Hello, from your friendly neighbourhood writing coach

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It’s interesting the way that life evolves when you start out freelancing. You think that you’re going to be offering one set of services, and then it slowly evolves into something slightly different. I knew that I would be working as a writer, or mostly long-form work for clients (whether articles, blog posts, internal communication docs, or proposals), and I knew that I would be doing some research, but the branch of work that’s evolving that I didn’t anticipate was writing coaching.

I’ve been running these writing workshops to help people get their writing off the ground, and doing writing on behalf of other people, and along the way people started asking if I could help walk them through writing that they absolutely need to do themselves. Not everyone wants to hire a writer (or ghost-writer), and not everyone should. While I don’t think that everyone should try to write professionally, I do believe that writing is something that everyone can do.

I think that one of the biggest hang-ups when people first start writing, even just for themselves, is that they worry too much about perfection. They worry about voice, and sounding smart; they have all of the voices of other writers in their heads, and they are comparing their very new writing practice to the writing of all of their favourite professionals, and wondering how they stack up. The best advice that I can give anyone just starting out is to just start writing. Brain dump. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about your voice. Don’t think about grammar. Don’t think about your use of similes and metaphors. Don’t think about sounding interesting. Just write whatever comes into your brain without judgement. Write until you think that you’ve gotten everything that you need to get out of your head onto the page, and then stop.

Then walk away. Get up, shake out your hands and feet, and go for a walk around the block; go for coffee with a friend; run an errand. Then, when you’re feeling refreshed again, come back to your desk and read over what you just wrote, WITHOUT JUDGEMENT. I know that this is hard. Especially if you’re not used to writing, you’ll probably have some pretty negative self-talk going on when you read over your first few pieces. “This is so repetitive” “Ugh. I used ‘very’ 7 times in that paragraph” “This is so boring” “What was I thinking when I wrote this?”

I urge you to try your very best not to listen to these thoughts. You wouldn’t expect to run a marathon your first time out for a run, and you shouldn’t expect your first attempt at writing to be a Pulitzer winner.

When you sit down for the second time, think about the things that you’re really trying to communicate with this piece of writing, and start to edit out the parts that aren’t in line with that. You might have to cut some sentences or paragraphs that you really like, and that’s fine. Keeping a sentence in that sounds pretty but doesn’t really add to your mission is kind of like putting on a beautiful wool coat in the middle of summer. It might look nice with your winter outfits, but in this context, it’s out of place and anyone looking at you can see that.

With each consecutive re-read, you’ll get a better sense of your piece, and structure will start to fall into place. Don’t be afraid to edit.

Finally, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Perfect is the enemy of good”. This is very true in writing. The ability to edit is essential, but it can also be your worst enemy. At some point, it’s important for a piece to just be done. Decide that it’s finished. And then put it out into the universe. I know that sharing is scary, but it’s how you’ll get better. And eventually, it will be less scary.

The more you practice, the better you your writing will be, and the closer you will get to finding your own voice. Eventually, your fear and apprehension will lessen, and you just might find that writing is something that you relish.

But getting back to where this post started. Writing coaching. You need it? I offer it. Let’s get writing together.

(www.altairanorthe.com)

 

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The Virtues of Journaling

Obviously writing is a big part of my life. And I’ve taken steps in the past year to help other people bring more writing into their lives too. The workshops that I’ve been teaching so far are mostly about overcoming your internal barriers that are keeping you from writing, and the focus is generally on writing that you one day intend to share with others.

But recent conversations have led to a new series that will focus on writing just for you.

Since I can remember, I’ve kept a journal. Most of these were real, physical, paper journals. There were also years and years where I journaled on computers, and sadly most of these years were lost. There is one particular summer of fervent journaling in an attic of my first real home away from home; I was 19, and I journaled each and every day. I think about these journals often, and am so sad that I didn’t make more of an effort to preserve them permanently.

Journaling is a lost art. But I think that it’s making a comeback. Journaling might at first conjure images of a pre-teen girl scribbling , “Dear Diary…” in a flower covered book with a tiny gold lock on the cover. And this is a 100% valuable experience for that girl, which should in no way be diminished. But journaling is also a whole lot more – from helping with creative thought, to mental health issues, there isn’t a lot that journaling can’t help with.

If you dig back in time, you’ll find that most, if not all, great writers, inventors, runners, academics, and dreamers kept journals. Albert Einstein kept a journal. Virginia Woolf kept a journal. Earnest Hemingway kept a journal. Obviously and famously, Anne Frank kept a journal. Google “famous people who kept journals” and you will find list upon list of famous journals, and words of wisdom from famous journalers on the virtues of journaling.

A journal is a way of documenting the present, but it is also a tool for reflection. It’s a tool for working through the backlogs of your subconscious mind, but consciously and on paper. It’s a way of sifting through the fog of your dream state and turning it into something real.

“’There is physicality in reading,’ says developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University” (via Scientific American). And so, there is to writing as well. I’ve tried different journals over the years, of varying size, and level of fanciness, but my go to favourite is a 5 dollar hard cover 5 ½”x 8” sketchbook that you can find at pretty much any art supplies store. It allows for writing, or doodling, or whatever. There is no imposed format. It’s big enough to write a full page, but not so large that it’s cumbersome. My go-to pens are the Classic Poppin Ballpoint and the Staedler Triplus Fineliner. There is nothing worse (ok, there are a lot of things worse, but whateveeeeeeeer) than trying to write with a pen that you hate, or in a book that you have no desire to keep writing in because it’s not quite right. Find writing implements that you love. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend hundreds of dollars on a custom, monogrammed, leather-bound journal, but don’t feel like you need to use a Field Notes or MoleSkine journal because they are “cool” even though you don’t derive joy from them (full disclosure – while I don’t write in Field Notes, I DO use the Field Notes Original Plain Memo Books for my every day ongoing to-do lists, and they are great).

ANYWAYS. If you’re stuck on an idea at work, or in a creative project that you’re working on in your own time; if you are going through something personally and need somewhere to vent; if you’re trying out writing again for the first time in years and years, and you feel rusty as all hell and just want to practice; if you’re planning out your dream trip/project/life, and need somewhere to document your thoughts on how to make it happen – give journaling a try.

Even if it feels awkward at first, keep at it; after a time, you just might find that you love it.