For a few years in my late 30s, I was a poet.
I’d never really written poetry until then. In college, as an English literature major, I took the bare minimum of poetry courses, if you don’t count Shakespeare. (The Milton course was anything but paradise.)
After college, I went straight into writing about technology. If you don’t count lyrics of songs and arias, my poetry exposure was pretty light to this point.
Signing up for a Continuing Education course on writing poetry as an adult was a stretch. …
At the end of the year, many of us get retrospective, looking at the accomplishments and lessons of the past year. 2020 taught us a great deal, much of which we will be processing for years. But in this post, I want to reflect on a writing lesson that has been its parting gift.
Over the year, I published more than 40 writing-related blog posts and book reviews on my website. It seemed like a good idea to look back and learn which were most effective or had the biggest impact.
Impact is tough to measure, so let’s settle for something simpler: traffic. For that, I refer to Google Analytics data on my website traffic and behavior: which posts did people land on and read most often? …
This year more than most, fear has been an unwanted guest in our homes-intruding at the dinner table, interrupting our sleep in the early mornings, and inserting itself into conversations with friends and family. Fear is an uninvited companion whispering in our ears as we pass others on the street or pick up a few things at the grocery store.
Fear has many sources: the virus, election uncertainty, wildfires threats, economic worries. The content of its conversation may vary, but most of us have seen and heard more of fear this year than we care to.
This isn’t a post about fear, though, it’s about writing. Because one thing fear does is to shut us down. …
2020 has been a strange year. Some of us need motivation, others need comfort and encouragement.
No matter what the people in your list need, I’ve got you covered.
Every year I do a round-up post of books I’ve reviewed or encountered in the year that would make wonderful gifts for writers. The list this year is sorted by the book’s “vibe”-encouragement or self-care. (Clearly many books do both, so take the division with a grain of salt.)
I hope you find ideas for the writers in your life, and possibly yourself.
You can find all of these books on Amazon. If you want to purchase or gift the physical books, head on over to this list on BookShop, which is an alternative to Amazon that benefits indie bookstores and publishers. …
Writing seems like a one-way communication, whether you’re publishing a book or a blog post. Although you can envision your audience, they aren’t with you. You take a deep breath and send your work out into the world.
You can’t see what happens next. But sometimes the world answers back. Faintly. Often enigmatically.
Pay attention to those signals.
They may show up in reviews, in emails, in mentions of your book by people on podcasts. (You may have to search to find those.)
My latest book Get the Word Out shares stories of authors who listened to the messages from the world and took action on what they found. …
What motivates you to write, and how do you know when you’ve achieved success?
The world offers writers all kinds of proxies for success:
These basic metrics are important to understand, but we often get caught up in them.
What if you measure success based on the what happens in the reader’s world, rather than yours? Instead of clicks or sales, you might look for:
What’s the purpose for your writing?
Have you thought about it lately, or are you stuck in the daily demands of hitting deadlines and building readership? It’s easy to lose sight of a long-term goal when you’re swamped in details.
Take a moment to think about your broader purpose for writing. What impact do you hope to make?
This past summer, I conducted a survey of nonfiction authors. Two survey questions asked about people’s motivations for writing their books.
People could choose from the following objectives:
Many writers struggle to find their “authentic” writing voice. It’s a challenge: How do you write in a way that seems natural and authentic while serving your purpose?
Authenticity is important, but in searching for a single, authentic writing voice, people can tie themselves up into knots. That pressure makes it harder to find their voice.
A writing voice is like a pair of shoes; you need more than one.
You need options for different occasions: sturdy hiking shoes for rough terrain, dress shoes for formal occasions, and your favorite comfy shoes to wear doing errands.
Likewise, you need to align the words you use and the way you put them together with the occasion. Create a “voice” that resonates with your audience, matching both their needs and your personality. …
I’m a big fan of doing research. But I’m such a fan that I’m tempted to get stuck in the research phase. It’s fun. It’s fascinating. And it’s a reason to put off writing-especially writing something major, like a book.
Are you researching or procrastinating?
If you’re working on a doctoral dissertation based on academic research, then you probably have to finish the research before you start writing. For the rest of us, the boundaries between research and writing are often porous.
You might think that the process of writing a nonfiction book is pretty simple: you do all of your research, then you…
It’s been drummed into your head since grade school: outline before you write. This is excellent advice. Outlines make you think clearly before you write, and keep you on track for longer projects.
If you pitch a nonfiction book to an editor, your proposal includes a detailed outline. The editor decides to buy the book or not on the basis of that proposal. So, you might think that the outline is set at this point.
Here’s the secret: Most published nonfiction books don’t match the outlines that the authors proposed.
Books tend to outgrow their outlines as we write.
I recently conducted a survey of over 400 nonfiction authors, both published and not-yet published. Of those with published books, about half had worked with traditional publishers, which meant they had submitted a book proposal with an outline. …