Tag Archives: writing tips

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.

== ==

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!

== ==

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.

== ==

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

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

colorful picture of boardwalk storefronts with sign saying fun zone

Have Fun While Writing Your Book—You’ll Be More Successful

Have Fun While Writing Your Book–You’ll Be More Successful

colorful picture of boardwalk storefronts with sign saying fun zone

Not what everyone thinks about while writing their book. CC image “fun zone” courtesy of Sandy Schultz on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Some folks consider writing a book a chore. After working on the manuscript for several months (or years), unfortunately, it can start to feel this way, including for those of us who begin with enthusiasm. You may wonder if all you’ve got is one long, dreary task list to plow through.

Finishing a book definitely takes work, no doubt about it. But if we’re going to spend so much time on this project, I want to make sure the process isn’t unrelieved misery. Let’s explore a few ways we can keep the fun in our writing process.

Find reasons to celebrate

Sounds obvious, right? How often do you do that, though? My bet: you’re waiting to celebrate until you’re “finished.”

Wrong idea.

What does “finished” mean? When you finish writing the first draft? When you finish revising? Going through the book with your editor? When the book is published?

Pick smaller milestones. Much smaller. Smaller still.

Celebrate when you complete your daily writing goal. Celebrate when you nailed that character description. Celebrate when you develop your outline. Celebrate choosing a title (even a working title). Celebrate when you wrote something—anything—no matter how awful, on a day when you wanted to write nothing at all.

Your celebrations can take many forms. A happy dance around your house. Dinner with friends. A Netflix mini-binge. A coloring book (children not required).

You spend a lot of time acting as your own worst critic. Time to be your number one fan, as well.

Treat writing as playtime

If you’ve seen my other posts, some of these suggestions should ring familiar. Some people write best when they sit down at a clean desk with their laptop in front of them—all business. After a few months/years, though…

Even if this comfortable writer is you, I encourage you to experiment.

  1. Write by hand.
  2. Use a “nonstandard” writing tool: pencil (graphite or colored), crayon, marker, fancy ink, the list goes on.
  3. Buy a roll of butcher paper, spread it out and tape it down to a surface, and write all over this, in the tool of your choosing. You can tape it to a wall, wrap your kitchen table with it, or if you have a hardwood floor, tape it on the floor so you can walk all over it. If you’re going to use a marker or pen that may saturate through, tape down several layers. Butcher paper is super affordable (your gorgeous floor or table, perhaps not so much).
  4. Every so often, write in a different location. I know I encourage you to make daily writing a habit as much as possible, and a predictable routine is part of that. Sometimes, though, you need to change it up. Even if the change is as small as another room in your house.
  5. Like hats? Get a couple of fun ones: your writing hat, your thinking cap, your editorial hat. Switch it up while you work.

Schedule writing “vacations”

All of us need a break from work now and then. That’s why there are weekends, and vacations (I personally know quite a few people who bring their work with them into these timeframes, which defeats the purpose, by the way). Set up writing holidays the same way (and treat them better than my workaholic friends).

Are you great at writing in sprints? Stretches of time where you do nothing else? Schedule a sprint, followed by some time off where you are not allowed to write.

Do you excel at the slow and steady? A little bit of the book at a time, all routine? Pick a predictable interval to schedule a non-writing interlude. Is it once a month? Every other month? Maybe you only need a few days to recharge, or a whole week or two sounds good.

Whatever method you choose, schedule the time off—and the time back on. That way, you can holiday guilt-free, because you know you are doing the work. And you can work knowing that your next break is just around the corner.

The bottom line

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Find ways to insert fun into the writing process, take breaks, and above all, celebrate every step you take. The road can be long. Let’s enjoy the trip.

== ==

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!

== ==

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

The End Makes the Best Beginning

The End Makes the Best Beginning

boy crossing race finish line with his arms in the air to celebrate

The End! CC image “Mike to Mike Half Marathon” courtesy of Fort Bragg on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Most of your readers will start reading your book at the beginning. That doesn’t mean you should start writing there.

The beginnings of books are notoriously tough to pin down. So much rides on those first pages, even the first sentences. Continue reading