To A Writer, There Are Only A Few Things As Rewarding As This

The last month, I have gotten lazy with my writing. This happens around the same time every year. With March Madness in full swing, there is so much basketball to follow that I find my writing gets shifted to the back burner.

My free time gets consumed with basketball — watching basketball, reading about basketball, and anticipating the next game to watch/read about. This doesn’t leave much time/energy for writing.

Sure, I could watch one less game, during which time I could knock out a blog post or two. But I don’t. I convince myself that the writing will pick back up in April. And it usually does.

But all that being said…

To a writer, there are just a few things as rewarding as writing something you are proud of.

No matter how little, or how much I am writing, I still get that hard-to-describe feeling each time I work on a post I am happy with. And I am starting to learn that I need to take advantage of that feeling and use it to my advantage during the times when writing is not the focus of my free time.

If you are a writer, you know the feeling of writing something you are proud of. And you also know that is not always easy to get to that feeling. But once you have that feeling, don’t let it go away easily. Keep writing as long as time will allow. Because sooner or later there will be another basketball game to steal your attention.

Top 10 Lines From Bird By Bird

Last month I wrote about the top 10 lines from Stephen King’s On Writing. I mentioned that it is a great resource for those of us who are trying to write books. Guess what? There are plenty of other great books on writing.

Today I would like to feature one that has been called “A gift to all of us mortals who write or ever wanted to write… sidesplittingly funny, patiently wise and alternately cranky and kind — a reveille to get off our duffs and start writing now, while we  still can.” (Seattle  Times). I am talking about Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

Here are what I found to be the book’s top 10 lines:

#10 –

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

#9 –

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artists true friend.”

#8 –

Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t–and, in fact, you’re not supposed do–know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished. First you just point at what has your attention and take the picture.”

#7 –

I mean, you can’t just sit there at your desk drooling. You have to move your hand across the paper or the keyboard. You may do it badly for a while, but you keep on doing it.”

#6 –

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

#5 –

Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.”

#4 –

E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.”

#3 –

I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good at it.”

#2 –

If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days–listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you’ve taken in, all that you’ve overheard, and you turn it into gold. (Or at least you try.)”

#1 –

My students assume that when well-respected writers sit down to write their books, they know pretty much what is going to happen because they’ve outlined most of the plot, and this is why their books turn out so beautifully and why their lives are so easy and joyful, their self-esteem so great, their childlike senses of trust and wonder so intact. Well, I do not know anyone fitting that description at all. Everyone I know flails around, kvetching and growing despondent, on the way to finding a plot and structure that work. You are welcome to join the club.”

23 Ways To Fail As A Writer

Many times, I will read something online and immediately think, “that was great, I wish I wrote it.” I may not have written it, but I can still share it. Here’s the latest…

How To Fail As A Writer by Dawn Field.

In a hilarious post for the Book Baby blog, Field provides 23 tips that will “help you stave off success and fail as a writer!” #12 and #20 are my favorites. Among many other things, she discusses:

  • what to do with an opening line
  • why we don’t need hobbies
  • and how sleep is overrated

After you read this list, you will feel much better about your chances to avoid failure as a write…I hope. Check it out…

How To Fail As A Writer

Top 10 Lines From Stephen King’s On Writing

If Stephen King readers started their own country, it would have the 3rd largest population in the world. One of the most successful authors of all time, his books have sold more than 350 million copies.

If you have ever wondered how King became such a great writer, you are in luck. His book, On Writing, details his experiences with the written word and he offers advice for aspiring writers. The memoir is full of great nuggets that can help writers at any experience level.

Here are what I found to be the top 10 lines from Stephen King’s On Writing.

#10 –

When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”

#9 –

Write with the door closed. Rewrite with the door open.”

#8 –

One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little ashamed of your short ones.”

#7 –

Fear is at the root of most bad writing – the more intense the fear the worse our writing can become.”

#6 –

While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”

#5 –

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

#4 –

John Grisham, of course, knows lawyers. What you know makes you unique in some other way. Be brave. Map the enemy’s position, come back, tell us all you know.”

#3 –

Dialogue is a skill best learned by people who enjoy talking to others — particularly listening, picking up accents, rhythms, dialects, and slang of various groups.”

#2 –

Shit, write upside down if you want to, or do it in Crayola pictographs. But no matter how you do it, there comes a point when you must judge what you’ve written and how well you wrote it. I don’t believe a story or a novel should be allowed outside the door of your study or writing room unless you feel confident that it’s reasonably reader-friendly.”

#1 –

Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

Another Example of Great Writing

The world is full of great writing. So I have decided I will highlight some examples whenever I stumble on them.

Here’s one I came across from Norm MacDonald’s book Based on a True Story: A Memoir

Death is a funny thing. Not funny-haha, like a Woody Allen movie, but funny-strange, like a Woody Allen marriage.”

Norm is telling a story about the time he granted a dying child’s wish. The above sentence comes when Norm enters the child’s hospital room. The book is very lighthearted and you wonder if Norm is going to be able to keep that humor while talking about a sensitive subject (full disclosure, the kid’s wish ends up being that he wants to kill a baby seal, so I don’t think the story is 100% truthful).

An average writer would have said something like, “death is like a buzzing alarm clock — you just want to smack it off the nightstand once it starts.” A good writer would have said something along the lines of, “death is nothing to laugh at, much like the rest of my material.”

Norm topped both of those by making a death joke that is both funny and not insensitive.

That is some great writing!

How To Overcome Publishing Fears

Many times, I will read something online and immediately think, “that was great, I wish I wrote it.” I may not have written it, but I can still share it. Here’s the latest…

But What If They Hate My Book?  by

This two part article discusses a very important topic for writers — how to get over the fear of writing and publishing a book. I can admit first hand that this fear never goes away.

I am working on my forth children’s book and I have just as many fears (maybe even more) than when I first started. If this fear is something we all experience, how do we deal with it? has some answers, but first it asks some important questions:

  • Why should we go for it?
  • What to do when you get a negative review?
  • How is publishing a book like sending your kid to college?

They answer all those questions and more in their great two part article. Check it out…

What If They Hate My Book – Part 1

What If They Hate My Book – Part 2

5 Lessons From Yesterday’s Story

Yesterday I told the story of how the successful film La La Land almost never got made. If you thought that post was to simply generate some Oscar buzz, you were mistaken (and you greatly over estimated the affect this blog has on award season).

The post was to highlight a few important things that we can learn from a Hollywood success story.

5 Lessons We Can Learn From Yesterday’s Story

1. Small Can Grow

La La Land went from a budget of $0 to $1 million to $30 million over the course of its life. It wasn’t easy, but the small guy can become a giant.

2. No Idea Is Too Odd

In a world with eight Fast and The Furious movies and three Expendables films (yes, I did just refer to that movie-explosion as a film), a jazz musical seems odd. But there is room for odd.

3. We Can Benefit From Working On Many Project

In the story I mention how writer-director Damien Chazelle was working on Whiplash while improving La La Land. That was a huge reason why La La Land came to li li life. Chazelle knew not to put all his eg eg eggs in one basket.

4. Take Advice But Don’t Compromise

As long as Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz were in charge, they were going to make the version of La La Land that they had always wanted. They would let their movie be picked apart and improved, but never compromised.

5. There Are Examples Like This Everywhere

There are examples everywhere of things just like this. All we have to do is look for them. Who knows, the next example I write about could be you.

I’d Like To Thank Hollywood

Despite the fake noses, hairpieces, and boob jobs Hollywood will never be perfect. They may be able to create a utopian world, but if they think they can live in a world without mess ups, they are living in la la land.

Take it from La La Land

The musical love story about an aspiring young actress and a jazz musician trying to make it in Hollywood, almost never made it in Hollywood.

While they were students at Harvard, writer-director Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz came up with the concept for the film. They later moved to Los Angeles and worked on improving the script.

One problem…they couldn’t convince anyone that their idea was good enough. A jazz musical without any mainstream songs stood no chance. They were told again and again that their idea would just never work.

The duo did not give up and eventually persuaded Focus Features into picking up the movie. They were given a budget of around $1 million — peanuts in an industry that can spend $1 million on catering of, well, peanuts.

During the six years that it would take for the movie to get made, Chazelle worked on another project you may have heard of…Whiplash. All of a sudden, Chazelle commanded more attention in the industry and was able to pull some strings to make the version of La La Land he always envisioned.

Fast forward and the film has now grossed over $100 million at the box office and it received for the most Oscar nominations at the 2017 Academy Awards,

I’d like to thank Hollywood for reminding me that not even the biggest studios and deepest pockets are perfect.

9 Weird Habits That Famous Writers Formed to Write Better

Many times, I will read something online and immediately think, “that was great, I wish I wrote it.” I may not have written it, but I can still share it. Here’s the latest…

As I have written about before (here & here) we can all use a few writing tips. We can benefit from pretty much anything that helps us get into the habit of writing better and more frequently. No matter how weird it may seem.

Amber Stanley from Lifehack has complied a great list of strange habits that famous writers have formed to improve their writing. The list includes everything from laying down to standing up. I want to try #5.

Click here to check it out.


Another Example of Great Writing

The world is full of great writing. So I have decided I will highlight some examples whenever I stumble on them.

Here’s one I came across from Stephen King’s book 11/22/63

That group was a Martin Luther King dream come true — 50% black, 50% white, 100% happy. “

In this part of the book, King is talking about a group of betters who are lined up to collect their winnings. Rather than a long paragraph describing the scene, he paints a perfect picture of what the crowd looks like — race & emotions included — in just 16 words.

An average writer would have said something like, “the bettors, were equally black and white, and happy.” A good writer would have said something along the lines of, “what’s black and white and glad all over? That line of bettors.”

King topped both of those in a creative, culturally appropriate, and concise way. Something that is not easy to do with just a line about a line.

That is some great writing!