The Prolific Writer

The Rick Rayburn Chronicles Book 2 Live!

Ricky Rayburn is at it again!

Hey, friends and family!

I've come out of the writing cave and finally finished Mysterious Pirates of the Pacific. 

If you've been following along, my sons and I, wrote two kid's action adventure books end of last year. Secrets of the Ambassadors launched July 1, and now Book 2 is back from the editors, designers, and magical book ferries.

We are proud of how this story came out, and of course, we love the last one too!

If you have children, grandchildren, friends, family, ages 7-12, check it out. We wrote the book for kid's who might be "reluctant readers." These books move fast, are funny, and filled with action and mystery. 

Who doesn't like that?

On sale for $0.99. We will have print versions available in about a week. Stay tuned!

Thanks for following along!


Neil Gaiman on One Tried and True Method for Writing Anything

Most writers are in constant search for ways to make the creative process easier. Let’s expand our scope and say: most people working a job, creating art, or making anything, are trying to find tricks, tips, or hacks, to be more productive, share our work, and have an impact in the world.

But is our searching in vain?

Nothing wrong with wanting to get more words on the page. Maybe you need to Pomodoro Technique that mug, use a standing desk, dictate, write long hand with pencil and paper, use a computer dedicated to writing only, laptop, desktop, write in the morning, night, afternoon, when the kid’s finally move out, write standing up, or sitting down, with or without clothes, or drink owl tears and say a prayer to the Muse.

Is our searching for a more satisfying writing and creative life found in the latest outlining method? No, let’s wing it, and discover the story as we go.

The day job. Working for the man is holding me back from launching my creative productivity into the stratosphere.

What are we looking for? Is our search for the latest writing hack, trick, or tip, only resistance? A way to sabotage our writing life and make excuses for why our novel is not done.

Hack it up… No problem

Hear this with a caveat. I’m all for writing and creativity hacks and tricks and tips. I write about them, use them, and will continue to be a constant learner, for a more productive and consistent working and writing life.

But when I get honest with myself. I use the constant pursuit of writing hacks to avoid writing. Thinking maybe the next book on craft, online course, and YouTube video on writing 5000 words a second, will unlock the mystery of creativity.

Instead of more words on the page, I’ve opened the door for more resistance, and allowed her to strangle me, punch me in the face, slice my eyelids with razor blades, and pour lemon juice on the wounds. Too much? But you get the point.

Writing comes down to one thing.

Let Neil Gaiman explain what it is:

“You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.”

(source: https://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/neil-gaiman)

The One Thing

Find the next word. No special elixirs or potions for becoming a prolific writer. No special software or writing utensils. The tried and true method for writing anything is to find the next word.

Next word, repeat, repeat, and repeat.

Gaiman goes on:

“A dry-stone wall is a lovely thing when you see it bordering a field in the middle of nowhere but becomes more impressive when you realise that it was built without mortar, that the builder needed to choose each interlocking stone and fit it in. Writing is like building a wall. It’s a continual search for the word that will fit in the text, in your mind, on the page. Plot and character and metaphor and style, all these become secondary to the words. The wall-builder erects her wall one rock at a time until she reaches the far end of the field. If she doesn’t build it it won’t be there. So she looks down at her pile of rocks, picks the one that looks like it will best suit her purpose, and puts it in.”

(source: https://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/neil-gaiman)

Writing doesn’t require the use of brick and mortar. But it requires the tools of the next word. One after the other, no not this one, but that one.

One word leads to a sentence, add a couple of these together and you get a paragraph, keep on adding the bricks of paragraphs, and a chapter emerges.Eventually, if you’re lucky, an entire book, article, story, or project comes to life, for the world to enjoy.

In the grind of writing and creating stuff that matters. We have to die to the things that are sideways energy.

Let’s stop obsessing over whether our current situation allows for the creative work we’d like to pursue. Or whether I’ve nailed down dictation for bringing up my word count. Will people like the thing I’m making?

Amateurs versus Pros

Amateurs believe what’s lacking in their writing life are the right tools and opportunities.

The pros and prolific writers among us know the real secret. The tried and true secrets of the craft. And it has nothing to do with tools, opportunity, hacks, or formulas.

The tried and true method for writing anything is brick by brick, and word by word.

Real writers, write. Plain and simple.

What are you going to build today?

Writer Beware of the Gollum Factor

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In November 2017, I joined a bunch of crazies who write rough draft novels in a month. Maybe you’ve heard of it, National Novel Writing Month.

With the help of my oldest son (the idea guy), NaNoWriMo 2017, would be the year for kid’s books. Not one, but two shorter middle grade action adventure books.

Crazy? Why, yes.

Thirty days later of blood, sweat, and tears… we did it. We wrote not one, but two rough drafts of our kid’s novels.

Enter early 2018, the hard work of cleaning up plot holes, fixing obvious spelling, grammar, and unclear sections of the book. A polish here, rewrite there.

Sent the book off to a couple editors and proofreaders. Found an illustrator to make line drawings. And employed a cover design, formatted for ebook and print, and hit publish (obviously there’s more to it, but you get the gist).

But now what? The euphoria of the creative process dimming like the setting sun. No more wondering if the book will ever see the light of day. It’s out, no do-overs.

What if people like it? What if they hate it? And the writer police arrest you and throw away the key.

All the hours of spilling your guts on the page and wondering if you’ll ever see the finish line. In the process of creation you fall in love with the characters, ideas, and in some strange way never want the feeling to end.

Maybe it’s fear, resistance, or the self-doubt of wasting hours on something that will not cure cancer.

Beware of the Gollum Factor

The post-creation hangover is what I call the Gollum Factor. Every writer, creator, designer, artist, or human who makes anything, feels this repeatedly.

You know Gollum, right? The creepy gremlin looking creature in the Lord of the Rings who says: “Oh, my precious…”

Gollum is how I think about our books, art, and projects. We labor for days, weeks, and sometimes years on something. We share it with the world. Sometimes to great applause and other times with a thud.

But instead of moving on, making the next thing, we live in the past and continue to pet, caress, and obsess over Our Precious.

It’s not a bad thing to be proud of the stuff we make. But when our art, book, or project becomes too precious, we have problems. Instead of making the next thing, we talk about the old thing. We sound like the old guy in the bar reminiscing about the state championship in football. Move on, already.

I see this in many areas of life. Politicians trying to create a future, based on a mythical past. The church stuck in the past and wanting to hold on to the good old days, whatever that means. A couple who talk about when their relationship was thriving, but never invest in today. The business using the same marketing tactics of the 50’s, with little to no results. My Precious… Our Precious…

When the Gollum Factor is alive and well, instead of letting go, moving on; we freeze. Instead of climbing the next hill, trying something new, pushing ourselves to make something better than the last, we pet, caress, and talk about Our Precious.

Hard Hats Required for Defeating Gollum

I live by a simple phrase for creation: Hard Hat Creative. It makes the process of creating less mystical, and more practical. Instead of treating every book, article, or talk I give as the greatest thing since slice bread. I put on my creative hard hat and go to work again the next day. Pushing, sweating, thinking, praying, and not waiting for inspiration that may never come.

No Muse, no magic fairy dust, no superstitions, no waiting, hoping, and begging for inspiration. We punch the clock, butt in a chair, and make the next thing.

I’m not immune to the Gollum Factor. My first kid’s book is out in the world, and I want to talk about it, caress it, and tell the world how precious it is.

But, I will try my best to resist. In fact, book two is already off to the editors. Take that Gollum…

Toss Our Precious on the floor, say thanks for the memories it was fun, and make the next thing.

*Originally published on The Writer Cooperative

Jerry Seinfeld's 3.1 Billion Dollar Writing Trick

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Jerry Seinfeld wrote and starred in the most famous and profitable sitcom of all time, Seinfeld.

How did he do it?

Was Seinfeld the best actor of our generation? Nope. Watch the show and you’d agree. Seinfeld agrees.

How about a case of right time and right place? Maybe. But Seinfeld barely stayed on the air for the first three seasons. It limped along and found an audience in season four.

Maybe it was the all-star cast? Jason Alexander, Michael Richards, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, had some previous success. But they weren’t household names in the business.

So what did Jerry Seinfeld do to make his show a 3.1 billion dollar phenomenon?

Closed the door.

In an interview on Alec Baldwin’s podcast, Seinfeld explained what set their show apart. Previously, in the interview, Baldwin asked Seinfeld why he didn’t leverage their success to make more shows. His answer (paraphrased):

“Let me tell you why my tv series in the 90s was so good, besides just an inordinate amount of just pure good fortune. In most tv series, 50 percent of the time is spent working on the show, 50 percent of the time is spent dealing with personality, political, and hierarchical issues of making something. We spent 99.9 percent of our time writing. Me and Larry [David]. The two of us. The door was closed. It’s closed. Somebody calls. We’re not taking the call. We were gonna make this thing funny. That’s why the show was good.”

Seinfeld never wanted to do shows again, because making TV is less art and creation, and all the other politics and network stuff. It’s administration, promotion, and dealing with personalities. Jerry wanted to write and spend the bulk of his energy in the creation process. He wanted to make art.

Seinfeld closed the door.

So many writers and creatives get hung up on the non-art stuff. They want success, want to share their art with the world, but never close the door, and make the stuff.

Weekly, I’m emailed asking how to find more time to write.

My answer: close the door. When will you close the door and make whatever you’re supposed to make?

Stop fiddling with your website and checking your Facebook page. Close the door and write.

Stop reading your reviews and crying in the corner.

Close the door.

Stop worrying about whether people will think your ideas are good, or book will change the world. Close the door and write the dang thing.

Jerry Seinfeld is a comic success and genius. But what sets him apart, and what I can tell from interviews, and hearing from others comics. He has a work ethic like no other. Seinfeld is always creating new material and working on his craft. I once heard he writes new jokes every single day.

Imagine the artist that stopped cuddling with their latest project and made something new. Imagine the pastor who closed the door and gave more focused time and attention to his latest sermon. Not allowing everyone and everything to impede on his time.

The mother who wants to start a blog amid a house of children. What if she closed the door in the evenings and wrote, and wrote, and wrote? What could happen?

Most writers and creatives are looking for some magic pill, marketing formula, or right connections, to get their work in the world.

What we all need more than anything are closed doors.

Butt in chairs and closed doors. Anything that doesn’t help move the creative ball forward is wasted energy.

There will always be a time and place and need for putting on the business and promotion hat.

But the one thing you can do, and must do, and have to do, is close the door, and write.

No one can do it for you.

Who knows, maybe you’ll write the next Seinfeld?

What Makes a Good Children's Book and Writer?

I finished reading one of my favorite books, James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl. I’d read the book for the first time when I was eight or nine. Reading it to the kid’s too.

Dahl known for such classics as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and BFG. He is a fantastic storyteller and deserves kudos for his canon of work. The books hold up even if he uses a plethora of exclamation points!!!

I found this quote from an interview where he explains what makes for a good children’s writer/book:

What makes a good children’s writer? The writer must have a genuine and powerful wish not only to entertain children, but to teach them the habit of reading…[He or she] must be a jokey sort of fellow…[and] must like simple tricks and jokes and riddles and other childish things. He must be unconventional and inventive. He must have a really first-class plot. He must know what enthralls children and what bores them. They love being spooked. They love ghosts. They love the finding of treasure. The love chocolates and toys and money. They love magic. They love being made to giggle. They love seeing the villain meet a grisly death. They love a hero and they love the hero to be a winner. But they hate descriptive passages and flowery prose. They hate long descriptions of any sort. Many of them are sensitive to good writing and can spot a clumsy sentence. They like stories that contain a threat. “D’you know what I feel like?” said the big crocodile to the smaller one. “I feel like having a nice plump juicy child for my lunch.” They love that sort of thing. What else do they love? New inventions. Unorthodox methods. Eccentricity. Secret information. The list is long. But above all, when you write a story for them, bear in mind that they do not possess the same power of concentration as an adult, and they become very easily bored or diverted. Your story, therefore, must tantalize and titillate them on every page and all the time that you are writing you must be saying to yourself, “Is this too slow? Is it too dull? Will they stop reading?” To those questions, you must answer yes more often than you answer no. [If not] you must cross it out and start again. -“The Writer” Magazine in October, 1975: “A Note on Writing Books for Children”.

Artists See... and 5 Ideas for Better Eyesight

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“The artist has a sharper eye. He sees what you do not see. He has a more fertile imagination and captures in the mirror of his imagination things that escape your notice. He sees more; he sees deeper; he sees better; he sees things in relationship to each other. He receives harmonious impressions, and he objectifies those impressions in ways that nature does not provide, but in a way that he must show in order to let you, with your weaker and coarser and less practiced eye, enjoy similar impressions.

The artist sees. What he sees he captures in his soul. From his soul he incarnates that impression in his imagination. From that imagination he brings it to the canvas, in lines, forms, and colors…” -Wisdom and Wonder by Abraham Kuyper, pp. 164.

The artist sees. But how does the artist see? If you could break down the creative process from canvas to stories to sculpture to dance, it’s all about seeing.

A finely tuned eye, is the path of every writer, painter, filmmaker, comedian, or musician. They all work with the same canvas of mind, heart, soul, spirit, speech, reason, inspiration, paints, computers, pencils, clay, beats, and sounds.

The expression and voice and angle and perspective is where art finds its legs and uniqueness in the world.

But how do we see? Or to say it another way, how can we develop a better eye to create more compelling and important and unique art?

Let me give five ideas:

1. Unplug

The noise of our lives diverts from seeing with fresh eyes. I’m not against social media, blogs, TV, streaming services, or whatever medium we engage. Yet, they often are time sucks, and diversion from what is going on around us in real time.

If we want to see, really see, create, and become more aware of the things in view, we need to unplug.

One of my favorite things to do for better eyesight is to take silent retreats. This means going outside, spending time in a secluded space, turning off media and trying to realize my thoughts, tensions, anxiety, and worries. Maybe journal, pray, and read.

Unplug from media and then do #2.

2. Document

What do you see and notice? Document what you are seeing, no matter how weird, simple, or fragmented. Use your phone, pen, pencil, journal, or chisel into the side of a cave, doesn’t matter. Just document.

An artist is someone trying to pay attention to the good and bad of our world and giving their angle on it.

What sounds do you hear? Why is that person wearing those shoes, or speaking in that way? How did a certain passage in a book spark imagination in you?

After taking all these fragments of observation and seeing, we now have a canvas to work with, whatever that canvas may be.

Documenting is an intentional practice that takes work, but will help up our seeing game.

3. Read

You can’t be an artist on any level, unless you read. Books are thoughts, ideas, and perspectives frozen in time and a place.

Listen to voices of the past and present. Listen, stay humble, and don’t make quick judgments before hearing the person out. Whether you agree with their perspective, you are mining for fresh eyes to see.

Reading fills our minds with new insights, ideas, and fuel for creativity.

4. Explore

Take a walk in a part of town you never visit. Maybe take a trip to another country. Drive a different route home on the daily commute. Walk, instead of driving, and note what you’re seeing. Go hang out in the suburbs, urban, or rural areas of your town, where you typically never go.

If you only do the same things you always do, and never stretch yourself to see and experience new cultures and people, your eyes will not readjust to new sights.

5. Ask: What If…?

The artist who desires new eyes and fresh creativity must stay curious by asking: What if? A writer is used to this foundational question, but the what if mantra is fuel for any creative venture.

What if… is also an opportunity to take something already done, and do the opposite, or do it better, or with a fresh spin. The what if question forces you to take seemingly obvious conventions and turn them on their head.

Example: What if… we took the story conventions in Star Wars, and set the story in the ocean, and the year was 1582? Okay, maybe lame, but you get the gist.

What if… unlocks portals in our creative subconscious to explore new ways of doing, being, and creating. A voice and angle new to our typical path.

Warning: make sure to not censor the what if question? Let your mind and ideas go crazy with no bad ideas off the table. They will synthesize into something usable after you create.

The vocation of an artist is to see, to see with fresh eyes, and to take that imaginative genius and share with the world.

Implement a couple of these ideas into your creative work and see where it leads. Stay curious and your eyes will follow suit.

Originally published on The Writer Cooperative 

Kerry J Donovan on Writing Action Thrillers | TPW Podcast Ep 061

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Kerry J. Donovan has quietly built a raving fan base across the world. His police procedurals, and action thrillers, are flying off the shelves, with no end in sight. But Kerry's success was not always in slinging words. He spent the bulk of his life traveling as a citizen of the world. Listen in as Ryan explores his rise to success, what he learned traveling and working around the globe, how to write a book people want to read, role of good covers, and much, much, more. You can find Kerry J Donavan on Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and: http://kerryjdonovan.com/blogSponsored by:

The Courier by L.E. Doggett (where books are sold)

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Insanity of the Perfectionism Demon

Anne Lamott wrote in her classic book Bird by Bird:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”

Perfectionism is a demon of the worst kind. Not only for the  writer, but for any human, anyone trying to be a decent friend, partner, spouse, brother, sister, artist, or business owner. 

Every day is an opportunity to make, create, invest, and build something for the benefit of others. But every day the perfectionism demon unlocks the back gate and rips into our lives with his talons in full view. 

Perfectionism is the enemy of done, completion, and finishing what we start. When the enemy of perfectionist lies speaks, we freeze, and like Lamott suggests: we go insane. 

The perfectionism demon affects all. Keeps the artist from creating, dad’s from parenting, and pastors from preaching. Mom’s from being okay, with being okay. Perfectionism puts relationships in a sphere where angels fear to tread and make them impossible to enjoy.

Perfectionism keeps us from living inside the walls of grace, where failure is expected, and forgiveness is available. The demon of perfect is what Satan uses to suffocate any attempts at holy living, taking risks, and starting something, that needs starting. 

The perfectionism oppressor is crafty. Many people assume that perfectionism is not their problem and vice. But in reality, the reason we don’t start stuff, finish stuff, struggle to have healthy relationships, and talk a good game about all the things we want to do, but never do… is because of perfectionism. 

We are more cramped and insane than we’d like to admit. 

But the answer and remedy for destroying and laying to rest the Enemy, is not mere will power, and brute strength. The answer found in knowing the whole universe runs on grace, we run on grace.

We aren’t everything we should be. The world is not everything it should be, and walks with a limp. There are no perfect conditions, perfect timing, perfect people, and ideal situations. 

Everything and everyone is a mess. 

When we know our situation the power of grace has room to run.  When perfectionism identified as the enemy of the people, we can turn away, and just put one foot in front of the other, knowing it will be messy, but worth the time and effort. 

Perfectionism always submits to grace, and grace keeps us sane. 

 

Do the Work

“Don’t think. Act. We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted. But we can accomplish nothing until we act.” -Steven Pressfield "Do the Work"

What is the key to all success? Do the work. What separates the pro from the amateur? Do the work. 

Weekly I hear about the next aspiring novelist. How many words did you do today? Crickets.

Weekly I hear about the aspiring pastor. Who are you pastoring now? What training are you pursuing? What pastors are you being mentored by? What are you reading? Crickets. 

The pro doesn't wait for inspiration or the Muse. They do the work. Make the ask. Find the help.

The pro doesn't consume endless amounts of content and media. They are too busy doing the work. Twenty hours of Netflix a week is the barrier between starting the ministry, finishing a book, or deepening a relationship.

Pros are warriors in protecting their time for what matters most.

Everyday is an opportunity to get a little better by doing the work. Everyday is another opportunity to hone your craft by doing the work. Everyday is a chance to deepen that relationship by putting in more work. 

You might not be the best in your area of expertise, field, or discipline. But those who put in the work everyday, don't make excuses, serve those around them, and give more than take.

These people will be truly successful. Pros.

"We can accomplish nothing until we act." Steven Pressfield

Steven K. Smith on Writing Middle Grade Fiction | TPW Podcast Ep 060

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Steven K. Smith loved telling stories to his three boys. He had no idea these stories would allow him to become an author. Smith hails from Virginia, and writes middle grade fiction set in his hometown. His Virginia Mysteries allowed him to quit his job and write full time. In this interview, Ryan and Steven discuss the strategy of writing for children, how to get your work in front of kid's and families, why covers matter, why niches and nostalgia are important, and much, much more. You can find Steven K. Smith and his books at: https://myboys3.com/Show sponsor:https://bahamajanes.com/

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The Most Valuable Thing Is Our Attention

Lynda Barry is an artist and professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison. She wrote these words on her blog to her students:

“Dear Students,
Writing by hand on paper is becoming a revolutionary act. Reading a physical book is becoming a revolutionary act. Protecting the books in our libraries, the arts and humanities in our colleges and universities is becoming a revolutionary act. Doing things with warm hand to warm hand, face to face, without photographing them, posting them, is becoming a revolutionary act. 
Those two original digital devices you have at the end of your forearms are the means of resistance. As is eye-contact with the world instead of staring at your phone…
The most valuable thing you have is your attention.  It’s also the most valuable condition for survival of the non-digital world.
Professor SASQUATCH!”

The most valuable thing you have is your attention. 

I wonder if The Revolution will include turning off our phones, eye contact, analog expressions of art, reading, prayer, meditation, making music, writing, long conversations, long meals, play, and jumping on the trampoline with kids and grandkids?

Thanks, Lynda.
 

Michael Anderle on Writing Books People Want to Read | TPW Podcast Ep 059

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Micheal Anderle is a Sci-Fi and Fantasy author who never dreamed of the success come his way. His runaway hit series Kutherian Gambit exceeded his humble expectations to put it lightly. In this episode Ryan and Michael discuss what makes a book worth reading, what are whale readers, myths for beginning writers and publishers, true success, and much, much more. You can find Michael Anderle and his books at: http://kurtherianbooks.com/Mentioned Sponsor: Bahama Jane's https://bahamajanes.com

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Take Your Reading to the Next Level: A System for Recall, Research, Indexing, and Growing as a Human

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The aspiring and experienced writer must do two things: read a lot and write a lot. I’ve preached this mantra for years (thanks Stephen King for the advice).

I know it sounds like law, but it is. A non-negotiable for writers is to write a lot because by definition that’s what writers do. A runner doesn’t sit on the couch and watch You Tube videos about running. They run.

Writers don’t read about writing, talk about writing, listen to podcasts about writing, or dream about writing. They place butt in the chair and tap on keys and dream up worlds. You got it, I’m preaching to the choir.

Read a lot. A second law that’s a non-negotiable for the writer. We read to see how writers turn a phrase, how books are constructed, and to enjoy the gift of books and reading and learning.

But how can we get more out of our reading? Is there a way to dig deeper into retaining, learning, and applying what we read? Yes, I think there is.

It’s a method and process I use to index, document, and apply what I’m reading to working projects, or simply just growing as a human.

This method is a hybrid of what Ryan Holiday uses which you can read here. I like his system, but I do it with my own spin, that works for me, and is less work.

1. Pick a book, grab a pen/pencil, read, and make notes.

You can do this with nonfiction and fiction. As I work through the book, I mark it up with the following letters:

  • GP= good point. I make brackets around the paragraph so I can come back later and see what is being said.
  • GQ= good quote. Most good books have 4–5 quotes that you’ll keep with you for a lifetime. They are often not quotes from the author, rather; the author quoting someone else. Make a note of it.
  • ?= not sure what this means. If I am confused on a section of a book, I make a note. Maybe it isn’t clear of what the author is saying, or something I need more study on. Only do this if you want to come back.
  • :)= Good story, funny line, or simply agreeing with the point.
  • :(= Not a good point, sad, or something I disagree with.
  • Underline= I might underline a quote that needs attention when I come back through the book.

*I know this only works with print books. But I also use the notes and underlining feature on Kindle to do the same process. Good luck with audio.

2. Get index cards and a pen.

It doesn’t matter if you use 4x6 or 3x5. I use the bigger ones for more space to write down quotes, reflections, or ideas.

Now go back into the book and search for your annotations mentioned above. On the index cards write:

  • Name of the book, author, and page number. This will save time later when trying to dig up your research.
  • Quotes: document the quote. I typically do 3–4 quotes per card to save space. Especially if the quotes are in the same chapters and dealing with same ideas.
  • Theme/bucket: document what bucket this quote or idea falls into (spirituality, history, cooking, growth, productivity, life, etc.). I typically have a couple themes on each card.
  • Ideas: sometimes you will not quote someone verbatim. You will simply write: I like this idea, a good story or analogy, etc. Make sure to document the page number for coming back to.
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3. Catalogue your index cards.

I bought a cheap index card storage box and placed dividers with letters for organizing by author. You can store the cards anyway you like (author, theme, project, etc.). The point is to find a way to come back to these quotes, ideas, and themes for further learning and research.

Some people use a new box and a set of index cards for each book or project. I don’t. Too many ideas and topics have crossover for many areas of life. I like them all in one place.

My index card storage box and dividers

What happens now?

What just happened by taking notes as you read, coming back and indexing your takeaways, is you read a book and went deeper than most. By reading the book and taking notes you’re already engaging a different part of the brain. The information is getting deeper into your mind. You could say, the wheels are spinning.

Every book you read you’ll probably have at least 10–30 cards with vital learning and new insights at your disposal.

You can use these cards for a million different purposes:

  • Feeling down and need inspiration? Grab a couple cards and meditate on the quote.
  • Writing a book? Now you have a ton of research done on the cards. Find the themes of your subject and use them.
  • Need article/blog ideas? Take out some cards and riff on a quote or idea.
  • Giving a presentation/speech? You have quotes and ideas to work into your presentation and speech. Spice up your talks with the things you are learning.
  • Creating a course or podcast? You now have a box full of ideas and topics to explore in depth.
  • Want to become wise and live well? People who are learning to become wise and live life well need many mentors. By reading and indexing books in this way will help you grow as a person. After doing this with hundreds of authors you will become a wise and deeper person.

Some have said books don’t change us, but paragraphs do. I find this to be true by using this indexing system. Not every book you read is going to be a home run. But you can find a paragraph, two, or three that is life changing, or helps you see the world in new and fresh ways.

My hope is this system will help you write or create your next project with beauty and ease. But more importantly, you will become a person of deep character, wisdom, love, and kindness.

Reading has that kind of power.

Originally published on The Writing Cooperative

Michael Bunker on Amish Fiction and Living Off Grid | TPW Podcast Ep 058

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Michael Bunker is a prolific Sci-Fi writer living off-off grid in Central Texas. After a successful book on living off grid Bunker tried his hand at fiction. As they say, the rest is history. In this interview Ryan and Michael discuss the ups and downs of indie publishing, why he chooses to live a "plain" or off-grid lifestyle, the best advice for getting your work in front of readers, and much more. You can connect with Michael Bunker and find his books at: https://michaelbunker.com/

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Writer’s Block is a Myth and 4 Things to Consider When Staring at the Blank Page

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Writer’s block is fake. No one knows when or how the idea came into the world. Seth Godin in his latest podcast gives a couple suggestions.

But he argues, and I agree, writer’s block is a non-thing. It’s a lie. Something we tell ourselves to avoid the work.

Case in point: no teacher gets teacher’s-block. No mother gets mother’s-block. Lawyers don’t get lawyer’s-block.

They show up and do the work.

Does creative blockage occur like a clogged artery in the heart? Are there seasons when ideas and writing becomes a chore and loses joy and passion? Of course.

But that’s not writer’s block. The Block is not a disease treated with penicillin. An article in the New Yorker “Blocked,” said writers have been given Prozac because of the so-called Block.

Seriously?

Writer’s block is fear, layers and layers of fear. We don’t want to fail. Afraid to ship our art. The latest project is garbage and not worth our time and effort. Fear is not writer’s block.

Writer’s block is giving into Resistance (see War of Art by Steven Pressfield). The lies we believe about art, creativity, and writing have moved from blood, sweat, and tears to perfection and heavenly places. Writer’s block is more about our fear and perfectionist tendencies.

Writing is work like any job or art form. So what can we do when our creativity is lacking? When we are staring at the blank page?

#1 See it as a job

Sit down and write. Doesn’t need to be good words or make any sense. Just write. Remember, you are a writer, and writer’s write.

Writer’s write though the blockage.

Set a time and place and type your little fingers off. Butt in the chair and go.

#2 Ask questions?

Is this project important? Do I have a passion for the work?

If not, start something new. Yes, something new.

Sometimes our creative slowness and the blockage has to do with the project. It might be something you’re forced to write, which happens.

But if you don’t love the ideas, problems you are trying to fix, characters, and story… start something else.

Sometimes asking this question leads to the projects you should work on.

#3 Ask another question?

Am I a writer? Sometimes what the slowness and blockage is telling you writing is not your thing. If it is your thing, you won’t get stuck for long periods of time.

Write because it’s like breathing. Listen to the desire factor. Maybe you’ve felt pressured to write because it’s the cool thing to do. Or, you assume because you like to read, you should be a writer. One doesn’t equal the other.

Just because you like to read the Bible doesn’t mean you should be a pastor. Just because you like Law and Order doesn’t mean lawyering is in your future.

Would I write even if no one reads it or pays me a nickel?

#4 Read a lot

The best way to fight creative blockage is to read. Read a favorite book and write verbatim what it says. Now make it your own.

That’s right, steal.

Reading is the fuel for good writing. You didn’t forget how to write. We sometimes just need a little kick in the pants and inspiration.

Don’t believe the lies. Writers block is akin to unicorns and ferries. Sit down, fire up the computer, and type away.

Ready… go!

Originally Published on The Writer Cooperative

Can Christians Only Write Amish Romance? | TPW Podcast Ep 057

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New show live! In this episode Ryan explores the role of faith in writing. Can Christians and people of faith write only “family friendly” books? Are people of faith supposed to only write for the church? What’s the deal with Amish Romance? Listen in, as Ryan gives advice, tips, and direction for any person of faith considering writing books in any genre. You can find Ryan and other writer resources at: https://theprolificwriter.net

Books mentioned:

Created and Creating by William Edgar

Art and the Bible by Francis Shaeffer

Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

Check out this episode of The Prolific Writer!

7 Items for Feeding Your Muse

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Is your Muse a vegan, carnivore, gluten intolerant, or something altogether? Okay, maybe that’s not what I mean.

The Muse is the subconscious, creative part of us, the voice which guides the words that flow from our brains to our hands. Stephen King says The Muse is a basement guy. He rarely makes an appearance and only summoned with hard work and showing up to the page.

Ray Bradbury says the Muse is the subconscious. The creative fuel which makes our writing our writing. Bradbury also contends the Muse must be fed.

But what do you feed a Muse?

Bradbury says the Muse menu must include (Zen in the Art of Writing, pp. 31–48):

1. Poetry- because it stretches muscles we often never use. It keeps the senses of taste, touch, smell, and hearing attuned and integrated into the written word.

2. Books of essays- because you need to expand your version of the world from the voices of others. Hear differing viewpoints and opinions on how the world is, how it should be, and everyday life.

3. Short stories and novels- read the people you hope to write like. Read the stories of authors you admire. But also read the stories you don’t want to be like or authors that stretch your abilities. It’s good to read things out of your comfort zone.

4. Trash and treasures- read awful stories and silly books so not becoming like these writers. Read treasures of the past that no man or woman will touch with such excellence. Trash and treasures are important for feeding the Muse and growing in the craft.

The Muse is a muscle to be stretched and stomach to be filled. Many writers fear they’ll run out of good ideas or will attain no amount of success in their work because of unoriginality. But if you read a lot, and absorb the world around you, there will be plenty of things to write about.

Let me add a couple more items for the Muse diet:

5. Living relationships- you need a steady diet of healthy relationships for the Muse to thrive. Not online ones, real, living, and breathing humans to interact with.

The healthiest and most successful writers have healthy relationships. If you have a spouse or partner or kids spend time with them and invest in their wellbeing.

6. Curiosity- become a kid again. Ask Why and How questions again. The best writers are insatiably curious about how things work, humans, God, and the universe. Stop and stand in awe of what’s around you. Go to a museum, concert, listen to beautiful music, or go on a hike. Pause, think, reflect, consider the face you’re alive.

Keep your curiosity at all time highs. You’ll find much fuel for the Muse.

7. Healthy food- okay, this one is actually about food. You need to fill your body with good nutrients. You can’t live off cigarettes and donuts.

Cram a vegetable and drink lots of water. Your physical body and spiritual body and whatever part the Muse lives in, needs good food for creative fuel. Take breaks, exercise, and yes, interact with humans.

Feed the Muse. Feed it often. Feed it well.

What else did I miss?

Originally published on The Writing Cooperative

Are You Ready to Write (These two things will help)?

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How do you know when you’re ready to write…?

Passed English class with an A?

Attended the finest writer conferences?

Completed an MFA from a prestigious college?

Accolades from friends, family, and fans around the globe?

Maybe these are the validation points the writer needs before jumping into the writing game with both feet. But for most writers these are not what proves readiness or longevity in the art form.

C. S. Lewis explained in one of his letters to a young writer this way:

“I am sure that some are born to write as trees are born to bear leaves; for these, writing is a necessary mode of their development. If the impulse to write survives the hope of success, then one is among these,” (C. S. Lewis and the Art of Writing, pp. 134).

For Lewis, the litmus test of writers is twofold. First, writers will write, have to write, and will not stop writing. It’s akin to breathing. They’ll write because it’s part of their development and in their bones and guts, and DNA.

But Lewis also suggests a second test for determining the readiness of a writer. Can they continue to write regardless of their success?

No one writes for the success that may or may not come. Writers started on their typewriters in grade school for the sheer exhilaration and joy of telling stories. Writers write and success is a nice byproduct for the time, work, and effort, but not the primary motivator.

I’d argue the only way you’ll have any success in writing is if you die to your pride and ego and pipe dreams of becoming a household name.

What is success anyway? Publishing deal? Notoriety? Six figure income? Clicks and views on your blog and Medium page?

None of these things are wrong and none of these things will sustain a writer. Deals come and go. Money dries up. Some posts, articles, and books don’t resonate. Notoriety for writers is unheard of unless you have the last name King, Rowling, Patterson or Child. Even these successful writers wouldn’t be picked out of a police lineup.

The pure motivation of money in any field is a fools errand. No one can predict economic down turns. The best marketed books sometimes plummet into nothingness. Intelligent people in publishing houses still don’t know why certain books sell millions and others thousands.

But when the impulse to write is greater than success, you’ll find true joy. When no one is watching, and no one cares, and you still write… you’re a little crazy, or maybe, you’re a writer.

Here’s the secret.

When success isn’t our primary motivator we are freed to create our best work. When the fear and anxiety of fame and fortune wane and the explosive joy of creating comes to the surface… you are no longer shackled by what if this stinks, what if it bombs, and what if the writing police lock me up for a bad book?

You can write free and honest. Maybe for the first time.

C. S. Lewis learned this lesson. Before he became a Christian, his life was filled with pride and ego. He wrote to be a known commodity and strived for fame and fortune above all else.

When God humbled him he wrote for a different reason. Lewis wrote because he had to. Wrote because success mattered little. He found true joy in God. Writing became a gift but not an ultimate thing.

Some say Lewis’ best work came after his conversion to Christ because he was freed to simply create. To create for an audience of One.

I don’t know why you write. Not sure what motivates the words on the page. But, seeking success, and only success, will never be enough to sustain you long term.

Write for joy. Write because it’s a gift and grace and God-ordained creative outlet. Write because you have something to say. Write because words have power.

Write because you have to. Write when success is not your primary goal.

Are you ready to write?

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Anna Sabino on Creative Careers | TPW Podcast Episode 056

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New episode live on the podcast! Anna Sabino left the 9-5 on Wall Street to pursue her creative dreams. She not only did it, but wrote a book on how you can do it too. Anna and I explore the balance of creativity and business, why keeping the day job is good, and much, much, more. You can find Anna Sabino and her latest book and resources: annasabino.com

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