Why “Write What You Know” Is Terrible Advice

For some of us, anyway.

“Write what you know.”

I can’t tell you how many times this advice has been lobbed at me. Sometimes I feel like it’s all I can do as a writer to fight my way through the phrase. First of all, I don’t feel like I know much of anything. Secondly, that which I do positively, absolutely, no doubt about it know…well, I find that I don’t bloom with desire to share it. Any of it. I know a lot about chocolate, but I don’t want to write about that. I know how it feels to be bullied as a teen, to suffer debilitating depression, but I don’t want to write about that, either. I know that there are people that can – that DO. I applaud them.

But that’s not me.

And frankly, dear Writer, it might not be YOU either.

If people only wrote what they knew, there are a lot of really amazing works that wouldn’t exist. Part of writing is exercising the imagination, thinking creatively, researching and learning and trying and failing and picking yourself up and starting again.

Maybe you suffered from disease. Perhaps you were abused. There’s a chance you lived despite horrible odds. Maybe you had your heart shattered into a million pieces by the person you thought was “The One.” If you want to share that story and you want to find and provide support for fellow survivors – bam. Write your story. I can’t wait to read it.

Maybe one or all of those things happened to you, but what you want to write about is a serial killer or a dude on roller skates or penguins. Then write about THAT. Just because you don’t have personal experience dealing with a serial killer or a dude on roller skates or penguins doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write about it. Write what you want to write because that’s what is going to be passion-filled and beloved by your followers (or future followers, as it may be).

Perhaps your writer’s block is due to not giving yourself artistic license to write about whatever the hell you want. 

Quit asking for permission.

Stop looking for a way to incorporate what you know into your story.

Just write.

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Shut Up and Write it Again

These are words that I have utmost loathing for when they are all sitting pretty next to one another. Utmost. Loathing.

Tell me if you have this problem: when you’re writing, you rarely get something to sound just the way to you want it to the FIRST time ( a lot of you may even get frustrated and quit at this point).

There are first drafts and second drafts and third drafts and rewrites and edits and – well, you get the picture. Sometimes it can seem endless – especially with every day writing tasks like thank you notes or invitations. Let’s face it: did you REALLY mean to tell Jill that you enjoyed hearing about her aunt’s perm nightmare during your wedding shower?

For me, writing something multiple times has always been the most difficult part of my profession. I just want it correct!

Don’t get me wrong. I know that there are writers reveling in this process. There are individuals who can’t WAIT for the scribbles of red ink to be returned to them so that they can make the final copy just so. However, if you’re anything like me, you’re hoping that the first time and the last time are synonymous.

That’s rarely, if ever going to be the case.

Here’s the good news: with time, those shorter writings such as blogs, letters and monthly mundane emails won’t take you nearly as long to write.

Why? How?

Repetition, my dear Dawson.

Think of it like this. When you first started your job, you probably felt overwhelmed at times, struggled to get through all of your duties at first and even going to far as to skip lunches or work late if it meant appearing competent. The longer you’ve been at your job, however, the likelier it is you’ve gotten the hang of things.

Writing is the same way. The problem arises when we haven’t practiced in a long time. After all, how often do you write thank you notes? So when you begin writing them for the first time in months or even years, your language feels clunky and reaching – not like you normally speak or present yourself at all.

The solution? Write more often. You only make out thank you notes after a celebration? Write them out for little things – send a friend a card to thank her for buying your lunch. Mail your mother a card to say you’re thinking of her. With time, you’ll realize the message doesn’t need to be long in order to be meaningful.

The same applies for monthly emails you may send out for work. Do you dread the last Friday of the month when you have to send out an all office report? Break it down into parts, doing a little bit each day. That way, if the words aren’t coming to you one day, you still have 29 others. Additionally, cut and paste language from past reports. Copy your paste style. Notice your patterns.

If all else fails, use the tactics I shared in this blog.

If I can’t figure out how to write a letter I’m content sending, I sit down with a piece of paper and write several different versions – about 50-100 words each. Short. Sweet. My mind begins to get into it.

When I really want to share my opinion on Goodreads, but I’m anxious about how ridiculous I’ll sound to other readers I write out five super brief (100 words or less) reviews on recent reads. I don’t think. I don’t go back to edit. I just write until I have 100 words or so. Force yourself to keep moving forward.

It’s practice, my friends.

Unfortunately, we forget that practice rarely means attacking the whole thing at once. How did you learn to walk? How did you learn to drive? How did you learn to raise a child? You weren’t born knowing.

Writing is the same way. Just because you can speak a language doesn’t mean you’re a writer. I feel as if that’s a step that’s somehow missing for many people. “I can speak so why can’t I write well?” Well…writing is a skill that must be learned. Treat it like one.

PS: This is my third draft of this blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indie Author? Ugh. Awful Writers, Aren’t They?

For some readers, that is.

Self-published novels, you say? They’re poorly written, badly edited and usually have zero in terms of a traceable plot line. No doubt, indie authors are ruining it for everyone, especially for those writers toiling away at more traditional publishing routes.

Heard of the magical, mystical world of self-publishing? Then you’ve probably encountered one or more of these snarky opinions (and much worse). Miraculously (I know that this will shock many of you) “self-published work” isn’t always synonymous with “terrible.” In fact dear challenger of that previous statement, I could share a disturbingly long list of traditionally published work that’s a total waste of shelf space. We all have our opinions.

The reason an indie author chooses to self-publish is entirely personal. Considering the route? Don’t let the stigma of self-publishing dissuade you from doing so. Not sure why so many people think this route is the way to go? Below are a few of the more popular reasons an author chooses to publish their own work. Read on and you may encounter a whole new perspective on the matter.

Building Relationships

We all have stories inside of us. Sometimes, our only goal is to write that one thing and send it off into the world, hoping it connects us with others who may share a similar story. There are no underlying ambitions – no wish for fame or fortune. A self-published work is simply a means to say what you need to say (you’re welcome). Many indie authors that choose this route have no desire to go through a traditional publishing house only to be told that their story isn’t worth the investment. They’re not in it for the money.

Accepting the Challenge

There is a rule in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers which states that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Whether you’ve managed to struggle through those 10,000 hours of writing or not, creating a book is just plain challenging. Good work doesn’t cease at writing a draft. There’s rewriting, editing, getting feedback from readers, and even more rewrites and tweaking. Some writers may go so far as to have a cover created for their work. Heck, you’d be hard-pressed to keep someone from publishing by any means necessary after all of that! Granted, self-publishing comes with its own set of challenges – and all of this helps to make authors better. Challenge accepted.

A Tryout

If you’re an indie author (or considering the path) and you haven’t heard about some of the more wild success stories, you’ve been living under a rock. Amanda Hocking, E.L. James and James Redfield started out with nothing more than a self-published novel – and now they’re laughing all the way to the bank. Need more evidence? Check out this list of self-published success stories by the Huffington Post. While not everyone approaches this line of reasoning when self-publishing, some indie authors see it as a dream, nay – a GOAL to live out the Cinderella story. No query letters. No toiling after just the right agent. And you know what? It really does happen. There’s a lot of work involved, and dare I say it – some luck. But isn’t that the case whether you navigate through traditional or non-traditional routes in an effort to gain fame and fortune? Making millions this way isn’t necessarily easier, it’s just different. Who wants to be the same?

So hey, do me a favor and quit bashing indie authors and self-publishing. Actually, I can’t stop you, if you’re that determined. So instead just know that I, for one, am a lifelong fan of anyone who has the guts and the gumption to tell the world “my art is good enough.”

Create your own Thesaurus

I’ll admit that when I think of copywriting, my original thoughts often wander to “copyright” which is a lot of legalese. Copywriting on the other hand is the act of writing copy or text for the purpose of marketing or advertising. You can do this for a product, business, person, opinion, or an idea. I explain it to those who question the profession like this: the words you read when you visit a website? The “About Us” the “Company History” the “Services” pages – those are all forms of copy to be written for clients. *Light bulb*

Now you may be saying to yourself, “plenty of people can write.” That’s quite true. But have you ever scoured the Internet and noticed just how poorly written some webpages are? Where there is a problem, one must create a solution. Mine?

Curly Q Media (check it out – become a client).

As a writer, especially when you’re writing for multiple businesses, you must be flexible with your words.

Flexibility in our words is often one area largely impacted by writer’s block.

So tell me: what words are tripping you up regularly? Share it in the comments below.

For me, it’s the word “said”. It’s so easy to use, especially when you’re quoting someone. But it’s boring, especially when you use it five times in a 500-word article. Trust me. The thesaurus, by the way, offers little assistance to this particular plight.

How do I push through overuse of words? Easy: I create my own thesaurus. Whenever I come a across a word that I feel I use too often, I open my notebook and I write it down. Then, I spend about 5-10 minutes brainstorming other ways to express the same thing. For instance:

Said (this is straight from my notebook, folks)

Spoke

Mumbled

Retorted

Shared

Breathed

Exhaled

Gasped

Lied

Cried

Muttered

Yawned

Laughed

Your turn. What is a word that you would really love to start using less?

The New Way To Publish (That No One Told You About)!

Self-publishing versus a traditional publishing house: what hasn’t been written about these rivals? Exactly. Even I spouted an opinion on why I choose the indie route. At least, for now.

Which is why rather than yakking on about traditional publishing versus self-publishing, the pros the cons and the blah, blah, blah, I’m going to tell you about a third way that receives very little coverage.

Now before you get too excited, pay attention. This third option isn’t the “magic bullet” everyone keeps searching for. If I had that, I wouldn’t be waking up to write and work and research well before my work inbox begins to ping. I’d be sitting pretty on a beach and the words “work inbox” wouldn’t be a part of my daily vocabulary. Despite this, it will be a relief to know that you’re no longer forced to choose between endless rejection letters and doing everything yourself.

What is the name of this glorious third option, you ask? I’ve simply dubbed it the “in between.” It’s that common ground between a traditional publishing house and your own blood, sweat and screams of frustration. You see, there are companies that make it their job to cater a variety of publishing services that fit your exact needs to you – the author.

As an example, you may love the cover work you designed yourself, but you could use some help with converting your files into ePub formatting. Perhaps you’re brilliant at rewriting sentences, but you could use a savvy bookkeeper. Starting to make sense? As with any service, different companies will offer you, the author, different resources. It really comes down to how much you want to spend and which company really fits your personality.

Are you hooked? Start shopping around. There’s a lot more info out there for you to consume. I’ll get you started with a few “in between” companies below.

Author Solutions is a Penguin Random House Company. If that’s not enough to make your heart flutter, know that their imprints include some huge names such as Balboa Press. While many reviewers claim that the company is incredibly aggressive toward authors, it shouldn’t deter you from considering them as an option. For just under $800 (which indie authors can spend on a great editor alone) you become published, get cover customization and you receive some basic marketing. Perks increase the more you’re able to spend.

Lucky Bat Books claims that they are leading the charge in a revolution to give writers what they need without taking royalties. Unique in that they offer services based on your needs, Lucky Bat Books approaches authors with a more a la carte approach. Menu items include editorial services, cover art, eBook conversion, legal and accounting help and more. Plus, authors keep 100% of proceeds if publishing on the Lucky Bat Books imprint. Finally, I just really like their name.

She Writes Press is an indie publishing company founded to serve members of She Writes. Unique in that they offer only a single package, She Writes appears to be focused on encouraging authors to take their hand and hold it every step of the way, which is hugely refreshing when you’re an entrepreneur. I mean, I forget what it is like to have someone on my side now and again, you know? If that package isn’t what you’re looking for or if you don’t have the funds to purchase it, She Writes offers additional individualized services outside the package such as editorial solutions, DIY marketing plans and experts for hire (web designers, cover designers and such).

And so fellow writers, don’t believe those who tell you that there are no more than two options available when you have a finished manuscript. These “in between” companies (and many others) are great ways to write exactly what you want to write without the hoopla (whatever that may mean for you) that comes with self-publishing and/or the perfectly pitched submission. As with most things in life, you simply have to look for opportunities where you’d like them to appear.

 

SEO Assignments

There are very few writing assignments that make me shudder. Since the age of five, I’ve written short stories, newspaper columns, magazine articles, ad copy, photo captions and more. Despite this, I’m constantly a student. Frankly, you could master every rule in the English language but be a terrible writer. In my opinion, it isn’t how well you understand a language – it’s about continuously challenging yourself to use it differently.

Has a writing assignment ever arisen that felt – impossible? For me, writing 10,000 words is not nearly as difficult as writing a 500-word SEO article. I wish I were joking.

In my personal experience, SEO articles consist of writing 500-word explanations of items I don’t use or understand. Parakeet Cage Gyms and 3.7V 3800mAh 18650 Rechargeable Batteries are just two of the examples I have in my cache. Did I mention you have to use the exact search phrase (in the above example, Parakeet Cage Gyms or 3.7V 3800mAh 18650 Rechargeable Batteries) at least four times in a 500-word article in its exact order? For instance, you can’t describe Parakeet Cage Gyms as “Gyms for Parakeet Cage” or “Parakeet Gym” and have that count toward one of your four uses.

In a nutshell, the 500-word article is a long (sometimes disjointed) description of the item. Properly researching your keyword or phrase before you begin is incredibly important – you can’t fake your way through these. And leaving them awkward and disjointed won’t win you any favors with your client, so that’s not really an option when you get frustrated with how little information there is on these items. Interestingly enough, the Internet CAN lack insights. I was surprised, too.

Writing an SEO article, for me at least, is no picnic. Nonetheless, good SEO makes a HUGE difference (as you may be aware) when a company is looking to expand its audience. SEO helps raise your website or item in search results. Everyone wants that number 1 spot. According to the research, Rank #1 gets 36.4% of clicks while the #2 rank gets just 12.5% and the numbers get more dismal from there. There are plenty of job opportunities for individuals with strong SEO article portfolios because everyone wants their descriptions to take that #1 slot. Plus, taking on difficult assignments, I believe, help make me a better writer.

Want to practice? I’ve included a few SEO phrases below. Write 500 words on one or on all and feel free to post them below.

40000 Dogecoin

DIN Touch In-Dash Stereo Radio TV

Vintage Mid-Calf Lace Dress S-M

Garden Solar Lights

1620

When I typed 1620 into Google, I was thinking in terms of the year. I had pictured corsets made of whale bone and gentlemen throwing their waist coats over a puddle for their lady friend to walk over. Romance. Chivalry. Historical. I can write about that. Here’s what I got:

I laughed. I actually backed out of the search and was prepared to type in something far more safe. Victorian, perhaps, where the strangest thing I would get would be an image of a house. Unfortunately, as a writer, you have to write about things outside your comfort zone in order to become better. I will probably never write a non-fiction book about cars. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be able to write a few words about them. In fact, learning to write a few words about cars, even if I don’t write directly about them but rather, tie it in to my overall concept, is going to make me better. I find that when I’m writing only a handful of words (25, 50, 100) about things I don’t understand, I’m much more careful- each one counts.

Did I have any desire to do a writing exercise this morning wherein I had to create 50 words about the car pictured above? No. I wanted romance, damn it.

So I did both. I did something solid about cars – a sales pitch with a love angle. Exactly 50 words. No more. No less. Not great. Not terrible. You have to make a concept work for you. Be willing to think outside the box.

Now it’s your turn. Please feel free to share your 50 words in the comments. Trust me when I say that this not a judgmental space.

Just like first love, this car is strong, sturdy, and prepared to steal your heart. Recently restored, it is suited for collectors, first time owners or old souls. Relive your childhood or make memories to share with your children. Take it for a test drive today – you won’t regret it.