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Grow Your Writing Skills — Part II

In an effort to grow my copywriting skills, I took Ian Lurie’s LinkedIn Learning course “Learning to Write Marketing Copy.” He broke copywriting down into four easy steps: create a plan, free write, write your first draft, and polish your writing. While the course focused specifically on writing marketing copy, I’ve been able to apply his method to fiction writing, blog writing, and even journalism.

This week, I’d like to focus on his second and third steps.

Freewriting

Freewriting is a great idea to develop ideas for your writing project. Whether you’re working on a short story, a novel, or a blog post, jotting down ideas through freewriting will help “free” up your mind and flesh out your ideas. 

Lurie suggests setting a timer for 5-10 minutes and allowing yourself to write without thinking about spelling or grammar. Just write down everything that comes to mind about your topic, even if you end up going down some rabbit trails. Don’t stop writing until the timer is up!

When the buzzer finally rings, stop and step away from your computer or paper for a few minutes before you review your writing. Then, highlight any new ideas that may have sprouted during your freewriting time.

I apply this to my own work, especially larger projects. A lot of my work is quick (i.e., emails, banner ads, social media ads, etc.), but I have several large pieces per month that require quite a bit of cognitive effort on my part. 

Freewriting is a great way for me to get some ideas out on paper, especially if I’m not sure which direction I want to take the piece. 

Writing Your First Draft

Writing your first draft is always the hardest part of starting a new project. Depending on the length of the piece, you may want to break it down into manageable steps for yourself. For example, if you’re working on a novel, take it chapter by chapter or scene by scene. Once you have a goal in mind for what you want to write, set a timer for 45-90 minutes and begin writing!

Writing your first draft is a little different than freewriting because you need to allow your goal to guide your writing. Keep your goal, writing style, and the type of piece in mind. Keeping the type of piece in mind just means that you need to remember the context. If you’re writing a novel, ask yourself: Where does this chapter or scene fit into the rest of my story? 

When writing your first draft, Lurie suggests leaving the introduction and heading for last. This just gives you the opportunity to develop your ideas before you introduce or conclude them. I often leave headers and subject lines on emails for last, and I often wait until I’m done writing body text before writing salutations in letters or direct mail pieces. Having all of the other copy written first gives me a good idea of how to introduce it.

When the timer is up, Lurie suggests stretching for a few minutes, smiling at your accomplishment, and then polishing your writing, which we will discuss on Jan. 2!

About Emily

Emily Babbitt is a promotional writer for Liberty University Marketing. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband. Learn more about Emily here.

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Book Nook: By Way of Introduction

If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you. Maybe it’s not quite that easy, but if you want to learn something, go to the source. —Natalie Goldberg

Hello everyone,

My name is Karley Conklin, and I’m a new blogger for Write2Ignite.

I’ve been able to attend Write2Ignite on four different occasions, and I must say, it’s been one of the best parts of my writing journey. The first time I participated in the conference, I was a timid high school senior, with no experience and no idea what to expect. Despite my fears, the conference planted in me a grain of confidence. As I introduced myself to editors and agents, I began to see myself as more than just a dreamer. Professionals in the publishing world were offering me consistent encouragement and affirmation, and I left the event feeling certain I was called to write.

Since then, I’ve graduated college with an Interdisciplinary Literature and Christian Studies degree—which is to say that my writing has sadly fallen to the back-burner. Though I’ve yet to publish the middle-grade novel I wrote four years ago, I’ve still managed to keep my creativity simmering, through editing, through smaller writing projects, and most of all, through reading.

It shouldn’t surprise you that a lit major (and now part-time librarian) would be an advocate for reading as much you can. Even though I’m biased, I firmly believe that reading is one of the best ways to learn to write well. In every book, we find examples of what works and what doesn’t. We find lessons in the flow of language, the nature of plot and setting, and the magic of character development. Reading allows us to observe the art we hope to master, and observation is a powerful tool.

My blog posts in the upcoming months will focus on sharing with you the best books on writing I can find. Mixed in with these textbooks of the trade, I’ll add reviews of children’s literature to encourage you to keep honing your observational skills.

I look forward to learning and growing with you all and hope that you’ll share your thoughts with our Write2Ignite community.

Since you now know all about me, I’d love to hear a little about you. What’s one of your favorite books, one that has inspired you or challenged your thinking?

(Mine would be Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, but more on her later.)

 

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Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time editor, and full-time bookworm. Her fondness for books borderlines obsession, as she engages in not only writing and editing, but also in book-binding. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.
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Are You Willing to Be Rejected?

Nobody likes to be rejected. And when we’ve poured ourselves into a writing project, only to see it rejected by agents and editors, it’s easy to take that rejection personally.

“My manuscript isn’t good enough.”

“My writing skills aren’t good enough.”

I’m not good enough.”

Is that true?

Before you believe the lie that you’re not good enough, consider the truth.

Maybe your manuscript does need more work. And maybe your writing skills could use improvement.

Or maybe the agent just signed an author who writes in the same genre you do. Or maybe the editor knows he can’t contract your book because his company is releasing a book on the same topic in a few months. Sometimes a rejection has nothing to do with you or your skills and everything to do with timing.

Then again, maybe the timing is fine, but you and the agent or editor simply have different likes.

Agents Are Human

I attended a writers conference years ago where agent Steve Laube served on the faculty. Participating in an agent panel, Steve mentioned that agents don’t always make the right call. He cited a well-known author whom he regretted rejecting several years earlier. During the Q & A session, several multi-published authors prefaced their questions by noting (with a laugh) that Steve had also rejected them. He finally asked the audience to raise their hands if they had been rejected by his agency. I lost count of the hands raised across the room as laughter erupted.

Agents are fallible!

Editors Are Fallible Too

Are you familiar with the anthology series, Chicken Soup for the Soul? The authors spent 3 years developing the first volume and finally published it in 1993, after 140 publishers rejected it. Thirty-three publishers turned them down in the first month alone! Their agent finally returned their manuscript, saying, “I can’t sell this.” Yet in more than 20 years, the series has sold more than 115 million copies with 250 titles, and there are more to come. Inspirational “soup” books have been published for kids, teenagers, parents, women, couples, dentists, sports fans, veterans, nurses, pet lovers, chiropractors, and others.

Yes, editors don’t always recognize a bestseller, either!

Rejection Can Be a Stepping Stone

Author and teacher Kay Arthur once shared an illustration of a donkey that fell into an abandoned well. After many failed attempts to rescue it, the farmer reluctantly decided to end the donkey’s life. So he began to shovel dirt into the well. But with each shovelful that landed on its back, the donkey shook the dirt off and stamped it down. Eventually the farmer observed that the donkey stood a little closer to the top because the additional dirt had raised the floor. The farmer continued shoveling, and the donkey was able to step out of the well.

You and I can use rejection as a stepping stone too. We can use the added time to

  • research agents and editors for a better fit
  • improve our writing skills
  • learn more about the genre we’re writing in
  • join a critique group for objective feedback
  • draw near to the Lord to learn what He may want to teach us
  • encourage other writers who are facing similar circumstances

Don’t take rejection personally. Use it to grow into the person and writer God created you to be!

How has rejection helped you be a better writer? Share your thoughts in the comments.

 

 

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3 Ways to Celebrate Short Story Month

Woman reading an open book on a stone wall by water

“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”
―Neil Gaiman

May is here, and that means it’s National Short Story Month! Short stories may be—well—short, but if done right, they’re certainly not shallow. With the power to convey deep emotion and pull readers in with compelling characters and settings, they pack all the explosive punch of a firecracker. Who can forget the unforgiving wilderness of “To Build a Fire,” the tragic beauty of “The Happy Prince,” or the hilarity of “The Ransom of Red Chief”?

How can you best celebrate Short Story Month? Make the most of May by trying these tips.

Read Short Stories

What better way to commemorate Short Story Month than by reading great short stories? Visit your local bookstore to find anthologies, or browse online for collected works. And don’t forget to branch out: If you usually read mysteries, try a humorous story. If you’ve never ventured beyond historical fiction, experiment with science fiction. The sites below, which contain links to classic short stories, might help you get started.

The Poe Museum: Poe’s Works

American Literature: O. Henry

Jack London’s Writings

Share Short Stories

Help others discover the beauty of the short story. Some people avoid reading because they’re daunted by the thought of reading a long work. If you know reluctant readers, help grow their interest in reading by introducing them to your favorite short stories. Or suggest short stories in a genre they enjoy.

And don’t forget the smallest readers! Short stories for children abound. Take your children to the library to borrow Aesop’s Fables, or read your grandchildren the story of the Ugly Duckling. Older children might enjoy Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories or some stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Write Short Stories

Try writing your own short stories! There’s no set limit for the word count of a short story, but keep this gradation in mind: short story, novella, novel. You can find excellent advice for short-story writers at Jerry Jenkins’s website.

Who knows? Perhaps writing a short story will give you unexpected ideas. Maybe writing a somber story will inspire you to write a poem about bravery in the midst of loss. Maybe you’ll realize that your story’s protagonist would be the perfect character to star in a mystery novel.

Whatever you do, don’t pass up the chance to celebrate Short Story Month! Whether you choose to revisit classic stories or write your own tales, you’re sure to strengthen your writing abilities and widen your perspective.

What are your favorite short stories? Tell us about them in the comments!

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The Good, the Bad, and the Mediocre of Self-Publishing

Kenneth G. Winters, author of the YA novel The Lost Crown of Colonnade, served as a Navy chaplain; a few years ago, he retired from full-time ministry. After investigating several Christian self-publishing companies, he published this first novel in 2011. He shares here, in the fifth of our Write2Ignite author interviews on self-publishing, what he learned in the process.

1. Don’t sign to self-publish until your book is totally ready. I learned this the hard way. In 2010, I committed with XULON Press to publish my WIP (Work in Progress). They were offering quite a good deal, including some publicity that was not a part of the normal package, so even though I wasn’t totally satisfied with the book at that time, I signed a contract. After that, I had one year to get my finished file (manuscript) to them. One year is plenty of time, right? I was working full time and writing in my spare time. I put myself “under the gun” in terms of having a self-imposed deadline. When I publish book two, I will definitely have my finished and fully proofread file ready to submit.

2. Unless you pay extra, self-publishers provide no proofreading or editorial suggestions. I knew this when I signed, and this is not necessarily a bad thing, if you have a peer who will be honest with you about troublesome paragraphs (or chapters), and an outstanding proofreader(s). I did have a fellow writer to help recognize character development weaknesses and conflicts or weaknesses in plot or narrative. I also had good proofreaders. But what I didn’t have were proofreaders who knew the nitty-gritty final manuscript format requirements of XULON Press. [Though I was aware of those requirements, I didn’t catch format errors, and my pre-publication readers didn’t know to look for them.] As a result, the first printing of my book was double spaced, taking twice as many pages as it should have.

3. Every time the self-publishing company sends a sample copy, you must proofread it again before it goes to print. On first glance, my sample copies looked correct. However, Tammy Doherty, a talented self-publishing author, noticed that the title on the header of every page was incorrect. Instead of The Lost Crown of Colonnade, the title read The Lost Sword of Colonnade. The cover, title page, and publishing page with the ISBN all had the correct title. I had to return the books (at no charge to me) for correction of the title on each page header.

In the second sample, the title was correct on the cover, title page, and page headers. However, once again, we found an error. On the ISBN page, the title now read The Lost Sword of Colonnade. Fortunately, we detected the problem. I proofread the book both of those times. My correct final draft/file was used in both of the first two samples.

The publisher made that one small correction, showed it to me in the file, and sent me two printed copies of the book with the correct title on the cover, headers, and ISBN page. After this “minor” change (just one word), I failed to proofread the book in this final format. I assumed (no comments) that the book had been prepared from the same draft . . . used the previous two times. Wrong. Somehow, someone had gone back to my next-to-last draft, which had a number of formatting errors and about 25 typos, including one interchanged sentence. I gave my approval without proofreading or having anyone else proofread the book one last time. In most self-publishing houses, the author is responsible for all editing. When he or she gives final approval, the book is set up and printed that way.

A few weeks later, I received 1,000 copies of my book printed from the next-to-last draft, with all those errors. This wasn’t a total disaster financially, because I sold most of them and gave away about 100 to Christian schools. I was honest about the errors with people who bought the book, and most were gracious enough to buy the book anyhow. I more than broke even, which is pretty amazing. Even though [the double-spaced] printing meant each book was about 460 pages, my costs were quite fair. The initial “Bestseller Package” was $1,799. For printing and shipping, the 1,000 copies cost me $4,899, so my initial investment was $6,698. If the original printing had been single-spaced (232 pages), I would have saved about $1,000 on printing.

I did contact XULON about the mistakes. Although I was ultimately responsible for this major mistake, XULON admitted [some responsibility] in it and gave me a significant [price] break on making the changes. I really appreciated this. Those who buy the paperback or e-book are now receiving the version I intended to release.

By the way, XULON provided me with what I consider a beautiful cover (front and back).

Now, I am preparing to publish book 2, The Enchanted Bride of Colonnade. I believe I am better prepared to avoid the [problems] I fell into with The Lost Crown of Colonnade. (I was tempted to put the word sword in place of crown, just to see who would notice.)

This time, I will be using Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP), [which allows me] to create the e-book and paperback file for free, paying only printing costs. KDP offers stock graphics and guidance on creating front and back covers. However, I will pay someone to do the cover.

Initially, I plan to give Amazon exclusive rights to the e-book version. Doing so [allows me to] include the book in what is called “Kindle Unlimited Free Books.” [Subscribers to that service] can download any book [in] it for free. [Those who are not . . . Unlimited subscribers] . . . pay the normal Kindle price of $2.99, and I receive the full royalty. If an individual selects my book on Kindle Unlimited, I receive a much smaller commission. However, [Unlimited] is a great way to build an audience and gain reviews. People will click on a free book from an unknown author to check it out. They might not pay $2.99 to do so.

I am still studying KDP procedures to understand all of the details of creating and producing the paperback version. In any case, I retain full rights to my work for both versions, and I may cancel my agreement for either version or both with five days’ notice. The printed version will be available for sale through all book outlets. XULON [set the price for my first book], but [with KDP], I set my own price for the paperback.

I hope my lessons learned are helpful to other writers. There is certainly a place for the self-publishing companies, but I’m going to try this less expensive approach.

Contact Information
Author name: Kenneth G. Winters

Phone: (774) 922-4144
E-mail: winterskn@gmail.com
Amazon author page for Kenneth G. Winters: https://amzn.to/2IlR9I7

Barnes & Noble link: https://bit.ly/2Io8zQ9

Interview series by Deborah S. DeCiantis, director of Write2Ignite Conference

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Showing Christmas Using the Five Senses

Show; don’t tell.

We hear it all the time. Don’t tell the reader, show the reader. Draw readers into your story. Make it easy for them to feel as if they’re in the middle of whatever you’re writing.

Prompted by a recent series of blog posts on the Hartline Literary Agency website, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to use the five senses in my writing, especially during this Christmas season.

See Christmas

How do you write about what you see during the Christmas season? Do you describe twinkling lights, brightly colored wrapping paper, and lush garland greenery? Hmmm . . . a bit clichéd.

Consider a fresh approach. Have you noticed how homes respond to the earlier twilight? One by one, their lights flick on until entire blocks glow with inviting cheer. Regardless of your mood, you can’t help but smile at each building. They’re dressed as if ready to attend a royal ball . . . some in gaudy costumes reminiscent of Cinderella’s gauche step-sisters, and others looking as elegant as if Cinderella herself might appear at the front door.

But did you also notice the longing in the face of a single mom as she checks the price tag on a bicycle at Walmart before she walks away, shoulders slumped?

Hear Christmas

What do you hear during the Christmas season? Sleigh bells? Singing carolers? The crunch of snow under booted feet? Once again, a bit clichéd.

Listen more closely. Do you hear smothered giggles and whispers as siblings plan the gift they’ll make for their mom? Or the crackling of pine cones consumed by flames in the fireplace? How about the crescendo of a choir as the Hallelujah Chorus swells to fill the church and draws us to join the angels in praise?

But did you also hear the wistfulness in the voice of a new widow as she wishes you Merry Christmas even though she’s feeling anything but merry?

Smell Christmas

Do you write about the smells of pine trees in living rooms and chestnuts roasting in kitchens? Too easy!

Instead, close your eyes and recall the scents of your childhood. The aroma of cinnamon sticks stirring apple cider. Orange peel and cloves simmering in a potpourri on the stove. Move beyond the obvious!

Taste Christmas

What tastes of Christmas do you include in your descriptions? Peppermint candy canes? Gingerbread?

How about the smooth heat of hot chocolate as it coats your tongue and warms your throat? Or a creamy sip of eggnog? Maybe you remember the tartness of mashed cranberries alongside slices of Mom’s tender Christmas turkey.

Touch Christmas

Finally, what comes to mind when you think about the sense of touch relating to Christmas? You could write about cold, wet snow. Then again, so does everyone else.

Think again. How about the feel of a stolen kiss under the mistletoe? Or how your hand slides along the smooth surface of a package covered in glossy wrapping paper? Perhaps you thought of the velvety white trim on the costume worn by the mall Santa. And we can’t forget the various textures combined on the ugly Christmas sweater your grandmother bought you last year.

Challenge yourself this holiday season. Move beyond the usual descriptions to release fresh descriptions that will hold your readers’ attention!

What Christmas examples can you add to this post?

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Limitless Creativity

The creativity of God never ceases to amaze me. He created plants that grow underwater, He created diamonds and dandelion dust with equal ease, and He called a single woman with no children to write for the Christian homeschool market.

I wasn’t homeschooled as a child. I went to a very small private Christian school. My mom wanted to homeschool, but it was the early 1980s, and the legal aspect of homeschooling in my state was terribly intimidating. But when my sister and I weren’t in school, our mom was always making up learning games and projects for us to do at home. Though she never taught professionally, she has a teacher’s heart.

I’ve always had a heart to write for God. I think I was about 9 years old or so when I started my first “book.” It was a really sad attempt, but it was an attempt! I started developing my writing professionally in 2003. I worked on several projects, but my heart was writing for kids. In 2011, I felt God nudging me toward homeschooling, though I had no idea why. I went to the CHAP convention in Harrisburg, PA, and picked up tons of information. One of the countless freebies I took home was an issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine. I joined the mailing list, wanting to learn more about homeschooling. A few months later, they put out a call asking for writers to volunteer to write curriculum for a new site they were developing for families called SchoolhouseTeachers.com. It took me all of about three seconds to decide to join.

I began helping the newly formed team of writers brainstorm and create curriculum about everything from art to history. I love history, but art? That was a stretch. But that was the beauty of writing in a team. My weaknesses were someone else’s strengths, and by working together, I learned more than I ever imagined was possible.

So I’m a non-homeschooled single woman with no kids who has never loved any writing more than writing for homeschool families. In another surprising turn, I’ve moved from part-time volunteer to full-time staff and now serve as the Executive Editor of SchoolhouseTeachers.com.

I’m looking forward to speaking at the 2017 Write2Ignite conference about connecting with the homeschool market and creating products that both entertain and educate. I’ll also be giving a presentation on “Hard Truths for Tender Hearts,” which touches on another passion of mine, sharing stories of the persecuted Church with children in a sensitive way that they can understand without frightening them.

I encourage writers to learn how they can connect with and serve the homeschooling market. But more than that, I want to encourage everyone to never underestimate or doubt the limitless creativity of God. Never decide that you aren’t qualified to do something you know He’s calling you to do. He called a shepherd to become a king and a Pharisee to become a missionary. What is He calling you to do?

Bonnie Rose Hudson lives in central Pennsylvania. Along with spending time with her family and writing, making kids smile is her favorite thing to do. Her heart’s desire is for every child to feel the love of God and know how special they are to Him. She loves creating curriculum and working for SchoolhouseTeachers.com, the curriculum arm of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, as the site’s executive editor. At TOS, she found a place where her love of God and history combine with her love of writing to bring encouraging, educational, and entertaining material to students and their families. She would love for you to visit WriteBonnieRose.com to discover how you can write for the homeschool market.