The Importance of Idea Generation

These days ideas are like currency to me. I can see how much they have been the key to even my smallest wins. When I have great ideas that I see through, I get immediate gratification for seeing it through. Well, the good ones. The truth is, not every idea is going to be a great idea, but that’s, even more, the reason why we should come up with many every day. Some will fall through the cracks and some will lead you to some places you never thought you could reach.

As a writer, it’s no different. Part of being a great writer is looking at the world through a special lens. Noticing the things that most other people don’t. Finding new ways to phrase things that people have felt for centuries. Very quickly after starting a blog I realized just how much work it was to come up with new content week after week. I had to listen in close to conversations, and use some of the things that I was watching and so on. It’s key to always come up with ideas that you can come back to later.

It’s even easier for us now that we have phones with notepads built into them, but you should be writing ideas down all the time.

Don’t try to wait until you get home to remember it, you will not. You have to stop in that moment and write it. And then the other part of that is remembering to actually go through that list of ideas every now and then.

Many writers have talked to me about struggling with writer’s block. I rarely have this problem. First and foremost, part of our job as writers is to live. So the more that we are living and experiencing different things, the more we have to write about. So, if you’ve been feeling clogged in the writing department lately, it’s probably because you have not been saying yes to living. Secondly, what has been a big help is writing ideas all the time.

The other day, I saw a tweet about a new literary publication being produced by the Free Library here in Philadelphia. But the problem was, the deadline was literally in a day. If it wasn’t for the fact that I literally write ideas, pieces of stories, parts of blog posts, all the time, I would have missed a pretty great opportunity. They haven’t made their selections yet, but what if I had counted myself out already by not even being prepared to submit? See I didn’t have to try to make up something from scratch which might have been subpar anyway. I pulled out a book that I write random stories in, polished it up and hit submit. This is a major advantage to writing ideas all the time. Whether they’re finished or not.

I am also a person who suffers from extreme idea overwhelm at times. Ha! So I practice a method that I learned from Nicole Waters called the idea box. Now for writing ideas I just tend to write them in my notebook or on my phone. But for bigger projects, I write them on an index card and then file them in the idea box based on the time frame in which I think the project should be completed. So it goes, 1-3 months, 3-6 months, and beyond. I also have a section for completed ideas which gives me the confidence to keep going. The caveat is to try to only work on one idea at a time before pulling the other out. The advantage for those of us who have minds on overload is that we don’t have to keep the idea swirling around in our heads making us crazy. When you write it down, it’s safe, you’ll remember it and you can free up that brain space for the actual execution.

The more you get into writing your ideas down all the time, I promise you, the more ideas you will have.

And the more ideas you have, well the possibilities are endless for those books, articles, events, whatever it is that you want to do to grow and be successful.

::: Ashley M. Coleman, Author + Writing Coach

Here are a few resources to consider for your idea generation.

- The Success Principles, Jack Canfield was the first book that I read that talked about the importance of idea generation. It also has tons of other gems that you can apply. Literally one of the first books that changed my whole mindset.

- Idea Box - Just grab some 3x5 cards (I like colorful ones because I’m extra) and an index card box. It already comes with dividers and instead of using them by letters, I turned them around to write out the time increments.

- Keep a Notebook – I know we are in this age of technology, but I love being able to flip back through a notebook and see ideas that were complete and some things that I never started to pick back up again. And I mean, who needs an excuse to buy another cute notebook?

Dealing With Rejection

“If you live for people’s acceptance, you will die from their rejection.” -Lecrae

Pouring your soul onto paper (or your computer screen) takes a lot of courage. Writers spend countless hours writing, editing, and hoping their thoughts will strike just the right chord with their audience. Sometimes the pieces you slave over are well-received; at other times, not so much.

Rejection is a part of the journey.

If you aren’t careful, you may doubt your ability to write when your words aren’t given the attention you envisioned. Before you entertain that negativity, ask yourself:

What specific feedback (or criticism) did I receive?

Is there any truth in their feedback?

What specific parts of my piece can be improved? How?

Does my grammar or punctuation detract from my piece?

Do my ideas flow logically and purposefully?

Look, I get it. I can be defensive about my work, too. Yet, if one of our goals is to become a better writer, we have to learn how to get out of our feelings and look at look at our work critically. So, that criticism we received? We’ve got to dissect it for what it’s worth. Is there any truth to their criticism? Be honest.

If needed, go old school for a minute. Print out your writing piece and grab a colorful pen. If you still have nightmares about the sea of red your high school teacher used to paint your old papers, then choose a different color.

Read through your work in its entirety the first time. Jot down your thoughts on a separate sheet of paper. Then, read through your work again. This time, focus on each paragraph. Do you have a main idea per paragraph? Or do you have several which could be explored more in depth on their own? Don’t be afraid to dig deeper!

Once you’ve looked at each paragraph individually, re-read your work. This time, think about the flow of your writing piece. Is there a paragraph that would be better suited later or earlier? If so, move it. You want to ensure your work is cohesive and makes sense.

After your content is edited, you can focus on improving your grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. We all know the value in using spell check, but make sure you look over your work line by line. Consider varying your sentence length. This makes your work flow better, and it adds variety. Don’t be afraid to be meticulous. Trust me, that agency you want to accept your work will definitely use a magnifying glass!

I know this is a long process to undertake, but I am firm believer in getting to the root of an issue. If my work didn’t make the cut or received some criticism, then I make it my business to figure out why.

Sometimes, our work may not be a good fit for a particular brand. There is also the possibility that we could stand to strengthen our writing. And you know what? There’s no shame in that. We’re all learning and growing.

::: JaQuette Gilbert, Author + Writing Mentor

Checklist:

  1. Look at the last writing submission you wrote. If the company or brand did not provide specific feedback, write down why you think the submission was rejected.
  2. Self-edit your work using the process we discussed above.
  3. If needed, use that life line and have someone else edit your work, too.
  4. Once you’ve incorporated the new changes, decide how (or if) you will use your new and improved version.
  5. Above all, don’t live for everyone else’s acceptance. If you do, you won’t know how to cope with their rejection.

What Does True Audience Building Entail?

There is a huge difference between writing for ourselves and deciding that we want to write and have someone else bear witness to what we have to say. The moment that we open ourselves up in that way, we subject ourselves to varying pressures from the outside world. Am I good enough? Did I say this right? Does anyone care?

Does anyone care? For the most part? Not at first. It’s called audience building for a reason. However many years ago when I created my first Blogspot post, there was no one who cared. I would literally put a post on my personal Facebook page that I wrote a new blog post and 4 or 5 people would actually take the time to go read it. This has changed significantly for me over the last four years.

Getting people to care starts with knowing what you have to say.

Knowing what you have to say only comes from writing. A lot. From journaling. From seeing your themes in writing. From your own self-discovery. From pouring into the page. Once you get that out of the way, then you can start to get a little more strategic about who the other people are that may be healed, motivated, or humored by your musings.

The next part in getting people to care is caring about them. Think about some of your favorite brands, musicians, artists. Have you ever heard from them? Have they ever responded to a tweet? Or like a photo of their album cover that you posted? If you have ever had that experience, remember how it made you feel? You spent your money on them without them knowing you existed. Imagine how much more you’d probably spend if they recognized and acknowledged your appreciation of them?

You cannot just expect an audience to think that you are the greatest thing in the world.

You have to be “audience minded.” You have to think about how to get your work to them. How will they know you exist? What places do you need to go to meet them? And you have to think about how your work affects them. What does it do for them? What are they getting in exchange for the 3-10 minutes they spend reading what you have to say?

This cannot always be simplified into a lead magnet or upgrade either. It’s not about giving me a checklist because I read your post. This, of course, depends on what you write about. Those things do have their place. But some of the most gratifying things that I have read have given me hope. That is not tangible. But it is something that has led me back to my favorite writers’ work time and time again. You have to have something to offer the world and the moment that you aren’t just writing in a journal, it has to be about the reader too.

I am going to give you a few important tips on building your audience, but one of the most important things to keep in mind is that an audience takes TIME to build. I know, no one in our generation likes to hear that word. But I promise you, the writer that you think is so poppin and has umpteen followers have to build to get there. Great writing spreads. Yes, you have to learn to be intentional and strategic, but you also have to learn how to create very good content as well.

::: Ashley M. Coleman, Author and Writing Coach

Keys to Audience Building:

Knowing who they are

1. Who are you trying to reach?

2. What do they like? Other than reading posts, what do they do? What shows do they like? What other blogs do they read?

3. How does your writing affect them?

Engagement

1. When people comment, answer them back. And not just, “thanks for reading.” Engage them in a real life convo.

2. Same thing for Twitter which is a great way to connect with your audience as a writer. Don’t just favorite, engage. Thank people for sharing your work, it goes a long way.

3. Engage in the community that you want your audience to be. If you know you cater to other writers, find things that you can be a part of that include writers. When you are genuinely interested in the things that interest your audience, you will find ways to connect and tell them about what you do.

Putting Yourself Out there

1. You cannot be afraid of self-promotion. Remember that your message is bigger than you and your embarrassment of being a narcissist. Get over it and put the word out.

2. Guest Post. If you have other blogs that are similar to yours or that attract the audience you want to reach, see if you can write something for them or collaborate in some way. You have to learn the skill of cross-pollinating.

3. Create interactive content. Whether that is a writing challenge, videos, Insta-Stories or Snaps, utilize some of the multi-media resources that you have to send people back to the writing.

The Truth About Transparency

We live in a time with a lot of false pretenses. Often we think about this in regard to social media. But I’m not one of the “down with social media people.” It’s just the nature of social media that it will never be able to show the whole picture. I think it’s a great tool that can be a major time suck, but I digress.

But it’s not just social media. There are a lot of other things as well. I mean at this point we don’t know what body parts are real, whether photos are real, it goes on and on. This is where transparency may be more important now than it’s ever been.

We’re craving real things in the midst of so much sparkle and glitter.

Everyone looks like they are living their best life and meanwhile you are downing a gallon of ice cream trying to figure out where it all went wrong. It’s the moment that we take the time to say, “No, I felt that way too” or “Today I am happy, but the other day, I didn’t know which way was up.”

It’s not that we have to spill out all the negative things about life either. It’s just that everything needs balance. So as much as we show the vacation pictures, it helps to also show the times when you have literally been in the house for multiple days and on the brink of becoming a recluse.

People want something real when they read your writing. Often I have talked about writers’ battle with transparency vs. oversharing. In the beginning of the personal blogging wave, people were leaving it all out on their Blogspot pages and it was a place of connection. But that type of purging for public consumption can also be depleting. Some of the most authentic writers that I have known have figured out the matrix to seemingly sharing a lot without sharing every detail. This is important.

I’m a pretty open book. It’s just part of my personality. Where other people have a more private nature, I often have had to learn the discernment of what to share and what not to. But at this point in my life, I know exactly how to talk about a theme or concept without letting you into every juicy detail of my life. Some things are sacred and the people I love are some of those things. So you will never catch me airing them out in my work. Each writer will have to decide what things are sacred to them.

However, outside of that sacred space, you cannot fear honesty in your work.

You have to learn how to “go there” in your writing. You have to learn how to confront yourself, the world, society, the status quo, whatever it is if you are ever going to find the authenticity that keeps readers longing for your work. If you are having trouble connecting with your audience you may want to evaluate if there is more that you can say. Can you dig deeper? What did you leave out? How can you really bring it full circle? These are the things you may find yourself asking to create your best work.

The most important thing to remember in regard to having the courage to be transparent is that your work is bigger than you. If we can take ourselves out of the equation and think of the story that needs to be told, we are often more able to muster up the gull to write what needs to be said. Your story is for the girl trying to figure out how to cope with being sexually assaulted but longing for a real relationship where she isn’t afraid of intimacy. Your story is for the guy who wanted something different out of life but got caught up in the streets because that was the only option they thought they had. Your story is for the person who is terrified to quit their job and pursue their passion because they have no examples of entrepreneurial success. When I tell you that your words have the ability to save a life, to provide comfort, to exonerate, I am telling you from personal experience.

As harsh as it sounds, the world cannot wait for you to find your confidence. The story will get told with or without you. But it would be great if you were willing to step up to the plate. If you were willing to shed the layers of shame and self-doubt and connect with the deepest parts to write them out.

Be something real for your readers and you will never be starved for an audience.

In order to overcome the stumbling blocks of shame and fear of transparency, I encourage writers to do some self-assessment and exploration in their journals. Below are a few prompts to write to for yourself. As you muster up the courage in your private writing, I promise you, it will begin to spill over into every other area of your writing.

::: Ashley M. Coleman, Author and Writing Coach

The thing that I judge in others that is within me …

Your biggest fear? Now the one that you don’t tell anyone?

What was your most painful memory? How did you cope? How did you overcome it?

What has been the most important lesson in your life so far?

Who has been the most influential person in your life so far and why?

What’s your biggest source of insecurity?

What have you wanted to say in your writing that you’ve been afraid to?

If I Don’t Write Every Day, Am I Still a Writer?

The first thing that we have to understand on this journey of becoming together is that there are no absolutes. Yes, as a member of this community you will receive insight, instruction, and guidance on becoming your best writer. But the key here is, YOUR. We are all different. We will all go on to do different things with our careers, so first and foremost, we have to establish that all advice is to be taken with a perspective that there are no absolutes. 

The short answer to the question posed is that you are surely still a writer even if you don’t write every day. But let me tell you why I think it’s really important. There is not a craft on this Earth that does not require practice. And the more you practice, in my estimation, the better you become. When writers talk about struggling with their voice, I believe it’s because they haven’t spent enough time writing. As you do write more often, you simply hear it. I know what I sound like in words because of the amount that I write. 

Outside of the practice, writing has literally become a form of spiritual awakening for me. I write every day because I think my mind would literally explode if I didn’t. Having the ability to write helps me understand myself, the world around me, my emotions, and so much more. Writing every day does not always entail finishing 10 book pages or a 1,000-word blog post. For me, writing every day means writing my prayers and writing some of my morning thoughts, challenges, aspirations, affirmations or whatever is on my heart to write that morning. It literally sets the tone for my day. 

Prior to making a morning routine, I felt completely out of whack throughout my day. I was unable to really focus on the tasks in front of me, I was all over the place emotionally. The daily practice of writing not only helps me to develop, but it helps me to function. 
With that, I am gentle with myself when I do not get to write. Some mornings I am hustling out of the door or I may be traveling. Whatever the case may be. In this journey, we also have to learn to be gentle with ourselves even with the schedules and processes that we put into place. 

I’m obsessed with writing. I love it. I love finding new inspiration. I listen closely to conversations, stow away scenes from my favorite films, I write words and phrases that move me. Why wouldn’t I want to do it every single day? It’s not always writing for my business. Sometimes it’s a phrase, a line, a title, a thought. But when people urge you to write every day, it’s because if this is something that you’re pursuing it should indeed be a priority. Do you think Lebron can play the way he does taking weeks on end off from getting in the gym? NOPE. So in order to stay in our creative mode, I find that writing as often as possible is good for our writing prowess.

Be careful who you let define the word writer for you. You will come across many definitions. But one thing I have found is that careers in the arts are for the mentally strong. These are not conventional paths and there are a lot of opinions on what’s “good” and the right or wrong way to do things. I’ve fallen victim to what I considered a “good” writer to be and then in a moment I realized that what I brought to the table was 100% me. My work is for who my work is for and not anyone else. Always remember that. There are tricks and tools that many of the greats have used, but only you get to define what makes you a writer. 

So what’s holding you back from being able to write every day? Here are a few things that you may want to try to get into the habit. 

  • Buying a guided journal. I think all the time. So I literally am rarely short on things to write about. But, I still have some workbooks and prompts that I can work from if I am ever at a loss. 
  • Set 30-minute timers. You have probably heard me say this over and over if you follow my work. I know we are all busy, but there are not many people that can convince me if you are not Beyonce, that you don’t have 30 minutes in your day that you can set aside to write. We all waste time somewhere. Try using 30 of those minutes to write something down. 
  • Take a course or workshop. There is something about another person’s mind that can really help open up yours. Try a workshop, you may be able to uncover things that you never thought you would. 
  • Wake up earlier. I was wandering out of the bed like 30 minutes before I had to work at some point. So counterproductive. Getting up a little earlier gave me the time to actually carve out more writing time before getting my day started. 
  • Stay Ready. I am always gathering ideas no matter where I am. Whether it’s in a notebook or on your phone, when the inspiration comes, don’t miss it. 
  • Remember why you’re writing. I think this is so key. Is writing your hobby? Okay, well great, maybe you don’t need to be as consistent. Is writing what you hope to make a career? Then remember your why to motivate you to write every day. Make sure that it aligns with your goals. That book is not going to write itself. So what changes are you going to make to ensure that it gets done? 
     

The Common Misconception About Writing Voice

Writing voice is often a concept that I’ve heard writers express a struggle to find. The biggest misconception in my humble opinion is that it’s something that can be found. 
Developed? Yes. Honed? Absolutely. I hate to break it to you, but your voice is already there. It comes from within. It encompasses all of who you are and extends itself to the page. Just as much as meeting you should show me certain things about your personality, you’re writing should do the same. 

Sometimes we confuse writing style for voice. Sure you may be an essay writer, or have a straightforward tone or be conversational. But that doesn’t necessarily make up your voice. It’s the words you choose. It’s the way that you say things. It’s influenced by who you are, what you’ve done, the things you’ve experienced and they reveal themselves through the way that you put sentences and paragraphs together. 

Call off the search for your writing voice and simply begin to listen to yourself. This is where the practice comes in. Part of the reason I feel comfortable with my writing voice is that I write, a lot. The discipline of writing in a journal every day is not just so I can buy new ones. Although, I do enjoy that as well. The point is that it is practice without even realizing it, of hearing myself through words. This is why I encourage every writer that I encounter to journal. 

I feel like we grow into our writing voice the same way that we grow into our own personalities. Sure, in the beginning, you just copy everything your parents do and say. But as your frontal lobe continues to develop, a personality all your own starts to solidify as well. In that same way, many of us want to write like our favorite writers. But how can we do that when we have not experienced what they have experienced or seen the things they’ve seen? Our voice is unique to us. 

So I want to encourage you if you feel like you have yet to discover your voice that it is indeed already there. You may need to tap into it a bit more. Analyze it, figure out ways you want to spruce it up a bit, but it’s there waiting to be cultivated. 

Developing your voice begins with knowing a little about who you are. I wrote about this in a blog post before in regard to confidence. That if you’re not a confident person, how can you be confident in your writing? Well, same thing here for voice. If you haven’t spent time thinking about who you are as a person, how can you be sure that is being reflected in your work? 
Let’s take me for the example. I am silly. I love to laugh. I’m super ambitious. Driven. Sometimes a bit no non-sense when it comes to responsibilities. I am motivated, a lover of Christ, a romantic. I’m married, I am passionate about writing. I LOVE to read. I can be sarcastic. I love pop culture. 

If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written, do these things come across? I believe so. All these things influence my voice. The fact that I’m from Philadelphia even introduces specific vernacular to my writing like the word jawn. You may see me throw that around here and there. It’s important to think of all these things when we think about our writing and how who we are shapes our voice. So here are a few exercises or things to consider in regard to voice. 

1. Who are you? What are you like? What are some adjectives you would use to describe yourself? 
2. What are some of your cultural influences? Where did you grow up? What traditions did your family have? 
3. What do you love to read? What are you drawn to? What is it about that work that makes it resonate so deeply with you? 
4. Journaling. I have even created free prompts in my Writers Write WLD workbook. Start listening to yourself through your journaling. It’s about more than expressing your frustration with the day’s events. There are themes there. Your voice is there. Pay attention to it. 
5. Get a second opinion. Ask someone, what is my writing like? When you read it, what do you hear in my voice? 
 

Welcome!

I was waiting for permission.

Permission to feel like writing was a real talent. Permission to believe that I possessed a skill that not everyone else had. Permission to believe that my words mattered. That they deserved to be shared.

We’re all taught to read and write as a basic necessity in life. Basic is what it feels like when you have a way with words. Sure you passed all your English classes with flying colors and scored masterfully in reading throughout standardized testing, but wasn’t that basic? Wasn’t that ordinary? 

I’ve learned over the years that it’s not. Not everyone has the ability to communicate effectively and eloquently through the written word. When I stopped looking around, when I simply decided that this is what I wanted to do, I gave myself permission. Permission to write. 
We don’t realize how much of our success is rooted simply in our ability to give ourselves permission.

Writing, being a writer, seems to hold so much weight. It’s a sentiment that resounds with the ink of James Baldwin, of Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes and all the giants whose backs and shoulders we stand on.

My hope is to help you also navigate the process of giving yourself permission to write by providing the tools and encouragement needed to produce at your highest level. To find your way. To center yourself. To be more mindful in your approach to your artistry. We are artists as writers. We are a pivotal part of shaping history, cultural phenomenon, painting portraits of important figures and moments, and so much more. We find the words when others can’t. We help generations articulate the feelings of love, frustration, resistance, sadness, anger, resentment and triumph.  

The moment that you put the pen to the page with words that formulate sentences, and sentences that formulate paragraphs, you are a writer. The weight that you assign to that comes from you and only you. 

My work has morphed into not only my own journey in writing and discovery but to accompany others in the quest for permission. Sure, who am I even to have that type of authority in the lives of others? No one really. But someone who has stood in your shoes, lost and in denial, and found their way back to the abandoned journal pages to release those words and sentiments into the world.

It’s empowering, yet crushing, and we have to find the opportunity to excavate our own meaning, our own characterization of the word writer. 
It's time to give yourself permission.

Through your Permission to Write Membership you will have access to tools, live chats, videos, and much more to aid you in that journey. Let’s continue to grow together and become the best writers we can in the process. 

XoXo, 

Ashley