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Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

Updated 13 days ago

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Learn from writing coach Ann Kroeker how to achieve your writing goals (and have fun!) by being more curious, creative, and productive.

Read more

Learn from writing coach Ann Kroeker how to achieve your writing goals (and have fun!) by being more curious, creative, and productive.

iTunes Ratings

53 Ratings
Average Ratings

One of my favorites

By Dair B. - Jul 18 2018
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Efficient, insightful, and inspiring!


By @shaunaletellier - May 29 2017
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Practical, entertaining, and brief. Ann writes and speaks as a lovely example of all she teaches.

iTunes Ratings

53 Ratings
Average Ratings

One of my favorites

By Dair B. - Jul 18 2018
Read more
Efficient, insightful, and inspiring!


By @shaunaletellier - May 29 2017
Read more
Practical, entertaining, and brief. Ann writes and speaks as a lovely example of all she teaches.
Cover image of Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

Updated 13 days ago

Read more

Learn from writing coach Ann Kroeker how to achieve your writing goals (and have fun!) by being more curious, creative, and productive.

Rank #1: Ep 210: Cultivate Curiosity for Your Best Writing Life, Pillar One

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Dani Shapiro writes, “When I think of the wisest people I know, they share one defining trait: curiosity” (213, Still Writing).

As she notes this connection between wisdom and curiosity, she continues, “They turn away from the minutiae of their lives—and focus on the world around them. They are motivated by a desire to explore the unfamiliar. They are drawn toward what they don’t understand. They enjoy surprise” (213).

I love how she connects surprise and curiosity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi makes that same connection, as you’ll see shortly.

But before we get to that, let me establish my own connection: that curiosity is one of three pillars of your best writing life…along with creativity and productivity.

Curious Writers Bring More to Their Work

As curiosity becomes a daily practice, our writing will benefit, because curiosity serves as a driving force to producing captivating content and developing a writer who has things to say.

Nourish curiosity and you’ll have a lively imagination drawing from a vast and ever-expanding library of ideas. Each day, even the smallest flash of wonder fans the flame of creativity.

If we agree with Dani Shapiro that curious people focus on the world around them with a desire to explore the unfamiliar—drawn toward what they don’t understand—we gather clues for how we, too, can cultivate curiosity to live out our best writing life.

If you’ve lost your sense of wonder and dampened curiosity, don’t worry. You can recapture it, funneling into your work a newfound delight in the world around you, in yourself, and in others.

If you happen to be by nature a curious lifelong learner, lucky you! Continue to explore new ways to cultivate it further to become even more curious and pour what you discover into your writing projects.

Develop Curiosity

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Creativity writes:

“[T]he first step toward a more creative life is the cultivation of curiosity and interests, that is, the allocation of attention to things for their own sake…. Creative individuals are childlike in that their curiosity remains fresh even at ninety years of age; they delight in the strange and the unknown. And because there is no end to the unknown, their delight also is endless.” (346, Creativity)

Did you hear his suggestions?

  • Allocate “attention to things for their own sake.”
  • “Delight in the strange and unknown.”

It’s similar to what Dani Shapiro was saying: even the old in age are young at heart as they “explore the unfamiliar” and let themselves be “drawn toward what they don’t understand.”

Curious people learn something new every day.

Search, Capture, Ask

My mom moved from the American Midwest to a coastal town in the South and became captivated by the flora and fauna of the area.

She bought a telephoto lens so she could capture photos of the birds that seem so exotic to her. She grew up and lived most of her life with mourning doves, cardinals, robins, starlings, swallows, and red-winged blackbirds.

Now she’s delighting in what are, for her, “strange and unknown” species. She’s “exploring the unfamiliar” as she snaps photos and looks up in a guidebook the names of birds that turn out to be wood storks, ibises, great blue herons, green herons, and anhingas.

She shares them with her Facebook followers posting one photo after another along with thoughtful captions further modeling this curiosity that comes so naturally to her.

My mom is by nature curious and developed it as a journalist, rooting out stories everywhere she goes.

But you don’t need to be a trained journalist to ask the questions popping into your head and to search for answers:

  • borrow binoculars—or a telephoto lens—to study a bird
  • ask a parent about her first crush
  • wonder about the etymology of a word—and look it up
  • dig into a time in history you know little about
  • consider why a person made one choice instead of another
  • ask that about yourself, as well—why did you make one choice instead of another?

Cultivate Curiosity with Daily Surprise

Mihaly offers a three-fold path to start cultivating curiosity that I’d like to suggest for you.

It involves surprise.

  1. Be surprised
  2. Surprise others
  3. Document your surprise (347, Creativity)

1. Be Surprised

His first tip for anyone pursuing a more curious life is to “try to be surprised by something every day” (347). He lists mundane, everyday ways to do so, like noticing an unusual car in the parking lot and ordering a new item on the menu.

A note to us all: this increased attentiveness will require us to look up from our phones now and then and engage our senses.

Igniting those senses, we may notice the ingredients in the new dish we’re served or admire the gleaming chrome on the car whose make and model we never noticed before. We might turn onto a side road to stop and admire the Harvest Moon. We could snap a photo of the dragonfly perched on the tip of a blade of grass.

Ask questions that come up during these encounters. What spice am I smelling and tasting? Why does the moon seem so huge? What do dragonflies eat? Satisfy your curiosity with a search for answers, and here your phone might actually come in handy.

And when some questions seem unanswerable, live in the mystery. That, too, is part of the curious writer’s life.

All of this information enters into us and we draw from it as we think, make connections, and write.

Surprise in Writers

Robert Frost said in an interview with The Paris Review, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” Even an organized writer who sets out with an outline or a plot mapped out brings energy to the page when he finds himself surprised as he writes.

I think we know it as readers. What a pleasure to enjoy an article, book, or poem written by someone who seems to be full of wonder and delight and surprise. A curious writer, surprised by life, brings that to his work.

You can be that writer.

Driven by inquisitiveness, curious writers experiment, even play. They’re unwilling to take things for granted or take things at face value. Curious writers test new techniques and try different genres. Curious writers embrace new vocabulary and employ fresh metaphors.

In their writing and in life, curious writers embrace a-ha moments. They hold life up to the light.

2. Surprise Others

How else can we practice a healthy curiosity? Csikszentmihalyi next advises us to “try to surprise at least one person every day.” Again, his ideas are simple, not wild: say something no one expects or invite someone to join you on an outing to a new location or event. (347)

What will happen? How will they react?

Years ago, one of my daughters handed me a wrapped gift and presented it almost shaking with excitement.

It wasn’t Mother’s Day or my birthday, so I asked, “What’s this for?”

She said the book we’d been reading together at the time, The Essential 55, had pointed out that the best time to give a gift is when no one expects it because you know they did it because they wanted to and not out of obligation because it was your birthday or Christmas (55, The Essential 55).

I was blown away by her random act of love. And whenever I drink that tea, I think of her and feel gratitude for her surprise all these years later.

Follow through with your own spark of an idea to surprise someone and see how that ignites a corresponding delight in you at the exact same moment.

3. Document Your Surprise

Csikszentmihalyi’s last suggestion for a surprise-centered approach to curiosity is to “write down each day what surprised you and how you surprised others.”

Like a scientist keeping notes on an experiment, document your day’s surprises—and review those notes periodically to search for “a pattern of interest emerging…one that may indicate some domain that would repay exploring in depth.” (347, Creativity)

Most writers know what interests them, but you may discover something new in your surprise-driven days—some new topic or passion that can focus your next writing project. Or maybe it will inform your writing life as a whole.

Homework for Life™

Our curiosity looks outside ourselves much of the time, to note the surprise in someone else or to answer a question about something we’ve observed. But we can be curious about ourselves and our own lives, as well.

In his TEDx Talk, on his podcast, and at his blog, storyteller Matthew Dicks invites every person, not just writers, to document their “most story-like moment from the day” for what he calls Homework for Life™. He takes five minutes at the end of each day and thinks back: What made this day different from all the rest? (Matthew Dicks, Homework for Life | TEDxBerkshires)

Learn straight from Matthew himself in his TEDx Talk:

The idea is very simple. He writes a sentence or two—sometimes just a string of words—that will bring back a memory from the day: the moment he chose to document. He says you develop a storytelling lens when you note the small discoveries, the daily surprises, those meaningful moments you don’t want to lose. (Homework for Life™ TEDxBerkshires)

When you start collecting stories with Homework for Life™, the days stop running into each other, as if nothing is new—because every day holds something new.

His call is similar to Mihaly’s: take note of the surprises, the reactions, the lessons learned, the interactions that stand out. It’s a way to be curious about yourself, as you set aside tons of content for future projects.

Do this simple assignment and each day becomes more precious, more curious.

Trust the First Pillar for Your Best Writing Life: Cultivate Curiosity

I hope you learn to trust the first pillar for your best writing life and start cultivating curiosity.

Expand your everyday perspective to expand as a person, dabbling in new experiences and enjoying new sensations. Try a new sport. Visit a shop you’ve never been in. Mix things up: If your favorite place is the hardware store, visit a yarn shop; if you’re most comfortable at a library, head to an art gallery.

What did you see, feel, smell, and hear?

If you neglect the world around you and suppress the desire to explore the unfamiliar, what will you bring to the page? If you ignore what you don’t understand, turning away, how will you grow?

Nurture curiosity, and your writing will flow with fresh ideas and insights linked to new observations and connections you make. You’ll find yourself open to ideas, considering alternative points of view. You may feel surprise, delight, even wonder.

Learn something new every day. Surprise yourself and others. And document the stories that make any given day different from all the rest.

Because when you’re a writer cultivating curiosity about your day, your life, your moments, you’re a writer rich in material, insights, and stories.


You can subscribe to this podcast using your podcast player or find it through Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify.


Is your writing life all it can be?

Let this book act as your personal coach, to explore the writing life you already have and the writing life you wish for, and close the gap between the two.

“A genial marriage of practice and theory. For writers new and seasoned. This book is a winner.

—Phil Gulley, author of Front Porch Tales

Aug 06 2019
13 mins

Rank #2: Ep 209: Curiosity, Creativity, Productivity: Three Pillars to Building Your Best Writing Life

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[Ep 209]

Each week I claim that writers are discovering ways to reach their writing goals—and have fun—by being more curious, creative, and productive.

And each week you may be thinking, “Really?”

Yes, I really do believe these three traits or these three values can drive you forward to achieve your goals—and have fun along the way. They are values I myself take to heart and encourage my clients to explore and embrace, because curiosity, creativity, and productivity—together—have the potential to transform both you and your writing.

Today’s overview will give you a high-level look, and in the weeks ahead we’ll drill down into each one, to look at their core. By taking a closer look, you’ll see how developing these traits as a part of everyday life and as part of your writing practice, you’ll position yourself to become the writer you want to be.

Pillar One: Curiosity in the Writing Life

Why curiosity on its own? Why not tuck that under the umbrella of creativity?

Curiosity drives us to discover, to wonder, to think “What if?”

Could there be a more energizing trait for a writer?

Writers of fiction turn to the “what if” prompt to ignite their imagination. Curiosity propels stories forward for the reader as they wonder what’s next. Curiosity gets characters into trouble and then curiosity helps them solve problems to get out of trouble.

Poets, too, benefit from curiosity as a driving force. As the poet asks questions, she looks more closely at anything from a fish to a father. Curiosity calls us to slow down, consider, put the pieces together in a way that the rest of the world, speeding along without a pause, rarely has time to mess with—and curious poets put words to what they’ve pieced together.

Writers of nonfiction who let curiosity guide them will break free from rephrasing the same old points over and over. A curious writer will dig deeper, probe into subject matter, research topics to find the freshest, most accurate answers.

Writers who value and practice this as a part of their daily lives will likely have more fun along the way, delighting in both big wonders and small, grieving over deep injustice, seeking truth and revealing it.

In the next episode, we’ll look in more detail about how to develop curiosity as a writer and practice it regularly. Let’s look briefly at the next pillar of the writing life: creativity.

Pillar Two: Creativity in the Writing Life

You can enroll in an MFA program to earn a degree in what? Creative writing.

Whatever focus you select—fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction—creativity is the core concept of the program because creativity is core to a writer.

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone disagree with the belief that creativity is key to great writing, and yet I’ve read pieces that could use an injection of creativity. Aren’t we seeking to create something new rather than regurgitate something old and stale in a style that sounds like it could have been written by anyone?

Embedded in the idea of creativity is not only that the ideas are creative—they’re fresh, novel, compelling, engaging—but also that we are indeed creating things. We can’t make something out of nothing, but we can mold into existence a passage, a poem, a project from ideas formed out of words. In that sense, writers are creators.

Practicing the craft of writing builds our confidence in wielding the tools at our disposal, but we can practice creativity in other areas of life in a way that enriches us as people. That, in turn, feeds into our work.

Be more creative as a person, and you’ll move closer to becoming a more creative writer—and thus achieving your writing goals.

And the creative process itself—even before arriving at the final product—satisfies the person in the midst of creating. So you really can’t lose if you prioritize this value.

Pillar Three: Productivity in the Life of a Writer

If we want to be writers, we have to produce words that turn into projects.

It doesn’t mean we have to spit out poems like candy from a vending machine or roll out short stories like cars on an assembly line—that’s why we have three pillars and not just one!

Curiosity and creativity infuse our writing with life and energy and joy, novelty and insight. Productivity ensures it is captured and expressed in words.

Writers who fall down rabbit holes of research driven by curiosity must eventually emerge and throw some of that on the page to sort it out and produce a final project.

We must produce or we aren’t writing.

Some writers will sit on an idea for a decade or longer, unable to produce even a portion of it, afraid they won’t do it justice. But writers must write—we must produce some kind of output or product.

Other writers start project after project in bursts of creative inspiration. They delight in the potential they see in those works in progress, but they struggle to see them through to completion.

We have to start and finish projects if we ever want to share our work with others. And isn’t that ultimately why we write? For the reader?

And don’t we long to build a body of work? To do so, we must learn to be productive writers.

Even slow writers can find ways to steadily put their ideas, thoughts, stories, and dreams into words in order to grow into more practiced, experienced, confident writers ready to share their work with the world.

The Three Values Work Together in Your Writing Life

If we were only productive without being creative or curious, we could be writing and publishing formulaic projects that offer nothing new or fresh.

If we were creative without being productive or curious, we might write experimental freewriting in a journal that never evolves into a completed project or one we would share with others.

If we were curious without being productive or creative, we might read and think and go for walks and chat with friends or interview experts without ever putting pen to paper to create or send out anything.

Thankfully, we’ll be exploring three pillars of the writing life—three traits that transform you and your writing so that you achieve your writing goals (and have fun!). It takes curiosity, creativity, and productivity to arrive at your best writing life.


You can subscribe to this podcast using your podcast player or find it through Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify.

Jul 30 2019
8 mins

Rank #3: Ep 125: No Time to Write? Do This Every Day

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Last time we talked about how lack of time is a universal frustration for people who want to write. And I offered a solution that could kickstart your writing and prove to yourself it can be done—you can write even when you think you have no time at all.

In this episode, you’re going to see how a simple practice will help you enjoy some quick wins. This, too, will prove to yourself that you can write even when it seems you have no time to spare.
Daily Paragraph
Every day, write a paragraph.

That’s it. Write one paragraph for your work-in-progress every night.

You might argue that word count works better. If it does, great. Write that many words. And make sure they add up to at least one paragraph. If you can't reach your target word count, won't it be great if you have one complete paragraph done? You can always write more.

You might argue that you need to sit at your computer for a set amount of time. Great. Sit there. But while you’re sitting there for that set amount of time, write one paragraph. Yes, while you're sitting there. Because you could also sit there and do nothing or sneak a peek at Instagram.

And I want you to write one paragraph.

Why a paragraph?

Because it is a discrete block of writing. It can stand alone while contributing to the whole. It has its own mini beginning, middle, and end. If you write a full paragraph, you’re going to feel like you completed an idea—a subtopic of the larger piece or a scene of the larger story—because that's exactly what a paragraph is: one fully developed idea.

You don’t get a pass if you write blog posts and the paragraphs are one sentence long or if you write fiction and you write one line of dialogue that has to stand on its own. If that's what your work-in-progress needs next, write a scene. This technically may take several “paragraphs” before you’re done, but it will satisfy that need to arrive at completion so your brain realizes you're making progress.
How to Do It
Open a Word document, Google doc, Evernote note, spiral notebook. It doesn't matter what you use—just open something you can write in.

If you didn't get a block of time yet to kickstart the project, on the first night, map out an article or story. Mind map or outline or make a little list of what your ideas are and what you might like to say. That’s the only night you won’t write an official paragraph, but you’re thinking about all the paragraphs you’re going to write, so that’s legit.

Next night, write one paragraph. It doesn't necessarily have to be sequential. If you’re struggling to figure out an introduction, write any paragraph, address any point, dive into any scene.

Next night, look at the plan, read the paragraph from the night before, add anything you think of to that paragraph and write another. This might be another point or some other part of the article. On this night, you may have to start putting these paragraphs more or less in the right location on the page if you’re writing out of sequence.

But you’re writing. You didn’t think you had the time, but look how one paragraph after another grows into something substantial.

Of course I’ve been talking about writing these paragraphs in the evening, but if you're a morning person of course, write then. Or you could write during a lunch break. In other words, just swap out evening for the time of day that works best for you.
Don't Overthink the Paragraph
A paragraph may seem like a lot if you haven't written much for a while, but just write any old thought. Don't get all worked up about its artistic merit.

Do this enough nights in a row, and before you know it, you’ll have most of a poem, article, essay, or book chapter done.

You can save the introduction and conclusion for last, after you’ve fully developed your piece, paragraph by paragraph, idea by idea. You might need to move things around. But you've got words to work with. Finally. After all this time.
Every Draft Is a Success
Oct 31 2017
6 mins

Rank #4: Ep 154: In a World of Author Branding, Be Consistent at Your Core

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Last time we talked about having a playground. A place to relax and try new things. A place where you can experiment and be a little messy until you figure out how you want to use that space.
Consistent at Your Core
At the same time, be consistent at your core.

Not that you look exactly the same everywhere you go. I mean, that’s not even realistic. Think about it in practical terms: Sometimes you’ll be speaking at a conference and dressed in a professional outfit while other times you’ll be doing a live video feed while walking your dog. It’s appropriate and expected to literally look different and to exude a different tone in one space versus another.

But somehow I should have no question I’m listening to the same person. Everywhere I encounter you—online, at a conference, or in line at Starbucks—I should sense that you are essentially the same.

Whether you’re dressed in your best suit for a photo shoot or sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows with friends, be the same core you.
Consistent with Content
Maintain consistency in content, too, to avoid blindsiding readers.

That doesn’t mean you write the exact same subject using different examples over and over. That would get boring. And tedious.

Instead, write under the broader themes you’re known to explore. If you’re a lifestyle blogger, you might have a few subtopics you write about: travel, photography, food. And let’s say you write about those things with a frugality focus: money-saving travel tips, how to get the most out of your DSLR, meal planning on a budget.

Readers love your articles. You’re saving them money and you’re a little bit sassy when introducing a product or destination. They follow you for updates.

If you suddenly start writing about politics in a cynical tone, your audience will wonder what’s going on. You don’t sound like you and you’re not delivering them subject matter they’ve expected from you.

Now, you’re free to write whatever you want, and you may choose to leverage your platform for a higher purpose.
Why Do Readers Come to You?
Just keep your audience in mind...your readers. Why do they come to you?

If you’re the frugal travel blogger and suddenly you start spotlighting luxury hotels that cost $600 a night, and you toss French phrases around as if you’re wearing a beret and drinking champagne, readers who have appreciated your tips for backpacking across Europe and choosing the best hostel will feel like your content isn’t for them any longer.

But let’s say you won a luxury trip where your hotels would have cost $600 a night. Your readers might enjoy seeing frugal you marveling at resort living. You could position the luxury outing as Budget Traveler Stumbles into Wonderland.
Writing Coach or Arborist?
If someone comes to my website or listens to my podcast week after week expecting something related to writing encouragement, instruction, or inspiration, they’d feel confused if I suddenly offer a clinic on tree trimming. I might be an amateur arborist perfectly capable of leading a clinic on tree trimming, but my readers would be scratching their heads. “That’s weird. I come to Ann for writing input, not tree trimming advice.”

If, however, a big part of my brand is sharing stories from my personal life, perhaps my readers already knew I’m an amateur arborist, so if a comment showed up on social media about my recent neighborhood tree trimming seminar, it wouldn’t be a total shock. (I’m not an amateur arborist, for the record, so don’t ask me for tips. But I do make excellent steel cut oats, and if you ever want to know my secret, the instructions do still live on this website.)
No Big Surprises
Readers who encounter your words on a page or your images on Instagram or your remarks in a tweet or your interview on a podcast should not be shocked by a huge surprise that is incongruent with who you are and what you stand for. Your message should be relatively consistent.
May 29 2018
6 mins

Rank #5: Ep 148: Increase Writing Quality by Both Filling and Stilling Your Mind

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On a recent road trip, I loaded the “up next” feature of my podcast player with every episode that sounded intriguing. One episode would play after another without my having to touch it.
Hours of Filling the Mind
As I rolled down the freeway, I listened to hours and hours of podcasts, filling my mind with interviews, ideas, tips, and strategies related to writing and publishing, creativity and productivity, social media and marketing.

That continuous input felt like taking back-to-back sessions at a conference or classes at college. Hungry to learn, I gorged on the steady diet of nourishing information.
Hours of Stilling the Mind
When I arrived at my destination, I turned off the podcast player.


My brain grew still.

That’s naturally what happened at the end of my long journey. But of course that’s exactly what I needed next. After filling my mind, I needed to still my mind.

I needed to build in space and time to process and ponder the content I had taken in. I needed time to decide which ideas I could “own” for myself and integrate into my life and work. How could I test them out without some degree of stillness?
Hours of Input Need Hours of Silence
My outing was my Grand Gesture, if you recall from the last episode. I was near a beach. I made a commitment to walk every day, at least an hour. Sometimes two.

As I walked, all that input from hours of listening and learning tumbled around in my mind, mixing with whatever I’d dropped in there over the years.

Waves spilled against sand and lulled me into a relaxed state of trust in the directions my mind meandered. Freed from overthinking and overanalyzing, I solved a few sticky issues and casually outlined a few projects. I gained excitement and vision for the year ahead.
Fill + Still = Breakthroughs
While I have a lifetime of input floating around inside me, I believe in the importance of continuing to fill myself with more. I’m a lifelong learner, I guess. I want to keep my mind sharp.

But I also see the value—the necessity—of following the filling with a stilling my mind, giving it space to make connections and arrive at breakthroughs.

We have those a-ha moments while walking, showering, folding laundry, washing dishes. When we aren’t actively problem-solving, our minds are still enough to wander, think, make connections. This is a valuable state for a writer in need of breakthrough for a sticking point in a project.
Effortless Breakthrough
After a period of filling the mind, take time to quiet the noise. Turn down the volume, whether literal or figurative. Give the brain some down time. In the stillness of those quieter, less mentally demanding times, we figure it out:

I just realized how my heroine will escape the trap!
Ah! I know the third stanza in the poem—I can hear it in my head.
For that essay, I’ll allude to a line in a play and write a section on how it resonates with our society.

Our rested state allows us to arrive at clarity and vision.
Filling and Stilling, We Write Unique
With your insight, you can put the idea together in a way that only you can. That’s why you and I could both write about the same topic or respond to the same prompt and your final product would be completely different from mine.

Not only are our styles different, but we’ve filled our minds with different content.

You read this book while I read that. You came across a quote in your travels and I found one in a letter my mom wrote to her best friend when she was in college. You pored over medical research, while I had a conversation at a party thrown by a friend.

We have it all inside, ready to increase the clarity and quality of our writing.
Know When (and How) to Fill
One time I came across a quote attributed to Anne Lamott: “Sometimes you’re not blocked; you’re empty.” When you feel empty, dry, lacking inspiration, spend some time filling your mind.

Read great books
Listen to great books
Apr 17 2018
5 mins

Rank #6: Ep 118: How Inexperienced Writers Can Supercharge Their Growth

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Young people graduate high school or college, apply for positions, and get stuck: no one will hire them because they have no experience, but they can’t get experience because no one will hire them. So they get a job at Starbucks to pay bills, gaining experience with cleaning espresso machines, still unable to land the job they really want and still unable to gain relevant experience because no one hired them in their preferred field.

If only they could gain experience, they would be marketable, successful, confident...

If only we could gain experience…

People often want to write—to become writers—but they lack experience. Regardless of their age, they feel like that young graduate stepping out into the world eager to work but lacking what they need to do the work. As a result, those writers end up stuck, sometimes paralyzed.

Without experience, can they even enter the ring? They hold back, doubting themselves or fearing the door’s going to shut in her face. "Is there room in the market for the newbie, the rookie?” they wonder. "Should inexperienced writers even bother trying when so many more experienced writers have established themselves online and in print?” Some writers even worry they’ve passed some invisible point in time and it’s too late. They’ll never be an experienced writer.
We Can Get Experience Now
Every minute we sit around wondering if there’s room for us at the table, wishing we were more experienced, is a minute we could have been doing something meaningful and productive that contributes to our growth as a writer. It is not too late. And don’t waste any more time thinking it’s too late.

We writers have an advantage over the graduate on a job search—we can actually gain experience in our field every single day. We can write right now and grow in knowledge and skill. We may not be ready to write for top-tier publishers, but we can always be improving, moving closer to our goals.

While writers with very little experience might go a bit slower in the pursuit of landing a book deal, let’s say, there’s no reason to delay for another moment your growth as a writing professional.
In What Ways Do You Feel Inexperienced?

Writing Skills?
Navigating the publishing industry?
How to approach marketing, publicity, social media?

Figure out where you feel you lack and you can fill that gap.

For example, you might feel inexperienced in everything, but in reality you’re a talented writer—maybe you studied creative writing! Now you’re feeling the draw (or the push) to write online, but your lack of confidence with technology causes you to suddenly question everything about your abilities.

Or maybe you are technologically savvy and jumped into blogging with exuberance, but never received training in writing, so you lack writing skills and confidence with conventions like grammar, capitalization, and punctuation.

Identify the areas where you are or you feel inexperienced, and make a plan to address each of those areas.
Develop a Personalized Course
If you feel lacking in writing skills, for example, you can create your own course of study based on the things you feel you don’t understand:

Practice marginalia and copywork to introduce you to techniques.
Read books about the art and craft of writing.
Track down college writing handbooks and work through the lessons.
Sign up for courses online.
Hire an editor to review some of your work—ask him to mark the issues and explain why they’re a problem so you can literally learn from your own mistakes.
Address specific areas of weakness: if you write fiction but your dialogue seems stilted, study authors who handle it well; if you write poetry but resist form, give yourself the assignment to write a sonnet or sestina.

Learn the Lingo
A simple thing to feel more experienced with the industry, whether it’s the world of literary journals or book publishing, is to learn the lingo—to pick up the jargon.
Sep 12 2017
8 mins

Rank #7: Ep 155: In a World of Author Branding, uh…What’s an “Author Brand”?

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I guess I got ahead of myself.

I’ve been talking about author branding, but I didn’t describe or define it. And in this world of author branding, you may be wondering, “Uh...what’s an ‘author brand’?”

Sorry to leave you full of questions. Like:

Is it the logo you design and the colors you choose for your website?
Is it the font you use for your name?
Is it the banner image you use on Facebook or the photo that shows up in Gravatar?
Is it the art on your book cover?
Is an author brand more about voice and style?
Is it tied to the subject matter you’re known for? The topics you tackle?
Is your brand revealed in the way you manage your Instagram feed and select images for your blog?

Maybe all this talk of “brand” sickens you. “Seriously?” you’re thinking, “Brands are for jeans and perfume and hotdogs, not writers!” Thinking of yourself as a brand feels slick, commercial, and product-y. “Brand” sounds like marketing manipulation or sales-speak.
“I’m a Writer, Not a Brand!”
“I’m not a brand!” you’re shouting. “I’m a person! A writer! An artist!”

And of course if you’re shouting that, you’re right—absolutely right. We are not neon signs to flick on and flash in a window or a color palette and typography design hoping to entice interest.

We are people—people who love words.

We tell stories. We pour out our hearts and hold out hope to the world. We’re essayists, memoirists, novelists, poets. We are artists.
(But I Would Love Readers to Read My Work)
And yet, if we seek publication, we’re trying to draw interest. If we’re doing more than write in a journal, we must be hoping to find readers for our articles, our poetry, our short stories, our books.

If we write for the public, we want to impact people. If we’re honest, we’d love readers to read our work, wouldn’t we?
Readers Default to “Brands"
And readers face a lot of choices. When a person shells out money for a book or sinks time into reading an article, she wants to be pretty sure it’s worth it. So she’s choosy.

Sure, she’ll read someone new, especially on a friend’s recommendation, but she tends to gravitate to the writers she has come to know, like, and trust. She turns to those writers who turn out content that consistently addresses her need or lifts her up or makes her think or laugh or sigh. She reads the writers she knows will help meet her need.

She probably doesn’t think of it this way, but she turns to author brands.
A Brand Is a Promise
So that’s a way to think of brands and writers. How can we become that trusted writer who consistently addresses a reader’s needs or lifts her up or makes her think or laugh or sigh?

How can we offer an unspoken, informal promise of sorts, that when a reader finds us and reads our words, he will get to know us and we’ll deliver content in the same general vein.

If, for example, I don’t use four-letter words in my content then suddenly spew a stream of them unexpectedly, I broke my “promise,” so to speak, and went off brand. I blindsided my readers who had come to trust my tone and turn up my podcast or read aloud my articles within earshot of their conservative grandmother or grade school kids.
A Brand Accumulates, Forms, and Strengthens Over Time
Whether intentional or random, everything we write and send out—from social media updates to podcast episodes—is leaving people with an impression about who we are and what we’re like.

Over time, one blog post, magazine article, short story, or poem at a time, you’re becoming known for something. Over time, you gain visibility. And over time, your brand is forming and strengthening into something. A group or groups of people are beginning to recognize you.

You can see how it does involve a lot of different elements, including our subject matter, our tone, and, yes, even the colors on our website, our author photo, the cover art on our book covers, and the style of our logo.
What Comes to a Reader's Mind
Jun 05 2018
8 mins

Rank #8: Ep 112: My Best Writing Tools to Get More Done (at Home and on the Go)

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I once asked a photographer the best camera to use. Before he shared his opinion, he said a common answer to that question is, "The best camera is the one you have with you."

In other words, it doesn't matter how fancy your equipment is if, at the moment a hawk lands on a fence post next to you, your Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is sitting in the trunk of your car. At that moment, you slowly lift up your smartphone and, as quietly as possible, snap the photo with the equipment you have on hand.

I think we should view our writing tools the same way. It doesn't matter if a program installed on your desktop computer at home is loaded with bells and whistles, if inspiration hits while you're on vacation. If you're in the mountains with an extra two hours to write, that fancy program back home isn't going to do you much good. Instead, grab a notebook and pen and capture those thoughts with what you have on hand.
Don’t Wait for Ideal Circumstances
The other day I was trying to prepare notes for a podcast episode I needed to record, edit, and prep for release the next day. I was running behind, so I grabbed my cheap bluetooth keyboard purchased online for something like 15 bucks, and while my mom was getting physical therapy, I paired the keyboard with my Samsung phone, opened up Google Keep, which is a free note-taking app, and tapped out a draft.

In just those few minutes, I was able to slam out a sloppy copy and store it in a program I could open on my laptop at home. I didn't wait until I had time and atmosphere or access to a robust program like Scrivener. I used what I'd shoved into my tote bag.

Sure, it's easier to use my setup at home, but I had a deadline. If I'd waited, I wouldn't have finished on time. Just a smartphone and a tiny keyboard got the job done.

So let me run through the tools I use for various scenarios. Your life might be more predictable, scheduled, and localized than mine; if so, so you could pick just one combination and use it at all times in your main workspace. But take note of an inexpensive, flexible, mobile option, as well, because you never know—you might get the idea of a lifetime on a cross-country road trip.
Writing Tools for When I'm On the Go
Smartphone + Bluetooth Keyboard + Evernote or Google Keep

The leanest system I've used so far is pairing my inexpensive bluetooth keyboard with my Android smartphone. Even though I usually travel with my laptop, sometimes it's handy to pull out the smaller, subtler combination.

My keyboard is a ULAK brand purchased through Amazon, but the exact model is no longer available (comparable brands can be found with other companies).

I bought a travel case for the keyboard with a zippered side pocket where I could store extra batteries. Happily, I could slip the phone itself in that pouch, too, for a lightweight grab-and-go writing system. With this simple setup, I can type up notes as I think of them; write journal entries; compose drafts of short pieces like blog posts, poems, essays, or podcast episodes; and preserve notes from books, magazines, and online articles I read.
An important element in this system for me is the app. I want to input the text into an app that syncs with all my devices, so that when I do get back to my desktop computer or laptop, I'll be able to find the draft and use it to craft a final version. I can be offline while typing my draft, and when I get to WiFi, the system logs on and updates.

For this, I've used Google Keep and Evernote, both of which are accessible when I open my laptop later.
Smartphone + Tablet (Kindle Fire) + Evernote or Google Keep
A variation on that leanest option is to substitute a tablet for the smartphone. The biggest advantage of this switch is screen size. If I need to do something more involved than write a draft, like prep a post for WordPress, for example, having a bit more screen to view a bit more content as I work is nice.
Aug 01 2017
10 mins

Rank #9: Ep 124: No Time to Write? A Simple Solution to Kickstart Your Work

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I hear it all the time.

It doesn't seem to matter what stage of life we're in or what part of the world we're from. Regardless of age or gender or personality type, everyone says it: "I want to write, but I don’t have the time."
Time Management Systems Only Part of the Solution
You might think the only solution is to quit your job or hire a nanny. More likely, you’ve given up. Well, I guess that’s where you’re finding yourself if you’re someone who wants to write but doesn’t because of time…or lack of it.

I don’t think you have to quit your job or hire a nanny. I also don’t think you have to give up.

I could offer project management and time management solutions to help you eliminate some things from your schedule, plan your days efficiently, streamline your processes, and make the most of your time.

And we could discuss distraction and motivation and nemesis and Resistance and procrastination. Because chances are, more than one thing is keeping you from writing, not just lack of time.
It Can Be Done: You Can Write
I want you to prove to yourself it can be done—you can write even when you think you have no time at all.

Here’s a simple solution that's worked for me. In the next article I’ll share another. You can try one or the other, or both together for even more momentum. This first solution is especially powerful if it’s been a while since you’ve written.
Kickstart Your Writing with a Time Block
I urge you to kickstart your writing with a block of time devoted to nothing else but your words.

If your schedule is insane, this may seem like a counterintuitive suggestion or a contradiction—“If I don’t have time to write, how will I find a block of time to write?"

Have you taken a vacation in the past year or two? It could be a one-day escape to a nearby tourist attraction, a weekend retreat, or a week-long getaway. You made it happen, didn’t you? So you know it’s a hassle to step away from life and work, but it can be done. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to set aside the time and make it happen.

Same with this writing block. If you want it, you’ll find a way. And like a vacation, it’s not a regular thing. Just one block of time.

I want you to love yourself and your writing enough to say, “I’m doing it. I’m making this happen. I’ve waited long enough—it’s time to kickstart my writing."

Can you find a block of time? Can you escape the busyness that’s been holding you back? Can you leave it behind for an afternoon, a day, a weekend, or longer, so you can write for an extended time and make a dent in your work-in-progress—or the work that hasn’t even begun?
How Long?
You don’t have to go far, and you don’t have to be gone long to make a difference. Remember, this is a kickstart, not a completion—you don’t have to write the entire novel or finish the complete essay. You just dedicate a block of time to writing to give it a strong start or build out its bones.

Surely you can find an afternoon and evening? Or a full Saturday?
For a week or weekend getaway, you could head to a nearby retreat center or a local bed and breakfast or a campground cabin. If you only carved out a day or an afternoon, head to the library or see if a local co-working space offers an inexpensive day pass.

Depending on your project, you might want to find a location that doesn't offer Wi-Fi. Without that distraction, you’ll get more words out. Just make notes in brackets directly in the text to remind you to look up details later. You can tackle that research some day when you have just a few minutes between appointments. Kickstarting your project means you need to set down words, lots of words, so don’t get distracted confirming the street name in your home town. Just write.
Keep the Writing Pipeline Flowing
You’ll make the most of this time by setting up your writing pipeline if you haven’t done that already. I introduced the writing pipeline in episode 114.
Oct 24 2017
7 mins

Rank #10: Ep 191: Write to Discover Your Voice

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[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.


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 Woolf


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 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 Voice
I 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.”2

Okay, 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
While 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.”3

He 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.”5
Voice Is Power
Elbow 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.6

He did, however, develop an ear for voice over time.
Mar 26 2019
13 mins

Rank #11: Ep 114: Make the Most of Your Time with a Writing Pipeline

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Have you ever sat down at the computer when you finally carved out time to write, only to discover you have no idea where to start or what to say? You end up wasting a lot of precious time if that’s your approach. In times like that, it’s nice to have a plan, a process, a system of some sort, that helps you take your projects from start to finish.
The Writing Pipeline: Taking Your Projects from Start to Finish
I’d like to recommend you develop a writing pipeline: a process with phases or stages that take a writing project from initial idea to final product…including the step of shipping it out into the world.

I'm not suggesting your writing turns into an assembly line, churning out uninspired content to meet quota or deadlines. Not at all. In fact, a piece you’re working on might live in the draft phase for long stretches while you noodle it. So while a pipeline process might make you become more efficient, it’s not only about efficiency.

Whether you formalize the process or not, any given piece of writing hits various phases along its journey. By identifying where something is in the pipeline, you can work on it and move it along, knowing where it’s at and what’s left to do before it’s ready to ship.
Phases of the Writing Pipeline
Any given writing piece moves through several phases, not including prewriting activities, which would be mainly reading and research. Let's take a look.
Prewriting Is Pre-Pipeline
Reading and research activities precede and transcend the pipeline, as the books you’re reading and quotes from experts might apply to any or all or none of your projects. I’ll mention them briefly, though, because while they don’t always represent the start of a project, reading and research can have their own storage systems that support the pipeline stages.
Prewriting: Reading and Project-Specific Research
I read widely, just for fun or to follow my curiosity. But I also purposely seek out and store articles, excerpts, quotes, and interviews that might contribute to a particular project.

I have an Evernote folder labeled Research where I can drop articles and things to read, and I also use the app called Pocket. In it, I save articles to read when I have time. And of course I read books of all kinds—e-books, printed books, and audiobooks—knowing in any of these I may find content to include in one of my projects.
Prewriting: Notes and Quotes
My bookshelf, Pocket, and my Research folder are like giant hoppers I continually fill with inspiration and potential. I pull from the hopper to read and curate the best quotes and ideas. Those need to go someplace different, set apart from the jumble.

I put them in a Notes and Quotes folder—I can tag a note with keywords in Evernote, making it easier to search and sort as needed. But I also use a folder, even though a lot of people have abandoned folders in Evernote. I often dip into this Notes and Quotes folder when projects are in the draft stage to integrate the nuggets I gathered.

Those are some of the prewriting activities. Now, the Pipeline itself.
The Pipeline Stages
I’ve identified five stages or phases in a writing pipeline. In Evernote, I actually drag and drop a project file into the next folder and the next in the pipeline as it progresses. You can easily adapt the pipeline concept to many other systems—even a physical system with file folders or a three-ring notebook, moving from hanging folder to hanging folder or divider to divider.
1. Ideas
Any project starts as an idea, so I have an Ideas folder. In the ideas folder, I have one master file I can open and add any idea I think of. I might write them as headlines or as a one-sentence summary (or both). If I scribble an article or essay idea on an envelope in the car, I copy it into this file. I also drop in headline templates just for fun or keyword lists that interest me. Those live in their own files within the Ideas folder.
2. Drafts
The Drafts folder holds any and all works-in-pr...
Aug 15 2017
8 mins

Rank #12: Ep 192: (Re)Write to Discover How to Improve Your Drafts

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[Ep 192]
“I have rewritten—often several times—every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory1

First Drafts Reveal What You Want to Say
We’ve already covered the power of writing to discover what we want to say. We can do that with freewriting to discover our initial ideas, writing in our journals or as a warmup exercise when we first sit down to work.

We can also use freewriting to bang out our initial draft. This is especially powerful if we’re doing short-form work and pour out the entire story or article in one sitting.

If we prefer, however, we can sit down after we think, plan, plot, and outline, and version one may emerge more smoothly, flowing from one idea to the next with logic and fluency.

Your personality may feel more comfortable with one approach or the other; there’s no right or wrong. The goal is to get that first draft out so you have material to work with.

Once the draft is complete, the real work begins.

It’s time to refine that draft, through rewriting, revision, and editing.
Rewrite and Revise to Improve Your Drafts
As Ernest Hemingway said in A Moveable Feast, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.”2

Editing is how we arrive at our finalized message, our finished work. Because as freeing and freewheeling as we may be when writing the draft, the project needs this next discovery phase. We need to clarify our ideas and clean up our messes. We may need to tweak and tighten.

On the other hand, if the curse of knowledge causes us to write too lean, we might need to elaborate on an idea we’ve skipped over or ignored or we may need to expand a section that needs clarity.
Questions to Consider
To revise, we must begin with the same basic instructions a high school or college student receives in composition class: know the topic, audience, and purpose of your piece.

Read with those three things in mind to be sure you’re staying on topic, providing appropriate content for that particular reader, and achieving the intended purpose (such as to persuade, entertain, or inform). For example, you can cut paragraphs where you’ve veered off topic and add information if your audience would need background information.

Author Mary Karr offers a less formal approach to editing and revising:
“All the while, I question. Is this really crucial? Are you writing this part to pose as cool or smart?
For me, the last 20 percent of a book’s improvement takes 95 percent of the effort—all in the editing.”3
Stephen King, too, reads his drafts with certain questions in mind. In On Writing, he explains:
Underneath, however, I'm asking myself the Big Questions. The biggest: Is this story coherent? And if it is, what will turn coherence into a song? What are the recurring elements? Do they entwine and make a theme?... What I want most of all is resonance, something that will linger for a little while in Constant Reader's mind (and heart) after he or she has closed the book and put it up on the shelf.4

How to Rewrite and Revise to Improve Your Drafts
You’ll find various methods for rewriting and revising your drafts. Writers approach their work in all kinds of ways.

Some can’t move forward before they’ve refined the latest section.

Others basically freewrite and deal with the word-vomit that splatters onto the page by returning later and cleaning up the mess with next-level editing.
1. Revise and Refine Along the Way
In his book On Writing, Stephen King says Kurt Vonnegut micromanaged his drafts so that his completed work each day was crisp and clean:
Kurt Vonnegut...rewrote each page of his novels until he got them exactly the way he wanted them. The result was days when he might only manage a page or two of finished copy (and the wastebasket would be full of crumpled, rejected page seventy-ones and seventy-twos), but when the manuscript was finished, the book was finished, by gum. You could set it in type.5
Apr 02 2019
14 mins

Rank #13: Ep 113: An Easy Solution for the Writer with Big Goals and Little Time

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Ideas pop into my head all the time: while walking, doing household chores, waiting in a carpool lane, sitting poolside, or even as I'm just falling asleep. If I have paper and pen, great. I can write them down. Or if I have time to pull out my bluetooth keyboard and type them up, cool. We discussed some of my favorite writing tools last week.

But if you have a lot of ideas or a rich, detailed memory comes to you, wouldn’t it be nice to record it fully and quickly, before it evaporates or you’re distracted by something else? If you write fiction and the outline of a short story or an entire scene for your novel comes to you—I’ll bet you’d love to have some way to rapidly, easily stash it away.

Well, you can.

Grab your phone and press record.

You can save your ideas easily and quickly if you write with your voice—it’s a solution for any writer with big goals and little time.
Most phones—iPhone or Android—have a microphone icon on the keyboard, allowing you to speak your thoughts into just about any app. In the last episode, I mentioned the beauty of working in the apps that sync on all devices, like Evernote, Google Keep, Google Docs. You can leverage that same advantage of capturing on the go, but you can use your voice to do the writing.

I’m sure you’ve found this microphone and used it for voice-to-text. I see people using it all the time…just not for writing.
My husband, who is bilingual, discovered he can even switch the globe on his iPhone keyboard to French and dictate notes and thoughts, and it’s worked well…if he wanted to, he could write a love poem in his native tongue without having to remember where all the accents go.

Another iPhone advantage: you should have not only that little microphone-on-the-keyboard option—you also have Siri, who can take dictation for you.
Speak Slowly, Clearly
Though I tend to think most effectively through my fingers, typing my best thoughts on a keyboard, I’ve used voice recording options many times, especially to get out some notes and ideas or even the start of a draft. And I’ve learned to work on my elocution.

You as the writer might be brimming with ideas that spill out at record speed, but for dictation or transcription accuracy, it helps to speak slowly and clearly when using transcription tools of any kind.
Google Voice Typing
In the last episode, I focused on ways to type out ideas. At my website, where the show notes live, I received an excellent comment from Susan, who wrote: "You can also dictate your written notes (or thoughts off the top of your head) right into a Google Doc."

She talked about its Voice typing feature. I'm so thankful Susan took time to mention that. This dictation device—or, I guess it’s more of a voice-to-text technology/software—allows you to dictate straight into a Google doc so that your notes or a draft is waiting for you when you’re able to get behind a keyboard.

Just click on Tools, then “Voice typing.” You’ll get a big popup microphone icon. Click and start talking. It’s a great way to think and then speak your ideas.
Google Keep’s Voice-to-Text Recorder
Susan pointed out that Google Keep also has a voice recording option.

"Just tap the microphone at the bottom of the screen.” Google Keep records a segment and then instantly transcribes it, giving you the option of saving the audio recording or deleting it after you have the transcription it produces, which is pretty nifty.
Evernote, Voxer
Evernote and Voxer have similar features. If you have Voxer Pro and you’re an English-speaker, you can use their voice-to-text transcription.

Evernote can record your voice and save that as an audio file, or you can use the keyboard microphone, as I mentioned before, to capture dictation directly into a note. It’ll be saved in a note for you to open later.
Transcription Services
Another approach to capturing content using your voice, is to record an audio file on some kind of recording devic...
Aug 08 2017
6 mins

Rank #14: Ep 115: You’ll Write More When You Use an Editorial Calendar

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Last time we discussed a writing pipeline, representing the phases or stages a project moves through, from the initial idea to completion—including when it's been published and you save it in a portfolio.

Now let’s talk editorial calendars.
Life Without an Editorial Calendar
For years I got by writing on the fly. I'd have a few minutes free, think up an idea, whip out a draft, and with just a little more time that night or the next morning, I could edit the piece into a solid article to send out to a magazine or publish on my website.

My approach worked in the early days, when my publishing aspirations and expectations were as small as my kids. As my kids grew, however, the possibilities seemed grander and I realized this random, last-minute approach was not the way to live a creative, sustainable, productive writing life over the long haul.

If I wanted to produce a body of work, I'd need to be a bit more intentional and organized. A tool to support all that and remind me what to do next was an editorial calendar.
Life With an Editorial Calendar
Whether I’m planning the timing of short pieces like blog posts or long-form projects broken into smaller tasks, I’ve come to rely on an editorial calendar of some kind, even if it’s rudimentary. Over the years, I've tried everything from printed calendars to online apps. No matter what I use, it boils down to deciding when I want to publish or submit something. Then I simply write that down somewhere—preferably somewhere I’ll actually look.

Integrating the project due dates on a calendar I’m already using for other appointments helped me value the work as highly as other obligations. It showed up as a priority in my life and helped me view myself as a working writer.

I hope life with an editorial calendar improves your own work habits and productivity so that you’ll prioritize your writing. And when you’re picking out the editorial calendar to use, start with what’s most normal and natural for you to avoid overcomplicating things or introducing a big learning curve.
Paper Calendars
My first editorial calendars were simply monthly calendars I printed off. I’d think about the frequency I wanted to write and publish for my own website along with content I created for other organizations and magazines, then I’d pencil in projects with the deadlines. It helped me learn my capacity and pace by experimenting with work load and frequency. Without a calendar, I’d just be winging it; with a calendar, I could begin to see the weeks I’d scheduled too much.
Bullet Journals
If bullet journals existed at the time I was printing off calendar pages, I would have dedicated a page to an editorial calendar. As with a printed calendar, I’d mark articles scheduled on certain days for my blog posts or podcasts as well as articles promised to magazines and online organizations. I currently use a bullet journal to plan out ideas, but I’m loving technology options these days for my editorial calendar.
Google Calendar
I first transitioned from printed calendars to a simple Google Calendar. You can name each calendar, so I gave mine the unforgettable name: Editorial Calendar. I already used a Google calendar to manage the rest of my life, so this was simply adding another layer and I liked that integration.

Sample entries of the kind of thing you could include on an Editorial Calendar

In Google Calendars, you can click calendars on and off to look at one at a time or have all of them layer on top of each other so you can see schedule conflicts. This was perfect, because it layered my entire life and I could see busy weeks when writing wouldn’t be possible. I could move around project goals to accommodate other obligations in life.

Another nice feature: scheduling alerts to remind me to to write, edit, and send off my projects for a hours or days ahead of time. When a notification popped up on my phone or desktop, I almost felt like I had an assistant nudging me to do that thi...
Aug 22 2017
10 mins

Rank #15: Ep 190: [Interview] Author & Literary Agent Jeff Herman

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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.

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)
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Alison Hodgson interview
Shawn Smucker interview
Patrice Gopo interview
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Mar 19 2019
52 mins

Rank #16: Ep 147: You and Your Writing Deserve the Grand Gesture

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About a month ago, I escaped the frigid late-winter temperatures of the American Midwest and headed out on a big road trip.

By myself.

To write.

(And to walk on the beach.)

’Twas a big investment of time and resources. ’Twas a grand gesture.
Grand Gestures for Deep Work
Some big writing projects I wanted to dig into continually sank to the bottom of the jumbly piles of obligations and domestic duties. I’d try to set aside time for the ideas, the words, the keyboard, but they struggled to gain traction when I could only dedicate a few minutes here and there. I decided to find focus—and sunshine—elsewhere.

This approach to plunging into deep work by making major investments of time, money, or space, are what Cal Newport calls “Grand Gestures.”
Rowling’s Grand Gesture
In his book Deep Work, Newport offers a few examples of people who have made grand gestures, including J.K. Rowling. When she was working on the final book in the Harry Potter series, she faced everyday interruptions that broke the creative concentration needed to pull together all the threads of the story and finish strong.

So she decided to step away from home, where the doorbell would ring and the dogs would bark. She checked into a room in the five star Balmoral Hotel at $1,000 a night. Newport notes that she didn’t intend to continue writing there more than a night, but she accomplished so much, she kept going back and ended up finishing the book there.
The Boost in Importance
Newport explains:
The concept is simple: By leveraging a radical change to your normal environment, coupled perhaps with a significant investment of effort or money, all dedicated toward supporting a deep work task, you increase the perceived importance of the task. This boost in importance reduces your mind’s instinct to procrastinate and delivers an injection of motivation and energy. (122-123)
Let me assure you I wasn’t staying in anything close to the Balmoral Hotel for my Grand Gesture, but it was certainly a radical change from my normal environment and required a significant investment of effort.

My tasks did indeed take on greater importance, and I sat on the balcony with my laptop and tapped out the ideas and words that got my projects either significantly under way or completed.

And I walked on the beach.

In the sun.
Less “Grand” Gestures Are Still Grand
Now, there have been eras of my life where an outing that radical simply would not have been possible. Just out of college, I didn’t have nearly enough money for such an adventure. When my kids were little, no way could I have taken off that many days and driven that far away. Truly, it would have been nothing but a dream—a dream deferred.

Back then, though, I made smaller grand gestures. That sounds like an oxymoron, but though they were small, they felt grand. I would escape to the library on a Saturday and stay all day, tapping out chapters in a book or articles for magazines, stepping out only to eat a little lunch I packed.

Or in good weather, I might head to a local park and work at a picnic table, enjoying the atmosphere, penning poetry or a blog post. Sure, I’d love to have escaped to a more inspiring locale, but I settled for a less grand alternative—it got me away from my distracting dining room table. With some creativity, I still managed to gain focus and get ‘er done.
It’s Worth It
The goal, I believe, is to find ways to convince yourself that this project you’re working on is worth it. It’s worth the time. It’s worth the effort. Even a less dramatic “grand” gesture tells the brain to stop procrastinating and do the work.
Creative Grand Gestures
One of my clients drove her RV to a beautiful campground and stayed the weekend to finish three chapters in her book. She nailed it. All three chapters, complete.

My friend and coauthor Charity Singleton Craig booked a room for several days at a state park lodge to complete some of her projects. She got it all done.
Apr 10 2018
6 mins

Rank #17: Ep 149: Write Your Own Obituary

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When my dad died in March, our family worked together to write the obituary. Each of us thought back on his life to decide the right stories to tell, the best details to share.

What career highlights or life accomplishments should we bring up? What was he known for? How could we best capture his personality?
Eventually we landed on a version of the obituary to publish in the local newspapers, to be read by family and friends and maybe a few strangers. People who didn’t know him got a glimpse of who he was. People who did know him wrote us lovely notes along the lines of, “Yes! That’s the man I remember!” or “I didn’t know that about him.”
For the funeral service, my brother wrote a eulogy. Eulogies are more personable than obituaries, as they tend to be presented through the lens of the speaker and reflect that relationship, though the eulogy might be delivered by a pastor who interviews people and pulls together their stories into one cohesive piece.
To Summarize a Life
Thinking back on a person and trying to summarize a life—that’s quite an undertaking. Sobering, too, for the person doing the thinking, writing, and summarizing.

As I wrote reflections about my dad for the service, I began to wonder about my own life. Maybe funerals bring that out in all of us who attend. We think about our lives today, our lives in the future.

What is a life?

What life?

What would I want to be known for? What would someone include in my obituary? What accomplishments would they point to from my youth all the way through my retirement years? How would someone summarize my life?

What values would they remark on? What passions or hobbies? How would they describe my personality? What would they say was my legacy—what did I leave behind in the world?
Creative Writing Assignment
Creative writing teachers often make this assignment: to write your own obituary or eulogy.

But you don’t write it as if you’re going to die tomorrow. Don’t worry at all about when or how you might die. That’s not part of this reflection.

Instead, focus on how you will live. Project yourself into the future and try to imagine how you will have lived.

Just talking about it creates a verb tense challenge—following through with the assignment is a bit of a mind bender.

You project yourself into the future and reflect back on your life as if you’ve already lived it.

What life do you want to have lived?

By writing your own obituary, you figure out the life you’ve lived thus far, and the life you want to live from this point forward.

It’s a useful exercise for creative writing and...for life.
Viktor Frankl's Daily Exercise, Expanded
Viktor Frankl offer a daily exercise that Donald Miller summarized in a blog post. Frankl “taught his patients to treat each day as though they were living it a second time, only this time around to not make the same mistakes.” It’s a mind trick. Miller points out it calls us to “evaluate the decisions we will make that day before we make them, and as such, avoid regret.” In other words, you live the day the way you intended to live it.

In a similar way, we can expand Frankl’s mind trick and look ahead at our entire life as though we are living it a second time, avoiding mistakes and making choices and decisions so that when we get to the end, we lived the life we intended to live.
Best Case Scenarios
This is not an exercise in playing out the future based on where we are at this moment, describing a depressing path assuming nothing changes. Don’t play out worst-case scenarios.

This is an opportunity to form the life we want to live, dreaming of possibilities if we continue good habits or change bad ones and start living differently today.

In doing so, we may avoid regret and build a life portfolio of sorts—so that someone can look back at this life we lived and built, and highlight something we hope is worth highlighting.
Apr 24 2018
6 mins

Rank #18: Ep 146: Your Writing Life Beginnings

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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 Beginnings
Now 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 Story
Take 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.
You’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 Tough
It’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.

My Writing Life: Beginnings, Pt 1
My Writing Life: Beginnings, Pt 2
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Apr 03 2018
4 mins

Rank #19: Ep 145: My Writing Life Beginnings, Pt 2

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Note: This was originally published both at my website and at Tweetspeak Poetry back in 2013.

I signed up for an American Literature class. The instructor didn’t ask about my brother, and I understood what I read, like The Mill on the Floss and Their Eyes Were Watching God. I formed opinions—my very own—and wrote response papers that earned A’s and positive remarks from the professor.

My journalism course, however, turned me off. Plus, I couldn’t shake that memory of standing at the doorway to fetch the photo of the boy who had been shot. I didn’t want that life, so I abandoned journalism and switched to social work. The professor discouraged students from becoming social workers unless they were absolutely sure. I wasn’t sure. So I switched majors again when I took a folklore class, because I loved the idea of capturing stories. But someone pointed out the limited career opportunities available to folklore majors, so I started to look for an alternative.
English Major
Then I took another English Literature class. Maybe I was reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis or Joyce’s The Dubliners, but I realized I loved literature when I understood the language. Stories, words, ideas, themes. That’s what I wanted to dive into with my remaining time in college. I don’t know what I’ll do with it, I thought, but this is who I am: an English major.

Toward the close of a semester, I walked with my boyfriend toward the campus bookstore, wondering aloud about my future.

“What do you really want to be?” he asked.

I blurted out, “A writer.”

“A writer? That’s fantastic! How about communications?”

“No, it’s too much like journalism and I hated journalism. I want to write creative things for magazines or books. I would love that.”

“Take a creative writing class.”

“Creative writing?”

“Sure! You’d write fiction and poetry.”

“But I don’t write poetry.” I remembered the sonnets in Dr. Weber’s Shakespeare class. “I don’t understand poetry.”

“It’s okay. If you take creative writing classes, you’ll learn to write.”
Creative Writing
So I signed up for Introduction to Creative Writing. I read Writing Down the Bones and learned about free-writing. I filled notebooks with countless words, pen on paper without lifting it for ten minutes, hoping to turn up memories and ideas to work with. We started with fiction and I wrote a story entitled “Fences” that no one liked—not even me.

Then we read and discussed poems, mostly contemporary. Some rhymed, but most didn’t. I understood some of them, but not all. Nobody seemed to mind, though I began to second-guess my right to be in the room with other students who grasped the meaning quickly and sounded intellectual.

We began to write our own poems. “Write what you know, ” the instructor advised. “Write from your own memories. Write about your childhood.”

So I wrote about dropping hay onto the heads of the cows as they leaned into the manger to eat. I wrote about my brother and his friends warning me that the devil lived in the window well. I wrote about sitting alone in the wooden pew watching the adults take communion at the Methodist church. I wrote about dancing in the barn loft as the afternoon sun streaked through the lone window facing west. And I wrote about my grandmother’s calico cat. None of my poems rhymed.
Every semester I signed up for another creative writing class. For one assignment, I wrote a poem inspired by a piece of art. I chose an Andrew Wyeth print my boyfriend’s mom gave me of a little boy sitting in a field. I invented a scene where the boy had run away, and the week I read it aloud, the instructor, who wore long peasant skirts and Birkenstocks, highlighted the last lines, reading them again, slowly. On my way across campus that afternoon, I pulled it out and read the last lines again to myself.

A few weeks later, I read aloud a poem I’d written about potatoes, and that same instructor leaned against the desk and listened.
Mar 27 2018
9 mins

Rank #20: Ep 117: How to Dredge up the Memories You Want to Write About

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Last time we talked about taking a cue from Dani Shapiro and attempting to tell the story as we’re inside of it—potentially before the story has become a story. This requires us to write about life as it’s unfolding, trying to find the story in the actions and interactions that take place. We begin “capturing the living moments,” to borrow a phrase from Anais Nin.

What if the events we want to write about took place long ago, before we thought about writing anything down? What if we must rely entirely on memory for material?
It's in Us
After all, most formative experiences smack us, scar us, and sink into our core in the early years. As Flannery O’Connor said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days" (84, Mystery and Manners)

And Willa Cather said in an interview, "I think that most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen. That's the important period: when one's not writing. Those years determine whether one's work will be poor and thin or rich and fine.”

If that’s true, all that we need to write short- and long-form memoir is in us. Somewhere.
How to Dredge Up Memories
How do we get to those long-ago memories? How do we bring up the sensory details that will help us recreate scenes? How can we reach the names of the people with us that day on the farm or what color the wallpaper was in the room where an argument took place? Is there a way to recreate sequence and timelines? Can our minds still hear the tap of a pencil against the desk? Or was it a pen?
Dorothea Brande's 30-Minute Memory Break and Artistic Coma
One method for dredging up memories you want to write about is to set aside time to recall.

Recalling allows us to draw from our reservoir of memories, those moments when we’ve noticed and retained something in the past—something worth revisiting.

Dorothea Brande suggests a simple way to engage memory:
[S]et...a short period each day when you will, by taking thought, recapture a childlike “innocence of eye.” For half an hour each day transport yourself back to the state of wide-eyed interest that was yours at the age of five. Even though you feel a little self-conscious about doing something so deliberately that was once as unnoticed as breathing, you will still find that you are able to gather stores of new material in a short time.
She also recommends an “artistic coma,” and these two ideas could work in tandem—lie down for about 30 minutes and let go of all distractions. That quieted, almost comatose, state can create receptivity to the images, sounds, textures, and people of the past.

When that material emerges during the quiet—some of it stepping out of the swamp of the past, dripping with muck—it’s time to write. Write fast. Write everything you’re given, because those slippery memories will slip away again again if they aren't captured.
Bill Roorbach: Write to Release
While Brande recommends a time of recall to tease out memories followed by the act of writing, Bill Roorbach says memories can bubble to the surface as we write. In his book Writing Life Stories, he claims:
One of the many curious things about the act of writing is the way it can give access to the unconscious mind. And in the hidden parts of consciousness lie not only hobgoblins and neurotic glimmers, but lots of regular stuff, the everyday stuff of memory. The invisible face of your grade school bully is in there, somewhere, and the exact smell of the flowers on vines in your grandma’s backyard, along with most everything else. (19, Writing Life Stories)
With this method, start writing and trust that the memories hidden in the recesses of your unconscious mind will rise up as your pen covers the page or your fingers fly across the keyboard.
Try Both
Try both methods of recalling the past.

You can start with Roorbach’s method as soon as you’re done reading this piece. When you reach the end,
Sep 05 2017
5 mins

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