René Penn

Writer. Aspiring author. Blogger. Follow me.


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Why a Creative Outlet Can Make You a Better Writer

I started, stopped and recently re-started making jewelry. I started because I would see a necklace at a store, for instance, and analyze the ways that it could look different.  I thought that I had an eye for accessories, and decided to take a jewelry-making class in 2013, just for the heck of it. After making my first pair of earrings, I was hooked. IMAG0136

Perusing through the bead aisle of local craft stores became my new past-time. I received compliments and a few commission requests, on the jewelry that I made. But more important than that, I noticed that my writing got better. I discovered a new creative outlet that I didn’t even know existed within me. Here’s why I think jewelry-making or any other creative outlet—like painting, drawing, sculpting, gardening, cooking, sewing, photography or music—helps with writing.

  • It’s tangible

As writers, we live in our own heads. A lot. The scenes we conjure up are so clear to us, we can practically see them. But of course, we can’t actually see them. Our true reality is a flat, pen-to-paper or fingers-to-keyboard-to-screen experience, even though our writer imagination is rich with vibrant colors, descriptions and character personalities. Creating something tangible, visual and three-dimensional is a great way to pull oneself out of the imaginary world, awaken the physical senses and dive into something real.

  • It makes you a better creative communicator

When I create jewelry, my brain has a specific visual goal in mind. P1000567I have to figure out how to take that idea from concept to finished project—converting loose beads, wire and spacers into a necklace, for instance. Those skills translate to writing, as well—such as bringing characters together, developing plot lines and moving scenes around.

  • It provides a quick sense of accomplishment

Once the creation is done, I led out a sigh. It’s such a good feeling. I can create a necklace and have something to show for it within 30 – 60 minutes. Unlike a novel, it doesn’t take months and months, or even years, of work and waiting to get to the finish line. It satiates the short-term need to actually complete something creative and consider it done. With that fulfillment, I have more patience to continue my long-term writing projects.

  • It boosts your creative confidence

When I first wore jewelry that I made, it was exciting to receive compliments on my pieces. It increased my creative confidence. As writers, we have a story to tell, but we also want people to like it. But to my point above, when you’re spending months on a WIP, you don’t get input or feedback from a reader. It’s easy to let self-doubt creep in. A creative outlet that evokes immediate positive feedback may give you the boost you need to keep doubts at bay while writing.

  • There is a positive cerebral effect when it comes to working with your hands

I touch on this point, pardon the pun, in a separate article about why I’m writing my manuscript by hand. “Working with your hands can spur and engage your imagination, because it stimulates the part of your brain that’s associated with creativity.”

  • It works your creative muscles while giving your writing muscles a chance to rest

With exercise, your muscles need a break to develop properly and minimize injury. That’s why it’s suggested to work out different parts of your body on different days. I think the same goes with our creative muscles. Sometimes we need a rest from writing, but we still need that jolt we get from creating something. That’s when a creative outlet other than writing can be the perfect solution.

Even with all of these great reasons, I actually stopped making jewelry for a year or so. I was planning my wedding, and jewelry-making fell by the way-side. Now that I have more time during the day, I am going to make a concerted effort to make jewelry-making part of my routine.

What creative hobbies do you have? And have you noticed that they help with your writing process?


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Establishing a Daily Routine to Help My Writing

It’s time that I start working on a writing routine, because yesterday morning I spent about 90 minutes looking at YouTube videos from the Graham Norton Show. By the end of it, I had tears streaming down my face and an ab workout from laughing so much. Then, writer’s guilt slapped me in the face. The time on the clock set me straight, and I dove into my WIP. I managed to write 1,800 words, but it was a bit frazzling. I don’t want to repeat yesterday’s action of going down the Internet rabbit hole, so here’s the daily routine I want to establish for myself. nick-morrison-325805

Morning:

  • Check and engage in social media and blog

Since my instinct in the morning is to pick up my phone and start web-surfing, it may be better not to fight it. Here’s my chance to check my WordPress and Twitter stats, view other people’s posts and spend some time engaging with others. I also spend this time catching up on regular news.

  • Work on blog post

While I was working full-time, I was able to write one blog post per week. Now, I’m going to try to increase it to two, and see how that goes. I don’t want to overcommit myself, because if I don’t do it, writer’s guilt sets in. (I’m noticing a pattern about writer’s guilt. Definitely a future blog post idea.)

  • Spend time creating

I’m convinced that my novel writing is better and more focused when I have another creative outlet. That’s one of the reasons I started making jewelry a few years ago, blogging is, too. Novel writing, for me, has been a slog-through-the-mud experience that may or may not lead to a completed manuscript. When I make jewelry or work on my blog, it satisfies that need for an immediate sense of accomplishment. I don’t do this every day, but I’m aiming for twice a week.

  • Go to the “office”

I can work on my blog at home, no issues there. But when it’s time to push out hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of words, I need to be in a space where I’m less distracted—where no dishes, laundry, TV or nap-friendly couch are calling for my attention. My office is the library. The book stacks are inspiring. And I don’t have to feel obligated to buy a cup of tea, like I would at a cafe, when I really just need to park my bum for 4 hours and write.

  • Write

Yes, blogging is writing, but the bulk of my writing time is spent on my novel-in-progress. My goal is 1,800 words per day. If I can commit to that, I’ll feel like I’ve truly earned my imaginary paycheck that day. How did I come up with the 1,800 word count? If I’m working on an 80,000-word manuscript at a clip of 1,800 words per day between Monday – Friday, then it would take about 2 1/2 months to finish. Give myself a 2-week grace period for any below-average productivity, and that allows for a 3-month timeframe. I think that’s respectable.

Afternoon:

  • Exercise

I know, I know. Exercise isn’t part of the writing process, but it makes me more energetic, which makes me a better writer. When I commit to three days of exercise a week, I’m not as lethargic. Depending on the weather, I alternate between aerobics, yoga, dance (I have fun trying to follow dance-tutorial videos, and I fail, epically), walking, jogging, and biking.

  • Write some more

After lunch is when I usually hit my stride. freestocks-org-229658The morning cobwebs are gone. I’ve spent some time thinking about what I want to write that day, and I’ve gotten my distractions out of the way.

Evening:

  • Read a book and maybe write even more

It’s baseball playoff time, and my hubby is all about MLB on TV right now. Me? Not so much. At first, I wanted the remote-control time back. But now I use that game time to catch up on a book or do more writing or blog-post tweaking.

RELATED ARTICLE: Famous authors and their daily routines

For those of you with day jobs, I know what you’re thinking: This is not doable for my schedule. harry-sandhu-209807You’re right. I wasn’t able to do it that way, either. But there are pieces of it that may be applicable to your daily routine. Here’s what I did while I was working my “8-to-5.”

Mornings for day job routine:

  • Check social media and blog

I rode mass transit to work, so I spent my riding time scrolling through my phone. If you have to drive, then I would spend 15 minutes before leaving home or when you get to the office (shh, we won’t tell anyone).

  • Write

During the ride, I would pull out my laptop or notebook and write for 10 – 15 minutes. Again, if you have to put hands on a steering wheel, then take the time during your lunch break to write.

  • Wake up early

Even better, wake up earlier to spend time writing or engaging on social media before you go to work. I spent a year waking up 30 minutes earlier than normal to write, and that’s how I finished my first full manuscript.

Evenings for day job routine:

  • Cut TV time, write instead

If you have what I call passive TV time—where you’re watching TV, but it’s really watching you—then pull out your laptop or notebook for 15 minutes. You may surprise yourself how far you can go. Just 200 words during Wheel of Fortune will add up over time.

  • Exercise while watching TV

You could do some squats, jumping jacks, and jog-in-place movements for 15 minutes while watching TV, to incorporate exercise and get energized.

Travel for work? You could consider writing in the airport or station, on the plane or train, and during any layovers.

RELATED ARTICLE: 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Kazuo Ishiguro describes his “Crash” routine while writing Remains of the Day

What’s your daily writing routine? Is it working? Or do you prefer not to have one?

 

Photos by Harry Sandhu, freestocks.org and Nick Morrison on Unsplash


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How Do I Update My LinkedIn Profile to Show that I’m Working on a Novel Full-Time?

The last day at my 8-to-5 job was Friday, so yesterday I decided to update my resume on LinkedIn. (Can you tell I’m excited for this new phase in my life?) I clicked on the “Add new position” link, which took me to a drop-down menu. I froze at that point, because I wasn’t sure what title to write. I immediately thought of late-night TV icon Jimmy Fallon, whose self-description on Twitter reads “astrophysicist.” Could I go there with my profile? Uh, no. Funny idea for Jimmy on Twitter, bad idea for me on LinkedIn.

So what exactly is my new position? I’m working on a novel, but I certainly can’t call myself a “Novelist.” I’ve always considered a novelist to be someone who has crossed the publishing threshold. I view the title “Author” the same way. Though I did read a compelling case for why you should call yourself a novelist, regardless.

Needless to say, I typed “Writer” as my new position. After that, it provided autofilled options, like “Freelance Writer” or “Independent Writer.” 20171003_091549Nah, those didn’t seem quite right, either. They imply that I’m a contractor or freelancer, which isn’t the case. The next thing to complete was “Company.” I was at a loss there, too. I decided to go with “Self-Employed.” That could also be slightly misleading, but it was the best fit among the choices offered. Plus, LinkedIn wouldn’t let me save the entry until the “Company” field was completed.

Last but not least was the description. “Writing and blogging” was what I wrote. It looked pretty skimpy compared to my previous 8-to-5 position, which was chock-full of communications-manager goodness. After some noodling, here’s what I decided to go with:

Writer and Blogger

  • Writing a fiction novel, currently a work-in-progress with 42,000 words written
  • Writing weekly blog posts and managing the website, using the WordPress platform, for renepenn.wordpress.com
  • Writing a romantic comedy screenplay, currently a work-in-progress with 45 pages written

I specified word and page counts to make the concept of fiction and screenwriting, which can be somewhat mysterious to non-writers, more tangible with hard-and-fast numbers. The blog and WordPress mentions indicate commitment to a weekly deadline and knowledge of a commonly used, widely respected website platform. I added my blog website for proof—plus, a little plug and cross-promotion never hurts.

Updating my LinkedIn profile was an important step. It shows that I’m no longer treating my writing as a hobby. It’s now a career path that I’m taking as seriously as any of my previous jobs. Any other ideas on how I can jazz up my profile even more? How have you updated your LinkedIn profile to reflect your writing?


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I Quit My Job to Work on My Novel

I turned in my resignation to pursue a dream. My dream is—and has been for years—to be able to make a living by writing novels, to sustain myself, financially, from doing something I enjoy. I never thought that it would be necessary to quit my job. I could surely cobble together enough writing time while working my 8-to-5, to get closer to my dream. It seemed doable. It seemed simple enough. But it hasn’t been.20170929_104626

Throughout my career, my dream has hung over me, shadowing my decisions. It led me into a career in ad writing, marketing and communications. Writing and editing have been the bedrock of most of my jobs. No coincidence there. It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed it or found it dissatisfying. I’m certainly proud of what I do at work. It just hasn’t been enough. Now that my last week at work has come to a close, it’s all so clear. All of these years, I was trying to fill a void that no job could fulfill.

During my mass-transit commute, mornings, evenings, and weekends, I’ve spent time working on fiction or screenwriting. I’ve had quite a few start-stop projects. Too many to count. But there was a turning point, when I wrote and helped produce a 12-episode web series in 2008–all while continuing my regular job. It was a body of “published” work, and it had a small group of very loyal followers. The opportunity raised my confidence about my writing abilities beyond the corporate brochures and internal communications that I cranked out for corporate America. But nothing happened after that. I wasn’t expecting a writing team at HBO to stumble upon the web series and say, “Her! We want her. No, we need her!” Though, that sure would’ve been nice. So I kept writing.

I finished a novel manuscript a few years ago. I woke up 30 minutes before work every day for over a year to write it. The finished product was decent, but definitely not great. 1506797324537-314911186-e1506797447273.jpg
I knew it needed work before I could shop it around to literary agents. I sent it to a freelance editor who gave me great advice. Most of all, I was happy to learn how much she genuinely liked reading the story. I worked on the rewriting process. I surprised myself by doing a genre switch, converting it from a novel format to a romantic comedy screenplay. I got halfway through, and then I started working on a historical romance novel, my current work-in-progress.

Sometime during the three years between the rom-com rewrite and the beginning of the historical romance manuscript, I met a great guy and got married. With his support, it was easier to make the decision to quit my full-time job and work on my novel. It wasn’t easy putting in my notice at work. A mind-shift had to occur before handing in the resignation. I’d been doing the same thing for so long—focusing on my job and treating my writing as a hobby—that I had to reprogram my thinking.

I had to think back to how I felt years ago when I took the job. This is going to be my last job, I had told myself, because I want my writing to take off. I’m going to work on my hobby until it becomes my next “job.” I put in a lot of hours, a whole lot of time, but I never reached my main goal. I finally realized that it was time to take the full leap of faith—no more of this part-time, on-the-side, hobby stuff. I needed to go all-in. Because my dream deserves this chance. Because sometimes you have to quit something to raise your chance of success.


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What Has Possessed Me to Write My Novel in Longhand?

What the heck possessed me to stop typing my novel and to start writing it longhand, instead? Especially since I have short hands with small fingers.

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A couple of years ago, I had dinner with bestselling author Michelle Gable. (Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Actually, she was a keynote speaker at an event where me and about 250 other conference attendees were listening to her speech during dinner.) And she mentioned that she wrote her book, A Paris Apartment, by hand—like pen to paper, pencil to notebook. I was stunned; I may have even dropped my fork. She explained that:

  • It works better-on-the-go

It’s more discreet and portable than a laptop. Makes sense. Lugging around a 13″ laptop can be tiring and clunky. And a tablet isn’t very writer-friendly, as far as the keyboard goes.

I noodled this approach, and decided to carry around a pen and journal-sized notebook to continue my WIP. I have to say that I’ve been writing that way since. Here are some other reasons why:

  • I did it as a kid

When I was 10-years old, writing my first fiction stories, there were no computers. There was a typewriter that you used for special occasions, and you loathed when those occasions occurred, because the typewriter was a baffling piece of equipment that required lots of patience and white-out. I had no choice, really, but to write my stories by hand. girl-kids-training-school-159782There’s something nostalgic about carrying on the same creative process I enjoyed so much as a kid.

  • I get out of my own way

When I’m working on the computer, I can’t disconnect the editor-part of myself. That part is a cynical, judgmental, crotchety lady. And she can be a bit of a killjoy when I hit a good writing flow. The less of her while I’m in brain-dump mode, the better.

  • I wonder if it falls into the “working with your hands leads to better creativity” category

I’ve heard this theory. Working with your hands can spur and engage your imagination, because it stimulates the part of your brain that’s associated with creativity. I don’t know if writing longhand can be included in the category of working with your hands, but it’s definitely a better writing experience for me than typing on a keyboard. It’s as if there’s a clearer path from what my brain is thinking to what actually appears on the paper, as opposed to brain to keyboard to computer screen.

What about you? Have you tried writing your manuscript by hand?


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Who Are Your Author Peers?

I first learned about this concept–“author peers” or “peer authors”–about two years ago. It’s been a game-changer for me, and certainly an ongoing educational process. But this whole writing thing kinda is anyway, isn’t it?

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

First, let me explain what I mean by author peers. If you were published, author peers would be writers whose books are within the same category as yours. It’s the “these authors write books like what I’m writing” group.

Here are reasons why it’s good to identify your author peers, whether you’re a published author or not.

  • It solidifies what you like to read, and therefore what you may like to write

This is how I pinpointed my interested in writing regency-era historical romance. I also researched how these novels are set up to see how I can adopt similar tactics in my own work.

  • It helps with your query letter (or during a conversation with your aunt)

By mentioning who your author peers are in a query letter, you immediately clue in an agent to what your writing style is like. Using an author’s name to describe your style can ground a person a lot faster than a four-sentence description.

  • It helps you identify your target demographic

You can trim a lot of guess-work by simply researching the reader’s demographics of your peer authors. Is their audience male? Mostly Millennials? Do they chomp on short, fast-paced chapters or languish in long, verbose descriptive bits? If your author peers attract a specific type of reader who love a certain writing style, your work may likely achieve success in that genre by adopting similar concepts.

  • It provides inspiration

Once upon a time, your peer authors were unpublished, too, waiting for the chips to fall their way. Eventually, it happened; they got published. If they did it, why can’t we?

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Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

  • It gets you thinking like a published author

I’m obviously not published yet, but it doesn’t mean I can’t think like it, right? I personally think there’s something healthy about visualizing one’s name in the scrolling section of reviews that reads, “If you love this author, you’ll also like <insert your name here>.”

What did I miss? Why else is it good to identify peer authors?