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Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

Reach your writing goals (and have fun!) by being more curious, creative, and productive. Ann provides practical tips and motivation for writers at all stages to improve their skills, pursue publishing, and expand their reach. Ann keeps most episodes short and focused so writers only need a few minutes to collect ideas, inspiration, resources and recommendations to apply to their work. She incorporates interviews from publishing professionals and authors like Allison Fallon, Ron Friedman, Shawn Smucker, and Jennifer Dukes Lee to bring additional insight. Ann and her guests cover everything from self-editing and goal-setting to administrative and scheduling challenges. Subscribe for ongoing coaching to advance your writing life and career. More at annkroeker.com.

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Ep 144: My Writing Life Beginnings, Pt. 1

Note: This was originally published both at my website and at Tweetspeak Poetry back in 2013.My mom, a journalist, was talking with a friend. She beamed at my brother. “Charlie, he’s the writer of the family. And Annie? She’s…” Here, I felt my mom hesitate. Then, “Annie’s the athlete.”My brother excelled in everything involving words—from composing song lyrics and essays to dominating Scrabble games and inserting witty comments into conversations at just the right moment.I played softball and ran track. And I rode my yellow Schwinn ten-speed down country roads stretching between corn and soybean fields, past herds of Black Angus cattle and silos filled with grain. The labels fit, though deep down, secretly, I wanted to be a writer, too.JournalThree years after Charlie graduated high school, I sat in Miss Thompson’s Senior English class. Miss Thompson told us we would keep a journal chronicling our senior year, creating at least five entries per week. We were to do more than write, however. We were to add our personal touch. Whether we complemented our written words with pasted-in photographs, news clippings and ticket stubs or accented them with watercolor backgrounds and meticulous calligraphy, the key to A-level work was creative expression.She held up three examples of some of the best she’d ever seen—journals from past students whose work she adored. One was Charlie’s. I recognized it immediately, having gazed at it many times while he worked on it during his senior year. She passed them around for students to flip through.When Charlie’s came to me, I opened it, noting his handwriting—a combination of big printed letters and rounded cursive. The content mingled light humor and occasional sarcasm with spot-on descriptions of people and situations. For one page, he cut letters from newspapers to compose an amusing ransom note. I studied the pages, wishing I could copy his techniques. Then I passed it to the person behind me.At the end of my senior year, Miss Thompson didn’t ask to keep my journal.Copy PersonI ran track in spring that year, as I had since junior high, training for sprints and the long jump, reinforcing my status as the family athlete. After graduation, I worked during the summer as a copy person, running errands for editors at the newspaper where my dad worked.I hated working in the city. I hated working into the night. I hated the sense of urgency and stress necessary to put out a daily paper. One time I had to drive the company car to fetch a photograph from a family whose son had been shot.I knocked on the door. They barely opened it. I introduced myself and said I was from the newspaper. They reached through the narrow opening and handed me his picture. I told them we would return it and flipped it around to be sure their address was printed on the back. It was. I don’t think they said one word. I said I was very sorry and thanked them for the photo. They nodded and shut the door. I hated invading their grief.CollegeThat fall, I started school at a Big Ten University. Not nearly good enough to compete on their elite sports teams, I lost my label. No more was I an athlete, though I did pedal my yellow Schwinn ten-speed across campus, weaving around students who were walking to class.A couple of weeks into my freshman year, I showed up at a tall building where bored grad students served as advisors, looking over undergrad schedules to ensure that our class selections met each major’s requirements. We lined up single-file down a long hallway, waiting our turn.My randomly assigned college advisor asked about my major. Since I had no idea what to study, my mom and dad suggested journalism. I didn’t have any other ideas, so I’d been claiming to be a journalism major on all my school documents and blurted it out to the advisor. He wrote it down, scribbled on some paperwork, approved my class load, and sent me on my way.Survey of Shakespeare


20 Mar 2018

Rank #1

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Ep 191: Write to Discover Your Voice

[Ep 191]You know within a few notes if you're listening to the Beatles or the Bee Gees, James Taylor or Justin Timberlake, Sting or Cher.Why?Well, it’s their voice. You recognize their voice.In literature, it may not seem as obvious, since we aren’t usually hearing the author’s voice when we read their work. And yet, I’ll bet you could read a few lines of someone’s work and tell me if it's: William Faulkner or Wendell Berry Barbara Kingsolver or Stephen King Tom Wolfe or Virginia WoolfWhy?Once again, it’s their voice. You recognize their voice.You’d know if you were reading something by Annie Dillard, Anne Lamott, Ann Voskamp or...Ann Kroeker.Even if you didn’t know them before, if I put passages from Annie Dillard and Anne Lamott side by side, you’d be able to detect a difference. A big difference.Some of it would be due the content. Some of it would be due to stylistic choices each of them makes, like word choice, sentence length, literary devices, allusions. Each writer brings to their work different memories, opinions, and passions. That and more plays into the words we write and the way we write them.Somehow it all comes together into something we label “voice.”What Is Your Writing Voice?Agents and publishers say they’re looking for a unique voice, a new voice, a fresh voice, a genuine voice, a voice that rings true.We writers want to have a voice like that. We want to know we’ve found our voice and we want to deliver our work in that one-of-a-kind voice that connects with readers and stands out in a crowded market. We’re all trying to land on that special “something.”What is this mysterious thing called “voice”?The answer is often vague and subjective, sometimes as unhelpful as “I know it when I see it.”This answer—and it’s not uncommon—leaves writers anxious and unsure of themselves. They get self-conscious and start to question, “Is this my voice? Or did I sound more ‘me’ in the last project?”And if they continue to squirm as they work, worried they sound like someone else or like anyone else, they’re at risk of losing the authentic voice that may already be pouring out of them naturally.Definition of Writing VoiceI poked around in books and online and discovered that a few people venture a definition of voice.Education Northwest, the organization that developed the 6+1 Traits, describe voice as “the heart and soul of the writing, the magic, the wit, the feeling, the life and breath.”1 A reader, they say, should identify something individual, something unique from “all other writers.”2Okay, sounds good. That’s what we’re aiming for: individual, unique, a little heart and soul and, if possible, wit.But how does the writer find that? How does the writer pull that off? How do we know our paragraphs aren’t pulsing with copycat wit? And how can we get some of that magic?Develop an Ear for Voice in WritingWhile it’s hard to be objective about the individuality of our own writing voice, it’s easier to listen for voice in others. In Writing with Power, Peter Elbow describes a time he assigned autobiographical writing to his students and as he read their work, he paid attention to what held his attention.Over time, he identified those sections, paragraphs, sentences, phrases, and fragments as writing that “felt real.”3He said, “[I]t had a kind of resonance, it somehow rang true.”4 He sensed power in their words. This power, he decided, was voice.“On some days,” he writes, “these passages jumped out at me very clearly: it’s as though I could hear a gear being engaged and disengaged.”5Your Writing Voice Is PowerElbow began to recognize feelings these writers exuded in some of these sections—anything from happiness to self-pity. And yet he found it difficult to nail down a clear explanation or source of the power these writers conveyed or an objective definition of voice.6He did, however,


26 Mar 2019

Rank #2

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Try This Classic Structure for Your Next Nonfiction Writing Project

Organization is a challenge for writers. You may have strong ideas, feel confident with grammar, and write in a fun style.But putting it all together in a structure that makes sense? That can be hard.There’s no one perfect way to structure most projects. You have options.Some people find this liberating. They enjoy exploring countless options and settle naturally into an order that makes sense for their content.Other writers find this overwhelming. They’d like to be told, "If you’re writing THIS, you always use THAT structure."Without structure, those writers get stuck.Structure Brings Order and ClarityIn fact, I’ve met with writers who have been stuck for weeks, months...occasionally for years. All because they didn’t know how to structure their project.Without structure, they didn’t know how to order and organize their ideas, so writing itself felt confusing. They simply shoved it aside, unclear what to do next.Structure brings order and clarity to the writer.And structure brings order and clarity to the reader.Structure for PoetsSome writing offers built-in structure.If you’re a poet, for example, you can turn to form poetry to find structure built into the assignment. So many kinds of poems follow a form or a pattern, like a sestina, sonnet, and a rondelet. They each come with rules, rhythms, and rhyme schemes. While challenging, these limits offer structure that a poet who works in free verse lacks.Structure for NovelistsNovelists can turn to structure that works well for fiction, such as the hero’s journey. The author doesn’t have to include the obligatory scenes, but many genres work well when the author hits those beats, moments, or scenes a reader has come to expect.Structure for Nonfiction WritersNonfiction writers may face the blank page with no idea where to start. Or they spit out their ideas with no clue how to arrange them to create an order that flows well for the reader.Writers who compose essays, articles, books know they have a problem to solve: they need structure.And they may struggle with structure due to lack of resources. Maybe no one has pointed out to them structure options. Or maybe they struggle to remain objective with their own material to see how it would best flow.They may have tried methods they’ve learned over the years and those have gotten them only so far.Mind Maps Don't Automatically Lead to StructureFor instance, maybe they tried a mind map. And that helped them spit out the main ideas they want to cover in their book. But all those circles spread out like a web on the paper don’t themselves reveal a solid structure—they just reveal a number of possible starting points and all their subpoints. So the mind map may have served to pull out of the writer content ideas, but the map itself didn’t result in a clear structure.Traditional Outlines Don't Automatically Lead to StructureThe writer of nonfiction may have reverted to the I, II, III, and A, B, C format they remembered from their youth, with those Roman numerals leading the eye down the page with indented A, B, C items underneath. Under those lines came the numbers 1, 2, 3, then lowercase a, b, c, followed by the little “i’s” with one “i” then two “ii’s” and “iii’s” that created those miniature Roman numerals, leading up to “iv’s” and “v’s.”The poor writer may spend more time fretting over those little “i’s” than they do crafting content. So knowing how to type up a list with Roman numerals again doesn’t in and of itself reveal a structure.Even organized, sequential-types who love to line up papers and numbers and files and books on shelves can create a perfectly reasonable classic outline, yet find themselves unsure if that’s formed an effective structure for their writing project.Try Ready-Made Outlines to Structure Your Next ProjectHow can writers who struggle to organize their ideas find a structure that works?


6 Nov 2019

Rank #3

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Ep 213: How to Hook and Hold Your Readers

[Ep 213]If you didn’t click to read this first sentence, I failed.If we want to hook readers and hold their attention so they read all the way to the end, we have to generate an intriguing title or headline.Lure Readers with Your TitleBooks, chapters, articles, essays, poems: they all need names or titles that invite the reader to stop skimming and scrolling and think, “Hm. I wonder what this is about?” or “Oh, wow, I need this information.”I opened up Feedly when I was preparing this article and stopped on an article at The Write Practice titled “How to Find the Core Message of Your Writing” because it was clear and seemed relevant to the kinds of things I like to read.But I also stopped on an article by Emily P. Freeman: “How to Find (and Become) A Good Listener.” That sounded useful to help me as a coach and to help me improve relationships with family and friends.Or consider James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. The main title intrigues me with that word “atomic” connected to “habits.” His subtitle is “An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones.” Then he includes a tagline that clarifies it further: “Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results.” That sounds like a doable approach to the topic of habits, doesn’t it? He hooked me with his title and subtitle combo.We have to entice our readers to click on the link or open the book by capturing that first concept in a few words that hint at or outright reveal the subject, topic, theme, or problem we’ll address in the piece.Hook Your Readers with Attention GrabbersLet’s say you nailed it—you lured in your readers with the headline.Now it’s time to hook them—to grab them by the throat, as novelists often say. Bring on the attention grabber: it’s that first line or two that will keep them reading.When I taught composition to high school students, I’d offer attention-grabber ideas like: a startling statistic a quote a question an intriguing statement or claim a story (e.g., an anecdote that stands alone, a personal story, or someone else’s story)That article about finding the core message of your writing starts, “Why do you write?”—a question any writer will instinctively answer, at least in his head.So the author, Joe Bunting, has probably hooked us. Our mind is engaged with the question. It’s a good attention-grabber.Emily P. Freeman’s article on finding and becoming a good listener has an epigraph—a quote from Dr. Larry Crabb about listening to each other—followed by the beginning of the actual article. She starts with a story:It’s 2012, and there’s a stack of brochures in the little room I type in. I keep staring over at them, rereading their invitation, “To know more about you: If you would like to be informed of upcoming events…”I reach over, and I turn the plastic holder to face the wall. I cannot keep reading that same brochure over and over again.What’s going to happen? Why is this brochure featured so prominently in this story? Is she going to take action? Is it going to change her? What does this brochure have to do with listening?You can see how stories are great for hooking readers—they’re great attention-grabbers. They awaken curiosity and open a loop that we must close. We want to know what happens and how it ends.So Emily has hooked me.You, too, can use stories. And here’s a bonus tip—if you start far enough into a situation, the action of a story engages and hooks the reader, but you can leave it hanging so that you complete the story in the conclusion. That provides closure that satisfies and gratifies the reader. It feels like you’ve come full circle.But for them to get to the end, you’ve got to hold him.First you hook them, then you hold them.Hold Your Reader’s AttentionTo hold the reader isn’t easy. We’re battling for his or her attention, and we all know the long list of distractions that can pull a reader away at any moment.Here are some tips.


19 Sep 2019

Rank #4

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Ep 177: [Interview] Alison Hodgson on Boiling a Story Down to Its Essence, One-Star Reviews, and Perseverance

Back in October 2018, I interviewed three authors who served on the speaking team at Breathe Christian Writers Conference. We discussed all things writing, like their writing challenges, their writing process, and their advice for writers. All for you.I’ve mixed in with my standard short solo episodes an interview with Shawn Smucker and another with Patrice Gopo.Today, I bring you the last of the three from that conference: a conversation with Alison Hodgson, author of The Pug List. I sprang this on her at the last minute, asking if I could interview her during the last hour on the last day of the conference.We slipped into a room and discussed such topics as boiling a story down to its essence, seeing work come to fruition, managing a pug’s Instagram account, surviving one-star reviews, and much more. Enjoy getting to know Alison Hodgson.Alison Hodgson is the author of The Pug List: A Ridiculous Dog, a Family Who Lost Everything, and How They All Found Their Way Home. She is a Moth StorySLAM winner and a regular contributor to the design website Houzz.com. Her writing has been featured in Woman’s Day magazine, on Forbes.com, Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog, and the Religion News Service, and her essays have been published in a variety of anthologies. Alison lives in Michigan with her husband, their children, and three good dogs. alisonhodgson.comResources: Website: alisonhodgson.com  Facebook: @alisonhodgsonauthor Instagram: @alisonhodgsonbooks/ and (more prominently) @therealpugoliver Twitter: @HodgsonAlison The Pug List: A Ridiculous Little Dog, a Family Who Lost Everything, and How They All Found Their Way Home (Amazon affiliate link) A clip from Alison's MOTH story The Barbara Pym Society, a website highlighting information related to an author Alison mentions Shawn Smucker interview Patrice Gopo interview Ann's Patreon account All podcast episodesYou can subscribe to this podcast using your podcast player or find it through Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify.Have you grabbed the free mini-course?Make Your Sentences Sing:7 Sentence Openers to Add Music to Your ProseGo to annkroeker.com/sentenceopeners to learn more and to enroll for free. If it looks interesting, you can dive right in.


4 Dec 2018

Rank #5

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Ep 199: Insights into Christian Publishing with NavPress Publisher Don Pape

[Ep 199]Today I’m chatting with NavPress Publisher Don Pape.Don has published over a dozen New York Times best-sellers, including Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Don is also the publisher of Julie Cantrell’s Into the Free, which won the 2013 Christy Book of the Year Award. He led a team that won 20 ADDY Awards between 2008 and 2010 for David C Cook titles recognized for best cover or book design.Born in Brazil, Pape graduated with a bachelor of arts in political science from Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. He speaks fluent French and Portuguese and is married with three sons. His multicultural publishing career in sales, marketing and graphic design has led him to a variety of roles, including executive, literary agent and consultant.Don and I met years ago when my first book came out, and he jokes in the interview that he’s not an expert, but let me tell you, he is. And I’m honored to call him a friend, as well.His focus has always been in the Christian publishing industry, but even if you’re writing for the general market, you’ll hear about changes in publishing in general and learn from Don how writers can and should practice their craft.Here's an excerpt:"The reality for authors is that they are much more engaged in their book than in the past. In the past you could probably give your book over to a publisher and then go back to your Hobbit house and start writing again. Now, you've got to give the book to the publisher and then get fully engaged with the marketing team and the publicity team as to how to reach the consumer—and addressing it in a way that it will reach the right people. And who best knows the content of the book—who better—than the author?"Click on the podcast player (above) to listen in on my conversation with NavPress Publisher Don Pape.Resources Don Pape on Twitter Don on Instagram NavPress Navigators Waterbrook (a division of Penguin Random House) Multnomah (also a division of Penguin Random House) Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group David C Cook Tattered Cover Book Store (Denver) bookbar independent bookstore (Denver) A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken Travis Thrasher Words from the Hill, by Stuart Garrard Crazy Love, by Francis Chan Bad Girls of the Bible, by Liz Curtis Higgs Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, by Joanna Weaver Eugene & Jan Peterson All podcast interviews All podcast episodes


21 May 2019

Rank #6

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Ep 190: [Interview] Author & Literary Agent Jeff Herman

Today I’m chatting with author and literary agent Jeff Herman. Jeff’s literary agency has ushered nearly one thousand books into print. He’s the coauthor of the acclaimed Write the Perfect Book Proposal and is often featured as an expert in print and broadcast media.Jeff provides insider insight that will give you hope that it’s possible to see your words in print.When you get a chance, check out his resource: Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents, 28th edition.Here's a taste of what he passed along today:"The first myth is that just because you’re in New York or the vicinity of New York you have a crucial advantage over someone from Indiana or Alaska. It’s really not true. The walls that publishing creates obstruct everyone equally. It’s not a matter of geography. It’s just a matter of access.""Now, of course, with digital communications, which to a great extent has displaced hard copy and to a certain extent has even displaced telephones and in person communications, I think that has done a lot to equalize the playing field.""The rules are not really true. They’re really preferences. The walls are porous, if that’s the right word. These walls are not metal plated; it’s more like Swiss cheese. And it’s a big illusion that you can’t get through these walls. The illusion is very useful for agents and editors. It works for us. But it doesn’t work for you, the writer, and ultimately it doesn’t work for the editors or agents because it does in effect lock out a lot of good people. But that’s why we need to be very tenacious and not let the agents or the editors individually or collectively tell you that you are not publishable. Because they don’t know. They think they know—they may know what’s right for them—but nobody can speak for the industry as a whole.""What I enjoy is working with the writer to make them as good as they can be and helping them to achieve their goals. I like to see the results of our good work together. I like to see that the book gets acquired by a publisher, that it gets published, and that it sells copies, and all the benefits that accrue to the author. I really feel then that I’m serving a purpose by helping the client and the publisher and the reader get all these beneficial results. And that’s what I see as the dream situation where we’re all working together as a well-oiled machine."Jeff Herman is the author of Write the Perfect Book Proposal and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents, 28th edition.Resources: Website: jeffherman.com Publisher's Marketplace (Jeff mentioned the subscription you can get through them) Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents, 28th Edition (affiliate link) Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold and Why (Third Edition) (affiliate link) Jennifer Dukes Lee interview Alison Hodgson interview Shawn Smucker interview Patrice Gopo interview Ann's Patreon account All podcast episodesYou can subscribe to this podcast using your podcast player or find it through Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify.


19 Mar 2019

Rank #7

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Ep 180: Write to Discover – Start with Yourself

A few weeks ago I shared with you how freewriting freed me. The book Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, played a big part in that during my college years, introducing me to the idea of timed writing as a means to write and discover.Even though I wasn't all that interested in Goldberg’s frequent references to Zen Buddhism, I liked her basic approach: "When I teach a class,” she says, “I want the students to be 'writing down the bones,' the essential, awake speech of their minds."1When I tuned into to my own inner voice and wrote down that "awake speech" of my mind, I began to know myself better. And the better I knew myself, the better and more interesting my writing became.But when I look back, I realize the practice of self-reflection started even earlier, in high school.Write to DiscoverOne afternoon when I was about 14 years old, I was glancing through books on writing at my local library and noticed a title: Write to Discover Yourself, by Ruth Vaughn. I looked both ways and plucked it from the shelf, running my fingers over the green cover with a fuchsia Gerbera daisy poking out of a pencil cup. It seemed a little wacky, but . . .Write. Discover.Writers have a lot to discover, but a way to write true and fresh no matter the project is to start by discovering oneself. I knew that instinctively, even then, and felt affirmed by this title.I desperately wanted to understand myself, to unearth who I was meant to become. And, I wanted to write.I took the book home and retreated to my room where I followed instructions to “portrait” the important people in my life, exploring memories, capturing life.I sat on the hardwood floor of my bedroom and composed a word-portrait of my father, struggling to express the way his resonant voice, rising from deep within his barrel chest, could build and fill—even shake—the house. Or was it just me, shaking?Page after page, the author encouraged me to continue being specific, to use concrete details and metaphor. I poured out stories from my little world.Digging into yourself requires a depth of honesty that is painful, the author said, but imperative. She quoted a professor who said a writer “is the person with his skin off.”First ThoughtsThat's how I began to decipher my life. On the pages of a journal, I wrote with my skin off—bare, vulnerable. I tapped into the "awake speech" of my mind, burning through to what Goldberg calls "first thoughts" in order to write down the bones, the hard truths, the core of what and who I had been and was becoming.2The idea of first thoughts made so much sense to me, because I wanted to express my truest self but I knew I was mostly living in layers of thought, edited thoughts. Goldberg explains:"First thoughts have tremendous energy. It is the way the mind first flashes on something. The internal censor usually squelches them, so we live in the realm of second and third thoughts, thoughts on thought, twice and three times removed from the direct connection of the first fresh flash."3So I used her idea of freewriting when I was in college—timed writing without stopping—hoping to once more get to the bones of thought, experience, memory, feeling; to gain clarity on faded and forgotten memories.As I practiced this private outpouring of words and deeply personal reflections—first with the help of that stumbled-upon writing book and later with guidance from author Natalie Goldberg—I peeled back layers to stare at my heart and soul. I began, through practice—through pain—the lifelong process of finding myself.Methods for Using Writing to Discover YourselfSince then I've found other resources that encourage a similar practice, like Proprioceptive Writing, Expressive Writing, and Julia Cameron's Morning Pages. I encourage you to look into these various methods and learn more.Whatever approach you try, seek to know yourself better and find insight and freedom by tapping into memory,


8 Jan 2019

Rank #8

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Ep 152: 20 Generous (and Easy!) Ways to Encourage a Writer Today

As a writer, you know how amazing it feels to get positive feedback on something you've shared with the world, whether a blog post, article, poem, or even a short social media update.And if you're an author trying to get a book into the hands of readers, you appreciate each and every person who buys your book and reads your book. You’re moved and humbled by readers who tell others about your book, or give your book as a gift, or leave a positive review, or show up at your book launch and book signings.You're probably already doing a lot of that for other writers. But I know that when my life gets busy, the pile of books I mean to read and review sits untouched while I scramble to finish my own projects. I fail to send off a timely note to encourage a friend who's just released her book. I delay recommending it on Goodreads.Help Writers Find New ReadersI forget, that, like each and every one of us, I can help a writer push into new groups of people—my groups of people—to find readers he might not be able to connect with on his own.No matter how many followers we have on any platform, no matter how many subscribers we have on our email distribution lists, we can make a difference in another writer's life by helping share their projects with the people who know us.Collecting Ideas That Truly HelpAfter attending a writing festival in April, I left inspired to do more—to be a better literary citizen. I poked around online, gathered ideas from people who have been on launch teams, and asked other authors who have benefited from the support of readers: What did those readers do? And what truly helped?I collected this input to make a list of action steps I can take to support and serve fellow writers. Then I converted it to a checklist so I can do at least one of these things each week.Busy Readers Can Encourage WritersI'm sharing it with you not to generate any guilt or put any pressure on you...only to share what I've collected and offer a reminder that it doesn't take much to make a difference. Most of these ideas would take no more than five minutes, especially if we were in that space anyway.If we're poking around on Goodreads, for example, it wouldn't take much to recommend a book to someone we think would enjoy it. If we're in a library doing research, we could take a couple of minutes to fill in a request that they acquire a friend's book.I assembled this list for myself, but I hope the ideas leave you inspired to join me in spreading goodwill and good words for our fellow writers everywhere we go.20 Generous (and Easy!) Ways to Encourage a Writer TodayI’ll share the ideas with additional thoughts right here and now in more detail. If one stands out to you—take note and take action (get your copy of the whole collection using the form below): Sign up for a writer's newsletter (and read it!). If something they send strikes a chord, hit reply and let them know. Buy books. Stop by a brick and mortar store if you can—many of us encourage support of independent bookstores whenever possible. But don’t limit yourself. Buy the book anywhere, new, and it’ll boost sales. If a store doesn’t have it in stock, ask them to order a copy. You’ll get the copy you want, and the book will get on their radar. Preorder a book that's about to be released, which helps in many ways, such as showing the publisher sales numbers in advance and maybe even pushing the book to rank high in some bestseller algorithms. Feature a writer on your website. Interview or write about someone on your blog. Link to the writer’s website to send traffic her way and introduce her to your own readers. If this writer is also an author, send people to places her books are for sale. Rate and review on Amazon. Write an honest, positive review (many stars are helpful, too). Keep in mind a thorough, thoughtful review helps potential readers decide if the book is right for them,


15 May 2018

Rank #9

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Ep 179: Time to Schedule Your Writing Life Tune-up

Tis the season for many things. One thing that doesn't roll off the tongue as jolly as a line in a carol is a writing life tune-up. Yes, tis the perfect time for writing life maintenance.It sounds so boring, I can't believe I'm sending you off for two weeks with this message. Then again, I'm convinced if more of us would take the time to develop a simple system that supports our whole writing life, we'd stay on track and meet more of our goals and make new discoveries and find new outlets for our work—in part because we aren't scrambling at the last minute to meet a deadline.So it's time to schedule your writing life tune-up.Your Writing Life Tune-upYour writing life as a whole includes both you, the writer, and your work. In a few days, we'll tumble into the new year with big goals, plans, intentions, and resolutions.But before all that, at the close of this year, a writing life tune-up looks at what you as a writer need for success, then turns to your projects, so you can determine how to set yourself up to nail deadlines and build your body of work. Doesn't that sound like a worthy, satisfying activity—even if it's boring?A writing life tune-up isn't sexy, but it's effective.I'll be spending time on a tune-up for myself in the days ahead. Why not join me?I'll be looking back at several areas to see what worked well last year and what I'd like to see in the year ahead. I'll be examining things like: Professional Development Writing Habits and Systems Writing Deadlines Editorial CalendarProfessional DevelopmentWhat did I do last year for professional development? Three writing conferences Subscribed to multiple podcasts that offer writing-related content Attended several webinars led by industry leaders Read books about writing Read other books, fiction and nonfiction Read articles and blog posts with relevant contentSome activities you might consider to advance as a writer that aren't on my list could be working with a mentor or coach and joining a writing group or author mastermind.Writing space and toolsOur writing life evaluation can include practical elements such as rearranging our writing space. Does my current desk suit my needs? Are there tools that made life easier—did others waste time with complicated steps? Is your current writing chair a good fit? Mine is, but the arm rests need a little duct tape repair. Did you try a standing desk and find it helpful? How well did a writing notebook serve you?Evaluate effectivenessMake a list of equipment, outings, activities, and input from in the past year related to all of these writing life details. What worked and what didn't work? What helped you improve as a writer and what wasn't worth the investment of time, money, and logistics? What gave you energy and what sucked energy from you? Also, what from your work and life gave energy to others?As I review last year's activities, I'll determine what helped me level-up as a writer. Then I can make better decisions for the year ahead, scrapping anything that wastes my time and resources and continuing what offered the support I need.Plan it outI like to get a big-picture view of how I want to invest in myself and my space so I can include it when mapping out any given week or month.When, for example, do I intend to listen to a podcast or watch a webinar? I don't want to steal time from a writing session, for example, to read an article about queries. And yet I want to read about queries. When will I do that?I know, I know. It's a boring process, but this tune-up keeps me from scrambling and squandering time. Because left to my own devices, I totally squander my time.Writing Habits and SystemsJames Clear and many others advocate a Kaizen philosophy of improvement claim that tiny goals set us up for success; just a one percent improvement adds up over time. We can decide what small steps we can make that will mov...


19 Dec 2018

Rank #10

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Ep 153: In a World of Author Branding, Find a Place to Play

If you scroll through my Instagram feed, it won’t take long before you’ll see quotes on pictures, quotes with colored backgrounds, sourced images and my own snapshots all jumbled together. It’s not pretty.You’ll see travel pictures and book after book lying on a marble table, which is one of two or three decent backdrops in my home.The captions vary. Some are long, some are short. Sometimes I write stories to go with the image; other times, I simply add a little quote or brief explanation.Then there are the Stories. My Instagram Stories aren’t overly planned out and I don’t add a lot of embellishment. I just talk for 15 seconds and then send it off.There’s no rhyme or reason to any of my Instagram content. There’s no grand plan.It’s sporadic.It’s an experiment.It’s a playground.On Twitter, I have a more thoughtful approach. I have a philosophy of sorts going over there...a purposeful flow of content I’m tweeting out. Same with Facebook—it’s fairly easy to figure out what I’m doing there. And I follow a straightforward schedule with predictable content on my website and podcast.But Instagram is where I mess around and try things out.One day I may commit to a smarter approach that matches my overall brand, but I think it’s important while building an author platform to reserve a place to play.While Building a Platform, We Need a Place to PlayIn an era when writers must take personal branding and platform-building seriously to be considered by traditional publishers, we must be smart about establishing our online presence.We set up our digital home base—our website. Then we secure “satellite offices,” if you will, on social media platforms. We show up as the author of a guest post on someone’s website or find ourselves interviewed on a podcast. We stay on topic. We strengthen our brand. We build an audience that appreciates our message and our voice.In the midst of those efforts, I like to set aside one space where I can be more natural, casual, and real—where I can test story ideas and experiment with my voice a bit.If your brand exudes a natural, casual, real vibe everywhere, cool! You live with more freedom than some writers, you lucky duck. Some writers, given their topic, convey a more put-together feel on social media and write in a professional tone as part of their brand in order to reach their primary audience.They need a place to let their hair down, and the good news is that these days, readers enjoy seeing even put-together professionals in their natural environment.Writers—They're Just Like Us!Have you seen the “Stars—They’re Just Like Us” section of US Weekly magazine? “There’s Kerry Washington buying lettuce at Whole Foods! She’s just like us.” “How fun to see Zac Efron walking his dog! He’s just like us.” “Wow, Cindy Crawford pumps her own gas—she’s just like us.” “How about that—Ann Kroeker reads entertainment magazines! She’s just like us!”Uh, a quick disclaimer: My mom gave me a gift subscription to US Weekly and Taste of Home back in 2012, so for the record, I didn’t seek it out myself and the subscription ran out several years ago. And I don’t flip through it at the grocery store checkout stand. (Well, at least not that often.)But if I did, that would be one of the features I’d flip to. Because I think it’s fun to see the movie or music stars I usually see dressed up and walking the red carpet spotted in normal places in ordinary clothing, shuffling around in flip flops slurping an Orange Julius, just like us.You're Someone's StarMaybe we writers working on building our platforms aren’t big stars—at least, not yet.But someone is already looking up to you.Some reader has arrived at an article you wrote for an online magazine or for your own website and thought, “Wow, I never thought about it that way before.” Or, “I could never write like her. She’s amazing.”Even if your style isn’t dressy or formal,


22 May 2018

Rank #11

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Ep 146: Your Writing Life Beginnings

The past two weeks, I shared with you parts one and two of my writing life beginnings. I reflected back on when, where, and how I began to dream of writing, pursue writing, and latch on to the writing identity.I included some of the people involved in the process—people who encouraged me and people who created a challenge for me, even when they didn’t mean to.And I did my best to convey some of those memories and reflections through scenes.Your Writing Life BeginningsNow it’s your turn.I encourage you to think back to your writing life beginnings.When did you first find yourself drawn to writing? When did you first imagine being a writer? What held you back? Who held you back? What happened next?Do you remember a moment, an interaction, a scene from your life that formed you and your view of yourself as a writer, for better or for worse?What happened to reinforce or change that perception?When did you first tiptoe in—or, heck, when did you dive full force into—the writing life?Preserve Your StoryTake time to remember.Write it down.Preserve it.And when you face discouragement—when you question your purpose or your identity as a writer—you’ll have this pivotal story to look back on: your story of your writing life beginnings.BeginningsYou’ll remember the moments you pushed through and the people who shaped you.You’ll feel strengthened to recall the first words you shared with the world or the first pieces that were published.Maybe your story will begin all the way back in grade school and the first picture book you read over and over and hid under your pillow hoping the story would drift into your dreams at night.Maybe you’ll recreate the day someone read a poem you wrote on blue construction paper and decorated with glitter—you’ll describe how their eyes lit up and they looked down at you, the young hopeful, sensitive poet, and they said, “That’s so beautiful.” And you knew. In that moment, you knew this is what you wanted in life: to be a poet.Maybe you’ll describe the time your words were brushed aside. You slammed shut your notebook and snapped your pencil in two. Your swore you would never write another story. Two decades passed before you ventured back into the world of words, and you’ll share about your first writing attempt after that bitter episode years earlier—you’ll recall a sentence you wrote on the back of an envelope, while you rode a bus on the commute into the city. You’ll remember each word of that sentence, and how you shoved the envelope in your pocket, flushed with hope, and finally felt free to write again.When you capture those moments, you’ll realize this writing dream—this drive to put pen to paper—is no surprise, not really. You’ll grin when you understand that your love of literature traces back…wayyyy back.When the Going Gets ToughIt’s worth it to invest a few minutes in preserving this part of your history.It’s worth it, because you can return to it when the going gets tough.And the going will get tough.Writing is hard. Editing is hard. Publishing is hard—sometimes brutal. You’ll have bad days, when you question it all and want to give up.Go back to this. Go back to your writing life beginnings. Write it down. Read it. Remember.Remember how you wanted it—fought for it—and resolved to make words integral to your life.Then go back to the keyboard or the notebook or whatever you write with, and begin again. Because when you remember your writing roots, you’ll know in your gut or your heart or your spirit, that this is who you are.A writer.Resources: My Writing Life: Beginnings, Pt 1 My Writing Life: Beginnings, Pt 2 All podcast episodes* * *You can subscribe with iTunes. If you subscribe, rate, and leave a review, you'll help others discover this content and grow as a writer. You should be able to search for and find “Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach” in any podcast player.


3 Apr 2018

Rank #12

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Ep 175: How to Use Lists to Transform Your Writing (and your life)

Tis the season for lists, even for those who aren't naturally checklist and to-do list types. For the holidays, people will make packing lists, shopping lists, cleaning lists, address lists, and wish lists.Lists are useful and practical, but they can serve a far more creative and powerful role in the life of a writer. You may find the humble list becomes the most used tool in your writer’s toolbox.Let's look at how lists can transform your writing...and your life.1. A list is a quick way to generate ideasWhether you’re keeping a journal or meeting an article deadline, lists are quick ways to write during busy seasons. Make a list of the big ideas you want to cover in a nonfiction book, and you’ve formed a working Table of Contents. Lists are the basis of roundup articles—a quick and rewarding project for both writer and reader. List everything you know about a topic or scene you plan to write, and your list establishes what you already know and reveals what you have yet to find out. Thanks to the list, you can plan your research and fill in the gaps. Keep an ongoing list of article headlines or chapter titles you'd love to tackle someday and you've got an idea bank to draw from when you’re ready for something new. When you have time minutes free, add to the list. Keep a writer's notebook packed with lists that include descriptions, timelines, character notes, and snatches of dialogue. Make a list of unfortunate events you can throw at your characters and you'll have the makings of your next novel's plot.2. A list tricks us into bypassing writer’s blockLists can help us break free from writer’s block by stripping away a lot of the elements typically expected from a creative project. And the act of list-making is so unassuming, so doable, so quick to pull off, we can bypass the things that hold us back or block us, like fear, lack of ideas, confusion, uncertainty.Start a list and you almost can’t stop your brain from producing another item and another. The brain loves lists. If you’re stuck, you may find you’re unstuck by the time you scribble the fourth or fifth entry.You might as well keep going. Next thing you know, you’ve written the draft or the outline of a poem, essay, short story, or blog post.3. A list is flexibleAs you write, your list expands and contracts to match the evolution of your ideas. As you edit, you can delete or combine items as needed.4. A list builds in limitsWhile allowing for flexibility, lists also form natural boundaries.In “A List of Reasons Why Our Brains Love Lists,” Maria Konnikova says the human brain responds to the way a list “spatially organizes the information; and it promises a story that’s finite, whose length has been quantified upfront.”1If a single idea seems too convoluted, corral it. Deal with idea-sprawl by cramming it into a list. By defining and limiting our ideas, our writer-minds relax; we don’t have to say it all.5. A list instantly organizes our ideasWhen I introduced the 6+1 Traits, one of the early traits we must tend to after settling on a solid idea is Organization. How will we organize these concepts or present the stories?Try a list. It’s a quick tool to organize and contain ideas when you have no idea how to organize or structure your material. Possible forms for your project may reveal themselves in the process of expanding, editing, and ordering the list.Categorize and group them. Enumerate them. Your reader’s brains, Konnikova writes, “love effortlessly acquired data,”2 and your writer-brain loves structure.6. A list is easy to scanCopyblogger’s Brian Clark wrote seven reasons why a list post will “always work.” With a list, he says, we promise a “quantifiable return on attention investment.”3 This motivates people to commit.Konnikova pointed out that by making the process of consuming the content simpler, tidier, categorizing and grouping information in clumps and marking each sectio...


20 Nov 2018

Rank #13

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Ep 163: How to Write When You Work Full Time

I love that today’s theme comes from a newsletter subscriber who responded when I asked for ideas to address on the podcast or in articles. So this is a real writer with a real struggle—a reality for many writers.This person wants to know:How to write when you work full time?That’s a tough one. It’s hard to have any kind of hobby or side hustle when you work full-time. When you put in the hours at work and come home exhausted, how can you possibly devote your depleted brain and energy to a creative project?Don’t Ignore the AcheI stayed home to raise our four children and we chose to home educate, so while I didn’t work full-time in a traditional sense, I had my hands full most hours of the day. Writing was extremely challenging during those years.My dream was to have an entire day at my disposal, no interruptions, no diapers to change, no activities to organize. But that wasn’t the overall lifestyle we’d chosen. I thought if I couldn’t have the day to write—and if, in fact, my reality felt like I had NO time to write—why bother?But I couldn’t ignore the ache. I ached to write.Some days I felt hopeless. Some days I felt sorry for myself and didn’t bother even trying. Most days I wanted that all-or-nothing writing life.So a lot of days I didn’t write. After all, I didn’t feel like I had the energy; or if I started, I’d only be interrupted. Why try?But that ache wore on.Address the AcheI couldn’t go on like that. I had to address the ache. I suspect that’s where a lot of writers are—maybe the person who sent in this idea for a podcast.You’re feeling the ache, that soul-ulcer chewing away at your creative impulse. You’re losing hope.How do you write when you work full time?Assuming you can’t quit, I hope you’re feeling something else rise up in you—something louder and stronger than the ache.Voice ItIt’s a voice, a determination within. A resolve.You have something inside of you that must be voiced.A barbaric yawp you’re ready to sound over the roofs of the world.I. Must. Write.That’s it.You must write.Yes, there’s writing in you, ready for the page. You can’t wait any longer.There’s a writer in you, ready to yawp, and you know it. You can’t wait for the perfect conditions. You can’t wait until you inherit some distant relative’s fortune so you can quit your job.No more waiting.You must sound your yawp over the roofs of the world.You must write.Today.Look for slivers of time and the occasional chunk of time here or there. Settle for less than the dream of a cabin in the woods. Whatever you can, grab it and write a few lines.Where Will You Write?Let me tell you a story.Joseph Michael developed a Scrivener training course while he was working full time at another job. Scrivener is writing software, also an app, that many authors use because with it, you can manage longer, larger, more complex projects more easily than you can using Word or Google docs.But Scrivener is a little confusing to most newbies; at least it was for me. So I grabbed his training course years ago when it was on sale and started watching, hoping to avoid bumbling around, losing important pieces of projects. I felt frustrated because I didn’t understand the system, so I walked through his short training lectures and made sense of Scrivener.Years later, because of the success of his Scrivener course, Joseph Michael came out with some additional training on how to build courses—a course about courses. I didn’t buy the course about courses, but I signed up for a free introductory webinar, where he told how he recorded that early version of the Scrivener course.He said he’d drive to work. On his lunch break, he’d head to the parking garage and record some of the Scrivener lessons—right there in the front seat of his car, wedged behind the steering wheel. In short sessions, hidden away in the parking garage of his workplace,


31 Jul 2018

Rank #14

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Ep 200: Next-Level Writer – Relentlessly Execute Your Plan to Level Up

[Ep 200]Unless a fairy godmother shows up and sprinkles fairy dust all over your laptop to magically boost you to the next level—without any effort on your part—you’ll have to commit to your plan and follow through.Relentless ImplementationShane Melaugh of the ActiveGrowth podcast said in a recent webinar we must “relentlessly implement” or “relentlessly execute” to level up. It’s the only way we evolve and mature into the writers we need to be in order to produce the work we want to produce to reach the readers we want to reach.This podcast itself is an example of my own relentless implementation, although “faithful" implementation might be a better way to phrase it. I did leave some unavoidable gaps here and there due to some caregiving chaos, but the majority of time, for five years, I’ve faithfully, relentlessly, sent out weekly content.I don’t have any superpowers; I just keep showing up, week after week, year after year, and here we are at episode 200.That faithful, relentless commitment allowed me to level up.If Growth Is Slow, Don't Give UpBut it can be slow going. In fact, for any of us, our growth can be imperceptible—so much so, we may be tempted to give up before we realize our full potential. You may stop before you gain traction and experience real growth.When I started the podcast in 2014, I treated it as an experiment. And things didn’t take off right away. I was releasing episodes weekly, so eight episodes would be two months of output. If I’d stopped after the eighth episode, I would have missed the fruit of my labor. And I could have easily ended the experiment.But I was having fun and I wanted to keep going, even if it wasn’t a success by measurable standards.Thankfully I stuck with it. I figured out the best length and frequency to release episodes, and I decided what I really wanted to offer through the podcast. Even in the midst of a crazy time of life, I kept up with it.While I’m not showing actual numbers on this graph, I do want you to see the growth over time. Between 2014 and 2017 you see gradual growth. The first month a few people listened to find out what I was up to—friends and family and few followers on social media.The month after that, it dips down. That may have been during one of my chaotic caregiving seasons, but even if you look at the third month, it barely rises to where I was when I launched. Basically, in three months of effort, I saw no growth.The fourth month rose a little. The fifth month barely rose above the fourth.Not until the sixth month did this podcast finally see a bump. It took six months before I saw any substantial growth.Keep Implementing the PlanI didn’t have a fairy godmother sprinkle fairy dust on my microphone, not even at the sixth month. I never showed up on the Apple Podcast New & Noteworthy page where people often get a boost. I just kept creating another episode and sharing it with people on social media, faithfully—relentlessly—implementing my plan.It took time, but the good news is if you look at the long-term growth, you do see a gradual increase.Prior to the podcast, my plan involved creating content for my website and social media. When I introduced the podcast to my plan and it leveled up, my exposure as a coach and writer rose with it.Benefits of Sticking with the PlanThanks to podcasting, I: developed audio recording and editing skills wrote regularly to script and share my content shared that content not only in audio form but in written format as well gained confidence as a presenter landed speaking opportunities connected with new writers who “met” me through the podcast stayed current on industry trends to pass that information along to listeners introduced you to authors and publishers through interviews read more books on writing than I normally would to share that wisdom in various episodes had funYes, I had fun.


28 May 2019

Rank #15

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Ep 202: Enjoy Creative Freedom with the Modular Approach to Writing

[Ep 202]When my kids were little they didn’t really like the LEGO sets that require you to put the bricks together a certain way to create a specific thing, like a Death Star. They preferred giant quantities of individual bricks so they could snap them together and build whatever they wanted.And this is the brilliance of LEGO: its modular approach. The sets are super cool, but as long as you have bricks of any shape or color, you have the elements you need to build. Click them together to try out one way before breaking them apart to connect them in a new configuration to see if you like that result better.Modular Approach to WritingThis modular approach to building is an approach I suggest you apply to writing—especially if you’re finding it hard to begin a project or you’re stuck in the middle of one.Or maybe your brain doesn’t think in a linear or sequential way. If so, this solution helps you develop your draft without having to commit to an orderly process at first.Write Discrete Units—Your BricksEach "brick" of writing is a unit that will comprise the bigger project. This unit could be a scene for fiction; a paragraph for an essay or article; a stanza or even just a line for a poem; or a subsection of a chapter for a nonfiction book.Once you know what project you’re working on, write what comes to mind. If you’re working on a novel, write a scene. If you don’t know what to follow it with, don’t worry. Write another scene knowing it doesn’t have to connect with the one you just wrote--at least, not right now. You can fill in the missing pieces later. Right now, write what you can write.Just as you’d toss some LEGO bricks on the floor to start building a castle, these scenes are the blocks you’ll use to build your story. Each one you write is a discrete element you’ll use to construct the final draft.Same with an essay or the chapter of a nonfiction book. Write an analogy that supports one of your contentions. Add your thoughts related to a quote you’re planning to use. Compose a personal story that relates to the theme.All of those serve as standalone segments, sections, or blocks related to that project that can be moved around at any point.Build Your DraftWhen you’ve written enough that you can see the project taking shape, lay out all the blocks of text you wrote by printing them and cutting apart each segment.Or, you can rearrange them on the computer screen by cutting and pasting, moving them up and down to insert in various ways.Digital saves paper and ink, but in this building stage, many writers prefer working with physical pieces of paper. They like to spread out their paragraphs or stanzas or scenes on a table or on the floor so they can see it forming.Try it first in one order, shuffling a paragraph or stanza up or down.Read it through. How does it sound? Would it work better in another order?Keep reordering segments and reading through the new version, then dismantle it and try another combination to figure out what works best.Brick by brick, you can piece together your work-in-progress; block by block you build your draft.Write the Missing PiecesAt some point, you’ll land on a combination with potential. You can see it coming together in front of you; if you read it aloud, you’ll hear it making sense. It may be missing a section needed for context, continuity, or logic, or it may need additional phrases to clarify an idea, but it’s taking shape.This development phase is the perfect time to discover what’s needed and simply write another brick, another chunk of writing, and insert it into your creation.If your short story needs a flashback scene, write it now.If your poem lost its rhythm, write another line.If your essay leaps to a conclusion, write another paragraph to include supporting evidence.Add what’s missing and you’re almost done.Final StagesYou’re so close to the final product,


11 Jun 2019

Rank #16

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Ep 203: A Writer’s Guide to ROI (Part 1)

[Ep 203]If you’re like me, you do a lot of writing and writing-related activities essentially for free. You craft social media content, articles for a blog, and guest posts as part of your plan.We do these kinds of activities to educate, entertain, and inform. We hope to solve problems for readers, connect with them, share our ideas, and build bridges.At the same time, we may be trying to gain visibility as a writer or increase reach into new audiences to help even more people. We might create a freebie to add subscribers to our email list or write articles on spec to beef up our author bio with stronger social proof.We write books that may take years to complete before we even begin to search for an agent or publisher—again, we’re essentially writing for free long before the first reader plops down a credit card.It’s a lot of work.Is it worth it?How do you determine if it’s worth it?What’s the Return on InvestmentAs host Anne Watson interviewed Crystal Paine for The Declare Conference Podcast, they discussed whether it’s worth it to create “lead magnets” for every blog post.Crystal advised listeners to look at the time involved in making them and the results you’re getting. “I’m always looking at what is the return on my investment of time.”1Anne asked, “How are you filtering what you think is the best place for you to spend your time?”Crystal responded:The ROI. One hundred percent the ROI. That is what I focus on. So how much time is this going to take me and how much money is this going to make me or how many new people is this going to bring in. And that might sound super selfish or something but that’s what I have to do, because I have a very limited amount of time that I can focus on every day….2She continued:Mostly I focus on how do I serve my own audience well, and what are the few things that we’re going to change this year that I feel are going to serve my audience best. And that’s really my heart with everything that I do...I just really focus on providing content for my audience, serving my audience, building relationships with my audience, and trying to become better as a person by reading good books and sharpening my writing, critiquing myself on video and on podcasts and just constantly learning and growing as a person and I think that trickles down into everything you do.3 {beginning around the 24:00 mark}Is it worth it to publish a blog post twice a week and post on Instagram daily? Is it worth it to work for a year on a book that doesn’t have a publisher? Is it worth it for you to submit an article to a magazine where you may not be paid?Only you can answer those questions, based on how you measure your ROI.What are you getting for the resources you’re investing?Crystal Paine’s ROIAs you saw, Crystal Paine is running her ROI through her personal values and goals for her business. She asks: How much time is this going to take me?Then she revealed the returns that matter to her: How much money is this going to make? How many people is this going to bring in? How is this content serving my audience? How is this activity helping me build relationships with my audience? How is this activity helping me become a better person?Regarding that last point, you may recall Crystal listed activities like reading good books, sharpening her writing and speaking skills, and learning and growing as a person. She said, “I think that trickles down into everything you do.”4So investing time in reading a book has a good ROI if it helps her grow as a person or writer.ROI Is PersonalROI in business relates more to investments bringing monetary results or company growth. But you may calculate the ROI in a more personal way, as Crystal does when considering books she might read next or the few podcasts that she listens to.Listening, reading, creating—it all takes time, so she’s determined for herself what makes it worth her...


18 Jun 2019

Rank #17

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Ep 214: Are Outlines a Writer’s Greatest Gift…or Curse?

[Ep 214]Back in July I bought a Garmin watch that tracks steps and heart rate. More importantly, it offers training plans for beginning and intermediate runners. I clicked on a beginner’s plan because I hadn’t run regularly for years, and started following the instructions each day.Now, I tend to wing things in general. More often than not, I jump in and make decisions on the fly with just about everything. I like freedom and hate being fenced in or forced to do things. Too much structure and I’m ready to bust out the walls.But for some reason, I responded well to the structure of this training program. If it told me to do intervals, I’d head down the road and run intervals. If it said to run hills, I found the hilliest hills in the mostly flat city where I live.I enjoyed the choices within the parameters of the plan. I could choose where to run and I could choose to skip a stage of the plan. But I loved how the plan organized my workouts so I don’t have to stand at the end of my driveway trying to figure out what to do each day, inventing from scratch.So while my personality might be the type to look at structure as a curse, I think it might be...a gift.A Writer’s GiftOutlines are to a writer what a Garmin training plan is to a runner: a gift, not a curse.During the years when I taught composition to high school students, the most naturally creative students resisted outlines. They hated the idea of slamming structure into what could be an organic process of discovery. And I sympathized with them—that’s how I tend to feel.So some of them they respectfully requested that they try it their way. But because I was teaching composition, I had to teach outlines. And because this was a group of compliant homeschoolers, they did it my way.Even the student who participated in NaNoWriMo every year as a pantser—flying by the seat of her pants as she completed a novel in the month of November with very little structure—even she agreed to outline for the big research paper assigned for the second semester.When they finished researching and their outlines shifted based on new information they gleaned, they sorted their 3x5 cards into the outline and even the biggest doubters who thought outlining was annoying and a curse found it was a brilliant time-saver. With ease and speed and efficiency, they wrote organized drafts that reflected a logical structure and flow.Even my NaNoWriMo student conceded that the outline-approach worked. She said in the future she would likely drop the step of taking notes on 3x5 cards, but the outline would be part of her writing life—at least for academic papers.While I don’t spend as much time discussing the art of fiction, I’ve seen plenty of general outlines that a novelist could use to give a general form and remind the writer of key elements and beats to hit along the way.We don’t have to use outlines, but they can provide a starting point. They offer structure and support as we brainstorm and produce our first draft. And they help us write faster than ever.Isn’t that a gift?Impromptu OutlinesMy son participates In a speech and debate club where I serve as a parent-volunteer. Another mom teaches various speaking principles and the past few weeks we’ve reviewed how to outline a platform speech.But she also presents a series of outlines to the students that they can use in their impromptu speeches.Impromptu speeches are not planned in advance. The competitor enters a room, selects a piece of paper listing two topics, and in two minutes, plans a five-minute speech based on one of the two topics.You can imagine how the student’s mind reacts to this pressure. It can go blank. It can spin off in a million directions.We empower our club members by giving them these outlines—these gifts.Students sit down with the scratch paper available, and write out an outline. Then they add their main ideas and examples,


10 Oct 2019

Rank #18

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Ep 193: Next-Level Writer – To Start, You’ve Got to Get in the Game

[Ep 193]Leveling up, according to my teenage son, who is familiar with several different video games, refers to a character or creature that gains enough experience to unlock new skills or features.For example, let’s say you’re playing a game with a dragon that has one primary skill: he can breathe fire. But not big fire; he shoots out just a little flicker of flame, like a cigarette lighter clicking open and shut.Discover Your Base-Level AbilitiesYou start the game and figure out how your dragon’s power works. He gains plenty of fire-breathing experience, as you torch abandoned sheds and defend against enemies with a burst of his flame.At some point, you play long enough to make full use of his current abilities. You encounter every threat at least once if not twice, and you know the lay of the land. The dragon can scorch castle doors and scale turrets. He can flick out his fire to burn through the base of a tree to fell it and form a shelter.He’s ready to level up. Unlock that achievement and suddenly you face another dragon and yours breathes out a big ol’ fireball twice the size of his original flames. This opens up new possibilities and invites bigger challenges. And with these newfound abilities, he can face them.Writing is something like that. When we begin writing, we start with natural abilities and skills. We write and we learn what we’re capable of and we gain experience along the way. At some point, we may feel the nudge to level up, so we can see our writing expand—even explode—like a fireball doubled in size.You’ve Got to Get in the GameBut before any of that can happen, we’ve got to get in the game.If you want to write, you have to start writing.Only when you get in the game will you begin to figure out what you’re capable of in the first place. Only when you’re actually writing can you test your skills and talents. Only when you’re in the game can you develop a writing practice, learn the craft of writing, and slowly grow comfortable and confident.When Hemingway First Got in the GameI’m reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, reminded of his early days in Paris, when he started writing stories and was figuring out his writing voice, his creative process.He found that he liked to write in a notebook while sitting in cafes. While he was still a literary unknown he was meeting and learning from his more experienced contemporaries like Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound.He discovered a system for how to stop and start his work in progress:I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”1He also learned to trust his emerging style—his now infamous spare style—that relies on declarative sentences. “If I started to write elaborately,” he explains, “or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”2In those early days he wasn’t yet famous; he wasn’t a household name. He didn’t have an editing app named after him. Like every writer throughout history, Hemingway had to get in the game before he could level up.Figure Out Yourself as a WriterAs you commit to writing,


9 Apr 2019

Rank #19