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Improve Your Writing and Build Your Community

Join me for two events to improve your writing and build your community.

I am thrilled to be speaking at two events in Jacksonville on September 11, 2018.

Are books the new business cards? Join me at the Women’s Business Luncheon Meetup on September 11 at 11:30 AM at Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails to find out. Click here to learn more about the event.

Later I’ll speak to the River City Writers about writing through the lens of a professional editor. Join us on September 11 at 7:00 PM at the Southeast Branch Library. Click here to learn more about the event.

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The Power of Message-Driven Content

Magnify Your Ability to Generate Message-Driven Content

I had the pleasure of presenting a modified version of my You Magnified presentation to the Northeast Florida chapter of Women in Insurance and Financial Services (WIFS) today. If you’re a woman working in Northeast Florida in these two important industries, get to know this dynamic gathering of women! https://wifsnefl.org/

If you’re generating fantastic, message-driven content, we’d love to hear from you. Please share this presentation and comment below or contact us. We all have big ideas to share to build our brands and to affect positive changes in our world. I applaud every business owner out there. Keep sharing ideas and your brand message!

You Magnified

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4 Questions to Improve Your Nonfiction Book Draft

nonfiction book draft

Ask yourself these 4 key questions to improve your nonfiction book draft.

4 Questions to Improve Your Nonfiction Book Draft

So you’ve written your nonfiction book draft. Now what?

Getting the first draft out may have been easier than you’d imagined. Perhaps it spilled out of you in a torrent of ideas and feelings and energy. Perhaps it didn’t, and you spilled buckets of blood, sweat, and tears over every page. In any regard, you’ve completed your first draft, so it’s time to celebrate right? I did it, you think. Time to kick back, relax, and wait for the royalty checks to stream in.

Well, yes . . . and no. And, yes . . . relax, but only for a brief while. And, we all hope for those royalty checks, but first there’s more work to be done.

But, Kimberly, you plead. I’ve done the hard work. Can’t I just hand it to you (or [insert friendly, qualified editor’s name here]) to “clean up”?

Oh, dear writer, if it were only so. You’ve written your first draft, so yes celebrate. Celebrate your socks off. Text your friends at inappropriate times of the morning after you giddily type the words The End. (Not that this writer as done that. Sorry, Michelle in Reno.)

Dance around your house wearing your lucky first-draft yoga pants and ironic writerly-type T-shirt. Pour a glass a wine, or pop a tab on a Diet Coke, or drink herbal tea out of a too-expensive hipster pottery mug you bought on Etsy and celebrate!

Then, relax for a month or so as you let your first draft “cool down.” Come off the writer’s high we all experience when we finish a first draft. Then get to the down-and-dirty but wholly-terrifying-and-wonderful job of revising your manuscript.

Note: These four questions for improving a nonficition book draft came about because I couldn’t find anything online that addressed revising nonfiction. All the blog posts were about improving novel drafts or academic papers. My nonfiction book client, a first-time author, had finished his first draft. He was experiencing that nervous tension that comes when you find yourself in the middle of an intersection and can’t decide which way to go. You got there, you’re okay, but if you don’t go one way or the other something, you fear, will come any second to plow you over.

And because I could find nothing appropriate for said happy-but-anxious newbie nonfiction book author, I wrote out my own brief guide to reading the first draft of one’s nonfiction book with fresh eyes and evaluating what concerns to address before the manuscript zips through the Web and lands in your editor’s in-box.

4 Key Areas of Concern for a First-Draft Revision

When considering revisions for a nonfiction book draft, think in terms of the 4 C’s. Anyone who’s taken a writing class with me has had to hear me preach about the 4 C’s: Coherence, Consistency, Clarity, and Compelling Content. OK, technically that’s 5 C’s, but the fourth area counts as one and the fifth C is actually Correctness, and we’re not concerned with that at this stage. And, it’s my blog, so it’s 4 C’s. Deal with it. J/K. Love you, dear writer.

I advised my nonfiction book client to take a break from the first draft for a few weeks, a month if he could, long enough to let it rest. Then he could pick it back up and consider these 4 key areas, asking himself each key question and questions related to each key question.

Whew! that’s a lot of questions. And, don’t worry if you haven’t got all the answers. It’s just about seeing the first draft with fresh eyes and addressing what you do recognize and can revise to produce a stronger second draft.

So here is (slightly edited) what I suggested to Beloved Client. (And I mean that sincerely. He’s a wonderful man with a huge heart to help others, my favorite type of client.)

As you read your first draft after its cooling period, consider these four key areas and ask yourself the following questions:

1. Coherence of message – Does my nonfiction book draft make sense?

Related questions: Is each chapter and the sections within the chapters making sense after setting the draft aside for a while? Does any passage or section seem confusing? If so, mark the spot but keep reading, or take notes for the revision stage.

Have you explained key terms so that the reader understands what you mean by special language in your nonfiction book? If you’re making an argument, have you laid out your case logically? Are there gaps missing in content that the reader needs to follow the logic of your argument or your thinking on the subject?

2. Consistency of tone – Does the tone established in the introduction or first chapter carry through the entire draft?

Related questions: Is your naturnal writing voice coming through on each page? Are there places where the tone turns too “academic,” too “parental,” too “bossy,” or in someway unappealing? Have you included any lighter moments so that the message doesn’t feel too heavy? Does it sound as if you’re having a welcoming, honest conversation with your reader?

Note any passages you may need to address in revisions. Revise for a consistent tone throughout as much as you are able at this point. Some places you may not see, which is perfectly fine. Your editor will point those out and help you resolve them. That’s what we’re here for.

3. Clarity of vision – Does the draft fulfill the promise of my book implied in my book premise?

Related questions: Does each section of each chapter speak in some way to the vision, book premise, or central idea of the book? Do certain passages feel as if they’ve drifted off or gone on a tangent? Are any passages, sentences, or examples redundant? Do all the stories, research, anecdotes, facts, etc. still seem relevent and necessary? Could any section, passage, or detail be cut without hurting the book overall?

4. Compelling Content – Is the reader “hooked” and engaged until the final page?

Related questions: Is the first draft still interesting to you? Are there spots where your mind drifted? Did you get bored? Cut out anything that seems boring to you now. The reader will surely be bored as well. If your mind drifted, it may be a matter of clarity, so go back to number three and consider where you could sharpen the focus.

Is each story presented in a compelling way? Are you using dialogue to represent what others said? Dialogue can be engaging. In stories or anecdotes, do you paint a scene for the reader or use other narrative elements? Do you appeal to the reader’s emotions and persuade him or her to adopt your way of thinking about the subject?

Remember the 4 Cs for a Stronger Nonfiction Book Draft

These four key areas–coherence, consistency, clarity, and compelling content–should give you plenty to consider as you work on your nonfiction book draft. Remember to let the first draft cool. This resting period is part of the writing process. Every writer needs some distance from the first draft to see it the way the reader is likely to see it.

Then, do a full read-through of your completed draft. Consider the 4 Cs of a well-written nonfiction manuscript. Make any revisions to the draft that you feel you can make before sending it to your editor. And, very important, trust your editor to do his or her part. Your editor is on your side. If not, fire your editor and find one who is.

Finally, kick back and give yourself time to refresh your mind, spirit, and creative self. You still have more revision work to do, dear writer, but know that in the end, you’ll have the magnificent nonfiction book of your dreams.

As always, believe in your creative self. You can accomplish your authorship goals. You deserve your best draft.

Writing is a process. Trust the process.

Joy and Blessings,

Kimberly

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4 Tips for Stronger First Drafts

You can write stronger first drafts.

 

Attend a few writers groups and you’re bound to hear the classic question about writing first drafts: Are you a plotter or a pantser? I’ve heard this question so many times I’ve questioned whether Merriam-Webster has officially inducted pantser into its iconic word tome. (I stopped writing to check, and no, it has not.) Online, however, collinsdictionary.com defines pantser, “In the writing world someone who prefers to write by the seat of their pants without any forethought or planning.”

Many writers who’ve tried the pantser method have found themselves left with a muddled, confusing, disjointed mess in the end. Often, they move straight onto new projects. Revising such an unworkable manuscript feels too daunting. It’s easier, they feel, to chunk it and start over.

If this has been your experience, you may want to step away from the pantser writing method. Often, this style of writer is called a plotter. I prefer, however, the term planner. Why be a planner instead of a plotter? Plotters, as the term implies, can get hung up thinking in terms of “plotting” out each event, while other elements such as character, setting, cause-and-effect go ignored. Planners, however, consider all aspects of a story or subject. They go deep, long before the first word is penned.

To practice your planning skills, consider these 4 tips for a stronger first draft:

1. Develop your book premise. A clear, focused, engaging book premise takes time. Don’t rush. When you’re in the early stages of developing your book’s premise take lots of notes, dive into sources, explore your topic. It may be tempting to rush into banging out a first chapter . . . or more, maybe even a complete manuscript. A manuscript built on a weak premise can easily become a waste of time.

2. Adopt a structured plan for chapter and scene development from beginning to end. You’ll want your plan to remain flexible enough to allow for content or storyline changes as the manuscript evolves. If you can’t envision a clear progression or, most important, the ending, then you really don’t know where you want to go. Take the time to plan a here-to-there map of your manuscript.

3. Be willing to trash a scene or chapter section if it’s not working. Some writers find it hard to cut material later, especially once a draft is finished. If the scene or section feels forced or unfocused, leave it for a while. If you come back to it and find it’s still not working, maybe it doesn’t belong. Don’t let either your plan or your pride get in your way.

4. Start each writing session by editing the prior session’s pages. This tip is likely the most controversial. I’ve heard a thousand times just to write without editing. Write through the first draft. Get it all out. Dump the words on the page. Poppycock. Everyone finds their own best method, but many who edit along the way discover they have a more focused first draft at the end. It’s worth the extra time and energy.

Lisa Cron in Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel writes on the myths of pantsing and of the “shitty first draft.” She suggests that pantsing is attractive to writers simply because our brains are wired to take the easiest route. Planning, I propose, is harder than setting down with a half-baked premise and banging out page after page. But is it most effective? Does it produce the best first drafts? If it did, I don’t think we’d have the popular myth that all first drafts are “shitty.”

Cron also does a wonderful job of examining the myth of plotting. I’ll admit that she broke my heart a bit when she railed against the myth of external story structures, such as the three-act structure. I couldn’t agree more with her, though, that relying on either pansting or plotting works more against good storytelling than for it. I think the same argument could be made for writing nonfiction. Go in with a plan. Cron’s story-building method is a workable, thoughtful plan for writing fiction.

 

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Writing Resolutions

Making Thoughtful Writing Resolutions

It’s a new year, and for many that means it’s time to make writing resolutions.

writing resolutions

Those among us who write know that in year’s past we’ve pronounced each January 1, “This year I will write more!” This year, however, I am resolving and encouraging you, dear writer, to write not more but better .

Orwell had the write idea, we can ask ourselves questions to become better writers. After all, what is the point of writing more, if we do no more than sling more words on the page? In honor of Orwell, New Year’s resolutions, and as a reminder to myself as a writer, I offer four questions to better writing in 2016.

Am I listening to the sound of my writing? Language is a music of its own. I share this with my writing students repeatedly: Listen to your writing. Read it aloud. Listen to the music of your words, how your sentences rise and fall, where you need an extra word, where fewer words sounds better. Listen for awkward construction, words clanging against one another, disturbing the flow.

Have I created the greatest tensile strength? In The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing, Norman Mailer, in an interview with Larry Shainberg, defines what he calls “tensile strength”: “You can’t change a single word.” This is where I see clients and writer friends growing the most. When they can thoughtful examine the necessity of each word in a sentence, they increase tensile strength. To me, the best growth is at the sentence level, word by word.

Have I cared enough to self-edit? The tendency I see, and have experienced myself, is that self-editing has gone out the window with such movements as NaNoWriMo. The push to rack up thousands of words in a day, churning out a book in a month has seemingly left many writers with the false belief that self-editing is the enemy of the writer. How many times in workshops have I heard, “Just get down the first draft! Don’t edit yourself!” Sadly, I’ve seen in the past decade an ever-increasing emphasis on quantity over quality. I read on social media sites such exclamations as “I wrote 5K words today!” and “30K words this week!” Perhaps it’s the cynic in me that thinks, Were any of them good? OK, dear writer, that may be harsh, but let’s resolve to self-edit with as much passion as we resolve to write. Perhaps 2016 will be the year of NaSEMo (National Self-Editing Month). Maybe February? It’s short. (Note: After stopping to look this up, it appears there is a NaNoEdMo in March.) I’ll be sure to participate.

Do my writing choices make sense? One thing I believe most about writing is that writing is about choices. The right metaphor, right POV, right structure. Yes, genres have certain tropes, but do I need them. I love Tim Gunn on Project Runway because he’s always encouraging Project designers to be thoughtful about their choices, in essence to edit. An overdesigned look is a “hot mess express” as a young designer said on the latest season of Project Runway Junior. In 2016, don’t let your writing be a hot mess express. Question your writing choices.

In 2016, I wish the best writing for you, dear writer. I plan to do both: more writing and better writing. Please post links to your writing in the comments section. I’d love to read your work and your thoughts on writing better in the new year. What are your writing resolutions?
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Writing Scams and Schemes

If you’ve been writing for any significant amount of time, you know that there’s no shortage of writing scams and schemes out there waiting to trap and trick writers. My favorite place to keep up on what to watch out for and how to navigate the Internet when it comes to writing and the shadier side of the publishing industry is Writer Beware. The good folks at Writer Beware have put together a list of the best of Writer Beware for 2014. It’s definitely my first “must read” of 2015. Thanks, Writer Beware, for keeping all of us writers safe and updated.

Check it out!

2014 in Review: The Best of Writer Beware 

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5 Truths Most Editors Won’t Tell You (But I Will)

You should know these five truths when working with an editor.

1. Lowball rates often equals low-quality service. If a freelance editor is quoting you an unbelievable rate (such as a penny a word), it’s often because they perform quick, single passes over your manuscript, sometimes using only editing software. Be sure you ask how many passes your editor will take and if they practice actual eyes-on-the-page editing. Don’t settle for less than two full rounds of copyediting.

2. The company you pay to edit your work may hire inexperienced freelancers to perform the work but charge you exorbitant fees. Many “editing mills” and self-publishing houses hire freelancers willing to work for lower-than-average prices. Ask who will be editing your work and try to work directly with this person, setting the fee for services directly with the editor. Avoiding the middleman and working one-on-one with a professional freelance writer or editor will help ensure that you’re getting high-quality services at a reasonable rate.

3. Service fees can vary greatly among editors. Many professional freelance editors set their rates according to the current industry standard. A good site to check current rates is the Editorial Freelancers Association website: http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php. The EFA’s rate chart helps you negotiate a fair rate for you and your editor. Many professional freelance writers and editors are happy to work with you on rates or set up a payment schedule. Don’t hesitate to have your editor explain how he or she has determined your service costs. If you have multiple projects planned or have worked with the editor before, you may be able to negotiate a lower, multiproject rate.

4. Having a written contract protects both the author and the editor. Many editors will have a contract. If one is not provided before an initial payment or deposit, ask that the editor create one. The contract should be tailored for your project specifications and contain a payment schedule, arbitration section, and cancellation clause. Short-term editing or small projects may not necessitate a contract, but always require one for long-term or large-scale projects such as a full-length book edit.

5. You, the author, have final say-so. A good professional editor or writer wants his or her client to be satisfied and return for future collaborations. Don’t tolerate an editor who does not show respect toward your ideas, opinions, or writing voice. Working on a large-scale project is a collaboration, even at the level of basic copyediting. The partnership between you and your editor should be mutually respectful and supportive. Try to choose an editor who is enthusiastic about your writing project and shows a genuine interest. Remember, the editor works for you, but, ultimately, you both work for your reader.

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What plot depends upon

Speaking with youth writers this week about plot. Josip Novakovich writes in FICTION WRITER’S WORKSHOP, “To summarize (at the risk of oversimplifying): Plot depends on passions—on how characters struggle to fulfill them.”

I’m dumbfounded sometimes about the inordinate amount of energy spent on methods for plotting and creating “original” plots. I sigh when I hear about beginning writers paying big bucks for workshops that promise to reveal the secret for plotting the next big Hollywood blockbuster. I yearn for more, or at least as much, concentration on character as on plot. Indeed, the main focus of my discussion will be to get the young writers to consider the importance of character building.

Wind your characters up, infuse them with life, bless upon them compelling passions and wants, then place them into an interesting setting. If those initial efforts go well, they will do the job of plotting for you. They will propel themselves along to their inevitable end. 

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Where is your reader?

Where is the reader in your text? Do you have a narrator or a narratee? David Lodge, in The Art of Fiction, explains “the narratee is any evocation of, or surrogate for, the reader of a novel within the text itself.” Does your narrator stand in for your reader? Does he or she or it draw the reader into the world you’ve created? Or do you keep your reader at arm’s distance, talking at them not to them, holding them back instead of holding their hand? Where is the reader in your text?

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On the Ideal Conditions for Writing

I think it is probably better to be awake, sober, and drug-free. I suspect those three conditions are probably helpful. But beyond that, I just have to feel like writing. I’m not one of these people who goes to the desk every single day and writes. I wait until my head gets filled with stuff and I have to get it out of my head.

I used to drink occasionally and take a little grass now and again back when I was real young. And I thought that I could write an awful lot better if I did. But it wasn’t very good. It seemed wonderful at the time. Marvelous. I’d look at it the next day and say, “What the hell was that all about?”   from Edward Albee’s “On Playwriting” inThe Best Writing on Writing(Story Press, 1994).

Personally, I’ve tried writing many ways: sober, drunk, joyful, depressed, with much time on my hands, with tight deadlines (mostly self-imposed and often missed or tossed aside), full of ideas, utterly depleted and blocked. What works for me in the end is the condition of willingness. I can write well when I’m willing to put in the time, effort, and determination. I do not believe in ”ideal conditions.” I do not believe in “ideal” anything. I trust in the power of words: spoken and unspoken, written and unwritten.

I hate sports metaphors (mostly because I suck at sports), but I can’t play if I don’t show up to the game. I’d be lying if I said I don’t want to win, by whatever my definition of “winning” is in the moment, but mostly I want to play. Play with words. Play with life. Create. Live. In ideal conditions or not.  

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