Before I wrote for magazines, I wrote novels, and nope, you can’t buy one. They didn’t sell. I have the prerequisite three bad books in my desk drawer. Perhaps, one day, I’ll write another once the publishing industry calms down, but maybe not. I like writing online for Fiskars and Lowe’s and for magazines like Oklahoma Gardener, and I’m grateful I have a steady paycheck. (Thanks Patsy Bell for your words of encouragement years ago).
Still, what I learned in the School of Journalism at Oklahoma University, holds true no matter whom I write for, nor the subject. As I worked today on a complicated garden article on color, several writing tips came to mind, and I thought I’d share them with you.
Gardeners and gluten free eaters, if you’re bored, please come back later, and I’ll have something for you. I Promise.
- Know that for which you stand. This caveat holds firm whether we’re discussing faith, social media, writing, or just plain living. Be kind to others. Walk with a grateful heart.
- Write regularly and write often. I write every single day. There was a time when I didn’t, but once I did, my writing became better. If I’m not writing, I’m conversing with my audience and support group online. That’s where social media come into play, but I do my work first.
- Have a place to write. Mine is in the kitchen. Before, it was on a small table in my bedroom, but after we remodeled, I built a desk into the kitchen which I designed with cubbyholes to hold my reference books and muses. Yes, I do most reference like spellcheck and definitions online, but occasionally I still pick up the thesaurus from my high school journalism teacher, Mrs. Liz Burdette and thumb through for inspiration. My muse board is on the wall to my left. I have pictures of friends, the Holy Father (because I like him, and he reminds me of who I am), places I want to travel and a writing, fairy muse Curtiss Ann gave me. I also have a large calendar on the wall because I like the pretty pictures. A basket of seed packets sits on the desk where I can see them. In other words, my writing space is my haven.
- Know your subject. This is also sometimes written as write what you know, but I’ve written lots of articles assigned to me because I am a good researcher. After going to OU, I graduated during a recession, and I couldn’t find a job in my field, so I went to school and became a legal assistant. Everything I’ve done in my life has led me to something greater. Nothing is wasted. However, don’t overdo the research. It can be a fast track to procrastination and Resistance (as defined by Steven Pressfield in The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.)
- Be true to yourself. No matter the topic you’re writing, frame it so that your voice comes through (see #1 above) and don’t plagiarize. People who do suck, and our profession has enough bad actors to keep people from believing what we write. Remember A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey?
- Don’t preach. Let the story or article evolve into completion, and even if you have a strong opinion on the subject, try show instead of tell. If you’re wondering what I mean, think of the Green Movement in horticulture. People want you to live your “religion,” not hit them over the head with it. Okay, enough preaching.
- When you get stuck, do something else. With my desk in the kitchen, I often get up and sweep the floor. I have the cleanest floor in Oklahoma. No, I’m kidding. I also get up and take a short walk of ten minutes unless I’ve finished my draft or pages for the day, then I take a longer walk or a bike ride.
- Give yourself a hard deadline. When I wrote novels, it was twenty pages a day. I stayed and wrote until I got the pages. Now, it’s a rough draft. Once it’s finished, I step away and do something nice for myself.
- Writing is hard work. Surround yourself with things you love which affirm you and set the mood. For me, this is hot tea, sometimes a candle lit nearby (I like fire), and dark, dairy free chocolate. I used to have jelly beans, but I now only pull those out if the situation is dire. Sugar is not my friend.
- Be kind to yourself. All creative people I know are their worst critics. Again, writing is hard.If you’re doing the work, be kind. Every time you hear that evil voice say, “You’re lousy at this. You can’t write,” etc., ignore it. It’s not what’s real.
- Don’t reread the first draft. Immediately reading over the words I’d written was one of the best ways to sabotage myself. I would correct and change until all my time was gone, and I’d only written a couple of paragraphs.
- Find a support group. Don’t confuse this with a writing group however. Some writing groups are good and offer great support including a kick in the pants when you need it, but others aren’t worth taking away from your writing time. When I consider joining a writing group, I keep thinking about what Sue Grafton told me when we met. She said she wrote alone and only her husband read her first draft. She had supportive writing friends, but was not part of a writing group. I was shocked. She also held my hand, looked me in the eye, and asked, “So, you’re a writer. Are you brave?” She was and is my favorite mainstream author, and her words shook me to my core. Sue, if you ever read this, I can now answer with a firm, “Yes.”
- Be brave, but don’t be foolish. Listen to those who know more than you. Be respectful of writing royalty who specialize in your genre. Ask questions. Most writers are very nice people and want to help, but don’t write to be famous. Write because you must; because you love the swirl and twirl of words. Write, because if you don’t, a little part of you dies.
- Dream big. Why not? There is never a good reason to dream small. Although I don’t buy into all that Universe gives you what you ask for stuff, I do believe God knows us intimately. He knows our dreams and yearnings, and he wants us to have what is good for us, so dream big!
My dreams? Well, one is to write a gardening book one day, and I will.
I hope these ideas help anyone who is earnestly trying to write and finding it tough going. For those of you doing the work, I’d love to hear your tips too.
Dee, I rely on all these, too, but thank you so much for reminding me. Right now, this was the article that saves me! Thank you.
Thanks so much for this post, it made me just a bit teary eyed- for me the need to write was thwarted for many years, but happily overflows now in the blogosphere.
The best writing tip I’ve heard-until now- was on the use of explanation points.
A writer told me- if you need to use a lot of explanation points, you’re not doing your job as a writer. Use the words that show the enthusiasm.
Thanks again for this post, it really is inspiring.
Thank you for your advices! I want to become a better writer for my blog and I find this post most helpful.
Very true. I also have a place to write or if that place is occupied, I always find another place that is quiet. Great post!
Great advice, Dee! Thanks for sharing your pearls with us. I can tell that my brain is working better now that I’m writing regularly (not daily, but weekly is better than nothing). That’s the main reason I blog.
all great advice, and like most advice–especially with anything artistic–the easier it sounds, the harder it is. but so good to hear!!!
Good advice Dee. Your writing nook looks very organized. 🙂
Well! This was a wonderful set of inspiring incentives to get to work and improve my writing 🙂 Thanks for putting it together in such a concise way and with your gorgeous photos.
I think of all your advice, it is the writing every day and the “don’t get too distracted” areas that are most challenging. Thanks for the thoughtful post.
What an inspiring posting!
Here’s hoping that your garden-book-dream come true.
I knew that OU was a great place! I hear ‘Go Sooners’ in our house very often! Thank you for your tips Dee! You know what touched me the most? “Write, because if you don’t, a little part of you dies”. How true! That is why I have my second, not-only-gardening Russian blog. I wish I could write in English with the same easiness as I do it in Russian. …Put me on a list for your garden book!
Love this post and how timely for me… a gentle reminder of a commitment I’ve made. Last summer I took an online creativity workshop for writers. Life happened and I never finished the course. However, last week I recommitted to do so, rather publicly on my writers blog. Thanks for sharing your sweet wisdom.
Love the list Dee. I will hold onto this one for sure.
Dee, thanks for the steps to a successful blog. that’s how I read your comments on writing.
You looked at my blog last summer before I put it online. you’ve been a mentor to me, believe me.
Have a great new year.
A wonderful post, Dee. I look forward to reading your gardening book one day!
Great advice! Thanks so much.
Pam's English Garden
Dear Dee, A great post with excellent advice! And very appropriate for garden bloggers. I love your writing space … it puts mine to shame. Wishing you a happy and healthy 2011! P x
This is a perfect example of why you stand out for gardeners and writers. It’s a gift for you Dee and your calm demeanor paired with it is just beautiful.
Hi Anna, thank you so much. I appreciate your kindness.
Dear Diligent Dee, Thank you for this inspiring post! Write and write often is great advice and support groups too. Writers groups can be so helpful. Please add me to the list of those that will stand in line for your autographed book!
Thank you Carol. Yes, writers groups can be hugely supportive. Just make sure you pick a good one. Aww, when I finally write and publish that book, I’ll let you know.
I love this! What I have found with blogging is that when I tell myself that I will only blog on Tuesday’s and Friday’s it actually keeps me organized and forces me to be more diligent. I also agree with Rebecca. 🙂
Thank you Rama. I also try to blog on specific days. Excellent point. Thanks for stopping day.
When I was the only person who knew that my blog existed, my words flowed freely. Since people have started making comments, I feel under pressure to deliver the goods. These tips have really helped me get back on track. Thanks.
B-A-G, just pretend to yourself that you aren’t writing for an audience. Or, as an alternative, pretend you are writing to one special friend or loved one. I often do that. HTH.
Great post for writing tips! I aspire to be a novel writer..but the closest I get to write is having a blog maybe Im having a writer’s block?…:) Thank you for sharing!
Thank you so much. Blogging is a great place to start. Remember, a novel is just written piece by piece or Bird by Bird as one writer said.
2, 7, 9, 11, 14. As a fellow riter and an english prof, these are the big one I think. I try to instill these points on my undergrads at every turn–undergrads who will likely never take an English class again (which is nuts, because isn’t writing well sorta an upwardly mobile necessity?).
Benjamin, I had to go back and look at which ones you liked best. I’m so glad you’re working with your students. Being a good writer has helped me in every career I’ve ever had, and I’ve had many over the years. I’ve worked since I was fourteen years old. Thank you so much.
Your writing desk looks like a great place to work. I agree so strongly about not preaching — it really is like being hit over the head.
You’ve provided a lot of wonderful advice on writing in this post.
Sweetbay, it is a great place. Thank you so much.
Oh, your writing space is enviable–so neat! Okay, I’m printing this wisdom, the best I have ever, ever read. I am again writing everyday! Now, I’m giving myself the gift of a clean desk.
First, I love that picture of you. Second, you, who have so many books published are going to print out my tips. (Shaking my head.) Love you my friend.
These are such great tips Dee. A desire to write is the reason I started blogging. I thought posting frequently would be a good way of getting in the “habit” and hopefully (like you said) make my writing better. I hope someday to write a novel too. Not about gardening tho ~ a romance novel!!!
Kathleen, I’m so glad I could help. Yes, posting often is a great way to get more practice. It also helps your stats. Blog on!
This post is so great. As I have said many times your writing takes the reader(me) into your thoughts and heart. I feel a kinship to you in your writing. Very special talent you have honed, my friend. You are always inspiring, in a good way, and so positive. Much thanks for keeping me looking up and forward to the next great thing.
From one of your dana friends,
Dana, you’re the best. Thank you so much. We do have a kinship in so many ways. You knew me when I was young. 🙂
Jan (Thanks For Today)
I enjoyed reading your thoughts and feel privileged to have access to these wonderful tips of yours, Dee. I like your last sentence about your goal to write a gardening book and then the words ‘and I will’. It is so true that we need to think with intention and proceed ‘as if’ what we are aiming for will indeed come to fruition. Right now I am having fun ‘garden blogging’ but have always been a ‘closet writer’. My early goal was to be a writer and I was accepted into the Missouri@Columbia’s school of journalism back in 1975. My parents couldn’t afford to send me across the country so I went to a local univ. journalism program. Funny thing happened along the way and I chose to get married instead of finish the program, then moving into a psychology major & later becoming a counselor. The die was cast long ago, though, and I think that it may never be too late to be what I always wanted to be when I grow up. Haven’t spread my wings yet but am having fun pondering the idea and learning from you and many others who I’ve had the good fortune to connect with as of late, thanks to social media. I will stand in line to have you sign your book for me, and I want a handshake, too– hopefully even a hug;-)
Jan, your story is a beautiful one. I was going to finish Journalism School and then go on to law school, but life intervened for me too. I also got married. I think being a counselor isn’t much different than being a writer. It’s all about story isn’t it, and your kind heart would serve you well.
Helen at Toronto Gardens
Dee, A most excellent post. And, speaking of Sue Grafton, you’ve just solved the mystery of why I’ve been avoiding writing in my office. It just isn’t a pleasant place to work at the moment. Fixing that will be the most productive thing I could do for my writing today. Cheers from way up here.
Thanks Helen. I’m glad I could help. 😉 Having somewhere you like to be is extremely important.
Great post, Dee. I totally agree about having somewhere to write where you feel comfortable. Lots of people set up a study or an office in a room that’s cold, or has no view, or is nowhere near a kettle… Your solution looks lovely and cosy.
I’m addicted to Sue Grafton, thanks to Susan Tomlinson.
Your words are so true. I think having a kettle nearby is mandatory.
Sue Grafton is a master storyteller. Every book is a different format. Not many writers work hard enough to do that.
1) Excellent, excellent, excellent! MOST excellent!
The sound advice of someone who knows.
2) Pearl and Henrietta are on the wall!
3) Sue Grafton! My favorite author, too. I’m so glad you got a chance to meet her. I wish I could someday.
Thank you for a great post, Dee. 🙂
1) Thank you so much. I was thinking of your novel as I wrote it.
2) They are! I told you I love them both.
3) I didn’t realize Ms. Grafton was your fave. I’ve read everything she wrote, and I started with B.
You’re welcome dear friend.
Lisa at Greenbow
These writing guide lines feel so warm and reassuring. Even when one has read similar things in the past. This makes me want to get off this computer, go get my pen, curl up in my chair with a cup of tea and write. Great advice. Your work space is so neat and tidy. I guess you have to be if you work in the kitchen.
I’m glad they came across that way Lisa instead of just bossy. 😉
Mr. McGregor's Daughter
Thank you for sharing this. You’ve made me realize I need a proper workspace. And you are so right about being kind, to others and ourselves.
MMD, I’m glad it helped. Yes, being kind is probably the most important thing of all. So many people have been kind to me.
This was wonderful and inspiring, Dee! Thank you. It comes at a time when I need it most.
Thank you Carol my dear friend.
Meems@ Hoe and Shovel
Really helpful and wise words. Your writing always draws me in and makes me want read more. Thanks to you I am writing more these days. 🙂 I admire your dream to write a gardening book. It will come as one of the “something greater” things in life. I look forward to reading it.
Thank you Meems. I think you’re a wonderful writer. Keep on keepin’ on.
Those are all wonderful writing tips to remember! I look back at my first posts and my writing has improved a great deal. I especially like number 14…dream big! I think God knows us better than we know ourselves. I am not even sure what I am dreaming, but it is BIG.
My husband and I both went to OU. He was in the school of journalism, too. Now, we live in Austin surrounded by UT.
I enjoyed your post! Thanks!
Amy, thank you so much for stopping by. Yes, we improve by doing don’t we? Yes, dream big! How cool that you and your husband went to OU. I wonder if he went when I was there or later. Love the new journalism school.
He graduated in ’87 (Dave Emerick).
Fern @ Life on the Balcony
Dee, you’ve inspired me to get off my butt and clean up my desk. A lot of times I write on my laptop while sitting on the couch. It’s not a very inspiring spot, nor is is particularly comfortable.
Fern, my desk gets messy too, and I spread out my research on the kitchen table, so I’m not as neat as I seem.
Such true words and wisdom. I may have to print this out and put it right here where I can see it every day.
MA, you knew you were my inspiration for blogging, you and Dave and Kathy, and thank goodness for Debra too. Such inspiration.
Dee, thank you for posting these tips. Writing is a chore for me and I’m trying to improve as it seems I’ve become crazily addicted to blogging! Your writing nook and especially your writing fairy are charming too – what a lovely spot. I’ll be keeping this post handy when in need of inspiration.
Hi Cat, I say blogging is good for us! I always find the rough draft difficult to write. That’s why I pound it out first. The revisions are easy. Thank you so much for coming by.
Dee, you are an inspiration to so many of us and posts like this are the reason why. I’m so glad you’re a part of my life.
Cindy, you are a dear friend. Glad you are in my life too.
Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening
You give us a lot of wise advice, but I especially feel privileged to see your writing desk.
Kathy, thanks I’m pretty much an open book.
Dee, I love that generous spirit of yours that leads you to share what you’ve learned along the way – that Sue Grafton story is wonderful – and I too will buy that book!
Cyndy, we all help each other, paying it forward as we go. Thanks for your dear words. Sue Grafton is the ultimate in keeping touch with her fans. She even sends Christmas postcards, something to keep in mind.
Dear Dee, what an inspirational piece of work this is! I know now why you are such a good writer, you are all of those things you list, kind, brave and talented. Not to mention a hard worker! I will buy that garden book you are going to write, I want a signed copy! 🙂
Frances, you are too kind.
You’re neatness is impressive, but not as much as your tips about writing.
I’ve just had my first idea for a book and I’m about to pin your piece to my wall as a reminder I need to garner some self-discipline if I’m actually going to have any chance of writing it.
Many thanks 🙂
Oh VP, you are too kind. That made my day. I hope my tips help you as you make your writing journey and let me know if I can help you in any way.
Dee – your first lesson is duly delivered. I’m apalled I used you’re instead of your 😉
I need to get better at self editing but still keep #10 in mind whilst I do so 🙂
Have a great weekend!
My dear, this is so beautifully written and filled with wisdom! I can’t wait to read your garden book and maybe a novel. xxoogail
Someday perhaps . . . dear Gail.
Jean @Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog
Great writing tips and I really thank you for them. Your nook looks lovely. Me, I could use a larger desk in order to spread out my reference books more. But then it would just get messier. 🙂 I’m impressed by how often you write. I can see that gardening book coming out fairly soon because you’re so dedicated. Add me to your book sales list. Lastly, your bookshelf made me smile – it looked almost exactly like the knotty pine bookshelves we had at our previous home.
Thanks Jean. It is a nice nook, and I feel very comfortable here which is good because I spend a lot of time in it. We’ll both keep thinking about the gardening book. Someday. As to the bookshelf, this house was built in 1981, and the wood is cypress. 🙂
First, you met Sue Grafton?!!! very cool.
Second, love your writing nook.
Third, your bookcases fondly remind me of my grandmother’s breakfast room which was paneled in knotty pine. I don’t know if that’s what your bookcases are made of or not, but the richness of the wood is the same.
Thanks for another great article!
Jennie, I did meet Sue Grafton. I was in a writing group at the time and learned she was coming to OKC. She had her regular signing and then a smaller class for writers because she said she wanted to speak to writers directly. Curtiss Ann and I went, and then Sue had a small book signing afterward. She talked to everyone who came through, and she did take my hand and ask me those questions. I’ve thought about how gracious she was ever since.
Dee, her graciousness makes me want to read another of her books. I haven’t read one in years. Thanks.
marcia at Child in Harmony
Thank you for this post Dee. Terrific advice and reminders!
I am in the process of writing and have a few projects in the works. I need to schedule more time to devote to my writing . I have also been reading some inspiring books that have helped on my journey.
happy day and happy new year!
Marcia, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Keep working at your writing, and you will continue to succeed. It’s like anything else ten percent talent and ninety percent persistence.
So often we get sidetracked with a task at hand. I like your tip on creating a special place and, just today, I decided I needed a specific time and deadlines to follow. I have been thinking of taking a journalism course. One that forces the process. Perhaps this is the year.
Layanee, thank you. Go ahead and take that journalism course. It’s a good idea and lots of fun.
Thank you so much, Dee. Your inspiring words hit home … just what I needed to read today. You’re ‘the bestest’! You’d be a fabulous writing instructor … Count me in for your gardening book!
Joey, you are like sunshine on a cloudy day. Thanks for being my friend across the miles.
I not only find your tips helpful, but I find them inspiring as well. You have such a beautiful way with words, and have such an honest, down to earth way of communicating with people. When you DO write your gardening book, I will certainly be one of the first in line to buy it!! Thank you for such an encouraging post.
Rebecca, that is so kind, and since we’ve met, I can see your smiling face. You probably have lots of tips of your own because you have written a book. Cheers!
I was so impressed by this post. I agree with Rebecca that it is truly inspiring. I fail miserably at number ten and eleven. Being a visual person, I have always had difficulty with writing. Your words ring loudly but it is work putting them into actions. I really intend to try. It is like photography, I know when people write posts with tips, I am not as believing as when I see the work behind it. I go to certain sites just to learn. That is how I felt with your post today. So much wisdom and experience that you are willing to pass on to others. Thank you.
Donna, you are too kind. You are such a wonderful photographer. I am in awe of your creative work. Thank you for reading it. I hope it helps with the writing aspect. I am also visual so I understand.