Just the Basics: 3 simple rules about writing

Blog Just the Basics

You’ll find plenty of “secrets to success” on the internet geared toward writers. But the truth is that there are a few fundamental principles that most successful authors stick to. Writer Jeff Goins recently shared his 3 Important Lessons on Writing, which are simple on the surface, but really do form the foundation of an enduring writing career. Enjoy this excerpt:

Great writing requires great ideas

All great ideas start out as terrible ideas. The job of a writer is to constantly capture ideas, refine them, and deciding which ones will see the light of day.

Someone recently asked me how much of my writing sees the light of day. At one point, it was probably close to 100%. These days, it’s more like 20%. The older you get, the more critical you get—of yourself, of others, of everything.

Writing is a process of searching for the right idea and not stopping until you find it. Ira Glass once said of his show This American Life that the hardest part of telling a good story is finding one. Why is This American Life one of the most popular podcasts in the world? Because they are relentlessly seeking the best ideas and throwing out the average ones.

Malcolm Gladwell has said something similar about his own writing and how he tirelessly searches for the right story or the perfect piece of research to illustrate the point he’s trying to make.

Don’t settle for average ideas. Great books and articles and blog posts come from great ideas.

Writing is manual labor

Recently, while coaching a client who’s working on a book, she shared that she was behind her word count goal, clocking in at 17,000 words when she should really be closer to 25,000. I told her no problem. This is how it goes.

Inspiration tends to happen in fits and starts. It’s a bit of a crap shoot sometimes. One day, you turn on the faucet and all that comes out is a steady drip. The next day, it’s like a fire hydrant exploded. Your job is to go to the sink every day and turn the handle.

That’s writing. It’s an effort. It’s a job. We don’t control the inspiration.

At the end of the day, writing is just good old-fashioned blue-collar work. You sit down and you write until you’re done. You show up at the factory in your coveralls, punch your clock, and stand at the assembly line doing your work until the day is done.

Some days, you may write only a few hundred words. Other days, you may write thousands. It doesn’t matter. Don’t try to figure out the mystery of the process. Don’t try to squeeze all the productivity you can get out of a single writing moment. It won’t work.

Those efforts tend to do more harm than good on creative work. Just trust the process. Show up, do the work, and trust that something good is emerging.

So when you do show up, what does that look like?

I don’t know a serious professional writer who doesn’t have some kind of routine, at least when they’re on deadline—which, for a serious professional writer is almost always.

What is a routine?

It’s simple:

  • Pick a place to write in every day
  • Pick a time to write every day
  • Pick an amount of time to write every day

That’s it. It could be your kitchen table at 9:00 a.m. for thirty minutes. Do that every day—or at least more often than not—and you’ve got yourself a writing routine.

Everything is marketing

As a writer, everything you do is marketing.

Marketing is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the professional writing life. Marketing is not the mere promotion of your work. As Ryan Holiday says, you should constantly be sharing your message wherever you can, and ever so often come out with a new book. That’s marketing. It’s constantly talking about the work you’re doing and occasionally selling something.

People should never wonder what you’re about. They should never not know what you’re up to, creatively. That doesn’t mean there can’t be mystery. It just means your job is to live your message, to embody it.

Your message is your best marketing asset. Talk about it with anyone and everyone as often as possible without being annoying.

Get feedback wherever you can, because the best way to validate your message is by sharing it. People will naturally tell you what they think. And if they don’t, their silence is a message in itself.

As you are working on a book, you should constantly be talking about that topic, getting feedback, testing ideas, and so forth.

At Certa Publishing, we couldn’t agree more with these simple rules for writing. Do you have any to add? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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5 creative (and slightly ridiculous) ways to deal with writer’s block

Blog writer's block

Writer’s block happens to the best of writers. While there are plenty of traditional ways to deal with it, we thought we’d focus on a few you might not have thought of. In fact, we were inspired by Dennis Upper, a psychologist from the 1970’s, who managed his writer’s block by submitting a practically empty academic paper to the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, who then published it, if only for its comedic value. We appreciated the reviewer comments in the footnote, which read:

I have studied this manuscript very carefully with lemon juice and X-rays and have not detected a single flaw in either design or writing style. I suggest it be published without revision. Clearly it is the most concise manuscript I have ever seen.

Who knew that even learned psychologists suffered from writer’s block (or that academic publication editors had such a sense of humor?)

While we don’t advise that you submit an empty manuscript to your publisher, we have brought together a few ideas that might help.

1. Do something mindless

Paint a room. Mow the yard. Take a shower. Weed the garden. Pick any task that you can do without much mental focus. You’ll be amazed at how well your thoughts flow during this time. In fact, this is why “Shower Thoughts” has an entire subreddit, where members can post the epiphanies they have while bathing.

But there is one condition. This task mustn’t involve screens of any kind. Your brain needs the space to wander without the “blinging” of notifications or temptation to check the score of the game.

2. Read someone else’s writing

Stop writing and start reading. (Hey, that sounds a lot like the title of our recent blog post!) Yes, a great way to get past writer’s block is to stop writing and read someone else’s work. Which authors do you most want to emulate? Pick up a copy of their work. Read just enough that you are reminded of their style, syntax, flow, and timing. This exercise will inspire you and perhaps remind you of what you are working towards.

3. Call your mom

When you were first inspired to write your book, who did you tell? Was it your mom, a co-worker or best friend? Who did you sit down with and gush out your story idea to? Who did you first confide in that you were going to embark on this crazy journey of writing? Call that person. Ask them to remind you of what you said in those moments.

Ask:

  • Why did I want to write this book?
  • Who did I think it would help or delight?
  • What made me take the first step?
  • What was my inspiration?

Hearing your own words and thoughts from someone else can be very enlightening. You’ll be surprised how much the work of writing has caused you to forget the why of writing.

4. Read your own writing

Dig up your old journals. Find those ancient blog posts. Re-read emails you’ve sent (well, the long, letter-type ones). As you do this, pay attention to what you like about your writing. Perhaps it is your conversational style. Or maybe you’re witty in just the right places, or you have a way with a story.

Whatever it is that you like about your own writing, try it out in your current work. Look for ways to be more conversational or witty or narrative. Let your own strengths pull their weight.

5. Do some mind mapping

Sounds a bit painful, doesn’t it? Well, never fear. This one is simple. So simple that it works. Just take a piece of paper and write your topic in the center (the topic that you are struggling to write about). Then as fast as you can, surround that topic with everything you can think of about it, no matter how mundane or ridiculous.

For example, if the topic is childhood sleep habits, your surrounding words might include:

  • bed
  • bedtimes
  • stuffed animal
  • dark room
  • night terrors
  • bedwetting
  • bedtime stories
  • schedule
  • consistency
  • health concerns
  • REM
  • Circadian rhythm
  • Diet

Now that you have these sub-topics on the paper, you can begin surrounding each of them with their own associations, and so on and so forth.

While you may not write about everything you put on your mind map, it is a great way of quickly getting scattered ideas out of your head and onto paper.

Of course there are apps that do this as well. The Sweet Setup recently posted about several apps that might be helpful and they also have a great example on their page.

At Certa Publishing, we understand that writers get stuck. We love to talk on the phone, grab coffee, or Skype to help get your pen flowing or your keyboard clicking away again. Contact us today to see how we can help.

 

Should Pastors be Writers?

Blog Should pastors be writers_

If we asked you why pastors should not write books, you could probably quickly rattle off some reasons. Distractions, temptation to seek fame, etc. However, have you considered why pastors should write? This was the very theme of a recent Gospel Coalition interview with pastor and author Anthony Carter, which we have excerpted here:

It’s no secret: pastors like books. We read them, we quote them, we give them away. After all, the foundation for our entire ministry is the written Word of God himself. Take away that book and we have no ministry.

But what about the writing of books? How should pastors think about putting words on paper for publication? Anthony Carter, lead pastor of East Point Church in Georgia, has written, co-authored, and contributed to a number of books, including most recently Blood Work.  Carter warns against the desire for attention and the distraction that writing can take away from pastoral ministry but also encourages pastors to pursue writing and publishing if they can.

Should a pastor write? Is writing a valid part of pastoral ministry, or does it distract us from the people we’re called to care for? 

Carter_PX_webAll pastors are writers. For me, writing is just an extension of preaching ministry. Every week I write a sermon. All preachers do. Whether you write a full manuscript during sermon preparation or not, writing is indispensable to good preaching. Therefore, it is not a distraction; it is what all preachers do. Nevertheless, if the pastor pursues it apart from the pastoral ministry, then it could be a distraction and become a source of pride.

A young pastor comes to you wanting to be a published writer. What advice do you give him? How should a pastor evaluate and pursue a call to write?

All pastors should seek to get published. The process of writing and being published is a great learning experience. It causes you to think about how you communicate outside of sermonic sound bites and gives you another venue through which you can communicate to the congregation. So I would encourage the young pastor to write.

However, I would caution him against thinking more highly of his writing than he should. As I said, consider writing as an extension of the pastoral calling, and be contented if no one but people in your local congregation read your book. After all, you have been called to the local flock, not the world. If my congregation reads and is encouraged by what I write, I should consider myself blessed.

Writing for publication brings a measure of national attention. How does a published pastor resist temptations to pride and cultivate humility?  

Actually, most books get published with little to no national attention. If you write for national attention, you are writing for the wrong reasons. I would encourage any pastor to remember and take to heart this sobering reality: Most people won’t even know that you have published a book, and the rest won’t care.

In his book Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue, Andreas Köstenberger says, “Writing never just happens. If you are called to write, you must actively plan for it and doggedly persevere in it.” Take us into your writing routine. How do you actively plan for and doggedly persevere in the writing task?  

I write sermons practically every week. This is the bulk of my writing, and where my writing is primarily concentrated. Writing books or blogs is more a fruit of the preaching ministry than anything else. Consequently, I plan my writing like I plan my sermons. First, I start with an idea that grabs my attention. If I am not interested in what I am writing, I doubt others will be either. Second, I outline my thoughts with the end in mind. What do I want people to take away from this article or book? Then I develop the outline seeking to get myself, and subsequently my readers, to that end. Third, I set aside time where I can spend on the deliberate exercise of writing. Like anything else, writing takes discipline. Discipline is time and effort.

Are there any practices or disciplines that have helped you develop skill as a writer?  

I don’t know how much skill I have as a writer. I am sure many would say not much, and I would tend to agree. However, I find that I write better when I read good writing. Good reading is the best discipline I know for being a good writer. In fact, when I read good writers, it does two things: one, I am reminded of how weak my writing is and, two, I am encouraged to try and write better.

What do you think? Do you agree with Pastor Carter’s thoughts on the subject? Comment below to let us know.

At Certa Publishing, we have helped many, many pastors become authors. In fact, we would consider this one of our specialties. Contact us today to find out how to get started on your writing journey.

Stop Writing & Start Reading

Stop writing

We don’t have to tell you that the digital world we live in doesn’t lend itself well to reading books. Especially good books. You know those. The type that you have to chew on slowly. That sometimes require a dictionary or even a concordance. The books that hold weight and substance. The books that make a lasting change in your life.

Instead, we consume tweets, Instagram quotes, 700-word blog posts (like this!), easy reading self-help books, and beguiling fiction that are offered to us in a limitless buffet.

Laura Miller of Slate describes the trend this way:

Books are the intellectual equivalent of slow food; you know it’s better for you and tastes better, too, but you’re too rushed and frantic to care as you white-knuckle it through an avalanche of push alerts.

If we aren’t proactive, we may find those “slow food” books harder and harder to read and easier and easier to neglect.

As you can imagine, we find this trend disturbing for the general population. However, we find it exceptionally disturbing when writers only consume that which is easy. There is a tremendous benefit in doing the work of reading well. And yes, it can be work. Choosing C.S. Lewis over Danielle Steele is tough. Picking up Chesterton instead of the latest Fox News host’s release is hard. However, we believe you will see the benefit—not only in the knowledge you will gain—but in your writing as well.

Karen Swallow Prior, an English professor at Liberty University in Virginia, recently authored On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books, a book extolling the virtues of… well… reading well.  In a recent interview with Christianity Today, Mrs. Prior explains how choosing good books can actually cultivate virtue in our lives:

Reading good literature well is in itself a practice of virtue. Literary art—as opposed to words strung together to communicate facts and information—requires the exercise of the imagination, the practice of patience, the delay of gratification, and the sustaining of attention and intellectual rigor.

These are all activities that build character in ways in which mindlessly scrolling through a Twitter or Facebook timeline cannot. So simply the way we read literature in contrast to other kinds of reading cultivates virtue. Additionally, what we read contributes to virtue when we read timeless works that convey universal human experiences that transcend time, place, and social position.

In the book, I show how we can learn about diligence from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, patience from Jane Austen’s Persuasion, justice from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities—and much more.

So why does good reading create good writing? Here are 3 ways:

1. Imitation brings improvement

Raise your hand if you took music lessons as a kid. Now, thinking back to the early years of lessons, how often did your instructor ask you to compose your own piece of music? Probably never, right? Instead, you were given the great pieces of music to learn, practice, and eventually master. If you did reach the level of creating your own work, you were only able to do so because of the time you had spent with these great compositions.

Reading good writers has the same effect. We notice the vocabulary choices, the way the narrative is structured, how the emotions are evoked. And often these observations happen almost unconsciously (lest you think you must now read with a notebook and pen at the ready to take notes). No. As you ingest quality writing, your own work will naturally begin to imitate it.

2. Good books expand your perspective

No matter how hard you try, your book can only contain as much perspective as you possess as the author. It’s hard to write about public education if you were homeschooled or to write about the vegetarian lifestyle if bacon is your best friend. Good reading is a great way to broaden your horizons and “experience” life through the eyes of others. What is public education really like? How is it different than the stereotypes you may hold? What really motivates the vegetarian to choose that lifestyle? Reading opens the door on cultures, lifestyles, socio-economic situations, and upbringings, allowing you to write with confidence and clarity on these subjects.

3. A healthy diet is cleansing

Most of us have struggled through the first few weeks of a diet, as our body adjusts to healthier food and detoxes from the junk it is sorely missing. But then we reach the other side where we think, “I feel so much better! Why didn’t I do this a long time ago?”

Why do we feel better? Because our bodies are now being fueled instead of stymied. We are giving our system what it needs to perform at top efficiency.

Reading well does the same for our writing minds. It brings us back to what is true, virtuous and timeless. Karen Swallow Prior advises:

It is the challenge [of good books] that makes reading them so rewarding. They do more than kill time or amuse for a few moments. The best books linger in our minds and souls for days or even years.

For a while we may miss the hot takes and Facebook posts that used to occupy our reading time, but it won’t be long until we find our minds stimulated and our pens inspired.

At Certa Publishing, we want nothing more than to see our writers stimulated and inspired. How can we help you? Contact us today.

 

Opening the door on the hard parts of your story

opening the door

Which of these sentences impacts you more?

Children who witness domestic abuse suffer for years with anxiety.

Even 20 years later, my heart races when I recall the sound of his heavy footsteps in the hall, his hurled insults slurred by alcohol and my mother’s pleading for him to please, please leave her alone.

Both sentences carry the same theme. But the second carries the weight.

What is the difference? Vulnerability.

All writers must make this choice. Will you be brutally honest and open with your reader, allowing your own experience to become a character in the book? Or will you write from a distance, holding the reader at arm’s length?

We believe that your ability to be vulnerable with your readers is one of the key indicators of the success and impact of your book.

What holds you back?

1. People will judge me

You’re right. They will. People who have never met you in person will read your book and make certain assumptions about you, which you will likely never have the chance to correct.

However, we believe this is a risk worth taking if it means that your story offers a message of hope and healing to those who would otherwise not hear it.

In his post for Reader’s Digest, Chuck Sambuchino wrote,

I think as writers sometimes we’re afraid to let people know that we feel as deeply as we do. We’re tempted to write half-truths in the fear of being judged.

In fact, Mr. Sambuchino advises that the fear you feel in your gut is actually a good thing:

When what you’re writing scares you, it’s usually a sign that you’re being real. When you start to worry about what others will think, that is the writing that will affect people the most. The only way to achieve that is by going to your most vulnerable places.

2.  My story will be too difficult or downbeat

The complete Gospel story is good news. This can lead us to think that all of our writing should be cheerful, peppy, and bright. However, the Gospel story is full of shadows, tragedy, and momentary defeats. We would cheapen it if we left out the hard parts like the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas’ betrayal, or the burial of our Lord. It is these hard parts that set the stage for the redemptive power of Christ. Thank goodness the New Testament writers didn’t whitewash the story of Jesus’ life!

In the same way, your story contains hard parts. To gloss over or minimize them is to rob the reader of the true sense of what God has done for you. Your reader is not reading your book for the glossy, shiny moments. They want to know how you walked through the valleys, navigated the obstacles, and stayed the course amid the crashing waves.

In his article The Key to Whole-Hearted Writing: Embrace Vulnerability, Grant Faulkner says,

Life is so mysterious, nuanced, ineffable—equally disturbing as it is beautiful—so I decided it was my duty as a writer to be brave enough to risk ridicule in order to bring my truths to light. Why write a sanitized version of life?

The ultimate example

Few writers have bared their soul like one of the writers of the book of Psalms, David. Whether he was being chased by King Saul, in anguish over the death of his son, or wallowing in the shame of his sin, David left it all on the page.

Consider this excerpt from Psalm 44 as David addresses God:

But now you have rejected and humbled us;
    you no longer go out with our armies. 

You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
    and have scattered us among the nations.

You sold your people for a pittance,
    gaining nothing from their sale.

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
    Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.

Why do you hide your face
    and forget our misery and oppression?

We like the way The Message paraphrases the last two sections:

Get up, God! Are you going to sleep all day?
    Wake up! Don’t you care what happens to us?

Why do you bury your face in the pillow?
    Why pretend things are just fine with us?

Clearly, David’s writing is as open and honest as it can be and yet the Bible tells us that God considered him a “man after God’s own heart.”

Here at Certa Publishing, we encourage you to follow in the footsteps of the Psalmist. Be honest. Be open. Tell the hard parts. And watch the Lord use your story to provide hope, healing, and encouragement to a hurting world.

Are your worried that your manuscript tells too little, or perhaps too much? We would love to look it over for you. Contact us today.

Fix these 3 mistakes to instantly improve your writing

Have you ever really wanted to read a piece of writing, only to get so weary that you give up within the first few paragraphs? What causes that weariness in the reader? K.M. Weiland argues that “choppy prose” is to blame and we think she makes an excellent point in her article Most Common Writing Mistakes: Choppy Prose, which we have excerpted here:

A lean, lyrical style is an art form all its own. Just ask Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy. But authors need to be aware of the difference between lean prose and choppy prose—and learn to avoid the latter.

Reading choppy prose is like driving on a washboard road. It might be ever so slightly exciting at first, but it quickly becomes irritating and exhausting. The constant jarring of incomplete thoughts and abrupt punctuation prevents readers from sinking into a story. You may be striving for simplicity, but sometimes that very lack of sophistication in sentence structure can end up confusing readers.

Three Causes of Choppy Prose

The root of choppy prose is almost always poor sentence construction. At the root of these bad constructions, we often find three culprits:

1. Run-ons

A run-on sentence is one in which two or more independent clauses are joined without proper conjunction (“and,” “but,” “or,” etc.) or punctuation (semi-colon). The result is a sentence that runs on and on. This might seem like it would produce an effect opposite to choppiness, but, in fact, its breathlessness hurries readers along and mutilates what might otherwise be an effective construction.

FOR EXAMPLE:

Ariel arrived at the train station only two minutes late, she ran down the platform, she screamed at the train to stop, she had to get on!

2. Fragments

A sentence fragment is the opposite of a run-on: an incomplete clause, lacking either subject (noun) or predicate (verb). The abruptness of the missing half creates a jerky style that can make the author look uneducated and create confusion for readers.

FOR EXAMPLE:

Ariel gave up and stopped short. Cried. So unfair. Now, what would happen to her? Doomed, of course. She sat down on her suitcase. Because she had no more strength left in her legs. Maybe the next train? Or when someone took pity on her.

3. Semi-colons

The semi-colon is one of the most elegant of all punctuation marks. But it’s also one of the easiest to misuse. Authors can unintentionally use semi-colons to chop their prose to bits. Most of the time, this happens when one of the clauses the semi-colon is dividing fails to be independent (in essence, becoming a fragment).

FOR EXAMPLE:

A kind man in a fedora stopped beside Ariel; to see if he could help. She sniffed; looked up. This was her lucky day after all; or maybe just miraculous.

How to Fix Your Choppy Prose

Once you’ve identified what’s hacking up your prose, the remedy is simple enough: ruthlessly excise the offenders! Separate your run-ons into correct clauses or sentences of their own, smooth out your fragments with proper punctuation, and either remove the semi-colons or build independent clauses on either side of them.

FOR EXAMPLE:

Ariel arrived at the train station only two minutes late. She ran down the platform and screamed at the train to stop. She had to get on! Finally, she gave up and stopped short. Tears welled. This was so unfair. Now, what would happen to her? She was doomed, of course. The strength melted out of her legs, and she sat down on her suitcase. Maybe the next train would leave soon? Or perhaps someone would take pity on her. A kind man in a fedora stopped beside her and asked if he could help. She sniffed and looked up. Maybe this was her lucky day after all—or maybe it was a miracle?

The prose here is still pretty lean, but now it also flows more intuitively and clarifies the scene for readers rather than confusing them with nebulous half sentences. Cleaning up your choppy prose is as easy as that!

If you find your manuscript rife with run-ons, fragments and semicolons, today would be a perfect time to implement these fixes in your own writing. However, if you find yourself in need of a professional editor, we invite you to contact Certa Publishing so that we can put our editing services to work for you.

How to write a book: Ten steps from a 5-time bestseller

how to write a book

Sometimes we make things harder than they are. We see a messy house, get overwhelmed and spend more time procrastinating than it actually takes to clean it. The same happens with bigger tasks like making a will, planning a family reunion or writing a sermon series. In his recent blog post, 10 Ridiculously Simple Steps for Writing a Book, five-time bestseller Jeff Goins explains how to break down the ultimate of big tasks—writing a book—into ten manageable steps.  Here is an excerpt:

As the bestselling author of five books, I can tell you without hesitation that the hardest part of a writer’s job is sitting down to do the work. Books don’t just write themselves, after all. You have to invest everything you are into creating an important piece of work.

For years, I dreamed of being a professional writer. I believed I had important things to say that the world needed to hear. But as I look back on what it really takes to become an author, I realize how different the process was from my expectations.

To begin with, you don’t just sit down to write a book. That’s not how writing works. You write a sentence, then a paragraph, then maybe if you’re lucky, an entire chapter. Writing happens in fits and starts, in bits and pieces. It’s a process.

The way you get the work done is not complicated. You take one step at a time, then another and another. As I look back on the books I’ve written, I can see how the way they were made was not as glamorous as I once thought.

How to really write a book

In this post, I’ll teach you the fundamental steps you need to write a book. I’ve worked hard to make this easy to digest and super practical, so you can start making progress.

But first, let’s look at the big picture. What does it take to write a book? It happens in three phases:

  • Beginning: You have to start writing. This sounds obvious, but it may be the most overlooked step in the process. You write a book by deciding first what you’re going to write and how you’re going to write it.
  • Staying motivated: Once you start writing, you will face self-doubt and overwhelm and a hundred other adversaries. Planning ahead for those obstacles ensures you won’t quit when they come.
  • Finishing: Nobody cares about the book that you almost wrote. We want to read the one you actually finished, which means no matter what, the thing that makes you a writer is your ability not to start a project, but to complete one.

Below are 10 ridiculously simple tips that fall under each of these three major phases. I hope they help you tackle and finish the book you dream of writing.

Phase 1: Getting started

We all have to start somewhere. With writing a book, the first phase is made up of four parts:

1. Decide what the book is about

Good writing is always about something. Write the argument of your book in a sentence, then stretch that out to a paragraph, and then to a one-page outline. After that, write a table of contents to help guide you as you write, then break each chapter into a few sections. Think of your book in terms of beginning, middle, and end. Anything more complicated will get you lost.

2. Set a daily word count goal

John Grisham began his writing career as a lawyer and new dad — in other words, he was really busy. Nonetheless, he got up an hour or two early every morning and wrote a page a day. After a couple of years, he had a novel. A page a day is only about 300 words. You don’t need to write a lot. You just need to write often. Setting a daily goal will give you something to aim for. Make it small and attainable so that you can hit your goal each day and start building momentum.

3. Set a time to work on your book every day

Consistency makes creativity easier. You need a daily deadline to do your work — that’s how you’ll finish writing a book. Feel free to take a day off, if you want, but schedule that ahead of time. Never let a deadline pass; don’t let yourself off the hook so easily. Setting a daily deadline and regular writing time will ensure that you don’t have to think about when you will write. When it’s time to write, it’s time to write.

4. Write in the same place every time

It doesn’t matter if it’s a desk or a restaurant or the kitchen table. It just needs to be different from where you do other activities. Make your writing location a special space, so that when you enter it, you’re ready to work. It should remind you of your commitment to finish this book. Again, the goal here is to not think and just start writing.

Phase 2: Doing the work

Now, it’s time to get down to business. Here, we are going to focus on the next three tips to help you get the book done:

5. Set a total word count

Begin with the end in mind. Once you’ve started writing, you need a total word count for your book. Think in terms of 10-thousand work increments and break each chapter into roughly equal lengths. Here are some general guiding principles:

  • 10,000 words = a pamphlet or business white paper. Read time = 30-60 minutes.
  • 20,000 words = short eBook or manifesto. The Communist Manifesto is an example of this, at about 18,000 words. Read time = 1-2 hours.
  • 40,000–60,000 words = standard nonfiction book / novella. The Great Gatsby is an example of this. Read time = three to four hours.
  • 60,000–80,000 words = long nonfiction book / standard-length novel. Most Malcolm Gladwell books fit in this range. Read time = four to six hours.
  • 80,000 words–100,000 words = very long nonfiction book / long novel. The Four-Hour Work Week falls in this range.
  • 100,000+ words = epic-length novel / academic book / biography. Read time = six to eight hours. The Steve Jobs biography would fit this category.

6. Give yourself weekly deadlines

You need a weekly goal. Make it a word count to keep things objective. Celebrate the progress you’ve made while still being honest about how much work is left to do. You need to have something to aim for and a way to measure yourself. This is the only way I ever get any work done: with a deadline.

7. Get early feedback

Nothing stings worse than writing a book and then having to rewrite it, because you didn’t let anyone look at it. Have a few trusted advisers to help you discern what’s worth writing. These can be friends, editors, family. Just try to find someone who will give you honest feedback early on to make sure you’re headed in the right direction.

Phase 3: Finishing

How do you know when you’re done? Short answer: you don’t. Not really. So here’s what you do to end this book-writing process well:

8. Commit to shipping

No matter what, finish the book. Set a deadline or have one set for you. Then release it to the world. Send it to the publisher, release it on Amazon, do whatever you need to do to get it in front of people. Just don’t put it in your drawer. The worst thing would be for you to quit once this thing is written. That won’t make you do your best work and it won’t allow you to share your ideas with the world.

9. Embrace failure

As you approach the end of this project, know that this will be hard and you will most certainly mess up. Just be okay with failing, and give yourself grace. That’s what will sustain you — the determination to continue, not your elusive standards of perfection.

10. Write another book

Most authors are embarrassed by their first book. I certainly was. But without that first book, you will never learn the lessons you might otherwise miss out on. So, put your work out there, fail early, and try again. This is the only way you get better. You have to practice, which means you have to keep writing.

Every writer started somewhere, and most of them started by squeezing their writing into the cracks of their daily lives. That’s how I began, and it may be where you begin, as well. The ones who make it are the ones who show up day after day. You can do the same.

Did you notice his emphasis on deadlines and a steady work schedule? One of the best ways to implement these is through partner publishing with a company like Certa. We can come alongside you to develop a workable timeline and provide the accountability needed to accomplish this important endeavor. Contact us today!

Author to Author: Advice from experienced writers

authors to authors

As a writer, you should be voraciously gleaning advice from all the experienced authors you can find. They are a perfect resource as you embark, or continue, on this writing journey. The book of Proverbs tells us that without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22)

The internet is full of writing advice, so we’ve curated some of our favorite advice for authors, from authors:

1. Listen for the ping

Christian author Margaret Feinberg tells us to slow down and tune in:

Long before I wrote [The Sacred Echo] or developed the title phrase, I discovered the importance of listening for what I called, “the ping.” You hear the ping whenever you encounter the same decibel of an idea or concept in multiple situations.

Let me give you an example. I’ve been journeying with a friend enduring a painful divorce marked by betrayal. She decided to change her name—not just return to her maiden name but change her first name, too. Earlier this week she shared the meaning of her new name and how healing it has been for her.

This morning I spent time with another friend who does rescues Bichons. She explained that whenever they adopt a new dog they change the dog’s name. Why? Because an abused dog will often connect their abuse with their name. A new name helps the dog with a fresh start. I thought of my friend walking through the divorce.

Then, Revelation 2:17 came to mind:

“To the one who is victorious, I will give… that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”

The power of a new name.

I’m beginning to hear the ping. One day I will write more on this, but for now, I’m listening to expand the concept’s depth and search for fresh meaning.

If you live your life where you hit “publish” on every story and idea the day it happens, you’ll miss the hearing the ping. But if you listen for the ping your writing will become more savory and full-bodied.

2. Treat writing like the work that it is

Palestinian American poet Hala Alyan shares how she cultivated a writing routine:

…writing is a magical, fickle, infuriating creature that rarely seems to belong to me. And, yes, it is perhaps, for many of us, the most pure, simple alchemy we will ever come across.

But it is also work. It needs to be treated with respect. An idea isn’t a book. The distance between the two can be a long, solitary tundra that is only crossed by actual writing.

Everyone has their routine. For me, it’s 30 minutes a day, no more, no less. Sometimes I write those 30 minutes on the subway, sometimes at my desk, sometimes on my phone, but it’s always 30 minutes. If I miss a day, I forgive myself, but I make it up the next day. I’ve learned that writing is like going to the gym, like building any muscle. It needs consistency and, for many of us, ritual.

3. Get personal

Don’t be afraid to get personal with your reader, or as some might say, give the last 10 percent. Bestselling author Max Lucado encourages us with this advice:

Writing is a powerful medium because it’s personal. It often reaches people at a vulnerable time in their lives. If somebody comes to a church to hear me speak, he may be there because he wants to be, or he may be there because someone talked him into coming. But if an individual reads a book of mine, he has gone through the necessary steps to purchase or borrow the book. He has paid a price for this kind of communication. I am at my best in print—the effect of a book does not depend on the author’s mood; it depends on the reader’s openness to encouragement or teaching.

We challenge you this week to seek out some experienced authors, whether in person or online, to extract all the writing advice you can. Of course, at Certa Publishing, we’ve seen it all in the publishing business and we would love to offer you any resources, tools or advice you need. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Or feel free to contact us today.

Just get to the point

justgetto the point

Recently we wrote about readability. Did you run your writing through the Flesch-Kincaid test to find out the reading grade level of your work? If so, it’s likely that you found out that you were inadvertently writing above the head of the average reader. This causes readers to tune out too soon or not fully grasp your content.

So what’s the fix? Make all the longer words shorter? Of course, it’s more complex than that, but completely doable. Here are 3 readability trouble spots and how to course correct:

1. Short story long

The problem: We all have one friend, family member, or co-worker, who starts to tell a story and you think, oh boy, here we go. They can make a 2-minute story into a 20-minute rambling, bunny-trail-filled narrative that leaves the listener both bored and befuddled. Well, friend, writers can fall into the same trap. See, we don’t have the benefit of watching the reader in real-time as they trudge their way through our overly verbose writing. We can’t see them sigh, get distracted, or give up altogether. Yet we must keep this common temptation at the forefront of our mind.

The fix: In her recent post, Be Specific! How to Get to the Point in Everything You Write, Grammarly writer Joanna Cutrara offers these tips:

Use appropriate sentence length – Resist the urge to jam too many ideas or details into the same sentence. If your sentence is so long that its meaning isn’t clear or you’ve switched topics partway through, consider breaking it into two new sentences.

Avoid filler words – Cutting out filler words can make your sentences shorter and easier to understand. If your sentence works without it, you just don’t need this word.

Be precise with your words – Make your writing strong and vivid by using specific phrases, instead of ambiguous words like: thing, stuff, good, bad, pretty, and ugly. Also, avoid redundant phrases such as “unexpected surprise” or “very unique.”

2. Leave a little to the imagination

The problem: We want to be completely in control of the story, or more importantly, how the story is perceived by the reader. This leads us to write down every single thought and concept we’ve collected on our subject. It’s the equivalent of handing our toddler a coloring page that we’ve completely colored in. Yes, it may be beautiful, but we’ve robbed the child of the opportunity to participate in the project.

The fix: As writers, we must not forget that the beauty of reading is not in the words themselves, but in the place they take us in our minds. Be respectful of your readers’ imaginations by giving them a starting off point, not a boxed-in, completely detailed narrative.

A recent Freelance Writing post offered this insight:

The critical aim of writing for your readers is not to inform exhaustively, but to suggest; not to thrust upon the reader’s own vision of truth and beauty in detailed completeness, but to awaken the reader’s spirit to help him see a vision of his own. To this end we must stand steadfastly, ready to omit, to compress, to sacrifice.

3. Who are you trying to impress?

The problem: Sure, those flowery sentences or academic terms may impress your writing peers or colleagues, but your average reader may be put off by them. Unless you are writing for a highly-educated niche audience, we suggest that you tone down the professor-speak and switch to a more conversational tone.

The fix: Find someone who is a complete non-expert in the subject you write about. Ask them to read a portion of your manuscript and then summarize it for you. Were they able to truly grasp the concepts, or does it seem that most went over their head? If the latter is true, then you are writing to impress, instead of writing to inform.

In each of these scenarios, there is one person who would be an invaluable asset: an editor. At Certa we offer professional editing services. Our editors are chosen for their experience and professional standards. Their attention to detail ensures that errors are not overlooked, and adds a final polish to your book without changing your unique writing style. An editor will look through your manuscript upon submission and prepare a manuscript evaluation. They will provide you with a suggested editing level, and the rationale for the suggested level. The manuscript evaluation will also list the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript with any comments the editor has regarding it. This evaluation is free of obligation for our authors! Contact us today to take advantage of this offer.

 

Beyond spell check: The readability tools you didn’t know you need

You can write it, but can they read it_

You wouldn’t think of writing your manuscript without spell check, right? Well, we suggest that there is another tool that is equally essential to your work.

See, we have some bad news for you. Your manuscript can be the most meticulously edited, grammatically-glorious work ever written and it can still have “low readability,” meaning that your content is difficult to understand. Yikes. No one wants that.

There’s an app for that

But don’t panic! Like most things in life, there’s an app for that.

First, it’s important to realize that the average reading level is probably lower than you imagine. In fact, in the U.S., the average person reads on a 7th to 8th-grade level. While that might be discouraging, it is still a reality. And this reality means that readability matters if you want your audience to truly grasp your content.

Don’t make your audience feel stupid.

– Drew Westen, psychology professor, Emory University

How to find your readability score

We can hear you asking, but isn’t readability subjective? Thankfully, no. There are digital tools that will evaluate your writing and tell you what grade level you are writing on. The most commonly-used tool is the Flesch-Kincaid method, which focuses on the length of words, sentences, and paragraphs to determine the grade level of a piece of writing. You simply need to run your writing through one of the following tools to find out your readability “score.”

Microsoft Word users:  

  • Follow these steps to use Word’s embedded feature and obtain your score.
  • Use an editing tool like Grammarly that checks your readability as you go.

Google Docs or other wordprocessing software:

Now that you have your score, you can decide if changes need to be made.

In her book Everybody Writes, Ann Handley summarizes the results this way:

“A score of 90-100 means that your writing is easily understood by an average 11-year old.

A score of 60-70 means that your writing is easily understood by teens ages 13-15.

A score of 0-30 means that you writing is best understood by college graduates.

[Dr. Rudolph] Flesch recommended that the score of an average, nontechnical piece aimed at consumers be a minimum of 80 (or approximately 15 words per sentence and between 1 and 1.5 syllables per word).

Here are some examples of average scores for various types of content using the Flesh-Kincaid scale:

  • Comics: 92
  • Consumer ads: 82
  • Reader’s Digest: 65
  • Time magazine: 52
  • Harvard Business Review: 43
  • Standard insurance policy: 10

What to do next

What if your writing scores as unreadable? Do you have to start over? Scrap it all together? Absolutely not. Handley suggests these simple steps to improve your score:

  • Break up long sentences.
  • Cut out complex words.
  • Simplify
  • Consider how your more sophisticated concepts can be broken down into everyday language. Reading other authors on your topic can be very helpful here.
  • Avoid using passive voice. For example, say: The wedding guests felt joy spread through the small chapel Don’t say: Joy was felt by the wedding guests in the small chapel.

Bad vs. Good

The following two paragraphs say the same thing. However, their readability scores are quite different. See if you can spot how the unreadable copy was improved.

Example 1:

Becoming proficient as a choreographer requires a diligent study of technique, musicality, and the history of choreography. Simply being the prima ballerina of your local company does not endow you with an innate affinity for composing movement, and those that make this assumption are doomed to present a production unworthy of the art itself.

This copy generated a Flesch-Kincaid score of 25.18, which is equivalent to the reading level of a postgraduate. Not good.

Example 2:

Great choreographers do much more than put moves to music. First, they become expert dancers themselves. Next, they study music. Then they learn about the great choreographers of the past. You are likely an expert dancer. But more is needed to be an expert choreographer. Don’t skip past the learning phase. Take time to study the craft so that you can produce the best piece possible.

In contrast, this copy generated a score of 70.28, meaning it is readable to most American readers. They both say the same thing, but the second example means that the reader understands the content. And isn’t that the point after all?

At Certa Publishing, we always try to provide our writers with the tools they need to create outstanding content. Whether you need help with readability, marketing or the entire publishing process, we would love to hear from you today.