Reading time: About 6 minutes (but very skimmable)
Here are my 10 favourite articles or posts from last month, focusing on the most useful, helpful and healthful pieces for writers.
North America is still in the deep midwinter, but because I’m lucky enough to live in the damp west coast, small signs of spring are starting to appear. Along with the slightly lengthening days, we’re starting to see a stirring of activity in our garden. As the weather changes, it’s a good time to remember that there is a season for everything— even for blogs. Here are my 10 favourite, most motivating posts from the last month…
Use your voice more
I stopped using my hands to write and mostly used my voice for about a year. It was a blissful time in which I wrote faster and more easily than ever before, using dictation. So, why did I stop? My software, Dragon Dictate, stopped supporting its platform on the Mac. For a while, I played with Apple’s dictation feature, but I didn’t find it as easy and reliable as Dragon, damnit!
I was reminded of those happy days recently when I read a post by @Jenna_Harte on the Fiction University website run by @Janice_Hardy.
BTW, I totally agree with Jenna that dictation software will allow you to write faster and to spend less time sitting. (Fortunately for me, I have a treadmill desk, so I can still walk while I write, even though I can’t dictate anymore.) And, by the way, I’m considering investing in software that will allow me to run Windows on my Mac so I can return to dictating.
Practise 100 days in a row
I’m often struck by the similarities between writers and athletes or between writers and musicians — even though these distinct groups of people might seem to have precious little in common.
What’s the big point of connection? They all need to practice.
In a recent story posted on the online magazine Strings, violinist Hillary Hahn (@violincase) described her commitment to practicing for 100 days in a row. And not only did she have to do the practise but she also had to put another (daily!) half hour of work editing the video which she posted to her Instagram account.
Hahn found the practice to be helpful to her own rehearsal schedule but was also pleased that it helped others. “It didn’t occur to me that [the project] would help people feel empowered about their own practice situations,” she said. But of course, it did. My thanks to @Austin_Kleon for sharing this link.
Create more bios for yourself
When I’m interviewed for a podcast, asked to give a speech or present a workshop or invited to write a guest post, the other party almost always asks me for a bio. I have short and long ones already written (you can see them on my media page) because they don’t need to be original and it’s way more efficient for me to have such text ready and waiting.
Now, in a recent post on the blog of Anne Allen (@annerallen) and Ruth Harris @RuthHarrisBooks), tech expert Nate Hoffelder (@inkbitspixels) argues that authors of books need no fewer than six such bios at the ready.
The six he suggests are:
- Facebook intro bio: 101 characters
- Twitter bio: 160 characters
- Podcast intro: 20 words
- Speaker bio: 50 words
- Amazon/Goodreads profile bio: 250 to 400 words
- Membership bio: 800 words or longer
If you’re a published (or soon-to-be-published) author, be sure to check out his post.
Hit a roadblock? Change your process!
I love the twitter feed of cozy mystery writer @elizabethscraig. She rounds up helpful posts about writing and shares them on her feed multiple times a day. I also appreciated a recent blog post of hers about the travails of getting stuck in a roadblock.
In her blog, she didn’t use the term COVID-19 or pandemic but I assume that was what was distracting her this summer. In any case, she was stuck. So, instead of following her usual process of preparing a digital outline, she worked, by hand on a hard copy.
And it helped. As she puts it, “There have been plenty of studies about the benefits of doing creative work by hand. Sometimes it helps unleash a spark that just stalls out on a computer.”
I totally agree and would encourage her (and everyone else) to do creative work away from their desks. I also suggest giving mindmapping a try rather than simply doing an outline.
Consider whether your real battle is with indecision
Most writers are quick to label themselves — whether the label is positive (happy, creative, inspired) or, more likely, negative (frustrated, blocked, resistant.) But what if the label is just wrong?
That’s the question that writer Louise Tondeur (@louisetondeur) asked herself in a post published on the terrific blog of Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman). Tondeur has been planning her most recent novel and was finding herself becoming stuck. But thanks to a coaching course she was taking, she discovered she needed to be asking herself more questions.
Here’s how she puts it:
“There are a lot of things that can get in the way of the writing process. But what we think of as writer’s block can often be “circumstances,” in that we have limited quiet time and space in which to focus, or that our mental load—what we carry around in our heads—is too much….But don’t let writer’s indecision disguise itself as writer’s block.”
Instead, she suggests keeping a list of your questions that you divide into three types:
- Those requiring immediate answers. This might be to do with the setting, or it may be a crucial structural or plotting decision. (“Prioritize these questions,” she says).
- Those possibly needing answers before you can make progress. “If you feel these are holding you back, answer them,” she says.
- Those not holding you back. Minor questions that will be easy to address later. “Make a note to check later and can keep writing,” she advises.
Understand that something is always better than nothing
Many people tell me they can’t write because they’re certain the words they put on the page won’t be nearly good enough. If that describes you, take the following advice from movie director Chris Sparling (@chrissparling):
“No matter what you write, good or bad, it’s an improvement to a blank page.”
In fact, I suggest you write this advice on a sticky note and place it on your computer screen.
And for a few more reflections on the creativity spectrum, check out a brief but inspirational post from scriptwriter Scott Meyers.
Know what to expect from a freelance editor
If you know you need to hire a freelance editor, how do you find the right person? And how do you make sure you get your money’s worth? Author and former agent Nathan Bransford (@NathanBransford) offers some terrific advice in a recent blog post.
I particularly like his detailed description of the difference between developmental editing (also known as substantive editing) and copy editing. So many people are unaware of the fundamental — and hugely important — differences between these two jobs.
Bransford’s reflections on the cost of editing are also spot on. Here’s what he says:
“As with many things in life, you will largely get what you pay for. Depending on the length of your manuscript, expect a good full manuscript edit to cost north of $1,500 [US] or more.
“Don’t spend any money you can’t afford to lose (working with a paid editor is no guarantee by any means of finding publication), but also don’t just look for a bargain basement edit. Try to strike a balance between an editor’s cost and experience level that you are comfortable with.”
Start talking out loud to yourself
I used to like to quote a joke saying, “yes, of course I talk to myself. Sometimes it’s the only way I can enjoy a decent conversation.”
In a recent post on the website Psyche, (@aeonmag) writer Nana Ariel takes the joke one step further, arguing that talking out loud to yourself is a great way to think.
And here is the most interesting part of her argument: “Activities such as playing a musical instrument, writing, speaking or dancing don’t start in the brain and then emanate out to the body as actions; rather, they entail the mind and body working in concert as a creative, integrated whole, unfolding and influencing each other in turn.
“It’s therefore a significant problem that many of us are trapped in work and study environments that don’t allow us to activate these intuitive cognitive muscles, and indeed often even encourage us to avoid them.”
I agree and this is in part why I so strongly encourage writers to get up and walk between writing sessions (or even during their writing sessions, as I do, by using my treadmill desk.)
Figure out what type of rest you really need
Are you tired all the time? Many writers are, but the issue is not always lack of sleep. In a recent 9-minute TED talk, Saundra Dalton-Smith, (@DrDaltonSmith) neatly summarizes the seven types of rest that we all need. They are:
- Physical rest
- Mental rest
- Sensory rest
- Creative rest
- Emotional rest
- Social rest
- Spiritual rest
So, if you’re getting your requisite seven to nine hours of sleep and still feeling exhausted, take a look at this TED talk and see what you need to adjust.
Aim for MORE rejection letters
There’s something alarming and deeply discouraging about a rejection letter. They are a sign of failure, of lack of success, of not being good enough. Why should we want more of them?
In a recent post on the Write Practice (@writepractice) website, author Sarah Gribble (@sarahstypos) argues that writers should set the ambitious goal of getting 100 literary rejection letters this year.
Here’s her reasoning: “Getting rejected means you put your writing out there. It means you tried. It means you’ve kept trying. And it means you’re getting better at writing because you’re spending enough time with it that you’re finishing projects. You are in a position for feedback and critique…. Getting rejected is a sign of bravery and resilience. It is not a sign of failure.
It is a sign of accomplishment.”
And there’s one other side benefit of so many rejections! You’ll likely get more acceptances because acceptance is a numbers game. More submissions will lead to more rejections, true, but it almost inevitably will lead to more acceptances as well.
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. The group is now full but there is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
My video podcast last week explored the perfect time to write a novel. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
What are the best blog posts you’ve seen in the last month? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Jan. 31/21 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!