Category: Writing Tips

Writing For Fun Follow Your Passion Featured Image

Writing For Fun: Follow Your Passion

As a freelance writer, I spend a lot of time creating content for other people. Whether it’s for their blogs or websites, it keeps me busy and focused on what my clients need. While I’m extremely grateful for all the opportunities in my life, I recognize that writing for fun is something I need to take more time to do. Because, if I don’t I risk this hobby becoming a profession and a job that I feel dragged to do, rather than getting excited about it every day.

Surprisingly, writing for fun hasn’t always been the easiest habit for me to maintain. I’m easily distracted by catching up on the latest sports news or checking social media. Instead, I know I should create space where I can just write about whatever I’m passionate about. In this article, I’ll explore some ways in which you can follow your passion to make writing for fun an easy, sustainable habit.

If writing for fun is what you do best and you don’t feel like this article applies to you, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other content you might enjoy, including Book Reviews, Writing Tips, and My Books! If you’re looking for a freelance writer to contribute guest blogs or ongoing paid content, please read through my Services and shoot me an email detailing your project!

Morning Meditation, Then Writing

writing for fun follow your passion - morning meditation

I’ve known about the benefits of meditation for some time now. According to Mindworks.org, meditation can help with stress management, anxiety reduction, decreasing the likelihood of depression, increase immune function, lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, relieving symptoms of IBS, and increasing happiness and general well-being.

That’s a host of benefits I’d like to take advantage of, but how does it apply to a writing habit. As I write this today, I’ve recently found more success with a daily meditation habit than ever before. I’m going on 26 days in a row meditating in the morning, and one of the additional benefits I’ve found is that it gives my mind freedom in the morning to go where it chooses and think about what it wants. In doing so, I sometimes feel that the urge to write down those thoughts immediately upon completing my meditation.

This leads to intense sessions of passionate writing about a variety of subjects. But without the meditation to start things off and allow my mind the freedom to wander, I start thinking about all the tasks that I’m going to accomplish that day and I can’t clear enough mental head space to make writing for fun a regular habit. Of course, it’s important to set aside enough time after your meditation to allow you to put thoughts on paper. Otherwise, you’ll get up and immediately move on to the next task that has to happen before you go out the door.

Writing to Friends and/or Family

writing for fun follow your passion - writing to friends and or family

Once in a while when I realize I haven’t talked to a friend or family member for too long, I like to sit down and write that person a letter. It’s all for fun, of course, but it’s a great way to practice that specific type of communication, which I feel is quickly becoming a lost art with how easy it is to communicate over the Internet today. Handwriting letters makes you slow down and more critically evaluate what you truly want to say. Unlike typing out an email, the flow of handwriting somehow makes me craft messages that are much deeper, more emotional, and, ultimately, more truthful.

I can’t quite explain why there’s such a difference between handwriting and typing, but I suppose it’s all in the process. Because handwriting simply takes longer to put each letter and each word down on paper, it gives us more time to think things through so that we ultimately say something that we’re truly passionate about saying.

If there’s someone you’ve lost touch with for a while, write them a handwritten letter. Explore a mutual memory that you both shared (and that you both probably haven’t thought about for a while) or simply craft a letter that updates them on where you are in your life, what’s going on, and what you’re looking forward to. In addition to helping you reconnect with a loved one, this will also give you great practice sharing your stories!

Writing a Letter to Your Future Self

writing for fun follow your passion - write a letter to your future self

Many of us did this practice when we were in grade school. We wrote a letter to our future self and then placed it in a time capsule for our future self to discover 5, 10, or 20 years down the line. Wherever you are in life, this practice is a way to write for fun and share some recent lessons you’ve learned so that your future self doesn’t forget them.

Choose the ‘future self’ that you want to write to. Are you writing to yourself just one year in the future or 10 years down the line? What challenges do you foresee for your future self? What words of advice can you give your future self to overcome those challenges and stay happy and healthy?

This practice will innately make you evaluate your passions and form a vision of where you want to be in the future. If your version of your future self isn’t following those passions, how will your letter impact him or her to get back on track? If you ARE following your passions, but struggling to make ends meet, how can your letter offer that extra bit of motivation that your future self needs to stay the course and keep moving forward?

It can be a powerful exercise, especially if you set up a system so that the letter comes back to you when you are that future version of yourself you once wrote to. Maybe you can find a friend who will mail the letter to you down the road. Or maybe you can simply put it in a lock box and remind yourself to look at it again in a few years!

Crafting Your ‘Dream’

writing for fun follow your passion - crafting your dream

Have you ever sat down and wrote out your dream? No, really! This would include everything you want your life to look like if you had everything you wanted. Don’t be shy. You can dream as big as you can imagine. In fact, your imagination is critical to your ability to dream big. According to some researching, dreaming is important for both memory consolidation and conflict resolution.

In other words, dreaming can help us resolve past conflicts while also helping our subconscious brains reorganize memories so that we have space to create new ones. Think about this: if we don’t have space to create new memories, then what are we doing? Well, we’re probably just living a monotonous life in which each day looks eerily similar to the past. Ever heard of the movie Groundhog Day?

Writing about your dream will help you come up with tangible steps you need to make to actually bring that dream into reality. It will help you better understand the challenges you may face so that you can tailor solutions to those challenges. And, if anything needs to be laced and laden with your sincerest passion, it’s writing about the future you want to create for yourself and for those you love.

Exploring an Alternate Universe

writing for fun follow your passion - explore an alternate universe

Have you ever wished you lived in an alternate universe? Well, writing for fun is a great chance to explore that universe. What would our world look like in that universe? Who would be President? Would there even be a President? What would your parents look like? How would you dress and act in that alternate universe?

These are just a few examples of the elements to consider when constructing your own alternate universe. Your creativity can really run wild with this one, and your passions are bound to show. If you want a world in which everyone perpetually has ice cream stocked in their freezer, you can create it. If you wish your world had literal money trees lining the streets of suburbia, have fun exploring what those trees would look like!

The practice of exploring an alternate universe is a definite way to write for fun. If it’s not fun, then you’re probably not creating a universe that you’d actually enjoy living in. And even that could be an interesting exercise in and of itself. What challenges would you overcome as the hero in an alternate universe where humans are on the brink of extinction?

Are You Writing For Fun?

I hope you enjoyed these brief ideas designed to help you follow your passion and make writing for fun that much easier. These suggestions are merely data points to start from. The real exploration begins after you finish this article and you pick up pen and paper. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

As a published writer who aspires to create more works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in the years ahead, I’m constantly in search of new ideas that help me hone my writing skills and get thoughts on paper. But I also recognize the importance of writing like there’s no one watching (or like no one is ever going to read it). This process helps us get our sincerest thoughts out there and to remain passionate about writing as a hobby.

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the stories presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Have Fun With It!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

5 Talk to Text Apps Shortcuts to Get Thoughts On Paper Featured Image

5 Talk to Text Apps: Shortcut to Get Thoughts On Paper

While developing and maintaining a daily writing habit is what I strive for, I often find that the feeling of “just not enough time” creeps in toward the end of every busy day. As such, I know that I don’t make enough time to work on my creating writing projects. But there must be those in-between times when I could be putting thoughts on paper without having to block out a bunch of free time, right?

Enter talk to text apps, a simple shortcut to get thoughts on paper. You can use these apps to create notes while you’re cooking, walking, driving, or doing other tasks that make it difficult to write formally. Today, I’m going to research and share what I learn about five talk to text apps that you can use as a shortcut to get thoughts on paper!

If you feel like your writing practice is dialed, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other content you might enjoy, including Book Reviews, Writing Tips, and My Books! If you’re looking for a freelance writer to contribute guest blogs or ongoing paid content, please read through my Services and shoot me an email detailing your project!

Google Docs Voice Typing

Google Docs Voice Typing is an all-around tool that all writers can use to make voice notes, transcriptions, and more. It’s available via Google Play and allows users to collaborate with others and format their notes easily. Grammar sticklers will appreciate this app’s attention to detail, especially if compared to another popular application like Word. Users report that it functions well in deciphering spoken words and its dictation feature is currently available in at least 43 languages. In addition to its basic talk to text functionality, this app also gives users the ability to add formatting, make selections, and navigate through the use of simple spoken phrases.

Evernote

Just like the previous app, Evernote uses Android’s built-in Speech Recognition software, so it’s only available to Android users. The app does require you to have a solid network connection when in use and it features an in-app chat feature that allows you to connect with other Evernote users. When you finish a dictation, the app saves the audio and text file together so that you can keep track of your notes more easily. Evernote is available on Google Play, where it currently has been downloaded by more than one million users, which is quite telling in and of itself.

ListNote

This is another app specifically available to Android users. ListNote Speech-to-Text Notes is produced by Khymaera and currently has been downloaded on Google Play more than 16,000 times. As you make dictations in this app, it creates an index of notes that can then be easily searched later on. This makes it easier to find notes as you go, and the app also gives you the option of backing up notes to an external SD card. It also offers a number of features that allow you to customize it to your preferred manner of speaking. ListNote is a great option for anyone dictating sensitive information, as the app can also be password protected. Specific notes can also be encrypted with the AES standard after the first twenty characters.

Dragon Dictation

Dragon Dictation is an app best suited to iOS users. Although the app does require a network connection in order to function to the best of its ability, Dragon Products have been leading the speech transcription industry since they introduced some of their earliest desktop products. Dragon Dictation makes it easy to record your thoughts with the press of a button. After you’re finished recording, the app displays the text transcription, which can then be copied into other applications.

Voice Texting Pro

The last app we’re going to mention is designed for iOS users (had to give our iOS friends a little more love). Voice Texting Pro is offered by Sparking Apps and is available in the App Store. It does require that iOS devices have been properly updated, so make sure to research current specifications before installing. Like many iOS apps, Voice Texting Pro prioritizes an easy-to-operate user interface. Users are able to view all the app’s features from a single screen and some examples of in-app purchases available include voice texting and the addition of languages other than English.

Are There Other Talk to Text Apps You Use?

I hope you enjoyed these brief summaries of a few options for talk to text apps. As an avid traveler, I find the need for one of these apps to be growing in my personal life. My current manuscripts don’t make progress if I don’t get time to sit down and work on them with intense focus. These apps give me a way to put thoughts on paper wherever I am and whenever a new idea pops into my head. That can be invaluable when the alternative is losing those thoughts and trying desperately to get them to come back the next time you sit down with pen and paper in hand.

As a published writer who aspires to create more works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in the years ahead, I’m constantly in search of new ideas that help me hone my writing skills and get thoughts on paper. There are so many options out there to choose from and I’m sure that I’ve left out a few apps that provide ample use in this space. If I didn’t mention your preferred talk to text app in this article, let me know about it!

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the stories presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Transcribing!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

Writing Practice 5 Exercises to Improve Writing Featured Image

Writing Practice: 5 Exercises to Improve Writing

For me, writing practice isn’t the easiest habit to sustain. Doing exercises to improve writing can often feel like a waste of time when I can’t stop thinking about the impactful content I want to create. For sports fans out there (or those simply looking for a good chuckle), Allen Iverson furnished us with one of the funniest quotes about practice and its importance when he said this:

“We’re sitting in here, and I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we in here talking about practice. I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice. Not a game. Not, not… Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game, but we’re talking about practice, man. I mean, how silly is that?”

Now, for superstar athletes who play an 82-game regular season prior to multiple rounds of playoffs (if they’re successful at the highest level), there could be some merit in skipping a few practices here and there in order to rest and recover. But for the rest of us, the old adage that “practice makes perfect” pretty much invariably holds true. In this article, I’m going to outline 5 exercises to improve writing that will give you the structure you need to make practice a fun habit.

If you feel like your writing practice is dialed, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other content you might enjoy, including Book Reviews, Writing Tips, and My Books! If you’re looking for a freelance writer to contribute guest blogs or ongoing paid content, please read through my Services and shoot me an email detailing your project!

Design The “World’s Simplest” How-To

As a blogger, I write how-to articles like they’re my job (because they are!). Usually, however, these how-to articles cover topics that many people don’t have daily experience with. They are designed to help folks learn how to enjoy the outdoors, improve their organization, or try a new recipe in the kitchen. But for this writing practice exercise, you’re going to write a how-to article that’s a little different.

Think of something that you do every day. Make that something one of those daily tasks that you complete almost on auto-pilot. For example, activities you might write a how-to on include, but aren’t limited to, tying your shoes, waking up in the morning, turning on your shower, or getting into your car to head to work.

The point of this exercise is to make you critically think about how to break down what can be very automatic, mundane activities into small action steps. You’ll be surprised at how hard this can be! Your how-to should be detailed enough for someone with no knowledge of how to wake up in the morning (for example) to be able to accomplish this task without any prior experience.

This writing practice exercise will teach you how to break a large task into smaller action steps. It will then help you organize those steps into a logical order so that they make sense to readers and they can be followed to perform the larger task successfully!

Explore a Memory

This writing practice exercise will help you create vivid imagery that brings your readers into the story and captures their imagination. This exercise starts with two simple words: “Remember when…” From there, it’s up to you to fill in the blank. Ideally, you should choose a fictional memory to explore for this exercise, but if your intent is to refine your non-fiction writing, choose a real memory from your past and explore that!

Here are some examples of memories you might ‘create’: “Remember when . . . you discovered the oldest archaeological ruins in human history?” or “Remember when . . . the dust from the explosion of the atomic bomb finally settled?”

Whatever memory from your past hits you (or whatever fictional memory you create), run with that and write a 1,500-word monologue from the first-person perspective. Describe what happened in great, vivid detail to draw your reader in and make them feel the emotions you felt in those moments.

If your memory takes a frightening turn, go with it and make sure your reader can feel the psychological terror you experienced in that memory. If you decide to explore a happy memory, write vividly enough to make the reader visibly smile as they read through your account!

Create A Structured Summary

Learning how to create a structured summary is a great exercise for all writers. At one point or another, you’re going to have to write a brief summary of something! So, when you do this exercise, sit down and think of the last book you read or movie you watched. Whatever comes up is what you’re going to summarize. To do so, you can use this structure: “[Somebody] wanted…but…so…”

Let me explain. There are four elements you’re going to cover in your summary. The first is the [Somebody] that the book or movie is about. It is the main character of the story. Then, you’re going to discuss that somebody’s motivation. What is it that they wanted to accomplish in the book or movie?

Next, you’re going to describe their biggest obstacle. What was keeping them from realizing that goal they want to achieve? Finally, you’ll summarize what happened in the book or movie. So, how did the main character overcome the obstacle and achieve their desire?

If you want an additional challenge, you can also include a ‘Then’ section after the ‘So.’ In this section, you’ll describe how the entire book or movie is resolved after the main character overcomes their biggest obstacle. Using this method, you’ll be able to summarize just about anything, which is an extremely useful form of writing practice.

Craft A ‘Four & 10’ Conversation

This is an excellent exercise to improve writing for anyone that needs help with dialogue. In this exercise, you’re going to write out a conversation between two people. One of the biggest challenges in creating dialogue lies in understanding how people speak differently. By doing this exercise, you’ll obtain a better idea of how to give voice to different characters.

This writing practice exercise is very simple. Your two characters will be speaking directly to one another. It doesn’t particularly matter what they’re speaking about, but the format for how they speak to each other is more important. One of your characters will speak using only four-word sentences. For example, “How are you, Dave?”

The other character (who we presume is a bit more of a chatterbox) always responds in 10-word snippets. For example, “I’m great, but I can’t seem to find my car.” If you’re struggling to write dialogue, this exercise will help you ensure that readers can distinguish your characters from one another.

Write a Vocabulary Story

This exercise is ideal for anyone looking to perfect a set of new vocabulary terms. If you’re trying to learn a list of 10-20 new vocabulary terms, this technique will give you writing practice while also cementing the proper way to use those new terms in context.

Start by defining your list of vocabulary terms. If you’re searching for a list, this resource will give you a place to start. Once you have your list, sit down and write a story using as many of the words on that list as possible. A good goal when starting out is to include somewhere between 10 and 20 words in your story. Better yet, accept the challenge of creating a story that actually makes sense!

This exercise is particularly useful for anyone looking to learn how to write in a new language. It will help you understand how to use the vocabulary terms in a sentence and will help you remember those words when you see them in different contexts later on. It will also help with memory retention, as writing things down ensures that we’re more likely to store them in our long-term memory. Perhaps the best side effect of this exercise is that you can share your finished story with others and get feedback on your writing style, tone, and use of your new vocabulary terms.

What Techniques Do You Use for Writing Practice?

As a published writer who aspires to create more works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in the years ahead, I’m constantly in search of new ideas that help me fine-tune my writing skills. I believe that every skill requires patience and diligent practice if we are striving for perfection. As such, I’m interested in any exercises to improve writing that you use. If I didn’t mention your preferred method of writing practice in this article, let me know about it!

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the stories presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Writing!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks Featured Image

Listen and Learn: The Benefits of Audiobooks

It’s tough to find a quality substitute for a good paperback book. But as a traveler, being able to take more books with you in either digital or audio form is a must. While I dream of one day having a sizable library on my retreat center property, I’ve learned that I can’t bring all of my favorite books with me everywhere I go. For this reason, I like to keep a few selections in digital form so that I can listen and learn on-the-go. In this article, I’m going to outline a few of the benefits of audiobooks.

If you prefer a good hardcover to audiobooks, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other content you might enjoy, including Book Reviews, Writing Tips, and My Books! If you’re looking for a freelance writer to contribute guest blogs or ongoing paid content, please read through my Services and shoot me an email detailing your project!

Faster Consumption

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - faster consumption

Although I’ve been experimenting with some speed reading techniques I outlined in one of my previous articles, I’m still a relatively slow consumer of books. I do like to take my time to make sure that I’m understanding and absorbing what I’m reading, but I find that my reading list grows frustratingly fast. At this rate, there’s no way I’ll ever get through my entire list in a single lifetime.

That is unless I start checking off some of them in audiobook form. Listening to books on tape allows you to consume them at a faster rate. This is especially beneficial if you’re reading a long book series where following the larger storyline is important. If you have to remember a detail from Book One when it’s revisited in Book Seven, for example, it’s going to be tough to do so if you read the first book several years ago. One of the benefits of audiobooks is that you’ll be able to move through your reading list at a quicker pace.

More Multi-Tasking

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - multi-tasking

I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty impossible to multi-task when I’m reading a book. I often sit down and start to read in the morning while my partner is making breakfast. Even her gentle movements in the kitchen behind me are often enough to distract me from what I’m trying to understand. When I try to read in this setting, I rarely get very far.

With an audiobook, however, you can listen to your latest selection while doing laundry, commuting to work, or gardening around your property. As we’ll talk about in the next benefit, our brains surprisingly retain much more audio content than we might imagine while we’re also performing other tasks. One of the benefits of audiobooks is that you can continue to get things done while listening to stories from your favorite authors.

Improved Reading Comprehension

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - improved comprehension

When conducting my research for this article, this was one of my most surprising finds. Studies have shown that listening to audiobooks can actually increase reading comprehension by as much as 76%. Among students surveyed, results also showed that students were able to comprehend audiobooks up to two grade levels above their current reading level.

The underlying reason for these results stems from the progression of our biological development. Listening is the first language skill that we develop when we are very young. We actually acquire much of our knowledge by simply listening to others and by listening to our environment. In fact, studies have suggested that 85% of what we learn is learned by listening!

Less ‘Summer Learning Slide’

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - less summer learning slide

Students of all grade levels experience this phenomenon to some extent. The ‘summer learning slide’ is the regression that happens from one school year to the next while we’re engaged in other summer activities. Getting most kids excited to read when the weather outside is at its best is a tall task. But listening to audio books might be the perfect solution.

Audiobooks are the perfect solution to keep students’ reading skills from regressing over the summer. In some cases, it can actually continue to improve those skills. Since listening is widely known to be the most effective way to grow vocabulary and fluency up until late middle school, finding a series of audio books for kids to listen to over the summer will not only keep them from getting bored, but it will also set them up for success when school resumes in the fall.

Increased Literacy

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - increased literacy

When my brother and I were young, my parents read stories to us on a daily basis. My Dad constantly tells stories about how we both started speaking before we were a year old and that it didn’t take us long after that to start stringing together full sentences. As an adult who has grown into an intense passion for reading and writing, I largely attribute this passion to the amount my parents read to us when we were young.

According to The Report of the Commission on Reading, “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” In other words, listening helps students improve their reading ability. Studies have proven that listening to audiobooks can improve reading accuracy by as much as 52%. Additionally, because 27% of K-12 students are auditory learners, test scores have improved by as much as 21% when students are exposed to multi-modal learning (i.e. audio and visual) versus just being exposed to a single mode (i.e. audio only or visual only).

They Can Be Group Entertainment

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - group entertainment

In addition to all the individual benefits of audiobooks, there are also a few that can apply to group settings. If you’re lounging around with a group on a relaxing afternoon and looking for some entertainment, why not turn on an audiobook? They’re just as entertaining as turning on the television and, in many cases, they’re much more educational.

One of the fun parts of listening to audiobooks in a group is learning the other people’s senses of humor. What makes you giggle might not tickle the others, and vice versa. Once you’ve turned the book off for the day, it’ll also be insightful to talk about how the different members of your group visualized different scenes from the book. Our imaginations are incredible tools. And they are also muscles that should be flexed regularly. Keep in mind though, that our imaginations are all unique, and that this diversity is essential to our evolution.

They’re a Road Trip Remedy

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - road trip remedy

Even a good playlist can get stale on an especially long road trip. My partner and I love listening to podcasts while we drive, but there are only so many short stories out there and, sometimes, we don’t have the Internet to download new episodes when we’re on the go. In these instances, we really feel like we could use a more in-depth audiobook to keep us intrigued and entertained.

Audiobooks are a great way to dive into a new story and engage your imagination as you check off the miles from destination to destination. If you’re heading out for a road trip soon, take some time to download a few audiobooks to your phone or preferred device so that you’re ready when the moment arises.

They’re Relaxing

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - relaxing

Personally, I like to listen to meditations or talks on certain topics as I’m working. I find that having someone else’s voice in my head as I’m focusing on another task to be soothing. In some ways, it also helps to stimulate my creative energy. There’s also something about being read to that takes us back to childhood. If you’re driving, however, just be careful not to get too relaxed!

They’re Cost-Effective

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - cost effective

Audiobooks are generally much more affordable than their paperback or hardcover counterparts. I use Audible to find new audiobooks that I’m interested in. It makes it easy to download files to my phone or computer and save to listen when I’m ready. In addition, if you sign up for a 30-day Free Trial of Audible now, you can get two audiobooks for free.


Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

Do You Enjoy the Benefits of Audiobooks?

Do you like to listen to audiobooks? If so, what was the last audiobook you listened to and where were you as you were listening?

As a published writer who aspires to create more works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in the years ahead, I’m constantly in search of new ideas that help me cultivate writing motivation and fine-tune my writing skills. I believe that reading and consuming the works of other writers is one of the best ways to improve those skills and stoke my inner fire. As such, I love to promote their work and I do receive a small commission on every purchase that is made through my site. These commissions allow me to continue to create useful content and resources for you!

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the stories presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting onFacebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

A Simple Book Review Template Featured Image

A Simple Book Review Template

People have started to ask me how I got into writing book reviews. The simple answer is that I just started writing down how books made me feel. Eventually, though, I started to develop a simple book review template that I use to convey the most important information to interested readers.

For years, I’ve annotated my favorite quotes and excerpts in the books I read and then gone back and typed out those excerpts so that I could save them for future reference. This means I have easy access to my favorite quotes from books when I go to review them down the line. One of the additional benefits of doing this is that it frees the physical copy of the book up to be donated or gifted to others, in essence passing along its lessons to those that I come in contact with.

I highly recommend this practice. It’s also a great way to revisit some of the most important lessons from your favorite books and really “drill” those lessons into your subconscious mind. For aspiring book reviewers, I’ve outlined this simple book review template that I invite you to use to review your favorite selections!

If you don’t find this simple book review template useful, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other content you might enjoy, including Book Reviews, Writing Tips, and My Books! If you’re looking for a freelance writer to contribute guest blogs or ongoing paid content, please read through my Services and shoot me an email detailing your project!

Brief Overview/Summary

Here’s where I provide a summary of the book’s major plot line. Readers want to know what they’re getting into and this is an opportunity to do so in more detail than what you’ll typically find on a book’s back cover. The trick is giving readers enough information to make them interested while avoiding giving away any major twists or plot developments that the reader should get to navigate on his or her own.

Important Themes

I like to tease out at least one of the book’s most important themes when I review it. Many of the books I read have multiple important themes. And the importance we place on each will vary based on our unique experiences and interests. The idea of this review section is to give readers an idea of the morals or lessons from the book that resonated most profoundly with you.

The Main Character(s)

For me, the characters in a book are just as important (if not more so) than the book’s plot or conclusion. I am drawn to books that feature characters with which I can resonate; those characters that have real human flaws but the ability to overcome them and change their lives or make a difference in the lives of others. This section gives you a chance to summarize the main character(s) of the book and convey to your readers why those characters are worth investing in.

Favorite Quotes

This is one of my favorite sections to put together. And, if you use the practice I mentioned above of annotating as you go and then typing out those annotations once you finish the book, it’s also a really easy section to write. Typically, I like to include anywhere from 2 to 5 of my favorite quotes from the book. This gives readers an opportunity for a “sneak preview” of the book’s contents and the author’s writing style before they make a purchase decision.

Additionally, I like to use this section to explain WHY these quotes resonate with me so powerfully. I think about how the underlying message can be applied to my life, how my life might change once those lessons are applied, and how the world will change for the better if we just listen to the words of some of our favorite authors.

Final Verdict and/or Your Rating

And this is where you really bring things home. At the end of your review, people want to know how you rate the book. If you like, you can use this section to compare it to others or simply to highlight the major reasons why you recommend this book to others. In general, I actually try to shy away from making comparisons, as I feel that books are, in many ways, like people. Each is unique in its own right and interacting with one can teach you something very different than interacting with another.

If you do decide to recommend the book to others, this is also the perfect place to guide them to an online store or marketplace where they can purchase their own copy of the book. If you’re an affiliate for websites like Amazon or Barnes and Noble, for example, this is a great place to include links to their online bookstores. (see what I did there?)

As an affiliate marketer myself, I do receive a commission on sales that I drive through this site. The money I earn goes directly back into me purchasing new books to review or new training that allow me to share more in-depth writing tips with my audience.

That said, my purpose for creating the content on this site is not to earn money. I truly believe in the lessons contained in the pages of the books I recommend and I believe that, when more people read these books and incorporate those lessons into their lives, the world will continue to become a better and better place.

Will You Use This Simple Book Review Template?

Do you find this template for writing book reviews useful? If you decide to use it for your own book reviews, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. While I don’t stick to this format for every book I read, it’s an easy method for giving your readers more information about some of your favorite reads. Sometimes, I just decided to go chapter-by-chapter to provide a little more in-depth overview, but information about the plot, themes, characters, quotes, and why you liked it are great inclusions to any book review.

As a published writer who aspires to create more works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in the years ahead, I’m constantly in search of new ideas that help me cultivate writing motivation and fine-tune my writing skills. I’m also very interested in the stories of successful authors, as they provide insights into the creative journey and lessons that I would only learn the hard way without reading about them first.

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the stories presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reviewing!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

Writing Motivation 5 Author Success Stories Featured Image

Writing Motivation: 5 Author Success Stories

I struggle with writing motivation all the time. As a freelance writer, I am so often working on content for other people’s websites that I don’t take the time I deserve to hone my craft and write stories that I’m actually passionate about writing. I’m reminding myself more and more that, if I’m not passionate about writing it, odds are people won’t be very passionate about reading it either.

So, in order to drum up some writing motivation for myself, and to share my journey with you, I’ve researched and compiled these five author success stories to help you remember that it’s not about the obstacles, but it’s about our ability to overcome those obstacles and achieve our dreams!

If none of these stories spark you to start creative your own written masterpiece, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other content you might enjoy, including Book Reviews, Writing Tips, and My Books! If you’re looking for a freelance writer to contribute guest blogs or ongoing paid content, please read through my Services and shoot me an email detailing your project!

Stephen King

Writing Motivation 5 Author Success Stories - stephen king

Although I personally haven’t read any of King’s novels, I found myself identifying with his story because it seems to contain the lesson that it is rare for us to find the ideal job right out of college. I know I sure as heck didn’t! King was born in Portland, Maine in 1947. His parents split up when he was very young, so he split his time with them between Indiana and Connecticut in his early years. King, his mother, and his brother later moved back to Maine, where he completed high school.

King stayed locally for college when he attended the University of Maine at Orono. While pursuing his degree in English, King wrote for the school newspaper and served as a member of the student government. He had his first short story published during these years and graduated in 1970. At first, he attempted to find a position as a teacher but was unsuccessful.

King spent time after college working in a laundry, a far cry from the acclaimed horror writer we know today. He continued to write short stories during this time and, in 1971, he was hired as an English educator at Hampden Academy. This new role allowed him to devote more time to writing and later that same year King married fellow writer Tabitha Spruce.

Two years later, in 1973, King made his first successful sale of a novel. It was the tale of a tormented teen seeking revenge on his peers called Carrie. His novel would go on to be published a year later and was later adapted to the big screen. The success of his first novel allowed King to leave his job at Hampden and pursue writing full-time. The rest, as we say, is history!

Maya Angelou

Writing Motivation 5 Author Success Stories - maya angelou

It’s hard to bring up inspirational stories of writers’ success without mentioning the first African-American woman to write a non-fiction bestseller. Maya Angelou was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1928. By all accounts, she had a very rough childhood. Like King, her parents split up at a very young age. After that, Maya and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas.

As you might imagine, Arkansas was a difficult place for a young African-American woman to grow up. She experienced racial prejudice and discrimination firsthand, but the most awful event transpired when she went to visit her mother. During her stay, her mother’s boyfriend raped her. As an act of vengeance, Angelou’s uncles killed the boyfriend. Angelou was traumatically scarred from the incident and, as a result, she stopped speaking. She returned to Arkansas as a virtual mute.

Angelou made a big move to San Francisco, California during World War II. She won a scholarship to study dance and acting at the California Labor School there, and also became the first black female cable car conductor during that time. It was a job she held only briefly and she worked several others to support herself and her son after he was born.

During the 1950s, Angelou’s acting and singing career gained momentum. She appeared in several off-Broadway productions and released her first album, Miss Calypso, in 1957. As a member of the Harlem Writers Guild, she also organized and was the star of the musical revue Cabaret for Freedom during this time, which benefited the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Angelou then spent much of the 1960s in Africa, working as an editor and freelance writer. For a time, she held a position at the University of Ghana. Her first memoir was published in 1969 and was the spark that launched her literary career. With encouragement from her friend James Baldwin, Angelou compiled stories from her childhood and young adult years. The manuscript became I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and it made Angelou an international star.

Harper Lee

Writing Motivation 5 Author Success Stories - harper lee

Harper Lee’s story struck me because it reaffirms that old saying that it’s all about who you know. Lee grew up in Monroeville, Alabama. Her father was a lawyer, member of the Alabama state legislature, and part-owner of a local newspaper in Monroeville. Her mother is believed to have suffered from bipolar disorder and is said to have rarely left Lee’s childhood home.

In her college years, Lee was accepted into law school at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. She gave law a shot, but her role as the editor of the school’s news publication helped her realize that writing was her true passion. She dropped out of law school after the first semester of her second year in the program and moved to New York City in 1949. She was 23 years old.

For seven years she struggled to make ends meet in the city. She worked as a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines and the British Overseas Air Corp. The most important development in those years was the friendship she struck up with Broadway composer and lyricist Michael Martin Brown and his wife Joy.

In 1956, the Browns surprised Lee with a Christmas gift that would change her life forever. They agreed to support her for a full year so that she could work on writing full time. They also helped her find an agent to publish and market her work. She immediately quit her job and dedicated herself to writing. The manuscript she started during that all-important first year eventually became To Kill a Mockingbird, which was published in 1960 and went on to win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize the following year.

Octavia Butler

Writing Motivation 5 Author Success Stories - octavia butler

Octavia Butler’s story jumped out to me because it provides a real-life example that there are no odds too steep for one to overcome. Butler was born in Pasadena, California in 1947. She lost her father at a young age and was raised by her mother, who worked as a maid to support them. Throughout her childhood, Butler was ridiculed for her height and her shyness. She also struggled with dyslexia, which made school difficult.

Still, she developed an affinity for books. As early as 10 years old, Butler knew that writing was going to be her life’s work. She would go on to receive an associate degree from Pasadena City College and worked to develop her writing skills and style under Harlan Ellison at the Clarion Fiction Writers Workshop.

Butler’s goal was to dive into the realm of science fiction, one that, at the time, was dominated by white males. Her writing was a blend of science fiction and African-American spiritualism. Butler said of her motivation: “I wanted to write a novel that would make others feel the history: the pain and fear that black people have had to live through in order to endure.”

She published her first novel, Patternmaster, in 1976. She worked all sorts of odd jobs to make ends meet during this time and was frequently known to save her writing work for the wee hours of the morning each day. She found a breakthrough when she published Kindred in 1979. She began to receive critical recognition for her work in the mid-80s and won the 1984 Best Short Story Hugo Award for “Speech Sounds.” She went on to publish the Xenogenesis trilogy, which was highly praised in the science fiction community. Her work, as Gregory Hampton said, “revealed universal truths.”

Charles Dickens

Writing Motivation 5 Author Success Stories - charles dickens

I wanted to reach a little further back in history to one of the most widely recognized writers of the 19th century. His story can give us some idea how much life has changed in more than 200 years, but it can also remind us of the elements of human existence that remain unchanged.

Dickens was born in 1812 in Portsmouth, England. He was the second of eight children and, for the most part, his family was very poor. His father was a naval clerk with dreams of striking it rich and his mother was an aspiring teacher and school director. In 1816, the family moved to Chatham, Kent, where Dickens and his siblings explored the countryside and the old castle at Rochester.

Six years later, when Dickens was 10 years old, the family moved again. This time they settled in Camden Town, which was a poor neighborhood in London. The family’s financial situation worsened, and two years later Dickens’ father was sent to prison for unpaid debts. As a result, Dickens had to drop out of school and go to work at a boot-blacking factory where he earned six shillings a week.

Fortunately, the family’s situation improved when Dickens’ father received a family inheritance and was able to send Charles back to school. Just three years went by, however, before Dickens was forced to drop out again (presumably for financial reasons) and take a job as an office boy. He was 15 years old, but his experience in the office would lay the foundation for his writing career.

Dickens would go on to marry and have ten children. In the 1850s, however, tragedy struck twice, as Dickens lost both his father and one of his daughters. The losses led to his separation from his first wife. To this day, there is debate over the degree to which Dickens was involved in an intimate relationship with a young actress before, or after, he and his wife were separated.

In 1833, Dickens first began submitting sketches to various magazines and newspapers. He did so under the pseudonym ‘Boz.’ His first work, Sketches by Boz, was published in 1836. In the subsequent years, he began publishing The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club and serving as the editor for two magazines, one of which he founded.

In 1842, he traveled to the United States for a five-month lecture tour. This was shortly after he had published his first novel, Oliver Twist. The novel had gained him considerable notoriety before his arrival, but his staunch opposition to slavery, a topic he spoke on frequently during the tour from Virginia to Missouri, ruffled some feathers on his U.S. visit.

When he returned to Europe, he would struggle to recreate his early success, although he published a number of amazing titles that are still widely read today. Some of them include A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and the holiday favorite starring infamous curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol.

What’s Your Writing Motivation?

What techniques do you use to get out your notebook and start brainstorming? Do you commit to regular exercise designed to improve your writing skills? Are you working out your creative brain just as much as you work out your physical body?

As a published writer who aspires to create more works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in the years ahead, I’m constantly in search of new ideas that help me cultivate writing motivation and fine tune my writing skills. I’m also very interested in the stories of successful authors, as they provide insights into the creative journey and lessons that I would only learn the hard way without reading about them first.

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the stories presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting onFacebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

Creating Writing Prompts 10 to Get in the Flow Featured Image

Creating Writing Prompts: 10 to Get in the Flow

Sometimes the hardest part about writing is just getting started. Many people have the desire to create a groundbreaking work of fiction, but it is sadly only the few that actually get to the see the rewards of such a creation. If, like me, you desire to write fiction (and do it well!), putting pen to paper is the all-important first step. So, here are ten creative writing prompts to help you get in the flow.

Note: If you’re not one of those folks who aspire to write fiction, you may still be interested in some other Writing Tips I’ve offered on this site, including those about blogging, organization, and creating a website. If you’re on a completely different train and looking for a new book to inspire you, be sure to check out the many awesome selections I’ve included in my Book Reviews. If you’re interested in reading more of my personal work, check out My Books!

Prompt 1

Your character is moving to a foreign country and begins to search real estate listings online for a place to live. His/her original plan is to rent an apartment, but s/he notices an ad for an old villa that has gone up for sale. It’s huge and beautiful and, unbelievably, it’s in your character’s price range. It seems too good to be true. “I’m sure it IS too good to be true,” says your character’s sister, who warns your character of the foolishness of buying property, sight-unseen, over the Internet. But your character is already mentally decorating the villa…

Prompt 2

Your character sees an interview with a celebrity and feels a powerful connection. Your character is sure that this celebrity is his/her soul mate. But the celebrity doesn’t even know that your character exists — yet. Your character finds the celebrity’s address online and goes there one night, determined to get past security and meet the celebrity in person…

Prompt 3

Your character’s in-laws disapprove of him/her (you decide why). Up until now, your character has dealt with the situation by having limited contact with the in-laws. However, now that your character’s mother-in-law has become very ill and cannot care for herself, the in-laws are coming to live with your character and his/her spouse…

Prompt 4

Your character hates his job and especially his boss. He secretly goes to a job interview with another company and receives a surprising offer. The new company wants him to keep his current job but to act as their spy. In particular, they want him to copy files for them from his boss’s computer…

Prompt 5

It’s 20 years in the future, and space tourism has become a reality. Your character signs up for a trip to the moon. But two days into the journey, the captain of the spacecraft confides in your character that that’s not where they’re really headed…

Prompt 6

On a foreign holiday, your character meets an extremely attractive man or woman. They don’t speak the same language, but they somehow find a way to understand each other, and your character feels a powerful connection that s/he has never felt with anyone before. Impulsively, your character marries this person after they’ve only known each other a very short time. Your character’s new husband/wife moves to your character’s country and begins to take language classes there. The better the spouse is able to communicate, the more your character realizes that s/he isn’t the person your character had believed…

Prompt 7

Write a story or a poem that includes all three of these elements: a power outage, a fake illness, and an unexpected kiss.

Prompt 8

Your character is excited to be invited to a costume party where Chris will be too. For years, your character has loved Chris from afar, but she hopes that this party will provide an opportunity for them to get closer. When she arrives at the party, her eyes instantly go to a tall man dressed as a medieval knight whom she recognizes as Chris. The fact that they’re both wearing masks makes her feel less shy, and she approaches him and starts a conversation. They spend the whole evening talking and dancing and finally make a date for the following weekend. As she’s leaving the party, she’s shocked to find Chris sitting on the front porch, dressed as Elvis Presley. Who is the man she spent the evening with?

Prompt 9

A meal with your family when you were growing up. Try to bring the people to life on the page like characters in a story. What did the room look like? What did you eat? What were the sounds, tastes, and smells? Use descriptive details to transport the reader into the scene.

Prompt 10

Your character’s best friend asks your character if he/she will take care of the friend’s three children in the case of the friend’s death. These children are spoiled and badly behaved, and your character has a lifestyle which is completely incompatible with raising children. However, the chances that the friend will suddenly die seem very remote, so your character says yes, believing that s/he will never have to follow through on his/her promise. Just six months later, the friend is killed in a car crash. The friend’s lawyer calls your character to tell him/her that s/he has been made the guardian of the children…

Now Get to Writing!

I’d love to know which of these prompts speaks to you most and, when you start creating a new story based on one of them, I’d love to read it when you’re ready to share. It’s important to me to connect with new writers and share/edit each other’s work with the continued goal of improving!

Disclaimer: All prompts for this post were sourced from Creative Writing Now, an email list to which I am an ongoing subscriber. I highly recommend subscribing for more writing prompts, story ideas, and writing tips/advice. 

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the prompts presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond as soon as possible.

I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do! The point of social media, after all, is to be SOCIAL! I don’t need followers or likes, but I’d like to contribute to a real conversation about how we continue to improve as a society and as individuals.

Write On!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com