August 2, 2018

Wander-writing

Posted in Creativity, First Drafts, flow in writing, freewriting, Ideas, organizing your writing, writing techniques tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:45 am by Rebecca Hein

Wander-writing, unlike freewriting, begins with a topic or idea, but there the structure stops. In wander-writing we start approximately where we do in a first draft, but instead of trying to produce a coherent piece, we let our subject take us wherever it goes.

I also do this frequently with any project I’ve already begun, but feel is going off the rails, even slightly. It’s an easy, relaxing way to explore my ideas and to tackle problems of organization or approach. After enough wander-writing for this purpose, I usually discover that my difficulties have resolved themselves, and I can easily complete whatever I was working on.

The supreme virtue of wander-writing is our liberation from any requirement to impose order on what we’re writing, to improve it, to stay on topic, or to revise. The rule is to let the subject lead us to what we are really thinking, or what we most want to write about it. This sweeps aside mental clutter and also deepens our writing—important benefits of letting our creative selves go.

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June 20, 2018

Can writers connect with readers just like musicians do?

Posted in Connecting with readers, music and writing, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , , , at 5:24 am by Rebecca Hein

Unlike musicians performing live, writers must wait for audience response, except in public readings. Given the long delay between publication and reader feedback, how can we establish a sparkling connection? This delay makes our job harder than the musician’s, but it’s still possible to gain energy from a successful essay or book, and to build on this energy for our next round of work.

I learned this writing columns for five and a half years for my local newspaper, the Casper [Wyoming] Star-Tribune. Initial response was positive. This fueled my confidence and in turn sparked ideas for future columns. When I encountered pleased readers at the bank, grocery store, or public library, they almost always thanked me for what I’d written—sometimes six months ago or more—and mentioned the way in which a particular column had helped them.

Because of this, I began to sense a live connection between what I wrote and how readers responded.

May 29, 2018

You can’t contrive a creative success

Posted in Connecting with readers, Creativity, Ideas, music and writing, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , , at 6:35 am by Rebecca Hein

The success of “Compose Yourself” was spontaneous. Beforehand, I had no idea it would elicit so much more appreciation than did my other columns, which were nearly as good—as far as I could tell. This spontaneity was what I temporarily lost during the months I spent trying to equal the impressive effects of “Compose Yourself.” Now I know why.

Rather than writing from my deepest passions, I was trying to play to the crowd. It was a subtle change in direction, and when it didn’t work, I abandoned the effort and accepted the obvious fact that I couldn’t predict the effects of my writing.

However, in music performance, there’s nothing wrong with playing to the audience, in a certain form, and I’m sure we as writers can learn from this phenomenon.

May 22, 2018

If writers are really the worst judges of their own work, how can we be sure of engaging readers?

Posted in Connecting with readers, Depth, Ideas, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , , at 7:50 am by Rebecca Hein

When I finally quit trying to replicate one successful column, I settled back into writing-as-usual. For me that means getting in touch with my best ideas, developing them, and eventually producing finished pieces from them.

In this process, I’m not thinking about what will please readers, although I aim for clarity, simplicity, and good organization. My motive power is the passion I feel for the idea. With my very first column, I’d discovered that if I wrote from my deepest convictions, this reached to an equally deep place within a significant number of readers.

Thus, in the aftermath of “Compose Yourself,” I rediscovered what engages readers. However, the mystery of that episode remained with me because while writing “Compose Yourself,” I hadn’t been aware that its central idea came from an unusual level of depth or passion.

So I still haven’t figured out why that column succeeded, but recently I saw a possible reason why the next few columns didn’t reach as high.

May 8, 2018

The newspaper column that rose above the others—and I still don’t know why

Posted in Connecting with readers, publication, Success tagged , , , , at 6:15 am by Rebecca Hein

“Writers are the worst judges of their own work.” When a mentor and friend said this to me years ago about a recent episode in my writing life, I was forced to conclude that he was probably right.

I had just discovered that I couldn’t predict reader response to my monthly newspaper columns, even though I’d tried hard to analyze and repeat one of my successes. I’d been writing arts columns for my local paper, the Casper [Wyoming] Star-Tribune, for 5 ½ years, and had progressed through several stages in attracting a readership.

At first, many people thanked me for my unique perspective as a cellist and my new role as arts commentator. One of my best-educated, and most jaded, readers told me that he sensed a freshness in my ideas that he hadn’t seen in a long time.

Gradually, people stopped calling and writing to thank me for a column they’d especially enjoyed, but I was always running into salespeople, bank tellers, neighbors, and associates who commented on recent columns or on my work in general.

Eventually this latter phenomenon died down to a low murmur and I began to feel that readers were taking me for granted. Then I wrote a winner.

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