Don’t Judge a Book by it’s (Back) Cover

Even if you’re brand new to writing, you’ve probably already given a great deal of thought to your book’s cover art. However, according to marketing consultant Rob Eager, you may need to give equal attention to the back cover copy.

Here is an excerpt from his recent post Write Back Cover Copy That Boost Book Sales:

What if the back cover copy for a book is more important than the front cover art with the title and subtitle?

You’ve heard the old adage “never judge a book by its cover.” I agree, because these days, people don’t judge a book by the front cover. Instead, they judge a book by the back cover copy they see displayed front and center on the book’s sales page at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and dozens of other website retailers.

Today, almost 70% of all books are purchased online. That means back cover copy is the new front cover. Those words are the first thing many shoppers see when looking at a specific title. Therefore, that text plays a bigger role than ever before. Bad text will bore readers and lose their interest. Good text will help persuade the reader to purchase. If a book lacks compelling back cover copy, a lot of sales can be lost both online and in the bookstores.

I’ve taught numerous clients how to write convincing back cover copy that helped their books hit the bestseller lists. Below is my four-step process that works for most non-fiction books. (For memoirs and fiction, skip further down this article):

Step 1 – Display an attention-grabbing hook
Present an attention-grabbing hook in the form of a statement or a question in large bolded font across the top of the back cover. Make it jump out from the other text. Use the technique, “What if I told you _____?” to help create an effective marketing hook. Here are examples of book hooks that help get people’s attention:

  • Everyone speaks. Not everyone is heard.
  • You can cure the disease to please.
  • What if you could say no without feeling guilty?
  • Discover how to sell books like wildfire.

Step 2 – Describe the need for your book in society
In the first paragraph under the top marketing hook, use 2 – 4 sentences to explain the big problem in society and the need for your book to exist. What is the big problem you’ve noticed that is affecting thousands of people? What are the consequences people are experiencing? Don’t get too dark or negative. But, state the reality that people are encountering. Below is a good example from the book, The Power of a Positive No:

Every day we find ourselves in situations where we need to say No–to people at work, at home, and in our communities–because No is the word we must use to protect ourselves and to stand up for everything and everyone that matters to us. But as we all know, the wrong No can also destroy what we most value by alienating and angering people. That’s why saying No the right way is crucial.

Step 3 – Tell the reader the specific payoff of your book
Under the problem paragraph, use the transition sentence, “This book will help you…” and then list 4 – 5 bulleted statements that describe specific results people will experience from reading your book. Various examples of effective value statements might be:

  • Escape the guilt of disappointing others by learning the secret of the small no.
  • Increased confidence to control your emotions in sticky situations.
  • Connect and communicate well with team, family and friends
  • Break the “I’ll start again Monday” cycle and start feeling good about yourself today.

Step 4 – Clarify your credibility as an expert who can be trusted
In a final paragraph under the payoff statements, use 2 – 4 sentences to provide a brief bio in a way that explains why you’re an expert worth following. List your credentials and describe your track record of helping people experience the results described above in Step 3. For example, below is a brief version of my bio that summarizes my expertise and the results that I create for clients in the publishing arena:

Rob Eagar is one of the most accomplished book marketing experts in America and a leading specialist in the field of direct-to-consumer marketing. He’s personally coached over 400 authors, consulted with top publishing houses, and helped clients hit the New York Times bestseller list three different ways, including new fiction, new non-fiction, and backlist non-fiction. He even helped a book become a New York Times bestseller after 23 years in print! For more information, visit: http://www.RobEagar.com

We now live in an age where the vast majority of books are purchased online. Thus, the back cover copy is the first text that shoppers see when choosing to buy a book. Getting people to purchase hinges upon the words they read. Language is the power of the sale. Use my simple steps to insure that your back cover copy helps drive book sales like wildfire.

At Certa Publishing, we have helped countless authors navigate the complexities of book cover design and we would love to share our expertise with you.

Social Media: Going Beyond the Basics

It took you a while, but you’ve embraced social media. You’ve taken the plunge and established yourself on Twitter, Facebook and maybe even Instagram. You’re enjoying the feedback and extra exposure it’s giving you, and you’re seeing the value of the online interactions your work is receiving. But now you’re stuck. How do you take it to the next level? Now you’re back to feeling intimidated again. Never fear, we are here to help! Here’s a quick primer on the writer’s Big Three: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It doesn’t have to be as intimidating as you think.

Tweet like a pro

Twitter is mostly comprised of strangers having conversations. Weird, right? It’s true. So keep that in mind with your posts. Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes (a book we highly recommend), says,

Tweets work best as dialogue, because dialogue establishes rapport and encourages interaction. [However,] even though you might be talking to strangers on Twitter, you’re still talking to people. So write every tweet as you would speak it… to your girlfriend, boyfriend, significant other, dog, cat… or whoever…

Key strategies for Twitter

  • Don’t just pitch your wares. Instead, provide help, information and problem-solving.
  • Put a face on your business by giving your followers a glimpse into your personality and perspective. But be careful of being too personal.
  • Show that your story is apart of a larger movement. Maybe you write books about how you overcame addiction. Use Twitter to champion causes and groups that work in this area.
  • Make your English teacher proud. Just because Twitter is a brief platform doesn’t mean you should sacrifice spelling and grammar. It matters, no matter the platform.

Get the most out of Facebook

  • Photos are essential for Facebook. There are lots of great sources of images: your personal photos that relate to the topic, images you’ve used in your blog, your headshot and your book cover. Great images can also be found online, either through paid sites like BigStockPhoto.com or through several high-quality free stock photo sites like those listed here.
  • Facebook is free, but it isn’t. Thanks to a change in their algorithms, Facebook has made it difficult to reach your audience without paying to “boost” your ad. However, just a few dollars can go a long way. And then you can take advantage of Facebook’s massive amount of user data, which allows you to target your post to a specific audience (i.e. women ages 30-60 who are interested in Bible studies and attend a Christian church).

The key to sucess, then, is being very clear about who your potential customer is – to think niche, not number of likes. – Ann Handley

  • Post less but post more. In other words, keep your posts brief, but write them often. In order to begin engaging with you, your Facebook friends want to know that you will be there often and will respond quickly. Here’s the reaction you don’t want when you post on Facebook: “Oh, wow, I forgot about him!” Instead, you want this reaction: “Oh, wow, I love when he posts… let’s see what he wrote today.”

Be an Insta expert

As you likely know, Instagram is completely image-based. You simply snap a photo, pick a filter, write a caption and post. While there are many creative ways that writers can use Instagram, we suggest that you use consistency of style in your posts. Here are some ideas:

  • Offer a behind-the-scenes look at the writer life. Photos of your favorite coffee mug, writing spot or cat sprawled across your keyboard are perfect.
  • Post selfies with fans and colleagues at book signings, speaking engagements, etc. Be sure to tag the people in the photo to gain more exposure.
  • Use an app like Studio (iPhone or Android) to add quotes from your writing onto beautiful images, like the stock images we mentioned above.

Be sure to set up your account to automatically post your Instagram images to Facebook.

For more great ideas, head over to The Creative Penn’s post How to Use Instagram As An Author Plus 10 Ways to Grow Your Account Organically.

Using social media can be intimidating, but with a little experimenting, we know that you can not only become comfortable with it, but really begin to enjoy the interactions and exposure it brings.

At Certa, we believe our authors have incredibly important stories to tell and we are here to help you tell them, whether in a published book or a quick tweet. Let us know how we can help you today!

John Piper: Why I Write

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John Piper may be best known to you as a writer, or perhaps a theologian. And he is surely among the greats in both categories. However, you may not know that he is also an accomplished poet. In fact, he annually creates story poems centering on Biblical characters for his congregation each year for Advent. Piper’s works were recently published in a 13-volume set titled The Collected Works of John Piper, of which 140 pages are poems.

In tribute to this momentous publication, Piper penned a beautiful commentary on his love for poetry and writing as a whole, named Secretary of Thy Praise, which we have excerpted here. Be sure to continue to the end for his lovely poem I Write.

 

To Gaze on His Glory

Since not everyone revels in poetry, here’s a brief bit of prose to answer the same question, Why do I write so much? It’s a combination of my bent and God’s beauty. At about age 17, something happened. Before that, I avoided reading. After that, I’ve never stopped writing. Does that make sense? The best I can make of it is that, at about 17, I discovered that writing was a way of seeing that more than compensated for reading so slowly.

Hence, the bent. Now add to that, at about age 22, a supernova season of seeing God. I entered a world where the bent and the beauty became a catalytic combination of joyful energy. I have lived in that world for almost fifty years. Here’s a taste of how it works:

  • There is a greatness in the beauty of God. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3). And all his works share in his greatness: “Great are the works of the Lord” (Psalm 111:2). I love to look at greatness. Since writing is a way of seeing, I write.
  • There is a wonder in the beauty of all God’s works and words. “Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14). Every heart craves wonder. Woe to me if I walk through a world of wonders and grumble about the humidity. Even the psalmist prays to see this: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). God answers this prayer for me through writing. So, I write.
  • There is depth in the beauty of all God’s thoughts. “How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!” (Psalm 92:5). God spare me from wading near the beach for fear of your depths. Few things have pushed me more regularly into the deeps than writing. So, I write.
  • There is a vast value in the beauty of God’s mind. “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:17). Life is a constant battle not to believe the devil’s portrait of this world as preferable to the preciousness of God. Writing about this treasure helps me see it. So, I write.
  • There is an endlessness in the beauty of God. It is inexhaustible, and will be, for all eternity. “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us . . . they are more than can be told” (Psalm 40:5). For those who have the capacity to see, there will be no boredom in the endless ages of the world to come. Writing has delivered me from many a fearful season of threatened boredom with life. So, I write.
  • There is a gladness in the beauty of God. And a gladness in finding it out. “You, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:4). “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2). How can we not make this study the happy work of a lifetime — and beyond. Nothing aids my study of God’s works like writing. So, I write.
  • There is a legacy in the beauty of God. There is nothing better to bequeath. “One generation shall commend your works to another” (Psalm 145:4). “Even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation” (Psalm 71:18). Writing is a proclamation that will be heard beyond the grave. So, I write.

To Praise His Splendor

Taped in front of me on my computer monitor are these lines from George Herbert. They express my sense of calling:

Of all the creatures both in sea and land Onely to Man thou hast made known thy wayes, And put the penne alone into his hand, And made him Secretarie of thy praise.

Secretarie of thy praise. I only wish I could have done it better. Perhaps in whatever time remains, his grace will make a more ready scribe.

I Write

Some travel where they’ve never been,
    Some trace the paths within,
Some peer into the depths, and grope,
    Some scan the skies, and hope.
They long to see, 
    If faint or bright.
      Since I agree, 
         I write.

Some study, marking ev’ry page,
    Some probe the ancient sage,
Some perch cross-legg’d and chants rehearse,
    Some through the night converse
To understand 
   And seize the light.
      I set my hand 
         To write.

Some eat at gourmet restaurants,
   Some mortify their wants,
Some blitz along the Autobahn,
   Some plod the marathon
To feel the zest, 
   Enjoy the height.
      I share the quest, 
         And write.

Some paint, some build, some act the play,
   Some draw, some spin the clay.
Some cook, some sew, and some compose,
   Some dream, and some propose,
All to create. 
   Ah, such delight!
      I bear the trait, 
         And write.

Some heal, some shield, some educate,
   Some sway the magistrate,
Some feed, some serve to make shalom,
   Some bring the stranger home.
They seek to love. 
   I too invite
      The cordial Dove, 
         And write.

Some sing, some leap, some lift their hands,
   Some bow and keep commands,
Some kneel, some sway, some close their eyes,
   Some lie prostrate, some rise.
And all to praise. 
   Is this my flight?
      Oh, all my days! 
         I write.

And may it be that someday we,
   In heaven, sinlessly,
At last may see, and understand,
   And feel, and put our hand
And spirit to create, and love,
   And praise. Then to the Dove,
All-powerful and pure and high,
   My prayer will be: That I,
With crowning skill 
   And perfect sight,
      Be summoned still 
         To write.

Does Piper’s poem ring true with you? Leave us a comment below and share what motivates you to write.

The Potter’s Tools: The Divine Work of Writing

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Imagine a half-finished sculpture on the artist’s table. Strewn about are various chisels, brushes and tools. Chunks of clay lie discarded on the floor. The master leans intently over the object, pressing it here and there with his hands, refining… cutting… scraping. Yet look at the delight in his eyes. Look at how his fingers dance to an unheard song, molding and shaping, with a sense of what will be.

We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Isaiah 64:8

You see, the Lord did not lay down His creative skills on the sixth day. He is still at work, forming and fashioning us into new creations. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10).  You can be confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

Have you considered that the Lord may be using your role as a writer as one of his potter’s “tools?” But this work is uncomfortable. If you’ve been writing long enough, you’ve surely experienced the sting of rejection. Perhaps an editor has returned your work with more red ink than you thought possible. Maybe your manuscript has not been received with the praise you expected, or has even been panned or criticized by your friends, family or the public.

Scrape. Push. Cut. Do you feel the potter’s tools?

As believers, we have a choice in our response to the pain of His reshaping. Resist or submit. And James reminds that He responds accordingly. God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble (James 4:6).

What if we viewed writing as a new opportunity to submit to the potter’s work? Could we receive the editor’s remarks as a chance to grow and stretch? Can we hold our words with an open hand, allowing the Lord to refine them and infuse them with His voice? When we feel ready to quit, can we ask Him to help us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1)? What if we approached our mentors with a humble heart, asking for their constructive criticism, and appreciating their input?

Jeff Goins, bestselling author and blogger, suggests,

A good writer is humble. Regardless of skill, she is committed to seeing the writing process through to completion. No matter how grueling or hard, she will write. And she will get better…

This all begins with humility. Which really means a willingness to listen and change. To do the work and become a professional.

If you do this, if you take the time to make your work great by never settling for good enough, it will make all the difference. So start persevering today.

Let’s view our writing as more than work, more than a pastime, but as a divine process, a tool in the hand of the Master. Is there really any better place to be than on the table of the Potter?

The Very Normal Habits of Great Writers

04.16.17 very normal copyThe writer’s cabin. The oceanfront balcony. The serene lake-front dock. Is this where you imagine most great authors write? Are you putting off writing until you can make your escape, clear your calendar and clear your mind? If so, you’re not alone. In his post, The Writer’s Cabin is a Myth, bestselling author Jon Acuff writes,

Every writer secretly believes in the writer’s cabin.

In our heads we see a small isolated cabin in a quiet patch of woods. There’s a porch with a swing out front. We sit on that when we need a break from all the amazing words we’ve written inside. There’s not much behind that cabin door, just a humble table like Hemingway probably used, a chair our grandfather made by hand and some sort of way to gather our words. For some, it’s a stack of fresh, white paper and a favorite pen. Others see a typewriter that makes real clickity clack sounds with each brilliant word you capture. The days pile up as the pages do too and we emerge from this literary sabbatical with a book and a beard. (Unless you’re a lady, the beard is not nearly as cool in your story.)

I thought that would be my life when I became a full time writer.

Instead of waiting for serene moments and locations, Mr. Acuff suggests:

Write wherever you are.

Write in your car during your lunch break at work.

Write while you wait for your kids to finish gymnastics.

Write in any moment you can steal back from an already busy life.

I wrote my first book in a Burger King. It could not have been less cabin like.

Many writers also believe in the 30-minutes-a-day rule. No matter if inspiration strikes or not, they make a habit of writing for half an hour each day. Doing so creates a discipline, improves your skill and trains your mind to be more productive. In his post Why You Need to Write Everyday, Jeff Goins states,

Spending five hours on a Saturday writing isn’t nearly as valuable as spending 30 minutes a day every day of the week.

He quotes Jack Cheng who uses the analogy of physical training,

When mastery is the goal, spending an exorbitant number of hours in one sitting will likely lead to burnout. We don’t go to the gym expecting to put on 20 pounds of muscle in a single, day-long workout. Instead, we do several short workouts a week, spread out over months.

Do you think of writing as a daily discipline or an occasional indulgence? Re-orienting your approach could be just the thing you need to jumpstart a new project or accelerate your current one.

In response to the question, “Where is your favorite place to write?” Poet Taylor Mali offered this deadpan response,

[At] the top of our house, there’s an old cupola, and I watch the sunrise up there… and write my poems in longhand. I’m right-handed but I force myself to use my left hand, because I find it makes me more creative. And I write in Latin, because it forces the brain to work in new way – backwards, like Hebrew…

But, really Mali adds,

I just sit in front of my computer.

What are your very normal writing habits? Comment below and let us know!

Is This What You Really Meant to Say?

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In our last post, we told you to embrace the ugliness of the first draft. Whether this exercise was fun or grueling, we hope it propelled you further down your writing path. But don’t assume that the next step is to simply edit your way from a first draft to a final draft. No. Now it’s time to find your voice. Your tone. Your message. It’s time to answer the question, Is this what you really meant to say?

If today you emailed your first draft to 10 different writers to finish, do you think you would receive back 10 very similar works? Absolutely not. In fact, they might be almost unrecognizable from the original. Why? Because those writers will have applied their voice to the text, crafting it into something unique and exclusive to them.

So that’s the next step. But maybe you’re asking what is my voice? What makes it unique?  That’s where we turn for advice to national bestselling author Jeff Goins, and his article Ten Steps to Finding Your Voice. Goins writes,

Spending some time deliberating over voice is worth your attention and focus. Whether you blog for fun, write novels, craft poems, pencil melodies, or inspire people with your prose, it’s essential that you find your unique writing style.

If you struggle with getting people to read your writing or with staying consistent in your craft, you need to stop chasing numbers and productivity and reboot. It’s time to start finding and developing that voice of yours.

An Exercise for Finding Your Voice

Not sure where to start? No problem. Most of us need help understanding our voice. Here’s a short exercise that can help you — just follow these 10 steps:

  1. Describe yourself in three adjectives. Example: snarky, fun, and [ambitious] 
  2. Ask (and answer) the question: “Is this how I talk?”
  3. Imagine your ideal reader. Describe him in detail. Then, write to him, and only him. Example: My ideal reader is smart. He has a sense of humor, a short attention span, and is pretty savvy when it comes to technology and pop culture. He’s sarcastic and fun, but doesn’t like to waste time. And he loves pizza.
  4. Jot down at least five books, articles, or blogs you like to read. Spend some time examining them. How are they alike? How are they different? What about how they’re written intrigues you? Often what we admire is what we aspire to be. Example: Copyblogger, Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, Ernest Hemingway, and C.S. Lewis. I like these writers, because their writing is intelligent, pithy, and poignant.
  5. List your favorite artistic and cultural influences. Are you using these as references in your writing, or avoiding them, because you don’t think people would understand them. Example: I use some of my favorite bands’ music in my writing to teach deeper lessons.
  6. Ask other people: “What’s my voice? What do I sound like?” Take notes of the answers you get.
  7. Free-write. Just go nuts. Write in a way that’s most comfortable to you, without editing. Then go back and read it, asking yourself, “Do I publish stuff that sounds like this?”
  8. Read something you’ve recently written, and honestly ask yourself, “Is this something I would read?” If not, you must change your voice.
  9. Ask yourself: “Do I enjoy what I’m writing as I’m writing it?” If it feels like work, you may not be writing like yourself. (Caveat: Not every writer loves the act of writing, but it’s at least worth asking.)
  10. Pay attention to how you’re feeling. How do you feel before publishing? Afraid? Nervous? Worried? Good. You’re on the right track. If you’re completely calm, then you probably aren’t being vulnerable. Try writing something dangerous, something a little more you. Fear can be good. It motivates you to make your writing matter.

So we encourage you to take that ugly first draft and decide how to craft it into what you really meant to say. Your future readers are waiting!

How to Write Like Max Lucado

04.01.16 max lucado copyIf you haven’t heard of Max Lucado, you’ve been in your writing closet for too long! Lucado is one of the most prolific Christian authors whose almost 100 books have 80 million copies in print. He practically lives on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Now that I have your attention, let’s dive into what makes Mr. Lucado so successful and how you can imitate his process.

First, watch this quick video interview with Max Lucado by Michael Hyatt, former publishing CEO.

M A X   L U C A D O   O N  :: editing 

In a recent quote Mr. Lucado describes the benefit, and agony, of the editing process:

Ernest Hemingway espoused rewriting: “I rise at first light . . . and I start by rereading and editing everything I have written to the point I left off. That way I go through a book I’m writing several hundred times . . .  Describing A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway said, “I had rewritten the ending thirty-nine times in manuscript and . . . worked it over thirty times in proof, trying to get it right.”

I find it helps to read the work out loud. First to myself, then to anyone who is kind enough to listen. I vary the locations of the reading. What sounds good in the study must sound good on the porch. What sounds good to me must sound good to my editors. Sure, editing hurts. So does a trip to the dentist. But someone needs to find the cavities.

Let editors do their job. Release your grip on the manuscript. A little red ink won’t hurt you. A lot of red ink might save you. My most recent manuscript was returned to me sunburned in red. It bled like raw steak. Of its fourteen chapters, thirteen needed an overhaul. I was depressed for a week. Yet the book is better because of the editors.

And isn’t that our aim? The best book possible? We need good books. We need your best book. The single . . . the lonely pastor . . . the stressed missionary— we need you to give them your best words. We need you to write.

And now I believe we can all see why Max Lucado’s skill is worthy of our esteem. If he can write that well about writing, imagine the beauty of the rest of his work!

M A X   L U C A D O   O N  :: clarity

Can you summarize your entire book in one sentence? If not, Max Lucado suggests that you need more clarity. He says,

Distill the message into a phrase, and protect it. Stand guard. Defy interlopers. No paragraph gets to play unless it contributes to the message of the book.

M A X   L U C A D O   O N  :: the work of writing

In his writing space Mr. Lucado has posted the quote,

You wanna write? Put your butt in that chair and sit there a long, long time.

This reveals his view of writing… that it is hard work. Mr. Lucado suggests that if an author tells him that writing is easy or natural, his or her work is likely lacking in quality. So be encouraged that the struggle you feel each time you put pen to paper is actually a credit to the caliber of your work product.

Whether you are a New York Times Best Selling author or simply working on your first manuscript, consider employing Max Lucado’s time-honored tools of self-editing, striving for clarity, and hard work.

First Things First :: Writing the Rough Draft

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After months, maybe years of hearing “You should write a book!” you’ve finally sat down at your computer to release your wisdom and wit for the masses. And it hits you. Panic. Never has a blank page looked so large or so… blank. Sure you have an outline and key points, but how do you turn that into the life-changing, bestselling manuscript you thought for sure you were capable of?

Never fear, dear writers. We have all been there. There are few harder components of writing than the beginning, so we are here to help!

3 Ways to Get Started on Your Rough Draft

1. Embrace the ugliness

It’s going to be ugly. Accept it. No one will be impressed. Embrace it. If you can begin with this mindset about your rough draft, you’re on the road to success!

Dan J. Fiore, winner of the 82nd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition states,

Know what one of the most frustrating things about first drafts are? They’re always terrible…

Instead of letting this discourage you, flip it around and use it to your advantage. Remind yourself over and over again as you’re writing that you give yourself permission to write terribly. Tell that little voice in your head that keeps saying to you, This is awful, that it’s okay. Name an author, any author. Go ahead. Guess what? His or her first drafts [are terrible too.] Keep reminding yourself of that.

By embracing the ugliness of the rough draft, you can simply pour out your ideas onto the page without concern for their readability. Are you missing the perfect anecdote? Skip over it. Are you still waiting for just the right voice for your character? You can fix that later. Are you realizing that a certain portion needs further research? Set aside some time to do that soon.

Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes, suggests,

Ban self-slandering remarks. Don’t beat yourself up by saying things like I’m a crappy writer or this is awful. [The first draft] is the content equivalent of staying home alone in your jammies all day and eating peanut butter straight from the jar. Revel in it. There’s no one around to judge.

2. Be willing to take a step back

Often it isn’t the writing that is so hard about the rough draft, but instead the thinking. If you’ve been stuck on that first page for a while, perhaps you need to spend more time thinking about the message.

Have you really honed in on the key points? Do you have a great deal of clarity on what you want the reader to walk away with? If you are muddled here, you will really struggle to get those first words on paper.

Doug Kessler, a successful content writer, is quoted as saying,

If I’m really struggling, it’s usually not about the writing – it’s about the thinking: I just don’t really have the story down yet. So more research or groping with the outline can unstick me.

3. The best outline is one you don’t always obey

We believe in outlines. We do! But we also know that often the best parts of a story emerge as we are writing it. So begin with an outline, perhaps using one of these methods:

  • The traditional format we all learned in school
  • A simple list of ideas
  • Key point headers with sub-points underneath
  • Mind mapping
  • Or one of these methods

However, once you begin writing, don’t let the outline boss you around too much. Or, as Dan Fiore thinks of it, the outline shouldn’t be a GPS barking at you when you deviate off course. He states,

If a character wants to go in a direction you hadn’t anticipated, by all means go check it out. See where that scary road leads. It might lead to a better story. It might lead to fixing a problem you had earlier (or will run into later) in the story. Or it could be a dead end. But guess what, dead ends are okay. Dead ends make you a better writer. Just go back the way you came and find a new route.

By embracing the ugliness, giving more thought to your main point and utilizing an outline, the daunting task of writing your rough draft can easily be accomplished!

Once you have that ugly rough draft finished, the fun begins! Be on the lookout for our next post, Is this really what you meant to say?  where we discuss voice, tone and how to craft your words into your message.