Rank #1: Ep 166: How to Be a Better Writer (Pt 1): Start with the Right Mindset
Or they think they aren’t enough. I hope you've explored the root of this fear and other fears that hold you back as a writer. I hope you're ready to move past the fears.
Instead of worrying, wondering, or fearing you aren’t good enough to write, you’re going to do something about it. You’re going to be a better writer.
For the next few weeks, we’re going to introduce, review, and practice some things we can do to improve, so that we’re getting better all the time.
Ernest Hemingway said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” In other words, we'll always be growing and changing as writers. When we have a beginner's mindset—when we see ourselves as an apprentice—we can continue to learn. Even those who feel confident in their writing skills can discover room for growth. We are all apprentices capable of becoming better writers.
Believe You Can Change
It sounds so simple, but any writer can get trapped in the belief they are stuck where they are in a kind of personal stasis—they assume their writing skills and ability are finite and unchangeable.
The beginner’s fixed mindset
This fixed mindset can haunt the insecure writer who feels he is trapped in mediocrity, unable to evolve and improve. He believes he'll never be good enough to submit his work to a journal or agent.
He believes he wasn’t born with that gift of writing, so there’s only so far he can go. He settles into the space he feels he’s allowed to occupy and sort of gives up.
The experienced writer’s fixed mindset
The thing is, this static mentality—this fixed mindset—can also plague the more experienced writer who’s found some degree of success. He settles into a comfort zone, seeing that he can consistently turn out material at about the same level of quality and readers continue to respond with enthusiasm.
Why change? Why grow? "Why fix what ain't broke?" he thinks. So he writes without stretching himself, satisfied with how his writing life has unfolded and where it’s taken him. He sees no need to grow beyond this.
Both writers, stuck
I'm glad for those who have reached goals and arrived at some level of success. Congratulations. But I confess...I hope to encourage those writers to believe they, too, can get even better and write even more challenging and captivating projects, whatever they may be.
So wherever you find yourself on this spectrum, I’m going to try to change your mind and your mindset.
If you feel you weren’t born with the writing gene and you believe have no hope of improving, I’m telling you, it’s time to learn about—and even test—the growth mindset.
If you’ve built publishing credits and produced an impressive portfolio of work—if you’ve sold books and hit bestseller lists—you, too, can improve. You’ve been received well, but you can be an even better writer.
Because we all can.
None of us is stuck or static.
Embrace the Growth Mindset
If you’ve been told only some people are natural born writers who emerged into the world with some kind of supernatural artistic gifts, that’s a fixed mindset, and the fixed mindset causes us to slam a door that was actually standing wide open to us.
This belief is supported by plenty of outliers we can point to—people for whom writing does seem easy, whose work astounds.
But writing skills can be learned and writers—even so-called natural-born writers, if they exist—are not locked into one level of greatness. None of us needs to feel stuck, yet many of us cling to the fixed mindset. “Oh, that’s not for me. I'm not a great writer. I can’t do that.”
Everything Is "Figureoutable"
The growth mindset reflects reality.
Someone with a growth mindset says everything is "figureoutable." Marie Forleo uses this word—this phrase—in her videos and attributes it to her mother. It’s a fun and freeing attitude toward life and work.
Rank #2: Ep 131: Reverse Engineer Your Editorial Calendar
Archive (or Portfolio)
A project enters the pipeline when it’s an idea, germinating and growing in the idea folder. It’s a more formal project when it hits the draft stage.
Each stage of development takes time, and you’ll see your writing life take off when you identify and schedule each stage.
Use an editorial calendar, and you'll line up your projects—and each stage of each project—churning out content more reliably, meeting deadlines and reaching goals.
How Long Will It Take?
When you first begin using an editorial calendar, however, it can be hard to know when to work on the various stages of a given project. It’s difficult to map it out when you don’t know how long things take and you’re not sure what you need to do in each stage.
To figure it out, reverse engineer the process.
Start with the end and work your way back.
If you’d like, you can use an individual Project Planning Worksheet for this that has a simple grid. In hopes of simplifying the process and motivating you to take action, I’ve made a planning sheet available for you to download.
You won’t have to use these forever, but they can be great while discovering stages, time frames, and projected due dates for each stage.
Case Study: Blog Post
Let’s say I want to publish a blog post at my website on January 19. And I’m going to write about finding creative writing spaces to do our work. Or maybe it’ll be about creatively finding writing spaces. Either way. that’s what I’ll use as my working title: “Creative Writing Spaces."
Start at the End
The first step will be to write down the working title—“Creative Writing Spaces”—and the end date, or pub date: January 19.
On the downloadable sheet, I include a space for notes, as well, in case you want to record an extra thought for later.
While moving through the Project Planning Worksheet, I’ll ask:
“What’s the stage before this?”
“What needs to happen so it’s ready for this stage?”
“How long will that take?”
The answers to these three questions will point you to the next stage and deadline.
Discover the Stage Before Published
In this case, I’ll start the questioning. I’ll ask:
What’s the stage before this?
The answer? “Creative Writing Spaces” needs to be prepped in WordPress.
What needs to happen so it’s ready for this stage?
I’ll need the text and have to add some code and a photo. Add some tags.
How long will it take?
About an hour. And let’s say I’ll prep it the day before.
I'll write on my worksheet—or I could write it directly on my editorial calendar and skip the worksheet—Prepped: January 18.
Under "Notes," I could write down one hour or remind myself to refer to a blog post workflow. Anything to help me easily follow through.
What's the Stage Before Prepped?
As I continue working through my Project Planning Worksheet I ask:
What’s the stage before this?
This article needs to have been edited and proofread and in its final version before it can be prepped.
What needs to happen so it’s ready for this stage?
I need to have written the draft and allowed some time to edit and proofread.
How long will that take?
Let’s say I like to leave at least a day between the finished draft and final edits. That puts the work at January 16.
I write on my worksheet—or directly on my editorial calendar—the finished article needs to be edited and proofread: January 16
What's the Stage Before Edited and Proofread?
What’s the stage before this?
That became clear in my last answer: I need to have written it.
What needs to happen so it’s ready for this stage?
I need to find time to write this article and do the work. I need to write.
How long will that take?
Even though I’m fairly efficient if I sit down and write nonstop,
Rank #3: Ep 142: If You Want to Write, You Have to Get Started
The message? Just get started.
You Only Need to Know 'Enough'
I’d been putting off podcasting for years. There was a wave of interest in podcasting a few years prior to 2014, and I felt like I’d missed that wave.
But the opportunity stirred again. People in the online world were buzzing about podcasts and podcasting yet again, and I realized a second wave was swelling. Perhaps I could ride the wave this time, I thought.
Now, I’m not too good on the water—I survived a spectacular wipeout while waterskiing when I was in my early 20s. Thankfully, I’m only using that as an analogy. I saw it as a risk—launching a writing coach podcast felt as scary as pulling on those skis. The fear felt the same. But I decided to dig in and do it anyway.
I decided to do minimal, just-in-time research and then jump right in even if I didn’t think I knew enough.
I was tempted to have every duck in a row, but if I waited for that, I knew I would wait another week, another month, another year. I knew I just needed to know enough. I could get answers along the way.
To be honest, at the time I was kind of mad at myself for missing out before, so I was determined to move forward no matter what.
Start with What You Have
I couldn’t find a straightforward "podcasting for dummies" kind of tutorial. Those came a few months or a year after I started. I read what was out there, tried to figure out the basics, and jumped in with the equipment I had on hand. A couple of questions remained unanswered, but I forged ahead.
I used my smartphone and a little earpiece speaker I use for making phone calls. I pulled that very first audio file into GarageBand, did some light editing, uploaded it to my podcast host, and with that, I started.
Those first few episodes, I was nervous. The quality was adequate, but not professional.
And I did make a couple of mistakes behind the scenes. I was kind of upset and anxious about them for a week or so until a kind and patient person at Blubrry—that’s my podcast host—explained my options, helped me decide what to do, and walked me through next steps. Problem solved.
Basically, I had to re-brand the podcast because I couldn’t change the name without starting over. But the point is that even with the mistake, I was able to meet my ultimate goal, which was to get content out there—audio content—that could help writers. I didn’t wait another day and I didn’t waste another opportunity.
About a year later I heard the term “minimum viable product” for the first time and realized, “Ah! That’s how I got myself in motion!" That microphone was okay—it met my minimum standard. If I’d waited until I saved up for a nicer mic before starting, I might have missed the wave.
Get the First Pancake Out of the Way
Whatever it is you’ve been dreaming of doing? Do it. Start it. Grab your computer keyboard and type the first words of that novel. Set your phone on a shelf and record your first Facebook Live. Grab your camera and snap a first few photos for Instagram. Set up a website and start publishing articles.
Have you heard of the first pancake rule? I love it because I’ve literally seen its truth in action. Every time I make pancakes—or crepes—the first one or two are kind of misshapen and unappealing, though they taste just fine.
After those first two, I get the swing of things. The pan is the right temperature and the batter has sort of settled. Before long, I’m flipping stacks of beautiful, round, puffy pancakes ready to be doused in syrup, or piles of elegant crepes ready to be rolled up with some sweet filling.
But I always have to get those first couple of wonky-looking pancakes or crepes out of the way first.
Same with my podcast. Same with your project. If you haven’t created something like that before, you can have all the right ingredients and you'll still have to do the first whatever...
Rank #4: Ep 190: [Interview] Author & 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)
Jennifer Dukes Lee interview
Alison Hodgson interview
Shawn Smucker interview
Patrice Gopo interview
Ann's Patreon account
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You can subscribe to this podcast using your podcast player or find it through Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify.
Rank #5: Ep 167: How to Be a Better Writer (Pt 2): 3 Simple Tweaks You Can Try Today
Today I recommend three simple writing tweaks that will keep your readers interested and engaged.
1. Use Active, Vivid Verbs
Propel your story or idea forward with active, vivid verbs. Don’t fret about your word choices as you write your draft, but in the editing stage, especially, look for places you can swap a flat, lifeless verb for one that keeps the reader alert and engaged.
A few examples of flat, lifeless verbs:
“is" and other forms of “to be” (am, are, was, were, be, being, been, will be, and so on)
“go” or “went"
“have” or “had"
When you begin to identify words like these, that slow down your work, you’ll see opportunity. In fact, once you start fishing for verbs that energize your writing for the reader, you, as the author, may begin to dream up new ways of expressing an idea or scene.
Let’s say a writer describes a troubling situation in her kitchen. She writes, “The Instant Pot made such weird sounds, I worried I’d missed a step with the lid position or the settings.”
By simply choosing a more vivid verb than “made” ("The Instant Pot made such weird sounds…”), she may find her creativity kicks in and the whole scene picks up. Like this:
“The Instant Pot fizzed and spit as the silver peg jiggled and wobbled. Did I miss a detail in the instruction book? Should I turn the lid one notch tighter or pick a setting lower than ‘ultra'?"
The scene expanded and changed in tone. By playing with the verbs, the sentence practically came alive.
This simple tweak can produce stronger writing in all genres. I recommend you turn to active, vivid verbs whenever possible and play around with options.
2. In General, Avoid “There was”
Consider this common sentence structure: "There was a jogger who outran a terrier that nipped at her heels."
Because "There was" includes a form of "to be," I could have lumped this suggestion under the discussion of flat, lifeless verbs. Instead, I want to address this on its own.
>> “There was” Fills in for Unknown Subject
Sometimes we use “there are” when we aren’t sure who or what the actor or subject is. Newspapers rely on this when reporting on a situation with limited information. “Last night there was a robbery at the gas station on the corner of 5th and Main.”
Perhaps the reporter turned to “there was" because police hadn’t said anything about the perpetrator. If so, the reporter didn’t have enough information to write something like, “Two men wearing clown masks robbed the gas station on the corner of 5th and Main.” To make the deadline for the morning paper, the reporter gave readers what he had and they at least know a robbery allegedly took place on the corner of 5th and Main.
>> “There was” Can Hide an Identity
A writer might rely on “there was,” “there are,” or “there is” when they want to avoid casting blame or when it doesn’t really matter who did the action.
For example, a mom might write in an email, “I’m going to miss the meeting. There was a flood in our house from an overflowing toilet.” She chose “there was” on purpose to avoid pointing fingers at the particular child who flushed an entire roll of toilet paper and clogged the toilet to overflowing.
As you can see, you may find this construction handy and use it for various reasons. But in general, I recommend you avoid using it because it often can so easily be rearranged to create a much more interesting alternative.
>> Alternatives to “There was”
I can rearrange the example and play with variations.
"There was a jogger who outran a terrier that nipped at her heels" can quite simply become: “A jogger outran a terrier that nipped at her heels.”
Already, launching with "A jogger" instead of “There was” animates the scene one notch more than the or...
Rank #6: Ep 124: No Time to Write? A Simple Solution to Kickstart Your Work
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?
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.
Rank #7: How to Be a Better Writer: Boost All 7 Traits of Great Writing
I’m glad to be back after an unexpected and lengthy break when I needed to care for a relative during a complicated emergency. I’m sorry I didn’t have a way to let you know in the midst of it, but it looks like things are slowing down and stabilizing. I’m back in business—able to encourage and support you and your writing again.
Before my break, we were discussing how to be a better writer. I focused on small, quick wins to help you improve your writing right away with tips and tweaks. If you implement them, you will see a difference in your writing right away.
But I realized I want you to see how all writing advice fits into the bigger picture of how we arrive at great writing, so I wanted to share with you the 6+1 Traits. Boost all seven traits, and you will be a better writer.
6 + 1 Traits of Great Writing
The 6+1 Traits, developed by Education Northwest and promoted by the National Education Association, provides K-12 educators a way to teach and evaluate student writing.
I used these categories with high school students and found that whatever their projects—essays, term papers, and creative writing projects like poetry and short stories—the seven traits gave me a way to instruct and provide input. And the traits gave them a way to think through how to make any given piece clear and strong.
Not Just for Kids: Use the 6+1 Traits for Your Own Projects
While it may be geared for training young writers, the categories are useful for all ages and all levels of writing experience. Whether you're writing a blog post, a social media update, or a book—fiction or nonfiction—the 6+1 Traits serve as useful reminders and guides for all stages of the writing process, from idea and developmental stages down to the final proofread.
I love that they don’t focus disproportionately on conventions—usage, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. It includes that as one of the traits, but only one of the key characteristics of writing.
By exploring each trait instead of fixating on one or two, we don’t neglect areas that need attention. In fact, examining all the traits, we identify strengths and weakness not only in a given project but also in ourselves as a writer.
They help us move toward excellence.
What are the traits?
The “+ 1” trait is Appearance. Appearance is optional because it doesn’t relate to the writing itself—it’s about how we present our writing.
Ideas form the core of our writing.
When developing your project and later when you’re editing, start with the idea. To be crystal clear on it, express the big idea succinctly—in a sentence—and then read your piece in light of the idea.
In nonfiction, is your writing clear and focused on that idea or are you veering off into the weeds? Do your main points and examples offer convincing support? If your idea isn’t clear to you, your idea won't come across clearly to the reader.
In fiction, ensure your short story or novel idea is strong and clear: Does your plot work? Your character arc? How about theme?
When you clarify and solidify your idea, you can turn to the second trait: Organization.
You can start thinking organizationally about how to present your idea starting with the title and subtitle (or headline, depending on what you’re writing). And then your introduction with a thesis. Will you create subheadings to chunk your ideas and present them logically?
In fiction, you organize the piece starting with the title, subtitle, and the opening scene and the hook. You move through, scene by scene, organizing your story in a way that best fits, whether chronologically or using flashbacks. You decide how to structure and which POV will you take.
As you experiment with organizational options, you’ll have to decide which choices best order the ideas or plot so the reader tracks with the piece all the way to the...
Rank #8: Ep 208: Children’s Book Author Sharon Stohler’s Path to Self-Publishing
Today I’m chatting with Sharon Stohler, author of the nonfiction children’s biography Affectionately Yours: The Devoted Life of Abigail Adams, a charming and inspiring picture book released in June 2019.
As you’ll learn in the interview, Sharon and I met years ago when we both started home educating our very small children, so we’ve known each other for decades. I was privy to her idea for this book years ago when she shared it with me as a friend. Later, we worked together when she brought me on for more official coaching.
Sharon’s path to publishing was long and required vision, flexibility, patience, and perseverance. Pursuing traditional publishing revealed insights that led her to eventually land on self-publishing Affectionately Yours. And anyone who has poked around at self-publishing or pulled it off knows to do it well you undertake a long list of new steps and stages.
She did it. She pulled it off.
I hope you find her story instructive and motivating.
Though the process was long and complicated, time-consuming and expensive, she said that the moment she held that book in her hands, it was all worth it.
Sharon Stohler has a B.S. in Early Childhood Education from the University of Delaware and a Masters of Education from West Chester University. She has taught children ages four through 12 in private, public, and homeschool classrooms. Sharon currently teaches 3rd grade in a hybrid homeschool classroom and often finds herself delighted by her students and their brilliant minds. Aside from her own family room, she feels most at home in a library. She and her adventurous husband live in Indianapolis, where they cater to the needs of their Siamese cat, Gigi. They have three grown children.
- Sharon Stohler’s website
- Affectionately Yours: The Devoted Life of Abigail Adams (affiliate link)
- Tiny Boat, collaborative publisher and illustrator Daron Benson
- Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators Facebook page
- Bigger Dot, printer for Affectionately Yours
- Tara Lazar’s sample children’s book layout & dummy construction
- John Adams biography by David McCullough (softcover edition, affiliate link)
- All podcast interviews
- All podcast episodes
Rank #9: Ep 146: Your Writing Life Beginnings
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.
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.
My Writing Life: Beginnings, Pt 1
My Writing Life: Beginnings, Pt 2
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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.
Rank #10: Ep 141: Writers Help the World Begin to See
Pay attention to this world. Learn something. And then, I might add, give it away. Before you die. Because life is short and there’s so much to say.
We writers join the photographers and fine artists and children as the watchers, staring at the world around us, noticing what others brush past or ignore.
We’re the ones who see and take note. We pry, listen, eavesdrop. We press in and push out, serving as a conduit of whatever truth we’ve taken in.
Whatever you learn, whatever you know, whatever you see and hear, write it. Share it. Pass it on.
You have stories to tell that only you can tell because you were the one who was there—you were the one who took time to notice and see what others missed.
We stare a long time and sometimes stand up, walk to another location to gain a different perspective, and stare even longer—this time from that other angle.
Capture it. Verify, as much as possible. And bear witness with honesty and humility.
We play with words as we tell the truth. We may speak truth others can’t articulate on their own, or we speak truth others can’t bring themselves to utter. We often speak the truth others can't quite wrap their minds around, but when they see it, read it, hear it, they’ll “get it.”
All because we stopped to stare. All because we were willing to share.
The Unexpected in the Everyday
Sophie Howarth & Stephen McLaren, authors of Street Photography Now, respond in part to the Walker Evans quote, as they describe the work of street photographers in terms that sound something like the work of writers. They say:
Street photographers elevate the commonplace and familiar into something mythical and even heroic. They thrive on the unexpected, seeing the street as a theatre of endless possibilities, the cast list never fixed until the shutter is pressed. They stare, they pry, they listen and they eavesdrop, and in doing so they hold up a mirror to the kind of societies we are making for ourselves. At a time when fewer and fewer of the images we see are honest representations of real life, their work is more vital than ever. (excerpted in The Telegraph)
We writers can do the same kind of work as the street photographers. When we do, we elevate the commonplace and familiar into something bigger, even “mythical” or “heroic.” We, too, thrive on the unexpected in the everyday. Our work, too, is more vital than ever.
Make Much of What Others Pass By
Dinty Moore of Brevity Magazine tweeted a quote from Steven Church, who said: "I think our obligation as essayists is to make too much of things that other people wouldn’t make much of."
Essayists, poets, novelists, memoirists: look around. In the commonplace, familiar world we inhabit, we see the bigger themes, the more profound truths, the window into what our world is becoming. We do this, in part, by noting what some small piece of it has become. We make much of things others pass right by.
Every writer can learn from the street photographers.
We can learn to stare. Pry. Eavesdrop.
Take it all in. Use every sense. Take it all in and get it all down, even if you don’t write about it until a week later, a month later, a year later. But don’t wait too long.
Help the World Begin to See
In the play Our Town, the character Emily is speaking to her loved ones when she says, "I love you all, everything. - I cant look at everything hard enough.” Her monologue models attention to detail and inspires every theatergoer, every writer—every human being—to do the same.
She cries out to her family to look at each other. She realizes too late how fast life goes, how we don’t have time—or take time—to look at one another.
"All that was going on in life and we never noticed,” she says.
She takes one last look as she says goodbye to the world—to the town,
Rank #11: Ep 202: Enjoy Creative Freedom with the Modular Approach to Writing
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 Writing
This 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 Bricks
Each "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 Draft
When 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 Pieces
At 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.
You’re so close to the final product,
Rank #12: Ep 163: How to Write When You Work Full Time
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 Ache
I 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 Ache
I 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.
It’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.
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.
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,
Rank #13: Ep 182: Write to Discover Your Reason for Writing
If you’ve read On Being a Writer, you know my coauthor Charity Singleton Craig and I start with identity—claiming we are writers. I told the story of the university publication that accepted my first poetry submissions. They asked for a bio. I looked at examples from a previous issue I’d purchased. The poets talked about why they write.
“Without overthinking it, I scribbled out, ‘I write, because no one listens to me.’”1
Until I wrote it out, I don’t think I realized why I was penning poems and pursuing the life of a writer. But when forced to express it in writing, there it was. At that nascent stage of my writing career, I simply wanted to be heard.
Your reason for writing can be as simple as that—to have a voice. That may always be what drives you to the keyboard. But it can change over time. It’s been a few years—a few decades, if I’m honest—since I first identified my reason for writing. Over time, my purpose, my motivation—my reason—has changed, and changed again.
It pays to revisit this question of why you write and see if your reasons have morphed. Because when you know why you write, you can stay focused and motivated. You can run decisions through the filter of your primary purpose.
How to discover it? Through writing.
Why Do You Write?
Most of this exploratory work can happen in our private writing, like journals, rather than in public forums, like a blog or an essay. But you may find that an essay or poem intended for publication ends up effectively verbalizing your purpose.
Writing invites us to grapple with unspoken desires and tap into our driving forces. When we write, we not only unearth our purpose, but we articulate it.
I’m going to give you a couple of prompts to help you find your reason for writing—for being a writer.
You might answer them in a single sentence without a pause because you know exactly why you’ve turned to writing.
Or you might look at these and realize you’re not at all sure why you write.
Or you might end up writing paragraphs in search of the answer. You might unearth multiple reasons that suggest more than one motivation.
Get them down on paper. Write them out.
Write to Discover Your Reason for Writing
You’ll understand yourself better. You’ll realize why you’re drawn more to one project than another. You’ll have a way to decide where to focus your resources.
And keep in mind that your purpose doesn’t have to be noble or big. Let’s say you decided to try writing a thriller on a dare from your best friend and it’s fun. That’s a reason for writing. You might want to see your name in a publication, to make money, or to be known as a subject matter expert. Those are all reasons for writing.
You could work your discoveries into some sort of personal mission or vision statement, or a manifesto. Or going through this process may simply make you more aware of what’s driving you to write. It will ground you.
You can play around with this. Jot out ridiculous answers and see how they look on paper. Make yourself laugh. Maybe, well, maybe that’s why you write—to entertain first yourself and then, others.
Write to discover your reason for writing.
Now here are the simple prompts to get you started:
I write because _.
I write to ____.
Your response can be honed down to a few phrases. For example:
I write because I can’t not write. I write because I love words. I write because I have important observations to share. I write to become famous.
Maybe you write in response to this and discover a specific reason based on curiosity, industry knowledge, or some personal experience—joyful or tragic—that ignites a passion, like:
I write to explore the deepest reasons people lie. I write to bring underreported historical events to light. I write to explain creative organizational solutions. I write because I love sharing my frugal travel discoveries.
Rank #14: Ep 162: What Do You Do with Story Ideas?
What do you do with the initial ideas once you’ve got them?
This writer continued by saying they're great about coming up with a brief synopsis and sometimes even an outline but then they get stuck. "I never know where to begin! What’s the best way to start any story?”
Story Ideas Are Gold—Store Them in a System
First let me address at a practical level what to do with those initial ideas.
Not every writer generates a lot of motivating, marketable ideas, so if you have more than one, you're sitting on a creative gold mine. Take good care of your ideas and you’ll always have options.
Store any and all ideas in a safe place—ideally in a system designed for easy access, one that supports your project’s progress.
Your Writing Pipeline
I suggest setting up a Writing Pipeline, which I’ve explained in another article. Allow me to mention briefly that my Writing Pipeline consists of different folders set up in Evernote marked:
I have two more folders in the same stack that aren’t part of the actual pipeline but feed the pipeline, and those are:
Notes & Quotes
While Evernote has worked well for me, your Writing Pipeline folders could just as easily be set up in Trello, Google Docs, or any project management app or system you use. But the point is to be sure you have a place to capture, store, retrieve, and develop your ideas.
Initial Idea Development
Let’s say an idea comes to you one morning. You capture it in an Idea folder where you’ve stored several other ideas. Later that evening you review your ideas and decide to develop that one.
An idea needs time to grow and develop. You may want to map out a plot or flesh out a concept. You might make lists, draw mind maps, jot the main ideas or plot points onto Post-It notes, and assemble all that into a working outline.
This is where the writer who posed that question finds him or herself. If we’re at the same stage, we’re staring at files filled with at least a few ideas in early stages of development—with a synopsis and maybe an outline.
Pick Your Favorite Story Idea
It’s time to pick one of those ideas and write.
Not long ago I waded along the edge of a body of water. Scattered across the hot sand were not shells but stones. I picked up a few and gazed at them, admiring the lines that cut across one, the soft red hue of another, and the smooth feel of a flat gray stone against my fingertips.
I showed my selection of stones to a friend.
“I love stones!” she exclaimed. Then she headed out to the water’s edge to find her own choice handful. Others in our group did the same. Next thing you know, we were running up to each other, showing off our favorites, admiring the beauty.
Out of all the stones piled along the edge of the water, we’d all identified our own small selection that pleased us.
In the same way I was drawn to one of those stones more than another—and who knows why?—I sift through my Ideas file now and then, and find myself drawn to one of my ideas more than others.
The same can happen to you.
You’ll read through ideas and for whatever reason, your mind will ignite just a little more when thinking through one idea than it does for another.
And don’t choose one idea over another just because it’s further along. Why invest creative effort on a project that’s developed but void of energy?
If an idea is drawing your interest—if it feels right to you—pick it. Choose the one that grabs you; the one that captivates and fascinates you enough to sustain your interest. If you need to plan or plot it out, sit down and write out a synopsis or map out some chapters as your first step, while you’re feeling jazzed about it.
And then…start writing.
Rank #15: Ep 148: Increase Writing Quality by Both Filling and Stilling Your Mind
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.
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
Rank #16: Ep 132: This Is the Year to Tackle That Complicated, Unfamiliar New Writing Project
I’d been concerned about how to navigate the city; I'd never before been there. I didn’t know what to expect, and wasn't sure how things work. Should we take taxis? The subway? Uber?
I was nervous. A little scared, honestly, because everything was so unknown and unfamiliar.
But I went.
I said “yes” to the trip, did a little reading and research, and finally, I decided to trust that my traveling companion and I were smart enough to figure it out.
Once we were there, we found our way using Google Maps in "walking" mode. We turned the wrong way a few times—actually, every time—but we'd revise our path, turn down a different street, and you know what? We arrived at our destinations—even if it meant we took the long way a few times.
And we laughed a lot at how our first few steps were almost always in the wrong direction, but we eventually figured it out. We even hopped on the subway to visit some sights with no problem.
Once I familiarized myself with the unfamiliar, my concern shifted to confidence. My fear dissipated as we figured it out.
If you've never written a long literary essay—or something bigger, like a novel or a nonfiction book—you might be concerned about all the details involved in the process. It's unfamiliar, so you might feel nervous, intimidated—even a little scared.
Writers who dread the learning curve and fear failure might put it off indefinitely and never even try to tackle that essay or book.
The best way to familiarize yourself with anything is to do a little research up front, and then...take a deep breath and dive in.
Drive to the city and find your way around. Open up Google Docs or Microsoft Word and start making an outline or writing the first chapter.
As you begin, you’ll start to see what you understand and don’t understand; what you have and don’t have. You’ll poke around and find answers to your questions.
Figure It Out as You Go
This is the year to tackle that complicated, unfamiliar new writing project.
Start writing your story and eventually you’ll figure out how to set up a filing system that works well for your content. Start writing your essay and you’ll discover something you need to research.
Sure, you might get turned around at first, not having much of a plan. You might have to regroup or revise something after the fact. But there’s very little that can’t be reworked and reorganized, often with less effort than you thought.
If you've been putting off a project that feels foreign and you're unsure how to tackle it, start writing it. Figure it out as you go.
And I suspect—I hope—you'll find the unfamiliar will grow familiar faster than you imagined.
Fear Stops Us from Starting
I released a course this week, and if you’re curious about it, you can go to annkroeker.com/courses and it should take you to the page for my school. The course is called:
The Organized Writer: Tap into the Power of an Editorial Calendar.
I’d love for you to take a look at the description because if you’re in a state of overwhelm and fear regarding a big project that you have no idea how to create, I want you to know…I can relate. I know how you feel.
It took forever for me to start making this video-driven course. There was too much unfamiliar to navigate—I had to record several kinds of video requiring several kinds of video editing, all of which was new to me. I was using new equipment and new software.
I was so intimidated by it, for ages I didn’t even start; for months, I resisted. I put off even playing around with things, dreading the learning curve.
Then, one weekend, I decided to trust that I was smart enough to figure it out, and if I ran up against something that confused me, I knew I could get answers along the way.
So I took a deep breath and dove in. I bumbled through some of the setup in the main software, but most aspects of it were simple and intuitive; a confusing...
Rank #17: Ep 193: Next-Level Writer – To Start, You’ve Got to Get in the Game
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 Abilities
You 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 Game
But 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 Game
I’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.”1
He 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.”2
In 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 Writer
As you commit to writing,
Rank #18: Ep 177: [Interview] Alison Hodgson on Boiling a Story Down to Its Essence, One-Star Reviews, and Perseverance
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.com
Instagram: @alisonhodgsonbooks/ and (more prominently) @therealpugoliver
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 episodes
You 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 Prose
Go to annkroeker.com/sentenceopeners to learn more and to enroll for free. If it looks interesting, you can dive right in.
Rank #19: Ep 118: How Inexperienced Writers Can Supercharge Their Growth
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?
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.
Rank #20: Ep 199: Insights into Christian Publishing with NavPress Publisher Don Pape
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.
Don Pape on Twitter
Don on Instagram
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
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
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