40 Tips on Creative Writing: A Guide for Writers to Turn Your Passion into a Successful Book
As soon as I saw this book, I knew that I wanted to read it, and I can honestly say that this was one of the best decisions I’ve made, to date, in my writing career. So, without further ado, please let me introduce Dan Buri, best-selling
Hi Dan! I’m happy that you agreed to this interview. I just wanted to give readers a little behind the scenes look at 40 Tips on Creative Writing, specifically the journey that led up to the book, and your philosophy or perspective on life.
Thank you for hosting me on your site, Heather! This is a great place for us all to indulge in our shared love of reading and writing! I am grateful to be here with you and your wonderful readers.
“Indulge” is an interesting word choice, and we’ll probably touch on that again in a little bit. But, yes, authors and readers alike definitely enjoy reading and writing, so why not allow ourselves a moment to discuss the subject? There are many websites out there where we can all do exactly that, and this actually segues into my first question.
You started a website years ago, https://www.Nothinganygood.com to support writers and authors, and you mention in the introduction to “40 Tips” that many of your subscribers asked you to write a book like this. Can you share a little more detail on that?
That’s exactly right. “40 Tips” exists because of reader persistence. I had written a few tips on my website and I received a lot more positive feedback then I expected to receive. A lot of readers asked me to put them all together in a book so they could have a nice handy manual. I didn’t have the time or energy to focus on it for a while.
Finally, an author from Scotland reached out and explained that she puts out a writer’s calendar every year to help authors plan their schedules and for writing inspiration. She asked if she could use a shortened version of some of my tips for her 2018 calendar. When she sent me the proof of the ten tips, I was really impressed by them. I honestly read them not as the author, but as a reader, and I found them tremendously helpful. Once I read a few of the tips through the new lens of being a reader, I realized I needed to write the book. With the encouragement of readers of the website, I did the hard work of writing and revising (and revising and revising and…).
Ah! And there it is—work. Indulgence, yes—but it’s accurate to say that writing takes work. It’s not all glitz and glamour. People are so busy these days, and struggling artists usually have full-time jobs, some have families…oftentimes the pressures of life get in the way. “Oh, I only have the energy to put my feet up and watch television tonight,” and their writing time is squandered away. You provide guidance on this issue in “40 Tips.” One of the things that you encourage writers to do is to literally make the time to write.
You mention that even 30 minutes per day of writing is progress. I don’t know about you, but when I get to writing, 30 minutes flies by and there is no way I’m going to want to stop at that point. So, what can you say to those folks to help them realistically budget time for writing?
For instance, how can a writer clear their head, and focus on sitting down and committing to the writing process each and every day, even if they are convinced that it will be longer than 30 minutes?
What is one of your favorite tips to help clear up the “I’m exhausted” mindset and make way for “I’m excited that I now have my chance to write,” excitement mentality?
Good questions, Heather. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s try to tackle it in pieces.
To realistically budget time for writing, I always advise writers to find a writing schedule that they will be successful at. Creating a writing schedule that you can’t keep is only going to create bad habits and reinforce doubt about whether you can finish the piece you’re working on. So, find what works for you. That may be 30 minutes a week at midnight on Wednesdays. That may be 7 minutes a day when you first wake up.
Whatever it is, start with a schedule you can keep. This will, in turn, do two things. One, you will create habitual memory of writing making it easier every time you want to sit down and write. Two, you will be creating a pattern of success that will feed you with a feeling of accomplishment. Both these things will only build on each other as you find you can expand your schedule to write more and build on the foundation you just created.
Committing to the Process:
To me, it sounds like part of the struggle, Heather, is knowing that you’ll be writing more than 30 minutes. Does this internal dialogue sound familiar? “When I sit down to write, I’m going to be writing at least an hour because I love it so much. But I don’t have an hour. I might as well not write at all.”
This is a pretty common form of mental gymnastics. We see it regularly with people wanting to avoid working out. (“I can’t just work out for 20 minutes and I don’t have the time to work out for an hour, so I just won’t do it today.”) If this sounds familiar to any of you, then you’re undermining your writing progress before you’ve even started. I’m a firm believer in small victories every single day. 10 minutes of pushups and sit-ups. 20 minutes of writing. Call a loved one. Write a kind note to your spouse. Read a book for 15 minutes. Pray for 5. Sounds simple right? You’ll be amazed at what you’ll have accomplished in a month, let alone a year.
We all struggle with this, so the first thing to realize is that none of us are alone in that regard. We all find our motivation wanes and energy dissipates. I use a lot of different strategies throughout the day. At a basic level, I try to make sure I’m fed, both physically and spiritually. If my motivation is low, often times it’s because I need to feed myself.
Next, I’ll check if my motivation is low because of my focus. Sometimes I find that I’m focusing on the wrong thing and that’s hurting my motivation. For instance, I write to connect with others. If I find that I’ve started to write to find readers or make money or any number of other things, my motivation falters. I have to check in with why I’m writing in the first place.
After those things, I’ll utilize a variety of tactics to get focused—listening to music, quick exercise, playing with my kids to reset, slowing down, mental mantras, and sheer force of will because I told myself I would write.
Well, if that doesn’t make a case for getting ahold of a copy of “40 Tips,” I don’t know what will! Thank you for such a detailed and helpful response! I hope you all realize that Dan is literally giving away parts of the book for your edification!
Some of those tips centered on mindset and attitude. Let’s continue with the subject of attitude for a minute. At one point in the book, you remind writers not to take themselves too seriously—to find the humor. Can you talk a little about that?
I can only speak for myself, but I’m really not that important. I’m just a speck in the expanse of the cosmos and course of time. Practically, anytime I begin to think what I’m doing is somehow critical to the world even in the slightest way, my work suffers. I lose creativity and vision. I find I’m free of worries if I don’t take myself seriously. Odd for someone whose first book was an exploration of death and loss and sorrow, I know.
So, basically, what it sounds like to me is that we need to take a step back, and just write for the pure joy of it, without getting caught up in self-importance.
I think that segues into my next question, actually. Reading… How important is it for a writer to take the time to get out of their own heads—get away from their own thoughts and creativity—in order to read other authors’ books?
Critical. A must. Absolutely necessary. Did I stutter at all? I’ll share this portion of “40 Tips” to expound on my thoughts:
“I have seen a mindset amongst some of the author community that bothers me to no end. There is a sentiment I encounter far too often where writers say they can’t read anything right now because they don’t want it to influence their writing.
Why is this a thing? It is the silliest possible response to the question, “What are you reading?” Writing and reading are the two best ways to become a better writer. Why would you cut out one of those avenues? I have a hard time believing reading George Saunders will negatively impact your genius humor. I doubt you’ll need to avoid reading George Orwell because your unconscious mind will inadvertently steal ideas from him.
Reading will most certainly impact your writing—POSITIVELY. If you’re an athlete, the best way to get better is to practice the sport and watch game film. If you’re a dancer, dancing and watching what others do propels you to become a better dancer. If you’re a painter, painting and studying other’s paintings is the best way to learn. Writing is no different. You need to write and also study other authors through reading. It will inspire ideas and help you understand areas where you can improve in your writing. It will diversify your vocabulary as well. I constantly learn new words when reading.
I get the idea of not having as much time to read as you would like, but the fact that you can’t read while you’re writing because you’ll unknowingly steal ideas is preposterous to me. Please don’t be one of those writers. Read often. Read everything you can get your hands on. And not just on your phone. If you want to be a good writer, read, Read, READ.”
Absolutely! Immersing ourselves in books, not of our own creation, opens our eyes to a vast treasure chest of knowledge and creativity. It gives our brains a chance to cogitate on things that our own imaginations might never have offered. This process is educational, inspirational, and motivational—a win/win for writers of every genre.
Let’s touch on another aspect of attitude—values. You remind writers to be kind. It’s funny because I was recently watching Songland, a new television show offering songwriters the opportunity to pitch their songs to established artists, and one of the songs that Black Eyed Peas singer, Will.i.am, chose was called Be Nice. It appears that this is a growing sentiment these days. So, I believe that it’s timely to ask you to expound on this section of your book.
Somewhere in the annals of history, the untruth began to be spread that you need to be coldblooded to be successful. The greatest athlete must be cutthroat. The top businesswoman needs to be ruthless. The best writer needs to be pretentious. I just don’t believe this to be true. I think kindness can change things far more than we realize.
You actually mention values in “40 Tips” with regard to another aspect of writing careers. How important is it for a writer to know who they are and how their values affect the choices they make? How important is it that they know ahead of time how they will handle awkward situations that could compromise their values?
This is a great question, Heather. Perfect follow up question to the previous one about kindness.
In order to be kind, we first and foremost need to be kind to ourselves. This involves knowing what we as individuals need and what we want. The effect of knowing what we need and want is then saying, “No, thank you,” to what we don’t need and don’t want. It is not unkind to say, “No, thank you.” Even if the other person believes you are being unkind, that is their own issues they’re projecting. If you know what you need and want, if you know what you value, then you know what is most important to you and can easily discern when to say, “Yes,” and when to say, “No, thank you.”
I believe your values come across very well in the book. Would you like to share a little bit with the readers today about your core values and how they’ve guided you to this point?
Oh boy, my core values? Let’s see if I can distill my life’s values into a nice snippet.
I believe we are all connected as humans. I believe the person sitting across from you at the table is exactly like you with the same hopes and dreams and fears and anxieties. I believe service is a key to happiness. I believe if you really want something in your life, begin by giving it. The more you give, the more you get.
“40 Tips” is a huge gift to creatives, Dan. You’ve given a lot here, and I hope that you continue to receive a lot in return.
In summary, I’d like to address the idea that many of the concepts in this book are helpful to all people, not just writers, and other creatives. Could you speak to that in closing?
“40 Tips” was written with an eye toward writers and creative types, but the underlying themes are universal. I tried to make the advice as universal as possible for many of the tips. Call me a hopeless romantic, but if we can be better people, we can, in turn, be better writers.
Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this interview, Dan! I have to add that I would encourage anyone looking for motivation, life coaching, or inspiration to pick up a copy of “40 Tips” and devour it. It will speak to any reader at whatever point of life’s journey they happen to be at and will definitely help them to gain crucial insights into who they are, which in turn, will help them make choices in life that allow them to remain true to who they are.
Thank you for having me, Heather! I enjoyed it. Great discussion. To your readers, please do go and get “40 Tips.” We need your support! The audiobook will be available in July and the narrator (Samara Naeymi) is incredible. She made the book better and really brought the words to life. If you commute or run or like podcasts, this book will be perfect for you on audio. You can take in the tips in small chunks and Samara is incredible. She will really motivate you.
40 Tips on Creative Writing is currently available in eBook and print, and soon to be available in audio. Dan Buri (@DanBuri777 on Twitter) is a trusted resource for writers to gain insight into the difficult world of indie publishing. His first collection of short fiction — Pieces Like Pottery— which has been recognized on multiple Best Seller Lists, is an exploration of heartbreak and redemption. His nonfiction works have been distributed online and in print, in publications including Pundit Press, Tree, Summit Avenue Review, American Discovery, and TC Huddle. Dan is a founding member of the Independent Writers Guild, a worldwide organization of writers and publishing professionals dedicated to promoting the interest of indie writers by encouraging public interest in, and fostering an appreciation of, quality indie literature. He is an active attorney in the Pacific Northwest and CEO of Vitek IP, a patent consulting firm for technology companies. He lives in Oregon with his wife and two young children.
The following is a Jen Lowry Writes podcast interview with best-selling author, Dan Buri.
The interview covers two of Dan’s books, 40 Tips on Creative Writing, and Pieces Like Pottery.
For more, read my review of 40 Tips on Creative Writing as well as my review of Pieces Like Pottery.
Book Review: 40 Tips on Creative Writing by Dan Buri
Motivate, inspire, create—whatever your passion! 40 Tips on Creative Writing provides wisdom for all aspects of life.
This is more than a guide. Dan Buri takes non-fiction “how-to” to the next level. His flowing prose will capture your attention, keeping it effortlessly focused on the beautiful, logical wisdom that he generously shares within the pages of this inspiring labor of love. A book requested by aspiring writers following his blog, this is a compilation of many years of creative thought and experience.
As a psychology major and an author, I can’t stress enough, however, that as helpful as this book is to creative types, any person anywhere would benefit from these pages simply by applying the wisdom found herein to their life journey. I recently read a self-help book on attaining happiness and joy in life—don’t let the title of Mr. Buri’s book fool you—it is just as relevant to all walks of life as it is to creatives, and easily falls into the self-help, self-improvement category.
Gift yourself a leg up on your life journey. Dive into this book and move forward—one step at a time—with a new zest for life and a motivational guide for fulfilling your purpose!
10 Tips to Combat Writer’s Block
Tips to combat writer’s block? Really? Why do I need those? I’m excited! The spark has ignited, a new story is growing in the recesses of my imagination, and it’s time to start writing!
Okay, I don’t know about you, but just having an idea for a book, sitting down in front of my computer, and typing like a woman obsessed is not my reality. It’s a spark, a tiny flame of creativity—blow on it too hard, and what’s going to happen? Exactly—poof—out goes the flame! And writer’s block can happen at any point in the creative process—it isn’t confined to the very beginning.
So, what’s a writer to do? Here are ten of my favorite writer’s block weapons—weapons that help me successfully combat writer’s block whenever it occurs; and they all center around organization and atmosphere.
I create an Ideas List for my potential book on iPhone. Of course, you could use any of your favorite mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, Android, tablet). Any time, and I mean, ANYtime, an idea hits, I add it to my Ideas List using key words to create a short descriptive phrase encompassing the idea. I don’t judge it. I just add it. It might turn into something—it might not, but I can almost guarantee that it will never amount to anything if I don’t save it somewhere.
I never underestimate the importance of character sketches. Okay, so my readers may never see these; but they are an invaluable tool for me. Because, the more I know and understand my characters, the easier it will be to think like them, talk like them, and behave like them (or at least make their behavior choices for them). Therefore, if I’m trying to write a scene, and a certain character’s role in that scene is eluding me, I pull out their character sketch and read it. Sometimes, that alone can help my brain reset and zero in on that character’s perspective regarding the events of the scene.
Same tip as above—Knowing and understanding the various settings in which my story takes place can help in more ways than you might think. Ambience—how would this setting make my character feel? Mapping—how would my character move about in this setting? Strategic choices—what if my character needs an escape route? Resources—how are my character’s needs met in this setting? And the list goes on.
Go back to the beginning—again, this falls into the same category as the character and setting sketches. If I’m stuck, I go back to the beginning stages of my book’s conception and reread what I wrote in the plot outline. This resets my brain to those first, insightful and exciting creative stages. This can not only serve to remind me of where I’m going on this story’s journey but it can also inspire and motivate me out of the depths of despair that had me cringing every time I even so much as glanced at my computer.
Notebooks – Pen & Paper – Free Writing
There are times when I just think better with pen and paper. With all of the electronic devices available to us, we sometimes forget that a simple notebook and a pen can play a very important role in getting those creative juices flowing. For me, there’s just nothing that can compare to the freedom of expression that pen and paper empowers.
When free writing, I write whatever I’m thinking—continuously, non-stop, and without judgment. It’s often nonsense—unusable in the practical sense—but it can help to propel my brain out of the writer’s block slump.
If I use pen and paper for part of my actual writing process; however, the possibilities are endless. The beauty of pen and paper is that I can write the way I think—the words flowing freely, unfettered—formatted in whatever coded manner makes sense to my brain, fingers, and eyes as they work in concert to express the ideas that are literally evolving as I write.
Chapter Scene Outlines
Sitting in front of a blank screen, with a cursor blinking at me repeatedly, can be intimidating. Thinking about creating an entire novel that way is absolutely daunting. So, I break it down into steps. Outlines are the perfect writer’s tool for that purpose. What do I want to accomplish in this chapter? What important events will be covered, and in what order? I jot down the basics into an outline. It can not only help get the first words of that chapter typed into my word processor, but it can also serve to keep me on track all the way to the end of that chapter.
While writing my ecological science fiction fantasy novel, Koraalen: Planetary Symbiosis, I sat out in my backyard with a notebook and a pen. Listening to the birds twittering away in the trees, I would sketch out an outline of scenes for my new chapter. I didn’t sit in front of the computer to actually start composing those scenes until I was satisfied with my outline. The outline wasn’t written in stone (only ink on paper). Frequently I would change things up once at the computer, actually writing— sometimes deleting a scene, or adding a scene—sometimes just changing it a bit as I went along.
Soothe the Body—Soothe the Brain
One of my favorite ways to combat writer’s block is a soothing soak in a nice warm bath—Epsom salts are my favorite, but maybe some of you are bubble bath, or bath oil fans. I set my iPhone or iPad nearby. Then I just relax—let that spark kindle in my mind. Every time something promising reveals itself to me, I call on Siri and have her add it to my Ideas List that I created for that book.
Yes, I said corners—plural. I scoped out my favorite places to sit, think, and write. For me, while writing my ecological science fiction fantasy novel, Koraalen: Planetary Symbiosis, my favorite place to outline chapter scenes was my backyard. Once I finished the scene outlines, then it was time to move to the computer and start fleshing it out (another writer’s corner at my desk). And could I call the tub a writer’s corner? Yes, I suppose I could!
Sounds—Relaxing, or Distracting?
Every writer is unique. Every writer’s situation is unique. Some writers thrive in quiet offices with only the sound of the keyboard keys clicking away for inspiration. Some writers abhor silence. Does classical music inspire you? What about relaxing nature sounds?
What about, dare I ask, children? Yes, I said it. Some writers have no problem with sounds of any sort, even their children fighting over a board game in the same room doesn’t distract them from their writing. But, let’s face it, some people just need peace and quiet. Noise distractions could literally cause their brains to lock up, frozen in the desolate blankness of writer’s block.
If that’s you, and you have children, you may need to be resourceful to combat writer’s block. Maybe you need to write at night when they’re sleeping. If that’s not an option, perhaps an understanding with the family is needed. You literally schedule writing time, when the family knows you will be cloistered away in your office, writing. If your children are very young, you’ll have to schedule someone there to be with them—another family member, perhaps—allowing you the time and space you need to work.
What is MY Sounds Preference?
In my case, music can be helpful, as long as it doesn’t cause me to start singing; which, is another of my passions. I also find nature sounds to be extremely relaxing. Therefore, nature sounds in music is a double bonus.
The point is, you need to know yourself. You want your writer’s corners to be conducive to writing, obviously, and sound—or the lack thereof—is a significant part of the equation. Sound can be relaxing (helping to dispel writer’s block), or distracting (potentially causing writer’s block). It’s your call. This may take some exploration and experimentation on your part; but answering this question could be a key weapon in your arsenal to combat writer’s block.
Now, this is a subject close to my heart. How, you might ask, can scents combat writer’s block? And, here’s my answer. I absolutely love the scent of flowers, or various essential oils wafting across the room from a strategically positioned diffuser. Some essential oils are even purported to have particular benefits that could, potentially, help a writer struggling with writer’s block. Of course, I’m not saying that the experts literally say, “Hey! This essential oil will combat writer’s block!” However, I am saying that certain essential oils are touted to help with cognitive processes, soothe frayed nerves, and all manner of other emotional and mental balancing and clarifying benefits.
I am not an expert on essential oils, but I have done my homework, and I do have some reference books on the subject. So, I definitely tinker with that a bit. At the very least, as I stated above, I absolutely love the scents! So, that alone can certainly create a pleasant writing atmosphere for me. Writer’s block snuffed out by the sweet scents of plant essences!
So, those are my favorite proactive tips to combat writer’s block. Even better, they can potentially prevent writer’s block! With a combination of organizational skills—first creating, then utilizing valuable resources—and orchestrating a relaxing writing atmosphere, tackling writer’s block becomes a much less daunting prospect.
What do you do to combat writer’s block? Let me know in the comments below!