Writing

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I was asked this weekend what type of stuff do I write and how often do I write. It was an open-ended question posted in a Facebook group for authors and acceptable answers were everything from Facebook posts to emails to training programs to a novel.

It really made me stop to think about how much writing I do every week:

  • Article for the blog
  • Introduction for the newsletter
  • Emails to clients
  • Facebook posts
  • Business journal entries
  • Emails to friends and family
  • Working on my own book projects (at least three afternoons a week)
  • Editing and writing for clients
  • Copywriting for clients
  • And of course: lists for EVERYTHING

(I really live by making lists so I count that as writing!)

But what really surprised the group was my consistency in writing my weekly article and sending out the weekly newsletter. I was quickly asked:

Kimberly, how long did it take you to create good habits for yourself that keep you on track?

It took all I had not to answer: about fifteen seconds.

See, it really DID take about fifteen seconds to develop my “habit” for my weekly article and weekly newsletter. But I know that isn’t the answer the group (or you) are looking for! Of the five tips I’m going to share, I really do think #1 is the most important!

 

Five Ways To Develop Consistency In Your Writing

1. Decide it matters
In August 2013 I DECIDED that I was going to post a weekly article and mail out a weekly newsletter. I’d played with posting regularly and, if I’m super honest, had never emailed my list consistently. I don’t even remember my thought process or why I decided that I would write weekly and email weekly.

And you know what, it doesn’t matter. What matters is I drew the line and said: From this moment forward I’ll be consistent. I won’t allow ANYTHING to get in my way.

But here you have to be brutally honest with yourself. If you wanted to write a business article weekly and you sit down to discover you have no Internet at the moment, what do you do?

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As part of what I do as a publisher, I also offer editing services. And while having an editor is completely invaluable there are things that the writer needs to do to get the most from an editor’s services.

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1. Know your bad habits

If you read my writing, you’ll see that I have my own little habits. One of which is using a word all in caps to give it EMPHASIS. And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s more common to either display the word in bold or italic. Another bad habit I have is the over-use of ellipses, especially where they aren’t needed. (Or parenthetical phrases!)

So recognize your bad habits and then keep an eye out for them. Are you using them properly? Is it the best way to convey emphasis?

I’m not saying that you have to stop using your idiosyncrasies in your writing but you do need to know when to drop them in favor of a more consistent form.

2. Buy a style manual and use it

When I was in college, a writing professor told me I had no clue how to use a comma. I whole-heartedly disagreed with her but agreed to get a grammar cheat sheet use to make life easier. Turns out, she was mostly right. There were a lot of times where I was using a comma that didn’t really call for it. But there were other times where I inserted a comma to break a thought or phrase into pieces. (I was studying poetry so I had much more leeway.)

But don’t just assume that you remember all the grammar rules from elementary school. To this day, I still double check usage when I’m not sure.

3. Read your work as if you were a total beginner (to your topic)

I write a lot of non-fiction. Specifically in the outdoor recreation genre. And I always thought I was pretty good at defining all the terms and not using too much jargon. Until a self-proclaimed city boy read over my manuscript about camping and asked me what pot-water was.

The word was potable. And I made the mistake of assuming that my audience already knew what I was talking about: drinking water.

Now, after I write something, especially if it’s highly technical but written for beginners, I go back to make sure that if I knew NOTHING I could still understand it.

4. Ask yourself “Does this [section, chapter, paragraph] move the story forward?”

By story I don’t necessarily mean fiction, although it could!

When I first started reading indie fiction, I quickly came to the realization that at LEAST 30% of every book I read could be cut out and the work would be stronger for it. There were too many scenes that did nothing to advance the plot but it was clear that the author was terrified of the DELETE key.

Don’t be that author! Review each section with a critical eye and ask yourself if it REALLY needs to be there. Are you being pedantic? Did you just explain that and now you’re going over it again? Does the reader really need to know this information? IF this were a fiction story, would your reader get bored?

5. Use strong verbs

Frankly, I didn’t really GET verbs until I was studying Spanish. And then a whole new world opened up with the power of action words!

Here’s a tricky verb in English: to be. Most people don’t really even understand it as a verb.

It’s the “is, was, am, are, were” verb. And it can be very dangerous. For example: “I would be interested in the job.” is the “weak” form of “I am interested in the job.” The first example is boring and the second is more interesting.

The passive voice sneaks up on us as writers! Watch for it and beware.

(I’m not going to get unto my Passive Voice Soapbox here. Just use strong verbs!)

6. Cut the “extra” words

I know I use the word “that” too much. It’s probably how I talk although I haven’t paid that much attention. Other “extra” words include:

  • That
  • Just
  • Very
  • Really
  • Some
  • Also

And while you’re cutting, also chop out the adverbs. Most of them aren’t needed and the redundant ones make even unsophisticated readers wince. For example: shout loudly. When’s the last time you heard a not-loud shout? Your adverb should give us a quality that isn’t already implied by the verb itself.

7. Don’t expect perfection

Nobody can perfectly self-edit. End of story. But you need to know when it’s time to pass the work along to somebody else. My “rough” draft that goes to my editor has been through at least four or five revisions first.

a.   Grammar, spelling, punctuation
b.   Am I being clear (when writing for beginners)
c.   Fact-checking anything I may have “assumed” when I was first writing
d.   Read aloud for flow, missing words, choppy sentences

Once you’ve done everything you can do, it’s time to get a second set of eyes onto the page. But be sure you define what they’ll be doing for you. Back to my example of the camping book: I had one editor who ONLY looked for things that didn’t make sense to a beginner and for facts that might be wrong. I had a second editor take a look at grammar, spelling, and punctuation. A third editor looked at flow and to make sure all the chapters were in the section that made the most sense.

But NONE of those people saw the work before I had worked it over several times myself!

Business Bloggers: This one’s for you!

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When’s the last time something really exciting happened in your life? They type of event that you recounted to everybody who came near you, if they had a pulse and ears, you were sharing your story? People start to grimace when you’re coming close because they KNOW you’re going to tell them all about it, if they want to know or not!

Now when’s the last time you wrote something for your business blog that had you that excited?

BTW: I’m not talking about the excitement around the launch of product, book, service, etc. I’m talking about the excitement that comes from:

I can’t wait to sit down to write about ABC and share it with my readers!

Um, did you just hear the clock ticking loudly as you tried to figure it out?

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Don’t worry! It’s okay and it happens the best of us. There are definitely times when I just have NO excitement, passion, or oomph for my blog. It happens.

But don’t let your blog become too much of a boring-facts-how-to-articles-not-really-FUN type of publication. Let your readers SEE your passion and excitement for your business, industry and topic shine through your writing!

Remember what you really LOVE about what you do and then begin sharing that passion and excitement with your readers! Remember that while you write is someone who is just finding you NOW, today, and that she needs to see your love of what you do coming through onto the page.

Here’s your assignment:

Find something you’re passionate about in your business (NOT a launch!) and then write a blog post about it. Bonus points if you then excitedly share the article on social media!

Anybody who knows me knows I don’t believe in writer’s block. It’s impossible to be SO blocked that you can’t write ANYTHING!

That being said, it is completely possible and common to become stuck on a project. For example, my book about beginning camping: “Pitch Your Tent: A Family’s Guide To Tent Camping” had me stuck several times. For some reason, the writing JUST wasn’t flowing.

And frankly, this week’s blog was a lot like that. It wasn’t that I didn’t have some GREAT ideas and that I was struggling to work on this month’s editorial calendar. Nope, it was that I wanted some ideas that would work inside of my time constraints THIS week. I don’t have an over-abundance of time right now to devote to researching and writing and planning and outlining some of my more complicated article ideas.

As you’re planning your weekly writing, keep this in mind! Some articles are FANTASTIC but take longer to put together than others.

I’m not blocked at all: I can write a LOT on several projects that have nothing to do with what I publish on this website. I’ve got great ideas (and even article starts) on really fabulous topics about writing and blogging and publishing.

But I was still “stuck” on a relevant, easy-to-write topic for this week. So I’m pretty much taking the copout and writing ABOUT being frustrated!

Here’s my plan for the rest of April until my time frees up a bit:

  • Record all these article ideas (with some notes) in my business journal
  • Brainstorm some articles that are less labor intensive to get me through
  • Ask a trusted associate to write a guest article
  • Keep writing!

Because here’s the thing about writing: it’s an exercise. And when you go too long without putting words on a page you lose “muscle tone”. So keep writing, my friend!

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One of my least favorite tasks in writing fiction is naming my characters. I know, I know, it SHOULD be fun and easy and well, fun.

For me, it isn’t.

I either AGONIZE over a name and drive myself crazy or I flip open the phone book and chose the first name my finger lands on. I figure I can always change it later, right?

Well naming a character really is something to think about. Often times, without even meaning to, a character’s name will influence her character traits, personality, and the theme of the story.

I still hate naming characters.

Honestly, one of my go-to methods for naming a character is to ask my mom. I give her a snippet about the character, how I see him acting, what he looks like, and some basic framework of the story (sci-fi or romance, action or historic) and let her do her thing. After teaching for THIRTY YEARS she’s got a great name database in her head.

If you’re not so lucky, here are five websites to help you with names!

Social Security Administration: Popular Baby Names by Year
You can set the year of birth and get anywhere from the top 20 to the top 1,000 names in that year

BehindTheName.com
Not only the top names by year, but also by region.

NameTrends.net
Remember the movie “Heathers”? Not just the trends of an individual name, but also about over-reaching trends.

Parents.com
Another resources for regional names.

Meaning-of-Names.com
Because sometimes knowing the name is time-frame appropriate just isn’t enough!

So when you’re picking your names here are my top five tips:

1. Make it easy to say, spell, and hear in your head!

The reader will be “hearing” your character’s name in their head and you don’t want him to struggle or get frustrated that he doesn’t know how to pronounce your main character’s name.

Want a Blockbuster example of this: Hermione. Back BEFORE all the Harry Potter movies, who really knew how to say this name? I kept getting herm-ony, rhymes with harmony.

Sci-fi and fantasy are FILLED with unpronounceable names. If you’re lucky the reader will just make something up and roll with it. If you’re not so lucky OR if you overwhelm the reader with too many unpronounceable names, she’ll put your book down.

2. Make your name believable for the character’s age, the time period, and nationality.

DO NOT name your 40-year-old, female protagonist in a 1920’s western Crystal!

Many of the resources I gave you above allow you to not only look for popular names but also by time period. As much as it can be a pain, you really do need to do your research. Somebody, somewhere will KNOW that the name Clayton didn’t come into vogue until 1980 and naming your 1880 protagonist Clayton is wrong.

(By the way, I made that up. I have no idea when boys were started named Clayton.)

And make sure that your ethnic name actually matches that ethnicity, nationality, or culture!

Now, that being said, you can modernize or Americanize any name but you may want to explain why you’re doing that. For example, I knew a Russian Jew named Greg. It didn’t fit, right? Well in public he was Greg; at home with his Russian immigrant parents, he was Grishka.

3. Nicknames make the story go.

My full name is Kimberly; I go by Kim. But my dad calls me Munch (short for Munchkin), my grandfather calls me Changa and all through high school, my mom called me Kimber. My grandma calls me Vicki-Rosie-Kim as she goes through my aunt’s name, my mom’s name and finally lands on me.

NOBODY calls me Kimmy. It makes me mad.

Except of course for ONE uncle. It’s okay when he does it.
It’s normal for your characters to have more than one name depending on WHO is addressing them. Just make sure it’s crystal-clear to your READER who everybody is.

And, like the example above, a nickname can say a lot about how a character sees herself, how others see her and what makes her crazy.

A variation on a nickname is a term of endearment like honey or baby. No lover ALWAYS addresses his partner by her full name. Ever.

4. Avoid names that sound the same or all start with the same letter.

One summer in high school I taught swim lessons to a family of five that ALL had names starting with K: Kirby, Kelvin, Krista, Kelsey, and Kermit. (I kid you not!) If that’s annoying and hard to keep your head around in real life, it’s doubly so in fiction when the character is just words on a page.

Also avoid too many similarities like Jimmy and Timmy; Jack and John; Kathy and Christine.

A cast of rhyming names is also out: Jerry, Terry, Kerry, Larry.

Avoid ones that sound similar: Gerald and Gerard; Bob and Rob; Christy and Crystal.

And if you can, also vary the number of syllables in a name. Too many David, Edward, Kelly, Patrick, etc. won’t immediately stand out to the reader as all having two syllables but it will grate on the reader and they probably won’t know why it bothers them.

5. Don’t marry the name.

Soooo you think you have the perfect name, do you? Then you are telling a friend, beta reader, the local barista, your mom about the character and they say,

“Oh, I read a book or movie [insert similar plot line] that had a character named that!”

Our subconscious works in mysterious ways and sometimes it serves up the perfect character name. But with a little more research you realize that the REASON it’s perfect is because it’s already been used.

Here’s an example from a very early (high school!) fantasy story I wrote. I named my bad guy Oomadon. Only to be informed by my widely read friend that Ommadon was the name of the wizard in movie playing that past weekend. (Same name, slightly different spelling.)

I changed the name to Oobadion thinking I was dodging a bullet.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the names were just too similar and scrapped the character’s name altogether. Throughout the draft I just called him O and went back to rename him later.

 

 

And if you REALLY hate naming your character, you can buy a gig on Fiverr.com for somebody to do it for you!

It happens to us all, we want to publish an eBook but writing a book seems like such a huge, daunting, overwhelming task with the biggest question being “How do I come up with all the content?”

Here are three quick and easy ways to generate the first-draft of your eBook.

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1. Transcribe a class you’ve already taught.

Most business owners have some form of content already. Maybe it’s an audio or a video training, Or even just a series of PowerPoint slides. You can use this as the framework for an eBook. And you’ll find that BAM! A large portion of your content is already created for you.

A word of warning: Do NOT just publish a transcript! We speak very differently than good writing. Don’t believe me? Read a transcription without listening to the audio. It’s very hard to follow what the speaker is talking about.

2. Start small

When I was first getting started with eBook publishing the idea of creating an entire book was completely overwhelming. So I started with what I knew: short fiction. My short fiction tends to be VERY short, like under 5 pages per story, so I knew that just one story wouldn’t be enough for an entire book. I was able to collect the stories I already had written, write a few more, and publish my first book.

3. Look to your backlist

Chances are you already have “stuff” you’ve written: blog posts, checklists, newsletter articles, white papers, etc. Don’t feel you have to start completely from scratch when publishing an eBook. If you lay out all your articles you’ll find common themes running through them. Look for the patterns and use this as the framework for your eBook. You’ll have to fill in the gaps and write additional content but you’re not starting from scratch!

Now pay very close attention to what I’m going to tell you next:

This is your ROUGH draft!

Don’t think you can just compile this content, format it as an eBook and call it good! You’re still going to need to edit everything, make sure you’re being 100% clear, look for transitions (“In last week’s newsletter I said…”), and completely polish your book.

But this is enough to get you started and moving forward toward publishing your first eBook.

 

Your Thoughts:

Where are you going to start? How will you be using your eBook?

I know we’re all looking for ways to keep our blog content updated regularly. Regularly updated information keeps readers coming back, shows the world that you still exist, increases search engine visibility, and of course, can provide content for books later on. But the ongoing question is always HOW do I create all that content?

A great way to keep your blog fresh is to post content that is relevant to your industry RIGHT NOW. Here are five ways where you can be sure that you’re “in the loop” for what’s big in your industry right now.

 

1. Google Alerts

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Set up a Google alert for a keyword in your industry and have it deliver the content once per day. My trick here is to tell Google to give me EVERYTHING from every source it can; not just what Google deems “important”. This gives me insight into what is happening globally, in local markets, and far beyond the blockbuster news stories.

A word of caution here: your alert will ONLY be as good as your keyword! My keyword of “publishing” returns me TONS of results every day but only a small portion of the results are relevant. After a few weeks of scanning the articles, I was able to narrow and refine my alert’s keyword.

2. Troll Facebook

Now, before you tell me “But Kim, all my people hang out on LinkedIn” (or Twitter or Google+ or WHATEVER) just trust me on this one! Because I can pretty much guarantee that your competition or the biggest player in your industry has a presence on Facebook. So scan that fanpage regularly for what are they posting about what is happening in your industry. Then, you can follow the news back to its source to get the full scoop or do some digging about contradictory positions.

It’s okay to let somebody else do some of the research for you! Plus, they’ll also be sorting for what’s important and letting the fluff go by. Just be careful that you’re not just copying somebody else’s media strategy or opinion about what is breaking news!

3. Subscribe To Industry Magazines

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Online or offline, your industry will have a few key magazines. The real gold here isn’t always in the current editions but in the archives. As a subscriber, often you can access older issues for free or low cost. What you’ll see after a while is a pattern to when they’re timing their articles. So when you start to see that pattern of “They always have an article about THISandTHAT in March” then you know that this is a seasonal topic that you can research ahead of time and be ready to jump on board.

By the way, any regularly published industry “publication” will work. In addition to subscribing to two writing magazines, I also get three email newsletters about writing and publishing. Authors aren’t super big into podcasts since we like written words but if we were, I’d listen to the podcasts as well.

4. Get On Press Release Lists

Specifically the press releases for the key players in your industry. For my outdoor recreation business, I’m on the press release list for the local National Forest. For publishing, I read the press releases from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Instead of waiting for the story to break in a huge publication and then cover it later, I get the information at nearly the same time the biggest news outlets do.

Here’s the ninja move though:
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Instead of JUST posting the press release to your blog (which can be okay) you can insert your expert opinion about what the update MEANS. For example, my article Why Traditional Publishing Isn’t Fair is based off an article I found but I didn’t just republish the article. I gave my expert opinion about what it means to us as independent authors.

5. Create The News

I know a ton of business owners who regularly submit press releases to their local papers or to distribution services but who NEVER post the content directly on their website! Or if they do, it’s buried under a Media tab. If you’re the one doing something newsworthy in your industry, toot your own horn and tell people about it.

Remember that the style and format for a press release is far different than a blog article! You can either post the press release directly into a blog article or you can take the same news and repackage it to fit the style and tone of your blog.

A word of caution about tips 1 – 4: be sure that you are fully vetting any source materials you use. You don’t want to perpetuate bad information or run the risk of looking like you didn’t do your due diligence to make sure that the facts are accurate.

It can take a lot of time to sort through the news. Even if you don’t end up using the information on your blog, it’s never wasted time because it helps you have a “big picture” look at your industry.