Author Archives: Alexandra

the shadow of reading glasses on an open book makes a heart shape

Why do you write?

Why do you write?

This February, we are celebrating what we love about writing. This is the first of two planned posts celebrating the written word.

the shadow of reading glasses on an open book makes a heart shape

What do you love about writing? CC image “Love” courtesy of williami5 on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. I started on my father’s cast-off typewriter—a utilitarian descendant of the movie-set classic type—and graduated to an outdated computer that accepted eight-inch floppy discs as well as the high-tech of the day, five-inch floppy discs. Floppy discs, people.

Yeah, we weren’t the cutting-edge media household until my youngest brother started influencing purchasing decisions and dragging us into the future.

I started writing stories before I was old enough to read Mary Higgins Clark, but I still credit her with the genesis of my desire to write books. At the time, of course, I started with mysteries. I had no concept how much work goes into a good mystery novel. The protagonists were all amazingly similar to myself and moved through circumstances so mysterious they often remained opaque to even me, the author. I don’t think I ever finished writing one.

Honestly, I have no idea whether I was any good at the beginning. By the time I was in high school, though, and certainly in college, I recognized that, at least sometimes, I had the power to turn a really, really good phrase. “I love how you said [wrote] that!” remain to me some of the sweetest words in the English language.

Reasons We Love Writing

My reasons for writing—that I love to tell stories, that I love language, and for the sheer pleasure of it—rank among the top reasons anyone ever starts writing. Continue reading

the word RESEARCH spelled in Scrabble letters on a diagonal

Documenting Your Research

Documenting Your Research: Best Practices for the Indie Author

the word RESEARCH spelled in Scrabble letters on a diagonal

Do your research—and track it, too. CC image Research photo credit: Phlebotomy Tech. Some rights reserved.

How do I keep track of where I found my information? What information or which sources are okay to use? Do I need to worry about format?

I work with a lot of nonfiction authors, and I get this type of question a lot. But questions of research apply to all writers, whether fiction or nonfiction. You shouldn’t lay claim to work that is not yours, for reasons of credibility and because legally, it’s the wise thing to do.*

When I discuss documenting research with my authors, I include an additional layer of consideration, equally important to the creative process, although not a legal requirement: how can you best keep track of your sources in a manner that most supports your writing? This addition is important to me because of the ways writers can get sucked down rabbit holes of research, whether to answer legitimate questions or as a way to avoid writing.

Continue reading

Where Does Editing Fit? How Service Providers Work Together

Where Does Editing Fit?
How Service Providers Work Together for Self-Publishers

four puzzle pieces held together as in members of a publishing team

Editors and other service providers all work together to make a great book. CC image “Working Together Teamwork Puzzle” courtesy of Scott Maxwell on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

For the self-publishing author, one of the most difficult challenges is the dizzying array of interlocking services a book production requires. You have editors, designers, printers, digital conversion, marketing, and so on.

Many authors, understandably, prefer to work with a company which provides all these services under one roof. Reputable all-in-one providers promote good communication between author and editor. Make sure you have access to your editor—or any other provider—before signing on the dotted line.

Yet whether you choose to go with umbrella coverage—taking into account that some “end to end” services may not be as above-board as others, and vetting properly—or you work with providers on-on-one, it’s a good idea to understand how their work relates to and depends on each other. Continue reading

12 Tips for Writers Who Have No Time

Write Your Book in 2018: 12 Tips for Writers Who Have No Time

Write Your Book in 2018: 12 Tips for Writers Who Have No Time

The number one complaint of writers and would-be writers (including yours truly) is we don’t have enough time to write. That’s also our #1 justification for why we don’t finish writing projects. Alas, this is a load of hooey.

12 Tips for Writers Who Have No Time

Not enough time to write? There is no such thing! CC image “clockwalker” courtesy of Alex Eylar on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Some of the most famous and successful writers we know wrote with what we’d call “no” time—around children, in the kitchen, at the end of a day filled with exhausting and often menial jobs, and so on.

A small sample:

  1. JK Rowling
  2. Charles Dickens
  3. Octavia Butler
  4. Louisa May Alcott
  5. Stephen King
  6. Stephenie Meyer
  7. Douglas Adams
  8. Elizabeth Gilbert
  9. Franz Kafka
  10. Toni Morrison

So how can you turn your writing “no time” into “go time”? In keeping with the holiday season, here are 12 ideas for you to try in 2018.

Writing Strategies for People with No Time

1. Start small.

You don’t need to write your magnum opus in the first three days of the year. You don’t need to write 2,000 words a day. Start small—fragments, journal entries, 500 words, a story sketch, a commitment to write every week.

Tip for writers who have no time: Start small—fragments, journal entries, 500 words, or a story sketch. Click To Tweet

2. Begin where the story most interests you.

Writers are time travelers. We can move backwards and forwards through the story at will. You don’t need to start at the beginning and write in sequential order through to the end.

3. Write before you sign into social media or even—gasp!—your email.

This includes your work email. Know you have many pressing messages? That’s great motivation. Also, turn off your phone. Put it in a drawer. I don’t want you looking at it or hearing it during your writing time.

Tip for writers who have no time: write BEFORE you check your social media or email. Click To Tweet

4. Name it.

You can always change the title. That’s why writers often call their current project a work in progress (WIP). A name is a great place to start any book. What will you call yours?

5. Batch your tasks.

If your book requires research, interviewing other people, or other preparation that’s not strictly writing, schedule your time so you do the research, interviewing, or prep in one chunk of time, and your writing in a separate chunk of time. Don’t work at three tasks at once.

6. Create an starter outline.

Sketch your starting ideas by WRITING THEM DOWN, and posting them where you can easily see/find them from your writing desk. Work on one nugget at a time.

Tip for writers who have no time: create a starter outline and work on one nugget at a time. Click To Tweet

7. Write the end first.

The end informs the beginning. Starting at the end means you have a goal to aim for. I have a writing colleague who prefers to operate this way. Suitable for pantsers and planners alike.

8. Use word count goals and writing sprints.

These are great ways to stay motivated and accountable to yourself. In a word count goal, you write until you hit your minimum number of words. In a sprint, you pre-determine the amount of time (15, 20, 30 minutes) and write as much as you can during this window. Great for travelers.

9. Ask yourself the Four Big Questions

  • What is my book about?
  • Who am I talking to?
  • Why do they want to read this book?
  • Why am I writing this book?

If you’re feeling stuck, and/or you have limited time to produce new material, you can use interstitial time, say between meetings or appointments, to reflect on the four questions every manuscript must answer. Take notes on what you think is missing or you could build on.

Write Your Book in 2018: 12 Tips for #Writers Who Have No Time Click To Tweet

10. Don’t write and edit at the same time.

This is a great way to disappear down the rabbit hole. Set aside editing and revision for a different batch of time (see # 5 above). For some of you, turning off the critical voice will be hard, and this exercise is ESPECIALLY important for you.

11. Schedule your writing time—and make it a priority.

Make an appointment with yourself, just as you would with the doctor or a business colleague. Keep it. Block out your writing schedule before you add your other commitments. Choose writing first, and keep that commitment.

12. Say no to social events.

This one can be hard, and you don’t have to say no to everything, but it’s necessary and a tool employed by many famous and successful artists. If you’ve made a writing commitment—it’s in your schedule, you have a word count goal or a sprint date—and going out for a drink with friends will interfere with that commitment, you need to say no to your friends. And you know when the socializing interferes with your writing—don’t lie to me and say you’ve never used this as an easy way to procrastinate and put the blame for not writing on someone else!

The bottom line

We all have more time to write than we think. Plenty of authors before us have done more with less. Waiting for (or attempting to arrange) the perfect writing scenario is an exercise in masterful procrastination. Use these twelve tips in 2018 and you, too, can finish that book you’ve been talking about for the last X years. No excuses.

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Write the jagged edge - overcome writers block

Write to the Jagged Edge: a Tip for Breaking Writer’s Block

Write to the Jagged Edge: a Tip for Breaking Writer’s Block

For the purposes of this post, I’m not going to get into the discussion about whether writer’s block is real or not (Google “myth of writer’s block” and you’ll have plenty of results). In the ways that matter, whether it’s “real” or not doesn’t matter.

Write the jagged edge - overcome writer's block

Staring at a blank page can make you an anxious wreck. Fret not, you can overcome it! Image courtesy of Big Stock. Some rights reserved.

We can all agree that writers sometimes get stuck. Sometimes we get stuck because we’re burned out or lack perspective. Sometimes we get stuck because we put ourselves in a corner. Reliably, we are our own worst enemies, often playing ostrich with our manuscript because we don’t want to deal with some thorny issue (which might have something to do with the manuscript, OR with our relationship to the manuscript).

This second kind of writer’s block (putting ourselves in a corner/playing ostrich) is entirely self-constructed and you can make this problem disappear, every time. My advice on how to do this doesn’t rely on (y)our ability to make a clear choice in the moment—because you probably won’t want to. Instead, we are going to learn how to outsmart ourselves.

Set yourself up for success—by cheating

Now before you think I recommend nefarious/ethically dubious/illegal activity, ask yourself this: What’s the number one problem we experience when we sit down to write?

Answer: we don’t know what to write about.

Of course this isn’t true, not really. We do know what to write about—sort of. What’s more true is we can’t figure out where to get started…where to grab hold of the thoughts and how to line them up in a row.

Sitting in front of an empty page, we easily think ourselves into a state of paralyzed anxiety.

So how do we overcome this problem? Easy. We cheat.

Can you cheat yourself our of writer's block? Yes you can! Here's how Click To Tweet

The easiest way to cheat yourself out of writer’s block is to leave an unfinished thought for you to deal with later. Don’t finish the chapter. Don’t finish the paragraph. Hell—don’t even finish the sentence.

When you finish writing for the day, make sure to NOT wrap up your loose ends. Leave them dangling in the breeze.

The jagged edge

Are you annoyed even thinking about doing this? GREAT. Perfect! That is exactly what we want. Your fingers are veritably twitching to finish that sentence/thought/chapter, to put a nice bow on it. Seeing it dangling there, unfinished, provides you with endless frustration and…guess what? The desire to continue writing.

I call this leaving the jagged edge. You are purposefully leaving the writing unfinished, broken-looking—in need of repair. The magic is that by definition, you create the situation wherein you not only want to keep writing…you know what you want to keep writing about.

How to use the jagged edge - and why it will help to overcome writer's block Click To Tweet

Try it a few times this week. Come back here and tell me how easy (or not, though I doubt this) it was for you to pick up where you left off and keep going.

If you really need to finish that thought, fine: keep going. Continue long enough to create another jagged edge.

You don’t have to make any decisions in the moment or the writing session. Ahead of time, before you write one word, you decide this is how you’re going to operate while writing the rest of the manuscript. You will finish every day (except for the day right before you send your editor your draft) on the jagged edge. You will leave every day’s writing unfinished.

Then, while writing, you don’t need to think about choices at all. Are you frustrated because you wish to keep writing? Brilliant! Come over here and tell me so in the comments, or ping me on Twitter or LinkedIn. I will shower you with high-fives.

The Bottom Line

Much of the time, writer’s block is a condition we give ourselves, and we usually use it as an avoidance strategy (it’s REALLY effective). One of the easiest ways to sidestep your own self-sabotage is to adopt the strategy of writing to the jagged edge. Try it. Trust me, human beings were not designed to be ostriches. We lack the requisite feathers.

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Subscribe to the monthly newsletter and get all future blog posts delivered to your inbox. You’ll also receive instant access to the How to Find an Editor: a Resource for Independent and Self-Publishing Writers:

  • Learn what to look for in an editor & what questions to ask
  • Determine what kind of help you need & how the process works
  • Get tips on where to find the editor that’s right for you

Sign up today!

== ==

Give the Gift of a First Draft

Give Yourself the Gift of a First Draft

Give Yourself the Gift of a First Draft

As writers, we talk a good game with our quotes on creativity.

We bandy the coolest-sounding advice phrases from successful authors and pretend we totally agree with them.

Unfortunately, this is almost always lip service. We agree with these successful authors…when it comes to anyone else’s manuscript. When it comes to our own manuscript, though…well, we’re just special, aren’t we?

One of my favorites is from Terry Pratchett, and it’s about the first draft.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

Give the Gift of a First Draft

Your first draft does not have to be perfect. Keep pushing through it to get to the next phase, making it better. Image courtesy of Big Stock. Some rights reserved.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? I’m sure if you were having coffee with a writer friend right now, you’d thoroughly enjoy telling them this and nodding sagely. Continue reading

Wrestling an incomplete manuscript book coaching

Wrestling the Incomplete Manuscript: Book Coaching

Wrestling the Incomplete Manuscript: Book Coaching

“I’ve started writing a book, and I can’t figure out how to finish it.”

“I think I have an outline, but how do I go about writing a complete book?”

“Can anyone help me while I’m in the process of writing my book?”

Editing is great and all, but until you have a complete manuscript—a full story with a beginning, middle, and end—professional editing is of limited value to you. While you’re actively writing, other types of feedback pack a bigger punch, which is why some writers turn to coaches in their book creation process.

Wrestling an incomplete manuscript book coaching

A book coach can help you during the writing process. Image courtesy of Big Stock. Some rights reserved.

Do any of the above scenarios sound like you? I’ve coached authors who’ve gotten deep into manuscripts and lost the thread, writers who want actionable feedback on how to make their story better, and would-be authors who seek accountability and ongoing support. All that being said, coaching is not for everyone—and now may not be the time you want or need it.

Book Coaching: The Basics

Most writers turn to coaches for a combination of accountability (that manuscript you started ages ago and never finished), and ongoing feedback (comments/revisions to make your work better as you’re writing it). Some level of cheerleading is also included, because every writer can use someone who supports their work.

All good coaching involves outline development. This means creating a structure you’ll use to guide you as you write. Your coach may work with you to create an outline, or if you already have one, review it to help you stay on task and on target. Don’t like outlines? We can guide you through using mind maps or other techniques that capture the big picture.

Coaching by definition is book development. We’re asking the same big questions the developmental edit asks, only we’re asking them over and over again.

  • What is your concept?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What is the overall structure and how can you develop your ideas?
A book coach will help you fine tune your concept, audience, and book structure. Click To Tweet

If you’ve read my blog post from last month, these questions might sound suspiciously like the Big Four Questions everyone should ask their manuscript.

In addition, coaching pays close attention to:

  • Your writing strengths and weaknesses
  • Strategies you can use to help you meet your writing goals

Depending on your needs (and payment choices), coaching can be very “high-touch.” You might be speaking with your coach or sharing revisions back and forth on an intensive basis. Or, you can decide on a less-intensive schedule of feedback, on a spectrum that suits you.

Coaching is a flexible arrangement. It’s also a great way to build accountability into your writing process and ensure you meet your deadlines, whether self-imposed or external. However, it is not for everyone, all the time.

Coaching is a great way to build accountability into your writing process and help you meet deadlines. Click To Tweet

When Book Coaching is NOT for You

Fiction authors, in particular, can go through a long process of story discovery. If you are playing with a variety of ideas and characters, and a big story arc or character hasn’t solidified for you as the central figure, coaching may be premature.

Alternatively, if you want to hone your craft and tinker with a variety of ideas big and small, coaching may also not be appropriate. In these cases, I recommend taking writer’s workshops, and/or attending writer’s groups in the genre of your interest.

And finally, if you want help writing your book, and what you mean by that is “can someone else write this for me?” the answer is yes. This person is a ghostwriter, not a coach.

When Workshops and Writer’s Groups May Be Helpful Instead

Nonfiction writers can also benefit from classes and writer’s groups. You can connect with like-minded writers who share personal experiences and best practices. And you can find workshops on book proposals and building your platform, all of which helps your book.

You can find literary hubs in many cities. In Denver, we have Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop; Minneapolis has The Loft; Boston has Grub Street; Seattle Hugo House; you get the idea. The Loft has a listing of literary organizations, as does Writer’s Market. Find a group that works for you, and work on your craft in a supportive environment.

In my experience, most of these hubs focus on traditional publication, and some may be more open to the idea of self-publishing than others. However, they have excellent instructors and you can learn a LOT about the craft of writing, as well as find a community of like-minded people.

The Bottom Line: What a Coach Can and Cannot Do

Know this: your coach will not write your book for you. If you begin work with someone as a coach, and your arrangement morphs to where they are doing the writing, instead of you, what you now have is a ghostwriter.

A book coach can be a great resource for you as you tackle a manuscript that doesn’t want to get done. Consider what you want from your coach: accountability, craft tips, help with the outline, and so on. Interview your coach just as you would your editor.

Coaches can’t make you do what you don’t want to do. We can give you lots of great advice about the writing and revision process. We can give you great feedback on your ideas, your arc, your characters and style. We’re a great source of tips on how to break through writer’s block. But we can’t make you write your book. You still need to put in the work.

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Subscribe to the monthly newsletter and get all future blog posts delivered to your inbox. You’ll also receive instant access to the How to Find an Editor: a Resource for Independent and Self-Publishing Writers:

  • Learn what to look for in an editor & what questions to ask
  • Determine what kind of help you need & how the process works
  • Get tips on where to find the editor that’s right for you

Sign up today!

== ==

Writing a Good Synopsis

Writing A Good Synopsis

Writing a Good Synopsis

Every writer’s fantasy: an opportunity to write a soulless summary of the book whose intricate nuances you’ve slaved over [insert number of months/years], glossing over all the twists and turns, and giving away your carefully crafted ending. Yes. What’s not to love?

Writing a Good Synopsis

Creating a synopsis doesn’t have to be a soulless exercise. CC image “writing” courtesy of Paul Sableman on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

This is how most writers feel about the synopsis. Unfortunately, they’re wrong on a couple of fronts. For one, it should definitely not be soulless—although you will be much more straightforward in your synopsis style than in your book.

For another, they’re wrong when they assume the synopsis is pointless. Just read the book. Aha, but the synopsis is not for the reader who’ll find your title at the local bookstore.

The synopsis is for the people who will help you get your book to the local bookstore—if you do it right.

So what is a synopsis, and why should you care about creating a good one? Continue reading

What to do with your neglected manuscript

What to Do with Your Neglected Book Manuscript

What to Do with Your Neglected Book Manuscript

Remember when you were fired up by your new book idea? You were excited by the possibilities, and filled with ideas. You made tons of notes, perhaps sketched out an outline or started the first chapter… Remember those days?

What to do with your neglected manuscript

Is reviving an abandoned manuscript worth the work?  Image courtesy of Big Stock. Some rights reserved.

Now, you have a manuscript you’ve avoided or forgotten about for weeks or months…maybe years. Continue reading

Young Woman Writes To Black Diary

The Four Questions to Ask Your Nonfiction Book (They’re Good For Fiction, Too)

The Four Questions to Ask Your Nonfiction Book
(They’re Good For Fiction, Too)

Many first-time authors come to me with a book idea or a book started, and they’re not sure how to proceed. The question they often ask first is, “How should I tell this story? What’s the best way to tell this story?” Continue reading