So what’s your excuse?

so what is your excuse-

The idea for a book comes. You lay at night pondering, “writing” aloud, crafting the perfect illustrations, imagining the cover, chapter titles, and the dramatic opening line. Yet as pen goes to paper, doubt creeps in.

Does anyone really want to read this?

My topic is too niche. My experience is too unique.

No one knows who I am.

How will my book even get noticed?

And if I do manage to write this book, who will want to publish it?

The obstacles are too great, the path too unsure. 

No, I’m not the person to write a book. Perhaps I’ll just blog or journal. That’s the extent of it.

Before you shelve that dream entirely, let’s consider another writer who faced more obstacles than most could imagine, and had every excuse possible to lay down the pen.

John, the disciple, sat inside a prison camp on the dusty, secluded island of Patmos. This tiny outpost near present-day Turkey in the Aegean Sea was the perfect place to be forgotten. To die in obscurity. To fade away. Instead, John wrote the book of Revelation, which is the final authority on the end times and spells out our hope of the Lord’s return.

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.  I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea. (Revelation 1:9-11)

While many of Christ’s disciples were executed, John met a different fate. He was arrested and sent to Patmos, where prisoners were sentenced to work in the island’s mines. Surely the Lord’s command to “write what you see in a book,” must have caught him by surprise. Write a book? While imprisoned? Even if he could find the time and materials to do so, how would his writing ever be distributed? It seems John had quite a plausible excuse to lay down his pen.

And yet, he wrote. We don’t know exactly how his writings were “published,” but we can be certain that Lord’s hand guided the process. What faith John must have had to pour out his visions onto paper, never knowing if they would be read or even received as truth.

And yet he wrote. And what an impact his writings have had.

Although a skeptic, author Jonathan Kirsch states in his book, A History of the End of the World, that:

[Revelation] has come to play a unique and ubiquitous role in the world in which we live today. Indeed, Revelation has always served as a lens through which the recorded history of Western Civilization can be seen in fresh and illuminating ways. Across the twenty centuries that have passed since it was first composed—and, above all, at every point where contesting ideas of culture and politics have come into conflict—Revelation is always present, sometimes in plain sight and sometimes just beneath the surface.

So we ask you today… what obstacles do you face as a writer? What doubt plagues you? If the Lord has clearly called you to write, do it. Look to John as your inspiration as you push past the fear and hurdles to deliver the message God has given you.

At Certa Publishing, we believe in the message inside our authors. Our goal is to provide you with all the tools and support you need to transform your message into a published book.

 

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From Mint Tea to Moleskin Notebooks: 3 writers share their habits

mint tea

This week we’re featuring some of Copyblogger’s fascinating insights into the writing habits and environments of their editorial team. Copyblogger has been at the forefront of content writing since 2006 and their parent company now boasts a client base of more than 200,000 unique customers.

They asked several members of their editorial team to divulge their habits and preferences on the following points:

  • Setting
  • Time of day
  • Beverage
  • Tools
  • Music or silence preference

We have included several of the answers here:

Stefanie Flaxman, editor-in-chief

Setting: My desk is my favorite place to concentrate on writing.

Time of Day: I like drafting and jotting down notes all day, every day. But my butt-in-chair writing time typically happens in the afternoon, after I’ve already completed my editing work for the day. That routine works for me no matter what type of writing I’m working on, but morning or evening writing sessions definitely happen when the words have already written themselves in my head and I need to get them out.

Beverage: Green tea. Mint tea. Cold-pressed green juice. Water.

Tools: MacBook Air and an outline in a Moleskine notebook. If I start a digital draft before sketching out an article in a notebook, it usually takes me longer to tie all of my ideas together.

Music or Silence?: I write with music. Sometimes a topic I’m writing about will inspire me to listen to a specific album. If that doesn’t happen, The Decemberists Radio or Tom Waits Radio on Pandora are my default writing stations. Editing and proofreading happen without background noise.

Kelton Reid, VP of multimedia production

Whether I’m working on a writing project or multimedia production, my habits and rituals tend to be pretty similar.

Setting: I’ve had great success working in coffee shops on tight deadlines, and studies show that working in a public space somehow motivates one to be more productive (not necessarily more cogent — interesting note there).

But I find that scheduling chunks of time, uninterrupted writing sprints in the privacy of my office with short breaks for coffee and stretching, is most productive if I have enough time to let a project marinate before editing.

I always come back to:

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” – Stephen King

Time of Day: I’m best first thing in the morning after breakfast and coffee — kid is at school, no one’s in the house kind of early — until lunch.

I will get a second wind of creative flow from 3 to 6 in the evening, and occasionally after 10:00 p.m..

Beverage: Black coffee. Green Tea. No fillers.

Tools: Thoughts that I can capture typically land in a small, pocket notebook that is always nearby, and if deemed useful, find themselves on a yellow legal pad in scrawled, rabid sentences that need to be vaccinated and put on leashes.

Healthy sentences often migrate to a full-fledged outline on 4X6 cards that pile up and must be clipped together. A Google Doc is another favorite for getting them all in one place.

Finally, a blank text document will be opened and a terrible first draft will emerge. A first draft needs air. I generally try to walk away from it as long as possible, and then get some fresh eyes on it before attempting to forge it into something anyone would ever want to read.

Music or Silence?: Ambient music I can ignore on the headphones. (Spotify is home to a lot of music for concentration.) Film soundtracks are great for productivity, as are simple white noise apps with rain and whatnot.

Loryn Thompson, data analyst

I tend to have the same routines for whatever I’m working on, although doing my best work writing often involves a lot fewer distractions, whereas when I’m doing data work and writing reports, I may be able to keep chat open.

Setting: Depends on the time of day. In the mornings I like to be at a quiet coffee shop (preferably where people don’t know me and therefore don’t try to talk to me), and in the late afternoon I prefer to be at home.

Time of Day: Morning (7:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.) or late afternoon (4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.)

Beverage: Cappuccinos or matcha lattes at the coffee shop, tea or coffee at home (with a mug warmer — I can’t drink lukewarm coffee!).

Tools: Laptop with email and chat closed. Sometimes I’ll even turn WiFi off if I know I won’t need it for research. Headphones are required. For my reports I use Google Docs, but when I’m working on a true writing piece I prefer a plain text editor.

And no phone. Having my phone anywhere near me — even just in the room — is a huge productivity killer. I usually leave mine downstairs most of the day, and only check it on breaks.

Music or Silence?: Music, but it can’t be distracting. Either it has to be music I’ve practically memorized or instrumental (more mood/ambient than classical, though).

What do you think? Are any of these habits similar to yours? Or were you surprised at how other writers work? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

At Certa Publishing we strive to bring ideas and inspiration that help our authors develop and thrive. Contact us today to find out how we can partner with you!

7 Steps to Editing as You Go: Part Two

Editing your own work can be intimidating. Where do you start? In our last post we began sharing some excerpts of Nicole Bianchi’s post, How to Edit Your Writing: An Effective 7-Step Process.

She began with the following steps:

  • Create an outline
  • Write your rough draft
  • Do a “substantive” edit
  • Have someone else read your piece

Today we are sharing the remainder of her self-editing process.

5. Edit for Grammar and Style

At this point, I’ve probably rewritten the piece several times. Now it’s time to evaluate the style of the piece, correct grammar and spelling errors, and strengthen the sentences and paragraphs.

Here are several things to look for:
  • Are there any long-winded sentences that you can shorten or divide into two sentences? Any long paragraphs that you can separate into multiple paragraphs?
  • Do you have any passive sentences? See here for how to spot passive voice.
  • Are you peppering your writing with cliched phrases? Use the cliche finder.
  • Any spelling or capitalization errors? Misplaced modifiers? Misuse of commas? Other punctuation errors?
  • If you’re writing a blog post, are there places where you can use contractions to make your writing sound more conversational?
  • Have you eliminated unnecessary adverbs? Are there any difficult words that you could replace with more commonly known ones?

William Zinsser notes,

…The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what–these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.

You can use an application like Grammarly to help with this process, but it might not catch all errors. The Hemingway Editor is another useful tool to determine if you have sentences that are difficult to read (copy and paste your text onto the homepage to use the free version of the app).

And, remember, that you can always brush up on your grammar knowledge by reading a book like The Elements of Style.

6. Have Someone Read Your Piece Again

Now I’m nearly ready to publish the piece. Since I’ve been reading the same lines over and over, my brain is usually exhausted at this point and will be less likely to notice typos. I try to find someone who will read my piece again to spot anything I might have missed.

Hopefully, your volunteer editor from step #4 is a really, really good friend and doesn’t mind reading your piece a second time. Or you might want to find a different person for a new set of eyes and fresh perspective. If you can’t find anyone to read your piece, however, I recommend printing it out and slowly reading it aloud during step #7.

7. Proofread One Last Time

The finish line is finally within sight. It’s time to give the piece one last read through.

If you’re working on a blog post, check for these things:
  • Do all of your links work and open in new windows? Have you linked to other articles on your site?
  • Do you need to tweak your headline to make it stronger? Try out the headline analyzer here.
  • Have you properly attributed all of your quotes?
  • If you’re using photos, have you included alt tags?
  • Are your subheadings consistently capitalized?
  • Have you previewed your post to make sure there are no formatting errors?
  • Do you have a call to action at the end of the post that asks readers to comment, share, and subscribe?

If you have a WordPress blog, I highly recommend installing the Yoast SEO plugin as it will remind you to do many of these things. It also evaluates your post’s readability and points out passive sentences.

At Certa Publishing, we hope to empower our writers to effectively edit their own work, such as Ms. Bianchi advises. However, we realize that authors often need an expert’s help. That’s where our Book Editing Services come in. Contact us today to find out how we can partner with you!

Writing from Pain: A tool of healing for yourself and others

pain

As you’ve walked through painful experiences, have you ever asked God, “What is the purpose to this pain?” There is an innate desire in us to know that the suffering will not be wasted, that the hurt is productive. The answer is yes.

Writing from our pain is not only an effective tool for processing our experiences, but also for transforming our suffering into an agent of encouragement and guidance for others.

Writing from Pain Accelerates the Healing Process

War produces death, fear and misery. Yet, in the case of the war in Afghanistan, it has also produced beautiful writing. When asked about the evocative and influential poetry and pose coming out of his country, one Afghan writer said,

In Afghanistan, we do not write for fun, passion, or money but to express the immeasurable pain inside. Maybe that’s how the actual writing is. There must be something discomforting to be disclosed. At least, that’s how we see it.

While most of us have not endured a decades-long war, many of us have walked through smaller personal tragedies. And at some point in the weeks or months after a difficult or traumatic event, it invariably happens. The right person, at the right time, asks you the right question: “Do you want to talk about it?” And then out it comes. The story, the emotions, the pain. While logic would tell us that a rehash of our suffering would increase our angst, we all know from experience what the Afghan writers know… that this disclosure is cathartic. It is for this reason that therapists’ couches across the country are full of those looking for healing through expression.

It is important to note that science confirms our anecdotal experience in this matter. In their book Opening Up by Writing it Down, Drs. Pennebaker and Smyth note the following:

Disclosure reduces the effects of stress. The act of disclosing a trauma reduces the physiological work of secrets. During disclosure, the biological stress of holding back is immediately reduced. Over time, if we continue to confront and thereby resolve our emotional upheavals, there will be a lowering of our overall stress level.

Disclosure forces a rethinking of events. Disclosing or confronting a trauma helps us understand and ultimately assimilate the event. By talking or writing about a secret experience, we are translating the event into language. Once it is language based, we can better understand the experience and ultimately put it behind us.

Writing from Pain Promotes Healing in Others

There is one phrase spoken during difficult times that can either draw you in or push you away: I know how you feel. When spoken by someone who has not walked in your shoes, this phrase can be difficult to hear. Yet when spoken by one who has experienced your pain, it can bring great relief. In fact, during periods of suffering, we often seek out those who truly know how we feel because their experiences and advice bring us comfort.

What if your writing could offer the same I’ve been there consolation for someone walking through similar struggles? Have you suffered a miscarriage? Death of a spouse? Have you experienced bankruptcy or a child who has walked away from the Lord? Writing about these experiences and the lessons you have learned offers an invaluable lifeline to others in the midst of similar painful experiences.

Perhaps the greatest example of writing from pain is the psalmist David. Whether he was being hunted by the King’s men or reeling from the death of his firstborn son, David poured out his grief through poetry and song. While this expression likely accelerated David’s own healing, his writing has also promoted healing in countless others who have often turned to the Psalms in times of their own suffering and distress.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  Psalm 34:18

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.  Psalm 147:3

He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps. Psalm 40:2

My heart is severely pained within me,
And the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me.
Psalm 55:4-5

Whether God has called you to write from a place of joy, peace or pain, at Certa Publishing, we strive to help authors answer that call and produce a book that is beautifully written, edited and printed so that it can reach those in need of its message.

Contact us today to start the process of becoming a published author!

 

7 Steps to Editing Your Work as You Go

7 STEPS TO EDITING

Editing your own work can be intimidating. Where do you start? This month we’ll be sharing some excerpts of Nicole Bianchi’s post, How to Edit Your Writing: An Effective 7-Step Process. Hopefully her logical process will demystify the editing task and give you a practical way forward.

Today I’m sharing the steps I follow to edit my work along with the editing advice I’ve gleaned from various famous authors over the years.

1. Outline

When I have an idea for a new article, I spend time jotting down notes, researching (if necessary), and thinking of different ways I can approach the topic. Before I begin writing the piece, I gather all of those notes together and construct an outline. (If I were writing fiction, this would be the plotting stage.)

You wouldn’t begin building a house without construction plans that carefully measure the foundation, how big each room will be, and other precise details.

Similarly, I find when I don’t outline my piece beforehand, the first draft ends up a tangled mess. That’s because I’m developing my ideas as I go. If I outline first, the piece usually ends up not requiring as many revisions.

Here are two tips for outlining your piece:

  • First, summarize what your article is about in one sentence. This sentence should present the main idea or argument of your piece. You might end up including this sentence in the introduction of your piece, but even if you don’t, it will be a helpful guide as you write. If a paragraph doesn’t relate back to that original theme or support your argument, delete it.
  • After you’ve written down your one-sentence summary, you can plan out the main points of each section of your piece. Organize your thoughts into a logical and chronological structure.

2. Write Your First Draft

The next step, of course, is to actually write your piece. John Steinbeck advised,

Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

I try hard to follow Steinbeck’s advice, but I am guilty of rewriting whole paragraphs as I work on my first draft. So don’t beat yourself up too much over this. Every writer has their own unique way of working. William Zinsser observes in his book On Writing Well,

Some people write their first draft in one long burst and then revise; others can’t write the second paragraph until they have fiddled endlessly with the first.

If a paragraph is giving you trouble, however, remember that you can always skip it and come back to it after you have gotten the rest of the piece down on paper. You might end up discovering that the paragraph wasn’t necessary after all.

3. Substantive Edit

A substantive edit (also known as a developmental edit) means analyzing the structure and flow of your piece.

Once I’ve finished the first draft, I step back from it and try to examine it as if I were the reader. I highly recommend reading your piece out loud at this point.

Ask yourself these questions as you read:

  • Do the paragraphs flow logically and chronologically?
  • If not, do you need to rearrange them or rewrite them?
  • Do you have smooth transitions between each paragraph and from one idea to the next?
  • Is there anything you need to explain in more depth?
  • Are there any parts of the piece that need more context?
  • Any sentences or sections that are repetitious?
  • Any sentences that are vague and could be enriched with more detailed examples?

Most importantly, examine whether every paragraph relates back to that initial one-sentence summary you wrote during the outlining process. As Marion Roach observes in her book The Memoir Project,

While editing, check back with that original pitch and see if you’ve done what you promised to do. What did you set out to illustrate? Have you fulfilled your obligations?

Maybe the direction of your piece has changed or evolved as you wrote the first draft. In that case, you might need to delete whole paragraphs, no matter how beautifully you’ve written them. Kurt Vonnegut advises,

Your eloquence should be the servant of the ideas in your head. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.

4. Have Someone Read Your Piece

Another set of eyes is always helpful at this stage of the editing process. You want to make sure that your piece is easy to read, that there is a logical flow within your paragraphs, and that you’ve effectively communicated your message to your readers.

Usually, I’ll ask my dad to read my nonfiction pieces. He’s frank in his criticism, and he’ll tell me if there are vague paragraphs, confusing sentences, or others that wander without getting to a point.

For my fiction pieces, I’ll turn to my brother, Michael, or my fellow fiction writing friends. Since they write fiction too, they can tell me if one of my scenes isn’t working or point out if I’m guilty of info dumping.

Another benefit of having someone read your piece is that they can prevent you from falling into the trap of perfectionism and over-editing.

While you shouldn’t be concerned with editing grammar at this point, I do recommend running your piece through a grammar and spelling checker to catch any typos or other errors (Grammarly is helpful for this). This is just a way to ensure that grammar errors don’t distract your volunteer editor.

If you don’t have a friend who can read your piece and give you feedback, I recommend putting your piece aside for at least a day. When you read a piece after a day has passed, you are usually able to examine it more objectively. This is a tip I learned from Neil Gaiman,

The best advice I can give on this is, once it’s done, to put it away until you can read it with new eyes. When you’re ready, pick it up and read it, as if you’ve never read it before. If there are things you aren’t satisfied with as a reader, go in and fix them as a writer: that’s revision.

Check back soon for the final three steps in the editing process.

At Certa Publishing, we want to equip our writers to effectively edit their own work, such as Ms. Bianchi advises. However, we realize that authors often need an expert’s help. That’s where our Book Editing Services come in. Contact us today to find out how we can partner with you!

3 Easy Ways to Land Media Appearances

Three easy ways to land (1).png

You can author the most dynamic blog, produce highly-viewed YouTube videos and kill it on Facebook live, but nothing will give your book exposure like a TV or radio interview. And yet most authors are intimidated by media appearances. Perhaps you have assumed that these can only be obtained through expensive public relation firms or agents. We are here to dispel that myth and share with you three easy ways to land media appearances.

1. Be prepared to react to current events

TV and radio producers care about one thing: ratings. In order to keep up ratings, they need their shows to constantly remain relevant to current events.  When a major event occurs that relates to a theme in your book, be prepared to blast media producers. (For tips on contacting producers, head over here).

In his book, Sell Your Book Like Wildfire, Rob Eager recounts this example:

Actor Alec Baldwin caught the nation’s attention when the public got hold of an angry voice message he left for his daughter. Almost every news outlet and entertainment program covered the story. When this happened, one of my clients had just published a book called When Your Marriage Dies.  In her book, she had devoted an entire chapter to handling common problems that parents face with their children after going through a divorce. When my client heard the news about Baldwin, she quickly put together a press release and e-mailed it to several radio stations. Within four hours, she received a response  from the producer of a well-known radio program.

A great way to stay up to date on current events is to set up a Google alert. Input keywords that are relevant to your book and Google will alert you by email when these keywords are trending. You can choose to be alerted daily or less often.

2. Make the calendar work for you

In order to stay relevant, producers often plan their content around the calendar. For example, November and December shows will be full of guests discussing gift ideas, party planning and how to manage holiday stress. However, summer shows will be altogether different.

So, take out your calendar and go through the year in light of your book’s topics. Can you offer relevant topic for Mother’s Day? Easter? Back to school?

Rob Eager offers these lead times for the various media types:

  • Magazines – four to six months
  • TV and radio – 30 to 90 days
  • Newspapers and blogs – 7 to 30 days

3. Make the producer’s job easier

Imagine meeting with a baker about your wedding cake and yet he didn’t have an samples or photos to offer. Most of us would quickly move onto someone else and he would lose the sale.

The same is true for media interviews. The more “samples” of your work you can offer, the better. However, the producer isn’t interested in the content of your book. He or she is interested in the content of your interview. Will you be interesting? Relevant? Personable?

One creative way to showcase your interview content is to provide a sample, through one of these mediums:

  1. If you have done previous media interviews, send along the link to the video or audio.
  2. If not, create your own! Create a (high-quality) video or audio recording of yourself answering sample questions. It may feel silly, but it will be worth it!
  3. For a simpler approach, type up sample questions and answers for the producer, similar to what author Joel Friedlander did here.

Going the extra mile in this way will set you apart from your competition and likely garner you the media attention you’ve been looking for!

At Certa Publishing, we are experts in book marketing. Our authors have been featured in countless magazines, newspapers, radio and TV shows. Contact us today so we can put our experience to work for you!

 

 

The Writer’s Digital Toolbox: Part 2

If you gather a group of 10 writers, you will find that each of them has a different “toolbox” full of digital and not-so-digital writing tools that they can’t live without. Some like to do all their writing on their computer. Some use voice dictation, while others are still buying yellow legal pads and pens in bulk.

Beyond the physical tools of the trade, there are just as many online tools available to writers. But which are helpful and which just add to the noise and clutter of our digitally-dependent lives?

In our last post, we shared some of Jane Friedman’s favorite productivity tools, and we’ve gathered a few more here today that we hope will help, not hinder your writing process.

Freedom

When it comes to writing, what is your number one distraction? If you’re like most writers, you probably said the internet. How often have you seen an hour of your time get sucked into the black hole of Facebook? Or perhaps you’ve tried to write while your phone buzzes, beeps and chirps at you every 30 seconds. Even if you don’t stop to check it, your mind will struggle to stay in the zone of writing. That’s where Freedom comes in.  Freedom allows you to block certain notifications from certain apps at certain times. Don’t want to know about every Facebook comment or Twitter follow? Freedom can help. It can even be programmed to shut off notifications or the internet completely during certain times. Do you always write during your lunch break at work? Tell Freedom and it will automatically hang a digital “do not disturb” sign on your phone during that time every day, keeping you on track and efficient. Here’s a quick explanation of the app’s features:

 

There is a small monthly fee, but if you find writing distraction-free is really improving your efficiency, it might be worth the cost.

Grammarly

We can’t say enough about this amazing (and free!) browser extension. Grammarly integrates with most platforms to automatically check your grammar as you write. From WordPress to Google Documents, from Facebook to Gmail, Grammarly is the proverbial English teacher, hovering over your shoulder correcting your work as you go. Most of the features are free, but a premium membership is available, which offers a few extra tools, such as a plagarism checker.

 

Ulysses

Like Freedom, Ulysses helps to avoid distractions, but this app takes things a step further by consolidating all of your writing tasks into one place. Need to write distraction-free? Check. Need to keep all of your work and inspiration in one place, cataloged by project? Check. Need to easily export your work using various file types? No problem. So what’s the catch? Ulysses is only available for Apple devices and it costs $45.

In her recent article The Best Writing Apps of 2017, Jill Duffy of PC Mag wrote:

Writers who find themselves in the less-is-more camp will want a writing app that strips away anything that could possibly be the least little bit distracting. Distraction-free writing apps are a dime a dozen. The trick is to find one that also offers the tools you need when you need them. In other words, the best distraction-free writing app will hide the tools you need until the appropriate time, rather than omitting them altogether.

With that criterion in mind, Ulysses is my favorite distraction-free writing app, and a PCMag Editors’ Choice.

At Certa Publishing, we believe in equipping our authors with the practical tools you need to write your best. Through posts like this, as well as others about long-form writing, cultivating good writing habits, and writing the rough draft, we hope to provide you with everything you need to pour your heart and life onto the page.

The Writer’s Digital Toolbox

Jane Friedman is a publishing expert and digital media strategist. She recently dished on essential author tools in her post, My Must-Have (Digital) Productivity Tools, which we have excerpted here:

This post is one that I regularly update with my absolute must-have digital tools that enhance my productivity, creativity, and digital-life sanity.

1. Zoom

Zoom is my go-to online meeting service. I use it for client meetings, personal chats, online courses, and even to pipe in guest speakers for in-person events. I’ve found it nearly foolproof since participants can join on any device—including a phone—using video + audio, or audio only. Find out more about Zoom. You’ll find both free and paid plans.

2. Evernote

I resisted using Evernotefor years, but over the last two years, it’s become integral to my workflow. I use it for what I call my “primary to-do list,” which is broken down by day of the week, as well as for first drafts of blog posts, research notes, interviews, and conference talk outlines. I also use for “composting” ideas. If you’re the kind of person who has a million stickies on your desktop, or multiple documents where you’re dumping notes, then take a serious look at Evernote.

3. CrashPlan

This is my continuous back-up system for my computers. It runs faithfully in the background, 24/7, and I don’t have to think about backing up, ever. The annual fee is worth it—check it out.

4. Scrivener

I finally took the leap and started using Scrivener when I began assembling my book, Publishing 101. I will never write a book in Word again. Of course, the big drawback is that Scrivener is not at all intuitive, so you’ll have to carefully go through their free tutorial; you can also find online courses available to turn you into an expert user. I recommend you download and use the free trial version for 30 days as you decide if you’re OK with the learning curve.

5. Canva

Even though I’m an expert user of InDesign and intermediate user of Photoshop, I love Canva to brainstorm ideas and put together quick visuals for social media. (See image at the top of this post!) This free service smartly recognizes that more and more of us need easy tools to design things that look halfway decent, and don’t have the time or resource to hire a professional. While Canva has serious limitations, for lightweight work, it’s perfect.

6. Dropbox

I couldn’t function on a daily basis without Dropbox, which is cloud-based storage of my work files, especially since I change machines so often. It syncs across my desktop, laptop, mobile devices, and I can also access it through any computer if I have login credentials with me.

7. Google Drive

I use Google Drive in addition to Dropbox as a cloud storage system, but specifically for those documents that I collaborate on (where multiple people might need access)—or when I want to share public links.

8. Paprika

Paprika is an app where I store all my recipes. It helps me meal plan during the week, generate shopping lists that get sent to email, and categorize recipes according to my own criteria.

9. LastPass

LastPass is a password manager that helps ensure you never forget a password again—or use bad password hygiene (making you vulnerable to attack). It generates strong passwords and stores your login credentials, securely and locally; whenever you go to a site that requires those credentials, it autofills them for you on a browser. You can get started for free.

10. Acuity Scheduling

This is a full-featured appointment/scheduling software that allows clients to book free or paid appointments with you. No more back-and-forth emailing to set up appointment times—it syncs with your Google calendar (among others). Acuity can be embedded into your site or shared as a link. Free to start, $10/month for most features you want.

11. Zippy Courses

Zippy is my preferred tool for creating and selling online courses. If you have a self-hosted WordPress site, you can buy the Zippy Courses plugin. Or, if that’s too technically complicated, they offer a fully hosted solution for an annual subscription fee. I see at as the most sensible and easy solution for anyone accustomed to WordPress sites.

12. Wave

Wave is a free and robust online accounting service for tracking income and expenses related to your business. It also generates invoices that clients can pay online by credit card.

13. MailChimp

MailChimp is the email newsletter service I use, which is free until you reach 2,000 names. If you’re serious about online marketing, but are still at the beginning stages of building your business, you’re better off using this and not TinyLetter.

14. VisualHunt

VisualHunt is my favorite tool for finding Creative Commons and public domain images to use in my online courses, blog, newsletter, and elsewhere.

At Certa Publishing, we use many of these tools on a daily basis. In fact, we can thank Canva for helping us create the blog post above. What tools make your life more productive? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

When Your Work is Criticized: 3 ways to handle it like a pro

The harsh Amazon review. The stinging comments from a writing peer. The editor’s terse remarks. Finding out that a close friend never finished your book, or even took the time to read it. Criticism comes in many forms. And it comes. There is no holding it back. Even years after you’ve published your book, a freshly written critique can jettison you back to questioning your very worth as a writer.

It would be naive for us to recommend that you simply ignore reviews and move on. But taking one of these 3 approaches will turn criticism from a tool of discouragement to a constructive element in your writing journey:

Be grateful

Someone has left you a nasty Amazon review. Ouch. The last thing you want to do is say thank you! But that is just what the Bible instructs us to do.

… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

So what does that look like practically? It means saying, “Thank you Lord that I have this opportunity to forgive, to reaffirm my worth in you and to even pray for this person that spoke so harshly.”

You can even just be grateful that they took the time to read your work and offer their thoughts, no matter how difficult they are to read.

In her article, How to Handle Criticism of Your Writing, Daphne Gray-Grant writes,

I know this may be hard, particularly if the criticisms are harsh but editing is challenging and your critics are doing you a favour – particularly if they don’t cover their comments with roses. Effective criticism, even if it’s hard to take, will make you a better writer.

Beth Moore recently tweeted this gem about choosing to have a right spirit when critical words are spoken:

Be separate from your writing

You are not your writing. You are a person, made in the image of God. Loved, accepted and redeemed. Your writing is by you and from you, but it is not you. When you take this approach, accepting criticism is much easier. Your critics and editors are not commenting on your personal worth or value as a human being.

Speaking specifically about the editing process, a post on The Surly Muse offered this advice:

Unless you have very poor taste in friends, chances are your critic isn’t out to destroy you psychologically. They’re not pointing out flaws in your work because they hate your guts and wish you would fall under a dump truck. They’re trying to make your work better. You don’t have to agree with them, but it pays to respect their time and their intent.

Be confident

Is your work God-breathed? Have you been journaling, meditating on and developing its ideas for years and years? Then be confident in your work. Is it perfect? No. Is it the greatest book written this century? Probably not. But it is yours, poured forth from the well that God has put within you and only you.

… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

One last note. All books, even the greats, receive negative reviews. Check out these examples curated by Beth Bacon in her post 5 Ways For Authors to Handle Bad Reviews:

“It was one of the most boring and shallow books that I have ever read.” —review of the American classic The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Not nearly enough consistency and far to [sic] little plot.”—review of Harry Potter And the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

“If I were you, I’d peruse it briefly at your neighborhood library before putting hard-earned money out.” —review of children’s classic A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

“I find myself saying to myself as I read it ‘bla bla bla’ as that is what the author seems to be saying.” —review of National Book Award Winner Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen

At Certa Publishing, we walk with our authors through the entire writing, editing and publishing process. When the journey becomes difficult, we are here to offer encouragement and perspective. Contact us today to see how we can partner with you!