Category Archives: writing

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

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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

graffiti-style picture of Wile E. Coyote holding a question mark sign

How Long Should My Book Be?

How Long Should My Book Be?

graffiti-style picture of Wile E. Coyote holding a question mark sign

Can you help me with my book? CC image “questions” courtesy of Daniel Novta on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Ah, the twenty million dollar question. Everyone has an opinion. Perhaps you’ve seen what someone else called a “book” that you thought fell short of that title—so short, in fact, “pamphlet” might have been a better term. I’ve had clients roll their eyes at such publications (and in all fairness, I sometimes have, as well). Perhaps you are a goal-oriented writer, and a firm target tickles your fancy. And perhaps you’re a reader who is simply curious. How long should books be?

Write what needs to be written

The true answer, and the annoying one, is that books should be as long as they need to be. Sorry, objective rule-based folks.

With certain exceptions, figuring out how many words you want to write before you write them puts the cart before the horse. A more constructive approach is to ask yourself what the story needs. Continue reading

yellow background with a line drawing of a person inside a huge T shirt that reads "potential"

Move Beyond “Potential”: Make Your Indie Book Shine

Move Beyond “Potential”: Make Your Indie Book Shine

yellow background with a line drawing of a person inside a huge T shirt that reads "potential"

Does your book have a shape or only potential? CC image “potential” courtesy of yukky.u on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I wince a little inside when I hear someone describe a self-published book as having “potential.” At the same time, I feel a small piece of acknowledgment—because not every author sticks with the project through the final, frustrating revisions that would make the book truly excellent.

In my work, I’m privileged to read a lot of books. Design elements aside, the one element that bugs me about many indie books is the short shrift given to the editorial process. If you’re a reader of this blog, you’ll have heard me say this before: EVERY good author works with an editor; no one comes out of the gate with a first draft that is as beautiful as what you see in the finished work. If [insert name of your favorite author] needs to go through revisions and editing, don’t you think you should give it a try?

EVERY good author works with an editor; no one writes a first draft that is as beautiful as what you see in the finished work. Click To Tweet

When you self-publish, you get to call the shots. That’s both the blessing and the curse of the model. I love that authors get creative control with independent publishing. Unfortunately, some authors use this control to veto work that would be good for their book. So, how do you know when your book might need more work? Below are a few clues.

Clues your book needs more editorial work

1. Have you finished writing your manuscript, and then gone back and re-read the whole thing, from beginning to end?

You haven’t? What are you waiting for?

I promise you, your story has logical gaps, discontinuities, and/or repetitions. If you haven’t re-read your entire manuscript, you are making a huge mistake, period.

2. Do you have title/subtitle ideas?

While you’re working on a first draft, it’s perfectly natural to have only a working title for your book—you might call it “My book.” You’re figuring things out. However, beyond the first draft, you should be getting other ideas. If you don’t, this is a sign you probably need to work more on your manuscript. Writing and revising will provide ideas.

3. Have you read your last chapter as often as your first?

Writers have a tendency to spend a lot of time with Chapter One. And the beginning of your book is important. But, newsflash: so is the end of your book. The end is what your readers will remember—assuming they read all the way through. If you haven’t paid attention to the end of your book, you’re not ready to publish.

4. Have you read your “middle” more than once?

Some of you are now thinking, “OK, this now makes EVERY part of the book an ‘important part.’” Yes, yes it does. Did you see #1 above?

Those readers who get to the end? They have to make it through the middle of the book. The reason I call out the middle by name is that writers give it even less attention than book endings, and by far less than beginnings. For this reason, it’s earned the name “muddy middle” in the writing world. Your book can get flabby around the middle—just like we can. Have you spent time working it out?

5. Did you make any big changes in your story/topic while writing was in progress?

I guarantee you will want a complete re-read of your manuscript, if you have. Skip this step, and you’ll hand your editor—or, so help us, your designer—a hot mess.

6. Are you clear on your audience?

If you can’t picture one specific person (not your mother) reading your book, stop and take a minute. You should not—I repeat should NOT—publish without this knowledge.

7. Are you sick of reading your manuscript, or only sick of writing it?

I get it. First drafts are hard. Most of us don’t want to look at the darn thing anymore, after we finish what we think is “The End.” That’s not the same as reading your manuscript a lot. By this I mean, you’ve taken a break after you reached The End; you’ve read either a hard copy or you’ve refrained from beginning to edit as you read; and you’ve done #1 more than once.

Being done writing is not the same as being done revising. You better be sick of revising before you publish.

8. Your editor hesitates AT ALL when you ask whether your book is ready for the next phase.

MAJOR red flag.

9. Your designer asks you, “Has this been edited?”

See number 8.

10. The people who read your manuscript say, “It’s promising.”

Ugh! This is like saying something is “interesting.” It means it’s not finished and they don’t know how to tell you.

The bottom line

If you at all wonder whether your book needs additional work, chances are yes, it does. Even after many revisions. This is your opportunity to ask an expert for their assessment.

Be careful to not let your enthusiasm and impatience for getting the wretched project out of your hair lead you to pull the plug too early on writing and editing. I love seeing manuscripts with potential. But published books should achieve that potential. Get out of the B leagues—do the work.

== ==

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!

== ==

Why Word Count is One of the Best Tools in Your Writing Toolbox

Why Word Count is One of the Best Tools in Your Writing Toolbox

woman in exercise clothing doing a pushup

Word count–the workout your book needs. CC image “62” courtesy of Fit Approach on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Writing is a lot like exercise. Most of us like the end result more than the process of getting there.

We like being strong, healthy, feeling good about our weight. We don’t like going for a run, or taking the time to go to the gym, or changing how we eat.

Likewise, we like holding the book we wrote in our hands, the feeling of accomplishment, the glow of success and recognition. We dislike editing, revision, and sitting down to write when we absolutely, 100%, do not feel inspired to do so. In fact, more writers clean their bathrooms as a way to avoid writing than you could ever imagine.

The fact is, though, that we need to write, in order to have written. The best way to do this is through regular writing practice, and one of the best ways to adopt a regular writing practice is to set word count goals. Continue reading

boy wearing goggles and cape like a superhero costume

Be True to Your Book All the Way Through

Be True to Your Book All the Way Through

boy wearing goggles and cape like a superhero costume

Great things can happen when you own your narrative voice. CC image “consumer confidence!” courtesy of Chris & Karen Highland on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

“One day you’ll see,” he said with a wink. “And remember. Always have everything you say exquisitely annotated, and, where possible, provide staggering Visual Aids, because, trust me, there will always be some clown sitting in the back—somewhere by the radiator—who will raise his fat, flipperlike hand and complain, ‘No, no, you’ve got it all wrong.’”

This is how we meet Marisha Pessl’s unusual and wonderful narrator, Blue van Meer, and Blue’s father, in Special Topics in Calamity Physics. The instant we begin, we are caught up in her voice, her way of thinking, and the rhythm of her story. Whether she appeals to you immediately, the way she did me, or not, you can’t mistake her for anyone else.

Blue is different from the stereotypical teenage girl in so many ways that the only way to tell her story is to absolutely, 100 percent own her way of seeing. This is also what you must do for any book that you write, whatever the genre and whatever the perspective.

You need to own the voice, the tone, and Continue reading

closeup of outline or mind map diagram

Creating a Book Outline—a Flexible Structure that Works for You

Creating a Book Outline—a Flexible Structure that Works for You

closeup of outline or mind map diagram

CC image “mind map” courtesy of madstreetz on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Little divides writers as much as whether they should write a book outline or not. These two big categories are the pantsers, and the planners.

The planners, as you might expect, begin with a plan. They decide what they are going to write about, in what order the story should unfold, the main points they want to hit, and they typically create a detailed outline. Then, they write according to this plan.

Pantsers discover the story and the book as they go. Though they typically start out with an idea of what they want—the beginning and ending are common anchors—they don’t know, as they begin, how they’re going to get to the end. They “fly by the seat of their pants.”

Planners think of pantsers as disorganized and chaotic, and pantsers think of planners as rigid and unimaginative. Both these assessments are true and false in equal measure. Continue reading

The Money Issue: Creating a Book Budget

The Money Issue: Creating a Book Budget

Scrabble word BUDGET is a key for indie book publishing

Key to any book publishing, indie or otherwise. CC image “Budget” courtesy of airpix on Flickr and stubblepatrol.com. Some rights reserved.

Books don’t come free. In addition to your blood, sweat, and tears (am I being melodramatic?), you need to have a plan in place to conquer the hard financial costs that are part and parcel of publishing. Like any other business, your book has operating expenses, and it deserves a budget. Continue reading