Category Archives: Writing

Can’t Writers Just Write? (Guest Post)

"Writers are expected to do so much more than just write."

Image credit: Pixabay

Can’t Writers Just Write?

by Steph Beth Nickel

If you’re a writer—and even if you’re not—you’ve probably seen posts about the GDPR, the General Data Protection Regulation. It makes sense to be concerned about how our personal data is collected, stored, and used, but the GDPR has caused a lot of trouble for many authors, bloggers, and other writers.

While this post isn’t about rules and regulations, all the talk about the GDPR did lead to the thought … why can’t writers just write?

If money were no object, perhaps, a writer could outsource everything except the writing itself. But are there really any writers who do that? Highly unlikely.

Authors and other writers are expected to do so much more than write.

Develop and maintain a website and possibly, a blog.

While creating content is a big part of this, there are domain names to be purchased, website themes to be chosen, and “branding” to be considered … among many, many other things.

Develop a social media presence.

In this, the cyber age, readers want to feel connected to the authors and writers whose posts and books they read. They want to know they’re real people with real lives. They also want to know that their favourite writers are willing to give them a glimpse into their life and that they care about more than simply selling their next book.

Find one’s tribe and connect with them regularly.

People can smell a sales pitch from a mile (or 1.61 kilometres) away—and many will run in the opposite direction. However, if an author is willing to truly connect with their readers and potential readers and offer them something of value without asking for the sale at every turn, those individuals may rise to the level of “super fan.”

Continue to develop and hone writing skills.

No matter how experienced a writer, there are always more skills development books to read and courses to take.

Authors seeking to go the traditional publishing route are familiar with writing and rewriting, query letters and proposals, pitching to agents and editors, and on and on.

Much of what it takes to become a traditionally published author has little to do with writing the books themselves.

Those seeking to self-publish have to write and rewrite, decide what to do on their own and what to outsource, oversee all aspects of their writing business even if they are working with a team.

While some people hate the word, authorpreneur hints at the fact that self-publishing writers are doing more than writing. They are small business owners and must see themselves this way and take responsibility for their business.

And when all is said and done, a writer must …

Continue to create content.

And while writers must juggle their schedules to include all of these pursuits and more, they must also continue to create content—or the rest of the process will be meaningless.

This is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. So, the answer to the question is no, writers can’t just write. But, at the end of the day—GDPR or no GDPR—writers can’t not write.

Tweetables:

Writers are expected to do so much more than write. (Click to tweet this)

At the end of the day writers can’t not write. (Click to tweet this)

~~~

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Christian Creatives and Self-Promotion (Guest Post)

Christian Creatives and Self-Promotion

by Steph Beth Nickel

Marketing: Make authentic connections and overdeliver on promised content.

Image source: Pixabay. Text by @StephBethNickel.

As Christians who write books and pursue other creative endeavours, we all run up against the issue of marketing. Smacks of self-promotion, doesn’t it? And self-promotion doesn’t sit well with us when we consider the high premium God puts on humility and placing other people’s needs ahead of our own.

The very word sales brings to mind a pushy individual pressuring us to buy something we don’t really want or can’t afford. As Kirsten Oliphant of Create If Writing says, her books, courses, and other resources are for creatives who want to learn to market their products without being smarmy.

While we still come across smarmy salespeople, more and more creatives are practicing excessive generosity, “overdelivering” as it were. From those whose first book in a series is permafree to those who offer information-packed training online that is of great value, both to those who purchase their product—and those who do not. These are only two of the countless ways to market our work in a way we can feel good about.

Another way to make a connection with our fans and potential fans is to spend time with them. More and more readers want to feel as if they can develop a genuine relationship with their favourite authors. While not all creatives spend time interacting with their fans online, those who do can develop communities where members end up befriending one another as well as the creative who started it all.

Many creatives are introverts and developing a community in cyberspace is often far more appealing than seeking to do so in person. Still, doing book signings, speaking at conferences, and leading workshops are other good ways to connect with our audience. And even when not doing so in person, there are many online opportunities: participating in a virtual summit, developing a course and including regular “live” events where we spend time with those taking the course, periodically going live on YouTube or Facebook …

As Christians, we were made for relationship. As we seek to market our products by developing Facebook groups and other social media communities, we may find ourselves developing deeper authentic friendships and speaking into the lives of others in ways we never imagined. These relationships may lead to sales. But even if they don’t, we can have a positive impact on others’ lives, something we should all desire.

And when it comes to making the sale …

An insightful fellow author once said if he didn’t feel his book had value to potential readers, wasn’t worth the asking price to them, he had no business selling it. Wise words!

Let’s remember that our creativity is a gift from God. Let’s develop our abilities and endeavour to bless others. As we seek to effectively market our work, let’s remember that there is nothing wrong with doing so if we exercise honesty, integrity, and a desire to improve lives.

Tweetables

#Marketing for #Christian creatives: Make authentic connections and overdeliver on promised content. (Click to tweet)

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

NaNO? NaYES! (Guest Post)

NaNO? NaYES!

by Steph Beth Nickel

Most of you are likely scratching your head.

What on Earth does that title me?

Well, those of you who are writers have likely heard of NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50K words in 30 days.

Crazy? Some may think so. But thousands of people all over the world are sharpening their pencils and limbering up their keyboarding fingers.

Although I have participated in the far more flexible Camp NaNo a number of times, I’ve never taken the plunge and actually signed up for NaNoWriMo. All that changed this year and I’m diving in.

Sh! Don’t tell anyone, but I hope to make significant progress on a story I’ve had in mind for a very long time. The point of the challenge is to write the first draft—or close to it—of a new novel during the month of November, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I really want to write My New Old Life.

So how can I set myself up to “win” NaNoWriMo? How can you set yourself up to achieve your goals—whatever they may be?

Learn from those who’ve gone before. (Tweet this.)

Although it may feel as if you’re alone, there are those who have gone before you, who know what you’re facing, be it an exciting new challenge or a heartbreaking situation.

I’m so thankful for those who have gone before, who know the pitfalls to avoid, who know how to plot a course (or a story), who know sometimes you just have to “feel the feels,” as the saying goes.

I would encourage you to learn from those with a positive attitude, who are further along on the journey. I have listened to some NaNoWriMo veterans on YouTube who shared great advice. I have also listened to some who share more about what went wrong. That’s not necessarily helpful or encouraging.

Plot out the journey—at least the highlights.

For the most part, I’m known as a pantser in writing circles. Come to think of it, I kind of live life that way as well.

I love paper planners and journals. They enable me to dream and pretend to be super organized. But I’m the kind of person who doesn’t mind getting to the end of the day not having checked everything off my To Do list. In fact, I can’t remember a time I actually accomplished everything I’d set out to do on any given day.

But when it comes to crazy big goals, like writing 50K words in a month, some plotting comes in handy. If I know the major plot points I want to hit in the story, it will keep me moving in the right direction.

And if we know the major points we want to hit along this journey called Life, we will have a better chance of achieving our goals as well.

Plan to succeed. (Tweet this.)

While it’s okay to participate in NaNoWriMo and write 30K, 20K, even a few hundred words—after all, it’s more than we had written at the beginning of November—it’s best to go in planning to win.

And that’s the way it is with other things in life as well.

I’ll never have a clean, organized home. So why bother trying? They’ll never hire me for that job. Why even apply? I’ll never be thin. Why bother eating healthy and exercising?

It’s so easy to give up before we even get started. Let’s set ourselves up to succeed instead and take one step at a time in the right direction.

Don’t give up when things don’t go as planned. (Tweet this.)

We all know that it doesn’t matter how carefully we schedule our day or plan our life’s course; things will always come up that have the potential to derail us all together.

While we may have to reconsider our plans and dreams, it doesn’t mean we have to abandon them altogether. We just have to be willing to reprioritize as needed, and, as Christians, we must believe the promise in Romans 8:28, that God is working everything out for our good.

Fireworks image with the words, "Celebrate the victories -- no matter how small."

Celebrate the victories, no matter how small.

Many NaNo participants set up a reward system for achieving word count goals during the month of November, the more words, the more extravagant the reward. This kind of system keeps some pressing on.

Whether or not you choose to reward yourself when you make progress toward your goals, it’s a good thing to celebrate in some way. Too often we become discouraged when we don’t achieve our ultimate goal, when we don’t cross off everything on our To Do list.

Let’s celebrate the “small” victories in our life—and in the lives of those around us. (Tweet this.)

===

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Online Writing Conference

Write Canada Online 2017Write Canada is online this year, happening on October 21, 2017, with tracks for fiction and marketing.

This means you can attend from anywhere — no travel costs, no accommodations, and you can be there in your pajamas if that makes you happy. Members of The Word Guild get a discount, but anyone who wants to learn is welcome. And you don’t have to be Canadian.

Participate in real time, and you can interact with the presenters in the “virtual classroom.” If the time zones don’t work for you, attend what you can in real time, and catch the rest in replays.

There are four wokshops this year, and you can attend one or all. One advantage of having the option to access the replays later is that if you miss something, or want to hear it again, you can.

Real-time technical assistance will be available during the event, too, so if tech is a bit scary for you, no worries. Someone can help with anything that comes up.

Workshops:

  • “Six Months to a Full-time Income,” with Marcy Kennedy
  • “Using Character Emotion to Wow Readers,” with Becca Puglisi
  • “Writing Christian Fantasy in a Secular World,” with R.J. Anderson
  • “From Blog to Book Deal,” with Sarah Ball

Here’s the link for more information and to register: Write Canada Online 2017.

Review: Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland

Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. WeilandCreating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland (PenForASword Publishing, 2016)

Often writing-craft books focus on one element in isolation. Not this time. Creating Character Arcs intertwines character change with story structure and theme.

The author asserts that “the Change Arc is all about the Lie Your Character Believes.” Through the plot, and interactions with other characters, the character will discover and ultimately accept or reject the truth that counters the particular lie. (Except in the flat arc, where he/she has a good grip on the truth in question and instead effects change in those around him or her.)

The book delves into different types of arcs: positive change, flat, and negative change. I appreciate the point-by-point way the author walks through the stages of each arc, with illustrations from well-known books and movies, and then asks specific questions to help writers discern what those points can look like in their current projects.

Later chapters address deciding which type of arc is right for your story, the importance of “impact characters,” how many characters should actually have arcs, and character arcs over the course of a series.

My copy of the book is heavily highlighted. The questions and illustrations helped deepen my understanding of my current work in progress, and I plan to work through the relevant sections for future projects.

K.M. Weiland’s popular website, Helping Writers Become Authors, is a rich resource for writers. She’s also the author of historical and speculative fiction, including the dieselpunk adventure, Storming.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

My Theme for 2017: Less (Guest Post)

My Theme for 2017: Less

by Steph Beth Nickel

Having read Kevin DeYoung’s newest book, Crazy Busy, I came face to face with what I already knew: I spend far too much time doing things that don’t actually propel me toward my goals.

Clock with words "we must refuse to fritter away our discretionary time"

My word of the year for 2016 was more, as in more time spent writing and editing, more time spent in prayer and Bible study, more time seeking the Lord with my hubby and our daughter. My lack of success in these areas could be because I wasn’t focussed on the flipside of the coin.

If we’re going to achieve more, something has to give. We have to do less of something else.

So how does this apply to writing?

We must refuse to fritter away our discretionary time.

“Discretionary time? What discretionary time?” you may ask.

But let’s be honest. Do we watch even half an hour of TV most days? Do we spend far too much time on Facebook and the other social networks? Do we spend hours each week waiting on our children—at sports practice, music lessons, and other extracurricular activities?

You don’t need hours and hours of uninterrupted time to write a book—and certainly not a blog post or an article. There was one author I heard about who wrote an entire book in 20-minute increments during his lunch break. Amazing!

DO THIS: Take a look at your schedule and see where you can “steal” 20 minutes here, an hour there.

We must learn to say no.

Many—if not most—of us are not only busy, but we keep taking on more and more responsibilities. If you’re like me, you don’t want to miss any opportunity that comes along. Thankfully, I’m learning to say no; I’m learning to focus on what’s already on my plate; I’m learning to take on less.

Lysa TerKeurst wrote a book called The Best Yes. It’s about analyzing why we say yes when we are already overtaxed and really shouldn’t be taking on anything more. The book also addresses the importance of saying no or not now so we will be free to say yes when God brings a specific opportunity across our path.

If we feel God has called us to write, we must free up dozens—if not hundreds—of hours. We may find some time by restructuring our discretionary time, but very likely we’ll have to make even more significant changes.

DO THIS: Prayerfully examine your To Do list and choose one or more time-consuming items you are willing to eliminate in order to have more time to write.

We must spend less time making excuses.

There are legitimate reasons we don’t put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, but excuses often outnumber these reasons.

That voice in our head that says …

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said—far better than you could ever express it.”

“Writing is a selfish endeavour. Think of your family and friends.”

“You may squeak out the time to write, but you don’t have the time to hone your skills.”

“And you certainly don’t have the funds needed to get your work published.”

“God didn’t really call you to write. You’re delusional.”

DO THIS: Identify the #1 obstacle that keeps you from writing and create a game plan to crush it. The first step is often to simply pick up that pen or open that Word doc and get writing.

And what will I be doing over the next weeks and months? Hopefully, taking my own advice.

What are your writing plans for 2017? (Scroll down to share your comment.)

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Review: Scrivener for Dummies, by Gwen Hernandez

Scrivener for Dummies, by Gwen HernandezScrivener for Dummies, by Gwen Hernandez (John Wiley and Sons, 2012)

This is probably the only reference book I have ever read cover-to-cover. It’s definitely the only one that’s ever caused me to cheer.

I’m posting a photo of my own copy, complete with page markers, instead of the standard cover shot, to show how many important things I want to be able to easily find. (The index will take me to the proper page, but will I find the specific line that I need?)

Most users would follow the expected method of looking up their immediate question in the index and reading only the relevant sections. I did that a bit when I first bought the book, but didn’t find it as helpful as I’d hoped even though that’s what it’s designed for. I think I wasn’t very good at defining my need well enough to search for the solution.

Scrivener is considered by many writers to be the best thing since the word processor. Now, after using the program for a few years, having worked through the tutorial, learned from some excellent free webinars and one of Gwen Hernandez’ paid courses, I decided to read Scrivener for Dummies to pick up some advanced knowledge – and to refresh myself on some of the basics I’d missed along the way.

Honestly, the cheering? That was for the discoveries about some of the program’s features. But I found the author’s explanations very easy to understand. She’s funny, too, which definitely helps anyone reading very far.

This is an approachable resource, intelligently laid out and with clear examples and screen-shots. Each section is self-contained, pointing to other sections where needed, for the person who dips in for a specific answer instead of reading straight through.

The book covers both the Mac and Windows versions, and while Scrivener has made some changes since 2012, enough of the material is the same. If you find something in the book that you want to do but your version of Scrivener handles it differently, if you can’t figure it out by poking around in the program, either the Literature and Latte forum or a Google search will find you the answer.

Gwen Hernandez is a romantic suspense novelist and Scrivener teacher, offering interactive online courses. I found her Compile course very helpful, and she was patient to answer our many questions. For more about the author, visit gwenhernandez.com. For more about her Scrivener classes, visit scrivenerclasses.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Small Steps Add Up

I had the chance to guest-post at InScribe Writers Online this week, on small steps and perseverance in the writing journey.

I think it was Phyllis A. Whitney, in her Guide to Fiction Writing, who compared getting published to a train arriving at a station. If that train is a breakthrough of some sort, for you or I to benefit, we have to be diligent in the small steps of showing up at the station, bags packed and ready to go… [Pop on over to read the rest, and check out the other writers’ posts as well. Link: Small Steps Add Up.]

The Write Thing to Do

The Write Thing to Do

by Steph Beth Nickel

Tomorrow I will have the privilege of attending Write Canada. Although I wasn’t able to attend the entire conference this year, there are still many benefits of attending Saturday only. It was the write thing to do.

"Do the Write Thing"

Photo credit: Pixabay

Why?

Learn New Things

Just in case you ever wondered if I’m truly eclectically interested … this year I’m taking a couple of fiction classes, “Structuring Your Fiction” with Davis Bunn and “Deep Point-of-View” with Marcy Kennedy; “Do Good Not Harm: Writing to Empower,” a class whose description begins like this: Christians are uniquely positioned to bring a message of hope and redemption to a world broken by poverty, oppression and injustice (sounds great, doesn’t it?); and finally, a panel discussion on vlogs and blogs.

Refresh and Re-ignite

It may seem strange to say that after a jam-packed day, including approximately five hours of traveling, I anticipate returning home refreshed and re-ignited to devote several hours every week to writing. There’s something about hanging out with dozens of other writers that does that to me.

Discover What’s New in the Industry

In many ways, the journey to becoming a writer isn’t what it used to be. And it certainly doesn’t look the same for every writer. Finding out what’s new in the industry is invaluable. While it may seem overwhelming, it also helps the writer plot the course that best suits him or her.

Make Professional Connections

We hear a lot about networking these days. And of course there’s the old saying, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” While that is only true to a certain extent (after all, it’s each writer’s responsibility to become the best he or she can be), those connections can help you get from where you are to where you want to be on the journey to publication.

Be Challenged to Write Something New

This is probably a good reason for me to stay home, but it’s still a great reason to attend a writers’ conference. I never imagined writing a memoir. Yet, I had the privilege of co-authoring Paralympian Deb Willows’ Living Beyond My Circumstances. Deb and I are now working on a follow-up book. (I attended my first conference with the lady who introduced Deb and me. I also met our publisher there.) Because of this project, I had the joy of co-teaching a class with Carolyn Wilker on memoir writing at the 2015 Write Canada. You just never know what doors are going to open for you.

And probably the number one reason for me …

Reconnect with Friends

Write Canada is the only opportunity I have to reconnect in person with some dear friends. It also provides the opportunity to make new friends. And when those friends are fellow writers (and other industry pros), it is truly amazing. I will be flying for days—and hopefully, energized to go home and get writing.

Attending a writers’ conference or workshop just may be the write thing for you as well.

Tweetables:

[Scroll down to join the conversation.]

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel (Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Writers, Reading, and Comparisons

The books I most love to read are dangerous. Something, in the crafting or in the content, stirs a restlessness, an “I wish I could write like that.”

It’s important for writers to read words that leave us hungry to grow. We can study them for clues about how their author achieves whatever aspect of prose or poetry that we find so effective, to sharpen our own techniques.

That kind of comparison is healthy. It’s not the dangerous part. What trouble me are the whispers of doubt that make me want to hide the evidence that I’ve ever tried to write anything, and just kind of blend into the cushions of my couch.

As a beginning writer, I confronted the fear head-on: “Okay, what if I can’t write well? First, is there anything wrong with simply writing for fun? Second, if God gave me this gift, however rough its present packaging, isn’t it both wise and good manners to accept and use it? How else will I improve?”

Now, the comparisons keep me from being complacent about my words. They remind me that there’s always more to learn, and that there are better ways to apply what we know.

Whichever writer we’re currently admiring hasn’t always written at this level. Talents are developed and honed. We need to read carefully, learn from what we see, and apply it to our own skills.

Comparisons also remind me that we don’t all write for the same audience. One person’s delivery and style won’t work for another. We need to be true to our individual voices and not try to copy anyone else.

A symphony or a kazoo, crystal vase or clay jug, are equally useful in God’s hand to serve the people He designed them to serve. Mark Twain once said, “My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine — everybody drinks water.”

My writing friends, when we encounter excellent reads, let’s choose to learn and grow, instead of giving in to comparison’s dark side. Perseverance, it seems, is won in the mind.

Writers: Perseverance is won in the mind.

[A previous version of this post appeared under the title of “Comparison” in the September 2015 edition of FineTuned, the newsletter of author/editor Carolyn Wilker]