Tag Archives: writing

Awake in the Middle of the Night? Write!

Insomnia. It’s a frustrating feeling to be so tired and not be able to sleep–or to be so bored that you can’t even bear trying to close your eyes. Couple that with the feeling that you’re the only person awake or alive in the whole world, and insomnia can be very lonely, too, even with the electronic companions of computer and TV.

Generally, we’re usually awake in the middle of the night because of worries or something weighing heavily on our minds, unless it’s a physical symptom of an underlying condition. For me, my mind tends to start whirling as soon as I try to find a comfortable position on the bed–I suddenly recall all the minutiae of my day, at a breakneck pace. Very, very aggravating.

A New Approach: Using Insomniac Time as Writing Time

Instead of taking a pill or just tossing and turning for several hours, I’ve taken to writing during sleepless nights. Sometimes the coolest and most beautiful stuff comes out of my brain when I’m absolutely worn out from the day. Maybe it’s just because I’m too tired to self-censor anymore, but I write more freely and creatively, somehow. I also seem to be able to express more emotion and capture scenes better.

How can you harness this same wakeful time to get down some of your best ideas (or most random thoughts)? Try these tips that have helped me:

Use whatever medium you like to write out your thoughts.

I prefer to type because I type so much faster than handwriting, and my brain is usually going a zillion miles an hour. (Handwriting infuriates me now because it’s SO SLOW!) Some people, however, enjoy the sense of pen on paper–it slows their thoughts down enough so that they can capture what they’re really worried about or really thinking about. You may even want to arrange words graphically, like a collage (either digitally or actually writing out the words in artistic form on paper). Choose whatever method is most comfortable for you.

Start out writing formlessly.

You don’t have to write perfectly. Just write your thoughts without worries about punctuation, idea continuity, or grammatical sense. Some people have suggested that when you find yourself stuck, you should write a nonsense word over and over (like “potatobug”), just to keep yourself writing. I, however, don’t subscribe to the idea that you have to keep writing the whole time, writing nonsense words if you can’t think of anything else. (I produce enough nonsense that I don’t need ready-made nonsense to write down. LOL)

If writing nonsense words similarly annoys you, try focusing your writing on a particular topic, like why you’re mad about that guy cutting you off in traffic today (and why you’re still thinking about it in the middle of the night, etc.).

When you’ve run out of things to say about one topic, switch to something else.

This is not only a way to keep writing, but a great way to get at issues that are bugging you or that you’ve had on your mind for a while. One night, while doing this writing activity, I randomly discovered that I was still upset about what a friend had written on my Facebook wall months before. She had said something pretty innocuous, but I took it the wrong way and stewed about it long after I should have given it up. I set about resolving it the next day, and it was all good in the end. If I hadn’t written about it, who knows how long I would have hidden that grudge from myself?

Keep writing till you’re too tired or don’t have anything left to say.

Whichever of these comes first, follow the impulse and put aside computer or pen for the night. I usually get tired before I’m done writing, but some nights I get on such a roll I can’t stop! Those nights, I finish up my idea and collapse into bed, feeling like I’ve run a mental marathon. 😀

IMPORTANT! Keep That Writing!!

Now, once you finish writing, don’t throw your paper/digital file away–keep it and look at it again in the morning. you might have a winner of an idea hiding in there! (This actually happened to me; I wrote something down, looked at it in the morning, and thought “You know, that’d be a great poem.” Thus, a new poem was born out of utter randomness.)


Being awake in the middle of the night doesn’t have to be a lonely, unproductive time. Writing about what you’re feeling, even if you think you’re not a good writer, even if you don’t like to write a lot, can really help you sweep your brain clear of mental clutter so that you can sleep. And who knows, you might find an awesome creative idea along the way. You never know what you’ll find hiding between your synapses!

Connotation: The Search for the Right Synonym

When I taught 7th grade Language Arts, one of the biggest complaints I heard from my students was “Why are there so many WORDS for everything, when a lot of ’em mean the same thing?” My response: “These words don’t always mean EXACTLY the same thing.” And then I went and taught a lesson on connotation–the shades of meaning hidden in words.

Why Connotation is Important

Connotation gives writing a subtle descriptive power, without which most stories would fall flat. The choice of exactly the right word is like an artist choosing just the right shade of red or blue for a painting–the wrong shade can make the whole painting look “off” to the viewer’s eye, just as the wrong word choice can give listeners or readers a wrong impression. It might be a little detail, but it’s important!

In my writing, I often hunt for synonyms of words whose concepts I use quite frequently–for instance, the word “said” is a big thorn for me, because I don’t want my writing to sound “like an echo chamber” (which one of my graduate school professors told me my writing resembled–GRR). These days, it seems I’m always struggling to find a word I can use in place of “said,” but often there isn’t any really effective substitute. Nothing just SAYS “said” like “said.” (If that makes any sense…LOL!)

This, plus reading lots of other people’s writings about having the same difficulty, led me to think about writing with synonyms in general. When we choose synonyms for words we are using more often, we can often get tricked into thinking the synonyms mean EXACTLY the same thing as the word we are replacing–like my 7th graders thought. That, however, is definitely not the case.

An Example: The Word “Said”

Take the various synonyms and sorta-synonyms for “said”, as a convenient example (many thanks to Thesaurus):

add, affirm, allege, announce, answer, assert, break silence, claim, come out with, communicate, conjecture, convey, cry, declare, deliver, disclose, divulge, estimate, express, flap, gab, give voice, guess, imagine, imply, jaw, judge, lip, maintain, make known, mention, mutter, opine, orate, perform, pronounce, put forth, put into words, rap, read, recite, rehearse, relate, remark, render, repeat, reply, report, respond, reveal, rumor, speak, spiel, state, suggest, tell, utter, verbalize, voice, yak

WOW! Did you know there were THAT many apparent synonyms for just SAYING something? I sure didn’t, until I researched it. And yet, all these words don’t mean EXACTLY the same thing as “said.” They all do mean that something was spoken aloud, but beyond that, there are many shades and tones of meaning:

Implies that the person has already said something before this, or is adding to another person’s statement

Implies a positive rather than negative response to a question

Allege/Assert/Claim/Maintain/Put Forth:
Implies a forceful or accusatory tone of voice

Announce/Declare/Judge/Make Known/Pronounce/Utter:
Implies a loud tone of voice, but not necessarily an angry shout

Implies a statement that simply answers another person’s question

Break Silence/Voice/Come Out With:
Implies a statement made after a long silence by other people

Communicate/Convey/Express/Put Into Words/Speak:
Implies a statement made over distance (like phone or email) or spoken in a neutral tone of voice

Implies an opinion spoken without evidence

Implies frustration or outrage, or even desperation

Implies a formal speech or structured words

Implies a quiet or possibly conspiratorial tone of voice

Implies a statement full of educated guesses or opinions

Implies light or small talk, not of much importance

Give Voice/Verbalize/Voice:
Implies a spoken opinion which was either held back for a long time, or has been silently held by many other people in attendance

Implies an opinion expressing “what-if” situations, fantasy

Means the statement has a hidden meaning or obscure connotation

Implies comments that are rude or false (i.e., “paying lip service” or “getting lippy with someone”)

Implies a casual tone of voice, maybe an offhand comment

Implies resentment or a sotto voce (under the breath) comment

Implies a firm tone of voice, not casual in any regard

Implies comments or questions that are being practiced

Implies speech that is given to an authority figure

Implies speech that is part of a sales pitch or otherwise overly practiced story

Implies speech that is intended to be persuasive

And This is Just One Example of Connotation!

Looking at this list might be a little daunting, but it truly shows how diverse English can be, in terms of giving dialogue a little color and life. You can change the tone and mood of a sentence just by changing “remarked” to “suggested,” or by changing “mention” to “convey.” It gives your work subtle dimension, like using a pencil to shade a character’s face so that it appears 3-D on a page.

Including Connotation in Your Own Work

When you’re hunting for the right word, it really does help to keep a thesaurus nearby (either in paper form or by searching Thesaurus.com). It might seem like a writer’s cliche, but it does help with crafting better prose and poetry, just like gazing at a palette full of colors helps an artist choose just the right one for a part of their painting. Look up the word you think you want to use, and you might find one in the list that fits your needs even better!

The Impromptu Writers’ Club

Are you struggling to write? Lacking inspiration? Feeling STUCK? The problem might not be writer’s block–it might be writer’s isolation. At least, this is how I started feeling after being stuck on my novel for several months. And, as you’ll see in the following article, it really took talking over the book with another person to help me get restarted on it.

How I Accidentally Started a Writers’ Club

For a while, one of my best guy friends and I had been hanging out at a local Denny’s on Sunday evenings, getting back in touch after life took us in very separate directions for a few years. It was a time for him to be away from work and away from home, a time where he could relax and we could catch up.  But it slowly became less of a social thing and more focused on writing–I was working (mostly unsuccessfully) on my novel, and he wanted to hear more about it.

Once I started sharing my novel-in-progress with him, seeing what he thought of my ideas so far, I found out that he liked it, and was eager to read more.  Thus, I was inspired to write more, and I found the process to be easier.  (He is now one of my four beta readers, if you will–my parents and my boyfriend have also read or heard most of the novel, and they have all been wonderfully supportive.) Having this support system around me helped me start writing and keep writing–now, I had an audience to write for rather than just myself!

Inspiration is Catching!

I knew I was getting inspired from these informal brainstorming sessions, but admittedly, I didn’t expect for my guy friend to pick up the pen himself after a few months. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though–he’s been working on his own stories since he was 14 years old! I was overjoyed to see him starting to work with his old stories again, and so I encouraged him to keep working at it, to keep writing, and that I would read and help if I could. (Since I was an English major in college and did teach literature and composition for a few months in a middle school, I have a little bit of experience helping people to write.)

A Typical Writers’ Club Meeting

When we get together for our writers’ club meeting, we usually sit at our respective computers, typing away for a few minutes (or 30, LOL). Then, we switch computers, so that each of us can read what the other has written.  We offer each other constructive criticism, ideas for expansion, and express interest–then we switch back, and revise as necessary.

This helps us both at the same time–we are both writer and reader, so we can easily switch back and forth between the two roles. Plus, reading each other’s work helps us both construct better-flowing stories, and the almost-instantaneous time between composition, reading, and revising makes the writing process speedier and more thorough. No more relying on my memory to figure out what to change in my story!

The Benefits So Far

This has certainly helped me make my novel much better, to have people around me who are interested in my novel and who offer their opinions on how the story is progressing.  Only four people in this world besides me know what it’s about, and each of those four I would trust with my life as well as my life’s work. Plus, I’m getting and giving really good feedback; being part of the creative process in a couple of ways gives me new perspective on both of our efforts.

I never realized how much another person’s input would help me write–I have always been shy about showing my work to someone else, fearing their criticism.  But in a way, doing this kind of writers’ club thing helps me brainstorm and not be so stressed about how the novel is going (or sometimes not going). Often, it’s fun to just sit there and talk out an idea over a fried cheese melt and a laptop computer; I get so much brain work done as I form the idea into words, and I also function as a sounding board for my friend’s ideas.

Have You Ever Tried a Writers’ Club?

Let me know in the comments!

The Enemy of Creativity: Self-Censorship

Writing is a creative process, sometimes just randomized brainstorming and fitful starts, sometimes fluid composing that only stops when your fingers or brain cells are too tired to go on. I’ve been writing ever since I can remember–one of my first short stories was composed on a steno notebook belonging to my dad, written in blue highlighter. (Maybe not the best choice, but as a six-year-old, I chose the tools close to hand!)

In childhood, I would hear about “writer’s block” as being this terrible condition that befell all writers at some point. But I used to think I never suffered writer’s block, because ideas for a story always came so easily to me–the words just flowed, and it sounded good to my ears and looked good to my eyes. It was much later, as I grew up and began writing for schoolwork or for other people to read, that I began to experience writer’s block in earnest. For me, that choking, halting sensation of just not knowing what to write next alarmed me. Was I losing my touch?

The Root of Writer’s Block: Self-Censorship

This feeling has come back sometimes while composing my novel, and at first, I was afraid that I was running out of ideas for the story. As I probed the feeling of writer’s block, however, I discovered that it wasn’t simply a lack of ideas–it was a lack of presentable ideas, ideas that other people would like. I was censoring my ideas, trying to make the novel immediately something that “other people” would like, rather than just writing what I felt was best and reviewing it later. Though I’m not sure that self-censoring was the complete source of my earlier writer’s block, I’m pretty sure self-censorship came into the picture at least a little, since I’ve been a perfectionist most of my life (LOL).

This Can Happen to Anyone

Self-censorship can strike at any time–when you have that little tingle of unease in your brain that signals “Ooh, I don’t know how good this is,” or when you are having difficulty producing part of a story because you’re afraid it’s all been done before. This is the enemy of creativity: when you hold yourself back, your writing becomes more stilted than ever, and you end up producing something that reads as if it’s afraid to come off the page. This censoring process, which starts out with good intentions (wanting to produce “good” writing that will be enjoyed and accepted), ends up just hamstringing you.

How to Beat Self-Censorship

Don’t let your personal judgment get in the way of your actual writing process. Write first and judge later. Seriously. You can always edit, erase or backspace if you review your writing and don’t like what you see, but if you don’t produce any writing in the first place, you won’t ever explore your ideas. (Who knows, you might write something that is utterly beautiful and life-changing to someone else, even if you think it’s nothing special!)

Also, don’t be ashamed if you have to go back and rewrite something several times over to get it “right.” Your taking the time to rewrite something that has already been put on paper/typed up in a document is a positive sign of writing development–and that development can’t take place until the original thought is put down in visual form somehow. Writing is not something you produce perfectly the first time (something I’ve had to realize the hard way); it’s something you imagine into existence, shape and sculpt, and then sand and polish until it gleams. Don’t let your desire for the polished finished product keep you from imagining.

Writing as a Pressure Valve

These days, I might be a blogger and novelist, but I’m also still using writing for another purpose, one which has literally saved my life several times. Instead of raging about my problems, I write about them.

How I Got Started Using Writing to Solve Anger and Sadness

I’ve always been a particularly sensitive and emotional person, and I was bullied quite a bit in school, yet I was not allowed to let out those feelings by openly crying at school, nor were my feelings understood by the staff, who believed that “kids will be kids” and I should learn to put up with the horrible treatment I endured. As you probably can guess, this became a HUGE problem over time, until I discovered that I liked to write creatively. Soon enough, I found that I could funnel what I was feeling into writing, using the activity as an emotional pressure valve.

What do I mean by that? I mean writing instead of punching, writing instead of screaming, writing instead of staying home from school just to be away from it all. I had come to love creative writing early on in my life, but beginning especially in middle school, writing became a lifeline. Whatever I felt, I wrote, in poetry that likely should never be seen by anyone else, but helped me cry out with silent paper and ink. There were times when I wrote about getting back at the people who treated me like I was sub-human (because I did get physical abuse at times from some of them), helping me to vent my frustration without hurting anyone. (Some people worried that I was going to act on what I had written, but for me, the act of writing about it was the release of it–once I had written about it, I was finished with it, and I didn’t have those feelings to that high degree anymore.)

This is how I survived school–writing (as well as music) gave me the outlets I needed. These days, I may not need as much of the “venting” space as I used to, but I know it’s still there, whenever I need it–just a few clicks away on my computer.

How You Can Start Using Your Writing as a Pressure Valve

  • If something’s really bothering you, words will often come of their own accord; get a paper and pen or open a text document and go to town. Don’t edit yourself, don’t think too hard, just write. If you begin to cry (or even just get a little teary) while writing, you’re doing it right–you’re beginning to expunge the emotional poison.
  • If you’re having trouble figuring out what to write about, try freewriting, either on paper or using an online freewriting exercise. Write about anything you want, just don’t stop writing. Start with a nonsense word that makes you laugh if you have to, or write about something you’re sensing in the environment around you, and then just keep going. You would be INCREDIBLY SURPRISED at what comes out of your head when you freewrite! (Another take on freewriting: The Thoughts Room)
  • One exercise that works even better than the old “write a letter and don’t send it” trick, especially if you like to write fiction: Write a story about a character who feels just like you do about another person, and then–when you’re ready–write another story from the other person’s perspective. Difficult but REALLY rewarding.
  • Lastly, if you’re just as stuck as ever, write one word to describe how you’re feeling. Just one word. Make up a word if you find you don’t know how to describe it any other way. How does your description make you feel? Write about those feelings. (Again, if it makes you a little teary, you’re doing it right!)


Writing can be wonderfully therapeutic, as I’ve certainly experienced over and over. How about you–do you like to use writing like this? Tell me in the comments!

Coming Up With “Novel” Ideas

I am several years into the process of writing my first novel, and it’s a lot slower and more methodical than I planned. But it’s also much easier than I thought it would be, especially when the Muse grabs me by the back of the neck and hauls me merrily along a new plot pathway. I find myself making stories and sub-stories, tying details back together and intertwining plotlines, almost without being fully conscious of it.

Question: Where Do I Get My Ideas?

I haven’t let a lot of people read the novel right now, mainly because I don’t want it stolen from me and I don’t want to show many people an unfinished product. But the people who have read it ask me sometimes, “Where do you get the ideas for your novel? This is a really unique and interesting plot, and the characters are really cool!”

Answer: My Real Life (in Bits and Pieces)!

I know this will probably sound flippant, but it’s true: My real life and the people I’ve met fund the basis of my novel’s varying stories and characters.

For instance, when something absolutely silly or sad or awesome or tragic happens to me, I tend to remember it, and I find myself drawing on that later for plots or subplots. I also draw on old family stories, especially for funny character anecdotes or certain phrases that pop out of various characters’ mouths while I’m writing. This, I feel, is a way to honor my past and my present, as well as make my characters more human.

The Problem with Using Real Life as Inspiration

Of course, the big issue with drawing on one’s real life for inspiration is that you don’t want to make the setting, the events, or anybody’s character too recognizable–otherwise, you may end up like Thomas Wolfe, who wrote Look Homeward, Angel. That novel caused quite a stir in his hometown, and not just a positive stir, either. So much controversy arose because people recognized themselves in the novel that Wolfe was prompted to write a second novel, unsurprisingly entitled You Can’t Go Home Again. Sad.

How I Incorporate Real Life Into My Novel–Sneakily

Instead of porting in someone’s personality directly, I usually combine aspects of three or more people when I am crafting new characters. I may take the looks of one person, the stature of another, the attitude of a third, and maybe with the motivations of a fourth, and blend it up with some imagination to create the character I want. This creates a character in which I can still believe (and more easily visualize), but isn’t recognizable to any of the people unwittingly involved in his or her creation. Doing this forces me to be more detail-oriented and sharp-eyed when I form characters, which in turn makes me better at crafting settings and working the characters into planned plot events.

Also, for story events and plots, I rework real-life stories, rewriting certain parts to fit the characters involved, as well as changing names and rearranging details to make the story even better/more effective. After all, I don’t want someone close to me to recognize a real-life story in the middle of my novel! Plus, with the kind of novel I’m writing (Christian fantasy-based), it wouldn’t quite make sense to have a completely recognizable story sticking like a toothpick in the middle of a cake. (Not to mention that stringing a bunch of random anecdotes together would be a little too A.D.D. to be a novel, LOL!)

These tactics ensure that I’m writing a story that is relatable and understandable, while still being imaginative. After all, if writers aren’t inspired by real life, then what are their stories even based on? Real life is just too full of interest to let inspiration slip by. 🙂

Want to Learn More about My Novel?

Hope you enjoyed this itty-bitty window into my writing process, and if you want to keep up with how my novel is coming along, check out my Novel Progress page!

A Fickle Playmate: My Muse

Writing, for me, has often been as natural as breathing and eating (and other unmentionable bodily activities). I have been known to sit at my computer and produce poetry and short fiction in under an hour sometimes, if I’m gripped by an idea. As a kid, I almost never experienced writer’s block–the Muse was an eager friend. Now…not so much.

My Muse is Jealous of My Real Life

These days, I have writer’s block fairly often, especially with ill health, “real life” concerns, and other obligations usurping my time and energy. There are times when I want to write, but pain blocks me from even thinking straight. Other times, I have a vague idea of where I want the story to go, but the Muse resists me because I’m tired or distracted. (Sometimes it makes me want to reach for the mental Dulcolax, LOL!) Often, when I’m stuck on a creative writing project, it almost feels like my Muse and I are engaged in tug-of-war with my outside life as the rope between us.

My Muse Hates Sad Events/Endings

I also generally have difficulty writing if the particular part of the story is disturbing or sad. I may be weird as an author, but I hate putting my characters through stressful times when there’s no “light at the end of the tunnel,” no hope for a better day at the end of it. Makes me sad to write such things, and it must make my Muse sad, too–I struggle quite a bit with writing those types of scenes. Thus, I usually try to weave in at least a little bit of hope.

But the Muse Isn’t All Bad for My Writing

You might think I have a love/hate relationship with my Muse, and sometimes it seems that way. But over the years, surprisingly, I’ve gotten one particular comment from a lot of people who have read my work–they say that while my works aren’t fairy tales and “happily ever afters” all the time, they like the bits of hope that are scattered throughout the stories. Little did they know, I put those bits in to help my sad little Muse survive the necessary downs in order to get to the ups!

Not to mention that my Muse’s random absences lead me to “strike while the iron is hot” when it does come back around. When the Muse is active, I can edit, revise, add, and delete at record speeds–almost like when I was a kid again. Hey, you gotta use it while it’s there, right? This quickened pace makes me more ruthless with my edits, which usually means a better, more polished finished project.

I can pretty much tell what my particular Muse likes–lots of humor and banter between characters, contemplative scenes of domesticity, and a bit of action and adventure sprinkled like pepper on the top. But I’m trying to stretch my writing muscles, so I’m experimenting with darker miniature dramas included in the middle of contemplation, and shadowy undertones to humorous banter. I guess it’s like hiding a pill in ice cream so a kid will take his or her medicine; I have to wrap the more difficult bits in easier-to-digest plotlines that my Muse enjoys. Either way, if my Muse cooperates, it makes me a MUCH better writer!

Do You Have a Fickle Muse?

What are your thoughts on this tongue-in-cheek post about the “Muse?” Is yours as capricious as mine? Let me know in the comments!