The Ericksons

Category Archives: Writing

These are posts related to writing.


outlining your non-fiction book

I am big on using an outline in my writing process. Since (for now) I would like to avoid the whole pantsers vs. plotters debate, I will focus this post on outlining your non-fiction book. There are several reasons I recommend outlining your non-fiction book …

Outlining your non-fiction book will help you come up with ideas

Think of it as a method of brainstorming. You are getting all the ideas that have been swirling around in your head, out and onto paper. Some of these ideas will work and will be worth exploring deeper. Others will seem disconnected from the group. Maybe you can use them for another project, but they really don’t belong in this particular book. You can identify these easily because they don’t fit anywhere on your outline.

During this process, you can see what decisions you need to make

For example, in Facing Cancer as a Parent, I included a section called Ages and Stages. In it I cover how children from 0 to 26 years old react to, and cope with, a parent’s cancer. That’s a big span of ages! So, I broke them down into brackets: Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers, School Age, Preteens and Teens, and Young Adults.

Outlining your non-fiction book will help you organize your thoughts.

As you plan your book, you will see patterns emerge from your outline. By identifying these patterns and developing them, your book will go from a bunch of disconnected thoughts with a common theme to organized ideas that naturally flow from one to the next. Outlining your non-fiction book is the most efficient and practical way to achieve that.

You will have your Table of Contents

You will want to pretty your outline up with clever chapter titles and page numbers, but after outlining your non-fiction book you will have a basic table of contents.

How to do it?

No, I won’t bore you with the same outlining rules you learned in the 4th grade. In fact, you don’t even need to remember your Roman numerals. Instead, we will look at form and function.

  1. Remember when I said that outlining was a lot like brainstorming? That’s the first thing you’re going to do. Write down your main idea and then all of the things you would like to say to your readers about that idea. You might do this in the form of a list or as a mind map. Use whatever method you like best.
  2. Look for the patterns in your ideas. Start to rearrange your ideas in a logical way.
  3. Decide if you will have chapters grouped into larger sections or if you will simply have chapters follow one another in succession. Either way, they will need to flow, logically.
  4. When you are ready to create your table of contents, you can write clever section/chapter titles. Wait until your book is ready to publish before you add page numbers. If you make any changes to your book the numbers can get thrown all out of whack.

See? No Roman numerals necessary. Do you have a different way of organizing your books or blog posts? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

My Family
The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

It’s the 1st Wednesday of the month again. That’s when I take part in Alex J. Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I encourage you to check out their website and even sign up for the IWSG Newsletter. Today I’m going to explore character names as I answer the #IWSG question for June:

Which is harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?

I have a much harder time coming up with a book title than I do good character names. While a book title needs to be catchy and clever, there are some good guidelines and tools available to help name characters. What are some of them?

The root of character names

Many names have an underlying meaning. “Delilah” means desired or seductive. A character with this name will surely evoke thoughts of Samson’s downfall. Maybe you want this. If not, consider something else; perhaps “Deborah,” the mighty warrior and prophetess, judge of Israel, in the Bible.

Consider Ethnicity

How you use ethnicity in naming your character can go a long way toward helping you with characterization. An Asian American could just as easily have the given name “David,” as he would, “Yuan.” But the former will signal to the reader that he is assimilated into American culture. “Yuan” is more likely traditional. Either way, you will want to have a last name like “Tsui” or “Lu” if you don’t want to give a specific description of your character’s ethnicity. This goes a long way toward following the rule of “Show. Don’t tell.”

One of my favorite online tools to help with this process is a Fake Name Generator. The great thing about this particular name generator is that under its advanced settings you can specify the character’s ethnicity (right down to the region) as well as their gender and age.

Speaking of age and nicknames…

When’s the last time you heard a 3-year-old called “Richard?” He would more likely be called “Ricky.” Decide whether or not your character will have a nickname, and under what circumstances it will be used. Just like a given name, a nickname will have to match aspects of the character such as personality, appearance, hobbies, etc.

Some nicknames are ironic, like the 400 lb. bus driver whom everyone calls, “Tiny.” Others might be descriptive like the basketball player called “Stretch,” or the daredevil whose friends call him, “Crash.”

I recently read a wonderful book called, “The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell.” It was about a little boy named Sam Hill, who was born with ocular albinism, making the pupils of his eyes red. For that, he gained the nickname, Sam Hell (along with other names like the Devil. This had a profound effect on Sam.

Character Names

Names by Gender

You’ve probably noticed that I am using mostly males as examples. That’s because non-traditional nicknames are used more often by males than females, but there are certainly plenty of female nicknames to go around, including unisex names that will give your readers the impression that a female named “Michaela” who goes by “Mickie” might be a tomboy. If you do use a Unisex name, be sure to let your readers know immediately whether your character is male or female so they don’t struggle to form a mental picture of who you are writing about.

Avoid these Names

Avoid iconic names like Adolf (unless you are writing historical fiction set in the early 20th century Germany or Austria). Likewise, Cher, Madonna, and Elvis will get in the way of your readers separating your character from their namesake. Also, avoid character names which are difficult to pronounce in the language in which your book will be published. Most people who have read the Old Testament of the Bible have glossed over some of the more difficult to pronounce names. You don’t want your readers to do that with your book.

One tricky rule

Names that start with the same letter or have a similar sound, for example, “Brett” and “Bart,” will be difficult for your readers to keep straight. I am currently reading a fantastic book by John Grisham called, “The Last Juror.” In it are two characters named, “Wiley and Willy.” I’m nearly done with the book and I still have to remind myself who’s who.

Before the internet became part of our daily lives, Moms relied on baby name books to help them name their unborn children. Now, you can use online name generators. I highly recommend giving a lot of thought to your characters’ names. They can make a big difference in how other characters, and your readers, see them.

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

My Family
The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

 


Book Proposal

According to one survey, 81% of people believe they have a book in them.  Unfortunately, most people don’t[i].  They might have a story in them, but a book is another thing, entirely. A book is written for an audience. In the past, publishers have asked the questions that ensured whether or not a book would likely sell. Writers answer these questions in the form of a book proposal. With the ability to self-publish, no one is asking these questions.

Today, most writers:

  • Don’t know what sells
  • Overestimate the demand for their book idea in an already saturated market
  • Overestimate their ability as a writer
  • Don’t realize how much time it takes to write, edit, format, publish, and market their book
  • Are often too satisfied with a low-quality book

How can you know whether or not your idea for a book is worth pursuing?

Start where traditionally published writers do, with a book proposal.

When someone is attempting to traditionally publish, they don’t invest the time and energy into writing a book until they know someone wants to publish it for them. So they write a book proposal to answer two questions a publisher will ask:

  • Why should I publish this book?
  • Why are you the person to write it?

As a writer attempting to self-publish, you need to answer these same questions. You do this in your book proposal. This guide is meant as a starting point for self-published writers to assess the viability of their book in much the same way that a publisher does. And it only makes sense to do this. After all, you are the publisher!

If you are trying to traditionally publish, you will want to be more precise and professional in its layout.

Start with an introduction.

  • What is your book about?

This should hook your audience enough that they will see there’s a compelling reason to consider your book.

  • What is its genre/category?

A great way to determine this is to go to your local library. Find a book that is very similar to what you want to write and see how it is categorized. You might need to tweak it to find the best fit, but this is a good starting point. Amazon.com can be used in a similar manner. Unfortunately, many self-published authors miscategorize their books so make sure you aren’t following someone down the wrong path.

If you happen to be writing a novel, the best resource I know of is the Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. He does an excellent job of explaining genre and how to decide which genre your book falls under. It’s much more complex than it sounds, but he gives step by step guidance to help you sort it out.

Include an estimated length as well as the number of photos and/or illustrations. Pages with images are often more expensive and will need to be figured into the publishing cost.

What about the competition?

Like the three bears, it’s important that you have some competition, but that the market isn’t overly saturated. What about that book that no one has thought of yet? You know… the really original idea.

“There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – are self-published. On average, they sell less than 250 copies each.”[ii]

With that many books being published each year, if no one has thought to write about something, then no one is thinking about reading it, either. So some competition is good. But, you also need to stand out from the crowd. The perfect example of this is the cancer book market. I can speak to this since I am a part of this over-saturated market.

Before writing my book, “Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer,” I spoke with David Henry Sterry of The Book Doctors. He explained that traditional publishers are very leery of publishing books about cancer because everyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer has decided to write a memoir about it and they just haven’t sold well. He was also quick to point out that there is still a market for books in this category…

But you need to stand out from the crowd

I chose to do this by focusing more on the practical advice people need when facing cancer, rather than our story. My goal was to stand out from the more sterile “about cancer” books written by professionals, by making my books very readable from the voice of experience, while focusing on the reader.

Find comparable books. It’s helpful to know what books have the same style and feeling as the book you are writing. You can use this information in your book description on its sales page, as well. “If you like “Such and Such,” you’re going to love…” Also, know what is missing from each of those books, and how your book fills the void.

Book Proposal

Who is your book’s audience?

Narrow down who your audience is, as much as possible. It is common for writers to write their book in a generalized manner in an attempt to please everyone. Unfortunately, when you do this, you connect with no one. Drilling down to a specific audience in your book proposal results in your readers feeling like the book was written just for them. And in a sense, it was! How is your book going to benefit this audience?

Is it part of a series?

Will there be sequels? This is a huge factor in marketability. As I talked to David Henry Sterry about a mystery series I was starting, I said I planned on writing 3 books. It took place in a small town and you can only have so many murders in a small town before people start checking the water. Sterry laughed and said, “No way. Think about Murder She Wrote. There’s a murder every week in Cabot Cove.”  That’s how an expert marketer thinks. Possibilities!

Who are you?

In your book proposal, consider what makes you the ideal person to write this book. You are selling yourself as much as your book. What is your platform? This is the place from which you will market your book and yourself.  It includes your website, your social media accounts, and your mailing list. All of these connect you to your audience in a more personal way. Publishers demand a well-established platform. You will need them to get your book in front of your audience. Consider all the ways you can publicise your book and include those ideas here so that when you are marketing, you already have the beginning of a plan.

Are you consulting an expert if your subject is a specialized one?

For my book, Facing Cancer as a Parent, I consulted a child-life specialist who specializes in children who have a parent with cancer. As a parent of children whose dad has cancer, I have a level of expertise that was earned the hard way, through experience. But, when you are dealing with something as important as the well-being of children, you want to ensure the information you are publishing is technically correct, as well. Consulting an expert adds to your book’s credibility.

An Outline

I know there are die-hard “pantsers” out there, writers who fly by the seat of their pants and see where their muse takes them. The truth is until you are established as an author, a publisher wants to know where you’re going with your book. What’s going to be in it? Even though this book proposal is for your benefit as a self-published writer, you will want to plan out your book in outline form.

Start by listing your chapters and then under each chapter heading, list the subheadings, or what you will detail in each chapter. This will help you to get the flow of your book planned.

Sample Chapter

Even as a self-published writer, including a sample chapter in your book proposal, will help you to set the tone and get the formatting straight. We will talk more about formatting in a future post.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at Facing Cancer with Grace.

Footnotes:

[i] Joseph Epstein, New York Times, September 28, 2002, “Think You Have a Book in You? Think Again”

[ii] Forbes, Jan. 8, 2013. Nick Welsh, Contributor. “Thinking of Self-Publishing Your Book in 2013? Here’s What You Need to Know.”

 


Writing Facing Cancer as a Parent

In preparation for my upcoming book launch, I’ve been gathering questions my readers have about the process of writing Facing Cancer as a Parent: How to help your Child Cope with Your Cancer and getting it ready to publish. The release date for Facing Cancer as a Parent is coming up, soon. I am formatting the book for print right now. Some formatting issues have put me behind schedule. My goal is to have it out by July 4th. In the meantime, here are some Q and A about writing Facing Cancer as a Parent.

Facing Cancer series seem to be part how-to and part anecdotal stories. Why the blend?

I love telling stories, especially to my family about my family, our history, and memories. It seems like daily I try to tell my kids a story and before I even begin, they groan and tell me the story as proof that they’ve heard it before. Apparently, I have told them these stories one too many times. I’m a storyteller. That’s part of being a writer. I also believe that most people are wired for story. Stories help them retain the information and know how to apply it to their own lives.

Is it difficult sharing such personal stories in your books?

I’m actually a very private person. Whenever I read a memoir, I wonder how the friends and family feel having their dirty laundry aired so publicly. So I’m sensitive to that and I’m careful to share things that are genuine, but at the same time don’t embarrass my family. That’s respect.

When I write a story about someone, whether they are a family member or a friend, I like to have them give me the okay.  If I write about someone I can’t get ahold of because we’ve lost touch, I change names and identifying details. Most people, including my kids, are pretty cool with it. I’ve never had anyone say no. But then, I don’t share everything.

Sometimes there are things that you might want to write about in the hope that it could help someone else in a similar situation, but you can’t do that if it’s going to embarrass your kid. Your kid has to come first. And you can’t make assumptions. Kids are unique and often sensitive to the spotlight. There might be something you don’t think is a big deal to share, but they might be mortified to see it in print. Ask first.

What is your favorite part of the writing process?

I think the editing process is my favorite. Not the whole grammar/punctuation aspect, but crafting the words. For a project like this, one of my goals is making the reader comfortable. I want the words to be easily digested so there’s no interference between me and the reader. So, I don’t want to throw overly-complex information at them or try to prove my intellect with a bunch of fifty-cent words. My readers are dealing with enough in their lives. I want to make life easier for them. That’s not always how I write, but it’s my philosophy when crafting my books about cancer.

Facing Cancer as a ParentWhat was the hardest part of writing Facing Cancer as a Parent?

By far the hardest part of writing Facing Cancer as a Parent was the end. There’s a section that deals with helping children through the death of a parent. I often found myself avoiding it and coming up with other things to do rather than finish the book. I didn’t want to think about it because that’s the reality that our family continues to face. Many people who have cancer are treated and cured and go on to live long lives. But there are people like my husband who have a diagnosis that doesn’t have a cure. We can put it off, but the day will come. So, that was an incredibly difficult section to write.

What’s it like working with Create Space to publish your book?

There are things about it that I love, like the ability to control your content, from the interior to cover choices, to how it will be marketed. There are also things I hate, like doing my own formatting. I could certainly hire a formatter, but I haven’t quite given up trying to save money in that area. I keep thinking, I’ve done this before. Why is it so hard? I will likely write about this in the future because it was such a difficult obstical to hurdle.

What characteristics from Facing Cancer as a Friend did you use writing Facing Cancer as a Parent?

I continue to write about things that the book’s audience is dealing with every day. In Facing Cancer as a Friend, that was the question of how to support someone you care about who is now diagnosed with cancer. In writing Facing Cancer as a Parent, I confronted the question of how to still parent even when your mind is constantly on your (or your spouse’s) cancer diagnosis. I researched the topic, extensively, getting the help of child life specialists, including Melissa Turgeon who at the time was working for the Angel Foundation, an organization that supports families facing cancer in Minnesota.

I’ve also lived this. For over 5 years, my husband has been fighting stage IV lung cancer. We have seen a lot of ups and downs. Our 3 daughters have lived for over 5 years, with the reality that their dad is sick and that his life is on the line. Our goal has been to help them adjust to this and face the future with strength and resilience. So, I share a lot of short stories from our lives.

How is Facing Cancer as a Parent going to be different from Facing Cancer as a Friend?

I learned so much, writing Facing Cancer as a Friend, including some things I wish I could redo (and plan to, at some point). There are some things that are stylistically more professional in Facing Cancer as a Parent. I am much happier with the cover and the formatting style of Facing Cancer as a Parent. When I have the time, I plan to rerelease Facing Cancer as a Friend with these same formatting changes.

What was your main goal while writing Facing Cancer as a Parent?

I want to offer a starting point for parents going through this difficult time. There are questions every parent asks and I hope to give them some answers and a direction in which they can go to help their kids. It won’t solve every problem they encounter, but it will help them feel more like they are on solid footing.

While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage your creativity.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.


How the spring season inspires me to write

It’s spring! It’s the 1st Wednesday of the month again. That’s when I take part in Alex J. Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I encourage you to check out their website and even sign up for the IWSG Newsletter. Even though it seemed like it would never arrive, spring is here! Today I will explore whether the season inspires me to write, or not, as I answer this month’s IWSG Day question:

It’s spring! Does this season inspire you to write more than other seasons, or not?

The Short Answer

No.  I always want to write.

But…

But each season inspires me to write in a different way.

I believe strongly that there is a natural rhythm throughout the calendar year, which can help us in everything we do, whether it’s celebrating seasons and holidays with family and friends, worshiping God, learning or working. Marketing gurus figured this out, long ago. Why not allow our creative endeavors to be assisted by the calendar?

How each season inspires me to write

How the summer season inspires me to write

Let’s start with how the spring season inspires me to write

Beginning in 2017, I started participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. It’s a wonderful way to start out the year because if for some reason, I don’t get any more blog posts written the rest of the year, I still have content to share (even if it means reposting and A to Z post in November when I’m swamped with holiday preparations).  In order to accomplish this, I write and edit like crazy, beginning in Late February, in preparation for the April challenge.

When A to Z is over, I breathe a sigh of relief and pick up the pieces of whatever book I happen to be writing. Currently, I am getting, “Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Kids Cope with Your Cancer,” ready for publication. I happen to be in the phase of the final edits and formatting.

How the summer season inspires me to write

For our family, summer means big family get-togethers like a week at the cabin. It also means road trips and vacations. I write more in my journal during the summer months because it’s more portable.  I also tend to choose a fresh project to work on at the cabin. Some people might wonder why I work while I’m on vacation. If I go more than a day or two without writing, I can really get into a slump. Writing at least a little bit each day keeps the pump primed.

Strange things happen in the summer that inspires me to write in ways I often don’t. For example, last year there was a power outage that left us using candles to light our house and, of course, no computer to write with. I grabbed a book of story starters and began to write a short story idea involving a power outage. It was an idea I would never have had on a regular day.

How the summer season inspires me to write

How the autumn season inspires me to write

The summer fun is winding down and the new routine of the school year invites new ideas and goals I typically turn in my journal for a schedule and my laptop. I help my focus along by listening to instrumental music through my earbuds so the squabbling of my homeschooled kids doesn’t drive me crazy. They do their work in the living room on their own laptops, or with notebooks and pencils.

I usually have some concrete goals that I try to achieve in the fall. One year, I participated in NaNoWriMo and finished my first draft in a month. I still haven’t finished revising it.  As a middle-aged woman with a lot of irons in the fire, I opted out last year.  I do have an idea for a future book, though.

How the winter season inspires me to write

I live in Minnesota, so when winter arrives I hunker down and avoid going outside at all costs. This gives me a great 5-month opportunity to write.  I try to finish any projects that I can before the end of the year. I begin thinking about my goals for the next year and what it will take to accomplish them. I also get as much of my content calendar written as possible, so I always have plenty of ideas simmering on the back burner.

Each season inspires me to write in different ways from the others, and spring is no exception. But, it seems my actual output is pretty steady throughout the year.

How the winter season inspires me to write.

How do the seasons affect your life?

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

 

My Family
The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Addictions

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, I will share ways to increase your creativity. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is Y for Your Addictions Have to Go.

Many people think of novelists (of all writers, really) as deep thinking older men who find their muse in the bottom of a bottle of bourbon. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Any addiction, whether alcohol, drugs, gambling, or pornography, will hamper your creativity. It doesn’t mean you can’t write great stuff while living with an addiction, but it will make the process a lot harder—not to mention the other problems addictions will bring into your life. To be the best writer you can be, your addictions have to go.

But what about those famous writers who’ve had addictions?

In his book entitled, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King, a recovering addict himself, has a lot to say about this1. He lays responsibility for the myth of the addicted writer at the feet of 4 specific examples of literary angst and despair: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, and the poet, Dylan Thomas. King’s opinion (and mine, as well) is that substance abusing writers are just substance abusers—plain and simple. While creative people may be more prone to addiction than the general public, they don’t need to be drunk, stoned, or otherwise tuned up to write. Any claim to the contrary is a lie.

How Alcohol and Drugs Affect the Brain

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “drugs can alter important brain areas that are necessary for life-sustaining functions and can drive the compulsive drug abuse that marks addiction.” Drugs tap into, and interfere with, the brains communication system, leading to abnormal messages being sent. Drugs target the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates movement, emotion, rewards, and feelings of pleasure. This causes the drug user to want to continue to use drugs. They are the only way to make the brain get those “reward” messages at those levels. When the drug is taken away, the person no longer responds to the things that normally would give them pleasure. This leads to feelings of depression. It becomes a vicious cycle.

Addictions

Addiction and Creativity

While many creative people have addictions, those addictions don’t add to or benefit their creativity. Creative people may, however, be more prone to addictions. One drug treatment center’s website postulates that there are many similarities between the creative personality and the addictive personality. Many of these characteristics make one prone to addiction, including a tendency to act impulsively and an enjoyment of risk-taking.

It is well documented that drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances and activities do not enhance one’s creativity. The myth of the addiction as the artist’s muse is born of the fact that many creative people happen to become addicted people. They were always creative, and likely more productive prior to becoming addicted. The very definition of addiction is to put what you are addicted to before anything and everything else in life, including your art.

What to do about your addiction

There really isn’t a self-help guide to breaking an addiction. The best thing you can do is to seek professional help. The best addiction treatment center I know of is Teen Challenge. Teen Challenge serves men, women, and teens. They have centers all over the United States (and the world) and often accept people regardless of ability to pay. Contact the Teen Challenge center near you to find out how they can help you.

While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage your creativity.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

Footnotes:

1 I highly recommend On Writing. It’s one of the best books on writing there is. Part memoir, part craft, it is sure to encourage and inform you. As a bonus, if you’ve ever read any of his books, hearing what went on behind the scenes as he wrote them will be especially enjoyable.


eliminate expections

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, I will share ways to increase your creativity. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is X for Eliminate eXpectations.

Expectations are a good thing, though…right? Well, sometimes. But usually, when you eliminate expectations you are also removing psychological roadblocks in the way of your creativity. What do I mean by that? Here’s an example.

Would you believe square A is the exact same shade of gray as square B?

 

Copyrighted free use, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59829

But what does an optical illusion have to do with creative expectations?

When we compare our work to the work of others, it changes how we see it.

When I was in the 8th grade, we had a teacher who liked to tell us, “Blowing out someone else’s candle won’t make yours burn brighter.”  It wasn’t original to him but it stayed with me all of these years. We aren’t in a competition. Yet we often end up blowing out our own candle!

“I wish I could write like that.”
“I’ll never be as good as her.”

Whenever you compare your work to someone else’s, you will run into issues related to expectations. This can be really difficult to combat when you consider how much media we take in every day, often related to your area of creative expertise. As a reader, I read all the time, and I learn from it. But I have to be careful not to judge my writing by comparing it to someone else’s. They have their voice and I have mine. There’s room enough in this world for both.

Eliminate expectations of what your writing (or any creative project) should be like. Instead, work on it as if it is in a vacuum, completely independent of anyone else’s.

Don’t limit yourself to someone else’s expectations

Whether those expectations are high or low, this can be a problem. Trying to live up to someone’s high expectations can leave you feeling discouraged when you miss the mark. And when someone makes it clear that they have low expectations, you can feel just as bad—if not worse.

Instead, be open to possibilities. Block out the noise when other people make remarks about how they anticipate you will do as a writer or artist.

When I was younger, I was a talented artist, able to draw very realistic pictures of anything I saw. I was particularity good at portraits. Then, one day my dad asked me why I never did any “real art.” Everything I did was realistic, not “creative.” This wounded me terribly. I stopped making the art I loved and tried more fantasy based art that meant nothing to me. I was just trying to win his approval. And I got it, but I lost my love of drawing and painting because what I was doing no longer meant anything to me. Ultimately, I quit.

That was an immature response to what I’m sure my dad meant as encouragement. But even now, it hurts to think about what I lost.

Eliminate expectations of your work being like your past work

You might stop short of your work being the best it can be because it is better than something you’ve done in the past. So you are satisfied. But what if it could have been even better? While you can learn from work you’ve done in the past, don’t unintentionally be limited by it.

Stop reciting should haves, could haves, and would haves from your vocabulary in relationship to your creativity. They only make you feel like you’ve missed the mark. Instead, look for opportunities to turn lemons into lemonade.

You can still use “mistakes” from past work in the future

Maybe you messed up on something and you’re ready to throw it in the trash because it doesn’t meet the expectations you had when you first set out to work on the project. It might not be what you ultimately need, but it could be something completely different. Many writers, including myself, never throw out their mistakes. Often when I am editing, I eliminate whole chapters because they don’t fit in with the book well enough to stay there. I can always use them as a basis for something in the future.  So, I keep a file of documents on my computer with ideas, characters, and whole chapters of non-fiction work that I can use in the future.

When you eliminate expectations from your creative life, you get a purer perspective.

While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage your creativity.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.


Happy music

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, I will share ways to increase your creativity. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is X is for Xylophone- Happy Music and Creativity.

Recently a study was done which shows a correlation between listening to happy music and creativity.

Happy Music

By listening to happy music, study participants were able to think more creatively. To be more specific, they were able to perform divergent thinking. This got me thinking about what makes happy music, “happy?” After reading many articles ranging in perspectives from psychologists to musicians, I’ve decided that you know it when you hear it. There is a little more to it than that, though.

What makes happy music, happy, and sad music, sad?

Modes or tonality, for one thing, We had the opportunity to hear Franz Joseph Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ, arranged for a string quartet at the Ordway Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota on Good Friday. It was incredibly moving. Each sonata was written to reflect one of the statements Christ said while on the cross.

Before the concert began, Mark Mazullo, Professor of musicology and piano from Macalester College gave a Fanfare lecture on the music we would be hearing. He spoke about how modes, or tonality, add a mood to the music. Generally, major modes create happy music, while minor modes give the music a more somber tone. To get this effect, there has to be a shift in the mode.

Tempo also plays a role in the mood of a musical piece. A faster tempo is more cheerful than a slow one.
One interesting thing to note about this piece is that the 6th Sonata ”It is Finished,” ends in a major mode (the cheerful mode). This signifies the redemption made possible by Christ’s death.

While I’m not sure why happy music aids creativity, I have experienced this positive effect when writing. Not only do I find writing easier while listening to upbeat songs, but I also write faster, more productively.

When I write, I stick to instrumental music because if there are words being sung, they get jumbled up in my mind with the words I am trying to write. With Streaming services like Spotify. Pandora, and Amazon Prime Music (my personal favorite), finding great music to write to has never been easier or more affordable. My favorite writing music comes from The 2 Cellos and The Piano Guys. What’s your favorite?

And for some exciting Xylophone music… The Flight of the Bumblebee!

While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage your creativity.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.


World Building

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, I will share ways to increase your creativity. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is W is for World Building.

One sure way to get your creative juices flowing is to create an imaginary universe (and everything in it). This is known as world building. World building is something you do as a game creator and as a writer of fiction. Anytime you write fiction, you should be creating a world that your reader can walk around in. This is true, even if that world is Saint Paul, Minnesota in 2016. A reader from Albany, New York may never have been there, so you need to be just as diligent in laying everything out as you would be writing a fantasy novel.

Other World Building

There are some things that make world building in another time or in a completely made up place more time intensive.

  • Your reader will be coming to it not knowing anything about the world.
  • The social structure, maybe even the appearance of its inhabitants will be unique from our own (presumably).
  • You will have to describe the universe, it’s inhabitants, even the non-living everyday object unique to that universe.
  • What are the rules of the world your reader is peering into?
  • One thing that’s essential is to make your world as multifaceted as our own.
  • Politics and people (human or otherwise) are both complex.
  • Their history is filled with unique nooks and crannies

Avoid making them one dimensional. Here is a great article on the 7 Deadly Sins of World Building from Gizmodo.

Keeping the Details Straight

With so much to keep straight, different world builders have come up with ways to avoid plot holes and missing parts of the picture. Some fill notebooks (paper or digital) with copious notes. Often, they create a template of questions they ask about each character, place, or object of importance.

World Building

Recently, my daughters recommended an awesome tool called notebook.ai. It not only stores all of your information but asks you the questions you need to answer to make your world come alive. Even if the world you are building is grounded in your own place and time, this tool can be a valuable addition to your arsenal. I’ve been working on a mystery. At times, remembering what details I’ve included in my world of Wisconsin can be difficult. I used Notebook.ai to flesh out all of the details, ensuring nothing gets missed.

Notebook.ai ’s free plan is a great way to get started. It includes up to 5 universes and pages for characters, locations, and items. But it’s paid plan is the way to go if you’re a serious world builder. This opens up unlimited universes and all 15 page-types including flora, languages, groups, creatures, magics, races, religions, scenes, towns, countries, and landmarks.

However you go about building your world, you’ll be sure to stretch your imagination in the process.

While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage your creativity.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

 


Up The Stakes

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, I will share ways to increase your creativity. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is U is for Up the Stakes.

What makes a reader keep reading a story, or a viewer binge-watch their favorite series on Netflix? It’s the amazing art of upping the stakes. When you up the stakes, a reader can’t help but turn the page. What does it mean to up the stakes? Simply, you make something mean more for your character.

When You Up the Stakes They are more invested.

A writer might up the stakes in a thriller by revealing that the main character, a female army general, has just found out the man she married two years earlier is an Al Qaeda operative.

A romance author might up the stakes by having the heroine find out that the man she just had a fender bender with is her new boss. And she hadn’t noticed when she was berating him at the accident scene, just how hunky he was.

What about less dramatic stories?

Do you have to have something earthshaking happen when you up the stakes? No. But it needs to be compelling enough to keep your reader interested. In fact, you don’t want to have round after round of upping the stakes in a dramatic way or your reader will grow weary of the comic book-like way of moving the story forward.

Instead, you should have more of an action-reaction cycle. One scene will build to the action. Your protagonist has a goal. It might be to get Billy Bob to go on a date with her kid sister, Marybelle. So she plots and schemes to make everything just right. Then, just as she’s about to achieve that goal, disaster strikes. Marybelle is missing. The protagonist goes to tell Billy Bob, but she has set such a romantic mood that Billy Bob kisses her! That’s upping the stakes.

Now, what is going to happen?

That’s the question that makes your reader turn the page and begin reading the next chapter. The next chapter is where we will deal with the fallout of the action in the last chapter. The characters will react to the misplaced kiss. The protagonist will feel guilty about kissing her sister, Marybelle’s intended, Billy Bob. Billy Bob will fall madly in love with the protagonist, and Marybelle is still missing. What will they do? That decision will bring is back to the action scene, now with the protagonist’s new goal in mind.

Each time you have the action scene, you should find a way to up the stakes, even if it’s something small. Maybe they learn that Marybelle’s true calling is to become a professional square dancer and Billy Bob has two left feet. The possibilities are endless. Just ask your self what the goal of your protagonist is and how you can throw a monkey wrench in it.

While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage your creativity.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

Buy Facing Cancer as a Friend Today!

 

Sign up for my FREE Newsletter!

Check out Past Blog Posts HERE

Badges

A to Z Challenge