Reading time: Just over 5 minutes
Here are my 10 favourite articles or posts from last month, focusing on the most useful, helpful and healthful pieces for writers.
As American Thanksgiving approaches, Black Friday looms and we start preparing for Christmas, perhaps it’s time to step back and consider our good fortune in having the internet at our fingertips — especially during the pandemic. A wonderfully complete reference library that’s open 24/7, an enormous shopping mall, and a forum for instant connectivity with family and others sharing the same goals and aspirations, the internet gives us a panoply of useful resources. Here are the 10 best blog posts for writers I’ve spotted in the last month.
Read books instead of social media
If the pandemic has you doing nothing but doom-scrolling through Twitter and news sites, remind yourself there are far more productive ways to spend your time. Padmasree Warrior, (@Padmasree) the founder and CEO of Fable, an organization promoting book reading, suggests we read fiction, instead. Her comments appear in a recent post in Fortune magazine.
As Warrior puts it in her post, “I’ve found the antidote for stress to be surprisingly simple: Reading fiction. Stories have been shown to promote empathy, social perception, emotional intelligence and other cognitive abilities that can lead to better mental health. Reading has also been shown to alleviate common mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, phobias and eating disorders.
Next week, watch for my blog post summing up the 52 books I’ve read so far this year.
Think out loud to be more successful
Do you regularly talk to yourself? Of course, you do! It’s a basic human trait. But did you know you can turbocharge this habit so that it helps you become more successful? Just do your talking out loud and do it in the third person (using “he” or “she” or your own first name).
In a post in Psychology Today, Christopher Berglund (@ckbergland) describes “Why ‘Thinking Aloud’ About Your Thinking Makes a Difference.”
A retired ultra-endurance athlete himself, Berglund says, “I know that thinking aloud helped me take a “fly on the wall” approach to observing my own athletic performance while simultaneously making it easier to “think about my thinking” via metacognitive processes. Notably, the self-talk strategies that work best for me (and lots of other people) generally involve using non-first-person pronouns and thinking aloud in the third person.”
Learn literary devices via Twitter
Hats off to Christian Tucci (@chrtucci) an L.A.-based writer who also goes by the moniker “Cheesy Potatoes.” In a magnificent Twitter thread he provides a guide to rhetorical devices using Taylor Swift lyrics.
Here are two of my faves:
ANAPHORA: the repetition of a word or phrase in successive clauses. “This love is good This love is bad This love is a life back from the dead” – This Love
EPIZEUXIS: The repeated use of a word for vehemence or emphasis, generally in the same sentence. “We are never, ever, ever, ever getting back together. Like, ever.” – We Are Never Getting Back Together
He’s also done the same thing with Alanis Morissette songs.
My thanks to Melissa Weber (@Melwriter) for introducing me to this gem!
Motivate your writing by using an exercise-boosting hack
What do people procrastinate about? Preparing tax returns. Cleaning the garage. Exercising. Writing. I’ve long believed that techniques to help you stop procrastinating on any one of these activities will help you do the same with all of them.
In a recent 13-minute TED-talk, (@TEDTalks) writer Christine Carter describes how she breathed renewed life into her dormant exercise program by starting with one minute of exercise per day.
I often propose the same strategy to people who are procrastinating about writing. Many of them believe it’s not going to work and yet, somehow, it does. As Carter puts it, with respect to exercise: “The whole idea behind the better than nothing habit is that it doesn’t depend on motivation. It’s not reliant on having a lot of energy, and you do not have to be good at this. All you need is to be willing to be wildly unambitious — to settle for doing something that’s just a smidge better than nothing.”
Begin each day with the task that will make you proudest
Perhaps you’ve read my advice about eating frogs. What I’m getting at is the concept of doing your most difficult task first, first thing in the day. But productivity writer and researcher Chris Bailey (@Chris_Bailey) offers an interesting fine-tuning of this suggestion in a recent blog post headlined, “The Task of Least Regret.”
Each morning, instead of working on the hardest thing first, he focuses on the activity he’ll be most relieved to have finished. As Chris puts it: “I’m loving this strategy, especially during such an unpredictable time. No matter how the day goes, no matter how you feel, the first thing you accomplish each day is something you’re proud (and relieved) to get done.
Never write without a contract
Way too many writers work without any contract whatsoever. This is almost always a mistake because, even with the most supportive, honest, forthright bosses, things can always go wrong. And without a contract, you are unprotected.
To address this problem, check out a recent Write Life (@thewritelife ) post by Mandy Ellis under the headline, “Freelance Writing Contracts: What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself and Your Work.”
The only important point I don’t see her mentioning is the need to specify which jurisdiction will take precedence in the event of any dispute. (I live in Vancouver, British Columbia so my contracts — regardless of where my clients live —specify BC as the place of jurisdiction.) Also be aware that Ellis lives in the US and that legal matters must be considered based on the country in which you live.
Don’t rush to get your book to an agent
Many authors become tired of the length of time it takes to finish writing a book and are eager to get in the hands of an agent as quickly as possible. Not so fast, says author and former agent @NathanBransford.
In a post headlined, “Don’t Rush,” he aptly notes that these kinds of feelings tend to emerge around holidays (hello Thanksgiving and Christmas) and he urges you to squash them.
As he puts it: “Ideas are a dime a dozen and sometimes it even helps when your book is similar to someone else’s. Ultimately, execution is what really counts. There is precious little advantage to trying to rush the process. You’re better off approaching the query process or self-publishing with a completely polished and edited manuscript than you are with a mere good idea you’ve dashed off.”
Use better slides for your presentations
I have sat through way too many wickedly boring PowerPoint slide shows, with massive amounts of text competing for my attention — while the speaker is speaking. (Why don’t more people understand this is an incredibly dumb idea?!)
The folks at Throughline Communications (@Throughliners) offer a wonderfully helpful blog under the headline, “11 Ways to Design Better Slides for Virtual Presentations.”
Here are their 11 tips:
- Increase the slide count
- Vary the visuals
- Pick the right font
- Go big on text size
- Let your words breathe
- Line it up
- Assess your need for charts and graphs
- Avoid a rainbow
- Employ contrast in your design
- Incorporate effective images
- Keep it simple
For me, that second-last point is the most important one. The majority of my PowerPoint decks use a minimum of words and a maximum of images, because I want people to listen to what I have to say when I’m speaking.
Find an illustrator you can work with
Are you writing a children’s book that needs an illustrator? Understand that if you’re seeking a traditional publisher, the publishing house will want to pick their own person.
But if you are self-publishing, a recent post by Darcy Pattison (@FictionNotes) on the Indie Kids Books site gives some excellent advice.
Here are some excellent questions you should ask yourself before you begin interviewing illustrators:
- What kind of illustrations do you want for this book to enhance the reader’s experience?
- What style?
- How many illustrations do you need?
- What medium?
- What have you allotted in your budget for an illustrator?
And, of course, be sure to have a contract with the illustrator.
Understand why your non-fiction book won’t sell
Have you finished writing a book and discovered the unhappy news that you can’t find an agent?
Of course, you can consider self-publishing and you might get lucky. But before you do that, consider a recent blog post by publishing expert @JaneFriedman, under the headline, “Common Reasons Nonfiction Books Don’t Sell.”
Here are the reasons Jane cites:
- You don’t have a big enough platform
- You lack recognized authority or credentials on the topic
- The idea or story doesn’t resonate or is out of step with the times
- Your target audience is everyone and anyone
- The writing is not there yet
If you can correct any of these shortcomings, you’re more likely to be able to sell your book, even when you’re selling it yourself.
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 described the value of daily writing. 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 Nov. 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!