My Best Ideas are All Wet

By Sue Marquette Poremba

Without fail, when I am in the shower or the swimming pool, a million article or story ideas flow through my mind. Unfortunately, my notebook isn’t waterproof.

Why the water? Other people sing in the shower. I tend to sing everywhere else, so maybe it is because the shower is the one place where my mouth is shut long enough to get some quality thinking done.

However, I think the best ideas come when you are least able to write them down. When recording my ideas immediately is virtually impossible, my brain goes into overload, but I’ll be lucky if I can remember anything by the time I get to dry land.

It may help too that water is my cheap version of a full-body massage. Water relaxes me. Stress floats away when I sit on the beach, watching the waves wash up on the shore. Rain falling on the roof soothes me to sleep. When I’m in the water, I find my mind uncluttered by thoughts of housework, carpools, and in-laws, allowing my brain to wrap itself around ideas for my writing.

Not only am I completely calm in the water, I’m also completely undisturbed. No one is there to talk to me. Moments completely alone with no other distractions rarely happen outside the water.

In the shower at the gym, my memory drifted to the toddler antics of my now-teenaged daughter, which I turned into a published essay. During a lingering bubble bath, I wondered if the story of an auction would make a nice story (a regional market thought so).

Swimming, while not necessarily the source of the best ideas, gives me the best opportunity to think. There, as my mind works in tandem with my strokes, thoughts flow as complete sentences and paragraphs, with beginnings and endings, an entire article or query letter written, edited, and rewritten during a thirty-minute swim. (I’m convinced that I could complete my novel if I could swim enough laps in one session.)

The problem is keeping the article in my head until I can write it down. I do carry writing goodies with me to the gym, but someone stole my shower stall once when I tried taking a break to jot down some thoughts. At home, there is usually an entourage at the bathroom door, ready to pounce the moment I walk out the door. Swimming? I simply pray that at least a few snippets of the “perfectly written article” will stay with me until I get to my computer. Sometimes that happens—an article about marriage and exercise virtually wrote itself on paper after it was developed in the pool. More often, though, the swimming stories are like dreams—foggy at best, completely forgotten at worst, evaporated by the time I get to the hot tub.

My best ideas are all wet. All I need to do is dry them off.

Sue Marquette Poremba is a freelance writer based in central Pennsylvania. Her writing credits include The Christian Science Monitor, Road King, iParenting.com, and Notre Dame Magazine, among others.

Write an Article a Day: Using an Outline Template

By Larry M. Lynch

So many readers wrote to ask me for my simple article writing template mentioned in “Five Ways Posting to Article Banks Can Spark Your Writing” that I decided to flesh it out just a bit as another complete article. A sincere “Thank you” to all of you who responded so kindly. It was none other than Abraham Lincoln who said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” Writing practice makes perfect. This format helps me to do just that. It will help you to practice your writing, too—a lot.

Use This Simple Outline Template for Writing Online Articles

Here is the short, simple outline template that I use to tell me if I have enough information for an online article. It also helps me to organize what I have and ensures that I stay on track with the flow of the article. Follow this format and you’ll have absolutely no trouble writing an article each day once you get the hang of it.

First I draft this out by hand and if there’s enough or almost enough information, then I know the article is a “go.” If not, I can either research the additional data I need or simply scrap that article idea for a new one—I always have plenty of ideas, don’t you? On occasion, working through the article outline template will spur the piece or idea into a slightly different direction. That’s fine too, so I just “go with it.” I sincerely hope this basic online article outline template helps you generate more writing faster.

Headline: Write A Killer, Stop-Them-Dead-In-Their-Tracks Article Headline.

You must slam the reader to a screeching halt when he reads your headline. Online, if you don’t grab readers, they’re gone. Your piece won’t even get read as the lost reader tunnels deeper into the bowels of the web and into another author’s article only a couple of mouse clicks or so away.

  • Put reader benefits into a Hooker Headline
  • Use keywords for SEO (search engine optimization)
  • Try out at least four or five different titles for each article
  • Use an online keyword search tool to help narrow down high-frequency and top-rated keywords

Opening Paragraph:Write a killer opening sentence and a grab-’em-by-the-throat first paragraph.

In addition to a Hooker Headline, you’ll need a Hooker opening sentence and paragraph, one that will draw your reader in and give him reasons to start or continue reading. Based on this paragraph readers frequently decide to read the article or not, so make it as strong as you can. You must grab and hold the reader here. Your opening paragraph should be attention-grabbing, short, and descriptive. At times I even use my first paragraph as the “teaser” description of my article.

Main Feature Paragraph 1:

Write at least three supporting sentences for each main point in your article. Typically there are five to seven feature paragraphs to an article. Often though, I’ll write five to seven supporting sentences for each main feature paragraph for a somewhat longer, more in-depth piece. I’ll also add more support for each main feature if there are only three or four of them in the piece. If there are online references or websites you’d like to include, bullet them at the end of the paragraph. You can also include a quote, anecdote, and another reference to flesh out the main feature if you wish. You can open with an anecdote or quote if you have a strong one to pique reader interest.

  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Quotes
  • Anecdote
  • Reference

Main Feature Paragraph 2:

  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Quote, anecdote or reference (or a combination thereof)

Main Feature Paragraph 3:

  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Quote, anecdote or reference (or a combination thereof)

Main Feature Paragraph 4:

  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Quote, anecdote or reference (or a combination thereof)

Main Feature Paragraph 5:

  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Quote, anecdote or reference (or a combination thereof)

Conclusion (Wrap Up):

Write a strong closing summary of your piece as a conclusion to your arguments or information. Leave the reader hungry for more—you’re not writing a definitive piece on the topic. You don’t have the time, space or necessity for that. Do give plenty of GOOD information, but if there are things you must leave out— great. Include them in another article—a part two, etc., if you need to. There’s no problem with that. Be sure to dress up, clean up, and edit what you’ve written– at least twice. Finally, you could add a phrase similar to “For even more helpful advice and information on ‘your topic’ go to ‘your website, e-mail, etc.'” It’s really a nice touch if you can tie your closing in with your opening.

I sincerely hope this basic article outline template helps you generate more writing faster. Again, following this format, you’ll have absolutely no trouble writing an article each day once you get the hang of it. If you have a question, doubt or just want to let me know how it’s working out for you, please feel free to drop me an e-mail—even after you’re famous. Good luck and keep writing.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is a bilingual copywriter, expert author, and photographer specializing in business, travel, food, and education-related writing in South America. His work has appeared in Transitions Abroad, South American Explorer, Escape from America, Mexico News, and Brazil magazines. He teaches at a university in Cali, Colombia.

20 Ways to Keep Your Writing Inspiration and Creativity High

By Catherine Franz

When we are stressed or blocked, it is wise to make a change so that we don’t stay in that place. Yet many times we forget some of the simple things that we can do for ourselves, quickly and easily, to bring our inspiration back and increase our creativity.

  1. If you usually type your first drafts, hand write them. Nothing compares to the feeling of the ink melting into the paper and the surge of that creative flow.
  2. If you spend too much time at the computer, take a break every hour. Go for a walk or just sit outside in the sun. Even five minutes in a winter sun does wonders for a mood and creativity.
  3. Flip through magazines or books. Their colors and ideas will give you sparks and switch your attitude. Blue and green can reduce your stress levels by 30% or more.
  4. Add strong smells to the room. Light scented candles around you, visit the fruit aisle at the grocery store, or go to a store that is heavily scented. Find an orange or strawberries and smell it. Both will change a mood or create inspiration. Smells awaken your creativity. Smells trigger memories and are a great method to rekindle stories from the past.
  5. Go see or rent an inspirational movie. Relaxation time is important. You can even take your notebook and record inspirational phases. Afterwards, free write what those phrases bring up from your subconscious.
  6. Read a book that stirs you or sparks your creativity. If you prefer, read poetry.
  7. Look at bold and bright colors for a few minutes. These change your mood.
  8. Talk with a friend about your topic to flesh out ideas and creativity. Record the conversation, with his or her permission of course, and play it back to hear the little nuances that you might have missed.
  9. Write an e-mail to a friend to tell him or her what you want to accomplish. If you are stuck, say so and ask for help.
  10. Check in with your vibrational energy and do something to switch it into high gear. Take a shower. Go for a walk. Turn on some music and dance naked for a few minutes.
  11. Hire a virtual assistant to do some typing so that you can stay focused on writing. You can fax your writing or dictate it into the computer and send her a voice file for transcription.
  12. Go to church for the noon service or whisper a prayer or two. This reconnects your energy with the universe and replenishes what might be missing.
  13. Complete an appreciation exercise. Pick something around you, like the telephone, lamp, or pen. Talk to it and tell it how much you appreciate having the electricity to turn it on, the opportunity to write with a tool that has the ink inside (not like a quill), or the softness of the paper you write on. Be grateful for that you have and not what you are missing. Or make a list of “count your blessing” items.
  14. Write a personal note to friends or family and tell them how much you love them, appreciate their thoughtfulness, or kindness.
  15. Authentic, flat-out, raw laughter frees the psyche and opens the creativity process.
  16. Find a setting with lots of trees and flowers and feel nature. If the weather permits, take off your shoes and socks and feel the grass between your toes. Nature has a way of freeing our spirit and renewing our soul.
  17. If guilt or a past incident has captured your mind, write a “Dear Me” letter and ask yourself for forgiveness to to loosen its grip and expand your freedom.
  18. Are you used to writing in a quiet place? Find a noisy place to write, like McDonald’s or the mall. When your space is noisy, you will have to focus harder in order to write with clarity.
  19. Go for a quiet leisurely drive, listen to a favorite CD. You can sing out of tune and no one will notice (laughter allowed).
  20. Do something nice for someone else that you wouldn’t normally do and be a gracious receiver of a hug.

That was exciting, wasn’t it? Post this list in a conspicuous place so that it is readily available when you need it. Do one or two of these daily and keep on writing. Your readers are waiting to read your words.

Catherine Franz is a marketing industry veteran, a Certified Business Coach, Certified Teleclass Leader and Trainer, speaker, author, and Master Attraction Practitioner. Business clients include professional firms, restaurants, retail stores, coaches, writers, the marketing challenged, and independent professionals across the globe from Japan to New Zealand.

The Value of Writing Prompts

By Uma Girish

I often feel like a motor car, for I have starting trouble.
Pen poised over paper, I wait for the words to trickle.
Rarely do they gush from the word “go.”

When my brain does the freeze-mode act, I flick the computer on and run through my “Favorites” list. I look for a writing prompt that will thaw my machinery. I pick one that catches my fancy, then set my timer and start to scribble.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a big believer in the value of writing prompts to rev up my writing session. A writing prompt lubricates my creaking creative joints and limbers them up nicely so they can do cross stretches when I need fresh, inspiring ideas. Believe me, it works.

What I do is very simple. I give myself a program to follow.

  1. For the next fifteen minutes I will write non-stop.
  2. I will correct nothing; I will simply let my thoughts flow, whether they’re good, bad, or ugly.
  3. I will not think about grammar, punctuation, and syntax; I will let the words pour out of me.
  4. I will start my writing session with a positive reinforcement — I know I can do this really well.

When the timer goes off, I zoom back to the real world, and find I want to write more. When I read what I’ve written, I cringe, groan, shudder. A lot of it needs re-working, but I invariably spot a gem or two in the huge word rubble. Gems that I can polish and buff for later use.

I’ve actually sold a lot of work that started out as ordinary writing prompts and morphed into personal essays and short stories. What happens when I consciously turn off the Inner Critic is that my writing is unshackled, my ideas flow freely. I find a glimmer of something, the beginnings of an idea, a phrase I didn’t think I could produce. All valuable grist for the writing mill.

Many of us have trouble deciding how to start, and what to write when we arrive at our desks. I have at least 4–5 jobs on my To-Do list but I sometimes cannot figure out if I’m in the mood for a personal essay, a work of fiction, or an article that needs to tap into my reporting skills. So I choose my prompt of the day. Write about jealousy. Sounds simple enough. I’ve been jealous a million times, over issues big and small, and I can surely unearth one anecdote worth telling. I follow my instinct and slowly feel the sluice gates open wider and wider.

There was a time when my writing day got off to a predictable start with a prompt. With my top-heavy To-Do list I find myself diving into my assignments right away these days. But I always turn to a prompt to rescue me from dry days and find that it unclogs word passages and frees up idea highways.

Sites that Offer Writing Prompts

Uma Girish is a freelance writer based in Chennai (India), and mother of an 8-year-old. She writes both adult and children’s fiction. Her articles on parenting, freewheeling columns and short fiction have appeared in newspapers, magazines and websites. She has written extensively about coping with grief. You can find her Web site at UmaGirish.com