Writer’s Block? Consider a Template

You sit down to write your blog post or speech, and your mind goes blank.

What do you do? Panic? Make a fresh cup of coffee? Take a walk outside? Or tie yourself to your desk chair, vowing not to get up until it’s finished?

We’ve all had these moments of frustration when the words refuse to come. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one.

Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then start on the first one.”

One way to do that is to use a template. Michael Hyatt suggests, “I create a template for any task I find myself doing repeatedly. So instead of reinventing the wheel every time, I do it once, save it as a template, and then reuse it.”

If you’ve every written a book proposal, you understand the value of a template. And you compose it in chunks, right? In fact, just typing the cover page is a helpful way to start; then, you go on to the next page.

I use templates as I compose teaching or speaking notes, as well as for some of my hard-to-write blog posts.

I start with an overall look at the topic.

  • Audience. I start by examining who I’m writing for, or who will be attending the event.
  • Felt need or problem. I examine not only what problem I’m addressing, but also what I want the audience to know and to do.
  • Main thought. For me, it’s often hard to reduce my message into one or two words. So, I attempt to summarize my message in one sentence to get my focus.
  • Scripture or reference. Since I write on nonfiction, Christian topics, I write out the main scripture or promise I want to share, or the authoritative source.

The next part of my template includes spaces for each section planned.

  • Opening statement or story. Here’s where I try to capture the attention of my audience with a quotation or an intriguing story.
  • My story. I connect with the topic, using an illustration from my own experiences.
  • Our story. I consider borrowing from other people or source that expresses how many reader will relate to the subject.
  • Resource. What does my primary resource say about this topic? This could be Bible reference or another authoritative source.
  • Your story. Now, I try to lead the reader to connect the topic with one of her own life stories.
  • Application. I encourage the audience to adopt some practical way to apply the message that might change their life.
  • Conclusion. What is the take-away? Write something the audience can remember—a clever quote, a power statement, or repeat what you just said in the post in a memorable way. I propose a premise, then reinforce it with strong, concluding words.

How do you handle those times when the words won’t come for your project?

I hope you will consider developing a template for those tasks you find yourself doing routinely, like blog posts or speaking notes.

And if all else fails, just take a walk or do anything to get your mind off your writing, and allow yourself to refocus on something pleasant or beautiful.

Then, go back to your desk, sit down, and just write!

Have templates helped you in your writing? If so, share a few examples with us.

 

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Build Your Platform and Expand Your Reach… with FaithHappenings.com

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Building a platform is essential for writers today. Publishers are busier than ever, and they have less resources to devote to helping authors spread the word about their books, speaking events, and tours. Even more difficult, agents and publishers are often unwilling to take on new writers who don’t already have an established platform, social media presence, and dedicated followers. So what’s a writer to do?

FaithHappenings.com has the answer.

FaithHappenings.com is an online Christian resource with 454 local websites serving more than 31,000 cities and towns. It offers tailored, faith-enriching content for members. Along with a few dozen other benefits—both locally and nationally—it connects people of faith to information about books, blogs, speaking events, and other resources that interest them most. As a writer or speaker, it will allow you to connect with people specifically interested in your genre, subject, or brand!

Just what can FaithHappenings.com offer you?

On FaithHappenings.com You Can…

  1. List yourself as a speaker both locally and regionally, for free! FaithHappenings allows you to highlight your speaking in the local areas where you have upcoming events, targeting people who live there through requested emails. We also link to your author website, driving people back to your site.
  2. Announce upcoming book signings in your local area for free! Information about book signings and other author events are emailed out to members who have requested to be notified of new book releases and book signings near them. Emails go out weekly, and members will also find your events by going to their local FaithHappenings page and checking out the Events Calendar.
  3. List your books—both traditionally and self-published—in up to five genre categories. These book listings will then be promoted to members across the country who have requested to hear about new books in your genre.
  4. Announce special e-book promotions the day they happen. E-book promos are sent out to our members via email and listed on the site daily! The more people who hear about your e-book deal, the more sales you’re likely to see.
  5. Build your blog traffic by posting your blog on FaithHappenings.com. You can then be listed as a “Featured Blogger” on our Home Page.
  6. Post a Top-10 List from your book! If you can create it, FH Daily—our page of daily inspiration, humor, encouragement, and current events—will post the content and link to your book (and it stays on our site forever). Content is king when it comes to generating buzz for your book, and posts on FH Daily are easily shareable via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and more.
  7. Be a highlighted “Author Interview.” FH Daily runs author interviews several times a week. Readers can learn more about you, and links will connect them to your website and your book’s buy page. Just email fhdaily@faithhappenings.com to see if you qualify.
  8. Create more awareness for your book with advertising! An ad on the global site or on FH Daily is affordable for any author.
  9. As a free member yourself, you can receive e-mail announcements for any book in more than 70 genres.

What are you waiting for? Get started today by signing up in your local area to become a member at www.faithhappenings.com.

For more information about the benefits of FaithHappenings.com for writers and speakers, click here.

 

2 Important Questions for Writers and Speakers

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Sometimes you have to shove all the surface stuff to the side in order to see what’s underneath. (Beth Moore)

What do I have to say?

Several years ago, in a workshop for Christian Leaders and Speakers (CLASS), Christian communicator and author, Florence Littauer, taught us to ask ourselves two questions before standing in front of an audience to speak:

  1. Do I have anything to say?
  2. Do people need to hear it?

So, I ask myself that question every time I prepare to stand before an audience—whether it’s a group of writers, a church group, or class of college students.

As a writer and a writing instructor, I recognize the need for people to tell their stories. And I’ve seen lives change as they listen to other people share their life lessons, especially their faith stories. Passing along our faith and family stories also help us make sense of some of the crucial issues that we face in life.

As a women’s Bible study teacher, I know the importance of sharing personal stories with other women, particularly in a mentoring or discipleship relationship.

But as a mother and grandmother, I also know the importance of sharing my stories with my children and grandchildren. My stories are my legacy to the next generation.

I believe in the power of story! And I love to encourage and instruct other people how to communicate their faith and family stories.

So, I want to ask you those same questions that Florence asked us at one of my first CLASSeminars.

  1. Do YOU have anything to say?
  2. Do people need to hear it?

“Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation” (Matt. 12:37 The Message).

What questions do you ask yourself as you prepare to speak or write?

When a Speaker becomes a Writer

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When I was asked to contribute to the Wordserve blog, I immediately thought “No.
But almost immediately after the first immediately, something in my heart said “Yes.

The truth is, compared to many other writers, I am under qualified, untrained and rather unconventional in the way I write. Particularly the way I use sentence fragments (and parenthesis) for effect. So the thought of having a lot of trained writers reading my stuff is, well, a bit nerve wracking. (If I was being honest it makes me want to pee my pants.)

However, it strikes me that I may be able to offer an angle on writing from a speaker-turned-writer’s viewpoint that could be helpful. So with that in mind, I decided to jump in.

As far as some background on me, in my 30s, I published fourteen books under my maiden name of Polich. They were “How to” youth ministry books that sold like hotcakes in the audiences I served. However, just before I turned 50, I shifted out of youth ministry, survived a fiancé who broke our engagement to remarry his ex wife, and experienced some new and deeper truths about God; and suddenly, I felt I had more in me to write.

I remember running the idea of moving from the “Youth Ministry” sector to the “Christian Life” sector by my publisher, who met me with the encouraging words, “Good luck with that.

I realized at that moment that switching book genres was not going to be done easily.

But I’m here to tell you it’s not impossible.

By the grace of God, I got hooked up with a great agent (Greg Johnson), a great editor at Zondervan (John Sloan), and was contracted for my first Christian Life book, titled Finding Faith in the Dark. It was my maiden voyage, and it released in 2014. I am currently at work on my second book, tentatively titled “When Changing Nothing Changes Everything” (this time for IVP). It’s due in three weeks, so I’ll keep the rest of this blog short.

I thought I could offer a couple of insights from a speaker-turned-writer’s viewpoint that might be helpful to you. Because when it comes right down to it, don’t many of us do both? The fact is, in today’s “Look at Me” world, holding an audience is a skill all of us need.

Here are three tips I’ve taken from my speaking into writing:

  1. Grab ‘em in the first 3 minutes
    There is a rule in speaking that if you don’t grab the audience in the first three minutes, you have to work triple time to get them back. I think in today’s world with writing, it may even be more true. Your audience can actually leave your book without you ever having to know, which is harder to do when you’re speaking to them. (Unless they’re teenagers and aren’t polite enough to care.) Here’s the point: In today’s blog-reading, book-skimming culture, the first page of your book should be the one you focus on most.
  1. Anchor every truth you share
    This may be more directed more to non fiction authors, but no matter how great your point is, it will be lost if you don’t break it up with something to anchor it. Whether you use an interesting story, a dash of humor, or a poignant quote, you need something to entice them to read on. In speaking, I call this “Keep yourself from becoming boring.” I think in writing, it could be called the same.
  1. End with a pow
    This may feel like too much pressure when combined with point #1, but there is nothing worse than a reader who has stayed with you till the end and gets rewarded with nothing but a re-emphasis of what you’ve already said. Surprise them. Leave them thinking. Say something new. Give them a parting gift.

How you do this of course is all up to you.

And one last thing… if YOU have a voice nudging you to write something that may be different than you’ve ever written before, Don’t give up. There may be people out there who need what you have to write.

For more info, visit http://www.laurieshort.com

Four Lessons From the Speaking Circuit

Behind the back copy

For 20 years now I’ve dragged a suitcase of books from speaking event to speaking event, telling stories, signing books, listening to people in line innocently yammering on while someone else is waiting impatiently to get an autograph.

I’ve spoken from the Statehouse in Boston to a rain-tattered canopy outside a firehall while firefighters let children blast the siren, from hotel ballrooms with nearly 500 people to three people in an assisted-living home, two of whom seemed comatose by the time I’d finished my intro.

Here, then, are four bits of advice about using your speaking engagements to sell books, 19 of which I’ve written, a few of which have actually sold:

Go where you’re wanted.

I’ve spent far too much of my life trying to convince people that they should believe in me and far too little time appreciating those who do. In the last few years, though, I’ve wised up.

Push on the doors, sure. Push hard. But if they don’t open, stop pushing and go find another door that might. Don’t let your pride get in the way. It’s far more fun doing a small-time gig where people appreciate your being there than beating your head on the door of some larger or more prestigious organization or event that never will.

Partner with one person who believes in you in the community where you’re going to speak.

It was a blustery, rainy Friday night, and I had a speaking gig “up river” in a small community. I honestly wondered if anyone other than the woman who’d organized the talk would come.

After the event, I walked out to my car with more than $500 in book sales, a stomach full of homemade pie and an evening of memories with a bunch of warm, wonderful people.

Why? Because that one woman was an “influencer,” someone people along the river respected. An organizer, someone who can bring an event together. An ally, someone who believed in me.

Someone like that can do more to help your event be a success than hundreds of tweets.

Take time to get to know the place where you’re speaking or the organization you’re speaking to.

Whether you’re selling books afterward or not, this is simply the right thing to do. Why do concert crowds go nuts when some well-known performer mentions something about their town? Because people take pride in where they live and appreciate it when others do, too.

It shows respect. It shows you care. It shows that you’re not just “mailing it in.”

In one of my books, 52 Little Lessons from It’s a Wonderful Life, I devote a chapter to a simple remark that one of the heavenly angels says to Clarence Odbody before the “Angel Second Class” is sent to earth to help a desperate George Bailey: “If you’re going to help a man, you want to know something about him, don’t you?”

Take the time to know something about your audience. Don’t just do a couple of Google searches. Talk to your host. Make a few calls. Do some reporting.

Finally, be interesting.

Never have people had so many options with which to spend their time, so many excuses for not leaving their home.

So, if they’re giving up an evening for you, forget the “first, do no harm” edict inaccurately linked to the Hippocratic Oath. (By me in one book!) No, first, do not put people to sleep. Say something that people haven’t heard before. Or say it in a way they haven’t heard before. Tell jokes. Dispense information. Inspire life-changing action.

But, above all, be interesting. I recently went to an author’s event just to see what other writers do. The guy spent the entire evening reading from his book.

Yawn.

That’s the reader’s job. As writers, we should spend our time offering audiences insight that our books do not. Our stories might be the impetus that draws people to our events, but give them something more than a rehash of our book or books.

Besides, if you’re interesting, people are more apt to believe your books will be, too. And there’s no better way to be asked back.

Creative Venue Planning

If bookstores are the only place you’re signing and talking about your books, then you’re missing the boat.

Perhaps even literally.

In the last year, in addition to bookstores, I’ve talked and signed books at gift shops, diners, book club gatherings, Rotary Club breakfasts, libraries, senior community dinners, and summer festival booths. Since my novels are about a bird lover, I’ve also signed books at bird feeding supply stores and an annual birding meeting, not to mention an international owl festival, a regional hummingbird celebration, and the National Eagle Center. At every venue, I’ve sold more books than I have at any bookstore signing, not to mention the new readers I’ve found and the publicity such events generated.

So how do you pack your calendar with venues that will work hard for you? The answer is Creative Venue Planning, and here’s my three-step recipe:

  1. Look past your story, and instead, brainstorm your book’s topics. Like trying to identify keywords or tags for a blog, pulling out the topics, and even specific characters, in your book can lead you to new audiences and venues. Since my protagonist began birding as a child, I give talks about the importance of nature education for kids at family-oriented programs. A restaurant I included in one book happily hosted a signing for me, and displays my books in a prominent place. HINT: Does one of your characters run a small business? Your local Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce might be delighted to have you come speak to them about how that plays into your novel. Many groups are eager for new ideas and personalities to book for their meetings. Find a link between them and your work, and you’ve got a foot in the door.
  2. Research opportunities. What groups in your community need speakers? My current goldmine is senior living communities who have busy activity calendars for their residents. Since many of my readers are older and enjoy birdwatching, speaking at these venues is a perfect fit for me. I’ve learned that many communities have on-site book clubs, too, and having an author (you!) available to join a gathering can mean a shortcut to your book being selected for reading. HINT: Would you be willing to talk to a high school class about something related to your book? Teachers are generally thrilled to have a guest speaker, and while you may not make any sales in the classroom, you can bet on word-of-mouth publicity (and perhaps a small fee from the school field trip budget!).
  3. Pick up the phone. Nothing beats personal contact when it comes to booking events at creative venues. Find the right person to ask (research on the internet or by phone) and prepare a short, convincing, sales pitch as to how they’ll benefit from your visit. Offer to email your photo, a brief bio, and talk description for their use in promotion. Take your bookmarks to hand out, and books to sell and sign.

What’s on your creative venue plan?

Profits from Back-of-the-Room Sales

Let’s be honest, most work-horse writers cannot make a living by advances alone. However, if you combine writing with speaking and profitable back-of-the-room sales, look out! Writing, speaking and book/product sales is a true triple whammy, each avenue supporting the other. Each leg of this career stool brought in roughly one-third of my income.  Here are some ideas for a money-making book table.

Bundle or Bag ‘Em

Bundle items into gift bags. For example, I would put my humor books for moms in clear gift bags with a pretty sheet of tissue paper and call it “Laughter Rx for Moms.” I created another bag I called “Smiles for the Stressed-Out Soul” that included my books on slowing down and thriving. People want to give their friends some tangible love, so selling your books in gift bag form makes them instantly ready to share.

Something for the Kids

I wrote four books for young kids (Gabe & Critters)  and five “first chapter” books for ages 7-11 (Camp Wanna Banana). Moms and grandmas love to buy something for children. I found darling finger puppets, cute plastic “bookworms,” and small plush spider monkeys that tied in with the books’ themes. The eye appeal of colorful items surrounding the books proved irresistible. It took time to find items that were lightweight, small, fun, sturdy, and profitable. But when I did, books flew off the children’s section of my table.

Offer a Bargain

In what I now view as a great business opportunity, two of my books went out of print. I negotiated to buy a literal truckload of them for 72 cents each. I bought 10,000 books and filled up an empty guest room, wondering what in the world I had done. However, I sold every book by offering them “2 for $5.00” to retreat attendees. A profit for me, and a great deal for them. The event planner put a coupon in the retreat bags for this “special bargain,” ensuring a rush to the book table.

High Profit Items

I quickly discovered that women wanted to take my “retreat talks” home or share  with a friend. So I had audio CDs made of my talks and called them “Girlfriend Getaway.” I sold four talks for $15.00. My investment in the CDs (including case) was only $3.00 each. Many speakers create their own workbooks or study guides to go with their books and make a nice profit.

Mention in Your Talk

I am turned off by speakers who hawk their books like an infomercial. I’ve found it much more natural to say, “In my book, Worms in My Tea, I told a story about a time when …”, then simply tell the story.  People would always show up at the table asking for the book that contained the story I told.

The More Books, Higher Profit

The greater the variety of books you have on your table, the higher the profit; however, you don’t have to author all the books you sell. If you refer to books by other authors in your speeches, negotiate with a publisher to buy them in bulk at a good discount and sell them on your table. Or sell other product-tie-ins. If you wrote a cookbook, you might sell adorable aprons. If you teach writing classes, you might offer pens and blank journals that have fun literary themes.

Information Sheet for Event Planner

In a packet of information that I would mail ahead or email to the event planner, I included a Book Description Sheet. It had the picture and title of each book with a one or two sentence description below it. This would help volunteers get quickly familiar with the products. Always ask for at least two volunteers to help with the book table, giving them free books as a thank you. After you speak, women will want to chat and have you sign books, so having others take care of the money exchange is essential.

Bookmarks

Create a cute bookmark to be tucked into the books you sell on your table with information leading to your website, other books, etc.

Signs & Set Ups

I typically only put about ten copies of each book on the book table at a time, re-filling it from a box under the table as they sold. Make clear concise signs to prop up on your table that clearly show the price of your books. Go for visual clarity rather than cuteness. And be sure to take credit cards; it greatly increases sales.

I hope these tips prove helpful to you and increase your profits as you speak and write. Feel free to ask me any questions.

What advice do you have for other authors to help sell their books?

 

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