Category Archives: Writing

Change Your Thinking on What Constitutes a Useful Non-Fiction Book … and Watch Your Business Soar!

How long does a book have to be in order to be considered a legitimate book by readers? 30,000 words? 60,000 words? 90,000 words? Even more? How many chapters long should it be? Five, 10, 15, or more? Which old wives’ tale have you heard that has you filling your manuscript with a bunch of extra (not necessarily useful) information just to meet someone else’s theoretical and unsubstantiated recipe for success?

Leave the Fluff Out. Period.

Throw away any pre-conceived notions you may have about what constitutes a useful book—particularly when it comes to word count. I’m here to tell you that it’s more important to focus on the quality of your content than the quantity of words you’ve written. There is absolutely no need to add a bunch of unnecessary fluff into a non-fiction book just to get it to a certain word count. Basing a book’s value and saleability on word count is old-fashioned thinking. With non-fiction books of any kind, your number one priority is to understand your readers’ question/problem, and then answer/resolve it for them as clearly and easily as possible. That’s it, that’s all.

Cutting Edge Online Selling Techniques to Grow Your Business

There is a form of online book sales and marketing known as “rapid release” publishing that many of today’s most successful independent authors are using to sell literally thousands of books every year. Some of these indie authors are earning six-figure incomes from their ebook sales alone. In my research, I’ve found that non-fiction authors are among the perfect candidates for this form of self-publishing. Why? Because of your diverse demographics (e.g., seniors, adults, teenagers, children, males, females, et cetera) and the varied subject matter you can cover within your respective industries. Here are just a few examples:

Caterers can recommend different types of foods (e.g., canapés, fruit appetizers, vegetable appetizers, hors d’oeuvres, kebabs, deep fried appetizers, et cetera) for all types of events (e.g., weddings, bar mitzvahs, corporate functions, children’s parties, theatre events, et cetera).

Health and fitness entrepreneurs can write endless non-fiction copy about different muscle groups, exercises, food groups, diets, et cetera.

Interior decorators can make recommendations about floor plans, lighting, artwork, framing, Regency, Georgian, et cetera.

Hairdressing professionals can cover long hair, short styles, curls, braids, updos, colours, et cetera.

Online and distance educators can repurpose weeks and weeks of lesson plans for the do-it-yourselfers of the world who prefer the more solitary learning environment of an ebook or audiobook lesson to a social classroom setting.

Automotive service technicians can advise readers on vehicle maintenance and repair for all kinds of different makes and models, various automotive parts and how they work, et cetera.

The list goes on and on. The possibilities are endless for business owners who wish to publish non-fiction books to expand their businesses.

How to Write for the “Rapid Release” Publishing Process

Does a book have to be 60,000 words and 10 chapters long in order to constitute a useful book? Or could each chapter be a mini ebook in its own right—part of a “mini series” of individual topics that allow readers to choose which topic they wish to read and buy that one alone on any given day? 

Let’s say you want to complete one mini ebook within a three-week time period. If you’re already running a business full-time, that means you probably only have two or three hours of writing time available per day during the weekdays; but if you’re truly dedicated to this “rapid release” publishing process, then you’ll take at least another six hours per day on the weekends, if not more. That gives you a conservative 81 writing hours in total.

3 hours X 5 days X 3 weeks = 45 weekday hours
6 hours X 2 days X 3 weeks = 36 weekend hours
45 + 36 = 81 writing hours

Commit yourself to this schedule. You’ll be amazed by what you can accomplish once you make a firm decision to write for this many hours each week.

Now break it down by hour. How many words can you write in one hour? 100 words per hour will result in an 8,100-word mini ebook at the end of three weeks. 300 words per hour will result in a 24,300-word ebook. 500 words per hour will result in a 40,500-word ebook at the end of three weeks. Don’t get too hung up on the word count because, as I said earlier, quality is more important to your readers than quantity is. I added this mathematical exercise here simply to demonstrate what you can accomplish in a short amount of time. When you break it down like this for yourself, it suddenly appears more achievable, doesn’t it? And when your goal appears more achievable to you, you’ll be more apt to stick with it and see it through to the end.

How About a Picture Book?

Children aren’t the only ones who can enjoy a picture book. Picture books containing “how-to” illustrations or graphics throughout (e.g., exercise routines, hair styling techniques, before and after automotive repair examples, et cetera) can be very helpful to adult learners. Let’s say your goal is to create a 20-page picture book, within three weeks, that contains only one or two sentences per page. Well, including the cover, that will be 21 pages to complete—equivalent to one page per day over a three-week period. Totally doable, especially when it’s your passion!

It’s time to change your thinking on what constitutes a useful non-fiction book, because the way the world reads is changing, and the way books are written and published is changing along with it.

Want to learn more about “rapid release” publishing and how it works? Click here.

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As a user of this website, you are authorized only to view, copy, print, and distribute the documents on this website so long as: one (1) the document is used for informational purposes only; and two (2) any copy of the document (or portion thereof) includes the following copyright notice: Copyright © 2018 Polished Publishing Group (PPG). All rights reserved.

Where Do I Even Begin Writing My Book?

As you sit down to write your book, you may be thinking, “Where do I even begin?” Well, there’s no right or wrong way to begin. For me, every one of my books was a little bit different. They all came to me in their own unique ways.

Sometimes, I’ll receive just a simple concept in my mind. I write it down, set it aside, and then I wait until the next thought comes along to further strengthen that vision. As each new thought arrives, I do the same until there’s enough substance to begin piecing together the first concrete outline of the whole book into point form. Basically, when this is the way a book comes to me, I know I must be patient with it. Let it grow at its own rate. It will come together eventually. It always does.

Other times, I’ll receive the end of a book first. The final chapter will already be a crystal-clear vision in and of itself, so then all I have to do is go back to the beginning and write to that end. Fill in the blanks.

My first fictional novel, A Letter to My Son, took me around ten years to complete. In hindsight, the majority of that time was spent procrastinating rather than writing due to fear of the unknown. I didn’t see that clear path ahead of me. I didn’t know how to get published and wasn’t all that sure it would ever happen, so I felt no strong sense of urgency to finish the book. Then, one year, I experienced a life-changing event that had me questioning myself and my life purpose. It was the catalyst that motivated me to finish my book once and for all—to find a way to publish it—to keep that promise to myself. Once I found that resolve, all the information and resources I needed to publish the book found me. And I did it! (Smiling.) What a proud moment!

Each book that followed came a little easier simply because I knew the process ahead of me. Isn’t that the way life is? The first time you try anything is always the hardest. But, if you push through that initial fear and prove to yourself that it’s possible, it does get easier. Needless to say, my second book, A Letter to My Daughter, took me only two months to write. My third book, 11:11, took me around six months. I’ve also since released three more non-fiction guides to help writers and authors navigate the business aspects of book publishing, sales, and marketing. I’ve produced an ebook series to help online marketers earn passive income from ebooks: Book Publishing Shortcuts for Online Marketers. And I’ve produce another ebook series titled T-Shaped Marketing for Authors that teaches all kinds of online marketing techniques authors can use to boost their ranking on eCommerce sites like Amazon and Kobo.

When I was younger, writing was more a pastime than a career aspiration, so I only wrote when the mood hit me. After my first book was published, and I became a little more serious about things, I found a structure that seems to work very well for me to this day. Lately, with the help of this structure, I’ve been publishing a new book once every four to six weeks. It’s possible!

I hope learning this little bit of information about my personal journey as a writer will inspire you to finish writing (and eventually publish!) your own book. You can also find many more sources of inspiration and education on this blog to help you achieve your goals, whatever they may be. Good luck!

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As a user of this website, you are authorized only to view, copy, print, and distribute the documents on this website so long as: one (1) the document is used for informational purposes only; and two (2) any copy of the document (or portion thereof) includes the following copyright notice: Copyright © 2018 Polished Publishing Group (PPG). All rights reserved.

Effective Copywriting and Top of Mind Awareness (TOMA)

This content first appeared on Warrior Forum and has been republished here with permission from the author.

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Writing really effective, eye-catching copy to promote a product or service is important. When it comes to online marketing, that copy also needs to cleverly incorporate the item’s highest ranking keywords for the purpose of search engine optimization (SEO).

But there’s more to it than that, and this is where things like blogging, social media marketing, and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising come in handy. If you want to reach all your current and prospective customers, then you must achieve top of mind awareness (TOMA) with all of them by constantly staying in front of them.

Some people think of their target market as a fixed segment of the public that share similar characteristics (e.g. my customers are adult males and females between the ages of 25 to 45 who enjoy … blah blah blah, you fill in the blank). But your customers aren’t static like that. Think of them more as a fluid stream of people who are flowing in and out of your market all the time. If you want to stay top of mind with them then you need to stay in front of them all the time so that, when they’re in the market to buy whatever it is you’re selling, they’ll recall you ahead of your competitors. This will increase your chances of a sale.

Here’s an analogy for you. Think of a shopping mall. Think of all the types of stores in that shopping mall: shoe stores, clothing stores, furniture stores, et cetera. Most everyone has a need to buy shoes, clothing, and furniture at one time or another, right? But you may not be in the market for it right this minute today. You may not need it until next month or next year. And who are you most likely to buy from when the time comes and you’re in the market to buy? You’ll buy from the most trusted brand in your mind–a trust that was built up over time with regular and consistent copywriting that was shared over and over again through blogging, social media, PPC, and whatever other means.

Why don’t you fill in the blank and name “whatever other means” people can use to achieve top of mind awareness with their clients. What are some other great vehicles we can use to stay front and center with our target markets? Leave a comment below.

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As a user of this website, you are authorized only to view, copy, print, and distribute the documents on this website so long as: one (1) the document is used for informational purposes only; and two (2) any copy of the document (or portion thereof) includes the following copyright notice: Copyright © 2018 Polished Publishing Group (PPG). All rights reserved.

[The Art of Copywriting] Creating Something New Out of Something Old

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

This content first appeared on Digital Point Forum and has been republished here with permission from the author.

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Whether you’re writing copy for your own company or freelancing for a variety of clients, chances are you’re going to be writing about topics that have been written about hundreds of times before. The best copywriters will have mastered the art of creating something new out of something old. But everyone struggles with this sometimes.

I have one possibly unique idea for the rookie copywriters who have come to this forum looking for guidance on how to best tackle a writing job. But I also invite all the pros to please add your advice into the comments below. We can all help each other. We can all learn from each other.

Okay, now for my somewhat peculiar idea…

Come up with a title for your topic that includes the words “3 Tips” or “4 Ideas” or something like that so you have a goal as to how many tips or ideas you’re going to cover in your marketing piece. Now pull out your dictionary (must be a physical dictionary), close your eyes, open it up to a random page, put your finger on a random spot on that page, then open your eyes and find the random word that you will use for your first tip/idea. Do this for as many tips/ideas as you have decided to write about so you have the same amount of random words to work with. 

Now write to those words. Figure out a way to make them fit into your topic matter in a new and creative way. You can do it. You may surprise yourself.

Again, the idea is to NOT flip through to try to find “relevant” words you’re familiar with but to stick with that first random word, get creative with it, and figure out a new way to make it relevant to your topic. Since there hasn’t been much activity on this thread, I thought I’d better provide an example of what I’m talking about.

Let’s say the topic I have to write about is “How to Improve Your Blog’s SEO Using Social Media Marketing” but I want to try something new rather than just re-writing the standard type of article for this topic. So, I choose a random word to get my creative juices flowing. For the purpose of this post, I used an online random word generator ( rather than a dictionary so I could prove to you my word choice was random. It wouldn’t let me choose only one word. It had to be two or more. The words are “wizard” and “horses.” Here is the article that resulted from those two words:

How to Improve Your Blog’s SEO Using Social Media Marketing, Wizards, and Horses

Anyone with a blog knows the primary reason why blogging is so important is search engine optimization (SEO), which means to improve (optimize) one’s standing in the organic search results on search engines like Google. You might have a fairly high search engine ranking for one or two of your primary keywords, such as your business and personal name. Blogging can help to improve your ranking for many more including some keywords you may not have considered before that will open you up to a whole new audience.

Who are you blogging for? What target market are you trying to reach? Adults or children? Male or female? What sorts of information are these individuals looking for online, other than your typical keywords, that you could intercept to bring them over to your blog?

For example, a blog that provides help, tips, and support regarding adoption can piggyback on a really prominent, instantly recognizable keyword anywhere in the world such as “Marilyn Monroe” to attract an even larger audience. Maybe the title of that particular blog entry could be: Why Marilyn Monroe Became One of the Most Successful Orphans in North America.

What about if you’re writing a blog for children and their parents about Internet safety? Do these children love Disney? Perhaps The Wizard of Oz? Horses and ponies? Start blogging about these things to attract additional subscribers: There’s No Place Like Home: Internet Safety Tips from The Wizard Oz and Not All Horses are Your Friend: Beware The Online Trojan Horse. Adding cartoon graphics of these images to your blog will make each post even more attractive.

Now your blog entries are written. Where do you share them? That’s easy. Find out which social media sites your target market is using the most and share those blog entries there. Facebook and Twitter are safe bets for your adult readers. But what about the children? Why not try out these: Safe Chat Rooms and Social Sites for Kids.

The more creative your blog, the more readers it will appeal to. Step outside the norm. Think outside the box. That’s how to improve your blog’s SEO using social media marketing, wizards, and horses … and maybe even movie stars! ​

How is that? Make sense? By choosing those two random words, I came up with a unique idea for this blog post that I may not have thought of before. Now you try!

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As a user of this website, you are authorized only to view, copy, print, and distribute the documents on this website so long as: one (1) the document is used for informational purposes only; and two (2) any copy of the document (or portion thereof) includes the following copyright notice: Copyright © 2018 Polished Publishing Group (PPG). All rights reserved.

Time-management, Productivity, and Efficiency for Busy Professionals

Jennifer D. Foster, freelance writer, editor, and owner of Planet Word

I think almost all of us are aiming for balance in our professional and personal lives.

I’m not a certified expert on time-management, motivation, or productivity. And I don’t have all the answers. But I’m a fairly successful freelance editor and writer, who’s happy to share the strategies and best practices I use in order to keep my clients happy, juggle multiple editorial jobs, and keep sane in the process.

I’ll give you a brief synopsis of how I got to where I am professionally and what I do, to give you some overall context, then I’ll talk about specifics.

I’m a freelance writer, editor, and mentor, with 20 years’ experience, 14 of those as a freelancer. As the sole proprietor of my business, Planet Word, I wear many hats and tackle many projects. I work on everything from adult and children’s fiction and non-fiction, consumer and trade magazines, web content, newsletters, and ads to style guides, curatorial material, press releases, annual reports, and book reviews. My clients and projects are vast and varied—just how I like it!

My first degree is an honours double major in sociology and mass communications from York University in Toronto. For my second degree, I went to journalism school at Ryerson University, also in Toronto.

After graduating from Ryerson, I got a two-month internship at Chatelaine magazine, while Rona Maynard was editor-in-chief. I wrote a few articles, did some fact-checking, and sat in on editorial meetings, but I wasn’t hired, as there were no staff jobs available. It was a fantastic view into the editorial world, and I wanted more!

I then worked for about three years as assistant editor at Homemakers magazine, under the leadership of Sally Armstrong. She was an inspirational boss and gave me my own section to edit after less than a year there, and after two years there, she sent me on a feature-writing assignment to the Philippines.

After Homemakers, I headed to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) as writer and editor in the Marketing and Communications department. That was a dream job, where I got to utilize both my editing and my writing skills. On particularly intense or trying days, I’d leave my desk to wander in the galleries, remembering why I was working there in the first place! After 2.5 years, I went on maternity leave and never looked back. When my son, who’s now 14, was six months old, I felt I was going brain dead as a stay-at-home mom and decided to launch Planet Word. I had no idea what I was doing as a new business owner, but I told all of my friends, family, and business contacts that I was available for freelance writing and editing.

Fast-forward to now, where sometimes I’m juggling up to half a dozen client projects at a time, with overlapping deadlines. This is very stressful and extremely demanding, but I find the following strategies help me get through even the most intense work periods.

Know Yourself and Your Work Style

My main tip is to know yourself and your work style and embrace them both wholeheartedly.
I know that I like lots of natural light, myriad lists, an uncluttered work space, lots of herbal teas and salty snacks, great variety in my projects and that I thrive under work pressure. Be your own best friend and work with yourself and your quirks—not against them. Don’t compare yourself to others and how they work: one magic formula does not fit all, and I believe everyone’s a work in progress, so be kind to yourself.

Woody Allen said 80 per cent of success is showing up. I couldn’t agree more, so that’s why I make an effort every work day, which is often seven days a week, to wake early, eat a decent breakfast, get dressed (yes, no pyjamas or sweats for me!), and be at my computer for 9 am. I treat my freelancing for what it is—a successful business and a professional undertaking. Call me crazy, but I feel very unmotivated and unprofessional sitting at my desk in pyjamas. Getting dressed and being at my desk for 9 am gets me into the right frame of mind to work.

Carpe Diem

I’m high energy, detail-oriented, and work well under lots of pressure. I think that’s how I came out of the womb! But I’m always open to trying new strategies, and I know that I have room for ongoing improvement. My theory is carpe diem. Treat each job as a privilege. And take each day as a gift and run with it. Which brings me to another tip: don’t procrastinate! I know—we all do it. But try and jump into a project right away. As a freelancer, I never know what’s coming down the pipe and when, so I need to tackle each project as soon as possible.

Speaking of trying something new, I wanted to share a time-management method that I discovered last year, while I was writing a feature on beating writer’s block for Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique. In a nutshell, this is how it works:

Step one: Pick your task.

Step two: Set a timer (traditionally, it’s for 25 minutes).

Step three: Work on that sole task until your timer rings.

Step four: Put a checkmark on a piece of paper after the timer rings.

Step five: If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (typically, it’s for three to five minutes) and then go back to step two.

Step six: After you have a total of four pomodoros, take a longer break (typically, it’s for 15 to 30 minutes). Reset your checkmark count back to zero and then return to the first step.

The main premise is to work in 25-minute blocks of time (called “pomodoro sessions”), followed by breaks. Each pomodoro session requires your full attention on a single task and then you take a break. The supposed results are improved productivity, burnout elimination, work-life balance and distraction-management.

Maybe some of you may have already tried it, and maybe it works for you. I tried it a few times, but I realized I’m more of a head-down, just-get-the-job-done kind of gal, so the timer going off was, ironically, a major distraction for me, and I found this method more irritating than anything, so I ditched it!

Make Lists

I’ll confess that I’m a list junkie. I make lists for almost everything, whether it’s business or personal, and I get a thrill crossing things off the list. My husband’s now doing it, after years of initially thinking I was crazy! He was always amazed at how much I’d get done in a day, and I told him it’s partly because I thrive on using lists. Now he’s a convert, and sometimes we jokingly fight over who will get to cross completed tasks off the chore list! Crossing jobs off a list gives me a great sense of purpose and accomplishment, and it motivates me to see lines through completed projects and tasks. I used lists with all my in-house jobs, and I’ve continued that method with freelancing.

It may shock you to know, however, that I work with a hard copy calendar and pen-and-paper lists—call me a dinosaur, but I love to get and stay organized on paper. I spend so much of my day on a screen that it’s a welcome change to actually use my hand to write, though my handwriting is atrocious! I have a work calendar that gives me a month at a glance, as I’m one of those people who needs to see the big picture, as well as the details. I write down when projects are due, and that way I can see where the bottlenecks are/could be, and that helps me know right away if I can take on any more work. I also use lots of highlighters and different coloured pens, so projects and deadlines stand out.

I make a list for the upcoming work week, usually on Sunday night, so I know what is due when and to whom for the upcoming week. That’s a smaller version, if you will, of the bigger picture. If my workload is light for that week, then I put on my marketing hat, contacting clients I haven’t heard from in a while, reminding them I’m available for work, or contacting potential clients (and yes, I have a list of potential clients!). Before going to bed, I add to the list, cross off tasks completed or move them to a newly created list. I also have an organized plan for each work day and that keeps me on track and motivated. Maybe there are apps or programs to do this, but hard copies work for me.

I also find creating editorial checklists helpful, depending on the size of the project. If it’s only a few pages, then I don’t create one. But if it’s a major project, like copy editing a 300-page cookbook, I develop a checklist in addition to the style guide I’m using. They are often a simple Word doc or sometimes I write out my checklist. I usually use the checklist at the beginning and at the end of my project, to ensure I’ve been thorough.

Get Through Every Email

Another time-management and motivation strategy I use is making it a priority to get through all of my emails before the end of each day. It’s a quirk of mine, and I realize it sounds freakishly anal and maybe impossible, but, again, this a strategy that works for me. I find it soul-crushing to open up my email in the morning, only to find a long stream of neglected emails/clients. Sometimes that just means a quick and professional acknowledgment of the email, stating that I’ll respond in more detail the next day or very soon.

Regular Breaks, Exercise, and Self Rewards

Another tip: I make time each day for regular breaks and exercise. They are essential for my sanity and my productivity. I do weekly hatha yoga, and I have an ex-racer greyhound who needs multiple daily walks. Exercise helps me manage stress and allows me to brainstorm or work through an issue I may be having with something I’m writing or editing. Bestselling author Gretchen Rubin says that doing 10 jumping jacks will boost your mood and increase your energy. I haven’t tried that yet, but maybe I should! Even when I was an in-house editor at Homemakers and especially at the AGO, I took time for regular breaks. As I mentioned, on particularly stressful days, I’d wander in the galleries, enjoying my favourite Emily Carrs and Tom Thomsons. I have very fond memories of the Yoko Ono, William Wegman and Hermitage exhibitions because I was able to enjoy the art during a weekday morning, often avoiding all the ugly weekend and afternoon crowds. For me, breaks are a form of escapism and regeneration, a chance to lose the work chains and give my brain time to recharge and think freely, which really aids in efficiency and motivation.

I’m also a big believer in self-rewards. I will say to myself that after I get X number of pages edited or y number of pages written, I will treat myself to, for example, wandering in some of my favourite neighbourhood shops or cafes, watching a BBC show, or to some pleasure reading.

Also, I take advantage of any downtime or lulls in work. Freelancing is feast or famine, so I use downtime to re-energize, strategize, and sometimes make more lists! I visit arts and antique markets, visit with friends or family, or think of potential new clients or story ideas. I also meet with fellow editors and writers to commiserate, often sharing work tips and strategies.

Just Say “No!”

Another tactic I use is just saying “No!” No to a client, no to a volunteer opportunity, and even no to myself for doing any more work that day. My theory is, it’s better to pass on a project than to take it on and do a less-than-spectacular job and ruin your precious reputation. Clients appreciate the honesty, which keeps your integrity as an editor intact. Almost every client I’ve ever said no to has come back another time with another job or another part of the job I originally declined. I recently had to turn down a copy editing project for a main client because of prior work commitments, but I was approached by that client again several weeks later to proofread the same project. Fortunately, I was able to say yes then.

I also don’t have a problem with making some nights a “get-your-own-meal” or “cereal night” at our house. My husband likes to cook, but he gets home from work around 7 pm. He is very understanding and so is our teenaged son. They’re used to this occurrence and know that sometimes a decent weekday meal isn’t going to happen, because “Mom’s on deadline again!”

Switch to Something New

Another way for me to meet deadlines and stay motivated is to work on multiple projects in one day or just switch to a different project altogether. As I mentioned, I wrote a feature last year for Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market on beating writer’s block, and many of the writers, editors, publishers, and writing instructors I interviewed do this. If my mind is wandering or if I need a break, I put aside that project and start on another. For example, if I just can’t look at that annual report pdf one more time, I’ll try writing a page for my YA novel, start working on my next book review for Canadian Children’s Book News, or research or brainstorm potential authors for the next season of Rowers Readers Series, for which I’m the administrative director. Sometimes that’s all I need to feel motivated to finish or return to the first project.

Positive Energy, Kind People

My final strategy is, surround yourself with positive, kind people. I express regular gratitude to those people in my life, as I know success is never a solo venture. It may sound cliché, but having family and friends who are supportive and respectful of you and your work will do wonders for your self-esteem and your peace of mind, which in turn has a favourable effect on your productivity, motivation and efficiency.


Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto, Canada-based freelance writer, editor, and mentor. She’s been in the writing and editing business for two decades, and her company is Planet Word. Jennifer’s clients are from the book and custom publishing, magazine, and marketing and communications fields and include The Globe and Mail, Art Gallery of Ontario, D. F. Plett Historical Research Foundation, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Canadian Children’s Book News, Dundurn Press, Ontario Dental Association, and Firefly Books. When she’s not busy spilling ink for her first novel, walking her greyhound, Aquaman, or reading, Jennifer enjoys travelling, antiquing, gardening, camping and yoga. She’s a long-time mentor to novice editors via Editors Canada and novice writers via the Professional Writers Association of Canada. Jennifer is chair of Editors Toronto and administrative director of the Rowers Reading Series. Find her online at

Introduction to Writing

Alberta Sequeira

Welcome to your world of writing. It all begins with a thought for a great story. The next step is to start writing your first sentence.  You don’t need to spend every spare moment at the computer. A half hour a day will bring your story together. Pushing aside your desire to write will never fill your dream of having that special book published.

Publishing your work can happen if you persevere and keep your confidence. Famous writers had to start where you are now. In the beginning, don’t worry about making every sentence flow together or panic because they make no sense. There will be numerous times going back to recheck your grammar, punctuation, and spelling. You may find it necessary to reword sentences. Those corrections should be in the last stages.

A computer is a gift and a best friend to a writer. Its function keys allow you to cut, paste, copy, delete or add a page from the internet to your manuscript. Remember, most mistakes can be fixed.

One important fact that I suggest is to SAVE your material with each paragraph or page that you finish. If you take a break, if there’s a storm, SAVE your work on a CD before shutting everything down. You’d be surprised how many hours of work can be lost. If it’s gone, you will learn what frustration is all about when you try to remember what you finished writing; you know, those perfect thoughts! 

When done for the day, SAVE your work on a CD. Make it a habit that you write your fresh, new, daily entries at the start of each day in your manuscript in the computer and SAVE the day’s work on the CD. It is easy to get mixed up if you start one day writing on the CD and saving the work the computer and then the next day starting on the computer and saving on the CD because you will over-riding pages of entries with your finished work. I made this horrible mistake with my first book for months forgetting which location I started my writing last, where it was saved, and I had deleted important information. Remember, work on the computer, Save on the CD at the end of the dayMake this a routine practice. 

Keep a pencil and a pad of paper in the living room, kitchen, and bedroom. Some of the best material seems to come during the wee hours of the night or morning. Have one special location to store your notes. Type them daily into your document. It saves paperwork from piling up or your notes getting lost. 

© Alberta Sequeira



Alberta Sequeira is from North Dartmouth, Massachusetts and is a four-time award winning Author, speaker, and an Awareness Coach on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

Her memoirs are:  A Spiritual Renewal: A Journey to Medugorje, Someone Stop This Merry-Go-RoundAn Alcoholic Family in Crisis, and its sequel Please, God, Not Two; This Killer Called Alcoholism, and her Narrative Non-Fiction book What is and isn’t Working for the Alcoholics and Addicts; In Their Own.

Ms. Sequeira is an educational instructor for three workshops: Bring Your Manuscript to PublicationHow to Self-Publish Your Own Book with Create Space and Writing Memoirs.  All three classes were made into handbooks.  

She is a co-founder to Authors Without Borders ( and a director, producer and co-host to the NBTV-95 Cable Show out of New Bedford, MA.  

She is in the process of working on her first fictional story, The Rusty Years.

Character Development

Award-Winning Author Hank Quense

Nothing tells the reader the author is an amateur quicker than reading about a make-believe, cardboard character, one that isn’t a ‘real’ person.

In this article we’ll cover the mental or inner workings of characters. These are the attributes that turn a character into a ‘real’ person. There are a number of areas involved and it will require creativity and hard work to complete the character development. These areas include the character’s personality, his dreams, his aspirations and any mirages that affect him. The character’s inner philosophy is also an important element.

Let’s briefly address each area.

• Personality: Here is a definition from the American Heritage Dictionary: The pattern of feelings, thoughts, and activities that distinguishes one person from another. If you scan the web, you’ll find a bewildering array of web sites about personality including some heavy-duty stuff from doctors. Basically, it seems to break down into two areas: personality types and personality traits.

According to one theory, there are sixteen types of personality. There are four types in each of four categories: analysts, diplomats, sentinels and explorers. Your character has to be one of sixteen. For more information see


Within these categories, there are many personality traits. You need to define your character by giving him or her a personality trait or two. Is your character affable, charming, pompous, unfriendly? There are many personality traits that can be used. Once you select one or two, do a web search on that trait to ensure you can write convincingly about that type of personality. There is more information about personality traits here:

• Dreams (aspirations): What does your character want out of life? What does he want to do when he grows up? What does she want to achieve? This attribute can influence how the character acts and can provide a measure of conflict. What if she wants to become an engineer, but has to decide whether to stay in college or drop out to help her sick mother? This situation will provide inner conflict.

• Memories: These are influencers that characters have. Memories can also be used for foreshadowing and to build up internal conflict. How? Consider this example: as a five-year-old, the character almost drowned. Ever since, she has had a healthy fear of open water. At some point in the story, she sees a man drowning in the middle of a lake. What does your character do? Does her fear of water cause her to ignore the man and walk away? Does she search for a boat to use in the rescue? Does she suppress her fear and dive into the lake?
This inner conflict can provide a memorable scene in the story. Remember though, a heroine has to do heroic stuff. It would be acceptable for a villainess to let the guy drown, but a heroine will have to try to save him, or she won’t be believable.

Another example will concern a man who was punished as a child by being locked in a dark closet. Now he fears dark basements, caves, alleys and any unlit place. You can see how this memory and foreshadowing can lead to exciting scenes and gripping internal conflict.

• Mirages: These are fantasies the character tricks herself into believing. Want an example? Most politicians thinking they have the slightest chance of getting elected President. Another example: your character pursues a goal that he can’t possible achieve because it is a mirage.

• Descriptor (or voice): This item isn’t the same as the way the character speaks, it’s a brief description or summary of the character and the way he thinks and acts. This isn’t easy to develop but I believe it’s essential to have one for the major and main characters. Once you have the descriptor, it will help you write accurately about the character and his thoughts, his actions, his reactions.

Examples may be the best way to explain the descriptor. A banker can be the voice of greed and will endlessly talk about money and financial concerns. A psychopath is the voice of rage, always ready for an argument or fight. A warrior could be described as the voice of chaos. An accountant can be the voice of precision.

• Philosophy: Everyone has a personal philosophy. You have one whether you realize it or not, whether you want one or not. I don’t know if a personal philosophy comes with your birth package or is a product of your environment and your upbringing. To me, how it happened isn’t as important as recognizing that it did happen. My personal philosophy is skepticism with a healthy dose of cynicism. Since all people have a personal philosophy, it follows that your main and major characters should also have a personal philosophy.

Once you assign a philosophy to a character, limitations instantly follow. For instance, if your character’s philosophy is individualism, you can’t have him acting hesitant or asking other characters for help and answers. An individualist character tends to do stuff by himself. He’s decisive, not wishy-washy. Similarly, if the character is an optimist, you can’t have her bad-mouthing everybody’s ideas and suggestions. That’s the way a pessimist will act.

As you can see from this discussion of inner attributes, building a memorable character requires a lot of creativity and work. However, the effort is worth it and your readers will appreciate it.

The material in this article is based on my book Creating Stories.

© Hank Quense 2017

Character Development

Award-Winning Author Hank Quense

Building a main character in a story requires a bit of creativity and a lot of work.  Let’s talk about two topics on character development that don’t get much attention: limitations and biographies.

1. Limitations

As you build the characters, you may notice that limitations crop up.  Perhaps, a character can’t do what you want him to do because he is too old.  An elderly person, for instance, can’t do many things a younger person can do. You are becoming limited in what you, the author, can do and what your characters can do or can not do.  These limitations or restrictions will also occur with plotting and motivation.  The more the story design develops, the less freedom you and your characters have.  As an example, if you build a character’s physical aspects so that he has a serious limp, you can’t have him outrunning the bad guy.  Similarly, if your character dropped out of high school, he can’t use the laws of thermodynamics to develop the solution to the plot problem.  This is one huge advantage to building a complete biography; it gives you a better understanding of what the character is capable of doing.  The biography will expose the limitations the character will have to deal with.

2. Biographies

A biography for the character serves a dual purpose.  Besides providing background information, it allows the author to understand the character and that understanding is vital when dealing with the character in stressful situations.


For a short-story character, I write a few paragraphs of bio material.  For the main character in a novel, the bio may run to more than a page.  Other novel characters will get less of a bio.  The less important the character, the smaller the bio I create.

The strange thing to many new story writers is this: most of the biographical material won’t show up in the story so why bother developing it?  The answer is that the bio allows the writer to understand the character and what makes him or her tick.  The better the writer knows and understands the character, the better the writer will be able to predict how the character will respond to situations and stimuli.

For instance, suppose someone walks up to your character and punches him in the mouth, or a beautiful woman unexpectedly kisses him.  How does your character react to the punch?  Does he punch back?  Does he walk away?  How does the character react to the kiss?  Does he get red in the face?  Does he kiss her back?  Does he develop a stammer?  Your detailed biography will guide you in writing the character’s response.  If you don’t have the bio material, the character’s response is really a guess.  In addition, the writer will have difficulty keeping the character’s response consistent when other situations occur.  Your second guess may be different from your first guess.  Believe me, the readers will pick up on it.

There are a number of biographical elements the writer should address.

Family: Are his parents alive?  Does the character have any siblings?  What is everyone’s age?  Are any siblings married?  Where did the character grow up?  Did the character have any unusual childhood experiences?  What were they?  Do these experiences affect the character?  Is the character’s family stable?  Or is it chaotic?  How does this affect him? 

Education:  Schools, degrees, favorite subject?

Career: Jobs, military experience?

Adult experiences: Married?  Divorced?  Children?

It’s the author’s job to come up with events that affected the character’s life and outlook. After that, the author must incorporate this information into the story.

This article is based on material in my book Creating Stories.

© Hank Quense 2017

Discipline: Perseverance as a Skill in Writing

J.B.M. Patrick

Three years ago, and in the middle of December, I thought I’d failed in everything I’d set out to accomplish.

In 2014, I enlisted in the Armed Forces. I was already a Basic Emergency Medical Technician; I knew quite a bit on how to save lives, but I felt I didn’t know enough about how to protect them. I’d signed up to be of part of the Army’s Infantry and began a long, arduous journey that transformed my way of thinking and altered my perception of what it meant to lead a meaningful life. On that December, I participated in yet another test designed to rid our ranks of those incapable of meeting the physical standards.

I’ve always been a terrible runner. At that time, I was even worse. I remember sprinting through gusts of oppressively frigid winds in order to meet the finish line under the time limit. The standard was a measly two miles in under 15 minutes and fifty-four seconds. I’d taken this test once before and had failed it the first time at 16:36.

I passed the halfway mark, and, with only one mile left, I struggled as sweat ran into my eyes and seared my vision. I pressed my eyelids together, but the pain only increased. My whole body was aching, I could barely breathe, and I began to see the backs of more and more runners besting my pace. I was angry at myself. So angry, that I started to cry because I knew it was my fault for not pushing myself hard enough, for not having the necessary strength to carry out a victory. I cried; however, I did not stop. I kept running until the end, and when I hit the finish line, I heard a Drill Sergeant bellow the outcome:

15:30. I keeled over, fell into a coma, and my chain of command rushed me to the emergency room.

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Just kidding. I made it. And little did I know that this would be the easiest victory, as events would soon heat up and never relent in intensity for years after. It was hard when I beat my two-mile time at 13:57, it was hard when I beat the standard for my brigade’s four mile at 29:30, it was hard when I ruck marched twelve miles to graduate Air Assault School, and it was hard when I stood my ground against a much higher-ranking member on a controversial issue and won.

So, how does this relate to writing as a craft and as a profession?

Conquering Fear:

“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”
– Stephen King

However a reader/writer may feel about Stephen King, he is absolutely right in how he interprets the psyches of writers everywhere who often encounter the same issues. The clearest and strongest manifestations of fear take the form of “writer’s block.” I’ve always disliked this term, because once a writer has moved past it, writer’s block never returns. Writer’s block stems from the fear of Mental Conjugation.

Mental Conjugation:

Art, literary or otherwise, exists in fluidity. It only possesses the form an artist gives it. When an artist is too afraid to mold their vision into something tangible, they (“they” is being used for inclusivity’s sake) often create excuses that take root in the artist’s subconscious. Every time they sit down to create their vision, they’re assaulted either with feelings of incompetence or a lack of faith in themselves. They fall short of grasping how to mentally conjugate an idea, and this is often due to them feeling like that very first sentence or paragraph has to be perfect. It’s not because that person is inherently a crappy writer, but their hesitation is preventing them from realizing their full potential. With that in mind, anyone should be angry at themselves for erecting such an unnecessary but understandable barrier to progress. In spite of that, we should remember:

Conjugation is a Mechanical Process:

Writing is work. It’s very laborious in nature. I’ve gone from operating on an assembly line for twelve-hour shifts at a nonstop pace to adapting to constantly changing standards as a soldier. I’ve always had anxiety, so, in a way, everything is scary to an extent. But still, we must choose action over stagnation—fear over complacency, because that is how we evolve as writers.

That first sentence will not be perfect. In fact, it’ll most likely be trash; it’s normal. Every first draft is ugly, from Dostoyevsky’s to Bret Easton Ellis’. It’s going to feel “off,” it’s going to feel “dull” or “weak.” Regardless of how the writer labels their own work, it doesn’t matter. Developing the content matters. Conjugating ideas into tangible pieces of art matters. It is a mechanical process because it happens according to a style that’s already developed and will continue developing as the process continues. In order to ensure that this process works, there is one invaluable skill a writer must have at their disposable:


Advice on story elements, such as plot progression, character development, pacing, and word choice, is mostly canonical. Most established writers have come to agree with each other on what works, even if those elements themselves can often be sinned against for great effect depending on the artist’s talents. A potential writer can spend hours and days attempting to gather as much information about these elements. They can go on online forums for support in their efforts, they can log onto a social media account and find hundreds of others asking for the same advice, and then they usually complain about how they don’t write enough on those same platforms. Writing is not always fun; not every moment is beautiful or hits the right note. It takes discipline to put aside everything in a writer’s life and work for the sake of content while striving for the best level of quality on their first go. To write well, one must write and write and write. To edit well, one must edit and edit and edit. In conjunction, those two skills unite under discipline and support a writer’s efforts to produce something meaningful.

Set A Goal:

Shooting for the objective of making readers cry or feel significant emotions is lofty and can take time. It’s an overarching goal encompassing several much smaller goals, which are all equally important. For example, Stephen King claims to write 2,000 words a day. I’ve been following that goal myself and have already written eighty pages worth of content after a little over a week. I wrote 2,000 words this morning and am over 1,000 by this point.

In short, a writer should make it their imperative to keep going and to continue far beyond simple discouragement. It matters not how they feel and only makes a difference when they keep writing. Of course, beta readers and editors always follow once this process is complete; however, most never even start the process. Every time a writer completes their word count, their discipline develops just a little more. Remember to sustain rather than give in to trepidation.

Remember to look forward, to mentally conjugate art into a tangible form rather than focus on what’s behind you. Besides, looking back is an entirely different mechanical process; it’s called editing.

© Josh B. M. Patrick

Author Bio: 

J. B. M. Patrick (born 1994) is a former EMT, an Army Veteran, and the author of Angelos Odyssey: Volume One. Visit his Amazon page here for the extended (and very colorful!) version of his author bio:

Adaptation: From Novel to Screenplay to Film

Judy Sandra – Writer, Director, Producer

These days it’s almost a given that a film will be based on a novel or book of non-fiction.  While I also write original screenplays, I decided to adapt a novel I wrote into a screenplay for a film that I will also direct. The following thoughts on adaptation come from my personal experience of adapting the novel The Metal Girl into the film project “Metal Girl.”

From Novel to Screenplay to Film

Novels and films are such different species that it can feel unnatural to marry them.  After the adaptation, the only thing they will share will be a story, the setting, and the characters. A novel is a completed art form.   One author writes the book, and one reader reads the book one at a time.  If it’s a successful book, many people, even millions of people will read that same book. While each reader will see the story through their own imagination and personal interpretation, the printed words will never change.

A screenplay is the blueprint for a film.  Very few people will ever read the original screenplay.  From the screenplay, the film will be created through the collaborative efforts of the director, cinematographer, actors, and all the creative professionals that contribute to the making of the movie.

The screenplay will evolve over the duration of the actual shooting of the film, with input and collaborations between the director and actors, and it will continue to evolve during the post-production process of the film—through the editing and finishing processes. The screenplay is a fluid and ever changing document.

I emphasize this to call attention to the fact that a screenplay is not a work of art. The film is the work. The screenplay is part of the work, a very significant part, but one that remains mostly invisible. The screenplay is the beginning of a process of the making of a film.

While this may seem an obvious point, it becomes a very important one when thinking about adapting a novel to the screen.  To me the screenwriter, the novel I have in front of me is a piece of writing that I am now going to bend to the medium of film.  The first thing to consider is adapting prose to dramatic writing and the limitations of the screenplay format.

From prose to screenplay format

To adapt the prose into a screenplay, I have to think about the story differently, as a series of scenes in three dimensions.  Also, to accommodate the average length of a film–one hour and forty-five minutes–most working screenplays are between approximately 90 and 105 pages. The narrative of an average 300-500 page novel simply won’t fit. Something—a lot—has to go.

How does one tell a novel length story in a 105 page script?

Efficiently, using the language of film.

What actually happens in an adaptation is that the story of the book gets retold in the language of film. In essence, you will be writing the original story again, but this time, it’s going to be a movie. That’s how it felt when I adapted The Metal Girl.  I was re-writing the novel, telling the same story in the same situations, but this time I was telling it using pictures, music, sound, and color. How would I tell that story, what would it look like, and how would those characters come to life on the screen?

Planning the adaptation: Structure

What elements of the story would stay and which could I cut out? Which characters, events, locations? What parts could I eliminate and what parts did I have to keep to portray the theme of the story and the main character’s journey?

What would change, and what would stay the same? This is not always evident at first. Through all the versions of the script, some events, situations, characters in the novel will be lost, but at the same time, other elements that were not in the original story might be added for dramatic effect. Further changes will occur over the course of the shooting and editing of the film.

The old adage of filmmaking is true: “There is the film you write, the film you shoot, and the film you edit”.  A film is an evolving creative process, but that’s one of the things that for me makes filmmaking so exciting: you never really know what a film will be or look like until the end.


Beginning, Middle, End

The first consideration is the structure of the film story, which may have to differ from the structure of the novel. Deciding on the best timeline for the events of the story in the film is the first thing to adapt. In film one wants to build the narrative and keep the audience guessing. Surprise is an important element of screenwriting—the twists and turns of the plot—and one of the devices that holds the attention of the viewer.

A novel also has to move forward, but doesn’t have to build on emotion in the same way as a film.  A film takes the audience on an emotional journey. The film must hold you in your seat in rapt attention for one sitting of 90 to 105 minutes. So the screenplay must be structured in such a way as to build towards a dramatic, emotional climax that is resolved by the end. The words on the page don’t need to do that. The book can be of interest and engaging but we can put it down and come back to it later.

For example, in The Metal Girl, one very important event in the development of the main character Charlotte happened in the early part of the novel. But in the screenplay “Metal Girl”, for dramatic purposes, I put off that moment, building up to that point later in the story. When the moment occurs in the film, the audience is ready for Charlotte’s emotional response, and it becomes a turning point for the development of her character and the arc of the story.

Characters—Subtracting and Adding

In the same way that the narrative structure may have to change, in the screenplay you may have to make changes with characters in the story, especially if there are a lot or there are many incidental characters.  For the reasons of character development, the story arc, and the time constraints of a film, incidental characters need to be kept to a minimum.  Some characters in the novel fell away because I didn’t need them as they weren’t a crucial part of the story.  In the novel they may have added another color in the development of the main character or to the texture of the story, but in the film they were unnecessary extra details.

One reason that some new characters may appear in the script is to move the narrative forward, as the film will have a different story arc than the novel. Also, one might add characters and scenes that don’t appear in the novel in order to translate internal thoughts into dialogue. For example, the novel The Metal Girl is written in the first person.  In fact, in the novel, the narrator doesn’t even have a name. Because the entire story is coming from her mind and also describes her feelings about situations that occur, I sometimes chose to create a character that didn’t exist in the book for her to interact with in order to turn her thoughts into dialogue and her internal emotional state into her responses to other people.

Keeping what works 

In spite of what I said above, sometimes what is written in the novel works perfectly well on screen. After all the film is based on the novel and you want to keep as much of the flavor of the original story as possible. In “Metal Girl” some of the dialogue in the screenplay comes directly from the  novel. Parts of the first person narrative in the book were used as voiceover in the screenplay. In the beginning of the film, we hear the main character Charlotte telling us about what we are seeing on screen as we watch the opening scenes unfold before she actually speaks in the film. Other scenes in the film were lifted directly as they were written in the novel. If it works, use it.

The End

The process of making a film, from pre- to post-production, typically takes one to two years. During that time the story has been guided by the director, writer, and producer with the collaborative efforts of the cinematographer and the entire creative team. Shooting every day is magical: how things come together on camera, what the performances will be. Putting the film together in post production—the editing and finishing process—is the final adventure.

Filmmaking is an unpredictable controlled chaos of creativity. At the end of this exciting, creative, and arduous process, you will have a film. The adapted screenplay will not be a replica of the novel, but hopefully will become a  film that is as special as the novel that inspired it.

Judy Sandra – Bio:

Judy Sandra is a director, writer, producer, and author. The screenplay “Metal Girl” is an adaptation of her coming-of-age novel The Metal Girl.  Judy has received four best screenplay award nominations for “Metal Girl”, including being honored as one of the three screenwriting finalists at the 2016 Nottingham International Film Festival, Nottingham, UK.

In 2016, she made her directorial debut with the comedy/fantasy short film  ”Angelito in Your Eye”.  Judy has received six international film award nominations for the short from international awards festivals, including for Best Comedy Short Film, Best Genre Film, and Best Actor.


Judy Sandra – Writer, Director, Producer

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© Judy Sandra 2017