Spiral Learning Applies To Writers

A comment on a post I’d left on a writer’s group Facebook page gave me pause. It was something I re-blogged because the writer’s honesty encouraged me. I love sharing writing tips, mine and others. The commenter remarked, “every writer knows this stuff, and this post was a waste.”  I shook my head and decided to explain on my blog why “I beg to differ.”spiral

Spiral Learning

Educators explain people learn in a spiral. Simply put, reviewing the basics before adding a new concept helps a student retain and expand on the information. Therefore, material is repeated at every grade level year after year. The basics of math and reading are reviewed in early elementary school. It takes a few years to master the foundation. Every grade level through high school spend the first portion of the year reviewing the materials last presented in the previous year. Most students don’t remember enough from past lessons in earlier years to build on a new concept. We remember it while we are using it.  (Think high school French class.) Then we forget some or all of what we learned. We continue to relearn, remember, forget, relearn until we own the skill and don’t forget.

Spiral Refreshing

The same applies to writing. I attended a writing retreat years ago. One subject was correct grammar. Later someone bemoaned the waste of time. After all, writers know this stuff. For me, there were things I’d forgotten. And punctuation issues, I needed clarity on.

Reviewing what you know

Familiar topics on writers’ conference brochures could be the deciding factor to skip the event when we’ve attended those same classes before.

I’ve discovered I’m always learning things I missed the first time. The review refreshes my knowledge. Applying what I learn may take a few times of hearing it to get it right.

If we’re honest, we can list at least one new thing we learned and determined to apply, but didn’t. It can take several more classes, blog posts or articles, before we followed through.

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Learning to avoid bad advice

How many times have you seen those ads that promise big bucks, even if you don’t know how to write? Everyone knows not to pursue it. But writers do. A desire to write full-time and quit a day job can drive an aspiring writer to waste time on content mills. How many will raise their hand along with me and say… “I did.” After I was so foolish, I read many articles debunking my choice, and I own that concept now.

Blog information

My email fills with several blog subscriptions weekly. I’m amazed when the familiar comes along right when I need it. Recently, a post reminded me of the ten most common novel writing errors. It reset my mind and put me in tune with those things as I edit my latest WIP. I knew the tips well, but knowing and doing can sometimes trip over each other.

Relearn from each other

Although I am a traditionally published author, I subscribe to indie authors blogs. Both traditional and Indie can teach me things. One example: why multiple levels of editing are important. As a traditional author, I get those edits from my publisher. But indies need to hire the editors or do it themselves. I’m more mindful of what to expect from the publishers I work with.  Another example: marketing. Most authors struggle to remember what and how to do it correctly and consistently. It helps me to decide what types of marketing beyond what my publisher offers I might want to explore.

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Final Word

My tip when we are tempted to say, “we all know this stuff.” Don’t.  Someone may not be familiar at all. I’m amazed how the old adage, “You don’t know what you don’t know” applies to me. I’ve seen best-selling authors taking copious notes in classes on subjects I assumed they were an expert. Often, they remark. “I’ve learned something new.”

What new or review information were you grateful to have received in your Inbox or social media? Were you at the learn or forget stage when you read it?

Comment below I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Writing Prompts and Giveaway

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Have you ever been to a writer’s class where the teacher starts it out with a writing prompt? You get a few minutes to write something based on a sentence opener. A few brave students share their words. I hate it. Don’t misunderstand, I love writing prompts they get my mind engaged and the creative juices flowing.  I don’t want to share that initial mess with anyone. I always write poo my first attempt. There are moments I’m inspired immediately and the cleaver words flow onto the page. But that is rare.

The writing prompt isn’t designed to embarrass or prove what pathetic creatures we writers are. It’s a chance to loosen words from your brain. Like fruit trees the ripe ones fall to the ground first where they get bruise and rot in a short time. Later we get a ladder and pluck the ripe fruit by hand carefully placing it in baskets. The bruise fruit can still nourish as part of a pie or sliced so only the good parts show. But if they’d never fallen to the ground, we’d not have realized how ripe the fruit was getting. How ready we were to write those particular words. Creating something delicious for the reader.

Completing a sentence not of our own creation can open our mind to so many possibilities. A storyline forms, a call to action from deep in our heart takes shape or a long overdue belly laugh sets us in the right mood to open those neglected word documents.

Below is a list of prompts. Pick one.  No timer—just write. When you’re done reread it. How’d it turn out?  Did the exercise inspire? Are you ready to conquer those other projects?

Here they are:

Why is it Mildred always___________

 

“Harald, this is the last time______________

 

Willy raced ahead, his legs pumping hard on the pedals of his ten-speed. “Why ___________

 

“Pling, pling, pling water droplets beat against the pans covering the floor____________

 

Blood smears trailed along the kitchen floor to the back door where a large _______

 

Let’s make it more interesting

You can start with the prompt or put it anywhere within the paragraph or two or three or pages of words your imagination pours out for you. Have fun.

Anyone who is brave enough to share their creation (or a part of it if it goes beyond a few paragraphs) in the comments please do. If you prefer to tell me how doing this exercise help their creativity. Wonderful. All commenters will be entered into a giveaway.  I’ll send an autographed copy of Secrets & Charades to one winner.

If you’ve read Secrets & Charades I’ll send a copy of Writing in Obedience: A primer from Christian Fiction writers by Terry Burns and Linda W Yezak as an alternative.  So, enjoy the prompts. Write away and comment. The drawing will take place next Tuesday the 25th.

Don’t forget if you’re not following this blog but would like to please subscribe so you don’t miss a posting.

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Me and My Email Inbox Need Help

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I’m making a true confession here today. I love email. I get a certain thrill when I open my inbox and find lots of missives for me. However, so many of them are not worth my time. But I don’t know that until I open it. Therein lies my problem. Too many open emails.publication4

I was patting myself on the back a few weeks ago, I reduced my email from over a thousand to under 300.  I created a few new email folders to hold some of those remaining emails. My Word Weavers and writing business emails have their own folder. At the start of a new year I’m battling email glut again.

I need that

I realize I have this bad habit of saying WOW! What cool information. I’d better hang on to that email. Sometimes I turned the email into a word document and put it in my writing tips file in Word, or I print it off to peruse and underline later. The goal: to delete the original. Most of the time I leave the open, barely read emails hanging out in my inbox. They get shoved further and further down my ever-growing line of daily emails.

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Lots of writing blogs

I subscribe to almost a dozen writing blogs. I don’t need to keep those emails. Each of these blogs has an archive. So, that awesome information is saved in cyberspace on their blog. I can mark those blogs as favorites on my server page and access the blog’s archives when I want to reread it. But alas I don’t.

Hitting the thousand-mark got laughter from my hubby who seldom remembers to delete old emails. And I’m always giving him grief about it.

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Notice the file icons to the left. You can create your own files for various work or personal needs and title them. Just click and drag the email into the file area.

Got to organize

I use Gmail. It has ways for me to organize my email into files and refer back to it whenever I want. Most emails apps have ways to create files and mark your messages by importance. You can also type in the name of the sender, rather than trawl through all those old emails. Then all those sender’s emails appear, making it easier to find a special email I may need. My only excuse is procrastination

After cleaning out my email, I’d say I eliminated about 95 percent. Either advertising upgrades for programs I have, old news about contests, publications etc., that are no longer relevant and quick emails from friends about things that are long past were all tossed into the trash. The previous referred to blog archives played heavily in my deleting decision. And any messages I just couldn’t bear to part with also were placed in a file marked important.

 

Prepare ahead

My revelation for the need for a daily organization always comes at times when I’m desperately looking for that one email from my agent or an editor. It would be so much easier if I would immediately delete junk and prioritize those I don’t have time to look at right away.

Saying that brought DiAnn Mills to mind. She has a spreadsheet for everything. Perhaps if I made a spreadsheet with the reference to the blog post I can’t live without. Great idea! I could have a column for the topic, the specific blog, and the date it posted. I could click on the blog address and then search by date. Tah Dah! I’ll have to think on that a bit. I’m not the spreadsheet officinato DiAnn and my husband are. Unfortunately, I tend to make a spreadsheet and forget I did. *sigh*

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Delete unneeded email immediately.

 Be more efficient and declutter

Keeping your email box cleaned out and filed saves hours of time, confusion, and frustration. What a welcome relief that would be.

During the time I took to empty my email, I had this needling feeling I deleted something I shouldn’t have. But it’s too late now. Another reason I should do this once a week. Who remembers what’s in months-old emails?

Next, I emptied the trash file after I was done deleting. It is gone forever. I lack the skills of the computer nerd who knows how to retrieve emails from those dark places of no return. So, I must determine to have no regrets.

Avoid rereading

I also realized I feel a deep need to open every email. This same need compels me to reread every single email before I delete it. That was a key problem that started the whole mess in the first place.

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Temptation, temptation, temptation

Then there is the temptation to read all those emails when I’m not in the mood to write just yet. Hours later I no longer have time to write. Another reason to keep it clean every day. There is no monetary gain unless a contract is buried somewhere in those old missives.  I want to get paid for my writing so I need to spend more time putting words on paper and sending out queries than weeding through mountains of forgotten emails.

Starting today while 2017 is still fresh. I’m going to try to do a better job. I’m not holding my breath, though. There is way too much interesting information coming into my inbox.

How are you with your email management?

Please tell me how you manage your emails. I’d love to learn from my readers.

Reflection on 2016 and Refocus on 2017

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 At times my best intention got set aside in 2016 in order to deal with the drama of life. Image from free microsoft clipart.

2016 has been both a difficult and amazing year. I’ve found myself in the midst of great sorrow and awesome joy. Frustrated and energized and a myriad of other emotions.

My father passed. My mother went into assisted living. The months leading up to these two events were full of drama.

contractDuring those same months, I received a book contract and gained an agent. After getting over the initial shock and doing a few happy dances, the realization that life as I know it had just ratcheted up a few notches on the need-to-be-more-focused scale.

Then my PC did strange things at crucial moments. Tears and frustration abounded.ps-2911-meme Thanks to Microsoft technicians it found deliverance from cyber demons. My newly upgraded PC gave me better options for my Word documents. This led to more frustration while learning the new system.

Working with editors helped me learn to better edit myself.

Rejections

My second novel began doing the rejection rounds in 2016. I’m not discouraged because Secrets and Charades was rejected 20 times before it found a publishing home. I continue to edit and tweak.

My third novel is taking longer to write the first draft than the other two. My editor’s cap keeps me from moving on to the end.Long Ago Pic-2

I was forced to strive to be more productive in shorter increments of time due to family commitments and my job. I realized it was indeed possible to write at night even when I’m tired.

Marketing

Marketing is a new experience I began researching in 2016. Reading blogs from authors who have mastered marketing. Seeking out fellow-authors to learn their secrets. Brainstorming with another writer friend who is helping me get my marketing set up. Because I hate promoting myself, my internal judge sees no upside yet.

Realizing I can do this writing thing despite adversity has boosted my confidence.fear-and-doubt-meme

2017 Writing Goals

After the roller coaster of last year my writing goals for 2017 are simple.

Write more.

Edit more.

Learn my side of marketing.

Continue to pay-it-forward by helping other writers on their journey.

And sell lots of copies of Secrets and Charades. It comes out March 2017.

Happy New Year everyone. Hope you reach all your writing and marketing goals in 2017.

 

 

Rowena Kuo:Writing Epic Back Cover

rowenakuo2016Today I welcome Rowena Kuo to my blog. She is an Acquisitions Editor for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. I sat in on her Writing Epic Back Cover class at the Write to Publish Conference this past June. Her knowledge helped clarify so much for me. I have touched on the importance of awesome back cover content in a previous post. Writing back cover isn’t as easy as I once thought. It’s not my best work. And other authors admit they’d rather have a root canal. So to take some of the pain and mystery out of this daunting task I’ve called on Rowena to give us some helpful guidelines toward excellent back copy.

Ro, welcome. I am so honored to have you as a guest blogger.

Thank you, Cindy. I always enjoy visiting with you and look forward to any time I get to see you again.

The word length of the back cover copy is 100 to 300 words. Tell us how do we decide what goes into this small cache’ of words? What should we leave out? How can we discern the difference?

Every word on your back cover carries weight, so we should make each word count. The back cover should answer “who, what, where, when, and why,” with the book content being the “how.”  Introduce your main characters by name and their relationship to each other, what the story is about, the setting, the time period, and why your reader should invest in your story. When you introduce your main characters, first show what is the “normal” world before everything goes wrong. Introduce your “average citizen” before his “call to duty,” and whether or not he will answer that call to become a “superhero.”

Place your characters in a place and time setting, so that your readers can affiliate with your story. This is key to deciding the genre of your book. You should then say what that “call to duty” is, the “inciting incident” that destroys the “normal” world and forces your character into action. Every story must have conflict to be interesting. State what that conflict is. The “why” of your story should make your characters compelling, your story thought-provoking, and intrigue your reader enough to buy your book.

Leave out non-essential and complicated storylines. Don’t summarize what happens in the story. Sometimes becoming too detailed drags your back cover copy, and your reader will search for a different book. End your back cover copy with a question. That question should entice your reader and should be answered upon reading your book.

Once we decide what goes in how do we make the words epic?

Use words that drive your book to the top of searches. Go to Amazon and search for the best-selling books in your genre. Read the back cover copies, and online, these would be the description or blurb when you click on the book title.

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How do I find those top seller books in any given genre to examine the back cover?

  1. Go to Amazon.com
  2. On the Amazon search bar, the gray tab on the left drops down. Find Kindle Store.
  3. On the far left-hand vertical bar, find Kindle eBooks.
  4. Still, on that far left-hand vertical bar, there are several categories of books. Click on your genre. For example: Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense. The number in the parenthesis next to the genre is how many titles are categorized in that particular genre. This number can change depending on new books coming out that fall into that category.
  5. Refine your search to the smallest sub-category. These are still on that left-hand bar. For example: Mystery–>Cozy (2878)
  6. Click on that first book. The books can change from moment to moment depending on book sales, so what I find at the top today, you may not find there tomorrow. The important thing to look at is the back cover copy or the description of those top 10 books. For each book, there will be rankings in 3 genres.
  7. Look at the words that “pop out” at you, common words that search engines will use to align your book with the titles at the top of your genre.

Certain words trigger search engines and lead readers to those books. Plant those words into your back cover copy. Depending upon the genre, these words will vary, but a little research on your part prior to writing your back cover copy can be the difference between your audience finding your book and your novel being dead last. For example, the keywords I see on the back cover for the #1 book in Romance and Women’s Fiction are: fatal, accident, discovered, secret, lies, disappears, suspicion, love, romantic, gripping, mystery, suspense.

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How important is back cover copy to potential readers?

Back cover copy is what your reader looks at to decide whether or not to invest time and money in your book. This copy is what search engines use to connect books to the right audience. It’s important to know your genre and all the possible genres where your book might fit. Knowing your genre(s) can help you write back cover copy that will attract the readers who would enjoy your story.

How important is the wording of back cover copy to Amazon and other online and storefront retailers?

Amazon and other retailers base success on sales, and sales drive where your book ranks. Amazon gets a cut of every sale, so having a back cover copy that translates into sales is key to how successful your book is going to be. Of course, the book itself must have an amazing story, but it is the back cover copy that influences readers to make that purchase.

How many tries does it take to get this right?

Writing back cover copy can be a trying task. It can be written and rewritten dozens of times before it would pass publisher approval. Don’t lose heart at this stage. It will be worth the effort no matter how many times it takes to revise your back cover copy.

Any final words for forlorn authors struggling to make their back cover shine?

I encourage you to read the back cover copies of the best-selling books in your genres. Write down words that pop out at you and draw you to that book. Investigate what drives a book to the top of the lists and make sure your book is comparable. Use active rather than passive verbs and descriptions that engage the imagination, curiosity, and heart of your readers. I’m still looking for the magic formula that will make our books crash the download servers, but I hope that I have given you a few pointers to at least ensure your back cover copy promises a fantastic read. If your book delivers the story your back cover promises, then you are well on your way to successful sales. See you at the top of the charts!

Rowena Kuo is an editor and executive producer for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and Lighthouse Productions of the Carolinas. With over 15 years of ministering to children, youth groups, young adults, and now women and family groups, Rowena advocates for writers to build God-centered support systems consisting of people, perseverance, practice, and most of all, prayer. She has written for Christian Devotions, Written World Communications, and the 168 Write of Passage. When not working on words or films, she is a full-time mom with secret aspirations for spaceflight.

Rowena Kuo
Acquisitions Editor
Editorial Director
Fiction Division
Managing Editor, Brimstone Fiction
Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas
http://lighthousepublishingofthecarolinas.com/
Development Executive Producer
http://lpcmediagroup.com

Do you have a love or hate relationship with back cover copy?

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Creating Memes to Promote Book Sales

I’ve been experimenting with memes. You know the words displayed in an artist frame. When I think of memes I think of comments added to the grumpy cat photo, funny kid’s pics and favorite actors. Recently, we’ve seen a lot of minion memes.

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This an example of a meme you  find all over facebook.

Statistically, people stop to read words placed on a meme more than words alone. If I want my Facebook friends and twitter followers to take interest in my book I need to engage them now. Memes are a fun and actually easy way to do it.

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I created this meme on Pic monkey. I found the picture on pixabay.com and the quote is my own.  You can change font size and color so it is easy to read.

I was surprised how easy. If you take lots of pictures or in my case, my husband takes lots of pictures, then you can search through those to start your creation. You can use free photo sites like pixabay.com and morguefile.com to find pictures. Or you can create colorful backgrounds for your quotes. Word is too painful to use to create anything artistic. Word Publishing or PowerPoint programs work pretty well. There’s a bit of a learning curve at least for me. My hubby uses them with ease.

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This is a quote from a blog post. Putting key phrases from blogs either as a meme on the blog or social media draws attention to your work. There is something missing can you tell what it is? Created with Picmonkey.

I like Picmonkey. It’s a great website. I use it for preparing photos I want to post, but you can also create memes for FB, twitter or blogs. The site has FB and Twitter templates. You can customize the size. Create collages and more. Choose between the free and paid versions. It’s easy to use. The free one is great. I am a subscriber now because the fee gives me more options. There’s a free trial available and step by step instructions.

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This meme has my website at the bottom. The missing component to the previous meme. Also be sure to give correct to the person or book the quote is taken from.  Created with Picmonkey.

My plan involves posting quotes from my novel nearer it’s launch date. For now, I can post memes with favorite quotes, verses and the occasional words of wisdom I create myself. There’s lots of background art to choose from to help set your meme apart. Great for me who has only a small amount of artist flare in my left pinky finger. The backgrounds help your Pinterest boards look fantastic. You can resize, sharpen or crop a photo. With the paid version you can create invitations, business cards and more.  So Cool!

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This is a picture I found that reminds me of my heroine Evangeline in Secret and Charades. This quote does not appear in the novel. I wanted to show how easy it is to add text to pictures with Picmonkey.com

Tell me how you create memes? Feel free to post your meme in the comment section and share what program you use. Together we can make this meme experiment easy for everyone.

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Grammarly’s Free Download Helpful to Writers

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Recently, I took the plunge. I downloaded the free version of Grammarly. A software program that corrects grammar, spelling, punctuation and sentence structure. The free version catches my often overlooked typos. My family moved a few weeks into my sophomore year and beginning typing. Therefore, my typing skills are less than stellar. Thanks to the invention of the personal computer I am now able to fix my typos quickly. However, there are still other things I can miss. Grammarly catches those. It underlines the word in question and shows me in a sidebar the problem. Or in some cases the assumed problem.

The program pinged on the word Wok—asking if I might mean walk. Because I was referring to the pan, I choose the ignore button. When it questioned the spelling of neighbor to be corrected as neighbour, I again hit ignore. I didn’t want the British spelling. Most of the time it catches not only misspelled words (my bad typing) but improperly used words, missing articles, etc. Pretty cool. When the software challenges a word, I have found myself coming up with an even better word than the one cited as a possible error. Great way to stretch your creative juices.

A downside, you have to get out of the program to save your corrections. I ran the spell check in Word as a double check. They disagree on a few things.  Words spell check doesn’t come close to catching what Grammarly does, and its limited vocabulary pings errors that aren’t.

Writers still need to do the work.

Grammarly doesn’t replace working hard at crafting good sentences. Nor should it be used as the lazy man’s final draft. My college son relies on it to proof his work. Yes, he admits it’s the lazy way. But as writers, we still need critique partners to help us craft better prose.  We need to practice honing the phrasing of our words until they shine.

As a novelist, the basic program doesn’t understand the need for sentence fragments for pacing or dialogue syntax. For example, woulda used to expression a character’s speech pattern is underlined as misspelled.

Overall it’s a great tool to keep your conscience mindful of your most common errors as you draft your copy. I’d recommend anyone who wants to improve the grammar areas of their writing to give the free download a try. I’ve installed it on FB as well. Everyone notices when a writer has a blaring typo. Haven’t decided if I want to purchase the advanced edition. That portion claims to catch errors on a deeper level. I would recommend checking out the free version.

Have you used Grammarly? What do you think of it?

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