Kim’s Thoughts

Do you ever have one of those projects that you just struggle and struggle with? The type that no matter what you seem to do, it just keeps falling apart?

When I’m working on a writing project, 95% of the time, it just flows. Pretty much effortlessly. (It’s okay, you can hate me now!) But I’ve come to realize that when a writing project DOESN’T flow, it usually mean that something isn’t working in the pre-work of the project.

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Here are my seven tips when a project isn’t working:

1. Do you have all your research compiled?

A lot of the time, when I’m fighting the words, it’s because I haven’t researched my material enough to know where I’m going. This research may be the typical type: Googling facts, reading articles, blogs, magazines, and books, interviewing experts. Or it may be the thought exercises of thinking, outlining, and planning.

2. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired?

Seriously, this matters! There is one chapter in “Pitch Your Tent: A Family’s Guide To Tent Camping” that I just struggled and struggled with. Then I realized I was trying to write this long, technical chapter late in the evening, night after night. I dedicated an afternoon to it and BOOM! Written. The same goes for when you’re brain isn’t functioning at peak because you’re hungry or thirsty. Brain snacks and plenty of water!

3. Take a break & walk away.

Sometimes we need to get away from the project to gain some perspective. This may be as simple as watching a couple funny online videos. Often times, I actually need to leave the computer and do something different for a while and let my brain re-charge. I always get great ideas around water so I’ll do the dishes, take a shower or chase my dog, Lily with the hose. (No, I’m serious, she LOVES it!)

4. Write it out long-hand.

Still stuck? Writing a portion of the project out long-hand with pen and paper can really get the brain juices flowing. There’s something about how the brain hemispheres connect to your hand to the act of moving it across the paper. Frankly, I don’t care about the science behind it. All I know is that it works.

5. Sleep on it.

Like taking a break, sleeping on where you’re stuck can give your subconscious a chance to work on the problem. I’ve lost count of how many breakthroughs and moments of inspiration I’ve had while “sleeping”. Jot the idea down as soon as you have it so you don’t lose it in your sleep addled state!

6. Try a different approach.

I hate writing introductions. Remember the 5-paragraph essay from college? How am I supposed to know what I’m going to talk about BEFORE I write the paper?! So I used to write the whole paper and THEN write the introduction. A lot of times, I’ll start in the middle and write to the end then go back and write to the middle.

7. Trash it!

I give you permission to just throw it away. Like I said, 95% of the time I DON’T fight with my writing projects. But sometimes, I just can’t get the words out on paper. I ramble, I say nothing, I repeat myself. There’s a point where you can’t “work through it” and you just have to give it up as a bad job and try something completely different.

Here’s a real life example of this this week:

I use an editorial calendar for my blog writing. I had a great idea for this week’s article. I was so excited to write it. And then I wrote for a solid hour and just COULD NOT organize my thoughts. I did a bit more research. Still no dice.

Loaded the dishwasher. Nothing.

Had dinner. A snack. Ice cream. And I realized I’d just written myself into a corner and I wasn’t making any sense even to me!

Jotted ideas in my business journal. Tried a paragraph or two. Resisted the urge to BITE the notebook. Or throw it.

Went to bed. And this morning, I woke up with a different approach: it’s a GREAT idea but the format is all wrong for a blog post. And I came up with writing an article about what to do when the article just won’t work.

BTW: I am trashing most of what I wrote! I’m keeping the idea and completely modifying it.

I think that part of my challenge is that I have another project in my life that just isn’t flowing. I’ve been trying for two weeks to get my video studio set up and some videos recorded and edited. I’ve pulled out all my tricks and I STILL can’t get this project off dead-center.

So what’s my plan? Radically changing the part that’s making me crazy. If I can’t get the background to work, maybe I just need a new background!

What about you? What do you do when you can’t figure out how to write an article or chapter?

Back in August, I wrote about Amazon’s reviewing system for eBooks. I still feel that reviews are important to sales but not the be-all, end-all. I’ve recently received some new reviews on my books (yay!) and they are all positive 4- and 5-star reviews.

When a reader leaves a review on Amazon, good or bad, there’s a little spot where other people can leave a comment.

Don’t!

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As the author, whatever you do, don’t respond to a review. If you respond to a 1- or 2-star review you are seen as whiny and can’t take constructive criticism. If you respond to a 4- or 5-star review, congratulations, you have officially entered into creepy stalker territory.

I know it’s hard not to defend your work from people who didn’t “get” it, don’t like it, or didn’t read the full description before buying. But there is NOTHING in any way, shape, or form that you can say that allows you to stay classy.

And as much as you’d love to thank a reviewer for a positive review, don’t do that either. Amazon’s reviewing system isn’t Facebook; the reader isn’t looking to start a conversation with you – you are AUTHOR, not a real person.

Deal with it.

If you want to engage directly with readers, be available through links in your book to your website, email, and social media accounts. Then, if a reader reaches out to you directly, feel free to thank them for their opinion, start a dialog and exchange knitting patterns. And if a reader sends you an email saying how much they loved the book, it’s okay to ask them to post the review on Amazon!

I always get the best shopping ideas from the gift buying lists! Here’s a list of gifts for writers that I’ve compiled that are sure to thrill any writer on your list. Or maybe you’ll pick up a gift or two for yourself.

With the exception of my HIGHLY recommended leather journal, all items on this list are $25 or less!

FYI: The TITLES are the links to the products!

D’Vyne Wrytes Leather Journal

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I thought long and hard about suggesting a blank journal for the writer in your life. Frankly, we all have something that is “the perfect journal” and I always get a little cranky when I get a journal that doesn’t match that ideal. But Leslie’s stuff is just fantastic and I can’t recommend it enough. I have three or four of her journals!

This isn’t under $25 BUT it is 100% worth the investment!

 

Stephen King’s On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft

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I have a much loved, much dog eared version of the original. Even if you don’t like King’s terrifying stories, he offers fantastic insights into writing novels that can be applied to any type of writing.

Writer’s Block Mug

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Writer’s Block: when your imaginary friends stop talking to you
Because writers drink copious amounts of coffee!

Magnetic Poetry Kit

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Do me a favor, buy several different word kits! A great gift is to include these with a cookie sheet (double check the magnets stick) so your fav writer doesn’t even have to leave the desk!

Dark Chocolate Covered Marshmallows from Trader Joe’s

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Every writer knows that chocolate is brain food. And when it’s coating a light, fluffy, perfect marshmallow it’s a recipe for writing a few extra pages!

 

Paper Clip Earrings

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Hey, it’s better than putting REAL paper clips in your ears!

Scrabble

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Okay, okay MOST authors will probably already own Scrabble! Except for me. I use my parent’s board which is older than I am. Soooooo, if you’re looking for a gift for me, get me Scrabble!

 

William Shakespeare Air Freshener

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An air freshener by any other name would not smell as sweet as one decorated with the image of the immortal bard.

 

Typewriter Tote Bag

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I think this one is especially cute but any tote bag will be well received. Especially if you fill it liquid brains (aka liquor!)

Liquor

Offer up your writer her favorite brand of liquid brains and watch her eyes light up! Suggestions include:

  • Baileys (any flavor!)
  • Jack Daniels Honey Whiskey
  • Fat Tire Beer
  • Mojito mix and rum

Writer’s Unwinding Cocktail, aka Caramel Apple Tinis

Ingredients

  • Green apple vodka
  • Baileys® Caramel
  • Green apple slice (garnish)

You know how a shot measuring cup has a big side and a little side? You’ll use both sides for this recipe. 1 “big” shot (1 ounce) Baileys® Caramel. 1 “little” shot (0.5 ounce) green apple vodka. Stir gently.

If you are using a traditional shot glass without a measure marks, the ratio is 1 to 0.5 Baileys® to vodka.Garnish with a green apple slice if you have it.

From Camp Cooking 101: 101 Fun & Easy Recipes from The Outdoor Princess

Pencil Eraser Hats

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I love the idea of “stocking stuffers”. Pair these with some #2 pencils and a nice sharpener and you’ve got it made!

A gift card for a massage

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After spending hours at the computer, a massage is great! But don’t get a $25 gift card. Go whole hog and spring for a gift card worth a few massages.

Red Pens & Yellow Highlighters

112613-PenHighlighterBecause we use them a lot!

 

Edgar Allan Poe Action Figure

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Because he’d look cool on your desk!

 

Novelty Flash Drive

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These are food but there are HUNDREDS of possibilities out there!

 

Pencil Socks

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How cool are these?!

Fancy Paper Clips

112613-FancyPaperClipsWe all have a deep love of office supplies. But we probably won’t buy them for ourselves!

Jane Austin Temporary Tattoos

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Not interested in temporary tattoos? You can also get bandages!

Writer Pendant

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A way to subtly announce who you are!

The Complete Book of Baby Names

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I got my book of baby names in high school. THEN I had to explain why I had it! For characters, people! But a lot of writers won’t invest in this themselves and it’s a great resource!

Buy Their Book!

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As an author, most of the time my sales do not come from my friends and family. Be a peach and buy their book and then leave a positive review.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for products that I personally use and believe have value to my readers. When you make a purchase using my affiliate link, I earn a small commission. High-five for your support!

PS: All images belong to the websites in the links.

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I think one of the best types of articles I can post to my blog is an honest product review. And I’m not talking about a review for a product or service that you’ve contacted and begged them to send you a sample so you could write about it! (Although that type of review can be a ton of fun!) Nope, I’m talking about writing an honest review for a product or service that you use every day in your business.

Why?

Because I get asked all the time for my opinion about a service I use or how I do something. And I ask others for feedback and suggestions all the time as well. For example, just yesterday, I asked one of the business groups I belong to on Facebook for a recommendation for a service I could use to record a phone call with a client. Several options were tossed out but what really stood out was the comment: “Try XYZ. I’ve had great success and they’re easy to use.” Hello! Personal validation.

This wasn’t a suggestion from somebody who typed into Google: “What’s the best way to record a phone call with a client” and then gave me an answer. I can do that myself! It was a recommendation from one client of XYZ company to me.

What’s the difference between a testimonial and a review?
First off, a testimonial is posted on the other person’s website. Secondly, while giving testimonials is a GREAT way to gain exposure, thank a company for their product, and extoll all it’s virtues, a testimonial is by nature one sided: only the positive. A review, on the other hand, will talk about all the things you love about the product or service but also what isn’t so great. Maybe you love everything about it EXCEPT that you can only reach the customer service on Monday mornings from 9-9:45 am. Or that the software loads slowly. Or it has great functionality but only comes in three colors.

All that being said, your blog is NOT the place to be complaining about a product or service up one side and down the other and going on and on about how it didn’t work. Not cool! You wouldn’t want somebody to go on a public rant about you, right? If your review is really nothing more than a laundry list of everything that is wrong with the product, take that straight to the source and send your grievances to the company directly.

Be upfront about why you’re writing the review.
This is a BIG one! Offer up a disclaimer that says that you are writing the review because you wanted to, you use the product, and you weren’t compensated in any way. Unless, of course, you were. Then be honest.

I’ve written quite a few product reviews for my outdoor recreation blog over the years. Some were products that I was given to test and review and others were products I had purchased, used, and reviewed. There’s nothing wrong with a paid review (either money or product) but readers need to know if you’re walking into the event unbiased or not. AND there are laws that state that you need to disclose this information.

How to write the review:

  1. Give a description of the product. Explain how you got it — either bought it and use it or you are being compensated to review it.
  2. Then talk about it. In detail. Give examples of how you tested the manufacture’s claims. Did it do what you thought it would do? How well did it do? Would you buy it again? What would you change? What didn’t it do?
  3. Offer up photos (or screenshots!) of the product in use. Everybody loves to see how YOU are using the widget and it gives instant credibility that you actually do use and abuse the product.
  4. And then give ways that your customer can buy the product or service. Here’s where you need to disclose if you will make any money from that deal! Like if you are reviewing a product and you’re putting in an affiliate link. Say (affiliate link) so the reader knows. Again, laws govern this!

But, don’t be afraid to make money from your recommendations! Every month I STILL make a few pennies from products I reviewed years ago. But I NEVER write a product review because I’m planning on cashing in on sales. I write product reviews because I want to share an experience with a product!

And here’s another bonus for writing a product review. It’s a pretty easy way to create copy for your blog! A review of a product that you’ve used, loved and can recommend is a great article to post when you’re deep in the throes of writer’s block. Or pre-write it when you’re going on vacation. Just be sure you don’t turn your blog into a Consumer Report where all you do is review products! When I was posting something new 5 days a week to TheOutdoorPrincess.com (my outdoor recreation blog) I would shoot for one to two product review posts per month. Any more than that, I and I felt I wasn’t offering enough how-to information to satisfy my readers. I was being given products to test and write reviews on so I needed time to conduct the tests, write the article, allow the company to review it, and then get it posted.

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One of the really cool things about Amazon.com is their reviewing system. For any product that you’ve purchased (from Amazon or elsewhere) you have the ability to write a review of that item.

This is true for eBooks as well.

There is mixed statistics about the impact reviews have on book sales. Many indie authors swear that reviews lend credibility to a book and directly increase sales. Other authors aren’t so certain.

Personally, I’ve found that a book having reviews, any reviews, is a boon to sales. While I won’t say that I’ve found that 5-star or 1-star reviews impact my sales one way or another, I will say that once a book has its first real review, sales do start trending upward.

Here are Amazon’s “rules” about reviews:

  • No “objectionable” material
  • No promotional content
  • No off-topic information
  • No inappropriate content, which includes hyperlinks and references to other products

Amazon also doesn’t allow reviews that were written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package.

Now here’s the inside scoop of Amazon that they enforce but don’t publish: Amazon reserves the right to remove any review they deem was written by a friend, family member or business associate. It doesn’t matter if it’s a positive review or a negative review either!

To learn more about the dos and don’ts of Amazon’s review policy, I would recommend the Publish Your eBook Blueprint Home Study Course.

Here’s my personal take on eBook reviews:

Reviews are like karma: if you give good reviews, you’ll get good reviews.

When I say “good” reviews, I don’t mean 5-star reviews. I mean reviews that clearly show that you took the time to read and evaluate the book. Say what you liked and why. Give examples of what you didn’t like and why. Amazon requires that all reviews are at least 20 words long.

I aim for 100-300 words every time I give a review.

What do I review?

Pretty much everything. Any time I read a book, I try to leave a review. I save all my reviews and try to post them about once a month. I read a LOT of books so I find that it’s easier to post reviews in batches.

I also try not to leave 1- or 2-star reviews. A 3-star review can be constructive; a 4- or 5-star review means the book is awesome.

Why don’t I do 1- or 2-star reviews?

Well, a book has to be pretty abysmal for me to want to leave a 1- or 2-star review. And I just usually don’t pick up books that are that bad. I use the “Look Inside” feature first. If the author has me cringing in the first few pages, I don’t buy the book.

Plus, call me biased, but I understand the hard work that goes into writing and publishing a book. For many authors, that is a labor of love and their dream. I know from experience that a 1-star review can ruin a good day.

However, that being said, there are books out there that were clearly NOT a labor of love; somebody just slapped it together and hit publish. If that’s the case, (and you can totally tell the difference between somebody who cares and somebody just trying to make a buck!) then I have no issue with leaving a 1- or 2-star review. I still make sure that I am being comprehensive and that I read the book.

And I’ve found that since I started taking the time to leave thoughtful, well-written reviews, the quality of reviews on my own books has gone up.

Your Opinion Matters:

Do you leave reviews? What do you do if you think the book should only get a 1- or 2-star review?

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A huge shout-out to all our service men and women who put their lives on the line for us so we can have our backyard BBQ, fireworks, parades, and daily celebrations.

I have a confession to tell you:

I never really “got” it until recently. I never really understood our Veterans and what they’ve given and done and sacrificed to our country. Isn’t that kind of sad? But I wasn’t raised in a military family. I had a few acquaintances who had ties to the military, my uncle sends regular care packages to troops overseas, a former roommates’ grandma makes blankets, a friend’s daughter graduated from the Air Force Academy.

But me, I never really GOT it.

Until last August when I started dating a wonderful man who had spent seven years in the Air Force. Yep, he was an officer. No, he wasn’t a pilot. He did two tours of duty, ON THE GROUND, in Afghanistan. Through his stories, I think I finally started to understand what these men and women do for us, for the country. He’s told me stories that made me laugh, he’s told stories that made me cry. And he’s told me some stories that left me shaking — stories that ended well but could have ended so badly; stories that meant that he may never have lived to even meet me, let alone help an average American woman understand what this day really means.

Now, when I thank a Veteran for his or her service, I feel I can look into their eyes and say, “I have no clue how you do it. I know the barest bit of what you give for me, and I am eternally grateful.”

So, happy Independence Day. Eat a hot dog, watch some fireworks, thank a Veteran. I appreciate you.

This post started out as a way to offer a 4th of July discount on my Publish Your eBook Blueprint: Home Study Course. But as I sat down to write, I realized that it needed to be oh so much more. So I’ll make a deal with you: Here’s your coupon:

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It’s good for 20% off through the weekend. But if you choose NOT to use it, I’ll donate that same 20% to Wounded Warriors.