All posts by: Lisa Rivero

Your Writer’s Syllabus

I love new beginnings. Love them, love them, love them. We are coming up on a triple home run of new beginnings: The first day of the week, first day of the month, and start of an academic year all rolled into one: September 1.

Perhaps because I have never really left school, I always think of fall rather than January as the new year. The change of seasons is the perfect time to engage in some reflection on our writing life: Where we are, where we’ve been, and where we want to be.

It is also a good time to consider creating your own Writer’s Syllabus, a Do It Yourself guide for furthering your writing education and giving yourself some assignments tailored to your individual goals and purpose. Possible sections to include in your syllabus would be Course Philosophy, Course Materials, Reading Schedule, and Writing Calendar.

For example, today I am looking forward to watching a free webinar on using Scrivener to format books, hosted by KM Weiland and Joseph Michael. That would make an excellent item to include in a Writer’s Syllabus, perhaps with some follow-up assignments. We can schedule days or times in a Writer’s Syllabus to catch up on podcasts for writers or read short sections of our favorite writing books or do writing prompts and exercises.

Be as creative with formatting as you wish. Include only those sections that are helpful to you. You probably won’t need a section on grading, but it may be good to include one on attendance (“I expect myself to show up on time and to give myself at least 24 hours notice if I must miss a required session or assignment  🙂 ). Use humor liberally and give yourself permission to make adjustments as necessary along the way.

Because this is your syllabus, there is no way to get it wrong, but if you want some ideas and inspiration, check out these resources:

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The Purpose of Your Writing Life

“[T]he meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” ~ Viktor E. Frankl

Man's Search for MeaningI first titled this post “The Purpose of A Writing Life,” but that would miss the point entirely.

Why do you write? It’s a question I’ve focused on a lot here recently because figuring out for ourselves what the purpose of our writing is—what meaning it has for us—is a key to writing more, writing better, and writing in a way that brings more satisfaction than frustration.

Your Goals Are Not Your Purpose

Goals are generally a good thing to have, but they are not your purpose. We might have a goal to write a certain number of words a day or finish a story or query agents or even to make our living as a writer.

None of these goals, however, speaks to why we write. Without purpose, we can meet our goals and still feel lost and unsatisfied.

Our Purpose Is Not Our Brand

Our public face as a writer, should we choose to have one, is also not our purpose. A writer’s brand is simply how we hope others view us as a writer, giving readers a better chance of knowing what to expect from us and helping them to find us wherever our words reside.

Our brand, though, rarely gets to the heart and soul of our purpose, which is harder to capture in a memorable tag line or motto.

For example, I have come to see that my purpose of writing is in fact to give my life meaning. Writing helps me to make sense of the often confusing world around me as well as to be a part of that world. Understanding this purpose puts into perspective why I read what I read and even sheds light on feeling an outsider at various points in my life. It’s all of a piece and is very hard to explain to others. It is also my meaning only, not the meaning for all writers.

We often don’t know our purpose as writers until we start writing on a regular basis, and once we do begin to glimpse our individual purpose, our ideas of happiness and success are transformed in the most surprising ways.

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it” ~ Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

See also

Viktor Frankl on the Human Search for Meaning (at Brain Pickings)

In the following interview, Viktor Frankl explains his ideas of freedom, choice, and having something to live for rather than just rules to live by (see more video clips at the Viktor Frankl Institut):

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The Hiss of Silence: When We Don’t Write

Photo credit (cropped): matryosha (CC BY 2.0)

“You just have to turn up.” ~ Ian McEwan

In a recently published interview, bestselling and award-winning author Ian McEwan spoke about the difficulty of the writer’s private “hiss of silence” (scroll to the bottom of the post to watch the video):

“Sometimes I think I don’t like writing. I really hate it. I avoid it. Even when I know exactly what it is I’m going to write next, I just can’t bring..drag myself upstairs to the study to do it…. Other days, it just is irresistible.” ~ Ian McEwan

Following up on yesterday’s responses to the question “Why do you write?” here are your thoughts on “Why do you NOT write?” They are worth reading carefully, as I am sure they echo what most writers feel and think. Thank you to everyone for your candor and generosity. Bolded emphases are mine.

Why do I not write? Because I get too busy with parenting! Mostly. :) Lately I’ve been doing a daily sort of journaling project, and counting that as my writing, even though it isn’t creative writing.  ~ Jessica

Why do I not write? Because sometimes it’s just hard and I’m avoiding it. When I have to write a scene that is difficult for me to wrap my head around either because of logistics (an intense action scene) or consists of heavy emotion, I sometimes procrastinate. ~ Melissa

Fear. Fear that what people have always told me was true. That I was worthless and didn’t have anything new to say or think. But I, too, haven’t ignored my dark. I still treasure the poetry written in the dark. It, more than anything, expresses depth and raw sincerity. ~ Melissa

Why I don’t write is so much easier than why I write. Not enough time. Don’t have anything to say. Other things take priority. This turn about got me thinking that I need to go back and “noodle” some more on why I write. ~ Sheryl

In those times when I’ve tried to write, I’ve never gotten past the beginning. It’s always seemed that the story has been told before, and better, by someone else. ~Shan

And from Annette:

With my academic background I never feel I know enough so keep putting things off until I have done more research. I can write a first draft, but that doesn’t need perfection and it is OK to put notes in brackets (need to find this out!) but then I put off the rest. And sometimes I get stuck even on a first draft, or choose to write something easier. That’s the trouble with a PhD, the main thing it teaches you is how little you know, or even can know! I try to think that I do know more than most people (about what I was studying, though I want to write about other things now) and who really cares anyway (me! and my ex-supervisor!) and plenty of people write stuff with glaring errors in (though they will irritate me if I spot them…) but it does stop me from writing, or at least stop me from finishing stuff.

Also New Shiny Syndrome afflicts me quite a lot :) which doesn’t so much stop me from writing as stops me from finishing one thing before I want to move onto the next. And indecision. I have ideas at various stages of notes/planning/drafts for more than ten novels. Sometimes I finish a poem… :)

And then if I’m feeling tired and ill it’s hard to feel motivated to do anything. Also at the moment my laptop is malfunctioning so I can’t write in my favourite place on my preferred computer. I really must get that sorted out. And I have all these other things to do before I focus on writing again.

What we can take from McEwan’s experience is that as useful as it might be to understand why we don’t write so as to create more effective writing strategies, one solution—simple but not always easy—rises above all, even for the most successful authors: showing up.

“I have to write it to find out what it is.” ~ Ian McEwan

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Why We Write

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt (CC BY 2.0)

Below are some of the responses that you gave to the question why do you write? [my bold emphases added]

I write to make sense of dreams. I write to flesh out ideas that will otherwise evaporate. I write whenever I give an assignment to my students—I’ve promised them that I will never give them an assignment that I wouldn’t do myself. I write to remember my childhood and so that my children and theirs will know it, too. I write to smooth out ideas. I write articles (but only when I’m asked to, for some reason). ~ Jane

I write because I’m amazed at what comes out when I do. The proverbial pen seems to tell me ideas rather than me telling it. ~ Deborah

I write because it’s fun, I enjoy it. Sometimes I still write even when it’s not fun, because it can help to write down difficult feelings, or work through a problem, but that’s more for the journal, or maybe a poem. I write to communicate, to entertain, to inform, to connect. I write because I can, because I must, because I want to. ~ Annette

I write for proof that I exist. ~ Laurel

It doesn’t get much more inspiring than that! Thanks, everyone.

Try it yourself, this time in 10 words or fewer: Why do YOU write? #WhyIWrite

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Book Update: Create a Writing Life

With one week to go in the blog series, I am happy to show you my latest book cover idea (tada!):

After mulling over and discarding many titles (and even more images), I like Create a Writing Life for three reasons:

CREATE: A life of writing doesn’t just happen (serendipity) nor is it the result of following a one-size-fits-all formula. We each create our own writing life based on our desires and dreams, our goals and interests, our personalities and talents. Creative thinking theory and psychology can help us to design and follow a plan that works for each one of us.

WRITING: We can plan and think all we want, but, in the end, it all comes down to writing. Writing every day (or at least regularly). Writing what we want to write, for our own reasons. Prioritizing our writing even when life gets crazy or no one else understands.

LIFE: Why do we write? Many of us feel we simply have no choice. Writing gives our life meaning, regardless of acclaim or public success.

I am continuing to work on the ebook idea based on this series with plans to have it ready sometime in 2015 (blog subscribers will be the first to receive pre-publication copies). The final ebook and paperback will be available this fall, and I will be sending blog subscribers links to free pre-publication ebook copies at the end of September. Thank you to everyone for your continued reading and input!

What about you? What are your writing plans for the final month of summer?

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