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Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach
14 minutes | Sep 28, 2021
10 Ways to Start the Writing Process When You’re Staring at a Blank Page
Louis L’Amour is attributed as saying, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”1 Sounds easy enough, but a lot of times we can’t even find the faucet. Or we find the faucet but fail to turn it on. Either way, we want to write, but no words flow. Is that you? Are you ready to begin writing but you don’t know where to start—you don’t know how to get the words to flow? I’ve got 10 options for you—ten faucets, if you will. I’ll bet one stands out more than the rest. Pick one. Try it. See if it gets those words flowing. 1. Start with a memory Think back to an event that seems small yet feels packed with emotion. You don’t have to fully understand it. Just remember it. Something changed due to that event. The change may have been subtle or seismic, but you emerged from it a different person. The simple prompt “I remember” can get you started. Use it as a journal entry and see where it takes you, or go ahead and start writing something more substantial. When you remember and recreate these scenes from your past, you’ll learn from them. I experienced this when I wrote a short scene in this style, called One Lone Duck Egg. 2. Start with a photo Photos can whisk us back to another place and time, whether as recently as last week or as long ago as childhood. Pull a photo from your collection of family photos, physical or digital. Write in response to the scene. Recreate it. Let the memories unfold. You could be in the photo, or not. You could write the story behind the moment, or elaborate on a particular person in the scene. What do you think was happening? Why were you—or weren’t you—there? What does this say to you today? Another approach is to combine words with images to create a photo essay. Back in 2011, I walked around the farm where I grew up and snapped photos. Each time, a fragment of thought came to mind, a flash of a memory. When I got home, I pieced it together to come up with Dancing in the Loft. 3. Start with art Art ignites imagination. Whether you invent a story behind the piece of art you choose, or you document your response to it, you’ll end up with an interesting project. One of my creative writing professors in college gave us a similar assignment to write poetry from art. It’s possible she was trying to introduce us to ekphrastic poetry,2 which, according to the Lantern Review Blog,3 is “written in conversation with a work(s) of visual art.” But she took a less formal approach, asking us to find some art, study it carefully, and write a poem. I used a small, framed print of an Andrew Wyeth painting as inspiration. I studied the boy sitting in the grass and imagined a possible scenario leading up to the moment Wyeth captured. As I was finishing the poem and typing it up, I realized I needed to include information about Wyeth’s work. I turned the frame around and fortunately I found the date and name of the painting. Wyeth named it “Faraway,”4 and I coincidentally called my poem “Runaway.”5 Spend time with the art and see where it leads. 4. Start with an object I once wrote about an old, worn knob that topped the post at the bottom of our stairs. I loved the worn knob for being worn. All the stain was rubbed off one side of it from the years before we owned the house. Like the previous owners, we swooshed around that newel post, running our palms around the knob every single time we ran up or down the stairs. When we decided to replace the railing, I begged our carpenter—who is also a friend of ours—to save the knob. He did. And I wrote about it. Another time I wrote about a precious soapstone vase I played with as a child. The consequences of that day of play lasted a long, long time. My friend and coauthor Charity Singleton Craig uses objects (and places) to launch a “chain of remembrance.” She explains in her newsletter “The Wonder Report“: I start with something specific: a year, a place, an object. Then I try to remember just one specific thing about it. After that, I try to remember another thing and another after that, allowing each memory to flow from the one before. Eventually, I have a whole chain of memories, often growing stronger and more specific as I go.6 One story can stand alone or link multiple stories for a more complex chain of connections. 5. Start with a question (inquiry) “I begin an essay with a willingness to be changed by what I write,” Scott Russell Sanders says. “I do not set out to deliver something I already know, but to inquire into the unknown, to dive into confusion in search of greater clarity.”7 To inquire into the unknown is to start with curiosity—to start with a question. Your questions could be personal questions, cultural questions, specific questions, or big questions about the meaning of life. To get you thinking, here are some of Scott’s questions, which he shares in his book The Way of Imagination: Why did my father drink, and how did his drinking affect me? How have the landscape and culture of the Midwest shaped the people who live here? Why is racism so persistent? What is beauty? What is wildness? What is so mesmerizing about rivers?8 Scott writes with the same sense of inquiry as Dani Shapiro, who says, “I write in order to discover what I don’t yet know.”9 What questions rise up in you? Use those to launch your next writing project. 6. Start with another piece of writing Have you read something recently that resonated with you—something you wanted to discuss with someone? Maybe you ran across an article you connected with, that put words to your thoughts. Maybe you read a book that you disagreed with? Maybe a blog post held information you’d never heard before? In any of these scenarios, you can start with the writing that stirred something up in you. Refer to it. Respond to it. Riff on it. The world of online writing has expanded the sphere of discussion and debate so that anyone with a digital device can find a way to publish their point of view. This could be you. Start by re-reading an existing piece of writing and type your thoughts as a response. Weave a select quote from the original with your thoughts. Add other perspectives. This is how we enter the conversation and add our angle and deepen a discussion. 7. Start with news I first heard about newsjacking from Teej Mercer, founder—or as she calls herself, “Chief Noisemaker”—of Media Mavericks.10 I’ve since learned it’s a known publicity and marketing technique. The idea is to monitor breaking news and find a connection with your personal brand. If you write about health and wellness, you could respond to any study released with your take on it. Your personal story may relate to a high-profile person’s announcement. If you’re passionate about the environment, you could write in response to any number of breaking news, from wildfires to another animal added to the endangered species list. Monitor the news, find your connection to the event or announcement. Learn what’s being said about the event, and bring your slant, story, perspective, and opinion. 8. Start with culture You could argue that a cultural event falls under the broader category of news, but I like separating these. Starting with culture might stimulate creative connections to a talked-about episode of a show or a scene from a film. On a group coaching call in Your Platform Matters (YPM), my membership program, we discussed this concept. After describing Newsjacking, I coined this: “Culture Lassoing.” That’s because of Ted Lasso. That show has so many different threads you could engage with. I’ve seen several Twitter threads about mental illness because of some plot twists in this season. You could use a pop culture phenomenon like that and lasso it. Fans notice the show they love and enter the comments to weigh in. When The Good Doctor first came out, authors who write about autism analyzed the accuracy of the portrayal of a surgeon who is on the spectrum. Look at music and movies, social media shifts and gaming trends. Identify what you’ve discovered, decide what to say about it—and share it with the world. Because you’ve lassoed something with name recognition, you may interact with a whole new set of people you never would have met otherwise. 9. Start with conflict When you see two product options or two wildly different opinions on something, take a side. Make a claim. Explore it and support it. Write a this versus that piece, like Trello versus Notion, front-loading versus top-loading washers, or Yellowstone versus Yosemite National Park Provide a balanced view to something that has been presented as either/or Start with a public claim someone made and support it if you agree with it, or disagree with it This can feel risky in a time when positions on various issues seem more volatile than ever, but milder versions and topics can be just as interesting. 10. Start with a list Start with a list. Your brain loves lists. If you’re stuck, you may find you’re unstuck by the time you scribble the fourth or fifth entry. And then you might as well keep going. Next thing you know, you’ve written the draft or at least the outline of any number of things: a poem, essay, short story, or blog post. While a list can store ideas and fuel longer projects, occasionally a list can actually become the project itself, like, oh, I dunno, maybe a blog post titled “10 Ways to Start the Writing Process When You’re Staring at a Blank Page.” James Altucher is an idea machine and he attributes that to the habit of making lists.11 Most often, he seems to suggest writing at least 10 things on the list, but the topic can be about anything. Let’s say you’re working on a book about trust—maybe you’re flipping the standard idea of trust by redefining it and claiming distrust is a good thing. You could make lists related to this book: 10 beliefs people have about trust 10 quotes about trust 10 examples of trust with this new definition 10 cautionary tales of people who don’t step into this new way of viewing trust 10 people who exhibit healthy distrust You could build out your book’s content with a series of lists. Of course, you could use this for any kind of writing, from a poem to an essay. How Will You Start the Writing Process Next Time You Face the Blank Page? Let’s run through the list one more time: Start with memory Start with a photo Start with art Start with an object Start with a question Start with another piece of writing Start with news Start with culture Start with conflict Start with a list Like I said at the beginning, one of these ideas is likely going to stand out a little more than the others. Try that one today, and bookmark this post for the future. Next time you’re stuck and the words won’t flow, you’ll have options for how to start the writing process when you’re staring at a blank page. Resources Your Best Material: The Practice of Remembering One Lone Duck Egg Dancing in the Loft The Old Worn Knob Write Poetry from Art: Runaway (Andrew Wyeth, “Faraway,” 1952) Charity Singleton Craig’s “The Wonder Report” that describes the chain of remembrance How to Use Lists to Transform Your Writing (and your life) My Everything Page Footnotes “A Quote by Louis L’Amour.” Goodreads, Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/303969-start-writing-no-matter-what-the-water-does-not-flow. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021. “Ekphrasis: Poetry Confronting Art.” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, https://poets.org/text/ekphrasis-poetry-confronting-art/. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021. Malhotra, Mia: “Weekly Prompt: Ekphrastic Poetry.” Lantern Review Blog, 19 Mar. 2010, http://www.lanternreview.com/blog/2010/03/05/weekly-prompt-ekphrastic-poems/. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021. “Andrew Wyeth in China.” Christie’s, Christie’s. https://www.christies.com/privatesales/andrew-wyeth-in-china#about-section. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021. Kroeker, Ann. “Write Poetry from Art: Runaway (Andrew Wyeth, ‘Faraway,’ 1952).” Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach, 3 Sept. 2015, https://annkroeker.com/2015/09/03/write-poetry-from-art-runaway-andrew-wyeth-faraway-1952/.https://annkroeker.com/2015/09/03/write-poetry-from-art-runaway-andrew-wyeth-faraway-1952/. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021. Craig, Charity Singleton. “September 24, 2021.” The Wonder Report, The Wonder Report, 24 Sept. 2021, https://thewonderreport.substack.com/p/the-wonder-report-september-24-2021. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021. Sanders, Scott R. “A Writer’s Calling.” The Way of Imagination: Essays, Counterpoint, Berkeley, CA, 2020. (204) Ibid. “On Inquiry.” Dani Shapiro, 10 July 2015, https://danishapiro.com/on-inquiry/. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021. “MEDIA Mavericks Academy.” MEDIA MAVERICKS ACADEMY, https://www.mediamavericks.tv/. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021. Altucher, James. “The Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine.” James Altucher, 14 May 2014, https://jamesaltucher.com/blog/the-ultimate-guide-for-becoming-an-idea-machine/. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021. Join us in Your Platform Matters (YPM) YPM is a warm and welcoming membership community committed to creative, meaningful ways we can grow our platform and reach readers—check us out!
12 minutes | Jul 27, 2021
Embrace These 4 Key Roles for a Flourishing Writing Life
I was an English major with a creative writing emphasis. When I looked to my future, I saw myself writing. Over the years I managed to build a writing career, but as an English major, I wasn’t prepared for the business aspects of writing. Invoices, receipts, taxes? That was all foreign to me. Sharing my writing through speaking and social media? That’s not what I imagined when I launched my writing life. I thought I’d be…writing. But I had to understand and embrace the four key roles that lead to a flourishing writing career. https://youtu.be/A2_iAAQm1Kk This is how I think of them: ✅ Decider ✅ Delegator ✅ Doer ✅ Declarer These four roles in a corporate setting might be something like: ➤ CEO The Decider is like the CEO, the Chief Executive Officer. That’s the top dog, the visionary, the decision-maker. ➤ COO The Delegator could be the COO, the Chief Operations Officer, the person who figures out how to run the business at a practical level. ➤ CWO The Doer could be the CWO, the Chief Writing Officer. This role, the CWO, doesn’t exist in the business world, but we’re inventing and elevating it for this discussion because it’s the reason our business exists. Like me, you launched this whole thing so you could write. ➤ CMO The Declarer is like the CMO, the Chief Marketing Officer: the person who ensures the message gets out. At any given moment, a flourishing writer may be completing a task that falls under any one of these areas. Some of the tasks and roles don’t seem like the work of a writer, but they all support that core function. When all four areas are addressed, a writer will start to build a profession, a career, and a sustainable writing life. And it starts with the Decider. THE DECIDER, THE CEO The DECIDER—the boss, the CEO—is the person making high-level decisions about your writing career. You fill this role. You decide your author brand, your audience, your career path. As the Decider, you determine a trajectory that aligns with your goals and values. You decide if you’re in learning mode and need to gain more skills or more knowledge of the profession. You decide if you’ll focus the next quarter on submitting to literary magazines or developing a book proposal. You decide if you’ll pursue fiction or nonfiction, short-form or long-form. You decide if you’re ready to increase visibility online. When those decisions are grappled with and made, you get to step into a second, practical role—that Delegator, the COO. THE DELEGATOR, THE COO The DELEGATOR-you, this COO, is the administrator, the project manager—the person who figures out who will be responsible for a task or activity. When you’re the Delegator, you take those decisions and figure out the best way to pull them off. If you decide, as the CEO, you need to learn, then the COO or this Delegator-you will research books, courses, and conferences and figure out which ones are best. The Delegator looks into social media solutions and determines whether to hire someone to map out a marketing campaign or a designer to create images. Or the Delegator might delegate all this work to herself and take a DIY approach. In this instance, you might set up Canva to create images for all your social media feeds and Stories. As Delegator, you set up calendars with deadlines. You determine practical matters, like apps to use, editors to hire, and ideal systems to set up, so the work gets done effectively and efficiently. You’re in this role when you’re researching laptops and asking other writers if they use Scrivener. If you set up a project management system in Trello, ClickUp, or Notion, you’re in this operational mode. And as Delegator, you tackle every English major’s nightmare: how to create invoices, save receipts, and report taxes. This operations role that pulls off the decisions, usually delegating activities, is a practical, supportive aspect of our writing life and career. It’s devoted to setting the writer—the Doer—up for success. THE DOER, THE CWO The DOER is the CWO. As I said, the Chief Writing Officer doesn’t really exist in a business, but for the sake of this discussion, we’re coining this term. After all, it’s why all the other roles exist: so the writing gets done. The Doer-you? This is what you thought you signed up for all those years ago. It’s why I majored in English. I wanted to write. It’s why you’re reading this article by a writing coach, I’ll bet. You’ve got ideas to share and stories to tell. The Doer commits to the creative work that you love most. The Doer is the Writer. When you’re the Doer, you research topics, outline projects, develop the message, and craft the story. In fact, not to complicate this further, but the CWO, as chief writing officer, has tasks that you could almost break down into additional areas of responsibility, additional roles. Because at any given moment, the Doer, the writer, the CWO, will: Generate ideas Research Organize and outline Draft Revise and edit Finalize the project Title it Prep it to publish The creative Doer wrangles words onto the page or the screen and completes the project. You’ll probably feel deep satisfaction when you’re operating in this role because that’s the core work. That’s why this business you’re in, exists. Once a project is complete, the work feels finished. The Doer thinks they’re done. But how will people read what you’ve written unless you declare that it’s ready to be read? How can they find it unless you point to where it lives online or in print? THE DECLARER, THE CMO That’s where the DECLARER comes in, the CMO, the Chief Marketing Officer. After you complete a writing project, you share it and get the word out about it. As the Declarer, you use marketing and promotion tools to creatively get your message in front of the people who need it most. Most creatives I work with detest this role. They feel weird, sleazy, awkward, or ineffective and want no part in tooting their own horn or praising their own work. They hate the idea of this role of a CMO. I kept hearing this from clients. They wanted to write, not show up on social media or get people on an email list. They wanted to write, not pitch themselves as a podcast guest or submit their work to an online publication. Find Other CMO-Minded Writers I wanted to be able to recommend something to these frustrated writers, but I couldn’t find a great solution focused on the needs of the writer-CMO, so I formed a membership called Your Platform Matters. It’s dedicated to helping writers build a platform and become visible and findable by the readers they want to reach. We teach the D.E.E.P. platform method that avoids sleazy or unethical tactics and instead, maps out practical approaches for connecting with people in meaningful ways. They’re thinking now like CMOs, reaching and serving readers by taking time to Declare that the work is available. I hope it helps you reframe this role of the Declarer, the CMO, when you realize you’re serving the words you’ve written, the project, when you share it with others. You know what else? You serve the reader when you share it, too. Get Your Message in Front of Readers If you believe in your message enough to write it down, why wouldn’t you also share it to get it in front of the people you were thinking of when you wrote it? A publisher shared this with me years ago. We talked about my becoming a speaker—something I’d never considered or imagined at the time. I didn’t want to get in front of others. He said, “Could you see speaking as another avenue to share that same message? Your words—your message—spoken?” I got it. I had to agree. Even though I didn’t think of myself as a speaker, I did want to share that message. I started speaking and I’ve continued to speak for all these years…declaring, in essence, the messages I feel compelled to share. As a Declarer myself—as CMO of my own modest writing business—I’m looking for ways to reach readers in meaningful ways with the message that the Doer-me has worked so hard to craft and complete. And part of how I do that is by helping others reach their readers. WRITERS AREN’T ALWAYS WRITING The point in reminding you of these four areas and roles and tasks is that writers aren’t always writing. At times, you may take on another role and follow through with another task. And that task may keep you from technically writing. It feels strange and counterintuitive, but all of these roles—and all the related tasks and responsibilities—they all exist to serve the writer, the writing, and ultimately, the reader. If you’re an English major, trust me: You can make decisions about your writing career that set you up for success. You can research how to pull those decisions off and what support you need in terms of equipment, tech, apps, and a team. You can figure out invoices, receipts, and taxes. You can share your words with others with integrity and empathy so your writing doesn’t sit unread on your hard drive or even on a dusty corner of the Internet. Embrace these four key roles. At any moment, your work may require the Decider-you, Delegator-you, Doer-you, or Declarer-you to step up and do something. For your business to succeed, you may need you to step into the CEO, COO, CWO, or CMO position. Find freedom in recognizing that you may not have your fingers on the keyboard this afternoon doing the work of writing, but you may be serving the work in another capacity so the words will be read by the right person at the right time. Resources Your Platform Matters (membership program with training, coaching calls, and a dedicated community space for writers ready to reach readers—perfect for the CMO-Declarer) Your Compelling Book Proposal (book proposal training with three levels of coaching support) Work With Me (learn how to work with me as your writing coach one-on-one)
41 minutes | Jul 6, 2021
How Simple Systems Can Unlock Your Writing Productivity, with Kari Roberts
If you’re like me, you struggle to carve out time to write…you wish you could uncomplicate life and get more done. Good news! I have business coach and online business manager Kari Roberts on the show to help us think through simple systems that can unlock our writing productivity and creativity. “It’s like you’re on a treadmill,” she says. “You’re running in place, but you’re not going anywhere. So you’re not really getting anything done.” Sound familiar? Kari knows our struggles and offers solutions. She says, “You might need to strategize or systematize other things so that you can make the space that you need to do the writing.” Kari Roberts is a business coach and online business manager for creative small business owners. She helps them figure out time management and systems that allow them to grow their business while still having enough time and energy for work, business, and home life. Her business advice has been featured on VoyageATL Magazine, The Rising Tide Society, The Speak to Scale Podcast, Creative at Heart Conference and more. Kari is the host of Finding Freedom with Simple Systems Podcast and the creator and host of Overwhelmed to Organized the Summit. When she isn’t being a “serial helper” through one of her businesses she enjoys watching sports with her husband, walking in the park with her 2 dogs, listening to podcasts, sampling tasty bourbons, and catching up on reality TV. Her approach to creating systems? “I like to go in and try to find: What’s the simplest way. If we’re trying to get X done, what’s the simplest way to get to X. It may not be the fancy thing. It may not be with the shiny object. But if we can condense it and make it simple, then that can free up your time and free up your mental space so that you can get other things done.” Listen to the interview and you’ll learn principles that may transform your approach to writing…and life. Resources: Kari Roberts’ website Kari on Instagram Finding Freedom with Simple Systems Podcast Get your very own copy of Kari’s Time-Blocking Schedule: HERE Simple Systems Setup course https://youtu.be/xgNp7vmbXpk ANN KROEKER, WRITING COACH Episode 239 Transcript How Simple Systems Can Unlock Your Writing Productivity: Interview with Kari Roberts Ann Kroeker (00:03): It’s so hard to find time for writing, isn’t it? It’s hard to do all the things a writer needs to do these days. If only if only we had a simple system that we could set up to make the rest of our creative life flourish…I have business coach and online business manager Kari Roberts here today to help us think through simple systems we can set up to increase our writing productivity. I’m Ann Kroeker, writing coach. If you’re new here, welcome. If you’re a regular, welcome back. I’m sharing my best tips and training–skills and strategies—to help you improve your craft, pursue publishing, and achieve your writing goals. Be sure to subscribe for more content. Ann Kroeker (00:44): From time to time I invite guests on. So you can learn from their wisdom, like today’s guest, Kari Roberts. Kari is a business coach and an online business manager for creative, small business owners. She helps them figure out time management and systems so that they’re freed up to have enough time for work business and home life. Kari is the host of her own podcast, Finding Freedom with Simple Systems. And today she’s going to talk about that as it applies to writing productivity. Kari, thank you for being with us today. Kari Roberts (01:13): Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be here. Ann Kroeker (01:16): I am so intrigued by this whole idea that writers who are always pressed for time and always longing for productivity, how simple systems might be the way that they can unlock and unleash that. So first, I read your bio and it tells us quite a bit about you, but I would love you to explain maybe just in simple terms, what you do, how you serve people. Kari Roberts (01:40): Okay. In the simple simplest terms as possible, I help coaches and creatives and consultants really quiet the noise and find a simple path to success. So if you think about it, your business can be extremely chaotic. It can be very noisy. I’ve had a client say it’s like my house is on fire in the background, and nobody knows. And I come in with my strategic mind, as your strategic partner, and kind of quiet the noise, put out the fires, help, strategize, and prioritize what has to get done and how it gets done so that you can enjoy your business. And then also enjoy the life that you’re creating with the business. Ann Kroeker (02:21): Kari, that sounds like a dream come true. Seriously. That’s amazing. “Quiet the noise.” So as writers, I’m thinking about productivity, but you’re reframing the whole thing by helping them figure out how to put out the fires so they can focus on their work. And I think you’re showing me some other benefits that we can get from starting to think about the systems in our life… Kari Roberts (02:49): Right? Yeah. Systems can be very loud. If where you going to stick with the noise metaphor, systems can be very loud. And sometimes we don’t get things done because we’re too busy. It’s like you’re on a treadmill. You’re running in place, but you’re not going anywhere. So you’re not really getting anything done. So if you can start finding ways to systematize certain things in your business, now we’re going to get into how they could potentially systematize and get strategies for writing, but you might need to strategize or systematize other things so that you can make the space that you need to do the writing. Ann Kroeker (03:28): Oh, that’s a great point. And I look forward to hearing more about that. I’ve, I’ve tried to do that in my life and actually, you and I have met a few times and you have given me some great ideas that I’ve been able to implement. I’m hoping that some of those things might work for some of our listeners as well. Let’s just get into this a little bit about how can, does this open up time? Is that maybe part of it? So we’ve got the noise. Maybe I’m mixing up metaphors here, but you know, there’s noise. And you said something that intrigues me—I guess I’m asking a lot of questions all at once here—Let’s just simplify. You said some systems can be noisy. Does that mean that they need to be simplified? Or you need a different system? Tell me more what you meant by that. Kari Roberts (04:16): Yeah, so definitely things in our business can be noisy. Systems can be noisy. You and I have talked, then there is a lot of talk about CRMs and then there’s the planner community. And they want to write things down and invest in all of these tech tools and writing tools. And sometimes that can bulk up the system and add more layers to it than what actually needs to be done. So I like to go in and try to find: What’s the simplest way. If we’re trying to get X done, what’s the simplest way to get to X. It may not be the fancy thing. It may not be with the shiny object. But if we can condense it and make it simple, then that can free up your time and free up your mental space so that you can get other things done. Kari Roberts (05:04): We’re not really stretching time per se, but just being really intentional and strategic with how you’re spending your time. So social media: With the coaches and the consultants that I work with, social media is a really big time suck. And I’m sure your listeners have social media accounts and it can be a big time suck. You see people doing the Reels and pointing and dancing and going live and making the carousels and all that. And we might feel like, “I need to be doing that too.” So you might, as an example, you might spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out how to do a Reel, try to figure out how to point and dance on cue, trying to figure out how to make those Reels. That’s work. But then if we look at what’s working in your business, you know, just showing up in a Facebook group, answering people’s questions for you, might be how you’re converting people. Kari Roberts (05:58): So if that’s what’s converting people—if that’s turning someone into one of your customers—then the singing and the dancing and the pointing and everything else that might be on another platform is not using your time well. I’m not saying there’s not a place for it all, because there’s definitely a place for it all. But if you’re dealing with overwhelm, sometimes we need to take a step back and see what’s working and kind of take away what’s not working so we can focus on what is working. And so if you’re converting in Facebook groups, but you’re spending hours trying to make Instagram work for you…if we just put a pin in Instagram, now those hours you were putting in Instagram? Now you can put those hours towards something else. You can put those hours towards digging more into Facebook since that’s where it’s working for you—or working on a new project or writing your book or something. Or just having more downtime for you and your family. So that’s the way that I approach things when people are overwhelmed. Ultimately, it’s a business. And if you’re writing a book or you’re coaching someone or whatever the case may be, businesses need to generate income in order for them to be successful. So we need to see what are your revenue-generating tasks and go from there—as opposed to, “I want to do everything because everybody’s telling me everything is needed.” Ann Kroeker (07:19): That’s so good. Some writers may just be sort of waking up to the possibility that what they’re doing is ultimately a business. Even if they’re not generating that revenue right away, people who want to write a book, maybe early in the process that they don’t quite see any numbers yet. But I love this forward-thinking approach and this high-level approach that you’re giving us. What I’m hearing is: Start there. Start with: what is producing results, what is creating conversions, right? Okay. So you said, for example, if you get into a Facebook group and you’re interacting and you’re getting more people on your email list, then why are you spending so much time trying to figure out a Reel and fighting so hard to make that happen. Any tips on how they can determine if something’s working or not? Kari Roberts (08:10): Yeah. If you have been doing this, I would say for 90 days or more, you should be able to look back and see, using whatever your metric is. It may not be revenue. It may be people on your email list. It may be engaged people in your community. It might be people that are showing up in different ways—however people are interacting with you and your content. And where are those people finding you? And it’s just where you really have to look back and say, “Okay, what’s working?” And then if you don’t know, then this might be a really good time to just pull up a piece of paper or a spreadsheet, keep it really basic. And then just keep track of where are these people finding you? And it’s not something that you need to do daily. It might be something you just kind of do a couple of minutes once a week or a couple minutes once a month, but try to tabulate where are people coming to see you? Kari Roberts (09:05): And then if you’re newer, let’s say you haven’t really been at this 90 days. Then I would say, go for what you’re most comfortable with. Because the important thing about social media now—I’m not a social media expert, just to put that out there; that’s my disclaimer—but we can’t forget the social in social media. And so many people do. Since it is a social platform, if you choose what you’re most interested in—if you’re beginning—then that means you’re going to show up more authentically and you’re probably will get better results. So you might love Twitter. Well, that’s where you should start. You might love Instagram. If so, that’s where you should start. You might love Facebook. If so, that’s where you start. So there’s no right or wrong place to start. Kari Roberts (09:57): But I would say pick something. Pick the platform that you’re most comfortable with and then start paying attention. Is it working when I’m showing up, when I’m posting here, when I’m doing the Instagram Lives or the Reels or whatever are people doing? What do I want them to do? Which might be engaging, following, commenting, purchasing, or who knows what? Are people doing that? And I would give it at least 90 days—at the minimum 90 days. And then if people aren’t doing that, but you still really love Twitter or Facebook, then you might want to stay there because that’s where you like to be. But then we might need to start tweaking how you’re showing up and how you’re interacting with those people to see if we can get them to come back around. So there’s no hard and fast rule, but if you already have a little bit of information, just look back and see what’s working. And then if you’re new, just start where you’re most comfortable. Ann Kroeker (10:55): That is extremely helpful because some people are just getting started. There’s a woman named Annie F Downs, and she says, “Chase the fun.” So that’s one path—to go where you’re enjoying yourself. But if you have the 90-days’ worth of data, you can look at it to see what’s working. And then once you do, now you have this information. The second thing I heard you say was, “Now it’s time to look at facts.” And “I want to accomplish X” (and I love this phrase) “What’s the simplest way to accomplish X?” Let’s say they look at the data or they’re doing the fun thing. And now they have data. They’ve done it for 90 days and they had this information. Now, what would be the next stage of working toward discerning What X will be? How do they make that decision? Is that a kind of a system, a high-level system too? Kari Roberts (11:46): I don’t know if that’s a system. I think that’s where we’re really thinking a little bit more like a business. What would you need? What metric would you need to track so that you can say this is working? Like I said, it may not necessarily be revenue, especially if someone is newer and you might not have finished that book and you might not have a product to sell. It might be getting people on your list or tracking your engagement percentage or seeing how long someone is following your posts. There are a variety of things you could be tracking, but you should be tracking something that has a number attached to it. That way you can say, “Okay, six months from now, did the number get bigger or smaller?” And if the number got smaller, that might mean we need to tweak some things. If the number got bigger, then we might say, “Hey, we’re moving in the right direction!” Ann Kroeker (12:39): So now let’s think about the idea of systems—and I’m that talking about your simple systems approach. You talked about social media as a time suck, but once you figure out what’s working, is there a system that simplifies it or are there other areas that we should look at our lives to determine this is a great place to incorporate a system? Kari Roberts (13:06): I have a course called “Simple System Set-Up,” and I believe that we do have systems around pretty much everything. And my argument to that is I bet when you go to the grocery store, you probably drive the same car. You probably drive the same way. You probably park in the same general section of the parking lot. You probably go in…for me, I know I always go to the right. I go to the deli, I go to the bakery and then I swing back around to all the grocery aisles. I get the dairy and the cold products. And then I head out. So I kind of do a circle. I bet you have some sort of way. And so my personal definition of a system is something that you do that has a routine that you do repetitively. Kari Roberts (13:58): And those are systems that we have. Or you might be side hustling and you have a nine to five, I bet you have a way that you go to work. And I bet you, if your car needs gas, you probably have a certain gas station that you prefer to frequent. You know? And so with business, or if you’re working on a new project and you’re at the beginning stages of business, there’s so much going on that we can spend a lot of time—and I’m speaking from experience—we spend so much time trying to do everything. We forget the beauty or the power of having a system behind it. So I personally think that you can systematize almost everything. And in my Simple Systems Set Up course, we talk about a framework called the WHAM framework. The first step is figuring out Where you can have a system. Kari Roberts (14:46): And then we go through a process to figure out How you narrow down to choose which one it is. And then the third step is we write down the Actions. And then we Measure it. So that’s the four-piece way to create a system. And it doesn’t have to be fancy. Like I said, it could be on a piece of paper, you could jazz it up and put it in Asana or Trello or whatever, but it’s not the tool that makes the system work for you. It’s having that system in place. And without getting too far into it, just keeping it more general, I usually say that whatever you’re spending or wasting the most amount of time on is probably where you should go to systematize first. Because when you get that chunk of time back, that’s going to have the most impact on you. Ann Kroeker (15:34): What a great way to filter. You said so many things. You said you have a great claim: You can systemize almost anything. And we have these routines, and that anything that we’re on a routine—in a repetitive way—that would be an easy thing to look at and figure out how to systematize it in a smarter way using your WHAM method. I love that, by the way. Nice acronym. Kari Roberts: Thank you. Ann Kroeker: But so much going on in our business that it’s easy to just get overwhelmed and be like: Where do I focus? What do I do next? I think overwhelm is a big word. I hear among all kinds of people, but the writers I work with, they’re overwhelmed. They’re exhausted. They don’t know where to focus. Kari Roberts (16:24): Yeah. And so it’s like a horse. I like analogies. You know the horse, when he’s in training or racing, they put the blinders on, right, so he can’t see what’s going on to the left or the right. He’s just focused on his lane. And so I think that’s what we should do as entrepreneurs. And it’s hard because we get influenced from so many places—especially if you’re like you and I, and you enjoy consuming content and reading books and listening to podcasts, then we’re getting inundated with so many thoughts. And sometimes it’s hard to remove what we need, versus what we’re being told. And so I think: Put those blinders on and focus on what works for you. So I used the example of systematizing social media, but what you might really need is to create a system—to create some quiet space—to write your book, right? Kari Roberts (17:20): So everybody’s need is going to be different, but once you figure out what the need is, then you’ve got to kind of put those blinders on and say, “Yes, she’s got a great point about Facebook. And she’s doing amazing things over here on Clubhouse, but what I need to work on is here.” And that’s how you really can manage that overwhelm. It’s not really allowing yourself—it’s way easier said than done, but—it’s not allowing yourself to be swayed. Like that horse. The horse is in his lane. You might check that out: “Oh, that’s really interesting…I like that point.” But you don’t let that veer you off from your course. You still stay in your lane. Ann Kroeker (17:59): That’s a really good analogy. I can totally picture it, because I think that does combat the shiny object syndrome, where, “Oh, that looks so tempting, but … hey, what I’ve got is working, so I’m going to stick with what I’m doing.” You touched on something really early on in our conversation that I’d like to ask about. You said some of these systems might not be directly related to our obvious business-y task. For our writers, it might be the writing and the platform-building, or if they’re working on a book proposal or something like that, there might be other things they might look at and see if there’s a way to systemize it. Can you tell me more about that? Are you thinking domestic tasks? Stuff at home? Kari Roberts (18:39): For me personally, because I was side hustling for many years, a big thing that I had to kind of systematize, if you will, was that as an employee I would get to work three to four to five minutes late, but I knew I was going to stay five or 10 minutes late on the back end. And I just figured it all kind of come out in the wash. But when I really started growing my side business, those five to 10 mattered. I live in Metro Atlanta. So those five to 10 minutes of working late might take 20 extra minutes to get home because of traffic, which didn’t matter that much then, but when I was spending time after work on my business, that 20 or 30 minutes, day after day, added up. Kari Roberts (19:23): So one of the things I had to really be good about was: How do I get my behind out the door on time so that I can get to work and leave on time so that I can get home on time so I can have that space to work on my business? So there was no change in my business or how it was operating in my business, but it was like the rest of my life. I had to make some adjustments so that I can make time for the business. Ann Kroeker (19:51): Right. And you mentioned that it’s not about the gadget, the platform. It’s not necessarily the platform that makes things simple. It’s about a holistic approach to looking at the whole of your life and saying, “Wow, wait a minute. I need those 20 minutes. I’m going to rearrange my life.” It’s that grocery store analogy. “What am I doing in a system that’s not working very well?” So I think that’s what I’m processing right now: it’s the fact that I might have a system that’s a really bad system that’s just not serving me. Is that what you’re saying? Kari Roberts (20:27): Exactly. Yep. And then it’s like, “How can we tweak that so that it does work for you” And something else that’s one of my core values that I don’t want to miss out on saying is: integrity. We have to have integrity, especially if you’re a side hustler or you’re just starting out with your writing and it’s alongside a full-time responsibility. It might be raising children. It might be working. It might be anything, and we have to have integrity. Once you see those pockets of time that you can take to work on your book or you find those tasks that could be done, and you’re saying, “Okay, Tuesday at 7:00 PM, I’m going to get it done,” you have to have integrity with that. You have to have integrity with the boundaries that you set forth. Because if you don’t follow through on your boundaries, then you’re right back where you started and then you’re still going to be overwhelmed because now you didn’t get the thing done—but now you feel guilty because you didn’t follow through. You didn’t make good on your promise to yourself. Ann Kroeker (21:30): You say don’t waste time. You open up the 20 minutes and then you waste the 20 minutes. Kari Roberts (21:34): Yeah. And that’s why I do use the social media as an example, because as I am so guilty of scrolling on Instagram, so it’s like, “Oh, I’m going to go on Instagram for 20 minutes, for fun.” And it’s 45 minutes later, when I’ve got to finish a proposal for a client, but then I really needed to start cooking dinner, too. Ann Kroeker (21:52): That is a friendly warning to use what you open up. Use the systems to serve in an efficient way so that you actually move toward your goals. So when it comes to writing, can you think of a hypothetical situation where a writer—and you do a fair amount of at least content creation, but maybe you don’t think of yourself as a writer…you’re probably writing all the time. But imagine yourself in the shoes of a writer who, let’s say, they are working on a major project. We’ll just say it’s a book, although a listener might be listening and think, “I don’t write books!” But let’s just say they are working on a book or they had to put together a book proposal. Meanwhile, they do want to do fun things with their writing, too, Ann Kroeker (22:39): and use social media. Where do they apply all your principles that you just explained? Where do they look to start saying, “Okay, I’ve got the metrics. I got the information. It looks like I’m seeing conversions here.” Maybe they need to look at their schedule to see something there that can help them. They have to make that decision you were saying: they’re deciding what to spend the time on and where to find the time? Tell me a little bit more about that. How do they untangle it all? Kari Roberts (23:19): The project is the book, right? Ann Kroeker: Right. Kari Roberts: The example is the book and they’ve got to get this proposal done. I’ve never written a book. I read, but I’ve never written a book. So what I would say is … you probably have a deadline, right? Ann Kroeker: Usually, yes. Kari Roberts: So you have a deadline. And so we know we need to get this much done. And books are according to words, like 10,000 words, 20,000 words, right? So we need to get 10,000 words done in six months. Does that sound realistic? Ann Kroeker: Let’s go with that. Kari Roberts: Let’s go with that. Okay. Let’s say 12,000 words in six months. Because that’s easier math. That’s roughly 2000 words a month. So I don’t know how many chapters that will be. Let’s stick with words. So that’s 2000 words a month and let’s say, you know, when you sit down, you can bang out 500 words at a time. Kari Roberts (24:16): So that will be six sessions of 500 words per month. Yeah. For six months to get you to the 12,000 words by the deadline. So you need six pockets of time in a month period to get those in each time you’re doing 500 words, then you might not be able to do the fun stuff while you’re doing that, right? Depending on what your other obligations are. Are you working full-time? Are you raising children? Are you taking care of a loved one? Do you have ADD and you don’t want to overwhelm yourself? There are so many variables. But if we say the goal is this project, and it’s 12,000 words, then that’s what we have to make as the priority. Right? So that’s what I would say: Find those six pockets where you can write the 500 words. Kari Roberts (25:17): Put that on your calendar first. Honestly, I would say put that on your calendar first and then prioritize family second, if you have a family. Because you want your loved ones to still love you, even when you’re working through this process. And then the fun stuff is just going to have to be … like, you may not actually be able to schedule that, but the fun stuff isn’t going to move you towards your goal of writing the book. But writing the book will. Does that help? Ann Kroeker (25:46): It’s so good! You said so many excellent things. Some of it was practical: You’ve got a deadline, you’ve got to meet the deadline, break it down into chunks, schedule the chunks. It’s super practical. But you slipped in there that little sweet realization that your loved ones, if you are in a family situation, you got to somehow work together. They need to provide that support for you, too. And so there needs to be communication there and you need to have fun. There’s so much good in that. That’s what I’m seeing is that part of these systems may be about time management or time blocking and you have a gift for our readers that they can sign up for … right? Kari Roberts (26:28): I have my time-blocking template. The original version was only for side hustlers. And I had a template for if you worked in the evenings, a template for if you worked on the weekend, and a template that was “create your own,” or “choose your own adventure.” And there was time for things like, if you go to church, if you exercise, family time, work and business. But as I work with more entrepreneurs that are more part-time or full-time, I just felt like that time blocking template wasn’t serving everybody. So what I did is I revamped it and I actually have a little bit more information to explain what is time-blocking and how you can use it in your life. And then there are three different templates. One is if you work about 24 hours a week in your business, 32 hours a week in your business, or 40 hours a week in your business. Kari Roberts (27:22): And that one is only for business and that prioritizes according to administrative tasks, growth tasks, client work. And then I still make sure we have time for exercise and then time to eat lunch, because sometimes people are home all day and they forget to eat. If you wanted the original version for side hustlers, it’s embedded in the newer version. They can just sign up for the one and have access to both, but I try to make it as flexible as possible. And I like to do time blocking in one- to three-hour blocks. I don’t believe that you should block a whole day or a whole afternoon. In my personal life, I operate in one-hour blocks. That’s how I get stuff done. Like, after we do this interview, I know I’m going to be able to veg out for 20 or 30 minutes before my next task. That’s what works for me. And so I encourage your readers and listeners to have a little bit of self-awareness. Have an idea of what works for you. Then give yourself the freedom and the permission to know whatever you get from me, it can be adjusted. If you really like to work in four-hour blocks, you can take the same concepts and adjust it. But at the same time, if you’d like to work in 30-minute increments, you can do the same thing as well. Ann Kroeker (28:38): What I really love about this whole approach to time blocking and time—I don’t know if you’d call it management. Maybe management is the wrong term. I’m not sure, but—I love how you’ve you’re acknowledging the fact that our lives are mingled with our work. We’re whole people that need to address and not neglect certain things while we’re moving toward goals. And I also love your sense of limits. Writing or working within a chunk of time deserves a break before you re-engage with whatever the next thing is, whether it’s more of the same or a different task. I’ve found the same thing, Kari. I do a lot of content review in my coaching work, and when I’m spending time with something, especially a bigger project, I have found that I naturally can’t go much more than an hour without looking up at the very least or better yet, getting up and walking around. It actually helps refresh my brain. And even if I go straight back into that same project, my brain is refreshed or reoriented, and I’ve physically moved around a little bit and then I can come back to it. Kari Roberts (29:45): Know what? I want to share something about that. It’s so interesting. And I’m going to go off on a tangent for a little bit, but I think a lot of the pressure we put on ourselves as home-based entrepreneurs, whether you’re full-time or not, is this whole concept of working eight hours. I mean, after you take out sleeping and eating, eight hours is a pretty significant chunk of our day. And research has shown on the corporate side that an employee—a good employee that works eight hours a day—is only doing about four hours of billable time. Because you take out the snack breaks, you take out chatting at the water cooler, you take out the extended lunch. You take out, “I need a break. I’m going to go walk the hallway.” I used to work at a hospital and so people would walk outside, you know, something happens and I need to get a breath of fresh air. Kari Roberts (30:37): And then just the chatter between coworkers. And when you add all of that up and minus the lunch break, you add all of that up, and they say they’re really only working about four hours out of the day billable time. So I think that those of us that are working at home, we have made ourselves think that you’ve got to work for eight hours or six hours straight. But if you were at the office, you would have probably naturally have taken that hour break. Right? You would have felt the need to stretch. It’s like, “Oh, let me go to the bathroom.” “Oh, let me check my phone. It’s in my locker.” You know, we find little things at work to busy ourselves. But in retrospect, I’m thinking—now I have no way to research it or back it up. But I’m thinking—that’s like our mental capacity of telling us, “Hey, I need a break.” We need it, because we can’t just work. It’s so hard to work for hours on end. Ann Kroeker (31:37): In writing circles, we talk about flow. We talk about “deep work.” What’s the guy’s name. Is it … I can’t think of his last name, Cal [Newport]. He talks about deep work and how to do that kind of important, creative work that has depth to it … and it does require a focus and time. Do you think these things can go together? I just talked about naturally looking up after an hour—an hour has gone by and my brain told me I needed a break. Am I still able to engage with deep work? This is a big question among writers. I would love to hear you address that. Kari Roberts (32:21): I’m going to kind of mesh a couple of things together, and this not my zone of genius, but when you’re in flow, you are extremely efficient and you’re working off your natural skills and you can do it for a long period of time because the work is actually replenishing your mental capacity. So if we went off of that, I’ll go ahead and mesh that with zone of genius versus zone of excellence. If you’re really in your zone of genius, I bet you could get in that flow and be in it for awhile, because when you’re technically in your flow, it’s not tiring you out. But so many of us are in our zone of excellence and working in your zone of excellence is mentally fatiguing because the zone of genius is all your natural skills. You don’t really have to work hard at it, but you’re really good at it. Whereas the zone of genius is something that you’ve put a lot of time and effort in. And so you become really good at it, but it’s something that has been a result of a lot of work. Ann Kroeker (33:33): Okay, let me get this straight. The zone of genius is flowing out of my natural abilities and tendencies. Just the way I’m made. The zone of excellence is something I’ve gotten very good at, but with a lot of training effort and skill building. And what I’m hearing you say is if I’m in my zone of genius, I can probably work longer and easier because it’s efficient—it just flows. And in the zone of excellence, I might be having to hammer pretty hard to get things out. Is that it? Kari Roberts (33:59): Yes. And I came across the study from Forbes—I actually did a podcast episode on this a few weeks back. Forbes was saying the majority of adults work their life around zone of excellence as opposed to zone of genius. Ann Kroeker (34:15): I think this will be interesting for us to say, “How much of what I do as a writer flows out of who I am, and how much of my work is flowing out of the things I’ve learned and developed?” Does that mean we shouldn’t do the things in our zone of excellence? Kari Roberts (34:30): No, it just means you have to just make accommodations. You need to build in those rest breaks. And I think about some writers that I love and to me, it feels like they take forever to write their next book, right? So maybe that’s why it takes so long to write, because it’s tapping into your emotional side, it’s tapping into your psyche, it’s tapping into your creativity, which does sound to be very taxing. So you might need more rest breaks to get it done. I don’t think it fair to say, “Oh, you could just whip this up in three weeks.” Give yourself the time that’s needed. But no, there’s nothing wrong with working in your zone of excellence at all. I’m a trained physical therapist. I’ve been a therapist for 17 years, but I’m curious if being a therapist is my zone of excellence. And then my strategy is what’s really my zone of genius. They go together, because so much of what I learned about time management and prioritization and stuff that we talked about really came from me working in the clinic as an orthopedic therapist. So it’s not saying one is without the other, but I find talking about systems and helping people with their systems is so much easier than it is for when I was learning how to be a physical therapist. Ann Kroeker (35:58):Fascinating. It causes you to self-reflect and then make accommodations. Maybe make a bigger chunk of time for me to have focused time — break — focused time … versus the person who is in their zone of genius. If I get there, I can probably sustain it for a little bit longer. So then we can kind of accordion-style organize our day, using your tool to help us start to think it through. Kari Roberts (36:25): And something else I wanted to add. Because I have multiple clients that I serve … right now, I’m working as an online business manager. There are certain tasks as an online business manager that I really enjoy. That’s super easy. Then there’s other things, they’re a little harder. So I try to sandwich them. So it’s easy tasks for this client and I might be working four or five hours straight, but I’m like, “This is going to take me 30 minutes for her. Ooh, this is going to take me an hour for him.” Then I’m going to come back over to her, do something that’s easy for 45 minutes and I’m going swing around to do something really hard for 20 minutes. So even within that realm, I’m sure writing is a different skillset than editing and proofing. All of those things are different skillsets and they’re all under the umbrella of writing, but one might be easier. One might feel more enjoyable than the other. So I would say: do a push and a pull instead of just forcing yourself to sit there for four or five hours. Go ahead and build in some breaks with some fun stuff if a task is not so great. Ann Kroeker (37:34): Yeah, that toggling between the harder thing or the thing that’s kind of an energy drain or needs a different kind of brain … yeah. You know us as writers, and you’re absolutely right. The editing brain is a completely different brain. It taps into a different part of us than the creativity of the creator brain that’s needed to actually get the words out and get the ideas down. I don’t want to put you on the spot, but when it comes to low-hanging fruit, if you will—the very first thing to look at—do you have a tip for a writer? You’ve given us a whole plan for how to analyze, but is there any low-hanging fruit we can just take a look at that? Kari Roberts (38:20): I would say: remember why you’re doing it, and keep that in front of you. I think it was Simon Sinek who says, “It starts with why.” Just remember your “why.” Are you doing this work as a creative outlet and you want it to be enjoyable? Then how you move with this project might be different. Are you doing this because you’re really trying to make a lot of money and be a New York Times bestseller? You might move a little different. So remember why you’re working on this project in the first place, and then let that why guide all of those other decisions that we already talked about. Ann Kroeker (39:08): Love it. I love it. Kari , how can people get to know you better? And I’m going to put all these things in the show notes too, but when it’s just tell us, in case they’re just driving down the road, they’re ready to go get to. Kari Roberts (39:20): Sure. First my name is not spelled typical way. It’s K A R I. Instagram is where I hang out, so that’s where I built my company. I’m instagram.com/kari.and.company. My company, and my website is going to be kariandcompany.com. Ann Kroeker (39:40): Okay, excellent. And we can get your freebie. Is it free? The time management… Kari Roberts (39:48): The time-blocking template is free. All versions are free. And then there is a tripwire attached to it, which is my time management guide, which a lot of tips that I talked about here are in the guide. And so that is, you can get it for the first 15 minutes. You can purchase it for $9, but you just register for one and it’ll take you to the landing page for the other. Ann Kroeker (40:08): You’ve given us such an incredible taste of what it would be like to work with Kari Roberts and Company…Kari-and-Company … and they can now dive in and get to know you a little bit better. Thank you for your time. Thank you for investing in writers today. Kari Roberts (40:22): Oh, thank you! Thank you so much for having me. I hope some of them reach out to me. I’d love to keep the conversation going. Ann Kroeker (40:26): Now that you’re probably thinking about your zone of excellence versus your zone of genius. And you’re trying to figure out how to create the kind of space in your days to make time for writing. Let me know what kind of action point you’re going to take. How are things going to change as a result of hearing Kari’s great advice? I’d love to hear from you. This episode is brought to you by “Perfecting Your Pitch,” a training led by literary agent and author Cynthia Ruchti. “Perfecting Your Pitch” is for authors preparing to meet one-on-one with agents or editors so they can enter those sessions with confidence and explain their project with clarity. This $27 masterclass will be held live via Zoom on Thursday, July 8th, 7:00 PM Central / 8:00 PM Eastern, with a replay available. You can also purchase this after the training and watch it on demand. Learn more at annkroeker.com/perfectingyourpitch. I’m Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach. Thank you for listening. Disclaimer: This transcript was created with AI technology and lightly proofread; please forgive errors you may find and feel free to let Ann know so she can fix them. Click to enroll and attend this masterclass for $27 (includes on-demand replay)
42 minutes | Jun 8, 2021
Decoding Greatness: Discover the Fast Track to Writing Success
What if the stories we’ve been told about success are wrong? What if you could unlock secrets that shave years off your writing journey? In this interview, Ron Friedman demystifies the writing process and introduces a surprising path—a fast track, if you will. He says “it is the path by which so many writers and artists and inventors and entrepreneurs have succeeded.” What’s the path? Reverse engineering. https://youtu.be/agCtQaSQfXw To reverse engineer, we start with extraordinary projects and work backward to figure out how those writers pulled it off. “By comparing the ordinary against the extraordinary,” Ron says, “we can’t help but identify the elements that make extraordinary work succeed, and thereby improve our skills.” With this book Decoding Greatness (June 2021), Ron hopes to offer “tools to not just execute at a higher level, but to embrace some of those dreams they’ve abandoned from their youth.” Listen to our conversation for practical insights you can apply right away. When you hear and implement his ideas, your approach to writing will never be the same. You will, after all, learn the secret—the fast track—to writing success! Resources Decoding Greatness website Ron Friedman, PhD’s website Decoding Greatness on Amazon (affiliate link) Decoding Greatness on BookShop (affiliate link) Learn from the Best: Copywork for Grownups Learn from the Best: Imitate but Don’t Plagiarize Grow as a Writer: Surround Yourself with Excellence When You’re Not the Writer Your Want to Be ______________________________ Ready to write a book, but you can’t quite articulate your idea? Join the FREE 3-day challenge: Craft Your Book’s Big Idea, and you’ll finally put words to the idea you long to write. In just three days, you’ll nail your book’s big idea (and generate a working title)! Sign up and finally move forward with the message that’s in you…just waiting to come out! Sign up today!
11 minutes | May 25, 2021
Do you view your writing life as a profession?
I watched the professor of my advanced poetry class open the lid of a metal box crammed with 3×5 cards. He wiggled out one of the worn cards covered with notes and held it up. On this card was the title of one of his poems along with the date of the latest version. Below that he had written names of literary magazines where he’d submitted that poem, followed by their response. “One poem per card,” he said. He showed us how he tucked the card behind the month when he was supposed to hear back—a simple system to follow up with every submission. He passed one of the cards around the room. I held it in my hand and studied the notes he’d scrawled on the front and back. The Box There was no magic to his system. It was not fancy or expensive. Yet, he was a respected, prolific poet on campus for a semester, showing us how it’s done. When the last student finished looking at the sample card and handed it back to him, he slid it back in its spot. I stared at that box. I was in an advanced poetry class because I’d already had The Moment; that is, I’d already begun to think of myself as a writer. The day of the box was different. After class, I walked straight to the bookstore and bought a pack of 3×5 cards and a maroon plastic box with a hinged lid. Then I headed to my room where I started logging each of my poems on those cards: one card per poem. The Shift While I’d had The Moment, this was different. I walked into that bookstore because I’d experienced “The Shift.” What’s “The Shift”? It’s when I shifted from viewing the work as an assignment or hobby to something deeper, more serious. It’s when I committed. Like that poet with his metal box packed with poems, I too was committing to the craft and to a lifetime of word-work. It would still be several years before I made any money as a writer, but I saw myself differently. I was a working poet. And because of this shift and the resulting commitment, I organized myself—however simply and humbly—with the intention of writing and submitting my work to publications. Looking back, that plastic box seems like so much more than a storage container. It held my intentions, my resolution. I don’t know what it’s like for other writers, but for me, the day I bought that little box was the day my life tilted in a new direction. The Practice The professor gave us vision. We got a glimpse of who or what we could become. He nudged us to take a step forward. And it worked. I was ready to send my work. I was ready to ship. One card per poem. One piece at a time. I had to write the poem, record it, track it, and ship it. Seth Godin recently released The Practice: Shipping Creative Work. On the first pages, he explains why he chose those three words in the subtitle. The first word, “shipping,” he says, is “because it doesn’t count if you don’t share it.”1 He included “creative”: “because you’re not a cog in the system…you’re a creator.”2 And he added work “because it’s not a hobby. You might not get paid for it, not today, but you approach it as a professional…and the work is why you are here.”3 The Shift led to The Practice. The Shift was my realization that the work was why I was here, a writer. The Practice was how I would fill that box. Compelled to action, I stepped out and followed through to get in the game and take the hits. I began the practice of writing, recording, tracking, and shipping the work. The Pro Over time, I saw new possibilities. Next thing you know, I was, in the words of Steven Pressfield, “turning pro.”4 Because The Practice makes The Pro. Jason Pinter, interviewed for the podcast How Writers Write, says: “If you’re really going to be serious about writing and you want to either make a career out of it, make a living out of it, or even just make a little bit of money out of it in any sort of way, you do have to treat it like a profession.”5 At various points in their lives, most writers move through this path: first, embracing that initial Identity of a writer; then, becoming a committed writer. Finally, they become a pro. They begin to treat their work like they’re a small business owner, and business owners have to understand their industry if they hope to succeed. Whether you’re going into freelance writing, submitting to literary magazines, or pursuing traditional publishing, you need to understand how the publishing industry works as a whole. You’ll also want to dive into how each of those specific writing industries operates. “Learn the industry,” Pinter says, “because it’s not all about the writing.”6 My initial training was in a university creative writing program of an English department. Aside from the poet’s box of poems, I was never taught anything about the business side of writing or writing as a profession. After I graduated and headed into the world, I decided to pursue freelance writing and corporate writing. Later, stepping into the world of traditional publishing, I learned Pinter’s advice: it’s not all about the writing when you’re The Pro. First Steps The interviewer asked Pinter his top advice for writers. His response: “Learn the industry and hone your craft…because those are both hand-in-hand.” That is to say, “[I]t’s not just writing a book…it’s ‘How is your book going to bring in readers?’ And that’s the intersection between creativity and commerce.”7 Commerce! That’s what most writers exclaim. That’s like writing to market. That’s how you lose the art of your craft. But when we treat our writing like a profession, we’ll want to be the best writers we can be. So it can be both! We can improve our art while we build the business aspects of the writing life. Slow Pro Thinking and acting like a professional doesn’t mean you abruptly quit your full-time job, though. It doesn’t mean you need to rent office space and buy a new laptop. Incremental These professional, business-minded decisions can be incremental. As needed. Writing can be a lean profession that grows slowly over time, step by step, card by card. Don’t Start from Scratch Jason Pinter urged listeners to learn the industry, but you don’t have to start from scratch reading every article ever published all on your own. Others who know the industry can accelerate your path to publishing. Learning the industry is easier than ever. You can: Research articles Attend a writing conference Hire a coach Join a writing community Hope*writers, for example, is a writing community that helps “writers make progress while balancing the art of writing with the business of publishing.”8 They help writers identify what stage they’re in and offer suggestions for how to flourish at that stage. They also show you how to level up to the next stage when the time is right. Fill Your Box Whether you follow their map or not, you need to identify where you are and learn how to build a writing profession. Think like an entrepreneur launching a business. You’ll continue to grow as a writer. You’ll continue to improve your core competency—the word-work and the love of literature that got you into this in the first place. That doesn’t have to fade. That doesn’t have to be sacrificed. But that growth that can happen when you commit to this business aspect, this profession—it can happen quickly for some writers and it can take years for others. In a recent summit presentation, business advisor Kari Roberts pointed out that there’s a phrase used in the running world that can apply to writers or to anyone starting a new thing: “Your race, your pace.”9 This is your race, friend. Don’t try to run it at another writer’s pace. Your Pace After my big purchase all those years ago, I dropped my backpack in my room and started to sort papers. I copied out every poem’s title onto a card all its own. After one last search to ensure I’d documented every poem, my box was still pretty empty. I thought of the professor’s box packed so full he had to wiggle the cards in to squeeze them into their slots. But I didn’t feel bad. I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be. My plastic box had plenty of space to fit in years of poems. I was at the beginning of my journey. One day, if I continued to write—to take my work seriously—I knew my box would be full, too. The box doesn’t start full. I’d have to write—and send—poems. And I have to do that at my own pace. My race, my pace. The day I felt The Shift—the day I turned pro—was the day I bought that box and started to drop cards into it, one poem per card. That’s how it’s done. Resources The Practice: Shipping Creative Work, by Seth Godin (affiliate link to Amazon listing) How Writers Write podcast hope*writers (affiliate link; at no additional cost to you, if you join I receive a commission as a thank you for sending you their way) Kari Roberts (Instagram: Kari and Company) My Writing Life Beginnings (“The Moment”): Part 1 and Part 2 Footnotes Godin, Seth. The Practice: Shipping Creative Work. PORTFOLIO, 2020. Ibid. Ibid. “Turning Pro: Steven Pressfield.” Steven Pressfield | Website of Author and Historian, Steven Pressfield., 6 May 2020, stevenpressfield.com/books/turning-pro/. Moran, Victoria. “Episode 62 – How Jason Pinter Writes.” How Writers Write, 20 Jan. 2021, www.howwriterswrite.com/episode-62-how-jason-pinter-writes/. Brian Murphy is the host. Ibid. Ibid. Hope*Writers, hopewriters.com/. Roberts, Kari. “How To Launch Your Digital Product With Limited Time,” Thursday, May 20th, 9am EDT, Rebel Boss Summit, rebelbosses.com/.
6 minutes | May 9, 2021
It’s fun to write with others!
About seven years ago, I partnered with Charity Singleton Craig to co-author On Being a Writer. While working on the draft, we often pulled up one of our shared Google Docs to review our drafts and notes in real time. In this way, we wove together our stories and experiences with relative ease. If we had a grade school report card at the end of the project, the teacher would have checked off “Plays nice with others.” Writing is most often a solitary act. But sometimes we get an opportunity to write with others. These occasions may involve brief connections or extended collaboration. Quite often, they’re just plain fun. The Energy of the Inklings Have you heard of the Inklings? They met weekly for beer and conversation, according to Diane Glyer in an article at the official C. S. Lewis website. While they didn’t officially collaborate, like Charity and I did on our book, their discussions affected the shape and direction of countless projects. Glyer writes in “C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Inklings” that the men would gather, make tea, and begin pulling out drafts of their work. As one person read, “the others would settle down to listen, to encourage, to critique, to correct, to interrupt and argue and advise. They’d continue this way, reading aloud, energetically critiquing, until two or three in the morning.1 Years ago I craved that kind of creative community. I even considered moving to a college town, thinking I’d be more likely to find a gathering like the Inklings there. Find Your Creative Community The good news is that it’s easier than ever to find like-minded writers without moving to live near a university. These days, I know writers who meet at cafes (or they did before 2020, and they’ll start up again soon, I’m sure) to discuss technique or simply to write on separate projects in the same space. Some chai, a chat, then back to the works in progress. Writers who contribute to anthologies feel part of a project-driven community. Writing retreats are a fun way to power through personal goals with a posse of fellow writers. Churn out a few thousand words, then relax with others who appreciate your creative challenges. Then there are in-person and online communities that write together, like: silent or guided writing sessions via Zoom (in guided sessions, a moderator might offer writing prompts) silent or guided writing rooms on Clubhouse (these exist!) social media writing challenges that use a shared prompt or hashtag Look for existing writing groups where you can jump into a writing challenge and meet new people, broadening your network as you make new friends. Form Your Own Community But don’t forget you can create your own little gathering. Do you know another writer? Someone with similar goals? Ask if they’d be a writing buddy. The two of you can text each other each day when you complete your daily word count goal. Treat it like a short-term experiment at first, to test the waters. You never know? Perhaps you’ll find another word nerd who sends you grammar memes and Hemingway quotes. Generate Our Own Creative Energy Diane Glyer said the Inklings “generated enormous creative energy.”2 I love the sound of that, don’t you? We may not find a group as vibrant, educated, or British as the Inklings, but we can form our own gathering. We can generate our own creative energy. Or we can join an existing community that exudes its own personality and flavor. We may forge lifelong friendships like those men who authored great literary works; but more likely, we’ll enjoy something simpler. We’ll laugh. We’ll have fun. We’ll play nice with others. And that’s a good place to start, isn’t it? Links & Resources See if something below is exactly what you need for your creative journey: Join the hope*writers 7-day Instagram writing challenge (they run this periodically; the next one starts Monday, May 10, 2021): click to learn more about the challenge (and find out the 7 prompts) Hosted by Kate Motaung, Five-Minute Friday is “an online Christian writing community that encourages and equips Christian writers.” You can visit its home base here and its linkup here, where you can read samples of what others write in response to the weekly prompts. Tweetspeak Poetry periodically offers reading clubs and writing challenges, but you can interact with other literary types in the comments section of their articles. Join us in Your Platform Matters, the membership community I host, where we provide encouragement, training, and support for writers seeking the reach and retain ideal readers. Why Every Writer Needs a Buddy Footnotes Glyer, Diane. “C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Inklings – Official Site.” Official Site | CSLewis.com, 16 Apr. 2009, www.cslewis.com/c-s-lewis-j-r-r-tolkien-and-the-inklings/. Ibid.
50 minutes | Mar 29, 2021
Develop a Daily Writing Practice to Find Your Voice: Interview with Allison Fallon
I listened to Allison Fallon’s The Power of Writing It Down while jogging through my neighborhood. Those weren’t my best runs, because I kept pulling out my phone to thumb-type a great quote before picking up the pace again. And yet they were fantastic runs, because Allison’s words inspired me to re-establish a daily journaling practice. On that first outing—with her voice in my ears—I listened through the first chapters and returned refreshed and motivated. Allison’s invitation to “unlock your brain and reimagine your life” spurred me to set a timer and launch the first 20-minute personal writing session I’d attempted in a long time. I continued the practice the following days and discovered I was indeed “getting limbic,” as Allison calls it—I was slipping past the nagging to-do list items and scheduled tasks to explore feelings, memories, and struggles. Nothing dramatic transpired (yet), but I’ve found myself diving deeper and opening up on the page, in private, before the day presses in. I’m not new to this practice, but I’d fallen out of the habit. I’m so grateful for Allison’s convincing call to return to it and reap the benefits. In this interview, Allison mentions Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, which reminded me of Writing Down the Bones and Natalie Goldberg’s explanation of freewriting as a way to get to our “first thoughts.” Allison makes a strong case for why and how a private writing practice like that feeds directly into our professional writing, whether through ideas or memories we unearth that can be woven into our work in progress, or through shifts in perspective that add depth and insight to our piece. Will you join me in revisiting this simple but fruitful activity that can enliven and inform your writing pursuits and projects? I predict you’ll begin to see how a daily writing practice will truly unlock your creativity. And please enjoy my discussion with Allison Fallon. Allison is an award-winning author, sought-after public speaker, and nationally recognized writing coach. She has worked with thousands of people to realize their writing potential and become published authors. She’s host of the podcast Find Your Voice, an excellent resource for writers, and author of The Power of Writing It Down: A Simple Habit to Unlock Your Brain and Reimagine Your Life. https://youtu.be/A_qGKJDhUAk Interview Excerpts On Allison’s writing practice: My daily writing practice happens for 30 minutes every morning, and it’s me just sitting down and dumping out my first thoughts of the day. The great thing about this is it’s a beautiful practice for absolutely anyone whether or not you want to be a published author. It can bring so much value and goodness into your life, regardless of what other kind of writing you do. On mimicry as a way to learn writing: There’s something about being able to copy an author that we really admire, appreciate, and adore that helps us get into the groove of finding our own way to say it. On the right to tell your own truth in your own voice: Don’t I have the right to share my own unique experience of what it was like to live in that household? Don’t I have that right as much as he has that right? That’s what it means to find your voice. It’s to be able to stand on both feet, to say, “This is how it was for me.” And even if it was different for you, that doesn’t change the fact that this is what was true for me. On how our brain’s “catalog” stories and we reinforce those stories through repetition: If you have a detail in your life that seems to repeat itself, it’s a hint for you that there’s a story there that you’ve told yourself and it’s been cataloged. And that limbic part of your brain is driving the ship in ways. It’s not that it’s your fault. It’s just you’re helping co-create that reality over and over again. On falling in love with writing instead of pursuing platform: If I could only give one piece of advice, don’t grow your Instagram platform. Go fall in love with the act of writing. Don’t go chase down some big magazine that will publish your work. Go fall in love with the idea of writing stories and I dare you to do that for very long without finding an audience that’s really into what you’re doing. Resources The Power of Writing It Down, by Allison Fallon (link takes you to her website where you can download a free chapter); purchase a copy at your local bookstore or use Bookshop, which supports local bookstores (Bookshop affiliate link for hardback) Find Your Voice: Allison’s coaching business Find Your Voice, the podcast (we refer specifically to the episode titled “Why is writing so hard for me: The Power of Writing It Down, Part 1” with Science Mike, who says our brains are “narrative machines”) Allison on Instagram @allyfallon The Book Idea Primer: Allison is offering my audience a copy of The Book Idea Primer ($199 value, and more info about it HERE), a 5-part workbook that can help a writer hone in on their book idea, choose their best book idea if they have several, and clarify what they’re going to write about before trying to launch into the book-writing process. Reach out to Ashley (ashley AT findyourvoice DOT com) and she will send you a copy when you mention you heard about it from the podcast. Rewrite Your Life by Jennifer Lourey, which Allison mentioned: Bookshop affiliate link, Amazon paperback affiliate link, or Kindle affiliate link Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” explained HERE. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (Bookshop affiliate link for paperback edition) Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones (Bookshop affiliate link for paperback edition) Erik Fisher’s interview with Allison on Beyond the To-Do List, “Allison Fallon on the Power of Writing for Clarity, Confidence and Purpose“ ANN KROEKER, WRITING COACH EPISODE 235 Develop a Daily Writing Habit to Find Your Voice: Interview with Allison Fallon Ann Kroeker (00:03): You’re listening to the Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach podcast, where I’m sharing my best tips and training, skills, and strategies, to coach writers to improve their craft, pursue publishing, and achieve their writing goals. If you are a writer struggling with writer’s block, or you’re trying to find your voice, today’s interview is for you. Today we’re going to hear more about what’s going on inside your brain—and how to unlock it. Today’s guest is Allison Fallon. Allison is an award-winner author, sought-after public speaker, and nationally recognized writing coach. She’s worked with thousands of people to realize their writing potential and become published authors. Allison is the author of The Power of Writing It Down: A Simple Habit to Unlock Your Brain and Reimagine Your Life. Welcome, Allison. Allison Fallon (00:52): Thanks for having me. Ann Kroeker (00:54): Well, I cannot wait to get into your book to get into your deep understanding of the science of how the brain works and how it all connects to the writing life. But before we get too far, I do want to ask you this: I just read your well-crafted bio, and it’s amazing all the ways that you serve writers, but I would love to hear in your own voice—with your own words—a little bit more about how you view who you are and what you do. Allison Fallon (01:19): What a great question. Well, I always say I fell into this work accidentally because I didn’t mean to be working with other writers. I thought I just wanted to be a writer myself and I struggled to own the identity of writer. I remember as young as elementary school and middle school when people would say, what do you want to be when you grow up? I would say, I want to be an author. And I would get the feedback that I think a lot of us get when we talk about wanting to do art as an adult where other adults, well-meaning adults would say you need a backup plan. You know, you need a degree that you can get where you can actually go make some money. Are you going to teach on the side or? You know, just well-meaning adults trying to coax you to think through the challenges of being an adult. Allison Fallon (02:01): I started to really question that instinct to be a writer and think maybe people don’t make money as a writer so maybe I should just think through a different career. So I got on the track of becoming a teacher. I grew up in Oregon and in Oregon, you need a master’s degree to teach at the high school level. So I got my master’s degree. I started teaching and I was not far into the teaching life when I realized this was just not the career for me. It was just not. I have so much admiration for teachers. It’s a very hard job in my head. I was like, “Oh, I’ll have three months off in the summers so I can get my writing done.” And that’s just not what a teacher’s life looks like. You’re working around the clock and around the year trying to figure out other ways to serve your students. Allison Fallon (02:49): I quit my teaching job and set off on this journey to write my first book. And the whole process was so tumultuous, just even trying to figure out, like how do you craft a book in a way that a reader would be interested to read? But also the complications of like, if I’m including my personal story, how do I tell those stories? How much? What about the other people who are involved in these stories? Is it okay to include them? Is this going to be interesting to anyone? And then on top of all that you have the world of publishing that you’re navigating. So I’m learning what an agent is and what a book proposal document is and how to create one. And I’m mingling at parties, which I hate doing, and I’m networking and trying to shake the right hands. Allison Fallon (03:35): The whole thing was just such a process for me that I realized at the end of it, I could actually combine my skill sets of writing, and I have this master’s degree in teaching with an emphasis in teaching writing. I’m like I could build a curriculum where I could teach writers how to use the tools that I learned in order to get my book out in the world. After my book came out in 2013—that was my first published book with my name on it—I started serving other authors and I’ve never turned back. My career has also evolved over the years because I obviously help people publish their books, but one of the things that I watched happen was when people were in the writing process, they would have these profound discoveries about themselves. So now a lot of the work that I do is with people who don’t necessarily know whether they want to publish their stories, but they know they want to get their story on paper. There’s more similarities between these people than you would think. You think there’s published authors and then there’s people who are just kind of dabbling, but actually at the end of the day, we share the same insecurities, the same roadblocks in the writing process. Everybody’s experienced writer’s block before, so there’s a lot that we have in common. Ann Kroeker (04:47): I want to ask so many questions about so much of what you just said, but let’s look first at what you just said. This idea that we have more in common than we realize—maybe the person who’s not even sure they want to be a writer, they want their stories to be publicly told, and then professional writers. I’m a writing coach. You’re a writing coach. We do work with writers. I think I probably work with some who have more aspirations for a public writing life, a successful public writing life, and so they’re thinking about voice in a certain way. They think of voice more like what agents say, I’m looking for that unique writing voice, and everybody’s asking, “What is that? I want that! I don’t know what it is. I don’t know how to define it.” But what I’m hearing you say is the same way that you go about helping anybody find their voice is the same method you would use to work with a professional writer to help them find their voice. Can you talk a little bit about that? What do you really mean by voice, especially speaking to listeners or viewers who would be thinking of voice in a certain way, thinking about writing voice. Allison Fallon (05:54): Yeah. There are so many parallels there. This is why I call my company, Find Your Voice, because I really am helping people both find their voice on the page and also their voices in their life. I think one always unlocks the other. When you’re in the writing process and when you overcome those blocks that we all face in our own writing, that helps you overcome blocks in your life and vice versa. When you overcome blocks in your life, it helps you overcome blocks in your writing. There are so many parallels there, but essentially when I think of voice, and on my podcast, the first question I ask every person that I interview is what does it mean to you to find your voice? It’s so fascinating to hear everyone’s description of this cause everyone will describe it a little bit differently. Allison Fallon (06:31): When I think of finding your voice, I think of really being able to own your power, to own your sense of self, to stand on your own two feet and to assert yourself as you into the world. The interesting thing about this is there are a hundred ways that we do that. You don’t have one voice, you have tons of voices that you use in all kinds of different contexts and different relationships. You’re going to be a little bit different, the same you, but a little bit different if you’re standing on a stage in front of a thousand people, versus if you’re having a conversation with an intimate partner, for example. You’re going to be a little bit different. You’re going to kind of carry yourself differently. If you’re talking with your mom, versus if you’re talking with your best friend, or if you’re talking with your grandma. We have these different voices, different versions of ourselves that come out of us in different parts of our lives. Allison Fallon (07:20): The same is really true with our writing. As we begin to explore those voices on the page, it gives us permission to explore them in our lives, and as we explore them in our lives, it gives us permission and new ways to explore them on the page. And the other parallel that I’ll point out is how we learn how to be ourselves, how to find our voice is by mimicry. This is true in life and in writing. In life, I have an eight-month-old daughter and right now she can’t really say many words. She can kind of say mama and daddy. Sometimes we’re not really sure if she knows what she’s saying, but she can make lots of noises with her mouth and she mimics us. She watches what we do and then she repeats it. Allison Fallon (08:00): My husband and I were laughing the other day because we both accidentally do this thing when we smile in a selfie or a photo or something where we’ll smile with our mouth open—a really big smile—and now she does this too. And I’m like, who taught her that? No one sat her down and said, “This is how you smile in a photo.” But when you hold the camera up to her and she sees herself in the photo, she does that. She opens her mouth and smiles really big. It just is a reminder that this is how we learn language. How we learn how to be ourselves in the world is by mimicking other people, and yet there comes a point when mimicking other people isn’t enough—where we have to sort of pull from these different sources and know that they’re a part of us, but they aren’t us and find our own way to move through the world. Allison Fallon (08:42): And that’s one conversation if we want to have that about how do you do that in your life versus in your writing. The cool thing about using mimicry with writing is one of the exercises that I’ll teach. When I teach writing workshops, I’ll have people bring a copy of their favorite book with them and everyone opens up their own copy. Everybody has a different book in the room. Everybody opens a copy of their book and they start by copying what they see on the page. I’ll set a timer, but I’ll tell them when you get to the point where you feel like you’re done copying and you’re ready to move on and write something else, then feel free to move on and write something else. It takes a different amount of time for everybody. Some people will copy for a couple seconds and some people will copy for a few minutes, but usually around the five-minute mark, most people have moved on to writing their own words. There’s something about being able to copy an author that we really admire, appreciate, and adore that helps us get into the groove of finding our own way to say it. Ann Kroeker (09:36): So good. I have written a few times and spoken a few times about the Ben Franklin method, which is similar. In his autobiography, he talks about a similar approach where he would read people that he admired, put it away, and there was a different technique-—he’s really trying to learn from that person. What I’m feeling from you is that it almost serves as priming the pump for yourself, and then do you find, does what they produce come out a lot like what they just read or is it just what they needed to get their own voice out? Allison Fallon (10:12): It depends on the person. I mean, if you’re really new to the writing process, then yes. It’s just like an infant who’s copying their parents. It’s going to look really similar to what your parents are doing, but you know, if you’re in your twenties and you’re in your career and you think, “That person who works next to me, I really admire the way that they are on the phone,” or something like that. You pull pieces from what other people do, and it doesn’t have to overtake all of who you are. It depends on where someone is in the writing process whether it takes over their whole voice,but I just tell writers, “Keep feeling your way through this and keep practicing with the voice.” Over time, your own unique way of doing this does start to come through. Allison Fallon (10:53): Let’s just say you’re writing and you feel like, “My voice is kind of falling flat. I don’t really know how to put my finger on it, but I’d love to bring some more humor into my writing,” for example. Go order some comedy books, and read some Tina Fey, and read some David Sedaris, and read some Bill Bryson. See how these other authors bring lightheartedness and humor into their writing and then see if you can copy them first and then find your own way to do it. Or maybe you’re like, “I need some more poetry and depth in my writing.” Go buy some Anne Lamott and go read some poets, some Billy Collins, some Li-Young Lee, and see if you can mimic the way that they do metaphor and imagery, and then start to pull some of that into your writings if you can find your own way to do it. I think that’s all I have to say about it, but it’s really fun to get to play with the way other writers do it. Ann Kroeker (11:48): That’s a great exercise. I love it. Thanks for sharing it. You talk in the book about having what you describe as a regular writing practice, but I think—and this is where I’d love for you to clarify if I’m misunderstanding—but I think what you’re talking about as a regular writing practice, which is what you talk about in The Power of Writing It Down—is a little different from sitting down to do the work on my work in progress. Can you tell us what the distinction is between those two activities? Allison Fallon (12:19): I’m not the first person to say this. I really have been so influenced by Julia Cameron who talks about Morning Pages, but I think of a regular writing practice very similarly to how she would talk about Morning Pages in the sense that your regular writing practices writing that you do privately for yourself. And it’s always that, regardless of whether you’re a professional writer. I write professionally, we have blog posts and articles that go out daily, weekly. I’ve got Instagram that I’m writing for. I’ve got books that I’m working on. I’ve got teleprompter scripts for new videos that we’re filming. So I have all these things that I have to write—and for the podcast—but, my daily writing practice is really for me. Sometimes out of the daily writing practice comes a nugget of wisdom, or an idea or some words that I want to play with, or something that feels really valuable to me that I can carry into the parts of my writing life, where I’m sharing that writing outside of just myself, but not always. Allison Fallon (13:16): Sometimes the daily practice of writing is literally just about getting rid of the garbage that’s on the way to the good stuff. When I’m in a season where I’m working on a book, for example, I might have two hours or three hours blocked in my day that I’m working on the book, but that’s not my daily writing practice. My daily writing practice happens for 30 minutes every morning and it’s me just sitting down and dumping out my first thoughts of the day. The great thing about this is it’s a beautiful practice for absolutely anyone whether or not you want to be a published author. It can bring so much value and goodness into your life, regardless of what other kind of writing you do. Ann Kroeker (13:57): I looked back at your book and there were 14 outcomes that transform people who have this daily writing practice. You referenced Morning Pages, which is, like you said, just sort of a brain dump—a heart dump—but how is that different from expressive writing or are they one in the same? Allison Fallon (14:23): I think they’re similar. Expressive writing gives you a little bit more of a roadmap for what to put on the page. This is what I teach in the book, but the definition of expressive writing in the data is expressing your deepest thoughts and feelings on the page about any subject. You can choose a subject. I give the infinity prompt in the book to help people think through, “What subject might I want to write about?” But you could choose any event from your life. Like, the guy who cut you off in traffic yesterday, or maybe something bigger, like a loss that you have faced. Maybe you lost your job in COVID or something like that. Choose an event like that from your life, and then use the writing practice to express your deepest thoughts and feelings about that particular topic. Allison Fallon (15:06): The power of this—a couple of different things. Number one is most of us don’t feel like we have anywhere in our lives where we can really authentically and truly express our deepest thoughts and feelings about a subject. We’re social beings, we’re afraid of judgment and criticism and all the things. You might feel like there are certain thoughts you can express in your intimate partnership. There are certain thoughts that you can express in your friend group that you couldn’t express over here. There are certain thoughts like when you go to your faith community, your religious community, that you’re like, no, I definitely can’t say that here. I can’t ask that question here. And the page is a place where you can say whatever. The only criticism or judgment that you would get as your own, which can also be a roadblock to overcome, but you have a space that’s completely safe where you can express whatever it is that you have to express. It gives us that option. Ann Kroeker (15:59): So good. We all need that. I love that you make it so accessible. This invitation to transformation—that is what you have promised us in the book, re-imagining our lives. I was listening to an interview you did with Erik Fisher on Beyond the To Do List, another excellent podcast like yours, Find Your Voice. If listeners have not found you yet, they need to. In that conversation with Erik—and this comes back to what you were just saying about needing that safe place because sometimes we don’t say it to one person because we feel like this group would react strangely but we need the safe place—you were talking about how, and maybe this is a deep dive really fast, but you said, “Our ability to communicate through the written word reflects our ability to process that thing and where we’re stuck in our writing is where we’re stuck in our lives.” Then you went on to talk about how the developmental stages of a writer mirror the developmental stages of our psychology. And then you walked through that. Would you be willing to do that for our listeners? It was so helpful. Allison Fallon (17:06): Can you help me? I always forget the names of the stages, but there’s pre-contemplative. I remember that one, which is the stage of change in psychology—the stage of change before you know that there’s anything wrong. This is the stage where you’re staging an intervention with the addict, for example. And you’re like, “You’re an addict.” And they’re like, “No, what? I’m not. I have no problems.” Before you have any idea that anything is wrong, that’s the pre-contemplative stage. And then contemplative of course, is the stage where you know that something’s wrong, but you’re not quite sure you want to make a change just yet. So you’re like, “I think this is causing some harm in my life. I don’t love this cycle that I’m in, but I can’t conceptualize another way to do it. Allison Fallon (17:46): So, I guess I’m stuck here for now.” This is the stage where a lot of the writers who come to me are ready to write their story, but they don’t know if they want to publish—most of them are in this stage. They’re like, “This thing happened to me, or I had this experience, or I keep bumping up against the same kind of problem in my life, and I’m not really sure what that means, or what to do about it, but I feel really stuck and I don’t really want to be that stuck anymore. Maybe the writing process can help me?” Then the next stage, which I always forget the name of the stage, is where you’re really in it. You’re having epiphanies and discoveries and you’re able to begin to reroute those neurological pathways that were keeping you stuck in that frequent pre-contemplative phase. Then the stage after that is the stage where you actually begin to experience these tangible changes in your life. I have been using this writing practice and teaching it to other writers for almost 10 years now. I have watched this happen over and over and over again where someone will be in that pre-contemplative stage and they’ll be feeling really stuck. They’ll think that they have no control over these outcomes that they’re getting in their life, and they come and they simply write down their story. They realize that actually 90 percent of the story has already happened, but the last 10 percent hasn’t happened yet. Something about writing the story helps them start to shift those neural pathways and the neural networks change and the resolution to the story comes just because they sat down to write it. This is actually true. I talk about this research in the book, but this is true whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. There’s a great book by Jennifer Lourey called Rewrite Your Life and she shares this same data that I’m talking about through the lens of fiction. If you’re a fiction writer, you can use your fiction as a way to leverage your own healing as well. Ann Kroeker (19:34): Oh, that’s so good. The idea that you can actually come to a resolution simply by the act of writing and experience that in your life—that’s what I think your teaching and this book can do for people is invite them to try it and experience it and the only way to do it is to do it. Allison Fallon (19:56): Totally. Can I share a quick story from my life? Is that okay? This demonstrates the resolution thing. I went through a really messy divorce several years ago now and after the divorce was over, I decided that I wanted to write about it. I was not sure that I was going to share about it publicly, but I just felt that pull that so many of my clients feel to get it down on paper. I just wanted to be able to see it on paper, what had happened to me, and what I’d been through. I walked myself through the process that I had taken all these other clients through and finished what was basically a memoir, but again, I wasn’t sure if I was going to share it with anyone. Over time as I edited the memoir, I realized I did. I wanted to explore the possibility of maybe publishing this. I started sharing it with some editors who I knew, and the feedback that I got mostly from people was they didn’t feel like the story was finished. Allison Fallon (20:45): They were like, “The story’s not resolved yet. There needs to be an ending to this story. Readers are going to end it and feel depressed. That’s so sad to hear about your personal story.” So I started doing some reflecting and I realized that what they were asking me for was to resolve the story by, for example, getting remarried or meeting a new guy, or kind of a knight in shining armor coming out of nowhere, and making the story seem like it had a happy ending. I realized with the most complete resolve that I’d ever had about anything in my life, that that was not the end of the story for me. I did not want that to be the resolution to my story. I wanted the resolution to my story to be that without any of that, I felt internally at peace with the story. Allison Fallon (21:31): What I did is I wrote a final scene that demonstrated to the reader that despite everything that I had been through and despite the fact that my life wasn’t all put back together and tied up with this perfect bow that I was happy. I could stand on my own two feet and say, I love who I am. I’m happy with how I handled myself. I have nothing but integrity. I get to lay my head on my pillow at night and feel really proud of how I lived this story. And that scene is what closed the book. That’s just one example of how writing out the story, can show you where a resolution needs to come. Ann Kroeker (22:08): That’s so good. In the book, you talk about finding a narrator voice, but you also talked—maybe more in the podcast, I’m not sure where it came in—but you also talked about writing as the protagonist of the story. Doing this in this writing practice, not necessarily in something that you would share publicly. You ended up sharing this book, and the story publicly—thank you for sharing that with us—because that sounds like the narrator voice and protagonist, there was kind of a convergence there. Can you talk to us a little bit about what you mean by writing in a way where you’re the protagonist of your story and hearing, or arriving at, a narrator voice, too? How do those work? Allison Fallon (22:54): It’s important to know that these two voices are different. If you’re writing a memoir especially. I’ll speak from a memoir perspective. If you’re writing a memoir, you’re the hero, you’re the protagonist in the story—you have to be. There’s no one else who could possibly be the hero. I think the misunderstanding that we have about heroes and stories is we think of heroes as being these incredibly heroic characters. That’s the way we’ve used that language in our culture. But actually the protagonist in a story is the character in the story who has no clue what they’re doing for most of the story. It’s not until the last scene of the story that they really get their act together. So they’re kind of fumbling and figuring it out. And they don’t know which ways, like, even you as the viewer—as the reader—know more than the hero knows. Allison Fallon (23:35): The hero doesn’t know what’s coming around the corner that’s gonna terrify them. You know, as the reader. You know, as the viewer of the movie. But the protagonist doesn’t know until it happens. So it’s important to understand that you’re the hero, the protagonist of the story, because that’s what gives you all the leverage to take the power back on the story. You realize that the action in the story is built around you. That if you don’t act, nothing changes. If you don’t change, nothing changes. There’s no resolution to the story without you, the hero. But there’s also a voice in the story that I call the narrator voice that you’re touching on, which is the voice that knows from the very start of the story everything that’s going to happen. So the narrator of the story knows the ending of the story before it even finishes. Allison Fallon (24:20): And this is really fun to play with when you’re writing a memoir. Because like I talked about, if I have a client come to me who is in the middle of a story and they don’t know what the resolution is yet, I tell them to act like they’re the narrator of this story and invent the resolution. What would you want the resolution to be? And this is what I did when those editors were saying, “We really want you to meet another guy. Maybe then we can publish your story.” And the narrator voice in me went, “No, no, no. That’s not how this story ends. That’s not the resolution to the story. What a boring resolution to a story!” I’m sorry. I felt like that doesn’t carry the meaning that I’m wanting the story to carry. So the narrator voice in me knew that the resolution to the story was something really different. Allison Fallon (25:01): And I let the narrator voice determine what that resolution could be. The narrator voice needs to at some point—usually, this is in the editing process—to weave itself through the whole story so that at the beginning of a story, you see the hero fumbling around, but you also hear the narrator going, “Something great is coming for her. She doesn’t know it yet, but something amazing is coming for her. She’s gaining her confidence. She’s getting back her mojo.” She’s finding her voice and the narrator kind of reminds you of that throughout the story, even when the hero doesn’t see it. Ann Kroeker (25:32): That’s good. That’s good. So how does this happen then in our private life? It’s happening when we’re doing our writing and…it’s just simple as that? You advise your clients to say, “Well, what ending would I want? Or what resolution would there be?” Allison Fallon (25:50): I mean, everybody would have a different worldview on this, but most of us have an experience in our life where it feels like there’s some sort of higher voice—whether that’s coming from inside of us or maybe like a divine force outside of us—that feels like it knows what’s coming before it happens, like we have an intuition about something. We have an understanding—a deep understanding—that it doesn’t make any sense that we have. And that voice in our lives is what I would call our narrator voice. It’s the part of you that knew when you were walking down the aisle that you didn’t want to marry this person. It’s the part of you that knew the resolution to the story wasn’t that you just met another guy and he saved you from your problems. You know that voice is present even in our everyday lives. So what’s beautiful about writing is the writing process helps us get in touch with that voice. It helps us hear from that voice on a daily basis. And again, whether or not you ever share that writing with anyone, that’s great for you in your daily life. If you feel like, “I can tap into something and I can have a real confidence in the next choices that I’m making in my career or in my romantic relationships or with my friendships…I know what to do next, because I’ve got this force that’s guiding me”? That’s, I mean, that’s gold. That’s a superpower to have. And so if writing can help us tap into that—that I believe every human being has—then what a gift, whether or not you ever publish those words. Ann Kroeker (27:16): And as you say in the book, it’s free! Anybody can do it. All we need is a pen. Speaking of pens, I have a question. It’s very practical. Every writer is dying to know and talk about the tools as if the tools mattered. But maybe the tools do matter in this case? And I would love to hear from you. Let’s talk about practical things. Does it matter when we’re doing our daily writing practice? Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, as an example, she’s like: pen to paper. Allison Fallon (27:45): Totally. Ann Kroeker (27:46): You…Okay. Tell me why. Allison Fallon (27:48): She says—I was just affirming that she’s very hard core pen to paper. What I tell people is the data shows that it’s a bit more effective to write with pen and paper than it is to write with your computer or your device. I think probably a big reason for this is because when you’re plugged into your computer, you’re on the internet. I mean, I can turn the internet off, but I’ve got my internet browser right here, and my email, and I can see the red dots coming up, and Slack is on my computer, and my calendar. And I talk in the book about the frontal cortex versus limbic system, and being on my computer flips me into my frontal cortex really quickly. So I think that’s part of why writing with pen and paper is more effective. Allison Fallon (28:30): However, if you will not write with pen and paper, then don’t make that your writing practice, because you won’t do it. So if you can find another way to kind of trick your brain into knowing this is the device that I use, or this is the place that I sit, or this is the set of things that I do—I call that a pre-writing ritual—if you can develop a pre-writing ritual that helps your brain click into place and know “This is my writing time,” then use your computer or use your Notes app on your phone. Many of the clients I work with are busy CEOs of companies, they’re parents, they’re running nonprofits, they’re doing amazing advocacy work in the world. They’re bad-ass human beings. And so to tell them it has to be in this certain way, and you’ve got to carry your notebook around with you everywhere…it feels silly to me when I’m like, it could be on the back of a cocktail napkin while you’re waiting for a business meeting to start. Or it could be scribbled on the back of a receipt on the dashboard of your car while you’re waiting to pick your kids up from school. So whatever you have available to you, whatever you will use, use that and just do the practice, you know? Once you’re in the habit, it’s much easier. It’s much easier to do it. It’s getting in the habit. That’s the hard part. Ann Kroeker (29:46): That’s true about so many things, isn’t it? Allison Fallon: Yeah. Ann Kroeker: Change the habits, and you can change your life. I love that. I love that the tools don’t matter as much, and yet if we can get the pen to paper, it may help. How about time of day? Morning or evening or midday? Allison Fallon (30:02): There’s a lot of research that suggests morning is a great time to write. Again, I think the reason for this is because of the way that our limbic brains work. Our brains, first of all, are muscles, and they get tired throughout the day. So if you spend your brain energy—the limited amount of brain energy that you get in a day—if the first thing you do is open Twitter and Instagram and your email, and you spend all of your brain energy doing that, your brain doesn’t discriminate. It’s just going to go, “Okay, I’m out of energy. We’ll have to come back again tomorrow. I’ll recharge overnight and we’ll come back in tomorrow.” So if you can commit the first part of your day to your writing, then you’re using up your most energetic time of the day for that thing that matters most to you. And then email doesn’t take much energy. You can come back to that later anytime of day. So I think that’s one thing. Also, our limbic brains are very active in the middle of the night. So if you can capitalize on that time in the morning before your limbic brain quiets down and your frontal cortex comes online, then you can use that to your advantage because your limbic brain is the imaginative part of your brain that doesn’t need things to be perfectly logical or linear. Once you click into work mode as I call it—it’s email, social media, calendar—I’m on a timeline. There’s a ticking clock. Once that happens for me, there’s no going back. So if I miss my morning writing time, I can’t go back at two o’clock and do it. Allison Fallon (31:26): I have heard people say, in fact, when I poll people at our writing workshops, probably about 20 percent of people will say morning absolutely doesn’t work for them. It’s either practical or that’s not the way their body rhythms work. But a lot of them will say it’s late night for them. They get a witching hour at 10:00 PM, midnight, 2:00 AM, somewhere in there. And I think it’s probably for the same reasons. That’s speculation on my part, but I would imagine your brain’s kind of like winding down into limbic mode again. Nobody’s going to expect you to come to a business meeting at midnight. And so you can go into your more creative brain and spend some time there. So again, I just tell people whatever works for you, run with that, because that’s always the hardest part. Ann Kroeker (32:17): That’s good freedom. And I think that then people can enjoy those results because they actually do it rather than worrying about time. Allison Fallon: Yes. Ann Kroeker: So you touched on something…I think in context, people can make some pretty good guesses as to what you mean by frontal cortex and limbic, and they should read the book to get the whole big picture, but can you summarize a little bit of that brain science and then help them tie that into the work that they’re doing as writers? Allison Fallon (32:44): Yeah. Ann Kroeker (32:44): Is that asking too much? Allison Fallon (32:45): No, not at all. So first I’ll say if you’re a neuroscientist and you’re listening to this, you’re going to think this is the most elementary description you’ve ever heard in your life, but for the majority of us, it’s helpful to just simplify this. You have more than two parts to your brain, but for the sake of this conversation, your limbic system is the lower-level thinking, more primal part of your brain. It’s responsible for your dream life. It makes connections between images that would otherwise be disconnected. This is the part of our brain that’s activated when you listen to poetry. It’s also the part of your brain where your trauma lives and we’re all of your automated belief systems live. So a lot of our daily behaviors are driven by that limbic system, this more primal part of our brain, but it’s out of our awareness. So you would not necessarily be aware that you have a belief that’s happening in that part of your brain, even though it’s probably affecting your daily life. Then your frontal cortex is your higher-level thinking part of your brain. It’s executive functioning. So this is a really important part of our brain, but it can sometimes, like when you say the phrase, “I’m really in my head,” usually you’re in your frontal cortex. You’re really trying to work hard to make sense of something. Think of the last time that you were trying to remember someone’s name or trying to remember a phone number, and then when you walk away from it somehow the memory pops back to you. So our frontal cortex is the part of our brain that helps us organize our schedules and pay our bills on time and remember to pick our kid up from school at two o’clock and not be late, you know, like to know it takes 20 minutes to get there, so I have to leave at 1:40 and I might run into traffic, so I should probably leave at 1:35. So it’s that part of your brain that’s doing that. And most of us are in that part of our brain for most of the day. And that part of our brain gets in the way when it comes to writing. It’s not that it’s bad. It is great at editing, but when you try to write and edit at the same time, it’ll be starts and stops. So it’s almost like having your foot one foot on the gas pedal and one foot on the brake at the same time. And so what I encourage writers to do is find a way to kind of disconnect that frontal cortex and sink into the limbic system and write what comes up from there, especially for this daily practice of writing. And then come back to it later with that more critical lens and pull the things that are useful for you and put them together into some sort of cohesive argument, because what you’ll get when you write from your limbic system is not always a cohesive argument. In fact, often you’re like, “Whoa, that was from left field! Where’d that come from?” But because writing gives you the ability to tap into that part of your brain, it helps you access ideas, thoughts, stories that are really having a tremendous impact on your life without you realizing it. Ann Kroeker (35:38): I took university creative writing classes—undergrad—back in the day, and there was actually a new release called Writing Down the Bones. I’m sure you’re familiar with that book. Allison Fallon: Yes Ann Kroeker: And Natalie Goldberg’s book had a similar thing: turn on the timer and write without stopping. Allison Fallon: Yes. Ann Kroeker: It was kind of revolutionary at the time. And every class that I took—the first two or three of the creative writing classes—used that as one of their core reading materials, because they wanted us to experience getting behind the thoughts. I think that’s how she may have phrased it in one of the early chapters. And that seems like what—she didn’t use the word limbic, but in the book you were saying, “Let’s get limbic” or you used somebody’s quote, “I’m gonna ‘get limbic.’” This is really helpful. I think what I’m finding you saying is that this practice is important even if you’re writing magazine articles to submit about how to create craft projects with your kids, you still will benefit from this limbic activity. Allison Fallon (36:53): Stories and epiphanies that were outside of your awareness will come to you when you write this way. So, you know, if you’re in the process of writing a magazine article about crafts with your kids, you could use your daily writing practice to see if you can recall some memories about crafts you did when you were a kid and maybe a brilliant idea comes to you that you hadn’t had before. Maybe a story comes to you that’s a really powerful story that you could use as an illustration in the article. And the way you write it in your private writing time might not be the way you would share it when you put it in the article, but the idea would never have been there if it weren’t for your private writing time. Ann Kroeker (37:28): That’s good. So there can be actual overlap of content. Allison Fallon (37:31): A hundred percent. Ann Kroeker (37:33): It can unleash just who you are and your voice will be truer. Even for that magazine. Allison Fallon (37:37): Agreed. Ann Kroeker (37:37): All that needs to fit what the magazine is looking for. This is so good. There was a phrase I heard in one of your interviews on your podcast. Oh, it was Science Mike. Did I say that right? Allison Fallon: Yes, you said it right. Ann Kroeker: Okay, in that conversation he was talking about how our brains are “narration machines.” It was in the discussion about creating new neural pathways. And you had another person on there as well. But if our brain, well, maybe explain what that means that our brains are narration machines and how it ties in with this whole limbic system. Allison Fallon (38:17): Yeah, I’ve heard it said too that our brains are “meaning-making machines,” which helps you understand what we’re talking about. When we say narration machines—in other words, when things happen to us—our brain’s job is to figure out: Why did that happen? What did it mean that it happened? What do I need to remember going forward? And your brain can nail that down. The story will kind of haunt you. So until your brain has decided what the resolution is, this story will pop up and come back to remind you that it’s there. For example, if your dad never said he loved you growing up and you haven’t figured out why, that story will haunt you until the day you die, until you figure out why. And as soon as you figure out why, your brain will sort of catalog that thing, and it’ll go down into your limbic system. The problem is our brains are really good at coming up with meaning for stories and the meaning that you come up with… Allison Fallon (39:13): …that you might’ve come up with when you were five years old, you might say, “Well, my dad never tells me he loves me because he doesn’t love me.” And then your brain goes, “Okay, we figured out a meaning for that story. Let’s put that down in your limbic system.” And then that meaning begins to present itself in your life over and over again. You might find yourself drawn to relationships where the men in your life ignore you or something like that. Because you’ve come up with this meaning to the story that says, “You know, I’m not good enough to get love and approval of my father.” I’m using a really cliche example, I’m realizing, but something like that, where as soon as your brain decides the meaning, it’ll catalog the story. Allison Fallon (39:55): And the beauty of pulling our life stories out and writing about them is that we get to rethink the meaning. As a 37-year-old woman, do I want to take the meaning that I came up with at five, or do I want to remake the meaning and say, “The reason that my dad never said he loved me was because my dad was a wounded man who didn’t know what he wanted or what he was about.” And coming up with new meanings as an adult can help us re-catalog the stories and put them back in our limbic systems so that they don’t haunt us, and so that the meanings aren’t meanings that we don’t want to be carrying around a lot of times. This is true for me, too. We have these experiences in our life where we’re like, “This is always what happens to me… Allison Fallon (40:36): “It’s always the same. I’m always in a bad relationship. I’m always running out of money. I always get unfairly fired from jobs. I always get betrayed by friends, taken advantage” or whatever. That’s a hint for you. If you have a detail in your life that seems to repeat itself, it’s a hint for you that there’s a story there that you’ve told yourself and it’s been cataloged. And that limbic part of your brain is driving the ship in ways. It’s not that it’s your fault. It’s just you’re helping co-create that reality over and over again. Ann Kroeker (41:09): That’s amazing to think about how we are narrating our own life. We are becoming our own narrator and not always in good ways and not always in helpful ways. And if we could affect that with this tool at our disposal of writing, we could completely re-imagine our lives. Let me ask this, though. And this is a question that comes up a lot, and it’s about memoir and how trying to get to the truth of memory. “Memory is a slippery thing,” as Mary Karr says, and even without the work, it is slippery. And while we remember inaccurately sometimes, or sometimes a fact is called into question by readers—maybe family members who were there for an event. And so some people say we try to get as close to the facts of the situation and let the facts tell the story. And then we, in our writing style, we can then let the theme or the message or the truth kind of be present in the facts that we tell. But what I hear you saying here is that we can revisit the facts, but be cataloging and re-cataloging it. Allison Fallon Yeah. Ann Kroeker It’s changing that. So how can we be true to memoir—as true as possible to what we understand that episode—while doing this work? Allison Fallon (42:35): I actually disagree a little with Mary Karr. I have a lot of admiration and respect for the work that she’s done. And she’s obviously, you know, a giant in her field. And the point where I rub up against what she talks about a little bit is this fact-finding mission. It doesn’t really matter what the facts of the situation were—it’s not that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you’ve cataloged the story in a certain way. That matters more than the actual facts. For example, let’s say my dad did tell me he loved me all the time, but I just thought he didn’t tell me that he loved me. But I still made up this story that my dad never told me he loved me because I’m not that lovable. And so now I have to fight my whole life to get the attention of the opposite sex so that I can feel like I’m loved… Allison Fallon (43:19): …I’m inventing this situation, but you get where I’m coming from. It doesn’t matter whether he told me he loved me or not. If I thought he didn’t and I made up the story that I was unlovable, that in itself is important to my story. What I want to say to people who are listening is your interpretation of your story matters as much or more than the facts. And that doesn’t mean that you are right, but why are we so obsessed with being right anyway? Why can’t your take on the story be enough on its own? You know, my experience of growing up in my household is going to be different than my sister’s, although she and I are essentially twins. We look exactly alike. We’re very different in personality and we had different experiences of my parents growing up. Allison Fallon (44:05): …and if she were to write a memoir, her memoir would look different than mine. Your memoir is going to look different than your siblings’ would look. And your take on a certain experience is going to be different than the other people who were there and involved. And at the end of the day, like when I wrote about my divorce, for example, I’m talking about my unique experience of this relationship that would of course be disputed by my now ex-husband because some of the things I’m saying about him are unflattering. But don’t I have the right to share my own unique experience of what it was like to live in that household? Don’t I have that right as much as he has that right? That’s what it means to find your voice. It’s to be able to stand on both feet, to say, “This is how it was for me.” And even if it was different for you, that doesn’t change the fact that this is what was true for me. Ann Kroeker (45:01): That’s so good. Yeah. That’s what it means to find our voice. It’s to feel like we can stand in that truth that we have explored in this practice. So good. So if somebody were ready to get started, what’s the first thing they need to start doing…if they’re ready and like, “I’m ready to find my voice. I want to do this thing.” What do they need to do first? Allison Fallon (45:26): I’m guessing a lot of people who are listening or watching from your community probably are writing daily. Anyway, they’re doing some sort of professional writing. So I would say the first step is to see if you can practice and explore this concept idea of expressive writing. And probably if I’m using my experience as a gauge, a lot of these writers have that in their history somewhere. They may have abandoned it along the way, but probably they have some sort of journaling practice or a love for writing stories in a notebook or something like that, that used to be part of their life. So this is not starting from scratch. It’s just finding a way to reconnect with that old itch that you had to just get something down. Tell a cool story or write something down that happened to you. Or write something down that you’re thinking about. So it’s reconnecting with that and then just carving out some space to do a little bit of a different kind of writing than you’re doing when you’re writing for an audience. Ann Kroeker (46:26): It may even feel playful after all of the things that we must do to pursue a professional writing life. Just to say, “I’m bringing out the pen and paper again.” Right? Allison Fallon (46:35): Totally. You know, what’s so interesting. I had this epiphany last night. I’ll share it here. I’ve not said this before, but my husband and I have been watching American Idol and I’m obsessed with Katy Perry on American Idol because she’s so…she has a young baby, too, I think—a little younger than my daughter. But she’s so maternal with these young kids as they’re auditioning for American Idol. And she says things to them and the advice that she gives to them feels so pertinent to writers. Even though these people are singers, she’ll say things to…a lot of times, writers will get the advice from people in the publishing industry, “Go grow your platform. If you want to write about, go grow your platform.” And Katy Perry looks straight at these kids, and she’s like, “Go fall in love with your art… Allison Fallon (47:19): …Stop performing for other people, stop singing to your TikToK followers. Go write your heart out. Go find stages that you can perform on and fall in love with the act of performing.” And I was thinking last night, “That’s the advice that I would give to writers.” If I could only give one piece of advice, don’t grow your Instagram platform. Go fall in love with the act of writing. Don’t go chase down some big magazine that will publish your work. Go fall in love with the idea of writing stories and I dare you to do that for very long without finding an audience that’s really into what you’re doing. Ann Kroeker (47:57): Ooh, I got chills. That’s so good. Yes. Allison Fallon (48:01): Thank you, Katy Perry, for that one. Ann Kroeker (48:03): But thank you, for passing it on to us today. Well, I want people to be able to find your book, to find you, to find your podcast. And I think, you know, there are maybe something you have for our listeners. I’ll have links to all of this at annkroeker.com/allisonfallon, two L’s for Allison and Fallon, right? A L L I S O N. But I’ll put everything in the show notes, but why don’t you just share a little bit here in case, you know, they can plug that away and go. Allison Fallon (48:34): Yeah, you can find all of our resources at findyourvoice.com. And the book is called The Power of Writing It Down. It’s available wherever books are sold. I always like to tell people to go to their local bookstore because bookstores are hurting right now. So your local bookstore will be carrying the boo and you can purchase it there, but obviously also Amazon, Target, wherever else. And then you can find me on Instagram @AllyFallon. That’s probably the platform where I’m the most active. And I share all about, you know, new resources and stuff that we have coming out there. We’re coming out with a really exciting new one called Write Your Story, Take Back Your Life really soon. So that’ll be available in not too long. Ann Kroeker (49:12): Wow. Thank you so much for your time today for your wisdom and sharing your experience. Not only in your own life, but working with other writers, you are doing amazing work. That is really something that I don’t see any other coaches doing in the way that you are. And I am inspired. And I’m recommending your book! I just today mentioned to a client, go get that book. So…go get the book. Allison Fallon (49:37): Thank you. Thanks for having me. Ann Kroeker (49:38): All right, take care. Ann Kroeker (49:40): I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did, and you can access everything related to the show at annkroeker.com/allisonfallon. Over there you will find a free gift that Allison is offering listeners. It’s called The Book Idea Primer, the instructions for how you can access it at annkroeker.com/allisonfallon. I’m Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach. Thank you for listening.
62 minutes | Feb 13, 2021
Shawn Smucker & Maile Silva on creative legacy, rejections, and being faithful to the work
[Ep 234] On this episode of the podcast, I hosted two novelists: Shawn Smucker and his wife, Maile Silva, for a literary discussion. Imagine you’re at a writing conference and we’re on stage to discuss the challenges they face as two writers at different points in the writing journey, living and working and raising a family together. How do they offer support and input? How do they find time to write? What are they proudest of? Shawn and Maile touch on topics like creative legacy, writing rejections, self-publishing versus traditional publishing, and being faithful to the work. Maile Silva and Shawn Smucker (used with permission) Shawn is an award-winning novelist by night and a collaborator and co-writer by day. He has an honors degree in English, and has been making a living as a writer for eleven years. Maile has an honors degree in English, has written three novels, and is currently in the querying process, so if that’s where you’re at, she knows your pain. She has raised six children in the last 17 years and is beginning to have more time to dedicate to her first love…no, not Shawn. Writing. She has taught writing in different settings, including as a table leader for the Black Barn Online. You might know them from their podcast, The Stories Between Us. At the end of our chat, they’ll be filling you in on their program The Nine Month Novel. It’s currently closed to enrollment. In the meantime, learn from all the wonderful things they shared. Here’s a sample: Interview Excerpts Shawn, on the writing journey: One thing that I’m always trying to get across to other writers is that it doesn’t matter where you’re at in the process, there’s always something else that you want. If you don’t have an agent, you want an agent, and then when you have an agent, you want to get a book deal. Or if you’re self publishing, you want to sell more books than you’re currently selling. And then once you have books published, you wish you could sell more copies, or what’s the next series going to be about, or what’s the next book. I think it’s good to have goals and it’s good to have things that you’re shooting for, definitely, but I think one of the most important parts of the writing life is to somehow also enjoy where you’re at and to enjoy the writing that you’re doing—and for that to be the thing that gets you by. Because if the thing that gets you by is getting to the next level, there are going to be certain levels that you don’t hit or certain levels that are really challenging to get to or take a really long time. And those can burn you out if that’s your only motivation. So even though Maile and I are at different places in the journey, we’re always encouraging each other: Stay focused on the writing. Enjoy the writing. The writing is never going to let you down. There are so many parts of the writing journey that will be disappointing, but the writing is always there for you. It’s always there for you to work on. It’s always there for you to dig into. Maile, on what she’s proudest of: I think what I would be most proud of is the creative legacy that we’re leaving for our kids. And by prioritizing creativity in my own life, I see our kids starting to do that. And that just fills me with so much joy to know that they see the value of doing these things not because they’re making money, not because they’re getting notoriety from it, but because it’s a good thing to do—because it’s part of who we are. I love that a creative inheritance is being passed down and they’re chasing after their creative dreams…And I love that more beauty and art is entering into the world just through our little clan of kids. And I think it’s because they see us pursuing it. Maile, on criticism: Because I don’t have any published work yet, I don’t necessarily get the one stars on Amazon that I have to work through, but you get your fair amount with the responses from agents and the rejection in it, and the criticism that comes in a rejection, even if it’s a form letter. That’s been hard for me, if I’m honest. It has been a road, and I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress in that area with what Sean was saying, for me to acknowledge that you know what? This piece of work that I’ve created, it’s the best that I can do at that point. But I’m still writing and I’m still getting better. And so I’m only growing as a writer, and if people want to point out what I’m not doing well, well, there’s something to be gained from that. Like, maybe there’s something that I need to attend to that they’ve pointed to, but also, that’s their opinion and everybody’s going to have their own opinion. And it just goes back to the writing: Am I being faithful to the writing? Am I showing up each day and doing my part? If I’m doing that, that’s the best I can do. And I can’t ask more than my best from myself and people can have their opinion about that. It’s still hard, though. It’s still hard. Shawn, on finishing There’s a problem that I recognize in a lot of writers, especially novelists, but I think all writers experience this, where early in your writing journey it’s really easy to start, and it’s really difficult to get through that middle…and to finish. When I committed to finishing things, my entire writing career totally blew up in a good way. It totally changed. The first novel that I ever completely finished was The Day the Angels Fell. And I self-published that initially, and then it was picked up by a publishing house and that led to book contracts for my first five novels, which I don’t think I would’ve ever gotten if I hadn’t actually finished that novel. So that’s what I always tell people: write every day, and finish what you start. Maile, on finding a rhythm I would piggyback on “Write every day.” I think you have to find a rhythm. You have to find something that works for you. And going back to the expectations, goals, and dreams: you have to create an expectation for yourself and then work at it every single day. For me, in the midst of we’ve talked about with kids, it’s hard to find the time to write. And I remember I was in the midst of my second novel and just really struggling to find that time and I’d finished one of Kate DiCamillo’s books. In the back flap, where it has her biography, it said at the end of her biography that she lives in Minnesota, “where she faithfully writes 200 words a day.” And it hit me almost like a smack in the face, like, “Two hundred words a day? I can do 200 words a day!” And suddenly I had an achievable expectation for myself. Okay! Every single day I’m going to write 200 words. And often I write way beyond that, but it gets me to the page every single day. And then the magic happens after that, you know? Then we see what comes from that. But we have to create. If we’re going to be writers, we have to write—you have to be writing on a regular basis. If you want to see growth in your writing—if you want to finish things, like Shawn was talking about—you have to find a rhythm. Resources Shawn Smucker’s website Shawn’s newest book (release date July 2021): The Weight of Memory Shawn’s other books Building Your Writing Support Triangle, by Jessica Conoley writing for Jane Friedman The Stories Between Us, Shawn & Maile’s podcast The Day the Angels Fell, Shawn’s book mentioned in the podcast as the first book he finished that opened up his writing life opportunities (affiliate link with Bookshop.org) Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, mentioned in the conversation (affiliate link with Bookshop) On Writing, by Stephen King, mentioned in the conversation (affiliate link with Bookshop)
10 minutes | Jan 12, 2021
Winning Book Proposals Need These 3 Things
When you seek traditional publishing for your nonfiction book, you don’t just write the book and send it off. Instead, you craft what’s called a book proposal—an essential business document expected by publishing professionals like agents and editors. With this document, you’re hoping to attract the attention and interest of industry gatekeepers so they’ll partner with you to publish your book. https://youtu.be/OqJNmiicPEQ (Watch, read, or listen—whatever works best!) Before the Book, the Book Proposal If you’re seeking traditional publishing for your nonfiction book, you do eventually have to write an entire manuscript. But before that, you have to land a book deal. To land a book deal, you need to attract agents and publishers to your project with a pitch that convinces them to request your proposal for review. A convincing pitch followed by a polished, professional book proposal will do the work of “selling” your book to these decision-makers. Its job is to convince these agents and publishers you have what they’re looking for. That’s why you craft a compelling proposal. In it, you’ll describe your project, of course. But as you do, your proposal has to pull off three big things. What a Winning Proposal Needs to Convey Let’s cover the three things your proposal must convey to attract the attention of industry gatekeepers like agents and Acquisitions Editors (AEs). 1. A Concept That Pops When someone’s reviewing a stack of proposals—whether that’s a literal stack on their desk or a list of virtual files on a computer—you want yours to stand out. The way to do that is to have a book concept that pops out from all the others. These agents and acquisitions editors are flipping through maybe 20 or more proposals a day. They’ve seen the same types of projects over and over; writers pitch similar topics time after time. But these industry professionals keep reading and reviewing proposals because they’re hoping to discover promising new books. They’re on the lookout for an author who brings a fresh angle. Develop a concept that proves you know your audience’s problems, struggles, and issues. In the proposal, show them you have a book that offers a promise—and delivers on that promise. Demonstrate you’ll contribute something valuable to the broader conversation on this topic. Do all that, and the agent will stop and say, “Wow, this is different—and it looks like it could sell. I’d better dive in and take a closer look.” When you nail your concept and convey it clearly in the proposal, you’re on your way to attracting an agent or editor. But when you land on a concept that pops, it’s not enough. 2. Writing That Sings The second thing this project needs in order to attract decision-makers is captivating, quality writing—writing that sings. The agent or editor reviewing your proposal will hear hints of your writing voice in the various elements of the proposal—but where you’ll shine is in the sample chapters. They can tell if you’ve landed on an appropriate voice for the project and its intended readers. They want to see if you know what your reader responds to. After all, the tone and style of writing you’d use for a leadership book for CEOs will differ from the tone and style meant to engage a stay-at-home mom of preschoolers. You don’t have to write like Annie Dillard to land a book deal, but editors appreciate solid, clear writing appropriate for that project. And be sure your proposal is error-free so decision-makers feel confident you’re a professional writer who handles words well. With a concept that pops and writing that sings, you have two out of three things in place for your proposal. Decision-makers who see that ingenious concept and sense your compelling prose will flip through your proposal, excited to find out something else. They’re hoping you have in place one more major element. 3. Personal Brand & Platform In this proposal, you’re trying to prove that you are the ideal person to write this book. One way to create a convincing case that you’re the ideal author of this book, is to highlight your credentials, your life experience, and your personal story. Author Brand But imagine this: if agents searched your name, would they easily find you? If so, what would they learn about you as a writer? Have you created content related to this book you’re proposing? Will they see evidence your target audience views you as someone known for the topic of this book? Whether you realize it or not—whether you intentionally worked on it or not—you have a personal or author brand. Tim Ferriss has said that at its most basic, your brand is what people think of when they hear your name. That’s been building over time even if you haven’t consciously tried to steer readers toward connecting you to a topic or subject area. I hope people hear Ann Kroeker and think Writing Coach. That’s the brand I’ve intentionally built over time. My skills, training, education, previous jobs, online content, social media presence, speaking events—it all contributes to my personal brand. Your brand can flow from your background, experience, education, published work, speaking engagements, and social media influence to offer evidence in your About the Author section and persuade people that you’re the obvious author to pen this book. Your author brand has a corresponding platform. Author Platform Platform boils down to all the ways you—as your author brand—reach and retain ideal readers. In that online search a publishing professional conducts on you, would they see: how to sign up for your email list? relevant content they can read on your website? numbers of people already following you on social media? podcast interviews? speaking appearances? These are all examples of platform. Each is either a way you’re actively reaching out to people interested in your ideas (and resources) or a way you’re deepening relationships with those already following you. If you did a search on my name, they’d see that as a writing coach (my brand), I host a podcast and YouTube channel, I stay active on social media, and I’ve been invited to speak at various events. Those are all platform activities that help me support the people who are meeting me and, in some cases, following me on social media or requesting my emails. Hopefully the author brand would combine with evidence of platform to persuade a decision-maker that I’m the ideal person to write a book about writing. When you intentionally create content that helps listeners or readers, you’re reaching and serving those people. It creates visibility for both your brand and your platform. Look for ways to establish and expand your platform, helping people associate you with a topic or subject (brand) so they turn to you for advice, input, stories and solutions (platform). Why Publishers Care About a Growing Platform Publishers look at your platform because it represents people who might purchase this book you’re proposing. Your platform, amplified by the publisher’s platform, represents the potential sales they can calculate when considering your project. To be honest, lack of platform is the number one reason agents and publishers turn down projects, so you need a growing platform—and not just to sell this book. Why You Can Benefit from a Growing Platform When you can reach readers, you have opportunities to test out your ideas—to vet and validate them. The results of those efforts can provide appealing evidence to include in your proposal. More importantly, reaching people feels rewarding because you’re helping people—pouring into people—right here and now, long before your book launches. Isn’t that why you want to write in the first place? To help people? Conclusion Agents will often say if you have two out of the three elements in your proposal, you can garner interest. But if you have all three, you’re well situated to pitch your project. If you have an impressive author brand & platform, writing that sings, and a concept that pops, you have the three elements that combine to create a compelling, irresistible project that attracts interest from publishing professionals. Resources: 7 Steps to a Clear Book Idea, a course designed to help you find the clarify you crave and the validation you need for your nonfiction book Why You Need a Book Proposal If You Want to Write a Nonfiction Book, a free, on-demand webinar that elaborates on the three key things presented in this post Your Platform Matters, a membership program for writers learning to create content and community to establish and expand their author brand Join us in Your Platform Matters (YPM) YPM is a warm and welcoming membership community committed to creative, meaningful ways we can grow our platform and reach readers—check us out!
9 minutes | Dec 21, 2020
Resolved to Write a Nonfiction Book This Year? Let’s Do the Math!
If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to write a book in the year ahead, you’re going to have to do several things. One of those things you’ll have to do is…some math. But don’t worry—I’ve got a calculator! We’ll do the math together to determine the number of words you need to write each day to complete your book in the year ahead. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out that this number is within reach. You can pull this off. You can watch the video, listen with the podcast player above, or read the article. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLvH9fJ7QUo Average Word Count for Trade Nonfiction Books The length of a typical trade nonfiction book can really vary: a memoir or biography can be quite long; a gift book, quite short. If you’re writing a typical trade nonfiction book, it might on average range between 45,000 and 55,000 words. This is arguable. You’ll find plenty of exceptions on either side of that range, and trends shift so that the average changes, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s split the difference and say we’re talking about a 50,000-word book. Yours might be longer or shorter. Publishers like to think in terms of word counts. After all, there’s a lot of variability in the number of chapters that you might break your content into compared with another author writing on a similar subject: a 20-chapter book and a 12-chapter book could have the exact same word count divided up differently. So let’s just talk about word count. Map Out the Number of Chapters And yet when we think through the number of words we’ll be writing each day, we do need to think about the number of chapters you’re planning. Eventually—obviously—you do have to write the full 50,000 words. But did you know that if you’re seeking traditional publishing of your non-fiction book—that is, you’re going to seek an agent who then will take it to a publisher, or a friend offered to introduce you to her editor…either way— you’re going to have to provide what’s called a book proposal. In this book proposal you’ll map out your entire book. You have to explain the book’s concept and content, describing what’s going into it. You’ll provide a table of contents that you’ll have to annotate, providing chapter summaries. When you submit the proposal to the agent or provide it by request to an acquisitions editor at a publishing house, you’ll include a few sample chapters as part of the complete proposal. For new writers, I recommend you supply three sample chapters, though an agent may only request one or two. If you write three, you can show these decision-makers and gatekeepers that you can build on your ideas and move this project forward. That’s all you need to write until you get a contract. So at a bare minimum, you’ll write at least three chapters of your book to be able to submit it with the proposal. Pull Out the Calculator Now let’s do the math. Option 1: Write the 50,000-word Draft in 90 Days Let’s say you’re going to self publish this 50,000-word book, and you’d like to have a draft done in 90 days. 50,000 words divided by the 90 days, you’ll end up with 555.555556, so we’re just going to round that up to 556. That means if you write every single day with no breaks at all, you need to write 556 words a day to produce 50,000 words at the end of the 90 days. Option 2: Write the Proposal and Sample Chapters But as I mentioned, if you’re going to go to the traditional publishing route and submit this nonfiction book to agents and acquisitions editors, you’ll need that proposal and the three chapters. To calculate your daily word count, you need to know how many chapters are going to be in your book. Use some of the techniques I explained in “How to Structure Your Nonfiction Book” to develop your project and arrive at the number of chapters that you think will be necessary to convey your book’s idea. Use those methods to define your table of contents. 8-WEEK SCHEDULE 3 Weeks: Book Proposal Elements 5 Weeks: Sample Chapters Let’s say you decide you want to complete your full book proposal in a couple of months, so that’s eight weeks. You decide to devote the first three weeks to the main book proposal content, which has several elements to it. You plan to write the three sample chapters during the remaining five weeks. This may be rushed for some writers who need time to process and validate their idea; for people who churn out words quickly, this will feel tedious. Regardless of how fast you write, you want to give it your best. You want to compose your best chapters and craft the proposal in a way that entices the decision maker to linger with your content and consider the possibilities of this book becoming part of their lineup and you, one of their authors For two months, you’re going to give it everything you’ve got. Creatively, you’ll pour yourself out. But it can come down to math. 50,000 words | 10 Chapters Let’s say this is going to be a 10-chapter book. You plan to include three chapters with your proposal. This means each chapter of your 50K book is going to be about 5000 words each. To turn in three 5000-word chapters with your proposal, you need to finish 15,000 words in those remaining five weeks to reach your eight-week (two-month) goal. If you write every single day, you’ll commit to 428 words a day; or, to make it easier to remember, let’s say you’ll be writing 430 words every single day. The daily word count is not overwhelming. If you plan to write a full 50,000-word draft in 90 days or three chapters to accompany a book proposal in two months, the daily word count landed around 450 to 550 words. That feels reasonable. You Can Write This Book in the Coming Year! Build in time to go back in and edit your draft of those three chapters and the full manuscript, but I hope you can see that this becomes a very doable project. If you can’t write 550 words a day, stretch out the timeline so you give yourself more time to complete the project, and your daily word count goal will go down. Like every resolution you’re going to have to commit, but you can do it! In this case, the habit of writing every day will be the routine that supports your goal. Even if you binge-write a few weekends to make up for sick days or vacations, you can pull it off. You can write a book in the year ahead. Perhaps an even better question is: will you? Related Reading: How to Structure Your Nonfiction Book You want your nonfiction book traditionally published? Learn what agents and publishers are looking for—and why you need a book proposal—in this free, on-demand webinar If you’re ready to clarify and validate your book idea, check out my course 7 Steps to a Clear Book Idea ______________________________ Ready to write a book, but you can’t quite articulate your idea? Join the FREE 3-day challenge: Craft Your Book’s Big Idea, and you’ll finally put words to the idea you long to write. In just three days, you’ll nail your book’s big idea (and generate a working title)! Sign up and finally move forward with the message that’s in you…just waiting to come out! Sign up today!
16 minutes | Dec 11, 2020
How to Structure Your Nonfiction Book
 You're tackling a non-fiction book and you're making progress. You're doing research, you're writing, and now you're staring at all those ideas. Your book needs form. It needs organization. It needs...structure. But how do you land on the best structure? How do you create it, craft it, build it? While there's no one standard way to organize your material—there's no one way to structure your nonfiction book—I offer four approaches you can take to determine what will work best for your work in progress. To learn ways to structure your nonfiction book, you can read, watch, or listen. https://youtu.be/5ToyfQds11o Think about how different kinds of bridges are needed for different situations. To land on the best method of bridging a ravine or body of water, an engineer will study the surrounding landscape and obstacles to decide whether a drawbridge, suspension bridge, or arch bridge will work best. Just as an engineer needs to study the situation to address any given crossing and can refer to several core types of bridges, you get to do the same with your book. As you study your material, you get to decide the best way to structure your nonfiction book. Feel free apply these four approaches to structure your short-form writing, but I'm going to be talking about it as it pertains to a non-fiction book, because a book is more unwieldy and can feel a little overwhelming to organize. Once you get a handle on how you to structure your WIP, you can feel more confident moving forward with your draft. If you're feeling overwhelmed by structure, you're in good company. In a Writer's Digest interview, Michael Lewis said this: I agonize over structure. I'm never completely sure I got it right. Whether you sell the reader on turning the page is often driven by the structure. Every time I finish a book, I have this feeling that, Oh, I've done this before. So it's going to be easier next time. And every time it's not easier. Each time is like the first time in some odd way, because it is so different.1 The book you're working now is different from any other book you've worked on. It's different from Michael Lewis. It's different from mine. You need to discover what that the best structure for this book. Method 1: Discovery The first way is by discovery. Through the discovery approach, you're going to write your way into it. On her podcast QWERTY, Marion Roach Smith recently interviewed Elizabeth Rosner about her book Survivor Café. Elizabeth Rosner chose different terms and concepts and horrors related to the Holocaust and presented them early on in the book using the alphabet. The alphabet was a way of structuring that content. Rosner said the alphabet was a way to explain, "Here are all the things I'm going to talk about that I don't really know how to talk about. Here are all the words I don't know how to explain." Marion asked how she arrived at this alphabet structure, and here's what Rosner said: I love getting to talk about structure and decisions. And when we talk about them after they’ve been made, it all seems so thoughtful and careful and deliberate and...everything in reality is so messy and chaotic for me, that it’s always amazing to me how neat and coherent it seems afterwards.2 You can see that Rosner sort of stumbled on this approach. It serves as an alternative table of contents for the book, she said, and of course a table of contents reflects the structure of a book. And she came upon by discovery. Discovery Methods: Sticky Notes, Scrivener, Index Cards, freewriting Authors might use Post-its to organize their notes. Susan Orlean has described an index card method (she uses 5x7 cards) in an interview.3 Others like using Scrivener to organize their research and notes. It doesn't really matter the method; you just need to gradually move toward clarity. When you stay open to possibilities,
11 minutes | Nov 16, 2020
How Do You Read Like a Writer?
You're a writer, so you write. But do you read? Silly question, I know, because of course you read. A better question is how do you read? Do you read like a writer? There are ways writers can read that can be both inspiring and instructive, and that's what we're going to cover today, so you can see how reading, as Stephen King says, can serve as your "creative center." As we learn to read like a writer, you might be a little afraid I'm going to ruin reading for you—that you'll no longer be able to read for pleasure, but don't worry. You'll still be able to read for fun and distraction. You can listen, read, or watch to learn more. https://youtu.be/cHaeAOVodaQ Read to Collect Ideas for Your Work If you want to read like a writer, you'll benefit from reading with an analytical eye, but before we get into that, the first way to read as a writer is to go ahead and read for inspiration and information, just like you always do. You need to understand a topic better, so you research and read about it. You want to expand your knowledge, so you read and take notes. You want to improve yourself, so you grab a book that's going to help you gain a skill or solve a problem. We writers are always collecting ideas and content. All that you read can feed into your writing. In fact, we've done this our entire lives. If not consciously then subconsciously, we've been doing all this collecting. Now I want you to be more intentional about it. Even as you're casually reading the back of a cereal box, a tweet, or a magazine article, start to take notes about where this content came from, who wrote it, and how it impacted you, because this is material that you can use in all of your work. Authors Are Your Teachers Another big way we can read as writers is to start viewing other authors and writers as teachers. They can instruct us. Francine Prose in her book Reading Like a Writer said this: I've heard the way a writer reads described as "reading carnivorously." What I've always assumed that this means is not, as the expression might seem to imply, reading for what can be ingested, stolen or borrowed, but rather for what can be admired, absorbed, and learned. It involves reading for sheer pleasure, but also with an eye and a memory for which author happens to do which thing particularly well. So we read and pay attention to the choices an author makes that results in such engaging work. In literature, especially in poetry courses, we talk about a "close reading," where every idea, every sentence—even every word—is examined. A close reading reveals all: from the highest level of themes, ideas, organization, and structure all the way down to the details of sentences and word choices. We see what works and why it works. And while we do want to look to the best to be able to level up our work, we don't have to always be reading Shakespeare and Dickinson to improve as writers. Our teachers, our model texts, can be from the kinds of writing we want to pursue. We might find a blog post that serves as an excellent example and study the tone and topics that were covered as well as the length and the layout. And we can learn from that. So find your experts, your teachers, your models, your mentors...wherever they may be. Read Close by Annotating Another way we can read like a writer is to annotate. Mortimer Adler in his book How to Read a Book, written with Charles van Doren, wrote this: Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself and the best way to make yourself a part of it, which comes to the same thing, is by writing in it. He claims that full ownership of a book happens not when you purchase it. It happens when you interact with it on the page. You annotate, you underline, you write in the margins, and in that way you make it your own. And the book becomes a part of you. But let me tell you something: I grew up in a household where we did not write...
9 minutes | Nov 2, 2020
5 Writing Strengths You Need to Succeed
You want to start out strong as a writer and succeed at your work. A lot of different strengths are at play to keep us at the keyboard or page, and the good news is—you may already have some of these strengths. If not, you can develop them over time. And some of them may surprise you. Let's look at five strengths you need to succeed as a writer: Today I'm trying something new, sharing this both in audio and video format. Let's hear from you: After you watch or listen, let me know in the comments what you see as your greatest writing strength—and if I've left off a critical writing strength, add to this list! Look, you can subscribe for free coaching!
14 minutes | Aug 17, 2020
Validate Your Idea to Produce Your Best Project (Back to Basics)
[Ep 228] You have an idea for your next writing project. That's great! Before you get too far—before you write too much—you need to be sure this idea is going to fly with your audience. You need to validate it so you move forward with a concept that, depending on your purpose, will truly resonate, connect, teach, persuade, inform, or entertain. Let's look at three ways to validate project ideas: Validate “in house”: run it through personal filtersValidate through research: check what exists alreadyValidate through audience: ask, survey, and test the idea Validate “In House” The first method to validate is to run it through personal filters. Ask yourself if it fits with your brand, if it will serve your audience, and if it’s a fresh angle on your primary topics. This may take only a minute or two, but sometimes we rush past it in our excitement over an idea that captivates us. If we skip this step, we may create content that draws an audience uninterested in anything else we write. If I as a writing coach started producing content about style because I'm interested in a trend, I might click publish on an article about fall colors that draws a new audience of women who like to discuss shirts, skirts, and shoes. But if I pause and validate “in house,” asking myself if this is a good fit for my primary purpose and audience, I’ll probably focus my energy elsewhere. After all, I’m creating a place online for men and women looking for support with their writing, so devoting a long post to discussing red pumps and French braids won't reach or retain a wide range of writers. But let’s say it passes this initial “in house” test. You believe your idea will serve your audience well and you haven't explored this topic at length in the past. The next step is to do some research—see what else is out there on this topic. Validate Through Research The main way to research is, of course, to type keywords, key phrases, key ideas, and key concepts related to your project’s idea into a search engine and see what it pulls up. I suggest you quickly jot down everything you know about this idea before the search. Then you can compare all the articles, videos, podcasts, and memes with your existing knowledge and slant. Don’t be discouraged if you find a ton of material—don’t assume it’s all been said before. In fact, that’s a good sign that people are searching for this kind of content. You'll see how to contribute to the greater conversation. And that’s the key. As you explore what other authors, bloggers, and speakers in your niche have created, you realize how your project will be similar, but different, and broaden or deepen readers' understanding. If need be, return to 6 methods to right-size your next writing project to find a different slant. You can continue to work through those until you land on that distinct spin you can bring to this project. Pro tip: As you’re cruising the internet and clicking through to interesting content, be sure to grab all citation information while you’re there. Because if you decide to quote an expert in the field or to include an excerpt from one of the articles, you want that citation information at your fingertips. Quoting people builds credibility—and so does proper citation. We told our high school debaters it's always good to bring an expert to the podium with you to raise your credibility. I think it’s the same with writers—when we cite other sources, we bring a level of integrity and credibility to our work. Search engines give you a broad look at what’s existing on this topic, but you can conduct a more academic search, as well. Libraries will give you access to journals and publications to find peer-reviewed studies. Also, you’ll be able to search countless newspapers and magazines. Just go online to your library’s portal and find out what’s available to you. I’d like to highlight a few specific websites where you can focus...
9 minutes | Jul 16, 2020
Back to Basics: 6 Methods to Right-Size Your Next Writing Project
[Ep 227] Have you ever written a blog post and found it's growing too big and unwieldy? Or you set out to develop a book only to realize you don't have enough material to fill a 45K- or 50K-word manuscript? If so, you're struggling with Goldilocks Syndrome: your idea is too big or too small for the project’s purpose and the way it’ll be published or shared with the world. You’re trying to cram everything you know about, say, computers into 800 to 1,000 words. You’ve got the makings of a book when you set out to write a blog post. How do you narrow it to a reasonable length? Or you’re trying to stretch the idea of cooking with crackers into a book-length project, but it’s not enough material. How do you broaden the concept to produce a compelling cookbook? What does it take to land on that just right length for your next writing project? The 6 Right-Sizing Methods Test these six methods for narrowing—or broadening—your next writing idea and you’ll land on the perfect length, approach, and slant to suit this project’s audience, purpose, and medium. In the process, you’ll gain clarity and solidify your ideas. The six different methods to right-size your projects are: TimeLocationCategoriesAudienceIssueStructure Let me describe each one, starting with time. When does it mean to right-size your project using time? 1. Time You can use time to focus on decades, a stage of life, or an era. For example, depending on your topic, you might limit your idea to focus only on the 1950s, only early childhood, or only on the Middle Ages. If you’re writing a memoir, you’ll limit the scope of your book to a specific time in your life in which you experienced struggle and transformation. If you’re writing about plants, you could focus on the planting stage. If you need to broaden your idea because it’s too narrow, you can simply expand from the 1950s to the first half of the 20th century or from early childhood to Kindergarten through sixth grade. 2. Location Location is another way to land on the right size for your project. You could focus on geography, meaning anything from a continent or country all the way down to a city landmark, neighborhood, or business. But you could think of location on an object or a space. The gardener may want to write about an area of the garden or the location on a specific plant, such as the roots or petals. If you’re writing about flight, you could focus on small airports in a given state or areas within a specific airport. 3. Categories We can also use categories to think through an idea we find to be too big and broad or too small and narrow. Find some commonalities and group those things that are similar. If you’re the garden blogger, you could focus on one category—vegetables—instead of flowers, trees, or groundcover. Dial down even more by categorizing nightshades or spring vegetables or weeds. The blogger who writes about planes can narrow to categories such as biplanes, jets, or airliners. By focusing on a small category, you easily narrow your idea. And then you can broaden by including multiple categories. 4. Audience First-time authors often want to write a book for everyone in the whole world. That’s not realistic. The first step in right-sizing will be to narrow your audience. For a specific project, you could narrow even further, selecting a sub-group within your target audience. Maybe you write for parents, so to narrow the topic you outline an idea for parents of preschoolers or parents of teens. So you can use a subgroup of your broader group to narrow. Including more types of people in your audience will broaden the idea and inform how you write it. 5. Issue Many topics have issues baked into them: gun control, parenting philosophies, technology use. Writers may take one side or another on these topics to automatically right-size their idea. Addressing only one issue related to their ide...
23 minutes | Jun 24, 2020
Back to Basics: Generate Ideas to Find What You Have to Say
[Ep 226] With my Back to Basics series, I'm providing tools you can apply to your next project in hopes it will make the writing process easier and the final product stronger than ever—so you can make an impact. Last time, we started by identifying a project's high-level elements—its Topic, Audience, Purpose, and Medium. After that, you can focus on the message of your project; that is, given your topic, what is this project’s IDEA. What do you write about? Is it running, longevity, RV travel, cooking on a budget, stamp collecting, or social justice? Maybe you’re known for this topic and it’s your brand identity, or maybe you’ve been assigned this by an editor. Regardless, you start with a topic, but you don’t stop there. You have to hone in on an idea: a narrowed idea suitable for this particular project and this particular audience. Your finalized idea will reflect the slant or angle you’re taking that will provide focus and set your project apart from others tackling the same topic. It’s tempting to latch onto the first idea that pops into our heads—and sometimes those are indeed fresh and full of potential. Most of the time, though, if we want to write something that stands out, we’re better off taking time to send the idea through five phases: GenerateNarrowValidateRevise (adapt, adjust)Confirm or Finalize 1. Generate First, you’ll generate ideas. You’re about to hear lots of tips for generating ideas in this episode, and I’ll include links to a few other articles and resources. You can test them out and find what works best for you. 2. Narrow When you land on some ideas with potential, you’ll narrow them to suit your audience, purpose, and medium. You’ll also find your unique slant. 3. Validate When it seems your idea has potential, you’ll validate the idea, especially if you’re launching a big project like a book. But even when you’re planning an article or blog post, it’s smart to take a few steps to vet the idea, and I’ll explain that in another episode. 4. Revise After that process, you’ll adapt it based on the input you receive during the validation phase, revising and adjusting the idea as needed. 5. Confirm or Finalize The last phase will be to confirm your idea and finalize it so you can dig in and—finally!—write. A five-phase process just to lock in an idea may sound like overkill and it may seem like it’ll take ages, but you’ll breeze through it—especially for short projects. And it’s definitely worth it for longer projects because they’ll come together more efficiently when you walk through these phases. Let’s start with what it takes to generate ideas. Generate Ideas to Find What You Have to Say When we begin our search for writing ideas, we start with ourselves. What are you drawing from to produce your projects? What’s in you? What do you have to say? Generate Ideas by Remembering Our writing usually flows out of the person we are. The ideas we share are ideas inside us, so writing about our past and drawing from memories, we can pull up ideas that formed us, challenged us, confused us. Using those memories as the centerpiece of a project, we can dive in to explore the meaning, the truth, the lies, and the message locked in our past. These ideas flow from the richness of remembering. Generate Ideas by Living We continue to add to our memories by increasing experiences. So another way to generate ideas is by living. The stories we tell, if nonfiction, are experiences we’ve had or observed in others—or heard from others. And, actually, if we write fiction, the scenes and ideas still flow from what we’ve seen, heard, tasted, smelled...from what we’ve experienced. Even mundane assignments start with our exposure to and understanding of the subject matter. To generate ideas, we have to live. To live well, we can make choices that take us places, switch things up, change our perspective, widen our lens.
13 minutes | May 12, 2020
Ep 225: Improve Your Writing by Getting Back to Basics
[Ep 225] You’re inspired. An idea seizes you and before the energy fizzles, you whip out a laptop, open a new document, and slam out words. Get it down fast—start writing and discover along the way what you want to say. I support this approach! Capture the core idea while your creativity sizzles—before your vision fades! At some point, however, you need to take a minute to be sure you know four key elements of this project or else your final product may miss the mark. For everything we write, we really do need to know: topic audience purpose medium Imagine if today’s article had been titled “Follow These 3 Rules to Organize and Optimize Your RV Kitchen.” You’d wonder if you clicked on the wrong link or cued up the wrong podcast. I do like RV travel and could probably write about it, but because this website provides writing input to readers, an RV article might suit the medium of a podcast that focused on RV owners, but it would not fit the topic, audience, or purpose of a writing coach podcast or website. Understand these fundamental elements of your project, and you’ll save time in the editing stage and ultimately impress publishers and serve readers. You'll build an audience that can tell you are knowledgeable and you understand them. Build This Step into Your Writing Process Experienced writers who publish regularly often work through this instinctively because they’ve written for years about a particular subject matter for an outlet that follows a specific format. These professionals may be able to sit down and tap out an impressive draft that follows style and formatting guidelines, and falls close to the ideal word count. But if you’re… new to writing returning to it after a long break craving a refresher on the basics concerned your work isn’t connecting with readers stepping out to write new subject matter, reach a new audience, or publish in a new media style or outlet …I recommend you build this step into your writing process more intentionally. Consciously, deliberately pause in the early stages of development to think through—even write out—brief descriptions of your project’s topic, audience, purpose, and medium. Know what you’re setting out to accomplish and why. Determine what you’re writing about and who it’s for. Consider where it’ll be published and distributed, because that affects its depth and design, tone and topic, length and layout. Lock this in before you brainstorm, research, outline, or free write and you’ll find the writing, revising, and editing process more efficient and the finished project’s impact more effective. Topic Let’s start with that initial inspiration. That creative spark. That idea. THE TOPIC QUESTION: What’s this project about? Sometimes you’re assigned a topic; other times the idea blooms from within. Either way, you’ll need to confirm the high-level topic and then articulate how this project will narrow and focus on a particular aspect of it. For example, your high-level topic may be vegetable gardening. Are you writing an article for a local garden shop’s newsletter about growing potatoes or how to plant a Three Sisters garden? That’s how you would narrow the high-level topic to be more focused. If you function as your own publisher, your “brand” may cover three or four categories that lead to obvious topic choices that always fit the audience, purpose, and medium. The food blogger writes about the high-level topic of food, but narrows it to a few categories like main dishes, side dishes, slow-cooker instructions. Then, she publishes specific articles and recipes under each of those. So any given project—in this case, it’s probably a blog post—will have a specific topic. And that’s what her project is about: it’s an eggplant recipe or instructions for cooking steel cut oats. You may find it helpful to express the big idea of this project in one-sentence, as you would a thesis.
9 minutes | Apr 15, 2020
Ep 224: Find What You Need and Write What You Can
[Ep 224] At the close of a brilliant blue-sky summer-warm April afternoon, a heavy thunderstorm swept across my state, pelting us with hail and hurtling branches across yards. We stared in awe at Zeus-explosive lightning strikes that flashed and boomed, backlighting trees that swayed like storm-tossed ship masts, nearly snapping. After a series of mighty cracks, the power went out and stayed out for eight hours. Cell service, too. During the strangest season of a lifetime, when staying informed and connected relies on a functioning Internet, we were completely cut off from the world for...we didn’t know how long. The storm felt even more ominous in total darkness. Wind gusts smacked limbs against the roof in haunting thumps and scrapes, like zombies clawing the shingles. We lit candles and sat in our family room, hoping the sliding glass door wouldn’t blow in and spew shards of glass across the room. We settled in but couldn’t rest. On high alert, we remained poised to head to the basement if we heard tornado sirens go off. My husband grabbed a headlamp he uses when camping and handed it to my son, who needed to finish studying for a pre-calc test. I remembered some blizzards of my youth, when the power would go out on the farm for a few days—once for an entire week—and we’d use kerosene lamps for light and the wood stove for heat. I’d feel a sense of awe and fear and excitement that, for a stretch of time—and who knew for how long—life suspended in an awkward space of uncertainty where we were forced to rethink the days and invent solutions to complete basic tasks. Eventually the power would return to the farm. We’d flip on lights and the TV. Country roads would be cleared and the school bus would show up at my driveway. Back to normal. I thought of that blizzard while staring out our sliding glass door. After about an hour, the fiercest elements of the storm subsided, though rain continued to pour down, overflowing gutters clogged by debris. In the quiet, dark house, we felt our way along the walls to our bedrooms, listening for each other’s voices. My husband set an alarm to wake up every few hours throughout the night to empty the brim-full sump pump, which wasn’t able to do its job without electricity. Early the next morning, our power returned. We flipped on lights and reset our clocks and the WiFi router. The sump pump turned on and emptied the tanks. Back to normal. Except...it’s not normal. This isn’t a blizzard, and the bus didn’t show up for students in our neighborhood. My son took his pre-calc test at the kitchen table and uploaded it to a website for his math instructor to grade. Back to our abnormal normal, I guess, or whatever we’ve created within this shelter-at-home pandemic reality, its own silent storm. I started six or seven different ideas for this post, but they all fell flat; they seemed inappropriate in one way or another. Hopeful, encouraging input seemed like it would make light of readers who are fearful or frustrated. So I held off, wanting to respect that not everyone is ready to map out a social media strategy or draft a short story. Fun ideas celebrating the creativity of quarantined humans across the planet seemed to make light of the intensity and suffering so many are facing. I had collected links to amusing and ambitious projects but stopped, unable to share. I knew friends who were sick or caring for the sick, and it seemed tone deaf to send that out. But the other extreme also seemed like a strange choice; highlighting suffering seemed too heavy and melancholy for readers who might be seeking an emotional escape. Sometimes I want to just laugh a little; sometimes I want to avoid the weight of the news. Suggestions for being productive? That felt, I don’t know...exhausting...too hard to attempt or sustain. I watch all these people hopping on Instagram Live offering their recommendations to be a voice of leadership duri...
7 minutes | Mar 17, 2020
Ep 223: One Thing Writers Can Do in a Pandemic: Document the Days
[Ep 223] As I write this, a pandemic is spreading across the planet. I surely hope you and those you love are spared any sickness during this worldwide crisis. I’m stating this in part to document my day in the midst of these extraordinary circumstances. This is something we can do as writers: Document the days. Keep a Journal If You Can Record your story as it’s unfolding; capture and preserve—in real time, in your voice—what will become source material for future historians or for your own memoir. Dr. Shane Landrum wrote, in a series of tweets: Advice from a historian in the Boston area: Start keeping a journal today, ideally a hand written one if that’s within your ability. Write about what you’re seeing in the news, how yr friends are responding, what is closed in yr neighborhood or city or state or country. Save it...Sometimes you know you’re living through an event that will be in the history books very large...personal stories don’t make it into the history books unless people are writing them down in the first place. Keep a journal if you can.1 His Twitter thread prompted people to suggest typing up and printing out their observations and others to recommend indelible ink on archival paper. But you can find other, creative ways to document the days. Audio or Video Diaries If you’re a writer who is also a first responder, health care worker, or supply chain contributor delivering food and goods to stores—or stocking and supplying the stores—you may not have time to write. On a break, record a one- to three-minute audio or video diary on your phone. Tell us about the fatigue, the tasks, the challenges, the people. Share it, or save it. But document the days. If you’re not in some of those critical roles—and I’m sure I missed entire groups of people—you are likely at home tending to your work, perhaps educating your child or overseeing her work. You, too, can use a video or audio diary to document the days. Share Some Now, Save Some for Later Some of it, you’ll save for later: for a future project, for family, for historians. Some of it, though, you can share right now, to offer hope and accurately report on your world. Publish on social media, or through your blog, or through a podcast like this. Publish and distribute your most urgent messages however and wherever you can most easily get the word out to the people who need it most. Use Dr. Landrum’s hashtag, if you like, to communally chronicle your experiences with others across the globe: #pandemicjournal2 However you choose to document your days, I urge you to do this. Writers Document the Details We are in a unique position, as writers, to know how to weave sensory detail into our observations that will recreate it for readers later; we understand that the story keeps going and if we document it today, we’ll grab texture and tension and we can scene-build, and if we don’t, we will have forgotten when the world moves on from toilet paper hoarding to new challenges, as it already has. It’s easy to forget the messaging and actions of early stages when the next one happens a mere hours later. Our role as writers in these uncertain times is to be among those who capture the stories. Tell Your Story You tell yours from your corner of the world, and I’ll tell mine. One day, they’ll fit together to help people understand how one thing led to another in the high-level reporting alongside the everyday events: the confusion, the indecision; the toilet paper hoarding and the jokes that ensued; the frantic trips to Walmart and Target and grocery stores, not knowing how to prepare for such a time as this. We’ve had questions: will we go on lockdown or will life go on as usual? We will be able to share how that changed day by day, moment by moment, question by question. Document the Questions The questions, so many questions… O Me! O Life! Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
8 minutes | Mar 8, 2020
Ep 222: Can a Poem a Day Make Us Better Writers?
[Ep 222] My most effective year teaching high school composition was the one I began with poetry. From day one, I introduced literary devices through poems, inviting students to spot metaphor and simile, hyperbole and imagery, rhythm, rhyme, and repetition. With a focus on a single poem, we could zero in on just a few observations and they could use those as inspiration, even models, for their assignments. Later, armed with a range of literary tools and techniques, the students confidently integrated those into their prose. Their essays—even their research papers—showed they better understood how to lasso language to express their ideas. What’s more, they also readily spotted themes and ideas in the longer works we studied. They had more to say about the pieces we read. It’s as if poetry opened their minds to new ways of seeing the world, and in some cases, poets opened their minds to new ways of seeing themselves: students seemed to borrow words and phrases to express feelings and frustrations, disappointments and dreams. Poetry's Profound Truths I believe poetry opened them up to become more thoughtful, creative writers—perhaps even more thoughtful, creative human beings. And I believe it can open us up to become more thoughtful, creative writers and human beings. When The New York Times news desk gathers for their morning meeting, they start by reading a poem. Marc Lacey explains that this new ritual is “aimed at inspiring us and boosting our creativity before we embark on another long day of editing the news.”1 He says this new practice is leaving members more thoughtful, more contemplative. “I can tell by the faraway look in my colleagues’ eyes as we hear profound truths communicated sparsely and majestically.”2 His story sent me to a shelf in my living room in search of an anthology I might use to reboot this practice in my own creative life. Yes, despite the fruitful results from that high school composition class—and despite being steeped in poetry back when I served on the editorial team at Tweetspeak Poetry—I have fallen out of the habit of reading a poem each day. Wordsworth's "The Rainbow' I plucked The Oxford Book of English Verse from the shelf, a collection I’d picked up at a used library sale. It flopped open to a Wordsworth poem: The Rainbow My heart leaps up when I behold A rainbow in the sky: So was it when my life began; So is it now I am a man; So be it when I shall grow old, Or let me die ! The Child is father of the Man; And I could wish my days to be Bound each to each by natural piety.3 A few of Wordsworth’s choices are easily spotted in this short poem: the deliberate repetition of “So” in a series of three. Unintentional repetition can distract a reader, but writers who use repetition with intent can assist the reader’s understanding. Here, Wordsworth uses it to indicate the beginning, middle, and end of his life: “So was it...So is it...So be it.” Of course, we see rhyming throughout: behold/old, began/man, be/piety. While rhyming is the norm in poetry, it reminds me to listen for and play with its potential in prose; where might I test subtle sounds to add music to my words, even blog posts and podcasts? A poet of the Romantic era, Wordsworth responded to nature as teacher, as guide, as inspiration. He expresses a desire to never lose his childlike sense of wonder. Creativity, Curiosity, Wonder His poem—and his mindset—has potential to awaken our creativity alongside curiosity and wonder. He leaves me hopeful that we need not feel trapped and deadened by disheartening news. Our hearts can still leap. As a wordsmith, editor Marc Lacey knows poetry’s potential to inspire our minds to use language in imaginative and inventive ways. But he also seems to grasp the need for us to see the world differently and, perhaps, to believe our hearts can still leap. The Magic of Poetry Morrigan McCarthy, a photo editor and former poetry major,
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