by Ruth Harris
You might have thought because you’re staying at home that you’d have more free time to start/finish a book or take an on-line yoga class. But in reality, because we’re all spending so much time at home, much of that time is consumed by eating which means food prep and cooking (which means there’s a kitchen to clean and dishes to be washed), bathrooms to be cleaned and tidied plus, of course, more toilet paper to be purchased (if we can even scrounge up a few rolls somewhere), laundry duty, garbage and trash removal, dusting, vacuuming and, of course, sanitizing.
As one day melts seamlessly into the next, and we can’t tell Sunday from Tuesday, weekdays from weekends.
Our moods whiplash between “This sucks” and “It could be worse.”
We’re bored, anxious, and tired. We’re having trouble sleeping and concentrating. Much less writing.
“A lot of us are mentally exhausted, because the energy it takes to mentally manage everything that’s happening is very draining,” says Vaile Wright, director of clinical research and quality for the American Psychological Association. “The habits we’ve worked to develop over time to keep us healthy and productive can fall by the wayside.”
It’s not just you.
As Anne wrote in an earlier post, she’s heard from a lot of writers about the difficulty they’re experiencing writing in the midst of a deadly pandemic.
She had a meltdown involving a TV remote.
I had one triggered by laundry. I don’t know if there’s actually more laundry, or if it just feels that way, but it seems that no sooner have I finished folding and putting clean laundry away, magically new dirty laundry appears in its place to replace the old dirty laundry. Not good for my mental health—or my disposition.
Needless to say, feeling overwhelmed by an Everest of laundry or frustrated by a cranky TV remote even as we are bombarded by relentless reports of death and disease, does not contribute to creativity.
Instead of fighting what can feel like an unwinnable battle with the lack of inspiration, let’s consider what we can do that does not take the same level of intense concentration as writing.
Why not take advantage of these strange days to focus on ways we can improve our skills or acquire new ones?
1. Author Platform Care And Maintenance.
Use this Covid-19 pause to reconsider and refresh the elements of your author platform.
- How long since you’ve updated your website, posted to your blog or pruned your mailing list?
- Is your bio as good as it can be? Anne offers solid guidance on how to write an author bio—even if you don’t yet feel like an author.
- Is your FaceBook page or Instagram feed consistent with your brand?
- Are all your books linked to your Amazon author page and BookBub profile or do they need updating?
- Don’t forget your presence on GoodReads, Linked-In and/or Pinterest.
- Add to your catalogue by creating a box set with Vellum (Mac only, but there are workarounds for PC users) that makes compiling several books into one title as easy as drag and drop.
2. Better Blurbs For Better Living.
Are your blurbs OK?
Less than meh?
Or are they old, tired and saggy?
As we’ve been told over and over, the cover is the first thing that grabs the reader’s attention. The cover tells him/her what kind of book s/he is looking at: romance (sweet or steamy), women’s fiction, mystery, thriller, horror, sci-fi.
The blurb (also known as the sales pitch, cover copy, or on Amazon, the “product description”) is the second.
But once you grabbed/seduced/lured the reader, then what?
Then you have to make the sale—and that’s where the blurb comes in.
Even if you have a good/OK/fabulous blurb, blurbs, like magazine subscriptions (remember those?) need to be renewed every now and then. At a time when you’re finding it difficult to write, refreshing an existing blurb can be a productive use of your time, a satisfying outlet for your creativity and an opportunity to increase your sales.
Here’s a simple, four-step guide to writing a killer blurb—with examples.
3. M Is For Metadata.
Review your categories.
David Gaughran tells us that “KDP is now explicitly stating that we are permitted TEN categories for each of our books.” It’s a big change and David argues that most writers aren’t making the most of the opportunity. He goes on to explain exactly how authors can maximize their oprtions.
If you haven’t already signed up for DG’s newsletter—he keeps a sharp eye on publishing and is generous about sharing info—now would be a good time.
Revisit your keywords.
Out with the old. In with the new—and more relevant.
Dave Chesson’s Publisher Rocket does the tedious work of searching for keywords (and does ditto for categories) that will help make your book more visible to browses and readers.
4. Brainstorm for Brilliance.
When you can’t write, maybe you can brainstorm, which is, after all, the fun part. When you let loose, when you forget about sparkling prose, passive verbs and adverb infestation, who knows what brilliant thoughts are just lurking in your subconscious, waiting to be unleashed?
Scapple ($15 for Mac and PC) makes brainstorming easy and lets you connect those fab insights in a logical way that might become a plot, subplot or even a new book.
Give it a shot. See what happens. See where it leads. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Better—much better—than feeling frustrated.
As Keith Blount, the creator of Scapple, says, “Ever scribbled ideas on a piece of paper and drawn lines between related thoughts? Then you already know what Scapple does. It’s a virtual sheet of paper that lets you make notes anywhere and connect them using lines or arrows.”
Scapple comes with a generous FREE trial.
5. Liberate Your Inner Artist.
If your sales—and income—have been hit by Covid, DIY art and graphics are more appealing than ever. Learning your way around on-line art sites can be fun that yields practical results.
Maybe you’d like to try making a cover even though you’re not a designer.
Perhaps you could jazz up your blog, Instagram feed, or FaceBook page with a new banner.
Or refresh your ads, create a new business card or bookmark.
On-line sites like BookBrush and Canva let you do all these (and more) without knowledge of Photoshop. They present you with a selection of almost infinitely customizable templates that allow you to change images, backgrounds and fonts. Even the FREE versions give you enough to optiions so that, with a little practice, you can create an attractive, genre-specific basic cover.
At Dave Chesson’s Kindlepreneur blog, you will find a detailed comparison between BookBrush and Canva.
David Gaughran cites 12 free graphic tools for writers.
Nate Hoffelder lists 10 free image manipulation—resizing, background removing, 3D cover creation, etc—sites.
6. Orphaned Books. You Know, The Kind That Don’t Spark Joy.
If you’re stuck at home, but, like so many of us, the words won’t come and you can’t write, perhaps this period of enforced down time is ideal for you to revisit unfinished and abandoned books. Maybe the solutions to the problems that once stopped you in frustration, will become apparent now that some time has passed.
Plot holes—they’re not forever.
Rescue endangered books from the brink.
Janet Evanovich’s simple method of not-exactly-outlining might help you figure out where you’ve gone wrong and how to go forward.
7. Strengthen Your Characters.
If the plot’s OK, but the characters are wooden (or maybe plastic—and you’re not writing sci-fi), now might be the right time to pay them a visit and give them a pulse.
Here are 8 suggestions about how to create a memorable character.
8. Embrace That Crappy First Draft.
- Passive verbs.
- Banal descriptions.
- Lapses in logic.
We’ve all committed these sins (and more because we’re creative), but, because we take our work and our readers seriously, we don’t give up.
We can and should use that lousy draft as a building block.
Henry Guinness at the NYT calls himself “a big fan of awful first drafts” and shares a useful trick about how to use that embarrassing first draft to move toward a finished product you can be proud of.
9. Learn To Self-Edit.
Harry Guinness goes on to explain: “The secret to good writing is good editing. It’s what separates hastily written, randomly punctuated, incoherent rants from learned polemics and op-eds, and cringe-worthy fan fiction from a critically acclaimed novel.”
As a long-time editor, I would go even further and say that good editing is (almost) everything. Obviously, you have to get the words down first, but, after that, multiple rounds of editing will help you clarify your thinking and lead to a polished work in a way that can seem (almost) magic.
Another plus is that several rounds of self-editing before you unleash your work on the public or on your editor will save you one-star reviews and your editor time. Which will consequently will save you money.
10. How to Feel like a Real Writer.
If none of these ideas appeal to you or if you’re just feeling generally blah, why not do what real writers do?
by Ruth Harris (@RuthHarrisBooks) April 26, 2020
What about you, scriveners? Is your muse still social distancing from you? Have you started any new writing-related projects like learning to use Canva? Did you know KDP now allows 10 categories for a book? Do you think your laundry may be multiplying while you’re asleep?
This week on Anne’s book blog, we have another visit from the Manners Doctor. She talks about how to deal with a garden variety pest, the Internet Troll, and why you should ALWAYS apologize. “The person who apologizes has the power to alleviate the suffering of the person demanding it. So by all means accept that power. A nice apology also makes an escape much easier when you need to make a quick call to law enforcement.”
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Africa. An Orphan. A Love Story.
FOR READERS WHO LOVED WATER FOR ELEPHANTS.
They rescue endangered animals, but can they rescue each other?
CRAFT Short Fiction prize. Up to 5000 words. All genres. 1st prize $2000 plus publication. 2nd and 3rd prizes $500 and $300. $20 Fee. Deadline April 30th.
Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest: $20 Fee. 6000 words max. two $3000 first prizes for best fiction and essay. 10 Hon Mentions $200 each. Deadline April 30th.
AAR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize Unpublished short stories: 2,000–5,000 words. 1st prize $6,000, 2nd $4,000, 3rd, $2,500. $15 fee students, $25 others. Deadline May 1st.
The Writers Digest virtual SciFi-Fantasy weekend conference. This looks like a great opportunity for new authors in these genres. You get to pitch to agents specifically looking for your subgenre. Plus there are lots of great courses with personal feedback on your writing.
THE STRINGYBARK TALES WITH A TWIST AWARD $14 ENTRY FEE. 1,500 words. Must have a twist at the end of the tale! 1st prize A$350 2nd prize A$250, 3rd prize A$125 cash. Stringybark will publish the winners. Deadline May 13, 2020.
RAYMOND CARVER SHORT STORY CONTEST$17 ENTRY FEE. Literary fiction up to 10K words. Prizes: $2,000, $500, $250, and two $125. Three literary agents do the judging. Winners announced August 1. Deadline May 15, 2020.
LITERARY TAXIDERMY SHORT STORY COMPETITION$10 ENTRY FEE. Prize $500 as well as publication. Write an original story of up to 2,500 words in any genre. The catch: We provide your opening and closing lines from a classic work of literature. You provide the rest. Deadline June 4, 2020.
12 PUBLISHERS FOR MEMOIRS! You don’t need an agent. From the good folks at Authors Publish