Free(writ)ing the Writer Within


Often times, my students will be very nervous about how to approach a writing assignment. They simply have no idea how to get started, and in some ways, I may find myself conflicted as to the best advice to offer.

I know the techniques that work for me, but what works for me may cause a student to roll her eyes and think I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Well, of course, none of you would ever roll your eyes at your well-intentioned and experienced professor, but alas, some students do. That, however, is for another post!

What I am going to write about today is a very simple method that if you do it, like the cyclist pedaling away in the picture above, will help you reach your destination.

Freeing Method

My method of getting started is rather opaque for some writers, but here it is: just get started.

What does that mean?

Well, after you’ve dealt with all of your procrastination gremlins and you finally have yourself sitting in front of your computer and you’ve duly checked all your social media sites as well as any great sales for online shopping, you are now ready to begin.

So, what do you actually do?

Just Start Writing

I have mentioned this technique in a previous post, but if you are truly at a loss, try freewriting.

The way to do it is to quite literally just start writing. Open a word document, or whatever format you write in, and begin with a phrase like, “I have no idea what to write.”

Try to move on from there. Write whatever it is that comes into your mind and get it on the page. This is somewhat like brainstorming, but you are doing it in a way that involves writing complete sentences.

Freedom Fifteen

Setting a timer helps for some people. Fifteen minutes is usually a good amount of time to at least get something down and to feel if anything comes from it.

The idea with this exercise is that while you are doing it, you have in the back of your mind the task you want to do gently bobbing around like an unopened package that has been dropped in a relatively shallow body of water.

It’s there and all you need to do is pick it up and unwrap it. But getting to it may take a little effort and concentration.

Get Past the Mental Chatter

In my case, I usually use length of page as my time indicator. I tell myself I will freewrite for one page or two pages. I’ve done more pages in the past, but it all depends on how much time you have.

Sometimes I freewrite just as a focusing exercise to get all that mental chatter out of the way so that after a couple of pages I am usually better able to focus on the writing task that I wish to achieve.

If in Doubt

Freewrite. Why not try it right now?

Give yourself a timeframe of ten minutes (more time if you have it).  Allow the writing to flow, unimpeded, for that duration of time.

Don’t even worry too much about grammar or punctuation. All good writing has been proofread, edited, revised and revised again (and again).

This is truly an exercise to get ideas flowing, so you can be a little less grammar conscious here if you feel that worrying about that is taking your focus away from getting words on the page.

You may feel inclined to follow the stream of consciousness in your mind. That is absolutely fine. Whatever it is, the result is not meant to be judged as to whether it is good or not.

It is to be seen as a means to get the writing flowing and to get you closer to your writing goal.

Did you try the exercise? Was it helpful? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Use Apostrophes Correctly

Do they matter?

Yes and no. Are they often used incorrectly? All the time. A misplaced apostrophe won’t typically affect meaning, but it will affect correctness.

1920s vs. 1920’s

I was recently watching one of my favourite shows which is set in Australia in the 1920s. Note that there is no apostrophe on the date 1920s.

Many people write it as 1920’s and that is only correct if what you want to indicate is something belonging to the year 1920, as in 1920’s batch of ice wine was delicious, rather than I love the fashion from the 1920s, which refers to the years that comprise the decade, 1920-1929.

Its vs. It’s

In this show, there was a scene where people were protesting and they had common apostrophe errors on the signs.

They had used the contraction it’s (meaning it is) to indicate the possessive its. I see these kinds of errors all the time.

Was it intended to indicate that the people writing the signs did not know their punctuation? Perhaps. But there were several signs that had these errors within and it did make me wonder.

It’s high time we consider whether the apostrophe is lost on its users.

TVs vs. TV’s

According to the Modern Language Association (MLA), we do not use apostrophes for the plurals of an abbreviation (or, as stated above, numbers).

Many people have at least two TVs in their home, but my TV’s screen is quite scratched from my daughter using it as a racetrack for some of her little toy cars.

Apostrophe Errors at Large

I have seen errors like this on menus, on signage for businesses and on promotional material.

Many moons ago I was working for the Ontario provincial government and an employee had created and then commissioned signage with an apostrophe error that I pointed out to him.

I don’t speak French at all fluently and I would not be able to write anything beyond the most basic of sentences, such as C’est la vie.

But the apostrophe error that the mid-level employee had made was in C’est. He wrote it without one, as in Cest.

This also escaped the watchful eye of the in-house graphic designer.

Was this something that created a huge rift in the organization? Did the employee lose his job? No.

However, it did show a certain lack of attention to detail that ended up in wasting resources and time. They could not display these banners with such an error. It would make them look unprofessional.

So the whole thing had to be ordered again, this time with the correction, and of course, it did not meet the intended deadline.

Not everyone catches these kinds of errors and they end up in permanent signage on storefronts, ones that can’t be easily changed considering the expense.

Possessing the Apostrophe Knowledge

As both a professional writer and someone who teaches writing for a living, I do notice these errors often and they will cause me to lose a certain element of faith in the person or organization that does them.

Still, many people, including myself, make errors when writing quickly and not proofreading the material.

Another thing that happens is what I call “screen blindness.” Often writers miss errors when reading on a screen, but when they read the work in print, they can see it more readily.

Of course, knowing how to use apostrophes is not the be all and end all of good writing. Logic, flow and creativity are huge components as well. But fine tuning the mechanics will make sure that the big ideas are unencumbered and can shine as they were meant to.

Whatever the case, it is good practice to become aware of the kinds of errors that you make and then begin to learn how to proofread your work to see if you’ve made them. Once you possess this knowledge, your writing will only get better.

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Making Peace With Procrastination

Open face vintage pocket watch showing the working mechanism surrounded by the numerals in a close up detailed view

Have you ever promised yourself that you would get started on a project, writing or otherwise, and then found that anything else you could set your mind to instantly became more important?

This is one of the most common approaches to writing: avoidance. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, and in many ways, it can be, but there is a way you can take the power back.

In fact, there are many ways you can take the power back, but in order to offer some helpful tips, I am going to outline 5 of the most common ways to make peace with procrastination and in so doing, get your work back on track.

5 Ways to Blast Through Procrastination

1. Embrace It

This may be the tip that sounds most counter-intuitive, but it works for me. I have come to realize, like many writers, I can’t simply just jump into beginning my writing project.

I don’t mean that there is research that needs to be done first. This is something different. I mean whenever I know I have to begin something, I often get the urge to do something else.

I know this about myself. So, I embrace it. I give myself a defined period of time to do that thing of avoidance, whether it be to surf the net or scrub my floors. But I will only do this for a specific amount of time.

Often, I will set a timer for my procrastination and then know that when the timer goes off, I must sit at my desk and begin.

2.Tricks (and) or Treats

Another tool for blasting through procrastination is to bribe yourself with a treat. Chocolate works well for me as does a fresh cup of coffee.

Whatever the item is, make sure that it is likely to work and motivate you. I prefer small little pleasures that can be enjoyed concurrently to writing, but you may prefer something different.

It may be the promise of giving time to watching a movie later if you give the time to your project now. It truly can be anything that motivates you.

3. Just Start Writing

This is one of the tools that many ‘how-to’ books and strategies on writing use. It is very simple and is much like brainstorming.

This technique is sometimes referred to as freewriting and it is exactly that. Basically, the idea is that you begin writing, even if you write, “I don’t know what to write,” and that slowly, through the process of writing, you will eventually come to what it is you need/want to write about.

This is more time-effective than step 1, but it still may take a little while for your ideas to come into focus.

4. Don’t Stress

Okay, this one is always easier said than done, but the more you stress, the less you will want to focus on getting your project done.

Are there ways that you can take at least some of the bite out of having to get this work finished?

I find that listening to music (although for me it needs to be moderately paced classical with no lyrics) really helps.

I often really enjoy what I’m listening to and tune into that for a few moments and then get back to writing.

Sometimes, what I’m listening to inspires me in some way.

This may be useful to what I’m writing, or it may not, but it will give me an experience that can help me be less aware of the stress around having to write something and be more involved in the process.

5. Exercise

Yes, I said it, and I’m not going to apologize!

This is not a judgement saying you should do any particular kind of exercise, but many writers report that they do better work after clearing their minds with a bit of exercise. It’s one option that may help you get started.

It could be a walk, 10 jumping jacks beside your desk, or jumping up and down on your bed a few times. Whatever form of exercise you choose, it seems to work at least for some writers.

In my case, I love to ride my bike and will go for a ride if I am feeling stuck or uninspired. I like to think about things as I am riding and if I am working on writing something, possibilities and ideas will frequently arise.

The active forms of yoga and doing series of yoga postures were originally designed to help students get through issues of the body so they could then move more deeply into the stillness of meditation.

The idea of doing some exercise before you write can often work in the same way.

Consolidating the Tips

These tips can be used on their own if one rings truer for you than another. They can also be used together to provide you with a range of tools to draw on if (and when) procrastination arises.

Hey, in preparing to write this post, I straightened up my daughter’s room (timed for 20 minutes). -Tip 1

I watched 3 short tutorial videos on YouTube on some software I’m considering to purchase. -Tip 3

I bribed myself with some milk chocolate with whole hazelnuts and a strong black tea. -Tip 3

I also had to get some exercise earlier in the day because I was feeling especially stiff and achy and knew that if I didn’t, I might avoid sitting at my desk to write. -Tip 5

And look at my result-a whole blog post to boast!




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