5 Ways I’ve Used Minimalism to Improve my Writing

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My Instagram posts

Instagram: Poetry Unfiltered

Every Saturday and Sunday, I publish a “Post-It-sized” poem on Instagram. I used to feel that I had to make each poem “pop” with the use of filters until I realized that such was unnecessary. I could feel the seconds being wasted, trying to come up with just the right filter, so I started screenshotting my poem with my phone via Google Docs and publishing it as is with the hashtag #nofilter. I realized there is a certain beauty in stark white and bold black. Coming up with appropriate hashtags take enough of my time.

Images are (Almost) Everything

Because I blog a minimum of twice weekly, it helps to recycle images, especially with my recurring features: Micropoetry Mondays and Fiction Fridays. For Monday, if my theme is “The Lighter Side” or “Opposites,” I use the same graphic; eventually, I will design my own logo for Micropoetry Monday, so I can ditch the stock photography all together (I’ve already scrubbed my blog of most of it). Because Fiction Fridays are all excerpts from my book or poetry based on it, I use the same graphic. Even when it comes to LinkedIn, rather than using a stock photo, I use my business card in basic black and plain white (without my personal address or telephone number) and an eye-grabbing headline. However, since I’ve discovered the Medium Daily Digest’s publishing platform (https://medium.com/), which is lot more attractive than LinkedIn’s (and not about boring corporate culture), I use an abstract photo—usually a close-up of something loosely related to the quotation I paste over it.  (And my quotes are always original.  There is enough recycled content out there.)

Strunk and White + Stephen King = Needful words

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is one grammar book that changed my writing (and maybe my life). It is what I call a hornbook for all writers. I applied its principles to my writing when I worked for my community college newspaper for several semesters, which helped me with conciseness (though I would still try to sneak in the Oxford comma). In On Writing by Stephen King, King says to “Kill your darlings”; I say you have to kill your characters (meaning the alphabet kind). Writing also helped me chuck 99% of my adverbs; nothing beats “he said” or “she said.” You want those dialogue tags to be invisible. I credit these two books and my experience as a student reporter in helping me get the job as a clarity editor for Grammarly.

Social media < Writing, Editing, Submitting

When I started my blog in October 2013, I thought I had to be as omnipresent as possible when it came to social media, but, after an incredible amount of spam I received on Twitter and people following just to get a follow, I ditched it and Pinterest, too. Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and LinkedIn is enough for me. (Often, what I post in one place gets posted in another). What time I used to spend trying to brand myself on all those social media accounts I could be spending building my vocabulary, submitting to actual publications, etc. I don’t have time to engage with all my followers — I need readers who aren’t writers. After more than three years of posting my Wednesday and Poem-a-Day prompts (in April and November) for Writer’s Digest on their blog and mine, I realized it was time for me to move on, which simplified my writing life even more. I needed content I could write ahead of time, so I could schedule it to publish on my blog at a later date. 

Submissions: Kitchen-Sink Theory Does Not Apply

I used to think I had to flood the market with submissions rather than focus on a handful of publishers. Targeting your publications gives you time to read and study them; submission guidelines alone will not provide intuition into what the editors are looking for. I have since discovered that my work would not be considered literary, so most small presses would not be a good fit; I have a better shot at larger publishers because of their more mainstream content. If I pick up a journal and don’t “get” any of the poems, then it’s the wrong publication for me; if I pick up a magazine and don’t enjoy any of the stories, then it’s not a good fit for my writing. This keeps me from being overwhelmed with reading material.

Micropoetry Monday: Social Media

She pined for the days
when people were more sophisticated
than their technology,
yet she loved the technology
that allowed her to watch the movies made
during those days before
that technology had come to be.

Because she gave respect
without it having to be earned first,
she found that she often received it.
When someone lost her respect,
she did not disrespect them,
but rather,
left them to their own electronic devices.

She scrolled down her friend list,
unfriending those she had never known,
but who had been watching her life
more than she ever knew.

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Blogging

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Blogging is a fantastic way to get the word (i.e. your work) out, but it’s easy to be torn between what you should put out there for free & what you should hold dear until it finds a home (because once it’s posted, it’s considered published, & you may never be able to submit it anywhere again). This guide should help: https://sarahleastories.com/2016/10/04/15-blogging-prompts/

Twitter, for the most part, is a colossal waste of time. With Twitter, there are too many expectations of reciprocity. You should be so productive creating new content, you don’t have time to reciprocate every like or respond to every comment or thank someone for every retweet; you need actual fans—not just those who follow to get a follow back. Thus, you need readers who aren’t also writers.

Goodreads is great for posting book reviews & connecting with other readers. However, not everyone who follows your blog has a Goodreads account, so post your best reviews on your blog. Get as much mileage as you can out of everything you write. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/10/06/book-review-the-girl-on-the-train/

Don’t write for LinkedIn on a regular basis unless you write boring, businessy articles/listicles that are largely forgettable. I rarely write articles specifically for LinkedIn, but if something I’ve written is appropriate for the platform, I’ll either post it on LinkedIn Pulse or share it from my blog. There is no such thing as too much visibility. Whatever you do, don’t post part of the article on LinkedIn, & then require people to click on your blog link to read the rest. Rather, post a short bio, including a link to your blog, so that if people liked what they read, they might want to read something else you wrote. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-own-personal-minimalism-sarah-richards-1/?published=t

Seek out guest posting opportunities. Most of them don’t pay, but it’s extra exposure (which is helpful if your blog doesn’t have many followers). There are opportunities to write about writing, life hacks, & parenting. GetConnect Dad is a sweet site to start with, chock full of awesome content from moms & dads around the world. https://getconnectdad.com/write-with-us/

Instagram forces you to become a better photographer—to produce more original content. It’s bright, clean, & minimal—everything Twitter isn’t. https://www.instagram.com/sarahleastories/

If you’ve ever had any work published in print or online (other than your personal blog), create an online portfolio. A portfolio showcases not just what you know, but what you can do. https://sarahlearichards.journoportfolio.com/

 

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Journaling

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Journaling is the purest, rawest form of writing.

If you don’t like the idea of a diary, create a journal for a fictional character. Get to know them, then write your story.

Live to live, not to record. Never let the magic of the moment be lost because you were too busy writing it all down.

I’m a scrapbooking collagist when it comes to journaling, meaning heavy on the photography & “graphic design,” & light on the writing. I’ve included newspaper clippings, greeting cards, event programs, badges (for example, my college press pass), & many more.

Always have a notebook (& pen) nearby: on the nightstand, in the glove compartment, in your purse/murse, etc. Ideas often come at the most inopportune times. It’s easier to keep up with several books rather than having to remember to always carry the same one around with you (unlike a cell phone).

Have a “theme” journal. Joe Brainerd did an “I remember” theme. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/joe-brainard-i-remember. I am doing a “Precious Moments” book for my daughter. Other ideas would be “What if?” (my favorite poetry subject), “If only,” &, in the spirit of Tom T. Hall, “I Love.”

Start a reading journal (this is best for poetry). Unlike a book review, which analyzes the text with a critical eye, a poetry reading journal is about what the text means to you.
Journaling isn’t just about the product, but the process. If you focus too much on the product, you’re editing, not writing.

In the Irish film, The Secret Scripture, the main character has a Bible in which she keeps her journal, writing in between the lines, in the margins, et cetera. You can do this with any book that profoundly affects you.

Though there’s something intrinsically beautiful about a handwritten journal, don’t feel you have to write your journal by hand. (Better to keep a digital journal than no journal.) There are many journaling apps online. Think about it. Most of already journal every day, whether it be through Facebook, Instagram, our Shutterfly Share site, WordPress blog, etc., though hopefully, we’re not posting our deepest, darkest thoughts—that should be between you & your journal, whether on paper or paperless.

 

Doubling up: Maximizing your writing, and more

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So I am getting ready to start summer schoolanother semester of work-study, a class I don’t care about, and Intermediate Algebra, which is very scary indeed.  I made a D in it about 15 years ago, and I allowed my fear of failurethat I wasn’t smart enough to finish collegekeep me from finishing.

Like Buddy Sorrell on The Dick Van Dyke Show, who could make a joke out of any word (including “milk bath”), I can write a poem on the spot about any word, but algebra has always been the bane of my educational existence.

Except this time, I am so close, with only a handful of credits left before I can work as a copy writer somewhere in the medical field.

This time, I will have access to free, on-campus and virtual tutors.

This time, I will have a few hours a day at work to focus on this class I will never use again, but will help me get to wherever I am goingthat place called Career Contentment. I don’t know where that is yet, for I am still following the map, but I have a pretty good idea of what I will be doing when I get there.

My time is more limited than ever now, so I’ve decided to cut most of my weekend posting (I’d just had enough of dealing with self-inflicted “homework” first thing in the morning).  The one exception is a single #SundayInspiration Instagram post (see bottom) with what I hope will be considered “thinking outside the candy box” (https://www.instagram.com/sarahleastories/?hl=en).

I’d forgotten I even had an account until a recent Facebook friend followed me, and I thought, well, I do have one of those phones now, and I can take a shot of virtually the same thing (which will help establish my “theme”).  I’d tried Pinterest, but it’s more for consumers than creators, and I like the cleaner, sleeker look of Instagram.  Pinterest also seems like it’s more for crafters than writers or photographers.  Furthermore, Instagram seems much more personal, more real.  It has a freshness Pinterest does not.

Streamlining your writing process is a form of minimalism, and it can help you focus on the more important aspects of writing (like improving your craft and getting paid).  It’s good to have a social media presence (any publisher expects this if you’re unknown), but the thing that will get you noticed is submitting, submitting, and submitting [quality] work.

Instead, I will be posting two writing “workshops” (basically, writing tips) the first and third Mondays of the month, and two book reviews the second and fourth Mondays (as I will be dropping the Micropoetry Monday segments at the end of the year).  The latter will help me read more (as I’ve been reading poetry this semester, mostly), and the workshops are bits I post on my Facebook author page, so they’re already “baked in.”

This is one way of maximizing your writing.  To come up with brand new content for every social network isn’t worth it, because chances are, your friends, fans, and followers won’t catch your post on every network anyway, so it won’t seem like you’re repeating yourself.

One Instagram post a week is much more doable than six a week on Twitterthat’s too much time taken away from submitting.  LinkedIn is limited, because it’s what I call “businessy-boring.”  I rarely write a post specifically for the network but if something I write works on there as well as my blog, I’ll post the whole piece on there (as people hate being redirected to another site).

LinkedIn is basically Facebook-lite, complete with memes.  All too often, I see “connections” sharing someone else’s quotation.  Have an original thought in your head, for goodness sakes!  It doesn’t do anything for your brand, only the person’s you are quoting.  Though I haven’t been guilty of posting such things, I have been guilty of sharing them.

For me, it’s all about creating content.  The only new blog post I have to create is on Wednesdaysthe Writer’s Digest poetry prompt.  Fridays are taken care of, because the posts are based on my novel, rewritten in verse form (which I’ve decided to make a separate, promotional chapbook out of called Mormons on the Beach).

I plan on spending the writing part of my weekends writing new work, editing existing work, and submitting to publications.  I haven’t been doing enough of that lately, but then when I come home from work and school, my daughter’s just gotten off the bus and I only have about about three hours with her till it’s time for her to go to bed.  I need that time with her as much as she needs my attention.  If I didn’t have her, I’d be spending too much time clacking at my keyboard, my eyes glazed by the glow.

Social media has its place, but it should be used wisely and sparingly.  Though Twitter is the equivalent of a bathroom wall, it isn’t a complete waste of time, as one of my friends hooked up with a local philanthropist through it who self-published her book; I got a guest blogging gig.

As for WordPress, don’t waste time reblogging (people never return the favor), unless you’re reblogging your own guest post.  Don’t waste valuable real estate on your blog with someone else’s work.  Again, this is elevating their brand, not yours.

What’s more, it’s one thing to use stock photos on your blog (I balked for the longest time, but I’m just a fair photographer with a lousy camera), but photography is Instagram’s focus (pun intended).  Strive for authenticity.

The moral of this post:  Write, edit, and submitthat’s the real work.  That social media stuff is a hobby.  A blog is the best of both worldsa hybrid, of sorts.  Someday, I hope it will make me money (either directly or indirectly), but in the meantime, I’m having lots of fun doing it.