Posts Tagged ‘Writing Advice’

The Muse Theory

You have to be aware when you’re writing. Your work space must be created in such a way that you’ll want to return to it. You must be stimulated so you’ll never run out of ideas.Ray Bradbury says this in Zen in the Art of Writing about the muse that guides our writing.

We stuff ourselves with these impressions and experiences and our reaction to them. Into our subconscious go not only factual data but reactive data, our movement toward or away from the sensed events. These are the stuffs, the foods on which the Muse grows. This is the storehouse, the file, to which we must return every waking hour to check reality against memory, and in sleep to check memory against memory, which means ghost against ghost, in order to exorcise them, if necessary.

You muse requires a constant center to practice a disciplined craft. You must provide it with feedback about your self-knowledge (also called metacognition). To sustain a muse, you need time, energy, diligence, and persistence. But most of all you need to have joy when you sit down to write. Bradbury says, if you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you’re only half a writer.”

The Writing Habit

But what happens when the so-called muse leaves? What happens when the dreaded writer’s block sets in? What happens with there are no words? Are you left with unproductive hours of sitting and staring at a blank page or screen? I’d say no. You haven’t lost your muse, and you don’t have writer’s block. You’ve merely gotten out of the habit of writing. To read more about my writing habits, read:

Habits are founded inside the part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which recalls patterns and acts upon them. Habits allow the brain to settle down as it chunks information and becomes more efficient. To trigger a habit, the brain requires a simple, obvious cue followed by a routine that is a procedure familiar from beginning to end. The routine should be followed by a clearly defined routine. This pattern works because the anticipation and the expectation of the reward’s sensation. A loop is created through repetition. This loop can encourage you to persist in healthy (or unhealthy) behaviors. The loop can sneak into your subconscious and make you buy, buy, buy. You’re triggered by the cue, crave the reward, and wander around doing the habits that are second nature to the synapses in your brain.

What if you could kill your procrastination and make writing a habit?

Consider that your procrastination is a habit you want to break. Changing a habit occurs when the routine shifts but the cues and rewards remain the same, which results in a craving being satisfied. To start, begin with with a self-inventory of your behaviors and their triggers. Consider these questions:

  1. What do I fear will happen?
  2. What would it mean if event/consequence happened?
  3. How will I feel if that event/consequence happened?

I’m sure that if you track these thoughts for two weeks you’ll discover procrastination is just another way you cope with stress and anxiety. Practicing Stephen R. Covey’s 8 Habits of Highly Effective People is another way to track your behavior. If you’re not following these eight steps, you’re not breaking your habit and therefore cannot get the most out of your daily living.

  1. Be Proactive: become responsible about your self-awareness, take the initiative on having a more positive outlook, actively determine where you place your time/energy
  2. Begin with the End in Mind: have a vision for what you hope to construct, rely on your personal leadership abilities, ask yourself “How can I best accomplish my tasks duties, tasks and responsibilities?”
  3. Put First things First: focus on your highest priorities that are of most worth to you, allow yourself to say no
  4. Think Win/Win: life is a competitive arena, seek mutual benefit
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood: display empathy by listening 1 of 4 ways (evaluating, probing, advising, interpreting)
  6. Synergize: engage in creative cooperation that brings together experiences and creates new insight despite differences
  7. Sharpen the Saw: practice self-renewal for your physical, emotional, social, mental, and spiritual needs
  8. Find Your Voice: trust yourself and your ability to execute, be empowered by your chance to influence and serve

Affirmative Growth Statement

Keeping the faith that things will get better is also a powerful tool in breaking a habit. Another option is having an affirmative growth statement to acknowledge and replace negative emotions. An affirmative growth statement might be closely aligned to Covey’s Step 2 “Begin with the End in Mind.” An example of this statement comes from Tapping into Ultimate Success, “I deeply and completely accept myself. I am open and willing to change even though I belief I was made a certain way. I am willing to look at a new perspective.” If you truly struggle coming up with an affirmative growth statement, your capacity to believe in yourself might instead come from social interaction or group support. Communities can make change believable because there is not only safety in numbers but also help and empowerment.

My affirmative growth statement comes from Taoism. Tao translates to mean “the way, the underlying natural order of the universe, the un-carved block.”

To return to your fate is to be constant.

To know the constant is to be wise.

The way does not compete. It has no self-interest.

The way files down sharp edges; unties the tangles;

softens the glare, and settles the dust.

Do you have the patience to wait

‘til your mud settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain unmoving ‘til the right action arises by itself?

Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place.


Manifest plainness, and embrace the genuine.

Lessen self-interest, and make few your desires.

Eliminate learning, and have no undue concern.

Maintain tranquility in the center.

  • Staying up late/getting up early/writing on the go/setting aside time to write

Night-time awakes a more alert chemistry in me (Thomas Wolfe)

Early morning writers: Sylvia Plath at 4 am; Jack London, Toni Morrison, and Katherine Anne Porter at 5 am; Kurt Vonnegut  at 5:30 am; Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, and Edith Wharton at 6 am.

Naps are essential to my process (William Gibson)

  • Have a cue, a deadline, a routine, and a reward

Anthony Trollope used the egg-time method and pushed himself to produce 250 words every 15 minutes.

Get to the typewriter right now and finish this (Ray Bradbury)

A writer who waits for the ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting word on paper (E.B. White)

I had a ritual once of lighting a candle and writing by its light and blowing it out when I was done for the night…but now I simply hate to write (Jack Kerouac)

  • When in doubt, drink

Coffee gives us the capacity to engage a little longer in the exercise of our intellects (Balzac)

I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I’ve done that day…the drink helps (Joan Didion)

  • Find a process and make it a habit

I like the slowness of writing by hand. Then I type it up and scrawl all over that (Susan Sontag)

In an unmoored  life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me (Kurt Vonnegut)

Victor Hugo walked and mentally composed his works except for when he wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame (He wrote it under a self-imposed house arrest). Aldous Huxley and Virginia Woolf were all writers who walked to create.

Charles Dickens had an eclectic menagerie of animals, and paper knife, a green vase, a desk calendar, blue ink, and writing quills to create the setting of his writing desk. He would spend time writing from 9 am to 2 pm and then went for a brisk walk at a pace of 4.8 miles per hour.

Some writers need a specific pencil or a certain color ink, but James Joyce chose the strangest writing instrument due to poor eyesight–cardboard and crayons.

These writers thought great thoughts while in the bathtub: Agatha Christie, Benjamin Franklin, and Vladimir Nabokov

Top 3 Tips

  • Read. Read to learn through osmosis. Read aloud to listen for the sound of your writing voice
  • Complete 10,000 hours of writing practice
  • Develop rituals to help you structure/support your writing life. These patterns help save you time because you are more efficient.

Writing prompts

  • Write about a time when you realized something you did became a habit. Did it feel like a chain? Or was it a good habit, something you had worked hard for? When and how did it go from a cobweb to a cable, from fragile to unbreakable?
  • Write about a ritual in your life. Where does it come from (ex. a need to feel safe)
  • Write about when you decided you were a writers or when you realized you wanted to write
  • Write about a time when your life unraveled and how writing put it back together
  • Write about an obsession
  • Write “I believe” and keep going
  • Write about your name. Who named you and why?
  • Write what you are. Start with “I am”


  • What helps you get ideas/inspiration
  • What motivates you to write
  • What helps you get your work organized/outlined
  • What helps you write rather than not write
  • What are the best patterns for revisions
  • What helps you complete projects
  • What surroundings are conducive/distracting to writing, planning, revising
  • What time of day/week is best for generating ideas, outlining, writing, revising
  • What tools, sound, or people help your process
  • Think about the length of time for your writing sessions. What positions do you need to be in? What medium (pen/pencil, paper/computer) do you need?


How not to write bad: Ben Yagoda

Kicking the wall: Barbara Abercrombie

Write is a verb: Bill O’Hanlon



Three parallel elements of the same length occurring together in a series.

  • Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.
  • I came; I saw; I conquered.


Use of a word with two others, with each of which it is understood differently. A combination of grammatical parallelism and semantic incongruity, often with a witty or comical effect.

  • Rend your heart, and not your garments.
  • You held your breath and the door for me.
  • We must all hang together or assuredly we will all hang separately.


Repeating a word, but in a different form in close proximity.

  • With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder.
  • You try to forget, and in the forgetting, you are yourself forgotten.


Ending a series of lines, phrases, clauses, or sentences with the same word or words.

  • You will find washing beakers helpful in passing this course, using the gas chromatograph desirable for passing this course, and studying hours on end essential to passing this course.
  • What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny compared to what lies within us.
  • We are born to sorrow, pass our time in sorrow, end our days in sorrow.


Repetition at the end of a line, phrase, or clause of the word or words that occurred at the beginning of the same line, phrase, or clause. The beginning and the end are the two positions of strongest emphasis in a sentence, so by having the same word in both places, you call special attention to it.

  • Nothing is worse than doing nothing.
  • A lie begets a lie.
  • Water alone dug this giant canyon; yes, just plain water.
  • To report that your committee is still investigating the matter is to tell me that you have nothing to report.


Reversing the order of repeated words or phrases (a loosely chiastic structure, AB-BA) to intensify the final formulation, to present alternatives, or to show contrast.

  • Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.
  • When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
  • Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.


Repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses, sentences, or lines commonly in conjunction with climax and parallelism.

  • We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.


The repetition of the last word (or phrase) from the previous line, clause, or sentence at the beginning of the next to generate the sake of beauty or to give a sense of logical progression.

  • I was at a loss for words, words that perhaps would have gotten me into even more trouble.
  • The love of wicked men converts to fear,/That fear to hate, and hate turns one or both/To worthy danger and deserved death.
  • In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.


A comparison made by referring to one thing as another.

  • No man is an island.
  • The mind is but a barren soil; a soil which is soon exhausted and will produce no crop, or only one, unless it be continually fertilized and enriched with foreign matter.


An explicit comparison, often (but not necessarily) employing “like” or “as.”

  • Her hair was like gravy, running brown off her head and clumping up on her shoulders.
  • The air-lifted rhinoceros hit the ground like a garbage bag filled with split pea soup.


Reference to something or someone by naming one of its attributes.

  • The orders came directly from the White House.
  • The pen is mightier than the sword
  • The IRS is auditing me? Great. All I need is a couple of suits arriving at my door.


A whole is represented by naming one of its parts

  • The rustler bragged he’d absconded with five hundred head of longhorns.
  • If I had some wheels, I’d put on my best threads and ask for Jane’s hand in marriage.
  • I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas


General term describing when one part of speech governs two or more other parts of a sentence. For example, two different words linked to a verb or an adjective which is strictly appropriate to only one of them.The main benefit of the linking is that it shows relationships between ideas and actions more clearly.

  • Fred excelled at sports; Harvey at eating; Tom with girls.
  • Nor Mars his sword, nor war’s quick fire shall burn/The living record of your memory.
  • Alexander conquered the world; I, Towson.


Reference to abstractions or inanimate objects as though they had human qualities or abilities.

  • England expects every man to do his duty.
  • The coffee is strong enough to get up and walk away.
  • Snow and wind howled through the streets.


Use of words to imitate natural sounds of the word being described.The written language retains an aural quality, so that even unspoken your writing has a sound to it.

  • Someone yelled, “Look out!” and I heard a loud screech followed by a grinding, wrenching crash.
  • Plop, buzz, ribbit, slam, sizzle, etc.


Rhetorical exaggeration for emphasis or effect. In formal writing the hyperbole must be clearly intended as an exaggeration, and should be carefully restricted.We are a society of excess and exaggeration. Handle hyperbole like dynamite, and do not blow up everything you can find.

  • My vegetable love should grow/Vaster than empires, and more slow;/An hundred years should got to praise/Thine eyes and on thine forehead gaze;/Two hundred to adore each breast,/But thirty thousand to the rest.
  • I’ve told you a million times not to exaggerate.


The use of a word in a context that differs from its proper application in an alien or unusual way.

  • The podcast included a soundseeing tour of London’s theatre district.
  • I will speak daggers to her.
  • The little old lady turtled along at ten miles per hour.


Placing two ordinarily opposing terms adjacent to one another. usually in an adjective-noun  or adverb-adjective relationship, and is used for effect, complexity, emphasis, or wit

  • The sounds of silence
  • The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read, / With loads of learned lumber in his head
  • I must be cruel only to be kind


Similarity of structure in a pair or series of related words, phrases, or clauses to show that the ideas in the parts or sentences are equal in importance. Parallelism also adds balance and rhythm and, most importantly, clarity to the sentence.

  • Ferocious dragons breathing fire and wicked sorcerers casting their spells do their harm by night in the Forest of Darkness.
  • I have always sought but seldom obtained a parking space near the door.
  • Singing a song or writing a poem is joyous.


Juxtaposition of contrasting words or ideas (often, although not always, in parallel structure). Human beings are inveterate systematizers and categorizers, so the mind has a natural love for antithesis, which creates a definite and systematic relationship between ideas

  • It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.
  • It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.
  • Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.
  • That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind


Arrangement of words, phrases, or clauses in an order of ascending power, weight, or importance. In addition to arranging sentences or groups of short ideas in climactic order, you generally should also arrange the large sections of ideas in your papers climatically. Always begin with a point or proof substantial enough to generate interest, and then continue with ideas of increasing importance. That way your argument gets stronger as it moves along, and every point hits harder than the previous one.

  • Miss America was not so much interested in serving herself as she was eager to serve her family, her community, and her nation.
  •  The concerto was applauded at the house of Baron von Schnooty, it was praised highly at court, it was voted best concerto of the year by the Academy, it was considered by Mozart the highlight of his career, and it has become known today as the best concerto in the world.


Yoda-speak that departs from normal word order for the sake of emphasis.

  • The helmsman steered; the ship moved on; yet never a breeze up blew.
  • Enter the forest primeval.


Leaving out conjunctions between clauses, often resulting in a hurried rhythm or vehement effect.

  • On his return he received medals, honors, treasures, titles, fame.
  • I came; I saw; I conquered.
  • We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardships, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
  • But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.


Adding additional conjunctions to slow tempo or rhythm.

  • They read and studied and wrote and drilled. I laughed and played and talked and flunked.
  • We have not power, nor influence, nor money, nor authority; but a willingness to persevere, and the hope that we shall conquer soon


The repetition of ideas in inverted order (a-b-b-a) to make an X.

  • Polished in courts and hardened in the field. Renowned for conquest, and in council skilled.
  • He labors without complaining and without bragging rests.
  • Judge not, lest ye be judged.


Omission of a word or short phrase easily understood in context.

  • The average person thinks he isn’t.
  • John forgives Mary and Mary, John.

Aristotle defined rhetoric as “the ability to see or identify in any given circumstance the available means of persuasion.” Thus, rhetoric is the art of argument and discourse to convince other of what we believe. There are three avenues of persuasion.

  • Logos, or logic
  • Pathos, or emotional appeal
  • Ethos, or trustworthy charisma and authority

A good writer knows how to use these persuasive avenues in relation to the audience. This concept is called the rhetorical triangle consisting of the author, the text, and the audience. Learn more about the rhetorical triangle by watching the video produced by David Wright at Furman University.

For examples of these three forms of persuasion and how they factor into your audience, view Dr. Wheeler’s argument for not putting a dog in the microwave or allowing children to play with power tools.

If you decided, “Hey! I need some one to give me money” you’d probably choose all three forms of persuasion and still not be effective at convincing the bank, your parents, or a stranger on the street. That’s where Schemes, Tropes, and Repetition come into play. These three techniques can artfully change the patterns of sentence structures and the meanings of words. There are hundreds of these in existence. Refer to Silva Rhetoricae or A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices or Daily Writing Tips for a complete list.  To get you started, consult the upcoming list of terms, definitions, and examples for Schemes, Tropes, and Repetition. Use these tactics to manipulate and enhance your language for delivering an effective bottom-line message. Knowing how to manipulate these rhetorical devices means you have great mastery over the English language. I have to commit these to memory for several of my graduate classes, so if you want to be a master wordsmith (or a total nerd) you can do the same.

If you’re unfamiliar with these Schemes, Tropes, and Repetition techniques, I’d be more than happy to answer your questions about their appropriate usage. Just drop me a message in the comments section, or you can email me using the form below!

Great resource for academic writers.

Playing with words means I go back to kindergarten. It’s like playing in a sandbox. So many choices. So many possibilities! But if you’re going to play in a sandbox, you’re going to need a structured space to hold the sand and to hold all of your wild, creative imaginings.

Having a writing space certainly brings familiarity and predictability, so all the words you have inside spill out like the bright sparkling grains of sand. Your writing space creates productivity even when circumstances change, and by necessity, you must change with them. You are able to come to that writing space time and time again to do the same natural process over and over again to get the same result: written words scrawled across the page.

Doing the same thing repetitively ingrains a habit. Good for writers, but bad for smokers and alcoholics. The tricky thing about writers is no one has the same methods for forcing yourself into your writing space, getting into the writing habit, and finding “The Zone.”

F or me, I do my writing in the early morning because I have work and night class. Mornings before the sun comes up are when I can plan what I’d like to accomplish without any distractions. My thinking is usually accompanied by a cup of coffee, a tasty bowl of cereal, and a fruit smoothie. I say to my brain, “Brain, what’s percolating? What’s cooking? What’s simmering on the back burner?” At this point I break out my mental pompoms and start cheering. “Let’s pump out some great words today. Let’s bash aside the critic. Let’s push the pen across the paper. Let’s let the fingers fly across the keyboard. Let’s write!”

Of course this is me on a good morning after I’ve had a solid eight hours of sleep. Most of the time, I’m half asleep when I try to arouse my brain into thinking coherent thoughts at 6 am.

If I can’t get my brain to function, I make a point to brainstorm during my errands or while I’m at work. Usually my brainstorming happens in the strangest places: near a housekeeping cart at the hospital, while driving in rush hour traffic, when standing in the shower, or during my daily walk.

No matter where I am though I try to be mindful of my bottom-line message by visualizing my audience. That is the only true writing habit I have. To be in tune with myself and my internal writing space, so I am able to write during any time or at any place.

As David Ebenbach advises in “The Portable Writer,” a writer must be flexible because “we are not who we are but what we do.”





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