like a kid in a candy story lined wall to wall with all the best chocolates and gummies and whatever you like, but you’re told you can only pick ONE.

So that one has to be just perfect, doesn’t it?

Welllllllll. See, this is the nice thing about beginnings in writing. They’re just a starting point, but 9 times out of 10, that beginning is going to change by the time the story sees publication. NO beginning is ever perfect the first time through, because at that point we’ve only got the vaguest idea what direction or tone the story is going to take.

I can’t tell you the last story I wrote that didn’t have at least one or two false starts attached to it. Sometimes you just need to work your way through the story and see where it leads, then go back afterward and make adjustments to the beginning so it falls in line with the rest of the work.

There’s no shame in it; sometimes going back and re-working the beginning is a vital part of the process, especially in a longer work where the distance between the beginning and ending is greater.

But sometimes that false start is all kinds of wrong and doesn’t even convey the story you want to tell. That’s fine, too. My short story, “The Foodies of Mars,” I started writing that with only the vaguest notion of what the story was about, and for several days I wrote a solid beginning before trashing it the next day and starting over, because while those false starts could have worked okay, they weren’t the story I wanted to tell.

So I started over, with a completely different angle, point of view and main character, a different location, trying out story openings like school clothes, just waiting til I found the right combination that made the perfect first day of school impression.

Every story has to start somewhere, but don’t feel bad if you don’t nail it right out of the gate. That’s natural and doesn’t reflect on you as a writer at all. It’s much easier to go back after and fix a beginning than it is to keep working the front end of the story and never even getting to the back half.

Just GET STARTED and KEEP WRITING.

When it comes to audience, there are as many opinions as there are people offering them. William Zinsser, journalist and teacher, says, “‘Who am I writing for?’ It’s a fundamental question and it has a fundamental answer: You are writing for yourself. Don’t try to visualize the great mass audience. There is no such audience–every reader is a different person. Don’t try to guess what sort of thing editors want to publish or what you think the country is in a mood to read. Editors and readers don’t know what they want to read until they read it. Besides, they’re always looking for something new.”

John Steinbeck has a slightly different approach with, “Your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person–a real person you know, or an imagined person, and write to that one.”

I like Erica Jong’s response to the question of audience: “Writing is one of the few professions left where you take all the responsibility for what you do. It’s really dangerous and ultimately destroys you as a writer if you start thinking about responses to your work or what your audience needs.”

Look, the audience will appear if the work warrants it, but thinking about them before you’ve even figured out what kind of artist you are is only going to keep you from developing anything even close to a voice that’s yours. Speaks the bitter voice of experience.

For the first … I don’t even know how many years I was writing, I was writing to one particular audience: Stephen King’s audience. Because I wanted his career. It took a while but eventually I realized I’m not going to be Stephen King, he and I are two totally different writers. And once I realized that, it made writing so much easier, and it made finding my own voice so much easier too.

To me, the answer to the question of audience changes as you move through the stages of your career and expertise, as you become more comfortable with who you are as a creative person. In the beginning, you HAVE to write for yourself, otherwise you’ll never find a voice that belongs to YOU.

Once you find that voice, once you’re comfortable enough in that skin, it won’t hurt to find that one other person you can write to. But at the end of the day, the only person you HAVE to please is yourself.

I’ve run into this a time or two as well. You write something you love, but with an eye toward making that one other person happy too, and if they give it back and say “Meh, it could be better,” hear them out. They may have some good ideas, things you never thought of. Outside opinions are always helpful, but opinions are all they are. Take them in, digest and turn them over and, if you think they’ll make the work stronger, excellent. But if those opinions are going to lead to you compromising the story to please someone else … well, that’s something only you can decide.

Ultimately the question of audience is one you have to answer for yourself. All I can do is give you what I’ve learned from my experience with it over the years. For me, I have to like it first. And then, once I like it, I can take those bones and shape them into something other people will like too, while also maintaining the heart of it that I loved enough to bring to fruition in the world.

Or just remember Cyril Connolly’s words, “Better to write or yourself and have no public, than write for the public and have no self.”

Are you plotter, or a pantser? A sitter or a stander? Do you type your stories or dictate them? Would you believe, in this day and age, there are writers, Clive Barker, for instance, who still write their novels longhand, and do an edit when they’re inputting it into a computer?

And they’re absolutely right in doing it that way. So are the writers who wouldn’t dream of writing longhand. So are the ones who dictate their work into their phone. So are the ones who write while walking on a treadmill desk.

They’re all correct in their approach to writing, because they’re doing what works for THEM.

I know how confusing it can be, when you’re starting out, to figure out what works for you, and you’ll try a dozen different methods before landing on the ONE. And I’ve been through many of them. I’ve written longhand, I’ve plotted and pantsed. I’ve never written standing up, but I’ve often taken walks and thought about what I was going to write. I still haven’t dictated my words, and I don’t see that happening. It’s just not how I work. But if you want to try it, that’s your choice.

You’re going to go through a number of different approaches, and every time you learn of a new way, you’re going to want to try it. That’s an excellent idea. Try them all. But never insist there is only ONE way to write, to compose, to paint, or whatever. There are as many approaches as there are art forms and every one of them works for SOMEONE.

So don’t feel hindered by one way of doing things just because that’s how “best selling author” does it. That works for them, do what works for YOU.

 

Let me ask you something, when you set your goals, how high did you aim? I know, I always say to set realistic goals, but when you did it, did you go for realistic in the sense that you’ve performed at that level before so you already know you can? Or did you set realistic goals that you know you CAN meet, but it’s going to take a little work and, in the end, you’re going to come out of the process a stronger, more confident person?

I’m gonna guess it was the former. And there’s no shame in that. We’re fragile creatures, we don’t react well to pain, and setting a goal we know we can’t reach, and then living with the inevitable disappointment of being right, that can hurt.

But what if you set that higher goal and you met it? My God, what a world that would be, huh? I’m not saying set impossible goals, we’re still determined to set goals we know we can reach. But if there’s a goal you know you could hit, but it would be a struggle … imagine hitting that one?

That’s the thing with people, sometimes our vision is higher than our aim. We can SEE that lofty goal, but nah, that would be too hard, we’ll just settle for this mid-range goal instead. That’ll be good enough, right?

Well, sure, it WOULD be good enough. If you want to be like everyone else.

Or you could aim higher and really accomplish something. Set those goals, and set them so you can achieve them, but don’t make it easy on yourself. Sidney Sheldon said “It is an unfortunate fact that too many writers–like too many people in other fields–are satisfied with less than their best.”

Ain’t it the truth? So many people are happy to live a C average life. But what’s the fun in that?

Aim high, then do what it takes to achieve that level, and WHEN you reach it, believe me, you’re going to feel so much better about yourself. In fact, it could very well change everything. Like Tyler Durden said, “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

Also, “Without pain, without sacrifice, we would have nothing.”

Suck it up, aim higher, and go kick some ass.

An affectation is defined as “behavior, speech, or writing that is artificial and designed to impress.” And we’ve all been guilty of it. Luckily, for most of us, we only did this in the beginning, before we found our voice.

I remember a time, in my first year of writing, when I would scour the thesaurus, looking for the word that made me look like I knew what I was talking about. I once used “stentorious” in a story because I thought it sounded impressive. It didn’t. Eventually I replaced it with “loud”, which means the same thing and doesn’t require a dictionary to be in the reader’s back pocket. Also, it made me look like less of douche.

Avoid affectations in your art at all cost. So what if you don’t think your work measures up to the masters in your field yet. Neither did they when they started, but they got there, through hard work, commitment to the art, and discipline. I see this in a lot of cooking shows, especially ones with Gordon Ramsey’s name on them. These young chefs trying to impress the master with fancy plating or weird ingredient combinations but missing the most IMPORTANT ingredient: them.

Affectations are nothing more than you trying to be someone you’re not. And everyone else can tell when you’re doing it, whether it’s writing the most “extreme” horror you can imagine (which is usually not very imaginative, to be honest), or putting on a cheap smile in the face of impossible conditions and hoping a good attitude will see you through.

I see this particular one a LOT in my daily life. You should see the number of people at work who smile and say “it’s not so bad” when we end up working that “emergency 12 hour shift” or the guy who says he’s going to bid out because he doesn’t like the conditions when two weeks ago he was angling for that team lead job he didn’t get.

Rejection sucks, we can all admit it. But the thing to do with rejection isn’t to pretend it doesn’t bother you, that you’re perfectly content when your book didn’t sell in the numbers you’d hoped it would or connect with an audience as quickly. Instead we have to, not necessarily embrace rejection, but definitely admit it. I’ve got over twice as many rejection slips for my fiction as I do acceptance letters. And they all sucked. But I didn’t pretend it was all okay. Instead I took that, accepted it and admitted that it hurt, and I used that to help me try to write a better story next time, while resubmitting the rejected one, sure that somewhere out there was an editor who would appreciate it.

Believe me, it’s ok to care, and it’s ok to be yourself. Because in years to come when people know your name and audiences are waiting for that next release, YOU are the person they’re coming back for, and in the long run YOU are the only thing that is sustainable in your art. I used to try to copy Bradbury or Barker in my prose, but that becomes exhausting because it’s not ME. Eventually I had to learn to put away those affectations and just write as myself; it was the only way I could keep writing day after day. When you strip away those affectations and be the best YOU that you can be, that’s when you’ve found your voice, and THAT is when your art really starts to shine and people start to notice.

(originally posted 11/1/2017 on www.cdennismoore.com)

Recently, in my efforts to make myself a better person, better artist, more productive and all around happier, I read Og Mandino’s books THE GREATEST SALESMAN IN THE WORLD and THE GREATEST SALESMAN IN THE WORLD II: The End of the Story. In it, Mandino lays down his “rules” of success. In the book, the reader is supposed to spend a month on each “scroll”, reading it three times every day for the entire month, before moving on to the next one, but the scrolls are actually longer than just their topic. Mandino goes into more detail than here, but I’m not going to copy word for word his books. Instead I decided to adopt a “version” of his lessons and use them as daily affirmations. And so far they’re working wonderfully.

So your assignment as a creative is to integrate these twenty affirmations into your morning ritual. You DO have a morning ritual, don’t you? If not, you better get one (contact me here and I can help you with that). They are as follows:

Today I begin a new life.

I will greet this day with love in my heart.

I will persist until I succeed.

I am nature’s greatest miracle.

I will live this day as if it is my last.

Today I will be master of my emotions.

I will laugh at the world.

Today I will multiply my value a hundredfold.

My dreams are worthless, my plans are dust, my goals are impossible. I will act now.

Who is of so little faith that in a moment of great disaster or heartbreak has not called to his God?

Never again will I pity or belittle myself.

Never again will I greet the dawn without a map.

Always will I bathe my days in the golden glow of enthusiasm.

Never again will I be disagreeable to a living soul.

Always I will seek the seed of triumph in every adversity.

Never again will I perform any task at less than my best.

Always will I throw my whole self into the task at hand.

Never again will I wait and hope for opportunity to embrace me.

Always will I examine, each night, my deeds of the fading day.

Always will I maintain contact, through prayer, with my creator.

 

(originally posted 10/27/2017 on www.cdennismoore.com)

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”

–Paulo Coelho, THE ALCHEMIST, page 146

That’s not to say that overcoming that fear is going to guarantee success, but bowing to is definitely going to guarantee failure, make no mistake about that.

But fear of failure is a very powerful obstacle, especially when other people are watching. Failing alone behind a closed door is one thing, but to fail with “all the world (the potential of the internet) watching” is another thing altogether. No one wants to fail in front of everyone they know and love.

But wouldn’t you rather fail and say “At least I tried” than get to the end of your life and regret all the things you never did? Believe me, you are going to die. We all are. And since we have no idea when that day is coming, the time to make your mark on the world is NOW.

You might fail. And if you do, you get up and try again. Each failure is a lesson, and we try again with that new knowledge in mind: this is what didn’t work, so I’ll try a different approach to reach the same goal. If you lock yourself out of the house, you don’t keep trying to open the locked door, do you? No, you find another way in.

And that’s all failure is, a locked door. So you regroup and go try another door, or a window. And if all else fails? If every door and window is locked tight and you need to get inside? Break in. NEVER let fear of failure keep you from reaching your goals.

In an interview on the DON’T KEEP YOUR DAY JOB pod cast, animator/director Saul Blinkoff said if the listeners remembered nothing of else of what he said, there was one thing they needed to take away from his interview. At the end of the day, say to yourself this sentence: “Today, no one worked harder than me.” And if it’s not the truth, then you’ve still got some more work to do before you go to bed.

His interview was amazing and inspirational and I encourage everyone to listen to it. He definitely made me realize I could totally be working harder.

But the point to bringing it up is this, he had a dream since childhood, to be an animator for Disney Studios. And he failed. And he failed again. And he failed again. Finally, he gave up. But worthwhile dreams never really die, sometimes you just need a few minutes to regroup. And when he made up his mind this was what he wanted to do with his life, he worked and worked and worked night and day, perfecting his craft, until he got that call: he’d made the cut.

Never let fear of failure stop you. You can fail a thousand times, but you only need to succeed ONCE.

(originally posted 10/26/2017 on www.cdennismoore.com)

“Every second of the search is an encounter with God,” the boy told his heart. “When I have been truly searching for my treasure, every day has been luminous, because I’ve known that every hour was a part of the dream that I would find it. When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible for a shepherd to achieve.”

“Everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him,” his heart said. “We, people’s hearts, seldom say much about those treasures, because people no longer want to go in search of them. We speak of them only to children. Later, we simply let life proceed, in its own direction, toward its own fate. But, unfortunately, very few follow the path laid out for them–the path to their Personal Legends, and to happiness. Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.”

–THE ALCHEMIST, by Paulo Coelho, page 135

This isn’t a new topic, nor will it be the last time I address it. I can blog til I’m blue in the face, I can fill up webpage after webpage with words of encouragement, but no one can achieve your goals FOR you. You HAVE to take those steps yourself.

And sometimes, the things you find, the people you encounter along the way, will add to your life in ways you never could have predicted.

When I started writing reviews for my local literary guild’s monthly newsletter, I was trying to fill space, and to give myself motivation to read some of the books on my shelf (I started reviewing only writing books, forcing an education upon myself as I built up a stockpile of reviews for the newsletter). Then I discovered I really enjoyed writing reviews, so I kept going, and soon I was writing them for a review website, and then I branched out into movies and music, and that led me to writing reviews for The Horror Zine where I met a very close friend, Caleb Straus, who when we met, was seeking reviewers for his movie, IT’S OVER. From that humble beginning 20+ years ago with a little book on how to break into writing comics and a 200 word review, I’ve made a friend for life.

The same goes for everyone else on my team. I met Dave when I asked him to edit a short story collection I was putting together, and I asked him because a fellow writer, Steve Vernon, had asked me to review his collection, NIGHTMARE DREAMS. Again, it goes back to those reviews I started doing as a space-filler. I loved the collection and wanted to work with the editor who helped shape it. David Bain was that man, and one thing led to another and now over a decade later he’s the only writer from those message board days I keep in touch with on any significant level.

But I never set out to 1) writer reviews or 2) make lifelong best friends. Those things came about as a side effect of the real dream: to write for a living. And while I’m still working, every day, toward achieving that goal, look at where it’s led me.

So many times we let fear keep us not only from realizing our dreams, but from even attempting to live them. And that’s got to stop. First of all, how can you ever succeed if you don’t first risk failure? You can’t win the lottery unless you buy a ticket. And while buying a ticket doesn’t guarantee a win, NOT buying one guarantees a loss.

We live so long in our comfort zones for a reason, the very same reason they’re called comfort zones. But all comfort zones really do is lull you into a haze and keep you from taking the action necessary to live the life you want to live.

Step outside that zone once in a while and experience the world. Decide on the life you want to live, map out the steps necessary to get there, make a plan, and take action. Not later. Now. Before you get left behind.