Finding and Fostering Writing Ideas

Each week I write five blog posts. Each month I write one magazine article, three newsletter articles, two more blog posts, and usually one press release.

That’s a lot of writing, requiring a lot of ideas. Yet I never have writer’s block. Why is that? Because I’ve cultivated a method to discover and develop content ideas. So when it’s time to write, I already have an assortment of items to pick from.

Here’s what I do to keep stocked with ideas:

Maintain a List: When I had one or two writing projects in my queue, I kept a mental list of ideas. As the number of writing commitments increased, I needed to juggle more ideas, but my memory didn’t keep up, and I lost too many good ideas. Now I keep a written list in a Word document, with a heading for each blog or publication. Under each heading is a bullet list of content ideas, some of which are partially developed. This morning I had seven possible topics to pick from for this post. I chose the one that most resonated with me today and am now writing it.

Know When Inspiration Hits: Ideas are most likely to form when I first wake up. Now that I’m aware of that, I need to be ready to capture those ideas. If my computer isn’t close by, I jot a quick note before inspiration flees.

Understand Creative Situations: There are two instances when content ideas are likely to show up: during a nature walk and after watching a movie. While I’m not intentional about using these activities to generate ideas, I’m aware it could happen and am ready to listen.

Mentally Write: I often work ideas over in my mind before I write. For example, this morning I looked at my list and selected today’s topic – then I ate breakfast. The four points of this post materialized as I prepared and ate my food. The shower is another great place for me to mentally write, while bedtime is the wrong time as it stimulates my mind and chases away slumber.

This is what works for me – and works well. Each writer is different, so adapt these ideas to what works for you – and chase writer’s block away.

How to Literally Improve Our Writing

The word literally means that something actually happened. However, too often, people use literally as an intensifier, effectively meaning figuratively – quite opposite of the original meaning.

Consider, “He literally turned blue.”

We don’t interpret this as a man becoming Smurf-like or joining The Blue Man Group, but more likely that he was having great difficulty breathing or was quite envious (blue with envy, to be cliché).

In a strict sense, this is a misuse of the word. Unfortunately, so many people have misused literally for so long that dictionaries are beginning to reflect this misuse as now being acceptable.

This can result in confusion. For example, “He literally fell on the floor laughing.” Did this actually happen? I suppose it’s possible. More likely, he merely laughed really hard. But we can’t be sure.

As writers, we need to ensure our words are clear. So how should we use literally? Do we cling to tradition or follow the trend? I suggest we do neither, that the best response is to stop using literally. (Which is unfortunate, since I use it often – and always “correctly.”)

If we use it only in the traditional sense, some people will be unsure if our words are actual or hyperbole. Yet, if we embrace the new meaning, purists will decry our work as sloppy.

The best solution is to avoid it, literally.

News Release: Peter DeHaan to Speak at the 2014 Breathe Writers Conference

Seasoned Magazine Publisher and Editor to Hold Two Workshops for Writers

Sep 19, 2014Hudsonville, Mich.Author Peter DeHaan will speak at the 2014 Breathe Christian Writers Conference taking place October 10 and 11 in Grand Rapids Michigan. This year the event moves to a new location, the campus of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

“I’ve attended the Breathe Christian Writers Conference for the past five years and again have the opportunity to lead two workshops,” said magazine publisher Peter DeHaan. “I tell everyone The Breathe Christian Writers Conference is my ‘can’t miss’ writing event each year.”

Peter’s first workshop is “Ten Steps to Start (or Restart) Your Writing Career,” designed for new writers, those considering a writing career, and those who want to breathe new life into their work. It is an update of last year’s popular presentation, with new content and more information. “This is a great session for those who need a little encouragement to get started or a gentle nudge to get restarted,” stated Peter.

Peter’s second presentation “Getting Started with WordPress for Your Author Blog or Website,” applies to all writers at any level. “Every writer who wants to share his or her work and connect with readers must have a website; social media is not enough,” said DeHaan. “Using WordPress for your blog or website is easy, but a few pointers will save time and avoid wasted effort.” After attending Peter’s WordPress session, attendees will have the basic knowledge needed to start using WordPress or to improve what they already have. Peter also talked about this topic at the recent Grand Rapids WordCamp in August.

Peter DeHaan has been a magazine publisher and editor since 2001, but started writing four decades ago; he published his first article in 1983. Peter brings to Breathe the perspective of a seasoned writer, publisher, and editor.

The keynote speaker for this year’s two-day conference is New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Julie Cantrell. Julie will give two keynote addresses: “This One Life: Dare to defy the odds” and “Sink or Swim: Lessons learned from a head-first dive into publishing.”

In addition to Julie’s keynote addresses, the conference offers other general sessions, an array of workshops, plenty of networking opportunities, and time for informal social interaction.

Learn more about the Breathe Christian Writers Conference and Peter DeHaan.

How to Incrementally Improve Our Writing

One way to improve our writing is to write every day. Another method is to receive feedback from qualified sources. A third technique is to pick one new skill to study and master each week.

If we learn and then practice one new skill for seven days, it will become ingrained and begin to form a habit. Possible areas to consider are:

  • A writing technique
  • A punctuation rule
  • A vocabulary word
  • A spelling that trips us up
  • A style guide directive
  • A grammar tenet

Each of us needs to pick what to focus on, based on our weak areas. Some people struggle with punctuation or syntax, others with word choices or passive sentences. While I could pick something from any of these categories, my biggest deficiency is style guides.

Over the years, I’ve used every major style guide. Each one has rules that contradict other style guides. As a result, conflicting advice has muddled my mind. While some mavens can spout off the requirements for a particular situation from multiple guides, I struggle to comprehend just one. This week, I’ll work on colon usage, as covered in the Chicago Manual of Style.

What area do you need to work on? What new skill can you start this week?

The 2014 Breathe Christian Writers Conference

Last month I spoke about blogging at the Grand Rapids WordCamp. Next month I’ll again be speaking about blogging, this time at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference on October 10-11. The title of my Saturday presentation is “Getting Started with WordPress for Your Author Blog or Website.” In addition to my workshop on WordPress, there will be two other blogging sessions as well.

In another session, this one on Friday, I’ll talk about “Ten Steps to Start (or Restart) Your Writing Career.” This is an update of my well-received presentation from last year. In addition to my two presentations, there will be over thirty others to consider as well.

I invite you to attend the Breathe Christian Writers Conference to learn about writing. I hope to see you there, either to meet for the first time or to reconnect. Breathe is a great writing conference and my one “can’t miss” meeting every year.

If you’ve never attended a writers conference, please make Breathe be your first one; otherwise, I encourage you to add it to your agenda. Do this for yourself, your writing, and your career.

Are you considering going to Breathe this year? What other writing conferences do you attend?

What is the Only Rule of Writing That Really Matters?

Many writing teachers and coaches offer all manner of rules for optimum writing. Do this; don’t do that. Always include this one element; never use another. These rules make my head spin and threaten to paralyze my writing. Is it possible to compose even one sentence that doesn’t violate some critical principle?

Though I’ve given my share of recommendations, my goal is to offer suggestions not absolutes.

First, know that there are few unconditional imperatives in writing. Rules, as they say, are made to be broken. We just need to make sure we have a good reason when we do break them. Never deviate from convention just for the sake of rebelling.

Next, remember that all writing instruction is one person’s opinion, based on his or her perceptions, experiences, and training. Even when most people agree, surely other credible sources will disagree. Art, after all, is subjective.

Last, the trends and expectations of today will become tomorrow’s tedium. Remember, each new trend is the result of someone who opposed expectations.

There is only one true, unassailable rule in writing: keep your readers engaged. All else is secondary.

What writing rule irks you? Have you ever gone against a writing rule? What happened?

What is Your Writing Weakness?

As writers, we all have strengths and weaknesses. One person’s forte may be another person’s nemesis. It’s wise to know where we excel as writers and what trips us up.

For myself, I’m good at editing for length and ensuring a piece flows, something I do every day at work. I’m good at spotting needless words and pride myself in dialogue. Conversely, though I know the basics well, I’m still learning the intricacies of punctuation, am abysmal at spelling (which makes my love of crossword puzzles confounding), and struggle mightily with grammar.

As I relish my strengths, I strive to shore up my weaknesses. While I never expect to master grammar or win a spelling bee, I can do things to improve. To aid in my understanding of grammar, I follow the Grammar Girl; for spelling, I maintain a list of words that often trip me up. I also keep my shortcomings in mind when I give feedback to other writers, either not talking about what I’m not sure of or prefacing my comments with a disclaimer.

Not only should we assess our own abilities, but we should also be aware of the capabilities of those in our writing circles. After all, we are wise to esteem syntax advice from a grammar expert, but foolish to consider period placement from a punctuation novice. We need to not only evaluate the comments of our critique partners, but also factor in their mastery of that area.

This is one more step to writing well.

What are your writing strengths and weaknesses? Let’s look at both.

Learning More About WordPress

This weekend I’m attending Grand Rapids WordCamp, a fun, but intensive, two-day event about WordPress. The meeting is geared towards developers, so it’s mostly more technical than we writers need for our WordPress blogs and websites.

I went to last year’s event. Though much of it provided more detail than I needed, I picked up something valuable in each session. I’m still implementing the things I learned.

So, I’m back to repeat the experience. Plus, this year, I’m speaking as well. My session will be later today, titled “12 Tips For Better WordPress Content Creation.” It’s based on the series of posts I did earlier this year on blogging; see 14 Posts on Better Blogging.

I’ve also been part of a local WordPress Meetup group. While it, too, is more technical than I need, the people there are patient in answering my more basic questions. The third and most helpful WordPress resource I tap is Dustin Hartzler’s weekly WordPress podcasts at yourwebsiteengineer.com. While most helpful, he provides more information than a typical writer and blogger needs.

So how do we learn about WordPress (or any blogging platform) without being overwhelmed by technical details? That’s a great question and one I don’t have a ready answer for. I think the solution is to find other writers who use WordPress, and then help each other. Peter’s Law of Reciprocity reminds us that we all know something others don’t and everyone we meet knows something we don’t. The goal is to share.

How do you learn about blogging?

Press Release: Peter DeHaan to Speak at Grand Rapids WordCamp

Blogger Peter DeHaan to Share 12 Tips For Better WordPress Content Creation

Peter DeHaan: Author, blogger, speaker, changing the world one word at a timeAug. 12, 2014 – Peter DeHaan will speak at this weekend’s WordCamp in Grand Rapids Michigan. WordCamps are informal, community-organized events, put on by WordPress users for WordPress users, including everyone from casual hobbyists to core developers. Peter will share with attendees: “12 Tips For Better WordPress Content Creation.” Grand Rapids WordCamp is Friday and Saturday, August 15 and 16, with Sunday, August 17 designated as Contributor Day. It will take place in the DeVos Center on Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus in downtown Grand Rapids, with tracks geared towards users, developers, content producers, and businesses.

“I attended Grand Rapids WordCamp last year,” said author Peter DeHaan. “It was a great experience, and I learned so much. This year, I’m excited to return as a speaker, allowing me to give back to the WordPress community.” Peter will address attendees at 3 p.m. on Saturday, August 16.

Peter DeHaan has been a magazine publisher and editor for the past fifteen years, a blogger for the past seven, and a published writer for much longer. The combination of Peter’s editing, blogging, and writing skills, makes him an ideal person to cover this topic. “I have multiple blogs and have written over 1,500 posts,” added Peter. “I’m happy to share what I’ve learned over the years with other WordPress users.

Grand Rapids WordCamp is an annual event put on by area WordPress enthusiasts and entrepreneurs, with each year being bigger and better than the year before. For 2014, the event expands to three days, with presentations on the first two days, while the third day is a time for attendees to contribute to the greater WordPress community. The cost to attend is an affordable $20; register at http://2014.grandrapids.wordcamp.org. To learn about WordCamps in other areas around the world, go to http://wordcamp.org.

Finding a Place to Write

A month ago in my post, “The Rhythm of Writing,” I shared that my wife and I moving would interrupt my writing. My blog posts for the past three Saturdays reflected this, as I provided the starting point and gave you the opportunity to finish my posts by 1) promoting your blog, 2) working on your author bio, and 3) sharing your writing. Now we return to our regular programming.

Today, I’m pleased to say we have moved, albeit to a temporary place, living with family while we await our next home. The transition has been smooth, and the new living arrangements are working out great – to everyone’s delight. I’ve set-up my work office in a spare bedroom and am falling into a comfortable rhythm for my day, except for one thing: my writing.

I can’t do my personal writing in my work office, because the work awaiting my attention sidetracks my creativity. I need a different place to write, a quiet place, one with no distractions and which doesn’t inconvenience anyone else.

I admit I was spoiled at my old house: a separate room for writing, a large desk, dual monitors, and any needed resource within reach. It was a private place, with no distractions and only myself to get in the way. Most writers yearn for such a spot – and I miss mine.

So far I’ve tried the kitchen table, the deck, and am presently in my work office, trying hard not to check email and to forget the papers stacked in my to-do pile. For the next few months, I expect this struggle to continue, but a future solution is in sight. Until then, I’ll enjoy this season as a great adventure, grateful for a wonderful family and a place to live.

Where is your best place to write? Have you found your ideal place or making do with what you have available?