Guest Bloggers

This or that. Just do it!

Guest Blogger Ruth Harris writes about the realities of trying to write while sheltered in place.

You might have thought because you’re staying at home that you’d have more free time to start/finish a book or take an on-line yoga class. But in reality, because we’re all spending so much time at home, much of that time is consumed by eating which means food prep and cooking (which means there’s a kitchen to clean and dishes to be washed), bathrooms to be cleaned and tidied plus, of course, more toilet paper to be purchased (if we can even scrounge up a few rolls somewhere), laundry duty, garbage and trash removal, dusting, vacuuming and, of course, sanitizing.

As one day melts seamlessly into the next, and we can’t tell Sunday from Tuesday, weekdays from weekends.

Our moods whiplash between “This sucks” and “It could be worse.”

We’re bored, anxious, and tired. We’re having trouble sleeping and concentrating. Much less writing.

“A lot of us are mentally exhausted, because the energy it takes to mentally manage everything that’s happening is very draining,” says Vaile Wright, director of clinical research and quality for the American Psychological Association. “The habits we’ve worked to develop over time to keep us healthy and productive can fall by the wayside.”

It’s not just you.

Feeling overwhelmed by an Everest of laundry or frustrated by a cranky TV remote even as we are bombarded by relentless reports of death and disease, does not contribute to creativity.

Instead of fighting what can feel like an unwinnable battle with the lack of inspiration, let’s consider what we can do that does not take the same level of intense concentration as writing.

Why not take advantage of these strange days to focus on ways we can improve our skills or acquire new ones?

1. Author Platform Care And Maintenance.

Use this Covid-19 pause to reconsider and refresh the elements of your author platform.

2. Better Blurbs For Better Living.

Are your (book) blurbs OK?

As we’ve been told over and over, the cover is the first thing that grabs the reader’s attention. The cover tells him/her what kind of book s/he is looking at: romance (sweet or steamy), women’s fiction, mystery, thriller, horror, sci-fi.

The blurb (also known as the sales pitch, cover copy, or on Amazon, the “product description”) is the second.

But once you grabbed/seduced/lured the reader, then what?

Then you have to make the sale—and that’s where the blurb comes in.

At a time when you’re finding it difficult to write, refreshing an existing blurb can be a productive use of your time, a satisfying outlet for your creativity and an opportunity to increase your sales.

3. M Is For Metadata.

Review your categories.

David Gaughran tells us that “KDP is now explicitly stating that we are permitted TEN categories for each of our books.”

If you haven’t already signed up for DG’s newsletter—he keeps a sharp eye on publishing and is generous about sharing info—now would be a good time.

Revisit your keywords.

Out with the old. In with the new—and more relevant.

Dave Chesson’s Publisher Rocket does the tedious work of searching for keywords (and does ditto for categories) that will help make your book more visible to browses and readers.

4. Brainstorm for Brilliance.

When you can’t write, maybe you can brainstorm, which is, after all, the fun part. When you let loose, when you forget about sparkling prose, passive verbs and adverb infestation, who knows what brilliant thoughts are just lurking in your subconscious, waiting to be unleashed?

5. Liberate Your Inner Artist.

If your sales—and income—have been hit by Covid, DIY art and graphics are more appealing than ever. Learning your way around on-line art sites can be fun that yields practical results.

Maybe you’d like to try making a cover even though you’re not a designer.

Perhaps you could jazz up your blog, Instagram feed, or FaceBook page with a new banner.

Or refresh your ads, create a new business card or bookmark.

6. Orphaned Books. You Know, The Kind That Don’t Spark Joy.

If you’re stuck at home, but, like so many of us, the words won’t come and you can’t write, perhaps this period of enforced down time is ideal for you to revisit unfinished and abandoned books. Maybe the solutions to the problems that once stopped you in frustration, will become apparent now that some time has passed.

Plot holes—they’re not forever.

Janet Evanovich’s simple method of not-exactly-outlining might help you figure out where you’ve gone wrong and how to go forward.

7. Strengthen Your Characters.

If the plot’s OK, but the characters are wooden (or maybe plastic—and you’re not writing sci-fi), now might be the right time to pay them a visit and give them a pulse.

Here are 8 suggestions about how to create a memorable character.

8. Embrace That Crappy First Draft.

Typos.

Clichés.

Passive verbs.

Banal descriptions.

Lapses in logic.

Adverbs!

We’ve all committed these sins (and more because we’re creative), but, because we take our work and our readers seriously, we don’t give up.

Henry Guinness at the NYT calls himself “a big fan of awful first drafts” and shares a useful trick about how to use that embarrassing first draft to move toward a finished product you can be proud of.

9. Learn to Self-Edit.

Harry Guinness goes on to explain: “The secret to good writing is good editing.”

As a long-time editor, I would go even further and say that good editing is (almost) everything. Obviously, you have to get the words down first, but, after that, multiple rounds of editing will help you clarify your thinking and lead to a polished work in a way that can seem (almost) magic.

Another plus is that several rounds of self-editing before you unleash your work on the public or on your editor will save you one-star reviews and your editor time. Which will consequently will save you money.

10. How to Feel like a Real Writer.

If none of these ideas appeal to you or if you’re just feeling generally blah, why not do what real writers do?

Procrastinate. 🙂

Excerpted from Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris by Ruth Harris.(@RuthHarrisBooks) April 26, 2020

Click here to read the entire blog post, which is chock full of gems.

Ruth Harris is a New York Times and Amazon bestselling author and a Romantic Times award winner. Ruth’s emotional, entertaining fiction has topped Amazon’s prestigious Movers and Shakers list and her highly praised novels have sold millions of copies in hard cover, paperback and ebook editions, been translated into 19 languages, sold in 30 countries, and were prominent selections of leading book clubs including the Literary Guild and the Book Of The Month Club. In their e-book editions, Ruth’s novels have been featured on Ereader News Today, Pixel of Ink and Kindle Nation Daily.

Ruth writes about strong, savvy, witty women who struggle to succeed and, when sometimes they don’t get what they want, they find something even better along the way. Critics have compared Ruth to Nora Ephron and Joan Didion and called her books “brilliant,” “steamy,” “stylishly written,” ”richly plotted,” “first-class entertainment” and “a sure thing.”

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