458. The Initial Stage of Writing: 5 Ways to Improve Your Skills

Today’s post was written by Alyssa Johnson, a blogger and freelance writer who stands by this credo: “No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter where you’ve come from, you can always change, become a better version of yourself.” You can find more from Alyssa here!

Guest post image

Firstly, it should be noted that strong writing skills come only from practice. Nobody is born as a great writer so it will take time to advance your skills in writing. We all have different reasons to start thinking about improving our writing skills. It can be related to your work or business, your classes in university or just your self-confidence.

Writing is an inseparable part of our lives! You can see this through your everyday doings: sending emails to friends or relatives, responding to official business letters, leaving notes on the mirror for a loved one or just writing papers for university classes.

So here are five simple and fun ways to become a well-skilled writer:

5. Your own space is your comfort zone

It’s easy to understand: the place where you write should be within your comfort zone! Just find it! And be sure that everyone you know has such a piece of paradise where she or he feels safe. For some people, it’s a quiet and clean spot, while others need music or a TV playing in the background. The first step is finding a cozy corner where you can put your thoughts on paper.

4. Find your muse

We all know that “Muse” is a specific source of admiration that inspires writers to create their masterpieces. Even the ancient Greeks told us the “Muse” could have different forms and definitions. The writer can find it in his daily life, in the world full of inspiration—cafes with dozens of people, trains coming and going every minute in the subway, and even reading a newsfeed on Instagram can bring a wonderful idea. You have to be prepared  to see all the small details around you. Don’t miss your own “Muse”!

3. Just pick a topic

You should start practicing every day to turn writing into a habit. It means that writing becomes natural and even something you look forward to. This gives a rise for such questions as “Where can I take a topic?” The answer you may know—write about things you do, things you hear or see, even about your cat’s favorite spot. You will never create exciting stories if you never try.

2. Your friend is your best editor

Why do we need friends? Of course, to have a look at our writing! Just kidding! Our friends are those who can sit for hours listening to mistakes we have made. Is it any different to put our thoughts on paper and give it to them to read? Having another set of eyes makes finding errors which you missed easier.

1. Online help

We live in the age of the Internet. Anytime, anywhere and anything you want you can find on the web, so it can be very useful for those who want to improve their writing. A lot of people use the Internet in search of information. Businessmen try to find samples of official email letters, students research college essays or even housewives share their recipes for apple pies on forums. For many writers, the biggest problem is grammar. So don’t be afraid to use online grammar tools to help you answer grammar questions when they come up!  Additionally, there are a lot of forums and blogs for writers where you can find a soul mate or real professional to discuss issues.

How to Start a Story

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

~ C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Any writer worth her ink and paper knows the importance of starting a story with a really good line. An interesting or clever first line grabs the reader’s attention right away. First impressions are important, you know!

The quote above from C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite opening lines of any story. It’s witty and succinct, and also tells us several important things right away while setting up one or two intriguing questions:

  1. Eustace Clarence Scrubb is a character in this story.
  2. He is also a boy.
  3. His name is terrible.
  4. He almost deserves his name—why?
  5. The lousy name suggests that his parents, who (presumably) named him, are probably unusual in some way or simply have poor taste. (Spoiler: It’s a bit of both.) What is their deal?

In just thirteen words, the author has begun to set the stage for the story, and told a joke into the bargain. That, dear reader, is how it is done.

Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite opening lines in literature.

When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.

~ Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

I have yet to read The Metamorphosis by Kafka—it’s on my reading list, which continues to grow at an alarming rate—but this line is fantastic. I mean, after reading this line, I really want to find out what happens next.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

As many of my friends know only too well, I have read only one book by Jane Austen, and hated it with the burning passion of ten thousand suns. Mark Twain put it well: “I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” However, as much as I disliked Pride and Prejudice, I have to admit that it has one heck of a first line. It wryly pokes fun at the expectations of high society with its “truth universally acknowledged,” and also hints at the plot of the novel.

In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit.

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

All right, I admit it: I love this one mostly for sentimental reasons. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a great opening line. What is a hobbit? Why does it live in a hole in the ground? The following paragraphs elaborate with surprising information: the hobbit lives not in “a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole,” but in a neat, comfortable, luxurious home built inside a hill. This line is an intriguing set-up to a few really engaging paragraphs… assuming the reader doesn’t mind starting the story at a leisurely pace.

What is your favorite opening line in literature? Let us know in the comments!

416. About Storytelling: Coincidences Are Cheap

Coincidences are a terrible storytelling device.

Seriously. In storytelling, coincidences are nearly always lazy, cheap, and frustrating. A storyteller’s job is to tell a believable story, and few things are less believable than convenient twists of fate.

Coincidences are an easy way to keep a story moving or set up exciting events, but not a compelling one. A character stumbles upon an important path, clue, or MacGuffin by accident. Complete strangers end up sharing some implausible connection. By blind luck, a character overhears a conversation relevant to the plot. These plot devices are all pretty common in fiction, and also pretty lame.

Whether from desperation, inexperience, or laziness, storytellers resort to all kinds of cheap ploys. I’m as guilty as anyone. I’ve used more lousy coincidences in my stories than I care to admit.

What exactly are the problems with using coincidences in storytelling?

Well, since I asked….

Coincidences are cheap.

The major events in a story should be earned. They should be built up carefully; foreshadowing beforehand, or explanations afterward, can be helpful. Coincidences are an easy shortcut, and a cheap way to keep the story moving.

Coincidences damage the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

Suspension of disbelief is a fancy term for the acceptance of fictional events. If I suspend my disbelief in, say, talking animals, I can watch The Lion King without constantly saying, “Hey, that lion is talking. That isn’t realistic! Lions don’t talk. This is stupid.” Some degree of suspension of disbelief is necessary for nearly any kind of story.

Coincidences make it seriously hard to believe a story; they damage the suspension of disbelief. An audience might be able to swallow a fantastical tale of magic or spaceships, but a story with too many unexplained or convenient coincidences is too contrived to accept.

Coincidences are clichéd.

I already mentioned a few common categories of coincidences in fiction: the overheard conversation, the important thing discovered by accident, and the hidden connection between unrelated characters. You have probably seen some of these before. I know I have.

Coincidences should be avoided whenever possible, if only because they have already been done to death.

Sometimes coincidences are unavoidable, or the only alternative is something even more implausible. That’s fine. Minor or infrequent coincidences may stretch plausibility, but not destroy it. A story may even offer an explanation for apparent coincidences, such as a guiding hand behind the scenes. At the very least, lampshading (i.e. acknowledging) a coincidence can make it a little easier to swallow. Coincidences do happen, after all!

In conclusion, though a good story may include coincidences, it should never depend on them.

400. The Five Stages of Blogging, and Other TMTF Trivia

TMTF will be taking a three-week break, during which it shall republish old posts on its usual schedule. The blog shall return with new content on November 30!

Today we celebrate four hundred posts on TMTF with a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the Five Stages of Blogging.

These describe the creative process experienced by people who write blogs. (They are unrelated to the Kübler-Ross model and its five stages of grief.) Of course, some bloggers may experience more than five stages. Some may experience fewer. The stages may vary from person to person. After all, every blogger is unique!

In writing posts for this blog, I have experienced five distinct stages. The easiest posts took only one or two, whereas the most difficult ones demanded all five.

In this extra-long and extra-special blog post, we’ll take a quick look at the Five Stages of Blogging. (This post took me through all of them.) Then I’ll share a few bits of TMTF trivia before concluding with grateful acknowledgements and a couple of announcements.

Here we go!

Blogging Stage One: Optimism

Blogging Stage 1, OptimismI enjoy thinking of ideas for new blog posts. It’s the effortless part of blogging: the deceptively easy warm-up to sitting down and, y’know, actually writing something.

Blogging Stage Two: Annoyance

Blogging Stage 2, AnnoyanceAt some point, I struggle to translate the exciting ideas in my head to words on a computer screen. Ideas are elusive. They don’t like to be pinned down. Sometimes, when written down, ideas change and grow in alarming ways. This is sometimes an amazing thing to see—except that by “sometimes” I mean “roughly 0.086% of the time.” It’s usually just annoying.

Blogging Stage Three: Frustration

Blogging Stage 3, FrustrationAt some point, annoyance escalates to frustration. I scowl at my laptop, mutter under my breath, brew another pot of coffee, and wish I had chosen a better hobby than blogging. I could have been a cyclist or amateur voice actor, after all. TMTF was an awful idea. At any rate, whatever post I’m trying to write is clearly a stinker. I should really just give it up.

Blogging Stage Four: Depression

Blogging Stage 4, DepressionFrustration darkens to depression, anguish, and bitter regret.

“I just… I just wanted to have a blog, y’know? I didn’t ask for this. This is impossible. I’ve put so much time and stuff, y’know, into this post, this one flipping post, man, and it’s a mess. It’s such a mess.

“Even if I fix it, and I’m not sure I can, it’ll take hours. Hours wasted, man, for one flipping blog post. Then I’ll write another post, and another post, and another flipping post. It never ends. Nothing new under the sun. It’s like that poem, y’know, about the mariner and the albatross. ‘Day after day, day after day, we stuck, no breath nor motion, as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.’ I’m stuck, man. This blog is my albatross.”

Then I stare into my empty coffee cup, crying on the inside.

Blogging Stage Five: Talking to Plush Toys

Blogging Stage 5, Talking to Plush ToysI can’t afford counseling. Don’t judge me.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About TMTF (but Were Afraid to Ask)

Moving on, here are a few pieces of TMTF trivia in celebration of four hundred posts.

  • This blog was inspired by Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like. His blog used humor to say meaningful things about culture, religion, and side hugs. I wanted to do the same kind of thing as Acuff, but with less hugging and more coffee jokes. I also wanted to build an audience (or as the publishing biz calls it, a platform) for my novel. Although the novel bombed, TMTF has stuck around.
  • At first, I treated blogging the way I treated creative writing. I constantly fussed and tweaked and revised, going so far as to edit old posts long after their release. It took me time to realize that a blog isn’t really a work of art, but a journey. Blog posts are footsteps. They represent a writer’s changing experiences, moods, beliefs, and opinions. Instead of worrying about the past, a blogger should keep moving forward.
  • For every hundred posts on this blog—not counting Geeky Wednesdays and creative writing—I try to do something extra-special. The hundredth post coincided with the release of my ill-fated novel. For the two hundredth post, I collaborated with Kevin McCreary (video and podcast producer) on an EPIC RAP BATTLE. (I had never rapped before, and it was a learning experience.) The three hundredth post featured an original animation by Crowne Prince (self-described rogue animator and antagonist) in which I sought counseling from DRWolf (YouTube personality and literal wolf) for my blogging problems. (The good doctor was a much better counselor than any of my plush toys.) I had planned something more ambitious for today in celebration of four hundred posts, but as Robert Burns reminds us, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” (Translation: Stuff happens.)

I love collaborating with creative people!

  • The format of this blog has changed gradually over time. (I’m a bit obsessive-compulsive about it, actually.) In a recent experiment, I’ve put key points in bold type in an attempt to make this blog more accessible. The idea is to let readers skim through blog posts, reading only the bold text and getting abbreviated versions. I’m honestly not sure how well this is working, and I could really use some feedback. Does the bold text help? Is it annoying? Distracting? Let me know in the comments!
  • My jokes about typewriter monkeys, as well as the name Typewriter Monkey Task Force, began on September 10, 2010 in an email to my family. My monkeys quickly became a running joke. When I decided to start a blog, I settled on typewriter monkeys as a consistent motif. It’s nice to have someone to blame when things go wrong.
TMTF clean (paper)

My dad, God bless him, handles most of the original art for this blog—monkeys and all.

Grateful Acknowledgements and Obligatory Threats

Speaking of typewriter monkeys, I have a few words for my blogging assistants, who have just set fire to a corner of my desk. These words aren’t appropriate for this blog, however, so I’ll have to settle for threats: If you monkeys don’t start behaving and put out that fire right this instant, I will end your employment and donate you to the zoo. I mean it this time.

Besides my usual threats, I guess I owe my dirty dozen a reluctant thank-you. Here’s to you, Sophia, Socrates, Plato, Hera, Penelope, Aristotle, Apollo, Euripides, Icarus, Athena, Phoebe, and Aquila. Thanks for working on my blog. I love you guys. At any rate, I’m trying.

As always, I owe my readers many thanks for their support and encouragement. Thank you so much for reading, commenting, liking posts here or on Facebook, writing guest posts, taking part in Be Nice to Someone on the Internet Day, and generally being wonderful. I appreciate every one of you.

You are awesomeSpecial thanks to my parents for their support over the years. My dad deserves an extra round of thanks for all the kind emails and monkey pictures. Thank you, old man. Special thanks also to JK Riki for being the most thoughtful and supportive reader in the history of people who read things. Seriously, JK, thank you.

As always, as I write about Disney villains, chain mail bikinis, and other nonsense, soli Deo gloria—to God be glory.

What Next?

TMTF will be taking a three-week break, during which I will republish old posts on its usual schedule. The blog shall return with new content on November 30!

In other news, TMTF will sponsor a Christmas fundraiser this December for charity! I’m still working on the details, but it will be very similar to last year’s fundraiser, with donor rewards and whatnot. I’m open to suggestions for rewards and fundraising, so feel free to share ideas via Twitter or the Contact page. I’ll release more information about the Christmas fundraiser at the end of this month.

We’ll be back!

398. Five Tips for a Starting Blogger

Not long ago, I received a message from one of my readers. I suppose I’ll call him Socrates. He had recently started his own blog, and wanted to know if I could offer any advice.

I’m not an expert on blogging, but after four years of writing stuff and throwing it at the Internet, I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two.

I responded to Socrates with five tips for a starting blogger—well, to be perfectly honest, I responded with six. Here’s the last one: “Always be on the lookout for tips, tricks, ideas, hacks, and shortcuts.” As I wrote that final piece of advice, I thought, “You know, I could easily turn these tips into a blog post,” and here we are. I try to practice what I preach.

Here are five tips for people who are just starting their own blogs.

1. Figure out a publishing schedule that works for you, and stick to it.

When I started TMTF, I published three posts a week. That was too much. I eventually dialed it back to two posts a week, and later added the Geeky Wednesday feature as a quick and easy alternative to a third weekly post. It took me a while to figure out a publishing schedule for TMTF that I could actually keep.

If you decide to follow a strict publishing schedule, figure out one that you can keep, and then keep it. Readers appreciate consistency! If you publish whenever you feel like it—which is totally a valid way to run a blog, by the way—be transparent about your blog’s lack of a predictable schedule.

Either way, make sure your readers know what to expect, and make sure to deliver on whatever commitments you make.

2. Enjoy blogging for what it is, and don’t expect wild success or instant popularity.

I’ve been blogging for roughly four years, and TMTF still has quite a small audience. For a while, I felt discouraged because my blog hadn’t become as big or popular as others. This led me to ask myself some important questions: Why am I doing this? Is TMTF worth the effort I pour into it? Am I wasting my time?

In the end, of course, I decided my blog was worth keeping. TMTF is (usually) rewarding to write. It’s great writing practice. It has allowed me to keep in touch with old friends, and even to make new ones. This blog has also opened up some cool opportunities, including collaborations with all sorts of awesome people. At the very least, TMTF has given me a voice to share some of the things that matter to me.

TMTF hasn’t become popular or earned a big audience. From that perspective, my blog is a failure. However, from my perspective, my blog is a success.

If you’re serious about blogging, ask yourself why. Do you write your blog to develop your talents? To avoid boredom? To become popular? To share your passions? To meet people? Figure your purpose for your blog, and decide whether the time and effort of blogging are worth that purpose.

3. A community is worth so much more than a fandom, and people matter more than statistics.

When I started blogging, I hoped to earn fans. I’ve learned since that fans are overrated. A small community of people who really care is worth a huge following of half-interested fans. As nice as it is to see those blog stats rise, one nice comment or meaningful discussion means so much more.

4. Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.

I sometimes Like posts from other bloggers, and occasionally leave comments on other blogs. I’m not trying to manipulate anyone into returning the favor. I just know from long experience how encouraging those Likes and comments are to me, and want to pass on that encouragement to others. People appreciate a considerate reader, and it’s a great way to connect with other bloggers!

5. Reply to comments whenever possible.

When I started blogging, I made the colossal mistake of not responding to comments. I received so few that I had no good reason to ignore them, yet I ignored so many. At some point, I think certain readers assumed I didn’t care, and stopped commenting. I deeply regret not showing my appreciation for their comments by replying to them.

By responding to comments, a blogger shows that he cares about his readers. Not every single comment needs a reply, of course, but it’s often worth the few extra minutes it takes to write a response. Besides, that’s how discussions get started!

What’s your best blogging advice? Let us know in the comments!

379. Writing Tips from Gravity Falls

Today’s post was written by JK Riki: rogue writer, animator, and cool dude. For more great stuff from JK, check out his websites on creativity and animation, and find him on Twitter!

If you’re a regular reader here at TMTF, you know Mr. Stück is a big fan of the animated show Gravity Falls. His thoughts on the series are short and sweet, encouraging you to watch without mincing words. In case you need an extra push, though, today we’re going to take a longer look at what makes Gravity Falls so compelling (and some tips you might take away from the show).

Gravity Falls1. Gravity Falls knows where it’s going.

In an interview, GF creator Alex Hirsch talked about the process of creating the show. He explained, “We have a storyline. There is a broad storyline that we’ve come up with—a beginning, middle, and end.”

In today’s television, that is a rarity. Studios and networks are so keen to drag things out for as long as possible that they begin a story with mystery and intrigue, and have no clue where it will end up. If they do know where it might go, they put obstacles in the way for the sole purpose of extending the shelf-life of the series. If it gets renewed for an additional season, up pop more meaningless obstacles. If it does not, hopefully there was warning of the cancellation early enough to produce a reasonable final episode (but often not).

There needs to be a lot of wiggle room in writing. You can’t be so strict that you don’t allow characters to take things in new directions on a whim. That said, if you don’t have a vague idea where you’re headed, it can lead to a mess farther down the road.

2. Gravity Falls isn’t afraid to change.

Possibly because the show has a planned beginning, middle, and end, it isn’t afraid to change. The Simpsons, bless its heart, reverts to status ­quo at the end of almost every episode. Some episodes even make note of that fact for humor purposes. It’s not alone, either. A vast majority of shows have this sort of reset, especially in animation.

Gravity Falls bucks that trend by allowing progress to be made. Overarching mysteries unfold, and characters grow. One example of this (spoiler warning) is that the protagonist’s crush on a local girl actually plays out, instead of becoming a forced motif for the entire series. I was sad to see it go—I’m a sucker for secret crushes—but giving it closure improved the series.

Dipper and WendyIt’s important when writing a series to allow room for growth. It can be tricky, because some fans of early work will hate later stuff and pine (loudly) for “the good old days.” (This happens a lot in music with long-­running bands, too.) It’s still worth allowing for change to happen, because frankly that’s how life works, and you want there to be a foundation of truth in any creative work you do.

3. Gravity Falls is about characters.

In another interview, Mr. Hirsch mentioned, “Gravity Falls is a show about mysteries and magic, but first and foremost it’s a show about characters.”

The reason Gravity Falls is as charming as it is has very little to do with its marvelous story twists and hilarious jokes. It succeeds because the characters are true and compelling. They have soul and depth. They connect with each other, and the relationships feel solid and real.

Mabel and WaddlesIf you have one take­away from Gravity Falls as a creator, let it be this: Living, breathing, compelling characters will take you farther than any other writing device.

An audience will watch a compelling character do his laundry, but will quickly grow bored with a flat, one-note character even if they are piloting space ships in a fascinating alternate dimension. Do not skimp on knowing your characters; invest time in them, and you will be handsomely rewarded.

372. About Storytelling: Lampshading

How do you make something more obvious?

You put a lampshade on it, of course. Observe.


In fiction, there are sometimes implausible elements or plot holes that can’t be resolved by the author of the story. How can a storyteller respond to such a thing? That’s easy! The author can simply acknowledge the thing, whatever it is, and then move on.

Of course, this doesn’t fix the thing, but it reassures the audience that the storyteller is aware of it. By drawing attention to the thing—putting a lampshade on it, figuratively speaking—the author can dispense with it and get on with the story. This technique is called lampshade hanging or simply lampshading.

Lampshading is a great technique for writers because, sooner or later, most of us run into plot holes, clichés, or other issues we simply can’t fix. By lampshading those things, we don’t make them go away, but we at least make them easier to swallow.

This is such a notable technique that the logo of TV Tropes, a website that catalogs tricks and tropes used by storytellers, has a literal lampshade hung on it.

TVTropes logo

One of my favorite examples of lampshading comes from Monk, a television show about an obsessive-compulsive private detective. Many detective stories, including Monk, constantly kill off minor characters in order to give the detectives murders to solve. It really stretches the story’s credibility after a while. After all, in real life, people aren’t ingeniously murdered left and right as they are in detective stories.

In Monk, murders and mysteries abound. Everywhere the detective goes, people die. The show never explains this implausible fact, but one episode lampshades it hilariously. After yet another murder victim turns up, the show’s detective, Adrian Monk, has the following conversation with his assistant Natalie and a police officer, Captain Stottlemeyer.

Natalie: Everywhere you go, every time you turn around, somebody is killing somebody else.

Captain Stottlemeyer: That’s true.

Monk: What?

Captain Stottlemeyer: Well, there was the time you went on vacation, and then on the airplane.

Monk: These things happen.

Captain Stottlemeyer: Oh, and then that that stage play.

Monk: It happens.

Natalie: To you! Not to me, not to anybody else. It follows you around. You’re not just unlucky, it’s—it’s something else.

Monk: Bad karma?

Natalie: You’re like a magnet.

Captain Stottlemeyer: Bad karma.

Natalie: It’s like you’re causing it somehow. You’re the Prince of Darkness!

Captain Stottlemeyer: No, he’s not the Prince of Darkness. I’ve seen him vacuuming the ceiling. You wouldn’t see the Prince of Darkness doing that.

Natalie: No, I can picture the Prince of Darkness vacuuming the ceiling, to trick us. He’s very tricky.

Monk: Stop calling me the Prince of Darkness! That’s how rumors get started.

Monk’s tendency to show up wherever murders happen doesn’t make sense, and the show never explains it. By simply acknowledging it, however, the show makes this unbelievable fact a little easier to accept.

Another superb use of lampshading comes from Doctor Who, the enduring British series about a time-traveling wanderer-hero. This show practically wrote the book on lampshading. I can’t find the quote, but I remember one of the show’s writers stating that the plot holes in Doctor Who are explained by the time travel in the show and the resulting butterfly effect. That’s fifty years of plot holes lampshaded by a single statement. Most impressive.

My favorite example of lampshading from Doctor Who is the Tenth Doctor’s explanation of time travel, which posits that time is not a straight line of cause and effect, but “more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff.”

This isn’t an explanation. It’s a statement lampshading the fact that time travel in Doctor Who doesn’t really make sense. We should all just assume that time travel is too difficult for humans to comprehend, leave it in the clever hands of the Doctor, and dismiss any narrative inconsistencies with the words “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey.”

If you’re writing fiction, and you’re stuck in an unavoidable plot hole or cliché, consider acknowledging it and getting on with your story. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get this lampshade off my head.

368. Ten Steps to Being a Writer

I had planned to publish a longer post today, but unforeseen complications (read: typewriter monkeys) prevented me from writing one. Instead, here are ten essential steps to being a writer. (I originally shared them on Twitter some time ago.) I’ll do my best to publish a proper blog post next time. For now, dear reader, consider these steps, and write your way to success!

Step 1: Wear glasses. I’ve mastered this step.

Step 2: Acquire a computer, typewriter, pen, or Etch A Sketch pad.

Step 3: Obtain a comfortable chair. Nothing kills creativity like cramps.

Step 4: Write. This is the hardest step.

Step 5: Submit your writing, face rejections, weep, revise, repeat.

Step 6: Become dependent upon an addictive substance. Mine is coffee. (Disclaimer: Don’t really do this.)

Step 7: Be grateful to your readers. Don’t skip this step.

Step 8: Be jealous of better writers. If none are better than you, congratulations: You are P.G. Wodehouse.

Step 9: If you think your writing is never good enough, you’re probably doing it right.

Step 10: Profit. Unless you’re a religious writer, in which case: Prophet.

What are your best writing tips? Let us know in the comments!

364. Why Guest Posts Are Awesome

Update: This blog is finished, and no longer accepts guest posts. Thanks all the same!

As a blogger, I love guest posts and collaborations with creative people. In fact, over the years, I’ve pestered a number of people either to write posts for me or else to let me write posts for them.

Why is this? Well, hypothetical reader, I’m glad you asked. I’m not sure I’ve ever explained my love of creative collaborations, so here are six reasons why guest posts are awesome.

Guest posts offer a refreshing variety of styles and views.

My blog is written with a particular style from a specific perspective, and it probably gets old. Guest writers bring their own unique views, styles, and stories. As wise Uncle Iroh reminds us, “It is important to draw wisdom from many different places. If you take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale.”


Uncle Iroh is an inexhaustible fount of wisdom. He also makes great tea.

Guest posts can explore subjects I can’t.

Following up on the first point, I must acknowledge that my experiences and expertise are limited. Guest writers offer more than just changes of view and style. They can discuss subjects about which I know nothing.

For example, I am an introvert, and I once wrote about it. It was impossible for me to explore extroversion, the opposite characteristic, but another blogger graciously shared her thoughts on it. Readers were able to explore both sides of the subject, even though I was qualified to discuss only one.

Guest posts work to the mutual advantage of bloggers.

When I write a post for another blog, not only do I reach a new audience, but I share that blog with my own audience via social media. This often works both ways. When I share guest posts, I introduce my readers to new writers, and those writers sometimes introduce my blog to their own readers. Guest posts are a kind of creative symbiosis.

Creative collaboration is symbiotic, like clownfish and anemones. Wait, this is a terrible metaphor. Never mind.

Creative collaboration is symbiotic, like clownfish and sea anemones. Wait, did I just compare blogging to clownfish? What is wrong with me?

Guest posts are posts I don’t have to write.

What’s not to like about that?

Guest posts are a privilege for me to write and share.

I’m honored that guest writers have considered this blog worth their time, effort, and creativity. In the same way, I’m honored that other bloggers have allowed my ramblings to invade their quiet corners of the Internet. Whether I write ’em or share ’em, I consider guest posts a privilege.

Guest posts strengthen a sense of community.

Neil Gaiman once observed that “writing is, like death, a lonely business.” Guest posts are a welcome respite from the solitary grind of blogging. They bring bloggers out of isolation and into a larger community of writers and readers.

If you ever feel like tossing a guest post in my general direction, or want a guest post for your own blog, please feel free to let me know!

276. How to Leave the Land of Writing Wannabe

Today’s post was written by Barbara Brutt, writer extraordinaire. For more thoughts on writing, follow her on Twitter!

The Land of Wannabe, an intoxicating and whimsical place, is based on unrealistic expectations. Yet somehow, I got caught up there, forgetting my to-do lists and even general life necessities. I applied for citizenship, and I even designed my own castle.

But nothing ever actually happens in Writing Wannabe Land. I could never live there.

Ready to leave Wannabe Land behind, too? Here are some tips that might help you make the citizenship switch back to Reality.

1. Your castle in the sky needs a name

A typical little girl, I wanted to be a ballerina. I even studied ballet and gymnastics for thirteen years, yet I insisted, “I dance; I’m not a dancer.”

In the same way, I find myself saying, “I write; I’m not a writer,” though that is my adult passion. I have invested my own money into a writing coach, hours of time into writing, and years of college education into it.

Affirm your dream by calling yourself a writer, dancer, musician, or whatever you want to be.

2. Set attainable expectations

In the dance studio of my Wannabe Castle, a dancer could do a three-turn pirouette without wobbling, and a leaping split without stretching. Mortal me had more likelihood of face planting. Therefore, I could not be a dancer.

With writing, I stopped even before I really started. “You’re not published so you’re not a writer.” My inner demons might taunt me.

Yet it’s the action—the verb—that makes us become the noun. A dancer dances. A writer writes. A singer sings. Do your passion a little bit every day.

3. Make a plan and do it

Sky castles can become reality, but their construction requires torrents of sweat, heavy stones, and a vision for the finished design. Bridge the gap between Wannabe and Reality by practicing what you want to be now.

Every day, I try to write, lacing words together like colored glass beads on a silk thread. I burrow into borrowed writing books and use Google Alerts to scour the Internet for writing tips. Between writing and reading, I engage with other writers through critique groups. The dream of writing or dancing cannot replace fingertips on paper or smooth wood beneath bare feet. Imagine your castle and then build it into reality.

How do you make your writing or any dream manageable? Share your tricks in the comments below or tweet @barbarabrutt.