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Writing involves not only good technique but also personal investment. It involves practice and learning.

An acquaintance said recently that practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. In other words, if we continue to repeat our mistakes, we are not getting any closer to perfection.

Michael J. Fox said he doesn’t aim for perfection but for excellence.

Sometimes it’s a matter of semantics. The key is to do our best at whatever we are doing, and that will always require effort, practice, and time.

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Here are seven key points that will, in my opinion, help us to grow our writing:

1. Keep writing regularly. This is the practice part, the refining, the trial and error.

2. Keep reading. This is the activity that helps us get the feel of good writing (and poor writing).

3. Keep learning. Attend workshops and conferences, take courses online or through books, videos, etc.

4. Polish your writing. Strive for excellence. Don’t ever say, “Good enough.” Be the best you can be.

5. Publish. This step helps us commit to finishing a project, whether it’s a blog, a guest post or a novel.

6. Market. Oh, bother! This is my greatest challenge in the writing arena. But what do we have to lose? If we want people to read our writing, we must make it and ourselves available. Try writing in a new genre or point of view. Try writing at a different time of day or a location more conducive for you. IMG_1116Subscribe to a new social medium that you’ve so far avoided. Can’t hurt. Then analyze the advantages and disadvantages and refine your lists to what works for you. Most new things become manageable with practice and familiarity. Some remain useless and can be scrapped. But give them a chance. Note: if you don’t have a website, create one. You can do it yourself or ask someone else to do it for you. Without a website, you won’t be searchable.

7. Share. One of the best ways to learn is to share what you know or what you’re learning. Again, use blogs, guest blogs or various social media to accomplish this. It will invariably help strengthen your knowledge and understanding of the topic, method or genre (or show you where you need to bone up a bit).

So let’s keep writing and encouraging each other to strive for excellence.

This post originally appeared on the InScribe Professional Blog in May of 2016.

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chocolateYou’ve heard the saying, “You are what you eat.”

Here’s another one for you: “You are what you read.”my library photo

I read all the time. I have a shelf of books by my bed that I read from before I go to sleep (a good book will often induce sleep by pulling my scattered thoughts together into the story…unless the storyline is so suspenseful that I can’t stop reading), and sometimes I allow myself a half hour or so of reading while I eat my lunch. And Sunday afternoons, and…

I also have a story going at all times on my iPhone (I don’t have an iPad yet), for those times when I’m stuck waiting for an appointment or having my hair done.

thAnd then there’s the audio book on my little old iPod Nano that I listen to while I’m doing mundane things around the house or in the garden. It makes a job speed by quickly.

Some writers say they stop reading while they’re working on a book, because they don’t want outside influences. However, in my opinion, we are never immune to outside influences. As long as I’m in control of what I feed myself through reading, the effects are positive.

Over the years, I’ve taught myself to read more analytically. I note what works and what doesn’t as I read. That is reflected, I hope, in my own writing. I’ve also done a fair bit of contest judging, mostly fiction because that’s what I write, and that experience always teaches me more about writing.

Reading and writing are intertwined for the writer, impossible to separate. So keep reading, read good books, read the kind you write and the kind you wish you could write! Experiment with new authors and genres. You never know when you’ll come up with something that opens up a whole new avenue of thought and writing for you.14068091_10154440806782389_4960450202972542588_n

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Recently, I was contacted by Debra Butterfield to do an interview on her website. She asked a series of questions about indie publishing and I enjoyed the exchange. I am posting the interview below. Here’s  a direct connection to Debra’s website.

Thanks, Debra, for this opportunity to talk about the Indie Publishing Journey.

Indie publishingMaybe you are struggling with this very question right now. I hope today’s interview with author Janice Dick gives you some insight into making your decision.

Janice, what was the impetus behind your decision to go indie?

Two things:
(1) my first three books are now officially OOP (out of print) after a run of about fourteen years. I need to re-release them.
(2) my fourth book, print version, shipped to me from CreateSpace, and I asked myself why I was paying someone else to do this for me when I could probably learn to do it myself.

What did you do to get back the rights to your books?

As I said, the first three were OOP, and the publisher sent me official release papers. I simply requested my rights back from the publisher of the fourth book and he granted them. No paperwork (no matter how often I asked) but I saved the emails. I also have a couple more manuscripts waiting for readers.

Having said that, most of my previously published books are still up on Amazon. I’m not sure why, because I have the remaining copies of the trilogy and the fourth is POD, and should no longer be printing.

I would assume those copies on Amazon are used copies that booksellers offer via Amazon. Though I don’t have a definitive answer to that issue.

Obviously there have been some problems in this journey. Can you tell us what some of the struggles have been along the way?

Janice Dick

Award-winning author Janice Dick

Learning on so many levels. I continue to learn the craft of writing, and have confidence that my skills are gradually improving. I use those skills to re-edit my previously published works.

Aside from that, there is the issue of cover design. I am not a visual artist in even the broadest sense of the term, so I had to look for an expert. I tried a free design-it-yourself site, but the outcome was so-so, and we know covers sell books.

Then I tried a site called Fiverr, which worked for my publishing logo (not essential, but something I wanted), but not so great for cover design. Some writers love it. I rated the designer 3 stars out of 5, and he messaged me that I had mistakenly not given him 5 stars and I should go back and fix that! Doesn’t seem right, in my opinion.

I am excited to say that I found a real designer I can afford who has not only skills and experience, but is known to me and lives relatively nearby. In a nutshell, this was a miracle. The Lord apparently wants me to have an acceptable cover, so He stepped in to assign me a visual artist.

If you are a Christian author, make sure to pray about your work, because God cares, and miracles do happen. I think He often takes pity on my feeble efforts, but I’m okay with that.

I haven’t reached the formatting stage yet, but that’s next. Right now I’m concentrating on editing. I love that part, and receive excellent suggestions from my local writing group, as well as from a writer friend with amazing insight and the willingness to offer honest critique. What I’m really saying is that I can’t at this point afford a professional editor. I know comments will be coming about that, but it’s the place I’m in financially.

Another area that I’m realizing the great importance of is marketing. I’m an introvert. I just want to write the stories. But when an author goes indie, marketing is part of the package.

To encourage others of you on this journey, there are many books—and good ones—about marketing your own books. Many are free to download, and others are relatively inexpensive. Just search online.
Right now my focus is on learning SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Amazon uses certain algorithms, which are apparently beyond the grasp of mere mortals, to sell books. No one really knows how these work, but we keep trying to understand/guess at it. Categorizing our books correctly is key. We want to tap into popular categories that readers are searching, but we also want to tweak our categorization so our books are not lost in a broad and widely populated category.

What have been some of the blessings along the way in this journey?

I think being vulnerable has been a blessing. I can identify with others who are on the indie journey. I can’t tell them the full story because it isn’t finished yet, but I am sharing my journey on my blog as it progresses. So many people have helped me, and I want to help others too, in whatever capacity I’m able. I’ve made a lot of great connections through this experiment.

What advice would you give someone considering independent publishing?

Read about it, research, ask for help from people who have done it/are doing it. My greatest encouragement came at a recent writing conference. I participated in a workshop on indie publishing presented by a 79-year-old gentleman. He said if he could do it—and he and his wife regularly self-publish excellent books—then anyone can do it. I believe you, Bryan Norford.

Are there resources (e.g. websites, books, etc.) you found to be helpful that you can share with our readers?

I belong to a Facebook group called Christian Indie Authors that is very helpful. Writers at all levels in the journey post their questions, answers, problems, solutions. They are willing to help someone who’s not as far along on the path.

As I stated above, there are tons of books available to give direction. Most of them are e-books, so they can be immediately downloaded and put to use. I will list a few: [links are to Amazon.ca; titles also available via Amazon.com]

Successful Self-Publishing by Joanna Penn (Free, includes video links.)
Indie Publishing Handbook by Heather Day Gilbert (Free, short.)
Self-Publishing Bootcamp Guide for Authors by Carla King (thorough, complete)
Self-Publishing Attack! The 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws for Creating Steady Income Publishing Your Own Books by James Scott Bell (only a buck or so, depending on where you live)

I actually have a list of about 50 e-books in areas referring to writing, publishing, and marketing. They are easily available.

Join groups, attend conferences and workshops, pay attention to email listserves that offer deals from time to time.

Readers, God bless as you consider and pursue independent publishing. You can do it.

Thanks for those great resources. I know Joanna Penn has been very successful with indie publishing and also has a blog. Another person I learned a great deal from concerning indie publishing is Joel Friedlander and his blog, The Book Designer.

I realize indie publishing isn’t for everyone, but it is an option well worth researching. Thank you, Janice, for sharing your journey with us.

Have you considered indie publishing? What helped you make your decision? Leave your comments below.

ABOUT JANICE DICK:

Janice L. Dick is an award-winning author of four historical fiction books, as well as many book reviews, inspirational writings, short stories, interviews and blogs. She lives with her husband on a farm on the Canadian prairies, where she continues to write under the tagline: Tansy & Thistle Press—faith, fiction, forum.

Connect with Janice at her website: www.janicedick.com
On social media via Facebook and Linked In

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I love a fresh start. It’s an opportunity to improve, to avoid pitfalls from the past, to review and make new plans.

This past year (2015) I’ve poured a lot of my time and energy into writing weekly blogs on my website in an attempt to connect and gradually grow a following. Writing blogs was never something I thought I’d pursue. I’m a fiction writer. But surprise, surprise! I love it.

I’ve created four columns a month, one every Tuesday (and a random blog on each fifth Tuesday). The regular crafting of a meaningful bit of communication has proven an excellent discipline as well as an opportunity to practice my writing skills and become more comfortable with my voice and purpose.

Looking Back

Looking Back

 

As I look back, the blogs have been fun and challenging. You know how it goes, you always learn more by preparing than by partaking. According to comments, these blogs have been beneficial to readers as well.

 

NOTE: If you appreciate a blog or other online article, let the writer know. Leave a brief comment, or if you’re set up to do so, tweet or share on various social media. It means a lot to the writer and can expand their readership. We need to help each other on this journey.

Looking forward

Looking forward

Looking ahead, I’m tweaking my column themes for freshness and variety in this new year. I’ve had to evaluate my use of time in order that the blogs don’t take over all my writing time, leaving nothing for my novels.

Speaking of which, I have three novels going out of print, so I need to decide how to re-release them. Then there’s the sequel edit languishing in my WIP folder, waiting for attention, and the contemporary cozy still longing for readers.

Looking back is essential. As a historical author, I do this all the time. But looking ahead is also important as it keeps us on track. Zig Ziglar said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”

I wish for each of you a time to re-evaluate your 2015 writing path, and to formulate plans to reach your goals for 2016. God’s blessings to you as you move forward with confidence.

“He who called you is faithful, who also will do it” I Thess. 5:24 (NKJV).

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If you’re anything like me, you need some form of motivation to keep you going. 1422211012a83gw
According to Facebook posts, many people use coffee as their drug of choice, maintaining that they cannot operate without it. I admit that if it didn’t affect me so adversely, I’d do the same. Unfortunately, coffee gives me headache, stomachache, dizziness and the shakes, so I only consume it a sip or two at a time, and only rarely.

But there must be other motivational techniques we can employ to reward ourselves as we work at our self-employed creativity.

Most writers I know don’t do it for the money, because the actual returns are often negligible.
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So if we don’t do it for the money, why do we slave away at our computer keyboards? For the love of the craft, you may say. And I may be tempted to accept that statement. But that’s a big picture concept. How do we motivate ourselves from day to ordinary day? Similar to Pavlov’s dog, we need regular stimuli in order to perform.

One of my favorite methods for motivation is to regroup. Re-organize. I create charts and lists. In the short run, it may be a subtle form of procrastination, but if I persevere, this exercise helps me to see the big picture, and then break it down into bite-sized (measurable, achievable) pieces.file0001564894818

Another method is to reward myself upon completion of one of the steps toward my larger goal. Since I don’t drink coffee, I choose chocolate. Call it mind over matter, but the natural caffeine content of very dark chocolate does not cause me physical discomfort.

Sorry, I realize this is a serious distraction.

Sorry, I realize this is a serious distraction.

If you like exercise, an hourly break for stretches or a noon-hour bike ride may help to refresh the mind and body. I really do wish this described me, but my daily walk is a hard-won habit.13812056882z870

Perhaps a quick phone call to Mom is what it takes to encourage us. Right, Mom?phone call

Or how about reading a chapter (or two or three…) of one of the books we’re in the middle of?

The best idea I’ve come up with regarding daily, hourly motivation is relatively less action-oriented and considerably more spiritual. I try to remember to speak with the original Creator at the beginning of my day, asking for guidance and inspiration…and the strength to persevere. Then, from time to time throughout the day, possibly at the break times, I (try to remember to) re-focus on Jesus. After all, He is “the God who uses ink.” The “Author and Finisher of our faith.” Who better to motivate me?file000551198693

Since I believe I’ve been called and gifted to write, I need to rely on the giver of the gift to motivate me.

Whatever choice you make, let it motivate you to continue hard at the task of writing. We never know who our words will inspire, encourage, entertain, motivate.

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Voice is, essentially, the sound of a story. It’s an innate, recognizable part of who we are. We can’t create it or force it. Our voice just is. Of course, we can temper or encourage it, but only as far as our experience and personality allows.

Author Lisa Carter, in a recent blog for Novel Rocket, suggests that “Your voice is defined by what you have to say and how you choose to say it.”

About six years ago now, I wrote a blog on the subject of voice. Here’s the essence of the article:

“While visiting my newly born grandchild back in 2009, I snuck away to the bedroom with him so we could talk privately. After all, a grandma has to get to know her little ones. I lay on the bed with six-week old Jordy and began to talk to him. He fixed his eyes on mine, connecting with my soul. He watched my face, and my mouth, and then his mouth began to move. He struggled to make a sound, and when he did, we celebrated. He had found his voice.IMG_0080

I made a similar connection with my granddaughter, Sydney, born two weeks after Jord. She also wanted to express herself to me, and when she was successful she wiggled with pleasure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs writers, we talk about “voice” and wonder what it is. Is voice something we create or something we discover? Jordy and Sydney taught me that “voice” is who we are. Jordy’s cry was squeaky and pitiful (it has since developed into a confident and continual chatter). Sydney’s was loud and demanding (I now interpret it as determined. She is the fourth sibling in her family, after all.). Neither baby decided what he or she would sound like. They are who they are. We each have our own voice, are born with it in its raw form. This is the voice we eventually use for speaking and writing.

Voice is not something we create; it’s in all of us. It’s who we are, expressed in words, or the equivalent of words for the pre-speech set. We all have thoughts and feelings and ideas that long to be expressed, but they do not always come easily. Consider how varied the stages of development are from baby to baby. Some, very early in their lives, jabber in an alien tongue. Others refrain from speaking until they are older and then launch out in full sentences. Neither is right nor wrong; each is unique.

Once we discover our voice, we are responsible for developing it by using it. Find some of your earliest writings and read them over. Unless you were especially gifted, the early writings seem weak and unformed. As you grow and experience life, as you struggle to express yourself, your voice, both spoken and written, grows stronger.”

Just as I will not mistake Sydney for Jordy when I hear their voices, so we would not confuse writing by Mark Twain with that of Edgar Allen Poe. Not only are their content and method vastly different, but their approach to life and writing, their “worldview,” if you will, is at polar opposites.

As Lisa Carter states in the above-cited article, there are several considerations that affect voice, including our chosen genre, our expected audience, and the culture/country we have grown up in.

Authors open themselves up to vulnerability when they write. Our voice will be revealed as our story unfolds. Allen Arnold, in an article written for Novel Rocket, suggests that we need to remember to live in order to write, and I believe our voice will change and grow as we adapt to our circumstances, just as Jordy’s voice will someday break as he adjusts to adolescence.

I find that as I continue to read and become aware of other voices, my own writing voice may take on the accent of an author whose work I especially admire. Then, as I write, that voice will blend with mine. It’s not copying; it’s emulation, and that’s perfectly acceptable. We must allow ourselves to be who we are, to write what we are passionate about, to discover and develop our own recognizable and distinctive voice.

 

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Evaluation. Assessment, appraisal, judgment. In literary work it is known as critique. “A systematic determination of a subject’s merit, worth and significance, using criteria governed by a set of standards.” (Wikipedia)

During my nine years as an active member of Toastmasters, I had many opportunities to evaluate presentations given by my fellow Toastmasters, since evaluation is a regular part of the meeting agenda. I also attended workshops specifically designed to teach effective evaluation.

The method we used boiled down to noting both positives and negatives. The positives affirm the speaker. The negatives, limited to one or two, and not overpowering the positives, are communicated in the form of practical suggestions for improvement.

In my writing career, I have learned to appreciate constructive criticism. In fact, I have come to welcome it. Without feedback, I have no idea which direction to move. With thoughtful evaluation, every affirmation builds my confidence, and every suggestion motivates me to improve.file0001564894818

What standards do we use to critique someone’s writing? I would suggest that these standards develop and evolve as we learn more about writing, but I have a couple of simple suggestions for learning this highly effective tool.

Step One: Read. A lot. Then practice evaluating what you read. Since we’re talking fiction here, ask yourself why you liked or did not like the story. Trace your instinctive feelings, rather than shrugging and saying, “I liked it. I can’t really tell you why.”

Questions to ask yourself as you read:

* Do the characters come across as real people?

* Does the dialogue sound realistic; does it affect the characters or the storyline?

* Do the characters behave consistently?

* Has the author created a professional piece of writing? (grammar, punctuation, polish)

* Do you forget you are reading and get lost in the story?

* Does the plot offer enough tension to keep you turning pages?

* Can you “see” the world of the story?

* Does the story evoke strong emotions as you read?

Step Two: Ask yourself these same questions as you write and review your own writing.

When we evaluate someone else’s writing and give them an overview of our impressions, it reminds us to follow the same guidelines in our own writing.

Not only do we help others when we learn to effectively critique their work, we also pick up tips on what to emulate and what to avoid in our own work.

Evaluation, or the art of critique, is an invaluable tool for writers because it teaches us to look at our own work in new ways. It’s a win-win situation.

P.S. Someone asked me if mentally evaluating everything I read robs me of the joy of reading. Not at all. It takes time to form the habit of evaluation, but it also teaches me discernment, and saves me from wasting my time on unworthy books (and there are many out there in this age where anyone can publish a book). I’ve become more aware of what makes a story work or not work, so when I find a book that’s well-written, I thoroughly enjoy it. And there are also many of these great stories out there.

 

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