Image from Flickr by lowjumpingfrog

I promised I’d share some of what I learnt at BlogWorld, which took place from 3rd – 5th November. It was a fantastic three days packed with great teaching and awesome friends. Most of the session I went to weren’t very on-topic for writers (they covered things like webinars and community management) – but this one was.

Marty Coleman, also known as The Napkin Dad, delivered a great, inspiring presentation called Six Stop Signs on Creativity Road … and in this post, I’m going to take those stop signs and apply them specifically to writing.

The bits in bold text in this post are taken from my notes from Marty’s talk, paraphrased from what he said; the regular text is my thoughts.

#1: I Have No Money

Marty: Money doesn’t make you more creative – or guarantee success.

Let’s not get too idealistic here: I doubt you want to be the starving-in-a-garret type of writer. Money is important, and I’m not suggesting you quit your steady day job to write a novel, without any safety net in place.

As a writer, though, you have a huge advantage over other creative types: your materials are virtually free. It costs you very little to put words on the page – a bit of electricity to power your computer, or a pen and paper if you write longhand.

Get around a lack of money by:

  • Using free writing advice online, or writing how-to books from your local library.
  • Looking for ways to make money from your writing.
  • Settling for basic notebooks, not luxury ones (bonus: you won’t worry about “messing them up”)

#2: I Have No Time

Marty: We all have the same amount of time (even if it doesn’t feel that way). Focus on actions that actually take you towards your goal: don’t mistake activity for achievement.

When I coach writers, I find that one problem crops up again and again: finding time to write. It’s such a universal issue that I even wrote a short ebook to help address it – you can get How to Find Time For Your Writing free when you sign up to the Aliventures newsletter.

If you’re not too sure where all your time is going, find out! Use an application like Rescue Time on your computer, or keep a detailed time log for a few days. I know that I often feel that I’ve got no time – when the reality is that I’m not using my time very effectively.

Get around a lack of time by:

  • Waking up 15 minutes earlier, and writing at the start of the day.
  • Deliberately setting aside time for writing sessions – schedule them a week or two ahead in your diary.
  • Taking a notebook to work: you can write (or plan your writing) during your lunch hour.

#3: I’m Not Educated Enough

Marty: Bloggers don’t have degrees in blogging or in social media – but that doesn’t stop them being very successful.

In my experience as a writer’s coach, everyone feels that they could do with more education. Sometimes, though, education can actually stifle your creativity: recently, several clients have come to me and said I didn’t do very well in English at school…

Frankly, the skills that you need in school to do well in essays and exams are not the skills you need to write a great blog post or a gripping short story. Outside of school, no-one cares about your impressive vocabulary or your fine use of the semi-colon: they care that you can write engagingly, in language that resonates with them.

Get around a lack of education by:

  • Getting books that help you: there are how-to guides on every aspect of writing.
  • Taking a course. If you truly feel that you’re lacking an essential writing skill, then find a local or online adult education course that can teach you that skill.
  • Placing real value on your experience: clients care much more about what you can actually do than about your educational background.

#4: It Has to be Perfect

Marty: None of us are perfect – and creative processes are inherently messy.

I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I don’t see that as a bad thing. I pride myself on producing high-quality writing: I’m no fan of the idea of online “content” as purely a way to draw in people who’ll then click on ads.

However … I also recognise that perfect is often at war with finished. Nothing I write is ever going to be perfect – there’ll always be a word that could be improved, or a sentence that could be tweaked. When I published my novel Lycopolis last week, I knew it wasn’t perfect – but it was good, and that was enough.

Get around your perfectionism by:

  • Limiting how many times you’ll revise something (whether that’s for your own purposes or for your clients).
  • Treating writing as play. Spend some time free writing: grab a piece of paper, write for 15 minutes, and see where you end up!
  • Putting your writing online. If you do later want to tweak a sentence or fix a typo, it’s very easy to change. Once you’ve printed 100 copies of your book or 500 leaflets, there’s no going back.

#5: I Had Bad Stuff Happen

Marty: Your problems are real and valid. It’s good to address them. Be careful of bad habits (e.g. drugs, alcohol) that may seem to be your friend, but can damage your creativity.

It can be tough to write when things aren’t going so well in your life. Perhaps you’re facing illness, financial problems, bereavement, stress or something else. You might have suffered past experiences that still hurt today (whether that’s through physical injury or emotional pain).

Bad stuff happens to us all. Sometimes, it’s directly related to our writing: you get a rejection letter; someone leaves nasty comments on your blog; you lose your notebook full of ideas. These things might be objectively small, but they can dampen your motivation for writing.

Get around the bad stuff by:

  • Looking for the silver lining. If you had some harsh feedback on a piece of work, is there anything in there that helps you improve?
  • Asking for support. Friends, family or fellow writers may be able to comfort and advise you.
  • Using it! Your worst moments can make for extremely powerful pieces of writing (you can always fictionalise them).

#6: I’m Not Brave Enough

Marty: The reality is that you will fail. And yes, there’ll always be someone out there who’s better than you (but they can still learn from you, and they might not be so big and secure as you think).

I might come across as pretty self-assured here on Aliventures, but I’m not a very brave person. Face-to-face, I can be a bit shy. I often feel nervous when I’m trying something new, whether it’s writing-related or not.

Believe me, I know how scary it can be to show your work to an audience. It’s twelve years since I first read a piece of my writing to my writers’ group – and I still remember how shaky I felt! When I started blogging, I was anxious about the reaction I’d get. When I published Lycopolis last week, I worried about what people would think of it.

I don’t have a magic formula for becoming instantly brave, but I do have a few tips.

Get around your fear by:

  • Going ahead and acting like you’re brave. Eventually, you’ll realise that you’re no longer scared.
  • Telling yourself “this is just practice for the real thing.”
  • Focusing on the work itself, not on your feelings about it. Concentrate on making it good and getting it out there.


Huge thanks to Marty for an excellent talk at BlogWorld. If you check out the Napkin Dad site here, you’ll find lots of fantastic advice (and fab drawn-on napkins!) for creative folks.

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