Friday, February 26, 2010

100th Post! 10 Ways Blogging Has Helped My Writing

Happy 100th post!

In honor of this milestone, I've put together a list of 10 ways blogging has helped me to improve my writing skills and reach my writing goals:

1. It’s helped me to further develop my own writing “style” and narrative voice

2. It’s forced me to write on a regular basis each and every week—maybe not every day, but just about

3. It’s reconnected me with the basics of grammar and the mechanics of writing—definitely not something I think about much, so sometimes I get lazy with it

4. I’ve “met” other bloggers who write about similar topics so I don’t have to feel I’m the only one struggling with a particular issue

5. I’ve been learning about things that every freelancer needs to know (i.e. taxes, finding/keeping clients, etc.), and that I'm not well-versed in

6. Other bloggers’ topics often inspire posts of my own

7. Writing regularly forces me to keep coming up with ideas for posts; this has helped to generate ideas for articles

8. Guest posting for others helps to promote my own blog and direct new readers to it

9. I’ve gotten a few opportunities to write blog posts as a regular paying gig

10. Blogging has helped to introduce me to new authors and writers through blog tours and guest posts

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Incredible Week!

As the title of this post clearly states, I had an incredible week last week!

I received some great feedback on a profile I'd written about a local company for a new-to-me publication. The guys at the company were so pleased, they asked if I'd be interested in doing some work for them. Yes, please. I'm also meeting with another small business to discuss their needs within the next 2 weeks. I'm also in the running for a regular blogging gig with a third company (they say things happen in threes, after all).

Article-wise, I just submitted a finished business profile, am working on rewrites for a second piece, I have a third still in the interview stage, and had another query greenlit yesterday. I have a few queries ready to go out, and a few others that I'm working on.

It looks as though things are finally starting to happen for me, which is tremendous--a bit scary, too, but I'm trying to put all of that aside and work on making the most out of the possibilities I've been given.

As an added bonus, my writers' group is indeed flourishing--I think we set an attendance record at yesterday's meeting with approximately 25 people! I hope we get an equally outstanding turnout at our conference in April.

Is this how it feels to have your hard work start to pay off at last?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Guest Post: Are You Ready for an Agent?

by Laura Cross

Have you researched agents and created an agent file?
Individual agents within each literary agency represent specific types of books. If you approach an agent who does not consider your particular genre, you have wasted your time submitting a pitch. A well researched and focused approach will help you acquire the right agent more quickly. You can download a free chapter on “Finding and Selecting Agents” from my book The Complete Guide To Hiring A Literary Agent at

Do you have a pitch package?
An agent expects you to know the selling points of your book and be able to convey them effectively with your pitch package. For fiction writers, a pitch package consists of a query letter, synopsis, and completed manuscript. For nonfiction writers, your pitch package is made up of a query letter, book proposal, and two sample chapters.

Is your novel or book idea marketable?A key component to acquiring an agent and publishing deal is a marketable product. Below are questions you can answer to determine the marketability of your idea or book to an agent.

1. Does a nearly identical book already exist?
If a book already exists that is almost identical to your idea you will have trouble selling yours to an agent or publisher. You will need to ensure and show an agent how your book will be better than the ones already on the market.

2.How large is the potential audience for your book?
Who will buy your book? A valuable resource for determining how many potential readers there are for your subject matter is to browse the sales ranks of similar books on the market and review the bestseller lists in your genre. Publishers Weekly magazine ( provides bestseller lists, and columns on “Retail Sales” and “Trends and Topics” that you may find helpful. The New York Times’ book review section ( also lists bestsellers by category. The Web site Titlez ( allows you to track sales rank history by keyword, title, or author and compare similar books by genre or title.

3. Does your book have series potential?Spin-off or series potential is not mandatory to sell your manuscript or book idea, but an agent or publisher is more interested in projects that begat more product. Books with spin-off or series potential are considered more valuable.

Do you have a platform and strong promotion plan?Agents and publishers prefer authors who have an established platform. If you are a nonfiction writer, especially, your ability to promote your book will be vital for acquiring an agent and a book deal.

Have you mapped out a writing career?
Agents represent writing careers, not authors who write only one book. They look for authors who have a vision and plan for their writing careers. Before approaching an agent it’s a good idea to have a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish with your writing and the next step along your path as an author.

Laura Cross is an author, screenwriter, ghostwriter, freelance book editor, and writing coach specializing in nonfiction books and script adaptation (book-to-film projects). She writes two popular blogs, and, and teaches online writing workshops Her latest book is The Complete Guide To Hiring A Literary Agent: Everything You Need To Know To Become Successfully Published. You can download a free chapter, view the book trailer, read the full table of contents, and purchase the eBook at

Friday, February 19, 2010

Kaizen for the Writer

by Kenji Crosland

This post is part of the Guest Post Giveaway at the blog Unready and Willing. If you think articles about writing or personal development (or personal development for writers) sounds like a good fit for your blog, please take a look at the Guest Post Giveaway page and see if any of the articles spark your interest.

As writers it's important that we answer these two questions:

1. How can we direct the creative process in a way that helps us accomplish our goals?
2. How can we continue to improve our control of the creative process so that we can achieve greater and greater financial and popular success?

The answer is to concentrate on continuous improvement and growth. In the business world it has been called Kaizen, a philosophy the Japanese industrialists originally adopted from the research of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Kaizen is not only applicable to manufacturing but also to writing, and every aspect of life as well. The main focus of Kaizen is the creation of quality and value, not money. The idea is that if you create the value, the money will follow.

Here are the basic rules of Kaizen, or the Deming Cycle.

1. Plan - Make observations and determine expected outcomes or goals. Devise a plan for achieving those goals.
2. Do - Execute the plan, preferably on a small scale.
3. Check - Analyze the results from the execution. Compare the actual results to your expected results.
4. Act - If there's a difference between the actual results and expected results, determine the causes of the difference. See how you can improve upon the original plan to get your desired results.

For writing, I've come up with a similar process:
1. Prepare - Do step one of writing for money 101 if you haven't already, this will help you decide what kind of writing you want to do. After you've decided what direction you're going to take your writing, establish goals for your writing in general, consider your ideal reader and what he or she might want from your writing.
2. Write - Just write. Write without distractions or self-criticism. Get your ideas out on the page.
3. Edit and Publish - This is the "check" part of the process. Checking can be done in three stages: self-editing, peer reviews, and finally, publishing.
4. Reassess - Based on your observations and feedback from the editing and publishing stage, see if you need to make any changes in your approach to writing.


The first part of the preparation stage is to give direction to your thinking. Direct thinking is the best way to generate ideas, and most writers, to a greater or lesser extent, are practitioners of direct thinking. The concept of direct thinking is really quite simple. If you're always thinking about food, you'll probably come up with great ideas for recipes or hot-dog toppings. If you think about stories all the time, you'll continue to get new story ideas. As writers, we can take advantage of direct thinking by refining our thoughts about what we want to achieve.
If you've found your core strengths and interests as a writer, found your audience and their needs, and determined where you want to take your writing, the next step is to ask yourself how you're going to reach your objective. If your goal is to inform people about X, how are you going to do it? If you wish to make your audience laugh, cry, or think, how will you go about it? Brainstorm objectives and goals--everything that you could possibly want to do and achieve as a writer. Since the focus of this article is writing for money, do give some consideration to your audience and its commercial potential. The more you meditate on the how, of any particular objective or goal, the more your mind works to build connections, constructing the framework of useful ideas.

The great ideas won't come to you when you're sitting at your word processor consciously thinking about them, but will often float to the surface of your consciousness out of nowhere. When concentrating on writing for money, consider an ideal reader, preferably someone you know who would best represent your audience. My ideal reader for the articles of this website is actually my past self when I just entered college. When I concentrate on writing articles of value for my ideal reader, often the ideas that come to me seem perfect for my audience.

So, when thinking about what you're going to write, meditate on the following questions: How can I make the best use of my core strengths and interests? Who is my audience? Who is my ideal reader? What should I write for them? What kind of writing can I do to help achieve my lifetime or "big picture" goals?

If you've given enough directed thought to the above questions, when an idea comes to you, trust that your mind has provided you with a possible answer, and run with it. When you get an idea, it's important not to be critical about it. Criticism and refinement comes much later at the editing and publishing stage. Instead, take your idea and do your best to expand it. Draw mind maps, make notes, charts, do anything you can to flesh out your idea.

Once you feel that your idea has grown to the point where it almost seems unmanageable, see if you can organize your thoughts into an outline. Outlines can be very useful to help you know where you're taking a story, and become increasingly important when you're writing anything longer than a short-story. The key with outlining is not to be critical of your ideas, but to simply organize your ideas in a linear fashion so that you have a rough road map for the writing of your rough draft. After you've written your outline, we can then move on to step two:


This is the part of writing for money where you don't think about the money. Although you may have given a lot of directed thought to your audience, your ideal reader, and perhaps even writing something with commercial potential in step one, now you must close your mental door to those thoughts, and simply write. There will be plenty of time for determining whether you've satisfied the needs of your audience in the editing process. Do your best to stay away from the backspace key as you type, and simply keep going. Trust your subconscious to provide you with the necessary guidance as you go.

As you write, follow your outline as a rough guideline for where to go, but you don't have to follow it religiously. The key in the first draft is to stop from second-guessing yourself, and the outline provides reassurance, telling you that you're going in the right direction. The number one rule when writing a rough draft is to keep conscious thinking out of the picture. Conscious thinking and criticism is best saved for step three:

Edit and Publish

There are three levels of editing: content, structure, and mechanics. Content is the ideas, themes, and subject matter that you cover in your piece. For the purpose of writing for money, content is the most important thing to consider in the editing process. After you've taken your idea and expanded it into a rough draft, it's time to go back to the motivators behind the creation of the original idea behind the draft. What were your goals? What were your directed thoughts? Did you consider your ideal reader and what he or she wanted? In the "plan, do, check, act" (PDCA) cycle of Kaizen, the "plan" was your directed thinking toward your audience and your goals as a writer. In the editing stage it's our obligation to do the "check" to see how far we are from our original goals and what adjustments we can make to reach them.

Since the idea you came up with was largely a result of your directed thinking in stage one, it might be a good idea to try some directed thinking before starting the editing process. If you don't have a looming deadline, spend some time considering your audience, your ideal reader, and what you originally wanted to accomplish before you got the idea. If you can take at least a week giving some directed thought to these themes, that's great. You'll be astonished how easy it is to edit after doing this.

Visualization is also a possibility. Imagine yourself in a dialogue with your ideal reader about the piece you had written. What did he or she like about it? What could be improved? This focused thinking is very useful to prepare your mind for the editing process. In the past you may have found your eyes jump to the parts of your manuscript that "just don't seem right" even when you're not sure why. Concentrating on your ideal reader and the purpose of your writing can do much unlock the reasons behind these intuitive "hooks" that hold you back on sentences or paragraphs that seem wrong.

After you've done what you can to edit the rough draft yourself, the next step is to hand your manuscript over to someone else in a peer review. My recommendation is to have someone review it who you believe could best represent your target audience. The number one rule in the peer review is to shut your mouth and let your writing speak for itself. Any talk of what your intention was in your writing is irrelevant if it hasn't been conveyed by the words themselves. After the peer review, you then take what critiques you have received and digest them. Consider your original goals and purpose behind the initial idea that inspired your rough draft. What recommended changes from your peers would best serve those original goals? Remember that in a peer review it's important to get your ego out of the way, and do what's best for the piece. Cut out any writing that's superfluous or redundant.

So, when do you actually finish the editing process and start submitting what you've written to be published? According to writer Stephen Dixon, the time for submission is when you can't improve the piece and everything you're doing to it is hurting it. Publishing is the ultimate form of "checking" in the PDCA cycle. When you publish you're able to gauge the critical success as well as the commercial success of your writing.

Through the process of editing and publishing, you can also see how close you were to achieving your initial goals from the prepare stage. Editing your work can provide you with a lot of valuable information for rethinking your writing and how to go about it. It's possible that you may abandon what you've written after the self-edit or peer review stage. This is fine as long as you truly believe what you've written does not achieve what you'd set out to achieve. Just be sure to take what you've learned from your self-editing and peer reviews to write something better the next time around. Once you have accumulated all the data you can from your writing's success or lack thereof, we can move to the last part of the process.


Chances are if your goals were to sell 1,000,000 copies of your book and you're an unestablished author, you may fall short. In the reassessment stage we can determine why we have fallen short. Possible theories we could come up with for the lack of sales success are that the book was too ahead of its time, the book was not marketed properly or a myriad other reasons.

In the reassessment stage you can only determine possible reasons for how you strayed from your original goals and purpose. Once you've come up with a few possible theories for why your writing did or didn't achieve what you had set out for in the first place, you can then go back to stage one to apply our newfound information and theories to a whole new round of directed thinking. Oftentimes the ideas that will surface in the second and third rounds of the PDCA cycle will be much more in line with your goals.

When you go back to the prepare stage, refine your directed thinking by taking into account what you've learned from the editing and publishing process. The key in reassessment is never to blame yourself for inadequacies, but to move forward positively. Speaker and writer Brian Tracy recommends asking yourself these questions after you finish anything: "What did I do well?" and "What would I do differently?" Phrasing your thinking in this way will help you focus on improvements and not the mistakes you've made, which, after all are in the unalterable past.

To reassess means to reassess everything--not only your writing but the direction of your life. If what you have written falls short of your goals, it's important to consider alternative options to the way you're going about things. Perhaps your gift lies in writing non-fiction as opposed to fiction. Perhaps you could do better as a songwriter than a poet. If you've gone through this cycle several times and you feel no improvement whatsoever, this is a sign that your "big picture" goals are out of focus.

Ask yourself what you really want to do with your writing. Ask yourself if there are other ways to go about it than writing novels or screenplays. Maybe your true passion and purpose lies down a completely different path than writing. Don't be afraid to consider this alternative option. The advantage of doing so is that if you've considered doing things completely different than writing, and you still want to write, then you can move forward with full confidence that you are indeed living your destiny. Toyota, the largest automobile company in the world, started out making mechanical looms. Nokia, now the one of the world's largest telecom companies, started out in the business of paper mills more than 144 years ago. These companies had the ability to reassess their core interests and purpose, and forge through to become leaders in completely different areas than where they started. So don't let sentimental attachments hold you back. It's always good to consider your options.

Repeating the Process
The great thing about the process of Kaizen is the more you do it, the closer and closer you get to your goals. In this way, Kaizen seems like just a more elaborate version of "trial and error." What's left out of the picture, however, is the idea that our failures are not simply nuisances to ignore until you get it right, but rather they're our greatest assets in determining the best way to move forward the next time around.

The heart of Kaizen lies in not expecting success in the short term, but knowing it will come in the long term if we continue to improve the way we work. In applying Kaizen to the creative process, the planning doesn't take place in a room with a team of consultants and a whiteboard, but rather deep within our subconscious mind. Using the ideas we get about how to better achieve our writing goals in the reassessment stage, we can apply it to our direct thinking to get ideas that are more in line with our goals. We write, and then we edit and publish to see how our results differ from the last time around.

If you find your writing more successful than the previous round, continue to do what you're doing. If you aren't achieving the results you want, step back a little and see what you can do differently. And what do you do if your goal is reached? Simple. Come up with a greater, grander goal and do it all over again.

Kenji Crosland is a creative writing major who, scared of becoming a starving artist, became a corporate headhunter in Tokyo. Since then he's regained his sanity, quit his job, and now blogs about creating an ideal career at He is also developing a web application that just might change the internet. Follow him on Twitter: @KenjiCrosland.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Writers and Professional Organizations

One of my main goals for 2010 is to increase my marketing efforts. I want to work on getting my name and services out there to many more people. The problem I’m having is that it’s a bit overwhelming, and I’m trying to determine the best way to promote myself that’s both cost-effective and, well, effective. In other words, I don’t want to waste my money and have nothing to show for it. I’m well aware that I’ll have to start small and really focus on building a customer base, but now I just need a good strategy.

I’ve been toying with the idea of joining a Chamber of Commerce or some type of business networking organization to increase my visibility. Since I don’t live in a big city and have a very limited potential customer base, I’m really weighing my options. I also have to be careful because of my day job, so I’m looking for other alternatives. Most business organizations like Chambers promote their own members, so

So, I’m looking for feedback from other writers. Can anyone help me out? Are there freelancers out there who have joined these types of organizations? Was your membership worth it?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

On Staying Motivated

Even the most productive and prolific writer has a slowdown from time to time. So, as any good writer would do, I’m blogging about getting things done when you just don’t feel like writing.

I admit that I seem to have hit a winter slump, and it’s getting harder to find the energy and motivation to follow through on many of my projects—definitely not a good thing since I have regular work that needs to be completed, and weekly deadlines that I have to meet, not to mention looming deadlines for a few larger projects. Even with all of this in mind, I find that I really have to drag myself to the keyboard every day, and when I get there, I’m not exactly working the whole time (stupid Facebook!)

I hit these slow times every few months, when I’m just not at the top of my game and don’t feel like putting sentences together. But as we all know, the work doesn’t wait, so here are a few tricks I use to still be productive even when I don’t necessarily want to be:

Blog about it. I committed to my blog last summer, and I’ve been posting regularly except for a few unusually busy weeks when I couldn’t seem to get anything done besides grading papers. Lately I’ve been writing about my own experiences, and sharing even the most basic struggles with everyone—including not feeling like writing! (We’ve all been there, right?)

Start working on other projects. During my slower times, in my book even doing prep work or researching for upcoming pieces counts as work—it’ll have to get done at some point, so why not start working on it when you know you still need to be productive, but the writing itself just doesn’t seem to be happening?

Tackle the smaller, less time-consuming projects. I was feeling exceptionally lazy this past weekend—I’d had a killer week at work and just wanted to take it easy—so I finally sat down and worked through quite a few smaller things that didn’t take up too much time, but I’d just been putting them off. I still felt like I’d accomplished something, and the more annoying tasks are finally taken care of.

Make a manageable to-do list. If you do have deadlines to meet and no other choice but to hunker down and get writing, get as much done in one sitting as possible. Write yourself a list to stay on track, but don't include every single thing that you have going, or else you'll just feel overwhelmed and barely make a dent in your list. I just jotted down some of the things I'm hoping to get finished today before I started this post—I have my weekly assignments to complete and some class-related things to take care of…a total of 6 things. Definitely doable.

How do you power through when you just don’t feel motivated?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What Are Your Favorite Kinds of Writing Projects?

Many writers have a particular favorite genre that they focus on. Then there are those of us freelancers who like to dabble in just about anything that comes along. Taking new projects is good all the way around—it helps develop new writing skills, it keeps us from getting bored (though we love steady writing gigs, even the most lucrative work gets a little stale after awhile), and it gets us out of our comfort zones now and then. In my opinion, freelance writers owe it to themselves to accept all types of things—clients like to see the range of work that we’ve done, and, as I already said, it’s good to accept a new challenge once in awhile!

But even the most versatile writers have their favorite kinds of projects.

I still prefer features over most other kinds of writing, although they tend to be the most time-consuming, between interviews, background research, and of course, the writing itself. But I find that I get the most satisfaction from putting together a well-done feature for a topic I have strong interest in. This lets my geek side (the lover of research) run wild and get my fix, and also my naturally curious side ask a lot of questions and find out even more about the subject.

I’ve also really come to enjoy blogging since I shifted my focus more to personal experience. I know more about this business than others, but I certainly don’t think of myself as an expert, so it was a challenge to try to come up with material for posts on things I definitely didn’t feel qualified to talk about yet. Since I’m talking more about my own experiences (both good and bad), I find that it’s easier to find things to blog about. I vowed to get back into writing fiction this year, but I think a big reason of why I’ve gotten away from it is that the whole process just seems very overwhelming to me at this point.

What about you? What are your favorite kinds of writing projects?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

On Turning Down Work

This is a bit unbelievable to me, but I’m finally at a point where I’ve had to pass on writing opportunities twice this week.

Now, I should add that at least one request was from a company I work with writing regular online content. The work is divvied out weekly, so I can always just pick up more next time or another week. I’m finding that’s the nice thing about a regular gig that includes other writers—there always seems to be someone able to pick up the slack should you need them. The other opportunity was writing a few blog posts in only a few days. I’ve accepted these tight assignments before, and though I prefer a little more time to complete them, I’ve always been able to hunker down and get them done (even with a raging sinus infection where I could barely sit up). But this time—well, I had to decline.

I passed on both of these things because I’m working on larger assignments that are much more time-consuming. One article is a rather long feature on various businesses, so I have to do quite a few interviews for the piece, then turn those interviews into workable text. I’m basically chaining myself to the PC to get as much of it done as possible. I’m also coming up on deadlines with a few other larger pieces and, well, I just felt that the regular assignments will be there next go ‘round.

However, I totally surprised myself because I rarely turn down any kind of writing opportunity that’s offered, no matter how small or what the pay might be (although I did turn down a non-paying gig a few months back). Part of me thinks that if I don’t say yes to whoever is asking, they’ll never ask me again, and I don’t want to turn down any opportunity that might lead to more work, or even something semi-regular. But this time, I just had to say no. And you know what? I feel pretty good about it!

How often do you say “no” to opportunities? How do you weigh your decision on what to accept and what to decline? If you’ve turned down work once (rates and nature of the project were great, you were just too maxed out at the time), were you approached by the same person for other opportunities?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How Do You Keep Track of Your Ideas?

As writers, our livelihood depends on our ability to keep churning out new ideas—articles, blog posts, stories, new angles on old topics, and finding “newsworthy” material.

I have to admit, sometimes it gets a little overwhelming.

It’s hard enough to keep track of everything we have to do and everywhere we need to be. Add on the extra stress of not wanting to forget what could be a money-making idea and really, sometimes it’s enough to make me want to hide under the covers for a few days.

Am I the only one who thinks like this?

So, how do you handle the very important task of keeping track of your ideas?

I took the advice of many writers I know and started keeping a notebook. I took my time because I wanted to find something that would work for me—yes, I know it’s a notebook, but most writers know how important it is to have just the right tools. So I shopped around until I found one that met my specifications (basically, something sturdy that would also fit into my purse). Once I found it, I wondered how I’d lived without it.

I love my idea notebook. Since I have so many projects to follow up on and keep track of, it’s so nice to just jot something down and not stress about forgetting it. I try to list the article idea and a market that might be a good fit; other times I just make a list of possible story ideas and try to find markets later. It may not be a perfect system, but it’s been working for me. Once I complete a certain number of assignments, I go back into my notebook and see what else might be worth pitching.

I also started keeping a spreadsheet of my queries so I can see what ideas I’ve already pitched, and which ones I need to follow up on. Organization is not my strongest suit, but my system works for me.

Your turn! How do you keep track of your story ideas?