Do Your Part Before You Ask Others For Help; There is No Easy Button

Too many novice writers don’t invest in the craft and expect seasoned authors to give them an easy button to publication

Do Your Part Before You Ask Others For Help; There is No Easy ButtonI post on this blog, send out a writing newsletter, and speak at conferences because I want to give back to the writing community, to share with others what I have learned over the years. By helping others the best that I can, I help myself. As I give, I also grow as a writer.

Though I can’t help everyone who asks and my time is limited, I do give a higher priority to those who are part of my writing community, those who journey with me to become better writers and share our words with others. These are the folks who put in the hard work to improve as writers, study the craft, and learn about the industry. They are worthy of receiving help. Not everyone is.

Recently a friend asked me and some others to review her manuscript. This is a big ask, and I had misgivings. As far as I know, my friend isn’t part of a writing group, doesn’t attend writing conferences, fails to write regularly, and neglects to study writing and the industry. Instead she seeks those who have put in the hard work for help so she can skip doing the hard work herself. She’s hoping for an “easy button” to turn her rough draft into a publishable book.

And I’m not too excited about helping with this. I prefer to invest what time I have into writers who are putting forth effort to improve. Too often I’ve tried to help people who asked for advice but weren’t ready to hear it. They lacked the basic tools to receive, consider, and apply my input.

They wanted an easy button, but in writing there is no easy button.

We Need to Balance Formal Education with On-The-Job Training

While a college degree in writing has value, it is not a requirement for a rewarding career

We Need to Balance Formal Education with On-The-Job TrainingLast week I talked about the appropriateness of hiring others to help us on our writing journeys. This has been a reoccurring theme in my career as a writer and my vocation as a publisher.

When it comes to written communications, I am self-educated: I am a self-taught writer, a self-taught editor, and a self-taught publisher. It’s not that I eschew formal education – I do have advanced degrees, after all – it’s just that they don’t happen to be in the field of communication.

I took one freshman writing class and one freshman literature class, both required in my engineering curriculum. That was it. I never suspected I’d end up working as a publisher, editor, and writer. Being an author was not part of my career plan.

Since I am decidedly finished with college I am left to design my own writing course, one propelled by real world needs and bathed in actual application. This pursuit is both practical and effective. It includes:

Magazines: I subscribe to magazines about writing and publishing. These periodicals arrive with predicted regularity and feed me practical advice in bite-sized chunks. I look forward to each one.

Books: I also tap books for extended focus on particular topics. Though these are helpful, I have bought more writing books then I have read. Some are boring, and for others it seems the authors are more concerned with impressing us than educating. Maybe it’s just me. Nevertheless some writing books are most helpful.

Podcasts: Listening to others discuss writing is my go-to method of learning. I consume several hours of podcasts each week, listening to them while driving, doing mindless work around the house, and during lunch. They fuel me and give perspective.

Writing Groups: Being part of a writing community is a great resource, not only for learning but also for support and encouragement.

Online Courses: I also take advantage of online learning opportunities in the form of webinars and classes. The pinpoint focus of each allows me to pick topics of immediate, practical application.

Conferences: My goal is to attend two writing conferences a year. (This year will be three.) I look for those that provide value and are within driving distance (no airfare), and local (no hotels) is ideal.

Best of all, my educational path has no tests, finals, or grades. The only studying I do is in actually applying what I’ve learned. I’m pursuing a self-directed writing education.

10 Tips to Improve as a Writer

To progress as an author requires hard work and diligent focus

10 Ways to Grow as a WriterI’ve been writing my entire adult life. In the early years my primary goal was to write faster, but for the past decade or so, my focus was on writing better. As I attended to learning the craft of writing, my writing has steadily improved. Along the way I have also begun to write with increased speed.

Here are my ten tips to improve as a writer:

  1. Write: The most essential step is to just sit down and write. Some aspiring writers put off this tip waiting until they are ready. Guess what? I doubt anyone is ever ready. Not really. So start writing. Do it on a regular basis. Take it seriously. Make your writing time sacred. When I did this, my writing blossomed.
  2. Study Writing: We must study the art and craft of writing. I read about writing, listen to writing podcasts, learn from the masters, and go to lectures. If you’re in school, take writing classes.
  3. Read Broadly: Reading informs our writing. We see what other authors do. We learn what we like and don’t like. We need to read in our genre and outside it. Read for fun, and read to learn.
  4. Watch Movies: Cinema informs my writing almost as much as reading. Movies reveal insight about plot development, effective openings, memorable endings, character development, effective dialogue, and more.
  5. Attend Conferences: Writers often complain about the cost of conferences: registration, airfare, hotel, and incidentals. I get that, but tap into local conferences to eliminate the travel and lodging expenses. Some events are even free.
  6. Participate in Groups: Join a critique group, support group, accountability group, or some collection of other writers who have a shared goal of improvement.
  7. Pay for Help: If you need help, don’t be afraid to pay for it. This may be for edits, critiques, story development, or any other area where you struggle. What if you can’t afford it? Find a way. Be creative. Swap services. One enterprising writer “paid” her editor by cleaning her house.
  8. Give to Others: Share what you can with other writers. Give to the industry and the industry will give to you.
  9. Work in the Industry: If you have the opportunity to find employment that intersects with writing or publishing in any way, grab it. This may be part time or full time; it may pay well or little (and some gigs are volunteer). But the key is to put yourself in a position to interact with other writers. You will learn from your environment; by osmosis you will grow.
  10. Write: I end my list with the same tip I began with. That’s because too many aspiring writers become so busy, so fixated, on tips 2 through 9 that they skip the writing part. They don’t have time, become too distracted, or put it off. If you’re serious about writing, never stop. Writing is the most critical step to being a writer.

Follow these tips to become a better writer. Pick one and implement it. Then add another. Keep going until you are doing all ten. You will be amazed at the results.

4 Reasons You Should Attend Writing Conferences

Being in a creative environment offers writers many benefits not found elsewhere

4 Reasons You Should Attend Writing ConferencesA few weeks ago I attended a writers conference, the Festival of Faith and Writing. Setting a record, there were over 2,100 attendees who invaded the campus of Calvin College. I wasn’t planning on going and then changed my mind at the last minute. I’m glad I did.

Rather than reporting on specific things I learned, I’d like to share some general observations as to why I advocate going to writers conferences, which this one exemplified:

  1. Supportive: Non-writers don’t understand writers, so most everyplace a writer goes he or she is among people who don’t comprehend the writing life: the joys, the struggles, the motivation, the isolation, the rejection, and so forth. A writers conference is one place writers are surrounded by likeminded people. There writers don’t need to explain themselves or guard their words; they can be themselves and be accepted for who they are.
  2. Encouraging: A writers conference is a supportive environment. There we see other people who have found success in the writing world. Sometimes it is widespread acclaim, but usually it’s more moderate accomplishments. They show us what can happen and motivate us to do the same. Writing conferences spur us to persist in our work.
  3. Diverse: Writers conferences offer variety in both attendees and presenters. By being exposed to a diversity of backgrounds and ideas, we expand our perspectives and open our minds to new possibilities. This informs our writing.
  4. Educational: Of course we go to writers conferences to learn about the craft of writing and the business of writing. This is valuable, but I list it last because to me the other items are more valuable. Still the educational lessons I learn stay with me.

I go to two writing conferences a year (though this year I’m making an exception and will attend three). A couple a year is enough to help keep me fresh and focused. If I go to too many it would actually get in the way of my writing, and I can’t allow that.

If you’ve gone to a writers conference that didn’t provide this type of environment or offer these benefits, maybe you picked the wrong one. But don’t dismiss all conferences just because one left you wanting. Instead pick a different one and try again. You will find the right one.

What writing conferences do you go to? What do you enjoy about them? 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.

When Your Post Goes Viral: 4 Tips For Survival

As writers we all want more people to see what we write, right? If we have a book, we want more people to buy it, and if we blog we want more people to read it and comment, right?

Be careful. Last week I heard about two bloggers whose posts went viral.

The first case occurred a year ago, with over a million views and almost 1,500 comments. The writer touched a nerve. Some loved his post; others hated it. However, the attention his post received earned him the attention of publishers, and he turned his post into a book, which went on sale this month. Though the result was good, the path was rocky.

Another blogger had a post go viral earlier this month. Though I don’t know how many people read it, they left 644 comments – so far. Most agreed with her, but a few took exception. Of the comments I read, I saw two trends:

A few women, from the right, took issue with one line in her post, while many more (all of whom were men) attacked her from the left and derided her “narrow” point of view. I use the word narrow because I don’t want to repeat the name calling they resorted to. Those who hated her words were often quite mean, and some attacked her personally.

Both bloggers were caught off guard by the response. Here’s what we can learn from their experiences:

Our Audience is Different Than Society as a Whole: For the most part, the people who regularly read our blogs like us and agree with our message. Their comments are most always kind and if they disagree, they do so politely. We have formed a nice community; civility is the norm. However, this is not the case with everyone else, the folks who don’t know us and are swept into reading one post gone viral.

Our Words Will Offend Some People: We write because we want to touch readers. While we hope to inspire, encourage, guide, or entertain our audience, this can’t happen all the time. We will offend some people. It is inevitable. If we try to avoid causing offense, we end up with bland words that accomplish nothing.

When Your Post Goes Viral: 4 Tips For SurvivalPeople Can Be Mean Online: With the protection of distance and anonymity afforded online, otherwise nice people can de-evolve into spewing inhuman invective. I suspect in most cases their issues are not really with the blogger but are a response to their personal failings or deep hurts. Haters are often damaged people.

Don’t Defend Ourselves: When attacked, we need to suffer in silence, not stoop to their level. Our friends will defend us when needed. We must be content with that.

Remember, we write for others to read our words, and we need to be prepared to handle the fallout when their reaction isn’t positive. If we persist in writing, it will happen sooner or later.

Have you ever received an unexpected response to your writing? How do you handle mean comments from readers? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Six Types of Writing Communities

Two weeks ago I asked the question, do you have a writing community? Although a writing community can be a haphazard hodgepodge of writing connections, an intentional solution will likely offer the best type of community. But what might a structured writing community look like and do? The answer covers a gambit of options. Here are six:

  1. Critique Group: The purpose of this writing community is to give one another feedback on our work. The success of these groups hinge on two things: the structure of how the critiques take place and the attitudes of the writers. Not all critique groups work for everyone.
  2. Support Group: The purpose of this writing community is to care for and encourage one another, sharing the joys and struggles of the writing journey. Consider it as self-directed group therapy for writers.
  3. Writing Circle: Similar to a support group, but with the focus on sharing our writing with one another, but not for a critique. It’s also a place to update each other on what we’re working on and our career plans, as well as our successes and failures.
  4. Accountability Partners: Do you need someone to check up on you to make sure you’re writing every day and doing what you said you would? Then you need an accountability partner. Just keep in mind that it’s often a fine line between holding someone accountable and nagging – and no one likes a nag.
  5. Discussion Groups: The goal of a discussion group is to read books and talk about them. While most groups consider their reaction to the words, writers will gain more by analyzing the authors writing style, techniques, and voice.
  6. Craft Groups: The purpose of craft groups is to mutually help one another become better writers. At each meeting, one person takes a turn to share an aspect of writing he or she is good at (or at least one step ahead of the rest of the group) or to research and teach one facet of writing.

There are many similarities between these options and much room for overlap. Often, groups will focus on one area, while dabbling in a few others, be it as needed or consistently. While there’s great value for these interactions to occur in person, when it isn’t an option, online groups offer a great alternative.

The important thing is for writers to seek community.

Are you in a writing community? What does it look like?

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short. The goal is to write the first draft of a novel (or at least the first 50,000 words of a novel) during the month of November.

The rules are simple:

  • Any type of fiction, in any language, counts.
  • Advance planning and preparation is acceptable.
  • Actual writing may not start prior to November 1 and must end by midnight November 30 (local time).
  • No prior written material may be used.

Though no prizes are awarded, everyone who completes the 50,000-word goal is a winner. Started in 1999, the fifteen-year-old event draws more writers each year, with over 400,000 participating last year. A tremendous online community and support group surrounds NaNoWriMo, providing comradery, encouragement, and resources.

Though I’m not a novelist, I’m drawn to NaNoWriMo and hope to participate one year. If you’ve not already prepared for NaNoWriMo, it’s likely too late (though not impossible) to take part this year, but you can follow along this year and plan for next year.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Do you think you might try next year?

Do You Have a Writing Community?

As writers, we write alone. Even if we compose our words with people around us – such as at a coffee shop or the kitchen table – writing is a solitary effort. Often we must isolate ourselves for progress to occur; we say “no” to social activities in order to move our work forward or meet a deadline.

Our family and friends, as non-writers, often don’t understand this. With well-intentioned prodding, they urge us to emerge from our writing seclusion to embrace others and experience more of what life offers. And sometimes we must, but often, we must not.

What we need are comrades who understand, fellow writers who know the agony and the joy of creating art with our words. We need colleagues who can celebrate our successes and comprehend our discouragements.

We need other writers to walk along side us. We need wordsmiths who can guide us. And we need writers who we can help. We need opportunities to both give and to receive.

We need a writing community.

Too many aspiring writers struggle alone. When discouragement emerges, writer’s block hits, or self-discipline evaporates, they have no support team to fall back to. They abandon their vision, suppress their dream, and stop writing. If only they had someone to support them, someone to offer encouragement. If only they had a writing community.

Writing communities can happen in person or online. They can take on various forms and formats, with different goals and purposes. The important thing is to be in community with other writers.

Do you have a writing community? If not, what can you do to find or form one?

Tribe Writers: Online Writing Course

Last year I took an online writing course from Jeff Goins. It’s called Tribe Writers. It was the most significant thing I did all year to grow as a writer.

I enjoyed it so much, I took the class again to make sure I didn’t miss a thing. Then I took it a third time.

Now Jeff is ready to start another class. Signup begins today, November 6. If you want to grow as a writer, I encourage you to check it out. You’ll improve your writing, learn how to build your platform, make new friends in the writing community, and more.

The class has four modules: 1) Honing Your Voice, 2) Establishing a Platform, 3) Expanding Your Reach, and 4) Getting Published.

Each module has several lessons, many short writing assignments, a slew of recorded interviews and teachings, and unlimited networking opportunities with other students. The class is designed to last eight weeks, but you can work on it at your own pace.

I hope you’ll check out Tribe Writers – I’m glad I did.

[This is an affiliate link. I only recommend what I use, and I’m sold on this course.]