Author Archives: Steve Aedy

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.

How To Write a Good Introduction For an Essay

how to write an introduction for an essay

Essay introductions can be the hardest part of the writing process. You’ve done the research, crafted your arguments but how do you begin? How do you get readers interested in what you have to say? How do you avoid being too general, too academic or too boring?

A good introduction sets the tone and context for your argument in a way that’s concise, clear and interesting. A tall order. Here are some tips for delivering a great essay introduction:

Start With an Anecdote

Stories and anecdotes lend a personal touch to an introduction. Readers would rather hear something they can relate to than jump into a sea of academic wordiness:

In 1995, when I was 22, I hiked the Appalachian Trail. Back then, there were warnings about brown bears and a set of protocols to follow to avoid running into one. When pushing through a particularly difficult day, I ended up hiking through the night to make my day’s distance goal. I broke protocol. And found myself face-to-face with a brown bear on a rock cliff in the dark. Today there’s no longer a chance for such encounters as the brown bear population has been all but decimated along the Appalachian Mountain chain.

By giving the reader a background story, they’re now emotionally invested in learning more about the topic.

Find a Killer Quote

Sometimes a quote can sum up the essence of your argument like nothing else. If this is the case, then by all means, use one. For instance, an essay that argues that Christians don’t follow Christian values could use a quote by Gandhi, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” This quote has the benefit of not only being concise and clear, but it was stated by one of the most admired public figures in history. Just make sure not to use quotes that have become cliches. That will detract from your introduction instead of adding to it.

Use Statistics and Facts

Using facts and statistics helps establish your authority on the topic. They’re also useful in getting the reader’s attention and helping them understand why something is important. For instance, “Today, there are over 15,000 child soldiers in South Sudan.” A sentence like this makes the reader understand the gravity of the situation you’ll be talking about. It gives them a sense of scope and measurement.

Ask a Question

A question has the benefit of tempting the reader to answer it. It gets them involved in your essay and makes them feel like you’re speaking to them. It’s a great technique to get people to read on. If it’s a polemical topic, even better. Ex: Are we responsible for stopping climate change? You can bet that a lot of readers will fall on one or other side of this issue. And therefore be tempted to read on to see if they agree or disagree with your take on the subject.

State Your Thesis

After you get readers interested with any of the above techniques, it’s time to hit them with your thesis. A thesis is the summary of your essay’s argument. It deserves time and attention to get it right. The thesis is a statement that is crafted so that it could be argued for or against. Ex: “The best way to prevent crime is to impose harsher sentences.” One could argue for or against this statement.

A Word About Length

An introduction should consist of about 1/10 of the total word count. So, for a 500 word essay, the introduction should be about 50 words. As you write more essays, you’ll get a feel for the appropriate length. It shouldn’t be too short, otherwise you probably haven’t worked enough on crafting the hook. Nor should it dominate the essay. The majority of your essay is going to consist of your argument and research. Find the balance.

A great essay introduction reels the reader in with an interesting story, a fact or statistic, a question to be answered or a quote that sums up your argument well. And, of course, the introduction includes your well-crafted thesis statement. Good luck and happy writing!

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.

How To Teach Creative Writing: Tips For A Great Lesson

how to teach creative writing

Have you hit the wall trying to come up with new ideas to inspire your creative writing students? Maybe your own enthusiasm is waning a bit, and it’s rubbing off on your students. After all, it’s not always easy to stay motivated when repeating the same lessons over and over again. So perhaps a fresh outlook will help to rekindle your passion for teaching creative writing and spark greater interest in your students.

There are those who argue that creative writing can’t be taught at all. And while that may or may not be true, certainly the techniques for developing creative expression are learnable skills. Ones that can be honed and refined through a variety of practices and exercises.

Creative writing is much more than merely a descriptive process, it involves a number of elements that need to be explored in order to refine our thoughts, so we can communicate them to others. Elements such as idea development, motifs or themes, arguments and questions, plot development, characterization, dialogue, and narration.

These elements are some of the fundamentals of creative writing. And to get students involved in the exploration of these fundamentals, to really spark their interest with tangible results they can consistently repeat, try out the following tips for great creative writing lessons.

The Elements of Storytelling

Effective fiction writing shares common elements across all genres – whether the story is told in the form of comic books, movies, novels, mythology or the performing arts, they all contain the basics of setting, plot, characterization, theme and conflict with dramatic action.

Introduce your students to these basics by encouraging them to develop and connect these writing fundamentals with storytelling. Great storytelling has the ability to “capture, direct and sustain the attention of others”. It’s what gives a memorable story presence – that ineffable quality that stays with a reader long after the novel or performance is finished.

Storytelling also develops the subtler elements of tone and atmosphere as these are the components that flesh out the bones or underlying structure of a story.

The Hook

The hook is a problem introduced at the beginning of a story that triggers curiosity. Compelling the reader to keep turning pages all the way to its successful resolution somewhere near the conclusion of the story.

Encourage your students to write engaging hooks by tapping into an emotion we all share – fear. Fear, in its many disguises, forms the crux of all the introductory problems contained within the great novels of literature throughout the ages. And each generation updates the story form to fit the appropriate fears of the day.

Use the tool of comparison to demonstrate to your students how these fears, the problems that form a good hook, are easily applied to contemporary storytelling. For example, the fear of monsters (within and without) that make Frankenstein and Dracula such timeless classics is the same fear that makes today’s zombie and vampire franchises so popular. And the fear of loss found in the themes of unrequited love and rejection so prevalent in 21st-century song lyrics and music videos, are simply condensed versions of the same problems that made 19th-century Italian opera wildly popular in that days.

As an exercise, present your class with some of the common hooks found in the great novels, plays or librettos of the past and have them write a short story around it – updated to contemporary issues, themes or current events.

Questioning Minds

The power of questions is a great way to teach students how to develop narration, characters and atmosphere.

At the start of class, present your students with a series of questions that, when answered, will progress into a paragraph that establishes setting, motivation, action and tone. The key aspect of these questions is to design them “so that they always lead on from the previous, regardless of how that question has been answered.”

This exercise is easily adapted to suit the specifics of the individual classroom, as long as the primary aspects are maintained:

  • Instruct the students to write a paragraph that tells a story.
  • The paragraph will be their responses to the posed questions.
  • All sentences they write are acceptable, as long as they follow the sequence of questions.
  • Pertinent inquiries regarding the exercise are permitted.

For a more detailed explanation and examples, please visit Adam Simpson’s blog post “The greatest creative writing activity ever”.

The Tickle Trunk

While writing prompts such as sentence snippets, magazine clippings and old photo albums are well established techniques to engage the imagination, they limit creative exploration to two dimensional images and the sense of vision.

Open up a broader sphere of tactile stimulation that encompasses smell, touch, sound and taste by having students dip into a “tickle trunk” of costume pieces and props to write a paragraph or short story around. A trip to the local thrift store or garage sales will quickly and inexpensively provide plenty of pieces to fill your tickle trunk and unleash your students’ imagination.

This exercise is appropriate for “children” of all ages and is particularly well suited to character and setting development.

Park Perfectionism at the Door

Yours, and your students. There’s nothing that will squash imaginative endeavors such as creative writing quite like the belief that it should come easily and perfectly the first time it’s attempted.

Introduce your students to the concept of the “shitty first draft” so eloquently explained by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird to get them beyond the terrifying expectations of the inner critic’s perfectionism. Rather, teach them the skills of evaluation, objective criticism and revision to shape their writing into polished material suitable for publication.

Give these ideas for intriguing lessons a try and see if they inspire your students (and you) to greater heights of imaginative discovery in creative writing.

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.

6 Must-Follow Tips for Editing an Academic Paper

tips for editing an academic paper

Editing an academic paper is a bit different from that of work destined for a blog or publishing a novel. Because academic and scientific papers are written in a formal style, they need to be carefully edited to ensure the communication of ideas in an unambiguous way, with clarity and solid structure from start to finish.

An academic work is meant to be taken literally, so let’s explore these 6 best practices for editing.

1. Ensure style is consistent throughout.

There are many formats for writing an academic paper, so choose which style will best suit your work and ensure that it’s applied consistently throughout.

The APA writing format (American Psychological Association) was designed for publication in psychological journals, but is widely used in many scientific fields. Whatever style you choose, follow the appropriate outlines and formatting structures for the greatest success.

Some general guidelines to follow are:

  • Maintain consistency with margin width: top, bottom and both sides.
  • Font size should be used consistently.
  • Double space text, including references and bibliographies.
  • Text should be aligned to the left margin.
  • If your work is to be published, use a Running Head (a short title no longer than 50 characters) at the top of each page, aligned flush left.
  • Use the active voice. This is an area of change from the past where an impersonal form was the traditional rule, and personal pronouns weren’t used.
  • Pagination and order of pages. The page number should appear at the top of every page, either centered or at the right margin. And the order of pages should be as follows:
    • title page
    • abstract
    • body
    • references
    • appendices
    • footnotes
    • tables
    • figures

2. Evaluate your paper for supporting parallels.

When writing a paper it’s easy to simply jot ideas down as they pop into your head without concern for their relationship to your main topic. When editing, you need to ensure that all of these ideas marry up and parallel one another. For example, does your thesis parallel the concluding paragraph? The conclusion needs to support the exact position of the thesis without conditions or qualifying statements.

Also, your topic sentences should reflect the points in your thesis. If your thesis states that A, B, and C are qualities found in D (D being your thesis), then you need to commit the appropriate space to analyzing A, B, and C in order to support your claims.

And, any quotes used within your paper need to be scrutinized to ensure they’re supporting your topic sentences, which in turn support your thesis. The thread of your subject needs to run all the way through the fabric of your paper.

3. Mind your words.

An academic paper is meant to be read by peers and professionals within a given field, so the use of technical terms and industry verbiage is an encouraged and accepted practice.

Avoid the common mistakes that detract from your authority or professionalism – spellcheckers will miss homonyms and the meaning behind your word selection, so take the time to edit carefully for Common Errors in English Usage (Paul Brians).

Some of them are:

  • Improper use of plurals and possessives.
  • Confusing effect and affect.
  • Making up words when there are plenty of good ones available.
  • Not knowing the accurate meaning of the words you use.
  • Use of slang or jargon.
  • Not using appropriate technical words and terms.
  • Use of contractions.
  • Abbreviations. Avoid them and spell out your words. However, acronyms are preferable after they’ve been spelled out the first time used.

This article from the University of Pennsylvania is well worth reading, covering these points and more, in detail.

4. Cut down on wordiness.

An academic paper is formal in nature, but it doesn’t have to be stuffy or boring. Apply the following writing and editing principles for effective communication of your ideas.

  • Write from an outline. This gives structure to your thoughts, so your writing is always on topic. And having structure means you don’t have to use filler words or try to “fluff” your paper.
  • Stick to one idea per paragraph. And each idea should always be clearly related to the main idea of your thesis.
  • Rework any lengthy sentences into clear and compact structures.
  • Use expressive nouns and verbs to express your ideas and avoid trying to enliven your writing with empty adjectives and adverbs. Read your text out loud to determine where your prose can be made more direct and vivid.

5. Citations

Bibliographies, references and citations. There’s no getting around it, they need to be included in your work. Many different formats can be used for referencing the resource material used in a paper, so it’s best to pre-determine what the preferences and guidelines are for each one.

In essence, they all require a minimum of information to allow others to locate the source material you’ve cited:

  • A bibliography requires the author’s name, title of the book and date of publication.
  • A journal article must include volume and page numbers.
  • Conference papers need the title of the conference, page numbers and details of publication.

Your paper will need to have a reference for every source you mention so that peer reviewers and those who mark your work will be able to easily access your support documentation. Without them, your credibility and marks will suffer. It’s a valuable detail that needs to be respected.

6. Proofread

To be effective, your academic paper should be polished and professional in every aspect. And nothing says “amateur” quite like misspelled words, sloppy punctuation and grammatical mistakes. Don’t count on a spellchecker to do this for you as there are simply too many instances where words and errors are overlooked for any number of reasons.

And there you have our 6 best tips for editing an academic paper. Use these ideas to give your work every opportunity to stand out and be noticed amid the competition.

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.

How To Get Started Writing

how to get started writing

Getting started with a writing project can be one of the most difficult of all the challenges a writer will face. We dither, putter, doddle, delay and flat out procrastinate. Excuses run the gamut from the logical and believable to the outrageous – but somehow still believable if they prevent us from following any desire to fulfill a creative yearning such as writing.

And yet, when we challenge this resistance and make a start we find our fears dissolve in the face of the results we get. Doubt is replaced with confidence and imaginary obstacles recede in the wake of daily action. Once you begin, it’s a whole new ball game. And it’s one that’s a whole lot more fun than the scared little voice would have you believe.

So, to start writing the following 8 ideas will help you get past some of the more common excuses for not beginning.

Know Your Niche

Before you can begin to write, you need some form of direction to give your time and attention to. “I don’t know what to write about” is an often heard phrase among those yet to write. Nonsense. Of course you do. If you’re alive, then you have a myriad of passions, ideas, opinions, likes and dislikes, skills, talents, expertise, experiences and personal history to draw upon for inspiration.
Block out some time and write a list about your personal interests, hobbies and passions and the reasons why they’re important to you.

Expand your list to include your work and educational experience and any related skills or expertise. Then extrapolate your list into relevant niches or genres to find topics to write about. When first beginning, writing about what you know is an effective way to quickly develop confidence. It provides a natural source of creative ideas with no learning curve to go through. And after you’ve developed a level of proficiency you can branch out into unfamiliar territory.

Create Some Space

If you’re going to write, then you need a space dedicated to just that purpose. Why? Because your locale becomes part of your routine, and a huge part of success lies in the habits we develop. These patterns of success include setting up prompts and cues that lead to effective actions, in this case the action of writing. And having a specific location is a big cue.

It doesn’t have to be a large space with all the latest gadgets, but you’ll want somewhere all your own. A place to leave your tools and material at hand the way you want them to be. Having to clear the kitchen table of your writing gear at dinnertime is not conducive to developing flow.
And create your writing space with some physical comfort in mind – a good chair and desk with adequate lighting is a must if you’re in it for the long term.

Develop a Routine

As with having a writing space, developing a routine falls into the category of cultivating success habits (Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit is a great read on this topic). Whatever your schedule may be, incorporate a warm up routine to trigger the writing response. Invoke a prayer to the muses, line up your lucky charms, visualize a successful outcome, chant, dance or whatever gets you focused on the task at hand – writing.

The actions themselves aren’t important, it’s the intention behind them. You’re sending a preparatory signal to your brain, and subconscious, that it’s time to get down to work. Once your warm up is complete, start writing immediately to link the routine with the act of writing.

Schedule Time

Commit to finding time for writing that will be free of distractions. You don’t need hours on end to get into the zone, 10 or 15 minutes a day is sufficient to start with. You may need to get up a bit earlier or wait until the kids are in bed, but do find a time that works for you. Because a set practice time is needed to develop skill and rhythm.

Have a Plan

Whether you’re writing a blog post or a novel, sketching an outline of your main ideas will give a solid foundation to build upon. Jot down the points you want to cover, then flesh them out. Knowing what to write about beforehand prevents overwhelm and getting stuck – you’ll always know what your next writing step is.

Do One More Thing

When you think you’ve finished writing for the day, do one more thing. Write one more sentence, find one more resource or simply review tomorrow’s schedule. By giving just a little bit more effort, you’ll summon the voice of your inner mentor offering congratulations for your dedication. Much better than the voice of the inner critic!

Be Professional

Get out of your jammies, have a plan, schedule the time and show up for work. If you don’t take your own efforts seriously, don’t expect success to shine upon you. Develop the mindset of a professional doing his work for the rewards due a professional (The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a must-read for a professional mindset).

Make a Start

To get past the hang ups of perfectionism and self-doubt, just write. Don’t expect it to be perfect or even good – write for the garbage can. The point isn’t about finishing the project, but starting it. Fears of failure, not being able to complete your work, rejection etc. will all become a self-fulfilling prophecy if you don’t begin. So write. One sentence or even one word is enough to begin with.
And finally, when first venturing into the writer’s life, keep it simple. As with any new project, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

So give yourself the best opportunities for success by following the above tips to get started writing. Even if you don’t achieve a high level of commercial achievement, you’ll avoid the disappointment of not trying and will instead have the great satisfaction of knowing you followed your heart despite some initial fears.