The Writing Life: Developing a Thicker Skin

The Writing Life Developing a Thicker Skin via @JanalynVoigt | Wordserve Water CoolerAfter I sold my first short story, every time I tried to write, I’d wind up staring at the blank screen until I gave up, often bursting into tears. This went on for a year, by which time I must have figured out no one was going to chain me to my desk and expect me to write on demand. I breathed easier and managed to write again, or at least I did until it occurred to me that my book project could fail. Sad but true, I had to get over both fear of success and fear of failure.

Both problems stemmed from the same stubborn root, caring too much what other people thought of my writing (and of me, by extension).

Being so shy didn’t help at all. I tried to hide the fact that I was a writer. Even close friends didn’t know until my husband started carrying magazines that contained my articles around so he could brag about his wife at a moment’s notice. He took my pleas that he stop for false modesty when they were in fact an attempt to protect myself from The Look. If you’ve been writing any length of time, you will know the one I mean. Eyebrows go up, eyes widen, and you begin to feel like a specimen in a laboratory.

I get The Look less often now that the e-book revolution has writers popping out of the proverbial woodwork, and when it happens my response has improved. My face doesn’t heat to blazing anymore, and I don’t yearn for escape.

What changed for me? I learned that having a thin skin isn’t something a writer can afford. Drawing your self esteem from the opinions of others at best makes you vulnerable and at worst misinforms you. Submit your writing to a critique group, and you’ll learn pretty quickly that while many opinions have value, not all are golden.

If you think taking a critique is hard, just wait until you go through edits. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s when an editor or editors at your publisher house requests changes be made to your manuscript by you. It’s usually when you will question how you ever thought you could write. If you haven’t developed a thicker skin by this point in your writing career, trust me, you will. Having a sense of humor is an asset at such a time. I can’t say that edits for DawnSinger, my debut novel and book one in my Tales of Faeraven epic fantasy trilogy, were informed by mine. However, by the time edits arrived for Wayfarer, book two in the series, humor was in full force. You just can’t take yourself too seriously.

That’s a good thing, because the very next thing you face after publication is book reviews. Some writers refrain from reading reviews of their books. I admire such will power but I don’t possess it. I’ve read every review of my books that comes to my attention. I like to learn from them, even negative ones. Happily, I’ve learned to place my self-worth in the hands of the Author of my faith.

How do you handle critique/criticism of your writing?

Black Friday Cyber Monday Marketing for Writers

Whether you participate or not, odds are you’ve heard of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. For bargain shoppers across the globe, they’ve become the holy grail of all shopping days. If you haven’t experienced it for yourself, then you might think, no big deal. 

But you would be wrong. Women and men, all over America, rise earlier than the roosters to snatch discounted gifts — sometimes directly from the hands of an unfocused shopper right next to them. This is serious business.

See for yourself:

Here are ways we as professional writers can use the tips offered in the Hip2Save YouTube video for our marketing.

1. Be prepared. Make a list. Do your research. Check the layout.Question Mark

What this means for writers: Study your target audience. What interests them? When do they have time to read? Where are they going for fun? How do they handle tough challenges? Who do they turn to for help?

2. Know the best times to target your audience.

What this means for writers: All times slots are not made alike. Is there a particular season, celebration, or time of day that will heighten their interest in the message you have to offer? When will they have the least interest in what you have to offer?

3. Gas up beforehand to save time when the minutes count.

What this means for writers: Take care of everything you can ahead of time. Don’t wait to cover the fine details until the final moments before you launch a marketing strategy. Make a list and check it twice.

4. Prepare to stick it out for the long haul.

What this means for writers: Marketing books is not for wimps. Know in advance this is a long-term commitment, not a short-term hobby.

5. Buddy up to save time, energy, and money.Agenda

What this means for writers: Partner efforts with your peers. No two of us write exactly alike, so there’s no reason to fight for customers. Cooperate, don’t compete. You can save much time, energy, and money when you pool resources with those who truly understand what you need to accomplish.

6. Don’t give up if you don’t get the results you want the first time.

What this means for writers: We’ll all try some things that won’t work, but with persistence and tenacity, we’ll learn along with way, and become leaner and meaner marketing machines.

7. Ask yourself if the deals that work for others will really work for you.

What this means for writers: Don’t try to mimic everything you see or hear. Look for good marketing fits for your personality and message. Trying to force yourself to be someone you aren’t will water down your efforts.

8. Keep good financial records so you can measure the effectiveness of what you spend, and potentially save wasted money in the future.

What this means for writers: Let’s face it, you’ll have to invest money in your marketing, but you don’t have to break the bank. And one way to ensure it doesn’t happen is to monitor your spending, so you can make informed decisions when future marketing opportunities come along.

How to Write a Press Release

A Good List Helps You Prepare

9. Promote your books/products to the growing number of buyers who are skipping Black Friday and waiting for Cyber Monday deals.

What this means for writers: For decades, books have made great gifts. But how people get them has changed drastically. Instead of fighting the technology tide, why not jump in? Create your own Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales events. Better yet, partner up with several of your writing peers, and create a wave of your own.

We live in a culture driven by perceived value. This is a vital piece of information for those of us who have something to sell. We should always create good content with lasting impact, but sometimes we have to prove it to the world. When it’s all said and done, that’s what strong marketing does.

Happy Holy Days and Merry Christmas!

 

Balancing Clarity and Detail in Writing

Image of scales

You want your readers to enter into the world of your book and experience in their imagination the places and events you describe as if they were there themselves in the midst of the action. Yet if your writing becomes ornate, your readers may get lost in the details and miss the point of the passage. Even worse, they may skim over the descriptive sentences, seeking the next main point. Why write words that will go unread?

Capture the Essentials

To maintain the readability of your writing while also creating vivid descriptions of people, places, and events, capture the essentials and make every word count. Choose verbs packed with meaning instead of tacking on adverbs. When describing a place, consider what senses are important to setting the scene for the passage. Is the sound of classical music playing softly in the background more essential than the color of the paint on the ballroom walls? If you are trying to set the mood for dialogue that follows, use just enough details to accomplish your goal. Create a sketch and let the reader’s imagination paint in the rest of the picture.

As a reader, I find myself jumping over passages where too many clauses and adjectives abound. As a writer, I have had to remind myself that my readers will do the same.

Edit the Extraneous

After you have written a descriptive passage, edit for clarity. Cross out your favorite phrase if it detracts from the paragraph. Provide sufficient description of the attributes of an object for the reader to understand its significance. You do not need to include all the colors of the sky that make for your perfect sunset. Let the most important two or three colors set the stage.

In dialogue, the word “said” may be better than “shouted,” “whispered,” or “intoned.” While those other words convey a richer meaning, they may break up the continuity of the conversation. Let the words of the speakers carry the content. Remove nonessential dialogue that does not carry the plot or illustration forward. Jump into the action without providing too many trivial details. In short, get to the point and remove material that will confuse the reader.

Check for Flow

Your paragraphs of writing describing a majestic waterfall at the edge of the forest may be poetic and beautiful, but if they interrupt the flow of the chapter, prepare to edit. While writing my first book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, I wrote illustrations to enhance the point I was making. I learned from reader feedback that the illustrations worked best when they were entertaining but concise. If I spent too many sentences telling a story, the reader’s train of thought might be broken, defeating the purpose of the illustration.

On the other hand, writing that sparkles with clarity can seem too clinical without enough descriptive material. Coming from a scientific background, I am used to conveying challenging topics in clear and precise sentences. When I first started writing my book, I had to give myself permission to tap into my creative writing side and add poetic elements to my prose. Too much clarity can lead to short, choppy sentences that need more descriptive elements to weave them together into the tapestry of the chapter.

How have you learned to balance clarity and details in your writing?

An Attitude of Thanksgiving

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1 Thessalonians 15: 16 – 18 “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

We’ve all had those days, weeks, months where we are tempted to challenge the words of this verse. How can we give thanks when the washer breaks down and we’re surrounded by piles of dirty clothes? How can we give thanks when the paycheck wasn’t quite what we thought it would be, or our spouse is being unreasonable?

We can. And we should, as stated in the verse above. Did you know the term “give thanks” appears in the Bible over thirty times? That’s one verse for every day of the month with a few to spare. Apparently God had a reason for reminding us to be thankful. But why?

To focus on what we DO have.

Rather than worrying about the things we lack, we should thank God for what we do have—a roof over our head, our health, family and friends, a car to get to the job He provided for us, and food on the table. When we count our blessings, the list is endless in comparison to what we lack.

To keep bitterness at bay.

Did you know it’s impossible to be thankful and bitter at the same time? Although it’s challenging at times, any darkness we feel can be driven away with one small act. By thanking God for His love, grace, and provision, our foul attitude is soon replaced with His eternal joy.

To produce Godly character.

The key to remember here is that we know the end of the story. We are being groomed for an eternal life with Jesus Christ. Yes, it’s hard to stay positive when life assaults us from every direction, and He knows that. God understands our humanness. He created us and provided grace and mercy to cover our imperfections, but He also gives us clear direction in His word on how to stay positive and focused on Him.

Instead of celebrating Thanksgiving annually, let’s start a daily tradition. Let the thanksgiving spirit we share as part of our annual holiday become part of your everyday life. Then sit back and see what God can do in you.

It’s a Heart Wide Open Christmas, and You’re Invited!

Raise your hand if you’re ready to experience Christmas instead of trying to survive it.

Awesome! Me, too.

And yet, I’m acutely aware of how the over-hyped commercialism of the season will threaten to obscure the sacred story, once again.

Immanuel, God with us.

Christmas, God help us.

I want to do it differently this year, don’t you? I want to ignore the madness and listen for the holy. Have you said that as often as I have in years past?

We can, you know. We can dismiss the marketing, the magazines, and the endless social media pins urging us to do it bigger and better. For the love of Jesus, we really can quit doing Christmas long enough to live it– just not on the steam of our own good intentions. We’re tried that, haven’t we?

If we’re going to worship Jesus well this Advent season, we’ll need His strength and His grace. We’ll need His abiding Presence.

This is not a challenge. That would defeat us before we begin. This is an invitation to walk through the twenty-five days of Advent together. Our goal will be to keep our eyes on Jesus—and if we start getting steamrolled by our gift list and party schedule, we won’t berate ourselves. We’ll simply train our grateful gaze back on Jesus and begin again for the joy set before us. Immanuel, God with us.

HWO_ChristmasHeader_postcardI’ve prepared twenty-five prompts, one for each day of Advent, beginning on Sunday, November 30 and taking us through Wednesday, December 24. Each day has a Scripture passage, a brief thought, and a suggested action.

It gets better! I’m super excited to have four awesome author friends joining us for this sweet journey, Tricia Goyer, Dr. Joneal Kirby (The Heart Mom), Mary Snyder, and Marybeth Whalen. I’ll be kicking off Day One on my own blog and then my buddies will each take a turn hosting five days of A Heart Wide Open Christmas in a lovely blog hop that will culminate back at my blog!

For consistency, the day’s image will always be found on my blog, and I’ll be shooting it out first thing each morning via my social media platforms to remind those who are participating. That image will be conveniently linked to the week’s hostess where you can engage with the full content however best suits your schedule.

Whether you choose to read your brief devotion, print out your ornament, enjoy community conversation, or all of the above, you are cordially invited to join us for A Heart Wide Open Christmas!

Hugs, Shellie

It’s totally not necessary for you to let us know that you’re participating but, for the sake of community, we would sure love it if you did!

Marketing Magic for Authors and Speakers

“Marketing is a contest for people’s attention.” — Seth Godin

In June, at the Advanced Speakers and Writers Association National Conference, I shared the stage with a panel of writing greats. We spoke to this Christian group of women on increasing speaking opportunities in order to sell more books — or as I like to call it, Marketing Magic for Authors and Speakers.

The room was filled, and the audience leaned forward in rapt attention from the opening sentence. Heads were down as they scribbled to keep up with the flow of information. Hands popped in the air like jack-in-the-boxes to ask questions. Three things in particular spurred their interest.

Marketing Magic for Authors and Speakers Top Three:

  • Creating a marketing calendar — Strategizing timelines for posting on social media
  • Thinking outside the marketing box — Re-slanting your message(s) to reach groups you’ve never thought to target
  • Telling your marketing story — Compelling your audience to buy through a heart-felt message

Marketing is Not Selling“Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” With this statement, John W. Gardner simplifies the problem many of us have with marketing.  We make more out of it than what it is. In reality, if we don’t overcomplicate it, marketing is simply doing something ordinary, sharing something we’re passionate about, with like-minded people. We just need to find the most effective way to reach them. And that won’t look the same for everyone — we aren’t cookie cutters of each other.

If you need to create some marketing magic for your books, or need to increase speaking opportunities to help you reach a wider audience, I invite you to contact me. Email anita@anitabrooks.com for the handout from the AWSA seminar, and I’ll be happy to share. Not only will you find bullet-point tips, timeline suggestions, and examples of Press Releases and Marketing Maps, but links to the following:tell them your story

  • American Library Association
  • A listing for every national association in the U.S.
  • Christian radio stations
  • Christian television stations
  • Mega-churches

If you’d like to learn more information on another exciting way to improve your marketing strategies, follow me at anitabrooks.comMy heart is to help fellow authors and speakers reach more people — but not in the traditional way. Together, we can create marketing magic, when we offer each other a helping hand.

What unique ways do you use to sell more books? Want to see an example of a brilliant marketing piece? Watch this YouTube video for one of the best I’ve ever seen.

I Am A Writer

My brother got married a couple of months ago, and our family forever changed. I gained a new sister, a new twist on life, AND a bigger family. My dad performed the ceremony and I sat with him and my brother two nights before the wedding around our kitchen table listening to them go over the vows – vows to honor and cherish and grow old.

Vows carry a certain kind of weight. In the past few weeks, I’ve found it necessary to make a different kind of vow. Not a vow to another person, a job, task, or event. I am making a vow to myself.

Kariss - Shaken in storesI am a writer. Period. End of any wondering or questions. I have all the dreams and insecurities that come with the itch of fingers to grab a pen and hit the paper.

I am a writer, and within a week of beginning work with my editor on Shaken, I emailed my mentor and told her I thought I needed to start the whole book over. I felt like I need to somehow make it better. I did that with my second book, Shadowed, too. Now my goal is to make each book better than the last.

I am a writer. We can be our own worst enemies. We can also be our own greatest advocates because NO ONE can make me finish the job but myself.

I am a writer, and I type THE END for my own benefit. It will never be perfect. But it can be something I am proud of once I push past the insecurities and just finish.

I am a writer, and I notice people in a different way. This gives me the unique desire to figure out how God wired them, to value their quirks and struggles, and to cheer them on in their successes. I know the best kind of character is one who reflects what God has already created – people. So I’ve learned to value each person individually and love his or her uniqueness.

I am a writer. I can be introverted or extroverted, depending on the situation. I can be equally emotional and analytical, which can sometimes be confusing.

I am a writer. I know the power of words, the pain they can wield or the healing they can bring.

I am a writer. I can stand back and observe a scene, using words to paint a whimsical picture or one cloaked in shadows.

I am a writer, and from what I’ve heard, we subsist on coffee and chocolate. Of course, I can’t personally verify this.

Kariss - Courage quoteI am a writer, and with that comes the necessity to be uniquely myself while God continues to mold me in the process. But when I fail to be who God made me to be, I miss out on being part of the story He is weaving in and through me. When the insecurities or the pride creep in, I vow to fight and write, because no one can write a story exactly like I can.

No one can reach my audience quite like I can.

No one can speak or create or brainstorm or think quite like I can.

I am a writer, but I am only one part of a whole community. Together, we reach a wide audience. Individually, we touch specific hearts, those that are, for one reason or another, particularly attracted to the stories placed on our hearts. When I fail to be unapologetically myself, my readers and those in my life miss out. I miss out.

So this is my writer’s vow. I vow to be unapologetically myself, to be the person, the writer, that God made me to be. I vow to grow in this craft, knowing I will fail and knowing I will succeed. I am a writer, and I want to be part of this beautiful story God is writing with my life, not just an unwilling participant.

What lessons have you learned as you grow to be the best writer YOU can be?