10 Ways to Fund Your Creative Writing Projects

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Managing a writing career is tough. It’s even tougher when you’re worried about money and how you’ll pay bills every month. Not everyone who begins a writing project or business will have the financial wherewithal to support themselves – at least not at first. Most writers, including yours truly, have had to find ways to support themselves while keeping alive their creative passion.

Below are 10 possible avenues that you can pursue to fund your writing career or a specific project. Granted, it might mean less free time to work on your masterpiece, but it will also give you some peace of mind, knowing that you can make ends meet.

  1. Personal savings. If you’ve been in the work force awhile, or were lucky enough to have had a previous career that offered a savings plan, such as a 401K, those funds can act as a cushion for when you’re transitioning to your writing lifestyle. Experts suggest having at least six months of savings in case of emergencies, and with the current economic climate, I’d recommend more than that. Things always cost more than you think. Be sure to budget yourself and refrain from overspending on non-essential items. That will stretch out your savings even further.
  2. Part-time jobs. There is such a thing as scaling back on your schedule to allow more time to do what you love. As with your personal savings, budgeting will be key to success because you won’t have as much of an income to live off of. But at least a part-time gig will give you some cash flow to cover basic expenses while freeing up valuable time in your schedule for writing.
  3. Freelance and contract gigs. Most writers I know choose this option because it gives them the freedom to set their own schedule. On the other hand, you may spend more time marketing yourself and searching for well-paying assignments than actually working on your own writing projects. Many clients don’t pay enough to cover your basic expenses, so you have to pile on lots of small assignments for any reasonable income, which can cut into your personal writing projects. You’re better off with three or four steady gigs that pay well rather than 10 or 12 that pay pennies.
  4. Temporary assignments. Temping can provide some stability and a somewhat steady income whenever you need it. But the days when temp agencies automatically offered assignments is long gone. These days you need to apply for assignments as if they were regular full-time jobs, which means you may be competing for work against other candidates. On the positive side, you can choose to work a few days at a time or longer assignments that last more than a year.  You can opt for part-time or full-time assignments too. Even with its somewhat inconsistent nature, temp work can provide financial support when you need it.
  5. Internships. If you’re starting out with little or no experience, internships can help you gain valuable real-world experience that looks good on your resume and helps you build a portfolio of samples that you can show to future clients and employers. Some internships pay, others do not. But you gain in real-world experience while on the job. Find internships on job sites like Indeed or Internships.com.
  6. Grants and fellowships. If you don’t mind working for the experience and earning living expenses while you do so, then grants and fellowships may be right for you. Grants are an outlay of cash that doesn’t have to be paid back. They may require a certain expertise or writing focus such as writing about social justice issues or being of Native American descent. Read the grant application requirements carefully.

    Fellowships are usually offered through a university and allow you to earn money while you contribute in some way to the writing department. You may be required to teach classes, manage the writing lab and attend workshops in exchange for a stipend. Fellowships give you a chance to work on a specific project and get feedback on your work from fellow students in the program and instructors. Some fellowships can be done at a distance while others require in-person sessions. Study the application carefully to make sure you understand the requirements. To find grants and fellowships near you and to learn more about them, check out Profellow.com.
    .
  7. Home equity. Tapping into your home’s equity can be a practical choice, especially if you’ve lived in your home long enough to earn significant amount of equity. If you’re uncomfortable tapping in your home’s equity, author and artist Cassandra Gaisford suggests another option. Instead, ask the bank for a mortgage holiday of two or three months. Then use the savings to finance a business startup or live off of it while you focus on your writing project.
  8. Crowdfunding. If you have a specific project you’re working on, try setting up a crowd funding page on one of the crowdfunding platforms. Some have categories for publishing and other creative projects. Crowdfunding can help you test your book idea with potential readers and gain financial support from them if they like your idea, especially if you plan to self-publish. Check out Indiegogo, Kickstarter and Unbound.
  9. Sponsorships. Is there a local business you support that could help you in return? Perhaps a coffee house you frequent where you’ve been drafting your novel? Or some other place that knows of your efforts to get published? Ask them to sponsor your work-in-progress. Even a small amount of cash can help you defray publishing expenses. In return, off something that can help them, such as offering a free banner ad for their business on your website or plug their business via social media.
  10. Seek investors. Don’t be shy about asking friends and family members for their financial support, which can help you get the project or business off the ground. Just be sure to put all expectations and financial requirements in writing so all parties know what’s at stake. Be clear about what your needs are and whether and when you’ll be able to pay them back.

Starting a writing project can be both exciting and daunting. There’s no cost to you to begin your writing project, just a steady supply of paper and pens will suffice. But when you’re ready to publish the manuscript, produce a play or design a website, that’s when costs can become apparent. Still, if you plan your time well and stick to a budget, you can make your writing dream a reality.

12 Tips to Survive – and Thrive – National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Logo courtesy of NaNoWriMo

This article is reposted from October 2020.

Have you always wanted to write a novel but wasn’t sure how to start writing it? Maybe you’ve had a story idea swirling inside your brain for the past decade and just never made the time to write it. With November right around the corner, here’s your chance.

National Novel Writing Month is an annual creative writing challenge that takes place every November in which participants aim to write 50,000 words in 30 days toward a completed novel. The event is hosted NaNoWriMo, a nonprofit organization that encourages writing fluency and education for all ages. According to its website, the NaNoWriMo group believes in “the transformational power of creativity.”

Participation in this annual event has escalated from a mere 21 people in 1999 to 306,230 in 2017, according to the Novel Factory. You don’t have to sign up on their website to participate. You can do this in the comfort of your home, which is what I plan to do. While the goal is 50,000 words for the entire month, that is only the goal. If you can only achieve 30,000 words – or 1,000 words a day – that’s fine too. This is a personal challenge to motivate writers to write every day and work toward a larger goal.

Whether this is the first time you take part in the event or the tenth, here are some helpful tips for surviving this 30-day writing challenge. You can find other helpful tips here too.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Outline and research your story ahead of time. Since you’ll be spending your November days writing, you’ll need to know what you’ll be writing about. Plan ahead. Plot your outline in advance. The Novel Factory has some awesome free downloadable tools to help you plan your story.

The same goes for research. If you’re writing historical fiction, do your research ahead of time. If you get to a place in your story where you need to do more research, make a note of what you need to do and come back to that place during the revision phase. Don’t get distracted by the desire to look up something or you will never get back to your writing.

Plan your schedule. With a hefty 50,000 word goal, you’ll need to plan how you will achieve it. That’s roughly 1,667 words a day with no days off, or 2,000 words a day with one day off each week. Those daily word goals can be daunting. So it’s important to plan how much you’ll be able to write. It might mean getting up an hour early each day to write, or doing mini sessions throughout the day. Remember, you don’t have to write in one huge chunk of time.

Try something new. Many writers use NaNoWriMo to experiment with their writing. It might be re-writing a current work-in-progress from an alternate point of view, or trying their hand at writing a different genre – science fiction when they normally write psychological suspense. This approach can be applied to your writing schedule too. For example, try getting up an hour earlier in the morning to start writing rather than waiting until the evening when you may be too tired.

Participate in live write-ins. If you’re looking to stay motivated throughout the month, check out a live write-in in your area. If you sign up at the NaNoWriMo website, you’ll be given locations of write-ins near you. With the pandemic, I imagine there might be virtual write-ins too. 

Work with a writing buddy. When you participate with a friend, you can motivate each other and help you through the rough spots. If you’re both competitive, set up your own contest to see who can write more words each day. Try putting a giant thermometer on your wall. As you complete your daily word count, fill in the thermometer with red to see your progress. Then compare your progress with that of your friend’s.

Be prepared to put some activities on the backburner. That may mean less time hanging out on social media, less time watching Netflix or Hulu or shutting off the TV. It could also mean spending less time socializing with your friends and fewer Zoom meetings. You’ll have to decide what you can live without for the short term while you work on your masterpiece.

Silence your inner critic/editor. As you write, turn off the internal critic who tells you that your work isn’t good. It’s easy to get sidetracked by negative thoughts. First drafts usually aren’t very good, so relax and just tell your story without judgment and self-criticism. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to challenge yourself to write your story. There will always be time for editing later.

Avoid going back to the beginning. If you are ever tempted to read what you’ve already written or rewrite it, don’t. You may decide that your work is terrible and give up. Or you may want to start editing it, which only wastes time. If necessary, read the last page or two that you wrote to remember where you left off, but otherwise, keep a forward focus.

Find your writing rhythm. You may find one week into NaNoWriMo that you’ve hit your stride. That’s great news. If you get to the end of your 2,000 word goal and you still feel motivated to keep going, then by all means, keep writing. That’s one way to build up your word count early on in the challenge so if you feel a bit sluggish by the end of the month, you can slow down without harming your end goal.

Reward yourself when you reach milestones. When you get to the 5,000 word mark, for example, treat yourself to your favorite snack or watch a favorite movie. Set another reward at 10,000 words, 20,000 words and so on. Occasional rewards serve as great motivational tools to keep you writing.

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet your writing goals. So you only wrote 30,000 words. Congratulate yourself for your accomplishment. That’s better than not writing at all. Remember the purpose of this event is to challenge yourself to make quick, steady progress.

Make time for exercise and fresh air. All work and no play can stifle your creativity. Make sure you get outside if the weather is nice, and go for a walk or a bike ride. It’ll help clear the cobwebs from your brain and you can return to your desk with a fresh perspective.

Most important, have fun with NaNoWriMo. Yes, there will be plenty of hard work involved, but stay positive. Look at how much you will learn and grow as a writer. No matter how many words you eventually put down on the page, you can be proud of your accomplishment as you see your story develop.

For more great tips to survive NaNoWriMo, check out this article from Reedsy.

How to produce webinars: A guide for writers and bloggers

Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

Webinars have been around for several decades, but it’s only seen a huge resurgence in popularity since the start of the pandemic in 2020. According to On24 Webinar Benchmark Report 2021, webinars grew by 162% and attendance grew to more than 60 million people last year.

Needless to say there are ample opportunities for writers, bloggers and marketers to join the ranks of webinar producers. What makes it more enticing is the fact that most webinar platforms are fairly affordable and easy to use.

Granted, producing webinars isn’t for everyone. It takes someone with tremendous courage to sit in front of their computer screen and talk into a microphone. But for those who have the will and the curiosity to engage with their audience, show their expertise and/or promote a book or product, well, then this might be one more tool to add to your marketing mix.

How do you get started producing webinars? What do you need to know? Most important, what key decisions do you need to make? Because you’re not going to be able to jump right in without thinking about certain aspects. Such as:

What is your goal for the webinar program? Why do you want to produce your own webinars? Is it to promote a new book or a product? Discuss a unique idea or process you’ve created? Or build an audience for your blog or business?

Who is your audience? Consider who your audience is, their age, location, level of expertise, etc. Are they seniors interested in compiling family histories for a memoir, or a group of aspiring bloggers? Knowing who your audience is and what their interests are can help you determine the topics you’ll present.

Also consider the size of your audience. Are you content doing a webinar for 20 people, or would you like to push the limit to several hundred? Keep in mind that roughly 45-50% of those who register for your live events may actually show up.

What topics will you present? This will depend on your goals and your audience’s educational interests. Consider what your audience wants to know. What types of questions do they typically ask? When you see the same questions being asked over and over again, that’s usually a clue what might be a meaningful topic.

How many webinars do you plan to do? Don’t count on doing just one. Think ongoing series. Think long term. Perhaps you can do a series geared toward a targeted audience, such unpublished nonfiction authors, or a series about a subtopic, like a focus on common side hustles. Also consider how you can repurpose the webinar content into other formats, such as podcast episodes or a white paper.

Where do you want to host the webinars? Do you want to show it exclusively on Zoom, or do you want to broaden your reach by showing it live across different channels, such as YouTube, Facebook Live and LinkedIn? Some webinar platforms will allow you to share simultaneously across multiple platforms and record it for later posting.

Research the different platforms. Sites like GotoWebinar, Webinar Jam and Webinar Ninja are a few that are easy to use, according to The Book Designer blog. Or check out sites like Webinarsoftware.org  or Capterra for reviews of the best software platforms.

If you’re looking for free and cheap options, there’s always Zoom. With a personal Zoom account, you can reach up to 100 participants for up to 40 minutes. Or try Google Meet.

What you decide to use will depend on how you plan to host the event and what your specific marketing needs are. For example, you might want to capture leads from the registrants. Experts suggest making sure you have systems in place for following up on leads. Otherwise, doing webinars would be pointless.

Make sure to promote the events. Email campaigns and social media may be the best ways to invite people to attend your webinar. Individual host sites will also promote the events to their platform users. Check the webinar platform to see if they send out calendar reminders or if you have to set them up yourself.

Do a run-through of your program. It is recommended to do several run-throughs of your presentation. That can help you find the rough spots so you can fix them before you go live. It also helps to arrive early to test the equipment and sound. You don’t want to have to deal with technical issues at the start of the event.

Allow time at the end for a Q&A. By the end of the session, which should not run longer than 60 minutes, people will likely have questions. Allow time to answer them, say 10 minutes or so. Be sure to thank people for participating, and be sure to include ways to contact you or follow you on social media.

Don’t use a script. Know your subject inside and out. If necessary, create an agenda for the program that you can follow and a few note cards to remind you of your key points. But go as unscripted as possible, otherwise your presentation will seem stiff and formal. You want to appear natural and conversational.

Measure your results. After the webinar has been posted, follow up with registrants. Send them a survey to get feedback on the program, and ask for suggestions for future events. Also check to see what your conversion rate is. How many people who had signed up for the event actually listened in? You might want to offer a free download for replay later, especially for those who could not attend at the last minute.

For more tips about doing webinars, check out this article on Smart Blogger.

While producing webinars isn’t for everyone, once you have systems and strategy in place, they can help showcase your expertise in a unique and engaging way.

How to Instill a Love of Creative Writing in Kids

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

I’m not a parent or a teacher, but I care about kids and education, especially when it comes to writing and reading – the pillars of lifelong learning. If you can read and write well – and more important, if you enjoy doing them – I believe you’re set for life.

Even if you don’t have kids of your own, you can still encourage a love of the written word in others. For starters, become an avid reader and writer yourself. When other people see you engrossed in a book, it might make them curious about what you’re reading and why. Even better, that book in your hand can make an interesting conversation starter.

But there are a surprising number of ways you can instill a love of reading and writing in kids – and kids at heart. Below are a few of them.

1. Fill your life with stories. Read to your child every day. If they’re in middle school, for example, choose a title that is slightly above their reading ability or take turns reading pages from a book of their choice. While waiting in the doctor’s office or in the park, tell your child stories. When they hear stories from you, they’ll learn to be storytellers too.

2. Subscribe to kids’ writing magazines. When that magazine arrives in your mailbox every month, it provides numerous stories that kids can look forward to enjoying, whether they read it themselves or you read it to them. It can entice them to become better writers too, says book editor John Fox. Some accept submissions from children. Imagine seeing your kid’s work published in a national magazine. There are numerous publications to choose from depending on the age group. Try Highlights, which I grew up reading. Or Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill or Cricket media.

3. Take your children to see plays. When they see a play, they’re seeing storytelling in action. It makes the characters come alive, and the live action can interest your child in creating their own stories and put on plays at home.

4. Bring them to the library or bookstore. When they see you browsing the shelves, you’re setting an example. This is another way to demonstrate your own love of reading. When you shop for yourself, be to shop for them. Browse the children’s section and see what they gravitate toward. The library or bookstore may also have readings from children’s authors too.

5. Set up a designated space for writing. I encourage writers to have their own writing space separate from other areas of the home. People just need that space to create without disruptions from the TV or other family members. If possible, set up a designated space for writing for your child. It could be a corner of their bedroom, a corner of your home office, or the attic. The important thing is that it’s quiet so they can think, dream and play with words.

6. Provide a variety of writing tools when they write. The Measured Mom suggests providing a variety of writing tools that kids can play with to engage their imagination. Try crayons, markers, chalk, colored pencils, ink pens or even charcoal or paint. As they write a story, they can draw pictures or write the words down in different colors. It can make a perceived boring activity like writing seem more fun.

7. Have them start their own journal. Either purchase one or better yet, create their own journal. Get some lined paper, staple one side to create a booklet. Add a blank cover sheet that they can design and color to their heart’s content. Creating their own journal instills a pride of ownership.

8. Use props to inspire writing. Sadie Phillips at Teachwire.net suggests providing props to inspire a child’s writing habit. It could be a shoe, a photograph, or a piece of jewelry you wear. Ask them to write a story about that prop. Where did it come from? Does it have a voice to speak, or ears to hear? It’s one more technique to prompt your child’s creativity.

9. Provide writing prompts. Just as writing prompts can be helpful in jump starting ideas for adult writers, kids can benefit from writing prompts too. Try a fill in the blank, like “Sandy the Clown baked a cake for the school bake sale. What kind of cake did she bake?” Prompts can stir their imagination in different ways.

10, Visit the neighborhood. Phillips suggests taking your child on short trips in the area. It could be the post office, the park, a candy shop, or a pet supply store. When you get home, suggest they write about their trip. What did they see, hear, smell, and touch that they remember. Writing it all down commits the visit to their memory.

11. Engage with authors and storytellers.
Phillips suggests connecting with favorite authors and storytellers via social media. Follow their Facebook pages, or those of your child’s favorite authors. Ask them questions about their writing, and share their answers with your child. Create a dialogue so you and your child can learn about the writing process.

12. Praise children’s writing the right way. Editor John Fox suggests giving your kids encouragement when they finish writing a story. When they show you their work, don’t be vague and give general feedback. Don’t just tell them, “I like your story.” That’s not enough to encourage them to keep writing. Instead, you might say, “I like the way you described the red car,” or “What happened to the evil witch at the end?” When you ask questions about the child’s story, they become curious about the story too.

As you glance over these suggestions, you’ll notice that they’re not quite different than those for adult writers. After all, it’s just as important for adult writers to engage with other storytellers, use writing prompts, visit unusual places, set up a designated writing space and write with different writing tools. To truly inspire the children in our lives to be creative writers, we need to share our best creative habits.

Rediscovering the Local Library for Lifelong Learning

books-4

It’s been a busy week and I haven’t had time to write a fresh post. So in light of my focus on education and training, here’s a repost of a story I did back in 2016. Enjoy. I’ll be back next week with a fresh new post and a new writing prompt. As always, thanks for reading. RL

Have you visited your local library lately? When was the last time you did?

It had been a long time since I visited a library, but a few weeks ago I decided to go to the one in my neighborhood to escape the heat. Once inside the glass doors, I was quickly reminded how much I loved the hushed atmosphere. People spoke is low voices amidst the rustling of newspapers and the hum of laptops as people worked. I love that low-level noise, just enough to know that other people are around, but not loud enough to interfere with a person’s studying or reading activity.

As I wander the aisles, I imagine myself getting smarter just being there in the presence of so many books. I feel like my body absorbs their creative energy, the ideas, the discussions, and the desire for learning. No wonder there is a hushed reverence as soon as I walk through its doors. Knowledge is at work among those who visit.

In an era where Google rules the Internet, local public libraries have been a mainstay in many communities. New research by Pew Research Center finds that libraries still play a vital role in our local communities. Where would we be without these places of learning? Like print books, they’re not going away any time soon. And that’s great news for self-described lifelong learners like me.

But like many people, I tend to forget that the library is there, ready to welcome readers and students of all ages and education levels to browse its shelves and delve into subjects to expand their understanding of the world. Most Americans believe that libraries do a good job of providing a safe place to hang out, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. Consider these additional statistics:

* 77 percent say public libraries provide them with the resources they need.

* 58 percent of respondents believe libraries help open up educational opportunities for people of all ages.

* 49 percent think libraries contribute “a lot” to their communities in terms of helping spark creativity among young people.

* 47 percent said libraries provide a trusted place for people to learn about new technologies.

We may occasionally forget that the library exists, but thank goodness they still play a vital role in our communities. While most people may prefer to use the Internet initially for learning new things, it’s nice to know that libraries are still a viable place for reading, research and studying.

How Writers Can Create Their Own Self-Study Course

Photo courtesy of The Regal Writer.

This is part of my series on training and education for writers.

Several months ago, I wrote about MFA programs and how to tell if they’re right for you. This week, I’m focusing on self-study options.

An MFA is not for everyone, and some experts believe that it does not guarantee that you’ll be published. What it does do is provide an intensive training opportunity to learn everything about the writing craft. You’ve got a built-in network of fellow writers who are going through the same program and you learn from each other.

Self-study offers its own advantages. Students have more control over the content and direction of their training. You control what you study, when and for how long.

Whatever your preference – MFA or self-study – will depend on your studying style.

If you prefer to immerse yourself in a structured program where you learn everything about the craft of writing in a concentrated period of time, then an MFA is probably best for you.

However, if you don’t have the money or the time to concentrate on an intensive program like an MFA, self-study is the better option. In this route, you can pick up knowledge as you go along by taking workshops and classes on your own time and on your own schedule and reading every blog, magazine article and book about some aspect of writing.

For those who like aspects of both, you might appreciate the hybrid model. The hybrid is a do-it-yourself program that combines the independent learning of self-study with the intensive focus of the MFA. Whereas the typical self-study route can be haphazard in its approach, the hybrid is focused on mastering areas of competence in a given time, usually about a year.

Author James Scott Bell calls these areas of competence “critical success factors” or CSFs. Bell has identified seven CSFs that he recommends writers should master: plot, structure, characters, scene, dialogue, voice and meaning (theme).

(Personally, I would add three more to this list: pacing, setting and revision. However, in a hybrid self-learning model, I suppose you can create as many or as few CSFs as you want. It’s your self-study program.)

Bell’s idea is based on the work and writings of Benjamin Franklin. In his autobiography, Franklin described his desire to master 13 moral virtues. He tracked his progress using a chart with the seven days of the week. He focused on improving one moral virtue each week. Writers, Bell says, can use a similar checklist for each of the CSFs he described.  

By concentrating on one CSF over seven weeks, Bell believes you will have covered all seven within one year with three weeks to spare. Of course, if you add others to your list, that time frame will be extended. Count on spending eight weeks – comparable to a college semester – learning about one CSF. By the end of one year or longer, you will have completed your own self-study program.

Bell also offers suggested readings for each CSF. You can find them on his website. Other helpful resources can be found on DIY MFA and Writer’s Digest magazine.

Of course, there are no formal hybrid educational models offered for writers. So you may have to create your own self-study course, says writing coach Ann Kroeker. “In this way, any of us can identify an area to improve in and find instruction pertaining to that exact skill or technique.”

Kroeker adds that this self-study approach isn’t limited to fiction writers, but to poets, essayists and non-fiction writers too.

It’s an interesting concept, and one I wished I had come upon when I embarked on my writing career. No matter how far along you are in your development, you can always test out Bell’s self-study concept.

Self-study tips

If you decide to go the self-study route to learn more about the writing craft, here are a few tips to get the most out of the experience, according to the Learning Agency Lab.

  1. Set goals for yourself. Decide what you want to learn and the measurements for mastering them.
  2. Schedule your self-study time. Self-study takes time, perhaps not as much as a formal MFA, but time that you could be doing other things. With busy schedules, you’ll need to set aside time each day for self-study, whether that’s reading, taking a class or completing writing exercises.
  3. Make sure you complete the exercises you learn in workshops or in the texts you read. This gives you valuable practice on technique. You may not use them all after the training ends, but some will likely stick.
  4. Don’t be shy about marking up articles and books. You’ll likely find key points you want to remember, so grab that marker and highlight it. Better yet, use a post-it note to mark the page so you can refer to it easily later.
  5. Celebrate milestones. For each CSF you master after seven or eight weeks, do something special to mark the occasion.
  6. Apply your skills. As you gain experience with each CSF, look for ways to expand your skills. For example, once you’ve mastered character, begin to apply those lessons to your own writing. Look at your own characters to see if they measure up.
  7. Find a study buddy. (This is my personal suggestion, btw.) Self-study, especially about writing, means you’re working on your own. By finding a study buddy, you can go through the self-study process together.
  8. Reflect on your learning. When you’ve completed each phase, reflect on what you’ve learned. Is there more you need to learn?

Writers are lifelong learners. No matter where you are in your development as a writer, there are always resources to help you improve your craft.

The Best Fall Education Conferences for Creative Writers, Freelancers and Content Marketers

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

With the turn of the calendar to September and cooler weather approaching, my thoughts often shift to school at this time of year. Continuous learning is the name of the game for many professional writers and content marketers. Even attending one conference or training course each year can help you stay abreast of the latest trends in your industry.

As part of this education theme, over the next few weeks, I’ll be covering different ways to boost your education. Last week, I shared tips about how to build your vocabulary. In case you missed it, you can find it here.

This week, I’m sharing a list of upcoming conferences taking place this fall. The early bird registration may have passed on some of these events, but all the same, they may be worth exploring.

Some events are higher in costs than others, mainly because they’re in-person. But even if you walk away from the event learning one or two new things you didn’t know before, it’s worth your while. And because we’re still experiencing a pandemic, most of these conferences are being presented virtually, which means you can attend a conference in New York City without leaving your home in Texas.

So whether you want to publish a novel, begin a freelance writing business, or learn about content marketing, there are plenty of conferences to get you going.

Editor’s note: Most conferences occur in the spring and summer, so look for an updated schedule in January.

Writers’ Conferences

Genre-LA Creative Writers Conference
Los Angeles
October 1-3, 2021   (hybrid/virtual/in-person event)

Women Writing the West Conference
October 7-9, 2021 (virtual)

2021 Online Agent Fest
Midwest Writers Workshop
October 13-16, 2021

Gotham Writers Conference (virtual)
October 15-17, 2021

Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference
Pasadena, California
October 21-24, 2021  (in person)

National Black Book Festival
October 21-23, 2021 (virtual)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival
October 30, 2021 (virtual)

Genre Writing Conferences

Fall in Love New England Where Authors Meet Readers
Boxborough, Massachusetts
October 15-16, 2021

World Fantasy Convention 2021
Montreal, Quebec Canada
November 4-7, 2021

New England Crime Bake Mystery Conference
Boston, MA (in person)
November 12-14, 2021

DisCon World Science Fiction Convention
Washington, DC (in person)
December 15-19, 2021

Freelance Writing

Society of American Travel Writers Convention
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
October 3-7, 2021

FreeCon, Freelancers Conference (virtual) (Registration opens Sept. 15)
November 1-2, 2021

Medical Writing and Communications Conference
American Medical Writers Association
October 27-30, 2021 (virtual)

Content Marketing

Content Marketing World Conference & Expo
Cleveland, Ohio and virtual
September 28 – October 1, 2021

CopyCon Copywriting Conference
International Festival of Copywriting
October 8, 2021 (virtual)

Marketing Profs B2B Forum (virtual)
October 13-14, 2021LavaCon Content Strategy Conference
October 24-27, 2021 (virtual)

Digital Summit Chicago (in person)
Chicago, Illinois
October 27-28, 2021

As writers, freelancers and content professionals, these events not only keep you updated on the latest trends and practices in your niche, it gives you a chance to network with your peers, perhaps meet agents and editors who can help your career.

What about you? Do you attend conferences or workshops in your area? What is your favorite part about attending them?.

Nine Easy Ways to Expand Your Vocabulary

CAM00674This is a repost from a couple of years ago. The content is as pertinent today as it was then. Enjoy!

Whether you are a budding writer or a working professional in a non-communications role, your ability to communicate depends on an expansive vocabulary. As children and young adults, we learn new words at a fairly high rate. By the time kids reach age six, they know close to 13,000 words, according to Scholastic.com. Most native English-speaking adults have mastered 20,000 to 35,000 words, according to TestYourVocab.com. Sadly, vocabulary growth tends to slow down for most adults by the time they reach mid life.

When it comes to reading and writing, learning new words and broadening our scope of language and understanding can only serve to make our story telling skills even better. With each new word we learn, it’s only natural that we want to implement it right way into our everyday conversation, to display our newfound knowledge.

Whether you want to become a better writer or just want to impress your friends with your growing lexicon of language, here are a few easy tricks to expand your vocabulary.

1. Read, read, read. This is obvious. The more you read, the more you will absorb the writer’s meaning through language. And the more diverse your reading materials – from historical fiction novels and celebrity memoirs to newspapers and medical journals – the more expansive your vocabulary will become.

2. Play games and puzzles. Crosswords and other word puzzles are not only fun, but they help build your understanding of words. A site like TestYourVocab.com offers several self-tests and exercises to help you determine how expansive your vocabulary is.

3. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus at your side. These valuable tomes are your best friends whenever you read or write. When you come across an unfamiliar word when you read, take a moment to look up its meaning. When you write, you tend to use the same words over and over. Try looking up a word you commonly use to see if there’s another word you can use instead.

4. Read the dictionary. Yes, you read that right. Read the dictionary front to back as if you were reading a novel. A grade-school classmate of mine did that in seventh grade. While other kids in the class were throwing spit balls, my classmate sat quietly at his desk studying the dictionary. It did not surprise me to learn several years later that he earned a perfect high score on his ACT test.

Take a page or two a day and study each word on the page. Note how many of them are unfamiliar to you. Little by little, your vocabulary will grow.

5. Take a class on a topic unfamiliar to you. If you don’t have the time or patience to read a text book, taking a class might be the next best thing to help you build your vocabulary. For example, when I took a personal training certification class a few years ago, I was exposed to terms and phrases related to exercise physiology, nutrition and physical fitness, not part of my everyday language, but it did give me some additional exposure to words I never would have learned otherwise. If medical science isn’t your forte, try other topics, such as gardening, carpentry or cooking.

6. Keep a vocabulary log. Each time you come across a word that is unfamiliar to you, write it down in a journal. In the space next to it, look up the word in a dictionary and write down the definition. The practice of writing it down will help commit the information to your memory.

7. Talk to people. Every now and then, it helps to take your nose out of a book, laptop or iPhone and look around you. The next time you visit a coffee shop, strike up a conversation with people in line or sitting at a table by themselves. Listen to the way they speak. What words do they use? This practice is helpful for creating dialogue in your fiction writing.

8. Visit sites like Vocabulary.com, a free online learning platform that helps students, teachers and communicators build their vocabulary. The site offers online games and exercises as well as tools to help you build vocabulary lists. There are other online platforms and apps available for the same purpose. No matter which you decide to choose, they are designed to help you build your vocabulary in fun, interesting ways.

9. Start writing, and keep writing. The more you write, the better you become at writing and the more words you will learn to use along the way.

When you engage in any one, two or three of these techniques on a regular basis, you’ll see your vocabulary grow exponentially in a short matter of time.

15 Easy Ways to Refresh Your Website

person using macbook
Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

This is a repost of an article originally published in early 2019, but the information is just as pertinent today. Enjoy!
Remember to check out this week’s writing prompt.

With apologies to the queen of decluttering, Marie Kondo, “Does your blog or website make you happy?” Does it excite you to read it or post to it? Or does it feel stale and uninspiring?

Maybe it’s time to declutter your website?

It can be easy to overlook your website or blog once it’s up and running. But like anything else, it can quickly turn boring. And if it’s boring to you, imagine how your readers feel about it. If you don’t feel excited about your own site, you’ll put in less effort to maintain it properly. Once you lose interest in it, your readers will too..

I’m always looking at ways to freshen up my website. I’ve tinkered with it here and there — with mixed results.  Here are a few ideas that can help give your blog a new lease on life.

1. Update your bio. When was the last time you reviewed your About Me page on your website? Does it still give readers a realistic view of who you are? If it’s a bit thin, add a few more details about your experience, either as a writer and blogger or as someone with specialized knowledge and expertise. Have you published any pertinent articles, taken an exotic vacation recently, or completed relevant education that would add to your credibility? Add that information to your bio.

Your professional development doesn’t stand still, so neither should your professional profile on your site. With every new life experience, education course, or job change, review and update your bio. In fact, I recommend reviewing your bio at least once or twice a year, just as you would your resume.

2. Update the Resources page. A helpful tool for your readers is a list of resources related to your blog topic. A separate page with resources can include links to other websites and blogs you follow, organizations you support, publications, and downloadable materials that may benefit your readers. Double check the links at least one or twice a year to make sure they are still active. If you don’t already have a resources page, consider adding one to your site. When you share resources on your site, it positions you as an expert just as if you had created those resources yourself.

3. Update site images. Be honest with yourself. When was the last time you updated images on your website or blog? If you’ve had the same images since the day the site went live and that was more than three or four years ago, consider replacing with new photos. Either take your own photos (make sure they’re high quality) or use one of the free image sites like Pixabay or Flickr. Be sure to give credit to the source of any photo you use that isn’t your own.

4. Change the layout. If you’re bored with your site, maybe it’s the layout that needs updating. If you’ve used the same layout on your site since day one, consider changing it up. What I like about WordPress is the numerous themes they offer, and new ones are being added all the time. Maybe you still like the theme but use a slightly different layout, like two-column instead of one-column. Test out different themes and layouts to see which ones look best. You may find after testing them that you like what you have. That’s okay. At least you made an educated and informed decision.

5. Update your color scheme.
Maybe the color scheme has gotten stale, or it no longer appeals to your sense of artistic integrity. Maybe it comes across too somber when what you really want is something more cheerful, or conversely, maybe it comes across as juvenile or immature when you want your readers to see you as mature and professional. You want a color scheme to reflect your site’s topic and appeal to your readers at the same time. If your color scheme isn’t working for you, test out new combinations. A new color scheme can breathe new life into a tired-looking site.

6. Add video. Video has become the hot new trend in website content. Video has a sticky quality because it encourages visitors to linger longer on your site. Video is especially valuable for teaching purposes. Think demonstration of yoga poses, how to use carpentry tools, or cook a meal.

7. Interview experts. If you’re tired of writing the same types of stories or you run out of ideas, consider doing interviews. To start, stick with a few brief questions. Seek out people who have expertise in your selected topic. For example, if you write about outdoor adventures, consider interviewing a biking enthusiast who just completed a 100-mile trek, or the leader of an adventure travel group. Five easy questions can make an easy-to-write post into an interesting-to-read story.

8. Write a book or movie review. Read any good books lately? See any great films? Book and movie reviews are another way to add strong relevant content to your site. They’re also helpful for stirring up discussion and debate, which helps you engage with your readers.

9. Conduct surveys and post the results. Want to know what your readers think about a particular topic? Just ask them. Set up a survey on a site like Survey Monkey, then link to the survey from your blog or website. Once you compile the results, be sure to share them with your readers. For example, a movie fan website might do a survey about the Academy Award nominations. Surveys are a great way to generate more interactivity with your readers.

10. Invite guest posts. If you’re connected to other bloggers or experts, consider inviting them to write a guest post for your blog. This approach is especially helpful if you plan to be out of town for vacation and won’t have time to contribute articles to your blog. It’s also helpful if you simply run out of creative ideas. Having guest posts can expand your audience to include the guest blogger’s readers as well as your own.

11. Write how-to articles. We live in a continuous learning society, and readers are always looking for easier ways to get things done in an easy-to-read format. How-to articles are a great way to showcase your expertise, especially if you can clearly explain complex subjects.

12. Add downloadable materials. Consider posting freebie content, such as a podcast, a white paper or a chapter from an upcoming book you’ve written. These items can whet readers’ appetite for more material you create.

13. Include client testimonials. Do you work with clients? If they’re pleased with the results from your work, ask them for a testimonial that you can post to your website.

14. Add social media links. Invite readers to follow you on social media to keep the engagement going off site.

15. Share your portfolio.  Have you written for other blogs? Have you been published anywhere else? Or are you an artist with pieces you’d like to sell or show off to visitors? Set up a portfolio to showcase your work. Especially for writers and other creatives, this is a great way to show what you can do for potential clients or employers.

A site that looks and feels stale won’t inspire confidence in you or your readers. Any one or a combination of these ideas can make your site more interesting and reader-friendly.

Tips and Strategies for Guest Blogging

One of my personal goals at the start of 2021 was to write and publish guest posts on other sites. I figured it was one more way to share my expertise with others and show my writing talent. It also adds to my portfolio that I can show to potential clients. I’ve done enough research on the topic that I’m willing to share what I’ve learned so far.

In content marketing circles, guest blogging is the act of contributing content to another website or blog. A guest post often includes your byline, and the site editor might describe you as a “Contributor” or “guest author.” In addition to gaining a wider audience for your writing, there are numerous other advantages to guest blogging.

* It helps you promote your expertise on a given topic.
* It can help you grow your personal brand or your company’s brand if you work for someone else.
* It can help you expand your audience for your blog
* It can help drive referral traffic.
* It can help you build relationships with other bloggers and online publications, leading to business partnerships or job leads.
* It can help you increase members to your email subscription list

With so many benefits, it’s hard to believe that so many writers don’t take advantage of this outlet. However, it takes time to see your efforts pay off. You have to work at it, and you have to plan ahead what you want to write about and who you want to write for. Most important, you have to know your ‘why” – why do you want to be a guest blogger.

Set goals for your guest posting campaign

Many content marketing experts will tell you that a successful guest blogging campaign begins with a goal. What do you want to achieve with your guest post? Do you want to promote your expertise as a thought leader? Do you want to expand your audience for your blog or website? Do you want to build relationships with other bloggers or organizations?

Once you’ve determined your goal for guest posting, you can begin to brainstorm story ideas that will tie into your goals.

Brainstorm niche topics and article ideas

Say your goal is to be seen as an expert in career issues, but your blog is about office management and productivity based on your experience as an office manager. Maybe you’ve written a few career-related articles for your blog, but you’d like to share your expertise beyond your own audience. Start by making a list of career topics you’d like to write about. Make sure these topics aren’t already covered in your own blog, otherwise they may be rejected. Many sites want stories that you haven’t written and published anywhere else, including your own site. Once you compile your list of topic ideas, set them aside. These are the stories that you’ll pitch later.

Research potential sites

Once you have your list of story ideas, you’ll need to find a home for them. It helps if you are already following sites that you want to write for. If you haven’t done this already, start following them on social media or subscribe to their newsletter, if they have one. This way you can track what they are publishing.

You can also do a simple Google search.  Enter keywords such as “write for us,” “become a contributor,” and “guest articles.” See what comes up. Be prepared, however. There are numerous articles on the subject of finding guest blogging opportunities. Make sure to focus on your niche.

Once you’ve noted the site you want to pitch to, you’ll have more homework to do. Check out each of the sites on your list to see if your proposed topics have already been published – and if so, when. The editor might be more open to your pitch if the similar story on their site is older than a year or two.

Also note how often they post outside submissions. Do they post contributing articles once every few months or several each month? It’s up to you to decide if the site is worth pitching to.

Review editorial guidelines carefully.

Find the editorial guidelines on your targeted site and review them carefully. Many editors have specific instructions. Make sure you follow their submission guidelines or your pitch will be rejected.  

Some sites offer small compensation for your writing. Others offer non-monetary rewards, such as your bio and byline and links back to your own blog and social media accounts.

When your pitch is accepted….

If your story idea is accepted, congratulate yourself. It might be a good idea to have the article already written, or most of it. Based on the editor’s feedback, you might need to make some changes. Make sure your article is polished and well-researched. Remember that a new audience will be reading it and hopefully, becoming part of your own readership.

Make sure to promote the post and the publisher

Perhaps the most important step is to promote your guest post. Share it via all your social media channels and on your site. But don’t let the post-publishing promotion end there, writes Ann Gynn, editor of the Content Marketing Institute blog. You can develop a stronger relationship with the posting partner (the site that published your article) by taking additional steps. Monitor any comments that are posted and be sure to answer each of them, even those that are critical of your content. No need to engage in an online debate with your critic. A simple, “Thank you for reading,” or “Thank you for sharing your thoughts,” will suffice.

A month or so later, check in with the publisher. Share any success stories you had as a result of your guest post. Inquire about opportunities for subsequent posts. See if they’re willing to put you on a regular posting schedule.

Track the results

Content marketing experts suggest tracking results of your guest blogging campaign. There are tools you can use to help you do that. According to the Alexa blog, it’s helpful to track things like:

* Number of new website visitors
* Number of social shares
* Referral traffic
* Number of comments
* Number of new leads
* Number of brand mentions or links
And more…

Tracking these statistics helps you gain insight into which sites helped you achieve your goals and sites that didn’t perform as well. (Editor’s note: Alexa is a monitoring service that tracks that kind of information.)

Want more information?

This is just a cursory overview to get you thinking about the possibilities of guest blogging for your writing practice. There are plenty of resources available about guest blogging. To learn more, check out these articles:

Hubspot: Everything You Need to Know about Guest Blogging
Optin Monster: The Ultimate Guide to an Effective Guest Blogging Strategy in 2021
Neil Patel: Guide to Guest Blogging
Content Marketing Institute: A Step-by-Step Guide to Guest Blogging
Alexa: Guest Posting: A Step-by-Step by for Getting Started

Interested in having me write a guest post to your blog? Contact me at theregalwriter@gmail.com.

Tips for Creating Work-Life Balance as a Freelancer

equality-1245576_1280
Image courtesy of Pixabay

Editor’s note: I’m busy with a personal writing project, so I am reposting this article from 2019. I think the information is as pertinent now as it was then. Also, remember to check out the weekly writing prompt on my website!

When you work as a freelancer or independent contractor, you are your own boss. You can set your own schedule, goals and priorities. You can take time off when you want to. You have more freedom. 

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

But the fantasy rarely lives up to reality. More often than not, that self-imposed schedule and responsibility can get out of hand if you’re not careful. While it doesn’t happen often, freelance work can result in forty-hour plus workweeks — or longer. For many freelancers, the opposite is true. There isn’t enough work and they’re scrambling to find new clients. Constant fear and worry can nag at you about making ends meet or getting clients to pay on a timely basis.

When you work for yourself, it’s easy to focus more on your clients than your own family. Even more than your own well-being. It’s easy to lose track of your schedule. It’s easy to forget that you have a social life.

But take heart. There is hope for all freelancers. According to the 2018 freelancer survey by Upwork, 77 percent of full-time freelancers reported having a better work-life balance since becoming self-employed. It is possible to achieve that balance. But like everything else, you have to work at it. Most important, you have to plan for it.

Having work-life balance is critical for your well-being for several reasons. It helps prevent burnout so you won’t feel overwhelmed by all your responsibilities. It helps you feel more energized and refreshed so you can face each new challenge. It removes needless stress from your life so you can think more clearly.

pexels-photo-459971.jpeg

Once you decide to begin working for yourself, it’s important to establish work-life balance early on in your freelance career. When you shift from a full-time job with a fairly set schedule to not having a set schedule at all, it can be easy to lose your sense of balance. As your own boss, it’s up to you set create that balance. Make it a part of your business planning. But how do you do it?

Here are a few ideas to help you create more work-life balance in your freelance career:

1. Set a regular work schedule. Establish consistent work hours and stick to them. If you worked a nine-to-five job previously, establish a similar type of schedule when you first start out. Make sure you give yourself two days off each week. Setting up a regular schedule with two off days keeps you in a routine that you can sustain.

2. Stay connected with family and friends. When you work for yourself, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing you are alone. That’s not true. No matter how busy you are setting up your business and pursuing new clients, don’t forget about your family and friends. They are your support system, and they can give you proper perspective when business gets too hectic or if things don’t go as smoothly as you planned.

3. Don’t be afraid to say no. No to assignments that would be a waste of your talents, no to outside obligations until you meet your deadline, no to clients who don’t pay on time or change their requirements. Know your limits. Know when you have too much on your plate. It’ okay to pass on the assignment or refer it to another professional. Or hire a subcontractor to help you meet the deadline.

4. Keep your calendar organized. Keep all appointments in one place, both personal and professional so you don’t accidentally overbook yourself. Also set clear goals and priorities and list them in your calendar as a quick reminder of your obligations.

5. Detach and disconnect from devices. Information comes at us 24/7 via our devices, social media, computers and TV screens. It can be difficult to shut it out. It’s up to you to do that. Set aside a day or a weekend to do a digital detox. It might be helpful to put those detox dates in your calendar too as a reminder to stay balanced.

6. Set up a “fun” account. Small Business Trends, an online publication about small business practices, suggests setting up a separate bank account to be used solely for fun activities. As you get paid from clients, set aside a small amount into this fun account so you have money to splurge on that weekend spa getaway or ski trip you’ve had your eye on.

7. Practice self-care. To be your best for clients, you need to live healthily, suggests experts at FilterGrade.com. Eat properly, get proper sleep, practice meditation and yoga, or take long walks. Do anything you can to clear your mind and center yourself.

8. Keep up with personal interests. Maintain your hobbies, whether that’s playing tennis, reading the latest best-seller or attending concerts. Volunteer with your favorite cause. Sometimes when you spend time with those less fortunate, it puts your own troubles into perspective.

Whether you’ve been freelancing for for some time or are just starting on your journey, setting aside time for yourself is as critical to your success as helping your clients. When you work for yourself, it’s up to you to make work-life balance a priority.

Related Articles
7 Strategies for a Better Work-Life Balance in the Freelance Economy, Forbes
Here’s Why the Freelance Economy is On The Rise, Fast Company

14 Ways to Repurpose Your Blog Content

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Check out this week’s writing prompt on my website!

If you think that posting to your blog is the end of your written piece, think again. You can extend a story’s shelf life and expand your audience by repurposing your content.

Repurposing is the process of adapting or re-using something in a different way and for a different reason. For example, in construction, you might repurpose wood from a torn down warehouse to create a front entrance door for your newly built home. Or for a crafts project, you might repurpose wrapping paper by putting it into a frame for artwork you can hang on the wall. You get the idea.

You can do the same with your writing. Each time you write something for your blog, you’re adding to your inventory of written pieces that you can tap into later to create an entirely new product. Repurposing content can help you in several ways:

* It can extend the shelf life of a written piece. What might be available to your audience for six months can have a shelf life of several years or longer.

* It can help you reach new audiences who may not be familiar with your writing. While one audience may prefer seeing your work on your blog, others may find you through a podcast outlet, social media, or on another site where you have a guest post.

* It showcases your writing in different formats, whether it’s visual, aural or in print.

So what types of formats work best for writers? That depends on what your writing goals are and the audience you want to reach. Not everyone wants to do a podcast or host a webinar. But it is something to think about as you expand your writing business.

Here are a few ways to repurpose your content:

  1. Revise and repost to your own blog. Some content gets outdated quickly. If an original post from three years ago has outdated information, consider updating it to include new data and repost to your site. It might be helpful to alert readers that the post was originally published previously but has been updated.
  2. Rewrite the content as a guest post. This can be tricky since most other sites want original content from their guest posters. So be sure to rewrite the whole thing. You can still include key points from previous posts, but rewriting something that you created can extend its life beyond your own readership.
  3. Publish a compilation. If many of your posts carry a similar theme, such as technology or e-mail marketing, compile the best ones for an e-book. Then you can repackage it and sell the collection on your website or on sites like Amazon.
  4. Produce an e-book. This is similar to number 3 above, but in this case, the essays don’t stand alone. You’re actually taking several of your posts and rewriting the material, then reorganizing it in a way that it reads like a non-fiction book.
  5. Create an infographic. Readers like having data at their fingertips, usually in a quick, easy-to-read format. If several posts have a similar theme and related data, you can compile the information into a colorful infographic.
  6. Share on social media as soundbites. Sites like Twitter and Instagram are great for posting snippets of information. You can take key points from your posts and repeat them on various social media sites, one key point or sound bite at a time.
  7. Share information via a podcast. Podcasts are more popular than ever, and the technology has gotten so advanced that it’s easy to create one. Whether you post the podcast to your website or make it downloadable through Google Play or Apple, you can easily expand your audience reach with content that was created elsewhere.
  8. Host a webinar. If you feel comfortable speaking in front of a camera, hosting a webinar might be right for you. Again, you’ll be able to pull content from various posts and presenting it in a live format, which can help you reach different audiences.
  9. Create a slide presentation. This goes hand in hand with any online classes or webinars you host.  A Power Point presentation can present content in small chunks to a new audience.
  10. Develop an online class. Similar to a webinar, an online class puts you and your specialized content in front of new, fresh audiences. Include a slide presentation and a handout, and you become a triple threat.
  11. Produce a workbook or handout. Whether in combination with a workshop or online class or presented as a standalone product, a workbook is a practical way to present your content.
  12. Create a white paper. According to Investopedia, a white paper is an informational document distributed by an organization, government agency or non-profit group to present a solution, product or service to influence readers’ decisions. Usually not more than six or eight pages in length, white papers are another way to present your content, especially if your goal is to have the public see you as n expert in your field.
  13. Distribute a monthly e-newsletter. As part of your newsletter, include an abbreviated version of the original post, so readers get a sample of your blog content.
  14. Create a visual library or portfolio. Last week, I provided tips on creating an online portfolio to showcase your writing. As visual representations of your work, a portfolio can succinctly showcase your best pieces. Add an appealing photo or image to go along with a short excerpt from your best pieces and display them on a separate page on your website.

As you can see, you can take your original content in different directions. Of course, there may be other ideas not listed here that better suit your purposes, or you may come up with a few of your own. You’re only limited by your imagination. But you can see how repurposing original content can extend the life of your writing beyond your own website.

Tips for Creating an Online Portfolio for Your Writing Business

Photo by Anthony Shkraba on Pexels.com

Whether you’re beginning your career as a writer or you’ve been writing professionally for a while, you’ll want to show off your best work. That’s where an online portfolio can help you present your best pieces.

According to The Free Dictionary, a portfolio is a collection of works or documents that are representative of a person’s skills and accomplishments. It’s one of the most important marketing tools you have to demonstrate the type of work you can do for potential clients. It’s in your professional interest to make your online portfolio look as clean and compelling as you can.

If you’ve never had a portfolio, you might feel unsure about how to create one. Or perhaps you have one but it hasn’t been updated in several years. Consider this a primer on portfolio management.

Basic tips for creating your portfolio

The following tips from The Vault and Make a Living Writing can help you get started.

  1. Understand the purpose of your portfolio. What do you want to achieve with it? Are you using it to look for a job or to apply to graduate school? Are you trying to build your brand and find new freelance clients? Whatever the purpose you decide will determine what types of samples you should include in your online portfolio.
  2. Know your audience. If your audience is comprised of non-profit groups, you may want to include a few samples of work you’ve done for other non-profit organizations. If your audience is made up of professionals, such as insurance agents, CPAs and attorneys, you’ll want to include samples that contain content for those groups. Know who your audience is and what they are looking for. Then tailor your portfolio to your specific niche or ideal client.
  3. Curate the best and most relevant samples. Make sure your samples you choose represent the best quality work you’ve done. Your collection should also showcase the type of work you’d like to do in the future. The best quality projects will speak for themselves with little or no introduction from you.
  4. Include a brief introduction to each sample. The intro may be helpful so visitors understand the why of the project. Not everyone will get it with just a visual link alone. Besides, the introduction gives you a chance to show of your copywriting skills.
  5. Don’t overcrowd the portfolio. Keep the site neat and tidy so it’s easy to see the samples. Focus on quality, not quantity. Ten high-quality pieces may be more appealing to potential clients than 30 that are mediocre.
  6. Use thumbnail sized images. Smaller images take up less space on your site, making it appear more neat and clean, and more appealing to visitors. While having a list of links, (which many writers maintain for its simplicity, including yours truly), providing images adds visual interest. 
  7. Make sure you keep your portfolio updated. As you complete projects and get fresh clips, you’ll want to add them to your portfolio. In addition, you’ll want to review your portfolio every six months to one year to make sure it’s current.

But what if I’m starting out and don’t have many clips to show?

If you’re new to copywriting or freelancing and don’t have many clips, start with the few you do have and slowly build from there. Experts suggest beginners create a few samples of their own, such as a newsletter or blog post. Another possible suggestion is to offer copywriting services to local businesses, such as revamping their website with fresh copy or creating a newsletter for a non-profit group. Yet another strategy is to pitch stories to websites you’d like to write for to add to your portfolio once they’re published.

For some outstanding examples of online portfolios, check out these on portfolio site Format.com.

Your portfolio can be created on your own website, which most writers I know prefer to do. Sites like Squarespace and WordPress offer a portfolio layout. You can also check out the various external portfolio sites, such as clippings.me, pressfolios.com or Contently.com.

When you’re done creating your online portfolio, remember to promote it everywhere you have a profile. Include a link on your LinkedIn profile, on your emails underneath your signature and on your business card, if you have one.

When you’re building your writing business, your portfolio will reveal much about your experience and capabilities. So make sure your portfolio look its best.  

For more suggestions about setting up your online portfolio, check out these articles:

The Muse: 4 Secrets to Building a Portfolio That’ll Make Everyone Want to Hire You
The Balance: Your Writing Portfolio

Is an MFA Program in Your Future?

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

Like many writers, I’ve often wondered if I would benefit from attending an MFA program to boost my writing capabilities. An MFA degree – Master of Fine Arts – gives writers an intensive educational experience about the writing craft. Did I have the desire to go back to school, to go through the application process? And did I want to spend money I really didn’t have on a program I wasn’t sure would help my career?

For me, the answer was no. I’ve been fortunate to find numerous workshops and classes about writing so I never felt compelled to apply for an MFA program. Other writers I know have found the MFA to be a valuable asset in their careers. BUT an MFA is not for everyone.

Before you take that leap, there are several factors to consider, such as costs, location, and the type of program. As of 2019, there were 158 full residency programs in the U.S. and 64 low-residency programs, according to Poets & Writers magazine. Full residency programs require students to be on-site and attend classes full-time. In a low residency program, students might need to attend sessions at the university location over a 10-day stretch twice a year while they work on their own the rest of the time. Some programs even offer class sessions abroad.

Every year more programs are launched. With so much to choose from, it can be difficult to know what to look for. Worse, there are tons of articles written on this subject. I’ve done some initial research for you here so you can sort through the key points. I’ll also share some valuable tips and resources to help you decide if an MFA program is right for you. But the rest is up to you.

Why would anyone want to pursue an MFA?

People decide to pursue a master’s program for a number of reasons. They may feel they lack proper knowledge about the writing craft or feel uncertain about their technical skills. Maybe they seek feedback for their writing, or want to be part of a community. For others, it’s learning to teach others, since some programs require attendees to teach classes. Whatever your reason may be, the long-term benefit is learning and growing as a writer.

When searching for a program, there are several questions to ask yourself.

* Do you plan to attend full-time or part-time? If you already work full-time, a full-time program may be more than you can handle, unless you are willing to quit your job for it. Full-time residencies may require you to live near the campus to participate in writing workshops and teach classes. Part-time programs don’t have nearly the time requirement that full-time programs do. Some of the classes may also be delivered online, which makes it more flexible for some students.

* What size program do you want to be part of? Depending on the school, you may attend small group sessions of less than 10 students, or larger programs with more than 30. Then there are programs with medium-sized classes.

* How much money are you willing and able to spend? While some programs are fully funded, meaning they offer all students in the program with financial assistance, others are not funded at all or are partially funded. That means you will have to find ways to finance your education. MFA programs aren’t cheap. Some can cost more than $20,000 a year.

* Do you have any desire to teach? Full-time programs that offer fellowships may require you to teach classes in exchange for income. That’s great is you want to work on your presentation and teaching skills. But if you have no interest in teaching, the full-time programs may be a waste of time.

* What kind of writing do you want to do? As Jacob Mohr writes on the TCK Publishing blog, most MFA programs frown on commercial and genre fiction. So if you want to publish your collection of horror stories, don’t expect a lot of support from program faculty. Most programs lean toward poetry, non-fiction and literary fiction.

Pros and cons of writing programs
Once you have these answers nailed down, you can examine the pros and cons of MFAs.

Pros:

  • You get feedback for your work from instructors and fellow students.
  • You can sharpen your writing skills so you write, edit, and critique more efficiently.
  • You receive intensive training on the writing craft, learning everything from plot structure, grammar and punctuation, and character development. You learn a lot in a short amount of time.
  • You have a chance to work toward a final project, usually a book or performance.
  • You can join a community of fellow writers who are working toward similar goals.
  • You don’t need to take the GRE or other standardized test to gain acceptance into a program.
  • Some programs are fully funded and provide financial assistance to support your education.

Cons:

  • Most MFA programs are pricey, unless you find a fully-funded program. Not everyone can afford to attend an MFA program, not even on a part-time basis.
  • MFA programs can be time-consuming and too intensive to fit into your schedule. Most programs are a 2-3 year commitment, which most people may not be able to give. In addition to attending classes, you may be required to teach classes or fulfill other obligations.
  • There’s no guarantee that you’ll find writing success after you complete the program.
  • Most MFA programs do not address the business side of writing, such as submitting work to editors, marketing yourself, how to get published, finding a literary agent, etc. It’s up to you to learn these hard skills.
  • MFA programs are highly competitive. Many universities receive hundreds of applications for only a handful of students, as few as 10 or 20. So the chances of being accepted are slim.
  • As Mohr mentioned above, most programs focus on literary fiction, poetry and non-fiction writing. Commercial and genre-based fiction is frowned upon. If you wish to write a sci-fi/fantasy series, don’t expect to get a lot of support for your work.

If you decide that an MFA program isn’t right for you, there are educational alternatives (thankfully). Try the slow, steady pace of the self-study or DIY MFA. This way you learn about the writing craft at your own pace. Take classes from local writing studios or schools, attend conferences and read self-help books about writing. This approach might take longer to teach yourself the proper techniques, but you control the subject matter and the timing of lessons. The self-study route also provides more flexibility so you can fit lessons around a full-time job or other obligations.

You can also join a writer’s group to get feedback for your pieces. Most important, write, write and write some more. Most published authors agree that writing a little bit every day is the best way to learn to write.

Still not sure whether an MFA is right for you? Check out Flavorwire’s roundup of opinions from 27 writers. The opinions are mixed. For example, Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love), advises people to get “an advanced degree in the school of life…”

“After I graduated from NYU, I decided not to pursue an MFA in creative writing. Instead, I created my own post-graduate writing program, which entailed several years spent traveling around the country and world, taking jobs at bars and restaurants and ranches, listening to how people spoke, collecting experiences and writing constantly,” Gilbert writes.

For more information about MFA programs, check out these additional resources:
Association of Writers and Writing Programs: Guide to writing programs
Poets & Writers Magazine: 2019 MFA Index and Guide

Good luck and happy writing!

Is Self-employment Right for You? First, Ask Yourself These Questions

Photo by Abhiram Prakash on Pexels.com

Remember to check out this week’s writing prompt on my home page.

Many of us have dreams of hanging out our own shingle and taking charge of our livelihoods. For most of us, that’s all it is – a dream.

Many people who have started a business often wind up closing up shop within a year or two. They had difficulty finding clients or lost money before deciding that they weren’t as prepared for the solo gig as they thought. So they went back to working for someone else, preferring the stability of a steady gig and paycheck.

Working for yourself is hard work. Harder than most people expect when they start out.  The fact is, not everyone is cut out to own their own business. It’s more than the financial support and resources that can keep the business going; it’s your own mental and emotional make-up that can put a kink in your plans. Some people simply don’t have the fortitude, organizational skills and network to make the business work. Others don’t like the uncertainty about the future or fear rejection.

I fell into my solo writing career accidentally. I had left a job to manage a small business part time, but I was miserable. I quickly realized that this was not what I wanted to do. My former boss reached out to me to do a writing assignment for him, which led to other assignments. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do (although I knew I wanted to get out of the business management gig). Did I want to freelance full time, or were these writing assignments just a temporary fix until I could figure things out? Seven years later, I’m still trying to answer that question.

Looking back at that period of my career, I wish I had taken more time to think things through. I would have liked to have had a handbook or a self-assessment worksheet to help me figure out whether going solo was the right path for me.

The folks at the career site Vault have put together a really nice infographic that outlines a number of questions to ask yourself before deciding if freelancing is right for you.

Below are some questions taken from this infographic as well as a few of my own I wish I had asked myself. Hope these questions help you decide whether you’re ready for a solo career or not.

  1. Why do you want to work for yourself? Knowing why you want to work for yourself can help you feel grounded, especially when things don’t go as smoothly as you hope. Whenever you feel lost on your solo journey, come back to your why. It will help you refocus on your career goal.
  2. Do you have an established network and support system in place? Just because you decide to go solo doesn’t mean you work alone. You still have a support team around you, such as an attorney and/or accountant, a marketing person if you don’t plan to do it yourself, maybe someone to handle social media. Then there is your personal support team – your spouse, friends and family, and former colleagues who can pitch in when you need help.
  3. Do you enjoy working for yourself? Some people love working alone and have no trouble being in quiet surroundings. Others need to bounce ideas off other people. They’re more productive working in a collaborative environment. If you need to be surrounded by people in order to be productive, you may struggle working on your own. Then again, there are always libraries and coffee shops to make you feel you are surrounded by “co-workers.”
  4. How much of a financial foundation do you have? Most financial experts suggest having a nest egg of six months for living expenses while you launch your business. I would suggest more than six months, at least a year. For one thing, things are more expensive than you realize. Second, you’ll need cash on hand in case of emergencies, like a root canal or household emergencies.
  5. Do you have your first client or project to start? It might help your solo venture if you already have a client or two in place. They’ll provide the moral and financial support you need to build on for the future.
  6. How do you respond to uncertainty? Once you’re on your own, you’ll no longer have a steady paycheck, which means the future is very uncertain. That uncertainty can be too scary for some people. If you prefer the steadiness of a routine paycheck, then working solo may not be right for you.
  7. How are your time management skills? When working on your own, you won’t have to follow someone else’s schedule. You’ll be in charge of your own, or that of your client’s. In fact, if you have multiple clients, you’ll have to juggle priorities and that means having solid time management and organizational skills to keep track of them all.
  8. How much of a risk taker are you? This question might be easier to answer on a spectrum of one to 10, one being not much of a risk taker at all and 10 being “bring it on.” Knowing your comfort level with risk can help you determine what you’re willing to put up with as a solo artist – and for how long. Taking the leap into your own business is a huge risk, one that not many people are willing to take.
  9. How long are you prepared to go it alone? Experts say that most businesses don’t last longer than one year. One year is the barometer to decide if a solo venture is going to work out or not. For others, they simply run out of money or they lose heart in the project after six months to a year. If you’re in it for the long haul, then going solo may work out for you.
  10. How much experience do you bring from your chose field? Someone with only five years’ experience may not find as much success on their own as someone who has done the same work for more than fifteen years.
  11. How do you respond to new challenges? Some people welcome new challenges, and in fact, actively seek them out to spice up their lives. These people are more likely to succeed as solo business owners.
  12. How do you deal with rejection? Rejection is part of business. The most successful business owners will likely let the rejection slide off their backs or use it to fuel their next venture. They don’t give up. If you are easily discouraged by rejection, then working for yourself may not be right for you.
  13. How confident do you feel about your skills and prospects for success? The more confident you feel about yourself, the more positive impression you will make on clients and customers.
  14. How resilient are you? This question goes along with the rejection question. Are you able to bounce back after disappointment, such as a lost client or failed sales call? Most successful people working on their own are able to bounce back more easily because they understand that it’s only a temporary setback.
  15. Are you comfortable wearing many hats? Working on your own means doing a variety of tasks, everything from accounting, marketing, recruiting, even housekeeping. All of this in addition to your own unique skill, whether that’s copywriting, graphic design or pet care. You might be good at what you do and the reason you want to work for yourself, but you may not feel comfortable or have the skills to do the other tasks. You’ll have to figure out what you are willing to do and what you should outsource.

As you can see, working for yourself requires more than just basic business skills. It requires emotional and psychological strength to withstand the challenges of business ownership. By answering these questions honestly, you can decide if working for yourself is the right career path for you.

Eight Content Ideas to Make Your Newsletter More Read-worthy

Be sure to check out this week’s writing prompt.

Newsletters are one of the best marketing tools you can use to reach clients and customers. Whether you’ve had a newsletter for your business for a while or you’re thinking about starting one, it’s helpful to share good, strong content can put you in front of readers and keep them informed and engaged.

But most business owners and bloggers know little about newsletters. What kind of content should they include? What will their readers want to know and read about? The answers will depend on what type of business you have. For example, a yoga studio might include tips for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, healthy recipes, profiles of instructors and studio news. It might be a good place to promote a special offer too.

Or perhaps you provide a dog walking service. Your newsletter might include news about new dog treats, pet grooming tips and a list of local veterinarians.

While I have yet to start a newsletter for my writing business, I’ve worked on several others for employers and clients. I also subscribe to several newsletters from writers and publishing professionals, including Kat Boogaard, Joanna Penn and Jane Friedman. Each of their newsletters are unique based on what information they want to share with their readers and what services they want to promote. Some are sent out weekly (Boogaard’s) and C. Hope Clark’s Funds for Writers while others are shared monthly.

Those are some of the issues you will have to ask yourself as you determine your newsletter content. How often do you want to send it out? What kind of information do you want to include?

One thing is clear. The best newsletters offer helpful advice and information to their readers. They put their readers’ interests first. Further, the least helpful ones focus too much on marketing themselves with little thought about their readers’ interests.

So what kind of information can you include in your newsletter? Here are a few ideas.

  • Start with a brief opening to welcome readers. Keep it brief, no more than three or four paragraphs. Make it timely, referring to current events or the latest news in your life such as a conference you attended, a holiday or family event. Keep it casual and conversational as if you are speaking to friends, (which of course you are).
  • Link to your own blog/website. If you post to your blog frequently, perhaps a few times a month, why not share links to the most recent stories? We used to do this at one of my employers since we posted to our company blog nearly every day. In the weekly e-newsletter, we shared the headlines to the latest stories and linked back to the blog. This is a great way to generate interest in your work and give people a reason to visit your site. It’s one of the easiest things you can do to promote your business or services. Don’t post every single link, but only the top three or four that your readers may find useful.
  • Link to the most interesting news stories and blog posts that you’ve read. No doubt you subscribe to numerous blogs and online magazines. What is the most interesting and memorable things you have read from these sources? Make a list, then link to those articles in your newsletter. Freelance writer Kat Boogaard shares her favorite stories in each weekly newsletter issue. It’s a great way to share industry news that readers may not have known about.
  • Conduct interviews. Is there someone in your sphere whose work you admire? Or perhaps they’ve done something remarkable, like finish a marathon or got their first book published. Reach out to them for a brief interview. I like the Q&A format because it’s easy to read. But keep it brief, no more than four or five questions. Keep in mind that readers don’t have a lot of time to read and will skim through the material. So keep your questions on point.
  • Consider sharing a guest post or article. If you don’t have time for a short feature for your newsletter, why not recruit a fellow writer or business owner to prepare something. I’ve seen this done on several newsletters I receive, which adds a new dimension to your offering. Plus it helps build rapport and support among fellow writers and business owners, especially if they have a product or service that would benefit your readers.
  • Include a book review or recommendations. Have you finished reading a book about a topic pertinent to your business? Why not write a short review and share it in the newsletter? An alternative is to list books about a common theme or topic that may interest readers. For example, find three or four book titles about time management and share links to Goodreads or Amazon for details. This is another way to provide valuable service to readers.
  • List upcoming conferences and workshops. Since so many conferences are being offered via Zoom or other online platform, more people can participate in them that couldn’t before. Your newsletter is a great vehicle for sharing links to upcoming conferences, workshops and events that may interest your readers.
  • Close with a positive message. Ending with a quote from a famous person can inspire readers  and motivate them to be their best. My daily news brief from my health care provider always concludes with a healthy recipe, three tips for a healthy lifestyle, and a quote that makes me feel positive about the future. You can do the same for your readers.

While there’s no guarantee that readers will share your newsletter with their friends, it’s nice when they do.

Remember the best newsletters focus on the readers’ interests, so avoid too much self-promotion which can turn off readers. A little promotion of a product or service is okay, but when it’s done with a relentless force, people may give up on you.

Another piece of advice: browse the newsletters that come into your in-box every week or every month. Notice what you like and what you don’t. Then make a list of components you’d like to include in your own newsletter.

Focus on providing tips, tricks, tools and resources that will make your readers’ lives better. Make sure you are consistent with your timing too. For example, if you decide to distribute your monthly newsletter on the fifth of the month, make sure you do it every month. Readers will begin to look for it in their in box.

Keep the newsletter brief. Most people don’t want to spend hours reading lengthy articles because they suffer from information overload as it is from all the material they already receive. You want your newsletter to stand out. It’s not how long the newsletter is, but the quality of the information you provide.

What about you? Do you have a newsletter for your hobby or business? How often do you distribute it? What kind of content do you include?

Self-publishing vs. traditional publishing (and everything in between)

At a recent meeting of my writer’s group, we were talking about how we planned to publish the books we were working on. The vote was split between self-publishing and traditional publishing.

When I researched options, however, I learned that there’s more than those two paths. Thankfully, the publishing industry provides numerous options for aspiring writers, nor do you have to aim for the Big Five to be successful. Many small presses can provide the same benefits as the larger ones, and hybrid publishers can give writers more control over the final product, though it comes at a price.

Which path you choose depends on a number of factors, such as the type of product you’re creating, how much time and money you want to invest in it, and what you hope to gain. As new technologies emerge that impact the publishing business, authors have more options to choose from than ever before. It helps to understand what they are, and to ask yourself several questions to clarify your goals.

There are three primary publishing options: traditional, self-publishing, and hybrid. Each is explained below. For an even more detailed overview of publishing options, Jane Friedman has published this fabulously informative chart that describes and compares each option more fully.

Traditional publishing. Traditional is as it sounds, the conventional path to publishing where an author signs a contract allowing a publisher to produce and deliver a book that the author has written. The defining characteristic is the signing of a contract. Authors have few expenses to worry about in this option, but they share in the profits. Many traditional firms offer an advance against royalties. Authors usually need an agent to get their foot in the door and should have a completed manuscript to submit.

The traditional path is dominated by the Big Five publishing firms: Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan. Each has dozens of imprints.

Then there are numerous small and medium sized firms that provide the same benefits to authors. These traditional firms have marketing teams that can help promote the finished product, although they may also request an author’s involvement in the marketing process, such as promoting on your social media and website, doing live readings at libraries and appearing at book signings.

However, there are some downsides. For example, this may not be the most profitable option for authors. Once the publisher and agent get their cut of the profits, there’s less available to the writer.

Self-publishing. With this option, authors publish their works on their own and at their own expense. It helps to have strong business acumen to understand both the creative and business aspects of publishing process. While self-publishing provides greater creative freedom to write what you want to write and publish, you absorb all the expenses. It may require more work and more time than you’re able to give it.

Authors oversee all aspects of development from editing and formatting to book cover design and distribution, which is great if you like to get your hands dirty and be involved in all aspects of production. Writers are also responsible for doing their own marketing to make sure the book gets noticed in the marketplace. If you’re not skilled at certain things, like book design or editing, be prepared to hire designers and editors to help develop the book the way you envision it. That means paying for those services too. It’s why self-publishing is not for everyone. That said, the profits are all yours because nothing is going to a publishing house.

Hybrid publishing. As the name implies, this option combines the benefits and flaws of both self-publishing and traditional publishing. Many of today’s authors opt for this approach because it gives them more creative freedom and control in the process. As Barbara Lynn Probst explains on Jane Friedman’s blog, hybrid publishing:

“resembles self-publishing because the author carries the cost and financial risk; thus it involves an investment of your own capital. It resembles traditional publishing because professionals, not you, carry out the tasks required to transform a Word document from your laptop into an object called a book that people can buy and read.”

As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages to each option. When choosing the best option for you, it may be helpful to ask yourself a few questions.

  1. What type of product are you publishing? Is it a non-fiction book, a novel or an e-book? Smaller products like novellas or business e-books might be better suited for self-publishing while larger works might be better suited for the hybrid or traditional model.
  2. Do you have an agent? Most large publishing houses don’t accept manuscripts from unagented writers. If you’re a first-time author, you might be better off at a small press or hybrid.
  3. How much time are you willing to spend on the production and promotion processes? Some paths require significant time on your part while other paths require less. How involved do you want to be? If you have a full time job, you’ll likely want the path with less time involvement. Either way, be prepared to put in some time and effort to make your publishing dream come true.
  4. How much of a risk taker are you? How much risk are you willing to take on? Self-publishing requires more time, money and energy on your part, but the rewards are greater too.
  5. Are you a DIY-er? Do you like do-it-yourself projects? If so, self-publishing will allow you to get your hands dirty and get you involved in all aspects of the publishing process.
  6. How much control and creative freedom do you want? If control and creative freedom is important to you, then self-publishing is your best option. If you’re willing to give up some of those factors, the hybrid or traditional path will work best.
  7. How involved do you want to be? Some people like being involved in every phase of the publishing process, while others are only interested in writing. Knowing how involved you want to be will determine the best option for you.
  8. How much money are you willing to invest? Publishing costs money, and some of it may come from you. Depending on which path you choose and what size publishing house you work with, be prepared to invest some money on production and marketing. Most beginning authors don’t have a lot of money to invest. My advice is to set aside some cash to cover costs.

No matter which publishing path you choose, be sure to know your writing goals and be prepared to wear several hats.

Five Signs That You’re Ready to Share Your Writing


Remember to check out the weekly writing prompt on my website.

Most writers I know are private people, especially when it comes to their writing. I’m certainly one of them. It’s always been difficult for me to share my writing with others because I have a terrible fear of criticism. I always breathe a sigh of relief when I get few minor comments on my drafts. It’s why I take great care to make my writing as clean and complete as possible before I submit it to an editor or share it with anyone else. I want to minimize the chance of painful criticism that damages my confidence.

You may be torn between sharing your story and keeping it to yourself. The words you put on the page are personal, and you wonder if it’s worthwhile to share something so personal with others. Getting it down on paper is the first step, of course. It’s the direct path from inspiration to reality. But reading it to others, and letting people view your work, is a huge and difficult step. It’s like crossing a rushing stream when you can’t see how deep the water is, and you don’t know how to swim. Or it’s like crossing a rickety bridge that you fear might collapse under your weight.

But there’s comfort in knowing that most writers have survived those moments. They realize that to be taken seriously as writers, they had to share their work at some point. As Paul Coelho, author of The Alchemist, writes, “Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things – thoughts, ideas, opinions.”

As you continue your writing practice, you may notice several signs that you’re ready to share your work with others.

Sign 1: You feel stuck in your current work-in-progress.

After working on a story for weeks, you’ve made steady progress toward the conclusion. Then at about the midpoint, you hit a brick wall in the plot. Your brain draws a blank. How do you get unstuck? Maybe you’re too close to the story or too emotionally involved in the plot to see what needs to be done to move it forward. Sometimes having someone you trust read the piece can provide insights on what to do next. It might mean having to rewrite an earlier scene or introduce a new character who interrupts the status quo. Sharing your writing at this point can provide the insight and motivation to keep writing despite the road block.

Sign 2: You feel the story is “finished” as far as you can take it.

When you feel the story is finished, or as good as you can make it, it might be a good time to share it with others. Perhaps this is the third draft of the story and it’s as complete as you can make it. Sharing your piece with others at this point can tell you if readers will appreciate the story. You might read it out loud to a writer’s group or class, have a teacher or mentor review it, and get it published in a small literary magazine. On the other hand, reading out loud may reveal cracks in the foundation of the story that you need to fix.

Sign 3: You’re too excited about the story to keep it to yourself.

You’ve finished a piece on a topic that excites you and you’re eager to share it with others. Maybe you’ve labored over a 3000-word essay for weeks and you’re thrilled with how it turned out. Thrilled too at the topic you wrote about because it has a lot of personal meaning to you. It might be time to share your work with others to revel in your accomplishment.

Sign 4: You’re bored with the current work-in-progress.

This might seem counterintuitive, writes Michael Gallant at the BookBaby blog. But when you’re bored with the piece you’ve been working on, it might help to share that piece with someone else. Their excitement at reading your piece can galvanize you into further action, and their joy can be contagious. With their input, you may look at the piece with fresh eyes and see that it isn’t as boring as you first thought.

Sign 5: You sense that someone can benefit from the story you’ve written.

You may write because they want to inspire readers and share your experiences with them. Maybe you write with someone specific in mind. Perhaps that person has gone through some difficult times, overcome hardships. Sharing your work with that person or with others just like them can cheer them up, and motivate them to stay optimistic despite those difficult times.

There is one caveat to these signs. Never let anyone see your first draft. Wait until after your second draft before allowing someone else to see it. The first draft is usually a disorganized mess where you are still working out the structure of the piece. The first draft is usually written just for you, not for outside consumption. Better to wait for a cleaner second or third draft to get an objective opinion of your piece.

Another rule of thumb, writes Patrick Ness at the BookTrust blog, is don’t show you work to friends. They may be overly enthusiastic about your work and may not critique it the way you need in order for you to grow and improve your writing. It may be better to have an agent, editor, fellow writer or mentor review your work because they have the knowledge and experience to know what will work.

As many writers and published authors can tell you, writing is meant to be shared. So don’t hold back. Don’t keep it to yourself. If you’ve written something, no matter how good, bad or indifferent it may be, don’t be shy about sharing your work with others. It will allow you to see your work through a reader’s eyes.

More than a hobby: Getting serious about your writing

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com


Remember to check out this week’s writing prompt on my website.

For many published authors, writing may have started out as a hobby. They did it for fun, and writing was an outlet for their creativity.  

These are the people who enjoy writing for the sake of it. They don’t care about being published, or getting reviews on Goodreads or doing public readings at libraries and bookstores. They simply want to spend time creating stories. The writing process is a personal endeavor, not a professional one.

Many professional writers frown on the concept of writing as a hobby. They argue that writing is too hard and too much work to be considered a hobby. Writing might be hard work, but if you get enjoyment from the process, if it gives you joy, then it’s a hobby. To say that hobbyists can’t be taken seriously as writers is garbage. There’s plenty of room in the writing world for professional writers, aspiring authors and hobbyists to co-exist.

But I digress….

Hobbyists separate themselves from their professional counterparts with several notable differences.

* Hobbyists have no set goals for their writing. They write for fun simply because they enjoy the process of creating stories. They write for themselves, and may not be interested in sharing their work publicly.  Hobbyists don’t care if they get published or not. That is not their ultimate goal. They write to express themselves.

* Many hobbyists may not have professional writing experience; in fact, they may be starting from ground zero. Other hobbyists may have different occupations and want to try their hand at writing fiction or their memoir. Perhaps they are testing the waters to see if they’ll enjoy writing for the long term or turn it into a professional endeavor later on.

* Hobbyists have more freedom to experiment with different writing styles and genres. They can experiment with poetry or essay writing or fiction to determine what is the right lane for them. Or maybe they’re content to work on one work of fiction or their memoir for their entire lives, experimenting with different ways of telling the story or writing from different points of view. There are no restrictions in what they can and cannot write.

* Hobbyists may not have a set schedule for writing. At least not at first. They fit writing in whenever they have time or are inspired to create something.

* As a hobbyist, there’s no pressure to perform professionally, writes Meg Dowell. Editors and publishers aren’t waiting for your project at deadline. Without that pressure, writing hobbyists can create whatever their heart desires without the fear of missing a dreaded deadline.

* There are no barriers to entry to writing and it costs nothing to start. All you need is a pen and paper and your imagination. Writing as a hobby keeps your mind active and alert too, which is always a tremendous benefit for older adults.

You may be content to remain a writing hobbyist. That’s okay. There are plenty of people who write for the sheer enjoyment of it.

But what do you do when you decide you want to do more with your writing that just maintaining a journal or contributing to your blog? How do you know that you’re ready to take your writing to the next level? How do you know it’s time to get serious about your writing? Author Bethany Cadman at the Writer’s Life offers a few suggestions, or you can follow a few of my own ideas below:

* You spend more time reading up on your craft. You follow writing blogs and subscribe to magazines to learn about different aspects of writing, such as plot development, humor writing or finding an agent.  By attending classes and workshops, you develop your skills and learn more about the writing process, and get feedback on your stories. You might go so far as to apply for an MFA program (which can be pricey) or a fellowship, though neither are necessary to be successful in the publishing business, say many published authors. In fact, most published authors I know did not graduate from an MFA program.  

* You seek out other writers and expand your network. Perhaps you join a writer’s group or find a writing buddy to share your written pieces with or help keep each other accountable. The online writing community is huge, and you’d be amazed at how many fledgling authors are out there, all seeking the same professional advice as you.

* You harbor a desire to get your work published. Or at least get it read and get it seen. Once you decide you want to be published, plan how you can accomplish that, and give yourself a deadline, say of five years. You begin to look for opportunities to be published, perhaps offer to guest post on blogs or submit material to literary magazines. Each piece you produce builds a body of work that you can show potential publishers.

* You develop a consistent writing practice. You write almost every day, usually at the same time. Perhaps you find you spend more time at your desk writing than you do watching television. You keep notebooks with you to jot down story ideas on a whim or note things you hear and see as you go about your day. With a consistent writing practice, you produce more work that can be shown to editors and publishers.

* You treat your writing as a business. You set regular office hours for writing and building your career. You constantly look for ways to earn money with your writing, even beyond publishing. That could be teaching, coaching, or editing others’ work. Perhaps you may consider starting a freelance writing business or explore self-publishing opportunities. Most important, you show up every day and make consistent progress toward your goals.

Whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional, you should be proud of your effort to make writing an integral part of your life.

A Writer’s Guide to Managing Deadline Pressure

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Remember the movie The American President, starring Michael Douglas and Annette Benning (one of my favorite romantic comedies of all time)? At one point in the film, Douglas (as the U.S. President running for re-election) gives a riveting speech to reporters about character. Afterward, his press secretary (played by Michael J. Fox) rushes to rewrite the President’s State of the Union Address – with only 35 minutes before the scheduled speech. Talk about a pressure-packed deadline!

While those kind of tight deadlines don’t happen often in a writer’s life, deadlines in general are part of the process. Most of the time we can handle those deadlines without feeling stressed or anxious. But other times, the pressure to perform under strict deadlines can be a challenge.

How do we manage to stay calm and focused on the project at hand while the deadline hangs over our heads like a guillotine blade?

Examined closely, this question can be divided into two separate issues. How are we able to deal with  the deadline themselves? How are we able to deal with the stress and anxiety it produces (stress management)? Looked at another way, the anxiety we feel about deadlines may have more to do with feelings of insecurity about our ability to do the job than about the project itself.

One online dictionary defines deadline pressure as “the sense that there’s a shortage of time to complete a project, producing feelings of anxiety and stress.”

That begs the question: is deadline pressure a management issue, or a stress management issue?

If there’s a silver lining at all, it’s that deadline pressure is a universal experience that affects all industries, not just writers and creative professionals. Accountants and finance people have year-end reports to file, and tax attorneys must prepare tax returns by April 15. Manufacturers must produce large quantities of their product before clients run out of stock. Hospitals race against time to find the perfect match for a patient that needs a new heart or kidney.

Deadlines are not the enemy. It’s our attitude about them that slows us down. While too many deadlines at one time can make us feel overwhelmed, deadlines can be motivating tools too, writes  Psychologist Dr. Christian Jarrett. Without them, students may never finish their homework on time. Deadlines, he concludes, can help increase focus and boost perseverance.

If deadlines can help us meet goals and stay motivated, then why do most people struggle with the pressure? More important, how do we deal with that pressure so it doesn’t adversely affect our work?

Ironically, it may be our organizational skills that can keep the pressure to perform in check. Here are a few tips that have worked for me.

1. Set up a schedule for your project. Start with your deadline, and work backward toward the current date. In your schedule, allow for time for research, time for outlining, time to write the first draft and time to rewrite and proof before submitting it.

2. Start your project as early as possible. Granted, you may have other projects you’re working on. Try spending an hour doing the initial planning and research. Don’t wait until the last minute! Spending a brief time thinking about what you plan to write can give you a head start toward your deadline.

3. Divide your project into bite-sized chunks. This will allow you to work on your project a little bit at a time. You’ll make slow and steady progress. When you know you’re making progress and seeing the results of your efforts each day, you’ll feel less stressed.

4. Set short, intermediate deadlines. Allow an hour to perform certain tasks related to your project. Maybe it’s sending out a bunch of emails to set up interviews, conduct background research or draft an outline. When you know you have one hour to work, you’d be amazed at how much you can accomplish.

Most important, don’t wait for the last minute to begin your project! I know I said that once before, but I needed to say it again because it’s soooooo important.

As for the emotional aspect of deadline pressure, here are a few things you can do to keep yourself centered.

  • Breathe deeply. Take a few deep breaths before diving into your project. Following your breath will allow you to slow down your thought processes, and consequently, reduce your anxiety. Repeat this every time you feel stressed about the project.
  • Trust your instincts. When you’re racing toward a deadline, dealing with a difficult task or trying to solve a problem, sometimes the instincts kick in. Trust them. They’re usually spot on.
  • Trust your abilities. You know you have talent, you have experience and you’ve trained well in your chosen field. Once you’ve done your research and prepared your notes, trust your ability to get the project done on time. When you have confidence in your abilities, it takes a lot of the stress and panic out of the process.
  • Manage your time well. Doing small tasks each day will produce better results than a marathon at the finish line.
  • Give yourself a break. If you’re really feeling stuck, walk away from the project for an hour. Go for a walk or take a snack break or watch TV to get your mind off of the problem. When you come back an hour later, you may notice a solution that you didn’t see before.

There may be another aspect of deadline pressure to consider: performance anxiety. There’s a pressure to perform at your highest level, usually because something is at stake – a grade at the end of the semester, winning a new client or repeat business, or a coveted promotion. Meeting that deadline shows you are serious about your work.

For more great tips about writing under deadline, check out this article courtesy of the Public Relations Society of America.

Deadlines will never go away, and neither will the pressure. If you plan your time well, you’ll meet deadlines with greater confidence and less stress.

Keeping a Writer’s Journal Can Spark Inspiration and Curiosity

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

When I began taking my writing seriously – and I mean, writing almost every day – I decided it was time to keep track of all my story ideas. Little did I know then that there was such a thing as a writer’s journal.  That’s exactly what it was used for – to keep track of all things related to writing.

A writer’s journal is a place to track everything related to your writing. It can be based on a single story, a theme or your own writing journey.

Much of that depends on what you want to achieve from your writing. For example, I focus strictly on my writing projects. The writer’s journal is my place for developing story concepts, plot structures and character sketches.

I also keep a personal journal to record events in my life, which I keep separate from my writing journal. It’s my place for emotional venting. The second one is where I keep all my notes from all the workshops and classes I’ve taken related to writing. It’s more about the craft of writing.

I keep these notebooks separate because it keeps me organized. I know I have a designated place for each of them and I don’t have to search through countless story concepts to find that one nugget of information I learned in a workshop three years ago.

I use a simple notebook, but you can use a hardcover journal or use your computer. I prefer a notebook because it’s lightweight and easy to carry with me, and I don’t have to worry about having to turn on my laptop to add something to a document. I also carry a smaller notebook in my purse so if I am inspired by a setting or a conversation I overhear, I can write about it then and there.

Other writers use the writer’s journal differently, but see its value just the same. Writer Rebecca Graf uses the journal when her mind goes blank while she’s writing. “No matter how hard I try, I cannot get all those precise details pulled up from my memories. If I go to my writer’s journal, I can find those details and really enhance that one scene. It is a valuable resource any writer can use.”

Dolly Garland writes at The Writing Cooperative that she has used her journal to collect tips and inspiration for improving her craft. It’s also a place where she gets to know her characters and have dialogues with them.

Every writer is different, so you may want to set up your journals differently depending on what you want to achieve. Here are some common elements to include in your writer’s journal:

Basic story concepts. If you’re like me, you’re constantly coming up with story ideas. It’s important to  jot them down before you forget them. Start with a brief plot description or the premise, then brainstorm the rest of the story. The details about scenes and characters will come later.

Characters sketches. Have an idea for a unique character for your spy series? Or perhaps you met someone or saw someone at the bus stop who inspires a new character. Write it down. Describe their appearance, motivations and quirks. Give them a name to help you visualize them better. Like Garland, try having a dialogue with them.

Places you’ve been to that inspire setting. Think of some of your favorite places to hang out. Spend an afternoon at the beach, a coffee shop or the library. Describe the sights and sounds around you. When you need to describe a setting for a conversation between two people, you have only to refer to your journal to recreate that atmosphere rather than jog your memory for details.

Drafts of scenes. Perhaps you don’t have an entire story figured out but you have one or two scenes that appear vividly in your mind. The writer’s journal is the ideal place to get it all down on paper before you forget it.

Memories and flashbacks of your own life.  You might be going about your business when something you hear or see reminds you of a situation that happened to you a long time ago. Now you can’t get that memory out of your head. It’s time to write it all down, and write it as a real story with real characters.

Middle-of-the-night musings and revelations. If you’re like me, you have moments when you’re wide away at four in the morning and you brain is abuzz with different things: a song you can’t get out of your head, a movie that’s playing over and over, or an argument you had earlier in the day. Instead of letting it disrupt your sleep, get up and write it all down in your journal.

Research related to your next project. Include feature articles and news stories that provide historical background. In my files, I have several articles about women who have worn their grandmother’s wedding dresses. They’re handy references for the story idea I have about a similar situation.

Dreams, especially if they’re reoccurring. I’ve taken vivid dreams I’ve had overnight and written them down the next morning so I don’t forget them. Then I may rewrite them as works of fiction. You never know if you need a dream sequence for your work-in-progress.

Snatches of conversation. Ever sit in a restaurant, a coffee shop or a retail store and overhear conversations between other people? The best ones are the public arguments where the participants aren’t aware they have an audience. Jot down as much as you can remember in your writer’s journal. What were they wearing? What were they discussing? Even if you can’t recall the conversation or can’t hear it, make it up. You never know when you need a lover’s spat for your romance novel.

Some writers say it’s important to write in this journal every day. I usually write in it when I know I have something concrete to add, usually when I’m inspired by something I see or hear, or something directly related to what I’m working on. The choice is up to you, of course. Your writer’s journal is your own.

No matter how you use it, you’ll find the writer’s journal is one of the most valuable resources you’ll ever use.

Strategies to Maintain a Consistent Writing Practice during the Summer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

With summer just around the corner, the weather is heating up. Little by little, COVID restrictions are loosening up in many parts of the country. Like most people, writers are eager to get out to enjoy the season.

Along with the summer comes changes in schedules. The school year ends, families go on vacation and some businesses offer summer hours to allow employees time off. Everyone everywhere is in a more relaxed state of mind. They’re eager to enjoy the season, more so this year than in the past because of what we’ve all been through with the pandemic. Things may be so relaxed, in fact, that activities you were so diligent about – such as a regular writing practice — may slack off.

Is it possible to maintain a consistent writing practice while enjoying summer vacation? The answer to that is yes. You just may have to make some adjustments to your schedule.

If you’ve been diligent about writing every day (or almost every day), you probably want to keep momentum. It might help to have a plan for maintaining your writing during the active summer months, so you don’t lose track of your writing goals.

Now is the best time to develop strategies to maintain your writing practice, no matter what the summer holds for you. If writing is important to you, you won’t want to let it slide. If you already have a consistent practice, you’ll be more motivated to keep writing through the summer months.

Here are a few ideas for maintaining a summer writing practice.

Start your writing session earlier. With the sun rising earlier in the day, you have more daylight to play with. Why not use that daylight to your advantage? Rise a half hour earlier and begin writing when you wake up. Even if you already write for an hour a day, by starting a half hour or hour earlier, you’ll get your session done sooner and you’ll have more of your day to spend doing as you wish.

Condense your writing sessions. If you’re really stretched for time or you prefer to use the time to spend with your kids or your friends, you can shorten your sessions. Instead of writing for two hours (if you’re lucky) write for an hour. If you write for an hour a day, cut back to a half hour. You’re still writing every day, and you’re still making progress toward your goals. You’re just doing it at a slower pace.

Write in multiple short sessions. Another option is to write in short blocks of time, such as fifteen minutes. But schedule them throughout the day. So rather than write for an hour in a single session, break up that hour in four 15-minutes sessions. If all you have are little breaks throughout the day, use them to your advantage. You’d be amazed at how much you can accomplish in 15 minutes. Check out my blog post about this topic.

Give yourself an occasional day off (or two). Sometimes you need to take a break from writing altogether. Summer vacation is a prime time to do that. If you’ve been working on a tight deadline or writing every day without a break in between, treat yourself to a couple of days off. You’ve earned it. You’ll come back to your writing with fresh eyes. Just be sure not to keep extending your break for too long or you will lose momentum.

Focus on non-writing tasks instead. There’s more to writing than putting words down on paper. Other aspects, such as research, interviewing subject matter experts, outlining and developing character sketches, are just as important. But sometimes they can be relegated to the back burner until we have to deal with them. Even daydreaming and people watching can be counted as non-writing tasks if they lead to story ideas and developing character descriptions and plot lines.

Capture experiences right away. Remember to carry a small notebook with you as you go about your day. You may notice something in your environment or experience something special that you want to capture while it’s fresh on your mind.

Make yourself accountable. If you don’t want to slack off too much, tap into your community of writers. Reach out to a mentor or writing buddy when you feel your motivation is lagging. Better yet, team up with them to write once a week in a coffee shop or at the beach. When you know someone else is along for the ride, it’s easier to keep on the path.

It’s tempting to let your writing slide during the summer months. By planning ahead and establishing a regular routine, even if it’s different from your non-summer schedule, you can make progress toward your writing goals.

Use Your Writing to Build Authority

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Be sure to check out this week’s writing prompt: Write a story about a childhood memory related to food (learning to cook, family barbecue, tasting something for the first time, etc.)

When you’re just starting a writing career, you naturally want to be taken seriously by your readers. This is especially true if you’re writing non-fiction or starting a blog, or anything based on factual content as opposed to fiction writing.

It can be difficult to establish your authoritative voice in a sea of experts on the internet. How do you set yourself apart from them? How do you establish your own authority? How do you make your voice stand out from the rest?

This is especially important if you’re a beginning blogger. Many beginning bloggers are unsure what to write about, so they write about everything. Unfortunately, this gives the impression of being scattered, so scattered that it’s hard to know what their specialty is. Even publishing expert Jane Friedman has admitted that she did not have a niche when she began her blog. But that’s okay. Sometimes your niche or book concept can grow over time as you post consistently and readers respond to your posts.

So how do you establish your authority? How do you reveal your expertise? Here are some steps you can take to help build authority with your writing.

1. Take stock of your experience. What are you good at doing? What professional work have you done (bookkeeping, legal, marketing, etc.)? Do you have any hobbies or special interests you’d love to tell people about? Most important, what are you passionate about? Perhaps you’re an expert knitter, love animals or play golf? Make a list of all your hobbies, special interests, and work experience, then rank them according to how passionate you feel about them.

2. Focus on a single niche. Once you’ve done your self-assessment from step one, you’ll have a good idea what you’re an expert at – and what expertise you want to promote about yourself. If you’re figuring out an angle for your blog, this step is imperative. A blog focused on one topic shows more authority than a blog that covers multiple topics. A good example is The Art of Blogging (all about blogging).

3. Do your research. Even if you have particular experience about something, there will be times when you need to do some research to supplement your knowledge. Adding quotes from experts or sharing the latest research can put you in good stead with your readers. Adding one or two statistics can bring more meaning to your piece. For example, for the magazine features I write for my client, I usually include one or two statistics to demonstrate key points. When you use data from recognized experts in your industry, it adds to your authoritative presence.

4. Know your audience. Think about who you are writing for. What do they want to know? What types of questions do they ask? Use their questions as a guide for future blog posts or an e-book. By providing readers with answers to their questions, you establish yourself as someone they trust and will come back to for more information.

5. Surround yourself with outside experts. While you may focus on one niche, there may be times when you want to cover a topic that is related to your niche but goes beyond your expertise. Then you’ll want to refer to subject matter experts. Ask them questions to fill in the blanks of your own knowledge and experience. Know who you can go to when you don’t have all the answers. Be sure to provide proper attribution when you quote them. Sometimes being an authority means recognizing that there are some things you don’t know. To find an SME, check associations, booksellers, universities and think tanks for possible leads.  

6. Provide real value. Once you understand your audience’s needs, you can offer meaningful and helpful content for your readers. Avoid writing fluff content that only fills space. It might help to think of one takeaway you can include in each blog post you write. Or if writing a non-fiction book or e-book, think of takeaways for every section or chapter. What can readers learn from you that they can’t get from anyone else? Readers want information that is readily adaptable to their own needs. When you provide meaningful, practical information, readers will begin to see you as an authority.

7. Be consistent. If writing a blog, be consistent with your posting. Whether you post a story every day or once a week, make sure it’s posted around the same time or on the same day of the week. Readers who follow you will begin to look for your story at that time.

I once produced a bi-monthly residential newsletter for an apartment high-rise community. Every other month, the newsletter would be slipped under their doors. If by the first of the month, the newsletter didn’t appear, the management office would receive calls from residents asking where it was. They knew when to expect the newsletter because we were consistent with the schedule. When you’re consistent with your schedule, readers are more likely to trust you.

8. Limit attributions. It’s not necessary to attribute every piece of information in your blog post or work of non-fiction. After all, your stories reflect everything you’ve ever learned by the VIPs, teachers and parents in your life. However, attributions are necessary if you are using a direct quote or sharing a principle that someone else formalized. While you still need to give credit where credit is due, if you include too many attributions, people will wonder how much of the writing is coming from you. If it isn’t original, it isn’t authoritative.

9. Use a variety of media to share your expertise. Once you establish you’re authority, you may want to broaden your reach. If you love social media, use it to establish a following. Write e-books, guest posts for other blogs, magazine features or opinion pieces for local publications. Alternately, you can establish your own YouTube channel, produce a weekly podcast, or appear on local radio shows. If the media isn’t your thing, you can teach workshops or make presentations.

Keep in mind that building authority with your writing takes time. If you find you lose interest in your chosen topic, it’s okay to switch gears. But you’ll have to go through this process all over again, and perhaps find a new audience.

With consistent practice and patience, you can begin to garner a loyal following of readers who see you as a trusted authority on your chosen niche.

How Writers Can Cultivate Curiosity

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”

Zora Neale Hurston, author of Their Eyes Were Watching God

Last week, I wrote a post about the habits of highly productive writers. One of the habits I mentioned is  the ability to maintain an open, curious outlook. For today’s post, I’ll be delving deeper into that habit.

Curiosity, by definition, is the strong desire to know or learn something. It is one of the most valued traits a writer can have. By staying curious about the world around them, writers are able to find answers to the questions they’ve long asked, and by extension, answer questions that readers want to know.

According to this Lifehack blog post, curiosity is important for several reasons:

* It makes your mind active rather than passive. By asking questions and doing research, curiosity makes your mind stronger and more engaged.
* It makes your mind more observant of new ideas. You’re more likely to recognize new ideas when they occur. When you fail to be curious, those ideas may pass you by.
* It opens up new worlds and possibilities. You’re able to explore different cultures and ways of doing things.
* It brings more excitement into your life. Because there are always new things to try and new ideas to explore, a curious person’s life is never dull or boring. Curious people have an adventurous life.

I will add one more reason to that list:

* Curiosity begets creativity. Curious people who have done their research tend to be more creative because the new knowledge feeds their desire to create something new.

By nature most writers are curious. They’re not afraid to ask questions. The five Ws are always in their writing arsenal. They’re the first to ask at an accident scene what happened, how it happened, who drove the car, when did it happen, where did it happen, and why.

Sometimes the grind of daily life can sap your curious nature, however. If you find yourself struggling to be curious about the world around you, here are a few ways to cultivate more curiosity in your writing life.

1. Read, read and read some more.  Reading books and magazine features on a variety of topics broadens your mind. If you prefer fiction, you can use curiosity as you read novels. For example, as you read, jot down questions about the characters, plot and setting. Where does the story take place? Is it a place you’ve never been to before, such as Alaska? Then jot down questions about Alaska that you’d like to find out.

2. Ask lots of questions. The five Ws plus How should be part of your writing toolbox. I would add a couple more:  “what if?” And “I wonder.” (Yes, I know “I wonder” isn’t a question, but it open up possibilities all the same.)

3. People watch. Hang out in the park, a shopping mall or a food court. Watch people as they go about their day. Be curious about them. Who are they? What do they do for a living? Why are they there? Create different scenarios for each person you observe.

4. Experiment. Be adventurous. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try? For example, several years ago, I finally had the chance to ride in a hot air balloon, something I’d always wanted to do. I enjoyed every minute of it. The experience gave me something to write about. Experiment with your writing too. For example, if you’re struggling to find the right viewpoint for your story, try writing it from different character points of view until you find one that works best for the story.

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.

Voltaire

5. Research something just for fun. Think of something you’d like to learn more about, preferably something not related to your every day job or your writing practice. It could be how to make lasagna from scratch or how to begin bird watching – whatever tickles your fancy. Then spend 30 minutes on the internet researching everything you can find out about it.

Michelle Richmond at The Caffeinated Writer suggests this exercise to test your research skills:

1) Make a list of ten subjects you’d like to know more about.
2) Choose one of those subjects. Then write a list of questions about that subject.
3) Spend 30 minutes researching this question on the internet.
4) Then find one book that will help you delve further into the topic and deepen your understanding. You can buy a book or borrow it from the library. Richmond says buying the book allows you to make notations.

Remember this is strictly for fun, so enjoy the research process. But be sure to cap the amount of time spent researching. It’s easy to get carried away and lose track of time!

6. Connect with an expert. We all know people who are experts at something. I have a friend who is a scientist, another who runs marathons, a third teaches yoga, and a fourth studied engineering. They’re all experts at what they do, and I know that if I ever need their insights or want to learn more about what they do, I can reach out to them, armed with my toolbox of questions.

I challenge you to jot down the names of 10 people you know along with the special knowledge or skill that they have. Then jot down questions you might ask them about what they do. Bonus points for reaching out to one of them and chatting with them about their work.

Because curiosity can boost your creativity. So it makes sense to cultivate more curiosity into your writing life.

Nine Habits of Highly Productive Writers

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

“You can’t edit a blank page.” Unknown

Whether you’re a veteran writer who’s been published previously or an aspiring novelist, it helps to develop good habits that can make you more productive. Here are some of the things that have helped me in my writing practice.

1. Read a lot. To be a good writer, you need to read – and read a lot. Further, reading deeply and across different genres – both fiction and non-fiction – can broaden your mind. When you expose yourself to different authors and writing styles, you naturally absorb their techniques into your own.

2. Write a lot. This is a no-brainer. The more you write, the better you become, just like practicing a musical instrument or rehearsing lines for a play. It’s all about practice, practice, practice. Over time, as you write, you not only are able to express your thoughts clearly, but you’re able to writer faster in less time. The hard part for many novice writers is getting started. But really, all you need is 10 minutes a day. No matter how busy you may be, it shouldn’t be difficult to find 10 minutes to start your writing practice. Start small and build up your writing routine by adding another 10 minutes every day. Before you know it, you are writing – a lot.

3. Don’t wait for inspiration. Many novice writers believe they can’t begin writing until they feel inspired. But if you wait for inspiration, you will be waiting forever to begin your writing practice. Start writing first, then inspiration will come to you. It was only after I took a few writing classes and wrote in my journal that I began to find inspiration for several novels.

“But what if I have nothing to write about?” you ask. Then start by writing about the fact that you can’t find anything to write about. Or use a writing prompt to brainstorm story ideas. You can find numerous resources on the internet for writing prompts, including Writer’s Digest and DIYMFA. Remember that inspiration comes when you begin writing. So start writing, and write a little every day. The more you write, the more easily inspiration will find you.  

“Don’t think and then write it down. Think on paper.” Harry Kemelman

4. Study the craft. Keep up with your knowledge. Take classes, webinars and workshops to build your skills. Read blogs and magazine articles about your craft. Talk to other writers and learn what works for them. Learning about the art and craft of writing is a never ending process and it’s constantly changing. So keep writing and studying.

5. Persevere when things don’t go right. Nobody is perfect, and certainly, no author’s writing is perfect at the first, second or even the third drafts. Keep at your writing and it will all come together eventually. Remember, that rejection is a normal part of the process too. See it as an opportunity to improve your writing. There will always be rough patches where you don’t feel like writing, where too many rejections get you down, and criticism can drain your enthusiasm. Keep persevering. Nothing ever gets accomplished if you decide to give up.

6. Be open and curious. Many writers I know are naturally curious and love to do research. How many times have I reached for my smart phone to look up something on the internet when I came across a topic that caught my fancy? Curiosity is nearly synonymous with creativity. Writers look at the world with wonder in their eyes, and they’re willing to ask the questions that everyone else is afraid to verbalize. Think of the five Ws – who, what, when, where and why. And don’t forget the H – how.

7. Meet your deadlines. No matter how busy you are, don’t ever let your deadlines slide. Meeting your deadlines shows you are serious about your work and that you’re reliable and professional. Editors will know they can count on you to fulfill your obligations, which means they’ll be more likely to come to you for future assignments.

8. Keep your work space clean. A clean work space is a sign of an uncluttered mind. Make sure everything is in its proper place. and off your desk space. When your space and mind are clear of junk thoughts and papers, it gives your brain free reign to produce quality work. Personally, with a clean work space, I find it easier to maneuver throughout the day and to find things that I’m looking for.

9. Have fun. Writing is supposed to be fun, so relax and enjoy the writing process. Seeing your stories come to life on the page is one of the most satisfying experiences you may ever have. If it stops being fun, then it might be time to find something else to do.

To be a productive writer, it’s necessary to establish your own ground rules. Form good habits from the start, and you can enjoy a satisfying writing practice, whether you get published or not.

What about you? Do you have any habits that make you more productive with your writing?

Don’t forget to check out my weekly writing prompt. See the website for this week’s prompt.

How to Make Friends with Your Inner Writing Critic

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving yourself and see what happens.” Louise Hay

Writers and creative types are known for being sensitive to criticism. But that’s assuming the criticism is directed from outside sources.  But what happens if the criticism is coming from within yourself?

How do you deal with the fact that you are your own worst critic? How do you respond when your worst critic – your internal one — rears its ugly head?

That internal critic judges everything that you do, from your thoughts and actions to how you talk to people and the clothes you wear to the words you write. According to Good Therapy blog, self-criticism is the act of pointing out a person’s flaws.

Some experts believe that self-criticism can healthy because it can help you increase self-awareness and personal growth. If taken too far, however, it can be self-defeating, causing you to abandon projects before they get off the ground or missing deadlines. While occasional moments of self-doubt is normal, it’s the excessive stretches of self-criticism that can be harmful to your mental health.

Your worst critic can manifest in your writing life in a number of ways:

* Procrastination – putting off starting a writing project or assignment
* Not meeting deadlines
* Never finishing a writing project or constantly re-writing a piece
* Reluctance to show your work to anyone else because you don’t think it’s good enough

It might help to recognize that we are all born with internal voices, and in fact, we have two of them, writes executive coach Svetlana Whitener in Forbes. There’s the cheerleader who recognizes your writing strengths and encourages you to reach your goals. The curmudgeon is an unhappy character; he’s never satisfied with anything that anyone does. No one can ever please him.

If we’re all born with these two types of internal voices, then it’s safe to say that we can choose which one of them to listen to – and it’s no contest. Give me the cheerleader any day.

To minimize the impact of self-criticism, it’s helpful to cultivate self-awareness. This allows you to look at yourself fairly and objectively. Self-awareness can help you reshape your thinking, and shift it from negative to positive. Rather than disregard the internal critic’s commentary, it might be wise to take their remarks for what they’re worth. See if there’s anything of value in those comments that you can use to your advantage. That’s just one approach to dealing with your own worst critic.

“The inner critic isn’t an enemy,” writes Yong Kang Chan, author of The Disbelief Habit: How to Use Doubt to Make Peace with Your Inner Critic. “Our reaction to self-criticism is more important than the self-criticism itself. Paying attention to our reactions is very important because the only thing we have control over is how we react.”

If you are your own worst critic, it might be time to make peace with it. Rather than silence it completely, there are some things you can do to put it to good use. In most cases, it’s a matter of rethinking how you view your internal critic and its place in your writing life.

1. Practice mindfulness and self-awareness. Cultivating better self-awareness can help you remain objective as you review your writing. You can readily accept yourself as a whole writer whose work may be flawed at times, but is still worthy of being shared and accepted.

2. Practice self-kindness and compassion. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Self-criticism is common. Most of us have feelings of doubt at times. Berating yourself for your faults is counterproductive. Acknowledging them while still appreciating your writing self is far more advantageous.

3. Work with a writing buddy, mentor or coach. They may be able to point out your writing strengths as well as the areas you need to improve on. They may be able to see your writing more objectively than you can. As Stephen King writes, “Writers are often the worst judges of what they have written.” So get another viewpoint or two and listen to their feedback.

4. Know yourself as a writer. This phase takes self-awareness a step further. As writers (or any creative type), it’s helpful to understand what kind of writer you want to be, and what kind of writer you are right now. That means understanding your strengths and knowing what skills you need to develop. Then – and most important – take the time to develop those skills.

5. Stop comparing yourself to others. When you and your internal writing critic compares you to other writers, it’s difficult to live up to those comparisons because it’s not a level playing field. Their level of writing experience may be different than yours. Perhaps they started writing at an earlier age. Comparing where you are now to someone else who has already gone through that phase is unfair to you, and unfair to them.

6. Turn negative self-critiques into a positive learning tool. Even the most negative self-criticism holds elements of truth. It’s up to you to listen carefully for them. Healthy self-criticism can help you spot flaws in your work and prompt you to improve your writing. Sometimes the feedback isn’t so harsh at all, but the voice of the internal critic may be so loud and insistent that it camouflages the critique behind the noise.

7. Understand that you are not alone in self-criticism. Everyone has internal critics. Even highly successful published authors suffer periods of self-doubt and self-criticism. If other writers have experienced those inner critics and found ways to work with their feedback to get published, you can too.

8. Recognize that first drafts, even second and third drafts, are never perfect. They’re messy and they’re usually junk. Self-criticism during these initial phases is meaningless. It only prevents you from completing the hard work you know you need to do to finish it. Even through the messiness on the page, you can find reasons to be optimistic about the manuscript’s outcome.

Before you berate yourself the next time you make a mistake, slow down and take notice of your thoughts. Is there a nugget of truth in what your inner critic is telling you? Can you turn it into something positive?

Self-criticism is a part of the writing life. Since internal critics are part of yourself, maybe it’s time to call a truce and make friends with them.

For Some Writers, the Fear of Success is Real

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Check out this week’s writing prompt: What does success mean to you? Describe it on your terms. Or write about a time when fear of success held you back from accomplishing a cherished goal. How did you overcome it?

While the fear of failure is fairly common among writers, others suffer from a different malaise:  the fear of success. That might be a strange thing to say. “How can anyone be afraid to succeed?” you ask. You’d be surprised at how many people fear success, myself included.

Fear of success might manifest in several ways. You might have an unfinished project – or two, or three or ten. You have several projects in various stages of completion but never seem to finish any of them. In your mind, finishing one of them means you’ve achieved a certain level of success. Once you get to the end, you might begin to worry about what happens next – a thought that scares you enough that you never finish your work-in-progress.

Or just when you near the end of a writing project, you get stuck. You’re faced with writer’s block, unsure how to wrap up your story.

Maybe you find other more important things to do. You get so busy doing housework and chores that you can never get around to working on that final chapter.

Perhaps you edit your piece over and over again, never fully satisfied with what you’ve written – a useful delay tactic preventing you from finishing your piece.

Fear of success is very real, but it is misunderstood, according to psychologist Nick Wignall. The fear is about the consequences of success, not the success itself, Wignall says. “Life can change dramatically when you succeed,” he explains. “You’re entering unchartered territory. Fear of success can be more debilitating than fear of failure. With fear of success, you may be projecting yourself too far into the future which can result in self-sabotage. You may not realize you’re sabotaging yourself.”

For example, once you publish a book, you may be required to go on a book tour, do interviews and public appearances and, of course, begin writing that second book. Your life changes dramatically. It’s these unknowns that can scare people into non-action, Wignall says.

If fear of success is holding you back from starting a writing practice, there are several things you can do to get back on track.

Define success on your terms. Think about what success means to you. What does it look like? It may look and feel differently to you than to your spouse or your best friend. We all carry an image of what success looks like. So be sure you are defining success on your terms, not someone else’s.

When you define success on your terms, there should be no reason to fear it because you’ve defined it on terms that are real, concrete and readily achievable. More important, they are meaningful to you. It’s when you follow the path of success that is predetermined by others or by the publishing industry that tend to strike fear in us.

Finish what you start. This is easier said than done, of course. If you have trouble completing writing projects, then stop and consider what is stopping you. Are you stuck on a plot point? Or did you get bored with your story? Or did something else interfere with it, such a sudden need to do laundry?

If you have a file of unfinished stories, go through them now. Choose one story or essay that you’ve started but never finished. Go back and work on it until you finish it. Do not, under any circumstances, start any other projects until you finish this one. Once you finish that piece, sit back and revel in your success of completion. How do you feel now that it’s done?

It might help to make that a general rule of operation: Don’t start any new projects until you finish the one you’re working on.

Remember that finishing a story, no matter how long or short it is, is a form of success. If you’re able to finish one story, imagine how good it will feel to finish all the others in your file.

Stay in the present moment. Because much of the fear of success hinges on possible future events – author readings, interviews, the next novel, etc. – you forget to stay in the moment. Fear of success – or any fear for that matter – deals with future situations that may or may never occur. Why worry about the future when you have important work to do — now? Stay present in your writing and let the future take care of itself.

Train yourself to talk about your writing. People with a fear of success often have difficulty boasting about their accomplishments because they don’t want to appear arrogant or full of themselves. But it isn’t selfish to brag. In fact, for a writer to find an audience, telling others about your completed project is often necessary. So go ahead and tell people what you’re working on. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but the more you talk about your current writing project, the more comfortable you will be with your public persona as a writer.

Share your fears with a friend or writing buddy. If fear is holding you back from finishing a manuscript, it might help to talk things over with a trusted friend or colleague. They may provide some valuable insights to help you over the hump. If you find it truly debilitating, it might be necessary to talk to a professional therapist.

Fear of success for writers is more common than fear of failure, but it can be even more debilitating. Recognizing your fear and why it occurs is the first step toward overcoming it.

How to Manage Distractions during Your Writing Practice

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of the most common – and annoying – aspects of maintaining a writing practice is dealing with distractions. Especially when you’re working on a deadline or immersed in your latest work-in-progress, distractions are not very welcome. They can interrupt the flow of thoughts that you need to put down on paper. They can disrupt your momentum, slow you down or make you lose your place in your manuscript.

I suppose distractions can have an upside too, although that’s rare. For example, they might help you notice a plotting problem in your story while you’re away paying attention to the distraction. Or they might inspire a new story idea. Still you need to get back to the task at hand.

Minimizing distractions is important for writers because good writing requires time and focus, writes Joyce Carol Oates on the Masterclass. Without that time and focus, the writing will lack clarity and impact.

In my experience, I’ve noticed five types of distractions.

1. Physical environment. Room temperature and uncomfortable furniture can make you lose your focus. A messy desk can be a sign of a cluttered mind. Outside noise, like construction and leaf blowers can disrupt your thoughts.

2. Familial environment. If you have kids, they may be curious about the work you’re doing, and pets may want your attention when you want to work. If you live in a condo building, neighbors may start renovations in their units that requires drilling and vacuuming. The occasional ambulance with its blaring sirens can disrupt your thoughts too.

3. Technology. Electronic devices, such as your phone and laptop, can tempt you when you should be working. You might be tempted to work with the TV on to keep an eye on a baseball game or catch up the latest breaking news. Social media is always a temptation because writers have a need to know what’s going on in their world.

4. Internal noise. These are the voices and conversations inside your head that may have nothing to do with your work. You might experience negative thoughts, replay arguments you’ve had or worry about upcoming events. You may be more focused on your worries and fears that you lose track of what you’re supposed to be working on right now.

5. White noise. Part of the background most of the time, white noise has little impact on your writing progress – or it shouldn’t. It might be the ticking of a clock, passing traffic from the expressway near your house, or the drone of a plane flying overhead.

Distractions, in whatever form they take, are inevitable. But you can minimize the impact they have on your writing practice. Here are a few suggestions to do that.

1. Identify the distractions that affect you the most. Before you can reduce distractions, you need to know what they are, according to the Author News blog at Penguin Random House. Take note of what is taking your attention away. Is it a pesky pet who insists on sitting next to you on your desk as you work? Is it the constant barrage of emails and phone calls that distresses you? If there’s one particular distraction that is bothersome, then find ways to remove that distraction. Perhaps move the cat to another room, or set aside a specified time to respond to emails.

2. Set office hours. Most successful writers treat their writing like a real job with set hours. Those steady office hours let others in your household know that you are busy during that time and cannot be interrupted.

3. Know your productivity hours. Every writer has a prime time for writing, where they feel at their most creative and productive. It could be during the early morning, or it could be late at night before you go to bed. Establishing a regular writing session during your most productive time of day can help eliminate unnecessary distractions.

4. Put away your electronic devices. This might be easier said than done. Most of us rely on our computers and phones to get our work done. But do you really need them for your writing? I’m a big proponent of writing longhand on pads of paper. I find it easier to brainstorm blog post ideas and fiction scenes that way. I can draft scenes in a heartbeat with only a pen and paper. Using a computer or phone to write or research might feel more productive – as long as you stay on task – but it can also be tempting to check your emails and your social media accounts. I recommend turning off the TV as well. The focus should be entirely on your writing.

5. Keep a neat, tidy desk. Put everything in its place and use only the materials you need to get your writing done. When writing my blog posts, I have my file with my blog calendar and list of story ideas, a lined note pad for drafting an outline, and a pen. I find that a clutter-free desk translates to a clutter-free mind. It’s also important not to have other tasks and deadlines hanging over your head, say experts at Mediabistro. Take care of those details before you begin your writing session so they don’t creep up on you while you write. Need to make a doctor appointment? Make that appointment now before you begin writing.

6. Reward yourself. If you still struggle to keep distractions to a minimum, try this experiment. If you’ve managed to stay away from the Internet and social media during your writing session, reward yourself with a social media hour or an hour of internet browsing or online shopping. If writing is your real job, then treat social media as play time. It’s what you do when you’re done with your work day. Knowing that you have a full hour of social play time waiting for you at the end of your writing session might be enough to keep you focused on the writing task at hand.

Distractions are a normal part of our work days, but you don’t have to let it ruin your writing practice. Start by identifying the pesky distractions that bother you most, then take action to minimize their impact. You’ll find you have more head space to produce better quality writing.

Learn to Recognize the Blind Spots in Your Writing

Photo by Alex Qian on Pexels.com

Do you know what your blind spots are? You know, those areas around us that are obstructed so we can’t see past them.

Drivers have their blind spots that prevents them from seeing a pedestrian crossing the street behind them. Hockey goalies have blind spots too when an opposing player parks his body in front of the net so the goalie cannot see around him.

Writers have blind spots too. Usually, it’s about some aspect of their writing skill, like a lack of knowledge about grammar or the tendency to use the same words over and over. Sometimes you’re aware of those tendencies, but choose to ignore them. Other times, you’re not aware you have a blind spot. “Your writing is just fine as it is,” you say to yourself. “It doesn’t need to be fixed.”

Then there are the blind spots that appear in our stories. Perhaps you focus exclusively on exciting creating action scenes. You want to thrill readers with car chases and non-stop fight scenes. However, there may be little written about the protagonist – their emotional side, their backstory, their desire and motivation.

Your blind spot is your inability to see that your story is one-sided. All action, and little to no narrative. Readers may love the action scenes, but feel the story is lacking. It’s out of balance.

Writers can fall in love with different aspects of their story to the detriment of others. They may hate writing dialogue and focus exclusively on internal narrative.

We all have blind spots in our writing. Acknowledging that you have blind spots is half the battle. The rest is knowing what they are so you can improve your writing.

So how do we recognize the blind spots within ourselves? Experts say it’s easier to spot them in others than in ourselves. There are several approaches to recognizing your own blind spots.

1. Take time for self-reflection. You can get so busy with the demands of everyday life that you neglect to check in with yourself. Those moments when you are alone with your thoughts can help you become more aware of what you think or feel at any time. You can develop greater self-awareness through meditation, fitness or just sitting quietly too. No matter what method you use, you can learn to look within. Don’t be afraid of what you might see there either. We all have our faults, and many times, we’re afraid to admit we have them. Nurturing self-awareness can help you learn to accept all parts of yourself – the good, the bad and the blind spots.  

2. Seek feedback from a trusted friend. Since it is so much easier to identify blind spots in others than in ourselves, it might be a good idea to pair up with a trusted friend or fellow writer. Ask them to review your work with you. They may be able to see things in your writing (and in your personality) that you may not recognize in yourself. Their input can put things into proper perspective. They can help you identify weaknesses in your writing and offer suggestions for improving your story. Be prepared to take their suggestions to heart, no matter how painful it might be to hear them say it.

3. Separate yourself from your work. As difficult as it might sound, you are not your writing. While it’s true that much of yourself appears in your writing, that doesn’t mean that you and your writing life are one and the same. At some point, you have to detach from your work and look at it from an emotional distance. Without emotion clouding your judgement, you’ll be able to see the weaknesses in your story.  

Author Tom Avitabile suggests that writers “rinse all knowledge of the story from your mind.” When it’s time to review or edit your work-in-progress, either read the chapters out of sequence or in reverse order from back to front. Reviewing scenes out of order can help you focus on each individual piece, which can help you notice problem areas.

4. Target specific areas of improvement. There may be several weaknesses in your writing that may be occurring simultaneously. Focus on one or two areas at a time. For example, you might need help building your vocabulary, eliminating redundancies in your writing or developing flat characters. You may not notice that you repeat the same conversations in your story or use the same words over and over. Once you become aware that this is happening, you can focus on one aspect of your writing to improve. If you try to fix all your blind spots at one time, it can be overwhelming.  

We all have our blind spots. But by nurturing self-awareness and learning to review your work with emotional detachment, you’ll learn to recognize the blind spots that are holding you back from being the writer you were meant to be.  

More about Blind Spots

How to Avoid Blind Spots in Your Writing
https://arimeghlen.co.uk/2016/05/20/how-to-avoid-blind-spots-in-your-writing/

Confront Your Blind Spots: 5 Strategies for Self-Discovery
https://www.recruiter.com/i/confront-your-blind-spots-5-strategies-for-self-discovery/#:~:text=A%20blind%20spot%20is%20something,re%20supposed%20to%20be%20perfect.

How Writers Can Develop Better Resilience

Photo by Ann H on Pexels.com

Check out this week’s writing prompt on the blog.

Life is filled with disappointments – the breakup of a relationship, not getting that coveted job or promotion, a cancelled vacation. But I’ve always believed that it’s how we respond to those disappointments that show who we are.

Suffering through one disappointment is bad enough. But a lifetime of disappointments (and rejections from editors) can make us feel like giving up. Fortunately, most of us don’t. Can you imagine if Stephen King or Toni Morrison had given up writing after being rejected?

Over time, those disappointments can serve an important purpose by building up a hard shell around us, so future rejections can bounce off. As Polly Campbell writes over at the Writing Cooperative, resilient writers are also among the most successful.” They learn to bounce back from setbacks and keep going despite the pain of rejection. And as they keep working, they are learning their craft and improving their writing.

“Resilience doesn’t prevent hardship or adversity, but it does help us to reframe the difficulties and move through them faster. With resilience, we become more adaptive, creative and flexible. We are less stressed, more capable. This helps us keep writing despite the setbacks,” Campbell says.

Resilience is an important behavior that writers need to develop. But it takes time. Some of us are naturally better at it than others. But like any other behavior and skill set, it needs to be developed, honed and fine-tuned. Unfortunately, that means going through some rough stretches in our writing careers and opening ourselves to disappointment – over and over again.

But successful authors says there are ways to strengthen our inner resilience beyond the school of hard knocks.

  1. Stay optimistic. It may be difficult to maintain a positive mindset when your work is constantly being rejected or criticized. The most resilient writers are able to do that. Campbell says optimism can motivate behaviors which foster improvement or better outcomes. That means keeping our eye on the prize and not letting it out of our sight. Believing in the potential of your latest work-in-progress may be enough to keep going.

  2. Not everyone will “get” your story. Whether writing science fiction, historical romance or non-fiction, recognize that not everyone will “Get” your story. They may not understand the plot, the characters or some of the action that takes place. That’s okay. There are other audiences what will understand it and believe in it. The most important person who needs to “get” the story is you. If you lose faith in what you’re doing, then you’ve lost the fight. Keep believing in the story, and others will get behind it too.

  3. Celebrate the rejections. As contradictory as that may sound, it actually makes sense. Science fiction author Alex Woolf suggests rewarding ourselves every time we receive a rejection. It’s a way of honoring our efforts. “Rejections are milestones showing you’re on your way to a win,” Woolf says. “Rejections show you are working hard to achieve your goals. The more stories you submit, the more you’ll be rejected, but it also raises the chances to get an acceptance.” One idea is to drop a dime (or a quarter) into a jar each time you receive a rejection notice. Over time, you will have built up a supply of coins that you can take to the bank, or reward yourself with a special treat.

  4. Look for positive nuggets in the feedback. Woolf says we’re programmed to focus on negative comments to the point that we overlook the positive ones. After the dust has settled and you’ve regained your composure, go back and re-read the rejection letter again. Did the editor make any positive comments? Did they make any suggestions for improving it, or invite you to re-submit something else? If so, take heart. Focus on the positive news, implement their suggestions, then be sure to respond with a kind thank-you to the editor.

  5. Remind yourself of your ‘why’. Several weeks ago, I challenged myself to list forty reasons why I write. (I actually came up with fifty, but who’s counting.) If you feel tempted to give up on writing, go back to your why. When we’re disappointed and feeling hurt by repeated rejection, it can be tempting to give up on your craft. But when you remember why you’re doing this and why you love to tell stories, it may be enough to keep going. When you keep your ‘why’ in perspective, you’ll easily bounce back from setbacks.

Whether you focus on positive feedback, celebrate rejections or remind yourself of your ‘why’ of writing, you’ll develop stronger mental capacity to deal with setbacks on your writing journey. The most resilient writers are the most successful. Don’t let rejection and disappointment deter you from your writing goals.  

Intuition May Be the Key to Better Writing in Less Time

Intuition, which is also fundamental to writing fiction, is a special quality which helps you to decipher what is real without needing scientific knowledge, or any other special kind of learning.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude


Have you ever begun writing a work of fiction with a clear idea where you want to go with it, only to see it head off in a different direction, seemingly all on its own? New characters showed up you hadn’t dreamed of, and they were more complex and interesting than the ones you had originally outlined. New scenes that you hadn’t planned evolved in your imagination that made the story more suspenseful.

Or maybe you began writing an essay about a certain topic, say a generic one about motherhood. As you began writing it though, a different idea took hold, perhaps about becoming a new mom during the pandemic. When you began writing that new essay, the process came easily, seamlessly, and the words flowed. You could almost visualize every word before you wrote it.

You can’t explain what happened in these instances or why. Only that you were guided by a little voice inside that instructed you what to write. Some describe that little voice intuition.

Ask any writer how they define intuition, and they’ll give you a variety of answers.

Colleen Story at Writing and Wellness blog calls it your “writerly instincts,” that inner knowing that you have about your work.

“When a scene works right, you’ll feel it in your bones. You’ll experience a ‘yes’ moment,” writes C.S. Lakin at Live Write Thrive blog. “Conversely, when a scene or character feels out of place you know that too. The more you try to rationalize it, the stronger the ‘No’ becomes.”

That’s why it’s important to listen to your body, Lakin says.

That inner knowing that something is off in your writing is common among writers, especially those whose level of intuition is high. Intuition is that internal sensor of what is going wrong with your writing – and what is going right. It’s there to redirect your efforts so you make smarter choices about plot structure, character and dialogue, even the right word choices.

Listening to the inner “knowing” can build your confidence too. “A well-honed writing intuition can free you from much of the emotional volatility you experience when someone is ‘dissecting your baby’. It means developing greater confidence in your work, disengage from negative emotions and response patterns because you see wisdom in the feedback you get,” writes Angela Ackerman at Writers Helping Writers.net.

No matter what you call it, intuition can serve an important function during the writing process.

Whether we believe it or not, we are all born with intuition. It’s just that many of us tune it out or don’t pay attention to it. Some writers might ignore that voice, and stick to the story line they created in their outline. Others embrace it freely, allowing their intuition to guide their choices during the writing process.

The worst possible scenario is recognizing that it exists but not trusting it. When you don’t trust that inner “knowing,” you may ignore the power it gives you to improve your story.

I can’t tell you how to trust your intuition more. That’s up to you to figure out. But there are several things you can do to enhance your intuition so that it’s accessible and sharper. For starters, you have to learn to practice mindfulness. (These suggestions are also helpful for overcoming writer’s blocks and getting out of ruts.)

1. Take frequent breaks from your work-in progress. Time and distance gives you better perspective. If you feel stuck, set it aside for a day or two. When you come back, you may notice solutions you hadn’t thought of before.

2. Enjoy the outdoors. Being in nature can help you clear your head and perhaps inspire you to write something completely different. Keep the headphones at home too.

3. Practice meditation. Sit quietly on the sofa with your feet planted firmly on the floor, or sit cross-legged if you prefer. Lay your hands in your lap and close your eyes. Let your breathing slow. Follow that breath. As your breath slows, so does your brain. Release every distracting idea that crosses your mind.  

4. Do something else for a while. Work on another piece of writing, read a book, or take a nap. Maybe putz around in the kitchen or clean out a closet. The act of doing something else will engage you brain in other ways.

5. Immerse yourself in water. As strange as it sounds, water can release the tension in your brain as well as your body. Go for a swim, wash dishes or take a bath. In astrology, water is associated with creativity. Immersing yourself in water can help you re-engage your creative side.

6. Tune in to your body. During your walks or meditation or during any quiet moment of the day, sit quietly and notice what is happening with your body. Notice any aches and pains, any stiffness, or any other physical ailments. How does your body feel when it’s relaxed compared to how it feels when you feel tension? It’ll show up in your body in places you didn’t expect. Your body will tell you when something – whether it’s in your personal life or your writing life. Pay attention to those signals that it sends you.

A funny thing happens when you trust your writing intuition. The writing seems to flow more easily, the characters are more complex and nuanced, and the dialogue more interesting. Ultimately, listening to your intuition – and trusting what it tells you – can help you write more engaging stories.

What Writers Can Learn by Attending Author Readings

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Writers are always looking to improve their craft. Their journey is one of continuous professional improvement, and they’ll look everywhere to boost their knowledge and understanding of publishing, and to be the best writer they can be. That learning can come in various forms – conferences, webinars, classes, self-study courses and writing groups.

But there’s one resource that can easily be overlooked: the author reading.

Author readings are live in-person events held at libraries, bookstores, schools and coffee houses where authors read from their latest works and answer questions from the audience. The events can attract hundreds of fans or as few as a dozen interested observers.

For the aspiring writer hungry for learning, author readings can provide insider knowledge of the publishing process that they may not get anywhere else.

Of course, with the current pandemic, these live events have gone virtual. But that doesn’t mean writers can’t participate in them and learn something about the writing process. While the experience is better in a live setting, you may be able to gain the same benefits with virtual readings. After all, authors have to practice speaking their selected passages no matter how or where they deliver them. They have to learn to read for the audience’s ear, not just their own.

Hearing someone read their own published work to understand their story requires a different process. According to the writer’s platform Clear Voice, how our brains process meaning from what we hear differs from how we read. We recognize words on a page, visualize words as pictures and hear them spoken aloud in our heads. But when we listen, all the visual cues littered in the pages we read don’t hold much muster. Something gets lost in the translation.

Here are a few tips for taking advantage of this educational resource.

1. Treat the event as an educational experience.
See it as an opportunity to soak up the atmosphere. Bring a small notebook to take notes – whether it’s describing the experience for yourself, jotting down sample language from the text, or making a list of questions to ask the author. If possible, chat with the author afterwards and ask about their writing process, how they come up with story ideas, and how they overcome writer’s block. While they may not have all the answers you’re looking for, and their answers may not be suitable for your situation, you can learn what worked and what didn’t for them.  Then you can decide if it might work for you.

2. Listen to the reading as a writer, not just as a fan. That means learning to develop a writer’s ear. According to communications coach Karen Friedman, a writer’s ear “can’t rewind or replay what a speaker has said…” While our eyes can browse through detailed information or re-read something that is complex in meaning, our ears need simpler language to grasp the speaker’s meaning. 

“When we talk with people, we don’t read to them. Rather, we have conversations. Our sentences are shorter, sometimes spoken in phrases and we naturally pause between thoughts. Our pitch, tone and pace automatically vary,” writes Friedman.

3. Pay attention to how the passage is presented. Listen for the way the author delivers the passage. Do they speak dramatically, or do they mumble? Remember poet Amanda Gorman who spoke at the presidential inauguration? Her poem “The Hill We Climb” was powerful because she made it powerful. She used her vocal expression to match the power of her language to make a huge impact. She enunciated words clearly and spoke with passion and emotion. If she had mumbled the words, the meaning of the poem would have been lost. When done well, presentation can be a powerful thing.

4. Listen for narrative descriptions. Close your eyes and see where the author’s writing takes you. Can you see what the narrator sees in the story? Do you feel as if you are right there at the scene with them? If you can, then you know the descriptions are spot on. On the other hand, there may be descriptions that get lost in the spoken word; they may be better by reading it than hearing it.

5. Listen for dialogue. Like the narrative descriptions, you can pick up nuances of language when you listen for dialogue. Can you tell which character is speaking? Does the author’s tone change with each character? The vocal styles of each character should be as distinct as their personality.

6. Pay attention to the author. How does the author conduct themselves in a public setting? We need to remind ourselves that they are human beings too, prone to having bad days just like the rest of us. They may be shy, retiring souls who would rather be at home doing their laundry rather than speaking to a room full of strangers. Be kind and respectful to them. Remember, they worked hard to get their book published.

The next time you’re looking for inspiration or an extra dose of education, consider hanging out at an author reading. You never know what knowledge you’ll pick up. Use the time well and be open to listening and learning from others who have gone before you.

Can Your Character’s Name Affect Their Destiny?

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I remember when I was a teenager, I went through a brief phase in which I disliked my first name. For some reason, I felt it was too formal to fit my emerging identity. Thankfully, that phase was short-lived. Today, I appreciate my first name (Regina) more than I ever have before. I feel fortunate that I have my formal name and a shortened version (Gina) that my family calls me.

Other people aren’t so lucky. Thousands of individuals have their names legally changed due to a number of reasons. More often than not, it’s because they feel the name doesn’t suit them in some way.

If it can be so difficult for real people to accept their birth names, imagine how fictional characters feel about the names you bestow upon them?

“Your name is not only your calling card, it is also something that uniquely distinguishes you from everyone else and may even determine, to a large extent, who you turn out to be in your lifetime,” according to the introduction to The Hidden Truth of Your Name. “The name you ‘wear’ affects not only how others perceive you, but also how you perceive yourself.”

Take Gogol, the lead character in Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake, who grew up hating his name so much that he legally changed it to Nikhil when he was a young adult, believing that a name change would also change the way other people saw him – and more important, how he saw himself. 

“If you truly understood the meaning of your name in all its mysterious and hidden aspects, could you use that knowledge to affect your own destiny? Would it be possible to take advantage of the inherent power of your name to alter the direction of your life for the better?” continues THTYN

As writers, we wield a lot of control over our characters’ literary destinies simply by giving birth to their stories. What you name them matters. Some names work well; others not so much. How many times have you changed a character’s name because it didn’t quite fit their personality as the story evolved?

One true sign that your chosen character’s name works well is that it sticks in readers’ heads. So it’s important to make it memorable. Imagine if Harry Potter was named Rudolph Kristoffer?

A strong character name should establish three things, according to the Reedsy blog.

* Clarity — The right name helps readers differentiate that character from other major players in your story.
* Character – The right name reveals personality and type of character without the author having to explain anything.
* Bankability – The right name can make your character iconic.

Further, there are certain things to keep in mind when considering possible names for your characters. NY Book Editors offers these tips:

A character’s age – Some names are better suited for young adults while others are better suited for older adults.  For example, you rarely come across a Dorothy among today’s teens, while it was significantly more popular sixty years ago.

A character’s parents – Remember that it’s the character’s parents who name their child, not you. Consider what their logic may be for naming their child a certain way.

The location of the story – Names vary based on location. Mary in the United States is Maria in most Latin countries and Marie in France.

Genre of the story – Writing in certain genres may dictate different styles of names. For example, in science fiction and fantasy, the names may be more obscure and more creative. Think Katniss in The Hunger Games or Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series.

The general rule of thumb is to create names that are easy to pronounce, easy for readers to remember, and fit the character’s personality.

Other naming tips apply. Avoid names that sound alike (Kelsey and Chelsea), names that start with the same letter (Tim and Tom) or names that are close to one another (Laurie and Lauren). Make sure each character has their own unique name so readers see them as distinctive characters and personalities.

For help, there are numerous sources to go for inspiration. You can pick up a baby name book or phone book for starters, or look up the top names of the year in Google. If you’re writing a story set in the 1950s, it might be wise to research names that were popular in that year. Similarly, if your story takes place one hundred years from now, understand that many of today’s popular names may not fit that future environment. You’ll have to create a few names that don’t exist now.

Also try automated name generators, which you can find at Name Generator Fun and the Random Name Generator. Some of these sites will even provide brief personality descriptions so you can find one that suits your characters.

My favorite source is The Hidden Truth of Your Name, a compilation of names and their meanings based on three mystical interpretations: The Kabbalah, runes and numerology. The book also provides spelling variations for more unique possibilities. The detailed descriptions provide insights into the type of person/character they can become. Reading about my own name provided clues to my personality, many of which were spot on!

Naming characters takes a lot more thought than you imagine. You have to consider the type of person you want them to be, the role they will play in your book and their age and cultural background. It can be challenging, but it can also be fun.

What’s in a name? Plenty. With the right name, your characters can reveal subtle hints about who they are and who they want to become. If you’re lucky, they’ll like the name as much as you do.

Write Stories with Better Sensory Descriptions

Image courtesy of Hubspot

This week’s writing prompt: Choose a season of the year and write about the smells that evoke that time of year for you.

One thing I often struggle with in my own fiction writing is sensory descriptions. While non-fiction might address the five W’s (who, what, when, where and why), fiction deals with the five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.

Experts say it’s easy to go overboard with descriptions, which can distract readers. On the other hand, it’s also easy to forget to include them. Writers need to walk a fine line between the two extremes. However, using them judiciously in your work can make your writing shine.

Kellie McGann, a writing consultant and contributor to The Write Practice, says the key to unlocking the five senses is the question behind them. “Why does the character see, hear, taste, smell or touch something in a certain way? What do those sensations mean to them?”

If you’re writing a memoir, ask yourself the same question: what do those sensations mean to you?

McGann’s advice? “Don’t bog readers down with unnecessary details, but a few well-placed descriptions can immerse readers into the story and into the character’s world.”

You may find that some senses are easier to describe than others. For example, you may write an uncanny accurate description of the sound of a waterfall to your ears, but have difficulty describing the visual beyond just “stunning” or “beautiful.” There are other ways to make sensory descriptions work within your prose.

1. Sight – Visuals are the most important element in descriptive writing. However, it’s easy to overdo them. Masterclass writing experts suggest selecting only certain details you want to highlight. It’s not necessary to mention a person’s height or shoe size, unless those details are integral to the story. For example, a mystery where an imprint of a boot was found at the murder scene.

One way to approach visual descriptions is to describe them directly (“the sun was bright,” for example) or indirectly, which can give readers more visual interest. For example, “the light from the sun reflected off the glass windows so that they shone solid white.”

2. Taste – While sight might be the easiest to describe, taste may be the most difficult because it’s subjective. How do you describe the first bite of an apple? One person’s experience after biting into that apple, or a garlic clove, will be different than the next person’s. But if done well, it can make a powerful impression.

Remember that taste isn’t just about consuming food. Think of all the other ways we taste life. For example, the ooze of blood when we bite our lip or falling onto the ground and getting dirt in our mouth. What does that blood or that dirt taste like?

3. Touch/Feeling – Touch is usually associated with the texture of something. The sense of touch can be easy to overlook because we’re always touching some object every moment of the day. It’s a real and immediate sensation that places characters – and your readers – in the present moment.

For practice, make a note where you are right now. What are you touching? If you’re sitting down, pay attention to the chair. How does your body feel when you sit on it? Or try feeling different fabrics and textural materials. Describe how they feel in your hands or under your feet.

Remember that the sense of touch can refer to internal sensations too, such as pain, pleasure and temperature. Try describing the moist heat of a sauna, or the sharp stab of pain when you wrench your back.

4. Smell – Experts say the sense of smell is closely associated to memory. How many times have you walked into someone’s home and the smell of fresh baked break reminded you of your grandmother during the holidays? Or the scent of flowery perfume reminds you of your favorite aunt when she kissed you.

But don’t overdo descriptions of smell which can overpower your readers. Just like strong perfume in real life, a little bit goes a long way.

Try this exercise: Go to a place you know well, such as a library, a school, a bakery, coffee shop or a park. On a small notebook, make a list of all the smells that define the place for you.

5. Sound – Descriptions of sounds are often used to create a mood. Think of soft classical or jazz music playing in the background during a romantic scene, for example, or the boom of an explosion setting off panic and destruction.

Challenge yourself with this exercise: Sit quietly and listen to the sounds in your room, in your building or in your neighborhood. What do you hear? Make a note of every sound you hear and try to describe it.

When writing, it might be tempting to use onomatopoeia – words that sound like the noise they make (whoosh, boom, crash, etc.) It can help capture the mood of a scene, but again, don’t overdo it or your writing will come across as comical and insincere.

For more practice, I recommend Writing from the Senses by Laura Deutsch, which contains 59 exercises to challenge your sensory writing skills.

Whether writing fiction or non-fiction narrative, sensory descriptions can spice up your writing and help you bring readers along on your literary journey.  


Learn to Read Books with a Writer’s Eye

Recently, I read A Deadly Game of Magic, a young adult mystery by Joan Lowery Nixon, who had been a favorite author many years ago. I decided to pick up a couple of her mysteries that I had not read before. A Deadly Game of Magic lived up to my memory of her suspenseful writing. Not only did the story keep me turning pages, it scared the pants off me – more than any other book I’ve read in recent memory. (Then again, I’m easy to scare.)

Why was her book so successful in my opinion? What kept me turning the pages to the very end? How did Nixon create tension throughout the story? How did she manage to scare me (and other readers, I’m sure) without mentioning a single drop of blood or showing a dead body?

These are questions I will have to ask myself the next time I read the book.

We’ve all had those novels that we could not put down. Or conversely, we’ve read stories that bored us to tears or made us feel confused by the protagonist’s actions.

This is where it helps to know how to read a novel with a writer’s perspective. It’s one thing to read for pure enjoyment and entertainment. It’s quite another to observe the techniques the author used to develop the story. You read to notice how the story was constructed.

In other words, you read in order to learn about the writing process.

As Gabriela Pereira at DIYMFA explains: “You understand that every piece of writing has a purpose. Once we read toward that purpose, we can see how writers shape and craft their words to accomplish what they want.”

When you read with a writer’s eye, you might focus on certain areas of writing, such as:

* Plot/story structure – How does the plot develop? What is the inciting incident that starts the story?
* Emotional tone – What is the tone of the story? Is the protagonist sad, angry, surprised, or confused at the start? How does the tone change throughout the story?
* Character development – is it consistent throughout the story. Do you care what happens to the protagonist?
* Conflict – is there enough conflict to keep your interest?
* Point of view – Which point of view is used to tell the story? Are there multiple viewpoints or just one? Would you use a different point of view if you were telling this same story?
* Theme – Most stories have a theme, such as good always wins out over evil. Does it come through the story?
* Setting – Where does the story take place? Can you visualize where it is? How important is the setting to the story? For example, in Nixon’s mystery, the story takes place at an old home in the middle of nowhere that is thought to be uninhabited – but it isn’t.

So how do you go about reading with a writer’s eye? First you need to understand that writing consists of a series of choices by the author on how they will tell their story. As you read, you work to identify what some of those choices are, whether they work well or not, and whether they can work within your own writing.

Author Shaunta Grimes says as “story consumers” (I love that description), readers must first “read deeply and analytically.”

But does that mean you must study every paragraph of every chapter? No, say most writers. Go back and re-read only those sections that drew your interest. For example, was there a particular setting description that intrigued you? Or a chapter that was filled with tension? Go back and re-read those passages to study the techniques the author used.

Grimes shares a three-step process for doing a “deep dive” to study an author’s craft.

1. Choose a story you’re already familiar with. Perhaps it’s a book from the Harry Potter series, or a childhood favorite such as Little Women. When you’re already familiar with the story, you can study certain passages without getting distracted.

2. Know what you’re reading for. As mentioned previously, you’ll be looking for specific passages. For example, you may want to study how the author makes transitions between the current time and the past. Or you may want to look at the way the protagonist’s character is developed so that she feels real to you.

3. Read with a pencil in hand. Don’t be shy about marking up the book and highlighting sections that stand out. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, and try to understand why.

Another word of advice: Be patient with this process. It takes longer to read as a writer because you are studying and absorbing the content.  

It’s one thing to read for pleasure. But by studying the works of others authors, we can all learn to be better writers ourselves.  

Want to Improve Your Writing? Read It Aloud

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

“I believe the eye and ear are different listeners. So as writers, we need to please both.”
Jane Yolen, author of sci-fi/fantasy novels

Reviewing and proofing your writing is a normal part of your routine. But if you want to take your writing to a whole new level, try reading it out loud.

Experts say reading your manuscript out loud can help you notice mistakes in your writing that you wouldn’t normally catch by simply reading it silently and seeing the words in your head. Reading out loud can also streamline your editing process because you’ll notice the mistakes faster. That said, it doesn’t guarantee that it will catch every mistake, but it will alert you to a lot of them.

“Read a passage aloud and you’ll get an immediate sense of how it ‘should’ feel; the way the words fit together and work as a whole,” writes Robert Wood, editor at Standout Books. “The same way you can hear a missed beat or a wrong chord in music, you understand when your phrasing is awkward or unwieldy.”

If you haven’t made out-loud reading part of your review process yet, here are a few tips for making it work and what you should listen for.

1. Notice the passages where you stumble over the language. If you struggle to read sentences that are complex or contain several difficult-to-pronounce words, your readers will struggle too. Make a note in the manuscript to simplify the language for your readers.

2. Notice if sentences are overly long and wordy. They can be more noticeable when you read them out loud. Also notice if sentences are poorly constructed and confusing. Will readers understand what you are attempting to say? Is there a better way to express what you want to say? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you’ll need to rewrite those sections for clarity and conciseness.

3. Notice the pacing and rhythm of the language. Do you need to slow down the pacing, or pick it up? Do you get bogged down in too many unnecessary details that slow down the pace of the story? Reading out loud will make you more aware of the natural rhythm of the words.

4. Notice if there are misspelled words, grammatical errors and punctuation mistakes. For example, are there too many commas in your sentences? Or are they added in the wrong places, which can change the meaning of the sentence?

5. Pay attention to the tone of your manuscript. Is the tone appropriate for your piece? Is it appropriate for your audience? For example, is the tone too formal for a room full of parents at a PTA meeting, or is it too casual for the company’s board of directors?

6. Pay attention to the sequence of ideas or story scenes. When you or someone else reads your work out loud, listen to the order of ideas. Do they move seamlessly from one to the next? Ditto for short stories and novels. Note if scenes develop in a logical sequence. Also listen for transitions between ideas and paragraphs. Reading out loud can reveal gaps in story lines and thought processes.

7. Notice any repetitions. Did you explain one idea on page three, then again on page five? That’s a sign that you need to condense your content, and rewrite for better clarity.

8. Listen for filler material. Publishing expert Jane Friedman says many writers tend to add filler copy in their manuscripts. These sections and sentences don’t add any meaningful information to the reader. If you notice filler copy, get out the scissors and begin cutting. Make sure every sentence you write, or every section or scene, provides meaning and value to the overall piece.

If you have trouble recognizing these elements as you read your work out loud, it might be helpful to have someone else read it out loud to you. According to the University of North Carolina Writing Center, when someone else reads your manuscript out loud, you receive information in a different way. Most people have more experience listening to and speaking English than they do reading and editing it, the center explains. If your reading partner stumbles over the words or gets lost, those may be places where you need to revise to make your meaning clearer for your readers.

The UNC Writing Center offers the following strategies for reading and reviewing your written work out loud.

* Print out a copy to read. When you read from a printed page, you’ll be able to make notes on the page and mark the places that need revision.

* Read only what you see on the page. If necessary, use a finger to point to each word you see as you say it out loud. The brain has a tendency to “smooth over” mistakes on the page by filling in missing words or making corrections.

* Read out loud at a moderate pace. If you read too fast, you may gloss over words and phrases that need fixing. Slowing down your pace will help you notice errors more easily.

* Read one section or paragraph at a time. Covering up most of the manuscript as you read out loud will help you stay focused on only the material in front of you so you don’t race ahead.

No matter what type of writing you do – nonfiction, memoir, or fiction – learning to read your work out loud can help you catch errors you might otherwise miss. That can make you a better writer in the long run.

Seven Easy Ways to Make Readers Love Your Writing

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

This week’s writing prompt: If there was a “Do-over” button, what event in your life would you like to do over or have a second chance at? Rewrite that event in your life the way you’d like it to turn out.

It’s not always easy to get people to read your stories or blog posts. It’s even harder to get them to like your work, share them or comment on them. How do you know people are reading your works? How do you know that they like what you’ve written? Figuring it out is like shooting an arrow at a target in the dark.

The most important thing is to pay attention to any feedback they give you. Which posts are getting the most likes? The more likes you receive, the more likely they enjoyed that story more than others. That might be a sign that perhaps they would like to see more content like that.

They may not always like the work you put out there, but that’s okay. As long as you meet certain expectations, they will like YOU. It’s up to you to give them what you want.

While you may not control how readers respond to your stories, you can control what you write and how it’s delivered. So whether you’re managing a blog or creating short stories or essays to share on Medium, here are six easy ways to make readers appreciate you what you do.

1. Be consistent with your writing. Set a schedule for when you post stories. If you manage a blog, decide how often you can post updates, whether it’s only once a week, or once a day or somewhere in between. Then stick to that routine. When people recognize the schedule you follow, they will likely follow along with you. They will begin to expect it. So if you post a story on Monday morning, they’ll look for it in their inbox. Readers like consistency and routine. It makes you easier to follow when you set that routine for them.

2. Keep your work clean and error-free. You might spend most of your time drafting stories and doing research, but don’t overlook the importance of proofreading. Check your grammar, spelling and punctuation to make sure it’s spotless. There’s nothing more annoying than reading a blog post filled with misspelled words; it’s distracting and it sends the message to readers that you don’t care about your work. Sure, there will be times when a misspelled word slips through after you’ve posted the story. That will happen. Readers will forgive an occasional error like that. Just be sure to take the time to proof your work before hitting the Publish button. Or if you’re unsure of your proofing skills, have someone else review it for you.

3. Write conversationally. Imagine that you are having a conversation over your favorite adult beverage with a close friend. You would likely ask the other person questions. You would probably use “you” to address them, and “I” when talking about yourself. Avoid heavy-handed descriptions and flowery speech that readers may not understand. Be blunt if you need to be, and don’t be afraid to break a few English writing rules if that’s what it takes to express yourself personally. The experts at Copyblogger have a few additional suggestions for writing conversationally on your blog.

4. Be passionate about your topic. Whether you’re writing a blog, a short story or an essay, be passionate about your writing. Indifference will come through, and readers will notice it. “It’s astounding how much better writing is when we write about something we care deeply about. The words flow easily, and we are much more convincing and engrossing,” writes Amy Newmark, publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series in a Forbes magazine interview.

Maybe your passion is caring for your dogs. Then make dog care the focus of your blog. Then stop writing about things that have nothing to do with dog care, like the last restaurant you went to or the DIY home improvement project you attempted last weekend. When your topic is all over the map, you’ll have difficulty finding your target audience. When you stick with your core topic – dog care – you can expand your audience to include not only dog owners, but dog walkers, veterinarians, pet shelters and anyone who like dogs. Again, it’s about managing your readers’ expectations. If you establish early on that your blog is about dog care, readers will expect it from you again and again.

5. Give readers what they want. This is an extension of what I wrote about above. Pay attention to likes, comments and feedback from readers. They’ll tell you what they like best. If they respond positively to a particular story, say starting a dog walking business as a side hustle (to use the example above), then perhaps that is the angle you should keep writing about. If you’re a fiction writer, then give them fiction stories.

6. Give readers added value. Give them a few extras that will whet their appetite for good content. For example, I recently offered a weekly writing prompt which is consistent with my blog content about writing. In your case, you may decide to offer a weekly trivia question or a survey question related to a blog post. Those little extras become something new and interesting that readers can share with others, and makes them want to come back to see “what’s next?”

7. Be sure to respond to questions and comments. If readers really like what you’re writing, they’ll tell you by leaving a comment or asking a question. There’s nothing more flattering than receiving a compliment from a reader. Be sure to thank them though. Engage with them. Be responsive to their questions and comments. A simple thank you goes a long way to establishing trust with your readers.

It takes time for readers to find you and even longer for them to love you. But these simple steps will make it easier for them to appreciate what you have to offer.

Literary Agents Share Their Best Writing Tips

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

Browse the Internet and you’ll find all sorts of tips for writers from fellow writers, editors and publishers. Another group of professionals have their own take on the writing process – literary agents. After all, they work closely with aspiring authors to get their work published.

Most writers won’t need an agent to represent them. If you’re primarily a freelancer writing magazine features, business publications and website content, you won’t need an agent.

But if you’ve completed writing a book — either fiction or nonfiction — that you believe is your best work and you want another pair of eyes to look at it, then it might be time to search for a literary agent. Check out the Association of Author Representatives, which has a database of agents that you can search based on different criteria. Other sources are publishing industry magazines, such as Poets & Writers and Writer’s Digest. For more about finding a literary agent, check out these pros and cons from Masterclass.

Even if you plan to self-publish your novel or memoir, or if you don’t plan to write a book at all, it’s worth paying attention to what literary agents have to say about the writing process and the publishing business. After all, they’re review hundreds of manuscripts in search of talented authors with potential. They know what works and what doesn’t in the marketplace. There are nuggets of truth in their words of advice.

Below is a collection of agent advice for writers, gleaned from past issues of Writer’s Digest magazine. In each issue, WD profiles a literary agent who shares tips for pitching and writing, and the genres they work with. They describe what they look for in author submissions as well as what they love about the work they do as agents. Whether you plan to self-publish or have no plans to publish a novel at all, it’s still worth it to hear agents’ perspectives on the publishing process.

“Don’t be precious about your material. Don’t keep a sentence because it sounds nice. Be prepared to get rid of material, and be as ruthless as you can.”  Claire Anderson-Wheeler, Regal÷ Hoffmann & Associates

“Keep writing, even when people aren’t telling you to keep writing.”  Kerry Sparks, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency

“Get yourself a great critique partner.” John Cusick, Folio Literary Management

“No amount of good pitching will make up for a bad project, so focus first and foremost on your craft. Always challenge yourself to improve.”  Zabé Ellor, The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency

“Story arc is important, no matter what genre – even nonfiction, maybe especially.”  Rick Pascocello, Glass Literary Management

“Write what excites you; that passion can leak into the text and start a chain reaction.”  Ian Bonaparte, Janklow & Nesbit

“Understand that rejection is part of the process – learn from it instead of taking it personally.” Megan Close Zavala, formerly of Keller Media, now a writing coach.

“Believe that you have many stories to tell, and don’t despair if your first book doesn’t sell.”  Connor Goldsmith, Fuse Literary

“Don’t hold back when writing and dig as deeply into your emotional reservoir as you can.” Heather Cashman, Storm Literary Agency

“Practice verbally describing your pitch and watch for people to perk up with interest – that’s the heart of your pitch.” Caroline Eisenmann, Frances Golden Literary Agency

“Write a lot. Show your passion. Be authentic. I look forward to being surprised by a fantastic story.”  Linda Camacho, Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency

“Not every book you write should be published, but that doesn’t invalidate the experience you gained in writing it.” Susanna Einstein, Einstein Literary Management

“Don’t worry about following trends. Build a community. Support your local bookstores and fellow writers.” Lisa Grubka, Fletcher & Company

“Remember that agents and editors got into this business because we love books. We are not your enemies.”  
On editing: “Try to understand the gap between your intention and your editor’s understanding of your work.”  Rachel Sussman, Chalberg & Sussman

“Immerse yourself in the authors of your genre.”  John Talbot, The Talbot Fortune Agency

“Always build your platform by publishing smaller works: essays, articles, poetry, stories.”  Natalie Kimber, The Rights Factory

“Learn your own weaknesses and root them out ruthlessly. Don’t aspire to be published; aspire to be read.”  Bob Hostetler, The Steve Laube Agency

“Know the comparable titles that aren’t blockbuster bestsellers.”  Christopher Rhodes, The Stuart Agency

“No one’s success hurts the chances of yours. Be supportive in your communities. Be careful who gets to weigh in and critique your work.”  Erik Hane, Headwater Literary Management

“Pay attention to what people are looking for (manuscript wish lists). Write freely, edit with precision.”  Stephanie Hansen, Metamorphosis Literary Agency

“Have courage. You won’t know how to do any of this yet…but you’ll learn.”  Tricia Lawrence, Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

“Know/learn when to keep at it and when to move on. Don’t give up on your dreams of being a published author, but sometimes it is best to move on from a project that’s just not working…, and start something new.”  Patrice Caldwell, New Leaf Literary & Media

Do you work with a literary agent? What is the best advice you have received from them?

Keys to a Successful Writer-Editor Relationship

Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

Writing has been part of my professional life for several decades. I’ve worked on both sides of the table as both an editor and a writer (staff writer and freelance). So I’ve had the benefit of experience to talk about the writer-editor relationship. A good writer will make an editor’s job easier, and a good editor will make a writer’s work really shine.

“Writer-editor relationships walk a fine line between familiar and professional,” writes Chels Knorr at Clear Voice, a content agency. “They’re built on mutual respect. They’re transactional, but also because they involve something subjective as writing, deeply personal. The writer must trust the editor’s fresh eyes and insight. The editor must trust the writer’s voice on a deadline.”

Like any relationship, they bring different strengths into the mix. Each has certain responsibilities to make the relationship work. Here’s what writers and editors can do to maintain a strong working relationship.

For writers:

* Be reliable. Meet your deadlines, and follow instructions and style guidelines. When working for an editor at a publication, pay attention to their instructions. Is there a certain format you need to follow? Then follow it. Are there certain phrases and terms that must be included in your piece? Be sure they’re in there. If the publication editor asks for something specific, be sure to do it. Doing so establishes your credibility in the editor’s eyes, and improves your chances that they will want to work with you again. And of course, make sure you turn your work on time, which proves to editors that you are reliable and take your work seriously.

* Be thorough and conscientious in your work. Proof your work before submitting it to the editor. If you don’t know how to proofread, take a class. Also be your own fact checker. Confirm quotes with your sources. Look up statistics to make sure they’re accurate and the most current. When you submit work that is clean and accurate with few errors, it saves the editor time and effort to correct them for you. Editors will love you for it.

* Don’t phone it in. Give each assignment your all, even if you don’t feel well or have too much on your plate. Treat clients as if they’re the only client you have and end the message that you’d like to work with them for the long-term by giving them a strong representations of your skill. If you really are too busy to take on an assignment, say so. Honesty is better than doing a crappy job.

* Develop a tough skin. It can be demoralizing to receive a piece back from an editor with a ton of red marks on it. Learn to accept feedback with grace and an open mind. Try to look past snarky comments, which isn’t always easy to do. Whatever feedback you receive is meant to help you become a stronger, better writer.

For editors:

* Communicate expectations clearly. Most editors and publications I’ve worked for/with have a source sheet that outlines what the assignment is and what the editor is looking for. However, there have been times when even those instructions were vague. Make sure you are clear about what you want the writer to do. Even if it seems clear to you, it may not be clear to them. If you aren’t clear, the writer may submit something that was not what you expected, which means more work for the writer to fix it.

* Respect the writer’s time and expertise. Be kind to your writers, writes Sarah Gilman at the Columbia Journalism Review. They’re providing you with a valuable service, and most of them are professionals with a history of success. Treat them as professional colleagues and remember that they’re human beings too. Remember they have personal lives and go through rough times too. A messy divorce or a sudden illness, for example, might disrupt their work. Be kind to them, just as you would want another editor to be kind to you.

* Provide helpful, constructive feedback. Avoid hurtful criticism and personal attacks that can be demoralizing to writers. Stick to the work at hand. Explain what needs to be changed. Sometimes explaining why helps writers understand what is expected for future assignments.

* Pay writers on a timely basis – and pay them WELL. Most freelance writers have sporadic incomes, often getting paid at publication time, not upon acceptance. That can put them in precarious financial circumstances. Paying on a timely basis shows your commitment to them. It earns their trust in your publication so they will want to continue working with you. If payments are delayed, it sends the message that you either don’t care or have cash flow problems – a red flag for freelancers who depend on you for income.

More important, pay writers well. A well-paid writer is a happy writer, and they’ll be more apt to turn in their best quality work to your publication to show they are worth the investment. Underpaid writers feel undervalued and unappreciated. If your fledgling publication or content agency pays peanuts for the people who write for you, expect the submitted work to be subpar and you might have to continually replace freelancers who leave for higher-paying gigs. For information about writers’ rates, check out the Editorial Freelancers Association and Writer’s Digest, which both provide updated rates for freelancing services.

When both writers and editors understand the needs and expectations of the other party, they can look forward to a long, productive relationship.

Feedback vs. Criticism: How They Are Different and Why Writers Should Care

Photo by Ann H on Pexels.com

As writers, getting feedback for our work is a normal part of the development process. Without feedback, we would never know how readers will respond to our story. Without feedback, we won’t understand how we can improve our work. Without feedback, we will never know how to become better writers.

Notice I did not say the word “criticism,” which opens a Pandora’s box of problems. It does nothing more than stop a writer’s progress in its tracks.

Why do we tend to cringe at criticism, but not feedback? Even the sound of both words brings different images to mind and produces kneejerk reactions. Feedback sounds softer, gentler, and kinder. Feedback might remind us of a beloved grade school teacher who provided helpful instructions to complete an assignment. Even when feedback is negative, its intent is to help you improve your effort.

By comparison, criticism sounds harsh, starting with the first hard C in the word. It immediately calls to mind negative experiences, like the day your first love dumped you with a scathing, hateful speech. Criticism seeks to tear you down. There is no intent to be helpful, instructive or kind.

Now look up both words in the dictionary. At first glance, they may seem to be similar, but in fact, they are different. For example, according to Google’s online dictionary:

Feedback is “information about the reactions to a product or a person’s performance of a task, which is used as a basis for improvement.”

Criticism is “the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work; the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.”

Take a closer look at the two definitions. What words jumps out at you? For feedback, the prominent words are: information, performance and improvement. For criticism, the words that jump out appear to be more severe: judgment, faults, disapproval, and mistakes.

It’s no wonder that writers (and all of humankind for that matter) cringe at the word criticism. All criticism does is judge others, find mistakes and seek reasons to disapprove something or someone. There’s no apparent room for improvement.

But feedback does encourage improvement. Is it any wonder that we all may be more open to receiving feedback than criticism?

Amber Johnson at the Center for Values-Driven Leadership at Benedictine University succinctly describes the five differences between feedback and criticism in this Forbes article.

Criticism is focused on what we don’t want; feedback is focused on what we do want.
Criticism is focused on the past; feedback is focused on the future.
Criticism is focused on weakness; feedback helps to build up strengths.
Criticism deflates; feedback inspires.
Criticism says, “You are the problem.” Feedback says, “You can make this better.”

How do you spot a critic? Professional ghostwriter Laura Sherman at the Friendly Ghostwriter blog says that critics are usually frustrated artists themselves. “The harsh critics of today are the failed artists of yesterday,” she writes. Pay attention to how you feel after you’ve read their comments. If you feel worthless, develop a terrible case of writer’s block, or are tempted to quit writing, then you’ve been attacked by a nasty critic. Sherman advises writers to disregard their “advice” which is meaningless and harmful.

As you move forward with your writing practice, think about the role of feedback in your writing development. When you seek guidance from others, whether they are your beta readers, your writer’s group or your family and friends, be clear with them. Ask for feedback to help you improve your craft. Anything else might crush your creative spirit.

Also think about how you give feedback to others. Avoid being overly critical and nit-picky. Always look for something positive that they’ve done before presenting negative comments. Then suggest ideas for how to improve it. When someone asks you for feedback, be kind, be helpful and be instructive.

While feedback and criticism might be related, like distant second cousins, they serve different purposes and live on different sides of the tracks. Let feedback be your guide to a better, stronger writing life.


Why Pets Make the Best Companions for Writers

Check out this week’s writing prompt!

Many writers I know live and work in isolation. Luckily, most of them seem to have a loyal furry friend (or two or three) to keep them company. That begs the question: Do pets make the best companions for writers?

The answer to that, of course, depends on where you live, how many people live with you, and whether you like animals or have pet allergies. But more often than not, most writers I know have made room in their lives for a furry pal.

You don’t have to own a dog or cat to appreciate the benefits of pets. Even a goldfish or guinea pig can provide comfort and inspiration when you need it. Colleen Story at the Writing and Wellness blog describes the pros and cons of different types of pets, including horses, goldfish, birds and rabbits. Imagine that you can have a different pet for different reasons!

In fact, writers and their pets are such a fascinating topic that entire books have been written about them. Check out this one by Alison Nastasi and this one by Kathleen Krull.

So why are pets such an important part of writers’ lives? They provide multiple benefits, some related to health and others related to our work.

1. Pets provide inspiration for our work, sometimes acting as a writer’s creative muse. They may show up in stories as a secondary character. Think of Alice Walker and her chickens. She loved her chickens so much, she wrote an entire book about them! While Edgar Allen Poe did not own a pet raven, he was inspired by Charles Dickens’ pet raven to write about them.

2. Pets are good for your health. According to the Center for Disease Control, having a pet helps lower blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol. Pets can lower stress and improve levels of happiness in their owners. Pets need regular exercise to stay healthy and strong, and it’s only natural as pet owners to join them on their excursions. Pets remind us of the importance of regular fitness breaks to keep us active and strong.

3. They provide companionship. In these days of social isolation, when Zoom calls have become the norm, it can be comforting to hug a furry friend. I believe curling up with a dog or cat while reading a book is one of life’s most cherished moments.

4. They teach us about routines. Cats, especially, are creatures of habit. They live their lives by routine. They like to eat at the same time every day, take naps in the same spots, and play with the same toys. Writers who are just starting their writing practice can benefit from establishing a writing routine, just like cats establish their grooming habits. Having a routine can be good for our writing because it establishes a steady rhythm to life.

5. Pets remind us to take frequent breaks. Cats and dogs may race around the room chasing after toys, but afterward, they stop to rest. They take frequent naps too. The time outs are necessary to restore their energy so they can bounce back and play more. As writers, we need to take breaks too to restore our energy, to think more clearly and

6. Pets provide comfort when things aren’t going well. Whether we’re fighting writer’s block or we’ve just received a rejection notice from an editor, pets make us feel that our lives are okay despite the disappointments. Even better, they provide comfort too when things go well. Imagine a congratulatory lick on the face when you’ve just finished a story you’ve slaved over for several weeks.

7. Pets provide unconditional love. We may hate the story we just wrote or the publication that just rejected our essay. We may feel down on our luck and question why we put ourselves through the wringer. Pets love us anyway. As long as we feed them, play with them and keep their litter box clean, they’re happy, and they’ll gladly return the favor.

8. Pets will never share your secrets. When it’s just you and your dog or cat, you can chat with them all day and they won’t tell a soul what you’ve said. They don’t spread gossip either. While they might occasionally misbehave and talk back in their own animal way, they won’t betray your trust. They make good listeners too. So if you need an audience for your latest short story or poem, they will gladly listen – as long as they’re not napping.

Since writers often work in isolation, it’s important to surround themselves with a strong support group, even if that includes a favorite furry friend or two.

Do you have a furry companion in your life? How have they inspired you in your writing?

How to Love Your Writer Self (Even When It Isn’t Perfect)

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Check out this week’s writing prompt: Write about a time when a stranger did something nice for you.

As individuals, we play different roles – parent, child, student, employee, boss, spouse and friend. Add one more to that list – writer.

The writer self may start out small and vulnerable, like an infant or toddler. Just like a toddler who is just learning to walk, your writer self must learn to walk too. That means taking baby steps, such as writing a little bit each day, taking a class or workshop to develop skills and experimenting with different writing styles to figure out what kind of writer you want to be.

Most important, as you grow into your writer role, you learn to recognize your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. You also must learn to love your writer self, flaws and all. In her book Milk and Honey about resilience and overcoming adversity, Rupi Kauer writes, “How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.”

At My LA Therapy blog, Tobias Foster writes, “Accepting our strengths and weaknesses and reconciling the conflicting parts in our inner world is critical to our health and happiness. You cannot achieve anything substantial in the outer world without fixing your inner world.”

In order to make an impact with your writing and create meaningful work, you must take steps to clear your inner world of negative thoughts and replace it with kinder, gentler ones. You must strive for self-kindness and self-acceptance.  “Having self-compassion builds resilience in the face of adversity, and helps people recover more quickly from trauma or romantic separation,” writes Ana Sandoui in Medical News Today. “It also helps us cope with failure and embarrassment.”

The harsh self-criticism we give ourselves, she adds, is because we’re driven by a deep need to do everything perfectly all the time, which can cause physical and mental health issues down the road.  

So what does all this mean for writers? How can writers move past these mental and emotional road blocks to become a more loving writer self? Here are a few tips for practicing self-compassion for your writer self.

* Avoid judging yourself. Or at least, don’t judge yourself so harshly. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. You may not be aware that you are judging yourself because you may become so lost in your own world that you don’t pay attention to your own thoughts. Many times, we are our own worst critics when judging our own writing. If you find yourself judging yourself too harshly, have someone else review your work. They may be more objective than you, and they may find that it’s not nearly as terrible as you think it is.

* Recognize that perfection is a myth. Realize that no one is perfect; we all have flaws we’d prefer to hide from the public. But as part of a larger community of creatives, you experience the same feelings of self-doubt and fear. That makes you more alike with your fellow creatives than you are different. When you accept that you are not perfect and everyone else is not perfect, you won’t feel so alone or as different as you fear.

* Avoid comparing yourself to others. One mistake new writers make is comparing themselves to other writers, especially to those whose work they admire. Remind yourself that you are at a different experience level than they are, and you bring a different set of experiences to the table. When you compare yourself to others, you will always lose. You will set yourself up for failure before you even begin. Know that your life experience and writing skill has value.

* Learn to practice mindfulness. Whether through meditation, yoga or journaling, it’s important to quiet your mind so you can hear yourself think. Be still and be in the moment. Turn off social media and electronic devices and turn in to yourself. You may realize that your thoughts aren’t nearly as negative as you believe them to be. When you practice mindfulness, you develop emotional equanimity – that feeling of being in balance with your inner world, and you’re less likely to identify with painful emotions and experiences that can hold you back from writing.

* Don’t seek approval from other people. When you begin writing, it may be important to seek other people’s opinions of your work. You may wonder if you’re moving in the right direction, or if the story you’re writing is boring. While it’s important to get feedback, don’t let it influence your writing practice. Take everything than anyone says with a grain of salt. Remember to write for yourself first, then for your readers. If you write strictly for someone else’s approval, you will never be satisfied with your effort because you will always be looking at it through their eyes. Learn to trust yourself.

* Practice self-kindness. Learn to forgive yourself for any mistakes you’ve made. As I mentioned, no one is perfect. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend or a sibling – with kindness, compassion and understanding. Learn to speak tenderly with yourself, suggests mystery author Julie Glover. If you’re constantly berating yourself about your writing, then flip the script. Talk to yourself as a lover would, she says. (Glover gives a nice example of this on her Writers in the Storm blog.)

When you practice self-compassion for your writer self, you’ll forgive yourself for your mistakes and become more resilient in the face of adversity, such as a loss of a contract or a bad review.

Most important, remember that no one is perfect; all writers and creatives are flawed in some way. It’s a waste of time and energy to let self-doubt ruin your writing. In the words of poet Henry David Thoreau: “It is not worth the while to let our imperfections disturb us always.”

How Writers Can Cultivate a Strong Relationship – With Their Writing

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

Check out this week’s writing prompt on my website!

February is the month for love and romance. It’s the time of year when our thoughts turn to our closest relationships, whether they be with a spouse, significant other, a friend, a child or a parent. Even if you’re not in a relationship currently, your thoughts may stray to someone you’ve loved before, or would like to love in the future.

In the publishing business, your closest relationship could be with your agent, editor, writing coach or readers. However, don’t overlook the most important relationship – the one you have with your writing.

Is there such a thing as a writer-writing relationship? Yes, if you think of your writing life as a separate entity. You can either embrace it, welcome it into your life with open arms, or reject it as some strange being who insists on getting more attention from you, more than you can possibly give to it.

If you do recognize your writing life as a separate being, how do you built a loving, kind and respectful relationship with it? Here’s one example of a writer-writing relationship, courtesy of Annie Mueller. Also check out this anatomy of a writing relationship by Samantha Stout.

I believe that a writer’s success hinges on how well they relate to their craft.  If you love what you write, your writing will love you back – or at least it should. If you give it the time and attention it deserves, your writing will reward you down the road, even surprise you when you least expect it. Just like a real relationship with a human being.

What you and your craft create together is as close to a partnership as you can find. Your writing can draw you out of yourself and bring out the best of you. It can showcase your deepest thoughts and emotions, and show how you have grown through life experience.

Likewise, your time, attention and effort will make your writing shine to editors and readers. Sure there will be rough spots when one or both of you don’t feel inspired to work with the other. There will be times when you ignore each other even. But then those periods may be followed by happy reunions when you work so seamlessly together and you wonder how you ever thought you could live without the other. You need each other, like sunshine needs the rain to keep the earth’s flowers from drying out.

As I’ve explored my own writer-writing partnership experience, I’ve noted a few rules of engagement to make sure it works. Here’s how you can create a healthy relationship with your own writing endeavor.

1. Spend quality time with one another. Try to minimize distractions. Whether you spend an hour a day or several hours a week, it’s important to use that time to learn about each other, to recognize strengths and accept the flaws. Understand each other’s desires and motivations, what makes you tick. If you don’t spend quality time together with your craft, how will your relationship to each other ever grow strong?

2. Recognize each other’s faults, and love each other despite them. Your writing has weak spots, quirky characteristics, routines and tendencies. With time and attention, the writer in you can strengthen those areas and perhaps lessen their detrimental impact. Your writing is an extension of yourself, with all its flaws and mysteries. Your writing is not perfect, but then, neither are you. So accept the flaws, improve them if you can, but otherwise, accept them for part of who you are.

3. Stay friends, even during the rough patches. You may never fully fall in love with your writing, but at least make friends with it. Develop a healthy respect for each other. Keep the lines of communication open to leave open the possibility of a reconciliation. Even as friends, you can learn and grow together.

4. Know when to make sacrifices and special accommodations for your other half. There will be times when each of you will need to make sacrifices and special accommodations for the other, just as if you were in a relationship with a human. For example, your writing may call to you at the most inappropriate times, like during your son’s soccer game or during a movie. It may demand you take notes of a new story idea. You’ll have to decide whether to give in to that demand or ignore it, which could be risky because you don’t know if that idea could evolve into a meaningful story.

5. Keep your heart engaged in the process. Whether writing soulful stories or romantic poetry, be sure your heart is truly engaged in the creative process. Share your deepest fears and your triumphant moments. That’s what will bring out the best in your writing. Without heart, your writing will appear bland and boring.

6. Take a break from each other when necessary. If you lose motivation to write, it might be time for a trial separation. The break might give you proper perspective on your writing partnership. It might give clarity about where you want to go with your current work-in-progress and how to get there. Alternately, if the relationship is beyond repair, dump the project that’s giving you problems and move on to something else.

7. Ask yourself why you love to write. If you love writing for all the right reasons, then you are bound to have a strong, healthy relationship with it. But if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, such as seeing your name in print or writing to please someone else, the writing side of your partnership may suffer at some point and your interest it may wane. When you remember your ‘why” of writing, you’ll likely return to center and stay motivated through difficult stretches.

It may seem odd to treat your writing as a significant other, but think about where you would be without it. When you view your writing as a true partner that you love for life, you’ll treat it with the care and devotion it deserves. Both you and your writing will thrive.

Need Motivation for Your Writing Practice? Find a Writing Buddy

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Don’t forget to check out this week’s writing prompt.

Last week I wrote about participating in a writer’s group to help you get past writing blocks and keep you on track toward your goals. But writer’s groups aren’t for everyone. Sometimes you don’t want to share your work with a group of people, but instead, only one other person. That’s where a writing buddy comes into the picture.

A writing buddy is just as it sounds – a person to share in the journey with you. You may have different writing goals (publish short stories vs. polish off that novel that’s been hiding in a desk drawer), write different genres (women’s literature vs. romance), live in different parts of the country (the West Coast vs. the Midwest) and live different lifestyles (one married and one single, for example). While you may have different writing experiences, one thing you do share is a love of writing.

The concept of the buddy system is borrowed from the fitness world where two people might engage in a weight loss plan together. They may arrive with different fitness goals and use different approaches to reach those goals, but neither wants to go through the journey alone. It helps to have a buddy to experience the ups and downs of the process, and to challenge and motivate one another along the way.

Writing buddies can provide the same kind of support. They’re there to inspire and motivate you when your interest lags. They make you accountable for your progress. You know you have someone who supports your efforts, encourage you every step of the way. Writing buddies can also exchange ideas and knowledge about crafting stories. They can also serve as a beta reader for your current work-in-progress, and be your initial reviewer, editor and proofreader.

However, writing buddies are not collaborators; they’re not there to work with you on the same project. Rather, a writing buddy has their own project that they are working on, separate from yours. They are also not a mentor or coach, who provides encouragement and support, but don’t receive any support from you in return. They’re not a boss either, who might teach you a few things about the craft, but may not be working on any project at all.

For a better idea who makes a good writing buddy, check out this article from Writing-World.com. Carol Sjostrom Miller writes that over a six-month period of working with a writing buddy, she wrote more, submitted more stories for publication and sold more than she had before finding her buddy. If you’re a new writer or want to ramp up your writing production, having a writing buddy might be the solution you’re looking for.

So how do you find someone that wants to be your writing buddy, and where do you find them? For starters, it should probably be someone you already know, not a total stranger. It could be someone you’ve met at a writing workshop, at a conference or a former member of a writer’s group that’s looking for a similar arrangement.

When you already know someone, you don’t have to go through that uncomfortable “let’s get to know one another better” phase. Since you’ve already bypassed that phase, you can focus on assessing your writing goals and what you want from your writing buddy.

If you think a writing buddy is right for you, here are a few characteristics you might want them to have – and what you should be willing to share in return.    

1. They must love to write as much as you love to write. This is obvious. The key is “as much as you love to write.” Are you both at the same level of writing? Are you each writing every day, or are you each struggling to make your daily word count goals? If you already have someone in mind for this important role, assess where you both are in your writing practice. Knowing where you each are on the journey and where you want to go will make it easier to work on equitable terms.

2. They’re non-competitive and non-judgmental – and so are you. Check your egos at the door. Writing buddies are neither collaborative nor competitors. They’re not there to judge you harshly or tell you how silly you are to write for young adults. They’re supportive and helpful, like the volunteers who pass out cups of water on the marathon race route or cheer you on at the finish line.

3. They bring an alternate perspective to your writing, and vice versa. Because you may both have different writing backgrounds, you’ll provide alternate perspectives that the other party may not have considered. Having that different perspective means you can share practical and meaningful insights that will help you each grow as writers.

4. You learn as much from their writing process and they do from you. Because you’re each on your own writing journey and working toward individual goals, you each have something to learn from and share with the other person. Perhaps you’ve discovered a more efficient way to edit a first draft that can help your writing buddy, or they have heard of a new online magazine that publishes your genre of short story. There’s an easy give-and-take in the relationship.

5. You both provide helpful, insightful and constructive feedback. Feedback is important to help you improve, so both you and your writing buddy should know how to provide meaningful feedback, not just be a cheerleader. Criticism can be hard to take, but it’s necessary to grow as a writer. Be constructive with criticism and communicate clearly and with sensitivity. There is a way to provide helpful advice without destroying their ego.

6. You both practice positivity. It’s easy to lose faith in your project and your talent over the long haul, so it’s important to team up with a buddy who can stay focused and optimistic to help you out of the doldrums. Likewise, your own positivity should motivate your buddy to stay the course.

7. You celebrate each other’s successes. When you’ve reached milestones, gotten over writing humps or finally published that story you’ve slaved over for months, a writing buddy can share in your joy. Be sure to share in theirs, writes Barbara Beckwith at the National Writers Union.

Writing buddies aren’t a perfect solution, and some buddy relationships may go through rough spells or end altogether. Yet others can last longer than some marriages. But for greater motivation and productivity, a writing buddy may make your writing journey more worthwhile.

Seven Ways to Turn a Plain Room into a Creative Writing Workspace

Most of us are working from home these days, either slaving away on a blog or writing for an employer. We can become so absorbed in our computer screens that we forget to notice – and enjoy – the space around us. That’s why it’s important to create a space that is fun and creative and lifts your spirt. Even more important, you want a space that will inspire you to produce your best work, no matter what type of work you do.

According to Mindspace, an online magazine about flexible work spaces, poorly designed spaces can affect a person’s psychology, motivation and creative output. Mindspace recommends some basic elements to make a positive impact. Start with comfortable seating which can increase your energy level and keep you more alert and engaged.

Emphasize natural lighting if at all possible because it is better than artificial lighting. Fluorescent lights are harsh and can cause long-term eye strain. Let’s face it, natural lighting is simply more beautiful too.

Bring in natural plants which freshens indoor air quality naturally. But if you’re the type of person who forgets to water plants, artificial plants will suffice. The greenery is easy on the eyes and has a calming effect on your mood.

While having a desk, chair and computer are imperative, they’re not enough to inspire creativity and productivity. You need to add elements that not only inspire you to do your best work but also expresses your creative side.

Here’s how you can spice up your workspace and make it more fun and creative.

  1. Rearrange your furniture. Before you add any new accessories, try rearranging the furniture. Switching around furniture pieces can change the energy in the room, say home décor experts. If your space feels stale, try removing one piece and see what happens to your energy level. While you’re at it, it might be a good idea to declutter too. Many of us have one or two pieces of furniture that we really don’t need. By subtracting, you’ll actually be adding to your productivity by creating more real space. When space opens up, it allows more air to move, and more ideas to flow along with it.
  2. Repaint the room. If you feel bored or experience the winter blahs, spice things up with a splash of color to your surroundings. Sometimes all you need is a fresh coat of paint to brighten your mood. If you don’t want to paint a whole room, try doing one accent wall. For example, if the walls are white, try a bold, bright color on one wall. The sudden splash of color can awaken your senses.
  3. Add wall décor. Once you’ve repainted the room and rearranged the furniture, don’t forget to add wall décor. Add a framed print of a famous person you admire, or a soothing landscape scene or a photo with an inspirational quote. If framed prints are too boring, try other options like a colorful handmade wreathe, a woven wall hanging or cut-out words that spell out a  favorite quote. Let your imagination be your guide. The last thing you want to see are bare walls, even if the paint colors are more interesting.
  4. Add unique lighting elements. If a desk lamp is too boring, bring in special lighting with different colored light bulbs, though be careful not to work under those lights, which might cause eye strain. Use those lighting elements to spark a creative mood rather than for productivity. For more advice about proper lighting for your space, check out this article from The Spruce.
  5. Switch out accessories. Add new throw pillows on your bed or sofa which can make an immediate impact. A few small votive candles can put you in the mood to write poetry, and a potted plant can bring in some of the outdoors. If you lack storage space, add a few shelves by your desk to hold your supplies.
  6. Create an inspiration board (or mood board). Need something to spark your imagination every day? An inspiration board contains photos, artwork, and phrases that help you focus on your writing goals or a specific project. Inspiration boards aren’t for everyone and they take a lot of time and effort, but they can provide the motivation you seek to be productive. (Some people call them mood boards, though I don’t know why. The boards are meant to inspire creativity, not affect mood. But that’s my two cents.) Check out the Lit Nerds for tips on creating mood boards.
  7. Keep a fun drawer. Who doesn’t love a fun drawer? That’s where you keep small trinkets and toys, your favorite candies and handheld games. I suppose it should be called the distraction drawer instead because that’s what those items are meant to do – create distraction. The fun drawer serves as a reminder that writing is not all work and no play, and that it’s okay to take a creativity break. You never know when one of those little distractions inspires a fresh story idea.

    Writers spend a lot of time in their work spaces – plotting stories, doing research, penning that masterpiece. Why not make it the most creative, inspirational place to work? Hopefully, these suggestions will spark some ideas on how to maximize the space you have and turn it into a fun place to work and play.

Five Signs That You’re Ready to Join a Writer’s Group

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

This week’s writing prompt: What date on the 2021 calendar do you have circled? Is there a special event that you are looking forward to this year? Why is this date circled?

Writing is often a solo journey, but sometimes you need to pick up a few passengers along the way. You may be at a point where you need to hear different perspectives about your work-in-progress or pick up tips from fellow writers. Perhaps you hit a wall and can’t seem to write another word. That’s when you may benefit from joining a writer’s group.

Not every writer needs or wants to join a writer’s group. They can get by with working in isolation before sharing their work with two or three close confidants. Other writers, especially beginning writers or hobbyists, relish the social interaction and feedback that groups provide.  

Wherever you are on the writer’s spectrum, there will come a time when you will want to seek support or feedback for your work. That’s where a writer’s group might be a practical move on your part. Sometimes the insights of other writers can point you in the right direction – or a different one that you had not considered.

Writer’s groups aren’t for everyone, however. There are a few dangers to groups, writes Jennie Nash in this guest post at JaneFriedman.com. You may find that the writers in the group are either more experienced or are all beginners. You will have to decide what level of writers you want to work with. Writers who are struggling with their own writing may not be the best judge of your work.

Other times, members may not know how to give constructive feedback because they either don’t want to offend you or because they simply don’t know what they should be commenting on, Nash adds. In those instances, it might help to express what you want them to look for. Generic feedback may not help you improve your writing. But a more specific request, such as whether the dialogue sounds natural, may be more helpful.

Then there is the decision to join a writer’s group. How do you know you are ready to take the plunge? Here are five signs that you might be ready to join a writer’s group.

1. You’re tired of working in isolation. When you work solo most of the time, it’s necessary to grab some social time to balance your writing schedule. This is especially important during the current pandemic where most of us are working from home. A writer’s group can provide that social outlet. Whether you decide to meet once a week or once a month, you can develop some meaningful friendships while improving your craft.

2. You want feedback on your current work-in-progress. Perhaps you’ve been plugging away on a novel that just doesn’t’ seem to be moving along at the pace you intended. Or your characters seem flat, or you’re unsure where to go next with the plot. Having other writers review and provide feedback on your work can help you figure out what you may doing wrong and what you can do to fix it. Your group members may see things that you don’t. 

3. Your productivity is lagging. You want accountability for your writing practice so you can stay productive and meet your writing goals and deadlines. Since writing is more of a marathon than a sprint, a writer’s group can provide the support you need through the long haul.

4. You’re looking for beta readers to test out story ideas. You’ve come up with one or two story ideas, but you’re uncertain whether there’s enough substance to make them work. A writer’s group can help you assess the story, whether it needs more development or whether to save a scene or two for another plot, or simply to dump the idea altogether. Again, member feedback can give you needed perspective.

5. You’ve exhausted all the traditional modes of learning your craft. Through a writer’s group, members can swap stories of personal experience, learn from one another, and exchange writing resources. It’s another form of education beyond classes and workshops.

Before signing up for a writer’s group, however, you need to assess your own writing needs. According to Brooke McIntyre in this guest post at Jane Friedman’s blog, there are several questions you need to ask yourself.

* What is your writing experience? Are you a beginner or are you more experienced. Joining a group of beginners may test the patience of a more experienced writer.

* Do you have a completed manuscript to share now? Or are you more interested in a group that will motivated you through the finish?

* Do you have a consistent practice currently? Or are you looking for motivation to start a consistent practice?

* Where do you want to go with your writing? What can a writer’s group do for you now to help you get there? What do you want from it?

* What other ways are you developing your writing progress? Have you attended workshops and classes? Have you read books, blogs and magazine articles to learn about writing? If you’ve exhausted all these avenues, then a writer’s group might be the next step.

Once you understand where you are in your writing practice, where you want to go and how to get there, you can decide if you’re truly ready to join a writer’s group.

Five Ways Your Writing Life Improves When You Say “I Am a Writer”

Image courtesy of HubSpot Marketing

For many aspiring writers, it can be difficult to say the words, “I am a writer.” Deep down, they feel they don’t deserve the title because they’re new at writing. Many newbies argue that they don’t feel justified in calling themselves a writer because they haven’t published anything.

But the truth is, it’s a key step in your writing journey. Because if you are serious about your writing, you need to call yourself a writer.

But if you write, you are a writer. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter if you craft posts for your blog, pour your heart out in your journal every morning, or slug away on a novel, you are a writer. It doesn’t matter if you are published or not. As long as you are putting in the effort, you can honestly and proudly say, “I am a writer.”

The thing is, once you begin to say it (it might help to say it out loud or in front of a mirror), and say it every day, the name becomes a part of you. Even better, good things happen in your writing life.

As Jeff Goins writes (or more specifically his cat) at The Write Practice blog, “the only way to be a writer was to act like one.” For more definitions about what makes a writer, check out this post by Anne R. Allen.

But I think there’s more to it than what Goins and Allen suggest. Saying “I am a writer” alters your mindset. It’s all about belief in yourself. When you think of yourself as a writer, your behavior follows suit. You begin to form the habits that will make you successful.

Here are five ways your writing life will change when you begin to call yourself a writer.

1. You begin to take your writing more seriously than before. Maybe you already had a writing routine, but now, you’ve decided to add to your daily word count or you have a specific goal in mind, such as writing two novel chapters every week. Maybe you contemplate taking classes to learn more about technique, or you feel a need to share your work with others. Even though you may never get published, you call yourself a writer and you start acting like one.

2. You no longer want to hide behind your writing. You’re more willing to “put yourself out there.” That means reading your work aloud to a roomful of strangers, participating in critique groups or submitting your work to editors. You seek feedback from others in the hopes of improving your craft because you realize you no longer want to work in isolation. You no longer want to hide your writing from others.  

3. You’re no longer afraid of expressing yourself. To say “I am a writer” means you bravely share your ideas and opinions, and speaking your truth. The words you need to say come more naturally because they come from your heart.

4. Your confidence soars. When you say “I am a writer” with a smile on your face, people know you are proud of your calling. You stand taller, and you feel energized. You are filled with story ideas and you can’t wait to work on them. You don’t wait for inspiration to strike before you begin writing. Instead, inspiration finds you because you’ve already been writing consistently. 

5. Your writing life becomes more real. This isn’t a fantasy anymore, a dream. By saying, “I am a writer,” the writing life becomes real and worthy of your gifts. Writing isn’t just a hobby; it’s your calling. You decide to do the work you need to do to make your writing life real.   

The power behind these four magic words is belief. You must believe in yourself to write and write well. If you lack faith in your abilities or if you believe you are not worthy of this calling, you will never write anything. So it’s important to call yourself a writer to express belief in yourself. And when you believe in yourself, others will follow along on your writing journey with you.

Find Your Niche as a Creative Writer


Check out my new white paper, Find Motivation to Start Writing — and Keep Writing, which you can download here.

Also check out this week’s writing prompt: “What is your writing superpower? What can you do that no one else can do?


When I first embarked on my writing journey, it was a challenge to shift from writing magazine features and website content to creative writing. It was a far cry from the business world, where the criteria was set by employers and clients. I had to shift from writing for business to creating whole new worlds in fiction.

Part of the challenge of being a creative writer is finding a niche. What kind of creative writer do you want to be? Do you want to focus only on novels, or are short stories more your thing? Maybe you enjoy baring your soul in creative non-fiction essays, or the challenge of rhyming words in poetry while still expressing a heartfelt emotion. I thought I knew what I was doing as a creative writer. After all, I’d already had magazine features published and had received positive feedback about my writing from teachers and editors.

But I quickly realized there was a lot I didn’t understand. It was necessary to start from the beginning – to take classes, read up on technique from writing blogs and magazines. And to practice, practice, practice. Further, I experimented with different writing styles. I attempted several novels before moving on to short stories and, more recently, novellas. I submitted essays to competitions, and sought feedback from writer’s groups. It’s all been part of a learning, growing process.

I still hope to get published one day. It takes more than talent though; it takes grit and determination. It takes a consistent writing practice.

Here’s what I’ve learned about finding a creative writing niche.

1. It’s important to read a lot, and to read a variety. Stephen King says the best way to learn about writing is to read and to read widely. You learn how to craft stories, develop plot and character, create suspense and satisfy readers. I read an average of 30 books per year, and I try to read a variety of genres and authors. By reading, you naturally absorb their writing styles and adapt to develop your own style. By reading, you also notice what works well and what doesn’t. Reading other authors’ works is a must to advance your own writing aspirations.

2. Know who you are and what you stand for. Julie Anne England of the Self-Publishing School says it’s important to assess yourself – your interests, your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and your writing goals. It also means knowing what you can tolerate and what you can’t. Maybe writing critique groups aren’t your thing. Not everyone is cut out for them. Maybe you feel more inspired by writing in a semi-public place were other people are nearby rather than alone in your home. England advises writers to “be true to who you are. Trying to be someone you’re not will only impede your progress.”

3. Pay attention to the feedback you receive. Whether you get feedback from a writing buddy, a coach, a boss, or your website audience, pay attention to what they tell you. Do they like the way you describe a scene or the way you draw your characters? Conversely, are they confused by your plot structure or is your protagonist flat, lacking in emotion and personality. You know from their feedback that you have to rework the plot and create a stronger protagonist that readers will root for.

4. Learn as much as you can about the writing craft. Whether you are just beginning your creative writing journey or you’ve traveled this road for some time, it’s important to keep learning the craft. Publishers’ needs and tastes change so what was in demand one year may be passé a couple of years later. You need to stay on top of the publishing trends. Further, by keeping up with your professional development, you keep your skills fresh and learn new story telling techniques. You show agents and editors that you are willing to do whatever it takes to produce the best story possible.

5. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different genres and writing styles. You may not have any experience writing magazine features but you think it might be worthwhile to learn how to write them, even though you specialize as an essayist. Don’t be shy about taking a workshop about magazine writing. You may decide after completing one or two stories that it just isn’t right for you. That’s okay. At least you tried, and there may be some things you learned about the research and writing process that can be carried over to your other projects. Don’t be afraid to experiment to see what works best for you.

6. Be flexible and open-minded. Don’t get locked into your niche or specialty because it will likely change over time, writes Shaunta Grimes at The Write Brain blog. You may start out with an interest in writing essays, but over time, you find yourself writing more short stories. For example, when I started my blog in 2016, I wrote about a variety of writing and communications topics because that was my professional background. As time went on and I gravitated toward more personal writing and less business communications, my blog reflected that shift. Now I focus almost exclusively on the writing life. Allow your personal interests to dictate your path.

If you want to know more about what kind of writer archetype you are, check out this quiz at The Write Brain blog. Find out if you are a Hesitater, a Skipper, a Spiller, a Teacher or an Artist. It will help you learn what you write and why. (Btw, I’m a teacher, which should be obvious from my blog.)

The beauty of creative writing is that there are multiple paths to choose from, and it’s not uncommon for writers to specialize in more than one genre or writing style. Finding that niche depends on knowing who you are and what you have to offer readers.  

A Writer’s Guide to Self-Care

Photo by Cedric Lim on Pexels.com

Happy New Year! I’m pleased to announce the debut of my white paper “Find Motivation to Start Writing — and Keep Writing” which you can find on my website.

Also check out this week’s writing prompt: Why do you write? Challenge yourself to come up with at least 40 reasons why you write.

If you’re like me, you probably don’t give much thought to caring for your mental and physical well-being when you’re caught up in your writing projects. You spend hours at your desk planning blog posts or your novel while you forget to eat right or get the exercise you need. But without a strong foundation of health, you may not have the strength and stamina to withstand the twists and turns, ups and downs of your writing life.

Some writers describe writing as more like a marathon than a sprint. You have to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the long haul. Writing is more demanding than most people think it would be. It can take a lot out of you day in and day out. Further, if you run a writing business where you must meet the demands of clients and work on deadlines, that adds more stress to your day.

It’s important for writers to manage their self-care. There are several simple things you can do every day to make sure you are healthy and strong. Below are my tips for practicing self-care.

1. Get plenty of rest. Sleep is key to restoring your energy levels and mood. I can always tell the difference in my energy levels and motivation when I sleep seven hours compared to only four or five. Sleep really does make a difference. I wrote about sleep and creativity here. But sometimes sleep can be difficult to come by. Experts suggest cutting back on caffeine, shutting off electronic devices a few hours before bedtime and avoid heavy meals before bedtime. If you find yourself routinely waking up at three or four in the morning, rather than fight the sleeplessness, try reading for an hour before trying to go back to sleep.

2. Eat healthy meals and snacks. To maintain your energy throughout the day, make sure you’re eating healthy foods with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and protein and fiber to keep you feeling fuller longer. Drink plenty of water – at least eight glasses a day – and don’t skip meals. If you feel your energy lagging mid-day, eat healthy snacks to tide you over until dinner time. Try an apple with a handful of nuts or nut butter, veggies and hummus, or cheese and crackers.

3. Get plenty of exercise. Health experts suggest getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. The activity doesn’t have to make you sweat, but you should feel your heart beat faster. Go for a walk, do yoga poses or ride a bike. If you don’t have 30 minutes at one time, break it down into two or three 10-minute breaks during the day. During these mini-workouts, you can dance, jog up the stairs or follow a YouTube fitness video. The fitness breaks will not only help you stay fit and strong, they will give you the energy boost you need to get through the rest of the day.

4. Talk to a friend when you struggle. Sometimes you may feel stuck or lonely during your writing practice. When those situations occur, make sure you call a friend to talk things over, especially if you’re feeling particularly sad about something. Find an outlet for your feelings, and talking with a friend can get you through those rough periods.

5. Curl up with a good book. Sometimes when I’m feeling blue, all I want to do is curl up with a good book. Reading just makes me feel better. Most books end on a positive, happy note, and that makes me believe that happy endings are possible in real life too.

6. Take a long, hot bath. Sometimes just soaking in the tub can ease the tension of the day. There’s something about immersing yourself in warm water that alters your mood. Research shows that warm baths diminish feelings of pessimism and depression because they give bathers a feeling of solitude, comfort and peace. Add scented soap to the water, like lavender which is also soothing and relaxing. Candles are optional.

7. Practice meditation. Sometimes the pace of life moves too fast, faster than we can keep up with. At those times, it helps to practice meditation. Or if you don’t have the patience for meditation, just try to sit alone with your thoughts. Turn off the TV and electronic devices for at least 10 minutes, longer if your schedule allows. Just enjoy the quiet. Sitting quietly helps slow down your breathing and the pace of your life will also seem to slow down.

8. Keep a personal journal. When things get especially emotional and intense, grab a notebook and begin writing. Those thoughts that plague you can interrupt the flow of your work, so you want to find an outlet for them. It helps you make sense of the curve balls that life occasionally throws at you. Once you find an outlet for your personal feelings, you can focus on the tasks at hand.

9. Spend some time with a favorite pet. Most writers I know seem to have a dog or cat as their companion. Many psychologists believe pets are good for your mental health because they help lower blood pressure and reduce stress and anxiety. Pets also make you laugh, and laughing is good for your mental health too. If you’re not convinced, try spending a few minutes a day watching animal videos; they’re sure to put a smile on your face.

10. Get a massage. If you’re like me, you feel most of your tension in the neck and shoulders. A good massage can ease muscle tension and relieve anxiety. But massages can be pricey, so have a friend or significant other give you a good back and shoulder rub.

Self-care is important for your well-being. A healthy mind and body can prepare you to work longer stretches of time. With good health, you can finally finish writing that novel or meet your writing goals.

What do you do to take care of yourself?

Remembering the Authors and Journalists We Lost in 2020

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com


Happy New Year! I’m pleased to announce the debut of my white paper “Find Motivation to Start Writing — and Keep Writing” which you can find on my website. Also check out the new weekly writing prompt in the sidebar.

Before getting too deeply into the New Year, let’s look back at the year that was to honor the authors and journalists we lost and the literary legacies they left behind.

Authors
Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of “Prozac Nation,” a memoir about her battle with depression
Mary Higgins Clark, queen of suspense fiction
Clive Cussler, author and adventurer
Winston Groom, author of “Forrest Gump”
Terry Goodkind, master of fantasy fiction
John LeCarre, author of Cold War thrillers
Bette Greene, author of “Summer of My German Soldier”
Joanna Cole, children’s book author best known for “The Magic School Bus”
Rudolfo Anaya, considered the “godfather” of Chicano literature who wrote “Bless Me, Ultima”
Charles Webb, author of “The Graduate” which became a hit movie
Donna Kauffman, romance novelist
Tomie de Paola, children’s book author and illustrator
Diana di Prima, poet of the Beat Generation

Journalists
Gail Sheehy, journalist and author of 17 books, including the breakthrough “Passages” published in 1974
Jim Lehrer, host of PBS NewsHour
Bobbie Battista, one of the first anchors for CNN Headline News
Gerald Slater, founding employee of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
Hugh Downs, longtime TV anchor and host of 20/20 from 1978 to 1999
Tony Elliott, founder of Time Out entertainment magazine