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Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

Ann Kroeker

Reach your writing goals (and have fun!) by being more curious, creative, and productive. Ann provides practical tips and motivation for writers at all stages to improve their skills, pursue publishing, and expand their reach. Ann keeps most episodes short and focused so writers only need a few minutes to collect ideas, inspiration, resources and recommendations to apply to their work. She incorporates interviews from publishing professionals and authors like Allison Fallon, Ron Friedman, Shawn Smucker, and Jennifer Dukes Lee to bring additional insight. Ann and her guests cover everything from self-editing and goal-setting to administrative and scheduling challenges. Subscribe for ongoing coaching to advance your writing life and career. More at annkroeker.com.
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Top 10 Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach Episodes

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[Ep 225] You’re inspired. An idea seizes you and before the energy fizzles, you whip out a laptop, open a new document, and slam out words. Get it down fast—start writing and discover along the way what you want to say. I support this approach! Capture the core idea while your creativity sizzles—before your vision fades! At some point, however, you need to take a minute to be sure you know four key elements of this project or else your final product may miss the mark. For everything we write, we really do need to know: topic audience purpose medium Imagine if today’s article had been titled “Follow These 3 Rules to Organize and Optimize Your RV Kitchen.” You’d wonder if you clicked on the wrong link or cued up the wrong podcast. I do like RV travel and could probably write about it, but because this website provides writing input to readers, an RV article might suit the medium of a podcast that focused on RV owners, but it would not fit the topic, audience, or purpose of a writing coach podcast or website. Understand these fundamental elements of your project, and you’ll save time in the editing stage and ultimately impress publishers and serve readers. You'll build an audience that can tell you are knowledgeable and you understand them. Build This Step into Your Writing Process Experienced writers who publish regularly often work through this instinctively because they’ve written for years about a particular subject matter for an outlet that follows a specific format. These professionals may be able to sit down and tap out an impressive draft that follows style and formatting guidelines, and falls close to the ideal word count. But if you’re... new to writing returning to it after a long break craving a refresher on the basics concerned your work isn’t connecting with readers stepping out to write new subject matter, reach a new audience, or publish in a new media style or outlet ...I recommend you build this step into your writing process more intentionally. Consciously, deliberately pause in the early stages of development to think through—even write out—brief descriptions of your project’s topic, audience, purpose, and medium. Know what you’re setting out to accomplish and why. Determine what you’re writing about and who it’s for. Consider where it’ll be published and distributed, because that affects its depth and design, tone and topic, length and layout. Lock this in before you brainstorm, research, outline, or free write and you’ll find the writing, revising, and editing process more efficient and the finished project’s impact more effective. Topic Let’s start with that initial inspiration. That creative spark. That idea. THE TOPIC QUESTION: What’s this project about? Sometimes you’re assigned a topic; other times the idea blooms from within. Either way, you’ll need to confirm the high-level topic and then articulate how this project will narrow and focus on a particular aspect of it. For example, your high-level topic may be vegetable gardening. Are you writing an article for a local garden shop’s newsletter about growing potatoes or how to plant a Three Sisters garden? That’s how you would narrow the high-level topic to be more focused. If you function as your own publisher, your “brand” may cover three or four categories that lead to obvious topic choices that always fit the audience, purpose, and medium. The food blogger writes about the high-level topic of food, but narrows it to a few categories like main dishes, side dishes, slow-cooker instructions. Then, she publishes specific articles and recipes under each of those. So any given project—in this case, it’s probably a blog post—will have a specific topic. And that’s what her project is about: it’s an eggplant recipe or instructions for cooking steel cut oats. You may find it helpful to express the big idea of this project in one-sentence, as you would a thesis. Or maybe writing the headline will help you answer the topic q...
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[Ep 224] At the close of a brilliant blue-sky summer-warm April afternoon, a heavy thunderstorm swept across my state, pelting us with hail and hurtling branches across yards. We stared in awe at Zeus-explosive lightning strikes that flashed and boomed, backlighting trees that swayed like storm-tossed ship masts, nearly snapping. After a series of mighty cracks, the power went out and stayed out for eight hours. Cell service, too. During the strangest season of a lifetime, when staying informed and connected relies on a functioning Internet, we were completely cut off from the world for...we didn’t know how long. The storm felt even more ominous in total darkness. Wind gusts smacked limbs against the roof in haunting thumps and scrapes, like zombies clawing the shingles. We lit candles and sat in our family room, hoping the sliding glass door wouldn’t blow in and spew shards of glass across the room. We settled in but couldn’t rest. On high alert, we remained poised to head to the basement if we heard tornado sirens go off. My husband grabbed a headlamp he uses when camping and handed it to my son, who needed to finish studying for a pre-calc test. I remembered some blizzards of my youth, when the power would go out on the farm for a few days—once for an entire week—and we’d use kerosene lamps for light and the wood stove for heat. I’d feel a sense of awe and fear and excitement that, for a stretch of time—and who knew for how long—life suspended in an awkward space of uncertainty where we were forced to rethink the days and invent solutions to complete basic tasks. Eventually the power would return to the farm. We’d flip on lights and the TV. Country roads would be cleared and the school bus would show up at my driveway. Back to normal. I thought of that blizzard while staring out our sliding glass door. After about an hour, the fiercest elements of the storm subsided, though rain continued to pour down, overflowing gutters clogged by debris. In the quiet, dark house, we felt our way along the walls to our bedrooms, listening for each other’s voices. My husband set an alarm to wake up every few hours throughout the night to empty the brim-full sump pump, which wasn’t able to do its job without electricity. Early the next morning, our power returned. We flipped on lights and reset our clocks and the WiFi router. The sump pump turned on and emptied the tanks. Back to normal. Except...it’s not normal. This isn’t a blizzard, and the bus didn’t show up for students in our neighborhood. My son took his pre-calc test at the kitchen table and uploaded it to a website for his math instructor to grade. Back to our abnormal normal, I guess, or whatever we’ve created within this shelter-at-home pandemic reality, its own silent storm. I started six or seven different ideas for this post, but they all fell flat; they seemed inappropriate in one way or another. Hopeful, encouraging input seemed like it would make light of readers who are fearful or frustrated. So I held off, wanting to respect that not everyone is ready to map out a social media strategy or draft a short story. Fun ideas celebrating the creativity of quarantined humans across the planet seemed to make light of the intensity and suffering so many are facing. I had collected links to amusing and ambitious projects but stopped, unable to share. I knew friends who were sick or caring for the sick, and it seemed tone deaf to send that out. But the other extreme also seemed like a strange choice; highlighting suffering seemed too heavy and melancholy for readers who might be seeking an emotional escape. Sometimes I want to just laugh a little; sometimes I want to avoid the weight of the news. Suggestions for being productive? That felt, I don’t know...exhausting...too hard to attempt or sustain. I watch all these people hopping on Instagram Live offering their recommendations to be a voice of leadership duri...
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[Ep 223] As I write this, a pandemic is spreading across the planet. I surely hope you and those you love are spared any sickness during this worldwide crisis. I’m stating this in part to document my day in the midst of these extraordinary circumstances. This is something we can do as writers: Document the days. Keep a Journal If You Can Record your story as it’s unfolding; capture and preserve—in real time, in your voice—what will become source material for future historians or for your own memoir. Dr. Shane Landrum wrote, in a series of tweets: Advice from a historian in the Boston area: Start keeping a journal today, ideally a hand written one if that’s within your ability. Write about what you’re seeing in the news, how yr friends are responding, what is closed in yr neighborhood or city or state or country. Save it...Sometimes you know you’re living through an event that will be in the history books very large...personal stories don’t make it into the history books unless people are writing them down in the first place. Keep a journal if you can.1 His Twitter thread prompted people to suggest typing up and printing out their observations and others to recommend indelible ink on archival paper. But you can find other, creative ways to document the days. Audio or Video Diaries If you’re a writer who is also a first responder, health care worker, or supply chain contributor delivering food and goods to stores—or stocking and supplying the stores—you may not have time to write. On a break, record a one- to three-minute audio or video diary on your phone. Tell us about the fatigue, the tasks, the challenges, the people. Share it, or save it. But document the days. If you’re not in some of those critical roles—and I’m sure I missed entire groups of people—you are likely at home tending to your work, perhaps educating your child or overseeing her work. You, too, can use a video or audio diary to document the days. Share Some Now, Save Some for Later Some of it, you’ll save for later: for a future project, for family, for historians. Some of it, though, you can share right now, to offer hope and accurately report on your world. Publish on social media, or through your blog, or through a podcast like this. Publish and distribute your most urgent messages however and wherever you can most easily get the word out to the people who need it most. Use Dr. Landrum’s hashtag, if you like, to communally chronicle your experiences with others across the globe: #pandemicjournal2 However you choose to document your days, I urge you to do this. Writers Document the Details We are in a unique position, as writers, to know how to weave sensory detail into our observations that will recreate it for readers later; we understand that the story keeps going and if we document it today, we’ll grab texture and tension and we can scene-build, and if we don’t, we will have forgotten when the world moves on from toilet paper hoarding to new challenges, as it already has. It’s easy to forget the messaging and actions of early stages when the next one happens a mere hours later. Our role as writers in these uncertain times is to be among those who capture the stories. Tell Your Story You tell yours from your corner of the world, and I’ll tell mine. One day, they’ll fit together to help people understand how one thing led to another in the high-level reporting alongside the everyday events: the confusion, the indecision; the toilet paper hoarding and the jokes that ensued; the frantic trips to Walmart and Target and grocery stores, not knowing how to prepare for such a time as this. We’ve had questions: will we go on lockdown or will life go on as usual? We will be able to share how that changed day by day, moment by moment, question by question. Document the Questions The questions, so many questions... O Me! O Life! Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
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[Ep 222] My most effective year teaching high school composition was the one I began with poetry. From day one, I introduced literary devices through poems, inviting students to spot metaphor and simile, hyperbole and imagery, rhythm, rhyme, and repetition. With a focus on a single poem, we could zero in on just a few observations and they could use those as inspiration, even models, for their assignments. Later, armed with a range of literary tools and techniques, the students confidently integrated those into their prose. Their essays—even their research papers—showed they better understood how to lasso language to express their ideas. What’s more, they also readily spotted themes and ideas in the longer works we studied. They had more to say about the pieces we read. It’s as if poetry opened their minds to new ways of seeing the world, and in some cases, poets opened their minds to new ways of seeing themselves: students seemed to borrow words and phrases to express feelings and frustrations, disappointments and dreams. Poetry's Profound Truths I believe poetry opened them up to become more thoughtful, creative writers—perhaps even more thoughtful, creative human beings. And I believe it can open us up to become more thoughtful, creative writers and human beings. When The New York Times news desk gathers for their morning meeting, they start by reading a poem. Marc Lacey explains that this new ritual is “aimed at inspiring us and boosting our creativity before we embark on another long day of editing the news.”1 He says this new practice is leaving members more thoughtful, more contemplative. “I can tell by the faraway look in my colleagues’ eyes as we hear profound truths communicated sparsely and majestically.”2 His story sent me to a shelf in my living room in search of an anthology I might use to reboot this practice in my own creative life. Yes, despite the fruitful results from that high school composition class—and despite being steeped in poetry back when I served on the editorial team at Tweetspeak Poetry—I have fallen out of the habit of reading a poem each day. Wordsworth's "The Rainbow' I plucked The Oxford Book of English Verse from the shelf, a collection I’d picked up at a used library sale. It flopped open to a Wordsworth poem: The Rainbow My heart leaps up when I behold A rainbow in the sky: So was it when my life began; So is it now I am a man; So be it when I shall grow old, Or let me die ! The Child is father of the Man; And I could wish my days to be Bound each to each by natural piety.3 A few of Wordsworth’s choices are easily spotted in this short poem: the deliberate repetition of “So” in a series of three. Unintentional repetition can distract a reader, but writers who use repetition with intent can assist the reader’s understanding. Here, Wordsworth uses it to indicate the beginning, middle, and end of his life: “So was it...So is it...So be it.” Of course, we see rhyming throughout: behold/old, began/man, be/piety. While rhyming is the norm in poetry, it reminds me to listen for and play with its potential in prose; where might I test subtle sounds to add music to my words, even blog posts and podcasts? A poet of the Romantic era, Wordsworth responded to nature as teacher, as guide, as inspiration. He expresses a desire to never lose his childlike sense of wonder. Creativity, Curiosity, Wonder His poem—and his mindset—has potential to awaken our creativity alongside curiosity and wonder. He leaves me hopeful that we need not feel trapped and deadened by disheartening news. Our hearts can still leap. As a wordsmith, editor Marc Lacey knows poetry’s potential to inspire our minds to use language in imaginative and inventive ways. But he also seems to grasp the need for us to see the world differently and, perhaps, to believe our hearts can still leap. The Magic of Poetry Morrigan McCarthy, a photo editor and former poetry major,
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[Ep 221] If you’re trying to land an agent and eventually a contract with a publisher, you can’t get around it: you need to craft a compelling proposal to pitch your nonfiction book. This may be the first time you’ve heard about this and you’re reeling from the thought that you can’t just send your manuscript directly to a publisher or agent. I’ll fill you in. Let’s look at what a book proposal is and why you need one to pursue traditional publishing. A Book Proposal Is a Business Document Simply put: a book proposal is a business document used industry-wide to persuade publishers to partner with you to publish your book. It’s a business document, yes. It’s a document that industry gatekeepers like agents, editors, and publishers use to discuss your concept, consider your author brand and platform, study your sample chapters, and make their final decision whether or not to partner with you on this project. As you can see, there’s a lot riding on this one document. And business documents can feel foreign to creative writers who are unaccustomed to the business world and business documents. That’s why it’s nice to have some input and guidance. Some people think they can pitch their idea to an agent without a proposal, and they think the agent will love the idea and proceed to sign this writer and work with the writer to craft the proposal. But that’s not quite how it works. Because even an agent will expect you to produce for them a proposal that they’ll use to decide whether or not to sign you. Let’s say you queried an agent or you met an agent, they ask for your proposal, you send it, and they like what they see. They chat with you and decide to offer to represent you. They use the proposal to make their decision whether or not to move forward. At that point, they’ll help you refine—and in some cases revise—your original proposal. At the very least, they’ll supply you with their agency’s template and have you drop your proposal content into their format with the brand at the top. And they’ll use that version of the proposal to shop it around. But the process starts with a query or conversation with an agent in hopes that they request your proposal. So you need to craft the best proposal possible for your project even to land an agent and certainly to land a publishing contract. The Proposal Forces Clarity But don’t view the book proposal as a burden. And don’t be overwhelmed at the thought of writing one. Instead, see it as a chance to gain clarity and build confidence as you craft this document, because the process of developing a book proposal forces you to think through all aspects of your book and yourself as its author. You’ll identify your target audience, determine the purpose and scope of this project, and generate a plan for how to help market the book. The book proposal will serve you well. What's in the Proposal Itself The document itself is super basic in the way it looks. I advise clients to keep the design simple, with minimal flourishes and no fancy fonts—in fact, I recommend using universally recognized fonts so the agent or acquisitions editor who opens the file can view it without needing to access a custom font. Inside the document, the proposal covers a variety of elements that provide information about you and the book, like: an overview of the project a marketing plan comps (competitive or comparative titles) a Table of Contents (or TOC) platform stats an annotated Table of Contents (chapter summaries) sample chapters The template I use with clients includes these elements and others that are generally expected no matter who you’re querying. I’ve built it based on my own experience as an author crafting my own proposals, but I’ve added changes to reflect industry shifts over the years. I adapted and modified my template to help a writer think through all aspects of the book,
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[Ep 220] A writer reached out to me with news that she's writing a nonfiction book and wants to be published. “What’s the process?” she asked. I'm happy to explain. I'll cover the main steps to becoming a traditionally published author without going into minute detail. This will give you—and her—a broad overview. Pre-Process Stage: Educate Yourself Before taking the first step toward publishing, start learning everything possible about the industry. Educate yourself. Learn industry terminology, roles, documents, processes, and proposals. Learn about self-publishing, as well, in case that ends up being an even better approach for you and your book. To begin understanding how the publishing world works: Watch conference videos on YouTube Attend writing conferences Read books and articles Listen to relevant podcasts Subscribe to website feeds to study trends and announcements Follow gatekeepers and decision-makers on social media The more you know about the book publishing process, people, jargon, and expectations, the more confident you’ll be heading into each conversation at each stage of the journey. As you gain knowledge, you’ll discover opportunities, challenges and frustrations, and hopefully you'll make informed decisions about the best publishers, agents, and marketing approaches for you and your project. The Long Road to Publishing Let me warn you, though: publishing is not for the faint of heart. They say from the moment of signing a book contract to the day of the book’s release is on average two years. That doesn’t include all the steps leading up to the signing of that contract, so it can stretch out even longer. You need patience, vision, grit, perseverance. The act of defining a book concept takes time. To sign with an agent and land a contract can take an even longer time. To then develop the book proposal and eventually write every word of a manuscript will require a tremendous output of time, effort, creativity, and courage. A writer may want to give up at several points. So take it in stages, because getting a book published is a marathon, not a sprint. How to Get a Nonfiction Book Published Now, what are the main steps to traditional publishing? Here’s a high-level look at how it works. Step 1: Build a Platform Learn what a platform is (see “Educate Yourself” above) and why it’s important. Then learn all the ways you can build one. Begin to step into spaces where you can connect with target readers, bringing them content related to the general topic of your book concept. During this step, readers meet you and connect you to that topic. Along the way, you solidify your author brand and build a platform you can use to encourage, inform, and entertain people. And one day you'll be able to tell them about the book that’s in the works. Building a platform takes time—the sooner you begin, the better, because publishers will not consider authors who don't have a platform. Continue to build it as you move into Step 2, so your platform continues to deepen and expand. Bringing a substantial platform to the conversation with a book publisher makes you a more desirable author for them to sign. Step 2: Create a Book Proposal You'll need a book proposal. Publishers use these business documents to decide if they want to partner with the author to publish the proposed book. A typical proposal includes many elements such as your platform stats, the book’s table of contents, chapter summaries, and three polished sample chapters. Because the proposal includes platform information, you’ll want to tackle Step 1 as soon as possible and continue with those platform-building efforts throughout the process. Publishers want to see that you connect with readers and can get the word out to them. You may want to have the sample chapters edited (or at least proofread) to be sure they go out in the best shape possible when an agent or editor ask...
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[Ep 219] Whether you’re interested in increasing blog readership or building a freelance writing business—and especially if you’re pursuing traditional publishing—you’ll want to connect with readers. You’ll want to reach people who are interested in your stories and ideas and appreciate how you present those ideas as a writer, in your unique style, tone, and personality. That’s the basic idea of platform. In fact, I define it like this: platform is all the ways you, as your author brand, reach and retain ideal readers. Platform Size Affects Opportunities Jane Friedman says in her book The Business of Being a Writer: [T]he size of your platform will affect how easy it is for you to earn money or bring opportunities to your door. Editors, businesses, organizations, and other potential benefactors will be more likely to consider you if they've heard of you, seen evidence of your work in the market, or otherwise become familiar with you through online or offline interactions. 1 On a proposal, you list the number of Twitter and Instagram followers you have and the size of the audience at your last speaking engagement. You want those numbers to be substantial, even impressive. The bigger the platform, the better, in terms of being able to bring opportunities to your door. But it’s more than numbers; in fact, numbers mean nothing if your readers aren’t feeling a sense of kinship with you as a writer or a sense of connection with your prose. So, as you build a platform, remember each number you present to a publisher represents a human being. The metrics you present are people—people interested in what you have to say and how you say it. Building a Far-Reaching Platform Through Social Media Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, your social media presence is not in and of itself your platform. You have a range of options available to reach and retain readers. And yet... And yet social media offers powerful publishing and distribution tools in the palms of our hands—available for free! It levels the playing field, allowing a homeschooling farmer’s wife who lives in the middle of nowhere to engage with readers in the same spaces as major book publishers and magazines. With the click of a button, our words can reach the ends of the earth! Isn’t that amazing? We can leverage these apps to connect with readers and raise visibility as a writer worldwide, building a meaningful, substantial, far-reaching platform over time. The Best Platform-Building Efforts Call for Real Human Interaction Connecting with readers doesn’t require marketing savvy or publicity know-how (though that can help). Many of the most effective platform-building efforts simply call for honest, real human interaction: a pleasant email; an earnest comment responding to someone’s article; a card mailed to someone we meet at a conference; a retweet with an encouraging note. Find simple ways to engage with readers, then expand and experiment over time, because, as Jane says: If you’re committed to pursuing a career primarily focused on book publication, then you’ll be faced with the challenge of staying competitive, current, and discoverable in a shifting digital landscape; of having the right tools to be effective and in touch with your readers; and of developing strong partnerships to help you market and promote your work.2 Community Support There’s another opportunity to increase our reach as we build our platform, and that’s through online communities. Because so many of these groups and organizations are online, connecting with these readers overlaps with social media efforts. These online communities can look different. Some are paid membership sites and others, loose collections of friends around a theme or activity. Whatever shape or format they take, the healthy outlets serve as an excellent way to connect with writers and readers. These communities offer mutual support and celebration for every new succes...
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[Ep 218] Do we really need to do all the things to be a writer these days? Are all those extra activities and tasks required for a successful career? Do we really need to vlog and launch social media campaigns on five different platforms? Are we required to blog and guest post? And is it true we have to be prepared to step on a stage and speak? Emily Dickinson's Focused Writing Life Why can’t we model our writing life after Emily Dickinson, who wrote poetry, including one that begins, "I'm Nobody! Who are you?" She felt free to write in isolation without worrying about all the things. Emily Dickinson never bothered with an Instagram account. Emily Dickinson never vlogged. If Emily Dickinson had pursued all those non-writing tasks, she might not have had enough time to craft her masterpieces. Emily Dickinson focused solely on writing. Why can’t we? Of course we can, my friend. Of course we can stay secluded, never leave the house, and focus on writing without messing with other activities. I’ll admit, as an introvert, it sounds kind of nice. And to be honest, many days I myself am secluded and never leave the house! But even Emily Dickinson maintained correspondence with friends, family, and publishing professionals. Even in her isolation—even as she penned hundreds of poems—one could say she “networked,” as she connected with people who read and, in some cases, published her work. Some of All the Things If we want to pursue traditional publishing today, if we want to be discovered and read by people, if we want to avoid obscurity and move toward a more professional writing life, well, we'll want to consider pursuing at least some of all the things. Some activities like speaking will take us out of the house, but what’s fascinating about the 2020s is we live in a day and age where we can do a lot of the things without even leaving the house: social media updates videos guest posts blogging admin work correspondence We can do a lot of that right where we’re sitting. So, yes, we lose writing time to pursue those tasks and activities, but at least they can be done from home. High-Value, Reader-Connecting, Platform-Building Activities We can reach a wide audience if we’re willing to experiment, learn new skills, and connect with people using tools and technology that Emily Dickinson could not have fathomed. These efforts position you for a more successful career as people who would never have met you otherwise now recognize you and read your work. Over time, these efforts can lead to decision-makers recognizing you and offering to publish your work. Some of these ideas could be considered platform-building efforts, but they’re also simply great ways to connect with readers—which is kind of the same thing, and a healthier way of framing it. High-value, reader-connecting, platform-building activities include: 1. Get a Website Up and Running Every writer needs a home base—a website under your control where you send people. I recommend a self-hosted blog if at all possible, so you have more control and so you can even sell things someday. But self-hosted blogs require you to pay for hosting, so this may not be financially feasible at first. Keep It Simple Whether it’s a free or self-hosted website, the look can be super-basic at first—or forever. For inspiration, check out James Clear’s website. As of the time of this writing, this New York Times bestselling author has a simple, clean site without any bells or whistles. He doesn’t have a logo or even a special font for his name. At jamesclear.com, It’s all about the content. Control Information About You Having a website means you have a hub for all your other content and communication. There, you can control at least some of the information about you that exists on the web. So write an “about” page that aligns with your writing and author brand, and you’re on your way to being known for whatever it is yo...
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[Ep 217] I don’t know much about science, but I'm pretty sure Newton’s First Law goes like this: an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.1 Okay, I looked it up for accuracy. And I believe it applies not just to physics, but to my writing life, as well. Over the holiday season, I myself did not come to rest, as I was busy baking, cooking, cleaning, wrapping gifts, hosting family. However, this focus on festivities brought my writing to a standstill. My projects stalled out. I felt stuck. Inertia set in so that even after the tree returned to the attic and the lights came down, my creative efforts went nowhere. Something inside resisted my efforts to start writing again. Until today, my writing had not budged. Writing at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. If I want to get my writing in motion and gather momentum, I have to take action. And I thought I might not be the only one facing inertia and hoping for momentum in the new year, so here are some strategies to rev up the engines and get our words moving again. 1. Start reading, no matter what Commit to reading, no matter what. I didn't write much in December, but I did read. I listened to an audiobook while driving and exercising. I read short pieces while in between other tasks. That input kept me thinking and gathering ideas and images. I recommend reading anything that catches your eye: poems, short stories, clever tweets, the side of the cereal box. And as you read, take notes. Sentences that sing? Write them out. Style that inspires? Study and learn. Ideas that lead to deeper thoughts? Capture them in a notebook. These concepts may connect to other tidbits tumbling inside of you. At some point, creativity begins to flow—words, in motion, pour onto the page, as enough material converges and convinces you that it's time to express it in your own words. 2. Start writing, no matter what “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” — Louis L’Amour2 It sounds so basic, so obvious, but our writing will remain at rest until we start writing. The act of writing is the force needed to get our writing in motion. Freewriting can help, setting that timer and writing for ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes without stopping, even if you write, “I don’t know what to write about” ten times in a row. Eventually, hopefully, our brains will get bored and pluck an image or idea from our mental storage vaults—perhaps something gleaned from reading—and at the end of a session, we’ll end up with a few promising sentences. Even if we don’t, when we start writing, no matter what, we train our brains and hands to work together so they remember how to put words down on the page. 3. Set a deadline and meet it, no matter what Is someone waiting for a project you've promised? Are you committed to turning in your work on a certain date? Lucky you! External deadlines spur us on, so let that force you to the computer or notebook so that you absolutely must slam out words and turn in your project on time. Many of us work for ourselves, in essence, publishing on our websites and on social media. No editor awaits our submission. Though we may have readers wondering why we’ve fallen silent, we don’t have external motivation. We may need to trick ourselves into meeting a deadline. Editorial calendars can help with this. Set a hard deadline. Tell a group of people when something is going to be released. Then make it happen, no matter what. That can get our writing in motion. 4. Trust in revision Maybe you're putting off a project despite the deadline for fear of writing badly. This fear keeps us from writing anything at all. When you recognize that as the reason your writing is at rest, trust the revision process. Susan Sontag said, "I don't write easily or rapidly. My first draft usually has only a few elements worth keeping.
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[Ep 226] With my Back to Basics series, I'm providing tools you can apply to your next project in hopes it will make the writing process easier and the final product stronger than ever—so you can make an impact. Last time, we started by identifying a project's high-level elements—its Topic, Audience, Purpose, and Medium. After that, you can focus on the message of your project; that is, given your topic, what is this project’s IDEA. What do you write about​? Is it running, longevity, RV travel, cooking on a budget, stamp collecting, or social justice? Maybe you’re known for this topic and it’s your brand identity, or maybe you’ve been assigned this by an editor. Regardless, you start with a topic, but you don’t stop there. You have to hone in on an idea: a narrowed idea suitable for this particular project and this particular audience. Your finalized idea will reflect the slant or angle you’re taking that will provide focus and set your project apart from others tackling the same topic. It’s tempting to latch onto the first idea that pops into our heads—and sometimes those are indeed fresh and full of potential. Most of the time, though, if we want to write something that stands out, we’re better off taking time to send the idea through five phases: GenerateNarrowValidateRevise (adapt, adjust)Confirm or Finalize 1. Generate First, you’ll generate ideas. You’re about to hear lots of tips for generating ideas in this episode, and I’ll include links to a few other articles and resources. You can test them out and find what works best for you. 2. Narrow When you land on some ideas with potential, you’ll narrow them to suit your audience, purpose, and medium. You’ll also find your unique slant. 3. Validate When it seems your idea has potential, you’ll validate the idea, especially if you’re launching a big project like a book. But even when you’re planning an article or blog post, it’s smart to take a few steps to vet the idea, and I’ll explain that in another episode. 4. Revise After that process, you’ll adapt it based on the input you receive during the validation phase, revising and adjusting the idea as needed. 5. Confirm or Finalize The last phase will be to confirm your idea and finalize it so you can dig in and—finally!—write. A five-phase process just to lock in an idea may sound like overkill and it may seem like it’ll take ages, but you’ll breeze through it—especially for short projects. And it’s definitely worth it for longer projects because they’ll come together more efficiently when you walk through these phases. Let’s start with what it takes to generate ideas. Generate Ideas to Find What You Have to Say When we begin our search for writing ideas, we start with ourselves. What are you drawing from to produce your projects? What’s in you? What do you have to say? Generate Ideas by Remembering Our writing usually flows out of the person we are. The ideas we share are ideas inside us, so writing about our past and drawing from memories, we can pull up ideas that formed us, challenged us, confused us. Using those memories as the centerpiece of a project, we can dive in to explore the meaning, the truth, the lies, and the message locked in our past. These ideas flow from the richness of remembering. Generate Ideas by Living We continue to add to our memories by increasing experiences. So another way to generate ideas is by living. The stories we tell, if nonfiction, are experiences we’ve had or observed in others—or heard from others. And, actually, if we write fiction, the scenes and ideas still flow from what we’ve seen, heard, tasted, smelled...from what we’ve experienced. Even mundane assignments start with our exposure to and understanding of the subject matter. To generate ideas, we have to live. To live well, we can make choices that take us places, switch things up, change our perspective, widen our lens.
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