Can You Really Call It Writer’s Block If You Don’t Know What the &*%$ You’re Writing?

I’m a riffer. I like to riff. I like to sit down at my keyboard and just kind of freestyle, and write what comes to me in the moment.

Then I read what I wrote. And a lot of the time, I hate it.

Riffing can be fun. It can be easy. I’m actually riffing right now – I had the idea for this post while eating a bowl of special k and got so excited I dropped my spoon. I swear. And I ran to my office and I started writing, and, hey, so far so good, right?

But then there are those other times. Those times when I sit down and start writing, and suddenly, I forget what the &%$@ I was trying to say. So I look at what I’ve already written, hoping it will provide some sort of clue, and it all sounds like a bunch of nonsense, or self-indulgent crap, or insert-your-own-insult here.

And I find myself totally and completely blocked.

Now, as a lot of you already know, there’s a thing I do when I get writer’s block, and it generally works pretty well. I even made it into a special, FREEwriter's blockstops here. (3) guide you can download HERE and use yourself.

However. As great as the guide is – and it is super, super great – it isn’t completely foolproof.

Because it doesn’t work if you don’t really know what you’re writing about.

A few weeks ago, I tried to write a blog post that was basically along the lines of, “Can you really call it writer’s block if you don’t even know what you’re writing?”

And I got blocked. So I never finished it.

(Until now, I guess…)

So now we’ve at least identified the problem. But what can you actually do to break through writer’s block when the normal stuff won’t work?

I know what I will do next time – because that’s what I figured this out in the middle of a bite of Special K.

The next time I get writer’s block when I don’t know what the bleep I’m writing, I will…

…Write an Outline.

To be honest, I’m kind of shocked I didn’t come up with this sooner. My primary job, besides writing stuff about writer’s block, is writing books and – and here’s the important part – coaching people through writing their own books. And when I coach people, the number one thing I tell them to do, before they start thinking about titles or designing covers, is to WRITE AN OUTLINE!!!!!

Why?  Because an outline is like a map that keeps them from getting lost. If they ever feel like they don’t know what to write next, all they have to do is look at the outline and it should be right there.

So.  Wouldn’t the same principle hold true with something smaller? Like, say, a blog post about writer’s block???

I’m about to finish this piece. So that proves that it did. And I’m betting it will work for you too.

(But if it doesn’t, let me know – I may be able to help.)

How do Professional Writers deal with Writer’s Block?

as of noon today,i will no longer bea

I’ve said before that, when your job is writing, writer’s block is pretty much an occupational hazard. Spending hours making up stuff every day, day after day just about guarantees that at some point, your brain is gonna check out and say, “we’re done here.”

And if it happens to the pros, it probably happens to you. So what can you do about it?

The playwright and essayist Paul Rudnick, who I think is hilarious and brilliant, is famous for saying, “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It’s a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write.”

That sounds about right.

Anne Tyler, who wrote The Accidental Tourist and lots of other great books, struggles so much with writer’s block that sometimes she has to force herself to work. “The one ironclad rule is that I have to try. I have to walk into my writing room and pick up my pen every weekday morning.”  Why? Because she also said, “If I waited till I felt like writing, I’d never write at all.”

In fact, some of the best writers in history have used tricks and little motivational phrases to basically force themselves do their jobs. Norman Mailer told himself, “Being a real writer means being able to do the work on a bad day.” James Thurber’s mantra was “Don’t get it right, just get it written” (which is so pithy and clever it probably took him a whole day to come up with it). And William Faulkner advised, “Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”

That one I know from personal experience.

I’ve followed just about all of that advice and tons more over the years. Eventually, I combined the best stuff – the stuff that worked for me – into a just-about-foolproof plan to beat writers block. And right now, I’m sharing those tips in a little guide I wrote called, oddly enough, The Positively True Actual Professional Writer’s Guide to Beating Writer’s Block. You can download it for FREE HERE! – it’s quick and simple and, best of all, it actually works.

I hope you’ll check it out. After all, as Mark Twain said, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”

Ignore your English Teacher!

Love you writing.  Really engaging.Very

The other day, my husband, AKA Ghostwriter Joel, got kind of an unpleasant shock – in the form of a client’s corrections on a manuscript he ghostwrote. This client happens to be blind, and the book is about his adventures as the first blind person to kayak the Grand Canyon solo, among other things. Since he can’t see, he wasn’t exactly comfortable being the only person to proofread the book. So he had his high school English teacher do it.

That’s where the fun started.

Joel opened the file and saw the entire manuscript was marked up, from start to finish. Seriously, she might as well have taken a red pen to the whole thing. It was covered with the kind of comments you’d expect to find on a 9th grade term paper on The Scarlet Letter — every time Joel wrote the word “yeah,” she changed it to “yes.” Slang expressions were converted to proper English. And on every other page, there was a comment amounting to something like, “This should be more formal.”

Now Joel has been writing professionally for so long I probably shouldn’t even say. So as you can imagine, seeing his worked ripped to shreds like that was more than a little insulting.

His ego, however, wasn’t the problem.

The problem was that English teachers don’t know anything about writing.

I should clarify that. There are some English teachers who probably write beautifully, and who understand that language is a living, breathing thing that is constantly evolving and changing.

But there are also English teachers who believe that writing has to follow the rules. This teacher was one of those.

The thing is, in real life, most of us don’t communicate according to the rules of proper grammar.  Everyone has their own, unique way of saying things. We use slang, we use colloquialisms, we put words together in ways you won’t find in any style guide. And because of that, our words do more than give us the facts – they tell people where we come from, where we fit in, how we see ourselves, and who we are. They bring our personalities to life.

That would be completely lost if we wrote the way our English teachers told us to.

Imagine how boring it would be if everyone wrote their books and articles and web copy the exact same way they wrote that term paper on The Scarlet Letter. Of course the content would be unique, but the voice, the tone, everything else would be the same. It would be almost like everything in the world was written by one person. (A person who was, very likely, an English teacher.)

That’s part of the reason why, when Joel and I ghostwrite, the biggest thing we focus on are those little language quirks – those unique turns of phrase that are specific to the person whose story we’re telling. Of course we add and embellish and exaggerate a little, because the idea is to showcase their personalities and how unique they are.

Not to pass a standardized test.

Now, I’m not saying you should throw all the rules out the window. Spellcheck is still your best friend. Using an ‘s to make a word plural is always a no-no. And please, I’m begging you, learn the difference between your and you’re.

But the next time you write something, maybe try loosening up a little and using some of the same language you use when you talk. Ask yourself, “Would I say that in real life?” and if the answer is “Hell no!” change it to something you would say.

Just don’t show your English teacher.

on losing my mentor…

on losing my mentor...

My first mentor died last week.

Not that he ever knew he was my mentor.  Okay, he didn’t actually know I existed.  But that didn’t stop him from, basically, making me the person I am today.

Because Stan Freberg taught me that there’s nothing better than making people laugh.  Primarily in 30-second intervals.

Freberg was 88 when he died – old enough where a lot of you probably don’t recognize his name.  Or you might…he was a humorist, and he did a lot of cartoon voices, as well as a lot of other entertainment industry-type things.  But to kids like me, who grew up in front of the TV in the ‘70s, Stan Freberg is the guy who transformed the lowly, 30-second commercial from that thing that interrupted whatever crazy-ass hijinks were going on during The Beverly Hillbillies into the highest form of comedic art.

Or at least, more comedic and more artful than The Beverly Hillbillies.

Unlike most so-called “creatives” at the time, Freberg took the term seriously.  He thought there might be a better way to get you to buy a product than to endlessly repeat an annoying slogan like “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin” until you wanted to channel Elvis, grab a gun and blow a hole through your TV screen.

Instead, he thought commercials should actually be — you know — entertaining.  He went for the big laugh instead of the hard sell.  He was over the top, in your face wacky.  He even got celebrities to help out, convincing the most unlikely personalities, from sci-fi author Ray Bradbury to TV’s Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore, to appear as themselves in spots that had basically nothing to do with the products they were hawking.  When they were over, you didn’t know you were being sold anything.  Because you were too busy laughing.

Which is probably why Ad Age dubbed Freberg “The Father of the Funny Commercial.”

And also why I grew up with a serious obsession with advertising – especially TV ads.  And they didn’t even have to be funny!  I was that kid who would recite a Preparation H commercial, verbatim, to anyone who would listen (whether they wanted to or not).  I had favorite jingles as opposed to favorite songs.  And after the glorious Christmas when Santa managed to squeeze a Panasonic portable cassette recorder into my stocking, I spent hours holed up in my bedroom, recording dozens of spots for my own, made-up products.

I guess no one was surprised when I ended up a copywriter.

But even today, more than twenty-five years into a writing career that has taken me on a long, twisty path from advertising to marketing to ghostwriting to coaching and even a little screenwriting, there’s still that little piece of Stan in me.  I still love nothing more than making people – and, okay, myself too — laugh.  I know it’s not rocket science, or curing cancer, or even writing the Great American Novel.  But it’s still pretty cool.

Check out this little piece of Stan Freberg greatness – possibly my all-time favorite – and maybe you’ll agree with me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qf2j-YzZRAA

RIP Stan.  And thanks.

What “The Baby From Hell” Taught Me About Writing…

Write about what you’ve experienced and

We called our son David the Baby from Hell.

He cried like 23 hours a day, never slept, refused to touch solid food, and did all of this till he was at least 10 months old (when he walked and everything was suddenly, miraculously fine).

He was my first, which made it especially hard – basically I thought he just hated me, or that I was the worst mother who ever walked the earth.  I wanted so desperately to know that I wasn’t alone.  That there was some other baby out there like David.  And, of course, that it wasn’t all my fault…

But there was nothing out there.  I read like every book and article ever written about difficult babies, but in all that oh-so-helpful parenting material, there was nothing that spoke to me and what I was going through.  Which made me feel even more like what was happening to me was so bizarre and not normal, it had never, ever happened to anyone else.

Which meant it probably was my fault.

Either that, or Dave was actually possessed…

Back then, I used to think about writing about my experience.  I even had super-brilliant title for the book-I-never-wrote – What NOT to Expect When You’re Expecting.  But I didn’t have the confidence to pursue it.  I felt like whatever I wrote wouldn’t be that important, or helpful.

Plus I was usually operating on like 45 minutes of sleep.

So whoever else out there was going through what I was going through was in the same boat that I was.  If they wanted some confirmation that they weren’t alone, they were basically s*** outta luck.

At least, until someone had the ladyballs to do what I didn’t.

So…my point…pretty obviously…is…don’t be like me.  Or like the old me.

Whatever horrible, terrible thing you’re going through, if you feel totally alone, and like you might be some kind of freak of nature, and you can’t find anyone who can speak to your experience, maybe that’s a sign that that person…needs to be you.  Maybe you need to be the one to take that deep breath and reach out.  Because if you write about what you’ve experienced and share it with the world, there’s bound to be someone out there who is desperate to know that it’s going to be okay.

And if she’s anything like I was, she (or he) will be eternally grateful.

What can Writing a Book Do for Me?

What can writing a book do for me- A couple of weeks ago, I introduced you to one of my favorite clients, an incredibly cool woman named Chelsea Berler, the founder and CEO of boutique marketing shop Solamar Agency.  Together, we explained how I was able to capture her voice when I ghostwrote her book, The Curious One.   You can check out that article here… http://thehipblog.com/2015/03/04/how-can-a-ghostwriter-capture-my-unique-voice/ But there’s a bigger story about Chelsea and her book – and that’s what happened after the book was finished. Let me backtrack.  One of the big questions I get from people who are considering writing a book is, “What can a book do for me?”  They wonder if having a book with their name on it will make any sort of measurable difference in their life or their business.  If all the time and effort and expense will really be worth it.  And, of course, if anyone will actually read it. Well, in Chelsea’s case, the answer to all three of those questions has been an unqualified YES!!!!! chelsea cover  Chelsea’s book — “The Curious One”  LISA:    When you decided to write your book, did you think anyone would read it? CHELSEA:  I was worried it wouldn’t sell at all.  Not because it wasn’t good, but because who would want to hear my story? LISA:    But you went ahead and created a marketing plan anyway, right?  What did you do? CHELSEA:       It included pushing traffic to a sales page with a professional video. We also did social media and reached out to some media outlets.  Later, when I started getting more inquiries, I worked with a PR company. LISA:    And those media outlets – they reached back, didn’t they? CHELSEA:       Yes! It was lots of local stuff first – I think the first interview I did was for a magazine called Shelby Living.  And then Maria Shriver started popping up, and the names just got bigger and bigger and bigger. LISA:    What are some of those names? CHELSEA:       Let’s see – there’s The Huffington Post, Inc., Sirius XM Radio, Blogtalk Radio, Women 2.0, Mind Body Green, Entrepreneur, ABC 33/40, The Bismarck Tribune, Under 30 CEO, Hoovers…and that’s just off the top of my head. LISA:    Had you done any professional speaking before the book? CHELSEA:       Very little. LISA:    And now? CHELSEA:       The book helped me develop a platform for speaking – that was huge-o-rama!  I speak or I’m interviewed weekly now, and it’s not easing or stopping.  Bigger things keep landing in my lap. LISA:   So…what would you say being an author has meant to you? CHELSEA:       It’s completely and totally changed everything.  But the best part has been being recognized for a story about me. I really wasn’t sure how it would pan out overall. I wasn’t even sure I’d sell books — boy was I wrong! Now that my complete story is out there, I’m finally able to stop “proving” myself and just be me.  And the beauty of it is that it’s resulted in so much respect, recognition, and love. LISA:    Thanks so much Chelsea – I know that all that respect, recognition and love has definitely been earned…because you and your story are amazing! If you’re ready for some respect, recognition and love of your own, a book might be the missing piece to help you get there.  And if you’re thinking about hiring a ghostwriter to help, well…that’s what I do!  You can find out more about me at www.gethipcreative.com.  I also work one-on-one with people coaching them through the process of writing their own books – you can get more info about that at www.copycoachlisa.com. Chelsea’s book, The Curious One, is available on Amazon and on her own website, www.mostlychelsea.com.

copy coach lisa canfield

“How can a ghostwriter capture my unique voice?”

how can a  ghostwriter capture my unique voice

As a ghostwriter, one of the Big Questions I get from prospective clients is how I can possibly write a book that sounds like them.  Most people – not all, but most! – don’t want to hire a ghostwriter and end up with a book that reads like somebody else wrote it, even if it’s good.  So how do I make sure that I’m able to “channel” my clients’ voices, so their book not only sounds like them, but actually comes directly from them?

The best way I can explain the process is to introduce you to an amazing woman and client of mine, the lovely Chelsea Berler.

Chelsea is the founder and CEO of Solamar Agency, a super-creative boutique marketing shop that serves businesses all over the country.  And she’s only 30.

Like I said, amazing.

A little over a year ago, Chelsea and I completed the manuscript for The Curious One, the inspiring story of how she went from a painful childhood marked by poverty and loss to love, happiness and success as the CEO of her own company.  The book has turned her into something of a media sensation, especially in Birmingham, Alabama, where Solamar is headquartered.  Which is a little ironic, since initially, Chelsea wondered if anyone would want to hear her story at all…

chelsea coverChelsea’s book cover — beautiful, no?

LISA:    Why did you decide to write a book?

CHELSEA:       Honestly?  Because a good friend who is also a business coach told me to!  But I also wanted to reach people.  I wanted people like me, who maybe don’t fit in the usual boxes, to know they’re not alone.

LISA:    And why did you decide to work with a ghostwriter?

CHELSEA:       I feel like my writing lacks polish, and knew I needed someone to guide me through the process of telling the story and make sure it was clear and easy for readers to relate to and understand.  But I was also worried that a ghostwriter wouldn’t sound like me, and that the story wouldn’t end up being my story.

LISA:    And is that what happened?

CHELSEA:       No!

LISA:    I remember that first, you told me your story over the phone, and I recorded it so I could get a sense of how you expressed yourself in words.  After that I sent you fairly detailed questions to answer for each chapter – you answered them in writing, and I pulled a lot of the writing directly from those answers.  I was able to use a lot of what you wrote and just embellish it.

CHELSEA:       It’s true.  I was surprised how much of the book came out in my actual words.

LISA:    Was the process fun?

CHELSEA:       Because my story was a little bit difficult, I found it to be kind of a sad process for me. But that was just me kind of grieving and experiencing things over because I had to talk about ‘em.  In the end, it was super therapeutic and there were a lot of fun parts.

LISA:    How did you feel about the results?

CHELSEA:       I read the book several times after it was done and I just couldn’t believe it was my story. It was so well-written.

LISA:    Do you have any advice for someone who’s thinking about writing a book?

CHELSEA:       Everyone has a book in them – some a little more special than others.  It will change your life, it will impact others, it will be one of the biggest accomplishments you’ll ever do.  But I’m not going to lie, you need to invest time and money into it to do it right. Just think of it this way – if this is the only book you’ll ever write in your entire life, don’t cheap out. Do it full out. You’ll be more proud of it because of that.

LISA:    Thanks so much Chelsea – your book was one of my favorite experiences ever, and I’m so excited about your success with it.  But that’s a story for another blog post…

The method I used with Chelsea isn’t the method I use with everyone – every client has their own “best way” of telling their story, and my job is to help them find it and then capture it on the page.

If there’s a story inside you that’s waiting to get out, and you’re thinking about hiring a ghostwriter to help you tell it, you can find out more about me at www.gethipcreative.com.

Chelsea’s book, The Curious One, is available on Amazon and on her own website, www.mostlychelsea.com.