If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.
Hello, writers. It is review time again. Every week I provide you with at least one writing tip, and I have put together a clip show of the last 10 week’s worth of writing tip segments as a refresher for you. We only have 9 segments this episode because of the winter break.
As always, if you have a writing or publishing question you would like me to answer, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a message on Instagram at @writingbreakpodcast.
Now, let’s settle in at the Writing Break cafe and get started on a full episode of writing tips.
From Episode 44: How to Break into the Book Market
With the holiday season upon us, invitations and obligations are rearing their glittery little heads. Your calendar is filling up, and now you don’t know when you’re going to get back to your writing.
As soon as you start a new project, excuses will keep you from working on your new venture. By “excuses” I am referring to people you think you must please and events in which you think you must participate. Take this week to say “no” and realize how many time-suckers are lurking in your life, during the holidays and all year long.
We often say “yes” to events because we feel like we might miss out on something. Understandably, the “fear of missing out” is a strong and relentless motivator for those of us who want to suck the marrow out of life before continuing on to the great unknown. And yet, confined to our bodies and this one life, we are always missing out on not just something but most things. Are we on the International Space Station today? Are we photographing the Sahara? Are we BASE jumping (and living to tell about it)?
You are an author, and you want to tell stories. Keep saying “yes” to things that don’t align with your writing goals, and you’ll miss out on writing a great book.
Of course, there are experiences you won’t want to miss. Those are the ones that feel like adventures, not obligations.
Sometimes we say “yes” because we don’t want to disappoint anyone. People pleasing is a hard habit to break. Some of us don’t even want to disappoint people who constantly disappoint us. Instead of letting other people down, you let yourself down. Over and over again.
What Happens When You Say “No”?
For the most part, nothing revolutionary happens when you say, “No, thanks, I have some writing to do.” Well, that’s not exactly true. The more often you put your writing first, the easier it gets and the better your writing gets. That’s revolutionary.
My advice is simple: say “no” when you would rather be writing. That’s one gift you can give yourself every day. People might be miffed, but you will have written a killer scene, so what do you care? Those who care about you will admire your dedication. Those who get mad and stay mad were never planning to read your book anyway.
From Episode 45: The Biggest Mistake Writers Make
Now, for your gift, a full breakdown of the biggest mistake writers make and how to fix it for free.
From the first draft to the finished product, you labored over your work with devotion. During your writing breaks, you imagined the accolades that would be poured on you from friends and family when they read your masterpiece. You even practiced the modest reactions you would have to their endless praise. You feel that the people in your life motivated you. In reality, they stifled you.
What went wrong? In short, you cared about what the people in your life would think about your published work, thereby putting your true message in second place. You held back so as not to offend anyone you know or gave false praise in an attempt to please people. Authors often do this without realizing it. Even if you know you’re doing it, you might think that others will not catch on or that it does not hurt your writing. But it does.
Whether it’s a one-dimensional parent in a memoir or a not-so-steamy love scene in a romance novel, a good editor knows when you’ve pulled your punches. Doing so doesn’t make you a bad writer, but it doesn’t make your writing good. Twisting and muffling your message results in lackluster writing and hours of your life squandered. You will never become a great author until you become an autonomous author.
Considering how critical people in our lives can be, it’s no surprise that we take their opinions into account—consciously or not—every time we attempt to express ourselves.
Am I really saying you should not care about the opinions of those in your life? When it comes to your writing, yes.
After two decades of working with authors, I know that what I’m asking of you is easier said than done. So, I’m going to share a harsh truth about your writing that I would like you to keep in mind as you write. This applies to any type of writer and any piece of writing, from full-length novels right down to your shortest poem.
No one you know is going to read your work.
Everyone has told you that you should write. You shared snippets of your manuscript with your friends, family, and dog walker, and they have all told you that the story is so good it should be a movie! They can’t wait to read it, and they are but a small and unbiased sample of the world’s population.
Then you publish. Days, weeks, and years go by, and no one you know has read it. What gives? Are they all too busy encouraging other writers? Sure, let’s go with that excuse.
Aside from that one borderline-stalker frenemy, your work will pass unnoticed and might even be dismissed by those you love.
In some cases, attempts will be made, which is worse.
The people in your life love you. Even though they are not publishing professionals, their encouragement and support is genuine. Some will attempt to read your finished work. Four things might happen then:
(1) The Guilt Read. These people skim your work out of guilt. It’s not really their thing, but what if you ask them about it? You dedicated the book to them, after all. They’re living in your home and eating your food, and you gave them a free copy. There’s no escaping the guilt read for them. They crack the spine knowing that no matter what you’ve written, they’re going to say they loved it. YouTube plays in the background as they read.
(2) The Overanalytical Read. These people will put their own slant on your work because they know you, so when they get to the brooding neighbor with the sultry eyes in the second chapter, they think it’s about them. They always knew you had a crush on them. Rather than accept the work for what it is, they misinterpret your message and might even argue with you about it. They’ll also tell you what you should have written instead. Doesn’t that sound fun?
(3) The Rejection Read. These people read it and don’t just reject the story; they reject you for writing the story. Why are these people even in your life?
(4) The Love Read. These wonderful and smart people read your work in its entirety. They get it. They love it. They love you more for writing it. I’m only including this one to make you feel better.
It doesn’t matter why everyone you know does or does not read your masterpiece. What matters is that if you wrote it for them, or with their possible opinions in mind, you cheated your actual audience and weakened your writing.
So, what can you do to prevent this mistake from happening and improve as a writer?
Write for yourself. You write because you have something to say, and writing is the way you choose to say it. The message hums in your head, and the humming gets louder and louder until you absolutely must write it down.
Whether you’re aspiring to be a novelist, playright, scriptwriter, or any other type of writer, you’re putting in the hard work first and foremost for yourself. You write because you must, then comes your audience.
You know your message is of value to someone else. Rather than caring about the opinions of those in your life, you should be caring about getting your message across to your intended audience. No piece of work is for everyone, though some aspiring writers want to believe otherwise. I’ve talked about this before, so you should know by now that keeping your ideal reader in your mind as you write will help you write a clear and impactful piece of work that will have maximum benefit to you, your writing career, and your true audience. Trust me, your loved one is not your ideal reader.
From Episode 46: 5 Last-Minute Gifts for Writers
Here is a list of 5 free things you can get the writers in your life. No matter the occasion, these are things writers always need.
Writers need time to write. Give writers time to write without a guilt trip and without making them feel like they’re missing out on something (even if they are).
Also, give the writer you care about some of your own time during which you listen as they describe their latest plot bunny, character arc, whatever.
Okay, so maybe you don’t actually get why they insist on working for hours on a book or screenplay that seems to be making them monumentally miserable, but you can at least let them know that you understand it is something they want to do. Maybe they even feel it’s something they have to do. We’ve all felt this way about something, haven’t we?
Writers often feel misunderstood, so this is a great gift, trust me.
This might be the hardest one on the list to pull off. You might think, Enthusiasm? They’ve talked to me about the same scene for days! How about I just get them another notebook instead? Maybe with a nice pen this time?
I’m not asking you to show interest in their story because what they’re working on might not be your cup of tea, and that is something you should be honest about. (Do not offer advice on their sci-fi novel if you do not read science fiction.)
Instead, I’m asking for enthusiasm for the overall writing process, such as when they send off their 300th query letter.
Yes, they are oscillating between talking your ear off and slinking off to their writing spot without you. It’s hard on you, which is why this is a big gift and better than anything you can buy them.
If you want to make a writer feel good, do your best to express enthusiasm for their work. Mainline caffeine if it helps.
This one is for extroverts only.
A writer might be able to write 60,000+ words for their novel, yet they will crumble when it comes time to talk about or write about themselves. Tell others about them. Introduce them as a writer at parties. Share their news on social media (unless they’ve asked you not to).
Tell them their writing is good (if it is), note improvements, and let them know you admire their dedication. Even if you’ve already told them before, tell them again.
And, of course, leave 5-star reviews all over the internet.
From Episode 47: Bestselling Authors Share Their Worst Book Signing Experiences
Last week I shared 5 last-minute, free gifts others should give you, the writer. If you’re looking for a free gift you can give yourself that will make a huge difference in your writing, consider reading. Many aspiring writers I talk to do not read. It’s true. Or they balk at the idea of reading something about a subject they don’t know anything about or are not interested in, no matter how well-written and acclaimed that book might be. It’s wild.
Without exception, avid readers enjoy being transported to new worlds and learning about new things. So you might expect all writers to be the same way. In the famous words of Stephen King, “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Now, you might have the time to write, but if you don’t also make time to read, your writing won’t be good. When you read other authors, you increase your ability to identify good writing, which means you’ll know when you’ve written something worthwhile and when you need to write another draft. It’s about understanding flow, pacing, character development, and so much more. You’re not reading to plagiarize or mimic others; rather, you’re reading to learn what moves you and what doesn’t. That’s how you develop as a writer. I encourage you to give yourself the gift of reading.
From Episode 48: Six-Month Book Publishing Plan
The new year is a great time for aspiring writers to get serious about their writing and for longtime writers to start a new project. I recommend you use that new year energy and start writing right away. Don’t worry too much about the perfect writing spot or software or notebook. Just get started. The rest will follow.
To help you along, you’ll find a link in the show notes to BookBaby’s Six-Month Publishing Plan. This is not an endorsement of BookBaby, and it’s not sponsored, but it’s a simple guide that could help you get a handle on the publishing process.
As for what you can gift me, how about recommending Writing Break to at least one other person before the new year? I bet it’ll generate some good writing energy for yourself.
From Episode 49: Don’t Make This First Draft Mistake
I was recently hired to do a developmental edit for a knowledgeable writer. This is a first-time author who is an expert in his field and has a lot of great information to share, but the organization and completeness of that information needed work in order to be well received by the intended audience. So, I did the job I was hired to do, and then the project manager and I awaited the author’s revised draft. In the end, the acquisitions editor had to hunt down the author in order to get the revised draft. When the new draft was submitted to me, a note was attached to it that said the author was sensitive, and that we were going to have to accept that the author did not want to make several of the revisions I suggested. This is despite the fact that I’ve been doing developmental edits for this publishing house for years and the project managers agreed with my comments.
So, what’s going wrong with this project? Well, the publishing house is so afraid of losing the acquisition that they’re going to push a subpar book through. If you’ve ever read a book and wondered, where was the book’s editor? I can tell you there’s a good chance they pointed out the flaws that you’re seeing, and the author chose to move forward without changing the manuscript. Over time, bad reviews will often humble a writer, and they’ll start to see the wisdom of their editorial team, but editors don’t want you to suffer that public humiliation. They want you to put out a masterpiece.
During my winter break, I overthought about what was happening with the current author. In the margins he even replied to my comments with statements confirming that I was correct, that he saw my point, that what I said made sense, but that it was too late to make any changes.manuscript, as the book has a:
Your first draft is just the beginning, and thank goodness for that. No matter how good or bad your first draft is, your final draft is going to be immeasurably better.
In the words of Louis L'Amour, “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.”
From Episode 50: The Thief Who Keeps Stealing My Resume
Years ago, a non-editor stole my resume, put their name on it, and began passing it off as their own. I took it as a clear sign of the thief’s mental state and decided I did not have what it took to deal with this level of instability. This month it was recently brought to my attention that it’s still going on, and that the thief is even claiming to have edited books that I edited.
I sign nondisclosure agreements for so many of my authors and publishers, that the only books I ever clearly say that I edited are the ones in which the author has been kind enough to thank me in their published acknowledgments. This way, I don’t have to keep track of what books I’m allowed to discuss.
So, the books on this thief’s resume actually say in print that I was the editor.
Still, it is strange to be targeted in this manner. I discussed the theft with my inner circle, and many options were suggested to me, including getting my attorney involved. Some of my friends are attorneys, so I think that’s their natural reaction to things. But yes, it’s an option. My attorney friends say that because I was hired by a publishing house to do the work, it could be seen as a violation of my contract if they don’t believe I did the work. But I can provide a clear digital trail of my efforts if it ever comes to that. One friend said that it might be that the thief is trying to get me to contact them. That’s a weird way to go about it.
What concerns me is that it violates my authors. Editing is a job that tests your skill every minute you’re doing the job. You can take my resume and perhaps con someone into hiring you, but you will then have to do the work. In the years since my CV was first stolen, the thief has not amassed a resume substantial enough to replace mine. That’s because editing is harder than people think. There is so much to consider and so much to know when editing, and it’s possible to get to the end of a manuscript and think you did a good job when you didn’t because you have no idea how much information you’re missing. That’s why you need a professional editor.
When you’re good at editing, it’s the kind of profession that makes you respect other people’s professions. Does that make sense? When you know how much goes into each edit, you start to understand how much other professionals really know about what they do.
And when a good book editor encounters a good author, the respect and admiration is immeasurable. Authors don’t just have to know about many things, they also need the stamina to find out what they don’t know while conjuring emotions in the reader out of thin air. It is awe inspiring.
The bond I build with my authors over the weeks, months, and often years that I work with them is meaningful to me. To have someone lie about having edited a book means that they’re also lying about the authors and the entire production team. That’s where it gets sticky for me.
So, what do you think? How would you feel if someone was lying about having worked on your manuscript? Send me an email to email@example.com to let me know.
More importantly, do you have a good bond with your editor? I’m not the perfect editor for everyone, and I think it’s important that you find the right editor for your writing career. Be clear with your editor about how you like to work, and make sure you’re working with someone who respects you.
From Episode 51: AI-Narrated Books and Getting to the Heart of Your Story
I’ve worked with many authors whose resolution for the new year was to publish a book; sometimes it was their first book, but not always. Regardless of whether or not you set goals for the new year, I do think it’s important to have some idea about your writing goals. I’m not talking about a deadline for publication. Rather, I’m talking about a goal for what you want your book to accomplish. Maybe you want to provide escapism, hope, or information. Maybe you want to talk about love, courage, and deception.
It’s important to understand what you want to accomplish with your writing. Sure, it’s a murder mystery. But what’s at the heart of it? The fickle bonds of kinship? Unconquerable greed or jealousy? The virtue of stubbornness? In a character-driven story, the character might lead you to the heart of it. For example, if your protagonist is a senior citizen, perhaps the message at the heart of the story is that it’s hard to defeat a person with life experience and a strong will.
Once you feel the heartbeat of your story, your writing goal is defined. It doesn’t have to be spoonfed to your readers or even stated in the text at all. You can just think about it when you’re working on the book. By keeping your writing goal in mind, the revisions get easier. Notice that I said revisions. You don’t have to start over just because you didn’t have a clear pulse on the book’s message. Just go over it again.
From Episode 52: The Balance between Researching and Writing
I’ve said before that every book requires some level of research, but I don’t think I’ve gotten into the dangers of over-researching. I guess this could double as our Overthinking Couch segment, but this time the overthinker is you.
The first problem with doing too much research is that it might be serving as a way to procrastinate the actual writing that needs to be done. You know you want to write a book, but first you have to research every last detail. Maybe you’re scared to start, maybe you just find it all so fascinating. I sympathize with both.
When I encounter an author wallowing in their research, I try to get them to write a few pages before returning to their research. Sometimes it helps, and sometimes it helps so much that they just want to keep writing and not do any more research at all.
You’ll find the right balance between researching and writing eventually, and maybe it changes with each book or story you write.
The second danger of doing too much research is that the author then wants to put it all into the book. That’s . . . that’s not going to work.
But don’t take my word for it. David Baldacci has said the same thing. If you’re not familiar with David Baldacci, he is the author of dozens of national and international bestsellers, several of which have been adapted for film and television. For example, the TV show Bosch starring Titus Welliver and the movie Absolute Power starring and directed by Clint Eastwood. Check the show notes for today’s gift (I hope you didn’t think I forgot about your gift). You’ll find a link to a YouTube video in which Baldacci explains his writing process and the problem with putting all of your research into your book. It’s a quick video; less than 5 minutes long.
I hope you enjoyed this bonus episode. Next week, if all goes as planned, we’ll be traveling to a bookstore outside the USA, and I’ll have the latest publishing news for you, more gifts, and of course, more writing tips.
If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.
Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at email@example.com.