Reading time: Just over 5 minutes
Here are my 10 favourite articles or posts from last month, focusing on the most useful, helpful and entertaining pieces for writers.
Handle your perfectionism
Are you a perfectionist? Many writers tell me they are although I usually find the bigger problem is their inability to delay gratification. Still, writer Elizabeth Spann Craig (@elizabethscraig) offers some useful tips for perfectionists in a recent blog post on the topic.
My favourite piece of advice is when she suggests not editing your manuscript until it’s done. Time and time again, my clients have found that allowing the critical voice to engage is likely to hamper their ability to write. And here is a link to a blog post I’ve written on the subject.
Don’t try to write words like Elton John writes music
Frequently, I like to draw an analogy between writing and making music. Both require dedication and patience. Both require daily practice.
But there is one colossally big difference: music depends so much more on talent than writing ever will. I have seen the difference in my own children: a daughter, who practised piano diligently every day (and who is still the best sight reader in the family) and a son who disdained practice but could pick out music by ear from the age of 5, who earned a degree in opera and who still works in the music industry.
Elton John (@eltonofficial) — a much bigger musical phenomenon, of course — is a musical prodigy who can write a song with breathtaking dispatch. “I get bored if it takes more than 40 minutes,” he says. Yet his writing partner, Bernie Taupin labours for weeks on the lyrics.
Fair? Not remotely. See, for example, a charming two-minute video in which Elton John instantly creates a song based on an oven’s instruction manual. But before being consumed with jealousy, remind yourself that the good news is that writing doesn’t depend on talent. All it demands is hard work.
Figure out how to pick comparable titles
If you’re submitting a proposal to an agent or to a publishing house, one of the jobs you’ll be required to do is to list some comparable titles, known in the industry as “comps.” Many writers throw up their hands at this directive. How can they possibly do it? How can they figure out the right comparisons? In a recent helpful post on the DIY MFA website, (@TeamDIYMFA) author Abigail Perry gives some clear and specific advice. To wit, make sure your comps:
- Were published within the last 3-5 years
- Were published by one of the Big Five: Penguin Random House; HarperCollins; Macmillan; Simon & Schuster; Hachet (or one of their imprints)
- Performed well in sales
- Aren’t “ubiquitous”: don’t pick Harry Potter or Eat Pray Love
- Have some sort of similarity to your own book
Get the comps right, and you’ll be much closer to landing a book deal.
Store your books more creatively
Like many writers, I have way too many books in my house. I had some extra shelves built for my office about 10 years ago. How I wish I’d seen an infographic from the website Ebookfriendly, (@ebookfriendly), describing more creative ways to store you books in small spaces. My favourite ideas? A literary headboard and a leaning library. Check out the pix!
Write faster but don’t try to think faster
My business, The Publication Coach, is based on the premise that it’s possible to do many jobs faster, especially writing. But there’s one task I never try to speed — thinking.
A recent post on the Farnam Street blog (@farnamstreet), underlines this idea with the headline, “Your Thinking Rate is Fixed.” Here’s how Farnham Street puts it:
“Making good decisions is hard work. There’s a limit to how many decisions you can make in a day before you need a break….If you want to make better decisions, you need to do everything you can to reduce the pressure you’re under. You need to let your brain take whatever time it needs to think through the problem at hand. You need to get out of a reactive mode, recognize when you need to pause, and spend more time looking at problems.”
I find many writers try to start their writing too quickly, before they’re ready. Instead, I advise them to slow down and do adequate thinking and planning, first.
Use the cow-farts method
Here was a headline I couldn’t possibly resist: “Use the Cow-Farts Method to Find a Lucrative Writing Niche.”
On the Make a Living Writing website, (@TiceWrites), Georgie Smith describes how she shut down her 20-year farming business and transitioned into writing. How do you turn from being a farmer into a writer? You don’t approach other farmers! Smith knew there was no money in that market. So, instead, she decided to approach two closely related niches:
- ‘Smart farm’ companies with ag-tech solutions (like robots, drones or using data analytics).
- The sustainable farming movement focused on better farming practices to improve the environment.
And she achieved more-or-less instant success. If you are looking for your own writing niche, I strongly recommend that you read this piece not just for inspiration but for some useful tips.
Avoid these 21 offensive words
If you are speaking or writing in the world today, you’re wise to be extra careful with the terms you use. Throughline Communications (@Throughliners) offers a helpful list of 21 troublesome words.
You’re probably already familiar with the need to be sensitive to issues of race and sexuality but you may not have thought of some of the following terms:
Mom/dad: Of course, you should call your own parents mom and dad. But if you are speaking to a large group, don’t assume that these terms will resonate with everyone. You’re probably safer using words like parents, partners or spouses.
Peanut gallery: Originally used to describe the cheapest seats in a theatre, this term also described the upper balconies in segregated theatres. A better word is hecklers.
Gypped: This term comes from the word “gypsy” which makes it a racial slur. Use cheated, ripped off or conned instead.
I know these suggestions might sound like being overly politically correct but remember: when you’re speaking or writing, you want to appeal to your listeners or readers. If you tee them off right away, you stand no chance of achieving your goal.
Learn how to deal with an unsupportive partner
I’m lucky enough to have a husband who is nothing but supportive and understanding of my need to write. Not everyone is so fortunate.
If you face an unsupportive partner, check out a helpful post from writer Ali Luke, (@aliventures), under the headline, “How to Write When Your Partner Isn’t Supportive.”
She offers some great, practical tips including:
- Respect your own writing time
- Make yourself unavailable when writing
- Get clear about what you need
- Make friends with other writers
- Remember that your writing matters
As Luke puts it: “If you have an unsupportive partner, or if no-one in your family ever says anything positive about your writing plans, then you might start to feel that your writing is unimportant. You may even start to question whether your writing dreams are unrealistic.
“But your writing matters. Even if it’s “just” a hobby, it matters: it’s something you enjoy, and it’s perfectly valid to write simply because you love to!”
Never fear the blank page
Street artist David Zinn (@davidzinn_art) has created a delightful 3-minute video about how he deals with the terrors of the blank page.
I find his comments about drawing to be entirely applicable for writing, as well. Here are three of the points he makes:
- In theory, a blank page is the most ideal circumstance and in practice it is paralyzing.
- Every drawing falls short of what it was in your imagination when you started. [But] in a thousand ways that disappointment is what makes you want to draw something else.
- You could sit there and sweat and strain and say, ‘maybe I should wait until I have the best idea,’ …[but] if you’re going to draw anything you’d better start because it will be dark eventually and then it will be too late.
Replace the word drawing with writing and you’ll catch his drift.
Consider the benefits of indie publishing
I’ve lost track of the number of times readers ask me if self-publishing is anywhere near as satisfying (whether financially, or emotionally) as traditional publishing. If you have questions about self-publishing be sure to check out a recent post by fantasy writer Diana Wallace Peach, (@Dwallacepeach) running under the headline: “Goodbye Traditional, Hello Indie.”
Many people worry more about costs (and earnings) than anything else, so here’s what Peach has to say about that topic:
“When going through a publisher, be aware that the author’s revenue is a percentage of the publisher’s profit, not a percentage of retail. This means low earnings per book and download. The publisher is entitled to their cut – they’ve invested upfront time and resources into the book. Add an agent to the mix and profits are further split. For me, royalties came to about $.65 per book whether ebook or paperback.
“Now, as an indie author, even though I sell my books at a lower price than my publisher did, my income is higher because I don’t have to share the profit. In one month, one of my self-published books earns what I made in a whole year with my traditionally-published books, combined. Yes, you read that right. If you didn’t, read it again. Can I pay the mortgage? Not even close. But the difference floored me.”
For me, self-publishing works. And it’s not nearly as scary as you might think.
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 addressed whether blog posts can be turned into a book. 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 March 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!