Reading time: Less than 6 minutes (and very scannable)
Here are my 10 favourite articles or posts from last month, focusing on the most useful, helpful and healthful pieces for writers.
As summer starts to settle in, I’m feeling sun on my face and arms, going for socially distanced picnics and making tentative plans to escape town for a week, just a few hour’s drive from home (bringing our own food so we don’t stress the relatively small town where we’re headed). Best of all, I’m reading about more than the Coronavirus. Here are my 10 favourite articles, videos or posts from June:
Consider alternatives to traditional publishing
In a pointed blog post, Dean Wesley Smith, (@DeanWesleySmith) — an author who has written more than 200 novels — makes a convincing argument against the merits of traditional publishers. Under the headline, “Why Am I So Against Traditional Publishing?,” Smith says it’s not that he failed at traditional publishing. Actually, he succeeded at it. But he makes the point that the current year is very different from 1987, when he started. When he began, there were more than 20 major publishers. Now there are only four.
But instead of giving up, Smith says the solution is to look to Indie publishing. As he puts it: “Traditional writers make from 6-8% from every sale, a little more on hardbacks. A lot less on heavily discounted books like at Walmart…Indie writers [on the other hand] make 70% of a sale. And closer to 25-40% on paper and hardbacks.”
Smith admits that becoming an Indie author requires a lot of ongoing learning. But that, he says is part of what makes the process fun and rewarding.
Tame your inner advice monster
I’ve been a big fan of Michael Bungay Stanier (@DoMoreGreatWork) ever since I read his remarkable book The Coaching Habit. His 14-minute TED talk, “How to tame your inner advice monster,” continues to build on his ongoing theme of being a coach who listens rather than directs. I especially liked the way he divides our inner advice monster(s) into three personas:
- The “Tell It” monster (who tells people what to do)
- The “Save It” monster (who takes on the job of rescuing everyone)
- The “Control It” monster (who works to maintain control at all times)
But as I was listening to Stanier’s speech, another idea occurred to me: The biggest ‘coach’ facing most writers is the one inside their own heads. This is the troublesome person who tells us that our writing isn’t good enough and will likely never be so. Could Stanier’s tips prove useful for dealing with this monster as well? I think they can. He suggests asking three questions:
- What is the real challenge here for you?
- What else?
- What do you want?
Instead of letting your inner advice monster shut down your writing, try asking it these three questions and learn from what they tell you. Get away from evaluating and become a person who questions and explores. The difference to your writing will be profound.
Don’t let sleep deprivation destroy your writing
I work with many writers who don’t get nearly enough sleep. If you think you might fall into this category, take a look at a recent blog post by Ekei Joy Okafor (@EkeiJoy) running under the headline, “How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect Your Freelance Business.” Heck, read it even if you’re not a freelancer, because sleep deprivation is a chronic illness in the developed world.
Okafor reports that the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults age 18 to 60 get seven to nine hours sleep each day and anyone over 60, get seven to eight hours. (Spoiler: about a third of adults don’t get nearly enough.)
Here are Okafor’s recommendations for better sleep:
- Don’t overstretch yourself, don’t agree to deadlines that are too close, avoid taking on more jobs when you are booked stiff
- Draft a to-do-list of tasks you know you can complete and work with it
- When you feel sleepy, please stop and sleep
- Outsource extra work if you can afford to
- When it is time to sleep, lay aside thoughts of work and concentrate on getting a good night sleep
Figure out how to hire a coach
Hiring a coach can be a frightening and expensive process. I’ve used a number of coaches myself over the last 20 years and the quality has ranged from abysmal to fantastic (my most recent coach is a star!) How I wish Bryan Harris (@Harris_Bryan) had written his post “5 Steps For Finding A Coach,” when I was much younger and could have used his advice.
To put it succinctly, Harris’s five steps are:
- Identify your need
- Ask friends
- Ask Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc.
- Run candidates through your BS radar
- Contact them
If I could identify my own flaw, I think I wasn’t diligent enough about running the candidates through my BS radar. But if you’ve ever thought of hiring a coach, read Harris’s post in detail. You’ll find it both enlightening and helpful.
Learn to manage your dialogue tags
If you’re a novelist, one of the tasks you must take on is managing your dialogue tags. You know what those are, right? The “he saids” and “she saids” and, occasionally, the over-the-top tags like, “she argued, heartbreakingly.” In a short but useful post under the headline “dialogue tags,” Glen C. Strathy (@glencstrathy) makes the case for keeping such tags super simple.
As Strathy puts it: “Truth is, “said” is almost always the best verb to use in a dialogue tag. English teachers may disagree, but they’re not writers. The great thing about the verb “said” is that it doesn’t call attention to itself. Most people skim right past it, which means their attention goes straight to what the characters are saying, which is the interesting part.
“I know it seems boring and repetitive to keep typing the word “said” in tag after tag. But that’s because you’re the writer. You have to pay attention to each word you type. When people read, the “saids” don’t feel boring.”
Bust your own excuses for not writing
I love the way KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) breaks through the boredom in a blog post headlined, “6 Writing Excuses Busted (Or How an 11-Year-Old Published Her First Novel).” An 11-year-old wrote a novel? Yes, indeed. And she is also the author of this particular blog post, itemizing six of the excuses that many writers rely upon. They include:
- I don’t have time
- I can wait until later
- I don’t know how to end my story
- I lose the flow of my own story and forget things
- I have no motivation to write
- I’m not good enough
Out of the mouths of babes…. If any of these excuses have derailed your writing ambitions, be sure to read this post and learn how an 11-year-old dealt with them.
Use anger or grief to increase your motivation
I am famous in my family for being able to get results out of corporations by well written complaint letters. My secret? I keep them short. And I let anger fuel my writing. Mary Carroll Moore (@writeabook) expresses a similar attitude in her recent blog post under the headline, “Anger and Grief and Their Place in Writing (an Actual Technique I’ve Used.)”
Here is part of what she wrote: “These past weeks, as I read the news about burning cities and beloved friends at risk, I felt outrage blooming. A close friend had also recently died, very suddenly, so my anger was mixed with deep grief. Some mornings it was hard to function with all these intense emotions… So I sat down with the hardest task I could think of, a synopsis of the novel, and I bulleted my way through it, using my rage and grief as fuel. It took me by surprise, how much energy there was.”
Support diversity in writing
Former agent and now author Nathan Bransford (@NathanBransford) often offers interesting — and timely — blog posts and this month, he took on inequities in publishing with his piece under the headline, “#PublishingPaidMe is just the tip of the iceberg.”
If you haven’t heard of #PublishingPaidMe, be sure to check it out on twitter now. Under this hashtag, many authors shared the amount of their book advances as a way of exposing racial disparities in publishing. (This gesture has also exposed another hidden reality: that many successful authors are earning lower advances than the general public would expect.)
As Bransford puts it: “Politics and police aren’t the only institutions that need drastic change.”
Learn three writing tips from an Olympic sailor
Olympic sailor Carol Newman Cronin (@cansail) has managed to tack a route to becoming a writer and she describes how she did it in a recent blog post under the headline, “3 Things Life as an Olympic Sailor Taught Me about Writing.”
Her three secrets?
- Work with the day’s conditions
- Train for long-term benefits
- Win in our own way
Here’s how she summarizes her conclusions: “For me, success means publishing books that readers find and enjoy enough to come back for more. And I never would’ve had the stamina and dedication to finish four novels if I hadn’t learned to write like I sail.”
Make your writing time work for you
What’s the best time of day for writing? In a blog post headlined, “Optimal Writing Time,” Alison Acheson (@MudG) reveals that that time is different for every writer — and every situation.
I found her reflections on different times of year to be particularly interesting. As she puts it: “Some seasons might work better for you. If, for instance, you do not think well in heat, then summer might be gardening time, kid time, research time. Then fall comes, and you get into the writing work. Or perhaps you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, and in winter you need to read and dance and go hear music, and your best writing comes when the sun shines. So appropriate your year according to your needs. Keep in mind the significance of leaving time to fill the tank. Doing nothing is part of a writer’s work. Make time for it.”
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. If you already know you want to apply, go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours. Deadline for the group starting July 1 is this Thursday, June 25/20.
My video podcast last week addressed how to write about your life. 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 links you’ve discovered 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 June 30/20 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!