This week we will hear from our very own Catherine Spader: editor and fiction writing extraordinaire! She will explain the best habits and mindset to keep in order to write faster and better – and possibly have a little fun along the way.
The best writing advice I ever received was to practice, practice, practice. This may not sound fun, but it can be passionately fun—and highly rewarding. A consistent writing practice will make you a better, faster writer. It is also the best way to develop a career, whether you want to write award-winning novels or freelance for magazine and websites.
Here some tips to get you started:
How to “warm up” to write
I have published over 1,000 paid articles and two award-winning novels, and still “practice” writing every day. I start with a ten-minute warm-up session based on a random writing prompt. (You can find thousands of writing prompts by Googling “writing prompt”.)
In this practice, I write continuously without stopping to edit or correct grammar, punctuation, or spelling. This is sometimes referred to as freewriting, and it’s a great way to get into the writing zone and minimize writer’s block. Over time, you will also develop speed. I regularly write 300 words or more in ten minutes in my warm-up.
Warning: Your freewriting warm-up will be rough and full of errors, and that’s great! Great?! Yes, because perfection is not the goal. The practice is designed to take the anxiety out of writing and allow your creative flow to happen. This writing isn’t for anyone’s eyes but your own, and you don’t even have to read it yourself, so there is no pressure.
On the other hand, this stress-free writing experience often leads to creating some truly inspired gems, especially when you practice consistently. This discovery was pivotal for me, and I have transcribed many choice passages created during freewriting into my novels and articles.
Always be writing—even if it’s not exciting or paid
I have always wanted to be a writer, but when I was younger, I convinced myself that my day-jobs got in the way and ate up my writing time. In the 80s and 90s when I was working as an ER nurse, I realized that opportunities to practice writing were everywhere. I had an epiphany—combine my nursing skills with my passion for writing. ER nursing may not be a typical path to a professional writing career, but I made it one.
First, I volunteered for every writing-related task in the hospital. There are many, such as writing discharge materials and hospital policy and procedure. How boring is that? I did it on my own time, without pay—but there was a payoff. The practice built my writing skills and helped me land my first job as a writer and editor for a nursing magazine.
I also jumped on any other writing opportunities that came my way, from contributing to newsletters, to ghost-writing other people’s Christmas letters, to editing their college papers. I soon became known in my circle as “the writer”, and people sought me out for writing help.
In today’s online world, the opportunities to “always be writing” are endless, such as blogging and writing emails and social media posts. Yes, well-crafted emails and social media posts count as writing practice.
Write to your passion
Writing professionally for publication is extremely challenging and one of the most difficult things you can do. Professional writers usually have an intrinsic drive to write and are passionate about it—whether they get paid or not. For us, this is fun, even though there are far easier ways to make money. If this sounds like you, I would advise you to write to your passion. Don’t limit yourself to projects you think will pay or boost your career. All writing practice counts!
What lights you up? Do you dabble in poetry? Do you find journaling rewarding, or have you thought about starting a cooking blog? Working on these types of passion projects will expand your writer’s vision and improve your writing skills in other areas, such as writing for paid publication.
Today, I am both a historical fantasy writer and a freelance healthcare writer. The two may seem totally unrelated, but they’re not. I submitted a historical short story as part of my application for that first writing job for a nursing magazine. I did not have a journalism degree or any professional publications to my credit at the time. I had little hope of landing the job, but the editor loved my short story so much she hired me based on it and the unpaid, “boring” hospital writing I had done.
That first job led to a freelance writing/editing career, which led to consulting, including writing coaching and advising fiction authors who include medical content in their books—and of course, authoring historical fantasy novels.
Write to your passion and practice, practice, practice, and the rest will follow. You never know where it will take you.
Kerry Roepke is a genre fiction writer and a publishing consultant at My Word Publishing. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Metropolitan State University of Denver and has a background in editorial journalism.