Seven Essential Tips Every Successful Writer Must Apply

Fresh StartsI think every published author wishes they could go back in time to whisper in their younger self’s ear. Doing so would certainly save volumes of time and energy. I’m sure five years from now, I’d wish for the opportunity to tell today’s me something I need to know right now.

These are the thoughts rolling through my mind this new year, clean with the possibility of fresh starts. I think it’s important to slow down sometimes.

We need to reflect on the past in order to improve on the future. So I’m reminding myself of the tips I’d give my younger self, knowing I’ve let some slack, and resolving to begin again. I believe the seven following tips are essential, things every writer must know.

  1. Ray BradburyRead as much as you can. Phrases such as, “Great writers are great readers,” hold a wealth of truth. The more we study, the more prepared we are to succeed. Reading teaches us the subliminal art of sentence flow, heart tugs, and scene staging. It also shows us what to avoid, as we learn from the mistakes of others. It’s the best motivator I know.
  2. Eavesdrop. Most of my best dialogue came from listening in on someone else’s conversation in restaurants, conferences, stores, airplanes, etc. I write non-fiction, and I tell true stories or compilations based on real people, but even if I wrote fiction, I would use this technique for writing believable and fascinating statements.
  3. Listen to outsiders. The more detached someone is from you, the more objective their writing feedback is going to be. Family and friends tend to fall into two camps: they either gush over everything you write, even your sloppy first drafts, or they nitpick, make digs, or outright blast anything you pen. Make it your mission to interact with people on social media, critique groups, or professional advance readers who are willing to respond honestly.
  4. Pull on your thick skin. You might want to consider whale shark skin for this one, (estimated at 6″ thick). Just like “there’s no crying in baseball,” professional writers soon learn, no one’s handing out Kleenex around here either. When rejection stings, stiffen your spine, and pitch again.
  5. Douse distractions. It’s going to happen. Ten people want five different things from you at once. You’re working on one project, when the siren call of another beckons. But professionals know the power of tenacity — grinding your behind into the seat, tuning out the voices trying to break your focus, and writing through to the finish line.
  6. motivational quotesSet time-stamped writing goals. I’ve really let this one slip lately, and my work is showing it. But my One Word is Reset, so I am resetting my goals. The difference between a dream and a goal is a measurement. So my refreshed writing goals include a minimum of 5,000 words per week. This reasonable number allows for flexibility, while pushing me beyond a normal comfort zone. It’s doable.
  7. Touch your own heart. If I’m not passionate about what I’m writing on, why would anyone else be interested? If I’m bored, my readers will feel boredom. If I’m thrilled, my readers will feel a flutter of excitement driving them to turn the page.

The more I write, the more I question myself at times, and yet, when I go back to the basics, I find the truth, the way, and a successful writer’s life. Which brings me to a bonus secret.

Pages in a Thousand BooksI can write until my fingers are numb. I can start writing at dawn’s break, pushing until the wee hours of the next morn, but if I am not inspired, it’s all for nothing. My personal inspiration come from prayer, provision, and praise for my Maker. He’s the one who gifted and called me. This is my most powerful secret.

What inspires you to write? Do you have any tips you would whisper to your younger self?

New Possibilities for a New Year

Empty road to upcoming 2017 at sunrise

The sunrise of a new year.

  1. Your future is not limited by the past. While past successes and experiences can inspire the future, as I wrote about in my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, the future does not need to be limited by the past. New scientific discoveries can build on past knowledge, but they also can disrupt old paradigms. For example, the microprocessor made computing available to nearly everyone, with a modern laptop more powerful that a computer that once took up an entire room. Thanks to this invention, most writers prepare their manuscripts using convenient word processors instead of typewriters, and keep their contact list of agents, editors, and publishers on their smartphone in place of their Rolodex. In the not-so-distant future, writers might conference with editors and other writers in virtual reality, skipping the long lines at airports and time spent traveling. As a writer, your next fresh idea can define the future. Your past projects may influence your future goals, but feel free to try something new and even disruptive. Progress happens when people dream new dreams. Let the start of the New Year serve as your excuse to pursue a great new project.
  2. New friendships are waiting to be discovered by you. Writers quickly learn the value of relationships in their profession. After all, writing is all about communicating and collaborating. Even when writers spent quiet hours alone putting their thoughts on the page, the needs and interests of their readers shape their work. The audience of readers is always present when a writer expresses ideas with words. By the time a book reaches the shelves of a bookstore or the warehouse of an online retailer, the writer has collaborated with many people – literary agents, editors, illustrators, cover designers, copy editors, reviewers, publicists, and marketing directors. These colleagues as well as radio interviewers, blog readers, online reviewers, customers, and conference coordinators become new friends in the life of a writer. Resolve to maintain the friendships you have formed as a writer in years past, while staying open to the possibilities of accepting the input, advice, and encouragement of new friendships in the year to come.
  3. To accomplish your goal, break it down into discrete, doable steps. Whether you are planning to write a blog post in one evening or a book in six months, if you have a plan divided into measurable and actionable steps, you are well on your way to getting the job done. Fit your plan into your lifestyle and your current schedule to keep it realistic and achievable. Can you envision setting aside two hours every evening to complete a new manuscript? Should you schedule a vacation in a secluded and beautiful setting surrounded by nature in order to disconnect from everything and make your writing deadline? Having a plan that matches your working habits and the needs of your family and other responsibilities increases the likelihood of reaching your goal. Great new projects need to-do lists and new friendships need time set aside to develop the relationships. Make a plan that fits your life so your dreams can come to fruition in the New Year.

What do you plan to do to prepare for the new possibilities awaiting you in the New Year?

10 Words That Change Everything

Image/KarenJordanWhat was your “One Word” for 2016?

This year, 10 words changed everything for me. I focused on these words because they were the titles to several chapters in my book, Words That Change Everything, published this year by Leafwood Publishers.

I shared a little about the power of these words during an interview that Anita Brooks and I had on Bridges with Monica Schmelter on WHTN Christian Television Network.

I refocused on these 10 powerful words as I compiled the FREE 15-day devotional guide to Words That Change Everything: RESTNotes.

BookCover/WordsThatChangeEverythingBookCover/RESTNotesMy 10-word focus continued as I prepared to teach a Bible study based on my book at my church every week this fall.

I never imagined how a few words could change everything for me.

So for my last WordServe Water Cooler post for the year, I offer these 10 powerful words to you.

  1. REST. “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:5-7 NIV). This scripture offers an effective prayer strategy for speaking truth to the warning signs of worry, symbolized by the acronym REST: Remember. Exalt. Surrender. Trust.
  2. Remember. “The Lord is near” (Phil. 4:5 NIV). We take the first step in overcoming our negative thoughts by seeking the powerful presence of God in our lives.
  3. Exalt. “In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving . . .” (Phil 4:6 NIV). Praise can be a powerful weapon for us in our battle with worry. We can enter into God’s presence through praising Him (Ps. 100:4-5).
  4. Surrender. “Present your requests to God” (Phil 4: 6). In our day, the term “surrender” often means being taken into captivity. But in God’s kingdom, “surrender” suggests a renewed freedom from the enemy of our souls.
  5. Trust. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). God promises to guard our hearts and minds with His peace. God gives us specific instructions about how to embrace His peace—by changing our mental focus and exercising our faith.
  6. Solitude. “When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear” (Lam. 3:28-29 The Message). This scripture offers a powerful prayer strategy for stressful days. My writing life requires that I spend time alone without distractions. But at times, the isolation becomes my distraction.
  7. Silence. “Enter the silence” (Lam. 3:28). As we seek God in silence, the accuser (Rev. 12:10) always dangles threats and accusations.
  8. Prayer. “Bow in prayer” (Lam. 3:28). Prayer can be as natural as speaking with a good friend or as intimate as a whispered secret. It can occur at any time, no matter the circumstances. And God promises to listen when we call on His name: “And if we’re confident that he’s listening, we know that what we’ve asked for is as good as ours” (1 Jn. 5:15 MSG).
  9. Listen. “Don’t ask questions” (Lam. 3:29). How do you respond when someone won’t listen to you? Anger, rejection, or frustration? When Jesus instructed His disciples, He asked them on several occasions, “Are you listening to this? Really listening?” (Matt.11:15).
  10. Wait. “Wait for hope to appear” (Lam. 3:29). Waiting rooms can bring out the worst in us. Long periods of waiting hoist all kinds of emotional red flags—from impatience and worry to full-blown panic attacks. Reminders of past pain, traumas, and personal loss make our present trouble seem intolerable. The dark clouds roll in, and we can’t see the light of spiritual truth. However, waiting does not need to produce hopelessness for Christ-followers.

Do you have any “Words” that have changed everything for you?

How to survive the book review blues

roses I have a love-hate relationship with book reviews.

Every time I get a good review, I’m happy. When I get a stellar review, I’m ecstatic. I feel like I’ve done what I hoped to do: I’ve connected with a reader and given them a journey they wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. When dog-lovers tell me they laughed, cried, and were inspired by my memoir Saved by Gracie: How a rough-and-tumble rescue dog dragged me back to health, happiness, and God, I feel blessed that my story reached and touched them. When reviewers rave that my supernatural thriller Heaven’s Gate: Archangels Book I made them want to stand up and cheer, I get goosebumps of joy.

All those multi-starred reviews on my books’ pages at amazon.com, Goodreads, or barnesandnoble.com reassure me that the hours I pour into my writing are worth it: my books entertain, educate, and illuminate, and, gosh darn, people like them.

wilted-roseAnd then there is the flip side of my love-hate relationship with book reviews.

When I get a review that says “this book wasn’t what I thought it would be about, so I stopped reading it after the first two chapters,” and therefore receives the lowest rating possible, I want to bang my head against a wall. “Then why did you bother to post a review?” I want to ask the disappointed reader, and then explain that because she mistook the book for something it wasn’t, my overall rating has plummeted, which will dissuade some readers from even reading the synopsis, let alone buying and reading the whole book.

I’ve also seen reviews that rate books poorly because the author’s basic premise contradicts what a particular reader-reviewer believes. Again, those low ratings may prevent the book from reaching the hands of readers who would appreciate and greatly benefit from it; because many people (and I’m one of them!) choose books based on others’ reviews, authors are at the mercy of those published reviews, even when they make no sense at all, or are based on the personal bias of the reviewer.

So what’s an author to do about that oh-so-necessary-but-can-be-disastrous need for reviews?

My answer can be summed up in one word: relax.

Then remind yourself of these three things:

  1. You wrote a book! So many people say they want to write a book, but you actually did it! AND it got published. Congratulations! Celebrate your accomplishment!
  2. You can’t please all the people all the time, and that’s especially true of readers. Some people just won’t ‘get’ it; others won’t like your writing style or your treatment of plot or subject. Some readers might be experiencing difficult life situations while they were reading your book and some of that negativity gets transferred to their reviewing. Bottom line: reviews are subjective, even when they intend to be objective.
  3. Your words will reach at least some of the people who need to read them, and they will bless you for it, whether or not you ever know it.

What do you do when you get the review blues?

The Joy of Writing

I’m not sure what surprised me first — the fact that my business coaching client turned non-writing friend answered the question intended for me, or how he responded.

Lake Superior Anita Brooks Photographer

Anita Brooks’ Lake Superior Reflection

From the dining room table, I glanced through the picture window at the full moon reflecting over Lake Superior in the distance. After finishing three days of intensive review with the four partners of my latest business coaching project, the mood was relaxed, while the five of us savored plates piled with steak and king crab. It was in this moment of celebration when one of my coaching clients leaned forward and asked me, “Do you enjoy writing?”

My mouth opened, but his partner’s voice sounded before I had the chance to speak. “Not anymore, now that you have to work at it. It’s different when it becomes your profession.” A sheepish blush crept across his rounded cheeks. “At least, that’s what I imagine.”

An awkward pause followed his interjection, but I didn’t allow it to languish long. I smiled to let him know we were okay — after all, I’ve made the mistake of answering for others.

Then I turned my attention to my other client. “Actually, it is different now that I write professionally, but I still enjoy it very much. I’d be lying if I said every minute felt good, but it’s like any difficult thing we accomplish. There are times I think about walking away, when things aren’t going smoothly, when I get bored, when I feel overwhelmed, when I despise the way my words come out on a page, and when I think about the investment cost of time, energy, and money. But the negative emotions don’t last. I can’t imagine doing anything else. A soul-deep, intrinsic drive pushes me to write, I’m compelled to do this, despite my finicky feelings. And reader responses make it all worth while.”

Intrigue was obvious on my client’s face. “So people actually contact you?”

I chuckled, but it echoed off as my thoughts turned to some of the specific readers I’ve heard from. I could feel a hot glistening around the edges of my eyes as I began to answer. “It has surprised me at how many people have emailed and sent private social media messages. Nothing compares to the power of knowing words you penned touched another human being.”

“What’s the best thing a reader has told you?”

Anita Brooks Plane Wing in Flight

Writing and Reading Are Uplifting Experiences

I dipped a piece of crab in melted butter and slipped it in my mouth before answering. “Probably not what you think. A lady emailed to tell me she bought a copy of Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over in an airport on the east coast. She started reading on the plane, and said it hit some tender spots, so she closed it and vowed not to finish. But when she got home, she said, “That book kept calling my name.” That’s when she picked it up and began reading again.

In her email she said, “PLEASE forgive me, but a couple more chapters in I threw your book across the room, but only for a few minutes, because I couldn’t help myself, and had to go get it. I just finished reading the entire thing for the third time. THANK you! Your book saved my life.”

As I heard myself telling this story to my clients, I realized something afresh.

Goodreads Review Getting ThroughYes, the writing is hard at times. There is no doubt my emotions can lead me temporarily astray. However, as a professional author, I DO still enjoy writing as well as having written — because I understand the impact my words can make.

The greatest joy of writing comes from knowing I was made to do this, and that others are helped because I act despite my fears and insecurities. Many think, dream, and fantasize about writing books, but there is no greater joy than realizing I am an honored member of the club that says, “I did.”

Have you discovered the joy in writing?

You can only eat so much eggplant.

eggplantI’ve rediscovered the joy of vegetable gardening, thanks to our move to a warmer clime that allows for gardening year-round. As a result, I’ve acquired some hands-on experience with how my garden grows…or not. And, being the reflective person I am, I can’t help but apply those lessons to not only life in general, but also to life as a writer. So whether or not you’re a dig-in-the-dirt kind of person, I hope you’ll find some gems in the guidelines I’m culling from my veggies.

  1. Sow liberally and see what comes up. For my first crop of lettuce, I ignored the seed packet instructions and laid seeds thickly the whole length of the row. I wanted to be sure something came up, and my confidence didn’t match the packet’s. The result: I had all the lettuce I could eat, and then some. The next time I sowed lettuce, I followed the instructions and spaced fewer seeds farther apart. The result: nothing came up and my work was a wasted effort.

Writing take-away: when you’re new at writing, try it all. See what develops for you. It’s better to produce more than you can use than have no success at all.

  1. Thin the rows to get better results. When I noticed that the new plants were crowding each other, I pulled out the smaller ones to let the bigger ones get the full advantage of soil, sun, and water. I got healthier plants that produced more and for longer periods of time.

Writing take-away: Capitalize on what’s working for you. If your fiction isn’t doing well, focus on the self-help material that’s popular with your audience and helping your platform grow. Put your energy where you’re seeing the strongest results.

  1. Some seeds just won’t sprout. Get over it. Plant something else. For some reason, I couldn’t get snow peas to grow despite two tries. Instead of letting the soil lay unused, I planted beets, which turned into a bumper crop, forcing me to try lots of new great recipes using beets.

Writing take-away: If you just can’t find an audience for something you’ve written, it’s time to try a different approach, treatment, or subject. The new material you produce might prove an easy winner.

  1. You can only eat so much eggplant. I didn’t think I could get tired of eggplant parmesan and mixed veggie grills, but after this summer and fall, I know there really is a limit to how much eggplant I can eat. Next year, I will plant only one plant, or make a habit of giving excess produce to my neighbors much earlier in the season.

Writing take-away: You can get tired of writing in the same genre. When you just can’t face writing another devotional, or romance, or even a blog post about writing, take a break. Write something else. Binge on reading books. Watch all the movies you missed in the last year. Then a day will come that you really want to write in your genre again. You’ll feel fresh and your writing will benefit.

By the way, if anyone wants eggplant, let me know…

The 15-Minute Writer: Book Marketing in Life’s Margins

woman writer

Photo by Bench Accounting via Unsplash.com.

We writers wear many hats these days. In addition to writing proposals, queries, and manuscripts, we’re expected to market and promote our books through social media, speaking, radio/television interviews, and book-related events. Whew! What’s a busy author to do?

First, don’t get too overwhelmed. No one can do everything, so take that expectation off your shoulders. Take deep breaths. Now…don’t you feel better? Let’s do our part, and leave the rest in the hands of the Author of our life stories.

Second, after you write it but before your book releases, experiment with different marketing ideas to find out what you enjoy and are good at naturally—Facebook parties? Speaking engagements? Library visits?—and concentrate on those things. The fun you experience will come through, and you’ll sell more books (and even if you don’t, you’ll have more joy. And who doesn’t want that?).

Third, pray for wisdom, discipline, and creativity. After all, God gave us the idea and the opportunity to write a book, and He cares about the people who will read the message we’re sharing.

Finally, clear a few minutes in your schedule and write “marketing” on your calendar in a small window of time. This way, you’ll do a little bit every day. (It’s like the old question, How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!)

To help you get started, here are a few book marketing tasks that take 15 or 20 minutes, tops (just make sure each is related in some way—via a hashtag, link, or text—to the volume you’re promoting):

  • Write a short blog post
  • Draft a newsletter for your email list
  • Brainstorm a free resource to offer your list
  • Update a social media profile to reflect your new release details
  • Write a Facebook status or Twitter update
  • Take an Instagram picture and upload it
  • Read a blog post on another author’s site and comment on it (thanks to Michele Niefert for this idea)

    A photo by Alejandro Escamilla. unsplash.com/photos/N7XodRrbzS0

    Picture by Alejandro Escamilla via Unsplash.com.

  • Rate/review a similar book you’ve read on one of the major bookseller’s sites
  • Ask friends on Facebook or Twitter to review your book for you
  • Share another author’s book, which is related in some way to yours, on a social media platform
  • Update your website or blog in some way
  • Draft a query letter to a magazine on a subject related to your book
  • Ask other bloggers to review your book (Elizabeth Evans shared this tip with me)
  • Create an image on Canva or PicMonkey with a reviewer’s blurb on it and Tweet it (a terrific idea from journalist and author Simran Sethi)
  • Write a thank-you note to a book reviewer, librarian or bookseller
  • Follow-up with a meeting planner or editor you pitched but haven’t heard back from
  • Set up an Eventbrite page for a future workshop or seminar you’ll lead on the book topic
  • Read a book marketing article on line or in The Writer, Poets and Writers or Writer’s Digest

Now it’s your turn: share in the comments. What are your favorite—or most effective—quick marketing tasks?