Self-publishing checklist for first-time authors.
Writing a book is hard enough. When you self-publish, your workload multiplies exponentially.
For first-time, self-publishing authors, the work involved can be particularly daunting. You’re taking on a process that is traditionally completed by a team of experienced professionals, and since it’s your first time, you don’t know what you’re doing or how to do it. Hopefully, today’s checklist will provide you with some basic guidelines to help you develop a solid plan that you can use to self-publish your first book.
This checklist is meant as an overview, a basic list of tasks and projects you should complete when you self-publish a book. You may need to work on some of these steps simultaneously. For example, while you’re revising your book, you might want to start the process of building your platform. While you’re working on the cover and formatting, you might want to start creating a marketing plan.
1. Write the best book possible.
There are many ways to approach writing. Some authors write for the market, going after whatever genre is most popular at any given time. Others write whatever moves them. I’m a firm believer in writing the book you want to read. You might write with an outline or you might write by the seat of your pants. Do it alone or collaborate with a partner. But whatever approach you use, you should write the best book you possibly can, a book you can be proud of. Writing the best book includes everything from drafting and revisions to working with beta readers and editors.
2. Line up your service providers and vendors.
As you go through the self-publishing process, there will be projects you can tackle yourself and projects you’ll need to hire out. You might be able to set up your own website but if you lack graphic design skills, you’ll probably want to hire someone to design your book cover. Maybe you can format your own book, but you need someone to help you learn your way around social media. For every step in the process, there are experts out there who can assist you. The decisions you make about which tasks to hire out will depend on your skills, schedule, and budget. One cost you should definitely plan on would be an editor. There are a range of edits you can get from developmental editing to line editing (proofreading). At the very least, you should have a professional proofread your manuscript before you put it up for sale. Be sure to find and contact these service providers in advance so they can fit your project into their schedules.
3. Get a website, and start building your platform.
Building a platform takes time–a lot of time. That’s why it’s something you should start working on early in the publishing process. Your best marketing tool will be your website, so start with that. It will be your online headquarters for sharing news and announcements (like your book launch), providing information about yourself (your author’s bio), and connecting with fans. One of the best ways to build a platform is to start a blog. Use it to speak to your target readership. You should also venture into social media. Try setting up one account at a time. Give yourself a few weeks to become familiar with each one before diving into the next.
4. Develop your marketing plan and materials.
Marketing a book is like writing a book–there are many ways to do it. You might launch your book with nothing more than a quiet announcement on your blog. Or you might do a hard launch, complete with advertising and a blog tour. From pricing and giveaways to submitting your book to reviewers and developing a social media marketing plan, there is no end to the options available to you when it comes to marketing your book. That’s why it’s a good idea to set aside time in advance to learn about your many options, and then figure out which ones are the best match for you and your book. You’re far more likely to find your readers if you have a marketing plan in place before the book becomes available.
5. Get a good cover.
Self-published authors have been ridiculed for their low-quality book covers. You know what they say: don’t judge a book by its cover. The problem is that most people do judge a book by its cover, at least they do initially. Maybe you’ve written a brilliant novel. It won’t matter if your cover was designed by an amateur. Potential readers will take one look and decide your book is unprofessional, and they’ll pass it up, maybe even for a book that’s not as good but has a better cover. If you’re not a graphic designer, the cost of the cover could be a significant burden. Fortunately, there are affordable options out there, including pre-designed covers that may not be customized to your taste, but at least they look professional. Just remember this: you’re investing in your future as a career author.
6. Get your book professionally edited.
Speaking of investing in your book–do not skimp on editing. I would say editing is even more important than a decent cover, but it really depends (as with all things in self-publishing) on your skill set. Typos and blatant errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation tend to yank readers out of the story and have also been known to garner tons of negative reviews. Don’t let your excellent story suffer because you didn’t bother to get it properly edited. If you’re working with a tight budget, join a writing group and look for beta readers with strong editing skills, but be prepared to give back by providing critiques for others.
7. Plan to format your book for various editions and platforms.
You should put out paper and electronic editions of your book, and you should publish your book across as many platforms (stores) as possible. This ensures that your book is available and accessible to anyone who wants it. Each version needs its own ISBN and unique formatting. You’ll also need to render a .mobi file for the Kindle and an .epub for everything else. You may even want to do a hardcover, and eventually, an audio book. You might want to publish internationally or get your book translated into multiple languages. Decide ahead of time what formats and platforms you’ll publish to initially. You might want to get print and paper out immediately and tackle the audio book later. Be aware that formatting can be tedious and there’s a learning curve. Be prepared to spend some time formatting your own books, but also know that there are lots of service providers out there who will format your book for you, and they can be quite affordable.
8. Get ready to launch!
Some authors publish their book and immediately shift their focus to writing the next one. Other authors take some time to do a big launch and draw readers to the first book before delving into the next one. The luckiest authors have enough time to do both. The great thing about self-publishing is that you can choose a launch strategy that works for you and your book. Sometimes, a single book (especially one that took a long time to write) warrants a hard launch with lots of buzz. Other books (especially books that are the first in a series) might perform better once several books are available. Do some research, find out what strategies have worked for other authors, and plan your launch accordingly.
9. Get busy promoting.
One you hit the publish button, your book will become available to tens of millions of readers, but they won’t know it unless you tell them about it. Whether you start promoting your book immediately or wait until you have a few books out before you start promoting, you’ll eventually have to come up with a marketing campaign, and then you’ll need to execute that campaign. Marketing a book is a lot of work but the payoff can be worth it if you do it right. Here are some ideas to consider: contests and giveaways, newsletters, blog tours, social media, sales, advertisements, and submitting to reviewers.
Make That List and Check it Twice
You writing and publishing experience will go a lot smoother if you work from a plan. By starting with a plan, you can establish a series of deadlines for your project. Whatever you do, don’t rush your book to publication. Give it the time and attention it deserves.
Remember, the writing should always come first. Don’t get so caught up in planning everything else that you don’t leave any time to get your writing done. But do your research and make a plan, so you can check off every task one by one. And then get busy on your next book.
Good luck with your self-publishing projects, and keep writing!
National Grammar Day: March 4, 2014.
Every year on March fourth, we set aside a day to honor and celebrate grammar.
Grammar is either near and dear to a writer’s heart or it’s the bane of a writer’s existence. Some of us delight in studying the rules and constructs of language. These rules can be considered a consensus, a way to ensure consistency in language, so it can be widely used and understood.
That’s why grammar is one of the most important tools a writer can master. When you understand the rules of language, your writing will be smoother and easier to digest. You’ll also know when to break the rules for effect. As you gain mastery of grammar, your writing process becomes easier, because you won’t need to stop in the middle of a sentence to wonder if you’ve constructed it properly.
As writers, we should pay heed to grammar every day of the year. We should constantly strive to expand our knowledge of grammar, spelling, and punctuation as a way to improve our process and our finished product. National Grammar Day serves as a reminder that grammar is integral to our work.
Fast Facts About National Grammar Day
National Grammar Day was originally established in 2008 by Martha Brockenbrough, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SPOGG) and author of Things That Make Us [Sic].
Since 2013, National Grammar Day has been hosted by Mignon Fogarty, the author of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and The Grammar Devotional. She’s also the host of the Grammar Girl blog and podcast, which offers short and fun grammar lessons in easy, digestible chunks.
Five Ways to Celebrate National Grammar Day
This year on National Grammar Day, set aside a few minutes to learn something new about grammar, spelling, or punctuation.
- Treat yourself to a grammar handbook or a style guide. I recommend The Chicago Manual of Style, a thick tome that will answer almost every issue that arises in your writing.
- Visit the dictionary and learn a new word, or visit the thesaurus and study synonyms for some of your favorite or most frequently used words.
- Make a commitment to set aside a few minutes each day (or week) to study grammar and become better versed in the rules of language.
- Subscribe to Grammar Girls blog or podcast.
- Review a piece of your writing, and take time to look up every issue you’re uncertain about.
National Grammar Day
National Grammar Day has a mantra:
March forth on March 4 to speak well, write well, and help others do the same!
Finally, spread the word about National Grammar Day. Let your friends know about it, whether they’re writers or not, and be sure to visit the National Grammar Day website, which is packed with grammar goodies.
You can’t have too many writing tips!
The first time someone told me “show, don’t tell,” I had no idea what they were talking about. Show what? Isn’t writing, by its very nature, telling?
I was a young writer and didn’t yet understand the many elements that go into good writing. But I kept hearing that advice over and over: show, don’t tell.
Then, one day, it clicked. I got it. To tell was to write a synopsis. To show was to write a scene, to take readers through the events with action, dialogue, and detail. Show, don’t tell. Of course. It was so obvious.
Now, every time I read that advice, I have to smile.
You Can’t Have Too Many Writing Tips
Learning often happens through repetition. Oftentimes, the first time we hear something, we forget it almost immediately. Through review and repetition, we eventually memorize new information.
There is an infinite number of writing techniques and skills that the most advanced writers have mastered. We can’t expect to get our writing right the first time around, and we can’t expect to master all those techniques and skills as soon as we become privy to them.
You can’t collect too many writing tips, and you can’t brush up on your techniques and skills too often. In that spirit, I bring you fifteen quick and dirty writing tips. These are just the headlines, designed to jog your memory and remind you of all the writerly things we should be doing at any given time.
Quick and Dirty Writing Tips
This list includes a mix of some of my favorite writing tips and some of the tips I think are most essential.
- Read as much as you can (and make sure you read good stuff).
- Write every day – practice makes perfect.
- Acquire some resources: dictionary, thesaurus, style guide, grammar handbook, and books on writing.
- Join or start a writers’ group and get feedback on your work.
- Lower your expectations and allow yourself to write badly. It’s better to write crap than to write nothing at all.
- Feeling uninspired? Writer’s block is no excuse; find some writing prompts and exercises. Use them.
- Do you want to write a novel? Launch a blog? Submit your poetry? Set goals and then get busy reaching them.
- Be yourself. You have your own voice; let people hear it. Don’t compare everything you write to more successful writers. They started somewhere too.
- Tell your inner editor to take a vacation. Let yourself write freely and creatively. You can always edit and revise later.
- Get organized. All those notes, journals, and all that research! Binders, notebooks, and computer files. Put things in order so you can find what you need when you need it.
- Pay attention to your language: word choice and sentence structure is the difference between an award-winning novel and a book that sits on a shelf collecting dust (poetry exercises are great for this).
- Know your audience. Write for them using language they understand.
- Be creative and take risks. You’ll never know unless you try.
- Revise, edit, proofread, and polish everything you write before anyone else sees it!
- Show, don’t tell (you knew that was coming).
Do you have any writing tips to add to this list? If so, then leave a comment. And keep on writing!
Critiques make your writing better.
Today I’d like to share an excerpt from my book 10 Core Practices for Better Writing.
This excerpt is from “Chapter Seven: Feedback,” which offers tips for giving and receiving critiques as well as coping with public criticism. The excerpt I’ve chosen to share today explains how to use critiques to make your writing better, and it also touches on dealing with difficult critiques.
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” – Winston Churchill
There are two schools of thoughts about whether critiques of your work are beneficial.
One school of thought says that art is subjective; a critique is nothing more than someone’s opinion, and critiques might harm the artistic integrity of your work by interjecting someone else’s ideas and visions into it.
The other school of thought says that art may be subjective, but other people’s opinions matter and can actually be helpful. Writers may be too close to their own work to view it objectively, so a second opinion reveals strengths and weaknesses that the author simply can’t detect.
In my experience, when approached thoughtfully, critiques do far more good for your writing than harm. In fact, a critique can harm your work only if you let it, and let’s face it: ultimately, you’re the one who’s responsible for what you write.
It’s true that a critique is mostly someone else’s opinion about your work. But critiques also include ideas to improve your writing—ideas that may not have occurred to you. Additionally, a good critic will point out mechanical errors—grammar and spelling mistakes that slipped past you.
Critiques are designed to help writers, not to offend them or make them feel incapable. But the human ego is a fragile and funny thing. Some folks simply can’t handle the notion that despite all their hard work, the piece they’ve written is less than perfect.
As a writer, you have to decide whether you truly want to excel at your craft. If you do, then you need to put your ego aside and learn how to accept critiques graciously. If you can’t do that, there’s a good chance your writing will never improve and your work will always be mediocre.
Critiques are not tools of torture. They are meant to help you. If the critique is put together in a thoughtful and meaningful way, it should lift your spirits by pointing out strengths in the piece, but it should also raise some red flags by marking areas that need improvement.
Usually, critiques sting a little. That’s okay. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky and your suspicions about what is weak in your writing will only be confirmed. Other times, you’ll be surprised that the critic found weaknesses in parts of the work that you thought were the strongest.
Whether a critique will be beneficial or harmful depends entirely on you. Obviously, nobody can make you change what you’ve written; it’s up to you to pick and choose what you revise.
Tips for Accepting Writing Critiques and then Writing Better
With practice and by following the tips below, you’ll learn how to overcome your own ego; how to obtain a beneficial critique, evaluate it objectively, and apply it to your writing thoughtfully; and for all that, you’ll be a better writer.
- Find someone who is well read, tactful, honest, and knowledgeable about writing. If you can find a critic who possesses all these traits, then you have overcome the first hurdle, because such persons are not easy to find.
- Polish your work as much as you can before handing it over. Do not send a rough draft to someone who will be critiquing your work, otherwise much of the feedback you receive may address problems you could have found and dealt with yourself. The point of a critique is to step beyond your own perspective and abilities. Note: Some writers get developmental edits or use alpha readers who read the rough draft and then give general feedback on the story or idea. This is not a critique in the traditional sense. It’s more for bouncing ideas around.
- Don’t harass the person who is critiquing your work by calling them every day, especially if they’re doing you a favor. If you are working under any kind of deadline, plan accordingly.
- If possible, do not review the critique in the presence of the person who prepared it. The best way to first review a critique is to set aside some time alone. In some cases, you’ll do critiques in workshops or writing groups where you have to be prepared to hear live feedback. In these situations, there is usually an instructor guiding the critiques to make sure they are presented and accepted graciously.
- You may have an emotional reaction. Some of the feedback may make you angry or despondent. Know that this is normal and it will pass.
- After you review the critique, let it sit for a day or two. In time, your emotions will subside and your intellect will take over. The reasonable part of your brain will step in and you’ll be able to absorb the feedback objectively.
- Revisit the critique with an open mind. Try to treat your own writing as if it were someone else’s. As you review it, ask yourself how the suggestions provided can be applied, and envision how they will make your work better.
- Figure out what is objective and what is personal in the critique. Critics are human. Some of their findings may be technical—mistakes that you should definitely fix. Other findings will be highly subjective (this character is unlikable, this dialogue is unclear, etc.). You may have to make judgment calls to determine where the critic is inserting his or her personal tastes.
- Decide what you’ll use and what you’ll discard. Remember, the critic is not in your head and may not see the big picture of your project.
- Thank your critics. After all, they took the time to help you, and even if you didn’t like what they had to say or how they said it—even if the critique itself was weak—just be gracious, say thanks, and move on. Don’t argue about the feedback.
- Now you can take the feedback you’ve received and apply it to your work. Edit and tweak the project based on the suggestions that you think will best benefit the piece.
- You can apply the feedback to future projects too. Take what you learned from this critique and use it when you’re working on your next project. In this way, your writing (not just a single project) will consistently improve.
In some cases, you may not have control over who critiques your work. If it’s published, anyone can assess it, and they can assess it publicly. If you’re taking a class or workshop, peer-to-peer critiques may be required. In cases like these, it’s essential that you keep a cool head. Even if someone is unnecessarily harsh or rude in their (uninvited) delivery, respond tactfully and diplomatically.
If you can obtain useful critiques and apply the feedback to your work, your writing will improve dramatically. Critiques are one of the most effective and fastest ways of making your writing better.
Good luck with your critiques, and keep writing. Pick up a copy of 10 Core Practices for Better Writing for more tips and ideas to continuously improve your writing.
Fiction writing prompts for every genre.
Today I’d like to share a selection of fiction writing prompts from my book, 1200 Creative Writing Prompts, which includes 500 fiction prompts plus prompts for writing poetry and creative nonfiction.
Writing prompts are ideal for when you’re feeling uninspired because they provide you with ideas for fresh projects.
But prompts are also useful for those times when you’re not motivated to write. I’ve found that the sheer act of reading through a few good fiction writing prompts gives me the impetus to stop procrastinating and start writing.
These fiction writing prompts cover a range of genres, including literary, suspense, thriller, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, historical, humor, satire, children’s, and young adult.
Fiction Writing Prompts
Using the prompts is simple. Just choose a prompt that resonates with you and start writing. There are no rules. You can write a short story, a novel, or an outline. Want to write a story with lots subplots? Choose two or three prompts and weave them together in a single story.
- There’s an old man sitting in a rickety wooden chair, fishing through a hole in the ice on a frozen lake. A loud cracking sound reverberates across the lake’s surface, and he feels the ice shift beneath him. He scurries, but the hole expands too quickly, and he goes into the icy water. What happens next?
- When his or her commanding officer is found dead, one young soldier goes AWOL and launches a personal investigation to find out who did it.
- At the height of human technological development, a special child is born who can communicate telepathically with computers and other mechanical and electronic devices.
- Two ambitious coworkers want the same promotion, and they’re both willing to do just about anything to get it. Then they fall in love. Does the competition heat up or die down? Will their romance survive office politics?
- Choose a period of history and a place that interests you, and write a multi-generational saga about a family that lived during that era.
- Write a comedy about a rural, salt-of-the-earth family moving to a big city and trying to get along with city folk who are sophisticated and refined.
- While shopping in a department store during the holidays, a child is separated from his or her parents and discovers a portal to a winter wonderland.
- When marriage becomes a living hell, the protagonist attempts to kill his or her spouse by bringing on depression and encouraging overeating and other unhealthy lifestyle choices.
- Scientists discover that the galaxy itself is a living organism.
- In the 1970s, someone started putting rocks in boxes and selling them as Pet Rocks, complete with care and training manuals. The business made millions. Write a story about an inventor or businessperson who comes up with a ridiculous product.
- Children love to pretend and play grown-up. Write a story about a child playing grown-up and pretending to have a particular career: teacher, veterinarian, artist, etc.
- In the midst of a natural disaster, a classroom is locked down and everyone inside is trapped until they are rescued three days later.
Did any of these fiction writing prompts inspire or motivate you? Do you have any fiction prompts to share? Leave a comment!
Before writing a query letter…
You’ve finished your book, and you’re ready to get it published. What should you do first?
If you’ve opted to get your book traditionally published, you’ll need to send query letters in order to land a publishing deal, but should you query agents? Editors? Publishing houses?
Before sending a query letter–before you even write a query letter–there are some important steps you need to take.
Weigh Your Publishing Options
Whatever route you take to publication, you should be prepared by having a good understanding of the steps involved. Self-publishing is radically different from traditional publishing. Getting fiction published with a traditional publisher requires a different process than getting nonfiction published. Once you’ve decided to write a book that you intend to publish, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the publishing landscape so you know all your options.
This is something you might want to do while you’re writing your book. Set aside a little time each week to study the publishing industry and put together a comprehensive plan for taking your book from draft to publication. Start paying attention to the publishers that are identified on the title and copyright pages of the books you read. Visit their websites. Research publishing contracts so you can adequately set your expectations with regard to the advance and royalties you’ll receive, the rights you’ll give up, and which aspects of the creative process you’ll control.
You should also conduct the same research on agents. You should understand what role an agent plays in getting a book published. Some agents will get more involved than others, even going so far as to provide edits to make a book more salable.
Tip: If possible, talk to traditionally published authors to learn about their experiences with agents and publishers. You can also find interviews and articles online in which authors talk about their experiences.
Polish That Manuscript
How would you feel if someone served you a half baked cake at a party? That’s how agents, editors, and even beta readers feel when you hand them an unpolished manuscript.
No, the manuscript you submit won’t be perfect. It will undergo revisions. But you should get it as polished as you can before you even think about writing a query letter, let alone sending one.
Consider hiring a developmental editor to make sure the story is tight. Take several editing passes at the text and find a friend with good grammar skills to help you weed out typos and other errors. Most importantly, get feedback from a handful of beta readers to get an idea of how the book presents to its audience. Apply their feedback to the manuscript and clean it up before you start approaching agents and publishers. Put your best writing forward!
Identify the Target Audience and Genre for Your Book
Many agents and publishing houses, especially imprints, specialize in particular genres. Some authors aren’t crazy about this approach, because they don’t want to be locked into genre tropes, which can become formulaic. You don’t have to worry about the genre when you’re writing the book, but once it’s done, you’ll need to figure out which genre it fits into. If your book can’t be categorized, then maybe you’d be better off self-publishing.
Despite the limitations it imposes, genre is essential for finding readers. Most of us have preferences that are tied to genre. You might like historical fiction. Me? I like science fiction. While most readers seem to read across various genres, when they go in search of a new book, they often use genre to find the book that suits their mood. I prefer science fiction, but sometimes I’m in the mood for mystery or literary fiction. I visit the shelves that correspond to my mood.
If you’re unfamiliar with genres, visit online bookstores and browse their categories. Find books that are similar to the one you’re writing and see what genre they are filed under.
Select Agents, Publishing Houses, or Small Presses
If your goal is to get your book published with a large house, you’ll need to land an agent first. Many small presses will accept queries directly from authors. Therefore, it’s important to establish your publishing goals in advance.
There are numerous ways to find literary agents and publishers. One good place to start is in the acknowledgements section of books that are similar to yours. Often, authors will thank their agents, so this is a good place to start building a list of prospects. You can also purchase publications that list agents or conduct searches online.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind while compiling a list of prospective agents:
- Make sure they work in your genre.
- Look for a list of authors they’ve represented or books they’ve sold.
- Make sure they are currently accepting blind queries.
- Check some of the books they’ve represented to see which publishing houses they’ve sold to.
- Conduct an in-depth online search to see what, if anything, is being reported about them.
I recommend documenting all these details so in the future, you don’t have to repeat the research you’ve done.
Understand the Submission Requirements You Need to Follow
Some agents might accept simultaneous submissions; others will not. Some will have very strict rules about what to include in your query letter; others will be vague. Some want you to contact them electronically; others may want you to use snail mail.
The most important step in the entire process is this: understand the submission requirements you need to follow.
These requirements will vary slightly from agent to agent, editor to editor, and publisher to publisher. They also might help you prioritize the agents you want to submit your work to. Some submission requirements might be more prohibitive than others.
Make Sure You Have a Backup Plan
If you believe in your book, make sure you have a backup plan in place. Agents and editors are swarmed with queries and submissions, and there’s no way to know why yours might get rejected. They might have just read a book similar to yours–or maybe they’ve seen several dozen like yours that week. They are humans and have bad days and could very well have made the wrong decision when they decided not to give your book a shot, or while your book may be good, it may not be to their taste.
Tip: You should expect rejection, since it’s statistically more likely than receiving an offer. If you do receive a rejection, don’t give up. Keep submitting, but make sure you also have considered alternative routes to publication.
At the beginning of the submission process, establish some limits. Will you keep submitting for a year? Two? Will you query a dozen agents? A hundred? If you’ve got your sights set on a big publishing house, will you try small presses if you can’t land the deal you originally envisioned? Are you willing to self-publish if the traditional route doesn’t get you to your destination?
Once you’ve laid all this groundwork, you’re ready to start working on your query letter. That’s another article altogether, but you should start by reading as many sample query letters as possible to familiarize yourself with acceptable styles and formats.
There’s never been a more exciting time to be an author. We have more options and more paths to publication than ever before in history. Take advantage of living in this great era of publishing by arming yourself with knowledge and information about all sides of the industry. Be aware of what you’re getting into before you start querying and be prepared when you start the querying process.
From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: Cut-and-Paste Poetry.
Today’s poetry writing exercise is from 101 Creative Writing Exercises. The exercises in this book encourage you to experiment with different forms and genres while providing inspiration for publishable projects and imparting useful writing techniques that make your writing more robust.
This exercise is from “Chapter Eight: Free Verse.” It’s titled “Cut-and-Paste Poetry.” Enjoy!
Most poetry writing exercises are designed to help you focus on one particular area of poetry writing, such as rhyme, alliteration, or imagery. This one works on several levels.
First, this exercise provides a nice, Zen-like break from your daily routine because it involves more than writing. You’ll get to search through clippings and do a little cutting and pasting (the old-fashioned cutting and pasting with scissors and glue, not the computer-based cut-and-paste).
Second, this exercise provides an excellent alternative to recycling those growing stacks of old magazines, newspapers, and brochures that are sitting around collecting dust.
You can come back to this exercise again and again for future poetry writing sessions.
You’ll need some supplies and some time. Try to set aside an hour or two (and note that you can break this exercise up over several days or even longer).
What You’ll Need (Supplies)
- Old printed material: magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, ads, photocopies, junk mail, etc.
- A small box, basket, jar, or other container
- A pair of scissors
- A glue stick or a roll of clear tape
- A piece of blank paper (construction paper works well; you can also use a piece of cardboard or a page in your notebook)
- Highlighter (optional)
Step One: Go through old magazines, pamphlets, printouts, and photocopies. Any printed material will do. Scan through the text to find words and phrases that are interesting and capture your attention and imagination. You can highlight the text you like or move ahead to step two.
Step Two: Cut out the phrases you’ve chosen and place them in your container.
Step Three: When you have a nice pile of clippings, pull some out and spread them across a flat work surface. Sift through the words, pairing different clippings together to see how the phrasing sounds. Place the ones you like best on a piece of paper, arrange them into a poem, and use glue or tape to adhere them.
Tips, Variations, and Applications
Tips: Look for words and images that pop. When you’re all done, save the leftover clippings so you can repeat this exercise again later.
Variations: If you find it difficult to cobble together an entire poem from your clippings, then use a pen or pencil to add words and phrases to complete your poem. You can also clip images and incorporate them to create a multimedia poetry collage that is also a piece of art.
Applications: This exercise reminds you to focus on word choice and language. It encourages you to go outside yourself for inspiration by piecing elements from different sources together to make something new.
Don’t forget to pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.
Writing resources for more compelling language.
This is one of my favorite writing resources of all time. It is subtitled “An Introduction to Poetry,” but it’s full of concepts that can benefit any form of writing.
Whether you write fiction, articles, essays, or blog posts, Perrine’s Sound and Sense will enhance the way you perceive and use language to communicate an idea, a scene, or information.
After all, language is a writer’s medium. How do we choose words and string them together? What makes one sentence so vivid while another is practically impossible to visualize? How can we play with the meaning of words in a way that is meaningful? How do we craft prose that is musical?
These, of course, are questions that poetry actively asks and explores. Storytellers spend a lot of time on plot and character. Article writers spend a lot of time on research. Bloggers spend a lot of time under the hood. Poets live and breathe in language.
And language — or rather, a writer’s use of it — is what elevates a piece of ordinary prose to something regal. Through a light study of poetry, you will expand your vocabulary, learn simple techniques to make images out of words, and understand the deeper secrets of language — secrets that make your writing extraordinary.
Perrine’s Sound and Sense
This book is a delightful and comprehensive romp through the intricacies of poetry and language. It’s a perfect introduction to poetry because it’s liberally populated with fantastic poems that will satisfy a range of personal tastes and preferences, making it a veritable anthology that teaches concepts alongside each poem (or that uses poems to beautifully illustrate and illuminate various concepts).
Sound and Sense starts with the basics. The first two chapters are respectively titled “What is Poetry?” and “Reading a Poem.” If you’ve ever wondered what all the fuss was about poetry and why so many successful writers advocate poetry, these chapters will show you the light, both through their discussion of poetry and presentation of poems.
Later chapters deal with increasingly complex concepts. These concepts are taught in the context of how they are applied to poetry but they are applicable to any kind of writing. The chapter on “Denotation and Connotation” explains how we choose words based on their meaning, particularly when we can choose between two (or more) words with the same meaning:
The words childlike and childish both mean “characteristic of a child,” but childlike suggests meekness, innocence, and wide-eyed wonder, while childish suggests pettiness, willfulness, and temper tantrums. (p. 41)
We’ve all heard that imagery is critical to our writing, but many writers don’t quite understand what show, don’t tell actually means. Master writers refer to similes, metaphors, symbols, and allegories, all effective literary devices in any form. Sound and Sense helps you understand the importance of these devices, shows you how to identify them in a piece of writing, and therefore gives you the knowledge you need to apply those devices in your own work.
The insight doesn’t stop with meaning and literary devices. The book goes on to explore tone and dedicates a significant portion of its final chapters to musicality with chapters such as “Musical Devices,” Rhythm and Meter,” and “Sound and Meaning.”
Everything that we do naturally and gracefully we do rhythmically. There is rhythm in the way we walk, the way we swim, the way we ride a horse, the way we swing a golf club or a baseball bat. So native is rhythm to us that we read it, when we can, into the mechanical world around us. Our clocks go tick-tick-tick but we hear tick-tock, tick-tock. (p. 187)
So if you’ve ever wondered how to make your writing sing and dance, if you’ve ever gotten a phrase stuck in your head and wondered what made it so catchy and then wondered how you could craft writing that is just as memorable, this book is for you.
Sound and Sense features tons of wonderful poems by some of the best known and loved poets of all time, including Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Andrew Marvell, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Sexton, Shakespeare, and far too many others to list here.
And it’s all capped off with a handy glossary and comprehensive index, which makes revisiting its contents quick and easy. I’m telling you, this is a resourceful little book!
This gem of a book doubles as an anthology of poetry and is useful for both readers and writers of poetry. But writers of all forms will reap great benefits by investing in this book.
Mostly used as a college textbook, it’s loaded with treasures packed in a dense landscape of writing concepts, some of which are practical and others that are whimsical, plus a bunch of writing concepts that are just plain magical.
Sound and Sense will transform the way you think about writing and will improve your writing at the levels of words and sentences, sounds and phrases. Want to make readers hungry? Want to make them think and feel and swoon and dance? Then get this book, because it shows you how to do just that.
Got any writing resources that you’d like to recommend? Do you find that studying one form helps you improve another? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment. And keep on writing!
Getting started on a piece of writing.
Please welcome guest author Dana Leipold with a post about getting started on a piece of writing.
How many times have you gotten an idea for book, but when you sat down to write it you froze or started playing Words with Friends instead?
The hardest part of any writing endeavor is getting started. You are turning a nebulous thought into something real and tangible—but that blank page or computer screen can be intimidating.
Professionals even grapple with getting started:
“One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily.” —Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The difference between a professional writer and someone who does it as a hobby is that a pro knows how to get over that initial hurdle. In my experience as a copywriter and author, I’ve used a few tried-and-true techniques that have worked for me. I’ve also seen what other professional writers do and stolen those techniques too. Don’t tell on me!
Here is a compiled list of six techniques for going from your head to the page that can work for any writer—from novice to the seasoned professional.
1. Get Serious
You won’t be able to start anything if you don’t get serious. Professional writers see the process of writing as a business. They can’t sell their books, their ideas, or their expertise if they don’t have a product. Writing is their product.
Many authors see writing as their raison d’être or their life’s mission. If you have been given a mission (meaning an idea for a book that won’t go away) it’s your job to start it and see it to its completion.
Is it time for you to get serious about your writing?
2. Set Little Goals
You’ve got to put a stake in the ground so you can aim for it. Sometimes this is what blocks new writers because setting the vague goal of writing a book can feel monumental and overwhelming. If you set manageable, little goals, you can trick yourself into getting started. A little goal could be a word count or a predetermined number of pages or scenes. To me, achieving 1,000 words feels a lot easier than “writing a book.” The important thing is to set a goal that you can complete and will feel like an accomplishment when it’s done.
3. Use Productivity Tools
Productivity is the lifeblood of any writer. How much are you writing? Not enough? Not sure? Luckily there are tools out there that can help you stay on task:
750 Words is an online tool that rewards the writer with points for producing 750 words (roughly three pages) of work at a time. There’s a social element too: users can see how fellow site members are doing with drafts of their own.
Another online tool is Write or Die, which is available as an app for iPads and PCs. It boosts your output by giving you a time limit and attaching consequences to procrastination. The website says, “As long as you keep typing, you’re fine but if you become distracted, punishment will ensue.” That punishment can range from a pop-up box admonishing your distraction, to seeing your work “unwrite” itself in Kamikaze Mode.
If the thought of your precious words getting deleted is too much for you, try Written? Kitten! It is a positive reinforcement tool that deliverers a photo of a kitten every time you deliver a set number of words. How can you not be motivated by the idea of a cute kitten delivering words of encouragement?
4. Build in Accountability
Tell someone you trust–a friend, partner, or even a coach–about your intention to write a book. Ask that person to keep you on task. A lot of writers also join writing clubs or critique groups to help keep them writing. It’s a lot like exercise: When you have a person or group that does it with you, there’s accountability built in and you are more likely to do it. We are less likely to flake out when we’ve told someone else that we’re going to write.
5. Schedule Writing Time Each Day
Pick a time each day to sit your butt down and write. What you’re doing is training yourself to be creative and productive at this time. Pick a day of the week and start with weekly scheduled writing sessions. Build that up to two days, three days, and so on. I guarantee that the more you write, the more you’ll WANT to schedule a time to do it every day.
6. Leverage Momentum
This is probably the most important step because this is what determines whether you get what is in your head onto the page (or not). Stephen King says you should write your first draft as quickly as possible: “I believe the first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months.”
Why is this so important? Because if you stop, it’s really hard to get started again. It’s less work to keep going than it is to restart from a dead stop. So don’t stop. Even if it feels overwhelming, eventually momentum will carry you through to a finished first draft.
Getting started is hard and not all that fun. Your inner procrastinator is all too willing to kick in at the thought of writing a book. No wonder so many writers don’t make it past the first page of their work. You are bringing forth something from nothing, which is an amazing thing. Instead of banging your head against the wall, try some of these techniques professional writers use to get over that initial hurdle, and you’ll be well on your way.
I’d love to hear from you: Do any of these techniques sound like they’d work for you? Do you have go-to techniques for getting started that you’ve found helpful? Please share in the comments below.
About the author: Dana Leipold is a writing coach and creative collaborator. She helps people write and publish books that change the world for the better. You can download her free training videos and more at www.danaleipold.com/hello.
1200 Creative Writing Prompts has received its first review, and it’s five stars!
“It didn’t take long for this book to blow me away. Right from the start, I was reading through the fiction prompts and I wanted to work on the ideas I saw presented. As someone who writes fiction, I felt like I discovered gold here…The ideas suggested in the prompts are very creative and will get your creative juices flowing…If you’re looking for help in getting ideas for things to write about, then this book should be just the thing to help you out. It’s great!”
Thanks for the glowing review, Buddy Gott!
Be sure to check out Buddy’s Writing Show on YouTube. I was recently a guest on the show. Buddy and I discussed writing tips and best practices. You can check that out here.
I’m also getting lots of positive feedback about the book on social media and via email. People are writing poems and stories inspired by the prompts in this book! If you’ve already gotten a copy and loved it, please consider leaving a review at Goodreads or any of the online bookseller’s websites. Reviews are instrumental in helping authors reach more readers.
Win a Free Copy of 1200 Creative Writing Prompts
From today through Friday, February 7, I’m hosting a free giveaway on Goodreads for the paperback edition of 1200 Creative Writing Prompts.
Goodreads is a social media network for people who love to read. It’s a great way to share and discover books. You can create a list of books you want to read and rate and review books you’ve already read. Plus, there are plenty of special features for authors.
Click here to learn more about 1200 Creative Writing Prompts
All you need to enter is a (free) Goodreads account. Once you’ve logged in, click “Enter to Win” below for your chance to win a copy of 1200 Creative Writing Prompts.
The contest is open to residents of the United States.
Good luck, and keep writing!
Find out how a writing process makes your writing better.
Today I’d like to share a few excerpts from my book 10 Core Practices for Better Writing.
These excerpts are from “Chapter Six: Process,” which examines methods, strategies, and other approaches to developing and fine-tuning a writing process that works for you.
Understanding The Writing Process
“I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.”
- Ernest Hemingway
A process is a system or series of steps that we take to complete something. When you write, you use a process, even if you’re not aware of it.
There may be a few writers who can sit down and write without any planning or preparation. They go through a different process for each project and don’t really think about it. They just dig in and do the work. While they may not be conscious of their process, these writers will be able to look back and explain the process they went through to finish the work.
But most of us do use a process and we become increasingly aware of it over time. It may vary from project to project, but we know what steps we have to take to get to the finish line.
For most writers, this process develops organically. We start a project, tackle it in whatever way makes sense at the time, and eventually complete it. As we successfully finish more and more projects, we eventually find ourselves using a consistent series of steps to complete our projects. We refine the process a little bit with each project until we have perfected it.
Think about a writing project you have completed. What steps did you take to complete it? Did you attack it without any foresight or did you work your way through a detailed plan? Did you take steps to complete the project that were unnecessary? Were there any steps you didn’t take that would have improved the project?
Tips for Developing a Writing Process
“You have to play a long time to play like yourself.” – Miles Davis
Your writing process can be as simple or as elaborate as you need it to be. I often make a list of everything I need to do for a project. I put the steps in order, but there’s a good chance they will overlap. I might be brainstorming and world building simultaneously. I might pause during a rough draft to go back and rework the character sketches I created during an earlier step.
Be flexible as you develop your writing process, and be willing to try new things, even things that seem counterintuitive. If you like to follow a strict series of steps, then just for one project, try diving in without a plan. If you tend to write freely and without a plan, then try outlining for one project.
- Start by identifying your current writing process. Make a list of steps you take to get a project done. If you use different processes for different projects, make several lists.
- Review your current process and determine whether you’re wasting time on unnecessary steps. Are there steps missing that would help improve your process? Look for opportunities to group similar activities together (like conducting research, interviews, etc.).
- If you’re not sure about your process, think of a project you have planned or recently started and map out a process that you think would work for that project.
- Consider building deadlines into your process. If you schedule your writing sessions, establish goals using timers or word counts.
- To determine the effectiveness of the process you’ve developed, try it. Start with shorter projects, like essays, blog posts, or short stories.
We tend to look at certain approaches and think they would never work for us. When I first heard about discovery writing (or pantsing), which is a method where you write without any plan whatsoever, I thought it was interesting but way outside of my personal working style. Then I tried it when I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2008 and was thrilled with the results. In fact, that was the first time I managed to complete a novel that I had started.
Don’t assume that a particular method or process would never work for you; you won’t know for sure until you give it a try.
We don’t have to rely on one writing process. We can have several, and we can adjust the process to accommodate each project’s specific needs so that we’re always going through a series of steps that are best suited to that particular project.
Writing processes are methods we can use to improve our writing. The reason so many writers develop these processes is to be more productive and produce better work. Writing processes and other techniques and strategies can be helpful, but it’s our responsibility to know what works for us personally as individuals and as creative writers.
Now tell us about your writing process. Do you have one? Have you ever thought about it? Do you think that a clear, coherent process would help you produce better writing? Leave a comment and let’s talk about it.
Creative writing prompts about animals.
Animals have played a huge role in literature throughout history. They appear in poems and stories, and plenty of nonfiction works have been written about animals and humans’ experiences with animals.
From E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web to Jane Goodall’s books on primatology, authors and readers alike have delighted in writing and reading about animals.
And it’s no wonder. We humans have forged strong bonds with animals. Our pets are like family members. In fact, Americans spend $41 billion dollars a year on their animal companions (source). Billions more are donated to wildlife preservation, animal welfare advocacy, and conservation efforts.
Naturally, animals fit comfortably into the stories we tell. Today’s creative writing prompts pay homage to our animal friends by inspiring a writing session that features animals.
Creative Writing Prompts to Honor the Animals
Below, you’ll find a series of creative writing prompts. Each one sets a scene. Your challenge is to bring that scene to life by writing about it. Turn it into a short story, a poem, a play, or an essay. Write anything you want (if you can’t decide what to write, then do a freewrite).
- A mama cat gives birth to a litter of five orange tabbies and one little gray runt.
- A young man on his first hunting trip has a deer in his sight and suddenly remembers the day his dad took him to see Bambi.
- A school of dolphins is too trusting and approaches a boat whose crew is intent on capturing the dolphins and bringing them to a theme park for a swim-with-the-dolphins attraction.
- A bird and squirrel live together in the same tree (like the odd couple).
- Two children, a brother and sister, respectively capture a butterfly and a moth, then proceed to argue over which insect is superior.
Make up Your Own Creative Writing Prompts
Feel free to make up your own animal-related creative writing prompts and leave them in the comments.
If you use any of these creative writing prompts to spark a writing session, come back and tell us how they worked for you. What did you write? Did you learn anything new? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment. And keep writing.
Some of today’s writing prompts appear in the book 1200 Creative Writing Prompts. For more inspiring and motivating writing prompts, pick up a copy today.