Are You a Writer?

Every condition has symptoms. Here are some that may indicate you are a writer.

Everything around you makes you think of a storyline. You look at a ship in the harbour, and immediately wonder what it would be like if you were a customs officer inspecting a ship, and found a nuclear weapon.  You’re riding in the backseat of a friend’s car, and you wonder what if would be like if you were a wealthy entrepreneur being driven to meeting where you’d either become a billionaire, or lose the company you’d built from scratch. It never ends.

Once you have a story idea, you can’t relax until you start writing.  A story idea in a writer’s mind  is like a marble in a tin can, the irritating rattle won’t stop until you start writing. You probably have more story ideas than you can possibly work on at one time. One option is to write a brief outline of each idea and see where it leads; your intuition will guide you to the story idea that has the greatest potential. Just the process of recording story ideas and making a decision really helps.

You remember the names of characters better than the names of real people. If I meet someone today, there’s a very good chance I’ll almost immediately forget it, but I can remember the names of characters from stories I wrote years ago. It may be that when you’re writing, you repeat a character’s name over and over again in your head.  It’s also possible that you associate a character’s name with very strong emotions, because of what happens to a character in a story.

You find it extremely frustrating to watch writers accepting awards.  If you watch someone holding a winning lottery ticket, there’s no personal connection, it’s pure math; so many tickets were issued, someone had to win, it was that guy or girl. There was nothing the person standing before you could possibly do to improve the odds, other than spending a lot of money on tickets. It doesn’t indicate any talent or intelligence. The writer accepting an award, however has followed the same process as you; start with great story ideas, write, have your work rejected, keep writing, and repeat until you’re standing at the podium accepting the award.  (Why haven’t I won any awards? How about that weather…..)

I should warn you, if you are a Writer, the condition is permanent.

J. Paul Cooper





What If?

“What If?” is the most powerful question that any writer can ask. This simple phrase is the catalyst that opens the mind to an endless world of possibilities.

When screenwriters are pitching movie concepts to producers, they always begin with the logline, a one or two sentence description of the story. Even though they don’t usually use the words, “What If?”, that’s the basic concept.  To illustrate how useful the concept is, take a moment to think about your favourite novel or movie. How would you describe the plot in one sentence, beginning with the phrase, “What If?”  For Titanic, my best guess would be: What if a young woman engaged to a man from a wealthy family, fell in love with a poor artist travelling on the Titanic?

I remember watching the original Star Trek series with scenes where Captain Kirk was talking to a Star Fleet commander on a computer screen. In order for that to be written into the script, someone had to ask  himself or herself, “What if future technology will allow people to talk to each other face to face through computers?” Now it’s no big deal, but at the time it seemed like amazing technology.

The reason “What If?” is so effective for fiction writers, especially science fiction and fantasy writers, is because it doesn’t imply any limitations. You’re writing a novel and you ask yourself, “What if the largest predator on the planet where my heroine has been stranded has huge razor sharp teeth, spits acid and can both fly and swim?” By continually asking “What If?” you can raise the tension and keep your readers up all night turning pages.

I hope this week you’ll spend some time asking, “What If?” and create great literature. Since it’s probably a cardinal sin for a writer to miss an opportunity to market his or her writing, I should mention the title of my eBook is What If? A Collection of Short Fiction by J. Paul Cooper. You can purchase a copy through Smashwords or other online eBook retailers, or you can ask your local library to order it through Overdrive or Cloud Library.



Stories Are All Around You

One characteristic that all writers seem to have, is tendency to be curious and notice details in their surroundings. Do you have a hobby? Are you involved in a sport? Do you attend a place of worship? You may be surprised do discover how may opportunities there are all around you. Here are some examples of how I found subjects to write about.

For several years I worked as an Airport Security Screening Guard. I offered to write an article for a local newspaper about how passengers could pass through the security screening section at the airport, with as little hassle as possible. “Have Gifts, Will Travel” was published in The Daily News (Halifax).

When I was attending a Baptist church in Nova Scotia there was a youth pastor who did some crazy stunts to encourage young people to attend their annual summer Vacation Bible Camp. A Canadian magazine, Faith Today, agreed the story was interesting and published it under the title, “Baptists Thrill Kids in Nova Scotia.”

After a karate class over ten years ago, I noticed the sensei cleaning up the dojo and asked him about what was involved in operating a martials arts club. That resulted in an article, “Black Belt and a Briefcase,” that was published in a local business magazine, Atlantic Progress.

My most recent article was “Writing Formats: The Keys to Unlocking Your Potential,” that was published in Opal: The Magazine for Canadian Authors and Writers. It helps if you’re writing about something you’re passionate about,  so readers don’t feel they are listening to someone forced to give a report about something they have absolutely no interest in.

Writing is about paying attention to the world around you and taking advantage of the opportunities you find. If you’re a student and you wonder what it takes to coach a high school soccer team,  that’s a great article for the school newspaper. If it sparks your imagination and you wander how it would feel to be the first human to coach the Urzlak team on planet Voxtax, that could be a great science fiction novel.

Never forget, it’s your voice, your passion. Keep writing.

If you’re curious, you can find a complete list of my published writing in the Members Directory on the Writers’ Guild of Alberta website:

J. Paul Cooper


What Are Your Goals?

Even if you love to drive, just for the sake of driving, you probably have a destination in mind before you start the engine of your vehicle. There’s a certain feeling of accomplishment,  safely completing a journey. If you don’t have a destination, then all you’re doing is driving around in circles, wasting gas. If you’ve never thought about what you want to achieve through writing, perhaps now is the time to consider this important issue. Here some questions to consider:

Do you want to be a professional writer or are you content to keep writing as a hobby? There’s no right or wrong answer to this question, because no one understands your life better than you do. Although my goal is to become a full-time, professional writer, at the moment leaving my job would be unfair to my family. That’s why I start and end each shift at the warehouse with the Writer’s Daily Affirmation that I wrote in the first blog entry, to remind myself that I’m a writer, not a forklift operator.

Are you willing to write for free to get started?  It’s often been said that the worst thing that can happen to a writer isn’t being criticized, it’s being forgotten. One reason to write for free, especially when you first start writing, is earn credits that you can list in your profile.  One important thing to remember, however, is that once a story, essay or article has been published, even on your own blog, it will much more difficult to get it published again. Some editors won’t even consider previously published material. If an article or short story has been published for free, you may never be paid for it.

Do you have one project that keeps working its way into your thoughts?  Great story ideas are like marbles in a tin can, they just keep rolling around in your mind, and the rattling won’t stop until you start writing.  The most important decision you can make is to actually start writing. You can read Writer’s Digest, watch author interviews on YouTube, visit author’s websites and read blogs about writing, but never actually sit down and write. If your intuition it telling you it’s a great story idea, it’s time to start writing.

Have you ever written your goals down? Take a few minutes to write down the goals you want to achieve through writing and record dates by which you plan to achieve those goals. You don’t have to worry about whether you can finish the projects before the self-imposed deadlines, their purpose is to help you focus and avoid procrastination. The main thing is that you’re moving towards your goals.

During the first week of July I had one editor reject a short story I had submitted, and another editor publish an article I wrote. While I’m waiting to hear from several film companies I submitted screenplays to, my eBook, What If? A Collection of Short Fiction by J. Paul Cooper has been added by several libraries. Writing really is an emotional rollercoaster.

J. Paul Cooper




Stay Flexible

With so many demands on your time, it’s easy to push your dream of becoming a published writer to the end of the list and place it in the “someday I’ll” file. Here are a couple of suggestions to help you achieve your writing ambitions.

Since the most important goal is to keep writing, consider working on two projects; a longer project like a novel or feature length screenplay and a shorter project like a short story or an essay. If you feel overwhelmed by the longer project, take a break and work on the smaller project. Finishing the shorter project will give you a feeling of accomplishment, and you’ll be ready to tackle the literary behemoth again.

I’m working on a science fiction novel, but I recently took a break to write an article, “Formats: The Keys to Your Potential,” which was published in the July 2017 issue of Opal: A Magazine For Canadian Authors and Writers.

Set deadlines for your work to help you keep focused, but accept the fact that you’ll have to adapt to changes in your life. Write down what you’re writing goals are and decide when you plan to achieve them, but if you reach that deadline and you’re not finished, don’t be too hard on yourself.  If you start thinking of  yourself as a loser because you’ve missed a self-imposed deadline, it’s only going to destroy your self-confidence. You are not a loser, you’re a normal human being dealing with life. You can always set a new deadline and start writing again.

You may not have thought about it this way, but if you’re a writer, reading is like learning from the masters. Even though you aren’t doing it intentionally, you’re absorbing writing techniques as you turn the pages. Even if it’s extremely difficult to find time to write, if you’re reading, you’re still learning and making progress. You can’t read while you’re driving to work, but you can listen to books on CDs.

Learning to write is a lifelong process, so you don’t have to become discouraged by unexpected delays. If life prevents you from writing for a while, you won’t forget how to write; you are still a talented, intelligent individual prepared to share your unique voice with the world.

J. Paul Cooper