Writing Tip of the Week: Take the Brakes Off When Writing Your First Draft

When you sit down to write, do you find yourself self-censoring, second-guessing, or worrying about how a fictional group of people might view your work? Do these thoughts cause you anxiety, which creates a sense of creative paralysis that prevents you from writing, and instead, you run to your favorite streaming service to binge something safe and comforting?

It’s time to end this madness in 2023.

Let’s talk about it.

A Rough Draft is Your Playground

The initial draft of your work is for you and you alone. It’s your playground to develop and hone ideas for your story, which means this is a no-fear zone. It also means that you shouldn’t censor yourself, edit things you feel might offend a future reader, or fear what your third-grade teacher might think of you if they read something objectionable in your book.

This draft is your time to let it all out. Every crazy idea, line of dialogue, and over-the-top moment should be allowed to live in this space. You’re the only person who will see these things and the only person who knows what will work and not work once you begin editing and working on the next draft.  

Have fun with it without the fear of scrutiny, criticism, or being committed.

Don’t Write to Appease Others

I’ve noticed this trend in Hollywood, where studios attempt to pander or target a specific demographic based on what people on social media demand they include in a film or TV show. The result is a product that isn’t great because they have sacrificed creativity to appease a group of anonymous people.

You can’t rely on social media to guide how you write, what you write, or how you might be perceived by faceless Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram accounts. If you are working on a story that may have content that could offend others, then that’s the way it will be.

Attempting to make 8 billion people happy with your work is delusional. It will only result in your writing becoming neutered and mediocre. Don’t allow that to happen. You have a story you want to tell; tell it your way.

Don’t Just Silence Your Inner Critic, Bury It!

Your rough/first draft is your time to play, and really enjoy the creative process.  This is not the place to worry, overthink, or cast doubt about your material.  That irritating voice inside our heads that wants to destroy our creative mojo must be stopped at all costs.

Fight it.  Run from it.  Push through and keep writing when it creeps into your thoughts.  You can beat the inner critic by not letting it defeat you are you pound away at the keys or write your story down on paper.  Your inner critic is your toughest foe when it comes to your creativity.  Greater than any tweet, review, or feedback.

If you can fight against it and win, you can write more confidently.  Those projects your inner critic has been preventing you from starting or completing will finally get out on the page.  In turn, this will allow you to increase your productivity and output. 

Don’t be your own worst enemy in the battle for creative autonomy.  Fight back and make that inner critic wish they had never reared their ugly head!

Final Thoughts

Writing should be fun, and creating should be fun.  We should feel zero restraint when delving into a rough story draft and feel free to go as outrageous as we feel.  This also means being free to experiment with new ideas that may not make it past this stage but are worth exploring. 

We shouldn’t allow ourselves to fall prey to what social media dictates: good and bad content.  We should always follow our instincts about what works best for us and our story.  You can’t please everyone.

Finally, do everything you can to fight and destroy your inner critic.  It’s time for it to lose its control over you as a creative person. 

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: Don’t Let Creative Apathy Win

Over the past three years, we’ve dealt with one local or global crisis after the next.   The news and social media have inundated us with information 24/7, each new story presented as the worst thing in the history of anything ever.  With each passing minute, hour, day, and month, it becomes harder to stay focused and keep going with any level of energy or positive outlook.

At my workplace, stores, and even at my dentist, I’ve noticed a sense of apathy; just going through the motions, a resigned outlook and attitude toward everyday life and activities.  It’s pretty depressing.

The basic definition of apathy is a “lack of interest or concern: INDIFFERENCE,” and I understand why people feel this way.  There are so many things that we can’t control that we can’t fix that we can’t just change overnight.  It can be frustrating, and it can lead to a sense of hopelessness and – as mentioned above – apathy.

Creative people have a mission, and our mission is to entertain, enlighten, engage, and help people escape from their ordinary lives.  While others may fall prey to the temptations of apathy, we must strive to overcome this desire to disengage.  

We have to be the ones who fight back.

It can be a tough battle.  I, too, have succumbed to these apathetic demons.  And, why not?  It’s much easier to binge an entire YouTube channel’s content than develop a story for a new novel.

But I realized that creative people need to create.  In our private moments, when we feel the darkness closing in, we still desire to dig ourselves out of our apathetic doldrums and create something…anything…just to feel creatively alive and free.

When was the last time you wrote something creative?  Why has it been so long?  Can you think of the moment when you decided not to write or do something else creative? 

It’s easy to let the world get you down, and it’s easy for us to get trapped in the cycle of despair that news and social media love to perpetuate.  But I want to let you know that you can and should get back at it, get your mind actively creating again, and escape the apathy.

Take baby steps.

There’s a great book by Anne Lamont, Bird by Bird, and the title comes from a time when her brother had a report due the next day about various birds.  He was panicked, “immobilized by the task ahead.  Then [her] father sat down beside him, put his arm around [her] brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.’”

Sometimes, to rise out of our apathetic state and be creative again, we have to do what Lamont’s father suggested: “take it bird by bird.” One idea, one sentence, one paragraph at a time.  It may seem like a challenge after so long away, but once things start to click, you’ll be able to stay at it for longer than you thought.

Being creative is good for the mind, the soul, and you as a person.  Those TV shows, YouTube videos, and tragic news events will always be there waiting for you.  But for an hour or two each day, give yourself permission to live in your creative space and your own world.  

Apathy may be moving in, but working each day to evict it from your mind and your life will go a long way to getting you back on the creative track.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!


Apathy – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apathy

Lamont, Anne.  Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  Anchor Books.  1995.

Writing Tip of the Week: Silencing Negativity [Repost]

Let’s talk about negativity. Primarily, negativity when it comes to writing.  We oftentimes have a tendency to get mired in negative self-talk, especially when it comes to our own creativity.  Are we talented enough?  Will anyone want to read this?  What about the negativity swamp of social media or bad reviews? 

And these can often creep into our thoughts even before we’ve even started writing!  What a headache!

I sometimes do this when it comes to my writing.  I put a lot of unjust pressure on myself to write a pitch-perfect and flawless first draft. When you put that type of pressure on yourself, do you know what happens?  You don’t write.  You do anything else because what’s the point of writing if it’s not perfection?

Well, guess what?  I’m not perfect.  And the first draft of anything shouldn’t be expected to be perfection, either.  The best way to overcome the negative voice inside your head is to start writing and shut it up.  Keep this in mind: no one has to see that first draft.  You can present it to other eyes when you feel it’s ready.  Why do you care if it’s 100% perfect?  You’re going to fix it later, and you can’t re-write anything until you write it in the first place.

If you have the will and the desire to write and to tell stories to others than do it.  Even if you believe you aren’t skilled or talented in creative writing, practice can only improve your skills in the long run. Look at any published author’s work and know that at some point they probably were feeling exactly what you are now. And they worked through it, accomplished their goal, and kept on writing.  You can do that, too!

At the time of the writing, there are an estimated 7.7 billion people on the planet.  Even if only 1% of those people like your writing, that’s 7.7 million people.  And if you’re selling an eBook for $2.99 and get 70% of that, you would make $16 million dollars (before A LOT of taxes are taken out, of course)!  So, don’t worry about whether or not there’s an audience for what you write.  There are billions of people who crave good stories, great characters, and exciting dialogue.  Give those people a story to tell their friends about!

As for social media, we all know the pitfalls of that swampy underbelly of the world wide web.  It exists.  But just because someone doesn’t like what you wrote, that doesn’t mean that everyone does.  It’s a big world.  Think about it this way:  that one negative comment or review in the grand scope of the world’s population is equal to 0.00000000012987% of people who don’t like your writing. Seems pretty tiny when you look at it like that, doesn’t it? 

Remember that if someone doesn’t like your book, your poem, you video, etc, you are under no obligation to engage with them, and also know that a lot of people troll other people’s creative works because they get a rise out of it.  I’ve seen downvotes on YouTube videos about puppies! How is that even possible???!!

So, take a deep breath, exhale, and let the creativity flow in and the negativity flow out.  You have the idea, now make it a reality. 

You can do this.

Are You Holding Back in Your Writing Because of Social Media?

In a world where people seem to be offended by anything and everything, it can be a daunting task for a creative person to navigate the choppy waters of what will and won’t evoke controversy hour-by-hour.  No matter the topic, it seems like someone can find a way to twist it into their own meaning pretzel with plenty of negative connotations.  And when the world seems to be backfilling with these types of oftentimes innocuous offenses, many creative types may be afraid to truly express themselves.

The solution: Don’t allow hashtags and comments on social media to dictate what you want to express in your story.  If you have an idea for something a character does or says, then you start to think about how Twitter or Facebook of Reddit will react, the trolls have won even before you’ve expressed yourself.

You can’t let that happen.

You have a story to tell.  And you cannot let anonymous people online dictate what you want to say in your story.  You just can’t allow that type of false pressure to squelch your creativity.  Even before the internet there were people who hated and were offended by things they read or saw.  Just because those people have a larger more vocal platform now doesn’t mean you should allow them to get into your head and beat down your ideas.

Maybe your story has controversial elements or themes.  Maybe you explore domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, or other hot button topics.  Maybe you have a character who is a racist or sexist; who uses language that you wouldn’t use but they do.  As a creative person, you need to do what’s best for your project.  If it evokes anger, offense, or hashtags against you and your work, so be it. 

Hey, you can’t please everyone.

And that’s the main thing you have to remember.  More people when they dislike something are likely to comment on it than those who like or enjoy something.  And what is odd is that usually when reviews or comments are negative, people tend to want to find out the truth for themselves instead of just going off of what some person has posted online.

And example: Joker.  Here’s a recent film that was maligned in the press, by many critics, by people online, and other groups for weeks prior to its release.  The star and director were hounded with questions about the film’s violent content, the red carpet premiere did not allow the press to ask questions, and the fear of the film spawning violence led to the U.S. military issuing a warning, and some theaters adding extra security.

All pretty negative things against the movie, and yet it was the highest grossing film for an October release and is set to break other R-rated film box office records.  There’s also Oscar buzz around Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Joker. 

The filmmakers didn’t hold back.  They didn’t listen to the critics and edit the film down to a safe PG-13.  They stuck to their vision of the film and released it as is.  And the results were effective and the negative outcry probably had a positive outcome for the film overall.

Joker is the perfect example of how as creative individuals we need to do what’s best for our story.  We need to tell the story we want to tell.  Tell the story you want to tell without the fear of social media backlash churning in the back of your mind. 

Tell your story.  Not theirs.

Do you find yourself editing and toning elements of your story down due to fear of what may be said about you or your story on social media?  Leave a comment and let me know.

My Publicity Experience – Part One

Publicity and marketing. All of us know something about those topics.  We are inundated by marketing and publicity campaigns for upcoming movies and TV series on billboards, bus stops, and buildings.  Not to mention YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and traditional media like TV and radio.  This multi-million-dollar campaigns are a huge gamble for studios and production companies hoping that you and I will see these ads and be enticed to go and see or tune into watch the product being advertised.  And, for the most part, it works.

But what if you just wrote your first novel and don’t have millions to spend on publicity?

Well, that’s the position I found myself in with my novel, The Field.  I had a published novel in both eBook and paperback form but no way to market it to the young adult audience it was intended for.  This was a big problem. 

I had made the investment into getting the book out for purchase, but I had no real way to make people aware on a large scale that book existed.  Yes, I was on Twitter and had created a website for the book, but I was only reaching friends, family, and co-workers. 

I knew what I had to do.

Now, there are videos and blogs about how to market your novel for free, and I commend those who do that.  I think if you can successfully sell your book and get the word out inexpensively that’s a great plus for you in the long run.  The problem I faced was unlike marketing to adults, my target audiences was teens thirteen and up.  I don’t know anyone in that age group, so I had to outsource my marketing to people who could reach them.

Enter Smith Publicity.

I mentioned them in a previous post where they made me realize that I had initially pretty much done all the wrong things when I thought about publishing my book (not on social media, no hard copy of the book, and no Author Photo).  All of those things were fixable on my end, but I inquired about using their services to get the word out about my book.

After careful consideration, I decided on one of their plans, and in the next post I will talk about what happened the initial week of my team-up with Smith Publicity. 

The Field – From Word Doc to Paperback, Part Five

With Book Baby, you can sign up for a marketing consultation with Smith Publicity, which is exactly what I did.  Having a Young Adult novel to sell is great, but you need to get people – especially young people – interested and buying the book. I had two one-hour consultation and I learned a whole heck-of-a-lot!  A few of the key takeaways were:

  • You need to have a social media presence;
  • You need to have an Author Photo;
  • You should have hard copies of your book to send out for potential reviews and interviews.

Well, guess what?  I didn’t have any of these!  Like I said in the first post of this series, I had run away from social media in 2016, so I had no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, none of it (I didn’t have a dating profile up!).  I knew that it was time to extricate myself from the wilderness and rejoin the masses on social media.  Well, at least one platform: Twitter (@thefieldya).

I also had no really good, current pics of myself to use for my website or profiles.  Luckily, I knew a co-worker who was a photographer and I asked him if he could take some photos of me for my Author Photo.  After I offered him money, he said yes (I’m kidding, he would have done it for free…but I’m sure the cash didn’t hurt).  We took a whole bunch of photos and by a vote of my co-workers, we landed on this one as my official Author Photo:

Ian Dawson_Author Photo
Photo Credit: (c) Andrew Ramirez

The biggest hurdle was the lack of paperback books to send out.  I knew it was a good idea for a number of reasons: a lot of kids don’t have access to tablets and phones 24/7; many of my co-workers wanted paperbacks instead of the eBook; a lot of my relatives didn’t have tablets or phones to read the book on and would prefer a hard copy.  Hm. There seemed to be a demand for paperbacks, something I had not realized.

It was time to go back to Book Baby for another project. How did it go?  Come by tomorrow to find out!

The Field – From Word Doc to Paperback, Part One

The manuscript for my novel, The Field, sat in a file on my computer for years before I decided to make the move to get it published. Sure, it was ready to go, but I would occasionally open the Word doc and tweak little things every once in a while. However, I knew it was done when the ideas I had late at night for lines of dialogue or sequences to include were already in the book.  I knew then that it was time to take the next step into publishing the novel.

But I was afraid.  I’ll admit it.  I was terrified of having to deal with trolls on social media after releasing The Field to the public.  I had already left Facebook and Instagram back in 2016 during the election cycle, so I was overly cautious about jumping back into the social media fray as an author.

And so, I waited…and waited…and made excuses…and waited.

And then one day, as I was getting my haircut, the woman who cuts my hair asked me for the 100th time how my novel was coming along and why I hadn’t published it yet.  I finally told her why: I was afraid of what the response would be on social media.  She looked at me in the mirror and said, “F**k those trolls! Publish your damn book!” Since she had clippers next to my head I agreed that it was time.

And she was 100% right.  It was time to publish the book.

That weekend, I went home and started to do research on how to self-publish.  Previous to this, I had sent out query letters the traditional way years prior to no avail.  I knew that eBooks were popular – I certainly have a Kindle full of them – so I decided to publish my novel initially as an eBook.

And so the process began, and tomorrow I will tell you what steps I took to take The Field from computer file to published novel.