How to write like Kafka: “Follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly”

How to write like Kafka: “Follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly”

How to write like Kafka

Perhaps I should not wish this on you. How to write like Kafka, that is.

After all, no one would accuse Kafka of being a happy person. He asked his friend Max Brod to burn all his manuscripts upon his death. Fortunately for us, Brod ignored this and had them published.

But perhaps you would like your writing to be more Kafkaesque. You enjoy mixing fun themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity.

“What’s Kafkaesque is when you enter a surreal world in which all your control patterns, all your plans, the whole way in which you have configured your own behavior, begins to fall to pieces, when you find yourself against a force that does not lend itself to the way you perceive the world.

“You don’t give up, you don’t lie down and die. What you do is struggle against this with all of your equipment, with whatever you have. But of course you don’t stand a chance. That’s Kafkaesque.” — Frederick R. Karl, author of Franz Kafka: Representative Man

So, if like me you enjoy imagining or writing about what it would be like to wake as a giant cockroach ( Ungeziefer ) read on…

Be obsessed

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”
Franz Kafka

How to write like Kafka

Stay well hidden

I need solitude for my writing; not ‘like a hermit’ — that wouldn’t be enough — but like a dead man.”
Franz Kafka

Wring emotions from your bones

“I am constantly trying to communicate something incommunicable, to explain something inexplicable, to tell about something I only feel in my bones and which can only be experienced in those bones. Basically it is nothing other than this fear we have so often talked about, but fear spread to everything, fear of the greatest as of the smallest, fear, paralyzing fear of pronouncing a word, although this fear may not only be fear but also a longing for something greater than all that is fearful.” ― Franz Kafka, Letters to Milena

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A good blow to the head

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.” ― Franz Kafka

how to write like kafka

By Atelier Jacobi: Sigismund Jacobi (1860–1935) (http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/news/2008_july_02) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Be quiet

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” ― Franz Kafka

 

Be not moved

“Writing is a deeper sleep than death.
Just as one wouldn’t pull a corpse from its grave,
I can’t be dragged from my desk at night.”
Franz Kafka

No squirrels

“Evil is whatever distracts.”
Franz Kafka

Statue de Kafka par Jaroslav Rona, Prague, Republique techeque

Religious fever

“Writing is prayer.”
Franz Kafka

Sympathy for the devil

“Perhaps there is another kind of writing, I only know this one, in the night, when anxiety does not let me sleep, I only know this one. And what is devilish in it seems to me quite clear. It is the vanity and the craving for enjoyment, which is forever whirring around oneself or even around someone else…and enjoying it. The wish that a naive person sometimes has: “I would like to die and watch others crying over me,” is what such a writer constantly experiences: he dies (or he does not live) and continually cries over himself”
Franz Kafka

http://web.archive.org/web/20110321041448/http://www.kafka-franz.com:80/kafka-biography.htm

Emerge from the underworld

“Each of us has his own way of emerging from the underworld, mine is by writing. That’s why the only way I can keep going, if at all, is by writing, not through rest and sleep. I am far more likely to achieve peace of mind through writing than the capacity to write through peace.”
Franz Kafka, Letters to Felice‎

How to write like Kafka writing prompt:

Painters are often instructed to learn to paint by imitating the masters. However, this advice is seldom given to creative writers for fear of plagiarism. Writers are therefore handicapped by this lack of ancestor connection, in addition to the pressure and perceived need of producing something entirely unique. Throw this uniqueness requirement out of the window for today:

Use one of the Kafka quotes above and write a nonfiction piece about how it moved you or relates to your own writing process. Or, take one line of Kafka’s fiction and use it for a short story start. Think about what is absurd about your own life and write about that.

Possible Research Questions

  • Does The Metamorphosis inform the present human condition through the symbols and metaphors of scapegoat, the unclean, sacrifice?
  • Does The Metamorphosis describe and create a technology of the monstrous?
  • What might this work suggest about the collective unconscious, and what can the modern reader glean from this?

A Really Short Kafka Bibliography

  • Glatzer, N. N., & Kafka, F. (1971). The complete stories. Schocken Books, New York.
  • Kafka, F., & Brod, M. (1988). The diaries, 1910–1923. New York: Schocken Books.
  • Kafka, F., & Brod, M. (1991). The blue octavo notebooks. Cambridge, MA: Exact Change.
  • Kafka, F., & Corngold, S. (1996). The metamorphosis: Translation, backgrounds and contexts, criticism. New York: W.W. Norton.
  • Kafka, F., & Mitchell, B. (1998). The trial: A new translation, based on the restored text ; translated and with a preface by Breon Mitchell.
  • Pawel, E. (1984). The nightmare of reason: A life of Franz Kafka. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.
  • Preece, J. (2002). The Cambridge companion to Kafka. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Jungian Interpretations:

  • Sokel, Walter H. (2002). The Myth of Power and the Self: Essays on Franz Kafka. Detroit: Wayne State UP.
  • Thweatt, J. (March 01, 1982). Sharp, Daryl. The Secret Raven: Conflict and Transformation in the Life of Franz Kafka. Toronto, Inner City Books, 1980. The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, 3, 3, 41–54.
  • Whitlark, J. (1991). Behind the great wall: A post-Jungian approach to Kafkaesque literature. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

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What is a memoir  —  the ultimate memoir writer’s toolkit

What is a memoir  —  the ultimate memoir writer’s toolkit

What is a memoir?

How to be a memoir Rockstar — the ultimate memoir writer’s toolkit

what is a memoir?

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“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.
— Dr. Seuss

“Remember that you own what happened to you. If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point to you, while a chilling voice thundered, “We *told* you not to tell.” But that was then. Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on.”
— Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)

Perhaps you thought it would be easy…writing your life’s story, or just one small part…

After all, you know all the characters so well. Hey, you even get to be the protagonist!

You don’t even need to dream up a plot; you have already lived the vivid details. You just need to write it all down, right?

But when you start writing your memoir, you find it is, well, hard. REALLY hard.

You wrestle with:

What is a memoir, exactly?

Which point of view to use?

Do I start in the past or present?

Why does my narrator sound: snarky | whiny | apathetic?

How do I keep from hurting the ones I love?

How do I remember what was really said?

So many unanswered questions!

Sorry, I don’t have all the answers but I have rounded up this ultimate list* of those who do.

For the most part, this list consists of what is a memoir and “how to” write a memoir, not actual memoirs.

Please comment below if you see one that I have missed! And, please comment on your favorite memoir writing book on the list!

*Thanks to Maureen Murdock and Jennifer Selig for their list contributions.

“Harry Bernstein was a total failure when he wrote his bestselling memoir, The Invisible Wall. His prior forty (forty!) novels had been rejected by publishers. When his memoir came out, he was ninety-three years old. A quote from him: “If I had not lived until I was 90, I would not have been able to write this book, God knows what other potentials lurk in other people, if we could only keep them alive well into their 90s.”
— James Altucher (Choose Yourself)

what is a memoir?

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The ultimate what is a memoir “how to” list:

If reading a few from this list doesn’t help you learn what is a memoir, or how to start, well, I’m guessing you need to turn to fiction!

Speaking of fiction, don’t miss out on our Signed Outlander Easton Press giveaway!

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Pow! Blam! Whaam! Why your words should slither crackle and crunch -Tip 497

Pow! Blam! Whaam! Why your words should slither crackle and crunch -Tip 497

“Thwizzit”* why onomatopoeia writing matters

“Lively, well-paced, flowing, strong, beautiful: these are all qualities of the sound of prose, and we rejoice in them as we read. And so good writers train their mind’s ear to listen to their own prose—to hear as they write.”
—Ursula K. Le Guin, Steering the Craft

There is so much that goes into writing, right? At least that is what you’ve been told…

You need to read in your chosen genre (assuming you already have picked one).

You need to understand your audience, your competition, your keywords, your killer headline or title, what writing software to use, and how to use it.

You need that special time of day and that special cozy writing nook.
Should you use your laptop, or paper and pen?

Yada, yada, yada. You get the point.

Hmmm, what are we missing here? Spell checker, grammar checker? Sure, sure.

No, grasshopper, something much humbler…something that because of all the noise and distraction that now surrounds the act of writing we writers have lost track. You need to remember that all writing is made up of single

WORDS.

When was the last time you read something aloud? When was the last time you rolled some tasty words on your tongue just for the joy of how they exploded in your ear? Remember the fun of onomatopoeia writing? Those yummy words that sound like what they mean, such as crunch and slither?

Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5027583

How much fun is your own writing to write and read?

How much fun is your own writing to write and read? Click To Tweet

Writing, at least of the creative kind (and perhaps all kinds), should evoke some emotion if the reader is to connect and engage with it.

But you can’t get to the emotion of words if you don’t spend time with the individual words themselves. Ursula K. Le Guin, in her book, Steering the Craft, provided examples where writers have written with joy and abandon with the shape, sound, and rhythm of words.

Most associate these elements with poetry, but there is no reason that your prose can not also be enlivened with the noise of words. Here is an example from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories:

BEFORE the High and Far-Off Times, O my Best Beloved, came the Time of the Very Beginnings; and that was in the days when the Eldest Magician was getting Things ready. First he got the Earth ready; then he got the Sea ready; and then he told all the Animals that they could come out and play. And the Animals said, ‘O Eldest Magician, what shall we play at?’ and he said, ‘I will show you. He took the Elephant—All-the-Elephant-there-was—and said, ‘Play at being an Elephant,’ and All-the-Elephant-there-was played. He took the Beaver—All-the-Beaver-there-was and said, ‘Play at being a Beaver,’ and All-the Beaver-there-was played. He took the Cow—All-the Cow-there-was—and said, ‘Play at being a Cow,’ and All-the-Cow-there-was played. He took the Turtle—All-the-Turtle there-was and said, ‘Play at being a Turtle,’ and All-the-Turtle-there-was played. One by one he took all the beasts and birds and fishes and told them what to play at.

onomatopoeia writing

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If you find it a challenge to write like this, Le Guin suggests that you pretend you are writing for children. (To warm up, go back and read your favorite onomatopoeia writing or Dr. Seuss).

When writing more formally, decide on what key emotion(s) you would like to elicit from your readers. Brainstorm a list of emotional words that do this (or sign up above for my Power Words cheat sheet). Once you have your list, pick three of the words and say them aloud. Are they impactful and noisy or are they, meh. (Hint, you never want, meh.)

I also like to do a close reading of words and look up their etymology, or their history. Sometimes their history reveals some surprising results that takes my content deeper or in new directions. If you have never done this before, please give it a try (see writing prompt below).

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Writing prompt – my Best Beloved, go forth!

Choose a piece of writing that you have done. Think about the key emotion that you’d like to leave with your readers. Have you used words that achieve this? Pick at least three words and look up their etymology. If that first layer of word history doesn’t spark anything new for you, go back in the etymology history and uncover the deeper roots of the word. What surprising thing have you learned about this word that you can incorporate into your existing writing? Perhaps it sparks some new ideas for new material great! Go from there.

If the above does not float your boat, take a piece of your writing (or new writing) and write it for reading to kindergarteners. Go for fun and surprise. Go for fear and anxiety. (Think Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are). Try onomatopoeia writing. Do not forget to read your work aloud and make some word noise!

The overall point of this exercise is not to write for children if that is not your thing, but to find ways to remember that words are individual, have histories, and emotional tones.

Scrivener

If you’re brave, please share your results in the comments below. Zoinks! What are your favorite onomatopoeic words?

Please join the #500WordsClub and let us know what you’re working on!

Carla Paton, Ph.D.-c is a writer, marketer, and Depth Psychologist. She loves helping writers with quick and easy marketing tips so they can get back to writing. Grab your free Power Words Cheat Sheet for Busy Writers, and then make those words shine!

*Mad Magazine cartoonist Don Martin, already popular for his exaggerated artwork, often employed comic-book style onomatopoeic “sound effects” in his drawings (for example, thwizzit is the sound of a sheet of paper being yanked from a typewriter). Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onomatopoeia

How to write & train your brain to be a kick-ass writer every day – Tip #498

How to write & train your brain to be a kick-ass writer every day – Tip #498

How to write by training your brain

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

 

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”
― Neil Gaiman

Are you wondering how to write? I mean, you know how to write, but maybe you are wondering how to write consistently and more, much more.

Are you staring at the screen or page with no clue, or are you jumping out of bed because you urgently need to get your ideas written?

Which writer do you want to be?

There are those writers who wait for inspiration to come and those that write every day no matter the circumstances or their mood.

There are those writers who wait for inspiration to come and those that write every day no matter the circumstances or their mood. Click To Tweet

It no accident or happy quirk of birth that allows some writers to pour forth a steady stream of words at a decent pace and to do so almost every day.

If you are reading this post, I’m guessing that you too would like the secret to the magic writing formula. And yes, there is one.

The “how to write” more formula is to train your brain.

Warning. The training is some work. It takes discipline. If you are not serious about becoming a writing machine leave now and go watch some cat videos.

via GIPHY

Okay, now that it is just us serious people, here are the basics (details follow the list):

  1. Before you go to bed, think about what you might write the next day
  2. Set your alarm for at least 30 minutes early
  3. Sit down to write every day at the same time
  4. Rinse and repeat

Yup, that’s it. But wait; let’s break these points down a bit. (I can hear some of you thinking, this is stupid common sense, why waste my time reading on. Read that Stephen King quote again. It works for him – ’nuff said?)

Before you go to bed, think about what you might write the next day

Perhaps you don’t know if you want to write fiction, articles, memoirs or some other genre. That is okay. You will figure out what you are best suited to write over time. But that will only happen if you write enough to figure that out. So, for this exercise, let’s assume you want to write a blog post every day.

To train your brain, it is helpful to have a framework or a theme. This cuts down on the work of weeding through the entire universe. If you have a narrow focus, your brain can magnify the details. Writing is about the details.

For example, my current theme is helping writers by giving them 500 writing tips and prompts. When I go to bed, I know that I only have to write one tip the next day. This small focus lets my brain get busy. It doesn’t have to think about all the other things I could be writing. It knows it just needs to find that one needle by the time I sit down to write the next morning. Easy.

Sometimes, I already know what I want to write about the next day because it came to me during the day. But many times, I let my unconscious work on it through my dreams, which leads to step 2.

Set your alarm for at least 30 minutes early

I do my best creative thinking in the hypnagogic state between sleep and wakefulness. I set my alarm for 30 minutes early so I can linger in this state before I actually need to get up.

In this state, sometimes a fragment of a dream becomes an idea. But usually, I get a full idea for my writing that appears from the mist of this hypnogogic state. By thinking about my writing before I go to sleep and allowing it to work through the dream states, my unconscious rewards this steeping with an answer when I wake.

It may not happen for you the first few times you try this, but with time, it will. Read Naomi Epel’s book, Writers Dreaming: 25 Writers Talk about Their Dreams and the Creative Process to see how this process has worked for many writers.

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Sit down to write every day at the same time

This step is perhaps the most important. It doesn’t matter what time a day it is, but make sure it is free from distractions. For most writers, this usually means getting up before the rest of the household. If you are single with no needy toddlers about, then you may not need to set your alarm extra early, but chances are you still have a job to get to. If not a commute and somewhere you have to be, then you have other distractions such as email and phone calls which with to contend. For some a lunch hour works well. And for some, you must write late at night. You probably already know when you have the least distractions and the most energy. This is the sweet spot for writing consistently.

But the point is, to train your brain to be a writing warrior; you need to get it accustomed to a steady practice. This is difficult to quantify and prove, but so many writers have testified to the fact that they write more consistently if they write at the same time every day.

This consistency seems to make the brain ready. It is in a waiting and prepared state for you to begin. Perhaps a poor analogy, but think of your dog waiting for his morning treat. He knows full well that once you’ve gotten your tea and toast, it is coming. He waits patiently in his snack-getting-spot because he knows this is what happens every morning without fail. You don’t have to think about it, and neither does he. It is routine. This is how you want your writing habit to be. A routine removes the distractions, greases the wheels, and lets the writing flow.

how to write

Rinse and repeat

Of course, a routine and habit comes only with repetition. None of this is glamorous or surprising. But I will hold out that if you commit to these training steps, you will discover its magic.

  • You will have more ideas than you can write about in a lifetime.
  • You will wake excited to get to your computer or pen.
  • You won’t have to struggle for a word count.
  • You will have more pages than time to revise.

how to write

Writing prompt – No fairy dust required

Brainstorm several themes or a writing project that you’d like to write about over time. Pick one of these and break it down into ten smaller topics. If you already have a theme or project, come up with ten new topics that you can write about in one writing session, one per session. The trick is to make each topic small enough that you can cover most of it in an hour or two. If writing fiction, these topics would be one scene per session. You would not need to complete each in a session but it would get you going each day.

Now, you have a topic or scene to muse on before going to bed (Step 1). You will be surprised what happens overnight. If nothing happens the first or second time, you do have a starting point for your writing session. Start with a title or a first sentence and keep going. In this case, more is more. The more you write consistently, the more writing will come without effort.

Equipped with this idea, you don’t need to be in the mood to write or need to wait for inspiration. You now know how to write, now go.

Scrivener

If you dare, please share your results from the writing prompt in the comments below or something about your writing process.

Please join the #500WordsClub and let us know what you’re working on!

Carla Paton, Ph.D.-c is a writer, marketer, and Depth Psychologist. She loves helping writers with quick and easy marketing tips so they can get back to writing. Grab your free Power Words Cheat Sheet for Busy Writers, and then make those words shine!

500 writing tips and prompts #499 first draft & the enemy of the people

500 writing tips and prompts #499 first draft & the enemy of the people

Shitty first draft

“The first draft of anything is shit.”
— Ernest Hemingway

 

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

— Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)

How many times have you started some writing but ran out of time because you were editing yourself over and over?

Or perhaps you got 1,000 words done, but were exhausted by self-doubt?

Stop the madness!

first draftI can think of no better writing tip to start off my 500 series of writing tips and prompts, than the shitty first draft mantra.

When first starting a project, repeat, I only need to write a shitty first draft. Frame it; stick it on your monitor.

When first starting a project, repeat, I only need to write a shitty first draft. Click To Tweet

Be forgiving of yourself, and remember, you only need to get words on paper for a first draft. Do not edit as you go. Turn off your Grammarly (and maybe remove the backspace key). You will need to revise, but the first draft is not the time.

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft — you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft — you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.

— Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)

Stop the editing and self-doubt; no one cares about your first draft and neither should you.

Now, let those fingers fly!

Writing prompt

Write a shitty first draft of a secret you’ve never told anyone (or hey make one up!). Write for 15 minutes, write, don’t think, do not stop.

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If you’re brave, please share your results in the comments below or your writing process.

Please join the #500WordsClub and let us know what you’re working on!

About the author. Carla Paton, Ph.D.-c is a writer, marketer, and Depth Psychologist. She loves helping writers with quick and easy marketing tips so they can get back to writing. Grab your free Power Words Cheat Sheet for Busy Writers, and then make those words shine!

Write 500 Words a Day Club Challenge #500WordsClub

Write 500 Words a Day Club Challenge #500WordsClub

Be Awesome – Write 500 Words a Day Club Challenge

You think you’ll never finish any writing project. Ever.

I’ve been there, and have tried all the tricks.

Set my alarm early. Check.

Beautiful sunrise. Check.

No checking of email. Check.

Disconnect from the Internet. Check.

Set my writing timer for 45 minutes. Check.

Blank page. Check.

Squirrel.

Write 500 words a day

2 hours later…Commute…email, problems, more email, problems, kids, dog escape, husband, kids, problems, snacks. Commute, laundry, dishes,
treadmill, shower, exhaustion. Rinse, repeat.

Be Great – How to Write 500 Words a Day

Yes, all the tricks we do to write are necessary. And I will write more
about them in the days to come, but above all, it is accountability that will help us to keep the squirrels in their rightful trees and not scurrying across our writing desks.

I am proposing that you join me in my quest and commitment to writing 500 words a day, no excuses.

Join me in my quest and commitment to writing 500 words a day, no excuses. Click To Tweet

Well, that’s fine for me, you say, but how do I know that you’ve done your writing for the day?

Write 500 Words a day

Easy! You are going to tell me about your writing victories, by commenting below, or by tweeting your awesome daily accomplishments with the hashtag #500wordsclub.

When I see your comment or tweet, I will give you a shout out on my DailyMuseBooks Twitter feed.

By participating daily in this FREE epic writing adventure you get:

  • 500 words written a day (reward enough, no?)
  • Kudos & more encouragement
  • Exposure of your writing project (if you want)
  • Inspirational tips and ideas to keep you motivated

Be Awesome – How to Write 500 Words a Day- Every Day

In the #500wordsclub you will get more kudos and support from the others in the same battle to get words on the page. You are going to tweet and share this right?!

Likewise, support your fellow clubbers by giving them a twitter or comment high five.

Write 500 Words a Day

Accountability is the golden writing key.

If you can’t afford a personal writing coach to kick your butt, then use the free writing #500wordsclub to support your efforts. Also get daily inspirational tips to keep you motivated.

Conclusion

The world is asleep.

You have your comfy, steaming mug of tea.

You have closed the door to intrusions and future-cares.

You have primed the writing well the night before.

You hit the blank screen running. Before you know it, an hour has passed and wah-lah! 500 words have made their way onto your page.

You can do this. And you can do it every day.

Join the #500WordsClub and get the support you need to write 500 words a day, get your writing finished, and out in the world.

About the Author

Carla Paton, Ph.D.-c is a writer, marketer, and Depth Psychologist. She
loves helping writers with quick and easy marketing tips so they can get
back to writing. Grab your free Power Words Cheat Sheet for Busy Writers, and then make those words shine!