If you are an avid fiction writer, then you have probably run into the problem of writer’s block once or twice. Lack of inspiration is the most potent enemy to a writer of any kind, but especially to one who relies on original tales and stories of fiction. Still, there are a number of ways you can get your creative juices flowing again, no matter how tapped out you feel.
Writers have a tendency to become stagnant in their work. They feel that the assignment at hand must be done as soon as possible, as many face impending deadlines for their work, but the fact remains that sitting behind your desk in your office is actually counter-productive to the creative process. To get the creative juices flowing, it is always a good place to start to get your actual, physical juices flowing: your blood. Try taking a short brake and going for a half an hour walk. We do some of our best thinking when we are walking, because we are getting more oxygen to our brains than by sitting behind a desk writing or typing.
Keep in mind that being sedentary is the enemy of creativity. Another thing you could do to combat mental and physical lethargy is to change your setting. Your desk and office may be the most congenial place for you to write logistically, but it may be stifling your imagination and creative capacities. If at all possible, set up shop in your backyard, on your deck, or at a nearby park. Try writing outdoors or simply change your work scenery to gain a different perspective.
This next pointer may be the most powerful yet: tap into your dreams. Even if, in your waking life, you are finding it hard to think creatively or come up with something new, chances are your subconscious mind is not having the same problem. It can be difficult, with your schedule, to record your dreams when you wake up in the morning, but give it a try. You can start by keeping a small notebook and a pen near your bed, perhaps on your nightstand every night. Wake up 15 minutes early every morning to give yourself time to simply lie in bed and think about your dreams. Close your eyes and try to recall every detail as best you can, no matter how seemingly inconsequential. Write everything down in the notebook—everything! This is the time where you should be a free-form recounting your dreams, and you can sift through the details and what is incomprehensible later.
You may get an idea for a new story form your dreams or maybe some valuable insight into a story you are already writing, as our dreams are often cryptic messages to us about things that are going on in our waking lives.
We all have stories to tell, from an awkward first kiss to overcoming a devastating illness. Memoirs are an excellent means of sharing the intriguing bits and pieces of our lives that have shaped who we are today. If you are ready to begin your own memoir, here are some tips to get you writing in the right direction.
A memoir is not an autobiography, which means that it should not cover your entire life. The objective of a memoir is to highlight a specific time period in your life or a specific event you experienced. Your memoir represents a single morsel or slice of your life.
Be truthful about the events you are describing. It might be tempting to write yourself in a more flattering light, but the memoir is not a work of fiction. Stick to the facts. It is perfectly okay to tell your story in an interesting way. Just be sure to avoid rewriting history. Telling tall tales is for fiction and readers will be skeptical anyway if you always have the right comeback at the right time.
Draw on Fiction
While it is important to be truthful in memoir writing, you still want the story to be interesting to readers. Try applying elements of fiction writing to your story without actually fictionalizing it. This can help you achieve a memoir that is both readable and memorable.
One place to start is with the people in your memoir, including yourself. Write about the individuals in your story as if they were characters in a novel. What are their struggles? Do they have any distinct characteristics? Draw on those aspects of the people in your story to help readers get to know them.
It Isn’t About You
It might be your memoir, but it should not necessarily be about you. Readers want to know what’s in it for them. What lessons can they learn from your story? What can they take away from it? Even though you are sharing an event or situation from your life, you do not want to sound like you’re just talking about yourself. Readers will quickly lose interest. Writer and instructor Marion Roach Smith says it best. “The best memoir is about something, and that something is not me.” Illustrate a universal theme, such as spirituality, through your memoir.
When composing your own memoir, remember to focus on a specific event or time period, stick to what really happened, utilize elements of fiction for interest, and emphasize a theme or lesson rather than yourself. Employing these tips in your memoir will make it one people want to read.
There is value in writing well. Even if you are a multi-tasking, frequently-under-stress executive, making time for better business writing is worth it. It is not frivolous or tiresome; indeed, communicating effectively will benefit your career. See below for some tips to get you started.
Think First and Write Afterwards
Your communications need to be engaging and plain-spoken, so that your style of composition does not burden busy people. Effective writing is a cultivated skill. Do not write prematurely; think first about what you want to communicate. People who think as they write do not convey their thoughts clearly. Their communications lack structure. Be thoughtful, and avoid haste. Consider what your reader (or readers) should think or know after receiving what you sent.
Do Not Bury Your Point
Present the main idea first. Impactful business writing has clarity. Summarize your point in the beginning regardless of whether you write a memo, proposal, or an email. It will help you better craft your argument/communication. You will save your audience’s time, and your writing will stand out by being direct.
Avoid Padding Your Message
Emails should be brief, clear, and specific. The beginning sentences should let the reader know about the rest of the message. You will capture the attention of busy professionals by giving them a brief summary of the contents in the opening of your message.
Each word should matter. Be concise. Get rid of filler words and phrases. Grandiose language reflects verbosity, not intelligence. Convey the objective clearly. Use stronger action verbs, and remove prepositions for more direct language.
Avoid Acronyms and Jargon, Where Possible
Industry-specific jargon and acronyms may be necessary sometimes, but when used frequently they indicate laziness and bore the reader.
Write with a Natural Tone
Writing that is either stuffy or overly casual hits the wrong tone. Be natural. Write the content quickly, and edit it later.
Review and Edit the Text
Go over what you write. Read your writing objectively, and remove unnecessary words and content. Readers pay less attention to verbose content. When appropriate, ask for feedback from colleagues, especially if you are writing a proposal, report, or an important memo. Other viewpoints will help you improve.
If your business writing is not as clear as it should be, then focus on how to improve it. Put yourself in your recipient’s place, and consider whether what they will receive is what you wanted to convey. If you have the time, read some books about improving business writing.
Professional writers of all stripes will agree that writing is both easy and hard. For novelists, the challenge exceeds composing well-written content. Agents reject flawed work. It is better to create a less mistake-riddled work given the high rate of rejection by agents.
Novice novelists make a number of common mistakes. Weed out these weaknesses while drafting the novel. Keep in mind the following common mistakes made by inexperienced writers.
1. An Undistinguished Manuscript
To get out of the slush pile, the novel needs to have a concept, an angle, or a pitch that is outstanding. Think big. Develop an aspect of the novel that makes it fresh, even if you are writing for a genre in which readers expect to see certain elements in their books. If your manuscript is good, but not good enough, do not be surprised by a rejection letter.
2. Extreme or Inefficient Language or Cliché-Riddled Writing
Strong language is useful, when used with discretion. Overuse is off-putting. Make every sentence economical; make your words count. Excessive verbiage is dead weight that hampers the reader you want to impress. Descriptive language or content that is too familiar is a cliché. Keep that in mind, and you will see that agents and editors will appreciate your efforts.
3. Absent or Bland Descriptions
Readers enjoy being transported into a different world. Provide a context and setting that will engage readers.
4. Pretty Prose, Lack of Clarity, or a Literary Writing Fail
Showy language overwhelms content because the disruptive power of pretty prose impedes the flow of the narrative. Optimally, prose clearly and economically conveys meaning. Be aware that sloppy prose may signal sloppy thinking. If you aspire to write literary fiction, competence is insufficient. Literary fiction must be well written.
5. Pointless Detail and/or Distracting Research
Avoid unnecessary details to keep the reader interested. Even if you have done extensive research about the background setting of your fiction, do not smother the narrative with facts. This also applies to information about location and scenery. You are writing fiction, not a travelogue.
6. Plots, Character, and Conflict Weaknesses
Is the plot discernible? Your manuscript should not be a sequence of events affecting your characters or have bland, non-relatable characters. Add depth to your characters with insights into their inner lives or background stories. The backstory provides more information about the character. It can even just hint at the inner motivations of the character.
7. Dialogue and Pacing Weaknesses
Believable dialogue can be challenging for first-time novelists. Read each character’s dialogue to catch inconsistencies. Stick to the same points of view in a scene. Handle the transition from one character to the next carefully in a scene. Uneven pacing makes the narrative disjointed and could turn off readers.
Writing a novel is a major undertaking. The next challenge is to get past the slush pile. Avoid common mistakes to create an outstanding first novel that launches your writing career.
Are you ready to write a book? Do you think getting your book published will be the most difficult challenge? Actually, the hardest part is writing a book, as there are more opportunities than ever before to publish a book. There are also more tools available to make the writing task easier.
Before you begin writing, you need to have your writing tools ready for use. Which one will work for you? The optimal writing tools provide the support a writer needs to become productive.
Software Tools for Writers
Will you use Word, Pages, Nisus Writer Pro, Scrivener, or something else? Scrivener is made for writers and is ideal for long projects. It can also output books directly to self-publishing services. Storyist offers an alternative to Scrivener. Its iOS version enables writing on the go. Storyist also has tools that help writers who intend to self-publish their work.
If you want to use a free tool, consider the open source Bibisco tool for Windows and Linux users. Its capabilities include character development tools and book and scene organization tools. InDesign and Photoshop are useful for creating the visual aspects of the book.
Mobile apps permit writing on the go. Word for iPad, Storyist for iOS, Pages and Quip for iOS, and Google Docs for iOS and Android are all available. OneNote, Evernote, and Pocket are all helpful for research. Trello, a project management tool, helps writers track their work and become more consistent. Go ahead and see what else you can use. Novel Factory, creative writing and other software offer writers many choices.
Self-publishing Sites for Writers
If you plan to self-publish, you have several options. CreateSpace, Author House, and Xlibris are cost-free or come with charges for more supportive services. EBook distribution choices vary with Smashwords, Draft2Digital, PigeonLab, EpubDirect, BookBaby, and eBookPartnership.
Book Proposals for Nonfiction Books
If you want a publisher to publish your nonfiction book, you will need to create a book proposal to pitch your book idea. A book proposal explains why your book, or book idea, is a marketable product. It can be 50 pages or more. Seasoned writers create the proposal before drafting the book. But, new writers may find it easier to write the book before creating the proposal. Do what works best for you.
A Novel Synopsis for Publishers
Agents or publishers want to see what happens in the novel. The synopsis contains the narrative arc of the novel from beginning to end. A novel synopsis is useful because it reveals weaknesses in the plot, characterizations, and/or the structure of the novel. The synopsis also reveals how unique or interesting the story is.
Writing is a process that begins with the basics, before the writer’s creative skills are exercised. Being organized, knowing how you want to publish the book, and preparing what is needed will make the process productive for you.
Establishing a routine is an essential tool for most writers. Routines are invaluable for writers because they provide structure and allow them to focus on writing. The difference between unrealized potential and being a published author is the commitment to make it happen. Establishing a daily routine is a part of the process.
Learning how to establish a routine that works is a personal choice and depends on the person’s daily activities. If you are a busy person, establishing a routine will make you consistently productive.
Choose a Comfortable Workspace
Writers need an organized and inspirational workspace that is as distraction-free as possible. Your workspace can affect how often and well you write. The ideal workspace will help you to be a productive writer.
Establish a Writing Time and Its Duration
Productive writers often make writing a part of their daily routine. A writer may elect to write for the same amount of time each day or establish how many words or pages get written daily. Sometimes it is better to create a space during the day, either before the daily grind begins or at nighttime before bed.
Select a Playlist for Writing Sessions
Some writers like using playlists. Music can affect the written word, inspire writers to create, and help set the mood. You can stick to the same playlist or change it up. What you choose should make you feel inspired and relaxed.
Keep a Notebook or Virtual Tool for Notes on the Go
Writers get inspiration at unscheduled moments. Even if you have an established routine, a notebook for jotting down ideas is a useful tool. A notebook helps writers make productive use of their established daily writing periods.
If you do not want to carry a notebook and writing utensil around, consider using an online tool like OneNote, Evernote, or Pocket to collect your ideas. You can write when you get the inspiration and not just during your designated daily writing period. When you are in the zone, you should keep going while it lasts.
Keep Material for Reading Inspiration
Keeping other writers’ work handy provides a ready source for inspiration when you need it.
Repetition of a set routine can mesmerize the writer into an absorbed state of mind. Writers who do not have other distractions can get in the writing mode by following a daily routine like writing at a certain time, doing some form of exercise before or after the writing period, or doing something that gets the juices going like listening to music or reading.
Nevertheless, do not become a slave to a routine that does not serve you. The purpose of the routine is to provide you with the space to write productively. If you cannot establish a routine, write whenever you can.
A query letter is a one-page document sent by a writer to his or her literary agent. Its primary purpose is to lure the agent’s interest in the manuscript. Since many writers are engaged in the same goal, a successful query letter makes for an outstanding pitch.
Each query does not have much time, or space, to capture the interest of the literary agent. Experienced agents get thousands of queries every year. This is why novice writers sweat over the challenge of writing a captivating query letter.
Creating a List of Prospective Agents
There are several resources that help writers locate agents that specialize in their genre. These include databases like the publishersmarketplace.com, literarymarketplace.com, the Association of Author Representatives, agentyuery.com, querytracker.net, and writersmarket.com. After finding potential agents, writers need to visit the agents’ websites to obtain submission guidelines, find out what types of books they are looking for; and whether they are still accepting submissions.
Following Submission Guidelines
Submission guidelines specify the acceptable method of submission, as well as what should be included in the query letter’s contents and/or attachments. Some elements do not change even when the contents vary according to the agent’s specifications, the work being pitched by the writer, and its genre.
Printed/Email Formats and Content
If the agent wants the material submitted by mail, then the letter should have the writer’s address, right justified, at the top of the page followed by the left justified agent’s name and address. If the letter is being submitted by email, the subject line should indicate it is a query and the signature should have the writer’s name, address and other contact information.
The agent should be addressed courteously; and, the main portion of a posted letter should not exceed five or 6 paragraphs. Emailed queries should not exceed 300 words because agents read and discard emails quickly.
The first paragraph should capture the agent’s interest. This is the paragraph where connection with the agent maybe personalized by for example mentioning authors represented by the agent, or any meeting with the agent, or knowing someone who knows the agent. It can include the word count of the book, its genre and title.
The following paragraphs should capture the agent’s interest by giving a vivid sense of the book. If query is about a nonfiction work, the writer should explain why the writer is qualified to write the book. If the book is a novel, then following agents on social media may provide useful information about whether the agent is the right fit for the book being pitched. Only requested attachments should be provided. The signature can include links to a personal website or blog.
Bottom line: agents want projects that publishers will accept. If you want to feel comfortable about your task, check online for examples that have worked. You can also improve the odds of being accepted by sending queries to many agents.
Few major publishers take submissions seriously if they are not received through a literary agent. As revealed by the 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey, agented authors received substantially higher median advances and earnings. Traditional publishers also depend on agents to be reliable guides for writers.
What Literary Agents Do For Writers
The main purpose of an agent is to sell manuscripts to publishers. Agents are professional salespeople but also career and writing guides for writers. To be successful at their manuscript sales job they need to have great contacts.
Agents provide pre-submission editorial work. This means perfecting the work, not fixing a half-baked project. Afterwards, agents oversee the publication process while advising their writers throughout the process.
As part of their manuscript-selling role, agents need to know which editors are suitable for particular projects, and which publishing imprints are most suitable for the works. Agents must also be able to run auctions capably. In an ideal situation, multiple publishers will bid for the work. The agent advises the best course of action, if the manuscript is unable to attract multiple offers.
An agent must be experienced in negotiating a contract that reflects the best current practice for e-royalties, reversion clauses, and related matters. This technical aspect of price negotiations requires expert knowledge. An agent should know how to organize the sale of other rights, such as foreign language, TV and movie rights, with in-house capability or through partners.
Preparing a nonfiction book proposal or novel synopsis is an important preparatory step for the process of securing an agent.
Nonfiction Book Proposals
Book proposals take time to draft and can be 50 or more pages long. Experienced writers submit the proposal before writing their book. Novice writers may prefer to write the book before drafting the proposal. The proposals explain why the manuscript, or idea, is marketable.
A Novel Synopsis for Fiction
The synopsis reveals what happens in the novel and covers the narrative arc of the story. It reveals how fresh or interesting the story is and may reveal structural weaknesses that need to be corrected before submitting the work to publishers.
Finding an Agent via the Publishers Marketplace
The database of deals at the Publishers Marketplace provides useful information about which agents to target. The database reveals which agents have sold what books to which editors. The deal information also reveals the prices the manuscripts were sold for. The available information is useful for finding appropriate agents, and as a resource that can be used to entice agents’ interest.
Literary agents bring the value of monetary and non-monetary benefits to a writer’s career. If your book is of niche interest, such as an educational or professional work, you may not need an agent. However, you will have the advantage if you are able to obtain an agent.
Bloggers have to engage and maintain their readers’ attention. A study has found that only 16% of visitors of a website read every word of its content. Evidence from consumer reports, polls, and experiments reveals that computer screens make the content more difficult to read than it would be on printed paper.
A blog writer must craft the content to hold the reader’s attention. It is harder for people to read content that winds slowly to its conclusion because reading online content subtly impairs reading comprehension even for higher-literacy readers. Perhaps this is also why online material is less conducive to learning than is content printed on paper.
The following tips will help you to hook your readers and hold their attention:
Write for the Reader You Want to Engage
Are you writing for an educated audience or a wider consumer audience? This makes a difference because the online behavior of higher-literacy readers is unlike that of lower-literacy readers. Lower-literacy readers are not text scanners; while higher-literacy readers scan the text.
Lower-literacy readers read each word, so multi-syllabic words should be avoided to speed the process for them. If they are your intended audience, do not present the material in a style that is too complicated for lower-literacy readers. Dense text loses the attention of such readers as they skip over it to save time and effort.
Grab the Reader’s Attention with the First Sentence
The first sentence is critical because it engages the reader while providing some idea of the subject matter at the same time. Consider beginning with a question, a statistic, a quote or use another way to hook the reader.
Do Not Waste Words and Avoid Longwinded Sentences
Use words that most people can understand. Because of the limited attention span of most online readers, a blogger has to focus on getting the point across as quickly as possible. The content needs to be crafted so that every part of the content—from words to punctuation style and arrangement—adds something to the product. Read the content aloud to gauge the pace of the text.
Make Your Text Easily Scannable
Scanning is a technique used by readers to make the content less tiring to read.
Research how formatting, lists, headings and sub-headings, and other techniques are used to make the text more scannable. Focus on making it easier for readers to remember the content.
Readers reward bloggers who write unique, engaging, and informative content. Keep in mind that according to the U.S. Department of Education 43% of the population has a low literacy level. Present your content in a way that engages both higher-literacy and lower-literacy readers, if you are writing for a general audience.
Everyone thinks they want to be a freelance writer. You make your own hours, you set your own rates—what could be better? Getting paid, that’s what. Finding paying work online is like tracking down that pesky cricket in your bathroom at four in the morning. You know it’s there, but you just can’t find it. And just like catching that cricket, finding freelance writing work takes some skill and out-of-the-box thinking. Here are some great places to start your search.
Craigslist is Your Friend
Yes, you can find a lot of writing work on Craigslist! You just have to know how. If you only look in your particular city, there might be three or four listings a week (if you’re lucky), but there is a better way. Google’s advanced search option lets you rummage through Craigslist posts all over the country (and world) and find remote work everywhere.
Facebook: Not Just for Photos Anymore
Facebook can be used for a lot more than just gossiping about media celebrities and sharing pictures of cats. There are pages and groups galore, and a few moments’ searching will uncover dozens of writers’ groups, pages, sites, and blogs. Facebook is a great place to share tips with other writers too.
LinkedIn Will Keep you LinkedUp
For more professional writers—or those who want to be pros—the professional networking site LinkedIn is a great place to be seen and noticed. Businesses, companies, and sole proprietors prowl the forums on LinkedIn, looking for people who are bright, savvy, and able to write coherent sentences. Technical or scholarly writers do well on this site for pros.
Meetup Makes Meeting Up Merry
Not all writing can be done remotely. Sometimes you have to get out and hustle. Where to start? That amazing site Meetup finds networking groups, writing critique groups, business organizations, and social clubs—all great places to seek work. A talented writer with a little moxie can make connections, and more importantly, get assignments at these get-togethers.
The Art of Bidding Wars
Bid sites abound online these days, and they are good places for writers to hone their other skills—negotiation and price setting. Thumbtack, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com are all sites where, for a small fee, you can post your profile and then bid on projects others post. Bidding sites are not necessarily places to earn a living, but they are great for developing a portfolio, earning a little pocket money, and most importantly, getting your name and reputation out among people.
Freelancing is not a job to be taken lightly. There is money in it, but like that midnight cricket, it is elusive and takes patience to find. But the rewards of working for yourself are great and worth all that time spent hunting around cold dark tiles in the middle of the night.