On the heels of discussing creativity killers, it's time to touch on another important aspect of getting your writing done. Focus. And on some days concentrating on writing is easy. You sit down, and the words seem to spring forth with little effort. You are surprised to look up and see that not minutes, but hours, have passed. However, other days you barely write a sentence before the distractions start bombarding you from all directions. Chores need to be done, you have several personal calls to return and text messages to answer, not to mention the boatload of e-mails (and/or social media updates to check), and your dog is begging to be walked. Many of these things can be postponed or delegated (okay, the dog walking may not be able to wait too long), but they are nagging you while you're trying to write.

But books, articles, and blog posts won't write themselves, which means writers need to concentrate long enough to complete them. So what should you do to stay focused?

1. Set small goals. There's that word again—goals. Break your writing down into manageable word count blocks (for instance, 500 words) or agree to write for a certain amount of time, like one to two hours. Having a goal to work toward helps me immensely when I'm trying to maintain focus.

2. Turn off electronic distractions. This came up in my creativity killers post, and I'll mention it again because it can't be emphasized enough. Turn off the distractions. Close your e-mail program, turn off your cell phone, and avoid social media until your writing for the day is complete. Better yet, close your web browser so the minimized window won't be lingering down at the bottom of the screen taunting you.

3. Create a schedule or to-do list. If you have multiple writing projects active at once (novels, short stories, articles, etc.), create a writing schedule with specific time slots for each. That way you won't be working on one project and wondering if you should give some attention to another because you already know when you'll get to it. Remember the 6 Ps: Proper prior planning prevents poor performance.

4. Acknowledge the distraction. Have you ever tried meditating only to have thoughts intrude? If your mind wanders while you're writing, the concept is the same. Acknowledge that this will happen occasionally, and accept the distraction for what it is. And then gently remind yourself of your goal and return to your writing.

5. Reward yourself. Create small rewards when you meet those small goals. Allow yourself a bit of time to indulge in one of those distractions, go for a walk, have lunch with a friend, or something that is not writing related so you can return to your desk refreshed.

Whatever you do, don't beat yourself up when you get distracted. It will only lead to self-defeating thinking and possibly cause you to give up for the day. If focus is a serious problem for you, consider meditating before you start
 writing. It won't solve all of your problems, but it will definitely help.

Creativity. You need it in a number of different professions, but if you're a writer, you can't work without it. If you can't get the words flowing onto the page, you might as well shut the computer down, put the notebook away, and find a new profession. In essence, creativity is indispensable. So the deadliest enemies writers confront are the creativity crushers, those things that keep you from getting the necessary juices flowing. Sometimes, they depend on the individual. What bothers one writer may not be an issue for another, but the following are some common ones, including a few I've struggled with.

1. Noise
This can be the obvious, audible noise. For instance, I love music with well-written lyrics and often find songs inspiring, but it must be turned off when I'm writing. A constantly ringing phone can also be a problem. But the noise does not have to be audible to drown out your focus and creativity. Can you really produce quality creative work when you're checking Twitter, Facebook, or your e-mail every few minutes? Mental noise can be just as distracting as audible noise, sometimes even more so.

Solution: While you can't control some noise (like construction outside), most distractions can be mastered fairly easily. Turn off the television, music, and phone. Close down your e-mail and social networking sites, and focus on what matters.

2. Exhaustion or Lack of Sleep
I actually thought of the topic for this post after a restless night when I was taking much longer than usual to complete a blog post. Inability to sleep or neglecting it in favor of other activities, like watching television or working late, eventually take its toll. It's not easy to put together a blog post, short story, or chapter in a novel when all you can think about is crawling back into bed or your mind is so exhausted it can't focus on one task for long.

Solution: If it's TV keeping you up, turn it off. If you're working late, try to budget your time so you can get to bed at a reasonable hour. That's not always easy when you lose track of time, which happens to me when I'm working or reading a book. If you need to, set an alarm on your cell phone or computer to let you know when you need to start winding down, especially if you're like me and have trouble falling asleep.

3. Pressure/Stress
Stress can come from many places: lack of harmony in the home or office, financial problems, taking on a lot work and being under the pressure of too many deadlines, health issues or illness in your family, etc. While some people claim that they thrive under pressure, it can eventually burn you out, affecting your creative process and the quality of your writing. After all, a creative mind is a relaxed mind.

Solution: Some stressors, like illness in the family, you can't control. Minimize the ones you can so that you don't become overwhelmed. Once again, budgeting time and money can be good preparation. Setting aside time for relaxation and/or meditation can help you face problems with a clear mind and will also recharge your creative battery.

4. Self-Sabotage
Self-sabotage can stem from any number of things: fear of failure and/or rejection, listening to your inner critic, procrastination, lack of confidence in your writing skills, etc. Whatever it is, it comes from your mind, affects your ability to write, and plunges you further into a creative slump.

Solution: Just as we all have our variations of self-sabotage, we also have different ways of defeating it. It is ultimately about building confidence in yourself and in your work. When you're not writing, read uplifting quotes, listen to uplifting audiobooks and music, or do whatever inspires you. However, the best way to build confidence in your writing skills is to improve by actually doing the creative work.

5. Negative People
While self-sabotage is negativity from within, some people in your life can deliver it as well. People who are unmotivated or have failed in some way and refuse to pick themselves back up drag others down with them. Since they couldn't do it, they are certain that you can't either and won't hesitate to say so. And negative thinking is far more contagious than positive thinking.

Solution: If possible, cut the negative people out entirely. It sounds cruel, but it will help not only your creativity but your outlook on other aspects of your life. If it's someone you can't cut off (a spouse, child, relative, co-worker, etc.), let that person know that you are no longer going to listen to negative comments, so he/she might as well save his/her breath.

Are there other creativity crushers? Could some of these be broken down further? Of course. But I've found that most fall into these categories. Besides, this isn't meant to be a comprehensive list, just a way to help pinpoint some of the problems and come up with solutions. I have struggled with all of these and continue to battle a few of them, so you're not alone.

So what creativity crushers do you struggle with? And what do you do to resolve them?

The final Friday in February, this month seems to have gone by in a flash. And this end of the workweek finds me up to my ears in work. That's better than the alternative. So how has this week treated you? And what about this month? Has February been better than January?

As usual, I've found some great articles for you, and with the headings I've added, you can skim the topics and see what you like (seriously wondering why I didn't think of this earlier) rather than reading a preliminary summary.

Content Writing
Content Writing Can Be Real Writing: Ann Wayman, guest posting at Get Paid to Write Online, breaks down the history of web content and why those who write it are still not considered “real writers” in some circles. And there is some truth to it. A lot of the copy on the web is still fairly bad, but there are writers who get paid well for what they do and produce quality content. 

Fiction Writing
Creating God: Religion in Fantasy, part 2: Since I mentioned part 1 of this series at Fantasy Faction last week, it seems only natural to include a link to the second part today. Here Amy Rose Davis continues the series by looking at faith in the fantasy on both a grand and personal scale.

Zealotry in Fiction: This, not surprisingly, is another Fantasy Faction post. While not part of the Creating God series, it clearly goes well with it. Hence, this article by Tegan Beechey can add further points to consider as you create your fantasy world, with religions and their followers (and zealots). 

Literary Agent
13 Ways to Impress an Agent: If you're looking to publish your work with a big publishing house, you will need to know how to impress a literary agent. Luckily, Rachelle Gardner tells you how to to do just that in her article here (along with the obvious, which is to have a great book). 

7 Ways To Turn Visitors Into Fans: Your author web page is set up, and you've even managed to generate some traffic. Now what? This post from Writer's Relief tells you how to make your website more interactive to turn followers into fans.

Have a wonderful, productive Friday and a great weekend!

Earlier this week, I discussed the importance of avoiding purple prose, so today we'll focus another extreme. While I stressed the importance of writing simply, that meant avoiding excessive use of adverbs, adjectives, and flowery language. And though you don't want your writing to seem overdone, you should still aim for complexity in structure. With that in mind, we'll look at choppiness in writing, how to identify and eliminate it from your prose.

What Is Choppiness?
Ultimately, choppy writing does not flow. Among Merriam-Webster's definitions for choppy include “jerky” and “disconnected,” which is how this writing style feels to those reading it. It is characterized by lack of variation in sentence structure, producing too many short sentences in a row with simple subjects and predicates. And while simple sentences have their place, especially when trying to create a sense of urgency, too many of them makes your writing seem unsophisticated and communicates an inability to express complex thought.

Consider these examples:

Linda took music lessons. She was tone deaf with no sense of rhythm. She gave up the notion of becoming a concert pianist.

Sherri finishes writing a novel. She sets it aside for at least a month. She then begins revising.

James visited with us last weekend. He is my former boss.

Kristy was exhausted. She stared at the computer screen. She was unable to write a single word.

Obviously, you wouldn't want to read a book written like this, or even an article for that matter. So how can we rewrite these?

Solutions for Choppy Writing
Even the best writers will occasionally have choppy passages in their prose, so if you struggle with this, you're not alone. But as far as style problems are concerned, choppiness is easy to repair, and improving your writing flow is a skill that can be learned. Keep the following options in mind as you rewrite choppy passages.

1. Connect actions using coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. Simple sentences with the same subject can be joined with a conjunction. Applying it to one of the examples gives us this result:

Choppy: Linda took music lessons. She was tone deaf with no sense of rhythm. She gave up the notion of becoming a concert pianist.

Revised: Linda took music lessons but discovered she was tone deaf with no sense of rhythm, so she gave up the notion of becoming a concert pianist.

2. Show logical connections between ideas. Conjunctions can also assist you here, but in a different way. Rather than connecting actions by the same subject, you're showing cause and effect relationships. Let's look at another example:

Choppy: Sherri finishes writing a novel. She sets it aside for at least a month. She then begins revising.

Revised: After Sherri finishes writing a novel, she sets it aside for at least a month before she begins revising.

3. Use appositives. Appositives can be effective when you have more than one sentence with the same subject. Often one of the sentences can be reduced to a parenthetical phrase or clause set off by commas. Let's try it with one of the examples:

Choppy: James visited with us last weekend. He is my former boss.

Revised: James, my former boss, visited with us last weekend.

4. Create modifying or introductory phrases and clauses. You can also break up the monotony of choppiness by converting one or more of the sentences into introductory phrases or modifiers. And again, we can apply it to one of the example passages.

Choppy: Kristy was exhausted. She stared at the computer screen. She was unable to write a single word.

Revised: Exhausted, Kristy stared at the computer screen, unable to write a single word.

Don't Overdo It
The key here is to vary sentence structure. Some short ones are good and can have significant impact when appropriately placed. Besides too many long sentences in a row can be just as monotonous as the alternative. Also, don't string too many statements together. Long, rambling sentences can be taxing to read, and this practice can also lead to run ons.

As with anything else, moderation is key.
Do you necessarily abstain from excessive use of violaceous exposition? I know. That was bad, but I'd rather prove my point in the first line than write the entire blog like that. As some of you probably know, tomorrow is Mardi Gras, when many will indulge themselves before the Lenten fast. So with this in mind, I've decided to get into the festive spirit a day early by discussing a decadent writing style affectionately known as purple prose.

What Is Purple Prose?
For those unfamiliar with the term, purple prose is writing characterized by ornate flowery language or, as one of my high school English teachers once said, a writer who is "drunk on words." It can be recognized as being littered heavily with adjectives and adverbs. However, since there is no ultimate definition, it is subject to interpretation. So what I consider purple prose, you may see as vivid description.

Regardless, purple prose as a style can make for slow, clunky reading, so for that reason, it should be avoided. So where does it come from? A few genres consider it consider it acceptable, but most of the time, it's beginning writers believing more adjectives will enhance their descriptions and make them better writers. And as a result, they can over do it a bit.

How to Avoid Purple Prose
This leads to the question: how do you write quality descriptions without purple prose? Two simple suggestions can help you clean up your writing:

1. Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly, if you must include them at all. In other words, put the thesaurus down and step away. If you need to search for these descriptive words, you don't need to use them. Some editors suggest avoiding adjectives and adverbs completely, but I find that isn't always possible. Stay clear of hunting for these gems in your thesaurus though, and remove as many as you can in your editing phase.

2. Use strong verbs. Some writers will use adjectives and adverbs to compensate for weak verbs, or those that don't express action. If you must reach for a thesaurus, look for a verb, not an adverb, and even then be careful. Your prose will not flow as it should when the words are borrowed. Active verbs reduce the need for adjectives and adverbs and make the most vivid descriptions.

So with that in mind, I hope you enjoy Mardi Gras tomorrow if you plan on celebrating. And while purple can enhance your wardrobe (especially tomorrow), it won't do the same for your prose. When in doubt, write simply.

Ever had an assignment that really burned you out? I just wrapped up one of those. It wasn't particularly long, just intense. I hope your week has been better. Anyway, I'm relishing my blogging time and thoroughly enjoyed picking out these articles for you, so hopefully you'll find something you can .

7 Powerful Ways to End Your Next Blog Post: You've probably read before that the headline and opening line of your blog posts are paramount to arousing your readers' interest. However, as Ali Luke's guest post at ProBlogger reminds us, the way you end your post is important too since that's what keeps your audience coming back. So check out these ways to end your blog posts in an engaging way. 

Fiction Writing
Creating God: Religion in Fantasy, part 1: While I tend to stay away from this topic in a business blog, writing fantasy definitely offers more breathing room in terms of religion. In this first part of a series of posts on religion in fantasy, Amy Rose Davis at Fantasy Faction discusses some of the things that should be included if you intend to create a religion for your fantasy world.

The One Thing All Great Love Stories Have In Common—And What It Means To Your Writing: Ah, love, how could I possibly end a link love post during the week of Valentine's Day without it? In this case the title of this article from Writer's Relief speaks for itself. There's one element your love story cannot go without, but there are others that help bring it to life. 

Freelance Writers: How to Make Time for Marketing: I know I've said it before, especially in the past few weeks. I don't have time for marketing. Of course, it's easy to overlook marketing when the work schedule is busy. But what do you do when things slow down? Chris Bibey, in this concise post at All Freelance Writing, gives tips on how to make time for it along with a few reasons why.

That wraps up link love for this week, and I wish all of you a wonderful weekend.

So who's working on President's Day? Actually, if you're freelancing, the question would be: who isn't working?

Of all English punctuation, quotation marks seem like they should be straightforward, whether they are being used for dialogue or quoting another author's material. If the text is part of the quotation, it goes inside the quotation marks, but if not, it should be placed outside. But like so many other aspects of English grammar and punctuation, it's just not that simple, and for that reason, I've seen a number of writers, especially nonnative English speakers, struggle with the placement of closing quotation marks.

Quotation Marks with Commas and Periods
Opening quotes are simple regardless of the situation. The punctuation is placed immediately preceding the quotation, but closing quotation marks pose more of a problem. For example, the rule for closing quotes in reference to commas and periods seems almost counterintuitive. Commas and periods should precede the closing quotation marks, whether they are part of the quote or not.

Wait,” Amy said. “I'm not ready to leave yet.”

Since the pause seems natural after “wait,” it makes sense to include the comma in the quotation marks as well as the period since the full sentence that follows is still Amy speaking. Now, consider the following example:

They studied the Robert Frost poem “Mending Wall.”

Obviously, the period is not part of the poem's title, but it's punctuated this way nonetheless.

Quotation Marks with Question Marks, Colons, Semicolons, and Exclamation Points
But not all punctuation in this matter defies logic. Unlike commas and periods, question marks, colons, semicolons, and exclamation points do not always appear within quotation marks. In fact, these punctuation marks consistently follow the closing quotation mark unless it is part of the quote.

Marie asked, “Where are you going?”

Are you familiar with Robert Frost's poem “Departmental”?

Alternative System of Quotation Marks with Other Punctuation
This inconsistency in punctuation rules is not universal in English grammar. In fact, it seems to be only an American style. According to British style, only punctuation marks that are part of the quotation should be included within the quotation marks. All other punctuation marks should follow them. But then, British style also favors single quotation marks rather than the American double.

While it seems counterintuitive, keep in mind that most American publishers will prefer the American style and will expect you to use it as well. 

Just keep in mind when you are writing that commas and periods precede the closing quotation mark at all times, but the rest of the punctuation marks follow the “common sense” rule.

Valentine's Day is upon us, but don't worry. I won't taunt you about whether or not you bought your beloved a gift. But with tomorrow being a day to celebrate love or, more specifically, those we love, now seems to be an appropriate time to reflect on the reasons we started writing in the first place—our passion to write. Many of us, freelancers especially, tend to get wrapped up in the financial aspect of our work and lose sight of those days when we were brimming with enthusiasm for the written word.

So whether you're creating client copy or selling novels and/or short stories, take some time to remember that first love. And while you can, and should, profit from your work, the following will help keep you from losing that love for writing.

1. Write for fun.
Yes, writing should be fun for you. If it isn't, why are you doing it? I spend a great deal of time helping others with their writing, but I always look forward to that time I have set aside to write these blog posts—because I enjoy doing it, as I also love my personal writing time.

But if you spend a great deal of time creating copy for others, set aside some personal writing time: a private journal, a personal blog, a poetry journal, fiction. Give yourself time to “play” as a writer.

2. Stop looking for perfection.
If you're waiting for the perfect time to write that book, launch a niche blog, or submit that short story, it will never come. Now is the right time. And most importantly, when you're working on a first draft, turn off your inner editor. The rough draft will never be perfect, ever. It's just the first part of the journey to your masterpiece.

3. Take small steps.
As I said in my discussion of writing goals, divide the project up into smaller elements. Plan to write 500 words a day or set a time limit. You want to look forward to returning to it, rather than overwhelming yourself to the point where you dread it.

4. Believe.
I don't mean believing in a religious sense, although you're welcome to do that if you think it will help. But what I mean is trust in your abilities. Believe in yourself. Believe in your writing and what you are looking to achieve with it. You do not need anyone else's approval as validation. After all, this is what you love.

So do you write for love, profit, or perhaps both? What keeps you going when that passion you started with seems to be a distant memory?

Earlier this week, I attended the funeral of a good friend's father. As funerals tend to do, this one caused me to wax philosophical for a bit and reminded me the importance of showing appreciation for the people in my life while they are still with me. So now seemed like a good time to show appreciation for my readers by improving the reading experience here at Perfecting Your Prose. So in link love posts, I am adding categories to break up the text the way I do with subheadings in regular posts. This should increase readability and make it easier for you to skim for topics of interest.

Obviously the topics will vary according to the articles I select each week, and today's posts are divided between business and creative writing.

Freelance Writing
Writing & Editing Look Easy on the Computer: When I tell people I'm an editor, I get frustrated when they dismiss it as easy or equate it with reading. And while I love reading, anyone who knows anything about editing knows there's more to it than just reading. Anyway, Anne Wayman at About Freelance Writing echoes some of that frustration in this article.

Creating Clips as a NEW Freelance Writer: So you've just launched your freelance writing business and you're ready to take on clients. But customers want to see writing samples, and you have none. Jacob Duchaine offers some potential solutions to this dilemma. 

Fiction Writing
Writing Action Scenes: Do you love writing long, poetic descriptions? Or perhaps your strength is dialogue. How do you handle fight scenes? For those writing any kind of fiction that requires action sequences, Amy Rose Davis at Fantasy Faction makes some excellent points to keep in mind as you write.

Pride and Prejudice and the Three Movements in Every Love Story: While not all of us write romance, the protagonist in many novels will have a love interest. So if you've considered writing a story with romantic elements, Joe Bunting at The Write Practice emphasizes the formula that has gone into so many great love and friendship stories.

So let me know if this improves the link love experience. Also, take some time to appreciate those important to you, especially with Valentine's Day just a few days away.

As always, have a great Friday and a wonderful weekend.

After my previous post on two commonly used relative pronouns, this topic seems appropriate. And while this one seems intuitive for me, I often see evidence that it isn't the case for other writers. So when should you use the relative pronoun who rather than that? For some writers and editors, the rule is straightforward enough that its “misuse” is a pet peeve, but others play fast and loose with it. But like so many other grammar rules, it's not always black-and-white, and there are a few exceptions.

Consider the sentences below:

Kate went shopping with her friend that needed a new suit.

David mowed the law for his neighbor that was out of town.

So what's wrong with them? Grammatically, they are indeed correct. That can, in fact, refer to people, especially if the relative clause is restrictive. However, that doesn't mean that it's the best relative pronoun to use in this context. Compare the sentences above to the following:

Kate went shopping with her friend who needed a new suit.

David mowed the lawn for his neighbor who was out of town.

Even those who aren't strict about this rule will admit that they read much better. Many style books would favor these versions of the sentences as well. Keep the following guidelines in mind as you determine whether to use that or who.

When to Use Who
As a relative pronoun, who is fairly limited. Who (as well as its inflections whose and whom) can only be used to refer to people or entities equated with people (like deities and occasionally pets). It should not be used when referring to things or animals.

I followed the girl who was running down the street.

When to Use That
That can refer to animals, things, and people and should be used when the clause is restrictive. While that can be used to refer to human beings, it is not the preference. The following is a correct use of that:

Bill found the car that he wanted.

So if you have the option of that or who in certain contexts, what's the problem? You'd probably get different answers depending on who you ask. But for me, using that in reference to people is similar to referring to someone using the pronoun it. You wouldn't do that, would you? It would make that person seem less human.

Exception to the Rule
As you've come to expect with grammar rules, there is an exception . While you should use who in reference to people whenever possible, that can (and should) be used when the sentence has more than one relative clause and who has already been used. This will help avoid awkwardness and repetition.

That is the woman who shared her apartment with the man that took her money.

Keep these guidelines in mind when you need to use relative pronouns.