Every Six Months

Years ago, in a management class our instructor said that if you want to be a good manager/leader then you must constantly read new material on the subject. He told us that he had personally made it a point to read a new management book every six months.

Stack of Books

I’ve always thought that was good advice. And so I’ve tried to follow it in my life as a writer. If I want to be a good writer then I must constantly learn about the craft. (Try it for yourself, “If I want to be a good (fill in the blank) then I must constantly learn about the craft”- See? It works pretty well, right?)

It’s why I buy Writer’s Digest every month. And why I fork over big bucks to get a copy of the imported British magazine Writer’s Forum. I read both from cover to cover. But as good as they are, there comes a time when much of the information becomes rehashed old news.

For this post, I thought I’d use you, the readers to come up with a crowd-sourced list of good books, magazines, or publications for writers to read in order to learn more about the craft of writing. What are the ones that speak to you, that offer a new perspective, and that make you learn more about your craft?

May I also suggest that you then bookmark this post and return to it, oh say, every six months?

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Writing about what you know

Ask a writer (any writer) for advice on the craft and chances are at some point you’ll hear the age-old adage “write about what you know.” In other words, write about what you (not someone else) have learned and experienced in your life.

It’s actually some of the best writing advice out there.

When you write about what you know, you bring a voice to the table. You present yourself as an expert on a craft, a journey, an experience. You get to teach people about something they may not previously know anything about. If you write from what you know, people trust you as “someone who’s been there.” You become credible and more importantly, your work becomes credible.

Writing from knowledge will not only engage your readers, but chances are you’ll be able to sell some of your work because what *you* know could be very, very interesting. After all no one else in the world has your exact point of view.

You are the only one who can tell your story.

But what are you qualified to write about?  Here’s a short list, if after reading an article or book you’ve said “I could’ve written this book” then you know about something enough to write about it.

If after reading something, you’ve thought, “Boy would I have liked to include information on …” then yeah, you know enough.

If you’ve taken a journey, had an adventure or have created an entire universe in your mind, then you know enough to write about it. Basically if you are alive you know enough about *something* to write about it.

And what you know constantly changes. Stay on top of it.

Here’s an example:

After years and years of being in chronic pain I decided to enroll in New Hampshire’ therapeutic cannabis program. I’m a middle-aged mother of 6, hardly your average cannabis user, but here I am taking gummies and vaping.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I’d been given an opportunity to tell others about my journey into therapeutic cannabis.

I pitched an article to a magazine by saying that I had a first person story on the use of medical marijuana for chronic illness.

The editor accepted the pitch and the story got published. It’s right here if you want to see it.

I am the only person in the world who could have written that exact article.

I’m new to the world of therapeutic cannabis. I had authority to talk about my own personal experiences but had I tried to talk about dosages or equipment I would have been completely out of my league. An article on that would not have been authentic.

My article was only on what I know.

We’ve all read articles by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Usually they are filled with lots of quotes and descriptions, but very little substance. We end up turning the page pretty quickly.

So do yourself a favor. Take a look at your life – where you go and what you do. Write a list of topics that you know enough to write about.

And then choose one and follow the best advice out there and write about what you know.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Do all you possibly can

 

It’s that time of year for kids and young adults to graduate. In our family we have at one end – a college graduation  (and he goes right into the army from there) and at the other end, we also have one who will be entering her senior year in high school.

She’s not sure what she wants to study when she goes to college. She’s got a few options in mind but hasn’t come to a decision.

“What do you think, mom?” She asks.

“Take a bunch of classes,” I tell her. “Find out what subjects really get you excited. That’s going to be a clear indication of what field you will be most happy working in – and then do all you possibly can to make it so that you work in that field. Don’t make the mistake I did. I took English and writing classes, but because they were so easy, I didn’t think they counted. I thought that you had to really work at what you wanted to be and it had to hurt. It was the remnants of the no pain- no gain philosophy i was taught as a youth.  As a result it took me three years to figure out I didn’t want to be a Pharmacist.”

That’s a lot of wasted time.

I didn’t realize that part of the reason the English and writing classes were so easy was because I loved them. Journalism? Fantastic. Shakespeare and Melville? Out of this world. Learning about writers and how to work with words floated my boat. I loved reading. I loved writing. It took me far too long to figure out that it’s absolutely okay to work in a field that you absolutely love.

Love creates enthusiasm.

The same thing can be applied to what you write about. As an example, I’ve written white papers – far, far too many. I don’t like writing them, in fact I’d rather have my teeth pulled (and I hate the dentist) than write them, but I do it (always dragging my feet) because they pay the bills. White papers are a necessary evil to surviving as a writer.

Compare that to when I get to write about stories and lessons learned (the genre I feel most comfortable in.) The words virtually fly out of my fingertips. I hear the stories in my head, I know exactly where I am going. It’s like talking with old friends, we finish each other’s sentences.

And yet I don’t schedule enough time to write *my* stories because they don’t bring in the money., They are something that’s too easy and therefore I think not as valued.

Perhaps I should take my own advice. “Find out what subjects really get you excited. That’s going to be a clear indication of what field you will be most happy working in – and then do all you possibly can to make it so that you work in that field.”

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Dress the part so you can (maybe) act the part

 

Writers are rare birds. We like to separate ourselves from the rest of the flock when we do our work.  Solitude is our natural inclination.

We also like to be comfortable. So, so very comfortable.

When I was in college, I could only write if I was wearing my “writing shirt” – a grubby, hole-filled, but incredibly soft and heavy shirt. It kept me warm. It anchored me – a security blanket across my shoulders. It wasn’t meant for others to see, it was only meant for me.

These days I don’t have the luxury of wearing “comfortable” (read – not appropriate for public viewing) clothing. My office is on the first floor and it’s me who has to get up to answer the door. I’m there when the kids come home from school and work.

I don’t wear pajamas. I don’t wear sweats and I’ve long lost that beautiful (to me anyway) writing shirt.

That doesn’t mean I’m not comfortable, of course I am. Discomfort takes away from creativity.

But it does mean that I am a little more put together than I was in earlier writing days.

And guess what? My writing is a little more put together as well.

Co-incidence? Maturity? Experience? Who knows.

But here’s a suggestion. If you have a  comfortable uniform that you wear when you write, and you find that your writing may be getting a little sloppy, a little too relaxed – try mixing things up a bit.

Put on a button down shirt.

Wear shoes instead of slippers.

A cardigan instead of a stained sweatshirt.

Even consider upgrading your writing utensils to something a little more polished.

We’ve all heard the advice to “dress for success. In this case”, why not try to dress the part of a successful writer? Updating your outfit may turn out to be nothing. It may not change your writing one bit,  but then again maybe, just maybe it might jump start some creative spark.

You’ll never know until you try.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

DIY MFA – you’ve got to check this out

Every year Writer’s Digest puts out an issue with the 101 Best Websites for Writers. Cited as one of the “Best of the Best” is the DIY MFA website.

I decided to go take a look at that website and Holy Cow! If you’re a writer who is working on a project then you should definitely check this one out.

WD’s description:

Offering a do-it-yourself alternative to a master’s degree in writing. DIY MFA provides all the tools you need to “write with focus, read with purpose and build your community” – ked by prolific teacher, speaker and writer Gabriela Pereira (author of the companion book DIY MFA, from WD books) via articles, classes and a podcast. The e-newsletter brings regular updates to your inbox with the friendly greeting “Hey there, Word Nerds!”

If you visit the website you’ll be asked for your email in order to get a writer’s Starter Pack which is filled with tools that are used in a free mini two-week course that will be delivered through email over the next two weeks. I understand that her book is considered a companion to the site, but it’s in no way required for anyone to use the information.

This website is a gift. It’s a way to learn (at no cost) and a way join a community of like people. Your tribe.

From what I’ve seen this is indeed a website filled with great and relevant information for writers. Truly worthy of the title of Best of the Best.

Do yourself a favor and check DIY MFA out.

 

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Flexing a writing muscle

(I know, are you sick of me yet? Because I’ve been MIA for a while, I decided to fill in a few holes this week. Thanks for putting up with me and oh by the way, I’m happy to hear that I’m not alone in my book hoarding tendencies. )

Today’s little discussion is going to be about breaking out of your rut.

“What rut?” You may think – “What’s she talking about? I’m perfectly happy writing short stories, non-fiction, copy material or news articles.”

And chances are you probably are happy. You’ve got a routine, you can write what you need to write and perhaps it’s even gotten easy.

You don’t want to rock the boat, right?

But look at any kind of exercise program. You never go to the gym and do the exact same routine every day. You’re supposed to mix it up. Cardio one day, weights another, maybe even a day of rest. When you do this, your entire body gets stronger.

I recently went to Spain with a friend. When I’m on vacation I usually take at least 3 books to read (what if I finish one and there’s no bookstore around?) This time though, I only took one book. Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing. I took one book so that I would read that one book.

I’m not a travel writer. Oh sure, I can write *stories* about my travels but that’s different from “travel writing.”  (Here’s an example of my “story travel writing.

While we were on the plane(s), I read my book.

Before I turned off my light each night, I read my book.

I carried it with me and read the excellent examples of travel essays with pen in hand, highlighting certain parts that I thought were brilliant.

And something funny started to happen. When we visited a cathedral, I started noticing details that I might not have before. I began to pay more attention to history, how things were constructed and how it all fit together.

At a restaurant I noticed the atmosphere, the prices, the glasses in which our wine was served.

It’s like I started using some muscles that although they had been there all along had become weakened from non-use.

Does this make me a travel writer?

Absolutely not, no more than getting up and walking around the block makes me a marathoner.

But it does open my eyes. It adds more muscle to my skill kit. I liked what I read enough to try writing a few travel articles. Like anyone else with a new program, I’ll start small, but if I keep with it enough smalls will eventually lead to a large.

Consider flexing a new or unused writing muscle in your spare time this weekend.

Read, do, write.

 

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Hi, I’m Wendy and I’m a book hoarder

Hi, I’m Wendy and I’m a book hoarder.

I try not to buy any new books but I can’t seem to help myself. I read a back cover about an interesting story –

I want to know more.

I hear about a new vegan family cookbook.

I want to try the recipes.

I watch someone being interviewed on a show.

I want to learn more.

And nope, buying them to read on a Kindle just doesn’t do it for me. I have to hold the book in my hands, smell the pages, feel the paper, see the font that’s used.

I am aghast when I enter a house that has no bookshelves, where on earth do you keep them?

I secretly judge people when I pass a bedroom and there is no book on the night stand.

And yes, I have more books than I can possibly read in my lifetime. I’m trying to offload some of them but it’s like saying goodbye to friends – something I’d rather not do. I keep books that I’ve started and lost interest in thinking that *someday* I’ll get back to them. So I make deals with myself. I can’t bring in a new book until I move out at least 3 books.

It worked until I went into an independent bookstore. By my calculation I need to get rid of 27 books by tonight in order to stay true to my commitment.

And then there are used books. Whenever I go with my daughters to a thrift store, they go right to the clothing and I to the books. Yesterday I brought home 2 travel essay books.

Add 6 more books to my removal total.

My husband is a very tolerant person. As an avid reader himself, he’s never commented on my “habit” – I mean when making bad life choices buying books is pretty low on the list.

But still the other day he quietly pointed me to a news article. Apparently the Japanese have a word for book hoarders.

The desire to buy more books than you can physically read in one human lifetime is actually so universal, there’s a specific word for it: tsundoku. Defined as the stockpiling of books that will never be consumed, the term is a Japanese portmanteau of sorts, combining the words “tsunde” (meaning “to stack things”), “oku” (meaning “to leave for a while”) and “doku” (meaning “to read”).

Who knew? In some ways it’s nice to finally be recognized (diagnosed?) for what I have, but on the other hand – wow, who knew this was a thing? It looks like I’m a member of a tribe that I didn’t even know existed.

So I guess I need to modify my introduction.

Hi, I’m Wendy and I have tsundoku.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.