Top Ten Posts about Writing for 2016

Read the ten most popular writing posts on Byline for the past year

As we turn the calendar from 2016 to 2017, we mark the passing of another year and with it another fifty-two weeks of blog posts here at “Byline,” where we discuss growing as a writer.

Here are the top ten posts on Byline for 2016.

  1. What is the One Immutable Rule of Writing?
  2. 3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Be an Aspiring Writer
  3. How to Always Know What to Write
  4. 10 Tips to Improve as a Writer
  5. What to Do When You Hit the Wall
  6. What Are Your Writing Goals This Year?
  7. Why Writers Need to Develop Their Writing Style
  8. Do You Dream of Writing? 5 Aspiring Writer Personas to Avoid
  9. 6 Writing Tips to Quickly Pick-up Where You Left Off and Not Waste Time
  10. May is Short Story Month

Thank you for stopping by this past year. You helped show that these posts are your favorites.

May you have an amazing 2017.

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Your Turn: What Writing Blogs Do You Read?

Writers can learn a lot by reading the posts of authors, agents, and publishers

Your Turn: Tell Us About Your WebsiteWhile it’s fun to follow my friends’ blogs (and there are more than I have time to read), I learn about writing and the publishing industry by reading the blogs of authors, agents, and publishers. I’ve followed some of them for more than a decade.

Over the years I’ve learned so much about how to write better and publish successfully. Here are some of the writing related blogs I currently follow:

Of course time doesn’t allow me the chance to read everyone every day, but I do find value in each blog and have learned so much.

Your turn: Do you read blogs about writing and publishing? Which ones are your favorites?

Writers Must Balance Education with Experience

Wordsmiths need both knowledge and a growing word count to achieve writing success

Writers Must Balance Education with ExperienceI’ve run into writers who work in a vacuum. Committed to writing all they do is write, but they don’t study the craft. They don’t read books or magazines about writing; they don’t take classes, attend workshops, or go to conferences; they don’t participate in writing groups, have a critique partner, or use beta readers. They don’t follow blogs, listen to podcasts, or watch webinars. I suspect these folks are more prevalent than I realize – because they write in secret, and I run into them by accident. (By the way, they aren’t reading this post, either – unless you email it to them.)

The opposite extreme are those who read extensively about writing and often quote their favorite gurus; they attend every writing related event they can afford to squeeze in, often traveling far to do so; they join online writing groups, are active in writing discussion boards, and confidently give their opinion on every piece of writing they encounter. There’s one problem: they don’t write. They’ve put writing on hold until they learn more. They have been talking about writing a book for years, but they’re not quite ready to start. They feel they need to figure out one more thing first.

The balance between these two extremes is to pair writing with learning. Yes, we need to put in the time and write, but we need to do so in an informed way. Writing without knowledge is futility, while studying without application wastes time.

To pursue this balance I start by writing every day. Then to inform my writing I read writing magazines, follow a few blogs, listen to (too many) podcasts, participate in critique groups, attend two writing conferences each year, and read books (though I have bought more writing books than I have read).

As a long time nonfiction writer, in the past few years I’ve delved into fiction. I started with short stories, recently completed a novella, and will start a novel in November. I’ve also done a lot of studying to prepare me to write good fiction, yet I fear that recently my education has outpaced my experience. I currently have enough writing theory stuffed into my brain to paralyze me. Instead of thinking about writing a compelling story, my preoccupation with systems and formats and conventions and expectations has bogged me down.

My solution is to sit down and write more fiction. This will restore the balance. I can’t wait.

5 Benefits of Blogging

Generating blog posts helps writers grow in the craft of writing and publishing content

5 Benefits of BloggingI’ve been blogging since 2008 and have written over 1,600 posts for my blogs. That’s close to a half a million words and more hours than I care to admit. Why do I do it?

That’s a great question, which I periodically ask myself. One reason is that I enjoy it (most of the time). Another reason is I like to share with others, offer ideas, provide encouragement, and serve them through the gift of words. Third, my blogs are part of my platform, which every author needs.

Aside from these reasons, which are all good, I also see five key benefits of blogging. As a blogger, I…

1) Learn to Meet Deadlines: To serve our community and develop a following, bloggers need to post regularly, according to a schedule. For this blog I post every Saturday morning. Having this weekly commitment has taught me how to meet deadlines for my blogs, as well as for editors, publishers, and clients. Out of thousands of deadlines over the years, I’ve only missed a couple – and for good reasons. Having a due date spurs me to write and not let anyone down.

2) Develop a Writing Habit: Having weekly blogging commitments ensure I write regularly. While some writers bristle at the thought of writing according to a schedule, it’s made the difference for me of moving from hobbyist to professional. For this season of my life I write every day, except for a few holidays – but even then, I manage to squeeze in some writing in the early morning. Writing is how I begin my day, before I do anything else.

3) Produce Content Regularly: When a post is due and I don’t feel like writing, I write anyway or let my followers down. I can’t have that, so I write even when I don’t want to. Yes, it may take longer or require more effort to make it good, but having the ability to push through is a powerful tool to have.

4) Gain Production Speed: In the early days of my writing I’d agonize over an article, tweaking it endlessly over the span of weeks before submitting it. But with blogging we learn to write, edit, and publish quickly. We have to. If we sit on a post, we miss a deadline. When I do work for clients, I write, edit, proofread, and submit, usually in the same sitting. Only on large, critical projects do I tarry, and then only for one day so I can give it a fresh review before I send it off.

5) Find Work: A final benefit that I didn’t expect from blogging is obtaining writing assignments and making contacts. Prospects have seen my posts and appreciated my writing style. Having checked out my blogs they have come to me and ask if I will write for them. The answer is “yes.” Even if people don’t first see my online work, after we talk they check out my posts and articles before they hire me.

As I wrap up my ninth year of blogging, I’m amazed at where my journey has taken me and so appreciative of the results. Because of blogging I am a better and more successful writer.

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What to Do When You Hit the Wall

When our carefully constructed world of work comes crashing down, follow these steps to reconstruct it

What to Do When You Hit the WallWriters are often amazed at the amount of writing I do on a daily and weekly basis. They ask how I manage to consistently stay productive. Part of it is my stage of life, part of it is discipline, and part of it is illusion. The reality is I seldom feel like I am doing enough of the right things and that I am careening through life trying to juggle five items, while I’m only capable of three. I do this as I speed on a motorcycle…in the dark…without headlights. Then I hit a metaphoric wall, and everything stops. Okay, maybe this is a bit hyperbole, but you get the point.

Hitting the wall happens to me on occasion. This time it was a combination of over-commitment, too many deadlines, excessive optimism about my productivity, family priorities, time away from the office, and a strange sickness that required me to sleep more and robbed me of my concentration. It was like a house of cards, carefully constructed and most tenuous. My house of cards imploded. Kaboom!

Here is what I do when I hit the wall:

Pause: The first thing I do is put some things on pause. Exercise is one. Reading is another. Social media is a third. All are important, but none are essential. I can put them on hold for a few days.

Scale Back: What activities can I reduce? I don’t need to listen to as many podcasts as I do. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by what I’m not getting to, I merely pare back the quantity, unsubscribing from some and skipping episodes of others. I also curtail my TV watching and entertainment.

Eliminate: To make my writing life sustainable, I also look for things to eliminate. At one time I had five blogs, each with a different focus and strategy. A few years ago I stopped posting on two of them and just now stopped a third one.

Say “No”: I like to help people and don’t want to disappoint anyone. But I need to remind myself that sometimes declining requests is in my best interest or I’m of no help to anyone.

Reprioritize: If five things are a priority, then nothing is a priority. What is the one truly important thing in this moment? I do it and then move on.

Restore a Buffer: When new opportunities arise I try to squeeze them in. Before I know it, I’m living a life with no cushion. I need to re-establish some buffer to leave room for the unexpected – because surprises do occur.

A few months ago, I saw my wall looming. I took action to protect myself, such as scaling back the frequency of one of my newsletters, saying “no” to some new opportunities, putting one critique group on hold, and curtailing the amount of time I invested in Twitter. These were all good changes, but they were not enough. All these corrections did was delay the inevitable.

Today I am reconstructing my work and my writing life, striving for balance, sustainability, and a saner schedule. It will take time, but I will bounce back – hopefully with fewer projects and less stress.

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Your Turn: Tell Us About Your Website

Tell us about your website or blog and link to it

Your Turn: Tell Us About Your WebsiteAs a new feature of this blog, Byline, we will end each month with a chance for you to complete the post by sharing about yourself, your writing, or your writing journey. I’ll give the topic and you provide the response. Best of all, it should be fast and easy to do.

This month’s theme: Your Website

In the comment section put a link to your blog or website. That’s it.

If you want to write more, share its name (if it has one) and a brief description or tag line.

Think of this as a non-spammy way to let others know about your website or blog. Plus each link to your site will give you a boost with the search engines.

Thanks for sharing. Have a great day!

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Writing in Your Dreams

Tap into your subconscious to spur creativity and inspire great stories

Writing in Your DreamsLast week I asked the question, “Do you dream of writing?” I talked about five fatal perspectives common to aspiring authors and ended with the admonition to stop dreaming about writing and just start doing it.

However, today I’m going to encourage you to dream. Say what? My advice is not to dream about writing, but to dream about your story. Though I never go to bed mulling over a story idea – that’s a sure fire way to engage my mind and chase sleep away – I do deliberate creative thoughts when I wake up. As I float between daytime reality and nighttime delusion, stories take shape. Characters emerge, opening lines unfold, plot twists reveal themselves, and poignant endings jump out.

When the pieces converge into a collective whole, I hop out of bed and start writing. It’s a compulsion I dare not deny. The words flow with clarity and burst with creativity. At least that’s my take on it.

Sometimes it’s a short story. Other times it’s a nonfiction idea. Occasionally it’s a blog post. Once in a while it is the dream itself.

This doesn’t happen every morning, but when it does I must write my new words before my subliminal muse withdraws her inspiration. Yes, my muse is decidedly female. Don’t ask me how I know; she just is.

When my muse guides me it’s a wondrous creative adventure of words.

I wish I could teach you how to tap into your subconscious as you awake. Gee, I wish I could comprehend it myself, but I don’t understand it. I don’t know how to cultivate it – other than perhaps to train your mind to always look for writing inspiration.

I suspect sleep frees my mind to wander from the tangible into the imaginable, with the best ideas percolating to the top of my awareness and boiling over as the morning light turns my slumber to reality. Or maybe not.

What I do know is to watch for creativity to stir as I greet the new day, for my subconscious to give me words to write. Then I jump on that train and ride for as long as I can. And it’s always a joyous journey.

What stirs you to write? Are you able to train your muse?

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How to Always Know What to Write When it’s Time to Blog

Maintain an idea repository to jumpstart your creativity every time you sit down to write

How to Always Know What to Write When it’s Time to BlogEach week I create several posts for my blogs. I also compose posts for others (content marketing). In addition, I need to produce columns for my various publications. At a minimum, I write five new pieces a week, sometimes upwards of ten.

Yet I seldom struggle with what to say. I always have at least one idea waiting for me when it’s time to write, usually many. Here’s my process:

  • Keep a Running List: For each blog, client, or publication, I have an idea file. Sometimes I note a concept or a title. Other times it’s the first line or even the last. Occasionally there’s an anecdote to serve as the focal point for me to package. Then there is a bulleted list, the result of a quick brainstorm session during a moment of inspiration. Such is the case with this post.
  • Look For Fresh Ideas: Life and living provides a treasure chest of ideas. We merely need to recognize their value when we see them. This takes practice, as well as discipline. Reading provides creative fodder for me, too, as do podcasts and especially movies. The key in this, which I learned the hard way, is to seize these gems as soon as I see them. Trusting my memory has cost me too many good ideas.
  • Retain What You Can’t Use: Sometimes a piece doesn’t develop as I expect or I need to skip a thought or go in a different direction. Other times I need to cut a section. I always stuff these untapped nuggets into my file for another day.
  • Build on Feedback: Some people comment on posts. Others email me their thoughts and questions, and a few react in person. Each source of input provides the potential for a future piece, which I add to my list.
  • Tap Your Muse as You Write: Perhaps the most common source of inspiration occurs during my writing process. As I develop one piece, other gems for future posts pop into my mind. I stop writing immediately and capture them in my idea file. This happens with about half the pieces I write. Sometimes I receive multiple ideas in succession. I eventually use most of them.
  • Bonus Tip: Sometimes when it’s time to write, I simply ask myself, “What do you want to write about today?” Without even peeking at my list of ideas, another concept pops into my mind, and I can’t help but develop it. This saves all the ideas in my file for another day.

I polished this process over time. First it was to minimize frustration over lost ideas; then for the sake of efficiency. But now it has become necessary for me if I am to meet all my commitments and make my deadlines.

Do you use a variation of an idea file? What process do you use to generate ideas? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

How I Became a Better Writer

There is no single path to becoming a better writer. Instead we have a myriad of options before us. Here are some of the opportunities I encountered on my writing journey:

  • How I Became a Better WriterWrite Columns: Early on I contributed articles to a small newsletter (back when newsletters were still mailed). Having a deadline to hit each month was great preparation. It also taught me to always look for ideas and to work ahead. I did this for several years.
  • Get a Writing Job: Later I worked for a company in a seeming perpetual state of reorganization. During one such reshuffling I ended up doing tech writing. I wrote for eight hours-a-day, five days-a-week, every week. Though another restructuring soon moved me elsewhere, during this stint I learned how to write all day long.
  • Blog: Years later I jumped into blogging. What started as an experiment, moved into a hobby, and later acquired a purpose. At one time I had eight active blogs. Now I’m down to three and may whittle that down to two. (But don’t worry; this one will stay). In the past eight years I’ve published some 1,500 posts, amounting to nearly a half million words. During this time, I found my writing voice.
  • Listen to Podcasts: I don’t listen to music on my iPod; I listen to podcasts, mostly about writing. I learn about writing as a craft and as a business. I listen for several hours each week. It’s like going to school – without the tests.
  • Get Feedback: I also participate in critique groups. My friends help me improve. Yes, it’s wonderful when they like my words, but it’s even better when they point out shortcomings. They encourage me and keep me on track.
  • Study Writing: I also read magazines and books about the craft. Though I own more writing books than I’ve read, what I have read has helped me greatly.
  • Read Broadly: For too many years I read only nonfiction relating to work or faith. After a while everything I read bored me. Now I read mostly fiction, from just about any genre. As I read more widely, I can write more broadly.
  • Form Community: I spend time with other writers. Only writers understand the isolation of the work, the frustration of when words don’t work as we wish, the agony of rejection, and the joy of publication. We need a writing community to journey with us, be it online or in person.
  • Content Marketing: In pursuing freelance work, I do a lot of content marketing, which for me is much like blogging. Here I write with a purpose, have deadlines, and earn money. I think every writer – whether they admit it or not – wants to make money with their writing. I do.

These are the highlights of my writing journey, haphazard for the first three decades and more intentional in the last one. Your journey will be different.

May we all move steadily down the path of our own writing roads.

What has been a key part of your writing journey? What steps will you take this year to move down your writing road? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

A Year in Review: The Top 10 Posts from Byline for 2015

As we migrate from 2015 to 2016 we pause to reflect on where we’ve been and then to look forward to where we’re going.

First, here is our top 10 posts for 2015, revealing the best of this blog as voted on by you (that is, the pages you read the most times):

A Year in Review: The Top 10 Posts from Byline for 2015

  1. Avoid Big Word Syndrome
  2. Don’t Be Possessive About Writing Rules
  3. What Spurs You On In Your Writing?
  4. Can You Write a Book in a Month?
  5. Are You Seeking to Improve as a Writer?
  6. Writers Need Discipline and Focus
  7. Does the Thought of Marketing Your Book Make You Squirm?
  8. Have You Ever Used Dictation to Write?
  9. Do You Know What You’re Capable of Accomplishing as a Writer?
  10. Should You Monetize Your Website or Blog?

These represent the highlights of this blog for the year. Beyond this list I have many other highlights as well. I won’t share my personal top 10 list – many of which relate to writing – but I do delight in what has transpired this year. Twelve months ago I would have never guessed what this year would have in store for me. It was a good year. I look forward to next year with much anticipation and a bit of nervous excitement as well.

For you, dear reader, your readership, comments, and encouragement motivate me to keep writing this blog to share my journey and what I’ve learned. Thank you for being part of that.

May 2016 be your best year ever!

What is one of your key accomplishments in 2015? What are you looking forward to in 2016? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.