Stretch your writing skills. Yep, my tip for today: write something you wouldn’t normally write. If you’ve never written non-fiction, write an essay (blog), a magazine article, or a newspaper column. You may have no intention of going into advertising, but write some ad copy or a television commercial. Every “real job” I ever had eventually became a writing job. When I worked for a department store in high school, I ended up writing advertising copy, when I was hired as an office assistant for an auto accessory boutique, I managed to wiggle my way into writing press releases and catalogue copy, and although I started as a receptionist for an advertising agency…I ended up writing ad copy and a few television commercials.

A writer that I’ve known for many years made it clear to me that these projects weren’t real writing. The truth is that everything I’ve written has challenged me as a writer and sharpened my skills. Advertising work is some of the most challenging writing I’ve ever done, and the twelve years that I spent writing columns for newspapers and freelance writing magazine articles sharpened my skills in other ways.

So stretch your skills. If you have a daytime job in accounting, consider asking to work on an employee newsletter. If you are a stay-at-home parent, volunteer to work on the PTA’s publicity committee. Simply start a notebook that you use exclusively for little writing projects that take you in new directions and challenge your current skills. Everything you write has the potential to make you a better writer…so write.

Now, I need to get started on my goal for today…rewrites on chapter nine. What are you writing today?

I spent the weekend at the Orange County Chapter of RWA’s 30th Birthday Bash, and had an amazing time. I could give you dozens of tips just from this workshop (and eventually I probably will) but the one I want to share first is from NYT Bestselling Author Susan Mallery: “Have a specific goal. Stay focused on that goal. Don’t let shiny things off your path distract you.”

I’ve spent this year working on this particular thing…staying focused on my goal. My goal is to have a career writing fiction. For me shiny things off my path that could lead me astray are projects that other people offer me that offer instant gratification but won’t get me to my goal, spending too much time on social networking instead of writing, and allowing myself to be distracted by the next “shiny new” story that I’d like to work on.

I’ve been working very hard to stay focused on this story. I have wandered slightly off my path a few times, but I’ve made a point of getting right back on track. I’m determined to achieve my goal.

What is your goal? What are the shiny things off your path that lead you astray? How do you stay focused on the goal?

My tip today is simple, and I think obvious. READ, READ, READ. So often someone will say to me, “I’d love to be a writer, but I don’t know what to write.” My response is usually, “What do you like to read?” Usually someone who writes or wants to write will say, “Oh I love to read romance,” or “I love vampire stories,” but every now and then someone will say, “I really don’t read.” What? Then why do you want to write?

Reading is motivating, inspiring and it sharpens your skills. If you’re not currently reading a book, I suggest you head to your nearest bookstore, library or download one for your e-reader right now…nothing motivates more than a good story.

That synopsis you’re trying to write may progress with less head banging if you step away from your manuscript long enough to see the big picture. Being close to something (like a story or a person), lends itself to overinflating the details—details that other people (like editors or friends) may or may not be interested in knowing about. So get some perspective by walking away for a day or two, and then return to the computer to pound out the key points.

When romance author Leanne Banks came to the May meeting of OCCRWA, she gave us some really great tips for brainstorming to end writer’s block. Number seven on the list has kick-started a couple of my writing sessions.

“When you don’t know what to do next, throw a splash of red on the page. Be random. Go off on a tangent.”

I love this tip. Sometimes doing this will move my story in a direction that I didn’t expect. Sometimes it adds dimension to a character or scene. Sometimes it ends up in the trash bin, but if it gets me writing again it doesn’t matter.

Leanne’s 56th book was released in May, so clearly she knows what works. Next time you find yourself blocked, try throwing a splash of red on the page and see what happens.

If you don’t have a deadline from a publisher or agent, give yourself a deadline. At an Orange County RWA meeting, Author Leanne Banks shared how she keeps on track. “I have a deadline and it’s like your mirror that says ‘objects in your mirror may be closer than they appear.’ Deadlines are always looming.”

Giving myself deadlines is working for me. I have my primary deadline, when I want the manuscript finished, but I’ve made smaller deadlines as well:

1. Ten thousand words finished by the end of March    (X)

2. First draft done by my 50th birthday                           (X)

3. First round of rewrites must be done by…oh hey, that deadline is coming up in three weeks, I better go write!

What’s your deadline?

I’ve heard that the best reading experiences come when readers see themselves as the main characters. With so many characters (especially in romances) being written as idealized humans (attractive, wealthy, professionally successful, etc.), how does a reader relate? One way to build connection with readers (and soften some of the idealized characteristics) is to give your main characters relatable flaws. Does your heroine bite her nails? Does she lack organization, shoving random piles of junk into already overcrowded closets? Is she always late? Make your own list, and use a flaw or two to infuse a little realism and likeability into Miss Perfect (or Mr. Perfect). –Elley

“I write the way I like to read,” said Author Charlene Sands at an OCC RWA workshop this spring. In other words, if there’s too much description in a book you’re reading do you skip ahead to get to the action? If so then your reader probably will too, so write that way. Limit the description…write the way you read.

Falling in love is what happens to your characters while they’re on their way to achieving their individual goals. I’ve heard this said many times before, but a Karen Docter workshop helped me put the tip into regular practice. The result has been a more rewarding writing experience and a stronger story. — Elley