What’s keeping you from your writing? If you’re complaining you don’t have enough time to write, procrastinating when you do have time, or experiencing blocks when you face the blank page, you may be experiencing fear. When that happens to me, I’m tempted to do anything to avoid the feeling of fear. But avoiding fear only makes it worse. For me, the solution has been writing through the fear.
If you’re experiencing this, perhaps a coaching session could help? I have a few openings in my schedule for new clients. If you’re interested, contact me for a complimentary consultation.
Today’s tip comes from my colleague Bruce Elkin and will help you deal with the fear of both success and failure.
The Fear of Success by Bruce Elkin
For many of my clients, their biggest fear is failing, looking stupid, and being laughed at. But, working with a coach, they sometimes discover an even greater fear—the fear of success—succeeding and being seen to be different. They imagine others might accuse them of excessive pride, or arrogance.
“Who are you to write a book on simplicity?” one commenter wrote to me, “or success?”
“What do you know about thriving?” quipped another.
The Tall Poppy Problem
In Australia, they call this, “the tall poppy syndrome.”
Don’t stand up, or stand out. You’ll get cut down.
Hardwired to feel part of a tribe, we fear losing our sense of inclusion—and being cut down—if we excel.
But true friends rejoice in our success. We belong to more than one tribe.
What other people think isn’t really our business. It’s their’s.
Our business is to do what matters to us, shed unhelpful criticism like water off our backs, and make changes based on helpful comments.
Could Our Deepest Fear Be Our Own Power?
Marianne Williamson refers to the fear of success when she says:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?”
Have you asked yourself that question?
I did. It scared the crap out of me—until I read the rest of the quote.
“Who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Life Is About Failing, Learning, and Succeeding
Stretching for what matters most—creating what you truly want—is not hubris. It’s a way of being alive—choosing, trying, learning, and succeeding.
Our ability to choose and create results that matter makes us truly human.
I often work with clients who, at first, limit themselves to small, flat-sounding visions of results that don’t truly inspire them. Why?
They are afraid of sounding egotistical.
They don’t want to look like they are trying to be better than others.
They’re afraid they would be setting themselves up for failure.
But we all fail. It’s a natural part of learning.
Failure Is Merely Feedback
Kimon Nicolaides, author of The Natural Way To Draw, told his students that, “the sooner you make your first 5,000 mistakes, the sooner you’ll learn to draw.
In my creating approach, clients learn to view failure as feedback—vital information they need so they can learn from mistakes and successes, and, then, adjust their actions.
My mentor, Robert Fritz, urges us to “create and adjust, create and adjust….”
Start Small. Build Competence and Confidence
My clients start by creating small, concrete creations.
Doing so leads to quick successes that build the skills and structure they need to create larger results, and bigger successes.
As they build fluency in the creating framework, their deeper desires and higher aspirations often surface.
Then, equipped with the competence and confidence to create, they stretch for those results. Their energy soars. Often, their actions and results surprise even them.
How about you?
Are you shrinking from success, from creating results that truly matter?
Sometimes, all you need to create those results is a few new creating skills, and a tried-and-true organizational structure to guide your actions—backed up by support and consistent practice.
Then you can stretch for your mostly highly desired results—in life, work, relationships … almost anything!
About the author: Bruce Elkin: Organize Your Life To Support Your Passion
Author of Simplicity and Success: Creating the Life You Long For, and the ebooks Thrive! and The ABCs of Emotional Mastery, Bruce’s gently-structured, results-creating approach helps clients clarify what matters, ground it in reality, and focus on action to turn vision into reality — personally and professionally. Visit him online at http://www.bruceelkin.com and http://createwhatmattersmost.blogspot.ca
There’s still time to sign up for the Inspired Life Summit. My talk will be live tomorrow. If you want to hear me—along with 13 extraordinary experts—please sign up here: Inspired Life Summit.
For today’s tip, I’m thrilled to welcome my colleague Kathryn Haueisen, who has written a helpful post on her path to becoming an author and how networking has helped her soar!
Writers@Work: Kathryn Haueisen on Becoming an Author
Since the longest journey starts with a single step, I was thinking about some of my first writing steps. One was certainly an English teacher who consistently gave me A’s and “Good work!” messages on my essays. Another took place when the faculty advisor to my high school paper gave me an assistant editor position and encouraged me to join the Quill and Scroll Club. I still have the pin from that group.
After years of writing non-fiction articles, newsletter, devotions, curriculum and books, I decided to write my first work of fiction. I quickly realized I was traveling in unfamiliar territory and needed some tour guides. I tentatively asked a couple of friends to please read through the novel manuscript. Then I got braver and asked people who weren’t on my Christmas card list to look at it.
I submitted small sections at a time to a critique group. The insights of the more experienced writers were exactly the feedback I needed. When it was time to release this baby into the big, scary world of publishing. I talked to a couple of agents at conference pitch sessions. Though they said encouraging things, no one wanted to represent the book.
After a year or so I had decided I either had to do whatever it would take to publish Asunder or stuff it in a filing cabinet and forget about it. I went to workshops to learn about self-publishing or independent publishing. Again, I felt like I had just landed in a foreign country where people were speaking a language I do not know.
I asked a few of my pastor colleagues how they got their books published. One introduced me to his copy editor who fine-tuned my manuscript. Another offered to publish the book through the new small publishing business he started to publish his own books plus those of a parishioner. That led to another round of introductions to people who actually produce books.
Then it was time to figure out how to market the book. Again, through a writer’s conference introduction, I met Sandy Lawrence, a public relations professional. She loves helping authors market their work. She and I hit it off instantly. She has become a good companion on my writing journey. She orchestrated the book launch and has provided a wealth of helpful tips and connections.
This blog would not be complete without a tribute to Rochelle Melander. I do not recall how we were first introduced, no doubt by a mutual writing colleague. Regardless of how we first got acquainted, her e-newsletters, books, coaching, and critique groups have all been significant stops along my writing path.
It takes a village to publish a book. The more I travel into the publishing world the more I appreciate the coaches, editors, graphic design professionals, printing press companies, social media experts, website designers, book store owners, and marketing professionals I meet. Each one brings a unique set of gifts, insights and connections to the writer-reader relationship. The further I travel down this road of writing, publishing, and promoting, the more I appreciate how many people it takes to help us communicate our thoughts and experiences with readers.
Writing can be lonely. To really produce anything worth reading, writers must spend large quantities of time engaged in the twin solitary pastimes of reading and writing. In order to then connect with readers, writers must leave their cozy reading/writing rooms. Writers need to get out – out to meetings and conferences. Writers need to go on-line to engage with writing and reading groups and exchange social media posts.
Networking is the roadway to both writing and connecting with readers. Many of my ideas for the next blog, article or chapter come to me when I’m engaging with people who don’t seem to have anything to do with my writing world. For example, I recently stopped by the campus where one of my granddaughters goes to college. She works part time there in the theatre department. That night she was scheduled to work at the showing of a film about a man who runs a Shakespeare Behind Bars ministry.
She gave me a ticket to watch the film. I was amazed at what I saw. I got to meet the producer of the film and founder of the program after the showing. Eventually that chance encounter led to a blog about his work. It fit in beautifully with my website overarching theme. I like to write about people, places, and programs that contribute something useful to society.
A similar thing happened while I was visiting the Cleveland Museum of Natural Science with my daughter and her three young adult children. While there we saw the stuffed version of Balto in a display case. Balto was a Siberian Husky that became a national hero for his part in getting life-saving serum to children in Nome, Alaska in 1925. A Cleveland businessman eventually brought the dog to Cleveland, Ohio where he lived out the remainder of his years. That serendipitous discovery turned into another blog.
I cannot emphasize enough how important getting out and about in person and connecting on-line has been to finding things to write about and then finding a home and an audience for what I have written.
Thank you, Rochelle Melander for this opportunity to network with you and those who follow you.
About the Author
Kathryn Haueisen is a retired pastor and long-time author. She writes from Houston where she lives with her husband and rescue miniature poodle, Brandi. She enjoys writing along with leading workshops, teaching, speaking to groups, and helping people and non-profits tell their stories. Asunder, a novel approach to recovering from a late-in-life divorce, is her first fiction book. She is currently working on a historic fiction account of events that preceded and followed the landing of the Mayflower in 1620. Find her online at: http://howwisethen.com//
Writers@Work: An Interview with Debut Author Keziah Frost
When I need inspiration to keep writing, I often turn to books and the writers who created them. Reading about how they made their dreams come true gives me hope, courage, and concrete tips! Today, we get an opportunity to learn from Keziah Frost, who is celebrating the release of her first novel today: The Reluctant Fortune-Teller.
Tell us about you: how did you come to write a book?
I have wanted to write novels ever since I was in grade school! My life has taken a winding path toward that goal—much like the path of my protagonist, Norbert, who becomes a fortune-teller at age 73 after retiring from his career as an accountant. All of us have many callings within us, and many opportunities to keep finding out who we are.
Tell us a bit about the book—what spurred you to write this story?
My mother was into astrology, card reading, palmistry, and you-name-it. I grew up learning all of these things. As an adult, I moved away from it. But like most people, while I might say I don’t really believe in such things, I still actually do, in a way. I think it’s very natural for people to seek answers from mystical sources. Life is, in reality, very uncertain, and it is calming to think that maybe “it’s all in the cards.” So I am familiar with fortune-telling and open to the idea of it—to some extent. Then, my daughter said, “What if you wrote a story about a fortune-teller who didn’t believe in the fortunes, and yet the fortunes kept coming true?” That was the seed, right there. After that, it was almost as if the story wrote itself!
Do you have another book in the works?
Always, yes! As I keep writing, I keep discovering who I am as an author. And although I love several genres of fiction, what my writer-self wants to write is joyful, life-affirming novels that explore some deep life issues, while giving the Reader a chance to smile and maybe even laugh. These days, I think we all need a laugh, more than ever before.
You juggle writing and your work as a psychotherapist: how do you stay productive?
Excellent question! It all comes down to one prosaic word: organization. It’s all very well to think of inspiration and talent, but organization doesn’t get the credit it deserves for just getting the job done. There is a saying I heard once in a fitness class: “Decide what you want. Do what it takes.” That saying is perhaps more reflective of resolve than organization, but I think they go hand in hand. Make a reasonable schedule. Make every effort to not deviate from it. Make a plan: word count per day, for example. Decide where in your day that writing time is going to be, and honor it. So, to answer your question, just as I show up for my clients, I show up for my writer-self, with the same preparation and respect.
What are you reading now?
Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye. This is for admirers of Jane Eyre, especially, as it is sort of Jane Eyre meets Dexter. The Victorian governess becomes a serial killer, and justifiably so. It’s very funny, and I love witty books. It’s also very well-researched and historically accurate. I’m really enjoying it as an audiobook.
About the author: Keziah Frost holds master’s degrees in English and counseling and is a psychotherapist. She shares her life with five little dogs, one audacious cat, and her encouraging human family. This is her first novel. The Reluctant Fortune-Teller launches on March 6, 2018. Visit her online at: Website: www.keziahfrost.com. She is on Instagram as Keziah Frost, Facebook, and Twitter: @keziahfrost
I’m thrilled to be a speaker in the Inspired Life Summithosted by Krysti Turznik, Mindset and Spiritual Coach. It takes place on March 5-March 21. You’ll be able to hear 13 extraordinary experts and influencers share their best insider secrets for creating an inspired life that speaks to your soul with meaning and value!
You can access everything from your computer or phone—and if you register in advance, you can receive a link to the recordings. And here’s a fun bonus: all of the speakers are offering complimentary gifts to participants. Reserve your spot for the Inspired Life Summithere.
For today’s tip, I’m delighted to welcome some of my favorite librarian and book reviewers to talk about their favorite books!
#WritersRead: Winter Reads to Warm Your Heart
Last month, I wrote about How to Become a Reading Writer.
In that post, I wrote about what to read to learn how to plot, develop rich characters, and explore new ideas. I even recommended a few of my favorite books. But I didn’t address a common problem many of us have: how do you find good books?
Read book reviews. They’re everywhere—on bookish blogs (like Book Riot), bookstore sites, newspapers, magazines, journals, and even on the shelves of physical bookstores.
Browse. On Fridays, after most of my work is done, I head to the library or the bookstore and browse. I grab anything that appeals to me and read the book jacket and the first few pages.
Ask for book recommendations. Talk to your friends, family members, fellow writers, book group colleagues, librarians, and booksellers.
For today’s post, I asked some of my favorite book reviewers and librarians to recommend one of their favorite reads. Enjoy their recommendations, hunt down the books that excite you, and recommend your own favorites in the comments!
Mike Fischer, Book Reviewer, recommends:
Autumn by Ali Smith. I’m on record in a past review stating that wildly inventive British novelist Ali Smith should win a Nobel someday; Smith’s Autumn, the best new novel I read last year, is illustrative of the reasons why.
Opening a planned quartet of novels tracking the seasons – Winter, the second and also excellent, has now also been published – Autumn is the first serious post-Brexit novel. It explores a world grown mean and hard, but it’s nevertheless ultimately a story of hope, involving the improbable but wonderful platonic relationship between a 101-year-old man (Daniel) and a 32-year old woman (Elisabeth), friends since Elisabeth was eight.
What this odd couple shares is a gift for telling stories and celebrating the imagination; we see both revealed through leisurely, time-shifting snapshots featuring their friendship, from their first encounter as neighbors to time spent at Daniel’s bedside in an assisted care facility. Their conversations – involving art, literature and history – will remind you of that best of times when we used to have such conversations, reflecting all we can be even in these worst of times (yes, A Tale of Two Cities makes a cameo in Autumn). Smith – joyful, playful, passionately engaged and smart – regularly reminds me of why I fell in love with reading. I – you, we – have never needed her more.
My Favorite Thing is Monsters: Volume 1by Emil Ferris. Fashioned as the sketchbook diary of young girl growing up in the 1960s who is obsessed with pulp horror magazines and creature movies, My Favorite Thing is Monsters is an investigation of monsters imaginary and real. Karen, drawing herself as a wolfman-type character, uses her diary as a casebook for the mysterious and shocking death of her upstairs neighbor Anka. On top of Karen’s amateur investigation the diary is a glimpse into Karen’s difficult and private struggles with bullies, her mother’s terminal cancer, her beloved brother’s secrets, and her struggles with identity.
The meticulous and exquisite pages drawn entirely with colored BIC pens and the non-linear plot structure make My Favorite Thing is Monsters the most captivating book I read all year.
If you’d like an even more compelling reason to tackle the hefty tome, know that author/illustrator Emil Ferris overcame partial paralysis and re-trained her drawing hand after a life-threatening fight with the West Nile Virus before she began the many year journey of creating this outstanding work.
Jim Higgins, Author and Book Reviewer, recommends:
The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story by Edwidge Danticat is a like a writer’s craft talk, only the craft is living itself. The Haitian-American novelist moves back and forth between her life and literary texts, using one to understand the other and vice versa. “Wanting to Die,” her chapter on suicide, travels from Camus’ famous words in The Myth of Sisyphus through Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, to scenes Danticat wrote for her own books Breath, Eyes, Memory and Krik? Krak!, to grappling with the suicides of real-life friends, through Langston Hughes’ haiku-like poem “Suicide’s Note,” to a memoir of the late Anne Sexton by her daughter.
Her mother’s life and death ground her book. Anticipating her mother’s death, Danticat started reading C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, about his own grief after his wife died. She found herself crying uncontrollably “over the deaths of people I barely knew … I realized that I was rehearsing, so it wouldn’t hurt so much when it was my turn.” The final prayer she wrote in her mother’s voice may bring both tears and laughter to anyone who has lost a mother.
Erica Ruth Neubauer, Book Reviewer, recommends:
The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka. This is one of the best debut novels I’ve read recently, and it hits a sweet spot for me with a kick-ass female protagonist who is a private investigator. PI Roxane Weary is barely keeping it together. Since her father’s death, her drinking has spiraled a bit out of control, and she would love nothing better than to hide in her bed and let it continue. Her relationship with her father, an alcoholic cop killed on the job, was rocky at best, and now haunts her. Roxanne is sleeping with her father’s former partner Tom, while also pining after her last girlfriend. Her life is….messy, to say the least. But her brother sends her a new client with a grim story. The client’s brother is about to be executed for murdering his girlfriend’s parents 15 years ago, and the girlfriend was never seen again.
The local cops are doing everything in their power to keep Roxane out, which only tweaks her curiosity. And she knows her instincts are right when another teenage girl goes missing. It’s a fascinating case that leads to a lot of unexpected places, for Roxane as well as her client. Lepionka brings a fresh perspective to the PI novel, with complicated but empathetic characters and the messy, complicated relationships that make us human. And the good news is that the second novel in the series–What You Want To See–will hit stores this May. I can already tell you that Lepionka has the goods and delivers.
Fifteen-year-old Julia is grieving the sudden death of her older sister Olga, who was the dutiful elder daughter of Mexican-American immigrants. Julia, on the other hand, is the not-so-perfect child, the rebel, the perpetual disappointment. After graduation, she plans to leave home to attend college—a plan that feels like a betrayal to her family. Weighed down by a deepening depression and familial pressure, Julia struggles to carve out a life for herself that includes falling in love for the first time and exploring her dreams of becoming a writer.
This YA novel reads at once like a mystery, as Julia begins to unravel the truth behind her sister’s death, and a coming-of-age tale. It also absolutely drips authenticity, with its brutal depictions of the slow, all-encompassing creep of depression; the painful rigidity of gender roles; and the mix of guilt and frustration some children of immigrants feel when they cannot meet their parents’ differing cultural expectations.
Funny and poignant in equal measure, IANYPMD features a bristly yet sympathetic young female voice I haven’t really encountered in other teen lit. And while Julia isn’t always easy to like, I never once stopped rooting for her.
About the Authors
Mike Fischer is the theater critic as well as a regular book reviewer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for which he has written since 2003 and for which he sees more than 200 shows each year, covering theater throughout Wisconsin and northern Illinois. His book reviews are published there as well as in newspapers throughout the United States and Canada.
Beth Gabriel. Avowed bibliophile since reading Emily’s Runaway Imagination in the 1st grade and now a voracious reader of all genres. Currently masquerading as an Adult Services Reference Assistant at a large branch of an urban public library system. Job perks include tending the book collection, planning programs, providing reader’s advisory, and running a Book to Art Club. All of this answers the question, “What do you do with a Master of the Arts in History?” Find me on Goodreads! Follow me on Twitter! @bethygabriel
Jim Higgins is the author of Wisconsin Literary Luminaries: From Laura Ingalls Wilder to Ayad Akhtar. He writes and edits stories about books, performing arts and other subjects for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Website: jimhigginswi.com. Twitter: @jhiggy
Erica Ruth Neubauer is a reviewer for Publisher’s Weekly, Mystery Scene Magazine, Crimespree Magazine, and others. She spent 11 years in the military, 2 years as a cop, one year as a high school English teacher, but now spends her days happily buried under books.
Emily Stueven is originally from Montana. She has been a sandwich maker, a motel housekeeper, and a laundress. Now she is a Youth Services Librarian in Milwaukee. She reads picture books, graphic novels, and memoirs for fun . . . and young adult novels for work; however, occasionally she reads a YA book so beautiful she must tell everyone about it. She has two spoiled cats and can often be spotted wearing a pair of cat shoes.
When life dishes out dark, dreary days or difficult writing assignments, we need to find ways to cope. Author Ann Angel has interviewed writers and artists and created a beautiful post to help all of us care for ourselves and keep making art.
Let’s Send Love Letters to the WorldSelf-care tips for Writers, Artists and Other Sensitive FolksBy Ann Angel
January arrived darkly cold, followed by a snowy and gray February for members of my novel writing class. One of my students commented that, if you pay attention to the world, to the reality that our environment is in danger of destruction, humanity could be racing toward extinction, and people just can’t get along if their values or views differ, creative energy is simply sucked right out of us. Clearly my students were downhearted and looking for a way to bring the early light of spring into their creative lives. I’m aware they weren’t the only ones.
Let’s face it, creative and sensitive people can fall into true depression and find ourselves focusing only on the sad and hopeless. So I asked friends, “When you’re feeling hopeless, scared, or blocked, what do you do to find creative inspiration and hope?”
They responded with some great ideas. Simple daily rituals help many shift their focus back to creative pursuits:
+Get out in nature as much as possible.
+Eat a cookie.
+Put on some music.
+Write it out.
Others provided specific examples for fighting that hopeless feeling. Writer and visual artist Marsha Rosenzweig Pincus, wrote, “I make things, beautiful things with my hands that I give to people I love.”
Writer Michelle Shelby Mahan wrote, “I felt continually blocked as a writer throughout the 25 years I gave to the craft. Then someone put a paintbrush in my hand. I accepted the familiar yet foreign object and began to paint. This change of expressing myself allowed me to see my life as moving, not just forward but in its totality…. Letting go is not easy but possible by accepting ourselves and our work, by accepting circumstances that bring light to us, often unexpectedly!”
A similar experience with changing up her creative tools and experience helped Wisconsin writer Georgia Beaverson. “Last year, I began to sketch again. Sometimes a different creative activity removes writing roadblocks. But I think it’s equally true that a block can be helpful because it’s the work’s way of telling you something needs changing.”
Taking care of energy through emotional healing works for some. Sheri Sinykin said, “Tapping, or EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) has helped my anxiety, hopelessness, and the need to feel centered” (www.thetappingsolution.com). “My creativity lately manifests in painting, not writing. Just completed a watercolor to honor my sister’s life, which is fading fast.”
Focusing on the soul helps quite a few creatives. Katie McGrath said she turns to God. Heather Lee Schroeder takes a break from the news, and “I do some sitting meditation with my mala beads. I do as many cycles with the beads and as much deep breathing as it takes to come down off the cliff. And then I spend some time with family, not thinking about anything related to creativity. That usually will unblock the channels.”
It’s possible Harold Underdown, creator of The Purple Crayon and Kids’ Book Revisions websites and children’s book editor at Charlesbridge Publishing, is aware of the emotional lift Facebook friends experience when following his frequent chained tire updates. He spreads humor through his series of photographs about the daily experiences and burgeoning friendships of a wheel chained to a sidewalk signpost. Surely this lightens our view of the world. Take a look:
Poet Cristina Raskopf Norcross spends the dark days of January and February setting the world on fire with Random Acts of Poetry and Art Day, scheduled for February 20th this year.
Her amazing idea has spiraled and grown in a variety of ways with artists and writers creating pop up art and poetry events that touch the saddest spirit with joy.
Last year, at her urging to celebrate the day, poets at Mount Mary University decorated a wire sculpture poetree with ribbons and placards of poetry that colored a corner of the world with the abundance of a spring day.
This year the plan is to create a flash mob of sorts with poetry starters posted on chalk and white board in classrooms and an invitation to each individual to illustrate or complete the poems. It doesn’t matter if the outreach is individual or to a group, brainstorming ideas for this day can lead to all kinds of creative light and energy.
The more we look for creative spirit, the more we’ll find new ways of turning on the light and spreading creative joy. For instance, a recent Milwaukee Magazine story of Milwaukee filmmaker Cristina Costantini, winner of The Sundance Festival Favorite Award for her documentary Science Fair, provided a heartwarming story of teens competing in science fairs. A producer and journalist with Fusion Cable, Costantini has been nominated for many awards including two Emmy nods for documentaries on human trafficking (Pimp: A Journey To the Center of the Sex Trade), and Fentenyl overdoses (Truth: Death By Fentanyl). Her mother Cathy, was quoted in the article explaining her daughter’s motivation. “[S]he needed a break from all the terrible sadness of those documentaries. She was a science fair kid in high school and always wanted to write a love letter to that world that changed her.”
Perhaps that’s the best suggestion for climbing out of these dark days and finding some creative hope—let’s write love letters to the world.
About the Author. Ann Angel loves the world of young adults and writes both fiction and nonfiction for this group. She is the author of the 2011 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award winner Janis Joplin, Rise Up Singing among many other biographies. Her most recent biography, for younger audiences, is Adopted Like Me, My Book of Adopted Heroes (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2013). Previously, she served as contributing editor for the anthology Such a Pretty Face, Short Stories About Beauty. A graduate of Vermont College’s MFA in writing for children and young adults, Ann teaches teaches creative writing and literature at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee where she lives with her family. She was drawn to her most recent anthology Things I’ll Never Say because she believes that the secret self is often the true self. You can contact Ann through her web site: www.annangelwriter.com.
Are you ready to get serious about your writing? A critique group can help you. When you join a critique group, you commit to writing regularly and meeting deadlines. Your group members give you constructive feedback to help you improve your writing. And you sharpen your own skills as a writer by reading your colleagues’ writing.
If you think you might be ready to sign up for the Write Now! Coach critique group, do it now. I have room for just 3 more participants, and we start next Tuesday. If you’re interested, sign up soon.
Today’s tip will help you review and revise your own writing.
Manuscript Makeover: A Checklist for Nonfiction Content
By Rochelle Melander
Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear. —Patricia Fuller
We always know when our dog needs to be groomed because she looks like she’s put on a bit of weight. It’s all hair, though—messy, frizzy, and somewhat dirty Bichon hair.
The dog salon works a miracle on our girl—and she comes out looking skinnier, cleaner, and quite spiffy. (Notice the fancy neck scarf!)
That’s kind of what I do as an editor. I take a messy manuscript and make it magnificent—or at least better than it was.
No one wants to turn in a mediocre manuscript. But when we’re facing multiple deadlines and juggling other responsibilities, we need to figure out how to quickly revise our rough draft so that we can turn in a stellar final draft. But how?
Over the years, I’ve developed checklists to help me revise. I’ve also created lists to help me makeover my own manuscripts. Today, I’m sharing my checklist for a nonfiction article or blog post with you.
Does the content accomplish what I promised or what the editor assigned?
+Review the content with the query letter in mind: did you present the points you promised to explore?
+Review the content from the point of view of the editor: does the article accomplish the goals outlined in the assignment?
+Review the assignment from the point of view of the potential reader: will they appreciate the article? Will the story give them new information or a new perspective on the topic?
+Does the lead hook the reader with juicy language and one of the following: a great idea, good information, or a compelling story?
+Do I support my claims with adequate information from interviews with experts, anecdotal evidence, or research.
+Have I sufficiently explained difficult or challenging ideas?
+Have I left out any key information or points?
+Have I included any information that doesn’t fit?
+Does any of my content raise issues I do not want the article to address? (E.g., political or social issues)
+Have I adequately identified terms and people who appear in the article?
+Do I repeat myself unnecessarily?
+Does the article end in a way that’s appropriate to the medium?
+Does the conclusion adequately wrap up the piece?
+Does the conclusion offer the reader something helpful to take with them. This will differ depending on the topic and medium but it might include an idea, a challenge, or a new way of thinking about a topic.
+Does the conclusion answer the question, “Why does this [topic] matter?”
+Do the headers help the reader follow the information presented in the article?
+Is the content organized in a way that works for the medium? (E.g., in an online article, most editors want the juiciest information at the top of the article because readers don’t always read through. In a print publication, the requirements may be just the opposite.)
Does the piece meet the technical requirements of the assignment?
+Is it the right length (word count)?
+Have I provided all of the pieces the editor asked for? In addition to the article, that may include a sidebar, research links, headers, quizzes, author bio, photos or any other additional information required by the assignment.
+Is it in the format the editor asked for? (RTF, MSWord, etc.)
+Have I used any jargon? Is that acceptable for this publication, or do I need to change it?
+Did I write enough of the article in active voice to keep the information interesting and lively?
+Is my sentence length appropriate for the piece and the publication?
+If I’m using headers, are they parallel construction?
+Is the point of view consistent?
+Do my pronouns refer to clearly identified subjects?
The Nitty Gritty
+Have I proofread the article for grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors?
+Am I consistent in tone and voice?
+Have I checked the article for the mistakes frequently make? (Pro Tip: Create a list of your personal writing hiccups. It’s a great tool to use when checking your own writing.)
What else would you add to my checklist? Leave your comment below.
Happy February! The groundhog predicted six more weeks of winter (say it ain’t so!) but the days are getting longer. And with a new month comes new possibilities. If you forgot about your resolutions in January, don’t worry. A new month—even a new day—offers you the opportunity to begin again! If starting a blog, launching your freelance writing career or writing a book is on your bucket list, I can help you achieve your goal. Let’s talk! Set up a complimentary consultation or send me an email: email@example.com
I’ve been thankful this month for my amazing critique group. If you’ve been frustrated by a difficult critique group experience or are longing to belong to a group that works, today’s tip will help. I’ve created a how-to guide for creating a healthy critique group.
How to Create a Critique Group That Works
by Rochelle Melander
I hear many horror stories about critique groups. Writers attend a group hoping for helpful feedback and receive harsh criticism, misinformation, or personal attacks. After one or more challenging experiences like that, many writers avoid critique groups, feel anxious about getting critiqued, or give up on writing.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve been a member of several successful critique groups that have helped me improve my writing skills. Since June, I’ve been running a positive, helpful critique group that members look forward to attending. Here are my tips for making your critique group work.
How to choose participants
Thriving critique groups start with the right group of people.
+Choose participants who are writing in the same or similar genres so that group members can offer informed feedback. It’s tough to comment on a genre we know nothing about.
+Look for members who have a similar level of experience as writers.
+It can be helpful to have a mentor or group leader who has more expertise and can keep the group on track and correct misinformation.
How to set guidelines
Once you have your group in place, it is helpful to have some guidelines to follow. They might include:
+What will meeting look like? My picture book critique group does not meet in person. Instead, we critique via email. My Write Now! Coach group meets on a telephone conference call. When, where, and how often will you meet?
+Consider how often members will submit and how many pages or words each submission can have. Some groups invite members to take turns submitting. Other groups have members submit a limited number of pages for each meeting. How often will members submit? How many pages each time?
+If you meet and critique multiple manuscripts, either in person or online, how much time will each person get at the meeting?
How to submit
After attending many critique groups and working as an editor, I’ve found that we can help our critique groups by offering the following information when we submit.
+Manuscript Purpose: What do you hope to accomplish with this piece of writing. For my book Write-A-Thon, I might say, “I hope to educate and inspire readers.” For a scene from a novel or memoir, it might be, “I hope this scene will show the conflict between these two characters.”
+Who is your audience: Define your audience or market as specifically as possible.
+What questions do you have: Let us know your questions about the piece and what kind of feedback would be most helpful to you. This will help your readers focus their critique. What elements do you wonder about? What do you want us to read for?
How to critique
It’s tough to know how to critique. Some of us tend to read for meaning while others are concerned about word choice or grammar. We certainly bring our own ideas as well as biases to our critiquing. Here are some suggestions on how to critique that I developed for my group:
Review any information that the author gave you.
Read the piece through once. Note first impressions, questions, and concerns on a separate document or piece of paper—not on the writer’s manuscript. Jot down your first responses to the writer’s questions.
Take a break.
Read the piece a second time. Make notes in the manuscript.
What would you like to hear more about?
What would you like to hear less about?
What was expressed well?
What was confusing?
What are your thoughts on the author’s central questions?
Finally, review your notes from the first read and throughout the manuscript. Write a note to the writer, answering their questions and addressing the questions above that pertain to this piece of writing. As you offer feedback, remember:
Be aware of your own preferences and biases.
When you give feedback, try to be specific. Instead of, “This is a fun story,” offer concrete information: “When you talk about your cooking disasters, I laughed. The way you heighten tension with each disaster being bigger than the previous one works really well.”
Provide a reason for suggested changes.
Always start and end with a positive comment.
Provide your feedback in a constructive, positive manner. Before you send or present your critique, ask: “Is this helpful? Is this kind?”
How to receive criticism
+It’s natural to get defensive, overwhelmed, or frustrated. Take a deep breath and remember that the feedback is about this draft and not about you, your talent, or your potential as a writer. Resist the urge to defend yourself or your manuscript.
+Ask clarifying questions. Instead of, “Well, I used second person because I was trying to talk directly to the reader. Famous writer X does that really well.” Maybe try, “Can you say more about how the second person point of view didn’t work?”
+Listen or read the critiques. Take a break before you make changes.
+When you get back to your manuscript, consider the feedback and how you might apply it to your draft. Create a new document and try out whatever parts of the critique make sense to you. Dismiss what does not work.
How to find a critique group
I’ve been in several critique groups over the years. I’ve found them through chance, writing friends, writing coaches, and membership organizations. Here are the best ways to find a critique group:
+Writing membership organization. My current critique group is through the Society of Children’s Writers and Book Illustrators (SCBWI). If you belong to a membership organization, check their website will to see if they offer critique groups.
+Colleagues. Do you hang out with other writers? If you have friends, colleagues, or writing partners who are at about the same level of experience, you might start your own group.
+Writing classes. Many writing classes include an element of critique. Whether offered through a local college extension program, a writing studio, or online, these groups are often moderated by an experienced teacher.
If you write nonfiction or memoir and are looking for a group, the Write Now! Coach Critique Group starts February 20 with an orientation meeting. I’ve created this group to offer a safe space for writers to share their work, stay accountable, and increase their confidence. The group is limited to six members, and a few spots are already taken—so sign up soon. If you need more information, visit the Write Now! Coach Critique Group page, set up a consultation or send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you had a bad experience with a critique group? I certainly have. That’s why I created the Write Now! Coach critique group. I wanted to offer a safe space for writers to receive helpful feedback, stay on track, and get support to move forward with their writing.
The first Write Now! Coach critique group launched last June, and is still going strong. Because they’ve been so successful, I’m starting a new group in February. If you’re curious about how the group works, read more here. Or connect with me for a complimentary consultation.
Today’s tip talks about why writers read and offers a few books to get you started!
How to Become a Reading Writer
by Rochelle Melander
”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” —Stephen King
Writers read. Here’s why:
+To understand the market. What are readers reading? Get connected to what readers love and crave so that you can provide something readers will adore.
+To pitch intelligently. Most agents want current comp titles. You can’t provide them unless you know the recent releases in your genre.
+To discover ideas. Writers find inspiration everywhere, and books can be a great source of new ideas.
+To research. No matter what you write, research will help you present accurate information, a realistic setting or a plausible plot.
+To learn how to write. When writers read, we learn about character creation, plotting, point of view, and more.
#WritersRead: But what should you read?
Most books and articles have something to teach us about writing.
Read the books you wish you’d written. If you desire to write a specific kind of book—children’s fiction, young adult, romance, business—then read everything you can get your hands on in the genre. Read the bestsellers, the best reviewed, and the best loved. Talk to your potential audience and ask them what they like to read—and read that.
Read mysteries to learn how to plot. That was Madeleine L’Engle’s advice—and it turned me into an avid mystery fan. It also helped me learn narrative structure.
Read children’s picture books, poetry, and literary fiction to learn about word choice and word play.
Read romance novels to see how to develop relationships in fiction.
Read business books, how-to, self help, and other nonfiction books to learn how to make an argument, engage a reader, present research, market your own books and, as a bonus, learn fun stuff to put in your novels!
Read a book or magazine article that you think you won’t understand. That will stretch your brain—and improve your writing.
Get in a critique group and read the work of your peers. It will teach you how to read with an editor’s eye—and you will get better at using that same skill with your own work.
Read anything that you experience as delicious or fun or engaging.
Are you a procrastinator or a pre-crastinator? Procrastinators put off doing the big things, sometimes until the last minute. Pre-crastinators get stuff done quickly—although not always the right stuff—way ahead of deadlines.
How Pre-Crastination Kills Creativity
I’m a precrastinator. I get stuff done…early. If I have a speaking gig in a few months, my talk is done weeks in advance. If I have an article deadline, I line up the interviews as soon as the assignment lands in my inbox. But pre-crastinating is not always a good thing. In fact, I think it can kill creativity.
Scientists believe that people pre-crastinate because we want to shuck off the weight of worrying about the unfinished task and enjoy the feeling of being done. Plus, we get a little boost from the feeling that we finished something. (You might be one of the people who write tasks on their to-do list just to cross them off: Get up. Yawn. Stretch. Eat.)
But by getting stuff done early and quickly, we sometimes speed by the necessary steps of learning by “trial and error.” We stifle our creativity—choosing the first solution but not necessarily the best or most innovative. As David Rosenbaum and Edward Wasserman wrote in Scientific American:
“Trial-and-error learning is the most reliable way we discover what does and doesn’t succeed in everyday life. Such learning can even prompt practical behavioral innovations. Given these benefits, it may be better to gain experience from several trials than only a few.”
Practices that Boost Creativity
But pre-crastinators and procrastinators alike can increase their creativity by trying some intentional practices.
Schedule deadline-free playtime.
While deadlines can release a rush of adrenaline-fueled creativity, when you’re up against the clock you don’t have the time to play around with different ways to tell the story or give the talk or anything else. You need to be done—today. Creativity takes more than innovation. It takes time.
Try this. If you have a project you really care about, schedule time now to experiment with ideas and words. It helps if you can do this regularly—at least once a week. And here’s a tip: we tend to be more open to innovative thinking when we are tired.
Go forth and explore!
Commit to learning new ideas, trying unique foods, taking adventures, and traveling to interesting places.
According to an article by Brent Crane in The Atlantic, “Neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit, meaning they’re also sensitive to change: New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and may have the potential to revitalize the mind.”
New experiences stimulate our brain and help us connect ideas, information, and experiences. These new connections can radically affect our creative work. As Steve Jobs said,
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.”
Pro Tip: If creativity is connecting things, then you might boost your creativity by playing mash up game: combine unlike things and see if it sparks ideas for you. For example, when I teach writing to kids, we often do a map unit. They can map anything they like—their heart, the territory under their beds, or a zombie’s brain. This unleashes amazing stories and pictures. (Check out the picture book My Map Book.)
Discover Personal Creativity Boosts
Discover your creativity triggers and use them. While new experiences and mashing up old ones reliably boost creativity, I’ve written other activities that aid creativity such as daydreaming, idle time, and exercising.
But what works for me might now work for you. Everyone has activities that encourage creativity. Children’s book author Dori Chaconas dreams up new ideas and great dialogue while she irons! You might discover that cleaning bathrooms, antiquing, or sleeping releases your creative juices!
Try this: Consider the activities, places, and people that spark your imagination. Make a list and then schedule an artist’s date for yourself.
How Procrastination Can Boost Your Creativity
And now we get to the click-bait title: can procrastinating boost your creativity? Sure it can. Especially if you procrastinate wisely. Use your procrastination time to be creative in some of the ways I mentioned above: Daydream. Walk. Rest. See a movie or a play. Read a book. Clean the house (repetitive activity leads to aha moments!)
Several years ago, my colleague Peg Rousar-Thompson wrote an article for the blog called, The Art of Procrastination. In it, she wrote about her habit of procrastinating by making art—and how that leads to deep insights about her characters, setting, and storyline. She ended it this way:
So my point in all of this? True writers–those of us meant from birth to use words to express ourselves–are writing even when it appears we are not. It’s not something we can escape or control. Even when it appears we have abandoned our essays and novels and poems for knitting or bookbinding or building tiny copper roofing out of cardstock–those words are still writing themselves in our heads.
As long as we provide ourselves with opportunity to sit and do the writing, okay, so force is sometimes necessary, due to that legitimate form of procrastination, we shouldn’t feel guilty for developing these other ways of creating.
It’ll all lead to the words. Eventually.
What activities boost your creativity? Leave a comment below!
I’m excited by how well the first Write Now! Coach Critique Group has gone over the last six months. I’ve watched the members make huge strides in finding their voices and finishing their projects.
I’m currently a member of another critique group. Each session provides me with some nugget of wisdom I can take and apply to my craft. But more than that, the support and encouragement of my colleagues, in addition to the regular deadlines, keep me writing even when I want to give up.
I want you to have the same opportunity I had—a safe group that could help you shape your book into something you can sell. So I created the Write Now! Coach Critique Group.
This group is ideal for people who:
+Want to create a book but need accountability and support
+Have started writing a book but don’t know if it works
+Are working on a blog, book or book proposal but are worried it’s not good enough
+Accountability to meet your writing goals (we’ll kick your butt, and you’ll write more!)
+Tools to help you evaluate your writing
+Support in overcoming writing blocks
+Encouragement from group members
Here’s what people are saying about the groups:
Rochelle helped me clarify my goals and eliminate extraneous concerns and distractions that had become obstacles as I began my book. She is generous with her time and advice and is an enthusiastic coach! — Diane Angelucci, Freelance Writer
One of the highlights of my summer was participating in Rochelle Melander’s Write Now! Coach Critique Group. The group gave excellent positive feedback, great suggestions when I got stuck, and made the writing process less lonely. Rochelle always brought encouraging words of wisdom to us as we began our group sessions, and I learned about the writing and publishing process. Whether you are a beginning writer or a published author, the Critique Group provides a supportive community and opportunities to grow as a writer and polish your craft. I have already signed up for the next group! Thanks Rochelle for this opportunity. —Laura Wind
Rochelle’s group coaching session helped me articulate my clearly my writing goals and how I would achieve them. Her diagnostic questions were valuable as they helped me sort out difficulties I was having with writing. — Sandra Somers
The program starts next Tuesday, January 23 via telephone conference call. I’ve got room for only 3 more participants—so if you’re interested, sign up soon. Here’s the link to the group coaching page.