PubCoach Top 10: May 2020

Reading time: About 6 minutes (but very scannable)

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

Is anyone else a little tired of this pandemic? (Rhetorical question.) I spent this month making an explicit effort to find great articles, blog posts and videos that had nothing to do with COVID-19. I was only partly successful. (If you’re totally fed up with anything relating to the disaster, skip items # 2, 4 and 7, although the music in 7 is charming!)

Don’t make these pitching mistakes

I work with many book authors who are desperate to find a publishing house, or, if they are a little more knowledgeable, a literary agent. This goal is a huge challenge I tell them. It requires — not talent, as many people expect — but knowledge and persistence.

Bushra Rahmani (@iBushraRahmani) in a guest post on C.S. Lakin’s website, offers some useful advice after having interviewed three literary agents about the question “What are the red flags that alert you a manuscript is not worth your time.”  And the answers? 

  • Do your homework (for example, make sure the agent you’re approaching actually represents writers in the genre you’re pursuing)
  • Eliminate grammar and spelling errors 
  • Don’t send out generic mass mailings
  • Don’t beat around the bush — get to your point quickly 
  • Make sure your first chapter has enough of a hook
  • Provide some market analysis (research facts and figures about your book’s sales potential)
  • Follow the agency’s submission guidelines
  • Don’t present a hard sell
  • Don’t take setbacks personally 

As Rahmani summarizes it: “The underlying philosophy behind writing a book proposal is to describe to the editor the book you want to write and provide the editor with sufficient facts and figures that will give her enough ammunition at an editorial board meeting to convince colleagues in both editorials, and sales and marketing, that this proposed book is not only a quality piece of work but it will also make money for the publishing company.”

Understand why Zoom is so exhausting

The number of Zoom meetings you need to attend right now has probably at least quintupled since the start of the pandemic. And if you’re anything like me, you may not be happy about that fact. Much as I’m grateful to be able to meet with friends on screen, when I can’t see them face-to-face, I find Zoom meetings to be especially tiring — particularly if the call involves more than one other person.

I’ve written a blog post about the subject, and in a BBC article, under the headline “The reason Zoom calls drain your energy,” writer Manyu Jiang (@ManyuJiang) addresses the topic, too. Here is how the writer describes the issue:

“Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally,” he says.” Thanks to reader Karen Bower for sending me this link.

Do less to accomplish more

You knew there had to be a catch with a headline like this one, right? That’s because the “less” you need to do relates to your cellphone. The advice comes from writer and computing sciences prof Cal Newport in a blog post headlined: “On doing less to produce more: A novelist embraces a minimalist lockdown.”

Here’s a summary of his post: Having recently negotiated a book deal, an unnamed novelist faced a mound of revisions and a short deadline. So, she started putting her phone on a shelf in her living room at 10 pm each night. She wouldn’t touch it again until she had done at least an hour of revisions the next morning. Over time, she started looking at her phone later and later in the day. The result?

“Solutions to my manuscript problems started coming to me as I was falling asleep, waking up, or taking a shower. I would jot them down in a notebook, then try to implement them during the 1-3 hours in the morning. They worked out perfectly every time.” She ended up handing in her revisions early.

Make yourself a recession-proof freelancer

Even if you’ve been lucky enough to escape COVID-19, you’re not going to face the after-effects of the coming recession. Or are you?

Blogger Carol Tice, (@TiceWrites) has some great advice in a blog post under the headline “5 urgent mindset fixes for the recession-proof freelancer.” 

Here is her best, most motivating pick-up-your-socks comment: “The general economic trend does not have to be your story. In times of chaos, there are always winners and losers. Commit to making yourself a winner. Winners don’t sit around crying when times get tough — they get out there and do twice as much marketing as they were doing before.”

Figure out what triggers your procrastination

Are you the type of writer who likes to procrastinate? The next time you find yourself not doing something you’re supposed to be doing, figure out WHY. Productivity expert Chris Bailey (@Chris_Bailey) says science suggests there are seven attributes such tasks are likely to have. Here’s his list:

  1. Boring (e.g., doing our taxes)
  2. Frustrating (e.g., learning a complicated new skill)
  3. Difficult (e.g., solving a math proof)
  4. Ambiguous (e.g., training for a marathon)
  5. Unstructured (e.g., undertaking a home renovation project)
  6. Lacking in intrinsic rewards (e.g., not getting feedback while we’re writing a 50-page report)
  7. Not meaningful (e.g., cleaning up the home office)

As Bailey puts it, if we can learn how to “flip the triggers” on these tasks — for example, by getting feedback on that 50-page report (or book chapter)— we’re going to be able to use procrastination to our advantage.

Allow your characters to speak to you

Did you know that the majority of fiction writers ‘hear’ their characters speak to them? That, at least, was the finding of a study by researchers from Durham University along with the Guardian newspaper and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. 

Lead author John Foxwell, writing in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, found that 56% of the writers surveyed reported visual or other sensory experiences of their characters when they were writing, while a fifth had the sense that their character was occupying the same physical space. Fifteen per cent of writers said they could even enter a dialogue with their creations.

By the way, report authors also stressed there was no risk of writers confusing fiction with reality.

Let Billy Joel help you survive the pandemic

My husband and my son are both singers and I’m a huge fan of choral music. Perhaps that’s why I so much enjoyed hearing the Vancouver-based Phoenix Choir (@PhoenixChoir) do this spritely version of Billy Joel’s song, “For The Longest Time,” with the lyrics rewritten to reflect the challenges of Covid 19.

Reader Carol deFina sent this 4-minute clip to me, little knowing that the choir included two people known to my husband – one a former choral director of his and the other a member in a choir he used to belong to. Such fun to see them here!

See how a comic tries to teach his mom to use technology

When I have a computer problem my son always tells me it’s a PICNIC issue: Problem In Chair Not In Computer. (i.e.: I’m doing something stupid.) Lucky for my son, I’m not as dense as the mother of Israeli comic Yonatan Gruber. In this hilarious 2-minute video, Gruber displays the patience of a Job in explaining to his mom how to use Zoom. My thanks to friend Maureen Colclough for sending me this very funny video.

Figure out how to find your ‘flow’

Many clients tell me they want to get into a ‘flow’ state where writing isn’t painful and the words appear on their screen with little effort or pain. My best suggestion for that state of events is mindmapping, but violinist Diane Allen (@myviolintutor) has some additional ideas.

Allen says that we all have flow states from time to time, and we should be tracking them and ‘working backwards’ to see how we might be able to recreate them. Here’s how she puts it:

“It’s not necessary to wait for lightning — or your flow state — to strike. Instead, easing into flow can become a repeatable routine, much like brushing your teeth, taking out the trash, or [watching the] next episode on Netflix. “The more practice you have, the more you can snap into a flow state,” says Allen. To get there, she advises people to keep noticing the physical and emotional steps that lead up to flow — Where are you? What are you doing? How are you feeling? — and repeat them.”

To read a story on her conclusions or to watch her 13-minute TED talk, go here

Give up the double space after a period. Really!

The debate about whether we should use one — or two — spaces after a period has finally ended according to a post in the Write Life blog by Dana Sitar (@danasitar). MS Word is going to start flagging two spaces as an error in its next update of the software.

Perhaps because I learned to type on a typesetting machine, I always used one space. For those two-space aficionados, however, the post reports some interesting lore:

“An extra space after a period helped distinguish one sentence from another in a typewriter’s fixed-width typeface (similar to the font Courier New). Digital-age word processors and content management systems use variable-width fonts (what you’re reading now), so periods hug tight to a sentence’s end, and one space leaves plenty of breathing room before the next begins.

But the debate existed long before word processors came along, journalist and editor James Felici detailed [it] in an essay

The double space — and other defunct sentence spacing — existed before the typewriter, and some typesetters as far back as the 18th century used the single space.”

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Want some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. Application deadline for the program starting June 1 is this coming Friday, May 22. If you already know you want to apply, go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours. 

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My video podcast last week addressed how to hire a ghostwriterOr, see the transcriptand 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.

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What are the best blog posts you’ve seen this 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 May 31/20 will be put in a draw for a 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!