Category Archives: General Writing

Writing Career: Unvarnished

writing career myths

One of my favorite lines about writing comes from the lips of the sleazy American entertainment lawyer in Bertolucci’s bohemian film Stealing Beauty. Upon meeting the daughter of a famous poet, the lawyer muses, “I think it would be great to just sit around all day and…express yourself.” Well, so do a lot of writers, but, as you’ll see, that’s not exactly what being a writer is all about.

Grand misconception #1: writing is an easy career

If you think that culling original, well-turned and beautiful phrases from the recesses of your imagination, mining the depths of your failed relationships, your childhood traumas, your life’s tragedies and triumphs while staring out the window on a dreary Tuesday is easy, try another career. Writing is hard. It’s so hard that writers go to great lengths to trick and train themselves into writing. They develop habits that they enslave themselves to in order to force themselves to carve out time in their day to write.

Most professional writers set a daily schedule and heed it meticulously. Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, Haruki Murakami all woke up at the same time every day and went through the same writing rituals every day, without fail. Many writers set quotas for themselves and don’t do anything else but write until their quota has been met: Norman Mailer, William Golding and Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 3,000 words a day, Stephen King writes 2,000 and Thomas Wolfe wrote 1,800. They practice extreme anti-procrastination methods in order to keep themselves writing. In order to meet a deadline for the delivery of his book The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo locked up his clothes to make sure he didn’t leave the house until he had finished his day’s quota.

Even fictionalized versions of writers tend to be tortured. Have you ever seen Michael Douglas in such a pathetic role as when he plays the writer and teacher Grady Tripp in the film Wonder Boys? As the pages of his manuscript pile up, but no closer to finishing his book, he clings to his habit of donning a beat-up old bath robe as part of his writing process.

Or, taking things to the extreme, what about Jack Nicholson’s psychopathic character Jack Torrance in The Shining who became the caretaker of an isolated hotel for the winter so he can have time to work on his writing. As time passes, the situation deteriorates until his wife discovers that for months he’s been typing the same creepy line over and over again, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. In the end he attempts to murder his wife and son with an axe. Just sayin’.

Grand Misconception #2: if I become a writer, I’ll have many friends and will be famous

What about book tours, giving book readings and book signings? Winning awards and prizes? Becoming the “voice of your generation”? Those moments come to few writers if they come at all. Many writers insist that in order to be successful, you have to derive your sense of success from the process itself. It can’t be because of recognition, fame or money. And if that’s what you’re looking for, find another profession. Also, writing is a mainly solitary career, with most of it spent in moments of well-defended isolation, rattling your brain for some coherent thoughts and then getting it on the page before you become interrupted by life’s distractions.

Grand Misconception #3: if I become a writer, I’ll be rich

Writing and job satisfaction don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. If it did, there wouldn’t be so many alcoholic, drug addicted, suicidal writers (see Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful TED speech Your Elusive Creative Genius). And part of that is because writing is an art, but, because we live in a world where artists must sell and commercialize their art in order to eat, it is also a profession. Many writers live with relatively unstable financial situations.

Unless you’ve written a best-seller that’s turned into a blockbuster movie like Stephen King, Dan Brown, John Grisham, J.K. Rowling or Elizabeth Gilbert, then it’s best you get prepared for a bit of a roller-coaster ride in terms of finances. If you manage to get a book contract, you’ll likely get an advance. That advance may be small or generous. Afterwards, you’ll get royalties from the sales, assuming it sells. And when that money begins to dwindle after the initial release, then you’re left wading in shallow water until your next book.

Depending on writing for money is a Catch-22. It’s what most writers dream of, quitting their day job and writing for a living. But, at the same time, it can lead to incredible financial instability that many writers struggle to manage. In fact, there are few published writers who only write books. Most writers have other gigs too, such as teaching writing workshops, freelance writing for magazines and journals or editing other people’s writing. Check out this link on writer’s earnings in the UK and the US to get an idea of the average writer’s salary.

Grand Misconception #4: if I become a writer, people will love my work

Many writers and artists in general are drawn to the creative arts because of their sensitivity. This is the irony of signing up for a career that depends on you exposing your deepest thoughts and feelings and offering it to the world. Many writers have heart-wrenching stories to tell about sending out their work for years and years before they ever got a “Yes.” Some of them save their rejection slips the way that some people save love letters from past relationships. If you can’t handle having your work rejected (and it will be rejected, no matter how good it is, because you won’t be everyone’s cup of tea), then you’ll have a very difficult time being successful as a writer.

Most published writers have had to summon brutal amounts of self-confidence and courage in order to keep knocking on doors to see if someone would accept their work. And that’s before you’re even published. Then, once published, there are the critics. Who may love you or hate you. Or both. While rejection slips are whispered “No”’s, privately addressed to you, a review puts your work and you on public display for dissection. And people read it. For fun. Kurt Vonnegut had this to say about literary critics: “I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or a play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.”

So, am I saying you should hang up your dreams of becoming a writer? No, I’m saying that writing is hard work and will likely fill you with moments of dread, despair and self-doubt. But, though the legions of writers out there share these same struggles in the pursuit of their art, they also share something else: the immense gratification of self-expression and creation.

How To Become a Successful Writer

how to become a successful writer

How many people out there dream of becoming successful writers? How many of those people actually achieve that dream? And what separates one group from the other?

There are many elements to becoming a successful writer. And talent, as Stephen King notably commented, “is cheaper than table salt”. That’s because writing isn’t just an art, it’s also a business, and there are practical sides to the craft that can’t be ignored if one is to become successful at it.

Get Away From TV and the Internet

Television has been proven by science to deaden the brain’s activities. Which is the opposite of what you want when you’re creating something. Not only that, but it sucks up hours of your time that you can’t get back. Stephen King recommends blowing it up. Or you could just unplug it.

Same goes with the internet. The time, energy and brain activity that it sucks is just as insidious as the television, if not more so. Avoid it. Many a professional writer have gone so far as to either disconnect it completely or use two different computers: one for surfing the Web and one for writing. Eliminating these productivity suckers will free up light-years of time that you can now use for writing.

Be Able To See Things Through (To the Bitter End)

Now that you’ve got your time management under control by abolishing TV and internet, you can work on your writing. But, if after day two of writing you find yourself bored, stuck, desperate or suicidal (which any writer will assure you is completely normal), you have two choices: plow ahead or give up. Writing is hard. It’s very hard. Many a menacing phrase have been written by writers describing exactly how hard it is. Take this lovely nugget from Anne Lamott: “My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.”

Marathon runners talk about hitting the wall – when all of the sudden their muscles seize up and feel like each leg weighs a hundred pounds of solid concrete. Writing can feel like that. And there’s nothing to be done except for drag those 200 pounds of legs across the finish line. That’s what makes the difference between someone who’s successful and someone who’s given up because it got too hard.

Get Familiar With Your Craft

If you’re a writer, chances are you’re also a reader. The two usually go together. And in fact, some of the best advice that almost any writer will give you is that in order to write, you must also read. A lot. Read other writers. Study them. Find comfort, passion and inspiration in their words. Read good writing, read bad writing too. Bad writing can show you where the holes are so you can avoid falling into them. It can show you what awkward phrasing, obvious plot twists and one-dimensional characters look like.

If you don’t already have a circle of writer friends, join a writer’s group, virtual or face-to-face. Take a writing course. Get the opinion of other writers. Read other people’s work-in-progress. Give and get advice. Become versed on how to talk about writing, how to receive feedback and how to make meaningful changes in your work. The more investment you make in your writing life, the richer your return.

Have Courage

A successful writer is also one who is courageous. Imagine how much courage it took for Elizabeth Gilbert to bare her soul and talk about her messy divorce and subsequent depression in her autobiography Eat Pray Love. Would the book have been so wildly successful if she had glossed over her personal demons and instead just focused on the wonderful pasta in Rome? Writing takes an incredible amount of courage in order to overcome the voice not only of the internal critic, but the fear of the external ones.

What if they don’t like it? What if they think I’m stupid, sick, perverted, pathetic? If every writer listened to that voice, there would be exactly zero books published in this world. A successful writer is brave enough to confront those voices and tell them to shut up. They get busy with creating and expressing themselves as freely as they can and don’t give themselves time to dwell on fears and doubts.

Publishing and Self-Publishing

Better add patience to stamina and courage for qualities that make a successful writer. The publishing world can be brutal and the haul from “The End” to hitting the bookstores can be a long path. It can take years and piles of rejection letters before someone decides your book is worth publishing. These days, the publishing world is going through a revolution thanks to the popularity of online reading. Many writers are taking publishing into their own hands. Self-publishing is a respectable and sometimes even more profitable way of going about publishing your work. An interesting article by Forbes Magazine contributor Brett Arends tells the tale from both sides of the publishing coin.

Define Success

As your writing career develops, at some point you’ll face the question: what does it mean to become a successful writer? Maybe you want to write a best-seller. Maybe you just want to be published by anyone, anywhere. Maybe you want to be able to quit your day job and live off of your writing. Maybe you want to win accolades and literary prizes and the approval of your peers. In the end, success is really self-defined.

For more writerly advice, here’s a short-list of great books about writing:

On Writing by Stephen King
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

Keep writing, keep dreaming, and best of luck in whatever goal you’ve set for your writing life.

Feeling Frustrated And Out Of Ideas? 5 Tips To Keep Writing

how to keep writing

Every writer has writer’s block now and then. Some writers pass through seemingly interminable stretches of it. Writing is like surfing: some days you catch the waves, other days you miss them. Some days there are no waves at all, other days you can ride them all the way to shore. The point is that you have to still show up every day with your board. You never know which days you’re going to catch the waves and which days you’re going to miss them. That’s the beauty of it. You have to show up to find out.

Instead of giving up and packing in, try these 5 tips that will help you keep writing:

Be Bold

Sometimes (often) writers stifle their own creativity because they fear criticism or failure or that nobody else will “get it”. Penning yourself in is no way to keep yourself motivated. Spend some time digging up and mapping out some of the most outrageous ideas you’ve ever come up with. Look at Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated, with huge stretches of the book written in the broken English accent of a Ukrainian guide. Genius. Or Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” about an angel fallen to earth whose bodily functions and lice are anything but heavenly.

Let it loose. Swing from the rafters. There’s the saying, “Dance as if no one was watching.” Well, write as if no one was reading. Be as bold, offensive, weird, daring, perverted and crazy as you can be. See what comes out once you’ve let the subconscious off the chain. Remember this advice from Albert Einstein: “For an idea that does not first seem insane, there is no hope.”

Get Out Of the House

Sometimes, sitting around staring out your window until you come up with an idea is just the thing you need to do. Other times, it’s best to head outside a bit and see what the rest of the world is up to. Head to a coffee shop, bar or bookstore. Go to a museum. Sit in the park. Eavesdrop on people’s conversations. Take public transportation. Observe people. Take a taxi. Talk to the taxi driver.

Make it an exercise when you’re receptive to outside stimulation and you’re an observer in the midst of the action. Bring a notebook or laptop and write down the things that strike you. It could be an interesting conversation you overheard. Or sensory stimulation such as crunching leaves, the biting cold air, the smell of roses in bloom. Choose a person and observe them physically. The way they’re dressed, the way they move, their age. Try to imagine who they are based on what you see. Use these experiences to prompt an idea.

Mold Your Environment To Induce Creativity

Though sojourns to the outside world can help spark lagging creativity, most writing is done in the confines of your home. So dedicate some time for carving a creative nook of your own in your home. Whether you live alone or with twenty roommates, whether you’re single or married with children, finding a space to call your own, no matter how humble, is the least you can do for yourself as a writer.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s post-Eat, Pray, Love writing took place in her attic where she collected eclectic things such as a knight’s armor, and had a window overlooking a garden for inspiration. Jane Austen wrote on what has got to be one of the world’s tiniest desks. Mark Twain took breaks from writing by playing pool on his private pool table. Nigella Lawson’s wall-wall bookshelves house her personal library of thousands of books – all within arm’s reach for research and inspiration. Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw and E.B. White were partial to windows overlooking greenery.

Make a space that’s all yours. If you’re the type who likes to decorate and embellish things, fill it with inspiring pieces of art, handwritten poems pasted to the walls, books that you love. If you need blank space and peace and quiet, go the Zen minimalist way and un-clutter space for you to sit and fill the emptiness with your ideas.

Sign Up For Reinforcement

Make sure your ideas don’t dry up by giving yourself a constant injection of creativity. Get on the mailing list for interesting blogs, podcasts and websites to keep your mind stimulated. Sometimes you just can’t pull the weight of endless creativity all on your own. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out and seeing what other brilliant minds are sharing with the world. Hopefully it will jog something in you that you weren’t able to access on your own.

Write Down a Lot of Ideas

Don’t sit and agonize over the perfect idea. Don’t wait for the thunderbolt. Sometimes it doesn’t come. Sometimes, you need to make it rain. Try any of these exercises:

  • Write down 50 ideas for stories or articles. They don’t have to be perfect or brilliant. Just write them down. You’re already being creative by just thinking about them. Choose the one you like best and use the momentum to build on it.
  • Freewrite. Do a freewriting session when you set a timer for 20 minutes and write down everything that comes to mind without stopping, erasing or spell-checking. See what came out of it. You can go another step further and choose your favorite thought from your first freewriting session and use it to start another one. This is called looping. You can do it ad infinitum.
  • Make a spider diagram. Write your main idea in the center of a piece of paper and then write ideas that spin off. You can connect related ideas with a line and start expanding beyond the original ideas, continuing to connect related ones with a line, like a spider’s web. Having a visual map of your ideas can help you organize your thoughts enough to start writing.

7 Tricks To Make You a Faster Writer

how to become a faster writer

In case there were any doubts, we live in the age of instant gratification. Everyone wants everything right now. There are hundreds of blogs out there on time management with tips on being more productive, on squeezing more out of your day. So, it’s only natural that certain things notorious for taking a long time, such as writing, can be sped up, too.

This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, learning to become a faster writer means learning tricks to overcome writer’s block (oh, that pesky thing) and expressing yourself more efficiently. Whether you write blog posts for a living, or write novels or are working on your master’s thesis, learning to be a faster writer is a great skill to hone.

Here are some tips on how to write faster:

Do Your Research First

One of the things that will hamper your writing speed is trying to write while researching. Jumping between your text document and your research will lead to a lot of stops and starts in the writing process. It will make you to go off track and lose your momentum. Your writing will not only be slower, but will likely reflect this disjointed method. Instead, do your research first. While researching, you’re already beginning to assimilate your main points in your head. You can take a few notes while you’re researching, if necessary. If it’s a longer piece, notes will be helpful for sure. If you’re writing an article, you can write down the subheading ideas. By the time you’re done with your research, you should have a good idea of what you want to say and you can start writing.

Freewrite

Freewriting is when you write without stopping for a determined period of time. You can write whatever comes to mind, just don’t stop. This form of writing, especially if your research is fresh in your brain, can lead to fast and productive writing process. During freewriting, you don’t edit, pause, use the backspace or spell-check. Just get the ideas down. Afterwards, you can go back and clean up your ideas, use the spell-check and do your editing. But the important thing is to give yourself the chance to get the words out without being hampered by constant self-editing.

Stay Away from the Internet

Since you’re probably writing on a computer, it can be so tempting to start clicking around on dangerous sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Gmail. Don’t do it. A few innocent minutes of scrolling can turn into an hour or more of procrastination. Don’t cheat by using your phone or iPad to check either (I speak from experience). Think of it this way: if a runner is training to run a faster 400m race, he won’t get faster if he strolls off the track and starts chatting with his friends around the water fountain. Stick to the track and train. That’s the only way to get faster.

Set a Timer

Maybe you’re the type of person who responds to pressure. If so, give yourself a challenge by setting a timer and seeing if you can finish your article or chapter before it goes off. As the timer starts to run out, you may feel a rush of adrenaline kick in and suddenly the ideas start to click and your fingers start to fly. Even if you don’t finish in the time you set aside, you managed to get some words down and that’s better than you were doing before the exercise.

Setting a timer can also be a great way to focus on writing. Make a rule that while the timer is running, the only thing you can do is write. Even if you’re staring at a blank document for a good portion of the time, your mind is focused on the topic you’re writing about. It may not seem like it, but a lot of writing is actually just that – allowing the space to stare at a blank page and wait for the ideas to form. Without that space, the ideas will get lost in the distractions. The timer is a good boundary-setter for those who have problems setting limits on their own.

Use a Different Word Processor

For some writers, the standard MS Word doesn’t provide the flexibility they need to be efficient. With all the new thought organizers and word processing programs out there designed to give you the power to restructure your documents at will, why not try one? A little bit of reorganization may be what you need in order to become more efficient. Try Scrivener or Evernote. These programs can be especially helpful to novelists and those working on a master’s thesis or PhD.

Don’t Be a Perfectionist

If you want to write faster, you may need to loosen up a little. What I mean by that is that you may need to learn to let go of your idea of the perfect essay (or novel or thesis) and just write the essay you’re able to write with the skills you have right now. Some writers hem themselves in with perfectionism. Giving yourself the freedom to be imperfect will give you the courage to express yourself more freely and completely. And this means you’ll also write faster.

Handwrite

Want to be a faster writer? Stop writing on a computer and start handwriting. First, there’s no internet in your journal, so you won’t be tempted by that distraction. Second, there’s no backspace or spell-check, so you won’t spend your time erasing your thoughts or correcting your spelling. Most writers who handwrite find that they write more deliberately and thoughtfully. There are no typos. And hand-writing rarely leads to crossing out entire sentences or paragraphs the way that typing does. You may find that not only will your speed increase, but the quality of your writing will too. Give it a try.

Hope these tips get you writing faster. Happy writing!

For Those Writing Their First Novel

how to write a first novel

Wow! Is this really the year you’re going to sit down and finally write your first novel?
You’re all geared up, ready to rock ‘n roll, fingers poised over the keyboard waiting to channel your creative muse. There’s just one wee problem… how to actually transfer the best-seller in your head into a completed manuscript.

If this is your first attempt at novel writing, knowing how to turn your dream into reality can seem a daunting task. Well, fear not intrepid novelist. All you really need are a few fundamental steps to use as guideposts to keep motivation up, and moving in the right direction.

And this post is going to give you those steps. They’ll help to break down such an ambitious project so you’ll always know what your next step is going to be. But, be warned… once you’ve read this post, you’ll never be able to procrastinate with quite the same level of comfort. There will be no more excuses, so if you’re not really committed, maybe you should check your email. Or water the plants, or re-organize your desk again… Still here? Wonderful. Let’s begin.

Step 1 – Own Your Story

Sure, you know what your story’s about because it’s been rolling around in your head for years, but now it’s time to commit it to paper. Not the 1,000 page version, not yet. No, to make a strong start you need a condensed version that will encapsulate the core idea of your story in one sentence. That’s right, one sentence.

This is the essence of your story, its fundamental matter. And it’s around this central idea that all aspects of your novel will build upon – all the plot twists, character quirks, settings and moods will grow from this one sentence. Think of it as the ‘big bang’ of your novel – a point of singularity that contains every story element in potential form.

Keep it short, and make it as succinct and clear as possible – absolutely no frills at this point. If you’re stuck, read the “one-line blurbs on the New York Times bestseller list” for inspiration.

Step 2 – Own Your Writing Goals

This is your novel, so you get to set the rules. But, there’s a few questions you’ll want to ask to establish a clear plan for how and when you’re actually going to write. Once you’ve worked out the answers, put your steps into a calendar and stick to it. Here’s a few sample questions to consider:

  • How long will my novel be? What’s the final word count?
  • How many words can I write in a day? (check out this Lifehack post on calculating a daily word count).
  • Do I need ‘solitude’ to write? If so, when’s the best time to write without distraction?
  • What tools and resource materials will I need? Will I use a software program to organize my notes, and if so, which one?
  • Will I need an accountability buddy to stay on track?
  • Should I join a writers’ support group? And how much time will that take?
  • How am I going to deal with resistance when it comes up? (you know it will, might as well be prepared).

The clearer your goals are at the outset, the more likely you’ll be able to deal with obstacles in an efficient manner when they arise.

Step 3 – Brush Up on Fiction Basics

This being your first novel, you’ll want to spend some time in reacquainting yourself with the elements that go into creating compelling fiction: components such as voice, theme, character development, setting and dialogue. Read your favorite authors, or those successful in your genre, and study how they address and employ the basics of sound novel writing.

Step 4 – Sketch a Plot Outline

Now that you have your one sentence summation, it’s time to decide on the structure of your novel. Will your story follow the premises of a three act plot, or will it be more narrative in nature? This may change as you go along, but having a pre-established structure will guide your focus and keep inspiration strong.

Begin by jotting down some notes on post-its and arranging them on blank sheets of paper to describe the key events/crisis points for your main characters. Re-arrange as needed as your design takes shape, then move them through the story’s timeline to get an idea of how the plot will develop. This post by Victory Crayne has more details on sketching a plot outline.

Step 5 – Character Development and Writing Scenes

As an aspiring author, it’s helpful to have a good understanding of what motivates your characters before you begin writing scenes. One way to do this is to sit down and interview them. Determine their age, occupation, history etc. Next, determine their “core traits and values”. Create their personality ‘issues’ – what are their blind spots, fears, ambitions, strengths and weaknesses?

Once you’ve established a persona for your characters, you can begin the process of writing scenes. From your design notes, pick a character and event. Choose their particular attitude for this event and give him or her a problem, then write about how they would handle it. Include the basics of good story telling such as setting, emotional tone, dialogue etc to create well-rounded, enticing scenes.

Step 6 – Problem Solving

You’ll have days when resistance rears its ugly head. When you find that the words have dried up, the infamous ‘writers’ block’, just write anything that comes to mind. Yes, it will be drivel destined only for the garbage can, but at least you’ll be writing – which is infinitely better than giving into the inner critic’s formless fears and doubts.

And there you have it – the basics to successfully write your first novel. Now that you know what to do, there’s not really any excuse for not doing it, is there? So off you go, get to work, stay the course and celebrate when you’re finished.

Why Writers Start Blogging

why writers start blogging

There are over 200 million blogs on the internet. You could call blogging an explosion – everyone has one. Many writers have jumped on the bandwagon in recent years and fired up their own blogs. But why do people blog? What benefits does blogging offer? What’s the appeal?

Here are some reasons why writers blog:

To Build Your Platform With a Blog

Blogging is an undeniably great way to build your writing platform. In fact, it’s probably the greatest modern invention for writers. Before blogging, platform building consisted of getting out from behind the typewriter and hunting down speaking gigs. Now blogging has taken the place of the speaking gigs as the number one platform-building tool for writers.

The potential reach of a blog post vs. a traditional speaking gig is astronomically higher. The more readers you have, the more chance you have of catching the eye of a publisher. The larger your following, the greater sale potential when a book of yours is published. The question isn’t why, but why not?

To Make Blogging Friends

Blogging also helps connect you to other writers. The blogging community is ever-growing. Many writers value blogging for the input they get from readers and other writers. Without blogging, writers have to rely on friends, colleagues or writing workshops in order to get their work read and critiqued. Now they can get their work reviewed without having to even ask.

Because It’s the New Journaling

Writers used to journal. Carrying a pen and notebook with them everywhere to record thoughts, impressions and ideas. Now they blog. Though public and not private like a journal, blogging has become the daily practice of many writers. And though the personal secrecy of a hand-written journal has it’s own value, a newly published blog post looks and feels more official. Also, when writing in a journal, you know that the only reader is you.

While blogging, you know you’re writing for an audience which ups the ante and, for some writers, makes them write better, cleaner and tighter prose.Having an audience and knowing that people will be disappointed if you don’t publish a new blog post can also serve as a huge motivation. Devoted readers are like cryptonite for writer’s block.

Because Who Needs a Website When You Have a Blog?

A lot of writers forgo building a website and subsequent costs and upkeep in favor of a blog which they control and maintain. Keeping a blog is often cheaper than a website or even free. And instead of hiring someone to maintain it, you maintain it yourself. No muss, no fuss.

Because It’s All Yours

Blogging gives you full control. You write what you want. You publish when you want. There’s no editor. There are no niches that you fit into or don’t. There are no rejection letters. All the publishing rights belong to you. Blogging is you taking the reigns and getting your voice heard. For many writers, both professional and budding, this is a huge plus. It’s the dream of many writers – to enjoy full artistic freedom.

To Publish Something

A lot of newbie writers who long to be published choose to blog so that they can be part of the published writer community. It’s a great way to practice writing and get your work seen. It allows you to access an audience that used to be only for those who had published a book or article. Now anyone who wants to be published, can be.

For Professional Growth

Publishing a blog can lead to other opportunities whether it’s a book contract or a job as a writer for a magazine or for someone else’s blog. It’s a great way to get a foot in the door for those who want to earn a living writing. Few people make a good living from blogging alone. If people are making money from it, it’s usually supplemental income. Blogging can be more like your writer’s resume. When you’re hunting for writing jobs, including your blog address is a quick, easy way for people to see your writing.

To Learn a New Skill

Some writers use their blogs informally and without a specific intention or market. Others delve into the mechanics of SEO and conversions. For those who focus on the business of increasing their blog traffic, they’ve learned valuable marketing skills. They can apply those skills to their own work, or get hired to help other bloggers. Writers who become blogging experts are in high demand and often offer their expertise for a good price.

To Establish Expertise

If you claim to be an expert on something and you’ve written a blog about it, that’s usually enough for people to believe you. A blog is a way to showcase your knowledge and background in a certain area. Next time you claim to be an expert in Japanese tattoos or French cuisine and someone raises an eyebrow, just direct them to your blog.

To Increase Your Confidence

Blogging is different from traditional forms of published writing in the sense that it’s likely that your friends and family will have access to your blog first. Instead of an anonymous readership, your immediate circles are the ones you’re letting into your blogging world. This can be very intimidating and requires courage to put your thoughts and voice out there for others to criticize. It will force you to build your confidence.

To Stay Productive

Blogging is one of the few beneficial ways that a writer can spend time online. Spending time blogging will make you feel better and more productive than spending hours scrolling through your Facebook feed. Instead of reading what other people think, you’re developing your own ideas and opinions. Most people are online to consume the ideas of others. If you’re online to offer your ideas, you’re in the minority.

If you’ve been considering blogging, surely there’s something on this list that appeals to you. There are a lot of benefits to blogging whether it’s building your platform, giving yourself a daily writing practice or just for the pleasure of having finally published something. Whatever your motivation, blogging has a lot to offer to writers.

How To Write a Love Story To Avoid Vanilla Cliches

how to write a love story

Writing a love story that doesn’t smack of cliché is a lot harder than you might think. Ask any writer and they’ll tell you that love stories and love scenes are in fact very challenging to narrate. Many actors also express difficulty in nailing love scenes. They fear they’re being melodramatic and not genuine.

What is it about love stories that makes them so tricky to get right? The biggest factor is that love stories hinge on the intangible. It’s all about emotion and emotional build-up. And the inexplicable connections that make people fall in love. How do you capture that without sounding corny? Here are some tips on how to deliver the goods the right way:

Focus on the Characters

It’s easy to overdo the emotional narrative of a love story. But, in the end, that actually makes the reader less emotionally invested. As in any story, the characters have to have something that anchors them to this world. Who are they? What drives them? What makes the reader able to identify with them? When you develop characters who look, act and talk like real people then you have a chance at writing a good love story between them.

Where’s the Tension?

Who’s watched a film about a love story where there’s no sexual tension between the main characters? Isn’t it painful to watch? Doesn’t it make your skin crawl? Or make you wish you had the power to be in the room to shout “No!” when the casting director made this awful mistake? Well, reading a love story can be exactly the same. That is, if the characters haven’t been given the emotional build-up they deserve in order to make their story exciting.

Creating tension has a few different elements. Whether this is a doomed romance or one with a happy ending, this is love we’re talking about and therefore it should have that feeling of jumping off a cliff. Even if the characters live in suburban Pennsylvania and drive SUV’s, the vulnerability and emotional risk of falling in love should be present in the story. In fact, please do write about people who live in Suburban Pennsylvania and drive SUVs. Writing about ordinary people having an extraordinary experience by meeting each other and falling in love is a great way to build tension.

Throw In Some Conflict

Maybe your protagonists aren’t Romeo and Juliet, but it wouldn’t hurt to throw in some conflict to spice things up. Maybe one of them has a jealous ex. Or a child who won’t accept the new partner. Maybe they’re colleagues at work. Or she’s his boss (avoid stereotyping!). Or one of them is a priest or a nun. What are the hurdles they have to get over in order to be together? Big or small, conflict makes the story tellable. Nobody rushes to call a friend to say, “I just couldn’t wait to tell you how incredibly easy my day has been!” Conflict makes things interesting and makes the reader beg to discover how it’s going to be resolved. If your characters just fall perfectly into each other’s lives and every page is about how smoothly everything is going, don’t be surprised if you have some angry readers on your hands by the end.

Don’t Go There

Avoid stereotyping both the men and the women in your story. You know what I mean: the helpless woman and the manly man. Corseted damsels and sword-bearing knights, princesses and princes. Make your characters as real as you can. Avoid these cliches, unless you’re doing a unique spin on a tired theme – then it’s okay.

Dare To Be Different

So what should you write about? Good writing is original yet familiar. Realistic yet surprising. Woody Allen’s Annie Hall includes a scene where he asks a couple on the street what the secret to their happiness is. The woman replies that “I’m really shallow and empty and have nothing interesting to say.” And the man adds, “I’m exactly the same way.” Let’s hope that your characters go beyond that. Check out this list of unusual love stories for some inspiration.

Get the Language Right

Avoid the romance novel cliches that involve words like moaning, groaning, rippling, aching, burning, urging, yearning etc. This is perhaps the biggest challenge in a love story – to describe the characters’ feelings without resorting to any of these cheesy terms. If you can’t think of original ways to express these things, take a different angle. Focus on the events, the conflict, the characters and tell the story from that perspective without the emotional interludes.

There’s a Thin Line Between Love and Porn

Okay, it’s a love story, so we all know that the characters love each other and want to rip each other’s clothes off. That’s a given. But when it comes time for them to actually do that (that is if you even choose to write the love scene at all) be careful not to be too graphic, crass or pornographic. Otherwise, it’s not really a love story, but more of a story for Penthouse. While writing the love scene, ask yourself: does it deepen the reader’s understanding of the characters? Has something changed between them after this scene? Does it help move the story forward? Does it help the reader understand more about love, sex and relationships?

Keep It Real

If you want to be graphic, try another tack. Take author Rachel Toor’s advice, “I think love scenes are better with farts – or fear of farts, worries about bad breath, wondering about the state of one’s underthings, concerns about parts left too long un-groomed…in life getting jiggy entails the incredible and terrifying act of coming this close to another person that can be messy, smelly and often pretty darned funny.” Being ultra-realistic is certainly a way to avoid cliché. Author Caitlin Moran’s autobiography How To Be A Woman also has some hilarious chapters that deal with the physical paranoias that come with sex and dating. Check it out for more reality-driven inspiration.

Why You Must Try Self-Publishing

try self-publishing

Have you been plodding the path of traditional publishing? Trying to find an agent or publisher to look at your work, with no success? Is your ego bruised and beaten from the constant rejection? Well, if you’ve had it up to here with the battering from conventional publishing companies, read on for a solution to your woes.

Really, why do we persist in pursuing something so painful when the option of self-publishing is now so readily available?

Gone are the days of the misunderstood author who can’t catch a break. Today, a writer can take on the responsibility and control of their publishing destiny, independent of agents, publishers and poor royalties.

Excited? Then, let’s explore why an author would want to do that, and how.

Creative Control

When you choose to self-publish, you and your resources are responsible for the input of all creative content. This means you’ll be involved in every step of the production process with complete authority to create what you like, when you like. You’ll be making decisions about:

  • writing
  • proofreading
  • editing
  • formatting
  • artwork, illustrations, and book covers
  • budgets
  • release dates
  • marketing and promotions

With traditional publishing, the author is usually only involved in the first two points, writing and proofreading. As an independently published author, you have full control over all aspects of getting your book to market. That doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself, of course.

One of the common themes of the successful indie author is the recommendation to hire professionals to handle some of the aesthetics. Formatting, artwork and book covers can all be successfully contracted out to industry experts if you don’t have the inclination or skills to do the work yourself.

The point is to have a polished product that meets a high standard of professionalism – you want your book to look its best.

Business Control

As an indie author you retain all rights to your work and control the destiny of your business. Copyright, reprinting and distribution remain within the scope of your business domain. And as the business owner, you’ll have full authority over the following:

  • Imprinting. You’ll need to establish a business identity if you plan on selling any of your books, as you then become a retailer.
  • Price point. What price will you determine for your work? This article from Jane Litte at dearauthor.com has some interesting insights and observations on digital pricing.
  • Budgets. Determine your budgets for any contracting services as well as marketing and promotions, because initially they’ll be coming out of your pocket. Until your sales with decent royalties fill the coffers again, that is.
  • Publishing platform. You get to choose which of the self-publishing platforms will best serve your needs.
  • You get paid monthly. Any distribution outlets that carry your books, such as Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, Borders etc., will pay out on royalties on a monthly basis.

Faster Publication

A common complaint about old-fashioned publishing is the length of time it takes from signing a contract, to when the book arrives in the stores. An eighteen to twenty four months time frame is not uncommon. And that’s after the time it took to find an agent and a publisher.

If your material is of a time sensitive nature, such as technology, medicine, science or current events, that’s simply too long.

With self-publishing, you can have your published book ready for purchase within days or weeks – you determine the pace.

You Pocket the Profits

Traditional publishers pay anywhere from between 6 – 25% royalties. As a self- published author, you keep 100% of the profits if you sell direct. Outlets such as Amazon pay up to 70% royalties on sales (if priced in their golden mean of between $2.99 and $9.99, royalties drop to 35% above or below those prices).

If you want an idea of what royalties will come your way at each price point, check out the Amazon Royalties Estimator in the sidebar of Joe Konrath’s blog. It’s great for dreaming big.

Steps to Self-Publishing

If you’ve made the bold decision to go down the self-publishing route, congratulations! You’re in for quite a trip! And the following partial list taken from A Newbie’s Guide to Self Publishing by J.A. Konrath will help you on your way.

  1. Set your goal. First establish why you’re publishing to decide how to publish. This step will determine which self-publishing model to choose from; print-on-demand, vanity, subsidy, etc.
  2. Determine your price point. Do some research for pricing in your genre to decide where in Smashword’s sweet spot price range, your book will best be suited.
  3. Format your book. Do it yourself or hire someone. But if you plan on selling your book, do remember that appearances count. That first impression is important, so give your book a professional look and show that you mean business.
  4. Design your book cover. Lots of fun in this creative step, but again, maintain a high standard of professionalism at all stages.
  5. Write your product description. Pack your description with pertinent info and similar in style to that of others in your genre.
  6. Publish and publicize. Upload your digital version to the platform of your choice, and use social media to announce your release dates.

Sure, there are more initial costs to self-publishing a book than with an established publishing house, and you do have all the responsibilities. It takes a lot of time, effort and energy to publish independently, but so does any solo entrepreneurial effort. It’s a business, and if you treat it as such you’ll enjoy the profits that come with running a successful business.

And while self-publishing may not appeal to all writers, isn’t it great to know that the option exists if you do want to take control of your own publication empire?

7 Celebrity-Written Essays That Are Worthy To Read

celebrity-written essays

Every so often, an artist switches genres. A rock star becomes a country singer, a jazz singer becomes a hip-hop artist. Then there are times when they switch crafts altogether. A pop star becomes an actor. An actress becomes a painter. And, sometimes, a celebrity picks up the pen and becomes a writer.

Though writing is a serious craft and not something to be taken lightly, and certainly not something honed overnight, there are some celebrities who manage to capture an idea and paint an image with words in the same way they light up the screen when on camera. When they get it wrong, they may get it horribly wrong, but, on occasion, celebrities have written some things that are actually worth reading.

Here are my top 7 celebrity essays:

Remembering Marlon Brando – Jack Nicholson

Sometimes it’s the passing of a celebrity that inspires another one to pick up the pen. In Jack Nicholson’s tribute Remembering Marlon Brando to his friend and colleague Marlon Brando in “Rolling Stone Magazine” in 2004, he reminisces about the first time he saw Brando pulling up on the MGM lot, their years as neighbors in Los Angeles, the pranks that Brando used to pull on him and his deep appreciation for Brando’s genius. Nicholson’s tribute lets the light shine through the guarded image of two of Hollywood’s macho men.

Matt Damon’s Marathon – Matt Damon

Did anyone know that Boston-born actor Matt Damon was a Boston Marathon fan? With his father, uncle, brother and nephews having taken on the challenge, Damon’s essay titled “Matt Damon’s Marathon” published in the Boston Globe recounts the actor’s nostalgia for the event’s earlier days. You can practically see the actor cheering on his father as he makes his way over the course when he describes his father’s running strategy, blow by blow.

At the famous Heartbreak Hill, he explains that “At this junction, in particular, a palpable bond exists between audience and athlete, forming a distinctive stew of sympathy and suffering that has lasting effects for both parties.” He also eulogizes some of the changes that have occurred, namely the focus on charity and fund-raising that the event has come to represent. Damon’s essay came out just a week before the tragic bombing that killed several participants and fans.

A Mother’s Prayer for Her Daughter – Tina Fey

An excerpt from comedic actress Tina Fey’s book “Bossypants” went viral on the internet. The excerpt titled “A Mother’s Prayer for Her Daughter” is poignantly humorous as it lists the myriad of modern frustrations and humiliations she would like both her and her daughter to be spared: “First Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches” and “Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance.” Fey combines her comedic flair with the poignancy of motherhood in this hilarious piece. Its popularity shows that her prayer echoes that of many a mother of young girls.

My Medical Choice – Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie’s high-profile essay, “My Medical Choice”, published in the New York Times about her preventative double mastectomy has been lauded by the medical community for its role in encouraging women to get breast cancer exams. Jolie’s choice to make public this intimate information carries extra weight because of her role as a celebrity and a symbol of feminine beauty which has made her famous.

In her essay, she describes the rare gene BRCA1 that caused the death of her mother and which she inherited. Jolie’s doctors estimated that her chance of getting breast cancer was as high as 87 percent. Her reason for publishing the essay was so that other women could be aware of the gene and its risks and get tested before it was too late.

The Death of My Father – Steve Martin

Comedic actor Steve Martin who has published several essays in “The New Yorker” and a collection of essays in the book “Pure Drivel” wrote a very personal essay in 2002 titled “The Death of My Father”. In it, he digs through his childhood and his relationships with his mother and sister as well as the strained relationship with his father to find the threads that tie them together.

He recounts his father’s sometimes stinging criticism of his career and his difficulty in accepting his son’s comedic antics. Finally, he narrates the last days of his father’s life and the final words and reconciliations they exchanged. It’s a beautiful piece that serves to remind its readers of the importance of forgiveness.

The Meaning of the Selfie – James Franco

Actor James Franco dishes his philosophical take on selfie-culture in his widely-read article titled “The Meanings of the Selfie” in the New York Times. Franco is a frequent contributer to the “New York Times” and the “Huffington Post”. Often criticized for posting excessive selfies and called “The Selfie King” Franco has written an essay that is part humor/part sociology. He dissects the meaning of the selfie in our technological age: “We all have reasons for posting them, but in the end, selfies are avatars: Mini-Me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are.”

Open Letter to Miley Cyrus – Sinead O’Conner

Sometimes a celebrity feels called upon to offer guidance to an ingenue. Sinead O’Conner’s open letter to pop star Miley Cyrus printed in “The Guardian” in 2013 addresses the issue of sexism in the music industry. O’Conner was prompted to write the letter in response to Cyrus’ claim that her controversial and highly sexualized video for the song “Wrecking Ball” was inspired by O’Conner’s 1990 music video for the song “Nothing Compares 2 U”. O’Conner calls out the differences in the way she carefully crafted her image to avoid exploitation and warns the young star of the dangers of selling your body which often leads to selling out your talent.

Writing Online: Don’t Lose Your Personality

writing online

You’ve learned all the techniques for writing online. You know how to craft a killer headline, infuse your post with keywords and optimize content for SEO strategies. But… your writing’s a little, well, dull. A bit lifeless and dry, with none of your sparkling personality shining through. Which isn’t a really great incentive for new readers to stick around, is it? So, just how do you write with personality? How do you infuse your wonderful content with a bit of personal spice to catch someone’s eye with?

It’s a common area of concern for the relatively new writer. Trying too hard to be an authority can squeeze the personality right out of your writing. We think that by taking on a formal tone, we’ll sound more business-like, but often end up sounding like a dullard or out of touch.

However, you can still establish your position as an expert without coming across as being stifled. Letting your personality shine through will make your writing more interesting, which will attract and engage readers. And the following techniques will help you to do just that.

Write As You Speak

One of the easiest ways to keep your personality in the written word is to write as you speak. And a very practical way to do this is to record a conversation with a friend or peer on a topic you’re interested in writing about. Set up a meeting and have them ask you pertinent questions on your topic. Most smartphones have a recording function, or you can download a free program such as Audacity to record and edit with.

Trim out the pauses and irrelevant information as well as the many umm’s and uhh’s you’ll find, then transcribe your recording or have someone do it for you. What you’re left with is rich material for a blog post that not only shows your personality, but also your passion and enthusiasm for the subject.

Look for the patterns in your speech that can be transferred to your writing – downhome sayings, clichés, accents and even swearing can all lend themselves to developing your online writing voice.

Become a Prolific Tweeter

It seems a bit counterintuitive, but learning how to tweet effectively is an excellent way to convey your ideas in a clear and concise manner. With its limited character usage, Twitter compels the brevity that reveals a kernel of truth at the heart of our message. This microblogging platform helps to strip away the unnecessary verbiage and wordiness new writers like to hide behind in order to appear expert.

Be Consistent With Your Voice

Whatever voice you develop for your blog posts, carry it through in all of your writing. Newsletters, ebooks, mini-courses etc. should all have the same tone, word selection and style. Otherwise, your readers will get confused if your posts are written in an informal manner but your newsletters are written in an overly formal, business-like language.

Tell a Personal Story

Allow your readers some personal insights by sharing snippets of mistakes made, lessons learned, victories and triumphs. You’ll connect on a deeper emotional level with your audience if you share your own vulnerabilities – those characteristics we instinctively want to hide, but others immediately identify with. And paradoxically, with this sharing we develop greater confidence and courage as we start to “own” our emerging voice (іee Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly).

It doesn’t have to be over-the-top drama, nor epic in nature. We all share the same basic fears, so a bit of honesty and integrity will go a long way in developing a trustworthy persona your readers can relate with.

Use Analogies, Anecdotes and Metaphors

  • An analogy is a comparison tool, used to explain unknown elements by using ones that are known. They can be applied successfully to create Aha! moments of understanding as they create a link to the unfamiliar by comparing it to something familiar when describing a process, person, idea or event.
  • An anecdote is a little story told to place emphasis on a certain point or to lead your readers to contemplate the specifics of an idea contained within your post or point.
  • A metaphor is first cousin to the analogy. The main difference being that with a metaphor, the comparison being drawn is between two unrelated things, giving the reader a fresh perspective. A metaphor is an implied or figurative comparison, as opposed to a direct comparison. With metaphors, the first element isn’t like or as the second one, it is the second element. The well-placed metaphor corrals a reader’s attention by intentionally funneling their focus through down the path of a chosen topic.

Write To One Person

Invest some time in developing a profile of your ideal customer, and write to that person. The benefit of knowing who you’re writing for is that it generates a narrower focus, so you can get really specific and detailed in the message you’re conveying. This creates a more intimate style, as you feature the exact information you know your client is looking for and shows your commitment to your product or service.

Add a Dash of Hyperbole

A little exaggeration, used with discretion and discernment, can add a splash of dramatic flair to your writing. Hyperbole is a tool used to convey emotional tone with theatrical impact, so less rather than more is better here.

When you start out using some of these techniques to develop your online voice it may seem a bit awkward at first, but incorporating them into your posts will add depth, personality and liveliness to your writing.

And as you reveal your personality with these practices, they’ll build a strong bridge of loyalty and reader engagement between you and your audience. It’s like building a new friendship – it might take a bit of work to develop, but in the long run, well worth the effort.