Writer’s Block Prompts

As we’ve discussed in the last blog post about writer’s block, writer’s block is tough to get around, and it happens to all of us.

For fun, here are some quick prompts that may get your creative juices flowing:

  • She stopped suddenly and looked up when she heard the tornado sirens begin to wail.
  • He ducked as a large insect missed colliding with his forehead. “What was that?”
  • There is a story in the newspaper about someone vandalizing gravestones.
  • Her missing cousin showed up 13 years later and had a story that was unbelievable.
  • She hung up the phone in disbelief. Who knew that she was a relative of …
  • He stared at the painting on the wall of his best friend’s living room. It looked like the original Mona Lisa, but that was impossible.

For even more fun, here are some things to ponder:

  • You just found out that you won the lottery. What is the first thing you’re going to buy?
  • You got an invitation to your high school reunion. What memories or horrors does that prompt?
  • You were looking at the stars in your telescope, and then you saw a bright object that you didn’t recognize. Who do you call?
  • Your neighbor hasn’t been seen for weeks. When is the last time you remember seeing him/her?
  • You see a boat on the horizon, and then it disappears. What do you do?
  • Your best friend calls you up to ask a favor; a big favor. Do you help them?
  • When you unload your groceries, you notice that you have a bag that doesn’t belong to you. What do you do?

Hopefully, there is something in these prompts that spins off an exercise that banishes the writer’s block.

If you still are looking for prompts, here are some of my favs:

Writer’s Block and Tricks to get Past it

Having writer’s block is like having a bad dream. You want to write; in fact, you might have a deadline that demands that you write. The closer the deadline looms, the harder it is to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Don’t know why this is, just know that it is, and I struggle with it a lot.

The old watched pot doesn’t boil thing comes to mind, but this is different. This requires panic and running around the house doing laundry, checking the refrigerator, playing with the dog and maybe some screaming. Mostly, it’s panic as those minutes tick on and on relentlessly.

How do you get past the writer’s block? 

  1. Stop panicking. 
  2. Stop counting minutes.
  3. Stretch.
  4. Move about. 
  5. Forget about the task. 
  6. Play with the dog or cat.
  7. Fold your laundry.
  8. Do the dishes.
  9. Clean out the refrigerator – don’t clean it out by eating everything.
  10. Listen to music.
  11. Read a short story.
  12. Get some sunshine.

Once you stop letting the deadline control you, your mind will do exactly what you trust it to do. It will come up with the words and get the project finished before the deadline. You have to trust yourself to do the job you know you can do.

Writer’s block comes and goes, and every project will get done in the time you allot for it. If you really cannot finish it in time, talk to your editor, publisher or client and work out a solution. Being stuck is not the end of the world, and you will be stuck again.

If you did wait until the last minute to finish your project, use Grammarly to check it over before you send it off. I use Grammarly for everything! 

How to Boost Productivity During the Holidays

Working during the holidays is always a challenge no matter where you’re employed. It’s especially hard when you’re self-employed. There are several tricks that businesses use to keep employees engaged during the holidays, so let’s translate those into things for us self-employed folks.

Time Management

This is particularly hard for the freelancer if you have a lot of projects going on at once. It always comes down to doing your best to make your time valuable. I wrote about wasting time here.

Daytimers and calendars are always a great way to keep your To Do and Task List handy. When you have a list of tasks at hand, you find that your jobs get done; you have more time, and you have a lot less stress.

If you prioritize your projects by deadline, you can get them finished on time, so you can move on to the next one. 

Get Plenty of Rest

Exhaustion will play a big part in getting ready for the holidays (or even vacations), and when you get enough rest, you can concentrate on the tasks you need to finish. We’re supposed to get seven or more hours of sleep a night. If I get less than eight, I get very foggy and cannot concentrate, which makes me unproductive.

Eat Right

Your mother told you to eat your veggies, and whether you like it or not, veggies help play an important part in our productivity. Here are some veggies and other goodies that can help you with dealing with stress that can impede your productivity:

  • Avocadoes increase energy.
  • Bananas boost your energy levels.
  • Carrots help improve memory and reduce stress.
  • Spinach reduces stress and helps your immune system.
  • Eggs are high in protein.
  • Dark chocolate is not a vegie, but it does wonders to lower stress and anxiety.
  • Nuts increase your metabolism and sunflower seeds help eliminate grumpiness because they are packed with amino acids that create serotonin.  

Caffeine is a good way to boost your energy, but it also increases anxiety, so use it moderately. Drink green tea to improve your focus. Water is an absolute during stressful times.

Meditate

While meditation may not be a part of your routine, it will help you if take a few moments every day to do deep breathing. It will clear the thoughts from your head and fill up your lungs with much-needed oxygen. This is something you can even do at your desk between projects, paragraphs or even words. You didn’t see me take those five cleansing breaths between the words projects and paragraphs, did you?Tai Chi is a great stress reducer! I have a friend who has written a great book on the benefits of Tai Chi. I can hug a tree! 🙂  It’s available on Amazon, but it’s also a Kindle Unlimited read, so if you have Kindle Unlimited, you might be able to read it for free!

Exercise

We all know the benefits of exercising whether we do it or not. I have a treadmill right behind me but don’t get on it every day as I had planned. I mean, how hard is it to roll my chair over to my treadmill and walk on a moving walkway? Apparently, it is more difficult than brain surgery, so count me out.

Really, you should at least walk around the house, water the plants, pet the dog (another great stress-reducing activity) and go outside for a moment.

Exercise increases endorphins, which trigger happy feelings and positive outlooks. A positive outlook is always a plus when it comes to productivity.

Treats

Besides dark chocolate, you should treat yourself from time to time. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. It can be a half-hour reading or a night watching a movie. Just something that lets your brain unwind and get ready to be productive.

If you really want to go all out in your planning, then take the time to forecast your next year’s goals. Maybe you want to take a class or go on vacation, by writing them down, it can be a motivator towards greater productivity.

No matter how you handle stress, maybe these ideas will help you reduce some of your stress and make you more productive during the holidays and anytime you need a boost. 

​Is Copywriting Right for Me?


Copywriting is the art of selling with a typewriter – or in today’s terms, a word processor. Or maybe, you’re just writing the sales pitches out longhand. I do that for some of the email marketing pieces I am working on. I noodle better with a pen. I find it easier to dash off 10 headline ideas on paper than the PC. However, when I write my final copy on the PC, I usually end up changing it because for me, the PC brings out more structure in my writing. I don’t know why. It just does.

Copywriting isn’t the same as novel writing, but it is storytelling. The long sales brochures, mail products or sales copies are more like the original full page ads that have told stories and sold elixirs for years. Today, those are still around, but much of today’s copywriting is about writing for the web and emails. I will write more about the different types of copywriting later.

There are so many ways to use copywriting skills, even if you never write an ad for a company. Persuasive text is needed for product descriptions, SMS, MMS, social media posts, and any other format that your client wants to use to connect with their buyers.

Do You Like to Write?
If you like to write, then copywriting can be a ton of fun. It’s a lot like putting a puzzle together. You find out what the company is selling, who they are selling it to and use that information to write something very clever. You need to persuade the reader to buy the product.  There are hits and misses like all forms of writing, but it is never personal, so keep going.

Do You Like to do Research?
Research is the key to the art of copywriting. You cannot sell something to someone if you don’t know 1) anything about the product and 2) anything about the prospects. Some of copywriting is learning about the product, but the bulk it is learning about the prospect. Is it a man or a woman? Do they like dogs, cats or butterflies? What is their income? Demographics play a big part in how you tailor a message.

Do You Have a Good Sense of Humor?
Under all of the ‘technospeak’ about a product, it helps to have a sense of humor. Everyone knows that sex sells, but humor connects people in a more casual and relaxed way that is important when it comes to sales. You don’t have to be able to write humorous dialog, but it helps if you can be more lighthearted. All you have to do is think about the television commercials that made you smile or even, laugh out loud.

How Do You Know What to Write?
Writing for a client is a lot different than writing for yourself or your editor. All clients should give you a content brief about what they want to see in their copy. They may have the keywords ready for you or give you topic ideas, but whether writing copy or content, a brief keeps you on target, as well as gives the client a way to track progress. Here is a link to an article on creative briefs.

If you think this might be something you would enjoy writing, then I recommend a couple of courses to learn more about copywriting. I have taken and studied courses, and they have all helped me move forward in a side job that I enjoy.

Udemy Complete Copywriting Course: Write to Sell Like a Pro from Tamsin Henderson 

Writing Can Be a Solitary Life: 4 Ways to Get Involved

When you’re sitting at your desk working on a story or an article, you don’t always notice that you’re all alone. Even writing in a noisy, busy newsroom requires you to focus your attention on whatever project you’re working on. Being able to focus is something that makes writers oblivious to the outside world.No matter what you’re involved in, at some point, you look up and realize that you’re all alone except for maybe the dog or a plant. Because writing requires this type of intensity, it’s easy to forget that there is another world out there. While solitary is good for focusing, it is not so good for those social skills that you need in order to function away from your desk.I confess that most of the time, I don’t want to leave my desk. I could happily write for hours on end without stopping, but that is not how the world works, so here are some things that you can do to get involved in other activities without losing your edge.

Join a Writer’s Guild
I am a member of the Author’s Guild and like to read the comments on the community bulletin board, learn about the latest trends in publishing and even join a seminar on banned books. Besides the Author’s Guild, there are numerous other groups that you can join.Many of these groups are genre specific like the Romance Writers, Historical Fiction Writers, Western Writers, and so much more. If there is a genre, you will find a professional organization that has been established to answer any of your genre-specific questions.

Social Media
In addition to organized groups like the guilds, there are loosely organized groups on social media platforms where people gather to discuss the pros and cons of whatever hot topic there is at the moment.Not sure whether you want to self-publish? Don’t know if you should query more than one agent at a time? What is a hybrid author? You can usually find the answer to your writing and publishing questions in an online group.Other online groups may be focused on writing software like Scrivener or The Novel Factory. Even Plottr has an online group. If you’re a copywriter, there are many groups focused on copywriting where projects and proposals are discussed.

Local Authors Groups
No matter where you live, there is probably a local author’s group nearby that you can join. These groups do more than offer conferences and conventions; they offer support in the community and are great for encouraging other members.If you need help with a manuscript or are having a hard time finding the right beta reader, these members have been there and can help you move forward. Usually, dues are not expensive, and the benefits are well worth any membership fees.

Peer-to-Peer
Some working writers are tired of the loneliness of a home office and group together to do live Zoom meetings where they still work independently, but they have the option to look up and see others in their group also working.This type of setting is an innovative idea that lets a solo worker feel like a part of a group without the hassles of going into an office or getting distracted by office antics. They also help keep each other accountable when it comes to meeting writing goals, word goals, and other milestones.This type of peer-to-peer action can help keep a writer focused while eliminating some of the loneliness.It doesn’t matter if you write fiction or non-fiction; if you’re a content creator or a copywriter, everyone needs to connect somewhere. I hope that you find the group that meets your needs. 

Freelancing after 60

I was so flattered when a delightful college student requested an interview with me about my freelance work. I was less flattered when I found out she was targeting freelancers who are over the age of 60 and still slugging it out in the land of online work.

Her thesis is based on the older workforce and how they are adapting and surviving in the changing workforce. I took computer programming courses in college in the 70s. Humph.

On the other hand, she raised some very valid points that I have given great thought to since our little chat. She asked me if I thought I would retire, and she wanted to know what challenges I face as an older freelancer.

Retirement

No. I told her that I would never retire, and it had nothing to do with money.

It had everything to do with my desire to continue to explore new things and teach myself new tricks.
For as long as I can remember, I have been writing something. Whether it’s a To Do list, a non-fiction book or a novel, my pen has been to paper even in the digital age. I suspect I will be writing on my very last day. My last words might be “Give me a pen and paper”.

Also as long as I can remember, I always wanted to learn more about things like computer programming and accounting. I also have taken as many copywriting courses as I can, as well as bead making and polymer clay technique classes. It’s always about what interests me at any given time, which is why I write trivia and hosted trivia on MSN when they were a fledgling website with chat rooms back in the 1990s. It’s why I learned to hard code websites at the same time.

I don’t see my desire to learn changing at any time in my life, which brings me to the challenges of working while 60+.

Challenges of Older Online Workers

The first thing I noticed was how small the type was in my word processor. Then the ache in my shoulder and wrist, and then my legs being weak after I got up.

Those are real, physical problems that come with age in general, but they are amplified when you sit at your desk too long or use a mouse for how many years now? Each of these things can be fixed with new glasses, a larger font on the computer screen and even some exercise between paragraphs. I do have a treadmill in my office. Also, I just underwent carpal tunnel surgery for my mouse hand.

The other challenges are not so easy to see, feel or diagnose.

Brain Power

Your brain ages as you do, so it’s only natural that it will start to forget things or derail your thought processes. It can also make learning more difficult, which can affect the jobs you take, the content you write and the way that you interact with clients. It can also challenge you when it comes to learning new things like how to Zoom or use Google meet.

If you have any type of underlying medical condition, you can also experience confusion or the ability to speak coherently.

Since an aging brain is inevitable, I am committed to doing what I can to keep it always learning with classes, puzzles, games, writing and other brain games.  

Yes, I am still freelancing after 60, and I don’t anticipate quitting any time soon, especially since I can take my work with me wherever I go.

In addition to Wordle, Sudko, Crosswords and other puzzles, I also find time to take classes from Udemy Academy.

If you’re looking for some side jobs that will help you keep your brain sharp, then open an account at Fivver and put out your shingle. There are so many remote jobs to choose from that you’re sure to find something to stimulate your brain and put a couple dollars in the bank.

5 of My Favorite Books for Novel Writers

I will read anything, but I love non-fiction (which might be why I am primarily a nonfiction writer), but I do have a list of favorite fiction authors whose books I never miss. Somewhere in the last two years I decided that I wanted to write the fiction that I loved to read. I got tired of waiting years between books and was craving more stories.  Maybe it was being locked away working at home for a couple of years, or maybe it was just time, but I decided to try my hand at fiction.

I try to learn as much about something that I can before I start it; I’m the one at the library with 30 books on rock painting. So, I started looking for instructions on how to write a novel, and I spent time reading everything I could get my hands on. From freebies on Kindle to manuals on how to write, I was trying to find my place in the fictional world.

It turns out that there are bad instructions, and there are great instructions, but there are a lot of mediocre instructions in between. I do agree that the best way to write a novel is to read as many of them as you can, and never stop reading. At some point, you have to put pen to paper.

Here is a list of my favorite books on novel writing that I used to help me write my two novels:


Outlining Your Novel – Map Your Way to Success – K.M. Weiland 

Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland was not my first choice when looking for advice, but only because I didn’t know what I was even looking for. Once I read this book, I knew what I needed, so I bought all of her books in Kindle format.

Then I realized that I needed all of her books in print, so I bought those, too. Her whole series of Helping Writers Become Authors is a cornerstone of my reference library. While I do not write Sci-Fi or Fantasy, her tips on world building and story outlining kept me from spinning out of control while putting my book together. 

​The word OUTLINE tends to make people squirm, but your outline doesn’t need to be complicated. The first Act / Chapter can be something as simple as ‘the main character went shopping and found out she had a long-lost sister’. 

The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing – Writer’s Digest 

The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing is a compilation of notes, hints, helpful ideas and tips from many of the top authors of today, as well as from editors and agents. It helped me to get an idea of the process of writing, as well as the importance of making your first draft a unholy mess! 

It helped me see writing from a different perspective by seeing the parts of a story and how the parts all work together in the end. I found it so much easier to sit down and craft a chapter with the knowledge that it was just a part in the overall plan. There’s a lot less pressure that way. It’s from Writer’s Digest, and I have been reading their magazine and using their annual marketing list since the 1970s.

I have this in softback, so I can reference it easily. 

The Writers Helping Writers Series of Books by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

Or you can buy all 8 of the books in this series here: https://amzn.to/3bXxfDg​The Writers Helping Writers Series is an amazing tool, and I have all of them in Kindle format. They are not expensive, and they will add so much more depth and reality to your characters. 

Learn how the body language helps to portray an emotion, how to create conflict, or how to write rural or urban settings. The possibilities are endless, and each book will help you craft a character that we want to care about or hate with a thousand rays of sun. 

On Writing by Stephen King 

On Writing by Stephen King is on everyone’s list of books that actually help a budding novelist get started. This book offers a blueprint for the way that stories develop, and in Stephen King’s mind, there is nothing normal about that blueprint. 

Since I had spent months reading about structure, outlines, building blocks and more, this book was a cold blast of water that made me want to write even more. I do not write by the seat of my pants, but I do write by the seat of my pants. This book gave me permission to just throw it all up in the air and go with it. What I also learned was that approach didn’t totally work for me! 

I wrote my first novel with a loosely structured outline and seat of the pants writing. (For some reason, I hate the term ‘pantser’, so I refuse to use it.) When the first draft was done, I realized that maybe I should have had a bit more structure, so I sat on it.

Then I wrote the second book in the series with more structure and less seat of pants, and it went along smoothly. Now, I am tearing apart my first book to completely rewrite it with less pants and more structure. So, it is up to you as to which method defines you, but this book reminds you that not everything needs to be so uptight!

I also discovered that I am better at editing as I go along rather than letting it simmer like a really stinky stew!

Conclusion

I hope that my writer’s tool recommendations help you get from aspiring to slogging through your first draft. I know that all of these and more helped me get past the stage of wanting to write fiction to actually writing fiction. Now, if only someone would come along and unscramble my first draft, that would be awesome!

Why Does a Copywriter Need a Creative Brief?

My day job requires me to write and write and write some more. Of all the words I write, most of them are written for a purpose other than to amuse myself. My day job is to write ad copy and content articles for clients who want to use my words to sell their products. I am cognizant that as a copywriter and a content writer I need to write words that mean something to the company I am working with and reach the customers that will buy their products.

Automotive content writing and email marketing copywriting have basic formulas to follow, but what those formulas do not give you is answers to what the client wants.

There is nothing more frustrating for everyone than a lack of instructions, having to do multiple rewrites and having no clear direction for the copy or content. You should always have a content brief when you take on any writing project. It will save you and your client time.

Copywriters, if your client does not have a brief, then supply them with one and help them fill it out. I am including a free content brief template at the end of this article.

What is a Content Brief Template? 

A brief is, well, brief. It is a set of very simple instructions from the client to you, the writer, that lays out their goals, their desires, their favorite keywords and their audience. Briefs can be as simple or as complicated as the client needs. It consists of a series of questions that can be answered in short sentences or notes. All you do is fill in the blanks, and you are ready to outline your article.

There are many creative brief templates on the market, as well as free content brief templates that you can download.

Why Do I Need a Content Brief? 

A content brief is a time management tool that keeps your writing on track.

Since all of the questions will be answered upfront by the brief, you can start writing immediately and submit the finished project to the client for review.

A brief makes it easy for you to edit your article, check off your keywords and make sure that you have followed all of the client’s instructions as to what content they wanted to include.

How Important are Keywords? 

Anyone who has been writing during the internet age is fully aware of the purpose and importance of keywords. Only a client who knows their business inside and out will be able to give the writer the keywords they want to use to drive their traffic. You might have suggestions for them, but the keywords should be something they provide. They should know which long-tail keywords will drive sales to their site.

A brief includes keyword information to be used in the article.

Your brief helps everyone stay on track and is a written reference for everyone involved. If the brief is clear and concise, the ad copy will also be on point and an effective marketing tool.

Here are some tools that might make your next projects a little easier: 

  • Grammarly checks your grammar and spelling. It has a freebie edition, as well as a paid edition. 
  • The One Hour Content Plan by Meera Kothand is a number 1 bestseller for all of us scribblers. 
  • The Kindle Unlimited link may allow you to read the book for free. Her book has been in the Kindle Unlimited library in the past, and may be again. If not, there are many other books that will help guide your content writing career. 


The World’s Best Grammar Checker

Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans

5 Ways to Waste Time

I wrote that like it was a goal.
How can I waste more time?
​Hmm, let me think. Oh yeah. Puppies!

5 Ways to Waste Time

As it turns out, I don’t need help wasting time. However, there are a few time wasters that are not as entertaining as puppies but can be as time-consuming. Time management is hard, but if you’re going to be successful at whatever job or task you are trying to accomplish, you must manage your time wisely.

It doesn’t matter if you have a home office or you go to a job every day, here are some problems that you might face.

Multitasking

There is no such thing as multitasking. It’s been proven that people cannot do two things at one time. What we can do is more than one job haphazardly to look as if we can accomplish more than we can. It’s just not true.

When you try to multitask, you release the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol raises your blood sugar, which in excess tends to upset your sleep pattern, raise your blood pressure and ruin your mood. It’s the fight or flight response that causes the heart to race and fear to fester.

No matter how small the task is, it still diverts your attention from something else, just like watching puppies for a few minutes stops me from finishing my project. That also means I start and stop a lot.

Since multitasking is just moving between two projects, select the priority project and complete it before starting the second project. You will be glad you can mark something off your ‘To Do’ list.

Email

Checking your email is hard to escape from since it contains messages from your boss or your clients, and it can contain new orders or projects that demand immediate attention.

This is a hard habit to break because bosses demand answers right away, and customers want order statuses as soon as they hit send. Unless your entire job is to sit and monitor email, you probably have a lot of other pressing tasks at hand that need attention.

The best thing you can do is schedule your email time during the day. If you have free time in the morning, check the emails and follow through with them at that time. You can do this a few times a day, and by the end of the day, your email will be handled, and you’ll have less stress.

For those bosses who demand an answer immediately, see if your email client lets you set up an alarm or popup for those email addresses that must be answered.

Social Networks

This goes without saying, but I will say it anyway; Facebook is a time suck, as is Twitter, Snap Chat, Instagram and any other social media site. According to reports, 3.2 hours a day are wasted checking these sites.

Unless your job is social media director or poster for your company, you should be able to get through the day without the latest ‘news’.

When weaning yourself off social media, don’t prohibit yourself from using the sites. If you do, you’ll end up spending more time obsessing over it because you’re depriving yourself of it. It works best to either set a time for when you can check the sites or just delete the shortcuts on your bookmark bar.

The harder you make it to get to social media sites, the less likely you are to go there unless you’re done working for the day.

Repeating Mistakes

If you make a mistake, did you learn from it? If not, you’re going to make the same mistake and spend the same amount of time fixing it again.

While the mistake may not be yours, many mistakes come from miscommunication; you still need to deal with it. If the mistake is something that came from another person, you might be able to address it with them, so it doesn’t happen again. If they are not cooperative, you can make a note and watch for it in the future.

Whether it’s your mistake or not, unless you recognize it the next time it happens, you’ll have to spend time fixing it again.

Disorganization

This is true for the desk you sit at, the room you work in or the office that holds the room you work in. if you have to hunt through papers or step over boxes to do your job, you’re not going to be that productive.

By putting everything in a place and keeping your desk neat, even when the rest of the room or office is not, you will waste less time by having your immediate area organized.

At the end of the night, put together your plans for the next day and pick up your desk. First thing in the morning, check your plans for the day and start working.

Time management is not easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard, either. You’ll be most successful if you work to keep your disruptions down during the day. Then you have extra time to watch puppies!

If you want to explore some time management secrets, this book might help.