PubCoach top 10: July 2020

Reading time: Just over 6 minutes (but highly scannable)

Here are my 10 favourite articles or posts from last month, focusing on the most useful, helpful and healthful pieces for writers.

Summer seems strangely surreal this year.  I just heard from a friend in Colorado, for example, that she must book time at a pool 10 days in advance (!) for her young son. As for me, I’ve been suffering in weather that we described as “June-uary” last month and “July-uary” this one. Temperatures are hovering at the 69 F (20 C) mark and we are still getting buckets of rain. Glad I have plenty of  favourite articles, videos and posts to capture my attention under these too damp and grey skies…

Read more; tweet less

I restrict my time on Twitter to no more than 10 minutes each day. Why? I’d rather read books! I lavish at least 30 minutes per day on book-reading — and much more than that on weekends and when I’m on holiday. Thinker, writer and computing sciences prof Cal Newport is harder-core than I am! He doesn’t even own a Twitter account. 

Here is part of what he says in a recent post running under the headline, “On the Exceptionalism of Books in an Age of Tweets:” 

“It was the introduction of mass-produced longform writing that really unleashed human potential — ushering in the modes of critical, analytical understanding that birthed both the enlightenment and the scientific revolution, the foundations of modernity. It allowed us to efficiently capture complex thought in all its nuance, then build on it, layer after layer, nudging forward human intellectual endeavor.”

“Writing was not just another technology, in other words, but the cognitive lodestone that attracted all advances that followed.”

He concludes:

“And it’s why today, as I see more of our political and philosophical discourse mediated through Tweets, I despair, but as I also see the emergence of longform audio and the resurgence of audio books, I feel hope.”

Focus on writing quantity before quality

If you want a quick hit of inspiration, check out a recent LitHub interview with the writer Roddy Doyle, author of The Commitments, The Snapper and most recently, Love.

The experienced and wildly successful Irish author writes from 9 am to 6 pm every weekday and says he’s never suffered from writer’s block. Why? I think the reason is hidden in his answer to a different question, about the best writing advice he’d ever received. Here is what he says:

“Be kind to yourself; start with quantity and worry about the quality later. It’s advice I gave to myself about twenty years ago. I was in a pub in Dublin, alone, because my drinking pal had missed the bus. If he missed the bus more often, I’d be able to write a book about how to write.”

Help your clients pay you on time

According to research from the American Freelancer’s Union, more than 70% of freelancers have had difficulty getting paid as a freelancer at least once in their career, with an average loss of $6,000 a year. Fortunately, Preston Lee (@milloteam) has five pieces of useful advice in a recent post on The Write Life website:

  1. Increase your client’s motivation to pay by sending the invoice at the beginning of your project and holding the final deliverable until after payment has received. (Of course, it’s essential to notify your clients of this before you begin.)
  2. Send friendly reminders to your clients when they are overdue and institute either late fees or early-payment rewards.
  3. Make sure you know who processes invoices at your client’s company and make friends with that person.
  4. Offer alternatives to your client. This might include offering a payment plan or making fixes if they are unhappy with your work. 
  5. Make sure your client actually receives the invoice. If you’re sending it by traditional mail, follow up with an email confirmation. If you’re using email to send, follow up with a phone call or text.

As Lee puts it, “You have a right to get paid. Just as much as an employee who works hard and expects their paycheck every two weeks, you deserve to get paid for the work you do for your clients.”

Become a better writer with better thinking

Many people are familiar with Myers-Briggs personality typing, which comes from C.G. Jung’s theory of four cognitive functions: two perceiving (Sensing and Intuition) and two judging (Feeling and Thinking). He then further divided these into introverted and extroverted categories. 

I like the way K.M. Weiland (@KMWeiland) — an INTJ, just like me! — has explored the Myers-Briggs spectrum with some specific advice for fiction writers in her recent post under the headline, “Using All Four Cognitive Functions as a Writer.”

  • To boost intuition, she suggests focusing on the  patterns in our feelings. How is it we can know something to be true (or a lie) before we have all of the concrete evidence? Learning to read how our intuition works can make us stronger story-tellers. 
  • To improve sensing, she counsels paying attention to the five senses that go beyond what our brains do. What do we taste, feel, smell, hear and see? 
  • To enhance thinking, she advises observing our own thoughts so that we can weed out those that are faulty or prone to unreasonable leaps.
  • To strengthen feeling, she proposes remembering that via our characters we have the opportunity to explore all our feelings. 

Save this list of literary devices

I’ve never had a terribly good memory. In high school, I remember rolling my eyes at the sheer volume of facts I was expected to remember. ‘What good will this ever do me, when I can just look it up?’ I asked myself, and my teachers — who probably saw me as a trouble-maker.

I felt this way even about the names of literary devices, even though I loved my English classes. Here, then — from Alliteration to Zoomorphism — is a 57-item list of all the literary terms you could ever hope to remember.  If only I’d had this list in high school. My thanks to Sarah Cy (@SarahCyWrites) for pulling it all together. 

Get better at rewriting

@MichelleRafter has some smart suggestions in her post headlined “All writers are rewriters — here’s how to get better at it.”

Her tips include:

  • Sleeping on it
  • Using track changes
  • Going from easiest to hardest
  • Turning it into a game (I do this all the time. My ‘game’ involves using a timer.)
  • Working with a liaison
  • Explaining your work
  • Asking for a call
  • Setting a deadline
  • Building rewrites into your fee 

Learn how to ignore ‘urgent’ work

What’s the biggest issue that prevents you from accomplishing the work that’s most important to you? No question: distractions and interruptions. In an especially useful post under the headline “Dear bosses: Give your team permission to ignore you,” Jory MacKay (@rescuetime) presents some fascinating statistics. My favorite ones relate to email:

  • 81% of people check their email within 30 minutes of starting their day
  • 34% of people check as soon as they wake up
  • 72% of people keep their communication apps open all day long
  • 51% of people say time spent on communication has increased in the past 3-5 years
  • 61% of people regularly reply to work emails outside of work hours 

I find these numbers deeply depressing. If you put your email first, you’re putting yourself last because your day is going to be driven by the demands of other people.

MacKay offers five pieces of advice for bosses:

  1. Figure out if you’re a micromanager (hint: it’s a bad thing)
  2. Understand that your need to check-in constantly with your team will make them slower
  3. Create a “runbook” for communications for your team
  4. Talk to everyone about changing their norms for communications
  5. Lead by example

I think a communications runbook — a clear set of rules for how and when to communicate — is a particularly smart idea. What’s the expected response time for emails at your company? When is it okay for people to be unreachable? At what time should people be available for meetings? If everyone in the company can answer these questions, your team is going to be far more effective.

Make your book blurb more compelling 

If you’re writing a self-published book, be aware that one of your (many) jobs is going to include writing your own book blurb — the material that goes on your outside back cover.

Long exhausted from writing and editing the damn book, you probably won’t feel like producing another word at this point. So, save this link — which appeared under the headline “The Four Elements of a Compelling Book Blurb” — from Manuela Williams for that time.

Williams describes four general rules of thumb for creating an effective blurb. They are:

  1. Begin with a hook
  2. Give readers a clear idea of what kind of book it is
  3. Indicate what readers will gain from reading the book
  4. End with a cliff-hanger, question, or direct Call to Action

I particularly like the way she gives an effective, real-life example for each point.

Ace your online job interview

I have coached my three kids through dozens of job (and grad school) interviews. But they all happened before March — i.e. before COVID. If my kids want any more advice, I’m going to refer them to the TED talk of Dawn Graham, (@DrDawnGraham), a Philadelphia-based author and career expert. 

Her tips for Zoom-interviews are especially à propos right now. To summarize:

  • Find the best environment in your home (this means a door + decent lighting + good sound quality)
  • Ask the interviewer for a time when you are least likely to be disturbed
  • Test your technology with a friend, beforehand
  • Consider your clothing (it’s even more important when you’re in front of a camera)
  • Be mindful of your body language (learn to make eye contact with the camera not the face on the screen)
  • Turn off all notifications and shut down all your tabs
  • Prepare some questions to ask your interviewer

See Graham’s whole 16-minute interview here.

Stop microwaving your books!

I thought I had heard everything until I learned that some people are microwaving library books. Yes, concern about COVID has caused some not-so-smart people to figure they could nuke the virus by treating it like a cup of coffee. And if you don’t need to be told that’s a bad idea, check out the amusing link about a boy who started carrying his books to school in a microwave. 

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What are the best blog posts you’ve read 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 July 31/20 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!