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Business 101 for Writers: Production Part 3: Self-Editing

So many writers never reach even this point in production, or worse, they skip it. They get stuck on writing and never finish. But if you are among the lucky few who finish a story, you must move on to editing.

This post is titled self-editing, but before we even get to that, let me say it as loudly as I possibly can, to wake up those of you who might be sitting in the back of the classroom dozing.

You cannot skip the editing process, and publish something unedited. You cannot edit your own work. You need to hire an editor.

Let me say it again, just in case:

You cannot skip the editing process, and publish something unedited. You cannot edit your own work. You need to hire an editor.

Now stop. I can hear some of your arguments already, so I am just going to make a list for you here of the ones that are invalid:

  • I was an English Major.
  • My mom is an English teacher, she does it for me.
  • I have an MFA.
  • My spouse has an MFA.
  • I can edit my own stuff. I use method “x” with “x” software.
  • I took a course on self-editing at “x” writer’s conference.
  • My favorite indie author, “x” just uses beta readers, not an editor, and his/her stuff is pretty good.

Here’s the thing. Probably 99% of the population cannot edit or even proofread their own work effectively. The rest of us hate the 1% who can. Even if you are one of the rare authors who can proof or edit your own work, you should not. Just like you should probably not create your own covers even if you are a trained graphic designer, although we will cover that (pun intended) in another blog post.  

Here are some of the reasons why you should never be the sole creator and editor, or in other words, the sole producer of your work.

You become word blind.

What this means is that unless it has been a really long time since you have seen what you have written (and sometimes no length of time is enough to cure this) you see what you meant to write. You see those words whether those are really what is there or not.

Recently I read one of my own blog posts I had written two years ago and found a typo. A typo I did not see at the time, that grammar check did not catch, but that was glaring all that time later. No one noticed it either, or at least no one who did pointed it out to me. The thing is, in context, it almost looked right even after that much time had passed.

If you are writing quickly, as you should be, and editing shortly afterward, there is no way you will catch these things yourself. I promise you will miss at least one or two in a medium length work. In a novel, you might miss several.

You are in love with your own words.

Go ahead, tell me you aren’t. Then show me that clever phrase, that joke you think is hilarious, or that gorgeous description on page 53 of your self-published (or hopefully yet to be published) novel. Those are probably things you should cut out.

As Stephen King says, “Kill your darlings.” If you don’t believe me, take a journalism course and then write for a paper or magazine of any size. You will find that your editor and your readers do not love your precious words and phrases nearly as much as you do.

Here is the thing: as an author, you have built a fire with your story. The likelihood is that there is some damp wood in there, some moss, or some torn up cardboard. It makes for a lot of smoke. The job of an editor is to clear away the smoke so that everyone can see and enjoy the fire.

You cannot do this yourself effectively. Please, on this one point trust me. I can read a few chapters or maybe even pages in your book, and I can tell if you edited it yourself. There will be a whole lot of “you” in the way of the story.

Your project will feel narcissistic.

All of that you in the way will show through. Your book will feel like one of those body builders in the gym who spends as much time looking at himself in the mirror as he does pumping iron. It will probably feel like it is all about you. Because it is.

You need another set of eyes, another voice, one that is not close to you or at least can be objective about the way your work is presented. More on why you should not use relatives or those close to you in a moment.

A professional editor can see things you cannot: they see phrases you use too often, things you repeat often, and redundant descriptions you may miss. They can hear when your dialogue is stilted, and can offer advice about better word choices, sentence structure, and even point out when your plot has holes you may not notice, but that a reader will.

It is a good thing that you love your work. It is a good thing that you value your words. It is also good for you to be able to take critique and instruction from an editor at this phase in your journey. Hearing from an editor and changing things now is better than getting bad reviews on Amazon and damaging your reputation, which is your brand. (More on that later in our section on branding).

Note on Relatives: It is rare for a writer to have a relative that can honestly critique their work and make it better without also being word blind and leaving those phrases you love. It is also harder to argue with that person, as it can result in marital or family conflict.

If you are one of the rare people who has a relative who can edit your work objectively, thank your lucky stars and use them. However, I would encourage you to try something. Have your relative edit one of your short stories or novellas, something not too big. Then hire a professional editor to edit it, and compare the two.

If your relative does just as good or a better job than the editor, keep using them. If they do not, keep your eyes open.

Note on Revisions: A part of the writing (production) process we will talk about soon will be revisions. Revisions and rewrites are not a part of the editing process and are also not self-editing. You should revise and rewrite your work before an editor or anyone other than a writing critique partner or someone who reads your work as you go does.

Since we are on the subject, rewrites and revisions should be done quickly too, for the same reasons drafts are written quickly. You do not want your mind or heart to change during the process, or you will do a lot more rewriting than you need to.

Once you have started the editing process, do not do any more rewrites except those recommended by your editor to fix plot holes or other obvious issues. That is the point at which you have to let the story go: it is time to let someone else work on it at that point.

This is of course because we are talking about writing as a business. If your goal is not to sell lots of books, but rather to create a single literary masterpiece in your lifetime, you can revise and rewrite as much as you wish and take as long as you wish to produce drafts before letting anyone else see and edit them.

Exceptions to the Rules:

In the world of publishing and writing, there are exceptions to every rule. There are writers who can edit their own work. There are relatives who do a great job of editing their author brother/husband/son’s work.

There are also authors who can kill their darlings, and create work on their own that does not feel narcissistic. However, if you feel that you are one of these writers and have not tried professional editors, or had someone in the upper reaches of the field validate this truth for you, it probably is not true. If you send your work to a pro editor who hardly touches it, or says to you “You don’t need me, you just need a proofreader” or something along that line, go forth and do wonderful things.

Most of the time, this type of thinking is just self-delusion. If no one close to you is honest enough to tell you the truth about your writing, just try getting one professional, honest opinion. If I am wrong about you, in your case, please email me and let me know. I would love to meet someone who is so extraordinary.

In the next section, we will talk about money for a little bit. After all, this is the stage when you will invest more than just time. You will invest dollars, and a part of a business is working to get the best return on your investment. That does not mean always hiring whoever is the cheapest.

Have questions and can’t wait for the next section of this series? Want to hire me, or just need some coaching advice? Click here or email me at [email protected].

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Business 101 for Writers: A Note About Writer’s Block

So far in this series, you have been introduced to the principles behind writing as a business and we have talked a bit about the first part of the production process: writing some words and how to write more. What about those times when the creativity just doesn’t flow?

If you have heard me talk about writing at all, you have heard me say these words that seem to infuriate nearly every writer who hears them:

I don’t believe in writer’s block.

I’ll keep this post in the series short for two reasons. First, all of the other ones are long. Second, it’s really a simple principle I have shared dozens if not hundreds of times. The simple fact is this: by starting this series and reading along, you have at least entertained the idea of writing for a living.

You don’t get to be blocked in the thing you do for a living. A waiter does not get to have waiter’s block, nor does a teacher get to have teacher’s block. No one would go to a doctor who had doctor’s block.

In any other profession, if you are not able to work that day, you go home sick, your boss finds someone else who can do your job for you, or all of your work is waiting for you when you get back to the office, and you have to make it up.

The kicker is, you don’t get paid, or you use sick time. But as a writer, you don’t really have sick time unless you have set up a savings account just for that reason (which you should, but that comes later in the series on the business end of things). If you don’t work you don’t get paid.

No fairy comes behind you and does your work for you. It really is that simple. Does that mean there are not days when things are harder than others? Nope. Just like other jobs, some days you feel it more than others, and some days are more productive.

You can never have an extended bout of writer’s block, though. Any more than a couple of days, and you are really putting yourself in a poor position. So what do you do when you are just not feeling it? You either fight to get the feeling back, or you work anyway.

Trick Your Brain

You need to write every day. We covered that already, but what you are writing might vary. You may be writing a blog post, a technical article, or the next great American novel. You might even be editing your latest piece, or working with an editor on a project.

So trick your brain so it is ready for the work you are doing that day. Here is how it works for me:

  • I use Scrivener for creative writing, short stories, novellas, and novels.
  • I use Google docs for blog posts and some articles, depending on who I am writing them for.
  • I edit using Microsoft Word and do some technical writing in it.

I never use Scrivener for technical writing, and never use Word for the initial creation of a creative work, only for rewrites and editing. Why?

When I open up each interface, my brain knows what kind of writing we are going to do. I don’t have to stare at the blank page for long before my brain automatically goes into the proper writing mode.

You don’t have to use these programs the same way I do, or even the same programs, although I will make a big case for you using Scrivener for fiction writing (that will come later under what software you really need).

However, you can trick your brain by using certain software, writing in a certain location, or even using a different keyboard, location, or account login on your computer to write. For instance, I could have a Troy Lambert login and a Troy Lambert Author login with different backgrounds, programs, and that even limits access to the internet if that is a problem for you.

Whatever your method, your mind can be your greatest asset.

Write Something Else

I have also written dozens of times and on several writer sites about the need for more than one stream of income. So since you have already listened to that, and you are writing several things, you do have other projects you are working on, right?

So if you are stuck on one project, switch and write something else. Can’t get into the groove for the next scene in your novel? Write a blog post, article, or another short story. The point is when your butt is in the chair, and it is your scheduled time to write, write.

Writing does not include emails, Tweets, Facebook posts, or a letter to your long lost brother. It does include journals, plays, movie scripts, stories, articles, technical papers, ad copy, and dozens of other things, all of which can make you money.

Nearly every kind of writing you do is creating a story of one kind or another, from a blog post about digestive health to a brochure about your local furniture store. You just have to look harder to find the story arc (more on that in another post as well).

Writing one story usually sparks you to write another. And another. And another. One type of writing will give your brain time to process where you are stuck, and usually, when you go back there, things are flowing again.

Write Anyway

So you are stalled, and you only have one project at the moment, or one goal: to get this damn book/novel/story finished. Your brain will not let you get past this particular plot point.

Start writing anyway. Write gibberish at first if you have to. Your brain will kick in. Write another story about that character and how they got to this point in the story. The point is to write something anyway.

Remember, if your butt is in the chair and you are scheduled to be writing, write. No matter what, write. Even if it all has to be thrown away later. There are no wasted words except for those that remain unwritten. You cannot edit an empty page or the thoughts that are still in your head.

You may have heard that to become a proficient writer, you must put in 10,000 hours writing, or roughly one million words. Use your writing time to get some of the shitty words out to make room for better ones. Do not ever, under any circumstances, waste your writing time.

If you have to, start typing the phrase “I will always write during my writing time” and keep typing it until other words come. They will. But you must write to activate the writer inside you.

If you are going to write for a living, you are not allowed to have writer’s block. You need to work through it somehow. There are no sick days, and no one will come in the middle of the night and do your writing for you.

However you trick your brain, whether you write something else or just write anyway, you need to work when you are scheduled to work, and for those of us who are writers that means writing. Writer’s block is a sick day, and you can only take so many of those before you go broke.

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How to Overcome Depression

Many writers struggle with depression, and today’s guest, Harrish Sairaman talks about ways to overcome it.

Depression can be a potentially serious medical illness that negatively affects the way you feel, think, or act. Anybody can be affected by depression irrespective of age and surprisingly in today’s world, even youngsters are a victim of this. When one is depressed, he or she feels low and sad and will have no interest in any activity. Depression leads to emotional and physical problems. In extreme cases, it leads to suicides and hence needs to be understood, prevented and healed well.

Some symptoms of depression

  •  Feeling sad or having a gloomy mood.
  • Loss of interest in daily activities and getting distracted.
  • Loss of appetite and sudden weight loss without dieting.
  • Sleeping disorder and excessive negative thoughts.
  • Feeling exhausted and fatigue on a consistent basis
  • Feeling guilty, insignificant and worthless and sometimes even without specific reasons
  • Increase in distracted activities like speaking to the mirror, listening sad songs.
  • Increase in thoughts of committing suicide for peace.

These are some of the major indications that you are suffering from depression and you need to get back the control over yourself and overcome depression.

How To Over Depression –
Accept Your Depression – The first challenge is to identify the depression. Don’t get labeled that it is all in your head and there is no way to control it like dreams. Most people do not understand or accept that they are suffering from it and with time, it reaches the extreme point leading to permanent physical and mental damages.

Therefore, one should always watch out for the symptoms and if you feel there is something wrong, do not hesitate to check with the doctor to be on the safe side. At the same time, don’t just read about it and self-label that ‘you are depressed or are a victim of depression! It is always good to check with a professional so you don’t ignorantly miss it out or exaggerate just simple basic stress.
Identify The Cause – There are several reasons that lead to depression. Finding the cause/causes is a daunting task after the depression is identified. It can be due to genetics, hormonal changes, stress, sadness, guilt and several other factors. It is very important to identify the root cause of a disease to cure it. Identify the source and the core problem to cure it instantly. Once the cause is identified it can be worked on as all behaviours have ‘reasons’ and when the reasons change, behaviour changes.

Positive Begets Positive – In depression, the mind can be full of negative thoughts. If these thoughts are entertained it can become worse. Instead, talk to positive people, read some inspiring stories and motivational quotes and better yet, watch mood-cheering movies. The control over the thoughts might be difficult, but one can definitely provide the factors that generate positive thoughts automatically.

Spend Quality Time – During a depression, the mind can make an individual feel lonely and force to isolate yourself from the rest of the world. One should definitely avoid that and instead, plan a vacation trip and go with your family and have a blast. Even going out for a lunch or dinner or shopping would be great alternatives. If there are kids at home, one must make time to play with them and experience extreme positivity. Kids are great examples of great energy and can become one of the best teachers to boost the mood and energy.

Avoid Certain Things – In today’s world, social media and internet bullying are also one of the major causes of depression. Avoiding them for a few days, cut off from negative people, avoiding listening to sad songs and stop recalling old memories can definitely help.

If there is a problem with someone, talk it out or accept the outcome and move on just like others. Learn to forgive people and accept life the way it comes.

Exercise and Meditation – Nothing works as good as exercise and meditation during a depression. Joining a gym, indoor and outdoor exercises, jogging in the morning and practicing yoga and pranayama (breathing exercises)can not only be a cure but can build inner strength with can avoid depression even n the future. Learning the different forms of meditation and practicing them can help find blissfulness bursting inside!!! Depression can become an opportunity to rejuvenate and rebuild life.
Find An Interesting and Passionate Hobby –During depression. one cannot let their mind get occupied by negative thoughts in free time. So, investing free time in hobbies can be a great way of working on the state of mind. Photography, dancing, cooking, creating YouTube videos are just to name a few.  Once can also become an example for other and show how to come out of it – helping the masses!
Doing Something Different– During a depression, one has to boost their mood and take it to the positive zone. There are a lot of crazy things one can do to get over it. One can go for a body massage and ease the mind and nerves, do some crazy dance by playing some rock music to shake off the fatigue state, have the best food one always wanted to eat, and even some prank on others, and likewise.
Gratitude for what we already have and the realization that not everyone is so fortunate and we have an opportunity here to heal and transform is always a great way to start!

About the Author

Harrish Sairaman is a well-known motivational teacher in India, helping many to achieve which once seemed unachievable like increase motivation, leadership, Corporate Performance, decrease stress etc. through Motivational Training Program, Leadership training programs, Corporate training programs, Entrepreneur Coaching and Individual Coaching to name a few. His ability to deliver life changing, scientifically sound, relevant and metaphysical messages in a powerful, humorous and insightful manner integrated with high energy has earned him a reputation of bringing about a difference with a difference!

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Business 101 for Writers: Production Part 2: How to Write More

We ended the last post on a cliffhanger, something you should always do to yourself. I mean, it is great advice to write some words. If you are going to have a writing based product to sell, you need to have something written.

However, the first step in production is where writers often get tripped up. They get caught up in the business side, especially when they first become stoked about writing for a living, and they get so busy creating an author platform, getting their website ready, and being sucked into social media (Oy!) that they neglect the writing part of the business.

Before you know it, they wake up realizing their novel is stale, they have not posted an article on their blog or sent out outreach to new freelance clients in weeks. Here is the one line, simplest truth of the matter: You are a writer when you write. When you are not writing, you are no longer a writer.

So how do you make sure that this terrible tragedy does not happen to you? Here are some really obvious tips, but ones writers often neglect.

Write Every Day

I have tons of aspiring writers tell me they do not have to write every day. They are absolutely right. You can go for days without writing until you really start to take yourself seriously. Once you embrace writing as a profession, you can’t help but write every day.

Why? Writing, or engaging in any creatively based activity, changes something in your brain. It releases chemicals that make you happy when you write, and when you don’t, depression and anger take the place of that happiness. There is no one worse to be around than a writer who is not actually writing.

Your brain changes, chemically and in its thinking and habits, when you write every day. Nearly every professional writer I know writes something nearly every day, even if they are on vacation or it is their “day off.”

Try it. If it doesn’t work for you, email me. Honestly. I will talk you through it because I have never found any true writer who after giving daily writing an honest try, did not find that it changed things dramatically for them.

Have a Writing Schedule

I have heard all of your excuses. My kids, school, house, the laundry, you have five cats, four dogs, and your poor neighbor needed help with cleaning their gutters. So how could I possibly write every day? I am going to be frank and potentially offensive.

All of your excuses are bullshit. Nearly every writer I know who does write every day, who does it for a living, did not start out that way. They had full-time jobs, wives, kids, and pets just like you do. They started to write every day anyway.

How? They set a time, usually early in the morning or late at night, and wrote at least for a little while no matter what else was happening in their lives. Read that last sentence again. They set aside a time and wrote at least something, even a single page, no matter what else was happening in their lives.

It can be a page in a short story. A page in a future article. A page in a novel. 365 days of a single page a day means you have a full-length novel completed. Stop telling me how busy you are, and that you do not have time to write. Set a schedule, and keep it.

If your first schedule does not work for you, find one that does. Find your optimal time when everyone else is either gone or asleep, and keep your schedule no matter what.

Allow Yourself the Freedom to Write More

Wait a minute. I just spent a whole bunch of words trying to convince you to write every day, and schedule that time, keeping it sacred. Now I am telling you to give yourself the freedom to write more?

Yes, if you are using the 12 minutes a day method I mentioned in the last post, and you get to the end of the 12 minutes, your timer goes off, and you are on a roll, keep going. That’s right. Keep writing as long as the words keep flowing, even if you are interrupted. Get back to your work and follow the flow.

No matter how long you have been at this, there are days when the words do not flow as easily as they do other times. Don’t mistake this for writer’s block. Once you finish reading this series, you will never be allowed to have that, or blame it, again. But sometimes writing is hard, and so when it is easy, let it flow.

Especially when you first start out, or there are many distractions in your life, you will sometimes struggle in your daily, scheduled writing sessions. Write anyway.

Some days, the words will flow from your fingers quickly and easily, and your fingers will fly over the keyboard. Keep going. Write as much as fast as you can. That will probably be some of your best writing, and stopping can kill your spirit. If your flow is interrupted in those moments, you may even get angry.

Good. That means you are on the right track and your writing habit is taking hold. Control your anger, roll with life in general. But give yourself the freedom to write more when things are going well, and take the time you need to follow your muse when things are good.

Leave Yourself Hanging

Am I contradicting myself again you ask? No, not at all. Even if you get on one of the beautiful rolls above, where your words are flowing like the water over Niagara Falls, when you stop, leave yourself hanging.

Stop writing at the point where you are excited about writing what comes next. Be that the next point you are making in a non-fiction work or the cliff hanging, nail biting end of a chapter in fiction, stop there. I have heard of writers who stop in the middle of a sentence.

If you are excited about what is coming next, you will be anxious about sitting down to write again, excited about it instead of dreading it. Make no mistake, writing is work. It is a job. But you can make it much more enjoyable for yourself, to the point where most days you actually enjoy going to work.

This is just a small technique and not one that always works. Often as a freelancer, you have to finish the article and submit it. Or you are under deadline with a publisher for your next novel, or even your own deadlines (more on this later in the series). Sometimes you have to write “The End” as you finish a writing session or writing for the day.

The more you can do this for yourself, the better. The more excited you are to write, the less likely you are to quit, and the more likely you are to write every day, keep a schedule, and give yourself the freedom to write more when you are on a roll.

Don’t Stop Believing

Sorry for the cheesy song reference, and you can thank me for humming the Journey hit the rest of the day by buying one of my books. Or more that one, if you really love Journey or even just this one song.

But this is important. There will be times in your life when no one around you believes in what you are doing. It will seem like no one understands you, and you will never make it as a writer. Tell them to shut up, and keep writing.

Believing in yourself is an easy thing to say. It is much harder to do, and there have been some dark days, some dark times in my life. I have been where you have been, and if you struggle with believing in yourself or acceptance, reach out to other writers. We really do understand.

We also want you to be successful. That means that no matter what, you believe in yourself. No one else will ever be as big of a fan of your work, and you are your harshest, yet most important, critic and cheerleader.

So don’t stop. Keep writing. Keep working. Keep believing in yourself, and you will finish whatever it is you are writing. Then you can move forward in this process of production to the parts we will cover next.

Because once you have mastered writing some words, gotten yourself into a writing habit, and finished what you are working on, you need to move forward and do something with your writing.

I’m going to teach you exactly how to do that.

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Business 101 for Writers: Step One Part One: Write some Words

This is the first of a post in a series about writing as a business. If you are not sure why I am sharing this with you, you can go back and read the introduction.

So far we have covered that, like any other business, this one has three parts: production, distribution, and marketing. All of these are made up of several different parts, and over the next several weeks we will examine all of them.

Part One: Write some Words

This is the stage at which you plagiarize the alphabet: you are going to rearrange those 26 letters into some thoughts all your own. It does not matter at this point what kind of book you are writing, or if you are writing blog posts, articles, or even brochures. In order to proceed with any of the next steps, you need some words strung together in a manner that your target audience can understand and will want to read.

How do you do this writing thing? Maybe at this stage, you just have a vague idea. Perhaps you have an outline or even an assignment from a website or magazine. No matter what you are writing, there are some keys to finishing the story.

Write Quickly:

Your first draft should be written quickly. The first draft of a novel length work should take you no more than six to nine months. Why that number?

Every writer writes from the heart, and over time your heart changes. So do you. Think about how much you have changed just over the last year. Now imagine how much you have changed over the last five years. If it takes you three to five years to write a novel, you are a different person by the time you finish. Your voice has changed, so to speak.

It is the same with articles, blog posts, and even novellas. You should complete them as quickly as possible, while your mind is fresh in the subject and your thoughts are focused.

Do Not Edit While You Write.

Yes, you can backspace, or quickly correct the spelling that the squiggly red line shows you, but do not go back and rewrite until you have written the end. The temptation is real, and some will tell you editing as you go is perfectly okay, but as someone who has edited over 50 full-length manuscripts and several smaller ones over the last several years, I can tell you that I can tell when editing that a writer went back and rewrote a section. How?

Because doing so interrupts your flow, and so when you start to write again after editing, your voice has changed slightly. Usually, this causes you to make errors–small ones, but it takes you a few moments, or paragraphs, to get back in your flow.

This increases the length of the editing process: we have to edit out those transitions and smooth them over, recreating the flow that is already there. The more an editor has to work on your manuscript, the more they charge (if you are hiring a freelance editor before entering your path to publication, whatever that is. More on that later in the series).

Fiction Outlining and Research:

There is often a debate between outliners and pantsters, those who research ahead of time, and those who research at the end, putting in nonsense (and marking where they did so) when they don’t have certain facts at hand or in their memory.

Outliners: These writers have every twist and turn of the story planned out before they even begin to write, some of them down to the outline of chapters and scenes. However, most will tell you that this outline, however detailed or loose, is done before they ever sit down to write.

Once they start writing, they do not go back to re-outline or do more research. They simply write until the end, and then go back and make corrections. Many outliners will even confess that things do not always turn out how they outlined them. Characters tend to have a mind of their own and take the story their own direction.

Pantsters: These writers sit down with an idea and a general direction, writing by the seat of their pants (thus the name pantsters). They simply start to write and follow the story and the characters wherever they go. With no outline in mind, they truly do simply experience their book or story along with the characters.

Does this make a mess sometimes? Yes. If the writer gets distracted at some point, they can follow an aspect of the story that goes nowhere and have to backtrack and delete it later, in the editing process.

This type of writing can also produce spectacular stories. Each writer must gauge for themselves how much they can free-flow it, and how much structure they need to make their stories work. Either way, it is still just as vital that the writer writes until the very end.

The Mixer: Some writers start as pantsters, but part way through the book, they outline the rest of the story to make sure they get where they are going.

This is perhaps the most common type of writer I have come across. They blend the two techniques of writing by the seat of their pants for a while and then outlining after that.

How long do they write before they outline? That varies as much as the writers themselves. Some start with a loose outline and tighten as they go. Others create the outline when they are done with the story during the re-writing process, to make sure they have included all of the elements they need in the story, and that it follows a good structure.

No matter what your method, writers write until the very end. The best first drafts are still done quickly, and they are re-written and edited when they are done.

Nonfiction Outlining and Research:

Non-fiction is an entirely different type of writing, and research and outlining are a must. If anyone tells you they are writing their memoir, and have no outline it becomes something called “creative nonfiction.” You can almost guarantee there are errors in the story, and that it has gone into the realm of fiction at more than one point.

Usually non-fiction is linear in some way: usually time or the ordered steps in a process. Often if the order is not followed in some way, the results are disastrous. Think of a recipe book or automotive repair manual: do the steps in the wrong order, or add a “flashback” to what you should have done in step three when you are now on step six will not work.

Even memoir must be written with a linear structure of some sort. Yes, there can be flashbacks (only if they are done well), but there must be a structure it is all hung on. To put it quickly (this will be covered in detail later in the production section) you still should outline and research ahead of time for the most part. There are some exceptions with non-fiction, but we will cover those later.

For the most part, you should write your draft of nonfiction quickly as well. But what are the keys to writing quickly?

Here they are, briefly. We will cover each in detail in the next post.

  • Write every day. Even if you only get a page or two, write something every single day.
  • Have a writing schedule. Even if it is as simple as 12 Minutes a Day, have a time that is your writing time, and stick to it.
  • Allow yourself the freedom to write more. If you are into the flow of the story, keep writing. Don’t stop because a certain amount of time has passed. Follow the flow if you can.
  • Leave yourself hanging. Stop on a cliffhanger if you can rather than finishing a chapter. It will be easier for you to get back into the flow the next day, and you will want to.
  • Don’t stop believing. You can write, you can finish a story, and you can make it ready for the world. You are a writer the moment you say you are a writer. To get to be a professional writer and get paid, you must keep believing you are who you say you are.

In our next post, we will talk about how to write quickly, and what quickly really means. We will also talk about writer’s block and what it really is.

Until then, write quickly and write often.

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Doing What you Love for Money

It is said that writing is the world’s second oldest profession, and it is just about as respected. From a young age, I was taught that doing what you love was no way to make a living. In some ways, those who dispensed that wisdom were right: writing for a living is hard, and there are seasons where it is less hard, but it is never easy.

I was told this despite the fact that many who told me I needed to plan for a “real job” were Christian school teachers, pastors, and others who certainly had not pursued wealth, but were doing “ministry” work, something God had called them too. But the arts? Please. That was a dirty word.

Not to mention that I wanted to write the things I read: sci-fi, horror, and thrillers. These books and their topics were clearly sent to my mind from the depths of hell. After all, many of those sci-fi writers were atheists who believed in evolution. The horror!

It never seemed to resonate with me that I was part of the evil poor: that my single mom, a school teacher, might be somehow less because she chose to do something she loved for less money than she could have earned elsewhere because she loved it, and felt like she was making a difference.

Yet lately, we are bombarded with generalizations that say the poor are lazy, handle money poorly, and don’t deserve our respect. In fact, they are evil.

But musicians, artists, authors, even freelance writers are told to live frugally. Often we are told we should stop acting like children and get “real jobs.” Yet without writers, almost any business is dead in the water: you need artists, you need writers, you need musicians. Yet there is a strange aversion to paying for this type of work: when there is free music you can pick up on the internet (the equivalent of a dive bar) why would you purchase an album (i.e. hire an escort).

Art is Not Always a Choice

Here’s the thing. As a creative, making time for your art is not always a choice. Sometimes it is a need, and if you ignore it long enough, bad things happen in your life. A bored creative who is not creating is a monster.

It is good to understand this, even if you are not a creative yourself. If a creative person can get paid to do what they love, they should do so, even if it means sacrificing a huge income or grandiose career prospects.

As I stated above, as a musician, artist, or a writer, you must learn to live frugally. That has always been true. However, someone who gets paid for their craft, especially if they get paid well, is not a shameful thing. It doesn’t mean they have sold out. It simply means they have found a way to make what they are compelled to do into a job.

Art is an Honor

Have you ever read a book or an article that changed your thinking or your life almost instantly? Have you ever looked at a painting or read a poem that took your breath away? Someone created that art or wrote those words, and that person has bills to pay just like you do.

As a creator, it is an honor to inspire others with the things you do. As a writer, the goal is not only to make a living, but to touch others, and to be read and understood. When someone gets what you have to say, or even better is moved to action, the euphoria is amazing.

As one who has been inspired, it should be an honor to support the artist who inspires you, the writer who influences your thinking, or the poet who touches your heart.

Art Should not Equal Poverty

Despite what art does for us, we are often loathe to pay for it. We download books onto our Kindles or other e-readers for free. We listen to free music, complaining when we have to pay a premium to remove ads. We download art and photos through Google images, often without credit to the creator. We torrent movies, justifying to ourselves that they are just too expensive, and those Hollywood types make tons of money anyway.

We steal creative endeavors from the creator and then make snide comments about how no one can make a living as an author, an artist, or a musician. We laugh at them because they have to work a “day job” and pursue their hobbies in the wee hours of the morning or late at night.

It is not the profession that is the problem. It is our unwillingness to pay for things that are truly valuable, that add meaning to our lives.

Making a living doing what you love is hard. Not being able to pay your bills by doing it makes things even tougher. Your profession being treated like something that has no value is discouraging and depressing.

But loving what you do and making money should not be things that are exclusive. Being able to do both should be considered one of life’s highest achievements.

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Business 101 for Writers: An Introduction

Most writers write because they want their words to be read. Even if they say they don’t do it for the money, most if not all dream of making a living from their words. This means that eventually, those words have to be packaged in some kind of format that can be sold to someone, somewhere.

This is true whether you are writing books or freelance articles, blogs or your memoir.  Even if you already have a large audience, eventually you will run out of friends and family who will buy your work (in fact, they are the least likely to buy it) and you will need others to sell your work for you. You will need to adopt a no-nonsense approach to creating an online presence.

All that to say that writing is a business, and a business needs several elements to succeed. Jeff Bezos did not just sell his books out of his garage to friends and family. He built a worldwide empire. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs went through the same process I am about to outline for you in a series of blog posts, and they did not stop at any one of them. In fact, they repeated the process over and over again.

The business of writing and publishing has three unique steps. Each of these is made up of several parts as well. Most writers get stuck in one of these steps, often never even completing the first one. As a result, it is impossible for them to make a living writing.

In fact, every writer who has even sold one book has followed every one of these steps. Some have done it better than others, and successful writers who make a living from their words do all of these well.

courtesy pixabay
Photo courtesy Pixabay.

Production

This is the process of creating a book. It is not just writing, it involves rewriting, editing, proofreading, formatting, and packaging (i.e. a book cover). In the next number of weeks, we will examine all the aspects of production from the beginning. When you type “The End” of your manuscript, your journey has just begun.

Courtesy pixabay
You have to get your books to your readers

Distribution

Where and how will people find your book? You have to put it somewhere for it to sell. Amazon is just the beginning. What about your local bookstore, your library, or other websites? For people to read your work, it has to be available to them in a format they can consume: a book, a magazine, a website, blog post, or other form of communication you can sell.

Image courtesy Pixabay

Marketing

It is good to have your book available. However, you need to make people aware of where it is, or that it even exists, before you can sell any at all. This is called marketing, and depending on what kind of book or writing you are selling will depend on how you market it and make people aware that it exists.

Social media will certainly play a role in that. Along with your own website. But you must build a brand and brand awareness, just as any new brand or business would. Freelance writers use many creative means to market themselves. Many types of advertising are essential to this, but for writers, content marketing is an essential one.

It sounds so basic. Business 101 type stuff. To sell your writing, you must first produce a product, then make it available through distribution, and finally, you must advertise your work using the same marketing techniques any business would.

This series will be designed to get you unstuck and get you into the mindset that writing is a business, and if you are going to get paid, you need to act like any other businessman.

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GUEST POST: Becoming a Freelance Writing Consultant

Freelance Writing ConsultantIt is estimated that 34% of the U.S. workforce is made up of freelancers. Many freelancers have found ways to go from gig to full-time work, while others stay part-time while juggling other responsibilities. What typically differentiates a freelance writing consultant from early career freelancers is that these consultants typically already have experience in their field. The consultant will then use that knowledge for the benefit of their clients.

The current freelance economy is thriving, and is made up of 53 million U.S. workers. Becoming a freelance writing consultant is a great option for those seeking to supplement their existing income and expand their writing experiences. This can include doing typical freelance work, ie, “I assign you a project and you complete it,” but can also involve offering career advice and professional guidance.

The simplified process is as follows:

  • Market your best skills
  • Successfully complete projects
  • Build momentum through positive feedback
  • Consistently hone your skills

Say for example that you’re a editor by day for a book publisher and you’ve been doing this for several years. To someone who is just starting out writing and editing, your professional expertise can be valuable…and lucrative. Whatever skills you possess or unique talents you have on your side, you can advertise these in order to gain clients.

If you’re pursuing freelancing on the side of a full-time job, it can be difficult to maintain motivation unless you break any cycles of procrastination. Being a self-starter is a required trait to be successful as a freelance writing consultant. In addition to building up your reputation, succeeding as a freelancer will help you build the confidence you need to persist even when times are lean.

There are several ways to go about offering your services. You can use freelance marketplaces like Upwork, network through LinkedIn, build your own website, or do some combination of these three. Whichever method you use, the important thing is to present yourself professionally and demonstrate your skill set. This isn’t a passive process however. Networking is necessary if you want potential clients to discover you. As you successfully complete projects and help your clients achieve their goals, positive word-of-mouth will help you build momentum.

A challenging yet rewarding aspect of owning your own consultancy is the administrative upkeep necessary. Running your own business means you must take care of your own taxes, invoices, and the rest of the paper trail. Fortunately there are many helpful resources that will teach you how to do this and even offer sample templates that you can adapt for your own purposes. Before tax season rolls around you’ll want to have all your financials in order. Keep meticulous physical or digital records, and ideally back-up those files. Though if the worst happens and the digital dog eats your homework, you can often still recover that data from failed storage devices and hard-drives. Be thorough and document everything, or back-up your files on cloud-based programs like Google Docs or Spreadsheets.

Thriving as a freelance writing consultant is hard work, yet the freedom and experience you can gain is often worth it. You don’t need to be a world-renowned expert to share your abilities and make a difference in the lives of your clients. Put your best foot forward, always keep improving your skills, and you’ll be well on your way to establishing yourself as a professional writer. Like Hemingway said, “let them think you were born that way.”

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Why I Bother to Write Fiction at All

There are times when I realize fiction is really hard work. It is perhaps the most time consuming of things that I do in the writing and publishing world, and if you work out the pay by the word or the hour, there are plenty of other ways to make more money writing.

At the same time, I love it. I am a born storyteller. Every article I write, every blog I post is a story of some sort. Even marketing materials take the reader on a journey, if a short one. The reader has a problem, and the writer leads them on the journey to solve it, even if it is as mundane as someone with dirty clothes looking for the best laundry soap to get them clean.

But every now and then, a reader or reviewer reaches out, and when you hear or read that your words, the story you have told, touches someone, you pause and realize those words, those touched lives, are why you do what you do. It is worth all of the pain, the hours of writing and editing that go into producing a book.

It happened to me again recently, when I got a notification of a five-star review of my Kindle short, The Angel. The reviewer said simply this:

“I’ve suffered several tragedies in the last few years. I thought I had dealt with each loss in turn. Yet Lambert’s prose is so deceptively innocent that shines a light on any darkness lurking on the fringes of your consciousness. I found the message of The Angel stayed with me for days.”

Her words warmed my heart. They made me smile in all the right ways. There was more, too. You can read her full review here. https://findingmeinwords.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/the-angel/

I write stories so not only will they be read, but the world will be changed for the better because they have been told. I have not always been successful in achieving that goal. Sometimes a story is just a story.

But The Angel was different. It was special to me and still is. When I read Hans Christian Anderson’s poem “The Dying Child” I knew it had to be a part of this.

When we read, we do so for many reasons. We want to feel, we want to escape, we want to travel to other places. But sometimes if I can make you feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, if the light that shines from my stories can dispel the darkness in you at all, it is worth it.

That is why I write stories. That is why I bother to write fiction at all. Because words can change the world, even if only the world of one person, and only for a moment.

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Why Self-Editing is Not Enough

Double commas. Simple typos. A word that is not misspelled, per se, but is just in the wrong place.

Software grammar checkers like Grammarly are getting better all the time, but we as humans keep thinking of ways to trip them up. Microsoft Word is even getting better without the Grammarly plugin, but it still misses things from time to time. That is because it uses a machine learning program: it learns from us as we type, tell it to ignore certain issues or add words to our personal dictionaries.

Google docs have another delightful feature: the dictionary will even correct the spelling of celebrity or popular athlete names, just as if you had searched Google for them. Once again, machine learning and an enormous database mean spelling and grammar correction is getting better all the time.

But it still isn’t human. Sometimes sentences are too long, or the word order just does not make sense. You are not clearly getting your point across.  This is where a human editor comes in.

Think of your story, or your article, or whatever you have written as a fire. When you created it, you created a lot of smoke. An editor’s job, really, is to clear away all of the smoke. The problem is, since you created it, you often don’t see the smoke yourself.

Repetitive Words and Phrases

As writers, no matter what level your experience, we tend to repeat words in close proximity to one another. “That” is extremely common, and most of the time unnecessary. But we repeat other words, like the phrase “as well” or “in light of.” We often use “though” and “however” much too often and too close together, especially in non-fiction.

You can catch these when doing self-edits, but it takes a conscious effort. Often, if you read your work aloud or have it read to you by a program like Natural Reader, you will notice your mistakes before you submit your piece or publish that blog post.

Someone else reading your work will probably catch the error right away. They can then flag the word for you so you can substitute a synonym or somehow reword your sentence to eliminate it.

Word Blindness

Sometimes we use the wrong word in place of the one we actually want. But when we read over our own work, we see the word we meant to put there. This is called being word blind and is why editing and proofreading by another set of eyes is so critical.

The editor will see the wrong or odd word usage even when software does not catch it. These types of errors not only make you look unprofessional in some venues, but they often throw the reader out of your narrative, making them wonder what you meant.

Clarity

A software grammar checker can tell if your grammar is wrong (sometimes) or if your spelling is off (most of the time) but it does not know the point you are trying to get across.

Hopefully, your work makes enough sense and you have structured it in a way that your editor can tell what information or plot point you are trying to convey. If not, and editor can simply say “I don’t get it. What do you mean by this?”

So far, software editors, at least those available to the general public, are not able to do this effectively. As machine learning matures, they may get better, becoming very IBM Watson-like in their evaluation of your work.

Until then, and maybe even then, you need another set of human eyes on your work, one that will see your repetition, decipher your word blindness, and help you clarify your language.

Self-editing is not enough. You need an editor, someone to take an objective look at your work with a fresh perspective. It is one of the many ways to make your work the best it can be.

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