Category Archives: Writing Tips

Creating a Writing Career: Think Big

Some say we write for an audience of one.  Granted that our great work is writing the words that reader loves to read, we may also ask ourselves big-picture questions, like

  • What talks would I love to give?
  • How best may I receive, track, and deal with an increasing income?
  • How might I answer classic interview questions? 

Success expert Jim Rohn famously said, “Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.” That’s thinking big, for even the best keep getting better.  Let me rephrase. Especially the best, get better.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week.  Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYou arrange matters to get a great sleep most nights, ready for the writing ahead. Fab. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

Mel will be dispensing more of her encouraging words of wisdom at the Creative Ink Festival in Burnaby from March 31st – April 2nd.  She’s not here in town often, so be sure not to miss her!

Galloping Time, Supporting Systems for the Writing Life

Now and then, a moment arrives, when hardly anybody wants anything from us. Maybe something was cancelled, leaving a serene empty space, or it’s the day after a holiday.

I used to go mad at such moments.  Quick, this is my chance to write 5400 words.  But, what if, instead of typing up a storm until the next serendipitously empty timeslot raises its noble head and invites us to gallop away upon it (okay, that’s a tempting thought to me too, so if you love that idea, leave this paragraph in your dust and ride away on inspiration), what if we use this little moment of peace to redesign the systems and reset the components of our lives to create timeslots of our own?  And perhaps ask 3 questions:

  1. If my perfect life and writing career were here, what would it look like?
    hint: every day includes time for relationships, for eating and moving well, and for kicking back.
  2. What am I using up time for that I don’t like much, and that doesn’t serve me or mine?
    hint: we all know what to do, so, how to do it?
  3. In the area of life where things seem so crazy they’re sucking my creative energy, is there any system, perhaps over the course of the week, that I could set in place to make things less onerous?
    hint: systems are not about achieving perfection, they are about our present selves doing something in a few minutes to save our future selves an hour for writing.

I don’t want to use my creative powers to deal with It’s five pm and there’s nothing to eat, what magic can I perform?  I like cooking, but I’d prefer to use the magic on my manuscript and have food in the fridge and a plan in the kitchen.  Come the weekend, I don’t want to take that big beautiful 3-hour drafting timeblock and use it to shoulder through crowds at Costco.  If we can generate a system or two, we can support our creative powers without shortchanging our lives and the people we adore.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel

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muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseWhatever the weather, you keep writing. Your persistence, endurance, and strong talent move your career along beautifully. Your Writing Muse 

Adventures in Writing

untitledEndurance is one of the great challenges in our writing careers — holding on with tenacious minds to the idea that we can do this, even though we’re working on page 17 with 350 left to go.  But even more boldly, we’re also attempting to devise something brilliant, something that has never been made before.  Originality has always been a daunting sort of goal.  Making something out of nothing is the ultimate creation within the arts.  By definition, creation takes us out of our comfort zones.

One trick to time management and self-motivation, is to find a way enjoy the tension and fear, rather than frittering our drafting time away with other things in an unconscious avoidance of a big leap in storytelling or any tricky aspect in our writing careers.

It’s kind of like a day up Whistler, I guess, facing the most challenging run we’ve ever taken.  And, we never wanted it to be easy.  If we do this crazy thing, we do it because we know we can.  It’s down to us to find a line and follow it, and to choose — not whether we’ll do it, we already know we will, we’re equipped with the skills we need, we’ve paid our bucks, and won’t turn back — but choose to enjoy the ride and wear a cool smile while the snow arcs up around us.  What a great day this is.  Of writing, I mean.  Darn, I’d love a day up Whistler, too.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse:

I admire your discipline as you create time blocks for planning, drafting, & revising during your busy week. Your Writing Muse 

The Pop-Up Writing Space

We most likely have, each of us, a dedicated writing office space of one kind or another. Here, seated or standing at our own desk, we often feel primed to begin. It’s almost like having a head start on the work. I hear some of us saying, as I have from time to time, I can only write when I’m alone in my office.

Still, charm of setting and pursuing a noble goal are not enough for storytelling, nor are they always enough for the writers who devise them. Just as the stories we’re writing demand transformation to hold a reader’s attention, our writers’ minds desire change to keep sharp.

Libraries.  Coffee shops.  Different areas in our homes.  If we consider devising pop-up writing spaces, should silence be a prerequisite?  Those of us who admire Jane Austen’s work know we’d be missing much had she required quiet.

A pop-up office won’t be as fab as our own perfectly — or madly — arranged private offices.  Especially office spaces we love with all our hearts.  But, even pleasures may fail to please when we settle into a favourite rut.  Our brains are our most important writing tools, and they thrive on change as much as comfort.

 I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse:

You keep the goals for your writing career in plain view. A perfect guide for your continued success. Your Writing Muse

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In Praise of Stationery

pen2smallMaybe it’s the same for you, author:  I love stationery stores. Once inside, there comes over me a feeling of pleasant expectancy mixed with the urge to guard my own actions.  It’s the same kind of self-restraint with which I’d approach choosing three magical wishes.

The new notebook, the perfect pen, the …

I think writers love stationery stores because they are shops jam-packed with possibility, of white pages and dark ink that magically become something at once concrete and ethereal when they come into our hands.  Transformation is what storytelling is all about.

Great dreams and concrete goals fuel our writing energy and grow the amount of time we spend working on our manuscripts in progress.  At any rate, this is what I tell myself — that time spent among the pens and paper is actually time saved from procrastination.  And that, in a way, it’s our natural habitat.

 I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYou’ve got talent, persistence, and a great love of learning. Top success indicators, congratulations from Your Writing Muse.

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Using the Lag to Become Superb

beatlebootsstampA brilliant and successful writer once told me, “All writers secretly wish they were musicians or baseball players.”

I don’t know whether that’s as true as it sounds, but watching professionals having fun in their profession never fails to thrill me.

Ron Howard’s documentary Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years, provides a view of The Beatles at the top of their field, taking the music (but not themselves or each other) seriously.  I love the way they josh, endure, satirize, remain true to their promises, adapt, compromise (the time they give to live performances,) and refuse to compromise (the recording sessions.)

And, they use the lag when things are slow to become superb.

The number of hours to excellence bandied about the Internet is 10,000, (and then on to another 10,000, I’ll bet) and those guys spent a chunk of theirs in Hamburg, playing eight hours a day, attempting to draw in passersby to a seedy club on a seedier strip.  I love to see the footage of the Fab Four making the most of their time on stage, the girls, the joking, and repeatedly creating the wild discipline required to play on through day and night.  Watching endurance, exuberance and excellence combined, I remind myself to smile while I write.  I’m kind of relieved that I’m spending my 10,000 in Vancouver and the UK, driven by nothing but deadline, with holly berries and sweet-singing blackbirds outside my office window.  I’m only kind of relievedthough.  Who doesn’t want to play music?  Or, baseball?  Who?

“I saw that Meryl Streep said ‘I just want to do my job well’.  And really, that’s all I’m ever trying to do.” -Paul McCartney

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYou face your work with the happy, bold mindset that brings continuous growth and sure success.   Your Writing Muse @pulpliterature

Don’t miss a writing tips post!  We collect them once a month and send them to your inbox in our free newsletter.

Meanwhile, Bruce Springsteen Keeps Working

notebookvellumsmallAs I read Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, I’m delighted, but not surprised, to find that he is a superb storyteller and a beautiful writer.  Of course he is.  To a fiction writer, his  career  in music is a lesson in love of work and use of the lag time between early talent indicators and enormous success.

In the first quarter of the book, Springsteen talks about the times he lived in the back room of a surfboard shop, without ID or bank account.  His talent was strong, but his fans were few, and he worked on his music in the meantime.  His fans grew, and life got wilder, but the money was small, and he worked on his music in the meantime.  The money began to come in, but he knew he could be better, so he changed his direction, the money stopped, and he worked on his music in the meantime.  When the call came to play for Hammond, who ‘discovered’ Dylan, Springsteen had a strong folder of songs and was accepted, but the company said that he didn’t have a hit single, and so …

I wish I could thank people like Bruce Springsteen, who inspire aspirers. Springsteen got his chance later on to thank his inspiration, Bob Dylan, and instead found Dylan thanking him for playing his song at Kennedy Centre.  The greats are grateful.  They’re grateful for any moment they get to do their chosen work, and call it play.  And, in the meantime, they work to get even better.

Get Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen here.  An amazing read.  The kind you savour.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week.

Cheers to you, Mel

muse small

This week from @yourwritingmuse: I admire the way you deal with exchanges of power among characters in dialogue. These shifts and imbalances keep us reading your stories late into the night.  Your Writing Muse @pulpliterature

Don’t miss a writing tips post!  We collect them once a month and send them to your inbox in our free newsletter.

The Writing Life: All Systems Go

We’ve got to have great big goals to get us out of bed in the morning. But we need to set systems into place in order to move towards them. The last thing we need is for goals to turn back into dreams.small coracle

Systems for limiting time on the Internet, keeping chaos at bay, making time for people, and keeping ourselves and our loved ones healthy. If we give some time to creating these systems, then we have the peace of mind that comes from life that is not necessarily perfect, but is warm and reasonably calm, and we’re working towards creating, for example, our five novels in five years.

Great goals set our course. Systems are about the process of moving towards them, and most success experts say that process, not product, gets us where we want to go.

 I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse:

You make a point of learning new skills every day. No wonder your work is so good. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

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Publication Platforms for Writers: Fifteen Minutes Outside the Hermit’s Cave

barefeetwithapplesmallWhether we publish through traditional means or independently, we’ll most likely want to think about creating a platform to support a writing career connects us to the larger prospects of authorship, such as the publication and marketing of our work.

Like anything else in our writing careers, each of the following could take us all day, all week, or even the rest of our lives, but setting a timer for 5 minutes and getting something done on each will add up quickly to progress and an understanding of the channels available to us.

  • social media & connecting with other writers, editors, and publishers
  • banking and bookkeeping
  • learning something new about writing, social media, design, etc

Every writer’s schedules, interests, and mileage will differ, as always, but touching base with writing communities, financial sustainability, and professional development can keep us active in the greater world outside. Sure, writers sometimes feel like metaphorical cave-dwelling hermits, but even real cave-dwelling hermits communicate with nature, eat, and try to be the best hermits they can be.

 I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel.

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYou’ve devised a great writing space. No wonder you get so much done. From your fan, your Writing Muse 

Editorial and Red Flags

Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind. – Woolcott Gibbs

Notes from the acquisitions editor

Every acquisitions editor has a few red flags in a top desk drawer.  This list may save you time with rejections.smallpenandink

  1. Ten cent transitionals like suddenly, then, next, and realized.
  2. Actions that come after they occur (eg Stella walked on, having shut the door behind her.)
  3. Bouncing blonde curls (You wouldn’t believe how often I read stories where blonde curls bounce around.  Also, raven hair.)
  4. Without a doubt, paragraphs jam-packed with sentences beginning with modifying phrases.
  5. Dialogue tags like “chuckled”, “said flirtatiously”, “shouted”, “gasped”, “For which better dialogue can be substituted,” Mel advised testily.
  6. Exclamation points. (Excepted, the masters Ray Bradbury and Tom Wolfe.)
  7. Frequent adverbs, (excepted, the master Bill Bryson.)
  8. ALL CAPS DAMMIT.

However, there are no hard and fast rules.  Many editors think all use of the passive stinks like old fish, but two of my favourite writers, Wodehouse and Churchill, use the passive form a lot, and for excellent reasons, so the passive is not much of a red flag for me.  One reason authors love writing is that we enjoy our creative freedom.  Do what you like, really, for there will be editors who are fine with ! and Iy.   I read somewhere that McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies was rejected many times for its slow start, and it became an adored bestseller. (Note: the previous sentence was in passive form because the manuscript was more important than the editors who rejected it).

How comforting it is to know that none of us will ever catch everything.  That’s why we employ brilliant, talented copy editors to work over our manuscripts.  Pay them. Pay them more than they ask.

 I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

MuseThis week from @yourwritingmuseI admire the way your first paragraph gives us time, place, tone, and hints at the central conflict. Your Writing Muse

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