Reading time: About 5 minutes
Here are my 10 favourite articles or posts from last month, focusing on the most useful, helpful and healthful pieces for writers.
Covid, fires, floods, police violence, demonstrations, elections… What’s next? Swarming locusts? If you want a break from all the horror, check out 10 blog posts I’ve custom-picked for you, reflecting practical advice for writers or light-hearted amusements for readers. I hope you enjoy them.
Protect your writing with a bubble
Do you find yourself getting easily distracted when you’re trying to write? I love a suggestion by fantasy author Deborah Jay, @deborahjay2, in a recent blog post.
Her idea comes from visualization techniques used by high-performance athletes. (Anyone who makes comparisons between sport and writing or music and writing gets my undivided attention. The way humans can approach these activities is uncannily similar!)
Here is the system Jay recommends:
- Visualise yourself inside a sealed bubble.
- Take everything you might need into the bubble with you – whatever you write on, writing software, notes, thesaurus etc.
- Deliberately exclude all the things you don’t need, like concerns about housework, tasks you must do later, emails that need replies, marketing that needs doing etc. Always include everything you can’t influence and put ALL of them outside your bubble.
- Once you have your bubble set up, keep on imagining yourself inside it, no matter what goes on around you. You can play with personalising your own bubble: how thick the skin is, and how opaque you want it.
Remember, the bubble is designed to protect you, so you can accomplish your writing.
Learn how to write almost anything
If you want a handy-dandy guide to writing a zany variety of stuff — from perfect sentences to killer cover letters — check out this handy pocket guide assembled by @alexdalenberg.
I loved the Jerry Seinfeld video about how to write a joke and I appreciated the seven tips for a better to-do list from the experts at @mental_floss. I also wish more people I knew learned how to write an email with military precision. And as a serious home-cook (and a former cookbook editor) I resonated with Bonnie Benwick’s suggestions about how to write and read recipes better. In fact, if you have any writing you’re procrastinating about, I suggest you review this list before you put a single word on the page. My thanks to Ann Handley @Marketing_Profs for having forwarded this guide in a recent newsletter.
Create your own coffee shop
While I’m grateful to have been able to work from home for the last 24 years (requiring no transition during Covid), I still miss the coffee shops where I used to be able to hang out. The ambience, the feeling of conviviality and the noise are all features I long to enjoy again. Meanwhile, a Write Life podcast by Lisa Rowan (@lisatella) gives some excellent ideas for how to fill that hole in your life.
I particularly appreciated the suggestions for where to get coffee shop sounds on your computer. (I’ve used Coffitivity for years.)
Have a look at these stunning book-inspired pies
Whether you like to bake like me, or simply enjoy eating, like my family, take a look at these remarkable book-inspired pies, assembled in an awe-inspiring list by Katie Yee for @lithub. Even though I thought the book Such a Fun Age was only mediocre, I LOVED the look of its pie. So pretty! I don’t have an Instagram account but I may have to get one so I can start following @pieladybooks — to get a visual dose of her baking.
Learn about the legalities of quoting song lyrics
Say you write a book, and further say you want to quote from the Don McLean song American Pie in that book…. Are you aware that you need permission to be able to do this type of quoting? And it will probably cost you money?
The realities of publishing take some writers aback. But when you want to tap your readers’ toes with some perfect song lyrics, don’t let yourself be caught flat-footed. Check out the down-low by writer Alison Acheson, @MudG, in a blog post headlined, “What You Must Know to Include Song Lyrics in Your Story.”
She gives useful links to permission sites, and some cool background info as well. For example, did you know that Bryan Adams charges a small fortune for the use of even a phrase while Bruce Springsteen, levies a next-to-nothing, nominal fee? One other fact: songs published prior to January 1, 1923 are in the public domain and can be used without permission.
Why should you worry about rights? As Acheson puts it: “Imagine if your book takes off, thousands of copies flying off bookstore shelves…and someone realizes you’ve quoted and not asked for permissions, and your book is recalled and pulped.” Not a pretty scenario! Thanks to my friend Maureen, @CoastalBirthmom, for passing along this useful link to me.
Stop working too much
Anyone who’s been forced into the work-from-home arrangement as a result of Covid is likely feeling the pressure and obligation to do nothing BUT work.
If that sentiment describes your situation, consider some advice from organizational psychologist David Burkus in a post headed: “Working from home and feel like you’re working all the time? Here’s what to do.”
In this terrific post, he offers a four-point plan:
- Set “business” hours
- Develop a post-work ritual
- Change devices when you change modes
- Get outside.
I have done all of these things in the last 10 years and I can tell you that they really work. In Burkus’s own words: “Working from home makes it all too easy for work to become your life — I know that temptation all too well. But time away from work will make your work better and deliberately unplugging can be the most productive thing you can do for yourself.
Dress better for Zoom
Further to the topic of working from home, how is your wardrobe doing? If you have suddenly started wearing only t-shirts and hoodies, take three minutes to read a New York Times piece by Vanessa Friedman, @VVFriedman, under the headline: “Behold, ‘Workleisure’”
Here’s how Friedman summarizes the challenge: “While it once seemed alluring — and potentially salubrious — for one’s mental health to wear the garb that signaled relaxation to do daily battle with the grim news of the day, it has also lessened the enjoyment of slipping into them afterward.”
As for me, I’ve started dressing up a bit more for my Zoom meetings (I usually have at least two and sometimes as many as five per day). And as a famous non-wearer of makeup, I’ve even positioned a tube of lipstick in my desk drawer and I try to apply a quick slash before every meeting.
I do what I can.
Make the most of your time
If you’re a blogger, you have several million jobs to do every day. Take some excellent advice from Darren Rowse @problogger, in a post headlined, “8 tips for Busy Bloggers — How to Make the Most of Your Time.”
To summarize, his eight tips are:
- Work out your life priorities
- Work out your blogging priorities
- Embrace batching
- Try blogging mentally
- Put aside time for generating ideas
- Break down the big jobs
- Embrace slow blogging
- Put aside time for your own wellbeing
While I can tell you that ALL of these tips work, the single most effective one for me has always been #5, putting aside time for generating ideas. I’ve been blogging for 14 years now and I can tell you that when I started separating the act of writing from the act of generating ideas, my writing speed jumped by more than 50% and my writing anxiety plummeted.
Thinking up ideas is darn hard work and it’s best to do that during time you’ve especially earmarked for it.
Write more effective dialogue
Do you operate under the mistaken belief that dialogue in books needs to be lifelike? Of course, conversation in books shouldn’t ever be wooden, but real-life dialogue is often wordy and disjointed. Listen to a tape recording of any conversation you may be surprised by all the repetition, umms, ahhs, ‘I dunnos,’ and frustrating dead ends.
In a Write Practice (@write_practice) post headlined, “How to Use Snappy Zingers to Write Effective Dialogue,” J.D. Edwin gives valuable dialogue-writing direction. Among other points, she says, “The key to making any dialogue snappy and fun is knowing all the places to trim the excess.” I particularly appreciated her rewrites of wordy dialogue into smart, tightly crafted zingers. Check them out!
Learn from the mistakes of other self-published authors
Sandra Beckwith, @sandrabeckwith, took on the big job of surveying 25 self-published authors asking them to describe their biggest “learning” in the self-publishing journey.
In the I-wish-I-had-known-this-beforehand blog post, writer Steve Morgan said, “The biggest surprise for me was just how time-consuming the promotion side of things can be.”
Rae Stonehouse reported, “You will spend 30 percent of your time writing your book and 130 percent marketing your book.”
Lynn Moore replied, “I wish I had known how important reviews were.”
All of these learnings offer a valuable cautionary tale for anyone embarking on self-publishing.
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Consider joining my three-month accountability program called Get It Done. If you already know you want to apply, go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours. Application deadline for starting Oct. 1 is this coming Thursday.
My video podcast last week addressed how to deal with burnout and boredom. 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.
Have you spotted any interesting or inspirational posts in the last month? Please share them here! 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 Sept. 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!