What to Write When You Don’t Know What to Write

Writing blocks rarely hit me because I don’t know what to say. For me, they are usually derived from a mind swarming with ideas. So much so, that I can feel overwhelmed with questions like these:

  • Should I focus on idea A or B today?
  • Just because I’m interested in a topic doesn’t mean anyone else is, right?
  • Is my thinking on this matter completely delusional?
  • I can’t write about __________; people will think __________ about me. Won’t they?

Ah, the battles of insecurity a writer must fight. So how do we wage war against our own fears, those with the power to debilitate us if we aren’t careful?Writing Rules

For me, I’ve had to gulp, choosing to write afraid.

I love what Stephen King said on the matter. “The only requirement to be a writer is to remember every scar.”

The secret to great writing is daring to risk in order to reap greater rewards. 

  • When you aren’t sure whether idea A or B is better, choose one and decide to embrace your own decision.
  • Odds are, if you are interested in a topic, so are other people. If you doubt it, do a quick friend/family and social media poll to test the waters.
  • What sometimes feels delusional to us can feel like “outside the box” thinking to others. Research to see if you can substantiate your premise. Try to imagine how this might come across to someone foreign to the concept. Tell your readers you understand this may sound strange or that they might agree to disagree with you. And don’t forget to ask God what He wants you to say — He is the king of fresh ideas.
  • As Stephen King’s quote reminds us, the inner scars, the deep thoughts, and the vulnerable spaces in our lives are often the ones other people connect with the most. If we hold our tender areas captive, we can’t free someone else who needs permission to release their own fears.

I think most writers struggle with what to write when you don’t know what to write. But you can’t go wrong when your words originate from your soul. Don’t doubt yourself to the point of mental paralysis. Your unique take is as important as your unique voice in expressing your thoughts.

Dare to believe in what you have to say.
Dare to share your innermost thoughts. Dare to trust God with a message he wants you to offer.

What Are You Doing for OthersSo what if every person on the planet doesn’t share your perspective? Some of the greatest minds in history were scoffed at in the beginning. Do your due diligence, then dare to risk so you and your readers reap a greater reward.

What topics could you write afraid? What are you holding back that could help others?

10 Things Every Writer Should Remember

A few days ago, I actually thought it, I even dared to speak the words out loud to God. “Maybe I just need to quit.”

Things Every Writer Should RememberI was referring to writing.

But two things happened that set me straight — one I call a Divine encouragement, the other, a practical review.

In case you are interested in the motivational things that made up my practical review, I’ve listed them in a top ten format. None of these came to mind however, until my moment of Divine encouragement.

Early this year, for six busy weeks, I traveled across five states speaking, in addition to several in-between events in my home state. I enjoyed getting to meet many new people and personally share the messages I’m so passionate about.

Within two weeks of finishing my speaking circuit, my oldest son got married. But his joyous event was tainted by the flare up of a severe back injury. So much so, that he fell during his ceremony. It broke my mother’s heart to see him push through the pain and sweat through the rest of his vows, to determinedly marry our new daughter-in-love.

After a month and a few more falls, he had improved little, and was becoming frustrated. All medical efforts lacked real results. I took turns with other family members who stayed with him during the day, helplessly watching my son suffer, and feeling my writing hours slip away.

But something new was about to occur.

I woke up shortly after five in the morning to my husband’s groans. I asked, “Are you all right?”

When he said, “I don’t think so,” I popped off of my pillow on full alert.

I interrogated, “Do you have any other pain? Are you sweating? Do either of your arms hurt?”

“I took a shower, so I’m not sweating now,” he said. “And my left arm is sore, but I think I must have pulled something when I was carrying my boat batteries yesterday.”

I’d heard enough. “Get ready. We’re going to the hospital.”

On our way out the door, I gave him three baby aspirin. An attending physician later told me they could have saved his life.Inspirational Quotes

A heart cath revealed a 95% blockage in one artery, and 40% in another area. He’d had a heart attack. Thankfully, the two stents they immediately placed in him, along with a complete lifestyle transformation, have drastically improved his health. But the hits weren’t over.

Four days after his release, my genetic eye disease triggered, common after periods of heavy stress. For days, I couldn’t see clearly and all light felt excruciating. Watching TV, reading, or looking at a computer were impossibilities. All I could do was lay helplessly in bed, where I thought and prayed.

I confess to holding multiple pity parties, where fleeting thoughts of giving up on my writing career came and went. When I finally began to feel improvement in my body, but felt overwhelmed by how far behind I was, I spoke out loud, “Maybe I just need to quit.”

As I said it, I had no idea I would get a clear response so soon. God used her to provide Divine encouragement.

My cell phone rang. I recognized the name of a woman from an audience I had spoken to the month before. She was on the organizational team, and they had invited me and my fellow WordServe authors Karen Jordan and Kathryn Graves to bring our Untangled Conference to their city in September. I assumed this was her reason for calling. I was wrong.

“Hello,” I said.

Motivational Quotes“Oh, Anita. I’m so glad you answered. I had to call you. I just finished reading your book, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, and I have to tell you, it’s the best book I’ve ever read. I’m getting a copy and sending it to my sister tomorrow. So many people need this. Thank you so much for using your talents to write and speak.”

Only God had known my inner wrestlings before she called. The confusion bound in physical and emotional fatigue that pummeled my brain. Maybe you can identify.

If writing professionally were easy, more people would stick it out, but especially when life blindsides you, it can get tough. However, the hard days are what make us real people — realistic, relatable, and relevant.

As I think about it, aren’t those the qualities that make good writers flawed but great?

The Magic of Collaborative Marketing for Writers

Zig Ziglar Motivational Quotes“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” Zig Ziglar, the ultimate motivator, knew that when we authentically and unselfishly support other people, great things happen. I’ve experienced the truth of this principle many times in my life, but especially recently, when I joined forces with two other WordServe authors.

Karen Jordan, Kathryn Graves, and myself decided to collaborate on writing a non-fiction book for women. By doing so, we discovered some surprising side benefits. We’ve found the magic of the collaborative process for writers improves marketing, increases our income potential, and adds a fun element to the author’s journey.

The pressures seems lighter, because we’re in it together.

Untangled A Women's ConfereneceOne of our most exciting accomplishments came from developing a women’s conference based on our book’s title and message. We outlined options for a one-day conference as well as a two-day event. We came up with a suggested ticket price and estimated income from the event based on a variety of attendance number ranges. We brainstormed ideas for other creative ways to support the Untangled Women’s Conference. And we reviewed different expense scenarios, weighing convenience against cost.

Then we formalized our thoughts.Untangled A Women's Conference

We created an Event Planner’s Kit to make it easier for churches and organizations to host Untangled. (I found it much more efficient and thorough to generate resources as a team versus what I might accomplish on my own.) We created a marketing flyer, and put it on our speaking tables at events, mentioned it in passing conversations, and posted it on social media. One of the most important actions we took was praying for and with each other.

We didn’t wait long before seeing results.

The response amazed us. Within a week, we had a conference scheduled and on the calendar in one state, while two other states began serious talks with us. Within three weeks, we had sent out four more conference kits to other states by request. Because of our collaborative marketing efforts, this coming fall/winter/spring should fill up fast with paid speaking gigs and greater book sales.

As we traverse this new world of collaborative marketing, we are learning many things. But the truth of Zig’s words is already evident — by helping each other through the collaborative process, we are all winning. This is what we can tell you so far:

8 Reasons the Magic of Collaborative Marketing for Writers Works:Collaboration Works

  • You build off of each other’s ideas — growing creative efforts.
  • You share the expenses, reducing costs for each individual.
  • You expand the message reach further than one individual can accomplish on their own.
  • Your mind moves from thinking of your efforts as self-promotion, to that of helping your fellow writer(s).
  • You enrich the lives of readers, event planners, and audiences by offering them a diverse experience through multiple voices.
  • You sell more books as an author by increasing your opportunities to speak and participate in other cooperative public events.
  • You feel more courageous to step out and try new things.
  • You have people to support and celebrate with, who really understand the emotional highs and lows of writing and marketing.

Have you collaborated with other WordServe authors? If so, what did you do, and how did it affect your book sales as well as your morale? Would you be interested in brainstorming and collaborating together?

7 Great Inspirational Quotes for Writers

Never write at allMaybe you can relate to days like I’ve had. Where you need a dose of inspiration to get you moving — or a swift kick in the fingers. When this happens, I’m grateful for quick, motivational, and uplifting thoughts from other experienced writers.

Maybe the following inspirational quotes will propel you to action, when you feel like shutting down.

  1. “As Kandinsky says, “Everything starts with a dot.” Sometimes the hardest thing in writing a story is where to start. You don’t need to have a great idea, you just have to put pen to paper. Start with a bad idea, start with the wrong direction, start with a character you don’t like, something positive will come out of it.” – Marion Deuchars, illustrator and author of Let’s Make Some Great Art
  2. “Remember that writing things down makes them real; that it is nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know; and, most of all, that even in our post-postmodern era, writing has a moral purpose. With 26 shapes arranged in varying patterns, we can tell every story known to mankind, and make up all the new ones – indeed, we can do so in most of the world’s known tongues. If you can give language to experiences previously starved for it, you can make the world a better place.” – Andrew Solomon, acclaimed psychologist and author of Far & Away
  3. writing-quote-j-k-rowling“First drafts are always horrible and ugly. Don’t worry about that – it’s the same for everyone. Just remember that the first draft is as bad as the book is ever going to be, and if you keep redrafting, one day you will look at your horrible book and realise that you’ve turned it into something actually quite beautiful.” – Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike series
  4. “Growing up I believed only certain people were allowed to write books – namely, fancy literary heirs who had gone to the right school and university. Not people like me. But of course, anyone can write a book. And anyone should, so that we have more diversity of voices in publishing.” – Julie Mayhew, author of Mother Tongue and others
  5. “Always keep a notebook and pen by your bedside. No matter how much you convince yourself you’ll remember that brilliant idea in the morning, you really won’t. Write it down because sleep has a way of giving you ideas and then stealing them right back.” – Swapna Haddow, author of the Dave Pigeon series
  6. Write what others can't say“Write what you want to know more about — the teacher always learns more than the student. Become passionate about the stories you tell and the people you are writing about. Finish your writing day with something that makes you want to know what happens next. Give yourself periods of rest — mental breaks sharpen the mind. And keep writing, especially when you don’t feel like it.” — Anita Agers Brooks, author of Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over and other titles
  7. “You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” — Jodi Picoult author of My Sister’s Keeper

What are some of your favorite writing quotes? What motivates you as a writer?

5 Things Aspiring Writers Might Be Surprised to Know

Your DreamsI remember when my pulse quickened and my heart thumped at the thought of “making it” as a writer. The first time I gingerly brushed the soft cover of my first book, flicked through its pristine pages, I felt awed. The young girl inside of me, who’d always dreamed of seeing her name on a book, shed a happy tear.

Now that I’ve succeeded in publishing multiple books, with more on the way, I’ve found myself in a reflective mood. Recently, I pondered some of the more surprising things publishing success has taught me — boiling them down to my top five.

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5. Your need to learn will never diminish. Culture shifts, technology advances, headline focuses, and global changes necessitate a writer’s dedication to ongoing education. Solid research and investigation are bedrock pieces in the foundation of any great written work. New information equals fresh content. 

4. Fear will not subside — although fear can change as your writing career progresses. Early on, many aspiring writers fall prey to the paralysis of fear, while professionals know that fear can prove a driving motivator. When you consider the greater loss of missing potential success, the emotion of fear propels you to action. If you fail to try, your failure is guaranteed. 

best thing you don't write3. The writing life is not a solitary endeavor. It takes a team to successfully publish. Critique groups, writing peers, or advance readers help us delve deeper into our subject matter, and pick up on flaws we often miss. Agents, publishers, and editors polish our projects and help promote them to reach a bigger audience. Readers become fans who sometimes become friends — if we are so blessed.

A wise writer intentionally and consistently builds their audience. When much in the world changes, one thing does not: word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing machine.

2. Story, whether written in the entirety of a book, or a short paragraph to example a point, draws readers deeper into your world. Few people appreciate being talked at, while most love being drawn into a good story. Whether they author novels or non-fiction, the skillful writer paints pictures with their words.

1. Human curiosity is king. Write cliff-hangers, page-turners, and chapter-leads to keep your reader wanting more. As you resolve or answer each inquisitive sentence you craft, replace it with another, until ultimately, you tie it all together at the end. A satisfying conclusion after creating ongoing curiosity makes a reader say, “I wish this book hadn’t ended.”

Motivational MantraI’m still working on all of these areas in my own writing, and anticipate the need to keep them in mind until the day I type my very last word. I don’t simply want to write, I want to use my words well.

Most writers I know would agree — we start out writing for ourselves — until we discover the real gift is in writing for others. The dream we live is the dream we share.

Seven Essential Tips Every Successful Writer Must Apply

Fresh StartsI think every published author wishes they could go back in time to whisper in their younger self’s ear. Doing so would certainly save volumes of time and energy. I’m sure five years from now, I’d wish for the opportunity to tell today’s me something I need to know right now.

These are the thoughts rolling through my mind this new year, clean with the possibility of fresh starts. I think it’s important to slow down sometimes.

We need to reflect on the past in order to improve on the future. So I’m reminding myself of the tips I’d give my younger self, knowing I’ve let some slack, and resolving to begin again. I believe the seven following tips are essential, things every writer must know.

  1. Ray BradburyRead as much as you can. Phrases such as, “Great writers are great readers,” hold a wealth of truth. The more we study, the more prepared we are to succeed. Reading teaches us the subliminal art of sentence flow, heart tugs, and scene staging. It also shows us what to avoid, as we learn from the mistakes of others. It’s the best motivator I know.
  2. Eavesdrop. Most of my best dialogue came from listening in on someone else’s conversation in restaurants, conferences, stores, airplanes, etc. I write non-fiction, and I tell true stories or compilations based on real people, but even if I wrote fiction, I would use this technique for writing believable and fascinating statements.
  3. Listen to outsiders. The more detached someone is from you, the more objective their writing feedback is going to be. Family and friends tend to fall into two camps: they either gush over everything you write, even your sloppy first drafts, or they nitpick, make digs, or outright blast anything you pen. Make it your mission to interact with people on social media, critique groups, or professional advance readers who are willing to respond honestly.
  4. Pull on your thick skin. You might want to consider whale shark skin for this one, (estimated at 6″ thick). Just like “there’s no crying in baseball,” professional writers soon learn, no one’s handing out Kleenex around here either. When rejection stings, stiffen your spine, and pitch again.
  5. Douse distractions. It’s going to happen. Ten people want five different things from you at once. You’re working on one project, when the siren call of another beckons. But professionals know the power of tenacity — grinding your behind into the seat, tuning out the voices trying to break your focus, and writing through to the finish line.
  6. motivational quotesSet time-stamped writing goals. I’ve really let this one slip lately, and my work is showing it. But my One Word is Reset, so I am resetting my goals. The difference between a dream and a goal is a measurement. So my refreshed writing goals include a minimum of 5,000 words per week. This reasonable number allows for flexibility, while pushing me beyond a normal comfort zone. It’s doable.
  7. Touch your own heart. If I’m not passionate about what I’m writing on, why would anyone else be interested? If I’m bored, my readers will feel boredom. If I’m thrilled, my readers will feel a flutter of excitement driving them to turn the page.

The more I write, the more I question myself at times, and yet, when I go back to the basics, I find the truth, the way, and a successful writer’s life. Which brings me to a bonus secret.

Pages in a Thousand BooksI can write until my fingers are numb. I can start writing at dawn’s break, pushing until the wee hours of the next morn, but if I am not inspired, it’s all for nothing. My personal inspiration come from prayer, provision, and praise for my Maker. He’s the one who gifted and called me. This is my most powerful secret.

What inspires you to write? Do you have any tips you would whisper to your younger self?