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.Check out these top 10 posts about writing. Click To Tweet



Your Turn: What Writing Blogs Do You Read?

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

UR Turn, Help me finish ths post by sharing...While 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. What writing blogs do you read? Here is my list. Click To Tweet

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.Writing without knowledge is futility, while studying without application wastes time. Click To Tweet

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.Bloggers learn to write, edit, and publish quickly. We must or we’ll miss our deadlines. Click To Tweet

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.


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.If five things are a priority, then nothing is a priority. Click To Tweet

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.



Your Turn: Tell Us About Your Website

Tell us about your website or blog and link to it

UR Turn, Help me finish ths post by sharing...As 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!Tell us about your website... Click To Tweet




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.Train your mind to always look for inspiration. Click To Tweet

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?


Blogging is a Basic Form of Self-Publishing

Blogging connects writers directly to readers with no middlemen, delays, or layers of isolation.

At one time, not too long ago, most everyone decried self-publishing as second-rate, used only by the marginal scribe and unpublishable writer. This is no longer the case.

Now most everyone (except perhaps traditional publishers) views self-publishing as a viable option for anyone to consider, from novice to seasoned veteran. Indeed some indie authors self-publish because they can make more money that way, publish books faster and more frequently, and maintain greater control over their product and career.

Self-publishing, however, is not just about books. Self-publishing can be much simpler. At its most basic, blogging is a form of self-publishing, perhaps the most pure and direct. Blogging is a means of publishing that connects writer directly with reader, as it is now with you and me. With blogging there are no middlemen offering delays, causing interference, or interjecting layers of isolation.

Blogging connects the author directly with the reader; it is the simplest way to self-publish. Click To TweetAnother bonus with blogging is that it’s not restricted to one-way communication, but opens the door for two-way interaction, through the comment section.

I’ve been blogging since 2008 and have written over 1,600 posts. One day, in my spare time, I will compile some of those posts and turn them into a book.

Actually I started this project a couple of years ago. I need to get back to it. And when I do self-publish my book of blog posts, I will have connected two types of self-publishing: the blog with the book.

What is your experience with blogging? Have you ever self-published a book? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. Feel free to link to your blog.



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.Maintain an idea file to jumpstart your creativity when it’s time to write. Click To Tweet
  • 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.

Should You Use Video to Grow Your Platform?

Video may be the next step in connecting and engaging with an audience

With advances in technology, and the power residing on every smartphone, it has never been easier to record a video and start a vlog. A vlog is a video blog. I’m a huge proponent of blogging and in the past tried the audio version of that: podcasting. (See The Power of Podcasting and My Experience With Podcasting.)

Moving a blog to video is the next evolution in communicating with our audience. Some people, such as Michael Hyatt, videotape their podcast sessions so they end up with a two for one deal: a podcast and a video.

Though a growing number of people consume information in video format this is mostly for short-form video: content lasting only a few minutes. Video increasingly pops up in social media, and starting a YouTube channel is a great tool to share and disseminate video content.

Longer form video, however, has one key disadvantage. It requires viewers to sit in front of a screen in order to consume the content. While video can be most engaging it requires commitment on the part of the viewer to dedicate the time to watch it. With our short attention spans, few people are sufficiently patient.

As one adverse to being on camera, I know that vlogging is not for me. Yet for those who are comfortable being videotaped and enjoy the experience, vlogging may be the way to go.

A second consideration is our audience. Does our audience consume content via video? If so, this is another reason to pursue it. But if they prefer other forms of communication, then vlogging is a waste of our time.

While producing video to grow our platform and connect with our audience may be an ideal opportunity for us, don’t jump in without considering the ramifications. First, are we ready for it? Second will our audience watch it?

What is your experience with video? How could a vlog grow your platform? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.Producing video to grow our platform may be an ideal opportunity. Click To Tweet